Good Luck, Young Uns

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I found a news site I hadn’t looked at for a few years. It’s a Google site, and like most things Google, it already knew a lot about me and my preferences. These were news items they thought I might be interested in.

It contained many more listings that the sites I am used to seeing. As I scrolled through the long list, I wearied of ever reaching the end. Only one item caught my interest, about a recently-discovered grave of a child vampire who had been buried in Italy 1550 years ago. That got me imagining the movie that might directed by Roman Polanksy. All the other listings left me cold.

I don’t care about the marital activities of modern-day celebrities. I would be happy to never read about Donald Trump again, nor any member of his family. Brexit problems, the stock market, gold prices…all will do what they do without my input, nor am I likely to be directly affected.

I finally did it. I became an intolerant geezer who feels like the rest of the human race left him behind years ago. Good luck, young ‘uns, looks like you’ll need it.

I’m not suggesting that the celebrities of my day were any more deserving of acclaim that today’s, nor that the world’s problems are any less dire. I just don’t see my place in any of it. It feels like a party I haven’t been invited to. I’m the pauper standing out in the snow, his nose pressed against the window of a restaurant, watching the rich people eat and laugh inside. Except I’m not hungry, I have plenty of food back home, and I wouldn’t want to come inside your restaurant and make conversation. I want to go about my business in my own time, and that’s a luxury that seems dearer with each passing news cycle.

When I was twelve years old, the most important goal I could imagine attaining was to be popular. When I was fifteen, it was that girls would find me attractive. When I was twenty, it was be recognized for being clever. When I was twenty-five, I had already turned inward and didn’t care too much about what other people thought.

Now I’m sixty-eight, and having a hearty bowel movement seems paramount.

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Keep Your Head Down

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What will the future hold for most of us? Decline, usually slow but sometimes rapid. Anger, blame, disillusionment. At least that’s the way it feels for most Americans and Brits. But does everybody feel this way? Do people in the third world feel as gloomy about their prospects as do we Facebook-addicted first-worlders?

If you don’t have much to begin with, you don’t have much to lose. If you’ve never enjoyed even the semblance of benign governance, then anything that doesn’t involve outright extortion and oppression feels like business as usual.

Banana republics and tinpot dictatorships keep most of their citizens dirt poor and allow a very few to get away with fiscal murder. Since there was never any semblance of a level playing field, the poor and uneducated don’t assume there’s a chance they can improve their lot. Hard work will simply exhaust you. If you do manage to accumulate wealth, your neighbors will envy you and someone, maybe someone in uniform, will take it away from you. So don’t make waves. Keep your head down, and your eyes to the ground.

Most of us have every reason to be grateful for the level of comfort we already enjoy. Life is not a shit sandwich for most of the people I come into contact with. Here in Thailand, which is in many ways like America was sixty years ago, they have a show on TV that is very much like Queen for a Day. Poor people with insurmountable problems come on and tell their sad story. The twist here is that the show requires them to sing in a talent contest and then guess a lucky number. If the judges are lenient and they guess correctly, they win a few hundred dollars. If not, they go away with a box of laundry soap.

This is a Buddhist country, and there is a strong belief in karma underlying the societal ranking. If you are poor, maybe you deserve your status based on your actions in your previous life, so you might as well practice humility and acceptance. The peasant class doesn’t seem to be chronically outraged by their lot. The men who stoop to plant rice, the women who sit patiently for hours a day at a market stall, tend to smile easily. Maybe the men get drunk and beat their wives when they get home, but since I don’t live in a poor village, I don’t see it.

It’s just assumed that the rich will act like the world owes them a living. Nobody is scandalized when the son of a rich man doesn’t have to pay for his crimes. His father pays a large amount to the victim’s family. The son may go into the monastery for a few months and have his head shaved for a photo op. If his family is really, really rich, like the heir to the Red Bull fortune who drove his Lamborghini over a policeman who was attempting to get him to stop, then dragged the body under the car all the way home, he won’t even have to appear in court.

This is the way it is in much of the world. Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East. They don’t pretend it’s otherwise. They have no tradition of a free press or democratic governance, for that would allow dissent and discourse, so those are quickly quashed. There’s too much at stake to risk it. Take the lid off that kettle and who knows what might leap out.

Everybody Lies

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First of all, I’m not guilty. Totally innocent. I wasn’t even in the same city when she died. From what I hear, she had lots of enemies. So why pick on me?

I barely knew her. Sure we had sex a few times, but that sort of thing means nothing nowadays. I’m not sure she even knew my name. She kept calling me “big guy,” but I think that was just to cover the fact that she couldn’t remember by name.

She was a troubled person. I never saw her when she wasn’t high on something. Those times we had sex I met her at a bar. I got the impression she was a regular customer. She seemed to have a thing for the bartender. Have you talked to him?

Everybody knew she had lots of guys coming around all the time. I bet she knew some of their names. Surely you can find somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody else and get some real leads on this case. So why pick on me?

You’ve got video? Me leaving her house and throwing the murder weapon into a garbage can? You retrieved the weapon. My prints are on it. Hmm. OK, well that’s different. That’s a whole lot different. Can I talk to a lawyer?

I know what my lawyer will advise. Don’t say anything. So I’m not going to say any more, OK? No, nothing. Not a word. You’re not my friend. We’re not all friends here. You want to pin this crime on me, and nothing you can say or do will make me forget that’s your intention.

It’s hard not to say anything while we’re waiting for a lawyer. I’ll tell you about my life. If you don’t want to listen you can go do something else. You’re free to come and go. Me, I’m stuck here, right?

OK, my problems really began when my father died and Mom starting hooking. She brought different men home every night. They were all my “uncles.” One night, one of my uncles woke up out of a blackout and found me asleep on the couch. He picked me up and threw me out the window. Fortunately, it was summer and the window was open. We didn’t have much in the way of screens. I woke up on the lawn.

Then I tried working for a living, but even I could see there wasn’t going to be much of a future in that. So when I met a kid who showed me how easy it was to buy and sell pot, I followed in his footsteps. Pretty soon, I had enough money to move out and find my own place. Then I got a motorcycle. Then a car. Then a girlfriend who got pregnant right away. By the time I was nineteen, I was a father.

Then we started having money problems, and I discovered you could buy a few days of illusory affluence by writing bad checks. Sure, the piper would demand to be paid in a few days, but that was an eternity for someone who had as little emotional maturity and ability to think long-term as I. The first couple of times I bounced checks I got off by paying fines, but the third time I got to spend a week in jail. You would have thought that would have taught me a lesson, but it just got me to discover credit cards.

I escaped jail this time by claiming that medical bills for the baby caused me to take those cash advances. Another friend of mine ran a chop shop where stolen cars and motorcycles were turned into parts and then sold to repair shops at a sharp discount. Those shops often billed their customers for new parts. So everybody was in on it, to some degree. At least that’s what I told myself in order to not feel like a crumb.

The problem with a life of petty crime is that it’s addictive. I remember talking to a lady who had a job running a halfway house for women who had just been released from prison. She was supposed to get them entry-level jobs in fast food restaurants. They were mostly hookers who had also been drug addicts. They’d get a job at a fast food restaurant and their pimp would drive by and say “what are you doing wearing that funny hat. Get down from there and let’s go make some real money.” So that’s what they’d do. Nobody lasted at their fast food job longer than a few days.

Once you get used to easy money, it’s hard to want to turn around and play the man’s game. And that’s why…oh, what? You say somebody confessed? I’m free to go? See, I told you I wasn’t guilty. What was that videotape story all about? You say that to all the suspects. I see. Hard to tell the cops from the criminals. Everybody lies. I guess I already knew that.

Actions You Must Perform to Leave This Group

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You must obtain written permission to do so from a group administrator. If you don’t know one, you must ask around.

If you can’t contact a group administrator, you must petition the National Security Agency for a Ad Hoc Release From Page Membership (form 1099A-EX) or hire counsel to do the same in your stead.

If you are under the age of sixteen, or over the age of sixty-five, you must also ask that prayers be said for you at the Vatican, preferably on Holy Tuesday, a slow day during Holy Week, which as everyone knows, culminates with Easter Sunday.

If you are Vitamin B deficient, or suffer from restless leg syndrome or a transient certainty that nothing matters anymore, then there is no point in trying to leave this group, for we shall never let you go!

If your name is, or used to be, “Barnabas” then you have already automatically been kicked out of this group.

If you have ever attended a Bing Crosby Road Movie Film Festival and found Dorothy Lamour to be more interesting than either Bing or Bob, then write that in block lettering on a four by six inch card and mail it first class to PO Box 35446, Radio City Music Hall, New York, New York 10045. Allow six to eight weeks for processing, and your name will be expunged from this group.

 

 

 

ABILITIES YOU MUST HAVE IN ORDER TO JOIN THIS GROUP

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You must be able to swim ten meters underwater on one breath.

You must be able to derive square roots without the aid of a calculator.

You must know which of these three words is not a word: irregardless, irrespective, immaterial.

Explain in fewer than 100 words why most harmonicas are sold in the key of C but most blues songs are written in B flat or E.

You must be able to whistle.

You must be able to recall the seven cardinal virtues and the six deadly sins.

You must be able to find on the map Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

You must not be Vitamin B deficient.

You must be able to discern the difference between the Elmore James songs “Look on Yonder Wall” and “The Sky is Crying”

You must be immunized against Mad Cow disease and Epstein-Barre syndrome.

You must speak at least three languages besides your native tongue.

You must have spent at least a week in Albania.

You must believe that Artie Shaw’s band was at least the equal of Benny Goodman’s.

You must certify that the concept of spending your retirement years “kicking back in some beach community” sounds stultifying.

You must attest that you lost “that Christmas spirit” years ago and find most holiday promotions tiresome at best.

You must wake up in the middle of the night at least twice a month convinced that your body is riddled with cancer and it’s too late to do anything about it.

You must miss the character actors one used to frequently see in movies and on television fifty years ago more than the “stars” who got top billing and most of the attention.

You must admit to yourself and to others that you find the act of yodeling unmusical and watching old men in lederhosen perform it, distasteful.

You must refuse to accept the notion that all religions have some value, and are at least partially good.

You must get down on your knees and beg God for mercy.

You must admit the fact that you are hopelessly addicted to social media, and that its impact on your life has been almost wholly negative, except for providing a way to stay in touch with old friends, but the more you see or hear about them the more you realize there’s a reason you lost touch with them in the first place, and the only reason you log on so frequently is because you have absolutely nothing else going on in your life to fill the seemingly bottomless void that social media attempts to address.

Something Snapped

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She seemed to have little in the way of personality, but actually she was simply hiding most of it beneath a thin veneer of bland niceness. Her lack of opinions hid a plethora of scorn, rage and shame. Her sweet smile had the power and delicacy of a blowtorch.

Fortunately for them, most people who could have become ensnared realized this at some gut level and steered away from entanglements. Only the sickest dove right in, but they were quickly consumed.

In the 1950’s she had been a member of a missionary order of nuns, the Maryknolls, who ran an orphanage and school in the part of China that borders Tibet. The Communist Chinese usually left them alone, but one day they arrived in force and it just happened to be the day a copy of Life magazine arrived, with a picture of Phil Silvers playing the role of Sargent Bilko on the cover. The Chinese assumed it was a picture of the Dali Lama, and arrested everyone. The school was closed, the nuns imprisoned and eventually sent back to the States, and the orphans were never heard of again.

After that, something in her snapped. She became a party girl, once sleeping with Peter Lawford and Robert Kennedy at the same time. She was with Jim Morrison the night he overdosed in Paris. And now, fate had brought her to Storm Lake, Iowa, where she was the children’s librarian. The parents assumed she was a kindly grandmother. The children were afraid of her.

True, her colorful past had left her with many stories, though she couldn’t share most of them. How could she use story-time to tell of her role in getting Che Guevara’s hands delivered to the FBI after his ambush and execution in Bolivia? Would she use her role as reference librarian to inform students writing term papers about the time she did acid with Tim Leary and Baba Ram Dass?

No, her life was a cipher, a closed book at best. After work, she went back to her furnished room at the senior center subsidized housing in the former Post Office and browsed social media until sleep overtook her.