Saturday, June 17, 2017

Loss and Father's Day Eve

The ineluctable peril when writing about loss is that it has been done.  A fresh take on a multi-billion-year phenomenon is rare.  Yet, here goes nothing, or more fittingly, the absence of something.

My Co-, well, Religionists?  Practitioners?  Whichever.  They speak about impermanence, that change is a constant.  Physicists, as a lot, tend to agree.  Yet cannot the same be said of change in the specific form of loss? 

All of us face loss in one form or another.  Loss of youth, of innocence, (eventually) of life.  These are the mortal locks of human existence.

The challenge is understanding, within the limits of knowledge, perceptions, and physical abilities, how to deal with loss.  Railing against it is a popular option, as is mourning.  Acceptance is much harder to embrace, depending on the type and severity of loss.  For there is always hope, sometimes rational, oft times not, that what was lost can be found once again.  This might be a form of hope and/or a manifestation of self-delusion.

Case in point, I “lost” my Dad in 2016.  Yet, in a truer sense of the word, he was lost to me before I was even born.  He served in Vietnam and, from what I am told, it took a horrific toll on his psyche.  Those who knew him said he did not truly “return” home insofar as the Jack Booms who resided in Metro Detroit in the late 1960s and afterwards was not the same Jack Booms who lived there prior to being shipped off to Indo-China.

The Jack Booms that I knew was one who was struggling, with varying degrees of success, with several maladies that fell under the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) umbrella.  And his “remedies” were rarely helpful and frequently self-administered.   These behaviors, of course, helped expedite his separation and eventual divorce from my Mom, with both events occurring in the latter half of the Carter Administration.  But I digress.

By the time he passed, I had (for the most part) accepted his lack of presence in my life.  Frankly, I was surprised to be contacted and told that he was in failing health.  I had anticipated that I would simply hear from someone, one day, who would be the bearer of the news that “Your father died.”  As it turned out, I had about four months, at the very end, from when I learned of his deteriorating condition to when he “shuffled off his mortal coil.” 

But in a way, as we had extremely limited contact from 1982 to 2016, his loss was accounted for, it was “baked into the cake” to use that horrid cliché.

That said, I heard he became a different person…more thoughtful and compassionate.  I am not certain precisely what caused this change in him, but I understand that his presence in the lives of others was warmly greeted.  He helped others as they faced their own losses, and was a true friend to them.

The more challenging losses, in my estimation, are those that are self-inflicted.  The loss of a relationship (friendship or otherwise) through neglect, or gross stupidity come to mind.  And not knowing how, or if, such losses can be repaired can cause the mind to fold in on itself.  Wondering.  Anguishing.  Hoping.  At times, doing our best to heal the wound.  Yet some solutions may be forever unobtainable, no matter how quickly or bravely we race into the breach.  Sometimes, we create the circumstances that are beyond our control.

Kierkegaard wrote, “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”  Of course, Jay Gatsby said, “Can’t repeat the past?  Why of course you can!”  On the whole, Kierkegaard had a better handle on reality, although both the man and the character died young.

In any event, when considering loss and its impact, it would be wonderful to be able to go back and undo what was done…or at least to fast forward past the pain to see how it is resolved.  Yet time moves, in this universe at least, at its own pace and in its own direction, regardless of our motives, feelings, and actions.

All we can do as sentient beings is to live and learn, and to appreciate both.  And to hope that mindful words and deeds can help us avoid potential losses, and help us deal with actual ones.

So, to Dad, I would say, “Thank you” for the lesson on loss.  It is probably the best counsel you ever imparted.  And it is appreciated, truly.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Slats: A Non-Origin Story

“Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again”

I am oft asked about Slats, my mentor (of sorts).  A recurring theme is, “Why didn’t he make it Big?”  “He could have been a James Carville, a Paul Tully (n.b.: look him up), a Lee Atwater (twisted, evil little freak that he was, he was a Talent); much better than that ghoul Bob Shrum.”  Yes, I have heard it all.  

Over the course of many besotted (in the archaic sense of the word) evenings, and some afternoons, both during and after my tenure at his company, I was able to piece together his arc.

You see, during the course of every conversation in a public place, Slats’ eyes would invariably wander to the nearest woman (or women) that he found attractive. This is hardly an unusual behavior for a heterosexual man of his (or any other) generation.  But it was not the glances there were the issue, it was the pursuit, which dominated a great deal of his time, off hours and on.

An obsession is a thought; a compulsion is an act.  When it came to sex, he possessed both the “O” and the “C” with a fervor that younger men found admirable…and more mature men recognized as problematic.  It became clear, to me at least, that he was pursuing something, and not someone…and that whatever feeling or state of being he sought, he would never catch it.  He believed, as he implied in moments of extreme candor, that his world could be made whole again, if he just met the right Someone (even when he was already married).  In his mind, he was <this> close to finding the One.  That whatever was denied him in the past would be restored. That his pain would be forever salved.

He did (rarely) find someone wonderful, yet he always seemed to bungle it, for reasons which I can scarcely fathom and I guess he may never comprehend…even in his dreams when the lies we tell ourselves are stripped away.

“Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping”

Of course one can never know what it is truly in the mind of another.  Message producer/message recipient…even in ideal situations, there is always static that impedes communication, to say nothing of the unambiguous fuck-ups in both word and deed.  But at some point, perhaps during the late hours during moments of solitude and despair, the idea of More (see: Schopenhauer) festered.  And it, perhaps, drove him.  Political consulting, a former passion of his, became merely a means to an end.  He was good enough, and better than most, when he applied himself.  Yet he was never fully “present” as the Vipassana folks say. Not 100% mindful.

“And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence”

And as he got older, I saw more of a feral desperation in his eyes.  An existential angst that was growing more intolerable as he sought to reconcile his fears with his place in the universe.  A fear that he would never be who he was supposed to become.  A fear that he would not only never be content, but that his troubles would become insurmountable.  That the choices he had made were demanding payment in full.  And even when he managed to make a correct decision, a self-destructive impulse would foil his better instincts.  This drove people, good people, away from him.

“In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone”

Of course, he labored in an era where prose and poetry meant more than data analytics.  Campaigns like Fred Harris ’76 were of a time and place, long before the rise of Big Data, back when Pat Caddell was idealistic, and not too far removed from college.  Segmentation overtook the craft.  And even bearing in mind some brutal campaigns in the early days of our Republic, it feels as though campaigning, and governing, have become coarsened.  Perhaps more transparent, but less illuminating.

'Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp”

Slats may be a living fossil. A T-Rex in a post-Cretaceous world.  Out of place, out of time. Eyes full of regrets and the “angel’s share” from a single-malt.  He must know, by now, that his number will probably never be called. He persists but with a creeping world-weariness that is veering into nihilism.  A few short years, perhaps, until the Flash and the Void.

“When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night”

Which, of course is why I bring up Slats MacCune, a living tragic figure and monument to another era. His obituary is already written, yet he draws breath.  The only variable is how Act III concludes, and when.  And then applause, and Fin.

“And touched the sound of silence.”

For Those Who Care: A HoCo Campaign 2018 Update

Truth be whispered, what the ancient Greeks called “dusthumía” is attempting to gut-punch this author, repeatedly, this morning.  Not that corres-depondence (I see what I did there) equates to bad writing. This essayist is not inclined to punish the readership with twaddle, Heaven forfend!

Nope, just need to keep pressing some keys.  Besides, fuck the ancient Greeks. Couldn’t even be bothered to develop a rudimentary Metro system. If they did, I reckon Pheidippides would still be alive today.

Campaign News:

County Exec Allan Kittleman announced, to the shock of none and the dismay of several, his bid for re-election.  Meanwhile, a straw man sets up another straw man (See: Greg Fox).  Of course, I shouldn’t be too hard on Mr. Fox.  Depending on who emerges out of CC 5, he might be remembered as the Cincinnatus of West HoCo. But I seem to have shifted to the Romans, so let me get back on track.

CC3 is looking like an embarrassment of riches on the Democratic side, with Christiana Mercer Rigby already in the race and Steve Hunt poised to enter the fray very soon.  Should be an engaging primary in the months ahead.

CC4.  As attentive readers know, this is my home district.  Byron Macfarlane recently announced his candidacy. If a poll was commissioned tomorrow, there is no doubt in my mind that he would be the front-runner in the Democratic field by a healthy double-digit margin.  That is not to say that Deb Jung (the other D in CC 4 who has filed to date) is a slouch, she is not.  That is to say that Byron is well-known with a significant reservoir of support throughout the County in general and in District 4 specifically. 

State’s Attorney:  Rich Gibson.  By a country mile.  His website can be found here:

Of course, the Band Known as Team 13 re-filed together.  Such a lovely place, such a lovely slate (with apologies to Mr. Henley, Mr. Frey, and sure, Mr. Felder). 

So what about D12?  Stay tuned…wait…not yet.

Oh yes, I believe the Columbia Democratic Club is having an important meeting tonight.  To those who ask, “Will you be there?” I reply, “Is there an open bar?”  If there are caipirinhas, I am all in. But I have now drifted from Greece to Rome to California to Brazil, so I should stop here.

Stay tuned, as more will follow (?)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Fresh Blood: 2020

First, a hand-drawn infographic!

Ok, I may not have captured everyone.  And some were favorite sons (alas, no daughters) in the earlier cycles, but bear with me.

This is a list of all of the Democratic candidates for President since 1952 who 1) lost once and 2) ran again.  A circle means they were the nominee in that cycle.

Some names not on this list: every Democrat elected to the Presidency since 1960 with one exception.

1) John F. Kennedy.  First time presidential candidate in '60.  Tried (unsuccessfully) to get on the national ticket with Stevenson as the VP pick in '56.  Won the nomination and General Election.
2) Jimmy Carter.  First time presidential candidate in '76.  Tried (unsuccessfully) to get on the national ticket with McGovern as the VP pick in '72.  Won the nomination and General Election.
3) Bill Clinton.  First time presidential candidate in '92.  Thought about it in '88 but passed.  Won the nomination and General Election, twice.
4) Barack Obama.  First time presidential candidate in '08.  Won the nomination and General Election, twice.

LBJ is on the list, and he did win on his own in '64 (against Goldwater, not the strongest opponent the GOP could have fielded that cycle).  That said, he lost the bid for the nomination in '60, came to the office only on the passing of JFK, and was clearly in for a tough battle for the nomination in '68 when he famously declared that he would neither seek, nor accept the nomination of the Democratic Party for President.

And of course there were those who lost on a national ticket as a VP or VP candidate and who ran for the Presidency later...and lost again (Muskie in '68 and '72 respectively, Shriver in '72 and '76 respectively, Lieberman in '00 and '04 respectively).  Mondale, of course, won in '76 with Carter (when he passed on the race himself, citing a lack of "fire in the belly") but lost in his own bid in '84.  Al Gore and Joe Biden have already been accounted for in this chart.

So...while the past is not always prologue...I would like to see some new names come to the fore for the Democratic Party in 2020.  History has not been kind to the "not one-and-done" club. You have to admit, we have run (and won with) some excellent first-timers.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.