My own private howl

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I started this column many times.  I’d think I had my outrages lined up, but then something else would pop up in one of my 58 sources for moment-by-moment news. On Thursday, for instance, we spent the day at the Exploratorium with my younger granddaughter, and I got home and turned on the TV and, bless me, John Bolton. I mean, yes, I’d heard that it might happen, but I never thought it might, you know, happen.

There was the March for Life started by those blessed children at Parkland and, John Bolton is fucking harshing my mellow.  I want no more schoolchildren to be killed by a nuclear rain of death. I think we should have laws banning the use of nuclear weapons by crazy tinpot narcissists.

When the kids are done bringing a glimmer of hope to a cold universe, I’d like for old people to march against killing everybody.

There are stages to dealing with Trump. The first is hopeful: He’ll be in office a few months and everyone will lose their illusions and realize they’d been lied to and that Trump has no plans to make their lives better.  Then Congress passes a tax bill that gives everyone an extra $47 a year and everyone is all, “Trump is keeping his promises.”

Yes, his approval rating dipped eight points, but still right around 40 per cent of the voting age populace (or, at least, of those inclined to interact with pollsters) say they support him. There is good information, but people have turned away from good information; indeed, from the very idea of information itself.

Not only that, by supporting Trump they’re somehow giving it to me, the elite media, the cranky intellectuals, the atheists, the abortionists, and a wide variety of black people, brown people, yellow people, red people, and whatever other colors we’re using to prove to ourselves that race is a real construct grounded in real reality.

Am I saying anything new? I am not. I don’t know there’s anything new to say. I have seen the best minds of my generation, starving hysterical naked, trying to construct 500 words for the Sunday edition or the March issue or the second book in a two-book deal, pounding their brains for a new angle, a brave new apercu that will be seen as the turning point in the narrowly averted constitutional crisis, who subsequently disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind nothing but the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in fireplace Chicago, We’ve all been there.

I do not despair because we are all in this together, because united we fight, because there are more of us than there are of them, and are you feeling better? The arc of history bends toward justice, but we need something a little more immediate than a bending arc. Just to make sure the earth isn’t a post-apocalyptic nightmare before we take on rising seas.

First, there should still be seas.

My mind tends toward disaster planning anyway. Give me a situation, and I can always find a way to turn it into a nuclear holocaust. I know this about myself, so I try not to inflict my harrowing views on others, knowing that I have always been wrong. Still, there have been times in human history when catastrophic thinking has been a description of reality. The worst case scenario is still a scenario.

How do we know when the worse case is happening? We don’t — until it’s too late. I’m the guy going around repeating “until it’s too late” and annoying people on my local monorail transportation system.

Many people from Eastern Europe are U.S. citizens now and they, who have seen the effects of failing to constructively panic, have written helpful “how do I know that tyranny is coming” checklists. Number one might be, “do you have a leader who fantasizes about killing people?” He wants to kill drug dealers. The president is probably unaware that he hobnobbed with drug dealers. They were  white, though, and they wore beautiful suits. Probably they wouldn’t have to die after all.

Number two might be, hold on, I had a thought. Unless you’re from Florida, you probably don’t know that Marjorie Stoneman Douglas was a person before she was the scene of a tragedy. She was born in the 19th Century, went through a cheating husband, a career as a newspaper reporter (she liked it), and a stint in the Navy (she didn’t like it), all before the first world war broke out. She went back to the newspaper business and started writing full time. In 1942, she wrote River of Grass, a book about the rape of the Everglades by Big Sugar and other monopolies. It is still relevant today; sadly, much of the initial dynamic continues. It is a masterpiece of type; if you read Silent Spring or The End of Nature, you should read it.

She was was born during the administration of Benjamin Harrison and died during the administration of Bill Clinton. Beat that.

You see why I digressed? There are still heroes. There are still people who do all these admirable things. Think of all the people at the EPA and the National Park Service, trying to keep stuff together despite hostility from the administration. Imagine that now: Someone located wonderfully far from the top of the bureaucracy, invisible even to the Human Resources Department, resisting memos, deflecting advisories, even selectively ignoring commands from above, what a hero is she. Or he. Such heroes are they.

Nothing about Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’s life was easy. She was a female newspaper reporter in 1910. Just imagine.

Nothing is easy at her high school either, nor will it be for quite some time. We have allowed this shit to continue, and shame on us. There was a hard-to-miss subtext in all the marches for life: Old people should get the fuck out of the way. Because all this happened on their watch.

As an old person, I can only say: They may have a point there.

I plan to continue to continue, shrugging off guilt. Guilt is just your brain’s way of saying “never mind.” The next thing is before us. The great work begins. This is the ass-end of change, but most generations get to go through something like that. Imagine being an quiet, soulful  Russian in 1928. People formed groups, you know what I’m saying? Secret resistance groups —they didn’t exactly put invitations on Facebook. You know that secret groups are happening now; it’s as predictable as fascists overplaying their hands. Wanna see where you fit? Maybe call that guy who knows that woman, and maybe ask.

We seek to avoid tyranny, or its most extreme reaction, a kind of despairing chaos. There will be real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!

All very sweet, but it’s hardly a system of government.

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Photography by Tracy Johnston

Doing the needful things: Michelle Mizera

37 thoughts on “My own private howl

  1. Back in the ‘80s, I found this quote of hers quite comforting after being dumped by my boyfriend: “So I haven’t had any sex since before 1915 and I’ve done very well without it, thank you. It hasn’t been any great loss.”


  2. We need to print up “I believe you, Stormy,” bumper stickers. But then I still believe Anita Hill and not Associate Justice Thomas as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oddly, there are people who would refuse to believe it is day time even with the sun blinding them.

    If we strive to “educate” them, we are jousting with windmills.

    40% “approval” overall, but 80% approval among the “them.”

    “We” can only hope to outnumber “them” at the voting booth.

    The 2016 color-coded election results map is not reassuring.

    And, caution, some of those little groups you speak of are folks with a zeal for guns.

    Welcome to Spring?



  4. took note of ‘second granddaughter’ (xxx’s) and SO appreciated the thumbnail profile of marjorie stoneman douglas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just looked it up: a kind of turning point, as your Oprah would say, an ah-ha moment. Jon???


    2. Apercu: a comment or brief reference that makes an illuminating or entertaining point.

      early 19th century: from French, past participle of apercevoir ‘perceive.’


  5. Jon, I discovered a book at the Berkeley Public Library which I suspect you’ll like, unless you’re already liking it. “The Obama Inheritance – 15 Stories of Conspiracy Noir” edited by Gary Philips. Three Rooms Press. People having fun with the bullshit – graveyard humor, but good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is not a rant. Ths is a universal cry for help. At least that’s how I interpret it. Not your usual Jon Carroll, even the humor is dark and scary.


  7. I now live in the ESA compound adjacent and somewhat underneath the MacArthur “maze.” Have a social worker who’s trying to help me buy a place to live in the relatively safer parts of the East Bay. I have $700K from the sale of my duplex just off Telegraph on 44th Street. I considered moving to Logan, Utah (relatively safe and prosperous), but I’m an atheist and the it’s definitely NOT like living near Berkeley.

    Thanks for all the great columns over the years. Latest piece is tops.

    See the movie Ramen Heads at the Shattuck before Friday. I have to gulp whenever I pay $9.50 to see a film. This one was worth it.

    My girlfriend is now visiting family in Medellin. I often tell folks she lived in country that had a forty year civil war. She corrects me and says it was a fifty year civil war. For ten years prior to the civil war, they had a ten year span called “La Violencia.”

    She’s well educated, speaks English without any trace of accent, but often mispronounces English words (book reader). Won’t ever leave her son’s B’way Terrace home after nightfall.

    America, according to Watergate reporter, Bernstein, the U.S. is now in the midst of a “cold civil war.” Wonder if it’ll turn “hot” if Trump goes to prison. Oakland school’s police force chief says there are 350 million firearms in the U.S.

    I got a great haircut ($6 for seniors on Tuesdays) at the barber school at Telegraph and MacArthur last week. Never had a U.S. passport and wanted to look spruced up in my pic. Figure a passport might soon come in handy. Remember when it was so easy to go to Canada and return? Mexico, too.

    fyi – one of your Mandana House “anonymous” pals, Dennis Huebner, died two years ago (April 2016). For years, everybody who knew him thought he was crazy. Turned out he had a serious progressive brain disorder than finally did him in.

    Live and learn.

    Brian Treusch


  8. Upon first glance, I read the line “There will be real holy laughter in the river…” as “There will be a real holy slaughter in the river” — which is enough to reveal that that I too am one of those worst-case scenario fabulists who hunker down behind the adage “Assume the worst, but hope for the best.”

    I don’t advocate this as a guiding philosophy of life, mind you, but for reasons doubtless stemming from my upbringing, seem to be stuck with it. That’s not always a good thing. Example: Having witnessed the high interest rates of the early 80’s — when CD’s were paying upwards of 15% — I insisted on a fixed-rate mortgage when I took the plunge and put a down-payment on my house in the late 80’s, spurning the much cheaper variable interest rate loans through four re-finances over the course of the next thirty years. But as things turned out, interest rates never did shoot back through the roof in that span, which means I would have saved a lot of money by rolling the dice on variable interest loans rather than grimly sticking to my worst-case scenario course.

    Then again, at least I could sleep at night without worrying about the economy again going crazy and delivering unto me a balloon payment I couldn’t possibly afford. Hey, we make our choices, then live with the consequences.

    Still, they say that if we imagine the future we want, it just might happen — and in that case, could imagining a nuclear holocaust lead to it coming about? I don’t know, but I share your fear of that monster Bolton. I didn’t mind him being on Fox “News,” since so long as he was on TV, he wouldn’t be in the government or anywhere near the levers of power… but now he’ll be whispering darkly into the ear of the most unstable, easily-infuenced, and dangerous president in our history — and with three long years left before we have the opportunity to vote that odious man out, the worst case scenario now seems all too plausible.

    So I guess I’ll just keep hoping for the best — and reading your columns, of course.

    Thanks for another good one.


  9. At my age, what I am learning to do is to recognize when I can engage and when I should just get the fuck out of the way. It’s like a poker game where I am never going to win a hand but don’t have the sense to know when to fold. Don’t be too hard on yourself.


  10. Yes, guilt and also hopelessness are simply ways of saying “Never mind.” and only we who are less impacted by this madness and wanna-be tyranny have the privilege of not minding. And flailing about in outrage within our Bay Area bubble is not such a good use of time; more like what we used to call ‘mutual masturbation’. RESISTANCE is uncomfortable and messy.


  11. A quite beautiful cri de coeur. Thank you, Jon.

    On Tue, Mar 27, 2018 at 12:48 PM Jon Carroll Prose wrote:

    > joncarrollprose posted: ” I started this column many times. I’d think I > had my outrages lined up, but then something else would pop up in one of my > 58 sources for moment-by-moment news. On Thursday, for instance, we spent > the day at the Exploratorium with my younger granddaught” >


  12. As the young people used to say, “you go girl!” Does our book club count as a secret group?


  13. So happy to hear your political “voice” again!!! We have missed your thoughts and wisdom out here. Stay with us! Best, Helen Brainerd

    Sent from my iPhone



  14. I happened to be in Tucson at the time of the protest, so went to the UofA speakers’ site and found a sea of grey heads (like mine) waiting to greet and cheer those who had been able to make the march. We seniors haven’t forgotten what happens when good people do nothing.

    Thank you for your continued columns.


    Pat Moore 695 Monterey Blvd. #203 San Francisco, CA 94127 415-587-8083



  15. Yes, Trump and Putin are unimaginably evil, and in an instant could destroy the world as we know it. The good news is that they are also cowards, and know they would be the first to die in a mutually destructive war.


  16. Seriously. Why is this the responsibility of Ford? It is the idiots the people of Detroit elected to the city council who decided to give the money to Ford instead of the school system. That’s what you get when one party runs a town like it does in Detroit. The cities in our country with major crime and financial problems are all cities where only party is ever elected to office. 


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