Monday, December 3, 2007

Problems and solutions

I began the 660 mile drive to my Lexington Kentucky apartment from Ithaca New York the dreaded day before Thanksgiving. The USA has recently developed two days of dread, bracketing our most generous and kindly holiday.

The day before, there is the torment of travel, by any medium, to be with those whom we optimistically term our “family and loved ones.” That’s the dreaded day I was dealing with.

I had planned to get up slowly and do some more stuff around the Ithaca house before leaving, but I awoke with a jolt of fear about the bottleneck at the bottom of Cleveland, the horror across all of greater Columbus, and that single elevated curving lane onto I-75 south at the geo-junction where the Ohio River does its best to keep Ohio firmly separated from Kentucky.

I was out of the Ithaca house with cats and belongings before ten a.m., apologizing to my daughter and her husband for not completing the massive leaf-raking task we had begun the day before in the rain. Of course it then took me another 45 minutes to get out of town, because I had to deposit money in an account, buy locally-made tofu for curious friends in Lexington (apparently Ithaca has quite the tofu reputation among foodies), and get gas (diesel).

All the while, my cats were grousing loudly in their cage as to when I would set them free to roam the tiny interior of my VW Golf, for what they surely knew was a long trip. Occasionally they would displace their rage with me upon one another, and a terrible deep keening growl and the rackety tumult of two bodies lashing out in a confined space would rise from the back seat.

As for the other day of dread – the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday – there will be not much talk of it here. I tried that 4 a.m. bullshit once when my kids were small, in order to grab something they craved and save a few dollars, and I actually enjoyed it. But I think what I enjoyed was the hot chocolate and the jokes, standing in the cold outside a big box store with a hundred other fellow consumerist dupes. It is not that I have become a Buy Nothing on Black Friday extremist – after all, I walked for an hour along the quiet leafy genteel streets that adjoin my own less-savory neighborhood, and stopped in at the grocery store to buy newspapers and vegetables. I simply have a small notion that the day after Thanksgiving is a good day for quiet activities and for staying away from main roads and shopping precincts.

In other words, I have no particular opinion about the day after Thanksgiving.

Tolerance and a lack of rage and passion are positive attributes, that we all need more of right now. We need to revive that good old-fashioned dispassionate regard of other people’s foibles and choices. The expression “I have no dog in that fight” needs to be talked up.

On the other hand, I do have “dogs” in a number of fights, and my opinions about them can be as strong as uncut Everclear. I think – and here’s a real cause for dread – it may be that the world is now too crowded for tolerance – at least until many have killed off or silenced many others.

Even more importantly, I feel that we have yet to reach the necessary high-stress level of generalized, nationwide, moment-to-moment universal INTOLERANCE needed to stop this stupid war. I was young during the last one of these situations (I turned 18 in 1970), but my memories are clear and detailed, and I have realized, by comparing the public mood then and now, that what stopped the Vietnam debacle was a daily, in-your-face, personalized yet nationwide intolerance of every person for every other person.

The saying “You are either part of the problem or part of the solution,” may be a warm-hearted truism for recycling today, but please have another look at that phrase:


And now I ask you:
What have you done, today, to stop this war?

Because, if you have done nothing, then I am almost to the point of my own rapidly rising personal intolerance level of saying, the hell with you. If you have done nothing today to stop the war, then you support it.

That is the universal level of continual, nagging, intractable intolerance that we need to reach and sustain for as long as it takes, to end this war.

To those of you who have calendars that count down the days left before Bush and Cheney leave office and grouse comfortably about the situation – you are for this war.

To those of you who sign online petitions against the war and send them on to others while drinking your cup of $3.50 coffee in a comfortable interior space – you are for this war.

To those of you who complain to your buddies that we elected a Democratic Congress last fall, and they have betrayed us, and that you “Just give up” – you are for this war.

“Well,” you grumble in your amiable middle-class way, “What the hell are you requiring from me, anyway?”

“And who died and made you the anti-war czar?”

My first response is that anyone who uses the term “czar”, even in liberal jest, is for this war.

Sure, I’ll tell you what you need to start doing, to be part of the solution of STOPPING THIS WAR. But first I gotta get myself and the cats back to Lexington, the day before Thanksgiving.

And you know what? That trip was a relative piece of cake. I did not set any land-speed records, sure, but I-86 across western NY was empty (as usual); the southbound bottlenecks were only ten to fifteen minutes at most; and the scary arc over downtown Cinci from I-71 to the southbound I-75 bridge was EMPTY, but for me. On the other hand, I am speaking only for the southbound trip. The northbound lanes were slowed to a stop for miles through Cleveland on I-271, Columbus on I-71, and northern Cincinnati as well. (What’s with that?)

Of course, the cats always make it interesting, because they want to get out whenever I stop for gas or coffee or pee-break. Every time, I explain to them that they would not like it out there in that gas station parking lot with the interstate roaring in the near distance; and my heart breaks as I imagine it, for just a nanosecond.

Then I start to cuss and shove Arlo, black and invisible against the car’s black interior, into the cage so that I only have one cat ranging loose when I return. Loki is orange and white, easily spotted as he sits ready to spring, when I approach to unlock the door. I usually go around to the back of the car and rap on the rear window, and he heads back there as I dash around and hastily leap in to the car. I am sure there are easier ways to do this, but the resulting adrenalin keeps me very much awake for a good fifty miles afterwards.

We got back to Lexington at a not-so-ancient hour, and the cats vanished into their familiar backyard as I unpacked stuff and dragged it all upstairs in advance of my inevitable crash into sleep.

I’ll be back soon, to talk some more about what we must do this day, and every day, to STOP THIS WAR.

Love and peace,

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