Here’s the latest musical cut with lyrics. The current political situation is endless fodder for songwriting. Please post your comments below.
Where are we now?Where has America gone?Where are we now?Is this the swan song?Where have the morals gone?Taught from above?Where are the morals now?Where are truth and love?Where are the Christians now?Since lies are King?Where are the Christians now?Does money mean everything?Where are the brains now?That death and ignorance reign?Where are the brains now?They took the chump train.They took the chump train.
They took the chump train.
They took the chump train.
When I was twenty-three, I found myself unemployed and living in my girlfriend’s room in her parents’ beautiful brick home on the South Side of Chicago in an affluent white neighborhood slipping into descent after the M.L.K. riots of 1968.
They kept me upstairs in her room and visible, with girlfriend sadly relegated to the basement.
Wonderful folks, actually, and I am thankful for them.
I remember wandering the streets day-after-day-week-after-week begging for work, sliding in and out of tawdry bars – sticky-floor flyblown dives I’d never venture into for a drink on my own — but places I now prayed would hire me because I’d just spent $250 attending Professional Bartender’s School and earning a Professional Bartender’s Certificate after wasting a week pouring colored water out of fake liquor bottles into appropriate glasses.
Armed with this “certificate”, I wandered into dozens of Chicagoland watering holes, but no one would hire me.
Sheila’s Puke Shack owner S. Hardnutter threw me the stink eye the second I dangled the Professional Bartender Certificate in front of her narrowing eyes; then she pointed me toward the door.
Each night I’d limp home on sore feet and sit on my girlfriend’s bed and despair.
I remember a lone tear running down my cheek one night, followed in a few seconds by spontaneous laughter.
My mind ran to Iron Eyes Cody – a pure-blood Italian, we found out later – who made an environmental television advertisement as an American Indian saddened by the rape of the land, a single tear running down his cheek, which miraculously prodded Americans into picking up roadside trash.
For a while.
Swinging for the fence the next morning, I took a train downtown and hit all the major bars on Michigan Avenue, earning a ubiquitous thumbs down.
Fingering the last $10 in my pocket, I stood at the corner of Walton and Michigan Avenue, eyeballing The Drake, where visiting Queen Elizabeth bedded down.
Too classy for my zero experience, I reckoned.
Looking southeast — across the street at the old Palmolive Building — I saw the Playboy Club‘s flashing siren-lights.
Shrugging off the gut instinct to stop wasting my time, I walked inside and told the smiling Bunny at the door that I needed to see the human relations rep.
Who turned out to be my girlfriend’s sister’s best friend.
“You’re in luck!” she smiled.
“We need a bartender pronto, and you can start Monday morning!
“Get here at ten for an orientation on lunch, which starts at eleven.”
One night, only two months after donning the brown polyester Playboy bartender outfit, I was working that same back bar, where they keep rookies out of sight from the general public.
Bunnies, bottles, glasses, and drinks were the only objects in my vision when we heard a sudden commotion in the banquet room.
“Lynyrd Skynyrd just walked in,” said Nina, a six-foot-two-inch black beauty South Sider with popping biceps and a bunch of older brothers. I’m six-four and she looked down at me from those heels. Her biceps sprung while her lips snarled.
“Rednecks from hell,” she added.
The partying immediately intensified and I slung drinks like a three-arm robot. About twenty minutes later, a scream filled the air:
“Get your hands out of there! I’ve already got one asshole in there!” Nina shouted.
I prayed she didn’t backhand whichever idiot made the move.
The other Bunnies told me the band fell silent, rose slowly on wobbly legs, and trudged up the stairs to the Red Room while patrons observed how scrawny they looked.
I’d seen them live at the RKO Orpheium in Davenport, Iowa in 1974 and they were absolutely wonderful, playing Free Bird before it was released.
Aerosmith opened that show and played Dream On before it hit the airwaves.
Knocked us out of our bell bottoms.
Ed King was in Skynyrd back then, a stocky blonde dude from California, but this was 1979 and these greasy-looking rockers weaving on their feet in stained denim had a sad feel about them two years after the fateful airplane crash that cored their creative apple.
Good thing Nina didn’t knock their teeth out and retire them for good.
Another bartender — an American Indian named Warren — told me The Who was playing at the Stockyards the next weekend.
So my brother Jim, girlfriend Kim — a nursing student at Northwestern — Warren, and I piled into my blue 1952 Chevrolet.
City buses actually moved over to avoid that giant hunk of straight-six powered steel.
As we walked up to the ticket counter, we noticed Warren was missing.
While we stood in the lobby waiting to enter, Warren arrived, nervously chattering:
“Here, eat this fast!”
Warren’s outstretched palm revealed three large lozenges.
What’s that? asked Jim.
Quaaludes, said Warren.
We don’t need any Quaaludes, said Kim.
The cops watched me buy them, and if they find them on you you’ll go to jail, said Warren.
Idiot, I cursed as we choked down the large pills.
Except for Warren.
Suddenly three undercover cops surrounded us, frisked our pockets, found the Lude on Warren, and cuffed him.
I never saw him again and suspect he had outstanding warrants in other states, having just slipped into Chicago from Las Vegas.
If you’re lucky, you learn from such mistakes and take a little time to get to know folks before befriending them so hastily.
The concert sucked. Big time.
The International Amphitheater — on the South Side next to the infamous Stock Yards where my great great grandfather rustled cattle after he rounded them up from Canada to Mexico — was a giant cement box.
The only musical chords you could make out were the first and last of each song.
Everything in between attacked your ears like a swirling vortex of vulture screams.
Townsend leaped, Daltrey pinwheeled, Jones tried to keep up, and Entwistle glowed. Fans directly in front of him showered him with roses all night long.
Before the concert, a friend named Pat who dated English-major Bunny “Mary” — they married forty years ago right after they graduated — said he was driving Entwistle to the concert.
Meet us in the parking lot after the show, he said.
Pat earned an MS from Northwestern and retired decades later from East Stroudsburg University as a full professor and plays weekend gigs in NYC with folks like Woody Herman (now deceased) and Phil Hill.
But at that moment in his life, Pat paid for his education by driving a limousine, wearing the black leather gloves, black tie, short coat, and little black hat while discovering local celebs like Phil Donahue were tightwads at tip-time.
Furthermore, the limo’s garage was on the West side of Cabrini-Green, a notorious housing project where electricity often failed and residents peed down elevator shafts in frustration.
Pat’s only avenue to the parking garage ran in front of this public housing nightmare — completely razed in 2011— and he ducked down in the seat returning to the garage as bullets previously shattered two passenger windows on his watch.
During the middle of the farting elephant contest inside the concert hall, I looked over to see both Kim’s and Jim’s chins resting on their chests, drool leaking out the sides of their mouths.
They appeared to be paralyzed from the face back.
Once that Quaalude ignited, the sensation resembled drinking a gallon of beer in five minutes. I’ve never done that, but that’s the best description I can come up with. Super drunk super fast with sleep on the near horizon.
Perhaps you saw the Jeff Goldblum Quaalude scene in The Big Chill. That’s how it works. One minute you’re having an engaging conversation. The next?
When the cacophony finally subsided, I led my stumbling charges to the parking lot, and there was Pat in the driver’s seat and John Entwistle in the backseat, waiting.
One of my musical heroes, ten feet away, his signature about to grace my autograph book.
Then Kim and Jim began to sway.
Spinning slowly like two tops on their final rotations.
Suddenly, they stopped swaying and stood at attention.
A pregnant moment elapsed.
Then they fell — simultaneously — onto their faces.
Pat covered his countenance with his hands. John Entwistle smiled and waved like he’d seen this all before.
I waved back, rolled them over, wiped gravel from their mouths, and dragged them by their coat collars back to the rusty-blue 1952 Chevrolet with the big dent in the roof.
Our shadows long and lean in the limo lights.
My first trip abroad (I was twenty-eight, on summer break from a suburban Chicago high school) found me walking through Hyde Park in London, on my way to a train to Camden where my old next-door-neighbor Jim Ringenberg was playing the Electric Ballroom with his bandJason and the Scorchers on the Fourth of July.
Even 27 years later, I still think 4 July 1985, at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, was one of the most thrilling performances I've ever seen. The lead singer wore a western suit; the bass player looked like a punk riverboat gambler, with black trousers and waistcoat, and bootlace tie; the guitarist was a metaller, with long hair and leathers; the drummer, spiky-haired and ratty looking, had a confederate flag flying where one of his toms should have been.
The park bustled with activity and all at once a vivacious young woman dressed in a stylish white top, white shorts, white socks, black rollerblades, and a black Sony Walkman strapped to her side charged directly at me, so I side-stepped into the grass as she twirled around, smiled, caught her breath, and then took off again.
As I turned to watch her skate away, three bodyguards dressed in black jogged by, giving her thirty yards.
A fan magazine later wrote she’d been listening to a particular Dire Straits song that week, as they were about to Skateaway at Wembley.
The President of Bangladesh
In 1999 I spent the month of February in Bangladesh, touring the nation and living in rich folks’ homes on a Rotary International assignment.
Rotary helps people all over the world, and are at the brink of eradicating polio on the planet. We were there to tour Rotary-built hospitals and wells they’d dug before acid leaching out of the Himalayas poisoned them.
At the end of our stay, we returned to Dhaka, a city so sprawling and crawling with human life that the exact population is unknown.
Then the nation went on strike for three days. The air cleared, revealing what some believe to be the exact location of the Garden of Eden.
Soft breezes. Palm trees. Perpetual 78-82 degrees. The sweet smell of bougainvillea filling the air.
Suddenly, the strike broke up and hundreds of thousands of two-stroke motors fired back up.
By three in the afternoon, I could not see my hand clearly in front of my face.
When I returned to the US, I spit up black tar for three weeks.
At the end of our stay, we visited the government palace and met the President, a figurehead position in Bangladesh.
Like America needs.
Seriously, the executive branch has gained way too much power in recent years, and a single person isn’t up to the job.
So I propose we create an executive cabinet split among political parties (50/50 at the moment), twelve men/women with talent, courage, vision, and clean records to run the nation.
A team dedicated to preserving and extending American values of truth and dignity — not the deep purses of special interests, major corporations, or foreign nations — an honest executive branch taking the heat for failures, and the credit for wins.
While a “figurehead” president flies around kissing babies, breaking champagne bottles on new ships, and slapping backs at Rotary Club meetings.
Golfing with other big wigs. Tweeting pleasantries to all fifty stars on the flag about how we’re working together and solving problems like the virus, global warming, education, and childhood hunger.
Bringing folks from disparate backgrounds together, healing wounds, and modeling the advantages of unity.
What a concept.
The grey-bent toddlers currently throwing hissy fits over vote counting have one foot in the grave and the other on the banana peel of history. Perhaps their selfishness will one day magically disappear?
So as we’re sitting in the anteroom, I’m wondering what this Bangladeshi president looks like. Oman Sharif?
Then we’re called into his office. We sit and wait. Suddenly …
In walks Groucho Marx.
A dead ringer.
We casually sip tea and eat shortbread biscuits while exchanging small talk.
I snort loudly into my tea when Groucho lifts his eyebrows several times making a remark.
We say goodbye, the President shakes our hands and smiles, we leave.
Your lower lip is bleeding, said a college outside the palace.
Had to bite them, I said.
Me too! she laughed as we doubled up, shook hysterically, and stomped our feet on the palace steps.
While teaching at a junior college in East Tennessee, I spent one day a month in Nashville as president of the faculty, meeting with the governing board, and Maya Angelou happened to be in town one evening I was there.
A newspaper article said she’d receive $50,000 for a one-hour performance.
No one is worth $50k an hour, I thought to myself. After the show, where she’d sung (made us all cry), danced (made us all laugh), told her story (tears upon tears), and read poetry (enlarging our souls), I thought:
That was worth $150,000. She got ripped off.
Then I walked across the street into a bookstore where I browsed for twenty minutes when all of a sudden I felt a spiritual presence by my side.
When I turned, Maya Angelou looked me in the eyes, smiled, and said hello. I mentioned how much I enjoyed the show. We talked for ten minutes.
After five or six questions concerning my background, how I used my time, mission work, church, and family life, her eyes saw straight into me, and she spoke of things about myself that I knew were there, but feared. Because if I acknowledged those gifts from God, I’d have to act on them.
So tears drip onto the paper today as I scribble these notes.
Furthermore, the caged-bird sang once again on Tuesday.
And the entire world applauded, then danced in the streets.
My son and his fiancé asked us over for a tasty mid-morning outdoor breakfast –– her parents were visiting on their way to Texas –– so we enjoyed smoked bacon, mixed fresh fruit, and recently-gathered eggs next to a large lavender bush. A monster.
Which reminded me of an ancient National Geographic special I’d seen thirty-some years ago, featuring an African pygmy village built around a giant marijuana bush.
The men either stood before the patch red-eyed swaying back and forth between bong hits, intermittently tending to plants, or sat in the community shed eating grasshoppers –– they popped the heads off first –– between bong hits.
All the physical labor and child care fell upon the women (imagine that) while the village population dwindled in the same downward trajectory as sperm health.
The military drove the Pygmies out of the Congo’s national parks in 1991 –– indigenous lands since time immemorial –– so now they’re clinging to the fringe of those parks, hiding small pot fields here and there, selling weed illegally, and barely eking out a living while constantly dodging “authorities”.
This week’s local paper reported that although opioid prescriptions are down thirty-percent, the death rate holds firm. Folks simply switch over to street heroin or fentanyl and die just the same.
The global village is now built around the Big Pharma Bush
Although recently discovered to be a significant part of human culture since 500 BC, weed carries health risks that cannot be ignored as injecting smoke into your lungs is always risky.
Positive effects are legion, but the only canary-in-the-coal-mine on current public display is Willie Nelson, who recently said that weed saved his life and kept him vital, avoiding the alcohol/tobacco-reaper that gathered so many of his Outlaw buddies.
However, if marijuana separates the user from family duties, job responsibilities, friends, or personal growth, then those negatives must be confronted.
Which is true of all drugs and obsessions.
Big Pharma, however, is about to gobble up the fledgling legal marijuana industry –– the same way corporations have gobbled up agriculture –– and dominate a legal market valued at nearly five billion.
Similarities between the pygmy pot-bush and Big Pharma’s Mega Bush abound. Blazed Americans –– minds awhirl on opioid-alcohol mixes –– stare at television screens (ironically showing other people exercising for outrageous amounts of money ) while blowing themselves up on refined sugars, alcohol, and processed food.
Simultaneously, their befuddled brains absorb self-prescribed “news” squirting from CNN or FOX, twisted fabrications of the truth sharing the same genetic code: keep the gullible gulping.
And like weed-soaked pygmy sperm, American spunk is losing its pop as birth rates plummet to forty-year lows.
At the same time white male suicide is off the chart: 69.6% of the total. Reports link this atrocity to increasing numbers of women graduating from college, superseding their male counterparts in the workplace, and subsequently earning higher wages and filling essential jobs while leading corporations in higher numbers.
As a male teacher comfortable with strong women in leadership roles – my favorite principal, and her evil opposite – were both female, teaching me that people are people. You take them one at a time.
Big Pharma owns innumerable super branches reaching out to dangle dozens of pills –– including sleep-aids –– in front of the eyes of the overworked and weary. A popular small business owner in our region has trouble shutting of his mind at night, so his doctor prescribed Ambien.
A month or so later his wife found him in the garage sitting in the driver’s seat of his running truck –– at 2:30 AM with the garage door closed –– loading a pistol with live ammo.
“I was asleep the whole time” he told me.
Like any fast-growing yard-dominating plant, the real work goes on underground, evil spreading in all directions unseen by the human eye, trillion dollar roots which won’t perish with legalization.
Chopping down the bush is a pipe (stuffed-with-weed) dream. Ain’t going to happen.
A capitalistic nation is never going to abandon tons of tantalizing cash held high in the hands of its citizens, even addict-citizens seeking rehabilitation. When this much money is involved, death rates will increase into a dark future.
Packing up the truck and moving sober Clampets away from The Big Pharma Bush may appear to be prima-facie practical, but in reality, it’s a world-wide-phenomenon, pills waiting for all Clampets in both Beverly and Beijing — the only escape being internal, self-generated discipline.
We see people all around us avoiding unnecessary medicines, pills, tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceuticals thrust at them every commercial break, people who exercise regularly, eat right, stay hydrated, and live vigorously through their 80’s and early 90’s. As I typed the first draft of this piece a 101-year-old runner made national news.
However, a sad majority live in a global village built around the Big Pharma Bush. Seven-in-ten Americans swallow over-prescribed prescription drugs on a daily basis. That soma-drenched brave new world predicted by Aldous Huxley arrived as expected with only a few self-discipled-sweat-soaked naturals remaining unscathed.
And waiting for the majority of macho American males to summon enough inner strength to reach as high as an …
Benjamin Franklin had his faults — ask most conspiracy theorists — and it was a known fact that he admired young women.
But when it comes to having a clear vision on accruing wealth, Poor Richard nailed it:
There are two ways of being happy: We may either diminish our wants or augment our means -- either will do -- the result in the same; and it is for each man to decide for himself, and do that which happens to be the easiest.
If you are idle or sick or poor, however hard it may be to diminish your wants, it will be harder to augment your means.
If you are active and prosperous or young and in good health, it may be easier for you to augment your means than to diminish your wants.
But if you are wise, you will do both at the same time, young or old, rich or poor, sick or well; and if you are very wise you will do both in such a way as to augment the general happiness of society.
-- Benjamin Franklin, statesman, author, and inventor (1706-1790)
First, Franklin starts the “American myth” that happiness is tied to the pursuit of property. We have more stuff therefore we win begins here. But it is true that we decide our own financial fates, and Americans differ widely on their pursuit of savings.
The advertising industry raises its ugly head in paragraph three, making stuff a “need” in the hearts of North Americans and fanning the fire of want. Ironically, one of Franklin’s many nicknames was The Patron Saint of Advertising, which he mastered early on.
Apply the last paragraph to your life and its ongoing change of circumstances and good things will happen. The Millionaire Next Door hit home with many who’ve since reaped the benefits of Franklin’s (and Stanley’s) advice. There are now more than twice as many millionaire households than there were in 1996, and 10.1 million US households now report a million dollars worth of assets.
Here’s how to apply Franklin’s commonsense rules to runaway government spending.
We have to ask ourselves, do we need to police the globe? Has doing so improved world peace? Or has it fired up the military-industrial complex to thrive in a Brave New World of Endless War?
It’s obvious that our military wants exceed our taxpaying grasp, especially with new cuts about to favor billionaires and corporations. But does the average American really want to police the globe?
Since endless wars come at such a high cost, shouldn’t we fall back, assess the hot spots, employ better technology — in terms of rooting out evil, not nuking the earth into oblivion — and emasculate the bad guys with focused strikes?
I’m all for rooting out the bad guys, both foreign and domestic. But instead of spending on R&D for pinpoint technology, we’re filling our docks with billion dollar warships and our airfields with million dollar airplanes to fight conventional wars that no longer exist.
On the Other Hand
Here’s how we relate to a few other countries when it comes to saving cash:
What’s made America uniquely bad at saving? Perhaps America’s mix of wealth and diversity, the very staple of the American identity, is the culprit of its spending habits. In 2008, several researchers studied the stereotype that minorities spend more than whites on “visible goods”—like clothes, shoes, jewelry, watches, salons, health clubs, and car parts. They discovered that, even after controlling for income, minorities save less than whites and spend more on such conspicuous consumption goods. But the story wasn’t just about race. White people in poor U.S. states spent more of their income on visible goods than whites in higher income states.
The Atlantic, 2016
Let’s look at that again: ” White people in poor U.S. states spent more of their income on visible goods than whites in higher income states.”
The sitting president, however, is all about lifting up the elite at the expense of the rabble.
The Orange Tweeter, exhibiting bouts of sociopathy mixed with narcissism, seems incapable of focusing on any issue longer than a nano-second, and his sinking popularity now represents roughly 31% of the electorate.
Draw your own conclusions on what percent of this group falls into the “rabble” category (those still smarting from the deplorable slap), and what percent of Trump supporters are billionaires wanting to rake in more loot in the short term.
My personal guess is that moderate Republicans hoping to work across the aisle to solve the many pressing issues of the day would be a minority within that 31%.
Just a guess.
Yet the nation continues to treat world and domestic affairs like a football game — we win, you lose — without considering the simple fact that we’re actually all on the same team.
Yes, we can nuke any nation on earth into oblivion. Then the fallout blows over on us.
Yes, we have conventionally bombed nations into near-oblivion, but then they thrive after we go home, though most of the cash ends up in the hands of the upper-class.
You can’t enjoy small government and big military simultaneously.
But Trump voters aren’t interested in logic. The rabble still believes they’ll grow fat on the scraps tossed down from the elite’s tall table of big tax cuts and military-industrial-complex stock-and-bond windfalls.
They’re throwing commonsense to the wind, these lower-middle-class lovers of commonsense.
Our current health care mess is more a political debacle than a substantial challenge to the intellect when it comes to solvency.
We can do better by providing excellent health care to allAmericans while lowering the overall cost, though it may slightly burden the wealthy and middle-class folks in order to reach the prize of truly affordable health care for all.
In the 90’s I taught at a local community college and one of my students – who was abused as a child and neither fully-supported nor fully-educated – struggled her entire life with health issues, racking up hundreds of thousands of tax-payer-swallowed medical bills over the course of her too-short life.
Multiply this situation by millions – many citizens are now hooked on opiates – and one can see how this particular demographic could force a single-payer Medicare expansion into near-future reality.
While I was researching this article, it was obvious that
the “facts” coming from sites linked – in one way or another – to private insurance companies were quite different from those emanating from neutral sources.
The insurance-linked information sites apprised the cost at $32 trillion while the neutral sites announced it would actually lower costs. The truth often lies at the midpoint, a hefty sum indeed. But our current direction, and the soon-to-be-announced Obamacare Lite are simply untenable.
Limiting Congressional health-care benefits to their own
plan for the rest of us would be a start. But don’t expect a sitting Congressman to write that bill. And now Republicans are replicating the major mistake Obama committed in his first term, which was to push a secret backroom inviable bill into law while briefly holding the majority and babbling they’d better pass it first so “you can see what’s in it” later.
Fast forward to today and it turns out that the ACA is actually a step above what the current Trumpcare plan offers the truly needy, a plan that boils down to “the rich get richer”.
An alternate path – leading away from the debacle of Obamacare/ Trumpcare – is fairly simple and workable: expand Medicare using a single payer plan while dropping Medicaid altogether.
“So what is single-payer health care? Essentially it involves expanding the present Medicare system to cover everyone and eliminating private insurance (with the claimed accompanying savings of hundreds of billions of dollars).
"Additional features would include the absence of means testing, no concern for pre-existing conditions, the restoration of independent doctors and hospitals who negotiate with Medicare and would be chosen freely by consumers and one public agency processing and paying bills.
“Because it would be unneeded with this system in place, the present Medicaid program for the indigent and its associated administrative costs would be eliminated. Proponents suggest that costs could be contained and quality maintained through more efficient review by the single insurer. Costs would be financed through a progressive income tax.”
Sounds good, aye? Well, unless you’re a millionaire and break in to a cold sweat at the clause “costs would be financed through a progressive income tax”.
Like me, you’re probably reading between the lines here.When “eliminating private insurance” pops out, one’s mind – if the slightest bit of pragmatism is embedded there – questions the odds of cash actually drying up in the UnitedHealth, Kaiser, Humana, Aetna, and Cigna Rivers.
“In the 2012 election cycle, the insurance industry contributed a record $58.7 million to federal parties and candidates as well as outside spending groups. Of the nearly $55 million that went to parties and candidates, 68 percent went to Republicans, who have long been the recipients of most of this category's giving.”
Admittedly, private insurance companies may suffer at first with a single-payer plan, but people with cash would buy supplemental insurance beyond Medicare basics and sustain the industry; jobs would shift to government positions aimed at administrating the new system and would therefore mitigate unemployment.
With the GOP in power, we’ll likely get Obamacare Light if they can scrape up the Senate votes, which fattens the coffers of the already-wealthy while neglecting the truly needy.
However, the worm may turn in 2018, and if a new Congress actually functions, we’ll be able to bring down costs and increase quality with a single-payer Medicare expansion while simultaneously closing the income gap.
Logically, one should abstain from indulging in news the first thing in the morning.
Soaking up death, stabbings, arson, child neglect, fracking, meth-lab explosions, sex slavery, environmental disasters, racist cops, neglected infrastructure, enduring slave wages, endless CEO profit raking, idiotic politicians blubbering pie-in-the-sky promises with no intention of following through … mixing all those nauseous facts with prodigious amounts of caffeine … well.
That can’t be good for the psyche.
But the routine never varies.
Out of bed, slurp coffee, devour news, cautiously turn to the obituaries, brace for the blow.
A recent law-school grad with a long history of academic success, a loving family, and a promising future. Twenty-seven-years-old. Here’s a brief paraphrase from the obit:
God protected him many times when his parents were unable. His earthly life ended unexpectedly but his everlasting life has begun.
We’ve watched the font-size of our local print paper decrescendo for thirty years to the point where it’s barely readable.
After all, they have our subscription money, and we’ve read the news on our iPhones and internet feeds, old print news takes up valuable paper and ink, so we’ll minimalize it, shrink it with a pissant font, and look for other revenue streams.
To balance the loss of readership and revenue to online outlets, our local newspaper doubled the size of its obituary text, colorized large head shots of the recently-deceased, and unknowing created a daily parade of local folk now leaving eternal digitized images.
If you plan ahead, love to scribble, and can afford to throw even more cash at a local newspaper publisher, up goes your twin column half page manifesto, a.k.a. bird-cage lining.
Obituaries sell local papers. Furthermore, the family of the deceased wanting to run an obituary is billed up to $600— approximately five times an annual subscription price — to purchase the publication of their loved one’s death notice.
And newsprint corporations will continue to milk grieving readers until obituaries naturally migrate whole herd onto the “everlasting” cloud — which is subject to evaporation any second of any day.
So we slurp coffee, wipe crust from our eyes, and suffer the dark parade of endless young-people obituaries — two or three “mysterious passings” per week — digitized head shots projecting health, vitality, and promise … while the shocking dissconnect of truth and image confounds the thoughtful reader.
Cancer victims either declare outright the nature of their earthly battle, or direct donations toward eradicating the scourge, which indicates the cause of their passing.
But prescription or illegal opioid drug deaths — cloaked in self-painted societal shame — lie hidden between the lines of the family-or-funeral-home-produced death notice.
We’re talking perhaps 2-3 opioid-connected deaths per-week in a region supporting a newspaper circulation of 43,000.
National statistics suggest nearly fifty-two Americans perish every day from prescription opioid overdoses — eighty per day if you figure in heroin— so two-or-three deaths a week in such a tiny demographic seems outrageous.
Heroin deaths are linked to the pill trade because recently skyrocketing street-prices of prescription opioids allow cheap heroin to flourish across the land, hitting rural states and Appalachia especially hard due to decades of high unemployment and a culture slow to raise education standards, though the epidemic appears to cross all lines, racial, religious, geographic, and socio-economic.
Many of our locals succumb to fentanyl, fifty times more potent than typical street heroin. They go to a party, try a little, forget how much they’ve taken, dab a little more, and before the dawn appears …. the sun sets on their precious lives.
Opioid availability first soared (in recent history) after 26 states and D.C. legalized weed in some form and jerked market out from under Mexico, who made up the loss by dumping cheap heroin and opioid-laden chemicals on an already addicted North America poised to dull the pain with ever increasing amounts of opioids, a class of drugs that has debilitated us since the Civil War.
One family, six months ago, actually came clean in the second paragraph of their boy’s obituary, saying that the deceased fell victim to prescription drugs after losing his father two years prior. The son couldn’t bear the loss.
That’s the only self-admission I’d seen in thirty years of obituary reading, though I must confess that for twenty-eight years I only skimmed obits for astounding stories of WWII vets who’d conquered the world and returned home to build new lives.
The truth remains: we all wear a mask.
This concept came home to me thirty years ago when I taught Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veilto a class of honors English students in a suburban Chicago high school.
A small village church must deal with their minister, Mr. Hooper, who takes a notion to don a black veil covering his upper face — much like a widow would wear at an old-fashioned funeral. Everything goes south when he chooses to leave it on.
He becomes a better minister after this decision, ironically, and though his fiancé breaks off their engagement, she watches his entire life and comes to be with him on his death bed, where he admits all of us wear a mask. Upon his death, Mr. Hooper is buried with the veil in place.
Let’s look into the mirror.
When we’re at Sunday school, we wear the Sunday school face. Job interviews conjure a competent strong obedient flexible yes-sir face. Thursday night dollar-draft-beer Raccoon Club meetings at the local sports bar requires a special façade.
And since random acts of unprovoked violence occur in this crazy world — say the unexpected death of a child through accident or SIDs — well, that means perhaps even God wears a mask.
No one is immune from the natural instinct to project a happy face while masking reality through omission.
Facebook is simply a party-line on steroids, a party line with enough bandwidth so a billion users may share photos, text, videos, music, and fake news.
For whatever psychological reason, the vast majority of us prefer to keep the laundry in the closet and to project the shiniest image of ourselves and our loved ones, clean photo-shopped textually-tweaked images of success and prosperity.
Let’s face it, we’re all the billboard producers of our archived lives, turned digital and pulsing across the electronic social universe — Google Plus, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, et al. — social media entwined through massive servers grown muscular through carrying an ever-increasing crescendo of porn to the sex-starved masses. Thirst begets thirst.
Irony. Cleanliness afforded by dirt.
As a result, we can now Photoshop and video-edit our pimples and purple lives while projecting sanitized, filtered, smiling, I’m so happy, self-assured-selfies, eternal masks frozen in digital clouds of memories, gigabytes juggled in “perpetuity” for dollars a month.
Even when people freak out, breech social barriers, and reveal their dark sides on social media, it’s often ignored until the post mortems roll in.
When an individual’s mask slips down, the tribe doesn’t WANT to look, or doesn’t want to acknowledge some of us actually DIDlook and failed to respond.
Which brings us back to the Double-O-Demons.
Jellybeaners is a topical novel about opiates and obituaries, and the fact that shame drives many of our decisions.
And until we supplant shame with grace and help people recover from addiction through counseling, financial incentives, and work opportunities, well.