Posts by jameslloyddavis

James Lloyd Davis, a Vietnam veteran and former electrician, shipfitter, pipefitter, boilermaker, ironworker and engineer, currently lives in Ohio. He has returned to writing after a long absence, is working on two novels, and experiments with short fiction in various forms.

New short story from James Lloyd Davis

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My new short story, “Way Cross, Georgia, 1937” is now available in Thrice Fiction Magazine Issue Number 26.
It’s a different kind of story, hard to describe or categorize.  The style? “Faulkner, Ray Bradbury, and Steinbeck walk into this bar… get drunk… write a screenplay.”
Definitely mumblecore.
Two con men come to an unhappy end in Georgia.
Thanks to RW Spryszak and his friends at Thrice Fiction.

Letter to Virginia – 8/31/2019

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Dear Virginia,

Been a nostalgic week for some reason.  Who knows where these recollections come from, how they are triggered, but there it is… the Sixties.

Although I faked it whenever it suited my purpose, I never was a flower child… you know?  1968… I’d already been to Vietnam and back, tried acting like I’d never been there, since nobody really cared… just wanted to blend in and start all over from scratch.  Did I ever tell you what I wanted to do when I got back from the war?  Don’t laugh, but I was hot to be and really tried to become a photo-journalist… tried going back over there to Vietnam because life back home… life Stateside… was like a vacuum, a round hole and I was utterly square-shaped with very hard edges that simply seemed never to quite fit into place, though God knows I tried.

No… I guess I never told you about that, since I never had the chance.  I left Norfolk shortly after I heard you got married.  Nothing to keep me there, so I left.  Moved across the river to Newport News.  I know you knew I’d been back, but… who knows?

Me?  James the Recently Returned?  He wanted something exciting, something dangerous, something different in his life… but all he got was the sporting goods department at Sears & Roebuck and they fired him… long story.  Not worth telling.

I bought cameras, took pictures… got pretty good at it.  Sent letters to newspapers all over the country, told them I’d be willing to work for them as a photojournalist overseas… in Vietnam or Israel, wherever there was a war because… I don’t know… adrenaline?  Told them I’d work cheap, but nobody offered me a job and after Sears fired me, I pawned all my cameras and guns… and my television set, my stereo.  Took a four-month sabbatical and tried to write a novel.

When the money ran out, I got hungry… so I went to work for the shipyard.

Was living in a tenement then, three-story brick buildings… right across the street from the yard.  While I was living there, I went through about three lifetimes in a year… a crazy year… long story, but it was during one of those lifetimes that I tried becoming a flower child, hanging with a group of people who lived in my building, in a huge basement apartment where other people, kids mostly, down from Richmond and DC would party every weekend.  The group was led by a guy from California, a guy whose name I can’t remember… some rich guy who’d been to Vietnam and was knocking around the country with another guy… from Minnesota, I think.

They were trying to start an urban commune… called themselves “the Real People.”

Long story.  But I didn’t fit in there either.

Two years in Newport News… then Ohio and three or four more lifetimes in a couple of crazy years before I finally caught my breath… Readers Digest condensed versions of a life each… little novellas just waiting for an ending that never quite arrives.  Lifetimes that felt a little like Purgatory, or like waiting for a bus in a Greyhound station that never, ever comes.  Purgatory… Greyhound waiting rooms… they are interchangeable, I think.  You meet interesting people, but you’re forever in transit, like those little eddies of current in a river, that circle and circle and circle for hours before they ever slip back into the mainstream again and get on their way downriver.

Don’t know where you went after you and what’s-his-name got married.  I know you guys didn’t stay together.  I don’t know why.  God knows… he was a pretty good guy.  I knew him pretty well, but your life was a total mystery to me, a book I’ve always looked for, but could never find.

The Sixties.  I’d always imagined you’d get caught up in the whole flower-child thing… but in a good way.  Not the whole drugs and sex and the Green Tambourine thing, the me-me-me culture, but something like that quintessential catcher-in-the-rye rejection of self-aggrandizement, that higher place… a role you seemed born to assume and I know you were looking, always looking… so many did.  Somebody had to find it.  Not many would, but I always thought that if anyone could, you’d be the one.  I hope you did.

Best always… your old friend,

James

 

Creative Commons License Letters to Virginia by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Letter to Virginia – 8/17/2019

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Dear Virginia,

Haven’t written in a while, but I thought about you today.
I’m reading again that novel we both read in high school, though I can’t remember whether I bought it first and you wanted it because I had it… or whether I saw you reading it and went out that weekend and bought it myself, so I could flash it at study hall and you’d notice… and we could talk about it together in a corner because… I looked for excuses back then, reasons for us to talk about things for which you had such a passionate interest… just for the pleasure of hearing the fire in your voice.
It was an old book then, old and somewhat obscure. I remember the jacket said it was a very big deal in Russia, in Europe… everywhere. Millions and millions and millions of copies sold.
The Gadfly… remember? A novel first published in the late 1890s by Ethel Voynich, not well known any more, but for some reason it experienced a brief resurgence in the early 1960s, so that anyone with half a brain for books… anyone with a capacity for intense intellectual notions had to read it… tried to read it, tried to understand why people said it was important, meaningful, even timely, though it wasn’t really timely… not yet, though it would be soon enough… in the latter years of that decade, in fact.
It was about revolution, a thing we did not yet ever think about, except for the thrill of the concepts surrounding rebellion… like the Victor Hugo book… the Paris Commune, the barricades, the red flags, the romance and the fire of a time we could only imagine… as it was historic, a prop, alien then, at least to us.
Eight years later, you must have felt it as I did, the possibility, the passion in the air, the word itself tossed around like so much excess… excess of guile… an excess of promise unfulfilled… revolution this and revolution that, until the word itself lost all meaning, ended up cynical and droll.
The revolution that was televised, commercialized, marketized, costumed and produced, packaged and seduced, but… before we knew it? They won. The revolution? Our revolution? It went right into reruns.
So… The Gadfly… I’m reading it now… again… because I need to remember what it was like to be hopeful and passionate… and I’ll admit it… I remember so little about it now, and I wonder if I ever really finished reading it. My head was already full of notions then. I’d read so much… more than I had the capacity to grasp, but tried anyway… Dostoevski, Tolstoi, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Voltaire, and I’d just started Don Quixote when I saw you carrying The Gadfly and knew I had to be reading it as well.
So there… I remember now… you had it first, didn’t you?
You had it, so I had to have it as well
God, but we were young.
Impressionable.
Naive.
We went off in totally different directions, didn’t we?
Really lost track.
I hope you’re well.
So damn many times over the past decades… years in which I’ve not seen or heard from you… or even known where you’ve gone, I think about you often, unable to imagine how life might have received you… rewarded you for the visions you had so long ago. I’ve wondered how you fared, if you were happy, if you found the things you wanted, the things you wished for…
Most of all, I miss the things we shared.
So maybe that’s why I’m reading that book again
And thinking about you.

Your old friend,
James the Least

Creative Commons License Letters to Virginia by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Night Letters to America – 8/11/2019

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The purpose and the spark of a humane and civilizing influence is some ineffable quality for which we strive… and its existence serves as foundation for all of our religions, our liberating philosophies, our governing documents, our laws, our visions and our dreams.  We labor above all to attain first, but thereafter to retain that quality in our culture, in our lives, if not for ourselves, then for our children.  Call it innocence… call it grace… call it joy… it springs from a desire for peace and safety.  It thrives in love and it is the goal of every good gesture, every act of courage and every evolving, intelligent impulse within our social constructs, a product we will call… for the sake of definition, an observable innocence of mind.

Innocence is a delicate and a finite resource, however, difficult and… at times… impossible to regenerate once it has been destroyed.  It can be mimicked, but only at the cost of what is true, since every time we produce some false sense of security in safety, it requires the dismantling of innocence in proportions dictated by some unwritten metaphysical law.

The “right to bear arms” in the twenty-first century is the perfect example.

One of many justifications used to oppose the regulation of firearms in America is the manufactured illusion that an armed citizenry creates a safe and secure society, requires the same sort of delusion, though on a global scale, that drove the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union in the decades following World War II, each nation arming itself to the degree that each could destroy its rival and the entire population of the world many times over and in so brief a period of time, the very notion of this competition was called a “balance of power” through the capability of “mutual destruction.”  The cost of this tenuous purchase of national security was a generational nihilism that essentially destroyed the innocence of its participant nations and robbed all neutral parties of their own safety and security and the incessant ignition of small proxy wars in the Third World.

Let’s put that horrendous example into the perspectives that have evolved through the auspices of the National Rifle Association and their benefactor, the gun manufacturers of America.  Based upon a premise within the vague wording of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and fueled by money supplied to them by gun manufacturers, the NRA has become one of the most powerful propaganda agencies, marketing influences, and political lobbies in the entire free world, convincing a huge swath of the American population that they need to live like their pioneer forebearers, who, at least in popular fiction, were surrounded by hostile populations of men and beasts… a dark force in a lawless frontier that perpetually threatened not only their fortune, but their lives.

In the name of this… heritage… they have convinced Americans and bribed their politicians to vindicate the notion that our freedom, our “heritage” and our personal safety demands that every American has the right to bear arms without regulation, license, or constraint.  The result?  One hundred Americans die on any given day by way of gun violence.  Think about that… one hundred people… human beings, men, women, children.

What does that look like?  One hundred people.

X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X

X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X

X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X

Every one of the Xs above represents a human being murdered by a gun… one hundred Xs, a fair representation of the sum of any one day’s average slaughter by guns in America.  However, it is not a fair representation of the victims themselves, nor the broad expanse of grief, hardship and loss that each death implies.  These Xs stand for people… individuals with lives that affect others.  They represent mothers fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters all… baby girls, baby boys, sweethearts, friends, lovers, the innocent and the not so innocent, but each one of the was a living human being one moment and a nameless cipher in the news a day later.

For me?

X = Charlie

He died, according to a police report, on 06/25/1991.  His death caused by ”… a single gunshot wound to his head while sleeping.”  Charlie was the youngest of four siblings.  He was my brother.  He was 35 years old and apparently on the upswing after hard times.  Hopeful.  His parents, my mother and father, were forced to do that which any parent shudders to imagine… to bury one of their children.  He was loved by many people, and by everyone in his family, each one devastated and unalterably affected by his sudden and violent death.  But it’s one thing to bury your brother after the devastating effects of some disease… quite another in the wake of a senseless murder by person or persons unknown, a random crime with no apparent motive, no witnesses, no suspects.

One hundred violent deaths every day of every week of every month of every year in America causes a rippling effect touches the lives of others, such that each single death must surely effect at least a hundred others, friends, families… a hundred times one hundred lives affected in the wake of a death by gunshot.

What does that look like?

I won’t waste the space just to give you a visual representation of 10,000 Xs, but I think you can imagine page after page after page… and I’m willing to wager that most people in America have lost someone to gun violence in their lifetime, but how many more who are wounded, physically and mentally traumatized.  The numbers reach incomprehensible proportions.

Today?  Mass shootings are becoming more frequent and occur in places where none would expect… classrooms, movie theaters, concerts, festivals, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples… anywhere people collect and expect to be safe from harm.

America is a war zone.

How did that happen?

It would take volumes to describe the perfect storm that has culminated in this age of violence and insecurity, where no parent can be certain that their child will not be killed on any given day in a classroom… where no one can be certain that their prayers in any church, any synagogue, any mosque, any temple, any sacred place of worship will not be suddenly and violently interrupted by the sound of gunfire.

When do we say, “Enough.”

Not this time… apparently.  Here it is, but mere days following the murder of 22 people and the injury of 24 more in a Wal-Mart in El Paso by a lone gunman armed with a military assault rifle and, the news cycle changes, the outrage takes a back seat to the suicide of a storied, sex trafficking billionaire, whose life has launched a hundred rumors… and whose death has launched a hundred more.

And so it goes.

No one will long remember El Paso.  Who’s fault is that… if not yours and mine?

 

Creative Commons License Night Letters to America by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

I hope you will become a regular reader and I heartily invite you to comment below.  I love your feedback, even when it’s criticism.  It makes all the trouble worthwhile and it keeps me honest.

 

What can I do? They own the media…

 

It is bad enough when bigotry and ignorance prevails in the nation of your birth… worse Untitledyet when the institutions that serve it are corrupted… when they become the authors of deception.  Last night on Fox, Tucker Carlson stated that white supremacy is a hoax perpetuated by Democrats.  He said, “They’re making this up.  It’s a talking point, which they are using to help them in this election cycle.”

Fox News dominates cable and the networks. Consistently, more Americans watch Fox News than any one of the other cable or broadcast networks. Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson have a bully pulpit for their corrosive, dangerous lies. Theirs is a huge audience and this is the kind of propaganda they feed them on a nightly basis. Is it any wonder that so many Americans have no concept of what is happening around them? This is the very reason that an amoral, bigoted, utterly incompetent, and dangerous criminal sits in the White House today.

Someone asked me today… “What do you do to stop it?”
This is what I do:  wherever I can, whenever I can find the time… I seek out the truth, write what I find, and I put it out there on the internet, the only place where ordinary Americans can possibly be heard beyond the confines of their social influence.
And so can you.

The power of disinformation, the strength of a lie resides in constant repetition within an unchallenged venue. The greatest weapon against it is truth. Just as it is in violent warfare, the battle for dominance between truth and a lie depends upon the power and the strategic application of the armament involved. If the lie enjoys a position of power, then truth is an insurgent… and it must be everywhere at once and unrelenting.

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“If the truth shall kill them, let them die.”   Immanuel Kant

It’s not really death for such a one as this… call it transcendence

d3d5f99cb910d8a66bbac7348a4da827635af288Every writer knows the truth about words… that of themselves and in their studied form… they are limiting, vague… that they can be chains that hold you back. A writer like Toni Morrison is able break the binds and strictures of language in such a way that the words become a liberating force within the reader… permitting a depth in simplicity that could never be otherwise achieved except within her flawless style. Such a writer is rendered thus immortal.

“No one ever talks about the moment you found that you were white. Or the moment you found out you were black. That’s a profound revelation. The minute you find that out, something happens. You have to renegotiate everything.”
Toni Morrison

Night Letters to America – 8/1/2019

From the Merriam Webster Dictionary online…
night letter (n): a telegram sent at night at a reduced rate for delivery the following morning.

Presidential Grandiloquence – Part One

When I think of the American presidency, I think of slogans and of epochs.  The duration of each administration’s sway upon the nation could be termed as an epoch, historically… a period of time that is often defined by the character and stated ideals of each individual President inevitably framed by slogans.  More often, however, the slogans are lost and their idealistic definitions are tempered in remembrance by the realities surrounding each administration, by facts rather than by the carefully chosen words they use to define themselves.

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Bob Daugherty, AP Archives

For instance, the administration of Lyndon Baines Johnson attempted to characterize itself with florid descriptions of his signature achievements in civil rights and social justice legislation, an idealistic political agenda branded with vaunting, and not necessarily inaccurate labels.  We cannot fault such ambitious programs as the War on Poverty and The Great Society, but all pretense comes to a crashing end and his happy place in history took a back seat to the stain of his one and horrific misadventure, the war in Vietnam, a can that had been kicked down the road by two previous administrations, but an issue he chose to tackle in the worst manner possible, with a war that was never actually declared, but was viciously and violently waged for a decade, killing over 55,000 Americans and untold hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese.

unnamedHis successor?  Recent revelations disclose the fact that Richard Nixon sabotaged Johnson’s peace initiatives by brokering a secret deal with North Vietnam before he was President as he rode to victory on the phrase, “Peace with honor” which was, in retrospect, a monument to cynical mendacity.  But then, Nixon was no stranger to the perversion of truth.  In fact, he earned a second term on a symphony of “law and order” with horns and percussion, played with verve and passion to his beloved audience, “the silent majority” of Americans who were dismayed by political and social upheaval over the war that Nixon had prolonged with his deception.  But no one quite imagined how cynical it might be for Nixon to run on a platform that invoked law and order until they learned that the thrust of his entire administration was marked with such incredible violations of law and disruption of order that his corruption and crimes eventually forced him to resign in disgrace.  Only a pardon by the next and quickly forgotten President Ford kept him from serving a justified term in a Federal prison.

jimmy-carterJimmy Carter’s presidency is difficult to characterize, since an honest man is not generally as glib in the realm of self-aggrandizement as the average politician, so he was more often defined by his critics and particularly by his successor in rather vilifying and dismissive words.  Nonetheless, Carter was possibly the most forward thinking President in terms of a national energy policy, a political agenda that recognized the growing dangers of indiscriminate and  poorly regulated use of fossil fuels and the very real cost of dependence on foreign oil.  But like Obama in his second term, however, Carter suffered from an animated opposition by a Republican-controlled Congress during his first term, a fact that essentially crippled many of his initiatives.  The death blow to his administration was certainly not of his making… a hostage crisis in Iran following a popular Islamist revolt.  The uprising was the result of an American led coup and regime change in the mid-1950s and the hatred of the revolution for the USA was fueled by subsequent, generous American support of an oppressive regime.  The hostage crisis was such an embarrassment to the nation that someone had to take the blame.  Carter became the perfect scapegoat.  His campaign for a second term quite collapsed when our military attempted to rescue the hostages and failed, the result of a peculiar regional weather event and an unfortunate accident in the wake of it.  Carter’s Republican opponent in the election, Ronald Reagan, took advantage of both the incident and the ongoing, ever-present embarrassment, the loss of national pride… and won handily.

ReaganBerlinWall130612Ronald Reagan?  Where can I start?  The apostle of “trickle down economics” who invoked an image of an old, disproved, and rationally absurd economic theory that favors corporations and the wealthy as “engines of the economy” declaring corporate success as “a rising tide that lifts all boats…” Riding this absurd metaphor like a boogey board, Reagan proceeded to dismantle America’s post-WWII prosperity by shifting the burden of all taxation to middle and lower class Americans… by destroying the influence of labor unions… by giving tax breaks to the wealthy… by reducing “unnecessary” programs of social welfare… and by de-regulating commerce… thus creating a new American aristocracy and initiating economic trends that have given us the greatest disparity in wealth and income since the Gilded Age.  Yet, even today, both Democrats and Republicans invoke his style with reverence as some sort of political benchmark for the ages.  Unfortunately, that benchmark proved to be built upon such unstable foundations that it became a formula for failure.  It has been the cause of unprecedented economic disparity and its philosophy can do naught but foment social inequity, based as it is on a lie… but let’s move on.

George H. BushThe first President Bush, the product of a more florid era of political rhetoric, had a particular gift for the iconic phrase… with such poetic entries as “a thousand points of light” which program was, essentially, another way to give awards to rich people who have so much money they can spend a little bit of it on poor people.  The theory is that philanthropy, the largesse of wealthy people can ultimately supplant the need for social welfare.  But the phrase that actually got him elected “Read my lips…” when he declared “…no new taxes…” is the phrase that eventually brought him down in his attempt for a second term because reality forced his administration to reconsider and he… you guessed it… raised the tax rate.

clinton-saxBill Clinton came in behind Bush on the merits of such sentiments as “It’s the economy, stupid.”  Clinton “…didn’t inhale.” And, he “…never had sex with that woman.”  In fact he was, as my sainted grandmother would put it, “…so full of it…” one has to wonder how he ever got away with as much as he did.  I don’t know what to say about Clinton, since this Democratic president, though adorned with the mantle of a liberal freely given him by his peers in spite of his apparent and obvious predilections to conservatism, managed to move the Party of FDR and the New Deal into territory once held by Republican elites.  How did he do it?  Charm and charisma?  The ability to smile and to tell us an absolute lie while doing the exact opposite of what he said?  Perhaps, but his legacy is written in the growth of policies that imprisoned more non-violent offenders and for such interminable periods of time that their lives were essentially destroyed.  Prison populations soared.  The war on poverty was lost in the Clinton administration through “workfare” programs and tough, even brutal attitudes toward crime and punishment.  And though his administration did more to oppress black people in America than was ever publicly acknowledged, his ability to play the saxophone and the audacity to wear sunglasses while doing so on television, earned him the erstwhile label, “America’s first black president.”  Charming.

bush_cheney-620x412The second Bush, pictured here in proximity to the toxic Mr. Cheney, was chosen by the American Supreme Court rather than by the electorate… the result of difficult and obscene mismanagement of the election in the crucial State of Florida where Bush brother Jed was Governor.  Little Georgie Bush had run on the notion of his Christianity against Gore, the Vice-President under Clinton.  The sitting President’s support of Gore was more or less withheld, since Clinton’s sexual indiscretions had finally caught up with him and made him politically toxic.  Bush was hardly charismatic, even a bit “unclever” when speaking in public and, for the life of me, I cannot remember much about his rhetoric on the run up to the election… though there was some talk about “compassionate conservatism” supposedly based upon the fact that Bush was a “born again” Christian.  However… in America and, to my recollection and personal experience, compassionate Christian evangelicals tend to be a rather judgmental group, given more to compassion within their own ranks than toward the public at large… but that’s not relevant here, is it?  Either way, following the 911 attacks, George H. W. Bush’s little boy, George was given unprecedented license by a too-generous and overly patriotic Congress and he used it to take America to war in Afghanistan to go after the Taliban, which harbored Al Qaeda, which was the group that planned the attack.  Then, for reasons known only to God, the Holy Spirit and Dick Cheney, Bush decided we had to go to war with Iraq, which had no connection whatsoever to Al Qaeda or the attacks on 911.  Following a subsequently relentless attack on Iraq, punctuated and propagandized with televised displays of “shock and awe” scorched earth military attacks… when Bush had utterly broken the governments and infrastructure of both Iraq and Afghanistan, such as it existed, he led America into a huge debt spiral from the cost of both wars and subsequent unaudited defense contracts which attempted to put the countries we had destroyed back together again.  When he saw what he had done… and in spite of the huge national debt… Bush decided to give enormous tax breaks to America’s rich people because… well who the hell knows why… but his Presidency very nearly caused a second Great Depression… which it was, although nobody was willing to admit it, so we’ll pretend it was not a Great Depression, but a really bad recession… even though most Americans who weren’t rich have yet to recover what they lost, but the rich people got richer, and they own all the media, so…   Anyway, we can’t really blame Little Boy Bush for the problem since, from what I hear, Dick Cheney was in charge, but hey…

Then came Obama…  But let’s save that for next week when we will continue to deconstruct everyone’s favorite president.

Creative Commons License Night Letters to America by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

I hope you will become a regular reader and I heartily invite you to comment below.  I love your feedback, even when it’s criticism.  It makes all the trouble worthwhile and it keeps me honest.