I Had A Good Home But I Left.

As the holidays approach, I frequently think about those Americans who are serving overseas who won’t be able to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas or the New Year with their families. I think a lot about the hardships and risks they face every day so that the rest of us can live free and exercise our Constitutional rights.

Lately, I think a lot about the hopeless situation that awaits them when they get back stateside. They’ll arrive here rattled and shell shocked from the grim realities of combat, and we’ll welcome them with no jobs and foreclosed homes and drastically reduced veteran’s benefits.

This song by Tom Waits pretty much sums it up. The only video I could find for the song is this photo compilation by a vet from Afghanistan. I’ve quoted the lyrics in full below because of how much they resonate.

I had a good home but I left

I had a good home but I left, right, left.

That big fucking bomb made me deaf, deaf.

A Humvee mechanic put his Kevlar on wrong

I guarantee you'll meet up with a suicide bomb.

Hell broke luce

Hell broke luce.

Big fucking ditches in the middle of the road

You pay a hundred dollars just for fillin' in the hole.

Listen to the general every goddamn word

How many ways can you polish up a turd?

Left, right, left, left, right

Left, right

Hell broke luce

Hell broke luce

Hell broke luce.

How is it that the only ones responsible for making this mess

Got their sorry asses stapled to a goddamn desk?

Hell broke luce

Hell broke luce

Left, right, left.

What did you do before the war?

I was a chef, I was a chef.

What was your name?

It was Geoff, Geoff.

I lost my buddy and I wept, wept.

I come down from the meth

So I slept, slept.

I had a good home but I left, left.

Pantsed at the wind for a joke.

I pranced right in with the dope

Glanced at her shin she said nope.

Left, right, left.

Nimrod Bodfish have you any wool?

Get me another body bag the body bag's full.

My face was scorched, scorched.

I miss my home I miss my porch, porch.

Left, right, left.

Can I go home in March? March?

My stanch was a chin full of soap.

That rancid dinner with the pope.

Left, right, left.

Kelly Presutto got his thumbs blown off.

Sergio's developing a real bad cough

Sergio's developing a real bad cough.

Hell broke luce

Hell broke luce

Hell broke luce.

Boom went his head away

And boom went Valerie.

What the hell was it that the president said?

Give him a beautiful parade instead.

Left, right, left.

When I was over here I never got to vote.

I left my arm in my coat.

My mom she died and never wrote.

We sat by the fire and ate a goat.

Just before he died he had a toke.

Now I'm home

And I'm blind

And I'm broke.

What is next?

It’s songs like this that make me understand what it means to be a poet.

This song also makes me very thankful that there are people out there who are willing to go through this hellishness all in the name of defending the liberties of their fellow Americans.

I think it’s also worth remembering that these soldiers defending our country include a large percentage of kids under the age of 25. Some of them are still teenagers. The responsibilities resting on the shoulders of those so young boggle my mind.

Here’s why I bring up the ages of the soldiers. In light of the Occupy Wall Street movement, many people with right-leaning political views have been disparaging the youth of this country. The parade of insults is constant and loud: The youth are lazy. They want everything handed to them. They feel entitled. They’re dirty. They’re stupid and don’t know their history. In fact, if they only knew the history of the 1960’s, they wouldn’t follow in the footsteps of the hippies who came before them because those hippies were such abject failures when they protested back in the day. Not to mention the fact that hippies are SUCH bad roll-models.

As a college professor who until recently taught the eighteen-to-twenty-five set, I find this condescending attitude hilarious. Every time I hear someone say, “Those kids should spend less time protesting and more time reading up on their history books,” I want to say, “Should they do this before or after they finish bailing this country out of bankruptcy, mending our dysfunctional political system, rescuing the environment, and fighting our two wars?”

I also want to point out that these kids learn PLENTY at college about the 1960’s, but I don’t think they take away the lessons the older generation THINKS they take away. When the conservative baby boomers remember the hippies of the 60’s, it’s all about that nasty free love and spitting on the soldiers returning from ‘Nam.

They conveniently forget that the protest movements of the 1960’s brought about huge social changes, including civil rights, women’s rights, and an end to the war in Vietnam. So when the kids learn about non-violent protests in school, they’re learning about how these so-called “smelly hippies” achieved massive social reform by banding their voices together in solidarity.

And here’s another thing about the youth of today. They LOVE our soldiers. They’re crazy-patriotic about the sacrifices our young men and women are making overseas. So if the older, conservative boomers are expecting these kids to spit on returning vets, they’re in for a big surprise. The youth are welcoming returning soldiers with open arms, and returning soldiers are feeling a solidarity with their peers that is markedly different than the welcome soldiers received upon returning from Vietnam.

And these children that you spit on

As they try to change their world

Are immune to your consulation;

They're quite aware of what they're going through.

Changes, David Bowie

So images like this that imply that one political agenda is somehow more “American” than the opposing political agenda both sicken and perplex me. First of all, I think it’s pretty fair to say that the fringes of the left and the fringes of the right are equally moronic, so to suggest that somehow one movement is more wholesomely American than the movement opposing it is straight-up ridiculous.

It’s also ridiculous in light of what veterans face when they return to this country. Colbert says it better than I can…

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The point is, we Americans have a problem with hypocrisy when it comes to our vets. After all, while slashing veteran's benefits for our returning young men and women isn't literally spitting on them, it's not treating their service and sacrifice with the respect it deserves.

So when I see images like this, I get really, really angry. To imply that one political perspective is somehow more patriotic (and therefore more “protected”) than the perspective of other Americans is itself un-American. In fact, it’s about as un-American as it gets.

Exploiting the troops in this way is shameful. As any moron knows, the US military is made up of people from all walks of life - people with different ethnic traditions, people with diverse class backgrounds, and people who hold a multitude of religious beliefs. The beauty of this organization is that all of these disparate people can work together to achieve mighty things BECAUSE they share a common goal - to protect the liberties granted to ALL Americans under the US Constitution. ALL Americans. ALL of us. Not some. ALL.

This sort of propaganda is deplorable. The exploitation of the individuals in this photo sickens me. Whoever captioned this photo has absolutely no clue whatsoever concerning the political leanings of any of the soldiers depicted. Yet the implication is clear: The truly patriotic among us, even and especially the US military, scoff at those dirty hippies who are participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Worse, this sort of propaganda implies that the current police brutality faced by the Occupy Wall Street protesters all over the country is somehow justified. That young Americans sitting in a circle doing NOTHING deserve to be pepper-sprayed and beaten with batons if they don’t disperse. So much for the police using violence only as a last resort.

And to those who would complain that one group’s expression of free speech shouldn’t come at the expense of the rest of us, I say this: Remember those deplorable acts of police brutality that occurred when those right-wing protestors were blocking the streets and picketing the funerals of gay soldiers? Yeah, neither do I.

Fortunately, our returning vets seem to have an opinion on how American protesters are being treated at the hands of the police in this country.

These attitudes make sense considering that these returning soldiers have real, practical experience in violence and crowd control. They know first-hand what are appropriate measures to take in a given situation, and what are NOT.

The conclusion? Tear gassing old women in wheelchairs? NOT. Concussing a fellow veteran with a flash bomb? NOT. Shooting teenage girls in the face with rubber bullets? NOT. Hitting unarmed civilians with batons? NOT. Spraying a pregnant student with pepper spray and causing her to miscarry? NOT.

Here’s a video of a vet named Shamar Thomas, who talks about his experience dressing down some New York police officers who were in the process of forcibly dispersing some peaceful protesters:

The thing is, every single American, no matter your political stripes, should be absolutely outraged over the behavior of police towards this protest movement. Are some elements of the Occupy Wall Street movement behaving inappropriately and in a way that merits police intervention? Of course, and in those instances the police provide a valuable service. But the problem is that the police are casting far too wide of a net, and are hurting people who DO NOT DESERVE to be brutalized for exercising free speech - even if their protest is inconvenient for the rest of us.

So what I’m thankful for most this Thanksgiving is the protection of our troops. Not only overseas, but also here at home. To those who feel so inclined to step between a cop with a baton and an unarmed civilian, I say

Thank you, soldier.


Cucumber Moon.

He visits each day at the crack of noon.

He makes his offering; we commune.

Lunch from a sack; we use no spoon.

He casts my share upon the dune.

I go to where the scraps are strewn -

Leery of him, but such a boon!

To his charms I am not immune -

My trust breaks free of its tight cocoon,

And thus we spend the afternoon.

When he leaves, it seems too soon.

As he departs, I caw a tune.

Until tomorrow, my heart is hewn.

He makes me dream of a cucumber moon.

Gift to a raven on your birthday.

Gift of a raven on your birthday.

May all your moons be cucumbers.


The Devil You Know.

Since my Halloween costume last year was such an elaborate production, this year I decided to keep it simple and just go out dressed as myself.

Hang out for a quiet night at the Golden West.

I know it was a quiet night because the cops only showed up three times.

I also got to shoot some pool with The Devil, which was nice because we've both been so busy lately.

As anyone knows, you can’t shoot pool with The Devil without him insisting on a sizeable wager. It’s a thing with him, but you put up with it because he has so many positive qualities, too.

The Devil says to me, “If I win, I want a scorching hot kiss from those frosty lips every day for eternity.”

Then he says, “If you win, I’ll give you …” (dramatic pause) “... A fiddle made of gold.”

Then I say, “You’re constantly trying to pawn off those golden fiddles. What in the world am I going to do with a damned golden fiddle?”

And he says, “Are you kidding? Have you seen the price of gold lately? Plus, with a fiddle made of gold, think of all of the souls of men you could torture with your haunted fiddling. WhhooooOOOOoooooOOOOOOooo!!!”

“Dude. Seriously.”

“Okay, fine. What do you want if you win then?”

And I say, “I want the contracts to all of the lost souls of gunslingers, Navy Seals, and rock guitar gods. OH. And some prime Coastal California real estate. That’ll never devalue.”

And he says, “Prime Coastal California real estate? Who do you think I am, Jesus?”

I thought about trying to negotiate for Raiders season tickets, but look at me - I don’t think I’d need The Devil’s help for that.

Nonetheless, I was struck by The Devil’s question.

“Who do you think I am?”

It’s a good question for Halloween.

The boundaries between who we actually are and who we think we are and who we pretend we are get blurred. Things appear out of context.

I can’t say it any better than Kurt Vonnegut: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

I would never tell anybody that I know who I am.

That would be a damnable lie.

Who I am changes every second I exist. I am not the same person I was three months ago or three years ago or three decades ago.

These changes in the “am” are incremental and gradual and occur over time. I barely notice them as I move forward, yet when I look back, there they are.

The fact is, the am that I am right now is different than the am that I was a minute ago. So if by the time I ask the question, “Who am I?” who I am has already changed, how can I claim that I know who I am? How can I even answer the question?

Unless the answer is, “I don’t know.”

Or maybe, “It varies.”

So even though when The Devil asks you a question you'd be wise to answer it, the truth is, I don’t worry about The Devil’s question much.

Because when it comes right down to it…

My wings come off at the end of the night just like all of the other succubi.