Monday, April 23, 2007

Ed Sullivan and life in 2007

My apologies for not posting over the past week. Life has a way of intruding into writing lives that we don't often anticipate. My young niece, Louise, had a party on Saturday to celebrate the upcoming birth of her first born and her engagement. I had the occasion of talking with my doctor regarding a medical procedure he's advised I undergo. Some of you know I'm HIV positive but I'm also positive for the virus that causes Hepatitus C and it's been wreaking havoc on my liver since the HIV virus roared into high gear. Twice in the past four years I've attempted the cycle of drugs to control the virus and each time have had a difficult time dealing with the effects. Basically I take a drug much like a chemo therapy drug that acts to destroy fast growing cells in the body. There are several fast growing cells in your body. Hair. The virus and it's ilk. Bone marrow cells. During my last round of treatment last year I achieved great reductions of the Hep C virus but unfortunately my red and white cells and my platelets also tanked. I kept my luxurious growth of crewcut hair. Once before I required a transfusion to deal with the near complete extermination of my red cells. This time it was my platelets that were a concern.
My doctor has suggested a spleenectomy to allow my platelet count to rise. Your spleen and mine has little to do with actual spleen. It does however remove some old immune cells from the body. By removing the spleen they hope to allow my platelet count to rise to a level at which I may tolerate a vicious assault on my bone marrow cells and by coincidence the virus that causes Hepatitus C. So Wednesday I'm going to see a surgeon to determine if I'm able to endure this surgery. What an odd operation. They're going to remove a perfectly healthy, functioning organ in hopes of saving a damaged, dying organ so they can save my aging husk of a body. To say this concerns me would be an understatement.
Nonetheless it has helped propel me once more to Wenonah in 1959 and 1960. Dwight David Eisenhower is our President. Soon to be replaced. I am small. Negroes are relegated to the outer darkness. My friend Bob writes to remind me the pig farms were in New Sharon, not Jericho. How nice to note small errors. There were still no white folks there. He also notes the origin of the term "shotgun shack". A shotgun shack was any building you could discharge a shotgun in the front door and the shot would pass through the back door with no damage. Some anthropologists suggest it's older origin lies in West Africa with the term Shogun or the word for house. The long nature of the structure is analogous to the structure of the building in the US. Note my odd use of locution.
What is more pertinent to my previous post was not the West African or Southern meaning of the term but the adjacent outhouse. The lack of good schools. The lack of choice in job advancement. The fact that Mrs Irene Smith had to purchase a home in the oddest corner of my town in order to say she and her children lived in Wenonah and to allow them to attend our little school. This understatement is consistent with my refusal to confront my own current fears regarding my possible death during surgery. The spleen is connected intimately to the heart. You take it out and you may rupture the heart. Break it. You fuck with a system of life that has been in place for many years and you can break it. All hell might break loose.
Dwight Eisenhower, unlike our current sitting President, was a war hero. He'd actually served in real wars. He knew the cost of aiming a gun at someone. He wasn't all comfy with that. He made, like Harry Truman, hard choices regarding that.
He grew up in Oklahoma where black folk were regarded pretty much like they were in Wenonah. In the Senate, Lyndon Johnson was presiding over legislation to change the ways we allowed black people to vote. He grew up in Texas. With brown and black people. With poor white people. They probably lived in shotgun shacks. They most certainly worked at the only jobs people would let them work at. This is poor grammar but fact.
The wind that was bringing the stink of the pig farms to me, the wind that my mother asked me to cover my face for to keep out "the polio", the wind that kept queers and niggers and spics at arms length was still strong. But there was another wind growing. It seems odd to say Lyndon Johnson and Dwight Eisenhower were helping to make that wind but they were. So were gentle men and women throughout the South and the country. Brave men and women who were taking courage from the struggles and victories of WWII to make a change here in the United States. Me, I was just a little boy. My friends and I were playing games and learning arithmetic. But every night we watched the news.
On Sundays we watched Ed Sullivan. What an odd show. A variety show. Like vaudeville but on TV. Jugglers and circus acts and comics and musicians all performing for a few moments under the auspices of a bland host. I hated Ed Sullivan. My parents and grandparents loved him. So every Sunday after Lawrence Welk we sat down to watch a succession of crazy quilt entertainment.
I share my home and heart with Johanna, a transsexual from El Salvador. All her friends are undocumented aliens. Their favorite show is Sabado Gigante. It's Ed Sullivan in spanish. It's real message is home. They hunger for it's tales of families reunited, of lands they can no longer visit, of music they all share. It's as hokey and odd as Ed's show was. Reggaeton mashes up with Mariachi much like Ella Fitzgerald would share a stage with Elvis.
There would come a time in the next few years when the winds of change would sweep Ed Sullivan off the air. New music and attitudes and power would show him to be the vaudeville act he always was. A quaint reminder of a long gone age. Someday Sabado Gigante will seem equally quaint. Different winds blow at different times but they blow hard and long and they don't stop till they're done.
Let's leave this post with Jackie and Mickie and Teddy all clustered on the floor with their parents and grandparents watching Ed. Senor Jimenez is making jokes in some fake Mexican accent or Jackie Mason is telling cleaned up versions of oft repeated dirty Catskills jokes. A troupe of Russian acrobats is twirling in the air. They will defect the next day, never to return. Kruschev is pounding his shoe. Missiles are poised at the ready. Men are boarding unmarked planes for southeast Asia to control the uprising of the Vietminh. Life is about to change. Someone is holding a shotgun and aiming at the front door. It's not the shot that carries the charge it's the blast and the powder. In ten years no one will be home.

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