Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Golden Gate

  San Francisco approved a resolution recently to build suicide netting under the Golden Gate Bridge and eventually fencing across the face of the span. In other words when you walk the Gate you'll be looking thru a scrim of metal across one of the greatest vistas on the planet.
  Bullshit. Madness.
  Sound cold?
  It's not the Bridge's fault people kill themselves. It's not our job to redesign every monument, bridge, mountain top, rooftop, cliffside, and seaside to keep someone from killing themselves. They wanna do it they're gonna find a way.
  The world should not be disfigured, cut off and wrapped in netting, so we can make a nod toward these tragedies, because that's all it is, a nod, a gesture to liability, to not wanting to engage with larger problems, to tamping down the fury of broken hearted people while in reality we shuffle off the problem.
  They're crushed. Who wouldn't be? A son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a child took their life. Someone has to do something. Something has to change. Someone should pay.
  Problem is what that boils down to is as long as anything is changed it's considered something, some good. One platform for suicide is gone.
 Are you kidding? A distraught, deeply depressed person is not going to find another? A fence on a bridge will make them whole again? That's how we do good?
   Nonsense. Childishness.
   "The Bridge of Death" they called it.  What? Is the bridge somehow evil in its design? It entices people to kill themselves? It's Charybdis? It's a witch and one can tell by the cast of its face that it harbors the devil? No sorry, it's just a bridge, made by hand, by thousands and thousands of desperate men and women, during the depression who by dint of their labor created one of the most astounding objects humans have ever imagined.
  And now we get to see thru a fence what they gave us. Inspiration, beauty, strength, astonishment, fear, awe, all of it, covered in netting to put a salve on the horror those who lost someone feel and on the guilt some of us project outwardly from the heart and mind, those parts of us that are truly responsible for all this misery.
  For it is in our stars that the "guilt" lies. It's in us. Not in bridges or rooftops or rafters or in a medicine cabinet. It's in us. And build fences where you may, around the roof of every skyscraper in the country, erase the views, the experiences, which have inspired and comforted generations of people, deny access to the rougher edges of what God built, sue every single person who owned a piece of someplace your beloved died and you'll have accomplished nothing but a kind of institutional vengeance weaker than oaths into the wind.
  The issue here isn't how do we stop them. Fences won't do that. This isn't a question of a view being more important than a person's life. Erasing that view won't save them.
  The heart of all this is silence.
  Because the real horror of death, of suicide in particular, is its silence. Its emptiness. The lack of response. They do not move anymore. They do not speak when spoken to. They won't tell you why.
  That's what's unbearable. But ultimately it's what must be borne.
  You can't reach in after them and make it better. Wrecking the house won't bring them back.
  Perversely, one place you might find an answer, where you might find salve for your broken heart is someplace like that odd orange bridge in the fog, any given morning, 200 feet above the water, as the sun rises. A place like that, or a cliffside in the Grand Canyon, or leaning by the short little railing which is all that stands between you and anyone and the soul shaking beauty of the Niagara, a beauty which stands hand in hand with oblivion. Places like that, left to themselves and you, might bring you peace. They've certainly talked me off the edge.
 Maybe that's what's so hard to bear - the fact that the void you relish and the void you throw yourself into are the same thing. Pretending it's not won't change a thing. Being alive is messed up, we are not simple, simple acts of violence won't fix a thing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


      This was printed in the Pgh Post Gazette last week- for those of you who don't subscribe or live in Pgh - I offer it up. 
    Used the "number of steps" thing again. Ah well. Themes, motifs…

  Ten years ago I was running around London going to see a play or two a night and chasing a girl I'd chased ten years before and buying bespoke shirts for 100 pounds apiece made by some guy named Oswald Boateng. Now who wouldn't want to buy something from Oswald Boateng, a name dripping with cool.
     I had discovered the Brits could outdrink the Russians. I confirmed this truth every afternoon at about 5 pm. I walked 6 hours a day. I was unemployed.
     I was, in short, acting like an idiot.
     And then I saw what day it was.
     June 4th.
     I hopped on a train to Paris. Crossed Paris by Metro from the Gare D'something to the Gare D'something else, grabbed another train to Rennes, rented a car which is surprisingly easy to do in another country, and drove to Bayeux where I slept in the massive attic of a Monastery turned Hostel surrounded by 60 snoring Germans.
     I mean I tried to sleep.
     Didn't happen.
     I swore at them, I cursed, I felt like it was okay because they were Germans and then I gave up and at 4:30 in the morning drove toward the Atlantic shore.
     I parked in an empty lot beside a small chapel surrounded by gnarled trees and hedges and then wandered down a hedgerowed lane which led me to the beach.
     The sun had risen, a few joggers went by, a french guy walking his french dog smiled at me and nodded. " Good morning," he said in English.
     That pretty much told me, today was not gonna be a normal day.
     I said Good morning to him in French and then looked up- from one side of the ocean horizon to the other grey shapes stood on the water. Carriers, cruisers, a battleship, scores of war boats in a line, waiting.
     Now I knew today was not gonna be like any other.
     Turns out I'd parked right beside the St Mere Eglise chapel and now I was staring back at the American flag flying over the cemetery of the same name. Dumb luck. Thank the Germans.
     It's 683 steps from where the surf ends, where you get your feet wet, to the first thing you could call cover.
     I walked it at about the same time the soldiers did 60 years before. Around 6:30 in the morning. A few more joggers crossed my path. I looked to the left and saw some comfortable homes built into the sea side hills. Happy upper middle class life in the 21st century.
     And I thought to myself, God in heaven there's no way in Hell I could have made my feet move across this nightmare of open space 6 decades before.
     Simply no bloody way.
     It screams kill zone. It must have been made for the machine gunners on the hill in front of you. A runway right into their sights.
     And yet.....
      For some reason the guard at the back of the cemetery where 4 presidents were about to meet and speak let me in. Looked me right in the eye and opened the gate. I didn't have a pass, I didn't have an 80 year old man by my side. I joined the procession of soldiers and ex-soldiers and their families. Some smiled at me and nodded, I smiled and nodded back. A full bar Captain led me to a row where I could stand with a full view of the cemetery. "Thanks for coming," he said.
    And that's when I figured it out. They thought I was an actor. Well, I was an actor but they thought I was a different one. And not even a famous actor or a particular actor. I was simply, possibly just one of the guys who'd been in " Band of Brothers" or "Saving Private Ryan" and that was enough for them.
     It didn't really matter that I was not one of the guys in Band of Brothers or Private Ryan. I was a symbol of what these old men had been. I was the face this decade had put on their myths and memories. I was "one of them." What they looked like, what they must have sounded like when they were young and alive in 1944.
    And this completely blew me away. Freaked me out. First off because I didn't deserve it period and secondly because it made complete sense.
    "If only we could see them move again...hear their voices......tell their stories and then see the story become life once more......"
     And how amazing that it never quite works but again and again and again we try. We never stop. Go to Gettysburg. Go to Agincourt.
     That was ten years ago. I'm sitting in my not yet unpacked new apt in Pittsburgh listening to the BBC play out a ceremony happening 3000 miles away. A decade ago I stood with the men who stormed Normandy beach. I listened to our President promise "for our friends, we'd do it again", I watched both, together and without regard to rank file away thru the gates. Children left among the graves to play and wander. I wandered among french homes with their windows open to the evening cool as families from both sides of the channel broke bread and smiled and emptied bottle after bottle once more.
     I went back down to the beach. The sun was almost gone, the surf farther away, the joggers kept coming and I thought, Life never quits, does it? It keeps coming at you come war or come boredom, come the birth of a child or the daily commute, it pounds away at you until you're history. Within 100 yards of me in either direction 3000 guys had died 60 years ago. Not even close to what the Russians lost daily for a year in WWII, not even close to Cold Harbor in our Civil War but numbers counted in places like this are a kind of obscenity. Sometimes, you shouldn't try to add up what you know.
  They fought. They walked, they ran, into those guns.

  In an age of endemic hyperbole - "Godlike dark roast, Greatest Dub step in History, Possibly the finest remake of Spiderman yet!!"  I think it's fair now to say they actually saved a civilization. 
  We must, until we are the ninety somethings, doddering in a defiant row, fight to tell their tales.