My Grandfather Told Stories About the Klan

My grandfather, Joseph Reger, told me that the Klan showed up one night in front of St. Mary’s Catholic church in Dayton, Ohio.  They planted a burning cross on the front lawn.  The church’s pastor had been forced to join the clergy.  He didn’t take the nonviolence, love-your-neighbor part of Christ’s teachings seriously, and, as a German-American, hadn’t been raised in a tradition that valued meekness.  The hooded men didn’t know any of this, and the priest surprised them by firing a shotgun just over their heads.  When he lowered his aim and sighted a few targets in the mob, the Klan scattered and ran.

Grandpa also told me that he’d personally fought Klansmen while on a visit to a little farm town north of Dayton near the Indiana border.  A lot of Catholics lived there, and thugs from across the state line troubled and intimidated the “fish eaters”.  One night, a relative asked Grandpa if he wanted to get in on some fun.  The townsmen had received intelligence that the Klan were coming.  My grandpa went downtown with his cousin and hid in an alley.  A number of Catholic men waited all around in the shadows.

The Klan rode in on pick up trucks and circled the Union monument in the center of Main St.  They whooped and yelled, but the deserted sidewalks and closed stores afforded no targets.  They fell silent and looked around.  Someone yelled, “Now!” The Catholic men swarmed from all sides, pulled the Klan off their trucks, carried them to the Wabash River, and “baptized” them over and over again until they were half-drowned.  My grandfather added, “We kicked their sorry butts back to Indiana and told them to never come back.”

I assumed from reading a bit of history and Grandpa’s stories that the Klan’s base of operations was in Indiana.  I discovered recently that grandfather’s fellow Daytonians were a source of anti-Catholic persecution.  I read in the alumni magazine from the University of Dayton (a Catholic University) that the Klan was a powerful force in the 1920s in Dayton, Ohio.  A local Klan newspaper ran ads for prominent businesses in town.  The rag printed editorials declaring that immigrants, Catholics, Blacks and Jews threatened the existence of decent (white Protestant) society.  During Christmas break, Klansmen beat up stray male students staying in the dorms over the holidays.  They didn’t bother to harass anyone when the full student body returned in January, however.  They only attacked when the odds skewed heavily in their favor.

When Judy and I lived in State College, PA, we heard that a town about fifty miles south was a Klan/Neo-Nazi hotbed.  We’re German Americans, but still avoided traveling there as we had no desire to associate with creeps.  But some of our neighbors belonged to the fellowship of hateful stupidity.  One day, a middle-aged woman approached as I pushed a baby stroller.  She lived on the street behind us, one house down.  She looked in and sweetly commented on my son’s tan.  I said, “We get him out in the fresh air every day.  And Judy and I both have fairly dark skin, so it’s not a big surprise.”  The woman grinned triumphantly as if she’d caught me out:  I had revealed a dark stain on our genetic heritage; and she’d brought my family’s campaign to pass as white people to an end.

 

 

 

Regrets and Regressions (Time Traveler Series, Vol. II)

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Falling Through Time (oil on board, 8×6″), cover image for “Regrets and Regressions”.

Judy and I have been working on a sequel to “A Narrow Slice of Time” over the past year.  This new novel is another time travel adventure, but has a modern noir atmosphere.  It features characters from the first book, mainly employees of GURUTECH.

GURUTECH is a time travel company founded by physicists and monks from Kerala, India.  It’s stated mission is:  “Changing the past to make a better future.”

One of the protagonists, a dive bar singer, takes a trip to a moment in his past to make one small change.  Vincent Garber succeeds in radically altering the course of his personal history, but his new life brings him confusion and even greater difficulties.  His troubles spread to GURUTECH, and it becomes apparent to everyone involved that the survival of the company rests on answering one question:  what kind of man is Vincent  Garber?

I’ve just completed the third round of edits and rewrites and am ready to upload it, per Judy’s final approval, to Amazon.  We’ll get a dummy book printed for one final editing run, and then we’ll put it up for sale.

Now that’s it’s nearly finished, I get an odd feeling akin to the emotion of sending a child off to college.  Freedom looms, but I’m not quite sure what to do with myself now that this responsibility is over.

The tentative title is, “Regrets and Regressions”.  Below is a sample from the third chapter.

Then there was blackness. A sliver of light appeared in the far distance and he began to rush toward it. The sliver grew larger and brighter as he approached. He shot through its center and began to spiral down to a green and blue planet, to America, to Pennsylvania, and his feet touched the earth in a small wood. He could see the back of Granny Florence’s house in a clearing directly ahead of him.

He skirted her yard and trotted to the country road that ran in front of her house. There was a filling station with a phone booth on the opposite side. He crossed over and pulled the doors shut on the booth, fished a quarter out of his pocket and called the fire department in Reading.

“Yeah, I saw a leak in a pipe coming out of a storage tank at the BrassTech foundry, the one south of town along the Schuylkill River. Yeah. I called them, but they told me to mind my own business. There’s a pool forming—it’s yellowish orange—Yeah. It’s gonna run down into the Schuylkill if the leak isn’t plugged. My name? Hey, I’m an employee there. I need the job. Yeah, well, if you need a name for your form, call me Chuck Bupkis. That’s right. Don’t get mad at me. Do something about that spill before it’s too late. Gotta go. It’s been swell.”

Vincent hung up and stood by the road. The house looked deserted, but he knew his granny was inside. He crossed back over, but no one answered when he lightly rapped on the aluminum frame of the screen door. He heard snoring inside.

Granny lay on a couch in the back parlor, a scarf wrapped around her silver hair. She wore a summer shift printed with yellow daisies, saddle shoes and white socks. A rivulet of drool eased from the corner of her mouth, and Vincent was shocked by the plainness of her face, the lumpiness of her body, the fragility of her bony arms and birdy legs. And he realized that his sweet memories of her were based on her warm smile and the tenderness of her hugs.

He had told the monks that he was going back to warn her that her young grandson would grow up to become a brat, a little punk who needed careful supervision. Vincent would quote Bible passages and pretend to be a preacher who had the gift of spiritual insight. He would prove his abilities by predicting that she would break her ankle going down the icy front steps of her porch the coming February, and that young Lester would stop stuttering once he entered the third grade. When those events transpired she would believe his prophecies and take care to keep her charge close at hand when he turned fourteen.
But he had no intention of doing that. He wasn’t sure if that would work, or if the old woman would be capable of remaining vigilant long enough to prevent him from running off to Philly. No, he’d have to go to the source.

He found seven year old Lester Fenstermacher playing in a creek near the hen house. The chickens clucked as Vincent passed by, and the scrawny little boy turned to look at him. He had a frog in one hand and a stick in the other, and his calves and feet were smeared with mud. He looked like a hick.

“Whatcha doin’ there, young fella?” Vincent asked the boy.

“G-got me a frog. I’m g-gonna roast it on this stick and eat f-frog legs.”

“D’ya think that Mr. Frog is gonna like that?”

“Tough luck for h-him, good luck for m-me. Who are you? Are you a stra-stra-stranger? I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”

“I’m a ghost. I used to be your Great Uncle Jimmy.”

“You are not. You’re not a ghost. You’re s-solid as a rock.”

“We’ll see about that…I got something important to tell you.”

“What?”

“You gotta stay in school, grow up smart and work hard, and you must never, ever run away from home—especially from your Granny.”

“W-why would I do that? I like Granny.”

“When you turn fourteen you’re gonna be a little fool. Watch yourself. Don’t run away.”

“You’re crazy, mister, and I don’t think that you’re a g-ghost, and you’re not my Great Uncle Jimmy.”

“I look just like Jimmy. Look me up in the family album. You’ll see.”

“No, I won’t!”

A warning buzzer went off at the base of his skull, and Vincent knew he had just a few seconds left. He took a step toward Lester, and Lester backed away. The little boy was getting frightened.

Vincent said, “I’m going to go soon, but there’s one more thing I’m gonna tell you.”

“What?”

“Being a singer sucks.”

“W-what?”

“Show biz is no kind of life,” Vincent said.

“But Granny says she likes my singing. I’m good at it-tit.”

Vincent knelt so that his eyes were level with Lester’s. He said, “Being good at something doesn’t always make you happy. And if you do become a singer, I’m gonna come back and haunt you. You won’t like that.”

Little Lester opened his mouth to argue, but his words caught at the back of his throat. The strange man who claimed to be his dead Uncle Jimmy vanished, but not all at once. At first he shimmered: his skin, hair and clothes became shiny and flexible like clear plastic wrap. Then he became a spectral image that slowly faded in the bright sunlight.

Lester stared at the spot where the ghost had just knelt before him. He was rigid with fright. He dropped frog and stick and walked slowly forward in a daze. He placed his foot inside the shoe print that dead Uncle Jimmy had made in the mud bank, and he began to cry. The frog hopped away.

His Granny Florence called from the house: “Lester? Lester! Where are you boy? It’s time you came in and had your bath. Lester!”

Lester wiped his nose on his sleeve and ran to her.

Big Two-Fisted Introvert

A recently found story by Ernest P. Hemmingway.

Nick rolled out of bed.  Midmorning light bleached the pattern on his rug.  He tucked in the sheets and plumped the pillow.  It was a good pillow.

Nick brushed his teeth and whizzed, put on a clean white shirt and cargo shorts, and sat down at his computer.  He booted the computer, and it loaded quickly.  His screen saver glowed green, silver and blue.  A trout leaped out of a stream.

Nick wrote a short story about fishing.  He liked to write; he liked to fish.  He never got lonely when he fished.  Nick waved when fishermen passed by in boats, but it was good when they turned a bend.  It was good when they disappeared. The quiet of the river swallowed them.

Nick’s phone rang.  The phone was in the kitchen.  Nick waited until the ringing stopped, and then walked to the kitchen: time to make coffee.  His receiver blinked.  He picked it up.  He checked for messages:  one from mother.  Nick deleted his mother’s message.  He had heard her talk before.  He’d heard enough.

Nick drank the coffee hot and black.  It burned his tongue.  The burn stung.  He wanted to swear, but didn’t.  The phone rang again.  Caller ID said that his mother had dialed his number.  He saw her holding her receiver like a fishing rod.  She would pull him in if he took her bait.  She would ask about last night.  Nick did not answer the phone.

Last night Mother made a meal for him.  She served it on china plates.  The silverware was silver.  Candles lit the room.  They ate roast beef, boiled potatoes and green peas.  The roast beef was dry.

Nick drank too much whiskey.  He often drank too much at Mother’s.  Mother talked.  Mother invited women to dinner, women she wanted him to marry.  Nick did not want to marry.

Nick was not gay.  He liked women when they were quiet.  He liked women who fished.  He liked lying with women on sun baked pine needles on paths in high mountains.  He liked to “make the earth move”.

Last night Miriam talked more than Mother.  She talked about dresses, her hair, an article in a woman’s magazine.  Nick’s finger itched as he ate his food and listened to her talk.  He wanted to kill himself with his shotgun.

He knew that Miriam was not talking about fashion and cosmetics.  She was talking about babies, houses, insurance policies and retirement plans.

Nick did not have a retirement plan.  He did not like babies when they cried.  A man did not need insurance, and died before he retired.  If he grew too old to be a man, he went deep sea fishing in a leaking, rickety boat, he ran with the bulls at Pamplona and let the bulls catch him.

Right now Nick had hunting, fishing, and writing.  He had what he wanted.  He did not want Miriam.

The phone rang again.  Nick went to the case in his study and pulled out his 12 aught shot gun.  He rubbed the steel barrel with an oily rag.  It glistened cold and deadly.  He slotted a shell into the breech.  He walked twenty five steps to his kitchen.  Nick shot his phone.

Nick sat down at his computer.  He poured two shots of whiskey into his coffee mug.  It tasted better that way.  He reread his story.  It was good.  Nick smiled.  He was alone.

 

Man Cleaning

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Laundry room debris field

I’ve done my share of cleaning house over 30+ years of marriage.  I stayed home with the kids when they were little and waged the losing battle of keeping their chaos at bay.  I once told a college class that managing a house occupied by two toddlers was like composing a term paper with a drunk roommate deleting key passages whenever the writer looked away for a split second.  All accomplishments are doomed to erasure.

Doing chores while surrounded by little barbarians gave me a fatalistic approach to house cleaning.  I got in the habit of taking care of the worst of the worst, nibbling at the bits I somewhat cared about, and letting major areas collect dust and debris.

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Dresser top of lost hope

Recently our circumstances have forced me to take on more of the chores than I ever did before.  The kids are grown and gone, so there should be less to do.  But now I’m starting to see things through my wife’s eyes and realize that the cobwebs growing from the ceiling in the back room really shouldn’t be allowed to hang down to eye level.  The strange odor in the laundry room behind the Christmas tree boxes no longer lingers, but its fossilized source really ought to be removed (dead lizard or corn snake?).  Ancient stains on the side of the fridge could be scrubbed off, as well as stratified layers of greasy fuzz on the kitchen ceiling fan.

I eventually come to the conclusion that I could start at one end of the house and scrub inch by inch.  Repainting and patching could follow.  New curtains could replace the moth eaten ones over the front window, and the coat closet could be excavated for usable tennis rackets, tennis balls, and vacuum cleaner attachments from amongst the debris at the bottom.  The job seems endless.

And now I begin to understand a major difference between the sexes.  Women tend to see housework as a manageable project that produces a cozy nest if the right effort is applied, if their housemate abstains from random acts of stinky sock/wet towel dropping.  Men see the interior of a house and shut down.

Housework induced catatonia in males is not always caused by laziness, but more often by willful blindness in the face of overwhelming odds.  The blindness has no evil intent, but is more a matter of self-preservation.  A man who has taken the time to do a thorough survey of his domestic environment is like an astronaut spacewalking and contemplating the stars.  He feels so small compared to a vast number of tasks spread over a mini-universe of domestic space.

When confronted by the infinite, it’s best for a man to pretend that the majority of it does not exist.  He pops a beer, sits in a recliner and waves to his friends, the spiders hanging all around him.  He might knock down their webs down in a day or two, but at that moment he just wants a little company.

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Entropic night stand

R-nnn-Argh

DSC_0184 (2)R-nnnn-Argh, oil/canvas,  30×40″

I completed this painting last week after putting in some intensive work this summer.  I completed the first stage in 2012 (monochrome underpainting), but had no time or will to consistently work on it the last four years.

I used a fairly painstaking method in the second and third stages:   glazing and scumbling colors over the monochrome underpainting (like tinting a black and white photo).  At times I put off painting because it seemed too daunting to finish, and I regretted trying something new (an old master technique applied to photo-collage subject matter) on such a large scale.  I realize a few years back that it would have been a lot smarter for me to do this as portrait on a smaller canvas in partial homage to Jim Nutt’s latest series.

I abandoned R-nnnn-Argh for a year after finishing the background figures and landscapes.  I felt exhausted just looking at it.  The central man’s face seemed like an endless terrain when I first began to work on it, and I remember the tedium of painting waves and the folds in the fisherman’s shirt.

I recently began to work on it again, and to actually enjoy the process.  The only thing that slowed down the final stages was the heat in my studio.  In the summer, my air conditioner fails to keep the temperature under ninety degrees after 1 p.m., and I have to quit when I start to feel the symptoms of heat exhaustion.

If you’re trying to decipher the imagery, try reading Edgar Allen Poe’s, “The Man Who Was Used Up”.

Last night I pulled out another long term project:  “Higgins Didn’t Make It”, a faux science fiction painting.  I hope it won’t take me as long to finish this one, but I believe that I started it in 2013.  Time to get it done.

Higgins Didn't Make ItHiggins Didn’t Make It

Gross Domestic Well-being

The Democrats are still looking for a new motivating concept to rally behind, a new theme for their election push in 2018.  I’ve already suggested that they run as the reality party, as the grown-ups willing to do something constructive about climate change, income disparity, crumbling infrastructure and health care.

Here’s another idea:  run on the idea that the main business of the United States government isn’t raising the GDP.  Make the well-being of Americans its business.  Measure progress and success by the Gross Domestic Well-being.  Count how many people are healthy, educated, working at meaningful jobs, working at jobs that pay a living wage, living in nonviolent communities, free from race and income based oppression, heard and heeded by their representatives in the House and Senate.

The crew in charge right now claim to be patriots working for the benefit of our country and its citizens, but vote instead for programs, budgets and tax schedules that benefit the few.  Politicians are bought and paid for by wealthy elites and their corporations, and the needs of the many get ignored.

This is obvious, and our representatives resort to increasingly ridiculous arguments to justify decisions designed to do harm to the majority.  Some recent advocates in the House of Representatives for their heinous health care bill (actually, their denial-of-health-care bill) have stated that good people don’t get sick.  Bad people indulge in harmful habits and bring their fates upon themselves.  And only the wicked, if this line of “thinking” gets carried a bit further, suffer accidents and genetic diseases, contract infectious pneumonia and influenza.  Health insurance would be unnecessary if all the underlings just behaved better and kissed up to God properly.  The stubborn and wicked should just accept their punishment and die quietly and inexpensively.

We all know that reality doesn’t work this way, but elected officials spew this nonsense with straight faces and self-righteous attitudes.  I’ve never heard that one of them has put the theory, that the righteous need no health insurance, to the test.  Instead, they remain enrolled in their government paid programs.  (Do they doubt their logic, or do they doubt their own state of righteousness?)

Here’s a few ideas about how to achieve  better gross domestic well-being.

  1. Limit military spending to fund forces capable of success in defensive wars for our country and our allies.  Foreign adventures in regime change would be outlawed.
  2. Take the money saved from a reduction in arms spending to pay for higher education and health care for all citizens.  Raise taxes on the ridiculously wealthy to cover a short fall.
  3. Political funding would be provided by a government managed slush fund so that corporations and wealthy individuals could no longer dominate elections.  Amend the Constitution to prohibit “free speech” by corporations in the form of political donations and propaganda programs disseminated by shell organizations.
  4. Favor countries with good human rights records with better trade agreements.
  5. End military style training for police departments and encourage neighborhood foot patrols.
  6. Ask companies producing new products to give estimates of product durability.  If a new stove or a car is expected to last less than ten years, then the company must pay a waste fee to cover the cost of disposal.
  7. Encourage the redevelopment of repair trades to fix and maintain products to increase longevity.
  8. Tailor the energy economy to renewable resources, and tax providers who stick exclusively to fossil fuels.  Do not allow them to pass the cost of these levees onto their customers.
  9. Make all wages livable, and prosecute employers who hire illegal immigrants in order to cut payroll costs.
  10. Judge any new piece of legislation in terms of its effect, for good or ill, on the whole population.  If more than 5% of the population would suffer, then rewrite the bill.

 

 

 

 

God Bless You, Father Shine

The Cincinnati archdiocese assigned Father Shine to our parish as an assistant pastor around 1970.  He had been acting as a hospital chaplain, and before that served as a teacher in a boys high school.  A thin man with a large nose, pale skin, jet-black hair and sunken eyes, he trembled at the pulpit when he delivered sermons.  Sweat slicked his forehead and his hands shook when he raised the host at consecration.  He stammered, “B-b-body, body of Christ,” when he handed out communion.

Most of the congregation understood his terror of speaking in public and forgave him his faltering interpretations of Holy Scripture.  We felt sorry for a well-meaning man trapped in a job that ran contrary to his nature.  We also sensed a sweet nature hidden behind the nerves.  The man was ready to forgive sins in the confessional before a penitent uttered the first word.  He never spoke harshly or with cold judgment, and remained unfailingly patient and kind when dealing with folks one on one.

No one knew how the nuns and head pastor viewed Father Shine, but someone with a cruel streak gave him an assignment designed to torture him:  a sex-ed lecture for the eighth-graders.

We were ushered into the library and told to sit on the carpet.  No one told us the purpose of the assembly, but whenever our two classes gathered it usually meant a tongue lashing from the principal.  We were somewhat rebellious, and our budding sexuality sent one of the nuns into spasms.

It didn’t take much to bring Sister M.M. to her knees to pray for our immortal souls.  One flagrant problem that raised her blood pressure:  some of the eighth grade girls had tired of us boys and decided to take up with seventh graders.  Older hussies were seen walking with younger boys on the playground at lunch.  They held hands.  The horror.  The utter horror.

We were surprised when Father Shine shuffled into the room.  He sat down in front of us, but didn’t say anything for several minutes.  He appeared to be morbidly fascinated by the texture of the carpet.  A nun standing nearby whispered a few urgent words to spur him into action.  He looked up for a split second, returned his gaze to the floor, and wiped his forehead with a trembling hand. The nun whispered again, and Father Shine began his address.

“I taught for a few years at a Catholic school for boys in Cincinnati… Cin-Cin-cin-cin…nati…I, uh, the boys, uh….One day there was a dance.  The boys invited girls from a nearby high school for…girls.  Girls…Uh…I taught boys in Cincinnati…dance…There was this dance and girls were invited to come to our gym and…dance…And the boys, the boys…I taught at this school and…”

At this point Father flushed deep red and slumped to one side.  He covered his face with his hands and his shoulders shook.  I feared that he verged on a nervous breakdown.  The nun stepped in, put a hand on his shoulder and helped him to his feet.  She led him from the room.  End of assembly.

Father Shine recovered and returned to his duties as assistant pastor.  He said masses, heard confessions and visited the sick.  I was glad that his attempt to speak to us about sexual morality hadn’t damaged him in any permanent way, and relieved that we had escaped another tirade about a subject I found troubling enough when contemplating it on my own.  My feelings of relief were premature.

Eighth-grade classes usual went on a spiritual retreat to a park-like Catholic center south of town.  Sister told us, to our chagrin, that our retreat would take place on campus.  Her stern look and threatening tone warned me that my classmates and I would probably need a retreat from our retreat.

A balding priest wearing a black cassock, black shoes and socks, and black plastic framed glasses met with us in the library one morning.  He wasn’t afraid, shy, or embarrassed.  He appeared, instead, to be driven by outrage.  He barked at us for an hour about our sinful natures, and his face turned purple with anger.  He scorned our obsession with sex.  He sentenced us to eternal damnation if we thought about it, masturbated, or allowed ourselves to enjoy accidental sexual feelings that occurred at random moments.  The only Catholics allowed to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh were married couples (heterosexual, it went without saying).  And even these lucky few were supposed to reluctantly engage in the act for the sole purpose of making more Catholics.

He spent the rest of the day with us, “celebrated” a mass featuring a sermon that underlined the grimmest points made in the prior assembly, and glared at us with arms crossed at his chest during a break at lunch time.  Father Damnation appeared to be standing in for a watchful, vengeful God.

The eighth-grade girls stayed away from the seventh graders that day, but resumed their assignations the next week.  We knew that Father Damnation wasn’t coming back.  And most of us had figured out that his reign of terror had been one more attempt to bludgeon us back in line.  There had been plenty of those, and we had grown used to threats and hysteria.

Looking back, I have to say that I’m grateful to both priests.  Father Shine showed me that there were some clerics in the church who genuinely cared for their congregants, who tried their best even when stretched beyond their natural limits.  Father Damnation showed me that the church ranks had their share of crazies and militants that were best ignored.

God bless you, Father Shine.  Get bent, Father Damnation.