Monthly Archives: December 2021
To Joe Burton and all my Other Late Friends
I just received word that Joe Burton, one of the best friends I ever had, passed away this morning. Joe had been suffering for years from Parkinson’s, so this was not entirely unexpected news. He was seventy two, still young in these times when they tell us seventy is the new fifty. I know he’s out of his misery, and finally at peace. But that doesn’t make it any easier for those of us left behind.
Joe and I were really close in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I never had anyone else, before or since, who I could commiserate about sports, women, and life in general, in the same way I did with him. We had Washington Capitals’ season’s tickets together for three years- he was responsible for turning me on to hockey, and for a while it was my favorite sport. He was the first to support my fledgling theory that all sporting events were fixed, and both of us came to use that word- “fixed,” to describe basically anything that happened that we disagreed with.
In the mid to late ’70s, Joe Burton lived in a townhouse and the group of them gave the greatest parties of all time. It was America 1.0 at its finest- you will never see parties like that again. He and I ate more meals together at Rustler and Hardee’s than I can remember. We went to NBA and Major League Baseball games, and always drank too much. Pretty much everybody did then. America 1.0. We would complain to each other about various women rejecting us, and why so many of them were in what I called “Honey and Derelict” relationships. We built up each other’s self-confidence. Alone among all the friends I’ve had, Joe never criticized me. He was great for my self-esteem. How many can say that about their friends?
We talked so much, so often, that I learned a lot of minutiae about Joe which I’ve strangely retained in my memories. How he hated When a Man Loves a Woman by Percy Sledge and everything by Springsteen except Badlands. How he’d been in two fistfights in his life, and how he’d won the one he thought he would lose, and lost the won he thought he’d win. I knew his entire family. His mom was as uniquely humorous and memorable as mine was. I treasured the annual Christmas tree trimming parties at his sister Mary Frances’ condo. When my mom died, he wrote me a nice note, and recalled how great she made him feel by telling him he was too good-looking not to have a steady girlfriend.
Although we kind of drifted apart over the years, as friends do, we always stayed in contact. He joined the fantasy football league I started in the late’90s, and the yearly draft at my house became the only time we saw each other. He would always tell me how happy he was for me, and rave about my wife and kids. I know he would have liked children himself, but he wasn’t blessed with any. And again, while feeling a bit sad for him, it opened my eyes to how lucky I was, and at least for a while I would not take my own fortune for granted. I think of those drafts a lot now, when my children were young, and friends like Joe were alive and well. It’s funny how quickly we construct new “good old days.”
Joe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s probably twenty years ago. I could see the gradual decline in him over the years, at those fantasy football drafts. His wife died unexpectedly, and Joe eventually entered a senior facility. When I visited him in early 2018, he was still his old self; alert mentally, memory pretty good. He was able to walk unassisted to my car, and his legendary appetite was still strong at Red Lobster. I think of that lunch as basically the last time I saw the real Joe, the friend I remembered. When I visited him again about a year later, the change was shocking. He was confined to a wheelchair and clearly fading mentally, and I had to feed him most of the burger and fries I brought him from Red Robin.
While Joe deserved a much better fate, in one respect he was very fortunate. He had some incredibly loyal friends. His brother Mike did yeoman’s work in taking care of him in his last few years, and that group of former roommates who had once given truly Hall of Fame parties at that old townhouse, visited him regularly. We had two really memorable get togethers with Joe at the senior home in 2019. It was great seeing them again, and Joe’s eyes lit up with that old sparkle when he saw them. I truly think those little reunions slowed down his decline, and probably kept him going a bit longer. As Frank Capra’s Clarence the Angel reminded us, “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.” In that regard, Joe Burton was a smashing success.
I met Joe through his brother Mike, when all of us were working for what was then called Fairfax Hospital, but which would morph into the Inova Health System from which I was unceremoniously fired, for helping out a handicapped co-worker, after forty four years. Joe left after five years or so, to join the Post Office, where he stayed until retirement. While working together, he spurred me on to create the concept first of “classics,” which later evolved into “unreals,” or really eccentric characters. When my novel The Unreals was published in 2007, it was an inside joke to Joe and countless others I worked with. Joe used the word “unreal” almost as much as I did. We called each other “Bro,” as a tip of the hat to our incredibly hilarious Black co-worker Harold Washington, who also said “right on” all the time, when both expressions had already been largely discarded by the hip Black community. Now using “Bro” is cool again.
I’m feeling pretty broken-hearted now. So I felt the urge to write this, in the hope it would be cathartic. Nothing makes us feel older, or more mortal, than the deaths of those we were once close to. The expression, “you look like you just lost your best friend” has a special resonance to me at this moment. As I wander about in the year of our lord 2021, it all seems even more surreal when I look back at a period that really doesn’t seem that long ago. The 1970s and 1980s might have happened in a different dimension, or a different universe, when I compare it to present reality. Sometimes I think all our memories are artificially constructed, and that the past can’t even be proven to have existed. Those days don’t seem real at all to me in these mad times, and Joe Burton was at the center of them.
As I deal with this devastating news, I consider how many of my close friends have departed this vale of tears. Mark Costello, my longest and closest childhood chum, passed away from AIDS at only forty seven. I only found out years later from our mutual friend Richard Reyes. They say he caught it from his wife. I probably don’t want to know any more details. Mark and I were so obsessed with Bram Stoker’s Dracula that we started writing our own vampire novel, about Count Loren Deadman. He was a unique, very funny character, and had a huge impact on me.
John Harmon dropped dead five years ago while eating breakfast at a local Centreville place. We talked daily on the phone, and he insisted on treating me to a spicy burger at The Greene Turtle regularly over the years. A former college football player, John was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. Conversation with him was like an interactive stand up act. He had a lot of Bill Murray’s style, blended into a Norm MacDonald routine. I was crushed by his sudden death, made all the more poignant because his regular “busting my chops” line to me was “Oh, I’m Don Jeffries! You don’t care whether I live or die!” I’ve dreamed about him several times since his death. I’m sure I’ll be dreaming about Joe Burton.
One of my closest teenage friends, Dave Campbell, died from cancer in May, 2020. So, I’ve lost my best childhood friend, one of my best teenage friends, and two of my best adult friends. I’m sure others have died as well, that I simply don’t know about. One of the few things I recall from my public school education is an English teacher’s comment about the transient nature of friendships, as she told us that we wouldn’t know any of our current friends five years later. So many friends have drifted in and out of my life, and I just don’t know how the fates might have treated them. I’m cynical, but I believe that more people live unhappy lives than happy ones. “Lives of quiet desperation,” as Thoreau said.
Jim Carroll recorded the achingly stark song People Who Died in 1980, in which he sang about all the dead people he’d known. He died himself in 2009, at just sixty. I’m thinking of that song today, as I mourn my dear friend. I often mull over all the co-workers who are gone, and again the number must surely be greater, since I lost contact with most of them over the years. The sad fact is we don’t see our old friends from school, or the workplace, once we stop attending school together, or being employed at the same place. Like my old teacher said, you can divide lifetime friendships into those five year cycles.
Everyone has a story. Maybe it’s the writer in me that makes me keenly interested in hearing those stories. I discovered that I’m sadly adept at delivering eulogies when I was asked to deliver one for the “Classic” legend Danny Liu, back in the early 1990s. Warren Zevon once warned Jackson Browne not to write a song eulogizing him, as he was wont to do. Maybe someone ought to warn me, because I feel compelled to do that at times like this. Joe was a kind and gentle man, the type this world has too few of. He probably lived with the regrets most of us live with. He seldom got the breaks, but that can be said about most people.
Joe Burton, like almost every other human being, won’t be remembered beyond the empty spot he leaves in the hearts of those who knew and loved him. But those of us who did know and love him will never forget him. I can still hear him saying, “How can anyone believe that’s real, Bro?” Well, I can’t believe this is real- that you are really gone. That I’ll never see you or talk to you again. I’ve always hated goodbyes, and I will never become accustomed to those I know dying. As Edna St. Vince Millay wrote:
“Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.”
Life in the World’s Wealthiest Banana Republic
I don’t often interact with the masses these days. As a full-time writer who is plugged into the virtual world of the internet most of the time, the real world is a temporary nuisance I seldom have to contend with. Considering the state of the madness that has engulfed us, that’s a good thing. For me and the world.
Yesterday, my wife and I had to take our golden retriever to the veterinarian’s office. This is never a pleasant experience for me. But it’s over-the-top annoying now. I haven’t worn a mask for a very long time. Establishments here don’t require them. That doesn’t keep the sheeple from wearing them, but I don’t. The vet’s office is staffed exclusively with Karens. They make you (and your pet) wait outside. And they make you wait a long time. Guess they learned from human doctors. I remarked to my wife that the same people who’d call ASPCA on you if your dog was playing in your backyard on a cold day, don’t seem to mind making the animals wait outside their doors in freezing weather.
Eventually, an employee came to the door. Perfectly representing America 2.0, I have no idea whether he/she was male or female. At any rate, I refused to put a mask on to go inside, so my wife accompanied our dog. Think about that; the vet’s office is literally the only place now in northern Virginia that requires a mask. I guess animals are susceptible to the dreaded COVID, too. I was a little surprised they didn’t try to give my dog a vaccine along with her other shots. Then they can ostracize the unvaccinated animals.
After waiting an excruciatingly long time to pay our outrageously overpriced bill, I moved on to the post office. The post office is always a wonderful experience; it exemplifies all that’s gone wrong with this once great land. The line was almost out the door. This is typical, because as usual there were only two of the six cashier stations open. Two other stations featured employees sitting there not waiting on customers. Every employee I’ve ever seen there (with the exception of an old White guy who retired a while back) has been nonwhite, with most of them struggling to communicate in English. In other words, perfect representatives of the new ‘Murrica.
I waited over half an hour to buy some Christmas stamps. They only had religiously themed ones left. Gee, I wonder why that would be? The place was packed, and I was the only one without a mask. There was one old couple who came in without masks, and I smiled at them, trying to express a bit of solidarity. In quick order, they whipped out their masks and joined the irrational mob. Being in such a minority, I’m starting to understand how the lone Black kid in my elementary school class felt. It does make you self-conscious, but I’ve learned to display my naked face proudly.
I’ve commented before on just how ugly America 2.0 is. From the crumbling Third World infrastructure to the overweight, slovenly people. As a young man, it was always a joy to go to malls, or anywhere else where large numbers of people gathered, and do some girl watching. Now I know that’s terribly offensive. First, to call any female a girl is demeaning. Even the youngest females now are called “young women.” And “girl” is an antiquated term, like “boy.” In reality, you can’t refer to them as being either gender, because we all know that our fifty seven genders are fluid.
Whatever you call them, there aren’t many attractive females wandering around in public now. Not that the men look any better, but healthy males of any age naturally have an eye for beauty. Now beauty has largely been coopted by obesity, tattoos, multi-colored, unmanageable hair and sex-repellent clothing. It’s tragic in many ways. But I guess it has opened up employment opportunities for “plus sized” models. And, of course, the masks just add to the attractiveness. When you throw in the “excuse me” perpetually offended attitudes, you’re confronted with the total package.
It’s almost like a surreal world, watching the fluid genders waddling about in their pajamas and loose sweat suits, or scurrying around on their motorized scooters. Many of these weight-handicapped individuals are shockingly young. Certainly they’re almost all younger than me at sixty five. I know this sounds incredibly shallow. I don’t think we should be judged by our looks. But the personalities are at least as ugly. Maybe if they were kind and friendly, their appearance wouldn’t be so noticeable.
And the traffic. It doesn’t matter what day or time it is, it’s rush hour on the roads all around my area. You can drive somewhere at 1 pm on a Wednesday, and cars will be backed up everywhere. I often wonder where all these people are coming from, and where they’re going to. Don’t any of them work? Are they all full-time writers like me, involuntarily retired from the rat race for helping out a handicapped co-worker? As they used to say, inquiring minds want to know.
When you go in any establishment now, the odds are against you seeing any White employees. I went to IHOP- long time bastion of oldsters- last week, and the entire staff was nonwhite. As were 90% or more of the customers. Even fifteen years ago, IHOP attracted elderly Whites like the Kardashians attract Black men. So where exactly are all the White people? Where do they work? Where do they eat? My area is still largely White. Certainly my neighborhood is. Are all these Whites “consultants” and “beltway bandits?” They seem to have plenty of money. Where do they get it?
Well, actually, there is one place where you can find plenty of Whites. That would be Panera Bread, the new favorite eating spot for every White woman in America. There are plenty of young “Karens” there, clinging to their masks and scouring the other tables for something to be offended by. But the White oldsters love Panera. Which is pretty odd, given the way senior citizens watch their money. Panera is irrationally expensive. I guess they like the free coffee refills. And once some place gets the reputation of being popular, White women of all ages will flock to it.
So Whites go to Panera. And Whole Foods. They love that place. I went there often when they used to give out lots of free samples. Made shopping, especially at their prices, a lot more pleasurable. But they seem to have stopped that. Masks and “Woke” attitudes are openly welcomed there. I’m pretty much always the only one in Whole Foods, or Panera, without a mask. Some people look at me funny, but no one has ever said anything. If they did, I’m not sure if I’d ignore them or go into a long rant.
However you look at it, this country is far removed from what it was even twenty years ago. Last night, Tucker Carlson featured an expose about Massachusetts Black prosecutor Rachael Rollins, who berated and threatened a White woman who was peacefully walking in a parking lot, while impersonating a police officer. I always thought that impersonating an officer was a really big offense. In this case, the openly anti-White racist was promoted. The Senate just approved Rollins, another of Joe Biden’s sterling choices, to be the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts.
All of us are living through a nightmare, but White men have it especially difficult now. Think of all those absurd “Woke” references in the state-controlled press about every known malady “disproportionately impacting” Blacks and other minorities. Flip that around, because the Greatest Psyop in the History of the World is impacting White males disproportionately. Rachael Rollins, like Joy Reid and innumerable other Black public figures, publicly castigated “White men” who were allegedly trying to tell her what to do. None of these White men have ever responded in any meaningful way to this ridiculous fantasy. That would be “mansplaining.”
I see it in their faces, at least the parts that aren’t covered by a useless mask. A fear to speak out, to recognize the absurdity of the situation. Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your masks. I’m speaking mostly about White people here, because that same fear is evident when any loud Black person issues a blanket condemnation of an entire race, with absolutely no backlash. The Civil Rights movement was about shattering generalizations about entire groups of people. I guess this is different. Some generalizations are more equal than others.
Enjoy the Christmas season while you can. Apparently, burning Christmas trees is becoming a thing now. It’s a wonder they haven’t renamed them “Holiday trees.” Those wonderful seasonal songs, especially the beautiful Christmas carols, don’t exactly fit in well with our modern secular authoritarianism. It’s a good thing so many Black churches still exist. No one is going to tell them they can’t sing about Jesus. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Even in a Plandemic.
Although I’m basically yelling at the world to get off my lawn, I really don’t feel like a senior citizen. I only accept the senior citizen discount at places that set the age lower, at fifty or fifty five. I also feel no fellowship with my oldster peers. I am repelled by the sense of entitlement that is far too prevalent amongst aging Baby Boomers. I can’t relate to them, and refuse to act like that. While I complain about more things than almost anyone else alive, I won’t resort to the oldster playbook, of being demanding in a personal way. I don’t cut in line, or be inconsiderate of others, by holding up a line with inane questions. When I’m in my car getting ready to leave a parking space, and someone is waiting for it in a crowded lot, I hurry for them. I don’t dawdle for so long they leave in frustration.
Some will call me racist. Or sexist. Or ageist. As Homer Simpson once said to avoid jury duty, I’m prejudiced against all races. It’s just difficult remaining sane in such a loony bin. And there is no denying that our loony bin is a colorful, very diverse one. You have to be insane to believe in this COVID nonsense. To keep wearing masks and “social distancing.” To get multiple vaccines for the same alleged virus. To stop hugging or even seeing your loved ones. To break off relationships with the unvaxxed.
But you have to be insane to believe in fifty seven genders, too. To believe a parent has no right to spank their child, but can freely encourage them to change their gender at the youngest of ages. To believe that the public has no right to certain natural health products, but it’s perfectly acceptable to mutilate your sexual organs in order to “transition” to the other gender. Well, one of fifty seven genders. To believe that an underage girl can have an abortion without her parents’ consent, or decide to change their sex. But not legally have sex. There’s a mind-boggling inconsistency there, even without all the minors who have been prosecuted for “child pornography” for sexting- sharing nude pictures of themselves with other minors.
There’s a good reason why I chose to title my first radio show “I Protest.” There is an endless amount of things to protest in our crumbling country. Beyond the incalculable corruption that festers at every level of the rotting system, we have this largely unthinking, largely uncivil, unkempt and unattractive populace who is being screwed by it all. They don’t really seem worth saving at times, but I can’t help myself. I’m a populist. Populists support the power of the people.
I will continue to support free speech for all, even though most apparently don’t want it. And would be fine with locking up rabble rousers like me for exercising our constitutional right to it. You either believe in the Bill of Rights or you don’t. I will fight for their right to express themselves, even when they are regurgitating impossible CNN talking points. But that doesn’t mean I’d want any of them sitting on a jury deciding my fate. There are very few I’d trust in that situation.
I don’t know what the rest of the world is like. Maybe Americans aren’t that much of an anomaly. Certainly the entire world appears to have swallowed the most ludicrous “science” imaginable. But I focus on America, because it’s what I know. I lived in America 1.0 for more than forty years. It wasn’t great, and I complained about a lot that was going on then. But it was utopia compared to the Orwellian mess we’re faced with now. An Idiocracy without a Big Brother. America 2.0.