Invisible on the Rush-Hour Subway

For those who’ve never before encountered me in my writer’s persona, I should describe who, or what I am. How’s that for a small project? In brief, my age is closer to 70 than to 60. I am a creature of initial old age. I used to be a young man, healthy, vital, energetic, involved. But early on something happened. A small, but easily handled, so I thought, disaster befell my very young body while playing high school basketball. As some would say, no biggie, a bit of a setback, but so what, I was young and, yes, as a cliche, I was invulnerable. Not being able to get out of bed without the assistance of a persistent friend, was, I naively thought, was a small bump in my road to adulthood.

One morning a week I have to catch the CTA subway at my elevated station in Lincoln Park on Chicago’s north side. If you’ve ever scene footage of the same in Tokyo, you have an idea how much like a cattle car these trains are. Though there is no one behind we boarding passengers shoving us onto an over filled car, those scenes evoke what it is like to be a passenger/sardine in a hurtling metal box. My station is only about 20 minutes from my destination in the Chicago’s Loop, but it is 20 minutes of a jostling, jolting wrestling match for people like me. The unseen, the fellow passenger you don’t want to talk with.

Why, you may rightfully ask? My cane. Yes, my 30 year old cocobolo wood cane. A thing of beauty, a thing of otherness. A thing of passing interest, but not me, the person on the business end of that cane. I am often not an object of interest at all. I am symbol, a meme, if you will, of something to be, for many, avoided. I am their unsettling fantasy, their bad dream. Afflicted. I am Disabled. I have to rely on that exquisite cocobolo wood my mother bought for me 30 years ago, it is an unsettling calling card. a sign hung around my neck.

I am a harbinger of loss. I am resolved into a singular, Greek Chorus. A chorus who most don’t, and I can’t really blame them, want to see or hear from. I am the glitch in the mirror, the bad penny. I know, I live in the darker regions of that dream.

This is my prolix entry into a recurring experience, an experience that I long ago decided would not lay its border around me, define me, relegate me to insignificance. I am vertical, and for all my brothers and sisters who aren’t I refuse to give into the waif, the of the borderlands, the graying outskirts of empathy. No.


But truth to tell…I’m not always up to the battle.

This morning I caught the Red Line into the Loop. Like others, I squeezed into the smallest cleft in the press of passengers, turned to face the closing door and, left hand clutching my cocobolo resigned myself to a harrowing ride of pain, pain dark and silent to others, but a chorus of complaints marching up and down my ruined spine. Nothing to do, it was what it was. Bear it. I’ve always borne it so I knew I could. Just 20 minutes. 20. Five minutes later we pulled into the North & Clyborn station and several people behind me exited before the press of new passengers climbed aboard.

I seen my chances and I took ‘em, a quote said to have been spoken by the 1st Mayor Daley. I slipped through a vacant space, excused myself as I made my way to stand in front of the two seats designated for the elderly or disabled. As I’m both, I thought my chances of sitting might be good when stepping up I was confronted by 2 very attractive blond haired women. I arranged my body and cane for the coming lurch of the trains acceleration hoping that one or both, seeing my dual eligibility for the designated seats would offer me hers.

Of course, dear reader, you know what happened. Yes, that’s correct…nothing. The woman on my left looked at my cane, then up at me with a blankness I knew only too well. The young beauty on my right buried her face even further into her frayed book pretending that in her concentration, she hadn’t noticed me at all.

As the train lurched into sudden motion, the jagged movement snarled up my spine to explode in my head. I gritted my teeth and tried not to show my vulnerability. As the train’s hurly burly motion assaulted me, I felt a tap on my left hand. Looking down I was met with the smile of a slightly older young woman offering me her seat. Usually, I gracefully accept the proffered relief. But something in my head said nope. I smiled & responded that I’d be okay.

At the next station, the blond on my left got up to move towards the exit. With my howling spine and increasing anger, I did not budge an inch to let her by. I stood still and made her scramble around me and the man on my right. As soon as she moved away, I gratefully sat. The young woman who offered me her seat smiled at me as I settled next to the blond studiously engrossed by her novel. I wanted to bang her about the head and shoulders with my cane. I rather smartly resisted the temptation.

When we arrived at the 1st Loop station all 3 of us got up to leave and I realized with a start that the young lady who offered me her seat was well into a pregnancy. She wanted to give up her seat to me and she was pregnant! I fell in love with her and felt humbled by her previous offer. I thanked her as we left the car.

My point? Those two women sitting comfortably in the designated seats were neither elderly or disabled. They were clearly experienced riders and knew in what seats they were sitting yet ignored me and my obvious discomfort almost as if I simply didn’t exist.

Ordinarily I ask if someone sitting in those seats to give up their comfort for me. I am always met with a kind, if somewhat reluctant response. But more often I am met with studied indifference as if I am an apparition to insubstantial to believe exists.someone who is simply invisible, nothing more than a spooky wraith to be ignored.

What I don’t understand is this: Most often when we show kindness towards others we feel good, like maybe we just deposited a chit in the bank, a chit that might be matched in the future by a kindness shown to us. A small kindness that temporarily lightens the load that we incur as we live longer.

These two women by passed that. They must, I tell my more hopeful self, have felt uneasy or low, possibly unkind. That’s what I tell myself when this happens, but in reality I know they feel nothing of the kind. They feel, in my mind, that they got away with sitting beneath my obvious discomfort. They overcame a slight tinge of guilt and comfortably rode out my presence. For them, a small transit victory.

For me? Not so much. I was treated as invisible. A beautiful cocobolo wood cane often elicits admiration, usually from very young men just starting out in life. I am always pleased to give them a bit of the history of my pal, my upright strong friend. Those young me remind me that I am, indeed, not invisible.

I am me. Right here, right now. I won’t fade away from the uneasy fantasies of those not yet afflicted with disability or on-rushing age. We all, if we’re lucky, live long enough to very often encounter both.

It’s our encounters of empathy and kindness that pulls us out of the ineffable into the the substantial, the body that is seen. The body acknowledged, acknowledged in kindness, respect.

Cliche though it is, what goes around comes….

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Visible Disabilities

This is an interesting piece by a woman whose disability requires a wheel chair responding to the picture of Kylie Jenner in an Interview magazine spread using a wheelchair as a prop in the photos of her nearly naked sitting in a wheel chair. As did the author of this piece, I found the photo tastelessly using disability as a prop through which both the magazine and Jenner decided to use an undeniable symbol of disability to titillate the reader, inviting the person looking at the photo to objectify both the chair and the young woman.

I have had to use a cane for the past quarter of century. While I can walk long distances for up to 1 1/2 hours, I cannot stand still without rapidly spreading pain up my spine and across the muscles of my back. The way people viewed me with the cane when I was 40 are qualitatively different now that I’m in my mid 60s.

People will look at me openly trying to fit the cane with my appearance. When I step onto a crowded subway car and move towards the seats designated for the elderly and disabled I am frequently studiously avoided by a much younger healthier looking person or offered a seat by someone not in the designated seats.

I am frequently looked upon with frank mistrust by people who see me walking along an el or subway platform holding, not using my cane until I either come to a stop to wait or enter an open car. I have even taken verbal abuse on elevators by people who seem genuinely disgruntled by both my appearance and my use of my cane. Unlike most people on the streets in Chicago’s Loop I am hardly ignored. I can watch, without frequently knowing reactions and judgments related to my cane use. I suspect this is largely the result of my general healthy appearance combined with the manner in which I rely on my cane.

While I certainly don’t have the need for a wheelchair I have used them from time to time in airports when my spine and I are at odds with each other.

Regardless of what alerts others to noticeable disabilities, we do not have the luxury of anonymity, the ability to go about our business without the accompanying snap judgments..

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Returning to the World of Work

After more than a nearly uninterrupted 22 years of being unable to work, I recently went to work as a contract psychotherapist for a very good clinic in Chicago.

I was able to do this after a fall on unseen ice in 2013 led to a 3 month bout with the worst sustained pain I’ve ever experienced. When I fell on the ice I landed with a shattering jolt on my back. The pain was finally figured out by both my neurologist and pain docs who after looking at the results of an MRI found that the force of the fall jammed several bolts implanted during spinal surgery 12 years before into the surrounding tissue. In addition the same happened with the battery to my spinal cord stimulator and its wires threaded upwards on my lower spine.

I submitted to a dual surgery with both docs, one removing the hardware from the previous spinal surgery and the other removing the spinal cord stimulator. When I woke up in the recovery room the pain was simply and astoundingly gone. For good.

It took me a while to get the other pain under control but got it when my regular doc upped upped the fentanyl to a dosage high enough to quell the worst of the pain.

As it became clear that the reduction in pain wasn’t a fluke of…well…pain I began to work on getting my license to practice reinstated and then talked to the clinic and we decided on the contract.

I am also restarting a small private practice where I hope to work with people who live with intractable pain.

Even though I’m now in my mid 60s it’s been a thrill to work again and to find the work as invigorating as I did in my 40s.

The last issue I had to deal with was the recognition that my pain had up until then not been treated as aggressively as it should have. I was only mildly pissed off about that as I was so thankful to be able to work again.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

Anarchism in the Face of Climate Catastrophe

Withe the latest trade agreement to be forced on us, TPP, this time by Obama reinforces the idea that capitalism is entering its most dangerous phase.

For my readers who are used to me writing about pain issues, this post may, on the surface, seem like a non sequitir. I can understand that reaction but hope you will continue to read this in spite of that.

I have over the past few years begun to think of pain in a far more inclusive definition. World climate change has already spread death and destruction among those nations least able to defend themselves, most especially those on the Pacific Rim. They are more often the victims of horrible weather events that kill hundreds of thousands than the rest of us in “safer” geographic locations.

It is apparent that we are in the end stages of capitalist hegemony. But with all hegemons this one will not go quietly. This economic behemoth gouges out resources from both the earth and from workers. That its goal, and underlying driving impetus, is constant exploitation of both human and natural resources, is ever constant expansion it’s easy to see, that with finite resources, this form of economic activity is on its last legs while polluting the very planet it has to exploit. This is the cornerstone of climate change.

Capitalism has to be crushed or we will be crushed, and our time is rapidly running out.

The best solution is local. Local production, labor and resources that are not the only necessities. Global capitalism is killing the very earth it depends on to survive, an economic engine that eats its own. If food and other necessities are locally produced with an eye towards sustainability of the locale in which people live, the chances of not overwhelming our resources takes a giant leap forward.

Since this is a brief post, I’ll get to my point. Anarcho-syndicalism seems the best arrangement to bring local production and consumption into line with sustainability. Without sustainability, we have little to offer our children, grand and great grand children.

I will have more to say about this in coming posts. I suggest that readers of this go onto Wikipedia to read about the various strains of anarchy. I’m not talking about smashing windows of banks and Wall St robbers, though I don’t condemn those who do, but local arrangements of individual freedom that advance local initiatives to produce and protect the environment we have left to us.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Police Murders in the US & Solidarity with Nations of Color Under US attack

It now seems daily that we are treated to the latest outrage of cops shooting and killing African American men. The steady drumbeat of murders along with their steady counter drumbeats of the fascist/racist structure of the police departments denying any culpability is distressing in its scope and depth. With the latest murder in S. Carolina the cop who shot the fleeing suspect in the back and the cops partner lied about the incident to make the shooting appear justified. The Police Dept. not only accepted the lying of the two officers but didn’t conduct their own investigation until forced to do so.

It was only until a citizen turned in his video shot from his phone that the police picked up their responsibility, investigated and arrested and charged the officer with murder.

Can anything be taken from this all too often murderous policing? Yes, it seems. The police will lie, invent evidence, withhold evidence and be only moved to doing its job of seeking answers and justice when forced to do so by the people.

To call these police homicides an emergency is to not look back on the history of police violence towards black and brown citizens. This behavior of policing goes all the way back to slave patrols where the local slave owners either volunteered or were by law conscripted to performing a set number of days per month to patrolling local areas in pursuit of run away slaves. That horrendous history lives with us today in the multitude of police murders of generally unarmed black men

All the cover the cops have relied on til now is during a confrontation with a black brother is to yell “gun” and every cop opens fire. The cop then claims rightly, or wrongly, that he saw the suspect with a gun.

Sometimes a gun is planted on a dead suspect, but more often all the officers have to do to avoid prosecution is to say they either saw a gun and opened fire in fear for their lives, or simply state the murdered black man made the office think that he, the officer, was in mortal danger.

These tactics usually work and the cop isn’t investigated further or charged, and certainly rarely tried for the offense of murder.

But the public is slowly coming into the awareness that, yes, the black and brown communities were and are telling the truth about the fascist murderers in uniform that swarm their neighborhoods.

We, white Americans need to stand with our African American brothers and sisters and our Latino brothers and Latino sisters to stop the murderous rampage in their communities. We need to recognize that the police are noting more than fascist occupiers of their neighborhoods and as such, until now, have murdered black and brown brothers with impunity.

I urge all activists to search out your local Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and actively combat these murderous occupational forces of the political power structure. We need to recognize that if its happening to some, its happening to all.

We need to recognize that this fascist repression of our dark skinned brothers and sisters is confined to the 50 states. Our armies have been at continuous war with those of color across the middle east. Before that in Grenada, Panama and now with Obama declaring that Venezuela is a major threat to the US it looks likely, unless we organize to stop it, a new war in our hemisphere.

The American Racist Fascism is at work at home and abroad. We not only need to reach out to each other here in the US but to other nations of color under the barrage of US military murder. This is both a national and international scourge that must be resisted and ultimately defeated.

We need not only to organize here in the US but we need to reach out to other activists in other beleaguer countries trying to fight off the US imperialist capitalist war machine seeking world wide economic and military hegemony.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Menace of Billo O’Really? to Our Democratic Repbulic

This man’s–a noun applied loosely–hubris is only surpassed by his mendacity. Both traits walk hand in hand in this story of his sorry behavior as a “journalist.” Every one of Billos’ charges of lying against those reporting on O’Really’s? suspect behavior uncannily mirrors that which has already been reported by Corn and others regarding O’Really’s? fabrications and lies. Everything. Watching his performance of cocksure outrage, fakery and spin convinces us that in his own hubristic defense of lying O’Really? appears to believe in the “truthiness” of all his dicey statements now under close review for veracity.

It’s as if he unconsciously knows that all the things he’s said about his accusers motivations & behaviors are exactly his motivations and behaviors. He denies the truth in his behavior & thinking (as brittle as they now appear) & projects them onto the “liberal” democrat (sic) mainstream press. Billo then angrily attacks them for the very traits to which he no longer consciously admits. It’s not only a shabby display of hubris it’s also a dramatized display of a paranoid personality who thrives on authoritarian behavior to vilify and call into question the veracity of “liberal” journalists who mostly toil in anonymity & the organizations for whom they report. Vilification: Billo’s miter.

He is right when he says that news reporters and organizations damage the body politic and our democratic republic, but not for the reasons he states so authoritatively. His lies fit the Fox format in that the lies serve his ever shrinking elderly cohort. He plays into the over-riding Fox theme: the mainstream press lies to you based upon the liberal agenda that you’d be fools to read or listen too. Painting himself, in this instance, as a Christian in the lion den of voracious liberal reporters and commentators feeds directly into the Fox trumped-up paranoia that shouts that the liberals aren’t only out to get O’Really?, they are out to get his elderly cohort, too. Parenthetically, but to the heart of my post, the very cohort whom he abuses with lies for manipulated results: his audience dutifully casting their votes for the lap dogs of the 1% who, like O’Really?, enjoy taxation benefits that will never accrue to his audience. His audience helps skin their own class to warm the bodies of Billo and the 1% never realizing that the owner class economic ends are not theirs.

“But I alone, Billo the Magnificent, with my microphone, wit and # 1 ratings stand between you, the Real Americans, and the murderous, lying cabal of liberals trying to shred our constitution to destroy our Exceptional Christian Nation. I alone, can protect you from the damnably corrosive lies of the “Democrat Party” and its commie fellow travelers.”

O’Really? and the fascist bloviators across the radio dial, have effectively infected listeners with the paranoia that begs the radical right’s goons to goose step across the Constitution in service of the listener’s salvation. Billos’ lies are not lies to The American Cohort, they are the Revelation of the commie symps and collectivists on the far left who fiendishly labor in secret to ban private property & the miracle of free markets for One World Government and the Trilateral Commission, and dedicated to the destruction of this “shinning city on a hill” populated by elderly authoritarian Christian fascists who brook no dissent but find themselves endangered nonetheless.

The childish world of Oz manipulated by the “charlatan behind the curtain” who’s built for them through projection, lies, innuendo and the adolescent bully boy tactics necessary to destroy any commie sympathizers of the Democrat (sic) Party only demands the sweet obeisance of his followers: e.g., like the organized worship of the Italians in the streets below exhorting El Duce to the dizzying heights of fascism.

Who is this strongman, this avatar of the reactionary fascist right? Yes, you guessed it, no one other than…drum roll crescendos over the reverential silence…no one other than the Exalted one, Billo O’Really?! He astride the center of the No Spine Zone stands against the hordes for them and them only.

Say hello to Billo O’Really?, creator & protector of the fascist world wherein citizens are not required to bend their backs to the work of participatory Democracy. In fact, the aggrieved voices of Fortress America bleating their persecution across the radio dial provide daily, hour upon hour the lies and fakery of the honeyed soporific rendering a drowsy trance among the authoritarian cult. In this state of reception, O’Really? exhorts them to willingly hand over–with the one exception of voting correctly–their democratic participation in of our government, give it over to the ruling class, to the American brand of Fortress Fascism.

He is a national menace.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Should We Go to War Against ISIS?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Prison Industrial Complex and Mass Incarceration

It has leaked into the general consciousness that the War on Crime has produced staggering and untenable results. The most salient results are the striking growth of privately built and run prisons and the mass incarceration of young urban black and brown men.

The Prison Policy Initiative from March 12, 2014 presented these truly astonishing statistics: In the USA 2.4 million people are incarcerated in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,259 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, 79 Indian Country Jails as well as immigrant detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in United State territories.

Even more troubling is that most of the 722,000 people in local jails have yet to be convicted of anything. The United States locks up more people than any other country in the world. Though the United states has 5% of the world’s population we have 25% of the world’s total incarcerated.

Ten years ago the US had 5 private prisons with a total of 2000 prisoners. 10 years later we have 100 private prisons and 62,000 incarcerated in them. These prisons have contracts to employ theses prisoners thus requiring ever more prisons and prisoners to keep pace with contractual obligations that bring them millions of dollars annually. This is one of the country’s fastest growing industries; a modern day workhouse, a form of slavery that, for the moment, is still primarily aimed at people of color.

There are five corporations that are most deeply involved in the business of prisons: Turner Construction builds prisons and between 2007 and 2012 made an annual income of approximately $278 million; BI Inc. specializing in GPS systems, private probation, signed contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) supervising 27,000 undocumented people awaiting deportation or asylum; Aramark provides food service to more than 600 correctional facilities; Seamus Technologies provides telecommunications in jails and prisons where it cost prisoners $1 per minute for phone calls; Bob Barker Industries maker of cheap goods for prisons and prisoners including sandals, board games, t-shirts, black striped canvas shoes.

The explosion of these and other corporations has come as a direct result of the war on drugs which is primarily waged in black and brown communities. The real war on drugs picked up steam under Reagan and has grown apace since then. Whole generations of minority men and women are charged with petty drug crimes, sentenced to prison for their “felonies” and when released are marked as “felon” and dumped into an American undercaste that practically guarantees a high rate of recidivism that supplies these privately run prisons with the capital they need; inmates.

These corporations also heavily support get tough on crime measures as those laws virtually guarantee a steady flow of cheap labor in the persons cycling in and out of their facilities.

The development of prisons as a highly desirable investment opportunity for the wealthy should not come as a surprise. As our voracious imperial capitalism has penetrated markets around the world newer markets are required. Capitalism can only survive as long as it feeds the monster of continuous growth. The domestic and international markets will continue to grow but only for so long. It stands to reason that the owner class in conjunction with their tame government would find predatory ways to criminalize an entire generation requiring the creation of an outsized need for ever more prisons.

The cost to the states and federal government to police, arrest, investigate charge, prosecute, incarcerate and then supervise those who have completed their sentences is staggering. As the amount of taxes available to state and federal treasuries has steadily decreased, financing this prison growth has stripped away money from other lines in state budgets. Thus the advent of the ever increasing drive to privatize various functions of government to relieve the flood budgetary red ink while enriching the prison industrial complex.

The ballooning of resources diverted to prisons has been largely unnoticed by the public until recently. As of 2010 33 of 50 states decreased spending on education while spending on prisons increased. Most states now spend more on prisons than on education.

As an example, the following is from an article, “Education vs. Prisons published in the December 2010 The American Prospect: “In 2009, the School District of Philadelphia faced a projected budget shortfall of $147 million, after losing $160 million in state funding. Yet, during this same period, taxpayers spent nearly $290 million to imprison residents from just 11 Philadelphia neighborhoods, home to about one-quarter of the city’s population.” The public is slowly becoming aware of not only the growth in prisons but the mass incarceration feeding that growth.

In a very real sense, the Prison Industrial Complex and the laws that brought it about are virtually hollowing out state budgets. Money that should be spent on things such as health care and education go begging while millions of our tax dollars are egregiously poured into the bank accounts of a handful of corporations.

This exploitive industry that enslaves and profits on the backs of black and brown men and women needs to be abolished. Not only for those who suffer the misfortune of incarceration, but their families and communities. In a broader sense, this system needs to be abolished for the very real damage it wreaks on education and health care alone. When minority communities suffer even more derangement of their educational and medical facilities they are more prone to the kinds of petty drug crimes that ushers them into the Prison Industrial Complex.

The war on drugs and the mass incarceration it entails needs to be drastically curtailed. We need to undermine the foundation of the prison industrial complex and devise ways to release from prison non-violent offenders and those deemed least likely to become repeat offenders.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

On US Imperial Propaganda from Counterpunch

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The American Sniper & The Oligarchs of Destruction

My comment to Chris Hedge’s review of Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” can be found in the comment section after the end of the review.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment