JUST MUSING: “One hundred and one Jason Bournes …”

I have often taken a position that the soul of a criminal defense lawyer is revealed early.  Much like a birthmark identifying kin, spanning generations, telling a tale, sometimes foreboding, other times a blessing.  Not like Catalan popular cultural beliefs with regards to witches, “a witch is a woman who, by means of a pact with the Devil, has acquired supernatural power, which she uses for her own benefit and for evil purposes.”   No, no, mine’s eye is different, believing the markings are not visual, instead sometimes bundles as a riddle, hidden, not hidden, confusing, not confusing.  Sometimes obvious signs are seen: rooting for the Indians to rout the Lone Ranger, even though the Lone Ranger appeared to be a nice guy; shouting “lock her up” and pointing at the screen at Dale Evans – yes Dale Evans – believing instinctively there has to be an “other side of the story”; hoping that someone would eventually make Clint Eastwood’s day.  No, the signs are oft-times obscure; nary a mark of the devil on their posteriors, only one pupil per eye – not two – no horns.  Matters not whether the indicators are open and obvious or obscured, everyone knows the child is different, and none are shocked by the child’s declaration years later of his/her intended vocation, to defend the criminally accused.

Walt Disney’s movie 101 Dalmatians was adapted from Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians.   Without viewing the movie, or ever cracking open the book, one can readily assume the title references the power of collective action, exceeding the power of one; a similar tale told in various parables, fables, lessons learned in life.  This muse however is not about 101 Dalmatians, the Lone Rangers, Dale Evans, or Clint Eastwood.

We have a President at war with the intelligence agencies in this country.  Complaining when they reported the Russians interfered with the presidential election.  Screaming fake news, lying and ranting over leaks when the leaks clearly are designed to show the American public our president is lying to us.  Insisting there is a bug in the White House, parsing his words, walking gently over the coals, careful not to over-speak, fearing there is actually a bug in the White House.  Tweeting … tweeting … tweeting, directing his rage at Jason Bourne, wanting us to root against Jason Bourne.

The initial confession contained in this muse is heartfelt, meaning it is difficult to admit a bias when the majority is rooting otherwise.   Something about color, being an active participant in that thing called southern heritage and known and unknown history of this country.  Imposing a minority paranoid, leeching, controlling thoughts, persisting much like a neglected bath tub ring.  Screaming at the movie screen – at no one in particular – throwing books down, away, against the wall, complaining about the distortion of history, seeing the distortion.  Seeing and remembering history differently than others.  Disagreeing with the assessment that Andrew Jackson was a hero, (seeing the travails of Trail of Tears), refusing the blame the victim, screaming, screaming, screaming when the Patriot Act was passed, reading, seeing abuses the language concealed, instead of protection promised to the American public.  Wishing against Tarzan’s, telling a different tale, seeing him deported back to Los Angeles.  Understanding the punch-line when the Lone Ranger turned to Tonto, speaking in a united tongue when surrounded by Indians, “What do we do now Tonto?”  Understanding the point when Tonto finally awoke from his previous submissive slumber, replying, “What we white man.”  So I confess.  Oh Lord do I confess.

However, this time I have to work against type.  Casting aside my paranoia, much like Superman’s cape.  Running toward the door, the window, hearing Johnny Nash’s voice, singing, singing, signing, “I can see clearly now.”  One foot up, one foot down, one foot down; turning as the song resides, understanding it is fundamentally necessary to root for the Jason Bourne, the one hundred Jason Bournes; those whom our President has declared war against.

Throwing the book of protocols out the window, telling others the lies, recognizing we are experiencing a difference the country has seldom seen.  Recognizing the ability to outrun, out-shoot means nothing at this time, calculating their survival, the country’s survival, exposing the duplicitous nature of he and his cohorts’ conduct.  Ignoring party lines – telling, telling, telling – hoping others too will awaken from their slumber and do the same.  Not caring that in movie and books, Bourne is always white, always blond, eyes sparking much like the blue seen in the Mediterranean Sea, the sky after a cleansing rain, projecting the historical-embedded argument of superiority, of supremacy, much like Tarzan, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.  Seeing a connection between “He Who Wants to Fight One hundred and One Jason Bournes” and the violent attacks occurring daily around the country, resurrecting and affirming hate, dividing us, pushing us into distinct and separate camps.  Hearing Bourne’s theme music, rooting for the enemies’ demise – because it is the patriotic thing to do – eating more popcorn, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

JUST MUSING: “Two visitors, the bartender, two fat wood-rats…”

The City of New Orleans recently began the process of removing statues honoring heroes of the Confederacy from its city plazas.  The lists reads like who’s who of the southern insurrection; gracing plaza, overlooking vistas, situated near the halls of governance, welcoming visitors world-wide, telling the story of a divided nation.  One side insisting on the abolition of slavery as an institution, the other willing to take up arms, destroy a forming union in order to protect their perceived God given right to own human chattel.  History tells us the treasonists’ bid failed; history constantly reminds us their mark on history did not fail.

Enacting laws to maintain a caste system, engaging in terrorists acts against those they deemed inferior, using the rule of law and law enforcement to protect the subjugation of another, erecting statue’s in every courthouse plaza, hall of power the use of public and private funds could finance, making the lyrics of the song, This Land is Your Land is much like Mickey Mouse, a fallacy.

҈            ҉            ҉

The bartender seemed friendly.  Moving back and forward, appearing to be tethered – on a line- moving up and down the bar, attentive, filling orders, far more efficient than Siri.  At times ending the order by saying “okay”, but never “Google Okay”; speech pattered spoken at a time prior to the birth of either.

“Picture of beer … anything else?

“Dark…light…, okay?”

“You’re sure, you don’t want another?  Okay?”

Sliding free popcorn down the bar, proclaiming, keeping others engaged, never forgetting who ordered what.  “Good catch!” “Whoa, heads up!”  “Freshly popped…!”  Much like a miracle worker, multi-tasking, wiping, pouring, filling, commenting, turning, retrieving clean glasses – stacking them, sliding filled vessels across, down on end, down the other end; polishing, polishing, polishing – the counter, glasses; engaged – listening – not listening – remembering names, completing incomplete sentences, stories, seemingly a multi-linguistic mutant possessed with the ability to engage in multiple conversations with different creeds, emanating from the other side of the divide.  Moving forward, backward, forever remaining tethered; assuring everyone was content.  Watching his movement, interaction, concentrating, then it happened, appearing in the form of a blur, seen not seen, accompanied by a pat-pat sound, not at all graceful, not clumsy though; moving rapidly left to right, then out of sight;  disappearing behind the large mirror taking up most of the back wall.

I turned to Jeff, he to me.   “Did you see that?”  Jeff didn’t answer initially, peering downward, looking into his beer, crewing, rolling a straw which was situated in his mouth, before answering, “I hope not.”

I wasn’t drinking alcohol.  I knew my vision would not have been affected by the Coke and water which sat on the counter, which was being consumed between every two handfuls of popcorn.  Still I reacted, picking up one, then the other, looking about; shaking my head in disbelief, followed by “no” before going back to our previous conversation, sharing our day, listening to others’ conversations, watching, watching, watching, with country and western music rafting through the air.  We were young lawyers at the time.  I was months out of law school.  Working for Staff Counsel for Inmates, throwing the facts of cases around, sharing our visits to other parts of the State, and the reaction of the judges when they realized the law compelled the release of a convicted inmate.

Not getting far into the conversation before the again occurred again – this time from right to left – accompanied by the same sounds – patter, patter – a scratching slide, across the track formed by the proximity of the mirror and wall – patter, patter – rapid movement under subdued lighting, causing much the same reaction, now however accompanied with new movement, shoulder blades moving upward, hands pushing off the counter, releasing the free popcorn from our grips, no longer looking at our drinks, placing them instead on the counter, movement backward, followed by an immediate comment, “I know I’m not drunk; did you see that?”

“Yes, I saw!  I saw!”

Looking around, watching for others’ reaction, seeing none, wondering whether we were seeing ghosts, Mickey’s great revenge for not believing, he – Mickey – appearing in the form of a wood-rat.  Patter-patter, slid.

“No one else is reacting.”

“Maybe we are seeing things.”

Jeff chewed on the straw much like a cigar smoker, not with any certitude, pulling the straw inward, with a small portion protruding, aptly reflecting of our uncertainty.  Looking left, looking right, refusing to take our eyes off the track, seeing All Seeing Eyes and Ears stand between our eyes and the wall, confirming what we saw.

“His name is …”

I don’t remember “his” name, but his was the image we saw; a well-fed black wood-rat.  All Seeing Eyes and Ears didn’t stop there however.

“A pet …”

“A wood-rat…?”

“Yes, a pet.”

Perhaps All Seeing Eyes and Ears’ words served as the appropriate introduction, causing “them” to come forward.  “Them” – the big black one and a companion; the other was brown, with white patterned spots.  Blurred images moving rapidly across the horizon, like The Roadrunner, like Wile E. Coyote; one leading, legs moving, in circular motions; one chasing, legs moving in the same circular motion … pitter patter… pitter patter … pitter patter.

He – All Seeing Eyes and Ears – smiled.  “The bar’s pets.”

Looking around, seeing no one else move.  No one else reacted, remaining in place, content, feasting on rat infested popcorn, consuming urine colored beer.  We – Jeffrey and I – were having none of it, acting instead the part of rude houseguest – moving backward, pulling, tugging, pushing, tossing money on the bar (“Keep the tip”); letting the locals have their place, their ways; watching out for the two obese wood-rats as we made our way out.  No, no, no, not us.

I know some of you may well be insulted by my implied disparagement of wood-rats.  Others may believe I am disparaging you, owners of pets.  I am sorry, wood-rats! – All Creatures Great and Small – my ass!  I don’t care.  I simply don’t care.    I was trained by a grandmother to kill – “all rats and most snakes” – with few exceptions.  “Carry a stick, with you.”  I obeyed, walking with one eye ensconced, safely guiding the path; the other eye was the wandering one, much like those circular security eyes, mounted in the corner, or ceiling, high above, out of the way, snapping, snapping, snapping, away.  Even if you are insulted, I must confess, I have digressed woefully, running amok much like the way Jeffrey and I ran that evening years ago, fleeing those crazy folks enjoying a beer with their disease infected brethren.   I muse to say my existence in Huntsville, Texas, served as an appropriate contrast to the Confederate statures which remain in place laying claim to history, the land, and the difference between right and wrong.  Our fleeing the local watering hole was a mere inconvenience on our part, causing us to pray and hope the popcorn was actually freshly popped; visiting another establishment telling them what we saw and being the none surprised, when they too named the rats.

“Cool huh?”

“No, not cool, those are damn rats.  Do they ever cage them?”

The new server never answered the question, instead, treating us like the strangers we were (Brother’s from Another Planet, indeed.  Yes indeed.), instead answering our question with a question, “You’re not from here, huh.”

The difference between the long persistent Confederacy statues is more pronounced.  Remaining in place, not an oddity; scattered throughout the South, making clear to the descendants of slaves they are and will remain second-class citizens, even when the enshrined heroes were enemies of the United States and sought the overthrow of the United States.  Sidney Sherman, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Jonathan Stonewall Jackson, and if he had been alive during the Civil War, Andrew Jackson, an others – prominent names of the Confederacy, engrained in stone, a testament to historical arrogance in which the City of New Orleans finally called.  Absolutely we fled from that bar.  Our insult was not an insult felt by the other occupants.  We left them secured in place, enjoying each other conversations, their drinks, the bar tender’s skills, those two fat wood-rats and that nasty-ass popcorn.

Sons and daughters of the south possessed no such right, forced instead to exist in a constant state of occupation, permanent figures standing guard, idolized in novels, movies and Americana lore.   Confederate flags flying overhead, affixed to cars and trucks, incorporated into welcoming signs when entering small southern towns, plastered on the front of stores during the time it was unsafe for the descendants of slaves to travel the highways and byways.  Ever persistent, unlike a bothersome gnat, more like a psychological hammer forever hammering the supremacy of the White race, justifying the insurrection, slavery and the ugly strain embedded in the annals of history.  So bravo New Orleans, bravo!

JUST MUSING: “You’re sure nobody died in your story…?”

The persistent debate is whether life mirrors art or whether art mirrors life.  I will confess early, I stand with the camp with believes the reason fiction is referred to fiction is because it is made up, somewhat anchored in life, real and imagined facts oft-times blended to tell the tale.  Taking real life events, changing names, dates, sequence, then pretending the events do not represent real people; while friends snicker, knowing full-well where the line between truth and fiction divide.  Art most times remains grounded in real life, providing a starting point, deviating at the split in the road.

I have this friend who traditionally interrupts any story with the statement, “umm, and nobody died in your story.”  Her point is rather simple, someone has to die, pay the price for each insult, offense, every challenge to the protagonist’s dignity.  Much like a Hollywood driven plot, keeping the audience anchored in their seats, forgetting to remember (needing to pee), knowing the plot line, waiting to see, who is going to die.  Fifteen seconds in the movie, illicit activity in an darkened room, somebody making love, then the woman dies – flash, flash – followed by disjointed, disconcerted events, someone walking across the street (death of the only black guy in the movie) – two minutes in no less, musical score playing – blacks, greys, blues, a panoramic scan – Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Lake Shore Drive, Fifth Avenue, the cobbled streets of Istanbul, Avenida de Maceo – scan right, scan left – a view of the sky, setting the tone and tenor, an explosion, additional deaths.  Five deaths in the first ten minutes of the movie, tracking the first two chapters in the book, remembering now – you need to pee – refusing to move, remaining anchored in place, the light from the screen casting harrowing images over the audiences, settled, calm, satisfied with death, telling a predictable tale, halos magically lowered over everyone, now believers; art is life, not the contrary.

“And nobody died in your story?”

“No, no one died.”

“Then your story has a fatal flaw, somebody has to die for their transgression.”

A comma, followed by a gruesome death; semi-colon, two death; a dash preceding a calamity; more deaths than births, deaths preceding celebrations, deaths accompanied by dynamic descriptive words, flipping pages; the only ambiguity in the story is how many deaths, counting again, wondering why the characters never take a pause in life, seemingly avoiding depression, particularly when annihilation abounds, Armageddon is the path.  Step by step, another death; inch by inch, death – turning, turning, turning – seeing death with each turn, each blink of the eye.

Politicians running into trouble with approval ratings, criticizing enemies, perceived or otherwise, leading to the predictable, wagging their proverbial tails (or is the right word, tales), watching their ratings improve, flexing the nation’s muscle, proclaiming leadership – much like the movies – followed by sanitized deaths.  Absolutely, I admit my friend’s version of life is correct – in this context – somebody does die; invisible, sanitized death, somebody dies.   Flipping channels, seeing the same story, flipping again, and again, seeing predictability unfold, accompanied by music, commercials, telling and retelling the story.

“Somebody gotta die!”

“Somebody …?”

“Somebody gotta to die …!”

Death is inevitable.  This doesn’t mean good story telling must always include multiple deaths, retribution for the offender, living by the Old Testament (eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth), in living color, with a dynamic score playing against the backdrop of blacks, whites, blues, still-waters, a victim lying in the street.

“Every time …?”

“Yes, every time – at least in my version of life, my version of the story.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the death rate in the United States in 2014 was 823.7 deaths per 100,000 people, with the life expectancy being 78.8 years. The number of deaths in 2014 was 2,626,418.   The CDC reports the birth rate  was 12.5 per 1,000, with 3,988,076 births (in 2014).  The data seems to indicate my friend’s analysis is flawed.  There remains still more births than death – in most societies – not the contrary.  No the statistical data does not mean every transgression is followed by a birth, breakup to makeup, with The Stylistics singing the score, followed by another car chase, music – reds, whites, blues flashing across the screen – followed by birth, another, another.  The statistical data suggest that every good story need not entail 5.3 deaths for every 50 pages of text, a minimum 30 deaths per feature film, untold number of deaths to others when our elected leaders desire to show leadership, bravery, to support the good tale.

The evening light settled on the window sill, refusing to intrude farther than two inches from the edge of the ledge, hindered by time, the rotational pull of the earth, the Gods.  The tables in the restaurant no longer seemed sequestered, each now occupied.  Kissing, hugging, staring stories, reflecting emotions, sharing their day, interacting with the hostess, the wait staff which moved through and among, those same worker bees moved much like the sugar ants moving across the door’s transom, down the side of the building to the sidewalk.  The sun retracted further, out of the building, tracking time, reminding all she was no longer a participant, promising to reappear, settling on the sidewalk, winking, yawning; the proper tenor and tone, a well written play, directed and produced by Hollywood.

The stranger’s eyes pointed in one direction, watching, listening not listening, to her companion.  Her ears moved to the next table, listening, following the story-line, directing her attention away from the Eggplant Parmesan placed on their table – yellow, red, purple, white,  contrasting against fresh basil – listening, listening, listening – a participant from afar.  No deaths took place.  Everyone made it through dinner without the hallowing sounds of anguish, allowing the stranger to hear clearly, to participate.  Captivated, remaining part of the story, finishing her meal, situated in one world, a participant in another, finally fully intruding.

“Which soap opera are you talking about?”

She believed the story had to be fiction, intricate facts, stranger than fiction, interlaced with intertwined relationships – tears, anger, infidelity, love – reflecting colors, light, life.  Her reaction told me she believed, pulling away much like the sun, returning fully to her companion, her table when my friend bellowed a hearty laugh, replying, “No, no dear, no soap opera, I am talking about my friends!”