“Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”—James Baldwin
The fellow is intense, talking to me a mile a minute, glorified in his intensity, that self-awareness of who he is way beyond whatever the captains of industry and politicos I've crossed paths with over four decades could even conjure up—“Man, I understand special needs. I have epilepsy, ADD, ADHD, anxiety. I understand where you are coming from. Anything we can do to help, really, this is something I know about, and look at me, working three jobs, and barely surviving. I know, I know.”
This is at a McDonald's, Portland, Oregon, as part of my job looking in on a client, as her job coach for a position as cashier and lobby janitor that goes 8 hours a week, sometimes 12 hours, and with her mental disabilities, her SSI disability check, all those meds, and those voices, this is not atypical of a case worker's work. All you fine readers frequenting those multitudes of bastions of damaging fast-food and unethical labor practices, you might consider your wrath when one of those Happy Meals comes a bit slow, or the fries you ordered super-size are delivered small. Special needs, accommodations, the mental and physical stripping of American youth.
This is how a life is lived—this is June 23, 2016, and today, I am 59 years and four months old. The very essence of that young man's rapid-fire talk, his currying some favor from me to help him get some disability support, since I find out he has had special education classes in Florida, went another three years after high school until he was 21, a transition program/extended high school (alternative) period, there is not doubt he is now apart of me, trapped inside soul, eyes my essence.
Like a mnemonic madness, each and everyone stays with me, characters, but human beings, from the Azores to Hanoi, from White Mountain Apache reservation to Alaska, held deep in the DNA of a traveling learner, tripping up as a writer, fledgling poet. Terminal velocity through the space which is this broken culture. Traveling through some continuum, tribe seeking, but lost, and revived by the free fall outside this realm of American death.
This young lad looks to me for a male voice, an ear, some guy who looks like a professor, someone who knows a lot, and he opens up, giving me insight into my client that none of his managers could really speak about.
Out here at age 23, Brandon is working three jobs, and he says the day I showed up, he and two other McDonald's workers—young men, friends—just signed a lease on an apartment. Which is a miracle in this city, and another top 50 metropolitan locales in this sinking ship of American fools. An apartment lease for young men, no work history, three to an apartment, working at McDonald's. Whew!—five strikes against them, somehow through the gauntlet of the renter class—mean as badgers digging for money, fines, fees, restitution. City councils, mayors, the professional managerial class, all okay with the times—young people and people of color taking the brunt of neoliberalism libertarianism.
He is there, asking questions about my client, and he gives insight into how the other employees treat her, thinking “she's on dope,” even though she is on prescribed dope—all these medications to “handle” PTSD, the voices in her head, the anxieties around people, insomnia, fear of men.
This young lad looks to me for a male voice, an ear, some guy who looks like a professor, someone who knows a lot, and he opens up, giving me insight into my client that none of his managers could really speak about. This young lad takes my name and number, and while not part of my caseload, I will channel him into the right county services to get him what for some is a gold ticket – disability services for people diagnosed BEFORE 18, with some developmental disability. Think autism, Asperger's and any number of other developmental issues, tied to Downs or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, intellectual challenges (retardation, now a no-no word).
There, Inside, 541-million Years of Tentacles Have You
you scroll into memory
a fire outside in the sky
you recall the father running
into clouds and thunder
each heart throb locked
into your ears
she was almost a mother
held you until defiance
set in, the epilepsy god-smacked
for tribes, here, medicated
tongue held in place
by medical witch doctors
the sister takes a hand
dancing into the streets
classmates chatter, admonish
jitterbugging you flail
at the ghosts eating
synapses, sister dives
into arms of a brother
the shadows of muddy
rivers pull you into mossy
heavens, the real you
trapped, in quicksand
rapid fire brain, never asleep
watching out for a sister
in a flash of a dream
young man persist, punch
at the levelers, the coders
all those Misses and Ms trapping
you under tsunami of paperwork
like Yellow Wallpaper
dance with the memory
dream of success
one of the guys out with
the gals, dream a world
takes you as human
treats you as son
father brother uncle
Why begin here, a compelling story, mine and those who have been around me in my dervish, and those who have been encompassed inside like a thousand chrysalises? I have been likened to a constant dust devil reaching the clouds, tearing into the quietude of suburban idealism?
A life lived is a life in one moment, that diamond point where even a simple conversation with some woman jonesing for a hit of meth, albeit all tangled up in a jumble of emotion net, well, for me, I see my life lived in the focal point of that short moment entering her life.
Or this Brandon, who is all there, even though the world might think otherwise in its giant impugning of anything outside the cultural line, this rat-ta-tat talker, an amazing fellow who needs more than five nanoseconds of fame: working three different jobs, knowing that each job brings with it a shitty paycheck, and, get this, he just finished spending three straight months sleeping in a small four door Japanese sedan in the 24-hour McDonald's parking lot with the other two workers. Whatever crib they got in this discriminatory, One Percenter and 19 Percent Follower's city, it must be that Taj Mahal which only someone down on his luck could absolutely regale in – young, fatherless (sic), parents back in Florida really not giving a damn, because he's Brandon, a guy, young man, with all sorts of challenging behaviors . . . and the talking . . . the intensity.
This is a life lived and set into the strata of the crumbling country it has always been, the expropriation of land through genocide, and the labor through enslavement, now, almost three hundred years later, an entire complex Byzantine in its convoluted systems of money-rent-dollar grubbing/grabbing by the One Percenters whose creed is built like bed bugs, gigantic in their blood lust, sucking the life out of the rest of us, the 324 million of us left out of their algorithms and Texas Hold 'em flavor.
That soft shoe devil's tune is here to stay until, for some of us at least, the Molotov's, both literal and digital, get tossed into the complex's inner circles of holding dominion over the majority. I am that young man, soft stepping in a world of at-will work, for a non-profit that in the end lives and dies on its Human Resources Compliance sword, and very little leeway for human dignity or rights, or wiggle room for staving complete exhaustion from the piles of debt the levy-tax-fine-garnishment-APR society that we have let fall onto anything that might be We the People, for, by, in, with, together. I am 59 and dredged in a world of compliant-lusting administrators, bean counters, those PC cretins who live and die by false data, false diversity seeking, and false hierarchies. This new “safe place” world, where protest is pre-crime now, door-to-door knocks by FBI, ATF, SWAT, NSA, CIA before any conference or convention is held by-for-because of the One Percent and Their Little Eichmann Minions takes place.
I am here, now, with Brandon, many of us, Brandon's in this new normal, us, older, way older, and in a blink of an eye, skip of a breath, flick of a wrist or click of a mouse, we too will end up on that trash heap of living out of our car while working $12 an hour servicing any number of the shit companies that run call-service-sales centers.
That conversation June 23, 2016 conjures up the entire shooting match for me, from caves in Mexico when I was 19, to volcanoes in Honduras when I was 25, to bat caves in Vietnam when I was 36 to eagle rays off St. John's when I was 55. Something very destructive has been happening since I was born in 1957, under the 34th president of the US, someone who today would be labeled a downright liberal, General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Whew, what a whirlwind now comparing the demographics at my birth—2.8 billion people on planet earth, and half the population (173 million) in the USA compared to now—345 million. So, during that labor and my premature arrival into the world in San Pedro, California, the top .1 Percent in the US controlled 4 percent of wealth and the One Percent grubbed a whopping 10 percent. Ahh, but now, as that sirocco has stirred up enmity and inequity? Today, the One Percent (including the .1 percent) control more than 40 percent of wealth.
Talk about a bizarre walkabout for me, one of the perennial low wage workers all my life, working part-time as a journalist and freeway flier faculty member, and now, at a big $18 an hour with two master's degrees and a bachelor's and a ton of experience, in Portland, one of the most expensive places to live and work, in Oregon, with a retrograde, regressive state income tax on our measly wages.
Panic, and Zebras Don't Get Ulcers . . .
I woke up this morning feeling dread. Real dread, in this fucked up society that has allowed the worker to go the way of the leper, in a society that throws money at the pigs of digital pigsties, Zuckerberg, Gates, Dells, Bezos, you name them.
I woke up this morning feeling dread. Real dread, in this fucked up society that has allowed the worker to go the way of the leper, in a society that throws money at the pigs of digital pigsties, Zuckerberg, Gates, Dells, Bezos, you name them.
Dread is a feeling of being disenfranchised, of failing to meet the test of time, the failure of not accumulating wealth, savings, some equity-generating suburban five bedroom home. This is a real place, inside, the castles of the rich and the lies of the richest, ruling who we are on a holistic level.
Dread. For the homeless which is a growing community in the USA, worldwide. Dread for each and every drug abuser, addict, all of whom had parents and adults fail them, to the point of all my clients being victims of early childhood sexual attacks and parents and adults modeling using hard drugs.
Dread. Incarceration-fines-payday loan hell, with people fresh out of detox, off the streets and some out of prison with debts of $50,000, or more. Even $5,000 is a mountain for my clients who are lucky to get second chance chances as convicted felons working at $10 an hour.
Dread. Pigs like Clinton (x3) in Goldman Sachs' right hand pockets, the amassing of money for no work, nothing to give to community, not a soul saved, not a person uplifted, not a child cared for with these people's existences. Multiply the Clintons by a million, and that's the number of elites part of the 120 million households in the USA, so that Felonious Welfare Cheating One Percent makes up 1.2 million households, mostly white. And making no bones about the percentage of billionaires of Jewish faith-ancestry, several large publications in Israel trumpet a number of 48 percent of US billionaires are Jewish.
Writer Gilad Atzmon does a great job of getting under the skin of his own former country's underbelly (Israel) with some early Zionists who professed a hundred and twenty years ago:
“The wealthy Jews control the world, in their hands lies the fate of governments and nations. They set governments one against the other. When the wealthy Jews play, the nations and the rulers dance. One way or the other, they get rich.” (Theodor Herzl, Deutsche Zeitung, 1896)
Dread. History cleansing and sheeple creation at the hands of the controllers and the administrative-legal-intellectual class who believe in their forms of libertarian-consumer-free market.
Dread. My own teaching experiences in the past few decades include seeing more and more young men dropping out shackled by all sorts of learning and developmental maladies, many of which tie into the new disorders, like Oppositional Defiance Disorder or just being part of the ADD crowd, or now on the spectrum, as in autism.
Dread. Get this shit, about the male gender going into the crapper:
“Men are living on borrowed time, according to a leading female scientist. Professor Jenny Graves even claims the male of the species is heading for extinction. Professor Graves, one of Australia’s most influential scientists, believes that women will win the battle of the sexes – and in the most definitive way possible.
She says that the inherent fragility of the male sex chromosome, the Y sex chromosome, means that men are sliding towards extinction. Professor Graves’s prediction hinges around the number of genes on the male and female sex chromosomes.
The female, or X, chromosome, contains a healthy 1,000 or so genes. What's more, girls and women have two of them. The Y chromosome started off with as many genes as its female counterpart. But over hundreds of millions of years it has crumbled away, leaving fewer than 100 genes in modern man.”
Or, taken through the cultural fractured lens of Western pseudo thinking, The Atlantic style, here:
The End of Men: “Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences.”
So, these cute little commentaries gaining ink and TV time as part of that super elite New York publishing and book signing circuit by the likes of Maureen Dowd or Anne Marie-Slaughter or Hanna Rosin, create waves of audiences flocking to look at all those things wrong with patriarchy, but for me, working with men and women, the linkage to the end of men has a lot to the success of Capitalism to disengage any true debate about why we are here today, sturdy with that Mrs. Goldwater Clinton and pouting and pointing toward her War Room Guys in the Belief in Complete Annihilation of Russia, err, China, anyone?
This is a corrective society, one that is indeed run by-for-at the middle manager's level—approved by the paymasters, the controllers, the elite, monied class, transnationals—and those positions of middle power are largely held now by women. More and more I am seeing the extinction of the black man, the extinction of men in general based on this prison-industrial-criminal injustice system. The farther we get from work, as in community and tribal roots, the closer we get to this robotic (laughs from me) 3-D printer existence (more laughs from me) where all the hard work of feeding ourselves, drinking uncontaminated water and living in a real world with real species is somehow thrown in the digital replicators (multiple laughs from me, but unfortunately the prevailing beliefs).
That time with Sapolsky, the scientists who wrote Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers and an earlier book, A Primate's Memoir. Constant stress, the human species puts their fellow men and women under.
“If you think you’re about to be knocked out of homeostatic balance and really aren’t, and this happens on a regular basis, then you’re being anxious. . . paranoid. . . profoundly human. So, the great thinking hominid, humans, can get stressed simply with thought, turning on the same stress response as does the zebra.”
The logical conclusion is that with all that stress the One Percent and their Little Eichmanns put on the common person, we are in constant biological disequilibrium, and we get sick, which is another little doozy for Capitalists to make lots of money—disease treatment.
Missing Male Role Models
My early life was defined by women in flux, in transition, by women who were the pants in the family, by a mother, divorced, battling her own health issues, but really rallying way beyond any medical experts' predictions. In a household of women cooking and working and reading and writing and doing things, with me up against the authorities of military and working class men.
My early life was defined by women in flux, in transition, by women who were the pants in the family, by a mother, divorced, battling her own health issues, but really rallying way beyond any medical experts' predictions.
Early feminist influences, like when I was 10, and now, fifty years later, a half century, and a society with poverty, lies about what poverty is, a country of schools that teach rules and no critical thinking, schools largely managed by women. A half century later and the hurrah about gays-lesbians-women now recruited to fly death raids on innocents in F-18s and with joy sticks and drones.
I have worked mostly with women as a writing teacher and journalist and case worker for homeless and developmentally disabled, and now, here I am, at the whim of editors in publishing, and my people, both men and women fighting for housing and recovery and jobs, most of their lives are managed by women social workers, state workers, social workers, even parole officers, psychiatrists, counselors, and so-so many.
The Man Lost of Tribe is more than some gender bending lament or testament to a time long passed. This tribe I am a part of, male or female, LGBTQI, or poly-amorous or eunuch or disinterested, on or off the spectrum, well, it's a sad place to be watching amnesia take hold, watching the structural violence run like wildfire here and around the world, watching and witnessing the history of violence posited by Empire and what Henry Giroux rightly calls, “the violence of forgetting.”
“Unfortunately, we live at a moment in which ignorance appears to be one of the defining features of American political and cultural life. Ignorance has become a form of weaponized refusal to acknowledge the violence of the past, and revels in a culture of media spectacles in which public concerns are translated into private obsessions, consumerism and fatuous entertainment. . . . The warning signs from history are all too clear. Failure to learn from the past has disastrous political consequences. Such ignorance is not simply about the absence of information. It has its own political and pedagogical categories whose formative cultures threaten both critical agency and democracy itself.”
Valorizing the weapons of empire, consumerism, theft of natural and cultural resources, Black President Deporting More Brown People Than Whitey, Mrs. Goldmane Clinton laughing at the anal bayoneting of Qaddafi, which was the fatal wound, after the who-knows-if-they-are-Mossad-backed-rebels thrashed him, holding him captive and executing him, a war crime. But, alas, the MRS is going to the white (you betcha, white-run elite-controlled) house (as in outhouse) with smirk and that extra gene on her DNA umbilical, oh, what fanfare we shall have, another worse-than-Margaret Thatcher at the helm, laughing at the torture of America's secret ally in the Middle East under a few administrations.
Yet, that Brandon, again, for me in this launching of my life, represents the power of persistence, that incredible self-aware and combustible personality, as he talks about how he will make sure that my client's fellow employees become part of her natural support system.
“I completely understand what's she's going through. I am on this anti-epilepsy med, and it creates even worse auras for me, and just the other day, I had a grand mal in the lobby during Happy Meal rush. I completely understand this medication issue.”
Ending up on my drive home from Portland to Vancouver, I knew there wasn't any shame pulling for the young hawk, midair, with five crows scatter bombing it, as if those black souls wanted some retribution of memory. Mother hawk lancing baby crows the season before maybe? Or, the entire murder of corvids clucked and cawed in a collective teachable moment to hate hawks? Who knows. Some lamentation around never finding the final grace of a raptor? Maybe.
I was watching this unfold over another one of those strip malls exploding like varicose veins on the US landscape, this time in Vancouver heading for a bike ride into a greenway (what the hell is that in modern terms?)—Salmon Creek, paved strip in a wetlands, the creek lazily running and braiding, all hemmed in by suburban sprawl. I notice these things, and the fact I was seemingly the only person even watching, my head and neck craned into the sky, while my fellow human crows were shape-shifting into their smart phones and quadraphonic spaces.
Crows. One of my favorite birds, and here I was playing favorites, watching that delineated red-tail hawk attempting to free itself of the crows' constant dive bombing. Crows working in concert, their black pitch speed equal to the hawk's who was low enough to not catch thermals to pull out of that dog fight.
Crows, these hyper-smart animals, some of the same brain parts coalescing like humans' brains do, stimulated by play, by all manner of non-survival behavior. Crows tobogganing for fun. Crows stealing earrings and brassieres and all manner of things “to gift” to the lady feeding them dog kibbles.
These birds have a system not unlike mammals' amygdala, where negative associations are stored as memory. Sort of cross a crow and it will remember you forever. This is the beauty of that moment in Vancouver with the crows – those intersections with people I have come to respect for their passion, in this case, University of Washington professor, John Marzluff, author of the book, Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans, who I saw speak in Seattle years ago.
Somehow that knowledge is the electrical pulse inside me, remembrances and recollections all conjured up to act as cairns in my memory, dotting a lifetime of beauty and struggle, a life full of rejecting mainstream thinkers, recoiling from the ever-eroding cultural muck of capitalism and consumerism, and rejoicing in the art of literary lifting, or what Robert Bly called, leaping poetry or image.
Bly's poetry operates inside both the unconscious and conscious mind, what he says are psychic leaps. This leaping back and forth, from association to emotion, from part of the mind known and unknown, is a way I have been able to operate in a world that to me floats around, and leaps back and forth . . . .
Kevin Bushell looks at one of Bly's poems to delineate this lifting of images and emotions:
“This poem has a very private, pensive mood, expressed mainly through tone and imagery. Although description of landscape plays a key role in the poem, the images which comprise this description do not aim at accuracy to objective detail. Instead, images such as 'The soybeans are breathing on all sides,' and 'The small world of the car / Plunges through the deep fields of the night,' reveal the speaker's emotional state, that is to say, the speaker's mood permeates the description of surrounding landscape. This is essentially Pathetic Fallacy with a surrealist twist. Even those images which are comparatively traditional seem highly selective, such as the references to old men sitting on car seats, and the moon above turkey sheds. We might say that in 'Driving,' subjectivity is welcomed into the poem and its narrative; in one instance, the subjective element enlarges to a degree at which description lapses into declaration: 'I am happy.' The images become progressively laden with emotional weight through the first two stanzas, from the stark recounting of fact in the opening line, to the image presented in the final three lines of the second stanza, which Toshikazu Niikura has described as 'the inner landscape of [the speaker's] mind.'”
In Driving Toward the Lac Qui Parle River, that leap occurs in the final stanza:
I am driving; it is dusk; Minnesota.
The stubble field catches the last growth of sun.
The soybeans are breathing on all sides.
Old men are sitting before their houses on car seats
In the small towns. I am happy,
The moon rising above the turkey sheds.
The small world of the car
Plunges through the deep fields of the night,
On the road from Willmar to Milan.
This solitude covered with iron
Moves through the fields of night
Penetrated by the noise of crickets.
Nearly to Milan, suddenly a small bridge,
And water kneeling in the moonlight.
In small towns the houses are built right on the ground;
The lamplight falls on all fours on the grass.
When I reach the river, the full moon covers it.
A few people are talking, low, in a boat.
Ha, crows and humans share the ability to recognize faces and associate them with absolutely profound and express negative (as well as positive) feelings. You teach a crow to associate water hose spraying by a student wearing the Dick Cheney mask, and, well, every time “Old Dick” comes on campus for a stroll, the crows dive bomb him and shit on his face. Not just the crows who had had water sprayed on them, but others, who were taught by their fellow harbingers of war and death (according to so many cultures) that the dude with the jowls and evil brow and receding gray hair is the bad guy.
Crows passing on knowledge, creating culture, teaching each next generation to despise Dick Cheney. If only humans could do the same teaching.
Jorge Luis Borges:
Life itself is a quotation.
Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone.
Reality is not always probable, or likely.
Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.