On Anger

Anger

First of all, it’s impolite, and somehow being polite was drilled into me as an early golden rule. If offered a blindfold by your executioner, say “Yes, please. Thank you, sir (or madam as the case may be).” I was raised by women, including nuns. Only God was allowed anger, and maybe sometimes those specially anointed in His employ. Anger was disruptive. Anger was a punishable offense. The slightest spit of choler would get thee to the office.

            Secondly, wrath is one of the seven deadly sins, along with greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. Sins are bad. Sins are basic human needs that have become individually obsessive, cancerous. Being mildly put-off by being bitten by your neighbor’s dog is understandable. Breaking all the dog’s long bones and skull with your baseball bat is considered excessive.  

            Thirdly, anger is not cool. By allowing yourself to become enraged you only empower the provocateur. A bigger man would only laugh at such absurdities. Why the bitch barely broke my skin. I’ve been attacked by far more fearsome beasts. Anyway, the threat of rage is a more effective weapon than rage itself. Rampage is an ejaculation, invariably followed by detumescence.

            And besides, with whom are you really angry? With those who persecute you or with you yourself for getting yourself in the position of persecutee? Predators always attack weaknesses. Is your weakness a lack of patience or an inflated sense of self-worth? What makes you so vulnerable as to arouse your fury? Of course they’re all imbeciles, but do they deserve your ire?

            On the side of anger are its occasional cognates—impassioned and loss of temper. For what is a life without sometimes irrational passions? And what is lost when your temper is lost but a hold someone else once placed upon your emotions? I have been angry. It chews on your soul, but the pain keeps you lucid. Otherwise it is useless. But one thing is clear—there’s no point in dying pissed-off.

            Revenge is sweet. It is also said to be best served cold, which makes it ice cream or sherbet I guess. I see a lot of angry people these days. It’s like being angry is in the Bill of Rights. Americans who have more of everything than anyone else has ever had before are angry when they’re asked to share. Some folks are angry about what other folks do in private with their bodies. There are obese people angry about what they eat, idiots enraged at those who ignore them, conspiracy theorists at war with the truth.

            To be real, it seems. you must have a personal grievance (or two). Cigarette smoke, human carnivores, big box stores, immigrants, socialists, atheists, neo-Nazis, freeloaders, other people’s phobias, “them.” By their grievance you shall know them. Just saying. It’s our new America. Fight or flight? We’re just another species on the way out anyway.  

            Fear is the embryo where anger grows. We Americans are as safe as a people have ever been, but we have not lost the ancient instinct to fear. It’s like an immune system left with nothing to fight except itself. The wolf at your door is in your mind. Ask him in. It’s your neighbor, come to apologize about the dog.    

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Story of a Photograph

Girls July 4

Photos: J. Enright

From left to right—Marissa DeWees, Teri Hunkin, Connie Payne, Regina Meredith. 4th of July, 1999, my back yard in Leone, Tutuila, American Samoa. The only retail outlet in the territory with department-store pretensions had just gone out of business. For sale at next to nothing had been a rack of left-over prom dresses, all in sizes too small for Samoan high school grads. To the ladies this said party time. They also bought elastic-band black bowties for all their men. It was a great party. Give beautiful women an event to dress up for, then step back and feel their power to transform the quotidian into the transcendent.

July 4 1999 Connie in doorway

Connie Payne

 

The Re-creation of Sam McGee

My father, Arthur Enright, different ties, 1927, 1960

 

The Re-creation of Sam McGee

                                                            for Art Enright

There were strange things stuck inside my head

            By that bear-all of a man

At those parties in my mother’s kitchen

            Where the whiskey always ran.

Those Buffalo snows enclosed it all

            But the guests were warm and free

When me Dad would stand bottle in hand

            And declaim The Cremation of Sam McGee.

 

Now me Dad was born in the nineteen-oughts

            When Mr. Service was a hero

Because his poems let the people know

            That not all poems were infernal,

That some were meant just to calm a crowd

            And tell a well rhymed story,

And me Dad was there to share the tale

            And in telling share its glory.

 

My place was on the kitchen stairs

            In the shadow of the landing

Where my parents knew all us kids would be

            Out of sight but understanding.

The party would progress apace,

            My Irish uncles would be singing,

Then me Dad would stand and take his place

            His moment just beginning.

 

Someone would tap a knife to glass

            And the circle would slowly center.

The women would turn, my Mom would smile,

            The men would cease their banter.

Me Dad would stub his Camel out

            And take a drink for voice and luck,

Then looking off, he’d start the piece

            That he’d learned when just a pup.

 

His voice was grand, it filled the room

            As if it were a castle.

His face transformed from the man we knew

            As he became the ballad’s vassal.

No bottles clinked, no chairs scraped back,

            The silence went unshattered.

For a stretch of time unmeasured still

            His words were all that mattered.

 

Sent off to bed I’d repeat in my head

            The verses I’d retained,

And the snow’s cold fall re-enforced it all,

            The source of Sam McGee’s pain.

Long after sleep as in a dream I’d feel

            A hand press down upon my head

And a whiskey kiss as warm as bliss

            Would press my cheek into the bed.

 

Many years went by before I found

            That Service poem inside a book.

I checked it out and took it home

            To take another look.

The poem’s alright, but I’ll tell you this

            And this is not a lie—

The way it’s writ is not as good

            As me Dad could tell it on the fly.

 

 

 

Some People Talk with God

cover

Some People Talk with God, volume two in my Dominick Chronicles series is out and available in hardcover, Kindle, and Audible books.

The past just won’t go away. Dominick likes to idle there in history’s comfortable remove, but when his mother dies and he meets the half sister he never knew he had, the past becomes more personal—and the present more dangerous.

In this sequel to New Jerusalem News, Dominick’s perpetual peregrinations are interrupted by a visit to his newfound sibling’s historic Hudson Valley estate, which is also home to a Wiccan coven. His departure is continually delayed by circumstance, brushes with the local sheriff, and the history of the place itself—a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Once again, Dominick’s quest for noninvolvement and a purely “observer’s” status is thwarted by reality. In Some People Talk with God, follow the new misadventures of this charming wanderer as he encounters an ineffable world of lovers, schemers, and fanatics.

Praise for New Jerusalem News:

“Compassionately sardonic, witty, funny, quirky and delightful . . . You’ll laugh out loud but also enjoy Dominick’s asides on class warfare, crows, the past and cold, wet, provincial New England . . .  Enright’s off and running with Dominick, and he’s terrific.”

                                                                                                —Providence Journal

Free downloads of the Audible book version to the first three blogeroos responding.

Muhammad Ali & Viet Nam

Muhammad-Ali-Quote 2March on Pentagon

Watching old news clips this week of Muhammad Ali defending his choice to refuse to be drafted during the Vietnam War brought chills to my limbs and tears to my eyes. The definition of a hero. It also raised half-century-old memories of a time I had buried, a time when I and many of my contemporaries were publicly vilified and attacked for our opposition to that war and the draft that fed it corpses, a time when my own father and eldest brother exiled me from the family home for my stance on the war. My dad called me a Commie. My brother called me a Viet Cong.

    I remember marching in the first Fifth Avenue Peace Parade in New York, March 1966. As an organizer, I was a parade marshal, which meant I walked on the outside of our contingent, between the marchers and the hostile crowds that lined the avenue. And they were hostile. Even the police, who supposedly were there to keep the peace, hooted and screamed at us. I was shoved and punched. I was foolishly wearing my best clothes, including a baby-blue Irish wool sweater my girlfriend had just given me. The crowd was throwing things at us—eggs, trash, liquid stuff, including red paint. Throughout the march I worried about that red paint getting on my sweater. I was just 20. I was marching to save my peers from seeing their uniforms soaked in their own blood for a pointless cause, and I was worrying about paint on my sweater.

   I am not comparing myself to Ali or anyone else. I have nothing but awe and respect for the men and women who fought and died when their misleading leaders asked them to fight and die. There was nothing heroic about my low-echelon anti-war contributions. I was there for six years ; I did my part; but others did the heavy lifting. My life was not interrupted. But there were millions of us who did protest, who, before Twitter and Facebook, took to the streets, organized sit-ins and petitions, ran mimeograph machines late into the night, and counseled others on how to avoid the draft. Looking back, I am also in awe of those patriot citizens who fought on the home front against the loss of American ideals. Will history remember how virulent and vile their treatment was in the middle and late ‘60s? Ali’s story reminds us.

            A year later, in August 1967, I was the marshal for another Manhattan contingent at the first, 100,000 person March on the Pentagon in Washington. At the time I was working in the Editorial Research Library at Newsweek magazine. Before I left for D.C. I persuaded my boss at Newsweek to issue me ID as a stringer for them on the promise I’d file an eyewitness report upon my return. There are plenty of versions of that event. I was in the middle of it. I was seated cross-legged on the pavement in the inner circle when the federal marshals in their cheap suits and ties and five-foot batons started clearing out the rows of sitting protesters in front of me. It was brutal. There was blood. The red-neck marshals especially enjoyed clubbing the girls. Just behind us was a row of soldiers, National Guard, rifles fixed with bayonets, holding us in to be arrested.

March on Pentagon Troops

By then it had been many hours since we had massed and marched across the bridge from Washington. I really had to take a piss. I knew that when the marshals reached me, clubbed me, and dragged me away I would piss my pants. I also couldn’t see the value of being beaten and arrested. I was chicken. I stood up and faced the young lieutenant in charge of the guardsmen behind me (me now not us), a young man not much older than myself whose face was pale and sweaty with fear. I showed him my Newsweek ID and said, “You’ll excuse me please.” He stepped aside and with a hand on my back pushed me through his line of troops. Behind me I heard the sound of wooden batons hitting flesh and bone as I walked away through the encompassing crowd.

   I turned in my in-depth report as promised, an eyewitness account of pacifism met with brutality. The march would be Newsweek’s cover story that week. On Thursdays just-off-the-press copies of that week’s edition were distributed to the staff. It was sort of a hallow moment as everyone stopped their usual labors to peruse the latest product. I read the printed story about the filthy rabble, these Commies and duped fellow travelers, who had demeaned the capital and were summarily dispersed by patriotic forces. What a mess they had left behind. Not a word, not a hint of my reporting was present.

            I stood up from my desk in that bevy of desks filled with fellow drones and ripped the magazine in half and threw it in the newsprint trash barrel beside my desk. I took off my gray work smock and threw it in after it. Then I put on my suit coat and left, not to return.

            Ali had opted out of the draft in 1966 for reasons as clear as anyone could make them, and he took his punishment publicly and proudly. Five years later, still undaunted, he was vindicated by the U.S. Supreme Court. For all of us in the anti-war movement he was an icon and an idol, and his death brings back those days and the memories of all those others who fought for years against that now historically reviled conflict. He was the greatest.

Muhammad Ali quoteMuhammad Ali with Pres Bush