Wednesday, September 21, 2016

You can run, but...

A perverse force in the universe works this way:  You become the very thing you strive to avoid.  The thing you eschew, follows you, sneaks up on you, finds its way into your bathroom and hides behind the mirror over the sink.  Then, one morning, before you’ve even had your coffee, you splash water on your face and rise up to look into said mirror, and there, staring back with wide-eyed mock innocence – you are become the very thing you thought you had so deftly eluded. 

Here’s an example:  As a child I loved and admired my grandmother.  She was iconic in her ways.  Sunday mornings, she donned a floral dress, densely knit nylon support hose, and clunky heels.  She wrapped herself in a mink stole, or maybe her fox stole that still had the fox’s head with its mouth made into a clamp that bit its own tail to hold it in place.  She had a mink hat too.  Just a ring of mink really, with a net attached that served a purpose still unknown to me.  But let’s understand – she left no detail unattended.  Some might argue that she thought of details that might better have been left unthunk. 

Even then I knew she was a bit overpowering, but it didn’t matter.  I was proud to walk into the 1st Baptist Church with her and sit in a pew a couple of rows from the front and sing – well you know – to high heaven.

Grandma was a screecher, actually.  But not unlike Florence Foster Jenkins, she loved to sing and – even though her high notes drew startled looks, beaconed dogs, and made me squint and turn my face ever so slightly away – I loved to sing with her:  Onward Christian soldiers!

When it came time to pass the collection plate and make your donations to the church and to Lottie Moon, the church’s missionary far, far away, Grandma would hoist her handbag onto her lap and begin to plumb its substantial and well-packed contents.  What caught my eye each time was the bundle of papers.

It appeared to be comprised of important documents that arrived by post.  Window envelopes with torn flaps, contents removed, perused and returned to their sleeve, only now with the addressee obscured and snippets of their messages in view: “…you for your busi…”  “to us in the enclose…”

The bundle was fully 4” thick and secured with a rubber band stretched to screaming.  I wondered what critical pieces of household business she might have to attend to.  Bills to be paid.  Solicitations.  Medical reminders?  Letters from her sister in Burbank?  Grocery lists, measurements for the fabric for her new kitchen curtains.   

This she would hand to me so that she could bring up her billfold and pull out a dollar bill for the plate.  Then, she’d retrieve her black leather snap-close coin purse and produce a dime for me to seal into the special envelop for Lottie Moon.

And here’s the thing:  I forgot all about it.  I grew up and Grandma passed away.  I moved to another state and had a life and moved back and lived some more.  I sang in the church choir sometimes and other times sang along with the radio, as loud as I wanted to sing.

Then, one day, a little girl came to my door selling candy for the Camp Fire Girls, so I went to retrieve my oversized mailbag style purse.  To my astonishment, in order to get to my billfold, I had to pull out a bundle of envelops. 

It wasn’t as big as Grandma’s bundle – not by a long shot.  I had only four or five letters of various sizes with their flaps torn open.  It was barely a quarter of an inch thick. But I had bound it together with a green rubber band. 

Oh. My. Gosh!  When did this happen!?  How could I not know?  I had a grandma mail-hoarder starter kit!

I snapped the rubber band immediately.  That afternoon I bought a file cabinet and manila folders for sorting and storing documents.  I am not fated to this eccentricity!

Whew!  Disaster averted.  That was close!  I’ll just finish my housework while I sing:  Onward Christian soldiers…!

Will Rogers never met this guy

Not sure if it was Machiavelli or Michael Corleone who originated the phrase, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” but it’s been on my mind.

The concept came in handy in – of all places – public school!  When I was working as a high school principal, I needed to have my ear to the ground.  The tone of a campus can shift quickly and you don’t want to be caught flatfooted.  So, while I did not consider any young person at my school an enemy, there were a few who, without a doubt, had agendas that did not coincide with mine. 

School order, for example, did not top their to-do lists.  For those few, a perverse sense of fun rolled around their heads like marbles in a maze.  If pulling a fire alarm would provide the necessary disruption to an exam they hadn’t studied for, well, whoopee!  Let’s do this thing!

Happily, kids talk.  And to my delight, a fair number talked to me.  Maybe it was because they understood that I found it easy to see through their anger and their bluster, their need to prove themselves or to save face.  The kid inside, the human being who sought approval and recognition always shone through.

With their help I could almost always stay ahead of the shenanigans.  Almost.  With a nod or a wink from a ne’er-do-well I’d kept close to me, who might even have been a double-agent in league with the culprits, it was easy enough to find the firecrackers before the commotion, or head off an altercation before it came to blows. 

But these days, we are playing for much greater stakes than an afternoon’s instruction or hi-jinx on the quad.  We have an enemy among us who seems to have achieved the American dream yet threatens to destroy it.  For the American dream is nothing if not open-faced and optimistic.  But this playground bully is of an uncommon breed.

Mean-spirited and selfish; quick-tempered and without insight or empathy, he is out to win whether steam-rolling his way through any ‘conversation,’ or seeking to tear down and destroy any who might venture a dissenting opinion.

Legions of his cohorts have called him out.  Stalwarts in his clan have held their noses at great length, trying to maintain the party line, but even they must come up for air.  And so they do, sometimes singly, sometimes in clusters, and declare that they just can’t hang with him.  He’s too much even for those who have lock-stepped their way through decades of partisan group-think.

People I know and love say they are with him.  It makes me sad.  I can only imagine that they somehow know, in their deepest selves, that the old ways of hatred and distrust, of isolation and division, of knee-jerk retaliation and destruction are failed.  He represents the last gasp, the refusal to let go a distorted and damned state of mind.  They are desperate to feel strong, but a pinprick will explode this buffoon.

And so this enemy is close enough.  Too close.  And despite my history of finding the good, I am hard-pressed to find it there.  I can see only self-serving calculation.

We cannot deny that he’s taught us some things.  He has opened our eyes.  And he has strengthened our resolve to crush him.

I believe he will be routed.  My hope is that we have a landslide.  Maybe not all 50 states.  Maybe not my beloved home state.  But we will relegate him to the realm of nastiness and conspiracy theorists where he ever may thrive. 

Good bye and good riddance DT.  November can’t come soon enough.