Category Archives: Memoir

A Second Amendment Curmudgeon Evolves

The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

I have always been a defender of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution. I have also been a defender of all the other Amendments as well, especially those that confer rights to the people…but my manner of defense is evolving as is my thinking. (If you keep thinking after you get old, that can still happen, hint.) I am having a hard time reconciling my defense of gun rights and the continual abuse of that right by irresponsible (or evil) individuals in our country. After the latest mass shooting in Florida by Nikolas Cruz, I have had an epiphany. I hope you can join me.

Three headlines this morning:
1) Wherein we learn the shooter was, among other things, 19 years old.
2) Wherein we learn the shooter bought the semi-automatic weapon legally about a year ago.
3) Wherein we learn the shooter trained with white supremacists.

There are other things we have learned, but these are the crux of what I think we should focus on.

There are two wildly extreme positions being publicly promoted in this country. The first, from the left is “GUNS BAD> BAN GUNS.” It leads to weird hype and false claims. For example, this. The other, on the right, is “THE PRICE WE PAY FOR FREEDOM.” Both are bullshit, of course. Americans do not sacrifice the health, lives and welfare of our children on the alter of gun rights.

I have long been one who advocates for the proper use, training and responsibility around guns and ammunition. I own guns. I shoot semi-regularly. I believe in my ability to defend myself and my family with these weapons. As I age and I lose credibility as a physical force, I take solace in the perception that a gun helps me to even the field. I am responsible. I know the law, what I am allowed to do, under what circumstances and what I am not allowed to do. I also know how to store and secure weapons and ammunition so that any minors in my house can not access them for any reason.

But along comes a rash of school shootings, shaking all of these foundational beliefs. On top of that, we hear “thoughts and prayers,” outrage and a dozen examples of how banning weapons will lead America toward Nirvana. Those are also bullshit.

Can nothing be done? Well, nothing will be done if we continue to have this stupid debate. To be clear, the debate over gun rights and the future of guns in America is not stupid. The debate we are currently (not) having and the people screaming the loudest right now are stupid.

I’m going to propose a radical change in the way we perceive guns in America and try to offer an incremental improvement in the real-world conditions we face. Much has been made of the dozen or more school shootings we have already experienced this early in 2018. And I do not dispute these numbers if “school shooting” means “the discharge of a firearm at or near a school regardless of whether anyone was hurt and regardless of whether the discharge was accidental or not.” Those many events happened. Nothing gets the left more riled up and simultaneously makes the right sound more ridiculous than dead kids. But does the rash of gun events in schools mean Americans are incapable of handling guns responsibly?
Who is doing the shooting in schools? Everytown  has kept some interesting statistics over a period of time. One of the most revealing bits of data is that in shootings at k-12 schools, where our most vulnerable victims are located, the perpetrator is (statistically) under 21 years of age (77%), or under 18 (56%). This is the data that provided the Eureka! moment for me.

So, do (mostly) men over 21 kill people (mostly men) over the age of 21. Yes, they do. Should we stop that if we can? Yes, we should. But let’s look at a significant and elegant partial solution first. I believe the lasting cultural changes will eventually ameliorate some of the gun assaults later in life. But for now:

Let’s make gun and ammo purchases and ownership illegal for anyone under a certain age. I can live with either 18 or 21, although 18 is easier to rationalize in my mind because we permit kids of 18 to enlist and thus gain access to guns and ammo.

A natural Constitutional question–Are constitutionally protected rights other than gun rights in America restricted by age? They certainly are.

First Amendment. Everyone has the right to freedom of speech, right? Wrong. All kinds of speech limitations exist for underage kids. Freedom of the Press? Check the rules about high school newspapers. Right to assembly? Also limited (often to adults as well). It seems only religion is free to be practiced by children, even though it is unlikely you will find many 13-year-olds changing churches.

Second Amendment? It says the “right of the people.” Yes, I know about the “militia” standard as well. It adds to my argument later. Militia was the prime driver of (or excuse for)the 2nd amendment. How old do you need to be to join the militia? Even in nascent America, you didn’t call on every person to provide defense. One had to have reached a certain age, degree of responsibility. Not many six-year-olds provided for the security of a free state. There is no guarantee of a minor’s right to bear arms in the second Amendment and a good case can be made that only military aged folks ever had that right. In our current culture, where adolescence is being expanded even into our 20s, the opportunity for this kind of legislation seems appropriate.

Third Amendment protects adults/home owners. etc.

The point is that the Constitution and its Amendments are meant to enumerate and guarantee certain rights for ADULT citizens of the United States. Do kids have rights? Of course, just not as many nor are they as strong.

Proposal: It shall be illegal for anyone under the age of (18/21) to own, possess or purchase firearms and/or ammunition. In order to protect those victims of school shootings, I would be willing to see the age limit be 21. By the time you are 21, it is unlikely you will return to a school to take out the kids. I suspect at least some/many/most of the over 21 year old shooters in k-12 schools are disgruntled former employees intent on harming other adults or other adults with personal issues against another adult (boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses, etc.)

Further: it shall be considered legal for those under the age of 18/21 to be in possession of and to use firearms if accompanied by another person over the age of majority who will take responsibility, legal and financial, for any damage inflicted by the underage shooter. You can go hunting with your dad or your uncle or even your big brother, as long as they are prepared to accept legal responsibility for your actions.

We could also make some additional limitations on the storage of guns and ammo in all households where children may come in contact with same. So, buy all the guns you want, but lock them up and keep the kids away from them. No more Glock under the pillow or shotgun behind the refrigerator. At least, not if there are kids in the house.

Should we expect blowback by the right over these kinds of restrictions? Sure. But the list of rights and privileges restricted by age in this country is pretty long. This is not a significant deviation.

  • Drinking, smoking tobacco, pot, etc.
  • Driving
  • Voting
  • Signing contracts
  • Enlisting in the military
  • Traveling across state lines
  • Working
  • Running for Office

And yet, we never hear anyone say, “You can have my right to vote when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.” Imagine if the right placed the same kind of restrictions on gun ownership it places on the ability to vote. The world would be different, for sure. This is not a “pure” ethic on either side of the argument.

What might we expect out of such legislation? Well, of course, uproar from the right, but in truth, the impact on the lives of shooters is likely to be little changed.

Beyond that, in the short term, we will see resistance from the right and a statistically insignificant impact on the gun market. I’m guessing here, but I don’t see the market even able to register the lost proceeds. For one thing, now Dad will make the purchase instead and that’s not bad. For another, the number of sales to minors is likely pretty small already. So the argument is only symbolic and likely of the “slippery slope” variety.

What might be the result?

In the long term, we might just re-institute a healthy respect for responsibility around the ownership and use of firearms. That could edge us away from the direction in which we seem to be headed. Would the requirement to secure your weapons around minors change anything? I don’t know if the impact would be large or small immediately, but if it became an ethic among more gun owners, we would not be hurt by that.

The impact on the statistics surrounding school shootings is where I have my focus. Is this kind of action likely to stop school shootings. No. I fear that there may be nothing we can do to eliminate this senseless action. But I have no doubt that it would make things better. There would be fewer incidents committed by minors if we could effectively separate minors from unsupervised access to firearms.

It might give us a new tool to go after those White Supremacists for their “training” too. If you are concerned it will merely drive it underground, I would argue that is an improvement in our condition as well.

Also note, many states already have enacted this kind of legislation regarding minors ownership of handguns. It is not a completely new idea. Only applying the law to long guns would be new. The impact on gun culture is therefore minimized and it addresses the left’s concern about who needs access to a semi-automatic rifle.

Might it save some lives? Yes. Might it not save all the lives? That is certainly true, too. But, for this new convert, it seems to be a reasonable step designed to put gun laws more in line with the new condition of our culture. If the bad guys are assaulting the walls of my settlement, I want every man, woman and child capable of firing a weapon to answer the emergency call. When it comes to my kids’ and grandkids’ school rooms, I don’t want individuals without fully formed brains and personalities in there with firearms. Let’s look at this as a small, first part of the puzzle.

Except for federal politicians dependent upon the NRA lobby for re-election funds, I can’t think of too many Americans I know who wouldn’t want to do something to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” I’m for that. And I believe all Americans are. Let’s start with these values as core values and build from there.

 

A couple of Historical notes:

It is transition that is hardest for all of us. I enlisted at 18 and I could drink on base all the while I was in the Marine Corps. When I left active duty, I was still only 20, so when I came home I was no longer of legal drinking age. In the meantime, the Michigan legislature had decided that 18 was the new drinking age. So I was a legal drinker at 21 on September 29, 1971 and my 18 year old sister became a legal drinker on January 1, 1972. Then in 1978, voters overturned it and those who were legally drinking at 18, 19 and 20 were, at the stroke of midnight one night, suddenly illegal. Transition takes time. It is bumpy and people whine, but eventually these kinds of changes become footnotes. Let’s not panic too hard about what might freak someone out in the short run. Is this what we are willing to do to help shape the arc of our culture moving forward? Quite a few will not be willing to make the transition. We will likely hear from them.

 

Some Anti-Snark about Tech

I was doing some mindless thing and so I asked Alexa to play Doo Wop. She hit me with the Shirelles. Now, that was great but I had to confront a small streak inside me that had not ever considered them “Doo Wop” and it didn’t take long to discover it was solely because of gender. (This is not a chat about feminism.) I loved every minute of a different song.

Then Alexa played The Drifters and I almost settled back into the ways of my reptile brain. Instead they threw me a huge curve ball with “When My Little Girl is Smiling” I must confess that when this song came out, I was 12 years old and it served as kind of a foundation of expectation. I took a little too long to learn it was an impossible standard when  I tried to relate to women. And yet, today, it is the best song to listen to and think about the “girl” as your three year old grand-daughter (before any of you shits get after me for that, shut up). So, I had a magic moment thinking about how much she has me wrapped around her little finger. I must confess it is true. I’ll do an awful lot to see when my little girl is smiling.

Well, this is supposed to be about technology and how easy it is for anyone, but especially people of a certain age, to whine/snark/rant about it. But really, if you are reading this you are living a life of lies. Look what has happened in my life time.

In 1962, Doo Wop was what was happening. To get a copy of the song in the link above, I would have had to get a ride to town (we lived in the country), walk to the Record Store on Main Street, hope it was in stock and fork over a dollar for the 45 rpm record. Now, that’s a 1962 dollar, an actual silver certificate. A 12 year old had to work hard to get a whole dollar. Getting it to you would have been just as hard.

But today, you pushed a couple buttons hours, or days or years after I pushed buttons to write this and instantly my thoughts of February 11, 2018 get sent to you at the speed of light and I have the visual audio portions of that nostalgia to send along to you as well.

How you gonna snark that?

And while I have been writing this, I have had youtube playing Doo Wop in the background. I’m having a tough time concentrating on the language on the screen. It seems I only have eyes for you, dear.

 

 

Eureka! There They Are.

Mar-a-Lago Club

 

It came to me in a flash this morning. I know exactly what formative experience I’m tapping every time I feel enraged by this Clown Administration, this collection of nodding mimes in the Senate and the House, or the cadre of lunatic robber barons called Governors across our land. And weirdly, it’s not exactly what is being said, although what is being said is disgusting and offensive in any age. It is more how it is being said. And how pitifully smug they think they are appearing while they deal below the table right in front of us. We are supposed to just smile and be grateful for whatever scrap is tossed our way and not only, NOT report them for outright crimes, but to ADMIRE them for their cleverness in dealing with a corrupt system. “I’m a great businessman.”

When I was fifteen, I worked as a busboy and dishwasher at the local country club. It only had a 9-hole course, but it was well-maintained. Our small town had about 10,000 people back then, so I’m guessing membership in the club was not strictly limited to the 1%ers, but generally, it is unlikely there were many outside of the top 5% of the social strata who could claim inclusion. And from my experience in the lower third of that system, it was clear that members wanted a bright and shining line between Members and help. Even inside the “help” categories, there was stratification. Top guy was the Club Manager, and oddly, the Number Two was the greens-keeper. He and his staff of one were on the payroll. All the golf-related jobs were off payroll. The Members contracted with the Pro for lessons and help and he supplemented that with a commission on whatever was sold in the pro shop. Caddies worked on tips and below them were the guys who worked in the fitness and shower areas. They worked on tips too. Odd thing. A caddie might get a $1 tip on nine holes of bad golf, or he might score $50 when your dad’s boss had a good round. Caddies were almost always the sons of Members and/or players on the high school golf team. Guys in the locker room were related to the cooks in the kitchen.

Those of us on the other side had a hierarchy too. Kitchen Manager (not chef!) was the boss. He was salaried. He worked in the kitchen. The bartender worked below him for minimum wage and tips. Waitresses, almost always came from among the popular girls in school but not often the daughters of Members. They were inevitably “cute and perky.” Those who cooked were, oddly for our nearly completely white community, usually Mexican, many of whom shared surnames with those in the locker room. Some of these men were so recently from Mexico as to be without much working use of English. I’m sure they were simply paid in cash, and not very much. Below all of the above was me. The busboy/dishwasher was the bottom of the heap. I could have done the job all summer, nonetheless, if I wanted to.

My pay was the lowest, minimum wage and no tips. I had to punch in and out. On Thursday (Friday was too busy), the Club Manager would hand me a check. As a “convenience” to me (and the cooks, I suppose) he would cash my check on the spot. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It was kind of convenient to get cash on my way out the door. (In fact, my next job in town paid in cash too.) Not until years later did I come to understand that if the check showed the deductions to me and I cashed the check with him for the remaining cash, all he had to do was to destroy the check, void it out of the check register and it would be like paying me in cash below the minimum wage. I don’t know if he did that or not. But back then, not a lot of 15-year-olds made enough money in a year to have to file taxes. I didn’t know of any.

Fridays were the busy nights in the restaurant and bar. And it only took a couple of Friday nights to figure out the patterns that had probably been repeated since the place opened. Husbands bring the family in. It is not exactly subdued in tone. I have been in the kitchen for about an hour already making sure every glass, plate and piece of tableware is clean, dry and ready for delivery. When the first Members arrive, I am ready. I keep watch to see when to clear the first round of dishes. I have an appropriate looking outfit, complete with a white long-sleeved shirt and a bleached white folded towel tucked into the front of my belt. From that first clearing it was a steady rise in intensity in the busboy/dishwasher business. Clear, haul, spray, load, unload, stack…clear, haul, spray…. without a break until the dining room began to clear. The ones who lingered were always the ones who kept you from punching out for the night. And they were the ones who usually lingered over drinks. If they started on drinks before dinner too, well, there was no telling how long they’d hang around. And, they were Members so no one was about to tell them to go home.

Through the course of the night, my white shirt and bleached, folded towel always accumulated the detritus of the table as well as the splattering of the dishwasher. It’s why most respectable places won’t let dishwashers clear the tables. Some nights I would swap out the folded towel half way through my shift just to try to uphold some air of appearances. I didn’t on this particular night.

 

The guy at the table had a name. I don’t need to name him now. He’s dead and I’ve gotten over most of it. But this guy happened to be an officer in the local savings and loan. And he was a drunk. He had come in and sat at the bar for a few with a couple of his work buddies while I did my kitchen prep late in the afternoon, left for a little while and came back with his wife. They sat at a table and had a couple before the meal, ate pro forma with a bottle of wine and then lingered over Manhattans until the room was empty. All the dishes were done in the kitchen. The cooks had shut down and left. The only staff left were the bartender, the waitress and me. So, I approached the table and asked if I might clear it for them. I suppose it was a clumsy way to try to prod them into leaving, but at 15 I had no better tactic.

 

When I asked, Mr. S&L froze in place. Visibly froze and held still for about 2 or 3 seconds just staring at the table. I saw a look in Mrs. S&L’s eyes as she waited for what she knew was coming. I didn’t know.

 

Mr. S&L turned toward me and it was the first time I had ever seen a grown man with fury in his face. I had seen plenty of men and boys and women and girls angry. Some angrier that others, but this was fury.  And a look I cannot logically explain. I was standing by his right shoulder, he was still seated but somehow he was able to look down his nose at me with contempt and said: “If you interrupt me again, I will see that you are fired. I am a Member of this club and I sit on its Board of Directors. You will treat me with respect.”

 

I was dumbstruck. I finally sort of stammered something like, “Of course, Mr. S&L, I was only trying…”

 

“Enough! Go back to the kitchen and wait until we are finished here.”

 

I did. I didn’t say anything. I was embarrassed. These years later, I speculate that his wife may have been more embarrassed than he. Maybe not. Maybe she was used to speaking to the help that way. I wasn’t used to it. I wish I could tell you that I quit that job that night. Or that I thought about it overnight and I came in to quit the next day. What actually happened was I showed up for my shift on Saturday and the Club Manager informed me that I had been fired. Fired from my first job. That didn’t speak highly for my future. Clearly I was destined to live out my life on those lower rungs of the social and financial ladder. There was to be no “bootstrap” operation from busboy/dishwasher to Member in America.

 

This is precisely what I am feeling today on the national political scale. I feel like we have somehow awarded all the power and glory, all the money and voice to a bunch Mr. S&Ls with long noses and fury who can and will lash out at others under any provocation, real or imagined. Who will say anything they wish, whether it is true, or based on a story they heard, or a made-up narrative erupting like a boil from their fetid imaginations, or someone else’s fetid imagination in alt-right publishing.

 

Mr. S&L, I see your Mrs.  with her eyes carefully shielded so as not to disclose any tic of emotion or even a shade of compassion. I see brief flashes of real fear in the faces of those around you. And I think I know what that reveals about your character.

 

I see your knowing looks and your secret handshakes with your cohorts. I see how you use coded language between each other so that you can claim that those of us drawing the sheet off the corpse of democracy can be dismissed as having misunderstood or misquoted or taken your words out of context. I hear you telling the people in the kitchen that the only people they can trust to tell them the truth are the people writing and cashing checks.

 

I see the look of desperate ambition upon those who are now in your elite club but whose starts were somewhere closer to the clubhouse kitchen. All of those men who have something to prove. In America we love drive, guts and determination. You see those traits in a few of your sycophants and nod in their direction to trigger actions that shape the lives (or the deaths) of hundreds or thousands. When they act, you praise. If they fail to act, you excoriate them. This is not the America I know. It is not the America I want to leave for my kids and grandkids.

 

In my America, drive, guts and determination are admirable character traits but they are not the goal of character development. In my America, a stronger union is formed on the back of ambition. Ambition is not best used in service to the self. It will take many ambitious Americans to stand up to the divisive politics used cleverly, if nefariously, by those in the National Country Club.  We have found our ambition in resistance. We will resist your personal ambitions to transfer all of the wealth to the Membership. We will resist your narrow and very white version of a national culture. And we will keep spitting in your soup until it is over.

It’s Undeniable Now…

When I was about 13, I remember distinctly trying to impress a girl with my ability to do a pratfall. We were in Bennett Park in my home town. There were several 500 pound cement blocks with heavy anchor chain strung between them to indicate the parking area. To prove my prowess, I hurled myself forward over the chain in a manner that showed I had “tripped” and landed on my front. I really did kind of understand what I was doing. If you spread the impact of the fall over enough of your body surface, it hurts very little and you get a great reaction from your audience. She asked me if I was okay and I jumped to my feet and pretended to stumble backwards over the same chain and landed flat on my back, using the same technique. She didn’t “fall” for me despite my demonstration of such a high class skill. Later in our lives she ended up going out with a football lineman, so maybe I set that up inadvertently. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I was young, invulnerable and impervious to injury. Something changed over the next 50+ years.

I took a serious fall two days ago. I was coming up the stairs from the basement and as I was closing the door I stepped back onto a rubber toy my dog had left on the floor. Without seeing it, I was certain I was stepping on the dog. It felt just the right size and softness to be one of her paws. I tried to lift pressure off that foot and put it on my other foot but it landed on the toy too and I thought I was on top of her again. By then, I was completely out of control, I had no balance and the top half of me continued backward while the lower half tried to save the dog. (The dog, by the way, was in the master bathroom bugging my wife, nowhere near me.) As I fell backwards, my old impervious brain knew exactly what to do. I threw both arms backward and out to maximize the surface area on my body as I would strike the wall in the hallway. And it would have worked too….if I hadn’t fallen directly into the doorway to the half-bath instead. So, when my hips and spine expected to absorb the blow and nothing came because the half-bath door was open, I stiffened my arms. I struck just the sides of the doorjamb with the backs of both upper arms, concentrating the impact onto a few square inches.

I am not writing this so you will say how sorry you are that I hurt myself in a fall. It’s about something much more personal than that. In that miniscule moment between when my hips should have struck the wall and when the backs of my arms took the entirety of the blow, I realized I was falling through the doorway and I also knew I was completely off balance. I saw me falling all the way back and striking my skull on the toilet or the edge of the sink. I saw blood and a cracking skull. I did see aftermath. I knew my wife needed to hear that I was in trouble so I made some sounds come out of my mouth. It was not an articulate sound. I’m not sure what I “said.” It may have been, “woah, woah, woah.” I don’t know. Later she said it sounded just like a cartoon. Today she told me it more the sound of my feet. I guess it was a Fred Flintstone yabba dabba do moment.

 

Ouch!

Anyway, the pic shows you the damage. I have one on each arm. I have shown you the worst one, of course. Yes, ouch. But really so much more. The actual damage is more impressive today. It has now gotten a good, deep wine grape purple. It has little runners out into the rest of my upper arm.

Getting old really sucks. On the day of this realization I was 66 years, 5 months and 8 days. Maybe I can draw in a big black line through the calendar of my life. Before that line, I was still a whole man. I was a man with skills and abilities and wisdom and experience. After that line, I am an old man. No, again, you are not supposed to feel sympathy. An artist is supposed to confront his or her times and describe them honestly, even at the cost of personal pain. So, there it is; I’m an old man (and it sucks!)

I have had hints of this coming day for a while. The first time I suspected such a thing, I was 35, playing volleyball. I was always pretty good at it despite not being overly athletic. But in playing a 2 on 2 set, best out of three games one afternoon, my partner and I had taken it to 1-1 and I had to dig down deep for that third game and whatever I was looking for had flown the coop. It just wasn’t there any more. I didn’t play volleyball much after that, at least not competitively. Sometime around 40, I realized it was much harder to run three miles than it had been. At 50, the cold started bothering me and altitude made it very hard to breathe. At 60, my rheumatoid arthritis was in full swing, but I was handling it (I said determinedly) with meds and exercise. And even though arthritis is an old person’s disease, I still didn’t see myself as old, not really. This fall changed that.

It is rare that a person is given the kind of clarity of thought and realization I was awarded in that one second between stepping on the dog toy and crashing into the doorjamb. But I literally saw things in that brief moment. (Not my life passing before me, but more like losing my grip on all of life.) It is humbling. And liberating.

Warren Zevon, the lowliest rock star, was given advance warning of his passing. He used that time exceedingly well. I don’t have his advantage of knowing that I have 1-2 years remaining. Hell, I could have twenty or more. (I hope not.) But I am pledging myself at this point to “enjoy every sandwich.” And to try to tell the truth of my times as I know it. I mean, what’s the alternative? And you can take that to the bank. An old man told you so.