Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Thing of the Thing

“The thing of the thing is that you can never know when the thing is going to just be a thing or when it is really a THING.”
Homeless guy with a dog holding a sign on a street corner.

What is there that elicits actions in people that scream out to be judged? Coming out of a local trader of goods that is a part of the Sage from Bentonville’s Empire, I felt it time to express some charity and let the guy holding the sign at the entrance to the highway have some money. I never really care what the story is, or how they are going to present it, I just remember harsher times in my life and give them what they really want which is money. If the sign states that they will work for food, then perhaps I offer to buy them a meal. Mostly the reply is that they really need money for one thing or another, and my day has been delayed a few moments and I get to drive away. I do not do it so much out of charity, but to perhaps replace some of the balance in the world that got set askew by a human being placed in the appalling position to have to beg for a living.

Helen Keller once stated, “There is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.” That speaks to the reproaches I sometimes receive from folks that are bound and determined to let me know that the action of being charitable, as I choose to express it, is incorrect, immoral, and inappropriate. I am reminded, quite often by people wearing designer clothes and driving expensive automobiles, that persons who are homeless are unreliable as well as imprudent, immature, impetuous, inattentive, unthinking, impolite, insensitive, inconsiderate, injudicious, indiscreet, indelicate, and that I am ill-advised to even have anything to do with anyone with all the aforementioned character defects.

I rarely enlighten these well-meaning folks that I used to be one of those imprudent, immature, impetuous…

I am on a mission. I never thought that this blog would serve as a metaphorical soapbox, yet it has. I have been at odds with the world for some time, and thought that I was simply trying to catch the eye of some agent, editor, or publisher who would surely see that I was the de facto next Great American Author.

It hasn’t worked out that way. I have found disfavor with much of the world and the method governments and big industry (you know, those that, in all honesty, run things) attempt to address issues of potential catastrophic consequence. These would be calamities having been created by the selfsame governments and big industries. (Again, those that really run things)

Matthew 25:40 states the true crux of what I am attempting to say. I have long been a proponent of allowing others to succeed, or fail, as they may. I take umbrage with the idea that those less fortunate then I have something in them that cries for failure and that no hope ever needs to be assigned to the guy with the sign. “They should pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make something of themselves. What if they are wearing flip flops because it’s all they could afford after a day’s effort at “working for food” or collecting aluminum cans? What if it’s December and the temperature is hovering close to freezing. Oh…and how about the guy with the brand new Silverado who is cruising the highway with his kids picking up cans so that one of them can go to Washington DC or “camp” leaving little or nothing for those who reside at “camp” 365 days a year?

As one who hoisted “bootstrapped” himself I wonder how many of those wise and wealthy bastions of society are aware that one in four homeless people are also mentally ill? How about the 25% of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans being homeless? Which category of character defect (imprudent, immature, impetuous…) makes it a requirement that street people be judged, shunned, and harassed?

Having said that about this, perhaps I need move on. The title of this piece came to me when I read this particular gentleman’s cardboard sign. “The thing of the thing” certainly does not sound, at first read, as if there might be an iota of lucid significance. The quote originally came, believe it or not, from an old drunk I used to drive a taxi alongside in the 1970’s. Seeing it on the sign that day, verbatim, absolutely astonished me to say the least. To have such a distinctive experience with a set of words, three decades apart, is what this student of all that is strange defines as freaking peculiar.

The old drunk used to sit with myself and my cronies after our shift, drink beer, and expound on a number of far reaching topics drawn from his wide repertoire. He had been a Golden Gloves champion in the Bowery section of New York City. He quit the Dead End Kids just a week prior to the group being recruited to act in a Broadway play. Their tenure in plays and films lasted twenty-one years. He was a teamster working the docks in New York when WWII broke out and he returned to the teamsters after the war. As a marine he fought at Guadalcanal, Iwo Jimo, Peleliu, and was sent home after getting drunk and falling overboard from a ship waiting to be called to attack Okinawa. I had dinner at his house one time and his wife showed me his medals. There were forty five different citations ranging from a three oak leaf cluster Purple Heart reaching up to the Navy Cross. He never spoke very much about the war, unless he was drunk.

All of his, what I call, “Truisms” had to do with making it in the world and how you need to protect yourself and those weaker then you. He very often quoted Walt Whitman - "Love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others... And your very flesh shall be a great poem."

The "Thing" revelation taught me that much in life can be positive as long as one takes the time to figure just exactly what kind of “Thing” is in front of you.

It was my old drunk friend that taught me how to treat those less fortunate then myself. At the time I could have cared less about my life being a poem. What I really wanted in the 1970’s was another beer, and for my friend Bill Mahoney to tell me another joke and not have to buy him another beer in order to hear it
As to my friend with the cardboard sign, well possibly one day he’ll get in my truck and teach me a few lessons. Possibly one of my detractors will see that scene and I can give them the One Fingered Salute as I drive off.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Obscurantist’s Opponent

“If it didn’t make sense to you when you wrote it, then how in the world is it going to make sense to me when I read it?” the kid stood in front of me with his hands crossed on his chest glaring at me. There was no ready answer to this snappish query, but then again the rationale for the lesson that day was not to illuminate his young mind, but to simply get his brain to engage in anything but the video game on the screen in front of him. Thinking back, I realized that understanding was a lofty goal at best, and true interpretation in life comes from experience and not from words on a page. I also firmly grasped the ideal that porcine brutes all around the planet would launch themselves skyward before this youthful scholar-of-note would actually read anything past the point he encountered a word he did not understand.

A minor incident, hardly remembered until, that is, I received a phone call the other day and it was from someone wishing for me to clarify how it came to be that I, rather pompously, assumed myself of possessing adequate acumen to write this blog. Admittedly, the reason for this particular diatribe comes not from the realm of explanatory prose, but simply an exploration of the best manner to dish out as suiting response to an insult from an ill-educated and inadequately literate adversary. Yes, anger and desire for achieving the requisite retribution aside, this person is stupid.

The incident with the young man in the first paragraph occurred a few years ago when I first began posting my cerebral meanderings on the World Wide Web. The interrogator was a student of mine who had, in the course of supposedly learning Computer Technology from me, had stumbled upon my musings and wished to engage in an intellectual debate on the merits of my writing. This same young gentleman was well known for typing papers for me that when viewed on a computer screen averaged forty or fifty occurrences of red squiggly underlined words on a double spaced page. Additionally, when this particular conversation began, his assignment was to build a spreadsheet to keep statistics for the basketball team at our school (as per his personal request). Once having fathomed the extent with which he would have to comprehend math and how much work it was going to be to keep up with the numbers from a sports team, he retreated into the aforementioned dispute when I refused to allow him to change his project to the easier softer exercise in the textbook…which he refused to read.

I have since experienced much conversation on the usage of vocabulary in my prose. The aforementioned phone call had found me at a most inopportune time (I need to resist the urge to carry my cell phone to the restroom) and there was little in the way of insightful repartee available as I endeavored to focus on the biological necessities that sent me to El Baño in the first place.

Not receiving any information that appeared to support their standpoint the person interrupting the gastrointestinal process at work, the informed me that I was an “Obscurantist” and dared me to “define that m*%$!@(%$#*&!” Little did they know that a derivation of that word arrived in my e-mail inbox as a Word of the Day the day before and I, being the One True Sage of all that is alliterative had already envisaged a proper title and started a file (the one you’re reading) in order to expound on the subject of obscurantism. Originally, I felt it might the proper platform to dissect the ludicrousness, absurdity, and outright idiocy of the Republican Party. However, I am loathe to single out those who disagree with me in the political arena as I have unearthed the certainty that ludicrousness, absurdity, and outright idiocy are symptoms suffered by all who dwell in the specious sphere that concerns itself with affairs of state. (Ouch! That hurt to write!)

My literary nemesis retreated from me with what in former years would be a slamming of the receiver into the telephone base. The squabble over the correct or incorrect use of vocabulary and the reality that I have a tendency to flaunt the greater and lesser rules of grammar, as well as a total condemnation of the decorum that would seemingly befit the next Great American Author, has yet to be resolved.

As long as there are no green or red squiggly lines on the page, I am content to stumble along in the throes of my ultimate and faithful lover…words. I, being a red blooded American soul who rejoices in the free market system, purchases my grammar along with the software I use to enlighten to huddled masses, and any decorum I display is usually reserved for officers of the law when I find myself at their mercy in a traffic stop.

I do, however, take umbrage with having the tag “Obscurantist” associated with me or my writing. For those reading who find this word cumbersome to comprehend it is not defined in or several of the other dictionaries this “Obscurantist” uses. Obscurantism is (
1. Opposition to the increase and spread of knowledge.
2. Deliberate obscurity or evasion of clarity. has:
1. The principles or practice of obscurants.
2. A policy of withholding information from the public.
3. a. A style in art and literature characterized by deliberate vagueness or obliqueness.
b. An example or instance of this style.

Well, it seems that my most unworthy adversary has not only insulted my command of the written and spoken English language, but he has done so with a word that until he called me one…did not exist.

The proper term, which I hope he was attempting to use, would be to call me an “Obscurant.” This is, to paraphrase researched definitions, a person who strives to prevent the increase and spread of knowledge, or one who opposes intellectual advancement and political reform. A hell of a thing to think or say to a State certified teacher! Especially one who loves words and simply wishes to share his passion for the scripted version of the Queen’s English!

…Now that my breathing has resumed a normal pace, and my heart rate is below ninety five, I will simply state that I presume to publish this blog because I damn well want to, and those who find it tedious do not have to hit the link when appears before them, and those who do not find it wearisome, thank you and please send it to a friend or loved one!