Sunday, June 25, 2017

It All Depends

We all have them. We all have those infinitesimal moments when if the event had gone another way, everything in our life — and that means everything — would be different. In his poem “The Red Wheelbarrow,” William Carlos Williams uses the phrase “so much depends.” Although as an English major I had undoubtedly studied the poem, it took on new meaning for me when a friend used the phrase “so much depends.” Her cancer was in remission at the time, or at least was manageable. I had asked her, “Are you in pain?” She answered, “No. So much depends…” and went on to recite the poem word for word. Her point was: whether I am in pain or not matters. So much depends on that. She added that one reading of the poem suggested that it refers to a child hovering between life and death. The poet was a doctor.

So much depends between this and that, between being here or somewhere else, between saying one thing or another, between seeing that oncoming truck before you turn or not.

The King James Version has it as “in the twinkling of an eye.”

So I never forgot my dear friend’s lesson, even though we went our separate ways.

I can readily draw up my own list of personal turning points balanced on the edge of a razor blade. I am told I started life that way, as a preemie. (Today, with advances in medicine and technology my entry into the world would be unremarkable.)

Family lore has me being nearly run over by my father in the backyard when I was five or six. Unbeknownst to my dad as he was backing up, I decided to bolt out of the car. Where did I go? Why? We will never know. My dad assumed the worst. My brother ran up the steps to tell Mom, “Dad ran over Paul!”

I was fine.

Somehow.

Whenever the story was retold at the dinner table, Dad would say, “Took ten years off my life.”

And who is to say otherwise?

Some moments get lost in the tides of time, as if they are less significant with the passage of days, months, and years.

The concussive wind of a Manhattan taxicab zooming by as I daydreamed and nearly drifted off the curb.  

Falling asleep at the wheel only to be awakened by the tires rumbling on a rough surface.

Decades ago, driving drunk and not remembering it.

Which illustrates the interactive nature of this utter powerlessness. In other words, others are inescapably involved in our seemingly random, remote choices.

Turning blue, choking on meat, only to find the Heimlich maneuver my wife of that time employed didn’t work — until she said “stop fighting me.”

In a blog post years ago, I coined an amusing term for this phenomenon:

or - chasm - n. The immeasurable distance between one choice and another.

I labeled it a noun, but these infinite moments fraught with fruition or finality have their own grammar. They are gerunds and participles and most of all infinitives.

They bear the indelible signature of choice and mystery.

These moments are the “Either/Or” of Soren Kierkegaard, "The Road Not Taken" of Robert Frost.

Name these nano-pinpricks as you see fit: choice, destiny, fate, will, coincidence, providence, or Providence.

You have yours; I have mine.

Attention must be paid.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Reading Second Skins



We sat in tiny chairs at tables made for kids. In the school library, the tops of tables and the seats of chairs were closer to the floor than what adults typically experience. We paired off, a dozen adults and a dozen first and second graders. We were reading. We read to each other. The adult would say a word that the child stumbled upon. The child would repeat it.

Some children wrote letters on erasable white boards. One could hear the mysterious soundings-out of letters and their combinations, the gentle coaxings and coachings that shed light and pattern. Sight words, flash cards, stapled pages we called books. Voices blending. Encouragement. Ears yearning.

One boy, an eight-year-old second grader, reached out to touch my gray hair, grown over the ears in wintertime, straight and thinning. The boy, polite and energetic and eager, seemed baffled and amazed at my hair's texture, its novelty. Then he looked at my hand. This was not our first encounter in the school library; this was after a few months or more of reading sessions that were not quite reading yet but were tilled soil for later bloom. He observed the veins in my aging hand, noticing the blue riverine pattern on these hands holding the stapled pamphlets we use as books.

"My hand is a different color," the young fellow stated matter-of-factly.

The way he said those words, their surprise and frankness and tenderness, caught me off-guard. It arrested me. For a few beats, I didn’t know how to respond but feared no response would be a missed opportunity — for what I was not sure.

"Yes, I see that. Isn't it wonderful?" I quickly managed with a blend of his matter-of-factness and my mildly suppressed enthusiasm. We then turned to tackle another pamphlet, a level C or D “book.” The chorus of learning filled the room.

Upon much later reflection, I was grateful to my young reading partner for his honesty, authenticity, and directness. I recalled a moment decades ago in high school. Our teacher, a Catholic priest of the most progressive leanings, was commenting on Jesus’ oft quoted, “Suffer (allow) little children to come unto me and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” The only lesson I can summon some fifty years later is that Father Giuliani underscored and celebrated two qualities of children: simple and direct.   

Simple and direct. Yes indeed.

“My hand is a different color.”

A child’s uncomplicated observation of fact laden with a history unknown to me, just as mine was unknown to him.

Had I missed a deeper and more cogent opportunity? I knew the two of us were not about to engage in a candid discussion of Race in America. And I sought to avoid either preachiness or stilted speech. (Truth be told, I thought none of this. I had no time. Such considerations — and zillions more — rocketed through my brain before I uttered words.)

Those who parse such encounters might take me to task for these musings; they might posit a racial construct in my very questions.

So be it.

It’s what I had at that moment. In a country whose citizens rarely converse across racial lines, one to one, over bread or coffee or wine, it’s all we had.

The poet W.H. Auden wrote, “Love your crooked neighbor with all your crooked heart.”

It’s all we’ve got.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

life, not-so-interrupted


My phone frequently blurts out the following digital notification: “Medium power saving mode turned on  Your battery life has been extended.” The editor in me forgives the missing hyphen between “power” and “saving.” It even shrugs off the missing period after “turned on.” And why not be magnanimous? After all, the smartphone’s notification exudes generosity, hope, and optimism.

Sure, I can pretend to take some credit for the cellphone notification, owing to the settings I clicked on.

The word “notification” is a delicious one for an artisanal, homegrown, non-GMO, gluten-free wordsmith such as myself. If St. Peter is hip and modern enough, he can forgo all that fabled judgmental jazz at the gates of Heaven. He can simply email notifications. I don’t doubt he can find a way to spiritually transmit notifications to every soul. St. Peter, if you are metaphysically listening, may I make a suggestion? Develop an app that has emojis for paradisiacal salvation and for hellish damnation. Then you can save yourself all the time and trouble words take. (Purgatory? I’m not so sure about that one.) You won’t have to have all those interviews at the gate as depicted in cartoons.  

As for “power-saving mode,” don’t you wish we could do the same for ourselves? Don’t you wish that a few taps of your fingers would put you in a state of energy conservation? How handy it would be. Oh. Wait. We have that! My word for that power-saving mode is the English word “nap.” In Spanish, it’s “siesta.”

Why stop there? If we can invoke a personal power-saving mode, we should also be able to apply the same concept to endless varieties of human behavior. I salivate at the prospect of a limitless parade of modes beyond power-saving. A few brief examples include anger-saving, grief-saving, embarrassment-saving, trust-saving, and error-saving.

Logic dictates that this brave new world should stretch beyond the limits of conservation, as it were. Flip the opposite way. Power-enhancing, patience-enhancing, trust-enhancing, esteem-enhancing, virtue enhancing. The list goes on ad infinitum.

I freely admit the existence of logistical hurdles. If it’s not as easy as adjusting settings on your “digital device,” what are we left with? “Conscience” is the smart-aleck reply of the wise ones among us. My answer to that is: since our banishment from the Garden of Eden there has been a deep and wide chasm between what conscience ordains and what human beings actually do. So that’s the tricky part. Getting our behavior to be as automatic as an app on our phone or tablet is hugely problematic. That’s why we have drug and alcohol rehab centers; billions of dollars spent on psychoactive medications; and gazillions of dollars — and hours — invested in weight control and fitness. Not to be a shade too cynical, it’s also the reason we have corrections facilities that strain the credulity of the word “correction.”

As I said at the outset, my phone also declares without equivocation: “Your battery life has been extended.” Would that we could be as certain. Would that our fortunes were bound by such a simple and absolute algorithm.

“Your life has been extended” if you eat right, exercise frequently, wear a seatbelt, and signal before turning. (Extended for how long? one wonders.)

Text St. Peter. Ask him.

Get back to us on that.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Brutal Murder

In news stories, one frequently sees or hears the phrase “brutal murder,” or words to that effect. Although I worked at a newspaper and in publishing, I have never taken a journalism course. My first year of teaching I was forced to teach a journalism course though I lacked any credentials aside from having been an English major and having worked on the school paper in junior high, as it was called then. But if I were to study or teach Journalism 101, “brutal murder” might be a good starting point.

I understand that some murders are more grisly than others. I comprehend that certain methods of violence are more heinous than others, and that the intent of such a phrase is meant to underscore that.  And yet . . .

All murder would qualify as brutal, wouldn’t it? Whether the method is subtle or silent, or explicit and horrific, the result is the same. Nevertheless, the idea of brutal murder is worth pondering. Is a drone operator who is detached from the sounds and smells of execution any less murderous than one more directly involved? When combatants in World War I engaged in combat with soldiers close enough to see their eyes, was the result different? Or did personal proximity raise the remote possibility of peace, at least briefly and on a small scale? There are many accounts of Union and Confederate soldiers engaging in conversation, perhaps exchanging tobacco. But the grim truth is that the ravages of war continued.

Back to “brutal murder.” What do we mean by “brutal”? Are we referring to the look or the sound of the perpetrated act? Is it measured by the incalculable pain that is endured? Or the innocence of the victims?

Does war or insurrection get an exemption based on the assumption that war is brutal and murderous by definition?

Extending the notion, what roles do intent and context play? Surgical and precise terminations of life may seem less brutal owing to evidence unseen or unheard.

And what about the phrase “killing with kindness”? What is meant by that? More than a touch of irony emanates from that particular locution. Surely, we will never hear a news reader proclaim, “In other news, police are investigating a kindly murder at Peaceful Heights. The victim’s identity is unknown, but authorities were puzzled by the smile on the victim’s face.”

No, we will never hear or read anything like that at all.

Nor should we.

What’s my point? I am suggesting that words matter. They matter as stand-alone utterances and in combination with other words. The combinations matter, too, as much as the individual words. Implications exist. Legal bindings or loopholes, acts of war or declarations of peace, or life-long covenants hinge on both the mosaic arrangement of words and the very words themselves. Think of that jigsaw puzzle with one missing piece. It matters.

The same with words.

Am I a nut for attuning my ear to a simple and widely understood phrase? Perhaps, but not likely.

Failing to prick up our ears like a dog alert to a dog whistle means we run the risk of becoming deaf to meaning and subtlety. That opens the door to manipulation. To be honest, the door is already open.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Everyone Is Approved Here

As you drive along the busy boulevard, an A-frame sandwich board all but shouts, "Everyone is approved here!!!" It is an unabashed, traditionally American, free-enterprise invitation to buy “pre-owned” automobiles. The sign says, in effect, "No matter what your financial history is, no matter how reckless or foolish or disastrous or triumphantly capitalistic, we can lend you the money to buy a vehicle." (Naturally, such generosity has its own price. That price goes by the code words “interest rate” and “months.”)

Which got me to thinking.

Imagine if "Everyone is approved here!!!" referred to real people. What if actual living humans were approved “here” just as unconditionally and with the √©lan of three exclamation points as a used-car dealer approves all?

"Everyone is approved here!!!" could be a statement of credit beyond financial history, and instead it could apply to redemption that reverses personal misdeeds and waywardness.

Does unconditional approval get the cold shoulder in our society because of our puritanical past? One can reasonably argue that the reward of virtue and the punishment of transgressions is the right path. It’s wholesome for society. It sets the right balance and the right example.

But is that notion more cultural than theological?

After all, the New Testament offers ample weight and rich testimony for what we will call the Mercy Rule, as opposed to the Justice Rule.

In the early Seventies, when I was a fledgling English teacher, a colleague just as new to the profession announced to his social studies students on the first day of class for that marking period: “You all have A’s. That’s it. You have an A.” This was not contract learning. It involved no quid pro quo. The students were dumbstruck at first. Looking back, I would venture to say the teacher risked disciplinary punishment or job loss for this daring, if not foolhardy, move.

The teacher later trumpeted the success of his gambit. He said no class collectively or individually ever produced more or learned better. They rose to the occasion and justified someone’s belief in them, however dreamy or utopian. All were not merely approved. They were rewarded in advance, unconditionally.

Not being a sociologist, I cannot safely draw any generalized conclusions from this small sample. I cannot go from point A to point B to establish a theory of education or a social construct rooted in unconditional “all are approved here.”

But being a columnist, I can pose leading questions, and draw inferences till the cows come home — home from wherever they wandered to in the first place.

Taking literally the declarative sentence “All are approved here” (with or without accompanying punctuation denoting interjection, surprise, or excitement) yields a multitude of questions, the answers to which will remain speculative.

Could you successfully apply this approach to child-rearing?

What about the justice system? Would the Radical Advance Approval Method cause chaos and imperil public safety? (Incidentally, my former teaching colleague went on to become a top official at the U.S. Department of Labor. I was shocked to see him one evening making a comment on the evening’s national news.)

Speaking of labor and industry, what if supervisors and managers gave employees automatic A’s on annual performance reviews? (I had a manager do that; I loved working for him.) Would quality and production improve?

Consider the implications for the alcohol and substance rehabilitation industry. Would outcomes be better or worse than those produced by current methods?

I’m just a columnist. I get to grade myself with an A no matter what anyway.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Earth Day, Requiescat in Pace


Let’s kill Earth Day.

The kill doesn’t have to be violent. A few means of termination come to mind immediately: a fatal dose of unctuousness with a dollop of messianic fervor; toxic buildup of evangelical environmentalism; or suffocation by smugness.

Let me know if you have some other methods of moral euthanasia you can summon to the cause.

(There. I feel better already now that I’ve exhaled and typed this long-overdue death sentence.)

“Oh,” you protest. “How could you? How can you be so cruel and callous toward Mother Earth? We have no Planet B, you know.”

Spare me.

My coveted role as judge, jury, and executioner has nothing whatsoever to do with Mother Earth, climate change, global warming, denialism, science or anti-science, or political correctness or impolitic incorrectness. And lest you think my words are a sly endorsement of our Not My President (NMP), you can forget that. I condemn and abhor NMP’s choice to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and NMP’s proposed budgetary slashes and rollbacks of environmental initiatives of the last several decades.

No, my gripe goes like this: Earth Day is a feckless, feel-good escape, a chance to feel environmentally holy. Sure, many of the priests and priestesses of this secular religion practice their rituals the other 364 days of the year. But the annual cleanup rites typically take place around Earth Day. Earth Day incarnates a branding that has become tired, ungreen, and more harmful than helpful. It’s not, um, sustainable. Earth Day is not unlike waltzing to the soup kitchen on Thanksgiving and handing out turkeys. Good for one day, maybe even a week. What has changed? Not much. But nothing bad happened either, etc.

What about those cleanups? Don’t they make you feel grand? Is it the same feeling of sanctity and squeaky-clean absolution I felt as a teenager after going to Confession, with all my impure thoughts scrubbed off my soul for all eternity?

And what about these armies of the day making the world safe for carbon footprints? Picture legions of students or retirees, civic leaders and teachers, work gloves and trash bags in hand, whisked in from their pristine golf-course-riddled suburbs to save the unwashed urban masses from themselves.

How can we ever thank you? How can we ever thank you enough?

For the record, I hate litter. It is contemptuous of civil order, an act of apparent self-loathing and belligerent degradation. Or maybe littering is simply callous solipsism. I cannot claim to fathom its sociological origins or its embrace of cavalier negligence. I’ll leave that to sociologists. But I have a perverse fantasy. During one of these jaunty, community-spirited Earth Day cleanups, I crave for the volunteers to encounter directly a besmirching of the aforementioned civil order. I want the corps of cleaners to see a pizza box or overpackaged burger and fries go flying out a car window, with an added toss of soda-fountain beverage containers, extra large, with straws, napkins, and plastic bags sailing down the boulevard. I crave for the perps and the enforcers to meet head-on. Have at it, boys and girls. Send me a transcript of your friendly dialogue.

Maybe you’ll have better luck than I do. (I may meet my demise one day via one of these uncivil encounters.)

You say Earth Day is about more than Saturday-morning community service cleanups? True, true. I cannot argue with you on that. You won’t get me to condemn tree or flower plantings, or springtime prunings or fertilizations. I can see such acts as commensurate with tender memorial tree plantings honoring deceased loved ones.

As for the deceased? Add Earth Day to the rolls. Rest in peace.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

area of refuge

In the building I just moved into, filled with loft apartments in a former knitting mill, each floor has a designated “Area of Refuge.” These locations are situated near each floor’s entrance to the elevator and on the landings of the four floors, at least one on each end of the building. Residents, especially those with special needs, are instructed to gather in an Area of Refuge. There’s a callbox and a panel where one can “Push for Help.”

 Naturally, as with nearly all signs I encounter, this got me thinking. Don’t we all need an Area of Refuge, at least for part of the day, most days?

 As a grade school student, I once had to deliver something to the teachers’ lounge. The room was billowing with smoke from cigarettes and pipes. I was a messenger visiting a foreign country.  It was shocking. But today I would have to conclude that room was an Area of Refuge for those teachers. They needed a break. They seemed so much more relaxed and jovial. They were remarkably different from their classroom selves. Among them were likely non-smokers as well. It didn’t matter. All were there for a common purpose, despite the health dangers we now proclaim, but did not then.

 If we need Areas of Refuge for work, we need them elsewhere, too: at home, at play, in public, in private.

 Churches and other houses of worship over the centuries have served as sanctuaries, Areas of Refuge. This decade, whole cities, hundreds of them, have offered to be Areas of Refuge for undocumented immigrants.

 We all need a safe harbor now and then, legal or not. People in recovery programs understand the absolute value of radical hospitality when they enter a room where a meeting is held. They depend on it as an Area of Refuge. No questions asked. All are welcome.

 Today, near my new residence, walking to the nearby library, I saw a sign in a window of the elementary school (they used to call it a “magnet school,” but that’s another topic for another time). The sign said “Rescue Window.” I recalled times in my life when I was looking for a Rescue Window anywhere I could find one:  hallucinogens, alcohol, sex, you-name-it. Then I needed a Rescue Window for what I thought was my Rescue Window, because nothing was working.

 What’s your Rescue Window? Food? Yoga? Running? Hiking? Relationships? Quilting?

 The point is, we all need Areas of Refuge and Rescue Windows, even if we think “that’s for someone else.” We tend to think such places — real physical locations or more metaphorical ones — are for those less fortunate, the underprivileged, the hunted. That assumption is wrong.

 We all crave these things. Otherwise, there’d be no need of man caves, social clubs, knitting circles, places of worship, booster clubs, book clubs, flower guilds, PTOs, union halls, or bars.

 The lingering mystery, however, is “what do we do when we get there?” What do we do when we arrive at the Area of Refuge? Tell jokes? Calm nerves? (How?) Hold hands? Meditate? Pray? Sing rock ‘n’ roll oldies together? Tell ghost stories to each other?

 At the Rescue Window, are we reaching in or reaching out?

 The answers to these questions are endless. And I submit the answers don’t matter all that much, not as much as we imagine.

 What matters is being there, arriving at the Area of Refuge or Rescue Window. Together as we can be — awkwardly, fearfully, and hopefully.

Monday, March 27, 2017

how do you spell STOP?


You see the signs adorning quiet corners: STOP MEANS STOP. The declaration serves as an addendum, a gloss, on the larger sign on the same metal post sporting the familiar white on red octagon commanding drivers to halt.

This codicil strikes me as a suburban phenomenon, reflecting a hyperattentive concern for propriety and rectitude. It’s hard to imagine seeing these persnickety postscripts on the boulevards and avenues of a major city. The thousands of add-ons would cost too much. Besides, who would have time to read them? Move along, people. Nothing to see here.

The ubiquitous STOP is a verb, not a noun announcing the type of action required at the junction. STOP MEANS STOP presumably means drivers who are supposed to be stopping are merely pausing. Or not stopping at all. If we are going to parse propriety, let's go further. Perhaps the editorial sign commenting on STOP should instead say: “'Stop' means stop, not the simulation or approximation of the cessation of forward movement. Now please leave our perfect patch of Paradise.”

What does the law say? What is the required duration of the driver’s pause? It’s not really a matter of duration. The answer varies for each state, but typically it means a complete or full stop, meaning no forward momentum, the needle on the speedometer at 0. (Speedometers don’t have needles any more; call it Digital Zero.) It means, your car wheels can’t be moving. The popularly believed 3 seconds required for a stop seems more myth than reality. (“Full stop.” That’s how our British friends refer to the end punctuation we call a period. Try using that phrase in your next argument. See if it puts a full stop to the debate.)

The notion of a proper duration at a stop sign invites the question: Can you stop for too long, say, the duration of one lap around the rosary beads or malas reciting your mantra?

Can you be prosecuted for indulging in the full metaphysical fruits of your quotidian caesura?

And what about pedestrians? At the octagonal red and white sign, must pedestrians take a deep bow and exhale? It might be the one pause in your day that refreshes.

Buddhists talk of the value of stopping, the reward of pausing to gaze at the interconnectedness of all manner of things.

Is this what we are called upon to practice when we see STOP MEANS STOP?

The problem with STOP MEANS STOP is that it risks sending the opposite of its intended message. You would never post such a message unless the word "stop" were being routinely ignored. So, how does replicating the word, repeating it, strengthen its force? Does it not weaken the word "stop"? Does it mimic the situation of a parent remonstrating a child, perhaps loudly, as the child clearly knows the word carries no force if not enforced?

This invites comparisons with other reduplicative expressions, some of a more serious nature. “No means no” surely delivers an unequivocal expression regarding the lack of sexual consent. What about broader, societal applications of this syntactic formula? We can explore endless variations.

Peace means peace. War means war. Love means love. Hate means hate.

Stop this already means stop this already!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

watch your head


You’ve heard it, often. “Watch your head.” Someone is caring, urging caution to protect you from injury or pain. Parents say it to children, spouses to each other, friends and coworkers, too. “Watch your head.” Long ago, as a cheeky wiseguy, I chirped, “You can’t watch your head. Not literally. Your eyes can only do that partially. You can watch your nose, part of it. Oh sure, you can watch a reflection of your head. But that’s different.”

Not that funny then and not that funny now.

Despite the challenges of literally watching your head — and only a fussbudget would notice this — we know what the person who says it means. We understand we are being told to proceed with attentiveness. We are are being warned to slow dowm. Does it work? Does proceeding in such a manner guarantee less chance of injury? I’m not sure. An athlete or warrior in the heat of battle might interpret it to be “Be alert.” But you wouldn’t necessarily slow down. On the other hand, I have personally found the dictum “the faster the slower,” from UCLA basketball great John Wooden, valuable when I am tempted to anger or quick to say the wrong thing.

From another perspective, “watch your head” proffers a different aspect of wisdom. If the phrase is telling us to practice introspection, some rewarding results might be forthcoming. If it means, “as a person thinks, so they will act,” then it’s a good reminder. Recovery programs talk about a “thinking disease,” meaning that addicts and others fall off the beam long before a substance is ingested or otherwise taken. It’s the addictive or alcoholic thinking that precedes the action, they are told. So, “watching one’s head” in that context would presumably signal awareness and vigilance.

In my youth, Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick sang “feed your head” repeatedly with fervor at the conclusion of the hit 1967 single “White Rabbit.” The lyrics were considered one of pop music’s early instances of a drug reference, albeit oblique. But the song is filled with characters from Lewis Carroll’s  “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” and on that level alone it is delightful. I have long admired the Airplane’s unbridled evangelism for expanding one’s mental and spiriual horizons. They put it out there, without apologies. And why not? I’m not belittling the serious risks of the misuse of pharmaceuticals, legal or otherwise, but I salute the song for being consistent and honest and unabashedly provocative.

I am mildly surprised that booksellers or educators haven’t seized on this notion of “feed your head.” Perhaps they have. Granted, feeding and watching your head are two different concepts. (Notice how I’ve drifted slightly. That’s how my mind operates.) But they go hand in hand. If you watch what you are feeding your head you can reap the most benefits. 

Somehow that doesn’t ring true. It signals a cautionary manner that might stifle curiosity. Can these two notions — watch your head and feed your head — coexist within one person? I suspect they can. I’d go so far as to say they must. They represent a dynamic that plays out in all of us: temperance vs. abandon, safety vs. risk, prudence vs. recklessness. So watch your head, but be sure to feed it, too.

Now excuse me as I take my chances out there, bruises and all.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Embarrassment Manifesto

I am embarrassed. I have become embarrassed. I am embarrassing. Switch pronouns. We are embarrassed. We have become embarrassed. We are embarrassing. We are being embarrassed. We are an embarrassment. "We" here stands for the Disunited States of America. The good ol' DSA. What is it to be embarrassed? Embarrass: "to perplex, throw into doubt." The estimable Online Etymology Dictionary tells us "embarrass" comes to us from the French, meaning "to block," which came to us from the Italian "to bar," which came from Latin. Embarrass came to mean "to hamper, hinder," and then later "make (someone) feel awkward." Other meanings over the centuries have even included "mental state of unease." With this FACTUAL word history in mind, no matter where you perch on today's razored fence of political discourse, you cannot deny the reality of embarrassment. Whether you lament it or celebrate, it is here. The Age of Embarrassment. Whether you are on the barricades or hiding from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [Embarrassment] (ICE), welcome to Embarrassmentville. "Welcome" is hereby spelled e-m-b-a-r-r-a-s-s by edict of Embarrassing Executive Order No. 001. So, get used to it, boys and girls -- and anyone in-between or off the charts. Get used to a state of being perplexed, doubtful, blocked, barred, hampered, or hindered. Get used to feeling awkward and ill at ease. Get used to being embarrassed or making others feel embarrassed. Please show your Embarrassment Visa on the way out the door.