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Friday, January 4, 2019

Delta Dawn

Every have a picture pop into your head out of nowhere? 

I was browsing around iTunes looking for a song or two the other day when something from a long, long time ago was suddenly just there. For some reason, as I was scrolling through some old stuff, out of the blue came a clear-as-day memory. I must be getting old.

It was from way back when when I worked on a farm. Just like I was still there, I could see a hazy field of oat stubble. Short, scratchy stalks and fat rows of straw left over after the combine had done its work. I was looking down the hood of an International 826 Hydro tractor with the throttle wide-open. 




I know it was a real scorcher because I remember the metal on the machines being almost hot enough to burn my hand. I was baling straw on a hilltop field that day, throwing kicker-rack wagons full of string-tied yellow blocks that would be stacked in a screaming hot, dimly lit mow by another bunch of kids that got paid a buck a load to empty out what I tossed in. I can still smell the dust, hot oil, baler twine and diesel smoke like I was standing by the big back tires. I was probably 16 or 17 years old.

Looking over my shoulder from the tractor seat, there was a white AM radio on the right fender. Somebody had bolted it on in just the right place to block my view of the baler pickup so I had to sit skewed sideways to see around it. It had the volume knob turned up as far as it would go. 
It had only one scratchy, over-driven speaker that was probably dying a slow, painful death at the hands of the teenage kid behind the steering wheel. It couldn't overwhelm the roar from the stack but it had enough oomph to catch a few notes of the songs if you leaned over a little closer. The only time you could understand it much at all was when you throttled off to make a turn at the end of a windrow. Tractor cabs with Bose sound systems and air conditioning were a thousand years in the future. It seemed like a miracle then.

And I remember that song. It wasn't what anybody remotely considers 'classic rock'. Certainly not much of a blip on the music world radar. Not even one of my all-time favorites; in fact I don't think I own a copy that I could put my hand on. But it has a picture attached to it that has lasted 40-plus years.

It was "Delta Dawn" by Helen Reddy. What a funny song to hang a memory on right? But I can hear it mixed with the pounding from the baler, the exhaust and transmission whine from the big red Hydro and the rattle from the loose shield on the PTO shaft. 

In her younger days they called her Delta Dawn
Prettiest woman you ever laid eyes on

Another bale gets airborne from the kicker into the pile on the wagon. The recoil makes the seat jump a little. I can feel the sun. I can see endless windrows of fluffy yellow straw shimmering in the heat...the wagons filling up and being hauled away...the empty ones coming back from the unloading crew at the barn. They're working a lot harder than I am so life's good. Helen's voice is hard to make out over Mr. Diesels invention but she's still there.
I know I'm covered in black dust because baling oat straw does that and I'm pretty sure I wasn't wearing a hat because back then, who cared? You burned to a crisp once and then tanned the rest of the summer.

Delta Dawn, what's that flower you have on?
Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?

I can't say for certain but there was probably a bread bag full of sandwiches in the tool box. Maybe a cooler of iced tea getting a lot warmer under a tree by the fence. And the rows upon rows that steadily turned into neat, tied up square packages under that summer sun. Fill the twine boxes when they run low. Drop a full wagon and start on an empty. Watch for woodchuck holes that'll snap an axle or tip a wagon over. 

And did I hear you say he was a-meeting you here today
To take you to his mansion in the sky?

Spin the steering wheel on the headland and get lined up for another pass. Slap the throttle back up and nudge the speed down a little while the song plays on. It was probably on WTKO AM in Ithaca because that was the only station the bent up whip antenna could pull in. The DJ most likely cut it off as it faded and read a commercial. I don't remember the end...only the song.

A silly song that packed so much into such a tiny little space. Something about what it was to be that kid. To sit on that dirty tractor and see that tiny piece of the world on that one bright summer day.

Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?

It may very well be...but it's pressed between the pages of a book that I can still take out and read once in a while. All it takes is something to help me find the right page. Ms. Reddy...I owe you one.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

18 Down

Another one gone. Years drift by.

Here I am at my desk on the first day of '19, watching daylight break out of the dark and the wind blow everything not nailed down off to the east. I like to sit here and tap at my computer. I might prowl around the news or Fb or something equally outdated...mostly just idling with the shift lever in park. 

I can't see much yet but the wind chimes are playing a mad concerto. And the cover just blew off the hot tub again...

It may turn into rain or snow later but I've got firewood and so far, the power is still on. At least I'm not out in it on a train somewhere so let it howl and rattle the boards. I've got my third coffee in hand...that's three that didn't come out of a thermos and the phone isn't likely to ring till sometime tonight. 

It's quiet and I like that. All is well so far.

"Favete Linguis"

Horace was right.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Darkest Day

It's raining again. To me anyway. Seems like it's always raining. Or snowing. Or dark.

I read somewhere that being depressed isn't being sad when things go wrong...it's being sad when things go right. I guess that might just be true.

Things are going right. In so many ways I can't count them. 

And yet the darkness lingers. Why can't I smile and be as happy as everyone else? Why is there always some storm roaring in my head? I should be stupidly happy...but I can't find it. The holidays...

Why is it always so hard?

I wish Christmas was over. I wish it would never come at all.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Dark December

December again. The awful holidays. The short days and long nights that hit me so stupid hard every time they roll around. No matter how much better things are (and they are so very much better), December seems able to take the wind out of my sails. It's like a weight.

I've wished most of my life that I could hibernate from Halloween till New Years. But the world doesn't work that way so I just have to get through it one more time...

I don't even really know why it does this to me. Just somewhere along the line it all went dark. The buying, doing, going, worrying, decorating...all of it just wore me out. I stopped being able to generate the required and expected happiness and anticipation. I can't buy my way out of it like I'm supposed to. I wish that 12 months interest free was enough but I can't do it. It feels like trying to buy your way into heaven. The artificial joy everyone seems so desperate to display, I can't find.

The delusion of seasonal goodwill only makes it worse. Everywhere the hating goes on like any other day or any other season. The 'holidays' are just another excuse to be outraged by something...a Christmas song becomes a nasty meme...people are trampled and fights break out over shopping...families fall apart over politics at dinner...everyone is offended over almost everything. Everywhere are symbols of peace but there is no peace to be found. Intolerance is the standard when someone isn't 'us'.  In the name of the Christian holiday...everything Christendom says it stands for is demeaned. 

It all comes together to make me sad. I know better than some that the world is what you make of it and most times, I can see the good out there somewhere. But December is black and clouds the view. 

Somehow, the lights go out around Thanksgiving and never came back on till the madness passes and the last payment is made. I know I've written about this before. Maybe it'll never change.

Maybe I'll never change.

It was better I guess when the kids were small. They'd tumble out to a tree and presents just like I did when I was little. They'd rip and shred in the living room then disappear to un-box and assemble the goodies. With luck, we remembered the batteries...

I hope they have happy memories of those years. I tried really hard to make it fun. I tried but I'm not sure how I did. They're both off on their own now and I don't see or hear from them much and nobody mentions it. I can only hope it was all ok. I don't know that I'll ever know.

I do know that I've written about traditions a time or two as well. I've been told that I should create new traditions if the old ones make me unhappy. I guess that makes sense but I don't know what to do about it. Some things don't seem to change. What would I create? Something I'd do at a certain time of year to remind me how much that time of year hurts? Color me skeptical. I mostly wish it would all go away...not turn into something else. I can't understand why.

All I know is that December kicks me hard every time the calendar flips over from November. I wish it would stop. I wish I could make it stop. Maybe next year...

...one more time.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Remembering 1918

Once again, we find ourselves turning away from the world in a misguided echo of the time when Archduke Ferdinand took his fateful ride in Sarajevo.

Nationalism was the rage then as now. Britain hid in ‘Splendid isolation’, “Non-intervention; no European police system; every nation for itself, and God for us all...”

Germany sought it’s ‘Place in the sun’ no matter what the cost.

Alliances came and went all over the Europe. Weaponry, particularly battleships were the ultimate expression of national prestige. Everyone not ‘us’ was ‘them’ and so irrelevant. Everyone smelled the money.

Sound familiar?

The empires of Europe did almost nothing to avoid the horror on the horizon. Some actively encouraged the conflict. None of them thought they could lose. It was a grand adventure. People all over the Continent celebrated the outbreak of war. 

Nationalism masqueraded as patriotism everywhere and what it brought about was an estimated 12 million dead. In the name of nationalistic fervor, almost a whole generation was wiped out. 

The glory and romantic notion of the noble cavalry charge degraded into the trenches, machine guns and misery for the fighting men while the generals lived in commandeered chateaus and dined on fine china. It was a defeat of every human decency yet conceived. 

I find it significant that the President of France remembered the Armistice that stilled the guns along the front in 1918 this way:

“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. In saying ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values.” 

Emmanuel Macron - President of France
November 11, 2018, Paris

We’re at that crossroads of 1914 again. But we live in an interconnected world now more than ever. No moral country can afford to be an island unto itself, especially today. 

No nation, least of all ours; one filled mostly with people who’s heritage is everywhere except here can have the luxury of turning away from everything outside our border. We who are from so many places should lead the world, not hide from it. 

The echos from a century ago are plain. May we this time go down the ‘road less traveled by’ and so make all the difference. 

All the difference in the world.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

59 And Counting

A little while ago was my 59th birthday. On the day it showed up, I was pretty much ignoring it and went to work as usual when the phone rang at 0200. Just another day. Holidays and birthdays and everydays are what you miss when crew management lights up your cell to go again.

Then I turned my phone on when I got to the other end of the railroad...

Out of the blue, lots of people popped up on my notifications saying 'Happy Birthday'. People I hadn't heard from in..well...a long time. I know...they get a push reminding them that it's somebody's birthday but still...just to drop in and post is saying something.

I was frankly a little surprised. I've been shying away from social media for a while now after some less-than-cheerful experiences. A respite seemed in order since I sort of felt overwhelmed by it. I often can't process the constant input and output that it demands and the attention it screams for. It's also sometimes an ugly, unhappy place for something that's supposed to be 'social'. Over time, I've weeded out most of the rabid partisans of any stripe but there's still the occasional screamer or hyper-ventilated conspiracy theorist that pops up. I'm getting to those.

I should just not think about it but my ADHD self takes it too personally. If someone is posting it...they must know that I'm reading it. It kinda takes away from the good wishes when they call me a snowflake; sheep; socialist; bleeding heart; etc. every day except one.

You can say, "Well I wasn't really talking about you" but if you shout insults in a crowed room, you can bet there's going to be some confusion over who it's intended for. I know...just ignore it. But if this is how we say what we want to say these days, doesn't it make sense to buckshot a little less? 

There's a thousand and one platforms where you can opinionate and guess what? Unless you're a George Takei or Kanye West...hardly anyone is listening anyway. I know nobody is reading this but me. So why antagonize the ones who really are paying attention? Our circle of friends may look bigger because we have hundreds of 'friends' and 'followers' but if most of them signed off tomorrow, how many would you really miss?

 I'll never be a new world man I guess. 

And yet, I'm really grateful so many people took the time to wish me a Happy Birthday...there's hope. The best gift for me would be that everyone remember that it should be more than once a year that you wish others happiness. Just a thought for my 59th...

Monday, August 20, 2018

Another on Religion

Reading the news this week...I know...I should quit doing that. But amid all the (nowadays) normal Trump noise and the usual insanity that permeate the daily cycle...here we go with yet another investigation into the Catholic church.

This one caught my attention because even though it's an absolute nightmare, it's not surprising. The church has been down this road before and will be again.

Seems to me that nobody should be looking at a DC pizza joint or haunting 4chan searching for child abusers and traffickers...they're right down the street at the vestry.

How many times do these 'revelations' have to come out? This go-round it reaches back to the '40s and involves possibly thousands of victims? 300 priests in Pennsylvania alone? Some at it so long they've retired or died. And this is what's called a religion? It's more like a predator meat market.

Tell me about how 'they're not all bad' and I'll tell you about turning a blind eye to madness. To make the excuse that the 'good' ones don't know what's happening in their ranks is ridiculous.

Think about it...just as a rough estimate...take 50 states with say...half that many per state comes out to 7500 practicing molesters and pornographers. All with perfect hunting grounds and the protection of one of the most powerful and influential organisations in the world. You can even get promoted if a whiff of your indiscretions gets out. What a deal! Don't tell me they don't know.

And still they have the gall to preach morality. They espouse celibacy and abstinence while raping children. They wring their hands over the 'moral outrage' of LBGT while colluding to hide their own immorality. They exclude women and decry the crime of birth control while they bleed their parish children of innocence. They dare to sit in pious judgment of others while they feed their own personal demons. Their absolute power has corrupted absolutely.  They bury the evidence and protect the guilty in a twisted parody of the Mob. Over and over again.

In truth, the Catholic Church is no better than any criminal enterprise at its core. They do some good to cover up the fact that they destroy lives and do irreparable harm to the most vulnerable of those they profess to protect. All you need is some good PR and a few 'donations' to grease the skids. 

Hell, even Pablo Escobar knew that if you do a little 'public service', your corrupt and evil organization will be better tolerated and harder to indict. Run a soup kitchen, give away a tiny fraction of the take, smile for the cameras. Pay the right people and threaten the rest and the wheels keep on turning. The church continues to be immeasurably wealthy and powerful while 'the least of these' are used and abused. It makes me feel like throwing up.

The leader of the church, Pope Francis issued a letter yesterday to Catholics around the world condemning the “crime” of priestly sexual abuse and cover-up and demanding accountability.

Francis wrote: “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

That you did. Your 'church' has overseen more devastation and horror in the name of your faith over the centuries than any other in history. You demand from your followers that which you yourselves cannot or will not do. You preach chastity, charity and forgiveness while you indulge in sex with children, sit on a misers hoard that can't even be counted and pronounce judgment on anyone who dares to question your authority. How do you look in the mirror and call yourselves men of God? How dare you call yourselves holy? How much evil can you hide? 

A Catholic poet once wrote, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here"

Perhaps your parishioners...particularly the children...should do just that.