Just bitchin'

Weaving Ugly Cloth

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It’s all coming together.

The disparate threads are entwining, interlocking, forming a pattern.

The first thread grew out of the internet.

Social media had the potential to unite; to form global communities. It could bond, and reach out, and relieve loneliness, and provide information, and ease troubled souls. But, as sure as human nature, the flip side raised its head: trolls. The veil of anonymity and distance enabled anyone and everyone who felt a dark impulse or a sudden spike of anger or hate to express themselves with consequence-free impunity. So easy to lash out and then ignore your victims. So easy to turn off your device with the smug knowledge that you ‘got away with it.’

The second thread came from reality TV.

In order to pull in viewers, behavior that would never have been tolerated previously was encouraged. When it didn’t materialize fast enough, it was engineered. Situations were fostered that would push participants’ buttons. Bullies and boors were granted pop-culture stardom. Fame and wealth were doled out in exchange for abusive behavior. The loud, the stupid, the obnoxious garnered more attention, more rewards, than the quiet, the thoughtful, the kind.

The trolls from thread #1 watched the activities of thread #2. They were lured by the accolades. They felt empowered. A culture of rudeness and cruelty for entertainment’s sake asked…no…DEMANDED…that extremes be exhibited, loudly and often. But, poor trolls, most of them had no outlet that would showcase their newfound aggression, until…

…the third thread, it could be argued, was a matter of time, circumstance, and culture intersecting.

The United States Presidential election.

A segment of the population watched in horror as the troll culture emerged into full visibility. Ugliness was condoned, substantiated, lauded, applauded.

News media reports that, no matter who wins, this troll-fest will have presaged the least popular President in history.

It’s unsettling how many Americans look traumatized, shocked…are shaking their heads and asking ‘How did this happen? How did we get here?’

It’s as if a puppet master holding the strings of a nation has gone mad. Yet the puppet master remains hidden. All any of us average citizens know is that next week the threads come together, and the highest office in our country will be draped in bunting of ugly cloth, the weaving of which we don’t understand.

It will look like the shroud a troll should wear…

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Image: ‘Trolls’ by Brian Froud

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Just bitchin'

No End in Sight

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So now every Tom, Dick and Fucking Harry who wants to scrabble for some form of crazy-ass validity is going to hitch their wagon to ISIS or IS or Al-Qaeda.

Like a runt piglet on the playground, looking for a peer group, they’re going to turn their heads containing their twisted brains and disenfranchised thoughts toward a religion they’ve never honored, never learned, never known, except that now the media has taught them that it’s the label to assume if you HATE YOUR LIFE AND EVERYONE ELSE’S, TOO.

Well, forgive me. I’m angry. I’m sick of the mass shootings and the tepid, little statements in the bloody aftermaths that offer ‘thoughts and prayers’ and let’s clasp our hands together and leave flowers on the ground.

It’s taken me a few days to gather my thoughts out of the shocked realization that IT’S HAPPENED AGAIN! Another morgue-full of reminders.

This isn’t ISIS. This isn’t IS. This isn’t Al-Qaeda.

This is someone looking for attention who happens to live in a country that lets him buy assault weapons with the ease of walking into a 7-11.

Worst of all? This isn’t foreign terrorism.

This is America.

It’s us, spelled U.S.

It’s the copycat loser who’ll fancy himself immortal for going out in a hail of hate, and will turn his pleading eyes toward the Daddy who’ll approve him. ISIS, IS, Al-Qaeda.

They didn’t birth him. We did.

And we armed him.

And it has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with mental aberration.

UNDERSTAND? NO???

Well, don’t worry…I’m sure there’s a refresher course right around the corner, buying his ammo at the corner gun shop as we speak.

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There Be Monsters…

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I’m amazed to say I can identify with Donald Trump. I’ve long considered myself arrested at the emotional development of a twelve-year-old. And I hate to lose. And sometimes I’ll lash out like a child when provoked. And I have bad hair days (well, okay…Trump has a bad hair life, but I’m trying to make a point here).

I can identify with Hilary Clinton, too. I’ve struggled in male-dominated areas of endeavor and had to over-compensate with harsh repartee and an iron glare. And I hate making mistakes. And sometimes I try to cover them up because I think no one will notice, or maybe time will rob them of their import.

I can identify with Ted Cruz. Canada’s a pretty cool country; I’ve always enjoyed my jaunts over the border.

I can identify with Bernie Sanders. I sometimes feel if I don’t make my mark on the world real, real soon, I might not have another opportunity. You don’t want to check out with so much left unsaid or un-given that regret is the last thing you taste.

But as just, plain me…an unsung, American citizen of voting age, I can’t identify enough with any candidate running for President to feel good and hopeful about electing them into office.

There’s always mud-slinging and a battle of wits in every presidential election, but this time it’s different, because all I’m hearing is the volley of insults and accusations being lobbed across an insurmountable, ideological distance from one party to the other.

I’m scared.

I don’t want any of these people in charge of something I do love with all my heart: my country.

My immigrant parents raised me to cherish being born here. They were politically active in their own way and staunch supporters of whomever attained the office of President of the United States, because they said anyone who did so was worthy of respect, whether or not you agreed with the platform upon which they stood.

I’m the first to admit I’m politically challenged. But this is the first time I feel as though I’m watching a clown show…a sit-com…a farce…

There have been times in the past when I’ve voted against a candidate rather than for the one who received my ballot. This time that cop-out option doesn’t feel available.

There is no lesser evil this time around.

Like an ancient map of the known world, truncated and proscribed by a sea of horrors… there be monsters.

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They circle us and lick their chops and are slippery and hard to see. And they bite at each other with abandon. And we don’t know what will happen when we’re immersed in their treacherous waters.

And I’m scared.

Really, truly…

…like never before.

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Irani Among Us

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He is of late middle age. Dark hair salted with white and gray. Knuckles gnarled.

I found him when my car broke down and I called the American Automobile Association for a tow to a triple-A approved garage. They brought me to him.

He and his mechanic, a younger version of himself, worked on the car. The fee was reasonable. I drove away and broke down again a few miles later.

I called him bent on tearing into him for a job done poorly. Instead, I listened to an honest apology and a request that I give him another chance. It was a rare moment when I heard a foreign sound: the sound of quiet pride and integrity and a genuine desire to set things right. Not something you hear often. Not something you forget soon.

I was towed back for round two.

He did more work, presenting me a bill for $11.00…the cost of the part I needed. No charge for hours of labor. No excuses or arguments.

When all was done and settled, I waited in the small, shabby foyer for my car to be brought around to the parking lot.

A woman burst through the front door. Red-faced. Fuming. Shrill and Ugly-with-a-capitol-U; the kind that has nothing to do with physical appearance, but stems from a much deeper source.

“Get out of our country!” She screamed. “We hate you! There is no place for you here! I called the police and they’ll lock you away!!”

Both the owner and I stared at her in shock. I think his English deserted him, so I asked in a quiet, unsure voice, “What’s wrong?”

“This!!” She shouted, shoving an invoice under my nose. It took me a while to find what she meant at the tip of her shaking, pointing finger. A math error. The mechanic had added incorrectly.

A $1.25 mistake.

I stared at her, speechless before such extreme overreaction as she continued to harangue the man frozen behind the counter. Sure enough, a police officer showed up, giving that once-over, wary scan of the situation that they do, seeing a livid, prancing woman, a statue of a shocked and frightened man, and me.

The woman repeated her performance, brandishing the invoice at the cop. He read it through. His brows rose. “You said someone robbed you, Ma’am.” He handed back her receipt.

He did! He did!” She pointed, jittering with venom. “He’s a thief! A liar! He’s from Iran!!”

The owner found his voice and began to apologize. “I’m sorry…”

“You will be!” the woman shrieked.

“Ma’am, I think there’s been a mistake, but this isn’t robbery.” The calm words of the officer had the opposite effect of what he’d hoped.

With a strangled cry of rage, she slammed out of the shop, unaware the owner had opened the register and was holding a handful of cash, apparently refunding her entire bill. We watched her lumber into a decrepit van held together by duct tape and rust and careen out of the parking lot.

The officer took his leave.

The owner put the money back in the register and closed it. He came out from behind the counter and took a seat across from me. Hands trembling. Eyes full.

“I am from Persia.” His voice shook with the aftermath of fear and shock. “I leave my country because they try to kill us. They try to kill us all. I come here.” He gestures with one work-hardened hand, encompassing the whole of his establishment. “I make this for my son.” His eyes finally overflow.

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“Persia is beautiful country. And Persian people are so kind. But…Them…” His lips press into a thin line and he shakes his head. Words have deserted him again.

I offer him a sad approximation of a smile.

“I like your cats,” I say.

He blinks. Then, tears still tracking downward, he gives a ragged laugh.

I hope he knows that every country has a ‘They.’ But it’s not everyone. And today it’s not him… and it’s not me.

We’re just us.

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And To All A Good Night…

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I did something shocking.

I proclaimed, loudly and without the slightest apology: “Merry Christmas.”

I hadn’t intended to; it just slipped out.

Silence ensued.

I had committed the politically incorrect sin of uttering something un-generic at a time of year when we are all very careful to tiptoe about on religious eggshells for fear of alienating anyone who might not celebrate the same holiday that we do.

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I knew it the second the words dropped like leaden harbingers of impropriety. And then I decided I really didn’t care what others thought. I wouldn’t be offended if someone wished me a Happy Hanukkah, or a Happy Solstice, or any of the multitude of other winter observations, as long as the intent was to share joy.

I’m sorry to offend, but the term ‘Happy Holidays’ just doesn’t pack the emotional oomph of its more specific cousins.

So with all due respect…

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night…

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Reality Check

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It was a headline in the September 29, 2015 New York Times online edition:

At the U.N., Obama States His Case for Fighting ISIS With Ideas

I couldn’t read the entire article or watch the full accompanying video clip. Mainly because I couldn’t help the laughter that started bubbling up as my mind leapt to an analogous situation from an old Hollywood classic…the Sigourney Weaver movie ‘Aliens.’

The futuristic marine toughies, armed to the teeth with a frightening array of weaponry…looking all muscled and fierce…were doing a cautious, battle-ready walk-through, looking for the enemy.

Despite their firepower, they were on the adrenaline edge, their reflexes primed for attack. Because their adversaries had demonstrated how little value human life had for them. Chitinous exoskeletons and acidic saliva rendered these creatures virtually indestructible.

The marines were deep in enemy territory…

…and that’s when it happened.

The command post observing this foray realized that firing powerful weapons could ignite a catastrophic explosion. Chagrined, the man in charge communicated to the soldiers that no guns could be fired. Absolutely none. No matter the provocation.

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Disbelieving looks were exchanged among the troops about to engage the enemy. And that’s when one particularly cocky enlistee responded…

“What are we supposed to use? Harsh language?!?”

And so, I’m really sorry to find myself laughing at the NY Times headline. Because so much consistent hate has been spewed by ISIS…just like the acid-laced saliva of the Hollywood creations that would give no quarter to any member of the human race…they’ve made it so abundantly clear that they will not rest until Western culture is obliterated from the face of the planet…that fighting them with ideas is, well, unthinkable.

I keep seeing the old news footage of laughter and celebration from that side of the globe when thousands of Americans were killed on 9/11.

I keep hearing the vows they spat that there would never be common ground between our cultures.

And, as much as I respect anyone who attains the office of President of the United States, I can’t quell the slightly hysterical giggling at that NYT headline.

And the frisson of fear that we’ll be standing naked and vulnerable with only ideas to shield us from the acid.

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Phone Politics

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It’s started.

And I’m already fed up with it.

The avalanche of political campaigning for upcoming elections is ramping up, reminding me of the retail industry’s increasingly early debut of Christmas advertising. By the time the vaunted day comes around, you’re sick of it. Excitement and anticipation have been stretched to a thin, attenuated ghost of what they might have been had the lead-in been shorter.

With Christmas, it’s usually the television ads that grate on me, but with politics you can take your choice of annoying methods intended to usher you into a candidate’s stable and force feed you their particular diet of rhetorical promises.

Your mailbox is crammed with literature. You have to wonder how much was spent to produce the reams of glossy, slick pamphlets. You have no desire to read the swelling tide of circulars. When you do, you don’t believe most of them. Or worse, they communicate nothing. They skirt the edges of making definitive statements; each line a masterpiece of crafted ambiguity.

Then there are the campaigners who loiter about in malls and parking lots. They accost you with bright, desperate smiles, hoping to persuade you that theirs is the only possible candidate-of-choice come Election Day. They want to waylay you…engage you in clumsy conversation…become your instant friend.

But worst of all are the phone calls.

The recorded messages in voices that aren’t used to public speaking. They push forward, determined to get through their script, conveying vicarious discomfort rather than cogent, informative facts.

Worse, the live caller…which is what birthed this rant of mine. Some volunteer doing the commendable job of supporting her choice for the 2016 presidential elections. But, oh…so naïve to think that it’s a good idea to phone a stranger’s home late Friday night to chirp about how women simply have to be in ‘Hilary’s camp’; that harboring ovaries in your abdomen must make you an instant supporter of a female candidate.

All she accomplished was to spur me on to do something I’ve thought about for a long time.

I started a phone log.

I will write down the names or issues pushed by every unwelcome, political intrusion into my home after hours. The one with the least strikes will probably get my vote come Election Day. Either that, or the one who slings the least mud.

I haven’t decided which.

But I’m not worried.

As with Christmas advertising that begins in September…I’ve got lots and lots of time to contemplate that, for me, voting has become an exercise in electing the least objectionable, rather than the most worthy.…

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