Laddie Boy, and bullying for no reason

There was a popular dog food, when I was a kid, called Laddie Boy.   For all I know it’s still around, I’m seldom in that aisle in the supermarket these days.  I think our brilliant dog Patches may have eaten Laddie Boy.  I recall the stink of it when the can was opened — in later years on an electric can opener that sounded like George Harrison’s electric guitar on Revolution (White Album version).  

I had a classmate, for a couple of years, named Fred Ladner.  I liked Fred, we stood at the back of the sized place line in fourth or fifth grade and he was always pleasant.   One day, for reasons– or more likely simple, brutish reflexes — I can’t recall, I menaced Fred in the school yard.   I remember how he recoiled, confused and hurt and I recall the vitriol with which I called him “Laddie Boy” as I glared at his sudden fear.  I may have grabbed his shirt, but I don’t think I even did that.  He didn’t make a move to get away, just stared at me wide-eyed, his sense of my senseless betrayal clear in his wet, scared eyes.   I don’t know how it happened, I don’t know what, if anything, may have precipitated it.   What I remember was his fear and confusion, and that I was the direct cause of it.  

I don’t remember any other incident of myself being a bully in childhood.   I sometimes expressed a bit of malevolence here and there, as any boy sometimes does, like after a friend’s mother drove him and his sister into a concrete stanchion and the guy wore a maroon wool hat, a la Mike Naismith of the Monkees (not sure what color Mike’s wool hat was) all day long in school.  One day somebody snatched the kid’s hat off and we saw that it covered a white circle shaved into the dark curly hair of his head, where he had been probed, or stitched or whatever.   He was very unhappy to be exposed this way and I was in the circle of boys, his friends and classmates, who sadistically kept the hat away from him in a game we used to call Saluji, for some reason.  He desperately tried to get the hat back, only to see it flicked away at the last second by the mercilessly grinning little boy he rushed.

It was a momentary thing, and this kid was probably my best friend at the time, something I quickly forgot about.   I had no recollection of it until, to my surprise, I learned that he was still very bitter about it more than fifty years later, when he brought it up one day with great feeling.  

It is easy enough for me to see these behaviors, and if there were two instances I can recall there were surely more, as me acting out what I experienced at home.  Where my sister was sly, passive aggressive, darkly, sadistically funny, I fought back directly whenever our parents took a verbal swing at me.  My father was, I can see now, often tormented by demons that caused him to act contrary to the way he taught my sister and me to behave, contrary to his ideals and highest beliefs.  He bullied my sister and me, often goaded by my mother’s demand, after a long day at work, as he was trying to rest up a bit before going to his second job,  that he do something about the two disobedient, disrespectful little pricks she had been dealing with all day.

We are aggressive and sometimes irrationally hostile, we smart apes, and, in crowds, we are capable of doing things that are the stuff of nightmares.   We have always been this way.   We don’t always know why we are screaming and pumping our fists into the air as someone we hate is being publicly tortured to death.   It’s a homo sapiens thing.   You don’t see cats and dogs doing this kind of thing.   Pigs raised for slaughter in Auschwitz-like conditions don’t act this way.   Only humans form lynch mobs, send armed men into villages to rape and burn, build vast state-of-the-art machines to kill as many as possible in the shortest amount of time.

As I state the obvious I’m also thinking about what makes a reliable narrator.  Is somebody trying to get to the bottom of his or her pain a reliable narrator?   For example, I wrote hundreds of pages, posted here, in a first draft trying to get to my father’s point of view as he was inflicting terrible damage on his children.  This process caused me to swing wildly at times, in an attempt to vividly describe the damage and also understand it from a bully’s point of view.  

Although he generally bullied us, is that really what my father was at his essence?   Surely there were many other things at work in his nature, more salient features that those who knew him would see him as before “bully”.   Describing my father’s angry glare as “psychotic,” for example, was a wild swing and a clear miss.   In the second draft, should I live long enough to produce it, these missteps will be corrected as I convince the reader, and, more importantly, the publisher, that I knew what I was doing all along when I stumbled through the first draft.   (Tip of the yarmulke to Neil Gaiman who hipped me to this in his Mahster-clahss youTube ad).

I don’t think it requires a Sigmund Freud to convince anyone that the indigestible traumas of our childhoods live on in us many years later.   The pain we can’t understand or process has nowhere to go except various, mostly unconscious, survival strategies: a rigorous daily exercise regime, sarcasm, constant busy-ness, “recreational” drug use, etc.   We make vows to do better, as I have with my attempt to apply an “if I can’t help, I don’t hurt” ahimsa-based approach to my own life.   Knowing that I am as capable as the next little Hitler of cruelty to my fellow creatures, I try to be aware of my hurtful actions as I keep my own interactions with violent or provocative assholes at a minimum.   A neutral straight face shown to a vicious person one encounters by chance, I’ve learned, is usually better than a sneer, a comment, a middle finger raised.  As is getting away from them as smartly as possible.

Still, most of us get to understand so little about what makes us act the way we do. Of course, we’re all masters of justifying it, to ourselves and anyone who might be offended by it.   I realized a few weeks ago, to my great surprise [1], that after writing everything I could think of about my father, in the course of a daily practice over two years, that I am now able to clearly see things from my father’s point of view.   I imagined his voice, informed by the regrets he had while dying and the lifetime of progress he made in the last few days of his life, expressing what he wished we could have talked about when he was alive.  

Talking to his skeleton regularly explained things to me I could never understand before.   I don’t pretend to understand exactly how this happened, but imaging the conversations I know he wished we’d had revealed things I never had a conscious clue about.   I finally understood this perplexing character, in a way I cannot presently understand the little boy who suddenly turned on his friend Laddie Boy and made his eyes grow wide in betrayal and fear.    Very much like my father’s eyes when, one day during a verbal beating he was dishing out, I stood, a skinny fifteen year old, with such violence that the old man in his chair was suddenly afraid.  

 

 

[1]   As I learned, to my great surprise, one day during law school while I was transcribing words of a legal decision into a paper I was writing, that I wasn’t looking at the keys as I typed.  I was amazed to realize that I’d taught myself to touch type, completely unconsciously, simply by typing countless pages during my dreamy creative writing days and as a rat-like law student. 

Colluding to pretend all is well

We always have the option to pretend that the things that hurt us are not that bad. You can have a heavy history of sour battles with someone, and pretend it all weighs nothing.   The fear is that allowing the feelings that cause the conflict into view and trying to work things out will inevitably lead to more conflict, a fight to the death over who is the bigger asshole — who is to blame for everything.  

To accommodate yourself to this internal dilemma you need to stop caring as much about the person, since if you cared too much it would be painful to sit with somebody who may be compelled, when the moment is right, to stick a finger into your deepest wound.    This “compromise” agreement not to talk about the 600 pound gorilla in the room is a powder keg situation, both parties sitting on the explosive keg smoking cigarettes and acting as if there is no possible harm to any of it.

It is strenuous, wearying work, I find, to pretend that a relationship with someone who can’t help being insensitive, suspicious, antagonistic, untruthful (or worse) is actually fine.    In psychologist Jeanne Safer’s book about sibling conflict, Cain’s Legacy, the author talks about what she calls “sibspeak”, the intimate language siblings speak among themselves, full of code words and often silent agreements not to acknowledge the painful sources of fundamental conflicts.  

Avoidance is common in the secret language many siblings speak to each other, since there are often primal conflicts going back to earliest memories, things that trigger real hurt, fear and anger.  Avoidance produces only caution, I find.   I read the book, which describes numerous troubled sibling relationships,  with interest.   Reading her conclusions, the general principles she sets out,  a series of steps to take for better communication with a sibling, this one jumped out at me.

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This collusion to keep the dark, fearful, enraging things hidden is a trap.   It requires ignoring strong feelings that are telling you important things. Things like: when somebody tells you angrily that they want to kill you, believe the strength of their feelings.  Things like: after somebody hurts you, an apology — an expression of empathy, remorse and vow to do better–  is necessary before reconciliation and forgiveness can happen.    Things like: if even a small breach of this “agreement” not to talk about  painful things leads to accusations and rage, there is a major problem.

Of course, you can always nonchalantly cross your legs again, after fishing out your lighter, and putting the flame to a new cigarette, being as careful as one can be sitting on a keg full of explosive powder talking about everything else in the world.

Question of Fact

I find myself thinking of the good advice to juries and judges, given by Brett “Boof” Kavanaugh’s mother, who went to law school during Boof’s childhood and became a lawyer and then a judge herself.  “Use your common sense — what smells right and what smells like a steaming pile of shit?”  ( I paraphrase).

We’re living in a sound byte and “Social Media” driven, 51-49 SUCK IT, LOSER culture where fact finders are not expected to use common sense after smelling various claims to determine which come closest to making sense.   

Remarks are often taken out of context, edited, framed a certain way, weaponized and offered as doctored proof of the unreliability of things we used to call “facts”, back in the days when we naively believed that what actually happens is more important than the self-serving reframing of reality by highly paid spin doctors.   We are told everything today is strictly tribal, EVERYTHING, and what you believe depends 100% on whether you are a member of the tribe of loyal winners or the tribe of despicable fucking losers.   

As a member of a lost tribe, I find myself recalling times in my own life when I was expected to accept, for the sake of somebody else’s strong, immovable feelings, an absurd or incoherent story.    An innocent remark of mine was sharpened and used to vicious effect in a marriage counseling session as proof that my oldest friend, the husband, was a fucking liar.  His occasional lying never bothered me, nor did I ever agree with the wife that he is a compulsive liar.  Yet, there it is: that he’s an unbearable fucking liar proved by his oldest friend’s candid, strategically quoted remark!   

My old friend confronted me, as he was challenged to do by his wife and couples therapist and, eyelid twitching, put it to me bluntly: “Did you intentionally and viciously try to destroy my marriage or was it just stupidity driven by unconscious hostility?”   I suggested a third choice, which I explained in detail, but, also — what the fucking fuck?!

Granted, to a larger and more open extent than ever before, we are living in a 51-49 SUCK IT, LOSER! culture.   The stories and rationales will keep shifting, polls will be taken, retaken, new stories and rationales will emerge about the same thing explained differently the day before.   Denials will be followed by insistence that nothing was ever denied, admissions, same deal, they can be made and denied in back to back breaths because: SUPPORT OUR TROOPS!   

As long as the insula is kept glowing red, there is no need to go beyond the immediate cause of anger (which makes the insula glow).  In fact, when we are angry we are physically and psychologically unable to see the other side of anything, we literally cannot process the explanations that would otherwise pacify us.  The beauty of righteous rage: it makes us feel totally righteous and adrenalized to fight injustice.

If you hate, you will be inclined to easily believe the worst rumors about the person/people you hate.   Hillary Clinton, an internet meme insisted, was running a pedophile emporium in the basement of a popular DC pizza joint.  Child sex slaves, locked up in the basement for pervert Hillary supporters to do with as they pleased.  An outraged citizen arrived at the pizza place with a gun to liberate the poor children in the basement.   The pizza place had no basement.  They arrested the guy with the loaded gun and, thankfully, nobody was harmed.   The claim turned out to be a piece of random propaganda against a political candidate who was either the first or second most hated politician in America at the time (Trump and Hillary were said to be one/two most hated presidential candidates ever, I don’t recall the order).

During that same ugly 2016 campaign I got a call from a friend who told me about a video tape of Sheldon Adelson (piece of shit extraordinaire) and Donald Trump (his record reeks for itself) that allegedly showed them gang-banging a 13 year-old girl.  As much as I dislike both of these creatures, I immediately knew the story was a crock.  Use your common sense: assume either of them actually had sex with a 13 year-old — in what universe would they do it together, sharing the girl — and the possibility of a very long prison term?   It’s not in either of their characters to share. 

Beyond that, how would these two wealthy men, skilled in covering up dark things they feel need to be kept secret, have allowed a video to reach the public?   The videographer would be either well-paid off and sworn to secrecy in an ironclad NDA or discreetly removed from the world, along with the “evidence” of the sensational gang rape of a minor.  The corporate media would be abuzz about it, if such a tape had surfaced or there had been the slightest whiff of truth about its existence.

Believe what you like, it’s certainly your prerogative, like the choice to remain unpersuadable.  For me, I prefer to have as much solid information as I can get before I formulate and state my position.   It’s like being a juror in a criminal trial, you want to hear from what they used to call “fact witnesses”, as many people who were actually at the crime scene as you can get, and see as much other evidence as there is, before you make up your mind about what happened and what didn’t happen and who did what and so on.  Dismiss that principle as “tribal” if you like, I’ll stick with it, prejudiced member of a loser tribe that I am.

 

In God We Trust — YOU pay cash

The title above was one of my father’s throwaway lines, possibly taken from Lenny Bruce (and seen, in variations, on signs in stores with puckish proprietors).  I am thinking about trust today, don’t ask me why.    Trust is largely gone from public life in our ever-suspicious, tribal “fuck you”/ “NO, FUCK YOU!” culture.  Our public servants, for the most part, are untruthful or equivocating whenever they need to be, to protect their brand for integrity.   As a nation we’ve gone to war, more than once, based on outright lies that were known to be lies when the liars were repeatedly lying about why we needed to go to war.  Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s known knowns, if you know what I mean.   How do we trust people who lie whenever they feel the need to?  An interesting challenge.

I knew a woman married to a charming man who was a reflexive liar.   He would lie convincingly whenever he felt himself to be in a corner, and as a lifelong secret gambler who regularly lost big bets he needed to cover up, he found himself in a corner frequently.   As things got tighter for him, and his need to cover up some shameful excess grew, his lying became increasingly impassioned.  He would appear, at such times, achingly sincere, even admitting embarrassing things during these untruthful confessions.  

He was an excellent actor who was adept at gaining sympathy with a convincing, though false, story. The relief of getting out of very tight spots with these lies is probably what got him hooked on lying.  He was eventually caught in a few big lies involving undeniable credit card fraud, deliberate deception over large sums of “borrowed” money, outright embezzlement and so forth.  

He had some increasingly serious physical problems and, out of politeness, I once asked his wife how he was doing.   His wife said “how would I know?”  I never asked how he was doing after that.

It’s a mystery to me how you can stay close to someone you can’t trust.   We may sometimes hear things we don’t like from our nearest and dearest, be annoyed once in a while by the tics of our closest friends, but what we don’t doubt is the sincerity of these friends.  When the truth is needed, we will have some version of it from those who care about us the most.  Importantly, they will try to provide hard truth with sympathy.   This is my assumption and it seems to be confirmed by my experience.   On the other hand, I’ve been disappointed in this belief too, and relationships end over a revealed lack of trust.  Regular lying is not the only deal-breaker in close relationships, but it can be a big one.

A deliberate lie, of course, is in a separate category from the more common unintentional falsehoods that stem from self-delusion, a deep belief in dubious shit.   One person’s fucking lie is another person’s honest self-deception, and much of self-delusion is easy to understand and fairly innocuous.  Until it feels under attack.   Self-delusion can become aggressive when it must defend itself against all objective argument, marshaling a stubborn determination to see only one side of the situation.   This is the category, I think, that much of the untruth we are regularly presented with falls into.    Not deliberate lies as much as strong opinion based on one-sided  information, prejudice, the easy reflex to fall back on what feels right, inconvenient facts aside.

Is someone lying or misguided when they dismiss the climate disruption warned of by climate scientists as communist bullshit?   In most cases, they are probably not lying.  They sincerely believe, in spite of ever more common killer storms, droughts, floods, wildfires and other observable evidence,  the alternative explanation they have been given by very smart public relations people working for the cynical leaders of the lucrative, if problematic, fossil fuel industry.   Is everyone who believes that cutting taxes on the richest corporations and families actually helps everyone in society lying?   Probably not, there are many reasons to believe a given proposition.   Is a politician knowingly lying to convince people to support a position always acting like a psychopath?   You can argue that it’s not.

I don’t want to veer into politics here in 2020.  I’ve spent too much time on the vexing details in the last few nightmarishly turbulent years.  We are regularly lied to by various leaders, it is a given in our commercial culture today.  I’m going to give one example of a lie told to me, directly, by Barack Obama, secret Muslim, illegitimate presidential candidate unqualified for the Ivy League schools he went to, a man I voted for twice.  While he was pushing Obamacare, at a time when I very much liked my doctor, I was reassured to hear him say that under his plan “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.”   Not necessarily.  In my case Obama scored a zero for truthfulness since I could not keep my doctor, his corporation did not participate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

On balance the ACA was a step forward for a nation that had, before the law was passed, an even larger segment of its population dying unnecessarily after too-late diagnoses in emergency rooms, dying in the final stages of curable diseases for lack of health insurance.  Millions more Americans are now covered, at affordable rates, and that’s a net gain for everybody previously unable to afford health care.   It’s a problematic program with a lot of fucked up aspects to it, the insane complexities of its billing system high among them (as well as the millions still uncovered by the ACA), but the program was an undeniable step forward from what existed before.  

Even people who hated Obama don’t want to see Obamacare abolished.  Nobody but health insurance executives and wealthy psychopaths not affected by the program are in favor of reinstating the brutal “pre-existing condition” loophole that served only to further enrich health insurance companies.  Personally, I now save thousands of dollars a year over the cost of my former privately purchased health insurance, and I’ve found good doctors who participate in the plan,  That said, the motherfucker did look me directly in the face and lie to me, with great sincerity.   A small lie in the service of a much greater good, I suppose.  No need to go into some of his more deadly lies and omissions that really fucking irked me.

There are, of course, different categories of lying.  Some are harmless enough, a need to constantly brag, to exaggerate one’s importance, for example.  This kind of lying is used to push away the torments of low self-esteem, and, you know– what the fuck?  You can take this sort of lying, what lawyers call “puffery”,  with a grain of salt most of the time.   Some lies are quite destructive, as we all have experienced.   Why do people believe the habitual tellers of these kind of self-serving, damaging untruths?   Love.

If you love the person telling the lie, not being upset by the lie goes down much easier.  The lie is much easier to see as understandable, justifiable.  He HAD to tell it that way, you see, looking at it from his point of view– he was sincerely ashamed about what actually happened, you can’t blame him.   Or, it doesn’t matter, the guy is so good to me about everything else that his occasional lies, even things like the rare but undeniably shocking surprise bankruptcy days before the closing on our new home, for example, are acceptable.

The downside I can’t find a way to overlook is the necessary complicity of those who accept the liar’s need to lie.  This requires supporting the liar’s right to lie without consequences, to lie yourself to cover the lies of the loved one.  It includes the forced complicity of everyone who knows the secret stories that must never be revealed. 

The lie of the loved one needs to stand, and so does the need to talk around it, to dance, to contort the conversation in such a way that the lie is no longer central to what you are talking about.   In a pinch, just get angry as hell when someone keeps harping on some relatively harmless untruth they are so relentless about exposing.  Smash-mouth offense is the best defense in such situations, especially when people keep bringing up ancient history.

For me, the challenge is to be truthful and fair, to the extent any of us can be, without being combative about it.   It is a challenge I am wrestling with in the clear, stinging light of 2020.

 

Ramming it Through

To those with no sense of sportsmanship (eh, sportspersonship…), there is only one object to the game– winning.  The point is not to play a game of skill, where the more skillful player has a chance to win even against great odds.  The point for “winners’ is winning.  Only winning, which is even better if the enemy is humiliated in the loss. 

To those who believe the point of every game is to beat an opponent in a zero sum war for dominance (a pretty sorry and vicious breed, if you think about it), the game itself is a distraction and any means may be used to dispose of it.  Fuck playing, fuck finesse, fuck the fun that makes it a game, fuck the rules, fuck you, loser.

Years ago I got to a certain level of skill in paddleball.   Paddleball is played on handball courts all over New York City.   The ball is a hard rubber “hand ball” that guys pound with their palms, and the paddle is made of wood, saving a lot of wear and tear on the hand.   I was a good player, never a great one.  I had many excellent games over the years, some against much more skillful players who nonetheless made it a game with me as they beat me handily.   

I appreciated the sportsmanship of these players, they were sympathetic to my fate, to a small extent, and pushed me to the limits of my game at the same time, which was very sporting, since they could have easily disposed of me without letting me touch the ball.  The thrill of paddleball is the volley, the quick twitch back and forth, the strategy, the sound of the ball sucking against the wall, the dash, the lunge, the return, the backhand.  Or as I learned one day from a much better opponent who took a moment to point it out to me, switching hands extends your reach by a good margin, allows you to return shots you couldn’t reach with a backhand.   Excellent advice.

Some play a game for love of the game, others use it as a means to prevail, to dominate someone and feel superior.   I once played a guy who had a fast, precise, killer serve.  In my experience with the serve, about nine or ten tries, it was unhittable.  His first serve was that one, his next, identical, 2-0.  I didn’t come close to hitting the third.  The fourth flew past my reach and reflexes again.   He continued serving his unreturnable, killer serve and took a 5-0 lead.   I may have had a a few poinst during my serve, but when he got the serve back it was that same killer serve.   

After his eighth or ninth unreturnable serve I said to him, with clear bitterness “obviously I can’t return this serve.  Do you want to show me your fancy fucking serve all day or do you want to have a game?”  He responded mockingly, telling me he’d give me an easier one since “you can’t handle this one.”   I told him to serve the ball, and I was very motivated to beat his ass good.   

Without his trick serve, I pulled even with him — he did not have much skill volleying, that serve was pretty much his whole game.   As I said, volleying is the whole point of this marvelous game.  It was soon clear to both of us  that if he hadn’t spotted himself a nine point early lead, I’d have beaten him easily.   

When he got the serve back it was those killers all the way and he won the game.  Afterwards I learned that he was in law school.  This was decades before I found myself in law school.   I said to him “that explains it, then, they’re instilling the idea that winning is the only thing and that the actual game is for suckers.”  He had some smarmy remark I don’t recall and it is also worth noting that he begged off of our rematch.

Bullying behavior is often this way, motivated by fear of a fair game.  Play the game, let’s see how it turns out.

 

 

The Body Knows

In the same way that animals instantly know when a tsunami or other natural disaster is about to happen, and begin fleeing the soon-to-be killing zone, our bodies know many things before we are aware of them.

Years ago I watched my father bully his granddaughter, my niece.   She was about five, it was the evening before her birthday and my father asked her where she wanted to eat the next day to celebrate.  She told him and he shook his head.  No way.   When she tried to argue a case she shouldn’t have needed to argue, her grandfather cut her off with a smiling “you show me a girl who insists on going to Shells and I’ll show you a girl who doesn’t get the bike her grandparents bought for her.”  This bike, by the way, a sparkly little purple number with training wheels and girlish streamers coming out of the handlebars, long coveted by the birthday girl, had already been purchased.

The girl’s parents remained silent.  I tried to reassure my niece that we’d go wherever she wanted, but she ran upstairs crying.   A few minutes later, when I went up to say goodnight before heading back to where I was staying with my father, the bully, my niece smiled and pretended she was fine.   She’d been taught to do this and was already, at five, a master of the fake, but very ingratiating, smile.  I later learned that as soon as we left she ran into the bathroom and vomited.    She was 100% right to vomit.   She couldn’t have articulated, perhaps, the exact reason she was puking her guts out, but any observer of the scene with her mean grandfather and her silent parents could get a pretty good idea of what had upset her so much.  Her body had no hesitation to vividly express her feelings for her.

Five or six weeks ago I pushed myself a little too hard on a nine mile hike that, with my arthritic knees, was a little too strenuous.   The hike was beautiful and painless, except for the steep, rocky descent and climb back up which were very painful for my knees (the descent had been particularly excruciating).  I needed to rest after the climb, as I’ve learned to do periodically when walking, to take the stress off my knees for a few minutes, but my fellow hikers, none of whom have arthritis, continued happily on and I grimly struggled to catch up over those last few miles.  

I felt fine after the hike and woke up the next day, after a long sleep, feeling fine. That evening, in the car, I suddenly found myself unable to speak.   The sounds I made were the incomprehensible sounds of nonfluent aphasia.   One syllable expletives, expressing my frustration at not being able to speak, were about the only intelligible things I could get out.  

By the time we got to the ER, a few minutes later, my episode of transient nonfluent aphasia was over.  I was able to explain exactly what I’d experienced during those twelve to fifteen minutes of not being able to speak.   Sekhnet reminded me, in telling the doctors, that I’d maintained my ability to say “fuck” and “shit” and things like that.   I was rushed through several tests to rule out an ongoing stroke and determine the severity of this TIA, transient ischemic attack or mini-stroke.   None of the tests showed any reason to keep me in the hospital, I felt fine, my blood pressure and heart rate were normal.   They gave me a pill to take, an anti-coagulant called Plavix (clopidogrel to you and me) that is apparently part of the post-stroke protocol.   I swallowed the first dose in the ER, as instructed, and filled a prescription for the drug the following day, as I found a neurologist to follow up with.

Before it was time to take my second dose of clopidogrel (where do they get these names?) I had dinner and went for my customary walk.   About a mile from the house I suddenly experienced severe abdominal cramps.   I stopped and waited for the rumbling to pass, googling the side effects of clopidogrel (prominent among them were bloating, cramps and diarrhea), and, in the moment that followed, learned the terrible truth of the cliche about when you’re old never pass a bathroom and never trust a fart.  I have long understood the first part of that adage, and I live by it.  The wisdom of that odd bit about never trusting a fart suddenly became clear to me for the first time.

The back of my pants suddenly felt damp and, I’ll be damned, there was a little wet spot,  quickly becoming a cold wet spot.  I shook off my horror and headed home in mounting discomfort, my intestines groaning as I made my way through the residential neighborhood I walk in, where, I thought ruefully, every house I passed has several bathrooms.  As I got close to the house I called Sekhnet in panic, telling her to unlock the door and clear the path to the bathroom.  It was one of the most terrible miles I’ve ever walked.  Arriving at home at last, I pulled open the unlocked door, climbed the first step, and as my foot hit the second, learned the sinister Latin meaning of Plavix:  “explosive diarrhea while walking”.

The neurologist I consulted told me to discontinue the aptly named clopidogrel and I did.  The trauma to my excretory system persisted, day after day, week after week.  Clopidogrel had apparently ripped the hell out of my insides.   This side effect is only experienced by a statistically very small number of patients, and there appears to be no lawsuit related to it among the many against the makers of the drug for several other terrible, even deadly, side-effects.   If I’d had a serious stroke or heart attack, most doctors would have insisted I take this drug.  For a suspected mini-stroke, the protocol apparently requires it.   But it’s some fucked up shit if you fall into that statistically insignificant category who get 100% of side effect number 26, I can tell you from hard personal experience.

As the sudden spasms in my colon continued, punctuated by stirring episodes of what can only be described as a spastic colon, I began a liquid diet.  After 48 hours without solid food, the spasms eventually subsided.   I cautiously began introducing solid foods, noting on paper what I was eating every day.  Brown rice was fine, so were carrots, oddly enough and popcorn, steel cut oatmeal and whole wheat bagels were fine, even with tofu spread, tofu was also fine, persimmons and grapes were OK, raisins immediately brought back all of the symptoms.  

This has been an ongoing dance since October 21.  It’s been improving slowly and by Thanksgiving I ate virtually everything (our host made everything vegan, except for the turkey), in moderate portions, and I was fine.   Even the fine scotch went down without any problem.  I figured I was finally OK again.    Last night, throwing yer proverbial caution to the proverbial wind, I ate a normal dinner with friends, celebrating Sekhnet.  A few hours later my colon announced, with an unmistakable lack of ambiguity, that I’d once again be paying certain prices for my imprudence.

It occurred to me the other day that my colon is absolutely right to be freaking out, roiling and lashing out spastically.  

I follow the news closely and even do a little side reading to get some of the backstories.   The most recent post here, for example, is about the little side story that 3/5 of the president’s original campaign brain trust are now convicted felons.   The fourth was fired early on and was not directly implicated in any improprieties or illegal acts.   The fifth, a pugnacious, crew-cutted twat who should have been held in contempt of Congress for his open contempt, started a lucrative lobbying business across the street from the White House with direct, friendly, personal access to the most “transactional” president in history.   Presumably he is now very wealthy– and loyal to his president beyond question.

The Democrats, we hear, are reluctant to bring the damning conclusions of the Mueller Report (based on specific sworn testimony) into Trump’s impeachment.   (My colon tightens slightly as I write these sentences).  Their reasons for this are practical.  They cannot prove, without sworn testimony from those same witnesses, that the president engaged in the pattern of obstruction Mueller laid out because — the president continues to obstruct access to all fact witnesses who testified to Mueller under oath and all related documents.  It could take more than a year for the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of the president’s clearly obstructive behavior.  (An abdominal sonogram ruled out an obstruction in my digestive system, by the way).

This ongoing obstruction by Trump and his myrmidons continues the pattern of the president’s successful obstruction of the original investigation into his campaign’s collusion in massive Russian interference in the 2016 election.  Trump interfered enough, by continually denouncing the “witch hunt” “hoax”, refusing to cooperate, giving “inadequate” evasive, lawyerly written answers and intimidating, praising and floating pardons to witnesses, to ensure that the investigation produced “insufficient evidence” of criminal activities, though Mueller’s report also, explicitly, if almost silently, did not exonerate him of the crime of obstruction of justice.   Mueller’s investigation also put several of Trump’s closest associates (3 of the 5 originals) in prison for felonies related to this obstruction.

My gut correctly points out that it is not intemperate, nor hyperbole, to call the aggressive, diehard, fact-denying followers of Mr. Trump Nazis.   Nazi officials under Mr. Hitler were supremely ambitious men guided by only one principle: das Führerprinzip, the “leader principle” [1].   This meant their supreme duty was loyal, absolute obedience to the will of their leader, their Führer.  As Nazis themselves would put it, even the fine, decent Nazis our president praised after their march in Charlottesville: Führerworte haben Gesetzkraft — the leader’s words have the force of law.   Keep repeating any theory Trump spouts — that is the surest ticket to the leader’s approval and support.

Check out the party of Lincoln now, says my twisting colon.  It’s the party of Trump. We read that he now actually controls all the money the RNC raises, he decides which candidates get party funds for their campaigns and how much they get.   The party strongman is unprincipled, uncurious, viciously opinionated, vindictive, petty, cruel.   The perfect kind of man to blindly obey, if you are an ambitious Nazi.  When Nazis are ascendant, and “facts” no longer even exist, guys like me start getting the heebie jeebies.  So I don’t blame my guts at all for being in an uproar, even as I do my best to calm them.

I sip my broth and think about making a cup of tea.  Yes, my twitchy colon says, a little pineapple chamomile sounds about right.

 

 

{1]   The Führerprinzip [ˈfyːʀɐpʀɪnˌtsiːp] (About this soundlisten) (German for “leader principle”) prescribed the fundamental basis of political authority in the governmental structures of the Third Reich. This principle can be most succinctly understood to mean that “the Führers word is above all written law” and that governmental policies, decisions, and offices ought to work toward the realization of this end.[1] In actual political usage, it refers mainly to the practice of dictatorship within the ranks of a political party itself, and as such, it has become an earmark of political fascism.

 

Learning or not learning

An old friend was lamenting the other night how many years it has taken him to learn the most basic things about being a kind person.  How to overcome the ready reflex to react violently to provocation, for example [1].  I commiserated, that kind of transformation is not accomplished overnight, if at all, particularly if you grew up regularly under attack in a family war zone.   On the other hand, struggling to be a more compassionate person is the right thing to do and whatever progress we make benefits those we love as much as it benefits us.

We’re taught many things as children that are not only wrong, but do great damage to our young souls, damage we’re often compelled to pass on to others who don’t deserve to be mistreated.   Every abusive person in the world was subjected to abuse as a young person.  It doesn’t excuse the asshole behavior, but it makes it understandable.   Nobody becomes a bully unless they grew up in fear, humiliated and shamed regularly.

I reminded my friend at one point of something he’d long ago forgotten, a random moment of kindness he had no reason to remember, but one that made a deep impression on me.   That moment showed me, more clearly than anything up until that time, that there was a gentle beauty to life that had been largely hidden from me during a combative childhood defending myself against an antagonist who waited until the last night of his life to express sorrow and regret for the lifelong war he’d always blamed me for.   The random act of my friends’ kindness opened my eyes to how nurturing and healing real gentleness is.

I reminded my friend of that long ago day at the lake (which I wrote about here) and he had only the vaguest memory of  it.    He recalled taunting me, at one point, until I laid back on the rock, a crust of bread held between my lips, and waited for the beaked kiss of a hungry Canadian goose.  The aggressive birds had surrounded us during lunch, looking for some lunch.  He’d been doing it, and laughing as the birds snatched the bread from his mouth, and urging me to try it, but I’d resisted.   He called me a pussy in front of two female friends, “PUSSY!” he taunted, and like a true pussy, I put a crust of bread in my lips, laid back and waited for the hungry kiss of a large bird.  It was pretty cool.  I then reminded him about swimming in the lake and Audrey, who he’d only met that one time, and I fondly praised her as a great girl, talented, funny, cute, sensuous.     

“Why didn’t you stay with her?” my friend asked, hearing the obvious affection I had for her. 

I explained that at the time I was still way too immature to know how to handle somebody as damaged as Audrey also was.   I loved hearing her laugh, her touch, her beautiful singing voice, many great things about her, but I was too big an asshole, still, at age thirty or so, to know how to take care of the parts of her (or myself) that were so broken.     

She gave me stern advice one day, late in our friendship, and I resisted what she was telling me.  She pressed on, telling me that she wasn’t telling me anything she didn’t also tell herself.  I smirked and told her, with a bit too much coldness, that the things she told herself included “put your head in the oven and inhale the gas” and “take the razor blade into the bathtub and end this suffering.”   I said, if somebody told me those things, I’d defend myself violently against them.

That wasn’t the point, of course.  I managed to reject her advice, and win that little round of an ongoing disagreement, but the cruelty was unnecessary, and damaging.   She had struggled against suicide (and I hope never afterwards succumbed to the urge to do herself in, I haven’t heard of her for decades now) and prevailed more than once against a self-destructive tic I could not relate to.   Others might kill me, and I’d fight them about that, but I won’t ever raise my hand against myself (unless, perhaps, I am in unbearable pain in the final stage of a terminal disease).   Those things might all be true, but it was very mean of me to use them against her like that.   At that time I was simply too hardened against critical voices, even if they were right, and too intent on being right.

The world of hurt in Audrey’s heart, the pain that sometimes made her want to die?  I had no way to touch it.  I could make her laugh, I could make love with her, I could accompany her on guitar when she sang and played the flute, but beyond that, I was pretty much clueless.  

What we learn, I don’t know how we do it.  I’ve sometimes thought that the things that trouble us most make us think deeply about them (if we are wired that way, denial is probably a more common response) and look for insights into how to have less pain.    Pain, of course, is famous for distorting our thinking beyond endurance.   

Look at the tens of thousands of deaths of despair every year in America: suicide by gun, drunk driving, drug overdoses.    There is no help for this kind of hopelessness in a nation that divides the world into great winners and fucking losers.   We can learn to repudiate this false, asshole version of the world, though it is not easy.  “Winning” is really about the love and kindness we have in our lives, everything else is deliberately misleading advertising.  If you live without much love in your life you know this, if you live with a lot of love, you know this too.

How do we learn anything?  I don’t know, even as I know I’ve learned some important things over the years.  Some things we learn without effort, because we love them, are fascinated by them, drawn to them, can’t help improving because we are involved in them all the time, curious, thrilled by them.  If you love the sound an instrument makes, for example, and how it feels to play that instrument, odds are you will get better and better playing it.   If you love to draw, you will draw all the time, and if you do, you will get better and better at it.   Writing, same deal.   Critical thinking may also be in this category– finding and assembling the facts to figure puzzling things out.

But the really hard emotional stuff — how not to behave like our earliest role models?  How not to blame ourselves for the cruelty that’s sometimes inflicted on us?  How not to be tortured by fear?   How to remain mild, and as kind as we can, even when we feel hurt?   Very hard things, all of them.

I don’t know that I have a nice bow to tie this up with.  I don’t.  Life rarely includes real closure, or black and white changes that are beyond dispute.  In our war-torn world, nothing is beyond dispute, if you are willing to fight to the death over it.   Our current president is the perfect example of this: never wrong, always justified, always perfect.   Angry too, of course, because he is so innocent and lives in a corrupt world with so much wrong, so many enemies unjustifiably hellbent against him, everything so imperfect. 

The changes my friend and I discussed the other night are sometimes subtle, other times impossible to see at all.   We still react with anger when we feel provoked, but we probably react with less anger at times.   We still are unable to do much to heal the hurt in people we love, but we are better at it than we were.   We have learned a few important things, after many, many years.   I congratulate my friend for this learning, even as I commiserate about the hard road he is on, has always been on.   It is, of course, much easier simply to remain an asshole.

 

 

[1] If there is a harder trick, for somebody who was subjected to abuse as a child, I’m not sure what it is.