A few years back, I asked people to tell me about their asshole.
The story was that I had someone who was making my life hell at work and I didn’t think I could take the bullshit anymore. Thus, with the idea of there being strength in numbers, I figured you all had someone, somewhere who did the same thing to you. Thus, I asked you to tell me about that asshole so, as Julie Andrews said, “I won’t feel so bad.”
Honestly, it really did help, so I'm asking for help again.
My wife is having a similar existential crisis these days at work, thanks to a boss with personal disorganization and a demeaning streak of OCD demands. This has been going on for about two years, although it has been getting worse over the past six months. The prevailing theory is she doesn’t want to run the department, won’t confront faculty and thus focuses on minutia in the front office and uses it to attack my wife. It’s like the guy who has a shitty day at work and goes home to berate the dog for not walking properly.
There are a dozen other patronizing or demeaning things I could list, but that’s not the point. The point is that this sucks and I’m hoping that if you were able to offer support or share your own stories of “Yeah, I’ve got a Dilbert-boss over here too…” it might make things just a bit shinier on a gray and rainy Friday.
Share away and thanks for your help.
Some of the best rock albums have been seriously road tested. It's not unusual for a band's first to be their finest. That was the case with the Tubes eponymous 1975 debut.
As good as The Tubes is, it still doesn't capture the glory that was their 1970's stage show. I hoped to post a 1975 set on Sunday but the buggers at the Music Archive buggered off with it. I know the band doesn't disapprove of their shows being online: the Tubes Project at YouTube was initiated by original member Michael Cotten.
Back to the stage show. I saw them a lot back in the day. They were master satirists, neo-vaudevillains, social commentators, and a helluva rock band rolled into one. For example, they performed the Latin chestnut Malaguena Salerosa with Fee Waybill dressed as Che Guevara and Ree Styles as Patty Hearst and danced the tango. Ole without the tilde. End of old fart reverie.
The album cover was designed by synth player Michael Cotten and drummer Prairie Prince. The latter is the exception to my "most drummers are dumbasses" rule. He's one smart and very talented dude. The team of Prince and Cotten have created stage designs for artists such as Todd Rundgren, Bette Midler, Styx, and Billy Joel. Anyway, PP can drum, paint, design, you name it, he can do it. Here's the LP cover:
I bet you're surprised to see the E word in one of my post titles. I'm better known for smart assery and snark. I have never sung Kumbaya but I do believe in the power of empathy. A wise person, as well as a wise ass, is,uh, wise to try to walk a mile in the other guy's shoes to paraphrase the old hippie, dippy song. Many conflicts, large and small, can be avoided by understanding the other person's perspective and figuring out if can be accommodated. It's just good manners as well as common sense.
You're probably wondering where I'm going with this. The world is suffering from an empathy crisis, gap or whatever the hell you want to call it. We see it every day in what passes for political discourse in our country. That's usually a non-lethal form of the empathy gap but a more deadly example is the latest Gaza Strip conflict.
Both sides are badly led and fixated on upholding their "principles" at all costs. The Israelis have better and more lethal weapons but Hamas would do the same if things were equal. That's why I always call it a death dance between two unreasonable parties who seem incapable of understanding the other side's perspective. The ones who suffer are the ordinary people . They're the ones who die when their leaders stick to their guns no matter the consequences.
It's hard to see a permanent solution to the Hamas-Netanyahu government dispute. Both sides are dominated by religious zealots whose ideological rigiidity is only exceeded by their ineptitude and stubbornness. Hamas is quite willing to absorb thousands of casualties because they know that the Israelis will be blamed. The Netanyahu government is convinced of the righteousness of their cause and keeps making enormous strategic mistakes such as allying themselves with the Republican right.
It's no secret that more *secular* leaders are the ones who have made progress in the past from Sadat to Dayan and Begin to Rabin and Peres to Arafat and Abbas. The religious revival in the Middle East has been bad for the peace business and has made empathy a depressingly scarce commodity.
I just needed to vent my frustrations this morning. It would help if they'd see each other as human beings instead of asTHE ENEMY, but the death dance is likely to continue.
Even groups that come to protest here in Sin City feel compelled to post a picture of Bourbon Street. In this instance, it's Operation Rescue who are apparently out to save America. Their target is, of course, death/abortion mills. The only mills on Bourbon Street are Gin and T-Shirt mills. Operation Save America, or whatever the hell you want to call them, has, of course, not restricted its protests to so-called "death mills" and that is why it/they is/are malaka of the week.
I was originally going to focus on the group's malakatudinous protests outside a doctor's home in Uptown New Orleans. It was the talk of NOLA twitter the other day as one of my friends lives nearby. Here's the Uptown Messenger's account of the harassment neighbors faced at the hands of these fanatics:
In addition to protesting Planned Parenthood sites, Operation Save America is also holding demonstrations outside the homes of providers. A neighbor to one of those homes — who asked that his name be withheld out of concern that the group would target him — said his family has already endured two sessions of protests, with dozens of people holding signs on the sidewalk near his house featuring graphic images that he has done his best to hide from his young children.
“My kids are scared,” the resident said in an interview Monday afternoon. “It’s all these ugly pictures. They’re talking on the loudspeaker. I try to speak to them civilly, and it’s very difficult to do, because they’re looking for a confrontation.”
His requests that they turn down the volume, he said, were met with invective about the abortion provider instead. Ultimately, he said, he simply closed the blinds and turned up the music in the house until the demonstrators left, but the entire street is ready for the ordeal to end.
“It’s not necessarily the issue of abortion that’s frustrating to us,” he said. “It’s just their method of coming and taking over, and forcing us to deal with it.”
As far as these cretins are concerned, invading people's privacy and insulting them is a part of God's work and if you disagree with them, you are a baby killer or some such nonsense. Very Christian of them isn't it?
It would be bad enough if the story ended there but it gets even worse as the Operation Rescue pukes protested at a Unitarian Universalist Church *during* Sunday services:
...on Sunday, they took a different turn when members showed up inside the First Unitarian Universalist Church at Claiborne and Jefferson. The disturbance took place as the congregation was holding a moment of silence for a member of the church who had died the week before, said the Rev. Deanna Vandiver.
“Into that sacred silence, a voice began to speak, and it began to speak about ‘abominations,’ ” Vandiver said. The protesters were shouting that the church was not a true faith, she said. “Literally in our most tender and vulnerable space, religious terrorism began.”
The congregation was stunned at first, unsure what was happening, Vandiver said. She then invited the protesters to stay if they could join or observe the worship service respectfully, and if not, to take their protest outside the building. The congregation began to sing, and church leaders then began to lead the most vocal protesters outside, though a few chose to stay quietly through the remainder of the service.
In an account on their website, Operation Save America trumpeted the act as a victory for their mission in a “synagogue of Satan:”
At the Unitarian Universalist “church” in New Orleans, Deanna Waller, Jay Rogers, Mary Claire, Ken Scott, Russell Hunter, Toby Harman and others presented the truth of the Gospel in this synagogue of Satan. As God would have it, the “church” was filled with students from a “social justice” training school. According to Rev. Flip Benham, OSA National Director, the team presented a “dynamic witness.”
During an open “meditation” time, Deanna shared the Word of the Lord. When the female “pastor” took issue, Deanna reminded her that, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:2). In violation of their “sacred tenants” of peace and tolerance, Deanna and others were summarily escorted out of the service.
Other saints stayed and dialoged until the conclusion of the service. It created no small stir. The “social justice” candidates ran to the Christians and asked them many questions. Our brethren gave them the reason for the hope that lies within them and defended the faith. Seeds of truth were sown. may the Lord water them in Jesus’ name.
Vandiver said she does not know specifically why the church was targeted. The denomination has a history of supporting pro-choice efforts, gay rights and other causes that Operation Save America opposes, she said, and the church on South Claiborne has specifically been supportive of Planned Parenthood in New Orleans.
“I think we were an easy target, because we’re literally just a few blocks down the road from where they’re building this clinic,” Vandiver said. “But we are not interested in being terrorized. Freedom of speech does not trump freedom of religion.”
That was an epic quote but I wanted to make sure that y'all read as much of this great story by Robert Morris as possible. The local MSM has been leery of tackling this group head on and I hope the Uptown Messenger's stellar work will force their hand. That's one reason I have desconstructed Robert's post. It also makes me feel like a French intellectual; pity it's too damn hot to wear my beret...
Back to the malakatude of OSA. Notice how they refer to a UU church as a "syngogue of Satan" and their own protesters as Saints? Are they Mormons now? They call themselves Saints too. I have a hunch that they are not: fundamentalists such as the people behind OSA are religious bigots who regard the LDS church as a cult. They're also confused. I was not aware that a UU Church was a synagogue let alone a Satanic one. I'm not going to delve into their theological positions, I came to mock them, not to study them.
It gets worse. I had a major TFC (This Fucking City) moment when I saw that Mayor Landrieu's administration had issued a proclamation honoring OSA's mission to New Orleans. I am not making this up y'all. Here's another extended quote from the Uptown Messenger story:
The certificate, which is dated July 20, extends Mayor Landrieu’s official recognition to Flip Benham of Operation Save America for “outstanding service to the city of New Orleans,” according to an image of the certificate being shared by the group on members’ Facebook pages. Supporters of the group were enthusiastic about Landrieu’s welcome, with one noting that “This is a first!”
Benham, director of Operation Save America, was found guilty of stalking in North Carolina in 2011 for distributing “Wanted” posters featuring the name and photo of a Charlotte abortion doctor, and sentenced to 18 months probation. A local organizer for the group, Pastor Dale Sochia of King Jesus Ministries in Boutte, told the New Orleans Advocate that they would be holding a funeral procession in Jackson Square on Tuesday featuring an open casket containing a “a real aborted baby.”
The mayor’s office on Monday downplayed the significance of the certificate.
“It is routine for the City to provide standard proclamations to visiting non-profits, faith-based organizations and conventions that request them,” according to an email from Tyler Gamble, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office. “As this group exercises its constitutional rights, the NOPD is executing a robust security plan to keep the peace.”
That's bull shit. Additionally, the last time the word robust was publicly deployed in New Orleans, it was by Editor Jim Amoss describing the born again Times-Picayune/NOLA.com/TP Street. And that didn't go down very well either as you may recall. The entire thing is guaranteed to infuriate a wide range of the citizenry. I guess they're pandering to the Catholic Church as well as the heavily Protestant malakas who are here to both rescue and save us as well as Murica. How nice of them.
The flying monkeys of OSA were unleashed on us, of course, by the TRAP anti-abortion measure passed by the state Lege and signed into law by our idiot Governor. I was, however, under the impression that Mitch Landrieu and his Senator sister were at least mildly pro-choice. Why then has the city administration honored a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as a terrorist organization? Change.Org is gathering signatures urging Hizzoner to rescind the proclamation. Click here if you'd like to sign.
I usually like to close this feature with a joke or a music clip. I won't do so this time. These people are capable of almost anything, and violence against people and property is emphatically not funny. Groups like Operation Rescue/Save American are a pox on the political landscape and that is why they/it are/is malaka of the week.
There are many phrases describing inebriation; so many, in fact, that it's nearly a cottage industry, which is also an arcane phrase but not this week's winner. Ladies and germs, I give you:
Tight as a boiled owl.
Mind you, I've never boiled an owl, which is odd since I live in South Louisiana where we boil crawfish, crabs, and shrimp. I think this could catch on, I really do.
Here's a usage example: the last time I played trivia with the NOLA Twitter people, I got tight as a boiled owl.
Since we're on the subject of booze, here's Aretha, before she became the Queen of Soul, singing a Mercer-Tauber tune:
There's something about summer that unhinges people. Some spend way too much on sunscreen and trashy novels and others go crazy in less salubrious ways. Here in NOLA, and in other big cities, it means a spike in violent crime and the hysterical reaction to it. Any time gunfire happens in a tourist area everyone pitches a fit and the Mayor of the day freaks out. The same thing does not happen when gun violence occurs in African-American neighborhoods like Central City or Hollygrove. Imagine that.
Others believe that crime can be abolished by means of social programs and education. I support those efforts BUT there will *always* be criminals. Remember Tony B, Steve Buscemi's character on The Sopranos? When he got out of prison, he tried manfully to become a law abiding citizen. It was too hard for him so he punched his boss and went back to being a doomed wise guy. I think efforts to break the cycle of crime are great but they won't always work. Once again, life imitates The Sopranos.
Another place madness breaks out every summer is on the American Right. In 2010, it was yelling and screaming about death panels, this year it's xenophobic nativists yelling and screaming about immigrant children. The media, of course, loves public displays of rage and hatred. It makes their job so much easier. I am always struck by how well the wingnuts learned the lesson of the new left in the 1960's: if you scream and wave a sign the cameras will come. This is another problem that will always be with us. Anti-immigrant sentiment is a recurring theme in our national drama as some in each generation forget that this is a national built by furriners. The only true natives are the ones who are slurred by Dan Snyder and even they migrated from elsewhere a long, long time ago.
Back to lethal summer madness. Hamas and the Netanyahu government are doing yet another death dance in the Gaza Strip. The current edition of this depressing cycle involves Hamas firing a ton of missles at Israel and the Israelis bombing the shit out of Gaza. It ends up being disporportionate because Israel has a fancy missile defense system whereas people are dying in Gaza. Josh Marshall posted something yesterday about this madness that I agree with:
The Palestinian Envoy to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva tells Palestinian Authority TV that the PA needs to be prudent about appeals to the Human Rights Council because every Hamas rocket - fired indiscriminately and without warning into civilian areas - constitutes a "crime against humanity." He also notes reports from Gaza about how the IDF is sending advance evacuation warnings before bombing attacks. This candor will and is being seized on by supporters of Israel. But it's just as much as rebuke to the rejectionist right in Israel who claim there's no partner for peace among the Palestinians.
There's a path to end all of this. Not just this flare-up but the whole conflict. It's there. It just needs to be taken.
I think Josh is right but neither side is willing to take the first step. Over time, this has become a religious dispute characterized by a fatal lack of empathy on both sides. It's often forgotten that the state of Israel was founded by secular liberals such as Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion and, on the Palestinian side, Yasser Arafat, was not notably pious either. The Bibi-Hamas stand-off looks insoluable but I think a cease fire is possible. They'll never get together to sing Kumbaya but they should be willing to stop firing missiles at one another. At least, I hope so. Never forget that Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness were able to bury their past lives as extremists to help end the Troubles In Northern Ireland.
Now that I've ended on a mildly optimistic note, I'll give Tom Petty the last word:
It's time for a new feature here at First Draft. I like new features and starting one satisfies my inner extrovert or outer introvert or some such shit. Anyway, you may have noticed that I am fond of old slang words and phrases; largely because of my love of old movies. It's time to formalize this by throwing an arcane phrase or word out there and seeing if it sticks.
This week's inaugural phrase comes to us from my old friend Elzabeth Brion:
There are some of you who got the morbs over the end of the World Cup whereas I had them over the end of the NBA playoffs. Victorian slang rocks, y'all. I bet Disraeli rarely had the morbs and Gladstone had a permanent case but I digress. It's what I do.
If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment or shoot them at me on the Tweeter Tube. Unless, that is, you got a bad case of the morbs...
A lot of people went back to the Founders this weekend. I went back to a couple of smart men I've read, too.
How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the jailers of Guantanamo, from the keepers of the black sites, from those willing to hand our inalienable rights to faceless men in the cubicles of the intelligence bureaucracy? How is that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from paymasters of torturers?
The time bomb laid beneath history 238 years ago is a time bomb of pure conundrum, and the people who put it there knew that the essential engine of democracy is paradox, noble bluffs to be called, high-minded promises in savage conflict with each other. And they knew that, too, all of them, when they piled the dirt atop the time bomb they had laid beneath history, wiped their hands daintily, and walked away.
Why are we as a people worth saving? We still commit murder because of greed and spite, jealousy, and we still visit all of our sins upon our children. We refuse to accept the responsibility for anything that we've done. We decided to play God, create life. And when that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn't our fault, not really. You cannot play God then wash your hands of the things that you've created. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can't hide from the things that you've done anymore.
Every year we walk in a Fourth of July parade. The ferret shelter where we got all our beasties save one sends a marching group each year, sometimes with animals in tow, and for three years now Mr. A and I have put festive collars on Bucky and Claire and taken them for a stroll down patriotic lanes. We're usually near the end of the route, with re-enactors and bagpipers, behind groups of acrobats who stop the entire parade to perform at every other intersection.
Two years ago it was 90 degrees and humid, but we went. Last year I was pregnant and nauseous and exhausted, but we went. This year we had a fussy, crabby baby who decided three blocks from the end of the route that she had had it with our idea of fun, but we went. And the reason we go is that up and down the route, which is about a mile long, people cheer.
Tons of people. They cheer for the animals, of course, but also for the bagpipers and the re-enactors and the tumblers, the mascot of whatever second-tier sports team can be summoned up, for the random people in vintage cars, for the politicians, local and state.
Old and young, black, white, Asian, Hispanic. Elderly ladies in prim cotton dresses and tatted-up couples with beers in hand. Speaking Spanish and Chinese and whatever bastardizations of English there are in the suburbs, and all of them waving red, white and blue flags.
This holiday's easy to make fun of, like Thanksgiving is (happy we stole your land day!) and Christmas too (goodwill to men, buy more shit!), like everything that's not a too-smart gloomy fatalistic pile of ironic detachment is. Why do we grill out and drink beer and blow stuff up this weekend? What's the point, when our failings, our shortcomings, are all too blindingly clear? Shouldn't we stay home, and think about What We Did? In silence, with the shades drawn?
Maybe, if that's what turns your crank. I'm not here to force anybody to have a good time. What I can tell you is that the public demonstrations of who we are and what we believe take place not because we are already perfect but because we are fractured and fractious and tired. The parades and the fireworks are not stand-ins for the past. They're exhortations to the future, to remember and be worthy of what we think we are.
Maybe your Fourth of July takes place a thousand times a year, in acts of kindness no one ever sees but you. Maybe it's in the dead of winter, during some celebration that has meaning only to your family. Maybe you have a weeklong party this time of year, with hot dogs and roman candles. The form isn't the point. The point is what you're saying to yourself and those around you.
That what we are is worth saving, and worth celebrating, and worth improving upon. Life sucks, a lot of the time. It's harder than it should be, a lot of the time. But people line up, up and down the street, and when we walk past pulling wagons and holding pets, they cheer. And they look like America, and they remind us that while most of the time we are worse than we think, we're better than we think, too.
It's part two of my Paul Mazursky tribute. This time I'm honoring the greatest movie cat ever, Tonto. I suspect that darn cat and Henri would disagree, but what can I say? Neither of them ever sat on the lap of an Oscar winner.
Here's the trailer:
I've been a bad blogger because I have a gig this week that keeps me away from the computer. Additionally, a certain mouthy tuxedo cat has been body slamming our bedroom door and waking me up at horrendous hours, hence no post on the surprising triumph of Senator Animal Husbandry in the Mississippi GOP primary. Who knew that boring old Thad Cochran was a walking Aggie joke?
I do, however, have an earworm to share and it's a good un by the Grass Roots as opposed to the Astro Turfs:
My dad has spent the majority of his retirement golfing or talking about golf, so it came as no surprise when he told me this analogy.
Dad was listening to the Clark Howard show, when a guy called up to talk about financial planning, so Howard asked the guy how old he was. When he told Howard he was 40, Howard replied, “Yep. You’re on the back nine.”
In other words, you’re half way through your round of 18.
I just passed that age barrier myself this week and I spend a lot of time thinking about life on the back nine. It’s not always about me, but rather what it means in terms of life. My folks are pushing past 70, so given our family history, dad could be either chipping onto the 14th green or teeing up on the final hole.
Mom just retired, so there’s dichotomy of thoughts for me. First is, “God, I hope she finds something she loves as much as she loved to teach.” Second is, “God, I hope she and dad don’t kill each other.”
Perhaps even more, I realize that life has a certain brevity to it. I wrote more than a few obituaries for the newspaper in which a professor retired and six months later, he was dead. Not sure what it is about work and death that seem to go together. My grandfather worked 42 years in the same factory. He planned to retire in May but only made it to the previous November.
Sometimes, I guess, a round gets called early.
“It was freezing cold when we brought you home,” my mother told me many times. Truth be told, it was 57 degrees, which for a Wisconsin June isn’t as ridiculous as it could have been. Still, all the cute T-shirts went in back in the dresser and Dad had to scavenge for a sweater for me.
I obviously don’t remember the first birthday, and most others were lost in a wash of cake, presents and enough food to feed the army of a Ukrainian country.
(Every food argument started with mom asking about food for the party and dad listing off burgers, brats, hot dogs, shrimp salad, potato salad and more. “For God’s sake!” Mom would exclaim. “Who is going to eat all of that?” Dad would always say, “We’ll there’s you, me and the KID! And then your ma and my ma…” The list usually grew to the same 11 people, but Dad never backed off. His final retort was, “We’ll send it back to school with the kid. It’ll be fine.” It always was. My roommates and I never starved.)
Some, however, just don’t go away.
My eighth birthday was a sleepover fueled by about six cases of Black Bear soda pop and 10 restless boys. We were sugared beyond what the human body was meant to withstand, so sleep wasn’t even a thought. Around 4 a.m., my mother came downstairs to yell at us to go to sleep. She found me standing on the doorknobs of our back bedroom door. I was balancing to shoot a Nerf ball through a hoop in what had become an increasingly elaborate version of the game “HORSE.” Thank God for 1920s iron-clad construction or we might never have been able to open that door again.
About 12 years later, a few of those same friends and a few new ones were gathered in the basement for another shindig. In the middle of everything that was going on, my Dad came clomping down the stairs and said, “You gotta see what’s on TV.”
We came upstairs and didn’t get it. It was a video of a white truck, rolling down the freeway. We finally figured it out once the announcers put the pieces together for us: O.J. Simpson was going on his infamous Bronco run.
We watched for about three minutes before I said, “This is boring. Let’s play Trivial Pursuit.”
Never let it be said that I always had a nose for news.
The big 21 was the one everyone talks about but nobody remembers. My uncle, who is 13 years older than I am, took me out at midnight in Milwaukee for my first legal drink. We went to all his “old haunts” and judging by how long he had been out of the game, most of them seemed haunted. Still, it was a blast, as he knew most of the owners (as opposed to the bartenders) who were more than willing to lube up a new member of the legal drinking brigade.
The only problem? I was in Milwaukee so I could drive my folks to the airport before heading back to college for the summer. Their flight left at 7, so at 5 a.m., I’m in a car driving a way-too-talkative Dad and a very chipper, I-got-10-hours-of-sleep Mom to the airport. It might have been one of the longer nights of my life, even if had it stopped there.
Of course, it didn’t.
Back on campus, I was treated to the best and worst that birthday traditions had to offer: A mug from the Nitty Gritty on campus, a toast at some brat house and a blowjob shot off the bar at The Barber’s Closet to finish off the night.
The next day, my liver filed for divorce.
Birthdays ebbed and flowed after college. The joke was that my favorite one was 25, because my car insurance premiums went down dramatically.
Actually, it was 26. The year my wife-to-be came down to see me for the weekend. We were separated by 500 miles and unsure where we were going. However, that weekend was the best of my life. I knew exactly what I wanted and with whom I wanted to be.
It started with her attempt to make me a nice breakfast after a night of drinking and accidentally setting off the smoke detector in the apartment. I woke up to the sight of my diminutive wife jumping up and down, waving a DVD case at a shrieking piece of plastic hanging from the hallway ceiling. It ended with me watching her board a train in Jefferson City, thinking only of that scene from “For Love of the Game” where Kelly Preston stops before boarding a transatlantic flight and tells the stewardess, “Give my seat to somebody else.”
She stayed on the train. I broke in half.
Three months later, she was back in Missouri and back with me for good.
The hardest birthday was 30. I hope it always will be.
My parents came down to see us for my birthday and as they drove in, we were hoping to get the OBGYN to tell us the sex of the baby my wife was carrying.
Instead, she told us the child was dead.
That year, my birthday was spent in the hospital as my wife got a D&C. The doctor told me everything was fine but that the child wasn’t old enough for me to find out if I had lost a son or a daughter.
The first words out of my ether-hazed wife when I saw her were, “I’m sorry. I’ll try harder next time.”
I broke in half again, unable to ever imagine a next time.
The next year, Dad took me golfing for my birthday. After the round, he took me out for some food. And then some lottery tickets. And then he saw a guy with a chainsaw carving wooden bears and demanded we stop and watch.
I figured that my father had finally aged beyond the capacity of his own mind. He was clearly going senile.
Instead, when we got home, I figured it out. A surprise party.
The biggest grin, other than mine, was the one on my wide-bellied wife.
Two months later, The Midget was born.
People fear 40 and I can’t say I’m a huge fan of it either. Dad, however, says getting older is better than the alternative.
Still, I had rougher years, like 36, when I realized that when I was 18, taking this lame media-writing course, my students in said lame media course weren’t born yet.
I also realize that most of my pop culture references are lost on my students. I’ve had to adapt. The giant fight over a singular A for a course is no longer “Thunderdome” but “The Hunger Games.” The self-important smarm-dog of the class is no longer Eddie Haskell but rather Barney Stinson. Geeks are Sheldon, not Urkel.
Last year, we spent my birthday cleaning like mad fools in hopes of selling our house. The realtor is supposed to give us 24 hours notice, but no one ever turns down a viewing, so we were scrubbing and waxing and polishing, all in vain. We never sold our house and I swore we’d never go back on the market again.
Of course, never is relative.
On my birthday this year, we signed papers to buy a new house. Contingent, of course, on selling ours.
Yet another stupid idea in a series of stupid ideas I’ve had over the course of my life.
The time I was 4 and made mud balls in my pool just before Mom was supposed to take me somewhere important in my good clothes.
The time I was 15 and forgot to check on an address for a cast party. My parents showed up at a dark house and couldn’t find or contact me in the pre-cellphone era.
The time I was 16, banged my car into a woman’s car at an intersection and then attempted to pay her not to tell anyone.
The time I was 18 and learned that even when they’re free, Tequila Slammers still come with a price.
The time I was 24 and tried to teach my students grammar by playing George Carlin’s “Airline Announcements.”
The time I was 28 and played two jobs off of each other and lost them both, leaving me unemployed.
The time I was 33 and forgot to care about anything involving our house-buying efforts, thus sticking me in an overpriced shell game of a homestead.
The time I was…
To quote Troy Dyer, “Life is a series of meaningless tragedies and a series of near escapes.”
That said, the purpose of breaking a golf round into two sets of nine holes is so you can sit in the clubhouse, eat a sandwich and reflect on what happened to you that first half. Maybe your putting was good but your drives sucked. Maybe you kept losing your balls (common problem among men) but you had some nice recovery shots. Maybe you did pretty well overall, but just one hole really screwed up your score.
I guess I made the turn. I looked at my scorecard and I can’t complain too much. I might be a shot or two off of par either way, but it could have been a lot worse.
On to the back nine.
Let’s see how I do.
Ever since I was about 11 or 12, I had a job at the close of school each year:
Fill the closet in Mom’s classroom.
The district had a rule about loose books and various other items sitting about during the summer, so it required that all teachers put all their texts, encyclopedias, dictionaries and other books into storage for three months. Mom’s only storage area was a small coat closet in her room, so after a few miserable attempts to cram all of her crap in there, she charged me with the task.
The first year, I made all of her schoolbooks fit, along with all of her “young adult” novels, Ranger Rick magazines, teacher editions and more. It was almost like a game of Tetris: Right piece, right place and bango, everything worked.
I did it so well that I got the job the next year and the year after that and the year after that. I never minded it as a kid, given that Mom would always spring for lunch after we were done. In addition, the closet’s closing seemed to represent the incredible possibilities of the summer for us.
Mom and I had the summers all to ourselves. Dad worked all day, so it was always Mom and me planning the hours between 8 and 4 each day. A great many days were spent doing the cleaning work that was put off until the summer.
We’d attack the “back bedroom” which went from a place to store Mom’s school stuff, to a war zone of resident household items and Dad’s invading baseball card stuff. The hardest part of all was always the back closet, which would start off the fall clean and organized and devolve into a chaotic mess of crap. Each year, we’d promise it would be better next year. Each year, we lied to ourselves a little bit, I guess.
Mom would take all the glassware and dishware out of the kitchen cabinets and hand them down to me so she could wipe out the shelves. She’d also sort out the items that had served their usefulness and were headed to Project Concern or a pile of rummage sale items. Several boxes of that stuff would then go up in the garage attic. When we would put the glassware back, it seemed like we had less room than when we started.
Some years, we had insane projects. We scraped and painted all the storm windows one year. We did the same to the screens the next. It was hot, dirty work that made us pine for aluminum-framed windows. A friend came to visit me once, in an attempt to rescue me. He ended up with a paintbrush in his hand.
Even worse was the year we painted the trim on the house. Mom scaled these giant, rickety wooden ladders she borrowed from the guy across the street to paint the peaks on the two-story house. I had to hold the ladder as I prayed to St. Jude that I didn’t have to explain to my dad how Mom ended up dead after the wind blew the ladder backward and tossed her onto the garage roof.
Perhaps the best stuff, though, was the rummage and estate sales we visited over time. On Fridays, we’d hit the sales while everyone else was at work. The stuff we found was mind-boggling.
One year, she found a 1950s grocery cart, covered in cobwebs in the basement of a house that smelled like musty rags and cat piss. It was rusty and had a two-tiered basket system where you could remove the baskets and carry them places.
She dragged this thing out of there and spent $15 for it. I then had to find a way to cram it into the car so we could get it home. Mom had a vision for this thing, so it was best not to ask too many questions.
Dad, of course, verbalized what I was quietly pondering, “The hell are you going to do with that goddammed thing?”
“I’ll use it at school,” she said simply.
“The hell for?”
“For moving books and things!”
Dad left and I got the job of painting it. I loved it. We painted the top basket blaze orange and the rest of the thing electric blue.
Every year, Dad had to take that thing home and put it in the basement, for fear of it disappearing on Mom over the summer. Every year, he’d take it back, swearing at it and hoping for its demise.
This was our summertime for most of my childhood. When I turned 16 or 17, I got a fulltime job, so it meant fewer estate sales and less housework. Still, the closet and the school’s closet-packing remained a tradition. When I turned 21, I stopped coming home from college for summers. I had stuff to do and my jobs had become annual work, as opposed to seasonal stuff. I think that was the first time I really shattered Mom’s illusion that I’d be her little boy forever.
I often wish, now that I think back on it, that I hadn’t.
Once college was done and I had moved out of state, it was a rare instance that my vacation and Mom’s closet would coincide. Dad would usually fill in, although he was often frustrated by the work or just impatient as usual. For Mom and me, the school packing was a tradition and a chance to talk. For Dad, it was an impediment to golfing. When we moved back home about six or seven years ago, I was able to do it once or twice before The Midget’s school needs or my own summer classes became too much to manage.
For the past several years, Mom had become the “anti-Brett Favre” when it came to retirement: Everyone else seemed to be talking about it, but she never did. When Act 10 came through, I swore she’d hang it up.
She didn’t. No way an undereducated asshat like Gov. Deadeyes was going to force her out.
When the school district transitioned to a Web-based educational platform, I figured she’d be done too. (I mean, Jesus Christ, this was a woman who still had Spirit Masters in her teaching files. When the district discontinued their use, she bought transfer solvent by the gallon and installed a Duplexing machine in our basement.)
Not a chance. She fought and cursed and struggled with that stuff until she got it. I sat with her for hours where we walked through how to make stuff happen in a painstaking set of details. I would explain it and show her how. She would handwrite legal pads full of notes and then use them to walk herself through the process in front of me.
I figured the last straw would be last year. The district gave every kid a Chrome Book required that everyone get “up to speed” on these things. They were ridiculously underpowered and they were horribly maintained.
She figured it out. I have no idea how.
Part of her decision not to retire was always her stubborn streak. From the minute she turned 55, all of her friends kept asking, “So, when are you going to retire? When? When? COME ON!!!” She wasn’t going to be bossed around by these people either. Besides that, she loved her job, she was good at her job and there was no reason NOT to keep teaching.
(Mom liked to tell me I got my stubborn streak from my father. I told her I got it from her. She refused to believe me. It simply proved my point.)
One guy, a long-term sub for Mom’s partner who was out on maternity leave, said to her, “So… You look like you’re getting up in age. When are you retiring? I’m looking for a job.” I think Mom would have taught from the grave before she let this guy think he was getting her job.
Another reason is that Mom never saw herself as any different from her colleagues, many of whom were now younger than her own child. They were all teachers, ate in the same lunchroom, dealt with the same shit, hated the same bureaucracy and had the same passion for teaching. The only difference was that she had been teaching longer than they had been alive.
Still, retirement was for old people and however old my mother got, she was damned sure never going to be an old person. She drove an Escalade, wore wild patterned tights and taught with the passion of a kid out of school, scared of getting fired.
Perhaps the greatest reason she never thought about retirement was that she never wanted to do anything other than teach. My grandfather often thought his daughter was somehow “less than” because she never became a principal.
He didn’t get it. Teaching and administrative work don’t share the same skill sets. Even if they did, that wasn’t what she wanted to do.
Her friends were her colleagues, her interests were school-related, her passion was education. This was more than her job. It was her life.
So many people talk about how they can’t wait to retire. My dad was like that. He saw days of golf and naps and shopping and such. He spent 38 years in the same factory. When I teased him that he needed to stay two more years so that he could get a 40-year watch for me to inherit, he responded, “I’ll buy you a goddamned watch.”
So many people look at their jobs and think, “Maybe I should be doing something else.” For Mom, all she wanted to do was teach that next group of kids.
Her victories were small. Maybe she convinced the kid whose parents didn’t give a shit about education to show up for school more often. Maybe she got the kid who slept on the couch of a crack den to try out for a play. Maybe she offered a kid who was unknown a chance to shine at the school through National Junior Honor Society or a musical.
Her rewards were tiny and yet so significant. While her friends who taught in richer districts or Catholic schools were lavishly plied with Christmas gifts, Mom got fewer and fewer as her kids got poorer and poorer. The one that sticks out in my mind was a box of $2 candy canes that a young Hmong girl gave her for Christmas. It was probably more than she could afford, mom told me. Still, she wanted to show her appreciation for what my mother had done that year.
“I can’t change anything about your life,” she told me she would explain to these kids. “I can’t make your home life better. I can’t help you be richer. The only thing I can give you is an education, and THAT will at least give you a chance.”
This year, she had hemmed and hawed again about retirement. I figured she was going to consider it, give it up and go back the next year.
Instead, she held on until the second-to-last day of school. Then, she handed in her resignation letter. It nearly wrecked her.
You could argue that she probably should have given people more notice. It would help with the hiring process and it would also give the people a chance to put together a party or something.
Mom saw it differently: She didn’t want to be marginalized for a year. She didn’t want the vultures circling her job or her office supplies. She wanted to feel normal in the job and then leave when people still wanted her to stay.
I disagreed, but I understood. It was her choice. She got to make it.
Yesterday, I drove down to Milwaukee. What started as a rainy day grew warmer and brighter as I pushed along Highway 41 into town.
I picked up Dad and we drove to Mom’s school where the kids were finishing their last half-day of school.
The lady at the door recognized Dad and buzzed us in. It had been so long since I had been a frequent visitor that between my aging and staff turnover, no one really knew who I was.
We walked down the hall to where Mom was sorting through decades of important documents and worthless crap. Dad found a flat-bed dolly for us to move home some boxes and cabinets.
Mom gave me a hug and then she got to business:
“Those dictionaries have to stay. You can either keep the encyclopedias or pack them in there and we can leave them. I’m taking my paperbacks home, so we’ll need to pack those. Let me know if you need anything.”
She turned back to her files.
I pushed the electric-blue, two-tier grocery cart out of the way and started packing the closet.
There’s a gender gap on the question of whether ferrets should be legalized in New York City.
A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday said men approve of bringing back the little critters by a 43 to 37 percent margin.
But women oppose legalization 46 to 36 percent.
These chicks need to get out of my gender.
Cats like the oddest things and enjoy relaxing in the strangest places. My friend Kat's cat, Miles, is a sink man. Kat, who blogs as Dakinikat at Sky Dancing, knows from cats and Miles knows from sinks:
The news out of Nevada about the wackadoodle couple who murdered three people, and some news out of Europe has me pondering the concept of neo-Nazism. I almost called this post "I don't get it " but I do: what could be more outrageous than styling yourself after the most despicable, violent political movement in history? The more puzzling part is why anyone would style themselves after the biggest loser of all time: Adolph Hitler. That, I don't get, or guys wandering about in SS uniforms. They should get their asses kicked on sight but attention is what they want so perhaps their asses should remain unkicked.
Speaking of Euro Fascists, EU elections are always good for extreme right wing groups. The European Parliament is essentially powerless so it's the ultimate protest election. The most pernicious manifestation of this tedious trend took place in Greece where the Golden Dawn seems to be coming out of the closet as a hardcore Neo-Nazi party:
Last Wednesday Greece got that jolt when Nikos Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn's imprisoned leader – who stands accused of murder and assault – made his first public appearance in almost nine months. The politics of hate took over Athens as the 58-year-old was hauled before parliament, ahead of a vote to lift his immunity from prosecution, on further charges of illegal weapons possession.
Emboldened by its recent success in European and local elections – in which the party emerged as the country's third biggest political force, thanks to a softening of image that has attracted ever-growing numbers of the middle class – the extremists drove home the message that they were not only on the rebound but here to stay. And as they ran roughshod through the house of democracy, hurling abuse at other MPs in an unprecedented display of violence and vulgarity, there was no mistaking what Golden Dawn is: a party of neo-Nazi creed determined to overturn the democratic order. For, far from being contrite, the handcuffed Michaloliakos was in unusually aggressive mood, giving Nazi salutes, telling the house speaker to "shut up", and instructing guards to take their hands off him.
Outside, black-shirted Golden Dawn supporters, lined up in military formation in Syntagma Square, gave a hearty rendition of the Nazi Horst Wessel song – albeit with Greek lyrics. All this was a far cry from the party's recent efforts to distance itself from the thuggery and racist rhetoric from which it was born.
"That day democracy felt a bit weak," said Pavlos Tzimas, a political commentator who has watched the party's rise from its fringe group beginnings in the early 1980s. "After all the revelations [about criminal activity], after all the prosecutions against its MPs, it still has the nerve to act in such a way, in scenes of hate that, frankly, I cannot recall ever being seen inside the parliament," he sighed. "Golden Dawn is not a passing phase, it will not disappear with the end of the crisis, it feels untouchable, it fears nothing, and what we saw this week is its real face. It is not like other extremist parties inEurope. It is a true neo-Nazi force whose aim is to use democracy to destroy democracy."
There has always been an extreme right wing in Greece. It used to manifest itself in royalism, militarism, anti-communism, and nostalgia for the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1975. This turn towards neo-Nazism is much more disturbing: Greece was brutally occupied by the Nazis during World War II. The Greeks were seen by the Nazis as unruly sub-humans. They got the unruly part right.
I spent about a year living in Greece as a kid during the junta days. Not even extreme right wingers had any words of praise for the Nazis or Italian Fascists. In fact, Greeks *hated* the Germans while liking the Brits and non-Greek-American Americans. The uber-malakas in the Golden Dawn don't make the connection between Merkel's Germany, which they hate, and the German scum they now aspire to emulate. It's creepy beyond belief, and I know it's turning the stomachs of older Greeks but bad times cause a lot of ugliness to ooze to the surface.
The rebound of the extreme right in the US seems inevitable in retrospect. Times are bad, the NRA is ascendant, and we have a black President who is also a Democrat. That last bit is a big part of it: the Clinton years saw the last explosion of right wing extremism here. This current group makes me *almost* nostalgic for the conservatives who were mindlessly pro-police. The Nevada nut jobs drank the Posse Comitatus kool aid, which led to the death of 2 cops in Las Vegas. The fact that they were "performance artists" gives me a whole new reason to hate them...
The whole thing has given me a nasty flashback to the back-to-back Gret Stetwide elections wherein David Duke was on the ballot. Duke scared the beejesus out of Blue Dog Democratic Senator J Bennett Johnston in 1990 before scaring the shit out of everyone else before losing to Edwin Edwards in 1991. At the time, people tended to focus on Duke's past as a KKK Imperial Wizard, but anti-African-American racism was subsidiary to his rabid anti-semitism. That's right, David Duke is a hardcore neo-Nazi. It wouldn't surprise me if he popped up in Greece, he's spent much of the last 8 years rabble rousing in Eastern Europe. Of course, Greeks are probably too swarthy for the Gret Stet Fuhrer wannabe's taste.
One more quote from Lisa Smith's fine Golden Dawn article in the Guardian about a disturbing conversation she had in an Athens cafe:
Dissmissing charges that Golden Dawn is a criminal gang masquerading as a political group, the second – a self-described government employee – said the far right was the best response yet to the great Jewish conspiracy of an interconnected banking system that has come with globalisation. "Let's not forget all the faggots and the Jews, the wankers who control the banks, the foreigners who are behind them, who came in and fucked Greece," he insisted. "The criminals who have governed us, who have robbed us of our future, of our dreams, need a big thwack."
You may notice that I bold faced a phrase because it's a literal translation of a Greek word familiar to First Draft readers: malakas. The Golden Dawn, however, have gone beyond malakatude to become a genuine threat to democracy. Like the character in this Peter Tosh song, they're dangerous, so dangerous:
The inspiration for this post title comes from a classic 1999 essay by Gore Vidal, Mickey Mouse, Historian. It describes what happened when a series of programs about the American Presidency that Vidal made for British teevee were televised by the History Channel, which, both then and now, is 50% owned by Disney. History was shocked, shocked that Vidal had a heretical, left-wing take on the Oval Ones. Obviously, the network suits had never read any of his work. They added some commentators to rip Vidal's work apart and spout the conventional right wing wisdom espoused to this day by the History mice. The essay was published in the Nation in 1999 and was collected in The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000. It is not available online but it's classic Vidalian snark. End of epic digressive opening paragraph.
The History Channel, just History now that they show more reality shows and less history, is up to their old tricks. Their latest "documentary," The World Wars is terribly inaccurate as well as unintentionally funny unless you're a neo-con.
The World Wars combines recreated scenes, documentary footage, and talking heads to tell the "story." Essentially, it's the great man theory of history run amuck. They focus on, Patton, MacArthur, FDR, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Churchill. It turns out that Patton and MacArthur won both world wars singlehandedly since the names Pershing, Marshall, Eisenhower, Bradley, Montgomery, or Nimitz are never mentioned. That would break the neo-con infused narrative, y'all. I think they took a poll and found out who Americans have heard of and focused the "documentary" on them. I think Ike was omitted because the Birchers claimed he was a commie sympathizer or com-simp. They were the real simps.
The talking heads are an odd assortment as well; some historians and military men who know something but also a whole bunch of politicians, many of whom are associated with the Iraq War: John McCain, Holy Joe Lieberman, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and the man I call Vice President Duce, Richard Bruce Cheney. That's right Dick Fucking Cheney is a born again expert on World War II. Every time he mentioned FDR, I wanted to run over him with a borrowed wheel chair.
Back to the format. It mixes the real and the reel a bit too much for my taste. I can deal with some of the Hollywood-ish methods they employ: having Hitler and Chamberlain sit in a room while their interpreters translate would be boring. I have a bigger problem with having some of the "characters" speak English with a German, Italian, or Russian accent. It's a cross between Hogan's Heroes and Boris and Natasha on the old Bullwinkle Show, only Schultz was funny and Natasha was sexy in a cartoony way, dahlink.
I also understand when events are simplified and condensed to drive a narrative BUT the producers of The World Wars also made a lot of shit up out of whole cloth. To complete the analogy: shit stained cloth should be flushed instead of put on tevee. I spent some time pausing the show and googling what I didn't know off the top of my head. I was appalled that they made a "documentary" that is less accurate than the average Hollywood bio-pic or war movie. I am not making this up, that's what they did.
There are too many lowlights to recount here but all they had to do was to use Mr. Google, Yahoo Serious, or even Der Bingle if they wanted this program to be accurate. A very big if indeed. Since I'm an Anglophile who avidly follows British politics, I'll focus on the egregious and manifold errors they made about Winston Churchill. I'll put their assertions in bold face, Mad Men recap style. Yeah, I'm still having withdrawal symptoms…
Churchill was from one of the richest families in England. He was from one of the *noblest* families but like most of the nobs they were land rich and cash poor. Plus, Churchill's father Randolph didn't inherit the family title or fortune for reasons that anyone who has seen Downtown Abbey will get. Churchill had to earn a living with his pen, which is why he continued to write even while Prime Minister.
Churchill was shown being fired by an admiral after the disaster at Gallipoli. First Lord of the Admiralty is a *political* post, which was answerable to Prime Minister Asquith and the cabinet. Churchill was actually forced out of the job when the LIberals formed a national unity government with the Conservatives after the Gallipoli catastrophe. The Tories insisted on Churchill's ouster as a condition of forming a coalition with the Liberal party. Why? Churchill had left the Tory party and joined the Liberals in 1904. In short, they did not trust him. Within a few years, he would rejoin the Conservatives after the Liberals split between supporters of Asquith and Lloyd George. His party switches don't bolster History's image of Churchill as a man of principle and steadfast convictions. Ironically, he's the most highly regarded Conservative PM now, even among Thatcherites and Americans who know nothing about British history like the producers of this dreadful "documentary."
The producers claim that Churchill was "in the wilderness," and not listened to after Gallipoli until 1939. This is the nuttiest assertion by far. Churchill was only out of the cabinet for 2 years. He served in a series of senior positions during the 1920's. From 1924-1929, he was Stanley Baldwin's Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is the second most powerful political position in the British government. His years spent wandering in the political wilderness were the result of failed economic policies including putting the U.K. back on the gold standard. Are you listening, Ron Paul?
Another reason for Churchill's extended exile from power was his support for King Edward VIII during the Wallis Simpson scandal. He urged the King to fight it out, which was an incorrect and very unpopular position. The weird thing about this is that the man we know best as the Duke of Windsor was pro-German and thought Hitler was a misunderstood chap. Winston clearly did not. Perhaps the whole Mrs. Simpson as dominatrix thing enthralled him. The world was lucky that Colin Firth replaced Guy Pearce as King...
Churchill returned to the cabinet before the declaration of war. Once again, they got a key detail wrong. Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty again on September 3, 1939, which was-you guessed it-the day war was declared on Nazi Germany. The producers show Churchill meeting with Chamberlain in the Prime Minister's office at Number 10 Downing Street. Churchill looks around and says, "This is the first time I've been in this office since the Great War."
As you may have gathered that was preposterous. The cabinet meets at Number 10 and the Chancellor lives next door to the Prime Minister on Downing Street. That's right; they made their hero Churchill into a liar. Oy, such malakatude on a grand scale.
I felt sorry for two of the British talking heads enlisted by the producers: former Tory Prime Minister John Major and former Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband. I'm certain they had no idea that ALMOST EVERYTHING the producers asserted about Churchill WAS WRONG.
I knew most of the Churchill stuff off the top of my head but I consulted with his Wikipedia entry for the details. It was that simple, y'all.
There are too many other howlers for me to go into detail since I'm writing this for free. I would, however, like to spend a few minutes on their treatment of George Patton. First, Patton was a mere field commander in the Great War, not an epic figure. He was a much bigger deal during World War II.
Second, they made it sound as if Patton was as important a historical figure as FDR, Hitler, Churchill et. al. He manifestly was not even as important as General/President Eisenhower whose name was never mentioned in the program.
Third, President Roosevelt did not personally deal with General Patton, and was not intimately involved with the latter's demotion after the soldier slapping incident. He left such matters to Generals Marshall, Eisenhower, and Bradley none of whom were mentioned. Guess it would have interfered with the producers reimagining Patton as a Randian uber mensch. Patton made the cut because there was a good bio-pic made about him in 1970, which was more accurate than this so-called documentary. George C Scott weeps.
Am I surprised that they made such a mess of this so-called documentary? Absolutely not. I expected them to simplify and dumb things down for a mass audience. But I didn't expect the vast number of ridiculous factual errors that were sold as "history." While I would rather hot glue plastic beads to my nipples than watch Swamp People again, I quite like American Pickers and Pawn Stars. The History Channel should stick to their reality programming rather than produce a factually impaired "documentary" that is written at level that's too stupid even for Chumlee.
I'm stil grinding away on an involved post about the dreadful History Channel "documentary" The World Wars. But I had to chime in about the GOP Mississippi Senate primary again. I thought the whole break-in and torment the elderly wife thing would kill the McDaniel campaign and hand a narrow primary victory to Cochran. I obviously overestimated the deceny of Mississippi Republicans. What the hell was I thinking? I still agree with my own tweet from last night before the final returns were in:
Old school right winger ahead of teabagger in Miss. A distinction without a difference.— Adrastos (@Adrastosno) June 4, 2014
The post title is a line from an old Graham Parker song. He may be a self-decribed horrible little man, but he's a helluva songwriter and snarkmeister:
If you're like me, you're Jonesing for more Mad Men after seeing a mere half season in 2014. Now we have to wait a full fucking year for more. I cannot help you there, but I can share some links to some of the best Mad Men writing on the interweb to keep you going in between seasons. What's great about the show is that it lends itself to varying interpretations, which is why it's so damn fun to write about. There are some very good writers and online publications posting about Mad Men. I'll post some links after the break, but first a message from the Sterlings:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City health officials are considering a repeal of the city's ban on keeping ferrets as pets, officials said on Wednesday.
Keeping the small furry mammals in New York City has been prohibited for decades, but health officials would recommend lifting the ban if changes include such requirements as rabies vaccinations, according to a spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The move comes under the administration of Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal who made the banning of carriage horses in Central Park an issue in his election campaign last year.
Don't forget to Freep this poll, which asks if ferrets should be banned because, as fierce and violent predators, they pose a danger to children. I mean, clearly:
(I miss my Tilly.)
We're having an extended allergy season here in New Orleans this year. Plus there's a major drainage project on Napoleon Avenue 3 blocks from Adrastos World HQ. This means that I am one wheezy and itchy motherfucker right now. My eyes are all swole up and puffy, and benadryl is the best thing for it. That, in turn, makes me groggy and not feel like writing. That's a long way to explain why I've been a bit on the quiet side of late.
Since I'm feeling uninspired today, I thought I'd steer you to some interesting things I've read on the interweb. The links are all in sub-headers since I'm feeling sub-normal and unlike Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Guess that makes me a substitute for another guy...
Grandee or Scalawag? Ed Kilgore has written the best thing I've seen about the Cochran-McDaniel mishegas. It remains to be seen what will happen next door in Mississippi.
Chrissie Hynde Goes Solo: The Pretenders frontwoman has recorded her first solo album. This is an excellent profile by the Guardian's Tim Lewis wherein she opens up more than usual. Good job, Tim.
Why Bobby Jindal Will Never, Ever Be President: Spot on piece by Gambiteer Clancy DuBos. My only quibble is that he was reluctant to say that PBJ is one ugly little bastard both inside and out.
The Case For Reparations: I suspect most of y'all have already read this Ta-Nehisi Coates opus. It's both exhaustive and exhausting, but a must read. I was particularly interested in the discussion of redlining in the Chicago real estate market.
Finally, I've never posted a tune from the Who compilation LP that gives this feature its title. It's time to rectify that:
There's nothing like a national holiday to make one feel ritualistic.This post was written in 2010 and is making its fifth annual appearance here at First Draft:
The veteran I'd like to remember on this solemn holiday is the late Sgt. Eddie Couvillion.
My family tree is far too tangled and gnarly to describe here but suffice it to say that Eddie was my second father. He served in Europe during World War II, not in combat but in the Army Quartermaster Corps. In short, he was a supply Sergeant, one of those guys who won the war by keeping the troops fed, clothed and shod. Eddie was what was called in those days a scrounger; not unlike Milo Minderbinder in Catch-22 or James Garner's character in The Great Escape.
Eddie's favorite military exploit was running an army approved bordello in France after hostilities ended. He always called it a cat house and bragged that it was the best little whorehouse in Europe. One can serve one's country in manifold ways...
Eddie died 5 years ago and I still miss him. He was a remarkable man because he changed so much as he aged. When I met him, he was a hardcore Texas/Louisiana conservative with old South racial views and attitudes. At an age when many people close their minds, Eddie opened his and stopped thinking of black folks as a collective entity that he didn't care for and started thinking of them as individuals. Eddie was a genuine Southern gentleman so he'd never done or said an unkind thing to anyone but confided to me that the only one he'd ever hurt by being prejudiced was himself. I was briefly speechless because we'd had more than a few rows over that very subject. Then he laughed, shook his head and said: "Aren't you going to tell me how proud you are of me? You goddamn liberals are hard to satisfy."
Actually, I'm easily satisfied. In 2004, Eddie had some astonishing news for me: he'd not only turned against the Iraq War but planned to vote for John Kerry because "Bush Junior is a lying weasel and a draft dodger." That time he didn't need to ask me if I was proud of him, it was written all over my face. It was the first and only time he ever voted for a Democrat for President.
I salute you, Sgt. Couvillion. I only wish that I could pour you a glass of bourbon on the rocks and we could raise our glasses in a Memorial Day toast.
John Maginnis, the dean of Louisiana political reporters and pundits, died unexpectedly today at the age of 66. I was lucky enough to meet John several times over the years and he was witty, intelligent and kind; a gentleman in the best sense of the word.
John was a helluva writer and storyteller. His books The Last Hayride and Cross To Bear, about the 1983 and 1991 Gubernatorial races respectively, are two of the best books ever written about Louisiana politics. I've read both of them multiple times, and highly recommend them to anyone who wants to know more about Louisiana politics and some of the remarkable characters who John covered: Edwin Edwards, Buddy Roemer and David Duke to name a few.
I don’t believe in reincarnation, but if I did, I would swear that John Maginnis had been a corrupt Louisiana state senator in a previous life.
How else to explain how this legendary political journalist, who died Sunday at age 66, developed his uncanny ability to read the minds of the pols he covered in more than four decades of writing about Louisiana’s political culture?
In my 30-plus years in and around Louisiana politics, I never met a non-politician who understood the state’s political system better than John. For those of us who write about politics, he was the gold standard by which we all measured ourselves.
He was, as Huey Long once said about himself, sui generis.
Of all the things we do in life, nothing makes me less comfortable than attending funerals. For a Catholic who has been promised an afterlife of epic proportions, I always have trouble squaring my distaste for death with my faith. For days leading up to one, I’m a cranky mess. For at least a week or two after one, I’m discombobulated beyond comprehension. Even my muse, writing, leaves me and I’m unable to put together coherent thoughts or artful prose. It’s like my head becomes the “Spinning Wheel of Death” and I’m just tasting the rainbow.
Last week, we were wobbling between life and death with my wife’s grandfather. He was nearing 90, had been on rocky ground for some time and suddenly took a turn for the worse. He apparently had fallen, not told anyone and his body had not reacted kindly to his silence: Two broken ribs, bruising and a raging infection that was shutting him down for good.
Friday, we got the call. He was gone. Funeral slated for Wednesday.
The next four days led to a blur of driving, planning, emailing, calling and more to get my in-laws down from the Northwoods, my wife off of work, my kid cared for after school, the dog sheltered and everything else we could pull together. In explaining what I was doing (including driving about 12 hours in a single day so that everyone could be where they needed to be), the only explanation I could muster was this: “It’s what we do.”
Or as Yogi Berra used to say, “If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t come to yours.”
We had a funeral, a mass and a lunch. We interred him at a veterans cemetery, a final benefit for his service in World War II and we all went our separate ways. For reasons I can’t fully explain, none of it felt normal to me. None of it felt right. It still doesn’t and I still don’t.
It’s hard to explain how and why I’m screwed up. I know I need to do work. I need to write. I need to fix things around the house. I have time and work and a purpose and yet all I want is to lie in bed and wait for something to come along and fix me.
I don’t know why.
It’s not the person, as we weren’t close at all. We rarely saw that side of the family and the members of that family aren’t particularly close either.
It’s not the emotion. No one really seemed to be impacted by the funeral, including the man’s children. My wife was sad, but I’ve seen her much, much worse and I’ve been able to pull her (and me) out of it much more quickly than this.
It’s not some issue of fairness. The man lived a long and fruitful life, survived World War II, worked a cop in Chicago and patrolled Cabrini Green when it was CABRINI GREEN. He retired and lived out his days watching his programs on TV. He wasn’t cheated, I’d say. If he was, he didn’t make a fuss about it.
At that small gathering of people on Wednesday, one of his sons noted that he didn’t expect a lot of people at his father’s wake. The man had outlived all of his contemporaries and this would basically be the family who could find the time to show up. That led me to believe the man spent a lot of time doing what I was doing: Attending funerals and pondering mortality.
It is, after all, what we do.
Someone explained to me once that funerals are more for the living than the dead. To be fair, it’s unclear exactly how someone would know that, given the dead have never spoken on the issue. Even more, it’s tough to understand why we do this to ourselves, given that at least in my case, I’ve always felt like I’ve left the events worse for wear and more or less with a set of scrambled innards and a broken brain.
Still, when the 21-gun salute rang out and the tears fell from my wife’s eyes, I was able to hold her hand and give her a thinning smile.
It was what I could do.
"No matter how old you are, you’re always your mom’s kid."
Every year, a student will walk into my office and talk to me about something family-related and how things aren’t going well or whatever. They then some how come down to “And my mom said…” and then they pause and look away a little bit.
The look always seems to say, “I’m a college student and I’m still dealing with my mom and what she thinks or says or feels… Could I be any more of a tool?”
I always respond with the line above. I always mean it. For better, or for worse.
Somehow, that always seems to make things a bit better for them, given that I’m more than twice their age and I still get it.
Mom is mom.
When I was a kid, we always had dinner as a family. This continued through my high school years until I was unable to make all the meals due to play practice or other extra-curricular endeavors. My parents both worked, but we sat down for a meal, by hook or by crook.
Usually Dad would start talking about his day at the factory, using lingo that only engineers or factory workers would understand. Flange this and forging that and over here in the met lab and so forth. Mom would listen and offer positive commentary or probing questions.
One year, long after I was out of the house, I asked about this. I never understood what the hell he was talking about and I wondered how she figured it all out.
Part of it was learning the lingo, she told me, but for the most part she felt about as lost as I was. Still, she said, it was important to Dad, so it was important to her.
She also listened to me that summer the newspaper shut down. We’d sit in the kitchen when I’d come home for a weekend. She would do the ironing, I’d collapse in a chair, feeling like a wrung-out towel. No matter how bad it was or what little she could do to help, she always listened as she pressed creases into Dad’s shirts or flattened out the fronts of her blouses.
Don’t get me wrong. Mom wasn’t a June-Cleaver-meets-Mrs.-Wilson domestic. When I wrote articles for the paper, she pinned them on the fridge, but she also asked a lot of questions and poked a lot of holes in them. When I had to write reports for school, she was constantly on my case about my penmanship. When I decided that “average” was a good enough grade, she busted out a whole case of whup-ass on me.
She was someone who worked like hell to get where she was and never let anyone forget it.
As she was growing up, the paltry sums of money allocated for college tuition went to my uncle. My grandfather’s logic was simple for the time: You’re a woman. You’re going to get married and have a husband support you. Instead, she worked her ass off, often taking a couple buses to get to the Boston Store downtown so she could make tuition and books. She was 20 when she was married, and thus balanced family and school. The photo that always sits in my mind is the one black and white shot Dad took of her at the old Formica kitchen table with her books spread out and a bottle of Coke. She looked up like someone who had been nearly drown, but who was in no way giving up.
She had to fight through the sexism that was her father-in-law’s common patter. His wife didn’t work, what the hell did his son’s wife need to work for? It’s a miracle that they were able to coexist, but she was strong enough to push back and smart enough to know which battles needed to be won. When she sensed that gender bias was creeping into her son’s lexicon, she quickly disabused me of the notion that women were less than in any way. In doing so, she not only made me smarter and better, but she taught me the value of hand-cleaned toilet shines and why it’s a great feeling to iron everything (including pillow cases).
She cared for at least three family members who spent their final days suffering from some of the worst forms of cancer and lowest forms of health care out there. She would somehow manage to keep Grandma’s wash running or Uncle Harry’s bed set up or Uncle Ronnie’s hospice nurse informed while running from pillar to post on her own. Death always bothers me, but I’ve always been amazed at how she handled everything, knowing that the grains of sand were flowing so quickly out of these hourglasses.
Every year, she ponders retirement. Every year, she takes the Gordie Howe approach, “I’m going to play next year and if they can’t find anyone better than me, I’ll play another year.” So far, she’s stacked together 45 years and still outruns colleagues who haven’t reached 45 years of age yet.
I also know that there are no guarantees with anything anymore. Mom and Dad used to read the local paper’s obituaries and find grandparents of friends. Then, it was parents of friends. Now, it’s friends and people even younger. Every hug means more. Every laugh echoes a bit longer. Every minute gets just a touch more important.
This Mother’s Day, she wants a road trip to a small Native American Gaming resort upstate, so that’s what we’re doing. Even though we play penny slots, the idea of winning still resonates with all three of us. We’ll probably catch an estate sale or two and eat at some place that’s “local” which means a boat load of food that will lead to all of us saying, “Dammit, I ate too much.”
Last year, I took her to see Paul McCartney, something she desperately wanted and something my father disparagingly groused about. The tickets were a surprise and I bought two with the idea she could take a friend. After the initial shock wore off, she immediately asked, “Will you go with me?” What about Dad or a friend? “I want to go with my son. Is there something wrong with that?” Uh… no… but… I kind of looked at my wife who had a smile on her face. She knew.
Mom is mom. And I’ll always be her kid.
Some of my Twitter friends were nattering on and on and on about the so called lime shortage tonight. You know who are you are.
This discussion of a #firstworldproblem gave me a raging earworm, so it's time to put the lime in the coconut: