Revenge

Some of our greatest literature is about revenge. As I kid, how I loved revenge movies. The 50s Noir movies, the “Blaxplotation” genre (“Shaft…right on”), etc. Lee Marvin and Terrence Stamp, two great and underrated actors, were in classic revenge films.

In “Point Blank,” Walker (Marvin) goes after the guys who framed him. Does he get them? Of course—he’s Lee Marvin. (See Marvin’s Hickey in “The Iceman Cometh” if you doubt his acting ability.) “The Limey” features Terrence Stamp coming from England to exact revenge for the murder of his daughter. Even the wonderful Michael Caine did a turn as “Harry Brown,” an old man, retired mobster, who wipes out young people—very satisfying. And who can forget Uma Thurman killing hundreds of swordsmen/women in “Kill Bill?”

Shakespeare did not pen the phrase, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” He did write the greatest revenge play of them all: “Hamlet.” Hamlet plots killing lots of people (what teenage male does not?), but he actually kills no one.

Is revenge, the killing of a person or persons who killed your beloved, the best form of retribution? I say no. Because the person you bumped off is gone. What then? Kill Bill is kill. All the teenagers are dead. The mobsters are dead and more mobsters will seek honor in coming after you. Shaft’s shaft has gone limp, Sheba Baby is Sheba Old Lady.

Instead of threatening your concubine with: “I will kill you,” try this: “I curse you with shingles!” Shingles is the answer!

Give your enemy shingles… and watch as he/she pussifies, burns, weeps, pulsates, pustulates, palpitates with itches, panics, pleads for God to kill him/her (not this time, sucker!), screams in agony, begs to die, the kid behind your victim points at his/her flaming, scaly head and screams, “Ma it’s the monster from “The Terror!” (Monday nights on AMC) YES!

Claudia, you who wouldn’t kiss me on prom night after I shelled out a hundred bucks for a corsage and a limo: I hope you get shingles! Hedi Weiss, gum chomping theater critic of the Chicago Sun Times who wrote: “Watching Mr. Baldwin’s play is like riding a slow train up a very steep hill”: I hope you get shingles! James Franco, rapist of literature for films and least talented actor on the planet, in the universe: I hope you get shingles! Kanye, you murmuring, mountebank Minnie the Moocher of “music”: I hope you get shingles!

I feel better already. To the Trumpstars: the billionaire and his wife; Sarah Huckleberry Hound; the Witches of West Wing; Ugly Rudy (who’s ugly? You are!); Michael Cohen goes to jail ashore, hallelujah; Lil Pissy Pence: I hope you get shingles!

As for Don Blankenship, coal executive (he said Obama was responsible for the 29 miners’ deaths HE was found guilty for): Revenge! May Walker and the Limey and Shaft (right on!) drill into your shaft, fill it with coal dust powder and baby, light your fire. Oh yes—and give you shingles.

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The Facts

I am not a journalist so much as an essayist. A reader offended by a newspaper article, one hopes, understands the difference between the story and the story writer. A reader offended by my opinions can vent to me, stop reading my work and or equate my opinions to me as a person. Or threaten me.

Writers are under siege all around the world. Despotic regimes cannot survive if the free press reports the facts. And they view essayists as trouble makers. The more extreme among the despots think nothing of killing journalists or writers. Truth and despotism are opposed. Worldwide from 2001through 2017, 780 journalists have been killed. A newer trend shows women journalists to be more likely be a target.

“The New York Times and a third-rate reporter named Maggie Habberman [sic], known as a Crooked H flunkie [sic] who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will “flip.” They use non-existent “sources” and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected.”

The quote is from a morning tweet-a-thon posted by our president. See photos of him posing with Haberman in the Oval Office, his arm around her. His words and thoughts reveal low intelligence. To use a baseball cliché—because I’m an essayist not a journalist—the facts show us a “farm club” right-winger trying to leap into The Show. Having been raised by wealthy, racist parents, our hero boasts of his Mob connections, his misogyny, and his willingness to step on the little people.

By reporting what the man wrote, I am telling a factual truth. By writing what I feel about it, I am expressing my opinion—my emotional truth—which may delight or anger some of you. I don’t care.

Maggie Haberman is a widely respected journalist. Each of her stories contain at least three fact sources—good journalism. The fact that the facts have been declared fake does not change the facts.

Evangelical pastor addressing his congregation: “There has been some confusion among evangelicals as to what currently constitutes sin in the eyes of the church. So to clarify, we now condone the following conduct: lewdness, vulgarity, profanity, adultery and sexual assault. Exemptions to Christian values also include greed, bullying, conspiring, boasting, lying, cheating, sloth, envy, wrath, gluttony and pride.”

That is satire, of course, by Garry Trudeau in this morning’s “Doonesbury.” It reflects the facts of the evangelical church’s shocking willingness to overlook the above commissions and acts of our president which clearly have nothing to do with Christianity. Why?

If your response includes the words “lyin’ Hillary,” you sir, you ma’am are sycophants. You ought to be ashamed. You are equating not answering—either because you can’t answer, or you are still pissed off about that black president who had the temerity to win an election, mostly because of a solid black vote and an overwhelming white vote. You lost. And you’re going to continue to lose because the world will not spin backwards no matter how hard you pray.

What are the options for coopted evangelicals and right-wing populists? Gun toting: Happening. Insulting workers or patrons of stores because of cultural dress or color: Happening. White terrorism: Happening. Assassination: Happening. Whoa, who got killed? Elijah P. Lovejoy, Martin Luther King, the Kennedy brothers, Malcom X, the current student and church massacres, lynching (4,730), and the list goes on.

Journalists and essayists, writers in general are being killed the world over. As if my brothers and sisters will stop what they’re doing. A friend of mine recently told me that I needed to stop pissing people off re writing. The friend had heard people in their church discussing me, how I didn’t belong here and I had better learn my place. Stick to whimsy. They like that.

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Ayn, You’un

Paul Ryan is going home. Yay! He wants to spend time with his kids. Yay! Kids: Dad, please, no more Ayn Rand!

If you haven’t noticed, novelist and Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand is hot with current Republicans. Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Steve Bannon and the ilk. If you haven’t read Rand, you don’t get the fuss.

I read all of Rand’s (Ayn, not Rand Paul) books as a teenager. In the age before internet porn, teenage boys read Ayn Rand and masturbated. Rand was all about European elitism and selfishness and exploitation of the world’s resources for their own benefit—I mean Objectivism. Her prose is purple, swollen, erect, explosive.

Let us imagine seventh grader Paul Ryan in his bedroom, reading “The Fountainhead,” about a visionary man (white narcissist of course) named Howard Roark who sublimates by designing buildings, or “Atlas Shrugged,” where America is falling into ruin, its government systematically seeking out brilliant people and stifling their creativity, for the greater good.

And little Paulie R. plays with his hairless little friend between his legs and formulates his own ideas regarding the downtrodden and the rich.

The Objectivists are “brilliant” people—just ask them—defined by a second-rate philosopher who lived a soap opera life of scandal, was not the least objective, and a scribbler of succulent prose who proposed that elite Europeans should more or less stomp the little people on their way to building giant erections (skyscrapers). It doesn’t sound sexy to modern ears. And that’s one of the problems.

Republicans loathe intimacy but like orgasms. Many prefer illicit orgasms. They’re all about the squirt. Ayn Rand is a prose squirter. It would be a match made in heaven (except, Rand was an atheist), Ayn and Stevie B. and the right wingers masturbating around a campfire. (Ronald Reagan was a regular at a California nature retreat where he and Henry Kissinger and others squirters peed together. I’m not making it up; the New Yorker wrote a feature about it.)

But. Rand would despise the current Republicans with their collective tiny IQ. Not for her, evangelical squirters and “Babbitt” squirters and the like. Ayn was a smart Fascist.

“She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.” The great writer Flannery O’Connor writing to a friend about Ayn Rand, Rand having commented that Spillane was better than Tolstoy.
It’s not just the turgid writing. Objectivism failed to note that the vaunted freedom of the supermen would come at the price of creating what we are just now aware: the rape of the planet, to the benefit of businessmen and no one else. Business, like evangelicalism now cries with the voice of tRump: We’re endangered, too much regulation, war on Christians. Bullshit. The war is on us.

So … Paul Ryan, you onanism-loving son of a gun, settle back and read NBR—nothing but Rand—until you puke of pusillanimous prose poisoning. You long ago rejected the art of thinking, and you are condemned to keep your mouth shut. As for your kids, may they rebel and make your Ayn Rand-loving self, miserable.

Congratulations on your retirement!

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Riddle Me This

Black is white,

Achromatic white is not black,

And Custer was yellow

 

African is Asian,

Asians Bering gifts are Indian givers

And whiteface Andrew Jackson sees red

 

First Man was bronzeblack,

Huitzilopchtli’s Aztecans copperybrown,

And Jefferson is jaundiced

 

 

 

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Bud’s Hole

It has been a while since I wrote about my friend Farmer Orville. We’ve both had some health issues lately, and we’ve cut back on the cookies. But I’m happy to say we had a great visit this afternoon. He told me what was wrong with him and I countered with what was wrong with me.
 
Orville and his wife Quilt Queen have had a guest for the last two weeks, Bud the Dog. Old Bud, his Irish setter’s face as white as ash, is sharing quarters with Ruby Puppy. His mistress, their granddaughter Kate had a baby, and she needed Bud to be taken care of, and Bud loves Ruby Puppy.
 
Which is a miracle if you know the full story. A couple of months ago, Bud started having seizures and trouble breathing. Anticipating the worst, Orville hiked out to the dog/cat cemetery just left of the beehive in the north meadow. He dug a grave next to Reba the farm dog and Cat the barn cat, both noble animal friends of mine. He called me on the phone: “Bud is dyin’, I’ll be burying him tomorrow.”
 
Miracle of miracles, Bud rebounded—Orville opined that a comely bitch in heat must have passed by—and these days he runs around like a pup. Bud’s grave went unfilled. “Well,” Orville said today, “I am ailin’, you are ailin’, Bud is old. We will hold us a contest, see who gets Bud’s hole.”
 
I am not in any particular hurry to lie in Bud’s hole. Oh yes, it would be much less expensive than Gent’s Funeral Home, but I just am not ready for the Home or the Hole. Besides, it (the hole) would have to be lengthened; I am a taller drink of water. You could fit two of Orville in the hole, or one Bud. “Well then,” Orville said, “Gene, we’ll put you in the compost heap. Tomato planting is not too far off.”
 
I told my friend that I had heard a song on a bluegrass radio station today: “Only two things you can count on/True love and homegrown tomatoes.”
 
I will get my fill of homegrown tomatoes this summer. Every year, I set up a tomato tab—a running account of how many pounds of those luscious red babies I consume. At season’s end I present the list to Orville and pull out my checkbook. He then slaps the checkbook out of my hand and tells me to forget it. It’s the same with the “pick your own” blackberries. Such rituals remind me that I am a lucky man.
 
Orville tried to send me home with a cake. Fortunately, I don’t care for cake. You never know with a dressed-up, iced-up cake. Strip away the artful icing, and the thing is a gamble. For every German chocolate cake, there is a Bundt cake or angel food cake or sponge cake or fruit cake—things you eat then feel guilty about the next day, like that dressed-up “girl” you met on a blind date. Besides, cake will lead you sooner than later to Bud’s Hole.
 
Bud is alive; magic is afoot. Orville talks non-stop about death, which only makes him animated and more fully alive. I am alive and headed for a nap, to sleep to dream about dancing girls—there had better be dancing girls in heaven.
And true love and homegrown tomatoes.
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Genehouse Movie Review: “Bone Tomahawk”

“Bone Tomahawk,” the first film of director/writer S. Craig Zahler, is one of the greatest westerns ever made. An unlikely ensemble led by Kurt Russel (sheriff), Richard Jenkins (addled deputy), Mathew Fox (vengeful gunslinger) and Patrick Wilson (his wife is among the kidnapped) head out to rescue some hostages being held by a band of unnamed Native Americans.

This quartet reminded me of those John Wayne films like “Rio Bravo,” with Wayne as the sheriff, Ricky Nelson as the gunslinger, Walter Brennan as the addled deputy and Dean Martin as the drunk seeking redemption. The difference is “Rio Bravo” and its stereotypical ilk are scrubbed-clean fairy tales whereas “Bone Tomahawk” is so historically accurate it grabs your emotions and twists them into knots—of horror and art. “Bone Tomahawk” reminds one of no less than Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Filmed entirely just 30 miles from Los Angeles and on a shoestring budget, you will believe that you are in the desert wilderness, and you will be scared.

The terrifying unnamed Indians (all native actors), covered in chalk and bone decorations, are based on theories of the annihilation of the Anasazi nation. Recent caramelized bone evidence revealed that the Anasazi were cannibalized by an unknown invading force, most likely Central America, forcing individual families to split from the tribe and flee or be eaten. White settlers in the West, mindful of Andrew Jackson’s vision of Manifest Destiny, nearly exterminated the First People. There was savagery all around. The British introduced scalping to the New World; the Indians learned well.

The sheriff and companions set out for a three-day journey into hell. They lose their horses the first night and walk on—and talk. A Richard Jenkins’ monologue as he waits to be eaten, about flea circuses (are they real?) sets the tone. The men face death yet chat about the news. It is their way of life. There isn’t a “God bless America” character in sight. The searchers of “Bone Tomahawk” sweat and bleed and accept their fates as inevitable.

Contrast the Wayne westerns where the characters’ costumes are grossly inaccurate and the horsemen are always noble and clean, there’s always a bad actor pop star breaking out in sappy song, and there’s always comic relief from gimpy Brennan or Ward Bond or Barry Fitzgerald as the drunk Irishmen.

I have never seen Richard Jenkins play so out of his comfort zone. His great films, “The Visitor,” “The Shape of Water,” and his TV work in “Olive Kitteridge” and the wonderful series “Six Feet Under” make him on of the greatest character actors in the history of cinema. Kurt Russell was born to play this sheriff, as opposed to the Wayne-like Wyatt Earp in “The Gunfight at the OK Corral.” He is noble, cranky and decent, and scarily pragmatic as in “if you die, you die.” Patrick Wilson is astounding, as the crippled husband in danger of losing an infected leg yet keeps on walking, to save his wife.

These men and the men they are pursuing have no illusions about life and a certainty about death. The film is billed as a Western Horror movie. This is not a teen slasher flick, though the last 30 minutes will make your bladder weak. Unlike actual horror films, the horror here is human beings.

“Bone Tomahawk” is out on DVD. If you let your kids watch this film, be prepared for nightmares and a Bad Parent of the Year Award. If you love good acting, westerns, genius storytelling and Hero Quests on a Kurosawa level, you will enjoy this thrill ride in the ultimate unamusement park.

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The Sound Was Sounds

It was the middle of the night. I was dreaming; I thought the sounds were part of the scene. My first impression was that a puppy was in trouble: high-pitched whines coming from somewhere. I came to. The sound was sounds. The house was surrounded. Circling sounds.

I looked out the living room window. Four or five coyotes were romping around. Then they were on my side porch then the back yard. Around and around they ran. A much larger shadow loomed, spilling from the forsythia bushes. The mother. Eventually the kits gathered around her, and she cuffed them and licked them then settled onto her side and the kits suckled.

The afternoon before, I had stopped on the River Road and watched four immature bald eagles. They were perched like heavy ornaments in a small tree, the branches sagging. Eagles don’t waste energy. They spend their lives perching mostly, taking breaks to fish or soar. The river was alive with activity: herons, egrets, pelicans, vultures, falcons, hawks—the opposites of eagles—hunting, fishing, feeding the children, seemingly never resting.

Like eagles, we mostly rest. Unlike eagles or any other living thing on the planet, we control it all. Religions believe that mankind is God’s miracle. The Old Testament scribes who wrote that, as philosophy and law, were narcissists, self-interested, fatally flawed in scientific reasoning, utterly devoid of introspection about the teeming life around them.

It took 4,000,000,000 years of evolution to create the earthly paradise our ancestors saw, a mere 500,000 years for us to rape and render it poisonous.

The United Nation’s latest Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem report: “Earth is losing plants, animals and clean water at a dramatic rate… Scientists meeting in Columbia issued four regional reports on how well animals and plants are doing in the Americas; Europe and Central Asia; Africa; and the Asian-Pacific area.” Conclusion after a three-year study: “Nowhere on Earth is doing well.”

Translation: Our grandchildren are facing catastrophe.

Not only is it absurd to sell off national park lands in the name of greed, the lands we have are not remotely enough—unless half the planet’s humans die off in a cataclysmic event. Unless our children, our grandchildren die off in a cataclysmic event. There is a lottery far more skewed than are the state lotteries of today.

The millions of kids marching yesterday—so inspiring. But far greater marches, on behalf of the Future, are called for. The truth must be spoken in classrooms around the world. We must act—we should have acted.

The sound was sounds. Circling sounds. I am so grateful to have heard them:

Sounds that might not be heard fifty years from now: herons, egrets, pelicans, vultures, falcons, hawks—the opposites of eagles—hunting, fishing, feeding their children, seemingly never resting. My loved ones, Bekira, Taliana, Amanda and all children of earth: I want them to hear sacred sounds.

Eugene Jones Baldwin is at Joe K.’s Restaurant, eating lunch.

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I Swear

Along the river,
great white pelicans glide in the air
hundreds of them forming and reforming
into ribbons and tornadoes, gleaming pearls
 
They land in the shallows of the Mississippi
and form fishing nets
and close in and feast on fleeing minnows
and a band plays jazz I swear
 
The peregrine falcons at Blue Pool
have mated and are nesting
god help the owl or hawk which stalks the nest
peregrines the smallest predators
are the fiercest parents
 
The nature photographers at Blue Pool
line the highway
point their long lenses at the falcons
the fashionable falcons pose
 
Crocuses bloom butter yellow
and trees are budding
you can hear them pop I swear
wild onions sway in abundance and radiate scent
the spongy soil smells of rain
the air smells of fecundity and birth and sex
 
Tonight I hear a barred owl sing from the back woods
I walk outside to listen more clearly
the owl is the soloist
the chorus on a winter night in February
are spring peepers
a million of them I swear
I think of all the sleepers in houses around me
missing the miracle of peepers the rhythm the pitch
the owl hears and responds with recitative
This libretto I swear
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Poetry

I have been in the artist-in-schools program of the Illinois Arts Council since 1984. In 1995, I got a call from a middle school in Winnetka, Illinois. Would I be interested in doing a poetry residency with their students. Yes. But, Mr. Baldwin, we need to interview you in person. You may not want to take this on.
 
A week later, I visited the school and met with the principle, a social worker, and a couple of teachers. They were nervous. Finally, the principal said, Gene, do you remember Laurie Dann?
 
***
Seven years earlier, Laurie Dann, a babysitter, had a total meltdown. She had been a sex outlet for the boys at several Northwestern University fraternities then rejected.
 
In May of 1988, Dann drove to the fraternity houses and delivered boxes of poisoned Rice Krispy treats. She then picked up two kids for whom she babysat and drove them to their school. She told the kids to wait in the car then she entered the school and set off a fire bomb. She drove the kids back home, put them in the basement of their house and set the house on fire. No one was injured.
 
Dann’s next act put her in the history books. She drove to an elementary school in the town of Winnetka, armed with a .22 caliber pistol and a .357 revolver. She entered the school, waving her guns, and kids and teachers took shelter. She entered a boy’s restroom and shot a kid dead, in a stall. She kicked open the next stall and pulled the trigger on another kid. The gun jammed. She walked out, shooting five other students in hallways.
 
Laurie Dann left the school and drove to a family home, stripping naked and wrapping herself in a plastic garbage bag. The family inside the house was held hostage for some six hours. A twenty-year-old man in the house tried to talk her out of killing them. She shot him in the stomach. Then she walked upstairs, stuck the .357 in her mouth and killed herself.
 
One little boy died, six others were shot, and one boy, cringing on a toilet seat, stared at the gun aimed at his head, heard the trigger snap—only to watch the shooter leave him and walk out. The communities were devastated. The North Shore of Chicago, enclaves of well-off people, wasn’t supposed to be unsafe.
 
***
I nodded at the principal. Well, he said, the little kids who survived that shooting are now in middle school—this middle school. The boy who lived when Dann’s gun failed to fire, is here. Some of the kids are alright, others are still reliving the tragedy. We don’t want you to encourage the victims to write poems about being shot, but if a kid wants to write such a poem, so be it.
 
I took the job. I think I was in the school for a month. Nothing dramatic happened. Most of the kids wrote poems about love, or puppies, or flowers, or moms. I easily identified the kid from the restroom—he wrote about it. He wanted to talk. So, I listened.
 
That’s it. Except, I haven’t slept for a week. I watched on television as young Emma Gonzalez courageously expressed her outrage over losing seventeen friends. I watched that contemptuous, right-wing NRA mouthpiece in stiletto heels as she talked down to parents and kids. I cried. In truth, I hope those kids have started something and won’t let go. In truth, I think the issue will go away.
 
The kid in the toilet stall is a man. I hope he overcame his fear and grief and is having a good life. I hope.
 
Don’t bother to tell me that Laurie Dann used a couple of guns, not an assault rifle. If you’re contemptuous over the national pain, don’t talk to me. If you’re can’t or won’t understand the intent of Second Amendment, if you believe in your house that you are part of a militia that will start a revolution, y’all are completely deluded.
 
Just yesterday, I read some jingoist on Facebook: I didn’t own slaves. The blacks should get over it. My opinion: the gun argument is really about race. People who cowardly conceal-carry are really scared of African Americans. My opinion.
 
Gun nuts: your time is over. Evolution has produced a generation of Asian and Latino and black and white mouthy kids. I’m proud of them.
 
Emma Gonzales and compatriots, I love you. Gun nuts: think of mouthy kids as ants. Shoot some, but there’s you and infinite ants who are going to swarm your body and eat you to the bone.
My opinion.
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Forget Me

Rain and more rain. Crocuses poking through the black soil. The river splotched with contrails of thick fog. Redwing blackbirds trilling along farm fences, the American Bottom. It is February, it is spring. I’d feel easier if these portents were in March.

February, fecund, febrile. Forget me not.

The patrons at the songbird bar and grill. Hummingbird sightings to the south. Cloud chains like train cars lumbering along. One eccentric magnolia tree ready to bloom.

My name on the bottom of Carol Allen’s sneaker. She wrote my name, Eugene, in marker, she loved me. Keith Nesbitt and I followed creeks to their upstream origins, bumped into an electric wire strung across the water, zapped and falling.

The light. The sunlight through cloud light field light through cat’s eye light. Rain and more rain, ice storm tonight, they say.

And that field covered in cow parsnip, we were dumb enough to run across it, stinging barbs in the skin and shallow breath, the bright red rash on our legs, the terrible itching, the vomit, the falling.

Paul yells: Kiss her, goddammit: and she smashes her braces into my lips and she runs inside her house, and I am sixteen spring fire.

Rain and more rain rills the streams cold tea steeped in autumn leaves–

she loved me.

 

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