Friday, February 18, 2011

Meanwhile, In the News... Containing a poem, a warning about emotional disease, tea, outdated pop-culture references, and a reasonable request

The story goes:
There once was a man from Milwaukee
who had some ideas and got cocky.
He moved to our town,
some bad shit's goin' down,
and now the whole nation's gone gawky.

I don't know what it is about fascist senators in Wisconsin (see: Sen. Joe McCarthy or watch the film "Good Night and Good Luck" if you're lazy, don't like reading, love a good film, or just had your wisdom teeth out and need something to do for two hours) but we've struck gold again with Scott Walker and his moronic ideas about budgeting and reform. You can read all you want about it in the news so I won't bother with that here, save to comment on the immediate issue in Wisconsin.

The issue at hand is one of money. The money is gone in Wisconsin, they say, and like Milwaukee before it, the entire state now must, quite literally, pay for the mistakes of the man who went on the tax-break shopping spree where he bought up all the best friends he could fit in his political career cart. Senator Scott Walker is a republican so there are very few fixes he can pull from the medicine chest to stop the bleeding dry of the state. Top of the list was, apparently, bleeding the public sector workers, directly, dry via union busting and budget cuts. The following is slightly out of character for me, perhaps, in that this is no parable about the human condition; but rather a personal entreaty to learn the names of the people you intend to fuck before donning your emotional contraceptive of choice and getting to it:

Who are public employees? Psychologists, psychiatrists, bus drivers, librarians, healthcare workers, PR specialists, the department of health, social workers, accountants, language instructors, translators, the department of transportation, as well as teachers, police, and the fire department. They care for the elderly, children, displaced persons and the disabled. They light our streets, maintain our roads, test our food and water for things that could harm us, take us to work and safely home again. Their wages and benefits are dictated by the state budget, not their individual employers. They are not like the rest of us who have the innate right to negotiate for ourselves. They don't just pull their own weight, they pull all of ours too.

I'm no political activist. I do not march, I do not wave signs, nor do I hold that our system of government is a good model for any country, group, or organization to use as a framework for a functioning and enduring system for that is, quite obviously, not the case. For those few of you who would assume to ask, "Well what would you suggest replace it?" That is a far more complex question than it would appear to be. Be content then, with this analogy regarding political unrest and dissatisfaction with a governing body:

"I may not know art, but I know what I like."

In illustration, if a man looks at a painting and does not know the period in which it was created, the artist's name or ethos, the style or intended purpose of the art but simply knows that when gazing upon it, he does not like the painting, does that render his feeling frivolous? And, if the man cannot tell you that he can create a better painting, and then produce said work, was his viewpoint worthless?

Similarly, if a man looks at a broken teacup and says to you, "This teacup no longer serves its intended purpose as a vessel for liquid." Is he an idiot for not being able to produce another, perfectly serviceable teacup, immediately upon noting he cannot drink his tea? Of course not. Even were he a potter or glass-blower by trade it would take him some time to make its equal. And, if he should go to the cupboard and take another glass down for this use, that cup would be no more indestructible than the last one.

So, in sum, just because I don't have a new teacup doesn't mean I don't like art. Also, don't ask me for the solution to a problem which cannot be solved.

Politics is like childbirth. It is messy, painful, and not for everyone; but it is part of the human experience none the less. You can dope a woman in labor all you like and she will still be a woman in labor - it is still a form of that experience. You can advocate political reform until healthcare is free and there are no taxes, but it will still be an imperfect system because it attempts to quantify and organize the complete range of human experience within a changing society. You can't fix yesterday's problems today for a future that hasn't happened yet. You might as well have every politician's placard read "Marty McFly for office! ...Fixing tomorrow's problems yesterday!" And then everyone gets upset when it doesn't work out. How amusing. Like squirrels running up a greased pole to get to birdseed heaven, the lot of us. Good exercise but not terribly effective.

So, having digressed almost completely away from the issue at hand (another favorite human tradition), I ask these four favors in return for a, possibly, better humanity:

1. Before broadcasting your opinions in a public forum or voting booth, conduct a thorough line of inquiry as to the motivations, effects, facts, and alternate viewpoints of the situation before your less-than-educated assumption immediately affects the lives of others AND sets a legal precedent for our nation, not to mention formative countries using our legislation as a basis for their own developing governments. If you don't have the time or inclination to do this, shut up and don't mess it up for thousands or millions of other people.

2. If you vote, when electing a representative please research their political history and place their actions before their words. The information isn't that far away if you know where to look. The same goes for the news you hear. News sources are not always correct or thorough in telling a story. Research further and diversify your news sources for more complete reporting.

3. Learn by asking questions. A lot of people might be saying to themselves - right now - "I do ask questions..." I would point out that that was a statement to those of you who have just been caught thinking quantitatively, whereas you could have thought to yourself "Like what?" Think about it. Awareness of ourselves and our own behavior is the simplest start to a more understanding and educated society.

Now, generally I am unconcerned with the political fluctuation in this and others countries. This is not an uncommon way of looking at things, nor does it connote that I have no interest or opinion. Speaking personally, I was recently asked to identify my political persuasion and, upon giving my answer, I was dubbed apathetic. Hearkening back to request #3, through a patient line of question and answer it was discovered that I only appear apathetic due to my strict adherence to a policy of personal accountability for all and every choice and action we all take. Simply put, you do something because you want to - for whatever reasons - and nothing more. I will expound upon this in a later rant, perhaps, but an academic exploration of the spiritual and philosophical implications of a party system on the psyche of America is a topic for another day.

For now, I only have one more favor left to ask,

4. Grow up you bunch of toddlers and stop taking people for granted.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fourth Class

So Christmas is long past and gone but this story won't quit me. Here we go:

My father and I have never been what is generally called close, but a more accurate description might be to say that we have enacted a pretty decent sham of having a caring relationship whenever he feels that he is not getting the care he deserves from his lovers, friends, or immediate family members. The only reason I do not include co-workers or colleagues in this list is because he either has none (co-workers) or the term is synonymous with another term used previously (colleagues, see: friends.)

My parents are divorced and have been so since I was a toddler. This is not sad. This is not a lifetime movie drama, keep reading. My dad remarried when I was a teenager and they had a son. Pop got the nuclear family he's always wanted: wife, kid, dog; in a little five bedroom house on a hill. The dog has more personality than any of the humans in the house but little brother is working on catching her up, so it would seem. He's young yet and still under the roof of his terribly normal parents. Give him time.

Pop gets a case of the Christmas spirit (guilt and loneliness wrapped up together in a festive jumper) and calls me to wish me a happy holiday and to inquire if he and the lad can visit while they are in my neck of the woods for one of the boy's sports events. (The only time I get to see the lad is when one of the many extra-curricular activities our father has foisted upon him take them near the city where I live. Last time it was a baseball game; this time, hockey. The poor kid is good at everything, so pop can't seem to decide at which activity he would best like to vicariously excel as a substitute for all the trophies he never won in his own youth. So classic it makes you want to gouge your eyes out at a crossroads and fuck your own mother.)

As it happens, that one particular day is the day I was planning on being in my hometown visiting my mum and some old friends. I generally don't mention my travel plans to anyone save my employer and the people I am traveling to visit, so as far as my father can tell it's been nearly a year since I last visited home. Perhaps we can just wave at one another as we pass on the highway? Tedious and socially appropriate conversation follows until a decision can be reached: we will just have to see if there is time for a quick lunch up at the house sometime. I call on the way out of town saying I am leaving early and there really isn't time this trip. Perhaps next time, or a visit to my home on their return trip. No, they have no time for that either. Even Steven, I suppose.

A parcel arrives while I am away from home one day. "Dad wants to know if you got the package." the text from my brother says. Like divorcées ourselves, we are now speaking through his son. "Ah, so that's where that came from." I reply via the poor kid. "The office is closed and I have not picked it up yet - tell him thank you in advance for me please."

I open the box and it contains, in layers: tissue paper covering a brushed chrome canister of natural room spray - rosemary mint scented... I hate mint, I don't chew gum I hate mint so much; a slightly bent calendar entitled "We-moon" sporting a feminist-themed mural in bold blocky color schemes circa 1995 for each month, one of which I swear is an engorged vulva; a pile of broken glass which appears to have once been a double-boiler style teapot if the helpful, but now pointless, instruction manual is any indication; and an apple scented candle with three wicks in the Yankee candle kind of vein. In the bottom are two cards. Now let's just wait a moment. Look over that list again - I certainly did after I'd opened the box. Go ahead, I'll wait here......
One card is from her and has some flowery haiku kind of holiday wish in three languages, the first being English, the other two of which I do not speak; the second card depicts a Rockwellian santa and a penned-in speech bubble in which the jolly old elf proclaims, in my father's epileptic spider writing, "Somebody paid money for this card, HO HO HO!" It is signed by both my father and brother and contains a check drawn on my father and his wife's joint account.

I look at the box. The address on the label is correct up to a point, but the zip code has been crossed out and re-written with a black sharpie in a hand unfamiliar to me - a postal worker, no doubt. The box is battered and had been used before. The original labels can still be seen through someone's attempts to scribble them out with a marker. They are addressed to my father's wife. The logo on the side of the box is an online vitamin weight-loss company. It's a big box. I flop the cardboard flaps back into place and the punchline is staring me right in the face - stamped in bright red, bold print are the words FOURTH CLASS.

It was one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received. I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard. And the apple candle actually smells quite nice.