|THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976)|
Why is it so often, huh, that when you not only look at history (ancient as well as more contemporary), and maybe even just take a look around where you happen to be right now - subway, school, workplace, whatever, you find that those who've spent time in combat, or who have lost those close to them to violence are often the one's who sure as hell aren't timid about "puttin' some hair on the wall" or "chewin' bubble-gum and kicking ass, ... and being all outta bubble-gum" when such action proves necessary, but they also end up being the ones who usually prefer to try other possible solutions before arriving at the "last ultimatum" which says either "kick ass" or "cut off everyone"?
A lengthy intro, perhaps. But necessary as such head-butting encounters with butt-headed non-logic constantly sends me back for refuge and refueling to that brilliant scene near the climax of THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES.
There are precious few (if any) who disagree that THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976) is one the most bad-assed westerns ever made. But arguably more important and supremely realized than is its incredibly well executed surface as a sage brush gun opera is its more impressive below-the-strata thematic about a group of people who have absolutely no business being together, yet they form a surrogate family. There's Clint Eastwood's former Confederate soldier - who swore a blood oath of revenge after his wife and child were murdered by renegade Union soldiers, a couple of Native Americans whose families were murdered by whites, a young girl who was (it's implied) sexually assaulted by military men, and an elderly woman whose killed-in-Civil-War-combat son was a member of not the same, but of the same kind of Union unit which killed Wale's family.
They aren't brought together by politics or any kind of b.s. "Let's hold hands, sing Kumbaya and have a meaningful discussion" sentiments. Uh, uh! They're the products of death, destruction and personal violence, and whose personal experiences on the hellish side of life have thrown them together in a scenario of "Well, what the f**k, we've pretty much experienced as much death and hell as is possible without being six feet under ourselves, so why not as a last resort try this 'not killing each other thing' for awhile and see how that works. It sure as hell can't be any worse".
|Menachem Begin & Anwar Sadat (March, 1979)|
The reason they choose to try a more (dirty word to some) "diplomatic" solution isn't because they're naive, it's because they aren't. The truly naive ones (in the film and in life - yes, that's where we're heading) end up being those who've never personally experienced violence, death, near death, hand to hand combat, and / or that never ending netherworld of wondering whether or not you're going to survive the night. And because (for whatever reason - being more privileged or more lucky or whatever) some have never experienced any of that first hand life violence and darkness, some of them (though certainly not all) have adopted the "privilege" of ignorance to presume to tell those who have lived through hell what they should be thinking and doing in regards to the darkness those others may now be exposed to via the second hand delivery system of news and social media.
Like I said, it's certainly not all. But lately I've crossed paths, ... words, ... swords with far too many who need to (no punches pulled in this one) take one or two steps back and re-evaluate where the f**k they're coming from, and how they presume to speak to those they really don't know other than via the clouded looking glass that is contemporary social media.
Yeah, this is gonna be a not-very-polite, and more than a little angry, one. But I think by the end you'll see where I'm coming from as well as why. Oh, and (even though I'm sure few will believe it) this isn't directed towards any one person. It's been growing over a few months. So don't let that already swollen presumptive head swell any larger with additional fantasies of self importance. Let's deal with one thing at a time, huh? Anyway ...
The primary "central nervous system" thematic of THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is beautifully summed up in the climactic sequence where Eastwood's Josey stands before the Commanche leader Ten Bears - in the film portrayed by the legendary Will Sampson. Do you remember it? ...
After spending the entire film on the run, when Wales new surrogate "family" finally finds a place to hopefully peacefully settle down and take roots, they come to realize they're on Commanche land, and as such will most likely be attacked by Ten Bears and his people. So, Wales (entirely willing, and maybe even expecting, to die) ventures out alone one morning to meet Ten Bears - a white flag on one side of Wales' horse and rifles on the other. He and Ten Bears have a lot in common - mostly a shared history of not only seeing those around them slaughtered, but of they themselves doing a lot of killing as well. And neither is afraid to die (and that's an important aspect here!). In fact in certain respects they're numb to it; and living and dying are simply sides of the same "no big deal" daily coin.
|Nelson Mandela & F.W. de Klerk (October, 1993)|
Because of this mutual shared history, and "numbness" / willingness to live or die, they come to respect one another; and ultimately a peace treaty is forged between them - not based upon a paper contract, but based upon the fact that, as Ten Bears says to Wales, "Because there is iron (sincere and determined truth; and no bluffing or bullsh*t) ..." in both men's promissory words - in both men's promise of death, there is also by extension iron in their other words - in both men's promise of life. It's that's simple. Not necessarily easy for most to comprehend, but it is ultimately that simple. All of this to say to both you on the Right and those on the Left who have a problem, or an unshakable disbelief in the concept of bridging gaps, "Take a flying f**king leap into your own narrow minded pit of over privileged self destruction", because you're proceeding from emotionalism and an intellectual point of origin in tackling a messy subject rather than the gut-level POV of having lived through such. Kind of how GPS is a wonderful technology. To have it is certainly better than not having it. But (if you've ever gotten lost following it's directions) you realize it's an imperfect one too. In order to truly understand the turns, inclines, potholes, fallen trees, dangerous animals crossing in front of you, washed out bridges, detours and more, ... you actually have to personally travel the road.
|"The Best of Times / The (sometimes) Worst of Times":|
Your's truly (center left) and older brother Harold (center right)
Don't ever make the mistake of making presuppositions about someone's past, or the inspiration, modus operandi or results of their current actions in seeking to bridge gaps with others: a "bridging" which may not seem - in another's limited, sheltered and bubbled past to present life - to be considered "strong" enough. Y'know, that landscape where some believe that to boldly post pithy meme-supported platitudes on social media is the same as taking a personal stand; and where the positions of those who don't dovetail with one's own limited POV are somehow mislead positions.
Please, get into a few serious fights, get your ass kicked a few times, and do a little kicking in return to earn respect. Carry a gun into combat, face down neighborhood drug dealers then, because you're a smart-as-f**k individual, convince those dealers that they'd do better taking their business elsewhere; then come back and lecture me and others about what truly constitutes right, wrong, strong, weak, wise or foolish, and what works and what doesn't, as opposed to that which on the other end, ... on the other hand (if you will) amounts to little more than the social media version of masturbation.
My brothers and I grew up in a couple of really dicey neighborhoods for awhile - where as children we had people shove guns and knives in our faces, and where I even had a wire noose placed around my neck. This was certainly a scenario wherein you quickly learned the necessity to fight back or die. But it was also where you learned the just-as-important necessity of training oneself to be the smartest guy in the room. Where you conditioned yourself to, just as in chess, always look a few steps ahead, and to plan for the end game, and not just get caught up in the present tense emotionality of the argument or conflict. Actions speak louder than words. And actions, as Ten Bears reminds us, is that which ultimately carries the "iron", and not memes, social media declarations and other illusionary 21st century acts of bravado and pseudo social consciousness and conviction. Let's compare. And forgive me if it sounds a little braggadocious. It isn't at all. It's merely the old fashioned axiom of "Hey, actually put up or shut the f**k up!".
|Emmit Till and Carolyn Bryant (1955)|
I got into it a couple'a months ago with a few MeToo folks. And I'm totally in support of the movement. It's been far too long delayed. But I did have to upset the peace a little in order to set a few things straight when a few women folk felt it was okay to condemn all men as "deserving to be viewed with suspicion", and when one person even said, "If a few innocent men get caught up in things unfairly, then so be it". Of course I pointed out that, as a member of a group (black men) who have a long history of being killed and imprisoned based upon someone's non proven accusation - usually that of a white woman (and these accusations then proven false many years later via DNA evidence or when the accuser recants), that I didn't see eye to eye with her "logic" along those lines.
|Falsely convicted then imprisoned for 23 yrs., Nevest Coleman |
(center) returns to his beloved Chicago White Sox in March 2018
Of course among the most infamous such case in the history books is that of 14 yr. old Emmit Till, who was falsely accused in Money, Mississippi in 1955 by 21 yr. old Carolyn Bryant of making threatening sexual advances towards her in a grocery store - an accusation which lead to young Till's brutal murder, and the later acquittal by an all white jury of the murderers. In many respects Till's execution was the gasoline tossed onto the already smoldering coals of the early Civil Rights Movement in America. And in the early 2000s, shortly before her death, Bryant confessed to fabricating the entire grocery store incident. Well, all except the part about being sexually threatened. She admitted that it was her husband who had been threatening her physically and otherwise.
Such "lynch mob justice" isn't confined to a primitive American yesteryear however. I'm fairly certain nowadays most out there can attest to seeing at least one to two "black man falsely accused of assaulting a white woman, then serving prison time for years" stories on the local and national news every damned week. Those stories are as common place as those of Donald Trump firing another cabinet member. In fact at the time of this writing one of the most recent instances is that of Chicago native, and White Sox baseball team groundskeeper, Nevest Coleman - who in 1994 was falsely convicted and imprisoned for rape and murder, only to have his conviction overturned in March 2018 by the aforementioned newly acquired DNA evidence.
More personally addressing the comments of these women, I pointed out how years ago your's truly got so pissed at a male supervisor under whom I worked - a person whom I felt was so blatantly (and proudly) committing actions which qualified as sexual harassment, that in a Saturday night furor I said "F**k the job", and handed in my written resignation so that I could personally take the guy out back and kick his a** up and down the alley without the company being legally held liable for my actions. Yknow, so that if he was going to later sue anyone for assault, it would be me alone and not the company for which I worked.
|Picture post card-y South Marshall St. (Dec., 2017)|
Yeah, maybe in retrospect not the best way to handle the situation, I admit. But it was certainly actually living "the iron", and not just talking it. And interestingly that "maybe not the best way to handle it" action caused the owners to surprisingly not accept my resignation, but rather to have a sit down with me and this person - who eventually left and got involved in a harassment suit elsewhere. Then from that point on it became policy at this company for all management and supervisors (men and women, present and future) to undergo training in how to not be a part of, and how to identify, sexual harassment situations.
I therefore said to these women who felt that all men should be viewed with suspicion, and said "So be it" if some innocent guys are wrongly involved and accused of things, "Hey, years before all the Harvey Weinstein news, I literally put my money - my livelihood - where my mouth (and convictions) were; so don't ever pull that 'all men are in the same boat' bullsh*t" - especially since we all know both men and women who looked (and continue to look) the other way in such scenarios because they're afraid of losing their jobs.
This qualifies as a situation where one has earned the right to a legitimate opinion and a say at the table of debate because you took the actual action of putting your ass on the line for what you say you believe. Now if I had simply responded to the comments of these women by saying, "That's an unfair blanket statement", then they would have had every right to tell me to go screw myself as I could not back up my complaint with personal solid evidence to the contrary. But because my words and opinion carried the weight of the "iron" of previous action, they acknowledged the legitimacy of my stance.
I live on a wonderfully old school South Philly neighborhood street called South Marshall - the kind of place where it takes a half hour to go around the corner to get a Sunday paper (yes, people still actually read actual physical newspapers, glance up from that iPhone every now and then; you'd be surprised!) because you end up chatting with your neighbors, store owners and others about, well ... about whatever. Marshall St. has a bit of a picture postcard quality in winter and an "old world" throw-back sensibility during the summer months where kids still play in the street because there are always parents and other residents sitting on their porches or stoops, or gardening or working on their cars or whatever. It's got this sort of unofficial but very personal block party and stickball "everyone looking out for each other's backs" neighborhood umbrella kind of feel.
Over the last couple of years however one or two residents moved onto the block, and they (shall we say) had peripheral acquaintances and "business associates" who felt it was normal and okay to "ply their trade of controlled substances" here as it may have been so elsewhere. Now, as far as I'm personally concerned, hey, man, if you wanna do whatever you wanna do in the privacy of your own home, that's your business, and more power to you. I don't give a damn. But if and when you start selling it in front of my house, in front of the kids, and camping out on my bench and under my tree, and hiding your stash in the vases and / or soil of the plants in my garden, well, ... that's when you've crossed the f**king line.
|When "Please curb your dog!" isn't enough|
I confronted the guys firmly but politely, and said, "Yo, I don't mind if people crash on the bench / under the tree to get out of the sun, but don't stash sh*t on my property, okay? Or I'm gonna give the police permission to swing by every now and then and sift through my garden, and keep whatever they find". I even posted a sign among the flora and fauna for those who may not have received the one-on-one verbal version of the notice. At first miffed that someone would talk to them like that, they eventually realized I wasn't bluffing or bullsh*tting, and that this wasn't the first time I'd dealt with folks like them. I mean, hell, I grew up around that crap before most of them were even born.
The most interesting turn of events however was one night when I got in from work, and one of the higher-up-the-ladder neighborhood dealers couldn't get his car started, and I actually tried to give him a jump, and even sprayed some Engine Start into his carburetor, but to no avail. When he asked, I even said I'd keep his bicycle (which he had in the back seat of the car) in my basement until he could return to pick up both it and the car at a later date. Now, when I mentioned this to some friends and family they of course thought I was crazy, saying "You really don't want to get involved with these people". To which my response was, "Yeah, no sh*t, you're right, I don't want to, but it's the right thing to do". And not "right" in any "kind and neighborly Mister Rogers" sort of way, but more in a "thinking ahead" manner.
Eventually he picked up his car and bike, then a few months passed, and a younger dealer (whom I actually remembered from when he was just a Junior High School neighborhood punk trying to pick up girls on our block) tried to start "hanging on the corner" near Marshall St. But lo and behold this younger punk, who tried on a couple of occasions to jump bad with me - and I jumped right back, didn't realize that the guy to which he answered (his boss) was the dude who was grateful to me for helping him out with the car and bike that night. So, he made the young punk get the hell out of our neighborhood.
Now, I'm not crazy. I'm not suggesting that others do that. I'm sure the fact that I'm a 6'5" black man who can when necessary do an instant "Bruce Banner to Hulk" thing added a little more weight to my initial "Hey, don't sell sh*t on my property" statement than had the same words come from a petite older Jewish or Chinese lady from the same block. So, yeah, I understand that. A little more weight could also later be added to the scale in that since then I've also gotten to know very well the local police precinct Captain, and I now also have an open dialog with a member of our local City Council. Via me bugging the living hell out of them, they've over the last few years beefed up patrols and undercovers and more in the neighborhood; and things have been mostly good since.
But even that didn't happen overnight and without a little effort and "iron". In fact it didn't happen until I personally went to the precinct and (almost) threatened individual personnel with possible libel suits if any violence was to occur in our neighborhood, and some innocent child was caught in the crossfire because those at the precinct knew of potential danger and didn't do anything about it. In this instance the action / chess move there was not in the threat of libel (which pretty much any police department can circumvent if they really want to), but it would have been in the uber negative P.R. in them having to explain to the news media and members of City Council why such a suit was enacted in the first place. Interestingly there's a nuisance bar around the corner, and about a month or so after my "veiled threats", a drunken shot or two rang out there one Saturday night.
That proved to be a holy fire lit under City Council and the local precinct's ass. But like I said, even this wouldn't have happened if I didn't face down the local police - who are overworked and understaffed as hell - to get them to focus just a little more attention on our neighborhood. "Iron" (of a sort anyway) needed to be used with them too. And in that case the "iron" was "I'm not bluffing; if you don't get off your asses, I'm contacting the news and letting them know you dropped the ball in a possible tragedy which could have been avoided". Anyway, all of this to say (in admittedly not the most polite of ways) ...
To those of you living within your safe and secure bubble of social media opinion about how I and others seek to bridge and connect with others, "What the hell have you actually done to prove that my and others 'Josey Wales / Ten Bears' method is for the birds? I mean, what have you personally done other than talk loudly and with conviction, and post links?". Please, I'm not being facetious or a smart-ass. Well, maybe just a little. But if you can side step that, I honesty do really want to know how the tangible "iron" of your actions legitimizes your words and opinions that my and other's actions are little more than specious and impotent "pie in the sky" platitudes. You have the floor. Please contact me.
Because until you've crawled out on a limb then started sawing the branch behind you by standing toe to toe and physically trading punches with someone who has openly threatened you with physical injury or worse, ... or you've risked your job and livelihood by refusing to back down from a deeply held principle, or one of a dozen other things where you actually had to hang your ass out on the edge, and do rather than talk, what makes you think you have the gall or right to question someone else's actions because it doesn't sit well with your neat and tidy and bubbled worldview?
|The real life Ron Kovic - subject of Oliver Stone's 1989 film |
BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY - at an anti-war demonstration in March, 2005
Hey, you can think what you will. You're entitled. And you can also say what you will. You're entitled to that too. But fair warning, I and other do-ers will respond and tear your sh*t to pieces with facts, figures and real world experience because that's how it should be. There is far too much primping and people on social media pretending to be what they really aren't; and that's just concerning the unimportant things. We really don't need that kind of pretending and false bravado or self stroking when it comes to more damned serious and important matters. Just sayin', ... just putting it out there (and forgive any so-called "toxic masculinity" undertones), "Don't be foolish enough to bring a knife to a gun fight" when it comes to real world issues, because yeah, believe it or not, even in the world of social media some things can actually be considered as sitting down at the grown up's table.
Oh, and speaking of "knife to a gunfight" - that line perhaps made more famous by its usage in DePalma's 1987 film version of THE UNTOUCHABLES, there's another one in the same movie which unfortunately often ends up being an incredibly accurate depiction / analogy of everyday life as well: DeNiro's quote as Al Capone when he says how "We learned at a young age that you can get farther in life with a kind word and a gun than with just a kind word". Now, while for most it may not literally be the iron of a gun, the truth of that admittedly brutal urban hiaku is in how your words have to be backed up with something practical and tangible, otherwise you're just talking out of your proverbial ass. In this case, and for our purposes, the "iron" isn't a hog leg, but it's rather your actual life and actions which back up your "kind words" - those words and world view which others may tend to interpret as "not strong enough", ... unless you prove otherwise, that is.
So, yeah, every time I watch that climactic scene in THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES I get choked up at the truth of the dialog between Wales and Ten Bears. That's modern literary music somewhere between the poetry of Walt Whitman and the heart wrenching lyricism of James Baldwin. And keep in mind that JOSEY WALES was a western written, filmed and released in the immediate wake of (and deliberately making commentary on) the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, Gender Rights Movement and cynical post-Watergate political climate. So, its sensibilities about "bravely bridging gaps" were pertinent as hell. And I personally feel its thematics are equally as pertinent today ... if not more so. As such I always flash back to that climactic "peace summit" every time I encounter another bubble-shrouded social media pundit with more mouth and opinion than actual life experience - that life experience which is gleaned in finding yourself having to dance one-on-one with the Devil.
|The "Truth of Ten Bears"|
The Devil's not the best of dance partners. The sonofabitch always wants to lead. But you do learn a lot of hard earned lessons by "dealing with" his diabolical watusi-ing ass. It's only after that where we can come to not just hear but realize and truly understand the (what I like to call) "Truth of Ten Bears" in how ...
"Treaties on paper mean nothing. Paper cannot hold the iron. The iron can only come from men. There is truth and iron in your words of death, so there is truth and iron in your words of life.
It shall be life".
And to those on the Left and on the Right who just can't seem to get or download that "Truth of Ten Bears", well, I'm done tryin'. And the only remaining admonishment is to politely but firmly (and don't take this the wrong way) tell you to go f**k yourselves. One day you and your self destructive narrow-mindedness and opinion based on little more than opinion, will die off; and hopefully the next generation will get it just a little bit more right.
JK livin', y'all. JK livin'!