For several minutes, Senator Bob Dole, wheelchair bound, sat in silence before the body of President Bush. His jaws clenched repeatedly; he might have been chewing gum. He watched unblinking, thinking, no doubt, of his old friend, of war.
And then an aide helped him up and out of the wheelchair, and Dole, for a split second, with support from two men, stood ramrod straight and saluted with trembling fingers, George H. W. Walker Bush.
I literally bawled out loud. This moment should have been the wakeup call for Republicans who have lost their way. Senator McConnell and his Ayn Rand-loving ilk should have come here and asked Bush and Dole for forgiveness. Begged for forgiveness. And resigned immediately. And left the rotunda with honor.
Only then, could I forgive them. For only now will a revolution restore order in a house of obsequiousness, of japery: of madmen.
I remember young Bob Dole, pencil clenched in his fist, acerbic wit, flawed like the rest of us, loyal to a fault to his country, to its people. I remember George H. W. Bush, on “Saturday Night Live,” mocking himself, graceful and gracious. I remember these two men, with our fathers, facing the long day’s journey into the night of Europe and Japan, and they went forward, and they served. And yes, our troops were segregated, and only a few of our fathers came home and told us that secret, that segregation and Jim Crow infected us even in the trenches.
But they went forward. And our black fathers and brothers went forward.
Names like Nixon and Trump and Father Coughlin and McCarthy and Cohn, and now Gingrich and Hannity and Coulter and Huckabee, are affronts to decency, patriotism, world citizenry.
Bob Dole must have awakened this morning, having told his aides that he would stand and salute or die trying. He had a packed resume filled with “die trying” moments. There must have been muttering, over coffee, and venting about Mad King Donald. Millions of mourners, this morning, respecting the wishes of the House of Bush, must have also pledged to not let their feelings get the best of them: this was the day to honor and respect.
It is like meditation, willing a trance state to blot out myriad dark thoughts, to nerve block national pain, to remember the heroes, and to not mock the human viruses of our House, which are trying to subjugate us.
Republicans in North Carolina and Wisconsin and Michigan, even as a great Republican lies in state, are subverting the law, to steal the power of votes, to still resonant voices. They are doing this on our day of mourning. They should be dragged outside and put in stocks and let the winter shred their effrontery, let the gods of wind shriek in their ears.
In North Dakota, on this day, Ruth Buffalo, a Native American in full tribal dress, was sworn in to her state government. The pols standing behind her worked tirelessly to subvert the Indian vote. Yet, she did not gloat. She said she was ready to go to work.
In Southern Illinois, on this day, in the name of my fallen brother Ted Shobe, I am ready to go to work. In Upstate New York, on this day, my cousin Janet is ready to go to work. In Wisconsin, my brothers Fred and John, on this day, are ready to go to work. In Milwaukee, on this day, my sister Martha is ready to go to work. In Portland, Oregon, on this day, my brother James is ready to go to work. In Golconda, Illinois, on this day, my sister Liz is ready to go to work. In Florida, on this day, my brother Don is ready to go to work. In Elsah, Illinois, on this day, my sister Sheila S. is ready to got to work. In Jackson, Tennessee, on this day my brother Paul Jacobson and sister Vicki Stedman Pope are ready t go to work.In Atascadero, California, on this day, my brother David Mulvey is ready to go to work.
On this day, let us pause and give thanks for every decent human on earth whom faced adversity and persevered. Let us all praise President George H. W. Bush and Senator Bob Dole. Let us all plead for the silent Christians, who will not denounce the charlatans speaking for them, to find their moral voice.
Never: was a fight won with inaction, with blindness, with fear. Rise up, my loved ones. Sharpen your words
The time is now.
Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a former Saudi royal insider become dissident, has been tortured, murdered and mutilated inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. He was a Virginia resident.
President Trump made it clear that Khashoggi’s death would not stop the profitable arms dealing between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Nor, one presumes, will it stop the close friendship between the smirking Fascist Jared Kushner and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who “Sixty Minutes” profiled as a hipster who allowed Saudi women to drive.
The blood of thousands of Yemenis, including women and children, is on the hands of the hipster, making him the hippest mass murderer in history.
Jamal Khashoggi was killed for speaking. Journalists are being killed at alarming rates around the world. Our corrupt president’s obsession with journalists at home and “fake news” makes it inevitable that an American journalist will be killed.
If you think if can’t happen here, consider that Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who brought down a sitting president, lived in constant terror during the Watergate period. After all, Nixon discussed surrounding American cities with tanks and soldiers and declaring martial law. Henry Kissinger was calling the shots, he of the democratically elected Chilean government overthrow scheme fame who, on tape, ordered Pinochet dissidents to be thrown from helicopters.
Current American journalists under death threats: CNN’s Brian Stelter, Sacramento Valley Mirror editor and publisher Tim Crews, Oakland Tribune intern Anna Galledos, American Urban Radio Networks White House reporter April Ryan, New York Times journalist Kenneth Vogel, Associate Press reporter Amanda Lee Meyers; and the list goes on.
Two private jets loaded with Saudi hitmen, an autopsy specialist and a bone saw landed in Turkey, and were driven to the Saudi consulate. On tape, Khashoggi can be seen walking into the consulate (he needed papers that would allow him and his fiancée to wed). He does not come back out. Two hours later, his car is towed. The Turkish government has said they have audio recordings of Khashoggi being tortured and dismembered (it is rare that a government reveals what we all know, that countries bug their embassies).
According to Bob Woodward’s book “Fear,” Trump is a big fan of right-wing dictators. He is constantly on the lookout for ways to suppress free speech. Today’s plan is to ban protesters from the Washington Mall. Yesterday’s plan was to locate and censor Trump critics on Facebook. Not going to happen, head-in-the-sand Facebook users?
I in no way put myself on the journalist list. A column in the Alton Telegraph doesn’t qualify. Yet: a trusted friend was approached in his church, asked if I was his friend (I had written about him) and told to tell me I had better stop writing what I write. You need to get a gun, the friend told me.
The journalists I mentioned have had to hire security details, arm themselves, purchase attack dogs bred to fight. For whom are they fighting? For whom are they risking their lives? For what? How do they bear our seeming indifference?
For the truth. Even if the truth kills you.
Remember the W.C. Fields film “If I had a Million?” Our hero inherits money, buys an endless string of cars and drivers, and takes off on the highway, deliberately crashing into cars he perceives to be a public menace. After every crash, W.C. shouts, “Take that, you road hog!”
Which led me to think: Genehouse, what could you do to be part of the solution? And then it hit me.
I have previously stated that conceal carry is a practice of cowards. The actual perceived “need” for conceal carry, of course, is to keep yourself safe from black people. Your gun makes your dick bigger, right?
But I’m rethinking my stance on the issue. IF. If conceal carry advocates will agree to channel their aggression away from black people and perform the following public service.
1. Shoot all users of scooters in St. Louis. Yes, tourists and fat St. Louis residents are using rental scooters to ride around St. Louis. They ignore the “no riding on sidewalks” rule, and scoot along and shout, “Excuse me, excuse me!” Oh, to see a conceal carrier wheel around and shout, “Oh! Excuse me, you rude hog!” And blast the scoots to the Kingdom of Hell.
2. Tailgaters. Drive along Route 3 in Godfrey. When a tailgater approaches your bumper, slam on the brakes, get out of your car, wait for the driver to give you the finger, then pull your Glock 9 and shout, “I’ll shoot my gun, gun, gun till my daddy takes my pistol away, you rude hog!” Then send that (usually a millennial) kid (usually a female) to that place where they roast kids for din-din!
3. People in the express checkout line at Schnucks with 21 items. When the offender places that 21st item on the belt, pull your Ruger and say, “Remove that item or I will plug your melons!” And if that item remains, and the customer tells you to chill, shoot that sum bitch to that warm resort south of Earth’s crust where he will have to wait in line for eternity.
4. Rude diners. This is a wait-staff conceal carry provision. When your customer says, “Hey girlie, you’re new here, I want you to know your tip depends how you treat me (I swear to god, I heard this yesterday),” Pull out your .45 and say, “Enjoy THIS tip, you rude hog” and fill that hungry scumbag with lead and sesame seed dressing.
5. Walmart shopping cart speeders. You’re walking along, reading aisle signs, when a speeder on a cell phone whips out of aisle 6 across your bow, forcing you to stop or crash. Stop. Shout, “Hey, Trumpy, phone this, you rude hog!” Pull your .22. Aim. Think of the speeder’s ass as a target, with his asshole the bullseye. You get 5 Walmart dollars for a hit, 10 for a crack shot and 20 dollars for the bullseye. If you’re in the appliance area, the shit hits the fan!
It’s a win-win! No blacks shot, no stand your ground bullshit, BUT you get to ejaculate bullets and we will cheer!
Genehouse Inc.: Solving problems since 2015. Our motto: “Take that, you rude hogs!”
Today, I walk early to beat the heat, but there is heat and there is heat. Even the shadows along the path are warm and clammy, jungle-like, a caul, and gnats swarm my shoulders and face and perch on my sunglasses. The air is still, the river is still.
Robins fill the oak trees like orange ornaments and greet the sunrise. Vultures and the island’s resident eagles perch and watch, awaiting a breeze upon which to launch. Cliff swallows attack a moving cloud of insects.
And then heat and flowers approach, pass, and a soft voice says, Good morning, and a lithe and barely dressed young woman smelling of lilacs jogs past and ahead of me, her heat burning my left arm, my brain, my eyes (which I must now pluck out, as I have sinned) following the cadence of her confident hips.
This is the season of egrets. They have hatched their young and no longer live in the bird nurseries high in the trees. But they are social, so they gather at the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river, and the babies make a terrible noise as they prod their old ladies for regurgitated fish. Great egrets are plentiful, snowy egrets are endangered—just enough pairs left to count and number.
The road and paths are littered with walnuts and acorns. I kick the acorns along, setting new records with each strike as the orbs roll down the path. From now until November, the path turns crunchy underfoot.
And then heat and flowers reverse course, and the lithe and barely dressed young woman smelling of lilacs jogs past and behind me, her middle sweat-soaked, revealing her flower, her heat burning my left arm, my brain, my eyes (which I must now pluck out, as I have sinned), but I daren’t turn and watch, and I silently curse old age.
I think of Burt Lancaster playing the old man in Bertolucci’s masterful film, “1900.” The old man climbs a tree and refuses to come down until he gets a woman: “I want a woman!” His children and grandchildren implore him to come down, the men grinning because they understand, the women exasperated by the horn-dog old man. In Louis Malle’s “Atlantic City,” Lancaster plays an aging mobster who watches a casino waitress (Susan Sarandon) bathe her naked self in lemon juice (to kill the smell of fish), and his longing is palpable.
I stop for a bottle of water at Stevie’s house, at the bottom of Clifton Terrace. Stevie keeps a small refrigerator on her porch, and if you’re a member of the club you can help yourself to a water—even a beer. Stevie is 80, a cook for the Oblate Fathers retreat on the bluffs, and sings in a choir. We watch the hummingbirds work her feeder.
Back home, an hour of stretching is ahead. Scout the cat loves the stretching ritual. She views it as play; she runs between my legs, and rolls on her back and circles around me and pretend-attacks.
I play “Care of the Soul,” a compendium of music pieces which make wonderful meditation music: “Alma Redemptoris mater,” “Tu solus qui facis mirabilis,” Pickers’ “Old and New Rivers,” “Vespers: Ave Maria,” “Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten,” “Salve Regina,” “Fratres,” “Nuper rosarum flores,” Barber’s “Adagio,” Gorecki’s “Symphony No. 3, Second Movement.”
If you’re excitable or afraid or tired or elated, listen to this album and listen to your heart slow, slow, slow down.
Or lie stretched, eyes shut, visions of heat and flowers flooding your brain, remember, cry: I want a woman… and wait.
I walk with Ruby Puppy in the overgrown blackberry rows
butterflies and burst milkweed pods hanging over our heads
Peck’s skipper butterflies, a bellwether species,
small, yellow-brown, perch on tall grass stems
I pick berries and Ruby Puppy eats berries
sometimes out of my palm, and we work the field until it is empty,
the last two gallons of the season in my bowl,
a “bad” season due to blackberry blight
Hummingbirds flit in and out of pink and white blossoms
of Rose of Sharon
bluebirds perch on the fence line, bluejays squawk,
and swallows dive in defiance of physics
Misty rain, ominous cloudbursts, dazzling sunspots,
wind humming Samuel Barber’s “Adagio”
Ruby flops along the path and I rub her belly
with berry-stained hands and she utters whiny sounds
and nips my knuckles
We watch the ghost of Old Walt—recently put in a nursing home—
walk across the field to Orville’s porch:
Coffee? Oh, only if you got it. We got it, all right. Well then, black;
There were First People here 15,000 years ago:
When Orville used to plow the blackberry field, up came axes, spear points,
arrowheads, scrapers, fired clay shards
I pick and weep, mourning for my brother Ted
pick blackberries in remembrance of him.
I just saw him, we just saw him did we
see him had we ever seen him
Remember: “remember” is the weakest of words
Ruby Puppy and I dance a reel, me holding her front paws
while she jumps up and down I jump up and
down my shoes soaked with dew, we are schizophrenic
and who gives a good goddamn.
A ruby-throated female spent a long time at my feeder this morning. Normally, hummingbirds act territorially, but the lady was calmly sharing with what looked to be a bumblebee, a small black flyer at the tube next to her.
Then the bumblebee rose up and flew straight at the hummer, and the hummer rose with beating wings and put her beak on the bee, which wasn’t a bee at all, but a baby hummingbird being fed by its mother, a sight so breathtaking that I wept. Its face was that of Roberta Flack’s song.
And so this day went. On my walk, seventeen egrets—five snowy and twelve greats—lined the shore of Scotch Jimmy Island. Some of them had youngsters chasing after them. One mom fluttered up and so did her youngster, and the mom flipped and flew, and so did her youngster, and the mom landed and so did her youngster. We’ve all been there. Can’t get any me time.
At the top of Stroke hill, a bald eagle perched in a sycamore tree and watched two puppies in a back yard. I shouted, and the eagle soared off. Along the river, yet another eagle drafted over the treetops.
The cicada chorus sang its mad-inducing ascending and descending song, and frogs joined in. Carolina wrens and mockingbirds shouted each other down. I know I am among the last on earth to hear and see such sights—birds are disappearing as are insects—and so may this essay be part of the last record of the last days.
It is grasshopper season. Every step along the river path stirred the hoppers up and away on dry wings. The last of the summer butterflies root in the dust and puddles along the way, soaking up nutrients and minerals. Dog-eye sulfur butterflies flitted about and so did tiny purple hairstreaks and giant, fan-shaped purple swallowtails.
The local roads have begun wriggling with fuzzy caterpillars wending their way forward. I have never seen a bird pluck up a caterpillar. Perhaps some chemistry is involved. Swallows flit around the bluffs and gorge on butterflies.
This is the worst tomato season I remember. I love tomatoes, have been known to eat five or more a day in good years. My friend Farmer Orville’s tomatoes are red and chewy and tasteless. I bought five tomatoes at Ringhausen’s Orchard, ate one and threw away four.
The three greatest tastes on earth: Tomatoes. Peaches. Women. I could eat all of them every day and never get tired. Not necessarily in that order.
I walked up past the hummingbird feeder. Three ladies sipped nectar cocktails. Maybe the baby, sated and drowsy, maybe the baby, nature’s ambsace, maybe the baby
I watched Laurel and Hardy last night in “Sons of the Desert.” It’s one of the great comedies ever filmed, with a skewed look on marriage (Stan’s wife is out duck hunting). Stan and Ollie join a lodge, Sons of the Desert, and they scheme to go to the Chicago convention but are terrified to tell their wives.
I love Ollie, but Stan is in a class unto himself, a world class actor who invents things when he’s not the focus. He does five things with his hair in seconds. Watch him eat a wax apple and get more and more into it. “You… wax eater,” sneers Ollie’s wife. And Stan goes from content apple eater to melting man in a long take of his elongated face.
There is no record of Stan Laurel knowing Samuel Beckett. Maybe I should invent such a meeting in a play. Beckett is the greatest writer of the 20th Century. And Stan Laurel is the dream actor to star as Estragon in “Waiting for Godot.” Steve Martin killed on Broadway, Laurel would retire the masterpiece because there would be nowhere else to go.
I was at Symphony Hall in Chicago once to hear Edward Albee lecture. He told a story about calling up “Art Miller” and saying, “Art, let’s go to Moscow and meet some dissident Russian writers.” And Art replied, “Let’s do it. But, let’s stop off and in Paris and hang around with Sam Beckett.” This is a writer’s wet dream of a scenario.
Stan Laurel grew up in a theatrical family, and he excelled as a mime. A mime, that is, not in whiteface but just another guest at the party who, while the other guests verbally interact, lives out a silent and devastatingly funny side existence. Slowly, your eyes gravitate to the silent partner who makes drama out of every little contrivance. You also look for the foil (often Oliver Hardy or a disgruntled wife), someone who sees what you see but wants to kill the partner or the husband.
I could watch Harpo Marx chase women in the Marx Brothers movies forever. But for substance, for sheer artistry, Stan Laurel ranks above Chaplin (Stan understudied for Chaplin) and the great Peter Sellers.
Stan Laurel didn’t invent Absurdism; he was Absurdism. His face was a great work of art. His splendid fingers were machines invented by a genius. His sense of balance—watch him go from staggering to balancing on one foot steady and unswerving—was unparalleled. He was an athlete, a dancer, an acrobat. He drew himself on his own blank slate of a face catching fire with wonder every few seconds.
Watch “Sons of the Desert.” Watch Stanley get up the courage to admit to his wife that he is a liar. Watch his reaction when his wife looks longingly at the barrel of her ginormous hunting rifle. Watch Stan and Ollie dance a hoochy-coochy with Chicago showgirls.
Pardon my Transcendentalism, I can only hope that in the Oversoul of the collective consciousness Sam Beckett and Stan Laurel are dancing and juggling and waiting for Dave Chapelle to join them in the ultimate human statement of meaning and hope and humor that is “Godot.”