vendredi, avril 28, 2006

Sense and Sensitivity

I remember scoffing--scoffing with extreme prejudice--at the concept of Sensitivity Training.

But I might need it.

Never mind even that I believe with absolute, unshakable faith in a glorious resurrection. And forget about my nasty habit of enjoying life enough to feel like kissing it goodbye wouldn't be a soul shattering tragedy. I've just always been OK with Death. Really OK.

Which is really not OK in the eyes of people who want to make a big deal about it for whatever reason. (The reason is usually melodrama, hystrionics, or ignorance--but pointing that out will get you slapped with the old "Judgemental Ass" label. For whatever reason.) So I keep my opinion mostly to myself. People don't want to hear it. Never mind that I believe in meeting people where they are.

Recently, when a co-worker's distant relation passed on, even as I refused to sink to the maudlin level of the proletariat and spout the usual meaningless condolences, I did refrain from spouting anything beyond an earnest: "He was lucky to have you in his life." (I highly recomend this approach. It obviates acrimony and contention by changing the subject away from Death. As an added bonus, I really meant it.) And as I turned to walk away and savor the sweetness of dodging a bullet, she murmured, "It was just so sudden."

Obviously, she was looking to tangle. She needed the drama, I guess. And when someone throws down the gauntlet like that, you cannot with impunity ignore it. Your honor is at stake.

"Hold on a minute," I said. "What do you mean, 'it was just so sudden?'"

"I mean, it was unexpected."

"I'm sorry, but I couldn't have heard you correctly. Did you just say that the only absolute eventuality since the dawn of time was unexpected?"

"I didn't--"

"Did you miss the fact that 100% of the people who have been born on this earth have died, most of them at random junctures or in coincidental circumstances?"

"It wasn't that--"

"How DARE YOU? How dare you claim the responsibilities and trappings of adulthood and slather them all over with the sickly sweet frosting of infantile expectations! How dare you come in here asking to exchange the basest emotional childishness for sympathy! I mean COME ON!"

Naturally, she was speechless. "Probably can't find the words to thank me," I was thinking. I had just offered her exactly the hystrionics she had been seeking. Or if not, at least I had given her some simple facts that should have, in my mind, taken the edge off her so-called loss.

My lawyers have instructed me not to describe in any way what happened next. But suffice it to say, I was wrong.

mardi, avril 25, 2006

Dear Mr. Baldwin

A reporter walks into a crowd of people chanting anti Bush slogans. He chooses a woman at random and interrupts her indecipherable rhythmic bile with a question: "What brings you out here to the protest today?"
She stares blankly. He thinks for a moment she is preparing a lucid statement of opposition to the current administration. She promptly proves him wrong.
"My husband."
"You came with your husband?"
"Yeah, I just came with him. I don't know that much about it."
How enlightened. Well, I guess blind, subservient vitriol is just as loud. Keep yelling, sister.

UNJUSTIFIED STEREOTYPE #1: The week willed, obedient women are at the protests. Old fashioned men who think a woman should simply defer to her man's opinion need look no further.
QUERY: If a right winger had knocked her up first, would she be off on the other side of the steps yelling "Support our troops?"
UNTENABLE CONCLUSION: Opposition is so important to our system that you don't need to base it on anything. Just be indignant. You are a credit to a time honored tradition of . . . I can't remember the term. I'm really just here with my wife.

A politician waves an article from USA Today as he blasts the powers that be for their oppression and suppression and I don't know what all. A day later, entities implicated in the "journalism" begin stating facts that happen to run contrary to the Gospel According to USA Today. The politician quiets down. Maybe he knows what's coming next. Sure enough, someone looks up his voting record and finds proof of him voting in favor of legislation eerily similar to that which he has been railing against--back when people he agreed with were in power.

UNJUSTIFIED STEREOTYPE #2: Americans' position on the issues and level of satisfaction with the power structure depends solely on whether or not they happen to ideologically agree with the party in power. Your opinion is not an opinion: If you hate the president, nothing he does will please you. If you happen to like the president, he can bomb all the innocent children and vitamin factories he wants. Your mind was made up when he called the fetus either a "baby," or an "unviable tissue mass."
QUERY: When the Economy is reported to be doing rather well, do you say "Damn, Bush's numbers are gonna go up," or "Wait a minute, if everything is fine, but consumer debt is at a record high, we might be headed for trouble that has nothing to do with who is in power." Wait, you didn't hear the economy was doing really well?
FLAWED BUT SEEMINGLY INEVITABLE LOGICAL CONCEPTUAL CHAIN: Politicians have, without exception, sold their souls to essentially identical party structures in much the same way that doctors have been swallowed up into the HMO's--with all the same nefarious results. The American people have been taken along for the ride. We are tools of a systemically corrupt machinery of extremes that reinforce each other. Given that said machinery is self sustaining, and designed to withstand the influence of individuals by a) pitting them against each other in ideological mortal combat, wherein anyone who appears to disagree with you is the enemy, and b) fooling them into thinking that by aligning themselves with a group of like-minded people, they can make a difference by defeating the bad guys on the other side, you have only two choices: 1) Give in--cuddle up in the cozy flannel of polarization, filter everything through the filter of who you are supposed to like and hate according to your chosen blanket--relax, knowing that party affiliation is all you really have to know about anyone, or 2) Give up--The system is broken--everything sucks--so you can with good conscience sign off and consider yourself above it all.

Whatever you chose, I don't want to hear about it. But do us a favor. Call poor Alec Baldwin's radio show and reassure him that even if the recent public MRI didn't reveal any brain mass, he is still a very good looking man with a talent for narration. When it's scripted.

UNJUSTIFIED STEREOTYPE #3: These Hollywood pretty boys are empty shells, who should not be allowed off the red carpet--for their own good, and the good of the nation.
QUERY: If a nation falls in the forest and there are no reality show TV cameras to record it, did it really happen?
COMPLETELY JUSTIFIED AND ABSOLUTELY UNDENIABLE CONCLUSION: Alec Baldwin (and everyone not making fun of him) is an idiot. He should run for president. He shouldn't BE president, but he should run. By himself he could scare up a viable third party movement.

samedi, avril 15, 2006

Peace Talks . . .

. . . in the Middle East were derailed late Saturday evening when it was announced that stricken former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was bathed the blood of Palestinian children. Palestinian militants were outraged when Israeli doctors claimed it was a medical procedure with a high degree of historically documented success. Members of Sharon' s own Likud party claimed the procedure was justified, given the recent election of the "suicide bomber party" in Palestine. Palestinian leaders reacted with a sneer, saying: "You're only saying that because of our Holy Vow before God to erase your people utterly from the face of the Earth."
Then Israel said: "Oh, yeah? Well, which one of us is flying a deadly armada of American-made fighter jets?"
So Palestine said: "Go ahead and fly all the jets you want, jerks! As soon as Iran goes nuclear, you can kiss your sorry asses goodbye in a New York minute!"
And then Israel was all: "New York Minute? Is that some kind of veiled 9-11 joke? You think you're clever, bitch? Well, we're telling the Americans you said that!"
So Palestine was all: "Go ahead! They're too pussy to use their nukes for real--besides, they're funding us too--at least until we blow them up--and half of them want us to win, so there!"
Members of the U.N. Security Council praised the dialogue and were encouraged by what they called "progress towards yet another delicious black eye for the Americans who pay for everything."
Speaking at the funeral of a close friend, former president Bill Clinton said: "Remember, I started the peace process in the Middle East. That was me. I did that. If I could have run for a third term, those people would be huggin' and kissin' and lovin' all over each other. The current Administration has no flower power."
Spokesmen for the White House simply pushed play on the tape recorded message that says: "We are winning the War on Terror."

mercredi, avril 12, 2006


Turns out my Dad has an admirable collection of Jerry Garcia ties.

Maybe I was wrong about everything.


samedi, avril 08, 2006


My parents were nerds.

They listened to classical music. They worked hard, dressed well, and bathed regularly.
They believed in rules and decorum and hard work.

Worst of all, they loved America. My mother you can forgive. Being one of those old fashioned immigrants who came here because she considered it philosophically superior to the South Africa of her youth. So she's unfashionable--but anyone raised under Apartheid gets a pass. No such luck for my dad, who studied political science, served in the Air Force during Vietnam, and still stood there in short hair and shoes saying what a great place this is. Once he even tried to tell me that Leave it to Beaver was an accurate portrayal of life in the fifties.

So I missed the whole hippy thing. Having no point of reference, I simply thought of them as the loud, dirty people who complained more than they contributed. Don't blame my folks; they didn't indoctrinate me. Really. It was a conclusion I drew as a young boy with budding OCD symptoms who did well in school and liked things like order and hygiene.
But don't get the idea that they were any help, either. My parents made no attempt whatsoever to let me in on the whole hippy thing. They never said "man," never did drugs, never even wore real bell bottom trousers.
My dad took us to a protest once, but it was a protest against the state raising income taxes. He was wearing a suit and tie. Even though we got to miss school that day, it was clear we were not there to buck the establishment. All the way to the protest he talked about the founding fathers and the constitution. It felt more like school than school. And even if he had been wearing Birkenstocks and a tie-dyed serape, his chants of "That government governs best which governs least!" would have given him away.
Come to think of it, Mom was no help at all, even with the Apartheid thing. As the world was teaching me that my maternal homeland was the greatest evil since Hitler, she unthinkably found positive things to say about South Africa, and would never let anyone who hadn't lived there bad mouth the place. Despite all her political disagreements, she still had this weird thing about respecting one's birthplace. And when it had become sufficiently disagreeable, she had found a more compatible place and moved. Even in that place that was so ripe for revolution and protest, she never carried a sign, never marched on the capital, never put off showering until people saw the light. She just came to a place where, according to her, "people are free to achieve their potential no matter what color they are." By the time I was old enough to understand how elegantly misinformed she was, it was too late. I'd missed the boat.

In subsequent years, I grew to hate the whole hippy thing. First I told myself it was aesthetic. I just wasn't favorably inclined to gaudy oranges and greasy, unwashed hair. I told myself that women with shaved legs and armpits were more attractive. I valued deodorant. When ZZ-Top said "Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man," I took it as a personal vindication of my hopelessly fashionable, cutting-edge-but-still-clean-cut visual philosophy.
But it went beyond clothes and razors. As years passed, even as I thought I was adopting an easy going, open minded "the sun rises on us all with equal splendor" approach, I found my own voice--and found myself wanting to raise it loud and say "Shut the hell up!" to hippies and what I came to refer to as "their ilk." I hated their air of moral superiority, their almost constant doomsday prophesying, the way they seemed to think they owned social consciousness. When their lack of religion became their religion, it seemed to me a delicious indictment of their snobbism. I felt shameful joy whenever their lifestyle turned against them in the form of drug overdoses, or sexually transmitted diseases, or serial divorces. I felt myself giving into rage when people I unfairly associated with hippies complained about anything at all. "Make a contribution other than the complaint," I'd say, "and maybe someone will listen to you." When Astronomers debunked the psuedo-religion of astrology as an abjectly ridiculous fiction, and informed the world that, even if it did have some kind of mystical effect on the inhabitants of planet Earth, the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius remains, in fact, more than 500 years away, I smiled with exactly one side of my face and said, "go get 'em, tiger."

Then one day I was eating a Ben and Jerry's Peace Pop. A co-worker commented on how delicious it looked, and I actually opened my mouth and said "Yeah, isn't it great the way they exploit the idea of 'Peace' to sell ice-cream?"
Not "Yes, it is delicious; you should try one." Not, "I'd share it with you if you weren't so germ-phobic." Not even "Ah yes, the ultimate in post modern convenience: the fattening phallus." There I was with opportunities all around me for kindness and/or comedy, and instead I was making an impotent political diatribe. It was the end: I had become what I despised. Weeks later as I laid my soul bear to a friend, he put the cap on it. "Why hate?" he said, "The extravagancies of the hippies lead indirectly to a lot of positives in our society."
You're so right, I thought, then told myself: It's my parents' fault. I was raised wrong.

But we all have to reach that point where our parents' blame ends and our personal responsibility begins. I have to accept the possibility that a good deal of the bitterness I felt towards my parents for being nerdy and un-hip has been transferred to the movement, lifestyle, and philosophy they unwittingly hid from my understanding. A new day has to dawn, one in which I let go of my gut level revulsion, and simply let the hippies be.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to wish that the guy with the "Fund Schools, Not Wars!" bumper sticker who walks right by the school bake sale without buying so much as a cupcake would drive his car off a cliff. But I can no longer relish this wish. And I can no longer associate such idiocy with the golden era of greasy, long-haired, unkempt, pot smoking, bra-less, dread-locked followers of the Grateful dead, whose caravans passed my parents by.