Car Land

Car Land

The old white-haired woman stood on the Great River Road path and waved at a passing long line of vintage cars painted in bright colors, all the drivers white and at least as old as me. Pear-shaped, she danced up and down with palpable excitement. What was going on in her memory, from some long-ago dream? Had she been a cheerleader in the days when cheerleaders’ skirts were ankle length?

I have never been in love with a car. I have owned plenty of them, bought a new one for cash in the 1970s when I was in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” nothing fancy, a Volkswagen bug that was bright black. That was as extravagant as I have ever been. I own one pair of jeans at a time, about ten pocket tee shirts and ten sweatshirts. Ladies, have I turned you on? The worst fight I ever had with my first wife was me wearing a wrinkled tee shirt to the premiere of “Alone in the Universe,” my composition for orchestra and Renaissance instruments.

The woman saw me seeing her, and she deflated and turned and walked west along the river. And suddenly she was slow of foot, slightly bent at the waist, the heels of her walking shoes worn on the outside edges.

What she did not see as she car danced were a pair of immature bald eagles perched on the very top of a tree, fifty or more pelicans fishing in a line along the north bay of Scotch Jimmy Island, a Baltimore oriole flitting from treetop to treetop and scolding me for standing in a patch of yellow bleeding heartland flowers, from which the bird was seeking sustenance.

To each her own.

I will just imagine the woman as a young girl being courted by a car-obsessed boy, and they married and had three kids, and now her husband is in heavenly Car Land, and the kids haven’t visited for some time, damn the Covid-19, and she watches too much TV, and she read about the car rally and put on her finest red sweater even as the heat and humidity were stifling, and she timed her arrival on the path, and now the time of gleaming, waxed roadsters had come and gone in less than a minute. Some drivers had waved back, some not.

She walked up the hill to the parking lot at Clifton Park, climbed in a full-size something, backed out carefully and drove away slowly north, up Clifton Terrace bluff road and out of sight.

And then it was my turn up the hill toward my Hyundai Elantra, passing a long-legged young woman relaxing on a bench, her pale gams perhaps seeing sun for the first time this spring, her tight tee grey tee shirt with a cartoon logo I dared not stare at. I thought about stopping and giving her advice about how time flows with the speed of darkness.

I thought about it.

I mostly just think about things. My four-mile hike was a meditation on the writing god Richard Wright and his masterpiece, “Black Boy,” which I had just reread. How young Richard published his first short story as a three-part piece in a black newspaper, the story’s title “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half Acre,” his evangelical family telling him that writing would lead him to that hell, and how he borrowed a white man’s library card because blacks were forbidden to have a card, and he read and fell in love with, of all people, H.L. Mencken. Whose language and sharp arrows of words inspired the black boy, and then he found Dreiser and Masters, and Lewis, and suddenly he knew Babbitt, knew it was Babbitt who tortured him. And he escaped, from Jim Crow South to South Side Chicago, and as an old man he would mentor James Baldwin.

I wanted to tell someone about this, about how my family hated me being a writer, about how James Baldwin saved me and drove me to myopia as I read his every word by dim lamplight in my basement room next to the coal chute, and Voltaire educated me with “Candide”, and Cormac McCarthy demonstrated to me in blood and gore, the way of mad white men, in “Blood Meridian.” Richard Wright and I were soulmates—save for the starvation thing, and the egregious racism. We were beaten and insulted into silence by our families. I wanted to tell the pale-legged girl this.

I wanted to. I wanted to.




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The peregrine falcon circled overhead, a fighter jet looking for a target. I thought of my Tuskegee Airman friend, Beverly Dunjill, a Korean War fighter pilot, who showed me a photo of him in a jet in the air, wingtip to wingtip with another jet, the other pilot young Gus Grissom, who would become an astronaut, the two of them looking up from their cockpits, waving and smiling, la-di-da. We see peregrine falcons frequently; they nest on the bluffs of the river. We never tire of watching their artistry and grace—and lethalness.

A pair of pelicans glided southward in courtship, graceful as ballet dancers on point. Eight or more buzzards flew counterclockwise. And two red-headed woodpeckers, a rare sighting, worked the electric poles with their beaks. The hammering of pileated woodpeckers, the muffled warning of a barred owl. Then there were the blackbirds, the mewling catbirds, and the crows and the robins and the cardinals, and the screeching bird babies chasing down their parents for regurgitations.

A doe grazing at the creek bank, dragonflies hovering like drones, the path aswarm in blue hairstreak butterflies (a bellwether species and as tiny as a postage stamp), above them the giant swallowtails. Sunning red-tail skinks stretched out on flat rocks and tiny blue-tail skinks scurrying out of the way. The tock-tock vocal warnings of chipmunks.

All this did I see and hear on my hour long walk.

You need to walk and watch, children, to know what your grandchildren will miss. Your rocking chair, like fatty food, will comfort you, but it will not tell the truth.

You must read the news, the report on four hundred U.S. inland lakes having lost eighteen percent of their oxygen, the fish soon gasping. You realize that everything you see on your walk might soon be extinct—every butterfly, every bird. The trees themselves, the young oak trees will not live 50 years. You have seen a 300-year-old oak tree, and you know.

You have been blessed, and those who come after will curse your name, for what you did not do. You did not love your earth. Only ghosts of living things will fly and walk the earth. The songs will not be recalled. The history, of the cardinal perched on the reeds and trilling madly, will not be told.


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I Climb Mount Butt Breaker

I Climb Mount Butt Breaker

I passed a final exam today, the first of many—I hope. On this, Day 75 since knee surgery, I walked four miles and climbed the formidable Mount Butt Breaker. This is the longest (but not the steepest) bluff hill from Alton to Elsah. I had to stop six times and stretch, each stretch lasting forty seconds, hands on toes, backbends, squats (the dirtiest sounding word in English), foot arch rolls.

I petted a dog who eagerly licked my surgery scar, stopped to watch the golden eagle which lives on Scotch Jimmy Island soar over my head, counted twenty northern pelicans on a sandbar, oohed and ah’d at tens of irises, and I murdered six hundred buffalo gnats attempting to suck my blood.

I also stopped and watched a storm of hummingbirds swarming Hummingbird Man’s house. For you new readers, I met Hummingbird Man five years ago, a lean, muscled, always shirtless fortyish man with a ponytail extending to his butt. He was standing in his front yard and talking to about eight hummingbirds perched on his bare shoulders.

I wrote a Telegraph piece about him, dubbing him Hummingbird Man, and one day he came outside and said, “Gene, I don’t want y’all to think I have a big head or nothing… but the wife read an article in the paper and said, hey Vance that is you. Gene, am I Hummingbird Man?” Yes, I told him, I hoped it was okay. “Okay? Absolutely, man. The wife calls me Hummingbird Man. I like it.”

The next time I saw Vance, he had two baby squirrels on those bare shoulders, nibbling at his earlobes. He was raising them because their mother died when their tree nest collapsed to the ground. I held one of the baby squirrels in my arms and bottle fed it.

Vance is one with the wild things. And he is quirky. He believes that hummingbirds, in the fall, climb under the wings of geese and the geese transport them to Mexico. Who am I to say that is not true? He rides a kid’s bike on the back wheel on the asphalt road and performs whirly tricks. During last year’s catastrophic flood, I came upon Vance sitting in a lawn chair, the flooded road up to his belly. “Hell, Gene,” Hummingbird Man said. “I am a river rat.”

But no Vance today. I hiked on up the bluff road, passing three other houses, the residents of which I had written about, a retired doctor who spent his days picking trash off the road and owned an Alaskan totem pole; Bob, a retired teacher who volunteered at Arizona Indian reservations every summer and now he’s dead from cancer; and Layton’s daughter’s house, Layton, a Korean War veteran who waited fifty years to tell his daughter he had been awarded a Bronze star, now dead, and me writing four pieces about his remarkable life.

On the last leg of the walk, I was on the shoulder of Route 3, and there on my neighbor’s fence, on the side of the house I can’t see, was a huge Trump banner. Bummer.

I limped into Genehouse and was greeted by Scout the cat, who anxiously meowed at me and tried to get me to follow her. She is a hunter, but not a killer. She often leads me to ants on the floor, spiders, one mouse, and snakes. We walked into the bathroom, and there was a panicked bumblebee trapped against the window above the shower. I got a cup and a hummus container lid, and I trapped the bee in the cup and slid the lid over the mouth of the cup, and Scout and I walked to the front door, and she watched me remove the lid and free the bee.

“We just saved a life,” I said to the furball at my feet. “You deserve a treat.” Scout the cat ran into the office and pawed at the second desk drawer on the right, the fishy foul-smelling treat drawer. She is nothing if not agreeable.

And somewhere in our yard, a bumblebee who made a wrong turn but was rescued by a kitty, worked a clover patch, and loaded up with nectar.

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The 1619 Project, Missoura Style

The 1619 Project, Missoura Style

The Missouri House is about to pass an amendment banning the teaching of the New York Times 1619 Project. The ban will include any curriculum that “identifies people, entities, or institutions as inherently, immutably, or systematically sexist, racist, biased, biased, privileged, or oppressed.”

The House (it is doubtful that any legislator read the stunning, revolutionary 1619 text) claims to have received 600 public comments supporting such a ban, the gist of which is keeping leftist politics out of classrooms.

The 1619 Project, of course, is about the facts of the founding of this country and is supported by progressives who grew up with history books that distorted the truth, of slavery, extermination of Indians, and the myths of the founding fathers. Not a cherry tree chopping event in sight.

Katie Rash, from the group No Left Turn in Education, is quoted in the St. Louis Post: “I don’t think we should be talking about skin color when we’re talking to our kids. You can be left with the conclusion that people are put into dominant or subordinate groups. We should be talking about kindness.”

The kindness of right wingers? Hm. “Honey, that little Black girl in your class is well, not one of us, but you must be kind.”

Katie Rash has a rash, all right. On her white (just guessing) body. Ms. Rash, may I be rash? There is no right turn in education. “Right” and “education” are antonyms.

Her organization’s credo: “We [Whitey] are vocal. We [Whitey] are loud. We [Whitey] are tenacious. We [Whitey]must be heard. But we [Whitey] are civil. We respect the rules [white] of society and legitimate [rightwing] authority. We [Whitey]will not stand down. We [Whitey] are the majority – patriotic [white] Americans who believe that a fair and just society can only be achieved when malleable young [white] minds are free from indoctrination that suppresses their [white] independent thought.”

I Eugene “Whitey” Jones Baldwin, would add, “Tucker Carlson loves us—he is a boob, but he loves us and he backs us. We are white and proud of our slave past, our Indian annihilation past, our fictions about Jefferson and the other founding fathers. But we won’t rub it in your face y’all. The new racism is kindness.”

This all became a thing because Missouri is as backwoods as it gets. Its motto is the “Show Me the Gomer State.” The town of Webster Groves, a hotbed of liberalism, announced it was introducing the 1619 Project and other curricula, and Katie Rash and Governor Mike Parson (Parson/Rash 2024?) have rashes far more dangerous than the clap, and true modern Republicans that they are, they don’t believe in free speech, freedom to protest, freedom for women to mind their own bodies, or the right of Missouri citizens to vote, on Medicaid expansion in this case, and see that vote become law.

After reading a blog post from Superintendent John Simpson, calling for (re. education and justice) “the dismantling of the inequitable systems and structures withing our district,” the national group Parents Defending [White] Education filed a federal civil rights complaint. Oh irony, thou art alive and well. Thy newest constituents: rightwing Gomers using civil rights weapons. This, Horatio, is a terrible swift sword! A Rash sword! Imagine not inequitable systems and structures!

Stella, in a revised version of A Streetcar Named Desire: “I have always been dependent on the kindness of right wingers. Trump 2024.”


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Exterminate all the Brutes

“Exterminate all the Brutes”

I received a good education at my high school. I learned to read, to think, to write, to act, to speak German (well, I can count to one hundred—sorry, Miss Tomlovic), to sing. All of which served me well in the arc of my life. With one exception—and I don’t blame the teacher:


I don’t know what current students read or learn about history, but what we learned in 1966 was seriously lacking. It was informative only if you bought into the myth our textbooks offered, of the founding of the United States. The myth about the founding fathers, particularly Jefferson and Washington. The myth about Andrew Jackson’s heroism. And I could go on and on.

I am talking about facts, not politics. Recently, Kellyanne Conway famously used the phrase “alternative facts,” which was comical, but which stuck for the Fox News crowd. My Trump neighbor uses the phrase frequently. Denying facts leaves one one isolated in a kind of fractured fairytale fiction. Q-Anon is a complete fiction, yet it strangely comforts the white unwashed. Facts, of the founding of the United States of America, will not surprise Black Americans or the First People.

Why are the rest of us in denial? This is the subject of the new four-hour HBO limited series documentary masterpiece, “Exterminate all the Brutes (words uttered by the insane character Kurtz, in Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness”).” The film is written and directed by Raoul Peck (“I am Not Your Negro”), based on the book by Sven Lindqvist. See the rave reviews online for this stunning accounting of historical fact—the facts missing in my high school history class in 1966.

“Exterminate all the Brutes” is a powerful, horrifying yet beautiful, and an exceptional, imaginative film. It uses compelling graphs to show timelines, historical recreations to demonstrate the thesis (Indians versus cavalry, Columbus arriving in what is now Haiti, etc., stunning scenery, a wonderful music score and more). It jumps back and forth in time. We are introduced to beloved people we “know” and what they were really like, and what they said. L. Frank Baum of “Wizard of Oz” fame, for instance, before his life as an author, calling for the complete extermination of the Indians. Civil War heroes who slaughter Indians at Wounded Knee. A willingness to slaughter and steal, couched in manifest destiny, that abhorrent doctrine of white Christianity (Christians, you must watch this film and examine your faith).

The film’s timeline is the evolution of human beings (half a million years ago), migration patterns, and the one migrating African tribe which hit the jackpot by settling in what is now called Europe, with its riches of minerals, fecund soil for agriculture, wild game, and climate. Well-fed and comfortable, its people had leisure to create philosophy, art, and writing, and they became inventors. Over generations the Europeans’ skin tone paled, a biological fact which has led to the myth of white superiority.

The Europeans built ships, and they sailed… to Africa and Haiti (Columbus). And in Africa the now white Europeans encountered “savages” and “apes” and “brutes”—their own ancestors, but they were too ignorant to know that. They were running out of resources and needed those descriptions as justification for the upcoming and somewhat gleeful slaughter. They savagely acted to enslave, and, because they had invented guns, murdered with impunity. All in the name of Christianity.

Then came Columbus. And came the two horrifying sins of this continent, enslavement, and attempted extermination of Indians. This country could not have thrived without slaves—Washington said so. White people were unwilling to work cotton. In Illinois, slaves were forced to work in salt mines, something no white person would do.

The monstrous Andrew Jackson saw to the extermination part. George Rogers Clark happily contributed by terrorizing Indian women and children, hanging them from their fingers from trees and slaughtering them, including scalping, an English invention.

Everything we learned in school: “Remember the Alamo”—lie; Louisiana Purchase—lie; Pocahontas—lie; the noble South—lie; and on and on. The glorious founding of this democracy—lie.

But the film is not just about the United States. The Holocaust is covered in detail and rightly cites Hitler as being influenced by white U.S. Southerners and their depraved slavery. The slaughters of the world are here, all dealing with racism or nationalism. The film gives us ample statistics about massacres and the rise of fascism and imperialism. The slaughter part is staggering, and yet there is beauty and wonder, in some staged scenes and historical photographs.


From my book the Confederate State of Illinois:

“Yesterday, I had a doctor appointment. The nurse came in and prepped me. I hear you’re a writer, she said. What are you writing about now?

“I told her.

“‘My son is a ‘snowflake’,” she responded. “About twice a week, he sits down for dinner and tells my husband and me that ‘we’ owned slaves.’

“She turned away and entered some code into a computer. Pause.

“‘I tell him, ‘we didn’t own slaves.’”


But our ancestors did. Scotch Irish immigrants comprised the majority of U.S. cavalry soldiers and were skilled Indian exterminators. Germans like Werner Von Braun were Nazis but feted in this country for rocketry. Racism was part of the American Revolution, and it is as bad today, not counting slavery.

What can we do? Is this a twenty-first century question? Did we not long ago atone and reach out in brotherhood to mankind? Color is a function of climate. Period. There is one human race. Period. What do we do now? That is for families to discuss. That is for neighbors to reach out to neighbors. That is for white people to see Black people and Asian people and Jews and Latinos and extend a hand and a heart.

My immediate reaction was that every high school kid should see this powerful documentary, and accompanying study guides should be created. Politics is not fact or truth. Right, Mitch McConnell? Kneejerk conservatives, as they did with the New York Times 1619 Project, creating their own untrue myth of the founding of America, will denounce this film as liberal hate. “Exterminate all the Brutes” isn’t politics. It is facts, carefully laid out. If the facts make us squirm, so be it.

“Exterminate all the Brutes” is a great work of art. It joins Voltaire’s “Candide,” Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” (and the stunning film of the book, “Apocalypse Now”), Edna O’Brian’s “The Little Red Chairs,” Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian,” Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” Doris Lessing’s “The Four-Gated City” and Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste”, (and you can add to that list) as the greatest recreations of a people.


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A piliated woodpecker jackhammers at a dead tree. No amount of explanation, of how the bird does this without killing itself or smashing its skull, will suffice. And there is the visual, the model for Woody Woodpecker, the bright red head, and the signature rat-a-tat call.

Comes a “tock-tock-tock,” the communal warning sound of a tribe of chipmunks, a seventy-million-year-old species which tunnels the woods with thirty-foot caves.

The gentle riffle of the water down, about to become bigger than itself at the river, this atomic water signature of Illinois about to be seen or sailed on or fingerpainted by picnickers in Tennessee, the bits of water calling out their homes: Minnesconsinhissouriois thy rivers gently flowing.

The windmill sound of honeybees working the first low wildflowers, their paths making the ground seem like it’s moving.

And a lone bullfrog testing its mating voice, and only a female frog gets the jazzy croak. It sounds like a grandpa snore-napping under heavy blankets, and you’re embarrassed because your friends are over.




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Our Lid-tard Friend

G. Gordon Liddy, the Watergate burglary mastermind, has descended into Hell.

From the New York Underworld Times: “G. Gordon Liddy has joined the billions of Evil Ones who preceded him in life.

“Liddy was greeted with a tickertape parade with floats featuring old pals Senator Joe McCarthy and lawyer Roy Cohn going down on one another, dictator Pol Pot eating a child, President Andrew Jackson wearing a coat fashioned of scalps, Marjorie Taylor Greene’s ‘Grampy,’ General George Armstrong Custer wearing an Indian heads necklace, and many billions more.

“‘I mean, he just isn’t well screwed on, is he?’ said President Richard Nixon, when he was alive. He is ‘a little nuts.’

“Liddy was met by dead Nixon and the Devil at the fourth level of Hell, where residents perform a living version of the Hieronymus Bosch painting ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights,’ and he was stripped and had a burning poker inserted into his ass. His living quarters will be in a fiery furnace with Adolph Hitler’s staff.

“‘We had good times,’ former Vice President Spiro Agnew, in line for a morning buggery, said of his old friend Liddy.

“‘You guys,’ Satan said, shaking his head. ‘Hijinks, thuggery, murderers—you killed thousands of American boys in Vietnam. They just don’t make them like that anymore.’”


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The Golf Match

We are a fivesome. Me, Girl who is ten, my father, his friend Man and Man’s Son. It is night. There are no lights, but we see in the dark. Father and Man and Son have their own golfclubs and bags and golf balls. Girl and I each have one club, a driver. She drags her club along the ground, pretending it is a tail, and sings softly. Our golf balls are egg-shaped. We can only strike them and watch them roll forward a few inches, the others now so far away we can only see shapes.

“Why are we here?” Girl asks.

“Because they promised us, we would fly,” I tell her. I drop my club to the grass and flap my arms, and Girl jumps and claps. “What the hell is he doin’?” Man says to my father.

Save for the golfers there is no sound. No nighthawks or owls, no insect noises, no jets overhead, no rustling of trees—yet Girl and I watch the trees sway and bend sideways. She chews on her cheek and spits.

Ahead, Father and Man and Son, mime-like, talk to one another, stopping to hit their balls, look back at Girl and me, shake their heads as if bewildered. My father glares at me, his glances like telegraph wires attached to my gut; he has always been ashamed of me, always contemptuous of my skills. Tonight, he had offered me a carrot and stick: play golf and I will take you flying.

“Why are we hear,” Girl says, tugging at my leg.

Why are we hear.

“How shall we fly? Like birds? Like a plane?”

“Like a leaf, my girl.”

We watch each other line up our drivers on our egg-shaped balls, swing, the poor Girl not as tall as her club is long, watch the balls roll sideways a few feet, laugh hysterically then cringe when Father and the Man and the Son yell at us: “Come on!”

And so the golf match goes, no flag or green in the distance, first a par four becoming a five and now, surely, a par six. Girl is exhausted. She falls to the ground and curls up in the fetal position.

“You are fine. Pick up your ball,” I tell Girl. “We’ll wait until they are not watching, and we will throw our balls far ahead.”

Son walks back toward us. “They’re mad,” he shouts. “Why did you agree to play?”

“Because we get to fly,” Girl exclaims. She jumps up and pirouettes, slapping her fanny with her hands. “I am a leaf!”

Son runs angrily at us. He is a kid, and I am an old man. I just now realize I am an old man. He could kill me. He picks up our egg-shaped balls and puts them behind his back, signaling with his head to follow him. Girl and I hurry along and pretend to hit shots.

“Why are we her?” Girls says, hands to her face, as Desdemona. She is a born actor, is this mischievous baby who whistles and pokes.

Why are we her?

When we get close to Father and Man, Son drops the balls behind him on the ground. “You didn’t tell me about the flying,” Son says to Man.

“Flying?” Man asks my father. Father and Man laugh.

They examine the palms of my hands. “These is girl hands,” Man says. Father says, “Girl hands. I tried.”

They look at Son’s calloused hands with approval. Son glares at me with disdain. He has bested me in every kind of sport since we played baseball on the Roosevelt School field. Since that time when he played a game of Butt with me in the basement, and it hurt.

“Why are we here, Uncle Eugene?” my ten-year-old niece Taliana says.

“Tell the little girl shut up,” my father says. To the man, he says, “Where are we? Par ten?”

“I hit a hole-in-one,” Son says, no flag in sight, no evidence. Father and Man high-five Son and punch him on both shoulders.

Suddenly all the sounds of a summer night abound, the jets landing at O’Hare, their lights raking across us and catching us like thieves, and Father and Man and Son wave, night birds and katydids and cricket waltzes, and somewhere children laughing, wriggling of earthworms in the grass, cars on the expressway, mothers singing to babies, “Oh, child.” Lawn sprinklers douse us.

Taliana smashes our golf balls with her club, the eggshells spitting open, chick embryos oozing onto the grass.

“Look’a that,” Son says.

And now I am awake, and I know the answer, why we are her, here, hear.

We will not fly.



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Dear Charlie (to Charlie Baird)

Dear Charlie,

It has only been a month since you died. We all miss you very much. Sheila and Lorenzo and Don and Harold and Paul send their love.

I thought I would catch you up, as I need to believe that you are still connected to Earth. The wreath laying ceremony was interrupted by an intruder, a woman wearing a sash reading, Mrs. Congeniality USA. I kid you not. She told your Baird family and the Cisco family that she was an ambassador to Wreaths Across America, which, of course, she was not. I asked a woman friend, what grown woman wears a sash and poses like a model at graveyards. She replied, a teenage girl who lost the beauty pageant.

After we all left, the woman doubled back and posed for a photograph of her next to our historical plaque about our revered Tuskegee Airmen. Then she drove to the Confederate cemetery, picked up the wreath that had been laid there, and posed laying it again. She was a narcissist, of course, which made me think of the Narcissist in Chief. I have wondered what you would have made of this poser.

Charlie, you missed it. The senate is now 50-50, with Harris to break ties. Georgia turned blue. Huzzah! But that victory was short lived. Carpetbaggers Kelly Loeffler of Illinois, posing as a Georgian because she figured that state would be a pushover, and Josh Hawley of Missouri, who is not from Missouri, but he uses his sister’s Missouri address, and he is in actually, a Virginian, who posed in the Show Me state wearing a flannel shirt and jeans and sitting on a haybale because he figured that hick state would be a pushover for populism and it was… those two led the conservative chorus for overturning a presidential national election. Hawley saluted the protestors with a raised fist outside the capitol building. Loeffler and her colleague, Perdue both got rich using insider stock information, but the rural white Georgians did not blink an eye.

Then Trump went after the Republican vote authorities in Georgia, threatening harm if they did not change the vote count. The result was a Black and a Jew won the senate races and Mitch McConnell will no longer hold the senate at proverbial gunpoint. Oh Charlie, how I wish you had been here to see it.

Yesterday, December 6, 2021, thousands of armed Proud Boys and their acolytes stormed the statehouses of Michigan, Utah, Oregon, Georgia, Arkansas, Washington state, Kansas, and Texas. But—wait for it, Charlie—the Capitol Building, the people’s house was overrun by a mob, many carrying weapons. Four people were killed. Members of the house and senate were guarded in safe rooms as the violence spread throughout the building. Amy Klobuchar, who was tending to the wooden boxes of certificates of votes of all the states, ducked to the floor and was escorted out, leaving the boxes unguarded. Fortunately, a staffer grabbed the boxes and fled. Had the content of the boxes been destroyed by the white terrorists—for white terrorists is what they were—no one knows what fate awaited the United States.

The terrorists: People sporting t-shirts with “The Bible” and “Civil War” logos, draped in American flags which dragged the ground, old men wearing capes as if they were Southern Generals of the Confederacy, assorted thugs, bullies (in the old days they would have been the madding crowd at a Jim Crow lynching), miscreants, idiots, simpletons, little boys playing war, gun nuts, right wing religionists who must have thought they were headed to The Rapture.

The so-called capitol police did not draw their weapons, did not make any attempt to stand their ground. No less an authority than General Barry McCafferty contrasted the armed forces who kept the Black Lives Matter protestors at bay, and the woefully understaffed police from yesterday. Did the authorities deliberately stand back and let the terrorists—the white terrorists—attack? If they weren’t prepared to fight, McCafferty said, then the army should have been called in and fought with fury to defend our country.

The brilliant political guru James Carville, he of the deep Louisiana drawl, said on MSNBC that Republicans are meat and cleaver people who chop-chop in a fight. Democrats sit around a campfire and sing “Kumbaya.”

But Charlie, the most dramatic moment of all. In the chaos, white terrorists roaming free, a boy paraded inside the rotunda where John Lewis had recently lain in state, and inside the senate chamber, waving a Confederate flag. He was waving a Confederate flag, Charlie, the flag of traitors and the defeated, the fodder of Faulkner and Tennessee Williams and Flannery O’Connor, the flag which represents lynching and slavery and the myth of the “white race.”

Sorry if I am unduly worrying you. Perhaps where you are is a quiet, contemplative place, and you no linger and bear the burdens of the world. Perhaps where you are is like an eternal TV news program where you and our beloved Ted Shobe sit together and mutter at injustice.

So, Charlie, we are at war. Your and my generation want to be left alone, sit back, and take photos of food and grandchildren and sunsets, and they will only fight from their recliners, TV remotes (what an ironical invention, the remote) their preferred weapons. In other words, cluck.

The young people blame the old people, and their version of a revolution seems to be graffiti, Tik Tok talent shows (do not ask), and Snapchat. Two principal things must be enacted: The elimination of all firearms in public places. Editing the ability of anybody saying any incendiary goddamn lie on Facebook. The revision of all history books to finally let in the truth of the slaughter of Indians and enslavement of Africans, to the benefit of white citizens of this country. Okay, that is three things. You know how I am with math, Charlie.

While watching the carnage yesterday and considering going after one of our classmates who attacked me on Facebook and disparaged Black Lives Matter (too easy, the combatant is a drunk), I suddenly thought of you, my dear friend, my brother. I cried, Charlie, I just cried. I miss you so. Please give my love to Ted.

With apologies to Bob Dylan: The times they are barely changin’.



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My Mother’s House

A two-story house in Chicago. My sister rocks in a wooden rocker, clicking her knitting needles but knitting nothing, chews on her cheek. She watches me.

A plump young woman walks in from the kitchen, runs toward me with open arms. I don’t know her, but I open my arms as she talks soundlessly—I can’t make out her words: omygoshmydad—pulling my head down to the crotch of her new blue jeans. I am horrified; I push her away. My sister rocking, knitting nothing and watching.

The doorbell rings. My mother, who died in 1972, glares at me, straightens her paisley dress, pushes her winged glasses up on her nose. She opens the door, smiles warmly and greets her visitor, an older woman dressed in a prim, long skirt, hose, and white blouse.

“How are you?” “Fine. “You?” “Fine.”

They start to climb the stairs, Mother leading the way.

I call out, “How long of a drive is it?”

My mother is annoyed at my interruption. The guest stops and smiles down at me.

“Oh, I’d say an hour and a half, straight west on the Eisenhower.”

“That’s not far,” I say.

“They send their hellos. They are waiting for you,” the woman says.

The women climb on up the stairs and walk down a corridor.

My cat runs into the kitchen. I follow her and watch her jump into the full laundry basket by the table screwing her body, sinking and burrowing under the clothes. I spin around and around, until I’m unable to stand. I fall against the refrigerator and onto the wooden floor, sending the cat food and water dishes flying, my brain in the vortex of a tornado.

And then I remember, I have got to get to the people in the country, waiting. I meditate myself along the expressway, sailing west over skyscrapers rising like jail bars then suburban houses in long rows, then the countryside, finally reaching the exit to the farm.

I float along the two-lane highway leading north, spotting the farm in the distance, the husband and wife and their little black-haired girl waving me in and talking all at once, excitedly, in tongues: heshereheshereheshere.

Their farm is the only building in a valley filled with winter wildflowers poking above the snow. I land and run toward them, my only true family, my loves, and they smile, all with their huge teeth protruding, all wearing ponchos and sombreros of gold.

And they smother me in darkness, and I feel them nibbling on me, the cat gnawing my right calf on the floor in Chicago, and I know that parts of my body are scattered in the stars, that I am everywhere and all. The plump girl in the new blue genes applauding, patting her groin, and saying silently, You knew it would end this way.

My sister rocking, knitting nothing, watching.



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