Friday, December 17, 2004

Say Kids, What Time Is It?

Winter solstice is icumen in. Story time.

Have I said this before? You know at my my age we repeat ourselves. Sure, short-term memory. But at my age repeating it until you get it right seems more important than something else new and goony.

Yes you start out being Howdy Doody and you end up looking like Mr. Bluster. And if Clarabell is your hero the whole time---you don't have any idea what I'm talking about, do you? Gather the kids around for another story by the Old Ranger. (No, not the Lone Ranger. I know the difference, thanks. Do you? )

It's nice to fill this with allusions almost nobody will get. Or is that the cynicism of age? Yeah, the good old days. They had Joyce and Pound. We had Neil Simon and that King fella. Sherman King was it? Bernard? I can't remember. Wrote those long spooky books I never read. Liked a couple of the movies though. That one with Anthony Hopkins. No, not that one. Hearts in Atlantis, yeah, that was it. Where was I? Was I rambling?

Stephen, that's it. Stephen King.

So, kids, let me pass on the fruits of my experience. Ready? It won't take long, believe me.

1. To stay warm in the cold, wear a scarf and a hat. Coats are good, but the essentials to feeling warm are a scarf and a hat. The French have been on to this for some time.

2. The best thing you can do for your day is to drink a full glass of water first thing in the morning. You'll live longer.

3. The best thing you can do for your car is to let it warm up a few minutes before you drive it. Your car will live longer.

4. Now we're in the neighborhood of bitter lessons. Let's not stay here too long, okay? Success in the world entirely depends on the enthusiasm of others. Especially others with power, which means either the right other at the right time, or lots and lots of others voting for you with money (or I suppose votes, if that's your thing.) A very hard lesson, I assure you. For an introvert, even harder.

That's about it. Or anyway, all that I can remember at the moment.

So now is the winter of our discontent, or to quote that other poet, it's not dark yet, but it's getting there. I suppose this so-called civilization has been simultaneously falling apart and reaching for new heights for a long time, but the reaching part seems to be losing out to the falling apart part. This last election may signal the fast stage decline, like a falling object looks to be floating down until it's a few feet off the ground and then, whoosh, womp. I'm trying not to project my personal prospects on the world, but as bad as they might be, they don't look so bad alongside this country's. At least it's unlikely I'll wind up killing a lot of innocent people.

Just before I left Pittsburgh---I've told you this one, right?---well, listen to it again. Just before I left Pittsburgh I was selling about half of my record collection to a used record dealer (probably should have sold the other half, too. My record player doesn't work, and new ones are now luxury items.) The dealer was about my age. One of those 60s type rock albums must have inspired some mention of global heating, the environment going to hell, fundamentalist fascism, nuclear annihilation or maybe all of them. Anyway he said something like, well, looks like by the time the shit hits the fan we'll be gone.

I laughed. I'd made the same damn calculation. Yeah, the world is ending but probably not till mid 21st century, by which time I will have lived my life in relative freedom and prosperity, with fish still in the ocean,a few trees left in a few forests and some air somewhat fit to breath.

Well, thanks to GW Bush and his hypnotic evil laying a numb pall of "partial-birth abortion" and "reality TV" (two expressions that are as completely nonsensical as privatized social security) upon the land, which in my worst nightmare I couldn't have imagined in 1996, it's all speeding up. (Actually that's not quite true. I imagined it in 1989, in a novel that not only predicted somebody very much like Bush in the White House, but also a national siege protected by something I called Homeguard. An unpublished novel naturally.)

The apocalypse coming up fast, by design apparently, so no time for horsing around. Time to pony up. Time for horseshit until the cows come home, and the chickens come home to roost. Funny about those farm metaphors and barnyard epithets, or epitaphs as my spell check wants me to say, when none of us have been on a farm since childhood. Because there aren't any. But then, they're in the Bible, so very contemporary. The earth is 6,000 years old, haven't you heard? What I don't understand is why they don't also insist it's flat and the center of the universe, which is also in the Bible.

Where was I? I've got one more thing to say to you kids. What the hell are you doing? You've got an insane immoral war going on! You've got this toxic moron in the White House who is sinking you into terminal debt to profit his fat ass pals. Now you've got voting rights being taken away from African Americans, as well as others, right out there in the broad daylight of Ohio, not to mention Florida and Pennsylvania and so on, and not a peep.

I'd like to think My Generation would have made all the noise we did even if we weren't being drafted. Some of us were marching for Civil Rights before the draft entered into the equation on the war. But maybe we would have given up before we did, which was when we were exhausted. Then the world got disco and it's been downhill from there. Anyway, we only made so much noise because we were a big big generation. The noisemakers were a small percentage, at least until the early 70s, but impressive in numbers.

But you guys. All I see on the political blogs is, why isn't Kerry doing something about this! Why isn't Clinton! What would Oprah do? And I tell them: forget about daddy. Everybody's looking for daddy to do it for them, and daddy can never do enough. Daddy Kerry issues a statement, then why doesn't he sue in court? Daddy Kerry sues in court, then why doesn't he go on TV?

You can't count on daddy politician or mommy officeholder or daddy media star or mommy talk show host. The kids have to do it themselves. Again. We did.

If there is a grassroots effort, then leaders have to take notice. Political leaders are never the first to commit. JFK knew the Democrats would lose the South for generations if they supported Civil Rights. It took 300,000 of us marching on Washington in 1963 to provide political cover and to convince the world that the time had truly come.

It was a test of leadership. LBJ failed it in 1968 when we marched on the Pentagon. Nixon failed it in 1971 when we marched behind John Kerry and Nixon circled the buses around the White House. But JFK invited the leaders of the 1962 march to the White House that very day. Then he took the chance.

New leaders emerge from that kind of movement. If you've got smart people who can talk, new media voices emerge, too. There's so much on these blogs about people power and net power. But they're still looking for daddy.

I said some of this on one of those political blogs. Somebody's comment agreed with me, said taking it to the streets is the thing to do, now if only somebody like Jesse Jackson would get behind it... Uh huh. I think I'll go back to talking to myself on my own blog.

All those marches against the war in Iraq didn't stop anything, but they did change the debate in the Democratic primaries. But since the election a shell-shocked quiescence has settled over the land. Maybe it's finals week, I don't know. But daddy isn't going to do it for you. And by the way, neither is granddad. Although being one sounds like it could be fun.

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