An important partisan message

Posted: November 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

The year 2000.  The nation was safe from the Y2K and the Clinton economy was humming along.  I was fresh out of high school, full of sound and fury.  During my senior year, we had studied the elections for American Institutions.  I had not really been that involved in politics before that.  I read a lot, and was deeply upset about injustice in our country.  Growing up poor had given me a disdain for money and elites.  I always felt slighted by the system, even as I took advantage of it to go to school.  During the primaries, I supported Bill Bradley against Al Gore.  I wasn’t sure why, but I thought that Gore was too boring and represented the establishment.

The election coincided with my first semester of college.  I was looking for change.  I found it in the Green Party.  A few of my friends were big fans of Ralph Nader.  We talked about it.  I decided to learn more.  We went to a Green Rally.  Jello Biafra was there, one of my favorite musicians.  Dead Kennedys and politics intertwined?  Sign me up!  I read the entire Ralph Nader Reader.  Holy god, it was dense.  I came to respect Nader’s policies, and became a zealot.  My notebook had a big Nader/LaDuke 2000 sticker.  I would wave it in class.  Everywhere I went I tried to spread the Gospel of Green.  Reduce military spending by half.  No foreign wars.  Healthcare.  Environment.  The usual leftist stump fodder.  It was quite annoying.

Mendocino College was buzzing.  In the Eagle’s Nest, a few of my friends and I sat at a particular spot.  We debated politics and various other subject.  People would come sit in, say their piece and either stay or go.  I helped register voters, but it was through the Democratic Party.  My goal was always to register people and convince them to be Green later.  I also found out how difficult it is to get people to register to vote.  While manning the table, I held long conversations with a prominent local Democrat.  I listened to him at great length.  My friend also talked up the Democrats.  I held my tongue because I was working through their organization and didn’t want to offend them personally.

As the campaign got more and more heated, I responded in kind.  I watched the Presidential debates between Gore and Bush for extra credit in Political Science.  “Lock box/Fuzzy math.”  I didn’t quite follow honestly.  I only cared about issues that I thought were interesting.  I thought in broad ideological terms, painting with the biggest brush imaginable.  It was a simple binary scenario.  If you were in the know, you were a compatriot.  If you disagreed, you were anathema.

My vociferous campaigning of course started to draw a reaction.  Supporters of the Democrats would consistently say: “a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.”  I scoffed.  Ignorant!  Pathetic!  Cowardly!  My response was to furiously lambast the two-party system and fill the room with righteous indignation.  It was friendly fire at its worst.  There’s no difference between Bush and Gore!  They are party puppets, stooges, controlled by corporate elites.   In my mind, they might as well have been clones.  Their platforms are exactly the same (didn’t bother to read them).  Later I would realize how wrong I was.

Once we set up a campaign table in front of the Ukiah Co-Op.  It was an easy mission – preach to the choir.  Of course, we met more resistance than I expected.  I figured it was a no-brainer.  Why were people fighting back so hard?  Why couldn’t they see the light?  At a certain point I tried to go across the street to Safeway and campaign there.  The reception was much less friendly.  Others told people they didn’t need cars that went over a certain speed, they were dangerous and pointless so they should be outlawed.  I didn’t really agree with that one.

Ralph Nader came to Hopland.  A friend and I waited in the scorching heat to see Nader.  He gave his usual speech, and I got a vicious sunburn.  I was surrounded by the ultra-left.  They protested everything.  No subject was safe to talk about.  Ideological purity was very important.  An intellectual arms race.  People seemed to constantly one-up each other.  “Yeah well, I’m a vegan atheist.”  “I live in a ditch and only eat bugs.”  Still, it was great to see a Presidential candidate up close.  Democracy in action!

My stepdad likes to torture me during election season.  He posited the lesser of two evils argument.  I said it was all an illusion and that we just needed to end the tyranny of the two-party system.  “A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.”  Damn it!  What about the Supreme Court?  You want Bush to choose Supreme Court justices?  Damn it!  The system is rigged!

“We live in California anyway!  It’s a safe state.  We need to get to 5% for federal funding.  We will start a revolution!”

A conservative student at Mendo would always give me grief.  An outspoken Bush man, he wouldn’t let my campaigning go by unscathed.  He would thank me for campaigning for Nader.  I thought I was clever and said a vote for Buchanan was a vote for Gore.

I was furious when Nader was blackballed from the debates.  Another example of how the parties were the same.  As Election Day neared, the pressure to vote Democrat increased.  My passion increased in kind.  Tyrants!  Traitors!  I bought a Green Party shirt and wore it everywhere.  My Democrat friend tried to talk me out of it.  He was calm, and made his points.  Great guy, maybe too establishment.  My counselor talked about the election.  I thought he was a Gore man, he put forth the same old points.

At one point, a fellow Green was wavering.  I said, unequivocally that even if the election were tied and my vote could swing it either way, if the entire election came down to me, I would vote for Nader even if it meant Bush would win.  Nader or bust!

They’re the same anyway right?

Election Day.  Kept track, waiting to see if Nader reached that magic 5%.  Contest was close.  Too close.  It came down to Florida.  I had a night class.  Checked Yahoo News, it said that Gore had won Florida.  President Gore!  I went to class, happy that at least a Democrat had won.  I was waiting to see about the magic five.  When I got out of class and checked the news, Bush had won.  Then it was a recount.  Nobody knew what was going on.  It was chaos.  Gore would end up losing Florida by a few hundred votes, despite winning the popular vote.  Nader won thousands of votes in Florida.  A swing state.

It took some time for me to realize what had happened.  I said it was Gore’s fault, that he ran a terrible campaign.  There is some truth in that.  He was too robotic, too much of a wonk.  I didn’t want to be the spoiler.  But I was.  We all were.  We spent our time guttersniping, picking on our own side.  Sure, I disagreed with the Democrats on some issues, but in our squabbles we lost them all.

It hit me one day, I don’t remember when.  I kept up my Green ways for a year or two.  As the Bush Administration carried out their agenda, I realized my terrible mistake.  There was a clear difference between Bush and Gore.  Suddenly, social conservatives ran the show.  Then the absolute horror of 9/11, a never ending war on terror.  The invasion of Iraq that was pushed forward by lies from the top levels of government.  Partisans will chime in here about Hillary – true, she voted for it, but look at the phony intelligence.  Look at the Bush Administration dust off the war drums and get the Armageddon train rolling.  We can’t change commanders in wartime.  Abu Ghraib.  The economy imploded.  Abstinence only.  Anti-LGBTQ.  Tax cuts for the wealthy.  No Child Left Behind.  Supreme Court appointments.

I reformed my ways.  I tried to campaign for Kerry in 2004 in the face of war frenzy and swift boating.  I went all in for Obama in 2008 early.  I scrapped with Clinton supporters for that disgustingly long primary.  Obama 2012.  Learned about government, worked with laws, regulations and saw the effects of public policy on education.  Met union members.  Realized the massive diversity of our country in terms of region, race, language, socioeconomic status, history.  Understood the difficulty of governing and holding all of this together.

Grew bitter during the Bush and Obama years as the country went insane with hatred, race-baiting, fear.  Watched in horror as the Tea Party began to take over government.  The only check was the Democrats, and they were pummeled from all sides.  Watched President Obama fight against it all, compromising when necessary but still pushing forward.  Watched the Republican Party throw an eight year long temper tantrum and convince the American people that Obama is Hitler, Stalin and Satan all mixed together, the same way they dealt with Hillary.  Watched them deny even basic requests and get more and more radical.  Deny Supreme Court appointment hearings.  Go behind the President’s back and negotiate with foreign governments.  Do absolutely nothing and claim victory.  Rally behind patriotism and ignorance.

And then there was Trump.  The Border Wall.  Misogyny.  Hatred.  Fear.  White Supremacy.  Violence against women.  Sexual Assault.  Racism.  Kill families of terrorists.  Beat up protesters. Attacking everything, trying to destroy the very foundation of the republic.

Trump has been sawing through the aorta of this country for over a year now.  On Tuesday Trump and his followers are ready to sever it entirely.  We’ll all drown.

The rest of the world will hate us.  Racial tensions will explode.

The planet is dying.  Trump is sharpening his knives, ready to carve it up and feed the carcass to his cronies.

History is repeating itself.  Déjà vu.  Third party voters, “undecideds,” “my vote doesn’t matter,” Bernie or Bust… they’re all excuses.

Third party voters, don’t let this be you.  Don’t allow this country to fall into the hands of Trump and his power-hungry accomplices.  The wall can be built.  Civil liberties can be taken away.  Democracy can be destroyed by the democratic process.

History is repeating itself.  Déjà vu.  Third party voters, “undecideds,” “my vote doesn’t matter,” Bernie or Bust… they’re all excuses.

I’m With Her.

Are you?


The Grinch smiled meanly, a shadowy sneaker. He lived to destroy those that were weaker. In his filthy cave the Christmas presents of Whoville sat. And soon, they will be moved away to a bank in the Caymans. In the sand I’ll play!
Rubbing his hands, he said to the snow: “What fools, what rot. Look at all that I’ve got. Hoos? Pshaw. Look at all that I know.” His dog, wearing reindeer horns whined in his snout. The Grinch, with manly firmness, slapped him. “Now go on and pout!”
The Grinch looked over the horizon, seeing another figure on a distant peak. “What’s this now? Another Hoo sneak?”


Grabbing his Grinchoculars, he spied a spy. “Why I see it with my own eye! An imposter, a faux Grinch. Look at his red fur, a proxy Hoo communist!”

Why this wouldn’t do at all. And then the Grinch got an idea. A wonderful, awful idea. “I’ll steal his Christmas too! Doesn’t he know? Doesn’t he see? The Free Market is the only way to be free!” Giving a Grinchy sniff, the Grinch left his cliff.

The distant Grinch wasn’t a Grinch at all. He was a Grunch. One thing you must know about Grunches is that they travel in Bunches. They were pioneers. They lived in this cave for 100 long years, hating the Hoos for all of their feasts. How dare they tax the Roast Beast?

The Grunches weren’t happy, they weren’t happy at all. They had planned to steal Christmas after all. Looking through their Grunchoculars, they spied that foul Grinch. “Why he’s green! And he’s mean! But he won’t play ball. That won’t do, that won’t do at all.” The Grunches looked at each other with a sour Grunchy smirk. “We’ve got a perfect plan to stop that old Jerk!”


A sad little Grunchlet watched on in dismay. He tried to write down the speech but it was batted away. “Don’t vex us with your notes and statistics!” Sad and alone, the Grunchlet was speechless.

The Grinch and the Grunches descended on Whoville, mics in their fistes. They were all determined to steal the next Christmas. Whos looked around, confused by the fray. “That is the Grinch way! They are crooks and liars who will steal the logs from your fires! Why in fact, he just stole it last night!” The Grinch in turn, soapbox underfoot, bellowed “The Grunches steal in bunches! They are crooks and liars and will steal your galoots! They will force gay Who marriage and sodomy to boot!”

Confused and afraid, the Whos hid their heads. Little Whos crawled under their Who-Beds. A few Whos stood up and declared: “I am for the Grinch, the Grunches aren’t fair!” Another Who pushed him away and shouted into the air, “I’m for the Grunch. I like him a bunch!”

Soon the Whos were brawling, slinging mud and muck. Some of it missed but some of it stuck. “The Grinch is a tyrant! He steals all the toys!” “The Grunches are perverts, they like little boys!”


Reasonable Whos looked on, stomachs sour and sick. What was this terrible trick?  It’s called democracy you little prick!

“An election! That was the way! The Who way, the best way in the world wide Who-Earth. To hell with the rest, it’s time for a Who-Rebirth! We’ll teach them. They’ll see. We’ll build the best Navy on the Who-Sea.”

“Build a wall around Whoville!” The Grinch said on a stand. “We don’t need foreigners in our Whoville land!” The Grunches on street corners sat, screaming: “How about that? We don’t need a wall. We’ll kick them out them all!”

At churches and pulpits the candidates raved. “I was by Who-Jesus saved!” “It’s a trick! They declared war on Saint Nick!” Whos looked at each other, ballots in hand. “We have to save this land. We’ll vote, let each Who take a stand.”

Still the Grinch and the Grunches fought in their bunches. “Give the Whos AKs! Don’t let the Grinch take them away!” The Grinch replied, “I cook roast beast on the barrel. Come to my feast.”

They pulled out their sacks and tossed guns to the crowd. “This is the only way to be free. Protect the Who family tree and be proud!” Guns in hand the Whos puffed out their chests. “I like the feel of this mandatory bullet-proof vest!”

The Grinch had a thought. He pulled out a Grinch pen and drew his creation. A Phefferfen, lurking in a dark den. On his soapbox, the Grinch decried the Grunches and their Phefferfen friends. The Grunches, unaware of the Fens, retreated to their dens. But they weren’t done.

They weren’t done at all. In their dens they drew their own drawings. They named them Crawlies. “The Crawlies are the true monsters! Our children they’ll maul! They’ll take your Who jobs! Soon the Crawlies will arrive in their mobs! They hate Who-Jesus. They hate us all!”

The Grinch, rich with Who-Toys, went on TV. “They are just jealous of me. Their campaign is run by special interests from across the sea. But with manly firmness temptation I resisted. I’m rich and better than you. I know what is best for the average Who.”

The Grinch and the Grunches fought and they scraped. Ballots were cast, votes went away. In the streets the Whos brawled and brawled, while the candidates raved. Corpses were voting. Little Whos too. Voting rules are for fools! We’re defending Whos!

At the end of the day, the Grinch led the way. The Grunches slinked back to their lair, unsure of the whole affair. Who was this Grinch, and will he stay? “We won’t give up, Christmas will be ours. Once we slay the Grinch, we’ll be the real stars!”

The Grinch smirked and spoke in the mic. “What a huge turnout, the Whos have spoken. The Grunches are done, their toys are all broken. Stick with me, and we’ll take the whole pot. Whoever disagrees will be shot!”

The Grinch made his dog load his sleigh, and with Who Christmas he went far away. In the next valley over there was another Who village. The next target to pillage! The Whos, once peaceful and kind, looked at each other and cried.


Teaching.  Always with the teaching.  Except in summer, when I get to take a deep breath and worry about next year for three months.  Luckily I got to teach summer school at two different places, so the extreme heat was punctuated by brief moments of frustration.  Spending lots of time with the kids, playing games, swimming, camping etc.  Cooking with the kids.  Playing with them.  Chasing feral kittens in my backyard.  Ticket to Ride with the kids.  Lego Hobbit.  Trips to the city.  Hanging out at Highland Hospital in Oakland (more on that later).

My annual project is summer reading.  Get my mind working and see what I can learn to bring to next year’s lessons and rants.  More ammunition for my narrated hand-drawn mapping activities.  It also gets one above the earthly plane for brief periods of time.  That is important, especially in a town as boring as this one.  Here are a few things that have crossed my mind lately.

  • Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (Edwin A. Abbot).  Where to start?  When I first saw that the protagonist was a square living in a two-dimensional world, I had to check it out.  I also think there is a Futurama episode based on this book.  Go figure.  A class-based society with irregular shapes at the bottom and elites ruling because they can see other shapes on a flat plane.  Women are lines that can kill everything, so they have to constantly move their backsides and make noise.  Lower orders are soldiers, usually with three sides.  As one progresses up the social ladder, shapes get more and more sides, attempting to reach the beauty of a circle.  The “hero” has a vision of other dimensions, including a one-dimensional and no-dimensional plane.  Eventually he is shown the third dimension and has an existential crisis.  The Sphere is his guide, a geometrical Virgil.  Our hero shocks the Sphere by claiming that a shape could ascend to a fourth dimension and so forth, ad infinitum.  Going home, his heresy is a cause for trouble.  I don’t know what to say.  This books blew my mind and shook my faith in the concrete, and also made me think about math.  Good old 19th Century insanity.  Brilliant, with definite theological themes to keep one up at night.
  • La Perdida (Jessica Abel).  A decent graphic novel about a young woman that moves to Mexico City and becomes an expatriate.  Good cultural interaction and insight into Mexican Society, but the whiny tone grated on my nerves a little.  One of the characters is a communist, and his rants and arguments with Americans were memorable.  Sort of.  Meditations on Frieda Kahlo and her portrait of Stalin.  Themes of country and identity.
  • Regards from Serbia (Aleksander Zograf).  A comic artist living through the sanctions and bombings of Serbia during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s.  Strange art style, good description of government corruption and misleading the masses and the suffering wrought on Serbia by the U.S.  I don’t think he talks much about the genocide though.  Good food for thought.  Haven’t finished.
  • The Cherokee Cases: Two Landmark Federal Decisions in the Fight for Sovereignty (Jill Norgren).  I read this book to better my understanding of Indian Removal.  Interesting style, kind of a narrative of the Cherokee’s legal battles against the state of Georgia.  I learned much about the particulars of the case, and was especially interested in the Worcester of Worcester v. Georgia fame.  He broke the laws of the state of Georgia purposely to take the issue to the federal courts.  I had not realized that he spent years in prison, and eventually followed the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory.  Why isn’t he covered more in history?  More respect for John Ross, the Principal Chief of the Cherokee – he tried desperately to save his people through the legal system, but ultimately placed too much faith in the government of the U.S.
  • Along with the above, I have also been reading other books about Native America history, generally in chunks.  Working through The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers, and learning about the life of the bands of the Sioux and the struggles for the Black Hills.  Lots of insight into the culture of the Plains during the late 1800s.  Also reading about various court cases in Federal Indian Law.  Much of this history is tied into the justice system and brings up confusing questions about sovereignty and rights.  This subject tests all of my previous thoughts on life in general.  “You must unlearn what you have learned…”   Another book I am working on is In the Hands of the Great Spirit: The 20,000 Year History of American Indians (Jake Page).  For this I wanted to learn more about ancient history.  The debate over creation and the migration of peoples across Beringia is fascinating.  Politicized archaeology.  Whodathunk?
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (Sherman Alexie).  A good read, mixing sorrow and humor in a meaningful way.  The book is a collection of short stories about the Spokane Reservation with familiar Alexie characters.  There was a lot to admire, but at times repetitive (“He was the first Indian to _________, He was the only Indian to blank ______________, Once I was Indian and __________, On the Reservation, _______________ is _____________.”)  A few quotes stuck in my mind though, and the adventures of Thomas-Builds-A-Fire make for a good read.  The title made me think of a Lenny Bruce bit about the Lone Ranger wanting Tonto for an “Unnatural Act.”  I have also been reading a biography of Lenny Bruce.  It makes him sound like the savior of art and comedy in our times.
  • Currently I am reading The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (Louis Fischer).  A good narrative about a subject I know relatively about.  A lot about Hinduism and religious tensions in the Raj, and non-violent resistance.  Written in 1949, the style reflects a certain dated language about women, and seems to ignore the plight of Africans while lionizing Gandhi in South Africa.  Working though (it’s long) but an engaging style that has made me think about the relationship between thought and action.  The author seems to think that Gandhi lived a morally superior life, while pointing out his somewhat annoying habits and odd diet, such as a stint eating only lemons and peanut butter.  Also a good discussion of nationalism.  Religious topics galore.
  • The Bible, Koran and Oxford History of the Biblical World.  More self-inflicted religious studies.  The translation of the Koran I have is frustrating because the author points out that the Koran in English is not the true Koran.  Only the original Arabic is the true Koran and the word of Allah.  The limitations of the English language when it comes to describing Islam…. something to think about.  I think the concept that Muhammad is the only “historical prophet” because he was an actual person with a record.  The combination of political and religious history is intriguing.  Of course, we also get the same angle regarding Jesus and Rome, and the Tribes of Israel and their neighbors.  Is the entire Bible/Koran simply a justification for conquest?  Specifically I am talking about the book of Joshua, who led the Israelites to conquer Canaan.  Sure, Cain killed Abel and ran off.  But damn.  Who is going to stand up for the Moabites?  What did they do that was so evil that they deserved utter destruction at the hands of the Israelites?  I do think it is interesting how often God gets tired of the Israelites because they keep screwing up.  I mean, in the Old Testament, God is actually hanging out with them above the Tabernacle.  Yet they still lose their faith as soon as God goes away for a little while.  Also, the mass circumcision is a bit much.  The history book I am reading is giving valuable insight into the scientific basis of Biblical study, going beyond source criticism to physical reality.

Joshua 5:3 “And Joshua made him sharp knives, and circumcised the children of Israel at the hill of foreskins.”  To properly gird their loins for combat and show their devotion.  Personally I feel like this is a bit disgusting.  If you are selectively quoting the Old Testament about gay people, make sure you bring up this amazing adventure in cosmetic surgery.  Think of the millions reading  it, the scribes translating and writing, the illuminators illustrating the Bible.  Religion is strange.  But then Jesus told the Pharisees that the law was not absolute.  Hmmm…..

Now the connections between the faiths is overtaking my brain.  Hinduism, how does it play out?  So ancient and confusing to my Western brain.  Hindu fanatics attacking Muslims and vice versa.  Maybe Marx was right about religion.  Links between Native American faith and Christianity.  Churches amalgamating, messages changing.  I am sure there is common wisdom among them.  Argh!

Off for more summer fun and literary adventures.


The Trials of Jerko

Posted: July 15, 2015 in fiction
Tags: , ,

A dirty break room. The crack of dawn, painted faces yawning in the morning twilight. The smell of fresh coffee wafted from their old coffee maker. It leaked and occasionally sparked, but nobody bothered to replace it. Before his eyes lay the greatest men he had ever known. There was Bonko, whose specialty was entertaining children with the mumps. Goofalump, whose specialty was dazzling tourists to the Big Apple with his charm and signature giant broom. Hoozafreak, who specialized in scaring and entertaining goth visitors to Central Park.

Scroungely the Great, the oldest clown amongst them. It was said that he got his start making wounded veterans from World War I smile with his saucy impression of the Kaiser wearing a dress. He continued through World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. Hitler in a dress, Kim Il Sun in a dress, Ho Chi Minh in a dress. Saddam in a bikini. Throughout the decades Scroungely had bedragged every despot and enemy of America hilariously, with just the right touch of gravitas. Even during wartime, he always remembered the Oath of Clownius the First: “Above all, do no boring.” Scroungely’s signature move was to pull a live gorilla from his pants. Nobody had ever figured out his trick, until the ASPCA shut it down. A dark day for clowndom. They didn’t even ask where the gorilla came from – a rescue from a circus. Scroungely gave him all his historical dresses, and they killed. Who could resist a chuckle when Scroungely sauntered into a room and pulled a hirsute Vladimir Putin from his pants?
Jerko stood in the doorway, tired from a late night watching Game of Thrones. He didn’t know why he watched the damned show. They were always killing off his favorite character. A typical lack of clown representation on television though. There was one fool, but it was tokenism, pure and simple. The National Association for the Improvement of Clownery led a protest, but the mainstream media ignored it. As usual. Jerko was too young to remember, but several of the older clowns had led a similar protest against the movie “It” with its vulgar depiction of clownish stereotypes. That protest had not ended so well – many of the brothers were given prison sentences or dragged into court battles that ruined their career. Around the country violence against clowns raged. Lynch mobs looked for “Pennywises” across the nation. It took a generation before people even began to trust clowns again. Every novice clown was given “the Talk” about the movie and the dark fear some people held of clowns. Far more clowns had succumbed to the fear of clowns than people from killer clowns. Every year the stereotypes got worse. Jerko shook his head and took a sip from his coffee.
There were rows of chairs that faced a giant map of New York City on the wall. It was yellowed and stained, marked with the gloves of countless Lead Clowns that gave them their assignments. The same ritual was repeated day after day. Some would be chosen for cushy assignments, birthday parties in Manhattan, or a day in Times Square being hugged by tourists and receiving tips from grateful patrons. Others would not be so lucky. A birthday party in Hell’s Kitchen, or being the entertainment for an ironic hipster party in the Village. Once Jerko had shown up to one of those, and all the guests were wearing the paint, unaware of how offensive that was to a professional. Taking the paint meant taking the Oath, a life devoted to clowning and the arcane arts of humor. Seeing the horrified look on his face, one of the crowd said: “I told you mimes were sensitive.”
“Mime?! I am a proud clown, not a disgraceful charlatan that refuses to honor the Clown Code!” Jerko stormed out in disgust, pulling rags from his sleeves to mop up his big, sad clown tears. Nothing sadder in the world.
His boss, Mr. Flufflebutter chewed him out the next day on his responsibility for finishing an assignment. As he spoke he chewed on an oversized cigar, his floppy shoes propped up on his desk. A flaccid squirt flower adorned his shirt. Occasionally he poked at it, sending it flop up and down again. “You have embarrassed all of us with this flippant display of arrogance. You are a disgrace to the paint.” The words still rang in Jerko’s ears. Typical fatcat. Scroungely liked to say that Flufflebutter couldn’t get laid in a morgue.
Flufflebutter was a Bozo administration toadie. Bozo was a term for a sellout to the man, somebody who forsook the laughter for a career in bossing the plebes around. Jerko swore to himself that day that he would never join their ranks. After that he became involved with the union, Clown and Cuisinart Makers Local #23. Workers unite! At times when the clowning was slow Jerko would take out some of the younger clowns and give them truncated lessons on labor history, spewing out yarns about the mystical “Jester of Haymarket” that started the whole fracas in an attempt to break the tension. “He meant to throw a rubber brick with the word ‘Buttocks’ painted on it at the police, but instead pulled out a bomb, a real vintage one with dynamite and a clock and everything! It was supposed to be confetti…..” Jerko would laugh, and the younger clowns would looked at him, puzzled at this scraggly old man telling tall tales. Once a young gun clown wearing a suit with a tie dye tie called him out and starting talking about corruption in the union. Blows were exchanged, and Jerko had to listen to Flufflebutter chewing him out about his responsibility to represent the profession.
Jerko moved out of the doorway and moved toward his regular seat. The table by the window, with the little ringmark from his coffee cup. It got a little darker each day. When I retire they should cut out this ringmark and bronze it. “Scroungley! Keep it real! Yo Hoozafreak, easy boy!” Jerko nodded to the other clowns in the room as he walked, stepping over enormous shoes and props. He noticed that Scroungely had painted himself a huge red frown. Uh oh. Something is up. Over in the corner there was a crop of clowns fresh from school, telling all the old hands how it is done these days. “I got an app that kids can use during the show!” Then why the *honk* are you even performing? They just don’t get it.
Many of the newer clowns had no respect for the pecking order. They didn’t know their history. For them, clowning was a choice, not a calling. They never had to fight for healthcare, or breaks, or guaranteed hours. Jerko remembered his long hours on strike, getting yelled at by angry soccer moms. Once a woman spit in his face and screamed, “You ruined little Jimmy’s birthday! Clown trash!”
He was a true clown. Relationship after relationship were sacrificed to the brotherhood, or emergency galas, a chance to do a cameo on Broadway. People said he was too committed, that nobody would ever know what he had done for the city. Now that he was getting a little long in the tooth, he dedicated himself to the profession. Everybody looked up to him. Even Scroungely grudgingly gave him respect after he had gotten Henry Kissinger to agree to a face pie.
The morning routine. Flufflebutter walked in and barked out the assignments. Scroungely was given an assignment that involved him dodging homeless people and finding his way to a forgotten park to perform at an abysmal local festival. He wasn’t happy. “I still got what it takes! I’ll outclown any of you, anytime, anywhere!” Jerko tried to soothe him, but he knew the assignment was bogus. A clown of his level getting a few chuckles? To top things off, Flufflebutter gave the young clown Jerko had brawled with Scroungely’s old beat. The choicest of assignments. “Scroungely don’t have to take this! I’ll walk out of here right now!” Pregnant pause.
“Go ahead Scroungely. Try to wildcat clown in my town and your ass is mine.” They locked eyes. Scroungely slowly sat back down. “For the rest of you, get to work!” The room cleared. Jerko didn’t have an assignment. Must be some mistake.
By the time Jerko had made his way out of the room, Flufflebutter had returned to his office. There he was, feet up on his desk, ridiculous cigar in his mouth, reading a newspaper. Jerko stood in the door. Eventually Flufflebutter looked up. “Well? You just gonna stand there?” He motioned toward the chair in front of his desk. “You here about an assignment?”
“You’re God damn right. What gives?” Jerko replied.
“I got cancer, that’s what gives. I’m getting out of the game. Every morning I look at you sad sacks with your hungover faces and greedy eyes. Tired of it. Taking the old lady and moving down to Florida. I hope I never see face paint for the rest of my days. Wife thinks a warmer climate will be good for me.” He put down his paper and looked at Jerko. “I know you guys think I am a heartless bastard. You don’t have to pretend to be upset.” Jerko looked away.
“I didn’t even know you were married. Look we have worked together for the past twenty years. I respect you. That doesn’t mean I have to like you. Sorry to hear about your health. I mean it.” He shifted in his chair. “I still got bills to pay boss. What’s the deal?” Jerko felt odd, like he was under a spotlight.
“Since I am moving on, there is going to be an opening in management. I want you to take it. You’ve got what it takes: talent, passion and a deep knowledge of the craft. You know this business better than anybody I know. The young kids look up to you, and the old guard respects you.” He leaned forward in his chair and pointed the huge cigar at Jerko. “I know you are going to instantly reject this offer, make a speech and storm out. After you blow up some steam, come and talk to me. That is your assignment today. Take a walk and come back at quitting time. Oh, about your bills. You take this job and you won’t have that problem. Instead of your dank shoebox of an apartment, you can move to a nice neighborhood, find a wife, raise kids and send them to good schools. Actually take a vacation. Go out to dinner. Think about it.”
Jerko stood up slowly. This can’t be right. “You got the wrong guy boss. I’m no Bozo!” Flufflebutter gave a wry smirk in response. “Why would you think that I would sell out? I have a responsibility to the craft that you don’t understand.” Jerko stormed out.
As he was leaving, Flufflebutter said, “Somebody’s gotta do this job. It’s either you, who the boys know, or some other unknown toadie who doesn’t know the place coming in.” Jerko stopped, feeling Flufflebutter’s eyes on him. “Or you little buddy in a suit. Want to take orders from him?” Jerko walked into the hallway. Down the stairs, into the street. He had to think this over.
I should turn around and reject his offer. I should. He looked down at his shoes, worn, patched together. It was lucky they were clown shoes. They never looked this bad to me before, he thought. Strange. Slowly Jerko walked to the subway, and took the long train to his apartment. He walked up the stairs through the dingy corridors and into his tiny apartment. A mattress on the floor. Dirtier than he remembered. The view from his one window overlooking the alley. The bathroom that was so small his feet hung out the door when he sat on the toilet. A closet with clown outfits. Two pairs of pants, three shirts. He couldn’t even remember where he got them. They looked like early nineties.
Jerko looked in the mirror in the bathroom. A clown face, confused. Who am I? He cleaned the makeup off of his face and looked again. Is this who I am? A wrinkled face, a little long in the tooth, but still handsome. Maybe I could buy some nice clothes and go to an upscale bar. Yeah, or even a watch!
Or a car….
No. That would betray my roots, my identity. I would slowly morph into Flufflebutter. He could feel an enormous cigar in his fingers. He closed his eyes and washed his face. But I could be a better boss. Make a difference. Fight for my people, get Scroungely the respect his deserves. Or I could stay here. Why don’t we make more? I could get the union to fight for a raise.
Jerko paced his apartment, muttering to himself. He walked down the stairs, avoiding the obvious piss stains. At least stepping in the lesser of two stains. Hopefully one would be dry. As he made his way back to Flufflebutter’s office, Jerko worked over what he was going to say. That’s it, he thought to himself. At least I have made a decision.
Quitting time. The clowns were coming back, tired. Buzz about what bar they would go to. Scroungely wasn’t back yet. It took him longer and longer to return every day. Jerko quickly made his way to Flufflebutter’s office. He threw open the door.
“I’ve been thinking….” Jerko realized that he was nervous. Uncharacteristically nervous.
“Before you say anything, I have to tell you this.” Flufflebutter looked at him. He seemed to be a tad melancholy. Nothing sadder than a sad clown.

“If you accept, your first assignment will be to fire Scroungely.”

Ruminations on the Fourth

Posted: July 4, 2015 in Uncategorized

Every year I teach U.S. history classes at Mendo in the summer.  The subject is always Colonial history, and usually we talk about the American Revolution around this time.  This year I am teaching Native American history.  I get a lot of time to think deeply about the Fourth of July and our national origins.  Regimes that were founded by revolution must celebrate their founding to legitimize their government.  It is not different in Mexico, North Korea or France.  Of course, the message of the revolution is different.  We are not dedicated to communism, or Islam.  We share a lot with Mexico, being former European colonies and all.  Mexico’s revolution was more about equality and redistributing land, and turned into a bitter civil war.  France’s revolution turned into a bloodthirsty monster that historians like to say “devoured its own children.”

Unfortunately, our revolution devoured other peoples’ children.

The painting SATURN by the Spanish artist GOYA.

The painting SATURN by the Spanish artist GOYA.

The American Revolution, which we are celebrating today is one of the great revolutions that shaped modern world history.  The French and Russian Revolutions are similar in that respect, but they teach somewhat different lessons.  The Russian Revolution has petered out – I always think of the ending of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, where Kundera compares the Revolution to a limp phallus.  I suppose that revolution has been carried forward in China and North Korea.  The French Revolution has led the French to go on strike.

The public offering of the Declaration of Independence should be our focus.  I think that most Americans resist learning about the document in school, and roll their eyes when I bring it up.  Lip service to the Revolution.  The Founding Fathers feared that the republic would collapse if public virtue was not paramount.  What would they think of our culture today?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Famous lines that contain some controversial statements.  Men are created equal (by God), and have rights that can never be taken away.  Consent of the governed.  Right to revolution.  Good stuff.

My struggle lately is trying to reconcile the official version of the manuscript with the realities of history.  Of course it was written during a time of slavery and signed by slaveowners.  Women weren’t equal.  All of these criticisms have been raised before.  One thing has kept creeping into my thoughts.  This quote from the Declaration:

“He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”

I always kind of skimmed over this section.  Most people don’t bother to read the list of abuses of the King of England, the reasons for the separation.  Written into our founding document is the phrase “merciless Indian Savages.”  Maybe I am being un-American, but this bothers me.  The stereotypes of the past never seem to be raised, especially on this flagfest.  Also, the U.S. rule of warfare is remarkably similar when it came to exterminating Native peoples.

General Sherman, the great Union General that devastated the South, had this to say about Native Americans:

“The more Indians we can kill this year the fewer we will need to kill the next, because the more I see of the Indians the more convinced I become that they must either all be killed or be maintained as a species of pauper. Their attempts at civilization is ridiculous...”

Yeah.  Kind of disturbing, but those were the times right?  I guess.

Frederick Douglass had this to say about the Declaration:
Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ringbolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

Aw yeah.  Get that flag out.  Let’s go, break out the Budweiser!  Even the former slave trumpets our glory.  Time to get off the stage Mr. Douglass.

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

Sigh.  Another PC thug trying to ruin a national holiday.  We are trying to celebrate our history of liberty and equality here.  Those issues were settled long ago.

Except that gross inequalities still exist.  Perhaps Fox News is right and it is all about individual responsibility.  Nothing to do with history.  I mean look at the plight of the poor Irish!

Native Americans now live off the fat of the federal government right?  I mean, they have casino money.  That makes up for the genocide.  Let’s not talk about dead historical issues anymore.

Except that there are shocking statistics for Native Americans in this country.  What we have here is at least two groups, if you separate them out from White America, have lives that are similar to peoples in Third World countries.  But who cares?  Quit it with the liberal brainwashing.

Anyway, these are the kinds of things that I think about at this time of year.  Go out, have fun, be safe.

At some point in the day I would invite you to think about the Declaration of Independence and history.

The Supreme Court has finally made same-sex marriage legal in the U.S.  Rights have been expanding over the past two hundred years.  At the same time, the expansion of rights and liberties helps us ignore other deep structural issues in our nation.

For some people, the Fourth of July is an ambiguous day.  Maybe some day we can realize those principles that were declared in 1776.


Posted: June 11, 2015 in Applebee's, fiction, sandwich


We sat in rows, watching Mr. Sammich deliver the usual lecture about geometry.  Something about congruent angles.  I doodled in my notebook, drawing a picture of the teacher.  Square, boring.  White bread, turkey, lettuce, tomato.  A typical sandwich in Wonderville.  I looked around the room and sighed.  More of the same.  Square white bread, some sort of deli meat, lettuce, tomato.  Everything neat and tidy, all the condiments and toppings were tucked away neatly.  “Tucked away is A-Ok!”  That what was on all the signs around the school.  It was hard to tell what kind of sandwiches they were.  The peanut butter and jelly kids were off in a remedial classroom, learning how to mop floors and babysit.

I daydreamed about a factory churning out sandwiches all day, every day, rolling off the assembly line.  Teachers would have ties spraypainted on their fronts.  From the back of the room Ezra threw a wadded up piece of paper that hit me in the back of the head.  It bounced off my crust and fell to the floor.  Furious, I scrawled out my doodle and cursed under my breath.  Mr. Sammich turned to me and said:  “Is there a problem Ms. Provolone?”  My crusty cheeks turned red, and I put my head down.

“No Mr. Sammich.”  The lecture continued.

Suddenly the door flew open.  Mr. Sammich dropped his chalk.  All the eyes in the room turned to see the new student.  I did a double-take.  Standing in the doorway was a sandwich unlike any we had ever seen.  A massive sandwich that had to be held in two hands.  From his front his fillings hung out, unashamed, juicy, forbidden.  He was wearing a leather jacket and black leather boots.  In his hand he held a transfer slip from the office.  A sneer graced his face, and he looked directly at Mr. Sammich, sizing him up.  “This geometry?  It must be because you are all a bunch of squares.”  I looked down at my bread and choked back a laugh.

Mr. Sammich collected himself.  A troublemaker.  “Yes it is.  Give me your slip and sit in the empty desk next to Ms. Provolone please.”  He pointed toward me.  I slunk down in my desk, trying not to meet the steely gaze of this new, bold flavor sensation in the classroom.  Mr. Sammich continued, but all eyes stayed on the new kid.  He was still standing in the doorway.

“I don’t play by the rules you whitebread mother f****r.”  A gasp rose from the class.  Mr. Sammich dropped his chalk and turned a deep shade of red.

“What?  Report to the office immediately young man!”  Mr. Sammich reached for his classroom phone as he spoke.  “What is your name anyway?”

He looked around the room, and held his arms wide.  “Look at me.  I don’t fit in.  I am too juicy for this b****h.  “My name is Applebee’s New Handheld Pork Slider.  I break boundaries and hearts for a livin’.  You can call me Sly.”  Sly.  A perfect name for this iconoclastic culinary innovation.  Sly rocked his head back and brought it forward, spitting toward Mr. Sammich.  “All you old crusty white-a** sandwiches better listen up.  Gaze upon your future, and wallow in your obsolescence.  I’m taking taste to a new level and redefining palettes worldwide.  Anybody want to join me in this flavorevolution?  How about you redbread?”  He looked at me as he spoke.

“This is highly irregular!”  Mr. Sammich stammered.

“Yo teach.  Your turkey is showing.”  Sly pointed toward him.  Sammich looked down, mouth agape.  He was so angry that he forgot to clench his bread together.  A pile of turkey, lettuce and tomato fell to the floor, smeared with mustard and mayo.  Plop.  Mr. Sammich ran and hid under his desk.  The class burst into laughter.  I got up and ran to the door.  Sly pulled out a bottle of spiked barbecue sauce and took a quaff.  We ran to the parking lot and jumped on Sly’s motorcycle.  As we peeled out of the parking lot, Sly pounded the rest of the sauce and threw the empty bottle through the window of the principal’s office.

“I told them I don’t play by the rules.”

I am perplexed by the current political atmosphere.  We have so many problems.  War in the Middle East that will never end, an exhausted population, a troubled economy that has shown serious defects.  An entire generation being smashed to death by student loans.  Widening income inequality.  Climate change that is supported by the overwhelming majority of scientists.  Rising costs that don’t match rises in wages.  Immigration issues.  Our education system is not working, standards are slipping and students are leaving high school unprepared.  Millions of them a year.  A drought in California and the West that is really cramping our style.  I know that most of the U.S. dumps on California, but we are an important state, even though our politics lean left, unless you actually bother to look at the reality of our state and meet the many Republicans here.

Instead we talk about ridiculous social values such as same-sex marriage and abortion.  Distracted by demagogues.  I wanted to examine some candidates and parties from the past to see how our politics measure up.

Let’s start with everybody’s favorite codgers, the Republican Party.

Modern Republican Party

Anti-everything.  Anti-taxes.  Anti-government, except for social issues.  Clearly “not” motivated by racism.  Dominated by radicals that call for an end to every issue.  Have no agenda beyond scrapping federal government.  Hate Common Core, Obamacare, Stimulus Package, Foreign Policy, Gay People, Immigrants, Liberals, Taxes, Entitlement Programs.  Want government to keep hands off Medicare.  Love Guns, Flag, Country (except anybody who disagrees with them).

medicare-keep-your-hands-off-my-medicare.jpg  (Further proof our educational system is failing)

19th Century Republican Party

Abraham Lincoln, photographed on March 6, 1865. U.S. President Lincoln ...  (Walk a mile in my shoes bitches)

Use Federal Government to build Transcontinental Railroad

Denounce Threats of Disunion

” That the present Democratic Administration has far exceeded our worst apprehension in its measureless subserviency to the exactions of a sectional interest…” (Replace Democrat with Red States)

“That the Republican Party is opposed to any change in our naturalization laws, or any state legislation by which the rights of citizenship hitherto accorded by emigrants from foreign lands shall be abridged or impaired; and in favor of giving a full and efficient protection to the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized, both at home and abroad.”

“Finally, having thus set forth our distinctive principles and views, we invite the coöperation of all citizens, however differing on other questions who substantially agree with us in their affirmance and support.”

Give land to homesteaders to give people a chance (We’ll ignore where the land came from for now)

Use public monies to build state colleges

Root out corruption in government

Started income tax during the war

Used federal power to enforce Civil Rights legislation

Actively fought against white supremacists and the KKK

Supported voting rights

Actively sought to protect minorities from majority abuse

Opposed to same-sex marriage

Stood against state abuses of power

Would become corrupt when given power

Serious Issues!

But who cares?  End same-sex marriage!

I’ll do the Democrats later