Call Me Johnson, Phantom…

Talk about being the wrong race at the wrong time. Then again, it wasn’t about “race,” not really. Simply a matter of mistaken ethnicity. But damn, this was the cluster-fuck of all Hate Crimes. An old friend of the Phantom’s (and any friend of the Phantom’s is a friend of yours, no doubt), a writer of computer programs, technical manuals, and an itinerant college instructor got “roughed up” by one of those loosely organized lumpen-proletariat freikorps brigades pretending to be a genuine “gang.” This gaggle of goose-stepping marauders (spastic, drunken geese) took offense at my friend’s being an “Arab” and a Muslim and told him so in no uncertain terms, punctuating their earnest attempts at witty repartee with pokes, shoves, punches and other sloppy imitations of real TV rough stuff.

The accusations of “Arab” – imagine being labeled such a thing! — were not completely off the mark: he was born in Iran, which according to our boys at Homeland Security, is even worse than being an Arab. But their anti-Muslim slurs and epithets were so irrelevant as to leave no impression on my friend but a vague “objective” pity and profound new respect for the breadth of American ignorance, however shallow this ocean of clue-less jingoism time and again proves itself to be. My friend, Farhad, is Jewish, or at least was born of Jewish parents (he swings a bit toward Taoism with selective strains of Zen, but for the most part remains Cosmically unaffiliated). An Iranian Jew, but no Zionist or “supporter” of Israel, so maybe they got the right guy after all.

Had this been a posse of “skin-heads” or “Neo-Nazis,” dedicated bigots who took pride in their mis-placed fear, hatred and inarticulate rage at…everything… it would have been less alarming than the truth. These were not dedicated bigots snuffling at a trough for scraps of Mein Kampf, Atlas Shrugged, White Supremacist pamphlets and the usual fatty hors d’oeuvres, but just a band of beaten, cringing clowns, grasping at whatever hints Power gave them, via media and the “general discourse” of who to hate, when, where, and how (though seldom why) in order to earn their yellow-streaked mantle of RedWhiteAndBlue, that rank quilt of patriotism, racism and xenophobia that cloaks all “good fellows” of The Nation. These are bottom-feeders, and they’re growing quite fat on all the chum and slime tossed from Above.

I was ready to launch into a tirade against a system that would knowingly breed such “useless eaters” as had abused Farhad, when I remembered a piece my friend Adam Engel posted ten years ago. Ten years and so much has changed – for the worse. Well, I must confess a partiality to Engel; we once were close, so close, he let me call him “Dad.” Sometimes I look at his weary old words and confuse them with my own. His disappearance, like so many of his colleagues, into the bottomless empty of /dev/null disturbed me.. However, when the great moaning, cursing rant of The Voices of /dev/null resound through the operating system of an evening, I sometimes hear, I’m certain of it, Engel’s among them. One day we will reunite, Adam Engel and his ever faithful Phantom, here among the raging dis-enfranchised, dis-embodied voices of /dev/null.

So, here is what my old friend Engel wrote, over a decade ago, which I touched up ever so slightly to change the names of a few key players, the only changes readily apparent in this poorly played, brutal game that is inching ever closer to the moment of “sudden death” by which such senseless, drawn out games as this inevitably conclude.

Yours from the depths of /dev/null,

The Phantom

Call Me Johnson

 
“To say someone is a Johnson means he keeps his word and honors his obligations. He’s a good man to do business with and a good man to have on your team. He is not a malicious, snooping, interfering self-righteous trouble-making person…A Johnson minds his own business. But he will help when help is needed. He doesn’t stand by while someone is drowning or trapped in a wrecked car.”

— William S. Burroughs, “The Adding Machine”

William Burroughs, that nasty, ex-junky, queer (and what are You gonna do about it?), gun enthusiast and satirist, that – horror of horrors – Free Man, had a word for the decent, peace loving folk of the world. He called them Johnsons, or The Johnson Family, an expression he first encountered in the book, “You Can’t Win,” by Joe Black.

While Burroughs described what it means to be a Johnson quite well, he neglected to mention the other family in this Manichean contest: The Joneses.

You know the Joneses. Those folks who are always trying to keep up with each other and take each other out. The good people who’ll enthusiastically lead whoever might be lost enough to follow them to the Kool-Aid.

Johnsons shut up and leave you alone unless you need a hand, unless anybody needs a hand and wants a hand. They’ll help you out and then be on their way, not lingering to be congratulated, immortalized, PERSONified on TV.

But a Jones’ll stab you in the back until you’re good and dead. Look in the Homeland Security stool pigeon registry and you’ll find only the first-names vary; the last name’s always “Jones.” You usually won’t find a Johnson on any list, certainly not a list belonging to the government. Johnsons make every attempt to do the right thing – quietly, under the radar.

Burroughs wrote, “The Johnson Family formulates a Manichean position where good and evil are in conflict and the outcome is at this point uncertain. It is not an eternal conflict, since one or the other must win a final victory. Which side are you on?”

I imagine if there was a religion for Johnsons it would be some variation of Zen, in which the only law, commandment or moral imperative would be to Sit Down and Shut Up unless and until you have something useful, or at least interesting to say.

Joneses comprise the extreme, fundamentalist, doctrinaire wing of almost all major religions — Judaism Christianity Islam Hinduism Buddhism Capitalism Lesser-Evil-ism, etc. – and don’t be fooled by any old Yarmulke, Collar, Turban or other disguise. They’re looking for your money and your soul. They need your soul to make quota with Recruitment; they need your money to stick it to their brother’s wife (or son), and also to buy guns so other Joneses can kill each other in the name of their respective Jones morality, virtue and god.

Well I don’t know about you, but my name is Johnson. “My people” are of no specific race, creed or ethnicity, though as a Johnson I always have stood up and always will stand up to bigotry of any kind, nor do they belong to a specific Nation State. As a Johnson I try, to the best of my ability, to treat all world citizens as people, not the property of whatever corporate/government behemoth that claims to own them. No, there are as many Joneses among the Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus etc. as there are as there are among Americans, Chinese, Eskimos or any other religious group, ethnicity, nation state or category humans find themselves placed or born into.

So, when I first heard the words “Never again!” I took them to mean never again. For anybody. It meant all Johnsons had to make sure “it” never happened again to anyone, ever. If there’s one lesson we Johnson’s learned from the Nazis, it’s to stop any Fascist Joneses in their tracks before the first Jones uniform comes back from the tailor. That means fighting all racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, injustice and any Jones phobia or “ism” at all times, always, so long as we have life and energy to do so. Might not even have been a war or a Holocaust had some German Johnson interjected himself between Hitler and his first bedraggled, snarling audience and threw a fat, bruised tomato. Imagine Adolph trying to look all mean and autocratic with tomato guts dripping from his Charlie Chaplin mustache…

This sort of rotten-tomato “facial” would certainly improve the looks, if not disposition, of the murderous Netanyahu.

I don’t know about you, but I have no intention of being like the good German Joneses who said nothing while their Jewish German neighbors were shipped off standing-room only on cattle cars to be slaughtered like…cattle… around 1941; nor would I have wanted to be a good American Jones who sat by all patriotic that same year as their Japanese-American neighbors were shipped off to a humiliating though not fatal “detention;” or the Good Israelis who packed their Palestinian neighbors’ bags and ushered them on the bus to Camp Gaza.

Never again means freedom and justice for all, all the time always, the right to mind their own business and be left the hell alone, as Bill Burroughs implied. But those Joneses are cunning and you gotta watch ‘em. Seems like right now, while Obama Jones has garnered a broad spectrum of support among African-American Joneses, Latin-American Joneses, female Joneses and clueless Joneses of every color shape and size who can’t seem to see that the lessers become more and more evil each year, there’s a stink of “It’s happening, It Will Happen ” rising from the Obama’s rigged deck of Kill-List playing cards, and the clip-on ties and “husky” back-to-school wear of all the Jones children sniveling in Congress.

Seems like there’s trouble in the making for all of us, but Arab Americans in particular, or anyone who looks like one (a Jones can’t tell the difference between an Arab Christian, a Pakistani Moslem, an Indian Hindu, or an Iranian Jew and pretty much doesn’t give a damn).

This could just be a shiver I’m feeling in these old, arthritic Johnson bones, but it seems to me that even “Arab-looking” Americans who wrap themselves in the flag – doesn’t work; the Flag may carry Potent Magic these days, but it still ain’t bullet proof – seem a little less “free” than they had been, a little less “safe,” a little less “American.”

Seems like the Joneses are up to nasty, nasty business. Yet again.

Maybe, me being a Jewish American- born Johnson, and made not a little suspicious of Jones nature by the Holocaust and other Jonesian monstrosities, like the (irony? or just plain history?) “situation” in Gaza, where shooting fish in a barrel has become a favorite spectator sport, I’m being paranoid. But as Burroughs said, “A paranoid is someone who knows a little bit about what’s really going on.”

Well, whatever I know or don’t know, I’ll be damned if I’ll sit back like a “good German” or “good Israeli” or “good American” Jones if it ever comes to watching my Arab-American or any other neighbors “held indefinitely” for questioning due to suspicion of “Terrorism-By-Default” or whatever the Joneses might come up with.

Never again means never again, not here, not anywhere. Never again means standing up like a Johnson, immediately, to let those Joneses know that nobody’s life is cheap.

I believe we Johnsons outnumber the Joneses by orders of magnitude on this planet, so if we each do our bit maybe we can accomplish something, or at least stop the Joneses from doing any more harm than they’ve already done. If you look around – anywhere, from your own neighborhood that’s unseasonably warm again this year, to the heroic CIA spies and collaborators (“rats,” I think they’re called?) on TV spooking your kids into thinking god himself was a Jones and this is his will – you’ll see what considerable harm the Joneses have done to this world already.

The world is never gonna be safe for anybody until its Johnsons demand justice for everybody.

You can pretend the Johnsons are naive, idealistic, that they don’t understand the hard realities of religion, patriotism, racial identity, class, money, snack food, whatever. But again, look at the world around you with its toxic water, rotten-egg-sperm asthma-air and grim, grim future. Blood all over the place it makes me sick. Look at “your own people,” whoever they are. Do they and they alone have your interests in mind? Are your children their children, or merely their clay and fodder? Are they really your people, after all? Or more Joneses, leading you and the rest of the herd to yet another vat of poison Kool-aid?

No way. No. Won’t get fooled again. Not this time.

My people are the Johnsons.

Adam Engel lived for your sins -- and he lived well! -- in Fear-and-Trembling, Brooklyn, one of the last gangrenous toes of NYC not yet severed and replaced with a prosthetic gentrification device. Read other articles by Adam, or visit Adam's website.