Wednesday, March 11, 2009

First, Kill Yourself

I am bone tired of the seemingly constant stream of malcontents who go on shooting sprees because their girlfriend left them, or they got fired from the meat packing plant and their Dungeons and Dragons group kicked them out on the same day. I am exhausted with a society that keeps churning out members who think of lives, theirs and others', as a cheap medium for making a personal statement. To those who think that violence will finally free you from a life that is disproportionately harder than everyone else's, that shooting multiple someones will quell your anger at the world and give you the power no one has yet bestowed upon you, I say this. How about doing what the rest of the world does when faced with a crisis? GET OVER IT. Ask for the help you need, talk to someone, pop off a few rounds at some beer cans, hammer a couple hundred nails into scrap wood, take up an exercise regimen, whatever! Stop wallowing in the idea that your particular set of woe-is-me's are any worse than anyone else's, or that your latest bout with mediocrity entitles you to anything other than dusting yourself off and trying again. This is a novel approach for a professed liberal, I know, that of individual responsibility. And I'm not so naive as to not understand that most folks who are prone to violent rampages lack some critical coping mechanism to deal as the rest of the world does with disappointment and despair. So here's the corollary to the "deal with it" maxim. If your life is so hopeless, so miserable that you don't have any belief in redemption, if you are so sick of everything and so angry because no one in the world understands you, if you cannot face that you're no longer the high scorer in HALO or that you were picked on in 9th grade for not having the right kind of tennis shoes; rather than go out and indiscriminately spray bullets at a bunch of innocent people, and then end with yourself, try this. Show a little courage. START with yourself. Shoot yourself at point blank range in the head. This is all but guaranteed to cure any urge you have to shoot someone else.

Before anyone thinks I've lost what little stability I had before, I don't normally advocate suicide, even if it's for the greater good. And I don't really think what I ranted about in the first paragraph is the answer. But I'm so angry about the blame game and the recurring mantra of questions around these incidents that are never adequately answered. Alabama, Michigan, Colorado, Germany, Arkansas. The accents are different, the questions are always the same. How could this happen? Someone should have known. Someone should have done a background check at the gun show. Why didn't the teacher who read the fiction story he wrote in 2006 see that it was a cry for help? The National Rifle Association, it's their fault--assault rifles are the root cause of all this! Please. This is not a gun control problem. This is a society control problem. This is the function of a couple of generations of people who have been raised by electronic surrogates that are violent and desensitizing instead of parents who are involved and unafraid. This is the function of absentee authority figures and even more absent moral codes. When one of these incidents goes down, the scene is always the same, instant saturation news coverage, constant images of the shocked townspeople who can't believe that quiet guy could do this. We're outraged, we're least for a few minutes. We pound our fists and demand that someone be brought to justice. We content ourselves with burying the dead and looking for clues in hindsight. Maybe we scratch around in the trailer dirt and figure out the specific string of triggers that set our latest shooter off. We are missing the big picture and missing the point. We never get down to cause and effect. To do that would require holding a mirror up to ourselves, and that has never been this country's strong suit. Instead, we shake our heads in disbelief, shudder a little as we run off to the next obligation. Meanwhile the kids take the shooting game off pause and "kill a few more guys."

Catulence and Dog Nation

I always said when I was younger that if I ever got out of that animal-hating, penny-pinching, cleanliness-obsessed house where I was raised, I would have a whole HOUSEFUL of animals when I grew up. Well, I'm all grown up, and I do have a house full of animalia...and a new appreciation for why my mother always resisted my efforts to populate the house with every stray thing that wandered up.

Typical morning: I get up and start getting ready to exercise, almost stepping in a hairball puke pile on the way to the bathroom. Now anybody who has dogs knows that this is not really a problem. You call the pile to the attention of one or both of them and, HOOVER, problem solved. Except that they aren't having any part of this particular pile, probably because The Bug (our girl cat) always makes it a point to find the one narrow strip of carpet in the house and puke all over it, rather than the nice, easily cleaned hardwood that covers 99% of the floor. So far, I'm taking it in stride. I clean it up, get my tennis shoes and running stuff on, go downstairs, and find that the cats have gone off their litter. Little SPCA veterans that they are, they steadfastly resist any effort to refine their tastes to a more gucci (read, less disgusting to the primary pooper scooper--me) version of litter and can only be coaxed to pee and crap in a litter box filled with the most vilely cheap and dust contaminating stuff ever known to clog an air conditioning filter. They have also recently adopted a policy of refusing to drink after the dogs, preferring instead to alternately drink from the tub, toilet or any glass that is left uncovered. Let's just say, for example, that I forget and leave the bathroom door closed. Catulence, as the two cats are collectively known, has no qualms about breaking a glass to get to the inch of water left at the bottom. But I digress. Now that I have my running stuff on, the girl half of Dog Nation, as the dogs are collectively known, thinks she's going on a walk, so she's apoplectic. She's thrashing around like she's lost all sense of muscle control and spatial perception. The boy dog, whose given name is Tucker but who we call Dwayne Grubb, couldn't care less about going for a walk or anything else that involves a leash. So I thrust Harper, the girl dog out the door long enough to put his electronic transmitter collar on him before I saddle Harper up with her harness for a run. I'm just hitting my stride when I hear the clicking of toenails behind me. I should stop here and explain why Tucker is also known as Dwayne Grubb. It's because he's an old country good-ole-boy dog, who looks like he ought to be wearing a grimy John Deere cap and slugging a Budweiser while simultaneously working over a plug of Red Man. In short, he's a good fellow, the kind that if he were human, would throw his shoulder out a la Tim McGraw trying to win you a teddy bear at the fair, but he ain't the sharpest tool in the shed. He will not ever be called a pretty dog. The best way to describe him is he's kind of a dog centaur: he has a torso that is at least as long as his legs and it's all the same width from his chest to his neck, all the way up to his preternaturally large dog head. So he's clicking along behind me, unnaturally large head swaying dody-do, to and fro. And he doesn't have any interest in going back to the yard, especially since he's made his break, and I dont have a leash to use on him. Finally I manage to corral him by his transmitter collar and drag him back to the yard, along with Harper, who is pissed because she was short-changed on her run. By this point, I am late in my morning schedule, and I haven't even had a run, although I HAVE had a workout of sorts. Fast forward to the part of the morning "routine" where I leave.

Now, Dwayne Grubb spent the first 7 months of his life in a 10 x 10 kennel so when he became a house dog, it wasn't just country come to town, it was country come to a whole other country. Ole Dwayne has gotten used to the lap of luxury and no longer feels the call of the wild (or the outside). To the tune of, once he hears me making motions to leave, he trots his happy butt upstairs and lies down on the dog bed. No amount of coaxing, cajoling or threatening will get him up and out the front door. So I end up picking his 55 pound ass up and hauling it down the stairs and outside via the side door. Then I quickly grab my stuff, cursing because I'm late, open up the front door, and there he is. If I'm lucky and quick, I make it out before he scoots in past me.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

313 Troy Street

313 Troy Street

I don't know how to commemorate a life
except to show a snapshot of it
exactly the way it was
at some point in time
or, at least, exactly the way I remember
The poets say to be concrete, specific.
So I've turned my lens to their house
that weathered old nondescript place
across the street from the mill
I've tasted peanut dust and machinery hum
in mid-summer afternoon haze
watched a little white-haired woman
brush off the porch with a sage broom,
cuss horse flies under her breath.

I have racked my brain for details
I have gotten most of them wrong
The color of the carpet is fuzzy
I do not remember the neighbor at 311
the wall where the deer heads were
blurred subjects of yellowed pictures
or the yawning black maw of the fireplace.
But this much is vivid and true
and bathed in blazing technicolor:
There lived in that little old house
the greatest love story I've ever known.

I was fourteen, an eye-rolling know it all
when Granny told the story of their first date
the bumbling bumpy ride to Snellgrove's Mill
the dashing, daring figure he cut
when he dove headlong from the bridge.
I imagined the girlish squeal, the flood of relief
when his head popped up, turtle like
far below.
She said she could have killed him
instead they were married
for more than fifty years
clinging together through
poor and crumb-scraping poor
through ruddy health and the last stages
of time-shifter disease
and everything in between.

This, I believe, is where she is now.
They are on their first date
young and strong and beautiful
She has leaped off the bridge to join him
without fear or pain or hesitation.
He is waiting
and the water is fine.