Saturday, March 26, 2016

Some kinda wild fun

Yep, that’s life right now. I keep trying to pull out of this steep decline, but as The Missus so accurately puts it, I’ve become increasingly emotionally fragile. I feel like I’m regressing to teenage Pete, the last time everything looked this bleak and hopeless.

I didn’t much like being teenage Pete and it’s beginning to look like Old Man Pete is going to be a horrible slide into emotional isolation and rapidly advancing physical decrepitude. Oh sure, people will say—rightly—that I never got around to exercising. And that that contributed to my crumbling personal infrastructure. They’re probably right. And I’m sure when they come back to bite me on the ass I’ll care a lot, but right now, when it matters, when I could do something about it… I’m just too discouraged to care.

Really Old Pete is not going to be very happy with middle-aged Pete who feels like 17-year-old Pete and is making the same kind of bad decisions.

My sibs are having a birthday party in Tucson for my niece, sister and mom, a week after mine, and I can’t afford to make it. So that’s kind of a bummer. Someone said something once about possible frequent flier miles, but so far that hasn’t panned out. Sucker punch to the self-esteem.

And none of my friends out here either have time for me—which I understand, we tried to horn our way into their regularly scheduled lives when we moved here, I knew that—or as I’m learning, actually even like me. (Again with the experiences of Teenage Pete.) And I’m not being angsty, I’ve been told by third parties repeatedly since moving here that this person or that one is all pissed off at me for something I said or did in glib passing and didn’t even notice (see: Teenage Pete again). I miss the old arts community of Long Beach. Everybody was a poser, but we were comfortable enough in our assumed skin that it was pretty fucking thick, certainly heavy enough to withstand the casual asides that have gotten me into such dutch here.

I’m sure this town has some kind of arts community, but now I’m too old and enfeebled to seek it out, or participate in its reindeer games if I did find it. Plus, I have responsibilities that are more important than mutually assured musical genius societies. But boy, do I miss the players. Even the ones I didn’t get along with; we were free to be openly snippy with each other and move right on ahead with our fucking day without consequence.

Somehow I’m remaining a good dad, but I’m becoming a shitty husband and I don’t know what to do about it. Mostly sins of omission, but this weekend I took The Boy to see a movie we were all gonna see together on Sunday. We’re still gonna see it on Sunday, but it was a total Dick Move, and I know I hurt her. Again, the asshole Sociopathic Pete of the 70s and 80s rears his ugly fucking stupid head.

I think I hear the boy tossing and turning. I’m gonna go see to him. I’ve grown weary of weeping over my keyboard anyhow.

This was me a few days ago

You know, for the record.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

The five stages of Trump

It’s impossible to discuss this election cycle—by which of course I mean the unexpected viability of Donald Trump’s shockingly repugnant candidacy—and the Republican primary voters who are hurtling Trump toward the nomination without resorting to what would usually be considered ad hominem attacks. This is because two of the three things all Trump supporters seem to have in common is that they’re angry, and can only be objectively described as stupid.

Perhaps they’re gullible, too, but they’re mainly pissed off and in no mood to critically analyze any kind of empirical data, which makes for a misguided and ill-informed constituency. Perfect for a snake oil salesman like Trump.

For context, I live in an extremely god-guns-and-guts part of the country, and not a single conservative of my acquaintance is a Trump supporter. [Note: all I have in this state are conservative friends, so this is a rather large cross-section of the community we’re talking about here.] From the quiet one who sits at the end of the bench and doesn’t talk much, to the one who believes Hillary should be in jail due to the trail of bodies in her wake (“Wake up, Fang!”), nobody likes Trump. Where the hell are all his supporters coming from?

In interviews, many of these people have said they like Mr. Trump—for president, mind you—because he had a reality-tv show they enjoyed for many years. They’ve had him in their front room, he’s funny, he’s familiar; he’s their TV friend! Most of the other man-on-the-street Trump supporters featured on various media platforms just repeat assorted applause lines from Trump stump speeches: PC is bad, strong is good, failing is bad, America is failing! All his enemies are jealous of his wealth because they’re losers and have tiny dicks, etc.

You know, an R-rated version of the kind of set-up/knock-down insult comedy that used to be the staple of family hour on ABC. Except now it leads the news every night.

Judging by everything I’ve heard Trump’s enthusiastic fans say to anyone with a camera and time to be yelled at, the third thing Trump voters have in common is that none of them are perceptive enough to know when someone is looking them in the face and telling whoppers. Not even when video evidence surfaces, on issue after issue, providing empirical proof of the fact of his repeated falsehoods, the boldness of Trump’s prevarications. Not even when he gets in front of a roomful of evangelical voters to profess his long- and deeply-held Christian faith, then quotes a passage from “Two Corinthians,” a mispronunciation no one who has ever seen the inside a Christian house of worship would ever make.

And who did those evangelicals vote for afterwards? Mr. Trump, in droves.

See what I’m saying? Poor decision-making that not even the most transparent of dissembling can sway, not even when the lies specifically contradict foundational tenets of the belief system that binds the particular group of supporters together.

To believe one thing but do another requires willing suspension of critical thinking, which is by definition—as well as in practice—stupid. Trump could serve steak tartar to a rally full of vegetarians, and they would choke down every bloody bite with one hand while waving a misspelled cardboard sign in the other.

And the thing about stupid is, you can’t argue it away. You can’t smash it into submission with clever rhetoric or distracting ‘facts’. Frankly, stupid resents how clever your rhetoric is, and your facts are just the bought-and-paid-for byproducts of Big Smartypants, looking down from their ivory college towers. You can’t reason with stupid, and you sure can’t buy it off by offering to pay for it to go to college!

[Note to Mitt Romney and the GOP establishment: You also can’t trot out the last election cycle’s failed candidate to rally an already alienated base. I’m not sure how helpful it was to have the guy the Republicans didn’t like enough to vote for last time give them a big lecture this time. Point goes to Trump; unforced error.]

Unfortunately, one piece of traditional political wisdom seems to be holding true; that every big election—like after the reign of a two-term president—is a ‘change election.’ Arguably, one of the most significant reasons Barack Obama sailed to election in 2008 is because the country couldn’t find a politician less like the bellicose, act-now-and-think-after-Monday-Night-football-is-over approach of George W Bush. A change election produced a change candidate then as it has now.

Still, even given that this a change election, how much change can our experiment in democracy endure? Why are there enough people in the U.S. willing to suspend objective interpretation of provable facts and decide to vote a race-baiting, xenophobic, sloganeering carnival barker with Tourette’s—who plans to rewrite the First Amendment so he personally will be allowed to sue more people—into the White House. Where exactly does his constituency come from, besides apparently everywhere except the town I live in?

The motivation of Trump’s base couldn't be clearer, though. Rally photos and footage bear out the allegation that Trump’s appeal is limited virtually exclusively to white people. A number of whom were still alive when civil rights came into vogue into the 50s and 60s, and it turns out a lot of them didn’t much like the way it turned out. Both liberals and conservatives of my generation and before never thought we’d live to see a black president. When Obama was elected, the liberals rejoiced.

The conservatives did not.

Modern-day Trump rallies look like George Wallace campaign hootenannies, complete with the candidate egging his already unruly crowd on to violence. Recent history is filled with scratchy black and white video of would-be tyrants and tin-pot dictators encouraging their swooning hordes to acts of mass violence, back to the beginning of the last century. Between them, the only things that change are the languages and production values.

But Trump’s ace in the hole is his understanding of how to play the media. Marco Rubio clobbers him in a debate? Wheel out the dazed-looking Chris Christie the next morning for a surprise endorsement and ride that news cycle instead of the unflattering one from the night before.

And the media that doesn't play ball? Before now, the stupids knew who they could trust to deliver their daily quota of deep thought: Fox News and talk radio. Everyone but Fox and right-wing radio was all part of the same Big Media establishment that had been talking down and lying to them for years. But now Rush is talking trash about their candidate and Donald Trump has said that Fox News itself has fallen under suspicion for their discourteous treatment of him. Pity Trump’s credulous know-nothings, who are bewildered to discover they can’t even trust their favorite opinion delivery vehicles anymore. To whom can they turn for the hatest news?

Trump über alles?

And how about us progressives? We pride ourselves on being so damned smart; how did we let it get to this, and what are we supposed to do now?

Well, strike the first question. We’ve already covered it. The horse is out of the barn and needs his medication.

There are, however, a few things we can do to prepare for the worst, and we’ve done more than half of them already. I call them The Fives Stages of Trump.

• Denial: What the fuck? Trump is running? Oh, want a lark, what a gay romp it shall be! See how foolish he looks descending the elevator to make his announcement, complete with those awful, racist comments about Mexican rapists? He’ll be the most reviled, laughed-at asterisk in modern American history! Ah, ha ha ha ha!

• Anger: Okay, what the fuck? Seriously, what the fuck is going on here?

Bargaining: Well, at least he has a fucking ceiling. He’ll play in the hinterlands, okay, but there’ll be enough educated urbanites to not want to see their country descend into the mad vision of a narcissistic TV reality show host.

• Depression: Oh fuck. He crushed Super Tuesday. Barring an unforeseen miracle, it looks like it’s going to be Trump vs Clinton in November. Granted, all kinds of weird shit has already happened this time out, and God preserve us, the actual election is still 9 months away. That’s enough time for one of two things to occur: Something unexpected happens and the paradigm shifts dramatically, dethroning the current Republican front-runner; or worse, it gives the rest of us the time to get used to the idea of a Trump presidency. Less time than it takes to accept, and prepare for an unexpected addition to the family; a little red-faced, tantrum-throwing thin-skinned bundle of rage issues.

• Acceptance: We’re fucked.

Monday, September 07, 2015

My Summer Of Love

Wow, what an amazing summer it’s been.

This is the first year of Luke’s life that Leslie has had a 9-5 desk job all summer, and it has been a whole new level of parenting experience. I mean that in a good way, and I hope The Boy would agree.

True story: The other day I heard him talking to someone on the phone, telling them, “Me and my dad live downstairs, my mom lives upstairs.” I went from feeling geographically isolated in the old house to being in the catbird seat in this one.

A little background, we also bought a house this summer. A lovely split-level, neatly bifurcated above and below. And indeed, my office and The Boy’s bedroom are belowdecks, while the main living quarters and sundry whatnot are all located topside.

(I have to be deliberately vague for reasons I refuse to amplify by going into here.)

Also this summer, I flirted for two months with quitting Klonopin after umpteen years to nothing but bad results; two months of alternately not sleeping, or sleeping with the aid of various prescription and OTC meds that rendered me effectively mute. I had to choose between being a functional junkie or a rolling wreck of a sad sack wrestling with sleep deprivation and speech impediments. I decided to dance with the devil what brung me.

But during those two months, I failed to get Luke and me to the Rush concert—twice. Besides the thousands of dollars wasted, the hit to my self-confidence was brutal. The first time, I’m pretty sure I had the flu. The second time, I think I had a panic attack. This, of course, was during the period I had taken myself off my long-time anti-anxiety meds. Man, I really screwed the pooch on that one.

I did reconnect with Dave, though, so the first trip anyhow was not a complete waste.

And back home in Boise, The Boy spent a number of quality playdates with his friend Tristan (below), including the first sleepover at the new house!

I also had to oversee the moving of absolutely all of our worldly shit from one house to another while Leslie was on vacation in Southern California. Between two consecutive Thursdays, I filled a 15-foot UHaul and then a 26-foot UHaul, both crammed to the rafters. Thank God for the martial arts kids from The Boy’s school or I’d probably still be laid out.

Anyhow, throughout it all—except the week he spent in Long Beach with his mom—The Boy has been by my side. I really got to see up-close this summer the young man he is becoming, and I have to say, I am impressed. I like him; I think I’d like him even if he wasn’t my own.

There were a lot of dicey moments, especially as the drug withdrawals were having their way with me, and he was my steadfast companion, my rock. Without actually having a full handle on what was going on, he knew something was and was solicitous, even for him. He was gracious, and only concerned for me and my feelings as I fucked up one Rush concert after another. In Long Beach, while we were missing attempt #2, we found a copy of a show from a few nights earlier on YouTube, and sat together on a couch at my in-laws, in the dark, and watched the first few songs together.

And everywhere I asked him to step up, he did. And not all of his up-stepping can be traced back to bargaining for Minecraft time, either. (Although Minecraft has gotten him consistently up to five pull-ups at a stretch as of this writing.) He’s more aware of what’s going on in the family, and world around him, and is responding to the changes in his awareness with humanity and grace. And humor.

We even recorded our first couple of legitimate musical collaborations, both Johnny Cash tunes!

Tomorrow is his last day of summer vacation; he goes back to school the day after. I can’t wait, and I’m dreading it. My reptile brain is yelling at me about how much I need the alone/quiet time—which is true, oh so true. But experience suggests after the first blush of “I can go back to bed any time I want to!” passes, I’m going to be jonesing hard for the companionship of this summer. Happily, his school grants him copious bonus days off, but in past years the solitude had just gotten good on me when the extra days off started dropping.

I wish I could trap our time together the last few months in amber, to revisit and relive whenever my energy stores are depleted. I know I keep saying this, but there can’t be too many summers left like this one. I’m grateful I worked this one for everything it had to offer.

Here is a little number Luke and I played for Leslie on his birthday yesterday that didn’t go anywhere near as well in performance as it did in rehearsal, but that’s the way these things go sometimes…

Friday, January 09, 2015

I Pity The Fool

I’d wager Bill Maher is going to have a fatwa on his ass by this time tomorrow, after the new-season debut of his political talk show tonight on HBO. He’s already in trouble with Ben Affleck—not to mention many in the Muslim world—for postulating that of all the world’s religions, Islam boasts a following peculiarly interested in and actively carrying out acts of heinous barbarity, specifically in pursuit of their faith.

Most Christian sects are peaceful, in that when their believers do terrible things it is not in the name of their God or their faith, it’s usually just business, or bad decision-making. Or garden-variety crazy. But rarely so crazy that they believe God wanted them to commit their crimes. And when they do think God told ’em to do it, they still make headlines. They think it was God in their ear; we know it was just plain old Crazy talking.

I Googled up the top ten world religions and it reads like a Who’s Who of pacifism. After Christianity and Islam, you’ve got Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and at least two or three other “isms” I’ve never even heard of before, none associated with violent practices.

Judaism comes in at number 6, and while the state of Israel is generally not considered anything like pacifistic, they don’t export their military wrath without non-God-based actionable intel. One may or may agree with their policies, but we can all agree they’re based on pragmatic and strategic considerations, not carried out in the name of their God.

So yeah, among religions, Islam is the one thing that is not like the others. I refuse to Google up the gory details, but I was watching the CBS news last night and Bob Schaeffer ran down the appalling number of civilian murders by fanatic Muslims in the name of jihad just this week. It was in the hundreds and included whole villages that have been massacred. IS is still overtaking and terrorizing its corner of the world. Boko Haram is still committing mass atrocities to scant media attention.

And the list went on and on. Every single one of the criminals self-identifying as an Islamic sect, acting in the name of their God and holy war against the infidels.

There is a violent, metastasizing cancer in a number of radical Islamic factions, and it’s spreading the world over. Why shouldn’t Bill Maher be able to say so? Why shouldn’t anybody?

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Great Eights

Our little man turns nine today.

He is very cool and just a little bit weird and I like him a lot. I would hang out with him even if I didn’t have to. Which, now that Minecraft exists, I technically don’t have to anymore. He is a completely self-contained ecosystem when he is attached to a screen.

But I do still hang out with him when I can. When he makes time for me, in between bouts of intensely wiggling his fingers across the screen of my handheld gadget device.

What I did that makes succumbing to Minecraft actual Quality Parenting™ is that I have tied his time playing That %&$#!! Video Game (hereafter TVG) to his first having expended an equal amount of time pursuing real-world accomplishments. For example, if he wants to play TdamnedVG for 30 minutes, first he has to put in 30 minutes of guitar practice. Being the clever fellow that he is, he negotiated the use of the gadget’s native chronometer to keep track of the elapsed time of each exercise.

With a 30-minute minimum buy-in. No 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. I saw that coming a mile away, and built it into the original agreement.

Mostly, he’s gotten a lot better at playing guitar; but I’ve also had him watch classic movies with me—in dreaded black and white!—as well as read foundational geek literature like The Dark Knight Returns and the first run of The Ultimates. And since I won’t brook talk of TVG in my presence, I’m afraid I’ve consigned The Missus to hours on end of listening to him go on with infinite enthusiasm about whatever it is he likes so much about TVG. I mean, literally enthusiasm without end; there is no end, only the inevitable “STOP TALKING ABOUT IT NOW!!” button. The difference is, I swing for the ‘stop’ button as soon as I become aware of what he’s about to begin going on about. Or has been going on about for a while before I noticed.

So now he not only sings and plays “Ring Of Fire,” but his vocal melody is slightly different in a couple of key places. I don’t think it’s a mistake, but the way he hears it. It’s also a hoot to hear it sung pitch-perfect in his little boy soprano.

He’s learned a Springsteen kids’ song and already agreed to perform it at the school talent show this year. When we play together and I fumble a chord—or several—I can wait for him to come around and jump back in, and he does the same. I’m not saying he’s any kind of genius (that I know of!), but he does seem to have the knack of it.

His reading has tapered off this year, as has his output of artwork. He’s still curious and reads and understands ambitious reading assignments, but only when he’s working for Minecraft time. We’re hoping the non-elective Arts extracurricular at his school this year will rekindle some of that earlier passion for creative expression.

But I decided he had to be up to speed on TVG since all his peers at school and Taekwondo are hip deep in it. My parents didn’t give a shit about my social experience, they stuck to their guns and as a result, I was always a step behind the other kids socially. A step or a good half-decade. I was literally the only kid in my late-1960s elementary school class with a military-style buzz cut whose dad wasn’t active military.

So as a parent, I’ve tried to find a compromise I could live with, and it’s proven to be as successful as it has been frustrating. By definition, the perfect compromise!

He is tall. He is leggy, coltish, dorky tall. He’s made a lot of friends this year. Last year, the birthday party worry was whether we were going to be able to stock it with party guests, this year it was cutting down the list.

I always tell my mom, I do pray, but only ever for two things. I beg for wisdom—sometimes knowing what the right thing to do is can be a little trickier than others—and from time to time, when gratitude overwhelms me, I try to give some of it back. And in a year that has been altogether too rough and rocky along the way for my taste, I am damned grateful how much Young Mr. Bastardson has flourished in spite of it. (It is the custom in Taekwondo to refer to black belts by their title and surname, which custom I have elected to employ here.)

Ostensibly to be a good parent, but really just to keep me from slipping back into clinical depression, I joined the Family Council at Young Mr. B’s school to keep busy. Then I volunteered to ‘liaise’ with the school board since I am acquainted already with a couple of its members, which turned out made me a voting member of the board. As soon as the implications of that position and its attendant responsibilities were spelled out to me, I agreed it would be a good idea to never ever write about, or even mention it again.

Except to say that now I am busy. Busy keeping The Boy busy.

It’s hard to quit calling him The Boy. He’s still our boy… but for the first time since he started going to school, he didn’t turn into an unruly, temperamental tyrant as the school year and his birthday approached. And he only earned his black belt a couple weeks ago.

He should be utterly insufferable right now.

But he’s been Mr. Cool. He and I even saw the summer out last Friday with a trip to the local overpriced Kidzone go-cart/arcade emporium, just like a regular 21st century Andy and Opie. Instead of fishin’ poles, we swung miniature golf clubs over our shoulders.

Since getting flushed from the bathroom of my career this winter (with apologies to Johnny Cash), suddenly I have free time to volunteer during the school day, and I’m doing that too. By God, I may never be able to remember any of these peoples’ names, but I’ll make sure they remember mine!

Young Mr. B. is on his own in that regard. He seems to lack my flair for self-promotion, but he also definitely lacks my facility for self-loathing, which in my opinion is a more than acceptable trade-off.

He’s already making friends this week at school. If we have put the bullying bullshit that marked the beginning of each of his first few years of public education behind us, Taekwondo and I will have done our job.

It’s been a hell of a great year for Young Mr. B, and I’m grateful to everyone along the way who helped. Eight is going to go down in the books as every bit as good a year as 5, the previous standard-bearer.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

This last number of the evening goes out to Young Mr. Bastardson himself. I wish it could be something Sinatra sang—something about paternity, accomplishment, America and pride, with swelling strings and a big roar of cymbals right near the end—but his songwriters knew way too many chords for me to keep up with. Besides, I decided I was going to learn the following tune for your birthday when you performed it for me for mine. If you pay close attention, you may notice me yelling at you. This is an effort to get you to pay close attention.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A nosebleed seat to the Apocalypse?

We all really need to start getting along.

Since moving to Idaho, I’ve had to put my politics on the back burner. Too many consequences to shooting off my mouth. Fuck it. Too many consequences, balanced against zero actual ability to effect change in any of the areas I’m bitching about. It took me three years to figure out I was pursuing a lose/lose strategy, but as Sarah Connor intones early in Terminator 2, “I’m feeling much better now.”

Because the consequences of ditching that strategy have been deeply rewarding. As a non-partisan fellow now, a man without a country, as it were… without an opinion I’ve been inclined to share… it’s opened up lines of actual dialogue, specifically with the people whose belief systems have historically clashed with mine. And it made me even more bored with the clever rhetoric of the Left. I read old blog entries and I’m among the worst transgressors. I would go back and eliminate (or redact) a lot of stuff I’ve written, except I’ve seen the way attempting to rewrite history turns out in 1984.

I can’t even watch the news anymore, and not just to protect my 9-year-old. It plays like Michael Bay and David Lynch put their heads together to co-produce the Apocalypse.

Commercial airliners being blown out of the sky by unrepentant thugs. Other ginormous planes going mysteriously missing—poof! The violent religious extremists in the Middle East finally becoming our actual worst nightmare by organizing and getting their command and control shit together. Worse, acquiring the wealth and weaponry left behind by a recently conquering army. And when I say wealth, I mean “wealth” with a “b” as in billions. People argue over how many billions, but let me ask you this. How many billions of dollars did Osama bin Laden’s signature terrorist attack cost? Zero. Now add billions of dollars to that capacity for evil. That’s how much more dangerous the international terrorist situation has become.

Here’s my beef. I get that it feels like the new daily horrors we’re living through look and feel and quack like the foreplay to the End Times. What I don’t get is why that fact hasn’t begun to coalesce us as a people yet.

I’m looking at us, America! Not because we’re necessarily the worst offenders, but because I’ve got a dog in this hunt.

Look. I get that it’s easy to point fingers. It’s Obama’s fault because he’s feckless and has neither a strategy nor even a consistent talking point about the Middle East or Ukraine or anything else; it’s W’s fault because he unseated Saddam Hussein on evidence that was later proven inaccurate, and created the power vacuum in the region that the terrorists are currently exploiting; it’s Bush Sr.’s fault for not taking out Saddam when the rest of the world actually seemed on board with the idea; it’s Bill Clinton’s fault for his lack of a vigorous military response when the USS Cole was attacked on his watch; it’s the British Empire’s fault for partitioning up the old Ottoman empire and cutting it up into the merry patchwork of murderous country-states they are now, which error IS* in its questionable wisdom is trying to undo; it’s the inhabitants of the region’s fault for waging this war on themselves for thousands of years before the foreign Imperialists ever got involved… As far as Wikipedia and I know, these are all true facts. This is shit that can be generally agreed upon, one fact at a time, by reasonable people.

[*While our media sources dither between ISIS and ISIL, they refer to themselves simply as the Islamic State. Not “…Of Syria” and not “…Of The Levant.” They really do want to put the old land back together.]

So it’s everybody’s fault. It’s everybody’s fault, and we all stand to get taken to task for it. Especially now that IS is as well-armed and wealthier than the majority of its neighbors most immediately in jeopardy of being engulfed by them, with plenty of money and munitions left over for foreign mischief.

If it’s everybody’s fault, then isn’t it also everybody’s responsibility?

If we’re going to be responsible about this, we have to start listening to our fellow Americans instead of yelling at them. Only by listening can new, different ideas enter our brains. They may be really stupid ideas borne of a philosophy and outlook that is completely at odds with our own, but they may also—in their vast ignorance—spark a New Idea in somebody’s head. An idea that wasn’t put there by a news channel or a blogger or wherever the hell kids get their news these days.

An idea that might start a conversation that might begin to produce a change.

The longer we stand on opposite sides of the ideological chasm and hurl biting witticisms at each other, the longer the enemy has to further get their shit together. I guarantee you, by now they have broken off a little group and granted them unlimited funds with which to plan foreign affairs. IS have started doing lots of other stuff governments do, and these guys’ number one priority is killing. That’s definitely something governments do, and IS really likes killing us. That’s math even I can do.

And still we bicker amongst ourselves! Over on Facebook, left-wingers are politicizing the outlandishly horrific murder of another American journalist, and so are right-wingers. They still can’t agree on anything, except that this butchery is an excellent opportunity to drive their partisan hackery home. It’s unseemly, and worse, it’s counter-productive.

I had a friend on Christmas Island—you know, where we’re from—with whom I used to enjoy party-line give-and-take. He was always more adherent to his party line than I was to mine, though. I used to try to reason him into a corner just for sport, but he’s a wicked smart guy, and except for The Missus, nobody can marshal facts and figures like he can to support any given argument. He really gave me a good rhetorical workout, and in my own defense, I was frequently very clever. I found lots and lots of ways to passively disparage the GOP president at the time. [sigh]

Well, after moving to Idaho and trying to adjust to the very politically conservative climate here, his broadsides were no longer as entertaining. They had gone from a diverting pastime for me to just another reminder that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Eventually, one issue struck really close to home. I knew The Missus would take to social media about it, and I begged him to resist the temptation to respond. I was, like, super clear. And I contacted him before she unleashed her wrath.

But just like America, he couldn’t resist. And just like I’d guessed, it didn’t help a bit. It was especially unhelpful, actually.

And that, in a nutshell, is America today. We just can’t resist our unreasoning hatred of the other side of the partisan divide. And what I’ve learned is, most of that hate and mistrust of each other is the result of us being expected by our peers to hate and mistrust ‘the other side.’ We do it because it’s what we know. It’s what we’re used to. We just can’t resist.

The only thing we can’t resist even more is drama, which is what our bickering is inevitably buying us. We are working so diligently on not working together that we are certain to be caught unaware—again—the next time there is a catastrophic domestic attack. And even then, I suspect finger-pointing will prevail over problem-solving in the aftermath.

All of a sudden, having relocated to the Hinterlands doesn’t look like such a bad idea at all.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Karen Thomason was here

My friend Karen died while I was on vacation a couple days ago. She had been in what they call a persistent vegetative state for the last 12 years, stemming from a rapid succession of catastrophic health crises that were not diagnosed until after they had laid her low.

Karen and I worked side by side for some years at the same newspaper, and her ex-husband and I had played together in a band of questionable artistic merit. I had already moved away to another town when I received the news, 12 years ago, that she had been discovered, unresponsive, in her apartment after not showing up to work one day.

Going back, I liked Karen right off. She struck me as kind of sad, and broken inside, but had the kindest eyes I’ve maybe ever seen. They were quiet but burned with a keen intelligence. She had clearly been dragged down a rough, rural road throughout her life, but she still had a lot of heart and was a survivor.

She was my kind of people.

Karen had epically low self-esteem, as a result of a childhood worthy of an E.A. Poe or Stephen King story. Being a hard-luck case myself, I found her immediately compelling, with the weird vibe of self-loathing/love for mankind she exuded. She should have hated the world—not herself—by the time I met her. She had every right to, but she didn’t.

She was a better person than I can ever even imagine myself becoming. It seemed to me she needed and deserved a better friend than she had at the time, so I determined I would be that friend.

I remember times the bosses would light into her for this oversight or that miscommunication—as often as not originating from them, not her—and I would march up to their office and champion her cause. Not because she asked me to, or even because she thought herself worth defending, but because in the absence of anyone else taking her side, I felt it incumbent upon someone to do so.

I remember the night her husband left her. Now, Karen never asked for help, it wasn’t in her nature. But that night, she picked up the phone and called me, in tears. I grabbed my dog, jumped in the car and drove over and picked her up. She spent that first awful night at my house because we both knew, I think, that she shouldn’t be alone.

After that, she was my beard and I was hers. We went to innumerable movies together, only one of which she couldn’t find anything good to say about (“The Postman”). We went to dozens of concerts—the good kind, that we had to drive to LA for.

When I made mix tapes for whatever girl I was dating at the time, I always secretly routed her a copy, and she always talked to me about it afterward in much greater detail and with more enthusiasm than the person for whom I had collected the songs.

She also had my back. One night, in the depths of my depravity, I was loaded on tranquilizers and a box of Franzia ‘chardonnay,’ and was talking to her on the phone when I passed out. She contacted a colleague—neither of them drove—but they drove over to my place anyhow to find me unconscious on my couch and non-reactive, the phone on the floor under my hand where it fell. The other employee wanted to call 911, but Karen talked her out of it, and made sure I was revived enough to survive the night on my own before she left.

She was also a voracious reader and consumer of popular entertainment. When I was writing my magnum opus, she was the person to whom I gave the chapters as I cranked them out, and I still thrill at the memory of her running down the office hallway one early morning before business hours and hugging me after reading the second chapter. She loved it, and she told me why in a way I understood and had frankly been looking for it to be loved.

She became, in a word, indispensable to my life, especially after her divorce. Other than my official Best Friend, she was my best friend, although I didn’t appreciate that fact at the time. In my own way, without even realizing it, I also took her for granted. I suppose at some point, I accepted the fact that I wanted to ‘save’ Karen a lot more than she wanted to be saved, and to some extent just went with that.

The worst part for me is, as much as I meddled in her life and kept her close to me socially, when she slipped into a coma a few months after I moved out of town—I mean, like three months—I was plenty narcissistic enough to believe that if I hadn’t bailed on her too, she might still be alive today and one of my best friends.

And the final arc of her life, spending the last twelve years in a persistent vegetative state, is enough to make one question the whole concept of a loving, forgiving God. Nobody would give me a straight answer about whether she was conscious inside her locked-down body, but I can tell you that when I went to visit her, I would sing softly to her, some of our favorite songs, and tears would begin to roll down her cheeks.

That old line of hooey about, “Oh, they’re in a better place now” usually rings awfully hollow, but in Karen’s case, I cannot imagine a truer statement. I miss her still, acutely as I write this, but am so grateful and relieved that her period of torment has finally come to an end.

What follows was one of her favorite songs, and I’ll close with it. She and Hank Williams and I all vibrated at the same frequency, and like Hank Williams, she did not live long enough to rise above it. We always sang this song at the end of our shows and dedicated it to some worthy who had recently passed—the first time I dedicated it from stage, it was for Julio Gallo. Today, this number goes out to my friend, my confidante, my amiga inseparable, Karen Thomason. Requiescat in pace, good and faithful friend. You have earned it, and you deserve it. Really, you do.

Lost Highway

I’m a rollin’ stone all alone and lost

For a life of sin I have paid the cost

When I pass by all the people say

Just another guy on the lost highway

I was just a lad, nearly 22

Neither good nor bad, just a kid like you

And now I’m lost, too late to pray

Lord I paid the cost, on the lost highway

Now boys don’t start to ramblin’ round

On this road of sin are you sorrow bound

Take my advice or you’ll curse the day

You started rollin’ down that lost highway