Saturday, August 01, 2015

This Day

It was a century ago
not a hundred years
but forever and a day.
This day.
The sun shone down
after early clouds
upon that green meadow.
This day.
The crowd below
waited and watched
what would happen.
This day.
We brought together
all these people
not just to watch.
This day.
It was a gathering
of the tribes
our friends and family.
This day.
We started something new
already filled with memory
and nascent dreams.
This day.
We laughed and cried
and kissed to make
the moment last.
This day.
That moment
that day
that kiss.
This day.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Sounding And Furiousness

It's about what passes for polite discourse these days. Mike Huckabee suggested that, "This president's foreign policy is the most feckless in American history. It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven." At another time, this might seem pretty tawdry, but since Rand Paul is taking a chainsaw to the tax code and Lindsey Graham is destroying cell phones, this all seems pretty normal. Rick Perry, looking a lot more like Clark Kent these days, says that before you stop by the concession stand to pick up your Junior Mints and large buttered popcorn that you should make sure that you should bring a gun into the theater with you. Just in case. You know. Trying, at this point, to keep up with the Donald. 
Mexicans are rapists and murderers. John McCain is not a hero. Trump has called Lindsey Graham an "idiot," labeled Jeb Bush an "unhappy person" who is "out of touch." After a fundraiser for Scott Walker criticized Trump, Trump called the event "very dumb" and "not smart." 

Nanny-nanny-boo-boos. To be fair, and I don't know how that word sails here, it was after Lindsey Graham called Trump a "jackass" that the Donald decided to let all his fans know Graham's cell phone number, causing the senator from South Carolina to go all Tom Brady on his mobile device. Lindsey Graham won't be serving any four game suspension. As a matter of fact, he will most likely see a bump in the polls for getting all Black and Decker with his flip phone. How else to explain the double-digit lead by the loudest mouth of all? It was the French philosopher Joseph de Maistre who suggested we get the government we deserve, and it was Walt Kelly the American cartoonist who let us know that we had met the enemy and he is us. Are we going to get anything as thought-provoking or quotable out of this clown car full of candidates? Don't hold your breath. Unless of course that rushing sound you hear just before you pass out keeps you from having to listen to all this ridiculousness. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Now And Then

The response we got to the text we sent our son, asking if he wanted to have dinner with us, was this: "Not really." My wife and I thought briefly about having hurt feelings. We could see him, across the lawn from us, walking in our general direction, following a group of kids that were all milling in the general direction of downtown. For him, the tour had not quite finished. There were still people to meet. There were still things to see. That is why we had made this journey. We had come for orientation, and that is precisely what our son was doing. He was getting his bearings.
That didn't mean that his mother and father didn't feel as if a great big trap door had opened beneath our feet. Bye, bye, son. We'll miss you.
Of course, I should have expected something like this. On the drive down, my wife and I were in the back seat while he drove and his buddy and future roommate rode shotgun. We listened to their music. We stopped at Burger King to find out just how many orders of chicken nuggets they could buy for ten dollars. They bought enough that it will be some time before our car does not smell of breaded poultry nodules. With barbecue sauce. And somewhere, about ten miles from our destination, our son cried out, "We're going to college!" To which his partner in nuggets enjoined, "I know, man!" High fives were exchanged.
It shouldn't have been any kind of surprise. This summer has been a flurry of anticipation and mild preparation for the big event: our son is going to college. For real. That's why we drove all that way and paid all that money just to have the dress rehearsal. That and the opportunity to sit in a number of different auditoriums to be indoctrinated into the world of collegiate parenthood. What to expect when you're expecting: The College Years. Sexual assault, binge drinking, academic probation. These were just some of the topics we were asked, as "supporters," to help generate understanding in our incoming freshmen. Providing, of course, that we ever spoke to them again.
In real time, it was only a few more minutes before we got another text, inviting us to come and find him at the old-time barbecue spot. Apparently, his group dissipated abruptly after his first flippant response, and he was looking for companionship. My wife and I were happy to oblige. We had some brisket and some salad and some lemonade, and enjoyed our time together. Until it was time for him to go again. More people to see and things to do. That's why we are sending him to college, after all. He knows us well enough. Time to see the rest of the world. I expect we'll still get together for dinner now and then.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Aids

I donated to the first Farm Aid. It was 1985, and while the world celebarated an end to hunger via the Live Aid concerts held in London and Philadelphia. I watched all sixteen hours, and while I didn't pay strict attention to every one of the acts that held the stage on both sides of the Atlantic, I was swept up in the courageous and valitant efforts of the music industry to bring about the kind of change that world governments had been unable to achieve. For this, they made Bob Geldof a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. For my part, I received no honor from her majesty, though I did get a souvenir T-ShirtI also got a warm, fuzzy glow that I was able to pass off as humanitarian for weeks after the fact. 
And somewhere in the midst of all that feel-good music and warmth came Bob Dylan's comment during his set: "I hope that some of the money...maybe they can just take a little bit of it, maybe...one or two million, maybe...and use it, say, to pay the mortgages on some of the farms and, the farmers here, owe to the banks..." It wasn't exactly a feel-good moment. It was Bob being Bob, like playing an electric guitar at a folk festival. It made me think of my cousins, who were toiling away on their beet farm in eastern Colorado, raising pigs, trying to find a way to make ends meet. This was my family's farm, and it was being lost to the banks. I listened to what Bob had to say and I started thinking about saving lives by saving farms. 
The good news is that someone besides me was listening: Neil Young, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp were listening too, and they organized an all-star concert of their own to aid the farmers of America who were feeling their lives slip away from underneath them just like the land they had worked all those years. They called it Farm Aid, in a stroke of wild inspiration, and those guys keep getting together year after year to raise money and awareness for the American Family Farm. Somewhere in those early days, my cousins' farm went the way of the auction block, and another chunk of the great plains fell into the hands of the machine. Forty-eight million dollars have been raised over the past three decades by the organization, but it wasn't enough to keep the bankers away. Much in the same way I couldn't pick and choose which life I saved with my Live Aid T-shirt, I couldn't convert my contribution to that first Farm Aid, with my souvenir bandanna and pin, into relief from the crushing debt that turned those beets and pigs over to the bad guys. 
In the midst of this equation, food kept being grown. Some of it was shipped to countries where famine continues in spite of all the concerts and t-shirts and bandannas. Somehow, it's just not enough. And so we keep on singing. And praying for that day when we can save everyone. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Suspect

The day that the guilty verdict came down for James Holmes, the man who shot up a movie theater in Colorado, I breathed a sigh of relief. For the victims. For the community. For the families of the victims. For the families of victims of senseless violence. Three years after the fact, there was justice. Or what could be administered by our system with its due process and checks and balances. That was the moment I felt relief. 
Then came the shooting in Chattanooga. We now have another accused killer. This is how we refer to Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez. There were plenty of witnesses who watched him spray two different recruiting centers with automatic weapons fire, seven miles apart. Allegedly. That would be Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat or in the more easily digested English: the burden of proof is on he who declares, not on he who denies, And we should probably point out that Mister Abdulazeez is not around to deny his innocence or guilt. He was shot by police who arrived on the scene. Four Marines are dead. That is not an allegation. That is a reality. Still, we will keep referring to this gentleman as a suspect until the investigation is through. The hairs that can be split between criminal and terrorist acts will be split and any possible accomplices will be rounded up and that will give us all a chance for some catharsis, since surviving accomplices can be given that due process and eventually justice will be served. Cold and late, but served nonetheless.
Just in time to try and figure out how to step up theater security, at least in Lafayette, Louisiana. Three more dead, and nine injured. One of the casualties was the suspect, John Russell "Rusty" Houser. The self-inflicted gunshot that took his life was the last of the "methodical" killing that took place during a showing of "Trainwreck." Now, aside from questioning the necessity of metal detectors outside movie theaters, we can wonder what "Rusty" might have had against Amy Schumer. Allegedly. There investigation here will probably not run as deep, since the potential political and ideological questions can be swept aside. Except for that whole mental health thing. A history of mental health concerns didn't keep Mister Houser from passing a background check and legally purchasing the .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun that he fired twenty times. Allegedly. 
And lest we forget that old news of Dylan Roof, suspect in the murder of nine church members in Charleston. He will be charged with hate, not with terror. Perhaps his defense might find a way to swing that: innocent by reason of hate. 

It's been a rough summer. Allegedly. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Home Again

Looking out the window, I can see how flat everything is. It makes sense, since we had driven an hour away from the mountains, toward Kansas. We had spent the week nestled up against the Rocky Mountains, and now we had retreated to the plains. The Great Plains. This was necessary because getting a jet aircraft up in the air would not be possible if we had stayed pushed up against the foothills. Sitting next to my son, we waited for our turn to take off, and after an hour's drive to the airport, another two hours waiting to board our plane, and then yet another indeterminate amount of time sitting at the gate. Waiting. Waiting to go home.
"Do you feel like you're going home?" That's what my clever son asked me. I had spent a week, reconnecting to the place I had spent the first thirty years of my life. Hadn't I just been home? Where was I going? I was leaving Colorado again. You might think I was used to this by now.
Taking off from the Denver airport is something I have done, off and on, for more than twenty years now. The anticipation of that moment when the wheels leave the ground and suddenly the world changed beneath me. Suddenly that hour's drive disappeared. The mountains were now below us. In that rush to get to the altitude where personal electronic devices could be turned back on, we flew over the summit of Longs Peak. Somewhere down there was the top of a mountain that took me an entire day to climb.
And then it was gone. So were all the other peaks that make up the Rocky Mountains. My son pointed out the snow. In July. I looked down with him. Through the clouds. The earth was slipping away beneath us. The jagged range that I grew up using as a compass were no longer to the west. They were becoming the east. And now the geographical features that seemed so prominent became softer: hills, desert. Utah.
I had left Colorado again, and even though I had my son's enthusiasm for the place, I felt a pang. Regret, sorrow, disappointment. Lonely. Sitting in the back of the plane next to my own flesh and blood, I felt the miles between my two homes come into sharp focus. That which was and that which is.
Then the hills appeared below. The ones that rise up out of the San Francisco Bay, then the Bay itself. The pilot found a nice flat place to put the plane down, and suddenly, if two and a half hours can be considered sudden, and we were on the edge of the continent: California. Home. Again.
My son and I got up out of our seats, and when we walked up the aisle and onto the jetway. We smelled the brine. Sea level. Some of the loneliness lifted. You can go home again. Twice in one day.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Shoot The Moon

Last week we celebrated the forty-sixth anniversary of Apollo 11's landing on the moon. If you missed your community's parade or the annual Moondance Festival held in most cities across this great land of ours, it turns out that you're not alone, since those events don't exist. Not since 1969, anyway. It has been a while since Tranquility Base was foremost in our minds. Maybe it has fallen into a bin of discoveries and accomplishments that we learn in school without any particular context. July 20, 1969 is a date that sits in infamy right next to December 7, 1941. Or maybe it's like September 6, 1522, when Ferdinand Magellan's expedition completed its circumnavigation of the globe. Ferdinand himself didn't make it, which is a tragedy on par with Neil Armstrong getting lost somewhere between the earth and the moon. Proving the earth was round was the same kind of discovery as the moon landing. The earth didn't suddenly become round. It always was. The moon didn't change because we set foot on it. We landed there to make sure that it really was there, and to make emphatic that human need to prove something by putting our hands on it.
We brought back rocks and soil samples. We took pictures and movies. This is the way we could prove that the earth's moon was part of our territory. You can visit the facility and examine these samples for yourself. You can watch the footage and listen to the communications between the astronauts and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. But since NASA is a government agency, there have been loads of people who would like to suggest that these events never occurred. They were faked. I would expect that there could have been a similar group of naysayers following the surviving crew of Magellan's voyage around with parchment and quills in hand, insisting to them that they were frauds. There were probably religious types who wanted the crew of the Victoria to swear on a bible that they had never been around the globe. That kind of enterprise probably took place in the sixty years between Magellan's trip and the next circumnavigation of the earth. Those records have been lost to the ages, but 1522 still marks the end of the voyage that proved that the earth was round. A fact that could be borne out by the pictures of the earth taken from the surface of the moon. Or maybe that was just photoshopped. But how could that be when Photoshop wasn't invented until 1987? Or maybe that's just what the folks at Adobe want us to believe. Conspiracy? I blame computer software. The stuff that was made possible, in part, by guys like Neil and Buzz walking on the moon. Or maybe they were the architects of a made up world fabricated by doctored and human-generated images.
Yeah. That makes sense.