Courage to shine

In this age of fear,
Rise to the occasion.
Smile at strangers.
Put terror in the hearts of fascists who hate to see you loose, free, trusting, fearless.

Incite those who hate good will.
Say If you don’t smile at me, don’t lust for strangers’ eyes – you ain’t free. Do not destroy my shine.

You don’t shine Sacramento.
The great flag above our glorious capitol flies in vain.
You fear yourself, your neighbor, everyone, everything.

All the monuments in this park Sacramento. You disgrace them.
Those guys didn’t die so you could cower.

Get pissed off.
Say you are ill from having everything beautiful in you destroyed.
Say you realize the damage you do to the hearts of your fellow citizens when you fear them,
When you let them know their freedom and good will is not welcome.

Think about it Sactoh!
We destroy each others’s hearts.
It’s all on film –
Secure little you walking through huge solid doors at the capitol.
Little men, little women failing to attain greatness,
Eagerly saying oh yes we can’t be too scrutinized,
Afraid to say this is neither a great nation, a great state, a great city, or a great people.

What do you dream about?
I’ve never heard anyone say freedom is more important than money.
I’ve never seen anyone on the west steps in the sun reading Whitman, vowing to be godlike.
I’ve never heard anyone updating Thomas Paine saying
It’s unnatural to have security cameras everywhere. They must come down.
Those who put them up must be deposed. Are you with me!

You are filed with shame but for the wrong reasons.
You are meant to be beautiful America!
Sacramento! With your weather, your rivers, this grand capitol, these inspiring grounds
You should lead this nation on its’ path to being beautiful and free,
Of having the greatest men and greatest women that ever walked the earth.

We are an extraordinarily ugly people.
I dare you to be free.
Walk around the park.

Salivate over oranges and tangerines golden and sweet, with no edges.
Isn’t that a combination to strive for?

Sit on a bench under these magnolias, lusting over their sensuous roots,
Going mad with passion,
Promising to restore everything that’s been lost when you get home.

You need help. Go to Father Serra. Kneel. Confess your cowardice, your selfishness,
Your refusal to be true to America. Ask father to bless you,
So you dare to risk yourself to be free like he risked himself for others’ salvation.

Stop at the bathroom. Smell the disgusting homeless. Look at how ugly they are.
They personify the hearts of the people who run this country,
The people who love to see you weak and fearful. When you piss,
Tell yourself you’re releasing all the fear that makes you a little man.

After peeing, stop at the olive tree. It used to be the greatest tree in the park;
Just like we used to be the greatest nation and the greatest state.

See the bamboo. Watch its’ soothing light. Imagine how beautiful the jungle is.
How magnificent a jungle night must sound with crickets and all its’ tropical birds.

When you get to the Vietnam Memorial, think of young men screaming in quick sand,
reaching for their buddies hand; all so you could satisfy every selfish desire,
And give unquestioning assent to more cops and more jails.
Are you embarrassed? Ashamed? Have you ever told a young person patriotism is horseshit,
That if he can go to another country to murder,
He can’t complain when someone rapes his mother or girlfriend?

Peace. This is your greatest challenge! There are soothing black benches in this oasis from glory.
Feel their curve as fountain’s water soothes you and the overwhelming capitol imposes itself on you.
Make peace with yourself. Invite your former friends, telling them you apologize;
Begging them to apologize. Invite your friends. Tell them to ponder the noble white capitol,
The beauty and peace of these roses. Look at them.
Tell them you plan to make yourself free and beautiful,
To inspire other people to pull themselves and the nation out of darkness.
Tell them you love America, but this is no country for lovers and it kills you.
Smell roses with them. Ask them if they cry more as they get older.

As you wander to your next station, stop and look at the hydrangeas on 14th.
A great place to read in seclusion,
Arming yourself with courage to face the onslaught of conformity that makes America shameful.

Now you’re at the Korean War Memorial; the most profound of our monuments;
The cracked obelisk symbolizing the crack that began America’s decline.
But instead of photographs of the soldiers, imagine photographs of America’s prisons and prisoners,
Our lobbies filled with security guards, malls filled with bored kids,
Scared women hurrying white-faced to their car,
You looking at the ground because you fear to look at people because they worry you’re a
criminal, a rapist, and a pervert.
America hates crime but loves to live in fear.
You haven’t done a thing but you feel like shit don’t you?
All the space that this monument takes up used to be beautiful.

While you’re here and since it’s winter, look toward L Street.
You’ve got a clear view of the firefighter’s monument,
Our heroes who would hose you down the street if you questioned the Patriot Act.

Good thing there’s a God. Across the street is the Presbyterian church. Sit on the lawn.
Look at the palm trees. Ask yourself what God thinks of you.
All God wants is for you to feel free or godly or to suffer trying to be one or the other.
You suffer but you aren’t noble.

Look at those pigeons on the roof of the church. You feel peace when they whoosh away.
Wouldn’t you love to instill the same feeling in others as you move along the street
reflecting God’s beauty?

Be proud and humble. Stroll to the shiny white capitol.
Let yourself be stunned by its’ unembarrassed glorification of perfection.

Have the courage Socrates and Jesus did to believe in perfection; to be godly at work,
At home, and with strangers.

Kneel again. Ask God to help you be as great as your talent allows; so when you die,
You rise to heaven on grand clouds above the capitol, escorted by pigeons.

For now, walk to the west steps, your knees muddy. Take off your shoes,
Walk on the concrete. When your colleagues pass,
Force them to look at you after they turned away.
Tell them you never knew the burden of freedom that it means to be an American until today.
When they scoff, allow yourself to cry.
Think of how many times Socrates and Jesus cried over the corruption of their nation’s principles.

You’re almost finished. Go to 10th Street. Turn around. Look at the capitol in silence.
Now go to 9th Street and look at it. In front of you is a huge fountain.
On each side is a proud building.
One building has an inscription – Into the highlands of the mind let me go.
The other inscription reads – Send me men to match my mountains.

Put your shoes on.

It’s time to shine.

Even if it kills you.

Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, April 20

Dear Jim,

I’m sitting outside at the coffee shop I always wrote to you from last year. Now with nice days like today, I will be coming here more.

I wonder if you would have gone to coffee shops to study theology and read poetry? I wonder if we would have met at any to philosophize?

If we did, I don’t know what you would order. You would probably get bottled water or juice. You would sit on the sunny side of the table with your visor and lotion on your nose. I would sit on the shady side wearing my ski cap and having a hot chocolate.

Neither of us wore sunglasses when we were young, but you would probably be wearing them now like I do. When I picture you in sunglasses, it doesn’t seem right. They would cover your longing eyes.

We both criticized people in sunglasses because we thought they were trying to be cool. Now I look like the people I never liked.

Coffee shops are one of the changes of the last forty years that I approve of. I definitely take advantage of them.

Usually when I come here I read the paper, then comment to you about an article. Today there was a real short one. 500 Central American immigrants are fleeing their country to come here. They are taking a freight train from Guadalajara to the United States. It didn’t say where they would end up.

It’s incredible how many people try to escape from Central America or leave Mexico to come here. They hop freight trains, but there are no open box cars or empty flat cars like when you used to ride or I used to ride.

People sit on running boards. They get knocked off by branches. They fall when they lose their balance or miss a rung.

When they leave the train they get beaten and robbed by gangs. Girls get raped. The police beat them too, then send them back to Central America.

I’m listening to an audio book in Spanish about a Honduran boy who left home to come to America to find his mother. He rode the freight train but got caught and sent back to Honduras six times. On the seventh try he made it to the U. S.

I’ve always loved the romance of America’s freight trains. I loved the freedom they gave me. But there is nothing romantic about ten or more people sitting on a running board in the sun, wind, and rain becoming ill and not having anywhere to pee or poop.

The people who survive and make it to the U. S. probably have great memories of beautiful scenery and peaceful starry nights like I do, but they were looking to become politically and economically free, while I wanted to see the country and avoid working at a soul killing job.

It’s terrifying that kids leave Central America to escape gangs, then get beaten in Mexico by Mexican gangs and Mexican police, then worry about getting arrested when they cross the border into America. I wonder what it feels like to be scared shitless all the time, then end up in this soulless country of ours? ”I went through all that for this?”

I miss you Jim. I wish you were here to take a trip with. We could go to Hungary, Prague, Poland, Russia looking for something real, looking for our roots.

I don’t know what we would find. Maybe somewhere in Russia there is still the great Russian soul.

That’s it for now.

Love,

Dave

Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Sunday, March 18

Dear Jim,

It’s funny weather – overcast. It reminds me of The City.

I’ve been thinking a lot about The City. I want to go there so bad, but it scares me.

Yesterday I looked at a San Francisco travel guide. I wrote down the names of the major streets between Van Ness, Market, and the bay. I want to walk all the ones running north to south.

The other way, Sacramento Street, would be daunting even if I were young. So I won’t try to walk many of the east to west streets. It would be stupid to try to do it now. If I did, I probably would not be able to walk again.

We Vaszko’s are walkers. Mom and I are the weakest. You and I did the most walking, then dad when he retired. Walking was part of your identity and mine. I had a great walk, but now I don’t wobble or waddle or whatever I did as much as I used to.

I think the reason I want to walk in The City is to feel like I accomplished something and went somewhere. When I walk in Sacramento I keep track of how far I walk, but that is only to make sure I don’t get too far out of shape. I usually don’t feel like I accomplished anything, and I don’t feel like I have gone anywhere, unless I walk to the river after a big storm in a rainy winter to watch the logs float down and to gawk at how wide the river has gotten.

Walking is as much a part of my identity as a car is to the identity of people who drive. If and when they lose their car or their license, they feel like they are not free, that they are not a man anymore.

When my legs go out, I will not be free. I will feel very small, like life isn’t worth living anymore, that God has destroyed the legs that carried my incredible passion for him.

God I love to walk. Being confined here in Sacramento, I need the vistas and rhythm of San Francisco. Up one hill, stop, a great view. Up another hill, a different view. Go down a hill, a different rhythm. I need to do something great like this while I still can, to be inspired not just by a great view in a great city, but because I struggled up a hill and feel proud.

I can see where San Francisco gets it’s air of superiority. If you can walk up all those cold windy hills, you are tough and you can toot your horn. But just because you walk up all the hills with great views doesn’t mean you can act as if you are the one who created them. But that’s human nature.

One of the attractions of walking in downtown San Francisco is that north of Market, the streets have names not numbers. You see the early heroes – Washington, Jackson, Clay and the later heroes – Polk, Taylor, Grant. Plus Geary and Green – the local heroes.

San Francisco had the imagination and patriotism to name it’s streets after great men. It had a sense of destiny about itself and the nation. Sacramento wasn’t a city of dreamers and did not feel a sense of destiny about itself. It was very patriotic, but naming all it’s downtown streets by letters and numbers didn’t give magic to the city.

The guy who was a dreamer was Sutter. He was in Sacto before it was a city but he failed in his dream. Even so, there’s a hospital, middle school, and gentlemens club named after him.

He was a great dreamer and a great failure. He helped others get started on their dream, so he was a great inspirer. He got old young, like a lot of us have.

A very human man. Sacramento should have named one of it’s major streets after him, honoring him as the original dreamer who got thousands of other dreamers to come to California. Only rather than get old young like Sutter did, thousands died young from chasing their foolish dream.

Sutter was a man of great selfishness, vision, foolishness, and generosity. So he is great for young people to study. How could he refuse to support his family but help hundreds of strangers? Do you lie to get what you want? Will you abuse your power? Will your dream make for a better world like Sutter thought his would?

Sutter took advantage of Indians. Will you invest in 3rd World sweatshops? How do you think Sutter felt having his land stolen and swindled from him? If you fail in your dream, what will you do? If you succeed, will you be happy?

Remember when we went to Sutter’s Fort in the eighties and we were full of wonder? I remember you saying it must have smelled terrible when all the dirty travelers slept in the same room passing gas.

I don’t think Sutter fills too many people with wonder. The focus is on destroying Sutter by calling him a racist. So if there is ever a time when people want to rename the hospital or middle school, I will fight it. He helped a lot of people and was such an extraordinary man, he should be remembered not forgotten.

I’m glad San Francisco named a street after him. It appreciated his daring-do. He was by nature more of a San Franciscan than a Sacramentan.

One of the reasons I haven’t gone to visit The City since dad has been in a rest home is because it would not be fair to him. I hardly ever visit him so I shouldn’t be going to San Francisco unless I visit him all the time. You would probably go every week, even without a car.

Another reason I haven’t gone to walk in The City is I’m not sure my legs will hold up. It would shame me knowing I can’t do it anymore – all this beauty but I can’t glory in it. I want to make peace with the city I never felt part of, even though it is beautiful. But if I can’t walk in it, I will have to make peace with myself in a different way.

You know how when we talked about religion you often talked about forgiveness? Well, I was thinking about forgiving San Francisco for it’s pretension, for it’s refusal to make an eccentric like me feel welcome in a city that used to be known for great characters, but since the fifties is known for people making a spectacle of themselves.

I will stand at Powell and California, then walk up to the hotels. I’ll look over the city Tony Bennett loved. I’ll try to forgive The City, then I’ll beg it, ”Let me feel like you are mine.”

I have always wondered why there was so much drinking in San Francisco. Why do you need to get loaded in a city that should make you naturally high?

I think most of our lives are bitter disappointments. You walk up a hill and see a great view of the bay, then shiver thinking how unbeautiful your life is, how the grand dreams never came true. You failed in all this beauty. You’re in the city of dreamers but you let yourself down, or life let you down. So you drink.

Well Jim. You are nine years older than I am. You might not be able to walk now. That’s a scary thought.

I hope my legs hold up until after dad dies.

Love,

Dave

Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Friday, September 29

Dear Jim,

It´s a breezy evening in Sacto. I just got through talking with one of the women who takes care of dad.

She said one of dad´s arms cannot extend all the way. He injured it a long time ago. He should have gone to the doctor but he didn´t want to.

Dad never told me that. Did he tell you?

The woman must have a great eye. She said dad´s shoulders are not straight. Who ever looks at somebody´s shoulders? When I went to the chiropractor my shoulders were not straight, so she corrected them.

Speaking of a great eye, I´m getting mine back. I was worried because I noticed I wasn´t observing like I used to. All the time on the computer and tablet were ruining what I was always great at and loved to do.

Now when I walk I look even more. I see more too. It´s exciting to notice things between houses that I never noticed before and to look in the distance and feel like I´m on an adventure.

When I come home I love to look through the bars of the gate as I am entering. I see the stairwells on the other side of the property, the roof of the car port and the trees and buildings across the alley and beyond.

There is so much to see. Or, it´s a great big beautiful world. It depends on how you want to look at it.

It may be a great big beautiful world, but I don´t feel beautiful and America sure as hell isn´t beautiful. But I have to observe. I love to do it more than anything else. It´s my connection to God, the great beyond, the great sky.

I was at a bus stop way down in the South Area on Wednesday morning. I waited 25 minutes for a bus as I looked west across a four lane street and a huge piece of property without buildings and with tall palm trees in the distance.

It was exciting and beautiful. It wasn´t windy like the South Area usually is. I was almost at peace. I wanted to travel. I wish the sky was bigger in my neighborhood.

I need to look around more at the same time our country becomes more of a police state. ¨What´s that bastard looking at?¨

It´s scary to know that I´m on somebody´s camera and that they´ve saved me because they feel threatened that I looked voraciously into the space between their house and their neighbor´s.

I say this all the time – We are terrified and incredibly unfree. It´s a heart breaker. I want to feel freer as I get older. But to feel freer I need people to stop being afraid.

Today I read a few pages of Paz. He was talking about the Presidency of Diaz. Paz said that Diaz put an end to anarchy, but also to liberty. Here in America I feel we have put an end to liberty but not to anarchy. People who are glad there are cameras everywhere still worry about getting assaulted. I´m on film, but criminals get to roam the streets.

I forgot to tell you about a fight I almost got in. I was sitting on a lawn outside a two story medical building. It was 5 pm on a Saturday.

I was tired from working. I wanted to sit down. Since I had been cooped up all day I wanted to get some sun. So I sat on the lawn facing west with my back to the building and sidewalk as I read the paper.

After a while, I heard two people behind me pass on their bicycles. I didn´t like their sound so I turned to look.

It was two pieces of white trash – a man and a woman. They were either junkies or homeless or both.

I went back to reading the paper. Then I heard them arguing. I looked again, then went back to reading the paper again.

Then there was another noise behind me so I turned quickly. The man was running after a guy his own age and taller who was hurriedly walking his own bike to avoid a confrontation between them.

I decided I better keep watching in case the taller guy got beat up. He kept placing his bike between him and the punk, screaming at the punk to leave him alone as the punk kept screaming at him.

I was getting scared. I wondered what would happen. Then the guy walking his bike turned into the driveway of the building as the punk followed him screaming.

I couldn´t see them anymore so I thought, ¨You better leave.¨ As I left I passed the
punk´s bicycle laying on the sidewalk. The woman was gone.

I thought, ¨He´s going to come after you.¨ Sure enough, as I was approaching the corner I heard screaming. More than once.

Then, when I knew for sure he was screaming at me I turned.

¨Did you take my phone!¨
¨No.¨
¨Did you take my phone!¨
¨No.¨

We were real close. I said as firmly and calmly as I could, ¨Leave me alone.¨

He left. I don´t know if I scared him when I didn´t back down, or if he was tired from arguing with the other guy.

I was scared all the way home. I looked for a cop but didn´t see one. Every block I looked behind me to see if he was following me.

I was nervous for hours.

Do you remember that time at the S. F. Art Museum when we were sitting in the lobby looking through the glass doors? You said to me, ¨You have a way of seeing things that puts them into focus the way that glass door puts into focus what´s going on on the street.¨

That was one of the best compliments I ever received.

Love,

Dave

Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

Tuesday, July 4

Happy 4th of July Jim,

They’re starting to set off fireworks. I’m curious to see how loud it gets. There weren’t as many booths selling firecrackers this year and I didn’t see a lot of customers at them.

Do you remember the 4th of July that you came to Sacto and we were at the bike trail on the river near Cal Expo? There was a crescent moon over Venus. You mentioned The Star of the Sea. Then you said that nobody notices something as beautiful as that, but they can’t wait for all the silly fireworks. We agreed how superficial Americans are.

I was thinking about the poster you had in your apartment to celebrate the bi-centennial. There were four guys on it. I know Thomas Paine was one of them. Washington too. I can’t remember the others.

The country is as superficial as when you died, but there is a lot less freedom. There are cameras everywhere. Everybody is afraid. The more cameras there are the more afraid people are.

This evening I walked around a couple of blocks of government buildings. There were nice flowers and bushes, and picnic tables for the staff to eat in the shade. A lot of the places were tucked away.

But I didn’t want to linger and smell the flowers, or make plans to bring a book for three hours on a Sunday to enjoy the solitude. I was afraid.

I didn’t want to be asked to leave. It feels weird knowing somebody is watching me. I said happy 4th of July to a couple of people, but I only said it to bring myself up and to make them feel good.

I wish America was great and there was something to celebrate. We Americans are terrified of each other. Land of the free and home of the brave my ass.

Several years ago I heard a decorated veteran give a patriotic speech. It was great. One of the things he said was that people do not take God seriously anymore.

I could not stay for the end so I asked somebody at the pamphlet table for his name and address. I wrote to him.

I agreed we are Godless. Then I commented on what he said about war and patriotism. I said there are security guards and cameras all over town. I said all a woman has to do is pick up the phone and say a man raped me. She is taken at her word and the man is destroyed. I said I worry about being arrested all the time and I feel more unfree every day.

He didn’t write back.

One time one of our nephews told me that he called ‘grandpa’ on Memorial Day to thank him for fighting in World War II. Dad appreciated it. I would like to thank dad and all the soldiers for keeping America free, but we live in a police state.

I wonder how many vets cry when they realize we’re being spied on all the time and you can’t even have a beer and a cigarette in the park.

The firecrackers have been steady, but it has not been dramatic.

Well Jim. Thanks for listening.

Love,

Dave

Copyright © 2021 by David Vaszko

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