American Man

“Ain’t got nobody; that I can depend on”. – Santana – No One To Depend On

In the wake of Robin Williams demise a scene from Oliver Stone’s film Platoon came to mind. Charley Sheen’s character Chris, fresh from the world and struggling mightily to hack his way through the dense jungle of Vietnam with a machete, unaccustomed to the heat and stress, passes out. Willem Defoe’s character Sargent Elias revives him and advises with the line; “you’re humping too much gear troop”. Those words and their meaning show a metaphor for the life of American men; more so for men than women, since we are protectors; down to our ID. While women have no less than a half-dozen friends to phone and commiserate with when they are having a bad day; all my brothers and the angst shared, hurting real bad inside from existential loneliness specific to men, cover it up.

So brothers; be careful how much emotional baggage you upload; we don’t download it; we hold it in. At some point we reach our limit. Once we hump too much angst our falling out can easily find us sitting next to Robin Williams with a pen knife in our hands and a belt around our neck; or, like Phillip Seymour Hoffman; a needle in our arm; and who after all wants that? 

Some say we are selfish and think of ourselves first; never realizing that by using our inbred survival apparatus, keeping ourselves safe first; we stay strong in order to protect the pack. Like Sheen’s Chris, by carrying too much emotional baggage and falling out, we can no longer be of help to anyone else in the clan, and another warrior must stay behind to tend to us; further weakening the tribe. Like the surgeon too emotionally involved begins to succumb to his compassion and sees the humanity of the body under the sheet instead of the disease ravaging it; he soon falls apart.

Dogs and Lion go off alone when hurt to either heal and return to the pack or pride in their role of protector, provider and pro-creator. Dogs, so not to burden the master, die nobly; silent and alone; as does the Lion, who, once mortally wounded, draws a circle around himself with his own blood to attract the hyenas that will pick up the scent, come a cruising and tear him apart; an act of samurai seppuku, suicide; just like Robin Williams.

Men are forced out of the pride like young Lions as soon a their nut sacks drop to face the world alone. For men, masculine maturity is a lonely thing to own; for men maturity and despair go together. The isolation of masculinity is merged with much iconography, the cowboy, the astronaut, the gangster; almost ever hero in the past fifty years has been a figure of loneliness. Current pop culture is even more extreme; it celebrates not only the lonely man; it despises men in groups. Like every Judd Aptow film, men in group friendships are depicted as idiots. While American men struggle to overcome the mental cholesterol buildup of the psychic toxins of divorce; women simply switch the channel to Oprah. Men hold back releasing and sharing their pain; we are taught to hold our angst stoically, to keep it close, to keep us sharp; where we gotta be.

Niobe Way, professor of applied psychology at New York University and the author of 2011’s Deep Secrets; Boys, Friendships and the Crisis of Connection, has peered into the chasm under boys and young men and found emptiness to be at the heart of what is called the “boy crisis”. “We have all these boys with so much to give, so much love, so much for them to offer the world” she says. Becoming a man means leaving behind your family and your friends and striking out on your own, and therefore growing up means shedding connections. For Way, the transition from boyhood into manhood is a transition into isolation.

This critical disconnection has costs. Way’s research shows that the male suicide rates correlate precisely with the loss of friendships. At age nine the suicide rates are the same for boys and girls. Between ten and fourteen, boys are twice as likely to kill themselves. Between fifteen and nineteen they are four times as likely. From twenty to twenty-four; five times. Masculine maturity is a lonely thing to process; and this isolation runs contrary to male biology. Men, every bit as much as women, require connection for basic happiness. “men come into the world with this empathetic, rational need and they are treated as if they don’t have it”. Way says. In periods of vulnerability the male suicide rate spikes. During the most recent recession the suicide rate for men grew at four times the rate for women. Divorced men kill themselves nearly 2.5 times as often as married men while there is no difference in the rates between divorced and married women.

The contempt for male friendship is a cultural failure on an epic scale. Without friendship life simply isn’t worth much. Friendship is essential not just for a personal sense of well-being but also for society in general. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle prized it more than justice. “When men are friends, they have no need of justice, while when they are just they need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is thought to be a friendly quality”.

For all the loss we’ve suffered from the absence of folk heroes from Belushi to Ledger to Hoffman and now Williams, just maybe, if boys who become men were not conditioned to exemplify the god damn Marlboro man, and not mocked for our friendships, and thus had friendships to turn to like women do; well you know the rest.

So, next time you think to criticize men for being selfish and putting themselves first; remember we have to keep ourselves emotionally safe; if we hump too much emotional gear we’ll fall out and be unable to protect the tribe. We’re not being cold, aloof, narcissistic or afraid of intimacy, nor do we lack empathy and compassion for your miseries and needs; we’re not being selfish. We put ourselves first and support our male protective shell as survival apparatus because men carry that aforementioned burden, that, and we know; we’re all we’ve got.

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Vendetta

“I watched with glee while your kings and queens, fought for ten decades; for the gods they made. I shouted out, who killed the Kennedy’s, when after all; it was you and me.” – Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil

Satan

Nubile girls at my gym, ready for marriage and lusting after marry me bodies, bounce rhythmically on treadmills while ponytails bob symmetrical figure eights; their gaze transfixed on home makeover reality shows, remodeling porn depicting fascinating renovations of imagined hope chest packaged dreams that they feel down deep in the canal of their craving; right down to the china, silverware and crystal.

The flat screen that resides over my StairMaster projects CNN. At the ready stands a flawless little creäture of desirous adoration; her scimitar curves accentuated by arms akimbo; eye candy with meticulously quaffed hair and Oil of Olay pure skin looking like she’s been polished each morning by a rotary buffer is narrating the day’s top meat grinder events with a smile as blasé as a weather gal describing a perfectly turned spring day in San Francisco.

She flash cuts to Beebe Netanyahu, a real yahoo and Führer of the new Nazi’s regurgitating the same moral equivalency cold cuts he normally slings with the drone of a lobotomized robot; laced over the podium like a tailor with a case of workbench back; his eyebrows drag his forehead down to meet his weak fey chin; he wears the expression of a mid-career lighthouse keeper; one who has seen a lot of shipwrecks and expects more. His performance is for the cameras; not the back rooms of atherosclerotic, hypocritical, cigar chewing, hopeless, larded adults; infracted vultures turning babies into scattered fragments from the explosive shells, bombs, missiles and bullets they reap profits from. Decayed, balding, cheese breath Netanyahu lays it on us like a great soggy lukewarm mother’s poultice.

The Germans had Hitler, the Russians, Stalin; we were graced with baby Bush the Shrub for a weary time. Some say he was a good president and I suppose if you rate him on his responsibility for body count, confirmed kills; they’d be right. The Palestinians, a people left more alone than any in memory have Hamas; living dead men, zombies after the apocalypse; modern-day Charles Mason’s stuck in the lust for blood oblivious of any grey tones. Each side’s argument seems to be saying “my enemy is so vicious he has forced me to loose my soul” and no matter how many babies we turn to goop; our cause is just.

How easy would be to let the beast out; the one unleashed by the Capo di tutti capi of demons; hate; that most dangerous of motivations that emanates from within out; always just there, beneath the surface of everyday normalcy; our own personal Mephistopheles; master of our negative light, Satan’s worker, agent of Lucifer; where promises of heaven turn into private hell when Beelzebub nudges those already in danger to be damned into that Faustian bargain where we wager our souls on the notion that we are right and have been wronged. He circles the earth in a dark cloud settling down occasionally in men’s hearts in places like Gaza, Cambodia, Rwanda, Manhattan and just now; France.

How easy would it be to release humanity, to squeeze the trigger, pull the pin, loose the spear, open the bombay doors, let the fucking rice boil over in Chinatown; to spill blood that never washes off like there are gooks in the wire and let the ID feast on adrenaline and danger and let the taste of sweat and blood and heroism and righteous victory trump all other pleasures; where all compassion is lost in a Howitzer’s cloud. That’s what spare-ribbed Palestinian boys slinging rocks at jolly green giants with guns wishing they were hand grenades; cannon fodder ripe for turning into shrapnel; feel.

It’s perhaps why I let my demon out for regular walks in the garden. He is pulsing forth just now out my finger tips and on to this imaginary paper. So, every year on my birthday I forgive every transgression my friends have laid on me over the past year; blow out the pipes, crack the neck and wipe the slate clean; start fresh. It lightens the burden I and all men carry and keeps the demon at bay. Where it not for my tradition, the worlds ongoing shit storm of hatred, the current featured attraction being the Israeli/Palestinian and Islam-o Vs civilization death cult clique cream de la cream of vendettas, could easily metastasize and visit itself in my heart. Hate and revenge is an insidious intoxicating virus.

No one cares any longer what your ends may be fellas; your means to your ends have left us all bleeding from the eyes; making the gladiator games of the Coliseum seem like a little girls backyard tea party. To turn away or be anesthetized, that’s our choice. Well, as Willy Shakes Mercutio screamed, while dying in Romeo and Juliet from the Capulet and Montague madness feud, “a plague on both your houses”.

The mid-eastern maniacal madmen doom-hungry junkies started their caged death match the year I was born; sixty-six years ago. Christ fellas, learn how to have an argument and move the fuck on. Package all that unlimited passion and send the word out for the Levant’s Gandhi, Christ, King or Mandela; and when he shows up; try not to shoot him down like we did Jack and Bobby and Martin. Here’s hoping you find your holy man peace maker. In the meantime pick a date and on that date once a year step back and forgive.