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Voting Bottoms Up

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 10, 2016

bottoms-up

A large percentage of voters in every state never complete their ballots. This is not to their own advantage. On every ballot there are initiatives, questions, bond measures, and even constitutional amendments. Not voting on them means we don’t have a say on the very real issues and laws that affect our lives every day. It could be as simple as voting on widening a major street, renovating a bridge, or as vitally important as increasing or decreasing taxes. This is often how those things get done. Focusing on celebrity politicians distracts everyone from the real local issues.

Do you want more money spent in your local school district, or less? Do you want your state to increase taxes on gasoline, alcohol or cigarettes? Do you want your city or town to create traffic circle intersections, or not? Do you want everyone to carry an ID in order to vote, despite no actual evidence of any significant fraud? Do you want electronic machines or paper ballots? Very often, these are things you’ll find near the bottom of your ballot, after all the candidates for office.

And what about those candidates? The local politicians decide how to appropriate money for police and fire protections services, and new roads, and new schools, and water use, and traffic laws, business regulations, and building codes, and a host of little things that affect us nearly every day, much more so than the words of the elected heads of political parties, particularly Presidents. Of course, Presidents can involve our country in wars, resulting in more terrorism or less. They can appeal to the best in us, or the worst in us, and give directions to national discussions, but in the end Congress usually has the deciding vote, and anything a U.S. President does without Congressional approval – and the President does have certain powers to do so – can be reversed in the next election. So, voting for your U.S. Senators and Representatives is vitally important, and who is the President is somewhat less important.

I’ve heard and read of too many people who say they aren’t going to vote because they don’t like either Clinton or Trump. Pardon my insensitivity or rudeness, but that is utterly STUPID! Not only are there two other candidates for President on the ballot in every state – Gary Johnson and Jill Stein – but there are all those local and state politicians, and the other issues I mentioned above on the ballot. Hell, if you think no one is a good candidate for President, leave it blank! but VOTE anyway. Imagine if 5, 10, or even 50% of all eligible voters left the top position blank? Maybe the major parties would work harder at putting forward candidates that really inspire us to vote FOR someone, instead of AGAINST someoone?

Anyway, this has been my subtle reminder to all U.S.A. citizens to VOTE. Remember to read the ballot beforehand, and even obtain or print a sample ballot and take it with you. You can take it with you to vote. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t.

Show your patriotism: VOTE THE WHOLE BALLOT, PLEASE!

 

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Posted in crime, current events, Life, opinion, politics, rants, religion, war, World | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Killing is NOT the Same Thing as Murder

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 24, 2013

Why is that?

Killing It is so, because murder is a legal term for killing not sanctioned by society. If all killing were murder, then executions would be murder. If all killing was murder, then any death in wartime would be murder: killing the enemy? murder. Friendly fire? murder. collateral damage? murder.  Because we sanction those things, we do not define them as murder. Recently I came across the comparison of the fines and penalties for harming the eggs of protected species, like Eagles, and human fetuses.  fetus The argument appears to be that if it’s wrong to destroy eagle eggs, then it is wrong to kill human fetuses as well. This does not follow logically. The Eagle, for one, although recovering, is an endangered species, and the fine is an attempt to allow that species to continue. Does anyone, really, anyone, believe that abortion is killing the human race? That we are in danger of dying out as a species because of abortion? No, of course not. Hell, we continue to proliferate, for now. What does threaten the survival of the human race is pollution of the air and water, and eradication of too many animal species. Life on Earth is a balancing act.

When we kill off entire species, we remove an element from the balance. For example, animals are usually either prey for some other animal, or prey on some other animal, or are both. If a species goes, its actions in the balance of things go too. The result can be overpopulation of that animals prey, or an absence of prey for others, whether it was mammalian or insect, or aquatic in nature. Sometimes, another animal can fill the void, sometimes not. Sometimes, the death of a species results in the death of many other species. Some argue we are in the middle of just such an effect now, where the death of so many thousands of species has reached a point of cascade, wherein it is impossible to stop, and we will be left with only humans, for a short time. For, regardless of whether one is vegetarian or not, humans are dependent on animal life for our survival.

There are so many interactions between animals and plants, between animals and insects (another animal, but I’m making a point here), between animals and the air we breathe and the water we drink. Humanity would cease to exist long before the last animal species was wiped out, because it is a co-dependancy. A good example of co-dependancy  is that between wolves and deer. Too many wolves, and the deer are removed. Not enough wolves, and the deer overpopulate, then overgraze the available resources and die out en masse from starvation. Huntings laws help keep that balance, but hunting laws are not going to keep us alive when all the predators are gone, or when all the prey is, or when all the bugs are gone. There are billions upon billions of interactions in the world that result in life for humans, and we can’t imitate them all.  That’s the reason for endangered species laws.

Be all that as it may be, however, I’ve strayed too far from the point. The point is that killing is not murder, legally. abortionAbortion is NOT murder, legally. There is a movement among Evangelical Christians to define life as beginning from the moment of conception, frivolous and stupid idea that it is.  Does the world celebrate birthdays or conception days? Most of us know that life begins at birth. No one wants to see a baby killed. However, killing living, breathing human beings is almost universally illegal, except for executions, and in war, or self-defense, or by accident. Killing is not and cannot ever be considered murder in all cases. Killing a fetus is just such a case.

Killing a human fetus, is not, for the time being, murder. There was a time when it was. Murder is a relative term, depending entirely on what the society making the laws believes.

For, if killing a fetus is murder, regardless of the law, then so is execution, war, and accidental death. We don’t seem to agree on this. A number of fundamentalist zealots want life defined as beginning from the moment of conception, so they can justify making all abortion illegal. However, almost all of them accept execution, and war, and do not want those things to be illegal. It is a very inconsistent, illogical and convenient. Is all killing murder? or not? Does a woman who slips and falls, kill her fetus? or a woman who is involved in a car accident or other such incident that results in the fetus’s death kill that fetus? Are they murderers? How many exceptions will the believers accept in order to make abortion illegal again?

But then, there is that other question. If one is opposed to all killing, and all killing is murder, then eating animals is certainly murder, for animals are often cruelly killed, tortured and abused in the process of becoming what we refer to as meat. meat Dead animal flesh is dead animal flesh. The animal had to be killed for that. If killing is murder, than eating meat condones murder. Hah! you say? animals are not human. Why is that? Very convenient. We can kill, that is, terminate any life we want, as long as it isn’t what society defines as human. Funny how most animal fetuses, including human fetuses, look exactly alike in the womb at some point. It is in the development that a fetus becomes an animal or a human. So somehow, people argue, animals and people are not the same, and it is OK to kill animals for food, even if they resemble us, because well, they are not human – by law. Again, it is a legal fiction that animals and people are not protected from killing in the same way. There are animal cruelty laws, but those usually apply only to pets, and ranch animals like horses, which often are a kind of pet. Slaughterhouses kill every day, and we don’t blink an eye at that.

So again, I have to ask, why is a human fetus, unborn, not yet even breathing, more important than a living, breathing animal? The historical answer has always been: the soul. Biblical teachings have it that human beings are special, and are thus endowed with souls. Animals have no soul, therefore, it is legal to kill them. And, kill them we do, in the millions every day, and yet it is not murder, because we do not define it as such. So it is with abortion: when it is legal, it is not murder.

So, the whole question of abortion as murder comes down to this soul, a religious belief that sets humans apart from animals, for the purpose of allowing us to kill animals without shame or repercussion.

Some people do not believe in the concept of souls.

Some people believe that all living things have souls.

Some people selectively believe that only humans have souls.

So, what life-begins-at-conception laws and anti-abortion laws really are, are an attempt to impose, legally, the belief on all people, that souls exist, that a human fetus, alone of all creatures, has a soul, and therefore cannot be killed. This attempt is only possible if one does not care what other people believe. Lately, I see all these complaints from the politically-motivated-religious right that they are being persecuted for their beliefs. Somehow, it is persecution to resist their attempts to force their beliefs on those of us who do not share those beliefs. This has happened throughout the history of religion. Those who believe have killed those who do not believe the same things in the same way. “That was in the past,” they say. Bull. It is happening again. This same group of self-righteous religious fanatics wants to make providing access to abortion, or having an abortion a Capital Crime. Again, those motivated by their belief that they are right and the rest of us are wrong, want to kill everyone who does not accede to their beliefs, and they want it to be legal to do so.

That is the essence of religion: do what I say, or you will die, for I am right, and you are wrong. And you seriously think I shouldn’t be offended by that? You seriously think I shouldn’t fear your blatant attempts to legislate your particular brand of morality? to make everyone follow your beliefs by law? Christianity

THINK AGAIN.

Posted in crime, current events, faith, Human rights, Life, madness, opinion, politics, rambling, Random Thoughts, rants, religion, war, World | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter Thirteen

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 27, 2008

Now I’m the criminal the border agents expected me to become, Sean thought.  “Public drunkenness, failure to pay a fine, theft.Time to get the hell out of Dodge. Sean headed back to the US, to the border between the Sault Sainte Maries.  So much for Canada, he thought.  At least I’m still headed west. He had to deal with the border again.  US customs this time.  Well, at least I don’t have anything they can arrest me for.  I wonder if they’ll ask me for my draft card? I’m screwed if they do that.  I mailed the ashes back to the draft board long ago. What if they don’t let me back in? A man without a country, that could be me.

The customs agents weren’t used to seeing a man on a bicycle crossing the bridge.  They saw the bulging yellow bags on Sean’s bike, and they knew he had dope.  “It’s all these kids go to Canada for,” agent Stimson said aloud, to no one in particular.  Everyone had heard it all before.  Everyone had pulled dope out of car trunks, glove compartments, door frames, and spare tires.  They’d seen it all.  Almost.  No one, including agent Stimson, had ever seen anyone brazen enough to load a bicycle full of dope and just ride right up to them.

“We’ll have to inspect those bags,” he told Sean, hoping this hippy would run, hoping he’d have a little fun.

“What’s this?” he asked Sean.  “Oh, those are soybeans,” Sean told him, and Sean was enjoying this. “And this is brown rice, and this is granola, and these are alfalfa seeds.”  Sean smiled.  He saw the agent frown, “We’ll have to open these.”  Sean didn’t like the idea of having his food pawed through, but he knew there was no choice.  Nevertheless, he complained, doing his best to make the clown think he was hiding something.  “Well, I’d rather you didn’t, you know, it’ll be messy.”  The agent took the bait, dumping each bag out one at a time, sifting through each one, but there was nothing there but soybeans, brown rice, granola and seeds.  “What did you say these were again?” he asked.  “Alfalfa seeds.”  Stimson could tell this hippie was jerking him around.  He’d could always have the jerk held, say he’d detected an odor of cannabis.  Instead he said, “We’re gong to have to keep these.  Can’t tell where you got ’em, or even if that’s what they are.  Too risky.  Agricultural rules.  Well, Sean thought, that takes care of that. God knows when I’d ever have been ever to stop somewhere and sprout them.  I can’t eat them this way. The less weight the better. He smiled.  Agent Stimson saw the smile, and he wasn’t about to let a hippie get away with anything.  “We’ll have to inspect your bike,” he said.  What’s in these tubes.” “Tubes? You mean the frame?” Sean bleated. “Yeah,” agent Stimson said, “you could have all kinds of things inside the frame.”  Sean just stared.  It wasn’t something that had ever occurred to him.  “How could I, where, how could I get anything in?” he stammered.  “Well,” agent Stimson said, calmly, “what about right here under the seat.”  He bent down and looked underneath.  Hmm, well, nothing here, damn it.

“Have a seat,” he told Sean.  “We’re going to take a look at this. I’ll bet this seat comes off.  Who knows what we’ll find.”  He imagined the hippie was squirming now, sure he had him.  Sean, however, was not looking forward to reloading all his gear.  Stimson took the bike into the interrogation room. Sean pulled out a paperback from his back pocket and read.  Stimson took the seat off, and looked inside, tapped the frame all around, and decided that was enough.  He kept his eye on the hippie, but he was too young to be so calm if he was hiding something.  “Alright,” he told Sean.  “Here’s your bike, and all your stuff is on that table.  You can go.”

Sean grabbed a leaflet he found and used it as a scoop to get all the grains back in their respective bags.  At least they didn’t mix everything up, he thought.  He reattached the saddlebags, gathered up all his tools and loaded them back into the small basket under the handlebars.  He refolded all his clothes, and had to roll the blanket up again, laying it out on the floor and pulling it tight, banding it with bungee cords.  He strapped it down under the spring on his luggage rack, in between the saddle bags.  Giddy up, he thought.  And, Hi-yo Gypsy, away.  He rode back into the US, back into Michigan.

There wasn’t much to see in Michigan’s upper peninsula that wasn’t beautiful: lots of birds, water, and trees, but on the road and along it there were also lots of trucks with camper shells, and lots of Winnebagos, the RVs, not the Indians.   It was cold at night.  Sean began the afternoon in shorts and a t-shirt, but ended up with a long-sleeved shirt and long pants by nightfall.  He rode for days, weeks, crossing into Wisconsin,   then quickly into Minnesota. Every state looked the same close to Lake Superior.  Beautiful, Sean thought.  Gorgeous country up here.  I had no idea.  Looks more undeveloped that I thought anyplace in the US was. And colder.  The nights seemed to be getting colder as he went.  He rode, days and nights, stopping to buy a piece of fruit and a small carton of milk for his granola every morning.  In the afternoons he continued cooking brown rice and soybeans, then cooking some more for dinner.  He slept out of sight.  There weren’t many towns, gas stations, or restaurants as he got farther from the lake.  He stopped in a bar one chilly night, on the road to Hibbing, Minnesota, asked if they had any coffee.  They didn’t.  Didn’t seem very friendly to Sean either.  That night he wore socks, two heavy shirts, and long pants over his shorts.  It was getting harder to pedal with all that on.  The lights of towns and homes were farther and farther apart as he continued west.

It became routine.  Get up, ride for awhile.  Stop and eat. Ride for awhile. Stop and eat. Ride as far as he could, eat, sleep, get up and start it all over every day.  The miles flew by, and Sean was happy.  Sometimes he stopped to wander through old ruins of houses.  Sometimes there was a pond he could jump in.  He sang songs, thought about things he’d forgotten, nursery rhymes, Captain Kangaroo’s riddles, and Tom Terrific. Rocky Jones and the Space Patrol with the booming voice over.  He sang songs out loud: I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, Bingo, Eency Weency Spider, The Farmer in the Dell, Hickory Dickory Dock, Hokey Pokey, If You’re Happy and You Know It  (clap your hands),  Ring around the Mulberry Bush, Old MacDonald Had a Farm, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain (when she comes), Take Me Out to the Ballgame, This Old Man, Three Blind Mice, and even Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  It didn’t matter what.  I didn’t even know I knew those songs, he thought.  There was something about the rhythm of the pedaling, the steady push and pull.  Sean decided it was like meditation.  He had never tired that, but decided it must be something like this.  Get your mind off of everything stessful; let it go; spinning, caroming through the dusty corridors. He felt better than he ever had his whole life.

I’ve always lived by others’ rules, he thought.  He had always done what he was told. The nuns and priests had told him to love God is to obey God, so he had.  They told him that heaven was the goal of his life and hell waited for him if he failed to follow the rules, the commandments, the laws.  So he had.  He had aspired to heaven, to see God, to experience the bliss and rapture of this God being’s presence in his life.

His parents told him to go to school, to do his homework, to babysit, to do as they said, so he had.  The priests and nuns had made it very clear that, after God, one must obey one’s parents, and the law.   Rules and laws told everyone what to do with their lives, he had understood that.  His parents told him that, as the oldest, he must set an example for the younger kids, so he had.  He did what he was told to do.  Through countless sinks full of dishes scrubbed spotless, linoleum floors that shone cleanly through the Johnson’s Floor Wax, the near-spotless bathrooms, the hand-waxed hardwood hallway, the lawn manicured with a push mower, and the weed-free beds of flowers and tomatoes, he had done as he was told.  He was as perfect as he could be, although his parents would dispute that.  He had thought of himself trying to be the perfect son, the pious altar boy, the virtuous boy scout.  Good grades, but bad dreams.

Often, in his dreams, he had been chased.  At first there had just been the wolves waiting in the shadows, waiting for the hand to fall alongside the bed, or for eye contact.  Sometimes Sean had lain awake hours at a time, trying not to look, holding his body stiff, arms tight against his sides, afraid the wolves would strike if he moved.  In his peripheral vision he could sometimes see their eyes shining in the night.  He knew they were there, snarling, waiting to bite and tear bloody pain into him.  He kept his breathing even, and stared straight up at the ceiling until he passed out into fitful sleep.  As he dreamt, he was still terrified.  He was pursued by dark, threatening things that towered over him, chasing him until he fell into holes, terrified of pain at the end of the sudden stop at the bottom, but the darkness went on and on, and it terrified him, this endless falling.  He never stopped, but he would suddenly know he was awake, and see the grayness of dawn.  Sometimes he woke up sooner, with the urgent need to pee, but when he went to the bathroom it wouldn’t start, and he knew it was his fault, and he tried to relax, to let it happen, and eventually it would.  The relief was wonderful, and he was happy, relishing the relief, the warmth, but he was still in bed, still half-asleep, and he knew he had to get up then, and tell his mother.  She didn’t want wet sheets on the bed all night.  And it got cold anyway.  After awhile all that stopped.  He sometimes had dreams about a girl in his class, and she lay there in bed with him, and they kissed and snuggled their bodies together. He didn’t learn what sex was for some time after those dreams started, but when he did, he finally understood the dreams.  Sex, however, was forbidden, especially to teenagers, and girls didn’t like him anyway.  Sex was just for marriage and making babies.  Sean had decided he’d like to be married and make babies.

Maybe.  Sean wasn’t so sure of that anymore.  The world was facing enormous problems due to overpopulation.  He didn’t want to add to that.  He learned how to have sex without making babies, and that was just fine by him.  Right now, however, he was all by himself, and, he was running low on money.  Pretty soon he’d have to find work.  He stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere one evening.  The guy there told him to check out the carnival down the road.  “There’s always work to do tearing it all down.  Tonight’s their last night; they’ll be looking for people.”  Sean thanked him, and practically burned rubber.

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, crime, Dreams, faith, family, Life, My Life, rambling, sex, Travel, Writing | 1 Comment »

The Pool Game – Your Shot

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on February 10, 2008

m113apc.jpg Armored troop carriers rolled down the streets over deep tread marks in the soft blacktop. tankm48.jpg Tanks had preceded them. There were troops already bivouaced in Druid Hill Park. It wasn’t a town in Czechoslovakia, or Poland, or Afghanistan. It was Crabtown, grave-site of Edgar Allen Poe, birthplace of the United States’ national anthem, and headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church catholicchurch.jpg in the United States. It was Bal’more, Mar’lan’. It was the time we call 1968. GreenmountAve1968.jpg Martin Luther King had just been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and city officials had persuaded Governor Spiro Theodore Agnew to send in the National Guard. Houses and businesses had burned before, riots2.jpg and fireman had been shot at before in the inner city, riots1.jpg but troops occupying the city – this was new. riots3.jpg
I thought Agnew was a good man, Mike was thinking while he rode the bus past his old high school, I never expected him to put Baltimore under martial law. The bus went east on North Avenue past Gay Street, where his parents had once lived, past boarded-up storefronts and burned-out buildings, riots4.jpg where it connected to Belair Road, and a transfer took him to the hamburger place where he worked after school, near his parent’s home in the whiter northeast section.
I would’ve voted for him if I could’ve, he thought, seeing a billboard with the Governor’s bulldog face. spirowatch.jpg Agnew had run against a man who wanted to keep black people out of white neighborhoods.house-w-sign.gif Mike knew that wasn’t right. He was almost eighteen, but the voting age was twenty-one, and he didn’t like that. At least that racist Mahoney creep didn’t get elected. George P. was an Irish Catholic, the Democratic Party nominee for Governor in 1966. His campaign slogan was, “Your Home Is Your Castle; Protect It”. Mike went to school with blacks. Daniel had told Mike how hard it was for his parents to move into a white neighborhood. Mike had asked Daniel why so many blacks lived in slum neighborhoods if they could afford Cadillacs and Continentals.
“You don’t understand, Mike,” Daniel told him, “We’ve got no place to move to.”
“Can’t you just move? I mean, isn’t discrimination illegal?”
“Mike, Mike, Mike. What do you think happens when a colored family looks at a house? The real estate man smiles, and the owner smiles, but nobody can be forced to sell their house. Don’t you see how it works?
cookskin-hat.jpg “Yeah, Coonskin, I think I see. I never knew that was going on.”
“Damn it, I told you never to call me that.”
“I was just kidding, Daniel. It’s just your name that gets me. I watch Daniel Boone on TV, and that’s what Mingo calls him all the time.”
“It’s not funny.” boone2.jpg
“I guess not. Sorry. It is kind of stupid. So that guy running for governor wants to keep things the way they are, huh?”
“Now you’re getting it. He says people should be able to sell their home to whoever they want. He’s talking about white people not having to sell their homes to black people.”
When Mike got home he watched the news. Governor Agnew said the troops would keep order. There was a curfew, and all citizens were “strongly urged” to stay home. Arsonists and looters would be shot on sight. looter.jpg By the time the ’68 Baltimore riots died down, six people had been killed, about 5,300 arrested and more than 5,500 armed troops were on patrol throughout the city.

A year later, Mike graduated, and moved into the inner city. GreenMountAve1970.jpg He had a new job, one that he had seen posted on a bulletin board outside the guidance counselor’s office. He’d been so glad to get away from the hamburger stand, with their miserly wages and short hours, that he’d have done almost anything. As it was, he’d been hired by an old Physics professor at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, to run some old research equipment that used x-rays to measure molecular spacing in crystals.
jhuphysicslab.jpg Mike couldn’t get over how lucky he was, and Dr. Pshaw treated him like a grandson. Eventually, however, Mike came to believe that Pshaw was not quite the kindly old man he seemed. Pshaw was always coming up with strange ideas, like the time he said, “Mike, I think I know what to do about juvenile delinquency,” which intrigued Mike.
“What’s that, Dr. Pshaw?”
“It’s like this, I don’t think that young people should be treated like hardened criminals, and put in prison to learn, well, the sort of stuff they learn there from the other inmates.”
“Sure, I agree with you there. But what’s the alternative?”
“Well, this is my idea. It may not be a good one, but I think it would work.”
“Yeah?”
“I think that all offenders should be made to wear a jacket with the name of their crime on it. That way they would be recognized easily, and, more importantly, they wouldn’t be able to commit the same crime again.”
“But, wouldn’t they just take their jackets off?” yard_jacket.gif
“No, that’s the beauty of it. If they don’t wear their jackets, they have to go to jail, so they’ll wear them.
Mike thought about it for a long time, hoping that Pshaw could be right, that there could be such simple answers. Of course, once someone took the jacket off, who would know? However, he respected Pshaw. He was the only role model in his life since he’d left home. But, Pshaw finally blew the kindly-old-man image one day, when Mike asked him, out of curiosity, about the other applicants for his job.
“Well, Mike,” he explained, in a grandfatherly voice, “there were a few others, as I believe I told you. But they were colored, you know?”
Mike just stared at him.
“It’s not that I’m prejudiced,” Pshaw elaborated,” it’s just that I grew up in the countryside, and well, there just weren’t any of them around when I was growing up.”
Mike was still staring, not sure that he was really hearing this. Dr. Pshaw seemed to be so honest, and fair, and, after all, a “scientist.” It had never occurred to Mike that a seeker of knowledge and truth could be biased. Mike was a little naive.
Pshaw continued: “I don’t know what it is, but I’m just too uncomfortable around those people.”
That was the most racist thing I ever heard, Mike thought, but he didn’t say anything. Now, he felt the guilt of the privileged. I thought I’d gotten this job on my own merits. Now it’s ruined, he complained silently.

cover.gif Mike was sure that he, of course, was not racist, and he continued in that belief for several years, until now, until he found himself playing pool in a part of town where he was the only white guy around. Doesn’t bother me, he told himself, but he felt uncomfortable when he saw the bartender come out of the back room. The bartender owned the place. He was white.
Figures, Mike thought, that’s what Daniel used to tell me. He said that the reason people burned their own houses and looted the downtown stores was that the whites owned everything there. “The Whites,” he remembered him saying, “charge the people outrageous prices for things, and then they go home to their white suburbs, and take the money out of the community. The worst slums are owned by white slumlords, who don’t bother to fix anything.” Mike believed him, but he didn’t know what he could do about it.
“Anyone want to play?” he asked, glancing around the room at several people who weren’t.
“Sure. I’ll play. Rotation alright with you?” asked a middle aged man. Mike nodded, “I get so tired of playing Eight Ball, it’s too damn easy, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, you’re right, it’s too easy,” Mike said, but he thought, Oh shit, so he added, “but I don’t want to play for money, I just like to play, you know?”
“Yeah, OK. We’ll just play for the table.”
The older man moved around to shoot, and two balls fell in. “Your shot,” he said.
“Why’s that?” Mike asked.
“Because they were out of order.”
Oh, we’re playing serious, huh? Mike thought. He didn’t do too bad on that first game, but he still lost, and kept losing. He put a quarter in the slot. Bang, the balls fell into the hole when Mike pulled the slot back. He was filling up the rack, one ball here, two ball here, three ball here, when, Bang, there was a sound like a truck backfiring outside the pool hall. Heads lifted up from the tables.
Mike filled the rest of the rack quickly. Bang. Someone yelled, “There’s a shooting!” and everybody ran out of the hall, dropping cue sticks as they went. Mike watched everyone scramble outside in the seconds it took him to move his own feet. He left an empty building.

He stopped when he saw the gun directly in front of him. Bang. It fired again, at the ground. Mike looked down. He saw a young black guy, well dressed, bleeding. Bang. The body jerked. Mike saw his chest moving spasmodically. “He’s still alive!” Mike shouted. He looked at the man doing the shooting. The shooter, another black man, looked about fifty years old, and his face was contorted with hate. The man looked at Mike, seeing him for the first time.
“He deserved it,” he shouted at Mike.
People die that deserve to live, Mike wanted to say. Can you bring them back? he wanted to ask this guy with a gun. But he just stood there, watching the man’s face. Maybe it was Mike’s look, maybe it was the surprise of seeing him standing there, but the man suddenly lowered his gun, lowered his eyes, and turned and walked away, slowly.
People gathered around the wounded man. Mike stood apart, separate, but unequal. In a few minutes an ambulance silently turned the corner, followed by another police vehicle. 1968international.jpg Paramedics lifted the man onto a stretcher while the police stood by. They’ll probably question me, Mike thought, and want witnesses. What do I say? He looked at the crowd, at all the black faces, conscious of his own white skin. He couldn’t read their expressions. It looked more like no expressions at all to Mike. This is their neighborhood, what right do I have to be here? he thought. Do I tell the police what I saw? or is this none of my business? But he knew that he would never have hesitated anywhere else. He felt that the people standing there in that large crowd were different. He felt that their thoughts were alien to his way of thinking. No one looked at him, or entered the large open space around him. The ambulance door closed. The cops were writing something, but no one had spoken.
Maybe they already know all about it, Mike thought. Maybe the guy is going to be alright. Mike waited for them to come over, still unsure what to say. The cops walked around the ambulance, got back in their car, and escorted it away. Mike went back into the pool hall. What should I have done? he wondered. What should I have said? Why couldn’t I talk to that guy with the gun?
The hall was silent, but then small groups of men started quiet conversations along the walls. A ball cracked! against another.
“Do you want to finish the game?” Mike asked his partner.
“Uh, yeah. Might as well.”
pool.jpg They started playing, Mike’s partner sinking ball after ball, until he couldn’t find a shot. The remaining balls were crowded together on one side of the table, and he had tapped the cue ball lightly, so it banked off the side, but it rolled softly into a corner pocket. Mike retrieved it, lined it up on the center of the crowded balls, and shot. The crowded balls scattered, but the ivory cue ball leaped off the dark green table like it’d been shot. The other man laughed, retrieved the ball, and finished the game.
“Might as well call it a night,” Mike said, “Thanks for the games.” On the corner, the North Avenue bus hissed to a stop in front of him. The black driver stared at him, silently, as he dropped his coins into the box. He walked down the empty bus to a rear seat.

Posted in crime, fiction, Life, My Life, race, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cops, Priests, and Altar Boy Scouts

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 29, 2008

badpriest.jpg (me in costume, years ago)

I wanted to be a priest. Yeah, a god-damned priest. Why? Well, for one thing, they have a good break in life. They don’t pay taxes, and they have an easy life. All they do is give sermons and repeat the same old shit all the time.

Just because I said that, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t religious. You couldn’t have paid me enough to miss Mass on Sunday – a mortal sin. I didn’t want to go to hell. elevationofhost.jpg I was an altar boy too, serving God in the cold, damp fucking early mornings before school. I should have become a priest. I was primed for it. After eight years of Catholic schools I was ready to believe that God saw everything I did, knew everything I thought. I didn’t dare hurt Him by sinning. My classmates didn’t like my attitude. I was a true believer, and they weren’t. Of course, much of that was my reaction to their thinking of me as an idiot, so I had to have something that made me better than them, if I wasn’t ever going to be their equal.

I could see them laughing at my perfect, good-little-Catholic-boy responses to the nuns’ prompts in class. A good example is the story I wrote in fifth or sixth grade. We’d been told to write something about winter. Could have been about snow, and sledding, and snowball fights, and snowmen, and fun. Instead, I wrote a sermon. It was only a paper to be turned in, but I wrote a reminder to everyone to think of Jesus being born into that cold winter snow, much like the storms that were so terrible we couldn’t even go outside in them. I was proud of it. I was a religious Sambo, grinning and jiving that Jesus stuff, hoping to impress people with my virtuous love of God. A goody two-shoes in the extreme. Better than other people, with the correct relationship with God. Hah! It worked too well. The nun read it to the entire class. I’ve always been an idiot.

Father Kirsch didn’t think I was perfect. He kicked me out of “the altar boys” for talking and clowning around in line while we waited for his sorry late ass to show up at May Day procession rehearsal. talking-in-line.jpg He made us line up in twos, and stand that way until he got there. Since he was late, I was bored. When authority figures weren’t actually in the room, my virtue seemed to evaporate. Kirsch outdid everyone in the self-righteous department. He stormed and fumed about our performance, whether by the altar or on the street. He fired me right then and there, the moment he walked in, since I wasn’t standing there perfectly quiet and still. I was horrified. I cried on my way home. I couldn’t tell my parents about it. My dad had been a deacon himself for years, and had taught altars boys himself at a different church before we had moved, before we were old enough to be in ‘it’. Serving Mass was a kind of calling, akin to being called to the priesthood. You took it seriously, and, like everything else my parents told me to do, there was no such thing as refusing. For weeks I pretended to go to rehearsals. I walked down to the church and even looked in. I hung around the shrubbery until they were almost through and went home. My parents didn’t ask me where I’d been. Why would I lie about that? Eventually someone told them, and I was back serving Mass again, for awhile. Serving Mass under Kirsch was stressful however. Once I missed my cue to ring the bells, without which no one in the pews knew when to stand or kneel. Horrified, I missed the next one too. One rings them three times during the raising of the host, three times during the raising of the wine. That day it was once, then three. I could hear the confusion in the pews, but I never heard a word about that one.

I was also a boy scout – uniform and all. boy_scout_with_oath.jpg Weird that that organization finds so many ways to get money from parents, money mine could ill afford to part with when six other kids needed basic necessities too. Poorer kids didn’t join at all. All that crap: manual, merit badge books, field trips, uniform, compass, knife, and camping fees and gear too. There were times when I had to wear my uniform to class. Green was at least different than the tan shirt and brown pants I had to wear every other day of the school year, with the iron-on patches on my elbows and knees. I wore my knife on my belt. That was a odd thing to get away with, but when you’re a “boy scout” you are also close to perfect: trustworthy (people depend on you), loyal (to family, leaders, school and nation), helpful (without pay or reward), friendly (a friend to all), courteous (good manners), kind (strength in gentleness), obedient (obeys the law), cheerful (whistle while you work), thrifty (save), brave (can face danger), clean (in body and mind), and reverent (to God, and faithfully). So, there I was, on my way home one day, all gussied up in my starched shirt and badly creased pants (I had to iron my own clothes). I stopped by the drugstore where I read comics. Some of my classmates were hanging out there.

“Hey, pretty boy.” “Are you a good little scout?” “That’s a nice bandanna you’ve got there.” “Can I try it on? I want to tie my hair up.” Rough crowd. Even white Catholic boys have gangs, toughs and petty thieves. These guys regularly stole from the store. I was told a story once about being chased by cops down the alley, with gunshot warnings. These guys were 13 and 14. Like I said, tough neighborhood, of sorts. However, enough was enough. I saw red. boy-scouts-bigotry-e.jpg I was a boy scout, brave and all that, so I pulled my knife out and waved it at them. “Come on,” I told ’em, come and get me. Here I am. ” Of course, they backed away. They laughed too, but they weren’t smiling as I moved toward them. No one else in that school could possibly have carried a knife. I’m surprised they even let the Scouts carry one. I was insane, and waving a knife. And it was sharp too – I always made sure of that. I probably had a whetstone in my pocket. Even Maranelli backed off.

Maranelli was one of the tough ones. One time, a couple years later, walking home late one night, I got jumped. Two guys grabbed me from behind. I was surprised how strong they were, and how firmly I was held. I wasn’t optimistic until the third guy came around in front, saying, “Got any money?’ I recognized Maranelli. He recognized me too. “Hi Frank,” I said. He told the other two to let me go. “He’s OK,” he said. We didn’t say much else. Didn’t really know each other outside of grade school, and I was already in high school by then, downtown, away from there.

It’s a good thing I didn’t stick around that neighborhood, considering those kind of career choices. I was, as I said, a good boy – oldest of seven, responsible, the ‘good’ example. Washed dishes, mowed the lawn, picked weeds, scrubbed floors, babysat. Didn’t talk back. Studied. Went to Church on Sundays. Went to Monday night religion classes after eighth grade since I was in a public school then. Still. Still, I had been in trouble enough. Used to swipe candy bars on a regular basis, especially Kit Kats. kitkat.jpg Mmm, chocolate. My parents weren’t about to buy crap like that except at Easter. Since I’d read the whole Science Fiction and fantasy section of the local library, I took paperbacks from the same store too. I had a whole library of purloined paperbacks at home. A nearby toy store had lost several model cars to me and my brother. Somehow, I always forgot to confess such things on Saturday. Really. Never entered my mind while I was in the confessional. I had a routine, and I followed it. It was supposed to be instructional, but I used my littlest boy voice, and the priests rarely asked questions.

Got caught stealing a couple times only. The first time, the toy store owner just called my dad. He made me and my brother wait in his office. I ditched the razor blade there. I’d been using it to neatly open the clear plastic coverings on the packages. I stuffed it into the corrugations of a cardboard box. fluting.jpg The owner was no dummy. His desk was locked. He did come in and search us. Looked all around the office too, even in the trash can, but nobody would think to rip apart all the cardboard on a box for a razor blade. He thought we had knives. I told him the packages were already cut. My dad took us home, read us the riot act. I don’t remember the punishment for that one. He told us the story about how he had been caught stealing and his dad had left welts all over his legs for that. Leather straps or a belt were not an uncommon punishment for us, but never that severe.

The second time, I was not so lucky. I’d stuffed some paperbacks under my jacket, but I’d done it so many times before that I actually forgot they were under my jacket as I reached for the door. The drugstore owner was pissed. He accused me of being with a gang; wanted to know which one. Told me that the gangs stole stuff for fun. Tried to convince him I wasn’t in a gang, didn’t know anyone in a gang. He had already called the cops though. 1967chev.jpg Too late for cuteness and innocence. The two cops put me in the back of the squad car and headed out; said they were taking me downtown to the station. I started crying. Seemed the best thing to do, and really, I was scared. I wanted them to know I was really sorry. I was really scared of jail, and scared of my dad when he found out. I started telling them not to tell my dad, begged ’em not to. Did my best to convince them that my dad would beat the hell out of me, and it was a possibility, after all. They didn’t turn at the light. They went on across the main street, up the hill and down the many blocks I walked each day. Took me home. My dad was at his second job. My mom came downstairs with two kids in her arms and two more screaming bloody murder upstairs. Cowards left me there. They left faster than I had imagined. Maybe they knew my mom’s dad, who’d been a Baltimore cop for a long time. bpdpatch.jpg My mom told ’em, “His dad will take care of him.” Dad probably would have too, except he didn’t touch me anymore since I’d knocked him down and tried, really tried, to kick his teeth in. He was still stronger than me, after all, but that had made him proud somehow. He’s spent years trying to convince me not to turn the other cheek to bullies, to stand up for myself, and not take abuse. So I did. He started slapping my head back and forth. I knocked him down. He wasn’t expecting it. But he smiled the whole time, that time, and never hit me again.  We talked this time, and that was it. He yelled some, as I recall, but we both knew he wasn’t going to hit me.

Posted in crime, faith, family, humor, Life, My Life, rambling, religion, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

 
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