Sunday, July 24, 2016

My Dinner With Thomas Jefferson

"Excuse me, sir... I've probably had the wrong kind of mushrooms in my salad, but... aren't you Thomas Jefferson??"

"I was, but don't wear the old name out. If I hear it invoked one more time in vain I swear I will figure out how to give you guys back to the British."

"I'm pretty sure they don't want us anymore."

"Whatever."

"Mr. Jefferson, sir, I have to ask... "

"...Thomas."

"Thomas, thank you. I have to ask... well, first, I have to tell you, I'm, like, your biggest fan..."

"Listen, I don't mean to be rude, but you and every Tom, Dick, and Harry have already declared your undying love for me. As adorable as you all are, can you all do me a favor and just grow the hell up?"

"Whoa. Well, Mr. Jeff... Thomas, to be fair, you guys started something very special..."

"We didn't start it."

"Well, OK, I get it. But you guys made quite a splash with it."

"Apparently not enough. What the hell is an email server?"

"Long story... hey, we put a man on the moon..."

"That was impressive, I'll give you that."

"Well you should be proud. Don't you think you had something to do with that?"

"With escape velocity? Once again fellow, that wasn't us."

"Funny. Ok, so, about that 'more perfect union...' "

"What about it? Let me rephrase that... how did it work out?"

"Well... it took us one hundred years to free your slaves..."

"Thanks, that's embarrassing. How did that freedom thing work out for them?"

"Not great. Took a little while for the former slave "owners" to get used to the idea. They called it segregation, the American apartheid."

"How long?"

"About another one hundred years..."

"Holy shit. Well you can't pin that one on us."

"You're safe, trust me. It's like you guys could do no wrong. Both sides of our political spectrum claim direct moral association with you and the rest of the founders. You guys are like the rock stars of founding fathers."

"Nice analogy, don't quit your day job kid. Listen, allow me to break this down for you as simply as possible: we're human. The world has always been a wild place, but the prospect of a great civilization and enlightenment is like a promise land... It was for us too."

"That much I'm going to fight you on: you ARE enlightened, I mean were, sir, I mean Thomas... hell, I can't bring myself to call you Thomas!"

"Because you're talking to a dead man or because you think you're talking to a demigod?"

"Both... I guess..."

"Alright, listen: sit down before you hurt yourself, and let me finish. I need to go back to being peacefully dead and you still have some time to make a difference. So, I've read some of your blogs, I hear you're a big fan of our checks and balances in government and power..."
"Yessir, I... wait, you've read my blogs?"
"Quiet. Or I'll have you whipped."
"Um... we don't..."
"Have you guys lost your sense of humor too? Don't get your knickers up in a bunch. Just let me finish..."
"Yessir."
"Checks and balances: before we let the first leader of the United States run wild with the keys of the spanking new republic, do you know how many men we checked-and-balanced his ass against? Ninety Seven. Just three shy of one hundred, and that's only because my cousin John, his wife Martha and their dog George could not be bothered. But I digress: ninety-seven. Sixty-five representatives, twenty-six senators, and six Supreme Court justices. If the union had indeed become more perfect over time, or simply become more orderly, don't you think that ratio of ninety-seven to one would have gone down? How much distrust can we possibly have for one man??"
“Five-hundred and forty-four to one, apparently... I just googled it. One-hundred senators, four-hundred and thirty-five representatives, and nine Supreme Court justices."
"Five-hundred and forty-four to one. And there you have it son, the truth shall set you free! Every four years you all hyperventilate over a single person, then you let loose five-hundred and forty-four pit bulls on his ass."
"Maybe soon to be her ass..."
"Whatever. The point is, and I’m not exactly sure how you dimwits missed this, the constitution had a clear mission: to form a more perfect union. It was right in front of your noses, in the first sentence for crying out loud! What part of that did you not understand?? It is a mission statement first and foremost, the constitution part was the building plan. We provided the foundation, you were supposed to build a great nation upon that rock. 

Look, you have accomplished great things - no doubt. And for a few shining moments, you were the greatest nation on earth. But greatness hasn’t always come when you thought you were great. When you freed the slaves, you became a great nation. When you allowed women and the former slaves to vote, you became a great nation. When you legitimized the emancipation of the slaves by ending segregation you became a great nation. When you were instrumental in the liberation of Europe from fascism you became a great nation. And when you landed on the moon, you were a great nation among the stars. Since then, I can't think of a time where you've been more pitifully disunited. I hate to say this, but the great melting pot has a mortal gash in it."
“Thomas, sir, you are bumming me out."
“Good. Listen, you guys desperately need to try something new, we can't keep coming back from the dead and beat you over the head with the obvious. So let me leave you with the best shot I have left: 
If you're all so fucking hungry for a leader, then be one to yourfuckingselves."

"..."

"Sorry kid, hope I'm still someone you like. But stop putting me on a pedestal, dead men and their outdated ideas end up on pedestals. Like the good man said: heal yourselves. The politicians you obsess about have major conflicts of interest, they will never be what you want them to be. The reporters that report back to you enjoy freedom of speech from the government, but not from the owners of their news organizations. What does that say about who the real government is? All you have done is shift the oppression of tyranny from government to corporations. That was never the intention! Between the self-centered agendas of the owners, and the reporters' own conflicts of interest, the abandonment of the truth has been a painful thing to watch from the sidelines. The men and women who are supposed to bring you the truth are so mired in bias they must wonder how their profession is still a thing."

"Backup a bit there Sir Thomas: are you saying large corporations are a bad thing?"
"They don't have to be."
"For a prolific thought leader and author of one of mankind's greatest documents you sure just avoided a simple question. Big time."
"Actually I have said too much. If your corporate police find me, they will hang me."
"We don't…"
"…oh excuse me. Fry me. Much better. A more perfect union indeed."
"..."
"One last thing, and here's where I need you to pay close attention: the biggest irony I've ever witnessed is that these corporations, their politicians, and their reporters... they are missing out on one of the greatest secrets the universe has to offer... ... ..."
"...What?? Humility? Selflessness? Heaven?? I think Jesus tried that message a long time ago Thomas. Two thousand sixteen years and counting!"
"Truth. The Sheer. Beautiful. Simple truth. You want justice? You want freedom? You want a moral ecstasy that you can't even begin to comprehend?? Give up everything you own for just an ounce of it."
"Wow. Brings John Keats to mind... 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth..."
"...John Keats my ass, Limey bastard stole it from me. That is the ONE thing I WILL claim!"
"..."
"Good luck, kid. What is it that your generation likes to say... catch you on the side that flips?"
"Close enough Thomas... you're still the man in my book."
" *Blog."
"Whatever."
...


Sunday, July 17, 2016

An Inconvenient Democracy

You would think our current democratic process - leadership through character assassination - is an improvement over our previous approach: leadership through actual assassination. To a certain extent you would be right. However, you have to admit that a process hopelessly addicted to any form of assassination is not exactly a meaningful improvement. It is more a vicious cycle of mass denial. 

Our politics dwell in that twilight zone, somewhere between our yearn for truth and our fear of the unknown. It is a dimension where every major election year we relieve ourselves as sole guardians of our convictions. At that juncture we full-throttle towards the moral high ground, grass-rooting vicariously through something we call a politician. We then entrust said politician with our convictions in the form of a vote. With every major electoral cycle, we experience an added level of anxiety, anger, and disdain for those who are not betting on the same facts we are. This is our life-or-death directive we are holding up, like a biblical reenactment of Abraham offering his son to a god's sacrificial whims. This is also the politics of fear, fueled by our human addiction to drama. 
Enter center stage our modern day demigods: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and many others. In the dark shadows of the stage, a supporting cast of senators, congressmen, members of parliament, humming "Don't Cry for Me...". As we witness this opera ad nauseam, it eventually becomes soberingly clear that our political perceptions were more blindsided than we knew.
I'm not sure I know how to put this, other than these are not the leaders you're looking for. Nor have they ever been. That's not to say the past has not offered decent leaders, whatever you conceive that to be. It's just that our passion for someone or something to change the world, or to bring our world back "again", may not be as enlightened as we think it is. 
For the record, I'm not advocating dismantling our well-intentioned democratic system. Even if I was preaching such a heresy, I couldn't possibly come close to the damage our common leaders have already done. Politicians have been eroding the constitutional rules of engagement with or without your consent. To be sure, some of the erosion makes sense: change must take place for evolution to do its thing, whether we like it or not. A country that reveres the word "freedom" couldn't continue to engage, with any remnant of a conscience, in slavery, or native genocide, or misogyny, or segregation (apartheid). 
Yet in spite of the painful progress, every year a freshman class of politicians is always eager and ready to expand the dark side of democracy. This perpetual dark side has a perceived impact of turning democracy into a zero-sum game. "Gridlock" I believe is the term du jour. When millions of citizens are easily spooked away from the hard-earned fundamentals of democracy, we have a problem. When a handful of wise words such as "well regulated militia", "unreasonable search and seizure", or "no laws respecting the establishment of religion" are distorted from self-evident truths into political agendas, our mission to form a more perfect union has failed.
Be that as it may, come November, by all means vote. But for the love of humanity give the drama a rest. The change you're looking for will never in a million years come from politicians. The closest that humanity has come to great leadership is when a very limited number of human beings told their followers exactly the opposite of what 99% of politicians do: go lead yourselves. A man in a tunic over two thousand years ago asked his followers to stop casting stones. Seventy years ago, another man in a tunic told his followers to stop demanding change, and to be the change. And perhaps the last time this great country was graced by an inspired agent of change, sixty-six years ago a man had the audacity to tell his followers to stop demanding someone make the country great again. Instead, he challenged them to start asking themselves: what can they do for their country?


All three of these wise men were assassinated. Actually assassinated. Because democracy, like the truth, is relentlessly inconvenient. It was not designed to vindicate our convictions. With its deepest regrets, and much to the heartache of democracy, the truth will not be making an appearance at our upcoming political party conventions. It has a real universe to run. So turn off your TV sets over the next couple of weeks, and go find leadership in its right place… where it’s always been.

...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Power of a Killer Smile

A few years ago I began to notice people's smiles more carefully. There are the average smiles: occasional but reserved. There's the flirt smile, for your eyes only. The awkward or nervous smile, the cocky and shallow, the goofy, the shy, the sarcastic, the psycho, the horny, the sensual, the hearty, and even the broken-hearty. You know the one... those times when tears leak from your eyes, but something manages to reach in to your heart and steal a warm feeling. So yes, there's a plethora of emojis for every smile. But then it came to me in one of those a-ha! moments: there’s a smile that matters most than any of the others, some people call it the killer smile.

I was fortunate to know Brian McMahon during the last year of his life. When I first met him, I couldn't help but notice how his face lit up upon shaking hands. It's a presence and respect he offered you instantly, without knowing anything about you. Most of us offer up a smile when we first meet someone, but it's a guarded one. Some people add an extra effort smile, which may or may not necessarily come from the heart. As a salesman myself, I know all about the extra smile. But if life has taught me anything, it's that nothing good comes from faking. Brian was anything but fake. He wasn't trying to buy you, or sell you anything you didn't need. His smile transcended the supply and demand transaction: Brian owned the killer smile. 

We spent many evenings talking, philosophizing, debating, arguing, even agreeing to disagree on some things. But through every subject, his killer smile was disarming. I felt the power of honesty in that smile. I felt his refreshing sincerity, his hunger for truth.

Brian brought his killer smile to the tennis courts. Over fifty-two weeks, from summer to summer, we played over a hundred times. Every time he would walk into the courts with his power smile, and I could already feel his advantage imposing itself before the first pop from a new can of balls. It wasn't merely confidence, something most people learn to fake. It was presence. It was respect, it was hunger. It was a love of life flowing into his racquet, which might as well had been a light saber.

During his last month, Brian had somehow managed to transform his tennis game to a new high. His serves were focused and powerful. His topspin was almost flawless, and his net game felt like a tsunami. He unassumingly took my game to a new low, as he witnessed my racquet-maiming dramatics with his signature smile. He knew I was battling demons, something I sensed he had conquered better than me so far. Of course he was human, if he weren’t I wouldn’t had been interested in his friendship. No disrespect to aliens, though he more than once wondered if I was one of them. No, I more than sensed he was quite a few steps ahead of me in that battle of the demons we all fight. I knew not just from our chats, but from the way he performed on the courts. Like in most sports, your state of mind in tennis can be just as important as your physical condition. So either way, his smile told me he understood. I like to think it told me I would also understand one day.

The last time I saw Brian, he walked out of our own "Centre Court" for what turned out to be his final time. I still play it in my mind in slow motion: his strong build, six foot plus commanding height, understated shorts and shirt, a working man's tennis player. His signature cooler on wheels faithfully rolling next to him, he opened the door of the courts, turned around, and flashed his killer smile towards me for the last time. It's a smile I will never forget, one I will spend the rest of my life trying to make my own.

Thank you for spending a good part of your last year on earth with me BMac. I'm sure by now you know how much I admired you, and love you like a brother. One day soon, I hope to be the one with that killer smile, signing off with his classic goodbye:

"Peace, Love, and Power."

...


"Lost Together"
A Musical Tribute to Brian






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