Sunday, January 20, 2019


It took a while this winter. The first big snow came yesterday. All earlier attempts by our local Winter Fairy to produce the first genuine “must shovel” snow had failed. She had, presumably, become confused by Global Warming talk and trends. The earliest attempts came in November but never even fully covered drives, never mind roofs and roads. “It snowed a little,” was the phrase. And while the white did unevenly mark the grass out back, it was light enough so that even shy autumn leaves could hold up small brown sails; some even moved east in the wind, reminding me that Fall Raking had fallen short of one hundred percent.

So January 19, 2019 (a properly uneven year) came with skies triple-grey and dumped snow any which way. It cumulated to about four inches and piled under wind-pressure to hillocks high enough so that taking the garbage out resembled an Arctic trek. We too got snow, not just the East Coast. But continuing to trouble our local Winter Fairy, in Alabama they had tornadoes.

Very white out there, very bright the sun. Lovely, lovely. A neighboring oak’s still holding on to leaves with the usual oaken tenacity; but that’s just a species. Other trees have all obeyed; the evergreens are decorated with white jewelry.

Question to the Fairy? Will this first 2019 storm be the last as well? Who knows, these days. Everything’s confusing when oceans boil and icebergs melt.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Conscription and Some Relatives

Back when I was in the military, thus well before 1973, military conscription was still in force. Most of the men I served with were therefore draftees. Tending to the contrarian, I had enlisted voluntarily and was therefore considered to be Regular Army. I signed up for four years; the Draft kept people for just under two. In addition I served another extra year so that we (Brigitte and I) could organize our transition from Germany to the U.S. more efficiently. We’d met in Germany and married there.

One of the largely overlooked benefits of the Draft was that large numbers of at least the male population actually experienced most aspects of military work. That experience taught a person that military life and work was, most of the time, about as far removed from heroism as is construction, farming, factory work, or professional sports. And what with the public fully aware of the nature of this lifestyle (let me call it that, tongue in cheek) the tendency to view soldiers as heroes was not continuously on display back then; now it is on display far too much. But that sort of talk or oration has its own benefit too. When people glorify “our heroes,” we  may be sure of two things. First, they may never have served themselves (indeed they had often heroically schemed to avoid service) and, second, they often praise our heroes to cover themselves with borrowed (if sometimes fake) glory—not because they believe a word of what they say.
These thoughts arose as I put away one of my 2018 calendars named “America the Beautiful.” Its thematic, built of photographs of statues (half the months) and landscapes (the other half), is “patriotic.” In effect, it is similar to the glorification of the ordinary GI, but at a larger scale. To be sure, the landscapes show that the American land is beautiful—but so is land across the globe. As for heroics and military events, all countries have the equivalents in their history. Using such images to point at “beauty” has a flavor of self-praise; it’s innocent in the calendar, but it's a way of bending from the hard truth of things.

It only takes small steps from these instances (and flag-worship too) to White Supremacy, American Exceptionalism, and other dangerous forms of tribalism. To praise the soldiers, let’s praise service. To praise the country, let’s praise its mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and plains. Patriotism? Let’s pay our taxes. The higher achievements of humanity are never mere collectives you can put on— like fatigues.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

2019: Superstitiously Yours

I’m not superstitious, but, alas, inside of me (down in the slums of my not that shining city of a self) lives another person, actually a very close but often troublesome friend. And that friend certainly is. Superstitious.

One of my superstitions is that even years are unlucky. Therefore I wear my watch on my right wrist (Wrist 1) in even years because the watch will counter the misfortunes that come with my left wrist (Wrist 2). Now like most right-handers, I’ve worn my watch on the left. But then, years ago now, I began to wear my watch on my right wrist whenever the year became divisible by two. I began this in order to fight the bad vibrations which, I thought, a year like 2018 would certainly bring. The year 2016 had, again, proved my dark self’s superstition (nor had my watch, on the right hand, help): the election results that year. And when 2017 arrived, with my watch still on the right wrist, I decided that I would leave it where it was—in its “guarding” location—even if the year was, otherwise, favorable, being uneven. 

Today, a little late for January, I am once more faced with the choice. Do I treat 2019 as a year that needs protection against malign forces that invisibly hover beneath grey and even sunny skies? Or do I burden my left wrist with a watch and, for some days, look on the wrong wrist for the time?

The BREXIT vote in the UK suggests that 2019 has not yet taken a positive hold. To be sure, Theresa May kept her office as Prime Minister the next day, but only by a slim margin of 20 votes. Anyway, she won. In an even year she certainly would have been kicked out: thus my dark self assures me. The U.S. is still a member of NATO. Thank you, uneven year. But can I be sure of you? And Mueller is still biding his time and may be barred from making his Mueller Mysterium public.

So decision time is difficult. A helpful idea, however, might be tried in 2019. I have, like most fogeys of my age, more watches than I have years left to live. For about $11.99 I can get a battery for one of them and, in this crucial but unpredictable year, wear two watches, one on each wrist. You’re wise. You get it. Such matters actually mean something when you are forced to wander slums.