“. . . to prove we were still among the living. . .” (Simon Armitage)

Morrissey. You can't go on forever

Morrissey. You can’t go on forever



I managed to delete ten of my postings here. I thought they were “drafts”  —in the “drafts” folder. But, alas, they were the final “draft,” kept for some reason I can’t figure. I was able to reconstruct the last post , but the others will take some doing. Now I know why I save the Word documents on my desktop.

“Are we dead yet?” someone would ask.
Then with a plastic toothpick
I’d draw blood from my little finger
to prove we were still among the living.

A week ago I had blood drawn from my little finger (I assume there was blood although I was in la-la-land—they said I wasn’t asleep from a general anesthesia but didn’t know what was going on because they gave me that other stuff that doesn’t really knock you out). Not my finger, but the palm of my right hand where the finger tendons attach to the hand bones. If I’ve already written about it, that’s a post I deleted. The pinky “trigger finger” surgery was almost negligible.

I wore the dressing for three days, Band-Aids for several days, and today nothing to protect the healing incision.

But—there’s always a “but,” isn’t there—the surgeon said I should not get into a swimming pool until after my follow-up appointment (tomorrow). And I mustn’t go to yoga class (no hands on floor).

I know why old people get stiff and begin to hobble. One thing leads to another to another to another. I can’t do my accustomed exercise—walking in the therapy pool at the Landry Fitness Center. So, rather than take a walk around the neighborhood, I do nothing. And my lower back has a knot from sitting and writing at my computer too many hours, and I’m beginning to hobble. Damn!

It’s been too hot to walk outside. And my tutoring schedule is inconvenient. And I’m depressed. And. . . How many excuses can I think up?

The real reason is I don’t want to do it alone.

At the Landry Center, I have made friends. We barely know each other’s names, but we talk and make jokes and know all of the ailments that bring us there, and gossip like a bunch of little old ladies, which we mostly are.

We get acquainted. One of the women and I discovered she’s the next-door neighbor of and best friends with an organist for whom I substitute regularly. Are we going to socialize outside the pool? I’d bet Linda and I and her neighbors will eventually. The organist and his partner must know some other old fart looking for an old fart to be with (that is interpreted, date).

So I’m not going to run into Linda for a few more days, and I certainly wouldn’t run into anyone I know walking out on Maple or Hudnall streets.

My parents walked every day until they moved to assisted living (they were both about 90). Together. If genetics has anything to do with it, I could be walking another 20 years. Of course, neither of my parents ever drank, smoked, or was 35 pounds overweight, so I’m not sure my prognostication should be for 20 years (I haven’t drunk or smoked for 28 years).

Me--before three surgeries, lethargy, weight gain, and hobbling

Me–before three surgeries, lethargy, weight gain, and hobbling

However, the outlook for hooking up with someone (I mean that in all popular senses of the phrase) grows, I think, dimmer by the day.

Armitage writes, “Are we dead yet?” someone would ask. He was born the year I graduated from high school. Does he even have standing to ask that question?

If you want to know the worst case scenario about how old gay men (and women) live out their years, you can watch the movie Gen Silent. Another instance–a gay couple in Arizona who had been together 45 years went to California to marry. Recently, one of them died, and Arizona refused to put on his death certificate that the other was his spouse. It took a Federal judge to force Arizona to accept their marriage.

In case you think I’m whining, I’m not. I’m simply trying to be realistic. Even if I were not gay, my late-life prospects are not rosy. I’ve chosen to be a low-ranking college professor for most of my sober life, so my Social Security is only about $1300 a month. (The SSA has decided that, if you were poor in your working life, you will be poor in “retirement.” I wonder if the mega-wealthy 1% return their SS checks. One of them could help me out quite a bit.) My “pension” from SMU is about half that. Can you live on $2000 per month?—especially if you are in any way infirm?

I’m not whining.

I’ll be a helluva lot better off than most people, I’d guess. Armitage’s poem is a projection of what one does in old age WITH ONE’S FRIENDS AND ASSOCIATES.

As almost an aside, I have to quote The Guardian from Friday 3 September 2010:

For 30 years, poet Simon Armitage’s admiration for Morrissey has bordered on the obsessive. But could his love survive an encounter with the famously sharp-tongued singer-songwriter?

That’s part of the introduction to an interview between Armitage and Morissey in which Morissey says,

Simon Armitage: we're not dead yet

Simon Armitage: we’re not dead yet

The ageing process isn’t terribly pretty… and you don’t want yourself splattered all over the place if you look pitiful. You can’t go on forever, and those that do really shouldn’t.

(I don’t think Armitage is gay, and I don’t know any of Morrissey’s music. When he was in his heyday, I was a drunk, and since then I’ve not kept up with popular music except for Lady Gaga and a few others.)

I’m not sure where I meant to go with this writing. I’ve been interrupted too many times. But I think this is where I was headed when I began.

All of my favorite sayings about getting old are true. “Getting old is a full-time job.”

Job. And I’d really like to have someone to come home to after work.

“Dämmerung,” Simon Armitage, (b. 1963)

In later life I retired from poetry,
ploughed the profits
into a family restaurant
in the town of Holzminden, in lower Saxony.

It was small and traditional:
dark wood panelling, deer antlers,
linen tablecloths and red candles,
one beer tap on the bar

and a dish of the day, usually
Bauernschnitzel. Weekends were busy,
pensioners wanting the set meal, though
year on year takings were falling.

Some nights the old gang came in –
Jackie, Max, Lavinia,
Mike not looking at all himself,
and I’d close the kitchen,

hang up my striped apron,
take a bottle of peach schnapps
from the top shelf and say,
“Mind if I join you?”

“Are we dead yet?” someone would ask.
Then with a plastic toothpick
I’d draw blood from my little finger
to prove we were still among the living.

From the veranda we’d breathe new scents
from the perfume distillery over the river,
or watch the skyline
for the nuclear twilight.

. . . little desire to recall a time. . .

Abolitionist and Cotton Mill Manager?

Abolitionist and Cotton Mill Manager?

Last night I saw the film “Twelve Years a Slave.” The film will likely be awarded Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture of the year honors from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

But the film will not win in the category it most deserves: the best unflinching look at the United States economy and culture then and now.

Henry Kemble Oliver (1800-1885) was a Salem, MA, church musician, educator, and politician. In the 1840s he was one of the civilian overseers of the US Military Academy at West Point. He was appointed to this position because of his leadership in the citizen militia of Salem, whose “exercises” on the Salem Common he describes in his memoirs (which I have transcribed).

In his memoirs he describes his detestation of another of the overseers, a gentleman from Georgia who owned slaves. Oliver brings his full New England Unitarian righteousness to bear on his refusal to share a meal with this man.

In 1849, Oliver moved from his home on fashionable Federal Street in Salem to the gritty industrial city of Lawrence, where he had been hired as manager of the newly opened Atlantic Cotton Mill. He was organist at the Unitarian Church of Lawrence and Chairman of the Lawrence School Board.

Oliver was a Massachusetts abolitionist. He was elected as the Republican Treasurer of the Commonwealth in 1860. He was so devoted to the anti-slavery cause and to the Union that, while he was treasurer, in order for Massachusetts to meet the payroll for its militia fighting in the south, he loaned the Commonwealth money from his substantial private fortune.

Few Americans, both then and now, would make the connection that his wealth from the Atlantic Cotton Mill was a direct result of slavery, from cotton produced in the South by slavery. It is not an exaggeration to say this devoted Christian Republican abolitionist public servant was directly complicit in slavery.

Oliver (for whom I have enormous respect and who is the subject of my PhD dissertation) was part of an economic system that, after Emancipation, created for the economically disadvantaged working class another kind of virtual slavery to which we seem to be reverting today.

Atlantic Mill, 50 years later--the source of the cotton?

Atlantic Mill, 50 years later–the source of the cotton?

The Atlantic Cotton Mill not only depended on slavery for its raw materials, but also created a class of workers—mostly young women from farms of New England—who were underpaid and had almost no freedom of movement once they were trapped in the industrial system. The economic destruction of the culture of small farms and small businesses during the expansion of industrialism in the 1840s was ameliorated somewhat by the relocation of farm girls (and others, of course) to the mill cities to work and send wages home to their families—work in the factories that were dependent on slavery for their means of production.

We don’t want to think about this even though at this juncture we are trapped in an economic reality that is beginning to resemble that era so closely that it is (or ought to be) frightening (1). However,

Polls show that a majority of Americans identify issues other than slavery—states’ rights, the tariff, etc.—as the [Civil] war’s fundamental cause. Yet contemporaries had little doubt that slavery lay at the root of the conflict, as Lincoln put it in his Second Inaugural Address, and the Emancipation was its most profound outcome. . .  Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens declared that the “cornerstone” [of the Confederacy] . . . was the principle that “slavery, subordination to the superior race” was the “natural and moral condition” of black Americans” (2).

We don’t want to think about this. It is too overwhelming to consider that the industrial revolution that made our country into THE economic power in the world was made possible by slavery. We all, it seems to me, left, right, or middle have

. . . little desire to recall a time when. . . the Federal Government actually promoted racial equality. . . [and] nostalgia for the Confederacy survives in the Tea Party and broader right-wing circles. . . a gap remains between historical scholarship and popular understandings of history. . . When Charleston, South Carolina, marked the anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, the city was bedecked with Confederate flags, and the commemoration made no mention of slavery. . . (3)

I would say Foner is wrong about one thing. The nostalgia does not survive in “right-wing circles” but throughout American society. If enough of us were opposed to the disadvantage of huge numbers of people through the unconscionable, horrifying gap—becoming a chasm that it’s difficult to imagine will ever again be bridged—between the top 1% of the wealthy and the rest of us, the absurd distribution of wealth would end.

"the natural and moral condition"

“the natural and moral condition”

We can blithely believe in economic opportunity, and the American Dream, and all of that nonsense, but it has become a nightmare. Alice Walton (my favorite wealthy person—yes! we do have a right to judge her and her ilk because, by every philosophical or spiritual measure we have, their wealth is unjust) has her billions while, for example, you and I pay for her employees’ health care because she won’t provide insurance for them.

Twelve Days a Slave, while it portrays a monstrous kind of physical captivity that none of us can imagine and a historical reality that none of us can honestly say we relate to, may be a cautionary tale. Are we in process of returning to a time when “subordination to the superior race,” that is, the atrociously and immorally wealthy, is seen as the “natural and moral condition” of those at the lowest levels of economic life?

Are you about to move up to the 1 percent, to become truly wealthy?

If anyone I know personally has done so in the last 20 years, they are keeping it a close secret.
(1) Post, Charles. “Social-Property Relations, Class-Conflict And The Origins Of The US Civil War: Towards A New Social Interpretation.” Historical Materialism 19.4 (2011): 129-168.
(2) Foner, Eric. “The Civil War In ‘Postracial’ America.” Nation 293.15 (2011): 24-26.
(3) ibid.

In the Middle Ages the word was “oligarchy”

When I was a kid, all of us were given to believe that we could grow up to be President (well, the white boys, at any rate). At the very least we knew our single little solitary vote counted in elections. I remember the election of 1966 as vividly as any other in my lifetime. I remember standing on the steps of Watchorn Hall at the University of Redlands talking with two of my favorite people, all of us students in the School of Music

We were going to vote for Governor Brown for reelection, of course, rather than Ronald Reagan. It was the first vote of my life. It counted for very little. I lived in California through the entire reactionary (anti-intellectual, anti-middle class, anti-freedom of expression) eight years of Ronald Reagan’s magisterial term as governor.

Edwin Meese was Reagan’s “chief of staff.” He ran the executive branch of the state government. He told Reagan what to think (or at least what to say).

Then there was the Reagan White House. The same arrangement. That is, until Meese became Attorney General. He was implicated in all of the scandals of the Reagan administration.

Now Edwin Meese is in charge of the shutdown of the federal government.


1.       a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.

Meese has never been elected to public office, only anointed to various overlord positions, most of them by Ronald Reagan.

He seems to be the brains behind the power of the new American Oligarchy—those few, the dominant class, the clique who are running our country. The coup d’état is a fait accompli. The takeover of the government is finished. We have let it happen. We have only ourselves to blame.

Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case which is designed to end all constraints on the amount of money a person can contribute to a political campaign. The Court, with its majority led by Antonin Scalia, the Edwin Meese of jurisprudence, will almost certainly throw out fifty years of its own decisions and allow Edwin Meese’s friends to contribute as much as they like to their far right-wing candidates.

We are living in the time of oligarchy. The few.

The few of those who are hiding behind the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision declaring that, in our oligarchy at any rate, corporations are persons and PACs are no more influential or dangerous than your local PTA, but PACs don’t have to reveal the sources of their money.

I want to go back to the days when any (white boy) kid could become President.

I’m sick and tired of hearing people talk about “entitlements” and other obfuscations of reality and morality –such as their irrational hatred of the Affordable Care Act

Is this reprobate giving back his Social Security check every month?

Is this reprobate giving back his Social Security check every month? Oh, and by the way, as an example of his generosity, did you know he sued his brothers to gyp them out of their inheritance?

** Please see the NYT link at the end.

I don’t want to hear that my Social Security check or my use of Medicare is an “entitlement”—especially hear it with that sneer that our ridiculous politicians and some of my Republican friends plant on their upper lips when they say it.

I’ve been paying into SS since I was 12, and I deserve the modicum of return on my investment that I’m getting.  And I’ve been paying into Medicare since it was established.


The politicians who sneer at entitlements are – in case you hadn’t noticed – totally incompetent. They are a bunch of losers that somehow we have been bribed and hoodwinked into electing (if you voted for a Tea Bagger, don’t complain to me when you discover that you don’t get to start SS until you’re 80).

We have no one but ourselves to blame. But don’t you – if you want to remain my friend – use the word “entitlement” in my presence,

He's so incompetent he doesn't deserve any of the multiple pensions he will be given.

He’s so incompetent he doesn’t deserve any of the multiple pensions he will be given.


If you use the word, you are implying (no, saying outright) that my 56 years of work is not worth the paltry $1350 a month I get from SS. If it’s not, it’s because the geniuses who have shut down the government for the last week through their own selfishness and incompetence (especially the newest members of the lot) have managed my “contributions” badly.

Can you tell I’m furious. This whole business is a crock of shit. I mean that literally. I am not swearing. The shutdown of the government is fecal matter. And the Republicans, especially but not exclusively, ought to be ashamed of themselves.

New York Times


Ashley Judd for Senate—but why waste her time?

Mr. Republican?

Mr. Republican?

Ashley Judd for Senate! I hope she changes her mind. I’m not from Kentucky, and I’ve pretty much sworn off political involvement (my Afib heart and my old man memory won’t allow it). But if everyone in Kentucky who has ever dealt with depression voted for her, she’d win in a landslide.

If I’ve ever seen one of Judd’s movies, I don’t remember it. So how do I recognize her so readily? I guess from seeing news reports about her constant work on behalf of many charitable organizations, chief of which is YouthAIDS.

And there’s the problem of her residence. She lives in Tennessee. But moving into a state in order to run for Senate is a well-established tradition. Robert Kennedy and Hillary Clinton come to. At least Judd was born in Kentucky.

I’m not much of a country music fan (I loved Patsy Cline when I was in high school, but I didn’t realize she was a country singer), so I don’t know much about the other Judd women, either. I saw five minutes of “Dancing with the Stars” flipping through TV channels, and it happened to be Wynonna Judd’s final dance on the show.  But I can’t think of any of her songs.

So I really have no basis for thinking Ashley Judd should run for the Senate. None but her statement yesterday after the tape of Mitch McConnell talking about her depression came to light.

“This is yet another example of the politics of personal destruction that embody Mitch McConnell and are pervasive in Washington, D.C. We expected nothing less from the Mitch McConnell and his camp to take a personal struggle such as depression, which many Americans cope with on a daily basis, and turn it into a laughing matter.”

When I was in high school and college, Everett Dirksen was Republican leader in the Senate. Those were the years my political ideas changed from Nebraska Republicanism to California liberalism (?) or whatever they were (are). Like so many other people my age, the Viet Nam War was the catalyst for my seeing the world differently. I’m not knowledgeable or smart enough to be a real liberal. I just follow a different crowd than I would if I had lived in Nebraska beyond high school.

I had (have) an odd view of politics. Everett Dirksen said or stood for very little that I agreed with. But I liked the guy. He had a gravelly voice

Does granfatherliness count?

Does granfatherliness count?

that made him seem more like a grandfather than a Senator, and a shock of unruly hair that made him seem unkempt and a bit wild. One of his legislative accomplishments was helping to write the Civil Rights Act in 1964. How could you disagree with that?

So now I engage in a bit of ad hominem attack exactly like the attacks on Ashley Judd I think were so reprehensible. Mitch McConnell looks, as my mother would have said, “Greasy.” He has a shiny complexion, a permanent scowl, and—OMG—have you ever seen a mouth drawn tighter in an emotionless line? And there’s nothing grandfatherly about his voice. There, I’ve said it. He frightens me. How’s that for a grown-up intelligent way to form one’s political opinions?

Monday night I was home alone. Yes. Alone. The most dangerous place for me to be at certain times. Home alone.

If I continue describing this little vignette, a certain percentage of those who might accidentally stumble onto this posting will be uncomfortable. They would be the people who don’t like to think about difficult stuff as well as people who care about me and don’t want me to talk about these things (in private or public).

The little vignette is pretty simple. I was sitting on my sofa with my iPad playing Sudoku, my three cats nestled around me, all of us watching “Antiques Roadshow,” and I was crying. I guess that Confederate Civil War canteen really touched me somehow. Well, no. I was depressed (perhaps I am depressed—sometimes it’s hard to tell).

That’s the point. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. And for most of us who are depressed, that’s one of the problems. We cope with it so well we don’t feel it until it overwhelms us. Fortunately I get it. I understand what’s happening and can generally—these days—roll with its punches. But not always.

Ashley Judd In Conversation With The United Nations Office On Drugs And CrimeSo Mitch McConnell’s joking about depression or determining to use it against Ashley Judd is simply despicable. That’s all. It’s “greasy.” Want someone like that determining whether or not Social Security benefits will be cut? Well, he’s the one who will decide. Run, Ashley, run. No, don’t. You have much more important things to do than be caught up in that mess. Really.

My grandparents were not “takers”

Nina Huntley Knight

Nina Huntley Knight

My paternal grandmother, Nina Huntley Knight, was a commandingly and elegantly beautiful woman.

Two days in to the Great Sequestration. Do you suppose President Obama’s Presidency will be known a hundred years from now as the “Great Sequestration Administration” the way the Warren G. Harding’s is remembered by the Teapot Dome Scandal? My guess is not. In the long run it will be seen as so petty, as so absurd that people will simply forget it. Or it will be, if the White House is politically clever enough (which I doubt), known as the work of the Second Great Do-Nothing Congress.

My maternal grandfather, Edward Leroy Peck, was a jovial and warm-hearted, somewhat ordinary looking guy.

I have been wondering what “sequester” means, and I finally got around to looking it up. It is absurd to call what’s going on in Washington the “sequestration.”

Sequester, verb, late 14c., from Old French sequestrer (14c.), from Late Latin sequestrare “to place in safekeeping,” from Latin sequester “trustee, mediator,” probably originally “follower,” related to sequi “to follow” (see sequel). Meaning “seize by authority, confiscate” is first attested 1510s.

I have been thinking a great deal the last few days about the direct line of personality traits from one generation to the next to the next in my family (we are not unique, but I’ll not extrapolate and let you think about your own family).

Or, perhaps, we are experiencing a “sequestration.” The Congress has certainly “seized” and “confiscated” the means whereby we “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.” We ought to demand a special election right now—today—and throw the entire 535 of them out.

I’m enchanted by old family photographs, especially if they are of me—or show a connection between who I turned out to be and my immediate forebears. I’m neither commanding and elegant nor jovial and warm-hearted. So I wonder sometimes how I ended up in my family.

My grandparents, in their own noble ways, were the common folk we believe were the backbone of this country. Grandmother Knight managed to arrange for her two sons to attend a private college during the depression—when Grandfather worked only sporadically as a carpenter. Grandfather Peck had a steady job with sufficient income to support a family of five children through the depression. He was “only” the elevator operator in one of Kansas City’s early skyscrapers, but it fed his family and allowed him and Grandmother Peck to own their own home—the home where my mother and her four brothers grew up and where we visited Grandmother until she could no longer live alone in the 1970s.

Both Grandmother Knight and Grandfather Peck had earned Social Security benefits. Grandfather Peck died too young to draw his, but his Social Security allowed Grandmother Peck to live in dignity without want. Social Security was an important part of the support of both of my grandparents Knight. I used to have (but it has gone the way of so much family memorabilia) the check stub from Grandmother Knight’s first Social Security payment. She saved it for years because it was such a blessing to her.

Edward Leroy Peck

Edward Leroy Peck

My grandparents were not “takers.”

More than usual, the connection between my ideas is vague. So I will throw in one more disconnect. Once about twenty years ago when I was visiting my parents, my father showed me the service leaflet from a funeral he had recently attended. He wanted me to see the words for a song that had been sung.

You can picture happy gath’rings ‘round the fireside long ago.
And you think of tearful partings when they left you here below.

His question for me was his usual one. “Where do they get this stuff?” It was my introduction to “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” I, like my father was (and his mother would have been)—well—appalled at the sentimentality and, to Dad and Grandmother, the deplorable theology.

I care little for most country music, and I have no belief that I’m going to meet Grandmother Knight or Grandfather Peck or my dad in the sky by and by.

But I think it’s fair to ask John Boehner (and, let’s be fair, President Obama, too), “Will the circle (of decency and ‘the common welfare’) be unbroken?”

How’s that for stretching an idea to the breaking point?