One Hand Clapping – June 2004
The purpose of this daily journal is to see if I can find a way to unclench my fist and turn it into an open palm — a palm of generosity, understanding, compassion — and to see if I can capture, in words, the thunderous sound of one hand clapping. To put it another way, it is my publicly insane response to a world gone mad. It is also a way of reminding myself, and anyone willing to listen, that the madness will someday end.
— William Michaelian
Note: Each month of One Hand Clapping has been assigned its own page. Links are provided here, and again at the bottom of each journal page. To go to the beginning of Volume 2, click here.
March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003
October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004
April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004
October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005
June 1, 2004 — Be it hereby noted that I am beginning the new month with a vicious sinus headache and a right eye that feels like it might pop out at any moment. Other than that, everything is fine, and I am following my usual routine. I received an e-mail from an old high school friend yesterday, which he also sent to two other old high school friends. In it he said he had been out fishing several times in the old twelve-foot aluminum boat my father owned and eventually sold to his father for a hundred dollars sometime in the late Sixties. When my friend went to pick up the boat in Dinuba — he now lives in Arizona, and his father, like mine, has since departed this life — his mother found a slip of paper with my father’s handwriting on it, saying he had received the money for the boat. My friend also said that he had just attended his son’s high school graduation, and that this had gotten him thinking about the “old days” and our own graduation thirty years ago, which I didn’t attend because I had finished school a semester early and I hated such things anyway. In fact, while my classmates were receiving their diplomas that June evening, I was working at the George Brothers packing house in nearby Sultana for two dollars and fifty-five cents an hour. There was a big noisy party around the corner from where we lived in the country that night, though, and after work I attended that. In other words, I did have my priorities. The next day, I believe, many members of the graduating class boarded a bus bound for Anaheim, California, home of Disneyland. Since I was working at George Brothers and wasn’t interested in going to Disneyland either, I entrusted my high school annual to my friends so other people could sign it during the trip. This proved to be a mistake, as the book was returned to me with the first page sealed by a bandage, beside which was written a warning not to open it and read what had been written on the inside cover. Of course this amounted to an invitation, and the bandage was wrinkled and finger-printed and barely sticky anymore by the time I saw it. There were several scrawled profanities — all in fun, of course — that led me to believe I probably should have gone to Disneyland after all. There were also a lot of nice messages from people I had known and met in the halls during the preceding four years, almost every one of whom I haven’t seen since, and, in all likelihood, never will again. In the meantime, though, there are the memories, and the memories, and the memories.
June 2, 2004 — I responded right away to my friend’s e-mail about our old boat and sent my reply to the others. Yesterday, the others also weighed in — one in the morning from Idaho, and the other last night from California. So now we have each been reassured that the others are alive, and, every bit as important, that we still have a sense of humor. One thing I find interesting is, despite how well we knew each other back in the day, we each remember things that happened between us in different combinations that the others never knew about. Two of us grew up and went to grade school in town, two of us in the country. We really got to know each other later, in junior high school — although we did have some contact when we played little league baseball at Roosevelt Park on Elizabeth Way. I take special care to mention Elizabeth Way because my mother lived on that street for a time when she was a kid, and because it was within walking distance of the city park and the old public library, which played such an important role in her life and mine. What perhaps none of them know, except of course my mother, is that these communications have added significance because today happens to be the ninth anniversary of my father’s death. This is another of my Dinuba memories. My father lived in Dinuba all his life, except during World War II — another time the world was turned upside down by human ignorance, if one cares to make note of such things. It can truly be said that he was of the place, and that he belonged in the place, and that if he had been forcibly uprooted from the place he would have suffered a great deal. He would have survived, but he wouldn’t have liked it. The town of Dinuba was part of it, but it was his farm, and the country roads and farms around it, that gladdened his heart beyond measure. That I felt the same way also gladdened his heart. That a time came when it was necessary for me to leave, and to take my wife and children with me to another place for the sake of their health, was a source of grief. Salem is a good place. It, too, is surrounded by farms and country roads. But the country roads I travel in my dreams are the ones we left behind, and that my father never did leave. Sometimes, still, I meet him there.
June 3, 2004 — Of all the things I miss from my childhood, one either at or very near the top of the list is Dinuba’s old public library, which was foolishly demolished and replaced by a generic one-story reading room devoid of personality and meaning. The old library was a real place. I would give almost anything to climb its steps and be in it again, and to listen to its old-fashioned silence, and to see and smell the books, and to look out the windows at the park below. I would take extreme pleasure in presenting a big stack of books to the librarians, Mrs. Jamison and Elizabeth Chang, at the circulation desk, and watching them check them out in my name. When Dinuba lost its library, it lost something precious and irretrievable. I want to use the word soul, but that word means so many strange things to so many different people that I won’t. Instead, I think I’ll use vision. For, in my mind, a town without a library is a town that is blind. I was in the new library, the aforementioned reading room, only a few times. It was small, cheap-looking, and unbearable to be in. It was more like an office or waiting room than a sanctuary and repository of dreams and ideas. People weren’t reading, they were talking and chewing gum. That’s what happens when you tear down a building with history and character and replace it with something supposedly modern and convenient. The hush is gone, the sense of privacy and solitude, the feeling of expectation and adventure. It makes me think: there must be many ghosts now in the old city park — ghosts of librarians past, ghosts of the people who used the old library, ghosts, even, of the discarded books that fell by the wayside. It is true that a man surrounded by plastic is still a man, but there remains within him a hunger for places and things that are real, places he can go in search of his sanity.
June 4, 2004 — Whatever the so-called reasons for the current war or any war, it is clear that we have failed as human beings, and that we continue to fail, because we send our children to fight, torture, and kill other children. And what are the reasons? Quite simply, they are the lies we tell ourselves and each other to avoid taking responsibility for our own actions. But if we aren’t responsible, who is? Have the zebras and elephants conspired to do this to us, or the lizards, whales, and armadillos? If they have, they have been pretty sneaky about it. So, then. Here we are. The great brains, killing each other, starving each other, poisoning the earth. Here we are, waving flags and saying God is on our side, and that the other side is evil. And we are not embarrassed? We are not ashamed? Think about it: We have children, we feed them and clothe them and worry over them — and then we send them off to kill someone else’s children — but it is not our fault, it is theirs. How convenient. How stupid. How sad.
June 5, 2004 — We bought two large baskets of local strawberries yesterday, three cantaloupes, and several large red onions. We bought other food items, but none as exciting as these. Oregon strawberries are truly an amazing experience; they are far superior to the distorted, over-fertilized berries grown commercially in California. Spring in the Willamette Valley is especially conducive to berry-growing. Unfortunately, the berry growers are being driven out of business and are on the brink of disappearing altogether. All you can find in the stores are California berries. For local berries, you have to go to fruit stands in the country. On the other hand, the best red onions we’ve ever had come from central California. They are big and sweet and make living worthwhile. Cantaloupes are nowhere near as good as they used to be, though we are usually able to find a few decent ones each summer. Depleted soils and extensive use of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers have gradually drained the flavor from melons and other fruits. As I know from personal experience, how soil is cared for and how fruit is grown makes all the difference. Soil is a living thing, and it must be treated as such. Come to think of it, so are we. Say, I wonder — do you think the two might be related?
June 6, 2004 — Today the nation is in “mourning” for the second-rate actor who served two terms as public spokesman for Big Business and Global Takeover back in the Eighties, a time also known as the “Me Generation.” When our son, Vahan, told me yesterday that Reagan had died, I said, “You watch — within a few hours he will be used in republican campaign material.” Granted, it wasn’t a difficult prediction to make. Thanks to the hard-nosed, unbiased media, we’ve already learned that during his presidency, Reagan “restored the nation’s spirit” — apparently by uttering terms like “star wars technology” while having no idea what they really meant, or by saying things like “Tear down that wall,” while the cameras zoomed in for closeups of his bronzed hairdo. Meanwhile, politicians on both sides of the fence are praising the dead president for his “optimism” and “sense of humor,” because they are scared to death to appear unpatriotic by saying something negative, i.e., true. This, too, wasn’t hard to predict. The entire front section of today’s Sunday Oregonian was drenched in red, white, and blue ink, and with each turn of the page readers were treated to more pictures of the “great communicator.” The man was an actor. Like the current “president,” he was not a thinker, but a reader of lines — the main difference being, Reagan could actually read them, and, after nearly a full term in office, Little Boy Bush still messes them up. And speaking of Little Boy Bush, I read a few days ago that his brother, “Jeb,” is busy purging Florida’s voting rolls again in anticipation of the upcoming “election.” An interesting thing, democracy. Or, as they used to say in the Old Testament, If the voter offends thee, pluck it out.
June 7, 2004 — Well, this is interesting. According to the media, Ronald Reagan will rise again in three days. He will stand at the Heavenly Podium and say, “Roll back that stone!” And who would deny him? For will he not take his place at the right hand of the Father, nudging even Jesus off His stool? The funny thing about all this is, everyone in the media and politics who was alive during Reagan’s presidency seems suddenly to have had their memories purged of what went on in those days — which, strangely enough, bears a remarkable resemblance to what is going on now. I don’t remember Reagan walking on water, but apparently this happened. No wonder the spirit of the nation was restored — although I don’t remember that happening either. Maybe it was something like the “freedom” that the people of Iraq are now experiencing. You don’t realize how happy you were until later, after you are dead.
June 8, 2004 — In a letter to the editor in this morning’s paper, someone actually said he wept uncontrollably upon learning of Reagan’s death. On the side of reason, there were several other letters reminding readers of certain Reagan Administration highlights, such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, Grenada, and deregulation. In the coming days, there will be talk about the Iran-Iraq war, the Iran-Contra affair, and Saddam Hussein. In the meantime, the best we can do is hang on until the current media blitz is over. But it won’t be easy. Such behavior is a frustrating, tragic thing to behold.
June 9, 2004 — Now the main roads leading to the as-yet-unfinished Salem convention center are being repaved. This will impress the out-of-towners. Say, wasn’t there a Jack Lemmon movie by that name? Or am I thinking of The Sundowners, with Robert Mitchum? Oh, well. It doesn’t matter. They will be impressed — except for Jack Lemmon and Robert Mitchum, who are dead. It is hard to impress dead people — almost as hard as it is to impress those who are alive, whom, when you think about it, are a rapidly dying breed. But there is nothing like fresh pavement to flare the nostrils and stir the soul. Granted, there are several dozen lesser streets in town that could use a coat of varnish, but those are merely the ones people go back and forth to work on every day, and live on — in many cases, literally. And one can’t help wondering how many Salem residents will actually ever set foot in the new convention center. For instance, will the homeless be allowed to hold a convention there? Or the owners of failed small businesses suffocated by regulations and high rents? I don’t know. I guess I have trouble showing the proper respect and gratitude. But I can’t help it. I want to be escorted out of the building by security guards for smoking a cigar in the lobby. I realize this is immature. And I don’t want to make it easy for them, either. Before they catch me, I want to smoke in the elevators, in the restrooms, and in the kitchen. I want to light up in a real estate seminar. Then, when the guards are closing in, I will threaten to throw myself out a window. What purpose will this serve? I have no idea. Why should it serve any purpose? And yet, I am convinced this needs to be done, and that I am the one who needs to do it. I am also convinced that no one else will. Oh, sure, several thousand will think about it. But will they act? Or will they be afraid of Homeland Security? Mad smoker linked to terrorists. FBI says fingerprint on cigar matches print on McDonald’s wrapper in Madrid — or was it Malaga, the little town near Fresno mentioned in William Saroyan’s “The Three Swimmers and the Grocer from Yale” in My Name Is Aram? Only time will tell, if it hasn’t already.
June 10, 2004 — If my guess is correct, some people renting a house nearby are in the process of being evicted. They are a sad group comprised of a mother who is gone most of the time and many children, who are left to fend for themselves and wander the streets around town. Their lawn is a foot and a half tall, having grown wild since one of the younger boys ruined their mower and it started spewing clouds of smoke. The landlord, no doubt after first sending a proper letter requesting that the lawn be mowed, came by yesterday and took pictures. Then, yesterday afternoon, one of the older kids, who is about sixteen, found himself locked out of the house, so he started kicking the front door and prying at it with a piece of metal. Such behavior is never a good sign. When this is over and the people are gone, the landlord will probably face a major cleanup job inside as well. But the saddest part of the situation is the children. Their expressions tell the story. Their’s is a broken home, and they are desperate for a steadying influence. The older boys are already taking on the tough look of hoodlums, in expression and manner of dress. I have seen them miles from home, walking along beside traffic, obviously on no particular mission. They have no set schedule, and come and go during school hours. What will become of them? What will become of their mother — as if her current mess isn’t bad enough? Most likely, she will form more temporary alliances with irresponsible men who will either hate or feel nothing for her children. Or, maybe she won’t. Either way, time is quickly running out. It might already be too late for the older kids to learn how to be parents, and how to work together to make a go of family life. And yet one day, parents they will surely become, at least in the biological sense. What then?
June 11, 2004 — Ray Charles is dead. A man of genuine, wide-ranging musical talent and creativity whose career spanned many decades, it is a shame he couldn’t have died two weeks earlier, before Ronald Reagan, or several weeks from now, after the unbearable, shameful spectacle surrounding the Teflon president’s exit has quieted down. As an illustration of what the so-called news has become in this country, we need look no further than yesterday evening’s national ABC broadcast, in which Ray Charles was shown singing “America the Beautiful” with Reagan’s image in the background. This touching send-off was glibly introduced by anchorman Peter Jennings, who knows better, but would rather sit there and collect his huge salary than tell the truth. If a man like that — and there are many in similar positions with a full background and knowledge of current affairs — were to quit his job and write a book about what this government is doing to its own people and the people of the world, it could really make a difference. And I am sure the royalties earned from such a book, not to mention the speaking engagements that would coincide with its publication, would more than offset the loss of his “regular paycheck.” This is something that has bothered me for a long time. People who are in a position to speak out, remain silent. This is true in all walks of life. A professional basketball player or major network sports announcer, for instance, who already has enough money to last a lifetime, could easily hold a news conference and discuss the blatant cheating by NBA officials, and the obvious favoritism shown by the league and the broadcast networks for the teams with the most superstars, especially those with huge advertising endorsements. Who do they think they’re fooling? I want to say no one, but the truth is, they are fooling millions of people, because the money keeps rolling in. The result? Ronald Reagan is great, no questions asked. Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers is great, no questions asked. This is the same Ronald Reagan who was at the helm when tens of thousands were being murdered in El Salvador, and the same Kobe Bryant who is on trial for rape. These are heroes? Just how desperate are we in this country? How distracted, how mentally lazy, how misinformed? I know millions of us are mentally and physically exhausted from work, worry, and family concerns. But does this excuse us from thinking?
June 12, 2004 — Painful Observation Department: The flag flies at half staff for the people who start the wars, not the people who die in them. The flag-draped caskets containing the people who start the wars are paraded before the public; the flag-draped caskets containing the people who die in the wars are kept hidden from view. . . . Moving right along — to where? and for what purpose? — but we must, or we’ll go crazy. Above all, we must hope no one assassinates Bush, because the media will have him in heaven so fast it will make God’s head spin. . . . Where, then, shall we turn? What shall we talk about? Pizza? Soft ball? Boat races? Dirty fingernails? Parallelograms? Malpractice insurance? Golden Gate Park? Hey, what about them Giants? Recycling? Old movies? Tacos? Route 66? The Chicago blues? Mass transit? Sugar cubes? Great musical hits of the Forties and Fifties? I know — let’s talk about Mario Lanza! Nah, I don’t feel like it. Mario Lanza was a great singer, but I’m not in the mood to talk about him. Sinatra? Bleah. Nat King Cole? Nope. Forget it. Caruso? What on earth for? Mickey Mantle. Yogi Berra. The Three Stooges. Dizzy Dean and Pee-wee Reese. Or is it Pee Wee? Oui? Who remembers Falstaff beer? Lucky Lager? Hot dogs! Peanuts! Get your program! Excuse me, sir, but you will have to put out that cigar. It’s bad for the stadium’s health. Steroids. Hemorrhoids. Elephant hoids. Tarzan. Edgar Rice Burroughs. Sir Lancelot. Sir Lancelittle. Hounded in the Baskervilles while driving a Coupe DeVille owned by Cecil B. DeMille. Filigree. Folderol. Isn’t it time you moved up to Folderol? Pretty postcards. Wish you were here. Return to sender. Where the hell are you, anyway? Legal letters. My half is bigger than your half — nyah, nyah. I can’t hear you, Houston. Are you there? Yeah, I’m here. I had to go to the bathroom. A fly in the ointment. John! Martha! Come home, Lassie, you old hound dog. I’m sorry, ma’am, Lassie’s dead. He was hit by a truck. What a shame. Maybe it’s time for a new refrigerator. Spigot. Spigoon. Spigeree! The meek shall inherit the earth, but they shall not be able to afford a burial plot. Say, who was that masked man? That wasn’t a masked man, you idiot, that was a raccoon.
June 13, 2004 — There comes a time in every writer’s life when he must either choose to write, or pretend to write. If he chooses to write, then he becomes dangerous and nothing can stop him. If he chooses to pretend, as a great many do, he becomes a parasite who has slammed the door on his own potential. A couple of days ago, I read an essay by a “successful” ethnic-American writer who long ago chose to pretend. In carefully constructed, lifeless language, he spoke of a nonexistent literary and cultural movement, or renaissance, or force, or — well, I’m not sure what to call it. All I know is that it doesn’t exist. I have read work by several of the writers he mentioned as being part of his vital ethnic whatever-it-is — by the way, he was forced to humbly count himself among their number — and they are similarly dull. The purpose of the essay was clear: if such a whatever doesn’t exist, then neither does the writer himself, because his so-called writing career is predicated upon the existence of this whatever-it-is. At the end of his essay, the writer, who is also a comfortably paid university professor, chides fellow members of his ethnic background for not appreciating the hard work he and the other writers are doing on their behalf. He wonders why they don’t see the importance of their work, without once questioning whether or not it really is important, or if it is important for good reasons or bad. Had he done that, his words might have carried some weight. Instead, and probably without realizing it, he alienates his potential readership — if they were to bother reading his essay, of course, which they won’t, because the vital whatever-it-is is a club For Intellectual Members Only who spend their time praising each other and giving each other awards. The only real remedy for the problem, if it is a problem, is for these writers to write, instead of pretending to write, and to welcome and encourage other writers who are already doing so, but who have thus far been kept at a safe, infrequently published distance because they are perceived as competition. Also without realizing it, they have conformed to the modern American literary model, which is based on exclusion and breeds mediocrity. This is ironic, because they place so much importance on their ethnicity. One would think that if these writers were so concerned and brilliant, they would come up with an approach that better and more specifically addresses the needs of their own.
June 14, 2004 — This morning I am confronted with three choices. They are, 1) write about the inaccurately remembered past; 2) write about the elusive present; or, 3) write about the future, which doesn’t really exist and is impossible to know. To this we might add a fourth choice: write about the other three choices simultaneously. But isn’t that what I usually do, or try to do? There might also be a fifth choice: write about none of the above. But if I don’t write about the past, present, or future, or all three at once, what will I write about? This is worth looking into. First of all, I don’t like the idea of being limited by reality. Second, I don’t believe I am. I am definitely limited, but not by reality. I am limited by myself, and by my own inability to understand what is going on in me and around me, which I sense might well be one and the same thing. Third, the assumption of a past, present, and future as we commonly understand them might well be wrong. Certainly they are convenient terms; at the same time, it seems we are far too comfortable with them. For instance, if what is happening today, at this moment, has its roots in what we call the past, due to actions taken and not taken and so on, then how can the present be separated from the past? Where does the past leave off and the present begin? But back to reality. To say that I am not limited by reality, but that I am limited by myself, sounds an awful lot like reality and I are two different things. That doesn’t seem possible. I must be part of reality — if reality exists, that is. And what if there is more than one reality? What if there are several in simultaneous operation? Further proof of my limitations is that I am quickly becoming bored with this discussion. I start off feeling like I am on the verge of some kind of mental break-through, only to realize that I am rapidly losing ground. No wonder I usually write about the past, present, and future. In fact, now that I think about it, it looks like I just did so again. Bah!
June 15, 2004 — Now I’m trying to figure out what to do with the 1,600-word poem I finished a few days ago. I could submit it simultaneously to three or four hundred little literary magazines that no one has ever heard of, and then sit back and wait for my three or four hundred rejection slips; let’s see; the poem is ten pages long; ten pages times 300 magazines (we’ll take the low number) means I’ll need 3,000 sheets of paper, or six reams. I’ll also need 300 nine-by-twelve envelopes, 300 large paper clips, 300 return envelopes, and 300 stamps for the return envelopes; and of course I’ll need to pay postage on the whole package to get it there. Oh — I almost forgot: I will need another 300 sheets of paper for my cover letter. One mustn’t submit one’s poetry without a proper cover letter saying that one is submitting one’s poetry, even though it’s mighty obvious, since that’s what the envelope contains and poetry is what the recipient publishes, assuming he can scrape enough money together to print a few dozen copies of his magazine that no one has heard of. So. That’s one option. Another is to publish a limited edition at my own expense. This poses no technical problem, since I know how to lay things out on a computer and have dealt with printers many times before. I daresay, assuming I printed only twenty-five or fifty copies, I would spend less doing this than I would if I were to pursue the first option. At that point, all I would have to do is take out an ad in the New York Times Book Review, saying the poem is available. This would be a considerable added expense, but it would be well worth it. Readers of the New York Times Book Review are hungry for good poetry. And once they realize that I am offering a limited edition (I’ll even sign it), they won’t balk at my price — which, according to my rough calculations, would have to be somewhere around seventy-five dollars a copy. To put this in perspective, people frequently pay that much just to go to a restaurant, only to wind up hungry again a few hours later; whereas a nicely printed poem is something they can read and hang onto for years. A third approach would be to take a coffee can to a busy street corner downtown, and read the poem to passersby while they put money in the can. A fourth approach would be to publish the poem on my website, as I have done with quite a few other poems I’ve written, not to mention several dozen short stories, a novel, and a ton of other assorted nonsense. A fifth option — we writers are very good at coming up with and sifting through our options — would be to find a patron of the arts willing to pay for a lavish, fully illustrated edition (I can do the drawings myself in about five minutes), as well as a full-blown advertising campaign and a nationwide reading tour. I’m not sure how I would find such a patron, but stranger things have happened, although not to me. So. That’s five good, solid options. But there is also a sixth: I could put the one copy I now have in a manila folder and be done with it. This way there would be no expense, no wasted resources, and no embarrassment. There would also be no money coming in — and that, my friend (we are friends, aren’t we? please, say we are friends), is the glue that keeps this operation together. This might be hard to understand for people who are used to buying groceries and paying bills and so forth; writers, however, aren’t hampered by such crude formulas. Writers are accustomed to living on air and sunlight, and the occasional crumbs that fall their way. Writers are also very good at eating radishes while they are pretending to be interested in whatever else is offered in the produce section, and at filling up on greasy free samples at the end of the grocery aisles. This is how they keep their minds open and their senses sharp — always important for that next big work.
June 16, 2004 — In yesterday’s mail, our youngest son received word that the summer job he lined up several months ago will be starting in about two weeks. He will be working for a farming outfit nearby that grows and ships irises. The hours will be long: from six in the morning until five in the evening, six days a week, until school starts again in September. After that, he will work on Saturdays through planting season in October. He will be paid the minimum wage, which is $7.05 per hour, and which also happens to be $4.50 more than I was paid during the summer of 1974 when I worked at George Brothers, a fruit-packing house in Sultana, California. I spent two glorious summers at George Brothers; the previous year, I earned $2.30 an hour stacking boxes of packed fruit on pallets — or “palletizing,” as the job was officially called. In other words, I was a teenaged palletizer. The hours there were even longer, and varied depending on the weather (hot or hotter) and which varieties were ripening at the time. I started at seven in the morning, and worked until nine at night, or ten, eleven, or twelve, and a few times even into the “wee hours.” On those days, I had trouble staying awake on my morning drive in to work. Once I was on my feet and working, though, I managed to make it through the day without collapsing. I ate a lot of ripe fruit, not to mention the enormous lunches my mother sent with me. Every time I talk about this, our sons shake their heads in amazement. Pretty much day in and day out, I ate three ham sandwiches on sourdough bread, several bell pepper rings, an Armenian cucumber, and a big piece of cake, washed down with a quart of milk — this in addition to a full-sized breakfast in the morning and supper at night. Sometimes, even I was amazed. If I tried to do that now, I would be ill. Of course I was still a “growing boy” back then, and actually working for a living. Now I write — and as we all know, writers don’t work, all they do is sit. Anyway, I am looking forward to our son’s new job, because I know it will be a fine experience for him, and because he will be able to understand why I’ve harped about my packing house days so much. Having a little money to spend will be an added bonus, although he won’t have time to spend it. When things finally settle down, he will probably buy a new and better guitar, likely a twelve-string acoustic. He has made a tremendous amount of progress on the guitar he has, and still plays every day. To me, this makes a lot more sense than buying a car and becoming a young slave to insurance payments and upkeep, though I realize it is a time-honored tradition. And gas is no longer thirty or forty cents a gallon, as it was when I began my driving career. When you have to spend thirty or forty or fifty dollars to fill the tank, it makes you stop and think. It makes you say to yourself, “This is stupid,” or, in the case of many, “Oh, well, I guess I won’t eat this week.”
June 17, 2004 — A harsh, dry, pollen-laden, sinus-tormenting east wind has been blowing for the last two days, bringing with it the first ninety-degree heat of the summer. The big pollen source at present is the grass seed fields. The seeds are for lawns. Oregon produces a large percentage of the nation’s lawn seeds. And I don’t care. As far as I’m concerned, there are far too many lawns, and far too many people fertilizing and mowing them. But I’ve said this all before so I won’t say it again — except that it doesn’t make sense to have a lawn where tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, and eggplant could be. The heck with it. I just sneezed again — all over my arm. I’ve been sneezing all morning. My nose is raw from blowing it so much. Hooooooooot! Excuse me. I don’t mean to be rude — hack, kaff. Maybe if I try really hard I can come up with something positive to say — wheeze, murgle. How about this: I finally finished reading Tristram Shandy. That was a project, believe me. But I did it. And I read every word, except for the Latin here and there, and the Greek. — snort. Laroon-sniff. I spent part of yesterday afternoon trying to write out my thoughts on the book. — skringe. With any luck, I will finish it up later today. — funkle, kiff, glurn. Last night I read a story by O. Henry called “The Last of the Troubadours.” It was all right. It was mildly clever in a half-hearted, melancholy sort of way. Poor guy — O. Henry, not the last troubadour. Anyway, O. Henry decided at the end that he had given the story the wrong title. The title, he said, should have been “The Last of the Barons.” But I don’t think he really cared one way or the other. Poor guy, in debt, his innards pickled, hiding out in Honduras for a year. “To Thomas, from Mary. Oct. 12 - 1926.” That’s what someone wrote on the first rough inside page of my used book of O. Henry stories. I imagine it must have been Mary who wrote it. While I was reading the story, I found myself thinking about Thomas and Mary, and the kind of people they must have been. What a wonderful thing, to give someone a book of short stories. And what a nice thing to know someone who would be glad to receive a gift like that, instead of a tie or an electric razor. And how great it must have been for Thomas to know someone like Mary, who had the sense to give him something truly worthwhile, though in all likelihood he would have preferred a big smooch. Kiss me, my darling. Hold me in your arms. — krinkle.
June 18, 2004 — I love polls. They’re so meaningful. If it weren’t for polls, I wouldn’t know what to think about the myriad problems facing us today. And I trust the polls. I know they are honest, and are conducted with the country’s best interest at heart. That’s why the latest poll that says Bush’s approval rating went up after the Reagan media blitz is so important. Since we know the poll is true and can be completely trusted, we also know that enough of the people polled are absolute idiots. How else can such a poll be interpreted? One crook dies, and another’s ratings go up? What, exactly, is the reasoning behind that? Even if Reagan was a saint, it wouldn’t make sense. Meanwhile, there is a wonderful summer vacation going on in Iraq, where people are dying left and right. Maybe the Iraqi people should be polled. Maybe George “Freedom Fighter” Bush ought to fly over there and take a stroll through downtown Baghdad. The poll would only take a couple of minutes, and would be very easy to tabulate and interpret. Of course, America would respond with another poll, and another media blitz. At the very least, snowmobile owners would observe a moment of silence, as well as race car drivers, and the executives of drug companies, and chemical companies, and oil companies, and the country’s major environmental polluters, and various arms dealers, and . . .
June 19, 2004 — I ate a ripe nectarine a few minutes ago, and as the sweet juice rioted on my tongue I felt a sudden wave of emotion. How can anything be so meaningful and so good? Having grown nectarines and other fruit myself, the answer is simple: sun; wind; rain; heat; cold; water; soil; insects; worms; birds; sky; clouds; the whisperings of leaves; silence; night; morning; afternoon; strength; long hours alone; majesty; memory; legend; the sound of passing footsteps; animal tracks in the dust; color; the senses; song; laughter; anger; pride; brotherhood; adventure; work. The rest — the being here, the knowing, the suffering, the wondering, the waiting, the rejoicing — is part of the same miracle. . . . Someone just knocked on the door. It was the lead man of the Mexican gardening crew that takes care of the yard for the rental house next door. Though it was only a year old and came with a seven-year warranty, the battery on their pickup suddenly died. Speaking with a strong accent, he apologized for bothering me and asked if I could give him a jump. I backed our van out of the driveway, got it into position, and he hooked up the cable. After three or four attempts, their engine finally turned over. He thanked me, I said I was happy to help, and we shook hands. As I was pulling the van back into the driveway, an eighty-nine-year-old man who lives a few streets over walked by, full of vigor and gusto. Lately he has had a cane with him, but he doesn’t use it and carries it instead. The guy is in better shape than I am. The cane is probably for thrashing stray dogs or obnoxious children. One of these days, maybe I’ll ask him. I’ve talked to him before. Several years ago, he told my wife and me a story about a guy who had trouble remembering names and thought he had the perfect formula for hiding the fact. His trick was to say, “Let’s see, now, how do you spell your last name again?” But it finally backfired when a fellow he said it to smiled and replied, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s S-M-I-T-H.”
June 20, 2004 — For the last several minutes, while I’ve been waiting for my coffee to do its work, I have been listening to the sparrows in the maple trees along the street and a dog barking in the distance. Just now, a crow’s voice echoed over the street. It is summer. The east wind has settled down. The valley is now bathed in bright light, with high temperatures hovering around ninety. The mornings have been cool, and we keep our windows open in the early hours to get as much of the cool air into the house as possible. And with it comes the dust and pollen, but there is only so much one can do. At the same time, I’ve noticed the last couple of days the smell of cut fields on the breeze. This means the grass seed season is advancing, and that there is hope in sight. In a couple of weeks we will be done with the worst of the allergies. . . . At the moment, I would like to describe how the maple trees look in the morning sunlight, because it really is spectacular, the outer edges reflective and bright, the inner recesses a darker, shadowy green, like quiet pools along a brushy riverbank. But beyond that I don’t think I’ll try. There is something stirring deep within, a timelessness, an urge, a longing, a hush of expectancy, very much like the feeling one gets while watching rain descend upon a dry, empty field. Mixed up in this are memories of my boyhood, because summer was a great time, a time for boys to celebrate and return to their natural free state. This is what I see and feel now, while looking out my window. This is what I remember: trying to keep up with my father as he quickly went about his chores; chewing on the sour green tendrils from the vines in our vineyard; walking between the rows and feeling the fresh, tender growth of the canes against my arms; listening to the water bubble up out of the irrigation valves; looking for crawdads and polliwogs; listening to the symphony of sparrows in the mulberry, ash, and walnut trees around our house; feeling a complete intimacy and understanding of every inch of ground, every stick, every clod, every dry weed, and every vine and tree on our farm, and the mossy water flowing lazily in the ditches through the countryside, past vineyards, past orchards, past fields, past eucalyptus groves, past the lives being lived along the way. And there is so much more — this is the amazing thing. How can there be so much? And how can it be so incredibly, intensely private, even after it has been revealed and told and explained? Can it really be mine alone? At times it feels like it. If it is, then does that mean it will also die with me? Are we that isolated? Or is the telling, revealing, and explaining like giving? Is it possible for one person to give his memories and understanding to another? Certainly it is possible to try. But this is inaccurate, I’m sure, words being what they are, and the filter of personal experience being what it is. And yet, might these words not also be like the water moving through the countryside, carrying meaning in addition to its own? Possibly, when one person so gives to another, what he is really doing is helping to awaken the other’s own memory and understanding. If so, then it truly is a gift. And the gift grows in importance when the two find common ground, when they remember and understand similar things. I know the ditches of my past will mean one thing to people who grew up as I did and where I did, and mean another to people who have never set foot outside a city. But the longing, the urge, the expectancy, will be the same.
June 21, 2004 — Perhaps it is more than a coincidence that my mother’s father worked long ago as a ditch tender in Dinuba, and that as a kid during the Depression she often accompanied him on his morning rounds through the countryside. As an employee of the Alta Irrigation District, my grandfather’s job was to regulate the flow of irrigation water among the farmers along his route. Everyone had to take turns, otherwise there would be no water for the farmers further along the ditch. Stealing water during the night was not uncommon, though such activities were engaged in by a very small number of farmers, whose arrogance and obnoxiousness led them to believe stealing water was their right. (For some odd reason, here I am reminded of Iraq.) My grandfather was very popular and liked by everyone. A farmer himself who had lost his place a few years earlier, he was anything but an outsider. He treated people fairly, loved to talk, and was frequently given fruits and vegetables to take home. He held the job for many years, and though it paid little, it kept his family afloat during the 1930s. And decades later, there were still old-timers who fondly remembered seeing my mother and her father creeping along the ditch bank in their car, followed by a small cloud of dust. I never knew my mother’s father. He was born in 1878 and died two years before I was born. As a boy, he rode west from Illinois on a train with his family in 1888 and settled in the small town of Kingsburg, which is just a few miles southwest of Dinuba. Kingsburg took its name from the Kings River — the source of melted snow that was and is still used to feed the farms in that part of the San Joaquin Valley. Little by little, Kingsburg, the river, Dinuba, the ditches, and the farms became his life — or his life became them. And so long before the time I happened, I was already a part of it all.
June 22, 2004 — Now I’m here, though it hardly needs pointing out. Even so, it often catches me by surprise. It’s not that I would rather be in Dinuba. I wouldn’t — unless, maybe, it was the simple unpolluted 1962 version, before the air was filthy and the ditches were routinely sprayed with the nasty weed control chemicals that killed the polliwogs and crawdads and made the water unsafe to be in. But, I guess that’s what reruns of the old “Andy Griffith” show are for. By gum. By golly. Why, I remember when every housewife in town had an apple pie cooling on her window sill. The heck, you say. Why, shore. And every boy was born wearing a cub scout uniform. You betcha. Looked like dang fools, too. They all went around tying knots and helping old ladies across the street. Why, we had more traffic jams in the old home town than you could shake a stick at. Herds of cub scouts and old ladies, clogging up everything. If there’d been a fire, nobody woulda got out alive. No, sir. Whewee. Then the Beatles came along and ruined everything, and the cub scouts turned into boy scouts, and the boy scouts grew their hair long and started taking drugs, and the Sixties turned into the Seventies, and everything went to hell in a handbasket. Now we have Wal-Mart, and K-Mart, and Bi-Mart, and this warehouse and that warehouse, and dirty air, and dirty water, and asthma — though this, too, hardly needs pointing out — except that it does, because ignoring it or going along with it only helps it get bigger and uglier and stranger and more frightening and more insane. (Yet again, I am reminded of Iraq.) Thank goodness we now have Clinton’s new book, My Life. That will help us get things sorted out, you betcha. One and a half million copies in hardcover, a ten million-dollar advance for the author, an ocean of advertising, publicity on “60 Minutes,” etc., etc. — yep, that will take care of everything. We need those insights. We can’t do without ’em. In fact, I’m off now to get in line for my copy.
June 23, 2004 — June is quickly evaporating, and with it so am I. By July, nothing will be left of either of us. “What happened to June?” people will want to know. “It just began, and now it’s gone. Are you sure that’s legal?” But I doubt anyone will ask what happened to me. Instead, they will attribute my disappearance to mental and physical erosion, or some similarly irreversible psycho-geologic force. “I’m surprised he lasted this long” will be the likely refrain, capped off with a yawn. “Too bad he took everything so seriously.” And they will be right. I have always taken things too seriously. Even as a kid, I foolishly assumed that everything mattered. In time, though, I also realized nothing mattered at all. A long look at the clear night sky was enough to set me straight on that point forever. By this I mean, or I think I probably mean, that things do matter, but not in the way we think they matter. And by that I mean, things mattered before we existed, and they will go on mattering after we are gone, and after our sun and earth are gone. In other words, it is a mistake to put ourselves at the center of the equation. Not one of us is here because we chose to be here. We may choose to leave, and we may choose the time and manner in which we leave, but that doesn’t mean much because we can’t stay anyway. And so we are left with a cosmic mattering, which might well be beyond our ability to comprehend, though I refuse to close the door on the possibility. The reason I say this is that I think we might already comprehend it at the cellular level, or even at a level that cannot be seen or touched. For we are of the universe; the universe flows through us, as it flows through itself and all things; as individuals, we are like planets or stars, or rocks or trees; as a race of beings, we are a galaxy unto ourselves. This is why I think our religions and philosophies and theories are so feeble. When you get right down to it, they are incredibly juvenile and narrow-minded, and are bound by their own petty assumptions. They don’t ask enough, and they satisfy us too easily. Ultimately, they are the refuge of closed minds, and of minds worn to a frazzle by fearing the unknown. This happens, I think, because we bestow upon ourselves an unreasonable degree of importance. When you think of the miracle that is Life, that is the Universe, and the vast, poetic, harmonic, ongoing upheaval it represents, our concerns seem pathetic. We can blow ourselves and the planet up at any moment, but on a cosmic scale it would be like killing a mosquito. Billions of years from now, billions of light years away, someone or something using an unimaginably powerful instrument might notice a tiny ripple and say, “I think there might have been something there, but I’m not sure. What do you think?”
June 24, 2004 — It took me only three minutes yesterday to find and buy another four books at the library bookstore. The result: four nice hardbound volumes for a total of six dollars. In addition to a hefty tome containing the complete works of Shakespeare, I brought home Here Lies, a collection of short stories by Dorothy Parker; a 357-page book of poems by Walt Whitman; and Wine From These Grapes, a slender volume of poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay. With the arrival of these books, my new shelf is now full, which means that I will have to go back to stacking books on my work table again. Not that I mind, really. It’s just that I know where it leads. And I don’t mind that, either. In fact, I don’t mind anything when it comes to books, because even when I just look at them, I am comforted. In other words, I am comforted pretty much all the time — a lucky thing, since I am always disturbed about one thing or another. So, I am both comforted and disturbed — a contradiction I should probably investigate, but won’t, at least not at the moment, because I would rather investigate my new books — which, come to think of it, are all old. Another contradiction. Do I have something against current literature, if I may use that term? Yes. I hate it — except for the few parts I like, none of which spring readily to mind. But if I live long enough, I suspect I will get around to current literature eventually, after it has become a thing of the past and is available at the library bookstore, assuming that sane outpost still exists. On the other hand (he said in case anyone was still listening), by then, maybe the current current literature will be more worthwhile, and I will be reading that instead of the old current literature. I can hardly wait to see how this all turns out. But, as we all know, literature is not something that can be rushed. Or is it? Hey, buddy, will you speed it up? I’ve been waiting for my literature for twenty minutes already. What kinda joint is this? Relax, pal. We just hired a new guy. He’s slow. He ain’t got the hang of it yet. I’ll say. I don’t even hear any typing. What’s his name, anyway? His name? It’s kinda hard to pronounce. It’s Tolstoyevsky Cervantes Shakespearzac Zolatwainpoe Faulknerhemingbeck. Or something like that. But that’s okay, because he goes by “Bill.” Yeah? Well you tell old Bill that he’d better crank out something in a hurry, because I’m tired of waiting, see? Okay, I’ll tell him. Hey, Bill — did you hear that? Are you gonna write this guy a book, or just stand there playin’ with them onion rings? Bill? Bill? Hey, Bill! Shoot. He’s gone. Guess I’ll have to do it myself.
June 25, 2004 — At long last, I think I am learning to learn. If I’m right, then maybe when I have learned to learn, I will go on to learn whatever it is I need to learn, and then in turn learn it. But first I have to finish learning to learn. The reason I am so slow is that I have had to learn how to learn to learn. This project took me almost forty-eight years, and suffered many setbacks along the way. It also involved a great deal of unlearning, which is to say, I had learned an awful lot of things that were road blocks to real learning. One of the biggest road blocks was learning. It might sound odd, but I know now that learning is learning’s biggest enemy. This is so because quite often what is learned is of no real value, or applied incorrectly or selfishly by the person who learned it. Several weeks ago, though, I emerged from this difficult phase. For one thing, I figured forty-eight years was enough, and that if I was ever going to begin learning to learn, I had better get busy. I don’t feel the time was squandered, necessarily — only about ninety-six or ninety-seven percent of it. The remainder was merely wasted. Now, people who know me personally — and I am doing my best to add you to that number — might say that I am being too hard on myself — not because it’s true, however, but because they are nice, though there is also another reason: if I am not being too hard on myself, then it implies that they are being too easy on themselves. Because, how different are we, really? A lot different! I hear you say, and for your sake I hope you are right. Still, if you understand me, and find that what I say makes reasonable sense, in spite or even perhaps because of the circuitous way in which it is presented, then chances are you are in as bad a shape as I am. And so I happily extend this offer: why not join me in learning to learn? Let us learn what needs to be learned, and then let us go on to learn it. Let us dispel the darkness of misguided assumption and create a bright new world that is a good world for everyone and not just a privileged few, who only think it’s a good world because they have money in their pockets and tickets for the theater. Let us learn to be the privileged many, the privileged all. Let us learn to bring children into the world with love, and to welcome and care for them with joy. Let us learn to live fully, and to grow old with dignity and grace, and to make our departure from this sphere a moment of joy, surrounded by our loved ones in whose faces are reflected our accomplishments. Finally, let us learn to learn that the dream is every bit as real as the nightmare, and that it is every bit as attainable, if we would only dare.
June 26, 2004 — A couple of days ago, a pharmacist at one of the major grocery stores in the area and I were talking about the new drug discount cards being offered to senior citizens as part of the government’s so-called improvements to Medicare. When I told him that I had assumed all along that the cards would be worthless, he smiled and said they are nothing but a ploy by Bush. “I hope people see through it,” he said. Since not all drugs are covered by all cards, and drugs can be dropped and prices raised without notice, I asked if anyone was saving money. He said he didn’t know, because he has seen only one card, even though most of his customers are eligible. That’s one card, in a huge, busy store, open long hours. Interesting. Maybe people do see through it. Either that, or they are completely confused by it, and have grown tired of being put on hold when they call the 800 number for card information. Oh, well. It’s only medicine. Health can wait. There’s a war to fight, remember? You know, freedom, democracy, and all that. Freedom to bleed, freedom to go untreated, freedom to rot minus an arm here and a leg there. Democracy built on the death of children, democracy that condones the torture of prisoners, democracy that plucks people off the street and holds them without charges. In other words, the compassionate, conservative form of democracy that clearly states, We will take what we want, at whatever human expense, because we are stronger than everyone else and we don’t care what anyone thinks. In other words, the kinder, gentler form of democracy that benefits the wealthy few while everyone else is left to pay the financial and psychological bill.
June 27, 2004 — I have been reading a little about the London of Shakespeare’s day, and how there were 200,000 people packed into the city’s sewage-filled streets and rat-infested crannies, and how within eleven years two bubonic plague epidemics carried off over a quarter of the population. At one point, stray dogs were thought to be carriers and large numbers were put to death. This allowed the rat population to increase and the problem to worsen. Garbage was routinely thrown into the gutter, where it lay rotting and stinking until a rain came along to wash it away. Night soil was loaded onto barges and dumped into the ocean. Through all this, Shakespeare — or Shackspere, or Shakspere, or Shake-speare, or Shakspeare, as the name was alternately spelled, even by Shakespeare himself — was writing his poetry and plays. Although, I understand that now some scholars believe somebody other than Shakespeare was the author of Shakespeare’s work. This might or might not be true, but either way, the important thing is that the work was written, and the author is no longer around to file a lawsuit. These days, it is hard to imagine the city of Salem losing 30,000 residents to disease in an eleven-year period. If Oregon’s capital loses residents, it’s because they can’t find a way to earn a living here, or are bored by the lack of night life, which is dominated primarily by raccoons. One would think that in such a benign environment, where hamburgers are worshipped and politicians keep the barbers busy, that writers would be cranking out great literature left and right. Granted, most are worn out from flipping burgers and pumping gas, but still, the politicians are enough like rats to make up the difference. Now, moving right along, it is important to note that there are still many places in the world that rival Shakespeare’s London in matters of filth and disease, and many other places where people are dropping like flies because of starvation and war. It is even more important to note that these problems are not caused simply by bad luck, or bad karma, or bad weather. Rather, they are caused by bad people, who refuse to be satisfied with their own good fortune, which, all too often, they haven’t even worked for, but have stolen or inherited. This is humankind’s worst plague of all. The Plague of Greed and Ignorance haunts us and defines our sad history.
June 28, 2004 — It’s nice to know my loving bride hasn’t lost her ability to converse with doves. Late yesterday evening, we were looking at things behind the house when a dove called from high atop one of the pine trees. As soon as my wife answered by blowing into her cupped hands and moving them to emulate the mourning sound — a trick she learned growing up on the farm — the dove replied with the same sound. This went on back and forth for the next few minutes, until the dove suddenly flew off — probably embarrassed, my wife said, when the bird realized it was talking to a human. . . . The flowers are watered, as are the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, which are making nice strides in the longer days and warmer temperatures. The breeze is coming out of the east again, and temperatures are on the rise. It was cloudy and in the seventies most of last week. The grass seed pollen count is still high, though I can tell by the smell that the varieties have changed. A minute ago, I sneezed loud enough to wake the entire neighborhood. But it is now after eight-thirty, so most everyone is awake anyway. Too bad. I hate to waste a sneeze, though it was still an emotionally and physically satisfying experience. The best sneezes, though, are the ones that are violent enough to actually clear the mind and cause spontaneous combustion.
June 29, 2004 — I suppose I shouldn’t let it bother me, but I am really tired of hearing the neighbor spit in his driveway every morning. He has been doing it for years, and the spit has been landing right out in the open where his son plays. After clearing his throat and spitting two or three times, he and his wife go to work. Their son goes with them and is dropped off somewhere to spend the day. Then, when they return in the evening, the father spits some more. He spits on his lawn, on his sidewalk, in the street. Once two or three years ago, I heard his wife yell at their young son, “Don’t spit!” For about a week, there was no spitting, father or son. Then the father resumed his spitting, and the son moved on to other forms of torture, such as climbing onto their roof and running around and refusing to come down while his parents scream at him. The other morning at about seven-thirty, after the father had done his spitting, he directed a blood-curdling scream at his son for not promptly getting into their car. Being relatively early, the neighborhood was still calm and quiet. And the weather being warm, many people had their windows open. The father and son were about ten feet apart when the peace was shattered. As they backed out into the street, I could hear the father screaming again, even with the windows up on their car. Now, I don’t begrudge anyone their unhappiness. I know people have it hard, even people with good jobs and benefits and money to spend. But still, when you get right down to it, stupidity is stupidity, and spit is spit. I have known many people who have had a much harder life and who were clean beyond reproach, and who were happy and raised intelligent children, and who managed it all without spitting and broadcasting their disappointments to the world. There is such a thing, in other words, as personal pride.
June 30, 2004 — On yesterday’s local news, there was a brief interview with one of the 5,000-plus former soldiers now being told by the government that they will be called up for another round of active duty. This particular person, who is twenty-four years of age, said he had already completed four years of service. Not only is he married and going to college, he is noticeably overweight and out of shape, which he hastened to point out himself, along with the fact that for the last two years he hasn’t been “thinking like a soldier,” but like an ordinary person with a life to live. His expression was one of helplessness, shock, and fear — a normal, healthy reaction, although I would hope that anger and outrage will soon take their place. I have never read the contracts signed by volunteers, but they must contain some mighty powerful fine print. Either that, or the government is up to its usual trick of saying one thing and doing another and worrying about the consequences later, after the damage is done. To sign on their dotted line is crazy enough, because it literally gives them the power of life or death over the person who signs. By signing, one says, in effect, “Take me — my mind, body, and future is in your hands, and can be used for whatever purpose you devise, and I will not question, I will not investigate the reasons behind your actions, I will not learn the history behind them, I will remain ignorant of the culture and heritage of the people you send me to fight, wound, maim, imprison, torture, and kill.” For years now, as an inducement to sign, the government has been dangling the promise of paying for one’s college education. Meanwhile, it has been systematically dismantling the economy, leaving less and less in the way of decently paying employment. At the moment, they are bragging about the relatively small number of so-called jobs that are being added to the nation’s economy, but it is clear that the new jobs — if one is lucky enough to be selected from the herd of desperate applicants — don’t pay nearly as much as the hundreds of thousands of jobs that have been lost. And so serving in the military becomes more of an option for young people, who have fewer and fewer prospects, and who don’t know where to turn. Under the circumstances, even if they survive their term of duty — however long the government decides that is — and go on to earn a college degree, there is still no guarantee they will go on to find good employment. There are plenty of unemployed degree-holders out there already. Degrees are a dime a dozen. Even worse, colleges have become businesses; like the military, they need a certain number of bodies to keep their machinery rolling. Otherwise, they go out of business. It takes an exceptionally intelligent person to survive this mass market production model, and to make something worthwhile come of the experience. In truth, a government that cares about the welfare of its people would see to it that education comes first. And by education, I mean real education — not merely the kind that leads to a job, but an education that helps open one’s mind. But of course if that happened, the government would have even more trouble finding soldiers to fight its senseless wars — again, not good for business.
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Also by William Michaelian
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Another Song I Know
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