Memorial Day – An American Whisper

Weeks – trekking, running, sweating, fearing – without a sympathetic shower.  Three MRE’s (meals) a day – bland, dry, nutritional.   Inside canvas tents, metal cots with flimsy fabric cradle them as they nap.   Sleep comes to them like a receding wave, shallow, fading, and then smashed by an unrelenting force.  On their backs, they carry fifty pounds of metal, food, aid, and destruction.   They sport rawhide boots with thick socks and low cut fatigues.  While they march forward in the quest for a dune, a well, a city, shrieking men fall beside them.  They know blood and death the way we know work and family.   They trust one another implicitly, loyal to country, to corps, to comrades.  At night, they review handwritten words from desperate and devoted relatives who survive under their watch, and they cry dry tears where courage ends and the terror begins.  They are fathers to children they’ve never seen.  Instruments of death construct their music, the IUD’s and dirty bombs exploding with the sort of irregular composition that suggests mania or insanity.  They offer their lives for our freedom and then they return on absent limbs, with disordered minds, or in body bags. 

Wetrain them to kill, to divest themselves of any moral code. We ask them to forego social convention and to be willing to shoot a man in the head for what is right.  We provide them with weapons and rules and hierarchies and orders.  We take them when they are eighteen years old and we ask them to watch their friends die.  And then we bring them home, and thrust them back into society and wonder why they have trouble reacquainting with civilization.  Truth is, moral wounds are not superficial.

Today is Memorial Day, when Americans gather around barbecues and consume hot dogs and German beer.  They play softball games and swim in lakes and kiss each other beneath warm summer winds.  They fish in streams, square dance, light bonfires and watch sunsets.  And in a free moment – when dusk arrives and the potato salad is sticking to the sides of the Tupperware, when the children have chocolaty remains upon their slack-jawed lips, when fireflies are heading out for some romantic tryst, and when America’s soldiers are nestling in and locking and loading for a three-day firestorm – they stare into the distance, and whisper, to men who will never hear them…Thank you for your sacrifice.

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By ccxander

The Prisoner

My colleague sighed. I suppose that’s the right way to begin a scene intended to express relief.  It’s presumed the soaked armpits and palpitating heartbeat and the perpetual sense of impending doom will dissipate.

Just the other day, he asked me to attend a sentencing with him. Blessed with a bit of history in the courtroom, I apparently offered the possibility of something stable.  My colleague needed the guilty – a nineteen-year old boy – to receive a terminal sentence.  The judge spoke quickly – Life without parole.

Over the next sixty years, this teenager will become something less than a man.  He will be pale and he’ll eat sloppy piles of un-nutritional foods from metal trays. He’ll be spat upon and he will feel the fear of imminent death.  Unrelenting boredom will infect his brain.  His black locks will grey and there will come a day when he looks into a shard of glass and catches his limp reflection and sheds tears.  He will submit to bedsores and smelly sheets and abject hopelessness.  Inside his cell, he’ll post vagaries of contraband upon his walls and work through myriad chess strategies in an attempt to sustain his mental agility.  Sunlight will never hit his skin for more than an hour each day.  There will be no possessions – other than what the boss allows. Family members will promise to be in touch, and then forget to show up one week, and then another, until they’ve all faded into the darkness of their own lives and left him without a light.  He will spend some of his time writing letters for the functionally illiterate inmates who share his bunk and they will thank him with explicit homosexual acts and filthy handfuls of half-smoked cigarettes.  He’ll spend weeks of his life in solitary confinement – no blankets, no light, 23-hour lockdown – and the smell of fecal matter will permeate his pores.  Terms like “Please” and “Thank you” will disappear from his life.  Laughter will become a memory.  He’ll learn that the privileged-class logic, which drove him toward intense experiences, is not how one becomes aware of one’s true self, because, in prison, he is going to meet people who have been born into personal tragedy and suffering and the sort of intense despair that makes knowing oneself an excruciating experience.  From their cages, the other inmates will brand him, classify him by his skin color, and then watch him to determine his threat level.  Is he prey or predator, rapeable or leaderly, reliable or rat? He will develop a ceaseless hyper-vigilance and enter an unremitting state of fight or flight.  Later in life, adrenal failure will threaten him.  And this is his fate – nothing else – until, on some inconsequential day sixty or so years from now, he dies.

As we leave the courthouse, my colleague leans upon my shoulder.  Thanks for being there for me. 

I spend my life searching for moments that resonate.   On this day, I succeeded.

By ccxander

Kicking the Can Down the Road

I tend to avoid politics like the plague.  When I do discuss things, I generally listen to my conversational partner’s position and then take the opposing one, just to stay mentally agile.  Disenfranchised with the candidates, I restrained from voting in the last Presidential election.  Sitting on the sidelines, I was thoroughly impressed with Obama’s speaking ability, the historic nature of his ascension, and the idea that the future might produce opportunity.  As for McCain, his heroism in combat, the institutional memory he brought to the race, and his passion for the nation, all inspired me.  On the issues, however, both candidates seemed vacuous at best.  Still, that omnipresent and wholly American trait called Unabashed Hope nestled into bed with me and I slept peacefully, knowing our representatives would find their way through the maelstrom.

Here we are three-and-a-half years later and it seems Washington has done the impossible.  Things are worse.  Unemployment has doubled, the national debt has doubled, the health care bill is about to be tossed out, we haven’t actually won either war, and in the past two years – in the House and the Senate – the President’s budgets have received zero votes in favor and 610 votes against.

Here’s an interesting statistic about our priorities:  Out here in sunny California where pseudo-celebrity derrieres and Botoxed songstress/whores run rampant, we spend $8,667 per student per year and about $50,000 per inmate per year.  I’m suggesting we might reconsider our present path.  

I’m driving at something depressing here.  When I grew up, I believed in the American Dream, that democracy’s representatives could lead us to prosperity, that opportunity and happiness and realization was everyone’s end game.  But somewhere along the path from pubescence to my prime, I lost faith in the system.  I no longer think any of them are out for our benefit.  I’ve taken the position that even the best-intentioned candidates succumb to the arrogance of power.  Consequently, I’m throwing out a few ideas:

  • One term only for all candidates—staggered to maintain institutional memory.
  • Balanced budget due by February 1st each year or we revoke salaries and have new elections.
  • Provide budget categories on our tax forms and let us decide where our tax dollars go.
  • Congress shall spend 90% of its time in their own districts and 10% in Washington.
  • Create a campaign network that only runs for two months before all non-Presidential elections and allocate each candidate a specific number of presentations at no cost.  The network will also host all political debates. Then, eliminate political campaigning on network TV.
  • Eliminate retirement and health care benefits for all representatives and let them find their way like the rest of us.

I could go on ad infinitum but those are a few things that might make power-hungry people think twice before heading to the East Coast to pad their resume and grab some of the taxpayer dollars.  Until something changes, we are kicking the can down the road to our offspring, and when those poor kids bend down to pick it up, they are going to feel the brunt force of history rammed right where the sun don’t shine.

By ccxander

Baby,You Can Call Me Al

Lately I’ve been rather contemplative –must be the birthday thing bringing about philosophical indulgence.  Recently, passing through the hills into Southern California’s upper atmosphere, I found myself at the Griffith Park observatory.  For those in different parts of the Union, this is where L.A. people see stars that don’t make sex tapes or make absurd racist remarks or visit rehab centers every other week in hopes of convincing judges that their Friday night coke binges are just the result of over-involved parents and the sort of peer pressure that comes from making $20 million dollars for thirty days work and “please for the love of God don’t make me remove the Louis Vitton bag from my arm and force me to replace it with an orange suit – because I look like shit in orange.”  No, these stars are celestial.

Beneath giant telescopes and Newton’s statue and enough scientific terminology to make Einstein blush, one can’t help but ponder the profundity of our circumstance.  Which brings me to my point.

We’re pretty damn small our here on this third rock from the sun, and yet, there I was, amongst the car fumes, incessant chattering, unashamed littering, and the anti-human being bustle that allows aggressive people to unremorsefully shove their way to the front of lines, and all I could think was How the hell can we be so damn small and so thoroughly irritating?  I saw three tons of tank-topped woman smacking her child, witnessed a three-point turn that resembled rams fighting, watched a grown man engage in an ear cleaning as he went to town on his chicken marsala, and stood in judgment of a contest between two adolescents who were engaged in a who can make the loudest and most infuriating sound in public competition.

Look, I get it.  We can’t all be conscious that we’re part of a greater society and that a little decorum might be the difference between brightening someone’s day and sending them home weeping for humanity.  But there are seven billion of us now, and even though we barely make up a bumper ding in this here thing we call a universe, perhaps we can put in a little more effort to give a shit about our fellow planet-mates.  Am I off base?

By ccxander

Why I’m Sticking with Dark Chocolate!

Nothing with a face or a mother.  For six weeks now, that’s been the protocol.  Vegetarian, with no dairy, the absence of any full feeling, the missing sense of something to really gnaw on, meatless.   For the first time in my life, I’m experimenting with different dietary guidelines.  Healthier lifestyle, better nutrition, back to the caveman days, they say, as if I wasn’t aware the average lifespan for a cavemen was about 30 years – and NO it wasn’t because they were eaten by dinosaurs (that’s just a total lack of knowledge about prehistoric history, you dumbass…they said).

Prepare for oblique segue….

I am walking through the nursery – mission for a friend – to procure several small shrubs, a well-trimmed Banzai tree, and the bane of my current existence, the Dionaea muscipula.  For those who chose to toke bong loads instead of attending the eight a.m. university-level Latin class, Dionaea muscipula is the Genus and Species name for the Venus Flytrap, a carnivorous plant that catches and digests animal prey.

You see where I’m heading, right?

This is a plant…that eats animals.  A plant…THAT EATS ANIMALS!  I am seriously conflicted about this damn thing.  See, I’ve always argued that cows are vegetarian and that eating one wouldn’t breach the whole vegetarian experiment, but then I get yelled at by terribly thin people with too-white skin.  They tell me that even though cows eat green, they are pink inside, and breathe, and have babies, and moo painfully when slaughtered.  So now I stand around with a half-poured ketchup bottle in my hand, and an attractive hindquarter on my plate, and feel guilty enough to walk away.  Instead, I lope over to the local market and scour the produce section for something with less than 90% water and lacking the fiber content that will inevitably make me stop at the toilet paper aisle.  But I digress.

The flytrap should be edible, shouldn’t it?  Somehow this botanist’s blasphemy transforms meat into vegetable.  With some research, I discovered a whole host of carnivorous plants- Nepenthes, Cephalotus, most Heliamphora, and some Drosera.  One can almost imagine the Green Thumbers’ nightmarish shrieks if Tim Burton ever got ahold of this little tidbit.  Even though this thing eats pink, it’s green inside, and doesn’t breathe, or have babies, or moo painfully when slaughtered.

So, veggies transformed into meat is bad, but meat transformed into veggies is good?  Processed meats are not good for you, but the organic veggies that have never been sprayed to remove the bugs, are great.  I’m supposed to save the big puffy trees but eating the little puffy trees like broccoli is recommended.

The point is, there seems to by a whole lot of hypocrisy in the world of biology.  Carnivorous plants and vegetarian animals sound more like Dr. Seuss inventions than Darwinian mutants.  And don’t even get me started on Tofurkey.

Anyway, this whole thing has made me hungry, so if you can figure out something acceptable for me to eat, lunch is on me!

 

By ccxander

Thoughts on a 42nd birthday

42. Douglas Adams’ answer to the ultimate question of life the universe and everything.

42.  The uniform number of America’s pastime’s greatest civil rights story.

42. The race to the twenty-first birthday, twice.

For over four decades, I have traveled upon this large rock, witnessing starving children, maimed crusaders, failing heartbeats.  I’ve been subjected to triumphant joy and met unparalleled determination, experienced success and failure.  In my time, I’ve wept and shrieked and envied and boasted.  I’ve felt sorrow and elation, courage and fear, panic and pressure.  Over the years, I’ve consumed dark chocolate and burnt snake, octopus and alligator, sparrow and sturgeon.   A spider’s small fang has entered my skin and I’ve been pricked by a metal needle.  I’ve flown 30,000 feet above the planet and dived desperately beneath twenty-foot waves.  There have been moments when a single glance has caused me to recoil, to dance, to fret, to yearn.  I have felt cool winds upon my cheek and warm skin beneath my hands.  The wild roar of a waterfall has breached my ears and a woman’s whisper once conquered my reason.  While French wines and marinara sauces have crossed my lips, a cabin fire’s smoke has tickled my nose.  My head has felt the cruel rigidness of homeless cement and nestled in the supple softness of a sympathetic pillow.  The actions of a child have inspired me as much as an old man’s antics have moved me to boredom.  When I was younger I adored aspirations, and as time passed, I’ve relished in recollections.  Love embraced me, in the form of a parent, a pet, a woman, a friend, a novel, a film, a rising moon and a setting sun, a moment of personal introspection, and for country.   I’ve lived in my own personal space, in rental space, in space I own, in the space of a moment, in cyberspace, and for a brief instant in the space-time continuum.  During this life, I’ve been as small as a kidney bean and larger than a trash can, felt grander than an ocean and smaller than a mouse.   The words of poets have dragged me to despair and lifted me into profundity.  Inside my head, my mind has been placid and frenetic.  I have competed and succumbed and testified and fallen upon silence’s sword.

42…and counting.

 

By ccxander

HOWLING AT THE MOON

Who procured the spirits?”

They act familial, accents spouting through remarkably British teeth, their proclivity for words like procure and spirits a testament to European haughtiness, and they carry pâté, and share it, on crackers, with lifted pinkies.

“I have the beverages.  We’re simply lunatics for navigating this knoll to witness this lunar event.”

If there was a market for pretension, they’d be tycoons.

We are seated, rocky outcropping, waves crashing below, several seagulls testing the winds, and an apparently angry seal barking the sun into submission.  The air has a chill about it.   Intergalactic reports state the moon will reach its apsis tonight, and the damn thing will be worse than a neighbor’s voyeuristic flashlight peering through your window.  Thus, the stargazers.

What is it about cosmic events that draws our attention?  Does the moon appearing a few inches larger on the horizon really capture our fantasies the way the Oscars or the Olympics do?  I guess it’s the idea of something beyond our control, distant enough that we might attribute something religious to it, or worse.  Maybe we stare out there with our wine glasses and $30-a-bite caviar and imagine mankind’s conquering of space – sans the folks who think Aldrin and Armstrong were hitting the hookah too hard on a Saturday night – or we worry this little satellite might tug on our tides too hard and cause coastlines to change.

Of course, I am here too, staring across the swells, watching the reflective light bounce across the water, listening to the mildly retarded tones of English slurring, huddled beneath my windbreaker, snapping photos on an iphone, and wondering when the hell I joined the crowd.

Lunartics (def) people who make treks up small mountains to see something that happens every 28 days, just because it’s 14% bigger.

By ccxander