Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bullying, Guns, and Mass Shootings

In today’s Associated Press article about the shooting at Taft Union High School in California, it suggests the shooter had come for revenge against those who had bullied him. Bullying is something that has gone on for centuries. I was bullied in grammar school, and ignored in the early years of high school. I too, came back for revenge. I went to the grammar school where some of my tormentors still attended. I went to each and every high school that housed others. I walked their neighborhoods and waited outside their homes. I caught them one by one and dished out brutal and vicious street justice - with only my hands.  

I can’t say that my teen years, the 60s and early 70s, were without gun violence. JFK was shot in 1963, RFK and King five years later. Black Panthers carried rifles and semi-automatics in full view. Yet, when altercations occurred between average people, it usually resulted in fist fights. When street gangs met, they came with fists, chains, pipes, or knives. Any of these weapons could be, and often were fatal, however nothing that resembles the carnage of today.

I, like many, wonder what the difference is in the minds of kids and young adults today. We grew up with violence in movies - John Wayne, Clint Eastwood. We grew up with gangsters being glorified on the screen. I absolutely loved James Cagney.  Six-shooters, 45s, and machine guns. Even our cartoons were violent – Wile E. Coyote, Tom and Jerry. Rebel Without a Cause, Blackboard Jungle, West Side Story, all movies about teen angst and violence. Yet, walking away from those movies left us with sadness over the violence rather than a sense of triumph.

We were certainly as much a world at war then as we are now. The United States has been at war with someone since it came into existence. Our self-serving nationalism has always been in the forefront. We’ve always been a “bring it on” and gung-ho society. The suck-it-up and keep going mentality has been around a long time, probably more so then than now.

So, what is the difference today? I’ve learned over my 56 years that there is never a simple black and white answer to complex issues. There are layers, and interlocking, overlapping causes, actions and reactions. However, the one main difference that glares at me is the loss of human interaction due to electronics. People sit behind computer screens and call themselves communicating with the world. Televisions the size of theater screens project back hours upon hours of blood and guts video games. Our kids know how to manage any situation virtually, but when it comes to reality, many are awkward and self-conscious.

Add to the mix that we’ve systematically removed any and all life-training in losing. Organized sports at the K-8 age teach that everyone is a winner. We’ve eliminated such games as dodge-ball because kids had to 1) suffer being not picked, and 2) if not athletic, often got hit in the face. Life is tough and unfair, and everyone is not a winner, yet we are sending out children into this reality completely unprepared. Once they reach high school, where popularity, winning, and cruel, clicky groups have always been, and continue to be, prevalent, they have no idea how to act or react.

Guns are at the top of the discussion. Were there fewer guns in circulation when I was growing up? Or were the gun laws stricter? I really don’t know. What I can say is that I am a gun owner and a hunter. I’m also a slight conspiracy theorist in that I am leery of the way our government is headed, and I’d like to be armed when the shit hits the fan. America is the only country that has not experienced a people’s revolution and I’m afraid we are due. That said, I’m on the fence about assault weapons. More particularly, I’m concerned about the lack of gun safety training as a whole. I remember when marksmanship classes were accredited courses in high school. This is an important component to accompany the killing video games. Not only is gun safety learned but a true respect for the machine. When you shoot, you feel the real power, and you see the total destruction of the target. None of which is experienced sitting on a sofa pushing buttons that shoot military style weapons, and where targets, virtual people, get right back up after their blood is splattered on the screen.

As I said, I don’t think there is any straight-forward answer. I think that we need to take a hard look at our culture, not the one of violence because that has always been there, rather the culture of isolation. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Fascism, Socialism, Communism

This is a true "ravings" post. 

Sunday, my son, his two boys, Leo and London, and I drove 119 miles to Waunakee, WI for the BWK K-6 Wrestling Tournament. We left at 5 am and I walked back in the door at 7:30 pm. A very long day, yes, but lots of incremental moments to record.

Traveling in darkness with the sun rising in the rear view mirror was far too reminiscent of corporate days, as was traveling in darkness with the sun setting behind. Too many years filled with missed days. How many folks still make their living by being absent from their entire lives? A sad reality of capitalism that I’m sorry I was a part of, and gladly rid of.

As we left Kenosha, the rising sun sparkled and blinked off frozen blades of grass, and road side business windows. The further north we drove, the same sun reflected blindly off mounds of crisp snow atop rolled bales of hay. Three hours of travel time within the same state transformed the world.

Of course, there was all the wrestling. You can see 7 year old London taking first place here. Unfortunately, he wrestled in a completely different gym than his brother Leo. I stayed, watched, and filmed Leo while Lenny went with London, so I had to watch the videos just like you.

Another thing that struck me was the rampant acne on those northern boys. Not only the high school kids who were refereeing the matches, but also the younger ones who wrestled. I don’t know what that means, and I can’t even speculate. Just seemed strange that it was so severe.

However, all the things noted above had to be recalled. There was only one thing that I took away from the whole day, one thing that stayed with me. The title of this piece and their definitions: Fascism, socialism, and communism. I was eavesdropping on a conversation between two fathers sitting next to me; actually, it was difficult not to hear every word. One father was talking about the super grades his child received besides his superior sportsmanship.

            “How does a smart kid tease his little sister? He calls her a fascist, socialist, and communist.”

How does a father deal with this teasing? By proudly translating the story, obviously.  

I highly doubt that a 6th grader learned these words or their meanings in class. My 6th grade grandson isn’t. The other father responded by saying, “And five minutes later: Dad, what’s a fascist, socialist, and communist?” 1st father, laughing: “Yep.”

I wondered then, I wondered on the ride home, and I wonder still just how the father explained these words to the “little” sister. With politicians on both sides, Bush and Obama, having this labels attached to them, I can only imagine. This is what I took away from my first K-6 wrestling tournament. 

Old Age or Contentment

If there was a Facebook and blogging twenty years ago, all of my posts would’ve been about my children. I’m sure you know people like that. My kid did this, my kid did that, my kid won this or that. That’s parents, and that’s how it should be, IMHO (an acronym that was in the Kids Beat the Parents game played New Year’s Day that only I knew, and obviously still use). From the kids, it goes to the grandkids, and I’ve done my fair share of picture and video posting of everything from camping with the grandkids to their football games and wrestling tournaments. Perfect strangers around the globe know my grandchildren.

However, what is it when the majority of updates, posts, and conversations are about the dog or cat? Is it old age? Is it lack of life? Or is it relaxed contentment with the kids’ replacement? Hm. Well, I can actually relate to all three of these scenarios, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint.

Anyway, the plan for today was to do my blog post from the middle of bed as usual, create that “idea box,” do some cleaning, and work some more in the basement. That has all been tossed to the wind with a sleepless night. Not only a sleepless night but one with far too many moments standing beneath the stars in freezing temps, repeatedly, in and out, up and down and in and out again.

See, Mello, my dog, the kid replacement, obviously was under emotional duress when I was in Waunakee, WI watching wrestling for 14.5 hours. Such duress, that he had diarrhea for a little over 24 hours. Sorry if you thought this post was going to be about old age and contentment. You’re stuck with the squirts instead.

It started 10pm on Sunday, the day of my infraction against his senses. Monday morning I made rice with chicken broth thinking I’d caught it and all would be well. Sunday night of getting up 3-4 times was a cake-walk to Monday night when it was every hour on the hour. Thankfully, I have the fenced yard that I can just let him out the door, but this time, each and every time, required me to go out and coax him back inside. At one point, he just dropped on the frozen snow and refused to move until I took him by the collar – in my housedress and slippers. Lovely moonlight image.

I thought of just leaving him for the night, after all, he is part Husky and actually loves the cold. Then, as most worried parents do, I thought of all the terribly things that could possibly happen, namely that he’d eventually want to come in, start barking and wake up my daughter. Oh, the horror, believe me!! So, we continued our dribble dance because really, after a while, there just isn’t anything left in there to come out. He was just making the motions.

Finally, 6:36am was his last urgent trip. We slept on until 9:30 and I’ve emerged into the sunlight with a barely functioning brain. I doubt that there will be any business calls, idea box, cleaning, or anything else today. I may just sit and write. This brings me right back around to saying I think this proves the whole talking about the cats and dogs all the time is just pure relaxed contentment with the kids’ replacements. After all, writing is the goal. 

Friday, January 04, 2013

Friendship and Blood Pressure

The whole 1.5 years I lived in the North Georgia Mountains I had high blood pressure. Since I’d never had high blood pressure previously, and because Georgia’s medical assistance is nonexistent, I chalked it up to the elevation. High altitude works mysteriously on a number of things, including bread making, but that’s another blog post – maybe.  

I’ve begun again to see a doctor regularly and have all those necessary exams such as mammogram and colonoscopy (that lovely cancer is a trend on the maternal side), working with Froedtert University Hospital here in Wisconsin. The first visit on December 31st was 146/92 – so much for the altitude theory – so my doctor scheduled blood work and another visit to recheck on January 3rd which read at 130/84. Additionally, in those three days I lost three pounds.

So what happened in those three days to change things? On New Year’s Eve I spent the night lying around with the grandkids eating lots of processed junk food. On New Year’s Day, the whole family went to Golden Corral and ate a LOT of food. Then we played board games all day and had ribs and Italian beef for dinner. If anything, this should have raised both the blood pressure and the weight.

On January 2nd I drove my daughter and grandson home to Chicago and stopped to visit my friend Donna who I’d not seen in quite a while. We hugged and talked, and oo’ed and ah’ed over Mello and Apache playing, and hugged and talked some more.

The next day, I was in much better health. Friendship is good medicine.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013


On the first day of 2013 I talked about continuing the things that have worked in 2012. So, on the first day of 2013, Mae decided to continue what worked for her in 2012 and gave her a two month rest – she overheated; and she chose to do so on what has so far been the coldest day of the year. Of course she did it when the eighteen year old was behind the wheel, and the sun had set for several hours, making that coldest day of the year even more frigid. Moreover, she does it when there are doctor appointments looming and Christmas in January trips to execute.

We had just completed a 60 mile jaunt the day before and she was perky and peppy. Was it the anticipated trip to the overpopulated Chicago roads that set her off? Or was it the 40 degree anti-freeze sloshing in the radiator when the temperature hit 8 yesterday morning? Whatever it was, or is, she is tempting my “to do more of” list for 2013. More smiles?
Well, here’s the thing: smiling worked for me in 2012 so it was noted to continue in 2013, and I damn well will, even if it’s through gritted teeth. Smile, even if it hurts. Smile, even if they think you’re crazy. Smile, and the whole world smiles with you. A smile is a curve that sets everything straight. And the one I like the most: The bat is gone, but the smile remains.