The Liars Club’s Flaming Pants Night

So . . . I made a meetup. I’ve called the group, “The Liars Club”. The event is called Flaming Pants Night. It is every Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Urban Farmhouse in Richmond’s Scotts Addition. I have two ideas for this night. One is a storytelling and writers meet and greet. I hope people bring works of short fiction that they would like to read and have critiqued.

Pants on Fire NightLet’s talk about vision & purpose for this thing. I’ve met with three different groups of writers in RVA. All three have adopted the current progressive orthodoxy regarding diversity and inclusion. And all three are predictably intolerant of outliers who won’t adhere to their orthodoxy. Also, I haven’t found anyone (yet) whose blog is a mix of commentary and fiction like mine.

Thus . . . The Liars Club’s Flaming Pants Night. I hope I get wonderful lies from the members. Not just little white lies. Big, flaming, pants on fire lies. Her Gropenfuhrer had sex with a porn star? Meh. Cheeto Satan made a gangbang video with 100 women? That’s more like it. With a little luck, this will grow into a live show where performers compete to tell outrageous stories.

Flaming Pants Night and Microaggressions

Politics, religion and such. I am about the story. Polemic speeches to persuade an audience to agree with you, regardless of oratorical skill, are a problem. It’s better if you can tell a story with a point of view. I’ll listen to the story. Chanting the slogan of the day or ranting about Doorknob Trundlefuck‘s latest crime against humanity? Shut up.

Now, this is the sort of thing that can devolve into a mess. Thus, some rules.

  • Narrative only. The other prose forms: persuasion, informative, descriptive, process and comparison contrast are not allowed.  Tell a story. Even better, tell an outrageous story where the character embodies what you admire/hate.
  • No crosstalk. Meaning you can comment on someone’s work and address your comments to the group. What you can’t do is cut the rest of us off by engaging in a back & forth with one person.  Don’t. Stick to talking about the work.
  • Be fearless in choosing work to present and in sharing your opinion about the work presented.
  • Have fun!
  • We are not a meat market. Yah, attractive people and all. Sure. But . . . we are here to encourage each other to write better fiction and tell better stories. Stay focused.

It Happened Last Night

I was at the Urban Farmhouse in Richmond’s Scott’s Addition last night at 6:31 pm. Nobody else showed up. I had two other people say they were going and didn’t go. So, there are now two lies recorded about Flaming Pants Night. One, those that said they would show up can now say they told the first lie in the Liars Club. Two, my own lie that I would stay the whole two hours. I left a little after 7:00 pm.

It’s night two of Flaming Pants Night as I make this edit. A few tables from me is a social worker and his friends gathered to talk about non-fiction writing. I hear bits of their conversation. Most of it is about the process. What’s the plan? How do we feel about the plan? They are deeply in the weeds on the best means of facilitating good non-fiction writing. It makes my head hurt.

The people I like around me are nuts. There is no plan. We operate in this sequence, “FIRE! Oh, uhm, yeah, forgot . . . ready? ok, AIM! Right, sorry, I’ll wait while you load more bullets.” We are the fools that will give up the markers of the normal first world life for a shopping cart if it means we can keep doing our thing. Flaming Pants Night, once it is more than me, isn’t going to waste much time on exactly how we will organize a bunch of malcontented outliers with a story to tell. We’ll tell the tale and then figure it out.

Out of the Mess

How do you become a writer? Start writing. Write at least a page a day every day. Well, ok, for six days. Sabbath is a thing.

The next task is to find readers. The difference between a diary and a book is an audience. A diary is read by a very limited audience. A book is a hope that lots of people will read what is contained within. Sometimes we get lucky and the book makes money. A couple notes, though. First, if your purpose is to gain fame and wealth from creative work and not the work itself? Stop.

You will never put in the effort needed to get good at the work. There will always be a piece of you wondering if this is the thing that will blow up and achieve the wealth and attention you hunger for. Choosing art, regardless of media, is a choice to be miserable. There are decades of work that goes unnoticed. Odds are no one will ever give a shit. Your brilliance will end up collecting dust on the floor of a closet.

Because You Can’t Not Do it

Choose to create, to make, because you can’t imagine doing anything else. Choose to do what you do because not doing it feels like choosing death. It’s gonna cost you everything. But . . . if you are willing to sacrifice for your work, it may pay off in the end. It may not.

Art is born out of the mess. To find the good work you have to allow a little cray-cray. Too much analysis just kills it. The Liars Club is a reflection of its founder and my own comfort with not knowing the plan or the usual method for getting something done. I’m the only one here for the second week. Nothing good ever comes easy. Besides, sitting here nursing a coffee has added 600 words to this piece about my hopes for the Liars Club’s Flaming Pants Night.

For next time and each time after this I am bringing my laptop and intend to spend the two hours at the Urban Farmhouse writing. Though this is the Liars Club so I might be full of shit. There is a chance I’ll buy a bottle of wine to share. You can find out the truth of this by showing up April 6th at 6:30 pm.

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Misery in the Valley

A Pastoral Peace

It’s been a quiet week on the farm. Spring is a few months away. There is still winter misery in the valley. Over the winter Ray tore down the 9N and rebuilt it. The chicken coop needs an overhaul, including two tires. It’s been a couple years since the bearings have been changed. Father Thomas’ homily touched on Lamentations. Guys complain about their honey-do lists. Guys that live in 3500 sq ft homes at the end of a cul-de-sac. Men who would shut their mouth after a day of chores on the farm. My Dad offered to help Ray and got to a lawn chair in the barn before he had to sit a spell.

I never lived in a cul-de-sac. My Dad’s house is in a tree covered suburb of Philly. When I headed west in a Trailways bus out of Cherry Hill I was dazzled by the bright lights of the City 3,000 miles distant. The City by the Bay called to me and I answered with a bus ticket. I stopped on the east side of San Francisco Bay at my grandmother’s house in Albany, CA. My Dad said I’d never last living in the city.

It’s been forty years in the city. My Dad has a few chairs on the farm in Merida. One is in the living room with a shoe-box full of remote controls. He commands the entertainment from that chair. Another is an Amish made cane rocking chair with a commanding porch view of the farm. He used to take visitors and talk to the farm hands. Lately, he sleeps in that chair most of the day.

Shall I Stay With Misery in the Valley?

Sixteen years ago the reasons to stay in the East Bay disappeared. The Empress flew to Taiwan with my son. I lost another temp job. My landlord declared that he was converting the entire complex to Section 8 housing. Every tenant had to either move out or qualify for Section 8. Then and still the wait list for Section 8 is decades long. I make too much money so that left moving out.

Choices. Stay on the correct coast where my Dad’s family can trace their California story back through the San Bernadino Mormons or leave the golden state. Then there is the Mayan option—to live with my grandfather’s family on their farm in Yucatan. I chose the third option. I moved from Richmond, CA to Richmond, VA in 2002.

Even when I am in Yucatan I stay in Merida at a hotel. All those years watching the world pass by my taxi-cab windshield make the bustle & noise of the city feel right. Also, I’ve seldom lived in “good” places.  Home has been cars, friend’s couches, hotels and beggar shelters. The house in Richmond is the longest stint of stable living I’ve had since separating from the Empress. My Dad was wrong about me. I did last living in the city.

Tuning to Twilight

It’s twilight. Dinner service is wrapping up and the band is tuning up. I’ve got my Mccauley’s neat and a plate of barbacoa. The weatherman is telling the gringos that this monsoon season will be bad. The train of storms starting in Nigeria is strong. Already they have named 8 storms that have wandered near and then away from Merida.  The 9th, Ian, generated warnings to evacuate. I took another sip of my bourbon.

This is the wrong side of the tracks. It is populated by the bottom third of the bell curve. The normies and good folk fear this valley. They see the shadow of death over us and nod with complicity to their preacher who tells them that we are their fate if they don’t behave. We are good with that.

When I am not in Richmond, Philly or Merida I am here in the bar or in my flat upstairs. The flat used to be warehouse space for the bar. No amount of Pinesol is enough to erase the mix of old bourbon, piss, puke, stale beer, illicit sex, and cigarettes. It has two rooms, a former office in the back with a thrift store sourced kitchen.  Someone before me put a  cheap fiberglass shower with copper pipes green with age into the former office. I’ve tried to clean the toilet but even straight bleach won’t remove the years of beery piss and tossed smokes. The sink stinks of smoked heroin. The big room in front used to store liquor and also has thrift store furniture. It offers no escape from the stench of mortal sins.

Yes I Do

More than a few have climbed the stairs to my loft and exclaimed, “you like living here?!” I do. The noise of the bar plays a melody grounded by the sub-woofer beat of freight trains that pass by every couple hours. They hurry on to feed the hungry maw of the collected mass of normies who worry about me. Let them be scared.

Normie kids come to the bar to get their freak on. This place is exciting. Stuff happens. Girls show up ready to dance, drink and mayhaps give some. The music is awesome. The food is good, even better after a few drinks. People come here to play and then we send them home a little worse for it.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. We don’t want to be less dangerous. It’s a long drive over the hills on two-lane gravel roads to get here. An hour out of town is a gas station inhabited by a shotgun-toting old man with a bad attitude. His nose for outsiders is unfailing. He’s put buckshot into the doors of more than a few who seemed like they were lost and ought to be headed back out of the valley.

Gasoline and Buckshot

Old man Saito does sell gas. You have to get past the initial curmudgeonly greeting. You can’t be in a hurry. Most of the normie kids out for a weekend in town know enough to either tank up before they cross the pass or invest a few hours in drinking rice wine (50 proof!) with him.  Those in the know bring a fifth of Makers Mark with them. He searches their car for contraband and finds it, upon which his attitude improves considerably. Also, let him find a carton of Marlboro Red 100’s. Sometimes the old bribes are still the best currency to buy some freedom.

There is freedom here you can’t find on the other side of the pass under the bright lights of the city. Somebody came to a twelve-step meeting and was nervous that they might be found out as a gender-queer psychiatry patient with a thick jacket of mental ward admittance and city jail time. We were not impressed. We are small enough to not need a recognizable municipal government.

The closest we have is Saito’s son, who can be seen drifting through the streets picking the trash for aluminum cans. He’s out on parole after collecting federal time for punching a US Marshall. Oh, it doesn’t stop there. Once inside a fellow inmate threatened to rape him so Ren killed him barehanded. You have to do better than liking both sausages and clams to be interesting here.

Hard Living

It’s a hard life here. We don’t have public schools, public health services, or a social safety net. There are Ren Saito’s friends and there are those who either die or leave because they pissed off Ren. Those that stay figure out a truce with Ren. To survive here you either need your own money or a way to earn a living. Ren found The last guy to try standing on a corner with a sign asking for money in a dumpster at the back of the bar badly bloodied. He was offered two choices: clean the bar after it closes or leave town. He stayed and is the first to greet fellow beggars with a warning.

You know this one, that when you hit bottom the only direction is up. Our townies leave here stronger, clean & sober. We do for each other. The reason we don’t have a lot of municipal services is that we are small, we know each other, and we don’t hesitate to do the needful for each other. It’s how a lot of small-town America works.

I’ve seen the world from the 31st floor of 101 California Street in San Francisco. My suits from back then cost me what I make in three months. I had a family, a two-bedroom condo with designer furniture and two cars. My travel mug costs a month’s wages for those who don’t live under the city lights. That was then. Things are better now.

Father Thomas

Last thing. The church is here. Father Thomas is a Cherokee, a Gulf War Vet, with a bronze twelve-step chip. He was accused by a parishioner of raping boys. Before all that he was convicted of tax evasion for selling moonshine. The county ADA could never find enough evidence to charge him with rape. The church offered to send him to Brazil. He left instead.

He went back to Seminary and was ordained in the Anglican Church. The rumblings of some that the church was out of sync with the times regarding abortion and standards of fidelity or chastity in marriage drove him to set out on his own. He planted a small monastic order in the valley. His order runs a local school, missions and mercy programs, as well as the usual services of a local parish.

Many have underestimated Father Thomas. One seeker accosted him, wanting to know if he used the KJV, “I do not.” Which one, then? “My own.” Your own copy of the KJV? “No, my own translation.” Oh. You will find the NABRE in the pews of the order’s chapel. The order lives under a modified Benedictine Rule.

Westboro Baptist showed up one weekend and sought out Father Thomas. They expected tv cameras and protestors. They got a church picnic in full swing. Father Thomas approached them with plates. The Westboro Baptist kids were hungry. It was a great time for all.

Bottom Third

Down here on the bottom third of the curve, with places to lay my head in Richmond, the Valley, Philly, and Merida I am happier than I was when I chased status and money. I am free. I may not be successful in building my personal brand such that I collect accolades from the normies. My virtue signal is noisy and dissonant. I’m good with it.

The band started up. Lighting Hopkins stuff. My floor is swaying to the music. It’s a good night for the normies downstairs chasing the light fantastic. I’ll sleep well tonight.

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Never Forget

Never Forget is not what we are told. We are to forgive and forget. That lives alongside, “Aquellos que no pueden recordar el pasado están condenados a repetirlo.” Third, to understand Christ, to grock this 2,000 year old movement of dissident Jews, you have to understand two things. The first is our history. The Bible makes no sense at all without knowing the history of it. The second is that the Way of Jesus of Nazareth is a deeply political movement. The bible is a political document.

Our commissioning narrative is of three political dissidents martyred by Rome for crimes against Caesar and Judaism. To denude Christians of politics is to willfully deny the reason our movement started. The Jews wanted a revolution to overthrow Caesar. Jesus and his followers fomented a revolution within Judaism that continues today. Our collected canon of foundational literature is absurd without understanding church history. A no-account carpenter from Nazareth wagged the biggest dog of his day–the Roman Empire.

Some tails wishing to wag big dogs want to us to forget particular narratives in favor of their own. These tails stomp and shout in circles around memorials to the Confederate Army and insist that all symbols of the Civil War be removed from public view. History must be purified of the bloody stains left on it by White People.

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So, by that premise, Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery is a stain on the national narrative that ought to be erased. Exhume the confederate soldiers buried there and burn their bones. Grind every gravestone into gravel for concrete to build housing and factories of the peepul. Make Collective farms on the recovered land after the cemetery is destroyed. Replace the symbols of hate with symbols of collective progress.

Once the memorials and monuments are gone it becomes possible to pretend that the dark days didn’t happen. We will have a pure history correct in its details. There never was a Civil War. A peepul’s paradise can exist where the bitter memory of the War for States Rights once stood. The story can be killed because the tangible symbols get replaced by utopian land redistribution schemes. Things will be better once the story is dead.

Ovid was hated by Augustus. Augustus exiled him. Augustus became marble statues in a number of museums. Ovid’s poetry became children’s literature. There is not space to argue whether Rome was better without Ovid. Regardless, Ovid’s stories survived.

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New Orleans Robert E Lee statue never forget

Further, these same tails foment a zealous nationalism that justifies violence and discrimination against their enemies. White People are innately racist and evil. White People stole land from brown people. Steal the land back and give it to designated brown people based on need. Every WASP oppresses somebody simply by being alive. The country will be better after we cleanse ourselves of WASPs. So, rinse repeat the genocide and turn the world deep brown.

The City of New Orleans recently removed the statues of General Robert E Lee and others. Charlottesville is considering similar measures to remove the statues of Civil War luminaries. As of this edit the city of Richmond, VA has a proposal before the City Council to remove all of the Civil War monuments. If we don’t have to look at the symbols of slavery then somehow that will accomplish the goals of those who still carry angst because their ancestors suffered evil at the hands of White People.

Next, I know I am repeating myself. I am not the first to say this either. Those who nourish their angst for the sins of others keep themselves in pain. There is freedom in forgiveness. There is power in compassion. This is some old blah, blah, blah. You know this. And yet we still have those who claim it isn’t over, that they are owed their pound of flesh.

Auschwitz never forget

Never Forget

We must forgive. We must also never forget. Auschwitz-Berkenau must remain standing. Here in the South I want us to build memorials and monuments to our history. Richmond’s Lumpkins Jail is a parking lot today. We should rebuild it as a memorial so we don’t forget.

There have been purges throughout history. 秦始皇 through genocide and massive destruction of extant books, attempted to have history begin with him. Though he was successful some knowledge of Chinese history predating his dynasty survived. Words and story have an immortality difficult to suppress. The monuments may be gone but the memories and stories survive.

Mao’s Cultural Revolution was an attempt to purify China. Mao sought to bleed out capitalism so that nothing remained save for the revolution. It was a decade of brutal persecution that crippled China. As I listen to the Black Lives Matter folk and other nationalist movements among brown people I can’t help but hear an ache for an American Cultural Revolution to purify us of our WASP oppressors. We can begin in the South with the monuments remembering the War for States Rights.

In Praise of the Lowly

My Jesus was a no-account carpenter born in Bethlehem and hailed from Nazareth. He was the bastard child of Joseph and Mary. Everything we tell of his life is a farce of the Holy Roman Emperor. There were many before him and many since who died at the hands of genocidal kings. Their stories are forgotten. Jesus of Nazareth is remembered. His martyrdom is a cornerstone of our Reformed faith.

If we did as many suggest, and set about removing all traces of art remembering Christ we may make some headway at erasing him from history. Christians were a dissident Jewish rebellion against the Hebrew church and Rome for over 400 years. The mightiest empire in the world at that time tried to destroy us, to wipe the memory of Christ clean. He is remembered. Rome fell, the church remains.

The crazy thing happened. The lowly became mighty. The mighty became lowly. The story of Jesus of Nazareth survives in spite of over two-thousand years of persecution. Our greatest recruiting tool is a bloody dictator who tries to eliminate us and our story.

Immortal Story

Killing words is much harder than killing people. Story outlives genocide. 秦始 failed to destroy the words so we have 道德經 from the memories of those who followed it and survived. Mao’s genocidal attempt at making a purely Communist China lasted a decade. Mao died, communism became sullied by capitalism. Where the virulent weed of capitalism has taken seed it has exploded the wealth of those infected by it. After all that there are Jews in Germany. That went well.

Never Forget

Finally, I want us to remember. I want the ache of what was done to stay so we remember why we must continue to forgive. Lucas 6:27, “Pero a ustedes que me escuchan les digo: Amen a sus enemigos, hagan bien a quienes los odian” means nothing if we have erased the memory of why someone is an enemy to us. Restore Lumpkins Jail and other sites so the whole story is remembered instead of taking the Confederate Monuments down.

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Felina Novella

#felinaramos. Felina Ramos is my own personal, IRL soap opera. She is my guilty pleasure. I unfollow her on Facebook and then lurk. Everything about she and I is trouble. Yet I still vacillate  between following her, ignoring her, lurking her and going back to following her.

Yeah, what now? Right. She puts a message out on her wall that after she has had some sleep she wants a ride to a fast food place. Her offer is to buy from the dollar menu and also pay for a meal for her driver. I said I could do better than that. All normal and not blog post worthy. This is Felina, though. I get there and unlike previous excursions she comes out the door shaking. There is a tempest alive in her house between her cousin, her auntie, and her. Cops have been called. Contraband hidden. 3 latina women in full battle mode doing their level best to tempt the other into a fight. Entertaining for me and sad to see.

The cousin is learning a hard lesson. Once you escalate to fists there isn’t much else you can escalate to and have the same effect. The next level up is bloodshed and either a combination of jail and hospital or the morgue. The cousin’s attempts at psychological warfare are falling flat. She’s already used the nuclear option so another nuclear option is greeted with, “meh.”

I spent a few minutes with Felina on the front lawn teaching her some basics of sword fighting that enable a warrior to be cold in the middle of a fight. Hollywood has orgasms telling pornographic depictions of war as passionate. Actors get to display great emotion, to *ACTING* on camera. It’s all bullshit. A good soldier is no more excited by battle than he is by his morning shit, shower and shave. This is achieved through training and some simple techniques. I showed Felina some of those techniques so she could sooth herself and be effective.

A little more about the technique. You have seen Bruce Lee and others go through dramatic motions and vocalizations to focus their energy. That’s for camera. The real technique isn’t obvious to those uninitiated. It also doesn’t stand out because a swordsman should live this way so that there is no shift between battle mode and life mode. It is the way he is. He is never not practicing bushido.

Back to Felina. After the cops came, after the cousin lost the momentum, we went to the bodega to make groceries. Felina is a hot mess. She is also a good catholic girl who can’t escape her confession of faith nor her anger at the church. Felina, when she begins to be attracted to a guy or a girl, has expectations of the prospective partner. One of them is that when she complains of being hungry said partner should offer to feed her. Whelp . . . the current bae is a very fashy boy. He is tall & skinny, olive toned, of non-obvious lineage, with sharp green eyes and fiercely blond, nappy hair. He favors androgenous fashion, mixing thick cowboy belts with leggings, ripped jeans and wildfang sweaters. He is also a rather fine snowflake, expert at the approved fashy signals.

So, we’ve all been there. You go to the kitchen, hung over, dreaming of a favorite cure, and upon a search of the cupboards, find that the cunt cousin has scarfed down what you had hoped to eat. Through the fog of the hangover you remember that you ended last night having to get the bae to pay for your Uber home because this week’s check got smoked on a bar tab. There was a fight with the bae because he was not being very copacetic and you were drunk. So, the refuge of a millennial, social media, becomes a place to shout out your annoyance and desperation. What’s the reply of all those fashy friends to your plight? “Wow, that sucks. Wish I could help but . . .” Bae isn’t returning your texts or replying to voice mail. A quick trod around the tubes turns up a thread on gab.ai where the bae is flirting with some yup bitch. Asshole.

Yeah, so . . . all that virtue signalling about the plight of the downtrodden and when one of ours is ass-out the sincerity is smoke on the water. This isn’t just a thing with the fashy protest crowd. My brethren, confessed Christians, do this. Actuality is scary. It threatens our bubble and we react by trying to push it away. Guys like my Uncle Gary and people like Felina, who are an affront to a few orthodoxies, at first generate an itch to shun.

My Jesus was a badass. He was a carpenter who ate with thieves. He did scandalous things that insulted the establishment of his day. I don’t hear him saying to me, “Wow, Felina is a handful, stay away from that mess.” No, he says to me, “learn to love her as I would love her. Serve her as I would serve her.” Ruh roh. That’s not inside my comfort zone. Watching three women go at it is not my idea of a pleasant Sunday afternoon. Listening to Felina hope that her cousin is arrested isn’t the sort of Gauloise fueled conversation I imagine I could have with a girl like Felina. Yet, here I am, leaning on the fender of my Impala, waiting for the storm to subside.

She had me on her front lawn and bae on the phone. Fashy boy was begging off. He had to work overnight at Denny’s and didn’t have any clean uniforms. The circle of friends she engaged with on social media evaporated as she posted about the fire fight under way between cousin and auntie. Everybody was broke, out of town, had to work, car trouble . . .

I did my small act of kindness with some love. I dunno about great love. Felina is on my list of folk who are a challenge to love. She is this big storm of hot mess that seems untamable. At the bodega she lit up buying Haitian items. I had a whole different list in my head when I offered to make groceries. No matter. Part of my task is to do these acts of kindness agenda free. It was illuminating to see what she bought.

On the way back she was negotiating a night away from the house. Bae wasn’t pleased. He didn’t get that a standard piece of advice is to stay away for a bit until things calm down. She was just going to drop the groceries and get a ride to the friend’s house. Cousin’s parting shot was a post on social media that Felina was trading nekkid favors for what I spent at the bodega. As if. But, in the hour since we left the cops had calmed things down and the auntie had started some red rice and stewed chicken. So, from my passenger window she said her goodbyes and went back inside.

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Mincome

Salmos 84:3, “Señor Todopoderoso, rey mío y Dios mío,
    aun el gorrión halla casa cerca de tus altares;
también la golondrina hace allí su nido,
    para poner sus polluelos.

Sweet! I can live on the dole and pretend I am a writer who makes enough to support his addiction to useless work! Stellar. I love my fellow red-diaper babies. Especially the anarchist ones. We’ll tear down the government and make one of our own. The community will own everything. Everybody will be guaranteed a base salary regardless of whether they work or not. We’ll make education free. We’ll make health care free. We’ll eliminate income taxes. We’ll legalize all drugs, opioids, marijuana, all of it. Let’s make sex workers a protected class. LGBTQ Forever! We can set up houses all across the land where you can get your freak on and be stoned! Awesome!

Never heard of this? Think this is a pipe dream of a hippie wanna be millennial? News Flash, we did this. We hated it. What happens when you guarantee income to us, the dysfunctional end of the Bell Curve? Good things? No. We become more fucked up than we were before you made it possible us to expand our man-caves in our parent’s basements and buy better pajamas. If you haven’t noticed, dysfunctional people do dysfunctional shit. Giving us a monthly check just means we can do more dysfunctional shit. It’s awesome.

Mincome is a solution looking for a problem. It is an overly simple framing of the problem as lack of income. It ignores much about us, about people, especially my us, the dysfunctional at the scary end of the Bell curve. The potential for unintended consequences is stunning.

But, we have some who pitch ideas like mincome as the reasonable thing to do. These folk desperately cling to their pumpkin spice latte’s and Nordstrom credit cards (badly over their credit limit) and other social signals to prove that they are the good folk. Mincome is another way to signal that they care. And, after all, it is the strength of the caring signal that is the important thing.

One of Felina’s friends is like this. Felina met her at Stanford. She’s picture perfect NoCal grunge with a bit of goth added. Felina liked her because the girl had the best weed she’d ever smoked. Oh, oh, OH! you are horrified that a hot mess like Felina gets high? Just . . . go away. I’m not going to get dragged into a 1500 word rant that boils down to Nancy Reagan, “Just Say No.” I’m busy with another axe I want to grind. Y e e e s I am a Dad and I inhaled and now I don’t and as-far-as-I-am-concerned addiction is a deadly short game. B u u u t . . . this isn’t an anti-addiction rant.

Where was I? Oh. Felina’s friend, Inger (pronounced anger). No, I am not going to describe Inger’s age, hair, her figure, all that. There is enough free porn on the Intertubes that you can rub your sausage or clam without my help. Is she hot? Are you stupid? Inger is all about protests and grunge guys who claim they are musicians because they can crush Dragonforce’s, “Through the Fire and the Flames” in Guitar Hero. Inger is also, lately, off the radar doing another stint of rehab. Don’t get your hopes up. She drifts about various soup kitchens somewhat volunteering but mostly eating and live tweeting.

Inger is all about mincome. She totally cares about poverty and world peas. She’s punched a Planned Parenthood protester in the face more than once. After graduating from the county’s Anger Management class, twice. She also, before rehab, was depressed because she wasn’t able to get this year’s Nordstrom BP Cotton Anorak. Inger wants mincome for herself. And free mental health care, especially free mental health care. Legal weed, maybe also. Actually . . . legal weed first. Until rehab happened.

One of the many things that mincome ignores is something we Reformed Tradition Christians have heard all our lives, men are made for work. We don’t need more money or a guaranteed minimum income that means we don’t have to work. We need a cause to pursue, we need work. Not so we have access to necessary resources. It goes deeper than that. Idle men, especially idle young men, are fertile ground for trouble. Mincome takes away a key component of our reason for existence–our work.

Women are different. Women are made to help men love God more dearly. They are also the bulk of the work of birthing and raising the next generation. That secondary purpose, kids, is preoccupying for women. Women should and do work, but their two responsibilities mean that they are not first made for work in the same way that men are. I’ll grant you that for a woman, mincome can feel like a solid plan. Inger agrees.

These childish platitudes keep being pushed by left-wing media. Poor people? Give them money with no strings attached. Done. Hungry? Feed the hungry. Homeless? House the homeless. If we do enough of this we’ll accomplish an end to poverty, hunger, and homelessness. New Deal? New Frontier anybody? How about the Great Society? The War on Poverty? How is that working out? An unacknowledged elephant in your safe space is that simplistic solutions like this surface disastrous unintended consequences.

2 Tesalonicenses 3: “Porque incluso cuando estábamos con ustedes, les ordenamos: «El que no quiera trabajar, que tampoco coma.»”

Todo 2 Thessalonians 3 vale la pena leer. One of those unintended consequences is a non-verbal insult to men. Through mincome you are telling us that we can’t provide enough to our kin, that we are not enough. This is demeaning. So much so that our answer is to take your mincome and use it to run black market businesses where we can feel pride of ownership and the satisfaction of being providers to our kin.

We have dumped trillions in foreign aid into third world countries. These trillions have spawned countless acts of evil and corruption. Our trillions we intend for the poor and suffering enrich government bureaucrats and corrupt NGO’s. Yet we continue to be told that we are not doing enough, that we have to dump more cash into the life of that big eyed kid on TV because he or she is still miserable. And that the problem is that we are not trying hard enough. These Utopian fantasies of an end to misery will work if we just apply ourselves with enough due diligence. Did you fill your UNICEF box this Halloween? It’s not our fault that after 73 years these endeavors have entrapped those we sought to help. You really want Grandma to live on cat food? What’s your answer to a single mom with a dickface baby daddy? Grow a garden? Raise chickens? Seriously?

Yah, yah. All this government funded mercy does some good. Cities that have done, “Housing First” have had some success with it. You can listen to the Freakanomics story here: Most of the time when a story of this sort is aired it is presented as the most original, best idea ever. No one has ever thought of this. Why not just pay a guaranteed income to everybody? Poverty solved. I mean, what reasonable person would oppose that? Grandma could afford wet cat food.

But . . . whatever. Do it. Pay a guaranteed minimum annual salary of at least $40,000.00 with benefits. Give women free child care, free maternity leave, and 320 hours a year of paid time off. Ignore Cuba, the USSR, China, North Korea, Venezuela and others where such nonsense is the rule. Ignore the half-century of experience we have in this country with presidential initiatives like Roosevelt’s New Deal and Grandma Billary’s proffered Fair Deal. Us deplorables will happily use your benevolence as we have for most of a century. We’ll cash your checks and take that cash to the black market where we can get all our gluttonous heart desires. We’ll occupy ourselves with grey and black market businesses to give ourselves the work we can’t get because we accepted mincome. Thank you and please, may I have another?

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Fake News

The shock and awe demonstrated by the popular media with the premise that the news isn’t authoritative is funny to me. My diapers were pink, if not deeply red. My Dad tried to escape the insanity of his broken family, his crazy, socialist Mom and his alcoholic father. The man left Berkeley but Berkeley never left him. So says he, Jesus is a Communist. The engineering degree was an e-ticket out of the left-wing Disneyland called California. An article of faith in my family has always been that the press lies to us.

William Randolf Hearst published the San Francisco Examiner, bitter rival to the San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst is the newspaper man who was at the center of scandals over yellow journalism and suspicions that his newspapers bullied the US and Spain into war. Some of what Hearst published was demonstrably false. Hearst was a passionate progressive.

That’s one. Pacifica Radio is another. It was our first public radio network, predating NPR. When I was living in the Bay Area I could count on Pacifica Radio’s KPFA to remind me frequently that what I saw on KTVU and in the Chronicle was establishment pablum pushing a political agenda. It continues to be an article of faith at KPFA that what is communicated through major media outlets is government controlled propaganda.

What is axiomatic for me is that we are all fools and liars. What we find to be true has a lot to do with who we are and our story up to this point in our lives than facts which can be empirically proven. I love repeating with annoying frequency that truth on this blog is an accident. I make no claims as to the factual accuracy of anything I say here. Some of what I say has truth in it, somewhere. So, for the press to suddenly wake up and realize that the inner-tubes are clogged with verbal diarrhea, this is both amusing and definitely not news.

Glen Beck, whom many love to hate, keeps saying that we should fact-check him. We should do our own homework. Find out for ourselves who is naughty or nice. A basementless pizza place the headquarters of an international sex-trafficking ring? Perfectly reasonable. Our leaders turn out to have feet of clay and the same kink that less visible folk have? Shocker. I haven’t listened to KPFA in a while. Back when I did they said similar things. They also loudly declaimed that their listeners should do their own research. Find out if KPFA and Pacifica Radio was practicing the fine art of story telling or in fact, telling provable truth.

RayRoberta Bob, for his part, is all over the #pizzagate thing. It touches all his fears about authority figures. The resonance is so strong for him that my attempt at disputing the truth of it was dead at the door of Itzel’s barn. He really believes that Billary has a harem of nubile virgins serving his and her *every* need. His own harem supplied by his father was an annoyance to him. Ray’s gender fluidity comes in part from growing up with 400 needy girls vying for his attention.

Sorry, every blogger’s cheap tactic to fill a post, a list. Some stories over the years which were truth-ish:

  • A story cited here claiming that Samsung paid their 1.2 billion dollar fine to Apple in nickels.
  • A story that keeps popping up from WWI based on a photograph claimed to be of a firing squad aiming at a spy.
    If you browse to the site you find out the whole thing was staged. This one is good because some stories resonate so strongly that they survive all attempts to refute them. There will be those who can’t accept #pizzagate as false and will invent narratives that explain away all the counter-narratives being evangelized in the national media. These narratives to support the core narrative of a corrupt Billary being a sex-trafficker will gain the gravitas of truth and stick around like a smelly, drunk uncle.
  • Pretty much every week the National Enquirer is published. This week, in fine tradition, they claim that a shadowy fixer for Billary was arranging sex trysts.

Sorry to go all Krischin on the bottom third of this post. The Bible is wary of the tongue. I’ve only quoted James 3: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,[a] and set on fire by hell.[b] For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers,[c] these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

Yeah, so . . . words matter. Our truth matters. While the national press is puckering their anuses and soiling their panties at getting caught in many lies I have begun to feel smug. What I thought was edgy and provocative isn’t. Writing over 200 essays where I am rather open about the lack of truthiness turns out to be more on point than I could have imagined.

One more quote, Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”

I’m still learning to fight the urge to preach. Us at the narrow ends of the Bell curve may be troublesome, crazy, a reason to sit somewhere else in the cafe. We are not stupid. If anything, our outlier status gives us less of an investment in the common newspeak promulgated by Uncle Sam. We loose less if we stick to our stories of warehouses of hippies burning to death, aliens invading our brains and the top 10 ways to cook a zombie. It’s what we do. This whole pizzagate thing is awesome sauce for this blog.

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Is the Bible Reliable?

No. That’s why I like it. That’s why I believe it is true. People are unreliable. Truth is fluid. At one time the earth sat at the center of the waters under the waters. Then by observation we come to understand that the earth circles a star. Over the decades we learn more and the truth changes again. A religious text that wasn’t a hot mess is to me a suspicious text. I’d expect a species that is a hot mess to write a hot mess book. What? People are not a hot mess? Seriously?

1cor134Mohamed declared he had recieved a revelation. He wrote the القرآن الكريم. He wanted the Bible to make sense. It does not and neither does the Q’uran. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, annoyed at the flaws in translation that have crept in to the Bible over thousands of years, did the scorched earth thing, and started from scratch. They messed up. But, since, they’ve gotten on their high horses and declared all of us to be apostate. No, they are right and we are going to hell. Some Muslims, impatient with God, have decided that the way to bring about a post-apocalyptic paradise is to force God’s hand and have that final calvary battle in Syria.

Sure, God is going to reward a bunch of zealots a post Revelations paradise on earth, with Mohamed returned, because they charged across a battlefield in Syria waving swords and firing muskets at the enemy while riding horseback. That’s not nuts. That’s rational.

Let’s not forget the numerous Christians who isolated themselves somewhere yelling that the rapture was nigh and they needed to be ready. The moment comes and the less insane of them realize that the buzzer on the dryer has gone off and one of the kids is crying because it’s time to eat. Life. Intrudes. Or the more insane of these sects that loses their damned mind and immolates or drinks poison.

If you brought me a religious text designed by Apple that was all bauhaus and logically (Aristotle’s logic) solid I’d not want it. The meaning of the word “bible” is library. It is a selection of religious texts argued over from the beginning. If there is any feature of Christianity it is our love of debate and apologia. We get it from our Jewish ancestors. Our central religious texts reflect that.

How much more loving, poetic, and accurate is a canon of 66 books which have stood the test of time. And, yes, we can’t even agree on a consensus of which books belong in the bible and which should be left out. So, 66 books is a fungible number. There isn’t even one bible. BibleGateway offers roughly a hundred editions of the Bible in various languages and from different sects. Over these books a grand narrative plays out from the creation story(s) in Genesis through to the Revelation of John. It is us. It is reliable in its depiction of the core values, core beliefs of us, of followers of Christ.

Please, though, stop trying to make it into something it isn’t. The foolishness of some, that want to bend the bible into a modernist, utopian exegisis of orthodox truth, reliable in its facts, historically accurate down to the angel on pinhead count, this is nonsense. The bible is a canon of the heart and stomach. It is absurd when viewed through 20th Century, rational eyes. Let it be what it is and the beauty of its truth exposes itself.

John 1:1-John 1:5 ESV In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” One of the oft-quoted mistranslations by the Jehovah’s Witnesses is:  “In the beginning was the Word,+ and the Word was with God,+ and the Word was a god.*+  This one was in the beginning with God.  All things came into existence through him,+ and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.” Much is made of a small change, “Word was a God“.

The whole debate makes my head hurt. You can read one article on it here. It is significant to this piece because in spite of our continued wrangling over what we believe, what should and shouldn’t be part of the canon, the Bible thrives. One answer for many is to dismiss the whole mess out of hand because there has been so much hypocrisy, so much evil done in the name of the Lord. If that is you, fine. If humans have any constant, it is our talent for strife. We know the right thing to do yet we still do things we should not.

To repeat something I said in another post, my world is nuts. It is absurd. Nobody behaves, not even God. Them that throw tantrums because there are too many that don’t behave in amenable way are entertaining idiots. As I write this there is a small group of protesters who have decided to occupy a bridge. The idea is that they can stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Many beloved tropes about evil oil companies are sung as hymns by the press and fellow travelers. Those evil oil companies want to pipe oil across sacred Native American lands, ruining the water table, despoiling Mother Earth and worst of all, make money. This is sacred truth for the protest bunch. We who might disagree are apostate. We are ipso facto fascist.

I’m sure, were I able, opening a conversation with the protesters that challenged their orthodoxy, would not go well. They know their truth is accurate, factual. Me, the WASP, just doesn’t understand. If I understood I’d agree with them. The bible is reliable because it accurately reflects us. We are obstinate, sure of our orthodoxies, intolerant of opposition or differences, quick to speak with two mouths and close one ear.  For some, my drunk alien is more true than some wild-assed fable about a martyred carpenter from Nazareth. An absurd word of God works for me.

The books we keep resonate across time. Of all the greek plays to keep we kept Oresteia. Of all the inspirational books across time there are 66 which persist in spite of everything. They reflect who we are and how we can be better. Their very absurdity is what makes them beloved by me. Last bible quote as I end this, Colossians 3:16, “ Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Ok, actually, a couple more: John 1:9-14, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

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Who Washed Feet First?

It sounds like a catechism question, “who washed feet first?” Next, remember this lyric, “How do you solve a problem like Maria,” from the Sound of Music? Maria as a nun was an absurdity. But, Maria as a nanny and later wife of Captain von Trapp was a thing of beauty. Though, this post isn’t about Maria von Trapp. No, it’s about Mary of Bethany before Jesus was crucified.

who washed feet first? spikenard-anointing-feet-of-JesusSo, there was one before Jesus who washed the feet of another. She washed His feet and pointed to an answer to a persistent question: “what do you do with a thick necked people who have continued to sin in spite of everything done for several thousand years of recorded history?” If all the sane answers have failed, could it be that an insane answer might be the right one? It doesn’t fit that a bastard son of a poor carpenter from Nazareth could be the Messiah.

It fits that a subject of a king would wash his feet. It fits that anointing the feet of Christ with perfume is a sign of his authority as king of the Jews. The resurrected kingdom we got was not one that was victorious over Rome right then. Constantine’s deathbed conversion came later. In the normal course of events it is expected that the king’s subjects would show him their devotion through acts like this.

✠ ✠ ✠

Next, it is not fit that a woman would wash the feet of a man with her hair. That is a scandalous act. Perfume as expensive as nard would not be used to wash anyone’s feet. Judas is right to be shocked that a pound of this perfume would be wasted on such a decadent act.

Though, Jesus is not Caesar. He isn’t Herod or Pilote. He is a poor carpenter born to Mary under suspicious circumstances. Many whispered that the virgin birth story is a cover for Mary cuckholding Joseph. Judas said that selling the nard would raise money to do so much more good. Christ praises Mary for her act of devotion. This Nazarene speaks with the authority of a Rabbi but he is just a carpenter’s boy born out of wedlock. It is outrageous, it is absurd, that Mary of Bethany would use a pound of expensive perfume, her uncovered hair, and her tears to wash the feet of Jesus of Nazareth because Lazarus lives.

That is Absurd

Christ is absurd. He is a king that died. He is a martyr that lived. We say he descended into hell and took our sins with him. Did we stop being evil? No. An enterprising group of Twitter users sabotaged Microsoft’s “Tay“. Terrorists bombed Brussel during this year’s Holy Week. It would be easy to fill more than 1500 words surveying the news for all the ways in which we are evil.

I would be far from the first if I dove into the oft-asked, perpetual question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” Let’s leave it at this: absurd things happen that defy easy answers. My king, my Jesus, was killed by the Romans at the request of fellow Jews because of claims that he had spoken blasphemy. He said absurd things.

This is an absurd anointing of a king. It is crazy. It is scandalous. Judas Iscariot is right to be shocked. Six days before Passover she does this in the presence of Lazarus and others. If Jesus were a candidate for presidency this anointing, known, would be above the fold and push off the current kerfuffle over claims that Ted Cruz had 5 affairs. Why, then, would we keep this story, this scandalous narrative, in our sacred text, for over two millennia after Christ left us?

✠ ✠ ✠

Before that, for as long as we have recorded history, kings and democracies had failed us. People worshiped God and gods then. The Romans had their pantheon of gods, including many adopted from the Greeks. The Jews had their God of Abraham and the law. The morale was not improving in spite of continued beatings. We have laws, many, many laws. The laws don’t matter. Our Muslim brethren enforce those laws through brutal consequences. Brutal consequences only matter to some. To others they are just the price of living. Evil persists, sin persists, despite everything. We have kings. We have democracies. We have every stripe of economic system imagined. Crime exists. Disparity and poverty exist.

Mary Did You Know?

Mary did not know that she was washing the feet of a king. She knew that this wretch, this bastard carpenter’s boy, had said some absurd and amazing things. She had heard of miracles, perhaps seen them. Lazarus was there eating with them. Who is Lazarus? Go look it up. Her heart so filled with devotion, with a desire to honor this man reclining at table, that she annoyed Martha and scandalized Judas, with a decadent act such as this.

When it is all crazy, when all the philosophers, physicians, lawyers, kings, senators, rabbis, all their words, and soldiers failed to stop the ways in which we are evil to each other, what is God to do? Nothing has worked. He destroyed the world in a flood. While Moses prayed we made a golden calf. God gave Moses a set of laws and appointed the Levites as judges and religious leaders. He answered our cry for a King with Saul, David and Solomon. King David slept with another man’s wife. He sent us prophets and judges. He parted the Red Sea. He fed us manna and pigeons and caused water to flow from a rock. We still sinned. We still sin.

When millions of lambs, doves, calves are sacrificed and the good, law abiding people do the right thing and still, it is not enough. Evil persists. Lucifer still wins sometimes.

✠ ✠ ✠

What is God to do with us? What is he to do with his thick-necked people who build idols and worship Baal? What is he to do with us when he scatters us and scrambles our tongues so that brother cannot understand brother and yet, we violate every letter of every law and build temples to calves.

There are only two things left to do. Sound the trumpets and lay waste to His creation. Or, perform an astounding act of mercy and be born a baby and crucified. Christ is either who he said he was and we are truly forgiven or he is one of a legion of crackpots who lied to us.

When the only thing left to do is an absurd act of grace, can you not grant me that it is possible God would then martyr himself, wipe the record clean, and begin again with a ragtag bunch of dissident Jews who claim that a bastard carpenter killed by the Romans was the Messiah prophesied in the Nevim? No? Whatever.

The crazy continued. The absurdities continued. Today, millions upon millions celebrate the life and death of Christ the King, Jesus of Nazareth, whose story is absurd. We are countless lights, countless salts, working to be stones of the resurrected temple. We start with grace, with knowing that we are not only our past. We live as we understand Christ would have us live. As absurdity has abounded, so has countless miracles and acts of love and mercy.

Crazy Good

I don’t have space here to recount the infinite ways our absurd story has brought light and salt to this world. Yes, the church, churchianity and all the other names spat out in anger of us, has committed atrocities. We are not immune to evil. While I acknowledge that, I ask you to grant me that we have also done much good, do much good.

It is the eve of Easter, the Saturday between our ceremony mourning the crucifixion of Christ and our celebration of his resurrection Sunday morning. By tradition, Christ is in Hell. It is a day when I feel like fasting and writing. It is one of those moments when there is much to moan about. I am in the gap between scary and things working out. Tomorrow I’ll celebrate with my brethren at St. Giles the completion of the story. We will say, “Christ is Risen!” In the coming weeks I’ll traverse this gap and things will work out.

Today is a cold, grey day of “not yet.” My Jesus is buried in the tomb. We have the blood of those we sinned against on our hands. In two thousand years we have much to answer for. It is not yet Easter. Still God is dead for another day.

So, this I know. Of all that was tried, all that has been done, this crazy thing, this absurd king, did more to change the world for good than anything in history. I am called to serve a bastard carpenter’s boy from Nazareth, who died on a cross with criminals. This I know, serving Him has saved my life.

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This That

I always wonder about people who insist that we exhume the dead, fill them with adrenaline and electro-shock so they are reanimated, for the purpose of having a satisfactory reckoning with them regarding all the ways they were evil to us. People pass through our lives and leave a mark. We hope that mark will be a source of joy. It isn’t always so. Some crash into our lives and hurt us. Some blindly generate insult or injury without being aware of the pain they generate. We can’t always have the greeting card, poignant conversation where they say all the words we wish for and make it all better. Sometimes we are left bleeding to fend for ourselves.

Ginny Webb 12-2010
Ginny Webb 12-2010

I got a call from my Dad last Wednesday that my Mom was refusing food. She’s 83 as of this post, has had dementia for a decade or so, suffers from heart disease, is a stroke victim, is diabetic, with limbs atrophied such that she is effectively paralyzed, has trouble swallowing, can no longer communicate in much more than either, “yes” or “no”, and has severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She obsessively chews on anything within reach. She chewed on herself until my Dad started giving her old towels to chew on. She requires full-time nursing care. She is moved from a rented hospital bed to a wheelchair each day by either a home-care nurse or my Dad. The woman that raised me, that did so much that is praiseworthy, has become an imbecile who passes the time chewing on old towels and watching reruns of “Dirty Jobs”.

I believe the woman that raised me is in there, trapped and unable to cross the divide created by the strokes she has suffered and the dementia. What a nightmare to be stuck inside a body that no longer does what you ask it to do. To be cognizant of the world yet unable to engage with it. Each time I visit I put on a brave face and hide my sorrow. It can’t be easy to be stuck in a husk of a body somewhere purgatorious (not a word, I know) on the living side of the river Styx. Sometimes it feels merciful to ask God to just call her home. Then I feel guilty for praying such an awful thing.

We all get to the end of our story. We reach those final days in the epilogue after we have slain the dragon and gained the boon. Our footsteps carry us nearer to our village where we will return with the prize in hand. We will pause and share a celebration at our victory then leave again to be forever spoken of in the past tense. The cowboy who wins the duel and then rides off into the sunset to his campfire and tent in the valley of the shadow of death.

My Mom is one of the good people. When she joins the immortals I’ll speak of her praises. This part of the story, before crossing the river, I’ll quietly leave unsaid. She’s won the battle, fought the good fight, and now, wounded, crawls off the battlefield slowly, too injured to make it to the medic and safety. She fought for her clients, for the right thing to do even when it defied the rules as a social worker for the State of New Jersey. She served as a volunteer at her church. She got to go to Honduras on one of those missions/tourist things where they built a church over a couple weeks. She did good.

Our family is normal. We have our share of confessional stories that could make a good chick-flick if they were ever written and filmed. At least one family member is stuck in a typical rut, “I need Mom to be healthy enough to have that hearts & violins, two boxes of Kleenex conversation where she says she loves me and apologizes for being such a bitch when I was a kid.” Remember how I’ve talked about story and how story informs our behavior? Yeah, that. I’ve got a feeling the truth of her bitchiness doesn’t quite match the story. Rent “Precious” from Google Play if you need a story about a horrible mother. In our family the Hallmark moment can’t happen because my Mom is as close to a vegetable as you can get without resuming room temperature.

Were I to go there, to dig into my little list of reasons why it’s my Mom’s fault, I could justify a rather tall drink of self-pity and self-righteous justification for all the ways I am a hot mess. I’d have Freud on my side. It’s stupid, though.

I’m past my mid-fifties as I type this. I haven’t been under my Mom’s roof for over a generation. I have a son of my own. I suffer from or benefit from the choices I make whether or not blame can be laid at the feet of my parents. Why would I embalm her so I can have her on my living room couch as an immortal reason for my miseries? Where would Ray(ro(bert))a sleep if I did? Yah, yah, he seems to do ok in his old short-bed F150. Still . . . Better to forgive and let my Mom be remembered for the ways in which she blessed those she counted as family and friends. Embalming fluid stinks worse than alien puke. Fun fact: Oxyclean works really good on alien puke. Just saying.

When the time comes to stand before my Mom’s friends and family and talk about her life I will sing her praises. These days, before that day, are hard. It’s hard to know if we are serving her best by still treating her many ailments. There are days when it feels like mercy to give her the wrong dose of pain medication and let her slip away. Other days the heart pines for some bit of answered prayer, of medical genius, that could heal her sickened body and she could tell me again what I needed to do to improve things and ask me to check in again in a week (social worker, remember?). I am conflicted as I type this. There doesn’t seem to be an easy right thing to do. Only these things: the woman that raised me is suffering and near death. My Dad is tired after so many years of being her primary care-taker. This story nears the shores of the river Styx. It is time for my Mom to cross the river and go home.

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Chicken Little

First Posted 21-Jul-2014

I have people in my life who narrate certain events in the most emotionally dissonant way possible. Suggesting that parasitic space aliens are infecting family members through transporter beams embedded in cell phones has them nodding agreeably. It totally explains the voices in their heads and their secret urge to eat live silk worms as a primary protein.

Predator-FaceSomeone I know checked their bank balance and saw that $900.00 was gone. This was not a transaction they had authorized. Panic. An hour in the bank, nuke everything that may have been compromised, new everything in its place, and the bank said, after investigation, that they may give back the $900.00. This is somebody like me, who lives paycheck to paycheck, so this was a huge loss for them. That’s the back story. In the meantime, his financial life has taken a big hit and important bills like rent, car payments, insurance, groceries, and utilities and so on, are now harder than usual.

Last I heard, he’d gotten some help here so it’ll be ok. Still, in the early moments of this, life was scary. Along the way, wanting to understand why he took a $900.00 hit on his account, he tried checking his credit score to see if anything was there. This guy, though, is young and so far, except for checking and savings, does not have a credit history. He grew up in a family that operates with cash, usually without a bank account. What they own they save for and pay cash. Credit just isn’t in the plan for them. So, being a good son, he also has cash, mostly, though the checking and savings accounts were/are necessary for payroll. Now, that’s the mellow, reasonable explanation for browsing to a credit reporting agency’s site and finding nothing.

This site likes parasitic aliens. It explains a lot. We know there is no such but parasitic aliens is such a seductive lie it’s hard to ignore. I mean, Ray(bert(a)) is a thing in this space, just saying. The lack of a credit report and the questions the site asked along the way can’t be spoken of as a normal thing. Nope. That doesn’t have the requisite emotional heat. Better still is this: Russian Separatist Rebels had hacked the credit reporting web site and put up a page to phish for this guy’s data so they could get more than $900.00. The rebels, having been cut off because the old accounts were nuked, were now pissed and thus, sending Mexican gang members infected with alien parasites to educate this guy with knives and baseball bats on proper humility and cooperation with the rebel’s need for more money. Crazy, right?

We write novels and make movies with stories like that. We spend good money watching them. But, in life, such stories can be a problem for us. The emotional energy in them, that makes great fiction, can drive us to behave in ways which generate trouble and could manifest a version of our insane narrative. My friend is ok. He did the needful and now has his bills paid. The bank has said that it’ll take time but it looks like he didn’t do this and so they’ll be giving him his money back. It could have gone differently, perhaps if he’d taken on the “Russian Rebels” narrative. It didn’t, though, and that’s a good thing.

We can’t always control the circumstances we find ourselves in. We can control the way we narrate those circumstances for ourselves and for others. We can also control our choices in those circumstances. Please, before you start hating on cell phones & family members, ask yourself if this isn’t a little nuts. Maybe the story you tell about cell phones & family members needs a little fact-checking. Also, it’s probably not true that Russian Separatist Rebels would put that much work into a web site to attack just one young guy. Just saying.

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