Retrospectives

Had not the modern-day agonies of Covid descended upon Canaan and everywhere else on earth, the pals of Push might’ve assembled with his family over the winter to have joined their dignified and solemn burial for him. But restrictions imposed as they were, non-family members could only send condolences.

Late in April 2021 the same people excluded from formally celebrating Push’s life got together again in Tucson, Arizona, a k a “The Desert Margaritaville.” Now that Covid’s end is in sight, associates who pretty much hadn’t seen one another since autumn of 2020 decided this a fine time to break our respective estrangements.

In doing so, and this done quite organically, we resurrected Push. While each of us had individual memories of him, our convening re-conjured a whole figure. Some of us even unearthed items about Push’s life as well as those who overlapped his and therefore our own.

All the above was so ad hoc maybe on the fly describes it best. Ours weren’t somber meetings. Instead, our recollections erupted spontaneously, often uproariously. Usually after reinventing Push’s catch phrases while imitating his voice.

Indeed, he had a distinct voice. Well, our caricaturing of him gave it a higher pitch and wistfulness. All the better to revive plenty of his less than sober though funny as hell conduct and the utterances accompanying these incidents.

Sure. In retrospect Push needed help. That’s seen clearly now. But once the extended juvenile adult phases of his friends’ lives ended, we answered to the urgencies of age-appropriate responsibilities.

Other pursuits consumed us.

Push was unwilling or, who knows, perhaps incapable of budging from the mightiest portion of an American male’s life – when we can work all day, then play all night, and appear the next morning as if we’d never blow-torched either end of the candle.

Easy enough to do in the 20s; a task that gets difficult as one’s 30s progress; and assures ruin if continued into and beyond the 40s. Let me attest to the first two legs of the relay. I intentionally dropped the out of that race before the third.

Rather than loosen his grip as he slowed in life, Push clutched the baton tighter even as he dropped further behind.

In Tucson, his friends didn’t mourn him. At least not in the fashionable accepted manner of grave voices and gravity reflecting the circumstances. Sacrilegious as tight asses might claim, we were irreverent. Frankly, wouldn’t Push had appreciated our showing him the same light spirit through which he had lived his life?

Our way kept him present. We didn’t bury him deeper.

*

The rental I drove between Las Vegas and Tucson lacked satellite radio. Unlike the 1970s and 80s when I made that same roundtrip, AM and FM radio signals are much stronger and clearer. Matter of fact I heard an alternative rock station beaming out of Lake Havasu. Of course. A lot of those who moshed and pogoed when punk and New Wave raged are now doublewide owning pensioners in Bullhead City or Chloride. The beats blasting from Havasu is our music.

Nonetheless the Northwest Arizona topography has a trough or two where nothing pleasing penetrates. At least little worthwhile listening to at 70 mph.

Speeding listeners are likelier to hear country and western, Mexican, and unavoidable Christian stations. If only that Jesus fella could score a nickel every time some radio jackleg screams His name. He’d already be wealthier than most evangelical mega-church preachers!

Oh, and omnipresent right-wing talk radio will without fail assault ears. Mustn’t forget about First Amendment protected fascism. That stuff will enter cracks roaches can’t.

On those few times during the drives when I wanted to challenge myself, I’d let the dial drift onto the purview of whatever Radio Free Falange station sought to make mush of area ranchers’ and off the grid retirees’ brains.

Give those broadcasters this – their messages, manner of wheedling, it is more insidious than the barking Goebbels in the densely populated markets. The smaller propagandists have captive narrow audiences who really don’t have choices – or refuges. Remote market mouthpieces don’t have to scream for attention. All they need to do is lie calmly.

And lie it is because who’ll refute or rebut them? Only their signals are reliable. It’s not a debate if conditions only permit one to browbeat, no?

Two reasons instigated this topic. One, Facebook banished me for several days while I visited Tucson. Yeah, apparently some comment or string or comments of mine righteously butt-hurt a right-wing correspondent. Since the injured party never developed skills necessary to respond in adult fashion, he, and naturally it must be a guy, a girly man at that, who went whimpering and whining to the Facebook wallah charged with salving ouchies to fragile egos.

Since the squeaky wheel was someone who doubtlessly self-identified as “a ‘Murrican!” whose point had been shown as poor and laughable, then ridiculed – probably as well as the drip who put his mess out there – Facebook in its uneven-handed judgment ruled against the party who not only stood on one leg, but both of them. Hence, I spent a few days receiving comments and messages yet shutout from posting anything.

Having returned to Tucson at that time under denial was focused me. It reminded that direct opposites could once share the same stages. On them, the combatants sparred with verbal dexterity and guile instead of trying to bludgeon another with shouts. Or imprison in silence.

Although right-wingers, and, yes, increasingly those identifying as leftists, are thoroughly convinced of their loudly yelled convictions, both sides are today less capable of maintaining, bolstering, and defending their points in ways which may make the opposition yield. Or even retreat.

Is it solely our deficiency or is this brain-tongue disconnect a global affliction?

Having been a student on an American campus before our society’s lowered ambitions, I see now how then political conservatives and faith-based fellow Arizona students must’ve mistakenly believed themselves ostracized. Compared against much of the diverse student bodies populating most public universities, they must’ve regarded themselves as orphans in intellectual and behavioral storms. The freedoms to decide, act, then be responsible unnerved them far more than those of us who grabbed our reins.

I had classmates who really took that in loco parentis nonsense seriously. If you filled space inside a college classroom back in the late 70s/early 80s, you knew some. Hey. Maybe you were one of them.

Once again, we become adults at 18, not 21.

What better way for campus fledglings to develop order in their lives, to instill this in world around them other than imposing it on those less unbridled?

The proselytizing and the missions engaged were antithetical to fuller, more open lives, freed minds, and tolerance. These rightly turned off any inquisitive young adult who instinctively knew he or she should refuse being so hobbled. Like many of their parents. At least until lifelong bills started their endless cascade.

Yet who doesn’t know that many of us can’t handle “freedom”? That we seek guidance? Or in the most extreme, a controlling force which makes our considerations for us in the belief such will make our lives easier. Easier, not better.

In the era I attended university, this was probably the best time to subsume others’ desires into another’s. Comfort and affluence in ours had erased previous generations’ needs to strive and fret about the future. And rather than concern ourselves with “tomorrow,” a date which always somehow took care of itself, we emphasized the present moment. Ourselves in that present moment.

Today we loathe them as oily odious mendacity merchants. But before the GOP, NRA, and other right-bent functionaries dedicated themselves to degrading American life, they stepped onto those career ladders first rungs as campus knobs throughout the nation during my undergraduate years. Say this for the acolytes, they mounted spiffy fronts.

Cleanly shaven. Neat short hair. Manicured fingers. Freshly washed and pressed clothes. Buffed shoes. Dazzled already? They were just the sort of up-and-comers who’d impress dad better than one’s own friends.

Oh, and the biggest selling point? The knobs’ earnestness. Earnest, not honest. Regard them as less oleaginous Eddie Haskells.

Prior to any contention roiling the smooth rollout of what-then suited conservative dogma, the new smoothies among us tried establishing what we’d now call “common ground.” They’d lull listeners into Kumbaya states. Feeling good, feeling like “one,” that BOMFOG table cloth would then be ripped from under plates set on the table.

Most of my fellow Arizona undergraduates were generally decent people. Cautious though not fearful, plenty sampled generously. These were minds quickly closed to intolerance. Hearing phrases which wiped away the good introductions were affronts.

On the coin’s other side, too many of the less stalwart hung around. You know, to “hear the man out.”
Hearing the law had swung so far now minorities had excess rights, couples and individuals who conducted themselves outside conventional bounds and roles threatened traditional society, and despite their wonderful accomplishments, “the fairer sex” should always remain inferior to men intrigued the weak. How easy it is to lure the weak. Always.

Before continuing, let’s wonder how many closeted Young Republicans with black or Latino lovers and mother issues had spoken the above disparagements confidently and glibly. Now let’s proceed.

Naturally disputes broke out. Seems any and all of the above proclamations could infuriate an indecent number of hoped-for party members on the Arizona campus. (By the way, ours was a grove of conservative academe. The “radicals” festered at the other school, an hour and a half northwest on I-10.)

Maintain their composure as the speakers did, occasionally the brickbats and accumulations of raspberries thrown at them nearly melted their cools. Sometimes one could almost anticipate the slip of an answer which had served America since Old World conquerors anchored in the New World and first started slaughtering its natives:

“Because I’m a white guy and I say so!”

Who isn’t amazed such clarity never made it onto a bumper sticker?

In the end, by the time heads had been regained and tempers checked it was too late. Those who’d been mortified weren’t going to be assuaged in the least. Then, they also weren’t going to sign checks over to another party either. Remember, we were students. Our money needed husbanding for partying and, uh, whatever else.

No. The furor and outrage that leads to donating wouldn’t arrive until steady paychecks. So, in some cases never.

Nonetheless, a certain percentage found the messages inviting. Not only did these address them, but also repeated what they someday hoped could say aloud.

If afternoons gave choices between forked tongues, I preferred the circuit-riding novice preachers over the aspiring to be bad political science majors. Gladly. Not that I’m particularly religious. After all, how could I be – I belong to a mainline denomination. No speaking in tongues, no visions, no personal conferring with the Almighty on mortals’ schedules, and for Crissake no snake-handling for us!

Unlike political tracts, political positions, Scripture reaches and tugs us in recesses we might never have suspected in ourselves. Hearing a well-versed preacher artfully recite and interpret Gospel is a worthwhile performance, that is aside from the homily imparted and absorbed.

As an undergraduate, I remember none of the circuit-riders adept enough to formally captivate. Divinity degrees? Not among this bunch!

They were earnest, though, and had no shame in admitting to audiences they still sought their paths. Now, that’s honest.

These rough-hewn men (and rare woman) of the Book didn’t unroll honeyed verses or speak from pulpits. Like the callow politicos, they stood on our level. On the campus Mall grass.

Here’s how rough they were: still uncomfortable, unfamiliar with new faces, different attitudes, they’d sometime stumble verbally. No. We didn’t take advantage of their circumstance. Instead, we’d wait until they’d restored their rhetorical balance. Professionals can execute this in a jot. Tyros, well with tyros those watching get to see the whole thing reassembled piece by piece. We didn’t do it for sport. But support.

Seeing someone who’d journeyed to convince us he or she possessed the sort of otherworldly knowledge that could just might improve our interior beings stumble then recollect him- or herself did wonders to realign our skepticism with hope.

Once righted and centered again in our snarly sights, rather than parables for them to decipher for us, they exposed the divergences and present convergence of their lives. Again, none had any seminary training. Just native calculations of what they’d read and parsed. Akin to most of the ears they bent.

However, a huge difference between the raw evangelicals and the vast majority of us. Until the Word had descended upon them, the preachers clutching it, they’d visited all sorts of human maladies upon themselves. According to them their self-depraved plummets could have been boundless.

But — and this is a consistent result – they found release. They were offered escape and snatched it. They extended the same to us sinning students who’d suffered far less before we were doomed. There was reprieve, and then there was avoidance. Comparatively good as we had been until that instant, mercy still availed to us.

Okay. Here’s where rational me always diverged from those who yanked themselves off crazy trains. In so many ways our speakers would allude to Heaven. An entity in their telling that eludes specifics. Maybe it should be titled “Ambiguity.” After all, Hell was quite detailed. On our speaker’s lovingly described tour loops through Hell – and, Jesus, the kind that might’ve been loved through eternity! – a stranger magically appears. He points out an exit which they all immediately choose. Every last single one of them. No contemplation, no pangs, just gone, baby, gone. Later, they’re extolling Heaven while comparing it against the infinite number of fun times in Hell?

Taking the circular road through Hell to get to the tuft where they truly wanted to be was certainly one hellacious detour.

Every circuit-rider who bared him- or herself before us weathered plenty. Falter as all did, none fell. Strays as we were, we probably posed a good test for prospective shepherds to determine whether he or she capable of handling a flock or not.

Of course, much of the above is irreverent. Intentionally so. Rigid as we’ve fixed religion today, politics too, irreverence then served as a fine device to prod, poke, or even deflate during the pursuits of validity.

Our language was unrestricted. No excruciatingly dewy petal ever marched forward. He or she did not announce to this speaker and that he or she couldn’t utter the words just voiced. Better, nobody dared presume proscribing another’s speech because it might be heard as “hurtful.” So what? Respond. We all have the same tools. Hone their use. Show the other side where/how its opposition stands. A replying broadside may knock them off kilter. It may award possession of the upper hand.

That may further debate which will either clarify or open new avenues. Shutting someone down is a dead end. The only direction to travel from there is backwards.

Which is the ultimate message needing relaying to Facebook administrators, social media correspondents on both sides of any spectrums, and the wide middle between them.

There is nothing brave or good about curtailing speech. There is nothing noble or essential in regards to withholding opinions found contrary. That is not protection.

No matter how sweetened and perfumed, larded with praise, it remains cowardice.

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