ON THE AVENUES: Clamming up is hard to do, but I’m trying my best.


ON THE AVENUES: Clamming up is hard to do, but I’m trying my best.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
— Michael Corleone

I can’t remember being born, though surely it was a traumatic experience. Being reborn is proving to be just as disruptive. I’m trying my best, but habits of long standing die hard.

In a previous column, I wrote a few words about trying to wean myself from an axiom attributed to television journalist David Brinkley, one that has served as motivation for my entire career as a noxious scribe and chronic pain in the butt: “You’re entitled to MY opinion.”

So far, results are mixed.

It may seem to readers as if nothing’s changed at all. I’m prepared to argue that apart from yet another recent outbreak of callous indifference on the part of city officials, this time as their everlasting cowardice pertains to the street grid-abetted death of a bicyclist, you’d have experienced a noticeable softening.

Yes, I responded to THAT outrage, full-throated and unapologetic. As long as the self-inflated denizens of the mayor’s ruling monetization camp remain breathtakingly boneheaded about life, death and human safety in Speed Thru City, I’ll call out their miserable hunks of vapid wasted brain matter … every single time.

Otherwise, I’m taking my abstinence pledge very seriously.

Having never smoked, groped with a Diet Coke problem or consumed beverage alcohol to excess, perhaps there’s no basis for comparison for the sensation of withdrawal when seeking to moderate my addiction to the gentle art of the polemic — as well as rhetoric, invective, disputation and a handful of other ten-dollar terms combining to suggest a very strong personal point of view about a topic, and the willingness to pursue it by whatever means are necessary to get my case across and win the damn argument.

In other words, I’m just as “passionate” about the expository art of acidic commentary as the esteemed councilman David Barksdale when it comes to his fondness for using someone else’s money to dress up old buildings, all the while enabling money to continue flowing into a campaign account of a mayor from the opposite political party.

Oops — I did it again.

Just a momentary lapse of reason, and now I’m back up there, high on that wagon.

Joking aside, there’s something suitably deep and serious about all of this. The past month has been a challenging one, and there’s a colossal inner struggle raging. There’s been something existential in my noggin demanding a resolution.

When does a hardened dissenter choose to “give in” to the system — to the bastards, the powerful, the tyrannical and the despotic — and conversely, when does he or she say no, the fight must continue, come what may?

When does a person assess the playing field and conclude that while the fight must go on, it cannot continue in its current form, and somehow must be reformatted – to the down low, or via the underground?

Hence the inner struggle. I already know the rational answer, because the tipping point arrives when one’s own actions begin to invite retaliation from the vandals against others. That’s when it gets serious.

The Czechoslovak ruling apparatus during Communist times was appropriately Kafkaesque in this manner. Dissidents might be subjected to direct, physical punishment, but they also were deprived socially and economically by being denied employment in their fields of expertise and training. Doctors became window washers and engineers worked as garbage collectors.

What’s more, their families often were made to endure the same indignities. Literal black marks were affixed to sons and daughters, who continued to pay for the “crimes” of their mothers and fathers. It didn’t end until the whole rotten edifice caved in on itself.

The American way may be slightly different, and dissidents here still retain a few protections even if the architects of excessive capital accumulation andtheir drooling lackeys connive diligently to strip them away, sliver by sliver.

But chicanery remains rampant, and the smaller the pond, the greater the peril. As one coping mechanism, I’ve been thinking a lot about my upbringing, particularly my father’s worldview.

The two of us couldn’t be any more different overall, but nowadays it seems that I managed to learn at least three important lessons from him.

For one, an affinity for the underdog, which points directly to the second: utter and everlasting contempt for those who amass power in whatever form and infer their own privileges accordingly, and concluding with the final point, which is a solemn obligation to seek whatever way possible to make it a fair fight.

Consequently, I detest the arrogant, self-serving cliques that form around power structures, and I find them just as objectionable whether large in scale or small. For this reason, my daily commentary toward local exemplars of this odiousness can be barbed, acidic, and occasionally downright nasty.

Verily, someone has to do it.

The chain newspaper refuses, so someone has to challenge the orthodoxy and offer the alternatives. If the rhetoric gets salty and steamed, then it’s just part of the game.

I detest unchecked authority, back-room plotting, fixes laid in, cash-stuffed envelopes, threats against people who haven’t the means to fight back, and the hypocrisy of the elites when it comes to excusing their own bad behavior as necessary under the circumstances.

Tellingly, these things I loathe usually emanate from groveling and unintelligent buffoons, and this offends me aesthetically on top of the other reasons to strike back.

Accordingly, I could not care less that any of this offends the people with whom I’m disagreeing in the first place.

The polemic is intended to be a war of words, and I’m personally well equipped to hold my own in such a struggle. Most of the small-timers who feel the sting of this blog’s lash also whine about my vocabulary, and this expression of inadequacy, while amusing, implies no responsibility on my part to be their tutor.

However, lately I’ve been trying to temper the excesses. 

As noted, it’s a big challenge. At least I’m trying. The reason I’m trying is the local election cycle quickly approaching in 2019. Should the political conflict between increasingly desperate Gahanism and the coalescing Resistance escalate, I’ve no way of containing the collateral damage and restricting it to me and my person, alone.

For this reason, a degree of circumspection is necessary, and I’m doing my best to accommodate the real world, as it exists right here and now, which is to say at the present time, I’m outgunned by the unscrupulous.

You’ll no doubt have observed throughout human history that power of any sort, once amassed, is seldom if ever relinquished without the process turning ugly. I accept this as an ironclad fact, albeit quite sad, and speaking only for myself, I welcome their hatred (thanks, FDR).

Alone, I can cope just fine, and they can’t do much to hurt me. However, I cannot expect others near me to shoulder the same burden. 

I’ll continue to explore ways to adapt, modulate and moderate — to temper the satire, restrain my barbed tongue and keep the debate as factual as possible.

Just know that complete 100% silence isn’t an achievable option, precisely because of the way my father raised me. He didn’t take kindly to shysters, mobsters and charlatans — and neither do I.

Wish me luck — or tell me to go to Hell. I’ll get by, either way, because laughter never goes out of fashion.

Recent columns:

September 30: ON THE AVENUES SPECIAL EDITION: As David White’s mayoral campaign begins, let’s briefly survey the electoral landscape.

September 28: ON THE AVENUES: If this is adulting, I’d rather be leaving on a jet plane.

September 20: ON THE AVENUES: Fighting the power with ballots, not bullets.

September 11: ON THE AVENUES: After 49 years, two more reasons to be an Oakland A’s fan.