“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. . . . This surprises us when the persons concerned are thieves bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murders boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere, in which these people live, is limited, and chiefly because we are outside it. Can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth-robbery, when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories-murder, and when those in high places vaunt their power-violence? That we do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, is only because the circle formed by them is larger and we ourselves belong to it.” (Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise Maude)

New Readers:

Please start reading with my first post "A Cup of Coffee". Originally posted on March 19, the archival date changed when I made corrections on May 13, which is the date under which you can find it now.

I'll learn to manage this all more smoothly someday, but at present I have at most only an hour online each day (that thanks to the San Francisco Public Library system, without which I would be lost).

Friday, January 16, 2015

Driving Miss Tipsy

Last night I quit work three hours early, at midnight rather than 3:30.  I reached home before 2:00AM and was asleep by 3:00AM, rather than the usual 6:00AM.  I did so for two reasons: the night before and the following morning.

The night before, I had reached a new low of exhaustion and despair.  I found myself screaming at a woman who was too drunk to remember where she lived.  I had braced myself for something bad when I saw that the address to which Dispatch had sent me was a bar.  When a bartender guided her to the car and told that Castro and Chavez was her destination, he handed me $15 to take her home.  I tensed up and then drove her as quickly as I could to that intersection.

All the way there, she kept falling asleep in the back seat, waking up only when I opened all the windows and left the frigid night air blow through the car.  Then she would wake up and ask me to close the windows, complaining loudly about the cold. Then, when I did, she would immediately fall asleep again.  By the time she was making her fourth or fifth request to close the windows, I merely ran them up, which quieted her, and then immediately ran them down again.

When we got to Chavez and Castro, I stopped the car and asked her where to leave her off.  She didn't respond.  I asked her loudly, "Where do you live?"  She directed me to drive up the block.  When we got there she told me to turn right.  She told me to turn right again in another block.  At the end of that block we were right back where we started.  I was furious.  Every minute spent with her was another minute in which I might have found my next fare.  The $15 was hardly worth any of this behavior.

I finally thought of a different tack to take with her.  Instead of asking for directions I told her to tell me her address.  Sure enough, despite the havoc that alcohol has wrecked on her spatial awareness and understanding, she easily, automatically I should say, retrieved the required alpha-numeric data, which she was able to recite, sounding like a little child reciting multiplication tables with her eyes closed.  I drove to the address.

Once we reached her address, she was again asleep.  I yelled at her to “get out of my cab!”  She started to do so but was suddenly asleep again, with her legs hanging out the door.  By the end of it, I had gotten out of the cab, walked around to the rear passenger door, opened it and was screaming at her, shaking all over, my face mere inches from hers, demanding that she get out of the cab so that I could continue working.  Eventually, she did rise to her feet.  But as I tried to back out of the drive, she kept leaning on the side of the cab, saying “You’re mean!  You are so mean!”  Shaking, I slowly backed away.  She righted herself and stood on her own feet, continuing to call out after me that I was "so mean!" as I drove away.

I had three more fares after that, but I was still so off-balance that, when I had returned the cab and made my way home, I was too upset to fall asleep.  I didn’t go to sleep until 7:00AM.  Then some idiot in my building pulled the fire alarm at 8:30.  After that, I got no sleep at all.  So last night I began another all night shift but with almost no sleep.

And that is why I quit early and came home to bed by 3:00AM.

[Note:  Where I have said that she "fell asleep" and "woke up", I should more accurately say that she "passed out" and "came to".  There is a world of difference between the two pairs of events.]

The Conformist

I was born just seven and a half years after World War Two ended.  The Korean War was, however, still being fought, though it was nearing its climax, with the cease-fire and Armistice only months away.  I say that the Korean War ended before I was born, but one week before my 60th birthday, on 13 March 2013, North Korea officially withdrew from the Armistice, meaning that the war, which never actually ended, is technically "hot" again.

The Cold War was raging in earnest while I was growing up, and like all children raised in times of war, my classmates and I were indoctrinated with a world view and set of values that justified our country's on-going, albeit cold, war. We were taught that we were "free" and that people governed by our enemy ("communists" in general) were brutally repressed and lived in conditions tantamount to slavery.

"Totalitarians" (another term for our enemy) spied on their own people, coerced them into informing on one another, and controlled every aspect of their lives, telling them where to live, what jobs or careers to pursue, and with whom to socialize.  Totalitarian states sought to destroy the family as the fundamental unit of society, pitting brother against brother and child against parent, claiming a loyalty that superseded these family ties.  We were taught that the essence of our "freedom" lay in the political supremacy of the individual and a concomitant rejection of the "group".

When I was young, one of the most often talked about social and intellectual concerns was "Conformism."  We were taught that the greatness of our society lay in the respect it held, both socially and legally, for The Individual.  This Individual was allowed Freedom, a right recognized as God-given and beyond the power of the state to deny.

The existence of "freedom" was never questioned.  In fact, there was major debate about which if any circumstances might limit our presumed absolute liberty.  Some argued forcibly that liberty could be limited, that "Liberty is not License," pointing out that neither society nor government would sanction "shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theater."  The common sense notion was that "You can do anything you want as long as you don't hurt anybody else."  [I must note that this is an absurd, if not ridiculous, formulation, since you cannot know in advance the eventual consequences of anything that you do and that anything you do has the potential to cause harm to others.  Furthermore, such ethical niceties have never been applied to businesses: their freedom to do things that harm millions upon millions of people, and to do them not just accidentally (being unforeseen consequences to other actions) but knowingly, has, on the other hand, been absolute.

During the 1950s, when I was growing up, the empirical fact easily observed by even the least inquisitive was that upon returning from the war(s) American men continued to behave as they had been trained to do by the military.  They wore uniforms to work:  blue collar workers actually called their work clothes uniforms, whereas white collar workers used the term ironically to refer to the nearly identical dark suits, white shirts, neckties, leather shoes, and, in certain climates, overcoats which they wore.  This conformity of dress extended to conformity of address as well:  these returning soldiers were the generation that built the suburbs, huge communities of nearly identical houses, which they preferred to the houses, mostly unique structures built on small lots, in crowded cities.  Those cities were left to the Others who were "different":  "Negroes", Jews, Latinos, et al.  Instead they preferred the suburbs which were full of "People Like Us" or "Our Kind."

I remember the use of the word "different" to mean suspect, morally or possibly mentally unstable.  Disapproval of someone was often expressed by saying something like "Well, I don't know -- he's just kind of 'different', you know?"  These days, what used to be a vague form of social snobbery or discrimination has become an element of political policy.  Our government now tells us to report any suspicious behavior among our neighbors, friends, and family and that it frequently harasses the family and friends of citizens who resist its abrogation of the constitution and its pursuit of illegal forms of domestic surveillance and population control.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the movie "Citizen Four", which tells the story of Ed Snowden's efforts to expose to us all the level to which our government, in clear violation of the Constitution, is spying on us all in everything we do.  Many of you will ignore me and ignore the movie because you think that you know about this surveillance and it does not really worry you.  You do not feel immediately threatened by it.  Some of you who do worry about it will ignore me and the movie because even though government surveillance worries you, you feel that you cannot do anything about it and that seeing the movie would only upset you to no purpose.  But if you do not see this movie you will remain ignorant of the true nature of "our" country's government.

If you do see this movie, you will find yourself realizing, as I did, that it is probably time to get out of this country, before the repression becomes intolerable, at which time emigration will no doubt be impossible.

If you do not see this movie, you will not be dealing with reality when making the most basic decisions in your life.