Putting our Heads Together

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What the Hell is That?

It seems that in January of this year Khronos the god of time said, “Hey, Teever, what the hell is that?”  Humor being my default position, I turned my head while thinking of the wonderful SNL “What The Hell Is That” skit.  Instead of thinking of comedy, I should have resisted the urge to fall for the oldest trick in the book, because when I turned my head back around it was late December 2015.  Where did the time go?  Tempus fugit on wings getting mightier by the moment.

It used to take forever for my birthday to come around.  Forget about Christmas, when I was a kid it was little more than a weak hope, it took forever to arrive.  Summer vacation was a little more reliable and felt a little more achievable – just a little more.  But as I have grown older, the things that I waited for pass by at supersonic speeds barely giving me a glance.

I have a theory of why this is.  I have run the theory by my family and friends here, so why not bore a larger audience?  Time is relative.  Not in the Einsteinian since, but in a proportional sense.  This is where I lose most people who at this juncture in my theory begin to gesticulate wildly in random directions saying, “Hey, Teever, what the hell is that?”  And you know where I end up – talking to myself.  But if you have been willing to read this far, perhaps you will walk with me a little further.

My theory is best illustrated as follows:

1.      When you are born and first see the light of day (or the glaring maternity ward lights through clenched eyelids with your grandfather in the corner praying the rosary as much for a healthy grandchild as to be spared the exact details of natural childbirth – inside joke, consult my family for explanation), even a second is incredibly long because in the next second you are twice as old as you were.  Think of it, at one second old, a year is 35 ½ million times longer than your young life.
2.      When you are one-year-old, face buried in birthday cake while your parents click away with their cameras or phones assured by your determined motions you are still breathing, you and a year are on equal footing.
3.      Down the road at ten, a year is no longer as daunting as it once was.  A year is only one tenth of your life and getting relatively smaller all the time.
4.      I am now 53, and a year is less than 2% of my life.  The years fly leaving me to feel as if I am wearing roller blades on a treadmill foolishly and helplessly watching the world turn beneath my wheels.

It is not a difficult theory, nor is it earth shattering (even if I give it a name like “The Asymptotic Behavior of Time Relative to Life”).  It is really just me trying to rationalize why it is increasingly difficult to accomplish anything in a hectic life.

However, thinking of time in this way has shown me that we are part of a miraculous and chaotic dance.  The young at the Arthur Murray stage following foot prints on the floor, with each successive generation getting a step closer to mastering the Tango.  So as the clock ticks down the seconds to the next in a ceaseless procession of new years, enjoy the dance, and make your resolution one to teach those learning by looking at their feet, and for you to learn from their attention to details you may have missed.  Part of leaving the world a better place, is passing it on to good and prepared hands.  Happy New Year, and if you could just look over there.  Over your right shoulder…no there…what the hell is that?   

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Time and Time Again

I’m convinced that Christmas is so cherished a holiday in part because it fits our oral tradition so well.  Gatherings of family and friends to open gifts and share meals is not only the perfect incubator for new memories, but is the ideal venue to share old ones.  I’m no different.  I am drinking in the experiences of this holiday season, and I find past Christmas’s rising happily unbidden to the surface.  These memories come in no particular order, no particular priority of smiles, and they come as naturally as the season itself.

When I was a young man and in my freshman year at Clemson, I remember coming home for Christmas break.  I couldn’t wait to see my friends from high school and their families.  One of the first things I did was grab some magic markers and a square of cardboard from one of my dad’s dry cleaned shirts, and I made an arrow sign with the words “My Tree” on it.  I then got my little brother Greg and my youngest sister Ginny to pose for a picture in the upstairs hallway pointing the arrow sign towards the family tree in the living room downstairs.  I then took this sign and my camera to the Lovejoys, the Wilsons, the Barkers, the Campbells, the Whitakers and others.  I got that film processed as quickly as possible and put together an album, I just couldn’t wait to do that.  I think on some level I intuitively understood that I could only experience these connections that were so critical to my formation this one last time in my life.  Beyond freshman year, the centrifugal spin of life casts childhood friends apart towards their individual destinies.

I also recall a Christmas just seven years ago when I was in the car with my grandson, Russell.  He was about ten years old.  It was Christmas school break and he had been to work with me for the day.  We were listening to 850 KOA Sports Zoo on the radio for the long ride home, and one of the hosts was going on an uncharacteristic rant and accidently implied the nonexistence of Santa Claus.  I took a quick look toward Russell and held my breath, I didn’t know what to say to him.  At ten, some children believe, some don’t, and others are on the cusp.  I didn’t know what Russell thought about Santa, and I was frozen as my mind held a veritable traffic jam of scenarios it was attempting to deal with.  In the midst of my panic, my grandson placed a calming hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Bumpa, I know about Santa.”

This Christmas while listening to carols as my wife and I drove to our daughter Haley’s Christmas party, the radio station played “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  Jean-Marie and I were singing along and laughing as we took turns forgetting how many maids were milking and how many swans were swimming, only sure that there were five golden rings.  After a time, we were both struck with memories form a Christmas at least fifteen years ago.  We found ourselves hosting a dinner for a group friends from Texas.  A dozen of us around a long table, enjoying good food and good conversation.  After dinner, Jean-Marie and I served dessert on our brand new “Twelve Days of Christmas” dessert plates.  I no longer recall how it started or whose idea it was, but we began singing and laughing our way through that song, each person singing the part that was on their plate.

There have been other Christmas’s and other memories.  There will be more Christmas’s and new memories.  They will find places for themselves in my brain with no guarantee when or if they will rise to the surface.  It’s not that different from looking at presents beneath the tree.  You don’t know what lies inside the wrapping, but each box is a gift and a surprise and a smile.  Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Duck! They Have the Bomb!

Every time I walk through airports, I notice they make many visual offerings available to travelers both sublime and ridiculous, perhaps to take the edge off the anxiety that flying from here to there and back again can bring. Flotsam and jetsam adorning walls or in plexiglass cases, displaying the local board of tourisms version of a Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.

On one trip, I had some time to kill before braving the security line at DIA and toured some of the large wall mounted exhibits around the main terminal building. One of my favorites is a colorful map of the United States, with a picture or two in each state of some little known tourist trap or oddity.

Naturally I looked at Colorado first because I live there, then I looked at Tennessee attractions because my wife is from there, and finally I looked at South Carolina because that is the land of my birth. What I saw posted in SC wiped out any memory of what I found in Colorado, Tennessee, or any other fifty states for that matter. Apparently there is an Atomic Bomb Crater in South Carolina. Let me say that again, apparently there is an Atomic Bomb Crater in South Carolina!

I was shocked, stunned. I was aware of many facets of my home state, but never knew somebody had attempted to nuke her. Fortunately, I was armed with my smart phone and therefore the all-knowing, all-powerful internet to dispel this hoax. For surely it was a hoax perpetrated by some drunken local with too much time and a shovel on his hands. I Googled it, then I tapped on the Wikipedia entry for it, and then my jaw dropped. Here is what I found.

During the Cold War (oh to again have an enemy that we only made pouty faces at), bombers were launched from an Air Force base in Savannah on March 11, 1958, to take part in European exercises and to be on the alert in case war broke out with the Soviet Union. As one of the bombers flew over South Carolina, the captain noticed an error light on one of the bombs showing it was not properly secure. He dispatched the navigator to the bomb bay to investigate. Apparently the locking pin had not been properly latched, and as the navigator reached around the bomb to reset the pin, he inadvertently pulled the emergency release pin. When the bomb hit the deck the bomb bay doors opened and now comes good news, bad news time. Good news, the navigator was not sucked from the aircraft. Bad news, the bomb obeying the quite insistent dictates of gravity plummeted 15,000 feet down to Mars Bluff, South Carolina not too far from Florence. Good news, the fissable material was stored elsewhere on the plane. Bad news, the bomb still contained high explosives. Good news, the bomb landed on an empty playhouse in the woods and exploded leaving a seventy-five-foot crater. Bad news, three little girls, their father and brother were injured (not killed thank goodness!) by the blast. The incident made international headlines, and the family made $54,000 for pain and suffering incurred by friendly fire.

Having found this out, I discover that I am unable to set the incident aside as easily as the Gregg family and the world did. Now, I love Georgia as much as anyone. As a youth, I was taken on many pilgrimages to Atlanta to visit family. When I was older, I would drive there on my own for family and Braves baseball games. When I was fit, I would go to Georgia to run in road races in places like Atlanta, Augusta, and Tacoa. I still have two uncles, an aunt, and numerous cousins of various types in Georgia that I keep up with through the wonder that is Facebook. That being said, I believe that back in 1958 a line in the sand was crossed when Georgia dropped an Atomic weapon on her neighboring state.

The US will not tolerate a missile test in North Korea, and it spends untold amounts of money trying to curtail Iran’s weapons program in the hot and sandy Middle East. The US goes about the world trying to stop proliferation of the nuclear variety where ever it may raise its ugly head. It is intolerable that they simply shrug, dip their hands into their pockets, and are content to simply buy off the victims of state-on-state violence and then go their imperious way!

That is why I am calling for a unilateral disarmament of Georgia. More than that, I want the United Nations to send its inspectors to dismantle Georgia’s nuclear programs and arsenal. I want Hans Blix to be set up as supreme overlord until fare and free elections in Georgia can take place and this heinous act of unwarranted aggression by the Peach State can be finally and completely put behind us.

It is hard for America to justify being the world’s police force when we cannot police ourselves. It is difficult for our government to make a case for curtailing the sales of small arms, when weapons of mass destruction are indifferently handed out to whatever state desires them. And it is impossible to bring about world peace when Georgia has the bomb!

Saturday, November 21, 2015



Growing up is to wander a personal jungle with waterfalls, pitfalls, rain, rainbows, blooms too beautiful to name, and tigers that stalk just at the fringes.  As a young adult, I was followed by a tiger clothed in dark stripes the shade of pills, peer pressure, and alcohol.  Those stripes undulating like living things as it moved among the camouflage of my teen angst.  My tiger seemed deadly and swift, and although I avoided my particular beast, the memory of it still causes me a kind of sharp, ivory fear.  At least it did until the night of the first Saturday in November of 2015.

That was the night I found out the beast that preyed upon me had been old with teeth and claws blunted with age.  More dinosaur than tiger, its danger restrained by a time when thought and communication were not, could not be synonymous as they are today.  Now lines of emotion and reality are blurred by CNN, smart phones, satellites linking thoughts to action to love to hate to pleasure to hurt in an instant.

That night I sat with poets gathering to the call of Hear Here, a group that heals community at its roots and leaves, strengthening trunk and limbs through poetry.  I had been invited by one of its infectious leaders, Luke, to come, join, and share.  What happened was this 53 year old found himself in a room populated by teens and twenty-somethings with voices that sang and wailed and told a truth I had never been privy to.

In each poem I listened to, I discovered that the new tigers had changed and evolved.  Unlike mine, they had razor like teeth and claws sharpened on vulnerabilities these young people should never have possessed, but they had come by honestly.  Perhaps the result of the past wanting the future to be better and bequeathing to it freedoms, but without any guidance other than a call to live better than us.  We should have known that unrestrained freedom travels with its brothers - anarchy and chaos.

The predators of these youths bear stripes painted on by brushes dipped in dank wells of image shaming, neglect, rape, labeling, gang banging, and sexuality.  Brushes awash in colors provided by some dim rainbow sprung from a spectrum alien to me. And even though these young people around me sometimes shook as they spoke, still they boldly cried out inviting, invoking, and ultimately dispelling these carnivores of their souls.  They were warriors reclaiming themselves through self-worth and self-definition with each line uttered.  Beautiful Napoleons; young men and women, crowning themselves in the baptismal waters of creativity and expression.

For me the night was transformative.  It was as if I was in attendance of a tent revival worshipping the god of words and speech.  An event where this old man joined the young in robed submersion into a spiritual river to receive the holy verse.  I have left that night behind me, and am still in awe, still processing the self-sacrificing/self-resurrecting acts of jungle warfare against tigers in the dark.  Brave and bold voices should always leave you this way.  Hear Here.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween

Being a man; and all the myth and obligation being a man entails, I believe myself to be a rock in the face of fear. I like to think that I do not scare easily, when the fact is as I review my memories – I scare incredibly easily.
There are times that take a country to task, and no matter what your age you cannot be shielded from the desperation of those times. When I was six and the Vietnam War was in full conflict, I would see the news casts and hear my parents talk about it. When you are six war affects you on a visceral level replayed with plastic soldiers and through playing “Rat Patrol” with your friends. There is one specific time I recall sitting and staring at the black and white TV with the family as the Draft Lottery was being televised. My birthday was picked in the top 5, which meant all men of appropriate ages with that birth date were very likely to be drafted into active duty. I knew very little about real war, I knew enough to know what drafted meant, and I knew nothing at all what age group was the target of the draft. For the better part of a year, I silently prepared myself to say goodbye to my parents and siblings to join the US Army in Vietnam, where the only thing more prolific than the bullets was the rain. Thus the first great fear I can remember – war.
Other fears dogged me when I was in the single digits. In Orangeburg, there are plenty of woods to play in and I (along with my brother, Scott Myerson, Steve Arant, and others) explored them on a daily basis. We ran through swamps, through culverts, and fecund places of tall trees, rotting leaves, and the sound of birds and scurrying animals. One thing we did on a regular basis, was climb up a steep embankment to a busy road (it may have been the Old Columbia Road). Traffic permitting, we would place dirt clods across the road, run into hiding and watch cars run over them. These were wild and heady times! Once, a driver stopped and yelled at us. I think my compatriots fled while I stood frozen for the short and loud lecture on how dangerous what we were doing was, and that they were going to call the police. That was all I needed to look over my shoulder for months, expecting to see John Law in hot pursuit – Teever Handal, armed with dirt clods and presumed dangerous.
When I grew into my teenage years, my older brother Chris was still my best friend and the one I followed around the most. To him I owe expanding my taste in popular music to the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, and Steely Dan. He also upped my literary game which was firmly entrenched to science fiction, to other genres including horror in the form of Stephen King. If my brother could read Stephen King unscathed, so could I – right! From King’s classic short story collection Nightshift, I was grabbed and grabbed hard by The Boogieman. Not for days, nor weeks, nor months, but for years after reading that tale, I was afraid of the dark, and checked every closet in every bedroom I was to sleep in. Do not ask for whom the bump in the night is for, it is for me.
Moving onto my college years, you would have thought bravery would have cropped up in me somewhere. Just a little bravery, you know, maybe in some small, sheltered corner of my psyche. I don’t think it would be a lot to ask for. But no. The year was 1981 and the movie was American Werewolf in London (a film that now I can watch without the blink of an eye). I was home from Clemson, but none of my friends were around when the movie came to Orangeburg. Having a liking for horror (gosh knows why!), I went to the Cinema Twin to watch it by myself. I knew I could do it. I was a college man after all. Well the movie started and in short order I could be found watching the movie through the crack in the theatre doors, so that I could watch it while standing in the light. American Werewolf in London – An “A” Grade, Mr. Teever Handal – you get “F”.
No collection of my most fear filled moments would be complete without a visit to adulthood (in which, I am ashamed to say, more than one incident can be found). As a husband, father, and dog owner, one would expect testosterone alone would kick my latent bravery into high gear. Sadly experience says otherwise. Several years ago when our son Michael who was living in Denver, brought several of his friends down to Colorado Springs to attend the Pikes Peak Wine Festival with us. A great evening was had by all, but Jean-Marie and I couldn’t hang with the youngsters and we were the first to bail for home. Nestled in our beds, we drifted off to sleep. Unbeknownst to us, Michael had run into an old friend and was going to be out later than his college buddies, leaving them to come back to our house on their own. The trouble was, they didn’t have a key. They tried the doorbell, but our dogs were unresponsive to it, and Jean-Marie and I happily incorporated the sound into our dreams and kept on dozing. One of the guys came around the house and onto the deck outside our bedroom to try and get our attention. All I knew that was in the middle of the night, someone was shaking the bedroom door to the backyard by the door handle. With catlike reflexes, I hid behind my wife and tossed a pillow at the door yelling in my best falsetto, “Go away!” Maybe I should invest in an alarm system.
So those are my top five fear and adrenaline stoked moments in no particular order. They encompass the military, the police, literature, the movies, and benign home invasion. I could have told ghost stories, our family has a few. But those don’t scare me so much as fascinate me. Perhaps I will share them for next year. For now, show me yours, I have shown you mine. Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Staring down into
A quarry whose size
I cannot guess
Just west of Salt Lake City
I believe it is Salt Lake City
But the plane is at cruising altitude
And I am a child of the earth
With ground born perspective

Looking at this quarry
This vast dead dirt hole
Where a breathing mountain once stood
Where its neighboring mountains
Still stand and now mourn
This new born grotesque pit
Striated by roads
Masquerading as contour lines
On some gargantuan map

The quarry was birthed in tapered layers
Looking as if some giant Mayan or Incan
Had strode here in seven league boots
To pluck from the ground
A deeply geometric form
To adorn Machu Picchu
Or some cold Andean plane
Leaving only its imprint and mystery

It is fine to escape myself
And picture this as something mystical
The deed an act of magic or whimsical gods
Rather than to accept its truth
A scar inflicted by men
Laboring to fulfill some arbitrary task
At the expense of a natural guardian
A thing once as ancient as the world

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Good, The Bad, and The Orangutan

Intelligent, intent eyes stare out from the photograph
Stick; cheroot-like, poised to one side of its mouth
The orangutan presents as some ape version of Eastwood
Starring in an old Spaghetti Western opposite Eli Wallach

It is a quiet creature like cowboy Eastwood
But for different reasons as understood by the Malays
Who believe that the orangutan believes that
If it spoke, it would be compelled into labor

Compelled to labor, as if man ever needed
Proof of speech or any reason
To bend the back of an animal
To forced work in the field

Work would not work for the orangutan
Simply surviving is difficult enough
On the list of the endangered
Making it to tomorrow is its primal concern

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sleight of Hand

Fall does not fight
The battle that Spring does
With sluggish and greedy winter
Summer is lazy in its own heat
And will typically share a stroll
Hand in hand with Autumn
For some small companionship
At the end of his shift

It is that time now
When Fall is just acquiring
Her voice, an audible whisper
Of course she has been around for a little bit
Felt in the occasional chill
Carried sporadically on her soft breath
Seen in the occasional whitening
Of our breath on certain early mornings
But now she can be heard
Without the straining of ear
Or even the effort of tilting the head

Seductively she murmurs,
“Do not be afraid.
I know I precede death,
I know I am the boatman
Gently laying life in my wake
To be swallowed up by
Winter’s frozen current.
But I do it with such style!
I put on quite the show.
So watch,  Enjoy the fireworks.
Bathe in the splashes
Of yellows and golds,
Of auburns and reds,
And pay no attention
To what my other hand is doing.”

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Oregon Trail

At least ten dead, at least
More names added to the role
That is hundreds long
Oregon the current scene
But likely not the last
Not likely by a long shot
No pun intended

No place left to hide for me
No ignorance large enough to blanket
To offer shelter from the storm
Of random death amid our safe havens
Of schools
Of theaters
Of churches

The WHY grows larger
The HOW ever more obvious
The tears shed for strangers
That could have been family
Salty pools forming, growing,
Evaporating more and more swiftly
As tragedy numbs the collective heart

And I look for answers
Hell, I shout for answers
And cringe because they never change
Always emasculated gun control is called for
Always a call to arms is the response
Always nothing happens
As bodies are buried with no voice of their own

I see that we are only killing ourselves
Driven by numbness towards the visceral
Which constantly moves out of reach
Populating a private Golgotha
With unexpected saints
No nails required
Bullet ridden stigmata will suffice

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Politically Correct

Politics are easy to argue, easy to complain about, easy to turn a blind eye to in ignorance or disgust. I know. I have done all of those things. I have done them in silence, I have done them aloud to the consternation of those around me, and I have done them in print as I rail my way through blogs. But the other night Jean-Marie and I did something different, we participated. How? Why? What on God’s good Earth for?!? We did it for a friend, and at the end of the evening it turned out we did it for ourselves as well.
Jean-Marie and I made a more active political effort for a candidate for El Paso County Commissioner in District 3, Alex Johnson. District 3 is not our district. Alex Johnson does not belong to a party that I often vote for, he is Republican. Alex Johnson is not seasoned, he is only 22 years old and has held no prior political office. But we have known Alex since he was a little boy through the grandmother who raised him; Nora Johnson. Through our friendship with Nora, we have watched Alex grow straight and true as most arrows shot out into the world by a truly loving and giving woman do. So when Alex told us he was running for office and asked us to host a small fund raiser for him, we agreed without hesitation.
We sat down with Alex and discussed the basics, and Jean-Marie jumped into gear. No one throws a party like my wife. We planned the evening with Nora, made lists, bought wine, made appetizers and invited friends and family. We invited a number of people, several of whom could not make it. They all had good reasons, one was in the hospital, some had children to care for, some had other commitments, and one claimed simple apathy. One dear friend, Christian could not make it because she took the time and made the effort to go to Alex’s website and didn’t agree with his politics. How could you not respect that? She did her homework, and made her apologies honestly.
Come the night of the meet and greet, we did not know what to expect. We did not know who would show up, or how would it go. We were nervous, we wanted a good night for Alex but could not guarantee it. Our eldest daughter and her family came, some friends of Nora’s showed, some friends of ours attended, and even my neighbor who was not “political” came because we needed bodies and his wife had made him. We were a mixed bag.
As the evening moved on, Jean-Marie, Nora, and I mingled. We fetched drinks. We encouraged people to eat, and we watched Alex talk one-on-one to people much older than he, and he held their attention, he engaged them. Then the most amazing thing happened. It was time for Alex to speak, and I introduced him. Alex talked, and we all listened. Jean-Marie and I who began this to help a friend, to help a young man we liked very much and were proud of, saw him in a new light. We saw him not simply as a politician, but as an honest man wanting to bring about change and do what he believed was right.
We learned that Alex had spent time as an intern to the Mayor of Colorado Springs, and following the disastrous Waldo Canyon Fire that so affected this town, the Mayor put him in a position of responsibility as the sole point of contact for homeowners and helped connect them with resources from charity, city, and county. We learned that he was editor and chief of the self-funded newspaper at Denver University The Clarion, and took it from being a financially failing business to a very profitable undertaking. We learned he had experience working for the outgoing District 3 Commissioner, that he had a strong history of experience with parks and environmental issues in the area, and much more. Most of all we learned that this bright, intelligent, and genial young man before us had a passion to help, and a passion to make a difference.
He spoke well, and we listened, but Alex truly shined when he took our questions and challenges. Respecting each question asked of him, and offering truthful and direct answers. People who had attended primarily because Jean-Marie and I and his grandmother had asked, left feeling energized and a bit awed. All of us in attendance believe the future is in the hands of the children, but to actually see a young man take up that challenge and responsibility blew us away. Even our neighbor who claimed not to be political ended the evening by saying that he wanted to look into doing a future fund raiser for Alex.
After the guests were gone, and Alex was on his way home, Jean-Marie and I talked about the evening. We talked about how impressed we were with Alex’s poise. We talked about how great the exchange between our guests and Alex was. We talked about what a success the night turned out to be. And holding hands, Jean-Marie and I quietly felt changed. I don’t agree with all his politics, but I can’t deny his integrity, I can’t deny his passion. Politics can be discussed, ideas can be exchanged and considered, but true character is rare in life and even more rare in politicians. When you see it, you know it, and cannot help but be affected by it.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Waldo Redux

Haze, smoke from a thousand miles away
Covering our foot hills and mountains
Still populated by charred skeletal trees
Shrubs and grasses only just returning
Fires in Washington, Oregon, California
Their ghosts long preceding their deaths
Stirring memories from 2012 not yet resting
Eyes turning to scarred mountain landscapes
Hearts turning to scarred inner landscapes
Fire, fear, friends put out and fleeing
Dark days of raining ash in the fire’s reign
The sky a black roof of smoke
The sun a swollen red eye at its heart
The nights glowing unnaturally to the west
As if dragons slept there, breathing flame
Ready to rage, and burn, and feast
Dry acidic air stinging eyes and throat
Making lungs rasp and cough
Windows and doors shut tightly to fear
As if denial would win the moment
And in its smoldering wake
Nature reminds us of flames with water
Flash floods off naked hills
A crying land, a damaged people
Improvement slow but coming, and now
Haze, smoke from a thousand miles away

Sunday, July 5, 2015

What is the Opposite of Hate?

The Confederate Flag

There is almost nothing that we do not learn from, even a joke. We remember stories, tales, and humor for no seeming reason until one day Deja Vu will strike and what was once just some useless bit taking up gray matter becomes prophetic.
Long ago when I was a young man, I was trailering a sailboat back home to Orangeburg. I was on the Old Columbia Road near one of the entrances to the Kodak Plant when I happened to look into my rearview mirror and saw something small bounce away from the trailer. I pulled over and inspected things, and soon found that one of the four wheels had lost three of its four lug nuts. I was just about to panic (a highly refined skill of mine) when an old joke cropped up in my mind.
A man is driving and has a flat tire right beside the fence of the State Hospital. He gets out of his car, opens the trunk, and takes out the jack, spare, and lug wrench, all the while being watched by a patient on the other side of the fence. This just made the man nervous as he sat and hurriedly removed the lug nuts, setting them in the hub cap on the curb. Then he jacked the car up without really paying attention to what he was doing. When the flat tire lifted free of the ground it fell off the axle and onto the hub cap knocking the lug nuts out and down a sewer drain. The man threw up his arms in frustration crying out, “What will I do now?” The patient looked at him, tilted his head and said, “Why don’t you just use one lug nut from each of the other wheels? That will get you to the shop.” Stupefied, the man just stared at the robed figure before being able to stutter out, “How did you think of that?” The patient just grinned and responded, “I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.”
Well, Déjà vu struck me once again the other night as I was reading some news on line. It seems apparently in Belfast, Ireland, someone had stuck the Confederate Flag on a flag pole opposite the house of a 13 year old black boy. When his football club coach saw this, he and the rest of the team immediately took the flag down. What struck me as odd was that in the articles I read, not one asked how a Confederate Flag came to be used in such a way in Ireland.
This is when the Déjà Vu moment began for me. I recalled that when I was at Clemson, a dear friend, running buddy, and mentor, Dr. Don LaTorre, told me a story. Don said early in his professorial career he taught at Winthrop College. One day, one of his colleagues killed a squirrel in the campus commons park. Don was outraged. He took his issues about animal cruelty as far up the administrative ladder as he could. After much debate and investigation, it was determined that the squirrels in the campus commons park had become too domesticated for their own safety. So the administration took the only logical course of action and had the remaining squirrels exterminated to restore balance between beasts and humans.
There is nothing wrong with passion, it has carried the human race to heights it could not have reached without it. But passion often does not come without a price. In the case of the Confederate Flag, the recent tragedy in Charleston, along with both related and unrelated racial tension issues have leveraged passion in an all-out assault on the Confederate Flag. Wanting the removal of the Confederate Flag from the South Carolina State House grounds is a good thing and should be done. That flag was specifically raised in the face of fight for civil rights back in 1962 and has no place there now.
However, in our passion for its complete destruction and removal, unintended consequences both silly and serious have begun to fall like dominoes. TV Land pulling reruns of the Dukes of Hazzard (a show picking fun at rednecks and not racist in the least) simply because those Duke boys’ car; the General Lee, had a Confederate Flag on it is misguided and silly. The Confederate Flag seen flying in Belfast raises the fallout of our passion to serious.
Where will these dominoes stop? In our righteous anger and indignation of just some of the symbolism of the Confederate Flag has given the flag bolder new hate status. It is quickly being pushed to the point that it can only be seen as a harbinger of hate, and worse than that, it appears now this sole damning view of the Confederate Flag is now becoming our hate export to the world. We are driving the Confederate Flag underground and worldwide.
Hating hate is not the opposite of hate. Love is the opposite of hate. This is the lesson from Charleston’s reaction to the horrible shooting at the Emmanuel AME Church. This is the lesson we should carry out into the world, that we are bigger than the hate, bigger than hate’s symbols, that we love our brothers and have their backs. In the face of the world’s evils we should always turn first to love, so that we may act rather than react, so that we may heal rather than perpetuate.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Give Me Understanding

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
St. Francis
Recently a very good friend posted on Facebook the picture below. It compares the relationship of slaves to the Confederate War Flag to the relationship Jews in Nazi concentration camps had with the flag of the Third Reich.
It is effective in communicating the “true” sinister nature of the Confederate War Flag. However for most of the period of slavery in the United States, slaves first lived under the British flag, then the flag of the United States. The Confederate War Flag did not come into existence until the War Between the States. In fact the South had several flags during that time, and what has become known as the Confederate Flag was really not adopted as any kind of symbol until after the Civil War – at which time slavery was at an end.  I have no love for the Confederate Flag, but I don’t understand the posted image.
Another one of my good friends posted the following picture on Facebook even more recently. It points out that almost 3000 box cutter deaths have occurred since September 11, 2001, and that not one Democratic Politician has called for controlling this dangerous weapon.
I will accept at face value that both the number of deaths and the lack of legislation are true, but I still do not know what this has to do with gun laws. Even a casual review of statistics show that there are 2000+ violent deaths in America from handguns each year. This number is more than 10 times the annual number of deaths attributed to box cutters (and keep in mind the illustration does not say if it is total box cutter related deaths, or murders, or suicides, or accidents).  Also, there are likely many more box cutters out there than handguns.
What do these two pictures have in common?  They raise tempers rather than understanding. They are part of a disturbing trend to make points on passionate issues through fear mongering, misleading information, and misdirection. Facebook is not the only source of these tactics. They are played out on a grand scale on most political stages, and from a shock and awe starved national media. In my opinion it is the most disturbing remnant of September 11th - the amount of power that fear holds over a population compared to reason.
What has happened to true debate? Why has the issuance of facts been replaced by rabblerousing? When did it become fashionable to get a rise out of someone instead of leaving them better informed? Even having to ask these questions leave me feeling diminished, and it leaves me distracted from the understanding of race issues, violence, hatred, and war. Not that I alone could ever understand such things, but the reduction of issues to sound bites is not aiding in the attempt.
It would be easy at this point to let myself slip into rant invoking mass killings here, racist symbols there, and suppression of rights (religious, personal, 2nd Amendment, you name it). But this is not an attempt to grab some unclaimed piece of moral high ground as yet untouched on whatever the issues of the moment are.
The point is simply this: Morality and doing what is right are unfortunately not easy to define or enact. Trying to is only made harder; or indeed impossible, by raising tempers rather than awareness. I don’t have answers, but I want to help look for them. I don’t nearly know everything, but I would like to learn and grow as much as possible. I am not immune from hate but I do prefer love. Why can’t we get back to raising the level of debate in American, instead of simply raising the level of rhetoric?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Clubberin’ Time in Heaven

I have never been shy about letting anyone who asked (and not a few who didn’t) know, that I am a long time professional wrestling fan. My brother Chris and I cut our teeth on it when there were no mega organizations, only collections of affiliated regionals. We would live for Saturday airings of Mid-Atlantic and Georgia Championship Wrestling brought to us with the commentary of Bob Cawdell, Jimmy Crocket, and the legendary Gordon Soley. From very early on, one of our favorite wrestlers was “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. He died today, and I would like to remember him.
Even during the ‘70’s when chiseled bodies were the exception rather than the rule, Dusty stood out for a form that if taken at face value was not athletic in the least. He often made comment that he was not the ideal of an athlete in appearance. He knew what he looked like and was not ashamed, and through prowess, hard work, and unequalled mic skills no one ever judged him on form, but only on accomplishments.
Physically he could go toe-to-toe with anyone. Unlike today when a match is five-to-fifteen minutes long and an “Iron Man Match” goes an hour, he would routinely give all of himself for 60 minutes a night, multiple nights a week. His feuds were physical, sometimes bloody, and always legendary. I recall great bouts against Ernie “the Cat” Ladd, Abdullah the Butcher, the Anderson Brothers, Blackjack Mulligan, the Iron Sheik, Ivan Koloff, Harley Race and so many others. And nobody that has followed the sport as long as I have could forget the storied number of years that he and Ric Flair went at each other.
What made Dusty so great, so memorable? His charisma. It is as simple as that. His eyes were always shining, he could go from a smile that enveloped the world, to a scowl that would send lesser men to cower in the shadows, and he had a sing-song way of talking (with body language to match) that would draw you in, lift you up, and send you crashing to mat as if you were the victim of his famous bionic elbow. The English language had nothing on Dusty, and could do nothing to contain him. Whether he was talking about kickin’ someone’s “booty,” talking about giving a good “clubberin” to a foe, or setting the stage for the “slobber knocker” to come, with a sly wink he had us from hello.
Dusty started his career as one of the most hated villains alongside long time tag team partner Dirty Dick Murdoch, and sored to become one of the sport’s greatest heroes. In later years, he was touted as the son of a plumber, champion of the common man, but Dusty spoke for and wrestled for everyone. He was old school from start to finish brandishing a forehead deeply scarred from years of “blading,” and a body that still remembered how to boogie in the ring until the day he passed. Dusty, you never backed down from a challenge, or showed an ounce of fear, and until the end you entertained us as only you could. Farewell.
This was simply Dusty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GuPfpgr0c0

Monday, March 9, 2015

SOONER Rather than Later


Very recently a video surfaced that purported to show University of Oklahoma student members of the SAE fraternity chanting that there will never be n****rs in SAE. The video is ugly, the sentiments worse. University President David Boren was so sickened by the video, that it was reported he could not eat or sleep. In his virtuous anger he nobly arose pallid and weak from his sick bed to take swift action – he severed all ties between the SAE and the University!  While this was being done, the national SAE organization disbanded the OU charter house. Problem solved, because getting rid of an organization and driving racism underground has always worked in the past.
SAE took a black eye for this because its name was used in the video; OU took a black eye for this because it is was supposedly their chapter of SAE that was shown in the video. Both organizations took the path of least resistance and paperwork in the name of showing a proactive face. Meanwhile, no proof has been given that SAE had anything to do with this, and no proof has been given that it was OU students on the video. I am no fan of fraternities. I find them segregationist by their selective exclusivity. However, here I see them as an easy target, the broad side of a barn that cannot be missed while the vermin scatter.
Many are proclaiming that President Boren is a hero, yet all he did was banish an entity without proof – a prejudicial act if ever there was one. It is people that hate, not buildings, not names on buildings, not organizations affiliated with buildings – IT IS PEOPLE WHO HATE. And the people who vocally espoused evil racial slurs in this instance still roam free.
I am not asking for some rush to judgment. I am asking for the University to move deliberately ahead with its investigation of who was involved, and what if any connection they had to the local and national chapters of SAE. The University of Oklahoma and President Boren had the opportunity to become standard bearers of how hate speech and crimes should be handled. They should have spoken out in righteous indignation against the video, outlined the University’s policies and punishments regarding acts of racism, detailed the swift and methodical steps to be taken to bring about justice, and at worst suspended SAE until the facts could be learned. Instead of being a leader and showing strength and intelligence, President Boren simply gave into his own weakness by lashing out. Reaction is the first response of the fearful, the brave consider and act to do what is right, not what is expedient.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Swords into Ploughshares

Photograph:“Swords into plowshares” is the biblical theme of a carving executed by Lee Lawrie above the entrance to the International Building, Rockefeller Center, New York City.
From my home on the plains that abut the Colorado Rockies where I have been since graduating Clemson University in 1985, my thoughts have often turned to the South in pride, longing, and sometimes despair and confusion. I have been following at a distance the controversy surrounding Tillman Hall. For the uninformed, Tillman Hall is the clock tower building which has been an enduring symbol of the campus since its construction in 1893. Back then (back in the day as it were), it was called Main Building or Old Building. In 1946 it was renamed Tillman Hall in honor of former South Carolina Governor and US Senator Benjamin Tillman. So far, so good – except not so much. Tillman was a racist of the first order and a man who would not only use politics against southern blacks, but quite often participated in violence and murder as well.
Politically, Tillman was notably responsible for implementing what essentially amounted to a literacy test on black voters. Socially, Tillman was frighteningly “hands-on.” He led lynch mobs and execution squads, taking pride in his deeds believing them righteous actions that “…involved everything we hold dear, Anglo-Saxon civilization included.”
It is clear that the Board of Regents for the University at the time did not do their due diligence in reviewing Tillman’s legacy as worthy of honor, or perhaps they engaged in willful and naked disregard of that legacy. The record does not show, and so either way Tillman Hall has existed on campus for 68 years.
I could have expounded in much greater detail Tillman’s offenses in the name of supremely flawed ideals and hatred, but they are easy enough to find online or in history books now, and my point regarding his name on a treasured landmark has been made. Knowing all this now, I am in favor of renaming Tillman Hall. I would be happy for the sake of historical continuity if it went back to being Main Hall. But this whole furor troubles me on another level that places me among those that could live with Tillman Hall remaining Tillman Hall.
I worked hard for four and half years to earn my four year Mechanical Engineering degree from Clemson University. For all of that time and all the time in the almost 30 years since my graduation (until the current controversy arose) I did not even once stop to consider who Tillman was. Tillman to me was a beautiful building of red brick, classic architecture, and a big clock, not a former Governor and Senator. I am sure I am not in the minority in this. Just as I am sure innumerable other institutions and municipalities across this nation have buildings bearing the names of people with skeletons in their closets (or openly sitting on their sofas) without most people even realizing it. In that sense, the names of segregationists, white supremacists, philanderers, wife beaters, cheaters, and all manner of shady human beings have been stripped of their original meaning and association, and been repurposed as names of steel and stone structures that benefit people, that mean something positive to people. Those bloody swords have already been beaten to ploughshares.
The greater lessons of the past are with us, the greater sins of the past are still borne by us. Is it truly beneficial to investigate the trees when we know the forest so well? Right now racial tension in the US is higher than I have ever seen it in my adult life. In the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent gender discrimination is measured by the ever rising number of mutilated and murdered women and girls. Around the globe sweat shops enslave children and adults alike to service the insatiable appetite of the economic/industrial beast. Reviving old grudges serves no purpose other than making old wounds raw, and does not directly address the tensions and inequalities that still threaten to drown society today. Change the name of Tillman Hall now that particular Pandora’s Box has been opened. Move on to something greater. Nobody is counting brownie points earned from unearthing the dead who long ago lost their fight.