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!”

 

JUST MUSING: Whack, whack …”

I am kind of whacked about House Bill 4260, the Man’s Right to Know Act, which is pending for consideration in the Texas legislature.  The proposed bill proposes to fine men $100.00 for each time they masturbate, more specifically, for each and every “masturbatory emissions.” Emissions means, “emissions outside of a woman’s vagina, or created outside of a health or medical facility” – then the $100 civil penalty kicks in – for each emission.  The offending conduct is considered an act against an unborn child, failing to preserve the sanctity of life.  A masturbatory emission is defined as an emission which takes place outside a woman’s vagina or a hospital.  The bill’s sponsor, State Representative Jessica Farrar, explained later the bill was intended to be satirical, to make a point surrounding legislators’ persistent attempt to regulate a woman’s body, somewhat akin to “take that”.  For some reason, I’m not laughing, can’t laugh … will not laugh.  I don’t believe her.  This is a call to action, resist! Whack! Whack!

My form of resistance is to write an open letter to the State Representative, asking her to withdraw the bill, amend, clarify; joke or no joke.

“Dear State Representative Farrar:

I write this letter because of my concerns with regards to H.R. 4260.  Don’t’ you see the unintended consequences of your bill?  Don’t you?  First, there are too many holes in the bill for comfort.  The bill requires the State to level a fine for “each masturbatory emission.”  It seems to me the bill fails to protect the non-emitter.  Electing to whack, hold, grab, pull, prevent emission, building in a presumption of emission, by the act itself.  This is unfair.

My other problem:  do you want to make liars out of some of us?  Much like those who lied to us years earlier, predicting our demise, the loss of sight, blindness.

“I didn’t emit.  I didn’t emit.”

I recognize the Snapchat generation couldn’t care less; filming, snapping, telling on themselves, showing all, posting each and every emission, believing the snap disappears, into the ethos, never to be seen again.  Excuse me for a moment … whack, whack, whack.  The Act will drive some of us to the recesses of society, to counselors (for our guilt), hiding in corners, confessing our sins, confused with the loss of control over our bodies.

What about multiple emissions performed in the same event?  Ma’am, there are some talented whackers out there.   You thought about that, have you?  Are you trying to make criminals out of men?  Do you hate us?  Are you lesbian?  What’s the issue?  I know during the elections one of the candidates admitted, “Someone has to be punished.” He wasn’t talking about men.   I know.  I know.  I know, it takes two to tango, but come on – it seems to me you are criminalizing victim-less conduct.

What about the trial? The proposed bill says the fine is civil.  I doubt this.  What happens when the victim disagrees with the proposed civil fine?  Are they subjected to confinement when refusing to pay?  Do you admit the bill will ultimately impose a presumption of emission, to avoid creating proof problems for the prosecution?  A presumption imposed on proof of the act, an assumption there was an emission, to avoid the messiness a fully prepared case would entail, requiring measurement, quantifying the amount of the emission.

Ma’am your fatal attempt at satire fails woefully.  I’m insulted.  Nothing in the bill grabs and holds my gay brothers.  Exempting them from liability, seemingly exempting them from the Act, whacking away and allowing them to defend on constitutional grounds, claiming the law is not applicable to them; while channeling the rest of us to hospitals seeking to fall under the exception to the law.  What if we are situated in a part of the state where there is no health facility or hospital?

If you pretend this is about regulating health and safety, you still fail.  Your bill is unconstitutionally vague, and requires reworking.  It has no language requiring ones admission in the hospital.  You are creating a dangerous environment for me and others, requiring us to invade the space of the smokers, standing outside, in the corners, to the side of the doorway, abiding by the smoking law, now encumbered and partnered which others who have decided to go to the hospital to whack away.  I am not imagining.  Nothing in Bill 4260 requires admission to a hospital.   Whack, whack.

One final point, who receives the civil penalty?  Is this like the lotto promise, that the lotto dollars would go to the schools to educate Texas children? Look where that promised got us.  Seems to me you are imposing a sin tax.  Maybe even viewpoint discrimination, striking at the core of the right of self-expression.  Using taxpayers’ monies to legislate your views, when life begins, is that your aim?  Come on, don’t go there.

Whack, whack, whack!

Please withdraw your bill.   We get your point and you’re not funny!”

_____________

Postscript:  Don’t believe a word I said.  The letter is a satirical treatment of the Representative’s bill, attempting to aid in her point; a societal insistence on packaging a women’s body; commoditizing that which is not a commodity – something we (not the Southern “we”, instead the collective “men” we) simply don’t own.  Written in the tradition of Mark Twain, The Onion,   Charlie Hebdo, Chris Rock, hoping, just hoping, … the challenge is appreciated, even if done circuitously, while my tongue remains firmly implanted, in cheek.

So I muse.

JUST MUSING: “Use by date…”

Life is somewhat akin to the use by dates on the side of food products.  An estimation, predicting, “best when used by.”  Smelling, poking, lifting, checking color is no different than parenting.   Kicking ourselves for forgetting, tucked behind something else, wondering whether, “still good” – our treatment of friends, love ones, family.  In college, I took a course entitled Chemistry for Non-science Majors, an experiment by the Science Department, in hope of stripping the mysteries and fears of science away.  “Making science friendly again – to make America great again” – no I’m making that part up, digressing early, my apology.

May I continue? – One of the areas covered dealt with food sciences.  The preservation of food, learning about the chemical compounds printed on the side of foods in the marketplace, discovering how plants are genetically modified, understanding how substances change when one molecule is removed, another added.  No different than life.

Years ago, a friend of mine by her fortieth birthday began to read the obituaries in the Houston Chronicle daily.  I didn’t understand what she was doing.  A big city paper, surely Donna didn’t expect to see someone she knew in the paper everyday.  I didn’t understand Donna was lamenting aging, seeing time pass, her use by date approaching fast, wondering whether the “best by this date” was approaching, or even passed.  Lamenting, lamenting, lamenting, reading, expressing anger, frustration, pointing at someone she didn’t even know.

I understand now.  Smelling, poking, pushing … looking for signs of imminent death – like I am going to see some magical clue from the image looking back at me in the mirror.  Expressing condolences, barely able to contain myself, wanting to ask, having to ask, “What did he die of?”, “Oh, I’m so sorry”, “How old did you say he was?” – “My, my, my” wrapped, packaged around my concerns, Donna’s concerns, for the “best used by date.”  Reading the obituary closely, seeing what they didn’t say.  Much like high fructose corn syrup, sodium erythorbate, erythorbic acid, seeing the words imprinted on the packaging, having no concept what I’m looking at, looking for.

“Died how young?”

“Did they say why?”

“Cancer, diabetes, didn’t eat right, didn’t exercise?”

“Oh, died in a car accident.  Good!  Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.”

Seeing the meat in the refrigerator, immediately realizing it was purchased a week ago, knowing you forgot, wondering whether it is past it’s “use by date.”   Reaching to throw it out, remembering your mother’s instruction to drain the meat, wash off the blood, then smell.  Salting, seasoning, smelling, using in a meal, eating.

Smelling the milk, retching, embarrassed at the waste, seeing starving children in River Oaks, before adapting, stirring, folding, mixing with other sour milk for bread.  Remembering the lessons, their history:  never throwing anything away, born during the depression, on farms, surviving, reusing, adapting, saving, feeding their families on little, proud of their resourcefulness.  Developing idioms to explain life problems, life events, reminding their heirs, not to throw away objects – things – people:  “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  “Making chicken salad out of chicken gaga’” (even though the wrong word used, I think you get the point).

The medical profession raves against the over-consumption of anything – salt, sugar – while failing to point us to the operative word(s), over-consumption.  Not ever willing to deny that salt is a necessary nutrient, in turn posting warnings, placing salt on the Most Wanted Criminal List, a criminal, dangerous.  That same profession sits back in shock at our willingness to by-pass substitutes for the real thing, an organic substance.

So label me confused, wondering what the fuss is about surrounding food labeling – much like life.  Finding myself doing much more important tasks, reading the obituaries daily, attending more funerals than weddings, expressing my condolences to get close enough to ask additional questions, looking in the mirror, poking, prodding, smelling, seeing the use by date approaching fast.

“Nope, doesn’t smell like death.”

“Ain’t nothing wrong with you boy!  You need to take a shower!”

JUST MUSING: “Mad hatter like …”

I seldom watch horror movies, refusing to revisit living-color, vivid, life altering nightmares.  Believing the monster on the railroad track still exists, aging ugly, scarier than ever, drinking ditch water, waiting for me, to get me.  No, no, no, I will leave the medium to others.    When I grew old enough to protest, I refused to pay people to scare me, refusing to enter the ridiculously long lines to ride the wildest, scariest, tallest roller coaster in the free world.  Stepping out of line, letting others walk around, never having to reassure myself the decision not to ride was the right one.

“No, no, ma’am you can have my spot.  Please.”

Letting Stephen King scare Stephen King, and his demented followers; knowing my limitations, putting his books down, stopping on page one, paragraph one; cursing him, and the three-eyed monsters appearing early, on page two.  Attempting to sleep, revisiting what I saw, what I read, hearing clanging sounds, suffering an withering attack from imaginary bed bugs, falling, falling, falling, to a painful, disfigured death, emoting my last, predictable words, “My death was caused by Stephen King.  Stephen King killed me.”

Life’s wonderful contradictions continue to play us for the proverbial fools.  Cutting and pasting, lifting faces from different sources and placing them onto another; posting stories as a reliable entity, when caught saying the error was a mistake – casting doubts, creating new truths.  Borrowing copyrighted mastheads, redirecting attention, posting to justify one’s worldview, even if a lie.

A little white lie is defined as a minor, benign lie.  I don’t believe a lie should be parceled into minutia.  What is the contrast?  What is the opposite of the little white lie? –  A big black malignant lie.  Parceling facts, dissecting truth, justifying the lie, birthing confusion, providing a platform for fake new, alt-news, alternative facts is our bold new world.

No, please don’t place me in the category of the folks who disingenuously disrespects the advancements in technology.  Absolutely, the information age has allowed the world to become smaller, more connected, allowing information to travel across the globe, blending cultures, traditions, and peoples.  No longer needing to ride a horse to Boston to declare, “Give me liberty, or give me death”, possessing a printing press within inches, a multitude of presses, publishing at a nominal cost, at will.  A new world which benefits, advantages, disadvantages, challenges, sows confusion, daily.

Lying about the existence of big foot seems problematic to me – cutting, pasting, borrowing pictures around the world, then placing text, and quotes from fictional people and posting the story as true is nothing more than the big lie and should be called out as such.   Posting pictures to make a point, “she looks Angelina Jolie”, hiding identity of the source, scurry under cover of a non-existent entities, false names, is different than Benjamin Franklin’s use of pseudonyms, both male and female.

Benjamin Franklin and Stephen King’s publishers were honest, labeling the story under assigned categories, horror, science fiction, fiction, non-fiction, playing by a set of principles, being held accountable.  The First Amendment protects us from our government, the right of free speech, a press, to religion, creating a freer society, allowing for the exchange of ideas.  The First Amendment protects truth and lie.  No problem here.  I only muse to say we should be more diligent in calling out the lies.

New technology shouldn’t mean we should not filter the lies out.  Free press, free speech means the lies should be exposed, parceled out, and then relegated to the dark web of our mines, the trash bins of history.  Force the liars to become more creative and a tad-bit more honest, labeling their writings as the new futuristic comic books seems appropriate.

“Lies, lies, more lies, up, up and away!”

Force them to admit their writings were borne at a time the free press was at its weakest, under attack externally (loss of advertising dollars, politicians running against the press attacking a fundamental tenet of a free society), and internally (power in the hands of a few; caused by consolidations, closings, unreliable and unpredictable new business models).

Demand power be bequeathed to the entities who now dominate the medium (Google, Facebook, etcetera) (the gatekeepers), granting them publishing rights, forcing the separation of wheat from the chaff; requiring categorization of our new printers, opinion writers, bloggers – fiction, non-fiction, horror, a literary lie.

Oh absolutely I believe there may be problems – times when entities, governments, individuals will overreact, censoring the message disfavored.  There will always be this type of pull and tug.  My concern is different.  The lies are overwhelming, creating an alternative universe, establishing different rules, allowing the purveyor of the lies to avoid accountability.  Mad hatter like, wicked witch evil – untouched – the disfigured man on the railroad track eating little black boys screaming in their sleep, “Mamma, the King has no clothes.”

“Not a black suit!”

“But the suit is black!”

“No … it’s not!”

“I’m sorry, that color is black.  Wait, why are we talking about the color of the King’s suit?  I asked a different question.”

“Dishonest media … dishonest media, when you finally recognize ‘us talking to you’ is a privilege and not a right, maybe then, you will agree, ‘what you see is what you see.’”

JUST MUSING: “Another crazy billionaire from New York…”

If the Republican administration and Congress repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, the former status quo revisits us, meaning twenty million people will be without insurance, possibly incapable of affording a market-based replacement policy.  I am not sure the administration or Congress cares.  The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) makes clear the Act represents a fundamental sea-change in health care in this country, particularly as related to the treatment of mental health and substance use disorder:

The Affordable Care Act provides one of the largest expansions of mental health and substance use disorder coverage in a generation, by requiring that most individual and small employer health insurance plans, including all plans offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace cover mental health and substance use disorder services. Also required are rehabilitative and habilitative services that can help support people with behavioral health challenges. These new protections build on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) provisions to expand mental health and substance use disorder benefits and federal parity protections to an estimated 62 million Americans.

Years ago, during a Saturday meeting with students enrolled in a trial advocacy class at the University of Houston Law School, the pre-meeting discussion moved from gossip, classes, to regional differences.  Listening, not listening; unfamiliar with any of the names, never part of the conversation, waiting on the clock to strike the anointed hour before beginning.  One of the students was an African American female from Detroit.  She started down the ill-advised road, meaning she turned the conversation toward regional differences.  I attempted to stay out the conversation, listening, not listening; diverting my attention to the traffic below, casting periodic glances at the time, the oleanders swaying in the medium, counting the number of boards interwoven/interlaced in the alcove.  The sun remained affixed on the other side of the room, staring, not yet making its journey over, across the room.

She didn’t stop at any of the visible stop signs.  Continuing, never taking a breath, openly questioning, “I don’t know why I’m here”, “I was accepted to at least two other law schools located in the northeast”.

Interspersing choice words, “backward”, “different”, “in the North we” … words designed to invoke a difference, assertions of superiority; driving a chasm.  Directing words at the six other students, five females, one male, all white Southerners; erecting walls, using truths, half-truths to evoke myths, northern myths, as much a part of America’s historical lore and the War of the States.

Dividing to strengthen her sense of self-worth, ignoring commonalities, not recognizing everyone has a crazy Uncle Donald, irascible, stupid; forever a tad bit narcissistic.  Tortured accents, fly-away, fly-over hair (blue-grey, black-grey-dirty white, brown/grey/black/blue), commonalities not seen solely in the South.  Generations’ past styles, mouthing the inappropriate, crazy, stupid-crazy souls, a universal commonality, as common as the universe of males suffering from male-pattern baldness, our crazy Uncle Donald, everyone got one.  Digging and picking inappropriately, wrong place, wrong time, from crotch to ear, to nose, to mouth.  Shocking everyone by the choice of movie, “Has anyone seen Finding Dory”, with the rest of us remaining perplexed, not able to tell if he is serious or not, or if it’s just more craziness.

Telling stories thirty years old, always beginning with, “I use to”, followed by and the word, “boy” and too many exclamation points.  Forever non-hip, even when trying to be hip; two steps forward, five back, stumbling over the table, breaking the table on step three, every time, every time, step three.

Touching every female relative the wrong way, a generational repulsion, none willingly to ride with him, stay in the same room, hastening a retreat when he smiles and moves one inch in their direction. “Uncle Donald” … always followed by that exclamation point, slanted eyes, and a look of disbelief, directed at anyone who would dare suggest any other conclusion than crazy; crazy yesterday, today, tomorrow.  My, my, my … I’ve digressed.

The African American female never crossed the line of attempting to compare her relatives to theirs.  No she didn’t go that far.  She might as well have done so; hers were the words of myth-making.  Somewhat akin to “Mexicans will cut you”, “Black people will shoot you”, “Southerners are backward.”  Seeing their eyes and body movement, the appearance of pride (in their southern heritage), causing her to abruptly change course, seeking support and affirmation, searching the room, turning to the only other African American in the room, me.  I couldn’t.  I wouldn’t.  I didn’t, lend support, suggesting instead she should look at transferring to Wayne State.   “If we’ve that stupid, move back.”

Years ago the New York gifted the rest of us another billionaire scion.  Traversing the country in disguise, living a vagabond’s existence, dressing out-of-type, hiding, secreting his wealth, killing, discarding the body, possessing enough money to structure more than an adequate legal defense – yes, he did.  He sure did.  Killing a white man, oddly named Black, cutting him up in discrete parts, discarding the parts against the wind, into the surf … Lord knows where ….  His acts, actions, conduct were never identified as “not as sophisticated.” No one categorized the behavior as the fundamental character trait of rich white men from New York. Never distinguishing them from others, refusing to apply the adverse label to the region, the small sub-group (rich white men existing in the unique world of the nano-percent).  Everyone agreeing, even those who have a tendency to trend toward urban myths, the conduct was that of a demented soul, and nothing more.

Myth-making represents the blending of facts, half-truths and flat-out lies.  Sometimes working to type, other times against type; always working toward a desired end, casting aside “the others” in order to bind a targeted group.  Done both orally, in writing, consciously and subconsciously, part tradition, evolving and perfecting over time; dividing, driving wedges, sustaining itself against logic to make the myth-maker more confident in himself/herself/themselves.  Oftentimes packaged differently, combed-over, dyed – the packaging matters not – the message is essentially the same, to convince the listener of the difference.  “We will be great again.”  “They’re different from us.”  “We are superior.”

Sometimes we have to just say no, and work against type.  Other times we have to ignore the persuasive messaging, no matter how wonderfully packaged.  No matter how well delivered, even when our conclusion seems illogical at the time.  A crazy Uncle Donald with money doesn’t mean he is any different than other crazy fools showing up at family affairs.   No one, in none of our families, dare assume our Uncle Donald is anything but crazy.  Crazy, always has been, always will be, crazy, money or no money.

“You are kidding me, right?  Please – that’s Uncle Donald – enroll him in the Affordable Care Act, get him help while we still can, and pass the peas.”

*          *          *

Today the oleanders remain in place, swaying gently against the southern breeze.  Last time I checked, the sun still tracts east to west.  Today, tomorrow, the day after, we must cast aside half-truths and lies, no matter how discomforting; a necessary elixir to protect “the others”, to protect ourselves.  If not, we should be free to believe that all billionaire white men from New York are crazy.

JUST MUSING: “Be it resolved…”

Reaching, reaching, reaching was Chester’s movement, backward, without looking, extending the left hand, searching the crevices of the church’s pew, continuing to look forward while Clinnetta moved in place.  As if anticipating – as if knowing – as if paying tribute Chester remained erect, standing – reaching, reaching – securing.

Clinnetta sung at Chester Anna’s funeral – our grandmother; at Louis Wright’s – our grandfather; at Uncle Clint’s – Clinnetta’s father – my uncle; at her mother’s (Aunt Ruby); my mother’s (Georgia Ann) funeral; as she has done innumerable times – walking toward the pulpit, taking a deep breath, extending her respects to elders, extending a radiant smile- singing.  Laying claim to the church was her habit, her ritual, allowing her voice to soar, while extending a hand skyward, sequestering every heart, capturing every eye, sprinkling tears, allowing us to smile and cry at the same time.

This time seemed different, much different.  Absolutely, she moved toward the pulpit, took the stage, and grabbed the microphone – as usual.  The pastor hugged her – as other pastor’s had done in the past.  She smiled – as she is wont to do.  Turning, turning, turning, in the audience’s direction, as if a steel rod had been inserted – standing exceedingly erect.  Smiling, acknowledging all of us – as she had done in the past.  The napkins now cloistered in Chester’s hand may have well been a dinner roll.  As was his habit when a child, Chester had no intentions of sharing, securing  seconds, protecting his from the rest of us – “mine, mine, mine.”

Clinnetta’s voice extended grace to her God, to other’s God, to the Gods – forcing the remainder of us to mimic Chester’s action, searching, reaching, securing, bowing our heads, wiping, watching, listening.  Clinnetta proceeded to take the air out of the room, filtering it through her vocal cords before floating the notes outward, upward, forward, to the rest of us – allowing us to breathe, allowing us to live.  While waiting for my ration of air, I estimated Clinnetta’s age, my age, and resolved to die before Clinnetta so that she could sing at my funeral.

Time’s march is persistent, waiting on no man.  The full proverb is time and tide waits on no man, a seemingly meaningless proverb in one’s youth, obtaining meaning when time passes, converting minutes into pauses, days into brief preludes, blending months, secreting years, stealing faces, names and memories.  And time didn’t wait.

Instead being in Hurst, Texas, I was now in Houston, Texas attending another funeral – no more than ten days had passed.  Taking a seat, observing, admiring the church’s interior, wondering whether others noticed the person who painted the walls was a good painter, straight lines, true colors, painstaking work.  The painter’s patience, patience and craft remained on display daily – at funerals, weddings, masses.

Looking upward, sideward – left, right – seeing a wheelchair bound elderly woman motion, then whisper.  She was the same woman I saw when entering the church.  The same woman I offered to lift over the steps, until the access ramp was located.  Now, the process was reversed, carefully guiding her back to the chair, before exiting the sanctuary.  It was then I noticed them – a smallish man, a largish man – situated in the front of the church, off to the left.  They unencumbered their guitars, performed a mike check, strumming their instruments – slightly off, slightly, just slightly.  They began in earnest, singing, playing – emitting a still off-beat sound, slightly off-beat, just slightly.

The smaller man’s voice possessed the intonation of a “Banty Rooster”, filling every space, attacking, occupying every crevice, taking the air out of the room, refusing other’s air.  The more the he sang, “Slightly off” became “assuredly off”; extending a voice to thee, insulting, taking common songs of the Catholic funeral liturgy and making them his own.   This last statement is not intended to be a compliment.  Watching others, wondering whether they heard what I heard.

Maybe the woman in the wheelchair knew Banty?  They appeared to be of the same generation.  Maybe her removing herself occurred when she saw who was singing, refusing to sit through another butchered performance, coming back much later, much later.  Maybe, just maybe, I should have run over and offered to help again, this time ignoring her gracious insistence and helped anyway.  Instead, I stayed locked in place, anchored to the pew, as if I was prisoner in a medieval dungeon, remembering other versions of the song, trying to contain the involuntarily shake now possessing my head, hands, body.  Wanting the assault on the lyrics to stop, complaining – to myself, to others, to no one in particular – complaints packaged in short burst of discontent.  Why?  Who is this man!  Asking for the Gods to intervene, looking for the Gods to intervene, wondering whether there was a God – particularly, after hearing what I was hearing.

Ave Maria indeed!  Ave Maria indeed!

The smaller man claimed the space, dominating the mike, while the larger man stood to his right, to his rear, in the recesses, occasionally stopping, looking, as if he knew his smallish-partner was off-beat.  Never interfering, participating, but not participating, knowing full-well they were not the best in their blessed craft.

I have heard it both ways:  funerals are for the living, funerals are for the dead.  I don’t know the answer to the idiom and don’t pretend to solve the question in this muse.  Maybe both are true.  While Banty sung, in one eye, I became particularly insulted for the dead.  In the other eye, I saw Clinnetta ending her tribute to Ira, while Chester move the bundle of napkins to the left side of his face and wipe.  The third eye:  I noticed the woman in the wheelchair come back only when the Priest began the mass.  The third eye helped me to resolve part of Father Time’s Rubik’s cube.  Time doesn’t wait.  Marching at a ritualistic, persistent pace causing us to remain amazed at both the predictable, unpredictable.  Seemingly speeding as we age, causing us to see backward and forward, recognizing our humanity, frailty, limitations.  Some things we can control.  Some things we have no control over.   So be it resolved – two years, two years max, and out.

So I muse!

JUST MUSING: “Parental Advisory…”

When first reading of his transgressions, our mouths grew agape, wondering how could he?  Tweeting, posting, flashing, showing, and sharing intimate details, varying his routine, wittingly making his child a participant.  His habit, his ritual; once, twice, now a third time – same picture, same color underwear, sharing, sharing, sharing, is his addiction.  If he had been the inventor of the Polaroid camera, he would have pushed, zipped, and pulled, turned to someone, to anyone, requesting they take possession of the picture.  Because of his insistence, the invention would have been ignored, someone – anyone – we – concentrating instead of what he took a picture of – “See, see, see.”  But I digress, he was not the inventor of Polaroid; such is not his generation.  The reach out and touch generation requires no printing, developing, waving, blowing – no, no, no – such is not their encumbrance.  His generation only has to aim, push, type a message and forward.

Most commentators expressed sympathy for his spouse, knowing she stayed, suffering the public embarrassment of the wayward one.  Seeking to maintain the union, pleading to the rest of us to allow her and her spouse to work out the details in private – once, twice – she plead.  Her embarrassment seemed to compound itself when he didn’t exactly deny he had ceased sharing his Polaroid.  Whether he thought the press in New York was not going to ask, or whether they were going to stop being the New York press, or whether he had magically created another invention – privacy in a sphere where there is no privacy – I don’t know the answer to any of the inquiries into the world of mythical possibilities.  I like most instead thought – What was he thinking?

An addiction is defined “as the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.”  During the comedian Richard Pryor’s struggled with his addiction – cocaine – he joked the first thing he noticed during sobriety was he wasn’t what he thought he was.  “Hey I have been robbed.  Somebody stole my dick and left me with this little child’s wee-wee.”  His personification of the penis evoked laughter, while stating a matter of fact life truism – “Damn straight, men have dick hang ups.”  But Richard’s generation was a couple of generations before Anthony’s. Richard’s Polaroid was not Anthony’s Polaroid.

Whether an addiction is modern day addiction or not, it matters not – it is an addiction.  Threatening Anthony meant nothing to him.  Demanding he not do again what he did before were hollow words.   Anthony is an addict, addicted not to Dr. Pepper, Pepsi or Coke.  Not to coffee.  Not to alcohol or tobacco.  Not to cocaine.  He is still an addict.  Always denying the addiction then once cornered promising to correct his behavior.  I’m sure he promised.  I am sure he did.

His wife could have cut through the years of heartache by giving him a Polaroid camera the next day, reaching for his cell phones, pads, and computers and walking him through the process of closing all of his social media accounts.  No Facebook (and its associated Facebook Messenger), WhatsAppTumblrInstagramTwitterBaidu Tieba, WeChat,  Line, Google+,  Skype, or Snapchat.   Reading off the list, asking yes or no, “do you or do you not have an account?”  Demanding any and all assumed names, and passwords, watching his eyes, his hands, listening to his words and anticipating the utterance of the words, “I don’t have a problem.”  If those words invade the room, get up and leave!  He is an addict.   If he delays, and says he will think about it, then refuse to give up the cell phone (“Step away from the cell phone!”) – leave!  He like most addicts will always take the side of that which possesses him, capturing his soul, imagination, and reasoning.  If he says he doesn’t remember his assumed names – he’s lying – has the information written somewhere or has subjected the passwords to memory – leave!  He is addict.   Pointing, shooting, typing, sending – he still an addict, “as the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity.”  Read the definition over and over again, this will help you ward off self-doubt when it visits your cranial space.  After you are safe, secure and separated, send him a link of Lil Kim’s How Many Licks [look – don’t click on this link if you are easily insulted or have no idea who Lil Kim is!]  He will find no humor in tit-for-tat.  He will call you crazy, and will never call again.  You made your point and will have your peace.  Remember, you can’t cure him.  He has to be willing to change, admit his addiction and seek help for Anthony and Mr. Polaroid.