Stealing Chaplin’s Corpse

Little Tramp

Charged with disturbing the peace of the dead
and extortion, they were simply hungry for bread;
two mechanics who stole the corpse of Chaplin
dug up Little Tramp’s coffin from a Swiss graveyard
because they were poor and not for any gold within
but the silly idea his widow wouldn’t disregard.

Just two months at rest in the winter’s ground,
under cover of night and without a sound;
it rings of a late Victorian tale of scandal,
impropriety and offense, but it’s a recent hustle,
yet Wardas and Ganev played the role of vandal
the former the brains and the latter the muscle.

Not resurrectionists or Frankensteins, per se,
this duo exhumed and demanded their pay
along with two hundred pretenders to fame
but they’d just shallowed him a mile away;
frustrated they threatened the babies to maim
poor form to promise continued foul play.

When tracked they made themselves no excuse
for stealing the cadaver of a famous recluse,
they were sentenced with relative clemency,
for the million demanded, their monetary percent,
but silently they played their Chaplin parody
and Charles Spencer was reburied in cement.

On March 2, 1978, Roman Wardas and Gantscho Ganev unearthed the remains of Charlie Chaplin (he has died just weeks before, on December 25, 1977). It was a crime of stupidity and desperation, and its sensation was much greater than its consequence. The only significant outcome was Chaplin was reburied in a concrete grave.

For more, here’s your link: http://www.history.ca/history-topics/latest/march-2-1978-grave-robbers-steal-charlie-chaplins-body/

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Da Yu

Yu-the-Great_proj-copy-700x420

This is the story of Da Yu, who we saw walking along a roadside on the early evening of one Sunday – Easter Sunday of all Sundays – and a child asked “What’s that man’s story?”

So this is Da’s story.

Yu the Great was the founder of the Xia Dynasty over four thousand years ago. Yu’s father attempted to control a great flood that threatened land and life. He built dikes and damns of soil and rock to hold back and contain the waters. He failed.

The great flood continued. Yu was conscripted to do what his father could not. Instead of restraining the great flood, Yu dredged deeper channels in rivers and valleys to carry the great flood to distant rivers and distant seas.

He opened waterways, unearthed damns and removed dikes with hard labor in long days. He was covered with the same dirt and mud his father struggled to amass, but Yu was washed clean in the rushing flood he did not resist. Yu succeeded in the task his father failed, and he was given the name Yu the Great – Da Yu.

Today Da wears his suit. The blue one He has just the one and he’s only ever had just the one. So, Da wears it. As dusk begins to cover this late April afternoon, along a road he’d built, Da Yu walks in his blue suit and white shirt – his shirt as white as his full head of thick hair – he walks home, alone.

As a young man Da Yu was pushed in one direction and pulled in another – he didn’t want what his father demanded for him and yet would not refuse what he must do.

Mr. Yu – Da’s father – insisted, “You will not be like me.” The hard life of manual labor had strengthened the father’s back and his resolve as well, and he was determined that his son would not live such a hard life because he didn’t have to live like his father had to: “I work so you can learn to do better work; not so hard work, and you will be happy and not tired like me.”

On his eighteenth birthday Da received just one gift from his parents – a blue suit. It was as expensive for Mr. Yu as it was important, “You will wear a suit and not dungarees.”

But this changed the day Mr. Yu came home lame.

Mr. Yu would not cry in front of his wife and son – he would yell and stomp and curse, but Da knew his father cried when Da was forced to give up on his father’s plans and dreams. The boss of the road crew Mr. Yu worked said that Da could have the work until Mr. Yu was healthy. Mr. Yu barked “Never!” but he never was healthy again. As a man of hard labor, he withered each day he was lame, and willed from his bed – fighting back the inevitable – the victory that eluded him. Mr. Yu never worked again and Da worked every day for forty years from that day.

Not long after Da wore the suit to his father’s funeral.

He wore it when he asked a sweet girl named Sarah to marry him, and he wore it when they married in her church.

He wore it when his boy Sun was christened for Sarah’s sake, and he wore it the Sunday he went to church each year on Easter. She didn’t ask much and he knew this was to please Sarah’s family because they were concerned about Da, and that Sarah was settling for a man who lacked dreams; a man who did not fight back, a man who simply nodded. All this Da knew but it was never spoken of – there was nothing to be gained and little that would change if he protested. He would work his hard work and wear his dungaree, and save his blue suit for special days to be remembered.

In his first years, Da’s skin became tanned and leathery from summers and winters, the cold, rain and heat of long, hard days. His hair was black and thick and covered his head, and a cap only made him sweat so he avoided his. The crew chided Da that he yellowed in the sun. Sarah worried that he worked too many hours, but a was happy to work and he was healthy and would do whatever was asked and he worked hard. When asked he would simply nod; he was glad to work. He did not refuse hard work.

Da didn’t get bigger or fatter or stooped like the others with whom he worked. Younger men took their places and the next generation took up the same lament – work is hard and the best work is no work.

But Da was healthy and quiet and bosses wished they had a dozen Yu’s but hired more of the others instead. Da’s hair did turn white; not gray – white and pure.

When his child, Sun was a young boy he would asked his father what he did, why his skin was so dark and rough, and why his hair was white like snow. Da always answered that he worked in the sun and rain and snow, so his skin showed he worked hard, and his hair just showed outside what was inside. But the boy didn’t understand.

Sarah was kind to Da; gentle and affectionate – she called him Yu-Yu, lovingly, and she was understanding of his labor. What he earned he gave his family and took little for himself. She worked herself when Sun started school, and she’d ask him to take a day to rest, but he’d always refuse, “What would I do if it wasn’t working?” he’d answer.

When they had time they’d take walks together, with Sun in a stroller, then the three on foot; always just walks that took different paths, along different roads and streets and returned them to their small home. It was the home Da’s father and mother had, the home Da had grown up in, the home Sarah and Da moved into after they were married to care for his mother, and the home she died in one night and their home since the day Da wore his suit to his mother’s funeral.

Da didn’t dream dreams of a different life, and he refused the nightmares of his own son’s life. There was only discontent in such dreams, and Da’s way was a nod and not a dream. He never bought Sun a suit – he could afford to, he had the money, but the thought never occurred to him.

When Sun grew, his mother and father helped when they could with clothes and books and papers that proved their modesty, but Sun grew embarrassed. The very things that showed their love were too modest for their son. Soon Sun was off to school, but Da and Sarah didn’t visit their son until his graduation when Da wore his suit and Sarah coughed through commencement. It was a cough that came one day and stayed, keeping her away from work, in bed eventually being cared for in the evenings by Da who stopped taking the walks.

The next time Da wore his suit it was to Sarah’s funeral.

Sun moved away and stayed away, but Da kept working, now less with shovel and more with a sign that read Stop and Slow. And he again walked at the end of each day, retracing the same paths and same roads and streets he’d walked with Sarah and Sun. He lived in the same home but it became more of a house. He washed his clothes, his own dungarees, made his rice and worked only his own hours until they told him he’d worked enough and not to come back tomorrow.

And then he’d wait each day until it was time to take the walk at the day’s end, walking the same paths and same roads and same streets he’d walked with his Sarah and Sun. And on Easter Sunday each year he’d put on his blue suit and leave it on all day, until the day’s end and he’d walk along the street he’d paved.

Calling B.S., Gun Violence and Blameworthy Voyeurism

Two tragic events played out in front of our eyes this week – overwhelming old and new media alike with the most profound depth of pain and pathos, both with chilling effect.

In a scuffle with a fleeing suspect, a Chicago police commander, Paul Bauer, was killed – shot six times as he wrestled to detain the man.

Pallbearers place Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer’s casket into the hearse after the funeral at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. Cmdr. Bauer was shot to death Tuesday outside the Thompson Center, where he had confronted a man who was fleeing other officers. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Bauer just happened to be nearby when he heard a call for officers to aid in a pursuit. He wasn’t a beat cop, he just happened to be nearby. And when Bauer encountered the suspect, his life was ended in a hail of gunfire – six shots in a shadowy stairwell.

Then came the wave of anecdotes and story, one on another, demanding sadness, eliciting sympathy and encouraging pride and indignation. He was beloved, a cops’ cop, a 31-year veteran of the force, devoted man of faith, father to an adoring teen daughter, and just 53 years old. He had a version of movie star looks in the photo shared by all media. If anyone was worthy, it was Commander Bauer.

And days later it seemed like the whole city mourned as first-responders of all stripes lined city streets, in uniform, saluting a fallen comrade. The pageantry was televised, the governor and mayor spoke, and the older you were the more involved you were in the story.

Onlookers chimed-in with sentiments like, “There are not many things which unite this city, but a good man like Bauer might just do that.” It seemed that the city’s sentiment was an obvious reason to televise Commander Bauer’s funeral for several hours – we need something to save us and we can’t let this good man die in vain.

Cook County Jail inmates applaud the appearance of Commander Bauer’s alleged killer

In stark contrast to this display, a video surfaced of the Bauer’s suspected killer arriving at Cook County Jail being greeted with a smattering of applause from several inmates. They were quickly singled-out and swiftly transported to a downstate facility, and promises were made by prosecutors this video would used at sentencing to demonstrate the wanton disregard for the law and human life – especially those who dared to mock the killing of Commander Bauer.

And in the funeral mass for Bauer, a homily argued his life wasn’t given, it was taken – taken by a four-time convicted felon, taken by someone who should not have possessed a firearm, taken by someone who should not have been allowed to be free. A good reverend even compared Bauer’s killer to a leper in a vain attempt to approach the ‘what would Jesus say’ type of rhetoric: “[This killer is like a leper in Jesus’ day,] he should have been segregated from society long  before the shooting. Jesus had compassion for lepers, but they were still kept from the public during biblical times.”

And about the Commander, “He encountered the leprosy of our society: one who did spend time away from the camp … in prison … in isolation because of a violent past. One who should have never have been out in society, but who was due to a broken system, a system that Paul [Bauer] himself very publicly and loudly spoke out against.”

A lot of should not’s and ought not’s – the thoughts and prayers of our hand-wringing culture on full display.

As this was unfolding in Chicago, teens – survivors of the Parkland, Florida high school shooting and killing of 17 – were voicing their own tragic stories and adding their own indignation at the indolence of national politicians. Chicago endured homilies and eulogies from politicians who have failed to stem the tide of gun violence, as students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High took their turns at the microphone as the nation watched and listened and prayed for children to lead us.

“This isn’t about the GOP. This isn’t about Democrats. This is about us creating a badge of shame for any politicians who are accepting money from the NRA and using us as collateral.” But since the great majority of recipients of NRA money are Republicans this doesn’t ring true, does it? It IS about the GOP when talking federal regulations and the 2nd Amendment and the NRA – even if we’re told by a sincere teen grieving the loss of classmates it is not. And it isn’t about the lack of NRA money in Chicago somehow alleviating our problem with gun violence. NRA supporters elsewhere mock Chicago at times like this – so many gun laws… so many gun deaths… (they can taste the irony).

“We are going to be the last mass shooting,” another teen asserted, and added proof this impossible assertion is possible with “I found out today there’s a website….”

Yes, the teen spoke of what they’d learned that morning as they searched online for ‘school shootings’ and ‘mass shootings’ and ‘gun laws’ and everyone born before Google secretly mocked their newfound knowledge and the wisdom accumulated an hour or two ago – online. That’s another breach in our collective angst over so-called senseless violence – newfound knowledge that’s tweetable is more virulent, more compelling, and more provoking than the accumulated wisdom serving as a mask for inaction. But there is a sense to this senseless violence – we’d just prefer to watch.

And another student’s “We call B.S.” is now a rallying-cry for indignation at the indolence of parents and politicians who promise something and deliver nothing. For a generation of world-changers, their parents’ and politicians’ hollow words should be an embarrassment – as hollow as the phrase ‘it is what it is.’

But ‘It is what it is’ is the new religion of passive-aggressiveness or acceptance or Niebuhr’s serenity prayer of wisdom to accept the things I can’t change, or the ‘all politics is local’ of areas where NRA membership is a civic duty. ‘It is what it is’ has become the watchword of generational compliance – in Chicago in particular where the best fashion is hand-wringing and angst-fueled political rhetoric that keeps electing an irredeemable political class and appointing those who warn of economic bankruptcy of police-shooting settlements in the name of cultural bankruptcy, and single-party politics with no accountability and majority-minority unemployment, and no lack of churches and community centers who are doing much more than offering their thoughts and prayers like the rest of us watching funerals and protests on a Saturday.

In Chicago we’re told gun violence is a cultural problem with a racist hint hiding politely under the skin of these recriminations. Criminal justice reform and gun control laws are given little voice, while the brazen ‘it is what it is’ is met with sympathetic political slogans of ‘we’re doing the best we can’ and even ‘this must stop’ assertions and thoughts and prayers.

‘This must stop’ is as hollow as the teen’s last mass shooting avowal. It won’t stop. This won’t be the last mass shooting. And as ‘it is what it is’ voyeurs offer their thoughts and prayers, our city will continue to die – one thought and prayer at a time.

This is a very public fight of ‘it is what is’ versus ‘enough is enough’ – and which will prevail depends on more than sloganeering.

CHICAGO, IL – Police investigate the scene of a quadruple homicide on the city’s Southside on December 17, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Three people were found shot to death inside a home in the Fernwood neighborhood, another 2 were found shot outside the home, one of those deceased. Chicago has had more than 750 homicides in 2016. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Our culture of death is alive and well in the poorest, most under-served neighborhoods of Chicago and likened to a contagion – as predictable as an infectious disease spreading among those with compromised immune systems, and just as deadly. Blighted and ignored by those elected to lead and provide – those entrusted with the power to zone and TIF creatively not just in Uptown and on Michigan Avenue but in Englewood and Austin and Lawndale as well. If you want to do business in Wrigleyville, maybe you should do business in Austin too?!

My apparent complaint is that Chicago’s hundreds of annual gun deaths and thousands of shootings don’t rise to the same level of anger and anxiety as a single mass shooting in a Florida high school. And those students found it safe (and the national media as well) to vent and protest in Parkland. They wouldn’t feel that safety (or receive that attention) to vent and protest in Chicago. Who will have the nerve to tell us righteous indignation doesn’t save lives?

While others focus on assigning blame, I’ll add to that the multiplier of blameworthy voyeurism. It’s all we can do if ‘it is what it is’ is our new national religion of thoughts and prayers.

Two tragedies – two pageants, and too much equivocation – that’s the lesson of Saturday’s eulogies. And we are all just voyeurs.

Sunday, February 18, 2018 – looking out my window at the Austin neighborhood of Chicago.

Learning and Unlearning…

outhouse“Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” – B. F. Skinner

There is a strong and resilient tradition of anti-intellectualism in America. It attributes vanity, pride and ignorance to too much learning, and takes pride in a lack of formal learning that avoids ignorance.

American anti-intellectualism is a natural response to the rejection of elitism (that birth or privilege determines value in life and society) and the strong democratic spirit of America’s history. (Yes, it sounds like a topic we’d hear in intellectual circles, and that’s ironic). There is a ‘common sense’ and ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident’ that’s as ordinary as the nose on one’s face.

It’s an everyday ‘smart’ that differs from being book-smart. And it routinely warns that books and education can easily ruin a good and get in the way of common sense. Sometimes.

So a young man went off to the university to study geology. He returned after his first year and warned his dad that the well was too close to the outhouse. The dad replied that the boy didn’t know what he was talking about and insisted that the well was fine where it was. The same thing happened after the boy’s second and third years of studying geology, and the dad said the boy only had ‘book education’ but not ‘life learning’ and said he wouldn’t listen until the boy had accomplished something.

After the boy returned with his degree in hand and made his case, once again – that the well was too close to the outhouse and that the family’s fresh water supply could be polluted by the outhouse – the dad finally relented.

He moved the outhouse and a week later the well dried up.

That Couple…

You know that couple you see and
they make you wonder, ‘How in the world
did you two wind up together!?’ but
not because one is beautiful and the
other sloppy and ugly, not an obvious
one who could eat no fat and the other
no lean pair, but just because in a world
of almost seven billion of us these two
somehow found each other and love
or comfort or even settled for, someone
who would listen or talk or smells and
sweats in an attractive way that only
this other could want; you know that
couple in the grocery store, buying cereal
and tea bags, apples and chicken thighs
and you know they’d always thought
they’d be alone if it wasn’t for the other.

6 Kinds of People

peopleThere are six kinds of people in the world,
and while that seems a few too many, it
really is just about right; most tell the story
in binary terms of thin or fat, tall or short,
boy or girl, innie or outie, lefty or righty,
black or white, but the either/or’s miss
the point that they’re there to make life
easier, remove fear and create it at the
same time, in the us/them of good or
evil, on or off, East or West; six kinds
of people is too hard for thoughtless
assumptions and is never divisible the
same way every time; the first kind of
person needs drama, enemies or gossip
to feel important and alive, the second is
passive-aggressive in an adolescent kind
of way, like adolescents are, rejoicing
in not liking much as in nothing much,
the third are the lovers of any and all
in a genuine need to love whatever
it doesn’t matter what, no matter who,
and the fourth just don’t understand
what the problem is but are unsure why
everyone seems so uncomfortable all the
time, the fifth are saddled with guilt and
consternation over what must have gone
wrong and are eager to serve as the
scapegoat of life’s troubles and unsatisfied
desires, and the sixth kind are very, very
needy but there’s nothing that will satisfy
whatever it is that may be needed; and
there is no seventh kind or perfect balance
or exact blend of all in just one, no
superhero or Mary Poppins of practically
perfect proportionality to frustrate everyone
else and solve the puzzle; all in-between
are tints, hues and shades creating
landscapes of families and clubs,
churches and schools, homes and
aways that struggle over who to admit,
to welcome, to evangelize, convince,
convert, or date or marry, love and
hate, ally with or against in this circle
of surviving constantly being twisted
into squares but refusing to hold
the edges and always opting for the
three-hundred-sixty degrees that
breathing requires; this is no
anthropology or divinity but strange
anecdotes of funny stories with punch
lines and laughs to be shared or
explained as we search for an audience
called friendship in the theatre of war.