Living in Bump’s America

Whatever my personal feelings or biases on the recent presidential election, barring an electoral upset, unforeseen indictment, or revolutionary uprising, Donald J. Trump is going to be the next President of the United States of America. If not the popular vote, the Electoral College is likely to seal the deal. Across our country there is a great deal of concern, unrest, vitriol, Monday Morning Quarterbacking, celebration, and what have you as to how this may have come about. I have my own theories on this matter which I will touch upon at a later time. What is occupying my thoughts at the present is the impact he will have on my three-year old son, John Adams, or as we call him Bup, or as his grandparents (for perhaps reasons of regional distinctiveness) call him Bump. I’m 45, and while any new president’s policies will impact me directly and immediately, they are certain to affect my son much longer and more viscerally.

As a child, I remember growing up under and idolizing Ronald Reagan. He was an actor turned president, so we had career kinship. He brought the hostages home from Iran. He stood up to Russia. He was the Great (charismatic) Communicator. He sang the “Song of America” very well. Children live their lives in emotional broad strokes, and whatever may be known or suspected now concerning his presidency and policies due to disclosure, time, distance, and perspective, it’s hard to shake the childhood notion that growing up under Reagan as a PA suburbanite was to live in a more hope-filled era.

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My Bump envisioning a better tomorrow.

In sharp contrast, I vividly recall the sense of betrayal I felt when Bill Clinton went on national television denied his illicit Oval Office affair with Monica Lewinsky, and then later infamously uttered those words that began with, “Indeed I did…” I remember being in college and feeling that his actions (again regardless of one’s political bias) dishonored the Office of the President. And I wondered whether, as a result of his actions, future generations of Americans would value the presidency less highly because he had lied to the American people. These were my examples from childhood and adolescence. If you prefer, you may fill in Nixon and Watergate, JFK and Marilyn; it makes no difference to me. Point being: how the president, any president, comports himself (for now) makes a lasting impression on the generation growing up under him. Those two men left lasting impressions on me that to date still filter, compare, and contrast with my adult perceptions and, as anyone alive knows, behavior learned in one’s youth is the hardest to change. So I’m left again wondering, how will Donald Trump’s presidency inform my son’s life and worldview?

Mother Teresa in an interview famously said that she would not march against the war in Vietnam, but if someone threw a march for peace she would be there. Likewise, rather than listing what I may be opposed to in a Trump presidency, I would rather concentrate on what I want for my son; what world I would like him to inherit. Here then is my list of “Fors” that I want for my son, my Bump. I can only hope that Trump can offer Bump something of this. Otherwise, Trump is a chump, and not worthy of my Bump.

  • I am for clean air, and clean water for all.
  • I am for putting an end to starvation and malnutrition.
  • I am for investing in America’s roads and bridges.
  • I am for Universal Healthcare and affordable medicine for all Americans.
  • I am for free undergraduate college tuition for all Americans or equivalent preferred trade school programs.
  • I am for stricter gun control laws, rigid background checks, appropriate waiting periods, and closing all the gun show and other loopholes.
  • Except in special circumstances, I am for the restoration of full voting rights to all citizens who have served their sentences.
  • I am for a minimum wage that also serves as a minimum living wage.
  • I am pro business when that business demonstrates that it is both pro consumer and pro employee, and not just pro profit and pro exploitation.
  • I am for regulation of Wall Street and accountability for all crimes committed there. No one, NO ONE is too big to fail or jail. Period.
  • I am for strengthening our borders, and for appropriate immigration reform that does not target, deport, or inter people based on race, creed, color, or orientation.
  • I am for America’s public lands and national parks.
  • I am for the Endangered Species Act.
  • I am for putting an end to income inequality in all forms.
  • I am for gender equality and for women to have final say on their own bodies.
  • I am for pro choice.
  • I am for overturning Citizens United. Corporations aren’t people. Get real.
  • I am for campaign finance reform.
  • I am for marriage equality. Everyone has the same right to be happy or miserable in love.
  • I am for distributing school taxes equally among state-run districts so that all children have a fighting chance for a quality education.
  • I am for textbooks that are based in science not scripture.
  • I am for a rigorously scrutinized merit-based hiring environment.
  • I am for our space program and sending humanity to Mars and beyond. We have become too complacent and lost our way. It’s time to reach for the stars again.
  • I am for all faiths and all religions that seek no harm to others to flourish and be honored and given equal protection under our secular Constitution.
  • I am for calling out and prosecuting media bias, censorship, and spin that does not fall under First Amendment protections. Give us the facts, not lies and manipulation.
  • I am for the exploration of clean technologies, and for the gradual phasing out of fuels that no longer serve the best interests of our environment.
  • I am for taking the threat of Global Warming seriously.
  • I am for judging people, “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Thanks MLK.
  • I am pro child, pro education, pro arts, pro sciences, pro biodiversity, pro peace and pro love.
  • And lastly, and most strenuously, I am pro my son.

     

    I doubt I’ll get to see much of this come to pass, but I can only hope my son will. And that’s my vision for Bump’s America, where all are welcome to live, love, and flourish.

    May it be so someday.

    Namaste,

    Jason

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    My Bup, My Bump, My Little Love

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Before the World Went Mad

Bup (John Adams) and I arrived at the King George Elementary School polling station on Tuesday, November 8, at around 11:45 AM. The local media had been advising that ‘after people got to work and before they headed home’ were good times to vote, that the polls would be light. Like many projections of the day, the media could not have been more wrong. We walked toward the line that stretched out the door and into the courtyard and saw a young woman handing out orange pieces of paper. We approached her, inquiring if she was the sign-up line? No, that was inside, she replied cordially, but she was handing out sample ballots. Bup wanted an orange paper, so we took one, thanked her, and moved on. The orange sample ballot was paid for by the local Republican Party and informed its base how to vote by filling in sample choices as best case examples. Now at least we knew what the ballot looked like, so we could make decisions on how to or how not to vote. We sought out the tail of the line and queued up.

For the next almost ninety minutes I stood while Bup stood, sat, ran off, came back, laid on the ground, rolled on Best Friend Blankie, ran circles around the orange cones marking the line, got held, got put down, hurt his knees falling, chased after a pollster with cookies, and made all manner of spectacles of himself. We stood in three lines total – 1 to check in, 1 to vote, 1 to feed our ballot to the machine – and each new line brought Bup new hope that we were finished and crushed his spirit a little more when he realized that we weren’t. When we voted, he sat on my lap in the little makeshift booth and helped me guide the Sharpie to its desired ovals. When we submitted our ballot, I held him while he pushed the paper into the machine, then it spit back out to be turned over, then we pushed in the other side. At the end of the three lines was a beautiful disabled black boy nicknamed William Floyd handing out I Voted stickers with an eagle on it. He presented Bup with one proudly, which he accepted graciously, but Bup was spent and his face was drawn and frustrated with the restrictive and slow-moving process. Outside the site, a King George science class had set up a Krispy Kreme doughnut stand to fund their class trip. I bought Bup a doughnut and supported tasty science education. We snapped a few selfies and a few more shots with the help of passersby, and we headed home. I was tired and spent from managing a capricious toddler through a three-lined serious gathering of such importance, but we were all done, and I was more than proud of Bup that he had voted (more or less) in his very first Presidential Election.

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November 8, 2016 Election Day selfie

It needs to be said that for the two hour ordeal that was our voting experience, people were on their best behavior and then some. I had deliberately worn green and yellow so as to not inadvertently show support visibly for any one candidate. At 45, I remain of the mindset that my vote is my own and nobody has the right to know my intentions, except Nancy. Bup was dressed in a red shirt with a blue dinosaur to be both non-partisan and patriotic. I had expected to be assaulted out front with last minute appeals for my vote, and I was prepared to make my stock evasive answer that I was voting for Gracie Allen on the Surprise Party ticket, but nobody asked, thankfully. In line, few people were wearing red or blue, though many wore a sticker showing their political leanings. There were far more Trump supporters than Hillarys (this is King George after all), but both were present and pleasant. A family of Trump supporters right behind us – white, middle-aged father, mother, and grandmother – took an active interest in Bup’s antics and tried to occupy his time a bit with chatter and attention. They were dressed in Harley shirts and hunting attire, and were apparently well-known and of high standing in the community. More than a few people (black, white, and disabled) broke from their places in lines to pay their respects to our ‘line buddies.’ When all was over, they were also the family who saw me snapping selfies outside with Bup and offered to take our picture. Whatever their, my, or your leanings, upon a brief meeting, they made a pleasant impression.

Inside the polling station the elderly and infirmed were shunted to the front of each line so they didn’t have to wait as long as the rest of us. This made the line wait times longer, but no one complained; it was just the right thing to do. First time voters were announced and cheered, as were the elderly. An 87-year-old Navy veteran was met with enthusiastic applause after submitting his ballot. In so many ways, people were on their best behavior and had brought their best selves to the polling station, and it showed. Bup and I left the school tired but feeling satisfied and accomplished. We had done our part, voted our conscience, and played a minor but important role in the furtherance of American democracy.  The next day there would be chaos, tears, fears, riots, and all manner of recriminations. But that’s not this story. The world is full of vicissitudes, both ups and downs. Overall, our voting experience was a success, and one that my son is still talking about a week later. I hope it makes a lasting impression, and as he grows he chooses to take a more active role in steering the ship that is our fraying and fraught republic. But for now that’s where I choose to stop typing – to focus on the good. I wish for you all this day an opportunity in which you can do the same.

Namaste,

Jason

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I Voted, Daddy, and I’m so over it!

Something Wicked and Wonderful

I started reading Ray Bradbury’s 1962 highly acclaimed dark fantasy novel Something Wicked This Way Comes at the beginning of this summer. Previously, I’d finished his The Martian Chronicles, The illustrated Man, and Fahrenheit 451, so, to my way of thinking, I was rounding out my knowledge of his most celebrated and familiar works. I had had mostly positive experiences with the three previous works; Martian and Illustrated are short story collections woven together with loose framing devices, and Fahrenheit is short and considered a “must-read” on many lists. All three were taut and accessible with frequent payoffs and didn’t put much pressure on the reader to enjoy or engage in them. I also had a faint positive memory of the 1983 Disney film of the same name that I had seen in the theater but not since, and of Jason Robards being great at something in it, but I couldn’t remember what exactly. Disney has announced plans in the future to re-shoot Something Wicked for the screen, so there’s no time like the present to read this significant novel. So I began…and it was like landing in some kind of literary bizarro hell right from the start.

Archaic, muddled, or just absent grammar; metaphors that seemed to run for pages; a muddied narrative that left me wondering “what the hell just happened?” and a loose story that seemed to never get started for chapter after chapter. I could make out that there were two boys; a salesman; a spinster teacher; and a kindly, wise, and weary father of one of the boys. I gathered that a carnival of freaks came to the Midwestern town, led by the ominous Mr. Dark, who was also their Illustrated Man (and may or may not be the same man from the eponymous novel), and people started disappearing. There was also a carousel that if run forward made one age rapidly, and if run backward made its passengers “youth-en” to fetal stage. The story slowly, joltingly, almost grudgingly un-spun itself in page after page of vivid, obtuse imagery that left me uncertain and angry as to what Bradbury was trying to say. I read each chapter and put the book down in frustration and apathy. ‘This feels like a short story strung out to novel length,’ I would lament to Nancy (which indeed is true). ‘I feel like Bradbury is just padding his prose to hit a word count. I don’t know what the Dust Witch is? Is she dead? What just happened?’ And on and on and on.

My relationship with the book soured early, and I turned to reading other things rather than grind through its flummoxing narrative. I never gave up on it. I just set an agenda that I would read one chapter at a setting and then set it down and pick up something else that I was truly enjoying. I rewarded myself for stomaching it and for keeping my promise to myself that I would read this mess? trash? critically praised opus? And so almost five months went by with me every couple of days peering back into the arcane head of Ray Bradbury, unsure of what would come out. Now finished, I can honestly say I’m glad I did.

Great literature makes us no promises. And I don’t know if Something Wicked This Way Comes is great literature. But it certainly is difficult in places, good, and meaningful.  Once the story had all but played itself out, the villains vanquished, the heroes triumphant, Bradbury in an eloquent, quiet denouement breathed the following exchange into his characters:

“Dad, will they ever come back?”
“No. And yes.” Dad tucked away his harmonica. “No not them. But yes, other people like    them. Not in a carnival. God knows what shape they’ll come in next. But sunrise, noon, or at the latest, sunset tomorrow they’ll show. They’re on the road.”
“Oh, no,” said Will.
“Oh, yes, said Dad. “We got to watch out the rest of our lives. The fight’s just begun.”
They moved around the carousel slowly.
“What will they look like? How will we know them?”
“Why,” said Dad, quietly, “maybe they’re already here.”
Both boys looked around swiftly.
But there was only the meadow, the machine, and themselves.
Will looked at Jim, at his father, and then down at his own body and hands. He glanced up at Dad.
Dad nodded, once, gravely, and then nodded at the carousel, and stepped up on it, and touched a brass pole.
Will stepped up beside him. Jim stepped up beside Will.
Jim stroked a horse’s mane. Will patted a horse’s shoulders.
The great machine softly tilted in the tides of night.
Just three times around, ahead, thought Will. Hey.
Just four times around, ahead, thought Jim. Boy.
Just ten times around, back, thought Charles Halloway. Lord.
Each read the thoughts in the other’s eyes.
How easy, thought Will.
Just this once, thought Jim.
But then, thought Charles Halloway, once you start, you’d always come back. One more ride and one more ride. And, after awhile, you’d offer rides to friends, and more friends until finally…
The thought hit them all in the same quiet moment.
…finally you wind up owner of the carousel, keeper of the freaks…
proprietor for some small part of eternity of the traveling dark carnival shows….
Maybe, said their eyes, they’re already here.”

― Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1962

I was blown away. The elegance, the simplicity, the profoundness of the allegorical novel hit me all at once in one great rush. The novel was a cautionary tale about the gradual creep of evil into our lives; how we allow it through laziness, through neediness, through caving to addiction, through apathy, through ethical and moral ambiguity through not exercising our agency and industry. The novel is deliberately obtuse, for only through patience and diligence can we separate the wheat from the chaff, find the diamond in the rough, find the light at the end of a sea of darkness. Evil clouds our mind with extraneous questions and temptations that take us away from our charted endeavors. I found that my experience of the novel was no different. Bradbury made me work for the payoff, and I balked and bitched and hesitated for months because it was hard, because it wasn’t instant gratification, because it wasn’t “The Real Housewives of Ray Bradbury!” I was elated and ashamed, victorious though it be hollow, battle scarred but alive to live and learn another day. I had, in fact, experienced the greatness in good literature.

I am reminded of those memes that show up on social media every so often about how Lord of the Flies or Huck Finn or The Good Earth ruined someone’s summer. The implication is that the reader struggled through the book and got nothing but pain and lost pleasure out of it. It makes me wonder how many people of that opinion finish but don’t really listen or let it in, or skim, or read the Wiki entry, or just give up and glaze over while turning pages. I was right there with this novel until the carousel stopped and confronted me with my own wickedness, held the mirror up to nature, and made me dislike what I saw. We only grow in adversity. And the road less traveled makes all the difference. Only one in ten Americans actually read a book after high school, and even fewer attempt to crack truly worthwhile works of literature. Do me a favor: help me raise that percentage. It’s worth it. Really. You’ll see.

Now off to crack open Walden….again.

Namaste,

Jason