Jim Trainer

Posts Tagged ‘Winged Shoes and a Shield’

Don Bajema’s Hero

In American History, Being A Writer, Being An Artist, Don Bajema, Football, War, Writing, writing about writing, youth on November 7, 2017 at 8:39 am

The following interview first appeared in Philadelphia Stories in 2013.

Great writing has heart.  It really is that simple, although it’s not easy.   Former world class athlete Don Bajema presents a baby boom generation that is wide-eyed and innocent.  His self-styled anti-hero Eddie Burnett is taken to the horrible edge of things-but Bajema stops there, allowing the reader to bear witness and Burnett to make up his own mind.  Winged Shoes and a Shield (released last fall through City Lights Booksellers) follows the track and field star-cum-dropout’s trajectory through diaphanous rites of adulthood, dysfunctional family life, drug and spousal abuse and the terrible reality of American racism-all under the specter of the draft for the Vietnam war. Bajema’s take on the dire nature of our National character during sunrise in America is crushing, but there is always a choice offered in his work.  His hero strives to remain beautifully awake. Don Bajema’s hero has heart.

I’m struck by the innocence of some of your character (s) and point(s) of view.  Their attitudes and perceptions seem to be from a more innocent time, almost like the adolescent idealism that was somehow forgotten in the generations following baby boomers, after what I would call “Sunrise in America”.  
I think I’ve done all I can to deliberately retain innocence and an adolescent idealism in my life and work. Trauma fixes personalities in time and place and from ages thirteen to twenty I saw that generation I write about, a perspective I will forever view the world from…as the Kennedys were murdered, King, X, I saw riots, burned cities, dogs set on kids, National Guardsmen open up on peaceful protesters, I watched our military annihilate hundreds of thousands in a country of farming peasants, commit massacres of villages and napalm children running naked in dirt roads. Then I was told Vietnam was our tragedy, and I watched my generation buy that lie, while I refused to believe it and became ‘unpatriotic’-an epithet I cherish since I am not a patriot. We saw cops billy clubbing hundreds of kids, watched the FBI pull Civil Rights workers out of swampy dams, saw churches bombed. We had grown up in duck and cover drills but saw nothing to alleviate this stupidity and arrogance, wastefulness and corruption in our society. My perspectives are at once innocent and outraged.
I’ve felt sorry for the existence and fate of every generation that followed mine knowing full well that I, and my generation, have failed miserably to realize the glimpse of what it could have been.

What do you think is a fundamental difference between the once-hopeful flower power movement of the 60s and subsequent generations?  Are things more or less dire now? 
I think these are the best of times and the worst of times. I think the 60’s are perceived in error as the ‘flower power’ era. Nobody bought that flower in your hair shit. That’s Wall Street advertising and appropriation. The Beatles were laughing behind ‘all you need is love’. We fought in the streets. Our rebellion was an affront to the police and dangerous as hell in most of the country. These times are worse in that we are at the beginning of ecological collapse, deprivation and constant foreign and domestic war in battlefields from Sandy Hook to the Middle East and back again.

Your perspectives, “at once innocent and outraged”, are very similar to Eddie Burnett’s.
I’m better at busting a lie than telling the truth. I don’t think we can know the truth. The world and our existence is chaos. We do all we can to delude ourselves, personally and through agreed upon delusions like government and the economy, to go forward in an overcrowded and unmanageable zoo. A zoo that is our over populated planet and a circus in which we observe it. Is there hope? Yes, if we just face the fact we are highly complex primates conscious of our own mortality and freaked out by it. We do not have a god, we are not created in superman’s image, science cannot save us and most of our beliefs are ridiculous, especially any ones even remotely religious. But we are a very, very young species and we grow exponentially in intelligence if not in emotional compassion.
Eddie and I in respect to these qualities? Yes, I think they are inseparable. So, the short answer is yes.
The choice to remain “innocent” despite the horror and atrocities of the world, to choose good or to champion the inherent good within our human nature is quite insane, considering what is going on in the world around us.  
It does run contrary to the ‘fight or flight’ concept to champion…that which generates, protects, or provides for love and life…to be kind, to be generous, to be willing to extend these qualities first, in any given situation, is to be regarded or open to suspicion that one is weak, or a sucker.
I used to tell athletes enjoying their newly discovered power, and this is also true ethically and spiritually, that ‘strength gives the option to be kind’ but nobody ever knew wha I was talking about.
It’s our values-as much as one neurosis or another. People want it simplified, and it’s the singular ego that holds sway over their thoughts and actions, especially in a competitive context. Yes, nature appears to be competitive but it’s really a kind of dance. Self interest is important but it shouldn’t be paramount in our psyche. Nice guys finish last and “the meek shall inherit the earth” but to be meek is to be despised. For me, its war or not war, and my choice is not war. Which doesn’t mean if you invade my home with bad intentions I won’t go for it, but-and I have been in various potentially disastrous circumstances, given the chance I’ll opt for kindness every time.
The whole question of any individual and the world is a tale of heroic struggle, and I think a lot about Faulkner’s comment “the only story worth telling is the story of the human heart in conflict with itself”.

The inside look into Eddie Burnett in Winged Shoes and a Shield reveals the troubles of a seemingly well-adjusted athlete, at least you would think he’s well adjusted, a star on the track and field, an operator like his dad, but then you find out his back story, and all is not as rosy as it appears.
Jim you are 100 percent right…Eddie Burnett’s and my own challenges are derived and contorted by being at once too sensitive and too afraid to admit it. Burnett is a winner, celebrated for his athleticism. He is victorious and stoic on the outside but, within, he is both too sensitive and too scared to admit it.

In Too Skinny, Too Small, your latest work, we find an adult, if not grown up, Eddie Burnett as a mega football star in a bloated and self-important NFL.


Too Skinny Too Small was a disappointment as an experiment. I found myself too nauseated by the values of the corporate game and industry of the sport, and the ignorance and appalling lack of compassion and voyeuristic jack-off of the fans, commentators and just about every disgusting value the game has to offer that I bummed out hard on the topic. But I’ll keep writing it to a conclusion. I overwrite when I am unclear of what I want to convey. Basically, I’m predicting the inevitable–on field, nationally televised death that will occur fairly soon.
Too Skinny Too Small is going to make reappearance during the play-offs.
I enjoy writing on Going For The Throat and I like the idea of people being able to read it off of a blog.  I’m not sure where it’s going to go but I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens.

What can you tell us about your writing process? What does a day of writing look like for you? You once said to me, “Never try to please your audience”.


Carmen and I both work and we have two young kids, so I write when I can. Frequently late at night or early in the morning. I used to write listening to music, but lately I haven’t been and find that I write better without it.  
Music, for me, even if I’m only barely aware of it, takes some of what would be in the writing away.
Almost everything in Winged Shoes And a Shield …was written to be read on stage and most of the stories in it were written the day of a show. I found that it gave the work an immediacy. Almost everything in the collection is a ‘one take’ kind of thing, with very little or no re-writing. Rewriting, for me, is a bad thing. I tend to over write, not so much in terms of flowery, self indulgent stuff, but when I re-write I frequently find myself adding a lot of material so that the work is ‘new’ to me. But then it may not necessarily have the impact of the original words first set down on the page. So, for the time being I’ve been convinced, and most of my friends and collaborators almost insist, that I should never rewrite my work. I think my best material comes from writing that is done on the day of a show.
The idea of ‘pleasing your audience’ means that you are writing to an effect rather than just sort of channeling whatever it is that is coming out of you. That does not mean do not be aware of your audience. A writer should be considerate as all hell of the audience-but not necessarily doing anything to please them. What that means is don’t make them work too hard, don’t make them wade through a lot of stuff. So, my best writing addresses the audience as though they were in a club or wherever it is I’m reading. But I never try to please them. I don’t even try to please myself. I just write it and then read it and let the chips fall where they may.
I also read what I’ve written out loud, this reveals the clunkers in the work and I can change them on the spot. So it might be a page and then read it out loud, then go on.

What’s next for you and Eddie Burnett?

Eddie will stare me down as less than the man I was born to be and I’ll try to provide him the words…since he is the universal observer he’ll be around or in anything I ever write.
I’m looking forward to my reading with you on December 11th.

Too Skinny, Too Small by Don Bajema appears serially on Going For The Throat throughout the 2014 NFL Season. To read more visit jimtrainer.wordpress.org.

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Too Skinny, Too Small Chapter 5 by Don Bajema

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2013 at 5:28 pm

You begin thinking about the game from television and hours out in the street with friends. Getting the rudiments of the game, catching, throwing, running with the ball. In grade school the game is kind of an elaborate tag game with a ball. Two hand touch-pretty benign, maybe a shove here or there skids a kid in the dirt, or the drive for a reception might bring an accidental collision. But fun to play and we played for hours from the school days end to dark. Nobody got hurt. Because the game demands at least a handful of players on each side to make it any fun at all-the little kids got to play too.

And on Saturdays and Sundays you watch a game on TV thrilled the whole time as you place yourself in the uniform of you favorite players and dream of that sound and that glory, those announcers praising you, the camera adoring you on the sideline. The camaraderie the whole manly getting off the beach, pulling on the helmet out onto the field for combat. You go to High School games on Friday nights, you see the fans full of cheering girls and unfortunate boys sitting there in the stands beside them. You see the players in the grocery store wearing jackets and manhood walking through the cereal aisles like gods.

All those years as a kid, out on an asphalt field on the playground with the cold making noses run, breathing like smoke as they gather for the huddle and the plans, the defense trying to listen in from the other side of the line of scrimmage, watching fingers drawn on the ground of pass routes, counting to three after the ball’s snapped to rush the quarterback, hands up jumping in the air.

Then there’s the uniforms, if not Pop Warner pre-high school plastic armor, helmets, pads and the beginning of ‘contact’. Then into high school where ‘contact’ becomes tantamount to the game. Impact. Knocking people down. The game’s ballet disappears and it becomes a chaotic scrum a kind of barroom brawl of awkward pushing and shoving and grabbing and pulling the ball carrier to the ground.

But in a short time the game gets more sophisticated, the coaches instruct technique, “Get your pads under the man.” So that the leg drive from your levered advantage and the mass chaos becomes more mano-a-mano combat on the line, buying time for plays to develop so that the running backs can learn to run through moments of open space made in the line, and then with that, later, the quarterback can take a moment to see a receiver crossing or running a quick out pattern and if he runs faster than the defender to the point where the ball is most likely to land-makes a catch.

While high school play gets pretty sophisticated and violent, and there are casualties along the way, awkward pinnings of knees in piles that blow ligaments apart, wrench and twist bones off their mounts and send kids to the surgeons table. There’s fingers broken, noses banged up, shoulders in young men are vulnerable being as they frequently are exposed in the ball and socket without the benefit of any muscle to pad them.

Depending on the program at a four year college a player might enjoy an extension of some of the harmless level of play in highschool. But some programs begin the corporate approach and every snap, every pre-season moment, every thought in your head, every aspect of your identity and all import in the world comes down to football.

It becomes your corporate church. And you’re rewarded with stadiums packed with a hundred-thousand people to watch you distinguish yourself on the field. Scouts get serious, if you’ve been scouted in highschool your courted now. Observed from a judging distance, your future being assessed. And then there’s the promise of money. Lots of money.

And on the grade school field where the game is actually fun there’s no locker room. And then when the pads come on and the need for a changing room comes into the game the beginning of the football player mentality begins to reveal itself. Suddenly individual personality becomes part of what fits into a team, you can be the joker, you can be the inspiring one, you can be the specimen, you can be the bully.

And those archetypes move on through high school and into the college locker room. But when you put men into constant unremitting time together in endless meetings, endless practices, dorm rooms, airplanes, motel rooms and the locker room, the gathering place before and after every practice and every game. All I can tell you, and I’ll tell you more, is that it gets real weird. Very strange. One thing, there are players, the warriors of a Sunday, rich, giant, freaks of speed and strength, agility and drive who are like little babies. Outside of the violence on the field they are helpless whining, Bible thumping, narrow minded, giants and physical geniuses ensnared forever in a kind of arrested development. Yet the import of the game must be stressed, the live and die of it, the laying your body on the line ethos, the playing through pain and injury. The entire cold military, police, goose stepping organizational hierarchy of veterans and coaches and rookies and starters and depth players.

The news guys hanging on every word. The groupies. The families and the whole top to down abuse and rank within the corporation.

I think the game makes suckers of every fan in the stands and in front of the television, this game is the most cynical con that ever became a billion dollar industry unless its when you send guys off to war.

Donna woke me up, it was all one of those dreams where it’s demanded I give my opinion, My head ached and the thoughts disappeared like steam.

Don Bajema will be reading  from his latest work at a very special night of poetry and spoken word, presented by the Moonstone Arts Center, with Jim Trainer and Maleka Fruean, at the Brandywine Workshop 728 S. Broad Street Philadelphia, PA 19146 on Wednesday December 11 at 7pm.  For more information check out the events page on Facebook.

Brother Don

Too Skinny, Too Small by Don Bajema Chapter 4

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2013 at 12:45 pm

“Get up,” Dad said.
I opened my eyes to cracked varnish on the plywood ceiling a foot above my face which in the many hours over the years I’d spent tracing it with my fingers, I’d seen, by following certain cracks, etched a map of the old Pirate coastline from the Carolinas down to Florida.
I swung my legs over the edge of the bunk and landed six feet below, silently, just barely quivering the trailer floor and made my way down the hall to the living area-a widened room with a tiny stove, bench seats around a tiny table taken up with a big television.
The trailer rocked and creaked with Dad’s shifting weight between the one shelf refrigerator and the greasy, filthy stove. Most trailers are stabilized with jacks and concrete blocks-Dad just backed it over the concrete slab, unhitched it from the truck, plugged the electrical cord into the box, slid the stairway out from under the door and we were home-that was eight years ago.
We had an awning for a little while but it got blown to shreds and just flaps in canvas strips when the wind comes up.
I get waffles from the ice box for breakfast, sometimes an egg that is cooked over a high flame-Dad’s always in a rush-making the egg white crystallize with grease and the yoke dry as a biscuit.
I open the refrigerator door.
“Any milk?”
“Do you see any?”
“No.”
“So I guess there’s no fuckin’ milk, is there?”
I close the refrigerator door and slide sideways into the chair at the table, you don’t pull chairs back because there’s no room.
“Too fuckin’ hot,” he says.
I glance at the indoor outdoor thermometer he’d bought Mom for Christmas a few years ago.
“Eighty-eight already.”
“Get ya milk on the way home.”
Usually if he said something like that he’d come through but I’d have loved to eat a bowl of cornflakes to help wash down these eggs. The waffles I drowned in syrup.
“Any..” I was thinking butter but..
“We are a bit short in the dairy supplies.”
He got up, “Want another egg. Fix ya a egg.”
He was being nice.
“Yeah, sure,” I said as I got up to go to the bathroom and ducked my mouth under the faucet to wash down the egg yolk-the kitchen sink is broke, that is, it only pumps hot water.
I pissed and slid open the bathroom door to the dining area front room space of the trailer.
Dad turned to slide the egg onto my waffle. Cut a bite of egg and waffle for himself, forked it into his mouth and chewed nodding,
“Protein. You need protein. I’ll get some papaya, dried kind, Russians say papaya and some enzyme in egg protein is the quickest shortcut for absorption.”
He flipped through a stack of sports magazines and training pamphlets, Scholastic Coach, NFL programs. Combine preparation books. But he was big with the Russian track and field programs. Olympic lifts and sprint work. He couldn’t find the article he was looking for,
“Anyway take my word for it.”
I slid in the chair under the hot pan and Dad’s armpit.
“I been thinking a little and all the barbells, and the weights, and all that.”
He shifted through a stack of mail, tossing most of it in a little overflowing plastic pail, he glanced at me to see if I was listening,
“It seems to me, what counts is the muscles contracting-you know? It doesn’t matter what makes them contract so long as the contraction is close to maximum. So that it gets the idea it needs to be stronger in order not to become exhausted, muscles do not want to be exhausted. If they are, and we were designed in prehistory, right, so if you’re out there in the grasslands with the big cats looking for you, you do not want to get tired and slow.”
He linked us constantly to our natural origins said there was the only true identity.
“Your Mom, on every sucker list on the planet.” He kept tossing the mail, now bouncing off the stuffed basket and landing on the floor.
“But contractions done frequently. That’s the secret. So..maybe we don’t need weights at all..and maybe we can up the frequency of the all-mighty contraction because we don’t need a lot or maybe any equipment.”
He flipped the egg. Pushed another frozen waffle down in the toaster.
“Something to think about.”
A perfectly cooked egg riding beneath a waffle soaked in syrup slid on my plate from Dad’s spatula,
“I’ll get back to you on that.”

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Too Skinny, Too Small by Don Bajema Chapter 3

In Uncategorized on October 13, 2013 at 11:20 am

“Eddie. You didn’t sleep, did you?”
“Not much.”
Donna let a thick bathrobe drop from her shoulders to the bathroom floor then in two seconds of precise and smooth articulations she was almost immediately in a bra and panties. Sexy as hell that she could dress so fast, practiced in the art as they say.
I could breathe again when her foot slowly shut the door as she took position in front of the mirror over the sink.
This was the first I’d seen her in the flesh in the three days she’d been staying with me. Not that everything wasn’t appealing about Donna and she had me convinced she liked my company beyond being obligated to, and I loved having her around, but the idea of approaching her intimately just seemed to be for a far off future moment, and waiting for that moment was pretty satisfying in itself. I liked her ways-like her perfect timing as she appeared and disappeared from room to room in intervals of a few minutes to a couple hours always suiting the mood, never lingering and the way she said little but what she said was almost entirely unique. I never heard a phrase, or a pat term, no contemporary cultural reference in her words, if she were dressed she’d be anti-trend-she’d stick with classical lines, nothing over done, that was the way she dressed her speech and what she said usually had an element of something I’d never thought or heard before.
Her laugh was not frequent and never sustained. She had a wry smile when most women would laugh. She usually played music in the kitchen and once I saw her dancing in there in a nightgown letting her hair fall over the sunglasses she was wearing as though she didn’t want to see herself. Nothing showy about it, just on time, mildly suggestive but only to a certain point and only in an instant, she even took the corner of her bottom lip between her teeth once. She moved less as the trained dancer I learned later she’d been and more like a wayward trailer park girl coming down from her meds.
Donna is like watching a great movie, or reading a good book, she’s a walking wet dream as a penthouse companion.
Her eyes have a-dawn-of-mankind-predatory-intelligence behind them that manages to pretend pretty convincingly that she regards me as an equal, quietly respecting me like I was a poker player she was hesitant to bet against, all this-physical beauty disappearing and reappearing-caught dancing out of character-sleeping quietly beside me-laughing easily-generating a desire to know her, while feeling an uneasy sense in her of an experienced hunter behind a calm and constant deception.
I’m talking way too much about her. And you know what that means.
She knew I was afraid to touch her with any kind of intimacy. I was sure she knew why, but she offered no therapy, no coaxing me back to life.
She maneuvered her way around this problem as though it didn’t exist assuming an otherwise intimacy in her atmosphere as close and easy as though we’d been non-stop on a damp mattress for a day or two. I assumed my fear would pass, or be overwhelmed and one of these hours I’d have my wrists turned up beneath the small of her back and my face in her delta which was my recurring fantasy coming in flashing images superimposed on walls, counter tops, her reflection in the floor to ceiling windows, on almost anything I gazed at-I want to be at her table. I’m starving.
But I can’t imagine holding her in my arms, leaning in on her, throwing our hips together and shaking her surrendered body beneath me…because the last human intimacy I felt was on that field, and its left in me a trauma, I tremble at the thought of it, and its almost always on my mind as though the snap of his body, and then the way he flew, gangly disconnected like a puppet with cut strings amid the loudest hurricane howling in a stadium I’d ever heard thundering down and swirling the grass around my face guard like it meant to curse me for all my days and nights to come. And I knew what had happened immediately, its finality, its no going back and to get anywhere near that place again, to touch anyone, to bump into them on a sidewalk, to clutch them in bed just seems like it will cost me my sanity. I can still hear the stadium roaring beneath every sound, I fall asleep to it, I wake to it’s low roar-like the bellowing from an ancient battlefield.
You always feel that guttural storm. It goes right through you. The energy is directed only at you like an intense stare in a room but magnified by the thousands of distant eyes and howling stunned voices, like they’d made a discovery, or shared in the sensation of the impact, a kind of gigantic recognition-of you. And these, big play storms of approving human spirit are thrown over your shoulders like a King’s robe. Athletes live for it.
But this roar was beyond that, it was as though there was recognition on some deep level of horror, something they at first celebrated and leapt in the air over, and then wanted to retreat from, wanted nothing to do with as that same roar trailed off into a moan as though eighty thousands hands were suddenly lifted to cover eighty thousand gaping mouths. The roar went suddenly silent, it just ceased all at once, and a circle of players spread away from Chad Washington and me like oil on water.
I stood there, pointing down at him like a guilty kid, a guy shot it and it was in every paper in the country, raised on every screen, my hand pointing down at the player at my feet, my body sagged in defeat, my head turning slowly, I was still panting from the play, you can see the steam coming from my helmet, but Chad Washington’s chest wasn’t moving, his eyes stared straight overhead like he was looking at the Goodyear Blimp buzzing like a gigantic bee high over the field. There was steam coming from his body, like his spirit was lifting, but from his helmet nothing but a dark shadow. I was probably crying. I don’t know for sure because something separated from me on the impact, I can’t explain how much I knew and how instantly I knew it. I killed him. I knew not from my mind what had happened and it’s still kind of horrible to know that my body knew before my mind did. He was dead. I knew it though I couldn’t comprehend it. I know it now and I can’t comprehend it, I see Donna opening the bathroom door, suddenly stifling her smile, and stopping mid-sentence at what she had on her mind at what she must be reading on my face and walking to the table to pick up her book and moving toward me to put her long fingers on my shoulder before she crosses the window and goes into the bedroom, shutting the door, letting me be alone.

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Too Skinny, Too Small by Don Bajema Chapter 2

In Uncategorized on October 6, 2013 at 10:43 am

(for Chapter 1 click here)

There’s a pecking order in every relationship, small unit, massive population. You’ve seen it, felt it, been subjected to it no matter where you work, where you worship, where you sat at the Thanksgiving table, even when you’re at your most ultimately anonymous-deep in a crowd of strangers- you’re ranked as peckee and pecker; be in any group of people and you’ve been assigned your place.
Move up you’ll get a few pecks in the face from the guys in front of you, someone climbs up behind you, you better attack or you’ll drop a slot, less food, less shelter, less everything. Attack, you have to, even, and especially, if you don’t want to. Fail to sink your beak into a cheek, or tattoo a forehead and you’re down a notch until you’re on the bottom, and there is a momentum, it works upward and it works downward.
Its there in every human interaction-there’s the bloody beaked world of your rank. All this necessary and as natural as the sunrise and moon hanging in the sky, this part we have to play to contain, measure and distribute the prevalent animosity and aggression within all of us in our numberless-planet-wide-human-primate troop.
How well do you compete? How willing are you to take? How unwilling to concede? How pragmatic with the part you play in the fate of others? How much fear-not respect-can you put into others? How far will you go if contested?
I watched the sidewalk way down beneath my window for a long minute. All those people, shifting right and left, stepping on the heels in front of them, being glared at and returning glares, shouldering around and through each other the sorting out of the pecking order.
There’s people who walk in a line, never giving an inch, willing to bang shoulders with strangers than give any kind of room-mindlessly it appears but secretly entirely deliberate, mostly some kind of inherited attitude, some innate quality that demands they themselves come first on the desperate primate self assertive grim set-of-the-teeth level.
Then there’s the other people ‘aware of their surroundings’, hoping to avoid conflict, hoping to keep things moving in some semblance of co-operation and common good who slip sideways through these more belligerent tough-hard assed-cowards who assert themselves from the sidewalk level, to the pop-corn line at the movies, for the parking spot, to be first to get through a door. Yeah, there’s a polite expectation to crowded interaction at the produce section, in the gas line, at the bar, and the deli counter-but its paper thin, useful only in mutual consent which given any stress at all, Christmas shopping, freeway stalls, virtually any excuse and the reasonable comportment goes right out the fucking window. You can count on someone being entirely ill equipped to see further down the sidewalk than their own immediate imperative-and don’t misunderstand I’m not talking about strutting ghetto hard-asses, or hyper aggressive silk suited ex-frat boys, some of these sidewalk stompers….these cold eyed shoulder slamming bastards are not gender specific-there’s plenty of young-don’t-look-at-me-I’m-too-beautiful-strutting snots, or fed-up middle-aged bitches clutching steaming lattes, heads jutting forward from their chicken necks, with their ‘Fuck you eyes’ and meaning business, and unhappy fatso’s terrified to be noticed and knowing that hope is laughable, hoping not to be resented, but knowing that too is unlikely making so many of them fattening up their kids and family in order to have company, in order not to stand out, in order to have a couple more beaks in the fray, skinny, nasty neurotics too, people of every description defending their wider-space-than-yours as they would any of their American possessions and entitlements beyond number.
These neurotic mid flock jerks will stand in the middle of a suddenly halted crowd shrieking their lungs out for as long as it takes to get any imagined aspect of their own, mindless way. You can see it. The sidewalk has a coward who fears that he will be read as weak, read as soft, read as a mark or a pussies if she doesn’t over assert themselves in every fucking situation calling for co-operation. The entire American crowded urban me-first culture is infested with these assholes.
There’s a black car blaring its horn at a knot of walkers failing to clear the intersection fast enough for the solitary driver weaving his Mercedes through the crowd, forcing his bumper through them, nudging them out of his way.
This warm, comfortable bastard behind the wheel is so anxious to get to the Lincoln tunnel and out of the metropolis he’s leaning on the horn in his sound insulated cab with his jaw twisted to one side mouthing spells and incantations at the people jumping out of his way or slowing to stare at his windshield in defiance.
He’s willing to knot the faces, and bend the knees of sixty cringing pedestrians, old ladies reaching for their ears, babies in strollers crying, men containing the urge to blast his window open with an elbow, yank him out by his silk tie and pound the fat motherfucker into the pedestrian cross-walk. But they absorb this because Modern Life Says You Have To Take This Shit-gone are the days of duels and respect demanded through the knowledge that disrespect will get your belly sliced open or your forehead crushed, so their jaws tighten under his incessant, Here-I-am-get-the-fuck-out-of-my-way blaring horn.
He’s just one man, doing very well for himself, at the bottom of the towering Manhattan architectural canyon inside his luxury car abusing sixty shivering people negotiating a crowded sidewalk in a sleet storm.
One man comfortable in his plush seat, he and his music, gliding to his mansion just beyond the city, his three crackling fireplaces, abusing sixty people cold in the January wind whipping their jackets, sleet freezing their faces, Whole Foods grocery bags disintegrating, briefcases and back packs tangling their knees.
And now the umbrellas come out and in case you sympathized with the pedestrians you can see them now blithely risking the eyesight of on-comers as they plow through the crowd, spinning here and there unconcerned with the needle sharp umbrellas fractions of inches from the faces of those around them. There’s a few gigantic golf umbrellas making fair negotiation of the sidewalk impossible for the shivering many.
The driver in his black carriage, the put-upon bitch with her latte, the general swarm of walkers, the cornea piercing umbrella fencers-most if not all of them are big football fans.

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Too Skinny, Too Small by Don Bajema

In Uncategorized on September 13, 2013 at 12:36 pm

1.
Everyone knew it would happen; they had to. But everyone shed the tears, bemoaned the game and watched the replay. Then the gurney and the straps around him, and the announcers were saying it was serious, and everyone was prayers with the family.
They sat at the bar, on the couch, in the silent stadium scared to utter the words; then it was all anyone talked about.
Five minutes after he was in the tunnel we were playing again.
On the sidelines and then in the locker room my teammates said a lot of stupid things intended to console me, intended to assure I felt no blame, intended to distance themselves from the reality. Then they ostracized me when I didn’t respond to their bro-down gestures. The coaches selected three very popular and media pleasing players to speak for the team. I was excused-at first.
Being a week before Thanksgiving heads were bowed over turkey from one coast to the other like the dark days of Dallas. The men glanced out of the corners of their eyes, mumbled as they excused themselves from the table pushed their chairs back and went into the living room and watched the game. The kids followed them. At halftime all the front rooms all over the country were watching in depth discussions of the tragedy and everyone cried again by the end of the profile piece of Chad Washington.
I couldn’t get the sound out of my mind, or the feel of the total sudden rag doll feeling of his body but I didn’t tell anyone. I was supposed to see a counselor and the police offered a shrink who had experience with cops who’d shot people on duty.
The league called it a clean hit-I don’t know what a clean hit is, and I haven’t seen the replay.
Pundits and writers condemned the game, everyone talked about the concussions, protecting the players, called into question the future of the league but the ratings went through the roof.
The league office called the owner who agreed with the Commissioner that my silence was making the situation worse, I didn’t know then how it could get worse, but they had a franchise to protect and called me into the inner sanctum to personally ask why I wasn’t saying something on camera.
I sat on his couch with my hands folded looking at a very uneasy man.
He cleared his throat four times, twice with his back turned to me facing the forest outside his window. When he turned he gave me that rich man smile that had nothing behind it but bemusement at the notion that anything but having his way was possible. He seemed to be in a mood to make it easy for me, but he took on a firm paternal tone,
“Why are we here, Eddie?”
I shrugged.
“Don’t start that with me. We’re talking here.”
I locked eyes on him without directly challenging him but I shook my head slowly left to right.
“Look, Eddie, I understand. And I want to help.”
He went to his desk and picked up a sheet of paper.
“Any of these statements would do you, and this team, and the league a lot of good.”
He waited.
“Anything you say is going to feel inadequate, Eddie. I know that. But you have to say something.”
I sat there.
He walked it over to me and extended the sheet about the height of my forehead.
I took it but didn’t read it.
“Try one.”
I put the paper on the table before the couch.
“Eddie. Eddie. Your silence…is..it’s putting a bad light on you, on my team, on the league, on the game.”
He started to say something more, I could see the rage building under his collar.
“I’m never going to say a word about it. I’ll just play the game. Nothing I can say will do anyone any good.”
He got brave, he owned the team, he signed the checks, he had the power,
“You’ll play the game? You play the game because I say so. We give you the money and the privilege to play the game. This is a business, Eddie. I am the boss of this business.”
“You know, Gordon..”
He swallowed hearing me use his first name, his eyes blinked, then he smirked, no one called him anything but Mister or Sir.
“..what’s weird about all this is that up to now you have had all the power, but now, oddly enough, I do. If I quit, if I site the reason why I quit the foundation of the league will drop into a sink hole. If I play you’ll make more money, the league will make more money than it ever has. Businesses like money, Mr. Shafer. So, don’t fuck with me-the tables have turned.”
I got up from the couch, balled up the sheet of paper and bounced it off Mr. Shafer’s chest.
“I ain’t saying shit, Gordon.”
I walked over the carpet opened the door and walked through the cameras and the writers who Shafer had planned to make a statement to, me standing beside him brought back into the fold by the benevolent and understanding owner from the tragedy that had driven me to silence.
Everyone shouted my name, microphones were thrust in my face and I kept walking.
All that was six weeks ago. I kept playing, never said a word, made four interceptions, scored on two them and had more fan votes for All Pro than any player in history.
Then I disappeared, now I’m on the phone with an interviewer named Clarence Johnson.
Johnson was going for ‘the apple never falls far from the tree’ angle for the havoc I’d brought to the national obsession-the generator of a million parties, the violent wet dream of much of the male population, the curious acquiescence hoping for insight and proximity into things male by women sitting beside them in front of television in bars and on the couch watching football like it was war and church rolled into one massive orgiastic celebration of violence and intimidation. Which it is.

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Who Will Judge the Righteous? PT II-Introducing Guest Blogger Don Bajema

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2013 at 11:23 am

PT II
violence is all around me
still my city sleeps
fallin through the curtains
I see nations crumble for me
Horizon Lion, Bev Haven

Who will judge the righteous?
It ain’t me, Brother.  That would take tenacity and wisdom.  It would take the strength of conviction, knowing what’s right and not giving an inch.  It would take what those young men do out on the field every day of the NFL Season, but coupled with the guidance of a crack playcoach whose cool&disaffected exterior only masks a keen&calculating hunger for victory.

Novelist, screenwriter, actor and spoken-word performer Don Bajema’s been there.  The former world-class athlete not only played for the St. Louis Cardinals, he’s toured Europe as a spoken word poet beside Henry Rollins and Hubert Selby Jr. no less.
There is a beautiful and searing clarity in his work.
Winged Shoes and a Shield, released last fall, offers a view of Sunrise in America that is both sweeping and penetrating.  Panoramic views of seemingly idyllic youth growing up in the 50s and 60s are presented in tandem with the malignant undercurrent of the draft and specter of the Vietnam War.  It’s not lost on Bajema that many of protagonist Eddie Burnett’s peers were using their young&naïve prowess to destroy villages of civilians in jungles far away from the track and field where Eddie excelled or the beaches south of San Diego where he fell in love.  Or worse, like Eddie many were suffering right here at home at the yoke of violent fathers who never really came home from their War years before, if only as shells of men, bitter and beaten.

I like Bajema’s America.  Maybe even better than the real one.  The man certainly offers a more authentic view of the “greatest country in the world” than the one that’s advertised.  Bajema’s America is at once hopefully idealistic and savagely dark.  It’s no accident that I hear rock&roll when I read Don Bajema.  It has as much to do with his paens to rock music’s innocence&potency as the dangerous world his characters live but dare to be in love in.

Aho.  My respect for him goes beyond acknowledging that he was there for that sublime and golden burgeoning of the middleclass and introduction of leisure such as the NFL to the gen pop.   Brother Don has kept his eyes open.  I’ve written it before, the man has remained beautifully awake.  He’s watched the whole thing come tumbling down.
He’s witnessed the murder of a dream and seen the promise of the hippie generation all but rot while a backlash rolled this country back 30 years and stalled our history sometime around 1989 and somewhere between willfully ignorant and grossly apathetic.

But, what do I know?  I’m just an apathetic ex-Pat postpunkrocker who admittedly sometimes just wants to flush it all down and watch it sink utterly into slothful oblivion.  I know, a bit much, eh Brother?  A little dark.  That’s why people like Don Bajema are important.  He’s wont to check me on Facebook sometimes, when I’m on some nihilistic, anti-Christian anti-American jag.  He never tells me I’m wrong but he doesn’t have to.  I can’t help but hear light and love coming from the voice of a man who’s been there, seen it come down, but somehow still believes.  The man is a true patriot and as close to a hero as you can get these days, when leaders and pundits and the big business of news reporting are all so busy telling you who to hate and what to fear.
Brother Don ain’t goin’ in for that bullshit, brother.  He knows that we won’t get fooled again, even if he needs to remind an unemployed and apolitical journalist like me sometimes.

Stay tuned for the first three chapters of Don Bajema’s newest work Too Skinny, Too Small, to be run serially on Going for the Throat over the next couple of weeks.  Order your copy of Winged Shoes and a Shield from City Lights Booksellers.

wingedshoesandashield

Getting Used To Nothing Being Wrong

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Indian Summer. Windy&warm. Black September giving sway. Moving into the mournful season but everything is OK.
Bad blues finally broke. I’m cleaning up the apartment, apologizing to friends and I feel like I’ve been let out on parole.
Had a sexy&smart editor come through. She blew through here and we blew through my stack of words until we had a tight little package we could send off to the publisher.
Heard from WragsInk, “68 pages of Real…” and it feels good. It’s what I’ve wanted, for 20 years, and now it’s here. I had a vision when I first touched boot to Texan ground, back when I was on the night shift and the day shift and living in a $500 flat off Burnet. Seems like so long ago and that I was such a young man. Which is funny considering how I thought of myself back then and all the times in my life I thought I blew it for that matter. I blew Hostile City and landed here. Life goes on. Life always goes on. Then it ends.
Got Winged Shoes and a Shield in the mails on Friday. Burned through it in two days. The man’s writing is brilliant. Makes you wonder if you haven’t been sleeping. Or it could just reaffirm what you always knew about:
-this country
-death
-adolescence
-rock&roll
-culture, war and war culture
It’s important to be awake. And its great to have allies. You know who you are.
Tune in here for a guest blog from Don Bajema. He’ll be posting one from out on the road of his Spoken Word Tour. Catch a reading if you’re up on the East Coast.

Snakes Will Eat You designer, singer/songwriter of Psalm Ships and good friend Joshua Britton is blowing through Hippie Town tonight. He changed his mind about El Reno, OK this morning and it’ll be good to see him. It’s been awhile.

So hold on, Brother. You got this. We haven’t come this far down the bad road to close our eyes or turn any away from the Temple door. This is our life. We made this. And we’re not alone.

Best,
Trainer

Guest Blogger Don Bajema

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2012 at 1:54 pm

It was through no fault of  novelist, screenwriter, actor and spoken-word performer Don Bajema that it took me this long to find him. But now I’ve got him in the arsenal and there is no finer an ally to have in your corner as we enter these early-dark days of Autumn in America.

I came across Boy In The Air sometime around its release through 2.13.61 (Henry Rollins’ publishing company).  That would be around 1996 for me and the beginning of a hardheaded&balls out decade of my post-adolescence.  I don’t think I was ready for Bajema then.  I wanted nothing to do with rock&roll and I wanted to forget all about America and where I come from.  I might have superficially judged the former world-class athlete and football player but more than likely I was intoxicated with my own young&dumb ideas about immortality and romance and rebellion.
To reconnect with the creator of rockabilly fused insider/outsider Eddie Burnett now is not only right on, it begs the question:
How was I fighting this long w/o the words of Brother Don?

Do yourself a favor and take the 3 minutes it takes to read this post by Bajema.  It sums up my appreciation and respect for the man.  Not only was he there, he was watching and he was beautifully awake.
He’s been there.  He’s done it.  His prose just gives it to you-slices of life replete with the wonder of being young&alive in America and the strange, diaphanous rites of adulthood that could take it all away.

Like I said, it was through no fault of Bajema that it took me this long to truly connect with his work.  I had to drop the anger&outrage I had been spewing out towards the world and take a look down at my own feet, on the ground and in my own country.  Bajema has that effect on you.   Some writers take you down the road of their characters’ psyche with nary a good luck.  Bajema drops you on the road in your own shoes, maybe offering a nod to the signs that are always there, until it’s too late.  I think the man’s been seeing the signs for a long time.  Not only that, he has remained beautifully awake.

It’s no accident that I hear rock&roll when I read Don Bajema.  The man believes in rock&roll.  Rock&roll is true.  It burns off the phonies.  It keeps you warm at night and kicking against the pricks in the morning.

He’ll be posting some road blogs up on Going For The Throat and chronicling his spoken word tour in support of Winged Shoes and a Shieldout now through City Lights Bookstore.

As we move towards election day and deeper into a Schadenfreude of national politics, do yourself a favor and spend some time with a true patriot and rock&roller.  Stories from the street and damn fine writing to ignite us and keep us warm through the coming Winter in America.

Brother Don