Punishment to Fit the Crime: A Black and Blue Fantasy

“TAXI!”

“Where to, buddy?”

“The St. Francis Hotel, please.”

They rolled into town from SFO. The cabbie got off the freeway and coursed the streets of SOMA.

“Look at those degenerates! All those tight pants and leather!”

“Bothered by the gays, buddy?”

“Oh! I just think they are such barbarians! They need to be disciplined! I mean look at them! Have they no sense of decency? They should be disciplined, each and every one of them!”

“I hear you, bud. But you know what? I know a place where they are taken care of.”

“Really? Here? In San Francisco?”

“Yeah, buddy. Right here. Do you want to see?”

“Yes, please! Take me there right away!”

The cab made a sharp jolt and went down darkened streets with few pedestrians.

“This will be wonderful!  Maybe I could interview someone and learn their techniques.  You see, I run a clinic back home where we try to cure people from the affliction of homosexuality.”

“I see.  You a doctor or something?”

“Yes.  We help people with their afflictions.  Do you think they’ll be able to help me at this clinic you’re taking me to?  Is it a clinic?”

“Yeah, in a manner of speaking.  They have their own techniques, you understand.”

“Mmm-hmmm.”

“But I’m sure they’ll be real happy to show you the ropes.”

They pulled into an alley and the cabbie stopped the motor.

“Here we are, Doc.”

“This looks rather nondescript.  Are you sure this is the place?”

“Oh yeah, Doc.  This is the place, alright.  Let me show you in.”

“Thank you.”

They went to a solid, black metal door with a large black doorknob.  It was locked.  The cabbie pressed a doorbell.  A few moments later they heard a buzzing sound.  The door unlocked.  After they went though, the door slammed and clanked behind them.   They entered a black space with dull light and hints of red.  A blacklight hung over a tall metallic counter.

“There’s no one here?”

“Someone will be here, doc.”

A few more moments pass.  The cabbie, in his blue jeans, white t-shirt, and untucked long red shirt stood with his hands in his back pockets, his weight heavy on one foot.  The doctor, in his fine three piece suit and matching tie, twitched and fretted while looking around the empty space that betrayed nothing.  Even the door they entered appeared to have vanished.  Finally, a bald-headed man with a handlebar mustache came to the counter.  His dark brown eyes peered at them, but he otherwise appeared unfazed.

“Good evening gentlemen,” he said.  “May I help you?”

The doctor looked at the cabbie, who egged him to go to the counter, which he finally did in hesitant steps.  The cabbie followed, hands firmly in his back pockets.

After a few more glances at the cabbie, the doctor turned to the bald-headed man behind the counter and spoke.

“Good evening.”

The bald man said nothing.

“I understand your establishment exercises discipline, uh, that is, it dispenses discipline to those, uh, what I mean to say is.”

“The doc here says he’s upset about the gays,” the cabbie blurted out, “says that they need to be disciplined.  Says he runs a clinic back home that does something like that.”

“Well, I may have used the word discipline in a moment of, uh, frustration.  But yes, I do run a clinic that helps people better themselves.  And this gentleman said that he could show me a place that has its own techniques.”

The bald man’s expression did not change.  “So, you think gays need to be disciplined, to become better humans?” he said.

“Well, yes, that’s right.  It’s for their own good.”

The cabbie was pulling faces which made the bald man flinch a bit, until he resumed his stoic pose.

“I think we can help you here, doctor,” the bald man said.  “Come with me.”

“Oh wonderful!  Thank you!”

“I’ll wait for you here, doc.”

The cabbie and the bald man exchanged looks again, and then the bald man disappeared behind a black leather curtain, with the doctor close behind.  The cabbie chuckled.

“Come this way, doctor.”

They stopped in front of a black metal gate.  The bald man pushed a button and cables behind the gate began to move.  Soon a platform appeared and the bald man opened the gate.  The doctor walked towards the lift, but the bald man stopped him with a hand firmly on his chest.

“Now doctor, are you sure you want to see our techniques?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Because there are some hard core cases that we deal with on a regular basis and only the most severe techniques can be used to cure them.  You have to be prepared for that.  Are you, doctor?  Are you prepared to bear witness to what you are about to see?  Are you ready to see the most depraved humanity imaginable? Can your eyes stand the sight of those lesser than yourself groveling and begging for mercy, screaming for the angels above to save them?  We do not shirk from our duties, doctor.  We do not pussyfoot or mealy mouth here.  We do not use platitudes or soothing words.  We punish.  We hurt.  We instill pain and terror.  For the good of all, doctor, it must be so.  Raw, naked, sweaty, terror.  Are you ready to experience total discipline and total control in its rawest, most brutal form imaginable?”

“Yes!  Oh, yes, I am!  Take me!  Take me!”

“Very well, doctor.”  He took his hand off the doctor’s chest and took him on the platform elevator.  Then he slammed the gate closed and pushed a button.  Slowly the lift descended, its large wheel above their heads creaking as it turned.

“We’re going down an awful long way!” the doctor exclaimed nervously.

But the bald man was unfazed.

Finally, they came to a jerky stop.  The bald man looked the doctor in the eye, as emotionless as Mr. Spock, and then he opened the metal door.

“Here we are, doctor.”

They exited the lift.  The space was just as dark as reception had been, but with wisps of cool white smoke dispersing what little light existed.  Brightening the room more than anything were piecing screams from all directions and the striking of flesh.

“Oh my!  Oh, this sounds most severe.”

“I did warn you, doctor.  We cannot turn back now.  This way.”

He followed the bald man as best he could in the misty darkness.  They went through a passageway and into a large cavernous space aglow with spotlights highlighting barrels, planks, crosses, slings, and mattress-less bed frames standing on end.  Chains, ropes, and leather straps dripped from on high like unpruned tree limbs.  And all of these various stations were populated by tied down, naked men with topless, hooded overlords glowering over them, each bearing their instrument of choice.

“This looks sadistic!  Look at them.  They’re beating those men without mercy!”

Their moans filled his ears.

“It’s called discipline, doctor.  Just like you said.  Each of them deserve what they are receiving.  Take this person.”  They walk to one of the barrels over which a man is strapped facedown and a muscled black man lorded over him.  “What did this one do?” the bald man asked.

“He didn’t obey me.”  WHACK!  “So I need to loosen him up a bit”  WHACK!  “Until he learns who’s the master.”  WHACK!  WHACK!  WHACK!

“Is this necessary?” the doctor asked.

The master bent over and grabbed the head of the man over the barrel.

“TELL THE VISITOR HOW BAD YOU’VE BEEN!”

“I’ve been really bad, sir.  Really bad.  I deserve this.”

The master let go of his head and hit him a few more times.

“Is that a shaving strap?”

“Yeah.  Nice thick piece of leather, ain’t it?  It’s the only way.”

“Would you care to try it out, doctor?” the bald man asked.

“Oh, I don’t know.  I’ve never done anything like this.”

“There’s always a first time.  Do you mind, sir, letting the doctor try it?”

“Not at all.”  The master handed him the strap.  “Here you go.”

The doctor looked at it like it came from Mars.  He studied it over, looking at one side then the other.

“You hit him with it,” the master said, impatiently.  “You hit him on the ass.  Haven’t you ever spanked your kids?”

“Well once or twice.”

“Remember,” the bald man said, “the man on the barrel is a homosexual.  Unrepentant.  He doesn’t deny it.  He needs to be disciplined.”

“Yes!  Please!  Hit me!  Hit me!”

“Alright, then.  If it will help with the treatment.”

Whack.

“No, no!  Harder!” the master commanded.

Whack!

“He’s a godless homo,” the bald man whispered in the doctor’s ear.  “He barbaric.  Just like the rest of them here.  Barbarians.  He’s a threat to God and country.”

God and country brought a fury in the doctor’s eyes.  He reared his arm and hand back and let loose with a loud crack on the man’s ass.

W-H-A-C-K!!!

He screamed in anguish.

“YEAH!” the master exclaimed.

W-H-A-C-K!!!

“That’s it, doctor,” the bald man said.  “Give it to him.”

“You will not ruin my country!”

W-H-A-C-K!!!

“You will not blaspheme my God!”

W-H-A-C-K!!!

“You will not corrupt my children with your filth!”

W-H-A-C-K!!!

“You godless, male-lusting, sweaty, filthy, horny homosexual!”

W-H-A-C-K!!!!!!

He gave the man on the barrel a few more licks until exhaustion got the better of him and he passed the strap back to its owner.  The man on the barrel whimpered, his ass black and blue.  The doctor patted his sweaty brow with his handkerchief.

“Do you think he’s cured yet?”

“It’s hard to say, doctor,” the bald man said.  “Some of the cases here are quite stubborn.  They require further treatment.”

“It must be tiring work for you all!  But do you get results?”

“In time, doctor.  In time.”

“Say,” the master said, “you look a little worked up yourself.”

“Well, I am a bit flushed.”

“No, I mean worked up.  You know, worked up?” he said, grabbing his own crotch.

“I beg your pardon!”

The bald man took the doctor’s hands away from his crotch.

“Yes, it does look rather ‘tented’ down there,” he said.

“What are you suggesting?  I’m a married man!”

“Still, doctor, even still.  Tsk, tsk.”

“Seems like you might need a treatment yourself, doc,” the master said.

“You don’t mean to say that I?  I mean that . . . that I’m becoming one of them?”

“Exposure can lead to contamination, unless you are strong, doctor,” the bald man said.  “And even then, sometimes we ourselves, those of us who provide the treatment, can benefit from a session or two.  After all, would you want your wife to know that you’ve allowed yourself to become excited in this way?”

“Oh god, no!  No!  She would see me as a liability and disown me!  No, Christ, no!”

“Don’t sweat it, doc,” the master said.  He undid the straps of the man on the barrel.  The man slid off and curled into a ball nearby.  “Hop on.”

“Really?  You’ll give me. . .discipline?”

“On the house, doc.  Come on.”

The bald man observed as the master strapped the doctor on the barrel, leaving his clothing on.

“We’ll start real gentle like.”

WHACK!

“Oh!” the doctor exclaimed.

“Did you feel that, doc?”

“I certainly felt something!”

“Let’s try it again.”

WHACK!

“OOooh!”

“One more time!”

WHACK!

“Oh mercy, mercy!”

“You feeling it yet, doc?”

“I’m not sure.  I think so.  Better try it again!”

“What’s that, doctor, I can’t hear you!”

“I said, yes! yes!  Please try it again!”

“Alright, then!”

WHACK!  WHACK!  WHACK!

The bald man nodded with satisfaction as a host of masters bearing whips and straps cued up to take turns to help with the doctor’s discipline.  Satisfied that his work was done, he took the lift upstairs and went outside to have a smoke.  He saw the cabbie also smoking as he leaned against his car.  He joined him.

“He still down there?”

“Yeah, he’s getting his ass whipped by everyone down there.  Even a few of the slaves are joining in.”

“He he he he he.”

“Where were you supposed to take him?

“The St. Francis.”

“Of a sissy?”

The both started to laugh.

Dance of the Ephemerals

They go through my head in a flash of color like a summer’s bolt of lightening.  And they last about as long.  In that span exists minutes, hours, days, months, years.  Lifespans.  Names and places.  Streets and cornfields.  Hurricanes and tornados.  Floods and famines.  Boats, cars, ships.  Folks in a hurry and folks taking their sweet time.  Folks who know their destination and folks who just don’t have a clue.

Some open up readily and impart who and what and why they are in a blink of an eye.  Others snarl, remain tight lipped, and dare you to complain about it.  Those are often the most interesting ones — they dare you to catch them in a bottle.

They all come from the same soup as we did back in the long ago.  And thus the spark is a crucial part of the creation process.  But each spark does not lead to an evolving being, only the promise of one.  So exists the Ephemerals.

They hold no allegiances.  Their purpose is to exist and impart.  They do so on their own terms and in their own language.  It is not their job to teach that language or wait patiently for an interpreter.  They reveal themselves, then go.  Once the flash is gone, memory must take over to make something of what occurred.  They rarely grant repeat performances.  But their dance can bewitch and one showing can fill several lifetimes.  This is the way of the Ephemerals.

Sometimes their numbers can overwhelm.  Or they can impart so much in their brief moment of existence that the memory becomes hopelessly bogged down in minutia.  Subtlety is lost.  Finer gray shadings lose their beauty in memory’s harsh spotlight as it scours for details.  Memory gluttonously seeks order and will impart its own if not sated.  Then the flash diminishes.  Delicate are the Ephemerals.

I shepherd memory to curb its ravenous nature.  Through slow reflection, I can see the image left behind by the Ephemerals, like looking at a developing Polaroid.  Then I must use what tools I have to tell what I have witnessed.  Through this process I attempt to transcribe the dance of the Ephemerals and master their choreography.

Start Spreading the News. . .

New York makes it legal.  What a sweet victory.  The thing that likely pushed it over the finished line was the “get out of jail free” card added to the bill that exempted religious institutes from having to conduct or condone same-sex unions in their hallowed halls against their will.  And I’m totally fine with that. During the brief time that same-sex marriage was legal here in California, there were plenty of religious institutes that were only too happy to host and bless the unions.  Those institutes that did not, didn’t.  There it is.

I’ve always said that in the eyes of the state, all marriages are civil unions, not religious ones.  The religious element is added by the marrying couple based on their own preferences and inclinations.  But the marriage license, the piece of paper that declares a couple is bound together legally and grants the couple oodles of rights and benefits, is an instrument of the state.  Churches, temples, and mosques do not issue them.  This is a good thing.  We live in a democracy, not a theocracy.  You know, that first amendment thing:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . .

It’s been very frustrating to me that the religious aspect of marriage has overshadowed the debate about same-sex marriage, because the state, state and federal government, has no business discussing or promoting any religious dogma.  Government’s sole concern regarding gay marriage should be will it harm society.  Daily Kos posted this handy pie chart demonstrating just what effect same-sex marriage will have on the world:

pie chart gay marriage

Six other jurisdictions have legalized same-sex marriage in the US before New York — Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington D.C. — and in none of these areas did World War III or plagues erupt, schools start teaching how to have gay sex, or terrorists win.  It is doubtful that New York will be an exception to the trend.

Smart folks know all this.  Smart folks who understand how the law works and what the constitution says have figured this out already.  Governor Andrew Cuomo is smart.  He used his position as NY governor to spearhead this effort through the state legislature.  And in the process he and his colleagues convinced enough Republicans in the New York state senate, the Republican controlled New York state senate, to vote in favor of marriage equality.  That’s huge.

I would like to think that other smart folks will eventually rise to the level of their intelligence and stature and do the same thing.  To do so would be a demonstration of fierce advocacy.  Perhaps New York’s example will be an example for the rest of the country.

Viva New York!

But it’s not OK to snitch

Young black kids are killing and dying in the streets.  Gun fire echoes on quiet nights, on busy streets, in daylight — bodies fall to the ground.  Killers stand over the fallen triumphantly and pump in more and more.  Then they run away.

But it’s not OK to snitch.

Young black kids trying to get an education stay late at school to finish one final project before graduation.  We’re gonna make it, they high five each other.  Then they go home.  Only one comes back to class the next day.

But it’s not OK to snitch.

Young black kids at a birthday party.  Hanging in the front yard.  A car passes by and bullets trail after.  Blood stains on party dresses and suits.  Some don’t make it.

But it’s not OK to snitch.

Young black kid stays indoors.  Girlfriend visits, they don’t go out.  He begs a relative “Please, take me across town so that I can exercise.  I can’t walk or run or shoot hoops around here.  It’s too dangerous.”

But it’s not OK to snitch.

Young black kids not yet 20 have gone to more funerals than their parents and grandparents.  They have a drawer full of t-shirts for all those that have fallen.  They’ve bought their weight in flowers and teddy bears and candles and ballons.  Their tears could rival the Colorado.

But it’s not OK to snitch.

Young black kids screaming WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY fists smashing, gut curling, body crumbling, collapsing, rolled into a ball of lost fetal innocence.  Long faces of adults unable to soothe the pain, to say words that mean anything, to provide answers, to protect.

But it’s not OK to snitch.

In my day, fists were the biggest threat.  In my day, they told you to tell the teacher if someone hits you or threatens you.  But they also called you a sissy and a loser if you did.  So began the mixed message.  Now we have bullets flying, piercing flesh, taking lives.  Kids with PTSD, a soldier’s disease.  They are not in Kabul or Baghdad.  They are down the street, around the corner.  Their faces and words are in the paper, screams for help.

But it’s not OK to snitch.  And the killings continue.

(This post was informed by a very fine series of articles about young inner-city kids dying and coping in Oakland.  Check it.)

Weiner, Take Two: Time to say goodbye

Don’t mean to get down on his ass, especially since he’s not doing too well at the moment, but the more that comes out about Mr. Weiner, the more I’m beginning to think that his resignation would not be a bad thing.  Steve Kornacki at Salon.com wrote a story describing how Weiner broke into elected politics.  It was messy.

Just weeks earlier, the Crown Heights riot — a deadly, days-long affair that brought to the surface long-standing tension between the area’s black and Jewish populations — had played out a few miles away from the 48th District. The episode had gripped all of New York and had been national news. It was just days after order had been restored that Weiner’s campaign distributed its anonymous leaflets, which linked Cohen — whose voters he was targeting in particular — to Jesse Jackson and David Dinkins, who was then New York’s mayor. It is hard to imagine two more-hated political figures in the 48th District at that moment. (Salon, June 7, 2011)

I only have the vaguest memory of the Crown Heights Riots, but it sounded ugly. It’s the sort of thing where an honorable person seeking public office would use the occasion as a teaching moment to put out a message of hope and peace and not exploit it for personal gains.  Apparently, Weiner was not that person.  Instead, he linked his chief opponent, Adele Cohen, to two politicians whom many in the district, in light of the riots, loathed, with the aim of turning white voters against her.  And he did so anonymously.  Some called it race-baiting.  David Dinkins called it “hateful.”  Weiner only admitted he put the leaflet out after winning.  That’s cowardice.

It’s the same sort of cowardice we saw this last week.  He refuse to admit that he tweeted and texted unsolicited photos of himself until a photo with his face on it came to light.  And now, it’s come to light that he had a online communication with a 17 year old girl.  He maintains that there was nothing indecent about the communication.  I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt (again) and think that he was only talking to her about politics or perhaps encouraging the girl to go to college, seek elective office, whatever.  But let’s not be naive.  The man has no credibility to speak of anymore.  It’s shot to shit.  And this whole thing has become a great distraction from the pressing issues of the day.

In light of this latest revelation, many leaders of the House Democratic caucus, including Nancy Pelosi, are calling for Weiner to step down.  Weiner himself is asking for a leave of absence so that he can go into a treatment program.

Just go, dude.  Just go.  And let’s hope a real progressive, who has it together and works hard, and not just blows hard, takes his place.

All That Meat and No Potatoes – The Trouble with Anthony Weiner

Audie Bock is not a household name.  Only California based political nerds like myself even remember her.  She was, for a brief moment, the highest ranking Green party politician in the country.  Happenstance got her into that position.

Ron Dellums’ retirement from the US Congress in 1998 started a daisy chain of special elections.  Then-State Senator Barbara Lee took Dellums’ seat.  Then-State Assemblyman Don Parata took Lee’s seat.  When Parata’s State Assembly seat became vacate, a special election was held in which Audie Bock ran as a Green Party candidate.  Says Wikipedia:

Although she received less than 9 percent of the vote in the February 2 special election for Perata’s assembly seat, no candidate received 50 percent of the vote; this caused a runoff among the top-vote getter from each political party.

I don’t remember who the Republican candidate was for the seat or if there even was one.  This district is one of the bluest of blue districts in the country.  It includes Berkeley fer Christ’s sakes.  A Republican winner?  Fuggedaboutit.  Normally the Democratic candidate would therefore be a shoe-in, but not this time.  That candidate, Elihu Harris, who for years was in the State Assembly and later became mayor of Oakland until he was termed out, ran a sleepy-eyed campaign which culminated in allegations that he tried to bribe people to vote for him by promising them fried chicken — a chicken in ever pot, KFC style.  That didn’t go over too well.  So Bock, a virtual unknown, won in a squeaker.  The Greens thought they had arrived.

Buyers’ remorse soon followed.  A political neophyte, Bock quickly went from being the Green’s brightest star to one of its greatest embarrassments.  Though she had just been elected, she had to face election again in a year for a full term, because the 1999 election was only to finish out the term of then-Assemblyman Perata.  She fretted about facing opponents so soon after gaining her seat and allowed herself to be convinced that her odds would improve if she switched party affiliations from Green to Decline-to-State.  So she summarily dumped her Green party status without so much as a by-your-leave.  Then, to add insult to injury, she accepted political donations from oil companies.  Alienating everyone who once supported her, including legions of Green Party volunteers ready to pound the pavement on her behalf, she lost miserably in the 2000 election.  Bock has since faded from the political landscape.

When thinking about Congressman Anthony Weiner, the maelstrom of the every evolving Weiner-gate scandal, I’m reminded in a strange way of Audie Bock.  Bock did not e-mail compromising pictures of herself — Twitter didn’t exist in 2000 — but she was self-destructive and she ultimately did damage to the thing she purportedly supported, that is, the Green Party.  Now one could make the argument that she never really believed in the Green Party and just used them as a stepping stone to elected office.  I’d buy that.  But still, she did do damage to the Green brand.  She came off as a self-serving flake with little political acumen.  I fear that the same may well become Congressman Weiner’s political epitaph.

Weiner screwed up in two ways.  First, he helped the otherwise questionable Andrew Breitbart gain creds.  During the denial phase, Mr. Weiner all but accused Breitbart of hacking his Twitter account and trying to slime him for political reasons.  Given Breitbart’s track record of going after people for political reasons (Shirley Sherrod, anyone?) and using questionable means to do so, the charge, on surface, seemed a legitimate one.  But Weiner knew it was bullshit from the start.  He had sent crotch shots to young women via Twitter, with and without undergarments on apparently, and Twitter being the medium it is, it was entirely possible for Breitbart to get a copy of these photos.  And he did.  And he made hay about them.  After Weiner finally fessed up, he put himself in the unenviable position of having to kiss Breitbart’s ass and apologize to him.  Had he done the right thing and owned his crazy immediately, he wouldn’t have turned Breitbart into a vindicated victim of false accusations.  The next time Mr. Breitbart goes on the attack in a more Shirley Sherrod kinda way, he’s more apt to get away with it again because now the media will view him as more legitimate.  Thanks Weiner.

Second, Weiner was a fire-breathing dragon with perhaps more smoke than fire.  He annoyed his own caucus, even as he developed an ever-increasing fan base of lefty admirers.  Videos of him lambasting Republicans on the House floor over the ill-fated public option in the health care debate went viral.  Raw emotion and passion sells.  There are few lefty firebrands and he is certainly one of them.  And raw emotion and passion are cool, so long as you have the creds to back them up.  Apparently, this has come into question now that he’s under a very tight microscope.

But even before his teary live-feed admission to his friends and family — especially his wife, Huma Abedin, a close aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — colleagues in the New York congressional delegation said they had serious reservations about the incongruity between his high media profile and what they considered his low impact in pushing legislation behind the scenes.  (Washington Post)

It’s one thing to be a loudmouth that has garnered the support of colleagues through nose-to-the-grind-stone work.  It’s another to just be a loudmouth who sometimes went against the wishes of your own caucus, as the article above documents in quotes from anonymous Congress-reps.  If you fall into the latter category, don’t get caught up in a stupid sex scandal that can not only derail your career and leave you with few friends to come to your defense, but also threaten to bring down the very causes you support.  Progressive voices are too often dismissed as flaky, pie-in-the-sky, hippy-dippy, tree-hugging, unrealistic, idealistic, unworkable, unthinkable, ludicrous, and silly.  It doesn’t help when one of them actually has at least some of those attributes.

Congressman Weiner’s sexcapades are his own affair.  This is something he has to work out with his wife and family.  Meanwhile, if he wishes to stay in politics, he needs to kill the fiery speeches, severely curtail his TV appearances on Rachel Maddow, et al., and focus on being a politician.  Work it, don’t jerk it.  Develop creds, not ego.  Then he’ll become a more useful servant to the ideas he supports and the constituents he represents.

Lady Day & Gil Scott-Heron

You’ve changed
That sparkle in your eyes is gone
Your smile is just a careless yawn
You’re breaking my heart
You’ve changed

One of the last songs Billie Holiday recorded, accompanied by strings, horns, and an angelic female chorus singing high soprano, a delicate arrangement that only enhanced the delicate state of her voice.  Her delivery of those words tears right through you.  She spent her whole career living the blues through her life and music, making each performance an event, a moment, until her body just couldn’t do it anymore.  A year after recording this track, she was gone.

Just a few weeks ago, after hearing one of his tracks on KCSM Jazz 91, I googled Gil Scott-Heron.  I found a chilling article on Black Agenda Report:

From the start, he was weak and weary, like whiskey watered so far down that only the barest hint of its kick remains. We winced at his pain, glaring naked in the spotlight, and at the death-mask smile he flashed, which made him look like the Grim Reaper. Even as his high was intensified by the thrill of making music, he seemed to be mocking our enjoyment of his performance, our witnessing his once prodigious gifts now so threadbare and wan.

TaRessa Stovall, May 4, 2009

Stovall later remarked that her mother had a similar experience seeing Billie Holiday in one of her last performances.  And then came the bombshell:  Scott-Heron had contracted HIV.

In 1970 he sang about the evils of substance abuse in “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” and “The Bottle.”  In 2009, on his first album in 15 years, a voice cracked and aged rasped “Me and the devil, living side by side.”  He had lived the life he warned about 40 years earlier and it showed in his art, warts and all, making it that much more powerful and depressing.  On the same album he sang “New York Is Killing Me” and that he wants to be buried in Tennessee.

And now he’s gone.

He sang of fear and hope and love and pain and freedom and slavery.  And he lived it all for us to see.  Sometimes we watched wide-eyed, sometimes we winced through our eyelashes.  He informed us through his art and his life until his body just couldn’t do it anymore.

Fortunately, his art will continue to inform us for many years to come.

Ever feel kinda of down and out and don’t know just what to do?

Livin’ all of days in darkness, let the sun shine through

Ever fell that somehow, somewhere you lost your way?

And if you don’t get help you won’t make it through the day

You could call on Lady Day!

You could call on John Coltrane!

They’ll wash your troubles, your troubles away

“Lady Day and John Coltrane” Gil Scott-Heron (1949 – 2011)

 

Tightly Rapt

I had never heard of Harold Camping.  I am familiar with Family Radio, the station he helped to establish in the 1960s.  It was one of many evangelical shortwave stations I encountered on the dial during my long years of traveling international radio.  I paid it no mind.  Evangelical stations are typically, though not exclusively, owned by Americans and I listened to shortwave to hear the opinions of those not from my homeland.  The one exception was the late Reverend Gene Scott’s programs.  He’s been dead for six years, but you can still hear him nearly 24/7 online and on shortwave.  He’s still a hoot.

But Camping never registered with me.  And probably never would have if it weren’t for this rapture business.  Somehow, I missed the first rapture prediction in September of 1994.  Now let’s see, what was I doing in 1994?  Well, that’s the year my partner and I met and got together.  Maybe I was too rapt with that to notice much else.  So if the ’94 prediction made the media, I missed it.  The world didn’t end in ’94 or ’95.  It’s safe to say that the prediction was a red herring.

However, Camping appears to be a never-say-die kinda guy, so he’s back again with a new prediction:  May 21, 2011.  This extraordinary prediction grew out of his realization that the Bible contains numbers of particular importance:  5, 10, and 17.  Multiply these together, square the result, and you get the number of days after Christ’s crucifixion that rapture will envelop the earth.  Curiously, when I use my calculator to project 722,500 days from April 1, 33 AD — the date Camping claims the crucifixion took place — I get May 22, 2011, a day later.  Maybe there’s something wrong with my app.

If I seem less than convinced it’s because, well, I’m less than convinced.  One of the harbingers of the rapture is chaos in the world.  And as evidence of this, Camping sites the increased rights for and acceptance of homosexuality and lesbianism.  And here we come to an old, familiar saw.  Have a group of people you don’t like?  Come up with a prophecy that calls for the group’s total destruction.  In a recent video, Mr. Camping noted the irony of his ministry, located in Oakland, California up the road from the airport, being just across the bay from Sodom itself, i.e., San Francisco.  Maybe San Andreas is about to slip again.

Here we have yet another example of someone using religion as a weapon to beat people with.  Homosexuals, lesbians, non-believers, holders of different faiths are all no count.  Such thinking makes it so clean, so simple to dismiss others one doesn’t care for.  It reduces religion, and the God behind it, to the level of The Big Bully, the one who will protect you from the others whose mere existence is an intolerable threat.  “My God is gonna kick your ass!  You’ll see!”  In that sense, Camping’s rapture is nothing more than the biggest of Big Bullies.  The Ultimate Big Bully.  One who will not only beat the tar out of his opponents, but will carry him off to safety before the whole world is destroyed, thus ridding him of ever having to deal with the Nasty People, be they homosexual, lesbian, Muslim, Jewish, or Wiccan, ever again.

Ugh.

Let’s have a different kind of rapture, one that brings joy and pleasure, not pain and suffering.  Come May 21, listen to your favorite music.  Play your favorite sport.  Volunteer and help others.  Have a good meal with friends.  Have sex.  Do whatever consensual, pleasurable, positive activity turns you on and get rapt in that.  And while you’re doing it, hope that others very different from you are able to do the same.  That would be pure rapture indeed.

(p.s.:  Are we really to believe the homophobic rantings of someone named ‘Camping’?  Come on!)

Short Story: The Burrito Kiss

I saw him sitting in the bleachers looking my way.  I rationalized that he’s probably looking at the new computerized scoreboard our piss-poor high school just installed.  Everybody does, more in disbelief than anything else.

I kept running around the track, eyes forward.

Then I ran in front of the billboards.  They’re bright and colorful and eye catching.  He’s reading them word for word, I told myself.  We all do.  During every game.  Even though we’ve seen them a thousand times.

I kept running around the track, peripheral vision set on high.

But then came the real test.  There’s a wall along a stretch of the track, at the far end.  Where will his eyes be after I come from behind the wall?  I stared into the blue sky, aiming for detachment.

Oh god, he’s really staring at me, I thought.  At the same time, I wondered if he’ll be in the shower room later on.  I ran faster.

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Birther-gate: the silliness that ain’t silly

So President Obama persuaded Hawaiian officials with a personal, handwritten note to send him copies of the sacred “long form” birth certificate so that the White House can distribute the document widely and bring a hoped for end to the “silliness” about the origins of his birth.

Until this week, Hawaii officials said they wouldn’t release original birth records for anyone, under any circumstances. Even if it was President Barack Obama.

reported by AP and quoted from the Washington Post.  But a personal note from the President on White House stationary caused a change of heart and copies of the “long form” birth certificate were made available to the White House, and soon the world.

If only the world were that simple.

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