Time for Mrs Fringe to have the first beach day of the season to herself. I feel pretty lucky to have kiddos that recognize my particular brand of lunacy requires both beach time and occasional time by myself. So the other day–the day before the girl’s last day of school– I checked the weather (iffy, which made it perfect to not bring Art Child), packed my bottle of frozen water, bleach-stained oversized towel, my trusty black and white composition notebook (just in case I should be inspired to write, hah!) and got on the train.
At first it seemed like the iffy weather prediction was completely wrong. A bit of wind, but blue skies and sun all the way. A bit more wind. Eh, the sand scraping across my skin is free exfoliation. I can be freckled and have a youthful glow! Before two hours had passed, I found myself wondering how long I could lie there with sand blowing straight up my nose before I suffocated. I gave up. Took my towel and headed back toward the train. While I stood on the boardwalk shaking out my towel, I thought of the many times I had gone to the beach in my angsty teen years, shivering in out-of-season winds while sitting on the rocks writing horribly overwrought poetry. For some reason I also remembered going with my mother to the “big girl’s” shop on Coney Island Avenue, to buy housedresses for a relative in California, while my father sat in the car outside, grumbling about muumuus. Shh, it’s a secret, don’t tell anyone. For my mother, the secret was that this glamorous, beautiful cousin was a “big girl.” For me, the secret was she wore house dresses in her home that seemed like a mansion compared to our semi-detached brick two family house. For the love of God, she had gotten three thousand miles away from there, didn’t she know there was a reason they didn’t sell those polyester monstrosities in Southern California?
It’s a funny thing. When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to “escape” South Brooklyn. Seriously, it was like living the script of Saturday Night Fever, those bridges and tunnels represented everything. I’m a cynical gal and always was, but I can and do certainly look back and realize my rose-colored glasses were firmly in place, like most other young people. If I lived in the city (people who live in the outer boroughs refer to Manhattan as “the city,” regardless of the fact that it’s all five boroughs that make up NYC), life would be different. I would be free, not trapped, living the life I always wanted. You know, in a cold dark garret, chain smoking clove cigarettes while scribbling the great American novel. Manhattan/Paris, Nineteenth Century/Twenty-First Century–it’s all the same thing, right? I’d be living the dream. Regardless, I certainly wouldn’t spend twenty years dodging PTA meetings and worrying about doctor’s appointments. Whatever happened, I would never find myself back in Brooklyn. Most of all, I would never, ever wear a housedress.
So what do I do now with every opportunity on beautiful (or iffy) summer days? Hop on the train and go over the bridge back to the Brooklyn, of course. Just the beach, but. No matter how many times I’ve gone back, no matter that it’s been a firm part of my summer routine for eons, I have to laugh at myself. The first couple of times I went back, I wondered if I would run into anyone I knew. Never have. Who knows, maybe I’ve been towel to towel with someone who graduated from high school with me and neither of us recognized the other. I quickly stopped thinking about it. The realities of living in a city so densely populated is that I have people who live on the same floor of my building that I don’t see for months, sometimes years, at a time.
This winter I reconnected with an old high school friend, through Facebook. She left Brooklyn before I did, and it turns out she too, is back in NY, living in a different borough. We briefly talked about meeting up, but it hasn’t happened. What would I say, without judiciously chosen and edited photos to represent my life? Badge of honor, I’ve never worn a housedress! Still, I found myself on Brighton Beach Avenue before I got on the train, looking at my favorite (cheapest) variety store running a going-out-of-business sale, and wondered if I had $5 on me.
I assume this is a bad hand, no aces or picture cards, no pairs.
I’m burnt out from the online political arguments. Tried distraction yesterday, went to the zoo (yes I did enjoy watching the gorillas, thankyouverymuch). That was nice, but not quite enough. Back to disgusted by 9pm last night. So this morning I was thinking, we need a game. A nice, game, old-fashioned yet modern. Naturally, LARPing came to mind. So much talk about the good old days, why not go back to them? Yes, everyone currently ranting, please join in. At first I thought everyone should play, but then, as I thought more about the premise, I decided that if I want to keep to the spirit being touted as proper American values–yanno, my rights and conveniences are of more value than those of my neighbors or society–I don’t have to give up my Housewives or torture myself into a corset.
What shall we call our game? Women in the Kitchen? Back of the Bus? We Don’t Need No Stinking Badges? Maybe we should just keep it simple, call it America. Though that might be exclusionary. How about, History–Revisionist Edition?
The 1930s. In thinking about what time period to choose, I wanted to be fair and really support those who are mourning lost values. I considered 50 years ago, but that leaves us at the beginning of the peace and love era, dirty hippies are certainly not pictured on the memes I see going around, and really, why distribute windowpanes to distance ourselves from this glorious trip down memory lane? 100 years ago? Hmm, that feels a bit too distant, electricity wasn’t common in American households until the ’30s, and it wasn’t until the 1920s that Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act and the Immigration Act of 1924. Yanno, immigration restrictions in the good old days, working hard to prevent Asian immigrants, as well as Italian, Jewish, and Slav immigrants from setting foot on our red white and blue shores. Besides, in the early 1930s, more people were emigrating from America than immigrating into it. (Is that the current desire and dream?) Great Depression and all that.
While I and my fellow filthy liberal hippies keep score, those who believe in traditional values like backsliding, giving away rights, hating your neighbors, yourselves, and equal opportunities will get to live the dream. If you are from a family of longtime, multi-generational wealth that didn’t go under with the stock market crash of 1929, I’m sorry, you are ineligible to play. Unfortunately for you, your place in our culture was, is, and always will be secure. Anyway, this is gonna be awesome. Tremendous, even.
Concerned that you won’t have enough people and ethnic groups to hate? Pfft, we won’t leave you without, plenty of ethnic groups and minorities to blame for…everything. Sure, the Land of the Free wasn’t quite as mixed then, but believe it or not, there were brown people. And for those who aren’t sure there were enough people of color to hate, we’ve got you covered, with the “wrong” white people until those numbers come up. Concerned about having to live without your AR 15s and AK 47s? I know, so sad, so SCARY. In exchange for giving up your inalienable right to be a one man army, we’ve got other, more traditional good old days guns and rifles. And beatings! Sure, not as splashy as a semi-automatic, but is there anything quite as satisfying as old-fashioned bones-of-the-powerless-and-disenfranchised cracking under your fists? Who says the right to vote for women need take away your swagger? Gratifying and manly, you don’t need any Latinos or Eye-talians to teach you about machismo.
In the very early 1930s, 25% of potentially wage-earning Americans were unemployed. Please draw a card to determine if you have a job or not. If your card is lower than a 5, you have no job. Luckily for you, there’re also no disgusting, Socialist (ooh, so scary) Welfare, Food Stamps, Social Security, Medicaid, or Unemployment benefits in place. I’m so glad you get to hold true to your values. Don’t worry, your family and neighbors will take care of you, if you draw an ace. They’ll throw you a rotting cabbage and a bit of chicken skin.
If you are employed, it is of course because you’re a harder worker than the guy in the next town over whose factory folded when the owner took a swan dive off the church tower after the Stock Market crashed. You deserve employment, you’re a real American. None of those commie unions to deal with, either. You’re secure in your right to work in unsafe conditions, your children working right alongside you without the unnecessary complications of health insurance, days off, overtime pay, or your right arm. No worries, the Black Lung will keep you feeling warm.
And it’s all ok. Better than ok. You’ve got all the time in the world, without the modern distractions of cable tv, video games, internet access, cell phones, or reliable refrigeration. You’ve got radio, that’s all you sinners who insist on entertainment need! If you’re in the Great Plains, you have an excess of time, what with the lack of farmable farmland in the Dust Bowl. If you’re a woman, that is excellent news, plenty of hours in the day for washing, drying, and ironing clothes, cleaning the house, gardening, cooking (all from scratch, no frozen dinners, take-out, or convenience foods, and taking care of the children–yup, plenty of children! (sorry, no birth control or D&Cs allowed during your month of gaming, that would be cheating. Unwanted pregnancy? Bad timing? No such thing, you’re a woman.) As a woman, you’re even allowed to vote, what more do you want?
Are you a recent immigrant? You might be a bit confused, wondering where we’ve hidden those streets of gold. And the jobs, where are those opportunities? Good thing you came here and learned English overnight, assimilating immediately and working without pause. I know this is true because your modern selves talk about this all. the. time. (“My Grandpa came to America and spoke English!” “I’m proud to say I can’t speak a word of any other language!”) Unless, of course, you were a minority, in which case, you were the first to lose your job, if you had landed one in the first place. You won’t be lonely, you’ve got plenty of company what with all the other non-immigrant minorities (including Native Americans, who invited them, anyway? They should never have made it through Ellis Island.) who lost their jobs. And recreation! I hear lynchings enjoyed great popularity in the early thirties. Good thing we all remember those good old days with such fondness and clarity that we can play this game.
A bit of clarity, if you’re thinking that you’re white, and therefore a welcome immigrant, you might need to look a bit harder. Jews? Suspect, and not welcome. Italian? Suspect, and not welcome–all kinds of propaganda being distributed due to the rise of Mussolini. Irish? Also suspect, no-Irish-need-apply. Enjoy your tenements! I mean really, so many of these Italian and Irish immigrants were Catholic. Papists! Frequent and familiar targets of the KKK in those days. It isn’t like we’d see a Catholic President in a mere 30 years.
No worries about Mexicans coming and stealing your job, either. A pox on those who say over a million Mexican immigrants came between 1900-1930 because of a demand for low-wage, unskilled workers when we didn’t have enough citizens to fill those jobs. No worries indeed, we rounded ’em up, beat ’em, and deported ’em back over the border. Damn it, now I’m confusing myself, am I talking about then or now?
More excellent news, you won’t be confronted by your child coming out to you. That closet is padlocked and sealed in concrete. You yourself are a part of the LGBTQ community? Don’t be silly, surely no one who belongs to a community that has been traditionally pilloried, still openly ridiculed, viciously attacked, and subject to hate crimes by many would be playing this game–allying themselves with political parties that want nothing more than to restrict their rights–that would mean they place their bank accounts and guns above their personal rights, to say nothing of the safety and security of their community. Just think, it’s the 1930s, no AIDS. Don’t despair, though, plenty of gonorrhea and syphilis to go around, regardless of your sex or sexual orientation.
Speaking of health and health care, remember, these are the good old days. If you or a loved one get sick or have an accident, you don’t have to think about where your insurance card is, how much the treatment will cost, or if you’re able to cover the copays. Chances are excellent that what you’ve got can’t be treated. And your friendly local doctor will make a house call. If you can pay him.
So, you live life as if it’s the good old days for one month. No cheating–those of us who believe in reason, justice, equality and science will be watching. If you make it through your month without dying from illness or a tragic accident, good on you, you win a bootstrap! If you make it through without starving yourself or family members, losing your home or throwing yourself off of a cliff before Roosevelt can push through one of his commie New Deal roads and bridges, you get a bonus bootstrap. I hear once you collect enough, you can use them to pull yourself up.
Because the heart of America is broken and bleeding.
I remember clearly the first time the phrase “deeply saddened” came to my mind in response to an atrocity. It was 1999, and in Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, two students slaughtered 12 classmates, 1 teacher, injured 24 people, and then killed themselves. At the time it was so shocking, so hideous, I couldn’t stand to watch the news or stay in the apartment; I took (then a baby) Nerd Child and went up the street to the preschool Man Child had attended. I stood there with the director and teachers, all of us crying silently while we watched the little ones playing on the rooftop. (NY, you make play spaces where you can.)
Deeply saddened. When the loss is so huge, so shocking, nonsensical yet calculated, it feels deeper than a personal tragedy; a public loss we all share and mourn, yet feeling we’re powerless in the face of it, and what we feel doesn’t scratch the surface of those whose loss is personal, those who lost children and family members, spouses, friends and teachers.
In the 17 years that have passed since then, it feels like there have been many occasions when I have found myself deeply saddened by a no-longer-extraordinary mass shooting here in America: Virginia Tech, Virginia, Binghamton, New York, Fort Hood, Texas, Sandy Hook, Connecticut, Washington Navy Yard, Washington DC, Charleston, South Carolina, San Bernardino, California, and now Orlando, Florida. This is by no means a complete and comprehensive list of mass shootings here in the US, nor does it include any slaughters that came before Columbine: Edmond, Oklahoma, Killeen, Texas, San Ysidro, California–to name a few “big” ones. Hell, I think the largest mass killing of this type was back in 1857 in Mountain Meadows, Utah.
By the time Sandy Hook occurred, maybe the “shock” of the targets being children so young, I was tilting from deeply saddened to furious. And now, with this most recent mass shooting in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, 50 dead and 53 injured, I’m still sad, I’m still angry, but I’m sure as shit not shocked. That this occurred in an LGBT nightclub during Pride Month? Not shocked. How can anyone pretend to be? Look at my (incomplete) lists above. Children, teens, young adults, adults, black, white, asian, latino, gay, straight, rural, suburban, urban, elementary schools, high schools, colleges, churches, post offices, immigration centers, motherfucking military bases. If the list of victims, perpetrators and locations is so scattered, the only answer is to find the common theme.
Yeah, I’m going there. I know, many will see this and roll their eyes, “it’s too soon!” “Mrs Fringe is politicizing a tragedy!” It cannot be too soon when we know the next mass shooting is only a matter of time. And this is a political tragedy. A tragedy of policy, when we live in a country that refuses to enact stricter gun control laws, a country that has in place a congressional ban on gun violence research (renewed, by the way, immediately after 9 people were killed inside a Charleston church), when we know most of these slaughters occurred with legally obtained weapons by people who should never have been able to obtain guns if we had any collective common sense. Obviously, at this point we, as a nation, have accepted that next time it could be us personally, our children, our loved ones, and we’ve decided we’re ok with that. Oh sure, we’ll hold vigils and wail, offer prayers and tweets and gnash our teeth–if it’s really a big number killed we’ll even apply an appropriately colored, somber overlay onto our Facebook profile pictures.
Many of us have had personal tragedies, upheaval or illnesses in our lives that have caused us to accept a new normal. Well, mass shootings are our not-so-new normal here in the US. The NRA–hell, friends of mine–will be defensive, certain of their right to mourn alongside the rest of us and those who lost loved ones this weekend. They’ll mean it. Most of those I know who are against sensible gun control will genuinely be saddened by this most recent tragedy–maybe even deeply. They’ll hold up the shooter’s history of hate, insanity and domestic violence as “proof” that we need more guns. Above all they’ll point to the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms as sacred, not to be contained, controlled, or god forbid tampered with above all else. Above all else. Above:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among those are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. ~~Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, 1776
1776 was a long time ago. As a country, as a world we have grown, changed, and advanced so much it makes no sense at all to apply the guidelines written then as a document to be followed to the letter now. We know it, but it’s inconvenient. So much easier to be reactionary and defensive, luxuriate in the righteousness of our greed and mourning, to cry, Patriotism! while accepting our new normal. It is greed when our elected officials put the contributions of gun lobbyists and their interests over those of their constituents. When we continue to elect and support those officials, we, as a people, are validating that greed.
Even in Fringeland, we’ve been down this road and I’ve written about this subject too many times before. Some will read this or other pieces better written with more facts than mine, and they’ll point to other nations. Hold up as proof of America’s greatness charts of violent death rates by country, point to how far down the list we are, how many more are killed by violence in Columbia, Honduras, Somalia, etc. Is that the type of comparison that makes sense, that we want? These are nations shredded by internal strife, wars civil and otherwise, ruled by poverty and desperation. They’ll point to statistics on crime and shout that criminals have guns, so we all should. No, the answer to gun violence is not more guns. They’ll then say we will not be able to eradicate all guns, so we shouldn’t eliminate any. I can’t even follow the intended logic on that one. We continue to fund disease research and treatments, even as we know we cannot eradicate all disease. They’ll say the CDC cannot conduct studies on gun violence because guns are not a disease. I call bullshit.
I won’t begin quoting statistics, they’re everywhere this morning. I will say that yesterday, while we were watching the antics of blustering politicians on Twitter, and crying as we watched the horrific scene outside of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, I saw another “small” story come up. This one local, not too many stops away on the train. A young mother of three was shot to death on a playground, protecting her children.
Gun violence is a disease in America, and mass shootings are the weeping of our bleeding hearts.
Despite the fact that it’s only June, I’m already exhausted by this presidential cycle and all the nonsense that has accompanied it. Yet here I am yapping about it. Why? Because I’m confused, and sometimes writing things down helps sort it out–and maybe, hopefully, we’ll get a rich conversation going in the comments that will allow for clarity.
I’ll admit, my imagination is limited. I can’t fathom what it is that enables someone to want to be President. I’ve gone extended periods with very limited sleep while still needing to make decisions, large and small, that impacted five people. It isn’t fun. To choose to do this while making huge, impactful-for-generations-to-come for 318 million people? (Many more, really, because US decisions and policies are felt worldwide.) To believe you are the best person to be in this position? Nope, unfathomable to me. But hey, I’m someone who can spend two hours staring at the screen attempting to decide if I’ve chosen the most effective verb.
I keep saying, “How have we gotten here?” “How is it that in 2016, the GOP candidate is an openly hateful, selfish, liar?” How is it that the Democratic candidate is likely the most contentious woman in America?”
In regards to the Democratic party, I’m conflicted. I’m sorry Bernie lost, truly sorry if not surprised. I don’t care for Hillary Clinton. I want to be clear, this isn’t because of the history of bogus witch hunts targeting her, not because of what went on/goes on in her marriage, and definitely not because of her $12,000 blazer. Really people, what gives with that nonsense? First and foremost, I’ve never heard outrage or seen articles about the cost of any male candidate’s suit. Call me an old and out of touch feminist, to me that’s yet another symbol of not-so-subtle sexism. I know, I know, she wore it while talking about inequality. It is gross, represents much of what’s got people angry and frustrated in this country. But let’s be honest. If you were able to swallow her throwing a $3 million dollar wedding for her daughter while this country was in a serious recession, people losing jobs and homes daily, well then, let’s not pretend moral outrage about her jacket. I’ll be straight, you could tell me you found proof that she was in the backseat of Ted Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick and I’d still support her right now. Why? Because the alternative is Donald Trump.
Talk about witch hunts. Can you imagine if he was to become our President? Goodbye, First Amendment. That’s right, he’s been pretty clear. For all his lies, there are kernels of truth as to what he supports and believes, and what he believes is that he should be not just President, but Dictator, wanting to stomp on the rights of the press, freedom of religion, free speech, and the right to (peaceably) assemble. I’m pretty sure I’ll be burned at the stake along with the real journalists, because no slight or grievance is too small for him to let go. Well, maybe not burned, that leaves a horrible stench in fabric, and could drive his property values down. Hanged. Go ahead and say goodbye to the Statue of Liberty, because our liberties have been eroding–fuck, we’ve given them away in the name of “freedom”– and Trump is not interested in accepting any poor, tired, huddled masses. White, energetic, wealthy and attractive, maybe. Say goodbye to women’s rights. Women will go back to their place, at their men’s sides, lips stitched closed and legs spread wide. Only if they’re young and attractive, of course.
Many are tired of the status quo, and Hillary represents just that. I get it, I really, truly do, and that’s why I was hoping Bernie would win the nomination. But he didn’t. It’s over. He can continue to speak, I hope he will continue to work in the Senate, but he didn’t win the nomination. That he got as many votes as he did, that he got as far as he did, gives me hope for the future, but it doesn’t fill me with confidence for the present. There are too many variables, and we have too long a history of bedding down with fear, hatred, greed, and wishful thinking.
Sure, we like to talk about valuing reason, justice, intelligence, ingenuity and creativity, equality. But not really. When it comes down to it, too many of us value comfort and mediocrity above all else. Again, I’m not pretending I don’t like comfort, and God knows I’m mediocre, but I’m not trying to lead the country. We are currently enjoying the most reasonable and intelligent President we’ve ever had, Barrack Obama. In current polls, his approval rating is shockingly high at 51%. So why all the moaning about how horrible life is under him? Is it because he’s (shhhh) black? Or because he’s reasonable and intelligent? Or both? Ingenuity and creativity, these can’t possibly be valued. If they were, our education system wouldn’t be continuing to cut arts and flexibility in what and how our children are taught, valuing fill-in-the-bubble tests, grading teachers on how neat and attractive their bulletin boards are, over real teaching, thought and comprehension. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the things that has stayed with me most is the pride with which I heard so many say George W Bush was a C student. Pride. For Cs. From the man who led America for 8 years. Equality? Talk about equality to people of color, trapped in the classroom to prison pipeline.
If Trump wins, I’m blaming everyone. (because for the moment, I’m still relatively free and can): the people who confuse unfiltered verbiage with integrity, the GOP that allowed Tea Partiers to take over their party, and the Democratic Party, who endorsed and backed a woman so hated that in our racist country a black man was chosen over her the last time she ran. I believed and still believe Obama was the better choice, and I’m proud and thrilled that was recognized by enough for him to become President. He can’t run again. I didn’t agree with all of his decisions and concessions, hated a few, in fact, but wow. Have we ever had a leader with such grace? I doubt we’ll see an equivalent leader; be they male, female, white or person of color, in our lifetime. Think for a second about all he’s put up with and worked through–don’t throw his hard work away. And yes, I’ll admit it, this old and out of touch feminist is pretty fucking happy to see that if it isn’t Bernie, the Democratic nominee is a woman. Here. In misogynistic America, a land filled with people still working to stuff women back in the kitchen, value the comfort and future of rapists over rape victims, and whittling away at our right to choose what to do with our bodies.
We do have a long and proud history here in the US. But we cannot take pride–we can never move forward–without acknowledging the shameful history woven in with our rights, and our history of sliding backwards before moving forward. The decisions based on fear, an inflated sense of our place in the world, that old surety that might makes right. It can’t happen here is a lie. That we naturally evolve in a positive way, progress with reason is a lie. Witch hunts, real mass witch hunts have occurred repeatedly, Salem and its twenty people killed was child’s play: Japanese Internment Camps during WWII, McCarthyism, Stop and Frisk, Muslims after 9/11. If we aren’t careful now, we could be looking at the broadest witch hunts this country has ever seen, because Trump hates and is afraid of everyone who doesn’t look like, pee like, move like, and parrot him.
I’m confused as to how anyone outside a handful of his cronies could support Donald Trump. Not wanting more of the same should not be blurred with it-couldn’t-be-worse. So yeah, I’m confused as to how anyone could say Hillary Clinton would be equally bad for our country and our rights.
Here lies reason and knowledge. Let’s not bury them again, ok?