May 23, 2014

It Is What It Is, Somalia

I am in a soundless vacuum, beating on a wall that absorbs ruthless blows without resounding. I am climbing breathlessly up a hill without advancing, yelling at the top of my lungs at people standing within reach who cannot hear or see me. I cannot hear my own voice. I am invisible, anxious, frantic, and I am nothing; not really there. I exist but I am powerless. Impotent. My movement is sluggish and surreal, a suffocating nightmare. It is a silent, inescapable prison. I am a harmless lunatic lost in a limitless desert, prisoner of a bad dream with an urgent message that I can't deliver. I cannot awake.

I don't know why.

Perhaps psychologists have a definition but I don't know it.

Is this my life? This was part of my life in the best exaggeration I can write. Of course it is an exaggeration, because between nightmares I've not had so bad a time. I've known some wonderful people, some extraordinarily generous and unselfish activists in the cause of justice, some simple, goodhearted and honest persons too, and occasionally I enjoyed the company of exquisite women, and I have laughed myself into stitches now and then. I have also known a serial killer and some real stupid and mean scumbags. But now my journey is nearly finished. Death soon will foreclose my dream.

But death is not a nightmare to me. Some of the above reeks of dramatic dishonesty; hyperbolic. I don't fear death and only slightly dread the pain of passage into what I imagine is nothingness and erasure of the personality writing this, all memory and experience forever gone, and probably a relief from awareness of the nightmare born of too much consciousness, too much mental pain and the futility of not enough—of no success; I ain't had too much satisfaction. Between bouts of self pity and resentment, to be honest, perhaps I lacked ambition; or maybe I drank too much, took too many drugs, smoked too much grass, made the wrong choices, and was a selfish and terrible man, grandiose and unendurable, as my critics would imply if they had the courage to speak up. Whatever. My critics can go to hell. I was there, I put up with their crap, most of them are dead or dying, which makes me happy, and I am still here occasionally laughing my ass off. Some of them have no awareness of what I did for them.

To die I imagine is finally to connect, to resolve, and to conclude and surrender. It is what I wait for, what I prepare for, and evidently what I have lived for: to die. Death is the ultimate meaning of life. I believe that death is the end. I don't believe in an afterlife, reincarnation, or reward or punishment for how I lived. I lived the rewards and punishments already. They wafted past like butterflies and stung like wasps while I waited for something else. I suffered without much suffering, joyed without real pleasure, and dozed restlessly on lumpy beds beneath a blanket of prescribed drugs, and the best moments of my life were in dreams. I flew out of the window once and soared around the neighborhood beneath a full moon and woke up laughing my ass off.

There was always tomorrow. Yesterday was in storage. I attempted to create, to build, to change the cruel world, and to leave a non-material but a better inheritance than property for my progeny. My progeny, lazy, Yale-educated, and soon to inherit incredible wealth, living without working and ashamed of his impoverished father, is a heavy burden but not unbearable. 

It depresses me to think that the effort was meaningless, that it might have been all the same without effort. Our relatives if they can afford it place stone monuments over our bones, speak words of praise, establish trusts; or in my case have utterly disowned and abandoned. And then they also die and no one remembers. It doesn't matter. Our images fade in photographs in old albums, albums get tossed in garbage cans when we die alone in apartments of distant cities, our names scrawled on the back. Our records are digitized in gigabytes of algorithms that no one will interpret. Who cares if we served in the military, graduated from universities or were autodidacts, fell in love with improbable Swedish women, stood 30 feet from the greatest revolutionary of the Twentieth Century, wrote unpublishable novels, failed at everything, or murdered a cat on a bridge? After awhile, no one cares. No one cares now. Perhaps an iconoclastic historian will dig it up and write an obscure footnote to illustrate the rage of the age; another great lie.

Old people all over are hunkered down in bunkers of some sort waiting for the inevitable and glad not to be in the rain and cold. The young are running around like chickens thinking that they rule the chicken pen. Eagles and hawks watch from surrounding trees for a chance at a meal. It's hard to stay hopeful and positive when pain drags you down but people try anyway. Those who cannot try anymore take the easy way out, usually with a gunshot to the head. There's nothing wrong with that if you don't mind being cursed for a coward by those who have to clean it up. It's a crime to commit suicide but you can't be prosecuted if you succeed.  Shoot the heart and not the head if you want respect from paramedics. It's fascinating that men more than women shoot themselves in the head, splattering their brains and ruining their faces. Suicidal vanity I suppose. A heart-shot is cleaner and quicker.

Young kids killing themselves is heartbreaking. What sort of pain and desperation causes that? You want to beat their parents.

I have two real friends and they live far away. Occasionally we talk on the phone. I check in to Facebook for the latest Bob Dylan videos and drop a prescient comment now and then. Sometimes I spend hours in a chat room where my fast typing and quick wit wins friends and makes enemies. I don't take it seriously or personally. I try not to hurt anybody but sometimes my political stinger hurts. It's a way to pass the hours. It's all I need for a social life. I am not unhappy and never expected to be happy. I was born to be lonely and unhappy. I'm used to it. I regret that I could not do more for the world but the world does not need me to keep on keeping on. It is what it is, Somalia. It's not my problem anymore.

May 13, 2014

No Going Back

You can't go back. You can try but you will fail. The place and circumstances and people you knew have changed and nothing is how you remember. Everything is different. Even your memory is deformed. Mutated. It changed when you did. The road is wider. The corner store is gone. They tore out the railroad tracks and paved the old clamshell road. Everything seems smaller. The people are older and fat. You have not gained a pound. They remember your face but not your name. Only the enormous German police dog remembers you. He jumps up at the gate and licks your face while a neighbor shouts: "He tore off a woman's face!" You lick him back. He remembers your scent and that you gave him snacks and once a chocolate covered cherry with a Valium in it to stop his all-day barking. He loves you. You love him. The people rent you the same room from five years before. The price has doubled.

But you passed out of their neighborhood and out of their lives and they changed like you did. But not like you. You kept moving. You may have mistaken mobility for freedom but by chance or odd design you found a different kind of freedom that no one understands. There's no use explaining. You barely understand. It took years of miserable loneliness for you to get it. It's the freedom to cut loose and leave stuff behind and keep moving and live like a traveling hermit, while walking among them appearing normal. They cannot comprehend because they are more social. They pity you but don't say it. They hate being alone. They need each other. They need someone to talk to. They talk all day and night and it seems very important to them. They start talking when they wake and stop when they sleep. You go days and weeks without talking to anyone except store clerks or people at bus stops. It's all you need because people talk such merde.

Old yippie that you are you still feel the same. You don't believe the hype. You saw the leaders with their masks stripped off and the monsters beneath. You saw the hypocrites and the dead soldiers. You saw the slaughtered people. You saw the whole damned country boozing it up 90 miles an hour down a dead end street without a care in the world. Your home in Louisiana where the flamingos and cranes lived in millions has become a green-scummed chemical cesspool. The birds won't return for a hundred years. Why should they? Birds are smart. They know poison when they see it.

It is disgusting. A gaudy casino occupies land where the old First Baptist Church was. The people are disgusting. The politics is disgusting. The politicians are disgusting. The million lookalike strip malls from coast-to-coast are disgusting. The interstates full of disgusting trucks tearing up the disgusting roads and hauling money from place to place are disgusting too. The shoddy chipboard furniture is disgusting. The porno industry is disgusting. Most of the films are disgusting. Prices and profits and wages are disgusting. The greedy capitalist billionaires are disgusting. The poor people with no morals or honor are disgusting. The fabulous fiberglass casinos shaped to resemble lavish palaces are disgusting. Gambling is disgusting. Churches are disgusting. Priests are disgusting. The list goes on and on. Lists of disgusting things that most people accept without question. You look in the mirror and that is also disgusting.

You don't let it get to you anymore. Now you are old. You watch your skin wrinkle with age and your muscles atrophy, and it is not lovely. Worrying is not worth it. You tried to make a difference and never made much of one. You helped people along the way but wasted most of your life trying to figure things out and to follow your grandmother's consul: always to do the right thing. You wish you had stayed in the Marine Corps. That was simple. Learn to kill and do a good job. Put your life on the line every time you go to work. You could be a general if you had known then what you know now. But many generals are disgusting too. Still you would not mind killing a whole bunch of bastards. And you call yourself a liberal. Finally you live with your own contradictions. Sometimes it cracks you up.

You wonder what it all was for, and finally you know that this is what it was for. It is not so bad. You tripped over half of the western hemisphere working and reading and writing and finally just wanted a place to rest. This is it. It's quiet and peaceful. The rent and utilities are paid and you have a fast computer. It is your social life. Nobody knocks on your door. You are happy in a way but happiness is a relative thing. Being happy is overrated. At least you don't have to go to a hateful job and listen to them jabber about nothing all day. Do you hate people? Are you a misanthrope? No. You are simply sick of hearing them yak all the time. They chose their paths. You chose yours. Live it and die when you die.

May 11, 2014

Morning Thoughts

We know we will die. Our minute of death approaches with the measurable swift movement of the moon. We live beneath a hatchet poised over our necks, and there is nothing we can do to stay its chop. We dine, drink, dance, work, play, write, and try to craft our lives around artistic, beautiful, and excellent themes, despite the looming hole in the ground that will hide our dead bodies. Trillions of germs lurk within our organic cadavers to finish the job inside hermetically-sealed coffins designed to keep out worms and confine stink; a manufacture to validate our illusions of deathless existence.

Death becomes unreal after the last shovelful of dirt. It doesn't even smell. As we decompose our bodies expel methane, benzine, ammonia, and other gases that we didn't know we harbored. The trillions of e-coli germs of our intestines, which have digested our food, now digest our remains. And they die.

It's ugly, isn't it? We try not to think about it. Death is impossible to conceive. In order to deny it we cause it. We kill everything in our path, especially one another, for various reasons making little sense. Cows, buffalo, passenger pigeons, chickens and ducks, mastodons, plants and dodos, whales and crawfish, frogs and birds; we eat them with gusto. We clothe ourselves with their skins and shells and adorn ourselves with their garments.The living capture the living and kill and eat it in order to live, and then dress in their remains. We are life thriving on the death and consumption of living things.

When I die I prefer to utterly vanish. I'd rather be cremated, denying germs their mission and speeding the process, releasing my atoms into the web of everything, than be buried; but I have no say, being poor. Wills are meaningless to officialdom. I cannot dictate with confidence my preferences. One day I hopefully will simply drop dead without very much pain, and whatever the City of Las Vegas decides for my corpse is a done deal. If I could I would erase all documentary evidence of my existence, but it is impossible. No one can do it. Only fear or extreme disappointment or unendurable pain can hasten us to suicide and make us wish to erase every trace.

A graveyard is a junkyard for bones. We make it as pretty as possible. Beneath manicured lawns and expensive, chiseled stones of granite, marble, and other polished rocks lie millions of bones of people who lived beautiful or vile stories. Most of the stories will never be known, and those remembered will be forgotten sooner or later. The vast universe remains incomprehensible despite persistent efforts of scientists--modern magicians--with elaborate instrumentation and encyclopedias of knowledge and theories.

This morning I heard a bird-call that I could not identify. It wasn't a member of the family of sparrows that thrives this Spring in the leafy branches outside the window. I know their chirps and whistles. Pained as usual and drugged, I reached for a slat in the venetian blinds to see, but the effort was painful so I went back to sleep. The song was different from any bird I have ever heard. It could have been anything, even a clever mockingbird, proved capable of a thousand sounds.

If it was a mockingbird I wonder what it imitated. All I know is that the song was meant for me because I heard it. I was meant to wonder. I was meant to write it. 

That's fate. No one can deny fate because death is fate, and everything is chance except dying. We cannot deny death. We can deny theories of global warming, the finales of films, accusations of the law, and and assertions of people who dislike us, and we can deny even that there is a god or a higher power ruling all; but no one can deny the death that will stop our heartbeats and deaden our electrochemical brains.

Why do we grieve? It seems absurd to bemoan the inevitable passing of life. Logically, we should celebrate, but we don't. We cry even for the passing of strangers who enriched us with skill or art or heroic deeds. And no matter what we say most fear non-existence. How can we understand or accept the complete end of lives that seemed so precious? Of egos we didn't even know we had? Even those whose lives have been unfulfilled, ruined, and miserable, who should welcome death, fear.  Much of our bravery is bravado; false courage.

Mine too. But I do not tremble yet. Perhaps I will. Maybe I won't. How can I know until the moment arrives? It is said that no soldier knows whether he is a coward until the bullets fly. 

Meanwhile, I will assume a brave face and write some more of things that seem important but really are not. Am I a cynic? Am I a fool? Am I only an extra in the dumbshow of the streets?

I don't know.

The bird is back but the blinds are drawn to keep out light and heat. I might rise from my chair and look again. On second thought, I won't. Mystery is important.

It keeps us interested.

But I am no longer curious about the bird. Anyway, it is gone now.

May 9, 2014

Too Late

I will never see Rome, never know Paris or London, never visit Berlin or Stockholm, and never enjoy the brothels of Prague. It is too late, I am old and poor, and there is no chance to win the big lottery because I don't play it. Why should my luck change now?

But I have seen the United States from end-to-end with the exception of Alaska, and I have worked my ass off from coast-to-coast for slave wages. I have dined with the FBI agent who went down with Nixon, Erlichman, and Haldeman, boldly asked Susan Sarandon for a date (she declined), and given John Lennon a free ride in my taxi. (He didn't need it.) I saw Fidel Castro twice in Managua, Nicaragua.

Bob Dylan asked me for a light once (I'd just quit smoking), I met John Nance Garner (FDR's first vice president) in an empty cafe at Uvalde, TX, at three in the morning, and I was under an atom bomb explosion in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when the bomb went off 200 miles above.

I have lived but there is no evidence of it. My life has been exciting and special and in that way only do I share in the common experience of humanity, and I will not be remembered a day past the moment when they shovel dirt over my cheap box.

It doesn't grieve or trouble me at all.

I accept everything that happened and everything that is yet to happen, perhaps with not the greatest of cheer or the grandest of grace but at least without whining or begging for forgiveness or understanding. I am a hard man with a soft heart.

I have opinions.

One is that most men are bad. Another is that many women are as bad as men. Another is that the human race is truly fucked, and it is too late to pull back from the brink. We are on the slippery slope to ignominious oblivion, and if the earth could rejoice it would. Good riddance to creation's worst pest. I fully agree with myself.

I wonder if I am a misanthrope. I think not because I have felt great love. That love and a dollar won't purchase a cup of coffee, and none of the objects of my earthbound affections and romantic inclinations believed in or cared for it a'tall. Oh well.

I don't know or care what human life is about. I have no answers and am no longer curious about the questions. I am tired, Egypt, tired. Let me sleep. Wake me when it is time for the funeral. On second thought, let me sleep through it.

It's been a long, hard road.

May 4, 2014

Reflections on Freedom and Death

It is a quiet Sunday morning, and I am reading History Will Absolve Me, my second reading in 20 years of Fidel Castro's speech to the court that sentenced him to 26 prison years for the attack of Cuban patriots on the Moncada Army Barracks in Santiago de Cuba in 1953 to overthrow the corrupt Batista dictatorship. The words reach out over the years to resound in my brain because many seem to apply to economic, cultural, and social conditions of the people of the United States today.

I un-muted the TV to see Meet the Press. Ho hum, Gov. Rick Perry again, sounding like G.W. Bush, stumbling over his prepared remarks, refusing to admit that Texas has enough poor people to sink the Titanic, refusing to admit that unemployment is down and the economy is better (I wonder how many oil profits he banked) and generally proving that he is prime presidential material (NOT).

And then comes a discussion of the Benghazi attack. Another yawn. Please have a discussion of building n stilts along the coasts and a massive construction of dikes (I almost wrote "dykes") in all coastal areas. We are sitting on our butts waiting for another Katrina to hit New Jersey. Dikes, please. Save Brooklyn. Save the East Coast.

Dykes for Dikes, please have a meeting.

The Benghazi Media Fanatics are nagging the wrong officials. Instead of questioning Democrats they should be asking CIA. Ha, ha, I'm joking.

Here's Fidel telling the court what would have happened if one of his units had been in the right place at the right time:

As soon as Santiago de Cuba was in our hands we would immediately have readied the people of Oriente for war. Bayamo was attacked precisely to locate our advance forces along the Cauto River. Never forget that this province, which has a million and a half inhabitants today, is the most rebellious and patriotic in Cuba. It was this province that sparked the fight for independence for thirty years and paid the highest price in blood, sacrifice and heroism. In Oriente you can still breathe the air of that glorious epic. At dawn, when the cocks crow as if they were bugles calling soldiers to reveille, and when the sun rises radiant over the rugged mountains, it seems that once again we will live the days of Yara or Baire!
I stated that the second consideration on which we based our chances for success was one of social order. Why were we sure of the people's support? When we speak of the people we are not talking about those who live in comfort, the conservative elements of the nation, who welcome any repressive regime, any dictatorship, any despotism, prostrating themselves before the masters of the moment until they grind their foreheads into the ground. When we speak of struggle and we mention the people we mean the vast unredeemed masses, those to whom everyone makes promises and who are deceived by all; we mean the people who yearn for a better, more dignified and more just nation; who are moved by ancestral aspirations to justice, for they have suffered injustice and mockery generation after generation; those who long for great and wise changes in all aspects of their life; people who, to attain those changes, are ready to give even the very last breath they have when they believe in something or in someone, especially when they believe in themselves. The first condition of sincerity and good faith in any endeavor is to do precisely what nobody else ever does, that is, to speak with absolute clarity, without fear. The demagogues and professional politicians who manage to perform the miracle of being right about everything and of pleasing everyone are, necessarily, deceiving everyone about everything. The revolutionaries must proclaim their ideas courageously, define their principles and express their intentions so that no one is deceived, neither friend nor foe.

In terms of struggle, when we talk about people we're talking about the six hundred thousand Cubans without work, who want to earn their daily bread honestly without having to emigrate from their homeland in search of a livelihood; the five hundred thousand farm laborers who live in miserable shacks, who work four months of the year and starve the rest, sharing their misery with their children, who don't have an inch of land to till and whose existence would move any heart not made of stone; the four hundred thousand industrial workers and laborers whose retirement funds have been embezzled, whose benefits are being taken away, whose homes are wretched quarters, whose salaries pass from the hands of the boss to those of the moneylender, whose future is a pay reduction and dismissal, whose life is endless work and whose only rest is the tomb; the one hundred thousand small farmers who live and die working land that is not theirs, looking at it with the sadness of Moses gazing at the promised land, to die without ever owning it, who like feudal serfs have to pay for the use of their parcel of land by giving up a portion of its produce, who cannot love it, improve it, beautify it nor plant a cedar or an orange tree on it because they never know when a sheriff will come with the rural guard to evict them from it; the thirty thousand teachers and professors who are so devoted, dedicated and so necessary to the better destiny of future generations and who are so badly treated and paid; the twenty thousand small business men weighed down by debts, ruined by the crisis and harangued by a plague of grafting and venal officials; the ten thousand young professional people: doctors, engineers, lawyers, veterinarians, school teachers, dentists, pharmacists, newspapermen, painters, sculptors, etc., who finish school with their degrees anxious to work and full of hope, only to find themselves at a dead end, all doors closed to them, and where no ears hear their clamor or supplication. These are the people, the ones who know misfortune and, therefore, are capable of fighting with limitless courage! To these people whose desperate roads through life have been paved with the bricks of betrayal and false promises, we were not going to say: 'We will give you ...' but rather: 'Here it is, now fight for it with everything you have, so that liberty and happiness may be yours!"

And here is Fidel talking about soldiers:

It was never our intention to engage the soldiers of the regiment in combat. We wanted to seize control of them and their weapons in a surprise attack, arouse the people and call the soldiers to abandon the odious flag of the tyranny and to embrace the banner of freedom; to defend the supreme interests of the nation and not the petty interests of a small clique; to turn their guns around and fire on the people's enemies and not on the people, among whom are their own sons and fathers; to unite with the people as the brothers that they are instead of opposing the people as the enemies the government tries to make of them; to march behind the only beautiful ideal worthy of sacrificing one's life - the greatness and happiness of one's country. To those who doubt that many soldiers would have followed us, I ask: What Cuban does not cherish glory? What heart is not set aflame by the promise of freedom?

The Navy did not fight against us, and it would undoubtedly have come over to our side later on. It is well known that that branch of the Armed Forces is the least dominated by the Dictatorship and that there is a very intense civic conscience among its members. But, as to the rest of the national armed forces, would they have fought against a people in revolt? I declare that they would not! A soldier is made of flesh and blood; he thinks, observes, feels. He is susceptible to the opinions, beliefs, sympathies and antipathies of the people. If you ask his opinion, he may tell you he cannot express it; but that does not mean he has no opinion. He is affected by exactly the same problems that affect other citizens - subsistence, rent, the education of his children, their future, etc. Everything of this kind is an inevitable point of contact between him and the people and everything of this kind relates him to the present and future situation of the society in which he lives. It is foolish to imagine that the salary a soldier receives from the State - a modest enough salary at that - should resolve the vital problems imposed on him by his needs, duties and feelings as a member of his community.

Not much to say. My new life proceeds at an extraordinary library-sized table I bought for a mere 40 bucks, with a fine HP laptop I bought for $87 in a pawn shop and tweaked up to speed after a free laptop committed suicide by frying a motherboard video processor, enjoying high-speed cable broadband, bills paid for a month but broker than I have ever been since unable to work, lazily reading now and then, not much interested in writing any more than the million-plus words I've already written (and junked); my new life is relatively stress-free and pleasant. Old memories are fading or stored in the inactive file, and I am feeling no obligation to anyone or any ideology, doctrine, religion, philosophy, or current or past political correctness. Just sitting here with creeping spinal arthritis and taking my regular pain pills, sleeping whenever I feel like it, and waiting curiously to die, accepting it, even looking forward to it. Except for lifelong habit of waking thinking about something I must write, I have little ambition to write. I'd rather play with paint sample chips on the counter top. 

I wish I could work at manual labor like I did all my life but I can no longer jump over tall buildings or run faster than a speeding bullet.

Hot, hot baths in the morning, barefoot all day, shorts and no shirt, drinking coffee, eating yogurt and strawberry banana breakfasts, and cheese sandwiches &soup lunches, Dylan or Lennon or Clapton or Zappa or Mozart, all at my fingertips. I'm cruising on the boneyard express.

It occurs that I feel much like I did when, in a revulsion of mental pain, I embarked with my thumb and 20 bucks from my boyhood home in Louisiana in 1957, striking out for California at midnight, catching a ride in a tractor-trailer and bumping over old Highway 90 between Houston and San Antonio, with windy clouds sailing through the dark oceanic sky, driver imparting his life's learned wisdom, my feet on the metal dashboard, and thinking, I never have to go back there again.

I feel that free now so I assert that I have achieved what I set out to achieve--freedom--despite the trail of burnt bridges, $13.000 below the poverty level, and the encyclopedia of mistakes and misunderstandings in my wake. I have achieved nothing greater than this.

And my mind is free to think fantastical notions: Why can't we design and build airplanes with wings like eagles? Surely with new high-strength materials and the computational skills of modern physics we could. Build high-flying jets not polluting the atmosphere, sailboats of the sky; aerial clipper ships; and planes that fly like bats. And helicopters with double-dragonfly wings, and personal air cars propelled gently like butterflies, to collide harmlessly and alight in driveways or parking lots with the accuracy of migrating ducks.