The following one-minute mouth-off monologues
are on a range of topics, suitable for either men or women. Some
of them may eventually find their way into a play, but for now
I've shaped them into monologues that challenge the actors to
fill in the missing details from their own imaginations: who,
what, where, when, why, how?
This symbol means this monologue has been recorded. Click on the triangle to listen.
Oh, I do love Christmas. The best part starts with putting up the tree, listening
to seasonal music while we drink egg nogs and munch on popcorn. The ornaments
we put on include ones my sister and I made back in elementary school, but the
oldest are a set of painted gingerbread boys that my mother made for her parents'
tree before she married Dad. Places of honor go to the bedraggled survivors of
the flock of all-too-realistic birds that our family cat thought were her particular
playthings. There's a picture of Tigress with her mouth full of feathers and a
mangled birdie-lump between her paws in our Christmas photo album. We have annual
snapshots of our family around the tree, going all the way back to before the
advent of color film. You can see the changes from year to year, the friends and
family members that have come and gone. One year we all caught the flu: we woke
up, threw up, went back to bed, and celebrated Christmas a few days late, once
we all felt a bit better. There's a "before" and "after" picture of that memorable
occasion. But I don't really need pictures-- the smells and the sounds and the
decorations bring it all back. It's the layers of shared experience that make
Click on the triangle to listen:
My dream? You'd never guess, to look at me. But when I was a little kid? I
spent summers on a farm. My Dad's grandparents'. Till I was six. When I was seven
my parents divorced, and the summers stopped. My Great-Grands passed away not
very long after. I don't remember much about it, really. Except that I was happy.
I fed the chickens and rode a pony. And I remember smells: the country air. Sometimes,
now, a fresh rain on grass in the park? Takes me right back. Anyway, that's my
dream: to own a farm. A small one, where I can grow my own food, and ride a horse.
Maybe grow some fancy stuff for gourmet restaurants? Asparagus and herbs and free
range chickens. A couple of big old brown-eyed milk cows. I want an old fashioned
wood barn-- I love that smell: a wood barn filled with hay and animals. I want
plenty of trees, a brook with a pond, some mountains in the distance. I dream
about it day and night. I calm myself looking at seed catalogs. Or I sketch out
designs for my farm house. I search through the real estate photos, looking for
just the right place: far, far away from the city noise, and from the stink. Be
best if my nearest neighbor is out of sight. Thing is, I've had enough of people.
And I wouldn't be surprised if they've had enough of me.
Brace yourselves, everybody. The Second Great Depression starts in 2007. During
the overheated stock market of the 1990s workers stopped saving. Next, the Fed's
dramatic drop in mortgage rates encouraged people to refinance their homes-- and
to plunge deeply into debt. That's what will trigger the Depression-- all those
consumers who are living a lifestyle on easy credit, the future be damned! As
interest rates increase, many families will be pushed into foreclosure or bankruptcy.
Even those who heed the warnings and practice thrift will add to our country's
woes. Reducing spending will slow the economy and throw millions of workers out
of their jobs-- causing more bankruptcy! Whole areas of the economy will simply
cease to function. The same kind of future-be-damned policies in government have
run up a record national debt and a mammoth foreign trade deficit that will severely
limit our options for dealing with the crisis. This coming Depression will bring
America to its knees. Probably we have within us the will and intelligence
to put our economy back together on a sounder basis - but it will be a poorer
and a much less arrogant country that emerges after The Fall.
I was a student intern at a free clinic last year. We started the morning
with a "check in" circle. You know: Where we're supposed to tell each other how
our week was going and how we're feeling? One volunteer told us how her basement
had flooded the night before and she was feeling very depressed because she had
lost her family photographs. They were gone forever, because there were no negatives
or copies. Another worker spoke up with something like: "There are children in
this city who have lost both parents to drugs or violence. They have no one to
care for them, no food, no warm clothes, no place to sleep at night. And you're
feeling bad about some photographs?" Get the message? "Your feelings don't matter.
My high ideals are what matter; you only count when you're doing what I think
you should!" These are the same kind of idealists who tell you you shouldn't love
your cat and buy food for him while there are people starving in Darfur. I just
don't understand how doing without comfort really helps the planet. I'd like to
have a job doing something to make the world better, like helping the unfortunate
or saving the environment. But I see too many caring people stuck in dead ends.
They work long hours under terrible stress, for such low salaries that they can't
pay the rent on a one room apartment, let alone support a family. I'm afraid I'll
end up like my aunt: on Thanksgiving she got a little tipsy and started crying.
"I'm nearly 60", she said, "and I'm a bitter, penniless wreck. Why didn't somebody
tell me to take care of myself?"
We moved across town recently, and at his new school my son Arnie became the
target of a bully. His teachers paid no attention. When Arnie reached the breaking
point and lashed out at that boy, the school suspended him-- and they called Arnie
a "terrorist threat"! A thirteen year old! While my son was out on suspension,
one of his friends phoned and said that the teachers were saying that Arnie had
threatened to bomb the school and shoot people! When I charged off to the school
and confronted them, they swore they hadn't said such things-- at least not in
front of students. I knew they were lying. I said my son had never been in trouble.
Arnie's young for his age; a mild mannered friendly kid who goes to Boy Scouts
and Sunday School. Probably that's the reason he was bullied. Why hadn't those
teachers stepped in and put a stop to it? They got defensive, claiming they didn't
know, my son had never told them. I said, "Don't you have eyes and ears? Don't
you have hearts? How can you not know when a kid's being bullied: it's obvious!"
At last they apologized, and asked me to tell Arnie to trust them. "Come
to them if he had a problem." Come to them? Those bare-faced liars turned
right around and stabbed us in the back! I hadn't been home half an hour when
the police were knocking on my door. Somebody had planted a fake bomb, and the
school accused my son! Arnie! Who was home the entire time! When the cops came,
my son was sitting on the living room floor, playing with his Legos. That's how
childish he is. Arnie started weeping and saying he couldn't go back to that place,
ever. Who's to blame him? The police spent more time calming us than questioning
us. I'm going to file suit against that school. And I'll move heaven and earth
to get Arnie back into his old one.
Click on the triangle to listen:
Some idiot politician goes on television and says "Pay no attention to Al Gore.
Global Warming is not science. Leftists want to ruin our economy and take away
our God-given freedoms. But God is still up there." Totally crazy, right? Wrong!
What this jerk is saying is correct: but who would suspect that when it's being
said by an obvious whacko? That's what these right-wing ranters and Fox News people
are all about - they're the bad guys that we're being conditioned to disbelieve.
Global Warming isn't a hoax. The Cause and Cure according to Gore--That's the
hoax. Our planet goes through 36-year cycles of warming. Mini ice ages and sizzling
drought. The cause is solar magnetic radiation. Greenhouse gas --CO2-- doesn't
rise! It's heavier than the rest of the air. Fossil fuels are depleting the ozone
layer? That's pure BS: on purpose to scare you. For whose benefit? The energy
industry! They'll rake in billions from "alternative fuel" and massive "clean-up"
contracts-- after they're finished playing the "bad guy" and bribing morons to
be their "spokesmen". It's all a scam. Stop buying it. Left vs. Right politics
is pure theatre. There's only one ruling party, the Money Party!-- with two wholly
Global warming's going to submerge the planet? I don't think so. Not that I don't
believe in Global Warming. I do. Ocean levels are rising, you can see it. But
submergence doesn't happen overnight. A natural cycle, of deserts and melting
pole caps, is followed by another cyclic Age of Ice. Maybe we are destroying the
planet: we'll get what we deserve. But either way, catastrophe thins our herd.
In a big, world wide disaster movie. Now's the time to take action! Everybody!
Drop what you're doing and cooperate on a plan. A happy ending. What do you suppose
are the odds? Considering that homo sapiens is lazy and ignorant. Could the energetic
and brilliant come to the rescue? We'd all have to cooperate. By the billions.
Ain't that a bitch? Let's face it, we've run up our numbers to the point where
we don't have a lot of wiggle room. As the waters keep rising, a few hardy souls
gather up survival gear and head for the Antarctic. Will any actually survive?
Not if they hunt to extinction. Not if the bastards left to drown set off the
Have you seen the collection of costumes they're selling for little girls this
year? It is shocking. I mean, it shocked me. And if it doesn't shock everybody,
I'd like to know why not. I'm not talking about all the teens or tweens who want
to dress up like Brittany Spears or some diva from American Idol -- that's what
we've come to expect. Mass marketing sells the American Dream. I'm talking about
something new; something I find appalling: young girls' costumes that are really
small scale versions of on line fantasy porn. Something is seriously wrong, here.
These are kindergarten to fifth grade size outfits-- and they're the kind that
before the Internet used to appear only in magazines that came in plain brown
wrappers or were kept hidden behind the counter! "Red Cross Cutie"-- a lust crazed
nurse; "Major Flirt"-- a female soldier with echos of the photos from Abu Ghraib;
"Miss Behaved"-- a plunging necklined prison inmate out of a bondage scenario.
And "Naughty School Girl"---! That one may be the ultimate. "Naughty" for a girl
this age should mean chewing gum in class or calling another kid a "poop head"
-- not posing as Lolita. What's going on here? Are parents really buying costumes
designed to titillate pedophiles? I know sex sells: but if there's a mass market
for sex of this sort we're in Big Trouble, friends. It isn't just a pathetic congressman
who has a problem.
Halloween is wasted on kids today. It's much more fun to get into costume when
you're an adult. You may have the skills to make your own, or you can design it
and a costumer will make it. At least you have money to spend and you can shop
where you want instead of where Mom takes you. But the big plus is that you know
how to get into character. You act up. You act out! Find out what frightens you,
and dance your nightmares away! I've never seen a group of trick-or-treaters who
have anywhere near the fun adults have. Halloween for kids is all regimented,
now. Safety first, last and always. Adult supervised, like soccer. One more status
game. My grandmother says in her day it was a once-a-year bust-out. Kids could
dress scary and get away with pranks that at any other time would get them arrested.
They'd tip over outhouses, throw turd-bombs, paint stuff on cars. In school or
church, nerds-- they weren't called nerds then, but what? wallflowers? weenies?
-- out-group kids, anyway--they could come up with clever home made costumes that
got them a little positive attention, for a change. Poor kids who didn't have
money to buy stuff could throw on an old sheet and stay out late trick or treating
in the richer part of town. Score enough candy to last them through Christmas.
Now neighborhoods are, like, class enclaves; kids all wear the same store bought
costumes sold in their income-appropriate local stores, and their families hand
out the exact same treats to their exact status equals. I see them, shadowed by
Mom's minivan, listlessly trooping door to door, mumbling "trick or treat"-- as
if either could happen! What tricks are they able to play? What treats would they
greet with delight? One year I tried giving out popcorn balls. The kids looked
disappointed. How could that be? Warm fresh home made popcorn balls are heaven!
Turns out, kids today don't get to eat anything that isn't wrapped with a manufacturer's
tamperproof seal! They throw home made away! Forget it. I won't be home on Halloween.
I don't dole out packaged crap. I'll be off at a grown-up party, dressed in the
most spectacular and original costume I can conceive of, living my thrilling one
night role as if I expect an Oscar as a reward.
Click on the triangle to listen:
a very basic disagreement between Progressives and those who judge by success
and status, and endorse the status quo. For those status people, individuals who
have succeeded, be it in business or politics or sports or whatever, are by definition
the good. They are the pillars of the community. They are on top because of innate
superiority, hard work, warmth of heart or praiseworthy behavior. Winners can
do no wrong. They should be looked up to and celebrated by lesser humans. When
one of these people ends up in jail, the "flock" is always stunned. It goes against
their most basic understanding of how the world works. On the other hand, Progressives
are always suspicious of people on the top. They suspect that the causes of wealth
are a combination of ruthlessness and good luck. Of course intelligence, hard
work, creativity and good will may be involved, at least at first, but nobody
gets rich just through hard work. It is impossible to amass large amounts of money
without extracting it from other people-- or from the Earth. Some kind of exploitation
is necessary. Progressives are never surprised when a CEO goes to jail. But they
can still be shocked: to hear eulogies like those at Ken Delay's funeral, praising
the exploiter as Godly, generous, upright-- a saint and martyr of Success.
Everything in Creation is made from energy -- and that's sex. When the scientists
recognize that quarks and quirks and such are sexual energies, they will start
to understand things. Will they ever be able to prove it all with math, like they
want to do? Who knows? Sexual energies may not give a hoot about math. But if
you look out into space, and see those dancing fireworks out there? That's an
orgy. That's sex personified. Everything living thing is the result. And the dead
stuff, the debris of moons and comets? That's what's left of cosmic cum and afterbirth.
The fact that there is life is simply a miracle, it's not part of a Plan. The
cosmic Soul isn't a being, it's just more energies: this kind, of thoughts-- that's
why you can't see it. But we are responsible for its well being. When we love,
when we appreciate and preserve, we're good for the world's Soul. When we run
around blowing things up and killing each other, it suffers. Not doing a very
good job of it, are we?
Click on the triangle to listen:
I went into my local bank this week and saw a big sign that from now on they
will charge a $15 fee for cashing checks for someone without a bank account there.
Why? Why is this legal? Personal checks I can see, they may be fake. But a paycheck
from Wal-Mart? A tax refund? The bank knows that check is pretty darn sure
to go through, doesn't it? The policy's a rip off, penalizing the poor for being
poor. Respectable banks are joining rent-to-own shops, check-cashing joints, loan
sharks, numbers runners and the state lotteries-- deliberately targeting the poor.
Why not? Take advantage! They went to bad schools, they're gullible: why not con
poor people out of the little they have? Overdrafts are the biggest scam. The
bank explains it like they are doing you a service by letting the transaction
go through-- but really, they're piling up fees. They allow the big transaction
that dips your balance below zero, then they bounce all the little ones and charge
fees that are bigger than the checks you wrote when you thought you had the money.
Banks and finance companies operate completely backwards. They charge the most
for people who are the least able to afford it. Wealthy people get their fees
written off-- they can be overdrawn by thousands! In our country, rich people
get privileges, and poor people are despised. I don't understand this. Is it Social
Darwinism? Our Calvinist heritage? What is it that invites us to abuse the poor?
It's as if poverty itself is a crime, and proof that the person's not worthy.
Click on the triangle to listen:
I'm afraid homo sapiens has had his day. All over the world, fundamentalist
belief is gaining power. The stupid and ill-educated are easily
scared of things like eclipses and earthquakes and flying machines,
and this complicated world is overwhelming them. They long for
the good old days-- some time around the 12th century. The modern
world does not frighten me, but these folks do. As an environmentalist
I've complained bitterly about how humans have stupidly degraded
their own life-support systems. But now I think the great die-off
that's underway is just part of the grand cycle of evolution.
No religious prophecy of "end times" -- any one can see what's
coming. The question is, will some new species, one that is truly
sapient, emerge? Stripped of the power to do harm, equipped with
a vison of stewardship? Or will life devolve into forms more suited
to an inhospitible environment, forms like the ones that survive
in the deserts, in the mountain peaks and ocean depths? Is intelligence
a failed experient?
Click on the triangle to listen to a man:
Click on the triangle to listen to a woman:
I'd rather not say. Your question makes me uncomfortable. Not that I'm not used to sharing my opinions, just not face to face. I don't think very well on my feet. I can come up with the perfect witty phrase-- only I don't, until about ten minutes after the conversation. On line, though, I can just sit in front of the screen until I know exactly what I want to say, and then hit "send". So I spend a lot of time on line. I enjoy the anonymity. On the net, you're got no baggage. Nobody knows your age, location, race, gender, job, social status, or criminal history. They can't tell if you're fat or skinny. All they know is what you tell them, and it could all be a lie. But in fact, I usually tell the truth. The deepest truth, about my thoughts and feelings-- things I would never dare say to someone in the flesh-- someone I had to face, like I'm facing you. But I've come to think, through being on line, that there's something both morally good and good for the self in approaching others with openness. I'm trying it out in my everyday life, now. I just avoid asking or answering questions that label people. Like what? Like the one you just asked me.
Click on the triangle to listen:
I'm on the bottom of the food chain. I live on what was once a family
farm in upstate New York, and I'm broke and powerless. (The "powerless"
part will soon be literal-- the electric company's about to shut
me off.) The government says unemployment is four percent-- That's
excellent, that's "full". Except that you're only counted if you're
collecting checks! What's with that? Half the people I know are
working jobs that don't qualify-- so when we're out of work, we're
not "unemployed"! We're just out of luck! I figure, the oil men
who run this country only notice how well their friends are doing.
People like me just don't come up in conversation when they're
out on the golf course. I admit I'm just guessing: The only oil
man I've actually met is my delivery guy-- who looks so apologetic
about the price that I give him a cup of coffee and tell him it's
not his fault. Do our leaders have any idea of what it's like
to live though February with the thermostat at 55 degrees? Heating
oil has more than tripled-- from 90 cents to 2.62 a gallon. It's
not just North Koreans who are going to have to choose this winter
between food and warmth. It's Northern New York.
My family's poor. My mom was one of 9 kids, who lived in tents and trailers
because her dad was a handyman. He moved to where ever there was a job for a man
with limited skills and no education. Mom married someone smart, so my brother
and I are intelligent, but my Dad divorced her when we were little. To go to college
I had to work and take out loans. I have my degree now, but only a part time temp
job. I can't even get a clinic to take me on as a volunteer! I've had to learn
about things like networking and being professional and how to "fit in"
in white collar circles, to communicate with those folks. Class isn't on the college
curiculum, but it sure rules on the job. Agencies are run by people from "good
backgrounds". They hire people who are like themselves, who are recommended by
their friends. There are no directors of clinics, or their daughters, among my
friends. In social services, the "clients" are working or under class, and looked
down on; "counselors" are middle or upper. It's subtle, but it's as pervasive
as the racism. When I came in to the office with bruises on my arms from karate
class?-- One of the Junior League types saw them and was all over me with pity
and advice. No way would she believe I got bruises from karate. I wonder if she'd
have believed me if my clothes weren't from the Salvation Army? I'm bright, knowledgeable,
hardworking, and honest. I'm nobody's victim. But that's not good enough for the
I always accept gifts. After all,
it's pretty much the same as a tip, isn't it? In the past I've
had bouquets of flowers, bottles of wine, whiskey-- which I don't
really like but it's nice to have at home in case somebody comes
over who does-- ! and chocolates. Lots and lots of chocolates.
To be honest, I'm just as happy with an email saying thanks for
a job well done. But either way, it's always nice to have your
work appreciated. My husband has his own business, and he regularly
gets products from customers. Books from a publishing house (very
nice), artwork from a sculptor (which I like, he doesn't) and
sometimes generous gift certificates to expensive restaurants
we would not have been able to go to otherwise. But recently he
did a job for a nonprofit. They were really stingy, paid him less
than promised and made him change what they ordered for free,
even though the mistake was their fault. As a kind of peace offering
they gave him two tickets to their annual black-tie fundraiser?
(face value: $350). Then had the nerve to say, "Here's the
name of a place where you can rent a tuxedo for only $45!" Well,
my husband had his own tuxedo, and I wore my magenta silk bridesmaid
dress-- but it was the the most boring evening I ever spent! Thank
heavens, he'll never work for them again!
Click on the triangle to listen:
I live in Minnesota, and I have to say to those people who don't
believe we have global warming-- Come up here. People who live
up here will tell you that the summers used to be wonderful. Nothing
above 75 degrees, and always a cool breeze. Nights that are perfect
for sleeping. A few summers ago we started getting weather that
was warmer than usual, days with temperatures in the high 80's.
This year? Since the middle of June we've had 80 degree weather
four days out of five, and today it's in the 90's. Next week it
is supposed to go over 100! All the hardware stores are out of
air conditioners. WalMart got three shipments sold out and they
say they aren't getting any more. We've never had an air conditioner--
we never needed one. I don't like air conditioners: nasty noisy
things. But it looks like now we either get one, or move to Manitoba.
I understand the process of Evolution,
and I know that the theory is backed up by facts and is sound.
Yes, I have more enlightened views than seventy percent of Americans.
Why do I, then? Because I was educated by Catholic nuns. Sure--
everybody's heard nuns stereotyped. They're stern, ruler-slapping
tyrants, or sex obsessed old hags. But the nuns who taught me
were progressive! They'd been at the front of the anti-war movement
in the 60s. They had advanced degrees-- from good universities.
They showed their devotion by giving their students the best education
possible-- rich and poor alike. Minority students, even the lone
Jew-- all of us kids were treated with respect. Unlike the public
schools, our nuns didn't teach a one-sided Americans-are-always-right
version of history. We learned about the Robber Barons and the
internment of the Japanese. In science, they didn't pussy-foot
around either: they taught Darwinism. I learned about the Beagle,
the Galapagos finches, and natural selection in the sixth grade
from Sister Ursula. Creation wasn't even mentioned-- science and
the catechism were completely separate areas of study. Does that
surprise you? Open your mind.
You have to be very careful when you
are in Purchasing. Gifts and offers were showered on me whilst
I was working for the provincial Government. In a minor capacity.
I wasn't in charge of the department's purchasing, but I could
add things to the unit's budget list if I wrote up a justification,
and I could sign off on the payment for purchases by others. The
unit had a clear policy and I followed it. Some people wondered
why, of some twenty or thirty gifts handed out, I was the only
one to write an official Thank You letter. It's because I turned
the gift over to the department. All the others were government
people working under the same policy, but I was the only one following
it. One clerk got into big big trouble when his boss got a recall
notice on a defective IPod that had been sent to the department.
The guy had taken it home and "forgotten" to mention it. If I
were you, I'd be a real stickler. Send your official thanks, and
then be sure that somebody gives you a receipt when you turn it
over to the the company. That's the safest way to go about it.
You don't want the other staff speculating about what's happening,
not if they're thinking you're pinching the stuff yourself or
passing it to friends.
Click on the triangle to listen:
the ideal of being a good and useful person has been replaced
by the ideal of being a winner. Money, now: that's how we're supposed
to keep score. Book publishers, newspapers, talking heads on TV,
even "educators"-- seem to think that they are doing the public
a service by advising everyone to model their lives on the idiots
whose lives are about making money. Virtue? Kindness? Friendship?
Talent? Character? Fine, so long as they don't get in the way
of profits or share prices. Nobody even mentions what the idiot's
company actually makes. No talk of the quality of craftsmanship
or the satisfaction of helping people: all that counts is growth,
& success. Growth and success of What? At what cost? To the planet,
to the people who live on it? These CEOs and market manipulators
are guys who have been wrecking the environment, busting unions,
using the slogans of "free trade" to force workers around the
world to compete in a race to the bottom. Face it: a knack for
making money is one part narrow-minded craftiness and nine parts
luck. The capitalist dream is, for most people, a nightmare. Yet
the stories of these narrow money-grubbing lives are told as if
they should be hailed as heroes-- and they are! They are! Not
just by the lickspittles who are hired to admire them, but by
the ambitious young-- whose lives will be sucked dry by them.
What fools we mortals be!
Click on the triangle to listen:
I showed up for my one hour appointment with my boss to do my annual
review. Before the meeting, I did the required self-assessment
of my job performance, which he was supposed to discuss with me.
He's supposed to add comments, sign off on the review, and send
it to Human Resources. First thing, my boss arrives 20 minutes
late. During the "discussion", he's writing emails on his BlackBerry!
What is that about? Not to mention his phone-answering. He takes
three telephone calls, and when I stop talking he looks up at
me like I'm an idiot and waves his hand at me to go on. Like,
I should be talking but why expect him to be listening? Colleagues
come by the cubicle-- twice-- and they must have really "urgent"
matters, cause both times he lets them interrupt. That's the whole
hour. We never do finish the review, and he never signs off on
it. HR calls me and says it's "incomplete" but they never go after
him for it. What am I supposed to think? I figure I must be going
to be fired: why else would he treat me like that? But in fact
I got a raise. A small raise. And a big drop in morale. Not the
way to make me feel that I'm a valued member of the team! I've
got to tell you-- if something halfway good comes up, I'm out
Click on the triangle to listen:
I had this big black cat named Damian, who came and went as he pleased.
One day he went out and didn't come back. Days went by, and I
went up and down the street, calling, "Damian, Damian!" I
put up signs and knocked on doors and stopped cars, waved 'em
right down--"Have you seen a big black cat?" I was crying all
the time-- which shocked me. I didn't realize I loved this cat!
He wasn't cuddly. He walked around with an attitude, like: "oh,
yeah. I own this place. You're my person." But he was absolutely
silent. No meows or howls or little noises to carry on a conversation.
No interest in petting, or rubbing up against your ankles. After
more than a week of frantic looking and calling my neighbor said,
"Maybe it's my imagination, but I think I caught a glimpse of
Damian in my house." We searched all up and down, basement to
attic, calling him. But of course the cat won't answer. Then up
in the attic I'm looking around with the flashlight and I catch
the gleam of a yellow-green eye! We had to pry up the boards and
lure him out with tuna, and when he came he was so covered with
ground-in insulation he looked pure white! Brushings and bathing
and more brushings, he was still a thin gray ghost of himself
for weeks afterwards.
Who would have ever thought that I,
a Jew, could walk around freely here in Berlin? Feeling completely
comfortable? Making German friends? When I walk across what used
to be the no-man's-land on either side of the Berlin Wall on my
way to a Woody Allen movie, I can scarcely see any sign that a
wall used to be there. You can't tell where West Berlin used to
stop and East Berlin started. And as for the kids? You can't tell
East from West or Americans from Germans, or Gentiles from Jews.
Visiting Warsaw I know that terrible things happened there, some
of them touched my own family-- but I can't feel them. In some
sense they are over, the way the Black Death and the Inquisition
are over. Europe has formed an economic union out of countries
that for centuries were at war. Things really have changed. I
know our generation will have to work to make these changes permanent,
and that in a lot of places things are as bad as ever. But I'm
sure anyone who has experienced this change knows that it's good,
and will cherish it.
My father believed in Progress, and thought
that humans were on the road to moral perfection. Before he died,
he decided that the evidence pointed the other way. We are all
hell bent on our own destruction-- so full of pointless spite
that we'll blow up the world rather than let some other tribe
run it. But I don't think it's pointless spite. We behave the
way we do because our biology is shaped by natural selection.
There's the same evolutionary basis to hostility towards other
groups as there is to love in families and cooperation within
the group. Behavior like that was good strategy for thousands
of years. We're not limited to what worked for our ancestors.
We can overcome our tribal tendencies. But the effort must be
made over and over, since our biology does not change. Consider
traffic. Incidents of road rage? That was how Oedipus killed his
father: in a fight over the right of way. Rude driving infuriates
us, but it happens against a background in which most drivers,
most of the time, cooperate beautifully in helping others get
where they are going. That's Progress!
The rest of the family took off this
weekend, leaving me "In Charge". I woke up to the sound of rain,
and pitiful mewings from Alice the cat. Checked on the leak in
the roof. It was dripping: I put a bucket under it. The rug wasn't
wet, so I must have caught it early. Now, Alice is the family
cat, not my cat. I'm more of a dog person. But Alice is pretty
dog-like. Rolls over to be scritched, follows me around. No Siamese
superiorities. Except-- Alice has a so-called a "delicate
stomach". Meaning: give her too much cat meat she'll wolf it down
and barf it up. Not nice. But she was friendly and I was sort
of lonesome so I fed her first. Then I fed the fish. Fed the birds.
Fed myself. Brushed my teeth. Read my email. I'm still in my socks
and pajamas so I go to check the time and see if I'd better dress,
when -- yuk! I step in something wet. Wet and nasty. Can't bear
to look-- I figured Alice had hurled. Not the case, thank God.
But the rug's wet, very wet. Darn Alice dumped the drip bucket!
When I go to find the cat to tell her what I think of her, she's
up on her hind paws with her head in the toilet. All right. I
get the point. I fill up her empty water bowl. But I'm not going
to take the rap for the wet rug! The rug is HER FAULT!
Does your grandma read the obituaries? Mine
does. Don't you think that's creepy? It's not like Gram's planning
to die or anything-- she's not even that old. Well, she is old,
she's sixty-- but in lots of ways she seems younger than my mother.
Probably because she doesn't have as much to worry about as Mom
does. She's past a lot of it. I tell Gram it's creepy to read
obituaries, but she says it's no more creepy than going to church.
It makes her think about what really matters, she says. I say
obituaries aren't just creepy, they're dull. Mostly lists of jobs
and titles and awards and survivors, and who cares? What's the
point? That's the point, she says. All the things that seem important
to people in the rat race seem pretty boring when printed out
in the paper. A janitor gets a paragraph if he's lucky, a CEO
gets a quarter of a page. Most women get nothing at all: 4 out
of 5 obituaries are of men-- it's like women don't die. Maybe
they don't, Grandma says. Maybe because they don't leave much
of a paper trail in the world, they live quietly on in the hearts
of those they leave behind.