Am I the purveyor of Vitriol.

Someone I am friends with accused or maybe simply observed that many of my Facebook posts are vitriolic, that is caustic and cruel criticisms. I think I replied by saying these posts reflect my observations but that I personally am not consumed with bitterness as I thought that was his suggestion. His response was multi-layered but what got to me was his statement that he was more concerned about my words effect on others.

I am concerned and it stimulated me to reflect on my activities. Here is my view point which I fantasize is a valid view point.

I declared on Facebook on many occasions that I was going to abstain from trump-centric posts. In fact after the election of 2016 I urged restraint and caution and giving trump an opportunity to demonstrate he had the right stuff. Alas, he failed every single time he opened his mouth. Every single time. So my hope to remain non-partisan quickly faded. And to remain silent in the face of his statements, policies and actions seemed like acquiescence and endorsement.

I read and watch the news daily for articles that might interest me. I am willing to read non-partisan editorials and articles and even a significant number of partisan, left and right. I read studies on subjects for the sole purpose of ascertaining the truth of the matter asserted. I read studies to determine my own opinions on issues. As a result, sometimes I abandon my position and other times I find I am bolstered by the empirical and anecdotal evidence.

Myself, my parents and siblings, nephews and nieces are Jewish. My siblings and I grew up in the aftermath of the Holocaust. We were introduced to the horrors at an early age, through, film, books and first person narratives. My Hebrew school teachers were Holocaust survivors. We can’t do anything about the Holocaust now. But we can be loud and resist any attempts to sow the seeds of hate of any religious, ethnic, or racial community. One thing that marks the early days of the Holocaust was the silence of the neighbors and countrymen of the Jews and even Jews themselves.

I grew up being called Kike and Christ killer and Yid and more. These are intended as hateful appellations for a Jew. It happened to me in my neighborhood, in my high schools and especially in the boarding school I was sent to in my early teens. I hear the slights in business by people saying well-meaning but prejudicial statements about Jewish business people.

“Never Again” means something special to Jews. It is a declaration that we will never be silent again and allow a holocaust. I should not think that we would remain silent when any minority is threatened. When I see the rise of White Nationalists/Supremacists (nazis), I get hostile. Even when I see these movements divert focus from their hate of Jews and attack people of color, gays, Muslims, I take it personally.

Do I slip into vitriol? Clearly I do. Must I? Yep! There are others I admire who can walk the line of dignity and diplomacy. They can use their oral and writing skills to persuade and/or object. I engaged in counseling with a Catholic priest in Chicago in 1983. He was a wise and sober man. We talked about my approach to counseling others and the way I spoke in personal relationships. He offered that my style was a gift of God in that my propensity for bluntness and unpleasant roughness was “God’s way of turning up the volume”. His opinion he explained was that what I say to people in earnest is something others have said to them before but may not have been heard. So I was God’s way of turning up the volume so that if something needed being said, it would be heard.

We were referencing my counseling style and personal including romantic relationships. But I found that even in my radio career and social media participation, my style also gives voice to many who agree with me but do not feel permission or comfortable expressing their feelings.

Is it un-Buddhist to say things that are not loving or kind? I do not purport that my caustic or sarcastic remarks are Buddha like. But I do state unequivocally that it does not reflect negatively on my Buddhist practice. Monks would possibly disappoint me if they were to behave as I do. On the other hand I know monks who dislike trump and the types of values he espouses.

Budgets express values. The trump budget is a values statement. Budgets require choices, and when something is funded rather than another thing we reveal the values that drive us. The new presidential budget may reflect trump’s values but it does not reflect mine. So I criticize. And to the extent that the burden is going to fall on the least able of our country, I rail against the allocations it calls for. I argue for the health, safety and welfare of the “us and the “them” instead of a border wall between us versus them.

So am I the purveyor of vitriol? I cannot deny it seems so. Am I guilty of harmful intent? Nope. Could I do better? Maybe. Do I believe as Buddha taught that speech should be true, necessary, kind and spoken at the right time? Absolutely. I promise true and always to be accurate. I think it necessary to criticize and resist when I see values taking hold in my country, state, community which I believe to be harmful, hateful or unwholesome. That to me is a form of kindness.

I ask, when is the right time to speak if I first pass the thresholds for right speech? No matter what I decide, it is a subjective standard. No one can say for me when. They can suggest based on their perception but it is just another subjective application.

I believe, the time to speak out against this administration, is now. Lest we forget and give their values space and time to take root and grow. I have never been driven to be so partisan before. I was raised a democrat but prided myself on being independent. A liberal who owned the gun range and advocated for gun owners right to carry and other gun rights. I advocated for responsible fiscal management. Now I am unable to straddle partisan lines as gun owner groups do not relinquish nor compromise in an effort to find reasonable regulations. Many fiscal conservatives now advocate the elimination of poverty programs and oft times the oppression and disenfranchisement of the vote of the have-nots.

I apologize that words which I find descriptive of my opinions are sometimes harsh, virulent, even mean-spirited and bitter. My bad!

 

Is being a Snitch a bad thing?

Enough years have passed that I can now tell the story. When I was 17-18 years old and living in Hyde Park Chicago, I was arrested twice for felonies. The arresting police officers both times were Sgt. Doyle and Officer Andrew Alinovich who were assigned to the Vice Squad, 21st Police District.

At some point during my police custody I was told I could help myself if I gave information which would lead to the arrest of others. I admit, I was scared. As scared as I have ever been. I can still recall some of my thoughts. I remembered being told the following two sayings. “Happy as a sissy in the Cook County Jail” (Chicago). The other, “Go in bitching, come out swishing.”

Both are references to the culture of rape inside the county jail. The officers said to me on one occasion that, “with your long hair you will be somebody’s bitch before the night is over.” FYI, I was 5’7″, weighed about 130 lbs and had long dark hair.

In addition to the immediate threat of jail, there was the additional fear of the Illinois prison system where the rape culture was as much or more prominent. Many of my friends had been to jail or prison and told me how dangerous it was and various survival tips. Tip number one. When other prisoners begin to threaten to attack me, jump on the biggest one and fight for my life. They told me I would lose and get beat up but I would get the respect of the other prisoners for being a “man”. And maybe if I showed them I was a man, they might not rape me. Not a strategy I wanted to test out.

The first time, I was in the station and a lieutenant walked by and asked the arresting officers how old was I. When he was advised that I was 17, he told them to take away my pack of Marlborough cigarettes because I was not old enough to have them. Sgt Doyle replied that it was okay because I was going to cooperate. He looked at me as if for confirmation and he let me have one of my cigarettes. I lit it and he waited for my actual cooperation. When I blew the smoke out of my lungs but did not speak, he said, “stop with the fucking smoke signals Cochise and start talking!”

So, I sat in police custody, chewed my lower lip half off and thought about who, what where I could tell the police about which might result in my release. My mind raced like never before. The officers just stared at me waiting for me to tell them something. Names of wrong-doers came to mind. I evaluated at lightning speed the various persons and what I knew about them.

So now the reveal at the time of my first felony arrest. I think my voice was shaking when I said, “I don’t know anything that you want to know”.  The look of disdain on  Sergeant Doyle’s face had a hint of hatred, he turned and typed up my arrest report before transferring me to a cell where I was held alone. Several hours later I bonded out, unharmed.

The first arrest led to a sentence of court supervision for one year. If I violated my court supervision, I could be sent to an Illinois prison for 6 to 15 years. The second time I was arrested was about year or so later. This Sunday morning, Alinovich and Doyle spotted me standing outside a coffee-shop at the corner of 53rd and Hyde Park Boulevard.

Pulling up alongside me, they ordered me into their unmarked police car. They searched me quite thoroughly. I had no drugs on me. What I did have was a draft card belonging to someone else which I carried to buy alcohol and avoid curfew violations. I will never forget the look on Officer Alinovich’s face as he discovered the card. He asked me with glee if I knew the penalty for unlawful possession of a draft card. He was delighted to share with me that,

Anyone shown to have possession of any selective service card not duly issued to him, such possession shall be deemed sufficient evidence to establish an intent to use such certificate for purposes of false identification or representation, and may be fined up to  $10,000 or be imprisoned for not more than five years, or both.

The cuffs went on and off we began the drive to the police station. I begged them to let me go. I told them my court supervision was one more week and this would violate my condition of supervision. Sgt Doyle pulled over and stopped on a quiet street. He turned around and asked me what I could tell him to help myself. Who was I willing to give up?

At the time of my first arrest I did not know that I was facing a lengthy prison sentence under Illinois law. I had been charged with possession of marijuana and possession of stolen or mislaid property. Both felonies.

Now I knew what the stakes were now. I remembered the judge admonishing me of the period of incarceration I would face upon a finding that I had failed to abide by the conditions of my supervision. I was on the verge of tears thinking of the consequences. I am sure I would have cried but I knew that somehow that would make things worse.

Both officers were turned around in the car looking at me in the back seat. Man, the silence was deafening. The noise in my head was deafening. Again I raced through the possibilities of cooperating, who to snitch out and how to survive being a snitch.

I do not know if it was true, but I convinced myself in that moment that being a snitch was a core violation of my values and that I would not be safe if I did provide information. I finally broke the silence and told them I could not help. Once again, the look of disdain was prominent on both their faces. They turned and Doyle put the car back in gear and off we went.

Just as we neared the main road to the station, (Lake Shore Drive) Doyle pulled to the curb. He looked at Alinovich and told him “get him the fuck out this car”. Alinovich looked confused and unsure. Doyle repeated, “just get him out of my fucking car”. Alinovich opened the back door from the outside, uncuffed me, got back in the car and off they drove. No explanation. No charges.

About a week later I appeared in court and my supervision was terminated successfully. I met Officer Alinovich two more times. Once he walked in to my dad’s lumber yard with his family to buy building materials for his house. I was in my early 20s. We chatted amicably and of course I gave him the police discount.

The next time I was in downtown Chicago and encountered him inside a building on the Magnificent Mile, Michigan Avenue. He told me he was now assigned to taxicab violation enforcement. The Vice Squads had been renamed, Tactical Patrol. Doyle had either retired or died, I cannot recall which. We were pleasant to each other.

I was arrested a couple of more times by other Chicago police for a variety of crimes. But I was never offered freedom in exchange for information. I am glad I do not have to look back on my past and mull over how I decided to be a snitch. But full disclosure, I wanted to. I wanted to so bad, I do not know why or how I refrained.

Footnote. Many years later I did a television interview along with a Chicago Police Commander on the subject of street gangs. We chatted afterwards and we realized he had been assigned to the Gang Crimes unit in my community when I was young. He asked me as an aside if I wanted to guess who had been a snitch. I had no one in mind so he told me. It was a young man I knew fairly well and to whom I had sold what I believed to be a stolen US army rifle. I have discovered over the years that I was often closer to peril than I knew. But those stories are for another day.

When I was young.

I grew up on the south side of Chicago in a very nice house. My dad owned his own company and we were not rich but we were well-off.

When I was 14 and in my second year of high school I met Marv Kirchler who remains my friend 52 years later. We used to roam the south side in his father’s Dodge Coronet. This was just one of many dangerous acts I did as Marv took years to polish his driver safety skills. Marv is older than me by 2 or 3 years and had a drivers license long before I could even apply for one.

From time to time, Marv and I would walk at night from my house to the end of the block, to the corner of 71st and Jeffrey.  There was a tavern right on that corner. In preparation for going there, we would buy a big bottle of root beer, grab our drum sticks and off we went. Marv and I shared an interest in drumming.

The root beer would stay in a brown paper bag like a wino carries around his bottle of wine. Marv and I would stand outside the tavern and watch through the tall plate glass window the live jazz combos on stage. The drummer would be right in front of us, with a stand up bass player to his side. And a keyboard or guitar in front.We would take turns drumming along on the red brick exterior under the glare of the early Mercury vapor lights. Inside, the patrons and performers were almost all African-American.

Jazz drumming is such a simple/complex, beautiful art. The drum set was comprised of a snare, bass, and a tom tom, with a high hat,  2 cymbals and maybe a floor tom. Nothing like the drum sets in popular rock bands that had lots of accouterments.

Marv and I were joyfully mimicking the Black musical culture around us. We listened to the Monkees and the Temptations. Janis Joplin and Diana Ross. What a marvelous environment.

About my pal, Marv was born on the other side of the tracks from me. Blue collar family. His dad was gruff, with a gravely voice and a drum set he played when he was not working at a printing press. Marv’s mother was the salt of the fucking earth who never turned me away when I showed up on her doorstep, under-age and fleeing the brutality of my own upscale home.

Growing up on the south side had such benefits. Marv lived in a classic white area which harbored many families tainted by anti-Semitism and racism. But rough and tumble young Marvin was more likely to attack a long-haired hippie than a black boy.

We had a third pal, Kerry. We shared 3 characteristics. We were Jewish, middle-class and smart. Together we transitioned from typical high school kids to early members of the pot smoking milieu.

When high school ended, Kerry went to college, Marv became a political operative and I became a criminal. Kerry fell in love, dropped out and moved to California. Marvin won elections for people and I became a social worker.

52 years later, I have never heard my 2 friends utter words of hatred towards others because of their religion, race or sexual orientation. (I hated Palestinians for years but I already blogged about the incident and how that happened.) I attribute that too the cultural diversity we embraced as young lads.

When I was young and molding and modeling behavior, I was lucky enough to be exposed to a world which was smart, colorful, diverse, violent and then more diverse. I could walk a few blocks and visit friends who were Black, Irish, Polish, Italian, Middle Eastern and more. Some were wealthy, some poor. A short drive away was the University of Chicago, home to the children of world renowned physicists, psychiatrists and scientists of every type.

The pizza parlor, barber shop, movie theater, bowling alley, produce store, supermarket, the aforementioned tavern and hardware store were within a block or two of my home.

What would I be like if I had been raised in a more homogeneous world, lacking in diversity instead of a world filled with rich characters of every ilk. The commuter train at the end of our street would take me to the heart of downtown Chicago in 30 minutes.  Lake Michigan was an easy 2 mile walk. Bonus, when I was 18 years old my father gave me a job working on demolishing buildings/flop houses on Chicago’s Skid Row where resided the largest collection of men, marginalized by poverty, alcoholism and drug addiction ever assembled in the Midwestern United States.

My early world included swimming at the Jewish country club at 10, bar mitzvah at 13, standing on a street corner, imagining I was the second drummer in a jazz combo at 14, school dropout at 16 and facing 6-15 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections when I was 17.

 

Itchycoo Park  where, It’s all too beautiful.

I’d like to go there now with you
You can miss out school – Won’t that be cool
Why go to learn the words of fools?
What will we do there? – We’ll get high
What will we touch there? – We’ll touch the sky
But why the tears there? I’ll tell you why
It’s all too beautiful, It’s all too beautiful
It’s all too beautiful, It’s all too beautiful

And the Animals singing

“When I was young
It was more important
Pain more painful
Laughter much louder
Yeah, when I was young”