Tuesday, January 27, 2015





OFF THE TRACKS

While watching the State of the Union Address the other night I was struck by the fact that all of the color one could see on the Congressional floor was clothing worn by the women. Male Senators and Congressmen all wore sensible, sober, and dull uniforms, garb that I was all too aware of throughout my childhood upbringing

My father was a businessman and wore this drab “professional’ clothing with short, matching haircuts. Although he was a wonderful provider, the term “prostitution” occurred to me on occasion, and business suits, white shirt and necktie, remain the uniform of the enemy in my perspective.

This attitude began early. I was raised in a conservative immigrant Catholic tradition, and obedience was a prime virtue. I learned to read early and was given a Golden Book called “Tootle” about a baby train who discovered the joy of prancing in the fields among the woodland animals and flowers. The townfolk and Tootle’s conductor rectified this by confronting him with red “Stop!” flags wherever he went, reducing him to tears, except for one single green “Go!” pennant on the sole path on which he was meant to roll. As a grown-up Flyer Tootle counseled the little trains “Stay on the tracks no matter what!” This mistreatment disturbed me.

My formative years were during the rebellious ‘60’s and I grew up on the outskirts of Woodstock, N.Y. to boot. Although I can’t say that I really understood many of the details of the Great Issues at the time it was clear that “The Establishment” intended the common people to obey orders and let the Important People decide how we would live our lives and sometime, how we would die. This did not sit well for a young person who only recently recognized the full implications of mortality as family friends and relatives died in auto wrecks, of heart attacks, and of old age. Tedium, suffering, and death were not the goals I aspired to.

In 1969 a short-lived series, “The New People” debuted on ABC television trying to profit from the youth market. It was a hip version of “The Lord of the Flies” with a planeload of teenagers crash-landing on an island on which an unused nuclear-testing town lay fallow. All of the adults were killed in the wreck and the kids decide to “rebuild” civilization without the mistakes of the previous generations. More than simply naive, all the episodes I remember came to the concluding moral that the Established Ways were the Only practical ways by which to live one’s life. Give up your childhood dreams. Stay on the tracks. Obey.

I admire iconoclasts and my rebellious streak has continued through six decades. I despise the cynicism of Winston Churchill’s aphorism “If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” The Powers That Be want you to obediently surrender – for your own good, of course! Yes, one must accommodate one’s self to harsh Reality and the powerful inertia of history if one wants to get by in the world with a modicum of comfort and success. Maintaining Hopes and Dreams is frequently a route to frustration and bouts of despair as well. Perhaps, in the greater scheme of things, I’m not much more significant than an ant since I don’t believe in supernatural personalities and their plans. Be that as it may, among the various grains of sand I must move to earn my daily bread I would like to move several of my own individual volition, perhaps a few colorful and glistening ones.

I take inspiration from a saying attributed to two different poets, Juan Ramón Jiménez and William Carlos Williams: "If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” Deliberately break the rules in small but pointed ways. Take a small satisfaction when they criticize your childish ways. “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist” advised Pablo Picasso. Maybe we can have some influence and Change the World. But let’s try to have some fun while we so endeavor.