The Small Town I Miss

Posted January 17, 2022 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

This morning’s New York Times devotes a half-page to an obituary for the cultural critic, Terry Teachout. He died last Thursday at the age of 65. He was a critic of many things, including music, films, theater, books, and dance, and his writing appeared in many prominent publications, most notably the Wall Street Journal and sometimes the Times itself.

He lived for decades in big cities, especially New York, and he was very bright and his writing was shrewd and perceptive. He was culturally and politically conservative, but you’d hardly notice that from the range and intellectual perception of his reviews and essays.

But what caught my attention was what the obituary said about his growing up. Teachout was born in Cape Girardeau in southeast Missouri “and raised in Sikeston, about 30 miles south. His father, Bert, sold hardware, and his mother, (Crosno) Teachout, worked as a secretary for an accountant.

“It was, he recalled . . . an idyllic childhood, full of textbook Americana — big backyards and Fourth of July parades and football. His mother was a high school beauty queen. He loved it, and missed it, long after he had moved to New York.”

And I thought: yes, I know what he meant. I missed my teenage years, too. And before that, my four grammar school years — grades one through four — living in the country with my grandparents.

My mother and I had rough years before that, living in an apartment in New Haven, with her husband and my sperm-provider (I refuse to call him my “father.”). He was a reporter with the local morning newspaper and was an alcoholic and would beat my mother in front of me. She finally left him and we moved back into her parents’ home and suddenly things turned good.

It was a two-story house in a neighboring town. My mother and I slept on the second floor. My grandfather came from Germany, my grandmother from Croatia, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Two of my uncles also lived at home. So I had plenty of interesting company. And there were no other houses nearby. You could look south for miles across the fields and not see another house or road. We had to walk through a small forest to get to the mailbox. I loved it.

When my mother divorced her husband and went to work in an office, she met a good man, whose wife recently died. They married. He adopted me, and became my real “father.” We all moved into his apartment in New Haven and within a year, my brother was born and we all settled into our new life.

Five years later, my new father bought a house in Cheshire, about 15 miles outside of New Haven, and my childhood continued to blossom. Instead of me moving into someone else’s home, all four of us moved into our new home at the same time. It was as much my home as it was theirs. I was no longer a Dickens’ character begging for someone to take me in. I was now a full-fledged member of a family, all of whom were starting in the same place at the same time.

Cheshire, was small in the early-1950s: maybe two thousand people. And it was largely agricultural, especially big in apple orchards. It would take two more years before it would build a high school.

It was a town with a general store called Hines. It had a small, wooden Catholic church named St. Bridget’s, and a small grammar school and a small library and a small everything else.

That’s what helped make it wonderful. Everyone, even we late-comers, felt part of the local fabric. People knew each other, said hello when they met at the post office or at Hines’. We commuted to work and to high schools in neighboring towns and cities. But when we came home, it wasn’t just to our street or our house; it was to our town.

Everything was small scale. Behind our large backyard was somebody’s swamp land, which would freeze in the winter and people would come to skate. In town was a small movie theater that could seat about a hundred. Just down the road was Morton’s Pharmacy, where you could sit at the counter and eat a grilled cheese sandwich and a pickle or have a milkshake.

I had a bike and would ride through the back roads in our neighborhood. And when the town finally built a high school, I could walk to it. I was a junior and a year later, was in the first graduating class. There were about 70 of us graduating.

Everything felt knitted together. It wasn’t just a small town. It was a community of people who felt part of a pattern that defined who we were and how we felt about that. And we felt good about it, comforted by it, in love with it. Things made sense. Things that we did felt connected.

As with Teachout, I loved it and I miss it.

Of course, it’s all gone. It’s no longer a small, modest town. Lots of money arrived. People built big, expensive houses. Local businesses gave way to chain stores and other corporate giants. The ice-skating swamp became a housing development. The high school has added enormous wings and dozens of students drive their own cars to class. The main road in and out of the town is clogged with traffic from three o’clock on. The population has exploded to 28,000.

But when the town was small, and I was emerging into my mid-teens, Cheshire felt like the place where I could finally tie together the outside and the inside.

But that was then, and today is now. And I have lived back in the city for close to 60 years.

Yale owns all the houses on the opposite side of my street. And my apartment is just a 10-minute bicycle ride from where I lived as a child when my mother was beaten by her husband.

A Cold Breakfast

Posted January 15, 2022 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Today is probably the coldest day of this year’s winter. At six o’clock this morning, my thermometer outside my study window read 6 degrees. The wind-chill at that time was probably close to zero. Too cold for me to go out right away and get in my car and go feed the birds at the two locations I visit every morning all year long.

So I waited a few hours. Then at about 10:15, I got in my car, and it started up, thanks to a brand new battery installed this past Tuesday by AAA, after my old battery died.

I was a little more than two hours later than usual, and most of the birds were hunkered down somewhere else. They probably figured I wasn’t coming. Usually, there are about a hundred sparrows and grackles and pigeons and blue jays and doves and starlings and others, when I show up, all prepared to feast on the food I spread all over the asphalt in the corner of the parking lot next to the Yale hockey rink.

But this morning, there were only about 15 doves. They had waited patiently, giving me the benefit of the doubt. I felt good that I hadn’t let them down. I’m sure word will get out and eventually the rest of the gang will show up to feast on the six cups of peanut pieces and hulled sunflower seeds that I spread out each morning at each of two locations.

Then I got back in the car and drove another mile away to feed the birds next to St. Mary’s cathedral-like Catholic church. There were only three sparrows there waiting and one squirrel. But I laid out the daily feast anyway. It will all be gone by tomorrow morning.

The temperature a half-hour ago had climbed to 17, according to Accu-Weather, but the wind-chill was still around 5 degrees. Tonight, the temperature is expected to drop to 8 degrees, but will feel like 2.

Meanwhile, birds of all kinds are trying to survive. It’s amazing that they do, considering how small their bodies and fragile their bones. But they do. I feel that my feeding them good, delicious wholesome food makes it easier for ‘my’ bunch of winged buddies to make it through the day and the night and the rest of a frigid winter.

But I don’t even want to think about all the cold, homeless dogs and cats that stagger through the frigid night, unfed and unloved. How do they all not die after a weekend like this? Some no doubt do die. Most, I suspect, don’t. Not yet. Maybe next week they’ll die, or next month. In the meantime, they just spend another miserable night in a world that has no place for them.

People in Florida, on the other hand, swim outside in heated hotel pools, while others play canasta when the sun goes down.

Who Writes The Obituary?

Posted January 9, 2022 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

We are all held captive by our obituary writers. They are the ones who give us our last say, as we sink into eternal oblivion. They are the ones who provide us with our final bow, as we move off stage and disappear behind the curtains of forever.

Except that the words are not ours . . .unless, like me, you have already written your obituary. I wrote mine some years ago, and included a photo to be used as visual testimony that, yes, it’s true: I did live once upon time. And later in life, this is what I looked like.

But you should have seen me when I was 18 and then 35 and then a big change when I was 60 but then not so different when I was 80.

At what stage of life does a photograph sum up who you were and how you looked?

I always feel a little sad when I see in obituaries men who died in their 70’s or 80’s, with their final visual goodbye showing themselves in their late-teens or early-twenties, wearing their old Army or Navy uniforms. Was that really the visual highlife of their life, as seen by the relatives they leave behind? Did no one ever take a photo of them late in life that showed how they turned out after their military service?

I’ve asked my brother and my cousins to run the obituary I wrote and to include the photo I‘ve chosen. I’ve shown them where my obituary file is in my file cabinet. Everything is neatly laid out in clear, detailed prose. All they have to do is pencil in the date of my death, and that will be that.

Of course, I come from the generation that wrote things on paper and filed them in steel cabinets. I don’t know how the newspaper will deal with my three-dimensional piece of paper. Will the editor ignore my death because my obituary is not digitalized? Will my death be dismissed because the summary of my life has not been micro-chipped?

There are many obituaries in today’s New Haven Register. One of them describes a woman who died in Greensboro, North Carolina, but was born in the “New Haven area of Connecticut.” It doesn’t say she was actually born in New Haven, just in the “area.“

But she did die in Greensboro where, according to the obituary, she had been “kicking cancer’s ass for almost five years.”

The obituary doesn’t say how old she was when she died. Nor does it say if she’s leaving her husband behind, or even if there was a husband. But she is leaving two brothers behind and four children and three grandchildren.

So we don’t know about the husband or what age she was when she died. But we do learn that she liked “journaling & writing poetry, fishing, crime shows, Harley Davidson Motorcycles, and especially Olaf from Disney’s Frozen.”

I’ve never heard of Disney’s Frozen, but I assume it’s a frozen ice cream thing. But maybe not.

We also learn that she was “fluent in sarcasm.”

I suppose with colorful information like that, we don’t really need a surviving husband or a date of death to get a sense of who she was.

That would just be redundant.

The accompanying photo is simply a close-up of a woman with bangs.

What is really missing from her obituary, it seems to me, is a photo of Barbara astride a Harley, kicking cancer’s ass and laughing like a goddamn loon.

Too Much News

Posted January 3, 2022 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Everyone I know feels bad about our country. And they should, because things in America are bad.

Just look at the news on television or listen to the news on the radio or scan the news on the internet or read the news in newspapers.

It’s non-stop bad news. The thing about news is that you have to know about it for it to be news. Things that aren’t talked about aren’t news. And things that don’t cause trouble or pain aren’t news. Towns that aren’t destroyed by tornados aren’t news. People who don’t attack the nation’s capitol aren’t news.

So news clusters around things that are wrong or people who are bad or events that don’t act normal. Inflation is news. Donald Trump is news. The covid virus is news. Innocent black people gunned down by the police is news. The earth growing hotter and sicker is news.

High tide, on the other hand, is not news, unless it floods a village. The sun is not news unless it heats the earth beyond what’s healthy. The wind is not news unless it destroys a school. An airliner from Paris to New York is not news, unless it runs into a massive storm or crash lands at Kennedy airport.

Something going wrong or someone doing something bad is news. Someone killing grammar school kids is news. Grammar school kids touring an art museum is not news.

As the old newspaper saying puts it: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

The question is: how much of this bad news do we need to know about? And how often do we have to be told the same thing? Television has to fill time, newspapers have to fill space and the internet has to fill screens. If they didn’t, they’d go off the air or go out of business. So they have to convince us that we must watch and read what they say. Even if we’ve heard it 20 times or if it has nothing directly to do with our individual lives.

A massive explosion in Beirut is news, even though it has nothing to do with my life in New Haven. But it’s big and destructive enough for me to feel bad about it and about all the lives it ruined.

News tells us far more than we need to know. And with the news comes an emotional impact. Bad news draws the world together into a huddle of despair.

Yes, the news is bad. That’s for real. Republicans really are trying to overturn the democratic process by undermining the integrity of the voting system. Donald Trump really is lying through his teeth when he says he won the 2020 election and that Joe Biden is an outlaw president. Lies and stupidity really are taking over the national dialogue and dumbing down our ability to think clearly and speak honestly.

But how many times do we have to see that to know it’s true? How many times do we have to see TV coverage of cynicism and mayhem? How many op-ed essays to we have to read that conclude what’s already been concluded a dozen other times?

We see it ! We know it ! We’ll take care of things the next time we vote. We’ll try to stop aggravating the climate. In the meantime, we need to wear a mask, get vaccinated, help our children cope with the pandemic, and stop feeling helpless or despairing from all the news.

The strategy is to: Watch less news. Read more good books. Go see a good movie or walk along a seacoast or through an orchard or take a photo of something interesting in a city.

Stop watching TV news and read a newspaper instead. A newspaper reports news at a distance and at a slower pace. You can digest it over the course of a day, not just within the allotted half-hour or hour.

Take a breath. Slow the pace. Underline key words. Write in the margins. Think about what you just read and put it in perspective.

And get away from screens. Screens are not your friends. They are your tormentors, your slave drivers, your impatient goads, your hyperactive glands. They live by the fizzle of your thyroid.

Just feeling bad about your country is a dead end. It accomplishes nothing except your own depression and passivity.

Change what you don’t like. Vote the bad guys out and the good guys in. See if you can make democracy actually work the way it’s supposed to.

And if worse comes to worse, and the bad guys win. it won’t be for the first time or the last time. But history is never on their side and they will overdo themselves and eventually fall like all the other bums of the past.

The important thing is for you to stay calm and to focus. You don’t need the news to keep telling you over and over that things are bad and that eventually the sky will fall.

We know the sky will fall . . . eventually. That’s the price we pay for being alive. The point is to not to let the sky fall before it’s time.

Generations That Come And Go

Posted December 29, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

There are 10 obituaries in today’s New Haven Register. The ages of nine of the people profiled in what is most likely their final public appearance in print are: 85, 83, 91, 101, 95, 91, 93, 89, and 94.

Those are good, old numbers. People seem to be living longer than ever — at least, people from a generation or two ago.

The question is: how many years make a generation? I’ve heard the number of 33. That seems a little young to me. I’d put the number around 50.

But what does a generation mean and who defines it: popular culture? medical advances? scientific achievements? life expectancy? communication gadgets? the length of skirts? the height of basketball players? the distance of Major League homeruns? the speed of cars? the size of jetliners?

I am 84. How many generations does that put me behind today’s pulse?

Anyway, all those nine people in their eighties and nineties seem to have lived full lives, with children and grandchildren and long-lived jobs and pleasant hobbies and friends galore. And they all pretty much stayed around where they were born. They worked nearby and lived nearby and died nearby.

Today’s generation doesn’t seem to carry on the same magnetic force. They fly all over the place, study in colleges all over the place, get jobs all over the place, marry people from all over the place. You wonder if they even remember where they were born and how it was when they were in grammar school and what their house was like and is it even still there and is home any particular place in the past or is home just where you happen to be at the moment?

Robert Frost said something like, home is where, if you go there, they have to take you in. Do such homes still exist? And does today’s generation care?

One other person on today’s obituary pages doesn’t fit in with all the other old people — either in age or in home. And it’s the saddest and existentially the meanest and most cruel and most absurd of obituaries. If there is a god, he should be ashamed of himself.

The obituary is of a young woman, only 22 years old. She was born in the frozen, distant Siberian city of Tomsk in Russia. But either her mother didn’t want her or couldn’t keep her and so put the little baby up for adoption. And an American couple adopted her and brought her here in the general New Haven area, and she lived in a town called Branford.

A tiny baby in a faraway, frozen land brought across the seas and through the skies to another life, where she was loved and happy and had a home she could settle in. And she was smart and had friends and went to a special high school where she studied medical technologies. And she was exploring the field of nursing, thinking she could combine the two fields.

She enjoyed skiing and camping with her family, and she loved animals and tried to help them in whatever way she could.

This tiny, adopted baby from a frozen land far away, who had been rescued from who knows what might have been a hard, unloved life, grew into a smart and talented and happy young woman a thousand miles away, only to be killed in a stupid but deadly car accident in the town that had become her own.

Sometimes the circumstances of life and death are so stupid and arbitrary and existentially absurd and morally cruel as to render the universe nothing more than a chaotic collection of hit-and-miss tragedies.

It’s enough to make a person stop reading obituary pages.

Not Just Dogs, But German Shepherds

Posted December 22, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for German Shepherds. For all other dogs, really. I am a pushover for dogs, even junkyard dogs or dogs that bark and show their teeth.

An angry, aggressive dog isn’t usually that way on his own. He or she has been abused, beaten, yelled at, deprived of love and food and shelter, or trained by bad humans to be threatening or to attack.

A dog is never bad by nature. If he’s bad at all, it’s because life has treated him rotten.

But if life treats him ok, then a dog — any dog — is like an angel. If there were a god, dogs would be His heavenly choir, singing in the most beautiful bow-wow the universe is ever likely to hear.

When I lived with my grandparents for four years, I got to love their two German Shepherds: Buddy and Shep.

Buddy was old when we met and he died a couple of years later. Shep was the young guy brought in to replace him. Buddy was slow and gentle with me. Shep was more playful. But they both looked out for me, as I navigated my way from first grade to fourth grade at Centerville School. They made sure I was safe and happy when I came home. They taught me that laying in the grass, under a summer sun, was one of life’s most relaxing joys. They taught me that running after a ball was good exercise. They taught me that hugging could really feel nice.

And then six years later, when I had a new father and a just-born brother, and a new house outside the city, we got our own German Shepherd, who we named Fritz. And Fritz was my best pal. We would lie on the carpeted kitchen floor together, nose to nose, with my hand on his side and his eyes closed in a kind half-sleep. And outside, he would follow me — and later follow my brother, when Bill was old enough to keep track of Fritz through the backyards and the small woods around our winter home and along the island roads of our summer home.

Those were the days when dogs were free to roam, and Fritz roamed. He would be gone for an hour and then return home for lunch or a drink of water. He was very smart and would revisit his roaming times at night in his sleep. He yearned to be able to talk human talk so he could tell us what he had seen and what he thought of it all.

So when I learned that President Joe Biden and his wife Jill were bringing their two German Shepherds into the White House to live with them, I was delighted. It was another measure of sensitivity and respect and love that added to the glow of redemption that Joe was bringing to an institution that had been debased by the dog-less presidency of his predecessor.

There were photos of the two dogs — Champ and Major — roaming around the White House lawn and hanging out with the president and the First Lady.

But then things took a bad turn. Champ died at the age of 13, which broke the hearts of Joe and Jill. They paid tribute to Champ with a statement they released after his death, as reported by the New York Times.

“In our most joyful moments,” read the statement, “and in our most grief-stricken days, he was there with us, sensitive to our every unspoken feeling and emotion. We love our sweet, good boy and will miss him always.”

And then Major began to act up. The White House is not your average home, and the people that come and go are not your normal, friendly kind of people. They’re people with agendas and ambitions and high-intensity goals and stopwatches and clipboards and briefcases and raised voices and places to go and political people to meet, and they don’t want dog hairs on their pants legs or wet tongues on their agendas.

And so Major was thrown off balance and a couple of times lost his cool and nipped a guy or two. And so they sent Major to some training sessions, according to Joe’s spokesman, to help Major “adjust to life in the White House.”

But apparently, the training wasn’t good enough, and Major wasn’t in the mood to change his personality to accommodate the stiff necks and double-dealing tight-asses that roam the White House halls. And so Major has been exiled from the White House.

Biden’s spokesman, as reported by the Times, said that “after consulting with dog trainers, animal behaviorists and veterinarians, the first family has decided to follow the experts’ collective recommendations that it would be safest for Major to live in a quieter environment with family friends.”

In other words, Major has been exiled from Joe and Jill and forced to accommodate himself with yet another new situation. Life was good and happy and comfortable before Joe was elected president. Wasn’t Major well-behaved enough when Joe was vice president living in his own vice presidential home?

But now Major’s best dog friend, Champ, has died, leaving Major lonely for that intimate companionship. Plus Major has been thrown into the White House world of agitation and pressure, and forced to put up with a whole battalion of new faces and personalities.

No wonder he was upset and snapped at a few of the new creeps. And for that, he loses his friends, Joe and Jill, loses the intimacy he felt with them for years, loses their daily hugs and pets, and must now live away from them in another house with other people.

And on top of that, Joe and Jill have just bought a new German Shepherd puppy that they’ve named Commander. He is the new canine darling taking over the White House dog duties. Major has become a non-person, exiled because he was too sensitive and too confused.

Will Major be welcomed back when Joe and Jill leave the White House in three or seven years? Will they visit Major in his new, exiled home? Or will they turn their backs on him and act as if he no longer exists because he has become politically inconvenient?
You can turn your back on other people. But you don’t turn your back on a dog. Especially, a German Shepherd dog — a dog that loved you and never meant any harm.

Earth’s Black Box

Posted December 14, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

The good news is that a big box is being built — about the size of a school bus — that will hold all the weather information about planet Earth that is charting the possible — perhaps even likely — extinction of humans and thousands of other species.

When completed, this large container — called “Earth’s Black Box” — will be installed in Australia on the island of Tasmania.

I am not joking. This development was recently reported in all its seriousness in the New York Times.

If things go terribly wrong, any remaining scrub of a human being or, more likely, any extra-terrestrial exploring our destroyed planet, will be able to unlock this box and trace our self-imposed collapse as a species.

The information in the box will detail the devastating consequences of our warming of the planet.

The box will be 33 feet long and made of three-inch steel. Inside the box will be a large, automated, solar-powered hard drive, with the capacity to hold information for up to 50 years.

According to the Times, the box will act as a kind terrestrial flight recorder similar to the flight recorders in jet airliners that record a plane’s final moments before it crashes.

“If civilization does crash,” said the executive director of the Australian advertising company working with the project, “this box will survive with a completely objective data story.”

I’m sure the extra-terrestrials who land on our devastated planet will appreciate the completeness of the information inside the box. What they won’t appreciate is the ignorance and stupidity and recklessness of the former human inhabitants that let their own actions and inactions destroy the conditions under which human life was possible.

The designers of Earth’s Black Box are trying to impress upon the people of the planet that we are in serious trouble as a species and as housekeepers of the Earth. If the current temperature of our planet increases by as little as 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, “the risk of disasters,” according to the Times, “like water shortages, deadly heat waves and ecosystem collapse will grow immensely.”

Already, the world’s temperature has increased by 1.1 degree Celsius.

The hard drive inside the box will hold information about climate change from newspapers, social media, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. It will also collect daily metrics including average oceanic and land temperatures, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and biodiversity loss.

Unfortunately, there are millions of people who don’t take climate change seriously. Some damn fools in power won’t even admit that climate change exists. These enemies of the planet in the U.S. tend to accumulate around the Republican Party. They deny anything that doesn’t appeal to their discredited former-president. And he has denounced climate change as just dangerous talk. He wants to see more coal-burning plants and wider use of petroleum.

But there are dictators in other countries worldwide who also dismiss climate change. I can think of Turkey and Brazil as two, and other South American and African countries.

Despite recent international meetings that focused on the issue, serious efforts to control climate change have been more rhetorical than practical.

You and I will escape the worst parts of climate change, unless of course you’re younger than 40. But your grandchildren won’t escape it, nor will their children or their children’s children.

We humans are laying a terrible trap for generations of people to come, not to mention most of the animals worldwide who have no say in the matter.

Climate change is the most serious challenge ever facing the human species. Do we have the brains and the will and the honesty to face it?

I am not optimistic.

But at least The Black Box will detail where we failed.

A Big Fence and Five Dogs

Posted December 6, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

He had nothing to do with the killings. The killing of three people in Missouri — two men and a woman — in 1978. He was only 19 at the time. Not that 19-year-olds can’t kill people. They do it in the U.S. on a regular basis. Sometimes kids as young as 15 kill people . . . in school classrooms.

But in this case, he didn’t do it. He had nothing to do with those killings. The trouble is he was black, and that counts against you in the U.S., especially in Missouri. And he was picked out in a police lineup by a person who later recanted her testimony.

Nevertheless, he was found guilty of the triple murder and was sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 50 years.

And so that’s where he went and that’s where he spent the next 43 years. He couldn’t go to college, couldn’t have a profession, couldn’t marry, couldn’t have kids, couldn’t own a house, couldn’t live a productive, ordinary, normal life.

All because he was found guilty of doing something he didn’t do.

But as the years passed, some people on the outside began to look more carefully into his case. And they found things that didn’t add up. And they tracked down the two men who did kill those three people. And those men said that he had nothing to do with the murder.

And one thing led to another and he was finally released from prison and exonerated. But he was 62 now and had nothing. He was broke, had no home, no wife, no kids, no job.

And the state of Missouri said it didn’t own him anything. He was now free and on his own and starting at rock bottom.

But some people did notice his story and felt that he had been done a deep injustice, and they started an online fund-raising appeal on his behalf to help him get back on his feet after prison.

And the more that people learned of his story and of the terrible injustice done to him and the fact that he was given no help from the state, and that he had hardly any money to begin life on the outside at 62 years of age, they began to contribute to his fund.

So far, the fund has collected $1 million, three hundred thousand dollars, according to the New York Times. As soon as he gets himself a bank account, the money will be transferred from the fund into his account.

Now that he has enough money to help him create a new life, he says he has certain plans. First of all, he plans to leave Missouri. And who can blame him?

And then he says he’s always had a dream of owning some land outside a city. He told the Times how he plans to work that out.

“I’ll build a small house,” he says, “a small bedroom, two- to three bedroom house, have me some chickens and four to five dogs, a fishing pond somewhere close by, a big fence where nobody can get in. Just some alone time, some getaway space.”

It sounds like a perfect plan. I hope he can pull it off. But at today’s real estate prices, he’d better stay west of New England and east of California and north of Chicago.

And I hope he can find a fishing pond that’s not polluted, and a small house with a high fence that has enough space for the dogs to play.

But most of all, I hope he can find the contentment that dogs and chickens and fishing can provide.

We live in mean times. Anger, fear, discontent, stupidity, are loose in the land. The threat of virus infection defines daily life. Millions of people are ready to slit democracy’s throat. Lies are the stuff of maniacal dreams.

It will take a pretty high fence to keep a black man and his dogs safe from the roving multitudes.

We Blew It

Posted November 27, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Planet Earth is just doing what’s natural when it feels under threat. And it is under threat. Deep and dangerous threat. The kind of threat that leads to death and destruction. The kind of threat that can change the whole character of natural life on the entire planet.

The kind of threat that can end much of what Planet Earth has spent millions of years nurturing.

So instead of just passively sitting there and watching bad grow worse and worse grow toxic and toxic grow lethal, Planet Earth has decided to attack the primary cause of this global danger: the human race.

We are the only species capable of turning life on Earth into a Hell zone. Humans are in the process — dating back at least 300 years — of destroying much of the vegetation, the integrity of the soil, the clarity of the seas, the air-cleaning properties of the forests and the viability of the atmosphere.

We are wrecking the planet we are living on — the only planet we will ever live on — because of our ignorance, stupidity, selfishness, arrogance, and deranged ideas.

We look for short-term pleasures at the cost of long-term consequences. We deny the wrong we’re doing by claiming we have some mythical deity ‘watching over us,’ who gave us the planet to play with and who will protect us because the whole goddamned cosmos thinks we are the spiritual children of some cosmic force with a smiley face.

In the short term, we are selfish and ignorant. In the long term, we are delusional and egomaniacal. Everything is about Us, Us, Us. Very little is about the rest of creation. Whales and elephants and the Rain Forest don’t count in our scheme of things. We piss in our drinking water. We defecate in our harbors. We turn on every air conditioner we can lay our hands on. We fill the air with the smoke from our economy’s furnaces. We use electricity to watch people on television lie to us.

We became hopelessly blind ever since we made up stories about how great we were in the eyes of gods we created.

And so now we have turned the planet into purgatory and our future into hell.

So much for our theology.

Which leaves Planet Earth no alternative but to kill us.

We have become Public Enemy Number One. We are too delusional to save ourselves or the Planet. So the Planet must save itself by bringing us down. Planet Earth has begun doing that by unleashing one virus after another to infect our species. And when humans figure out how to combat one virus, the Earth unleashes another one — more dangerous, more complex, more difficult to combat.

Little by little, Planet Earth is ramping up its aggressive counter-attacks against the most serious threat to its quality of life.

Humans have already set in motion an environmental future that will make life not just unpleasant, but untenable. Starvation, dehydration, poisonous water, toxic air will define the lives of our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Immune systems will collapse. Viruses will propagate. Life spans will shrink. War machines will rule.

But eventually humans will die out, much sooner than it took dinosaurs. In fact, dinosaurs would still be in charge of the Earth, it that meteor hadn’t slammed into the ground and brought on decades of icy death. Up until then, life on Earth was rich and fertile. The air was clean. The temperature was mild. The water was pure.

Planet Earth remembers those days and has decided to try to recapture them. But first, the Planet must get rid of the careless, toxic humans that have wrecked everything.

And so today, we have the new Omicron virus, which should put a deeper dent in the humans’ efforts to survive.

We have made an enemy of the Planet. So when it comes to survival, we are on our own.

Given the range of our intelligence and the depth of our understanding, I’d say the odds of our surviving in a world worth living in are not great.

We blew it. And even now, we cling to our coal and oil and natural gas, our poisoned streams and plastic-choked seas and wait for salvation to appear on the shoulders of the next tyrant, who will promise to make The Earth Great Again.

It is a sad tale with a sad ending. It could have been otherwise. But we made up stories that weren’t true. And we patted ourselves on the back with praise we didn’t deserve.

Maybe some other planet has done better. But the only one we’re living on has suffered because of us.

And so Planet Earth is probably right. It’s probably time for us to leave and to hope that someone or something better comes along.

A Fall From Grace

Posted November 19, 2021 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Back when I was in my fifties, there were no cell phones. At least, none that I was aware of. So when I went on my daily two-mile walk, I just walked, unencumbered by machines. Sometimes I would bring my Walkman and play a cassette tape from some classical music or contemporary new sounds music station I had recorded on my tape deck.

But most of the time, it was just me and my hands and feet walking the walk. And it was good. I looked around. I listened to the birds. I checked out the early-morning moon. I watched the seagulls sit on top of the dome of the Woolsey Hall music auditorium. I watched the people hustling off to work. And I carried a cross-body bag holding bird food for the birds I fed at a couple of places along my route.

And then I would hustle back home to change my clothes and drive to work at the ’other’ university in the city. This routine went on for years. I felt good. There was nothing more I needed to make the walk pleasant and healthy.

And then cell phones appeared — the flip kind that I still use. But they didn’t take over my walk in any way. They were like some hidden travel device you took with you when you headed for work or some other distant place. They could be useful in an emergency, but they weren’t anything I thought was necessary.

And so I seldom took my cell phone with me when I went on my morning walk. Why bother? Who would call me, and who would I call, at that early time of day? The flip-phone was just an extension of my land-line, although it had a different number and was portable. But it didn’t mean I had to use it. It was just there, the way my spatula or can opener were there in the kitchen when I needed them.

So, again, I would go out free, for the most part, of devices. It was just me, my sweat pants, New Balance athletic shoes, sweat shirt and jacket and sometimes a baseball cap. And everything was good and lean and free from personal encumbrances and disturbances. All I had to worry about was a potential pulled muscle or a callus on the bottom of my foot.

But then so-called ‘Smart’ phones appeared. And although I didn’t have one — and still don’t — almost everyone I saw on my walk did have one, and was using it all the while they walked. Even when they were walking their dog, they were on the phone in one way or another. No one’s hands or ears were completely free anymore. But mine were.

By this time I had developed the routine of sticking my flip-phone into my pocket, “just in case.” I wasn’t sure what the “just in case” meant, But as I grew older, I figured that something might go enough wrong with my aging body for me to call for help. That has never happened. In all the years and all the times and all the miles I’ve walked, I have never had to call anyone for help . . . or for anything. Sometimes, I might take a photo with my flip-phone, but it was never necessary and never something I needed. I could easily have lived without the photo.

And yet, I have been so influenced by the phone culture, that I now stick my flip-phone into my pocket or in my bag whenever I leave home. I seldom use the phone when I’m out in the world. As a flip-phone, it’s useful for making and receiving calls and for sending and receiving text messages and for taking photos. I can also listen to or read news on the phone, which I never do, especially when I’m out in the world.

At home, I listen to National Public Radio stations or listen to classical music stations or sometimes listen to a sports station. But I never do so out in the world with my flip-phone.

My flip-phone lies like a dead fish in my pocket, seldom aroused by terrestrial or celestial impulses.

And yet, yesterday afternoon, when I left my apartment and was halfway down the road heading for the Yale campus, I suddenly realized that I was missing something. I patted the inside pocket of my zippered jacket and felt the front and back pockets of my Levi jeans.

“Shit !” I said out loud. “I forgot my phone.”

And in that instant, I realized that I had fallen off a noble steed.