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"Big Weeds and Small Weeds"


    Big Weeds and Small Weeds

I bought my wee hoosie with the ambition to read the papers in the morning—the Trib daily and the New York Times on weekends—drink lots of good coffee, grow and can my own tomatoes, peppers and herbs, learn and play fiddle tunes, and dive deeply into community life. The house has been the scene for fun experiments, the latest being the quest for the perfect shave. I’ve tried a dozen shave creams. My current exploration: two razors: a first pass with an old-fashioned safety razor to “mow the grass” so to speak, and finish with one of those second-mortgage three-blade jobs to smooth the auld epidermis.
I like my morning papers to be paper, if you get me. If it’s the evening Internet I will read what I want to, but with real papers there are news angles on stories that I would not necessarily discover on my own, but which editors think I ought to know about. That’s why I get them. They serve a further function of suggesting topics that require a deeper dive than they can supply—some real study. That’s the evening Internet and the books all over the house. My house is quiet, but I don’t get much sleep.
This because the weeds are growing mighty fast and lately they’ve been threatening my garden, the lives of my friends, and my beloved community. People are getting shot because of their skin color—even a black kid with a toy gun. When I was twelve we had all kinds of toy guns, and the more realistic the better. Am I alive now just because we “played guns” in a segregated white neighborhood? All up and down the street, we all had shiny six-shooters—remember cap guns? They made a good bang, especially if you doubled up the cap roll. But we were all white. I never sold CDs on the corner, but I sold farm-fresh eggs. What a rap! Later I drove plenty of old cars around with various burned out light bulbs. Am I alive today because my skin color suggested to various authorities: I’m one of you; I went to school; I’m with the ruling class? (Don’t answer that!)
Not only is that income gap widening in today’s America; the web of sorrow is growing into epidemic hopelessness. I’m trying to understand the tortured past that brought us to this point: black Tamir Rice, black Philando Castile, black Alton Sterling, and forty-seven percent of South Bend children on free lunch, ferchrissake! Don’t leave out the five cops in Dallas, and over the years, fifteen police dead in the line of duty in South Bend—twelve by gunfire. Don’t leave out my friends who are broke and disabled, or ME, former uppercrust military school graduate turned into an anti-war-pinko-atheist-commie-freak! So that means columnists, alternate news sources, books after dark, masters degree, writing and reading, looking for the insight behind “people are dying,” “people are hungry and sick,” and “people are . . . lonely.”
These last couple weeks I’m lucky to grab a few minutes to weed the raised beds, or heavenforbid play a fiddle tune. It shouldn’t be a mortal sin to go to an Irish music session once a week instead of a pressure-group meeting, but I’ve cut back there, too. It shouldn’t be a megaphone I carry in the back of my car but a fiddle and a bottle of Irish hooch. It shouldn’t be a SWAT-team or sniper I worry about when I’m downtown, but whether my banjo-audience is laughing and singing. I want tomatoes, but I guess I’ll have to settle for a few more weeds; music, though it’s hard find much time to rosin that bow. But I want understanding, so I have to find time for the books; justice, so I have to find the time for love.
For Michiana Chronicles , I’m David James.