Back in the early nineties there was an odd phenomenon called “The Iron John” movement, spearheaded by the poet Robert Bly. It was composed of men, middle aged and older; men who harbored a deep spiritual yearning to connect with their ancient, archetypal manhood, and to attain “self hood”, not unlike the feminists who were on their own search.
These men would form groups and meet out in the woods and make bonfires, then strip to their skivvies and retreat to makeshift sweat lodges, emerging cleansed and glistening. They would then form circles and beat tom toms, their breasts and bellies flopping in sync with the primitive beat; they would wail and cry and and hug each other, trying to heal and fill the void created by their fathers who didn’t spend enough time with them. Then, the climactic moment. Holding hands with fervent solidarity, they would perform the Heron Dance.
I don’t like to sweat and I don’t like other men sweating on me, especially when they wail. I wish I had never met my father.
And if you ever catch me doing the god damned Heron Dance- shoot Me!
Tamir Rice was a twelve year old Black boy living in Cleveland. In November of 2014 two White police officers responded to a dispatch that a Black male in a recreation center was pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people. The caller twice emphasized that the gun was probably fake, then added that the Black male was probably a juvenile. The two officers arrived at the scene, claimed Rice pointed the gun at them, and one of the officers shot Rice twice. No first aid was administered . Two days later Rice died. During investigation, it was disclosed that the gun Rice wielded was indeed fake. It was also disclosed that the officer who shot Rice had previously worked for another police department, where he was deemed emotional unstable and unfit for duty. Neither officer was indicted.
In July of 2014, Eric Garner of Staten Island was approached by several police officers for allegedly selling “loose” cigarettes. He was unarmed and posed no threat to the police or bystanders. Garner expressed resentment as he felt he was being singled out. An altercation resulted, and Garner was taken to the ground. One of the officers held Garner in a prohibited choke hold. After repeatedly screaming, “I can’t breath, I can’t breath!”Garner lay motionless and unresponsive for several minutes. No attempt to provide first aid was made, and when an ambulance arrived no emergency first aid was given. Garner died, per coroner’s report, of compression to the neck; he was strangled to death. No police personnel were indicted.
In July of 2016, a 32 year old Black man named Philando Castile was pulled over by two police officers in Falcon Heights Minnesota. Also in the car were his girlfriend and her four year old daughter. When one of the officers asked for his license and registration, Castile informed the officer that, “Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me.” It was a licensed firearm. The officer responded, “Ok- don’t reach for it then- don’t pull it out.” Castile responded, “I’m not pulling it out.” The officer raised his voice and said, “Don’t pull it out!” He then fired at Castile seven times as Castile’s girlfriend and her daughter looked on. The aftermath of the shooting was streamed live on Facebook by video taken by Castile’s girlfriend as she and her daughter watched Castile die. Additional police arrived, and Castile’s girlfriend was cuffed and taken into custody. After an investigation the shooting officer was charged with manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm. At trial he was acquitted of all charges.
In July of 2015, Samuel Dubose, an unarmed Black man, was fatally shot by a White University Of Cincinnati police officer during a traffic stop. The officer asked for Dubose’s driver’s license, and he replied he did not have it with him. The officer opened the door on the driver’s side, when Dubose pulled it shut and started the engine. The officer drew his gun and shot Dubose in the head. Sources differ as to whether the car was moving before Dubose was shot. The officer was indicted for murder and involuntary manslaughter. His first trial was deadlocked. The prosecution wanted to retry, but the judge denied the prosecution’s request for a change of venue and that a Confederate flag t-shirt the defendant wore at the time of the shooting could not be presented as evidence. A second trial also deadlocked, after which the case was dropped. The defendant was, however, fired, and was later awarded $350,000 for unfair dismissal from his employer.
In June of 2015, Dylan Roof, a blond haired, blue eyed, baby faced White supremacist, entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and shot nine Black people to death during a Bible study. His motive, purportedly, was to incite a race war. After a brief manhunt, Roof was arrested and eventually convicted of his heinous crimes. At the time of his apprehension, young Dylan complained to the arresting officers that he was hungry. They promptly responded by treating him to Burger King.
The question has been asked- why hasn’t Donald Trump unfurled his famous expletives and invective toward the person who has emerged as his number one nemesis- Nancy Pelosi? Could it be, oh gentle reader, that in spite of his dominant strong man persona, the POTUS is in fact- and in secret- a submissive- in the parlance of the sm subculture, a bottom?
What if- and this is not beyond all conjecture- Trump enjoys a rich fantasy life in which he imagines The Speaker Of The House giving him spankings- sound relentless spankings; forcing him to crawl on hands and knees and wearing diapers? Perhaps Pelosi is in fact a dream come true for The Donald. None can deny that Madam Speaker is very stern in a Mary Poppins sort of way, and a strict disciplinarian (perhaps qualities acquired from years as the Minority “Whip”). Perhaps not only in the dark chambers of his imagination, but in the House Chambers themselves after hours, the two of them actually have clandestine interludes. I can almost hear that calm but no-nonsense voice- “Donald- have you been misbehaving again? I’m not going to have to give you another punitive enema, am I? You’ve already had six today.” And perhaps such enemas are not just punitive, but palliative as well, considering the possibility- nay, the likelihood- of decades of impacted KFC.
Yes indeed, the pundits have pondered why Trump has not coined a disparaging nick name for Madam Speaker, as he has with “Crooked Hillary”, “Lyin Ted” or “Little Marco”?
But perhaps he has- spoken only in those private moments when he is awash in a glow of warm, docile obedience, when he calls her- yes- “Mommy!”
As I grow older and the hour glass grows bottom heavy, I find myself reflecting upon my life. And although I have turned my back on formal religion, the concept of sin has never strayed far. I am a man, I like to believe, of both compassion and conscience, and perhaps this is why my sins continue to haunt me. None of us are pristine, and we all have blood on our hands to some degree, either through our own direct actions, or by others once removed. But the sins that haunt me the most are not the result of what I have done, but what I did not do. The worst of sins, for many of us, are sins of omission; those times when in the face of cruelty or injustice to others, we were passive and did nothing.
There are two examples from early childhood of sins of passivity, the memories of which never dim with time; they are always in my thoughts.
When I was six, I attended Imperial Grammar School, in South Gate, a city in South East Los Angeles County. I remember it was a school with no grass, and during recess the children played games on the asphalt, and adult supervision was nearly laissez faire. This was the Nineteen Fifties.
One day I saw an extremely angry group of children who had surrounded another child. As I moved closer, I saw a little Black girl in the center. The other children, all White, shouted and screamed at her, and I will never forget the hateful words of one of the more aggressive boys- “We don’t want you here because you’re a nigger!”And the face of the little girl showed fear and hurt; and much more. I saw strength, pride and defiance in her eyes. I do not know where she came from, or her name. I do not know what happened to her, nor remember seeing her again. But I remember her face and those eyes-they have become a part of me.
A few years later, my family moved a short distance to the city of Downey. Upward mobility. We lived on a cul-de-sac private street. There was a sense of privilege and superiority among both the adults and their children. Adjacent to our street was a large lot, vacant except for a very old, ramshackle house where the Tanner family lived.
They were a poor family, and the daughters, Carol and Eileen, wore old hand me downs that seemed to be from another era. Carol was the older, about eleven, and Eileen was about my age, nine. There was nothing wrong with those girls. They were sweet, pretty and intelligent. Both had red hair and cute freckles. And they were pariahs.
They were victims of class hatred. The kids who were my neighbors despised them because they were seen as a blight on our perfect, upper middle class neighborhood of custom homes and large yards.
One day after a rain, a number of the boys from the neighborhood, all older than me, were playing in the vacant field across from the Tanner’s house. Carol unwisely ventured over to them. She wanted to visit- to be a part of the neighborhood. After screaming names at her, Carol was chased and caught, and thrown into a large puddle. One of her shoes came off, and a boy gleefully put mud in it. I remember as if it were yesterday.
As she cried and struggled, Mr. Woods, one of the fathers and a principal at a local school, drove by on his way home. he stopped, and got out of his car. I breathed a sigh of relief; he would put a stop to it. And he did. He sided with the boys, and scolded Carol to never come to our neighborhood again; to stay where she belonged. And she limped home on one shoe, sobbing with every step.
Not long after, the Tanner’s house was demolished to make way for an apartment building. I never saw Carol or Eileen again.
What could I have done? Physically intervening would have required more physical courage than I had, certainly back then. But I could- and should have done something- even something small.
I could have approached the little Black girl, perhaps in private, and told her how sorry I was; that although I could not feel all of her pain and humiliation, I certainly felt some of it. I should have done something to show her she was not entirely alone. And perhaps I could have gone over to Carol’s house with a gift or note telling her that I always felt she was pretty and worthy, and that I was far more like her than the boys who had bullied her, and told her of the times when I was bullied by them as well. But I did nothing, and am forever haunted by the faces of those girls.
But I’m not dead yet. And neither are you. I try to be active in the face of injustice, but I often falter. The opportunities are everywhere to step in and defend someone. To give and take a risk, however small. To intervene; to stand up for someone else.
We don’t have to take a bullet for someone, but by doing nothing, in a sense we already have.
Of late there has been a spate of documentaries on serial killers (Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, The Golden State Killer and of course, the perennial favorite, Charles Manson and family). We are fascinated and repulsed by them; they are like road side carnage that, try as we may to avert our eyes, we simply have to gawk with morbid curiosity. They do unspeakable things; they are evil incarnate, and we absolutely love to hate them. But they are not without redemption. As the following thoroughly researched piece will show, they have, well, after their own fashion, an exquisite sense of humor.
In the nineteen teens and twenties, a man with the ludicrously benign name of Albert Fish terrorized New York City. This fiend, also known as the Brooklyn Vampire and the Moon Maniac, raped, tortured and murdered- and his demonic appetites focused on children. In addition to his other vices, he was an unabashed cannibal.
He wold abduct children, and after murdering them he cooked them, savoring their most delectable parts in stews and roasts. Well mannered gourmet that he was, he would then send his victims’ parents thoughtful, eloquent thank you notes expressing gratitude for providing him such tasty meals.
Life long penal system recidivist Gary Gilmore had gained fame for insisting to be executed for a pair of senseless murders he committed in Utah in 1976. He was interviewed by Playboy Magazine shortly before being dispatched by an eager firing squad. The interviewers asked him why, after the second murder, he carelessly shot himself in the hand; allowed himself to be sighted near the crime scene by someone he knew; then, called his cousin, describing his predicament and asking for a ride home. Instead, she called the police. When the interviewers asked if shooting himself then calling his cousin suggested a subconscious desire to get caught, he replied, “Accidents can happen to psychopaths as easily as anyone else.”
In the summers of 1976 and 1977, David Berkowitz, a.k.a. the Son Of Sam, believed his dog was exhorting him to embark on a murder spree. He murdered six people and wounded several others on the steamy streets of the Big Apple-terrorizing Queens and the Bronx- paralyzing with fear the neighborhoods of Flushing and Yonkers. He mocked the police between murders in the form of enigmatic letters. But ultimately, his luck and elusiveness ran out. When finally captured, a search of his car produced a machine gun.
“Where were you going with that machine gun?”, asked the arresting officer.
“To the Hamptons”, The Son Of Sam blithely replied. “To the Hamptons.”
When I was a lit major a few centuries ago, women authors were perennially short shrifted in favor of the men. This old fashioned rhyme poem is my homage to the great women authors, with a bit of karma for the chauvinist male.
Bondage Games With The Great Women Authors
They’re all out to get me, like banshees in heat, I’m trembling in terror, I’m white as a sheet.
Why do they do this- where did I stray? Was it in college, back in the day? I read only male authors, never was I bored- but when it came to the women, they were completely ignored.
Now they’re seeking revenge- my total devastation- and their method of choice- bondage and humiliation!
And so it starts, and so it goes, on a lovely Greek island- I believe it’s called Lesbos.
A poet named Sapho (she’s powerfully built) has me bound and immobile, tied to a stilt. I swing back and forth, in a pendulous sway, then I’m released- because I don’t swing her way.
What’s up next, on my pathway to doom? I’m in a strict patrician woman’s drawing room.
I can’t move a muscle, I’m flat on my tummy- I’m bound and I’m wrapped, like an Egyptian mummy-
as I wiggle and squirm and flop on my belly, into the room walks Mary Shelly. I’m wrapped up so tight- so in a bind-what else to expect from the author of Frankenstein?
I’m feeling faint- a nervous wreck- thank God the electrodes, don’t fit in my neck!
Where am I now- the fog is so thick- it’s cold and bleak and really quite Gothic. Then they appear, and I’m filled with dismay- “Salutations”, they say- “we’re the sisters Bronte!”
“I’m Emily- and you look like Heathcliff, that treacherous squire!” “And I’m Charlotte- don’t raise my Eyre!” “And I’m Ann, the one you never heard of!” And with that, she gives me a terrible shove.
I feel a wave of dread- this isn’t fair-as a rope tightens quickly, my foot in a snare.
“We know you’re acrophobic,” they scream with delight- then they hoist me upward, to an absurd Wuthering Height!
I’m now in the states, and what do you know, from out of the bushes comes Harriet Beecher Stowe. She’s stern- she’s righteous-a devout Abolitionist- in addition to which a wild exhibitionist.
She yanks down her knickers, and I panic and flee- but she catches up and subdues me, oh so easily.
“Naughty boy”, says she, “I’ll fix your wagon”- Then I’m forced to wear diapers in Uncle Tom’s Cabin
I jump through the window, banging my knee, then I limp toward the daylight- am I finally free? But the Fates won’t have it- what more can be wrought? Then I’m tackled from behind by Louisa may Alcott!
She’s strong and she’s strict, a staunch disciplinarian, taking no nonsense from a chauvinist contrarian. I try to break loose, but to my chagrin, I’m completely restrained -by an army of Little Women!
I’m stripped and spread eagled, and staked to the ground- resistance is futile- I’m hopelessly bound. I try to be brave, this too will pass- then the entire assembly, surrounds me en masse.
There’s Sylvia Plath, in all of her wrath, and Erica Jong, in a fish net sarong. I’m scolded soundly, by Joyce Carol Oates, “Why you didn’t even read our Cliff Notes!”
And Emily Dickinson, no longer reclusive, she’s decked out in leather, and is oh so abusive. “Did you make an effort”, she says, “To even glance at my compendium?” Then she answers for me with a kick to my pudendium. There’s even Agatha Cristie, looking so rough (I’d never have guessed, she’d be into this stuff!)
“Enough is enough- I’ll read all of you-cover to cover!!”
They listen intently, as they circle and hover- will they consider my pleas, and placating offers?
I’m finally exposed, to the great women authors!