The air is sharp. The sun is cloud-cloaked, light escaping its flimsy white negligee, and tufted titmice glow grey-orange and blue jays are ornamental. The afternoon is soft the breeze is coldsoft, and acorn caps rise sideways and roll on edges along the path.

Warmer days are coming waking hibernators from new sleep. A wave of fat robins runs down the Stroke Hill slopes and into the meadow where I see fairy rings in summer. It is a bad day to be a sunning worm.

The coal smoke from the power plant forms marshmallow shapes and blows parallel to the horizon, reflecting in the glassy Mississippi River. There is a line of parked barges downstream, waiting for their turn in the lock and dam. At La Vista Park the air is colder, shadowy, the creek frozen, its smooth surface looking like a windowpane.

Thirty feet up the path, a squirrel with a nut in its jaws wheels and stares and sits up—and this is its last breath, I am the last living thing it sees in this last millisecond, for a barred owl swoops down the left slope of the bluff and explodes the creature and lifts off, the squirrel’s body dangling limply, and small birds gang up and beak the owl’s head to no avail, and there is no sound, for the owl’s wings are serrated, and then the tiny birds shriek and three crows fly in from the right and caw a racket. This afternoon, I have seen the opaline eyes of Death.

I think of the September day I was out walking and pain slammed my chest and I stopped and tried to see the invisible fist which was punching me, and I walked on home, marveling at the unknown sensation, finally talking to my nurse friends Kim and Michele on the phone and learning I was having a heart attack—mild to be sure, but when it’s your heart mild is small comfort. And a week later my stent was put in and I realized I could die. The commonality of heart attacks and barred owls, death by stealth.

Physicists posit the theory that all of us may live in millions of parallel universes, each life similar but taking different tacks. So . . . this day, a squirrel was murdered and eaten, the same squirrel saw the owl and ducked and told its children the tale over nut stew dinner, the same squirrel threw its hickory nut and bonked the owl’s head, the owl and the squirrel shared the nut at tea.

Had I not seen the act, did it happen? Are the things we see inventions? The black wolf last fall? The bobcat lying on my car roof? The thousand white pelicans of spring? The chickadees that perch on my shoulder? All are illusions?

Home. The sun falls like a frozen orange leaf toward the river. The breeze rests from its labors. The naked, wintery earth glues itself stiff. On the road below me a beautiful woman in a flimsy white negligee sheds it and waves, her body the color of porcelain. I am pro-illusion, you see, you c, you sea

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Sunday in the Diner with Orville on the Mississippi river

Sunday in the Diner with Orville on the Mississippi River

A guy walks into Joe K.’s diner for Sunday lunch and a voice calls out, “Join us!”

Normally the guy sits at the counter, but the speaker is none other than Quilt Queen and seated next to her is her handsome devil husband farmer Orville. I’m the guy.

“What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” Quilt Queen inquires.

I tell her I’ll be sitting at home, can of beans at the ready. For all the local “friends” on Facebook out there, I don’t really know any of them, haven’t met them in person, and so far, no one has asked me to join them.

“We are going to the grandkids’ house in St. Louis. Used to be I’d cook for a week, now we just drive and eat.”

I tell Orville to bring me home a piece of pie, to which his wife opines, “We choose the life we live, Gene.” True dat—sort of. Bev isn’t ill meaning so much as she’s espousing Missouri Synod Lutheran philosophy. Her husband looks on noncommittedly, knowing where his bread and butter comes from, not wishing to rock the boat. And before you critics out there chastise me, yes, I just wrote a mixed metaphor.

Happy people were all around us, some of them in yoga pants, a fact I record for history. Quilt Queen had a hamburger, Orville eggs, sausage, and American fries, and I, guy, had blueberry pancakes. “Eat you all the taters you want,” Orville said. “He only eats half,” his wife said, and that included the sausage, so I ended up eating that, taters, and pancakes.

In the news (no, we didn’t discuss the Red Wave), the couple’s church has acquired a new pastor, and he will be installed next Sunday with much pomp and circumstance including some red robed bishops.

“Free food,” Orville said. “Why don’t you come with us?” I like the phrase “free food,” but the thought of hanging out with red robed bishops seemed a steep price to pay.

“I’m a heathen,” I said.

“Oh, we got much worse than you,” Quilt Queen says, not a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

I can’t imagine worse than me. Who can beat me for slovenliness, malaise, libtardness, perspicacity, fanfaronade, and horror of horrors, vituperative verisimilitude?

“Worse than me?”

“Way, way, way worse,” Orville says.

And here I thought I was the Lord High Heathen of the universe. A shrink once asked me to tell her the worst thing I ever did. I did. Oh, I hear that all the time, she said.

It is deflating to know your perverse thoughts are thought by the entire world thus you are not special, thank you Charles Darwin.

“Well, we got to go, Orville,” Quilt Queen said. “Family visiting today, and I need to tidy up. Nice to see you, Gene.”

And off they walked, and I watched and remembered other times. I speared a lone blueberry drenched in syrup and half a bite of American fry. A baby girl in a highchair grabbed some scrambled egg and tossed it to the floor, to the delight of the crowd, and she laughed and laughed, having not heard yet about perverse adults or Red Waves or yoga pants.

I walked outside and shivered. Baby, it was cold outside.

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True Colors

True Colors

I spent part of this day with a physician specialist. He told me I need a delicate eye surgery; he is arranging for me to meet “the top doctor in the country [in the field].”

My doc scanned his computer and said, “I want you to look at his photo.” He showed me a photo of a bearded Indian man in a lab coat and wearing a turban. I asked, “Why are you showing me this?” He was showing me the photo because some of his patients would die before receiving care from an Indian man in a turban, top doctor in the country or not.

If this sounds strange to you, I have written before of a plumber who worked on my basement and said he wanted to bring in an expert he knew, but he warned me that the expert was Black. After a huge storm in Godfrey, Ameren sent out representatives to check on customers without power. My rep was a young Black lineman. I asked how it was going. Fine, the man said, except for those white people who told him they wanted a white representative instead of him, to come into their home.

Without knowing the results of the election at 5:21 this afternoon, what will become of these men if our country succumbs to hate? What is it like to be Black or Indian or Asian or Latino, even when you’re a specialist? I, of course, don’t know.

I do know, I fear for the women in my life. I fear for my friends of color. I fear that millions of the Pale Tribe believe in superiority and are willing to act violently. I do understand that, because I have seen it in my family, my town, my state, my country.

I once sat next to Judy Collins and legendary folksinger Pete Seeger in a green room before a televised concert. I watched Mr. Seeger tune his banjo, the words on the body of the instrument reading, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”

Perhaps you are cynical and believe that slogan has outlived its time. I am a sceptic, yet I believe we all must surround hate. Or . . .

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Jim Crow’s Grandkids

Jim Crow’s Grandkids

The right wing posits affirmative action as a Communist plot, subtext the privileges Whitey and his/her children get . . . constantly.

The most egregious example of affirmative action goes all the way back to the end of the Civil War. Special Field Order # 15, January 16, 1865, Post-Civil War. Union General Sherman presented a copy of this order to a group of Black pastors in Atlanta, Georgia. It stated that freed slaves would receive forty acres of land. The bit about the mule was added later. The land would be subdivided from the former properties of Southern slave owners, 200,000,000 acres of land, surely a just ruling.

Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 15 of that year, well before the freed slaves could claim such lands. President Andrew Johnson (he would be impeached in 1868, but not convicted), under pressure from southerners with deep pockets, reversed the order, condemning five million freed Blacks to abject poverty, their only choices to stay with their former masters or move on.

Their possessions were the rags on their backs. Period. This was the birth of ghettos. Ghettos of poverty-stricken people who had been criminally grabbed from their African countries, with no hope, surrounded by hot hate. The captors who had enslaved them now hated them. The captors held untold wealth, the escaped slaves nothing.

The Trump crowd howl over the concept of reparations. Working- and upper-class whites steadfastly refuse to deal with racism. Blacks? should get over it. Only then we will live in harmony. Blacks don’t want us any more than we want them—we “know” this. Our fathers and mothers “knew” this.

Special Order #15 might have brought about healing. One can grow a lot of food on 40 acres, especially if a mule is doing the pulling. What would our country be like today if General Sherman’s order from Abraham Lincoln and cabinet members had become law, if all that Southern wealth had been split up, if 5,000,000 Blacks had passed on their 40 acres—200,000,000 acres—to their ancestors?

Affirmative action: “a set of procedures designed to; eliminate unlawful discrimination among applicants, remedy the results of such prior discrimination, and prevent such discrimination in the future.” Cornel University (a Commie school)

Have white Americans been recipients of affirmative action? White settlers of the West received 270 million acres free (after shoving out the Indigenous peoples). The 1935 Wagner act granted bargaining power to unions, leading to the white middle class. Hoorah! Oh wait, the Wagner Act also permitted unions to exclude Blacks.

How about returning WWII Black soldiers returning home and finding they couldn’t get housing or education as outlined in the newly formed GI bill? How about the real estate company Zillow recently publishing their own research which showed that African American mortgage applicants in 2019 were turned down 84 per cent more than were white applicants?

How about inequities in public education: “Educational outcomes for minority children are much more a function of their unequal access to key educational resources, including skilled teachers and quality curriculum, than they are a function of race.” The Brookings Institution (a Commie institution)

Alton affirmative action meant a segregated town until 1952, a fact left out by nostalgia posts about the good old days.

So when a Supreme Court consisting of mostly liars and conservatives with agendas asks questions of witnesses, indicating that affirmative action is about to be killed, it demonstrates a willingness no less egregious than slavery or the subjection of women.



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In 1897, twenty Black U.S. cavalrymen, dubbed “buffalo soldiers” by Native American tribes in the West, mounted their bicycles—yes, bicycles (no gears)—and rode nineteen hundred miles to St. Louis, where their arrival in Forest Park was roundly cheered. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “All semblance of color has left their shirts; their natty blue coats couldn’t be sold for dust rags in a second-hand clothing store.”

The forty-one-day journey included long stretches of mud and swamps, violent rain, deserts, snowstorms, carrying bicycles over mountains, wearing nets on their faces because of swarms of mosquitoes, freezing, heat exhaustion, wild animals, and, in many places drinking polluted water. Many of them were sick the entire journey. Yet they made it.

Also on the journey was an Army surgeon, a reporter, and of course, a white commanding officer. There would always be white commanding officers, from the Wild West through both world wars. (President Harry Truman desegregated the Armed Forces just before the Koran War.) Why? Why were Black soldiers in history always scrutinized by white commanders?

Alton’s James Killion Jr., in his WWII letters home to his mother, wrote about such supervision. He oversaw German and Russian prisoners, a few miles from the D-Day invasion. Always, a white officer oversaw him. Always, Mr. Killion was looking over his shoulder, acutely aware that no matter how efficient he was someone was watching him. The Tuskegee Airmen (I worked on the National Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project) experienced the same thing. Benjamin O. Davis was their Black commander, but Noel Parish, a white officer scrutinized him. Why?

The Buffalo Soldier bikes: donated by the Spalding company. The bikes weighed thirty-two pounds. Another twenty-eight pounds of gear was added, strapped in frames, or tied to handlebars. A two-day supply of food, meaning every third day they had to hunt, forage, and buy staples like eggs from local farmers. A bike mechanic rode along for obvious reasons.

A young Black man named Erick Cedeno (his Instagram handle is @bicycle_nomad) followed the 25th Infantry Buffalo Soldier route solo, arriving in St. Louis a week ago on the 125th anniversary of the adventure. A large crowd greeted his arrival. Huzzah!

The Army’s bike experiment was to see if bicycles could supplant horses (food, water, etc.). The experiment ended in St. Louis. (Fighting units in future world wars would have 25th Infantry units called Buffalo Soldiers few of which would see combat because Southern generals maintained that Blacks were mentally and physically inferior to whites.)

But again: Why? Why Black men on bikes? Or, why not?

The answer lies in the word experiment. “The Tuskegee Experiment,” 1932-1972, in which four hundred Alabama Black sharecroppers, infected with syphilis (they didn’t know it) went untreated so that white doctors could observe them. One hundred of those experiments died.

The Black women experiment. In 1840, a white gynecologist, James Marion Sims in Montgomery experimented on enslaved women. No anesthesia was used because the doctor was convinced that Black women didn’t feel pain. Nazi monster Dr. Joseph Mengele was intrigued by Dr. Sim’s experiment, employing many of the same methods on Jewish women (Adolph Hitler was an admirer of slavery in the South).

The Tuskegee Airmen experiment. Those brave men were never intended to fly missions in WWII. They were set up for photo ops and positive news stories. Eleanor Roosevelt and Black lawyer Truman Gibson (I interviewed him) conspired to get the Airmen into the war.

The how to kill a Black man when he doesn’t want to die experiment, in Belleville, Illinois.

New York Times, June 8, 1903

Belleville, Illinois, June 7. This has been the most exciting day Belleville  has known in years, as the result of the lynching last night of David J. Wyatt, the East St. Louis school teacher, who fatally shot Charles Hertel, Superintendent of Schools of St. Claire County, at 6 o’clock Saturday evening.

The mob hanged Wyatt to a telephone pole in the public square. Even while his body was jerking in the throes of death from the strangulation, members of the mob began building a fire at the foot of the pole. The flames flared up and licked at the feet of the victim, but this did not satisfy the mob, and another larger fire was started.

When it had begun burning briskly, the negro, still half alive, was cut down, and, after being covered with coal oil, was cast into the fire. Moans of pain were heard from the half-dead victim of the mob, and these served further to infuriate his torturers. They fell upon him with clubs and knives and cut and beat the burning body almost to pieces, and not until every sign of life had departed did they desist and allow the flames to devour the body.

As the fire lighted up the scene the members of the mob stood around the funeral pyre hurling more fagots of wood into the flames and denouncing the negro for the shooting. Not until the body had been reduced to ashes did the mob depart.

Fully 10,000 strangers visited the public square and viewed the site of the lynching.

Crowds came from all sections of Southern Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Kentucky. Only the charred telephone pole and bits of unconsumed flesh of the unfortunate Wyatt remained for their view.

Almost every citizen of Belleville visited the scene of the lynching today, and not one word was heard against the action of the mob in compelling Wyatt to expiate his terrible crime. No action has been taken by Acting Gov. Northcott to apprehend the lynchers.


Why weren’t twenty white cavalry soldiers recruited for the bicycle experiment? Why didn’t white settlers mine lead (Galena) and salt (Southern Illinois) instead of Haitian slaves? Inhaled lead particles led to multiple diseases. Salt scoured the skin and caused high blood pressure. Who better to do the work than non-humans? Bike riding in the Wild West? I can imagine some “Injun fighter” friend of the late last stander George Armstrong Custer: Hey, we’ve got twenty expendable Black soldiers out there; let them take the risks.

Today, we honor the experimented upon. I doubt that the Tuskegee airmen or the Buffalo Soldiers took a moment’s time to ponder the why. They did shit, and the Army and now the nation is finally honoring Black people. Truman Gibson told me that Tuskegee Airmen were not civil rights minded. Rather, they knew they were as capable as any white pilot in history; they were Americans, and they would do their duty even as white American lynched some, red-lined some, wouldn’t allow some into restaurants and movie theaters.

Actions have changed. People of many colors marched with King, and King got Lyndon Johnson (“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket.”) to sign the Civil Rights Act.

Counterpoint: In June, in line at the grocery store, a white husband and wife behind me: Husband: Juneteenth. What about us white people? Wife: Yep. Why don’t white people have a “teenth?” Madam, sir, your and my great-great-great grandparents have had a “teenth” since 1619. A woman in line in front of me at a restaurant listens to a man talking about being a bounty hunter in St. Louis. She turns to me and says, “How do you tell them apart?” Haw-haw-haw! The owner of a local oil change place tells a customer that Blacks have ruined St. Louis. The customer responds by “shooting” an imaginary gun, and the men laugh. Racism is as alive today as it was in the seventeenth century. But today we wouldn’t dare reinstitute slavery or experiment on people because of color. Right? Right, Steve Bannon and the Supremes and the White Pirates? Any of us who stays silent—any of us. . . is compliant. Silence is action, as punish able a crime as lynching.

“All semblance of color has left their shirts.” But not their skin. Remember the Buffalo soldiers.



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The Brave

The Brave

At the top of LaVista hill, Mulligan the dog (sixty pounds of part Pitbull, part Shepherd, full handsome) pulling his leash, was tugging his mistress along a row of newly planted trees. He stopped at each tree, raised his right hind leg, and marked his territory. He saw me—we meet a lot—and bumped against me, which is his way.

Suddenly I thought of Walter Matthau. In one of my all-time favorite films, he played a gum chewing sheriff in a New Mexico town, who several times a day looked out his office window and watched a dog (we don’t see the mutt) water its territory, and he smiles and says (paraphrasing), “That’s right. Now cross the street to the hydrant on the other side. . . That’s right. . . Now go on down past the diner. . . atta boy.” There was a comic music theme (Jerry Goldsmith of China Town fame was the composer) each time the dog passed by.

In the 1963 Lonely Are the Brave, Kirk Douglas plays Jack Burns, a cowboy railing against the modern world. He rides his horse Whiskey across the stunning Sandia Mountains (filmed in black and white) in New Mexico. If the pair encounter a barbed wire fence, Jack cuts it, and they go on. Jack stops at a ranch of his closest friend, Paul, and his wife Jerry (Gena Rowlands), learning that Paul is in jail. We learn that Jack and Jerry have always been in love.

Intercut into the action is a semitrailer truck barreling along a mountain highway (Carol O’Connor is the driver), carrying a load of toilets. Also intercut is the mellow sheriff, watching out his window and grinning at the dog who daily pees on every hydrant on the block. These are two good men drawn into a tragedy.

Jack goes to a bar in town, intending to get in a fist fight and taken to jail so he can be with help Paul escape. A one-armed man challenges Jack, who agrees to use one arm, and the one-armed man easily whips him. Jack punches the cop who arrives on the scene, and he is jailed and routinely beaten by a sadistic deputy sheriff (George Kennedy). He plots an escape; Paul will not go along.

Jack breaks out of jail and hikes back to Jerry’s house. He tells Jerry he can make it over the steep mountains if only she will give him a kiss. It is one of the greatest kisses in movie history. He saddles Whiskey, and they head toward a forbidding mountain, persued by the sheriff (he’s rooting for the cowboy to get away) and the evil deputy.

The truckload of toilets, the evil deputy, and Jack and Whiskey will meet. I will never forget watching the movie as a kid and sobbing.

The brave. Kirk Douglass. He had defied the House on Un-American Activities (HUAC) blacklist and secretly hired his friend the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to write his previous film, Spartacus. Then Douglas broke the blacklist again by openly hiring Trumbo to write Lonely Are the Brave. Dalton Trumbo. Johnny got His Gun. A member of The Hollywood Ten, who were convicted and jailed for refusing to testify before HUAC.

Fast forward to the January 6 witnesses, notably Cassidy Hutchinson, Wanda Moss, and her mother Ruby Freeman, whose courage in the face of death threats was astounding. Add Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. They are unlikely heroes who found themselves in yet another right wing conspiracy.

All of this came to me because I saw my dog pal Mulligan watering the LaVista Park trees, and I walked four miles farther and began to think about heroes.

Jack the cowboy, the nonconformist dies rather than be tamed. But that was stirring fiction, but real Kirk Douglas risked everything. In real life, some heroes of the Battle of Trump will have to die to end our national nightmare. A gunman will appear out of a crowd, and those in the crowd will learn what kind of people they are. The lawmen at Uvalde learned that they have no business serving and protecting because they are afraid. Josh Hawley ran. Ted Cruz would shit himself if confronted. We never know until we are confronted how we will react.

Who will be sacrificed? Women at the steps of the Supreme Court? More Black shooting victims? More children? How many deaths until MAGA is devoured by maggots?

On the walk back to my car, I caught up with Mulligan and his owner. Just to see him lifted my spirits, a moment of respite. He bumped me, and I told his owner about Walter Matthau. We parted. And I stopped and watched three piliated woodpeckers hammer at trees and a lone bluebird chasing butterflies. My blood pressure dropped, my heart rate slowed, my soaked in sweat body simmered in the rising heat.

We are called to defend democracy. Will you? Will I? We’ll know soon.

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Black lives do not matter, which explains why its opposite has become a rallying cry. All lives matter, obvious as that statement may be is not pertinent to what’s going on in this rapidly insane country of ours.

To those of us whites who feel compelled to say we are not responsible for historic events, we missed the point. No, we alive today didn’t land at Plymouth Rock and begin the slaughter of First Peoples (the real story of Thanksgiving). We weren’t in the American Revolution which, by the way, was as much about the right of the founding fathers to own slaves as it was about freedom. We didn’t fight alongside Andrew Jackson who brutally tortured and killed native women and children, to teach their men a lesson.

We didn’t segregate the Armed Forces in the pre-Korean wars. (Southern officers, descendants of Confederate traitors, controlled the commands of the armed services and inserted their own prejudices in the bargain.) We didn’t participate in the mass lynching of Black people during Reconstruction.

But those horrifying things happened. We learned history for a grade, but we didn’t learn from it and make ourselves better. The history taught in my hometown of Alton mentioned not a word about our segregated schools from 1895 to 1952. Not a word about cross burnings or restaurants refusing service to Blacks, about only allowing Black mothers to give birth in our hospital basements, about the movie The Birth of a Nation drawing thirty thousand cheering whites to the Hippodrome movie house on Broadway and the Alton Evening Telegraph declaring that the film was a true depiction of history.

And soon, our modern children won’t have factual history. It will be banned by white supremacists taking over school boards, so their innocent white children won’t be triggered by the truth. Black children? Sorry about that.

“Never again”: the most solemn oath of post-World War II. Are you kidding? We forgot immediately. In a mere hundred thousand years, we went from spears to AK-47s. In the twentieth century alone, we slaughtered two hundred million people in the name of God, superiority, and morality.

St. Francis of Assisi went along for the Crusades, witnessed the horrific slaughter of the “infidels,” and joined those infidels out of love. Martin Luther King Jr. knew he was going to be sacrificed, and he greeted death with open arms. How old fashioned. How against the grain, of the inevitable march of humanity.

The most egregious of “gifts” our white ancestors left to us was racism. After the human migration out of Africa (all people on earth come from tribes of African ancestors), evolution led to changing body characteristics, including losing the dark skin pigment of the original people and, adapting to climate, becoming “white.”

Those white people had also accidentally, coincidentally landed in the most desirable climate for large production of food, and for mineral resources, leading to the Bronze Age and guns which would allow small conquering forces to wipe out vast armies of opponents armed with bows and arrows.

Enter Columbus, the Vikings, the Crusaders, the British Empire, and the good old US of A, all enslavers, all founded on the notion that non-whites were savages. These Europeans wiped out millions of indigenous people in the Old, and New, worlds.

What we white people did do, what we white people do now, is live complacently and spout slogans. “Get over it.” “I don’t want to hear it.” “My people didn’t do that.” By being in denial, we perpetuate and regurgitate the unfounded prejudices and the staggering ignorance of ten thousand years ago. We charge white police forces with protecting our whiteness. And by proclaiming bigotry as a moral force in the national pulpits, we have ceded the tenants of all religions, of philosophy, of reason.

Now fundamental Christians are proclaiming the “end of days,” rather than taking responsibility for willful human self-destruction on a massive scale. Now fundamental Christians are throwing up their hands, importing red bulls to Israel and artificially attempting to bring about the end of the world. Bad news: there will be no Rapture.

We are godless. God left the building a million and a half years ago.

We can deny all we want. Ignore the fact that the poorest whites of our clans were born privileged, and now we don’t want to give up our “inheritance.” And we sure as hell don’t really want brotherhood, to become brothers with our original, Edenic selves, the mothers and fathers of us all. Why?

We hate ourselves. Have a nice day, and don’t forget to recycle.


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Fakely I’m Amazed

Fakely I’m Amazed

A few years ago, a friend of mine’s new, pushy wife came with him to a summer camp where he and I worked. She happened to be walking on the road when a newspaper reporter, coming to do a feature on the camp, stopped his car and asked if he was in the right place. She introduced herself as the publicity person for the camp, and she became the story, pissing off a lot of instructors. I asked her why she did that.

“You are what you say you are,” she answered.

“So, if I say I’m a doctor, I’m a doctor?”

She walked away.

I was reminded of that when a recent Facebook post showed some TikTok bits featuring nurses. Each one was shot in a video, stepping outside their hospitals, and crying for patients who had just died from Covid. It was touching. But weird. One nurse, someone with a cellphone camera—OK. But multiple nurses? Each video featuring a sobby pop soundtrack? (Nothing like pop music to stir the emotions.) Also, each nurse wore form-fitting scrubs, not the baggy kind we all have seen in hospitals. One of the nurses collapsed on the ground, legs spread, revealing underwear and more. Like I said, weird.

Turns out, each crying jag had been set up, filmed, and a soundtrack added by the nurses themselves. In other words, they were nurse performers. Their “you are what you say you are” was acting. The videos went viral—of course. Who doesn’t want to watch a nurse in her most painful moment, crying for a lost patient?

Me, that’s who. And what of the family members who lost loved ones to the pandemic only to see their loved one’s nurse staging her grief for thousands of viewers?

TikTok. When I first heard that new word, I watched a few videos and was repelled by narcissists staging everything from “accidents,” to reading bad poetry they had written, to kids acting sexy. What’s the harm? It is the inspiration for the current crop of teen shooters. This in my mind was the ultimate internet consequence: Look at me, look at me—even if I have to kill someone for attention!

Now people stage fake grief. Now people stage violence. Now some teens film themselves beating old people. Ho-ho-ho! Now every jackass in the world can now compete for subscribers. We transform from real to fake. We make fantasy come alive—badly. We exploit. We’re not loved enough so we stage emotions to compensate.

The master of this is Donald Trump, a narcissist posing as a rich man, a president, a TV star, a stud. In reality, he’s a rapist, a thief, a sexual predator of his own daughter. Yet he’s enabled by Deutsche Bank and fascist monsters from Erdogan to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman across the world.

The fake revolution WILL be televised.

I’m a doctor.

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Black Boys

Black Boys

I was artist-in-residence at Washington Irving School for over a decade. At a school assembly circa 1990, my friend Roy Chappell, one of the first Tuskegee Airmen in history, sat on the stage and talked to my kids. Roy told about the racism he endured in Alabama and in the war (from white soldiers).

An African American boy raised his hand and said, “Why’d you let those white people treat you like that? I’d of killed them. I wouldn’t be no slave, either.” Roy doubled over with laughter. “Son,” Roy said, “you have no idea.”

Boys are cocky. Inner city boys in particular. It’s a defense mechanism, and it can drive a fearful parent to drink and a teacher to distraction. A good teacher will patiently guide his or her students through factual history, not the myths of white historians, of founding of this country. Speaking from long experience, theater is an excellent way to enhance the learning experience. My life was profoundly changed as were the lives of many of my students.

Another cocky Chicago Black kid named Emmett learned a different kind of lesson in August 1955. His family had sent him to the delta town of Money, Mississippi to stay with relatives and get a respite from the city. (Martyr George Jackson, Letters from Soledad, also a cocky Chicago kid, would spend his summers with aunties who lived in and around Mt. Vernon, Illinois, my birthplace. My grandmother called him Georgie.)

One day, fourteen-year-old Emmett Till and his cousin walked into a white-owned country store to get snacks. The store clerk, a twenty-one-year-old woman named Carolyn Bryant was noticed by Emmett, and according to the cousin, he whistled at Ms. Bryant. Cocky city kid flirting with a Mississippi cute white lady in her store, what could be the harm?

Several nights later Emmett was kidnapped from his great-grandfather’s house by two men, tortured, and shot in the head, and his body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River. Carolyn Bryant’s husband Roy and another man were arrested and brought to trial. They were found not guilty by an all-white jury. (The killers admitted to the crime in a 1956 Look magazine interview, for which they received four thousand dollars, but authorities still did not arrest them. Both are now deceased.)

Emmett’s mutilated body lay in an open casket in a church in Chicago. His mother insisted that the body be displayed as it had been found in the river. Thousands of mourners walked by the once cocky Black boy’s body. It was a national news story, and it influenced the civil rights movement. In 2007, the Justice Department once again took up the Till murder case, to no avail.

Until now, only thoughts and prayers were being uttered for cocky Black boys. It was announced Wednesday that a forgotten folder in a discarded box of old records in the Laflore County, Mississippi courthouse, was dug out by researchers of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, and documentary filmmaker Keith Beauchamp. In the folder was a warrant for the arrest of Carolyn Bryant. The warrant was announced in 1955, but a sheriff, claiming he didn’t want to bother Mrs. Bryant, a mother of two kids, stuck the warrant in a box and stashed it away.

That warrant, according to authorities is valid today. The researchers feel that accumulated evidence gathered over decades would now indict eighty-seven-year-old Carolyn Bryant Donham (she remarried), alive and living in North Carolina.

“Serve it and charge her,” said Terri Watts, a relative of Emmett.

Germany and Israel over the years have arrested elderly Nazis and jailed or assassinated them. Emmet Till’s story is being swept out of history classes by the far-right Republican push to deny history. Teacher are being threatened and so are school districts. Nazis are among us.

Will the law now “bother” little old Mrs. Donham?

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Shirley You Jest

Shirley You Jest

I recall the thrill when I first read Shirley Jackson’s masterful 1948 story “The Lottery,” and the shock (I was a kid) of the story’s end. I’ve reread it several times and I’ve come to appreciate the allegory of conformity and ritual taken to its logical conclusion, hallmarks of nineteen fifties America. Huge numbers of unwashed readers back then, failing to recognize story as allegory, were outraged.

But now, seventy-four years later, I think there may be prophecy in the story’s pages. Less skilled, dystopian if not allegorical (and certainly realistic in the current political climate), are the popular “Purge” movies. I only saw the first one (starring Ethan Hawke), on HBO, but one was enough.

And then I got an idea. Marry “The Lottery” and “The Purge” (do you, Lottery, take thee, Purge), both annual feasts of slaughter. H. Rap Brown (“violence is as American as cherry pie”) is the minister. Hold a national lottery each year, in which say, a million unlucky winners are rounded up in a field on a new national holiday.

No Black on Black (white fantasy) duels, antisemitism, gun nut “kill them all and let God decide”—no. Children. Parents may opt to be killed with their kids, but no pardons. The winners are all races, creeds, political persuasions, etc. No passes for politicians or Supreme Court Justices. The 34th Amendment (The Greenie, celebrated on Green Day) ensures true death equality.

The million (losers? winners?) are surrounded by that year’s mass shooters armed with automatic rifles and handguns and hand grenades, and shot to death. Once the million are dead, the shooters kill each other in grudge matches.

Any other shooting of any kind on any other day, will be punishable by life with no chance of parole and forced to watch the same Dr. Laura’s and Dr. Phil’s programs over and over until death. Firearms for personal use are treated the same way as driver’s licenses, with written and performance tests. For inside the home use only. No guns in cars because whitey is afraid of Black people, no running out on one’s lawn and shooting one’s neighbor. Penalty (no bargaining or pleading): No trial. Automatic ten years in jail.

Consider the advantages of The Greenie. A million people a year shot to death in a controlled environment. Good for the environment! Good for population control! That year’s mass shooters all dead! Dead children make up for the ban on abortions! After all, shooting is abortion!

You’re welcome.

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