Putting our Heads Together

Putting our Heads Together
I don't think he sees me

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kick in the Can

It is often the small things that give me pause, make me think, that lead me down pathways that I did not really want to travel, but whose journey I am helpless to prevent. This morning as I walked our dog, I saw a bag of garbage in the middle of our street. Given the wildlife and the sometimes prodigious winds that we get, I did not find it too unusual. On the way back from our constitutional (which means the thirteen pounds of fluffy fury at the end of the leash was attempting to drag me with all due haste back to the house for his breakfast) I swerved into the street to pick up the trash (what a good neighbor I am). It was garbage day, and I was just going to put the bundle with my bins.

As I approached it, the bag looked odd. It was a heavy black yard bag torn and scraped with reuse and tied with a ragged piece of orange of nylon rope. When I picked it up, it was surprisingly light and rattled with the unmistakable sounds of aluminum cans. Odd. How did a bag of recycle get here in the middle of the street? If it had been an animal, it would have been ripped open in the primal quest for food. If it had been the wind, I would have seen small branches and other garbage around, which I didn’t.

I shrugged and set the bag down by my trash and went inside with Sailor to feed him, but my mind would not let go of the mystery. The morning activities of dishes, feed the dog, make breakfast distracted my thoughts, but left my relentless subconscious to plow ahead uninhibited by false perceptions and self-delusion often provided by my conscious mind. Suddenly as I moved on to gather my items (wallet, keys, etc.) for work, the light bulb moment struck, and my day got immediately sadder.

I stood still for a moment staring and unseeing, an image forming behind my eyes. I saw a man going through a garbage can or recycle bin placed curbside on the night before trash pickup. One can is found, two, three and separated from the other refuse to be placed carefully into a personal garbage bag. In the hours after midnight the street sleeps and there are no eyes to see as the man bends to tie rough orange line about the neck of bag to secure the treasure he has mined. He takes this bag, setting it with others in a bungeed nest on the back of his bike and shakily pedals off to find other bins, other foraged plunders. One of his bags shifts and drops from bike to street, lessening the burden, and lessening the pittance he hopes to reap from this evening’s covert labors.

The silent wraiths whose ranks have become bloated with the tumbled economy have crept from beneath their bridges, out of their cardboard boxes, from whatever tarp or tent that they bed in to hunt beyond the confines of downtown into the neighborhoods to seek out means of sustaining their lives. They are unorganized yet not unintelligent.

I have seen for myself and heard from others how the number of pan handlers has increased in downtown Colorado Springs. I know that they have become more aggressive as their swelling numbers stretch the resources and patience of the people they plead to for spare change and food. When food sources become scarce for bears and mountain lions they leave their habitat to enter the neighborhoods for fruit trees, garbage, and pets. It is not inconceivable that when the food chain is stretched thin for the disenfranchised that they would adopt a similar behavior.

The homeless have always made me uncomfortable, and I have kept them at arms length only giving money or bags of grocery when they are impossible to ignore, when the gnawing at my conscience strikes a calloused nerve of decency. I fear them because I believe I cannot help them, and because there for the grace of God go I. It is not easy to look into the mirror that reflects possibility of our lives; it is often not a pretty picture.

The homeless are ghosts in the truest sense. They wander unnoticed through the ranks of the living, when seen they are often gray, colorless phantoms at the edge of our perceptions that we hope to exorcise through the invocation of the Lord’s name and what loose change we have in our pockets. They are the other one percent. Not the one’s we envy, but the ones we forget about, the ones we deny. They are below the middle class, below the poor; they inhabit the grimy bottom rungs of the ladder of success.

They do not pay taxes, and many do not receive any kind of welfare. To borrow a phrase from the late Hunter S. Thompson, they are the “doomed”. We see them with leathery skin and empty eyes screaming at no one as they walk the streets. We see them with their hungry children on exit ramps holding homeless-made torn cardboard signs begging for food, for help. We see them lined up outside the Catholic soup kitchen in the rain with backpacks, bags, and strollers waiting for the doors to open and a meal to warm their hollow bellies. The old homeless clash with the new homeless in a country that already does not support the former much less address the latter.

As the presidential election looms ever closer, I do not hear either campaign decrying the plight of the homeless, or saying that a concerted effort be made to help them. They talk of job creation, restoring the middle class, and tax cuts, but do not say how these jobs or that class or tax rate cuts can touch those that have sunken below the radar. We the people are deaf to this problem, and they the politicians are both blind and mute to it. Maybe what we should do is concentrate on our independence from the rest of the world, stop trying to influence people who do not want our influence, end sending our fortunes abroad to help the helpless in other countries, and spend time keeping our own house in better order.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Taking the Fall

As I drove down to work today, I glanced east into the sunrise.  Silhouetted by pink light and morning haze, inverted tear drops were suspended, frozen in the sky.  Four hot air balloons defying gravity in the calm air, prosaically reminding me that today is the last day of summer, and fall takes her place tomorrow.

I much prefer Autumn over the other seasons.  Spring is lovely in a vivacious energetic way.  Life burgeoning, carelessly thrusting forth in colors that make rainbows blush.  Winter is a solemn time of renewal and death.  Beneath the cold winter glare all ponder their future, taking stock of its past, planning its awakening, or giving into the great circle, releasing itself to nourish the new and gaining immortality in that instant.  Summer is a hot and invigorating time during which borders are defined and maintained, new life protected by old life.  Summer is a dramatic time of thunder storms, fire, and hail, the world beating its breast.  It is the heart of the seasons, the grind of the annual cycle.  In Fall things begin to give into the upcoming sloth, preparing for rest, winding down.  Fall too, presents vivid colors to the world, but these are marks of maturity and not the fireworks of reckless youth.

This past year has been particularly trying and exhausting for my family and I.  So many changes we have all been through, with even more likely to come - sooner rather than later.  But for now, I feel the calm of the new season wash over in the welcome embrace of an old friend.  I feel the change in the very air around me, the mornings getting crisper, the evenings turning chill.

I will begin the rituals of fall soon.  The sprinkler system will be turned off, no water needed for sleeping lawns.  I will do the final edgings and mowings for the year, primping the grass so in its rest it will not be embarrassed by errant sprigs here and there, a yard’s version of bed head.  Some raking will be done, but not much, it is a small yard with few trees.  The final weeds will be pulled in a fruitless attempt to limit their ravenous foothold in spring.  Eventually, the pilot on the fireplace will be relit for in anticipation of curling up with my wife and a book in the warmth and flickering glow granted us through the flip of a switch.

I am odd that way about the Fall, I long for the creeping chill that will enter my bones over the next few months.  I patiently watch the softening of the light, and the shorting of the days.  Fall to me is rest and restoration, a time to heal my aches and any wounding of my soul.  It is a time to gently breath in the quieting world, and to reach out my hand and have my wife slip hers easily into it as we instinctively move closer.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Give me a Sternburger with Fries

I am an inquisitive person by nature, especially of the minutiae to be found in our daily lives.  I find it fun and sometimes even informative to learn something new and then see where my mind takes it.  Today (September 18th 2012) for instance, is not only our son’s thirty-third birthday, but it is also National Cheeseburger Day.

When I heard this on the radio, I had to do some research into the most significant addition to the humble burger since the bun (which in and of itself was the greatest invention since its close relative sliced bread).  The cheeseburger's origin dates from somewhere occurred between the late 20's to mid 30's depending on what source you give more credence to.  Many adhere to Lionel Sternberger’s claim of inventing the cheeseburger by accident in the late 1920’s when he was a 16 year old fry cook at his father’s “Rite Spot” Drive In.  Lionel did not say if it was divine intervention or simply idiot savant-like intelligence that guided his hand in dropping the first piece of American cheese on a sizzling burger, but I do not find this to be more than a yarn by a teenage boy whose only sizzling thoughts lay in girls and not beef.  After all, if Lionel Sternberger had indeed invented the cheeseburger, wouldn’t it be called the “Sternburger” ?  Then there is the claim of Louisville’s KY’s Kaelin restaurant that has a menu purported to be from 1934 with the cheeseburger on it.  Given the level of sophistication of PhotoShop and todays computers, faking a 1934 menu would be easy to do and hard to detect.  The only claim I have seen that carries demonstrable legal weight, is that of Louis E. Ballast of the now non-extant Humpty Dumpty Drive In, Denver.  In 1935, Mr. Ballast actually trade marked the cheeseburger.  Game, set, match to Louis Ballast!

Unfortunately for those reading this, my exploration lead me to discover more holidays than National Cheeseburger Day.  I found that every day of the year has at least one unique holiday associated with it.  Think of it, three hundred and sixty-five (three hundred and sixty-six on Leap Year) days with at least one thing to celebrate.

Fittingly my birthday falls on Sugar Cookie Day, and I find it hard to believe that there is an International Skeptics Day (January 13th) each year, but there is.  Thanks to my daughters, I already knew that March 14th is PI Day (3.14), and I find that Pecan Day and Waffle Day both sharing March 25th proof enough that God does exist.  Without the Cold War we can now freely share in and appreciate April 12th as Russian Cosmonaut Day, and let us not forget that on May 9th the world comes together with heads bowed and hearts heavy for Lost Sock Memorial Day (one day after No Sock Day – how ironic is that!).  Finally, did you know that January 4th was Trivia Day?

There are a host of holidays out there for almost ever taste.   You can find one that suits your spirit at:  http://holidayinsights.com/moreholidays .

(Author’s note:  An official date for National Procrastination Day has not been set yet, apparently they have not gotten around to voting on it.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Mob Rules

Life is sometimes violent and incomprehensible.  Such has been the case since September 11, 2001 stripped Americans of their innocence, opening eyes to global realities, and opening hearts to fear and paranoia.  Now eleven years to the day in the midst of our mourning and remembrance, the US Consulate in Libya has been attacked leaving three embassy staff dead including our Ambassador.

The inevitable result of such an action by Islamic extremist has been a measured reaction by the government and second guessing and knee jerk reaction from without the executive branch.  It is the second guessing and gut reactions that worry me more than the attack.  Of course I am outraged and angered by the murder of our representatives abroad.  I also believe that such actions by enemies are taken not to make a point, but to derive specific responses that broaden their base and weaken the already shaky perceptions of the United States.

The immediate criticisms of the Executive Branch’s handling of this current act of terror is more politically than practically motivated.  The degree to which Governor Romney has attacked the Obama administration already shows a lack of geo-political vision for the larger picture by putting crass nationalism ahead of any substantive thought on the issue.  Today one of Governor Romney’s sons was interviewed in regards to this on 850 KOA radio out of Denver.  He said that his Father was just expressing his outrage over what he believed to be a demonstration of an incoherent international policy.  Outrage can be understood, but instant criticism before all the facts are out and understood is not how a global leader should respond, and at its worst seems an action of opportunism rather than a demonstration of capabilities.

Meanwhile, the gut response of some of some of the populace has been a call for a more dogged effort to hunt down and kill all Islamic extremists (a very good friend of mine made such a comment recently).  Even on its face and in the simplest terms this does not seem possible or practical.  Throughout the history of the world, oppression has only resulted in revolt and violence, and a more sustainable peace has been best achieved by inclusion rather than destruction of enemies.

Simply setting the special forces at our command loose for wholesale slaughter of a gorilla foe may result in a momentary weakening of that foe, but more critically would draw even more people to their cause by the martyrdom it would create.  By reacting with unrestrained vengeance, we play into the hands of the extremist instead of effectively combatting and negating them.

Both sides of our predominantly bipartisan political system share blame in current affairs.  Too often we react with short term goals in mind and insufficient thought given to long term consequences.  Policies of both Democrats and Republicans have resulted in failed nation building, and worse the deaths of American soldiers and citizens spanning more than a decade since we first adopted those policies to make us safer.

Show anger and indignation, but also take time to think.  I don’t have answers, but I am also not running out to kill Islamic extremist with an AR-15 and thousands of rounds of ammunition so easily obtained from gun shows and the internet.  That such atrocities are still being dealt to us only shows us that our policies over the past decade or longer are seriously flawed in some fashion.  If we do not search out and address these flaws, anger and violence will still be our true masters, and the cycle of terror and fear will continue.