Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tired World

“Do you ever get the feeling the world is tired, Walt?”
~ The Cold Dish: A Walt Longmire Mystery by Craig Johnson

I had to call the driving range a couple days ago. I needed to get hold of Ronald, and he has taken to leaving his cell phone in the car. “Why carry it? No one ever calls me,” he says in explanation. I don’t call him often. He’s retired, and I work from home. We are constantly in each other’s space and have little need for additional communication tools during the times we are apart. I’ve had just a few emergencies since working from home in which I felt the need to call him: 1) the rabid coyote rolling around our yard; 2) the escaped cockatiel hopping toward me when I took the dog out; and 3) a couple days ago when the sub-contractors were burying the neighbor’s cable, and it was possible they were going to bury it on our property. They had it wrapped around one of our trees and across our yard.
When he didn’t answer his cell phone, I dialed the range.
“Hello, is Ron Hagan still there?” I asked. He’s been going there for the five years we’ve lived here, almost daily, at least weekly. He must have handed his debit card across the counter thousands of times. The white guys on the porch, including the owner, talk to him regularly, as you know, because I often write about their conversations.
“Do you mean Ron [Maverick]?” the man on the phone responded. That was one of the white guys who sometimes works there but mostly just sits on the porch. Once he asked Ronald if he could see a sample of my writing because he considered himself a writer, too. Ronald handed him a copy of my essay, What’s Race Got to Do with It? The next time Ronald showed up at the range, the guys on the porch were passing it back and forth, and the pristine sheets were dog-eared and creased. “Um, do you mind if we read this?” one of the guys asked Ronald as he stepped onto the porch.
“No, Ron Hagan. He was hitting balls. I need to speak with him,” I continued on the phone.
“Oh, black Ron,” the range owner said.
I paused. I took a breath.
“Yes, that’s him.”
Ronald picked up the phone a few minutes later, and he came home to check and see if the sub-contractors had buried the cable correctly.  I had already gone up and checked after I got off the phone, and they had done it correctly. If there had been a problem, though, I prefer Ronald to take care of it. He’s much more assertive than I am, and he knows code enforcement from his career as a firefighter.
When he got home I said, “You have a new name, black Ron.”
He screwed his mouth in disgust. “Figures,” he said.
All the white guys had read my essay. They know I’m white.
“He knows I’m white, but my voice didn’t match what he thought I’d sound like, and he couldn’t make the connection.”
“That’s it, exactly.”
Later I told my mother-in-law about it.
“Really? That’s terrible!” she said.
Maybe many readers are saying, “What’s the big deal? Skin color is an identifying characteristic.”
Yes, it is, but after five years of almost daily contact, that’s the only way to describe someone? I’d feel more comfortable about it if the owner of the range described the two men named Ron as “white Ron” and “black Ron.” That makes sense, if you are distinguishing between the two and you don’t know last names.  But if one is Ron [Maverick] and the other is black Ron, I am offended, and so was Ronald. Don’t get me wrong. We laughed about it. But see how deeply race is ingrained in people’s perceptions and how they categorize and recognize others? Not as individuals but as a color or a race, and it apparently doesn’t go away by close association and the passage of time.
It’s the same reason I am offended whenever a reporter, or anyone for that matter, identifies President Obama as the black president or Tiger Woods as the black golfer. What is the need for the additional qualifier? I realize it’s about firsts and minorities – for a long time men who became nurses were called male nurses. Women dominated the nursing field, and men were few and far between.
I hope that’s changed by now, and I wish we could move forward with the added description of race that is used to describe people of minority races only. If race is not used as a descriptor, usually a person is describing a white person, a “race-less” person.
People have mentioned to Ronald and me at different times that we should tell people who we are married to, as in, “My black husband Ronald is mowing the lawn,” or “My white wife Dianne expects me home early so we can go out to dinner.” Maybe we should start by identifying everyone by race: conservative white radio host Rush Limbaugh; Asian basketball player Jeremy Lin; retired black basketball player Charles Barkley, white actor George Clooney; black singer Patti LaBelle, or white presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Do you think people would tire of it? I know I am tired already.
I’m tired and scared of how dangerous our country is, too. James Holmes, dressed in riot gear, smoke bombed an Aurora, CO theater during the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, then systematically shot an AR15 and a Glock into the crowd of movie goers jam-packed into the theater. Latest numbers are 12 dead and 59 injured. He told the police he was the Joker, one of Batman’s enemies.
The Joker is a dark, evil character voiced in animation by Larry Storch and Mark Hamill, among others, and portrayed on TV and film by Caesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger. Ledger’s portrayal was particularly dark, psychotic and remorseless. Ledger worked hard to stay in character, and he had trouble sleeping during the shoot. Some say the portrayal contributed to his depressed mood and death caused by accidental overdose in the months before the movie was released.
Here is an excerpt from an article in the Daily News titled Jack Nicholson warned Heath Ledger on 'Joker' role that talks about the role and the effect it had on Ledger:
Jack Nicholson, who played the Joker in 1989 - and who was furious he wasn't consulted about the creepy role - offered a cryptic comment when told Ledger was dead.
"Well," Nicholson told reporters in London early Wednesday, "I warned him."
Though the remark was ambiguous, there's no question the role in the movie earmarked as this summer's blockbuster took a frightening toll.
Ledger recently told reporters he "slept an average of two hours a night" while playing "a psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy.
"I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going."
Prescription drugs didn't help, he said.
Holmes may be mentally ill or maybe not, and we don’t know his motives. What we know is that he was able to obtain weapons, body armor, and a gas mask. He booby-trapped his apartment with explosives.  How did he get these weapons and explosives?
Here’s what I got off about James Holmes:
Suspected Colorado movie theater gunman James Holmes purchased four guns at local shops and more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet in the past 60 days, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates told a news conference this evening.
"All the ammunition he possessed, he possessed legally, all the weapons he possessed, he possessed legally, all the clips he possessed, he possessed legally," an emotional Oates said.
Colorado is a state that strongly supports the second amendment. The NY Times said this about Colorado gun control in the article Colorado Gun Laws Remain Lax, Despite Changes after Columbine:
As a mountain state, Colorado has a history of broad support for Second Amendment rights. But in the years since the Columbine tragedy, the state’s lawmakers and voters passed some gun restrictions, including requirements governing the sale of firearms at gun shows, a law regulating people’s ability to carry concealed weapons and legislation banning “straw purchases” of weapons for people who would not qualify to buy them legitimately.
Despite the changes over the past 13 years, Colorado law still prohibits local governments from restricting gun rights in several significant ways. Moreover, gun rights organizations have successfully fought other efforts to restrict access to guns, including blocking a University of Colorado rule prohibiting concealed weapons on campus.
People in Colorado are allowed to carry firearms in a vehicle, loaded or unloaded, as long as the gun is intended for lawful uses like personal protection or protecting property.
Carrying a concealed weapon requires a permit, but Colorado is among those states whose rules on permits are relatively lax, said Heather Morton of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Colorado is one of 38 “shall issue” states. She explained that this meant “if a person complies with all of the requirements, then the state must issue a concealed weapons permit.” (By other measures, the number of states whose laws amount to “shall issue” is closer to 41.) Factors that might keep someone from being able to get a permit generally include felony convictions, mental illness or protective orders.
Other states have a slightly tougher “may issue” law, which gives discretion to withhold a permit to an authority like the local sheriff or department of public safety.
We live in a diverse, divisive, and increasingly polarized country. Race, class, ethnicity, gender orientation, political views, and religious beliefs divide our country, and it seems that violence is often a threat against those who disagree or who are different. I am reminded of some of the horrible things that were said of homosexuals in my home state before the passage of Amendment One that defines marriage in the state constitution: hateful things, violent things. How can anyone hate another individual that much?
Just as we live in a country that has strong views on gun ownership, we also live in a culture that promotes celebrity at any price. What lengths will someone go to in order to obtain fame? From sexually explicit YouTube and Facebook clips to mass murder, it’s anyone’s guess.
Fears are also prevalent in our culture. They range from insecurities about looks, exposure to germs, and what the Joneses own that you don’t to the loss of white dominance, terrorist attacks, and changes in the country that are more pro-socialist than pro-capitalist. There is the constant fear of an uprising: will it be a class uprising, or a race-motivated uprising? These fears are fueled daily through the media, especially on the Internet, and through the words of politicians who use fear to drive votes. This horrible, unimaginable killing spree was primed to occur, there in Aurora, CO, or anywhere in the country.
I can only imagine the backlash this tragedy will inspire. People arming up and carrying to the grocery store, the movie theater, the park, out to eat, at the kids’ playground, on a walk through the neighborhood. I’m more concerned by the prospect of frightened and skittish Joe America shooting me than I am of a mentally ill person opening fire in a crowd. The Aurora tragedy is huge, but the percentage of such an occurrence happening again is small.
More likely to happen is a child finding a parent’s firearm and shooting himself or a sibling, a domestic violence incident or murder, a homeowner mistaking a stranger as a threat and shooting the person, or a neighborhood watch president like George Zimmerman, trying to play hero, trailing and shooting a person who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, even though he belonged there, like Trayvon Martin. I see the possibility of people, who consider themselves good, law-abiding people, ending up in a shoot out over a perceived offense, a moment of road rage, or a moment of self-righteous judgment. Suddenly everyone in the crowd pulls out his gun and everyone is aiming at everyone else. We’ve all seen that scene in movies. I love those kinds of movies, because of the total improbability of it ever occurring in real life.  But is this what we’re coming to?
We need better gun control, similar to what states like New York have. We need to take assault weapons off the street by re-enacting the Federal Assault Weapons Ban originally passed under the Clinton administration in 1994. It expired in 2004 under the law’s sunset provision. Although there have been attempts to renew the ban, a new vote has never reached the senate floor.
The only reason someone would purchase an assault weapon is the intent to kill another person. It’s the drive to achieve a level of protection that puts the owner at the top of the food chain while the rest of us dwell on a link below. What other motive could s/he possibly have? Do we need that kind of personal protection when we have police forces, security everywhere, and the military? I don’t think so.
Maybe we are all tired.  I know I am. I am tired of being offended and feeling afraid, not of the rare mentally ill person who commits a tragic act, but by the reaction of everyone else left to experience the aftereffects. I wish we could learn to love ourselves better, so we could begin to love our neighbors. Then we would be better stewards of this tired world and allow it and us to rest and heal.

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