Empty Nest Diaries Part 1: Denial

 A guy can wear the dark glasses of denial for only so long. Eventually, it gets so dark you have to remove them to be sure you are hitting the toilet. Yet, denial is fundamental to psychological survival. It’s a form of emotional procrastination allaying our anxieties until we man up enough to show up to life’s inevitable root canals. 

Denial is a comforting enabler and companion– he is the ultimate sycophant that tells me that my excess weight is no big deal – in fact, my jelly belly may come in handy following the famine, economic and social meltdown that may occur if Trump or Clinton is elected. My good buddy denial indulges my lethargy whispering that I “deserve to conserve” my energy while my 100lb wife unloads 200lbs of groceries from the car. 

Yet, that perfect storm day inevitably arrives when you hit a birthday divisible by five coinciding with a sobering milestone that confirms your mortality. At that moment, life exposes your feckless friend denial as a seductive liar. In that dark passage, you must reassess who your real friends are and finally swap out that Blanche Dubois 25W energy saver light bulb for a 100 watt spot light. 

In a few weeks I am hitting 55. It’s okay. I understand there is no permanence in this life. We are all Joad families one step removed from the dust bowl where we maybe forced to pack up the chickens and rocking chair and head off into parts unknown. 

And so it came to pass that the next season of life arrived and dropped autumn leaves at our door. We released our last kid ( and a hell of a big tuition check ) to college and came home to an empty museum. 

I admit to being a tad blue. I like hanging with my kids and love being a Dad. Releasing your pups into the wild is a Born Free moment. If you didn’t cry when Ilsa was turned loose by her humans, you can stop reading this and go back to reading the personal ads in your Soldier of Fortune magazine. 

I am a wimp. I cry at old movies and reruns of Family Affair ( I’m looking like Mr French every day ). Passage of time moments are always bittersweet. They are the last day of a great vacation, the final holiday present to be opened or the delicious penultimate paragraph of an epic novel. Joy can be found in the simple serendipity of coincidence. 

I’m temporarily indulging my self pity through an obnoxious display of exhibitionism. This includes sharing the accomplishments of all my kids with anyone who has the misfortune of making eye contact with me. I’m really bad in working into any conversation the fact that my youngest son is now at Duke, my middle boy is loving lacrosse at Wesleyan and that my daughter is happy in her life and career. 

I can segue from any topic to kids faster than you can say Coach K. You want to discuss Syria? Did you know one of Assad’s nephews may have gone to Duke where my son is? 

I have Blue Devil swag to go with my Cardinal and golf USC football and dirty bird Wesleyan lacrosse outfits. See how I worked each kid into this again? Sneaky! 

Today I’m sporting the Blue Devil baseball cap and navy pullover with its D insignia – even though it’s 90 degrees out. I am becoming what I used to loathe – a pathetic suburban boor who mistakes his children’s accomplishments for his own. As of yesterday, my wife has given me exactly thirty days to snap out of it. 

To a naturalized Brit, my ostentation is all terribly bad form and must be beaten down like a banana republic rebellion. 

She is annoyed with my new found conceit ( as if my old egotism was not enough). She is proud of all of our children but is egalitarian in her distribution of praise and attention. I, on the other hand, feel like the insane guy at Penn Station just trying to make eye contact with someone. I have something I want to share. Instead of someone saying “get a job”, they’re probably muttering “get a life.” I’m trying, really. 

My spouse is not emotionally invincible and is coping with her own version of the empty nest bends — that rapid ascent toward the quiet surface of abandoned bedrooms. She is genetically predisposed to suffer in silence and not draw attention. As if the last kid leaving was not bad enough, our one year old cat ran off and has not returned. This cat was a sweet surrogate of sorts and was doing such a marvelous job of distracting us from our confusion. 

She would crawl into bed with us at night and patter behind us in search of affection. She also gave us huge cases of poison oak. Each night passing cats are likely to spy two shadows scratching their arms yelling “here kitty kitty !” 

Out nighttime searches have yielded nothing. Posters and offers of reward have remained unclaimed and I’m struggling with the fact that she is gone. I keep turning on Disney’s Homeward Bound and reading about animals lost for months who have returned home. I don’t think those families lived adjacent to Wiley Coyote -the half wolf/half chupacabra that trots through our dreams each night. 

I’m bummed. I look for a sty of self pity where I can wallow and question the meaning of my new life and ponder the hopelessly complicated mysteries of life like why a dog sitter when explicitly told to keep doors shut, opened the damn door and the cat escaped. I’m having a hard time with forgiveness. 

I really don’t understand martyrdom. I need to share and get fake empathy back from my friends. I know when people ask “how’s it going” that 99.9% hope that I say “great”. The burden of bad news is a downer. 

Yet, I like to share. I am the anti-Percival, forever on a selfish quest for a grail of sympathy or an extra piece of chocolate cake. 

I like attention and constant action. I like waking up to life’s problems and reacting when God hits perpetual hard fungo ground balls my way. I loved the purpose that three dependent children gave me as I navigated the tightrope of work and life. 

Kids are the ultimate air cover. You eat your meal and then finish their food. You use them as an excuse to revert to your favorite period of adolescence. BB gun? Done! You can blame them for everything. Who took the last cookie? Probably Cole. Who left the window down during the rainstorm? Most likely Brooke. Honey come to bed? I’m teaching the boys how to use an RPG on Call of Duty! Geez! 

I’ve known this empty nest day was coming. You may see me wandering Greenley Road at night calling out for a cat and scratching my arms like an addict. If you stop, I’ll tell you my problems and likely find a way of telling you about each kid and my son at Duke.

Better yet, for your own sake, just honk hello and keep driving — at least until I snap out of it. 

Breaking News: Overweight Humanism Party is Announced 

We’re forming a new party. It’s called Overweight Humanism. So far, it’s just me and my buddy Bob. But we have big plans and even larger appetites. 

We believe that big is beautiful and that actions speak louder than words. Where we can convince individuals and corporations to actively seek to help solve some of societies issues, we can and should shrink government. 

We believe the Kardashian family should be deported to Alaska where they must live with The Palin family. 

We advocate value added and consumption taxes. Our focus is on reducing corporate tax rates if domestic jobs are created and the return of manufacturing as a percentage of the GDP to 30%. We want the ratio of public to private workers to be reduced by 25% in the next decade. 

Bob and I have also decided to run for POTUS and VIP. If elected to office, we will ensure:

Vin Scully’s photo will be printed on every US five dollar bill 

We will pick three national social priorities and give an unlimited tax credit for contributions to any prequalified federal or community based agency that serves our troika of public need. Tax deductions will continue for other non- profits serving essential needs. Our first three priorities will be unemployment, drug/alcohol abuse including non-violent offender incarceration alternatives and our aging infrastructure. 

The definition of Body Mass Index will be changed to 40 to define obesity. You have to be an ex-POW to qualify as having a normal BMI with your company wellness plan. 

Affordable housing will be a required part of every community receiving any matching federal or state funds with priority will provided to all emergency and law enforcement employees who serve the town. 

Reality shows can only be aired between 1 and 5 am. 

Every kid will be taught the safe word, “Trump” to be used as a social 9-1-1 when they feel threatened. 

Any medical student that choose to study and practice primary care medicine can receive free tuition from their home state medical school — provided they practice and serve an acceptable ratio of Medicaid, Medicare and commercial patients within their state for four years following after graduation. 

Any film starring Pauly Shore or Carrot Top must be destroyed. 

News channels must be reclassified as “Views” channels unless they can meet non partisan reporting criteria

Our Congressional and national election primaries will last two months followed by a four month general election. Overturn Citizens United decision and reduce corporate influence on election cycle. 

Claw back provisions will be built into the compensation agreements of all municipal, state and federal public officials where up to 20% of pay will be forfeited in a subsequent year for their inability to achieve a balanced budget. 

Cargo pants will be outlawed. 

Anonymous comment threads will be considered malicious libel and subject to prosecution. No police blotter reporting for anyone under the age of 21. 

All fines associated with white collar crime will help finance investment in non violent crime alternative incarceration, education and offender rehabilitation. 

The nation’s focus will be on equal opportunities not equal outcomes. 

All states and municipalities must tender a four year plan to balance their budgets and to fund to 80% of remaining pension obligations. This includes a 10% pay cut and hiring freeze until target is achieved. 

All air conditioners will be calibrated to weight instead of temperature with default of 220lbs. 

Division 1 athletes will be eligible to participate in dividends equally to 20% of university income arising from athletics. No more clock stoppage after a first down in college football – except in the last two minutes of a half. 

Prayer will be allowed in all public schools. 

Every national bank will be required to establish a domestic microfinance arm that offers lower denomination loans to underserved communities. Families can also sign up to sponsor tax deductible domestic and immigrant families to support their efforts to assimilate in our communities. 

The corporate tax rate will be decreased for targeted industries such as domestic manufacturers and service based firms employing US workers. 

Medicare will be offered to everyone as a public option in insurance exchanges. Medicare must operate at a loss ratio of 90% to avoid having tax payer dollars underwrite sustained low ball pricing to gain market share and jeopardize the private market. 

Employers can offer incentives to employees over 50 years old to opt out of the employer plan to purchase insurance in public exchanges. 

Every high school senior must read and demonstrate understanding of the following books:

1) To Kill A Mockingbird

2) The Road To Serfdom

3) Chaos Monkeys 

4) The Diary of Malcolm X

5) The Killer Angels

6) The Grapes of Wrath

7) Leaves of Grass

8) A Tale of Two Cities

9) A Confederacy of Dunces

10) Bonfire of the Vanities 

Finally, every student will serve one year between high school and college in public service or a non profit activity. This can be deferred until after college or if the individual has a full-time job. 

 Anyone recieving social assistance in the form of healthcare or economic aid must have at least one annual physical at a primary care providers office and consent to an electronic medical record. 

The Grateful Dead will be inducted into the Hall of Fame and Pete Rose will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

That’s about it. Be sure to write in the Overweight Humanists. Future fundraisers will be held at Krispy Creme and Dunkin Donuts. Our mantra is “overweight humanism and underweight self interest”…

See you on CNN. 

Sharknado 2016 – The Anarchy

I guess it was about 4pm on a humid east coast afternoon when the cop stopped me on Elm Street. It was the day after the GOP convention and I was was talking to myself – waving my arms in what the police later described as someone “engaged in a threatening debate with the an imaginary combatant.” The cop rolled down his window.

“Sir, have you been drinking?”

“Drinking? Hah!” I scoffed. “There’s not enough alcohol to medicate my reality — or yours, Officer…” I walked over and searched his chest for a name tag.”…Officer Blue.”

“Sir, you’re spooking the locals and exhibiting  erratic behavior. It’s bad for business and you’re being a public nuisance. Are you on any medications ?”

“I’m just tired. Hell for all I know, I may have the Zika virus. Feels like my brain is shrinking. Speaking of Zika, the way our athletes are dropping out of Rio, I may be named the third alternate on the US archery team.Actually, officer if you must know I’ve been watching the Republican convention. It’s an orgy of D list celebrities and people who get their instructions from space ships. The only guy they did not trot out to endorse The Donald was Carrot Top.”

He could see I was legitimately troubled. I had been hiding at home for almost a week tweeting inane comments on Morning Joe and The Hill under the name “Carlos Not So Dangerous”.  I had been waiting for some post convention sanity to return like the swallows of San Juan Capistrano. The Democratic gathering had not been much better but I had to admit they stayed more on message. The days of civilized debates hosted by a spinsterish librarian from the League of Women voters had been replaced by a Jerry Springer paternity fight  The dignified party conventions of my father had declined into a mud-slinging WWF show-down.

The cop tried to commiserate. “Sir, everyone is upset with the potential that Hillary Clinton could get elected but we can’t act out in public.”

“Hillary?” My head whipped around to confront the young officer. “What about freaking Trump?”

“Well I just assumed if you lived in this town you were a Republican.”

“Frankly, I don’t know what the hell I am anymore. I’m not L,B,G,T,Q…E-I-E-I-O!  I’m feeling kind of left out of the funny farm.”

He looked through his windshield and sighed. “Yeah, I hear ya. Law enforcement can’t trust anybody — our Union or the public officials. They reneg on retirement and benefits commitments. They kick the can down the street and refuse to fund retiree plans. It’s a tough gig being dressed in blue right now. We don’t know who to trust.”

I nodded in sympathy. “Hell, I hear you. There is no worthy Presidential candidate. One is a corrupt, public trough piglet who has fed on the public dole teat for years while the other is a dangerous self promoter who make outrageous statements like he invented the question mark. He gets a permanent get out of jail free card granted by his constituents. I’m in a permanent state of disbelief at what Trump is doing to the electoral process. He has immunity from accountability and says whatever comes into his head. By the way, there’s a lot of room in there for garbage. No one seems to give a shit if he doesn’t make sense.”

The cop tilted his head toward a woman pushing a stroller.

“Sir, your language.”

The officer glanced at his watch and smiled. “You remind me a lot of my old man. He’s retired in Florida. He’s home every day with the TV blasting the Fox Channel while he writes large-font emails to my sister and I and everyone he knows about how the world is going to end. I guess I get it. Listen, why not follow me over to Zumbachs and we can grab a cup of coffee.

A half hour later I was spilling my guts to this thirty something. He could feel my frustration.

I looked out the window as the Metro North blared its ubiquitous horn.

“It’s official. We’re screwed. We’re living in a bizarro world of opposites and doppelgängers. Nothing surprises me. Anything is now possible. In the old days, once you betrayed the limits of authenticity, you lost the People. Presently, I can no longer separate the sacred from the profane, truth from rhetoric or Sunnis from Shias. Truth is optional.”

The officer shook his head. “It’s even worse for us. People are actually shooting us. We are expected to serve and protect. I used to work some tough areas and did two tours in Iraq. I know a lot of about what hyper-vigilance and anger can do to anyone in enforcement. The anxiety and resentment builds and can flare up during a routine traffic stop. Being a cop in certain areas is like assuming the role of a UN peacekeeper. You can’t afford to live where you are policing or you don’t want to. Now, its like we’re soldiers returning from Vietnam. They give us that baby killer look. Hell, I was rescuing a cat from a tree the other day and the kid who called filmed it on his phone and ager said I was rough with the cat. It’s total BS.”

“Tell me about it. My son told me he hated capitalists and then asked me for $100.”

I held up two fingers to Will, the friendly barista wearing the Choose To Be Happy tee short. “I guess the good news is I believe anything now. Halloween and Christmas will be fun this year. It also means 70 % of all TV is now available for my viewing pleasure. Last night I watched Sharknado.”

The cop perked up. “You too? Hell, I found myself crying when Fin jumped into the maw of that cyclone-spun great white to rescue Tara Reid. Man I thought she was a goner. You know she still looks pretty good.  If I wasn’t married…”

I elbowed him as two high school girls walked in. “Sir, your language.”

I laughed. “Remember the scene where Fin used that chain saw to cut his way out of the 20 foot megaladon, it was awesome. You know, I want a chain saw for Christmas.”

The officer sipped his coffee.

“Same”

I perked up. “Megaladon” is actually a perfect portmanteau word to describe Trump.”

The officer rolled his eyes. “I actually don’t know who I’m going to vote for. I think Trump would be better for cops but as a father and citizen, he scares the crap out of me. Hillary’s a dirt bag but she’s just better at corruption than the average official who has long forgotten politics as public service and the art of compromise.”

I smiled.”Look at it this way. The world is a more dangerous and magical place now. We have stepped off platform 9 3/4 and are on a train to Hogwarts. We can now believe in Santa, the tooth fairy, Valdemort, and the lost city of El Dorado. Maybe the next time I go to the market to buy some groceries I’ll meet someone with some magic beans. I’m ready to take on a giant and a beanstalk.

We sat across three more coffees and compared notes on the polluted political process we call two-party democracy. His dispatch called and he sped off to interrogate a man who was arguing with the traffic attendant over using a handicap spot to get a quick latte at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Yes, life had become Sharknado and it was getting more bizarre with each week.

My world is leaching with the pollution drift of dislocated people, terrorists, disease, social fault lines, greed, corruption and demagoguery — and that’s just in youth sports. “Remember”, my friend Carll reassured me. “It is all just the buzzing of flies.” Maybe so but where there are lots of flies, there’s usually a pile of something else.

I am now in mid-life shuffling toward my next doctors appointment and the snap of latex glove. “This may feel a little uncomfortable.” I am searching for a new tribe — Perhaps there is a Facebook page for October Ovines — middle aged smart-aleck, slackers who can’t lose weight and wont watch Game Of Thrones. I secretly want to attend a Day of Rage March so I can rail against the man — even though it is clear that I am now the man. Friends are fleeing our overmatched Governor to new homes in the Carolinas, Florida, Texas and other far off red state economies where the ratio of public to private workers remains tolerable and the fiscal spending is not so disjointed as to portend calamity.

A staggering 40% of Americans over age 50 have zero saved for retirement and another 20% have less than $100k. I suppose one will work until they die. And in a world where artificial intelligence has jumped from the pages of Assimov to the world of knowledge workers, I’m not sure what dislocated generations of Americans will do for a living wage.

Why is it that the most affluent among us suffer from fear — self centered angst about losing what they have or not getting what thy want. Fear permeates everything these days and makes any optimist look like a buffoon drunk on the nostalgia of some old movie where the bad guys lose and social fractures are healed. Boy gets girl. Kid learns valuable lesson. Clarence gets his wings.

Depend upon it, Sir,” said Dr. Johnson, “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

I’m focused again but I still can’t believe what I’m seeing. Tomorrow night they are debuting Sharknado 4. Perhaps I’ll be able to find some answers.

Second Finalist Accolade for 53 Is The New 38

Chanticleer Reviews had named “53 Is The New 38” a finalist in its Journey Awards for non fiction.  Winner TBD as of Aptil 2017. Cash and prizes! The book, was also recognized as a finalist for Humor/Comedy earlier this year at the Indie Book Awards, this second recognition for the book is really fun and reiforces the notion that even a broken watch is correct twice a day! Here’s a link to the book.https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1517093694?fp=1&pc_redir=T1

If Not Us Than Who?

One of the fun aspects of my hobby as a writer is to surround myself with an erudite and thoughtful array of friends from all sides of the aisle and across many continents. My friend Carll, is CEO and editor of a rapidly growing newspaper, Daily Voice,  focused on real time, local news. His reaction to Brexit is thoughtful and above all, humanist. His daily OpEd to friends is salient and food for thought: 
6.25.16

Good morning.

            I’ve got no “cred”, in today’s parlance, to talk Brexit, another vocabulary newcomer. Virtually everybody I respect bemoans Britain’s choice and the Donald supports it, which helps me fix my coordinate points on the map of public opinion. If you find me siding with Trump on any controversy, it’s a statistical anomaly, promise.

             What I – and all of us – can and must wonder at is the apparently inexorable accelerating unraveling of mankind. We don’t want to be one, it seems. We don’t want community or peace. We want to wave our little flags and stamp our furious little boots and hiss insults at our neighbors like petulant kindergartners. Collaboration, coordination, conciliation, internationalism, the brotherhood of man, Red Cross, UN, open borders, the long proud precious four-century legacy of liberalism is mocked by the new barbarians. To hell with you if you’re not like me and screw you and take a hike have become our new stirring slogans, no less in Britain than in the jungle of Trump. Let’s all carry uzis at least. We’ll need them.

            Is this slide inexorable or a momentary aberration? Will we come to our senses? If your hunch is glum, how did this happen? How did liberalism – of which our Lady in the Harbor and the values she proclaims are shining symbols – fail?

            Pendulums oscillate. That is their nature, they can’t help it. Sooner or later, results disappoint, hope sours, and we try something new. Sequent generations contradict their predecessors – they can’t help it, they need newness to define themselves. Even if an innovation is worse, it is our own.

            Liberalism seemed like such a good idea at the time – preferable to warring states and savage factions and tyrannies and thugs. Weren’t peace and health and cooperation and the wellbeing of the less fortunate a good sought by all? Didn’t progress mean advancement toward a better world for everyone?

            Each thinker must shape his own thesis. (By thinker I mean members of the shrinking sodality of the reflective. Illiberalism rejects reflection in favor of passionate stupidity and blind obedience. Questioners are enemies of the rampant mob.)

            My candidate for culprit is greed. The haves couldn’t resist grabbing more and more. A global economy facilitated their grabbing. Globalization dwindles the individual to an impotent and invisible speck, a data point. Democracy silently surrendered to global oligarchy. 

Masters of the machine became masters of earth. Gradually mere folks woke to their impotence. Wow, they’d turned serfs without their say-so. Tea-partiers, Occupiers, rabid nationalists of all nations gave voice to this growing discontent. The masters of the universe chuckled at these noisy nuisances. Bernie Sanders and others roared, no, no, you’re not listening! Wall Street – that is, the world headquarters for global capitalism – wasn’t listening. Those discards of humanity were gathering heat like rags in the attic, moving toward the instant of spontaneous combustion when bursting into flame they would burn the place down.

            The failure of liberalism, if this theory holds, is a moral failing. The winners stopped caring for the losers in the global game, stopped seeing them, celebrated their triumph with obnoxious conspicuous consumption, wrote off the poor as pests. Trump, curiously, symbolizes both the disgusting excesses of capitalism and the fury of the discards. His outlandish success and flaunting offensiveness gives the disenfranchised hope.

            How should we fans of liberalism – of the U.N., our Constitution, Shakespeare and the Sermon on the Mount – respond to the present crisis? Let’s look first into our own hearts. Are we as just, tolerant, embracive, generous as we might be? Let us define the good – then pursue it fiercely. We must not shrug.

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A Farewell To the Pirate King

It’s was 9am and a chill still hung in the summer air. The coastal wind whipped by a shifting high pressure system had lifted a fog bank off the Farallons and gently deposited it on to the Western Edition. You could see it cresting up from the Golden Gate and settling like soft cotton on the crowd that slowly moved from cars and cabs toward the cathedral that rested at the top of San Francisco’s Parnassus Heights.

These early days of summer are whispers from a distant youth – soft breezes and a warm sun promising a day bursting with possibilities. We arrived in tight, somber bands shuffling toward the Mass where we would mourn and celebrate the sudden passing and life of our friend and confederate, our “blue sky” giant who could see a little farther than the rest of us — always promising treasure and believing that tomorrow would hold a bigger and better island to explore than today.

Larry Del Santo Jr. Aka Laurie, Little Lar, The Giant, Mr Blue Sky etc had more monikers than Methuselah. He had been pried loose too soon from his grasp on life’s mortal coil and gone to surprise his mother who had been mourned in this same church on this same day some seventeen years earlier.

Growing up, I can only see Becky Del Santo in some form of pregnancy. She was in this compromised state for twenty five consecutive years. Larry Jr. could never remember a time when his mother was without a child stuck to her breast or wearing a floral sun dress that portended the arrival of another brother or sister.  Like all suburban 60’s mothers, Becky was two parts Saint and one part clairvoyant, air traffic controller. She and my mother were best friends and compared notes on how they could keep their kids on the right path and out of harms way.

Becky’s eldest boy, Larry Jr was her agent and proxy tasked against his will with leading the procession of Del Santos through life and toward a chance at Heaven. We grew up in the great Jurassic age of American families. It was the final epoch of politically incorrect patriarchal rule where children were viewed as useless lumps of coal requiring swear words and enormous pressure so they might one day become a diamond in the eyes of society.

img_0810To be the eldest kid in this patriarchal community carried its own unique burden. You were expected to serve as defacto adult when no parent was present and would invite admonishment and reprisal if something illicit actually occurred on your watch. In our Southern California suburban neighborhood, alpha older brothers directed traffic and meted out pioneer justice on an ecosystem of middle class kids who were blessed with time and a less suffocating form of Darwinian parenting that afforded them a free-range childhood with community supervision.

The average family had four kids — hedging in the event someone got a faulty fuse while playing with an M80. Silent Generation fathers disappeared at 7am and staggered home at 7pm asking their wives two questions,”how was your day and who do I hit?” Mothers were soft breezes that blew in to sort out the chaos, prevent the T-Rex fathers from devouring their young and to ensure the laundry got folded. Matriarchs were the de facto rulers of the roost and over time, slowly learned to exercise the power that Gloria Steinhem so desperately tried to convince them they possessed.

In the long hot summers of the late 60s, packs of free range children migrated on foot, skateboards and bikes across a lime green veldt of manicured front lawns, latticed by magnolia tree lined sidewalks and perfect two car driveways. Larry Del was a giant towering over any kid south of Huntington Drive. He would not stop growing until he cast a 6′ 7″ shadow against the broken red oak fence that separated our two abutting properties. He was the eldest — a mischievous man mountain that appeared to have stumbled out of some Northern Italian fairy tale. He was blond with a massive grin and eyes that narrowed as he surveyed how he might torment you. His mere size compelled a kid to offer up your lunch money.  Yet, his Catholic compass kept him on the right side of decisions. As with all industrious Italians, he would periodically remind you that he would indeed call on you some day for a favor — a social contract in which you would be well served to comply.

He accepted us before we ever met. Our addition to the neighborhood would turn out to remove pressure and suspicion that often rested firmly at the door of the Del Santos of Warwick Rd. The day my parents were signing papers to purchase our new home on adjacent Windsor Rd, my brothers and I were in the back garden, unsupervised ( big mistake ) and launching the largest dirt clods known to man over the backyard fence into what sounded like a rural pond. We laughed hysterically as the nuclear bombs repeatedly hit their target launching water spouts eight feet high. We could not see our new neighbor’s pool nor knew that the five kid Del Santo family living next door to these ill-fated people, would be initially blamed for the first of many decades of transgressions.

Later that night, eleven year old Larry Del Santo Jr would grin upon hearing that four boys were moving into the house behind them. With two brothers and two sisters and another sibling on the way, Larry Jr understood this new tribe of Presbyterian boys could prove a useful distraction to his house of diapers, Von’s breakfast pastries and Catholic expectation.

His dad, Big Larry, and our father were the most feared Dads in the neighborhood. They shared a belief that no one was innocent and while it was God’s job to punish in heaven, a parent was God’s quartermaster here on earth.  Big Larry was a tough food industry executive and practicing Catholic who felt the Spanish Inquisition was justified and that a few public burnings could do wonders for kids and politicians.  He did not publically take the Lord’s name in vain but secretly admired my father’s profanity which could have won a gold medal at the Cursing Olympics.

img_0811Larry Del Santo Sr, aka Big Larry, liked to remind you that a father was the ultimate alpha male. You were a child – a single cell paramecium that moved mindlessly toward food and light. To emphasize your utter uselessness, he would compel you whenever he saw you to shake his hand. “Get over here and shake my hand you little creep.” He would then squeeze your digits so hard your knuckles would be touching. He’d release you and as you fell to the ground massaging the broken bones metatarsals he’d bellow to your father. “Jesus, Miles. You’re going to have to toughen up these pansy boys.” If we had been meat, we would have been placed under his Hun saddle to be tenderized.

From 1957 to 1982, Becky Del Santo would give birth to twelve children with Larry Jr the steward and standard bearer as the eldest child. In life, he found his purpose in being a first child. He had the “blue sky” humility of a man who somehow knew his role was not just to be a standard bearer but to forever lead the denizens of adolescents who would follow. He would serve as the tallest tree on our horizon line and and a non judgmental lighthouse for his siblings and any friend that sometimes got lost in the marine layer of life — reminding us all where the shoals had scratched the keel of his boat. He was always just ahead, yelling back to that everything was fine and to keep following his voice.

He thunderous laughter could perfume any room and his capacity to find trouble was legendary. He was a self anointed Mr Fix It — the kid in the neighborhood who “kind of knew” how to use his all dad’s tools and could build everything from tree houses to trebuchets. Like PT Barnum, he could smell a sucker and often organized his growing army of younger siblings and neighborhood kids to carry out a personal vendetta that might increase the chance of our arrest and his damnation. Yet, the benefit of Catholicism was weekly absolution in confessional followed by a dozen “Hail Marys” and “Our Fathers”.

When the local Helms bakery began delivering baked goods, Larry Jr recognized that the Helms driver was not the freshest bun in the oven and proceeded to develop a strategy where we might distract him while others emptied his change belt and then proceeded to buy all his donuts and candy back from him. Years later, we would conclude the Helms man had been intellectually impaired. ( Yep, we’re doing’ time in Purgatory for that one.)

In the days before helicopter supervision or political correctness, kids played a major role in the neighborhood ecosystem as a part-time labor force, extended family for kids from broken homes and change agents interpreting for one another the strange mysteries of life.  This required collateral material usually stashed in Larry’s tree house — a cornucopia of Oui and Playboy magazines . In an age of Moon shots and mainframe computers, we were pirates and he was the Pirate King. To possess Larry’s physical prowess meant that you could move freely across streets and no one would dare fire a BB gun or launch a bottle rocket.

As kids, we were forever in search of money –to buy food, fireworks or attend a double feature at the local Alhambra theatre.  Larry’s larceny included a black market in fireworks and quarter sticks of dynamite that would be administered to the mailbox of any octogenarian bold enough to chase us off his dichondra lawn. If that subtle warning did not intimidate the offending neighbor, we might resort to eggs launched with a funnel and surgical tubing or perhaps Epsom salts were poured on the lawn to spell a forbidden word. The doorbell might ring to a flaming bag of dog poop or an empty space.  When the usual suspects were hauled in for questioning, we became one another’s permanent alibis.

When the Pirate King punched your shoulder, your arm would hurt for a week. He once had me lean on his feet while he laid on his back. “It’s a rocket launcher ride” I sat on his feet as he yelled “next stop the moon.” He proceeded to “launch me” fifteen feet into the side of my Dad’s Ford Granada almost breaking my arm. When we saw the dent I had caused, we all fled the scene. “Boy, kid, are you in trouble” Larry Jr yelled as he climbed over our fence where Tipper his faithful Irish Setter waited on the other side.

Like wartime prisoner exchanges, my brother Miles would invite Larry Jr with us on vacation while the Dels might get a “Turpin to be named later” for their week down at the beach. Years later, the families finally saw the logic in renting homes in Newport Beach at the same time. Big Larry loved his time on the Balboa Peninsula and was always surrounded by a swirling, one degree of separation scallion of food, beverage, insurance and consumer goods Catholics – small armies of six, eight and ten kid families all renting beach houses near one another each August. In time, Larry Jr, his brothers Michael and John, sisters Mary and Therese would end up helping their own and other people’s siblings.

The Pirate King longed for his own ship and state room but instead had to settle for a few precious belongings.  His most treasured possession was his stereo. In the last golden age of high fidelity, Larry Jr became an audiophile. He matched a Pioneer turntable with a stylus as sensitive as your shy cousin with a 200 amp Kenwood receiver, Bose amplifier, Infinity speakers and an eight track deck to create a system so powerful it could knock down an old lady fifty yards away.

He had plastic sleeves for each Beatles album and would spend hours listening to the dulcet music of Paul McCartney on his headphones. Just for a minute, he was alone — in his own room with no filthy crew and cramped quarters. Moments later, the magic would always be broken by the scent of a dirty diaper announcing the arrival of an infant sibling who would drunkenly stagger into his room looking for his or her mother.

Perhaps being surrounded with so much life compelled the older Del Santo boys to flirt with Death — activities that by today’s standards would land parents in jail for child endangerment. Yet, we were the pioneers of mischief – ancestors whose BB gun wars became tomorrow’s paintball and whose motocross and mini-bike jumps laid the foundations for X Games.

Our friend Judd recalls that common sense was permanently on vacation in those days. A favorite high risk game required one kid to ride a mini bike up and down the street and through the back yard while others would fire BB guns at him from concealed sniper nests. When a bullet lodged under the driver’s eye, they quickly picked it out with tweezers but explained the injury as a baseball accident. Injury was not a badge of honor but a potential invitation for punishment. A contusion was something to be disguised. Blood or a tear in one’s clothing was a sign that a kid had been engaged in grab-ass. You tear your shirt? You pay for it. You get a cut requiring stitches and scare the hell out of me? Ill make you wish you died out there. Injury was a kid’s fault. “What in the God’s green earth were you doing over at the Del Santos?”

Life in the late 60s and early 70s was a death defying time of discovering boundaries, learning through failure and encounters with authority figures. The police did not work at cross purposes with your parents. The cops often brought a kid home to a punishment that they knew was likely to be more painful and decisive than any visited by local law enforcement.

Larry Del Jr was exposed to the full radiation of first child accountability. It pulsed from a busy father and an overwhelmed mother who looked to him to ride shotgun for an army of children still finding their way in the world. He never relinquished the job of Pirate King. It became his raison d’être.

Larry had his share of life’s successes and disappointments but he was always grounded in the singular fact that he was his family’s sibling leader — large and in charge, ready to give advice to anyone. He deeply loved his own kids who had become his pride and joy. He was genetically predisposed to be a Dad. Later in life, he would make it his priority to know each of his thirty nieces and nephews.

For four decades, our lives would intertwine – vacationing together, swapping kids, offering summer work, helping potential felons find the right college. It was always the same — the cabal of Italian Catholics and the feisty and felonious quartet of Presbyterian boys who were uncertain whether they wanted to be superior court judges or wards of the criminal justice system.

It’s 4am now. I’m feeling old driving south on Highway 101 to SFO to fly back to JFK. A tangerine sunrise to the east feels like a home fire burning. The San Francisco Bay is an ebony inkblot sequined by the lights of a hundred high tech office parks and residential homes along the waters edge.

I’ll miss him. He was a thousand summer nights running across the innocence of my youth and my fascination with risk. He was a surrogate big brother and a talisman for the truth. He was a Pirate King, the Leader of the Lost Boys — always itching for a golf game or a dinner with as many people jammed into one house as the fire marshal would allow. He was big in every way and his heart showed how endless our capacity for love can be.

All hail to the Pirate King, our Blue Sky Giant, the vanquisher of bullies, master of mischief and champion of all sound systems. He blazed a trail that we will follow for the rest of our lives. His inate sense of kindness taught all of us that God does not work through burning bushes but through people and he was perhaps, the tallest and most amazing juniper in our garden.

Don’t worry Larry. We will pick up the torch and the funnelator to be sure we keep things loose and when it’s necessary, we will enforce the community standard – perhaps launching a few eggs at a grumpy neighbor’s house.

And A Crisis Is Coming…

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“Watch out for emergencies. They are your big chance.” – Fritz Reiner

With such culturally rich programming like Hoarders, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and now the 2016 GOP debates, it’s clear that America is addicted to the sugar high of shock jock invectives and personal attacks. 

I’m wondering whether ancient Rome had its own version of “Here Comes the Etruscans” or “The Prelate” — primetime programming just before the Visigoths invaded through rotten walls. 

The GOP Debates of 2016 have been manufactured for the medicated masses — a pathetic Roman gladiator spectacle of blood lust and nothingness that does more to damage the GOP than any of its amorphous stances on immigration, healthcare and foreign policy. The great Republican nation state is in danger of reverting to Whig-like irrelevance with its moderate and orthodox factions splintering into a lawless no man’s land of angry contrarianism.

I admit to not liking or trusting Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders is too extreme for this nation to support and too naive to understand that a socialist cannot drive 6% GDP growth — which is what he claims his financial plan will produce so that all the free stuff he’s planning on giving everyone won’t bankrupt the nation. I’m lost searching for a moderate leader that is electable. Trump’s plan when studied requires unrealistic spending cuts or economic growth at almost 10% GDP growth. I know, it’s inconvenient. Most Americans have been reassured by their candidates that there would not be any math — or Syrian refugees — in this debate.

Kasich is my guy but it does not look good. He is DiCaprio in the Revenant, mauled and left for dead. However, this movie will likely end with JK slowly freezing in the nuclear winter of a radioactive Donald. We are indeed in the winter solstice of American politics and at the nadir of American intellectual and political engagement. Like Ben Carson, I feel very excluded from this free-for-all as my GOP candidate lags the three horsemen of absurdity. I actually don’t know anyone that admits to endorsing or liking Trump and do not see the attraction. I admit to not watching The Apprentice. According to those that do watch The Donald, he’s a winner and will tell old Vlad Putin that he has man-boobs, is a loser and should give the Crimea back to the Estonians or is that the Ukranians. The Baltic countries love Trump. Just ask him.  

We are now seeing panderers, liars, ideologues and megalomaniacs take center stage. On the GOP side, we are being asked to choose between an orange bigot, a guy who looks like he rode his bike to the debates and Eddie Munster.  The Dems get to choose between Claire Underwood and Eugene Debs.

And a crisis is coming. I can’t wait.

The meltdown may be economic, geo-political, environmental or some twisted combination of all three. I ask myself which candidate has the integrity, skills and temperament to navigate geo-political unrest, economic crisis born out of sovereign debt/deficit spending or a crisis borne from the dust and detritus of a scorched, war torn planet where refugees roam Europe like ghosts of the damned during WWII.

Americans are stuck in a malaise and don’t know it. We are at war but you don’t feel it. We are a pampered lot. We think times are hard but really have not yet had to deal with the brutal sacrifices brought on by a true catastrophic crisis. When a society-threatening event occurs, a civilization often finds its capacity for greatness. In history as in nature, we periodically need a conflagration to clear out the overgrowth of excess, self-interest and the internecine fighting that clogs our arteries and causes us to act out of fear and tribalism. At its furthest point from crisis, a society becomes apathetic and indifferent to the values that made it great. In crisis, we rediscover the “better angels of our natures” and often overcome extraordinary circumstances.

In the late 90’s, sociologists Strauss and Howe identified a predictable figure-eight societal cycle that was characterized by four “turns” occurring in twenty-year phases: Crisis, Rebuilding, Deconstruction and finally Disintegration leading to another crisis.

Each generation plays a critical demographic role in each “turning”. A crisis spawns a “hero generation” that tackles the calamity and gives birth to rebuilders who usher in a generation that extends the precious prosperity arising out of the emergency. Some societies don’t survive their predicament and simply disappear. However, those that succeed seem to forget history and repeat the self-inflicted figure eight every one hundred years.

During periods of prolonged sunshine and success, societies get lazy and individualistic. The builder generation will give birth to a demographic known as Prophets – a selfish subdivision that claws at the edifice of archaic post crisis values – an ethos that, while once essential, seems draconian and out of touch. The Prophets begin to deconstruct the institutions that were so essential to crisis resolution and as they do, the generations that preceded them lament that “civilization is going to hell.” It seems we do go to hell – about every one hundred years and need a crisis to get us out of it.

As society moves further from crisis and Indian summer days of apathy and self-interest, a final generation known as the Cynics beholds the vestiges of a society driven by distinctive needs and proceeds to lead us further down the dark alley of nihilism. When we stop believing in the values that made us great, our final wall disintegrates before the Visigoths. In crisis, we encounter fear but we also discover our our hunger for a purpose greater than ourselves. The traditional caste systems of society melt away under a common need to pull together to ensure our mutual survival. Those we held up as icons during the times of selfish self-service and fear-based, reptilian thinking are exiled to the edges of our communities in favor of those who can bring humanity together and rally us around a common set of ideals that are recognized as essential ingredients to become better versions of ourselves.

In times of tumolt, we look up to politicians, religious leaders, generals and larger than life galvanizing people that force us to subordinate our personal desires for the sake of our united character. Soldiers say there are no atheists in foxholes. The magnesium burn of crisis scorches specious things that preoccupy us — leaving nothing but sinew and resolve. The burn cauterizes the wound of division as the need for basic survival transcends race, socioeconomic barriers and religion. We work together and take an interest in one another for the sacred purpose of building a better tomorrow.

Politicians and pundits agree that gridlock in Washington now means we don’t possess the resolve to change our destructive course until perhaps five minutes before catastrophe. It seems that only when we are on the precipice of disaster will we have enough faith in one another and support for leaders to make tough choices and build critical bipartisan support for our future.

Character matters. Today, I am unable see beyond the ethical limitations of leading POTUS candidates in either parties. The election has become a referendum not just on statesmanship but on our ability to listen to history.

The Civil War gave us Lincoln, and the Depression/WWII gave us Roosevelt and Churchill.

A crisis is coming and it can’t get here soon enough!

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I’m Building A Safe Place And You Can’t Come!

             So the kids are coming home – from college, from new jobs in far away cities and out from underneath a mountain of college applications. The age-old axioms still hold true. While life is ephemeral, this time of year is a cunning psychosocial re-run that is as perennial as Jimmy Stewart racing down the snow covered streets of the mythical town of Bedford Falls, NY.

My eldest is now a businesswoman and has developed a range of opinions. Her latest revelation is the 38% withholding being faithfully absconded from her bi-weekly paycheck. To her fraternal grandfather’s delight, she is rethinking her political convictions. Thanks to Obamacare she can almost bridge the period where our insurance and Medicare cover her so she might never have to actually purchase it for herself. Yes, George Bailey, it really is a wonderful life!

My college sophomore arrived in a cloud of dust – disgorged from a massive SUV full of teens, filthy laundry and a cacophony of coughs that was reminiscent of a TB ward. He is the middle man on the homo sapien evolutionary chart — not quite upright. He can hit a jump shot from thirty feet but cannot seem to find a trashcan or hit a toilet. As with all mid-semester collegiates, he is paler than a cue ball and unaware that most people go to bed before 3am. Within moments of his arrival, the foyer looks like an alleyway in Mumbai as discarded clothes and food wrappers litter the floor attracting an adoring entourage of cat and dog who will swim under him like pilot fish for as long as he is home.

My final child, a high school senior, is in the process of breaking up with us. We recognize all the signs – curt but polite  responses, unreturned texts, and a palpable annoyance at the littlest peccadilloes like my breathing or how I chew food. Between the avalanche of completing his college applications and a young person’s burning ambition to march toward the front-lines of manhood, he is ready for reassignment.

Holiday expectations quickly morph into resentments and I’m getting annoyed that no one is paying attention to me. Even bribery to spend time together is not working as they have their own money. Most years, I become a grump – silently wallowing in self-pity, overeating, and talking to the dog as he sympathetically receives my latest Martin Luther list of complaints about the decline of the modern pater familus.

Yet this year, it’s different. There is a movement across America that is warming the mud of my holiday self absorption. Contrary to some people’s opinion that I am wearing a garland of pity fashioned out of misguided self-interest and rice-paper sensitivity, I have learned that I am actually a victim of discrimination.

I knew it – ageism, mildly overweightism, suburbanism – you name it; these subtle forms of overt exclusion seep from the pores of a hyper-judgmental world. After carefully reading up on the demands of a legion of determined students across America’s universities who are bravely confronting the meanness and unconscious prejudice of their cocooned educational institutions, I declared my own independence.

After emerging from football hibernation in my man-cave on Thanksgiving Day while my wife had been spending her day in the kitchen, she had the audacity to ask me to peel potatoes. I was naturally upset as I did not expect a request for support – after all, food preparation is traditionally women’s work. My wife is also British. I explained that since half of my family was Irish, I could not understand her insensitivity to asking me to peel potatoes. Having immigrated to the US during the last potato famine and having endured the poverty, racism and tyranny of English colonialism and US slum lords, I was appalled that she would be so culturally unrealistic to expect me to peel a few praties on the graves of my ancestors.

As she smirked and raised an eyebrow, I stomped my foot.

“I won’t stand for this micro-aggression. Your making me relive my forefathers’ humiliation as they stepped off the boat at Ellis Island.”

She handed me a bowl and the peeler. “You’re lucky that we both love the same person.”

Church was no refuge. The stewardship sermon encouraged me to reach deeper into my pocket to support those less fortunate. This made me feel bad. I don’t like it when people make me feel bad and I made a mental note to petition the Worship committee to be more understanding that sermons should not discriminate against anyone who does not feel like helping poor people. The worship challenge now is to find a lowest common denominator subject that can appeal to every soul in our hyper-heterogeneous congregation. My suggestion included a primer on how to operate a lathe or make a bird feeder – but perhaps I was now being bigoted because some members may not know what a dowel is.

Micro-aggression was everywhere. Clients wanting me to work on their projects without regard for how I was feeling or what I had going on. “Look, Homeland is on tonight and I’m feeling kind of fragile today.”Bosses expecting me to meet deadlines and conform to their definition of performance. Like who knows better than I do about how I perform? Later, while deep in thought at a traffic light, a woman bullied me by honking her horn. Here I was worrying about Kim Kardashian’s latest pregnancy and I am attacked.

The micro-aggression storm grew in intensity as my supposed “Friends” did not press “like” on my latest posting on Facebook. The accountant called. The IRS, ever the aggressor, was expecting me to pay increased taxes to keep funding our inefficient and dysfunctional government. The biggest insult arrived from my son’s safe haven college asking me to remit this semester’s full tuition – a bloated payment that helps fund a majority of other students who are on financial aid. Gratefully, I learned that many of those receiving my support were my brothers and sisters in self pity.

 I was depressed. It seemed wherever I looked, ageism, body-ism, sectarianism ( I’m convinced Methodists and Catholics keep secrets and won’t share them ) and discrimination followed me like cheap cologne. I declared to my family that I needed a safe place (aside from my bathroom) where I could feel unthreatened.

I emailed our First Selectman to ask if He would consider converting the local teen center to a fat-guy, judgment-free zone where late boomers could watch football, play Christmas music year round, eat pie, smoke a cigar, not have to answer client calls, or help anyone with anything unless we felt like it. I would want the front desk clerk at this Shangri-La of lethargy to weigh 300lbs to make us feel thin. Best of all, I’m going to demand that someone else pay for this as compensation for years of dislocation.

My Selectman wrote me back.

“Thanks for the terrific suggestion. I’m not sure where things stand with the re-purposing of this location but we will certain circle back to you. I can completely understand how you feel and want to better understand your issues. Sincerely, Rob”

His note was riddled with undercurrents of aggression and sarcasm. How you feel? Clearly he was singling me out. Understand? What, I’m not speaking well enough for you to comprehend my concerns? I bet you think I have a couple of Krispy Cremes tucked in my cheeks? It’s because I’m over fifty? Or maybe you don’t like the fact that I’m in healthcare or drive a Ford. Note to self: Demand his resignation. I’m not going away.

I’m going to find my safe place and when I get it, he won’t be invited. In fact, I’ll make sure all those people that made me feel like a middle aged, silver-haired baby will be in the parking lot being told they can’t join my carnival of conceit. I’ll show them that it does not pay to be judgmental, exclusive and close-minded.

It’s sad that they will never understand what it means to be me. Once I’m in my safe place, I’ll never have to waste time away from Homeland trying to explain it to them. They will be out of my life – expunged by the segregation that they once subjected me to.

I may need to find a new job, new clients, maybe even a new family, and well, a lot of stuff. But I’m not going to be intimidated. I’m going to demand someone reimburse me for all those things.

By the way, has anyone seen my U-9 participation trophy?

 

 

Why Conservatives Bother Listening To Trump 

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I recently published a post ( The Orange Man Inside of Me ) on why I think Donald Trump is bad for America and how “Trumpism” is tainting public opinion and polarizing parties.

I admit that my politics are a mongrel confusion of liberal and conservative beliefs based on personal experiences and influenced by the true north of Karma and the practical GPS of different moral and real world coordinates — data points provided by my friends, my own education, upbringing, sense of justice and my business experience. My DemoIndependican views do not fit neatly in a box and at times, are at war inside of me as the fiscal conservative battles the open-minded altruist for a solution where peace and prosperity can reign supreme. Human nature does not always allow for happy endings. Sometimes we have to choose between civil liberty and national security. It’s not always simple to know the right answer.

I love my friends because they care enough to engage. One close friend, Kaleb, chose to take some umbrage with my recent manifesto about Trump — although we both agree we would like Trump to go away. He felt the need to defend the core of the Conservatives. Interestingly, many of his views and beliefs guided my early years and to this day, give me a healthy respect for those Conservatives like my father who have stuck to their guns. It seems everyone’s message is being attacked these days. You can’t raise the public’s political IQ without giving equal time to help us all find the truth in the middle.

I’m reprinting Kaleb’s response as it is articulate and spot on in reminding us of a platform that has not been able to get traction in Wsshington despite a majority presence for Conservatives inside the beltway…I yield the floor to my colleague from California.

“Turp, Conservatives are not mad because the number of minorities are increasing. We’re not racist, sexist or homophobic. We don’t hate nature or love war. We believe in American exceptionalism, law and order, and liberty and equality under the law – not in the fairness of an outcome. We have observed in human history that progress is made when energy, intelligence and free markets pick winners. Governments are incapable of doing that for long. We have a wise approach to solving the world’s problems that is based in reality and achieving results, not sitting in a coffee bar and enlisting support of “do-gooder” causes that are actually counterproductive to addressing the causes – rather than the symptoms – of many socio-economic problems.   

We view people as individuals, not as members of tribes or groups incapable of thinking in ways other than identified by the mass media. With remarkably few exceptions compared to the mounds of demonizing crap heaped on us by the Left, we don’t demean our opponents or impugn their integrity or motives unless they do it themselves. We can win on the merits of our own social and economic arguments and don’t need to resort to Clintonesque tactics outlined in Rules for Radicals. 

So here’s the background for understanding Trumpism. Trump is an egomaniac and an ass. The only reasons he’s given prominence by the left wing media are because he “sells papers” and more important, his approach will do long term damage to the GOP campaign prospects by pitting “law and order” Republicans against those who have a more common sense approach to immigration issues. He’s the perfect candidate for the left wing media. Through the Trump campaign they can cover and embarrass Republicans while feeling good that they have been “fair” in covering the waterfront of political positions. 

“Trumpism ” is about Republicans who are pissed: not about losing power – but about having gained it and having it not exercised in Washington for conservative solutions. We have the largest number of Republicans in Congress since Hoover, a majority in the Senate and on the US Supreme Court, 31 governors, the largest # of state legislatures under GOP control (68 of 98 partisan chambers) and the most GOP legislators ever elected. Yet the taxing, spending, regulating, Constitutional lawlessness, record borrowing, executive orders instead of legislation, withdrawal from international obligations, using moral equivalency to undermine allies and support terrorist organizations, implement treaties w/o Senate approval, impose more federal mandates, use government intimidation of conservatives … it just keeps going on and on. So Trump calls BS on this, as someone needs to. Good for him. I hope he now gives way to someone responsible who can win the presidential election and turn the tide so that those majorities rule. Isn’t that what democracy is about?”

Order Your New Michael Turpin Book!

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Here’s the link to the new book, “53 Is the New 38”.  If you are a fan of the blog, I’d encourage you to click on the link https://www.createspace.com/5704941 and order a copy for friends of family members.  It’s just in time for the holidays. If you are middle aged or trying to convey to someone the utter thanklessness, ironic humor and indignity of middle age, this book offer you a voice of protest or a laugh-out-loud escape.  Hope you enjoy it.

The Orange Man Inside of Me

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In 1972, a bellicose French nationalist named Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the National Front party and began chipping away at the veneer of France’s ubiquitous reputation as an open bridge to the third world and a bulwark against US hegemony. For its first fifteen years, the National Front was marginalized to the fringes of French politics and associated with extreme solutions and isolationist policies.

In the late 80’s, the fall of the Berlin Wall and deconstruction of the USSR ushered in a period of economic and political immigration across Africa, the Middle East and Europe not witnessed since the turn of the century. During the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviet Union would be among the first nations to provide aid and infrastructure to countries experiencing civil, political, environmental and economic upheaval. The two nuclear powers were engaged in proxy wars fighting for the hearts and minds of unsettled nations hoping to advance or blunt one another’s ideologies.

With the deconstruction of the former Soviet Union, nations in turmoil suddenly became the burden of their closest Western neighbor. What was once the foreign policy problem of two superpowers became the yoke of European nations.

As immigrants flooded the border regions of various Western European countries, including France, racial and religious tensions escalated as refugees put a strain on social services, took jobs and in some cases committed crimes that seemed, to locals, to be an inexcusable act of biting the proverbial hand that was so generously feeding them.

The nadir of the “Le Penizination” of French politics hit in the 2002 Presidential elections when Le Pen finished ahead of then Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and second to Jacques Chirac. Jospin and his Socialist Party was humiliated in his third place finish prompting Jospin to immediately resign from public life. Le Pen would now run against Chirac for the French Presidency.

The significance of the election did not make the front pages of American newspapers but moved with the speed of the plague across European and world media. The Le Pen vote was correctly interpreted as a referendum on many things — French leadership, a flagging economy, and higher unemployment but it also insinuated an ugly aspect aspect of the French character that had been so well hidden under the perfume and liberal élan of a historically open arms foreign policy.

The French electorate were elated and horrified at what they had set in motion. Most were publically proclaiming embarrassment that such a bigoted politician could insinuate his way within one step of the Presidency of the Republic. “Mon Dieu, how can this be? I did not vote for him!”

Obviously, someone checked the ballot for Le Pen and a quick analysis of the French voting districts confirmed that the majority of disaffected votes came out of the industrial regions and border provinces where Le Pen’s venomous attacks on immigrants found fertile ground.

To some, Le Pen was a lunatic ultra nationalist preying on the fears of a xenophobic population that was not coping well in a post Cold War world. To others, Le Pen was a savior from the Age of French superiority and self reliance. He was a ronin samurai beholding to no master except his conscience and the notion of France for the French. It seems he had nothing to lose and therefore, had no governor controlling what he said, when he said it or who he might attack in the name of unsanitized candor.

Embarrassed by accusations of closet racism and geopolitical disingenuousness, the French voted overwhelmingly for Chirac in the subsequent Presidential run-off, cutting Le Pen one step short of the highest office in the land. The French breathed a sigh of relief and went back to their espressos while other demagogues and charlatans took notice.

I was in the airport delayed and killing time by watching the recent Republican debates on Fox. An older gentleman in his mid-seventies watched bemused as candidates jockeyed for microphone time while Donald Trump stood with a look of superiority and self satisfaction not witnessed since Mussolini on a balcony in the Piazza Venizia in Rome.

Trump made quick mincemeat of Scott Walker and turned on Carly Fiorina. The man next to me shook his head and laughed,”You got to love that orange son of a bitch. He calls it like he sees it and is the only one who will tell the truth.”

It was not the first time I’d heard a rational person identify with the edgy Trump diatribe and admittedly, I found myself amused at his fearless political incorrectness. The “orange man” was indeed stating the obvious and telling it like it was. “The Russians don’t fear us. The Chinese are duplicitous trade partners waiting patiently for us to sell them the rope that they can use to hang us. Meanwhile, you guys are like Nero and his cronies fiddling while Rome is burning!”

The orange demagogue had some easy targets that night but he clearly is no champion for truth or fair play. He was, in many ways, a manifestation of the kind of person I have tried to avoid becoming over the course of my adult life. He appeals to the cynic and nationalist in us. Trump panders to the part of anyone that resents that fact that they have become part of a new minority where the “have nots” are voting people into office that conspire to raise taxes, mortgage our children’s future and give free stuff to illegals who refuses to even learn our language.

And this is when my father says, ” and your point is?” He often asks this with a mouth full of food prepared by his caregivers, who are all immigrants.

My point is that Trump is our generation’s Le Pen. He is a manifestation of shameless self-promotion and inflammatory rhetoric. He is the underbelly of American capitalism — a hubris ridden, self-aggrandizing buccaneer who lacks empathy and real hair color. There is nothing natural about the man.

It’s easy to pick apart what’s wrong with a country that is leveraged with debt, saddled with complicated social problems and guided by politicians that are more interested in their own survival than in serving as catalysts for change. Yet, I’m not so sure it’s an option for the USA to default on our debt in the same manner the Donald defaulted over four corporate bankruptcies.

It’s a hard job in politics to be a constructive catalyst for change and to exhibit the rare characteristics that bring people together and overcome partisan paralysis — attributes revealed in the energy and wit of Lincoln and the tenacity and courage of a Truman. The orange man grows off our fear and worships at the altar of himself. He knows that self interest is at the opposite end of self sacrifice.

Yet, the beauty of a democracy is you are allowed to vote out of self Interest. A democracy feels great when you’re in the majority. Changing demographics have relegated a generation of US Conservatives to the minority and they don’t like how it feels. It turns out that it’s no fun having your views ignored and concerns swept aside. It’s agonizing being force fed ideologies that chafe against your own beliefs and when the power to pass legislation passes to the opposition, it sucks to see the institutions you hold dear dismantled. It’s even more complex when the minority is the economic majority.

The Pareto Principal suggests that in a balanced market, 80% of the wealth will naturally find itself in the hands of 20% of the population. A natural bell curve of competence favors and rewards a minority. Should this minority be punished for their innovation and success? Yet, when 80/20 becomes 90/10 does the imbalance create a black hole of civil unrest that can destroy the society? The orange man seems to be suggesting that if we mess with the natural laws of selection, we are in deep doo-doo. He does not believe in the better angels of our nature. Might makes right and we should be justified in our fear. A vote for the orange man is a vote for the manifest destiny that once made America great — for those of us who were born here and love our country. We don’t believe in free-loaders and illegal immigrants. Hell, send ’em all back where they came from.

Yet, self interest is a tricky thing. In modest portions, it is compulsory to compete in a flat, crowded world; but, too much of it finds people running over others as they seek to get what they want. Being a minority often leads to hopelessness. Langston Hughes warned that there is nothing more dangerous than the man who believes there is no hope. Fear and cynicism are the currency in the realm of the minority. The majority will tell you to get over it. When you are in the minority, you may accuse those who don’t relate to your plight as ignorant or insensitive. You agitate for change and you look for a champion.

The key is seeking to understand that the world is not black and white but a color bar tinged with shades of gray and that for better or worse, we are a melting pot that we made great by our heterogeneity. How we balance meritocracy and free markets with social responsibility is a tough question. This is a much tougher query than who’s picture should appear on a ten dollar bill.

The orange man is inside everyone. He comes out when we are afraid that we will not get what we believe we need or want. He comes out when things don’t make sense. He pushes the panic button and says if we stay on this path, we are all screwed. Yet he has no answers — quick to kibbutz but purposely vague on how he might correct our course.

The fact is we are better than the orange man inside us. We can’t listen to those who speak only to self interest and fear. That’s where faith comes in and our belief that we can build a better tomorrow and still serve a higher purpose and a radius of responsibility beyond those we know.

I still don’t know who I want as President. But I can tell you who I won’t vote for — and if you give me a shirt for my birthday, just don’t make it orange.

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Mr. C’s America

imagesI never thought of him as a bigot. For as long as I can remember he’s been an opinionated old man. Half the time, I didn’t really get the specific issue he was ranting about. He was just my neighbor, “Mr. C”. It was not until years later that I was old enough to recognize the fear and uncompromising distain that tinged his political diatribes.

He never seemed concerned that I heard him swear or cast aspersions on a particular ethnic group or politician. If it was happening on his property, he behaved like he had a sovereign’s immunity from consequence. We’re both older now — he well into eighties and me in college. I still go over and talk with him. I tend to cut older people slack and excuse any outburst as a symptom of mental deterioration — a circle of life where an adult once again passes through adolescence on his way to an increasing dependence on others. It’s got to suck, you know — getting older.

I fundamentally don’t agree with his views or the way he plants them like posts that support a barbed wire fence. We all make choices and should not be given a free pass to say whatever comes into our head without regard for others feelings or facts. People sometimes hide behind physical or emotional limitations and use them as an excuse to be exempted from social consequences. We too often give old people a get out of jail free card if they express hyper-orthodox views on sex, religion and politics.

Octogenarians don’t seem to care what they say. Hell, some older people don’t even zip up their pants or wipe their butts. I suppose I’d be cranky too if my body was failing me and the society I grew up in was moving away from the values that had served me as such a reassuring set of guideposts. I guess I’d feel everything was going to hell and I’d look to blame someone for the decline of the world, as I once knew it.

Mr. C was brought up by depression era immigrant parents – a silent generation where everyone feared everything and for good reason. There was high unemployment, poverty, diseases and other immigrants taking jobs. Every town had some kind of social hierarchy based on economics. Your goal was simple: stand on other people’s shoulders and use your God given talents to meet or exceed your parents’ standard of living. If that situation persisted today, it would weigh heavily on me. I’m used to the instantaneous resolution of a pill or a computer app. Today’s average person does not abide by lack of resolution and persistent uncertainty.

It seems his generation had to muscle through difficult times and accept uncertainty as a constant companion. In those days, a guy had to run over fear or be paralyzed by it. Mr C. clearly spent his life running shit over. He went into the Army to finance his college. He hated the Army but honored his commitment. No one ever gave him anything. He had to work for everything. As a result, he has little empathy for people who blame society for letting them down.

“A ‘victim’ is someone who is dead. Any one else is a survivor and must dust themselves off and get on with life. The world is not fair. There’s no such thing as society letting you down. Only you can let down society. The more we make it about ‘me’ and less about ‘we’, the closer we are to the moral decay of ancient Rome.”

I liked listening to him talk to nobody particular. Mom hated that I hung out at Mr. C’s but he paid me $4.00 an hour to weed his yard.

“Listen, charity is important part of any society but helping one’s fellow man is a personal decision and should be driven by those who feel the need to serve. Legislated charity is a slippery slope. It starts with the best intentions as a critical safety net for the less fortunate but when we introduce government into the mix, it quickly becomes a hammock. Beware of those with good intentions. It’s human nature to stop working hard if you can get things for free.”

The condition of dependence and rationalized victimization seem to my Mr. C to be most prevalent among American blacks. He points to Asians and Latinos as more cohesive communities that are anchored by a strong work, family and religious ethic. Bolstered by stronger values, they do not suffer disproportionate incarceration, poverty and mortality rates.

“I don’t know what happened to the black community. They can’t seem to elevate themselves above their circumstances and don’t realize that liberal politicians have kept them in perpetual bondage by validating their misguided sense of being victims. Give them welfare and buy a vote. Jesus, slavery ended 200 years ago. When are we going to stop allowing them to use Jim Crow as an excuse and take responsibility for their inability to win their own futures? ”

Nowadays, Mr. C’s political diatribes are prompted by an email forwarded to him by one of his retired friends or the Fox Channel that blares in his house every day like a loud speaker in some Pol Pot political reeducation camp.

He seems to fit all the traditional definitions of being prejudiced. He clearly has a problem with blacks as he feels they represent the most broken part of our society. He is quick to point out that blacks have much higher rates of incarceration, single parent homes and kids being born out of wedlock. The high school drop out rates are staggering and college graduation rates are sickeningly low. The mortality rate for urban African American men under the age of 25 is as high as Marines in Iraq.

I wonder why. Did we do this to them or did they do this to themselves? Who is responsible? Is it someone’s legacy? When does the current generation own their circumstances? Is that fair? How do you break the cycle of poverty and prejudice?

For someone who shows me so much unconditional love, my neighbor has no empathy for people he feels won’t help themselves. It’s a strange paradox to be loved by someone who is not family and at the same time, has so much disregard for and sectarian fear of others. I see so many things in him that I admire and I also see this great stain on his heart.

I guess it’s natural to see contradiction in people, as you become an adult. It’s that way with your own nation too. As a child, you idolize your parents. They are the center of your universe and they can do no wrong. Their views are your views.

Eventually, you develop your own opinions and values formed out of experiences. These nascent interpretations come in conflict with the dogma you so easily accepted as a child. You question and occasionally challenge adult’s simplistic views to complex issues. Some of these views are insensitive to the realities of now. One day, you come to the realization that you still love your parents but now see them for what they are — human beings with contradictions and biases influenced by their own lives.

It can be the same way with America. You love your country but as you mature and become more well read about alternative forms of government and the diversity of the world, you don’t fully buy into American actions with unequivocal support. You begin to question things and at times, disagree with Monroe Doctrine manifest destiny and the claim that we permanently occupy moral high ground because we are a free market democracy.

Yet, that’s the beauty of freedom. You aren’t required to be black or white, right or wrong. Much of life is indeed a color bar of shades of gray. The only sure way to raise your intelligence around racial, social, moral or political issues is through experience and informed debate. You must seek to understand people before being understood. I suppose bigotry is at its core, the refusal to engage in any other point of view.

I don’t know what’s happened in the seventy years that separates my Mr. C and I. I know that the 1960’s were a time of great social upheaval. A new generation tore away the fabric of nuclear family, white picket fence suburbia that had defined their generation’s goals and held them together during WWII and the Korean War. Mr. C deeply resented this disregard for American ideals and felt threatened by those that actively questioned the institutions that he felt made this country great. They had yet to pay the dues necessary to earn the right to bite the hand that fed them.

The further from crisis a society grows, the wider the generation gap between those that lived it and those who are raised on its distant mythology. Mr. C and I clearly use a different yardstick to measure success and progress in life. My generation wants to be happy and is not hung up on social conformity or political solidarity as a basis for belonging. We have been brought up to celebrate diversity and to cut other people slack for being different instead of challenging them to conform to a moral and social two-party system that does not adequately represent today’s diverse society composed of so many different voices and views. I don’t care if you’re gay, straight or transgender. You have a right to choose and to not die broke paying off a healthcare bill. It’s your life. Be happy.

I can see his eyes narrow and react to my occasional Rachel Maddow bleeding heart commentary. He calls me a “commie” even though Communism has passed the scimitar to Islamic fundamentalism as the greatest threat to the West. It’s clear to him that I’m not buying in to his generation’s notion that the best societies are Darwinist meritocracies where people must have the discipline to succeed or reinvent themselves to better compete. Yet, many who fail don’t reinvent themselves. They become wards of the criminal justice or welfare systems.

Prisons are supposed to rehabilitate men as they pay back society for their crimes. Welfare is intended to be a stopgap hand up until one becomes self-sufficient. The linchpin to his system working is personal transformation — private change with as little help from government as possible to ensure public debt does not grow and personal and corporate taxes stay low to enable to strong economy. “Jobs do more for self-esteem than a welfare check.”

It all sounds great but this change does not seem to be happening as more wealth gets concentrated in fewer hands and jobs get shipped overseas. The trickle down economics of Ronald Reagan seems to be drying up for the majority of the U.S. middle class.

I encourage my surrogate grandfather to read Jill Leovy’s book, Ghettoside, a non fiction detective story which helps deconstruct and frame the tragedy of unsolved murder rates of young black men in South Central LA. It provides an explanation for the rage in the black community as it deals with institutional urban neglect and the effects of uneven policing. Sometimes the problem is not aggressive policing but the lack of resolution investigating and prosecuting the murderers of young black men. When the community feels nothing will be done and that crimes will go unpunished, the community takes the law into its own hands and lawlessness reigns.

He listens to my statistics and my facts regarding the cycle of poverty and the stacked deck of social and economic barriers that make it hard for young black men to rise above their own circumstances. He can’t hide his racism. It’s subtle, the way a white man unconsciously pats his back pocket for his wallet when he sees a young black man walking towards him and then argues that there is no such thing as racism. “We have a black President, don’t we?” Dude, your bigotry is deep and its still in there. When you deny it, you just make it that much more real.

Ironically, blacks don’t help one another as much as they could. I read in sociology class that when many blacks beat the odds and succeed, many leave their communities and never look back. They believe they are worthy role models by the simple virtue of the fact that they overcame overwhelming odds. When they leave, they don’t rush back to their community. They depart for good — leaving others behind without a rope to climb out or an experienced hand to help. The class shared the story of an affluent black couple that tried to patronize black only business for one year. In the year of this noble experiment, the couple found there was one black owned grocery chain in the entire state of Illinois. Prior to the passage of Civil Rights Act, there were thousands of black owned businesses patronized exclusively by blacks. Ironically, when given the opportunity to eat and shop at white establishments, many blacks abandoned their own businesses to patronize white establishments. The forbidden fruit was now in their reach and in buying white, a generation inadvertently condemned another to decline and economic struggle. Ironically, the law that was passed to level the playing field, tilted it further in the wrong direction.

Harper Lee once wrote that bigotry and faith are disturbingly similar in that they both begin at the same place — where reason ends. I’ll always care for Mr. C like a grandfather but I realize that we have chosen different paths to interpret a world that often ceases to make sense.

I choose faith – faith in the better nature of people and optimism that I can find a new tribe that works toward an inclusive solution governed by a colorblind justice and economic system.  My old friend’s fear blinds him to any solution other than tougher laws, longer sentences and punitive consequences for the bad choices that young men make each day in these communities. Self-centered fear seems to be the trigger for many of the unattractive aspects of the human condition. It’s clear that while fear and faith start at the same place, they can’t occupy it at the same time.

It’s time to leave Mr. C. I throw a few weeds in his green garbage bag. We hug and I can see he is proud of my independence – the son he never had. Unconsciously, he betrays his belief that eventually I’ll convert to his cynical ideology. If he’s right, I will find myself one day at war with a government that wants to tax me and redistribute my money to those who won’t work. “Welfare is a trap to ensure the poor’s continued dependence on politicians and social re-engineers.” It’s a cynical way to see the world but he’s been walking the earth seventy years longer than I have. I can’t dismiss him as a heretic without first accumulating my own experiences as data points to refute him.

Somewhere between his rigid conservative ethos and my altruistic belief that change is possible, the truth stirs and struggles to the light. Victor Hugo said that the truth will always find the light and the deeper you tried to hide it the more explosive it is when it’s finally revealed. Truth rests in the shadows and along the black and white edges of reality. It’s ironic that when it comes to black and white, the issues and solutions always seem to be gray. It takes courage to define them and to not allow ideologues to hijack the truth to pander to those who are afraid.

I do not doubt for a moment the pride he feels as he as he lives my life vicariously. He is now watching me leave and enter the world of men. We are so different. Sometimes, I wonder if I am as strong as him. Am I a more evolved version of my neighbor or a naive changeling that will eventually come to see the world on his rigid terms

To have the capacity to love someone who has such a different point of view strangely reassures me. It validates my belief that love is a stronger force than hate. We are all humans on a spiritual journey and in my case, I’m taking my first steps in search of meaning and purpose. It begins with my trying to navigate and understand the black and white landscape of Mr. C’s America.