June 10th 2010

Summer

Summer

The grey long-haired cat from next door runs for the tunnel he’s created in the thin leaves of the deer grass in the front yard. I have startled him–nothing else is moving in this heat. I would follow him if I could.

Summer has arrived at last. I could stand perfectly still and sweat. Today, though, I am moving boxes from the garage to storage and I am soaked with myself. If I give it an hour or so, think only of the shower I will take afterward, I can do this chore. This is how summer passes: I negotiate with my body, promise it future reward for present discomfort. As long as I’ve lived in the Central Valley heat, I’ve done thus. My body is quick to forgive–it lives in the moment. But I remember, and I’m ashamed to mistreat it so.

I worked 13 years for an ice company. Summer was measured from Memorial Day to Labor Day and every day between was a Wednesday–there seemed to be no end to demand. I would step into the freezer and steam would coalesce around me. Later, when I stumbled upon the works of Andres Montoya, his iceworker persona resonated with me. It was the way the iceworker spoke up for those who don’t speak, who aren’t allowed official speech. Montoya’s iceworker was a champion; my experience was the opposite: long demeaning hours away from family, corporate disregard for employees, the Rockwell image of the iceman and cart, children running behind for ice chips, hiding the predatory nature of business. One summer, on a Sunday, there was a massive blackout in California. I was at my then girlfriend’s apartment with my kids when I was called in to work. I was told we were helping people keep food fresh and survive the heat, but we were getting top dollar for every bag sold. Meanwhile, I lost time with my family. When they fired me several years later, none of those sacrifices mattered.

My body has long forgotten those iniquities. My whole life has moved on–I have a career so different now that I wonder how it happened. I used to think I would leave the Central Valley and never return. Many of my friends did so, but I didn’t. I married, raised kids, went back to school; now I have a new career and friends here. I like that I empower people in my job, instead of contributing to their continued servitude. I like that I’m valued for my intellect and critical thinking skills instead of punished for them. My new job is like a grass tunnel–a retreat from the capitalist blast furnace. I no longer have to negotiate with my body to get up for work.

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May 29th 2010

The Letter

The Letter

Last week a letter arrived for my son from the National Guard. I did the same thing with it that I’ve done with the others, the Army, the Marines. I buried it in the kitchen trash. I even arranged the trash over it on the off chance he’d see his name and fish it out.

My father used to ask me, “When are you going to join the army, sweet boy?” I know he knew how much it needled me; I was always visibly uncomfortable. I never had the rejoinder that would shut him up. He was a tall man, fit and robust–I was a teenager and shy and my spirit cowered in his presence. He’d ask, “Where’d you get that hippie philosophy?” in a sneering voice. “Stuff I read,” I’d say, which only made it worse. He’d go on and on. He’d been a general’s guard in the Korean War and he credited that time with turning him into a man. He collected guns and one of his prizes was a Russian Luger he’d gotten off a prisoner and which he’d brazenly smuggled out of Korea. He even collaborated on books about the conflict.

Once, when I’d said something about the “enemy” being human, he said, “Down the barrel of a gun, those gooks ain’t human.” He held up an imaginary rifle and let off a few rounds. I remember vividly where my dad and I were when he said that, the smell of the restaurant, the look of the fake plants behind my father’s head. I was so stunned, I just sat there. I kept thinking of my girlfriend, who he’d met. She was Korean, adopted by a couple here in the states. I became sick to my stomach. I kept wondering how it could be that she wouldn’t be human–what circumstances could ever make anyone not see her as beautiful, full of life, human.

The war machine is getting better at dehumanizing the enemy. The latest move is to separate soldiers from their targets. War by drone, or by long-distance imagery. It is impossible for me to watch the footage of the Reuters reporter gunned down by US helicopters (you can watch the video on WikiLeaks and read the Reuters story). I start, but it overwhelms me. And the New York Times is reporting that 23 Afghan civilians were killed by, as the army puts it, “unprofessional” reporting from drone operators. We fight more and more via remote video and what then separates the “enemy” on the screen from the video game “enemies” my son’s generation spends so much time conquering?

Ironically, when my father passed away, I inherited his gun collection. They are all safely locked away and I made sure every gun had no ammunition in it. But they belong to me–me, who has never knowingly allowed a real gun in my house in my life. I remember when I was a kid my dad cleaning the guns (religiously) every weekend. He’d show me how to hold them, how to check to see if they were loaded, what never to do. He wanted to teach me to value them as he did, but we moved to California and I developed a hippie philosophy. I did not carry his values forward.

I have talked to my son about my actions. He’s seen me throw away the Army letters. He knows what all of this means to me. I have checked the box denying the Armed Services the right to send my son literature via the school or to use school records. A lot of good that does, apparently. I also preview my son’s video games and movies. But he is 17 now. I can’t shield him forever–and I’m aware that I am probably not shielding him now. I remember being that age. I just hope, if someone ever asks him to target another human being, however much they might seem like game avatars, he’ll say no. If asked why he won’t, maybe he’ll say, “My dad taught me.”

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March 25th 2009

2009 Toady Award

2009 Toady Award

Winner of the 2009 TOADY (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children) Award:  Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Barbie.  The Toady is sponsored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Rated by Mattel as appropriate for children age six and up, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader Doll comes with the shortest of short shorts, stiletto boots, and a revealing halter top.  The preposterously skimpy outfit allows children to get a better view of Barbie’s impossibly long legs and dangerously thin body.

“When you combine two classic symbols of gendered stereotypes – the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader and Barbie – you get one terrible toy,” said CCFC Steering Committee member Joe Kelly, of www.dadsanddaughters.com.  “Do we really want to teach our young daughters that they belong on the sidelines, not in the game, and the way to get noticed is show a lot of skin?”

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March 7th 2009

Breasts Not Bombs

Breasts Not Bombs

They just don’t have protests here like they have in other countries.

About 100 women disrobed Friday in a square in downtown Asuncion to protest nuclear weapons.

Demonstrator Carola Gonzalez said the Humanist Party activists decided to strip for their cause since “the public and the news media pay so much attention to breasts and bottoms.”

read the article at the San Francisco Chronicle

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February 23rd 2009

The Wayback Machine

The Wayback Machine

Heard Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” this morning.  Worth sharing.

Living for the City

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November 14th 2008

Keith Olbermann on Proposition 8

[from A Million Monkeys Typing]

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