How High Can You Fly?

It’s 6:59 a.m. in Scranton.

Sliced crimson sky the color of ketchup on my breakfast eggs greets me this morning. I’m listening to Eric Burdon and War. San Francisco nights give cover to the sky pilot flying high above Monterrey.

My mother bought me the painted ceramic statuette pictured in this post when I graduated in 1969 from Susquenita High School in Perry County, Central Pennsylvania Appalachian mountain country. She said the figure reminded her of me — studious, thoughtful, and introspective as I pondered the ways of the world.

Dotty was right.

I took everything personally.

Keeping most thoughts inside my head, I acted out, rebelling by drinking beer at keg parties in hidden hills, reading “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck, “The Carpetbaggers” by Harold Robbins, “The Green Berets” by Robin Moore and other works that riled my unconscious mind. At night I dug deep into swirling heartfelt visions as I tossed and turned listening to music on faraway radio stations.

I thought about running away but had no place to go. So I stayed amid the harsh rural landscape and raw emotion that too often ruled a sometimes very bad scene.

I never kept a diary or journal.

I just wrote.

Sitting in 10th grade biology class in 1967 I scribbled silly words on a yellow legal pad, my first original writing since writing letters to my mother when I was 13, visited the 1964 World’s Fair in New York  and stayed for a week on Long Island with my Aunt Jewel, Uncle Jerry and cousins Francis and Michael.

Dear Mom, I saw bandleader Xavier Cugat and his little Chihuahua dog, Poquito. I saw Japanese people handing out pamphlets and lying on the ground to call attention to the 1945 American bombing of Hiroshima.

The memory of my first exposure to political protest remains burned in my mind.

As a senior in 1969 I wrote columns challenging political authority, mimeographed the inflammatory words and handed out the newly-founded “underground” newspaper in front of the high school. One Sunday a local preacher in Marysville, PA denounced me by name from the pulpit.

I knew I had arrived.

Hell here I come.

Nothing has changed in more than 50 years.

Consider this and future posts under the common title “How High Can You Fly” another underground newspaper, an incendiary diary and revolutionary journal of community development from my golden years. Expect my thoughts to come in a rushed, unedited stream of consciousness, a free-wheeling freedom of speech barrage of radical intellect.

Sharing life in some 55-plus corporate Margaritaville retirement community with golf carts and bourgeoisie Boomer bores can kiss my ass. At 72 I’m playing the last quarter in a championship game and expect to score.

One of my former newspaper editors once said, “You act like you’re better than we are.”

“No,” I said. “I’m just different.”

That was true.

But I was better than she and her servile wannabe columnist managing editor put together.

And she knew it.

I’ll always be thankful for the handful of editors and bosses — Thompson, Connor, Duncan, Schechtman, Contreras, Bolton and Bemis  — who despite our differences understood my unique value and taught me what they could about journalism. Those who didn’t get my outlaw style only got in my way.

I still value the ride — even during dark times when everybody loses.

Like now.

I’m thinking about the continuing two month Israeli war against the people of Gaza, thoughts that have angered some of you. I don’t respect your opinion, but respect your right to hold a viewpoint different from my own. I will always maintain self-respect by nurturing and staying true to my deepest held beliefs that drive me to engage injustice and refuse to accept atrocity in the name of democracy.

Each day I work to better understand current events. I read, think, study, draw from personal experience. I talk at great length with my wife who also spends considerable time and brainpower continuing to learn about the world from the bountiful information we have available to us.

My guess, and I don’t like guessing, is too many of you draw conclusions from too few thorough news sources. We’re on different sides for different reasons. I understand your plight and accept your flight as friend or acquaintance. As a professional social critic and lifelong cultural dissident, my path still finds me rejecting opinion from many associates and presumed allies.

My side of the battle usually pits me against the status quo. I’m thankful I reject the mainstream maelstrom. The older I get the more committed I become to the struggle for human freedom, independence and liberation.

My mother was right.

The ceramic figurine I keep on the shelf above my desk in our snug home office where we work reminds me of myself. That little symbolic student of human behavior reminds me of how much I need to learn while I can.

Of course, I still take everything personally. But, to get lazy, become distracted, self-absorbed and complacent, to content myself with middle-class creature comforts that numb the masses that remain asses is a fate worse than death.

How high can I fly?

I’ve already reached the sky.