Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Little Dream that Came True

Our culture is awash in the language of dreams and passions.  The unfulfilled pursuit is an especially popular hook, preying on the dissatisfaction of all ages.  At 20, the potential for greatness is served up on a platter like a fat juicy Thanksgiving turkey not yet marred by your dad's shitty carve job.  That perfect body full of fluffy stuffing, and that untainted mind must not be wasted for it is only during this short window of time, to 25 if you are under 23 and to 28 if you are over, that you have a chance to shine your way into Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers II. If you are confused, unsure, adrift, the pressure to figure out a passion, and fuck it to death is unmerciful.  If you can't figure it - then you bow your head in bland shame and wallow in quarter-life crisis for the remainder of your 20s.

Luckily, at 30, the media gives you a second wind.  There is no reason to worry, they tell you, because 30 is the new 20 and there's still time for you.  Your ass is still taught, your skin tone even, and barring having birthed a couple children and succumbing to a big mac habit your stomach still flat.  Moreover, you are longer in the tooth - and with that comes actual skills.  You now realize your 20s offered nothing but raw, uninformed, arrogance. Don't get me wrong.  It served you well.  It helped you maintain the belief that your deep abject poverty was only a temporary bump in the road along the way to private jet wealth or fame or admirable genius success and gave you the balls to schmooze an older man or woman into giving you a job you weren't really qualified to do. And then you faked it and faked it and faked it until you figured that shit out and now you have some real skills.   Skills needed to make that promise of greatness a reality.  You know how to manage a social media campaign or record a song or manage a budget or some other shit like that.  You've worked hard and now is when it's going to happen for you.  You watch it happen for someone you know.  They sell a novel, or get elected to office, or retire to Thailand.  You can taste your own notoriety in the breeze piercing the palm trees. It's almost here...about to whisk you away on your soon to be newly purchased yacht that you'll name after your you first girlfriend or boyfriend - just so you can talk about it in interviews with Forbes or People or The New Yorker - interviews which you will send to said girlfriend or boyfriend, who will of course be abject failures living in your shitty hometown with 3 dirty faced kids and a spouse who manages a bank or teaches high school.  They will love you now and they will wish they loved you then.

32 goes by. Then 33 and you don't even notice 34. But 35?  You damn well notice that one.  Where is the yacht, the article in Forbes, the feeling of greatness? By 36, you start to talk yourself down.  You were young, foolish for wanting or even thinking you might get all of that.  And goddamnit, you've done pretty well. You don't worry when the car needs new tires or the house needs a gutter repair.  And maybe you have a decent looking spouse or a fun slightly younger or older significant other.  Once in awhile you still smoke pot or do a line of blow, just for old times sake. You are still fun, full of edge. You might still do something great. But it's starting to seem ok if you don't.  37. 38.  If you aren't married or paired off in a serious relationship, you start to get a little nervous...maybe even depressed. Publicly, you claim your cool - you never want to get married or have kids.  But, privately, you start to worry, shit - am I doomed to be old and lonely?  To bolster your ego, you go to the club the kids are going to and you take home somebody at least 10 years younger.  She or he is impressed by you...tells you how much they like older men or women - how they like experience not little girls or boys.  You go out with them a couple times before their unfamiliarity with your favorite band of all-time or their exuberance for a business idea you have already tried and you know will fail leads you to break it off. You go home and eat an entire bag of Kettle chips while watching a Dateline rerun.

For a couple of years you decide you are cool.  But then fucking 40. FORTY. WTF is that. You thought you'd probably be dead.  Well, maybe not dead, but you sure as hell never thought you would get there.  Media assaults you with images of 40 somethings who don't look like shit to remind you that you still have to try to look 25.  You begin to consider how to best maintain what ever remnants of attractive you have left. You hire a trainer.  You try Retin-A. Botox.  Never considered either before but now...well maybe...if they keep you from looking tired. If people think your tired it could impact your career and you sure as hell don't want that. You are still a vital person with lots to offer. In fact, with 40 a third wind comes.  After the relative comfort you slipped into career-wise during the last couple years, you start to think about greatness again.  "I really have the skills and the know how now to go for something I want." And you're right. But you also know the amount of work energy required to do anything and you just aren't sure you want to do it. But then you read on Facebook about your high school friend who after have two kids with her boring ass husband decides to become a writer and publishes a shitty book about nothing. You wonder how she has  the gumption to call herself a writer after producing such a piece of shit (and you're right it really is a piece of shit) because she's 40 and she should know better at 40. But then you wonder if she's better than you because she produced something - and even a giant turd is better than no turd.

So you sit down and you write this blog post and after exactly seven interruptions you finish and think "take that shitty writer Facebook Friend!" It's not the great American novel or insightful comment on the latest Atlantic article or groundbreaking research. Hell, it's not even headed for the Huffington post...but it's grand in its mediocrity! You celebrate with a smoothie and a cat cuddle and by moving the wet laundry into the dryer. And when you pass the mirror you stop to examine and think "that Retin-A really is keeping my uneven skin tone at bay." And you worry only momentarily about the day when it won't. And then you realize that the shortness of that moment of worry - so much shorter than all those past moments spent worrying about being bigger and better than you've become - the shortness of that moment is a little dream you didn't know you had coming true. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

To the man in this picture...

To the man in this picture, 

When your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren see this picture, and read of the events in Charlottesville, VA, in which you actively participated, what do you think they will think of you? Will they smile with pride over your convictions?  Or, will they think, “that can’t be my dad…he was nothing but good and kind.” Will this image of you, and your tense, shouting face, align with their memories of baseball games and fairs and the fun they had with you? Or will they be forced to search for ways to rectify these happier images with this screaming, angry you? Will they tell their friends about this version of you?  Or, will they quietly push this part into the back of their memories? Will they be proud of you?

My great grandfather was once one of you. He joined the Klan in the early 1920s during a period of recruitment helmed by the famed D.C. Stephenson. You probably already know that Stephenson managed to recruit 30% of the white male population of Indiana into the Klan. He’s pretty famous for that. You also may know that his recruitment plan focused not on race but on ending political corruption and standing up for Protestant morality – the good ole fashioned American values of the day. They were a brotherhood defending America – the real America – at all costs. Doesn’t that sound kind of familiar? You are just standing up for your rights as real Americans, right? You’re sick of outsiders and the lazy coastal elite forcing their liberal values on you and getting an unequal share of American success while you and your friends struggle to find good jobs. Right? 

Only time separates you from my great grandfather, a father of five and a struggling farmer, who was right there with you! He was disgusted by the articles he read detailing the licentious behavior in the big cities and by reports of corrupt government officials profiting off of bootlegging. Like you, he believed in the steadfastness of his moral conviction. And he wanted his kids to grow up in an America that was safe from the influence of all that ugliness.

Likewise, only time separates me from your future great-granddaughter(s).

I was in my early 20s when my dad first confessed my great grandfather’s Klan membership. “He was a simple man, a worker, a farmer. He was a good man who used to take me for root beer sodas at the drug store. Back then the Klan misrepresented their intentions to simple men like him. He didn’t really understand what he was joining; and when he did understand, he got out.” Will your grandsons describe you like my dad describes his grandfather – as dismissively “simple” and easy to manipulate? Will your grandsons feel the need to protect you from judgment – years after you are gone?

This is my official family story – my grandfather as a victim of recruitment misinformation – a man who did better when he knew better. His independence - his moral compass was ultimately intact. But history suggests a different story. My great-grandfather joined the Klan at a time when many other men just like him were joining.  As mentioned above 30% of the white male population in Indiana, or 250,000 joined around the time that my great grandfather joined. Was my great grandfather simply seduced by a trend? Was he nothing more than a man whose convictions swayed with the wind of his times? Will your great granddaughter one day wonder these same things about you? Were you nothing more than an easily manipulated pawn of Make America Great Again fervor?

The Indiana Klan was known for intimidation rather than physical violence; as such I assume my great grandfather may have marched with a torch in hand as you are doing in this picture.  He may have shouted angrily as you are in this picture. But history suggests he probably never hurt anyone physically. Sadly, the videos from Charlottesville don't suggest the same of you.  Were you one of the men shown violently engaging your perceived enemies? If so, are you proud of this? Will you be proud to leave this as a legacy for your grandchildren? Do you think they will brag about you to their friends?  Will this be a story you tell at show and tell?

My great-grandfather ultimately left the Klan, probably sometime after 1925, when DC Stephenson was convicted of kidnapping and holding captive a young woman who he’d become enamored with.  While holding her captive, he raped her repeatedly – apparently in hopes that she would feel inclined to marry him. But she stood strong in her refusal and he ultimately returned her secretly to her parents house. She was in battered and sickly condition and she died a month later as a result of the attack. But in that final month, her description of Stephenson’s behavior, which came out when he was put on trial, was so vile that many of those 250,000 men had to confront the truth that they had been deceived about the moral uprightness of this group Stephenson oversaw. Disgusted, they left in droves.  I suspect my great-grandfather was one of these men – a follower who left only when the organization could find no defense. Will your descendants be able to say that you were disgusted enough to leave?  Now that one of your members intentionally drove a car into a crowd of people and killed and injured the daughters and sons of others? Or perhaps this excites you. Perhaps it seals your loyalty? But how will your descendants regard that loyalty?
I ask because, you see, I can forgive my great grandfather for being easily manipulated. I can forgive him for being a follower; I can even see him as redeemed to some degree because of his final decision to leave. But ultimately, my grandfather was a man on the wrong side of history. He wasn’t a leader or a man of great moral conviction.  He wasn’t fighting for a safer and better future for me. He was just a man, like you, who followed other men of his times into a dangerous and shameful movement. He was part of the ugliness - not its antidote. Through you, I know him a little better. And I am not proud to be his great-granddaughter.  I suspect your great-granddaughter may one day feel the same about you. But perhaps that's what you want? 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Echo Bird's Sunset Strip Love Advice

Echo Bird’s drunk again and
Preaching at pitchfork hounds
Who frown at passing glass and
Matching shoes.

Kindness, Echo laments.
It’s missing from your outfits.
How will you draw them in 
All points and angles? 
A softened sternum
Of liquid sugar 
That shatters with
The mildest blink.

This is what they seek
Have you not seen 
In all that looking?
Kindness is the start of
Oscar worthy after dark, but
Over coffee and peach.
Like the girl they never kissed
Unmarred by an end
Not barbs and nails
Draped in daring dresses
And strangled denim.
That ends.
In a guest house.
With a hot plate.
Near the good side of Van Nuys.    
Not cold cement. 
That’s my burning tip.

The glass frowns back at
Fingers combed black 
And the bird’s eyes dry
Down glowing cheeks of gold.

An Unexpected Turn of Events

I may not be Helen of Troy but
I am the best you'll get and I'll say that in
Print; so settle down sailor, make peace with your
Probabilities, and quit regarding me as the
Albatross. I've got culture to
Influence and life to narrate before I
Vacate to the (mis)fortune of resurrection.
So, strip off that calfskin and validate
Me with that crowing cock I'll soon cuckold
For I ain't no Helen of Troy and
Odysseus you are not.

The First Death

By the time the ambulance arrived
To cart you away
Rigor mortis had set in.
Cumulus clouds were floating
And Nixon announced Turkish invasion of Cyprus
A welcome distraction in his final month as
Commander in chief.
Alger, the house lynx snacked while
Your wife cried without resistance.
I mis-processed these tears,
Thinking you merely asleep
As I looked up to you lying
Motionless under quilt.
Your son arrived and ran me across the street
Into the care of the neighbor with the pool.
My brother was already submerged and
We traded kicks and turns.
Weeks later, I noticed dying vines strangled in
The espalier you built...just one of many small
Losses riding your sleepy coattails.

My Thing, You See

I have a thing you see,
For the insensible ones
That incinerate my heart
With averted glances and
Throwaway notes.
They are my addiction
My karma
For the casual disposal
Of kinder companions
Done away with
To facilitate
My sui generis status
Amongst friends and family.
I have lynched that life of
Ice cream socials and
Egg nog parties with
Big fish in small ponds
For a freedom foreshadowed
By that which it now contains.
Those averted glances
Thrown my way
And notes replaced with
Glowing pixels
Broken down and
Re-assembled into half words,
And passing thoughts that
Drift away with the lightest
Summer breeze
Leaving me


You call this crazy,
But I call it
Bullshit -
Bleeding money out
Gaping Wounds and
Wasting Days
Like a Fountain of Youth
That works the Wrong
Way to go
You say
Don't let them get you
Down I go
This mountain of
My own
One hundred mile
Maker in place
'Cause I never had what it takes
Like I did before I
Went and
Outside In.

Devil Dancing

Like the tourmaline
Twisting my neck
Devil dancing
Has lost its lustre.
So I bundle my vanities
In carry-ons and fly east.
A grovelling ghost
Grieving dissatisfaction,
A lack of pension, and
Seeking propitiation in
The original noose
That hung like rain and
Unleashed the rage
That sent me fleeing
In the first place.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Other you say
There is an other
And here I reap
The consequence of
Belief that I
As other was not
Pattern but matter
Combusting on impact
In something singularly
Other worldly.
Carl Sagan, I thought
Could not explain away
Our chaotic embrace
As mere atom on atom
text book case...I was
Something other than just
Another to you.
And now I

The fool
Replaced and
Like lines of blow
Up your nose
It was great
But it's getting late and
An other will satisfy
Where I failed to sate.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Dancing in the Shadow of Walter White

Fabulous left her three legged dog
In a Burbank bomb shelter.
Full of  fleas
Infesting furniture and feeding on
Dying hustles.
The walls were hair metal poems
Of pussy paper
And sharpie bush.
Moth mauled linens,
Yellow with binges and
Cradled unstrung guitars
That once sold millions.
The kitchen was decorated
In three for fifteen
Pepperoni and cheese and
People waited,
Hands wringing,
Teeth clenching,
For the chemistry
Cooking in the camper
Out back.

For a minute, I played in a band that rehearsed in a house where lots of unsavory things happened.  I only saw the aftermath...and was too naive to totally understand just how unsavory until about a year after I'd moved on to other projects.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Hunt: Innocent Lies and The Perversion of Hysteria


Recently, I watched The Hunt, a shocking and thought provoking Danish movie that was a 2014 Academy Award submission for the best foreign language film.  The Hunt stars Mads Mikkelsen as kind-hearted but sad Lucas, a recently divorced father of a teenage son and a kindergarten teacher's aide who has been laid off from his own high school teaching job.

Early in the movie, we see Lucas interacting with the students, who clearly love him.  Lucas's protective bond with Klara, one of his kindergarten students and his best friend, Theo's, daughter is particularly apparent.  Theo and his wife love Klara but she is not always prioritized and often seems lonely.  As a result, she connects with Lucas, who gives her the attention she's lacking at home.

One day, while playing during recess at school Klara kisses Lucas on the mouth.  Lucas scolds Klara saying specifically she shouldn't kiss people outside of her family like that.  Klara is clearly embarrassed and angered and later that evening tells her teacher that she doesn't like Lucas because he is mean.  When her teacher responds with confusion, Klara says Lucas showed her his penis "pointing up," the same term a friend of her teenaged brother used the previous day when showing her a picture of an erect penis.

 It is obvious that the accusations aren't true; and Klara later says it was just something "stupid" she made up - that Lucas didn't do anything. But, by that point, the police are involved and adults tell the girl she is only trying to forget something awful, a normal behavior after what happened.  To make matters worse, other parents begin questioning their own kids, who begin accusing Lucas of similar behaviors. Hysteria erupts and Lucas is arrested based on the accusations.

As details of the children's stories emerge it becomes clear that they are not telling the truth; and a judge dismisses the charges against Lucas. However, the townspeople remain convinced of Lucas's guilt.  He is beat up when he tries to buy groceries. His dog is murdered and left in front of his house. He is, for all intents and purposes, cast out of the town.

Lucas, a victim of hysteria

Eventually, Klara's parents come to believe that Lucas is innocent and slowly the townspeople seem to begin to treat Lucas with the dignity afforded him prior to the accusations.  However, the final scene, when Lucas and his friends take their sons hunting, demonstrates that doubt about his innocence still exists when a bullet so narrowly misses him that, for an instant, Lucas believes he has been hit. Whether the near miss is intentional or not is irrelevant because the fear it arouses in Lucas is symbolic of the lasting impact of the accusations and the hysteria that followed have had, and will continue to have, on Lucas's sense of safety. 

In some sense The Hunt is a re-telling of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Like The Crucible, The Hunt pits one of our greatest disgusts, the sexual abuse of an innocent (or in the case of The Crucible's Abigail, a seeming innocent) young person, against one of our greatest fears, the loss of a good reputation as a result of false accusations. Moreover, both pieces are concerned with illuminating the danger of hysteria.  However, The Hunt, with its modern setting and absence of obvious metaphor is far eerier. Quite simply, what happens to Lucas could happen to you or someone you know.

Culturally, we consider childhood sacred. We want to believe that children are perfectly unblemished and  incapable of making terrible things up. To a degree this is true. Such stories don't come from nowhere; in Klara's case she had just been exposed to the idea of an erect penis and knew there was something shocking about it.  But she didn't really understand what a penis "pointing up" would mean to an adult.

More frightening than Klara's accusations are the behaviors of the adults.  First, when Klara struggles to recount her accusation, adult investigators begin asking leading questions and respond positively when she offers information that seems to support her original story.  As mentioned earlier, when she tells her mom the accusations aren't true, her mom doesn't believe her, and tells her she is only trying to forget this horrible thing that happened. Klara tries to tell the truth, and when she is told her truth is wrong, she becomes confused and searches for the response the adults want. Considering the seriousness of the accusations, the adult reaction is understandable. And, on some level it would be more frightening to Klara's parents to acknowledge the accusations were false because it would not explain how Klara knew penises "point up." The lack of a known origin for Klara's knowledge makes it impossible to punish OR control.  In short, Klara will not be forever innocent - no child will; and the chipping away at that innocence happens in bits and pieces. A found sexual image. An overheard innuendo. A news story.

Even the most open and well-intentioned parents can't completely control exposure to these bits and pieces that impact their kids. That is the real horror for the parents and the real explanation for the hysteria we see in The Hunt. Had Lucas been guilty, the attacks might be warranted. But because Lucas is innocent, his abuse becomes symbolic of the community's shared grief over the inevitable loss of their children's innocence and their helplessness to stop it. However, as in The Crucible, it is the hysteria that is the true perversion. Hysteria leads to real violent abuse of an innocent and that abuse is every bit as perverted as the abuse Klara initially alleges.