The following essay has been updated to reflect additional insight from myself and others.

South Bronx
Image by Republica from Pixabay

America is broken. There’s video evidence everywhere. Facebook. Twitter. Especially Twitter. Instagram. TikTok. I’ve even seen evidence on Truth Social, that Trumpian fountain of irreconcilable conflict between reality and fantasy. You know things are horrible when the liars are lying about lying.

The videos show that Americans hate each other so much that their faces contort from the short-circuiting anger gripping their hearts in headlocks. If someone could put their heart in a headlock, this is what it would be like. Mobs of black, white, and brown teenage girls, it don’t matter, kicking each other’s asses until someone can’t get up anymore. Americans whom we label Karen and Ken with their spittle running down their mouths onto their polyester rayon shirts and sweaters that they bought at their local Kroger or Marshall and swearing that they are the guides to the truth and that I am in the way. Or the traffic stop that turns deadly because one side is talking about power, and the other party is just trying to get home.

“What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate. Some men you can’t reach,” said Strother Martin as Captain in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke. (I love that movie). It’s terrible out here. You better believe it.

I haven’t touched the subject of politics, and I’m already disheartened that America doesn’t seem to have learned anything from its history. The struggle over who this country belongs to is insane. How do we define a nation? Are you talking about land? Or institutions? Or history? It’s not like there’s a deed somewhere with my or your name. All I know is that inside that debate, something terrible is happening. The idea of a United States of America, a people unified behind a concept of liberty and justice for all, all those lost words that have become nothing for Americans or those who will die trying to become Americans.

Image by YasDO from Pixabay

There is a war going on. People are screaming at each other over stupid shit. Meanness has replaced kindness. Empathy has been replaced by antipathy. Threats against persons are commonplace. A gun, a knife, and fists are now the preferred communication tool. Both extreme ends of the political spectrum are gearing up for battle, and many of us are left wondering, “Should I buy a gun or move?” (Move where?) because we all suspect that the real civil war is coming, and it ain’t going to be pretty.

First, I can’t afford a gun except maybe a Nerf Gun, and I may want to kill some people sometimes, but I know I don’t have the cojones to pull a trigger (I’m a lover, not a fighter) or ready for the ugly truth that it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Somewhere in this country (Texas, Florida), the next generations of Americans are being taught a 1950 version of American History where everyone knew their place (Can we like forget those pesky reminders of class, race, and gender warfare and the laws that came out of those battles?). Yeah, some people would rather burn our memories so we don’t remember them and substitute a more tranquil picture of patriotic Americans with their red, white, and blue flags and AR-15s and a mask of revenge and a I don’t give a fuck snarl that is now a license to intimidate whether you like it or not.

2024 and the next presidential election is almost here, and I am terrified that it will turn ugly (Ya’ think?). On one side, we have an incumbent who refuses to see the reality of age before him and that his time has passed (Thank you for your service). We need fresh meat, a fresh perspective, and new ideas.

On the other side, oh my, what can I say? You didn’t think we would let you people take this country away from us? What do you mean, You people? I honestly don’t know who is scarier. The old(er) guy who can barely remember what time period he is in or the other ones who think America needs to go back to that time a hundred and three years ago to find the real America when men were men and women were…well, women who could not vote. Or maybe, at a time when only white men who owned land could only vote (Any time before 1954 would be fine).

Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay copy

I’ve witnessed a lot of American history and hysteria in my nearly seventy-five years. It’s not like I’ve understood everything I’ve seen, but I suspected back then, even when I was a ten-year-old child in 1958 in the South Bronx, that something was very wrong with America. All that talk about the Pledge of Allegiance and the star-spangled banner and that all men are created equal didn’t mean it applied to everyone, only white people, preferably men. Then I was told that certain people had to earn their freedom, not yet but soon, and that those people wouldn’t know what to do with it if they had it. Freedom is earned, not given for free (What?).

I wondered who they were talking about. I was sure the ten-year-old with a Puerto Rican father and a Dominican mother believed all that talk about freedom applied to someone else. Not me. I was born American, and I was free. Then, three years later, I discovered in an all-white school that no, they were also talking about me as they shouted racial insults and thought it was cute to call me Pancho.

American History
Image by SEDAT TAŞ from Pixabay

We are broken. And I don’t know how to fix ourselves. I don’t think you can pass a law to heal us or think you could start all over and try again or decide to ignore it and go about your business and hope that someone comes up with a fix. I worry about the America my sons and granddaughter will meet as they get older in ten, twenty, or even thirty years when we’re supposed to become a nation of majority people of color. All I could hope for is we’re lucky enough to get there alive and well. It’s just that right now; it doesn’t look good from here in 2023.

Work Lessons

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.

Henry J. Kaiser

I’ve been working since I was fifteen years old. Evidence can be found in last week’s essay. I spoke about all the good work I’ve done. Satisfying accomplishments. Hard work (not like my father’s work as a truck mechanic or my mother’s as a mother and head of the house work). Our father lectured us often about not wanting us to end up under the truck with grease on our hands (I wonder what truck mechanics make these days?). Our father also taught us the value of hard work, perseverance, and not being a “lazy bum” to use his words. Of course, I’ve often been accused of taking the working hard part a little too seriously. Workaholic. Workhorse. Hustler. The hardest working man in _____(Fill in the blank).

Of course, there is a negative side to working all the time. It’s called no life. However, when I think about all the jobs I’ve held in my fifty-nine years of working, I can honestly say that my values, life philosophy, and my view of the world and people flow from the experiences of work. Whether being a motorcycle courier (short-cuts and strategy of driving on the L.A. Freeways) or being Executive Producer of Live Television (Where do I begin?), I learned valuable work lessons that became the life lessons I use daily.

A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

Albert Camus

Those who know me well would be shocked to hear that I once thought of myself as shy. When I was with the education advocacy organization United Bronx Parents in 1968, I would often be asked to call parents to invite them to a rally or a meeting. I would be given a phone list with some written speech I was supposed to read to them. I could not, for the life of me, call someone on the phone to ask them to do something or ask them a question. I swear I would freeze. I could barely dial (rotary phone) the letters and numbers.

A simple call would take minutes instead of a minute. My voice would crack from the nervousness. I don’t know why this happened. It just did. I was nineteen years old. Now, mind you, I didn’t seem to have a problem talking to people in person. I’ve spoken to students at an anti-war rally, so why would I crack under pressure from speaking anonymously to someone on the phone? Of course, with time, the phobia disappeared as I realized that those calls were more than calls. They were part of an essential organizing effort to invite Black and Latino parents to take control of their children’s education (It didn’t mean the same then as it does for some parents now). Lesson learned: confidence to solve a problem and inspire people.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

When I was the host of two radio shows at WHUR-FM, Howard University, I spoke to hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people, anonymously, and aside from some early technical f*ck-ups, I learned to take those lessons from United Bronx Parents and used that confidence to speak and connect with that audience. I wasn’t afraid to use the platform I had to not only play great Salsa (La Voz del Barrio) and Jazz (Espiritu Libre) but also speak about national and local political issues. It was the early seventies, Nixon was President, and Washington, D.C. was seen as a city without power for its mostly Black residents (The word plantation was often thrown around). But I learned important lessons about organization, communication techniques, and the ability and courage to tackle complex subjects without fear when needed.

To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth.

Pearl S. Buck

That confidence would strengthen me when I became a television reporter. I asked challenging questions of politicians, police, cat lovers (I covered more than one pet show), bureaucrats and accused people facing trial. There’s a benefit in learning how to not only speak with and to people but also an ability to read people, body language, the skill to see clearly between the lines, and the strength to call people out when you must.

The most critical skills that came out of the first twenty years of work life in New York and Washington, D.C., was the ability to see, hear, and speak of the world square on. Not to flinch when it seemed hopeless but to keep moving forward, through it, around it, under it, over it if necessary.

And all of this happened before I moved to Los Angeles, California, where I knew one person, and my first job was as a motorcycle courier. Up until that point in 1984, I had never ridden a motorcycle. So I went out and learned how to ride one, got a job, and learned how to get around Metro L.A. to the point that I probably knew more shortcuts than most native Angelenos. I learned not only those shortcuts but also so much more about L.A., the city, the culture, and the people. I began to soak myself in the inspiration of this city.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Bartending? Man, if you deal with a bunch of drunk men and women for two and a half years, you should get a medal and a big ass bonus. I learned about herding cats and manipulating (in a good way) people to trust you with their secrets and big tips.

So, I took all the experiences and skills learned in those first L.A. jobs and everything from my time on the east coast, and I knew I was ready for a television production job. Why? Well, producing is about organization, strategy, confidence, patience, people power, creativity, budgets, negotiation, bribery (okay, maybe not in the strict sense of the word), and calling forth all of that New York attitude (Some might call it cojones) that I could muster to rise from a segment producer to an Executive Producer of Live Events. I could synthesize all those skills into doing my job and still learn how to hone them into new skills about people and life and success and the occasional failure without losing my mind or soul.

The call of the artist is to follow the excitement. Where there’s excitement, there’s energy. And where there is energy, there is light.

Rick Rubin, The Creative Act: A Way of Being

There were plenty of other lessons learned at other jobs not mentioned, but in the end, all this has helped me with my college life (Learning a few things there too). I keep going because the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that for a long time, work was my life, and now my life is work for me. I’m taking all I have learned to learn more. Skills to living a fuller life, a life where just waking up every morning breathing, sober, and ready for the day, is the great lesson I’ve learned.

What’s Bugging Me These Days

Image by Sammy-Sander from Pixabay

Watching television and your phone these days, do you ever get the feeling there’s just too much happening in your mind and your life? There’s the stress at work and school and home and community. Pandemic, arguing about Critical Race Theory, vaccination denial, death threats over masks, we won’t get toys in time for the holidays. There’s the social media hysteria. And the Democrats can’t get their act together. They’re practically handing 2022 and 2024 over to you know who. Don’t forget the new narrative about January 6, 2021. The FBI, BLM, Antifa, and yo momma did it. I have a severe headache.

Months ago began refusing to watch the evening opinion shows on CNN and MSNBC. Not because I was in denial. It was just the constant drone of lousy news hysteria and throwing shade, and it was just the same horrible bullshit night after night. There just didn’t seem to be any good news on the horizon. The bad guys were still the bad guys, and I couldn’t figure out who the good guys were. That was the sad part. Everyone points fingers and scream at each other. They accused each other of the worst things imaginable, and no one wanted to take the blame for anything. It was just easier to blame the other person.

Gas and everything else is going up. The supply lines are threatened. And you just can’t help but feel like nothing is happening and that nothing good will come out of this. Wow, this is a good time as any to take a deep breath and step out of the vortex of negativity, misinformation, and selfishness.

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

That’s a big part of the problem. You see and read more examples every day where people would rather satisfy their little selfish needs than take the time to see how their actions might impact their family or friends, or neighbors. Whether it’s speeding through someone’s neighborhood or refusing violently to wear a mask when asked, or shouting death to your neighbor every time you disagree with each other. Knocking out the teeth of a fellow passenger on an airplane 35-thousand feet in the air just doesn’t seem like a good idea. Arguing with the Uber or Lyft driver while they’re trying to take you to your destination by keeping their eyes on the road instead of your shouting mouth is just not the most brilliant move you can make.

Whatever happened to We’re all in this together? Yeah, I guess that was just a marketing slogan, not a sincere thought. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? We just can’t seem to muster enough empathy, sympathy, heartwarming feelings for our fellow human beings. Half of us are still angry that their guy didn’t win, and the other half is trying to move forward with an eye on our rear to make sure someone doesn’t run up on us and spray bear urine on us. Don’t grin. Some of that second half is spoiling for a fight and just can’t wait for the first half, nominally called Karen and Ken, to bounce out from their camouflaged hideaways and pick-up trucks and whatever hold they think they need to hide in to ambush the second half. Anger and threats fill the air between the first and second half, guns come out, and cheers and threats go up as we sadly watch our Democracy die.

In the meantime, we’re all just trying to survive. Carry on with life as if the past nearly two years didn’t happen. I hate to tell you, but it’s still happening whether you want to believe it or not. Denial, isn’t that a bitch? I just don’t get it. What’s the end game? There’s a whole network (actually more than one) devoted to fanning the flames of denial and hate and ignorance, and I’m trying to figure out what’s in it for them? It would be too easy just to say it’s all about money. And to say it’s just about aiding and abetting the next American revolution to overthrow the Democracy we know for something else like, I don’t know, a Theocracy or a United States of Republicanism or Trumpism. I mean, they do know that more of us voted for the other guy than voted for their guy? But, they have more guns and the deep state of law enforcement and military and ex-law enforcement and ex-military. What do we have? The stereotypical answer would be We have the truth on our side. But, no one cares anymore about facts. All that matters is which conspiracy theory, what crazy ass story, is the worst. How many times can you call something, anything, a False Flag?

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

I wish I could say that it’s only one side screaming crazy. The internet is full of people screaming equally crazy shit about the other side. Say something that breaks some invisible rule or crosses some imaginary red line, and you are fucked for life. All sense of perspective and proportion no longer exists. Everyone has anointed themselves enforcer, judge, and jury. All you need is a social media account, and you are suddenly that enforcer, judge, and jury. Whatever happened to sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Now, it’s we’re going to beat the shit out of you for your words with a stick, stones, more words, lawsuits, harassment, and threats against you, your family, and anyone else we can find. I’m just curious Who died and made you King and Queen?

I get into discussions with my wife and friends who have a more optimistic passion for the future. They believe in hope. In the long run, we all want happiness and a good life and community where we can all live as neighbors in peace. All the noise we hear and see in internet videos is not an accurate picture of this country. They try to convince me that there are more good people than bad people and that it’s all our responsibility to find each other and look out for each other. To celebrate together what we have and what we need. That without each other, we will surrender to all that noise that we just can’t seem to get out of our heads. Come on, Antonio, they say, change the channel and discover the other 500 channels of hope and love.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Okay, I’ll try. Except my channel seems to be stuck, and I have to change the batteries on my remote.

I guess I could just unplug the TV and turn off my phone.

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