Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Unused Subway Token


The Unused Subway Token


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I sat there in the Charlotte, NC airport Applebee’s looking for something on the menu that wouldn’t give me heart disease. Since I was hungry, I had little choice but to either continue being hungry or eat something that was bound to give me heart disease. Freedom of choice.... Brilliant! 

I had a layover on my way back to New York City from Key West, FL and I thought I might make a very difficult decision about which new path to choose in my already surreal life over a grilled chicken sandwich, which in my estimation was the item on the menu least likely to stop my heart in its tracks. Little did I know that, because I had been a black man in nearly all my previous lives, I was somehow genetically predisposed to liking chicken. It’s amazing what just one visit to a psychic can reveal to you!

I had gone to Key West to meet and audition for a rock band who were searching for a new lead singer. Since I had developed few other marketable skills other than performing as a singer and guitarist since quitting my corporate sales job ten years prior, I thought that I’d make the journey down south to see if Key West had a place in my story. I’d been earning my living almost exclusively as a singer for the previous seven years, and I’d just recently moved to New York City to put my dreams of being a famous singer to what I considered to be the ultimate test: making it in New York. I had gotten word through my established grapevine that the band in the Keys was for real and that this would be a great opportunity for me to be in a great band again. I kept an open mind.

I’d just spent an admittedly intriguing and, at the same time, frightening weekend on Key West, that “island of misfit toys,” as I now like to refer to it, surrounded by beautiful ocean with crystal clear blue water and white sand beaches, beautiful women in thong bikinis, the kind of sunshine that makes a woman of twenty look like a goddess and a woman of forty look sixty, and more drunks than I’ve ever seen assembled in one place outside of an AA convention.

I’ve been drinking since I was fifteen; working in bars since I was nineteen. The better part of most of my friends drink. Some are alcoholics. Some are raging alcoholics. Some have their picture next to the definition of alcoholic in the Webster’s Dictionary. Allow me to say that I have been around drunks in my life. Nothing could ever have prepared me for what I’d witnessed there in Key West. If you think you might have issues, take yourself to Key West and see where those issues rate! I’ve got one word for you: Perspective.

The night before my flight back home, I had made up my mind that I wouldn’t be taking the gig. I had spent far too many of the previous 10 years performing as a musician playing in bars in front of drunks calling out for “Freebird” and “Brown Eyed Girl“, or Pearl Jam, Slayer, and Jimmy Buffet songs, while being told in slurred speech that I should give them my CD for free because they have a brother, cousin, or neighbor who knows somebody who works for Sony, to venture back into that madness again. I had moved to New York to make a name for myself in music after my last band, Sweet Brother Rush, broke up, and I felt like taking this gig would be a step backwards.

I had been in quite a few bands, and I had played with some fantastic musicians. Most of them chose to abandon the dreams they had of music stardom for a wife and children and a “real” job. I could not hold them in contempt for that. It was the safer, more secure life with health insurance and all, but it was not the path that neither fate nor my freedom of choice envisioned for me. I was not satisfied. I had not given my music career the full weight of my conviction. I had not discovered for myself the truth of whether or not I possessed what it took to be a success in the world of music, and I was not willing to allow that uncertainty to linger in my regret for the rest of my life.

I wanted to be respected for my voice, my lyrics, my music. I wanted to find out for myself if I was good enough to earn my living as a singer in New York City. I wanted to get myself a record deal that would allow me to travel the country, and hopefully the world, performing my music for people. I wanted to be the singer in a great rock and roll band, and I wanted to use that notoriety to do what Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, Harry Chapin and Bob Geldoff, John Lennon and Bono have tried to do- change the world for the better.

Lofty goals, for certain, but no one ever achieves greatness by thinking small. It requires a certain amount of ego to put yourself in front of people on any level, much less to think that you might somehow affect the whole world. Funny how we admire the people who actually do reach that level, but simultaneously want to cut them down at the knees for thinking themselves better than the rest of us. We assassinate those people. We shoot them dead or rip them to shreds in the tabloids, talk shows, magazines, and newspapers. I grew up surrounded by the kind of people whose contempt was palpable for anyone who dreamed of a better life than they had or thought themselves “better than everyone else.” I moved to New York to distance myself from that kind of thinking, and I vowed to myself that I would give this vision of mine every ounce of my passion and that I would not quit, no matter how hard it got.

Yet, here I was faced with a decision to leave New York for, of all unlikely music towns, Key West, Florida. I voiced my reluctance to take the gig to the guitarist in the band, one of the most talented players I’ve ever heard on any stage. He reminded me greatly of the late Randy Rhoads. He was gifted. I was extremely impressed with his playing. I’d played with some great musicians in the past, but I had never been on stage with someone this good. It was an experience that made me appreciate the difference between good and great. His playing immediately brought my approach to music to a different level, and when that happens, it's a profound thing to witness. He’d been on tour with several major rock bands, and I had nothing but respect and awe for his musicianship and prowess, but this guy had ISSUES.

Perhaps the least of his issues was that he chain smoked through the entire night. I mean, this guy lit a cigarette between every, and I do mean every, song. He ordered shots of Jaegermeister every other song, directly from the stage which was next to one of the bars, and did nearly any drug you’d put in front of him between sets. In all my years before that as a bouncer, bartender, playing in rock bands, and being around musicians, I had never seen addiction at this level. But, let me tell you, it was everywhere! The band, the crowd, the owners, bartenders, waitresses, and even the pets were fucked up! He was married to a stripper who danced at the Red Garter, the strip bar attached to Dirty Harry’s rock club where the band performed six nights a week. It didn’t get more rock guitarist cliché than this guy. His was a very intriguing life, however, truly tempting in many ways. Tempting enough to make you consider dipping a toe, especially if you search for adventure like I do.

This guy was charismatic nonetheless. You couldn’t help liking him. It was inspiring watching him play guitar. I had spoken to him for about an hour over some Jack Daniels, sitting at the bar at the Red Garter Saloon where I’d gotten to know most of the dancers after sitting in with the band all weekend, and I wondered what my life would be like there in the Florida Keys. I told him that I couldn’t see myself back in this world of playing other people’s music in front of drunk people every night of my life. He assured me that this was not what he ultimately wanted for himself either. He had major label connections and two albums worth of original songs ready for the right singer, and he thought that it might be me. He said, “Come down here in the fun and sun for a couple of months, play music and save some money, and we’ll record together and see what happens. Look around you, man. This is Paradise.”

It was a convincing argument. I’d been struggling in the city to make my way since moving there from Allentown, Pennsylvania nine months earlier. It had been the loneliest time of my life. I lived alone, traveled alone, ate dinner alone, slept alone. I had no band. No real prospects. No girlfriend. Nothing to keep me from leaving New York for a few months. I was performing as a solo/acoustic act and bartending at fashion parties, fundraising events at the mansions in the Hamptons, and movie premier parties. I thought, “What the Hell! Why not?” The band was great, and I truly missed performing with a band. I missed the energy of it. I figured that I’d be doing what I’m best at and love to do, and I’d be doing it in Key West. Fucking Hemingway. It had all the makings of triumph and tragedy all in one. I dig that shit.

I was swimming in a daydream, reliving the events of the weekend, when an elderly gentleman asked me if anyone was sitting next to me at the bar. I said, “No Sir. Please have a seat.”

We started a wonderful conversation. We talked of where we live and where we grew up. He seemed like a very sweet old man, and through the course of the next hour or so he told me about what he had done for a living before retiring. He spoke about his wife and kids and grandchildren, and later, that he had served in the Army in World War II. This man sitting next to me there at that counter at an Appleby’s in Charlotte, North Carolina had been on the beach in the invasion of Normandy. All the frivolity of my weekend disappeared like a water balloon hitting the pavement, and I was humbled in an instant to be next to someone who had gone through what he and the rest of those men did. If you can’t visualize that horror, just watch the first 15 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan”, and you might get a whisper of what it was like to have been there.

I come from a family well represented in service to our country. My father’s uncle, John Barcynski, was a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. and a co-pilot of a B-29 Superfortress nick-named “Thumper.” Uncle John was shot down and killed on his 23rd mission over Yokohama, Japan in that same war. My father’s father, Casimir Augustus Barczynski, served in the Army and National Guard during WWII and the Korean Conflict. My dad’s brother Casimir served in the Air Force, and five of my mother’s seven brothers served- William, Robert, David, and Gary Hornberger in the Navy; the latter two during the Vietnam War, and Dennis who is merely a few months older than I, served in the Army . My own brother, Anthony Barczynski, served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne. My family lobbied hard for me to attend the Naval Academy, and I entertained thoughts of going to Annapolis after high school but declined my Congressional Appointment from Arlen Specter to attend. I have severe issues with authority and have a lot of trouble following orders that do not make sense to me. It was probably for the best that I not join the military. I’m sure you’d agree.

However, I have nothing but respect for those who have served and are now serving in our military, and listening to this man’s story brought me to tears. I looked at him and said, “Sir, if no one has ever said it to you.......thank you for what you did.” His eyes filled with tears, and he choked on his words when he thanked me for saying that to him.

We shook hands as I heard my flight being called, and I left there absolutely filled with emotion and appreciative for all the gifts in my life. Moments like the one that I had just had have a way of putting everything into perspective. All the bullshit we all worry about on a daily basis pales in comparison to stepping off an amphibious vehicle at 18 years of age with bullets screaming by your head, surrounded by exploding mortar fire and dead and dismembered human bodies, to secure a tiny stretch of beach on a foreign land. Can you even begin to imagine what that must have been like? To have met someone who actually went through that was overwhelming to me.

I boarded the plane as the sun was setting. I stared out the window and made a mental list of the things I would need to take care of in NYC over the next few weeks before heading south to that tiny island 90 miles from Cuba. Once again, I’d be moving to a strange new place where I knew next to nobody. Fear and uncertainty, change and instability, intertwined with excitement and anticipation. These things had been the only constants in my life. From the earliest days of my childhood, all I had ever known was change. My family moved constantly. I had attended thirteen schools before I graduated from high school. Countless first days of being the new kid, getting the shit kicked out of me after the last bell on my first day at a new school. Three colleges. Seventy grand of debt and climbing. No degree. An all too brief career playing professional football in England and several jobs in the happy-go-lucky world of Corporate America that left me unsatisfied, unchallenged, and unfulfilled before rediscovering what I consider my true calling: music. A trail of failed relationships including a marriage that lasted a week. Perhaps Key West would be the perfect place for my sort of misfit.

In my never-ending quest for knowledge and self-improvement, I was reading “The Art Of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama, and the man next to me asked me my thoughts about the book. I don’t mind talking to strangers. I have absolutely no gift for small talk, but if you want to talk about something of substance, it’s on. I had spent so much time alone over the previous year that I welcomed it. I rarely turn down a chance to have a discussion about religion, philosophy, or politics. I know that many people shy away from such discussions- some make skid marks and leave a trail of smoke to escape them- but I love to talk about these things. Most people who know me well will tell you that I’m a somewhat quiet and private person, but they’d also say with a roll of their eyes, “Don’t get him talking about politics!” I’m an avid reader of politics and political satire, history, religion, and philosophy, and I had spent the previous nine months living, traveling, and performing alone. My time not working was spent mostly alone with my books, thoughts and ideas, and my many demons.

I welcome any opportunity to have an intelligent conversation. Spending so much of my time in bars and nightclubs did not afford me a plethora of intelligent conversations as you might imagine. In fact, it was mostly me hearing, “Dude, you’re great, but you know what song you should play?”, and me saying, “Yeah, thanks. Come back next time and I’ll sing it for you.” Exhilarating stuff like that. My weekend in Key West had been filled with inane conversation, and I was ready to talk to anyone not under the influence of alcohol or cocaine or ecstasy or Valium or Zanex or crystal meth or....

As it turned out, this man sitting next to me was a professor of philosophy at N.Y.U., and for the duration of the flight back to Newark Airport we talked about it all. Religion and spirituality, politics, social issues, the environment, global warming, the ozone layer and the rain forest, and even men and women. It was reassuring to me to talk with someone who sees the world through such similar eyes. There are many times in my life that I’ve wondered if I’m alone in my views, and it had been rare in my world to talk to anyone in academia since my days in college. Although I’d studied business and economics in college, it had always been the courses on philosophy, religion, and ethics that inspired me most.

He asked me if I was a Buddhist. I chuckled and said, “I‘m not disciplined enough to be a Buddhist.” I told him that although I hold in great respect much of the Buddhist teachings, I don’t subscribe to any religion, although I was raised Catholic. I’m what many people who were raised Catholic now consider themselves: a recovering Catholic. I’m still working on discarding that refrigerator full of guilt that I carry around on my back 24-7.

I feel that the major religions of the world, like the governments, have been used as tools to keep people ignorant of the truth, in fear, under control, and in servitude. Religions keep people waging wars over the name of God rather than bringing them closer to a true understanding of what God is. There is truth in every religion, but when put in the hands of men who use it to gain power, that truth gets distorted, twisted, and manipulated for the most debase of intentions.

Religion has always been used by men to maintain power and control over other men. Religion has been the basis for war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, slavery, torture, the subjugation of women, and nearly every other despicable atrocity man visits upon his fellow man. Religion has been used by men to make themselves kings and to make other men serfs. That “Divine Right” they claimed has been maintained through family name and intermarriage with other likewise privileged families throughout history to our modern day. Those families, churches, dynasties, and kingdoms have always controlled the armies, economies, and governments of the world. They have kept the rest of us ignorant and fighting over scraps from their tables. But I’m not bitter (insert smiley face emoticon here).

We talked of Einstein and relativity and how everything is a matter of perspective. Time and space. Good and Evil. Light and darkness. The feminine and masculine, Yin and yang. Positive and negative energy. Matter and antimatter. One cannot exist without the other. One cannot be defined without the other. God, in my opinion, is the creative force of the entire universe. We are all a part of God, as is everything around us. As far as the universe extends outward, it becomes ever more microscopic. All of matter is made up of mostly space. You and I and every living thing are mostly space and made up of the same stuff, the same stuff that makes up a star. Science is unable to prove that matter exists, therefore we cannot prove that you or I actually exist. All of life is energy and vibration and sound.

We talked of Democrats and Republicans. I explained that I don’t subscribe to either of those ideologies, although I had been a College Republican. I have come to see that both parties have been compromised by lobbyists for major industry, special interests, money, and the greed for power and control. We have handed the power in this country over to politicians whose main motivations are re-election, campaign fundraising, ideology, and party loyalty rather than the will of the people and what is the best course of action for our entire nation. We no longer listen to our most brilliant minds: the poets, the philosophers, the scientists, the artists. We are instead given two heads of the same monster to choose from on Election Day.

Our government is nearly fully in the hands of the corporatocracy, and our two party system has been the demise of our democracy that George Washington predicted it would be.

I told the professor that I have come to live my life by one simple rule. I treat other people like I want to be treated. Now, I don’t claim to be a saint, but I try to live my life in this way to the best of my ability. Lord knows I’ve fallen short many, many times. I’ve made my share of mistakes and bad decisions, and I’ve told countless lies or concealed the truth, thinking it might save myself or someone else some heartache or pain, or simply to avoid an argument with a woman. Some of these things I’ve done or said hurt people, destroyed relationships, sabotaged my own happiness. Some of those mistakes landed me in jail. It took a lot of heartache to learn that most of that very heartache was caused by my own decisions and choosing not to treat other people with the same respect, consideration, and honesty with which I want to be treated. Plainly and simply.

But I think we live in a society that has abandoned the Golden Rule and does not truly believe that we should all be treated as equals. Instead, many of us live by twisted rules like, “I’ll treat you like you treat me,” or worse, “I’ll screw you before you screw me.” Perhaps that is why we have most of the lawyers in the world right here in our nation, and we have nearly all of the litigation. Even more foreboding is that we have more people in Law school at this moment than there are practicing attorneys. Scary shit!

We declared our independence and based our nation on the words, “We believe these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That should mean for everyone. Not just for those lucky enough to be born in this country or those born rich. But we have not truly put the walk to that talk. The Founding Fathers really meant all white men who owned property. Better known as rich white men. Not black men or brown men, red men or yellow men. Not women. Not the poor. It took centuries of struggle for that to change, but the balance of power has never changed. The wealthiest people of our country and of our world, no matter if it’s called Capitalism, Communism, Fascism, Democracy, Monarchy, or Dictatorship, ultimately possess the power.

Every problem we have in our world, every social evil, political impasse, religious battle, and war, is a direct result of the policies and will of a small percentage of extremely wealthy people, as well as a result of the rest of us assigned with carrying out the will of those few not asking the question, “Would I want someone to do this to me or someone that I love?” Few of us ask ourselves that question before we act. Even fewer of us are willing to consider that we might possibly be wrong, or that we are being used and manipulated and acting against our own interests. We don’t even pose the question. We are still experiencing slavery, genocide, ethnic cleansing, terrorism and war, rape, torture, and murder, famine, starvation, and every manner of evil that man perpetrates on man... still. As we speak. All around us. That is why there still exist ghettos and Third World nations. That is why a select few live in castles while most live in squalor. That is why fear ultimately rules. All in the name of God. All in the name of money. And in America, money has become our true God.

We spoke for the duration of the flight, and the professor and I managed to solve all the world’s troubles in one conversation. We landed at Newark Airport around 1 AM. As we walked off the plane, he offered me a ride back into the city. I am always amazed at the kindness of strangers I’ve met through the course of my life, and after the experience at the Applebee’s, this seemed the perfect end to an utterly amazing and exhausting day. I was tired. Not having to stand in line and saving the cost of a cab ride was a gift I would not turn down. I would have to get up very early in the morning to take the train to Coney Island. I still had to make the rent. I had plans to work with my friend Jack whose company was installing seats at the minor league baseball stadium there. The professor and I reached my apartment on West 17th Street at 2:30 A.M., exchanged information, shook hands, and wished each other the best of luck.

I set my alarm for 8 A.M. and fell asleep still reeling from my trip.

Eight o’clock came after what seemed like five minutes of sleep. Unwilling to roll myself out of bed, I tortured myself with the snooze button for another half an hour or so. It’s always been my theory that the snooze button was invented by a Nazi scientist who determined that it takes 8 minutes and 59 seconds to return to deep sleep, and that damned snooze goes off at 9 minutes.

I’ve never been a morning person, and this one was certainly no exception, but I had dipped into my rent fund for the trip to Key West and needed the work with Jack. It was back-breaking, monotonous work, but I took it whenever Jack needed the help and I didn‘t have gigs or bar tending jobs. Essentially the job involved doing the same exact thing five or even ten thousand times in a row, and then doing another, and another, until the job was finished. Not rocket science. Certainly not self-actualizing. We worked in some famous theaters like the Apollo in Harlem and several stadiums like Fenway Park in Boston, Cal Ripken Field in Maryland, and the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones at Coney Island. A little weed always made the work go a bit more enjoyably, and Jack always had the best. Power tools and weed. Let the fun begin!

It was a gorgeous late summer day in New York. I mean it was stunning. The sky was pristine, cloudless, and purely azure. It was warm enough for a t-shirt and shorts. As a vampire, I rarely saw the city at this unholy hour, but in my experience, it was even more calm and quiet than most mornings in that part of Chelsea. Although I was tired, I was quickly rejuvenated by how absolutely beautiful it was. There has been little in my life to compare to a warm summer day in New York City, and for an avid girl watcher such as myself, days like this are a godsend. I thoroughly enjoy, as my favorite philosopher, George Carlin, so eloquently put it, “watching the girls take the twins for a walk.” One of life’s little pleasures, and one of the things I enjoy most about New York.

In New York, the women come in every size, shape, and color. Every possible combination of human genes produce some of the most amazing women on the planet. You see a beautiful woman and appreciate her for being just that, a beautiful woman. Black girls, white girls, Hispanic girls, Asian girls. Thin girls, buxom, curvaceous girls, tall girls, petite girls. God’s finest handiwork walking on the streets of Manhattan. I could have found a stoop and kept myself amused for hours. I was disappointed that I had to cut short my enjoyment and actually do some hard work, but at least it was a nice day to be working outdoors. I walked to the subway at 14th Street with five bucks for lunch, my cell phone, and two subway tokens in my pocket.

I was supposed to meet Jack and our friend Brad at the stadium at 9 A.M. I was already going to be late after my Nazi Snooze Torture, but Jack was coming from Pennsylvania, and he will never be known as the most punctual of fellows, although he drives 90 miles per hour, weaving through traffic wherever he goes. All of this, incidentally, while rolling a joint on his lap. Not for the faint of heart to be riding with him in the same car. I have no fear of dying. I’ve ridden with Jack. Many times in our past, I had resolved to myself that this particular stoned, Mach 2 ride with Jack could very well be my last, and that I should make my peace and enjoy the ride to oblivion.

I was at the mercy of the MTA at that point anyway, after seizing the opportunity to stop and smell the proverbial roses. I put one of my tokens in the turn-style and boarded the subway bound for legendary Coney Island shortly after 9 A.M. I had never been to Coney Island, so my thoughts soon turned to the glimpses I’d seen in movies and the images inspired by books, and what it must be like now, after its days of renown have long since faded.

A few stops into the trip, the train was delayed. Not exactly a strange occurrence if you live in New York. I took a moment to look around me at the spectrum of faces and the many varied shapes and colors of human beings assembled into this one particular car on this one particular train on this one particular day in this magnificent city. It was something I’d never really known before living in NYC. It is another one of the things that I love most about New York. I was still a newlywed to the city, still enthralled by it. It still had its new city smell. I hadn’t seen much of its underbelly, but then I wasn’t looking for its flaws.

To look around you and see every shade of human being is purely amazing. To have every religion, philosophy, and ideology represented in the same place is inspiring. To have every country in the world provide the ingredients for this melting pot is what makes America, especially New York City, unique. There is nothing like it anywhere. New York, New York is, in my opinion, the Great Human Experiment. A huge Petri dish of humanity. All of the very best that the mind of Man can conceive, and all of the most vile and debase, all coexisting and cohabitating, colliding, and commingling. Incredible opulence and abject poverty. Compassion, conscience, and morality, alongside sadism, misogyny, and sociopathy. It isn’t a city most people could live in, and after moving to the city once before in 1994- a move that lasted 4 weeks- I swore that I would never live in what I had then considered a cesspool of noise, filth, and mean people.

But now I’d fallen in love with a mistress who had previously repulsed me. I had opened myself up to her possibilities, passions, and her wisdom. To others, my father being one, she was still a cesspool, but I had come to believe by this time that living in that cesspool was how my truth was to be found. Not by surrounding myself with everyone who looks like I do, thinks like I do, worships like I do, and agrees with my point of view. I hold firm that the truth is always a matter of perspective.

I thought about all of this as I sat there in silence with my fellow passengers. A few moments later, the conductor made an announcement that the delay was being caused by the “incident at the World Trade Center.” No one seemed to give the announcement any pause, so I quietly asked an Hassidic Jewish man sitting next to me if he knew what had happened at the Trade Center. He looked up rather calmly from his newspaper and told me, “A plane hit the World Trade Center.” He went back to reading, and from his apparent lack of concern, I immediately imagined a small Cessna clipping the building. I joked to a woman sitting next to me, “It’s an awfully big building not to see! How do you accidentally fly a plane into it?” She chuckled. The train pulled away.

The doors opened at City Hall, and a middle aged woman boarded the train with a look of absolute terror in her eyes. She was well-dressed but dirtied and disheveled, and both of her knees were skinned and bleeding. She was crying and shaking as she said, “The World Trade Center is on fire, and people are jumping out of the building!”

I sobered in an instant and wondered what the Hell was going on above ground. All manner of horrific images flashed through my mind. I imagined people jumping to their deaths out of that building. I could see them hitting the ground and disintegrating. I imagined how awful it would be to have to choose whether to burn to death or jump to your end. I decided that if faced with the choice, I would jump. I envisioned that fall, the falling in my nightmares as a child.

That feeling of dread that sits in your throat and gut like a hot, festering cancer, overtook me. I felt ill. Time seemed to stand still. The woman continued to talk and answer questions from other passengers, but their voices faded away as my mind began to race uncontrollably. I sat there expressionless and immobile, unable to fathom what I was hearing. The train pulled away, and after several more delays, made its way under the East River to Brooklyn.

The train eventually pulled out of the tunnel and into the sunlight of a previously perfect day and climbed up to the train platform over the streets of Brooklyn. I looked back through the rear window of the last car on the train towards Manhattan and the iconic features of the twin towers came into frame. Both towers ablaze, smoke billowed out from them as if they were giant chimneys. The train came to a stop, and I screamed out, “Oh my God, it’s collapsing!” Thinking out loud I said, “There’s got to be 10,000 people in there!” I thought to myself, “So this is it. This is how we all go out. This is World War III.”

The train continued on its course, back underground into darkness, silence, and uncertainty. The sounds of sobbing were the only noise accompanying the clatter of the train. At the very next stop the conductor ordered everyone to evacuate the subway. Everyone calmly made their way to the stairs, zombie-like, stupefied and in a trance, not even beginning to grasp the depth of what was happening to our city, our country, and our world.

I was crying, as was everyone around me. We saw that building fall before our eyes. I was instantly filled with empathy for the people in that building and their loved ones who would be suffering from such a tragedy. I immediately thought of my family and of my mother. She would be frantic. I immediately tried to call my family, but could not get through with my cell phone. I kept trying. “All circuits are busy.” I ran to a payphone. That phone didn’t work either. I wondered if I would be dying this day, out here in Brooklyn, all alone. I took a moment to reflect and made my peace with the thought of dying. I’d lived an amazing life, and none of us gets out alive. But I wanted to talk to my family. Every shitty thing I’d ever said or done to hurt every one of them flashed through my thoughts. My mom and I had more than our share of those hurtful moments. More than a mother and son should ever have. I wanted to say I was sorry.

At last, the call went through on my cell phone. My mother answered the phone after half a ring, and I could hear the fear in her voice when she frantically uttered,” Hello?!” I couldn’t speak.
She yelled, “Chris!!”

I choked as I could only manage, “.......Ma!”


Crying, she said, “Oh my God, Where are you!?”

I said, “I’m okay. I was on the subway. They evacuated us. I’m in Brooklyn. I just saw the World Trade Center collapse!”

She pleaded, “Come home!” I told her that I would find a way to get there.

I hung up the phone and pondered my choices. I considered trying to get back into Manhattan, but at that point, I had no idea what else would be coming our way. In a short amount of time, I had come to consider myself a proud New Yorker, and I wasn’t ready to abandon this city that I had grown to love. I was torn, but I also wasn’t going to put myself in harm’s way if I didn’t have to, and I also knew damn well that whatever was in that cloud of debris was some heavily toxic stuff.

I really had no idea where I was. I was not at all familiar with Brooklyn. I began asking people how to get to Coney Island. One after another shook their heads and looked at me like I was asking them how to get to Wyoming. Coney Island! You haven’t heard of Coney Island? I’m from the sticks of Pennsylvania, and even I’ve heard of Coney Island!

No one appeared to know what was going on in Manhattan either. People walked by with groceries. Mothers pushed children in strollers. Men chatted outside of bodegas. The image of the remaining tower was not visible, but what seemed like snow was falling on the streets of Brooklyn. The cloud of ash and debris had made its way across the river. I walked to the corner and saw a gray Lincoln Town Car and two Middle Eastern men dressed in traditional garb standing by it. I asked if one of them could take me to Coney Island. They conferred as if asking each other if they knew of such a place. One of them opened my door, and the three of us got into the car.

As we pulled away, I said, “Someone has flown a plane into the World Trade Center, and one of the towers has just collapsed.”

They turned to each other and began speaking, but I could not understand them. They appeared to be smiling and laughing as they spoke. They turned on the radio to a station the language of which I could not determine, and again appeared pleased by what they were hearing. The whole scene sort of washed over me with incredulity. I thought, “Are these mother-fuckers actually laughing about this shit?!” What seemed like a million thoughts and emotions were coursing through me at that moment, and I had no outward reaction to the apparent satisfaction these men were displaying over the news of what was happening. It was all so surreal.

I suddenly realized that I had only five dollars with me. I jumped forward and told the driver that I could only go as far as five dollars would take me. I apologized. He said, “I take you close. Don’t worry...”

...to be continued. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bain Dramage



        From my sixth residence in the span of the previous four years, an extremely modest, dimly lit, over-priced one-bedroom apartment in the Yorkville section of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, between eking out a living with my voice and guitar, between drunk and stoned nights of moral debauchery and late night philosophical discussions with my actor/writer/bartender roommate, I began to write what lies ahead in these pages. I did this almost in spite of myself and my mediocre typing abilities, staring into the faces of an onslaught of my demons who proceeded to assault me with Hell’s litany of excuses why I shouldn’t bother, but more so out of an inexplicable sense of obligation that I have felt in my gut for nearly my entire life.
        I’m certainly not the only man in the course of human history to feel that the times in which he lived were perilous and pivotal to the future of mankind, but I consider the current state of affairs in the world and especially in our country as some of the most monumental in our history as a species, and I fear that the path we are on is creating a great and dangerous divide in both our nation and in all of mankind. I consider this a great time of crisis, however I also consider this a great time of opportunity, an opportunity for a tremendous and worldwide shift in human consciousness. I believe it is an opportunity for us to shed the antiquated and destructive paradigms that have ruled us for so long. 
Long before September 11, 2001, I had felt as if there was no one out there who sees things as I do. I felt eerily alone while standing amongst the crowd. It was as if I had a clear line of sight through a furious torrent of white noise and confusion, where I had taken post, pointing at the source of all the carnage and pleading for help to contain it. I watched the United States waste the goodwill of the entire world, squandering an opportunity to unite the world in an effort to rid ourselves of the use of violence to solve our differences. Instead, we lashed out like an angry giant swatting at a gnat.
In the days, months, years, and decade since 9/11, I found few people willing to talk about “serious” matters, and when I did, I found few people who didn’t regurgitate some form of the 24 hour mainstream news cycle spin or partisan talking point. I watched as our political discourse shed intelligence, logic, civility, and credibility. I saw more and more of my fellow citizens have their increasingly limited attention spans distracted by the exponential growth in technological gadgetry, material concerns, propaganda, and disinformation. I saw more and more of our “rights” and “freedoms” systematically disappear from the laws that govern us. I saw fewer and fewer of us willing to say anything about it. I stood pointing at war, at outright lies, to the looting of this nation’s wealth and goodwill, to an impending economic collapse, at injustice, genocide, rape, torture, human trafficking, the demise of the American middle class, the takeover of our government by the corporatocracy, and the continuing destruction of our ecosystem. For a very long time, I stood there alone. The recent political upheavals in the world, as well as the Occupy Wall Street movement here in the U.S., have helped me to realize that I am not alone in my observations and concerns, that I am not alone in my outrage, and that I am not another version of “Chicken Little” yelling that the sky is about to fall.
 I had a newly found spark of hope when I walked through the streets of Harlem in the hours after we elected Barack Obama in 2008. I had never in my life seen such elation, sensed such an atmosphere of relief, optimism, and possibility. It was truly uplifting and will forever be among my most memorable New York moments, but it wasn’t long before the forces were aligned to squelch that election day elation, optimism, and opportunity and to return us to business as usual. I, for one, have decided to draw my line in the dirt. I will battle anyone who would have us continue forward on this path of destruction, war, poverty, human suffering, and starvation- a path where so few have so much, and billions have so little.
        I’ve been telling people that I’m writing a book for the past 8 years. Those aforementioned demons have proved a formidable force, and I’ve been locked in a masochistic routine of self-criticism and censorship, fueled by doubt in myself and doubt that anyone would care what I had to say. It has ultimately been the specter of my own mortality which has ignited the proverbial fire under my ass to finish what I started in that shitty one-bedroom apartment. I simply want what most people want: to feel that mine was a life well lived, that I contributed something worthwhile to the human story, and that I might live on in the memories of those I've left behind. 
        I’ve lived two equal but separate lives thus far. In the first one, I was a brooding, headstrong, independent, passionate, hopeless romantic who would fight, kill, and die for what he believed. If you had told that kid that he couldn’t do that thing he wanted to do, he would have run through a brick wall to prove you wrong. Although he was not gifted with great size, strength, or speed, he saw the game of football as his way out of the central and eastern Pennsylvania steel and coal country, the Catholic, blue-collar, lower middle-class struggles toward the "American Dream," and the influence of a mindset that sought to cut one down at the knees for thinking he could be more. It was the same mindset that maintained that the way it had always been done was the way it was always going to be done. 
        Football became his outlet for the pain, anger, and frustration he felt as he was moved to a new town, home, and school at a near constant pace as a child, attending 13 schools before graduating high school, too many first day playground beatings for being the new kid the girls were talking about or just the smallest kid in the class, all the while at home witnessing his young parents' mundane financial struggles and arguments over money, the one paycheck away balancing act between middle class status and bankruptcy, the incessant calls from bill collectors, the times with no telephone, no electricity, no heat. Two parents working. Four children. No health care. No college fund. 
       Not wanting that same life of uncertainty of the future, the one with which he had witnessed his parents contend for his first 17 years, he saw football as his chance to go to college, to get a quality education, to perhaps provide a shot at the NFL, and to later become a successful businessman. He would marry his first love, have loving and wonderful children, a beautiful home in the suburbs, a secure and travel filled retirement, and die in his bed a very old and happy man surrounded by his adoring wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
            I played that game of football with passion and reckless abandon like a human battering ram for 16 seasons, from Pop Warner, through high school, college, and two years professionally until one hit damaged two knees. I was 23.
            In my second life, I was a brooding, headstrong, independent, passionate, hopeless romantic who would fight, kill, and die for what he believed. If you had told that twenty-something kid that he couldn’t do that thing he wanted to do, he would have run through a brick wall to prove you wrong. Although he had abandoned his musical training as a young man to dedicate his efforts to football, his passion for music re-emerged in time to literally save his life. He saw music as his way out of the debilitating depression and loss he felt over simultaneously losing both his ability to play the game he loved and the woman he loved. He saw music as his catharsis, his chance to share his passion, to share his pain, to help other people to forget their own pains and concerns, if only for a little while. He saw music as a way out of the mundane climb up the corporate ladder, the petty things people do to one another and the petty reasons they do them. He saw an opportunity to change his world with music.
            It’s been 23 years, and that second life of mine has been quite a journey. The short stories, essays, poems, and lyrics that fill the pages to come are inspired by that journey, and they are my attempt at taking you on a metamorphosis of thought from who I thought I was, what I thought I wanted, and of what I was certain that I believed in that first life of mine. I wish to share with you the experiences, mistakes, and lessons learned in the chrysalis of my second life, telling the surreal but true stories of how I got to where I reside now, to what I believe now, to what I now hold dear, to what I now hold sacred.  
       I began with the most romantic of ideals and intentions, but I didn't marry my first love. She broke things off after nearly three years, two days before I got accepted to transfer to her college, adding insult to injury when I had to witness her new boyfriend leading the cheerleading squad at my football games. It was more than my broken heart and fragile ego could handle. I wallowed in depression, seeking solace in alcohol and eventually in the comfort of the female persuasion. For the better part of my twenties, I waxed and waned between playboy and one woman man, passionate and tragic relationships with wonderful girls for whom I would have given my life, interspersed by periods of male whoredom and too many women to remember.   
           At 27, two months before my 10th high school class reunion, the girl I had always wanted but thought I could never have came back into my life after 10 years. Two weeks before the reunion, we eloped and got married. The day after our honeymoon, we filed divorce papers. I've been somewhat "gun shy" since. There's a lot more to this story, obviously. Perhaps later in these pages I'll tell it to you (the way I remember it) over some Jack Daniel's, with Jeff Buckley's album, "Grace," playing in the background.
            I've somehow managed to dodge the slings and arrows of outrageous fatherhood as well, making my original plan of great-grandfatherhood extremely unlikely. I attribute my unscathed, childless status to having many years ago taught my sperm to head toward the light. That, and having impeccable timing.
            To this day, I'm still like a Frisbee dog whenever I see someone throwing a football around. I'll quite happily join in, run, throw, and catch until my arm aches, my knees, my back, or whatever other random body part, which unilaterally decided to remind me that I'm not 22 anymore, aches. However, I have come to learn that heaving my body headfirst and full-speed into immovable objects nearly twice my size...well, quite frankly, HURTS! Luckily, I have come to find as true something I can always remember feeling, but not truly comprehending- that music is a far more powerful tool to break through those immovable objects.
            Through it all, music was there to get me through whatever life threw at me. Music became the one lady I could always turn to. I poured my emotions into my songs,  my lyrics, and my performances. I traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, made music, affected people everywhere I went, built worldwide relationships and friendships, living without healthcare or a 401K, foregoing marriage and children and stability for an uncertain future on the road less traveled. 
            I've lived the life of the warrior poet, taken risks, confronted and conquered fears, loved women, drank, smoked, tripped, and danced. I've done things that I had never dreamed of doing in my earlier life, and I am grateful to the universe that I've experienced what I have. I've lived these last 23 years with the same reckless abandon with which I approached the first. Ironically, it is the reckless abandon with which I approached my first life that may likely end my second.
            I recently watched a PBS Frontline documentary called “Football High” which focused on the severity of brain injuries and football. Although I cannot be tested while still alive, there is little doubt that the countless concussions I had incurred over 16 years of playing football, several of which had left me unconscious, have left me with a progressive degenerative brain disease called CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. This can lead to memory loss, confusion, paranoia, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicidal thoughts, Parkinson’s Disease, and eventually progressive dementia. The tragic effects of brain injuries are just now coming to the forefront in the NFL and NCAA.
            Having done more extensive research into this and wanting desperately to contribute to further research and to the efforts to inform young men who play football of the dangers of permanent brain damage, I have donated my brain and spinal column (upon my death, of course) to Boston University School of Medicine’s Center for the Study of  Traumatic Encephalopathy.
            In the meantime, while I’m still lucid and since the Mayans have proved not to be prescient, I have vowed to fight the proverbial good fight, the fight for the truth, the fight for peace, equality, freedom, democracy, and a shared humanity. I will fight against greed, plutocracy, corporatism, fascism, and any other “ism” that maintains war as a means of conflict resolution, that allows genocide, slavery, rape, torture, starvation, and human suffering to continue as a natural state in our human existence, or anyone who says one human life is more or less significant than another or that one people are somehow “chosen” over the rest of us. 
            Before I set out on such a noble quest, I must admit, ashamedly, that I’ve been a fucking hypocrite! Pardon my language. I know it’s awfully early in our introduction to one another to be using such expletives, but allow me to come clean about a few things right from the start. I’ve bitched, complained, and criticized other people for lying, concealing the truth, and not holding themselves responsible for their actions, decisions, and own happiness. I haven’t exactly always led by example where those things are concerned. I haven’t put the proverbial, “walk to the talk,” as I remember Robert Blake as “Baretta” saying it when I sneaked onto the top of the stairs after bedtime as a kid to catch a few glimpses of one of the shows too “grown-up” for me to see.
            I’ve done a lot of talking about what I think is wrong with a lot of things. I’ve stood on the all too familiar soap box and preached. I’ve frustrated family, friends, people in the crowds at my performances, and many ex-girlfriends with my ranting. I’ve managed to alienate quite a few people, some of whom I thought were friends, with my impassioned and vociferous views on politics, religion, ethics, philosophy, social issues, and human relationships. You see, when you hold nothing sacred, you find it far too easy to tear down what others hold sacred. It really pisses people off! Nobody wants to be around someone who challenges everything they believe.
            I’ve had an opinion about everything. Still do, I guess. Yet that opinion has changed over the years as I’ve gained more and more information. I haven’t always been consistent in that opinion. I guess in our times, that makes me a “flip-flopper,” but I think we give far too much respect to people who never change their minds. We have been led for far too long by the unyielding, the arrogant, and the cocksure, who, even after being given overwhelming evidence to change course, would have us continue on the path toward the iceberg.
            I’ve always thought that the simple definition of a fool was someone who, when given the truth, refuses to believe it. So, I guess I’ve also been a fool. Hell, some of the shit I’ve believed and the things I’ve done because of what I’ve believed could qualify me as mentally disabled, but I also know that I am surrounded by fools. We all are. Most of the very people we all look up to as leaders, teachers, preachers, and holders of truth and knowledge are fools as well.
            But considering where I’ve come from and the information that I was given to start, I’d say I’ve come lifetimes closer, within the life I‘ve already lived, to knowing what is true and what is complete bullshit. The things I was taught by my parents, teachers, preachers, government, idols, and friends, while given, for the most part, with love and good intentions, were basically compost, with randomly dispersed pearls of wisdom buried within. I’ve had to sift through, disseminate, and wash myself clean from some pretty heavy shit to get to those pearls, but mine has always been a journey in search of the truth- the truth about it all. I don’t really have an explanation as to why, but since the earliest recollections of my childhood, I’ve always felt it in the pains of my heart that I would have to find the truth on my own, on my own path, and for myself. I also knew early on that it would not be an easy road for me. I would have to fight for what I wanted. I would have to believe in myself.
            If you are like me, you don’t want to get your advice from someone who hasn’t gone through what you are going through. You don’t want to be taught to do something by someone who can’t do it himself. You don’t want your preacher telling you to do something he isn’t willing to do. You won’t follow a man into battle who isn’t willing to fight and possibly die for the cause himself. You don’t want to be told how you are supposed to live your all too brief moment on this planet, as long as how you live it truly harms no one else.
            I say these things to begin from a place of humility and a level playing field of sorts. I have sinned in the eyes of the church of my upbringing. I have wronged others. I have lied, stolen, dishonored, coveted, not kept holy the Sabbath…all of it. I’ve not always played nicely with others. I’ve been a real………..human being.
            There are more than a few women in this world who, when asked about me, will have less than flattering things to say. I want to apologize to them, and say that I do take full responsibility for my actions and can only attribute them to an overdose of testosterone that took over my bloodstream at 17 and which lasted throughout my twenties…..with a few flashbacks into my thirties.
            I’ve also spent some time in prison. Not like Johnny Cash or James Brown...God bless them. There will be no movie about my hard time, but I did enough time to know that prison is not a pretty place. Enough time to know the accommodations are lousy, and there aren’t a lot of nice people on either side of the bars. Enough time to know that I would rather die than have my freedom taken from me ever again, for any amount of time spent behind bars like a caged animal. I guess you could say the system rehabilitated me in that regard.
            I say these things because I have seen this world from an unusually curious array of vantage points. It’s much easier to discover the truth when you examine all the vantage points and interview all of the witnesses. I’ve never taken anyone’s word for gospel.
            I’ve run with the herd, but prefer to run outside, charting a path of my own. I’m the lone wolf with the abilities of a chameleon to blend into his surroundings long enough to get a good look around and even be considered, “one of us.” I am the life of the party on one occasion and the wallpaper on the next. I’ve been saddled by those who need to define me with countless labels, but none of them fits. I refuse to be a stereotypical anything. I prefer to be an enigma. I prefer to live my life freely, to experience all I want to experience, and to be all I want to be. I will not be saddled and bridled, broken and ridden, fitted with blinders and led along the same monotonous path, day in and day out. That is not the life of my dreams.
            I say these things because I have witnessed a growing divide in our country, both within itself and with the rest of the world. Both divides have been fueled by fear, paranoia, misinformation, vengeance, greed, and religion. These divides have concerned me so deeply and passionately that I could no longer stand on the outside looking in and not act in some way to affect them. I could no longer remain silent. I could no longer allow my fears to silence me. That is why I have chosen to put my experience and my words to task.
            I will no longer allow myself to be a hypocrite. I will put the walk to the talk. I will put my life on the line for what I believe, because frankly, if you are not willing to do that, you should shut the hell up. I will lead by example. Hopefully, my lead will be one considered worthy of support, and I won’t run full speed into the raging battle without backup.
            But then not having backup has never kept me from doing what I thought was right, although it would be nice to know that I’m not alone.
           

Monday, July 25, 2011

Feed The Rich

Fact: The Earth is much older than 6,000 years old. According to Wikipedia, “the age of the Earth is (much closer to) 4.54 billion years old (4.54 × 109 years ± 1%). This age is based on evidence from radiometric age dating of meteorite material and is consistent with the ages of the oldest-known terrestrial and lunar samples,” yet there are still those who continue to believe (many of them in Congress) that Earth was created 6,000 years ago, that Man was placed by God on Earth exactly as he is today, that Man and the dinosaurs lived at the same time, that Noah built an arc with Bronze Age tools large enough to carry all of the animals that inhabit the Earth (most of which hadn’t even been discovered yet), and a host of other fantastical ideas long disproven by science. It is this same limited thinking that opens the door to denial of the Holocaust, to believing that butter is good for a burn or that climate change is a hoax (despite the concensus of 99% of the world’s scientific experts), that being gay is a life style choice and an abomination to God (even though homosexuality is a fact of nature found in countless other species), and that Obama is a Kenyan, muslim, CIA trained Manchurian Candidate dragging us into socialism.
The unfortunate factor in this battle over what is true is that it is not being waged in reality. When so many people refuse to believe the truth, especially when given overwhelming evidence to do so, how can we have intelligent discourse in America? How can we solve problems when so many people refuse to acknowledge that there even is a problem, ie. climate change, health care, etc.? How do you convince someone who has the answer to the question before it's asked? How do you debate someone who says, "Well that's my faith, and you can’t question faith?" How do you engage in intelligent debate and problem solving with someone who, the moment you say anything that challenges her belief system, takes the lazy way out by saying, "We'll just agree to disagree?" What do we have to fear by listening to opposing points of view? If our reasoning is sound and supported by fact, our position should most certainly withstand the light of public discourse and fact checking. 
It is positively maddening to watch this insane circus that our politics has become and to know that every one of our problems has a solution based in facts, sound science, and a moral center, but we lack the intelligence, leadership, moral compass, and courage to do the hard and necessary things. We continue to pollute and destroy our ecosystem, continue to maintain our addiction to fossil fuels, continue to promote U.S. hegemony and wage war by borrowing and increasing our debt, to believe “trickle down” economics and privatization and deregulation of everything are sound policy, to continue to wage a costly, deadly, and counter-intuitive War On Drugs and to incarcerate nearly two and a half million of our fellow citizens (mostly for drug offenses), to spend more than the rest of the industrialized world for worse health care that does not cover everyone, and to think we can end our country’s financial ills by destroying unions as well as every social safety net, and by giving more tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans (or “job creators” as they wish to be called and as they lay Americans off and/or send jobs overseas to increase their profits). The middle class is being decimated, yet we continue to vote, fight, kill, and die for the very people who are willing our demise. 
For the first time in history, the 400 richest Americans are all BILLIONAIRES. In 2009, this top 1 percent of U.S. households owned 35.6 percent of the nation’s private wealth. That’s more than the combined wealth of the bottom 90 percent. If you're a billionaire, you can lose 99.9% of your net worth and still be a millionaire. What if you make the median American income of $62,000? 
Giving every American health care is not going to ruin this nation. Giving corporations personhood and unlimited free speech in the form of campaign contributions, however, most certainly will. Destroying unions and collective bargaining and allowing the richest one percent of Americans to gain an even higher concentration of wealth will absolutely spell the end of the American experiment. Why do we allow this to happen under our noses? There are far more of us than there are of them. When will we stop fighting over the scraps, separating ourselves from one another over religion, color, sexual orientation, political parties and other related nonsense, and finally come together to create a more just society, a society where everyone has shelter, food, quality health care, a first rate education, and the opportunity to live his or her life to its truest potential? These should be rights for us all, not privileges for only those who can afford the market price. This should be considered an investment in our nation. The money to pay for it is there. The will is not.  
The rich will be O.K. They've always been O.K. Even when the highest earners paid 90% income tax, they were still RICH. They still lived in mansions, drove Rolls Royces, summered in the Hamptons, and went on holiday to Europe. Asking them to contribute a little more now, especially when they have so vastly benefitted from the blood, sweat, tears, labor, and decline of the middle class for so long is not a slippery slope to socialism. In fact, it is absolutely justified. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again

In my four plus decades in this incarnation on this Earth, lucky enough this time to have been born into the prosperity, freedom, and opportunity of America, I have witnessed a recurring theme. We see a problem, and our first course of action is to pretend it doesn't exist. Oh sure, there is always someone pointing it out to us, but we usually just ignore him or label him a quack or conspiracy nut, an ingrate, or "anti-American." As more and more of us become aware of the particular problem, and we can no longer pretend it doesn't exist, we look to our leaders to solve it. That's when the circus begins-the battle between those who don't see it as a problem (ie. those making a profit off of the status quo), and those who want to fix it.
Of course, everyone has a different idea of the path to the solution, but the debate ultimately gets dominated by the most dogmatic and ideological voices in the arena, and common sense solutions based on reason, science, and facts are scoffed at and dismissed. Inevitably, we declare war on that problem, throw an obscene amount of money at it, creating a bureaucratic monster that only serves to exacerbate the problem. It happens over, and over, and over again. The examples in my lifetime are countless: Vietnam, the War on Drugs, the War on Crime, the War on Poverty, the War on Terror. The list goes on and on.
When faced with a problem, many of the native American tribes based their decisions on how it would affect the seventh generation. They had that concern, vision, and temperance in mind before they acted. We don't even consider how our decisions or inaction will affect the next generation much less the seventh. We have lost our sense of obligation to pass this world on to the next generation in a condition that is better than that which we were given. We seem only to be concerned with our own satisfaction in this very moment. We have become selfish, gluttonous, irresponsible, and lazy. We don't care about anything until it affects us directly.
As a child, I listened to my grandfather's stories of the Great Depression. He warned me that it would happen again. He taught me the value of money and hard work. He taught me to conserve and not to be wasteful. He taught me about sacrifice and responsibility to those who depended upon me. He taught me that people should look out for one another. That was the only way they could survive in the conditions of that time. Family. Community. Working together. Sacrificing together. Fighting together. Prospering together.
It was a very different message than I was getting from those around me. I was often ridiculed in school for saving my paper lunch bags, folding them and putting them in my back pants pocket after lunch. I remember saying, "Yeah? Wait until the next depression comes. I'll know how to survive!" That statement did nothing to quell the mockery.
My grandfather's message was especially different than the one I received from those with whom I attended college. The future Gordon Gekko's around me were often amused as they saw me stacking books in the library, by my hair net as I served them lunch and dinner, by my grass stained sneakers as I cut the lawn of their fraternity house, by the steel-toed work books I still had on in class after unloading trucks overnight, or by the gin-soaked tie that I wore when I served them drinks at the bar downtown. "How many jobs do you have, man?," they often howled. "Just wait until the next depression...," I thought to myself.
The "greatest generation" of Americans, which included my grandparents, defeated the Axis powers and liberated Europe. They came together in an unprecedented way, in a common cause. While the able-bodied men went to war, their wives went to work in the factories. Those unable to serve in the military also sacrificed for that effort. They rationed gasoline. They collected tires and scrap metal for that effort. They collected pennies to turn them into copper wire. They bought war bonds. The entire nation sacrificed.
After 9/11, George Bush told us that our War on Terror was every bit as vital as defeating Nazi Germany and Japan, yet he asked no one but our volunteer military and their families to sacrifice. Instead he told us to shop. We are financing this war by borrowing, sending our national deficit into unimaginable figures, and mortgaging the future of our seventh generation and beyond.
To double the price of their home took our grandparents 30 years or more to do. We have been doing it in less than a year. To earn a modest profit on investment, our grandparents bought war bonds and invested in companies who actually built things that bettered the lives of people. We, instead, want instant profit. We invest in companies and financial instruments that create nothing. Wall Street is a casino, and our economy is a Ponzi scheme. We have been cooking the books for decades.
When Jimmy Carter spoke to the nation in the last hours of his Presidency, warning us of our rabid consumerism, especially our addiction to oil, we responded by running him out of town and by injecting our consumption with steroids. Ronald Reagan's first act in office was to remove the solar panels President Carter had installed on the roof of the White House, and then he proceeded to begin the still ongoing process of dismantling every New Deal policy of F.D.R. and every environmental and financial regulation that stood in the way of unbridled corporate profit. We consumed even more oil. We built even bigger, less fuel efficient cars. We borrowed even more money. We adopted the mantra that "greed is good."
Time and again, we have put profit over responsibility and have chosen to ignore the warning signs of impending doom. The Savings and Loan scandal, the dot com bubble, Enron. We were warned that the levees of New Orleans were inadequate. We chose to ignore the warnings. We chose not to spend the money to improve them, and the cost of that decision was multiplied by a factor in the hundreds. Financial deregulation allowed Wall Street to run amok, and its irresponsible actions have nearly destroyed our nation. It very well may do just that, because the same players are continuing the very practices that got us into this crisis. In the name of profit, BP chose to ignore the warning signs of impending disaster, and now we have an environmental catastrophe, the costs of which will never fully be realized. We have been warned of the effects of dumping CO2 into the atmosphere, of destroying the rain forests, of polluting and over-fishing our oceans. We refuse to listen.
We are seemingly incapable of solving any problem now. Health care. Education. Immigration. Our addiction to oil. Global Warming. Poverty. Homelessness. Starvation. Every one of these things has a common sense solution based on reason, sound science, factual information, human nature, and a history of what hasn't worked so far. We insist on kicking the can farther and farther down the road. We ignored the early warning signs of disease, and now we can't afford the surgery. We refuse to make sacrifices. We refuse to spend the necessary money today, and invariably it ends up costing exponentially more to fix a problem by the time inaction is no longer an option.
So what can we do?
Firstly, we can reject the current divisive atmosphere of our politics which has given us a false choice between unbridled corporate greed and absolute government control of our economy and our lives. We have witnessed all too well the ill effects of decades of deregulation of banking and our financial markets and the destruction that results from the dismantling of environmental protections. We have also witnessed the wastefulness and ineptness of big government in solving problems. We can reject the false choices between red and blue, Democrats and Republicans, Capitalism and Socialism. We must take back the control of our destiny as a nation from those on both sides of the political aisle whose only concerns are protecting their own self interests and those of their corporate contributors, party loyalties, and absolute fealty to long disproved ideologies. We must pay much stricter attention to those who represent us at every level of government, especially in Washington, and exercise our collective power with both our votes and our dollars. We can end the stranglehold of the two party system on our democracy by voting for independents whose only allegiance is to the American people and to sound policy based on reason and fact. We can end the unfettered access and influence of corporate lobbyists by adopting public financing of elections, demanding absolute transparency in government, and creating term limits on Congress.
Secondly, it is vital to our national security, our economy, and our environment that we end our addiction to oil and fossil fuels and begin to embrace new sustainable forms of energy and environmentally responsible technologies. This is where we can exercise our power with our dollars and create lasting change. We can purchase more fuel efficient cars and cars that run on electricity and alternate fuels, weatherproof our homes and businesses, put solar panels on all public buildings, invest in green technologies and companies, and support legislation that moves us away from the dirty, wasteful, and antiquated technologies of the 19th century.
Thirdly, we must support sensible legislation that restricts the risky and potentially destructive practices of our financial institutions. We should support legislation that restricts companies "too big to fail" from the kinds of practices that have the potential to take down our entire economy. Frankly, if a company is too big to fail, it should not exist. We have broken up monopolies in the past which created more competition, created jobs, and benefitted consumers. There is no reason it cannot be done again.
Lastly, we must take a deep look within ourselves and take personal responsibility for our choices and actions that affect us all. We must end our rabid consumerism, our wastefulness, and selfishness- the idea that we can live indefinitely beyond our means. We need to understand that no action is without consequence, that we are all connected to one another in profound ways, and that if the rest of the world were to live as we Americans do, we would need 8 Earths to sustain us.
Our history books, at least those that have not been revised yet, are full of examples of individuals, cultures, societies, and empires who did not heed the warnings of their impending demise. Will we learn from our mistakes and change our ways, or will it be, as Yogi Berra once quipped, deja vu all over again?

Chris "Breeze" Barczynski