Random musings…

Glad you stopped by… take a peek inside for a collection of short stories, social commentary, poetry, rants, and excerpts from current projects. Hope you enjoy your time here, check back often for new material and of course feel free to submit any questions or comments…

Author retains all rights to published / posted material – all posts are solely the work of the author

Joe

She Came From the Sea…

She came from the sea
Wind in her hair
Salt on the air

The guls mournful cry
Outward she gazed
As the nets swayed

A brilliant palette sets
Wind in her hair
Salt on the air

Authors note: This is inspired by the courageous daughter of a dear friend

Hot Fudge Sundae

A Joseph Castagno short story…

I know it was for my own good, but I miss bacon… pizza and what I wouldn’t do for a donut or a milk shake – the cubes aren’t so bad and we’re not supposed to even remember the old days… but I do. The days before Techocracy, before the vaccines saved us, you know back when we were still allowed to think for ourselves – but it’s better now right? No more cancer, no more diabetes, no more fat people…

It had happened pretty quickly after the 2022 mid-term elections, we had all thought the mergers were a good thing and hadn’t we laughed at the names? Amazoogle, Micrapple, Sprizon… Pfizeneca was probably my favorite, but it didn’t seem so funny when they had setup a national governance board replacing the executive branch of what was no longer a democracy or the forced vaccination programs… no that wasn’t funny at all.

Covid had been a test run if you will and the vaccines had worked with unprecedented efficacy, eradicating the virus had been a nice side effect – testing out DNA manipulation had been the real win though. Cancer had been a fast follow, I mean how do you argue with curing cancer, it was the fucking holy grail, wasn’t it? Diabetes was next, you don’t really need to worry about insulin costs if you wipe out the disease.

All this was just part of the learning curve though, the real test was programming out human behavior, a small hormonal adjustment here and there and all of a sudden no one craves food anymore. Science had learned plenty during the Covid years including how to turn off taste and smell and wasn’t that really at the heart of desire? I try to push all this aside as I gaze at my toes… socks or no socks? That I was even making this decision and could see my toes was progress, right?

I had decided no socks, but the kitchen floor was cold and I was rethinking my decision as I cut two green cubes in half and contemplated adding a yellow. About six months earlier I had found an old jar of peanut butter, God only knows how the inspectors had missed that, turns out toasting the yellow and adding a glop didn’t trigger any taste sensations, but the Alexa alarm system had scared the shit out of me. That little experiment had cost me another inspection and fifty tokens as that bitch Siri is fond of reminding me every time, I check my account.

I stand at my desk and adjust the treadmill speed, no one sat any longer it wasn’t healthy, plugging in I receive the overnight “news” – ahh all is well in the world, no unemployment, no disease, everything is green and the climate is perfect… Elysium I think to myself, damn where had that come from, Dante? No Shakespeare… I can’t quite remember as I start to tremble… Oh fuck no I think licking my lips, a hot fudge sundae pops into my head. Everything starts to fade and I can hear the Alexa alarm going off somewhere in the distance…

Tumbling – an Ode to the Soul Collector

Never forget the “Soul Collector”

Tumbling…

The bright white of the bare fluorescent bulbs reflected off the white enamel chasing any chance of a shadow along the linoleum floor into the corners – the black and white flecked tiles, slightly gummy and redolent of industrial pine cleaner, cling to the bottom of Jimmy’s bright red Chucks as he watches the aimless tumble of T-Shirts in the big dryer. Taking a deep breath of the heavy humid air tinged with the sweet scent of warm cotton and softener, he lets out a deep sigh watching the chaotic choreography – he isn’t a metaphor kinda guy, but it strikes him that his life has been following a similar pattern lately – leaning back in the plastic chair the thought passes. He doesn’t open his eyes as the door scrapes open and a deep mellow voice intones… “long is the day, hard is the struggle…”

https://joecastagno.blog/2017/07/17/the-soul-collector/

MLK

Tried to spend most of the day not on the computer or social media… it’s a rare day not working… I spent some time this afternoon catching up and of course reading the posts celebrating Dr. King’s life… mostly posting snippets of speeches some with pictures some without, a few tying together Billy Graham or JFK with Dr. King’s work.

I can’t say i have a favorite necessarily, but if you haven’t actually taken the time to move past the snippet and listen to a full recording of one of his speeches take the time you’ll be better for it. It’s not just what he is saying but how he says it… a true orator he uses his whole being to infuse purpose and power into his words.

I was born in 1965 and can’t claim to have any first hand experience of those tumultuous times and other than a brief period of months in SC as a teenager it would be disingenuous to claim any real understanding of systemic racism and oppression. My very dear friend Steve Coleman has described it as a “burning in his bones, something that is inescapable and never goes away…” He attributes this to a speech Mr. George Williams gave at his African American Student Association in 1987.

I guess that description has stuck with me, and It’s something i try to remind myself of as often as possible, today of course was easier than most. But i wonder as we move past this evening and into our work week, back to the pandemic, the politics of a new administration, all the other every day distractions we all face… if we are so fortunate as to not have a “burning in our bones” to not face the daily reminders of our race… will we remember to remember?

I hope so, and in doing so in our own way bring some small honor to the legacy of Dr. King…

2020 RANT

Well, this shitshow started out normal enough, but that didn’t last very long… anybody roll out of a NYE 2020 party resolving to stay in your house all year, scream at the television every night, wash your hands 13,000 times, gain 20 pounds, stockpile 42 cases of toilet paper, 7 gallons of hand sanitizer, and count the steps to your living room as a major exercise accomplishment?

No, I didn’t think so… anybody think medical care would include poking a huge Q-tip up our nose to the base of the brain, or one of those cool home kits you drool into – thanks for playing we’ll get back to you in oh ten days or so. Nothing anxiety producing about that, never mind the ever-shifting list of symptoms ahhh Covid19! 

On a positive note, I was able to solidify my goal of being an Olympic level social distancer. Since I was distancing, I figured I better find a way to maintain my magnificent physique. I decided to try this intermittent fasting thing; you have heard of this right? Let me just tell you, there is nothing intermittent about not eating for 18 hours – that’s just plain fasting. In my book intermittent means skipping some snacks, not all of them, just you know, intermittently – totally misunderstood that.  

I appreciate how many of you have reached out asking, well more like demanding an EPIC rant for this year; which honestly hurt my feelings a bit, cause aren’t they all epic? But I understand 2020 deserves a next level rant, something that lives up to the unparalleled insanity of this year and captures the unbelievable confluence of events: a new social awakening, “autonomous zones,” a truly insane Presidential campaign, then top that off with a global pandemic and all its trappings… 2020 – so one epic rant coming up. Admittedly, I am tad anxious about starting this with a week left in the year; feels a little like tempting fate to pull one last “fuck you”. 

Now, I have a feeling you guys are morbidly curious to see how I handle the long list of important and conflicting topics out there: Covid19, Trump/Anti-Trump, Biden/Anti-Biden, BLM/ALM, ANTIFA, autonomous zones, white privilege/guilt, “woke” movement, cancel culture, lockdowns, mask mandates, Dr. Fauci – cause why not, right… damn I almost forgot the vaccine! Probably a dozen more we could add to that list and if you think I’m jumping into that minefield with both feet… read on.

There are a few things I need to deal with from the top though; and this is classic rant material so hang on. Without getting into whether wearing a mask is the right, safe, respectful thing to do can we just talk about the asshats that wear it over their mouth, but not over their nose? Seriously why bother, never mind that it looks ridiculous, this kind of foolishness just irritates me. If you are a Covid non-believer that thinks masks don’t help, breed deadly lung diseases all while increasing your CO2 consumption I suggest you just don’t wear one. Now if you are a believer and subscribe to the current (for now) wisdom that masks will curb the spread, flatten the curve, and are a perfect vehicle for your cutting-edge fashion sense then cover your nose. There’s no place for you “in-betweeners” in this new Covid world – time to pick a side.

We need to talk a little more about this social distancing thing as well, now truth is I have been a long-term fan of social distancing; in fact, the more distance the better. Six feet is the prescribed measure, this shouldn’t be too hard to figure out – most places are actually marking it out for you so pay attention. However, we all know that you can ignore social distancing if you are at Walmart, Target, Church -in some states anyway, a friendly rally (you can decide what that means) or in an airplane. Do I need to explain that last one? Pretty simple actually, it’s six feet in all directions and that’s impossible on an airplane – so maybe the mask thing is a good idea after all… simply put: don’t get all up on me dude. 

Normally I don’t get “geographic” in these rants, but I think I would be remiss if I didn’t invite all of you down here to Florida… Our governor has legislated that Covid is not allowed to exist here so Floridians have decided it’s time to get back to normal. The weather is great, so come visit and hang out at a beach, a bar, or your favorite amusement park – might I suggest you fly down. I almost forgot we make our kids go to school here, so if you have little ones you might want to consider a move!

I understand it’s difficult not to focus entirely on Covid, it is after all a pandemic, so maybe we can just talk about politics. Fact is I usually avoid politics; not because I care what anyone thinks, but because I find most people aren’t interested in a substantive conversation involving the exchange of ideas, which means actually listening to each other. In my opinion the level of acrimony within our national dialogue is a poor reflection on all of us. After the last few election cycles though I am beginning to wonder if collectively we have simply lost our minds or at least our imagination, you people do realize we keep electing folks that are clearly past their expiration date – at this rate we don’t need term limits we need a long-term care facility. 

So, what does that even leave to rant about? I may have been to Starbucks a dozen times this year and honestly, I don’t even have to order now my favorite drive-thru barista knows what I want. No morning commute so no reason to bitch about the minivan in the Dunkin’ line that can’t figure out what donuts the kids want. Hell, I’ve only driven on the freeway a couple of times so if peeps are still out there texting at 90MPH I wouldn’t know it. Let’s see, no air travel so fake service animals in sequined vests aren’t a real concern and if someone wants to push their way to the front of the plane to get off first… nope don’t care. 2020 is seriously cramping my rant style. 

There is the whole grocery delivery situation, do you think they train these people to pick the bruised avocados or is it just luck of the draw?  And before you start any shit about first world problems or privilege – I’m pretty much working all the time and I am not going to go hang out with the below the nose mask morons at the grocery store… just saying. As long as we are talking about avocados and let’s add mangos to this; why the hell is the pit so big? Do you think the Almighty actually thought that was a good idea or did some celestial engineer completely fuck up the schematics? Fact is I have a whole list of questions like that, take giraffes for instance – wouldn’t it have been easier to make shorter trees? Or pineapples, who thought it should take two years to grow a pineapple; clearly no one was thinking about how that takes twice the space it should… questions without answers I am afraid.  

Setting the whole celestial engineering thing aside, as I reflect on 2020 it strikes me, we have been here before. Our relatively short history is punctuated with upheavals, our own seismic shifts – belief systems competing like tectonic plates that grind against each other eventually creating something new. I read somewhere that all change is violent by its very nature, I’ve had time to think on that a bit this year. War is clearly the violent application of force to achieve a political aim; social unrest, technology leaps that fundamentally change society, or the thrust required to escape the gravity of this earth – each in their own way adhere to this principle. Simply put achievement or change is disruptive and by extension violent. 

Easy to recognize in retrospect – the frantic lines on the seismograph of our history – but here in the midst of it we are just hanging on; resisting the inevitability of it.  This time will pass like all others before it and we will adjust to the new landscape, gather our breath and begin that journey to the next upheaval. If 2020 taught us anything it’s that during these points of acceleration you can choose to participate or not, but change is inevitable and affects all of us. 

So, is it really all so dismal? If you flit across the surface of things jumping from one negative meme to another you might miss the beauty underneath. Let’s not debate the decision making surrounding Covid, I would rather honor the indomitable will and compassion of front-line healthcare workers, many times providing the comfort family wasn’t allowed to. We locked down the world, but did you see the videos of entire Italian neighborhoods serenading each other? Consider the millions of folks that got up each morning kissed someone goodbye and spent the day delivering stuff to those of us who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave the house. Will there be costs and logistical issues with a vaccine, of course, but how incredible that brilliant people were able to craft hope in so few months? I think it is human nature to focus on the turmoil around us, but as we reflect on this complicated year remember where we shined. 

Instead of allowing 2020 and the pandemic to disconnect us we used technology to bridge the gap, to do church, work, and keep friends and family close. In many ways I am more connected to folks today then I might have been under “normal” circumstances. We are getting to see a more intimate view of each other, our homes, our kids, our parents, and grandkids… there is no extracting them from the virtual space we now occupy and how wonderful it is. We share at a different level; experiences, fears, hopes, pieces of ourselves we wouldn’t bring to the office. Our humanity is starting to shine through… and it’s a beautiful thing.

On a personal note, 2020 has created an opportunity to hold my immediate family closer, when your circle is forcibly limited you no longer take relationships for granted. I think about the many more meals I am crafting at home and how much I really enjoy the creativity of making a weekly menu. Dinner conversations have a different gravity now and I find myself reaching out to my boys in Seattle, my sister in NM, and friends in a more frequent and regular cadence than before. Those connections have a different tenor now and although 2020’s issues may dissipate I don’t want to lose this more tangible and precious connection we have forged. 

This has been a year of challenges for our country and it would be easy to push the popular narrative or skip over controversy completely, but that isn’t really what the rant is about is it? I can’t speak for anyone but myself and maybe for the first time I am considering the consequences of speaking my own truth. That dismays me on a deeply personal level, not because I am insecure in what I believe, but because it seems we have come to a point where no matter your beliefs some will be in violent opposition. There was a time when we could disagree, argue our point, try to enlighten those that may not have seen the “wrong” in something – where did those days go? When did it become okay to punish those that think differently? Of course, the true measure of courage is whether you are willing absorb the consequences of your beliefs, easily said not so easily done. In fiction the tests are obvious and monumental… in life I have found it is the everyday opportunities that make the difference.

Some would say we are past the time for such platitudes, that change needs to be accelerated. Maybe they are right, I see my children standing up for what they believe, even to the point of taking to the streets in protest. I may not agree with every position, but I am incredibly proud of them, I understand their passion, their impatience, and their courage. Maybe it’s the perspective of experience, but I worry that obstinate intolerance ultimately dooms the conversation benefitting no-one. I believe it’s incumbent upon all of us to craft a dialogue that moves everyone forward, and that, requires the ability to listen respectfully – even when we disagree. Like many young people mine are making an effort, lifting their voices, is the dialogue comfortable – not always, but it’s necessary. In some respects, it doesn’t matter what side of things you find yourself, as long as you make the effort to participate in the conversation – it’s important.  

So, my friends smile at the insanity, push the fear aside and embrace the challenge to rise above. In my mind it all comes down to this: if you are going to order some ½ decaf soy chai latte with a mocha drizzle made backwards, park the Prius and go the hell inside. 

Stay the course and Happy Holidays my friends,

Joe

PS: Do you remember the quiet though? During the early days of the lockdown, I would sit on the porch and listen… no traffic, no freeway noise, no construction… just nature’s symphony – I think it forced me to take a breath, take a moment, and just be still… I miss that… 

Homeless

Conversations with the air
Carts with wobbly wheels
Things no one wants to steal

Sun wind and rain its all the same
Bound by chains they didn’t make
Loneliness that they can’t shake
 
Can you see them out there
From our perch in here
We’re all hoping it will work out

Scribbles

Scribbling lines under a street light
Verses, curses, wishes and dreams
 
A long walk down a dead-end street
She’s hurrying with nowhere to go
 
Memories at the bottom of her pack
Strings and things - timeless treasures
 
A stranger’s coins in a tattered hat
The sun, rain and pain its all the same 
 
Scribbling lines under a street light
Verses, curses, wishes and dreams

The Iron Garden

A Joseph Castagno short story…

The motorbike vibrated beneath them as Tra picked his way around the larger cracks in the asphalt and the occasional decaying remains of a wayward tree limb, Erie clung to him she wasn’t frightened so much as reassured by her brother’s touch. They didn’t speak, the respirators making it impossible to be heard and although nothing was alive the silence felt oppressive. 

The sun glares down with a merciless stare, the heat rippling in waves across the dusty ground baking the remains of the asphalt ribbon stretching to the horizon. The gullies and cricks have long since given up leaving a patchwork of cracked and parched mud. This area once Western Illinois and neighboring Iowa – now part of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Middle States – mostly just referred to as the Middle States – had been at drought status for more than a century. The hulking figures of long dead giant oaks line the road standing as silent sentinels to the surrounding wasteland, their roots searching deep and far straining to extract the long extinct vestiges of life’s elixir. A pointless exercise only death roams amongst them biding its time. 

It wasn’t so much that this area was forbidden, there just wasn’t any reason to come here, most of the remaining population was trying to survive on the receding shores of the great lakes – a daily struggle for food and water consumed most everyone. The series of increasingly deadly viruses and the predicted but still unanticipated rapid acceleration of global warming in the first half of the 21st century had finally allowed the radical progressive youth movement to wrest control of local and state governments. The dismantling of the Federal system had followed shortly after. That triumph – the banners, speeches, celebrations and euphoria of presumed equality was short lived and now a distant memory. That isn’t to say the old guard could have done better, but it hadn’t taken long for Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” syndrome to kick in; but even that lawlessness hadn’t lasted – squalor, disease, and hunger are the true lords of equality. 

Tra pulls the bike into the shadow of a large oak trunk, the top had been sheared off some fifty feet up, standing he pulls a small bottle from the saddle bag handing it to Erie before taking a small sip for himself. Gently replacing it he spreads the weathered parchment on the ground, “we’re close…” he murmurs mostly to himself. 

“How do you know,” she asks with wonder. 

He smiles gently, “just a feeling, just a feeling,” he says standing and looking out at the desolate landscape, “it has to be here… great grandfather said it was.” Turning back to her, “come let’s go it should be a short walk that way,” he says pointing. 

Erie hesitates for a moment before taking his hand, “lead on brother!” she exclaims with more bravado then she feels. 

Time was no longer measured in seconds, minutes, and hours, but by the cycles of the sun and moon, and how many meals in between – but if a timepiece had existed it would have ticked off about twenty minutes. The fine dust eddies like ripples on a pond slowly refilling their footprints; Tra stops and looks back toward the bike and the silent oak hulks now small in the distance, he kicks at the dust, “it should be here…” he says forlornly. 

Erie pulls on his hand, “can we go Tra, I don’t like it out here…” 

Searching the horizon, he kicks the ground again, “Damn!” he exclaims hopping around on one foot. 

He drops to his knees and starts frantically brushing the fine dust aside, “what is it Tra what did you find?” She asks starting to help him. The plaque is bigger than Erie, the raised letters still clearly visible, “what does it say,” she asks – reading wasn’t a survival skill and she had never learned the letters. 

Tra runs his fingers over the letters murmuring to himself, testing the sounds out in is head before softly reading the inscription, “It says Christopher Columbus – Discoverer of America 1,4,9,2…”

Erie peers over his shoulder, “is that it?” 

He reverently touches the letters again and, in a whisper, “a great new miracle occurred upon the earth… a new continent was discovered…” he pauses for a moment looking around carefully, “a new civilization was born…  a new nation was to rise.”

“But what does that mean Tra?”

“Let me read the end,” he says not answering her question, “it was called America… It was to become the birthplace of democracy… it was God’s country…” Tra stands up brushing the fine silt off his knees. “You can never tell anyone about this, understand?” he says grabbing her shoulders. 

“You’re scaring me Tra, why can’t we tell anyone? We found it just like great grandfather said we would.”

“This is from the old times E, back when great grandfather was a boy, these are the ‘Forbidden’.”

She clings to his side; every child knew the story of the ‘Forbidden’ the evil ones that caused the revolution and were responsible for the struggle life was now. “Do you think they are all here Tra?”

He looks around in wonder, “I bet they are… let’s see if we can find another!” 

The sun is low in the sky and glints off the edges of two dozen unearthed plaques and statues – Tra and E are covered in a sheen of fine dust, “I like his hat…” E says looking around, “what was his name?” 

“Robert E. Lee,” Tra smiles, “and the funny looking one over there is “Benjamin Franklin, and this one with the feathers is Geronimo…” Standing up he scans the horizon, “We need to get back E, don’t want to be out after dark.” 

“Tra I don’t think they were evil, do you?”

He hesitates before answering, “no probably not, great grandfather always said they were just people like everyone else…”

“Can we come back?” 

“Sure… but don’t tell anyone… our secret okay?”

Fire in the Sky

Smoke in the eyes
Blood in the streets
Fire in the sky

I can’t breathe
Four didn’t care
Now all grieve

Smoke in the eyes
Blood in the streets
Fire in the sky

Now you’re woke
With Fist in the air
Slogans you spoke

Smoke in the eyes
Blood in the streets
Fire in the sky

History now sacrilege
Topple the idols
Hide your privilege

Smoke in the eyes
Blood in the streets
Fire in the sky

Where from here
Is justice served
Nothing’s clear

Smoke in the eyes
Blood in the streets
Fire in the sky

OUTRAGE…

Outrage is universal! – it should be… it probably isn’t…

Tuesday was “blackout” and the black squares and circles on social media were, well encouraging… Protests – too small a word for what is happening – enter their second week and have trickled down to smaller towns and communities even as our larger urban centers struggle to maintain momentum. You can already feel apathy nibbling at the edges of our collective outrage.

It’s been ten days since George Floyd lost his life at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer; all while fellow officers and others stood by and watched. Charges have been filed, upgraded, expanded – autopsies completed and argued over – justice will no doubt be served at some point in the future – maybe. If justice is even possible in a scenario like this… how do you adjudicate with any real satisfaction the underlying cancer that transcends the act itself?

Arguments will erupt about Floyd’s character, whether the charges were applied quickly enough or if they were harsh enough, the conversation is bound to devolve as it usually does when we attempt to rationalize events like this. The danger of course is that we have a conversation about the symptoms and not the underlying causes and once again refuse to debate what level of latent prejudice we are comfortable with.

So, how long before things return to normal, before the routine is resumed and we, unaware, once again await an egregious act to spur our collective conscience… how long? My guess is we are already on the path back to status quo – oh the rallies will continue for a bit – youthful exuberance – legislation may be introduced, certainly we will see this dialogue front and center in coming elections… No one really believes we will wholesale “defund” the police and certainly sometime over the next number of months we will hear about convictions in Minneapolis, Floyd’s mural will start to weather and the stacked flowers will have faded; because real substantive evolution (not revolution) is difficult – it takes time, commitment, and resolve; real change has to by its very nature reflect the will of the nation.

Prejudice, and in its worst iteration, racism can’t be eliminated through legislation, protests, outrage… there is no inoculation for this disease. I have heard racism described as a “burning in the bones, something that is inescapable and never goes away…” it doesn’t really matter if you believe or understand it; each individual’s perception of things is their reality – we are not entitled or empowered to cast doubt on their personal experience.

So, what does it all mean? I can only speak for myself, but I believe that until we deal with the latent prejudice in all of us – individually in our own personal work on ourselves – can we begin to achieve any real lasting and substantive change. We all know the clichés – they exist because we have adopted them into the fabric of our culture: how certain people drive, are criminals, good at math, privileged, cheap, and all the other petty judgements we use to justify how we treat each other. These provide the thin layer of justification for deeper seated racism and hate – we need to strip the icing off and examine what lies below with an unvarnished honesty – hard of course – necessary unquestionably…

It’s time to start our individual journey of self-realization to determine what type of person we are and want to be… so that collectively we can create a society and culture where repetitive acts of hate are no longer the norm.