Sunday, August 8, 2010

Maude's Umbrella

This video is making the rounds on Facebook

By the time Life is Worth Losing aired in 2005, the ideas George expressed on the American Dream were old news to many folks. We got the picture by looking at Watergate and Ronald Reagan, and by watching a nation dismiss everything Jimmy Carter had to say about fossil fuels and conservation. Of course we already knew this stuff -- we had been paying attention to George Carlin since he was the Hippy Dippy Weatherman.

In fact, as a likely result of George Carlin's influence on my world view, I recognized the ringing truth in Jonathan Kozol's book, The Night is Dark and I am far from Home, when it was required reading in my Educational Theory class at Webster University. That's where I got my first Masters in Education. I may sound like a ditzy stoner, but I can string some letters behind my name when I feel like it. Kozol can provide all the statistics to support any point about education George Carlin ever made. The Owners certainly don't want workers who think - they want workers who can close out the register, not people who can put two and two together. If people could put two and two together, The Owners would have big problems. That's what Chris Hedges was saying in Why the Feds Fear Thinkers like Howard Zinn (Truthdig, Aug 1, 2010).

I don't dispute or disagree with a word of any of it. There's no arguing with Reality. The trouble comes with accepting a completely unacceptable Reality. We can fight, of course, but in the end, fighting never gets anyone anywhere. Look at Iraq, Pakistan, Vietnam, Israel, Afghanistan, Nagasaki and Dresden. Besides - I'd have to talk to Teabaggers if I were really going to get involved in a fight. I don't even like to run across that conservative bullshit on Twitter when somebody spreads #tcot news. That shit harshes my mellow, and the only thing I can control in this life is the Mellow in my Living Room.

Once you've accepted an Unacceptable Reality, despair seems inescapable. I had a friend who used George's term The Owners all the time. Smart man, but he went to sleep at night with a pitbull in his bed and a loaded gun in the nightstand. We were only telephone friends, but when he was sober, he contributed a lot to a conversation. He accepted this Reality, and as a result, experienced almost nothing from life except Crushing Despair. At least, that's how it looked to me. Sometimes I was afraid I'd be the last person he talked to one night before he blew out his brains.

The other day, Mr. Charleston brought up Net Neutrality over at Termites of Sin. He suggested calling our congressional representatives. Some folks in the comments disparaged that idea because - rightly - they said calling those bastards was a waste of fucking time. I said my bit about Silence = Death, but those comments got me thinking about despair again and how The Owners count on us all being so tired and beaten down that we roll over without giving them any trouble.

As it happened, I had just watched Harold and Maude with Buster, and Cat Steven's song, "If You Want to Sing Out," was stuck in my head. So was Maude's umbrella.

When Harold visits Maude's home, he notices an old umbrella up on a bookcase, and he asks her about it. She tells him she carried it to political demonstrations in case she needed to defend herself. This passage is generally best remembered:
Harold: What were you fighting for?
Maude: Oh, big issues. Liberty. Rights. Justice. Kings died, kingdoms fell. I don't regret the kingdoms - what sense in borders and nations and patriotism? But I miss the kings.

The real message of the umbrella scene comes at the end, however, when Harold asks Maude, "So you don't use the umbrella any more? No more revolts?" Maude says:
Oh, yes! Every day.
But I don't need a defense anymore. I embrace!
Still fighting for the Big Issues but now in my small, individual way. Shall we have a song?

In the end, all any of us can do about that inescapable, unacceptable reality is fight for the big issues in our small, individual ways. Like Ghandi said: Be the change you want to see in the world. Some of us sign petitions, or take the time to check a box on our electric bills to providers who use renewable sources like wind and water. Or pick up the phone and call an elected official - even though s/he's a fucking worthless douchebag lobbyist's whore. Some people even run for Congress - like this woman I met at the farmer's market on Friday named Joyce. She's running in the Democratic primary for Charlie Rangel's seat. I think we can all agree it's time for Charlie to retire given he has become so lackadaisical that he became a Post Headline.

I love Charlie, but when somebody who has been in DC long enough to know better shows up under that headline with that photo -- he's been in DC too dang long. I liked Joyce. Maybe she won't win, but she's out there confronting the big issues in her own individual way. Sometimes, that means staying in your pajamas all day and taking the time to reflect and breathe. Or maybe it means making fun of Mitch McConnell when he's yammering on the Senate floor.

It's like the song Maude teaches Harold:

if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
'Cause there's a million things to be
You know that there are

And if you want to live high, live high
And if you want to live low, live low
'Cause there's a million ways to go
You know that there are (Cat Stevens 1971).

When Sarah Palin and her Christian friends are raising hell about a Mosque downtown at Ground Zero, they would do well to remember that more Muslims are like Cat Stevens than Osama bin Laden. They'd do well to remember that George W and Osama's fathers were pretty friendly. If you believe George Carlin, and I do, that's ain't never gonna happen - but it won't stop me from singing.


Jaliya said...

sing on, you! :-)

I'm reminded of a quote of TS Eliot:

"Where does one go from a world of insanity? Somewhere on the other side of despair."

BTW ... a wee gift ... a band that I heard for the first time last night (Where the hell have I been?!) ... Raised by Swans. Dark and delectable ... I'm reminded a wee bit of U2 in the mid-late '80s ... gorgeous guitar work ... Enjoy ...

Anonymous said...

I absolutely got my laugh for the day.Thanks so much for a witty and truthful take on George and Cat and all the way of the world and what we can do. I truly enjoyed this post. We do what we can in our own way and perhaps something will change.
Love ya J

PENolan said...

Jaliya - thanks, and I'm duly impressed by your ability to post a link.

Hey Jul - I'm hoping to see you next weekend when me and the manchild are in Austin.

tnlib said...

What's not to like? I love Carlin's the American Dream and pasted it on my FB where I'm sure it will impress all my southern kin who think the appointment of Kagan is going to destroy the Constitution. And I enjoyed Harold and Maude.

But I love that spunky little Joyce. Go Girl.

Have fun in Texas and watch out for those cops who abuse little old seniors who are being rushed to the ER.

Vancouver Voyeur said...

What a beautiful, thought provoking post. I'm a huge fan of Carlin and it was great to hear his voice again. I also enjoy Cat Stevens, I can't remember his real name, but I always liked the peace I felt inside, the happiness when I listened to his music.


I love everything about this post..sing on sista' sing on.

Jennifer said...

Funny, another friend had posted this on facebook and I thought I'd take it and expand on it via blog. Don't need to now. Or I could post the video and just write "What Trisha said."


Oh, and elected officials = "fucking worthless douchebag lobbyist's whores..." - I guess some things are the same all over.

There's still some critical thinkers out here doing what we can though, and we soldier on. I hope.

PENolan said...

tnlib: I'll pack my taser ;)
V.V. He's Yusuf Islam now anyway. I always liked him, though. Jackson Browne, too.
Granny - nice to see you. I'll be howling in Austin on Friday the 13th. Time to take the manchild to Austin so he can see what all the shouting is about.
Jenn: Hope the vacation is as peaceful in real life as it looks over at realia. I think there's lots of critical thinkers out there, too, and am glad that so many of us have found each other right here in Blogland.

Vancouver Voyeur said...

Have a good time in Austin, have breakfast at Kirby Lane for me, or watch the sunset at Mount Bonnell.

PENolan said...

Probably both, V.V.
I've got to convince my kid that Austin is a great place to come visit your mom. He was five the last time he was in Austin, and since then, he's only been to suburban Houston. Consequently, he can't understand why anyone would even consider living in Texas. Who can blame him?

Vancouver Voyeur said...

Take him to 6th Street, that will change his mind. ;-)

Liberality said...

I do despair but I also do everything I can within my power to change things. I don't let my despair allow me to give up.

PENolan said...

I'll bet Yoga helps, Libs

Anonymous said...

PENolon,thanks for the grins, and chuckle. Was never a big fan of George's am more of a Bill Cosby fan, myself. However lots of truth in what he says. I have to agree with your son, regarding Texas, and it's going to be really really nasty hot. :) But feel the same way about most states south of Penn. :) For that matter this summer has been a beast so far around here. Hope you have a nice vacation. Pat for NY

PENolan said...

Golly, Pat, I still remember listening to "Why is there Air?" with my parents over and over again.

VV, don't know if there's going to be time for Sixth Street - we've got lunch at Guero's on Friday, then Bob Schneider at Threadgill's Fri night, Lake Travis on Saturday and Barbecue with Guitars on 6 acres near Volente Saturday night. With plenty of siesta time factored in.

My buddy Window might be doing stand up at the Velveeta Room, though. Then we'll be on Sixth Street for sure. He'd be more interested in the girls than the drinks - so I'm thinking a ski boat on Lake Travis will do the trick ;)

Vancouver Voyeur said...

Well if you're going to be on a ski boat on Lake Travis, swing by Hippie Hollow. I used to go there all the time back in the 80s.

jadedj said...

Tricia...George said it..."don't sweat the thunder showers". That pretty much covers it.

Michaele said...

Just want to say how happy I am to have stumbled on your blog...and to find you talking about and posting George Carlin's genius...well, you're a fave now! -Michaele

PENolan said...

Michaele: Glad you stumbled over and took the time to say "hi"

mikeb302000 said...

Sorry to be so late coming to this post, but I loved it so much I just wanted to tell you. Your writing is super.

I recently watched Harold and Maude for the first time since way back then. I love that movie. I can't believe I haven't watched it every year or two since it came out.

Another angle on it for me is my parents both turn 80 this year.

And the Carlin clip, thanks for that. I borrowed it for my blog because it fits perfectly with some of what we talk about over there.

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