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July 31, 2018

MY WIFE, THE DO-GOODER

CARMELA AND ME

In the old days, if you screwed up your life, you could always pack up, move on, and start over. But those days are gone.

We live in an age, when every time you ever messed up – from skipping school in seventh grade to exposing yourself on Spring Break – has become part of your permanent record. All those acts, great and small, noble and pathetic, will be following you around for the rest of your life, no matter where you go or what you do.

What brings this to mind is that my wife Carmela has just begun working with women prisoners. To get the job as an unpaid volunteer, she had to go through days of filling out forms about our finances, her work history, any criminal record, and any involvement with illicit drugs whether it resulted in an arrest or not. It was six months before she was deemed worthy of becoming part of the Facility’s Re-entry program, and before she got her pass, she also had to sign a waiver that stated in case she was taken hostage, no deals would be made for her release.

Admittedly, the chances of that are slim – Carmela will not be working with hard-core felons – but the act of signing such acknowledgement emphasizes that what she is doing is serious and includes some personal risk.

She begins this effort even though she has been warned by some smart law enforcement people that she will be wasting her time.

The common cop wisdom is this:

There is little you can do for these people – they are not only lost, they are too lazy or stupid to ever change. That may in fact be true. “Common wisdom” is common wisdom because most of the time it is correct. And cops, unlike most of us, work around low-level criminals every day, so they know first-hand the sort of people with whom Carmela will be dealing.

But there is a self-fulfilling element to all this. If everybody agrees that there is no redemption for the folks in jail – and FBI statistics tend to reinforce that view – then the common wisdom becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

If you start out with the attitude that people are going to screw up, then the probability that they will becomes overwhelming.

The problem is that many criminals think that once they’ve served their time, they have paid their debt to society, but that’s not true. Serving your time is one thing. Being forgiven by other people – even people you may have victimized – is different. Criminals don’t win back their reputation by serving time. In fact, their reputation is probably worse than when they were sent away, just from the fact that now they are ex-cons – state-certified bad people.

Try getting a job with that hanging over your head.

The problem is if nobody forgives them, they will never be able to rejoin society and lead an honest and productive life. Carmela is going to be helping women prisoners learn the skills – and hopefully acquire the attitude – to prepare to look for work when they are released. She also hopes to give them a little encouragement that life can get better if they are willing to put in the effort needed to turn their lives around.

If they are unable or unwilling to put in that effort, then there really is no hope for them. And since most of the women she has met in jail are mothers, and a few are pregnant, the tragedy of their lives is passed along from one generation to another.

The challenge for the ex-prisoners is to convince people who have already made up their minds about them to reconsider. They need to acknowledge that they were wrong and ask society to forgive them. Anybody who has ever been through a 12-step program understands how important it is to accept responsibility and be willing to make amends.

Most of the prisoners probably will not, but some of them may – and those are the folks that Carmela hopes to help.

George Lee Cunningham

Do you have a dissenting opinion or any opinion at all on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

A place to share some words of beauty, inspiration, and life. Today’s lyrics are all about being in jail. One of them. Jail House Rock, depicts jail as a fun place, full of dancing prisoners. The second – also humorous – tells of small-town injustice, where somebody spends the night in jail for picking flowers. And the third is about the loneliness of Christmas in prison. Click on the name of the piece to get a video or more information.

The warden threw a party in the county jail
The prison band was there and they began to wail
The band was jumpin’ and the joint began to swing
You should’ve heard them knocked-out jailbirds sing

Let’s rock everybody, let’s rock
Everybody in the whole cell block
Was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock

– Jailhouse Rock Singer: Elvis Presley; Writers Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller

Well, I left my motel room, down at the Starkville Motel,
The town had gone to sleep and I was feelin’ fairly well.
I strolled along the sidewalk ‘neath the sweet magnolia trees;

I was whistlin’, pickin’ flowers, swayin’ in the southern breeze.
I found myself surrounded; one policeman said: “That’s him.
Come along, wild flower child. Don’t you know that it’s two a.m.”

They’re bound to get you.
‘Cause they got a curfew.
And you go to the Starkville City jail.

Well, they threw me in the car and started driving into town;
I said: “What the hell did I do?”
And he said: “Shut up and sit down.”

– Starkville City Jail Singer and writer: Johnny Cash

It was Christmas in prison and the food was real good
We has turkey and pistols carved out of wood
I dream of her always even when I don’t dream
Her name’s on my tongue and her blood’s in my strings

– Christmas in Prison Singer and writer: John Prine

 

June 28, 2018

FRANKLY, MY DEAR …

FU VERY MUCH!

THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS POLITICALLY INCORRECT AND OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE AND MAY OFFEND SOME READERS

When I was a young man, growing up in the South, if a man said “damn” or “hell” in front of ladies, he would immediately apologize and ask for their forgiveness. Obviously, times have changed.

For one thing “damn” does not have the power it once had when Rhett told Scarlett: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” And neither does “hell,” although sometimes people back then might simply say “H-E-Double Hockey Sticks” to make the point without actually saying the word. And putting “God” in front of the “Damn,” was not only impolite, but also sacrilegious.

Once a few years went by and society grew a little coarser with both men and women cussing all the time, “damn” and “hell” both lost the power they once had. Now, I finally think it’s clear that one other offensive word has joined damn and hell.

That word is “Fuck.” It has not only lost its power as a cuss word, but has now become nothing more than a filler word. It has joined words such as LIKE, YOU KNOW, UH, ER, I MEAN, and WHATEVER. When you don’t have your thoughts together and you’re trying to stall, you use these filler word.

UH, YOU KNOW, I didn’t really ER actually FUCKING vote because I work up that morning I MEAN what the FUCK, man – my head hurt and I’m thinking LIKE WHATEVER, so I UH had a beer and went back to bed.”

Fuck has also become a tantrum word, as in FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! that some people use whenever they feel extremely frustrated and they can think of no other way to express themselves.

“Fuck” for me is dead as a word, killed by overuse.

To paraphrase Rhett, frankly, my dear, I will miss it. Fuck was a word in the quiver of strong language to be used when the situation was dire. And when somebody used it, it would be like a bomb going off – a kind of dad-is-really-angry-now word.

We are now running out of good cuss words like that, and ain’t that an f***ing shame.

George Lee Cunningham

Do you have a dissenting opinion or any opinion at all on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

June 27, 2018

LYRICS, POETRY AND PROSE 180627

A place to share some words of beauty, inspiration, and life. Today’s lyrics are a requiem for the word, “Fuck’” which lingers near death due to overuse. Here are three songs with fuck lyrics – most of them from a bygone day.  The first is Lily Allen using the word in 2009 to tell some folks to leave her alone. The second, written and sang by Lee Ving is a 1982 punk song about living in an uncaring society. And the third is a funny 2016 song NSFW with only two words – fuck and shit – by the comedy rock band Psychostick. For those folks about to play the video at your desk, be aware that NSFW stands for Not Safe for Work. In other words, turn down the sound or get some earphones. Click on the name of the piece to get a video or more information.

Fuck you (fuck you)
Fuck you very, very much
‘Cause we hate what you do
And we hate your whole crew
So, please don’t stay in touch

– Fuck You Singer: Lily Allen Writers: Lily Allen & Greg Kurstin

I see man rollin’ drunks
Bodies the streets
Some man was sleepin’ in puke …  rollin’ on 5th street  …

I don’t care about you
Oh noooooo!!
I don’t care about you
Fuck you!
I don’t care about you
Hey! Hey
I don’t care about you

– I Don’t Care About You Singer: Lee Ving; Group: Fear; Writer: Lee Ving

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck
Fuckety fuck, fuck. Fuckety fuck, fuck
Fuckety fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck, Shit

– NSFW Group: Psychostick

June 14, 2018

You Don’t Know Jack

NEAL CASSADY AND JACK KEROUAC, TWO CATHOLIC BOYS TRYING TO FIND GOD

Three times over the years I picked up On the Road – the book that introduced the Beat Generation to America – and three times I got a hundred or so pages into it and tossed it into the corner in disgust.

Jack Kerouac started writing the novel – which is autobiographic in nature – in the late 1940s. He made several false starts, all of which he threw out. Finally, in a marathon creative burst in 1951, Kerouac famously sat down with a long pasted together length of typing paper and wrote the entire book in four weeks. The final manuscript was 140 feet of single-spaced typing.

After numerous revisions, the book was finally published in 1957, and Kerouac was declared the spokesmen for the Beat Generation.

The question for me is why, after giving up three times on the book, did I finally sit down and read it from cover to cover. The answer is, I’m not sure.

Maybe it was because this 1991 edition of On the Road included an excellent 22-page introduction by Ann Charters, author of a Kerouac biography. Charters actually had access to Kerouac and interviewed him about his books and the motivations behind them.

And maybe it was because on my previous attempts to read On the Road, I was too much engrossed with the business of making a living to appreciate the lyrical beauty of the words, or to savor the descriptions of driving across the country before it was crisscrossed with interstate highways. I remember those days as a young man, when driving across America was done on two-lane blacktops, slowing down every 2o or 30 miles, to creep at slow speed through little towns. Each town had its own personality. There would be farmers standing outside of feed and seed barns, or mechanics working on cars in service stations, or drinking men of all persuasions coming and going from the local taverns.

Now you drive across the nation – if you even bother to do so – on interstate highways with off ramps every few miles, each with a cluster of gas stations and fast-food franchises. Shell, Chevron, Exxon, McDonalds, Arby’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King, each with the same efficient personality and plastic food as the ones at the next exit, and the ones at all the exits to come.

Kerouac captured that heartbeat of America of his time in word and raw emotion. There are too many wonderful excerpts to quote, but here are three in which he describes both his point of view and his motivations.

But then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shamble after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn burn burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center pop and everybody goes “Awww.”

Then there is this description of a ride through the West in the back of a flat-bed truck with a bunch of other broke hitch-hiking wanderers.

As in a dream, we zoomed through small crossroads towns smack out of the darkness, and passed long lines of lounging harvest hands and cowboys in the night. They watched us pass with one motion of the head, and we watched them slap their thighs from the continuing dark the other side of town – we were a funny looking crew.

Or this piece in which he describes the primal joy of West Coast jazz in the clubs of San Francisco.

Dean stood in front of him, oblivious to everything else in the world, with his head bowed, his hand socking in together, his whole body jumping on his heels and the sweat, and always sweat was pouring and splashing down his tormented neck to literally lie in a pool at his feet. And the girls, Galatea and Alice were there, and it took us five minutes to realize it. Wow, Frisco nights, the end of the continent then, and the end of the road, and the end of all dull doubt.

But despite such moments, the narrative has a sense of desperation and sadness that speaks to that place we all sometimes get, when the friends and companions have gone and we are left alone to confront who we really are.

Although the novel is biographical, covering several years of Kerouac’s life on the road, the names of the characters were changed for legal reasons.

Jack Kerouac in the book became Sal Paradise; Neal Cassady, an ex-con and thief, was Dean Moriarty; the poet Allen Ginsberg was Carlo Marx; the Harvard-educated writer and drug addict William Burroughs was Old Bull Lee; author and poet John Clellon Holmes was Tom Saybrook; street-hustler poet and hobo Hurbert Huncke was Elmo Hassel, and Neal’s wife Carolyn Cassady was Camille.

That’s what I liked about the book. So what did I not like about it?

The characters were all selfish, pretentious and just a little bit silly. They were more like school boys than grown men. They found women they loved with great passion, but their love was a thousand miles across and an inch deep. As soon as they got an itch to be back on the road with their buddies, they were gone. Traveling across the country, drinking to excess, smoking pot, taking drugs, and sleeping with high school girls.

Perhaps that says more about me than about them. Perhaps I am the one mired in a middle-class, bourgeoisie morality that values commitment and loyalty. But so be it. The characters ended up disappointing each other, and letting their companions down at critical times when they felt the need to disentangle themselves from their commitment to each another.

Not likable characters. Not at the beginning of the book and not at the end. Even the most likable character, the energetic, enthusiastic Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarity in the book) by the end, was so much less than when he began. And maybe that’s the point.

They were the folks who spawned the Beat Generation – which devolved quickly into a caricature of itself. Coffee houses, bongo drums, berets, and bad poetry. It didn’t take long for the media to degrade the Beat Generation described by Kerouac into beatniks – a play on the name of the Sputnik satellite launched into orbit by the Soviet Union.

The beatniks would morph into the hippies and the so-called flower children, even further removed from the essence of who and what Kerouac believed and who he was.

In the end, Kerouac became bitter. The movement he had help spawn became politicized. Kerouac was not politically inspired. He was writing about life, not about utopian political visions. Despite his non-conformist nature, he was deeply religious. He saw On the Road as two friends roaming America seeking God.

As a Catholic, Kerouac hated the idea of Communism and the left-wing politics spouted by the new generation of hippies and political activists. In 1954, he sat in front of the TV, smoking dope and cheering as Sen. Joseph McCarthy exposed so-called Communist stooges and fellow travelers.

Nobody ever said artists had to be consistent in their beliefs.

Jack Kerouac died on Oct. 21, 1969 in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was 47 years old, a victim of hard living, hard drinking, and severe depression.

In his final interview days before his death, he told a reporter from the St. Petersburg Times: “I’m not a beatnik, I’m a Catholic.”

The other friends went in different directions, some in the quest to be who people thought they were, ended up not only losing their own identities, but morphing into smaller, sadder caricatures of themselves.

Neal Cassady went to San Quentin Prison for two years on a drug violation, after being busted in 1958 for sharing a small amount of marijuana with an undercover agent in a San Francisco nightclub. He lost his job with the Southern Pacific Railroad, and was divorced by his wife, Carolyn Cassady upon his release.

In 1964, Cassady became the driver of the famous school bus as part of author Ken Kesey’s band of “Merry Pranksters.” The bus, the Pranksters, and an LSD-fueled cross-country journey was later chronicled in writer Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” But Carolyn Cassady – who never stopped loving Neal despite their divorce, had a darker view of Kesey and the Pranksters. Neal, she felt, had become an oddity, not really included with the other Pranksters and not really trusted by them.

He and many of the former Beat Generation characters had become imitations of what they had been. Of course, this doesn’t happen just to celebrities. It also happens also to regular folks who takes themselves too seriously or allow other people to do so.

Cassady died in 1968 in Mexico. He had attended a wedding on February 3. After it was over, he was walking along a railroad track on a rainy night, clad only in jeans and a T-shirt. He was discovered unconscious along the track the next morning by a Community College professor from El Paso, who carried him to the nearest settlement. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he died a few hours later. He was 41 years old.

Allen Ginsberg, Carl Marx in the book, died in 1997.

Author Willian Seward Burroughs II, Old Bull Lee in the book, died in 1997. Burroughs was the drug-addicted grandson of William Seward Burroughs I, founder of the Burroughs Corporation – a manufacturer of office machines. During a drunken party in Mexico City, Burroughs II killed his common-law wife, Joan Vollmer when he used a pistol to try to shoot a highball glass off her head. He missed, hit her in the head, and she died instantly. He was arrested, but jumped bail and fled to the U.S. The incident, he said, marked his life and his work for ever after.

John Clellon Holmes, Tom Saybrook in the book, continued his career as a writer and poet until his death in 1988.

Hurbert Huncle, Elmo Hassel in the book, died in 1996.

And Carolyn Cassady, Camille in the book – the woman who loved both her husband and Jack Kerouac and who by mutual consent shared her bed with each of them – died in 2013.

George Lee Cunningham

Do you have a dissenting opinion or any opinion at all on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.