2020 election, hometown, U. S. Capitol

A face in the mob

January 5, 2022

Insurrectionist mob attacking the U.S. Capitol.
Photo by Tyler Merbler / Wikicommons

Years ago I knew a kid named Mark. We both belonged to the youth group at our Methodist church, and the summer after my senior year, a bunch of us traveled to Kentucky on a service project, helping people fix up their houses.

Mark was a couple of years younger than me, a big, good-natured guy and very dedicated to our mission. Like everyone in the group, he worked hard to raise money for the trip and equally hard during our week in Kentucky. I remember the two of us cleaning windows, him scrubbing away on one side, me on the other. He had a strong, caring faith, offering a prayer one evening for a local boy whose family was facing hard times.

I lost touch with him and the others after I went off to college. I never heard his name again until my hometown paper reported that Mark Finchem, a former city police officer, was now a far-right state lawmaker in Arizona and among the insurrectionists at the Capitol.

He says he didn’t go inside, but he may have been closer than he’ll admit. He described the riot as, “What happens when the People feel they have been ignored, and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud.” (He also called the white-supremacist Charlottesville rally, “a deep-state psyop.”) Trump endorsed him in his race for secretary of state. If he wins, he’ll be running the election in Arizona in 2024.

Needless to say, all this came as a shock. I don’t know how Mark got to this point. What I can’t get over is the contrast between his present self and the kind of Christianity we learned and did our best to practice back in the day.

When we made the trip, we were following in the footsteps of the Rev. James W. Wright, our senior minister, a powerful voice for equality and justice as well as a friend to the needy. A church member recalled in his obituary that, “He always had a love for people who were down and out. He lived the Gospel.”

In one sermon he said, “With the vision God gives, a better world is possible. Our place is not on the sidelines sighing over the woes of the world or the failings of our fellow men. We are not called to be spectators. As Christians, we are called to be participants.” Those beliefs may have been shaped by his service as an Army chaplain in World War II, which included the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of Buchenwald.

My mother used to say, “He makes you feel like he’s talking directly to you.” I can hear him now, telling us to love each other, lift up those who are struggling, and resist fascism with all our might. Take care and be safe.

Fiction, Writing

New year, new story: From The Moon To The Earth

January 2, 2022

Crescent moon over mountains.

The moon man is a legend in a small mountain town. He’s been around for years but is only seen at night. He might be a homeless person, a thief, or an apparition. To the young narrator of my new story, “From The Moon To The Earth,” he’s someone to fear.

Thanks to Sledgehammer Lit for publishing my work. Check out all the great writing on the site, and read my other stories on my author site at davidsswan.com. Happy New Year, take care, and be safe.

coronavirus, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Bunker hill revisited

December 22, 2021

It’s roomier than it looks. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I’m glad my wife and I never stopped taking pandemic precautions. We spend very little time in public spaces, wear masks everywhere except the house, go through barrels of hand sanitizer, and got boosted as soon as we had the chance.

Some of you would probably call us overcautious, paranoid, or outside the mainstream, i.e., unhip. Well, guess what: Square is sometimes better. Even if this is a bunker mentality, we’re as ready for Omicron as any over-65ers can be, which is good because the onslaught is here. On November 30, the daily average of new cases in our county in Atlanta was 83. Just three weeks later (December 21) it was 572 and rising.

It’s easier to protect our bodies than our sanity. Doubts and weariness have taken up residence in every corner of my mind. A few posts ago, I was full of excitement about seeing my team in the college football playoffs next week. Now I might not even want to watch this superspreader event. Despite the danger, it’ll probably be played because the most responsible option, canceling or postponing the games, would cost the powers that be a boatload of money. (UPDATE: They played. I watched. We got smoked. So far, though, no players on either side have reported they’re sick.)

Many mornings I wake up hating the whole damned universe, from the anti-vaxxer morons across town to the stars and galaxies so impossibly distant that even the James Webb Space Telescope couldn’t find them. Still, as I keep reminding myself, there is always reason for hope, like the newly-approved pills that can keep infected people out of hospitals.

We just need to maintain an even keel until this moment passes like yesterday’s winter solstice, and every new day brings a few more minutes of light. It will happen. Take care and be safe.

Fiction, Writing

Actual events…or are they?

View of city street at night thru windshield.
Photo by suzukii xingfu on Pexels.com

Years ago, between college and my first job in broadcast news, I drove a cab for a while. It paid the rent, but was unpredictable and sometimes dangerous. In my story “Actual Events,” just published by Close To The Bone, the passenger in the back seat confesses to a shocking crime. As the title implies, the piece is based on real events, though the details have been changed.

In a nod to the times, the main character drives for an Uber-like outfit instead of a taxi However, as she finds out, it’s still a hard way to earn a living and the night shift is as risky as ever. I hope you enjoy it. Check out the other fiction at Close To The Bone too.

coronavirus, new old age, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Old man opens a can of whoop ass

December 16, 2021

Grass and tree-covered hill.
This is a hill. I’m not over it yet.*

Along with the news about omicron and the prospect of a new surge in cases, we’ve learned another sad fact about the pandemic. As reported by the New York Times, of the 800,000 Americans who’ve left us because of Covid, 75 percent – six hundred thousand souls – were people age 65 and beyond, like I am. One of every 100 people in that group is gone.

I knew one of them, a much-loved musician who could play any song, anywhere, anytime, and accompanied her church’s choir for over fifty years. She had a lot of music and love left to give. Yet some younger people think that because of her age, she and the others had no right or reason to live any longer. Here’s a sample of the comments on the Times story.

  • 1 of 100 is not very much. In fact now I’m wondering if all the trauma for our young people and the economy has been worth it. I think no.
  • 18 is a more important year than 87. 6 is more important than 91. College years > nursing home years.
  • Even if a few older people died a smidgin earlier because of Covid, it probably saved a more prolonged death for them (and also saved money for the health system!).
  • That’s what happens to the old and infirm, they die, just exactly as they’re supposed to do.
  • Welcome to Geriatric America where not everyone is young and healthy, and those that are must continue to sacrifice.

I don’t know which is worse: that these cretins have a cold-hearted disregard for life or that the Nation’s Newspaper gave them a platform. As my wife pointed out in a letter to the editor, they’d never do that, “if the objects of ridicule and derision were Black people, immigrants, LBGTQ, Latinx, or other minority groups often derided and subject to discrimination.”

A number of comments blame the dead for “letting themselves go” and becoming obese, claiming they might’ve survived the virus by, no kidding, eating a plant-based diet. Yes, many of us have underlying conditions. You get them when you hang around the planet for 60, 70, or more years, even if you take care of yourself. People with disabilities are more likely to be obese than those without, which makes the fat-shamers both ageist and ableist. My wife again: “How would they feel if someone said to them, “you’d be able to cure your spinal cord injury and walk again if you just lost weight and ate a plant-based diet?”

Last but not worst, some clown who probably thinks he’s progressive wrote, “The boomers are largely responsible for climate change. It seems fair that the planet is having the biggest effect on the boomers.”

I’ll admit my generation made mistakes. For many of us, it seems, the biggest blunder was having children. Together with their own spawn, our grandkids, they’ve mutated into a pack of brain-dead, selfish, narcissistic goons. They’re sacrificing for us?

Folks, unless y’all want to make a boomer happy, you better get vaccinated and boosted. Otherwise, I’ll have the distinct pleasure of dancing on your graves. Everybody else take care and be safe.

*Photo by Pok Rie on Pexels.com.

Fiction, Writing

New short story: My Late Friend Laura Ann Randall

December 14, 2021

Funeral flowers: pink roses and daisies.

My Late Friend Laura Ann Randall,” published by the Red Fez, is about choices, shifting memories, and the inescapable presence of the past. Betty Morrow is preparing to eulogize Laura, her lifelong best friend, when she receives an unwelcome reminder of Laura’s role in a racial controversy in their small southern town.

You can find more stories on my author site. Check out all the great fiction, nonfiction and poetry in the Fez, too. As always, take care and be safe.

football, humor

Michigan football for Southerners (not dummies)

December 7, 2021

It’s that magical time when the faithful gather to celebrate the glories of the season (Touchdowns!) and partake of the traditional repast (beer, red-hot chicken wings, and more beer). This year is extra-special for me because my team, the University of Michigan Wolverines, will take on the University of Georgia Bulldogs in a playoff semi-final, a titanic clash between my original and current home states.

Since these schools haven’t played each other since 1965, Georgians might be in the dark about MICHIGAN FOOTBALL, which I’ve been fervently following for almost half a century. I recall when Tony Joe White, a Louisiana native, began his song “Poke Salad Annie” by saying, “Now some of y’all haven’t been down South too much. I’m gonna tell you a little bit about this so thatcha understand what I’m talkin’ ’bout.” So for those of y’all Georgia and Southeast Conference fans who haven’t been Up North too much, here’s y’all’s Michigan Football 101!

What is a wolverine?

Wolverine on rock.
“A powerful and versatile predator”

A few annotated notes from Wikipedia: The wolverine “is a muscular carnivore (Damn right!) and a solitary animal.” (Wrong! Ask any Midwestern sports bar bartender on game day. Besides, the stadium holds 107,601 of them.)

“The wolverine’s feeding style is voracious.” (Did Wiki hack my Kroger’s receipts?) “Successful males will form lifetime relationships with two or three females, which they will visit occasionally, while other males are left without a mate.” (This is why I could never get a date in college.)

“The wolverine has a reputation for ferocity and strength out of proportion to its size, with the documented ability to kill prey many times larger than itself.” (For obvious reasons, Michigan doesn’t keep these critters on the sidelines as mascots like Georgia does with sweet old Uga the bulldog. However, this explains why MICHIGAN is the ONLY team EVER to start the season UNRANKED and MAKE THE PLAYOFF! Got that?)

What conference do the Wolverines play in?

The Big Ten (B1G), which actually has 14 teams. This includes Rutgers and Maryland, which joined in a blatant grab for TV money, and as casual geographers might notice, are nowhere near the B1G’s historic Midwestern footprint. Before you get snarky, remember that future SEC schools Texas and Oklahoma aren’t exactly SouthEastern either. Shoot, it’s more than a thousand miles from Gainesville / Gatorsville, FL to Austin! (Warning: if you order barbecue in Texas, you might end up with beef brisket. I’m sticking with pork ribs, Alabama style).

The Big 14 is very big on tradition. It’s where rivals play for “traveling trophies” like the Old Oaken Bucket (Indiana vs Purdue), the Little Brown Jug (Michigan vs Minnesota), and the Paul Bunyan trophy (Michigan vs Michigan State. Don’t get me started on this year’s game). For the uninitiated, Mr. Bunyan was a famous northern folk hero and lumberjack who went around with Babe the Blue Ox.

Statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

Does it really snow Up There during football season? Seriously?

Naturally! When Michigan hosted and stomped Ohio State in late November, they got what observers called a “dusting” and Georgians would call “a five-alarm snowmageddon.”

A few years earlier this happened.

Not only did the teams play four quarters but 50,000 people SAT IN THE STANDS. Still think the South is home to the world’s most fanatical, diehard, flat insane football fans? Y’all got NOTHING on US!

Covid 19 pandemic, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: A break in the weather

November 22, 2021

It’s 52 degrees and mostly cloudy. There’s a two percent chance of rain through the next hour, with a high of 56 this afternoon and a low of 33 tonight. The Thanksgiving outlook is, “Intervals of clouds and sunshine. High 63F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph.” Sounds like a good day to walk off a big meal and enjoy the fall colors.

While these particular numbers are innocuous, the accuracy of a weather report can mean the difference between life and death. When my wife and I owned a beach house, we religiously watched the local news and the National Hurricane Center for signs of a storm.

The credibility of the forecaster is vital. That’s why it was so outrageous when Trump doctored a hurricane map. So why would the Weather Channel share its online real estate with a fake-news purveyor that’s blasting out anti-vaccine hysteria?

News Break is among the sponsored content (clickbait) floating around on the channel app. Founded by a Chinese media exec in Beijing, it aims to crack the U.S. market by billing itself as, “your #1 local news app for current events, free live news, business news, and more.” Here’s a sample.

Not surprisingly, the comment section is full of hatred and vitriol. Some reviews: “The trolling is out of control along with the racists.” “The News Break App is nothing short of a racist’s paradise.” “Never in my life have I seen such [a] hate-filled, threatening, racist, cruel, vile, & disgusting ‘news’ site.'”

I know the Weather Channel is not directly responsible. And yes, clickbait makes money, which is why it’s everywhere. But there’s a difference between, “Kourtney Kardashian Shows Off Toned Abs,” and “Pfizer’s Whistleblower Reveals Vaccine Data Integrity Issues.” A weather operation that’s built around science puts its own integrity at risk by propagating this junk.

Needless to say, the app is gone from my phone, like a couple of anti-vax musicians are absent from my playlists. (I also deep-sixed NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” from my radio for its unfunny ageism.) Even if you can’t fix stupid, you can keep it out of your space and send a message to whoever put it there. Take care, have a great Thanksgiving, and be safe.

Covid 19 pandemic, music, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Blues and the cold, hard truth

November 12, 2021

Trees in autumn colors on mountain road.
Photo by Ladyfern Photos on Pexels.com

Fall has arrived in Georgia in earnest, slowly overtaking the sugar maple and ginkgo trees we planted last year in our yard. Though we feared they might not survive, thanks to the summer rain they’re growing fast, showing us a palette of red, orange, yellow, and still a bit of green.

In a few weeks the leaves will be gone. I’ll miss seeing those colors out my window in the morning sun, but there’s always a time to let go: of objects, emotions, and people. Today it’s musicians, great artists I’ve listened to for years who are, sadly, on the dark side of the pandemic.

Van Morrison has been ranting about “fascist bullies,” and equating Covid lockdowns with slavery. As a result, he’s being sued for defamation by the Northern Ireland health minster, who says Morrison damaged his reputation and is giving great comfort to, “the tin foil hat brigade.” I’m with the minster and not because his name is Swann. We’re not talking about moondances and brown-eyed girls. This is global life and death.

Cutting Morrison from my playlist is no problem because I never cared for his post-70s records anyway. If I still had a favorite album, it’d be “Astral Weeks,” his very first one. Eric Clapton is another matter. I’ve been a fan since the days of Cream and the Bluesbreakers. Fifteen years ago in Atlanta he delivered one of the best rock concerts I’ve ever seen, burning through his catalogue with a killer band. He seemed to be one of the few from his generation who hit bottom, survived, and got better with age.

Now he calls science “propaganda” and finances anti-vax musicians in England. He’s even palling around with the governor of Texas, an anti-vaccine tyrant who signed his state’s vicious, anti-woman abortion ban.

I’m not going near him if he hits ATL again. His next tour also won’t include the great blues singer and guitarist Robert Cray, who played with Clapton many times and says he won’t do it anymore. Sorry Eric, you’ve been Marie Kondo’d.

Of course, this isn’t the first time my heroes have changed their spots late in life. Thankfully, rockers like Gene Simmons have stayed on the side of the common good and common sense. There’s plenty of great music for this moment in time, including a favorite of mine from the 90s by Bob Mould, David Barbe, and Malcolm Travis, better known as Sugar. It’s called “Changes.” Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: The kids will be all right

Little girl with nurse putting band-aid on her arm.
Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

The word that young children will soon get Covid shots reminds me of when I received my second and final round of polio vaccine. I had the Salk type, the first one approved for the US, when I was too little to remember it. I suspect I didn’t care much for the needle, but that wasn’t a problem in the 1960s with the more effective Sabin, which was given orally on sugar cubes. No red-blooded eight-year-old would turn down one of those.

My mother drove me to the closest vaccination site, where a local radio station happened to be doing a remote broadcast. A smooth-voiced man with a microphone asked me a few questions while a record was playing, then repeated them live on the air. I don’t recall what I told the listeners of WKZO-AM, “590 on your dial,” or the moment I swallowed the cube. (I had no idea I’d someday make my own career in radio either.) The event was simply no big deal, for me or any of my friends and classmates.

Of course, by that time the frightening polio outbreaks of the 50s had ended. We didn’t need masks or social distancing. There were no closed restaurants and theaters, no broken and upended lives, and no debate about whether vaccination was necessary and proper. None. Ever. Zero. Bupkes. Period.

Anybody who claimed “freedom” or “personal choice” as an excuse for sending an unprotected kid to school would’ve been run out of town. There were safety problems with badly prepared batches of Salk, including deaths, but they didn’t stop us from trying to wipe out the disease. People could decline the drug on religious grounds. The congenital loudmouths could write letters to the newspapers and that was about all.

I’m not a parent. I’m not telling anyone how to raise their kids. But I’m damn glad that when I was one, we were sane and civic-minded about public health. If we’d had MMR in those times, my folks would’ve made sure I was first in line. In my childless but humble opinion, the decision should be equally easy now. Take care and be safe.