Cuyahoga Falls

Cuyahoga Falls: (n) a city in Northeast Ohio, near Akron

 The reason essays are often long is because the author feels compelled to place the reader in the exact moment and space of a given time.

Suffice it to say, today I am talking about a season in our history when boys were dying in Vietnam, hippies were walking the streets and young lads and lasses from the Midwest were desperately trying to be neither.

I grew up in Ohio.

Ohio insists it’s a single state, but anyone who lives there knows differently.

If you lived in Columbus, you might as well be from Iowa, or any other Midwest hold-out to social progress.

If you lived in Cincinnati, you were more like Dixie, with grits in your teeth.

And to the far north was Cleveland, which desperately tried to imitate New York City, complete with crime and a filthy Lake Erie to mirror the polluted Hudson.

I lived right in the center.

No, it’s true. My hometown was exactly ten miles from the geographical center of Ohio. That in itself should have afforded me great honor, but I was stuck, like everyone else, trying to prove myself and do the best with the talent shoveled in my direction.

Mine was music.

But my music was not quite suited to the genre that was rattling and reeling in the time capsule of hippies and soldiers.

So one day, I wiggled my way into scheduling a coffee house in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio—very near Akron. I didn’t know much about the place and they didn’t know much about me.

So my little band, excited about actually going somewhere to play a road gig, dressed up.

For the guys, that was pants and a long-sleeved shirt with a tie.

And for the ladies—well, they basically wore their prom dresses.

We arrived at the coffee house, which was called Avalon, and everybody there was in bell-bottom blue jeans, t-shirts, with long hair and sneers.

It was a long night.

Every song we tried was met with chuckles and everything we said was ignored, as they turned to one another and carried on conversations.

I became angry, mainly because I was young, foolish and felt it was my right to be offended.

I told them they were a bunch of snobs. I also told them they didn’t have the wardrobe for it.

This was my first and only laugh of the night.

The proprietor of the coffeehouse stood to his feet and said, “Be cool, fool. You just don’t fit in here.”

He was right—while simultaneously being wrong.

Because if we’re waiting for everyone to mature or expand to be welcomed into our little utopia, we’ve missed the whole point of having one.

A utopia is meant to be a place where anyone is welcome without fear.

 

funny wisdom on words that begin with a C

Croatia

Croatia: (Prop. Noun): a country in South East Asia, formerly a part of Yugoslavia.

I’m nearly positive.

There must be a lovely little restaurant in Hiroshima that serves a tasty bird’s nest soup.

Likewise, Nagasaki probably has gorgeous parks for walking and sitting and talking.

I once saw a brochure about the beaches of Vietnam, advertising how spacious and clean they are.

I have no trouble thinking about Hawaii as a utopian climate of perfection.

And Pearl Harbor must surely be a fine location. Still, it is difficult for me to imagine it without seeing attacking airplanes and burning boats.

I am also incapable of thinking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki without envisioning flaming ruins from atomic explosions.

And if I do actually consider the beaches of Vietnam, it would be with the arrival of American Marines, under fire.

Likewise, when I hear the word Croatia, what comes to my mind is war.

I am inundated with visions of tragedy, genocide and crimes.

For you see, sometimes I get very tired of my American brain.

I love my country. I’m patriotic, but the limited scope my mind possesses when I hear certain words rings a false note and is definitely tiresome.

Can I see an American Indian—a Native—without thinking about Custer’s Last Stand?

And have I gotten past all my imagery from the movies, about black men and women huddled together as slaves?

I will agree it is sometimes good to be reminded of past sins, frailties, atrocities and horrible deeds.

Yet it is equally as good to be refreshed with visions of hope, possibility and brotherly love.

funny wisdom on words that begin with a C

 


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Chopper

Chopper: (n) a helicopter.

Knowing that my brain, like most human brains, has selective memory, and that triggers installed for certain sounds, words, or even smells, I can tell you of a truth that the word “chopper”–and the vision of one–for me conjures memories of Vietnam.

I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s because I came of age during the height of the conflict, came upon my eighteenth birthday and was eligible for the draft. Helicopters were prevalent in the nightly news, and made me think about that horrible war.

Today I call it horrible. When I was a teenager, I lived in a community that actually had its own chapter of the John Birch Society, and the violence in Southeast Asia was extolled as patriotic–our best avenue for stopping the spread of Communism.

So for me, it’s a chain of mental commands:

Chopper makes me think about Vietnam.

Vietnam makes me think about the protests.

The protests make me think about rock and roll.

Rock and roll conjures images of Woodstock.

Woodstock reminds me that I was living in a provincial village and was too frightened to go to the festival.

And being too frightened to go–as a young man, I was also always arguing with my family over a half-inch of hair over my ears, trying to rebel by listening to The Monkees.

I was no hero.

But as history moves forward, we realize that unfortunately there were no heroes during that era.

The government was corrupt, the hippies were imbalanced, the Vietnamese were crazed, violent and suicidal, the draft dodgers were relegated to the status of cowards as they drove their Volkswagen vans to Canada, and the soldiers who did go to war bled in a jungle that no one even cares one bamboo shoot about today.

So I guess when I see the word “chopper,” I think of lost causes, and I am alerted to spy them–and call them out before they generate guilt, graft … and graves.

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Bully

j-r-practix-with-border-2

Bully: (n) a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

Shakespeare was convinced that all the world’s a stage, and each one of us are actors performing a part.

It’s an interesting theory–but actually, all the world is an improvisational troupe with seven members–but only four usually show up. So rather than having a role, you end up making up what’s going to happen next, and also filling in for those who fail to appear.

That’s more accurate.

So the truth of the matter is, sometimes we may accidentally, or even purposely, find ourselves in the position of being a bully.

Was the United States a bully when it went into Vietnam? By the definition afforded us by Webster, we were certainly trying to take over a weaker people. Yes, control a debilitated nation.

Is it bullying when we ask people to motivate folks to do their best?

Does a football coach bully a player who’s not playing up to his ability by temporarily humiliating him in front of the team?

If you’re going to make a practice of finding the faults of others and pointing them out to produce ridicule, then I think you’re officially a bully.

But if you occasionally find yourself needing to motivate a friend by challenging him or her by pointing out laziness and lack of will, then you’re probably not a bully. You may be doing the work of the angels.

Over half of the things I’ve learned about life and how to treat other people were acquired in school as a child by interacting on the playground.

  • I suppose it could be said I was bullied to catch a ball.
  • I was bullied into playing two-square, even though I was told it was a girl’s game.
  • I was bullied into running faster so the hit I made during baseball could be a double instead of just a single.

It doesn’t mean there weren’t bullies on the playground, who did nothing but find the weaker brothers and sisters and humiliate them for no reason at all.

But if I had the ability to do better and was challenged to do it, that’s not bullying. That’s friendship.

If it’s out of my control–like having a fat belly or stubby legs–then that’s downright mean.

 

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Battalion

Battalion: (n) a large body of troops ready for battleDictionary B

Every once in a while I think about my own death.

It makes me cry.

You know why? I start thinking about all the people I know and how devastated they will be with my absence.

It’s very silly.

But you see, the only life that completely matters in my thinking is mine.

I try to be equally as concerned about others. Sometimes I muster some real mourning for their well-being, but nothing on the level of the compassion and care I have for myself.

I suppose I should feel bad about that–but since it’s not going away, and I am certainly not alone, I will choose to guide it by understanding the value of all human life.

When I was sixteen years old, hundreds of young American men were dying in Vietnam every week. We had a death toll number. It wasn’t like the numbers tallied nowadays over mass shootings, earthquakes or explosions. Many of these young fellows had just been in our classrooms, churches and bagging groceries in our supermarkets three months earlier, and now they were returning home draped in flags.

It seemed surreal but became our reality.

We were experiencing battalions of young American males going off to fight in a jungle and coming home dead.

There was a sensitivity that swept the young generation.

It was reflected in the music.

It was being released from our pores as we stood side-by-side, wondering what in the hell could all this mean.

So gradually, we joined together and became battalions of protestors. We went off to a different kind of war. It was a war waged against war, because the war being executed was killing us.

We had a greater awareness. We asked questions like, “Where have all the flowers gone?”–waiting for an intelligent answer.

Nowadays we speak of war in a clinical Ethernet third person. It is something we launch rather than something that strikes back at us, filling up coffins and alarming us to its viciousness.

We have a professional army with people who have made a profession out of arming themselves and going off to wars that have been created by old men who miss John Wayne.

Nowadays our grocery baggers get to go to college without ever feeling the loss of life.

I would not wish the agony of Vietnam and the deaths of friends and loved ones on anyone, but it would be terrific to have battalions of young people who are socially, spiritually and emotionally conscious of our aching world … instead of battalions of soldiers chasing the errors of misguided politicians.

 

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Amnesty

dictionary with letter A

Amnesty: (n) an official pardon for people who have been convicted of political offenses

It is a concept beyond the comprehension of any young man living in America today.

But the reality in my youth was that at eighteen years of age, if you were not bound for college or standing around flat-footed, you could receive a letter in the mail from the Selective Service Administration, be drafted into the military, endure six weeks of basic training, two weeks back at home and then be shipped off to Indochina to fight a war that was only truly understood in the minds of aging politicians and deliberate generals.

It happened to my friend, Marty. He was a gospel singer. But because he was only nineteen years of age, he could sing Amazing Grace and slip out behind the church and tell you some of the dirtiest jokes to put pink in your cheeks.

He was fun. But he wasn’t college material.

So he was drafted.

Within a month he was gone off to basic training. Two months later, he was bound for Vietnam.

But before he left for basic training, he told me he was scared, against the war and wanted to run off to Canada to get out of the military.

He said the only reason he wouldn’t do it is because it would bring shame to his family and he did not want to be branded a coward or a Commie.

So he went.

Fifty-eight days later, they sent him home in a box. It was only six years after they buried my friend, Marty, that an amnesty was declared by the President for all those who objected to the war and went to Canada.

When the grace was offered to those who escaped across the border, I thought about Marty. Yes, he would have been returning to our country at twenty-eight years of age. And his parents probably would have gotten over the shame.

There is no amnesty from the grave.

May we all remember that the next time we’re scowling at an enemy across the pond, thinking about the nastiness of war.

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Agent Orange

Words from Dic(tionary)

dictionary with letter AAgent Orange: (n) a defoliant chemical used by the U.S. during the Vietnam war

I don’t trust the press.

I don’t trust the government.

I’m a child of the 60’s.

What is the problem with mistrusting the government and the press? They seem to control almost everything. It puts me in danger of not trusting anything.

Matter of fact, many people my age have rejected spirituality because it appears to be a heavenly government with a press corps, promoting the Bible.

This is what I think about when I hear the words, “Agent Orange:”

As a kid I went to school, had friends, flirted with girls, tried to play football and attempted to keep my grades high enough that I didn’t get kicked out of the National Honor Society while all the time my government was spewing poison all over the countryside of Vietnam, which not only killed vegetation but also ended up destroying human life.

By the time I discovered it, along with everyone else in the country, we were already in the midst of an elongated conflict which ended up costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

To achieve what? A Vietnam which is now united under one government–basically Marxist–which after all these decades, is accepted by our nation as a friendly and fertile climate for commerce.

What can we learn from the Agent Orange stupidity that exists in all aspects of our society? What are we trying to defoliate today, which in the future will become acceptable and those who live long enough to walk in that future time will look back to wonder “what in the hell we were thinking?”

There are three things you must have if you’re a human being:

  1. A sense of history. Try not to repeat the stupid stuff.
  2. An enjoyment of the present. Today’s all we’ve got.
  3. An eye on the future. In other words, what is this going to look like in twenty years?

If we had thought that way, many of us would never have worn lime-green leisure suits … and probably would have avoided any agent that was called orange.