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.

Morphine Dreams

I slept with that old Devil again

last night

she crept in round midnight

cuddled right up, spooning me

she’s hot on the outside

steamy

all fuzzy velvet on those sharp red horns

but her breath

dank and fowl

and smelling like sulfur

comes from her insides.

She took her best shot

She’s use to winning

and all fighters know

the hardest opponent to beat

is the one that hasn’t yet learned

how to lose.

She tagged me with her greatest hits

had me seeing stuff

hearing stuff

crazy stuff

scary stuff

and when she felt confident she had me

she stoked up one of my Camels

took a hit and passed it to me.

I had a drag

then rolled over so she could

see my smile as I

extinguished the hot tip

on my tongue

we listened to it sizzle.

What God never tells you

is he’s scared of that old Devil

for two reasons

one; she knows what he knows

that he may win up here

but down there

is her spot

and he ain’t never been to Hell

and it’s the unknown

that scares us all the most

two; he’s a thousand years from being hard

when he survived his

travail in the desert

on that Cross

now he’s just another

pudgy, soft white man

who wouldn’t last ten minutes

in Hell.

What the devil didn’t know

about me

is  I’ve been back and forth

through six

kinds of Hell

and she’s only been though the one

she’s a one trick pony

and like an amateur boxer

she punched herself out

in the first round

while I was still fresh

well into my second wind

I could have had my way with her then

and she wanted us to mate

you know how women are attracted to power

but I’m only walking around

talking and jiving’ with you now

in this moment in time

because I know when to quit

know a bridge too far

when I see it.

So, as the sun rose

she beat her retreat

like a vanquished Vampire feeding on me

no more

she left, without my soul

but like all women

had to have the last words

and being a gentleman

I gave them to her.

As she put her head over her shoulder

and mouthed the words

“I’ll be back”

I went mute

and just gave her

my best

“so what”

Italian shrug.

 

Armor of Innocence

He could tell by the way her face lit up each time she smiled which was often that there was joy and passion and a lust for life still pulsing inside her battered heart. This occurred with each breath out as if it were the face she showed the world. Yet with each breath in as her face relaxed he saw the miles of bad road she’d traveled set deep inside the crevices around her gentle mouth. He thought the rhythmic in and out breathing that changed her face was the war she was fighting with herself just like some of the hold outs he knew who had yet to give up on that youthful hope of innocence.

In his youth he sought the faces in the crowd that met his as they passed on the street with a knowing grin as if they shared a universal secret that it would all, despite the wounds, come right; to share the opening wonder of tomorrow. But he avoided most of the faces he saw now since he always saw in them the resignation masks of having given up on innocence; some had buried it altogether; while a rare few held on and hid the innocence behind a self-made barricade of armor built over years and decades of living in war zones crafted in battles of hearts and minds.

Back in his days of wonderment when he met those joyful faces searching for challenge in every moment from fellow travelers not concerned with where they had been but with where we were all going were all but gone now save the few exceptions and he wistfully wondered if he’d ever see that kind of camaraderie again. We were all fresh and clean and crisp of heart then and now all of us were like used cars. Was that ultimate aphrodisiac reserved only for youth? Was it true that with each piece of knowledge we lost a piece of innocence never to be recaptured again? He left her there in the rain and he thought about this as he drove back from where he’d come; avoiding the faces in the crowd.

 

Prerogative

Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac”Henry Kissinger

I haven’t seen snow in 50 years. So when at 18 degrees, the coldest day so far this year, billions of no two look-alike kaleidoscopic flakes dusted the beauty that is rural northern Wisconsin in a whiter than white patina, I couldn’t wait to get out in it and pilot my rocket ride atop the surreal magic carpet blanket; slip sliding away.

I donned the gear I covet and have had lying in wait for just such an occasion; LL Bean arctic trek boots good to 25 below, wool mad bomber hat, snowmobile gloves and thermal long john’s; and displayed myself to my mom. While striking my best runway pose I delivered to her the iconic Will Smith line from “Men in Black. “You know the difference between me and them Mom”? What,  she answered half amused and half chagrined. Grinning I stated; “I make this look good”.

She playfully chastises me for being arrogant and pompous since she comes from a generation that felt showing off was bad form and dangerous since in her opinion one never tells others what they have; I suppose the theory goes, because they’ll try to take it from you. She also thinks I’m nuts to carry around the kind of bankroll I’m known for since “someone might try and steal it”. I always say cocky; “let them try, I need the exercise”. But her half secret smile uncovered the truth that she was pleased and proud down to the ground that I have evolved with a positive view of myself.

I was being immodest and only half serious since I’m aware of the wages of hubris. Actually I have mixed feelings about healthy self-esteem; like my x-landlord driving over a cliff; in my new Ferrari. I was engaging in humor for her benefit; cracking wise to transport her to a good mood to meet up with her 90th birthday; now just two weeks away. In truth I believe it’s a fine line between wholesome confidence and coming off as a horse’s ass; or worse, believing my hype.

I like to turn the big screen TV to CNN with the sound off and watch lots of iteration from frantic anchors; bloviating and gesticulating wildly for emphasis (they could be saying Nuke the Gay Whales for all I know) as the radio croon quality rock music. It’s strangely soothing while I work out at the gym seeking inspiration for my next Post. The provocatively named fiscal cliff seems to be the fool’s gold distraction candy theses days, just behind the tabloid rich fodder of four star generals and their mistresses, having relegated Benghazi to the back bench issue of the hour. Sex, it seems, captivates the Id more than death.

Personally I hope we power over that imaginary abyss like the Roadrunner cartoon at 100 MPH and hit with a comic SPLAT since it makes no difference to me and probably to you as well unless you’re still a trapped wage slave engaged in the game, which I am not, being one of Romney’s desultory and vilified 47% moochers. I’m not a NASCAR fan but like most I rarely turn away from a spectacular crash. The  immediate craze and mystery of pussy-gate, surrounding well scrubbed straight-laced military ego maniacs sporting un-cool fruit salad displays on their chests while they plummet from their prized perches; undone by unseemly peccadilloes and laid bare by unchecked hubris; is a story as old as the Greek tragedies.

Ego is a good thing, despite the doctrine of the terminally politically correct with the assumption that humility is the proper stance for those in power, and without it civilization would have been impossible.  So, I reject such nonsense and often answer charges directed at me from well-meaning comrades who chastise me for my rejection of this virtue; counseling me to be humble. I often answer with this retort; “those humble probably have a lot to be humble about”. In my view self-esteem is essential for dispelling the hesitating disease of self-doubt. Humility is a grand emotion in great men like Gandhi and King; but I’m far from either.

My guess is we’ll discover the affluent volunteer social secretary enabler groupie massaging the egos of the country’s status hungry iconic brass was nothing more than a highly placed madam pimp for the knuckle dragging military dictators. Men in power have always been able to charisma their way into liaisons with high-priced call girls ala Elliott Spitzer and the other fallen elite; especially those sporting uniforms that the girls find sexy. Achieving master of the universe props in any field of endeavor has always gifted the fortunate with the opportunity to procure sex, and damn near anything else of pleasure, no matter how unattractive they are otherwise.

It was Honest Abe, a recent pop culture fascination thanks to Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis, who famously opined Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”; and its an axiom I’m particularly enamored with. Power without character is heroin and most of society’s ills can be traced back to every man jack of us susceptible to intoxication with it and more times than not, as a result; coming off the rails.

It’s the Elvis, Michael Jackson syndrome; that phenomenon that makes habitual praise and glorifying worship turn us obsessive, irrational and addicted. The antidote to succumbing to untoward adoration is surrounding ourselves with those we knew before we achieved this negatively transforming personality sickness. The first thing some do once they’ve achieved prominence is to jettison anyone who reminds them of who they were when they were climbing the ladder and there lay the poison.

One of my favorite songwriters summed it up succinctly when he wrote “when everybody loves you; that’s just about as fucked up as you can be”. So if we ever catch the golden ring; best to keep those around who knew us before we became entitled. Because once astride the tiger; we may find it difficult to dismount.

 

Convergence

“I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord. And I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord” Can you feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord, oh Lord” – In The Air TonightPhil Collins

Not long ago my mailman told me 3,000 dolphins had washed up dead on the Peruvian coast. No one knows why or how but there is speculation. Conservationists claim the cause is acoustic testing offshore by oil companies. If true, it’s yet another awful price we pay for our nation’s careless heroin oil addiction.

Mailman believes it’s the result of global warming, and, as do many authors hawking doomsday books, it foretells a lead up to a realization of the Maya’s “Long Count” calendar, marking the end of a 5,126-year era; the end of humankind we should expect on Dec. 21, 2012. Personally I think it’s possible this theory is nothing more than their calendar had to end somewhere.

But I am no shaman or Nostradamus so I wouldn’t know. But what I do feel, not see or hear but instinctively know in my mind’s eye, is America is experiencing a union immemorial existential zeitgeist; a feeling that something transformational is in the air; a thing symbolized by the Occupy Moment soon to be an Occupy Movement that stresses the collective; not a trickle down of power from anointed leaders but empathetic expressions of young people everywhere sharing a KONY 2012 style flash mob connectivity for universal good, enabled by a generations scientific electronic revolution breathing action into the axiom that once a consciousness becomes true for enough of us, a tipping point, it becomes true for all of us.

Whatever it is something wonderful is transpiring that I haven’t felt since we joined unison in another time when America cleansed itself with chaos; the Aquarian period just prior to the Nixon counter-reformation; that tumultuous revolutionary heartbeat of the pioneering 1960’s. This phenomenon is visible in a simple truth; the undeniable way people look each other in the eye when they meet, sharing their passions through access to ubiquitous Internet connections; making it possible for the first time in history to broadcast the knowledge that a metaphysical occurrence is at hand.

Despite the cynical rhetoric permeating the silly season; (that period just prior to and after a presidential election) the emotional tone of this new consciousness is esthetic, optimistic and loving. This transcendent occurrence is an event physiological, rational and intellectual; yet it doesn’t take a formal education to understand we are beginning to feel we are all in this drama together.

In a pseudo Id sense, springing from the Freudian psychoanalytic theory of the psyche that is unconscious, a primitive instinctive impulse is shouting that we must all pull together to meet a challenge that fought together will transform our thinking and ease our spiritual recovery. It’s a Rastafarian philosophical awakening that informs us that the purpose of life is working collectively to produce the goal of happiness; the crux notion that we can not get there alone.

A shift in consciousness is occurring that will leave the Virgo influences, (those feelings of having lingered too long at the party), that spawned the exaltation of celebrity behind and foster a new popular mind dream exemplar that to be noble, virtuous and moral for the sake of everyone is not pious or religiously grandiose and dogmatic but essential to effect the coming about of a world we all wish, had we our druthers, we could make.

This ephemeral thread that connects us, this chord of music that lives in the public spaces both in and outside us, this metaphysical phenomenon is surely happening, after the thirty years of Reagan inspired selfish disregard for anything save ourselves, evangelized by the divide and conquer power élite, is a trust for and a loyalty to, not only each other, but to the whole of humanity.

Maybe it’s all just wishful thinking; a kind of mass hysteria. Dylan said “If they could see my mind dreams they probably put my head in a guillotine”. I wonder; can you feel it too; the ending of one thing and the beginning of another? Are the Mayan foretelling the beginning of the end; or are the seeds blooming signals of a new consciousness; the end of a beginning?