The Way It Is

Did you have a good Thanksgiving holiday weekend?  I did. 

We had a small group of family and friends over for the first time in three years for turkey day.  I cooked and, gotta say, it was one of those meals where everything went right.

The bird cooked perfectly and I barely basted it.  The roasted sweet potatoes with apple, honey and maple syrup, was fantastic.  Cornbread stuffing made separately worked really well.  Roasted brussels sprouts felt perfect.  Even the green salad with pomegranate seeds was a standout, not to mention the homemade corn bread I made in my spare time, as well as the excellent cranberry sauce my sister-in-law made.

Ina approved!

It wasn’t all good news, though.

There were 22 people killed and 44 injured in seven mass shootings over Thanksgiving week.  That’s an average of one a day, for those who are now too overwhelmed or saddened or stumped to think about it. 

Of course, I thought about it.  But there was food to buy, cooking to get done and timing and plating to figure out, culminating with me watching some of the new Broadway musicals on NBC’s Thanksgiving Day parade (Note: Ugh, don’t bother.  And yes we’re speaking to you, Some Like it Hot!) on that all too treacherous morning of the big meal.

Don’t even get me started on this

Well, treacherous is a relative term.  Obviously.

But it’s not like the five that died and dozens more who were injured four days prior at that beloved Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ party spot, Club Q, thought a few hours of their partying prior to Thanksgiving was particularly dangerous either. 

And even though I’ve never actually been inside a Wal-Mart (Note:  Yeah, that’s correct), it’s safe to imagine that the six human beings blown to bits by a disgruntled employee would never have imagined in their wildest dreams that being in that location would prove to be the most treacherous place on earth for them two days later.

Sigh.

The great intellectual and writer, the late Susan Sontag, published a devastating short story, The Way We Live Now, back in the mid-eighties.  It described in snippets of conversation that felt casual and gossipy but were anything but, the new normal that the AIDS epidemic in NYC had wrought.

Life would never return to the naive everyday-ness that we had previously dared to intermittently consider to be treacherous. In fact, most of what we considered pre mid-eighties treacherousness would be considered quaint, and then some, from then there on.

Nothing about Ms. Sontag’s prose was melodramatic, studied or even particularly special at the time.  But that’s what made it unique. She was merely reporting the conversational facts of deterioration, disease and death as if they were an itemized prep list of thoughts, tasks and snarky tidbits one could encounter before, during and after a typical Thanksgiving holiday dinner.

A must read (click the pic for the link)

In essence, she was telling us we would grow used to anything if we had to because even with the grotesquely awful there were plans to be executed, events to attend to and meals certainly to be made.  What was going on outside was awful but, well, we’d just have to modify.  Amid the medicines, hospital visits and funeral plans, the rest of us would still get hungry.  Right?  After all, there was nothing we could do about it, anyway. 

Having lived through the dreadful beginning and middle of AIDS as death sentence in the eighties and nineties, I can’t help but feel a familiarity of those times to the way we live now – in 2022.

It’s not that gun proliferation and violence is a new virus in our midst, the way AIDS was back then.  It’s that it has begun to metastasize in a scarily virulent way.

The new normal

There have so far been 606 mass shootings in the US in 2022, as opposed to 610 in total in 2020 and 690 last year (an all-time high).  We could still be #1 by the time this year is out but no matter where we fall, or fail, we will certainly be competitive with the worst of the worst before 2023 rings in.

There are now more guns that people in the US. (Note: 393 million guns to be exact), the majority of which are owned by white men, who are more than likely to identify as rural and Republican.

No, I’m not racial profiling.  Here is an exhaustive story from CNN in June. 

And a front-page story in the NY Times this weekend casually chronicled the latest trend in a new kind of non-verbal public discourse – the armed demonstrator.

This should not be normal

Sure, it’s our right to carry a weapon if we have a permit.  But in June in the US we had an average of one armed demonstration per day.  What this means is that packin’ right wing protestors, sometimes led by the Proud Boys or Oath Keeper members,  routinely show up at public events in places like Phoenix or Nashville carrying sidearms, long guns or other such paraphernalia because…they can.

If it scares you, well maybe you should be scared.  Or not.  Our freedom, your choice.  Or, well, perhaps it’s both.

It’s worth noting lots of these events also seem to happen around abortion clinics, or gatherings sponsored by the LGBTQ community.  Sometimes they’re even near places where people vote.  Or where certain other minority groups choose to congregate. 

This feels right to me

This is not surprising since 10 states have extremely lax laws regarding firearms, allowing pretty much any gun owner the legal right to carry a weapon in a crowd, a government building or even restaurant serving Thanksgiving dinner. 

So if you found yourself in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia or Washington over the holiday and made it out alive and unscathed, consider yourself one lucky dude, dudette or non-binary celebrant.

I myself felt relatively safe in Los Angeles this week, despite all you maybe have heard about our uptick in crime.   They might have guns, sure, but they’re not free to carry them anywhere.  At least not by law.

… and I’m never leaving

Besides, they’re mostly looking for Rolex watches and I was never big on expensive jewelry.

But that’s the way I, and we, live now.   At least here.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Because it was exactly six months prior to Thanksgiving that 19 small children and two teachers were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, TX and the only thing that changed were the lives of their relatives and friends.

Lana Del Rey – “Looking for America”

Life in the Upside Down

So how was your week?

Did you know the fourth (and final?) season of Stranger Things dropped on Netflix?

What about that sequel to Top Gun, the trashy, watchable and massively popular 1986 film starring Tom Cruise that I never quite liked (Note: Oh, who cares, Chair?!) but yet managed to be moved by (Spoiler Alert:  I can’t reveal that moment but it’s as cheap, effective and mind-numbingly obvious as anything to come out of the 80s).

Anyway, do you know that Top Gun: Maverick (2022) is having the biggest opening of any Tom Cruise film EVER this Memorial Day weekend, grossing upwards of $260 million internationally?

Everything old is new again

I bet you didn’t know THAT.

But even if you did, who cares, right?

Because none of it truly matters when you’re livin’ life in the upside down.

If you don’t get that reference, the Upside Down is the crazy underground alien world we were first introduced to in the first season of Stranger Things.

It is an evil, ruthless, violent dystopian place where anything can happen and you will more likely than not, not survive.

Think of it as, well,  an American classroom in the midst of a school shooting.

Too soon? 

I don’t think so.

Might as well just cut off the top of the pole

I can tell you that episode one of ST’s fourth season opens with a short sequence that ends with a series of cuts to the maimed, bloody corpses of a group of pre-teens at the hands of…  Oh, well, why spoil the fun?

Just know that the Duffer Brothers once again have their hands on the deadening pulse of America. 

So much so that several days ago there was a warning card inserted right before the episode began that lets us know this season was shot a year ago, and that we’re saddened by the recent blah, blah, blah, etc. etc., etc….

But talk about prescience.

It’s like Eleven could sense… the most predictable thing

On the other hand, maybe these images, cuts and, well, shots are just the kind of thing we take for granted these days.  And what are writers anyway except a delivery system of artistic truths for the masses to see and contemplate and feed upon?

At least that’s how I talk about us when I’m at my most cynical.

And this would be one of those times.

There is no sense to be made of the shooting deaths of 19 children and two of their teachers at an elementary school in the small town of Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday because one can’t make sense of the insane and nonsensical.  That’s what makes us categorize those events as such.

Senseless

And yet there is no lack of would-be sense makers trying to deny the obvious with lies, tortured statements and contorted half-truth answers to the obvious.

Here is a list of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S, over the last two decades.

The majority of these were done with military style weapons like the AR-15, the gun of choice for that 18 year-old shooter at Uvalde.  The gun the NRA backed Republican Party refuses to ban. (Note: Heck, they don’t even want universal background checks).

And there is a reason for that.  This gun can shoot a bullet a second, eviscerating the flesh, bones and organs of its human targets like no other weapon in our history.

It’s speed and efficiency has made it BY FAR the most popular and PROFITABLE  gun out there.  And that’s quite an accomplishment since at this point there are way more guns than people in the U.S.

You read that right.

Who else is mad as hell?

No wonder the shooter bought two of them in the course of a week, along with more than enough ammunition to kill all those kids two or three times over.  And no background check required,  you can’t even get two handguns until you turned 21 and, anyway, these AR-15’s are much quicker, faster and FAR more fun.  Speaking from the merely logical perspective of an 18-year-old, they are the best and most efficient way to achieve your goals.

And yet we’ve got the Texas governor (Abbott) and senator (Cruz) on TV mansplaining to us all sorts of things.

– It’s single parent families and a lack of religion that has helped create all this.

– It’s mental illness (Note: Duh) in the last 20 years, especially because you used to always be able to buy rifles at age 18.

– It’s a excuse to take away everyone’s guns, a Democratic hoax to take over and politicize every single awful thing in the world to their favor rather than address the issues real Americans care about.

– Only good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns.

Of course, in reality Texas ranks last of all states in the country for money allotted to  mental health services and effectiveness in treating them.  It is also one of easiest states in the country to buy and possess a gun thanks to recent legislation signed by Gov. Abbott that vastly expanded gun rights.

The fact is, you can buy and carry pretty much any type of gun anywhere at any time. 

As for that final statement, more than a dozen police officers, all of them presumably good guys with guns, stood inside that elementary school on the opposite side of a classroom door where a bunch of children 10 and under lay bleeding, screaming, terrified and begging (Note: via recorded 911 calls) to be rescued.

Make it make sense

But the good guys were wrongly ordered to stand down by their supervisor when they should have gone in, or so it’s being said right now.  This was a different story than was announced on Tuesday.

 And it might get even worse by next Tuesday.

But suffice it to say, there is nothing simple about this story that any good guys vs. bad guys scenario might possibly address.

As much as the top elected officials in Texas and in the world of Republican politics want to make this into a simplified tale of life in the wild, wild west.

It is nothing of the sort.

This is life right now.

And as long as we remain the RIGHT side of the aisle up, we will stay forever in the upside down.

Lady Gaga – “Hold My Hand” (from Top Gun: Maverick)