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Island Life

I have been in Vietnam recently- the only reason I am not there now is because I am here writing this. Of course, I did not mean to mislead about my whereabouts- I wasn’t really “in” Vietnam. It is just that I have been immersed in hours of video and photos and listening to stories about one person’s experience of that war- hopefully soon I will be able to share this, but not yet.

In many ways this is a bit of a schizophrenic dance- going back in time to when I did the interviews, which also involved the subject’s going back to another time in his existence. And then to go uptown to the Friday artwalk and meet the person in the interviews and talk about where I had been earlier in the day in his life, and to talk with someone earlier in that evening about someone else who I had seen even earlier in another part of one of the clips and to hear that that person had recently suffered a health problem that was not apparent or expected back when the tapes were being recorded. It is an odd existence, not unlike Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, who at random would become unstuck in time and place in the pages of the book Slaughterhouse Five, although I feel as though my grip on where and when I am is a bit more firm than Billy’s was as he bounced from life on another planet with a porn star to being the sole survivor of a plane crash to being an eye witness to the fire bombing of Dresden. Somehow, I guess, the common ground in all of this still gets back to war.
    To be sure, Billy Pilgrim’s life as described was nowhere near normal. On the other hand, at the time my friend was heading off to basic training and then on to southeast Asia back in 1966 (and way before I knew him), my life was somewhere in the realm of Leave it to Beaver and the film Pleasantville, which is sort of interesting since the town just south of where I grew up was named Pleasantville, THE Pleasantville that was a part of the mailing address for the Readers Digest, whose headquarters actually was in my town, which now is where the Clintons reside, which I’m sure has left Chappaqua, along with the forty years or so that has passed since my leaving, anything but normal or at least recognizable since I was there. One of my recollections of that time revolves around my time in school and a slogan button I had, since many words and phrases of all sorts found their way onto buttons back then. Two that come to mind are “Frodo Lives!” and “The Great Society: Bombs, Bullets, Bullshit”. But the one I’m thinking of had a much more benign message, and that was: “I don’t want to be normal”. As I was far from the rebellious type back then, this seemed to be the extent to which I was then willing to step away from the crowd. I do remember though that on one of the days I wore this button to school, the only memorable comment I got on it was from Coach Mica, my P.E. instructor. His comment came almost immediately after he read it, and that was: “Ray, being normal is not something you have to worry about”. In looking back, I guess my departure from the middle of things had begun before I even knew of it.
There is a reason why I have travelled back in search of normal here, and that is because there is much talk now about “not normalizing” our current state of affairs with the not so popularly elected buffoon in chief. It is a subtle shift from passive acceptance (as in get over it, he won) to actively striving to make constructive advances from a status quo that is set to experience some sort of tectonic shift when a certain orange headed sociopath is sworn in as supposed commander in chief in seven weeks or so. But while it sounds good and seems empowering to personally not accept the changes and perceived reversals about to be wrought upon the system, one needs to first be granted the right to question the system that allowed this to happen. At least something, but perhaps not quite enough of that something, has been made of the fact that NBC was complicit a number of years back in normalizing the bullying tactics of Donald J. Trump in their series known as ‘the Apprentice’. I never saw it, but lots of people did, and I guess NBC made a lot of money from it, which I guess justifies, in their minds, the giant pass that was granted Trump in the minds and living rooms of the American electorate.    And now there is the great recount and rigged election debate, which should not be a debate at all since it has been documented that the Republicans gutted the Voting Rights Act, which in turn disenfranchised thousands if not tens of thousands of voters who could more than likely have otherwise turned the election around in any number of places. There are the documented sweeps of redistricting that have taken place around the country which again shifted the balance of power to the right. And there was the continued use of electronic voting machines with no paper trail record of the votes that passed through them. This was a proven problem back when the head dude at the Diebold company said he would “deliver the votes” to George W. Bush, and apparently did. There was much noise and many calls at the time to change back to a system of voting that created a paper trail of how the people voted on these machines, and while some places fixed the problem, many did not.
There is a saying that people like to repeat because it feels like by doing so you have at least done something. It has to do with defining insanity as continuing to repeat an action just as one always has while at the same time expecting a different result from that action. It is funny, in a sad sort of way, that on both sides of the coin of this recent election it was Trump who claimed both that if he didn’t win that the election was rigged and that when he did win, but not by a majority of the popular vote, the electoral process was rigged as well. One would think then that by recounting the votes one could be assured that all went as it should have in our model democracy, although it is Trump again who says that a recall is worthless. With that in mind, there is also much hand-wringing now over the inadequacy and unfairness of the Electoral College, but not much is said about how a much smaller body, the Supreme Court, decided what the will of the people was back in the Bush years. It seems that instead of normalizing hope through critical thought and change we have looked around and decided that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The problem as I see it is that we have already normalized broke, which doesn’t bode well for making much of anything great.