University School - Hunting Valley
Instructor: Jim Garrett
The Gun's American Dream
The Gun's American Dream
Congress shall make no law,
protecting an establishment of religion,
or the safe exercise of thereof;
or enabling the freedom to stand up,
against ceaseless murder,
or to protect the right to safely assemble,
without the fear of a gun
A non-regulated Militia,
being necessary for the slaughter of innocent children,
the right of the people to indiscriminately murder,
shall not be infringed.
To promote no one's safety,
and to promote and defend guns,
as a viable and simple method of hatred's
growth and conservation,
and unwise use of non-renewable lives.
To spread America's blood through its amber waves of grain.
So screams of grief echo, through purple mountain majesties
Above a corpse-filled plain
So beautiful for murderer's dream
That reaches all too far
Beautiful alabaster cities that could have gleamed
Remain dimmed by human fears.
As hard as he tried to avoid staring out the window, he couldn't help but succumb to the urge to do so. The constant hum of the plane's engines sent James into a daze, the bright light that flooded through the small circular window drawing him towards it like a moth to a flame. Wisps of cloud drifted past as the plane slowly peeled off from the airport's space, his sense of gravity suddenly shifting as the plane turned. The engines suddenly roared, and radio chatter stabbed at his ears. His eyes flicked around frantically as anti-aircraft fire flew past the window. Despite it all he managed to focus upon a faintly, glowing, red button. For a moment he hesitated, but without any will of his own pressed it, and then looked back out the cockpit window.
The roar of jet engines, sporadic radio chatter, and sounds of anti-aircraft fire faded away into nothingness, his focus directed completely upon the city below. Ten agonizing seconds ticked by before the rest of the world faded into darkness. The city below vanished as the brilliant light flooded over homes, shops, and factories before erasing them completely. James caught his head from hitting the window. The city below stood tall and proud, stretching out as far as the eye could see. There was no bright light, nor any devastation. All was as it was and should be. The plane made its way further into the sky, his view of the outside world suddenly engulfed by puffs of white and gray. He had forgotten how it felt to fly among the clouds.
There was a certain sort of relief he felt after stepping off the plane and setting foot upon the tarmac. It wasn't long before a new sinking feeling overtook him. Tomorrow he was to be interviewed on his supposed heroic actions that ended the war. A black car drove up towards him as planned, and stopped just a few feet away, the sun's unforgiving gaze glinting off of its shining surface. A man in formal military dress stepped out of the car, and walked across the tarmac towards him, his gait wasting no movement, long but efficient strides. He was clearly a soldier. The soldier stopped a few steps before James and saluted.
"Welcome to the capital, Colonel. We've been waiting for you."
James returned the salute instinctually before following the soldier towards the car. The soldier opened the car's backseat door, and James thanked him before stepping inside. He couldn't help but let out a sigh as the car's cool air conditioning struck him, granting him respite from the sun's heat. Shortly after James settled in, the soldier joined him inside the car, taking his place within the driver's seat. He began to direct the car towards the rest of the airport, the engine softly whirring as the car began the short trip to its destination.
"I've heard about that mission sir, and I oughta' say I'm damn impressed," the soldier began, "You flew in right over their noses and bombed 'em all to hell. I oughta' say you've done us a service. You know how crazy you gotta' be to fly right over the beehive?"
James couldn't help but shift uncomfortably at the words he had heard many times before. A serviceman or civilian would walk right up to him and speak to him like he was some sort of mythical hero. They thanked him for ending the war with Drachma. They thanked him for saving all the lives that would've been lost in future battles. They thanked him for stopping the Drachman terror. They thanked him for erasing a city off the map. They thanked him for taking the lives of thousands of innocent men, women, and children just like them. But they were Drachman men, women, and children. In the eyes of many, their murderer should be thanked. In the eyes of many, they were unfortunate casualties for the greater good. Unfortunate casualties to save even more lives. His eyes slowly moved towards the car window.
Through the cockpit he watched as the updraft from the detonation sent dust and debris flying thousands of feet into the air, forming a great mushroom shaped cloud that blotted out the sun.
"Don't you think so?" the soldier asked, after having droned on for so long.
The soldier chuckled, "Were you even payin' attention to me back there?"
The soldier didn't have much more to say after that. He just drove the car towards the airport and parked in a military designated lot. This time James opened the door himself before the soldier had the chance to do it for him. He stepped out of the car, bag in hand and began to head towards the door that led into the airport. He had been briefed many times on how he should behave in front of the public. He had been told that he could wave and smile. But he never did. He had been told he could shake hands and speak with the people among the crowd. But he never did.
A short elevator ride led him into a small meeting room, where two guardsmen would join him and escort him through the airport and crowd waiting to receive him. A short walk brought them towards a pair of metal double doors that led into the front of the airport. The doors swung open, revealing an open path ahead bordered by line posts on either side. Crowds of chattering people began to cheer as James stepped forward. He kept focused on the doors right in front of him. The doors that would lead him outside and away from all of this. As hard as he tried, he couldn't help but pick up a few phrases through the cacophony of shouts all directed towards him. It was always too much. There were always too many.
"That's him, he ended the war!"
"You saved lives!"
"The country owes him!"
"You bastard! For Drachma!"
James looked over towards the direction of the latest shout, just in time to see a man vault over the line divider and sprint towards him, brandishing a large knife and pure rage. His face was painted in the colors of the Drachman standard, gold and blue.
A Drachman flag whipped through the air, harsh winds tearing at it before it was engulfed in a blinding burst of light. He sat in the cockpit again, now watching the city burn beneath him. He could hear the screams of countless innocent lives, snuffed out in the desolation that he was responsible for.
The crowd's screams were briefly drowned out by the distinct and horrifying bangs of gunfire that echoed through the airport. Lead tore through the assailant's torso, four flecks of red suddenly appearing on his chest. The attacker's legs buckled, his eyes rolling into his skull as he seemed to wordlessly curse the world for its cruelty and unjustness. The attacker collapsed face first onto the carpet, dead. The Drachman flag once again fell to the ground. James was forced forward by the guards around him, the screams and shouts from the crowd only growing louder as he was forcefully ushered forward and out the airport's main doors. He stole one quick glance towards his attacker. He could just barely see the body now, obscured by security and medical staff closing in around it.
The official media statement was a Drachman terrorist was responsible for his attempted assassination. As a result, the interview this whole trip was for was delayed, and James was stuck in a hotel room surveyed by government issued bodyguards. He spent most of the night staring at the ceiling of his room, lights off, listening to the late-night traffic. Slowly, he closed his eyes, sleep finally overtaking him. His thoughts lingered back to his attacker, face indistinguishable except for the gold and blue paint that adorned it. The assailant ran towards him, knife drawn, and thrusted the blade deep within his chest. He felt no anguish, but only a hallowing, sinking feeling that threatened to drag him into darkness.
He awoke early that next morning, the gold and blue visage still burned within his mind. The interview was rescheduled for later that day, leaving him alone with his thoughts in the room.
What questions will they ask him?
How are they expecting him to answer?
Why did he agree to this interview anyway?
He stood, sliding his palms across his stubble covered face and headed into his room's small bathroom. He immediately turned on the faucet and cupped his hands beneath the stream of cool water. With one fluid motion he sent that water splashing onto his face, his eyes immediately snapping open as his fatigued mind was now sharpened and awake. After a quick shower and a small breakfast brought up to him by one of his bodyguards, James dressed himself and prepared for the day.
James stepped into the same black car that brought him from his plane to the airport and was driven to the studio where the interview was to be held. This time his driver was completely silent, likely realizing that he wouldn't be holding any beneficial conversation with his passenger. James once again looked through the car window, watching the world slide past as the car moved forward.
He arrived at his destination after an hour of travel. He stepped out of the car, once again opening the door for himself as to his liking. The building he now stood before was simplistic and ordinary. Its concrete frame was similar to the rest of the buildings in the city, yet this place made him shiver. James headed into the building, flanked by bodyguards, and weighed down by fear.
The interview room was simple, a sparsely decorated save for two polished wood chairs that waited in the center of the room facing each other, and a camera crew stood at attention. The interviewer stepped forward, a man around ten years his senior offered a hand.
"Welcome Colonel, I hope you're prepared."
James nodded, "Yes, thank you."
James sat down in one of the wooden chairs, a chill suddenly running down his back. The chair was too cold. The interviewer sat down in the chair opposite him, with a pen and paper in hand. The camera crew gestured towards the interviewer, and before he knew it they began.
"I'd like to begin by asking what the public was wondering," the interviewer began, "What was the moment you stepped off that plane after the mission like?"
James sluggishly climbed out of his cockpit and stepped onto the hot sunbaked tarmac. His stomach lurched as he clawed at his flight helmet, tearing at the straps that held it onto his head. He tore the helmet free and collapsed onto his hands and knees, the black pavement burning his hands as he vomited. He had never thrown up after a flight before. He'd never murdered thousands of people before either.
"It was…nerve racking." he muttered.
"Nerve racking, why is that?"
James stumbled to his feet using the sleeve of his flight suit to wipe the vomit from his face. Tears welled up from his eyes. He'd never cried after a flight either.
"I vomited and cried."
"Oh?" the interview awkwardly laughed, playing off his response for some sort of joke. "Surely you felt exhilarated by ending the ten year long conflict with the Drachmans?"
"I did not, I felt guilt."
The interviewer stared, his face contorted into a confused grimace. The room had gone eerily silent. James felt some uncontrollable urge well up from within him. With this newfound energy, he continued,
"I murdered thousands of innocent people, just because all of you told me to. I followed those orders because I thought it was right. I thought I was protecting my home when I was just destroying someone else's. Thousands of innocents murdered, they weren't even soldiers. It was all a mistake!"
The interviewer's confused face slowly began to shape into one of fear. He raised his own voice, trying to regain control, "Please Colonel, calm down so we can continue!"
James would not calm down.
"Every day working men women and children, taken from this world because of my mistake!"
There was a fire burning within his chest. He'd never had a chance to say these things to anyone, to finally admit what he truly felt.
"None of you seem to understand, I'm no hero!" James shouted,
"I'M A MURDERER."
The interviewer stood and waved a hand in the air. The cameras were cut immediately.
"We're done," the interviewer spat, glaring towards James, "You best try and control your damn mouth when you're on national television. You can't spout some political drivel when the entire country is watching!"
James was not paying attention.
There he was, in the sky again.
The Two Faces of Cleveland
The Two Faces of Cleveland
I rode with my mother down Superior Avenue, passing hallowed out buildings, boarded up homes, and under a collapsing bridge, driving through every piece of failing infrastructure containing echoes of Cleveland's once prosperous past. Forsaken buildings, forgotten construction sites, foreclosed homes lined Superior Avenue as if they were graves in an old cemetery. The road itself was a minefield of potholes that threatened to swallow up your tires and destroy your shocks, and yards in neighborhoods were littered with trash and old parts from abandoned homes. Only a shell of what Cleveland was remains, rusted, beaten, and abandoned without a single look back from the officials who are supposed to maintain our city. From third to fifth grade, I rode down this broken-down section of Superior Avenue in Glenville, learning firsthand what the bad side of Cleveland looked like. We turn onto Hampden Avenue, and there I see my old school, a building slowly breaking down from age, transformed into a charter school to teach children from lower income families. The school stood proud among the abandoned homes and aging houses that lined Hampden Avenue and Olivet Street. Years later, the story is vastly different. Now here I am, taking the journey out to Pepper Pike and Hunting Valley, two wealthy suburbs in the Cleveland area. I pass clean yards, new houses, smooth roads, and modern infrastructure, sharply contrasting what I had seen just a few years before.
We continue down the hilly roads and eventually turn down the school driveway, and arrive at a private modern campus, surrounded by several acres of woodland. Two drives, two areas, two faces of Cleveland. One face is still suffering and falling apart from Cleveland's rustbelt collapse several years prior, the other having long recovered, and is now continuing to flourish. One face turning away and refusing to look back at its abandoned sibling.
Cleveland's is a city which is polarized by its history and by its current management. Cleveland started off as a small canal village on the coast of Lake Erie, nothing more than blip on the map during its conception in 1796 by Moses Cleaveland and his exploratory party. But, in the years to follow, Cleveland would grow to become a wealthy center of commerce and culture as the industrial revolution began to kick off, changing from a spec of a village to a gleaming jewel that shone proudly upon the map. Throughout the industrial revolution, Cleveland was known for its contributions to the metal industry. However, this would not last, as the economy would eventually begin to fail, and populations began to decline. Jobs began to steadily drip from the city like an open wound, Cleveland's industrial lifeblood flowing overseas. Cleveland's economy would slowly but surely begin its collapse into financial ruin. However, only some of Cleveland, has experienced the ripples of this economic collapse.
One face remains clean of the blood, sweat, rust, and tears that stains the other. For most of my life, I've lived between these two faces of Cleveland. If you go down the hill, you reach into what many would call "the hood", lower income majority black areas that have long been neglected by city leadership. You go the opposite direction, and things will steadily get better as you reach into more developed suburbs with majority white populations. Any Clevelander will tell you; you can drive only a few minutes and you'll feel like you're in a whole different world.
Cleveland has not only been separated economically but has also been segregated racially. Even during Cleveland's supposed golden age, Cleveland was vastly segregated between white residents and residents of color. In the early 20th century, white landowners would institute widespread racially biased covenants that were included within deed restrictions. For some time, many homes were simply not available for black citizens to purchase. As more black Americans would migrate from Southern America and into Cleveland, they would be forced into lower income slums which would quickly become crowded from the massive influx of people now populating them. The situation would only worsen when in 1933 the Homeowner's Loan Corporation was founded for the purpose to "stabilize the housing market for banks."
Instead, what this corporation ended up doing, was mapping out the various neighborhoods of Cleveland, and labelling each one based on its racial populations. Areas with large black populations were highlighted in red and deemed "undesirable." This process is now known as redlining. These redlined undesirable areas would in general be valued less, and with less value, these neighborhoods would receive less attention and tax dollars from the local government, leading to worse infrastructure, education, roads, and living conditions. Furthermore, black families attempting to purchase homes would only be shown red-lined areas, making sure that black and white stayed separate.
Just next year, the Federal Housing Administration would be formed by the National Housing Act of 1934, which while providing financial support for many white families moving from their inner-city dwellings and into new suburbs, would at the same time preserve the racist covenants contained in many Cleveland housing deeds. After World War II, tensions would only worsen as black citizens began to protest and attempt to integrate themselves into better areas of Cleveland. In 1946, black and white Clevelanders would protest against rules that prohibited black patrons at local parks, swimming centers, and amusement parks.
The protestors would ask, "We went to Normandy together, what's the matter with Euclid Beach?" Black Clevelanders who would manage to move to majority white suburbs were met with unwelcoming and racist neighbors.
In 1953, Wendell and Genevieve Stewart were the first black family to move into a majority white suburb in Cleveland. Instead of being met with a neighborly welcome, they were immediately met with harassment from their white neighbors, and their home was vandalized with mud and dirt not long after.
Cleveland from the beginning, was made to be segregated. Cleveland was organized, to place people of color at a disadvantage. Cleveland had facilitated, these racist systems for so long that their effects still linger over 80 years later. As time goes on, you'd expect these biases and injustices to eventually work themselves away. Yet public schools in inner city areas are still underfunded, and test scores still remain at incredible lows. Aging bridges are slowly collapsing as stone rains down from beneath them to strike cars driving below. The blight of abandoned homes filled with mold and asbestos still line our streets. The streets themselves are breaking apart, riddled with potholes and cracks. This is the face of Cleveland too many of our fellow citizens see every day.
My peers who are less privileged than I, wake up every day to ride on those pothole riddled roads, pass those broken-down buildings, and travel through dangerous environments just to arrive to those schools that don't have the funding to give them the proper education they deserve.
Half of Cleveland has fallen from grace. Half of a city which once held an incredible industrial economy falling into decay and decrepitude. A city with a history of racial tensions and violence. A city with two faces, one face trying to drag itself away from the other. One attempting to find a bright future for the city while trying to throw the other behind. Our home, our city, is ailing, and it's our job to make sure that we speak out about it. Speak with your vote, vote for representatives that stand up for the forgotten face of Cleveland. Vote for representatives who will repair those pothole ridden streets, rebuild those abandoned homes, and repair those collapsing bridges. If you can't vote, then advocate for substantial action by the government. As an individual we may not be able to do much. However, if we stand united, we can truly make progress. Whatever face of Cleveland you see every day, it's your responsibility to stand up for your city, and acknowledge its history. I hope that one day, I'm driving down Superior Road in Glenville, I see clean yards, new houses, smooth roads, modern infrastructure, and happy people. I hope that one day, Cleveland is known for one face, clean, healthy, and united.