National We Got the Hell Out Day


Yesterday, 29 March, was National Viet Nam Veterans’ Day.  I had no idea such a thing existed.  You may wonder, as I did, why it’s on 29 March.

29 March 1973 is the day that the last American combat troops were pulled out of Viet Nam.  The last prisoners of war held in North Viet Nam arrived on American soil on that same day.  It’s also the date President Nixon chose for the first Vietnam Veterans Day in 1974 (more about Nixon presently).

I suppose that, for those of us who are veterans of the Viet Nam War, 29 March is our equivalent of World War Two’s VE Day or VJ Day, except VVN Day doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue quite as easily as the other two acronyms.

More important than the sound of it is the meaning of it.  The first V is supposed to stand for Victory, but there was no victory in Viet Nam for the United States.  There wasn’t even a stalemate, as in Korea.  (In case you’re wondering, 27 July is National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day.)

What were we doing in Viet Nam anyway, from 8 March 1965 to 29 March 1973 (the period of our direct, large-unit combat involvement)?  I don’t mean what were we doing.  From my year as an infantryman in Viet Nam I can attest rather well to that.  No, I mean, what were we doing there?  What larger purpose did we serve?  What did eight years and over 58,000 American deaths (and many more Vietnamese, Lao and Khmer deaths) purchase for America, or for the noble cause of democracy?

Well, the war propped up a notoriously corrupt South Vietnamese government.  Then, sixteen months before the Marines landed at Da Nang in 1965, we – the American government, in the form of the CIA – colluded with military officers in South Vietnam to overthrow and murder the president of that country, Ngô Đình Diệm, and his younger brother, Ngô Đình Nhu.

What else?  We dropped more explosives on South-East Asia than was done to Europe during all of World War Two.  We indiscriminately sprayed an awful herbicide on thousands of acres of Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia, denuding forests, polluting streams and rivers, and engendering all manner of illnesses in locals and Americans alike.

The war, the protests against the war, and the disarray of the Democratic Party, ensured the election of Richard M. Nixon in 1968.  I do not count this as a positive thing, and not just because of Nixon’s paranoid delusions and illegal activities.  America has survived all that.  Cambodia, on the other hand, is still suffering and trying to recover from Nixon’s decision to send B-52’s and American ground troops into that country in 1970, a decision that threw Cambodia into chaos and laid the groundwork for the Khmer Rouge to take over in 1975.  The Khmer Rouge’s legacy, and by extension Richard Nixon’s legacy, and by further extension America’s legacy, is one of mass dislocations (the entire population of Phnom Penh was forced into the countryside), millions murdered, a beautiful and peaceful people brutalized and ground down by their fellow countrymen.  Some legacy, that.

We did not make the world safe for democracy.  No dominos fell.  No, we went, we destroyed, and we left.  Based upon that, I think a better name for this day (which is, after all, not a holiday like Armistice Day or Memorial Day) is We Got the Hell Out Day.

Doesn’t that seem more accurate?  I think so.  We saw no parades yesterday, no fly-overs, no paeans to the men and women who served and who died.  Oh, the Secretaries of Defense and Veteran Affairs went to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., and laid a wreath in honor of Vietnam veterans and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Day.  There was a nice ribbon across the wreath that read “A Grateful Nation Remembers.”  (Does the nation remember?  Is the nation grateful?  If so, for what exactly is it grateful?)  After the wreath was placed in front of the wall, the Secretaries put Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pins (officially released by the government in July 2015) on the lapels of a few gathered veterans.  Haven’t heard about the lapel pins either?  Neither had I.

It’s probably just as well there were no parades or fly-overs.  If one more person thanks me for my service in Viet Nam, I will either throw up or scream.  Maybe both.   “Thank you for your service” is a bumper sticker platitude uttered by people who mean well – I honestly believe they do – but who, luckily for them, have no real idea what combat veterans endured in Viet Nam, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, and even less of an idea as to why we were there and why it didn’t work.

I’d like to suggest a substitute phrase for those who feel compelled to say something upon meeting someone who has been in a war.  Here it is:  “I’m so sorry you endured such traumatic experiences.”  If you’re feeling motivated to say more, you could add, “I cannot possibly understand what that was like for you, but if you ever want to talk about it, I will listen.”

It won’t fit on a bumper sticker (like the vacuous “Support the Troops”), but it’s much more real and honest.  Think about that on the next National We Got the Hell Out Day.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Rioting Around the Tree of Liberty

Scottie Nell Hughes thinks that riots “aren’t necessarily a bad thing.”

Besides being a rabid Tea Partier, and a darling of right-wingnut television and talk radio, her credentials for making this pronouncement also include, according to her, being the granddaughter of one of the men who organized the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  You know – the one where the whole world was watching.  Also according to her, if her granddad were still with us, he’d be proud of the fact that she’s supporting Donald Trump.

Maybe he would, and maybe he wouldn’t.  We’ll have to take Scottie Nell Hughes’ word for it, since granddad isn’t around to verify or dispute her contention.  If true, then when it comes to apples not falling far from their trees, I guess she’s the exception that proves the rule.

The interview took place on CNN yesterday (Wednesday, 16 March 2016), while Ms. Hughes was being interviewed by Wolf Blitzer.  When Mr. Blitzer expressed surprise at her comment, she elaborated (all quotes below are from articles on and; the italics are mine):

“ ‘It’s not riots as in a negative thing,’ Hughes said.  ‘What we’ve seen — it’s the fact that you have a large amount of people that will be very unhappy.  I don’t sit there and think they’d resort to — in fact, I know they would not resort to violence.  I know they would not do it.  However, they would make sure their voices are heard.  That they can’t be ignored.’”

Mr. Blitzer asked her if she really wants riots to emerge from the Republican convention in Cleveland.

“‘I don’t consider riots to be a violent thing,’ Hughes said. ‘I consider it to be something where you have the majority of the people will be engaged and will be paying attention to what is going on.’ ”

I for one am deeply reassured that she is certain no violence would take place during these non-negative riots.  And it’s certainly true that, in a riot, the people are engaged – in throwing rocks, looting, setting fires, et cetera.  Whether they’re paying attention to what’s going on is another matter.

Be honest with me (and yourself):  Have you ever seen a positive riot?  What would that look like?  Girl Scouts fending off out-of-control cookie buyers by swatting them with their little green sashes?  Hare Krishnas driving the Tea Party Republicans from the land, à la St. Patrick and the snakes, with their cymbals and their incense and their flowers?  Because I have to say, there was nothing positive about the confrontations at the cancelled Trump rally in Chicago the other day.  Or the African-American man who got punched in the stomach by a Trump supporter at another rally.

The CNN interview and Ms. Hughes’ comments came in the aftermath of some things The Donald had said earlier in the day.  He was speaking about the possibility of a brokered (read, contested) Republican National Convention.  He said that by the time the convention was convened, if he had more delegates than the other remaining candidates, and if he did not then get the nomination, “‘I think you’d have riots.  I think you’d have riots,’ Trump said Wednesday on CNN’s ‘New Day.’  ‘I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people.’”

Yes he is:  millions and millions of angry, fearful, aging white people.

Oh sure, there are others who support The Donald.  A group of Muslims have put up a Facebook page (  They’re using a hashtag of  #‎makeamericagreatagaininshallah.  Seriously.  You cannot make up things like this.

Muslims for Trump (MfT) makes about as much sense as (and perhaps even less sense than) the Log Cabin Republicans.  Come on … the Republicans don’t love you, LGBTQIA people!  They don’t love Muslims, either.

Actually, there is an exception to that.  They love Muslims, LGBTQIAs, Latinos, African-Americans, and Socialists every four years, on the first Tuesday in November – but only if you vote for the Republican candidates.

One comment on the MfT Facebook page, from a woman of distinctly white European descent (I have omitted her photograph and name in the interest of protecting the stupid), reads, “I just want to say thank you to whoever started this page. Trump is the only candidate for 9-11 truth. Thousands of Muslims who were not responsible for 9-11 have been killed as a byproduct of this false war started by the globalist new world order.”

While the first part of her last sentence is true (“Thousands of Muslims …”), the latter part (“… globalist new world order.”) is not.  I think this sort of comment is attributable to one of three things:

  1. Efforts by the American education system to teach critical thinking are an abject failure.
  2. The Texas State Board of Education has too much influence over which text books American schools use (see #1 above).
  3. It’s because of the fluoride in the drinking water!  (Fringe conservatives have been trying to warn us about this for decades, but did we listen?)

I am reminded now of a fake Time Magazine cover that came out just after George W. Bush was “elected” in November 2000 (yes, the quotes are on purpose, and if you were paying attention that year, you know why).  Here’s the cover:

 W fukked

Were The Donald to actually get elected to the presidency later this year (May Allāh Protect Us!), you could substitute his face for W’s and this would still be relevant.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”  Perhaps so, but he left us with no clear guidance as to how to tell the difference between the patriots and the tyrants.





Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Duce of New York City

“… and for the life of me I could not quite comprehend what hidden springs he undoubtedly unloosed in the hysterical mob which was greeting him so wildly.”

— William L. Shirer, Berlin Diary


You may be tired of hearing the analogies being made between Donald Trump and Adolph Hitler (though the strutting and the uplifted chin and the theatrics remind me more of Mussolini than Hitler).  You may wish the whole circus would fold up and slink away in the night (and who can blame you?).  You may be a supporter of The Donald, and you’re really, really angry about the condition of the country and the condition of your paycheck.  You may even consider yourself a member of the Silent Majority (a term I thought we buried along with the Nixon presidency).  I’ve seen those signs lately, in videos of Trump rallies:  “The Silent Majority Stands With Trump.”  They’re all professionally printed, by the way, not hand made.

A great many of us used to think Trump was merely a buffoon, incapable of being a serious politician.  Some of us still think so.  It’s instructive to recall that a lot of people, powerful politicians and businessmen, thought Hitler was a buffoon in the 1920’s, and that if he ever came to power, they could control him.  The great fear now raging through the supposedly establishment component of the Republican Party is that they have realized they can control neither Mr. Trump nor the people voting for him.

Trump’s willful ignorance or rearranging of facts; his inflammatory statements about Muslims, Mexicans, and Meghyn Kelly; and his increasingly authoritarian rhetoric, are all bad enough.  The scenes from Chicago last evening at a subsequently-cancelled Trump rally are another matter, as was Trump’s response to it.

When I saw video of what arguably was an incipient riot, I thought first of another riot in Chicago; the one that took place during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  Large numbers of mostly young people had come to the city to protest against the war in Viet Nam, and LBJ’s unrelenting prosecution of it.  On the night of 28 August, thousands of protesters who had peacefully gathered in Grant Park were brutally attacked by several thousand Chicago policemen.  It was later said that, watching footage of the riot on their televisions that night and the next day, is when many people decided to vote for Richard Nixon in the up-coming election, an election Nixon won in a landslide.

In 1968, people saw the violence, and the obvious disarray in the Democratic Party, as a reason to vote Republican.  In 2016, the violence on display yesterday (in both St. Louis and Chicago), and the disarray in the Republican Party, will be interpreted by many as proof of everything that Donald Trump is saying and insinuating, thus increasing their determination to vote for him in the coming primaries, hoping thereby to increase their chances of being able to vote for him in November.

In 1968, protesters were attacked by cops.  In 2016, they’re attacked by Trump supporters.  In 1968, Mayor Richard Daly unapologetically supported the actions of his police department.  In 2016, Trump apologized without actually doing so, claimed he was rescheduling the rally to avoid violence and injuries, and then cast himself as a victim.  “You can’t even have a rally in this country anymore,” he said.  This, from the man who not long ago said he’d like to punch a protester in the face.  This from the man who quite recently defended one of his supporters who did in fact punch a protester.

I have written elsewhere that in 1968, the year I dropped out of college and volunteered for the Army, it looked like America was coming apart at the seams.  Forty-eight years later, it looks that way again.

Ron Paul liked to talk about a revolution, and Bernie Sanders is actively talking about a political revolution in America.  Meanwhile, Donald Trump is creating a revolution, by harnessing the anger of millions of mostly white working and middle class people who have felt left out and left behind for a very long time.  It is only now, however, that they have found someone who is willing to articulate that anger and turn it into a political weapon.  All of this makes me wonder:  How far are we now, from our own Kristallnacht?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Schadenfreude or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Donald

Internet Headlines: *

GOP nears its breaking point as Donald Trump rolls toward nomination
Donald Trump is on the verge of winning the Republican nomination, and the GOP is plummeting into a civil war that promises to redefine the party – or destroy it entirely.

Reid: Trump a ‘monster’ created by GOP
Referencing a Washington Post op-ed’s headline, Senator Harry Reid called Donald Trump the GOP’s Frankenstein “monster” while speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

Super Tuesday exit poll results: Who is voting for Donald Trump?
Voters for Donald Trump today look a lot like those who supported him in previous contests, according to results from the NBC News Exit Poll. A majority of his voters have no college degree. In comparison, among those voting for other candidates, about four in 10 are not college graduates.


Newspaper Headline: **

GOP caught in identity crisis
“ ‘It’s scary,’ South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has endorsed Rubio, said on ABC’s ‘This Week.’ She added, ‘I think what [Trump will] do to the Republican Party is really make us question who we are and what we’re about. And that’s something we don’t want to see happen.’ ”




Do you think the country is ready for a remake of the 1931 classic film “Frankenstein,” which starred Boris Karloff as the Monster? Mitch McConnell would play Dr. Henry Frankenstein, while Paul Ryan would play Fritz, the doctor’s hunchbacked assistant. Frankenstein’s fiancée Elizabeth, charmingly played by Carly Fiorina,

arrives just as Henry is making his final tests. He tells them to watch, claiming to have discovered the ray that brought life into the world. They watch Frankenstein and the hunchback as they raise the dead creature on an operating table, high into the room, toward an opening at the top of the laboratory. Then a terrific crash of thunder, the crackling of Frankenstein’s electric machines, and the hand of Frankenstein’s monster begins to move, prompting Frankenstein to shout ‘It’s alive!’.”

The film will be shot in black and white. The monster will be played by Donald Trump.

One problem with this idea is that the movie will probably more nearly resemble the 1974 horror comedy film “Young Frankenstein” than the earlier production. It will still be shot in black and white (of course!), but the Monster will lock out the doctor and take over his laboratory, the better to create new monsters of his own design.

When the Transylvanian peasants learn that the monster is in control of Dr. Frankenstein’s castle, they take up their pitchforks and their torches and march through the night to the gates of the gothic pile Dr. Frankenstein calls home. Upon their arrival, the Monster appears in a window of the tallest tower, and begins to harangue them, and tell them what idiots and losers the Transylvanian government is. They’ve been cheated and lied to by the feckless establishment politicians running things from distant Cluj. They’ll be a lot better off when they’re Cluj-less, the Monster says, and not only that, he will build a wall, a huge wall, between Transylvania and Moravia, to keep the Moravians from sending their criminals and drug addicts south into Transylvania, and he’ll make the Moravians pay for it. The Monster will make Transylvania great again, he says, just like it used to be a hundred years ago.

The mob cheers madly, and they chant, “Transylvania! Transylvania! Transylvania!” The Monster comes down from the tower and is carried away on the shoulders of the peasants, who ensconce him in the town hall, where he will rule over them forever and ever.

The End.


* All internet headlines appeared on on 2 March 2016

** Denver Post, 29 February 2016


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Will Rogers and Yellow Dogs


The Democratic caucuses were held here in Colorado last night. I went, because I never pass up an opportunity to vote. I also went because I wanted to cast my vote for Bernie Sanders.

It was quite a scene at the neighborhood high school. Nine or ten precincts were each having their caucus there, and it quickly became apparent that the caucus workers were overwhelmed. I’ve attended several of these events over the years, and this is the largest turnout I have ever seen. I would say there were between 800 and a thousand people attending, for those precincts alone. The crowd was larger than in 2008, when Obama and Hillary Clinton were vying for the Democratic nomination. Statewide, over 121,000 people came out to vote last night.

You have to sign in for a caucus, so they know that you’re registered to vote (as a Democrat) and that you live in the precinct in which you’re voting. Sign-in tables had been set up in the hallway for that purpose, but that’s where the organization ended. No one knew which line was which, and some people had no clue as to which precinct they live in. There was a lot of milling around, and caucus workers with bullhorns, or just loud voices, were calling out precinct numbers and trying to herd people into some semblance of order.

The whole thing put me in mind of something Will Rogers wrote in 1935: “I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat.” Things haven’t changed much in the last eighty years.

As I said, I went last night to show my support for Bernie Sanders. I was pleased to discover that I was not alone. In fact, of the 70 people there from my precinct, 46 voted for Bernie and 24 for Hillary. That seems to be the pattern statewide: as of this writing, Bernie has carried Colorado by 59% to 41% for Hillary.

I don’t know if the size of the turnout helped Bernie more than it did Hillary, but I suspect it did. What I do know, is that there were a great many people there who had never attended a caucus before. After everyone was signed in, all the precincts gathered in the auditorium for some preliminary remarks. The site supervisor for the caucus asked for a show of hands by first-time caucus attendees. A very large percentage of the crowd raised their hands.

Disorganization aside, it was encouraging to see so many people take the time to spend a few hours on a Tuesday evening, in order to participate in the democratic process of selecting a candidate for president. The fact that Bernie Sanders had secured the allegiance of a majority of the participants was especially gratifying.

Interestingly, no one tried to convince Bernie supporters to come over to Hillary, nor did any Hillary supporters try to get any of us to change our minds. If they had, I suppose the issue of electability would’ve come up; the idea that Hillary, being a more establishment candidate (whatever that means in this extremely odd election year), is more electable than someone like Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old, Jewish, self-avowed Democratic Socialist.

I came mentally prepared to counter any such arguments, had they come up. I know all about Hillary’s record, and her experiences as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. She’s done a lot of fine things, and has also done a lot of questionable things; things which, if she secures the nomination, will no doubt be raised by whomever the Republicans nominate (more on that in a moment). I accept the mixed record. Whose record is unblemished, after all?

Nevertheless, her political views, and her political and financial connections, all put her a bit to the right of center, as far as progressive Democratic positions are concerned. I read a piece on-line yesterday that described her as a moderate conservative. I think the term is correct. She supports all of the main pillars of progressive politics – a woman’s right to choose, racial equality (in both economic and legal justice terms), environmental protection, recognition that climate change is real, etc. – but her close relations with major financial institutions and Wall Street are a concern. So is her apparent militarism, vis-à-vis overseas interventions. Our success record with military interventions, and so-called nation building, is not even mixed; it’s a terrible failure. Hillary does not seem inclined to pull back from that sort of adventurism, though.

So, I went last night determined to vote according to my conscience, and my heart. Those both say to me that we have been voting for electable and credentialed establishment people for a long time, and it has not always served us well. Indeed, we seem to be sinking ever further into a state of huge financial imbalances in society – the rich get rich and the poor get poorer – while politicians seem more inclined to serve the donor class than the working class.

I realize that Bernie’s policy positions seem like pie in the sky to some, but we’ve tried the other route for a long time. I am willing to give the man a chance, because he fervently believes the same thing that he has fervently believed for the last 50 years; namely, that economic and social justice are the underpinnings of our democratic society, and those underpinnings have been chipped away at for decades now, under the onslaught of conservative politicians and their wealthy owners. Those politicians and their benefactors have, in fact, become ever more intransigent and ever further to the right in their positions and their tactics. They are now, I believe, inarguably anti-democratic and careless of the constitution to which they so loudly proclaim their unquestioning fealty.

That brings us to yellow dogs.

I grew up in Texas in an era when the term Solid South meant they voted solidly for the Democratic Party. People would talk about being a “yellow dog Democrat,” which meant that if a yellow dog were the Democratic candidate, you would vote for the dog before you’d vote for a Republican. I have no qualms about stating that I am a yellow dog Democrat, having voted only once in my life for a Republican candidate (for a minor state office in Colorado). I have regretted it ever since, and have no intention of making that mistake again.

This is especially true given the spectacle that is the Republican primary contest. It looks increasingly certain that The Donald will be the Republican nominee for president, which brings to mind another phrase from my formative years in Texas, a phrase that readily applies to The Donald (or whomever else the Republicans put up): I would not vote for him if the only thing he was running for was the city limits.

Accordingly, if Hillary is the Democratic nominee (which, in all honesty, seems to be the most likely outcome), I will support her and campaign for her most ardently. I will support her, and I will vote for her, but my heart belongs to Bernie. He would shake thing up in ways that they need to be shaken up; in ways that Hillary would never even consider doing, because that would discomfit her friends on Wall Street and elsewhere.

I take solace in the fact that, as a democratic nation, we have persevered, sometimes more successfully than others. But we have persevered and we have made some progress. Now, if we could just get a liberal on the Supreme Court, to replace Scalia.


“This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it. That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation.” — Daily Telegram #1948, Will Rogers Favors Closing the Campaign Right Now and Letting The Boys Go Fishing  (1 November 1932)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Why Bernie vs Hillary Matters More Than People Think

An excellent piece that helps explain why people should take Bernie Sanders more seriously than they do.

Benjamin Studebaker

Lately the internet has become full of arguments about the merits and demerits of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been discussing and pondering all the various views about this, and I’m increasingly of the opinion that most of the people engaging in this debate don’t really understand what is at stake in the democratic primary. This is in part because many Americans don’t really understand the history of American left wing politics and don’t think about policy issues in a holistic, structural way. So in this post, I want to really dig into what the difference is between Bernie and Hillary and why that difference is extremely important.

View original post 2,130 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Spirits in the Walls

Several years ago, I lived in a nice house, on a nice block, in an old streetcar neighborhood of the Mile High City. The house had been built in 1900. I found it picturesque and appealing, for the same reasons so many other people like one-hundred year old houses: decorative wood trim; leaded glass windows on each side of a wood-burning fireplace; eccentric door hardware; windows with wavy glass and lead counter-weights. I was about to get married for the second time, and thought we would be happy there. We weren’t, but that had to do mostly with us, not the house.

Even so, the house didn’t help.

The exterior walls were solid brick, resting on a stone foundation. In the dining room, the foundation wall had shifted, bulging outwards a couple of inches. It must’ve happened several decades earlier, as someone had pieced in new strips of pine flooring, cut to match exactly the new curve of the wall. This was odd, but the house was 95 years old, after all, so it didn’t seem like an ill omen. Perhaps it should have, but it didn’t.

There was another odd thing about the house. While the furnace was quite new, it proved almost impossible to get the place warm in the winter. I would turn up the thermostat, but the house almost always had a chill to it.

And then there was the back yard. Near the fence along the alley were a number of holes in the ground, some large, some small, with piles of earth here and there. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Maybe the previous owner had been an inexperienced, or indecisive, gardener. Like the shifted foundation, and the perpetual chill, it didn’t seem to be a warning or a precursor of something unfortunate.

Like the house, my second marriage had a poor and shifting foundation, and it became cold, and resistant to amelioration. The marriage came to an end, but the house is still standing. Six years after I bought it, I decided to sell it and move on.

At first, I tried to sell it myself. (Here’s a helpful suggestion: don’t ever try to sell your own home, unless you’re a real estate agent.) One weekend I held an open house. Much to my surprise, the previous owner, Mr. F., and his two sons dropped in. In the course of chatting about the changes I’d made – skylights, new kitchen cabinets – I asked Mr. F. about the holes in the back yard, which I had since filled in.

“Oh, that,” he said.

When I bought the house, I’d been informed that the seller was a widower. What I did not know, of course, was that his wife had died a year earlier, after a protracted and traumatic struggle against cancer. He didn’t say whether or not she had died in the house, and I didn’t ask. He did say, though, that after their mother’s death, the two boys spent a lot of time, over a period of several months, digging holes in the back yard, filling them in, digging more holes, then filling some in, while leaving others empty. When they stopped digging and filling, he decided it was time to sell the house and move, as though his son’s therapy was complete.

The last summer I lived there, there was an infestation of bats in the chimney. Some of them got inside. I was bitten by one, and had to get a series of rabies immunizations. I was not sorry to leave that house.

But this isn’t a sad tale of houses and marriages. Rather, it’s about how our homes are affected by the energies and feelings of the people who inhabit them. Houses are, after all, vessels for the lives that are played out there. Just as a bowl has a residue in it after it’s been used, so do houses accumulate residues over the years. Experiences, dreams, emotions; whatever manifests itself in that house, some little element of it remains, long after the events have taken place. If there are ghosts among us, haunting certain houses or other buildings, I think this lingering aftereffect of joys and losses and revelations is the reason why.

Most homes do not experience the clanking of chains or apparitions on the staircase, or cabinets flying open for no apparent reason. They do, however, contain memories of love and anger, fulfillment and resentment. Those memories tint the air inside the rooms, sometimes with grays and browns, sometimes with vivid greens or startling reds. The lingering energies have permeated the walls and the floors, left a haze on the windows, and melted into the pipes, the electrical outlets, and the baseboards. They may make the air smell of dust and mold, or leave behind the fragrance of roses, or fresh limes.

The house I’ve lived in for the last eight years is a 1950’s era home in an old suburban area. It too has been marked by its history. Tainted is a more accurate word. Besides being indifferently treated by previous inhabitants, a Christmas tree caught fire in the living room some twenty years ago and caused a considerable amount of damage. Talk about an ill omen: Peace and Joy, up in flames.

That, in fact, is what happened to me, living here. Peace and joy went up in flames. Not actual, living flames, but metaphorically my life, my heart, and my spirit were badly burnt. A great deal of sadness and anxiety and pure anger was expressed in this house during seven of the years I’ve lived here. They were released into the atmosphere, but were trapped by the walls and the ceiling, with nowhere to go but deep within. All that sadness and criticism, all the fury and regret, the coldness and the distance and the alienation, infiltrated the house. They linger around me, in every room. They color my view of the house, and they color my life. The memories that were generated within these rooms are too strong, too unpleasant, to ignore.

I could try having an exorcism performed, or a smudging ceremony, going from room to room, holding aloft the smoldering bundle of sage, beseeching the spirits or the Universe, or Jesus Christ Almighty, to cast out the demons that were born and flourish here. They’re not dead, those demons, they’ve just faded into the woodwork and the light fixtures and the furniture, their ugly whispered messages muffled, but not strangled.

But they can’t be strangled or exorcised. This is their home, and they share it with the memories of a blazing Christmas tree, and sixty years of birthday parties and barbeques, arguments and slammed doors, ecstatic sex and monsters under the bed.

I can’t change that any more than I can change my own memories, and those memories, the echoes of my tenure, are too raw, too fresh, too everything, for me to live with here. I have to move on – find a new home, where new memories can be generated, and added to the residue within that new vessel.

I need new rooms to inhabit, new windows through which to see the world; a new beginning, once again. There’s hope and excitement in that … and liberation. It’s time. I’m ready. I just hope the lives lived in my new home were happy ones.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Opening the Wound

Forty-six years ago today, in Viet Nam, I was wounded during an assault by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops on a village that my infantry company was defending. It would not be an overstatement to say that those few predawn hours reset the course of my life. That I had a life to reset was the result of a miracle.

I do not use the word miracle lightly. My dictionary defines it as “An event or effect in the physical world deviating from the known laws of nature, or transcending our knowledge of these laws; an extraordinary, anomalous, or abnormal event brought about by superhuman agency.”

I came close to death two times that night, just seconds apart: first from a hand grenade, then from a 60mm Viet Cong mortar round. Others came closer than me – too close. Their lives were destroyed that night.

So, I am grateful that, for whatever mysterious and extraordinary reasons, my life and that of the man in the bunker with me were spared. I’d like to say that the fact of my miraculous avoidance of death caused me to thereafter dedicate my life to some high and selfless purpose, but my survival did not reset my life in that way.

I came away from that burning village confused and shocked, and wounded in more than just my body. I don’t feel confused any more. Writing – and I have written about this many times – has helped with that. Writing has not helped eradicate the wounds I suffered that night, though, nor has it completely erased the shock that resulted from that wounding. I doubt I can ever put enough words down on paper to accomplish those tasks.

It’s almost the reverse, actually. I did not begin to write about that night, and the other days and nights I spent in Viet Nam, until almost 40 years later. By that time, a thick scab had formed over the wounds. I had not forgotten what happened during that year of my life, but neither did I talk about it. Not because I was ashamed, or even that I found it all too difficult to talk about. I just felt that no one was really all that interested any more, and in any case, it was all done and over with. Right?

The act of returning to Viet Nam, both in memory and in person, and the act of writing about it all, tore that scab off, exposing a wound that had never healed.

As anyone who has had similar experiences, regardless of time or place, can tell you, it’s done, but it’s not over. It’s never over. As I write this, it’s 28 degrees and snowing here, but it wouldn’t take much effort on my part to take me back to that earlier hot, damp, February 1st. I could close my eyes right now and conjure up the violent awakening, the deafening noise, the blood and the explosions, and the fear I didn’t notice until later because I was so pumped up on adrenaline.

I could, but I don’t want to, because no matter how many times I revisit that night, it does not lose its power and its devastation. Neither has it lost its ability to make me wonder just why the hell I’m still here, and what chance of fate, or superhuman agency, let that happen?

Perhaps the reason is simply this: that I am called to bear true witness to what happened that night, and what happened other days and nights to me and many other people. To bear witness, and let others decide how to make sense of it all. To bear witness, and not let the reality of those experiences be forgotten, or glossed over. But also, to bear witness to the possibility of survival and, perhaps most importantly, the possibility of healing, something we all need to find eventually, in our journey away from the darkness, and toward the light.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Feather of Truth

Consign me to the flames. Set me afloat on a wooden raft at sea. Anything but putting me in a hole in the ground.

Not that I’d know, of course, since I’d be dead. Nevertheless, one does have to express ones wishes while one still can.

My desire, in part, is because a grave reminds me of a foxhole. The reverse is also true. At least, that’s what I thought when I was in Viet Nam in 1969 and 1970. Happily for me, none of the foxholes I dug in Viet Nam over 45 years ago turned into my grave. Some others were not so fortunate.

It seems like I’ve been reading a lot about death lately. A great many people embrace the concept that death is the final chapter of life. I suppose that’s true. Ring down the curtain. Put away the scenery and the costumes and the music. Turn off the lights. Leave, and lock the door behind you.

Yes, dying, death, is the final act of one’s life. Being dead, on the other hand, is just that. Dead. Gone. Crossed over the bar.

Depending upon your beliefs, what happens next is that your electrons are scattered into the ether, to be recycled. Or, you (optimally) ascend to Heaven, to appear before the Pearly Gates and have your soul assessed by St. Peter. Or, your soul continues its round of reincarnations, working off your karmic debt, eventually attaining Nirvana and dwelling thence among the Bodhisattvas. Either way, you are no longer among the living whom you presently know (or may yet meet). Some of you may count this as a blessing, others not.

It doesn’t matter. Whatever is or isn’t out there is already there, or not. For all we know, we will appear in the hereafter before Thoth, who will weigh our hearts against the Feather of Truth, after which Osiris will render his judgement.

That would certainly shock a lot of people; me included, because I have no expectation of one thing or another in the afterlife. After you see that light at the end of a tunnel, that’s it – party over. Maybe.

The interesting thing about thinking and reading about death is the degree to which it makes you think about life; specifically, yours, how much more of it you might have, and what to do with that unknowable quantity of days and years. Thoreau wrote that, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” If that is true, then the mass of men (and women) are probably too preoccupied to think about what good they can do, versus ‘what good is it?’ I have certainly been guilty of that, at times in my life.

The last year has been like ascending out of a fog, into the daylight above. There are several reasons for this: the end of a very negative and debilitating relationship; a desire to be more open and optimistic in my life; and, most felicitously, the presence of someone more loving and delightful than I had thought possible in my life. So, my own quiet desperation has been dissipated; purged by the sunlight, and the freedom to be happy.

All of which leads me to return to the question I posed above: What to do with the unknowable quantity of time left me?

I’d love to have a pithy, uplifting answer to that question, but I do not. Just as Thoth weighed the hearts of the dead against the Feather of Truth, I am weighing my own life. In ancient Egypt, if the feather and the heart were out of balance, the heart was given to Anubis to consume. But if the balance was exact, your heart became as the heart of Osiris and you were admitted into the Other World, to begin your journey to Paradise.

That’s all after your death, of course. I don’t want to wait until then to weigh my heart, and I don’t want to wait to rectify any imbalance I perceive. It’s rather like figuring out what your karmic debt is, and doing what you can in this life to shed some of it by your conscious efforts and deeds. Not because I don’t want to come back as a cock roach, or be consigned to Hell. Rather, it is imperative, now, to do what I can for the greater good; to build up, rather than tear down. Just the year I spent in Viet Nam, in the infantry, piled up a great deal of negative energy and deeds. I want to counteract that while I still can.

I don’t know exactly what that means yet, but I’ll let you know when I do. In the meantime, I intend to let my life open up, like a sunflower in the summer sun. Explore the mysteries. Speak the truth. Be kind. Be compassionate. Love unreservedly.

“Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Lists and Letters

The year-end making of lists has rather a long history. The most important list, at least for young true believers this time of year, is one that gets mailed; allegedly to the North Pole.

Letters to Santa aside, annual lists have grown to encompass all manner of categories: Best Movies to Come Out this Year; Ten Best Restaurants to Open This Year; The Top Five [Whatevers] to Do/Visit/Drink/Experience/Buy. Et cetera. These lists are as ubiquitous as the pseudo-personal holiday letters, full of bonhomie and good news, that many people send to their apparently numerous friends, acquaintances, and relatives.

Since a list of people to whom I might send a perky Christmastime recitation of accomplishments and transitions is rather short (and the list of those who might be interested in such a missive shorter still), I’ve never written a holiday form letter.

While there’s no throng of BFF’s, waiting to hear about my exciting and fulfilling year, I do, Dear Reader, have you.

(You’ve been warned: now’s the time to go do something more productive, like giving your cat a bath, for example, or changing the oil in your car.).

So, for those still reading, here is my very first Holiday Letter! It might become an annual tradition, but we won’t know ‘til next year, will we?

– – –

2015 Draws to a Close

A Rainbow in the Canyon

Hello, All, and Happy Christmas!

Twenty-fifteen has been a year of transitions and blessings for me. As you may have noticed, blessings sometimes arrive in disguise, and it can take a while to realize what’s wrapped up in that package.

Knowing each other as we do, Dear Reader, I can tell you that 2015 began in turmoil and anguish for me. The relationship I had been living with, had been enduring, for over eleven years – a relationship that had become increasingly oppressive and demeaning – came, finally, to an end. Came to an end is not precisely correct. It would be more accurate to say that it collapsed under its own terrible weight.

I expected to feel sad, and perhaps depressed, but I did not. Instead, I felt relief: I was suddenly freed of a great burden that I had thought I might never be able to shed.

I spent a lot of time alone at home after that. Well, not actually alone: Capt. Blackie was, and still is, here with me. Or I am here with him. One can never quite tell with cats.

My working life continues to metamorphose. While I’m still working as an architect, as I have for the last 35 years, I have pursued writing with increasing seriousness over the last six years (hence this blog). I’ve had a few pieces published. The most recent, “The Fundamental Clarity of Light”, appeared in the Blue Falcon Review last January. It’s a fiction piece, but is based upon my experiences as an infantryman in Viet Nam, in 1969 and 1970.

Those experiences are also the basis for my book-length memoir, “The Wars I’ve Fought”, which creeps ever closer toward publication (thanks in no small part to the services of a very capable editor).

I’ve read a good many books this year. I won’t list them all (some aren’t worth mentioning anyway). A few of the good ones are: “The Fall of a Sparrow” (Robert Hellenga), “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” (excellent; by Katherine Boo), “Point of Direction” (Rachel Weaver), “Delights & Shadows” (poetry by Ted Kooser), and “The River at the Center of the World” (about a journey up the Yangtze River; by Simon Winchester).

You may be wondering about the photograph above, showing a rainbow over a wide canyon. I took the photograph in October, at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It signifies another personal transition that occurred this year. It is, in fact, the single largest blessing to come into my life in a very long time. I fell in love with a very kind, thoughtful, and beautiful woman. She need not be named here (and would prefer not to, anyway), and besides, she knows who she is.

She has helped usher into my life a joy and contentment I feared I might never find. Yet I have found and continue to discover those things, with her. She was with me when I took the photograph. It was quite remarkable, seeing the rainbow below us; as though it was rising up out of the canyon. It seems a perfect metaphor for my life right now, and an excellent description of what the year 2015 has been like for me.

Well, that’s it. The past is receding, as it is wont to do, and the future looks brighter than ever – which, admittedly, is easy for the future to do, since it hasn’t happened yet. That’s the future’s job, though: to look bright and shiny and optimistic. That being the case, I have to say that the future is doing its job quite well just now.

I hope you and yours have a perfectly lovely Christmas, and a prosperous and fulfilling 2016.

Cheers, Michael

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment