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Many Armageddons

December 16, 2012

I have no idea what to say about the latest massacre (Connecticut)  except that I feel very discouraged.

I have never had any kids nor even nieces or nephews. About the closest I’ve ever gotten to youngsters is when I used to baby sit some of my friend’s children when they were toddlers and a bit older, but that was like forty years ago. Then there was some big hulla-balloo about all care takers being child molesters after which I just stayed away from children.

When I’m made aware of such absurdities as yesterday’s Connecticut shootings, I guess I’m pretty much detached from the drama and horror that parent’s feel, like my friends who are parents. However, I do feel a great measure of frustration and discouragement that for all of our society’s great self confidence regarding technology and science, it can’t get a grip on such abhorrent adolescent behavior. And even more puzzling and specifically, abhorrent male adolescent behavior.

Back in October, over in Cupertino, in the cement plant, some nut case shot and killed only three people but, as usual, the press made the most out of it. I hardly blinked about it, I’m from the generation who watched a sniper knock off fifteen innocent people in one afternoon as well as injuring a couple dozen others. Here’s the Wikipedia reference to it:

Charles Joseph Whitman (June 24, 1941 – August 1, 1966) was an engineering student and former Marine who killed 13 people and an unborn child, and wounded 32 others in a shooting rampage located in and around the Tower of the University of Texas on the afternoon of August 1, 1966. Three of the fatalities were killed inside the university’s tower, with 11 others murdered after Whitman fired at random targets from the 28th floor observation deck of the Main Building before Whitman was shot and killed by Austin Police Officer Houston McCoy.

Prior to commencing the mass murder at the University of Texas (where he was a student), Whitman had murdered both his wife and mother in Austin.

Charles Whitman

Whitman1963_texas massacre

Charles Whitman, pictured in 1963

I was eighteen years old when this occurred and was used to hearing body counts from Viet Nam every evening on the news. I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) and Kennedy’s assassination (1963) and I guess my sense of shock was dulled a little by 1966.

Three years later, just around my birthday on June 15, and a few months before my short lived marriage to a beautiful Monte Sereno girl, the Charles Manson murders occurred.

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Charles-mansonbookingphoto

Charles Manson, 1969

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Not quite ten years (1978) later was the Jim Jones Suicide in Guyana. Over 900 people died in this one but, at least, we didn’t hear the Viet Nam body counts anymore.

Through all of this, Africans and Arabs seem to be killing off their next door neighbors in a completely wholesale manner. So, what does it take to get me acting all dramatic and outraged. I’m not sure. But I really do feel discouraged today.

After the Cupertino killings in October, I ran across an article in the newspaper by a woman who I sort of remember as being from the New York Times. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the article on the web so I’m just going to generally refer to the ideas she presented where I would much rather prefer to quote her with full confidence.

What drew me to the article was her very positive and confident headline about these sorts of massacres, it went something like “We do know how to stop these kinds of incidents, why don’t we really do something???” The tone of the article was like she was very, very pissed off. In the end, it was very effective. What she was advocating is that young men should be taught and trained to be aware of their hormone changes as they enter and transition through puberty. I guess she was talking about all sorts of changes in the body and psyche as adulthood comes on. She used statistics, scientific research and all sorts of data to demonstrate what is just so obvious and undeniable: nearly all of the perpetrators of these acts, as well as being willing participants in wars and so much other violence, occurs in men during their pubescence (which is now considered to continue up into the mid-20s when personality becomes solidified). Older guys are too smart and realistic to partake of such dangerous and destructive activities.

I read this article first thing in the morning and really didn’t think much of it one way or another, but it stayed with me, in the background. In the afternoon a memory popped into my consciousness. During my own bout with puberty, I would sometimes have these unexplainable, overpowering mood swings that I used to call “black rages.” I didn’t know how to handle them or what they were triggered by but they were very heavy duty and I did know that I shouldn’t be around anyone while I was in the middle of one of these rages. In fact, one time my sister came to visit me while I was in the middle of one of these moods. Sometimes these episodes lasted for days and I told my sister to just leave my little cottage and let me stew through this “mood.” She refused and badgered me for about twenty minutes trying to pry out what was bugging me. I just kept telling her to leave me alone. She got a bee up her bonnet and pressed and pressed and pressed. I flew into a fury and ravaged the living room and with my bare hands I destroyed every item in that living room that belonged to me. My roommate’s belongings and my sister, herself, were all untouched. With the outrageousness punched out of me, I just stood in front of her with clenched fists and a swimming set of brains. I barely knew what happened. When my sister saw I had come back to my senses, she teared up and started blubbering like a baby and she left without saying a word. I cleaned up all the broken sculpture and smashed lamps and crashed. I slept for a couple of days. Oh yeah, and I hadn’t learned how to drink liquor to excess yet (or dope of any sort). This was au’naturel.

Now, of course, the door was opened and other similar memories started flopping about, like freshly caught albacore on an old fishing boat. When I was living in Santa Cruz, I used to drive up Highway 1 to the City (San Francisco) or Marin County.  This was a favorite sport of mine. I loved the warm solitude in the purring little car that would buck in the buffeting on-shore winds. Often, the winds were strong enough to churn up far away white caps on the ocean that was only a hundred feet away from the road. But I remember that sometimes this favorite drive would be ruined as, in the solitude, a black rage would seep into the awareness and ruin the exercise. I would turn the VW around and simply head back into town to privately and gloomily sulk about some unknown nothing. I never new what it was all about.

The lady who wrote the article about massacres is telling me these rages were all about the war of hormones and changes going on in my body and my psyche. It wasn’t at all about nothing, I wasn’t a devilish lunatic, it was all about a big life change. It certainly was lots more than nothing. I wish someone would have told me that back then, when I was going through it. All of a sudden, this article was starting to make a lot more sense. She mentioned “rights of passage,” rituals and traditions which marked the passage into manhood. I had to wonder what the modern right of passage was, it wasn’t obvious to me. As I was growing up I remember being sent to Catholic school classes to prepare me for “confirmation” which really wasn’t much of anything. I guess Protestants and Jews have similar traditions but none of them are like the ancient rituals I’ve heard about like going out on your own for twenty days in the wilderness and don’t come home until you have a Mastodon or Brontosaurus jaw bone to prove you fully earned your manhood. I bet those rituals took the Black Rage just right out of you.

For me personally, however, there are two very special days I remember about growing up on the vegetable farm . . .

Day 1

When I was about seven or eight years old, out in a tomato field, I was handed a full sized shovel and told to watch the furrows. The farmer drove away, leaving me alone in the field. I was so damned proud.

The row crops, like tomatoes and cucumbers and bell peppers, were planted atop long furrows sometimes several hundred feet long. The trough of the furrow carried water to all the plants in a row equally and controllably. If the water breached the furrow at any point along its length, it could wreck havoc on the adjoining furrows, or worse, on clear ground yet waiting to be prepped and planted. Watching the furrows, monitoring and repairing any breaches, was a big responsibility. The shovel was the only tool needed to fix the breach. I was busting my buttons to be entrusted with such a big job, all by myself. Ha! Now I was an adult guy.

Day 2

One day after cot season was over (cot = apricot), the farmer we rented our house from and the only guy I had ever worked for up to then, drove himself and me down from an orchard up in the hills and parked the truck at the head of a field of tomatoes in the flat bottomland. He signaled for me to get out. I looked round to the bed of the truck to see what tools he had brought along, to give me an idea of the chore waiting for us here. There were no tools. I was a bit confused.

The pair of us looked down the rows of nearly ready tomatoes. A speech was started:

“This is eight acres of the best tomatoes on the whole earth. These are my tomatoes. But I can’t work these tomatoes, I have too much to do. I’ve taken on several other ranches to manage this year.

You have worked these tomatoes ever since you were in kindergarten. You know everything there is to know about them. You know almost as much as me. Starting today, I’m making these tomatoes your tomatoes, at least until we sell them. You will get a share of what we make, and you will get it when I get it. You can hire one or two other kids and I will pay them once a week, but you will have to repay their wages from you share each time we make a sale. After all, these are your tomatoes, not mine. You will manage the two packers in my garage (one was his wife and the other was my mom. He wanted this to sound all real official) and I will take care of them.” The two women would take the tomatoes I brought in from the field and pack them in these new, fancy labeled shipping boxes. This is what the customers in the grocery stores would see. These boxes were made from some very white, very thin wood.

 He paused and put his hands on his hips, looking from beneath his brow, he concluded, “If I lose one red cent on this crop, your ass is grass.” Then he hands me a five dollar bill and he tells me to get on my bike and spend all five dollars by the end of the day, noting this was the last day off I’d have for a really long time. Off I went.

(Please, keep this in perspective, $5 in the 1950s was a lot of money for a kid to spend in a single afternoon.)

 I was thirteen or fourteen when I heard this speech. I managed those eight acres each summer, after the cots came in, until I was eighteen. And now, in retrospect, I worked so hard every summer I never had any “black rages” while working those tomatoes, or the cots, or the prunes.

The woman who wrote the article wasn’t advocating the “de-urbanization” of our society (Personally, I have long advocated that de-urbanization should be the prime goal of ALL world leaders) but she was suggesting that male adolescents be educated about the changes that they should expect just as females are. Maybe they should learn some more profound information about the changes than on the football field or on the basketball court. The young men should be able to check and manage their confusion and rages, and recognize the same when it occurs in their compatriots. The goal? Nip it in the bud, before the final personality does solidify.

I haven’t been in a school house in nearly 50 years and, having no kids, I don’t pretend to know all that is taught now-adays but I do know that in the schools I attended, there was little discussion for the male students about what happened to men or women when their bodies developed into adulthood except that which was heard so randomly and racy in the locker room by misinformed loud mouths. If there was any sort of organized and formal discussion, it certainly was tacit and guarded. To my memory, there really was no such significant discussion that I remember at all. It just wasn’t the macho thing to do. After World War II and the Korean War, the pressure on us young guys was to be invincible and exuding testosterone like we exuded English Leather (a pungent men’s cologne of the day). I have no idea how much that has changed.

I have been told by female friends that girls today are taught quite a lot about their bodies and quite a lot about birth control. But in my day, while “growing up” changes were presented to the females, if not just out of necessity, but little was put before us males.

A suggestion to present young men with more meaningful and thorough information about their maturity seems like a substantial and worthwhile move to reduce the ridiculous frequency with which we see these senseless and unbelievably horrific sessions in hell. In the end, macho just isn’t worth that much and I feel discouraged as no one seems to pick up on her message, so reasonable, clear and potentially effective.

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