The Allure of the Lowest Common Denominator- Dummies Vote Too

Warning-You already know what I’m about to say, but I feel like saying it anyway.

Have you ever believed something but suddenly you could put it together in a sentence or paragraph? Stay with me, please. Politicians don’t necessarily have beliefs (aside from Bernie) but reflect a group of people’s beliefs in order to get elected. It’s backward, but it’s the truth. Trump is popular mostly among white men without a college degree who live in southern states (the states you’d expect to be full of white guys who are angry about immigrants or affirmative action). If Trump appeals to you because he “Says it like it is”, you are saying “He is hateful in a way that society doesn’t allow me to be”. The more outrageous he is the more he fits the narrative of the angry white guy.

(This is where the obligatory connection to Hitler would go, but you’re a smart reader, you already know that)

That’s not to say there aren’t uneducated white women who feel the same, or white people with college degrees who think Trump is the future of America. In both colleges I went to there is a side focus on diversity education. Regardless of what you study, it’s part of the college experience. I didn’t need that exposure to be a well-rounded person with diverse opinions, but it helped as I’m sure the education helps students without such exposure.

What am I saying? Just because you didn’t go to college doesn’t mean you’re a dummy. Don’t vote for hate.

Excerpt from Tragic Heroes for NaNoWriMo

He determined he was a Spark, one of the dozens of super-powered individuals who had appeared all over the globe in the past month, but his power was pheromones. He noticed a peculiar odor his skin gave off. It wasn’t offensive or pleasant. It was sweet but also it reminded him of patchouli–from his hippy college days. The scent triggered some sort of primal mating instinct of anyone who could smell it–everyone within fifty feet–unless it was a windy day. He remembered having to run ten blocks to avoid a horny mob on a particularly breezy afternoon.
This power, this dream of every man who had ever seen a pornographic movie and wished women would want to fuck them the moment she laid eyes on him, had ruined his life. Terry had taken to the woods on northern Canada. He had found a currently unused hunting lodge and was waiting for death. The AIDS (and the dozen other STDS he had) were certainly going to kill him, especially since he couldn’t afford or see a doctor to get the life-saving medicines he needed. At least he would live his final days alone and in peace. The cabin had no electricity or wi-fi, so he had only a stack of books to read and a typewriter to write the great American novel he always wanted to write.
He was at peace.
Then he saw it. A bear walked by the window. It just strolled by, but it was looking at him. It paced back still eyeing him. He ran to the back of the one-room cabin and grabbed the shotgun that came with the unused cabin. Out the back window, he saw another bear. Two. A third.
Scratch, scratch. The sound of claws on the door. Then the door and the front of the house creaked and buckled a bit. He imagined the big black bear testing the portal. It was only a matter of time before it yielded.
“This is how it ends,” Terry thought. “Fucked to death by bears.”

A Boy Named Holly

-1978
It started with a cat–an orange boy with a girl’s name–Holly.

“We’re ready to go,” my mother said, calling an end to my break. Leaning against our U-Haul I had been slurping soda from a can while watching the semi-animation of the Heffner’s gas station sign. It had two positions–that of a glowing red mule standing and that of the mule with its legs thrust out behind it with the slogan “Heffner’s It kicks!” lit up below. I dropped the soda can in a trash barrel and looked around for Holly, who I hoped had finished his pee break.

We were on our way to move in with my brother Danny in Lowell though he and my oldest brother Domenic weren’t with us. Danny had a big apartment that we could all share–everyone except our oldest sister Darlene who was already married with several kids. Her husband Ricky was a mountain of a man–he would have been a great help with the move.

I spotted Holly sniffing an island of grass ignoring the cars that moved around the island. The island had a small tree, and Holly stared at a grey squirrel perched at the top. As an outdoor cat, Holly would play with squirrels. My mother would scold him. “Holly, you’re going to get hurt chasing those squirrels.” Sure enough, he came home one day with a chunk taken out of his tail. We should have taken him to the vet, but vet bills were not in the budget for my mother–she was raising me alone with her salary from working in Leighton’s, a small bakery in Newburyport. We kept Holly’s tail as clean as possible, and eventually it healed. He wasn’t neutered, nor did he wear a flea collar or name tag. Every day my mother would walk me to daycare before going to work at the bakery. Holly would follow us, and when I went inside, he was off on whatever adventures a handsome unfixed tomcat would get himself into. One morning a particularly blustery storm was unleashing its force on the seaside town. The gusts blew our umbrella inside out several times, and the rain streaked from the sky stinging us with sharp drops. We looked behind us, and Holly had disappeared–a victim of the storm. Days went by, and Holly did not return. We feared the worst, but he had always returned in the past, so we had hope. At daycare a few days later, one of the teachers called out to the class of five and six-year-olds if anyone knew whose cat had appeared at the door. “That’s my cat! That’s Holly,” I shouted with joy. My mother worked the dayshift at the bakery, so Holly spent the day with the class. I asked, but he wouldn’t tell me about his exciting adventure following his kidnapping by the storm.

(One might think my mother had a penchant for giving boys girls names–since my name is Jan–but Holly was named by my brother Danny. In fact, I broke the string of D names. First was Darlene, and then Domenic, Danny, Dean, and the twins Diana and Demetri. I have a different father–possibly James–so the streak ended with the twins.)

A laid-back cat, Holly enjoyed lounging in the bathtub when it was empty. One night, as I took my nightly bath, Holly decided to join me without realizing the tub was filled with water. He leapt in and screeched as soon as his paws touched the water! With legs flailing, somehow he was able to reverse direction without touching the bottom. With wet legs and tummy, he ran from the bathroom as if the water were chasing him.

I tossed my can into the overflowing barrel. Dean’s friend Manuel dashed past me in an attempt to snatch up the cat and return him to his 1975 Pinto. Holly was always alert and much faster than the Puerto Rican; he dashed across the busy two-laned street.

We gathered beneath a tree on a residential lawn trying to coax Holly down with gentle words and promises of treats. He clung to the branch unmoving and unconvinced.

“Hey, get off my lawn!” cried the bathrobe-clad homeowner from behind his screen door. My mother tried to convince him to let us climb the tree–Manuel was already bolstering Dean into a low branch–but the property owner threatened to call the police thus ending the rescue attempt.

At age fifteen, Dean didn’t have the confidence of our older brothers Domenic or Danny. No doubt either one of them would have defied the property owners and climbed that tree to get my cat. Dommy would have rescued Holly and left before the police arrived, and Danny would have used his good looks and charisma to convince them to let him go with a warning. Knowing Danny, the police would have given him and Holly a ride home.

“But Holly won’t know we’re coming back for him. He doesn’t know where we live now.” I protested; I used my six-year-old logic and wisdom, but my mother didn’t have a better solution. “We will just wait here until he comes down,” I said. Like Holly, she was stubborn and intent on finishing our move.

I left him in that tree with a family that didn’t know him. We would come back a week later to call for him, but he likely made his way back to Newburyport, the only place he knew. Adult Jan would have insisted, but Child Jan did not know how to use his will to usurp authority. I don’t know that I was sad for his loss. He was simply gone, and the excitement and stress of relocating occupied my thoughts. I would think about him fondly over the years since then, regaling various girlfriends over the years with stories of my amazing cat Holly–the tub incident, his adventure in the storm, and his lost battle with the squirrel. It wasn’t until recently, as I write the story of Domenic, did I feel the loss of my cat. The boy cat I have now–Proton–is almost seventeen, and I have heard some cats live into their twenties. Assuming Holly found a new family and lived to be a senior cat, he may have lived fifteen more years without me and under a different name. He was still alive somewhere during everything that happened in my life as a young man. He might have been with us when Dommy was murdered. If I had known where to go, I could have driven to see him in my first car–a ‘79 Mustang–when I was seventeen, or when I graduated High School. He might have been at home after I was nearly killed in a car accident. He might have lived long enough to have been a ring bearer at my wedding a year later.

But he wasn’t there. I hope some other family enjoyed the scrappy orange cat for years. It isn’t until thirty-seven years later that I felt his loss as sadness instead of a fondness. It is the realization that he likely lived without me has brought on the feeling of heartache associated with deep loss.

The feelings of missing his long life are deep, but not so deep as if I knew he had died–been hit by a car, killed by a dog, or some medical ailment. The thought of him living without me is easier than the idea that he died before he could enjoy his life.

I would give anything for a picture of him. No one ever thought to take one.

Reversal

Image

You might think it funny,

but this little bunny

loves to bounce back and forth;

  maybe south, sometimes north.

  Always jumping up and down

     makes it difficult to frown.

Hippity hop to and fro’.

Just rabbit stuff, y’know?

Quietly eating grass,

nobody to harass.

Hopping over brush,

there ain’t no rush

Wiggling my small black nose.

it’s true that anything goes.

I see you up there.

It’s a most unfair

advantage from your claws

and me with only paws.

You think I’m your prey

most easy to slay

Afterall, I’m just a mark,

we all know hares have no bark

Sad for you

but it’s true

I’m a buck

with some luck.

Y’see, I’m quite tough to beat,

for I have four rabbits feet.

You should brace yourself

in the race for health.

Four paws are the springs

that will beat two wings.

With a jump off that rock

And a flip off you, hawk.

This coney’s no bore.

He knows parkour.

Andy and I meet Neil Gaiman

In which we learn just how dry British humor can be when coming from a master

Writer’s note; this story took place more than ten years ago, so many of the details have faded. However, you will get the gist of the story and the punchline is accurate to the last detail.

My roommate Andy, I, and our gaming pal, Rich had acquired tickets to see the premiere of the television adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel; Neverwhere. We traveled to Boston, where Gaiman himself would introduce the show and we would watch several episodes.

Mr. Gaiman told the sold-out venue that after the intermission he would be hoisting a few at a nearby pub and signing autographs. Andy and I agreed that this was more interesting than watching a show we would no doubt be able to see at some point in the future, but drinking with Neil Gaiman probably wouldn’t happen again. So, we left Rich (who wanted to watch the second half) and went to the pub.

After we cozied up to the bar, we talked to his agent (or US representative) and he showed us his newest novel (whose title escapes me) and he was excited that it came in a variety of limited-edition covers. Andy scoffed full of derision and exclaimed, “That’s just a marketing ploy to make extra sales. Stupid fanboys will collect every cover!” He thought he was particularly insightful. Or clever. Or smart. He certainly thought he was smart.

I agreed and filled with self-righteous indignation; we turned back to the bar and found Neil Gaiman standing there with a very smug British smile on his face. Andy removed a book from his coat and after some small-talk (Did we like the show, how did he like America? etc.) presented it to Gaiman to have signed. Neil courteously signed Andy’s book and bid us farewell as he turned to the other fans demanding his attention.

“What did he write?” I asked, craning my neck to see the autograph.

Image

Andy’s lips were squeezed together tightly and he had a look like he was going to sneeze. He opened the title page of the book and there it was- Neil Gaiman’s personal message to Andy.

Mind the gags.

“I guess he heard you,” I said.

On Happy Endings (or stop bitching about How I Met Your Mother)

Image (Spoiler alert- if you haven’t seen Braveheart or Turner and Hooch, read the Bible or watched the final episode of How I Met Your Mother, you may be bummed out by this essay. Go back and absorb all those stories, then return and read my blog. (Oh, Game of Thrones, too.)

Our society has been conditioned to expect, nay demand, a happily-ever-after conclusion to our stories. Perhaps it is the drudgery of our day-to-day lives that makes us crave the culmination of all loose threads of every movie and television show. Not unlike Pavlov’s dogs, we expect our reward when we have been good little viewers. However, this is a recent development in storytelling. Characters in legends of old didn’t get to ride off into the sunset. Don’t read any  Greek or Roman myths, or many Shakespearean plays, if you plan on getting all upset about the lack of a proper ending. 

Ask Tom Hanks what was wrong with the ending of the ‘80s buddy cop flick Turner and Hooch and he will tell you they shouldn’t have killed the dog. Why? Afterall, the dog died heroically jumping in front of a bullet meant for Tom Hanks. Moviegoers hate seeing a dog die. Period. Ask my twenty-something friend, Jamey what was wrong with The Empire Strikes Back and he will tell you he didn’t like the unhappy cliffhanger ending. I would argue that the ending was intended to lead us to the final chapter in the epic tale, but he can’t have that. He needs a neat wrap-up to any story he reads or watches, preferably tied up in happy-ending ribbon. I wonder what he will think if the How I Met Your Mother finale when it comes out next year on Netflix.

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There are many popular books and movies with tragic heroes. Braveheart won Best Picture despite its hero dying at the end. The Bible’s main character is murdered, but like many comic book super heroes comes back after a short hiatus. Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is immensely popular, despite, but possibly because the most distinctive ‘hero’ is beheaded in book 1 (or season 1, for those of us who prefer our books in video form). Maybe these stories come with the built-in realization that characters might die. That doesn’t stop my ex-wife from fast-forwarding through the “sad parts”.

                         

I have followed the adventures of Ted and the gang since the beginning of How I Met Your Mother, and I made the mistake of reading the general populace’s and professional reviewers’ reactions to the final episode. In a nutshell, people were mostly upset by the lack of a happy ending. Viewers were choking on their own bile that the ‘mother’ died, and that Ted went back to Robin with the famous blue horn. Simply put, the ending was not pretty. Robin and Barney were divorced, the gang was having trouble getting together en masse, and the mother of Ted’s kids, whom we had just gotten a glimpse of, and perhaps began to like, was dead.

Like I said, ugly.                    

Truly, there are no ‘happy endings’ in real life, and perhaps we seek that in our fictional stories. In the real world, no one lives happily ever after, unless we end the story at a particular happy moment. However, it’s a direction that the storytellers take, to assume the recipients of said tale are adults and they understand that we take our happiness where we can get it, and an ending will always be made sadder by the happiness that led up to it. How I Met Your Mother did something brilliant by silencing the demands for a reunion episode.

I believe we need to break away from this predictable method of storytelling and learn to accept the journey to its end and not be so disappointed by a sad ending. To quote Dante from Clerks, “That’s what life is; a series of down endings.” Perhaps, he is a bit pessimistic, but I agree. If the characters from How I Met Your Mother kept going to McClaren’s every night ,as a group, I would have felt cheated. The show attempted to show, albeit exaggerated, realistic characters, ones to which we can relate. The show reflects real-life relationships (to a degree) and those relationships change over time. People die. They have kids and get married. That’s real life. The only people who live above a bar and still go there every night for a decade are called alcoholics, and I don’t want to watch that show.

If you are upset about how a story ends, just shut up. Yeah, I was annoyed about how Seinfeld ended, and the last season or two of Friends and Scrubs were one or two too many. We’re adults, and as such we need to understand that the only happy endings in life are in fairy tales or Asian massage parlors.


Pain of Love- Part Three

Suddenly, it came into view. A gigantic castle which was the seat of Marbrand power jut out above the small city below. The Ashemark, as it was called, was the solid stone centerpiece of a bustling city that surrounded the keep. As the city’s radius ended, the landmarks changed from businesses and houses, and became farms and hovels. Grayne had barely reached the perimeter of farmlands and could barely make out the stronghold in the distance. A feeling of uneasiness came over him, after months of travel, he had reached his destination.

The northern warrior who had survived so much took a moment to steady himself. He took a deep breath and as his eyes surveyed familiar landmarks his mind drifted back in time to the reason he had returned, to the reason he had been able to survive the horrific ordeals of the past five years.

 

By the Crone. the Maiden, the Stranger, the Smith, the Warrior. The Mother and the Father, I take you on this day and for all my days.” Grayne and Summer looked into each other’s eyes and recited the vows of marriage in the secret grove outside town, but under the blanket of stars and the watchful eyes of the new gods.

The priest performed the blessing, and quickly and quietly left the young couple alone in the forest. A warm breeze rustled the leaves of the trees. Grayne took his young bride in his arms and kissed her full lips passionately. His large hands pushed back her auburn hair and he gazed with adoration into her grass-green eyes. His strong arms encircled her and he felt like he should never let her go. He held her for many long moments and she was relaxed in his powerful protective embrace.

“Let’s run away. Let’s leave this place and never come back,” he said as he stared at her with aggressive sincerity. “We will be safe. We have nothing here.”

For a moment Summer smiled, but then that smile turned to a frown. “We can’t! I know you, Grayne. You aren’t a deserter. I don’t give a damn about this war or House Marbrand, and I know you don’t either! But, your word is important to you.”

Grayne’s steel grey eyes were like battering rams as they crashed through Summer’s resolve. She shook her head and turned away. Grayne jumped in front of her and demanded, Let’s go! We will be a dozen leagues from here before they know we’re gone!”

Summer kissed his lips and said, “You’re not afraid of anything.”

“I’m afraid of losing you, he said as he kissed her plump red lips again.

“You won’t. I will be here when you get back. I promise,” a tear rolled down her cheek.

“What if I don’t come back?” he said, knowing the uncertain nature of war, though he had never been in a real battle.

“You will. I know you will.”

“I don’t want to go.”

“I don’t want you to go, either. Just promise me you will come back to me.”

“I promise,” he said resolutely. 

And their lips met with frantic passion. A desperate urgency to their desire overcame them as their love became a pure primal force. There in the forest beneath the stars and the old gods and new, they became husband and wife.

Fast Times at N.G.A.

I can hear them as soon I open my car door; the barking and rooing (a combination of howling and singing that is the trademark of the breed) can be heard through the walls and carries across the parking lot. I have arrived for my turnout shift at Northern Greyhound Adoptions in St. Albans, Vermont. Walking to the entrance, I pass an iron and wood bench engraved with the name Donald Westover.

Donald and his wife Dorothy founded the kennel in October of 2001. For years, he could be found spending his weekends introducing potential adopters to dogs and answering questions about life with sighthounds. His passion for the breed was evident: his enthusiasm was infectious, and many hounds found homes because Donald went the extra mile to make adopters feel comfortable – about the dogs and the adoption process.

Those who met him remember Donald fondly. He was a big man with a big heart, and he continued to carry the torch for NGA even after being diagnosed with emphysema, often attending adoption events with an oxygen mask in tow. His first priority was always the dogs, that was never in question.

He remained active with the non-profit as much as he could, even as his health deteriorated. He made it a priority to bring a greyhound and a donation bin to a local pet supply store every week. Now that he has passed, his devilish charm, his ‘hound companion, and most importantly his donation jar are absent. NGA is feeling his loss in many ways. They need your help and mine.

I am here to let the ‘hounds out of their kennels, in groups, and by themselves for bathroom breaks. This is one of four daily chances for the retired racers to stretch their long legs and for their mini-apartments to be cleaned. While they frolic in the yard and take care of their doggy business, I check their impromptu dens and change their bedding when necessary.

It’s a busy shift letting the forty-two dogs out and keeping the process steadily moving along. I know how cranky I would be if I was dependent on another being to allow me to go to the bathroom. The number of dogs in need of permanent homes swells at times, to as much as seventy. As tracks close all over the country adoption centers like this one must meet the demand of the increased number adoptable dogs.

This humble kennel in northern Vermont has never turned away a greyhound in need.

I have just added another function to my volunteer service; that of a member of the board of directors. A wise woman I know said everyone should sit on a non-profit board of directors. I am now privy to the financial aspect of the non-profit and often I wish I weren’t. The charity runs on the generosity of others, through donations and the other fundraising endeavors of the operation. The coffers are always low and the kennel seems to run on a month to month basis. Rent, utilities, and vet bills take their toll on the threadbare finances and I wonder if some catastrophe would push the charity to the breaking point. The weekend yard sale that lasts throughout the summer has ended, and the long cold winter approaches. The board has frequent meetings to discuss fund raising strategies in order to survive the cold months. The financial survival of the non-profit is a constant struggle.

I gain strength from the dogs. The mental burden of my role as a board member fades and my excitement rises as I take care of these beautiful animals. My worries and fears diminish as I look into the face of the first greyhound I let out of his apartment. I take a minute to scratch Mallow’s enthusiastic white face. I lean close and say to him, “I missed you, buddy.” He leaps out and runs around the kennel with wild abandon and I have no doubt he missed me too.mallow

Donations can be sent to Northern Greyhound Adoptions, 999 Fairfax Road/Route 104, St. Albans, VT 05478 or online at http://www.Northerngreyhoundadoptions.org