Sunday, June 30, 2013

Californians rejoice at reversal of Prop 8

The day I became a tiny bit less cynical

Nelson Mandela is in a hospital in South Africa, apparently deceased but kept ‘alive’ via massive medical intervention. Like, at this rate, he could technically live forever.

His family’s pissing match over his remains is unseemly, but posthumous internecine squabbles certainly won’t be what Mandela is remembered for.

I first heard about Nelson Mandela when I moved to Southern California from Arizona back in the early ’80s. I was delivering pizzas in Pasadena, and one of my colleagues had a bumper sticker that said FREE NELSON MANDELA. Being the perfect hick asshole I was and remain, I asked her lightly where I could pick me up some free Nelson Mandela.

She did not think I was a funny guy. I shudder to think what she must have really been thinking.

I remember saying to myself, “Little girl, you are absolutely gorgeous but you are naïve as hell if you think this political prisoner is getting out of jail alive. That just isn’t the way the world works, especially after 20-something years of imprisonment by as deranged a political regime as ruled South Africa at the time. The poor guy was probably a shell of his former self, anyhow. I couldn’t imagine how decades of unjust incarceration wouldn’t produce that result. This pretty girl was bound to be disappointed.

The pizza job came and went, and Mr. Mandela was still in jail. Then one day, years later, the unthinkable happened. I saw footage of a distinguished-looking Nelson Mandela walking down the street, wife on his arm, surrounding by jubilant throngs.

It was a game-changer for me.

I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that read, SHIT HAPPENS. My boss came in one day and said, “You know, good things happen too, Fang.”

I never forget his admonition. Of course good things happen, but it’s mostly shit. In actual practice, shit has the advantage, hands-down. I might have taken a moment to wish I, too, had been born on third base with Mickey Mantle at bat. Maybe I’d see things differently then.

So it goes. Bitter little man.

Anyhow, I still believe more shit happens in the world than kindness, and I don’t think it’s just because the bad stuff is all we hear about. That’s part of it, but it’s in our nature to put our own needs first, and doing that naturally comes at the expense of others.

Shit happens, you know?

But I thought of good things happening as I sat there, stunned, watching Nelson and Winnie Mandela walking down the street. He was most definitely not a shell of his former self as he strode down the avenue with a bearing that was both humble and regal at the same time.

To my further surprise, after his inevitable election of the newly-free state, Mr. Mandela proceeded to govern with a wise, forgiving hand, choosing reconciliation over retribution. He defied every expectation I had. The whole affair defied every expectation I had.

I thought of Lincoln, and the plans he had for post-Civil War America. Lincoln died before he could set the ship of state aright, but Mr. Mandela did not.

Nelson Mandela shattered my notions of the heights of grace to which a human being could aspire. And now as he is in a hospital, being kept alive by machinery, it occurs to me that he is that rare transformative figure to die of old age. Lincoln didn’t make it, Gandhi was assassinated and so was Christ. But somehow, probably for the last time (but I’ve been wrong before!), Nelson Mandela surpassed my expectations.

Nelson Mandela still has the power to elevate my spirit, even in virtual death.

Fair journey, Mr. Mandela. May your final freedom be everything you hoped.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Is Superman the story of Jesus?

Well, sure it is. Does’t every reluctant hero’s quest for the trophy hew closely to the story of Christ as depicted in the New Testament? Now I’m not saying the authors of the Bible cribbed from JosephCampbell, but the story of the life of Christ follows pretty much the same narrative as he lays out for every hero’s journey.

Think about it: Act I, establish the hero’s normal world. Christ is dirt poor but doesn’t mind because he’s got a cool bag of tricks, a head on his shoulders and a dozen besties who worship the water he walks on.

Act II, he pisses off the authorities, is pursued, caught and ends with his life imperiled.

Act III, he survives a death trap, [spoiler alert!] forgives his tormentors and claims his prize—eternity sitting at the right hand of the Father.

Starring Channing Tatum, with Ian McKellan as Pontius Pilate!

However, was Superman created as an allegory for the life of Christ? Hardly likely.

Superman is the work product of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, both children of Jewish immigrants, whose parents survived pogroms in the old country, and institutionalized racism in America.

Superman, like Siegel and Shuster’s families, is an immigrant. But unlike Jewish immigrants, instead of coming to America and finding themselves still considered second-class citizens—even by the Irish!—Superman arrives with the powers Siegel and Shuster would have liked to have had. Most fiction, at some level, begins as an expression of the author’s inner life. (I’m looking at you, author of 50 Shades of Gray.)

If Siegel and Shuster had any subtext in mind when they drafted that first Superman story, I would posit that it had a lot more to do with the immigrant experience in America than it did the story of Christ. The similarities in narrative structure are strictly for storytelling purposes.

It does make for a nice Sunday morning headline, though.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What’s this I hear about Fathers Day?

Fathers get a day? I would think the knowledge that your kids won’t fully appreciate you until you’re long dead would be reward enough. It’s the last word in Last Words.

Father’s Day always sneaks up on me; after I became one as well as back when I still had one of my own. I think the reason for this is because nobody but retailers really give a shit about this particular pre-fabricated holiday. I can hear the meeting now, circa Mad Men season one:

“But we still don’t have a bullshit holiday in June; the tchotchke lobby and the bric-a-brac block are all over us. First person to pull a new, demographically-targeted holiday out of their ass gets a corner office and a dedicated shelf in the executive minifridge.”

Bippity-boppity-boop: Fathers Day.

Unfortunately for the hobby lobby, however, the idea never took off. Some comedian back in the day—I’m thinking George Carlin?—described Fathers Day as: you borrow a buck from your dad, buy him a pack of smokes and hang onto the change. Case closed.

Mothers Day is always a big production, flowers and an expensive meal at her favorite restaurant; Fathers Day is dinner at Chuck-o-Rama instead of Fuddruckers. And a pack of smokes, if your kids love you.

I’m writing this the night before, but so far confidence is not high for a happy Fathers Day this year—no smokes for me! My own dad is long gone and I’ve already written extensively about how I dropped the ball there. But up until now, The Boy has made Fathers Day a real thing out of the cynical marketing scheme with which it began.

But that was before The Missus and I started throwing expectations into the family paradigm. Now, everything is a fucking battle and neither he nor I have any give. It’s the exact same dynamic my mother and I had, and that story didn’t end any too happily.

The Missus does the best she can to keep a happy household when he and I are at loggerheads, but really, it’s like running into a hurricane armed with a handful of helium balloons and a kazoo.

In the last few days, he’s taken to public meltdowns, always with his mother and never when I’m around. So I drew a line in the sand, he stepped over it and kicked it in my face and the shit has been on since then.

Which is not the way I was looking forward to spending this Fathers Day. I knew the time would come when he and I would be estranged—two people as alike as he and I don’t tend to hit it off well over the long run—but I was really hoping to push its advent at least until the kid was in double-digits.

To feel him slipping away at 7 stings like ole slew foot himself.

Karma, Fang; Fang, karma.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

This Day In History...

Took this photo the day I brought Woody home, 17 years ago.

All I've learned since then is that he is irreplaceable.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Priceless hilarity from my Johnny Cash YouTube channel:

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The real victims of this weekend's spree killing:

You just know the 47% is going to try the blame guns again, every time they kill bunches of people at random. Oh, the gunmanity!