Thursday, June 25, 2015

For Johnny Hof

They broke the mold when the made you, John Hofstetter.  No, that's not really true.  When they made you Johnny Hof, they didn't break the mold.  Johnny Hof, you did all by your lonesome.  I can't say why, but I do think it pleased you, and that's ok as long as you were pleased.  I can say that molds don't last.  In fact they were made to be broken.  As long as I remember you, I'll never forget that.  

And, now that you are no longer here, I'll remember that I should never forget my favorite jokes, and always try to find a few to add to my swagman's bag.   I had forgotten how important it is to tell them often, and whenever it pleases me, just as you did, whether it pleased me, the listener or not.  I'll now remember that too.  Although your jokes pleased you much more than me sometimes, BaldJoker, I could always enjoy your pleasure in the telling of one, even if I wished I had never heard it.  It was enough for me that it pleased you.  In your memory I will rekindle some of my languishing anecdotes, discover some amusing stories, hunt down fresh material, and enjoy recalling it all for others, whether asked or not.

I do recall and will never forget, Johnny Hof, that you were my first (and so far, only) anti-war protest companion.  On January 18, 2003, you and I marched in Washington to protest our country's politicians' decision to declare war on Iraq, which was a symptom of a larger malady, "The War on 'Terror'" as our then Commander-In-Chief had defined the term.  We marched with tens of thousands, or several hundred thousand, depending up whether you followed CNN or the Washington Post.  The traditional official estimators of public demonstration size, the US Park Police, had ceased this function after being threatened with a lawsuit by the Million Man March a decade ago.  They did tell the press that our permit was only for 30,000.  I like to think that those extra marchers estimated by  the Washington Post were the sons and daughters of the gate crashers at Woodstock, and those Rainbow Gypsies have since returned to Yasgur's Farm to await another event worthy of historical spontaneous attendance by the counterculture.  

John and I marched together in the bright cold sun, or maybe it was cloudy - or maybe the shade I marched in was the effect a crowd can have on a woman of diminutive stature.  We followed the people in front of us, and those behind followed us, and I had no clear horizon from which to see who or how many of us there were in the city, or in San Francisco, Lincoln, Nebraska, Moscow, Paris, Istanbul, or Cairo.  It was COLD where we were marching, and we were our own river of discontent winding  through downtown DC towards a sea surging around the world in protest of the war, and in protest of what would later itself be called, the "Surge," and still later in polite company worldwide, a FOOBAR.  We weren't buyin' the duct tape, Mister Prez'dent.  We marched to the clatter and rattle and claptrap percussion connived by the energetic among us.  I watched a few heady collegiates shout, "Occupy the Capitol," and stampede across the government's manicured lawn.  It was a small stampede and the Capitol remained in the hands of the mighty.  Mostly I watched the men and women watching us from the rooftops of public buildings, waving flags and holding banners, "Vets for Peace."  I still wonder how they got up there.  The parents of some of our fellow protestors might have spat on them thirty years ago.  

That is why I waited until Iraq to declare, "This is What Democracy Looks Like."  Spitting on draftees isn't my style.  By then, only John Hofstetter said yes, he would join me in my maiden war protest.  One does not lose one's virginity alone.  I yelled, the crowd yelled - to the banner waving vets, to the onlookers, and to ourselves.  The vets waved their support.  John ate a pear.  He did not yell.  His blood sugar needed to be dealt with.  Indeed, "This is What Democracy Looks Like," might be the democracy we could live in if enough of us yelled enough for the rest who had to eat their fruit.  To my reckoning, that democracy hasn't come, but the invasion did.  The "war" continues.  The "Terror" has not been destroyed, although the antiquities of Iraq were.  And the price of pears has skyrocketed.

I've since come to learn that the highest court in the land has ruled that money is speech.  And if their ruling is just and true, we are indeed living in a democracy.  If money is speech, then more money (even if held by a minority as tiny as 1%) IS a majority.  Despite the warnings from historians,  philosophers, and less popular "others," that even a people-based democracy (much less a capital-based one) could, in effect be merely the tyranny of the majority, to the dear hearts and gentler people who know that their views are the unexpressed and unrealized best of mainstream society, majority rule is the true, the just, and the essence of the good that is democracy.  To fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten is a noble sacrifice?  I do not know.  I didn't know at that time that our soft-spoken Vice-President was indeed representing the will of the capital majority - in the form of the many dollars to be recouped by Halliburton.  This is what democracy acts like.  The powerful and at that time unnamed majority, those silent dollars, noted us pass noisily by, uncounted.  We were reflected only in the evening newscasts, which I was too tired to watch.  The next day, as had been the case during the previous one, the paper-faced majority passed themselves under the table into to other hands.  

I do know that when the march was over, John, you and I stopped at the Museum of the American Indian Native Food Cafe because it was warm and because you again needed to eat.  And this is what democracy feels like:  I paid for your lunch because the cost of the subway ticket and gasoline you purchased to be able to exercise your democratic right of free speech had cost you all that you had in your wallet, and you were without means to buy the food to replenish your blood sugar.  I do not know what you ate for dinner.  I hoped your auto got you back to Frederick.  This is what democracy is like.

John, I remember you bringing Pete Thomas to the Halloween 2010 reunion of the Arundel Senior High School Class of 1970.  You pushed his wheelchair and made sure he got to speak with everyone he knew.  This is what kindness is like.  When Richard Wallace couldn't find Pete's photo in any yearbook for his class reunion nametag, I copied a photo of Johnny Depp as pirate Jack Sparrow, and Richard printed that.  You made sure, John, that Pete kept his name tag because it pleased him, and that I had an address to write to him.  I wrote.  I remember sending Pete some stamps and paper.  I never heard from him.  John, your kindness imbued Pete with the dignity every human being should have, no matter the hard times, no matter the past.  These were your gifts, John -  occasional sensibility, abundant sensitivity, and a warped sense of humor.  I know you preferred the BaldJoker label, despite the fact that it fit you like a suit two sizes too small.  That there was much, much more to you is all I know.

Perhaps I should engage in another protest in your honor, Johnny Hof, or tie up traffic around the Washington beltway by driving too slowly to emphasize the need to legalize marijuana in the remaining unNORMALized states (before some of them secede from the Union again), or maybe I should try more often to just be a nuisance - just for the hell of it.  As long as I enjoy the act of harmlessly but intentionally irritating someone, especially someone in a position of power or authority, I think you'd approve.  I know I do.  Maybe, Bald Joker, I should recount one of the last jokes you felt up to relating to me.  I'm pleased and embarrassed to say is one of my favorites.  I may have deleted or simply missed reading others.  I now realized I didn't read all your messages.  2013 was a tough one for me, although not as tough as it was for you.  And so:

Linda May fainted and Billy Joe called 911. The 911 operator said that she would send someone out right away. "Where do you live?" asked the operator. And Billy Joe replied, "At the end of Eucalyptus Street." The 911 operator asked, "Can you spell that for me?" There was a long pause and finally Billy Joe said, "How 'bout if I drag her over to Oak Street, and you pick her up there?"
I've bookmarked and just now added a few "keepers" to my swagman's bag. 

I remember you watched, "Manufacturing Consent:  Noam Chomsky and the Media," with me many moons ago before it passed from theory into accepted reality.  I'm not sure that even HookedOnLinux could escape NSA surveillance.  The Internet petitions you and I signed demanding the break-up of Citizens United were certainly swept up along with all our chit-chat, link-sharing of Buffalo Springfield and other musicians, and, or course, your jokes.  The declared illegality of mass surveillance programs will not stop this one, nor them in the future.   If you had not been suffering from congestive heart failure, I'm sure you would have pulled a practical joke on the NSA, and if they ever bothered to analyze the "intelligence" they've been collecting, I might never have heard from you again.  Ill-health got to you before any direct government intervention, although there is some merit to the argument that the government's lack of intervention on behalf of the poor is one factor in your lifelong health problems.    I will catch, "Bought" somewhere, sometime.  I will miss hearing from you.  I'm glad you liked the Native American Homeland Security bumper sticker, my friend.

Johnny Hof, if you're reading this or watching me now, enjoy a snicker thinking about at how you amused, befriended, and irritated so many people that I am indeed a drop in the proverbial bucket.  Rest in laughter, and the satisfaction, John, that you did indeed smash the livin' hell out of that friggin' mold.