Ode to Billy Joe and the faceless manikins

Tallahatchie_bridge-Hwy_7_MississippiIt was the other day, June 3, 2015 to be precise, when Paul Morris, a fellow MFA Goucher graduate, reminded me of Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe.”  Forty-eight years ago, on June 3, 1967, Gentry penned her masterpiece.  How could I allow decades to pass before revisiting the rhythmic, haunting lyrics depicting the day when Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the 220px-OdetobillyjoeTallahatchie Bridge?  Gentry and I had a reunion of sorts.  I began listening to a YouTube performance of her “Ode to Billy Joe;” over and over, perhaps twenty to thirty times.  It was as addictive as my Oxycodone pain-poppin’ pills that kept my back from breaking apart in the hills of southern Illinois, some five-hundred miles north of the Tallahatchie Bridge.  Maybe the passage of time has blessed me with a deeper understanding of Gentry’s lyrical gem.  Or perhaps years of therapy has graced my psychic with insights never experienced before.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_T4qsvFAkFM
***

Ode to Billy Joe
by Bobby Gentry

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton, and my brother was balin’ hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And mama hollered out the back door, “y’all, remember to wipe your feet!”
And then she said, “I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge
Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

And papa said to mama, as he passed around the blackeyed peas
“Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please
There’s five more acres in the lower forty I’ve got to plow”
And mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billy Joe MacAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And brother said he recollected when he, and Tom, and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn’t I talkin’ to him after church last Sunday night?
“I’ll have another piece-a apple pie; you know, it don’t seem right
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge
And now ya tell me Billie Joe’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

And mama said to me, “Child, what’s happened to your appetite?
I’ve been cookin’ all morning, and you haven’t touched a single bite
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today
Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

A year has come and gone since we heard the news ’bout Billy Joe
And brother married Becky Thompson; they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus going ’round; papa caught it, and he died last spring
And now mama doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything
And me – I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge

***

How can a song spur my imagination with so many unanswered questions:  What did that girl and Billy Joe MacAllister throw over the Tallahatchie Bridge?  Perhaps a baby?  Were they lovers?  Maybe Billy Joe had sex with a gay man in 1967.  Could that be why Billy Joe took his life?  And then there was Papa who said, “Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits please.”  Was Billy Joe’s reasoning, or lack of it, that simple.  So many questions, and many more.  Ms. Gentry, tell me why Billy Joe jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, and oh, by the way, pass me the blackeyed peas.

People have asked Bobby Gentry to explain the true meaning of her song.  And to their surprise Gentry said there is no hidden meaning in “Ode to Billy Joe.”  If anything, she once said, it’s about a family of manikins sitting around their dinner table talking about Billy Joe’s suicide.  The narrator obviously knew Billy Joe quite well, so much so that she couldn’t eat a bite.  When Mama told the family about Billy Joe jumping off the Tallashatchie Bridge, they ignored the narrator’s feelings and asked someone to “pass the biscuits please,” followed by Papa telling Mama to “pass the blackeyed peas.”

Foreshadowing is a literary technique of indicating or hinting what might come forth in the next sentence or so; perhaps sooner than later, or maybe not at all. This is how a great storyteller adds mystery and suspense that turns a mundane story into a page burner.  I’ve watched some great movies and questioned the director’s intent.  Oftentimes I was left to fill in the blanks, wanting more.

Of course I love the pulsating rhythms, the poetic prose, and the mystery of Gentry’s song.  But that’s not what moved me so, grabbing my soul and giving it an attention-getting twist.  It’s the faceless manikins sitting around the dinner table that day in Carroll County Mississippi.  Hell yes, those people drive me fucking crazy.  I’m a victim of childhood physical and sexual abuse.  And I’m not alone. Most of my fellow abuse victims share similar feelings: Manikins don’t care if we’re left to wallow in our misery; hey, maybe the rapes were our fault; don’t air our dirty laundry; perhaps they feel uncomfortable talking about such things, and possibly lack the emotional depth.  And worse yet, what if they don’t believe my story?  Now that drives me so fucking crazy that I want to join Billy Joe MacAllister and jump off the Tallashatchie Bridge.

From hairy legs to nose hairs.

The Newest Book from Larry L. Franklin
Mnemosyne: A Love Affair with Memory

I’m sitting in my office listening to Eric Clapton belt out some cool sounds.  Steady rain outside.  Springtime trying to make its way into summer; that’s what is happening in southern Illinois.  I’m drinking some wine, looking at my legs while I sport a pair of summer shorts, and evaluating my body’s transition into old age.  I’m 72 years old and find myself wondering what happen to all of the hair on my legs.  Damn depressing, I might add.  I remember my early years when I first saw tiny strains of hair on my legs and some peach fuzz on my face.  That was pretty cool.  I was becoming a man and would soon enjoy the company of wild girls, a beer belly that would rival the older guys in the Louisville Pool Hall.  Party time, that’s where I was headed.  Well, I did have some exciting years, but not quite what I had expected.

Now back to my leg hair.  No, it didn’t disappear.  The hair has moved to different parts of my body.  I now have an abundance of belly hair, a nose filled with bushy hair that needs daily trimming, and strains of long hairs growing out of my ears and dangling downward from my earlobes.  And my eyebrows.  If I didn’t trim them I would have “handle-bar eyebrows.”  I assume that if I checked out the DNA of my leg hairs, they would match the hair growing out of my nose.  Yes, I’m certain that it’s the same hair.

Now I’m not one to question God, but come on.  What’s the point of my hair moving from one part of my body to another?  I’m okay with my gray hair as long as it doesn’t turn blue.  And the wrinkles come in handy.  Being a writer, I believe that every wrinkle tells a story.  Apparently I have lots of stories to tell.

Despite the moving hair, things are looking up.  I had two back surgeries over the past year; lots of pain and depression.  Now I have minor pain at times but nothing that I can’t handle.  I’ve begun working out at a local fitness center, and with a little imagination, I can see the beginnings of a six pack.  Never had one of those before.  Since some of the hair on my legs has moved to my stomach, I would have a hairy six pack.  Pretty cool.  Maybe….

The wine bottle is empty and I need to take my dog for a walk.

Hey funny man, show me your pain.

broken-heart-sad-wallpapers-pics-for-boys.7Robin Williams, John Beluski, Chris Farley, Freddie Prinze:  all funny men who chose to die.  Robin was my favorite.  His improvisational skills had no boundaries, as he hurled funny lines fast and furious, seemingly from a place where few have ventured.  These comedians, ambassadors of humor, sang lyrics meant to tickle your soul, while suffering an inner dissonance that challenged their ability to get out of bed.  They lacked any resolution to that harmonic pedal point of misery, a can’t-move sadness that creates the illusion that death is more attractive than life. They call it depression.

Depression can be caused by many things — genetic makeup, physical and sexual abuse, conflict, death or loss, physical or emotional pain, reaction to medication, to name a few — causing a chemical imbalance in the brain.  The misfiring of a handful of neurons can bring you to your knees.  When information is transferred from one neuron to another, the gap between the terminals and nearby neurons is filled by chemical substances called neurotransmitters, which fire across the space, sending signals to other neurons.  At times, brain activity might resemble a well-lit midway at a county fair, with hundreds of rides and booths operating simultaneously.

Medication and psycho-therapy are the preferred treatments for depression. Medication controls the level of neurotransmitters that flow from one neuron to another.  This is done by “tricking” the neurons into changing their actions based on the assumption that they have received an increased or decreased level of neurotransmitters.  Certain medications force the release of the neurotransmitter, causing an exaggerated effect, while some medications increase neurotransmitters known to slow down or reduce the production of other neurotransmitters.  Some medications block the the release of neurotransmitters completely.  Medications can be a godsend, but the side effects can be intolerable for certain individuals. Maybe the newfound drug will work, and then, without warning, cause the individual to curl into a fetal position and wait for the pain to pass, or choose to die.  The next drug will bring them peace, it certainly will.  Perhaps….

Psycho-therapy is the art of understanding and creating strategies to deal with the tormented soul.  Reliving the physical and sexual abuse was my journey.  In the process, I became desensitized to the emotional trauma, leaving me with a soft melodic hum that I hear each day, warning me if depression is on its way.  Some people check the weather each day, I check the forecast for depression.  Is it going to be a cloudy or sunny day?

Hey funny man, where does the humor come from?  How can you suffer through such sadness, spout jokes and act crazy all at the same time?  For me and my fellow comedians, it’s quite clear.  Psychologists call it coping mechanisms.  Coping is a method of dealing with the misery.  Maybe you learn techniques from your therapist, perhaps the medication, or some self-imposed means — drugs, alcohol, meditation, compartmentalization of memories, dissociation.  And yes, we can’t forget “humor.”

I remember a certain day when I was barely fifteen.  It was a time when Johnny Carson was the funny man of late-night television.  Sitting in the isolation of my home, the idea entered my mind that I could become the next Johnny Carson.  I seemed to have a talent for saying “witty” things, acting crazy, and making my friends laugh.  Then, I added alcohol and hours of practice on my trumpet.  I had formed my identity.  If I had not become funny Larry, the boozer, the trumpet player, perhaps I would have died.

If my misery ever became too much for  me to handle, I had my ace in the hole.  Death was a way out, an escape hatch of sorts.  During childhood, throughout my teenage years, and well into adulthood, my imaginary conversations with God were direct  “Keep sending the misery,” I challenged.  “I’ll deal with what I can, but if it ever becomes too much I’ll end my life.”  Surprisingly, this gave me the element of control that I needed.  I had a way out, and I was in control.  Hey, funny man, that’s pretty cool.

Decades later, I retired from playing the trumpet, became a moderate drinker, but I’m still considered a funny, crazy man.  I asked my therapist if my humor was annoying, and whether I should refrain from being “funny.”  She asked me to imagine myself without the humor, and whether I liked that person.  I quickly came to the conclusion that the imaged person was boring and without feelings.  She smiled, followed by a few quite seconds.  “Hey funny man,” she said.  “I like who you are.”

I know why some comedians appear to be so funny.  For many, it’s how they cover up their misery.  I’m not surprised that so many have committed suicide.  Perhaps their misery was greater than mine.  Maybe I was just one of the lucky ones.  Or perhaps my therapist saved my life.

http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/robin-williams-why-funny-people-kill-themselves/

Let’s throw a Rent Party

rent-partyimgres 299122_10151526375359917_602903489_n

Creative survival, that’s what I call it, when African Americans struggled during times of low wages and high rents.  It began in Harlem, so the story goes, when small gatherings of neighbors and friends came together in a  community-like effort to pay next month’s bills.  The earlier parties consisted of small gatherings where they passed the hat and listened to a couple of musicians who donated their time.  Rent Parties, as they were called, document the struggles of the African American population while spreading jazz across American.

Rent Parties were not limited to the 1920s.  They sprouted up during the great depression of the 1930s, during the current recession of 2009, and anytime people were in need.  The parties became the perfect prescription for helping others while having a good time.

When politicians call for lowering taxes on the wealthy and cutting governmental programs, organizations like The Women’s Center will feel the pain.  The Women’s Center, established in 1972, continues to provide services to the surrounding counties.  In 2013, we assisted 141 children and 862 adults with 11,715 hours of domestic violence services, 6,713 nights of domestic violence and 5,413 nights of transitional housing, and 16,429 meals to residents in shelter.  Public education, professional training, orders of protection, and hotline calls were provided as well. We have little debt and manage to show a respectable balance sheet.  We manage our money wisely.  But where we struggle is raising enough money to maintain a $1.3 million dollar budget.  We receive our financial support from various federal, state, and private grants, and donations from you.  While Governmental programs decrease we continue to deal with increased services.

This is not just our Women’s Center, this is your Women’s Center as well.  A few of our donors have helped by throwing a Rent Party, with great success I might add.  Our most recent host invited twenty-five people and received donations of $2,500 for the Center.  Any size party helps the cause.  A party of eight people collecting a total of $300 or three people sitting in a coffee shop donating $20 each, share their love as well.  This is about helping the Center which has provided services for forty-three years.

There are no set rules for a Rent Party.  Invite who and how many people you want.  Supply refreshments or ask attendees to bring a dish, a bag of chips, or some drinks.  We, at the Women’s Center, would send one or two people to explain our mission, and partake in the party.  Call us and we can share some ideas that you might find appealing.  Some say that societies will be judged by how they help the most unfortunate amongst us.

The Women’s Center
610 Thompson St.
Carbondale, Il 62901
618-549-4807

I killed someone. Am I insane?

IMG_0088In a matter of days, we will know the fate of Eddie Ray Routh who is on trial for the murder of Chris Kyle, an American war hero, and his friend, Chad Littlefield. The twelve jury members of Erath County located in Central Texas, will decide one of four verdicts:  not guilty, guilty, guilty but mentally ill, not guilty by reason of insanity.  While Routh admits to having killed Kyle and Littlefield, the defense attorney claims that Routh was insane at the time he committed the crime, and should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Less than one percent of defendants in criminal cases plead insanity, and only one-fourth of them are successful. The majority of those acquitted by reason of insanity are schizophrenic or suffer from bipolar disorder. The insanity defense has become the last choice, an act of desperation, giving only a glimmer of hope for the most disturbed, who, while in a confused state of mind, sometimes make an unconscious choice to commit a violent crime.

Insanity can be as mystifying as a trip to the moon. The photos, the words, the creative simulations that bring us close to flying through space or walking on the moon, seem like make believe. Traveling through the world of insanity, where neurotransmitters pop and crackle like fireworks on the fourth of July, is even more baffling. Only one percent of the population, roughly 2.5 million people, make the trip. They are so unique that we call them by a different name – schizophrenic or bipolar.  Was Eddie Ray Routh insane when he killed Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield?

While lawyers argue in legal terms – insanity is a legal, not a medical concept – psychiatrists reason in the scientific language of behavioral and cognitive psychiatry. Psychiatrists often complain about being asked, sometimes months after the act, to determine whether a defendant knew the difference between right and wrong, to determine a moral question rather than an evaluation of the defendant’s mental competency. How could the jury be certain that Routh, or any defendant, was insane when they committed a crime?  The jury, saddled with their personal bias, is left to judgments based on the quality of counsel, the attitude of the trial judge, photos of a brutal crime, and the salesmanship of the expert witnesses. Not guilty by reason of insanity is determined by a not-so-exact science.

The United States followed England’s The McNaughtan rules from 1843 to 1953. “A person may be insane if at the time of committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, arising from a disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.”
***
It was Friday, January 20,1843, when Daniel McNaughtan, a thirty-three-year-old stout Scotsman of average height, walked from Charing Cross to Downing Street. A typical afternoon in London – men, women, a few horse-drawn carriages, and the occasional stray dog moved along Downing, a street lined with two, three, and sometimes four-story brick structures – was about to change. In a sliver of a second, McNaughtan’s actions changed how the United States’ judicial system would view the insanity plea for the next one-hundred-and-ten years.

McNaughtan approached Edmund Drummond from behind, so the story goes, and pushed the muzzle of his pistol into Drummond’s back and fired. Drummond fell to the ground. While McNaughtan returned the recently-fired pistol to his breast pocket and pulled out a loaded one, a nearby policeman lunged at NcNaughtan and wrestled him to the ground, causing the second pistol to fire erratically into the air. McNaughtan was shackled and taken to jail. Drummond was treated by a physician who removed the steel ball that had lodged under the lowest left rib next to the skin’s surface. The next morning Drummond experienced breathing difficulties, and upon further examination, it was determined that the rib had been shattered, and the wound had become inflamed. In an effort to treat the inflammation, the physicians extracted a quantity of blood from Drummond’s temporal artery, and a large number of leeches were applied to his back. On Monday, two days later, his condition worsened and he was bled again. On Wednesday, Drummond died.

Friday, the day of the shooting, when McNaughtan was taken to the police station, he was asked about the identity of the person he had shot. “It is Sir Robert Peel is it not?” he replied. In his haste to right his perception of social injustice, McNaughtan had mistakenly shot Edmund Drummond, private secretary to Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, his intended target. McNaughtan’s statement reflected the depth of his paranoia.

     “The Tories in my native city have compelled me to do this. They follow, persecute me wherever I go, and have entirely destroyed my peace of mind. They followed me to France, into Scotland, and all over England. In fact, they follow me wherever I go. I cannot sleep nor get no rest from them in consequence of the course they pursue towards me. I believe they have driven me into a consumption. I am sure I shall never be the man I was. I used to have good health and strength but I have not now. They have accused me of crimes of which I am not guilty, they do everything in their power to harass and persecute me; in fact, they wish to murder me. It can be proved by evidence. That’s all I have to say.”

On Friday, March 3, 1843, Daniel McNaughtan stood trial for the murder of Edmund Drummond. Sir William Follett, solicitor general, represented the prosecution, while Alexander Cockburn led the defense team. Chief Justice Tindal, assisted by Justice Williams and Justice Coleridge, presided at the trial.  Through a series of witnesses, Follett established a narrative that McNaughtan had killed Drummond. And the fact that Sir Robert Peel was the intended target did not lessen the crime. The murder was the result of an “ill-regulated mind,” so he said, “worked upon by morbid political feelings.” Anticipating an insanity plea, Follett told the jury that they needed to consider the defendant’s state of mind at the time he committed the crime. “If you believe that when McNaughtan fired the pistol, he was incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong…, that he did not know he was violating the law both of God and man: then undoubtedly, he is entitled to your acquittal.” Follett went on to explain that if the defendant committed the act under partial insanity, that his disease was confined to politics, then according to the “principles of the English law” the jury must bring a verdict of guilty.

Cockburn, attorney for the defense, asked the jury to show proper respect for the medical experts, and to consider the fact that past judicial treatment of the mentally ill was formed without the benefit of modern medical knowledge. “Madness is a disease of the body operating upon the mind…and a precise and accurate knowledge of this disease can only be acquired by those who have spent a lifetime in its study.” Cockburn went on to explain how the mind is divided into two separate parts: one houses the intellect – the perceptions, judgment, and reasoning; the other holds the moral faculties – the sentiments, affections, propensities, and passions. While one section might be subject to disease, the other could be healthy. One diseased section might make a man “the victim of the most fearful delusions.” The fact that the defendant was able to formulate and carry out his plan did not mean that he was sane. It was his moral side, not his intellect, that was without reason.

Cockrun called both lay and professional witnesses. The lay witnesses contended that McNaughtan suffered from delusions of persecution almost two years prior to the assassination of Drummond. The professional witnesses, led by Dr. Edward Thomas Monro, examined McNaughtan four weeks after his arrest. Monro maintained that the defendant’s moral faculties were impaired by his “extraordinary delusion.” Monro testified that for McNaughtan, everything was done by signs: that encountering a man on the street carrying an armful of straw meant that he was destined to “lie upon straw in an asylum.” The defendant received a “scowling look” from the victim as he passed on the street, another sign that aroused feelings of past persecution. Shooting Drummond gave McNaughtan much needed relief.

After several additional medical witnesses supported Monro’s diagnosis, Justice Tindal asked Follet if he had any expert witnesses to contradict the defense. When Follet answered no, Tindal said; “We feel the evidence, especially that of the last two medical gentlemen…who are strangers to both sides and only observers of the case, to be very strong, and sufficient to induce my learned brother and myself to stop the case.”

Justice Tindal told the jury that all of the medical evidence seemed to support one side, and that he questioned whether it was necessary to go through the other evidence. “If you think the prisoner capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, then he was a responsible agent and liable to all the penalties the law imposes…If not so,…then you will probably not take upon yourselves to find the prisoner guilty. If you think you ought to hear the evidence more fully…I will state it to you, and leave the case in your hands.”

The jury foreman answered, “We require no more, my Lord.”

“If you find the prisoner not guilty, on the ground of insanity…proper care will be taken of him,” Justice Tindal said.

The jury did not retire to its chambers. They huddled in a group, so the story goes, and exchanged brief whispers that McNaughtan did not know what he was doing. After retiring to their chairs, the foreman stood and addressed Justice Tindal. “We find the prisoner not guilty, on grounds of insanity.”

McNaughtan was taken to the criminal lunatic department of Bethlehem Hospital to “await the Crown’s pleasure:” the equivalent of a one-day-to-life sentence. An 8 x 10 foot stone cell, containing a trundle bed, straw mattress, chair, and small table, became his home for the next twenty-one years. Except for one incident when McNaughtan refused to eat and had to be force-fed, he was considered a model inmate-patient at Bethlehem. But his photograph taken in 1856 showed a hardened man with a chiseled face and eyes like petrified wood. In 1864, this troubled man was transferred to the new State Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Crowthorne in Berkshire, where he would reside until his death on May 3, 1865.

Immediately following the trial, the public was outraged, and feared an imaginary group of madmen might kill with impunity. They believed that McNaughtan had gotten away with murder. The Times argued that even if McNaughtan was persecuted the way he imagined, he still should have been held accountable. They further believed that “the judge in his treatment of the madman yielded to the decision of the physician, and the physician in his treatment became the judge.” The Illustrated London News added that those who passively indulge themselves in the doctrines of socialism and infidelity and thereby willingly undergo a process of mental intoxication cannot claim to be entirely without legal or moral responsibility. The Examiner questioned how the medical experts could be certain about the state of McNaughtan’s mind, while The Weekly Chronicle took the position that the defendant was insane, and that it would do little good to punish him.

Queen Victoria felt that justice had been denied. She directed Sir Robert Peel to push the legislature into requiring the judges to follow the law as laid down by the lord chancellor. In response to her concerns, the House of Lords took up the question of criminal responsibility, particularly in the area of insanity. Chancellor Lord Lyndhurst declared that no change in the laws concerning insanity was necessary. He believed that the “only course…the Lords can pursue is to lay down some general and comprehensive rule, and to leave those who administer the laws…to apply that rule.” The chancellor then suggested that the judges of the Supreme Court of Judicature be gathered to hear opinions on the law on insanity, with particular attention to the McNaughtan trial. What evolved from those hearings became known as the McNaughtan Rules, which examined three general areas of the insanity law: criminal responsibility of persons laboring under partial delusions; direction to the jury in such cases; and evidence, i.e., medical witnesses present at the trial. Stated briefly: To establish a defense on the grounds of insanity, it must be clearly proven that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know that what he was doing was wrong.

In England, the McNaughtan Rules were the test of criminal responsibility until the Homicide Act of 1957, which introduced the Scottish concept of “diminished responsibility.” The Act allowed the jury in first-degree murder cases to find a defendant guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter, provided the defense could prove by a “balance of probabilities, that the defendant was suffering from such abnormality of mind…as substantially impaired his mental responsibility.” For the defense, the choice was clear: A not-guilty due to insanity sentence resulted in an indeterminate, possibly life stay in a mental hospital, while the lesser crime of manslaughter followed a court imposed penalty, most often of shorter duration. After the Homicide Act of 1957, and the repeal of the death penalty in 1965, the McNaughtan Rules were seldom applied in England. In the United States, however, the McNaughtan Rules were followed for over a century.
***
The Durham rule (1954) “An accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act was the product of mental disease or defect.”
United States v. Durham 214 F.2d 862.

The first significant change came in 1954, when Monte Durham, a 23 year old man who had been in and out of prison and mental institutions for the past four years, was convicted for housebreaking. Although the defense failed to convince the judge that Durham did not know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the act, Durham’s case was appealed on a technicality, and reached the Appellate court. Citing leading psychiatrists and jurists of the day, the appellate judge – determined to right the McNaughtan rules – stated that McNaughton was based on “an entirely obsolete and misleading conception of the nature of insanity.”

Justice Leventhall, Circuit Judge for the United States Court of Appeals, expressed concerns that McNaughtan’s language on the right/wrong provision for insanity was out-dated, no longer reflecting the community’s judgment as to who ought to be held criminally liable. The Durham rule more accurately reflected the “sensibilities of the community as revised and expanded in the light of continued study of abnormal human behavior.” But critics complained that Durham lacked specificity, allowing alcoholics, compulsive gamblers, drug addicts, and the like, to successfully use the defense to avoid a variety of crimes.
***
The Brawner rule (1972) A defendant is not responsible for criminal conduct where he, as a result of mental disease or defect, did not possess “substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.”

United States v. Brawner 471 F.2d 969

It was 1972, so the story goes. After a morning and afternoon of heavy drinking, Archie W. Brawner Jr., went to a party, where he was injured in a fight that broke out in the evening hours. Brawner, beaten and alone, left the party and told some friends that several men jumped him, and that someone was going to pay. Minutes later, he returned to the party, entered the apartment building, moved down the hallway, and shot several times into a metal door. One of the bullets pierced the door and hit Billy Ford, who fell to the floor and died.

At the trial, a friend testified that Brawner “looked like he was out of his mind.” Expert witnesses, called by both the defense and prosecution, agreed that Brawner suffered from a disease of “psychiatric” or” neurological” nature. But the experts could not agree on what part the mental disease or defect played in the murder of Billy Ford.

Brawner’s case was later heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which argued that the Durham rule was too restrictive, and should give more power to the juries. What became known as the Brawner rule was based in large part on the American Law Institute’s (ALI) Model Penal Code, which said that a defendant is not responsible for criminal conduct where he, as a result of mental disease or defect, did not possess “substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.” Although subtle in appearance, the changes were significant. The substitution of the word “appreciate” for the word “know,” as used in McNaughtan, showed that a sane offender must be emotionally as well as intellectually aware of the significance of his conduct. The use of the word “substantial” was meant to respond to recent case law developments that required showing total impairment for exculpation from criminal responsibility. Brawner broadened the definition of mental impairment used in McNaughtan, including both the cognitive and emotional aspects of mental illness.
***
The Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 (U.S.) A person accused of a crime can be judged not guilty by reason of insanity if “the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts.”

March 31, 1981. Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, finished a speech pushing his economic program and deploring the rising violent crime in the inner cities. Surrounded by secret service agents, metropolitan police, and white house staff, Reagan left the Washington Hilton Hotel and hurried through a light rain toward a limousine parked some twelve feet away. It was 2:25 p.m., so the story goes, when Reagan, looking very presidential with his Reaganistic smile, and a slightly cocked head that was a staple in his movies, waved to a hundred or so well-wishers standing behind a roped-off area. Reporters readied for a story; cameramen wanted that special photo; and a patchwork of people waited for a glimpse of their President. It was a scene that would be replayed countless times on the daily news, and discussed on every talk show across the nation.

It was sudden, like a flock of black birds in startled flight. Gunshots pierced the air, six of them. Bang, bang, and then a pause, followed by four successive shots fired from within the crowd. It appeared as though the President had not been hit. Secret service agents had pushed him into the car. But an eye witness, as reported by Lou Cannon of the Washington Post, said it all; “The President winced. The smile just sort of washed off his face.” Three men fell to the ground – Timothy J McCarthy, a secret service agent, Thomas Delahanty, a metropolitan policeman, and James Brady, the likeable press secretary who friends called “the bear.” While McCarthy and Delahanty each had flesh wounds, Brady took a bullet to his head. Rain washed puddles of blood down the sidewalk and onto the road. Agents pounced upon a white, blond haired man, later identified as John Hinckley, a twenty-nine year old dressed in a raincoat, blue shirt, and dark trousers, who gripped an automatic handgun while they wrestled him to the ground. Hinckley was then subdued and whisked off to jail. The President’s limousine and police cars raced to the George Washington University hospital.

President Reagan’s wound was serious: a .22 slug penetrated his chest, ricocheted off a rib, and entered his lung, resting about one inch from his heart. An eighty-minute surgery followed by   twelve days in the hospital led to a full recovery. McCarthy and Delahanty recuperated as well. But Brady was not as fortunate. The bullet seemed to explode in his head, causing permanent brain damage.

Numerous eye witnesses and a video recording left no doubt that John Hinckley was the shooter. Initial public speculation centered on whether Hinckley would spend the rest of his life in prison, or if he would be put to death. But as days passed, Hinckley’s future became less certain. His mental state began to unfold. In 1976, five years before the shooting, Hinckley became obsessed with the movie Taxi Driver, where a psychotic taxi driver, Travis Bickle (played by Robert DeNiro), contemplates political assassination and then rescues a young prostitute, Iris (played by Jodi Foster), from a pimp. Hinckely took on the mannerisms – the army fatigue jacket, the fascination with guns, and even the taste for peach brandy – of the Bickle character. Hinckley’s infatuation with Iris developed into a full-fledged imaginary love for Jodi Foster, so much that he sent her love letters and stalked her on the Yale university campus. It was later revealed that Hinckley had even stalked President Carter and planned to assassinate him to impress Jodi Foster. But each time, he was unable to follow through on his original intent. A love letter sent to Foster just hours before he carried out his assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan showed the depth of Hinckley’s mental illness.

Dear Jodi,
     There is a definite possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan. It is for this very reason that I am writing you this letter now.
     As you well know by now I love you very much. Over the past seven months I’ve left you dozens of poems, letters and love messages in the faint hope that you could develop an interest in me. Although we talked on the phone a couple of times I never had the nerve to simply approach you and introduce myself. Besides my shyness, I honestly did not wish to bother you with my constant presence. I know the many messages left at your door and in your mailbox were a nuisance, but I felt that it was the most painless way for me to express my love for you.
     I feel very good about the fact that you a least know my name and know how I feel about you. And by hanging around your dormitory, I’ve come to realize that I’m the topic of more than a little conversation, however full of ridicule it may be. At least you know that I’ll always love you.
    Jodi, I would abandon this idea of getting Reagan in a second if I could only win your heart and live out the rest of my life with you, whether it be in total obscurity or whatever.
     I will admit to you that the reason I’m going ahead with this attempt now is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you. I’ve got to do something now to make you understand, in no uncertain terms, that I am doing all of this for your sake! By sacrificing my freedom and possibly my life, I hope to change your mind about me. This letter is being written only an hour before I leave for the Hilton Hotel. Jodi, I’m asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance, with this historical deed, to gain your respect and love.                    I love you forever,

John Hinckley

The insanity law at the time of the shooting provided that an accused was not criminally responsible for his act if, at the time of the commission of the crime, the defendant, as a result of mental disease or defect, “lacks substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.” Vincent J. Fuller, the lead attorney for the defense, said that their challenge was to show that Hinckley did not “appreciate” the “wrongfulness” of his conduct. The psychiatrists for the prosecution concluded that Hinckley was legally sane – that he appreciated the wrongfulness of his act – at the time of the shooting, while the psychiatrists for the defense testified that Hinckley was psychotic – and legally insane – at the time of the shooting. The lead psychiatrist for the defense said that Hinckley had “an incapacity to have an ordinary emotional arousal, autistic retreat from reality, depression including suicidal features, and an inability to work or establish social bonds.” Hinckley was schizophrenic.

John Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The public outcry was fast and furious. Less than one month after the trial, congress flexed it’s muscle and held hearings on the insanity plea. The emotional shock and anger in the attempted assassination of a popular sitting president, and the not guilty verdict, caused congressional leaders to create laws based more on polls than on common sense. What happened over the next three years were limitations of the insanity plea, requiring the use of the word “severe” mental disease, and replacing “unable to appreciate” with “lacks substantial capacity”; a shifting of the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense; stricter procedures governing the hospitalization and release of defendants; and limiting psychiatric testimony by enacting a statute stating that “No expert witness testifying with respect to the mental state or condition of a defendant in a criminal case may state an opinion or inference as to whether the defendant did or did not have the mental state or condition constituting an element of the crime charged or a defense thereto. Such ultimate issues are for the trier of fact alone.”   Three states – Utah, Montana, and Idaho – abolished the insanity defense.

In 1984, Congress passed, and President Ronald Reagan signed, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. The federal insanity defense now required the defendant to prove, by “clear and convincing evidence,” that “at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts.” The insanity defense seems to have made a full circle back to the McNaughtan rules of 1843: the “knowing right from wrong” standard.

Another byproduct of the debate was the “guilty but mentally ill” (GBMI) verdict, which was adopted by twelve states. (By 2000, twenty states used GBMI). While the defendant is considered guilty of the crime, he is judged to be mentally ill, and therefore entitled to mental health treatment while institutionalized. If the defendant recovers, he will spend the remainder of his sentence in prison. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), opposes the GBMI statue because the statue punishes rather than treats the person with a serious mental illness who committed a crime as a consequence of their illness.

It can be argued that the GBMI is a compromise, possibly a copout, no longer requiring the jury to make the difficult choice between guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity. If the jury wants to hold the defendant accountable, but wants to show compassion for someone who is mentally ill, GBMI provides the illusion of justice.  Ralph Slovenko, Professor of Law and Psychiatry at the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, said that “guilty but mentally ill is a sham. It is nothing more nor less than another guilty verdict.” According to Slovenko, the jury has the misconception that the defendant will receive special treatment for his illness. Instead, the guilty, and the guilty but mentally ill, are sent to the same prison.  The defendant remains in the mental health wing until they are well enough to survive in the general population.  Meaningful treatment is not the reality.

I killed someone.  Am I insane?

Evil is predictable

New-ISIS-video-shows-whats-claimed-to-be-two-Russian-spies-being-executed-by-a-young-boy

images                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   ISIS video shows captured Jordanian pilot burned alive.
Japanese hostage beheaded by ISIS.
ISIS Militants decapitate American Journalist.
ISIS video shows a young boy executing two men identified as Russian spies.

The boy, barely ten-years-old, holds a Glock 9mm handgun freshly racked with one bullet in the chamber and sixteen more in the magazine; certainly enough to kill the two Russian captives kneeled in front of him.  Any gun owner will tell you that the boy knows the proper technique for shooting a handgun.  Standing by the boy is a man, perhaps his father or an ISIS militant.   The two of them, the child and the man dressed in camouflage green, stand without emotion, as if they have been programmed to kill.  A picture of before and after is what I see.  The child, a home-made version of the adult, wasn’t born that way.  Creating hate is a centuries long practice without an end in sight.  If taught to hate, a new-born baby becomes a killing machine.

Begin with a two gallon pot partially filled with crystal-clear water.  That’s how you make a monster.  Cover and bring to a rapid boil.  Lower the temperature to medium, remove the lid and add all sorts of unsavory things — black eyes, broken bones, and deep-cut gashes; chunks of depravity, feces, and regurgitated vomit; unwanted sex with stone-faced monsters, ignorance, and hate-filed stories told when day becomes night.  Now add knives, guns, bombs, and all kinds of explosive devices.  Reduce the temperature to low and let simmer throughout the childhood years and well into puberty.  Ingest a tablespoon of the liquid each day and swallow hard.  So much evil.  So bad that one can barely swallow, let alone speak.  In time, the liquid becomes a dark, thick substance covering the bottom like a freshly-laid blacktop on a country road.  Purity into evil, a new-born baby into a hate-filled monster, that’s what you’ve done.  No heaven filled with beautiful virgins for you.

Behavior is controlled by an individual’s concept of reality, and when viewed collectively, define who we are as a nation. Reality is built on our genetic makeup and life’s experiences — nature and nurture. Developmental biology tells us that we are a combination of the two. Nature tattoos us with a genetic makeup – DNA – while nurture is a product of what we see, hear, smell, and touch, and the countless life experiences that mold our core. From the beginning, we are organisms with a genetic blueprint that continually interacts with our environment causing change to occur as we move from conception, to childhood, to adulthood, and finally to death.

“Even the most unrepentant assailants, the most cold-blooded murderers, the most sadistic of serial killers, were once infants.  There was a time when they could barely hold a rattle, much less a gun; when they smiled for Christmas portraits and giggled at peek-a-boo; when they were afraid of fireworks, needed help to feed themselves, and wore shoes no bigger than ring boxes. What happened?  What inner or outer factors — parents, schools, genes, morals, abuse, television, neglect, stress, attention deficits, self-esteem, temperament — has the power to transform innocence into violence?  The answer provided by modern neuroscience is ‘all of the above'”  Biology of Violence by Debra Niehoff

While neuroscience explains how evil evolves, we are less clear on how to contain, reduce, or eliminate it from our society.  The evil/hatred perpetrated by terrorist groups sends chills through the hearts of others.  We, as Americans, have chosen to kill these hosts of hatred.  A war without end, that’s what it is.

Why do some people hate us so?  I thought, or at least I’ve been told that America is God’s favorite country, a shinning example of what other regions should emulate.  Perhaps we should take a second look and climb down from our “high horse” and study our ways.  Remember the Native Americans who occupied the land we now call America; people we moved to reservations while we sucked the land dry.  A historian is better qualified than I to explain some of America’s missteps that are too often forgotten.

Some would argue that the invasion in Iraq was based on lies; an unforgivable mistake that spread hatred throughout the middle east.  A ten-year war, projected to be over in a matter of weeks, and paid for with Iraqi oil.  Liberators, that’s what our leaders said we would be.  Instead, we hear stories of American torture; Abu Ghraib prison where sexual, humiliating photos of prisoners were taken for all the world to see; and Guantanamo Bay Detention Center (GITMO) where many captives were held for years without charges or evidence of wrongdoing.  While I love my country, I sometimes feel shame.

Our actions are often times led by knee-jerk legislators with hair-trigger mouths. Who can shout the loudest and gain the most attention sometimes dictates our actions.  Thoughtful decisions are portrayed as weakness, and overpowered by the constant noise.  Stay strong, watch our backs, nurture friendships, continue to kill.  That’s what we do. But if we want to leave a legacy of good over evil, we must think before we act, and avoid the “Iraqi mistakes” of the future.  Our children deserve to live on a more peaceful planet.

We’ve done many wonderful things that go unnoticed but make me proud.  The Peace Corps and Americorps are note worthy.  Look to our work in West Africa to contain and eliminate Ebolia.  And if diaster strikes another country, we are the first to offer help.  Maybe a historian should list our good qualities as well.  Good trumps evil.  Stay strong, watch our backs, nurture friendships, and kill only when necessary. Make God proud of America.

Be kind, if you dare.

DSC_0098_0036Holiday season, new year, time to reflect on my past and ponder what lies ahead.  I’ve had good years, and some that would make your skin curl. Many years of therapy, that’s what I’ve had.  Some painful, as I struggled with days gone by, but the effort led to the enjoyment of being alive.  Learning to love, to feel, and accept what is hurled my way offers life without limitations.

I’ve had lots of fun alone the way — many fine beers and wine, laughter with momentary friends, and perhaps a ton of party mix.  But most of all, I’ve been blessed with life’s greatest gifts — a lovely wife, two fine daughters, four granddaughters, and several dogs that showed me the way.  Still, I’m struck by the madness outside of my small cocoon that’s reported by the media each day. How could someone decapitate another human being and convince others to follow their ways; murder, physical and sexual abuse, racial injustice, evil without remorse, downright stupidity.  I’m reminded of an interview between author Maya Angelou and television personality and professor Melissa Harris Perry.  Basically, Perry asks Angelou why our world is so fucked up.  “What breaks my heart, Ms Perry, Dr. Perry, what breaks my heart is to think what would our nation be like if we dared to be intelligent, if we dared to allow our intelligence to dictate our movements, our actions?  What would — can you imagine?”  While not granted at birth, intelligence is earned through hard work, self exploration, and the cleansing of our soul from years of uncaring ways.  Detox our soul, that’s what we must do.

At birth — the initial creation of an unflawed human being — we are given a clean slate to begin life’s journey.  Mother’s milk, a favorite rattle held by the strength of tiny hands, and the special blanket that hides a thumb stuck in our mouth — pure as a mountain stream untouched by mankind.  Evolutionary biologist tell us that we are a product of our biological makeup and our environment.  Our genes plus our daily experiences define what we do, say, and think until we die.  Maybe this is our challenge, to replace our troubled ways through intelligence.  We have to learn to care, if we only dare.

I’ve spent years of therapy and self exploration trying to figure it out.  It’s not been easy, and I continually remind myself of lessons learned and not forgotten.  My granddaughters are very precious to me, and I’ve wanted to spare them from the struggles that I’ve incurred why trying to find my way.  I decided to write a book, maybe I should say a short story, where I reveal the lessons that I have learned. These are the secrets of life as I see it.  Maybe you will find this of interest, and more likely, you will not.  I have to admit that my book, “Love, Dry Creek, & a dog named Max,” is not on my granddaughter’s list of favorite books.  Maybe when I’m dead they’ll ask their mother, “Where is Pop’s book that he wrote for me?  Hey, granddaughters, read slowly and take it in.  Life is all about being kind, if you only dare.

http://llfranklin12.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/love-dry_creek_max.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Wanna help someone?

IMG_0088                                                      Planned Giving
to The Women’s Center
                                                                                    It could be in the middle of the night when a woman knocks at our door, shaking as she nervously asks for help. Makeup could not hide the blows to her face. She is without money, a safe place to stay, accompanied by the belief that she had done something wrong. She brings her daughter, as well, who wonders why the Daddy she loves always hits and swears. Perhaps there’s a telephone call to the hotline, where a volunteer hopes to convince a desperate woman that tonight is not the time to die. Or possibly someone calls from the hospital emergency room reporting a rape. Women, men, children, sexual orientation, it makes no difference.

The Women’s Center, established in 1972, continues to provide services to the surrounding counties. In 2013, we assisted 141 children and 862 adults with 11,715 hours of domestic violence services; 6,713 nights of domestic violence and 5,413 nights of transitional housing; and 16,429 meals to residents in shelter. Public education, professional training, orders of protection, and hotline calls are provided as well.

Thanks to you, we have expanded and updated our facilities. We have little debt and manage to show a respectable balance sheet. But where we struggle is raising enough money to maintain a $1.3 million dollar budget. We receive our financial support from various federal, state, and private grants, and donations from you. Government budget cuts continue while we deal with increased services. I wish you could come to ground zero and watch the dedicated work of our staff. You would soon learn that they are underpaid angels, doing God’s work.

Whether you are a first-time donor, or one that continues to offer us a lifeline, we need your help. This can be done as annual contributions, or through planned giving, a means of providing future financial support. For now, we ask you to forget the tax benefits in giving. Just think about the abused woman knocking at our door, the child who still loves her Daddy, the raped woman lying on a hospital bed, or the woman who believes that tonight is the time to die. There are so many of them.

A large number of our donors come from people of limited means, while a smaller number come from sizable estates. Contributions, whether large or small, reward the donor with the emotional satisfaction of helping someone in need. “How do I make a gift to The Women’s Center,” you might ask. Giving can be as simple as tying your shoe, or more complicated, requiring the advice from your tax consultant. Let’s say that you want to donate $25 dollars per month to The Women’s Center.   Mail a check to the Center each month, or setup a monthly deduction from your local bank or credit card. Change or terminate your contribution at your discretion. Maybe you prefer to make a lump sum donation of $5,000 to the Center. Now that was easy, and yes, you are helping the abused woman knocking at the Center’s door, the child who still loves her Daddy, the raped woman lying on a hospital bed, or the woman who believes that tonight is the time to die.

Suppose you want to do more long term giving, commonly called planned giving — any major gift made during lifetime or at death as part of a donor’s overall financial and/or estate plan. Planned gifts are comprised of the following:

1) Gifts of appreciated assets

Appreciated assets are stocks, bonds, mutual fund shares, real estate, personal tangible assets, and almost anything of value. Giving appreciated gifts can financially benefit the donor as well as the Center. Maybe you have stocks that are valued at $10,000 with a cost basis of $2,500. If you sell the stock and then give the proceeds to the Center you will have paid income tax on the profit ($7,500). Transfer ownership directly to the Center and you eliminate any personal income tax while the Center is free to sell the stock without any tax liability. Everyone benefits from such a transaction. Buy low and give high is an exciting option.

2) Gifts that return income or other financial benefit to the donor

A Pooled Income Fund is established in the Center’s name that pays a life income to you, the donor. At the donor’s death, the balance of the investment can be held or liquidated by the Center. A Life-Income gift can be any investment that allows the donor to increase their income, an immediate tax deduction, and the elimination of any capital gains tax due at the transfer of appreciated assets to the Center.

3) Gifts payable upon donor’s death

Assets that are payable as a beneficiary designation, part of a will, or living trust. Such a gift helps ensure The Women’s Center’s future viability and strength, without costing you anything during your life. Think about this, you are helping abuse victims without changing your cash flow or the balance of your net worth. Just when the Center’s cash flow seems bleak, we often receive notice that a donor chose to include the Center in their will. It feels magical, as we continue to provide our services to the community. When you make a bequest, you can modify or terminate the gift at your discretion. Target your gift to a specific need, or allow The Women’s Center to determine how best to utilize your donation. Your attorney can provide you with the appropriate language to include in your will.

Your bequest can be a stated dollar amount, or specific property to The Women’s Center. Some of our friends prefer to give a certain percentage of the remainder of their estate — the amount that remains after paying all debts, costs, and other prior legacies. Whatever your objectives, the Center will be happy to work with you in planning a gift that will be satisfying, economical, and effective in carrying our mission.

 You can name The Women’s Center as a beneficiary of your IRA, 401(k), 403(c), or other qualified plan. Simply designate The Women’s Center to receive all or a portion of your plan after your death. By doing so, you avoid the potential double taxation your retirement savings would face if you had designated the qualified plans to your heirs. You can continue to take regular lifetime withdrawals, while maintaining the flexibility to change beneficiaries if your family’s needs change during your lifetime.

Name The Women’s Center as the complete or partial beneficiary on your life insurance policy. The death benefit payable to the Center would not be subject to income or estate taxes. You have the option of transferring ownership of your life insurance policy. In doing so, you would receive an income tax deduction for the cash value of the policy. Simply contact your life insurance company and request a Change of Beneficiary/Ownership Form and designate The Women’s Center as the new owner and/or beneficiary of your policy.

There are many financial tools used when making a gift to The Women’s Center. Some donors might choose the Deferred Gift Annuity – provides lifetime annuity payments commencing at a future date.

Perhaps the Retained Life Estate might be more to your liking. You transfer the title to your residence, farm, or vacation home to The Women’s Center, and live there for the rest of your life. Continue to live in the property for life or a specified term of years while being responsible for the property taxes and upkeep. The property passes to The Women’s Center when your life estate ends.

With the Charitable Bargain Sale, you sell your residence or other property to The Women’s Center for a price below the appraised market value – a transaction that is part charitable gift and part sale. In return you receive a tax deduction for the amount of the gift, and cash for the payment made by the Center.

With thoughtful planning, The Women’s Center, you, and your loved ones, all benefit from planned giving. The donor states their financial goal for the Center, and through the assistance of the Center, your financial planner or tax consultant, a planned gift is formed.

You make it possible for us to help the abused woman knocking at our door, the child who wonders why the Daddy she loves always hits and swears, the raped woman lying on a hospital bed, or the woman who believes that tonight is the time to die.

Contact Us

We are happy to discuss your charitable plans and goals. We will see that your gift is used as you wish, to help us carry on the work of The Women’s Center.

The Women’s Center, Inc.
610 S. Thompson Street
Carbondale, IL 62901
Phone: (618) 549-4807
wced@thewomensctr.org

 

Truth? You have to work at it. 2nd. Edition

city museum 2006085 Every election cycle is filled with thousands of political ads chocked full of deceit, half-truths, and the kitchen sink.  Most of the time I click the mute button on my remote, waiting for the political garbage to disappear.  But as bad as they are, they work.  I thought it was time to rerun a blog I had written on 3/13/2014.  The original blog was in response to all of the political and religious postings that I saw on Facebook.  With midterm elections at hand, it seems appropriate to take another look at life’s biggest illusion — truth.

***

Lies, lies, there are so many lies.  As a society, we’ve become very good at spinning tales which are presented as the truth.  And the biggest lies of all are broadcast over the airwaves; nonstop, twenty-four hours a day.  It’s so bad that each political slant has it’s own network hell-bent on promoting their own political agenda by, you guessed it, lies.  At first, it was more subtle; photoshop, cut and paste, and the distorted truth became a lie.  Now, the truth is as difficult to find as fireflies on a sunny day.

I’m reminded of the 1881 fairy tale about Pinocchio, the wooden marionette carved by Geppetto, a bachelor who yearned for a real boy of his own.   Eventually, through a lot of hoping, praying, and imagination, the good fairy changed Pinocchio into a real boy.  But wait, the good fairy would not tolerant lies.  She told Pinocchio that if he told a lie his nose would grow.  Well, you guessed it, Pinocchio told a string of lies and surprise — Pinocchio’s nose grew so long that he couldn’t get out of his house.  (Imagine our House of Representatives with noses so long that they would fill the chamber.  And those nose hairs.  Yuck.)  To save Pinocchio, woodpeckers flew into the house and pecked at his nose until it became the normal size.  Moral of the story — don’t lie or your nose will grow.

In the days when I was a boy, parents handed out advice that was designed to keep you from lying or doing “bad” things.  If you make a bad face your face will freeze in that position for the rest of your life.  Make your eyes go cross and they will remain cross.    I heard this one at the church  – If you masturbate  you will go blind.  That one scared the hell out of me.  Well, I didn’t go blind but I am a bit near-sighted and have worn glasses since I was five years old.  Go figure.  My mother’s favorite — Rich people aren’t happy.  You’re lucky that we’re poor.  Another of her favorites — If you stay out past midnight, you can’t be doing anything good. Well, I’ll have to give her that one.  About telling the truth:  if you don’t tell the truth something bad will happen to you, and yes, you will go to hell.

Our reality, the truth as we see it, is based on a combination of our genetic makeup and our life experiences; nuture and nature, that’s what they call it.  If we follow this line of thought, each person will have a unique opinion of the truth.  Some people might say that the Bible holds the truth.  Well, that might be true, but as soon as you read it the words become mixed with your concept of reality.  The truth becomes less clear.

I’m reminded of something that a buddhist monk once said, When you think that you have all of the answers, you’ve lost your way.  Now we don’t have a treasury map for finding the truth.  We do what we have to do — read, listen, think, look within.  Truth brings peace.

Post-surgery trip to Bandy’s Pumpkin Patch

DSC_0004It was one week before Halloween; the smell of fallen leaves in the air, and candy corn was in the cupboard.  Paula and I had promised two of our granddaughters — Elise, age six, and Katherine, age eight — that we would take them to Bandy’s Pumpkin Patch.  But eight weeks post-surgery for a lower-back bone fusion, required some planning on my part.  Although my pain had diminished, it remained steady and continuous like the hum of a fluorescent light.  Okay, I thought, I will take a couple of Excedrin before leaving, and keep two additional Excedrin and one-half of a heavy-duty pain killer in my pocket, just in case someone hits me in the back with a fifty-pound pumpkin. I told Paula about my concerns, but she reminded me that sometimes we just have to suck-it up. And if things go south, Paula can drive. 

We went through our checklist as we loaded the van.  Treats, drinks, DVDs, pillows, sunglasses, camera, an empty pan and some dramamine, in case the girls become car sick.  “I think that’s everything we need for the girls,” Paula said.  “Yes, that’s everything,” I answered.  “And don’t worry about me.  Maybe the metal rods and screws in my back won’t snap.”

The girls joined us for our trip to Bandy’s.  Singing, joke telling, and laughing, that’s what we did.  Forty minutes later we came to “Pumpkin Patch Lane,” turned right and saw a field of pumpkins, tractors and wagons for hay rides, games, refreshments, and a fall-colored wooded area.  I told the girls not to run as I parked the van.  (Return the girls in as good a shape as we found them.  That’s what grandparents do.) DSC_0036There, just across the field, was a wagon being pulled by a Farmall tractor just like the one I used to drive on my Uncles’s farm.  My grandfather had a John Deere tractor which I drove as a teenager.  The four of us climbed into the wagon, covered with loose hay.   As soon as I sat on the wagon floor, I knew that this was not DSC_0027going to work.  With no bales, the loose hay would not smooth out the bumps as we rode across the field.  I took a pass and headed for the van where I could rest my back.  The three of them leaned over the wagon’s edge as they shouted their goodbyes. DSC_0015

Oh how I loved the “corn cannon,” powered by air pressure that shot an ear of corn some thirty feet towards a target hanging from a distant tree.  Although it cost $1.50 for two shots, I still considered it well worth the expenditure. DSC_0021

Hey, Pop, got your ears on?

There were other games as well.  The girls enjoyed the slide and playing in the bin full of corn. DSC_0039 DSC_0029 DSC_0031         DSC_0051 As we left the game area, we headed for the pumpkins.  The girls could have two pumpkins each, but as all grandparents know, they had more.  We placed the pumpkins in a metal wagon with rails and a bottom constructed with an open, diamond-shaped design.  Good for hauling pumpkins, but not for shelled corn. DSC_0050 The girls spotted a black, wooly-worm and placed it on top of the largest pumpkin.  We decided to call him Willy.  Wooly Worms, sometimes spelled Woolly Worm, are more often a burnt orange color in the center with black or brown on the ends.  But some, like Willy, are a solid black color.  In some parts of the country people say that a lighter brown worm indicates a mild winter, while a solid black predicts a harsh one.  The wooly worm may look small but our Willy had 13 segments and three sets of legs.  He had tiny eyes, but they navigated mostly by feeling and touching as he crawled across the ground.  Willy reminded me of Paul Revere racing across the countryside announcing that Winter was near.  Needless to say, Willy meant a lot to the four of us.  Paula offered to pull the wagon while the girls rested from hauling the load of pumpkins.

And then it happened; the unexplainable, the unimaginable.  It was fast but needs to be described in slow motion if you are to appreciate the horror.  Paula jerked the wagon in order to start its forward movement.  Katherine yelled, “Grandma, stop, stop.”  Willy had lost his grip on the stem and began sliding down the side of the pumpkin.  His tiny feet were unable to latch onto the slick pumpkin.  I can’t imagine the surprise and the fear that accompanied Wiily’s descent.  He landed on the bottom of the wagon but the momentum carried his body to the diamond-shaped openings.  Willy grabbed hold of the metal and completed two summersaults before falling to the ground.  A quiet thump and then a squash as the wagon wheel rolled over poor Willy.  The guts leaked out of his body.  He was dead.  Silence.  Grandma told the girls how sorry she was to have killed Willy. The four of us walked to the van, heads held low, and placed the pumpkins in the back.  I returned the wagon, and as I crawled inside the van, Elise said she would not talk to Grandma for the rest of the day.  I explained that it was an accident.  Sometimes bad things happen.  Lets think about the fun we had today. As we drove away, and the horror had diminished, everyone began talking about all of the things that we had done.  Elise talked to Grandma.  We sang, told jokes, and promised to go to Bandy’s Pumpkin Patch again next year.  We ended the day by going to our house for some of Pop’s famous Chili and corn bread, but that’s another story for another day.