CORTEZ AND MARILYN
When I was in a prison camp in Louisiana, there was an inmate there named Cortez. He was from 40-50 years old and had been locked up for about 20 years and seemed to be in no hurry to get out--in fact I'd say he didn't want out--ever. Of all the outcastes I met in prison, Cortez was by far the greatest. He was the most alone man I've ever seen and was utterly unconcerned about the doings of the rest of the world, perhaps even oblivious to them. It is very unusual to find a Hispanic in prison that is not affiliated with a gang and I believe Cortez was the only exception to that rule that I ever encountered. I suppose that he had been marooned on his island for so long that upon meeting him, everyone could instinctively determine that he was just no longer one of us, and as such was of no interest--or use--to anyone--except me.
It was common knowledge in the camp that the two hardest workers there were Cortez and myself. My motive for searching out the worst jobs was to exhaust myself in an attempt to stop thinking. Cortez's reasons were unfathomable. As a result, we began working together in the landscaping department, i.e. cutting grass and picking up trash, all around and inside the main prison (a camp usually serves a maximum security pen) and along the roads nearby. We drove small off-road vehicles (John Deere Gators) that took us several miles from the prison on our roadside litter cleaning. On a curve near the limit of our janitorial jurisdiction, on a very isolated stretch of road, there was a cross standing in testimony that someone had been killed there in an accident. Weathered letters spelling "Marilyn" indicated that this lonely tragedy had happened some time ago, but it was plain that the cenotaph had been recently tended with great care--a mystery because it is strictly forbidden for any motorist to stop along the roads around a federal penitentiary.
Cortez said, "Pull up to that cross." He got out of the Gator and grabbed the rake and began weeding around it. He explained that he had collected wild flower seeds along the road and planted them around the marker. His diligence indicated to me that he must have known this person, even though he had lived his entire life in Houston, so I asked who had died on this forlorn spot. He merely said, "Marilyn." And that was it.
He continued to work around the cross for 10 or 15 minutes, then got a bucket from the Gator, filled it in the ditch, and watered the flowers that he had planted. I didn't work with Cortez every day, but throughout the time that I picked up trash along that road, Marilyn's cross remained immaculately groomed.
Cortez had a hernia that he had been trying to have repaired for several years. Such a procedure has to be performed at a hospital and the inmate is never informed when he is scheduled to be transported from the prison. One night at about 3 o'clock the guards came and got Cortez to take him to have his surgery. As he was walking away with them he suddenly broke free and ran back through the dorm type building in which we slept and stopped at my bunk, waking me up. Breathing hard, he whispered in my ear, "Take care of Marilyn's grave." And that was it.
Cortez died at the hospital in the next day or so--I never knew exactly when, and the next day I got in a fight and was transferred to a real prison in Texas. But now there are two crosses at the spot, always surrounded by flowers.
Ahhh. Candy cigarettes. Bubblegum cigars. Oh yes, the good old days. I guess the brand most people remember best is the notorious hard white sugar candy, cigarette shaped with red painted on the end simulating fire. The child was encouraged to hold it like an actual burning cigarette, as if he were in training for the day when he would be permitted to graduate to the real deal. I neglected my smoking training because, in addition to being insensitive to the duties of all neophyte citizens to soberly prepare for the future, I considered these instruments to be very poor candy fare indeed, and only resorted to them when there was no other candy in the house. In such emergencies I would exhume last year's Halloween plunder and dig through its remaining dregs. Candy cigarettes being a favorite treat palmed off on trick-or-treaters (I guess they were cheap), my sack always had several untouched cartons. You see, making believe that you are smoking tobacco with a piece of questionable candy was ok for dopey little kids, but at the time I am speaking of, I had already moved on to the harder stuff like chocolate and caramel, or even better, candy that would break your teeth or chemically burn and discolor your mouth, or at least make you vomit.
But there was a chocolate cigarette covered with paper that I coveted highly. For some reason they were hard to find. (Those chocolate gold pieces were great too and were apparently the genius of the same humanitarians that invented cigarettes for kids--teaching children to eat money in this instance. They just wanted to be sure the little buckaroos weren...t left out in the participation of life's finer activities.)
But I guess I'd have to say the noblest of all the tobacco products for children were those that simulated actual smoke--I believe it was some type of powder or dust that came out of the end if you blew on it. I couldn't remember how this worked and conferred with my sister and she told me, "No I think that was just more of a toy cigarette than a candy one." I laughed for at least five minutes. I submit this as my final evidence to the universe that its creator must have been somewhat off his feed on the day that he created us. I guess if we thought it would sell we'd make toy bongs and injection rigs, or toy dildos and pornography.
But here is the deal about the people responsible for this outrage--Yes they taught children to smoke. We all knew that as long as a cowboy was in the right he could shoot whoever he wanted. They said "nigger" and things like that. They didn't know much about expensive hair cuts or about fashion or cuisine or cruise ships. But they knew how to build and maintain a stable society. They knew how to take a solemn commitment seriously and not run out when marriage became tiresome. They knew how to kick the shit out of Germany and Japan (world powers of the first order) at the same time-- and in short order. They knew how to recognize their duty and were men enough to go do it and not just talk about doing it. The outrage is not their lack of polish-- the outrage is that it makes us blush--that anyone from the following generations would presume to instruct these men in ANYTHING.
HORNING in on the HOLIDAY
When I was little every kid knew that Easter was owned and operated by the Easter Bunny. He organized the exciting egg hunts and provided the marvelously colorful quarry, as well as the beautiful baskets in which we stashed our plunder. It was also understood that he was indirectly responsible for the candy and other cool stuff our parents gave us at this time of year. Easter was always one of the happiest days of my life and those memories remain gaudy conglomerations of vivid colors and cheerful sounds of raucous children, bright and crystal clear.
But one year, amid all the colors--the rainbows of eggs; the gay hues of the children's clothes; the various greens of the grass and plants; the radiant flowers; and the pellucid blue of the sky, I noticed a seedy looking man incompetently hiding behind the bushes, staring at the frolicking children with indolent yet eager eyes. My parents matter-of-factly explained to me that the tramp was called Jesus and was, in fact, no less a celebrity than the son of God! I had unknowingly entered the time of Jesus, that moment when gods, along with their sordid henchman, begin to haunt children, trying to horn in on their holidays--both the holidays of the seasons and the extended but fleeting holiday of childhood itself. Why not introduce kids to pornography and heroin, as well? Why spoil the ephemeral innocence and beauty of their springtime with the premature introduction of these foul facts of life? You see, my parents--up until that moment, normal and loving in every way--as they rushed at me--rabies in their eyes--trampling the Easter Bunny underfoot--babbling pure nonsense--were trying to make me believe that not only was this Jesus fellow equal in prestige to the Easter Bunny, but was in fact his boss! They actually expected me to believe that a man--a human, I tell you!--one that looked like our gardener--had greater status than a magical 6 foot rabbit!
How many of you have actually determined the day that gave birth to your cynicism? I can positively designate Easter Sunday, when I was 7 years old, as the dark day that began my long descent into the night time of nihilism. What was there left to believe in if my very parents could suddenly go mad? Naturally, after all of this, I consulted with some of my associates. My mood was not improved to discover that, yes, they'd had the tramp show up at their places before, not only at Easter but that I should fully expect to see him turning up at Christmas as well, looking for a hand out. This was too much so I skipped over to the bushes, drove my boot about a foot up his rear end, and invited him to get back to Hell where he belonged and that if he showed up at Christmas, I'd turn Santa loose on him. Much later I discovered that this is what really scared him since Santa had already viciously kicked him out of Christmas long ago.
But the question remains what drives otherwise caring parents, solicitous in every other way for the welfare of their children, to the abominable omission of allowing this tramp and others of his ilk to intrude upon the festivities--actually inviting them to befoul the gardens and pollute the springs of childhood and horning in on its holiday?
THE ABOMINABLE MORNING RADIO SHOW
Those morning radio atrocities in which two or more disc jockeys tell funny stories are god's greatest abomination. They are the equivalent of the early bird's chirping. Both are barbarously broadcasting the good news of how great it is to be alive. A pessimist (i.e. a realist) must gently emerge from his womb of sleep, gradually raising his shades to admit the desperate dawn.
Tinker was a horse that bit me very badly when I was little. Once, after I was grown up, we were talking about animals and my dad said about Tinker, "He was a good horse for kids to ride except that he would take them off into deep water and lay down with them." I remarked that his standards of excellence seemed to me somewhat relaxed, since he apparently approved of an animal with a reputation for both the biting and the attempted drowning of children.
Tinker had a supernatural ability to know just whom he could bully and whom he could not. He never misbehaved at all in front of my father, but when my dad was not around, Tinker was up for any form of wickedness. One of his favorite jokes was to run away with a child and head for the woods where he would go at full tilt underneath low branches to see what would happen. I don't guess there were ever any serious injuries (my father considered death to be the only serious injury, and I'm pretty sure he harbored suspicions about those people until he saw them lowered into the ground) but I do know that Tinker would usually return riderless from such forays. If any adult present would ever suggest that maybe it would be best if Tinker were shot, my mom would account for his antipathy to all living things by saying that he just wanted to feel free. My father didn't condescend to respond to people who hadn't taught their children any better than to fall off of a horse after being struck in the face with a six-inch tree limb at 30 mph.
Tinker also held in great esteem the throwing of child riders into bob wire fences. (Only Yankees say "barbed" wire.) He'd run up to the fence as if he was going to sail gallantly over it, but then he'd stop on a dime and stand there, I'm sure actually admiring his little joke, but acting like he was just as puzzled as everyone else how that child happened to get tangled up in the wire.
Evidently, Tinker was also an expert in ascertaining the financial circumstances of a family. My dad's brother had a garden at our place in the country. To old time country people, a garden was usually 10 to 20 acres and my uncle had a couple of very long rows of cantaloupes. Tinker held this uncle in great disdain, and gave him many proofs of his lack of respect. In this instance he took one bite or stepped on every single cantaloupe
and partially ate my uncle's new Frank Buck hat that he'd dropped on the ground the day before. He destroyed nothing else. My uncle pleaded with my dad to sell Tinker to him (so justice could take it's course upon the criminal) at literally any price. The next day
Tinker returned to the scene of his criminal abominations and gave the same treatment to every single watermelon in the garden. You see, fences and gates were absolutely no
deterrent to him at all. I'd bet he could have opened a safe. Anyway, it is plain that he
understood that my dad could refuse an offer of ten times the amount he had paid for the horse and 20 times more than the miscreant was worth.
If you are wondering why my father repeatedly exposed people, particularly children, to the mad caprices of such an antisocial horse, I can only say that you would have to know the man. His favorite saying to any of us kids that got hurt, no matter how badly, was, " I've got worse places than that on my eyeball." But I think that the main desire of the man was to not appear as a know-it-all. To tell the parents of the children that Tinker
might try to kill them, was to show that he knew something that they didn't. Obviously,
modesty taken to such extremes is hard to understand, but he took it to even greater extremes, yet.
My dad, before he went to college, was a calf roper, and this ability coupled with his veterinary skills led him to be an expert at handling unruly animals. He had also worked in the shipyards and knew a lot about ropes and how to utilize many different types of
knots. I first began to suspect this monstrous modesty of his when we would go on large animal calls. On such calls, frequently the animal to be treated will be running loose. This allows the owners to display their marvelous skill and courage at running a sick or injured animal through a fence, or by some other means adding to its distress. My father never once told them that if they would just get out of his way, he could have the patient on the ground and tied up in about five minutes. What he normally did was to look for a suitable vantage point from which to watch the show. A "suitable spot" was one which offered an unobstructed view of the proceedings but that also had some place close by that he could retire behind if the entertainment was of the caliber that incited his laughter to the point that he was unable to decently contain it. I don't think that this was due to a lack of compassion, because I got the idea that he would've been sorry if any of the performers had been killed--or at least sorry that he had laughed.
I hope it goes without saying that whenever you mix ropes and wild 1000+ pound animals, serious consequences are not entirely out of the question. You would be surprised at the variety of ways in which a man can manage to get himself mauled-
each being quite entertaining if viewed in the proper sprit. My dad was obviously a master at attaining this proper spirit.
Although any form of this amusement is almost always worthy of careful
consideration and study, I believe that my dad evinced a definite partiality to draggings. I'd have to admit that this particular spectacle simply cannot draw bad reviews. I was
lucky enough to attend what I unconditionally declare to be the greatest, the most stupendously stupid thing I have ever been permitted to witness in my entire life. This
exhibition was doubly rare because it involved a member of the fair sex, which was
unheard of in those days. Most of the nascent cowboys would just run around on foot, slinging ropes in the general directing of the fleeing livestock, until they got tired or injured. But there is a specie of daredevil that saddles up his little girl's horse with the intention of subduing the patient in a manner more worthy of the great valor and ability that burns within his stalwart breast. This one warrior demanded that his entire family turn out in order to be inspired by his forthcoming heroics. As I recall, the intended target of our mercy was a very fast steer. Its speed surprised him and he let it outrun him, so he really spurred his horse on to catch him. As the horse reached top speed and he began swinging a loop at least 12 feet across, what he actually caught was his wife, who immediately began to do the wildest dance that I have ever seen.(Man, could she ever dance!) He just happened to have hooked her with that enormous loop as he rode by her, so he was not immediately aware of what had happened. Clearly no human being, not even an old-time country gal, is made to go from 0 to 35mph in .001 seconds. My dad indicated afterwards, after he stopped laughing, that at least the great speed had the mitigating effect of letting her not hit the ground too often. I remember that the distraught husband asked if my dad would charge him extra to sew his wife up- after we were through with the steer.
Sometimes when a cow gives birth, the uterus will accompany the calf into this wicked world, and then just hangs outside the cow's body. If just pushed back inside, it will come right out again, so after you get it back in, you must temporarily sew up the opening from whence it has come forth. One time a particularly imaginative cattle baron, after witnessing my dad conduct this procedure, announced that his wife was "getting awful stretched out" and inquired into the feasibility of "taking a stitch or two" to alleviate her lamentable state. I don't remember how old I was, but old enough that I understood why someone might contemplate such bizarre proceedings, but young enough that I was sure that my dad didn't. So I guess about 15. I hope that I was not so wicked to have had that sort of knowledge much before that age, nor so stupid to have considered that my dad wouldn't understand the man...s reasons, if I had been any older. I wish I could remember my father's response, but I can't. I know that he laughed about it once we left, causing me great distress. You see, I had always thought that he was a good man, but in an instant I was forced to see that he was the same manner of monster that I was.
The HORRIBLE GIFT of CLOTHING
At Christmas when I was little, I felt profoundly gypped when someone gave me clothes until my mom sat me down one day and tenderly explained that that was because I was a worthless little piece of shit that didn't deserve anything at all except to be flushed down the commode.
DIALOGUE with the DIETY
When I was little I was afraid of trying to ride a bicycle. One day I heard someone say that if a person prayed, god would help him. That very night I prayed as fervently as I possibly could that the lord would teach me how to ride a bike. In the night I had a dream in which I rode my bike with great ease down a hill close to my house. In the morning I considered the dream to have been an omen indicating that my prayers were answered (sort of like an e-mail order verification), so I headed off walking my bike to the hill. I was quite apprehensive but I remembered that I had heard that god only did business with those that had faith. In short order I learned that that was just one of his standard tricks, so that he could watch you have a BIGGER wreck-like when I was even younger and my sister told me to close my eyes and stick out my tongue and she would give me a big surprise-while she gleefully poured pepper into my mouth. As far as the bike episode was concerned, I got an even bigger surprise. The fact that I was surprised shows just how great my faith actually was. I can't recall exactly what happened except that I immediately understood that I had committed some grave error in the form of my petition to god. I remember that for a long time I tried to find out just where I went wrong in soliciting his support, but I was gradually made to realize that he just had it in for me, the reason for which I am yet unable to ascertain. I still occasionally direct a monologue (generally obscene) against him, but since that time I have given up on the idea of any dialogue with the deity.
On the movie "Tombstone", when Doc Holliday begins to have a little disagreement with someone, he flicks the hammer of his pistol with the tips of his fingers and asks, "Are we cross?" The president should wear a belt with a prominent red button on it that is an ignition switch for a nuclear missile. Whenever he meets a foreign leader and negotiations begin to bog down, he then should tap the button and say, "Are we cross?"
Particularly in foreign affairs, a powerful country would be much better off being run by a Doc Holliday than the current brand of vermin that we constantly elect-men that are basically salesmen with impressive credentials of what passes for education or achievement today. These sorts of men have never been in a fight in their entire lives and hence don't have the slightest understanding of the mechanics or psychology of conflict and violence. When you are by far the most powerful country, you ought to have a 100% effective diplomacy rate, but it is unimaginable that in any negotiations that we enter into with a foreign state, we will ever do better than finish in second place.
CYNICISM vs PESSIMISM
A cynic is a fellow who, upon discovering that life is not Disneyland, wants his money back. A pessimist knows that there will be no refunds. In short, the former is an idealist who is outraged by the indelicacy of the world while the latter sort of expects it.
PESSIMISM vs CYNICISM
A pessimist has surrendered. A cynic is still fighting his lost battles.
Improvisation--an unparalled opportunity to show your ass.
THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN
Something important just occurred to me. Why do they call him the "Abominable" Snowman? Has he done anything you know of to earn that title? That word is normally reserved for someone that has been mean to Jews or that has defiled someone else's wife (or daughter). My guess is that it is a mistranslation. The translator probably heard (or dreamed) that the Yeti existed primarily to carry away native women and the thought drove him to a really sick inner region where the creature followed him and his only defense (being a man of letters) was to call him the worst thing he could think of.
The MUSIC of the FOLK
This type of music--rock and roll or whatever you call it--that was begun in the 1950s--in fact, all folk music, has as its tacit foundation the struggle of the people against the more powerful. More significantly, the music stands as an allegory for the endeavor of all men against the forces of life that are greater than they are. Whether it be a single singer or a small band, they are representing what is small and meager courageously facing up to the world. It is a fight they know they will lose--but in their determination to go down as hard as they can, lies the nobility and honor of being a man.
So when we go into a fancy studio where professional sound men make everything easy (and sterile and harder to feel) we destroy the entire premise for our kind of music because we are clearly no longer just small, simple men--we become allies of the very enemy that our music metaphorically opposes.
The old bluesmen used to say the same thing--not in this manner but that's what they meant when they mentioned the silliness of the white kids playing blues.
We are an entire COUNTRY of the folk--that's why this type of music has supplanted all others here--why the large orchestras have become more or less museum pieces--relics from our past.
Decadence may be defined as the state a living thing reaches when the instinct to survive is no longer its prime motivational force.
The existence of life is an affront (apparently) to the non-sentient universe. Therefore, it (the universe) solely occupies itself in perpetually satisfying the insult.
All our politicians, the press, all decent citizens--in short, everyone that takes an interest in the direction of the United States-- all are morticians squabbling over the best way to embalm a corpse that is scheduled
I was watching a movie on TV about Jesus and when he was about to be crucified the TV went out. This is typical of god's mercy--he saved the actor on TV but let his son die horribly.
We've been needing a new helper in landscaping-a weed-eater, so as a personal favor to him, I pulled a few strings and got Larry assigned to my crew. Everyone in the whole place expressed grave doubts about Larry's aptitude for an assignment consisting primarily of hard labor in the August sun of Louisiana. Perhaps their concerns were not wholly without merit, as, you see, Larry is a man about 60 years old and who has no idea how much he weighs because in a prison there are no scales big enough to weigh him. Therefore I thought it would be best to show him, on his very first day on the job, just what he was capable of, in order to help bolster his self-confidence, and to demonstrate to all the nay-sayers that their concerns about his abilities were utterly unfounded.
There is a rifle range at the pen (I believe there is one at all of the United States Penitentiaries-federal pens) where the guards go to practice shooting us. There is a high earthen embankment into which the bullets land, keeping them from killing any guards or, prematurely, any convicts. Its three sides are each about 150 feet long and rise to 35-40 feet at approximately a 40-degree angle. Maintenance of the entire range, including cutting the vegetation on this slope, constitutes part of our landscape duties. Due to its steepness and height the only way to cut the weeds on it is with our weed eaters.
What better place to begin with Larry than on this hill? Considering its height and angle-as well as Larry's dimensions- I deemed it best to use the crane to help him get to the top where he would then begin to weed-eat the entire slope. I could tell that he was the sort of man whose pride wouldn't permit him to accept any help from the other inmates assigned to do the weed-eating. Once at the top it became apparent that Larry was also the kind of man that disdained the use of mechanical devices (some said that he was the kind of man that couldn't hold on to one, but this was said out of pure envy) because he almost immediately, in a fine, dramatic gesture, cast aside his weed-eater and adopted the manly and novel expedient of rolling down the slope, crushing all vegetation before him. I was delighted with the success of my protégée and applauded his brilliance, admiring such a supreme example of Yankee intrepidity. He motioned, I'm pretty sure, for me to hook onto him again with the crane and hoist him back up to the top of the slope so he could continue his work. Again and again he cheerfully demonstrated his revolutionary technique, without a word (or sound) of boasting or any sign of fatigue.
At the end of the day he looked pretty tired, but was very proud-I could tell. I hauled him back to the camp in the backhoe, until it broke down and then I helped him along the road, gently nudging him forward with the bulldozer. Apparently, he was so pleased with the unprecedented success of his rolling technique that he decided to use the same mode of locomotion to make his way back to the camp in front of the bulldozer. Once, as a joke, he rolled to the bottom of a deep gully filled with water and lay there holding his breath while I located his submerged body, hooked the cable to him, spliced it when it broke, and then helped him out with the winch. In this instance he displayed once again his fine sense of inventiveness and daring by improvising another new ambulatory method-this one resembling, somewhat, a man being drug by the heels like a plough turning the earth, raising a furrow.
That night he slept outside right where I had unhooked the cable from his feet. He was so satisfied and so tired that he had no need of a bed or shelter-or food or water for that matter. But it was a good tired. It was the absolute debilitation of good, hard, honest labor, and in the morning it was plain that he had slept so soundly that he had hardly moved. As he lay there in the sun, his chest swelling with pride, it made me proud, too.
DECENT FROM THE CROSS
Christian tradition speaks of Jesus's "decent from the cross" as if he got down by himself, and not that he was cut down and allowed to fall into a heap. It sounds as if he just stepped down once the spectacle no longer amused him and then proceeded about his business elsewhere.
Historically, a great man's most notable triumph consists of some heroic deed along the lines of him overcoming 10,000 Gauls with 100 Romans, or something of similar drama. Our lord's most distinguished victory involves him getting the utter hell beaten out of him; being whipped and shamefully paraded through the streets, crushed under the instrument of his torture; and gloriously culminating with him being pinned upon the cross (to the joy of the assembly)until he dies, but not before he blames his father for everything.
Considering this as a suitable founding point for a religion is like a football team getting beaten 70-0 and then acting like they actually won--the rules of the game being that he who scores the fewest points actually wins--and then fully expecting the fans to buy it--which they do.
THE BARBARIAN INVADERS
When Rome began buying the barbarians off, instead of killing them off, it was a signal that the empire no longer had the will to survive. All any prospective barbarian politico had to do to attain his ambitions of power was to promise to lead his people against Rome, utilizing Roman technology against its inventors. While Rome was strong, no barbarian would have considered such a thing. When we offer "incentives" to nations for their good behavior, we send the same signal. The signal is not only a message to the present day barbarians that we no longer have the will, it is also a message to ourselves -- it is a symptom that we are suffering from a cultural disease from which we will not recover.
THE STARVING ARTIST
It is hunger that is mainly responsible for the wildness of wild animals. Feed them, and their wildness largely disappears. This is true for artists. With the loss of their hunger goes the feelings that were responsible for their art.
SEARCHING FOR STREAMS
I was born and raised in East Texas, in a place that is absolutely free from any type of natural elevation. A river passes through my town (I say passes because it certainly doesn't run) simply because it must get to the sea somehow, and one flat area is as good as another. In this part of the country running water just does not exist and I suppose as a result of this, I grew up obsessed with trying to find this marvelous, and to me, mythical, phenomenon. I placed it in dark forests with unicorns, fairies, and the Lucky Charm cereal man.
This longing for running water was shared by many of my childhood associates. One day an older boy who had been highly decorated in the more esoteric branches of the Boy Scouts, prophesied to us about a local fast-moving creek. I don't think it is possible to make an adult, or even a child today, understand the electrifying effect that the thought of finally wading into running water had on us boys. I say wading because there was nothing that was going to keep us away from paradise now that we knew its precise location. This was like Merlin whispering a forbidden incantation into Arthur's ear, promising him limitless power. This was during the time of the "Land of 1100 Springs " commercials, and beyond all doubt, I would have walked 100 miles to be allowed to drown in rapids. I can't recall all of the scholars who had gathered to hear this decorated Socrates clear up an arcane matter or two, but I do remember that the dissertation was not water-related. The stream revelation was an extra bit of omnipotence thrown in to boot, like Green Stamps.
The night before the pilgrimage we all spent the night together talking about the next day and how it would change our previously pessimistic lives. We tried to determine exactly what was the proper manner to crawl up to the sacred spot, and precisely what we were expected to do once we had displayed sufficient awe. Naturally, we got around to telling what exactly we hoped for the next day. I can only remember that one particularly pious boy said, " I hope that it's running so fast that all we have to do is put a net in the water and the current will sweep the fish into it!" Poor little fellow! I remember that he moved away shortly afterwards and I never heard of him again. Although by the law of averages he has probably turned into a wicked adult, I can't help but wish him well.
In the morning, toting all sorts of battle gear, we took off guided by the scout hero. We took turns carrying a stretcher, for any casualties that we might sustain, but initially loaded with I can't imagine what, although I am pretty sure we did have a little barbeque stove with us-for all of those fish we would catch in the net, I suppose. One boy insisted on wearing an army helmet with a small bush tied on the top, the way it was done on the TV show "Combat", the Pentateuch for boys of that time. He claimed that this camouflage would protect us from being spotted and killed by the enemy.
We walked a long way through the woods and it became very thick. I have heard several anthropologists say that the thickets of East Texas are more impenetrable than any rain forest. By the time the trailblazer had divined, with an instrument that looked a lot like a G.I. Joe flame-thrower fuel tank on the end of a piece of slinky, that we were getting pretty close, we were all tired, and ready for paradise. However technology like that was new to us and although I, for one, was not completely convinced that we were not lost, as he claimed to get nearer and nearer, we all started running, ripping our clothes and ourselves on briars. I have often wondered why we all began running-it was certainly not much fun getting ripped to shreds, especially carrying all of that stuff. If only we had lived in a place that had public parks designed for families-what a spectacle we would have provided! Imagine this tattered, bloody gang of boys, running with a stretcher, crashing out of the forest onto a nice family having a picnic. I suppose that the boy with the bush on his head, being led by a bloody witchdoctor with some bizarre talisman hanging from his hand, would have been particularly disconcerting.
After nearing the limit of our endurance, our Moses stopped up ahead of us in the middle of some underbrush. Being from an early age a confirmed apostate, I thought bitterly, " I knew it-he can't find it!" Actually, he had found it, and was straddling it! The object of our most fervent hopes and dreams and what was, by now in our heads a raging torrent, was, to be frank, a man-made ditch. I do mean man-made-singular-with one shovel! There was some water in it though, and was about a foot across at its most majestic point. In all fairness it did contain a tiny minnow or two, but the water was completely stagnant. I believe that was what precipitated the ensuing mutiny. We wanted running water and the amount was only secondary in importance.
Since at this point, we all clearly saw that we were to be among the damned for life, I have often wondered why we didn't kill that satiric guide then and there, or at least scalp him, as the study of Indian culture, or rather their attainments in the science of torture, occupied us at this time. Maybe it was because he was just too much older and faster than we were and he escaped with just a few handfuls of the putrid mud landing on his back. We also made proclamation that all his property was forfeited to the state and was to be distributed amongst the needy, forthwith, but since he wouldn't carry anything all we got was the G.I. Joe flame-thrower tank-the piece of Slinky had fallen off.
This was the same charlatan who later talked a bunch of us into digging an underground clubhouse in a vacant lot, to house our more imperative assemblies. It turned out to be truly impressive architecture and I have little doubt that at least one of us would have managed to get himself buried alive in its vaults if not for the crimson fact that we had a traitor in our midst. This same kid, who had canvassed for the construction, went and called the owner of the property and turned us all in. Later, his humiliated little brother told us about the treason, as the family disgrace was more than he could stand. It was evidently SO great that at the same time he approached us as a penitent, he made certain disclosures to his parents concerning the existence of several small black and white photos of couples with names like Sven and Helga, under his brother's bed. When I saw the evidence, before its lawful confiscation, I was utterly dumbfounded. Although I felt sorry for a boy who would waste his time on such things, my respect for his parents grew, when I learned that, after torturing him, they had solemnly officiated at the firey end for which the contraband was clearly created.
The owner drove up and began asking our names. (We all gave our real ones-such was the respect that children back then had for a bullying grown-up.) He wrote them down in a ledger he kept for just such desperadoes and told us if we filled the hole, (he was a Philistine at least in architectural matters) he would ask the judge, who he knew, and who knew where each of us lived, for leniency at our trial-probably in the form of a new rope. I have often thought about how lucky that silly Sheriff of Nottingham was that he had so successfully convinced us of the irredeemable nature of our atrocity, that we were afraid to tell our parents. There were still real men left in Texas in those days, and there was more than one of our fathers who, had they heard the story, would have probably entombed that outraged land baron in the tunnel that desecrated his half acre Ponderosa.
I remember the stream expedition as one of the greatest lessons of my life. I seriously doubt if Lewis and Clark returned home as wise as I did from my adventure. I don't think that kids experience this type of learning anymore. Of course this particular sort of wisdom tends to help form a not altogether ideal citizen, because since that day, I have never searched for streams without hoping for anything more than that the joke will be a good one, not hurt anyone too badly, and not last too long.
As far as the heretic that led us in these crusades, his goals always remained unfathomable. Looking back now as a grown man aided by cynicism and narcotics, I can detect a certain sardonic consistency in these two conspiracies. However, at the time, it was only clear that he would end badly. I believe the scapegrace wound up committing oceanography.
The typical American movie star is a man who basically gets up in the morning and heads straight for a crowded public place and begins prancing around while stripping. After a while the onlookers begin discussing his antics--"Oh, how skillfully he displayed his rear end in our faces", or "the subtle toss of his scrotum, subdued yet powerful, his great versatility" or " his bepissing of his underwear was reminiscent of Olivier". Before long he begins to pass the hat around during his performances and then starts charging admission for the privilege of attending his lectures. And make no mistake--they are lectures--delivered to a lost multitude that has no decent teachers left from which to learn. At some point some enterprising caveman opens a school to teach this lunacy so that the science of acting can enlighten the world perpetually. Finally these nuts are judged and their ravings are rated as if they have some value other than as buffoonery.
Good God, what a disaster! Could it be worse? I guess so but it is hard to imagine how having the youth of a country pattern their behavior upon these Hollywood psychos could be better than ANYTHING.
Barney Fife represents the self-recognition of worthlessness that no man can ever completely extirpate. Like an old injury from youth that we assume has healed but that periodically re-asserts itself to our chagrin and shame, each time we think we've seen the last of it -- that it is mastered for good. There is nothing more demoralizing than the sudden undeniable recognition that an old adversary, long since vanquished, is still, not only on our heels, but on our backs.
Barney can symbolically relate this with one look, at once both tragic and comic. This ability places him as far above other actors as a great symbolic novel, such as those of Conrad or James, is above a romance story of the American screen.
In considering the absurdity and fraudulence of abstract art, it is possible that it is created by true geniuses. Perhaps their scribblings are intended to point out that in our culture art has lost all meaning and in fact its appreciation has ceased to exist. I don't believe that this could be considered art, but perhaps valid social commentary. However, I believe it is most likely that most of these fellows, if not outright con men, are passive aggressive types of psychos that take pleasure in exposing the ignorance of the patrons that they swindle.
I was a little fellow when Batman was on television and I must have been his most ardent disciple. My mom bought me several Caped Crusader costumes but they were all utterly inadequate for the serious work I intended to begin. It turned out, to my great disappointment, that a satisfactory Batman outfit was a very tall order.
One day a rather dull boy, but nevertheless, or perhaps consequently, a good friend of mine, informed me casually that he had a Batman outfit that was "just like" the real article. I ran home and told my mom the great news that she had been waiting to hear-that I'd found a kid whose grandmother actually was in the business of sewing Batman costumes for a select few. I entreated my mother to intercede for me with the old woman since I knew that although I might fool a classmate, I would never convince a tailor specializing in crime-fighter apparel, of my worthiness to emulate Batman. She tried to explain to me that a miracle of finding such a seamstress was highly unlikely to happen in this lifetime, but I guess I nagged her until she said she would go and see this grandmother.
I went with her and as the two women began talking and my mom made the nature of her inquiry plain-I suppose it must have gone something like, "Do you make Batman uniforms?"- the grandson, my trusted friend, appeared before us in order to model the apparel in question. To my utter mortification, he merely had a white sheet wrapped around him! There may have been an accessory or two with his rags, but I didn't look long enough to tell for sure. I can still recall the feeling. It was like having your entire family watch as an avalanche of previously owned, (and used) feminine napkins suddenly falls on you while you are expecting to receive a great award. I was profoundly humiliated by my utter certainty that this old lady knew all there was to know about Batman's clothes. I not only disgraced myself, I brought shame and dishonor on my poor mother as well, for which nightly she has prayed (and received immediate confirmation) for some suitable disaster to befall me.
The Press is like a Cotton Mather. It stands before its half-witted congregation, hawking this or that gimcrack crusade while noting which particular witch-hunt most delights the parishioners. It then gives this new jihad top billing in its future sermons, prodding the herd eventually into a mad stampede over its helpless victim.
I can't think of an instance in which the preacher has not invoked the government as its divine instrument of retribution. The herd actually runs over the politicians who in turn, run for cover under a new law designed to kill the witch. So, in other words, if it has its way, the actions of the press, that great and noble bastion against tyranny, result in increased government power. It is yet another of our institutions that has ceased to function properly.
Sacking a foreign state through commerce has replaced doing so through warfare. It is safer, the flow is steady, and world opinion rarely makes the standard complaint of "imperialism". But how sordid! Our sires were conquerors. We are shopkeepers haggling over dimes.
HEFNER and VOLTAIRE
A man that advocates a radical change in tradition, such as Hugh Hefner or the atheists of Voltaire's France, is the product of ability and intelligence without the tempering of education--or they simply have a score to settle with society. They either are too ignorant (a very different thing from ability and intelligence) to appreciate the danger of what they preach or they appreciate the danger all too well.
This preposterous barbarity is the product of a world dominated by peace lovers. Countries infected by such backwardness, i.e. taking their religion seriously, are able to exist because the modern nations, out of some equally illogical notions of compassion, will not attack and conquer them. The anti-progress beliefs of the fundamentalist, in a rational world, would mark such states as entities unable to defend themselves and thus destined to achieve, in short order, their alleged goal of paradise in the hereafter, since in the modern world a nation's security depends on its investment in scientific advances. Perhaps these nitwits are right in considering all advancement to be of the devil, but it is irrefutable that a man with a cruise missile in his hand will be able to defend his family better than a man with a sharp stick in his. He is basically saying to his wife, "Honey, don't worry, if these infidels rape, torture, and kill you and our children, it is of no consequence. Allah, in his infinite mercy, will admit us straight to heaven, while the heathens will burn-at some point in the future."
People that haven't studied history only know man from what he has degenerated into today. It is impossible to believe that there were once men of great dignity and nobility. This is like meeting an old friend who was once a powerful athlete, now feeble, and trying to convince your children of his former greatness-- they simply will not buy it and consider you an even bigger fool than before.
The DO-GOODER and the GRIZZLY
Two men are walking through the woods when they see a grizzly bear with blood dripping from his mouth and claws. They say, " Oh look, a cute little teddy bear who has just painted his nails and put on lipstick!" Then they rush to cuddle him. At some point during the ensuing cuddling, one of the men's head is somehow dislodged from his body. His friend runs away while the headless man continues to embrace the teddy bear.
Later this man, (the living one) meets another grizzly in the woods, but initially doesn't recognize it as a teddy bear. However, he quickly and manfully scents bias rearing it's ugly head, divining that his fear is due to vile prejudice (forced upon his decent mind by a wicked society) and so he rushes to prove his goodwill to the pathetic object of discrimination. The bear rushes to return the salutation by tearing off the man's arms and eating them. Since he (without hands) can no longer pet the teddy bear, puzzled, he leaves with frustrated affection. He reflects deeply for a couple of seconds upon the nature of the relationship between man and teddy bear and discovers that the apparent misanthropy of bears is undoubtedly the fault of bad men misunderstanding and mistreating them through scandalous bigotry. (It is now that he creates his great slogan for a placard, to be worn at his next political rally-"No bigotry to bears".) His new found wisdom makes the solution to this great problem obvious- that if only all of those misguided bear haters (after they turn themselves in to the authorities) could have the entire power of the law and god brought down upon their necks, bears would clearly lose their fear of man and allow themselves to be embraced joyfully, enabling them to take their intended place in society.
SOCRATES, HARBINGER of DOOM
When a state begins to lose its jingoism, it begins to decline. The moment that the first Socrates appears and starts haranguing the people about his being a citizen of the world--that state is doomed. Though Socrates, due to a sense of personal honor, could continue to fight for a state that he rationally saw was no better or worse than any other, the average man cannot. He must believe that his state represents right, and the enemy, wrong.
The BABE vs. GOERING
Before World War II when it became obvious that the U.S. would have to fight Germany, Babe Ruth took matters into his own hands. He got into a plane, flew over Berlin, and jumped out with his baseball bat and without a parachute. Germany's manager, Hitler, called in his best player, Hermann Goering, to meet the threat.
The two sluggers began circling and sizing each other up. Babe let Hermann take the first swing and he hit Babe in the stomach and knocked Babe's intestines out through his nose. The Babe paid no attention to this and with his best home-run swing, knocked Hermann's head into Poland, where it began goose-stepping for the edification of the populace. Hermann was knocked off balance momentarily, but he took a quick shot of morphine and began stomping on Babe's intestines and tearing at his testicals with his cleats. Naturally the Babe was sorry to see a fellow ball player display such poor sportsmanship, but he was determined to play fair. So, befitting a true champion, he broke every remaining bone in Hermann's body, pissed alcohol onto it, and set it on fire. He then snorted the ashes, added water to the remaining bits of dust, and injected it straight into his heart.
The COMMON WESTERN INVADER
Most of the places of paradise left in the world, even after Western contact, remained pretty much unspoiled by civilization. It was only when the common man began to be able to afford travel that these places were ruined by tourism. It was not the conqueror that destroyed them but his slaves following in the baggage train.
A NEW SCIENCE
At our present level of knowledge, we can never understand the vast majority of the changes that occur in society. After the Renaissance, writers began attacking religion with increasing vigor and freedom. Was this due to some change in society that made religion not as necessary as before, or did the people suddenly need more reason with their beliefs? Perhaps since there had become more tolerance for free speech, certain sorts of men simply took pleasure in writing blasphemies.
To solve these sorts of problems we must develop a new method of enquiry. The scientific method that has served us so well is useless in these situations. Human society is the most complex entity that we know of and contains far too many unaccountable variables to be studied and understood through the scientific method. Presently, we are in a dark age concerning the understanding of the mechanics of societies. Like the men 2000 years ago who could not have imagined that simply learning the basis of scientific discovery, (experimentation and observation) would lead to space travel, we can't foresee what form this new type of learning might take. However, it is imperative that we find it.
We can't continue with this hit and miss approach to solving the problems of society, where every proposed remedy, is at best a guess. If we can ever find a way to answer these questions with anywhere near the degree of certainty that we can achieve in scientific study, it will be the greatest day in our history.
I guess all you can hope for is to get killed before anything really bad happens to you.