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The Guerilla Prank I’m Not Pulling

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Department Of Irrefutable Evidence

Now I know I’ve given up:  I put away the St. Patrick’s Day dinner decorations.

Moiself and MH had a dinner party planned for Tuesday, March 17, an event that – surprise! – got…suspended.  At the time, I told would-be attendees that we were, in an act of delusion optimism, not cancelling the invitation but merely postponing it, and that I would be leaving the dining table decorated.  And I did, for two months.  Then, gradually, the napkins and plates were put away, and I put the table décor, such as it is/was  (think: an eight-year-old’s idea of festive holiday dining), into its long term storage bag but did NOT transport it to its shelf in the attic.  It remained on the table, until three days ago.

Instead of deleting the reminder I had on my computer calendar (“Rsch St. Patrick’s day dinner when COVID shit is over”) I have reduced its occurrence from weekly to every other month.  The computer prompt, initially a hopeful harbinger of a return to normalcy, came to be a dispiriting reminder of physical isolation: I miss the company of dining and conversing with friends, both long time and recently met, all treasured, and groaning at each recitation of a dreadful (but occasion-appropriate) joke and pun.   [1]

All apologies to the centerpiece: Good Lady Spud, your time shall come again.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Title I Want When I Grow Up

…I’ve carved out this little niche for myself on the internet…
because as we all know, the easiest way to be at the top of your field is to choose a very small field.”
(inventor Simone Giertz, in her TED talk)

Dateline: Monday; listening to a TED Radio Hour episode, titled “Pure Joy.” A description of the episode, as per the TEDsite:

More than ever, we need to make time for joy. This hour…(we)…explore talks that surprise, inspire, and delight.

The first talk excerpted was one given two years ago by Simone Giertz. Twenty-nine-year-old Giertz, the creator of the toothbrush helmet,  [2]   is a Swedish inventor and robotics enthusiast. She’s also, and perhaps most prestigiously for her generation, that which most generations never imagined would be a thing: she is a YouTube celebrity ®.

In her talk, “Why You Should Make Useless Things,” Giertz apparently advocates for inventing devices which are “useless at solving the problem they are attempting to solve,” but which serve a higher purpose of overcoming your fear of failure (by working hard at something you know is bound to fail) and teaching you engineering and design skills.  I say “apparently” because I was unable, or rather unwilling, to listen to the rest of her talk, after hearing the podcast curator describe Giertz as

“…the queen of useless robots.”

Overcome with both admiration and envy, moiself  completely lost interest in listening further.  I figured it was better to let my imagination take the wheel as I envisioned the perks and responsibilities of that particular kind of royalty.

“…uneasy is the head that wears a crown”    [3]…unless of course that head belongs to The Queen of Useless Robots.

*   *   *

Department of The Neighborhood Guerilla Prankster Strikes Again…
In Her Dreams

There’s a house a couple of blocks away from my street with an attached, two-door, three-car garage set up:

 

 

An older couple lives in said house.  Depending on the route I take, I often walk past the house in the morning, and I’ve seen it with either or both garage doors open; thus, moiself  knows that the smaller, one-car garage is not used as a garage but has been turned into the workshop space of the older gentleman.  When the workshop/garage door is open you can see the tool racks and radial saw and other workshop equipment; when the workshop/garage door is closed, you can see a sign on it which reads, MEN ONLY.

When I first saw the sign, and then every time I walked past the house, moiself  had the almost overwhelming desire to take a picture of it, then take the picture to a signage shop and order a self-adhesive sign in similar lettering, color and size that read: GIRLY.  The plan:  early one morning, I would post GIRLY above MEN ONLY.

Alas; the time for that prank has passed.  I recently noticed that the exterior of the house (including the garage doors) has been painted, and the MEN ONLY sign has not reappeared on the garage door.  Still, I think of it when I pass that house, and remind moiself of the ultimate reason I decided against enacting my prank: the ubiquity, nowadays, of cell phones and home security cameras.  Ending up on someone’s YouTube shaming video is not something I crave for moiself , even in the performance of (what would have been) a public service.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Just Wondering

Due to the wildfires plaguing the West, I am checking the Air Quality Index several times daily – even though a cursory look out of my house’s (all tightly closed) windows tells me all I need to know about whether or not it’s safe to go outside.

How quickly I and my friends have adapted to using yet another acronym:

“So, what’s the AQI in your town?”

This is so surreal. The air where I live has been smoky-jaundice-colored; the pictures I’ve seen of the Bay Area’s midday, sci-fi/Martian orange skies have a certain, apocalyptic beauty, even as I realized the horrific reasons behind them that had nothing to do with a more benign reason, such as a particularly flamboyant sunset or sunrise.   [4]

 

 

In my early morning walks (the ones I used to do before our AQI was at Hazardous level – the carefree mornings before I even knew what an AQI was) I pass by several houses where I often see a smoker out on his front porch, lighting up his first deathstick cigarette of the day.  Actually, I smell the smokers before moiself  sees them – even from across the street.  I’ve come to know which houses they live in and cross to the other side before passing by. (Most smokers seem to not know – or care – how far their effluence travels and how long it lingers.)

From having exchanged pleasantries with them over the years, I know that the main reason these folks are lighting up on their porches is because they are the only smoker in their household, and they’ve been forbidden by their spouses and/or other family members from polluting their domicile and have been banished to puffing in The Great Outdoors ® .

I haven’t done a morning walk since the AQI reached the first level of Unhealthy…even though I didn’t know it had done so at the time.  I’d gone out earlier than usual and wore a mask; it was the first morning where the sky looked…suspicious.  I decided to end my walk after 30 minutes, and thought I probably shouldn’t walk outside again until I figured out what was going on. On my way back I passed by two of the Porch Smokers, the glowing ends of their cigarettes providing an eerie impetus for me to get back home.

Our current situation: we’ve been warned about the wildfires near and far, spewing particulate matter in the air which, at an AQI in the upper ranges (which we’ve been having in the Pacific NW for days), can aggravate or trigger serious respiratory conditions in otherwise healthy people, even with relatively short exposure.

 

 

So, when smokers awaken, and eagerly or furtively inhale the day’s first fumes into their lungs, moiself  can’t help but wonder: what’s being circulated in the organ between their ears?  Amidst the reports of the wildfire’s devastation – it’s been all wildfires, all the time, for local news reporting – including the loss of life from burns and smoke inhalation, do they consider even for a moment the fires’ victims?  Do they find their eyes tearing up with compassion as they think to themselves, “Oh, how awful! Those poor people!” as they suck in their own mini-conflagration?

While we live with the warnings to not go outside even for short periods of time because breathing the air could sicken or even kill you, and smokers continue to expedite that process by lighting up their cigarettes.

We humans are experts at compartmentalization and denial…and, yeah yeah yeah, nicotine is one of the most addictive substance on earth, and addicts are not known for rationality and or introspection thoughts….  Still, it boggles my mind.

The Great American Smokeout, the American Cancer Society’s  annual “quitting campaign,” is on the third Thursday in November.  The Not-so-Great American Smoke-In is happening as I type.  Aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh.

*   *   *

Department Of, Of All The Things To Be Thinking About….

 

2020.  The year that, on a national and global shitstorm level, has brought us:

* COVID-19;

* Year three of criminally negligent governance by a musty scrotal hair of a human being (#45) and his soul-sucking sycophants;

* the Murder Hornet ;

*  Too many Americans determined to focus on someone looting a 7-11 rather than face the centuries of systemic injustice which have prompted the (majority peaceful) displays of civil disobedience;

* the apocalyptic wildfires in the US, yet another testament to the consequences of ignoring of global warming…

 

Thank you, and please demoralize us further.

 

On a personal level,   [5]  my concerns include a friend who fled the wildfires (her town is essentially gone; her neighbors have lost nearly everything); my daughter Belle who, recovering from foot surgery, has developed an allergy to medical adhesives holding her bandages in place; MH’s “sister/cousin”  [6]  and her protracted recovery from the heart surgeryand kidney failure after she and her young adult daughter discovered they both have a genetic disorder which has given them, among other conditions, aortal defects; learning that the son of my MIL’s longtime friend and business associate has just lost his son to suicide….

Two days ago, amidst all of these woes and more, I found moiself  thinking,

I really hope Mel Brooks doesn’t die right now.

The beloved comedian/writer/screenwriter/playwright/songwriter/director and WWII vet has seen so much in this world, and contributed so much to our culture…and now here’s this shitty year in which Mel had to mourn the death of his best buddy – another national comedy treasure, Carl Reiner

I just want Mr. Brooks to be able to survive this year.  I would so look forward to his commentary on all of this, you know?

Two of my favorite scenes from my favorite Mel  Brooks movie:

 

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

The past, the present, and the future walk into a bar. It was tense!   [7]

 

*   *   *

May we work for the best (even if we suspect the worst);
May we return to the privilege of not knowing our AQI;
May we all be deserving of even the most obscure royal title;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

[1] “What do you call an Irishman with an IQ of 100?  A village.”

[2] A device which you have never heard of because it is “recommended by zero out of ten dentists,” the inventor admits.

[3] Henry IV, Part 2.  I don’t imagine Shakespeare imagined just how heavy – or silly – crowns could get.

[4] Ash higher in the atmosphere turned the Bay Area skies orange, as opposed to around me, where the smoke was lower.  If I can remember some basic physics/light refraction, I think this has to do with the high ash/smoke particles scattering blue light & only allowing certain wavelengths of light –  yellow-orange-red light – to reach the earth’s surface.

[5] It must be time for another footnote.

[6] This not some Mormon polygamy term; rather, she is cousin who is more than a cousin but not technically a sister – she came to live with MH’s family when she was an adolescent, after both of her parents died.

[7] I’m sorry, but there is no room for a seventh footnote.

The Karma I’m Not Accruing

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Department Ah, Morning, With The Delicate Aroma
Of Horseshit Wafting Through The Air
Sub Department Of Yet Another Reason Not To Check Facebook Before Breakfast

A wise and witty friend recently posted this on her FB site:

 

 

Right on!, moiself  thought. I began to read one of the comments on her post, one which started with a teensy provocative sentence, and then, there was that blue more

I should have left it at that, but, noooooooo.  I had to click on more, and there was more. And more, and more, and more – and did I mention, *more*?

*More* turned out to be a multi-paragraph treatise of Buddhist proselytizing, starting with how we should remember that there are also poor and downtrodden white people  [1]   who don’t feel particularly privileged (which should have clued me in – it’s the, “But, all lives matter!” equivalent of deflection from the issue), and how people’s choices and actions in life lead to their circumstances, plus many other Buddhist tenets….  [2] 

 

At least it wasn’t pimply-faced kids half your age showing up on your front porch, calling themselves, “Elder.”

 

I thought about privately messaging Wise and Witty Friend, something along the lines of, Hey, WWF, would you allow someone to post a fundamentalist Christian tract on your page, because some Karma fundamentalist has just done the equivalent.   It turns out WWF was way ahead of me, and deleted the comment soon after it was posted.  Dang. Now I have to slag it from memory.

BTW, be it the Christian version, or Buddhist/Hindu/Karmic fundamentalism, I call BS on all of ’em. So, let the specific slagging begin.

The Buddhist Evangelical Fundamentalist Commenter (BEFC) quoted a Buddhist adage:

 

 

Sweet, and harmless, right?

Wrong.  Especially as per the issues of privilege and systemic racism that the Black Lives Matter movement is bringing to the fore…as well as a host of other life situations.

As I read BEFC’s proselytizing prose I flashed back to a bar conversation I’d had many years ago,   [3]  with a friend who’d emigrated to the USA (with his parents) from India when he was an adolescent.  We were  [4]   talking religion; specifically, his refutation of his religious background (although, in part to please his family, he kept up with a few of what he considered to be non-religious, cultural practices).  He simply could not overlook the damage done by the concepts of karma and reincarnation (central to both Hinduism and Buddhism).

Karma…though its specifics are different depending on the religion… generally denotes the cycle of cause and effect — each action a person takes will affect him or her at some time in the future. This rule also applies to a person’s thoughts and words….
With karma, like causes produce like effects: a good deed will lead to a future beneficial effect, while a bad deed will lead to a future harmful effect….
Importantly, karma is wrapped up with the concept of reincarnation or rebirth, in which a person is born in a new human (or nonhuman) body after death. The effects of an action can therefore be visited upon a person in a future life, and the good or bad fortune someone experiences may be the result of actions performed in past lives.
What’s more, a person’s karmic sum will decide the form he or she takes in the next life.
(LiveScience, “What is Karma?”)

To summarize an hour-long discourse, the gist of my friend’s opinion: Besides being superstitious nonsense physically and intellectually unsubstantiated, karma essentially credits people for their successes and blames them for their failures. Your success is justified because it is either something you have achieved yourself in the here and now or it is the result of your good deeds in your previous life – the fact that you happened to be born in a powerful class/caste/gender/time period can be conveniently ignored.  As for that poor Dalit (aka, “Untouchable“) man you sometimes run across, who does your laundry, sweeps your streets, unblocks your sewers with this bare hands and does other “unclean” work out of economic necessity? Yeah, that’s unfortunate for him, but who are you to interfere with his experience of cause and effect? It’s his karma; obviously, he did something bad in his previous life and/or has something to work out in this one….

There are so many Life Factors we humans don’t – or don’t wish to – understand (or even acknowledge), including those of luck and circumstance.  In particular, people who are happy and successful are often hesitant to attribute their well-off circumstances, even in part, to the happenstance of their birth into the “right” (or at least more opportunity-providing) society/class/ethnicity/gender. People can be reluctant, even nervous, to admit that not everything is in their own control. This reluctance paves the way for religion/supernaturalism to step in with, “Don’t worry – here’s the answer!” or, “Sure, there *is* an answer, but it’s too much for mere mortal minds to comprehend so just trust in what we tell you and one day in the future/heaven/your next life you’ll get it….”

As to BEFC’s presentation, certainly the attitude embodied in the Buddhist saying (about the journey from blaming others, yourself, and then no one), has some merit, in the positive mindset/know thyself realm.  But to avoid the fact that some things are mostly or even entirely out of your hand, and that sometimes other people and/or social frameworks and institutions *are* to blame – ignoring reality is not how we combat injustice.

The karma concept has always reminded me of a much-loathed – by moiself , at least – allegedly inspirational phrase from my own culture, which states that it is admirable and possible to Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.  The thing is, in order to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, you have to have a pair of boots in the first place – you either can afford a pair of boots, or someone has given you boots. With straps.

 

Although I’m onboard with RuPaul pulling up any boot with any kind of strap.

 

A Black American family, working and saving diligently to be first-time home owners, can have the most positive attitude in the world, but when their mortgage application is denied, their “blaming no one” will not help them “arrive” on their journey to financial security when that loan denial is due to reasons out of their control.    [5]   “Blaming no one” will not alleviate the injustice when the family has been redlined, due to their skin color and/or the neighborhood in which they currently live and/or the neighborhood where the house they wish to purchase is located.

The concept of karma arose and survived because, like all religious philosophies, it tries to explain the unexplainable, and many of us are uncomfortable with uncertainty. Life is complex; there is much we don’t understand, about the physical world around us and the inner world of people’s thoughts motivations, and humans evolved to see and seek patterns even where none exist.  But worldviews which admit to this reality – “Hey, this stuff is complicated and no one has all the answers” – don’t get many followers (and even fewer collection plate donations and tax credits).

Ah, karma. “What goes around comes around“…if only.  Don’t we all know too many people whose actions merit shit pie, yet Life keeps serving them Crème Brûlée?

 

“For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action”

Karma and other religious principles are sometimes quoted as if they were one of Newton’s Laws of Motion, yet they are not even close to qualifying as laws of physics, let alone testable hypotheses.  The karmic premises of cause and effect –

“each action  (as well as a person’s thoughts and words) a person takes will affect him or her at some time in the future,” and
“like causes produce like effects”

– are

(1) presumptuous;
(2) not borne out by objective data, and often refuted by experience;
(3) antithetical to the reality of injustice and systemic bigotry;
(4) aren’t the first three reasons enough?

Most abhorrent of all, whether you call it karma or one of those other, “You can do whatever you dream/You make your own reality” philosophies, such concepts lay the foundation for victim-blaming.

 

“… the accused had entered the West Delhi residence of the minor with the intent to ransack, but attacked (a 12-year-old girl) after she spotted him….
Besides the sexual assault, the girl was hit on the face and head with a sharp object. She was found lying in a pool of blood by her neighbours….
The girl has multiple head fractures and bite marks all over her body. She has been brutally assaulted to the extent that there are injury marks on every part of her body….”
(“Two days after 12-year-old beaten, sexually assaulted, one held
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who visited the hospital, said the brutality inflicted on the girl has “shaken is soul” and the government will hire the best lawyers to bring the guilty to justice.”
Indianexpress.com)

Two disturbing facts of life are that (1) sometimes people chose to do bad things and good people can simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time;  and (2) cultural/gender privilege and systemic bias exist.  But people won’t try to change that which they won’t acknowledge as existing…or which can be explained away by concepts like karma.

The white 16-year-old by pulled over by a cop for a minor traffic infraction (then let go with a warning) has the privilege of escaping violent stereotypes associated with his race, in a way that his 16-year-old Black classmate – pulled over for the same infraction yet subjected to an unwarranted drug test/vehicle and body search by the suspicious cop – does not.  Neither boy is experiencing the “karma” – or “cause and effect” –  of their own relatively short lives; rather, their immediate circumstances are determined by the biases of others who hold power over them.

Nothing that 12-year-old girl (in the above news story) did or could ever do is responsible for or related to the brutality which was done to her. Anyone who would even entertain a mindset which would allow for that possibility needs to wash out their mind with soap.

*   *   *

Departments Of Exceptions To The Rule

Moiself  is, however, grateful for whomever dreamed up the concept of karma, if only for the fact that it (eventually) led to one of the best “The Far Side” cartoons, ever.

I wasn’t able to find the cartoon itself, so use your imagination.  First, picture the silhouette of a classic Far Side Woman. ®  

 

 

The cartoon consists of a single panel: two flies are on a refrigerator door. Looming over and behind them we see the shadow of Far Side Woman ®, her upraised arm holding a fly swatter.  One fly says to the other,

“I guess I should have been nicer to my wife when I was alive;
this is the third time I’ve been reincarnated as a fly in her kitchen.”

*   *   *

Department Of Idiocy Makes My Brain Hurt
Sub-Department Of Let’s Just Cancel those Pesky Qualities of Imagination And Empathy, Part 102.7 In A Contemptibly Long Series
Adjunct to the Sub-Sub Division Of Why My Own Profession
Has Left A Bad Taste In My Mouth For Years

 

One of the worst things for writers is not to be censored, but to self-censor in fear of crossing the sensibilities and preferences of others.

 

 

I’ve written before of my frustration with and loathing for the “cultural appropriation” tribalism/mob mentality that has infected the world of literary fiction…and I’ll doubtless have cause to lament about it again.  The latest instigation was a Fresh Air interview (a rerun, which I heard for the first time, this week) with actor/producer Kerry Washington.

Washington has been nominated for Emmy awards for acting in and co-producing the series, “Little Fires Everywhere,” which was adapted from the bestselling novel by Celeste Ng.  Washington is Black; in the novel, the ethnicity of Mia, the character Washington plays, is never mentioned.  Podcast host Terry Gross asked Washington how changing the character’s race changed the story and the story’s subtext. Washington said that casting herself in the role was the idea of her producing partners.

Washington (my emphases):

“…They had the idea to call me up and send me the book and ask me if I wanted to do it. And I thought it was an amazing idea. Of course, when I read it, I was reading it through the lens of Mia being Black because I’m Black. I think the novel is so much about identity and how the roles and the context of our identity contributes to how we live and relate to others in the world. So we knew that adding this layer of race would add to that complexity in an exciting way.
Then when I met Celeste Ng, the writer, for the first time, she actually admitted to me that she had always thought of Mia as a woman of color and that she had been drawn to the idea of writing Mia as a Black woman. But she didn’t feel like she had the authoritative voice to do that in the right way.”

I felt sucker-punched to hear that…yet I was hardly surprised.  I’ve little doubt that author Ng’s hesitation about her “authoritative voice” was due to her anticipating charges of cultural appropriation (and the very real possibility of being boycotted by publishers, who would fear such a backlash): as in, how dare Ng think that she, an Asian (read: non-Black) writer, could create a full-blooded, multi-faceted, Black character?

So:

* Although the Asian-American author imagined a Black woman as this lead character, she couldn’t bring herself to actually write her as such;

* Nevertheless, this Asian/non-Black writer was so successful in creating a compelling story about “identity and how the roles and the context of our identity contributes to how we live and relate to others in the world” that a Black actor could identify with this lead character as Black;

* And it was acceptable for the series’ casting director and other lead actor and producers to suggest casting the character as Black, and the Black actor allowed herself to take the role (“an amazing idea”), which was created by an Asian, non-Black writer….

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Worst First (and last) Date Ever

Dateline: an early morning walk, listening to a Curiosity Daily (“a unique mix of research-based life hacks, the latest science and technology news”). One of the podcast’s topics was how male angler fish fuse with their mates without risking immune system rejection.

Narration: “… (the) male angler fish latches on, and begins to dissolve. As his tissues and circulatory system meld with the female’s, eventually most of his body parts and organs disintegrate, leaving his girl with only a pair of reproductive organs to remember him by. This is called sexual parasitism, and it’s totally unique to the anglerfish…”

Moiself” ‘Sexual parasitism is unique to the angler fish’ ” – really? ‘Cause I’ve heard stories from friends that would curl your hair (or dissolve your organs)….”

 

 

I’m thinking, is there a Barry White song which could possibly make this kind of coupling bearable?  Nope; nada.  Gotta be something more post-punk….

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of News Stories Like This Make Moiself  Struggle With My Humanity…
Because I Am *So* On The Side Of The First Victim

This post, earlier this week on Facebook, from an Oregon Coast news bulletin board:

HUNTER KILLED BY ELK
” (Man, name; age, residence) was archery hunting on private property…. Man  wounded a 5X5 bull elk but was unable to locate it before dark.
Man and the landowner attempted to find the wounded bull on the morning of (the next day) at approximately 9:15 A.M., Man located the bull and attempted to kill it with his bow. The elk charged Man and gored him in the neck with its antlers. The landowner attempted to help Man but he sustained fatal injuries and died.
The elk was killed and the meat was donated to the Tillamook County Jail….”

The lead sentence (which I omitted) in the post was, “Please send prayers for the family!”  Moiself’s  instinctive (if admittedly unsympathetic) reaction was, “F*** no; he got what he deserved!  The elk was tortured, wandering for over 12 hours with a grievous wound….”

It was nice (? perhaps moiself  should seek another word) to realize, as per several comments on the article, that I was not the only heartless judgmental bastard person concerned with the issue behind the issue:

* for the elk, this was literally a matter of life and death

* for the hunter, it was sport, and maybe some tasty elk steaks for the freezer   [6]

Along with the posts saying, “Prayers to the deceased and his family”, I spotted several comments along the lines of, “Prayers for the poor elk’s family & friends.”

 

Whaddya think – would I look just as majestic decapitated and mounted above someone’s fireplace?

*   *   *

May you enjoy the exceptions to the rules;
May you cherish the simple windfalls of life, like not having an angler fish for a mate;
May you never give an elk (or any other animal) cause to think, “It’s him or me!”;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Nothing about the concept of white privilege claims or implies that there are no poor/struggling white folk….arrrrrrgh.

[2] With which I was mostly familiar, although there are several streams of Buddhist thought, and without the original post I cannot say for sure if the post-er was referencing Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayana, or modern variants and “branches” of the those streams.

[3] As in, Wine and Deep Thoughts ® were involved.

[4] Part of our conversation included the fact that, by even acknowledging the Indian caste system, he might be creating “bad karma” for himself, as many higher-caste Indians who now live in America – and if they have the means to come here they are from the higher castes – surprise! – would rather pretend, in front of non-Indian Americans, that such a thing goes not exist. The social stratification of Indian society – including the emphasis of skin color and the bias against dark skin – is seen as an embarrassing cultural relic, yet, since it benefits them…why work to change it?

[5] Reasons which will be couched in other terms – the real reason will *never* be admitted to by the loan officers because although redlining is technically illegal, it is still practiced

[6] With the emphasis on sport.  Subsistence hunters don’t go for elk with bows and arrows on their landowner friend’s private acreage, and don’t care if it the animal they hunt, out of absolute necessity, is a “5×5″( a ranking system which refers to the points in each side of the antler rack).

The Saga I’m Not Ending

Comments Off on The Saga I’m Not Ending

Notice to new (or returning) readers: Welcome!


This week’s post will make a lot more sense…

 

 

Excuse moiself ?  I am not saying it will make *total* sense, so I see no need for the sarcastic intrusion….

I’ll begin again.

This week’s post is the second of a two-parter. It will make a lot more sense  [1]     if you read (or reread) last week’s post (here) first. That said….

 

 

I was in the fifth grade. One day my classmate Kelly told me her said she could invite me to her house after school to go swimming. I usually wriggled out of invitations which involved spending time inside Kelly’s house, which was…disheartening. It was dark, even in the summer, even with the lights on, and it was – I cringe today to think it, just as I did back then, but there’s no way around it – just filthy.  It reeked of old trash and cat urine; the one time I’d had a sleepover there I spotted cockroaches in the kitchen when Kelly’s older sister showed Kelly and I how to make fudge from scratch.

Kelly’s widowed mother, whom I liked (she was kind to me and told funny jokes, and knew all the words to my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs), worked long hours as a hospital nurse. She apparently had neither the time nor inclination to clean house, and was unable to convince or command her three children to do so, either.  But Kelly’s backyard consisted of a swimming pool!  She was the only friend I knew who had one, and I eagerly accepted her invitation. I’ll need to go home, check with my mom, and get my swimsuit and a towel, I told her. Kelly suggested she ride on the back of my bike with me to my house to get my stuff, then we’d go to her place.

I peddled us toward my house, with Kelly perched on the bookrack attached to my bike’s rear axle. As we reached the main part of Martha Lane (ML) I updated Kelly about the ML kids’ war with the neighborhood cranks.

“That’s them,” I said, pointing to the Wagners’ house, when we were about 100 feet away. “The brown house up there on the left.”

“Can we sing it – let’s sing The Song!” Kelly begged me.  But without my ML crew to back me up, I was too chicken hesitant.  Then when we were about forty feet from the Wagners’ house, I noticed that their ever-present Cadillac was not in their driveway. I figured they were not home, and it was safe.

I slowed down, and told Kelly we could sing The Song, but not loudly.  Kelly teased me for my lack of vocal enthusiasm (“That’s not singing, that’s practically whispering“) as I peddled us past the Wagner house.

♫  We hate you Wagners/
oh yes we do….♫

When we got to my house my older sister, already home from her school and engrossed in homework, informed me that our mother had gone to the grocery store.  I decided not to tell her what Kelly and I had done. I wanted her approval, but thought Kelly would rat me out for being chickenshit and only singing The Song when I thought the Wagners weren’t home.  I told my sister to tell Mom that I was going to Kelly’s house. I put my swimsuit on under my clothes, Kelly hopped onto the back of my bike, and we headed off.

As I steered my bicycle out of our driveway a brownish-gold sedan crossed Pacific Ave into our cul-de-sac.  It caught my attention because it was not any of the neighbor’s cars (that I recognized) and was driving very slowly.  The sedan circled the end of the cul-de-sac, then drove right up alongside my bicycle as I stopped to check for cross traffic at Pacific Ave.

The driver was clad in a suit and hat which matched the color of his car.  He rolled down his window and signaled with his hand for me to come closer. I stood stock still, my feet planted on either side of my bike’s frame. He’s probably one of those perverts who tries to kidnap kids, I thought.  I began to calculate how long it would take Kelly and I to hop off of my bike and run back to my house.

“Are you the girls who rode a bicycle down this street a few minutes ago?” Sedan Man pointed up Martha Lane, in the direction of the Wagner house.

Kelly mumbled something to me. “Don’t talk to him,” I shushed Kelly.  I looked the man squarely in the eyes, trying to appear as savvy and tough as possible.  “He’s a stranger; we don’t know who he is.”

Sedan Man repeated his question. I could feel my bicycle frame shaking, and reached my hand back to reassure Kelly, who was trembling.  “Go away,” I said to him, “or we’ll call the police.”

“I *am* the police.” Sedan Man pulled a wallet from his suit breast pocket and held out an ID card which had his picture on it and a Santa Ana Police Department shield.

“That’s not a police car,” I said to Kelly.

“I’m a detective.”  Sedan Man waved his ID card.  He said was investigating harassment charges brought by the Wagners, and needed to speak with my parents. I should return home *now* he insisted, pointing toward my house.

“He saw where we came from,” Kelly whispered. She pleaded with me to return home.  We both got off my bicycle and walked back to back to my driveway as the man parked his sedan in front of my house. I was determined *not* to let him inside; I leaned my bicycle against the massive Japanese elm in our front yard and led Kelly up the front yard walkway to sit beside me n the concrete steps of our front porch – the entry no one in the family (and no one who knew us) used.   [2]   Sedan Detective Man followed us to the porch. He stood over us, with one foot on the walkway and the other on the porch’s bottom step, and began to question us.

He wanted to speak with my parents; where were they?  Would I go get them, or should he knock on the door?  I told him my father was at work and would be home after 7 pm, my mother was at the store and would be back any minute, and my older siblings were inside watching TV (I only had one older sibling but I wanted him to think there were a lot of people in my house). He asked the same questions of Kelly, who said nothing. She sat beside me, silently staring down at her shoes.

The Wagners were being harassed by the ML kids, Sedan Detective Man said. The police knew all about it, he added, and Kelly and I were “in serious trouble.” He demanded to speak to my parents; I replied as before: “My dad’s at work; he’ll be back after 7. My mom’s at the store;  she’ll be back soon.”

Sedan Detective Man turned his gaze to Kelly and asked about her parents.  I began to explain that Kelly didn’t live in this neighborhood; he jabbed his long, bony index finger in my direction, silenced me with a glare, and repeated his question to Kelly. She was obviously frightened as he pressed her for information.  She managed to squeak out that her mother at work. She was a nurse, and wouldn’t be back until her shift was over, around 11:30 pm…. her voice trailed off.

“What about your father? Hey, look at me when I’m talking to you. Tell me how I can contact your father – I need to speak with him.”

Kelly briefly raised her head.  “My dad…” she lowered her eyes. I could see her chin begin to quiver.

“‘My dad…'” The detective mocked Kelly’s high-pitched, quavering voice.  “Your dad, what? You have a dad, right? I need to speak to him.”

Kelly hugged her knees to her chest and shook her head, almost imperceptibly, as if she had a nervous tic.

“What does that mean – I can’t speak with your dad?  Why?  Is he out of town?  Did he leave you and your mom – are your parents divorced?”

A tear dribbled down Kelly’s cheek and dropped onto her knee. I thought I might explode with suppressed rage, and just for a moment wondered how much time I would get “in juvie” for head-butting a detective’s nutsack.

“Stop it,” I muttered to Sedan Man, through clenched teeth.

Like a school bully or a shark smelling blood, the detective homed in on the perceived weaker target. He kept pressing Kelly, who was visibly shaking at this point.

What about your father – when is he available? I can’t wait until midnight to talk with your mother. Tell me where your father is – why won’t you look up, are you ashamed of him….

Kelly let out a low moan, and began pinching the skin of her forearm with her thumb and index finger.

I interrupted the detective with all of the, *none-of-your-fucking business,* fifth-grade gravitas I could muster.

“You can’t talk to her father. He’s dead.”

Several years earlier Kelly’s parents had separated, and her father moved out of the family house to an apartment.  The day after Kelly’s mother went to his apartment and confronted him with proof of his infidelity, Kelly’s father shot himself in the head.

The detective, of course, had no way of knowing this.  Even so, Kelly’s distress was evident, and he continued to badger an anguished child.

Well, why didn’t you say your dad had died?  Why didn’t you just….

At that propitious moment, our station wagon pulled into our driveway. My mother left a sack of groceries in the passenger’s seat and walked toward us, a look of polite confusion on her face as she beheld a strange man standing over her daughter and her daughter’s friend – all three of them on the front porch, where *nobody* went.

The detective’s entire demeanor changed with an adult present, which made me despise him all the more.  His malevolent mien morphed into one of professional solicitude, and he introduced himself to my mother with a smile and a doff of his hat.

I inched closer to Kelly, wanting to comfort her without embarrassing her – I could tell she did not want my mother to know that she’d been crying. Meanwhile, the two adults talked, at first as if Kelly and I were not present. The detective informed my mother of the situation; she listened, then asked me if Kelly and I had sung The Song. I looked her in the eye and said that we had, but we thought the Wagners weren’t home, and…. She put up her hand, motioning for me to stop talking. She told the detective that yes, the neighborhood children had perhaps taken their pranks too far, but did the detective know what the Wagners had done to egg them on? And Kelly did not live on Martha Lane, and had nothing to do with….

I was amazed to hear my mother speak to the detective.  She was a shy person, introverted with strangers, particularly male authority figures – and back then all males were authority figures (or acted as if they were) to all women.  My mother had heretofore never displayed anything I would have mistaken for a spine; it must have taken a lot for her to stand her ground with that man.  He asked more questions of her, all of which she politely but firmly deflected. She told him that he needed to speak with her husband about the matter, and if he’d give her his business card she would have her husband call him.

The detective left his card with my mother and left our street with me throwing silent curses at his butt-ugly, doggy-doo-colored sedan.  My mother asked me to take the groceries inside and set the table for dinner, and said she’d give Kelly a ride home. I never found out what, if anything, she and Kelly talked about on the ride; the next day at school both Kelly and I pretended that the previous day had never happened.

That evening, mere minutes after my father got home from work   [3] and had spoken with my mother, I stood with my back to the living room wall, listening to my father as he spoke on the kitchen telephone   [4] with the detective. 

My father prided himself on his diplomacy, which was in full force that evening. He was firm and reasonable, considerate but not quite conciliatory. What follows is his end of the conversation, from memory, as paraphrased by moiself . He started with introductions and personal chitchat, deftly and swiftly gleaning that the detective also had teen and preteen children.  He told the detective that

“the neighborhood teenagers”  [5]  had taken things a bit too far, but the police likely did not know all the facts.  I will declare the Wagners and their house off-limits to our family and will spread the word among the other Martha Lane parents, but I also need you to realize something:  the children’s behavior is immature to say the least, but these are *kids.* What is Mr. and Mrs. Wagner’s excuse – who are the “adults” in this situation?  It is unlikely the Wagners have admitted to you their *years* of harassment of the neighborhood (both children, and their parents).  The Wagners played an equal part in this vendetta – in fact, it began with them.  If you would interview other families in the neighborhood you would find out about that. And both you and I, as parents, know that when adults hassle kids past a certain point, even good kids will fight back.”

After speaking with the detective, my father telephoned Mr. Wagner.  He told Mr. Wagner that the kids were in the wrong; Mr. Wagner told my father that Mrs. Wagner was suffering health effects from being harassed by the neighborhood children, and agreed that things had gotten out of hand.  It was interesting to listen to my father saying something that, if you didn’t know the context, would sound nonsensical:  the children should “stop their singing their songs” and that perhaps everyone, the children of Martha Lane and the Wagners, could just steer clear of one another?

After an unusually silent dinner time my parents excused my younger sister from the table and asked her to take our toddler brother to the living room to watch TV. My parents remained at the kitchen table, and spoke privately with my older sister and I.  My father did most of the talking.  In a serious but not angry manner, he told us what had transpired with his phone calls (I said nothing about my eavesdropping).  We were to stop all contact with the Wagners, and inform our friends that the Wagner house was a demilitarized zone – off limits to all; no exceptions.  The Wagners agreed to drop their harassment charges, but were prepared to reinstate them if there were any more “incidents” (the detective told my father that the case would remain open for a couple of weeks to “see how things go.”).

Later that evening my father phoned several of the neighborhood children’s parents and explained the situation to them. He asked them to spread the word to other parents: the children of Martha Lane are to act as if the Wagners do not exist.  And, that was that, my parents said.  It’s over.

Except that for me, it wasn’t.  Unbeknownst to my parents or siblings, I cried myself to sleep that night, and for weeks afterward.

 

If only she’d had a baby sloth to hug.

 

It’s funny to me, in retrospect, how adults neglect to explain How Things Work ®  to children, because their adult minds don’t go down all the paths that a child’s mind will take.  I thought I had a criminal record! And that it would follow me the rest of my life!  That made me feel frightened, anxious, hopeless…and fence-kicking, hornet-spitting, furious.

I feared my parents were disappointed in me, and me alone. And I was steaming angry about the fact that the majority of the “harassment” tactics had come from the older kids  –  teens, like my sister, The Consummate Good Girl/Model Child ®.  My sister and her friend made up that damn stupid song, had sung it with their friends “at” the Wagners, then taught it to me and my friends and urged us to sing it whenever we could….and guess who got caught?

In my family’s script my older sister was The Good Child ®  –  polite and obedient and respectful of authority, while I was the imp/rabble rouser/mischief-maker.  But family roles and labels (“this is the smart one, and this is the clever one, and this is the sweet one…”)  are always far more complicated than surface perceptions.  *I* knew, from personal experience, that my sister was not the goody-two-shoes her teachers and parents thought she was.  But the fact that she and her friends could “get away” with what had happened while I was implicated – that was typical.

There is nothing like the righteous indignation of a wrong adolescent. I avoided fully considering my own culpability in the Wagner harassment by focusing on (what I thought was) the colossal injustice done to me – and poor Kelly, by association.

But, I digress.

 

 

I didn’t sleep well for weeks after the visit from Undercover Detective Asshat.  My throat would tighten and my fists would clench whenever I saw a sedan that reminded me of that detective’s car – and every such vehicle was, to me, potentially an unmarked police car… and, BTW, unmarked cars for police?  How unfair?!?! Detectives must be a slimy bunch, to sneak around like that….

My reaction was only slightly less volatile when I saw a regular, black and white police car cruiser; I held a silent but deadly   [6]  grudge against cops.

How that plainclothes detective had treated Kelly – those memories and feelings stayed with me for years.  However, time eventually did what time eventually does, and by high school I had gotten over my indignation.

But here (yes, after all this) is what prompted my telling of this My Encounter With The Police ® story:  judging from the reactions of many (white) people to the Black Lives Matter movement, some folks just don’t seem to understand the simple yet profound idea that people’s experiences color and inform their perceptions.

I got over what had happened with that vile, abusive, unprofessional detective – I was able to navigate through the world and let go of my anger – in part because during the ensuing years I had few if any encounters with “law enforcement officers.”  I was able to see the incident as just that – an incident; an aberration.

I was a white girl.

All the “players” in the My Encounter With The Police ®  story were white.

What if I had been Black, or Latina?  Would the detective have shown as much deference to my mother if she were Mexican-American?  Would he have been as respectful and agreeable to my father, who argued for considering the perspective of the “harassing” children, if my father had been a Black man? What if all of the neighborhood children had been a different “shade” than the Wagners – would the detective have agreed to drop the investigation?  What if the Wagners had been Black – would their complaints have been investigated, or even given serious consideration?

Knowing what I now know now, the answers to all of those questions would be a regrettable but accurate, Are you fucking kidding me?  No.

As I passed from grade school  [7]   through junior and then high school, I slowly came to realize that my darker-skinned peers had many more negative experiences with the police, and for matters far more trivial than “singing that song” and with far different outcomes than my family had experienced (“It’s a crime, you know, to drive while Mexican,” my “cruiser car” buddy GS, a Chicano, once joked to me).

Your experiences shape your perceptions.  Too few white people are beginning to consider that idea, vis-à-vis Black and Brown people and the police and other governmental forces; fewer still are able to summon the introspection necessary to examine their visceral reaction to the complex ideas and realities behind concepts like, Defund the police.

And for those of us in this better-late-than-never category, I’ll apply my dinner party analogy. Specifically, how I feel about guests whom I looked forward to seeing (that’s why I invited them: I don’t ask people to dinner if I don’t like them), and they showed up…eventually:

Welcome to the party y’all!

You’re hours late; you missed the appetizers and first courses
and the entrée and we’re halfway through dessert…
but it’s great to see you and we’re happy
you showed up in time to help with the dishes.

*   *   *

May you be a helpful voice in the Defund the Police conversation;
May you discern when to use your voice and when it’s better to listen to other’s voices;  [8]

May you always arrive in time to help with the dishes;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] If you don’t know or remember the significance behind the phrase “the ML kids’ war with the neighborhood cranks” then there’s no point in reading further without reading the previous post.

[2] Friends and family used the side entrance to our house, which led to the kitchen. If someone knocked on our front door that was a giveaway that it was a stranger, or a solicitor.

[3] About 5:20p and not after 6p, like I’d told the detective. Yep, I lied to the creep.

[4] Which was, at the time, our only telephone.

[5] my dad’s words. Although Kelly and I were preteens, it was the older kids who had instigated the anti-Wagner campaign,

[6] You knew I had to get a fart reference in the story,  somewhere…somehow.

[7] A story like this should have more footnotes. Or, less.

[8] As in, the voices of other people, not the voice you may hear in your head that sounds like your demon uncle ordering you to vote for anything wearing a MAGA hat and then strangle a baby hamster.