Wednesday, May 7, 2014

In a Moment

by Daddy X

Art scholars tell us an impressionistic painting represents a specific instant in time, all the glare, shadow and shimmer of movement, imminent, suggested or apparent in the scene. Beyond that, the best works enable us to anticipate what may occur in the next instant.

There are several vivid images of individual moments in the past, that now, with hindsight, I can say really did stick with me. Not only in their intensity, but as formative turning points associated with the times. Moments, though only moments, can alter our trajectories forever.

I can remember my mother asking my aunt for a safety pin for my diaper. Even as a child, I considered the incident an early memory. I can still picture my aunt’s dingy living room in detail; it must have happened at night or in poor weather. Not to say that it was a particularly formative incident, but just the thought of recalling detail at such a young age does carry a certain poignancy regarding a growing awareness.

It was my senior year of high school. Going up the stairs between classes. Wow, that funny-looking new chick sure has some dark eyebrows, I thought. Kinda cute, too, her hair in that goofy little flip. Doesn’t even cover her ears... Snicker... Within two months, she’d be my girlfriend. My prom. Her prom. Within two years, she’d be my wife. Momma X and I are still together and will celebrate our fiftieth anniversary later this year.

November 20, 1963. I was working as a foreign car salesman, one of my first jobs after overcutting every class (in under a month) at Pierce Business School in center city Philadelphia. Seems the pool halls on South Street had more draw as an education than the school halls. In those days, South Street wasn’t yet the yupped-up scene it became. It was mostly Jewish rag trade warehouses where the salesmen stood out front, barked at you, collared your sorry ass, just itching to fix you up with a new suit. And then there were the African-American pool rooms, some featuring as little as three or four ragged tables and illegal beer sales. 

But I’m getting off-track.

“The president’s been shot,” cried the slick Texan used car salesman, my immediate boss. I can still feel the white flash of shock, as I’m sure many do regarding the tragic news on that day.  I’d just turned nineteen and would be married the next year. Plenty of new things were happening. I’d just left home and had gone out on my own, working two jobs, days selling cars, nights in a drug store. Life was constantly in flux. But that shock still reverberates, marking a time when my intellectual travels would begin the circuitous paths that have led to where I am now.

Except for a few eccentrics buying them, foreign sports cars had yet to make a big mark here in the states. The owner of the dealership was a known ‘kook’ in Trenton, New Jersey. He drove racecars on the competitive track, had a gorgeous wife who wore black leather chaps and rode a big Triumph motorcycle. Joanna was just a year or two older than I.

They had parties in their Bucks County farmhouse featuring a rare covered bridge on the driveway. Wild parties. They were ‘hipsters’. Free love. Weed. I had sex with an older woman I met through that job.

Seems I’d found a direction in life as well.


But then there are those other moments, moments that not only stand out for their shock and atrocity, but for the direction a nation takes in the aftermath.  I didn’t begin my post planning to write about this huge wound in our country, but a small notation in the paper this morning drove the message home yet again. Of course, I’m talking about the wake of 9/11.

The news article talked about an American rock star, James Kotak of the Scorpions who apparently had a few too many, and gave a security guard the proverbial finger at the Dubai airport. He was charged, among other things, for drinking alcohol and insulting Islam.

Now, insulting Islam could cover lots of ground. Sure, the question arises as to why such an asshole would choose to be in such a hate-filled part of the world. It truly eludes me. Why go somewhere people aren't kind to those other than they? Of course, there are cultural differences within certain societies that a visitor should conform to as a matter of courtesy. But in some places, just professing to be who you are, wearing what you may, or not believing in certain fairy tales, is enough to bring negative attention.

The real question is: what are our armed services doing in those parts of the world? Objective (or not) issues that are most important to extremists don’t even even come up on our radar. Something that happened to a village elder five centuries ago is enough to keep people at each other’s throats today. They couldn’t care less about what matters to us.

So why did this happen? How did this happen? Why are we spending the wealth of a nation to engage in wars that will not end ethnic warfare in those parts of the world? The battles in Afghanistan exist on many levels, from a local village’s animosity for the town upstream pissing into their water supply, to the choice of the second Kalif in the seventh century. The Sunni/Shiite dilemma is far more important to any of them than instituting a vague system called democracy.

Of course, I’m doing a lot of generalizing here, implying ‘all’, ‘every’ or ‘any’. It’s not everyone. There are people with common sense among the masses, both here and over there. But that common sense has not the appeal of the stuff of hate— animosity, ethnic superiority—those things that make shit happen. Why is hatred so more seductive than tolerance? Why is it that the powers that be in this country would pump hard-earned resources into such a fray? Retribution because a bunch of nuts with allegiance to no borders attacked us? Fear that if we do nothing, the scary bad guys come back? Why indeed wage a war that distracted from finding the culprits, by overwhelming the once-secular Iraq, a nation that never lifted a finger against us? Instead, the so-called mastermind of the attack stayed safe for years, and Iraq has now reverted to ethnic chaos.

What about the generations of grudges we continue to advance with our tantrums? What about forthcoming retribution? Considering all the internecine warfare in the places we choose to fight, it should be obvious that these people don’t forget.

No, I’m afraid the wars are strictly economic, as is our thirst for oil. But the powers that be want us to believe we wage destruction for higher altruistic goals.

We threaten one nation after another to keep our weapons turning over, needing to use the stores of weaponry, then re-up just to keep the capitalist economy afloat. Can you imagine what would happen if we shut down the Pentagon? We currently spend more on defense than the next eight countries combined. Defense spending accounts for about 20% of ALL federal spending. One dollar for defense, four dollars left for everything else, including healthcare, maintenance of highways and bridges, politics, welfare, real estate,  federal wages, federal buildings and everything else that needs funding.  Everything else.

But if we quit the war business, resulting unemployed soldiers would overflow our job supply. We’re running a dangerous addiction that’s nearly impossible to kick because of the inertia of the beast within the power-monger’s soul. Or lack of that soul.

Yet we choose to play the game, blindly bolstering elements that come back to bite us, as the mujahedeen already have in Afghanistan, after we supplied them with weapons against the Soviet Union back in the 80’s. Reagan called them “Freedom Fighters”.

At that time, the Soviets were our enemy, so we supplied our future enemies.  China became the bad guys. Then The Soviet Union crashed. Now China’s a so-called friend. Russia’s back on the shit list. Iran is getting close to being attacked by somebody. Will we do it now? or wait to rescue Israel, when they commit an atrocity or announce intentions to do so that require their big brother’s intervention? Is this beginning to sound like Orwell?

Of course, we could always use those resources, both labor and financial, doing much-needed upgrades on our crumbling infrastructure. Something akin to  Franklin Roosevelt’s  Work Products Administration would absorb those military jobs for years, improving every American’s way of life, the results making everybody far safer in the long run than making enemies. But that smells too much like Socialism (read: common sense) to go over in any US election.

We keep pitching bombs into fright zones, always eager to jump into any conflict we see on the whole of the globe. WTF? Was that one moment in 2001 the catalyst that put the wheels in motion? A finishing touch to our country’s economy, along with its sense of right and wrong.

One good moment for you, al Qaeda.


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  2. An intense post, Daddy. However, I think that war is far too complex a phenomenon to be dismissed as simply economic. As you point out, though, It does unfortunately seem to be addictive,

    I was only in fourth grade when Kennedy was shot. My memories are a bit vague. However, I vividly recall 9/11. I lived in a rural New England town with 35Kbaud dialup internet. I was working at home on my computer. We had the BBC News set to come on at noon every day. That's when I first heard about the air strikes, several hours after they occurred.

    I tried to bring up the New York Times website. No way. It was totally overloaded. I tried to call my step sister who worked in downtown Manhattan. No way. I don't think I've ever felt quite so isolated and helpless, so distanced and yet appalled.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Lisabet. Yes, local causes for war can be deep and varied. Some are even worthwhile. We have choices whether to keep armaments away from suspect causes or for the arms trade to exploit those causes. How well do weapons suppliers vet their customers? Arms traders don't want wars to stop.

  3. Great post Daddy and I couldn't agree with you more - war is a business these days with no winners except the weapons manufacturers - while governments mutter age old rhetoric that is ultimately meaningless.
    On the lighter side, can't remember having my diaper pinned, but I do remember a lady who lived on the ground floor of the tenement I was born in who would put kirby grips (bobby pins) in my long curly hair. We left there before I was one year old, but the damage had been done LOL!

  4. I don't know why major events like 9/ll didn't occur to me while I was posting. I was vacuuming with the TV on at that exact time and saw it all. My best friend from college lived in NY, and her son was at school very near the Trade Centers. she was distraught for a while, but the school staff had sent the kids running north at the first sign of major trouble, and they were all okay. but I heard about that part later, not in the moment. When Kennedy was assassinated, I was getting into a friend's car for a ride to Yale, and the newscaster wasn't sure they whether he had died. That was a memorable trip, watching folks out on a golf course as we passed and knowing that they hadn't heard the news yet. I also heard about RFK's killing right away, when I happened to turn on the radio late at night because there were sirens in the distance and a huge glow of fire on the Oakland flats (I was living uphill near Mills College) so we thought there was a riot. No, just a warehouse fire, with no connection to the assassination. Hmm, maybe I should be prohibited from turning on radio or TV news.

    Don't remember diapers, as such, but I remember peering under the door of a cubicle in the restroom we shared with a bunch of army families when my Dad was stationed in Muskogee during WWII. I couldn't have been more than a year and a half old.

    I'm with you on the useless war situation, Daddy X, while also realizing that it's a very tangled web indeed.

  5. I was in early grade school when JFK was shot, so I only vaguely remember it. I was leading the first meeting of the year for my kids' school's Girl Scout leaders when 9-11 happened. One of the moms was married to an Arab man, and her kids were mixed. He traveled a lot, so she was quite distraught. They heard about it on the radio before they got to my house and insisted on keeping the TV on in the next room. I was trying to get some important business done, they were freaking out.

    Have you seen the second IronMan movie? There is a convention of arms manufacturers, and every time I watch that scene I'm nauseated and angry. That's how the folks who make money from death view it...just another "business". I could go on a feminist rant here about psychological theories the say forget about penis envy, men have womb envy. They can't produce a life from their bodies, so they have become masters of destroying the lives of people brought into this world in pain by some woman. Who doesn't matter. Sigh...

    Unfortunately the God-fearing types in this country are more afraid of godless socialism (tell that to the British who are primarily Episcopalian and Church of England), than they are of the endless wars. A slogan I remember from the 60s and 70s was: "War is good business. Invest YOUR son!" I have sons and that makes my skin crawl.

    My earliest memory is of being 4 and having convulsions. I was sick a lot when young, and since penicillin was new, every time I coughed I got a huge shot in my butt. Since both parents were heavy smokers, I coughed a lot. I've been allergic to penicillin since I was about 9 or 10. Anyway, I was feverish and Mom was distraught trying to bring my fever down. She finally tossed me into a tub of what I thought was ice was really only tepid. My teeth started chattering and I cried to get out. She wrapped me in a blanket and carried me over to the sofa in the living room and told me to watch TV while she called the doctor. Dad told me years later he was watching some noir movie...but I was watching the Flintstones! Hallucinating like mad, I guess. It turned out that I had Scarlet Fever, which explained the high fever. Mom always worried about heart or brain damage after that. My heart scan was clean as a whistle, and I'm a MENSA member, so no worries, Mom!

    I can't believe you remember stuff from being still in diapers, Daddy X! I've heard that some people can remember every single thing from their lives, but most of us just keep the "digest" version. I read a book called "The Ape That Spoke", by John McCrone that deals with how the development of language occurred and how it differentiates us from other animals. An excellent book, it supports what I've always believed: most of us can't remember things from before kindergarten because we didn't have enough words to lock memories in, and no frame of reference to tie them to. Trust me, read the book. You'll be happy you did.

  6. My most vivid memory from 9/11 is the fear I had at the way people changed around me. I was working at a local newspaper at the time, editing a special edition for local creative writing students. I was expecting a bunch of bad but good-hearted poetry, some teenage angst, etc. Instead, since the issue was coming out just shortly after 9/11, I received so many "essays" about how we needed "to crush them like the cockroaches they are." Not clear who "they" were. I was nauseated and scared of that violent mood. I saw the fear in the eyes of the brown-skinned men who owned convenience stores and noticed the way that critical comments had become unpatriotic and dangerous to speak above a whisper.

    I don't want to minimize the tragedy of what occurred at the World Trade Center. I'm very sorry for the people's families.

    I've always been sorry also for all the terrorism we imposed on ourselves, and all the terrible things we've perpetrated in the name of vengeance.

    You ask: Why is hatred so more seductive than tolerance?

    And I wonder the same. I wonder why people sneer so much at the idea that there might have been another way. I remember the goodwill we had in the world after the attack, the sympathy, the stories about other countries sending gifts and condolences, and I'm sad because I think we've destroyed that with military actions since then.

    1. Yes, Annabeth- the day after the attack, I saw a pickup truck, jacked up on big wheels, several large American flags flying, hyper-base crashing, three assholes in front yelling unh-unh-unh to the beat. America first!

  7. One moment that I remember from my youth involves listening to my radio in my bedroom at night. A Motown girl-group hit, "South Street" by the Orlons, hit the charts in 1963. I had no idea where this street was located, or if it really existed. I just looked up the song -- sure enough, the Orlons came from Philadelphia. Unfortunately, I'm too tech-challenged to post a link to the song here, but you can hear it in a site on Motown girl groups of the 1950s-60s.


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