He Had To!

The jasmine is running from the shade.

 

Illustration_to_The_Sing-Song_of_Old_Man_Kangaroo_(Doubleday_ed.)

 

I read this one to the kids this morning.  It’s always tempting to add, to describe, to explain.  But God knows when, once you start, it ever stops.  Accusers never explain, do they?  Only the accused explain.

 

Still ran Dingo—Tired-Dog Dingo—hungrier and hungrier, very much bewildered, and wondering when in the world or out of it would Old Man Kangaroo stop.

Then came Nqong from his bath in the salt-pans, and said, ‘It’s five o’clock.’

Down sat Dingo—Poor Dog Dingo—always hungry, dusky in the sunshine; hung out his tongue and howled.

Down sat Kangaroo—Old Man Kangaroo—stuck out his tail like a milking-stool behind him, and said, ‘Thank goodness that’s finished!’

Then said Nqong, who is always a gentleman, ‘Why aren’t you grateful to Yellow-Dog Dingo? Why don’t you thank him for all he has done for you?’

Then said Kangaroo—Tired Old Kangaroo—He’s chased me out of the homes of my childhood; he’s chased me out of my regular meal-times; he’s altered my shape so I’ll never get it back; and he’s played Old Scratch with my legs.’

Then said Nqong, ‘Perhaps I’m mistaken, but didn’t you ask me to make you different from all other animals, as well as to make you very truly sought after? And now it is five o’clock.’

Well, it’s almost always five o’clock, and my legs are nubs.  The hummingbirds are hiding from the woodpeckers, the jasmine is running from the shade of the cherry tree, the pea-vines are running from their roots.  Excuse me for a moment while I go and feed Yellow-Dog Dingo.

Uncontroversial, and Generally Unconsidered

The presumption of ideological ubiquity is very pacifying.

It’s so amazing when the mundane is revelatory.

I got to be a social justice warrior. Teacher said:

“And Bernie Sanders is incredibly popular among people your age.”

A loaded pause. Her eyes dart to me and then away as she realizes. I smirk:

“I should report you for that ageism.”

We moved on, into typically unpleasant territory.  But it’s only unpleasant because I notice things.  More on that later.  Now, though, it really is largely pleasant.  The class isn’t terribly active, not many people have much to say , and many of the teacher’s prompts get met with the dreaded silence.  But there are still real discussions and exchanges of ideas, and the general intellectual exercise is invigorating.  For the first time in my life, I am genuinely bummed every time class is over.

Also, I’m old and prepared enough to be able to take the passively hostile environment in stride.  The fact is, they don’t know they’re being hostile.  Having one side to every story is all they’ve ever known, and the presumption of ideological ubiquity is very pacifying. Knowing this, I am patient and generous.  Being generous in disagreement is a character virtue that is needed long before you earn the right to be confident in agreement. If I teach anyone anything, I hope it is that.

I sit in my chair in there, usually pretty wound up because I’m still in the honeymoon phase of college and I just love to be there, and I keep having reasons to say little things that are fun and enlightening.  Maybe I’ll start cataloguing these things, the things I can’t believe I have to say out loud. What was Monday? Oh yeah: “I care what happens to white males.” Uncontroversial, and generally unconsidered. There should be a word for that sort of thing.  All by itself, it isn’t a very interesting sentence.  But imagine what that sounds like, in today’s quivering social climate, to the generation of kids who have completely shuffled the concept of whiteness into the File of Immediate Offense.  Imagine how racist it must sound to have a white male say “I care what happens to white males.”

“WHY IS HE MICRO-AGGRESSING ME?”

“Are you sure it’s a micro-aggression?  He said ‘white male.’  That’s like a, I don’t know, really big aggression.”

But anyway, I said it.  And it was very quiet after, save for a refreshingly sincere-sounding chuckle from a big – I think Italian – fellow named Carlo.  I don’t think angels have wasted their time blowing their trumpets towards a college campus in a long time, but they could have used that moment for a warm-up. It’s so amazing when the mundane is revelatory.  I’ll just call them that, if there’s any more:  Mundane Revelations.

There has been one more.  Wednesday we found out, when the teacher asked, that I am the only person in the room who has served in the military. This surprised me, because an anonymous student had included in her thesis a very succinct definition of what the military teaches its members to think about the enemy. So specific that you’d expect it to require firsthand knowledge. “In the room” kind of stuff.  Granted, based on what she wrote, it was the wrong room to be in. But we’ll get to that.

Keep in mind, as I’ve said, I’m very generous.  I’m not just sitting in there waiting for my chance to poke people in the eye.  I’m not antagonistic by nature. Then again, I wouldn’t have to be.  In academia, the antagonism is prevenient to anything I could bring to the table. I just walk into the classroom and sit down amidst it three times a week.  In this case, it was written on the board and staring at me for a good ten minutes, and being read aloud. I measured it as being worth leaving alone, until the teacher said to me “And what does the military teach you about the enemy?”

It’s too bad that this was an aside, and not the whole topic.  I wanted two hours in a room with these kids.  I wanted to do more, more, more.  I gave them what I could in one sentence:

“I know Hollywood pretty much only tells the truth, but the military actually does not teach us (as I pointed at the thesis and read it word for word from the board) ‘that the enemy is subhuman and does not deserve our empathy.'”

I mean, I know you hate Ted Cruz and all, but managing to crowbar that tidbit into the analysis is really something. I got a little wet from the bubbles bursting and had to wipe myself off. It turns out that those bubbles are made mostly of drool and tears.

As noted, that was Wednesday.  On Friday we quite literally spent the entire hour using the word “extremist” interchangeably with “Republican.” For realz. While talking about John friggin Kasich, people.  And it was casual as hell.  Nobody was laughing, it wasn’t an accusation.  It wasn’t even thought about.  It was as if they were just saying Coke and Pepsi to mean the same thing.  Just to avoid repetition or something. “You can’t just say Republican in every other sentence.  Replace it with extremist from time to time.  Same-same.” Alas, this class is about writing papers, and I’m there to re-learn how to do that, so I didn’t take the time to interject. I’ll have my chance to have these discussions in the years to come, though I do feel a bit of a responsibility to help broaden the perspectives of these youngsters.

It’s a fun dualism, to learn and to teach.  I wonder if being a parent is anything like that.

Defensiveness, Analysis, and the Most Begged Question

It’s the unsecret handshake of the accepted classes.

I have not yet openly defied liberalism, but I have been objective and fair, so by now the whole room knows there’s something wrong with me.

Oy.  The kids are on Spring Break, but am I?  Nooooo.  They’re young, so I don’t expect them to fully grasp the concept of respecting my need to get some schoolwork done.  Still, I have only myself to blame for letting them talk me into picking up the keg.

It is an interesting time at school, as things develop in my sole on-campus class.  The two online classes are largely a matter of reading things and doing assignments, dismembered and ethereal, with a very small amount of chat-room type discussion.  “Interesting take on Robespierre’s justification for terror.”  “The American Revolution was successful because it’s goals were relatively simple, the colonies were already practiced in self-governance, and Donald Trump is a racist asshole.” 

Hang on…

The virtue signaling is intense.  Very few people – and I speak primarily of my on-campus English class – very few people pass up the opportunity for announcing their Trump hate.  It’s the unsecret handshake of the accepted classes. We were given a series of campaign speech videos to watch and analyze in terms of nationalism.  Trump was one of them, and I had a hard time deciding whether I should choose it.  It’s a near guarantee that I would be the only voice in the room capable of assessing his speech with any honesty and clarity of judgment, but in the end I foresaw myself growing weary of saying “it’s not a defense, it’s an analysis.”  There are 3 or 4 people who chose his speech, and I can’t wait to read all the hate-that-is-not-hate-because-I-can’t-hate that comes from it.  Diversity.

I have not yet openly defied liberalism, but I have been objective and fair, so by now the whole room knows there’s something wrong with me.  I have pointed out where the merit exists in a Trump statement, and also where racism does not exist in a Trump statement.  But what gets missed is what I said above:  to this audience there is no such thing as analysis, there is only support or condemnation.  So I’m sure many of them have me pegged as a Trump vote.  But if somehow they’ve maintained intellectual honesty to this point, yesterday may have been all the confirmation they need to throw it away. Because as a Bernie-worship session tailed off, I actually had to say out loud, and without humor:

“I do.  I care very much what happens to white males.”  There were a couple of chuckles, but mostly the room felt like a passel of quivering electrons stacked up behind an open switch.  “The old white guy in front is gonna flip that switch, isn’t he?”  I am, and it’s gonna get bright in there.  It is without a single jot of facetiousness that I say that I don’t think many of the people in the room had ever had that thought occur to them. 

Q: “What about the white males?”
A: “Black Lives Matter.”

Q: “What about the white males?”
A: “Not all Muslims are terrorists.”

Q: “What about the white males?”
A: “Seventy cents for every dollar.”

Q: “What about the white males?”
A: “Voter ID laws.”

Q: “What about the white males?”
A: “Clump of cells.”

Q: “What about the white males?”
A: “Police brutality.”

I digress, but validly.  No matter what evil you can identify or fabricate in today’s culture and society, the only guilty party is the white male.  The insignificance of the fate of any number of white males, from one to all of us, is a simple given.  The most begged question there ever was, the answer decided upon and tucked away, never to be fussed over again: It. Doesn’t. Matter. 

Well, change doesn’t happen overnight, as they say, so I’m not rolling into class every day loaded for bear.  That’s not a helpful strategy.  I work the slow propaganda of virtue and reason, and will be doing a small bit of gauntlet throwing when I turn in today’s discussion post with this level-headed analysis:

Bernie Sanders does considerable work reinforcing the imaginary, immaterial, and paradoxical nature of Anderson’s nationalism.  Most notably its “political power” vs its “philosophical poverty.”  His speech is an exercising of the imaginary bonds between a selected and differentiated portion of the nation, a stirring of their emotional motivations in order to increase their sovereignty over the unreconciled bourgeoisie.  Connections will be made, votes will be had, and politics will have their power, but all in the philosophical vacuum left behind by almost exclusively divisive rhetoric.

I have a fair read on my teacher, I think, so I’m pretty sure there is no danger of me being kicked out of class just yet.

These Long Days

IMG_0969

 

These Long Days

I’ve introduced myself to these long days
By calling an encore on the night.
With careful work at setting the lights,
A midday search
For the artefacts of worth
Has led me through that curtained little backstage place.
My small audience sees the fluttered drape.
And now
I’ve walked out into these full days
By pushing on an unmarked door.
It was swollen stuck against the floor,
It’s damp age
Beholden to the craze
Of the movements and exhaustions of too many fronts.
The sound of its shutting behind me is blunt.

Morbid Recreation

     The weather came on strong today, if a little gradually.  Everyone knew it was coming.  We talked about it for a couple of days – Thursday, gonna be hot, man.  The School even sent an email  suggestion  ultimatum, ordering us to apply sunscreen to the children before school, and send them with a backup for later.  The School thinks itself helpful.  Or at least I have to tell myself that, in spite of my hunch that The School is simply fulfilling its primary mission, which is to not get sued.  But seriously, it was supposed to hit 80 degrees.  It might have done that eventually, but I didn’t check.

     We all get a little stupid on this first hot day, and choose to ignore what we know, which is that the morning is still MYGODMYNIPPLES.  Our temperatures peak at about 5:30 PM, even in the dead of summer, and until about June you can just forget about those moderate and fine mornings.  We’ll have sun with our coffee from time to time for a while, sure, but warmth?  Come on, I’m not even gonna get spider webs in my face on the way to the car for at least another month.  The spider webs are how you know, you know:

“Alright you two, just get to the- OH MY GOD IS IT ON ME?!  IT’S ON ME ISN’T IT?!” 

     Yep, even with a face full of spider web, I still have time for apostrophes.  Like I said, it’s too soon for that, but we still get up and put on shorts and t-shirts and flip-flops (without socks this time), and maybe even throw out a casual suggestion that we have breakfast on the patio today.  Which of course is stupid, because everyone knows you can’t eat on the patio until it’s warm enough for the bees to drive you back inside.  Paging Dr. Kevorkian.

     Still, it was a beautiful day.  I used it for unusual things, the greatest of which was the rare opportunity to take my son on a brief tour of the campus where I am attending college.  There’s something sort of backwards or sideways about that, I don’t know.  Aren’t dads supposed to visit their kids’ campuses?  It doesn’t really matter because it was us, together.  As always, he wanted “shoulders.”  Even as his vocabulary grows and the stilted locution of childhood stitches itself together into real communication, he occasionally opts for the throwback of a singular loaded expression.  For a ride atop the old man’s back he will slowly move, as we walk, from alongside me to directly in front, and as I almost trip over him he’ll simply say “shoulders?” I have a hell of a time saying no. I hoisted him and he steered me around the campus.  It’s a community college, small and without much to show.  A five year old has a different set of standards, though, and a crummy little clock tower with perfectly accurate time had a hidden quality:

“That’s the slowest clock in the world, Papa.” 

“No, son, that’s the second slowest.  The slowest clock in the world will be hanging on the wall in your classroom.  Then you’ll get a job and absolutely freak out when you see that someone took it down and put it on the wall in your office.” 

     I forgot to take him by the Aviation Maintenance Technology building, where he (and I) would have loved a gander at the airplane engines they have.  Boeing just donated the Pratt & Whitney from a 777 to the school in February.  Maybe I should change my degree.

     I did take him by my classroom, where I will sit tomorrow.  It is odd.  I am of two worlds, or perhaps two characters, when I am there.  I feel very old sometimes, even though I know that “going back to school” is not uncommon.  There are other old people there, every one of them attempting something noble, in a country where such a thing is immanently possible.  And then I feel very juvenile.  Not in a strictly age related sense, but in a maturity sense.  As if what I’m doing is more whim or farce or pot-stirring than anything else.  A morbid recreation for some guy who’s rapidly running out of excuses and validity.  It isn’t, though.  Not completely.

Maybe I should calm down.  It’s only been a week.

Genny Made Cupcakes

I was in the yard a couple of days ago when I realized that I had dropped the rake and was floating towards Genny’s porch with my nose in the air.  Bringing me out of my stupor was the boy child, hanging from my ankle, his toes barely tickling the grasstips.

“Papa, where you flying?”

Genny’s that kind of neighbor. 87 years old, I think.  Cupcakes were in the air, just after lunchtime on a Wednesday.  I’ve written about her before.  And she seems to come up whenever I think about our house.  Yeah, she’s that kind of neighbor.  I saw her with a bag or two at her back door yesterday and took the boy over to help her in the house.  The boy loves her and wants to see her almost as much as the dog does.  But the dog has something of a fatal attraction thing going, and I fear her reaction when Genny is finally gone.  Lucy just might do what old couples seem often to do, and simply choose to fade away once her reason for living has left.

She tries not to let us help, and I suppose that’s normal.  Natural.  If you sit down after a very long march, it’s too likely that you won’t get back up. (Just a little rest.  Just a little rest.)  But help we do, when we can catch her.  And yesterday she was back from an appointment at Group Health downtown, having done what we insist she stop doing: take a shuttle.  I’m home every day now, and I can take her anywhere she wants to go. But she won’t do it.  I’ll just have to catch her, I suppose.

Group Health has a gift shop, because when you build a place for people to be born in and to die in, full of medicines and chemicals and wires and gizmos, then gifts and parking validation are the next two most natural things you can offer.  Genny goes to the gift shop, because when you can’t remember when you were born, but already feel like you’re looking back on your death, thinking of your neighbors’ children is the next most natural thing you can do.  She brought back a nice bow for the girl child’s hair – Genny knows that a Dad needs a little help when it comes to doing his daughter’s hair before school.  For a man nearly forty who grew up with two brothers and no sisters, a hurried ponytail is the least most natural thing you can do.

The airplane spinner in the picture up there is what she brought back, wrapped, for the boy.  He fiddles with it, and it has the kind of coarse finishing and pointy bits that terrify the modern conscience.

“Dis wever hurts my finger.”
“I’ll wrap some tape around it.  You want me to spin it for you?”
“Nope.  I got it.”

He works at it, and he’s nicer to it than he is to most of his toys.  Don’t know if it’s because he knows anything about it, or Genny, or what.  I just know it’s true.

“Papa, I can’t get it.  Can you spin dis for me pweese?”
“Of course, bud, here we go.”

It spins awfully fast, too, which makes me think it came out of the shopkeeper’s special box of old-fashioned toys from the back room.  Nobody would build that buzz saw of whirling aluminum today.

“AGAIN!  All my pwanes are weaders.”
“Leaders?”
“Yep.”
“OK.”

I wish I still thought like him.

The girl, of course, wants her new bow just so.  Fusses with it, and makes me check it.

“It’s perfect, gorgeous.”
“Thanks, Papa.  Can we go show Genny now?”
“Her lights aren’t on, kiddo, so we’ll have to wait until later.”
“Awwwww.”

But Genny made cupcakes.  On a plate, on a doily, on an otherwise empty and polished dining room table in her beautiful house.

“Here, Dominic, I made these for you and your sister yesterday, but you were too fast for me and I couldn’t catch you.”
“Yeah, we’re pwetty fast, huh?”
“Yes, you are.  You work so hard out there with your Papa that I thought you could use a treat.”
“I really like dee rake and dee shubbel.”
“Make sure your sister gets one, too.”

He made sure.  We’re trying to make sure.  Genny always makes sure.  And she also makes cupcakes.

To the Honest Pleasure Seekers

Errythang gonna be alright this mornin’.

The incidental oracle strikes again.  I remember posting this picture to facebook.  I thought I was being pretty clever:

I can’t believe it’s finally here! Andy’s 14,418th day of school!

Bittersweet, as it seems like only yesterday he was drinking Mickey’s Big Mouths on his way to jumping out of airplanes and – what was his favorite little saying? Oh yeah: “I’ll never get married or have children. Depend upon it.” What an adorable little dreamer he always was!

Well, he’s really on his way now, and it isn’t terribly hard for us to see the day when he finally gets a job and makes something of himself. Ok, so it IS kind of hard to see, but we remain hopeful!

Go out there big boy and makes us, um, sort of ambivalent about admitting our relation to you!

School Boy

     Joke’s on me, eh?  It’s two hours until I sit down in a classroom for the first time since about 1996.  I’ve taken online classes, and one sort of dreary writing class on the University of Washington campus.  Nights, once a week.  The class was all women over 50, and me, and the instructor.  I started out by grumbling in my head about the absurdity of it all.  By the time it was over it was obvious that no matter what these people were or were not capable of writing, they all were at least capable of writing something.  And more importantly – of liking it.  They were out there finding their fun.  Pleasure seekers – honest ones.

     Well the clock’s running down on me now.  In every grand and corny metaphorical way there is, and also literally.  Thankfully my kids are pretty well capable of getting themselves ready for school.  Two years ago that was not the case.  Of course two years ago I was still potty training The Boy.  It’s good to sit here now, thinking about how far they’ve come, and to be able to say “I did that.  We’ve done this.”  We’re going to have some work done on our house, and when it’s finished we’ll be able to say “that’s beautiful.”  But aside from some creative input (and the endless hours of work it takes to pay for it), we won’t be able to say “we built that.”  There’s extra in there, and I am boundlessly grateful that we made the choices we made a couple of years ago, so that when the kids tackle their mornings -and eventually tackle whole piles of madness – without us, we can say “we built that.”  We get to have – we get to be – the extra in there.

     The best part?  That no matter how able they are to get ready for school without me, I’m not able to get ready for school without them.