It Was Easier Then.
May 16, 2022
A Very Nice Parable
We drove the yellow-green Rambler from Michigan to Connecticut. She told us to watch the trees. We’d know we were in New England when the trees changed color and they did. As far as I know, foliage in Michigan might also look like a box of Crayolas, but probably not so much in the concrete block that was Kalamazoo. Also, as far as I know, we accepted the longitudinal change of address as if it always was. No questions, no afterthoughts.
In 1971 you could by a bathtub sized ark at an Arco station for $1.29 and my mother did. It floated empty in the bathtub until the next tank of gas and then there were a pair of plastic animals. I don’t recall which came first but one of the elephants got lodged in the drain and cut in half leaving a widowed mate on the deck on a ship meant for couples. The widow didn’t seem bothered, and neither were we but there was something about that ark.
We knew the story of Noah’s Ark, but not in the biblical way, if you know what I mean. There was a flood, and an ark was built, and the animals marched two by two until the waters rose for forty days and forty nights and god (some dude in the clouds with a long white beard (god got old?)) sent a dove with an olive branch. Noah spotted land; all was right with the world again. Just different. If there was a Little Golden Book that told a story of conflict and strife after the fact, we didn’t see it.
More Elephants Down the Drain
Despite the steady influx of newly released soldiers, we remained entirely oblivious to the fact of the Vietnam War. You can chalk that up to an absent television and no real desire to read the newspaper. Later there was a little yellow box in the hall closet that came out on Wednesday nights for World at War and every night during the Nixon Impeachment Trial. Our father the historian stood behind our straight back chairs providing the subtext that helped us understand. Sort of. We learned to hate (fear) Germany and pledged our lives to the rescue of Jews (who? what?).
Later we learned to hate (fear) Russia but that business happened at school. Still. A divide is a divide. America is great, a good chunk of the rest of the world has lost its collective mind and the man in the cloud has got nothing to do with this. Apparently he just deals in floods but it was the second half of the Cold War and then there were the odd-even gas days and another couple of countries shaded grey on the map. We felt pretty helpless in 1979 and I started thinking about that ark.
It Got Much Uglier
It was that Iran Contra business that did it. Regan was president and Oliver North didn't look or sound all that convincing to me. He looked like a weasel in uniform and I started to wonder, what if we're wrong?
On September 12, television on all night showing falling bodies, smoke, ash, and rubble, I'd hooked myself to a caffeine IV, rubbed the grit out of my eyes and wondered the following:
What the hell have we done now?
MUCH, much later I uttered the nearly unforgivable, entirely treasonous statement:
Pretty sure we deserved that, one way or another.
I thought my therapist was going to toss me out the window. Enraged was he but I asked how the hell we could possibly be innocent in all this.
Yeah, We're Definitely Wrong. For Sure. At Least Just a Little Bit
But please keep that thought to yourself. Joe McCarthy might have been dead but his legacy was embedded in our nationalistic pride and the NSA raised its ugly head and anybody might be a terrorist. Especially if we've pissed them off; not a particularly popular sentiment at the time and most certainly not popular now. Might even be a hanging offense, I haven't looked too closely.
Off the Grid
My EQ is off the charts. This is because I'm fairly certain you're going to kill me. Maybe not you, specifically, but certainly you, or you, and DEFINITELY you, buddy. Traumatized children learn to read the room early. I traveled to Tennessee and I listened with the intent of understanding and also the intent of not being found out. That's another thing they don't tell you. The Trauma Kids are entirely certain they don't have a right to the air they breathe, much less an opinion. I had a great time on the farm but I went home and panicked after the fact.
They think, I thought, I agree with everything they said because I didn't say much of anything other than an encouraging, uh huh, OK, go on... What I thought about any of it was that it was different than me but valid all the same. That's a catch 22 I've never been able to explain well enough to anyone. I'm not picking on the Tennessee family. They're lovely people, mostly, and a fine example of life mostly off the grid.
There was just one thing. OK, probably a bunch of things but this was the big thing:
Yankees suck. All Yankees suck. All Yankees are stupid and laughable... wait for it...
But we like you and you don't seem terribly stupid. You can't possibly be a Yankee. You were born in Michigan and your mother's family is from Missouri (and you are just two generations off the farm and you only looked slightly stupid trying to milk that cow), THEREFORE, you are from the Midwest.
What? No I'm not. I'm from Connecticut and while I might take a swing or two at my peeps, you should not. At least not in front of me over and over again. It got hard to keep listening. In the end (of one particular thing), I heard a statement that wasn't said, at least not that time. She didn't say the thing I heard, not that time, but I heard it all the same because I'd been hearing it silently for a number of years. Just hadn't bothered to say anything. Should I have to? Maybe.
So now I snarl and bristle at a good bit of the South and try not to think too hard on it. I'm avoiding a fatal case of apoplexy - but I will take you down a notch if I hear the word Slaver in reference to the 21st Century South. They are not Slavers. They do not own Slaves. Slavery is illegal so stop saying that. It's not helpful. Are they bigots and do they wear white hoods now and then? Sure. But listen, I hate to say it, us too. For sure.
First Trump and now Putin
I haven't heard or read a single argument I can get behind to support Trump's behavior then, and now and certainly not Putin's latest and I don't really have to. I can't do anything about Trump and Putin. But.
I have become quite fond of one young person living (you can call it that) 40 miles west of Kyiv, and quite fond of one not so young person living somewhere in Russia (I should check). I have no idea how either of these people really feel about Putin's latest but I know they are good, and kind, and funny, and warm. Did I mention the 'quite fond' business? I'm quite fond. This presents a problem. I can no longer snarl indiscriminately in the direction of the East. Knowing these two people has effectively canceled out any negative feelings I might harbor toward those two countries.
And, People! That's damned inconvenient! I no longer know which camp to camp in, which team jersey to wear, which water bottles to purchase, which brand of vodka to consume (that part's not a problem, I don't really like vodka). The best I can do these days is back up in horror and breathe.
Pen Pals For Everybody
It costs nothing, you've already got internet access and if you don't, how the hell are you reading this? Microsoft has a nifty translation tool. You type and highlight your text, select translate (from the Review menu) and the destination language, and INSERT!
Надеюсь, вам хорошо. Я надеюсь, что погода будет хорошей, и ваша жена будет в порядке, и мы не будем обсуждать текущую политическую обстановку, потому что это отвлекает. Расскажи мне о своем дне, а я расскажу тебе о своем. Позже я научу своего отца пользоваться инструментом перевода, и он сможет рассказать вам о своем.
Я ужасно рад, что нашел тебя. Желаем вам сказочного дня.
I haven't really done the math but I figure if 40% of the American population selected five arbitrary names from five arbitrary countries and started writing (and translating and reading). Maybe. I think so, anyway. It's awfully hard to condemn an entire population when you've become quite fond of at least one of them. In other words, I will be QUITE put out if Sasha and family get blown to smithereens because NATO coughs and panics and JUST as put out if Slava and family get trawled over by a tank with a giant Z on the front (seriously?).
There is a catch. When you manage to become quite fond of at least one of them, do not, under any circumstances identify and/or assign attributes that might point to an innate Americanness. They aren't Americans. Also, they will not be amused. Would you?
It Was Easier When I Was Seven
It didn't matter much about the dead elephant. We still had the widowed elephant and a mess of other two by twos. And since a giraffe was as good as an elephant, just as valid, just as loveable, no questions to ask, we didn't really have a problem unless one of us dropped another down the drain at which point my father could reasonably be expected to lose his shit and throw the entire mess in the trash.
Unfortunately we appear to need an old white man in pajamas to raise the water table above any grabbable land before we start noticing that our neighbors might be worth knowing. On their own terms.
A Work in Progress
But please don't ask me to participate in civil discourse about anything relating to the control of lady parts. I am painfully aware that the only way out of this current disaster is a willingness to listen and negotiate on what are truly the non-negotiable issues. (hint: they are ALL non-negotiable to someone)