I Have Nothing to Say

You know, sometimes there’s just nothing to say. I have been, for the last couple of years, as they say, largely “silent” as a writer. Some claim writer’s block. I, on the other hand, claim it not. It’s different. It’s more as if, with the great cacophony of opinions swirling around the – I can’t say it – blogosphere, the prospect of adding one’s lonely voice to that tiresome, bloated chorus is just a little bit demoralizing.

Or a lot. I don’t know. But this is what I do.

Suffice to say, I am crawling back to the surface like some college boy tossed into the pool at the 3 a.m. mark of the frat party. Why? Because, oddly, I must. I have no excuse for it. I have been working on some fiction, which I believe I’ll start stapling out on this board for anyone who may be interested. And I’ve got matches – matches for sale.

Seriously – I have felt like some primordial mud pit long crusted over but with an insistent bubbling magma beneath – some of which must surface, and form some strange new organism, while other channels must stay submerged, flowing forever beneath the surface. So it is.

I won’t say my mood is good, but it’s not too bad. There is, again, a kind of pacific stability to my life – it is the peace I crave in order to hear myself in the quiet, and also the peace I abhor because, let’s face it, life is not a study hall.

I mean, dude.

There’s so much to say, I have no excuse for not saying it. So here we go. I was reading over the old entries here today, one day after I pulled the switch and registered supergiantsquid.com as my own personal domain*. So here’s my pledge to you, dear possibly non-existent public: I will take up the mantle of explaining life inside this mortal coil once again, and try to make public sense of this world – the one we drop into, like a baby set adrift in the rushes.

But we can leave all that behind.

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Are You Trying to Kill Me, Mister?

During a recent diversion on an Internet “forum” dedicated to a novel (yes, I’ve come to my senses since then), someone proposed a thread of topics on “amazing things that have happened to you.” I rather liked the little tale I told, so here it is, slightly…modified.


 

When I was about 11 I lived near Naples in southern Italy. My neighbors were an American expatriate married to an Italian woman and their family. Even though he was American and lived in an American enclave, you got the distinct impression he didn’t like Americans. At least, he didn’t act very cordial to the adults in our little housing area. As foreigners of the same nationality living abroad will tend to be, the rest of us were quite chummy. But not this guy.

Their son, who loved everything American, which probably pissed Dad off even more, was quite fond of me. They were planning a trip to the beach, at Sorrento, and he invited me to come along. Sounded good, so along I came. I didn’t consider him a great friend, but he was OK, and I was hoping to see his hot older sister in her underwear or, better yet, naked.

So we go to Sorrento. At one point, the Dad said we would go rock climbing. I’d never done it, but being a game lad I was ready to give it a try. So we all headed out to a cliff he knew of that was apparently good for rock climbing.

We got out onto this cliff, which was very steep, and here I was suddenly clinging to rocks on a sheer cliff, which I soon discovered ended about 50 feet down in a completely sheer (90 degree) sea wall, itself about 20 feet high, and below that were rocks and crashing waves. The sea wall went on for as far as one could see in both directions.

I realized that if I lost my footing and fell–50 feet down the rocky cliff, then the 20 feet of the sea wall and onto the rocks jutting from the sea–I would probably be killed.

The going got tougher. I could barely find any places to hold on–the rocks seemed to get further apart, with only scrub in between. A few times I almost fell, and grabbed instinctively onto the scrub plants to keep from falling.

“Don’t do that,” says my friend’s dad, “those won’t hold you.” He’s perfectly calm, like he couldn’t care less if I do fall.

Meanwhile, he and his son are scrambling along like mountain goats, obviously experienced at this and familiar with the terrain.

Somehow, I made it to the top of the cliff. I didn’t get too freaked out at the time, but later realized that I could have easily fallen at any point on that climb–especially since I was only 11 and completely inexperienced at rock climbing.

Later, we’re going to go swimming. These guys are big swimmers, and since I’ve only been in Italy a few months, I have never experienced swimming in surf. “We like to swim out to that rock,” Dad says, pointing to a large moss-covered rock about a hundred yards out in the bay. “Kind of a race.”

They dive in and start swimming to the rock. So off I go after them, quickly realizing how difficult it is to swim against a current. But I make it to the rock, only to realize it’s wet mossy surface means you don’t get to climb up on it and rest – you have to tread water next to it. “OK, well, let’s head back,” he says. I’m not sure I can make it, but being a kid I don’t say anything. I just start in after them.

I almost didn’t make it. They were way ahead of me, standing on the beach while I was about halfway between the rock and the shore. I slowed way down, treaded water for a while to rest, then swam some more. I finally made it, but was completely exhausted. A few more yards and I would not have made it.

It was strange. After a while I realized that the guy was probably hoping I would either fall off the cliff or drown in the sea–perfectly explainable “accidents.” He seemed disappointed for the rest of the trip, didn’t speak to me much.

I’ve often wondered since growing up what kind of person would toy with a child’s life like that, concluding that the guy was kind of nuts.

I pretty much avoided that family after the trip.

Notes on the Passing Scene…

I’ve been thinking about “a lot of different stuff,” as the kids say.

  • It appears our elected officials are doing their level best to prove they are interested more in themselves than in governing. This is nothing new, of course, but it’s reaching epic incestuous proportions – at present, the House is wrapped up in whether it should have an Ethics Committee to investigate itself or not; the Senate is bogged down in endless debate and frequent press potshots on whether it should change its rules on the filibuster; the administration is ga-ga over Social Security “reform”, although it has no actual plan. Meanwhile the rest of us are thinking about–hold on to your hats–the actual issues facing the country.
  • I hear teenage girls are now using steroids to “tone up” or win at sports. Why girls would want to raise their testosterone levels is beyond me, but somehow I’m not surprised. The whole country seems to be on a de-evolutionary binge, trying to become less civilized and more…barbaric. Violent entertainment, violent pastimes, increasingly violent personal interactions, “aggressive” business tactics, a foreign policy based on instigating wars–it goes on. It’s as though we’re all in basic training, toughening ourselves and putting our “game” faces on to get ready to…what?
  • The Republican party appears to have become the official political wing of the religious right. In case anyone wanted to know.
  • Some people don’t take compliments well–inferiority complex. The Democrats don’t take to political advantage well, retaining the politics of “shrill indignation” even when they’re gaining ground–fear of success? Or just plain dumb?
  • I heard some “experts” talking today on why the U.S. cannot seem to find Osama bin Laden, who is, incidentally, living quietly in a condo in northern Pakistan with his two cats. The one expert, an apologist for the government, said essentially that we don’t need to find him–that to spend all our energy trying to capture one man who is not directly involved in current threats to the U.S. would sidetrack more important anti-terror efforts. Funny–that sounds like the case not to go after Saddam Hussein.
  • In a little town out here on the Plains, a teenage girl burned her house down, killing two siblings in the process. She was trying to kill her dad, who was sexually abusing her and taking pictures of the rapes for his personal collection. She’s only about 16, but she’ll be tried as an “adult,” because…well, I guess because no one will stop them. Dad survived–he’s in jail now on child porn charges. Oh, and the attention of the case led authorities to arrest mom on outstanding bad check charges. Just one all-American Iowa family.
  • Around here, folks like to hunt Morrell mushrooms in the spring. This year, they’re getting shot at by nervous farmers who think these folks are setting up meth labs. Three words: know your enemy. One more word: relax.
  • Speaking of meth, a local grade school teacher was just busted for dealing it (though not to her students, apparently). She’s claiming hardship because she couldn’t survive on her $31,000 annual salary–which is about 1,000 times the average Guatemalan’s annual salary.

Happy Birthday

The most interesting thing to me about getting older is the fact that my inner self does not age. I remember when I was younger, I always imagined getting older as becoming someone else. What will I be like when I’m 40? How will I be different? I’d look around at all the “old” people and try to imagine being one of them. It was always a sense of dread that accompanied the thought, that background fear of youth that we will lose our youthful desires, humor, outlook, passions, and become bogged down in a static 9-to-5 grind punctuated by weekend lawn mowing.

After all, we change so rapidly in youth, from child to adolescent to young adult. And with each age comes dramatic change in appearance, knowledge, experience, and world view. We “mature,” and with each of these early phases we seem to become a new person.

But then comes the time when we seem not to change much anymore. Physical appearance seems to stabilize, excepting the visible signs of aging – a few wrinkles, a little extra weight, a little less hair. But more amazingly, the person inside ceases dramatic change. We do not discover life as we did. We reach milestones and pass them, never to experience the “firsts” of youth again. We learn the basics of just about everything – politics, nature, geography, history, philosophy, art – and all subsequent learning is just so much augmentation or revision of what we already know.

Most odd, though, is this sense I have of being the same person, with the same hopes, dreams, fears, likes and dislikes, as the person who was me twenty years ago. Although young people seem to keep getting younger, I don’t feel any older. I know I am perceived differently by youth, and perhaps my wardrobe is a little less interesting than it used to be. But the me of my youth lives on inside this aging body, still hungry for experience, interested in new things, passionate for art and music, devoured by love, occasionally bored, puzzled about the future.

It’s as though I rode this rollercoaster of life change in youth, got off at age 21, and I’ve been walking around in the parking lot looking for my car ever since. But as soon as I find it, I’ll get going again.

So this weekend – June 7 – was my birthday. We had a fun barbecue with friends, I got some cool gifts and had a good time. Just like we always do. And I was a year older. Does it matter? Not as much as it used to.

Another key fact about aging is that although I feel like the same person I have always been since reaching adulthood, I thankfully have more to anchor my life and define my existence. I have the great gift of my family to remind me that the searching and yearning of youth can be answered at least for the most part by finding someone to build the rest of life with, and together to continually build life. To find someone to share life with can be, and is, more fruitful than to endlessly search for that someone. I repeat this truism because I believe our culture actively promulgates the opposite notion.

And I like what we’ve built so far. It is good. I’m ready for the next phase. I just won’t anticipate getting “older” anymore, because apparently, except for my skin and bones, it’s not going to happen.

Got Justice?

President Bush pledged today that those responsible for suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia that left dozens dead would “learn the meaning of American justice.”

Let’s explore that for a moment.

What I know of American justice can be boiled down into a few basic precepts. This is strictly off the cuff, you understand, but see if it doesn’t ring true.

If you want a big trial with all the trimmings, you have to think big

This observation comes from a number of recent “spectacular” crimes that have resulted in big-budget defense teams or unheard-of indulgence from the court for the accused. For whatever reason, it seems the amount spent on the trial is in direct proportion to the amount of damage you do. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was provided a crack defense team and a trial that dragged on for months. Several million dollars later, he was convicted and executed, to no one’s surprise. The trial of the D.C. snipers promises more of the same. Accused 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui has enjoyed every amenity in his never-ending trial, including numerous breaks and advice from the court in spite of his regular digressions into delusional nonsense and anti-American screeds, coupled with his complete lack of expertise regarding court procedures. His lawyer (himself) may have a fool for a client, but the joke is on the taxpayers who are funding this big-budget fiasco.

Contrast this to the regular Joe who guns down his wife or co-workers. He gets a sleepy public defender and the thing is wrapped up in two weeks.

If you’re famous, you can’t be jailed for drugs unless you really want to

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard of entertainment types being dragged into court for serious drug crimes, only to be sentenced to ‘”community service” and fines that are meaningless to millionaires. Eventually, after their fifth or sixth arrest, the judge gets mad and “threatens” actual jail time. But it rarely comes to pass. (Exception: Robert Downey Jr..)

But don’t try this at home. Non-famous people are regularly thrown in the pokey for simple possession.

Murderers are more important than their victims

Some ancient–and modern– justice systems, when dealing with murderers, prescribed restitution as a first remedy. Sometimes the killer was allowed to work in order to pay the family for the loss. The entire tribunal revolved around the wrong done to the victim’s family (acknowledging that the actual victim was beyond such concerns). The family was often consulted for their judgment on what should be done with the guilty party, and their wishes carried out.

Now, the victims’ kin are allowed to sit in the courtroom and watch, but that’s about it. Murderers no longer commit crimes against people – they commit them against “the state.” And the trial is centered around the accused, who is the subject of all aspects of the trial and the main focus of the state’s efforts.

After the trial and sentencing, the killer becomes of even more concern to the state. They house, feed and clothe him. They monitor his behavior. They provide endless appeals. They stage elaborate parole hearings that concentrate on the killer’s progress, the killer’s behavior, the killer’s future. When he’s finally released, they have other folks check in on him, monitor his progress, help him “assimilate.”

The family of the victim gets a letter once in a while.

Some murderers get famous for their inventive crimes. They get clever nicknames like “Son of Sam” and “The Preppy Killer.” Books, movies, cults sometimes follow. I recall that Ted Bundy, who may have killed dozens of young women, supposedly received a bulging bag of love letters and marriage proposals every day in prison. Over time, a killer’s “evilness” can be all but washed away and replaced by a kind of pop culture icon status (as with Charles Manson).  But I can’t recall any victims ever being immortalized or lionized, I guess because being killed doesn’t make you interesting. Just dead.

If you’re a lucky killer, Norman Mailer will find you “intriguing,” and he’ll write a book about you. Then they’ll let you go and you can kill again. Yeah, it happened.

Meanwhile…

Actual innocence of the condemned is not sufficient reason to stop an execution

This was one of the Supreme Court’s shining moments. Back when I did research for a living, I came across  this nugget, which involved a man in Texas who was convicted of murder in your standard non-famous-person trial (see above). The appeals process was exhausted, but new evidence came to light that appeared to exonerate the man. The prosecution, on seeing the new evidence, agreed. So there was really no one in Texas who wanted to carry out the execution anymore. But the “process” took over, the governor refused a stay, and the Supreme Court, answering a final emergency appeal, refused to halt the execution  because “actual innocence is not sufficient reason for this court to delay the timely carrying out of the sentence,” or words to that effect.

So they executed him.