Category Archives: Personal

Housing for the dead

Graveyard-NO-09[1] I am drawn to cemeteries, not because of some ghoulish, even sentimental reason, but because I want to reinforce my already steadfast and final decision that I do not want to be buried in one of those places along with people I do not know, and who if I knew, I would not likely like to be around.

After all, these places take bankers and insurance company executives and even golfers. Sometimes civil defense attorneys who represent bankers and insurance company executives, along with judges who habitually hold for them, are also buried there.

It’s also crowded. The graves are so close that but for the intervention of death one would have been able to reach out and touch one’s rotting neighbors on either side. And if, according to promise, we all magically sprang back to life one day, we would end up talking about the stock market, who was cheated by Madoff, and what one’s latest handicap at the country club was.

What a place to abandon one’s bones to rot, ever so slowly, depending upon how much you were loved (as love is defined by the mortician)! That is to say, if you were truly loved, you would be buried in one of those super, double-lined copper affairs with the anti-rust, anti-bug interiors, and you would be put to rest (and to rot) on a Super Sealy, Sweet Dreams mattress with silk sheets, and oh, they do get cold in the winter.

The point is, that if you are really loved, as one is lead to believe by the undertaker, one will be placed in a coffin that will allow you to rot slower than one decomposes in a cheap, leaking coffin, thus extending the ugly process all the longer.

Instead, I have asserted that I want to be buried in a pine box just deep enough that I won’t be excreted as a coyote turd, but shallow enough that I will become a part of the root system of the willows along the creek and emerge as a pussy willow in the spring time.

Better yet, so as to beat the devil, the fiery furnace of the crematory seems the best. After all, no one will be able to tell whether those are my ashes or the banker’s (miserable joke because I never wanted to get mixed up with bankers) or maybe they are the ashen remains of the old lady’s Chihuahua from across the street that spent its life curled up on her lap.

In any event, I just got back from visiting New Orleans and while there our guide dropped us off at St. Roch Cemetery. I discovered, to my extreme discomfort, that I needed to go number one, so to speak. No pissatories were in sight. So I wandered out in between the old family mausoleums, or whatever those stone, above-the-ground-family-graves are called, and found a place out of sight between a family named Foinheizer and one named McBaker. I looked in all directions to satisfy myself no one was in sight of me, or me of them, and immediately took to the task. Suddenly I had a sense of shame and sadness. Whatever would the families feel if they knew some old Yankee white man was pissing where, there under, Uncle Henry’s feet were or used to be?

How sad that the deceased as well as their immediate descendents, now also long dead, and theirs as well – are so long dead that no one remembers them at all. In fact they have all been dead so long, and it is not so long as long goes – less than a hundred years, that no one came to visit them on Memorial Day.

I know, because as was true for most of the graves, no one left a bouquet of those white plastic lilies or cold, white plastic carnations in a cheap vase at the base of that cold stone structure to honor them.

As I finished my task there above Uncle Henry’s feet I began to understand my shame. I had been taught as a child to honor the dead. Yet I wondered then, as I do now, why one should honor say, Uncle Henry, after his death if he was not honorable before?

Then I met a huge African-American there, a smiling, friendly man with a baseball cap brandishing the New Orleans Saints football Broken-grave-stone-St team. He was at least as large as a Saints tackle. He said he was the caretaker. He pointed out some interesting sights: One, a grave stone had fallen over and broken in two. It was, of course, subject to the same destructive forces of man and nature as the dead it remembered. He told me no one gave a damn about the broken headstone since the man’s predecessors had not paid for perpetual care and the poor stone would just have to lie there for eternity despite the fact that it cast a certain shadow of neglect on the rest of the stones.

Then our guide showed us where a hive of honeybees had occupied the upper reaches of one of the above-ground burial sites. This disturbed the management so they took a torch to the bees the flame of which left its smoke stains on the stone, and me to wonder why things alive and producing sweetness should be such a threat to the dead?

Next he showed us a burial chamber, where he said he once witnessed hordes of cockroaches crawling over the rock and into the tomb. The contents of the tomb had allegedly been dead and decomposed for nearly a century, yet something was attracting the insects who usually like things living or just past living, and all of this raised new questions.

“But what seems a more than casual observation is that the dead here remain in expensive structures, the cost of which far exceeds the value of the shacks that house many of our living poor.”

But what seems a more than casual observation is that the dead here remain in expensive structures, the cost of which far exceeds the value of the shacks that house many of our living poor. And many of the poor, including helpless, hungry children, live in cold, deserted doorways and on the grates in the big cities, some even in the sewers.

I ponder a simple question: Might we better honor our dead by turning dead money spent to honor the dead, honorable or not, into something life-giving by contributing the funds, say, to decent housing for the living?

At last my companion caretaker told me that if the heirs did not keep up their monthly payments that the occupant would be evicted. When I asked, to what place the said occupant would be relocated, he said he didn’t know. Presumably there is a pauper’s field nearby.

So what? Remember, the rapture. Some insist that all the coffins will be thrown open on judgment day and the good, rattling occupants will be drug up to heaven whether they want to go or not. Which leads me to object. Who really wants to spend eternity with a bunch of angels? If you met one you might take a fancy to, the wings would get in the way, and after about ten thousand years, wouldn’t one get tired of listening to some dreamy-eyed sweetheart playing the harp?

Depression and Mother Nature’s dirty little joke

I recognize that depression can be the result of an insidious chemical imbalance. I am not writing about that miserable ghoul that tries to find a home in many an otherwise healthy person.

We all suffer from depression of some kind and of severity. No one is immune from it. Usually it’s a downer, like a cloudy day that, in my part of the country, is of short duration. When we lose a job, a friend, a loved one, when we are sick or feel lonely, depression seems to be a pretty normal reaction. But is it possible that chronic depression, absent the chemical problem, is also a normal reaction?

We are taught to be joyful, taught to put a smile on our faces, taught to be optimistic and see the cup as half full, not half empty. Happiness is a cultural demand in our society. Are you happy? If not, buy a new car. Are you happy? If not, get a facelift or some other kind of lift. Are you happy? If not, drink a Coors or better yet, get drunk, or call your local dealer. Are you happy? If not, get a new spouse, experience a new love affair or come out of the closet.

Are you unhappy? If so, please do not admit it. You will be seen as sick. You will be subjected to treatment. You may even be jailed as a risk to yourself and others.

What if all of this sunshine called happiness is simply imposed on us like any other belief system? We must be happy or we are sick. We will be in trouble if the cultural imperative of happiness escapes us. Send us to the shrink at an unhappy expense to tell us how happy we should be and who will prescribe happy pills for us.

I think of our dogs. They wag their tails and we see them as essentially happy. But they are not aware of the existential truth and Mother Nature’s dirty little joke that she never tires telling: Birth, struggle, infirmity and death.

We have been given that devilish gift called awareness, some call it intelligence. We were also given the power to make choices. We are defined by our choices. We can be happy, at least cheerful, at least brave, or we can whimper and whine and plod along in our own gloomy mental cave. We can choose to enjoy and cherish that magical gift called life, or we can choose to curse the day we were born. But if we choose the latter, are we sick or simply in tune with the ultimate truth, that Mother Nature is still playing that same little joke on us?

I say we play it back on Mother Nature. Eternity would be hell. On, say, our five-hundred and fifty-seven millionth birthday, or our fifteenth billionth, and we find ourselves still no closer to the end than our beginning, one might be begging Mother Nature: “Please, oh, please play your dirty little joke on us. Please, just this once.” A beginning without an end would, indeed, be hell.

Life without the simple pattern of the flower – its tender shoot emerging in the springtime sun, its strength to rise again after some careless foot has smashed it, its willingness to endure pain as its tight bud unfolds, its incomparable beauty as a blossom and the miraculous spread of its seeds in fall winds is part of Mother Nature’s plan as well.

Perfect. And we are in sync with its magic.

Poem: First Snow

I have been gone. The first snow has come. I share a poem I wrote many years ago to Imaging:

First Snow

Together we watched the snow cover the ground

In ten minutes.

“Before it’s through

The snow will be up to the doorknob.”

Do you remember saying that?

Then we saw the golden ground give up,

The tall summer grasses, frightened,

Standing stiff

Like old men frozen at the brink

Waiting to be smothered.

“Do not be afraid, grasses,” you said.

“Already you have seeded.

Do not shiver so.

But fight.” Do you remember how you said,

“Oh, please fight!”

And then the blood of golden grasses

Turned all white.

The geese are at the pond. The snow has covered the meadow where they often graze and food is scarce. We toss out corn at the edge of the pond. But soon the geese will fly south. Winter is upon us. I share a question with the old bull elk, and with you. Will we make it another winter?

An argument for slavery

I am grateful to some of my readers who have inquired concerning my health, this in view of the fact that I have not posted for several weeks.  Imaging and I have just returned from a couple of weeks in Istanbul,Turkey.  The jet lag of nine hours is a killer.  I am still exhausted.

As most of you know, I was born in Wyoming and have spent most of my life here.  That makes me little more than a provincial innocent who has sparse first hand appreciation of the history of the human race.  My knowledge of history, as it is viewed on the ground, is one of Indians, and French fur traders and homesteaders, and when it is all gathered up it spans little more than a century.  Growing up and living in Wyoming one never actually touches ancient human history.  But in Istanbul it was a different story.

I was immediately taken by the history there that hit one in the face no matter where one went, the walls of the old city, several yards thick and thirty feet high, or higher – still standing after more than a thousand years.  The mosques, monstrous domed buildings with inlaid tile, the palaces of the Ottoman kings – I mean, if you began to dig a basement there you would encounter centuries of civilization beneath the surface.  I was astounded and left reeling.

I do not mean to turn this post into a travelogue.  But I was told that thousands, yes, hundreds of thousands of slaves built the Blue Mosque in five years, a feat we could not duplicate with our modern machinery.  Slavery.  Nearly every great nation in history was built on the backs of slaves – the Romans, the Egyptians, yes, the castles of the English lords.  The cathedrals in Italy, the Pope’s own quarters, are mostly the products of slave labor.  The human race has advanced on the crumbling bodies and endless sweat of those whose lives were stolen from them by those in power.  The foundation of our nation, too, was a system of slavery.

Nothing changes.  But we have learned to cloak slavery with the myth of freedom.  That is quite an accomplishment.  Yet remember, the slave had a guaranteed sustenance.  He had a pallet of straw to sleep on and he was fed, although little and cheaply.  When he died he was buried in a shallow grave by the master.

Ask the millions of unemployed today who desperately search for work if they are slaves – slaves without masters.  Parents struggle and sacrifice to send their children to college so they can become slaves of corporations that will use them up, and when they are finished with them, cast them out, nowadays often without pensions.  In the old slavery, a child was taken from his parents and sold.  In the new slavery the child, born in Seattle, will leave his family to be educated in Connececut and to work for a corporation in, say, Los Angeles.  The family is no longer a unit that protects its members.  The tribe is gone (unless by becoming a fan of a football or baseball team one joins such an impersonal tribe.)  If we work for others we are slaves with few rights.  When the dead master (the corporation that is and never has been alive) is finished with the slave the slave joins the ranks of the unemployed, feels worthless, worried, lost and wasted.  If we work for ourselves we are slaves to the system, to taxation, to rules of law, to endless regulations that, at last, are mostly intended to benefit the money interests of the nation.  No one can escape the slavery.  The farmer works himself to the bone to reap his crop, but the price he gets is the price that all farmer slaves get – the amount that the corporate system will allow.

I am not arguing against this brand of slavery.  Much of it is necessary in a civilized society, some for the protection of citizens.  But at the bottom of this whole mess of rules, customs, the philosophy of free enterprise, the stock market, the entire business world, the laws and the court system is the overriding interest of power.  We protect money before we protect people.

So when I got back from Istanbul I came to the conclusion that the human species, once we have abandoned the tribe, is hopelessly indentured. The trick, of course, is to become the kind of slave one wants to be, and to exercise enough control over one’s slavery that some happiness, some fulfillment can seep in.  I expect that the slaves who built the Blue Mosque might well have stepped back and seen its beauty and gathered in a bit of pride that they gave their lives to such a monument, one they doubtlessly believed in, as we, indeed, sacrifice our lives to our own various forms of slavery.

The gift of death by a loved one

Recently I was thinking with a friend of mine about the death of loved one. I heard myself say that the death of a loved one can be a gift.

How is that possible?

My mother’s suicide was a gift to me. It took many years for me to realize this, for her death brought with it both pain and wonder, it brought grief and misery and guilt; but in the end the pain became the stuff of my growth.

I am today who I am because of her death. That I have suffered and grieved has caused me to reexamine my own life, and to try to find better ways to live it. I can hear and understand the grief and guilt of others better. I can see the beauty of the gift of life and to cherish it.

Yes, her death was a gift – one I would give everything to be without, but with it I shall hopefully become a person with a larger soul.

On being selfish

Some folks ask how did I become so well known, or “famous.”  That is mostly a matter of luck.  I took cases that I thought were important, that turned me on. I was selfish. I wanted to satisfy my own needs, namely, to engage in something meaningful. I wanted to help, but that is because I needed to help, and in the end, that is taking care of one’s self.  Being selfish for the right reasons is the trick. I have not always been successful there.

Gerry

Where should we go from here?

Folks,

I feel fulfilled and honored when I earn your company as faithful readers. I have enjoyed the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas—and I’m gratified that you were out there to discuss them. To communicate with you has been a privilege and a frontal attack on the ubiquitous loneliness from which many of us suffer beyond the demanding encounters we experience in our everyday carryings-on.

Still, I am wondering, how do you feel? And what are your expectations of me? What are your expectations for this community of ours? What would you like to talk about?

I am like a New York City delicatessen—I have a lot of ready items on my menu, as I’m sure you do.

Let me hear from you.

Best, ever,

Gerry

The high price of money

20dollarBill_1 I can remember my mother preaching: “Money is the root of all evil.” Her preaching was appropriate because we had little of either.

I am not one to downgrade money as a means of exchange – money for goods and money for services. But what happens when money becomes the meaning of life?

What happens to us when we dedicate our lives to its acquisition, that we judge our worth, our success, our power, our beauty, our intelligence and our right to dominate others depending upon how much money we have acquired?

What happens when we admire those who have much money, squeezed from the hides of helpless workers and we fail to recognize the mother, stricken with poverty, who, nevertheless, put her children though college. What about the father who dug ditches and cleaned latrines but set a role model of honest labor for his sons, while the corporate executive played money games on the stock market and wrested unearned bonuses from his shareholders?

This so-called down-turn in the economy is a danger to us. But as all dangers are likewise opportunities, these times give us an opportunity to rethink what is worthy of our admiration, both in ourselves and others.

As Sitting Bull said, “I have spoken.”

Do humans have the same rights as a dog?

A brave and caring Montana judge, Honorable Dorothy McCarter, has just ruled that doctor assisted suicides are legal for terminally ill patients who suffer intolerable pain. Montana is the third state to provide the species this humane right. Two other states, Oregon and Washington, have gifted their citizens this same opportunity to end endless agony.

aliceI find myself not much interested in the several legal arguments that are offered for or against providing human beings an end to unmitigated suffering. As I experience my eightieth year on this planet and consider the possibilities that may arise in my remaining years the issue transcends nice legalisms and moral imperatives and becomes very real.

The day before yesterday one of our labs ventured out on the paper-thin ice on our pond. The pond is deep and it is cold. You and I could not survive in those waters more than a minute or two. Alice (we named her after my grandmother) could not get back up on solid ground. But she was close enough that we were able to belly-out over the ice only a few feet with one of us holding on to the other, and to pull her out.

But what if she had been out in the middle of the pond, say, fifty feet from shore, the ice was too thin to bear our weight and no boat or other means were available by which to reach her? Would we simply stand there and watch her slowly, painfully, freeze to death and eventually, after many terror filled minutes slowly, agonizingly drown?

I have a rifle.

Most of us have had to put a pet “down” at one time or another. Assisted death for a pet is accepted in our culture. One of my friends just went through this with his dog. He reports how the animal seemed to know what was happening, that as the needle was painlessly inserted into his vein, and my friend was holding his faithful friend close to him and petting him, the dog looked up with peaceful eyes and wagged his tail as if to say he understood and was grateful. 

But Dr. Kevorkian, in Michigan, was prosecuted as a common criminal numerous times for his heroic effort to end such suffering in the human animal. Geoffrey Fieger (later my client) successfully defended the doctor on six occasions. Finally the good doctor believed he would be able to defend himself, but a Michigan jury convicted him of second degree homicide. After spending eight years in prison he was recently released on parole. What more needs to be said about the anomaly in the human organism that loves and respects its pets more than members of its own species?

Can it be that our pets are more loved and more deserving of our compassion than we?

What is GOOD?

What is good and what is evil are like beauty:  It is in the eyes of the beholder. To some, killing Christians is good. To others killing Americans is good. To some, killing for Christ is good. For some, killing some poor wretch in the electric chair is good. For some, abortion is good.  For others, abortion is evil and abortionists should be killed. For some, justice as rendered is good. For others, the same justice as rendered is not. Neither morality nor beauty are endemic to the universe. They belong solely to the soul of man.

Dare I say, “Be good?”