It was 10pm last Tuesday. I’d done enough business to make a dent in what it costs to drive a cab for 12 hours. I was in a newer Starbucks opened recently on North Boulevard here in Richmond, VA. I mused to the barrista that the cautionary tale I carry with me turns out to be false. If I didn’t go to college, didn’t find a white-collar union job, I’d end up digging ditches and that would be bad.
He replied that he felt lied to by that cautionary tale. The mid-century promised American Dream was a fraud to him. He didn’t believe that a college degree initiated him into a club whose members could count on a suburban house, a couple cars, a happy marriage, some kids, the life of the Cleaver’s. The Cleaver’s he knew were divorced, their kids in therapy, the Dad incarcerated for child-sex crimes and embezzlement, the Mom struggling to stay off the street and on her meds, and various family members currently addicted to the usual grocery list of upper-middle class back inhabiting monkeys. A college education was a debt burden he didn’t want. He knew welders that were making more money than his Biz-School friends.
I heard the cautionary tale from my retired Electrical Engineer father through my childhood. His Dad, Wells Alan Webb, was a chemical engineer who drifted about through various jobs and locales around the SF Bay Area and Nevada desert. Wells was very much my progenitor. He was restless. He couldn’t stay in one state for very long. He spent some years married to Catherine Janes, my grandmother, with whom he had three kids. These were tumultuous years that ended in a famous dinnertime walk out of the house by Wells, never to return.
My Dad’s greatest wish was a half-century or so of unbroken life living the mid-century American Dream. He got it. He did it. I am the benefactor of that achievement. My Dad’s greatest fear was children who would inherit his father’s wanderlust. I did. I can’t sit still. If I hold a job for too long I get itchy and often end up quietly let go. At least once a decade I lose everything, become homeless, and have to start over.
My last collapse was in 2002. It’s been fourteen years. I am either bucking a trend or overdue for another collapse. I have fans of either outcome. I’m getting old. Another collapse is going to hurt a lot more. I’m a fan of saying I’m bucking a trend.
It was a bit of shock to hear the barista at Starbucks say I’d been wise to go against my father’s vision. His peers look with suspicion at what is offered through college and an alleged e-ticket for Easy Street. In that queue for the e-ticket is a lifetime of indebtedness and misery. College degrees don’t deliver the promised careers. The ditch digger makes more than the willing millennial who owes for student loans on a B.A. in Project Management. A creative can survive even though he or she throws off the bucket list offered by my Dad as an ideal plan.
Here is what I still am surprised by. I am kin and kindred spirit to Wells Alan Webb. He and I are a mess and unrepentant. We saw what was offered to us by modernity and decided to opt out. I did not imagine I’d find my home in a run-down house across the street from the maintenance yard of a garbage truck company tapping at the keyboard of an old laptop. I did not imagine I could rattle along an old country highway less traveled by in my art-car painted Dodge Diplomat taxicab with a cheap Dollar Store dish-tub as a taxi light and survive. I did not/do not believe that a millennial barrista at Starbucks would admire my near-do-well, opted out life of the last 30+ years.
Here I am. 56, typically first world fat with a common set of health problems. I am again a cab driver. This life deprives me of good sleep so I even after a day’s rest I don’t feel well rested. My son is in college, struggling, very much in keeping with his ancestry. It may not be news to you. It continues to be news to me, that I don’t need the white collar union job my Dad insisted I had to have. That I could be a writer, drive a cab, struggle as I have for the last thirty some years, and be happy.
My original prompt for this essay was a syllogism I thought was clever: God loves fools and children, Creatives are fools, ergo, God loves creatives. For as many thousands of years as their have been fools who chose to create art instead of hunt, farm or gather, we don’t seem to die off. We persist. God seems to take care of us in spite of our drama and mess.
My Dad’s fears of my being a failure have some truth. I am a failure if the measure of success is ticking off the bucket list he envisioned for me: a college degree, a white collar union job, a marriage that survives, some kids and by now, some grandkids of my own. I have the college degree . . . in English Literature. I never cared much for the white collar union job. I’ve done better with skilled labor as a computer tech and cab driver. I married a Triad Princess and was divorced by her. I have a 20-something millennial son, no grandkids yet. I continue to be a solid C- citizen of the first world of 2016.
What he didn’t say, what I am proof of, is that you can thrive even if you shun my Dad’s bucket list. There is a good life living against the grain. Not easy, sure. Living on a cot in a church social hall wasn’t my idea of utopia. But that ended and now I have a house. God provided.
You know what? If that’s the call, that’s what you are driven to do–to throw off the promised path I was told and it’s assurances, to be a creative and take the risk, do it. Biff and Buffy, Alice Kahn’s archetypical Yup’s, turn out to be no less free of the angst of first world life than anyone else. My life, repeatedly homeless, occasionally incarcerated, often annoying, isn’t the horror story it was depicted to be. Yeah, it has sucked, continues to suck often. But I’m the worst example of a reason to avoid my wanderlust life because over the decades, things have worked out. You can take my art-car taxicab and make a life out of it. Sorry, Dad, but it has proven to be true.
I started my day as usual by turning my TV to our local CBS affiliate, WTVR. Oh, and before I get far with this, this is not a news site. It is at best, a feature and editorials site when I am bothering to be somewhat journalistic. The rest of the time it is a lies and libels site. Now I can move on. I am greeted by a wall-to-wall blast of breaking news that there were two explosions in Brussels, one at the airport and another at a subway station. At least 26 are reported dead and at least 130 are reported injured. CNN and WTVR are already reporting these as terrorist attacks.
Yes, it is a tragedy. The guilty need to be caught and tried and if convicted, kept in prison for life. I need to say something again. Violence, abuse, has a 6 part cycle: explosive event, depression, apology, honeymoon, calm, and tension building, rinse, repeat. With some exceptions it tends to escalate with each iteration. The most common endings are either a destruction of the relationship or the death of one or more parties to the abuse.
Abuse and terrorism don’t have a connection, do they? Maybe not. I was an abuser and I was abused, both as an adult and as a child. Terrorism feels like abuse to me. Days like today transport me back to the nightmares of my marriage and my youth. I’m there again, fighting or being beaten. I have to do it again, say the prayers again, write posts like this again, to soothe myself and overcome the feeling that the Belgian terrorists are hiding under my bed.
Ray(rob(ert))a Bob is busy in Toano on Itzel’s farm. March starts the busy season for them. He’ll be occupied through November when most of the harvesting is done. He stays on the farm for most of these months. It is Itzel that loads up the box truck with what they have to sell it at the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market. There stuff is organic, the farm part of “farm-to-table”.
RayBob lit up my phone last night with this story. He was threatening to unload the gun safe of its contents and break open his stash of .223 ammo and buckshot. He’d turned up the bed against the bedroom window and locked the bars on the other windows in the house. I was up for a couple hours while he exhausted himself. Itzel smacked him early in this and took a sleeping bag out to the hay loft. RayBob afraid is a bit much. I’d have slept in the barn too.
Here is where I am on this. First, in all the apocalypses that have occurred there were survivors. Life as the survivors knew it is destroyed. Life continues for the survivors. If I die, I have no earthly worries. If I live RayBob and Itzel will need farm hands. In the meantime the things I am already doing to serve my community continue. This blog continues. 2am text message walls from RayBob continue. There are still tomorrows.
Second, abusers can’t stop because the black hole in their lives is impossible to fill by being abusive. It demands more. Each iteration increases the hunger for the rush of the explosive event. Each time it takes more abuse to get the same or a bigger rush. Terrorism feels the same to me.
Muslim terrorists flew two airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11/2001. This was supposed to destroy the evil empire, bring down the capitalist system, all sorts of epic consequences were promised. This would cause us to send our 10,000 infantry to Syria for the epic battle signaling the apocalypse and following paradise spoken of by some Muslims. It was a massive blow to us, to the USA and to the world. We are still here. We sent our troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. We hit back, hard, and enjoyed a bit of euphoria. Then the depression hit as our soldiers returned with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
What the Muslims thought, what they told themselves in the run-up to 9/11, isn’t all of what happened. There was no apocalypse, the evil empire struck back, there was much misery and death, but the goals of the attack were not met. So, they’ve decided that the move is to create a brutal caliphate and have suicide bombers blow shit up. Apocalypse now? Nope. Pissed off first world? Yep.
RayBob elbow deep in pig shit is a good thing. Want to save money on therapy? Do some gardening. If possible, set yourself up with some chickens to take care of. RayBob bitching about cleaning out the pig sty today. He’ll live. Itzel had him build a methane capture and manure drying plant. Between what they get from the pigs & cows and their solar hot water and photovoltaics they are fully-off grid. It does mean listening to RayBob give me a play-by-play when he has to shovel pig & cow shit to the plant. Fun. Itzel just stops talking to him until he’s done.
Abuse never lives up to its promise. Violence never lives up to its promise. What we imagine we can accomplish by being abusive or violent never measures up to what we accomplish. It does far more to us, the abuser, than what it does to the victim. Yes, the victim is hurt. That passes. Good doctors and good therapy and over time the victim will recover. Even if the abuse becomes murder the survivors can recover. The abuser is looking at war, in the case of nations, or jail/prison or if not that, chaos and a need to abuse more. The torment does not stop for the abuser.
Some suicide bombers believed they were headed to paradise as they exploded their bombs. I like to think they landed in Hades in a rather nasty ghetto. other than that they are dead, we have no way of knowing what happened to them. The Daesh crowd that keeps hoping the next suicide bombing, the next terrorist will trigger the apocalypse that is supposed to portend an end to evil and a beginning of heaven on earth. They are fools.
God made a majestic world. He was right when he said it was good. He made a world in which transcendent beauty happens. He also made a world in which suicide bombers can blow themselves up and kill at least 26 people. The world isn’t inherently anything. What we do with His creation sets a direction for us that can make it beautiful or vicious.
My little blog won’t stop more Muslims from blowing themselves up. RayBob is going to be busy through November. God’s ultimate over 2,000 years ago was to martyr himself and though it was effective for some, evil persists. The things that have made a difference were true before Christ and remain true: في الأساسيات، والوحدة، في غير الضروريات، والإحسان، في كل شيء، والحب. أحب الله من كل قلبك والعقل والقوة. أحب العائلة والأصدقاء والأعداء على حد سواء. خدمة الله دون أي أمل في العودة. هذه هي الثوابت التي يمكن الاعتماد عليها.
My friend Darlene needs me to take her to work. Another friend needs a ride out to Manakin-Sabot later. There is coding to do. My rugs need vacuuming. When Rome burned there was a tomorrow and survivors. In 1989 I woke up the following morning to an intact Berkeley YMCA. College resumed classes about a week after the earthquake. Tomorrow, Wednesday, people in Brussels will go about their lives. Life goes on. The wind blows where it will. We will grieve, be depressed. The only part of the cycle we need to change is the itch for the explosive event. The rest of it is just life.
I said this while kidding around with a friend, “what else you got?” The back story is that she was throwing the usual threats at me of violence, prison, cut off from resources like food & housing as ways to gain my compliance. These were said in jest. My retort was that I’d had all that done to me and survived, so . . . Genocide has been used to bring a population under heel. Torture, confiscation of land, burning villages, name an abhorrent act and its been done by soldiers while attempting to force a populace to give up the fight. There are always survivors. They remember the war. If they choose to fight there is not much you can do to stop them.
So, what’s the plan? Global apocalypse so that the population is reduced from 7 billion to oh, maybe 2.3 billion or so? In our personal relationships, arm ourselves heavily and solve our differences by shooting each other until we tire of attending funerals? We know what the world is like with violence, war, conflict and strife. There is no innovation needed if we are to maintain our traditional, warring ways. We know how to fight.
Various emperors, kings and governments have been trying to control the Afghans since at least 330 BCE when Alexander the Great tried to invade. We went to Afghanistan to topple Taliban control of Afghanistan. Did that, then stuck around much longer trying to prop up the puppet democracy we foisted on them. The Taliban just moved into the mountains of Waziristan. They knew that we would get bored with the fight and go home eventually. They were right.
The Afghans have been fighting on that land for centuries. No one has been able to win against them or sustain control of them in all that time. The Russians went home because they ran out of money. We’ve unloaded many thousands of tons of munitions on those we seek to destroy. Our best fighters have won battles. Once we announced we were leaving the Taliban started to move back, knowing that we’d be more embarrassed at having to come back than having to leave as losers.
The press, in the last couple years, has fallen in love with stories of bullying. Every few months we get another story of some poor sap who lashed out or committed suicide because of the insults and ugly behavior of a bully. Is the answer to find the bully and beat him or her down? Should we fill more graves with bullies? The press seems to like “sensitivity training” as if talking to a bully will make them stop. It’s a version of, “if you knew you would understand and if you understood you would behave in a way more pleasing to me.” Uhm, yeah . . . about that . . . You are reading my blog. Just saying. The ones I know will listen and as they do, brainstorm ways to beat you silly once the sensitivity training is done.
I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been bullied, beaten, a victim and I’ve been the bully, the beater. I know the world I lived in before I became so crazy for loving my enemies. I know what awaits me should I choose to abandon more than ten years of work to be salt and light to those who are tempted toward violence. We did carpet bomb Germany in WWII. We pressed the full weight of our might against the Taliban and they are still there. Fighting harder isn’t the answer. What else would we do? The answer really has not changed in at least 2,000 years. Before we lobbed missiles at each other we spoke words. Once the ground is muddied with enough blood we will speak again of life after the war. There really is only one choice: love God with all our heart, mind and strength, love our neighbor as ourselves, and love our enemies. Any other plan leads to familiar and ugly conclusions.
I put this in the “Not News” bucket. If you paid much attention in college you know most everything in this post. You can safely ignore it. This story on MSN about Stuart Alsop is amusing: Tesla decides not to sell a car to a customer.
Tell me that the community is going to manage capital and property for the good of the people and all my trust issues fly up out of the grave. Ray(Ro(bert(a))), the avatar for my anxiety, pops out of thin air to appear in the blue Queen Anne chair I use to watch TV. He fires up Verizon FIOS ‘On Demand” to start streaming episodes of Jerry Springer featuring lesbian love triangles that turn into ersatz UFC cat fights on Jerry’s stage. I love the philosophy, that through some democratic, anarchistic, collectivist, consensus based process we would ensure that the Acts 2:44-45 idea of a common pot would accomplish what we hope it would accomplish. Then I think about Ray(Ro(bert(a))) being on the committee deciding who gets what. That makes me more anxious than usual.
The word socialism has become laden with tropes. It means many things depending on who you are talking with. For some it is a curse not fit for a lobotomized pig. It is said as a fight ending crotch kick intended to knock the opponent out. Others speak it with reverence as the utopian answer to all their ills. You almost have to be in the clique to know the context intended. I grew up with it as something suspicious that the adults seemed conflicted about. At times it has felt like a bastardized corruption of vaguely orthodox catholic church ideas.
I finally looked it up after reading this comment from my aunt on my Facebook wall: “Imperialism is enforced by the military. Socialism is democracy in action, like sewer and water services for all.” My first thought was, “no, it isn’t.”
My family is deeply Protestant. Even my aunt, who married a Jew (again! The prior Jew of recent memory in our family was Alfred Picker, father to my Mom), grew up Methodist and still has Protestant ideas floating about her Leftie-orthodox, somewhat Jewish mashup of a personal philosophy. My family is also a story of the tension between fighting the good fight for social justice, hungering for creative authenticity, and the need to maintain a home with a comfortably full larder. We can’t shake the itch to cheer on Mario Savio. Some, like me, try to do the starving artist thing and our privilege has made us soft. Socialism resonates for us. It seems like a plan.
The Wiktionary has this: “Any of several later political philosophies such as libertarian socialism, democratic socialism, and social democracy which do not envisage the need for full state ownership of the means of production nor transition to full communism, and which are typically based on principles of community decision making, social equality and the avoidance of economic and social exclusion, with economic policy giving first preference to community goals over individual ones.”
Sounds good, no? For the good of the many, social equality, avoidance of economic and social exclusion, kind of nice.
Here is how I define socialism: it is the Christian common pot method writ large and without God. For those who have forgotten, the common pot thing is from Acts 2:44-45, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need“. Anabaptist communities like the Hutterites still operate under a common pot rule.
The NatGeo channel ran a TV series called American Colony about the Hutterites. Some things I got from watching the series: If you want to be a Hutterite you are going to work. There is no way they would tolerate the sort of welfare mom we suffer with in our inner-cities, who owns a new car, seems to have no problem affording a substantial night-club life, and is otherwise a fit to the large dimple in the velour couch in her publicly funded living room. B) You will have your basic needs covered. 3. Although everything is technically held in common it is bad form to use as your own something that has sentimental value to someone else. And one more thing: the common pot does not by itself calm things down or make them unilaterally fair. We are still a thick-necked people.
I’m a poor student. I tried to phone in my English degree. My history classes tended to be propaganda of the “America is Great!” flavor. The white hats were the defenders of freedom and the constitution. The black hats were the Socialists and Communists who wanted to destroy all that is good about America. It’s only as an adult that I’ve gone back to study history a bit more and been humbled by how much I don’t know. The simple world of my youth isn’t simple. Way more interesting and technicolor than I was taught.
Of the instances of socialism that come to mind, most of them have not gone well. Community decision making means some form of governance and politics. Even with God, when the church was the remains of the Roman empire and the Pope is who was last man standing and thus, the inheritor of the title of Caesar, humanity’s talent for bitterness spoiled all attempts at a better way of governing.
Going back further, all the way to Abraham, there has been a tithe to be given to the Levites. It was to be used by the Levites to support themselves as well as maintain the temple and do benevolence. The bible seems to elevate the Levites as worthy of the burden of religious leadership. The Levites, though, had their malcontents as do any large group of people. Even with God’s blessing we are far too talented at mischief. The question of who shall hold capital and property is old. It still nags us today. Three (Trump, Sanders & Billary) of the candidates for president are advocating greater public ownership of property and capital to better manage it. It’s not a solved problem.
Last thing, then I’ll get to my point (maybe). I was a member of Taxi Unlimited from 1981 to 1983. We were one of the oldest surviving collectively run small businesses in the country. During my time as a member there were only a handful of clean & sober members. The collective was dominated by addicts and their coterie of supporters. One of our best customers sold marijuana. Some of our most powerful members owned land in Humboldt County and grew weed. We were a shining example of a living utopian, hippie community. As a young, hormonal twenty-something, it should have been perfection. It was not.
This is a broken world. There are plenty who have great ideas as to why it is a fucked up world. I’m not that smart. I know what I’ve been told, that Eve is a traitorous bitch who fed Adam some fruit from a prohibited tree and that explains everything. I’m not so sure it’s that easy. As I’ve written elsewhere, I believe Eve had her reasons. I do agree that our world is fucked up. There is misery. The misery afoot seems chronic and terminal. I find more resonance in the Buddhist and Hindi idea that all the dark is one half of creation intimately made along with the light, that you can’t have one without the other. All in all? Whatever. We are here and some of it sucks.
Socialism. If, against nature, good triumphed over evil and we could find an as yet unfound solution to the incredible talent of humanity to be asshats, it might work. In the meantime, socialism depends on a foolish and naïve faith in the fundamental goodness of man. Man can be good. He is at times. It’s the small percentage of the time when he is brilliantly bad that wags the dog and screws things up. We are brilliantly perverse enough of the time that giving the community control over capital and property ends up making corrupt and obscenely wealthy civil servants and pisses off everyone else. Clergy are famously no more immune to this than anyone else. If anything, their power as religious figures just makes the potential upside of malfeasance harder to resist.
Taxi Unlimited taught me the importance of character, and the need to respect boundaries and traditions. Collectives, because they don’t have traditional leadership, are much more vulnerable to the hurts, habits & hangups of their members. Collectives can work if they have quality people of good character who enforce the standards of the collective. Taxi Unlimited in its effort to be more radically anarchist tolerated a suspicion of rules and governance. It’s egalitarian hiring policies allowed street people to become members. Just getting through the day vertical was a feat for a key number of our members. Responsibly operating a business without a traditional manager/owner was a tall order. I’ll give you Berkeley’s Cheeseboard as a collective that has thrived. They are not free of the need to take care to value people of good character and to value traditions & boundaries.
Socialism on a national scale just magnifies the problems we had at Taxi Unlimited. Instead of a group of 25 people or so and their troubles, there are millions. The odds that at least a minority of those millions will have troubles are very favorable. With that large a population it is likely that all the ugly ways people can be brutal to each other will exist. There are well-meaning civil servants. There can even be a majority of civil servants who are sincere in their effort to do a good job for the people they serve. We will still have irreconcilable needs, demands and asshats. It only takes a few asshats to perpetrate the usual crimes to disrupt the hoped for utopia and screw over some (?all?) of the people. Misery ensues and dildos get presented.
In effect, the choice becomes which bastard do you want holding the sandpaper dildo stuffed up your anus. Do you want a red, white & blue dildo held by a bearded old white man with a fetish for war? Would you rather have a brown man or woman hold a red dildo decorated with yellow stars? Perhaps a guy in a toupee with a trophy wife who claims he’ll make you great again? Or grandma and her significant other and his harem?
Democracy didn’t get invented in the 18th Century. Rome was something of a democracy. There was a Senate and Caesar. The Senate had as much or as little power as Caesar would allow them. Greece was a democracy as well. That was about 3,000 years ago. Our forefathers had the king of England to worry about and the corruption rampant within the Vatican and the church. They wanted a form of governance that limited its power. Our constitution is a list of limited powers because our forefathers had recent, bitter memories of what it’s like to be subject to an asshat ruler and a corrupt Pope.
Pop-pop Bernie, Grandma Clinton, Trump and others are trotting out familiar election cycle tropes about the unfairness of it all. They say they will fix it, they will get things done. Their ideas about the means to get things done all seem to involve a larger federal involvement in our lives—single-payer health care, free education, mandated paid time off, and mandated living wages.
We have a 3-4 trillion dollar federal budget. The Executive Branch has grown in size so as to be a permanent civil service, fourth branch of government largely immune to elections or the whims of Congress. Our federal debt exceeds $19,000,000,000,000 and is climbing rapidly. With that much governance in play, why is it that some of our presidential candidates assert we haven’t done enough, that things are still unfair? $800,000.00 per family of debt. If we just folded the government and wrote everyone a check for a million I’m guessing we might actually come out ok.
I don’t have answers. Thinking about it, unfairness and malfeasance have been a constant through human history regardless of how things are governed. Character matters. Our leaders are a reflection of our character as well as influencers of our national mood. If we limit the size of government we limit the amount of malfeasance that can be generated by it. I am not in love with corporations and capitalism. If I have to pick a hand to hold my dildo I think I’d rather pick the capitalist pimp with diamonds embedded in his teeth than the skinny bearded guy in the tri-colored tux and ugly hat who is constantly begging for money and picking fights with my friends. Oy. Ray(Ro(bert(a))), just found all the old episodes of, “All My Children” online. He’s on my couch sobbing. Does Oxyclean remove alien tears?