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Monday, November 30, 2020

Bent Out Of Shape–A Sorry Tale Of Umbrage And Righteousness

Harry Keneally seemed always bent out of shape – or that’s how his older friends referred to him.  A man not yet old but still young enough to worry about being on the right side of history and doing good while he was at it, Harry was always deeply concerned about something, which would have been understandable given the state of the world if he hadn’t taken everything so personally.  The saying ‘bent out of shape’ was meant for him, for his umbrage – his sense of offended dignity – was physical.  When anyone spoke of Donald Trump, for example, Harry would double up like a side show freak, his face distorted, his shoulders hunching and arching, his fists clenched, and his legs rocking like a drunken sailor.  There as no way that he could take the President’s buffoonery without notice.  Nothing Trump ever said could possibly roll off Harry’s back to be tallied up as simply another freaky episode of a deus ex machina that came out of the factory with sticky tappets and bad alignment. Although where the President came from, what he did, and where he was going would be soon incidental, Harry could not ignore the horrible insult his Presidency had inflicted on patriotic Americans.  As the World Turns would soon be back to its regular programming; and adultery, sickness, greed, deception, and family jealousies would replace Trump’s summary firings, lies, fabrications, Borscht Belt insults, and political bulldozing as go-to-television.  Yet until that jackal was physically out of office, Harry Keneally would continue to be bent out of shape.

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The lesser of his friends like Bob Allen, a college classmate who could never abide Harry’s sanctimony, deliberately tried to rile him up.  Harry’s apoplexy was Barnum & Bailey’s hairy woman, half-breed dwarf, baby with two heads, and Apache buffalo boy all rolled into one once he got going; and it was not hard to move him off the mark.   At one mention of Trump the gyrations, deaf-boy grimaces, tics, and palsy began.  His speech was tangled and unintelligible as his throat constricted and his tongue jumped ahead.

Donald Trump wasn’t the only set-off point for Harry’s St Vitus’ dance.  It was anything that touched a raw nerve.  A dismissive comment about global warming was enough to trigger gyrations and neurasthenic shakes.  A reference to women’s corporate ascent set off a minor temblor and volcanic rumblings.  A suggestion that Black Lives Matter was an unruly, inchoate mob of hoodlums was enough to send him flying off the ledge of sanity.  He gargled and shook, twisted his head fore and aft, kicked the air with paralytic flails, and turned as red as a beet.

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His wife, ironically and fortunately the diametric opposite to Harry – a composed, temperate, and politically indifferent woman – was the only thing that stood between him and lunacy.  She deflected all loaded references to causes, issues, and liable; played Mantovani, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra, chose vacation rentals without Wi-Fi, invited only milquetoasts and good parents to dinner, and unsubscribed to the New York Times.  Of course Harry had a mind and will of his own and could have objected to her blandishments and happy diversions, but he knew that his nerves were jangling and his wiring loose.  In one of his apoplectic episodes he felt some ‘fizzle and pop’ inside his brain.  For a moment he could make no sense nor see any around him.  A warning, perhaps, that a brain was only protoplasm wired with electrical circuits which could short on their own.  Although he really hated her treacly choices of music and people, he put up with them as self-medication.  Since he could not control his synapses or his reactions, better safe than sorry.

Of course the world did not make life easy for Harry.  In fact, not a day passed by that some bit of aggravating news got through his wife’s firewall. Fires in Australia, further melting of the polar ice cap, an unexpected GOP win in California, more sexual abuse among conservative cabals, black virtual lynchings, transgender men/women kept from teaching kindergarten, more unsafe American rattletraps shipped to dealerships, waves of leftover Trump wall-building fanatics demonstrating on the border, and much more.  What was a mother to do? Despite Patti Page and the Ames Brothers, The Sound of Music, and Around the World in Eighty Days he was exercised and flummoxed.  His ghastly twitches and hopping tics came out in his own living room when he was alone and in place.  He had a residual memory of stored-up insults and injuries, and in horror vacui moments, poked through his own psychological armor and agitated him.  Just the thought of Donald Trump, now pretty much a thing of the past, was enough to give him delirium tremens.  Only after his wife heard him banging on the settee and rattling the knick-knacks on the highboy and came in to see what was what, did he calm down. 

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“Joe Biden will make things better”, she said soothingly, and he smiled at the thought.  Now all his worries would be over – more women would be selected to serve in the Cabinet; there would be a rollback of Trump-era discriminatory anti-progressive legislation;  the promotion of a kinder, more considerate and more collaborative foreign policy; aggressive orders to defund the police; and an elevation of Black Lives Matter to iconic status.  “I can breathe again” would be Harry’s own, ironic, telling meme for the next four years.

Harry’s parents had worried about him as a child.  He was always a morose, worried boy who suffered teasing worse than his classmates; and of course the more that they saw their teasing sting and hurt, the more they ramped it up.  By the third grade Harry Keneally was the class whipping boy, the one that could be reduced to tears by someone taking his pencil or erasing his numbers.

By the sixth grade he had gotten over his pusillanimity – and while not exactly standing up to bullies, he had figured out ways around them.  He become devious; but somewhere along the way, the wires which had been crossed since birth buzzing and snapping in the testosterone broth of adolescence turned him in to a street-corner preacher.  He began to rail against the privilege, wealth, and the ‘ignorance of idleness’ that had infected and corroded the principles and morals of those who tormented him.  They were easy targets –the  inbreeding of old New England’s best families designed to create a super-class, turned out wrong and was unkind to their descendants.  Bullying was the only higher order of social interaction these morons could manage.  Harry’s venomous diction was lost on them but did Harry a great deal of good – a kind of self-help catharsis and righting of his emotional ship.

it was in college when the ‘full-blown Harry’ emerged.  There surrounded not by the cretins of the West End but by the smarter children of privilege who, despite breeding and education, still didn’t know what was what, Harry came into his own and in his eyes became the man of principle, the big moralist on campus; the John Brown, righteous prophetic hero.  To his classmates he was simply a dork who had no life.  By the time he graduated, he was on his way.  The tics, palsies, and paralytic blubbering came soon thereafter.

The causes he joined – climate change, transgender affirmation, redistributive socialism, tables-turned black privilege, and unilateral disarmament – had their own Howard Beales, the madman of Paddy Chayefsky’s ‘Network’ who shouted out his New York apartment window, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more”.  Those on the front lines of the progressive movement were all upset and crazed by what they saw was the downward spiral of civilization to an ultimate fiery Armageddon all because of capitalist greed, male patriarchy, and white privilege.  Yet none of them could match Harry’s unhinged zeal, his transformation, his demonic possession.  Still, amidst a collection of wild, true believers, Harry’s ‘uniqueness’ went almost unnoticed.  He was simply the best of the lot, a poster boy for passionate activism; and he was happy.   No one paid this tics, grimaces, and ghoulish scowls any mind.

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The trouble began when he was cashiered by these groups now dominated by leaders of their own ilk.  Only black men and women could lead the fight against racial injustice and police brutality.  Only women could fight for women’s rights.   Only gay men, lesbians, and transgender make-overs could spearhead the gender spectrum movement.  Only global warmers welcomed him, but by them the cause had fizzled.  No one cared that much.  And so, all the energy and passion that Harry was able to express in advocacy for these causes was not turned inward, and it was not long that his wife found him alone in the living room, talking to himself, yelling at the walls, and screaming to no one in particular about injustice.

Resolution of Harry’s now quite obvious ‘problem’ was not easy.  He, like most increasingly demented and schizophrenic people, at first never realized he had a problem, then refused to admit it, and finally rejected all offers of help.  He would have to wind down on his own, if that was God’s plan.

So, his wife committed him, and after a few years no one even asked where he was.  Nobody missed him which all goes to show that, all things considered, umbrage, causes, movements, and political passion mean very little

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