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Commentary

It’s Not Funny That Floyd Can’t Read

So, I’m not posting links to any stories about these jerks, but I just read in the news that Floyd Mayweather Jr., the famous boxer, has been utterly savaged on social media over the past few days after trying and failing to read a promotional blurb during a radio interview.  I don’t know the first damn thing about Mayweather–maybe he’s a Grade A dick himself, as a lot of people seem to attest–but is this how we are, making fun of a guy because he can’t read?

I’m here to say that it isn’t funny. Not at all. As Americans, when we hear of something like this, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves regardless of whether the illiterate person in question is a some guy who can’t navigate the sandwich menu at a convenience store, a kid who gets passed from grade to grade in school because administrators don’t want to degrade their progress statistics, or even a celebrity and champion boxer. It is our collective failure as a community and as a nation, given the wealth and resources that we have.

50 FloydThis story isn’t over yet, either. Gentleman and scholar 50Cent (just call him “Fitty”), who once called Mayweather a friend, couldn’t help himself from piling on and shitting all over Mayweather on his Instagram account.  Really, Fitty–you’re a grown man. Of course, this isn’t the first time ol’ Fitty has distinguished himself as a true gentleman on social media. He established his cred as a douchebag years ago with his famous “grandmother” tweet.  The irony is, I had the, uh, pleasure of being an extra in a movie in which Fitty was a co-star, being part 50 Cent Priceless Tweetof a scene that required me to be in a relatively small room with him, and let’s just say this: the dude didn’t exactly strike me as an articulate genius. Not by a freaking long shot.

Even a local newspaper, The New Pittsburgh Courier, namesake of a legendary and historically significant paper, onetime home of journalism giants like George Schuyler, Joel Rogers and William Gardner Smith, jumped on the bandwagon by running a syndicated column collecting the “Funniest Floyd Mayweather Memes on His Reading Difficulty”–again, you’ll have to find a link yourself, though I encourage you not to give these tormentors a hit. How far from greatness the Courier has fallen–once the mightiest African-American newspaper in the nation, they’ve reduced themselves to mean playground bullies.

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Commentary

You Decide.

Regarding the Previous Post.
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–OR–

belgian-waffles

Pass the syrup.

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Commentary Photo I Took

Sunday Morning Sermon

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Commentary

Life, Death, Robin Williams and Henry Rollins

I haven’t posted on some of the big, obvious topics that have been shooting down the rapids with such astonishing velocity and mass over the past few weeks. Ferguson, Missouri and ISIS, the leveling of Palestine, the Ebola outbreak. I could take the easy way out, as I had intended, by telling myself–and you–that I simply have nothing to add to these broadly covered subjects, but the truth of the matter is a little more subtle: I’m so unsurprised by all of it that I lack the energy, the outrage, or even the whimsy to address any of those topics.

morkI’ve been particularly reluctant to talk–or even think–about Robin Williams’ suicide, not just because I feel like I’d be just another whisper beneath the cacophony of commentary, but because I’ve suspected that my thoughts won’t win me a lot of admirers. I’m good with that–l like to be liked, and I don’t mind being disliked. It’s disinterest that smites me, but a lot of folks are hurt by this loss. Why provoke?

I probably would have stayed quiet had I not encountered this compelling commentary by Henry Rollins, another icon of my youth, whose mindset seems to mirror my own.

When Rollins writes, ” How in the hell could you possibly do that to your children? I don’t care how well adjusted your kid might be — choosing to kill yourself, rather than to be there for that child, is every shade of awful, traumatic and confusing. I think as soon as you have children, you waive your right to take your own life. No matter what mistakes you make in life, it should be your utmost goal not to traumatize your kids. So, you don’t kill yourself.”  it is as if he’s channeling my own, brewing thoughts.

The thought of Williams’ children was the first thing that roared through my mind when I heard, several days late, of his demise. How old were his kids?  I’ve never had a vocational calling, never really found anything productive through which I could define myself, except for being a father. My own dad was an asshole–not really his fault, but it sucked and my childhood was blighted by his, um, shortcomings.  I feel sad thinking of that kid I see in pictures, but everything turned out okay, especially in the relationships I’ve built with my own kids. I was determined that I would give them all the love and attention and guidance and parenting I never got.

Ironically enough, my own father re-entered my life after two decades of estrangement, having finally found whatever peace or perspective he needed to find in order to be a good and decent man. We would never have a storybook father/son relationship, but he became a person whose company I enjoyed, and even anticipated. He was an excellent grandfather, but too briefly,  When he died, at age 67, from a secondary infection contracted during a common surgery, it seemed particularly unfair.

I read about depression, how we can’t possibly understand what its victims experience. I get it, and the sympathetic human buried somewhere beneath my cold, black heart wants to accept this, but perhaps I’m too selfish because–here it comes–my second thought about Williams was concise and telling. I looked at my wife as said, “That asshole son-of-a-bitch.”  I know, I know–I’ll never understand, but here’s some things from where I’m sitting.

1) My brother-in-law got 9 months with his 4 daughters, aged 10-16, after his diagnosis with inoperable cancer. My sister, at 40, became a widow. My nieces are fatherless.

2) My best friend from childhood, at 43, wakes up one morning with a singular symptom. Six weeks later his friends gathered in the woods he loved, the land where his grandmother had been born, to celebrate his memory.

3) A year ago next week, another good friend, my daughters’ swimming coach, an iconic and beloved local teacher, and father of four teenaged boys falls dead in his bathroom after an evening run.  He was 56 years old and one of the best people I know–a person of such character that his friendship inspired me to be a better person, in hopes of feeling more deserving of it.

And how many lives aren’t filled with those losses, those friends and parents, uncles and teachers, coaches and teachers?  How many lives aren’t littered with the memories of love snared and snatched and stolen from us, of loved ones dragged bitterly, prematurely from our embrace?

I don’t disdain Robin Williams, or any sufferer of depression, but I can’t get past his throwing his life away, hurting those who loved him, depriving all of us of his existence, his creativity–I’m angry about that, and I’m prepared to accept the ultimate selfishness of that anger. I miss what Williams had yet to offer, just as I mourn for the music Kurt Cobain never lived to make, or David Foster Wallace, or Spalding Gray. So much–everything, ultimately–is taken from us by death.

I begrudge any fragment of life that is freely given–or love that is freely withdrawn–and I worry that our fixation on this death and those like it, our sympathy, our loss-driven compassion and grasping for understanding will be collectively interpreted as acceptance. I won’t invoke cowardice, as some unfeeling jerks have, but I do believe that suicide is unacceptable except in the face of certain, harshly painful death (yes, I recognize the brutality of emotional and mental anguish as well–but it’s not the equal of searing physical agony). There is always a way up and out. Always.

http://m.laweekly.com/westcoastsound/2014/08/21/henry-rollins-fuck-suicide?showFullText=true

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Photo I Like summer photos

Found Summer Photo

Summer is quickly sprinting for the door–got to get me some more found photos posted before it’s sweater season.
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Commentary Poetry

Two Poems Stuck In My Head

Forgive me, it’s been over 6 weeks since i sat down and tried to think in verse.  Forget about the actual work of putting it on paper and tinkering.  I could blame all the obligations–work, kid’s stuff, chores, a wedding, a vacation, fiction, and this damned blog–but I don’t do excuses with writing. It’s like Kermit says to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: do or do not.

I’ve been doing not…

But the weird thing is that whenever I think of poems, and my not making time for them, my mind plugs up with two fairly famous poems, one often replacing the other when I try to force the former from my consciousness.  Neither are pieces with particularly resounding significance to either my brain or my soul, but it’s as if they’ve infected me.  The Dickinson poem is a ubiquitous piece in high school English classes–or used to be before poetry was marginalized in order to make more room for standardized test prep, and I’ve seen the Oliver poem frequently anthologized as well–no idea why they’re colonized my brain, though.

Anyone ever experience anything like this?

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver published by Atlantic Monthly Press

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson.

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Commentary Funny and/or Strange Photo I Like

America Not So Unlike Rest of World

We flatter ourselves by holding ourselves aloof, but there isn’t much difference between American and the rest of the world.  Not when you take into account what is truly important.

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The only things they lack in Thailand is sappy country music and Coors Extra LIght With the Extra Shiny Can.  Which picture in Thailand and which is the USA?  It’s almost impossible to tell.

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Commentary Journal

What I Did On My Summer Vacation Part 4: Reward, Reality, Returning Home.

assateague marketWhen last we left our brave travelers they (we; me) were waking from a re-affirming, albeit rain-soaked night of rest and resolve, and we were rewarded for our tenacity with a beautiful sunrise, clear blue skies, and a warm breeze that kept the mosquitos clinging to their shelter in the bayberry bushes.  Despite our damp bedding, the kids assateague market2were still comatose–ten hours a night seems par for the course, when they can get it–so my wife and I decided to go off the island to grab some coffee at The Assateague Market–a nifty little store less than a mile from the visitor center that, in true vacation store form, has just about everything you’re looking for and a few things you weren’t looking for but need anyway.  After the night we had just enduded, even the thickest truck stop sludge would have been a blessing; but the stuff we found brewing at the Market was fresh and delicious.  We were served by the friendly owner of the store, whose pleasant demeanor left us just as warm as did his coffee–and why wouldn’t he be happy: I’m not sure what his lot is during the off-season, but in the summer he’s his own boss, in a beautiful place, taking care of customers who are happy to be there.  He’s living the dream–and I encourage you to stop in and spend some money at this place if you happen to be in the neighborhood.

Alas, not everything was hot coffee and friendly smalltalk–we were shocked to discover that while we lay blissed out in the sun and frolicking in the surf, the great entertainer Robin Williams, an icon for most of my years, had taken his own life.  Not only that, but a town in Missouri was splitting at the seams following the execution of an unarmed young black man by a white police officer and the draconian response by local law enforcement to subdue the protesters who took to the streets howling with bitter sadness and the rage of the otherwise powerless. We were predictably aghast–in what kind of world does Robin Williams hang himself?  The answer is a world where police kill young men with all the forethought I employ when swatting at a bug, then attempt to suppress knowledge of what they’ve done by violently clearing the streets of protesting citizens and driving off, or in some cases arresting, the national media.

We turned on the radio to hear accounts of conservative blowhards deconstructing Williams’ death as a natural progression rooted in his liberalism, or simply an act of cowardice, and the Ferguson, Missouri police actually establishing a no-fly zone over their town, to keep the news helicopters away while the fired tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds.

I turned it off.  There would be no shaking the inevitable sadness of both stories, but I just wasn’t ready to wholly abandon the media vacuum of a vacation.  At home, I devote too much energy to current events, give too much power to the endless episodes of injustice that gnaw at my sense of right and wrong–I may tell my children they should not expect to be treated fairly in the world, but there’s still a part of me that craves a nation of peace and respect.  I was fascinated that two huge stories had been running so roughshod over the media while we remained blissfully unaware–and I have to admit a certain grudging jealousy for those who simply live their lives without ever giving a damn what happened in the world around them.  That would be nice indeed.

normal_iil-ian-jt-0208That isolation, of course, is one of the main reasons we like Assateague.  The photo above demonstrates the differences in development–and culture–between Ocean City below and Assateague Island above.  It’s nice to be able to taste the OCMD carnival–as we did last year when we celebrated our daughters’ birthdays by dragging them behind a boatScreenshot_1, but it’s especially pleasant to be able to retreat to the quiet, primitive landscape of sea grass and sand dunes, starry nights and–what the hell–even the cold showers and pit toilets. Screenshot_2 Screenshot_3 Screenshot_4

Back at camp we roused the kids and cleared out the tent, draping sleeping bags over the van, the picnic table, folding chairs and sitting pillows out in the sun to dry.  That day, and the rest of the week, would be a series of more perfect days–temps in the mid  80s and blue skies.  The waves were big for much of Wednesday, but they too calmed as the storm move further up the coast.

We even swam the morning before we left–packing quickly, then stowing what was left in the early hours and hitting the beach for 3 final perfect hours before departing for another year, timing our travel to miss the congestion around Baltimore and pulling up to the curb on our tree-lined street with just enough time before dusk to get things unpacked.  We discovered, with selfish satisfaction, that the weather at home had been “autumnal” in our absence–high temperaturses in low 70s and lots of dark skies and rain.

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Journal Uncategorized

What I Did On My Summer Vacation Part 3: Reading, Rain & Raccoon!

bolo
Bolo

Tuesday started well.  I woke around 530 and thrashed around a while, finally dragging my sluggish butt, a camp chair, and my stack of pulp science fiction novels down to the beach–David Weber’s take on the old Keith Laumer “BOLO” stories, which was pretty cool, and an old Sci Fi Book Club anthology of A. Bertram Chandler’s John Grimes: Lieutenant of the Survey Services stories.  I’m enjoying both immensely–the Bolos are super-powerful sentient battle tanks that lend themselves to some heavy duty metaphorical thoughts about the nature of service, sacrifice, and war while the John Grimes stories are just good old fashioned testosterone-addled space adventures from the days when writers imagined rocket ships landing fins-down on strange and distant worlds.  A lot of people don’t get that good speculative fiction, whether it’s space opera or fantasy or whatever, is rarely just about what it looks like it’s about on the surface, and I love that.

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The family joined me a little later, and we spent the increasingly cloudy morning swimming in the still-welcoming waves, drying off, and reading.  Around noon it began to look like rain, and an hour later we were safely at an Outlet Mall in OCMD–if by safely I mean that we fought out way into the parking lot and found a space.  Actually, my wife followed a guy back to his car and begged him to wait for a few minutes until I navigated the gridlocked lot to take his place–how about that for some bold points? I was suitably impressed–things were getting very Darwinian in that lot, more cars than spaces circling like vultures and approaching a state of gridlock.  I smelled anarchy and trembled–my wife never flinched.

outlet
Outlets

Outlets…shopping…I try to be a good sport about it, and did pretty well in the first place we went, holding things that the women in my life may or may not want to try on at some distant, foggy point in the future, but after a couple of these store visits I relegated myself to the row of husbands and fathers leaning against walls and posts on the sidewalk in front of the stores.  We made some good bonds out there, commiserating and reassuring each other that this, too, would pass.  I talked to a young man with a couple of small children–one about 3 in a stroller, enraptured by a handheld electronic game, the other a baby in his arms, and mused about the obvious thing these outlets need: a sports bar for men.  At one point, he shook his head and said, “I was 18 when I went to Bosnia.  Three trips to Iraq, twice to Afganistan–you think it couldn’t get worse, then you come home and your wife takes you to the outlets.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that one, then he cracked a big smile and laughed. “Nah, this isn’t like war.  It’s just as boring, all the waiting, but in a war you at least get to fight back, eventually.” Then he kissed his little baby on the forehead and said, “This isn’t so bad, though.”

No, it wasn’t–and when my family finally emerged it was with demands that I find something to buy for myself, but they never have my shoe size–14–at these places, and I just got some new shirts about 8 years ago.  There’s nothing I need, short of one of those $400 stand mixers, and the truth of the matter is that my vintage Sunbeam does everything I need.  Since it looked like the rain wouldn’t be stopping, my wife suggested an alternative….

“Let’s go see that movie you want to see.”  She said. “The raccoon movie.”

The raccoon movie!  I didn’t need to be asked twice–we had a daughter use her magic telephone to get movie times and split, heading inland to Salisbury, MD because we were confidant that 26 miles of highway driving would be faster than crossing the gridlocked bridge and driving through 107 blocks of rain-day Ocean City traffic.

As we headed east, the rain increased from sprinkles to drizzle to wall of water that seemed like a fire hose was aimed at our windshield.  We tried not to think of our tent back on Assateague, where we’ve been driven off the island by storms and flash floods twice before over the past decade.  We had several days on reservations left and weren’t going anywhere.

Our denial was made easier by “the raccoon movie,” Guardians of the Galaxy, the perfect matinee–funny, exciting, plenty of tongue-in-cheek–just the kind of thing to will-the-guardians-meet-the-avengers-guardians-of-the-galaxy.jpegcrawl into and disappear for a few hours on a rainy day, which is what it’s about, right?  I would have sat through it a second time, absolutely.

Eventually, we had to face the inevitable–our campsite back at Assategue had been pummeled by the storm.  A small tear in the rain fly and been wind-twisted into major damage, and the rain made it’s way inside, soaking all of our sleeping bags and pillows.  We agonized even as we tightened the guy lines and replaced the loose spikes, should we give up, suck it up, or retreat to a motel–if we could find one–and deal with it in the morning.  Consensus favored the latter, and we actually struck out on a search only to stop about 2 miles from the campground.  “We’ll never find a room,” I said.  “We should suck it up, deal with this, whatever–worst case, we’re awake all day and we sleep on the beach in the sun tomorrow.”

It seemed like we just needed someone to say it–back we went, sleeping under a few old blankets, jerry-rigged pillows.  I slept in my fleece jacket instead of a blanket–fleece stays warm despite being damp.  In the morning, the sun rose into a clear blue sky–draw what conclusions and lessons you may, but we stuck it out and were rewarded.

 

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Commentary Journal Quote

Response To Suzie81’s “7 Questions For Bloggers.”

Last year Suzie81 stirred up the blogosphere with a wonderfully successful post that posed 7 significant questions to bloggers.  It was so successful she’s decided to give it another go-round.  There is no way i can resist–and why should I?  Here goes:

Interrogation
Annie Leibowitz photo

1. How did you create the title for your blog? I’m a big poetry fan and an enthusiastic, in not particularly talented or prodigious poet–the jump from the word “poem” to the french word for an apple, “pomme,” is a short one. Ed Abbey, one of my favorite writers, has a small collection of his verse collected in a book called “Earth Apples”–making the same connection.  Now, around these parts it’s not uncommon to see piles of horse dung on the backroads, which my grandfather always called “road apples.”  Many of the early posts on this blog were old pommes, I mean pomes, I mean poems–old apples, if you will, and kind of shitty at that…the title for my new blog became obvious.

2. What’s the one bit of blogging advice you would give to new bloggers?  There are no rules here beyond civility–write what you want, when you want it, and have a blast doing it.  In other forms of writing, we need to be market sensitive–who is the client, what do they want, who is the target audience, what do they want, what do they expect?  Unless you’re looking to monetize your blog, or you covet fat statistics, there is no reason to do anything but what you enjoy–and there aren’t many formats in life that provide that opportunity.

3. What is the strangest experience you’ve ever had?  I was baptized as a child–that’s a pretty weird thing, if you think about it. Lightning once struck the ground a few feet from where I stood–I could feel the static in my beard, and smell the ozone and electric discharge..

4. What is the best thing that anybody has ever said to you?  “I love you.” Seriously, what other answer could there be?  

just answer the questions
just answer the questions

5. When presented with a time machine, which one place and time would you visit? That’s difficult–the first Christmas, maybe? Talking barnyard animals and angels hovering over a bunch of bewildered shepherds? How cool is that?   

6. If you had to pick a new first name, what would you choose? I’m named for my grandfather. There isn’t another name in the world I’d like better.

7. If your life was a B-Movie what would it be called? The Thing That Slept Through Breakfast.

Questions, Questions, Questions: The WordPress Community Experiment