Thursday, May 29, 2014

In Memoriam: Don Stewart

In addition to the vacuum left by the death of Maya Angelou – and I am thankful to my 10th grade English Lit teacher who forced us to read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – another tragic loss happened in my circle yesterday.
He was a man you probably never heard of, yet his actions, his energy, changed your world for the better. His only real claim to fame on a scale you’d know was an appearance in a Sunday comic, Dondi.
He has been knighted by the Dutch royal family for his tireless work in the pursuit of environmental security.
His name is Captain Sir Don Stewart. And he was all that name encapsulates.
Pirate? Nobleman? Scalawag?
He was a most unlikely advocate for the seas. A self-professed pirate, Sir Don accidentally on purpose became a legend. Adrift at sea, his boat limped into Kralendijk (pronounced crawlin’ dyke, and that’s all you need to know about that) harbor on Bonaire, and he decided to stay a few years.
Or so the story goes. Anyway, he stayed there some fifty years or more.
He was a diver back in the day when being a diver meant risking your life. It was a man’s diversion, something epitomized by Lloyd Bridges on the TeeVee. There were no pressure gauges, and if you got bent, you got bent. If you ran out of air, you swam like the dickens to the surface and hoped you’d be OK.
Learning to dive, teaching someone to dive, was a harrowing bootcamp. But Stewart did it. And his students went on to teach others, including me.
Sir Don was a pirate. He drank, he chased women – many of the dive sites on Bonaire are named for one (or more!) of his girlfriends – he cussed and he was a rambunctious old salt. He was a captain’s captain.
Sir Don was a seer. When he saw the reefs and fish of Bonaire, an island almost perfectly suited to be a dive destination, he realized this was a gem that had to be protected. And he proposed to do just that. And as he did, he realized how complex the interplay of the ocean’s environments was, and he expanded his voice in an attempt to protect the seas.
He was an environmentalist and an advocate for the reefs long before Al Gore gave up smoking. He encouraged the citizens of Bonaire to join him in fighting for their seas, their very lives.
Life threw him a curve and not only did he get a hit with it, he put one out of the park. Today, so many of the beautiful beaches you see photographed owe a debt to Sir Don and his efforts to raise awareness, raise consciousness, about the terrible job we humans were doing, shepherding God’s gift to us: the Earth.
His passion was infectious, even into his old age, when I finally met him some ten years ago. Spry and feisty, he hit on every woman at a party I attended, despite the fact was all but confined to a wheelchair, as he had lost his leg.
In true Sir Don style, he had a funeral for his leg – you can visit the grave site at his resort – and replaced it with a wooden one. An ornate wooden table leg.
Sir Don was also a role model. He lived life as it came at him. His dad was an inventor, his mom was an actress, and Sir Don himself patented a sliding screen door and operated three factories under the name “Stewart Screens”. But it wasn’t enough. He wanted to be in films.
That’s how he ended up getting his boat. As with all things Sir Don, he took a roundabout route that somehow led him to his calling. He may end up in the movies anyway, but it is his story, not his face, that will grace the screens.
To my friend, my idol, Sir Captain Don Stewart, the sails are unfurled, and you have embarked on the journey of eternal grace. Godspeed to you.
Altho, somehow I get the sense there is a line of old girlfriends up there waiting to slap you…

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


By now, you’ve read or heard about the terrible tragedy in Santa Barbara last week: some rich white kid shot up a college campus apparently missed the one thing that would validate his entire existence.
The “pretty blonde girl” blamed by Santa Barbara murderer Elliot Rodger for his violent misogyny is “devastated” and living in fear, her father said Monday.
“The whole thing is so creepy,” the protective dad shuddered, saying he fears a “copycat” killer will now target his daughter. “It’s scary. Even though he’s gone.”
Rodger, 22, pinpointed his Woodland Hills, Calif., middle school crush as the person who triggered the rage that ultimately drove him to murder six people and wound 13 others in a horrifying rampage Friday night.
He was 22, and this was ten years ago. She’s two years younger than he is. This is a problem of lonnnnng standing.
He was under treatment by a psychiatrist. His folks (dad is a film director, an assistant director on The Hunger Games. Grandpa shot the famous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp photos when Allies liberated the camp. I can’t snark on that.) had money. Elliot Rodger wasn’t a bad looking guy, had money and had a famous dad.
He was about as privileged a kid as you’ll ever find. He had everything going for him and yet it wasn’t enough.
The police knew about him, even visiting him on April 30, but failing to search the premises after his parents notified them of his very disturbing YouTube postings.
Had they searched (no warrant was issued) they would have uncovered the licensed and registered firearms he had stashed away in anticipation of this incident. How does a kid under serious psychological care obtain legal weapons?
The father (eta of one of the victims) correctly points his fingers at the craven politicians who stand in the way of true gun reform, who genuflect at the feet of the NRA.
But there are others, too, who share a small measure of blame. Like the cops. Like the psychiatrist. Even the guys who beat the crap out of him a year ago because he was drunk and pushing girls off a cliff by a beach. If they had called the cops too, there might have been a bit more warning here.
A lot of people also blame the men’s rights movement, and there’s an element of that, too, in that it allowed Rodger to justify his feeling that he was oppressed by society. He clearly hated women, but it’s also apparent that he hated men too, especially if they were demonstrating any romantic feelings to a woman at all.
The parents, too, might have called his psychiatrist and pleaded with him (we can be pretty sure it was a man) to contact the police with the video evidence and warn them. I’m not sure that the doctor would have done anything – and maybe that’s how it all worked out anyway – but at least the attempt to get this kid the help he needed would have occurred.
But at this point, finding out who to blame will be small comfort to a community in mourning.
It would be easy to analyze Rodger in the vacuum of his homicidal megalomania. That lets the rest of society avoid the overarching tougher questions.
Every woman has, at some time or other, been subjected to some form of abuse at the hands of a man. And every man has, at some point in his maturation exerted undue pressure and attempted to exert power over a woman.
And I suspect an honest discussion of women’s behavior would find that the mirrored effect as well, at least in terms of exerting power and influence over a man, even if only as a self-defense mechanism.
You see, growing up into adulthood is difficult, adolescence is a minefield of emotions and raging hormones and confusion. Adolescence is about gaining control over yourself but more, over your environment. The vulnerability any teenager feels, the exposure to ridicule and social pressures, manifests itself in all kinds of offender behavior.
Once into maturity – and note I’m talking about emotional maturity, not physical. Some people never will reach emotional maturity – these feelings subside, and we are truly adults.
And it doesn’t really matter whether society is patriarchal – it is – or matriarchal – it’s not – or even gender-blind. We can revamp the entire emotional curriculum of life and try to eliminate all traces of power struggles and it won’t change the fact that growing up is scary and leaves us each feeling naked and different.
Until we can figure out how to smooth the passage from childhood to adulthood, we’re setting up generations of kids to act out. And that is the real tragedy of the Elliot Rodger story.