Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Round, Round, Get Around, I've Been Around

I’ve been to three circuses, two World’s Fairs, and a rodeo. I’ve lived through thirteen presidents and seven popes. I’ve traveled to thirty-seven of the United States, two provinces of Canada, five countries in Europe and five more in Asia, not counting stop-overs in airports. Hell, I’ve lived in Asia for fourteen years now. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon (north rim!), Niagara Falls (New York side), and several kinds of genuinely giant trees. I’ve seen restaurants that had signs outside saying, “open; gator; coon.” I have seen performances by Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Jeff Beck in clubs as small as your basement. I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of Japanese movies, and most of the films of Ingmar Bergman, the French New Wave, and the Italian Neo-Realists. I speak three languages (I’m only fluent in one, but I get along okay in the other two). I lived through 1968! I’ve seen a lot.  

Nothing that I have seen or done, however, has prepared me for this tournament of chaos that is masquerading as our government this year.

I’ve experienced a lot, too. I’ve had the flesh-eating bacteria. It was some kind of super-staph infection secondary to a bad flu that I tried to work through, failing miserably. That was a party. I’ve still got the scars! You know that you’re in trouble when you take your shirt off for the doctor, and his eyes go wide, his jaw drops, and he says, “wow” with three exclamation points, like a cartoon character.

Scars, hell, I’ve also had hidradenitis sepurtiva. That’s some horrible stuff. Ugly and smelly. Antibiotic-resistant, I finally had to wait it out with daily squeezing, and swabbing. It was fresh bandages and a very painful cleaning every day for about six weeks. (Thank you to my great amateur nurse, a real angel with the courage of a Marine. She knows who she is.) A couple of those things left scars that look like healed over bullet wounds.

You want scars? I had a burst appendix in my late thirties. Got the whole laparotomy, with the pillar-to-post scar included at no extra charge.

Stress? I’ve had the entire catalog of stress manifestations all of my life (the hidradenitis was the worst of those). Depression? Check.  Anxiety? Check. Headaches; spastic colon; “nervous stomach”; nightmares; sciatica; sleep-walking; shingles; panic attacks; check. You think that you’ve had nightmares? My nightmares could eat your nightmares for lunch.

Yet all of that hard-won experience came in a domestic political setting that seems like Disneyland compared to this new shit. The Sixties and Seventies, God knows, were super-fucked-up, but at least there was a semi-functioning government, and at least some of the officials in that government acted like adults. Now it’s all some kind of lunatic flea-circus run by the fucking fleas.

The Age of Trump has been hard on me. Two times in the last couple of years I have experienced events that almost certainly were cerebral vascular episodes. Strokes, you’d call them. It started both times with tiling in a small area at seven o’clock (direction!) in my field of vision, about half way between the center and the edge. Tiling, like a malfunctioning DVD, little squares (tiles; pixels) of color instead of the program material. The area would grow until it was obscuring almost twenty percent of my vision. I’m not a doctor, but the investigator in me figures it was happening in the brain, not in the eye. First of all, it was bilateral, meaning that when I closed one eye at a time, the effect persisted. It was in both eyes simultaneously. Not only that, but even if I closed both eyes the zone of no information remained. Why didn’t you go to the hospital, Mr. Fred? Oh, congratulations to anyone who would ask that question, because it means that you have better access to health care than I do. I don’t look for ways to spend money at the drop of a hat. I’ve got a few dollars, but not enough to throw away on false-alarms. I figured that if it started to hurt, or if I lost my vision completely, I’d go to the hospital. In the event, both times, it cleared up within a couple of hours and never caused any discomfort whatsoever. Think of the savings! 

I know that I have had one heart attack, but that’s a long story. I sat that one out, too. The issue has been addressed by now. Thank Sweet Baby Jesus in the Manger, high quality doctors and hospitals are very affordable in Thailand, and I am fine, thank you.

There have always been several things that I desperately hoped never to see in my life, and in this, at least, I have been lucky. I would hate to be around when unambiguous evidence proves the existence of off-world intelligent life. Just the communications from another race of beings on another world would disturb every aspect of life on earth, especially if there were visuals and additional proofs of authenticity. If aliens actually land on the White House lawn, forget it, the entire world will simultaneously go insane. We’ve dodged that bullet so far. Another real game-changer would be a fool-proof lie detector. What do you mean, you wouldn’t agree to report to a police station every six months for examination? What do you have to hide? Anyone who avoided them would become a suspect. It does not appear that one of those is coming any time soon either. Please, celebrate with me!

There are other things that I never expected to happen in my lifetime, and there we are much less fortunate.

I expected the Soviet Union to endure. I was comfortable with that prospect. As annoying as the Soviets could be, at least they were predictable. They were thinking in terms of the last war, World War II, and the main idea in their minds was never doing that again. The “nuclear peace” of Mutually Assured Destruction was a powerful force for stability in the world. Now we are faced with an autocratic Russia run by unpredictable gangsters. This new crowd of murderous oligarchs is no longer worried about that old war long ago. They are much more willing to push any perceived advantage, and much less concerned about possibly starting the next war. They still have much of the military potential of the Soviets, some of it anyway, and they still have the nuclear missiles, etc. I’m not happy about that.

I also expected civilization to continue to make progress on social issues. I suppose that reasonable people may differ on this issue, but the results are, at best, mixed. Huge areas of the world have gone dark; many countries are now officially “failed states.” Many liberal democracies are on life-support, and others have given in to single-party authoritarianism already. I’m not happy about this part either.

The worst part is that poor, naïve little me expected the United States to remain a semi-chaotic two-party representational democracy in which the two parties could continue to fight tooth-and-nail while also continuing to actually talk together and cooperate, even compromise, when it was good for the country. That ship has sailed. Call it “the American experiment,” some kind of push-and-shove government favoring the rich but finding benefit in improving the lives of ordinary citizens. Yeah, that’s all over now. I didn’t expect that. We’re going to miss it. I am downright unhappy about this development.

Please excuse me, but I’m rather busy these days. I need to line up potential new income streams to replace my Social Security for when they figure out how to steal that from us. I need to brainstorm investments that will better survive the crash of the dollar, which often seems imminent. You don’t want to have too much money in the bank when that happens! I need to make escape plans in the event that I need to leave my current briar-patch of choice. You shouldn’t put too much trust in any good thing lasting these days. There are a number of stable, peaceful, affordable countries, where the weather and the medical care are good, and that are decent about letting in people who can pay their own way. Preferably a country where they speak some English, I’m getting a bit long in the tooth for tackling another new language. Maybe not too much English! Maybe the old man can make a few of the local monetary units teaching them English!

Oh, Fred, you’re such a pessimist! But you will admit it if you are honest. Standing there fifty years ago, in the wreckage of 1968 and looking ahead to the year 2018, it was not the optimists who were seeing things clearly. Very little good has happened, and so much that it terrible. I think that the pessimists won that forecasting contest.  

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