Thursday, April 30, 2009

Songs From An Angel

Heaven, I’m in Heaven

And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak

And I seem to find the happiness I seek

When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek, Irving Berlin , “Cheek to Cheek” from “Top Hat”, 1935

 

My wife and I huddled around the crackling MAC last night, tuning into “YouTube” and listening to the delicious  tones of the late Eva Cassidy. Putting aside the day’s cares and incessant Swine flu reporting, we were sung to from out of the ether and literally from beyond the grave by Miss Cassidy. I don’t know very much about Eva Cassidy. Then again, twenty four hours ago I knew nothing.

 

Most of you may know what I did not, that Ms. Cassidy was a popular singer around Washington D.C. in the early 1990s.She was pretty much unknown outside of that area, but had an intense following there. She had the voice of an angel, if it turns out that angels sing soprano, which most of us believe they do. But the amazing thing about Cassidy was her ability to sing in almost any genre. Pop, folk, Jazz, Gospel, there was nothing that she could not do and nothing that she did not do well. Last night we Listened to her sing Berlin, Simon, Lennon/McCarthy and unknown African American spiritual writers. All were done with excellence, several brought tears to my eyes.

 

In 1996 Cassidy got sick and died from melanoma. She never got to find out the force her music would become. At her final concert before entering the hospital for the last time, her closing number was “ What A Wonderful World”, the quietly optimistic song that we all associate with Louie Armstrong.

 

“I see skies of blue and clouds of white,

The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night,

And I say to myself, what a wonderful world….”

 

There in her darkest hour, she was able to tell the world of the joys of living a life.

 

Four years after her death a tape of her rendition of “Over the Rainbow” was played on BBC 2 in England  . It got tremendous response, that is to say, the response it deserved. Albums of her work were cobbled together and quickly became enormous hits in Europe, three of them reaching number 1.She became fairly well known in her own country, to everyone except me. My wife had an mp3 collection of her songs. But like many of the best things in life, I had forgotten to listen. I ran across her yesterday on YouTube and for a moment in time she was able to take me away from a crashing economy , a swine flu pandemic and a personal (trivial) illness.

 

There is so much sadness in the world that in the midst of it we forget everything else. Those who are wisest, like Cassidy, know that while the gloom of night falls each twenty four fours, the sun also rises. That as we mope through the overcast and gray weather we have had around here for the last four days, and are supposed to have for the next seven, a bright sun shines just beyond the clouds waiting to break through. Even with the clouds, the sun  is there, warming the earth and maintaining our lives. We are never left without it. Like the sun, joy is also always with us, often hidden, but always ready to break through. Sometimes all it takes is a song.

 

It is a wonderful world where a woman who has been dead for more than a dozen years can come into a home, lighten the spirit and in  “in the prison of his days, teach the free man how to praise”. I’d say “God bless you Eva” but that got taken care of long ago.

Monday, April 27, 2009

21st Century Medicine

As the nation braces for the coming Swine Flu epidemic, those of us who built our houses with brick (and not sticks or straw) are feeling pretty smug. That does not mean that illness can’t befall us and I managed to encounter one this weekend. A quick review on the internet confirmed for me that I have another in a series of sinus infections. The key to the diagnosis being the pain radiating down into my teeth. So I set off for my local pharmacy which has on staff a Physician’s Assistant to help with such (hopefully mundane) illnesses. Placing medical help with prescription writing authority at the drug store was a stroke of genius. The theory is that the young Physicians Assistants will be bullied into writing the Rx for anything the patient wants and then the drug store gets to fill it. Win/Win.

 

This particular Physician’s Assistant was younger than the others I have seen. I’d say she must be 24 or so in order to get the degree, but she looked much younger. She also had something that none of my other health care provides have ever had, a small shiny stud in her nose.

 

It is a common occurrence for me know to have these semi-children making important decisions for me. I could not help but wonder if I had had more sinus infections over the course of my life than she had diagnosed over the course of hers. I doubt it, but it ran through my mind. At any rate, she was highly professional and competent. She has only been out of school since last spring, but she went to Columbia University in New York City which is nothing to sneeze at, but, if you do, she could cure you. I liked her very much even when my blood pressure (taken over my sleeve) turned out to be 172 over 120. In other words, I was apparently in the middle of cardiac arrest, and all the time I only thought that I had a sinus infection.

 

After retaking my blood pressure and finding that it fell roughly within the range of the living, she wrote me a prescription for the same antibiotic that I used to give my child for ear infections. The first one they would prescribe. The one that never worked. While I have my doubts as to the efficacy of the drug, at least it did not come in the bubble gum flavor my daughter’s used to. While she was printing out all that stuff they give you that your wife wants to see but it turns out that you threw away or left in your car, I began asking the young lady about Columbia and how her practice here in West Austin compared with her clinic chores in Harlem. She was quite fond of Austin. She admitted that it was a huge change from what she had formerly done and she liked the warm weather.

 

“How about the debt ?” I rather insensitively asked her, “bet you came down here with a lot of debt from Columbia.” This got her attention. “It is the only thing that causes me concern and I think about it all the time.” She said. Then she said, “You have no idea.”I do have some idea and I told her I was paying my daughter’s way through a private school, but I knew what she meant. Here is a 24 year old with a nose stud working at a drug store and I would bet anything that she is paying off a debt  of probably between $100-$200,000. Welcome to the medical profession. I don’t know what CVS pays, but I will hazard a guess that she will not be able to pay the debt off  this year.

 

This is the big difference in education today and what it was when I was using it to keep from being drafted. All these kids come out with debt the size of a decent house loan. That means, of course, that they can’t get a house loan and, if they could, they could not pay both while working at the CVS on Exposition. My education was just about free (and I never had a scholarship).After seven years of Post Secondary education I had more money than when I had started. The world no longer works like that, unless you can get Rayda to work for you like I did. It is too bad. This debt drives all of their decisions. Where to live, what job to take, marriage and children plans. It is just about the biggest factor in their lives. I don’t know how we let things get so out of hand. I don’t know that ANY education is worth $200,000. I am positive that no undergrad education is worth that. I have my doubts about graduate education. Maybe if CVS gave her drug kickbacks it would be worth it. She mentioned that I might want to pick up some Mucinex, which I did. It cost $27, the checkup cost me only  a $20 co-pay. There is really something wrong with this picture.

Friday, April 24, 2009

There She Is

There’s been a lot of brouhaha lately over a contestant in the Miss America Contest saying something controversial. It was mentioned in a response to my blog the other day so I decided to look it up. It seems that Miss California, the odds on favorite to win the contest was asked whether she supported same sex marriages, or at least some question, the answer to which would gauge her views on the subject. Her answer was that it was great to live in a country where both same sex and traditional marriage could take place but that she felt that a marriage was a union of a man and a woman. Based on this answer all hell broke loose, someone with the pageant saying that it was  the worst answer to a question in the history of Miss America.

 

I was a little surprised to see that that is what the controversy was about. The last person I heard say that  exact thing on television now happens to be the President of the United Sates and I don’t recall anyone saying that that was the worst answer a Presidential candidate had ever given. Obama is for civil unions only  and my bet is, based on her answer, that Miss California is too. Obama won his election, Miss California lost hers. My guess is that the total American electorate is somewhat more representative of how people really feel than are the Judges of a Miss America contest. My guess is that most people believe that a marriage is between a man and a woman. I don’t, but I can’t get bent out of shape over a difference in label of the status is the same. I’d rather we call gay marriages because that’s what gay people want to call them and I don’t understand how that dilutes my marriage. But the fact is that it is simply not that important. We can call it civil union, we can call it social contract or we can call it red suspenders as long as people are guaranteed the same rights. In fact, anyone can call it anything they want. From now on, I’m going to call my marriage a ” binding  union of spirits” and I dare anyone to tell me I can’t. I am banishing the word “marriage” from my vocabulary and nothing pertaining to the laws of the state regarding my status are going to change. It will complicate opinion surveys where they always ask you if you are married or single, but I’ve got bigger fish to fry and a blog to write.

 

I did not know that the Miss America pageant was coming up. I had not seen it in years. I wonder if younger folks realize what that show used to be. Every year in the 1960s it would be the top rated or one of the top rated shows of the year. In 1961 it pulled a 75 share. That means that 75% of all televisions watched that night were watching that show. Only two  shows in history did better. The final episode of MASH and the “Dallas “Who Shot J.R. ?” episode. The 1961 Miss America telecast (for share) beat every Super Bowl ever played. It beat the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, every Olympics, every Presidential election or inauguration. And two other pageants in that decade did almost as well. Even by sheer numbers of families watching, despite the huge disparity in television ownership and population between the 1960s and now, those three Miss Americas are in the top 99 of all time shows ever viewed.

 

It was inconceivable to miss the Miss America contest in those years. Families watched it together and picked their favorites after their state was eliminated (Texas almost always made the last 5 and always made the last 10).The next day at school it was the only topic of conversation before the first bell. Even into the 70s it was hugely popular. My buddy Marfin and I used to fantasies about cutting into the show right before the winner was crowned by the host Bert Parks. “Scuse me, Bert Parks”.It would have had the country in an uproar. But as Keats said,

 

“no those day are gone away

And their hours are old and gray

And their minutes buried all

Under the downtrodden pall”

 

But an uproar can still be caused, even one caused by an event to which  no one was paying attention , save bloggers and cable news reporters. The day has changed. In 1961 if someone had asked that question to a Miss America contestant they would have cancelled the show, probably forever. That’s how different the times were. Maybe that’s what we should be focusing on, the fact that even in a silly beauty pagent,all questions of public interest can be asked without fear of retribution from the authorities. Too bad that all answers are not allowed.

Why the Dish Ran Away With The Spoon

Hey diddle diddle

The cat and the fiddle

The cow jumped over the moon.

The little dog laughed

To see such sport

And the dish ran away with the spoon.    Goose, Mother (ed.) , Traditional English Nursery Rhyme

 

 

I looked at the bathroom calendar this morning, as I do every morning. It is a calendar of daily New Yorker cartoons. Some of them are funny, some are not and every now and then, like this morning, there is one that I don’t understand. It was a picture of a tall slender spoon standing in his bedroom doorway. He was looking down on a bed where there was a dish (both the spoon and the dish had facial features). In bed with the dish were a small knife, fork and spoon. If you look hard, the large spoon looks angry and the dish sheepish. The caption of the cartoon is the spoon saying “My wife, the good silver “. I stared for awhile and puzzled as Dr. Seuss once said until my puzzler was sore. Then I took it into the den and puzzled some more. What did it mean ? I gave up and put it back.

 

A few minutes later my wife came downstairs and I asked her to take a look at today’s cartoon. There was a short pause and she came in to explain it to me. “It’s from that nursery rhyme, ‘the dish ran away with the spoon’. The spoon is mad because she’s sleeping with the other cutlery.” I thought about it, “But why are the other cutlery so small, I thought that the spoon and dish were married and those were their kids. “ Then it hit me, they had to be small for the dish and the spoon to eat with them. They could not be big spoons. They were not just any old place setting, they were the good silver, probably from the dish and spoon’s wedding gifts. The fact that they were animated and capable of sexual relations was somewhat odd, but I guess it was the New Yorker’s cartoon, they could live in any kind of world they wanted.

 

So that was the joke, the dish was a slut (and had a fetish for silverware), she had first run away with the spoon and then betrayed him by having group sex with a bunch of midget kitchen implements ,although I think that the P.C. term is “little implements”. Well, I guess that is pretty funny. If you are misogynistic, or even  anti-crockery.

“What rhyme is that from ? “ I asked Rayda, all I could remember was the previous line, “the little dog laughed to see such sport”. The rest was lost and it upset me greatly as all memory loss does. She could not remember either.

 

Of course, a quick Google search turned up the fact that it was the “Hey diddle  diddle” rhyme which also contains another one of the most evocative and best loved phrases in the English language, “The cow jumped over the moon”. That, my friends is writing. As I found the rhyme I also found long histories of the rhyme which is apparently Elizabethan era in origin. I won’t bore you with many of the details, most “scholars” believe….well, wait a minute, let’s hold it right there for a minute. Scholars ? There are nursery rhyme scholars ? PHDs who go to conventions and publish  in journals about Little Jack Horner and Baa baa Black Sheep ? It seems that there are. Iona and Peter Opie are two of the better known, but there are many. Back to our narrative, scholars differ on the details but most believe that the dish and spoon were the personal server and taster for Elizabeth I who ran off together without royal permission and ended up in the tower of London after they were apprehended. The cat in the rhyme is Elizabeth herself and the fiddle is some royal boyfriend. Some of the analysis I looked at seems strained, but who am I to argue with a nursery rhyme scholar ?

 

About “Hey diddle diddle”? Turns out that’s just a phrase used in songs in those days like “with a hey nonny non”, that type thing. One of the best song writers of our time is Paul Simon. When asked what “lie da lie” meant in his classic composition “The Boxer”, he laughed and said that it was a “failure of lyric” In another words, a filler, a direct descendent of Hey diddle diddle. If Simon relies on fillers, what hope is there for the rest of us (cucu ca ju)?

 

But back (although only briefly) to the dish and the spoon. It is sad to see the dish bearing the brunt of the bad press. There are lots of reasons why people run off and it very seldom has to do with the female being a slut. For all we know ,the dish was in an abusive relationship which could have left her cracked or broken. I don’t know what caused the extra marital affair in the cartoon, but let us judge not. Rather let us examine the spoon for any possible tarnish on his reputation (or handle). The spoon was equally guilty (if anyone was) in the elopement, perhaps he was a cad who was in the process of casting the dish aside (which could have had calamitous effects), who knows ?We will just have to leave it to the scholars to debate.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

FW: Maersk Alabama Pirate Story - Finally coming out

 

 

From: Wade Porter
Sent: Thursday, April 23, 2009 9:48 AM
To: 'Michael Klein'
Cc: Incerto, M. Scott; William Allensworth; 'Bruce Bennett'
Subject: RE: Maersk Alabama Pirate Story - Finally coming out

 

No, the way I heard it, Obama (who was born in Somalia, not Kenya, and grew up in a Pirate family, his dad was actually  a great grandson of Captain Kidd)was in on the kidnapping for a third of the take. The money funding the Pirates was an earmark that got through  Congress   and was clearly labeled in Obama’s latest bailout plan, but no one ever bothers to read those things. All the Pirates involved had worked with the Obama Presidential Campaign last year. One of them (Long John) had actually coined the phrase “Yes we can”. Following the election, they were sent by Obama, under diplomatic passports, to Somalia in order to be his eyes and ears on the Pirate operation. Contrary to what your friend reports, Obama had given “shoot to kill” orders to all Naval personnel involved , specifically without regard to the lives of the captive or his crewmembers. This was done to prevent certain documents Obama had sent over to the Pirates (these documents included not only a treasure map, but  all manifests for every American commercial ship passing by the Horn of Africa for the next 90 days) from falling into the hands of the press.. The documents  were printed on White House stationary. The story you sent out is a cover story concocted by the administration which would rather appear cowardly than let America know the more damaging real truth. Just so you know, Obama’s plan was foiled when one of the Pirates was captured alive. Take my word for it, that Jolly Roger never live to stand trial. I understand that Alan Keyes will have a report on this on his radio show today.

 

 

From: Michael Klein [mailto:mklein@smith-robertson.com]
Sent: Thursday, April 23, 2009 9:07 AM
To: Wade Porter
Subject: FW: Maersk Alabama Pirate Story - Finally coming out

 

Wade, 
 do you think this is true? 



 
This explains why no shots were fired when Capt. Phillips jumped overboard the first time!

 
  
  : Maersk Alabama Pirate Story - Finnaly coming out
  

 
 
> From the Navy Side.
 >
 
 > This was sent to me by a friend who is a retired Navy Captain
 > (That's like a Colonel for you Army guys) who has a friend who's son is
 > in Special Operations. I now understand why nothing happened when
 > Captain Phillips first attempted escape by jumping from the lifeboat. I
 > just couldn't understand why no action was taken when such a clear
 > opportunity presented itself. Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, "Here's
 > the rest of the story!" And it didn't surprise me in the least. ...
 >
 >
 >
 > The thread is generated from someone in the Spec Ops community
 > familiar with the Maersk-Alabama CO hostage situation.
 >
 > For those of you that remember Jimmy Carter and the aborted Iran
 > Hostage Crisis, this is really unsettling. Thank God that the Bainbridge
 > CO and Seal Team Leader acted as they did.
 >
 > Let's see how the White House spins this story once it gets out.
 > I will bet that hard and fast "Keep your mouth shut commands" will be
 > coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Let's see ... TG
 >
 >
 >
 > The rest of the story from a US Navy Special Ops guy ...
 >
 >
 >
 > Having spoken to some SEAL pals here in Virginia Beach yesterday
 > and asking why this thing dragged out for 4 days, I got the following:
 >
 > 1. BHO (Obama) wouldn't authorize the SEAL teams to the scene
 > for 36 hours going against OSC (on scene commander) recommendation.
 >
 >
 > 2. Once they arrived, BHO imposed restrictions on their ROE
 > (Rules of Engagement) that they couldn't do anything unless the
 > hostage's life was in "imminent" danger
 >
 >
 > 3. The first time the hostage jumped, the SEALS had the raggies
 > all sighted in, but could not fire due to ROE restriction.
 >
 >
 > 4. When the Navy RIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) came under
 > fire as it approached with supplies, no fire was returned due to ROE
 > restrictions. As the raggies were shooting at the RIB, they were
 > exposed and the SEALS had them all dialed in.
 >
 >
 > 5. BHO specifically denied two rescue plans developed by the
 > Bainbridge CPN and SEAL teams.
 >
 >
 > 6. Bainbridge Captain and SEAL team Commander finally decide
 > they had the OpArea (Operational Area) and OSC (On Scene Command)
 > authority to solely determine risk to hostage. 4 hours later, 3 dead
 > raggies.
 >
 >
 > 7. BHO immediately claims credit for his "daring and decisive"
 > behavior. As usual with him, it's BS (Bullshit).
 >
 > So per our last email thread, I'm downgrading Oohbaby's
 > performace to D-. Only reason it's not an F is that the hostage
 > survived.
 >
 > Read the following accurate account.
 >
 > Philips' first leap into the warm, dark water of the Indian
 > Ocean hadn't worked out as well. With the Bainbridge in range and a
 > rescue by his country's Navy possible, Philips threw himself off of his
 > lifeboat prison, enabling Navy shooters onboard the destroyer a clear
 > shot at his captors - and none was taken.
 >
 > The guidance from National Command Authority - the president of
 > the United States, Barack Obama - had been clear: a peaceful solution
 > was the only acceptable outcome to this standoff unless the hostage's
 > life was in clear, extreme danger.
 >
 > The next day, a small Navy boat approaching the floating raft
 > was fired on by the Somali pirates - and again no fire was returned and
 > no pirates killed. This was again due to the cautious stance assumed by
 > Navy personnel thanks to the combination of a lack of clear guidance
 > from Washington and a mandate from the commander in chief's staff not to
 > act until Obama, a man with no background of dealing with such issues
 > and no track record of decisiveness, decided that any outcome other than
 > a "peaceful solution" would be acceptable.
 >
 > After taking fire from the Somali kidnappers again Saturday
 > night, the on scene commander decided he'd had enough.
 >
 > Keeping his authority to act in the case of a clear and present
 > danger to the hostage's life and having heard nothing from Washington
 > since yet another request to mount a rescue operation had been denied
 > the day before, the Navy officer - unnamed in all media reports to date
 > - decided the AK47 one captor had leveled at Philips' back was a threat
 > to the hostage's life and ordered the NSWC team to take their shots.
 >
 > Three rounds downrange later, all three brigands became enemy
 > KIA and Philips was safe.
 >
 > There is upside, downside, and spinside to the series of events
 > over the last week that culminated in yesterday's dramatic rescue of an
 > American hostage.
 >
 > Almost immediately following word of the rescue, the Obama
 > administration and its supporters claimed victory against pirates in the
 > Indian Ocean and declared that the dramatic end to the standoff put paid
 > to questions of the inexperienced president's toughness and
 > decisiveness.
 >
 > Despite the Obama administration's (and its sycophants') attempt
 > to spin yesterday's success as a result of bold, decisive leadership by
 > the inexperienced president, the reality is nothing of the sort. What
 > should have been a standoff lasting only hours - as long as it took the
 > USS Bainbridge and its team of NSWC operators to steam to the location -
 > became an embarrassing four day and counting standoff between a ragtag
 > handful of criminals with rifles and a U.S. Navy warship.
 >
 >
 >
 > Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
 > Caveats: NONE
 >
 

 


Windows Live™: Keep your life in sync. Check it out. <http://windowslive.com/explore?ocid=TXT_TAGLM_WL_allup_1a_explore_042009>  =

 


Access 350+ FREE radio stations anytime from anywhere on the web. Get the Radio Toolbar <http://toolbar.aol.com/aolradio/download.html?ncid=emlcntusdown00000003> !
 
 
 
  

No virus found in this incoming message.
Checked by AVG - www.avg.com
Version: 8.5.287 / Virus Database: 270.12.3/2075 - Release Date: 04/22/09 17:25:00


------ End of Forwarded Message


No virus found in this incoming message.
Checked by AVG.
Version: 7.5.557 / Virus Database: 270.12.2/2072 - Release Date: 4/21/09 4:48 PM

 

Monday, April 20, 2009

Moment of Zen

When I was eleven years old my parents drove my brother and I to a slot car  place where you rented a track for 15 minutes and raced your slot cars. My father left his keys in the ignition in his  car, as he often did in those more innocent days. I was more cynical and as I walked around the car past the driver’s window I noticed his keys in the ignition. What if someone wanted to steal the car, the keys were right there to be used ? I decided to secure the keys by locking the door.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fellow Employees Scoff at Area Man's Vow To give Up Mexican Food

Attorneys and employees at the local firm of Allensworth & Porter fell into hysterics today upon receiving an e-mail from Wade Porter that he had once again given up eating Mexican Food. Porter has an annual physical coming up in June to  which he plans to actually  go to for the first time in three years. Feeling the necessity of “losing about 70 pounds” over the next eight weeks, Porter announced that giving up Mexican food was the first step.

 

This marks the 11th time in 7 years that Porter has sworn off of Tex-Mex, all  of the efforts have proven  unsuccessful. While some of those efforts were induced by the Lenten season, most of them were for weight control purposes. The previously mentioned renunciations  count  only the times when Porter “totally “gave up Mexican food. On several other occasions he had attempted to ration his Mexican Food intake. He did so once by announcing that he was now only eating “Mexican Food Lite”, an undefined term that involved ordering mostly taco salads served in a giant fried flour tortilla bowl which Porter would consume in its entirety  following eating the salad . The salad was made up of beef, cheese, guacamole, beans and a little lettuce for coloring... Another time he switched to his “All vegetarian Mexican Food” diet in which he traded his usual order of the “number 2 special” at El Azteca for the “number 9 vegetarian”. This radical departure from years of ordering the same meal involved having to switch from a Beef Enchilada to a Cheese Enchilada and substituting a Bean Taco for a Beef Taco. The refried beans (fried in lard), rice,guacamole,chips, hot sauce and  tortillas had already been vegetarian. While saving himself no calories in the switch over, Porter felt better about himself when he would say to anyone accompanying him to El Azteca, “I go Vegetarian” .He would then proceed to down six baskets of chips and queso before his lunch arrived.

 

Local Mexican Restaurants proved to be mixed in their feelings about Porter’s announcement. Owners of the places are fond of Porter because he forces numerous young associates to go to lunch with him. Juan, owner of “Juan in a Million” ,admits that many people Porter introduces to his restaurant come back, although seldom with him. “He and I have a little routine worked out” laughed the affable Juan. “He comes in and says, that he is bringing me six new customers and says he deserves a reward. I shout at  his waiter ‘free chips and hot sauce for that table’. He really gets a kick out of that.” Employees of the restaurants are less enthusiastic about Porter. “The guy drinks ice tea like a camel just back from a 40 day trip across the desert.” complained Guillermo Rico, Head Bus Boy at Dario’s.. “You have to spend all of your  time either filling up his tea glass or the salsa bowl. You know how you are supposed to dip  chips into salsa ? Porter uses the corn chips as ladles to get the sauce to his mouth, like it was soup.” This unorthodox manner of consuming salsa has resulted in each shirt Porter owns appearing to have numerous blood spots scattered over them in a shot gun pellet like pattern.

 

Betting has already started on how long Porter will hold out and the restaurant where he will go when he gives up. Most often that restaurant is El Gallo because he feels like that is his private Mexican place. He goes there when he wants to be alone and very seldom takes his friends. “One time during a period he had sworn off..” said partner Matt Ryan, “we all walked into El Gallo and there was Porter, by himself,  eating chips, we came over to the table and he said that he’d ordered a Hamburger. Five minutes later the non- English speaking  server comes out with the first half of a Number 2 Monterrey Special (a taco and guacamole salad). Porter starts yelling at the poor server, who was not even his  waiter, about bringing  him the wrong order. The owner had to come over and calm him down. Eventually he decided to ’go ahead and eat it, just to save time’, he fell off the wagon after that.”

 

Porter’s e-mail indicated that he was going to take up cigarette smoking as a way to stay away from Mexican food. The e-mail stated, “Mexican Food kills you just as fast as tobacco, and at least with cigarettes you can stay thin.”

 

 

 

 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

About 1,000 angry Austinites showed up for our town’s version of the nationwide ‘tea party movement” yesterday. These are people, many of them libertarians who supported Ron Paul in the last election, are angry at the spending policies of the new administration. However, a good number of them were what you would call “just a little out of the main stream Republicans”, guys like my friend Klein who always believes that every dime the government spends, which does not go toward his farm subsidy, is money down the drain. But the primary thing that unites all these folks is anger. That anger is being tapped by the current Governor of Texas, who sees it as his only way to hold onto his job in 2010. It is also being tapped by talk radio and Fox News “commentators” who like keeping the faith during this period of Democratic ascendency. The local paper likes it too, because it gives them something to write about.

 

The fascinating thing about this movement is how much alike it is to the liberal movement that was some part of the core of the Obama support. That movement intentionally sowed seeds of discord between rich and poor. This movement is attempting to do the same thing between groups it labels “the people” and the “elites”. Both movements are aimed at a small, but very visible parts of the other side’s coalition. It seems (at the time) good politics. Anytime you can fan the flame of hatred against a minority of voters by energizing a majority, you have a good chance to win. There are more poor than rich, more folks than elites. It is also bad policy and I believe unpatriotic for Democrats or Republicans to do it. But its use is literally as old as the ratification fight  over our Constitution and will never go away as long as we vote (which I hope is a long time).

 

Ultimately the anger never works. That is because there are a disproportionate number of people in this country who are incapable of getting that mad. These people know that it is not a very good way to start your morning. The anger vote (in the United States that is) may prevail for a time, and usually only when the non-anger vote is too sleepy to notice it, but it always goes away. It has never elected a President. One of the reasons some people get mad is because they are in the minority, consistently out voted on the issues and grow frustrated with their impotence. We had a whole section of the country leave the United Sates for four years for that very reason. The further away you are from believing in either liberty or justice (depending on your bent) the more likely you are to be part of the mob. It feels good to march with your own kind. Just ask those who succumbed to National Socialism in Germany or participated in Russia’s October Revolution. Those are countries that have greater traditions of anger and frustration than we do. Here in America, we sublimate a lot of our political anger into rooting for sports teams. As Rome once showed, there’s nothing like a good circus to calm the vulgar. Always clams me down.

 

So let us watch this current temper tantrum of the right wing play out. Maybe it can get strong enough to change Congress. I doubt it, but then again, I doubted it in 1994 when the Democrats got thrown out. But take my word for it, it won’t last long enough to do anything but stir up things a bit by 2012. We are nice folks here in this country. We just can’t stay  that mad for  that long.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Astro Orbit

Harry Kalas died yesterday. Harry was a broadcaster in Philadelphia for so long that even he probably forgot the five years he spent in Houston, starting when I was 12 years old. If Harry was 73, as I heard this morning, then he was about 29 when he started broadcasting games for the Houston Astros. As I recall the Astros had hired him away from the old Pacific Coast League team, the Hawaiian Islanders. He was brought in to do an inning a game and the idea was apparently to move the immortal Loel  (hot ziggity dog and sassafras tea, now you chunkin’ in there) Passe out of the picture, at least for play by play purposes and into pre and post game stories. But Harry was so good that he got hired away by the Phillies and Loel hung on for years.

 

Most of the time I spent with Harry was lying in my bed listening to him broadcast ballgames all over the country on spring and summer evenings. Sometimes the last thing I heard before I fell asleep was the voice of Harry Kalas. It was a pleasant baritone. Unlike most radio guys today, Harry was a joy to listen too. Every time Houston hit a homerun (which was rare) Harry would proclaim that “that ball is in Astro Orbit.”which ,when  you are twelve years old, ranks along side Shakepeare and Cole Porter’s work  as a clever use of the English language.

 

Harry was handicapped in Houston  in that the team he was describing was so bad. He got a chance to talk about a pretty good team in 1969, although that one fell apart at the end of the year. In Philly he got to cover good teams and bad, two of them were World Series winners which is something he would have never would have gotten to do  if he had stayed in Houston. Harry got to talk about some pretty good players in Houston, but for every Dierker and Morgan, there were at least three Gotays, Blefarys and Ivan Murrells. The mix usually won about 72 games a year, which meant that they lost 90.

 

The fading of the voices of one’s childhood is difficult. When I was in my twenties Bing Crosby died and everyone in my parent’s generation mourned. It’s proof that you are no longer  young when those you idolized as children are suddenly gone. I was thinking  about Cadet Don, the last I heard of him he was alive.

 

I can’t remember Cadet Don’s real name. His stage name was Don Travis. He had walked into the studios of KTRK TV one day and asked if he could do a show on T.V. He had never done anything like that before, he just thought that he would be good at it. They turned him down that day, but called him a few months later and asked him if he wanted to do a morning kids show called the “Cadet Don Show” where he (sort of) played a young astronaut. The show was initiated at the same time that the United States began sending men into space and when NASA moved the Manned Spacecraft Center  to Houston. Every day Don would come on at 6:30. He lead us in exercises (“jumping jacks, 1,2,3,4”) and showed cartoons including the Space Angel and Clutch Cargo (with his pals Spinner and Paddlefoot) after a couple of years he started showing a short subject starring a chimp named Chatter which was a big hit. He always read the Houston Independent School District lunch menu (which was never followed at my school). He pushed milk by drinking it himself on the air. On November 21, 1963 he welcomed John Kennedy to Houston over the air (all of us assumed that JFK was watching). 30 hours later, Kennedy was dead.

 

Don also had a spacecraft land on his set one day and after a few days of mystery a creature (not much more sophisticated than a sock puppet) named Seymour appeared. Seymour was Don’s foil and sidekick for years. He and Seymour put out several records together, their biggest hit being the “Hucklebuck” a dance they claim to have invented, although Seymour had no visible legs.

 

I should not have wandered off into talking about Cadet Don, but Harry’s death brought all those memories flooding back. The shows of my youth Looney Town, Kitrik the cat, Skipper Conway and Popeye Theatre and various “Uncle Bobs and Dons” who had kid shows with cartoons and birthday parties every day are with me today. Just like  the local show guys for adults, Chris Chandler, Joanne King, Howard Finch, Ray Miller and the great Morris Frank who came on every Saturday right before Lawrence Welk. He was the only person I ever knew of,  who referred to himself as “we”. Something, as Twain once said that is generally limited to the Queen of England, the editor of the New York Times and Siamese Twins.

 

By today’s standards, each of these shows would be unwatchable. Times change. I guess that’s why Harry was so successful, he was able to adapt over 44 seasons of baseball. So long Harry, say hi to Diz and Pee Wee for me.

Friday, April 10, 2009

So Jesus Walks into a Bar with a Duck on His Head

Look at all my trials and tribulations

Sinking in a gentle pool of wine

Don’t disturb me know, I can see the answers

‘till this evening is this morning life is fine .

                                                                                        Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice “Apostles chorus, Gethsemane” from “Jesus Christ Super Star”

 

The Maundy Thursday service tone was very subdued. As we walked into the silent sanctuary I could see that there was not going to be any kidding around tonight. No shared laughs with the fellow congregants, no open jokes in the sermon, this was serious stuff.

 

The District Superintendent, our former Pastor, began reading from St. Matthew. We covered the Last Supper and had moved onto Gethsemane where Jesus had taken three of the disciples with him while he went off to pray, facing the darkest moment in his life. He leaves the three behind, tells them to “sit here and watch with me” and goes over by himself to pray. At least one gospel has him literally sweating blood. After some time of prayer regarding the coming ordeal, he comes back to the disciples, less than an hour later  and finds them all sound asleep. Jesus gets a little miffed and tells them so in a “spirit is willing and the flesh is weak” kind of way. He urges them to try  a little harder as he goes off to pray again.

 

Now I have heard this story a number of times. Here my  mind races ahead of the text, recalling that Jesus is going to come back and find these guys a sleep again. Suddenly this strikes me as sit-com material. A video runs in my mind showing Jesus walking back and finding these three guys (one who will be the first Pope)leaning against rocks or lying face down in the sand, snoring away. I suddenly see Jesus throwing his arms up skyward in the classic “not again !” comedy, shrug while his face breaks into a hilarious “can you believe it ?” look. You got the picture. This strikes me as funny, maybe not so much funny as hilarious. My visage breaks into a wide smile and from my throat I feel the gurgling of involuntary laughter starting to rise up.

 

Now scholars often disagree about passages in the Bible, but I think that we can probably all agree that St. Matthew was not in any way going for a cheap laugh here. If Matthew had wanted to break the tension, he had a perfect opportunity for a classic comic “spit scene” as the wine was being passed around at the Last Supper.

Jesus: This is my blood you drink

Apostle: (spraying the wine out of his mouth) wooooomph ?

No, St Matthew was playing it straight.

 

My mind focused and I quickly realized that breaking into involuntary laughter in this silent sanctuary was not going to be looked on favorably by God or man. With great effort, I stifled the laugh and saved my reputation, however temporary that saving (of my reputation or soul) may turn out to be.

 

Involuntary laughter is a scourge of the species. Last night I began to think of the many times it has embarrass me.

 

Once, in high school, a friend of mine and I were in the next room over from a third friend who was  being screamed at (for good reason) by his mother. The kid screamed back and my friend and I in the next room were so embarrassed to be hearing all of this we began to laugh. I recall pinching myself trying to keep from laughing out loud. Our third friend came into the room, his face darkly flushed with anger and motioned for us to come with him. Still we held our laughter He drove us over to  a 7/11  (I have related this part of the tale before) to try to illegally buy beer. Upon approaching the counter we saw that the cashier was a Sikh with a full beard and turban(and for all we knew ceremonial sword). This was years before you ever saw anything except a Texas Redneck working at a 7/11.  The damn burst, so shocked were we to see this fellow who looked to us to be a “bearded holy man” that  all three of us broke into laughter, dropping the beer and running to the car, almost hitting another car as we drove away, our driver having been stirring the car from a position mostly on the floor. That may have been the lowest moment of my childhood, but I could not stop laughing. I avoided that 7/11 thereafter.

 

Then there was the time that my wife and I were given tickets to a chamber music concert performed by a semi-famous string quarter. It was in a small place, maybe 50 seats. All very formal. After intermission, two girls who looked like car hops at a West Texas Dairy Mart walked in, looking around, carrying enormous cups of beer. The scene was so out of place that my wife and I burst into laughter, having to get up and leave so that the audience could hear the music.

 

Then there was the time that I was sitting in a formal case conference when I worked for the Supreme Court of Texas a s a Briefing Clerk. There were ten clerks and two of us had been startled for a time that one of the Justices was non compos mentis (truly). As he had escalated his bizarre behavior over the course of the term we had taken to looking at each other in disbelief. One Judge had suggested that we might want to “stop the cutting up in conference” while they were arguing over cases, but even he was astonished at the goings on of his brother Judge. At this particular conference the “challenged Judge” mentioned that he had been talking to a lawyer for one of the parties  regarding one of the cases that was being decided that day. For you non-lawyers, that is about as bad a thing as a Judge can do, is strictly forbidden, and the fact that the fellow was casually talking about it proved just how far gone he was. After he was blasted by his fellow Judges, he asked if he could go call the lawyer and tell him what was going to be done with the case. Eight cries of “nooooooooooo” were then heard. I could not withhold the laughter and neither could my fellow clerk, we both pretended to cough but I, being the wiser one, pretended that my cough was so bad that I had to go outside to get it under control. I left my friend to his fate while I sat on a bench outside and laughed for a full 15 minutes. My friend did not speak to me after conference and when he finally did, he chastised me for running out on him. I hung my head, but have never been sorry.

 

Finally, when I was a young lawyer, I was traveling around with three other lawyers from three different firms working on a case. We had an expert witness in Kansas City, an engineering firm. We had been up several times and had met the usual three guys from the company whom you meet in those situations. The head guy, who has no idea what is going on, the middle guy who gives the orders and sort of knows what’s going on, and the third guy who does all the work, knows everything that is going on, but is too big a geek to be trusted by himself with the customers.

 

This geek was a piece of work. He had a very funny voice, was very short, was about thirty years older than we were and had the funniest way of shaking hands of anyone I had ever met. He grabbed your hand and pulled your whole arm straight up to shoulder level, all the while pumping and then brought your hand back down, well below handshake level and kept shaking. You had to pry your hand away from the guy, only the survival instinct of the human kept his handshakes from going on forever.

 

At any rate, we had all just sat down at the conference table and one of us asked where to get a steak in Kansas City. That’s about like asking where to find coal in Newcastle, but we were young. After a couple of good suggestions from the bosses, the geek pipes up with “I know where you can get the best pickled beets in Kansas City. “ This was an inane statement, but certainly not as funny as it struck me. I struggled to control my laughter. I pulled out a tissue and pretended to blow my nose but recognized that I was well past any possible stifle point, so I stood up and exited on the run.”They will think I’m sick “ I thought to myself, “and running to the bathroom”. Unfortunately the laugh over came me right as I closed the door behind me. Now imagine my three counsel, trying to look business like and six feet away, behind a thin door they hear uproarious and unstoppable laughter, getting only a little less noisy as they hear my footsteps running down the hall. One of them later told me that it had been the most embarrassing display of his legal career. Unfortunately for me, in  looking back on it, I’ve been a lot more embarrassed over the last quarter century.

 

I suppose that everyone has similar story, the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” immortalized the situation in a story about the funeral of  “Chuckles the Clown”, Jerry Seinfeld set Elaine off at a piano concert by placing a Pez dispenser on her leg. These things happen in life, although I have noticed that true spontaneous laughter greats rarer and rarer as you get older and older, just when you need it most. I miss it.

 

I think God would have understood last night if I had not been able to hold it in, and, of course the Minister has to forgive you, that’s part of the job. But I probably never would have gotten over it with the congregation. Trying to ask people to imagine Jesus in a sitcom in the middle of Holy Week is not much of a defense. Even if you flesh out the story, “ No, listen, think about it, all those Apostles had  been drinking that night, right ?” You would just get yourself in deeper and deeper. I probably saved myself a church transfer, if anyone else would have had me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Lux in Tenebris

And their sun doth never shine

And their fields are bleak and bare

And their ways are filled with thorns

It is eternal winter there.                  William Blake, “Holy Thursday” from “Songs of Experience”

 

 

Another Holy Thursday, or as you often hear it called ,Maundy Thursday. I don’t like that term, never have, don’t know what it means. I assume that it comes from the term “maund” which means a beggar, although I have not checked on that. Maundy Thursday was the day in England when alms were distributed to the poor, so I think that my deduction makes sense. A Maundy Thursday service in church is traditionally the “feet washing service”. I think the Pope still washes some poor people’s feet on this day. Catch CNN tonight and see if the current fellow keeps up the tradition.

 

Three great works of the English language are arguably about Holy Thursday, four if you count the King James Bible. The three I refer to are the two poems by Blake by that very name in his “Songs of Innocence and Experience” and the great Joyce short story “Grace” from the incomparable “Dubliners”. I say arguably because all three may indeed be about different Thursdays. England had an Ascension Day which was 40 days after Easter. I think that’s a Thursday. Joyce’s story refers to a  “retreat” at the Thursday service. Both Joyce and Blake give Christians a little bit of a hard time in these three works, but no more than we deserve. I commend them all to you, even if you have read them.

 

At least part of the works identified above deal with that great bugaboo for the religious person, hypocrisy. I don’t know much about other religions, but I know a bit about the Christian model and I am not particularly concerned about hypocrisy. My general view is that people were not hypocrites they probably would not need religion. Jesus was not fond of hypocrites in the synagogue and gave us the benefit of his views on the subject a couple of times. Mostly he did this  as an example while trying to emphasize a positive trait he wanted his folks to practice. Contrary to how we usually think about Jesus, he could be pretty stern and outspoken in his opinions of people, but. Then again, he was under a lot of pressure.

 

Anyway, speaking of hypocrites, I, the head hypocrite, at least in Methodism, got in a minor tussle with a member of our church staff yesterday who thinks that the Board of Trustees is responsible for having a “work day” to clean up and mow and edge a particular area of the church. I told her that as Chairman of the Board, I would bring it up at the next Trustee meeting but that I was voting against it. I suggested that we get our normal groundskeeper to do it. She then suggested that we share the chore with the “Methodist Men” to which I replied, “what about the Methodist Women ?” Answer to this suggestion, so far, comes  there none.

 

Now most people who read this will think that my objection is due to physical laziness on my part. Well it’s true, I am lazy. I hire a yard guy for mowing and my wife, for the good of myself and my neighbors, does not allow me to use anything sharp. But it is more than that, and this is my problem with church leadership positions, they have no boundaries. I am drafted to Chair the Board of Trustees and someone decides that that means that it is my duty to strong arm a bunch of similarly indifferent Board Members to give up a Saturday to the stresses  and heat of a Texas summer. The amazing thing is that in the church, in any church, my views on this subject are looked upon, by church staff and all the women and a good number of the men, as those of a wastrel. O.K. that’s probably not so amazing. This is God’s house we are talking about. Park your car in your own front yard for all we care, but you need to get out here and police the area say the staff and  congregation (all  sitting at home in their living rooms sipping iced tea). Thus begins the slippery slope. Next week I will be called by someone who believes that it is a good idea for my committee to do something else that was never explained to me was in our charter, supervise a car wash, sell “shares” for the youth camp, paint the sanctuary. Work without end, amen, amen.

 

So here am I, a character right out of Joyce. I can say with the Priest in his “business man’s sermon”, “Jesus Christ is not a hard taskmaster. He understood our little failings, understood the weakness of our poor fallen nature, understood the temptations of this life.” “If” as the priest goes on to say, there are some discrepancies in our accounts, admit the truth, be frank and  “ admit it like a man”. So I do, here I stand, as Luther once said , take your best shot.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Politics as Usual

The great thing about getting the 2008 election out of the way is that I can get back to writing about more interesting topics, specifically, which of our fifty state Governors has been most recently caught having an affair. You may recall not so long ago that the New Jersey Gov. had to resign over a homosexual affair. Then the New York Governor opted for the more traditional hanky panky route by paying an escort for trysts in Washington D.C. When the new governor of New York was sworn in, he immediately announced that he had been sleeping with a woman ,not his wife ,at a Days Inn motel ,which he was kind enough to identify. Yesterday, the first Lady of Nevada said that her husband has been sleeping around with a former Playboy Playmate and another woman who is a state employee. These accusations showed up in her divorce filings. I am given to understand that the Governor has moved out of the main house of the Governor’s Mansion and moved into a one bedroom apartment on the premises. Some of you may recall when Mayor Giuliani of New York had to move out of Gracy Mansion when his wife got upset with him over similar incidents. The Mayor then outraged new York conservatives by moving into a home where some good friends of his, who happened to be a gay couple, lived.

 

Well they may have the goods on old Governor Jim Gibbons. Nevada newspapers have pictures of him “making out” with the former playmate in a parking lot, attending a rodeo with her and, worst of all, eating at an IHOP with her. This last picture shows not only the Governor’s lack of good sense, but lack of good taste, unless he was there for the Senior Special (55 and over) which is a pretty good deal. Now none of this is as bad as the Illinois Governor (since impeached and indicted) trying to sell a Senate seat to the highest bidder, but it certainly says something about the state of our states when the most stable Governors in the land appear to be Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger of California and Sarah “the Barracuda” Palin of Alaska. Our current Governor here in Texas has never been the subject of anything more than a prevalent rumor a couple of years ago that his wife caught him in bed with another man. A previous Governor was hotly rumored to have been into  cocaine snorting before she became Governor, but nothing was ever proven beyond the fact that she would not answer the direct question as to whether she had had a drug problem other than her admitted alcoholism. A former Governor of Arkansas whom we all remember and love, had  so many accusations of sexual affairs that he created a “bimbo eruption squad” to deal with the various accusations. .Rumors don’t count, beyond that, they are not necessary when we can focus on provable scandals in most states of the union.

 

So I guess when you are the Governor, what happens in Vegas (or Reno or Carson City) does not stay there. It makes you wonder just how reckless these guys were before they became Governors and had the news media chasing them around trying to uncover stuff like this. Maybe it’s the excitement of trying not to get caught. Maybe it’s the pancakes at IHOP. Whatever it is, thank God for it. I mean, which would you rather read about if you lived in Vegas, another boring story of how housing prices have fallen more than 35% there, or that your Governor thinks that he is Hugh Hefner ? Everyone needs to start there day off with a chuckle or a good “tut, tut”. Do people still get tutted ? They should. This promises to be an interesting divorce.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Mall Merchants Breath Sigh of Relief as Visiting Negros Leave Town

Highland Mall reopened this morning following their Saturday closing to prevent possible violence brought on by the 87th running of the Texas Relays. Jeff Gonnette, General Manager of Highland had closed the mall early “because the safety concerns of our shoppers and retailers is our top priority.”

 

Gonnette was apparently concerned regarding groups of negro youths circulating through the mall wearing their “gang colors”. According to Gonnett these gang colors mostly consisted of letter jackets and warm up suits with the names of the gangs emblazoned across the front. Names such as Cardinals, Tigers and Trojans struck fear in the hearts of mall shoppers last year as they invaded department stores and ordered pizza and sodas at the food court. Michelle Reamer, an employee of the Yankee Candle Shop said that she was “moved to call security last year” when a tall, athletic looking black youth purchased a candle from the store that he said that he was going to take to his girl friend back home in Ft. Worth. Said Ms. Reamer, “it was obvious that he had made the purchase to commit some random act of arson at the mall, him and his fellow ‘Mustangs’ in their green and gold track warm up suits . I called Mall Security and  they ran asses out of there. I’m worried that they will be back this year for revenge.”

 

Highland Mall ,which is off of St. Johns Ave. in Austin, a primary hangout for hookers and drug dealers, and is directly across the street from Sugars Strip Club, has never had to close its doors early for a security situation before. As Mr. Goinnette pointed out, “We have our share of hookers, strippers and dope dealers, but they don’t come in in gangs, they tend to keep to themselves while conducting their business in the mall and the mall parking lot. A lot of them only use our restroom for activities and never enter our stores, we can deal with that.” The problem is really the 1964 Civil Rights Act, if our stores could just prohibit the entry onto their premises of customers they do not wish to serve, then we would not have to shut down the whole mall. I tell our customers, if you have a complaint, call your Congressman.”

 

Austin, which claims to have the reputation as the most “liberal” of the big Cities in Texas, also has the smallest African American population of any of them. The annual running of the Texas Relays swells the black population of the city for an entire weekend  and according to some citizens, is the only time they see African Americans during the year. Certain bars and music venues on Sixth Street contemplated closing on Saturday night but finally chose to stay open because, as one club owner said, “ Sometimes you just do things that you don’t like to do for money. It’s only one weekend a year, and we still have the Harley Davidson Weekend to look forward to when all of those redneck motorcycle riders come into town. Those are our kind of people.”

 

Despite the lack of friendliness from the townies, most track coaches, athletes and their parents indicate that they will return next year for the 88th running of the Texas Relays, and  again spend the more than $8.5 million dollars that they pump into the economy annually. Pierce Snyder, a 17 year old Junior from Tyler said that it is “kinda fun here, you know we train and practice all year long, keep up with our studies, and everyone in school thinks that we are a bunch of goody two shoes athletes. Here we just put on our track warm ups and everyone acts like the “Boys from the Hood” are in town. We get a really good  laugh out of it. It was actually a relief that they closed that old dumpy mall this year, we got to see some nicer places instead. Austin is not too bad, I still may take the scholarship offer over at UT to study Biochemistry. Someone needs to raise some consciousness around here, maybe I can help. I’m sure not going to tell an one that I  once ran track though, these folks are sensitive about that.”

 

 

 

 

Friday, April 03, 2009

All That Shit

If Blake could do this when he rose up from  shite

What might he do if he sat down to write ?        William Blake, “When Klopstock England Defied”

 

 

 

For those few of you who made it past the title and the invocation, let me set the scene for you. Rayda and I are sitting at a table at Chili’s waiting for our order last night, an hour before we were due at church. Chili’s was my fault. I don’t know why I suggested it. Everything on the menu is simply a large version of some bar snack. Lots of dips and fried things. The whole menu is an inexhaustible happy hour. At any rate, I said to Rayda, “You know that biography of Yogi Berra I am reading ?”  That question calls for a little digression.

 

I like to think that am a pretty literate fellow. I have read more than twenty books this calendar year. Most of them biographies or histories, but also among them some  religion books and a couple of novels. I had a 40% off coupon at Borders the other day and could not find anything I wanted at even 60% of the list price, but I did happen across a new biography of Yogi Berra. At least once a year I read a good baseball book. It is a guilty secret. I no longer buy them because my wife, the para-librarian, can get them for me at her place of work and they won’t linger around the house for someone to see and frown on my reading material. I asked Rayda to get this book for me  and it turned out that despite the fact that it had been available a month or so at our local libraries, no one else had  wanted it. I had read about 100 pages by dinner last night. For those of you who don’t know, Yogi Berra was once  a catcher for the New York Yankees. Yogi is now best known for his appearance in an AFLAC commercial (”they pay you in cash, which is just as good as money.” Duck squawks inquisitively).

 

“Yes” she said ( ending my digression  and returning us to the more immediate past),”What about it ?”

 

“Well. It’s a funny thing, this guy quotes extensively from a biography I read of Yogi Berra in the fall of 1962, I checked it out from the Houston downtown library. I remembered the book because I was only nine years old and it was the first time I ever saw the expression “horseshit” in print.”

 

Rayda stared at me, “what do you mean horseshit ? you mean bullshit ? “

 

“No, I replied, they are two different terms all together.” I said

 

“But why do they need two terms for the same thing ?” she asked.

 

“Because”, I replied, “they are not the same thing, they have two different meanings.” Rayda looked dubious.

 

The word shit has tremendous elasticity. Whether used in the form of a noun, adjective, verb or mere exclamation, it always rises to the occasion. Among the profane, it is one of the most used words in the entire English language, and has been since at least “The Canterbury Tales”. I need to confess here that I am one of the most profane people you know. The word “shit” trips off of my tongue as effortlessly as “hello”, “good bye” and “objection your honor”. That tells you more about me than I wish you knew. People should not use profanity. Not because the words themselves are bad, but because, as Bill Veeck once pointed out, it shows an ignorance of the English language if you have to keep falling back on certain words to express yourself. Shit and fuck lead that list. Using them labels you as unimaginative in your discourse. You show yourself to be a boor (in my case it’s actually more like a mere confirmation of that fact, at least to those who have been paying attention).

 

While it may upset you to know this, the discussion my wife and I were having continued, you will recall when we left the table a couple of paragraphs or so ago ,she was looking “dubious”. “No, really,” I said, the expressions are used for different events.” At this point I began to lecture.

 

“You do know the term bullshit. That term  is used as a semi-query or utterance of total disbelief when you are confronted with an improbable fact.   ‘ I made a million dollars last year’ he said.  ‘Bullshit’ said I, or, at the very least ‘BS’ which is the nonprofane abbreviation of same.”

 

“Isn’t that the same as horseshit ?” she again insisted.

 

“Oh no, there  a subtle but discernable difference” says I. “Horseshit is not used as a phrase questioning the speaker or in any way engaging in disbelief, horseshit is an  exclamation of extreme  irritation, usually screamed and often proceeded by the contraction ‘that’s’, Someone (often a mechanic) tells you that you should pay the car repair bill of $967 for your 50,000 mile checkup and you reply, ‘That’s horseshit’ and indeed, it usually is. It actually can be used for the sale of any item you believe to be too costly, even when you know that you are being charged the correct value. It is used a lot around April 15 when you come to realize that you are going to be subjected to the so called ‘Alternative Minimum Tax’ by the IRS and realize, that, despite its comforting name, you are not paying a minimum of taxes, but are actually paying more than you had anticipated.’Horseshit’ you scream, and rightfully so. “

 

“The problem is” I waxed on, “that people are gradually losing their understandings of the differences in profanity. There is not one person in ten under the age of 50 who could explain these differences to you. Soon the variety of profanity will be as dead as Latin and nowhere nearly as useful.” The prospect saddened me. I know what lead to this state, the loosening up of language used on commercial television. In my youth you could not even say “damn” or “hell”, much less “bastard” or “son of a bitch” on T.V.. These were spanking words around most households. Today, all manner of profanity is spread across the airwaves and the premium cable networks indulge in the use of “shit” and “fuck” to nearly the same extent I do. Kids hear this language and are unable to appreciate the proper way to use the words. The television writers, as they get younger and younger, use them incorrectly in dialogue. It is not quite a national disgrace, but it is a shame. Anytime our language shrinks, we should feel some remorse, although as my partner Allensworth points out, it is good that we don’t hear the word “starveling” much anymore.

 

The dinner drew to a close and I paid the bill with the silent satisfaction, bordering on smugness, that Dr.Samuel Johnson must have felt following his conversations with his Garrick and Boswell back in the 1780s.There is an awful lot I know, an awful lot I can share with the world, would only that any of it was important. Oh by the way, the bill ? “Horseshit !”

Thursday, April 02, 2009

God Save the Queen

The rank is but the Guinea’s stamp

The man’s the gowd for a’ that.        Robert Burns, A Mans a Man For a’ That

 

 

The visit of the President to England has got my democratic blood up. Every time one of ours visits the Queen or she comes over here, my rage comes out again against royalty and rank. I shuddered when I saw video of the Obamas walking into the Palace receiving room. At least Michelle had the good sense and patriotic strength not to curtsey. This whole country went gaga over curtseys when the Queen visited here during our bicentennial. No rich matron wanted to be missed curtseying to the Queen. Television networks even hired female  British commentators who would comment on the quality of the curtsies. Today some commentators are upset about our gift of an IPod to the royal family. Why did we get them anything at all ? The Obamas did not pay for the gift, you and I did, and no one asked me what I thought about it. I’d have opted for a bottle of wine, the same thing I bring to anyone kind enough to have me in their home. An American wine, probably a California white, and I’d have expected a glass of it.

 

While in the truest sense, I must admit that the British have a right to their own form of government, but I think that there is ample  precedent for my justification in complaining about it. I complained very hard about apartheid in South Africa and (then) Rhodesia, both of which were remnants of the colonialism of that part  of Africa by Great Britain and directly linked to the British view of rank in society. We talk over here about our “royalty”, Hollywood and political, but the truth of the matter is that a Hollywood star has done something for his/her supposed rank. You may think it is trivial, or that they are being rewarded far beyond the gifts they have brought to society, but they have done something. They were not simply born into it and got to live their lives as billionaires in return for opening shopping malls, greeting foreign dignitaries, and making a speech to open Parliament and a speech at Christmas, neither of which they had to write.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of bile to spend on the U.S. royalty too. For years I have advocated a tax system that is more appropriate to the spirit of our nation. A 100% confiscatory estate tax at the death of every citizen  (offering modest allowances for widowers). In exchange, we would give up income tax. Think about it, when would you rather pay taxes ? When you are alive or after death ? I don’t want to hear any whining about family, every child in this country should stand on his/her own two feet. If a parent dies early, I would allow a scholarship to a state university for the orphan so that everyone has a chance at a quality education.

 

I had always hoped that I would live to see (as Churchill might have put it) the liquidation of the Monarchy in Britain. I realize now that I probably will not. However, I hope to live to see the royalty over there “marked down” to where they don’t live in castles and ride around in chauffeured cars. I’d like to see them be more on par with most of the rest of the remaining European royalty. They have been a leech on society for long enough. In Britain, for 1,000 years and more. As Paine once said, “’tis time to part.” Hell, ‘tis long past time.