Where Do We Go From Here?

March 18, 2020 Leave a comment

Where Do We Go From Here?

Scratch it off or mark it down for all that it is worth
a footprint or a whispered smile to spread among the earth
scream en masse or breathe it in or raise a virtual beer
the question that remains is where do we go from here

Like thieves we come out at night and frighten without sound
and then send up a drone to watch the chaos on the ground
a dab of sanitizer or a wash in memory’s tears
if we keep it all at bay where do we go from here

If you can sing an old song and make it sound brand new
and the words come ’round the bend like the chosen few
that means the world is silent when the coast is clear
and with no sense of direction where do we go from here

All boats rise with the tide to reach the summer moon
that lights the way for those of us who might have spoke too soon
nothing seen or unseen can spread quite like the fear
of a delayed new morning….where do we go from here

Boots and hearts on the ground like the laughter of a child
that breaks away from panic like a river running wild
all that we hold sacred and all that we hold dear
are looking for a clue as to where we go from here

Categories: Uncategorized

Everything is dark…

March 16, 2020 Leave a comment

darknessEverything is dark. Everything is empty. More than panic, there seems to be a sense of underlying sadness out there, perhaps because of the cracks that this is showing in ourselves. Our inner-dickishness.

Driving through town yesterday things seemed so quiet and desolate, but there was almost an electric current of tenseness around every unknown corner. It’s almost like we’re sorry that we’re about to act like an asshole, but then do it anyway, and then sorta regret it later. But not enough so that we don’t act like an asshole 10 minutes later.

Never before, in my lifetime at least, has society shown itself so vulnerable….so nakedly hanging by a thread. All the illusions we had about our own advancement have been ripped away. It seems the maxim that any society is only 3 missed meals away from anarchy might not be as absurd as it sounds. Anybody who has read “Lord of the Flies” is currently navigating grocery stores with a clenched sphincter.

Is any of this reasoning 100% valid? Only time will tell I suppose. I can only praise whatever your favorite deity is that this generation (and government) wasn’t in play during WWII. We might have collectively set ourselves on fire.

Our generation, in comparison, has begun calling 9-1-1 when the toilet paper has run out. I wish I was making this up but I’m not. There is a fine line between prudence and idiocy, and the world suddenly seems filled with tightrope walkers.

However, a sliver of silver lining. The term “essential personnel” has never before come into this much focus.

The kids manning the registers. The delivery drivers. The warehouse workers. The ones keeping your power on and watching over your elderly parents. The faceless people answering your panicked phone calls and keeping your internet working. The waiters and waitresses and the bartenders and actors and actresses and the folks playing the live music so you can maybe you can forget that you’re now living with the sword of Damocles over your head, at least for 3 minutes at a time. Next time you shit on the service and entertainment industry, remember these strange days. And then shut the fuck up.

Everybody is preaching to everybody else. It’s easy to tell others to stay home when your salary is guaranteed, or you can do your job remotely. But what about those who don’t get paid if they don’t leave the house and deal with others face to face? Are they supposed to buy their toilet paper and bottled water and pay their rent with a note from their mothers? Should they wipe their ass with leaves and drink rain water?

Are we gonna stop ordering stuff online? Who is supposed to pick and pack it? Who is supposed to deliver it? Are they supposed to “work from home” as well? People are furious that store shelves are empty. Who delivers to these shelves? The magic grocery fairy? Are truckers “endangering your Mom” by hauling supplies….so that your Mom can have them? What would happen if the folks who worked at the store decided to stay home en-masse? Would you shit on them, or applaud them?

Sometimes there is no safety net. Some folks want to build one. Others devote their lives to ensure that will never happen. And now here we are. To paraphrase Mike Tyson, everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

What to believe? Who to believe? From a pool of morons comes the experts.

Things are changing. Day to day. Hour to hour. Minute to minute. The world we woke up to today is different than the one we went to bed in last night. And that one was different than the night before. The only way to detect light at the end of tunnel is for things to remain constant for…..a few hours….a few days.

So all that’s left is to do the best we can. We can be a little nicer to each other. We can share, although based on the amount of shopping carts I’ve seen stacked to the ceiling with Charmin, and the price gouging that goes with it, that doesn’t appear fucking likely anytime soon. We can be like Italy and sing arias from our balconies. We can wash our hands and say I love you at the end of the day to those that make us whole. We can hang together or we can hang separately.

I’m one of the lucky ones I guess. I have a roof and a decent job and my family is here and we’re all safe and we have what we need, and the means to get more when the time comes. At least for now.

But once that 3 meal threshold comes and goes? What then?

We’re not as different as we think we are.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Fear despises intellect

March 10, 2020 Leave a comment

We’re scared.

Of everything and everybody. We’re scared of what we can’t see, and we’re scared of things that jump into our face.

We’re scared of what we don’t understand. We’re scared of each other and what might happen and what might not happen. We carry fear around like a wallet in the back pocket.

Mostly we’re scared of the things they tell us to be scared of, while the real terrors whistle with us as we pass the graveyard.

The fastest way to dumb down a population is to scare them.

We lay awake in the middle of the night staring into the void and conjure up every monster we can. We walk through our days like zombies and stare into our cups late at night looking for solace. We build walls and quarantine ourselves and blame the guy who looks different than us. Fear pushes people away and turns communities into no-go zones. Fear spreads faster than any virus, and can lay you out with the same vengeance.

There is no vaccine for it either. And there never will be.

To live in fear is like living with an infectious disease.

It can nibble at you….raise itself in the back of your head and make its way round to the front every now and again. Or it can bludgeon you like a 2X4 to the temple. And it will always show up at the most inopportune time.

To be afraid is to eventually become furious. So we lash out. At loved ones or the guy who won’t get out of the left lane or on some near-stranger’s facebook feed. We become instant experts and if only folks were as smart as us none of this would ever happen. Fear turns everybody into a narcissist, so the fear of others matters little…..even if theirs is what is feeding ours.

Fear despises intellect, which is why we ignore those who are clearly smarter than we are when they tell us that our fears are unfounded, and grasp the trouser leg of any moron who feels the same way we do, because there’s strength in numbers, Bubba. Fear constantly seeks validation.

toiletpaperWe’re afraid for the young and we’re afraid for the old and we’re deathly afraid of cruise ships and running out of toilet paper. So we wash our hands until they crack and smartly buy up all the hand sanitizer so there’s none left for anybody else to prevent them from infecting us and suddenly men’s rooms are backed up and the entire world is coughing into their elbows and cancelling their St. Patrick’s Day parades and posting stupid memes in vain attempts to be clever and saying things like “but Dr Drew said” with a straight face and allowing Corona Beer stock to fall 40% and after a while dying of pneumonia doesn’t seem so bad after all.

We’re told to stay home and hunker down and we stare at the television and thus see nothing but more scared people acting like they’re not scared while they rant and rave at each other about how dumb everybody else is. We look to our leaders for any type of guidance and find….well…..about what you’d expect. So nobody really looks there anymore, unless things are moving really slow and you need a good chuckle.

FDR once said that “we have nothing to fear except fear itself.”

Donald Trump once said…” ‘Does anybody die from the flu?’ I didn’t know people died from the flu…”

Clearly this man has the BEST BOOKS.

(Actually, this sort of inspirational leadership might be one of the reasons day-to-day living now resembles a Walking Dead episode, but I’ll leave that for you non-partisan keyboard warriors to ponder and scream at each other about.)

And it’s 2020 and it just dawned on us that we’ve been washing our hands wrong this entire time, so clearly we’re not as advanced as we think we are.

This too shall pass. I hope soon. And then we’ll have something new to deal with. And then again. And then again. These days not walking around with fists clenched probably means you’ve hit on the correct medication. So good on you.

We fear most for our children’s future. Because I don’t want them staring into that same late night void. I want them leading the charge, not falling into line.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Bernie and Uncle Joe

March 4, 2020 Leave a comment

jillbidenSuper Tuesday is over. All the armchair warriors have tweeted and facebooked themselves nearly to death, explaining why they are so smart and everybody else is so dumb. It’s a two man race right now, between Biden and Bernie….and may the best man win. Honestly, at this point I’d vote for a diseased toad over Donald Trump…..so it is what it is. I’m surprised Elizabeth Warren didn’t do better. I’m not surprised that Mike Bloomberg tanked. But I think Bernie and Uncle Joe are both fundamentally decent men. I wish they were ten years younger, but my hat is off to anybody who throws theirs into the ring. Bernie has always been my first choice. Warren my second. But if it’s Joe, well he’s got my vote. There is no alternative. I’m 53 years old and have no yet voted for any candidate endorsed by the Klan. That’s a pretty decent litmus test. It should be yours as well, doncha think?

My politics are to the left of Eugene Debs, and I make no excuses for that. The things that Bernie is asking for hardly sound radical to me. Just plain old decency and common sense. Nobody wants free stuff. We just want what we’ve already paid for. Everybody yells at me when I say this, but my give-a-shit level is now in the basement. Some folks are fine with kids in cages. Others are not. Some people believe in science. Others think Adam and Eve frolicked with velociraptors. Personal preference. I see zero point in arguing such matters. Buy me a beer and I’ll buy you one. If you get sick I want you to get well. I presume you feel the same about me?

But in our current climate somehow this wild-haired grumpy grandfather from Vermont who doesn’t want us to die indigent due to lack of health care is painted as the next Joseph Stalin. Our nation is not only ignorant, it’s gleefully ignorant. We bask in what we do not understand like pigs lolling in mud. We tar with words we do not know the meaning of. We’re intentionally and almost casually cruel. We deserve the leadership we have, and we deserve the leadership we’re gonna get.

Oh, and we’re also apathetic as balls. The promised “youth vote” that is always ready to descend on polling places and scare the hell out of the establishment once again found better things to do. Their turnout was as low as it always is, despite the obvious stakes. Maybe they’ll find the time come November. I guess we’ll see.

Trump talked about “draining the swamp” but subsequently filled the White House with so many cartoonish thugs and soon-to-be felons that Richard Nixon was taking notes from hell. It takes balls to change things from the way they’ve always been. A bully has no balls….so the President has actually made things maniacally worse. People on both sides of the aisle seemed terrified that Bernie just might have the stones to burn the place down, so it’s probably not coincidental that so many jumped in to endorse Biden at the last moment. Including the hapless Bloomberg, who spent half a billion dollars of his own money to win American Samoa. He could have bought the place and pocketed the change.

Once again the last ones standing are rich old white men.

But there were strong women. Persons of color. Youth. And nobody voted for them. So as much as we whine about change, we apparently ain’t ready for it. A third party is laughed out of the race before the horse is even loaded into its stall. Money makes it all go around, and when it comes to money, nobody likes surprises. The same companies that own most of the establishment candidates own the media companies that report on them. You might be on the merry-go-round for a long time, but intellectually you know that despite the constant movement, you’re not actually going anywhere.

And so that’s my state of the union address for the day. Bernie could still win this thing, and I hope he does. But Uncle Joe has got the momentum for sure. And his wife Jill came up huge last night by body-blocking that protester to keep her away from her man, something nobody could envision poor Stockholm-Syndromed Melania doing. Politics is a blood sport, and Dr. Jill has laid down a marker. She’ll broker no nonsense.

Meanwhile, our commander in chief, in between sniffs of crushed Adderall, tweets childish insults at everybody involved. Lincolnesque as always.

As for VP picks, I think Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren are both in play. As for Trump, once he finds a way to blame the Coronavirus on Mike Pence, he’ll need another lackey in there. Somebody with the same ball-kissing skills and the willingness to believe that the world is only 5000 years old even though man has been brewing beer longer than that. It ain’t easy navigating that world, Bubba. If the poor bastard believed in science he’d probably be busy trying to clone Lindsey Graham.

Enjoy the circus.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

In My Room

February 26, 2020 Leave a comment

Spotify playlist is churning in the corner of my home office. The end of a long day.

The Beach Boys. “In My Room”.

There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to
In my room, in my room
In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears
In my room, in my room

IMG_0024I’ve always needed my own space. My own room. Close the door. Read. Put my feet up. Watch. Listen. Doze. Think. Write. Surrounded by the things that make me the most comfortable. My books and CDs. An irish walking stick (my shillelagh). Tablets crammed with lyrics. My favorite green lamp and an engraved clock carved into anthracite coal. A Pittsburgh Steelers terrible towel. A Moravian College towel. An old golfing trophy. Family photos. Large frame portraits of a stunning Irish abbey, and one of Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by various posters from past musical and theatrical pursuits. A world atlas. A map of Ireland. Our family crest. A copy of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech. My guitars. a Who coffee mug. A Quadrophenia poster. A Bob Marley tapestry. A new 4 track recorder that I never learned how to use. A map of the coal seams under Scranton. A beat up couch. A portable space heater. Two small desks back to back. Drawers are filled with trinkets and cards given to me by my kids over the years. The purple heart of the now deceased husband of a childhood neighbor sits alone on a shelf. A brown swivel chair. An Amazon echo that my daughter just passed down to me sits on the right corner of the desk, ready for instructions that I don’t yet know how to give. The room is gleefully messy, but my wife isn’t ashamed when I welcome the rare visitor in, which tells me it’s not that bad.

There’s no window, and that’s the way I like it. I don’t want to look out. I don’t want anybody else able to look in.

I can hear the movement above my head. Feet on the floor. So the world goes on without me. One less thing to worry about.

As a kid I never had my own space. As a twin me and my brother shared a room smaller than the one I’m describing, and made do with bunk-beds. Hell, my father was a newspaperman and frequently wrote at home, and he didn’t have a space to retreat to. He’d sit at the dining room table at his Underwood typewriter and bash away as us 6 kids created chaos around him. Or he’d sit on the couch with a legal pad, TV blaring, and tear through page after page in his indecipherable scrawl (even he couldn’t read if after the fact). The only thing more chaotic than our house was the Scranton Times newsroom in those olden days, so not having 4 walls to cover himself with didn’t bother him at all. He could block it all out. But for whatever reason, I could not. I needed the barriers.

So I’d build my own. With blankets and small tables and piles of pillows, or with panels of wood from the garage that I could lean against each other to create some sort of makeshift room. I’d use the end tables saved for drinks when my parent’s had company over….and that would be my makeshift writing desk, and I’d sit and dream and write of whatever I was sure I would never share with anybody else ever.

There was another mass shooting today. Six more dead in Milwaukee. The story barely made a ripple with fears of a global pandemic on the rise. Our nation is woefully unprepared for the latter, and has shown a repeated, callous disregard to deal with the former. So that Beach Boys song really hit a nerve today.

But eventually we need to tear down the walls and come together. None of the dreams I can conjure up in here are gonna be worth much if we can’t agree on some sort of shared human decency when we’re inhabiting the same spaces. What Warren Zevon called “splendid isolation” may be part of the reason we’re where we are right now. Our days are like a war. Our instincts give us two options. Retreat. Or attack.

What’s missing is what folks used to do. They used to talk.

In a bit.

–tf

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Candy

February 21, 2020 Leave a comment

People will always let you down. But your dog never will.

maxwell

Maxwell – 2020

Over the last 25 years we’ve had 3. Kiko, my forever best friend. Abbey, as close to perfect as a living being can be. And now Maxwell, our first boy. A lovable rogue devoted to chaos and absolute devotion. In that order.

And growing up, we had Candy.

Nobody was quite sure what kind of dog Candy was. A wild mix of some kind. Her head was way too small for the rest of her, and her graying black hair made her seem much older than her years. When chasing squirrels she’d frequently get stuck trying to wedge her rather large behind underneath the backyard fence. Her beauty was definitely in the eyes of her beholders. But she’d hold her too-small head up high and act all beautiful and not give a fiddler’s fart.

Neighborhoods were different in those days. Doors were open and everybody was outside. Kids were playing and neighbors were gossiping on front porches. Parents would chase you out of the house, and you were free to wander to and fro as long as you stayed within certain boundaries. Being able to hear your Mother calling you for dinner was critical, but other than that, you could play in the sewers for all anybody cared.

Candy lived by the same rules as the rest of us. In the mornings she’d slip out and start to wander. Everybody knew her. She might visit the neighbors. Or take a siesta under a nearby cherry tree. You’d call her and she might be in the backyard, or down the next block. But she’d always come running. Never once do I remember her getting lost, or us worrying about her excursions. She always looked both ways before crossing the street. As I said, different times.

She would troll backyards like an African predator, waiting on the aforementioned squirrels. She never even came close to catching one of course, and had such a pleasant disposition I’m not sure what should would have done if she ever did. When she was hungry she’d come back home and scratch on the back door. In the summers her pulse quickened because catching the ice cream truck (Dairy Dan) became her obsession, nipping at its wheels as it drove off down the street with its bells going off. Not sure what her plan was in catching that either. I suspect it was all the thrill of the chase. At night she’d sit on the front stoop and doze at my Dad’s feet as he’d listen to the baseball game on the radio. Exhausted but content. Her days were filled with magical discovery, and she never met a stranger.

We took a one week family vacation ever year to the shore. My Dad would drop her off at a kennel…and on that long drive home from the beach, it was seeing her we were most looking forward to. We’d pick her up and she’d jump in the station wagon and slobber over each of us, her tail wagging so fast you could feel the breeze. Unbridled happiness. It was moments like this that always made me suspicious of anybody who didn’t have their own dog. Do you know what you’re missing? Were you dropped on your head as a child or something?

She was home the day I was born, and she lived into my teens. Not having her around was inconceivable. There was 6 kids, but she was in a category of her own.

And then all of a sudden she was old. She was getting slower. She’d given up on the squirrels and the ice cream man. But still, she loved us with a fierce devotion, asking nothing in return except a nuzzle, or to allow her to wedge under your feet as you watched TV. We pretended that she’d be here forever.

Every morning she’d make her way up from the basement where she slept. One morning she could not make it. Her back legs would not carry her. My Dad knew it was the end, and he carried her to the car for the ride to the humane society. It was the only time I ever saw him cry. I came home from school that day to…..silence. No barking or tail wagging or kisses or scratching on the back door. No seeing her through the front porch screen as we walked towards the house. The house was still full, but it felt empty. We all cried. I don’t ever remember even a discussion about replacing her. To us she was already up there on Mount Rushmore.

I don’t believe in much. But I believe that dogs make us better people. They love. And they ask for just a little of it back. They always miss us when we’re gone and revel in our return. They don’t judge. They don’t scold. They just go crazy and say “I’m sooooo glad you’re home!”

For those of us blessed with them, there’s no need to believe in angels. We know better.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized

Childhood mornings…

February 17, 2020 Leave a comment

As a kid growing up, I can still remember those early school mornings.

With 3 sisters and 2 brothers, it was barely organized chaos.

My Dad was an early riser, so nobody needed an alarm clock. He’d just start singing. And gradually we’d all come to life, in the order we were born. If Pop singing along to something on WARM radio’s Harry West show didn’t do the trick, he’d issue a few stern individual warnings, and if that didn’t work you’d got a cup of cold water in the face. It was as effective as a cattle-prod. He didn’t need this nuclear option much, but he could be trigger-happy, so you re-dozed at your peril. We had the kind of heat that made the pipes sound like somebody was hitting them with a hammer, so that was a welcome sound on cold winter mornings. You knew the radiators were pumping, and you could lay your school clothes on top of them for a few minutes, which made dressing a little easier.

We had one bathroom upstairs, and one in the basement that nobody really used. Mostly we showered the night before. If I needed a shower in the morning, I’d have to wake up before the house moved to jump the line…..and I could go into the basement and be alone with the hot water and my thoughts. You had to be careful not to sit down in there and fall asleep though…..because it was so small you’d be covering the drain with your butt and the water would flood over the top of the stall and soak the carpet. A tricky situation, this. Even small comforts were littered with land mines.

Breakfast consisted of some Cheerios with mounds of sugar poured on top of it (our way of getting around our Mom’s ban on “sugar cereals” like Fruit Loops or Captain Crunch). Every boy in our class wore sneakers to school (there was no rule against it) but my Mom thought sneakers in school were an abomination so I’d have to shove a pair in my book bag and change into them when I got around the corner and out of sight. Then I’d have to change back into my shoes before coming back home. It was never easy navigating the terrors of adolescence, that I can tell you.

ST MARY_CROP_cropAt one point, maybe when me and my brother were in 5th grade, being an altar boy became a thing. Just about every kid in the class volunteered, even the ones you knew were heathens or closet Presbyterians. Word was out that you could make $10 or more serving a funeral or a wedding….and that sure beat shoveling snow for old ladies or cutting somebody’s grass in the wretched heat for a few singles and a glass of watered down iced tea. You could pick your own partner (but since I had a twin it was just assumed….and that was that)…..so these friends would pair up with each other. You’d see their names in the bulletin scheduled for the M-W-F 7am weekday mass and everybody knew there was no way they were gonna show up because they hadn’t been to actual mass since they got their head dunked when they were born and nobody got paid for the regular masses anyway. But because my father was a serious Catholic he refused to allow us to miss, so eventually we always got assigned the early mass because we were the only ones who would show up. A valuable lesson for later life, this. 

He’d take us, and attend the mass himself. He was proud, you could tell. He knew his kids weren’t abandoning the priest up there to wash all the dishes and ring that bell himself like those other mercenaries.

(I can tell you there is nothing more depressing than pulling on unwashed ill-fitting community altar boy clothing from a large closet while it was still dark outside. But we showed up, lit and then extinguished the candles with great aplomb, and didn’t drop stuff the priest handed to us. It was a low bar. But disappoint my father? Never.)

We lasted maybe 2 years. By 8th grade you’ve outgrown the cassocks in the closet and start to look silly up there, like you’re wearing a short skirt. One of my last gigs was a stations of the cross thing…..but the young Priest was a huge NBA basketball fan and was desperate to make it out of there in time for tip-off. So instead of reading the (long, drawn out) canned prayers (and awaiting the canned responses) at each station, he just made up his own (no responses required) and practically dragged us along with him from place to place. He skipped one of the “Jesus fell” stations by winking and whispering to us “let’s not pile on, right boys?”

I think he was done in 20 minutes. Soon after he left the priesthood and married a nun. This gave me hope for the future. I hope he still has his priorities in order.

My Dad remained devoted to his Catholic faith his entire life. He pretended that all his kids went to weekly mass and we made that easy by never telling him otherwise. One day before he got sick we were in my car and Tom Lehrer’s “The Vatican Rag” was playing on the stereo and I thought “oh shit”….but let it go….

Get in line in that processional,
Step into that small confessional,
There, the guy who’s got religion’ll
Tell you if your sin’s original.
If it is, try playin’ it safer,
Drink the wine and chew the wafer,
Two, four, six, eight,
Time to transubstantiate!

…and he laughed as hard as I’d ever heard him laugh and I knew he knew and it was fine. “Just make sure you’re all with me” he’d say. And I’d say “I’m going wherever you’re going….’cause you taught me everything I know…”

I don’t enjoy mornings now any more than I did then. But I miss being woken up by my Dad’s wobbly singing voice. I miss the Harry West Show on WARM radio….and the clanging pipes and the manually sweetened Cheerios. I miss the warmth of my childhood on the coldest days of the year. I miss my Mom and Dad and that house on North Webster Avenue, where dreams rarely came true but nobody thought less of you for having them.

In a bit..

–tf

Categories: Uncategorized