Donald’s Hazy Dream: l’ultimo capitolo

sanderspoint04
Maybe I pointed out a bit too much.
trumppoint
I have incredible points. Somewhere.

 

hillary-clinton-thumbs-up
Maybe I needed to discover my main point!

I, AVT, voted for a third-party candidate, Dr. Jill Stein. I wanted to vote for Sanders, but the DNC chose to promote Hillary Clinton. And so it went.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Surprised voters yet today abound.

Some are flustered, breathless with agita, marching in protest that a cruel, inarticulate bigot actually won the right to add his gas to the Oval Office’s furniture for at least the next four years.

Some angry citizens are celebrating by acting out their inbred ugliness, as if to acknowledge that President Elect Trump gave them permission to yell obscenities at African-Americans, Mexicans, women, LGBTQ people, Muslims–or even at those people who, inside the viewers’ narrow peripheral visions, look like they might belong to a group they consider to be ruining an America they can almost remember, especially if they have Norman Rockwell prints hanging on their walls, or antique Marilyn Monroe calendars hanging near the kitchen cabinets that contain the Frosted Flakes and an extra pound of pure cane sugar for extra energy.

Still others suffer the ugly obscenities, threats and beatings at the hands of those same ignorant, immoral criminals. This is a sad, repeated and repulsive part of America’s history. A lot of the so-called social and cultural progress American citizens claim that we’ve made is true, but the putative melting pot needs re-melting every few decades, and melting demands heat.

Some citizens of all classes still sat at home, determined to remain ignorant of what Donald J. Trump’s ascendancy might mean for our nation’s future. To many of these folks, the wheels of government continue to turn at a rusty pace, whether or not they cast their votes. And so they did not cast their votes. And why should they? Of course, the oft-spoken answer to that question runs something like, “Well, if you don’t vote, then don’t complain about your our government!”

I can give only partial credence to this line of thinking. I can explain only the part of the stay-at-home group that I understand from the experience of growing up with working-class people, in the way, way back, back when hard work earned continual rewards. Back when, as John Lennon reminded us, “A working-class hero is something to be.”

Of course, when Lennon published that song in 1971, many, many years after I was born, he was singing about working-class people being absorbed by the so-called middle class machine. Little boxes, all made out of ticky tacky. But that middle class today has shrunk almost to the point of invisibility. The working class in today’s America, what’s left of it, struggles to find all but non-existent work. They have become lower-class, unemployed or underemployed citizens.

The reality for these millions of Americans is, and has been for decades, that no matter whom they vote for, nothing much changes for them. And yes, whether or not one is willing to admit it, a lower class always has, and still exists in this home of the homeless or near homeless. The sad fact is that America’s lower class has grown in equal proportion to the shrinkage of the lost American Dream.

Lip-service speeches, crisis counselors, a few shelter beds available here and there, free turkeys on Thanksgiving Day, and a slight opening of Ebenezer’s heart and coal scuttle at Christmastime. These are a few of the gifts we offer the ever-growing lower class in America, just enough to show them that we care, at least some of the time. Much like  attending church on Sunday, and forgetting the sermon a few hours later, our Federal politicians serve hot stew to the homeless when the cameras are rolling, then return to their overpriced Georgetown apartments for a bedtime shot or two of Glenfiddich 40-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

But let us visit for a while an underpaid waitress, Lila, living in Camden, NJ, sitting in front of her television, sipping a can of Schlitz, almost ready to cry her sore feet to sleep.

Perhaps her our government will come to her rescue with a block of charity cheese and another six pack? Perhaps not. Not really. Most times, our elected representatives fail to represent the common folks. Instead, they cater first and foremost to those who lobby them and pay them: large corporations donate to our leaders’ reelection coffers; add the fossil fuel industry, wealthy–and invisible–individual donors who no doubt expect in return legislation favorable to their capitalist businesses and you’re now focused on the oligarchy that our government has become.

But this year, Lila the overworked waitress, along with a million other citizens who cannot afford computers, almost received the following government missive.

schlitzHACKED FROM HIGH IN THE URAL MOUNTAINS

November 7, 2016

Subject: Last Attempt to Motivate You, the Lower-Class Slouches

Dear Lower-Class Common Folks,

Voting should make you feel as if you will now and forever have your say in how your our government is run. So why are you lying in bed after a hard day’s effort to find work, or to obtain money by other means, drinking Schlitz to ease the pain of depression that comes of major loss? So what if your spouse left you when you lost your living-wage  job and your house? Where’s your American Spirit? We’re sure you know the Life, Lemons, and Lemonade saccharin fairytale? Act on it!

Get up, move out, squeeze your limones, and vote your blues away! Otherwise, don’t complain if your unemployed and lonely circumstance continues for another four years. We told you so. We tried our best to use the corporate media, and the brainwashed population that loves to place faith in whatever we say, and now this last-ditch email hacked by Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon. Yes, we tried our American best to tell you that this time, especially this time, your vote would not only count, but also reassemble your broken dream, if only you put in the effort.

But if you choose not to heed our advice to sober up, boot yourself in the butt and vote, then it’s your fault that you are inebriated on cheap beer and sinking fast into suds and despair, while we are sipping champagne in celebration of our soon to be even greater deeds of public service. Bubbly in hand, we flirt with the idea of rising in the ranks because of our expanding reputations for generosity.

Love,

Your Our Federal Government

If our representative Republic at the Federal level isn’t yet six feet under Washington, D.C., it is at least preoccupied with digging its own grave, or perhaps because the Federal government operates out of D.C., they’re busy building an expansive marble mausoleum, equipped with plenty of cocktail liquor, hair salons, and high credit-card limit ATMs.

A high enough dose of cheap Schlitz and endless poverty can oftentimes, as happened this year of 2016, yield what working-class people know as anger, and well-off people like to call apathy.

For the past few decades, working-class people, or blue-collar workers, or the supposedly uneducated masses–depending on how polite or rude you want to be when you describe them–have been fed up with being ignored by both the Republican and Democratic parties. Fed up as in spitting lunger onto the floor, stamping out a cigarette, and growling, “Fuck ’em. They’re all a bunch of crooks,” whenever the subject of politics crawls its way down the bar to upset a tired but once indifferent crowd of sweaty blue collars.

That’s a non-random sampling of non-voters in 2016. But if you’re interested enough to travel backward twenty years, try looking at that year’s American family income, adjust for inflation, and you’ll discover that median income is much lower in 2016 than it was in 1996. And the worst hit American citizens are what once was called the working class. You know, people like Lila of the sore feet and Schlitz temporary remedy.

I am intimately familiar with The American Dream That Disappeared. My father was a working-class laborer.

For many people, now mostly dead, and for a short while, that dream appeared each day with the sunrise, and as years’ worth of days wore on that dream came true. Work hard, save money, pay your taxes and your bills, and believe that the same American government that won World War II would reward your effort, just as it promised.

But not so gradually that promise began to crumble. I’m not an economist, but intelligent economists will vouch for the fact that by the 1970s the American dream lay on its deathbed. During the 1950s American corporations ceded the miniaturization market to the Japanese. The tag Made In Japan was a bad joke worthy of derision. Want to laugh today at Sony, Honda, Toyota, Panasonic products?

American capitalists settled on a wild ride with big automobiles with flashy but useless wings and bumper tits attached. This approach, along with a bustling housing industry, worked well for perhaps twenty years. People swarmed to buy the flashiest Chevys and Fords. Ransom Olds’ Curved Dash and its successors gained popularity.

But by the 1970s expenses in the United States outstripped incomes, automobiles began looking like rectangular tin boxes that shimmied with the wind, and working-class people’s incomes stagnated and then dropped as inflation raged. Paying off that mortgage became an impossibility for millions of Americans. We children of blue-collar workers ate more peas and red gravy over mashed potatoes and fewer plates of pork chops.

So yes, I am intimately familiar with the slow death of The American Dream. I am plenty old enough still to feel the shiver that ran through my family’s bones during the months–and sometimes years–when work dried up for my father and the bills kept arriving in the mail.

Dad survived World War II with a couple of perforated eardrums, a forever painful leg, a crude and crooked set of VA built false teeth to replace the ones he lost in battles he never talked about. Injuries and purple hearts aside, my father came out smiling. Smiling and working hard, six or seven days a week for most of his adult life. He loved Ike, and he trusted that the Dream was real.

dadandcrew

His first stint once stateside was to follow other members of his Sicilian immigrant family into work on the railroad. Dad’s understanding of the English language was imprecise and fragmentary. No Bilingual Education in his day, so after eighth grade his failed to qualify for high school. Instead, the school authorities settled him into a vocational school where he studied carpentry. So the railroad took him on as part of a carpenters crew. Eight men lived inside a box car. They traveled from station to station making repairs to creosote-covered ties and painted buildings wherever necessary.

One man was assigned to be cook. He owned no more qualification than that he could boil wild spinach and broccoli rabe that grew beside the tracks. Dad called the cook Hoseapple. Many years later I discovered that his true name was Holzappful. Close enough. These guys loved each other. For years after the Interstates and trucks took over the job of carrying freight, and airplanes and cars replaced most of the rail lines’ passenger traffic, the crew would meet at our house. As a child, I would listen to them laugh at oft-repeated jokes, and watch the sun-reddened wrinkles on the backs of their necks quiver. I loved those men, too. They and their shared memories left my dad happy when they departed.

My mother was another story. She was flat out tired, tired from serving homemade Italian food to beer-tipsy men, and tired of hearing the same jokes. Still, our home’s atmosphere felt blanket warm to me.

At least until the beer haze wore off, the sun rose, and Dad once again realized that he had to look for work. The railroad’s layoffs and rehires had become too frequent to guarantee a steady income. Dad wanted to stick it out, so he could one day receive a pension, but there were four of us kids to clothe and feed, and in order to accept the final rehire offer, he would have had to travel fifty miles each way, each day, to meet his new assignment. The main road’s speed limit at that time was 35 MPH, and my hesitant dad reached an average high speed of 25.

Mother and Dad argued about this for what felt like weeks. Long weeks. Dad had the aroma of creosote permanently etched inside his nostrils, and he had worked hard to gain progress toward that promised pension.

Still, Mother’s fear and common sense won out. Dad shifted his line of work to that of a house painter. He worked five days per week for a non-union general contractor, joined the Republican Party thinking it would lead him toward future acceptance in the local painters’ union. As well, Dad worked six evenings per week canvassing neighborhoods, passing out cards–handwritten by me. He walked these routes on the weekends and during the summer season. From this effort he received various jobs by undercutting the local contractors’ prices. I knew Dad failed to realize that he was earning money he needed, but at the same time ruining his chances of being accepted into the union. Not my place to say so. Instead, I stayed busy earning as many A’s as I could in school, and working summertime evenings and weekends painting with my father.

At the time, I quietly bemoaned my fate. I wanted early on to play with my friends, and later on to flirt with girls, mostly with the pretty ones I knew were out of my reach. At that time, and in that place, dark, curly-haired Sicilian boys wearing paint-spattered clothes were not so popular as were fair-skinned, Beatle-haired boys wearing slacks and lots of Brut cologne.

So much for my love life until I went away to university, and the world opened up to rebellious anti-war protesters wearing bellbottom jeans and Afros.

But although I’ve lived here and now, lived there and then, and wandered far and wide, memories of growing up blue-collar remain hot inside my blood.

Dad and Mother were able to feed their family and just about make their monthly mortgage payments and utility bills. But they never managed to keep more than one hundred dollars in their savings account. They never managed to pay off their mortgage on a house whose original price was $10,500.

By the end of their lives, my Republican father, and my Democratic mother–once avid believers in the Dream and active voters–had reached the conclusion that politicians were all “a bunch of crooks.”

And I became a rebel against injustice.

So if you read this far, and you want to comment yea or nea, I’d be interested in your thoughts. I ask only that you not assume that all eligible voters who do not vote are apathetic losers who have no right to complain.

Ciao,

AVT

Installing a Corrupt President: Chapter I

Those damned Russian Martians are at it again! Trying to affect American elections by revealing the truth. The nerve of them! Send in the drones!

NB: One article can’t cover the breadth and depth of this subject. Chapter II will follow.

I will be voting for a third-party candidate, Dr. Jill Stein.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

DEGRADATION OF THE AMERICAN ELECTION PROCESS

I write this as the 2016 election tally draws soon to a close. Early voters, including me, have already submitted mail-in, or carry-in ballots. Ten days from today, on November 8, 2016, final ballots will be submitted and counted. I have little faith that the voting will be free from fraud; the primaries were fraught with such fraud, although many people disagree with me about that.

Yes, this election was over before it began, but let’s pretend just long enough for me to write Chapter I of my deathbed summary of events.

All along, progressive voters’ positions, promises and pleas had no chance of reaching the processing lobes of Clinton supporters’ minds. At each step along the way, they convinced themselves that all the obvious facts regarding election fraud were not facts. That evidence, said the self-styled, self-satisfied neo-liberals, is all fabricated by the Evil Republicans and the Russians. Many of those same neo-liberals once upon a time decried the Joe McCarthy days, and they even promoted the idea that an American citizen owns the right to belong to the Communist Party.

But not this time around. This time, the Russian Scare is alive and well within the Democratic Party. As if it matters whether leaked email content comes courtesy of the Russians or the Martians. Truth is not truth. Rather, say the Democratic loyalists, these emails, and their content, were first re-written by Putin himself, then doused with cyanide, and leaked to the Evil Republicans.

On the other side of the rusty iron curtain live Saint Obama and his Secretary Sidekick, General Hillary and her trusty companion, Warrior Willie. The neo-liberals love them, but they cannot afford to realize that their love is largely based on celebrity images and stylistic eloquence. Well, Hillary is more than a bit robotic behind a lectern–not a podium, one stands on a podium, behind a lectern–but with Barack beside her they make a decent vaudeville show.

And what about those nasty Obama/Hillary war zones? Well, neo-liberals have no trouble ignoring all that nasty bloodshed as they size up their own desire to make themselves feel proud of “making history,” the first Black President, and now the first Woman President. Sure, Obama’s and Hillary’s foreign policies–promised to be “more muscular” under Hillary’s flag–are wet with blood. But those Arabs live far away from Winesburg, Ohio. And what the hell, Arabs cause their own problems in the Middle East, so what else are we to do but intervene and grab oil, allies and a strong military presence in the area.

To do otherwise would be to let the Ruskies in. Plus, we know–or is it that we’ve been told by Hillary and her crew–that the Ruskies are trying to ruin her installation and coronation because Putin is in love with Trump.

I admit that these Clintonian fairytales mark a new and high opportunity for writers who are tired of penning paranormal, teenage, rom-com, coming of age, dystopian, bodice rippers.

And why not? Something new should result from this numb-minded election.

    

TWO FLAWED PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

As of this afternoon, it’s clear that the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, an inarticulate but blustering man, the kind of businessman who inherited his wealth, lost it several times, robbed those he hired whenever a building project fell through, and yet managed always–by way of legal loopholes–to regain his wealth and then some, is going to lose the election. Many of us have suspected all along that he led with his ego and will back away after losing with his boisterous ego intact.

I never considered voting for Donald Trump. He shouts his desires to eliminate Mexicans from the United States (in vaguely qualified terms). He encourages violence at his well-attended rallies. His ignorance of world affairs is unparalleled by any presidential candidate in my soon-to-be-finished life.

At best, Trump strikes a chord with the millions of disillusioned citizens in this country who have, since a short eight years ago, lost their homes to foreclosure–because of predatory banking practices, lost their jobs–because lousy trade deals written by legislators and corporations in collusion sent those jobs beyond our shorelines, lost their families because of stresses induced by loss, and ultimately lost their sense of dignity and relevance in our society.

The Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, depending on one’s after-study view of her is either a many times mistreated woman who had to be twice as tough as men in order to gain half the respect, or a sneaky, power-hungry, warmongering, Republican in Democrat’s clothes. I do not see her as a mistreated woman.

I believe, no I know, that women around the world have been mistreated in terrifying, disgusting ways for time immemorial. I believe many mistreated women in America think Hillary is one of those mistreated women, and so voting women, especially old women, think they see themselves reflected in poor, mistreated Hillary Clinton. Education hasn’t much to do with it; age does. Young women, not all, but many young women see through Hillary’s nonsense victim game. Hillary is a child of privilege. Yes, she was on a lot of commissions, committees, councils and caucuses regarding women’s equal rights. A lot of talk, and yes, some little product as a result of all her yammering.

Children’s healthcare. I give Clinton high praise for her part in that. Had she not been so damned abrasive– abrasive is *not* a uniquely male characteristic–when her slick and sexist husband set her to catalyze a plan for universal healthcare, she might not have failed in such quick and rude fashion. And yes, I remain aware of the fairytale that all her failures were the result of vast Republican conspirators, same as Obama’s many failures are not his fault.

But women’s rights? All talk. And no problem taking money from regimes that treat women and children like chattel. No problem with Arab or Central American collateral damage. She is a war hawk, and so I find it both amazing and sickening that so many neo-liberals, mothers and fathers, of whatever gender will vote for a war hawk. Hillary is just as power-hungry, aggressive in terms of foreign policy, and yes, nasty to the people around her as was Nixon.

And yes, I find it even more difficult to understand people telling us that they are proud to vote for a warmonger. I wonder, do Hillary Clinton’s supporters think that bloodshed is all brown people’s fault? Do they actually believe that America is drone throwing missiles and bombs over the Middle East in order to spread democracy and defend freedom?

Of course, Israel is the big bugaboo in the Middle East’s war-peace equation. Many Israeli citizens prefer peaceful coexistence. They tell us so through the wire. But American citizens? Still far too much Israel is always right rhetoric fills our ears. I see COEXIST peacenik bumper stickers on the vehicles of self-proclaimed liberals, but to me that slogan seems hypocritical.

I became aware of how American politics works right after the Eisenhower years. Nixon, as foul, psychologically paranoid, insecure and vengeful a man who ever occupied the Oval Office, taught me just how far down corruption can sink a nation. Evil penetrated every branch of the government. I was a young, strong and dedicated man back then. I joined millions of fellow protesters in the streets, marching, sitting in, paying a price in the coinage of batons, tear gas, kicks, arrests, handcuffs, bench trials, and the like. None of those costs came within a thousand degrees of what mostly poor young men who were drafted into the armed forces and sent to Southeast Asia, there to face death in terrifying ways, lived with for the rest of their lives, if they lived through it.

I am an old man now. Like many old people, I’ve lost a lot along the way, both because loss is part of the ends of lives, and because I made poor decisions.

But I have not lost my faith that there can, and so there will, come a time when our government will reject the notion that the end justifies the means.

This election of the year 2016 will probably be my last national election; I’m not likely to be around eight years from today, and if I am, my mind might well not be quick as it is today.

So, I’ll try for a few more parts to this essay in the near future, and then I’ll leave the world of electing government officials to the young people I knew way back when.

End Chapter I

    

Don Rosario’s Parte Femminile

Here’s one from the distant past, but the Don is yet remembered:

Church04600
Ave Maria, Ave Maria, Now push Don Bolini from his bed.

 

11 di agosto 2021

Salutos Don Bolini,

Con questa nota comes sad news to your doorstep.  Don Rosario, your dear father e capo della nostra famiglia, yesterday morning went away with the angels.  They sang several verses of Ave Maria before they pushed him from his deathbed and taught him how to fly.  You will be content to know that Rosario’s last words were meant for you.  La lettera, he groaned.  Send la lettera to my son Bolini.  I want the boy to know I was a sensitive man who endured life’s many difficulties and remained unafraid of his parte femminile.

Don Rosario, your dear father e capo della nostra famiglia, spent much breath and spirit on delivering this final message.  I think he died a little sooner as a result of all this effort, and this remains a matter of pride for those of us who knew him well.  As he spoke these words of love for you he pointed a crooked finger toward his table beside the bed, and then he was gone with the flutter of wings.

I sobbed for a few quiet moments, out of respect for the man who made my career in law enforcement when everyone else had given up on me as just another dyslexic Sicilian with a good wardrobe and the right accent.  Then I wiped away the tears and went for the lettera.  The words were still wet where Don Rosario, your dear father e capo della nostra famiglia, god rest his soul, had just seconds before scratched out the closing paragrafo and signed it all in blood.

May the good lord forgive me my sins, Don Bolini, and may you pardon me as well for my indiscretion, but I could not resist the temptation to read the lettera before I slipped it into its envelope, sealed it with your good father’s wax and gave it to Schiavo with instructions to ride day and night till he reached your gate.

The lettera is an unhappy memory, Don Bolini, but before I read the opening line I knew what my old friend would tell you.  I knew because I was there with him inside that green church basement on Tuesday nights.  If you ask me, your dear father e capo della nostra famiglia endured too much for his desire to open his heart to protestants.  Had he listened to my advice and instead joined the group therapy sessions at Santa Rosa’s on Wednesday nights he might sooner have settled matters between himself and Luigi.

But I move ahead too quickly.  You must read the lettera for yourself.  I trust that you will understand your dear father’s parte femminile much better once you’ve read his story, and that his revelation of a sensitive nature will make you all the more a strong successor to his title.

All stories of love and death must own their tragic sides, and this one is no different.  Don Rosario, your dear father e capo della nostra famiglia, god rest his soul, makes mention of a further note to conclude the tale he describes in questa lettera.  But he died too soon, and I think the angels now depend on me to finish what my good friend began.  Visit me soon, Don Bolini.  You might even ride in Schiavo’s sidecar on his return voyage.  Your father’s lettera is clipped to this one, so please turn the page.

I await you con affeto e rispetto.

Giovanni Ricci,

Assistant to Don Rosario,

Capo della nostra famiglia

**************

grandPopFam1000
È tutto in famiglia.

10 di agosto 2021

Figlio mio,

You must know more than the side of me that for so many years commanded rispetto from women and soldiers.  I must tell you of mis partes femminiles, that you might rule with tenderness as well as strength.  I haven’t much time left for writing; even now I hear the soft feather beat behind the last verses of Ave Maria.  I’m hoping for at least a few more days, but who can tell?

For several tragic months, long ago now, I was the helpless victim of Luigi’s lack of impulse control.  At the time I tried emphatically to convince Luigi to attend the Tuesday-night functions of our local support group (we gathered inside a green-fluorescent church basement blessed with presbyterian shadows and catholic holy water, there to moan our twelve-step recipes for heaven’s ravioli and to hum sweet repetitions of our manicotti mantras).

Luigi resisted all my pleas for his cooperation.  He insisted that he needed no outside support and that wooden folding chairs could do him permanent brain damage.  Of course, I lost my temper with the povercito mio, and a softly stubborn Luigi retreated ever farther from my voice the more I begged, slinking back and inward as if to entertain the testicular fascinations of a wounded turtle addicted to prosac.  For six months he made himself a hermit and I suffered all the more for his clinical depression.

These were among the darkest days of my existence.  No amount of coaxing, crying or commanding could shake Luigi from his determination to shrivel up and die.  I begged, and eventually I prayed — oh yes, even I must resort to prayer in desperate times — for Luigi’s return to an active life.  I whispered Hallmark verses and quoted Playboy platitudes.  I lipsang purple dance tunes and yodelled diaper lullabies.  I chanted Gregorian renditions of Ms. Cameron’s latest pieties.

Nothing worked and I was a mess.  Even now, at this honest and nervous moment, I find that tickling this phantom of a lost time prevents me from the further telling.  I am choked and tearful and I can’t go on.  Not for a while at least.  No matter how close may come the angels.

I’ll walk away from this lettera and shiver back to my bed.  I’ll throw myself onto my flowery down comforter, clutch my lace-edged pillow and weep (you must never be afraid to weep, Bolini).  If none of this works to bring me back toward sanity, then I’ll give myself a makeover, shave my face and treat my hair to another coat of Shirley’s Copper Blush.

Soon enough I’m sure that I’ll recover from this traumatic retrogression, and then perhaps I’ll relate to you the final chapter, the one I like to call “Epilogue, Luigi Comes Home.”

Maybe later, figlio mio.  For now lonely lacrimas cloud my eyes and the words begin to blur.  Oh god, life can be so sad and femminile!

Don Rosario,

Capo della nostra famiglia

World of Wonders

WonderfulWorldThose of you who have been reading me, here and elsewhere, for any length of time, know that I battle my tendency to sink low when something happens in my life that leaves me feeling lost and alone, even for a short time. During the past few years, several of my good friends, and one of my brothers, have died, leaving me to hope — but also wonder — if in some form, if in some way, I’ll once again be able to feel their friendship, not just today inside my heart, but also spirit-to-spirit, whatever shape, sound and size that ineffable reality might be. I miss those friends. I miss the warm, funny, silly, serious, sad and outrageous times we shared. Family and friendship really are the most valuable gems we can acquire in life. I have been fortunate to have shared parts of my life with many friends. Good people, all. I get to say those things and mean them now that I’m old, quite soon to be officially old in terms of certain of the USA’s societal rules. As well, in my oldest foggiest moments, while engaged in a conversation with a young person, I can say and mean things such as ArroyoCoffeeShop“Yes, but you have your whole life ahead of you.” The person whom I love most in this world scolds me whenever I talk like that. This morning, I told her my legs ached and my back hurt, and I felt old. She answered, “You need to get out of bed, take some Tylenol and get a move on, before I apply a pillow to your noggin.” I got up. She drove me here. Here is sitting inside this coffee shop in Arroyo Grande, CA, writing this longwinded, never get to the point, but always astute essay. The photographs featured with this article will show you what a pretty place this is. Now, I’m no genius, far from it, but for all my brutish mistakes in life, still, I remain a man of average intelligence (however that hoo ha  concept of intelligence is these days defined by the high and mighty intellijudges who sit on the high intellicourts that in turn rule and devise academia-mania IQ tests.) When I was a working stiff, I had to pretend that I gave credence to such tests. I didn’t, but objecting out loud to such nonsense caused me further trouble. And during my younger years, I was loud, clear and articulate. I am physically a small man, so words quick became my weapon of choice.  Several of my superiors throughout the years modified my divinely inspired name to include the epithet Firebrand. If I still hesitate, out of a worn-out sense of pride, to admit to the title Firebrand, I will admit that I was oftentimes a wise ass. ArroyoStreetOf course, in later years, Harvard Professor Howard Gardner designed a new outline of sorts to describe what he felt certain were seven kinds of intelligence. Apparently the Prof wasn’t initially so certain that he wouldn’t allow later high-class intellectual pedigrees to modify his outline. Sorta like the first ten ammendments to the USA’s constitution, followed by seventeen more, although one such amendment nixed another. I’m rusty where my Catholic theology is concerned, but I don’t think God allowed for any ammendments to his tablets of commandments. Correct me if I’m mistaken. Yes, I said mistaken, because we Sicilians are never wrong. Anyway, the expert academicians now list for us at least nine types of intelligence. I suppose there’s a lot of good thought involved in all that elitist rigmarole, but after thirty-seven years in the trenches, I still wouldn’t dare to try to define the concept of smarts. Feels too much like judging a human being based on my own definitions, or on someone else’s PhD thesis’ conclusions, when in truth each person owns the right to define his or her own smarts. *** ArroyoGazeboAnd how in the woo woo did I manage to lead off with that mini-rant?  It’s all the fault of a long ago friend with whom I recently reconnected. My writing drags, winds and curls into itself, whereas what my friend writes entertains his audience. I chuckle when I’m reading his work. I need that universal medicine, laughter, as much as the next person. I consider this friend from my distant past to be a master writer and entertainer for many reasons, not the least of which is that he just lets go with honesty and respect intact. I’m not the only one of his readers to say so. But I won’t here mention his name, because he claims to be shy about praise, and I believe him. I knew him many decades ago as a kind, insightful, comical and gentle man. If memory serves me at all well in my old age, then this friend of mine was, even way back then, a wee bit timid. Except . . . yes, except when he was acting as a teacher to young people. There and then he acted as a confident and relaxed master. I know this because I witnessed many of his performances. In some ways this long prologue (the word prologue holds more dignity than the term please get to the point nonsense) does indeed relate to the title of this article. See, as I thought about curling back up under the blankets, fetal style this morning, those deaths of friends, one of whom was just mentioned to me yesterday by the friend and writer I allude to here, along with the aches, pains and advanced-age associated physical limitations, left me feeling self-righteous about entertaining self-pity. And although my pretty partner booted my egotistical butt enough to encourage me to rise from the almost dead, once outside, where morning clouds let go to reveal afternoon sunshine, I felt obligated by a sense of honesty to admit that old or not, that having suffered loss or not, that with further loss and suffering to come included, this old world is indeed full of wonder. For all that I may feel is wrong with this world, and I do grow sad and sometimes angry by how mean we human beings can be to each other, there is plenty that is right with this world. I’ve just now tipped the one thousand word mark; nothing new for me there, but I’ll here on out try to limit the final paragraphs, to speak of just one right thing, one world wonder that I discovered in just the past few days. Let the photos associated with this article represent a few more bits of beauty I enjoyed today. About my friend, the talented, honest and humorous blogger. As I already mentioned, I knew him decades ago. He was a good man then, and from his writing and his photographs I now know that in spite of a long, dedicated but difficult career helping others in need, this guy hasn’t lost one bit of what was always good about him. And as justice sometimes does play itself out, this writer friend, I now discover, met and married a smart, pretty and talented woman. Together they share a son and two sweet grandchildren. That’s just perfect. That’s plenty enough to leave me with a smile today. This world is full of a lot of realities, some more sad than others. But whenever I discover a set of world wonders, I celebrate each and every one of them. Ciao, AVT

Joey Found Dan, Or Did Dan Find Joey?

AVT
AVT considers his good fortune.

I’ve been traveling round the Internet since well before the World Wide Web became a public phenomenon. I remember the days when we curious geekatrons paid $12.00 an hour to the likes of Compuserve or AOL. Pioneer programmers helped us reduce the financial burden by creating software that allowed us to get on, grab the information we needed, and then get off fast to read while offline so as not to run up our tabs. All of these data running through a telephone wire, aided by a screeching, real modem (as in MODulate DEModulate the analog signal). I felt like a trailblazer who each day discovered more about where in the world one might travel while sitting on his bum da bum bum. One memorable morning, I found myself, by way of a program called gopher, perusing the stacks of a library in Sweden. I don’t read Swedish, but that didn’t matter. I was there! I had discovered something (i.e. the way) to reach something new (i.e. Information)! New information that entertained me, that stirred my bloody Sicilian brew, that urged me to call out to the person nearest me to say, “Hey, you have to see this! Perhaps you’ll even enjoy an adrenalin boost by way of reading it, no matter the lengua Swedish.”

I think it was John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, and creator of the term Scientifiction, which later evolved to become the term Science Fiction, who first spoke of that genre’s ability to elicit a “sense of wonder” in its readers. (If I’m mistaken about that please GoogleCorrect my lapse.) My early days as an Internet explorer oftentimes provoked that same reaction from me. This feeling regarding online excitement, the likes of which could raise even a Sicilian’s naturally sky-high blood pressure, might be difficult to imagine for the younger members of my audience (i.e. anyone who jumps out of bed in the morning without groaning).

Anyhow, and anywho, and also anyway, these days my hair is gray, my knees ache, and Google researchers have all but retired and replaced us paperback-book toting, hard-bound dictionary addicted, graceful disco darling old farts. Sure enough, through the Internet I learn new information. I gain knowledge, most of which sooner or later slips through the tired follicles on my head, and I’m glad to do so. Wisdom, no. Knowledge, often and for a while.

Hey, it's me! Joey!
Hey, it’s me! Joey!

BUT . . . only on a rare occasion do I find myself supremely entertained when I come upon a blog for the first time. This happened to me a few days ago, and if you read further — that is if you’ll do my aging but stubborn ego the favor of reading this entire ramble — I’ll soon enough give you the link.

But first a little back story. I didn’t lead with it, so I’m allowed to wander, rather stumble, backward in time. I have a friend, a paisano as a matter of fact who calls himself Joey Fiorella (josephfiorella@aol.com ). Joey’s a sweet enough guy, and he’s — as youngsters are these days wont to say — hot. But that much is to be expected. After all, Mr. Fiorella is Sicilian. As is required of each and every one of us of the noble Sons of Italy, Joey has been trained from infancy to sing romantic ballads, to dance with a swan’s grace, to love with romance uppermost in his candlelit mind, and to recognize great writing, the kind of writing that is born of the minds of superior storytellers. I am but a wordsmith. The blog to which Mr. Fiorella recently referred me is written by a natural born ale, er . . . I mean tale spinner. Forgive my use of a perhaps overwrought expression, but this author, his apparent name is Dan Hen (maybe that appellation comes from his mother’s side), he will make you laugh, weep and whistle, all at the same time.

Now, as I binge read (that’s a modern expression to this old man), but as I scrolled, reverse scrolled, read and read again, something familiar regarding Mr. Hen’s writer’s voice struck my ear. I felt as if I could hear the man’s Irish brogue, see the devilish twinkle in his eyes, watch him mount the nearest rock there to exhort me to believe that a powerful force who ruled the universe would one day save me. Although sitting at my desk, staring through the tears in my eyes, and begging myself to read more, still I rose from that chair, stretched my arms and hands as if to reach the clouds above, and exclaimed, “Alleluiah! This guy is smart and funny!”

If you should heed my recommendation to visit Mr. Dan Hen, please don’t mention my insignificant name. That would do a disservice to my dear Sicilian compadre, Il Signore Fiorella. Instead, leave a comment there. Tell Dan Hen that Joey sent you.

HERE’S THE LINK TO Mr. HEN’S SITE:

http://bit.ly/1M3JlDT

AVT Goes Christmas Shopping

MeJuly2015Yesterday morning, when I first awoke, I set myself a goal: to find as many moments of holiday happiness as I could that day, no matter where I walked. No matter what I saw. No matter whom I met or how many people I passed along the way.

But I next reminded myself that the particular way that day would be somewhat unfamiliar to me. My kind and loyal chauffeur offered to take me Christmas shopping.  I’m not much of a shopper at any time of year, but yesterday being the twenty-first of December, I figured that the stores’ aisles would feature a freeway’s worth of carts speeding at up to twenty-five miles per hour, bumping the fannies of folks who dared to block a certain lane while searching for that perfect present. As well, I imagined a few parking lot fender benders, agitated holiday elves exchanging insurance information, all the while staring off toward a particular shop’s wide windows, hoping that last techno-toy hadn’t yet been snatched by a competitor.

Holy manicotti! I woke up that morning of the twenty-first hugging optimistic intentions, but after a trip around the kinks and curls of my mind, I began to feel shaky and unsure of myself, as if I were yet asleep and unwilling to face the sunrise.

The script I’d created somewhere far behind my eyes, I realized, might make a decent horror movie. But where inside that unnerving story, I asked myself, might I enjoy a day filled with contentment and peace of mind if I’m to be surrounded by a frenzied herd of anxious consumers? Could I achieve my goal against such overhwelming odds? Might I discover holiday happiness in a parking lot full of frantic elfenfolk? I further considered the distinct possibility of acquiring a permanent, cart-shaped dimple in my otherwise pristine fanny and decided that such a wound would be unfair to an old man already scarred by life’s inevitable battles with oneself.

And then there’s to mention the fact that crowds leave me feeling closed into a tight corner and in need of enough free air to breathe in deep until my lungs fill like two balloons.

Holiday happiness in a parking lot
Holiday happiness in a parking lot

AVT’s Conscience Interrupts

No, Mr. AVT! No, you cannot find happiness if you imagine calamity before you leave the house. Remember all that writing you did just a few days ago about positive attitudes and starting out on the right foot? Have you forgotten what you said in those two articles?

Or worse yet, didn’t you mean what you wrote?

Try this. Remove the suit of armor you’re wearing. That’s right, get naked. No one’s watching, and no one cares. Now, allow the breeze to blow against your skin. Close your eyes and pay attention as the sweat evaporates and thus cools your vulnerable body. This is what it means to be human. You are indeed a human being, although you can — by force of stubborn will — deny your humanity and choose to see others as obstacles, which is tantamount to considering people as your enemies.

Or, by that same force of will, you are free to shed your defensive posture, bury your suit of armor, cross what you once perceived as the field of battle, shake hands with your compatriots, and join the club that requires no dues.

SuperMkt
Oh, those fantastic carts!

Those racing carts are pushed by enthusiastic people, people who are searching for gifts that might please the people they love. Can you see them smile when the gift they hold seems to match the friend or relative they’re thinking about? Can you hear the concern in their voices as they discuss the people they love? Are you listening?

And just who in that parking lot that you imagined feels frantic? Are you there to watch out for happiness, as you promised yourself, or are you too busy anticipating a fender bender that may never happen?

One more thing, Ebenezer AVT, before I leave you to yourself: Your fanny is as old as the rest of you, so it’s hardly pristine. Should someone’s shopping cart nudge your right or left cheek, I suggest letting that nudge tickle you there. If you think hard enough about what’s happening, you just might enjoy the experience. Remember when you were young, when your derriere was as smooth and tight as a peach? Back then I believe you would have given a lot to feel such a titillating touch.

AVT Reconsiders

The pleasure of giving, and the anticipation of receiving.
The pleasure of giving, and the anticipation of receiving.

Conscience, you make some good points. Yes, I remember what I wrote about adjusting my attitude, and stepping out on the foot that will lead me toward the greatest amount of pleasure.

The truth is that I can enjoy the refreshing cheerfulness of people during this holiday season only if I look for it. If I fail to open my eyes wide enough, then individual people can easily become a single, boisterous crowd. Better to listen to what people are saying to each other than to back away and so hear only noise. At this time of year, if I train my ears to hear happiness passing through the air, I’m likely to hear people greeting each other with wishes for a happy holiday.

Ebenezer AVT Enjoys Himself?

I should earlier have said that yesterday morning I awoke, set myself a noble goal, became possessed by the ghost of a crank named Ebenezer, paid heed to a fearsome apparition who resembled me, then reawakened a new and startled man.

Startled at first only because I found myself naked, and on inspection, in possession of a far less than pristine fanny.

Startled a second time, because nowhere — not even in the dusty corners of my chambers — could I find my suit of armor.

And startled thrice by the buoyant air of pleasure that filled my heart and swelled my gray-haired head.

Three startling occurences while I slept inside the cynical side of my mind.

Three. Is that biblical? Or is that evidence that Charles D. still wanders the netherworld, free of chains and generous with his good advice?

Whatever. Let it be.

Yesterday, after I awoke that second, wondrous time, my kind chauffeur told me that my eyes sparkled with apparent joy, and my voice nearly erupted with positive emotion.

We went Christmas shopping. My chauffeur parked the limousine. Long and luxurious though the vehicle is, and tight though was the parking slot, she survived without a scrape. I lept out from the passenger side and enjoyed a hearty, ho-ho-ho kind of laugh. Which evidence of happiness proved itself contagious.

As we walked toward the nearest shop, its windows aglitter with Christmas lights, not one, but several people addressed me with extravagant wishes for a Merry Christmas. I discovered that an unfamiliar spirit of delight inhabited my heart. I asked my chauffeur if we might not pick up our pace. I could hardly wait to enter the shop and grasp the handle of the first available shopping cart.

And yes, dear readers, I halted my voyage mid-aisle and bent a slight way over at the waist.

The nudge, or should I say the tickle, felt so good that I wanted to ask her to do it again.

Pristine or not, this old man owns sensitive parts.

****

Epilogue:

Tickled or not, after all that Christmas shopping, I found myself in need of peaceful atmosphere. And so I and my chauffeur took a stroll through the woods.

SpringsPath01

Ciao, ciao,

AVT

An Enthusiastic Library Hermit

Encouraging to see real books made of paper. A comfort to this old man.
Encouraging to see real books made of paper. A comfort to this old man.

I am an old man, and so too I am an old story. Some people tell me that my short tales too often look backward, into my long-ago years. These kind, tentative readers go on to say that immersing oneself in the nostalgic fantasy that the good old days were somehow better, more comfortable, easier to understand and so easier to negotiate is an intrinsically foolish notion. Further, they suggest evidence that contradicts the supposed good that defined the old days. They point out wars wherein evil dictators subjugated and murdered those they considered their lesser enemies. As well, these occasional readers remind me of the overt expressions of rank racism that were daily accepted, or worse ignored, by the folks who built the Twilight Zone town of Willoughby (Season 1, Episode 30). In short, my disappointed readers mention facts that indeed make it clear that not all was good back in the good old days. Far from it.

Nonetheless, I persist in traveling backward to the familial and societal practices that were truer, cleaner, more hopeful and yes, better than those practiced today. I also write about the fine and friendly traditions of my good old days that have today survived and thrived.

****

I LEARN TO LOVE READING

Hidden in the stacks. One of the most private places, where one can contemplate what one reads.
Hidden in the stacks. One of the most private places, where one can contemplate what one reads.

My mother, angry and depressed person though she was most of the time, recognized that I was a smart kid. She taught me to read well before I began grammar school, and with what little spare money she had after feeding and clothing four boys and a husband, she bought me a few books. Like most children who early on catch the reading bug, I would read whatever book she placed in front of me.

Heidi quick became one of my favorite stories. After completing my endless line of chores, I’d close myself inside my bedroom, lie belly down on my bed, wiggle my body close to the cool plaster wall, and enter Heidi’s world, a safe world, where her at first hesitant grandfather soon comes to love, guide and protect her. Back then, I couldn’t have arranged the words to explain what I felt while I read, but I felt more comforted and more protected in Heidi’s world than in my own. I wanted to travel to snowy Switzerland, there to meet Grandfather, Heidi and Klara.

I CRAVE COMFORT & ESCAPE INSIDE LIBRARIES

Most of my classmates mentally hopped about inside their maplewood school seats when June arrived. They dreamt of playing street football; of being a Little League Baseball hero; or of careening down the steep hill of Thompson Avenue, their feet snuggly keyed into metal roller skates. Bicycle races, too, were popular, especially the ones that often ended in crashes that warriors would recount for days afterward. For those boys and girls, all of that exertion of the body meant freedom. Freedom from the strict enforcement of school rules and a fresh-air break from the incomprehensible mysteries of mathematics.

This library still offers quiet, cozy corners for reading. I said QUIET.
This library still offers quiet, cozy corners for reading. I said QUIET.

But none of that dreaming was for me. I was a nerd, although the word nerd wasn’t one of those used by my mates to describe me, not way back then. Weirdo, retard, pussy, and sometimes faggot. The reason? Two reasons, actually. 1. I loved school. I wanted to learn more.  I didn’t want the school year to end. 2. Summers spent at home with my mother meant that I’d be allowed no time for playing with my classmates; and I could not tell them the reason. The telling would only make things worse at home. Explaining further, even here today, would only spoil the heart of this article: Libraries are indeed an escape, especially for an intelligent but troubled child. I could not tell my classmates that I wasn’t allowed to play with anyone during the summer months.

****

My seventh grade teacher, Mr. Steven Bretcher, told us that we had to be twelve years old to be eligible for a public library card. Once I met Mr. Bretcher, I knew the true meaning of stern. The man never smiled. He wore the same, square-shouldered suit each day. He placed his desk at the back of the room, and from there he watched — and I imagine he hoped for — some dull but innocent kid to commit a sin, a slight infraction of the rules. Linda Williams, dressed in a prim, pleated skirt and a lacey white blouse, lit Mr. Bretcher’s fuse one morning by reading the morning bible passage too slowly. “Can’t you just say water fast like everyone else, fer chrissake?” he screamed. Linda started to weep. “Not that act again,” he yelled. “Just go sit down.”

I can say for sure that Mr. Bretcher was not one of the good things about the good old days. Nowadays, however, I feel sorry for him. At that time, not too many men taught seventh grade. I suspect that Steve Bretcher hated his job. Further I suspect that he felt trapped. I knew even then how being trapped feels. Maybe he should have tried the library.

The twelve-year-old rule sort of ruined my plans, or rather postponed them. My twelfth birthday that year wouldn’t arrive until Friday, August 10th. Summer birthdays were a drag for several reasons, one being that it was tough to get invitations out to kids who are off vacationing, while you’re home cleaning the toilet for the third time that week. On the positive side of nature, you could say I acquired a strong work ethic by way of my mother’s sick and strict rules regarding cleanliness and godliness.

Whenever my eys and mind grow fatigued and far too full of random facts, I stare through a window, and thus reassure myself.
Whenever my eyes and mind grow fatigued and far too full of random facts, I stare through a window, and thus reassure myself that the world outside is reflected inside books.

I ARRIVED AND HUDDLED INSIDE THE PINK LIBRARY

That summer, I worked my chores without complaint. As well, I praised my mother for her attention to every detail, for her neverending hunt for the one dustball that escaped the vacuum tube, for her use of a magnified eye when checking the bathroom’s corners for a vagrant pubic hair.

And I intermittently thanked her for teaching me to read. I effervesced when I spoke of the books she had purchased for me. I enthused whenever I scrubbed the kitchen floor, the whole time quoting Robert Frost.

I’ll never be sure if my mother took my thanks to heart and melted, or if she just became so sick and tired of hearing my romantic poetry that she surrendered, figuring it might be better to imprison me inside the local library than to listen to me croak on about which road I’d take.

Whichever, or whatever. I today must be kind and realize that my mother, an avid reader herself, understood my craving for books. Books, and the stories within them, were to me more delicious than any food. I feel the same way today (although I admit that if one day I’m starving to death, I’ll beg for manicotti before even thinking about Richard Yates or Daphne DuMaurier).

On Saturday, August 11th, my mother and I walked the mile and a half up Main St., turned right on West Washington Blvd. and made our way to the local library’s front door.

The building was made of cinderblock walls, painted pink. Perhaps ten rows of blocks were piled one on top of the other, cement stripes between each row, before the walls gave way to wide picture windows. I stared through those windows at the rows of books that were lined up there. Here and there, between those lines of books vines of green philodendron climbed down from the ceiling.

We walked inside and approached the librarian’s desk. I’ll never remember her name, but the kindness inside her voice remains with me today. Library cards were filled out with typewriter and fountain pen. I held the card in my hand, stared at my full name on the top line, and something inside my chest swelled.

After a brief walkaround, the librarian explaining all the way the meaning of the Dewey Decimal System, and the way to use the card catalog, both ladies left me alone to browse. Alone for a time that felt endless and full of adventure.

I bent down and lay on my belly, wiggled my body close to the shelf of books that first took my fancy. I pulled out one book, scanned a few pages, then repeated the process many times over, until I realized that I could stay right there, that I could live inside that pink library and read there for the rest of my life. I was twelve just the day before. As such, I still ignored that nagging adult sense of practicalities.

After what might have been an hour, I walked out of that pink library, with two books in my right hand, and my mother’s hand inside my left. Eli Whitney, Master Craftsman. We Were There At The Battle For Bataan.

If God lay there with me that day, then perhaps He could explain my choice of books. I can say only — and yes, I repeat myself here — that back then, back in the good old days of my youth, if you handed me most any book, I’d find that book interesting.

Nowadays, near the end of my voyage along the river, I am more apt to put a book down if that book doesn’t take me away. But wouldn’t life as an old man be so much more wonderful if that man could reawaken his child’s sense of enthusiasm?

At the least, I am to this day in love with libraries. May they always exist to serve the great population of kind readers.

Ciao, Ciao,

Anthony