Monday, November 23, 2009

Swinging At Piñatas In The Dark

Okay, so it wasn't my plan to get all wrapped up in political blogging right now, but this headline caught my eye:

"Democrats ready to go-it-alone on health care"

And so, what the hell happened to President Obama's promise of bipartisanship? Out the window, I guess…or, at least that's the way his party is acting. Claiming that "the system is broken," Senator Charles Schumer said "We prefer to go at it with Republicans if we can reach compromises in some areas, but we're not going to not pass a bill."

Great. That's friggin' WONDERFUL. Do something, anything, rather than do nothing. Even if the fix might be worse. Now, I'm not saying the fix WILL be worse, 'cause no one knows that for sure, and we WON'T know it until something is put into play, and it's too late to take it back. I just loathe the idea that Democratic lawmakers are willing to cram something through for the sake of claiming victory. That's bullshit.

The AP reporter behind the story writes:

"The Democratic measures would leave 12 million or more eligible Americans uninsured. Many middle-class families who'd now be required to buy coverage would still find the premiums a stretch, even with government aid. A new federal fund to provide temporary coverage for people with health problems would quickly run out of cash."

This isn't some left-field made-up whacko reporting from cuckoo bloggers; this is non-partisan reporting of material taken right from estimates by the Congressional Budget Office. However, the article continues with: "For now, these bread-and-butter concerns take a back seat to more pressing issues for Democratic lawmakers trying to deliver on President Barack Obama's signature issue."

Great. That's just fucking de-LIGHT-ful. Let's do the sniveling, cheap-ass thing…let's "claim a victory" and say "Gee, at least WE did something!" That always helps. Er…not.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Having Your Shit Together

This post is coming off of a recent viewing of An Officer And A Gentleman. I don't often think to include it on a list of favorite movies, but it really does belong there. I generally like let's-go-to-boot-camp films, and anyone who knows me at all knows I'm a sucker for chick-flicks. OH yeah. Any movie with Hugh Grant or Robert Downey Jr., Drew Barrymore or Julia Roberts…I'm all over that shit! In fact, here's the perfect film: Hugh & Robert are married to Drew and Julia, and somehow their lives intersect in a way that is both hysterical and sentimental, and they spend the rest of the film figuring out that they're each married to the wrong partner. Whooo! (*swoons*) I'm in heaven.

Ahem. Anyway.

I hadn't seen Officer in a long, long time…never occurred to me to buy on DVD, but I caught a copy on VHS at a flea market this summer. I finally got around to watching it a week or so ago, and I was overjoyed to find that it stands the test of time…MY test, anyway. I came away from it this time feeling a little different, though; namely, I was astonished at how "together" Zack and Paula seem to have their shit.

'Cause, like, in the movie, they're supposed to be…what? 21? 22? Not that old. Zack has finally realized that his dad's lifestyle of getting shitfaced on a nightly basis and fucking whatever he can stick his dick into really isn't the way to go, and Paula already has what seems like a lifetime job at a paper plant. (Back when 22-year olds could GET factory jobs like that!) Zack even asks her at one point: "What…what do you do? Do you…go to school?" Paula says "No, no, I got a job. Yeah…it's a real good job!" The movie is both a romantic…not comedy per se, although there are humorous moments. Well, it's romantic, anyway, but what it really is is a coming-of-age story…primarily for Zack, but also for Paula. They spend the 13 weeks of Zack's time at Navy Flight School figuring out their entire lives, and we're left with the inescapable feeling (as Zack, sportin' his dress whites, carries Paula off the factory floor to the applause of the workers…yoikes!) that they're off to get married and spend the rest of their lives together.

And I'm thinkin': what the hell?!? Since when do 22-year olds have their shit together that well? I think back to being 22…and yeah, okay, I though I was a pret-ty. Cool. Customer. Definitely had my shit together. And I realize now (at 41) that ho-ley smokes! I was just wanderin' in the wilderness, my friends, a savage barely able to get his pants on straight, let alone use a fork and knife. Whooo. I drank too much, smoked too much, didn't work nearly hard enough, and shagged anything that expressed even the slightest interest. I had no idea what sort of career path I might choose, and ate fried hot dogs and mac-&-cheese for dinner. With Coke™.

I feel like I began - barely! - to get my shit together in my 30s. My 30s. And even then, when I look back at that decade now…I realize that I was still barely on the having-my-shit-together path. I had just begun to walk that fucker, settled in as I was with my early-20-something girlfriend and an apartment that was at least one step up from being a cave with pelts on the floor.

Which begs the question: how is it that some people really seem to have it together at a phenomenally young age (yes, okay, I understand that Zack and Paula are characters; just…work with me, here), and other people have no clue how clueless they are until 10 or 15 years later. Which led to an even more jolting thought: what if…what if I get to be 50 or 55, and I look back at my 41-year old self…and I realize that HE didn't have his shit together, even then?!? Oy, the agony!

*shrugs* Maybe that's just how it is, for most people. We think we're pretty with-it no matter what age we are, and we don't find out the truth until it's way too late to really do anything about it but hang your head and go about your day. Maybe that's the only way to survive…and maybe that points to all of life (or, living) being about "coming of age."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Memories of The Wall

The recent 20th anniversary celebrating the destruction of the Berlin Wall got me to thinking about my own time spent in West Berlin. Yeah, that's right: WEST Berlin. See, I went to Europe with Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp during the summer before my senior year in high school…1985, to be exact. Wow. A lifetime ago, when I really look at it. I went as part of the now-defunct Bavarian Tour, which focused on Germany, Denmark and Switzerland. The other option was the International Tour, which went to a lot more countries, but the band consisted only of U.S. kids, whereas the Bavarian group was about half-&-half U.S. AND European kids…a makeup I found much more culturally appealing. We flew to Germany from Detroit and spent 10 days in the smallish town of Rottenbuch. BLFAC kept a large quasi-hotel there where we stayed & rehearsed before heading out by bus to our various concert sites.

Our very first concert was in West Berlin, meaning of course we had to go through EAST Berlin to get there. Getting INTO East Germany was never the problem; getting back OUT could occasionally be tricky. We were told by the folks running the show that we were to say nothing to the guards who would board the bus and take our passports: no laughing, no conversation, no eye contact. Put your passport in the basket, keep your eyes on the floor in front of you, and we should be fine. Naturally, this kind of forewarning makes not laughing nearly impossible…just like in church or at a funeral, the idea of, say, blasting a fart is almost too good to pass up. But I'll tell ya what: when those guards got on the bus, in their drab green-grey trenchcoats and helmets, fully-loaded submachine guns held at the ready…I never felt less like laughing in my life! (Machine guns stink; in my memory, it's an odd combination of oil and steel, with perhaps a little smoke thrown in.)

A guy named Dave and I stayed with a delightful host family in West Berlin: rich, the guy was a doctor, and I remember he drove like a fucking madman on the autobahn from the bus drop-off to their house. He served us room-temperature beer (which was new to me at the time) and we never wanted for anything. They made us promise to send Christmas cards and the like, which of course I did precisely once. (Sorry, folks! You really were tremendous people!) We had, I think, two concerts over three days in W. Berlin, which left lots of time for sightseeing. As a group we were taken to the Berlin Wall, whose political significance meant little to me at the time…but I'm now glad I had the opportunity to see in person what feels like a very important piece of history.

We actually had a picnic lunch at Checkpoint Charlie, arguably the most famous gate between East and West Berlin. "Our" side of the wall was covered with graffiti, and we could walk right up to the wall, touch it, even pretend to boost a friend over it. There was a platform at Checkpoint Charlie you could climb to see over to the other side, and from that vantage point I saw how utterly clean - and malignant - that cement wall really was. Cold, grey, sturdy and seeming immovable, the Eastern side of the wall was fronted by 25 or 50 feet of "no man's land." A long curlicue of razor wire separated this no-man's land and the Eastern part of the city, and if you were stupid enough to try to navigate that you were shot on sight before you ever had a chance to get close to the wall. THAT'S how serious the communist regime of East Berlin was. The city on the other side of that wall looked lifeless, bloodless…not a person could be seen, just a grim tableau that reminds me of many areas in modern Detroit.

Our scary part of East Germany occurred when we left the city to head to Denmark. We got out of W. Berlin fine, but were stopped once again for passport inspection at the East German border. One of the Dutch kids on the trip had a discrepancy in his paperwork: on the list showing who was on the bus he was "Frank," but on his passport he was "Francis." That's all. And we were kept at the border for six hours. I was a politically-ignorant 17-year old…but that was a scary time, let me tell you. I really got the sense that, "Shit, they could just…refuse to let us pass!"

When I think of the Berlin Wall now, I think of a different time: Cold War politics and James Bond and Spy vs. Spy…and I'm reminded that fences won't keep humanity apart. Not real ones, and certainly not ideological ones. We figure out a way to get through to each other in the end…but sometimes there's bloodshed first.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Attack of the Consumerist Zombies!

As is usual on our shared ride to work on Tuesdays, Miss Tessmacher and I got into a lovely discussion this morning. With appropriate tangents and other meanderings, this conversation centered around the idea of capitalism, consumerism, and a benign, nonspecific spirituality. Pretty heady stuff for a 30-minute ride, no?

We started off by bitching about capitalism, relating to a news article one or the other of us had recently read. Capitalism, in its basic (pure?) form isn't inherently bad, or evil, or whatever. It's just an economic system which suggests that people with stuff to sell - products, services, ideas, etc. - can sell that stuff openly, in a "free market," and that people who desire those products or services or ideas pay for them…again, of free choice and in an open market. Not a bad idea. I like it better than the concept of "from those according to ability, to those according to need." Where I balk at capitalism is that concept of "desire." Basically, the "I wants." You know the "I wants," dontcha? "Oooh, look at that (fill in the blank bauble)! I want it!" And so we set about fulfilling that immediate desire, maybe by trade (the bastion of childhood: "I'll trade you a copy of What If? #1 for 12 of your Kiss cards!"), but usually by purchase. Which turns the whole experiment kind of on its head, as the desire for immediate gratification becomes a soulless exercise in the accumulation of money that's used to buy shit.

Decide on your own how to feel about pursuing money in order to gratify commercial urges. Gene Simmons always claims (never jokingly, never) that if you have money lying around you don't need, please, send it to him. That's all well and fine as a cutesy soundbite, but I find the underlying principle to be a little crass. No, more than a little crass, actually. For me, it comes down to this: do I need more money? Nope. I live a great life, one that is rich by almost every conceivable standard. Would I take more money, if it was offered to me? Sure! I'll tell ya, if you're gonna walk right in and say, "Hey, you know that job you used to do for X amount of dollars? Well, we're going to DOUBLE it, with no extra requirements on your part!" then you bet I'll take it. No questions. But, I don't really need it. I'd find ways to spend it, and I'd certainly sock more of it away for retirement, but the blind pursuit of moneymoneymoney! isn't really all that interesting to me.

But SPENDING money IS of pronounced interest to the government! Since citizen spending accounts for two-thirds of our GDP, shit really hits the fan when we stop spending our dough. That's part of what has made this recession so tough: things were generally bad anyway, and then we all kinda just stayed home with our money, at exactly the time we should have been out spending it. And the worse the reports of the recession, the more we stayed home and didn't spend. Vicious circle. But, if our financial train runs on the dollars we pour into it, then we really have become a society of glassy-eyed consumers. "Must go out…spend money…keep economy going!" That's kind of the whole plot of the terrible, terrible John Carpenter movie They Live!: zonko aliens have us asleep and enslaved, only allowing us to survive for what we can do to make their lives better. Only, in real life, zonko aliens have been replaced by actual government people, who tell us basically the same thing. Following 9/11, tons of local and federal leaders urged us to "go about the business" of being Americans, knowing that if we all stayed home for fear of terrorist attacks, the economy would flush down the toilet. That's the most patriotic thing you can do as an American, apparently: go shopping.

What I'm getting at here is that a (perhaps) unintended consequence of capitalism - our American experiment in capitalism - is that we've turned our society into (largely) a mindless pool of consumerist zombies who go and buy things because government and fat-cat profit-driven businesspeople TELL us that that's the only way to fill the empty hole in our soul. And when that hole remains unfilled - and our true needs unfulfilled - then we just…what? Go to the mall. Or, in recent years, shop online. 'Cause, y'know, you don't even need to put on pants to do that. Rather than actually engaging in some sort of spiritual activity (which might run the gamut from meaningful conversation with friends all the way over to daily Mass attendance), we shamble along and shop. Driven to it because government and business tells us that if we don't, the economy will collapse. Sheesh. I think what I'll try to do is go ahead and shop for those things I "need," and avoid the temptation to just go hog-wild and stimulate the economy all on my lonesome. 'Nuff said!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Memories of Halloween

The Rozzle got to experience her first real Halloween last night. Oh, sure, we got her up in a pumpkin costume last year, but she wasn't even WALKING at the time, so the idea of going trick-or-treating was pretty pointless. Especially since I detest parents who push their obvious 9-month olds up to the house…what, your toothless kid is gonna gum to death a mini-Snickers bar?? Get the fuck outta here, you free-candy mooches!

This year, though, Roz was rarin' to go. She was dressed in her Mickey Mouse costume, and plainly told Tess "I wanna go find some skeletons!" as they headed out the door. I held down the fort, doling out candy to the other kids, but since Tess was only taking Roz around the neighboring blocks I espied them often. Roz was tromping determinedly along, telling Tess (as she relayed to me later) "I want some more candy!" And, in true Halloween fashion, when she finally got tired and cold, she spread her loot out on the floor and proceeded to eat whatever she could actually open herself. Which turned out to be a lot.

*sigh* At my age, though, I still really miss the Halloween of the '70s. I told Tess last night that I used to be able to pretty much fill a pillowcase while trick-or-treating, but of course there were lots of things I brought home that you "can't" hand out anymore. Homemade popcorn balls, wrapped in tinfoil…5 or 6 of those take up a LOT more room than the ubiquitous Hershey and Mars mini-candybars. Homemade brownies and cookies were common, too. I remember a couple of houses offered kids a choice: candy from a bowl, OR a caramel apple. No fool me, I always took the apple. And there was never a razor blade in it…never any poison…just good, homemade food offered up by old widows and middle-aged housewives, who had both the time and the inclination to make it.

That fucker with they Tylenol. He's the cause of the loss of all that, right? Him and his stupid arsenic. I hope that asswipe is takin' it up the tailpipe by 6 or 7 of the biggest bull queers that prison has to offer. Nightly. Guys with dicks the size of billy clubs, only thicker. I hope he's so filled up with cum when they've finished that it oozes out his ears. Ruin it for everybody, you jackoff! Hmph.

Well. That's my happy Halloween post, I guess. *grins awkwardly* Roz had a great time, and I got to remember a time that was greater. By me, anyway. She'll never know the difference, and that's the way it should be. I'll just be one more old geezer, tellin' her how awesome things were "back in the old days." And she'll roll her eyes and complain "Daaaa-aaad!" And that's the way it should be too. Happy November, everyone.