Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Citizens of 4F: August 22, 2017

The seasons change with lightning swiftness in Minnesota, and during this morning's walk to the bus stop, I can clearly see we have now entered the transition, the saddle season between summer and autumn. Yesterday saw what might well prove to be the last summer thunderstorm, a long heavy rain storm driven by southern winds carrying lots of moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico. Today, the skies are a piercing blue and the wind is a cool gusty breeze from the northeast. Yesterday's upper 80-degree temperatures have been replaced by buoyant air in the mid-50s. By mid-afternoon, we may well be back in the upper 80s, but we have now reached that season where mornings and evenings will clearly belong to autumn while summer is still fully present in the mid-day hours.

It's the kind of morning where the beverage I purchase from Starbucks to drink on the bus ride might be either iced latte or hot chocolate, and either would be perfectly appropriate. Today, anyway, I choose the iced latte.

Some of my fellow passengers on the bus this morning are wearing long-sleeved flannel shirts or light sweaters in acknowledgment of the autumn soon to be upon us, while others hold tight by wearing short-sleeved polo shirts in anticipation of the warmth that will mark the mid-day hours. Both forms of dress are fine today.

These days of transition always fill me with a kind of extreme, pleasurable melancholy. I am critically aware that there are a limited number of these summer-autumn transition seasons left for me to fully enjoy. I am approaching 62 years of age, and in 20 more years, I will be an old man of 82. My father passed away at 82 after two difficult years confined to a care facility, and for the men of my family, he did well to live that long; most expire in their 70s. So a realistic degree of optimism tells me that 20 more good years is a reasonable projection for me. If I'm really lucky, it might be as many as 30 more seasons, but however you look at it, it must be acknowledged that the clock is ticking. It is self deception to pretend otherwise. 

Oddly, this is not a depressing thought at all, but one that makes this particular morning all the more glorious and wonderful. The temporary nature of life fills me with a kind of painful love for the world and all the things and people in it—a fondness that simply wouldn't be possible if we didn't recognize that life is a limited gift that will end some day. It is death—or more precisely the recognition of death—that makes life so wonderful. It can be argued, even, that a life must end for it to have any meaning at all. 

On a store at 36th Street and Lyndale Avenue, a large mural with the single word "LOVE" has been painted across the brickwork in an old-fashioned serif-font typeface. The word is brightly colored in warm southwestern hues across the side wall of a pet-food store. A man sits on a promotional bus-stop bench with his back to the giant word, oblivious to it. 

I wonder at the intended grammar of the word in this setting. Today, I choose to read LOVE not as a noun but as an imperative verb. I think the artist intended it as the prescription for how we should behave in the world when faced with a clear sense of life's mortal quality.  Love. 

How is it, I wonder, that in all the days of bus trips along this route, this is the first day that I've recognized this mural?

Friday, August 18, 2017

An Angry Geezer

I'm now categorized as an "young old guy" or "mature middle-aged fellow," depending on who is doing the labeling. To my 87-year old mother-in-law, I'm relatively young, while to my kids, I'm clearly a dinosaur.

But however I'm labeled, I will tell you that in my six-plus decades on the planet, the last year or so has seen a level of social, political, and cultural rest the likes of which I have not seen since the 1960s and early 70s. And I'm fairly certain its going to get worse before it gets better.

Now, philosophically I believe in principles that lean in the Buddhist direction. In other words, I believe that on a universal level it is tolerance, compassion, and equanimity that have the power to eventually create peace and happiness for everyone.

What I believe and what I'm able to practice are two different things, though, and I fully acknowledge that I'm not a great Buddhist yet. In immediate terms, I'm pissed as hell at our president and his chief priest Steve Bannon and the 35% of Americans who appear to be their disciples.

The problem with a Ghandi philosophy of peaceful, non-violent social resistance is that it takes so damned long, and in my American experience, I observe that it is usually genuine physical action that brings about change. And yes, sometimes that action borders on the violent. In the 1960s and 70s, it was only at the point where the Black Panthers stopped being peaceful neighborhood activists and began stocking their headquarters with guns in defense against police raids that civil rights change began to accelerate. And it was at the point where college protestors began throwing tear gas canisters back at police that we as a nation grew truly weary of the Vietnam war.

It's now been shown that Donald Trump's most recent fake fact—that the violence in Charlottesville, VA involved equal culpability by white supremacists and members of the Antifa crowd—is so much bull dung. Objective reports verify that the right-wing crowd arrived with clubs, helmets, shields and pepper spray in anticipation of conflict, and that Antifa members became physical only when the right-wing began pushing and shoving and punching ordinary counter-demonstrators. Left-wing violence was indisputably an act of self-defense. After all, who was it that drove a car through the crowd in an act of murder?

Nor does the insistence that there were "fine people" to be found on the white nationalist side of demonstration seem to hold any water. Virtually all the advertisements and posters announcing the Charlottesville event either featured the confederate flag, or more blatantly stated things like "White People, Take Back Your Country from the Jews!" Where, I wonder, are the fine people who come out to participate in an event defined in such a way?

I'd like to be able to frown and discourage all violence wherever it occurs. Maybe white supremacists and Neo-Nazis can indeed be defeated through peaceful disagreement over a period of many decades. And I'd also like to be that guy who gathers up cockroaches, takes them outside and releases them into the wild. However, I'm an imperfect human being, and in practical terms I feel that cockroaches of any ilk need to be stepped on, or at least chased back into the shadows and made afraid of the light.

This is not to say that I believe we necessarily need to physically assault members of the Neo-Nazi crowd wherever we find them. There are levels of violence that can be pursued in a war against these bastards. On one level, all disagreement—verbal and political—is an act of violence. I do believe that we need to make it clear, at least through the verbal and political violence of word and opinion, that we do not tolerate that which is intolerable. White supremacists need to be insulted, derided, chastised and in every way made to understand that we do not tolerate their beliefs and do not accept their right to spread the disease. And decent people do need—and in fact have a responsibility—to physically protect themselves when attacked. To practice tolerance with this crowd is like accepting the right of small pox to exist.

As for Steve Bannon, if he were to suddenly step in front of my car on the street while jaywalking, I would apply the brakes—but I fear that I'd think for a long, long moment before doing the right thing.