You Are Here

As a child of the 1950’s, I grew up with the Vietnam War, nuclear proliferation, Jim Crow, and a chart of exponential population growth. Born in 1956, I was at the tail end of the post-WWII boom. Global population was 2.8 billion.

Looking back to the year 1900 wasn’t much of a stretch: my great granddad, alive during my childhood, was born in the 1890’s, when the population was about 1.5 billion. We had doubled in just 50 years. The mid 1970s were an especially explosive period of population growth. I was good at math, knew what “exponential” meant, and what it implied for the future.

The only question for a child was whether I’d die in a race war, end up drafted to Vietnam, perish from radioactive fallout, or starve in a global food shortage.

Eventually the Civil Rights Act became accepted as law even among Southern politicians. I think it fair to say the bigots among their voters crawled back under the baseboards, to murder and enslave in secret. And of course, I had survived.

The Vietnam War draft ended a few months before my 18th birthday. So I also dodged that stray bullet from “America’s First War Lost.”

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it seemed nuclear war was also nearly off the table. More a shadow of a sword than the sword itself.

And around the turn of the century, global population growth slowed, with projections of reaching a stable number somewhere around 2050.

I could breathe a cautious sigh of relief.

Sure, endless wars for oil and other resources continue. And bloody conflicts of ideology and religion. (Even if we no longer dignify such things as “War”—reserving that term for things like the War on Christmas.)

But it now appears I breathed easily too soon about the global population problem. In my day, the prediction was lack of resources. Plague was merely a side note. But this week, Lincoln returned to a mask mandate, due to a bloom in COVID cases. And the city has reported instances of Monkey Pox.

Not everyone cares about any of these things. Bigotry is foundational to American society. (Watch 13th, free on Netflix.) War is endless. Nuclear sabers are rattling again. And pandemics come like “flavor of the week.”

We live in a petri dish, and denial is the agar.

I grew up Working Class, Blue Collar, Fundamentalist Evangelical. My gut knows the stifled anger of working hard, feeling cheated, the condescension of privileged wealth, my faith assaulted by cold science.

For me, the escape was public education and social support to an eventual college degree. But I haven’t entirely shaken the shame of earning lunch in middle school by cleaning tables and eating last. All the little concessions that set my kind apart as “poor” and “lesser.” A shame that turns into a defensive pride. The willful ignorance that defensiveness can invoke.

Paradoxically, privileged wealth invokes its own sort of willful ignorance, especially inherited wealth. A false sense of security from things like climate change or disease. A secret unwillingness to make socioeconomic changes, for fear they’ll topple us from our perches. I say “us,” because even our working class enjoys comfort beyond that of nations that fabricate our cheap TVs and tube socks.

There’s no escaping this petri dish. Not even if you’re rich as Bezos, or Musk, or whoever tops the uber-yacht list this week.

A child of the ’50s, I sit here watching it all play out, uncertain whether ignorance or knowledge will win. Pandemic worries me most. For the rest we’ve had centuries to master a practice of brinkmanship. But I’m uncomfortable at our experimenting with the brink of disease, courting ignorance for the sake of political gain.

All I can do is hope, quietly salute vaccine skeptics ushering themselves out of the gene pool, acknowledge my own relative wealth and privilege as an American and Caucasian, and put my shoulder to the wagon where I can: writing, donating, voting—and most importantly following the trail of blood caused by my own ignorance and inaction.

That and expect the same of family and friends. We’re all in this together.

No Fireworks

I’ll be honest. I’m having a difficult time celebrating Independence Day.

In a nation with a Supreme Court Justice targeting gay marriage, while his spouse is implicated in the Big Lie.

Where a single man could manipulate Supreme Court nominations to deny one President a single appointment and give the next President three.

Where a cult of personality still holds one political party hostage.

Where people spend the holiday on the roads in record numbers, while bitching about gas prices caused by a dying tyrant’s murderous land grab.

Where half the country is scorched with heat and still denying climate science.

Where regulation of weapon magazine sizes is out of the question while students are murdered en masse.

Where people still whine about masks, let alone vaccinations, while COVID breakouts still reoccur.

Where Black men are still targeted and murdered by police.

What a bleak time to be a true American, from a family who have served to protect this nation since WWII. I’m heartsick. Take your fireworks somewhere else.

The Stubbornest Symptom

Photo by Samuel Pereira on Unsplash

I’m pretty open publicly about thoughts and experiences because [insert whatever reason seems right, good or bad] and sometimes things my mom taught me about simple human decency and courage have helped someone else through a dark time, or bolstered a good time.

Or maybe narcissism. I can’t rule out narcissism.

In any case, sometimes people say thanks. So I guess I’ll keep at it for awhile.

Today’s struggle is with a last symptom from 24 hours of aches, fever, and “gut -punch” stomach ache, after attending a dance recital in Lincoln with a couple hundred mask-less Nebraskans. The last symptom is animosity.

I’m not saying this illness is COVID. What I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that an auditorium with a couple hundred mask-less Nebraskans and no vaccine card check reminded me that 82% of Republicans still favor Donald Trump, and 60% still think the election was stolen.

I find that infuriating.

The backache yesterday was awful, but it lasted only a few hours. My stomach still hurts a bit, but isn’t awful any more. Last night it kept me from sleeping; today it was just a recurring dream. But this fury isn’t so easy to shake. I’m hoping confession will help. Maybe distraction with writing, a game, or more likely a movie with Jennifer.

What makes it so hard to treat is that it’s just a personal symptom of a chronic disease in the public soul.

Just Graffiti

By this point, I figure anyone left reading my posts is either of like mind regarding COVID, etc. or a diehard fan who takes these in stride as personal thoughts unrelated to my work. Anybody else has likely been chased away.

That sense of changing audience has affected my purpose in writing, away from trying to reason with COVID deniers, to encouraging compatriots to be more vocal and proactive.

But at its heart, everything I post about COVID, about civil rights, predatory capitalism, blind faith, or whatever, is just as much my own struggle to cope.

And frankly, I’m exhausted. I’m sick of trying.

So nothing about this post is an attempt at reason. I’m sick of writing. Sick of being any sort of public figure. Sick of hearing my own “messages.” These words are just graffiti.

Yesterday I accompanied my spouse out into the world of people to do some shopping. She needed the company, and at least some break from driving everywhere herself all week long, to one appointment or another.

On the way out, I had taken on a newish frame of mind, a friendly feeling that mask-less people in this Red state aren’t *all* antagonistic. And that while my mask is a statement, I can still wave at these people the way Nebraskans do when they see each other at gas stations. I had a new hope for Tolerance not as passivity, but as giving people’s motives the benefit of the doubt.

First stop, Shopko Optical in Lincoln. Lincoln with its mask mandate. Shopko Optical with a sign in the window saying masks are required and 6-feet social distance recommended.

Three employees inside. One with her mask at her chin; one with his below his nose; one with no mask anywhere in sight.

I spoke up from the tolerance-doesn’t-mean-silence attitude. (It’s tough to speak up. Tougher to do so calmly.) “I don’t mean to be impolite, but what’s with the masks?”

“Oh! Sorry. No problem. When nobody else is in the store, we sort of relax, and we just forgot to put them back.”

I think she was the manager. Her mask went up. The guy pulled his mask over his nose. The other woman stared at me blandly, then asked to go on break. When she came back, it was mask-less. At her desk, she held a mask one-handed over her face for a couple of minutes, then dropped it.

The rest of the trip was pretty much the same. Step into a store, mental defenses up, no one masked in sight, then notice a few with masks, glance at each other with a sense of embattled camaraderie. Grit my teeth behind the mask-less bitch coughing in the check-out line.

So much for a fucking sense of equanimity.

One of my wife’s step-brothers died of COVID this week. My age. Had been having moments of forgetfulness from what turned out to be mini strokes from blood clots migrating from his lungs. Then the clots killed him. Unvaccinated. Someone she shared her teenage years with in the same house.

A 10-year-old boy nearby, dead of brain lesions. Unvaccinated. Some don’t want to admit it’s COVID related, but he’d just gotten over COVID.

What was I saying? Oh, right. Trying for equanimity.

Earlier last week, I had an annual physical. The MD asked how my head is doing. The usual annual conversation with him:

Me: “I’m a thinker living with bouts of migraine/seizure. An extrovert living in isolation. An educated Liberal in a Red state of uneducated Trump worshippers. A guy with a college science background among people with a chip on their shoulder toward ‘eggheads.’ This COVID denial is a perpetual frustration. When will it end?”

Him: “It’s never going away.”

Me: “I don’t mean COVID.”

Him: “I know. And then they come to me wanting me to fix them.”

Silence.

Him: “So, are you still writing? Still publishing?”

He asks that as a gauge of my migraine/seizure trouble. Can I still function.

Yes, I still function.

But I’m emotionally worn out even trying to care whether my unvaccinated neighbors die. Every day, I wake up wondering about Trump, “Is that son-of-a-bitch dead yet?”

Every time I hear another news story of an unvaccinated person with COVID, them begging other people to reconsider, I feel grimly thankful that they got it, hoping that their treatment ruins them financially, that their physical suffering is severe enough to shake their COVID-denying family and friends. My only reason for hoping they live is that they’ll spread the message instead of it dying with them.

There’s my equanimity. The thought that with enough suffering and death, the surviving deniers will come around. Maybe it’s Nature’s way of lightening the ship enough for us to turn from *complete* environmental catastrophe, because COVID and climate change are equally environmental.

And with that last, post-comma phrase, I slipped back into message mode. I’ll stop myself right there. My purpose is graffiti. Just spray paint defacing the side of a building to say, “I was here. And I fucking protest.”