Turns Out I Don’t Like Most People

Every so often, I get salty about stupid people. Or selfish people. Or ignorant people. And I know that I can sometimes be one or two or all of those things as well. But when I see it on prominent display, it frosts my cookies.

Stupid
Sunday:
A girl of indistinguishable age walks across a gas station – a gas station, I say – with a lit cigarette in her hand. When she arrives at the door to the convenience store, she stops and thinks twice about taking the cigarette inside. Then she puts it down on the sidewalk, carefully. When she comes out a moment later, she picks it back up and puts it back in her mouth.

That’s like five kinds of stupid right there.

Selfish
Congress. There. I’m done.

Ignorant
Beware this most of all, said the Ghost of Christmas Future. I have actually found lately that ignorance is often combined with selfishness. It’s a handy formula for maintaining one’s willfully narrow-minded way of thinking. Today’s mental rant was touched off by a guy on Facebook saying that there are too many people claiming they have emotional and mental illness, and they should just realize that: 1. they’re not in danger unless they’re in grave danger and 2. that worrying doesn’t help anything. (Yes, he numbered them.)

Well, asshole, let’s explore the ways that comment is insensitive and clueless.

Yet when some people tried to do that, he refused to budge. He even said his statement was merely an observation, not a judgment. I think that’s part of the problem. We know Americans are not so good with the English. Grammar, spelling, and definitions are often lost. Maybe it’s a problem of just not understanding definitions.

I choose my battles. I argued with my mother when she insisted that most of the people on welfare are black, because it’s flatly false, and she asked if I declared it false because I say so. “No, Mom, it’s wrong because the US Census Bureau and Department of Labor say it’s wrong.” She didn’t believe me, because she didn’t want to. It was inconvenient to her narrative. It was also amazingly ironic that “most of the people on welfare are black” because she says so.

That’s the kind of stuff that’s really been bugging me lately: people who refuse to hear all the facts because doing so would ruin their personal narrative on how things are. They’d rather justify their ignorance than be informed, justify their hatred than be open. They think other people are foolish for buying into the “myth” that the “media” espouse. They’ll take one singular fact and just hang on tight, while ignoring all the other facts that put theirs in context.

So I’ve decided to forcibly maintain some ignorance of my own.

I will insist that the invention of fire was a)  not an invention, but more of a discovery, and 2) not that big a deal.

I will deface any vehicle with one of those fish-with-feet decals on it because it so blatantly disrespects Jesus.

If I see someone walk into a door, I will blame the door manufacturers because they were union workers and therefore were probably lazy and didn’t do their jobs right and caused the incident.

I will unflinchingly believe that John Grisham is the best legal thriller writer out there.

I will refuse any assertion that there’s even one single doctor who’s not trying to make a buck from the pharmaceutical companies, and I will therefore refuse all medication until I’m on my death bed, at which point I’ll blame the doctors for not diagnosing me properly.

I will make no exception to my general rule that a dog is better than a cat at all times. Even though I have a cat, but not a dog.

I will swear Attila the Hun was railroaded.

It’s gonna be great. I can’t wait to spout off stupid, inane, thoughtless drivel that I can vehemently defend with arguments such as, “F— you.”

******

I strike.

Or rather, my blog does.

At some people, at least.

Fransi at weinstein365 has very graciously called my blog worthy of the Very Inspiring Blogger Award and gifted me with a logo I will display, as required, on my blog, as soon as I figure out how the hell to do it. I would like to note that my blog is not merely inspiring. It is, as Fransi has declared, very inspiring. Are you inspired? You totally should be inspired. Can I get some fanfare music over here?

One of the rules of the award is to state seven things about myself. So, little by little, my blog reading friends, you are learning more and more about me. The next seven things I release unto you are as follows:

1. When I was six years old, I was nearly kidnapped, but my friend Lori and I ran away from the guy in the truck who had been reported to be following children in the area after he slowed down and said something to us.*

2. I have a disturbing weakness for Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies despite my avowed loyalty to Tastykake products.

3. I find the ocean to be the most accurate metaphor for the human soul – turbulent, dark, powerful, placid, soothing, raging, dancing, warm, cold, life-sustaining, life-ending, drawing forward and then pulling back, rocking and lulling and easily moved by forces beyond its own control.

4. I used to have a recurring nightmare that I was in my kitchen and all the cabinet doors stood open, and the knobs on the stove all turned by themselves. I would close the cabinets and turn off the stove burners and they would all fly open and turn on again. It was terrifying.

5. I have been to two psychics in my life. One of them was freakishly right about everything he said and has increased his fee by 800% since I saw him. The other one was either way off or I’m in big trouble.

6. I am so boring that I have been struggling to come up with seven interesting things about myself for like 20 minutes.

7. Since my previous Seven Things, in which I said I wanted a black or chocolate lab or a Rhodesian Ridgeback, I have expanded my selection of dogs to include boxers. And I  like the name Oscar for a dog, but if it’s a boxer that might be a little too obvious. Especially since a hoya is a dog and Oscar de la Hoya is a boxer. In which case I might have to go with an American Staffordshire Terrier. Imaginary dog owning is hard.

*Totally possible that I dreamed this.

At the Risk of Offending the Mafia…

My scintillating Friday night is none of your business, except that I watched two hours worth of shows about mobsters on whatever cable channel it was on. Damn, I love a good mobster story. What sucked me in was that the first episode featured a (highly truncated) version of the events that unfolded in Philadelphia between the ’70s and early ’90s. Being from there and having lived there during a lot of the really messy mayhem, I couldn’t help but indulge myself. It’s part of my cultural lore.

Have I ever told you that my dad kind of knew a guy? I mean not really. He was acquainted with a guy who was not in the mob, but rather was a business associate of a mob boss by the name of Angelo Bruno, aka “The Gentle Don.” Bruno only killed people if he really, really had to. Anyway, so my dad knew this associate guy very casually, but did once watch him peel $3,000 in cash out of a wad and hand it to a bar manager to get him to shut up already about a charity event they were having. Dad didn’t know what the deal was – he was a teenager at the time. And now said associate is dead. Courtesy of the mob. Naturally.

The show I was watching detailed all the connections between who had who whacked over what, including the associate my dad knew. It had all the old news footage of the crime scenes where the bodies were found… even the footage from right after Phil “the Chickenman” Testa got blown up, as referenced in the very beginning of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.” Oh, you ain’t know that was historical? It is, Jack. Springsteen is talking very pointedly about all the rigamarole surrounding the casinos in AC vis-a-vis the Local 54 and the Local 30 unions. Everything dies, baby. That’s a fact. (Take a look at Atlantic City these days if you want evidence. Sheesh, what a hole.)

Nobody was as bad as Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo. Nobody called him that to his face, either, if they wanted to keep their own. Little Nicky had a height problem and a problem with having the problem, know what I’m sayin’? And he had a lot of other problems, too. (The Riccobene War wasn’t set in Malta, folks.) He’d been in and out of prison a few times,  still running the Philly operation from the inside. But the feds finally nailed Little Nicky for good in 1989 after an associate turned. Scarfo was convicted in the hits on seven other mobsters. This guy killed people if they looked at him funny, so his body count was a lot higher, but along with charges in racketeering, loan sharking, drugs and extortion, Scarfo will be in an Atlanta prison until at least 2033, at which time he’ll be 104.

After that episode came another that detailed the murderous career of a man known as Joe “Mad Dog” Sullivan, the only guy to ever escape from Attica. They actually interviewed this guy. Sat down and talked to him all casual-like. And let me say, he looks really good for a 70-year-old inmate, recovering drug addict and alcoholic who made his first kill at the age of 13 and was in and out of prison his whole life since. And he doesn’t look crazy or mean. He looks haunted. Which he apparently was. He says the anger that made him a mad dog started when he was 13 and his father died. I’m sure there was a screw or two loose before that, something that set up the dominoes, but he got mad and his mom got poor and abusive and drunk a lot, and he just never made good of his life. Mad Dog is the guy who eventually killed (among others) Antonio “Tony Bananas” Camponigro… the guy who’d had the Gentle Don whacked because he wanted to be Boss. That hit wasn’t sanctioned by the Big Bosses in New York, see. So a month later they set up Tony Bananas. When Mad Dog shot him who knows how many times, and he was good and dead, the bosses stuffed him with cash. A message. This is what happens when you get greedy.

Is that hilarious or what?

No, really. Think about it. The mafia is all about greed. Greed and power. That’s the whole idea. Everything else is circumstantial, a byproduct. So when a bunch of guys go after another guy because he got greedy? That’s just delicious, bloody irony right there.

If you think I’m sick for finding all of this so fascinating, ask yourself if you’ve ever seen any of the following movies on purpose:

The Godfather – I, II or III
Goodfellas
On the Waterfront
The Boondock Saints – I or II
A Bronx Tale
Carlito’s Way
The Departed (alternatively pronounced “Da Dee-pah-ded.”)
Bugsy
The Untouchables
Scarface
Once Upon A Time In America

Or the hit HBO series The Sopranos.

Eh-heh. See?

The Mafia functions on greed, power and loyalty. Do someone a solid and they’ll have your back. Do something even a little wrong and they’ll shoot you in it. And not subtly, either. Deeze guys. Brazen. Broad daylight hits. Openly hostile shakedowns. Calling cards. Messages in crime scenes. Totally transparent stuff that practically screams The mob did it. And we eat it up.

Gangs these days are just the modern incarnations of mob families. Slightly different motives, maybe. More desperation. Less patience. Not hittin’ the big time like the Gambinos or the Genoveses. But still based on loyalty. Still based on turf. Still about the money.

Still with the crazy nicknames, only fewer guys whose middle name is “The.”

Why don’t we find them quite so charming?

As usually happens when I dig in to some good true crime mob fare, the whole thing left me a little depressed in the end. My hometown is an ugly place, and its history is gory. The development of Penn’s Landing? Mob deal. It’s everywhere. The Philly guys didn’t live in opulent houses. Their houses looked like mine. In the end, the charm is tarnished. The glamour fades. The promise becomes pathos. Loyal associates turn. The feds catch up.

Everything dies, baby. That’s a fact.

Legends In Their Falling

Remember when Janis Joplin died?

I don’t, but take my larger point as I set it up for you, please:

Today the world learned that singer Amy Winehouse had been found dead in her London flat. She was 27. And almost instantly, the cyber-verse was alight with cynical commentary about it. So far, Scotland Yard has not ruled on a cause (one can only assume that, had it not been shuttered, News of the World would have immediately begun hacking into her cell phone to find out what she last said and to whom she last spoke). But the conventional wisdom is that she died of a drug overdose, or drank herself literally to death.

I’ll go along with the theory.

A lot of who we have come to regard as amazing talents died at 27 from drug and alcohol problems. Hendrix. Joplin. Belushi. I wonder… if there had been Facebook and Twitter then, would everyone have been so cynical?

You can argue with me that Winehouse is not a name that belongs in the above group. You might be right. Frankly, I don’t know her stuff well enough to say for sure, although I do know she did have a great deal of talent, and a tortured soul: two things required for admission to that club. And I would remind you that Joplin’s biggest hit, “Me and Bobby McGee,” wasn’t released until after she died, at 27, with the whiskey-and-smoke voice of a woman who had lived far beyond her years. In “Just Kids,” Patti Smith waxes both plain and nostalgic about seeing Joplin in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, a relative unknown but for the artists’ circles in which they both traveled. She was nobody then. A rebellious girl with attitude and a gift not everyone cared to hear.

Like Amy Winehouse.

I wasn’t around when Joplin and Hendrix died (I was for Belushi). But if the collective consciousness of cultural memory serves, they were regarded more as up-and-comers than entrenched legends then. Hendrix might have been a little more established; he’d already done the National Anthem on his guitar. But we tend to sanctify the dead after they’ve gone. We don’t know what legends they would have become if they had lived beyond their late 20s. They could have flamed out and been forgotten. It’s the romantic tragedy of their deaths that catapulted them to their culturally contributory fame, really. Though their talents and heft of legacies varied, the same could be argued for all who have died too soon: Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Patsy Cline, Robert Mapplethorpe, even John Lennon. They were sainted in death. In life, they might have wound up merely played out.

We live in different times now, certainly. In the convictional chaos of the 60s and the experimentation that lived through the 70s, it was easy to find depth and poignancy in the gone-too-soon nature of an artist’s death. Did those not belonging to the chaos – those standing outside that particular cultural fire – not regard those artists’ deaths in the same way? At the time, I’d venture the answer is that they didn’t. But now, they probably see it differently, with the glow of history surrounding it and the knowledge that they were part of that revered and reviled generation, whether they were at Woodstock or not. Now, in the digital age, news travels even more quickly than it did then, and universally– to those who don’t share the convictions of the ones who bring them word. Our reactions, now, seem to skew farther toward the wry than toward the gut-wrenched. Amy Winehouse probably won’t be a legend in death. But it would be nice if we valued her life a little more.

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Featured image from burgernoodle.com