Be a Stranger to Death: Know his Work

A first funeral for me was in our church. I was too young and didn’t know him. But I cried—it was so sad. Others did too. My family all asked me why I cried. A man I didn’t know had died. They took me to his funeral, and I cried because I felt so sad. Why did they ask me why? It was a funeral. I saw others cry. But I felt sad for his friends and family, and for him. My family seemed to be telling me that I should not cry or feel sad. They were telling me how I should feel.

It was my first taste of ultimate reality and sadness at a level I had not yet known. Six decades later I still recall their questions and the implication that I should not be sad because some man had died. And since I did not know him, I should not care about his death.

They knew him. But none of my family cried. I was confused by their lack of sadness. How could they not feel it? I didn’t wonder then why we went to the funeral, but I do now.

I should not feel emotion or act out my feelings if I do. I did not understand why others didn’t feel as I did. Too young, but already being told not to feel too deeply—to not be a sensitive man boy (later a man). Stoicism was and is associated with strength and manliness. Strong silence.

Years later I attended an emotional funeral for two young children of a workmate (auto accident). Later, another workmate criticised the people who cried at that funeral. I wonder more about former than the latter. How could he not cry and why criticize those who did?

Now, I am sometimes spoken of as a sensitive man by some; as one who reflects sensitivity back upon people. They say so because they read my writings. Not because of how I behave.

But not always. I suffer fools poorly and bullies with quite limited tolerance. I am sensitive to violence toward others, but I can do what it takes to be just and fair.

I cannot ask why they tried to teach me not to cry, or not to feel, or to be not sensitive about those who died. And they cannot answer. I doubt any would understand why. I went to their funerals and I cried because they had died and I loved them.

I cried when each of them died. Nobody asked me why. But I still hid my tears. I cried when I was alone. They had taught me well, but they never changed me. Show them only the face they wish to see. Be the strong, stoic, liar.

I remain an emotional little boy society calls sensitive (or weak or worse). They, in their curiously socialized hearts and minds will never understand me—nor will I, them.

Why cry? Must you ask?

Look both ways and deeply into the abyss of human emotions.
Mind the gaps but be consistent. Be yourself.

Poetry: Edible Confession

Did homework, still had questions.
I noted the downstairs medical dispensary
but took stairs up to the recreational second floor,
where a kind young man tried to not
embarrass me with age and ignorance.

As we chatted he looked over my license
to be sure this old man was over 21,
not some state guy hired to sneak past
and get them punished for not checking me out.
He directed me through an open door

into a room with two ATMs for cash,
(purchase is cash only)
a long glass counter like a jewelry case was
staffed by attractive young ladies (and men)
I like to call bud-istas, and behind them
more cases with low drawers full of products to sell.

Around the room more glass cases displayed
all forms of product, much that looked
identical to others but with different fun names
from the Indica and Sativa families:
Grape Ape, Obama Kush, Alaskan
Thunder Fuck, Dirty Girl and Berry White,
all with varied chemical content on signage.

It reminded me of brewery tap room menus
that display the ABV and IBU or SRM; only these
reflected the type and quality of cannabis so patrons
know what they will soon consume.

Unlike taprooms, off premise consumption
is a must. Then it was like going to confession
when one of the bud-estas smiled
and offered to help me figure it out.

Forgive me Sister for I have sinned. This is my first confession. I been booze drunk on my ass, said and done incredibly stupid shit, driven drunk, and picked bar fights I couldn’t win. I’ve sucked tobacco smoke from cigarettes, pipes, cigars; and chewed the leaves. I ignorantly supported foolish laws that prevented others from doing this. My greatest sin: I’ve never used pot in any form. Now humbled before you, I beg your advice and assistance. What is all this stuff?

She called an older male assistant,
closer to my age, to aid my ignorance.
Thirty minutes later I knew
what this marijuana stuff was:
THC, CBD, and all that.
(oils, vapers, creams, grinders, and papers)
Particularly the edibles.

He told me it would take over an hour
for the edible effects to top out,
like drinking a glass of wine, only
the buzz would last through the evening.

I now say it’s more like two glasses,
properly stoned at two hours,
and semi-hosed for the evening.
But cogently sociable. Namaste.

If you’re fortunate enough to live in a state
with legal recreational ganja use, give it a go
if ya never have (unless yer a Fed, need CDL, or military).
But look both ways, bring cash, and smile for the camera.
Mind the gaps and do your homework.

Poetry: Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt

A song played on the radio
from WARM Top 40,
rock and roll—
sinful music station
in nineteen sixty-four.

Joe Dreier was driving when
I looked at the speedometer.
We’d not be doing a hundred
except Joe was drunk.

Me too. Maybe Ron
(who we called Dobbie)
Ganick wasn’t there,
he didn’t drink, but we did.

We all got home that night
of senior graduation parties.
Later when I was away in Texas
with the Air Force,

I learnt Ganick died.
His VW bug threw him in a crash.
I bet there was a song on the radio,
probably WARM 590 AM.

Look both ways for “fortune smiles on some,
and lets the rest go free.”*
Mind the gaps and wonder why.

(* from Sad Café by the Eagles)

 

 

 

 

Fandango’s Provacative Question (FPQ) #35

Fandango’s Question: Do you believe public figures (e.g., politicians, celebrities, athletes, authors) — or anyone, actually — should be judged by today’s standards for their words or actions from decades earlier? Why or why not?

In the Summertime was written by Ray Dorset, of the group Mungo Jerry, in 1970. Some of the lyrics can be questioned for time and morals, but also for culture and interpretation. The song also says, Life’s for living yeah, that’s our philosophy, which I like. A few other questionable verses make the song neither sexist nor racist, in my view. Dorset is a Brit, about four months my senior, and an active Freemason thrice married with six kids and some grands. He wrote the song in ten minutes. (For what it’s worth.)

The more I think about this good person/bad person in light of the times topic, the more it gets wrapped in the philosophical tentacles of my own confusing need for a balanced, fair, and just (maybe perfect) world. Do I have any right or business judging anyone? What shall I make of people like Jefferson Davis? He was wrong as hell in my book, but not in his. He remains a hero to many.

I mentioned this kind of issue in a recent blog where I discussed the artist Jonas Gerard. Comments indicated that we can separate people’s behavior from their art, but in Gerard’s case, there is a petition to remove his art from city property. And it’s not decades old.

Can we separate the good from the bad, or does a tarnished reputation make all the good suddenly bad? Do I declare a song such as Dorset’s or Baby It’s Cold Outside to be evil because of someone’s PC interpretation? Do I get to declare someone’s art, writing, or music null and void after I learn of their human condition, religion, or political views? It happens a lot.

Charles Lindbergh fell from grace following a pro-Nazi Germany speech. A sample of many more: Cosby, O.J., Armstrong, Burr, Nixon, Haggard, Dixie Chicks, and (oops) another one bites the dust. Yesterday, I was reading about Philip Larkin and how his past may have tarnished his work. Does it? Should it?

I like the book/story about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because it reminds me that we all have a dark side: that Jekyll was a good man, but Hyde was not, yet they were entities of the same person.

The answer to Fandango’s question is yes; but I’m sorry to say, also no. Yes, because by today’s standards (whatever those are culturally, interpretatively, or historically) are what we use to judge people today (not that we should, but we do). However, can we manage to form an opinion within the context of times past or some other mitigating circumstance?

Looking back on my life, I’m grateful that no nearby microphones were switched on when I said stupid shit; that no tapes or cameras were rolling when I did equally dumb stuff. While I don’t care or worry much about being judged, I prefer my lowest and worst moments be seen for what they were—not my standard, whatever that is or was.

I like learning that past heroes had weaknesses; dark sides mixed in with talent, wisdom, and intelligence. I have no time for idealistic nonsense. Right is right and wrong is wrong, but there are hundreds of grayish shades between. I’m not religious, but approve the idiom let he who is without sin cast the first stone. BTW, the song also advocates drinking and driving, or it seems to. It shouldn’t. So what?

Look both ways.
Beware not to place heroes too high on a pillar, nor allow your imperfect self
the hypocritical luxury of being the Judge, Jury, Executioner for others;
as so many fools before us have done.
Closely mind the gaps that contain closeted skeletons and dark secrets.

***

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Birthday Essay

Today I am supposed to celebrate surviving three years into my seventh decade. I am glad to be alive. But such luck is a banal accomplishment, since each day when I wake up not dead (yet), I know I did nothing to deserve the pleasure of such a long and mostly good life. I may have stopped smoking 20 years ago, but I didn’t for the 30 before that. I spent thousands of hours throwing my body along faster than any bird can fly. I never crashed. Many did. I was lucky.

Today I meet the threshold of my end times. Will I survive one more year like my father? Four more like Mom? Less, like my sister, cousin, grandfathers, or grandmums? Today I will stop counting up and start counting down. Ten more? Twenty? And my health? Status quo would be a wonderful thing – but it will get worse – it’s a reality everyone dislikes (including me).

Ten years ago, I ran 20 miles of 26.2-mile marathons (walked the other six). Five years ago, I walked briskly for 13 miles on Saturday mornings until one day my body said, we need to rest. I sat on a bench and I wondered what it was – it was my now well-stented heart.

Nowadays, because low blood flow reduces needed oxygen and other stuff in blood from my leg muscles, I manage a quarter mile without a bench or a tree trunk or wall to sit on. A two and a half to three-mile walk is a big day, and I find tired and sore invades me as my body recovers.

It’s morning. I’m here and you are too. Now what? Wanna go for a walk?

Look both ways with contemplative wonder for life and its privileges.
Mind the gaps but live in the moment.

That’s Not Bad

In the doctor’s office—
a computer, printer,
some chairs, and an exam
table we won’t use;
latex gloves, a biohazard
box, and two other waste cans;
a sink that may get used.
On the wall a framed art print.

Voices in the hall 20 minutes
after my appointed time, but it’s
okay. I can write this poem
and be glad I’m alive. Knock.

Two doctors walk in. My regular guy
and his knockout resident from
the A&M med school. We greet,
shake, talk small, then good news.

Return in six months. Shake again.
I drive home. Stop for gas.
I wear a smile—cuz good news.

Look both ways driving home, for good news and bad.
Check the tires and mind the gaps.
Doctors sure have changed over the years—for the mo’ betta’.