While coming to terms with my reality, I must face up to some hard truths. I am a prolific, untalented image-maker and hack writer. A human artist ostrich, with my head buried in the sand. By now, after 30 years of creative effort, I should have hit an acceptable plateau of celebrity. Two or three eager fans to keep the illusion alive and my head buried in output. This year I picked my head up, spit out a scarab, and assessed the truth. There are political and philosophical “followers” of professional basketball players. Teeny-bopper entertainer Taylor Swift, who has the auspices of 87 million fans on Twitter, wrote the following a few days ago: “not a lot going on at the moment” and posted a couch selfie taken by a professional photographer. A half million people loved it. After 10 years on Twitter, I have 13 followers. This is my latest Tweet: “I have an ETSY shop where every painting is $30. Any Throop purchased today is destined for chicken coop wealth tomorrow. Invest!” My 13 followers didn’t like it. It was audacious of me to ask for money for originality no one asked for.
It’s also audacious of ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), with 37 thousand Twitter followers and a 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, to beg nations not to make strontium-90 dust out of Taylor Swift and her 87 million followers.
I get it. ICAN is moral and morbid. Ron Throop is not a promoted entertainer. When Taylor Swift asks for love or money, a half million people give it to her. Once in a while ICAN will receive a $5 donation from a grandpa who wants his granddaughters to become grandmothers. It wouldn’t be so heartbreaking if Taylor Swift made excellent outward expression of an inward grace. She does not. In fact her “talents” align more appropriately with the pine sap smeared on the jazz shoes of these virtually unknown dead entertainers. Each super dancer was probably paid an omelette breakfast and subway fare back to Harlem. Please watch them and think on today’s performing “artists”. COVID has cleared a path to kill off celebrity worship once and for all. Do you not also see the banal mediocrity of today’s popular entertainer? Put Beyoncé in a room alone with only her thoughts and a leotard. Her absolute best choreography couldn’t hold a candle to the most junior of dancers in the video. Yet 129 million people are interested in her looks and what she has to say. That is some power persuasion potentiality! To daily vocalize her support of ICAN could significantly reduce the threat of nuclear annihilation. But she chooses not to, for it would mean less fans, more seriousness, and a moral backbone to bolster her limp talent.
What a shame. One catchy pop tune and dance about Nagasaki could influence policy on a level that ten thousand painters couldn’t reach in a lifetime of expression.
I am a mediocre talent like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé who practices in another genre of creative expression. I have been unable to break into the racket to support myself humbly with words and images. America demands more dishwashers and less artists. Both are horrible career choices, but one is much worse. Especially if rent needs to get paid and food eaten. How did I get here?
Once, long ago, I was a very good dishwasher and salad-maker who got promoted to line cook and there discovered my people and career. However, simultaneously I took up child-raising as a hobby, that turned into a passion, and conflicted with advancement in the restaurant trade. I quit often because I refused to abandon homeschooling, or expect my wife to take up the hobby that brought passion to my life. She had her career and it paid better without having to contend with wet lettuce and floating fish heads during an evening shift.
I refused promotion in the cooking trade time and again because to rank as chef would require a 70 hour work week, and force the beloved hobby out of my life. Since college days I had/have a strong attraction to life-giving authors and painters of the past. I would channel their biographical energies into my own life and take a second hobby, art, that might pay the bills someday when my bones could not keep up with the demands of the professional kitchen. Art would act as liaison, binding a dead end career to a passionate teaching and parenting lifestyle. Like attention to my daughters, art became a commitment that challenged my talents and wrecked any path to a sustainable work life.
And here I am, still practicing painting and writing, and home making—an amateur of will, a master of nothing.
Recently, a friend complimented my productivity in avenues of expression. It got me to thinking. How can I work so regularly at something I’m not very good at? What is the fuel that provides the energy to paint unpopular pictures and write unreadable books? After some reflecting I got my answer.
Diving headlong into the total care of my children turned me into a self-righteous moralist without the presence of religion. I discovered the Golden Rule, taught it and math to my little girls, and expected everyone else to follow me, even fossil fuel and weapons industry CEOs. I realized the latter were just line cooks of life, though more prone to psychosis, confronted with a choice of paths in early man/womanhood. Raise children or inflate profits? Over time I picked out the guilty and honed in on their crimes. Who and what was going to harm these charges of mine? Who was responsible for dark clouds in their future? Add a Golden Rule algorithm to a moral-coded mind, and it was easy science to extol virtue and castigate the sleazeballs.
I wrote back to my friend to thank him for the compliment. To paraphrase:
I think these thoughts on art, and all I can hope for is communion, connection, what have you. In another time I would have been a minister of Bibles or stump orator for the Wobblies. Lord knows I suck at art as any Hudson School painter of yore would attest. He might say, “Throop, find a congregation and leave beauty to us.” And of course he’d be right.
I missed out on religion as a community connection/control, and moral guideline. So much of my work effort feels preachy, but it’s not meant to be. It’s just me reminding myself to hold everything together as best I can and demand that everyone else is doing the same. It stems from taking a self-taught 25 year total immersion course in parenting in the land of the world gone wrong.
So this week I plan to paint Hudson River School landscapes to prove once and for all a poor career choice for a man of my energy output. At the same time I shall seek options to fuel new pathways to contentment. Art was and is a suitable pastime for a non-believer to express spirituality. It got me through some difficult times of confusion and despair. Once I was able to paint myself out of a corner. Now I feel more stuck in it by the repetitive motion that was supposed to liberate me from myself. The children have grown and left the nest. I’m too old for line cooking and my culinary arts education was stunted years ago. Where do I go from here? I’m not ready to die.
To the basement studio to paint what can be seen better with the naked eye or a photograph.
There it is!
An 1830s Hudson River School would refund my tuition and send me packing.
Well, this is an omen. Just a few hours after painting the landscape and thinking my art wretched and meaningless, my basement studio flooded.
How’s that for some portents?
(Un)fortunately I caught it in time and water came in only an inch or two high. The sump pump was stalled but started up again after I tapped it with a stick. Some paintings got wet, but I will dry them today and tomorrow while emptying the basement of wicked wood and wet carpet. I’ll also read up on sump pumps, buy a suitable back up, and hope it doesn’t rain for the rest of my life. This week’s Friday Freeflow will take another path. I won’t be painting for a couple days, so Hudson River School humiliation is off the easel.
If I have a genuine need for change (which I suspect), then the events of this week will act as good catalyst for that which needs to come. Life episodes of intensity may or may not spark noticeable change. For me, conditions on the inside and out are just right. I have felt them before and know the routine. Go in a broken, confused, desperate fraction of what you once were, and come out new, aware, and more alive. The pandemic, my abysmal art, and the historic Throop basement mini-flood has got me primed for significant life adjustment. The ever-present noisy dissonance is ready to attack. I imagine that COVID is coaxing a monumental transformation for many in society. Any person cooped up inside the head for too long is bound to unravel enough to notice. Now the virus has everyone caged in one way or another. The microbe of death and rebirth. Some change is coming. There is some solace to be had this time through. At least I know I’m not alone.
The Perpetual, Uncalculated Life Of Rain
As the rain from heaven’s doors
Falls silently on city streets,
Falling and finding curbs to rub up against
And pebbles to meet,
Forming puddles, making mud,
I frown behind a brown door.
I am not the rain
Who comes carelessly to things.
Fearless water washing maggots in green dumpsters
And beading on broken glass,
Falling over rotten meat and fat,
I am not the rain
Who sleeps with graves and flowers
And the coward men in hot houses,
Cooling dry leaves in showers,
Flowing fast to all sweet things
Which others would despise,
And creeping out of holes disguised,
Indifferent to disease.
Jealousy’s got a strangler’s hold on me.
Sickening, dirty sage, spring pure and natural,
Who creeps so close to dying things,
Fronting the graves of human beings
And pounding white mausoleums.
I despise you foul sage
Gesticulating like the rain
In some stormy southern sea.
A young mother from the village
Came to the Buddha’s mountain hut.
She walked three days in the rain—
Crying and not sleeping, just walking,
Weak, frantic and complaining,
Muttering, weeping, wild
And holding a stiff child,
So white and cold, not sleeping...
Windy, wild mother,
Half-conscious without rest,
Mother mad and going crazy says,
“Please save my baby!
O mountain sage do something strange,
I’ve stumbled three days in the rain.
Quick now, stir a potion, chant a spell,
They tell me you are magical—
And if you are love and if love is good,
She’ll awake and cry for food again.”
And wise Buddha sitting, smiling,
Staring at a cypress tree,
Spoke as a tear dripped down her cheek,
“I will try to bring her back,
But first retrieve some mustard seed
From a hut not darkened by death.
Then bring it here to me
And I will work my magic free.”
She flew through wet leaves
With only child in her arms.
And on a cold black night she entered the village,
On a windy night she shivered in rain,
With stiff child, stone dead, pallid and cold,
She bargained with neighbors
For a pinch of deathless seed.
But with each wild look—
No hut not shook by death.
Now the sage she knew was love,
Who understood that life is suffering.
And on that cold and rainy night
She laid her babe down in weeds.
In the cold wet morning darkness,
She wept long,
Then light made dawn
And the yellow sun rose behind the mountain
And the women came to take death away.
I stand behind a brown door coughing.
My friend, I am you.
So when we meet in the rain, let us embrace,
I believe I have no heavier burden.
By nature it is not painful to love;
I do not ask for more than I am able to give.
In stark autumn twilight I saw you
Standing still in a crowd of movement,
Upsetting the stream, stationary, tender...
And I came to you both tired and confused,
Wanting to stop as well,
But could not.
Dear brother desire, just one step further...
Dear lover despair, do not refuse me!
So help me now, do not refuse me again!
To build a fire in rain is no easy task,
One must have prepared the wood in advance.
Wet wood may burn,
But not bright like when dead and dry.
Woe to the man who sits on rocks in rain
Woe to his worried little nerves,
Without rain interrupting.
Shiva the great dancer!
The wild lunatic, fire!
Shiva the destroyer, the crematorium, the heart!
I’m drunk from the pleasure your flames and death bring.
O this potent brew life,
And all things new.
What foul, decaying flesh!
What creeping, quiet cancer
Tricking my sick cells!
To know too that I dance with you,
Now and for never again,
Is the greatest joy!
O Shiva the savior,
Dancing and destroying,
Contemplating nothing, killing
Everything so beautiful.
Destroying and creating
All things so lofty and tremendous!
O Shiva, sweet conqueror,
The great death dance,
The total derangement,
Who I see and love and worship!
“Oh my world, my life, my blooming, my ecstasy!”
My sorrow, my pain, my dying, my agony!
What I say to you is not what I mean
So why do I speak?
Wherefore art thou holy slicer of tongues—
You who are most divine, supreme, and sublime?
No purer blood ever spilled
No sweeter tasting blood
Silence, like boredom, the holy abyss,
O how I do believe,
But could your dance rescue me?
I must doubt...
Crying out to Nataraja, the spasm,
My heart beats incantations
But I neither breathe nor speak.
All of this nothing, and I fear for my life.
O Lord of the dance, spontaneous,
Savior of nothing, and all encompassing...
I cannot fail again!
“This wood is soaked right through I swear,
Waterlogged, my skin as cold as ice—
Where will I be in twenty years?
Two months since my baby’s been gone.
The rolling and crashing sea,
How close it is to me!
I could listen to its peace all night
If I were dry—
Listen to nothing else I could
But no shelter,
And soaked right through I swear...
O she was fine, O so good!
This morning I heard her cry from another room,
In darkness I saw her eyes,
As I spooned the cinnamon from the jar
And mixed the syrup in her cereal.
Outside the branches scratched at my window,
Outside the rain fell like never before,
Her fever, however, the door...
I held the bib and called out her name.
We used to swim here in summer.
She’d scale these rocks in shade.
But this wood is too wet to burn
And I am not right now,
To build a fire,
A flame that will last,
Is no easy task in the rain.
I shiver beneath clouds loudly weeping.
O stern gray bird,
O hard heron on a gray rock,
Rain falling, wind blowing, life hiding—
How do you see things?
What can you contemplate?
So far from a tree, not flying,
Just standing in rain accepting
Nature’s elementary beating.
Just standing not accepting
O thing don’t look at me!
I have no offering
Still lonely bird standing in the pouring rain,
Bird without purpose or any concept of purpose,
Bird of silent nothing,
Have pity on this thing, me, weeping.
The tree on the bank shakes in an agonizing throe.
The rain in convulsion, winding, laughing—
And a gray bird on a gray flat rock,
Not laughing, not caring, just standing,
Looks out o’er the sea once more
Then flies amid the maelstrom.
Mad angry waves flaunt their teeth,
Growling against the stony shore.
All life a spasm,
All visible life mad and going crazy.
No death has yet been proved,
Though so many forms dying, dancing...
Ecstatic in life decaying
In this dark and wild moment!
And over the sea a bolt of lighting!
This dance, this lightning dance—
This electric nothing dance!
From the clouds you came,
From the sky somewhere
Sounds Shiva’s call!
The lunatic came from the pulsating sky.
A spark becomes fire
And flames now consume
Wood that would be water.
One left hand of Shiva
And I am alive!
One right hand of Shiva
And thunder rolls over the tips of clouds.
A bough cracks Muyalaka’s back,
And I remember before
When a silent bird said,
O ring yer bells!
I am not dead!
You sexy eater, perverted life,
Eat yourself again and again.
Kill my pain wild ecstasy,
Break my neck!
Shake the skull atop your head,
Ring yer bells,
I am not dead!
I am the spontaneous adjunct of nothing.
I am nothing, nothing, nothing!
I am cold, I am life, I am warm!
I am woman, I am man
Thrown headlong together in this dance.
I create nothing.
I dance in darkness, space, infinity
And no sweet nothing do I complete!
Lord, you move to everything,
Dancing and destroying
Lord, your mind is completely empty,
Dancing and destroying
Lord, sweet joy, your colors invigorate me.
Lord, your drink, the perpetual intoxicant, nothing,
I am the universe resounding with the joyful cry,
25 years ago there was a span of several months when I felt to be on the cusp of some great life event. A very creative time with no prospects for the future. Ecstasy of the present moment, free in chains, bound only to love and a steady job, and an unquenchable thirst for satori. I was weaving a story of the father and artist, and it was turning out to be highly profitable. First the sun and then the moon. Check to check. Day to day! Faith in the future born from innocence, not arrogance. There was a better road to take and I was on it. Friendships were breaking up and going their own way. There was nothing I could do about it but wait and see, and remain grounded for the daughter’s life I was put in charge of.
The world of illusion. Last night Scott had a hole in his head. He sat in his big chair in the dark weeping for his sins. I woke up and turned on the light to ask if he had a tone ringing in his head. “What do you mean,” he laughed, “Do you have one?” “No,” I said, “Not right now, and believe me, I’m lucky for it! I’d have my teeth in the wall if I did. Lucky for me, but what about you? What’s wrong Scotty?”
The concept of the perpetual tone came from Larry last Thursday night. I guess that it actually hit him for a few seconds, and then he said, “Wow, I feel pretty fortunate you know. I have no right to ever be sad. Life must really suck for he who has the tone. Why don’t you write a story about that Ron? ‘The Man Who Had A Tone,’ or something like that?”
Yes. Only my man would rise above it and in the end, drown the sorrowful ring with a song of his own joy. I never appreciated the “grass of a greener shade” tales. For centuries they have been told, and for centuries no one has given a damn. It’s as if men prefer their grass to be a dried brown and yellow. Just to look across the way where the rain is steady, and the grass grows an Irish green, is a miserable affair. Who wants to be reminded that his life is not worth living? That yesterday was tears and tomorrow despair? Well, I am here to tell you, hopefully for the last time, that there is no sorrow except for the man who has the perpetual tone ringing between his ears.
I thought I was that man last night. A little bell, hung low in the most remote tunnel of my heart, (the invisible, untouchable heart— not the biological machine), had a tear drop onto it, and a tone was born. From a lost world inside of me came the initial ring. It entered the aorta and reverberated throughout every capillary of my being until finally given a name by my ears. The song of sorrow.
Rachelle turned five today. Mary dropped her off at my step, then she turned and walked away without saying a word. Suddenly, something very strange happened. One of my tears dropped in reverse. Not down my cheek, but down my throat. I swallowed it like a good father’s son and forgot all about it until my ears were ringing so loudly that I could not bear to hear my own voice. I read a whole story to Rachelle without understanding a word of it. I tried to talk with her, but the tone in my head carried me further and further away from the vibrations of her voice. It was so powerful, so persistent, that whenever I spoke, its sound carried over my words. If I remained silent, the tone continued in a low hum which kept me alert and conscious of it constantly.
I was thinking, The Tell-Tale Heart. Yes! The old man’s beating heart drove his killer wild. His fixation on the old man’s eye, that sickening stare! I felt dangerous. There I was, standing in the kitchen stirring onions in a pot, the hissing of the hot oil and onions, Rachelle’s voice, my voice, the ferret scratching at his cage, the gurgle in the fish tank... All of this noise, this racket, could not drown out that simple tone viciously dinning in my ears: The song of overwhelming sadness and sorrow.
It wasn’t so loud, but it was louder. Always some decibel higher than the loudest sound. I thought, “My God, I am that man with the tone ringing in his ears!”
Then Rachelle asked me, “Daddy, can we play lions? You can be the daddy and I’ll be the baby.”
“Okay sweety. First let me crush the tomatoes in our soup.”
Moments later we were lions on the floor chasing jackrabbits and eating gazelles. I realized the tone had disappeared after a big game hunter shot me in the leg. I hobbled around on three legs groaning and begging my lion cub to run away so the hunter couldn’t shoot her too. But she wouldn’t hear of abandoning her father. She bit through my back skin, pulled me behind a rock, and laid me down in a clump of African grass. The bright orange sun fell and the stars came out of hiding. The hunter went home so I sent my cub away to find some giraffe oil. When she returned, I had her pull the bullet out with her teeth and rub the oil over my wound. Soon we were out on the Serengeti once again, playfully chasing rabbits and eating gazelles.
I got up from play to toss more herbs into the soup. Then we walked to the diner for Rachelle’s birthday dinner. Omelets and raisin toast. The rain was pouring down. Rachelle wore my hat. I had to carry her because she was a puppy dog and terribly frightened of crossing the street.
We took off our wet things and hung them on hooks beside our booth. I was thinking again about Larry’s tone, the one that came and went—was it similar to mine? I thought about the men who go overboard, who strangely and suddenly lose the few marbles they have left. Is it because of the tone? Does it ever go away for them?
I didn’t have time to smoke a cigarette before ordering. Rachelle wanted to play with her zebras. She took them out of her coat pocket and set them on the Serengeti. There were three, but she kept one at bay. He would be the baby when the time came for the other two zebras to make a baby.
Man zebra goes out into the desert. We don’t know why, but he goes, and leaves the mother alone in her present condition. Months later he returns and kisses the mother. A colt lies next to her in the grass. “Who’s this?” the man asks.
“He is your son. I have named him Fred. Fred is a good name for a boy.”
“Here come the omelettes honey. Set the zebras down on the jelly rack to graze.”
We ate our dinner gaily chatting the whole time about zebras, lions, and puppy dogs who live outdoors. Perfect! No tone. No hum. No sadness. The now without the tone. Just the smell and taste of a good greasy omelet and the feel of hunger being satisfied. Rachelle put the zebras back into their pocket home, and I carried my puppy dog back to our dry apartment across the street.
Once inside, she sat down at the kitchen table and I set the birthday cake in front of her craving eyes. I grabbed one of Scott’s huge party candles and pushed it down into the center of the cake. Then out loud she wished that she was a lion and sent the candle’s flame to God knows where.
After cake she unwrapped her gift. A Chinese tea pot with cups and a poem that I wrote in her honor. We sipped hot tea and spoke Chinese for a few minutes. Then the telephone rang. It was Michelle calling from New York. She wanted to wish Rachelle a happy birthday. While they talked I had time to think about the tone that possessed me earlier. Why the tone? Damn that Mary! Why am I here again? Why the blue day and night? Why the separation, the loneliness, the despair? A faint ringing began in my ears and I grabbed the phone out of Rachelle’s hands...
“Michelle, am I nuts? I feel cornered. I’m up against the wall turning in circles. I feel life being sucked out of me. Damn that Mary and her gravitational pull! She may be losing touch, but I am going crazy. Wait, can you hear that? Why can’t you hear it? Oh, if you could only hear, you would understand. Listen, Rachelle is calling me. I have to go. We have a date at the movies. Goodbye...”
We ran to the theater in the rain, bought our tickets and found a seat in the last row.
Oh Rachelle at the movies! How they move her! So many times she has wept over the injury or death of animals in the cinema. Once I had to cover her mouth with a popcorn bag during one of her weeping fits. She was hyperventilating.
Her sorrow is of the abrupt, present kind. A horse lay in the hay dying. I look at Rachelle and she starts to wail. “Daddy, ah, ah, I can’t breathe!” Two years ago I had to rush her out of the theater because a cat fell into the running rapids of a river and had apparently drowned. Her sadness is overwhelming. It is not tonal, not gradual. It attacks her on the spot without her ever knowing. When it comes, it is abrupt and powerful, but it leaves even quicker. Waves of sorrow. But she does not invent them. They must come from the outside. There can be no tone within her.
Sure enough, during the present movie, a bear was shot point blank. As he lay writhing on the jungle floor, Rachelle cried out, “My God Daddy, the bear is going to die! Why did the men have to shoot him? Why Daddy, why!?” The entire theater of faces turn to look at us. Children everywhere, but only one feeling some awful pain. Actually, two. Tears are streaming down my cheeks as I stare in amazement at a creature far more beautiful than I. She is the beauty God desired for the human race. This is all-powerful. This is real. The movie, the movie house, the towns and cities, the outside world and everything inside of it is false. A distortion. Men are running in circles, around their own personalized hyperactivity, hearing unbearable tones, which they have made bearable, though no less painful, through some sort of controlled mentality which I cannot fathom. I can’t feel the pain, and at the same time, stand my life. I want Rachelle’s sorrow. I demand it of myself. I am tired of being false. God damn it my tears should flood these streets because a talking bear was shot point blank!
Sitting there weeping in the world theater with my only child, I realized that I could not live with the tone. I will not stand for any ringing in my ears. To receive the tone means to never really wake up from the bad dream. To walk sound asleep with my eyes wide open throughout the day and tuck myself under covers each night with the sorrowful song. Alive with sadness, dead of joy. No cries of joy or sorrow. Just tones. Miserable, rotten tones.
Larry’s wisdom was at a peak last Thursday night. Maybe everyone is plagued with the tone, some more often than others. I watch my child cry while we stare out over an Indian sunset. The illusion of the two of us standing in a field of green, innocent before the world as a million colors leap and dance about us, is an illusion no different than sitting in a greasy diner jumping zebras over napkin holders. There are no small illusions. Just one is enough, though, to carry with it all the burdens of mankind. What makes us human is our misunderstanding of everything. What makes us gods is our misunderstanding of everything! The difference, if there is one at all, cannot be found in words. But what about music? Yes music. Why not? The music of our mind and body. This is how we will conduct the tone.
By now you must understand, even if you misunderstand, that the tone and illusion are one in the same thing. We all have it. Each of us has our own, personal tone. Well, what can we do about it? Please, read on while I offer you the challenge of simplicity.
For the ancients, I give an ancient remedy to relieve oneself of modern illusions:
“No thought, no reflection, no analysis,
No cultivation, no intention,
Let it settle itself...”
For the modern, I offer two choices, neither of which are actual remedies. Just hope for the best:
Shoot yourself, or conduct your tone in the most playful manner possible. Tune it in on your pretend flute while the children dance around you in the wet grass. Play lion cub, zebra father, monkey brother... Play yourself, and plant seeds in the earth. Pay absolutely no attention to your neighbor’s neurosis. Sleep when you are tired, eat when you are hungry. Cook your own food. Abstain from meat. Wash your vegetables, your dishes, steam your corn—for God’s sake, don’t boil it! Walk, don’t drive. Catch at least a glimpse of as many sunsets as possible. Awake at dawn and be your own weatherman. Teach by example, if you have to teach at all. Be humble but not stupid. Never demand a thing from anyone. And, if you happen to come into some extra money, find an outlet for it immediately.
I cannot promise that the tone will disappear altogether. It may be a fact that the song of our wrong selves will play on forever. The world of illusion is very real.
Another mind and manner change that set me up for perpetual public failure was the addiction to literally combating federal foreign policy and propaganda which I had zero power to influence. The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and then 2003 slaughter in Iraq made me a cowardly enemy of the United States government and many of its subjects. It has been nearly 20 years since the beginning of these endless tragedies, and my rage has only increased. No need to worry for your personal safety. I am an armchair freedom fighter. I don’t even make an audible bark for it to be worse than my bite.
Letter to Mr. Ahmed Kuschbash, an Old Afghan Man Watching His Grandbabies Explode
You don’t know me but I am a citizen of the United States. Your country is being bombed by my leader’s followers and I don’t care. I’m too worried about getting a job. Anyway, what special prize would I get for wondering about the safety of your family? So you see, I can’t worry. The President said not to worry. He said America is fighting a crusade against evil. To tell the truth I also find some solace in the green flashes and thick, hot smoke choking your insignificant nation. It’s interesting and, I confess, even a bit soothing to my spirit. My television won’t show your son’s intestines hanging out of his barely breathing body. I think that’s because our journalists would chew on a hot sandwich with curly fries rather than tell the truth.
I don’t care because I can’t, not because I would, even if I could. I am an American scum, a coward, a hideabout. This winter I’ll most certainly pay taxes on time to have my road paved next year and your grandchildren blown apart tomorrow. I am not alone. All of my American brethren are cowards too. As long as the money comes, and the video, and the new car—we will hand money over to the war machine, the evil crusaders, the sick fundamentalist white, black, and blue preachers who run the country now. Thanksgiving is in two weeks and I think we’d eat you dirty people if the President told us too, and ordered his generals to wrap you up in plastic mesh bags like headless Tom Turkeys.
Mr. Kuschbash, I understand that you just turned seventy-nine years old. Congratulations on your long life. Hopefully upon reading this, you still have warm blood in circulation. Or has one of our bombs already speckled your cave walls red? Do you like dying for no cause? Were you retired? No, you could not possibly understand what that word means. You’re still milking a single goat and will every morning until a United States soldier fires a bullet through your head for speaking in tongues. You should see how the little old men and women of America sympathize with your present plight! As long as the retirement check comes in the mail, the typical senior citizen does not care a new set of teeth if a troop of soldiers just forced you to swallow your own big toe. Would you care about them if you had shuffleboard, golf, a proud array of cheap pretty things to look at, and lavender-scented sheets to lie down upon? Yes you would. But you’re an ancient religion that Americans cannot for the life of them understand, even though they’ve been given the power to think freely. Americans are spoiled dogs. Loyal pets to the machine. Dedicated in equal proportion to the amount of hamburger chunks tossed to them.
I must admit that I am no better. Yes, I am young and against everything, but I also have my own babies, and do not intend to raise a finger to help you old man. I fear that something bad might befall my family. I fear my government, but not in the same way that you fear it. In this country, a soldier cannot pull a man out of his home and shoot him dead in the street. Not here in America! No, the sneaky rats of our government would have the flag wavers do it to him first. My own neighbors, the mob of men and women who need Afghan children to die so their hearts can glow warm with brotherhood. No, if I show the slightest mark of dissent, their gentle ways, their hearts overflowing with glorious thoughts of brotherhood, will break into my house, rape my wife, call my oldest daughter a sand-nigger loving toad, and surely stone me to death. I see what bombing your country does to them. It fills them with purchasing power. They’re hopping up and down, joyfully waiting for Saturday’s tip to the shopping mall. Every single one of these monsters I see about town will remain silent until our government says that the war is over. Translated into the Afghan tongue that means literally “get a good look at your friend’s head today, Mr. Kuschbash, for tomorrow it’s faceless history.”
It is the mob mentality of my neighbors, the living dead, waiting for their chance at shuffleboard and medicated living; they are the guilty ones. God says so. Any real poet says so. Yet both are forced into quiet for fear of their lives. Yes Mr. Kuschbash, it’s true. America would blow it’s own God out of the sky if it stood in the way of their right to be ignorant and lazy. My street’s representative to God has an American flag waving from his porch roof and satellite dish attached to his steeple. He must also appreciate very much the green flashes ripping across night sky!
I understand that you had nothing to do with crashing jet liners into very tall buildings. But I promise you that I am the only one here who understands that much. My countrymen would disagree, because the President says you have to die else the price of gasoline and airline tickets will rise by twelve percent. That’s all the reason anyone here needs to want proof that you are dead.
Dear Mr. Kuschbash, are you still reading? Or did you crawl out of your cave to milk the goat, pump some water, or do whatever poor, luckless chore you must do to survive? I understand. My President publicly swears that you’re a violent madman. He vows to kill you and everyone. I know he is sexually, religiously, and ferociously frustrated. And he is also true evil. He and everyone else in the world knows that your only utensil is a scratched, aluminum spoon. And no doubt old man, you have the superpower to pop out our eyeballs and fling them with that spoon.
Finished? Yes of course you are! Might as well enjoy what night you have left, do whatever it is you funny-looking ragamuffins do for enjoyment, play a game with a long stick, smile your toothless hopes and dreams for one more night, because tomorrow you’re dead waste!
Anyway, what I want to know is this... What would you do if the American war machine accidentally left behind a B-52 bomber outside your cave? Inside the cockpit you’ll find a little instructional manual written in Arabic. It contains information needed to fly it, and mechanically unlatch the big hatch in the hull so you can drop shiny yellow bombs and matching colored food parcels on the harmless village of your choice. What would you do with such a gift? Would you follow through with its original, satanic intentions? Not likely. I think instead, you’d set up housekeeping in the plane, divide the food out evenly among your family and friends, and let the goat nibble on the shiny yellow bombs. I would wait for your reply to tell me if my assumption is right, but your head and body will be separate by morning. Oh well.
Here’s a fact about those shiny yellow bombs. Did you know that our barely literate military pilots name each one before dropping it on your children? Here in America we watch the TV news every night, every single lonely night, just night after night after night, and many more nights to come until the final night comes, about the same time at night when you walk outside to milk your goat. There’s a video of a pilot smiling as he writes “from NYC fire department” across one. They personalize the bombs. It’s funny business to Americans. All of us put a smile on before killing your families from thirty thousand feet up in the Afghan sky. Each one of these baby killers would shit himself in your sandbox if forced to explain his cowardly behavior to you face to face. I know the anger boiling inside your soul. I know that you will want revenge if you survive an attack. I know that if you were a few decades younger, you would become tomorrow’s terrorist, and offer your life up to the nearest demagogue with a semi-feasible plan. An eye for an eye, correct? I would do the same. Who in God’s whole creation would not?
These news videos fill me with dread. But I will forget about you Mr. Kuschbash just minutes after I turn off the television. I promised my daughter creme bruleé for dessert tonight. This morning I watched my wife get out of bed, and was aroused by her beauty. The moment she stepped into the shower, three maybe four American bombs erased the village on the other side of that mountain. Your village is next Ahmed. I am sorry that no one will be left to buy a bag of your goat’s milk. But as far as I can tell, I am the only one who is sorry in America.
But to be completely honest... If I had only goat’s milk to bake in my custard, and my government began bombing you so that cow’s milk would come back to my kitchen, and the TV news anchor man said, “Don’t worry! We’ll never show you a dead Afghan child. Just pretty green flashes and objects exploding on the ground which we’re told were trucks carrying fuel to Afghan tanks. Either that or water jugs being pulled by Afghan mules...” If I could get these conditions to insure a sweet and silky custard, I too would not care a beating heart about you Mr. Kuschbash. That’s the truth. And absolutely universal outside of Afghanistan!
I just got into the family bed and snuggled up in my sheets to watch my beautiful baby dream. She’s nine months old and fully enjoying her free and happy existence. My wife just stepped out of a hot shower and one American bomb just blew your neighbor’s cave up into dust and blood. You heard the screams. Did you think that terrorists lived there? You thought that Omar and his two shy daughters weaved blankets all day to sell at market. Not anymore. America said it will kill anyone with the name Omar. Then it said it will kill anyone who weaves blankets. It’s not a crusade against the evil ones. No. It’s a massacre of the different. It is the hot winds of destruction sent by the foul breath of human nature. The pretending innocents sit down to eat a bowl of custard. They won’t partake in the slaughter of humanity, directly. They just eat dessert and complain a little bit while the Kuschbash population is erased from existence.
The sun is rising in the East where America digs for you a hot smoking tomb Mr. Kuschbash.
I am sorry for you old man. But in this age of distrust and paranoia, I promise to forever remain more sorry for myself.
Ron Throop. An American coward.
I began with mediocrity to explain away my financial failure as an artist. Taylor Swift is a promoted pop singer of passable talents who wants to be a billionaire. So is Bob Dylan, my choice musical celebrity. Read about his greed here.
So I can’t go back to cooking. And certainly not restaurant entrepreneurship. To successfully chef at my own bistro would take ten years off my life. If I had 30 or so years to live, it makes no sense to cut life down a decade just to prove that I can succeed as restaurateur. I cook. We eat. Sometimes we entertain. Years ago I wrote about the time theft of opening a restaurant. Newly married, I was seeking a profitable routine which I could control creatively. Every day while cooking for another chef, I dreamed of owning my own restaurant. What would be gained? And lost? Dreaming cost nothing. So I imagined scenarios. Click here to read the reason why cooking never took off, though the fuel was primed and the launch pad ready.
Penultimately, an art exhibition about Empty Nest here, a tribute to the ongoing phase coinciding with late mid-life crisis and career confusion. A perfect storm of abnormal psychology!
Finally, I got married once, and will never be married again. Read how I plan to end the beginning here.
Thanks for the visit! I’m looking forward to the next two weeks of Christmas planning. Please stay tuned!