Cousin Rat

Cousin Rat

Sometimes I walk old man fast, five miles an hour. Sometimes I walk in a meditative state, oblivious to humidity, biting insects, the pace dictated by the see. This was one of those walks. Clouds, shadows, sun, shadows, breeze, still. I walked on air. The music of the creek and its waterfall accompanied my musing.

I thought about James Killion Jr., for whom the Alton park is named. I have had the honor this week to edit Mr. Killion’s WWII letters to his mother, his tales of guarding German and Russian prisoners near the beaches at Normandy, his anxiety about his family and his newborn son James III, his experiencing racism from white American soldiers, his friendship with the prisoners, who treated him with respect, the fragile sheets of paper, the fading penciled words. I have been walking with Mr. Killion for a week.

Twice on the walk, I saw a woman with red hair speed walking. Only the second time, her return, the red hair was dyed, she was hunched and limping and old, out of breath and facing the long hill to home.

A pileated woodpecker proclaimed its dominance, and female dragonflies flitted their wings in the grass. The green of the forest so intense from inches of water, the premature crashing of acorns as they bounced on the trail like ping pong balls. The tock-tock of chipmunks.

Descending the long buff hill, I saw a black stick—so it seemed—perpendicular to the path, but it was too straight, too perfectly rounded, and then I stopped and watched the stick slowly move east, into the grass. I ran down to where it had disappeared, and there under leaves was a juvenile rat snake, obsidian black. It let me approach and kneel at its tail, and then it coiled in case I was a predator, its white markings under its jaw, my face just inches from the gorgeous reptile.

Cousin rat, I said, though snakes do not have ears, Thank you letting me keep company with you. And I stood and backed away, and Cousin Rat became one with the undergrowth, woven into weeds and sticks and nuts and stones, the tapestry leading to the riffled water.

I said Mr. Killion’s name, for I felt he was with me, the path filled with ghosts of First People from 16,000 years ago, escaping slaves, dancing children, a woman mourning, a bent old man walking slow as an opening flower, lovers in the dark.

Sweat streamed from my face and chest and legs, but still I walked on, emerging from the woods at the river. Great egrets and snowy egrets lined the north shore of Scotch Jimmy Island, and a clutch of pelicans fished together off the sandbar. Clouds, shadows, sun, shadows, breeze, still.

Up a steep bluff hill, I paused midway and gazed at long stalks of hollyhocks and beyond were Rose of Sharon trees, and to me came a cat flopping and offering its belly, its color like marbled rye toast.

Chaos reigns. Death awaits. Time reminds us, the only specie on earth that thinks about time, the ghosts shaking their heads at our folly, Cousin Rat oblivious and entirely engaged in the present. The green cathedral and the snaking paths of the river my solace.

 

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The Mickey Mouse Club

The Mickey Mouse Club

I won’t tell you the dentist or name the people. I will tell you, my antennae out and trolling, what I saw and heard. I was waiting to have a tooth extraction, the result of a root canal and cap gone wrong. Cap had to be replaced, but tooth had broken off at the gum line. The dentist agreed to eat the cost of extraction, cadaver bone fill, new cap, etc. First step: extraction of tooth broken below the gum line.

I sit in the lobby and wait—dentist is running late. The office manager is breaking in a new employee, explaining bonuses. I hear the words “do’s and don’ts.” I can see them through an opening in the wall, behind which are dental rooms. Suddenly the talk turns to tattoos.

Manager (M.): Oh, my tattoo artist is ____________.  We’ve been together for a couple years. We’re working on a full body design. Right now, he’s doing my entire right leg. (She shows the leg to the trainee; I can’t see it.)

Trainee (T.) Wow, that must hurt.

  1. You know, yeah, a little. Wanna see my little guys? (One at a times, she pulls down the shoulders of her blouse, revealing sayings, “I love my Dad” one of them.)
  2. That is so cool. (Pulls down her blouse shoulders revealing Mickey and Minnie Mouse.)
  3. Oh! I have got to get that! I feel that my tattoos reveal the inner me.
  4. I know, right? My kids say I’m weird.

A nurse emerges from the back.

Nurse (N.): Ewing?

She escorts me to an exam room, the dentist enters. He holds a needle.

Dentist (D.) Got to get you numb. (He injects me, my right eye starts burning, I am temporarily blind, my throat constricts.)

Gene: I’m blind—bwin-bin-b-b-b-.

  1. The shot cuts off all feeling in the right side of your face.

Gene. My eye is on fire.

  1. Yep.

Gene. Maybe you should have warned me.

  1. And get you all upset? You’re fine. Relax, and I’ll give you a few minutes. (He exits.)

Gene: I’m seeing double. That woman in the hall, I see two of her.

  1. I know, it’s a rough shot.

(N. exits, leaving me alone to wonder who I am, is there a god. D. and N. reenter, D. holding what looks to be a giant pliers.)

  1. You’re going to feel a little pressure. The tooth is broken into pieces, I gotta pluck them put. (He reaches in my mouth, pulls so hard my head comes away from the headrest.) One down, three to go. (Sees that N.’s uniform top is splattered with blood. My blood. Sorry about that.
  2. No worries.

And so it goes, three more times, D. chatting me up.

  1. The wife and kids and I are going to Michigan. “Pure Michigan,” I love that slogan. You know why I love Michigan? It’s the 80s all over again.
  2. Take me with.

What about the Proud Boys plotting to assassinate the Michigan governor, I think. D. exits.

  1. Okay, no eating solid food for two days. What? No rinsing until tomorrow. What? Sign these two forms. (I sign. One of the forms reads, “Could cause cardiac arrest or death.” What?

Gene. I can’t drive like this.

  1. Take your time. (N. exits. I am alone, Karl Malone, on the phone, is that a drone I moan, Jubilation T. Cornpone, sew-sewn, gro……………………….an. N. enters.) How’s the eyesight?

Gene. Double vision is gone.

  1. Okey dokey, we’ll see you in two months. What?

(N. escorts me to exit, the M. and the T. look over at me, notice my tattoos.)

  1. See you in two months. You should get a Mickey Mouse.
  2. Definitely.

 

Fin

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Book of Cat

The Book of Cat

I wrote a two-part article on genealogy for the Telegraph a couple of years ago tracing my Jones family roots to Wales in the 1600s and the Baldwins to Scotland. Of course, the only specie on Earth concerned with such matters is humans. Until now.

Dr. Shirlee Godsend Pink-Tuchus, of Tufts University has traced the genealogy of cats, following the domestic cat line all the way back to biblical times. I recently submitted a cheek swab of Scout the cat, losing a finger in the process, and sent it to the Tufts laboratory.

A few days ago, a chart arrived in the mail, tracing Scout’s ancestors to a dark alley in Egypt circa AD 1142. Because cats do not name themselves and all they do do is eat, drink, sleep and fornicate, all we can surmise is that Scout’s great-great-great-great grandfather was Egyptian, and her great-great-great-great grandmother was a mix of Asian, Greek, and Belarussian, and that the two met and “did the nasty (Asian),” “plumbed the nether regions” (Greek) or as the Egyptians call it, “got it on.” And presumably walked away and smoked cigarettes.

As a kitten, Scout was found in a vacant lot in the Chicago suburbs, and she showed signs of abuse, which may explain her reluctance to be around people. I adopted her from a shelter, and the rest is history. Sort of. No cat has ever written a history.

I contacted Dr. Pink-Tuchus, and to my surprise, discovered that she is writing a sort of cat bible, “The Book of Cat.” For the ease of the reader, she names the felines so we can follow along. In the beginning, male cat (Binky-poo) mates with female cat (Calamity Jane), and it progresses from there. They were furry-naked, so no original sin there. Binky-poo and Calamity Jane had two sons, Triptych and Sockeye, and Sockeye murdered Triptych over a rat carcass, and so it went.

There is a documented Great Flood, but a cats-only ark. Just as with the human bible, the question is where did all the other females come from? We read about the cat Moises, who was discovered fornicating on a riverboat, and Salmonetta and her cat dance of ecstasy driving alley cats wild with desire.

Dr. Pink-Tuchus’ book is rather short, as it only contains a few hundred sentences which repeat and repeat, owing to the eat-drink-sleep-fornicate conundrum. Sample: “And Shorty fornicated with Jazzy, and they begat Conchita and Pretty Boy, and Pretty Boy hooked up with Delilah, and they begat Chauncy, Hickey and Rotorooter, and Conchita fornicated with Fancy Dancy and they begat La’Chaparral and Flypaper and three malformed dead kittens which they ate, and so on and so on and so on and so on, all the way to Scout the cat.

Scout is uh, fixed—no fornication. But she has the eat-drink-sleep thing down to perfection, a model of evolution, the theory of which was discovered 100 years before Charles Darwin by the historic Bookworm Attic Pussy Cat, in AD 1645.

I highly recommend Dr. Pink-Tuchus’ book. Her next book, “Antsy,” (according to publishing rumor this project will contain double the fornication!) the genome and genealogy of Formicidae Hymenoptera, a moving saga of an ant diarist (scrawled in her own poop) searching for her uncle, will be published this fall.

“Pink-Tuchus is a pioneer of animal genealogy research. I didn’t have to put it down; I read it in 15 minutes.” Malcom Gladwell, The New Yorker. “Groundbreaking, postprandial, peacockish, punctilious, palindromic, and chock full of sex!” Marjorie Taylor Greenowitz, “New York Review of Books.” “I read the dirty parts,” 10-year-old Bobby Sandusky, Alton, Illinois.

 

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A Reenacting

June 26, 2021

Dearest Mother,

My smart phone and computer were confiscated, and I couldn’t text you. So I write in hopes you will receive this letter. I suspect you too have met your fate and are somewhere out there alone and afraid. It has happened. Papa, a year ago on his deathbed told me of his own conversion and urged me to consider the truth. My own ego prevented me from seeing that truth, Mother, and I fear that I let you down.

Being the kind of family we are, Papa and I Union Civil War reenactors, and you in costume as part of the crowd waving your brave boys in blue into battle, I suppose I allowed myself to think that we were immune to the darker forces taking over our country today. It used to be that black church congregations would stand on the sidelines and cheer us as we freed their ancestors. Now they taunt us. Mama, I freed the dang slaves. What more could people expect of me?

I write while packing my mandated one bag, readying to be shipped out to a white people concentration camp outside of Fargo, North Dakota. Nationwide, we are being rounded up and sent to some 70 such camps, mostly located in the West. Where are you, Mama?

At my last reenactment, a black woman playing a freed slave, as an aside to me, whispered, “Black Lives Matter,” quite a thing to say to her liberator. Gallantly (so I thought), cheerfully, I patted her on her kerchief and said, “All lives matter, dear.” And she proceeded to tell me that having an ancestor who fought at the 1854 siege of Petersburgh, was not a free pass to the modern world. Reenacting was acting, not commitment. She stripped off her hoop skirt and accoutrements and strode back to her car, in tights and a tee shirt.

Papa, as you know, dear Mama, had already turned to the right. The Right was right, he said. He shared with me the warning of conservative commentator Michael Savage: “Attacks on white people is exactly what was done to the Jews in Germany in the ’30s. Don’t fall for this garbage. This is the road to the death camps.”

I once mocked Mr. Savage because I knew his leanings re his long-ago friendship with the Beat poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. Like many rightwing media commentators who really were just into white rage demagoguery for the money and the attention, I knew—I thought I knew—he was just a bad actor in search of a gig. He and Tucker Carlson.

Oh, how I weep, Mama. Saint Tucker in his tighty whiteys, now crucified and hanging from the Mt. Rushmore monument. The Prophet Tucker. I once was disgusted by him, but I see it now, Mama: Tucker wept; Tucker died for me.

And then I heard the words of the prophet Hawley, a man of wisdom: “Critical race theory is in fact very real. [Biden’s people] “believe that this is a country founded in racism and shot through with corruption. In our American flag, they see propaganda, and in our family businesses, they see white supremacy.”

Mother, we are the critical race. Were. The prophets have been executed by order of Maxine Waters, and humble, plain citizens like me are being shipped to a gulag for the “crime” of being white. Because my European ancestors were superior. Because Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” Because George Armstrong Custer and his admirer L. Frank Baum called for the extermination of the Indian savages who previously lived in this land. Because compassionate Southerners shipped poor Africans to this country to give them a chance to whiten. Because the Roosevelt administration interred 100,000 Japanese US citizens to teach them the ways of proper white American Christians. Because the prophet Ayn Rand through her prescient novels warned us that [white] exceptionalism would be punished.

Rand was right. After that black woman playing a freed slave accosted me, I turned on FOX News, and I finally saw the truth—too late. The liberal lie bled from my eyes like tears. I saw that the reenactors who played the boys in butternut, were the real heroes. I saw that Martin Luther King was an FBI informant. I saw that Alexandria Ocasio Ortiz was a Communist. I saw that the Proud Boys were killed for being heroes of the truth.

I am told there will be a court hearing, Mama dear, and that to save my life I will have to plead guilty, for slavery, redlining, segregation, white privilege. I am told I will have to sign a paper on racial harmony stating that I believe that I am responsible to exact social change in the future.

I protested to the authorities, that I, Daniel Aloysius Wilson, had played a Lieutenant in many a stirring Civil War battle. They laughed at me, Mama. The uniform meant nothing to them. They tore off my uniform and my authentic Union long johns and stomped them to dust.

Am I my brother’s keeper? (Little known fact, according to Mr. Savage: The question is the first known historical reference to the “brothers,” the blacks. The miracle of the Bible is that, despite its setting of just a tiny bit of northeastern Africa and environs, everyone in the Bible was white, which explains it, there was a White Jesus!)

The charge, at the black tribunal (Tucker Carlson warned his viewing audience that this was coming) was not being “woke.” What does that mean, Mama? I wake up every morning at 6:30 am. Am I guilty? Am I responsible to help black people? The only black person I knew was the woman who played the slave that I freed. No black person ever reached out to me. Isn’t slavery over? The court deemed me immoral. What does morality have to do with racism?

No one loved the theory of equal opportunity more than me. Our Methodist church had a banner hanging in the vestry proclaiming equality. It was fun to say, at church, to my kids. I believed—we believed in equality. We did our part. Words, about supporting black lives, matter! But the reality? Of giving money to black people as payment for what allegedly happened to their enslaved ancestors? Giving money to Lebron James? Of showing favoritism to black college students, thus depriving brilliant white scholars of their due? Of allowing a backward people to have more polling places, more higher paying jobs, less police interference? Free health care?

Is a joke.

And now, just like the six million murdered Jews of Europe, we “white Jews of America” march to the American-made furnaces of death, mobs of black and brown and Asian people jeering at us. So, I go to my death, a proud reenactor, slave-freeing white man. I will see you in white heaven, sainted Mama whose tit of wisdom nourished me, for the Lord through his son Jesus Christ told us about the Alabaster City.

“It is a far far better place that I go to.” A white man wrote those words (thank you Michael Savage) about white heaven. I shall be there shortly.

Your loving son,

Lieutenant Dan

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Bwownie

I’m at Genehouse North in Lincolnwood, just up from Sin City, Chicago. There is a walking path next to my pal Kathy’s condo, so I got in a four mile walk this am. Farmer Orville was cat sitting for Scout, and I was free for a couple days.

There was an old railway bed that had been converted to a trail, lined by houses and long, swampy fields. I jaunted along, and I realized I was greeting every person I passed, a very Southern thing to do, but not the Chicago way.

The towns around here are truly the melting pots one hears about. I passed Asian folks, Black folks, Indian (from India) folks, orthodox Jews, pale tribe folks. It is comforting to see so many tribes of humans passing each other peacefully. And most of them returned my Andy of Mayberry greeting. There were startled glances, some cheery hellos, a God bless you, some silence and ignore, and one 40-something pale tribe woman whom, in response to my “Good morning,” gave me the finger.

There were lots of dogs. Lots of women walking dogs. In the modern era, one does not compliment women. Besides, I’m covered in arm tattoos, my head is shaved, and I could be mistaken for a pirate, or worse a misogynist. Or worse, a toothless old goat who is about as dangerous as a French poodle.

But I have discovered, even a pirate can say to a woman he doesn’t know, “Nice dog,” and inevitably the woman will guide the pooch to the pirate’s outstretched fingers, say the doggie’s name in baby talk, and a chat up begins.

I saw two Baltimore orioles, lots of songbirds. I passed a stretch of flower garden extending for two back yards of houses. The garden’s purpose was to enchant walkers and bikers. I have posted some photos of the garden. It was so unexpected, so artfully composed, and I stood and meditated in awe.

And then I reached the halfway point, and I stopped and stretched my creaky body. A pop-pop here, a po-pop there. And who should stop beside me but a fetching woman in yoga pants and a sports bra and her dog. I was touching my toes. The dog, a brown mutty-type, licked my forehead.

“Nice dog,” I said.

“Brownie really loves you,” the woman said. “Don’t ums, Bwownie.”

“And I love you,” I said sultrily. And the woman whispered spicily, “Take me, Mr. Pirate.”

Actually, I said “And I wuv ooh, Bwownie.” And the woman said, “Aw duh nice man wuvs Bwonie.”

Off they jogged.

Off I walked. A toothless old man who is about as dangerous as a French poodle.

 

 

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The Rock Star

Last night I lost a tooth, crown, and tooth below. My student Kimberly, a nurse, took me to her dentist this morning for an exam. As we got out of Kim’s car at a little strip mall, a burly, long-haired, bearded 30-something man (think Jack Black) approached us, slushie in hand, and began to speak rapid-fire at us. He wore a backpack, which, we would learn, contained copies of what he called his book.

“I’m a rock star,” he shouted, the tone of his speech loud all the way.

The young man was clearly mentally ill, perhaps schizophrenic, and way big enough to dangerous. But he also was fascinating, his sentences tumbling out like a waterfall. We listened, and I found an interjection point to tell him that I had a dentist appointment, so good luck to you. The man god blessed us, and we entered the office.

As I was filling out forms, the man entered the dentist’s office and approached the receptionist. It was clear from the way the receptionist talked to the man that he came in there often.

“I need to make an appointment,” the man roared. “I’m hurting bad.” Probably have to wait a couple months. I don’t have insurance, but I’ve got cash. Want to read my book? I’m a writer and a rock star. My birthday is the same day as Ozzie Osbourne’s. Oh boy, does my tooth hurt. I got slammed in a fist fight last night. I punched this guy 36 times.”

The man held out his hand and showed us and the receptionist bloody knuckles. He took off his backpack ostensibly to take out copies of his book.

“Let’s make you an appointment,” the receptionist repeated.

“August, right?”

“Yes, sometime in August.”

We couldn’t see the transaction as he leaned over the counter and watched the receptionist. She didn’t ask for his name, and he didn’t fill out papers. I was pretty sure it was a ritual, this asking for an appointment, the two-month wait, the no filling out of forms, the unspoken appointment. The man stood back and recited a rap beautifully. Then the dentist, a woman of Greek heritage came out in her uniform and mask. The man gathered up his things, offering the dentist a copy of his book, and she declined, and he god blessed us all and walked away.

“I am so sorry,” the dentist said.

“Not at all,” I said. “He was very interesting.”

She greeted Kim and took me into her patient room and examined the hole in my mouth. The wound was not infected, and she could see there had been a root canal performed, so there shouldn’t be a lot of pain.

And then she said, “No charge.”

I thought I heard the “Hallelujah Chorus,” for I hear voices too. And raps and rock music and the waterfall of the River Styx, and the ghosts of my ancestors. The difference between me and the young mad man is degrees. The lines of the degrees may be violent, somnolent, poetic, angry, stillness, visions, dreams.

The young man clearly had battled with someone, someone, I thought, who viewed him as prey. Others along his journey, as with the receptionist and the dentist, and Kim and me, were empathetic souls who listened and humored him. He was brawny and brash, which made him prey, and poetic and dreamy, which allowed him to feel his verbal power.

His journey might be halted by some sadistic Chicago bully who will go all the way and kill him, a street preacher who tells him about the Good News and he in turn sets up a microphone on a wooden crate and stands and proclaims the rap of God, or an agent who finds him a genius of the spoken word. Whatever, he was one of the biblical “consider the birds of the field” who “neither toil nor spin.” Perhaps he gets taken care of; perhaps he is a victim of evolution.

Does it matter?

Not to the universe, which does not consider nor comfort the lost. There is no time there, no story, no compassion. No schizophrenia. The young man was Don Quixote Rock Star, you see, tilting his air guitar cockily, singing to an imagined multitude, excited in his mind for what never happened. He will live or die on the streets of Chicago, a character put of a Nelson Algren short story.

Me, I am champaign after the bubbles are gone. The rock star was champagne, and he was dancing.

 

 

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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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Ghosts

Ghosts

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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