The Protectorate

30 Dec

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The Protectorate was written in December 2015, and is particularly appropriate for Super Bowl Sunday. If you would like to read it and comment, please go to About Me and find my email address, then email me so. I’ll send you a PDF file of the story.

BTW: I don’t care who wins today’s Super Bowl as long as it’s not New England.

The Projects

21 Aug

Updating The Projects via reblogging the initial post.

Writing Odds n Ends

  

The Projects

By L. Stewart Marsden

Forward

Sometimes, just before waking, in that twilight of dream-sleep and consciousness, a thought or image or story or scenario will flit through my mind. Like a glint of light reflected off some shiny object. It’s there, and it’s gone.

Two thoughts – spawned perhaps by subconscious mulling over Charlottesville and the last several years of police action.

What if a person convicted of a hate crime – who had served the time – was paroled with the stipulation that he/she (mostly he, is my guess) served lots of hours working in the neighborhoods of the very people the hate crime was committed against? Impossible? I say this because on CBS evening news, a former member of a hate group was interviewed. This person, Christian Pitulini (sp?) joined a hate group at the age of 14, and quit a few years later to…

View original post 3,437 more words

2nd Edition, Through the Glass Darkly

19 Aug

 

Ray Ferrer’s cover illustration for Through the Glass Darkly

I’m making the manuscript of my second edition of Through the Glass Darkly available –after many attempts to figure out how to do it – for a limited time.

You are free to download and read the manuscript, as well as share it with others if you so care.

As I do plan to publish it, I hope you will benefit me with your comments, including which stories you liked and why, as well as those you didn’t care for. I will leave this page posted for your comments, but will dismantle the link to the file eventually.

Comments on plots, characters, dialogue, flow, etc., are all important to me. Not so much, “I liked this story” (which I used to say when I wrote book reports as a kid), but, “I liked this story because …”

I post to and maintain my online writing studio on WordPress because I seek feedback, as I imagine you do also. Whether positive or negative feedback, it is all beneficial to me in terms of my growth as a writer and poet.

Thank you in advance for those thoughtful comments.

LSM, 19 August 2017

Click the following link for the manuscript. Please alert me if you have any difficulty opening this file.

ThroughtheGlassDarkly_2ndEdition11-26-2015-TEST

Pain

19 Aug

 

Pain

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

When I was about ten years old, I began having intense attacks of pain on my right side under my rib cage. It was deep inside. The best way I found to describe it was it felt as though a double-bladed knife, triangular in shape from its tip to the hilt, was being slowly inserted into me. The pain would gradually increase over hours, and I did everything I could for relief to no avail. It got so bad I would force myself to throw up in order to empty my stomach. Again, useless. I even banged my head against the wall to distract my mind elsewhere.

I was checked and tested for a myriad of maladies, including hepatitis and ruptured appendix, during which time I must have drunk gallons of pasty, chalky “stuff” that would show up problems under x-rays.

Nothing.

The attacks repeated over a number of years, seeming to get more and more painful and intolerable. And the duration also lengthened, from several hours to a day and a half. The usual guess at a diagnosis was severe indigestion. So whenever I felt an attack coming on, I’d drain a bottle of Pepto Bismal – thinking it might lessen the severity. That’s what you get for thinking.

Finger down the throat. Head banging on the wall. Even had a pediatrician give me morphine once. Well, that worked, but it sure wasn’t going to be the normal treatment.

Over the years I suffered dozens of attacks. Only complete exhaustion and drop dead sleep helped me survive.

The spring before Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinkley, the attacks began to occur within weeks of each other. At the around the same time, I found out my older sister had her gallbladder removed due to having painful attacks.

Gallbladder!

A gastroenterologist told me I couldn’t have gallbladder disease, and my pain wasn’t the result of gallbladder attacks because I had been having them since I was ten.

“Improbable,” he surmised, having never heard of someone so young diagnosed with the malady.

This time the tests – for gallbladder – came back positive, and proved the doctor wrong.

The surgery took hours longer than was expected. My gallbladder had shrunk up under my liver, and the surgeon cut a large half-moon opening to the right of my stomach area in order to actually move my liver So he could get to the gallbladder.

It looked like a dried-up lemon, he told me later. And it was packed with dozens and dozens of BB-sized stones that had been produced over the years.

Pain.

It tells us something is wrong, and compels us to do something about it. I’ve heard preachers say metaphorically that it is God’s way of steering us in the right path. I have a response to that premise, but I can’t write it down in mixed company.

The solution for my pain over the years was first the diagnosis. And no one for the longest time reached a correct conclusion. At the time of those attacks, I was happy merely to have the pain go away, which they eventually did, but only to come back again.

There is no such thing as timeliness as far as pain is concerned, in my opinion.

I’ve been told that the pain of a gallbladder attack is at the same intensity as what women experience when in labor. I wouldn’t know. That could only be asserted by a woman, and I trust they would know.

We’re in a time of pain. The country.

Just shy of fifty years ago we were also in a time of pain not dissimilar to now.

Then, the sources of the pain were evident. On Sunday evenings when CBS covered the war in Vietnam on 60 Minutes. Kent State. Martin Luther King assassinated. The Black Panthers. The bombing of Hanoi. Bra-burning. Marches, marches, marches.

And like a gallbladder attack, it was like a two-edged knife being slowly inserted into the gut of the country, and there was no relief to be found.

We’re there once again. The faces are the same, only the names are different. Afghanistan. Syria. Al Qaeda. ISIS. Terrorism. Police brutality. Denial of rights to a different set of minorities. Racial tension. Political buffoonery. Fascists. Bigots. Racists.

For those of us who were around the first time during the 60s and 70s, it’s deja vous all over again. Ground Hog Day. Like the unseen gods are saying, “We’re going to do this until we get it right”-kind of scenario.

Is it just me? Or have I felt this pain before? And will we ever have a definitive diagnosis? Will we go into surgery to have this malignancy removed at last?

Were it only that simple.

In the meantime, we have the pain, which will persist and recur until solutions are found.

 

 

 

 

Forget About It

18 Aug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forget About It

By L. Stewart Marsden

Never forget.

Forget, hell!

Gettysburg. Manassas. Fort Sumter. Shiloh. Richmond. Antietam. Petersburg. Vicksburg. Andersonville. Chickamauga. Lookout Mountain. Appomattox.

Images of the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Baghdad, Iraq.

Images of the statue of Robert E. Lee being toppled in Durham, NC.

The oft-quoted maxim involving forgetting history – while a tired phrase – might apply here. The poet and philosopher, George Santayana is purported to have said:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Of course, various versions have been bantered about throughout time.

Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Winston Churchill weighed in with, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

And my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, put his spin on the phrase, elaborating, of course:

I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana … We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive. It’s pretty dense kids who haven’t figured that out by the time they’re ten…. Most kids can’t afford to go to Harvard and be misinformed.

History is filled with images and symbols that act as touchstones to the past. The Roman Empire SPQR held high on a pole; the sign of the fish for early Christians; family crests (I am currently wearing a ring with my family’s crest). From the benign to the monstrous. The cross on the shields of Christian warriors who slaughtered in the name of Christ during the Crusades; the swastika, “a sacred symbol of the spiritual principles in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism”† to a symbol of Nazi Aryan race identity, hate, and mass murder.

Flags of the nations. During WWII the Japanese flag elicited much anger on the part of Americans. The Russian flag did the same during the Cold War.

And statues and busts of every imaginable sort.

A growing sentiment is being heard across the country, urging the destruction or eradication of both symbols and statues that represent to that group something odious and despicable. Confederate flags, once incorporated into various southern state flags, are being removed from, or being called to be removed from those state symbols. The sentiment is significant, but not quite a majority.

There are those who are baffled by what seems to be as vitriolic a response as those who see these symbols as touchstones to a time and way of life they have identified with for generations.

Fascists, come the cries. Bigots and racists.

Liberals, come the retorts. Pinko commies who want to take without earning.

A fear has swept over the country, like tsunamis from two directions hurtling toward each other. One group fearful that the country will revert to pre-Civil War days, and minorities will be enslaved and hunted and valued at a lesser level (2/3?) than their white counterparts. The other group, doggedly holding onto values they believe to be inalienable rights, and angry and frustrated that the country “is going to hell in a hand basket.”

In the middle – between these two groups – a large segment of the country who are confused at best, ignorant at worst, at what to do. Wishing and hoping it will all “settle down” so life can resume as it was. Content with the status quo. Spectators.

Do you eradicate any and all controversial symbols of the past? Anything offensive to anyone? Do we bury the reality of a civil war on our soil that took between 620,000 and 750,000 lives on the battlefield? ††

It’s true that many in this country cling to these symbols as a connection to a time and way of life they would prefer. It is also true the symbols are odious reminders of oppression and worse.

One group says “you are erasing history.” The other, “we are removing the icons of hate and bigotry and fascism.”

Is there a solution regarding these remnants and reminders of a time our country was literally ripped apart? Do we eradicate these touchstones to a time when people, many born in the United States, were enslaved and denied the rights of citizenry or even humanhood?

It is revealing that descendants of the men depicted by statues honoring their ancestors express mixed emotion:

“William Jackson Christian (known as Jack) and Warren Edmund Christian are great-great-grandsons of Stonewall Jackson, the general best known for leading Confederate troops in the First Battle of Bull Run. On Wednesday, they published a blistering open letter in Slate, calling statues of Jackson and other Confederate leaders in their hometown, Richmond, ‘overt symbols of racism and white supremacy.’”

“‘While we are not ashamed of our great-great-grandfather, we are ashamed to benefit from white supremacy while our black family and friends suffer,” they wrote. “We are ashamed of the monument.’”

“Bertram Hayes-Davis, a great-great-grandson of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, has been less forceful than the Christians. In an interview with the CNN host Don Lemon, he said that statues of Davis and other Confederate leaders at the United States Capitol ‘were placed there for a reason,’ but that they should be moved to a museum if their current location is ‘offensive to a large majority of the public.’”

“The statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville was the cause célèbre of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who marched last weekend. But Lee’s great-great-grandson, Robert E. Lee V, told CNN he would not object if local officials chose to take it down.

“‘Maybe it’s appropriate to have them in museums or to put them in some sort of historical context in that regard,’ Mr. Lee, 54, the boys’ athletic director at the Potomac School in McLean, Va., said in the CNN interview. But, he added, ‘we have to be able to have that conversation without all of the hatred and the violence.’

“In a statement, he and Tracy Lee Crittenberger, Robert E. Lee’s great-great-granddaughter, said Lee would not have supported the actions of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Like Mr. Hayes-Davis, they defended their great-great-grandfather to some extent, saying his life ‘was about duty, honor and country.’

“‘At the end of the Civil War, he implored the nation to come together to heal our wounds and to move forward to become a more unified nation,’ they wrote. ‘He never would have tolerated the hateful words and violent actions of white supremacists, the K.K.K. or neo-Nazis.’

“A museum, Mr. Lee and Ms. Crittenberger said, might be a better place for such statues: a place where they could be put in the context of the 1860s.

“But Mr. Lee added in an interview with The Washington Post, ‘If it can avoid any days like this past Saturday in Charlottesville, then take them down today.’”†††

I am white. I was born in the South. I am part of the “privileged class,” and grew up in a small southern town and did not want for anything growing up. While my heritage was not based on Southern tradition (my parents relocated to the South at the end of WWII, having grown up in Minnesota), the norms of that quaint community were assimilated in many ways into my family. I attended an exclusive all-boys prep school nestled in the rural hills of Virginia not far from Fredericksburg and Lynchburg and Richmond. At the time, the school was all-white as far as students and faculty goes. Many of my classmates bore the recognizable last names of families steeped in Virginia and southern history.

In public school, there were no blacks in the schools I attended until I reached junior high, and then a hand-full only. Segregation was in force and enforced, with separate bathrooms and water fountains and entrances and seating for blacks. During that day, there were no Hispanics or Latinos that I knew of in the community. I’m sure there were, though.

As part of the ruling class, I unknowingly and unwittingly perpetuated the status quo. Along the way, between then and now, I’ve come to see how this “arrangement” benefitted only certain whites – those who occupied the most prestigious classes. And those benefits still remain into this day.

I cannot identify with nor tolerate the egregious attitudes of the Alt-right, the KKK, or any other hate group. I struggle with, however, how to deal with the clear-cutting of historical monuments or statues that represent a time when our country was not at its best. I tend to agree more with the idea of collecting these symbols in museums that treat the era in a way that places like Auschwitz treat the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Hitler and Company are not deified or aggrandize to my knowledge in those museums.

But then I cannot identify with people who have suffered generations back because of their countries of origin (my ancestors were largely Irish, according to DNA results through ancestry.com), the color of their skin, gender, or any of a host of other reasons. I can’t identify with profiling, or being a victim of police brutality. I can mentally understand why the strong feelings, still, I find the wholesale destruction of historical monuments/statues unsatisfactory.

Perhaps if we do not forget, and view our past with appropriate perspective and discernment, Mr. Vonnegut’s assertion that we will inevitably repeat history will be less likely.

I hope so.

§§§§§

†Wikipedia, under Swastika.
†† A December 2011 article by Professor J. David Hacker suggests the traditionally-accepted death toll of soldiers (620,000) during the Civil War was underestimated. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17604991
††† https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/17/us/confederate-monuments-stonewall-jackson-lee-davis.html

The Projects

16 Aug

 

  

 

The Projects

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Forward

Sometimes, just before waking, in that twilight of dream-sleep and consciousness, a thought or image or story or scenario will flit through my mind. Like a glint of light reflected off some shiny object. It’s there, and it’s gone.

Two thoughts – spawned perhaps by subconscious mulling over Charlottesville and the last several years of police action.

What if a person convicted of a hate crime – who had served the time – was paroled with the stipulation that he/she (mostly he, is my guess) served lots of hours working in the neighborhoods of the very people the hate crime was committed against? Impossible? I say this because on CBS evening news, a former member of a hate group was interviewed. This person, Christian Pitulini (sp?) joined a hate group at the age of 14, and quit a few years later to form an organization that actively works against hate groups. 

Second, below is another whimsical thought – the beginning of a story that addresses one possible way to span the chasm that exists between minority communities and the police officers who are charged with serving them.

– LSM

†††††

The Projects

Pastor Jeremy Tolbert rapped the table with his coffee mug amid the sudden outbreak of arguing.

“Folks, please! Just give me a moment to clarify things!”

The chaos continued.

“FOR THE LOVE OF JE-SUS!” he blasted, slamming his cup down, freezing the moment as if he had sprayed everyone with ice-cold water. “Please! Sit down!”

One by one his parishioners sat, still somewhat shocked by Tolbert’s anger.

“This is not the same old same old. It’s a new idea on a very old problem, and the Lord knows we need to try something new. Amen?”

Amen, came the reply in unison.

“Keydets are key people of all ages who live in each block. Young, old, men or women. Black, Latino, mix. Straight, gay. Liberal or conservative.”

“We got any conservatives in the hood?” piped up Simeon Crouch, and the room relaxed in laughter.

“We got one or two, Simeon. They just don’t want you to know it!” said Tolbert. “Here’s how it is different: we are the ones who choose our neighborhood block Keydets. Not the police department. Us. And there won’t be no uniforms or badges or guns or billy clubs issued.”

“How anyone gonna know who a Keydet is, then? And how they gonna enforce the law?”

“They won’t enforce anything. That’s not their job.”

“What they gonna do, then?”

“They will play a key role in communicating between the neighborhoods and the police department. We will know who they are because they will be trained to go into their blocks and areas and organize. In a few weeks, a Keydet is going to knock on each of your doors to sit down with you.”

“Organize what?”

“Well, help the neighborhoods know how to protect itself, and to know what to do to identify crime and criminals, and what to do about that kind of thing.”

“So they snitches.”

“Yeah, undercover cops!”

“NO!” Tolbert leaned forward on the table, his arms stretched out in front of him, palms down on the battered wood surface. “No.”

He surveyed the group. They comprised the leadership of Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church, where he had served going on two decades. He knew and loved each individual. He could talk spiritually to each person, and knew their stories intimately. How they struggled to make it in a world that seemed to keep them down and “in their place.” How they feared for their children, worrying that the streets would eventually drag them down into lives of crime – or worse. For many of them, that had already happened.

“They are not going to be snitches. They will be – for lack of a better word – Aarons. They will interpret our people and our ways of struggle to those who are charged with our protection.”

“Preacher, why you say Aarons?”

“You know, great as Moses was, he had one major problem. He told God he was slow of speech and tongue.”

“He had a speech impediment,” said Mabel Howard, fanning herself with the flat of her hand.

“Yes. So God appointed Aaron to speak to Pharaoh for Moses. And that’s what our Keydets will do for the community. They will interpret to their partners from the police department how we feel, what we need and what we want as a community from them.

“Our job is to identify these people.”

“You said they will interpret to their partners from the police department.”

“I did.”

“Who they?”

“Like our Keydets, they will be police officers of different ages and races and backgrounds. But a key part of the program, is these officers will have a history of misunderstanding our community.”

“What? Like they’s the ones that beats us up?”

“Not that extreme, Buck. But officers who have something in their history that lets their superiors know they will profit from being involved in the program. It will help to change their attitudes.”

“And how’s that gonna happen, Preacher?”

“In addition to choosing our Keydets, we are also responsible to train the officers.”

Once again the room exploded into vocal chaos. This time Rev. Tolbert waited, drumming his fingers slowly on the table. Gradually the storm passed, and the room quieted.

“The police department will train our Keydets. Observation and questioning skills. Recording skills. And some personal defense. The only equipment the Keydets will have will be an inexpensive cellphone they can use to contact their partner.

“We will train the officers. That curriculum will include a variety of things: our ways and how we view police; our hopes for the neighborhood – such as crime-free; and some basic language skills.”

A laugh rippled through the group.

“The only snitching to be done will be on each other. The Keydet will report to us, and let us know what his or her partner needs to work on. Same thing for the officer, who will report to the police trainer about what the Keydet needs training in.

“The goal, at the very least, is that these two people from two very different backgrounds and experiences, will come to understand and trust each other. They are our Adam and Eve project, in a way. And the hope is that a new and positive relationship between our neighborhood and those sworn to protect us will be the result.”

†††††

That is how sixteen-year-old Jehwan Tyree Johnson and forty-two-year-old Officer Gabriel Sean O’Hare came to be partners in the southeast Mulholland District of the city.

†††††

“So, we gonna get paid to do this?” asked one of the potential Keydets. “I mean, seems if we gonna do all this work, we should get something for it.”

Heads nodded in the room and a low murmur ensued as those gathered whispered agreement.

“The grant does provide funds to compensate you. Not a lot. You won’t get rich if you choose to become a Keydet.”

“Then why should we care?”

Captain Irene Daniels resisted the urge to roll her eyes. All eyes in the room scrutinized her every move, word and voice inflection. Anything that detracted from “the sell” could mean potential failure. And, as the Chief of Police as well as the Mayor and District Attorney had carefully explained to her weeks earlier, there was no room for failure. The violence in Mulholland last spring could not be repeated. Nor the ambushing of police officers. Nor the display of brutal or fatal force against citizens on the part of her officers.

“Maybe you shouldn’t care. That’s for you to decide. Maybe it doesn’t matter that the anger and rage continues.”

“No, Ma’am – it matter,” said an elderly black man as he rose to his feet in the back of the room. “We have come too far since Dr. King was kilt. Now, maybe that’s not enough for everyone, and you angry on a cause of that. But now? Seems we be slippin’ backwards towards those days don’t none of us want to ever see again. My boy couldn’t see straight ‘cause of he was mad! It got inside his head to where he couldn’t do nothin’ but hate and fight. Now he’s dead. No, Ma’am – it definitely matter.”

“Thank you, Mr. Terrell. I hope that this program will end the “we” and the “they” mindset we’ve all fallen into. So, yeah, the pay is not great. But you will be doing something positive to change this neighborhood and yourselves – plus the police force – for the good.

“Sergeant O’Hare is going to pass out your cell phones. These will be used for you to contact your police department partner, or they you. Don’t lose these, please. If something goes wrong with them, bring them back in and we will either repair or replace them.”

A large bear-like officer cradled a cardboard box, and began handing out cellphones.

“Hey, Chief!”

“Captain,” Daniels corrected.

“Oh yeah – Captain. Can you text with these?”

“You can text. But you cannot get on the internet. They are not smart phones.”

“They dummies!” a voice blurted out, and the room tittered.

“Make sure the phones are charged, and that you can bring up the phone number for your phone.”

“How you do that?” said an older woman.

“I’ll show you how, Miz Cruise.”

“Thank you, Jehwan. It is Jehwan, right?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“Sergeant O’Hare is your police department partner, Jehwan.”

“No shit? Uh – sorry, Ma’am. Really?”

“Really.”

†††††

“And how old are you, Juwan?”

“Jehwan. Like a J with a wan. You know, Obi Wan? But it’s J-wan.”

“You’ve seen the movie?”

“Who ain’t?”

“So, J-wan … how old are you?”

“Sixteen. I’ll be seventeen next October.”

“Ah! Me too!”

“Damn! For a seventeen-year-old, you musta had a really hard life!”

“Smart ass! I meant I was born in October! You a Libra, then?”

“Nah. Scorpio.”

“A leader!”

“And a lover! Least that’s what the ladies tell me.”

“I’m a Libra. Intellectual, we are,” he said, trying to mimic Yoda.

“Didn’t know – ah, no – never mind.”

“Never mind what? You can tell me. We’re partners, right? Partners can tell each other anything.”

“I don’t know …”

“Go ahead. I’m a thick-skinned Irishman.”

“I thought the Irish were a little sensitive. Quick to get mad.”

“That’s a myth. Now, what were you gonna say?”

“What I was gonna say was I didn’t know cops were intellectuals – per se.”

O’Hare stopped in the middle of a spoonful of his ice cream soda. Jehwan could tell he was thinkin’ fast.

“How’s your Sunday?” he finally said.

“Oh, it’s fine! Very fine.”

They continued to eat their desserts silently.

“So, tell me: what are your superiors concerned about you?” Jehwan asked.

“What concerns? What’re you talking about?”

“Preacher Tolbert said, when we was recruited, that the police partners was chose based on – you know – some problem they has with people like me.”

“People like you?”

“Black people. People who live in Mulholland. You hit somebody?”

O’Hare put his spoon down. He was slowly turning red in the face. Jehwan wasn’t sure if the color change was anger or not.

“It was nothing. I made a mistake. I said something to somebody that I shouldn’t have said.”

“Yeah? What was it?” Jehwan’s eyes were wide with interest, and he leaned forward over the small table toward the officer. O’Hare said something – but it was garbled, and Jehwan didn’t understand.

“Say again?”

“You know. The N-word.”

“Wha?! You called somebody Nigger!”

“Shhh! Not so loud! I was angry, okay? The guy was a junkie. He was a worthless piece of shit!”

“Oh, my!”

“Let me ask you … why is it okay for a black person to use the word but not a person of another color? I don’t call all blacks the N-word. Just the scum-buckets. And don’t you call white people Honkies? Should I be upset about that?”

Jehwan laughed out loud.

“That funny to you, is it?”

“Nah, man. Either way, nigger or honkie ain’t right. But that word you used. Scum-buckets!” He laughed again.

“That’s what they are! And so I called one black scum-bucket the N-word. What the hell is so wrong with that? Tell me, please!”

“It reminded me of this YouTube video I seen where Eddie Murphy was like this old man in a sweater in some kind of kid show.”

“Mr. Rogers? Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was a great TV show!”

“That’s it! Yeah, but Eddie was the black version, and he’s talkin’ ‘bout his landlord, and he looks into the camera and says all nice and all “Can you say ‘scum-bucket, boys and girls?’”

“Ha! Yes! I remember that one, too!”

They laugh. Then Jehwan drew himself as tall and as straight in his chair, trying to neutralize O’Hare’s size.

“So here the thing: it ain’t cool for a non-black person to use the word ‘nigger.’ That’s our word. We own it. Least that’s what Chance said when Bill Maher said it on his show. And besides, mostly we use ‘nigga’ – not the other one. So I ‘preciate that you do not use the words around me or my kind.”

“And I appreciate you not calling me honkie – or worse: carrot top or spudfucker.”

“Agreed.” They fist bumped to seal the vows.

“Well, that’s what got me into trouble. And that’s why the Captain assigned me to the program. And that’s why you and me are partners.”

“Not like you beat somebody up or shot them – like what’s been happening.”

“Just so you know, cop lives matter, too.”

“Shit! I don’t even want to get into this!”

“If we don’t, we won’t make any progress.”

“Progress. You don’t even know, man!”

Silence.

“So how’s your Sunday?”

“It’s okay.”

†††††

The police cruiser slowly passed Jehwan, who was walking quickly on the other side of the street. The interior light cast from the computer on the dashboard illumined the two officers, and he could see the one in the passenger seat was eyeing him carefully. Jehwan’s heartbeat stepped up several notches, and he slowed his pace to see if the cruiser would also slow. He put his hand in his pocket and clinched the cellphone given to him for the neighborhood/cop program. It was cool to the touch.

The cruiser did slow, and pulled over to the opposite side of the street and stopped. Of a sudden, the blue lights on its roof began to flash, and he saw the driver lean forward and a siren began to wail, as the car pulled out quickly, its howl subsiding as it sped down the street into the night and disappeared.

As on cue, the phone in Jehwan’s pocket vibrated in his hand, and he pulled it to his ear.

“‘Lo?”

“I’m running late, Jehwan. Go ahead and get started without me and I’ll be there shortly. Have to do something quick.”

“Yeah? Well get me one of the jelly-filled ones.”

“Jelly-filled what?”

Do-nuts! That’s where you’re going, right? To get coffee and doughnuts?”

“Ha! Only in the morning, my man. See you in a bit.”

Jehwan grinned, and stored the phone back in his pocket. He was glad to hear O’Hare’s voice, especially when he figured he was going to get waylaid by the city’s finest on a dark street.

He picked his pace up and turned the corner onto Seventh Avenue toward Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church, located across the street in the middle of the block. The only working street lamp on the avenue rose from the sidewalk at the foot of the church’s concrete steps, a wide swath that invited passers by to stop and climb them. During the day, the steps served as bleachers for spectators of pickup basketball games in the street.

The Reverend Tolbert had bought a portable basketball goal from Movement God and placed it across the street from the church steps. He had also put out a rubber garbage can full of street-ready basketballs. Jehwan always wondered why the balls were never stolen. Not one. One of his friends said if somebody ever did, they might end up in the river.

During summertime and on weekends, neighborhood kids swarmed the street to play three-on-three, and the goal had seen better days. Originally, Pastor Tolbert had leaned a piece of plywood against the wrought iron handrails of the steps. On it he painted “You must be this height or smaller to play basketball,” indicating a horizontal line drawn at about the five-foot level.

That didn’t go over well, and the bigger kids eventually started dominating the “court.” Of course he had to replace the metal rim and the backboard a few times due to kids dunking and hanging off the rim. And he went through a dozen or more nets. Someone told him he should put up chain nets like those used on the public playgrounds, but he refused to listen, remembering how he hated the metal sound of a swish compared to nylon.

“Only the best for my kids,” he said.

Parishioners laid out lane markings for the court, and spray-painted the lines with white paint. Then someone came up with the idea for an ongoing three-man basketball league, which Tolbert christened “Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church Trinity Basketball League,” a mouthful. Everyone called it The Trinity League, which suited Tolbert just fine. The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost basketball. The league grew, and so did Tolbert’s reputation as a voice of reason in the community.

Jehwan crossed the street under the basketball goal, flicking the bottom of the net as he passed. He thumped the garbage can full of balls and leapt up the steps to the church’s arched double doors. The doors were unlocked, as they always were, and he swung one open and entered the church.

The vestibule was small and covered in red carpet, which continued into the sanctuary and ran down the middle of rows of wooden pews. At the far end of the nave the chancel was elevated above the floor level. A baptismal font stood on one side of the chancel, and a dais on the other.

Seated on the edge of the chancel floor, feet dangling, Pastor Tolbert faced a small group of people seated haphazardly in the front pews. Only the chancel lights were on, the rest of the sanctuary shadowed in night tones. One one side of the aisle were people from the community, and on the other side, a variety of people from the police department, some in plain clothes, and others in uniform.

Tolbert looked up as Jehwan entered.

“Hey, here comes the last of our community Keydets! Everyone, this is Jehwan Johnson.”

Faces turned and a people grunted various greetings as Jehwan eased into one of the pews toward the back of the group. Jehwan raised his hand and waved briefly.

“Where is your counterpart, Jehwan? Sergeant O’Hare?”

“Oh, he be here directly. He said go one with the meeting.”

“Okay, that’s a good idea. I know everyone wants to get started on time. All of your time is valuable, and I so appreciate your willingness to be here. May we begin tonight’s meeting with a prayer? Good!

“Dear precious Lord, we are set with a task that is bigger than any one of us. The wounds of this community gape open, and we seek your healing touch.”

Various impromptu responses of “Amen” sprinkled from the group.

“So we ask humbly, dear Lord, that you unite us as one body, with one accord and resolution to do whatever is necessary for this healing to take place. We know it will not be either a quick or an easy task …”

“Yes, Lord!”

“… as the gulf that separates us has slowly widened over the years and decades …”

“Uh-huh!”

“… and the distance between us is steeped with stubbornness …”

“That’s right!”

“… and ignorance …”

“Oh, my!”

“… and preconceived notions and falsehoods …”

“Je-sus!”

“… on all – I said ALL sides …”

Clapping, and arms raised, heads nodding and shaking back and forth.

“… There is no one but You, Oh Lord, who can provide what we need today and evermore …”

“All right!”

“… which is the miracle of your healing hand …”

“Yes!”

“So use us, Lord, as you used Moses – use our mouths and our hands and our feet to lead this community out of its attitude of slavery …”

“Oh, Lord, do!”

“… into one of servitude to one another, that we may do unto others – NOT before they do unto us – but that we may do unto others as we would have them to do unto us. Amen.”

“Amen!”

†††††

Note: This is the germ of a story on a contemporary problem. The central idea is two persons of different backgrounds are thrust together, not necessarily in accordance with their will, to try to work towards some semblance of understanding and cooperation for the good of all. Kind of like Congress, too. If you would like to see more of the story unfold, please say so. If you have any contribution or ideas as to how the story should/could progress, comment on that also. Thanks for the “likes,” but it is your comments I’m more interested in. LSM.

Nonsense.

15 Aug

Nonsense.

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

How’s it going?

Same old same old, with a sigh.

Ah. That good, huh?

The adages wear thin.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Well, the ball’s in your court, you know.

A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.

What you’ve got, is what you’ve got.

The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Why do it today, when you can always do it tomorrow?

If you don’t do it now, you’ll never do it.

It ain’t over till it’s over.

You can’t bale water with a butterfly net.

Huh?

I made that up.

‘Bout as useless as a screen door on a submarine†.

Waste not, want not.

A penny saved is a penny earned.

If it can be imagined, it can be done.

Not on my watch.

Timex: takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.

I can’t believe this isn’t butter.

See the USA, in a Chevrolet!

Wait!

What?

We’re off topic.

Which is?

Lessons in life.

I thought we were bantering in adages. We switched to ads somehow?

Some lessons in life are hard to learn.

Life can be hard. It’s easier to banter.

It is what it is.

What it is?

What it shall be.

What it possibly could have been?

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

The early bird catches the worm.

Goodnight everybody.*

Goodnight Momma.*

Goodnight Ben.*

Goodnight everyone.*

Goodnight Momma. Goodnight Daddy.*

Goodnight children.*

Goodnight Daddy. Goodnight Elizabeth.*

Goodnight John Boy. Goodnight Jim Bob. Goodnight Jim Bob!*

GOODNIGHT JIM BOB!*

What’s goin’ on? I was asleep. What’s everybody doin’?*

GOODNIGHT JIM BOB!*

Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?**

† “Screen Door,” Rich Mullins.
*ABC television series, The Waltons, 1972 – 1981
** “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell.

 

Triggers and Charlottesville: From the Whys to the Whats?

14 Aug

Triggers and Charlottesville:

From the Whys to the Whats?

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

When my son was diagnosed with childhood leukemia, I learned of a theory being studied to answer the question “Why?”

The thought behind the theory was the potential for cancer resides in many of us. Like a bullet, it rests harmlessly among the billions of cells from which we are comprised. At some point, an event occurs that “cocks the trigger.” Perhaps exposure to something in our food, or in the air.

In our case, we wondered if one of those inane plastic toy figures – like the soldiers in a box – that had fallen onto the baseboard heating unit in my son’s bedroom, was the trigger. We awoke in the dead of night to our fire alarms screaming, and dense oily smoke layering the upper half of his bedroom. The figurine had caught on fire. By the time we were awakened and I burst into his room, he had certainly breathed in the caustic smoke.

Or, perhaps it was the location of an electric power station, not half a block away. Studies were being done at the time on the effect of electromagnetism at a cellular level.

We wanted – needed – an explanation.

Why?

That question was never answered. Our attention, however, turned from the why to what we could do about his condition. At least that question had some answers.

Segue to Charlottesville and the conflagration that occurred over the weekend. Not so dissimilar from discovering you have cancer. And more readily predictable – especially the trigger theory part.

I wonder if Robert E. Lee were able to comment on the events of Saturday, what he would say. Lest he be cast as the trigger of this event, here are some of his recorded thoughts that contradict the fascist positions of the Alt-Right and the KKK:

  • In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral & political evil in any country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages.*
  • We should live, act, and say nothing to the injury of anyone. It is not only best as a matter of principle, but it is the path to peace and honor.*
  • What a cruel thing war is… to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors.*
  • I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.*

*www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/robertele753002.html

This is not, in my opinion, a conflict of anything but fear, hate, and a reckless loathing of anyone who differs from those who believe in White Supremacy. It smacks of a position that runs inexplicably across economic and educational stratification. And, it is not random.†

It is taught. It is the we/they mentality that boggles common sense. And it has been an underlying tear in this country’s fabric since the beginning. It cannot be legislated away. It metastasizes wherever separate but superior exists. It incubates for decades – for generations – until it erupts in events like Jim Crow, Selma, Watts, Charlottesville.

In the musical South Pacific, Lieutenant Cable addresses racism (Oscar Hammerstein, II) through the lyrics of You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

The song, according to an article by Andrea Most that appeared in Theatre Journal in October 2000, was the “trigger” for lawmakers in the state of Georgia to introduce legislation outlawing any entertainment that contained “‘an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow.’[2] One legislator said that ‘a song justifying interracial marriage was implicitly a threat to the American way of life.’[2] Rodgers and Hammerstein defended their work strongly. James Michener, upon whose stories South Pacific was based, recalled, ‘The authors replied stubbornly that this number represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in.’”**

**Andrea Most, “‘You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught’: The Politics of Race in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific” Theatre Journal 52, no. 3 (October 2000), 306.

In the cancer analogy, the triggers appear to be anything that threatens fearful people. And what is triggered seems to be anger and resentment at losing something that was once thought to be innate – the “superiority” of one race, one religion, one political spectrum.

From the beginning of time our ancestors have unknowingly set the stage for what occurred in Charlottesville this past weekend. Carefully taught to hate all the people your relatives hate. It is not in the DNA.

What are you and I going to do about it?

 

†In holding on to that anger and resentment, nothing can be accomplished in the way of progress – certainly not resolution. A mentor once used the illustration of how monkeys used to be caught. A clear glass cider jar was “seeded” with peanuts, and a rope tied to its finger ring near the opening, which was tied to a stake. Seeing the peanuts, the monkey would easily slip its paw through the opening to grab a peanut, balling its fist to hold the treat. When the monkey tried to pull his hand out, his fist was too large to come out of the opening. Because the monkey would not let go of his prized peanut, he was easily captured. The simple moral is we are captured by our own stubbornness to hold onto things we ought to let go.

Get the shopping cart into the correct place … Dammit!

2 Aug

 

Get the shopping cart into the correct place … Dammit!

By L. Stewart Marsden

A post on Facebook this morning got me to thinking. I know, thinking twice in one month is rather astounding for me. And painful – like a brain freeze.

It focused on people who do and don’t return their shopping carts to a cart station in the parking lot (perhaps, even, to the front area of the store). You’ve seen those people who don’t return theirs. They tend to smoke and drive big pickups and have Confederate flags on the rear windshield and have mud flaps with a chrome naked woman and spit on the pavement and wear greaser T-shirts and probably voted for 45. They shoo their carts and let them drift aimlessly in the vast parting lots like maverick cattle, creating chaos and confusion. Shameful!

The writer asserted – with admittedly no science to back his thesis – that successful people tend to return their carts, and the lazy bastards of our culture (see above) don’t.

I’m not sure this doesn’t fly in the face of what might be more accurately deduced. For example, the shopping cart returners seem to me more like Stepford Wives than successful entrepreneurs. More like the vast crowds who shift and turn based on the movement of the masses – unthinking and mechanically reactive. Like those schools of sardines you see during Shark Week, rippling through the water en masse. And, sad to say, I’m in that vast population.

I’m not advocating total chaos in the parking lots of America, mind you. And while the data are truly lacking*, this is also one of my peeves, although not a pet one. Mine is more unrestrained and feral. The point is whether you return your cart or not, I don’t think it’s an indicator of much of anything success-wise. But the post – like I said – got me to thinking.

Today there are at least two sizes of carts at most stores (Dollar General is the exception – and Aldi’s): the hunka-munka-I’m-here-for-a-whole-s**t-load-of-stuff cart, and the dainty-just-gotta-grab-one-or-two-items cart. (I normally use the latter cart, then cram it full of oh-I-need-thats until it looks like one of those commuter buses in India where passengers are literally hanging off the sides.)

Which brings up another pet peeve (squirrel!): going through the Express check-out with more than “about 12 items.” But I’ll leave that for another day.

So I get my stuff; wheel the cart through the parking lot with the one wheel spinning uncontrollably; unload my stuff in the trunk (cold stuff near the door, non-perishables in the back of the trunk); and turn to put my dainty cart in the cart station.

Again, there are usually two lanes of carts in each of these stations. Now at Lowe’s Home Improvement, one of those lanes is for the flatbed carts, and is much wider than the one meant for the regular carts. But at the grocery store, the lanes are the same size! AND, horror of horrors, the dainty and the hunka-munka carts are MIXED TOGETHER!

AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!

So, I spend time fixing the mess, pulling out the two sizes of carts and putting them together in correct sizes, and rolling those cart trains back into the cart station lanes, nice and neat. I even wait in my car a bit if someone who has just rolled out and emptied their cart to see if they are going to screw up the order! If they do, I don’t normally roll down my window and yell, “Hey! Asshole! Put that shopping cart in the other lane!” But I sure do think it.

I’m not sure this qualifies me for anything other than the Coo-coo’s Nest Elderly Care Retirement Home located on a dead-end street marked at its beginning with a sign that says, “No Exit.”

But it might.

–––––––––––––

*I understand the Federal Government is funding a $2.6 million study on this very subject.

Little Big Man

28 Jul

Little Big Man

Megalomaniac

By L. Stewart Marsden

It sounds like a period of prehistory. Megalomaniac. Surely somewhere near the Jurassic Age. Thundering dinosaurs. Sharp-toothed carnivores. Crashing through the tropical undergrowth to come down on some innocent triceratops who stopped to munch on a tasty clump of ferns or moss.

Perhaps this will be called the Megalomaniac Age Administration, where the tendency looks to seep down from the top and infect nearly every layer of staff.

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning
Very, very frightening me.

– Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody

Was Alexander the Great a megalomaniac? How about Napoleon? Attila? Nero? Hitler? Stalin?

To some extent, I suppose you could say every great leader had the tendency. JFK, MLK, FDR, Patton, MacArthur, Sherman … Franklin, Washington?

How much of it is okay? What’s the dosage? A teaspoon every four hours? Where is the line between acceptable megalomania and that which is unacceptable and tragic?

And who came up with the idea? What entity thought, “Well, I think we need someone obsessed with him/herself and power so that change can be ramrodded down the throats of the common person?

Or, “The common people NEED a megalomaniac in order to attain a little perspective.

Who thinks that way? Probably the same mentality as when a father says to his child just before punishment, “This is going to hurt me more than you.”

You wonder what event in the lifetime of a megalomaniac triggered the condition? Parental abuse? Childhood bullies?

In those cases a person is a victim. It seems the abusers or bullies reflect megalomania more closely than someone who is victimized. Compensation, perhaps? Small stature? Small hands? Maybe a Stephen King-like event in the formative years?

One apparent result of megalomania: things end badly for that person and those close by. Family, friends, work associates don’t seem to fare well when the megalomaniac is toppled. I would use the word “peers,” but I don’t think a megalomaniac has any. That’s not so handy when it comes to facing a trial by jury of one’s peers if one is a megalomaniac. At least a trial is better than tar and feathering, regardless. Not that I would know.

That’s when the word “karma” inevitably comes into play.

Or so one hopes.

 

Compromise

26 Jul

Compromise

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I love T-shirts. The kind with witty sayings. Over the last year or more I’ve become a sucker for eye-catching, cleverly worded cotton and polyester tees.

My favorite T-shirts are: “Irony: the opposite of Wrinkly”; “Hyphenated. Non-hyphenated. The irony.”; “You Matter, Unless you multiply yourself by the speed of light … then you Energy.” That last one might be perceived to have some racial undertones, so I’m careful where I wear it. I also have a neat yin-yang guitar design T, and one bearing the image of Eric Clapton. I wear those whenever I play my acoustic, or practice my mandolin.

T-shirts arrive where I live almost every week. I got Tees for all my kids. You know, “I’m the oldest child – the rules were written for me,” “I’m the middle child …” And I got them the “Thing I” and “Thing II,” ad infinitum tees. Ask me how many kids I have and I’ll answer “Five … that I know of.”

They rarely wear them. I don’t know why. Certainly not at the same time, which is what I wanted in order to take a group shot of the kids in their tees to put on a T-shirt.

I saw a T-shirt advertised on Facebook from my alma mater, High Point College, where I graduated back in 1975. The type read, “Never underestimate an Old Man Who Graduated from High Point University.”  (The school added some post-graduate degrees in an effort to separate from all the other small colleges that abound in North Carolina.)

Apparently I wasn’t the only disgruntled grad, and I added my comment of disdain: I’m an Old Man (nothing about women, by the way), but I DID NOT graduate from High Point University! I graduated from High Point College!!!

I also might have added some colorful commentary about how the school seemed to have lost its way, clear-cutting beautiful areas of 100-year-old oaks, in order to grow. Whenever I go back to High Point, nothing is the same. I think of the folk tune Greenfields, recorded by the Brothers Four back in the 60s:

Once there were greenfields kissed by the sun;
Once there were valleys where rivers used to run;
Once there was blue sky with white clouds high above;
Once they were part of an everlasting

The changes on the campus, going from a quaint college in a quaint town, (although some believe them to be good as well as progressive), to a super-modern, luxury campus, have signaled the end of an era to many others of us.

And so I refused to buy the T-shirt. Whenever I scrolled across the ad for a High Point University wearable, especially if it used the words “Old Man,” I would comment.

Like talking to a wall, I thought. No one is reading my comments. No one cares. The world is slowly draining down the eddy of a toilet flush. Suck … suck … suck go the old ways and memories down that drain. A forgotten man from a forgotten era.

Then, to my surprise, a new ad. The tune was the same, but the lyrics were changed! “Never Underestimate an Old Man who graduated from High Point.” Period. Not High Point College, but not High Point University, either.

While not perfectly what I wanted (and I don’t dare step into the area of coeds), it was … it was … compromise!

I know a little about the T-shirt printing process to realize that the manufacturer was going to have to burn new screens in order to replace the word University with College. So, why not merely cover the word University and avoid the added costs? After all, no telling how many Old Men who graduated from High Point were still alive, or how many of those curmudgeons, codgers, or skinflints would order a T-shirt?

Compromise!

In this day and age – what a concept! I think of Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), sitting down in his button-down sweater and smiling to the camera to calmly say, “Can you say compromise, boys and girls?

I almost had to look it up in Merriam-Webster. I had forgotten the definition, as have many others, apparently.

I didn’t get exactly what I wanted, but what I got was better for me than what was being originally offered. A win-win solution!

Where are the Richard Rogers when you most need them? Can you say compromise?

I bought the new T-shirt, by the way.