Luke evil?

Does a line exist where what happened before actually means something? Or are things now so disposable it matters not what happened before, only what is happening now, regardless of what the past can show us or how the present can only exist through the events of the only single timeline capable of producing the present state of things? The present is caused by the past and ought to be informed by understanding the past. Maybe I am doing nothing but illustrating just how tenuous a hold on any understanding of time I have by just asking the questions, but damn it, I do not see how making Luke Skywalker evil isn’t The Force Awakens simply refuting his entire story arc in the greatest fantasy storyline of all time.

The entire point of Luke going off to face Vader the second time was to prove whether he would choose the Light Side or the Dark Side of The Force. He danced with it. He nearly succumbed to it. We were even given the over-the-top, sledgehammer-to-the-brain, “wow, Luke cut off Vader’s hand, he has a robotic hand, and he’s becoming Vader,” visual during the lightsaber due to pound it home. What does he do? Throws away the lightsaber. “You’ve failed, Your Highness.” Luke passed the test and became a Jedi. Period. End of story. One more time for those who have more money than sense: PERIOD.

But naturally it cannot be the end of the story. There is money to be made in them thar hills, and Harrison Ford is going to die someday, so we’d better get them all on screen before he takes the dirt nap. Regardless of how Return of the Jedi seemed to wrap up the story in 1983, it has to keep going on, and fan speculation is rampant picking Luke to be the Evil One of the new trilogy. Some even say, “that’s a great idea.” I do not agree. The whole point of the Original Trilogy is to prove Luke will never choose evil. Am I the only one who saw the Original Trilogy?

When Episode VII was announced I could not imagine where the story could go when Luke’s temptation to use the quick and easy path of the Dark Side was put to rest at the end of Jedi. Story is over. Go home. Now, if fan speculation proves to be accurate, it turns out Jedi wasn’t the end of the story. Then what the Hell was the reason for Jedi? When, in this disposable society, does someone say, “for Pete’s sake what happened means something?”

In my history I have turned my back on Star Wars only once for exactly two years after the movie for The Clone Wars. I said it then, and I still feel it today: why should I care about Star Wars when George Lucas doesn’t? And now I am staring at the potential the people with the keys to Star Wars have as fundamental a misunderstanding of Star Wars as its creator. And it isn’t a matter of living up to my expectations. The question of Luke’s allegiance was settled. If they throw it out, no matter the reason, they take a flamethrower and finish the obliteration of everything great about Star Wars started by Lucas when he tinkered with the Special Editions for the first time. Go ahead, tell me I don’t know the rest of the story, and Luke’s resolution could be spectacular, but I’ll respond with, “I know it will be because I already saw it and I have no interest in watching someone else’s version of it.”

On one hand, historically there is so little time to speculate about what could be in the next Star Wars movie I relish the unknown. On the other, if they make Luke evil, he isn’t Luke. He’s a character named Luke, played by the same actor, written and directed by people who get to make Star Wars without understanding Star Wars. It’s as though millions of voices were to shout out in support of a Presidential candidate who would advocate trampling upon the very Constitution he would be charged with serving and protecting even we the people would never, ever be part of anything such as that. Oh, wait.

Goddamnit. Luke is f*cked, and it’s our fault for being okay with it.

The House of Ebbets

Please keep in mind I knew Harley Coleman way before he was the Harley Coleman and just a boy with a layer of baby fat it seemed he was destined to carry for the rest of his existence. Pudgy boys who tried to sit by themselves during recess at Roosevelt Elementary never quite succeeded in their goal to be left alone, which is the curse of all pudgy boys who want to be left alone. Boys, and some of the girls, found a way to pass Harley as he sat on the timber beams laid to hold the pea gravel as the safety measure to prevent injury should a child tumble off the merry-go-round, which we all did, and they never let Harley be. There was too much enjoyment in taunting the kid for his name, his crazy father, his ill-fitting clothing, the patch of blonde in his brown curls, the simple fact he appeared to be content taking it. The students loved teasing him, and it appeared as though a perverseness in Harley loved being teased.

Then Harley became Harley, and what I mean is he stopped being the little boy and became the man we all know, or think we know, Harley to be. There is a streak in him still desiring attention, even if negative in nature, even now as he wastes away in prison while writing autobiography after autobiography about his exploits to challenge the notion the story of a life cannot be told in one book but requires a full fourteen to tell the tale. Those of us who live in Arnold’s Grove know about them because Harley made certain we would know, but maybe you don’t.

There is a fine wing added to our hospital built to recapture what the first hospital looked like named The Harley Coleman Maternity Ward. Many who would one day labor at Harley Coleman Implements, Inc., came into the world at the Harley Coleman Maternity Ward and were tended to by Harley Coleman Funeral Services, thereby assuring his name would be tied to hundreds of Grovians from cradle to grave. We have the Harley Coleman Convention center that, on a cool autumn evening in 2001, opened its doors and welcomed Bob Newhart to its stage. Our bowling alley, another structure sharing its name with Harley Coleman, was the first place in town to outlaw smoking and suffered the consequences when teenagers who once bowled there to sneak cigarettes from its machine had to find somewhere else to foster their nascent habit. Who names a bowling alley after themselves? Harley Coleman, that’s who.

When I would attend a ribbon cutting for one of these places, and while I named several, I don’t need to name them all, I could still see the little boy with the snot-smeared cheeks sitting out childhood moments he should have enjoyed but for whatever reason did not. While he became the something else he wanted people to see, I often thought he, too, could still see himself at age ten. Should I say I could see him exercising a grandiosity way back then? It would be a lie, and a lie is such a specific distortion of reality. A lie has so much more intent than any other human expression, or at least, that’s what I say when I attempt to say something of meaning. When the entire block of Grand between second and third streets was razed and replaced with the Harley Coleman Arts Center, I started to get the idea he thought about himself in a way none of us ever had.

Harley turned his eye to Weeghman Park in 2001, and it didn’t mean much to me with respect to Harley Coleman. I suppose the bulldozers rolling into Weeghman on my 35th birthday caught my attention due to me already in such a place of reflection, as maybe a lot of people are when they reach the age of Constitutional qualification to run for the White House, so I gave more thought to myself than to Harley. Under the great weeping willow, stuck over in the northeast corner of the park, I debated the topics of the day with my best friend, Chad, about who would win the Cola Wars, would anyone ever hit 62 home runs in a season, was Sarah Dreyfuss stuffing her bra, did Darth Vader lie to Luke.  Even now, with Weeghman long gone and its replacement something of a sad yet also funny memory, I can hear the wind rustling the weeping willow’s branches, see my Reeboks kicking its fallen leaves, feel its bark as I attempted and failed to climb it.  My memory is tied to the weeping willow now long gone as is the concrete swimming pool built during the Depression, the rusty rocket ship slide and the children who risked lockjaw to enjoy it, and the Donald Duck teeter totter Grovians used to measure just how far the Little Sioux had come out of its banks by how much the duck was under water. There weren’t many of us in attendance the day Weeghman began its journey into obivlion since watching the demise of a beloved place of childhood was far less a priority than getting in a full day’s work. The Sentinel assigned a photographer, but the actual business of the day, just the rolling in of the machines sent to level the site, was so anticlimactic it failed to make the next day’s front page. Not much happened, but it would not always be so, and Harley had plans for Weeghman guaranteeing the place would make front page news for more than three years. It also landed him in prison, which is nothing more than a footnote in the whole of the story.

♦♦♦

Maxwell’s has always been a favorite for Grovians as it was believed to have the best ribs in Siouxland. Do I go there too often? When a question such as that gets asked the answer is always already known, isn’t it. I celebrated the 35th for a few days, days blurred with hangover and foul cigar smoke, and brought the brouhaha to a close with a rack and a half. It was not a surprise when I entered the tavern to see Harley at the counter because Harley was usually at the counter for supper. He was there so often when I would go I knew he ordered a pork tenderloin sandwich, the patty twice the size of the bun attempting to contain it, but only ever finished half. Why he never ordered it without onions and rather pushed them aside each time remains a mystery to me to this very day. Why I decided to talk to him is as elusive.

“It’s really going to boom when this humidity breaks,” I said to him with my foot on the brass bar.

“Nothing like a good storm,” Harley said. “Sweet summer rain.”

Small towns, with the finite number of changes possible day after day, month after month, and year after year, tend to lend themselves to conversations without true beginnings or real endings. Every conversation is the continuation of the last, and I don’t recall the last time I said, “hello,” to someone.

“What went on at Weeghman today?” I said.

Harley, in the middle of a bite of his half tenderloin, nodded. A smidge of mustard attached itself to the corner of this mouth, and to his credit he wiped it away. Immediately my mind recalled him wiping snot from his nose back at Roosevelt.

“Might slow us down. Might not. To be honest, I don’t even know what’s on the schedule right now,” Harley said.

I thought he might be fibbing me.

“So you don’t know every backhoe in four counties is leveling the park as we speak?”

“Okay. Maybe I do know the schedule,” he said.

It was then Harley struck me as so ordinary. There was a man who made a billion dollars with such diversification he was the most-power builder of computers, distributor of spirits, banker, and bookseller in the state. He should have been dining under the shadow of the Old Capitol, brokering megadeals, pulling a string or two, not destroying his colon with his millionth slab of deep-fried, golden, brown, and delicious proof of a higher power. Cripes, it looked as though his shoes were at least a decade old.

“How’s about you tell me what you’re building out there so I don’t have to sniff out another lie,” I said with a smile. Why the smile? I never disliked Harley, and maybe if I were friendly to him, a feeling I was genuinely having at the moment, then maybe he’d give me a scoop no one else had.

“A ballpark.”

That was my scoop?

“A ballpark?”

“For little leaguers. To replace Pederson Park.”

How a fattish man with wind-burnt cheeks could look impish still baffles me, but the look he gave with his response tipped me off he was lying again, and how to catch him and get the information became the order of the moment. Harley wasn’t having it, though. He stood from his stool.

“Then why not buy Pederson and rebuild there?”

Harley placed a five next to his plate and patted my shoulder.

“All in good time, Travis.” There was no way I could stifle the laugh at him getting my name wrong. That was Harley, too, for while he knew me just as he knew everyone in town he managed to think himself talking to someone different than the person there. He was aloof, as I thought so many billionaires to be even though Harley was the only resident of Arnold’s Grove worth ten figures, and it amused me.

I watched him leave the bar and wondered just what the Hell the guy was up to.

♦♦♦

A few of us took to heading to Harley Park, we called it Harley Park as we knew the place would have his name on it somewhere, to watch the progress on his newest indulgence. It took four months for the shape to come together, but it did, in fact, turn out to be a ball park. An enormous ball park without the playground equipment, the small block concrete rest rooms, picnic areas, concession stands, and half a dozen playing fields I normally associate with municipal land set aside for boys and girls to learn baseball and softball and for adults to relive their glory days while their waistlines expanded.

Harley was building a full-sized major league stadium right where Weeghman Park used to be, where the weeping willow under which I had my first kiss was now nothing more than memories fading to black.

“The guy has always been certifiable,” Tom said.

“Okay, I get it looks as though he’s lost his mind, I mean, a baseball stadium in the middle of nowhere? But we don’t know what he’s going to do with it,” I said.

There was a bluff just to the north of Harley’s monstrosity, and we would meet there just before sundown to see the amber light dancing on the concrete and steel. It was also a fantastic excuse to drink a few beers with old friends. The construction site was something to behold, and in its beauty and its insanity, I felt it my obligation to give to Harley the benefit of the doubt. Doing something so ridiculous and so mind-bending eccentric had to have good reason, and while Tom and Paul, two buddies of mine going all the way back to elementary school, might be skeptical, I was desperate to see how the lunacy resolved itself.

“It looks like Wrigley,” Paul said.

“It looks nothing like Wrigley,” Tom said. The two loved each other, but their true passion was arguing with each other.

“I think I’ve seen it, and it’s not Wrigley,” I said.

While I enjoy baseball, its history and I are not bedfellows in the least. Quiz me on the previous decade and I would never be able to give you the teams in each Fall Classic. It never struck me as something I had to know so it was frequently the case I did not.

“Okay, Einstein. Make your guess then. You’d say something like Fenway Park, or maybe old County Stadium because it had, ‘the best brats west of the Mississippi,” Tom said. He crunched his can of Hamm’s and tossed it aside where it landed among the relics of our previous trips to Harley Park. Paul and I looked at one another and decided not to question Tom’s dubious handle on geography.

“Dodger Stadium,” Paul said.

Aha.

“The Dodgers did play there, but it isn’t Dodger Stadium,” I said.

♦♦♦

When I think back on it I realize just how crazy it was to have an exact replica of Ebbets Field on the east side of town. Just thinking, “I drove past Ebbets last night,” was something I could not grasp no matter how hard I tried. Keep in mind Arnold’s Grove is a town of five thousand people. We have precisely two factories, a meat locker, a grain elevator, four schools including junior high and senior high, a rinky-dink movie theater built a decade before Hitler invaded Poland, nine churches, a radio station whose greatest public service is telling us when to head to the basement lest we find ourselves somewhere over the rainbow, one Victorian home built on the great hill at the south end of town, in all likelihood, only to provide one structure in town kids would fear due to a century of rumors of haunting. In our little town notable mostly for how unassuming it is, a little town so nondescript the label, “Small Town,” has to be applied for it to have have any meaning, was Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the place where the Boys of Summer never walked off its surface having earned a parade by virtue of securing a championship. Pee Wee Reese, Jackie, The Lip, Don Newcomb, Ralph Branca’s eternal bad pitch, The Duke, Hilda, the Sym-Phony. All the brilliant wonder of a neighborhood team relegated to the pages of history when an owner cut out the soul of an entire borough to make more money elsewhere.

On the evening of October 3rd, the anniversary of the eve of Brooklyn winning its only title before the club picked up stakes and moved, Ebbets 2 was alight. The towering letters above the entrance to the famed rotunda lit the dark fall night. To give the area the feel of something other than early harvest in a rural community, the Kiwanis set up a stand with dogs at 1955 prices where my friends and I watched the builders for two years. It was BYOB, of course, and it was a great night. With construction officially over, Harley’s main event was scheduled for three o’clock the next day, and we even had a Brooklynite milling about, telling stories of when he was seven years old and listened to National Treasure Vin Scully call the final moments of the only time Brooklyn would not have to Wait Till Next Year. The guy from Brooklyn was old, of course, and he might have had some of the specifics of the Series wrong, but he was there, enthusiastic in the moment, and maybe thought himself as one of our own for just a few hours.

None of the good feelings could prepare us for how surreal October 4th would be.

♦♦♦

“Welcome, welcome,” Harley said, over and over again, pumping the hands of the 1,214 people who made time in their day to attend the official whatever it was Harley had planned. His ribbon cutting ceremonies infrequently featured an actual ribbon, and they were always marked with esoteric references to how whatever building he was dedicating impacted his life and his personal history. That was Harley, through and through: he was the writer who never cared to write the backstory for his current tale to make any sense, and we were nothing more than the confused readers.

NewsCenter 4 sent its newest reporter, a pimply faced kid just out of college who stumbled over the big words he peppered into his report, the one hundred miles through browning fields of corn and soybeans to cover the event. The city manager attended, but the mayor did not; he and Harley never got along. The fifth graders from Jefferson Elementary took a field trip out to experience it. It wasn’t an enormous doing, but it also did not go wholly unnoticed.

Harley stood to the microphone, and eventually, the crowd silenced itself.

“Grandpa, what would life have been like had you spent as much time talking about yourself as you did the Brooklyn Dodgers. Who were you, really? Who were your parents? What were your dreams, your aspirations, your failures and the life lessons they taught? Where did you want life to take you? What mark upon the land did you want to make? What was the Battle of the Bulge like, and what did you think as you watched the tips of your fingers turn black with frostbite while listening to the Wehrmacht trying to kill you? You taught me about the Brooklyn Dodgers, but I now wonder who you were. I shall always wonder.”

As Harley’s speech continued, as the letter to his paternal grandfather filled the air and left us all wondering just what he meant, I had the feeling of anticipation grow in me. It’s difficult to explain. Listening to what could be a mad man talk to his deceased grandfather with Ebbets Field and the Arnold Grove Water Tower in view at the same time should have been enough to make me focus on how bizarre it all was, but the hair standing on the back on my arm stood for some other reason. A rush of adrenaline pulsed through my body. For the first time in my life I became acutely aware of a sixth sense.

I turned to Tom.

“Something is going to happen.”

Tom loved rolling his eyes at me, and he rolled them again, but I knew I was right. Then Harley said the last words into the microphone he would ever again say as a free man.

“And so, Grandpa, this is for you.”

Harley pressed a button. A recording of the 1812 Overture blared through the period-correct PA system inside and out of Ebbets, and the tinniness of it missed the effect I thought Harley wanted. It wasn’t quite Earth shattering, which was the last thought I had before the Earth actually started to shatter.

The shock wave from the start of the explosion hit hard, but I was uncertain whether it was as brutal because of the force or because I had no idea explosives were on the card. The building started its collapse in the outfield, and two chain reactions, one on the left side and the other on the right, snaked all the way round to the Ebbets Field letters above the rotunda. It was over in a matter of seconds. The Tchaikovsky was gone and we were left with only the dust of hundreds of tons of concrete and air filling the air.

It was impossible to take my eyes off the sight so I have no idea what the faces of other people looked like.

Somewhere in my mind, and maybe this was just a flicker, I had the notion it should have been the funniest damn thing I had ever seen in my life.

The Arnold’s Grove Police Department did not feel the same way.

“I am going to have to take you in, Harley,” said Lieutenant Molly Perth.

“For what?” Harley said. He sounded rather indignant about it.

“I don’t know right now, but there has to be something illegal about building a stadium then blowing it up. Permits or something,” she said. In the ten years I had known her, and we had a bit of a thing for about three months at the turn of the century, I always found Molly to be fair and to view her job more about justice than the law. Now Harley had her pretty worked up; people who didn’t know her wouldn’t notice it, but I did.

She slapped the cuffs on Harley’s wrists and started walking him to her prowler.

As for me? I had to know.

I quick stepped it up to him and tapped him on the elbow.

“What was that, Harley? All the stuff you said about your grandpa and how you loved him. And being a Dodger fan and all. What was that?”

Then, for the first time since I met him in second grade, I saw a smile of genuine pleasure cross his face.

“I hated my grandpa.”

Molly stuck him in the back of her car, climbed into the driver’s seat, and pulled away.

♦♦♦

Help us, Luke Skywalker. You’re our only hope.

About a month after the trailer for The Force Awakens broke the Internet and some low-level nobody at Fandango got fired for inability to handle the ticket preorder landslide there exists one common thread through media in response:

Where is Luke Skywalker?

Some speculate he won’t be in the movie very much at all. This movie, in their theories, focuses more on Han Solo than the rest of the returning cast from the Original Trilogy. The prevailing Geek opinion appears to be Luke will have precious little screen time since he’s gone into hiding but will play a major role in the sequels. The lack of Luke in the trailers, the merchandising, the one sheet, the commercial, and anything leaked indicates participation slightly above cameo or his role is being held as as closely guarded secret. Smart money is on the latter because this is the main saga. Anything outside of the Anthology series focuses on the Skywalker line, and who other than George Lucas would make a saga picture without a Skywalker as the main story?1

This is reminiscent of the period between 1980 and 1983 when the entire world, and perhaps aliens watching Earth broadcasts to determine whether we as a species are worth contacting2, wondered whether Darth Vader lied to Luke at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Is he Luke’s father? Did Obi-Wan lie? What does it mean if Vader is the father? How will the truth be told? While Vader’s reveal could easily fit into Days of Our Lives if one were to simply remove his costume the “I am your father” provided three full years of suspense, and here we are, wondering whether Luke has anything to do with The Force Awakens when he is Luke Freaking Skywalker.

Star Wars is more exciting now than it has been since the waning months of Spring 1983. Luke has to be in there somewhere and there are no clues other than one on-set photograph and a mechanical hand touching R2-D2 indicating his participation at all. The nature of Star Wars fandom means dozens, if not hundreds, of viewings of even the bad movies, so there is only one chance to be surprised. Luke is in the movie, and he is not a minor character. He cannot be a minor character, and it’s just one short month before we see him again on the big screen.

As for the trailer itself? Cautious optimism as it feels more like Star Wars up to 1983, but over-the-top anticipation ran rampant in 1998 and 1999 and look what happened there. We should have been prepared for it from a filmmaker who, between Jedi and The Phantom Menace, was involved with made-for-TV Ewok movies, Howard the Duck, Radioland Murders, Young Indy, and the Special Editions, but we let down our guard as a fandom despite overwhelming evidence lightning only struck twice.3 Here is where J.J. Abrams deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to executing something relevant to modern audiences because no matter the knocks on him, and many of them he deserves, Abrams understands what is wanted and provides.4

1Guten Tag, Dead Horse. You need a pounding: The Phantom Menace connects to the entire saga arc only with Anakin being introduced to Obi-Wan and the ascension of whomever would become Emperor. Those two points could have been the opening scroll to Attack of the Clones to allow the events of Revenge of the Sith two movies to breathe.

2Probably not.

3George Lucas came up with two insanely popular ideas. Better directors (Kershner and Young Spielberg) and better writers (Kasdan) took those ideas from popular to transcendent. My biggest problem with Lucas in the Prequel Trilogy is his insistence writing and directing are like riding a bike when they most certainly are not.

4Manage expectations. Do not go into it expecting to see what you want because it will not be there. Go in and try to enjoy what is there.

Pots and Pans

Since Memorial Day 2009 I have twice had to restart my life.

An end of a marriage. An end of a relationship. Moves from where I had been living, one as short as a year, the other eight years total, to someplace new. Rentals. White walls. Whole new views of sunrises and sunsets. All new belongings.

When these endings occurred I both times got rid of nearly everything I had, but nothing so consistently as pots, pans, glasses, plates, silverware, dishrags, and trash cans. The first time I left everything from the marriage because I was the one leaving and taking it with me would have reminded me of the marriage. The second time everything went to Goodwill to attempt to stem memories of who had used my pots and pans, my pint glasses from college, my Fiestaware. Spatulas. Strainers. Everything went, and I started over. Again.

It is more than just the kitchenware, of course. Having to furnish every room, knowing these structures might feel more comfortable with things on the walls, tables where the guys and I have meals. It’s the kitchenware trigging thoughts more than anything else because for some reason emphasis was put on plates and how they meant something, and with these new things I am constantly reminded of the old being gone.

Retreating to dark corners might help me from the pain of confronting things, but it also keeps me in the dark corners with my memories, my obsessions, my refusal to be in the present and not somewhere in the past. What if I had kept the last house, and the mismatched, on purpose, dinnerware, and the wooden spoons purchased for $5 from Target? Would heading at it straight on have made a difference? Is wondering whether it would have just as much a waste of time as thinking about every instance I would do differently if I could?

With unlimited resources I worry I might change everything all the time. Get too used to the pots and pans, and the thoughts they trigger, cast them aside, and buy replacements. Rather than look around and say everything in sight is, unequivocally, mine, all I see is what is gone. Maybe it is better I am on the brink of financial destruction. I’ll have to deal with what is here.

While I have no peace doing the dishes I somehow tonight found peace writing about no peace while doing the dishes. I suppose it is a measure of experiencing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), doing something with my time for me as a person rather allowing the thoughts to control me. Now how do I do it again?

Maybe I did an intelligent thing by cleaning up the kitchen tonight no matter how much it triggered the obsessive thoughts because it led to writing. And maybe all I did was end up with a clean kitchen.

Humans: still in love with love with public execution

Schadenfreude. Deriving pleasure from the misfortunes of others. It has been a week of schadenfreude across the nation, from a call defying all conventional football wisdom deciding the Super Bowl to an NFL analyst arrested hours later for solicitation and assault to a news anchor himself calling in question his integrity.

There has been plenty of opportunity to laugh at people and kick them while they’re down this week.

How have we as a species arrived at this point?

For the past few months I have taken to Twitter to try to reach out and attempt to join a conversation, any conversation, but for many reasons I stay away from the things trending. Sometimes just words make me go to a dark place so I stay away from the trends but when Warren Sapp appeared I clicked because when I watched the NFL I watched him, specifically, because the camera adored him and he played to it before playing to it became commonplace. When Brian Williams’s name came up I clicked because even though I haven’t watched the news in years I knew Williams occupied the seat once belonging to Tom Brokaw, I grew up interested in the news, interested in what was happening, and felt Brokaw best suited as the anchor to whom I would give my trust.

To watch the public evisceration of these two has been disheartening not because of personal feelings toward them or disgust over what they may or may not have done. How people have reveled in it makes me want to retreat into a room disconnected from everything.

Have we really sunk this low?

Since Thursday I have watched the Brian Williams feed mostly because Twitter had moved on from Sapp. Every five seconds there were 20 more tweets. This happened all through the day Thursday, all through the evening Thursday, all through Friday, and was still occurring at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. Retweets of sources saying Brokaw called for his dismissal, retweets of Brokaw himself saying he did not, eyewitness accounts supporting Williams’s story at some level then the retraction of the eyewitness, over and over. In between, people on the right screaming this is evidence the left is destroying the universe, people on the left screaming people on the right do this all the time, many, many painting all “mainstream media” as evil with independent bloggers the last bastions of truth and justice, and all the “comedians” finding different ways of saying the same joke which lacked any semblance of humor from the start. All day. Every day since Wednesday. People screaming at people, people intent on the destruction of Williams and taking pleasure in it, with no end to it in sight.

In the past two and a half days my retreat from watching anything to do with current events feels like the right decision to have made. I don’t think any progress can be made from where we are as a society and a species until someone figures out compromise and understanding need to be of the utmost importance, and none of the screaming leads me to believe we will ever reach such a place. We aren’t even close as we are too busy moving away from each other. We cannot listen, understand, and refute or accept what someone says because we are too busy yelling into the microphone what we think and how we know the other side is wrong without even knowing what the other side is saying.

And beneath the surface is a significant portion of society loving the fact someone famous is having what will likely to be the most-difficult days of his life. Right or wrong in what he did, why are we enjoying what is happening to Williams so much? Precious little of this is about holding Williams accountable; maybe one quarter of all tweets are about journalistic integrity. The vast majority is pointing and laughing at the man in the stocks and getting a kick out of it.

There is no silver bullet to solving the problem here. There isn’t something where we will say, “hold on, an ounce of compassion is worth more than a ton of my pleasure in watching destruction.” It is impossible because we appear to be becoming addicted to it, and because humans are, by definition, imperfect, the next public flogging is likely to happen soon.

Why are we so eager for it to happen?

Obsessive Thoughts v. Happiness

Among the thousands of ideas written about Ernie Banks over the past ten days the one idea I have tried to understand is Ernie looked at each day and elected to be happy. No matter the weather, his bank account, national news stories, regret, troubles at home, aches and pains, the decades-long complete-and-utter incompetence of the North Side Nine, Ernie said it’s going to be a great day and I am going to be happy.

When I make my way through the day I think about this and wonder just how the Hell someone can choose to be happy.

By the time I get myself out of bed, get the dog fed, and get into the shower, the obsessive thoughts I have had for more than two and a half years have almost all gone through my head. The ending, the downs, the ridiculousness of thinking it could be saved from a distance, all of it, hits in thirty minutes. In the next half hour from drying off to sitting down at my desk everything I forgot to remember has hit. The thoughts are inescapable.

How can I choose to be happy with the hurricane of thoughts battering at me every second of the day?

The past three weeks, when I could remember to do it, I would remind myself I am thinking and my thoughts are not me. It works for five minutes. For the past day and I half I told myself I am just not going to think about it anymore, and it works for five seconds. Happiness? To even give thought to getting to happiness I have to look at the mile-long, football-field wide stretch of garbage in which I am stuck. Can’t go back because I have to go through the garbage. Can’t go forward because I have to go through the garbage. Side to side, forget about it. Garbage, garbage everywhere, and every ounce of it stinks.  I know it has to be traversed, but any step in any direction lands me right where I was.

If the thoughts were not so intrusive and ubiquitous I could maybe think about choosing happiness, but they are, and Ernie isn’t here anymore to light the way.

The Latest Greatest Blizzard in Chicago History

Yesterday saw twenty inches of snow fall on the Chicagoland area from well before sunrise to well after sunset. Until one o’clock or so it was just snow, but the wind kicked up in the afternoon, and it turned into the fifth-highest snow total in Chicago since records started in the late 19th Century.

Chicago has brutal winters and is known for storms. Yesterday went into the record books as one only four storms can best.

The day needed to be planned against. At seven, the twenty-five foot long driveway was shoveled for the first time and it was already six inches deep. Through the course of the morning there were two more efforts.

Then the wind started.

The drift from the north side of the driveway to the south side of the driveway climbed to two feet three times through the day. There were four more times out working against the drifts and the wind before I conceded defeat and set an alarm for five o’clock this morning to hopefully finish the task.

At 5 a.m. the drift was back to two feet. The drift at the front door, which I had left alone on Sunday, was four feet. It was the most-difficult twenty-four hours of effort against a winter I have ever faced.

Then I got to go to work. Nearly everything in the area shut down but not my little purveyor of cheap gifts and novelties. When I got to the office the parking lot was barely cleared of snow and so many parking spots were still covered those who start work after me had to park in the next-door building and walk more than one hundred yards in the bright, five-degree bitter cold to get inside.

It took forever for me to drive to work. On the way home I had to drive around a major accident due to the snow still not cleared. It took forever to get home from work.

The point? I should not have been at work today when there was true danger to my safety in just getting to my desk. Today I realized as a corporate drone I simply do not matter. The realization, when it occurred as I checked to see whether the office would be open, made me question everything I have done, professionally, since I graduated from college fifteen years ago. The dollar matters. I do not.

Just what am I doing with my life? Am I going to tell my grandchildren how proud they should be of me because I did such a good job marketing coffee mugs in the shapes of toilets and handguns? What do I tell my children? How do I make sense of it as I try to get to sleep.

There are so many, many things wrong with my life. Twice in the past week people with whom I had casual conversations described me as “sad.”

They weren’t wrong.

Just what am I doing with my life.

Suicide plus one

One year ago today I killed myself.

The letters were written. Alcohol supplied the necessary courage. The pysch medications, originally designed to help cope with the obsessive thoughts, were crushed into water and consumed. I took a shower to be clean, left a note taped to the mailbox for the postman to call the authorities, and went to sleep knowing I would never again wake up. The deed was done.

No single thought was given to failure.

Through the night I got sick, woke up, crawled to the tub, and tried to drown. Another failure. The rest of the weekend was spent more sick than I had ever been, cleaning the messes, and letting, over and over again, the obsessive thoughts have their way as I waited to see whether my eyesight would return or if the attempt caused permanent damage.

For the next twelve months the obsessive thoughts remained if the need to do away with myself has not. It is a viable solution, death would prevent the thoughts from continuing, but it would damage other people. The only progress made through the course of the year is learning some other solution needs to be found.

I continue to have the obsessive thoughts.

Everything in sight remains a trigger, and the passing of time has not eased the pain the thoughts cause. Someone else might see the year as time enough to dig out from the thoughts, but it has not occurred with me. They’re still there, and they still affect every single moment of every single day. It has been a year, yes, but a year has not been long enough or the thoughts would be gone.

It was important to write something today to have this 17th of January be different from the previous one in the hope doing something else will lead to a different path. The path needn’t be better. I have given up on “better.” It just needs to be different.

For the similarities remaining life still feels like a failure. I don’t know if any 17th of January will ever feel like anything else.