Monday, May 19, 2008

The Crazy Old Man In The Broken-Down House

First Ridicule. Then Pity. And Then, You Can't Wait For Someone To Come Take Him Away.

As a teenager growing up in Southeast Queens, I encountered a phenomenon that every kid at some point has probably experienced.

That “phenomenon” is that of The Neighborhood Kook.

It's a guy—almost always a guy—who regularly and sometimes entertainingly acts out in embarassingly nutty ways. Our neighborhood kook was a gentleman I shall refer to as “Mr. R”.

Now, “Mr. R” was something of a neighborhood legend. At one time he was supposedly “something” I guess. But by the time I'd moved there in 1975 he'd already become “something else”. Disheveled, with what hair he had matted down in a greasy comb-over, he'd come out onto the steps of his ramshackle home—similar to others in the block, but now festooned with all manner of aftermarket, and post-whack out add-ons. Strange small structures cobbled out of particle board and that odd wood amalgam that looks like slabs of lumber yard head-cheese now jutted from various outer walls of the house. The driveway was lined with large rocks gotten from...God only knows where you get large Flintstionian rocks in Jamaica, Queens. Odd hubcaps and trash lids were affixed to those outer walls as well, and the garage looked like one of those freak-show photos of a man with 200 cigarettes crammed in his mouth, as it was fairly stuffed to overflowing with pipes, long strips of stainless steel and planks of wet, bowing lumber. His car was a vintage Chevy El Camino, with the back truckbed painfully weighted down with what was either a huge, green diesel engine, or a massive old printing press—I never got close enough to the house to see which.

Probably because of “Mr. R” himself. To this day, (And he's still alive, living there and freaking out a third generation of neighbors) I don't know, and apparently nobody knows just what his mental issue is, but whatever it is—it was a doozy. You'd walk by his house and see him there on the sun-scorched remnant of his lawn as he was blow-torching a shiny new trash can into pieces of bent steel for God-knows-what, and he'd see you passing by and grunt.


And you'd just say “Hey, Mr. R.” and keep the hell on walking—because you never knew what would come next. It could be either a primal howl that Yellowstone Coyotes could hear, or he'd scuttle over to a scraggly azalea and dig out some bits of plumbing and start chucking it in your direction. Never strong enough to hit you, but disturbing nonetheless. Sometimes, he'd simply pace from one end of his block to another in his prerequisite stained overalls (guess what with—ecccccch!) and work shirt, muttering, moaning, throwing his hands in the air and occasionally looking heavenward. Sometimes he'd dash half the block, run across the street and just kick a particular neighbor's fence, growl and run back to his yard to putter, grunt and throw things again.

You never knew with him.

And as the years went by, he got worse and worse. Odd new protrusions sprouted from his roof—a mini “Watts Towers” of shaped chicken wire and traffic cones he'd pinch from road crews along Hollis Avenue. His hygeine worsened. You smelled him long before you saw him. And many a middle of the night was perforated with one of his ungodly howls that sounded like a wolf caught in a bear trap on one end while being eaten by the bear at the other. He'd effectively gone from chuckle-worthy eccentric, to flat-out worrisome crazy. He capped this off one day as me and my friends played baseball down in the wide intersection at the head of his block. My friend Darryl had just blasted a long drive well down to the next corner and was tearing around the bases as we all whooped and hollered, windmilling our arms to signal “Everybody score!”. In all the hoopla, we didn't see Mr. R creep up near the bushes at the corner near home plate, but in a flash—and it almost was a literal flash—he rushed out from behind the bushes, clad only in a dingy button-down shirt that was wide open, black socks and underwear that looked like C/W. McCall's “Convoy” had skidded up the back of, and grabbed the bat Darryl had just swung and suddenly screamed and swung it for all he was worth at the stop sign on the corner—three times.

“Bwooooonnnnng! Blaaaannnnnng! Pwhaaaaammmmmm!”

And then he ran away, back past the bushes to his ramshackle house as quickly as he'd come.

We all stood there, open-mouthed as he scuttled back home, arms waving and soiled underwear flashing. And then we looked at that stop sign—still shaking from his blows and listened to itys “whoo-whoo-whoo-whoo-whoo” tuning-fork sound for a good twenty seconds before we wordlessly stopped our game and I guess telepathically said to each other “He. Has. Totally. Lost. It. Wow.”. And one of us actually did—intoning ruefully, “That shit was crazy”, and we went our separate ways.

I hadn't thought of the loopy Mr. R for many years—until this past week, when President Bush decided to do his own executive branch equivalent of Mr. R's half-naked, stop sign-walloping during his trip to Israel, and then some. He stood there, at the Knesset and with the 7 1/2 years of a skidmark of his presidency showing for all to see, effectively lost what cookies he had left.

In his speech, Bush said, “As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, ‘all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

CNN’s Ed Henry reported that, while “President Bush never uttered the words Barack Obama,” his White House sources tell him it was clearly intended to be a partisan shot:
White House aides are acknowledging that this was a reference to the fact that Sen. Obama and other Democrats have publicly said that it would be ok for the U.S. President to meet with leaders like the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

Now, never mind the fact that the little coward ran halfway across the globe to take a shot at a possible successor who forgot more things last week than the President has in his head at this writing, and let's look past the sadness of his clumsily injecting himself into a campaign and really, a world event cycle that has brusquely moved past him—only he hasn't caught on yet. Let's instead peruse the 200-proof crazy he was peddling that day—as Israel, the country he was in—celebrated it's 60th anniversary of existence.

One: The stumblebum-grade invoking of Godwin's Law in his making a direct comparison of Barack Obama to the Nazi-appeasing windmills in his mind. Does this man not know the difference between talking and appeasing? Talking is what Jimmy Carter did with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. It's what Bill Clinton did with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin when the Oslo Accords were formulated. It's also what Bush himself has done in dealing with North Korea insofar as negotiating over their amassing a nuclear arsenal. Of course, appeasing is when you give somebody something in the hopes that they will not do something else. Like perhaps, sending a nation like Korea 500,000 metric tons of grain in the hopes of I dunno...gaining a favorable negotiating position? How soon we forget...or perhaps, didn't really even know jack about from jump. But it's that panicky-assed dog-whistling of “He's like the guys who enabled the Nazis...wink-wink, nudge-nudge, know what I mean? What's that thing you guys like to say? Oh yeah...Oy vey! 'Snicker-snicker!” that simply screamed “Are you...crazy?” to almost everyone who heard it—except for the polarizing doofuses who couldn't help but chime in alá The Three Stooges' “Hello” harmonics on this dumb bleat. Yes, you, Senators McCain and Lieberman. In the end it was as much a whackdoodle non-sequitir as one of Mr. R's insane puttering grunts. “Hurnnnnngh-Hurnnngh!”, and meant just as much to anyone with a shred of sanity. But let's look closer at that inability to discern facts that he should know, as we probe the stygian depths of this ocean of crazy.

Two: The mayfly's grasp of history the man has. The senator who uttered that 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler' statement was one of his own—a Republican, and a fairly prominent one of the time—one William Borah of Idaho. Bush witlessly peddled this tripe, injecting U.S. politics into a nation's celebration as he ham-fistedly tried to help the man he's ostensibly trying to get elected, John McCain. Except, he was apparently spiking his cups of Kedem™ with grain alcohol and ground-up goofballs and either didn't realize, or went totally off script and didn't remember that Senator McCain is painfully on-record talking about talking with Hamas in the same terms Senator Obama has:

"They're the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another. And I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice.

But it's a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that."

Be it mid-20th century American history, or a statement made as recently as a year ago, the surest sign of a person who's—I'll say it, lost their bearings is an inability to grasp the nature of, or the “time-stamp” of the events occurring around him. To go before hundreds of people and babble like Professor Irwin Corey about the world and what's happened in it as if he was some sort of authority is what the flour sack-clad lunatic who prowls the afternoon “B” Train does. And no one listens to him, but him. But here is the sadly revealing thing about Bush's gossamer grasp on the facts about “appeasement” through history...

What was it that Sly Stone used to sing? “It's a family aff-air

George Bush's grandfather, the late US senator Prescott Bush, was a director and shareholder of companies that profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany. The Guardian has obtained confirmation from newly discovered files in the US National Archives that a firm of which Prescott Bush was a director was involved with the financial architects of Nazism.

His business dealings, which continued until his company's assets were seized in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act, has led more than 60 years later to a civil action for damages being brought in Germany against the Bush family by two former slave labourers at Auschwitz and to a hum of pre-election controversy.

The evidence has also prompted one former US Nazi war crimes prosecutor to argue that the late senator's action should have been grounds for prosecution for giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Yes. Grandpa Prescott Bush, Senator from the state of Connecticut, who surely bounced little “W” on his double-dealing knee had a bevy of sweet, little back-room deals with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party that lined his pockets as folks around the way would say “something lovely, son”. Even had his firm's assets snatched by the gub-mint because it undermined the war effort. A sitting U. S. Senator. Not the one that Bush railed about there at the Knesset, but actually someone who was much, much worse. I'll use the word that Dubya himself likes to toss around like Kennebunkport horseshoes—traitor. Thinking about this, the image that comes to mind is an unnerving one one from the film “Citizen Kane” where during the newsreel on the life of the just-passed mogul Kane, we see him in a series of “clips” with other powerful men of his time as a voice-over sonorously regales us.

Scene from Citizen Kane—Adolf Hitler at far left, Sen. Prescott Bush Charles Foster Kane chillin' with him at right.

(Kane again appears with Teddy Roosevelt) ...“No public man whom Kane himself did not support or denounce—often support... (Kane is pictured with a preening Hitler on a balcony)...then denounce.”

Your own flesh and blood, Dubya. Your esteemed grandfather. Cutting deals with Nazi Germany. Not even for a negotiated peace. But for the almighty, handed-down-to-generations-afterward dollar. And you rail at someone else for daring to say they'll talk? When the public record is so clear on grandpapa's death-enabling perfidy? Rant on, crazy man. Rant on.

And if you can imagine it—it gets worse. You see, merely a day or so before his manic yowling at the Knesset, he sat down for an interview with and deigned to share with said interviewer and an anxious public the depths of his personal sacrifice for the war he pushed down the throats of 300 million Americans and 25 million Iraqis—From Countdown With Keith Olbermann:

Then came Mr. Bush‘s final blow to our nation‘s solar plexus, his last re-opening of our common wounds, his last remark that makes the rest of us question not merely his leadership or his judgment but his very suitably to remain in office.

“Mr. President,” he was asked, “you haven‘t been golfing in recent years. Is that related to Iraq?”

“Yes,” began perhaps the most startling reply of this nightmarish blight on our lives as Americans, on our history.

“It really is. I don‘t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the Commander-in-Chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be as—to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”

Golf. He sat there and proudly let us know that his sacrifice was his letting go of his piss-poor golf game—and even that was a fabrication of an addled mind as the time frame he gave for riding away in a golf-cart for the last time from his beloved game is at odds with the historical video evidence. He was apparently hacking about roughs and sand traps for months after his trumpeted August “retirement from the game”. But the key thing here is his utterly twisted sense of priorities and propriety. Said with all the conviction and cold-eyed crazy of a Charlie Manson in one of his kooky televised interviews.

“And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.”

As does pretty much anything he's done since committing hundreds of thousands of American soldiers lives and futures to a horrifically evil war. Be it clearing brush, spastically shaking his ass on the one-and-three to ceremonial African music, or worst of all—joking about the reason he sent the soldiers off to war at a champagne and caviar dinner. Maybe some day he''ll return to his beloved game—albeit one or two steps removed. Some soldier back from two—maybe three tours in Iraq, will stand on a course at the tee. Unsteadily though, as he'll be balancing on one flesh and blood leg, pocked with shrapnel, and a titanium prosthetic from his stumped other knee down. His depth perception'll be off. His replacement left eye is a glass ornament that handles images as a marble would—simply reflecting them.

But he'll try to reclaim his life by doing something he used to love when he was whole. That soldier'll rock his weight back a little and address the ball...and then visualize something to give him focus. He'll see a face on the ball. The face of a man who supposedly sacrificed important something for him. The hands'll go back as the good eye flashes hot. Somehow, the titanium leg handles the weight shift and the one eye works like stereo instead of mono—and the ball will rocket off the club like old times. Maybe further. “Boom!” He'll mash every one off the tee...visualizing all the way. Seeing that man's smirking face as he swings. That out-of-his-mind man who's so far around the bend that the damned curve isn't even visible any more.

That crazy, old man in the broken-down house. A tumble-down White House of his own wrecking over 7 1/2 ruinous years. Ranting at whoever happens past. A world passing him by now, and driving him dottier by the day. He rattles sabres made of mop handles and occasionally rushes out into the street to scream and bang on street signs.

“Bwooooonnnnng! Blaaaannnnnng! Pwhaaaaammmmmm! Nazis! Appeaser! Myyyyyyy Warrrrrrrr-time Sac-ri-fiiiiiiiiiice!”

Old “Mr. R” is still there down the block from my childhood home, but the years have not been kind. And sooner, rather than later...he'll be gone. We can see it coming. Our own collective kooky “Mr. B” of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue'll be gone soon too..

Again...sooner rather than later.

It was my colleague Hubris Sonic who noted:

249 days to go. Honestly, I think these next months will be some of the most dangerous under this administration as the frat boy comes to realize, more and more, that his days in the limelight are rapidly waning.

And we'll also see some of the most embarrassing, unbalanced skid mark-flouting and primal screaming you've ever seen in a chief executive on the way out, too.

But then, he's been grunting unintelligibly since day one, hasn't he? “Hurrrrnnngh!