Confrontation, or maybe Not

I am standing in line at the coffee shop, bagged newspaper in one hand and five-dollar bill in the other. It is 8:15 a.m., and I need my bagel and espresso. In my pocket are an avocado and an orange, part of the strange diet I have espoused without much weight-loss success.

In front of me is a woman in gray leggings and a loose tee shirt. She suddenly turns around and hisses, “Don’t stand so close to me!” Her face is tight, lips thin and eyes narrowed.

I am standing three feet from her. I say “Hun?” because I am not sure what is happening and a confrontation before coffee is unthinkable.

She says, “Move back, you fucking pervert!”

I do, not because she orders me to but because the sheer intensity of her hatred is almost physical.

The woman behind the cash register slithers away. I know her, and see her every morning. She is a tiny Peruvian named Anna with two children, and in a moment she returns with the coffee shop’s manager. I know her as well, a robust lady who could run a biker bar. She asks, “Is there a problem?”

The leggings woman points at me and says, “This… man is harassing me.”

The manager is a pro. She looks at me severely, but not too severely. “Is that true?”

I shake my head. I decide I will not engage. It would be fruitless. This is not a win-win situation.

The manager asks the leggings woman, “Have you ordered yet?

The woman shakes her head. The manager takes the woman’s elbow gently and leads her to a table. She returns to the ordering counter and tells Anna to bring the order to her table.

Then she says to me, “Espresso and sprouted grain bagel, right?”

I am thinking that I am an aging man with an avocado in my pocket and the day’s paper awaiting my perusal. Could I possibly be less threatening?

The leggings woman is at a table some fifteen feet away. I consciously do not look at her but I can sense her staring at me.

The manager delivers my order and whispers, “That was sort of strange…” She pauses, “Maybe she thought the avocado in your pocket meant you were happy to see her.”

Maybe so.

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Jean Octave Sagnier

My father, Jean Octave Sagnier, died some 25 years ago. He was a good wise man who without being secretive hated talking about himself. He was an architectural student working as the traveling secretary of a wealthy Brit when World War II broke out and he walked from the south of France to St. Malo in Brittany, then hopped a boat to England so he could join the upstart general Charles de Gaulle and become a Free French. De Gaulle assigned him a mobile radio station which roamed occupied France and relayed Allied news to the maquis and other underground forces. I don’t know if he ever fired a shot during the war–he would not say so if he had–but he was nevertheless awarded the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor, for deeds he never mentioned.

He met my mother in the winter of 1945 in Marseilles. She was Free French too and they conceived me that very night in January in the back of a US Army truck.

He was estranged from his family. I would be an adult before I was told I had uncles and an alcoholic aunt who died of the disease in the UK. He lost a younger brother during the V2 bombings of London. He never, as I recall, mentioned his own mother. I have an aged family photo taken in the 20s, three boys and a girl posing with a man and a woman standing at attention. A much later shot shows a painfully thin young man wearing boxing gloves and looking not at all ready to fight.

It was snowing when I was born in the American Hospital in Paris, and the barely liberated capital was devoid of food. Regardless, my mother craved a ham omelet. My father, using the military issue Colt he had possibly never fired, forced the hospital cook at gunpoint to go into his own larder for eggs, butter and meat. He fixed the omelet himself, ate it, made another and served it to her. She complained it was runny and not hot enough, and that would be the tenet of their relationship. They were married 46 years, nursing each other through poverty, joblessness, an eventual move to the US, and cancer.

He died five years after my mother. I carried his ashes in an oak box from the US to France, and when I went through customs the douaniers were very curious as to what I was cradling in my arms. One soldier took the box, shook it. It rattled as if there were pebbles inside. When I told him he was manhandling my father’s remains, he turned sheet-white, handed the box to his superior officer who in turn gave it back to me. I said these were the ashes of a Free French and the man saluted.

He was not a natural father. The growing up and education of a son baffled him. He was unlikely to give advice, did so only at my mother’s prompting. He taught by doing, showing, and patience. We never played catch, never went fishing together, we did not bond in the accepted way. There were few family vacations, a limited number of father/son experiences shared. He was a good and quiet man who witnessed and took part in moments of history that are now almost forgotten.

He told two jokes, neither particularly funny, but each telling brought tears to his eyes. He died a bad death and I hope he didn’t suffer, and I think of him every single day.

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Incels

Hey, you! Yeah, incel guys! Get off your self-absorbed pity pots and listen up. We’ve all been there—male, female, short, stout, tall and skinny, gay or straight, every color of the rainbow, at one time or another we’ve been involuntary celibates. What most of us have not done is cry about it publicly, making us look even more loser-like than we already were. And we haven’t blamed the other gender, either. I mean, seriously, look at yourselves? Would you pick yourself as a mate, or even as a one night stand?

Didn’t think so.

If you’re an involuntary celibate, it’s your fault and no one else’s, unless you are seriously physically handicapped, like in coma. Your choice—whining about your situation on social media and banding together to appear as if you’re a bona fide movement—is absurd and self-defeating.

Ah, my apologies to readers who are not among this sorry lot. Incels are males who claim a dearth of romantic or sexual female companions. This, they tell us, is because females do not appreciate them; females focus their attention only on the rich, the successful, the popular, and the good-looking, instead of on that puling male minority incapable of accepting responsibility for whom and what they are.

In a society based on blaming others, the incel culture is bubbling up. Think swamp gas, but stinkier.

The internet has allowed incel groups to proliferate and stew in their own misery, which, as we all know, loves company. A few incels have crossed the line and perpetrated acts of violence on women, not realizing perhaps that such behavior is the ultimate in cowardice. These acts have flashed through social media, sometimes giving the perpetrators the sort of fame and recognition generally associated with death camp guards.

Ok, this movement doesn’t deserve any more space here or elsewhere.

Let me close with some advice.

Join a Meetup. Go for a hike. Turn off your laptop; quit your sorry social media sites. Get a life. Offer to help the homeless, the aged, the indigent, the strays. Get a bicycle, or get a pet. Small yappy dogs are known to find appreciative audiences and if you walk one and don’t act like an asshole, you might meet someone. Or not. There are no promises, save that staying in the dark hole you choose to inhabit virtually guarantees you will remain a celibate.

A voluntary one.

 

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War

Get ready, war’s coming…

We haven’t had a good one since the Iraq thing, and Afghanistan is pretty much done. Nobody cares anymore about that primitive dustbowl. Iran is next.

It’s a common misconception that war is about killing the enemy. It isn’t. It’s about disrupting finances, causing hardship, destabilizing, and realigning powerful and not-so-powerful nations, but first and foremost, it’s about economics.

In the old day, war was simpler. You needed land to grow food, and men to harvest and be soldiers whenever necessary. When Rome got too big to be self-sustaining, the emperors conquered Germany, Gaul, England and Egypt. Outposts were set up and land given away. Rome thrived, for a time, until its borders got too distant and tenuous and the empire fell.

In modern times, war is stupendously good for everything and everyone except the people who are wounded and die and their families, and the survivors of defeat. It’s also wonderful at creating smokescreens. You get involved in a conflict, the smaller issues besetting an invading nation get lost. Infrastructure, social needs, political divide, logic and smarts, all go out the window.

It’s good for manufacturing because war-time economies thrive with new machinery, arms, equipment and inventions. It’s good for employment. It helps the military get more money and more stars on their epaulets. It creates heroes and great media stories, some of which might even be true.

John Bolton, the Captain Kangaroo look-alike and the slug’s National Security Advisor, was one of the principal architect of the war in Afghanistan, a dismal failure that brought nothing to either country but pain and suffering. He wants war. Look out.

Right now, we’re poised. The arrow is notched and the bow is drawn.

Trump’s sole success (and really, it was Obama’s, not the slug’s) is that the economy was charging along at a pretty good pace, with unemployment falling and production growing. The China embargo is going to bring this to a halt by harming small manufacturers who operate on skinny profits, and raising costs of basic materials imported from the East. It will cost the average American about $76 a year, not a princely sum but one that’s just large enough to matter. For an average couple, $76 is dinner and a movie but maybe not a baby sitter.

War will stir the blood of the right-wing and chill that of the left, which is exactly what the slug wants. His xenophobia will be satisfied by destroying non-American lives overseas, a goal he has attempted and failed at here.

War will further damage America’s reputation held by its present and former allies. We have already lost much respect among our erstwhile friends. They will not fight a war alongside us. They’ve learned their lessons—that Trump always chooses the wrong man to back, and, in the end, is not to be trusted under any circumstances.

So if we fight Iran, we may have the Saudis on our side, led by yet another murderous autocrat, and we will be judged by the company we keep.

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Donald and Lucrezia

We haven’t been hearing much from the military lately. I know they’re busy setting up the Space Rangers force, and planning a 4th of July parade in our nation’s capital. My sources tell me they’re moving money around to find a couple of billion for the slug’s wall, hoping it will keep him at bay. Some, I’m sure, are still dealing with the LGBT issue. Others are working with the logistics of sending soldiers to patrol the border to the south and pick up trash. Others still, I sincerely hope, are meeting in a secret sub-basement of the Pentagon figuring out how to get rid of POTUS.

To the best of my knowledge, there’s never been a military coup in the US. But then again, there’s never been a raving, amoral lunatic president, either. So it’s time to abandon the idea of impeachment. Think depose. Think start over.

The Democrats have not come to their senses. They’re squabbling and whining and moaning, playing into the hands of the slugites. If there ever has been a time in American history when the personal tiffs of our elected representatives should be put aside, it’s now. Instead, the sole opposition party is split into two dozen meaningless factions, and this will cost them the election. Mark my words. Unless the Democrat old guard and the outspoken (sometimes stupidly) new kids on the block get their acts together, and do so very soon, we’re going to get four more years of the slug.

The present government’s theory of leading is rule by misdirection and chaos. Important issues are shunted aside when one of our present halfwits utters an outrageously stupid announcement. Trump believes he should have an extra two years of governing because of the Mueller report. Instead of dismissing this ridiculous statement, the media goes wild. Pundits opine; professors perorate; a nation of Chicken Littles decides the sky is falling. Trump laughs—mission accomplished, and one of the worst businessmen in modern history (endless bankruptcies, bad debts, lawsuits) is forming economic policy and costing small enterprises all over the country their livelihoods.

Trump as president makes as much sense as putting Lucrezia Borgia in charge of the Food and Drug Administration.

My friend P, a smart woman whose opinion I respect, tells me the armed forces will never act to restore a semblance of order in the US. Unfortunately, I believe she’s right. But still, a small voice in me wants to say, “C’mon, you uniformed he-men! We’re sinking fast here! Come to the rescue! Do you really want the orange slug to be in charge? Do you—who have risked life and limb to make the country safe—really respect the Draft Dodger in Chief and think he’s an able ruler?”

Nah. I didn’t think so.

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Greed

Whenever I have surgery and I’m put under, the next few days are a mess.

Since I was diagnosed a long time ago with sleep apnea, the anesthesiologist has to put a tube down my throat while I’m out to make sure I keep breathing. Afterwards it hurts to swallow. I can’t sleep. My digestion is screwed up. I want peanut butter at three in the morning. I wake up a half-dozen time each night. I don’t think clearly.

So it’s three in the morning, I’m resisting the peanut butter and pita but giving in to buying the new John Sanford novel. I’m bored. I know my bookshelves by heart. I’ve read everything Sanford has done in the last two decades. Like an addict waiting for his next fix, I recognize my purchase will fill a need, but I’ll be disappointed anyway. Sanford is beginning to repeat himself. The start of any Lucas Davenport adventure is fun, but after page 50 or so of the last six books in his Prey series (there are 29 now, I think) the prose and plot and dialogue have all become mechanical. That’s disappointment number one.

Disappointment number two verges on anger. Sanford is a best-selling author who by this time probably owns the greater part of the state of Minnesota where he lives. He’s a multi-gazillionaire. He could give his readers a break and offer his latest eBook cheap but he doesn’t. It’s $14.95 of pure, unadulterated profit. The online books have no production cost, no paper, no distribution, no shelf space at Barnes & Noble. It is pure greed.

Greed is my latest bête noire.

I see it absolutely everywhere, unashamed, indeed almost proud. We have evolved into a society of petty money-grubbing and it honestly sickens me.

I am spending more monthly on medical copays than I am on food, gasoline, and entertainment put together. Some of the copays are stupidly small–$5.00. Others are not and seem to have no bearing on reality. Provider greed.

I fly to Europe. I reserve a seat. I pay. But wait! I really don’t have a seat! I have to pay extra for an actual crappy chair. I have to pay extra for baggage. I have to pay extra for leg room. Airline greed.

At my morning coffee shop, there are five cash registers. Rarely is more than one manned (or womanned, actually). Only when a line of customers are waiting to be helped does the store manager assign a second cashier. I asked her about this recently, and she said the practice was dictated by the franchise owners who want to develop a delivery service without hiring more staff. Restaurant greed.

If I order something online, I notice more and more that shipping costs are not mentioned until it’s time to check out. These shipping and handling (what does that mean, anyway, handling?) are normally four to five times the actual price of a delivery. Sales greed. I don’t buy and for the next several days will get increasingly frantic emails from the seller telling me I have not finished my transaction.

We now pay to put air in the tires of our cars at the gas station. It used to be free. Garage greed.

The income and salaries of the rank and file have not increased greatly in the past few decades, while the cost of living has soared. Does that have something to do with this surge in financial gluttony or has it always been there, and am I just now noticing?

 

 

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The Law

Laws are reactive, made to protect the many from the few. Most of us are pretty good people who don’t prey on others, but we need to be shielded from that small minority that survives by taking advantage of others’ good natures, ignorance, kindness, or gullibility.

The bad guys are experts at playing the odds and skirting the letter of the law. They realize the chances of getting caught red-handed doing something illegal are slim, and they are smart enough to know that the more time elapses between a crime and an arrest, the smaller the chances of prosecution or conviction.

The authorities can’t protect us all the time from everyone and the truth is, most of us have done something outside the law in our lifetimes. I seldom drive at the speed limit. I walk past blinking Don’t Walk signs, and make left or U-turns where I shouldn’t. Despite this, I consider myself very much a law-abiding citizen.

My father, a good and upstanding man, once got so irked by the lack of attentive sales people at Sears that he pocketed what he was going to buy—a box of nails—and for years felt a mixture of pride and shame over this small dereliction. My mother smoked in the bathrooms of restaurants, and was known to ask for extra rolls, that she would then pocket in her spacious purse. When I was unemployed, very, very poor, and finally found work in a large international organization, I would take my backpack into the men’s room and steal as much toilet paper as I could. I also purloined silverware from the company cafeteria. I returned the latter a decade-and-a-half later when I moved on to a new job. Never once did I feel a sense of guilt, so perhaps I am, if not a hardened criminal, at very best a petty thief without a conscience.

The problem with the law, in almost any society, is that it never works quite as it should, and it favors the rich. In fact, realistically, if you’re rich, break the law and somehow are punished for it, it means that:

  1. You considered yourself above the law and
  2. Never thought you’d get caught, so
  3. You kept breaking the law with impunity until
  4. Your actions became so blatant that
  5. Society had no choice but to prosecute you.

Or you thought yourself too smart to hire a lawyer, but the reality was, you were too cheap. Still, if you’re wealthy, you can tie things up for years in the court system, and you’ll have wealthy friends whose influence will very likely bear favorably upon your case.

What we have going on now with the Mueller/Barr situation involves all of the above:

  1. A miscreant (the prez) who
  2. Routinely lies, misrepresents, and breaks the laws of the land, yet
  3. Thinks he’s above it and therefore flouts it, and
  4. Is relatively certain he’ll never be prosecuted

I think he will be. But I also recommend you don’t hold your breath. This will take time.

In olden days a captain went down with his ship. In modern times, the captain throws everyone—rats included—overboard and keeps the lifeboats for himself.

Still, a few rats will probably manage to make it to shore at the same time as the captain. Then the fun will really begin!

 

 

 

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