A Tale of Two Salutes

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

I don’t think there is anyone presently alive that doesn’t think that perhaps the most famous opening line ever written in fiction doesn’t apply to England and theUnited States in the opening two decades of the 21st century.

The contrast seems to be on display on an almost daily basis.  In England there is Brexit struggle – do we go, do we stay.  In the United States there are the ceaseless tweets emanating from President Johnny Pontiac’s unsecured iPhone.  The sides are evenly divided in England, in theUnited States it always seems to be the President against the world, with the President occaisionaly taking on the role of Victim in Chief.

The last several days have provided a clear contrast between the best of times and the worst of times,  the death of President George H W Bush the 41st President of the United States. 41 was probably the last everyman President our generation will see.  There will no doubt be others but not in this half of the 21st century.

41 was a war hero, an ambassador, a spy, a devoted husband, father, grandfather and if you believe Maureen Dowd he was also a closet nice guy to liberal journalists, while the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania ?Avenue is an openly Machiavellian manipulator supreme without shame or scruples.

So there you have it, this week our focus has been drawn to 41 vs 45 as if we are on a nationwide debate as to which Super Bowl ranks as the greatest of all time.  For me it has quietly come down to two very brief moments in the Rotunda of our nation’s capitol.  Two salutes.

One from President Johnny Pontiac with his dark haired Estonian Barbie first lady at his side.  This salute looked so plastic, much like the Esotonian Barbie’s smil.  President Pontiac standing stone faced, no doubt suffering from year sof agony caused by the after effects of stone bruises that prevented him from learning how and when to properly salute.

The other salute, rising from a wheel chair with great difficulty and assistance came from a lifelong competitor, war hero & friend.  Former Senate Majority Leader, permanently disfigured and disabled World War II veteran Bob Dole.

I close my eyes and reflect upon having seen both salutes to the last great everyman President and come to the same conclusion time and again.  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…..”

Johnny Pontiac

I just can’t seem to make up my mind these days.  Since my recent unpleasantness on Groundhog Day,  I thought that by now I would have a potential NY Times Best Seller at the printer soon to be ready for Christmas release.  As visions of sugarplum fairies, autograph parties and one hour appearances on C-Span at 3 am danced through my head there was a mid-term election.

I’ve sat here at my keyboard staring at the screen watching the backspace key furiously at work reinterpreting what appears on the screen.  I’m not sure if my problem is a direct result of my recent unpleasantness, the election or the fact that I have spent way too much time on Twitter.  Honestly, I belive its the latter.  It was my intent to write about the former but cardiac hunor is just so dark while Trump humor is so much lighter and happier, right?

I’ve tried, I really have.  I started writing a few weeks ago seeking the answer to the question:  “What if Christopher Hitchens had been at the bottom of the escalator in Trump Tower that ominous day in June of 2015?” But I soon found myself entrapped in Hitchens razor which isn’t really Hitchens’ but nonetheless states that what is asserted without reason can be dismissed wihtout reason.  My only conclusion after several days of thinking about it was that there really is no reason for Donald Trump to exist, so I trashed that one.

Last week I went aligator wrestling with the phrase “Body of Work”.  Once again politics and Twitter dominated my thought process and totally wrecked my writing abilities.  I didn’t see this crash coming.  I thought I would transition from politics and “don’t look at my 50 votes to abolish healthcare” to Heather Densch and the NCAA Bowl Selection mess trying to justify including Ohio State in the College football playoffs again.  Somewhere I thought that I would put a bow on it about 1,800 words down the page. Wrong, another crash and burn.

I think the 300 lb gorilla in the room is Donald Trump.  I don’t just consider him to be a public nuisance, which he is, but the man knows no bounds.  He is even more dominant in American Society than he realizes or he could hope to be.  I curse his very existence and not because I think he is truly evil.  Nope, he knows what he’s doing, well for the most part.

I mean he went to Paris and holed up in his hotel or the Ambassador’s residence and ditched his appearance at an American cemetary commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.  Which incidentally was about the time the phrase “the war to end all wars” originated.

This phrase was popularized by H.G.Wells and was the title of his book “The War That Will End War” released as a series of articles starting 1914.  Most know Wells as the author of “War of the Worlds” published in 1898 and popularized that Sunday night in 1938 when a young Orson Welles captured a nation via the radio airwaves.

So then Trump leaves Paris early to fly back to Washington presumably in time for Veterans Day.  Well by 10:00 AM the White House had announced there wouldbe no Presidential events for the day.  No wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  No parade with nuclear weapons, nothing but Executive time.  The man don’t show up and dominates the headlines for doing not one damn thing.

And you wonder why I’m pissed at him.  He reminds me of this guy in the sixth grade named Johnny.  Johnny had a second shift job and drove his Pontiac to school, when he bothered to show up.  That guy did nothing.  Except pushups, he did pushups in the back of the class when he was bored.  Then he’d get up and comb his Vitalis soaked hair in the best Arthur Fonzarelli style.  I need to point out that Happy Days and the Fonz were still about 10 years from coming into our living rooms.

I think I’m going to start calling Trump President Johnny Pontiac.  Maybe then I can put up with his arrogance, constant intrusion onto my television and news feed on my phone.  I’m not going to put down my phone for anyone, not even my cardiologist and I do like him.  I probably need to stop using Twitter because the sub 300 character count is definitely killing my writing style.

But now, I have a new and refreshing perspective.  I’m no longer plagued by the ever intrusive orange headed lout from Queens.  Close your eyes and imagine a new image.  A guy with dark slicked back hair combed into a greasy ducktail wearing a tight white cotton t-shirt, tight jeans, white socks, black lace up shoes and a shiny black leather jacket.

President Johnny Pontiac

Lawn jockeys and new friends.

Today I had occasion to travel the brief fifty miles back to my hometown.  I live in Greenville, SC firmly planted midway between Charlotte and Atlanta along Interstate 85. I grew up in Greenwood, SC and lived and worked there for almost 60 years.  Greenwood is sort of in a Bermuda Triangle of north-west South Carolina.

Greenwood is south of Greenville and Anderson, also along Interstate 85.  Greenwood is north and west of the capital of South Carolina, Columbia and thus in the middle of nowhere.  People often say,  “It’s a nice town with friendly folks, but you just can’t get here from any where else”.

Greenwood has four lane access to Greenville, but it’s not interstate.  You can look at all of this on Google maps.  Access  between these two cities is by way of US 25.  US 25 was designated an US Highway in 1926 and originally ran from Brunswick, Georgia to Port Huron, Michigan.  Currently it terminates in Covington, Kentucky at the Ohio River.

Having said all of that.  The drive from Greenville to Greenwood this afternoon was one I had not made in several months.  It started as a partly cloudy day and was mostly cloudy by the time I arrived in Greenwood.  I was meeting a new friend to retrieve a valuable family heirloom found in a thrift store.

The drive down was not congested at all and I was able to reorient myself with several landmarks along the way.  Throughout my lifetime there have always been two places along this highway that made and sold concrete yard ornaments.  You know what I’m describing here, right?  Birdbaths, squirrels, horses and bears.  Things we here in the south proudly were once known to use to decorate our yards.

Today, I noticed a new addition to the concrete statuary competition.  An old single story farm-house with a collection of concrete statues within a former chain link dog pen.  And there they were.  Lawn jockeys.  Not just raw, freshly poured concrete statues, but those painted in black face, with orange, yellow and red overalls ready to take home and proudly plant in your new flower bed.  Really?

I haven’t seen those in years.  They have become a rare sighting.  I mean if you live in South Carolina you’re more likely to see pickup trucks with  dual flags in the back.  You know – “Don’t Tread on Me and the Confederate Stars and Bars” mounted in jacked up  trucks flapping in the breeze as they speed past you.  But black-faced lawn jockeys?  Where is the market?

I was really flabbergasted to see these on the side of the highway today as I journeyed to my hometown.  Based on what we have seen in Charlottesville  and other cities besieged by hatred  this year, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Anyway, the reason for my trip was to retrieve the previously mentioned family heirloom.  After a delay, the lady with this treasure arrived.  She knew me from earlier life, though in all honesty, I didn’t know her.  Soon she drove up with the portrait of my daughters that she had bought in a thrift shop simply for the frame.  She didn’t have any idea who the two girls were but had put out word on Facebook that she would surrender the portrait to the rightful owner.

We talked for a few minutes about our past lives, hugged and shook hands.  She had the portrait wrapped in a baby blanket and insisted on showing me that it was in perfect condition.  She was so happy that she had found the rightful owner and it showed in her eyes.  I was tickled and repeatedly thanked her for her kindness and loaded the portrait in my Blazer and headed back to Greenville.

On the drive home, I passed the black-faced lawn jockey statues again.  My thoughts going back home were different from they were on the way down.  Going down, I was almost incensed by the presence of the lawn jockeys.  Headed home, I thought hopefully there are at least two people looking to return treasures to their rightful owners  for every one that’s looking to purchase back faced lawn jockeys.

 

 

 

Family

We all have family that we care about.  Family that we treasure and love beyond belief.  I have one remaining Uncle at this point in life.  When my Dad was initially diagnosed with a brain tumor in early 1996, I couldn’t go to Duke for the diagnosis.  My Uncle went.

I felt so helpless.  My Dad had always been there for me and now I couldn’t be there for him.  I won’t go into the reasons, but there was just no way I could leave town and travel to Duke.  My Uncle and Aunt went, they had time, or maybe they just made time, but they went.

I talked with my Uncle on the phone when they were at Duke and my Uncle said to me – “this is what families do”.  That comment has been ingrained in my soul for the last 20 years.  I have repeated this phrase to my two daughters time and again as we have sought to cling together in the tumultuous times together in these last 20 years.

I had four uncles 20 years ago.  Three were brothers of my Dad, the other married one of my mother’s sisters.  Two of my Dad’s brothers are gone now and tonight  one of my daughters told me the one that was married to my mother’s sister was also gone.  He died about a year ago.

He was a conflicted individual to say the least.  My mother’s sister suffered from Alzheimer’s and Lord knows when she died.  They had no children, only each other.  I don’t want to go into the things that happened as my Mother’s oldest sister died, that’s done and in the past.

I just hope that the money that he got from my other aunt’s estate eased his journey into hell.  She had written her will so that pretty much everything, including her house would go to her church.  Well this SOB left her church standing at he altar, if you know what I mean.

As my Aunt was dying, her friends from childhood could not get in to see her and console her.  She was held captive in her sister’s house by this asshole previously labeled as my Uncle.  I told one of her closest friends from childhood that there would be a special place in hell  for certain people and an express lane reserved for a special few.

The bastard has been gone now for over a year and his descendants have his money.  They also have my other Aunts money, but they didn’t get my Mother’s money.  That went to my two daughters.  They are fine for now.

Twenty years later, my other Aunt’s church is fine.  I hope that the bastard’s great-nephew has enjoyed the money and is fine.  When he looks in the mirror and it has a wiggle in what he sees, I hope it gives him pause.  His great-uncle was a great big ole pile of crap.  Full Stop.

 

 

Screams, Numbers and My Anger

Screams

Here we are, again.  Dealing with screams.  Personally, I’m fed up with the screams.  Not just the screams, but the apologies.  The screams I’m talking about are those of the dying.  People dying of cancer don’t scream.  People hit by gunshots, whether they are seriously injured or they die, they scream.

Soldiers at Fort Hood, civil service workers in San Bernadino, congressmen practicing baseball in Alexandria, night club patrons in Orlando, worshipers at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, college students in Blacksburg, high school students in Columbine, and elementary school children in Newtown.  They all screamed.  About 3:00 this morning, my time, more that twenty two thousand people of all ages screamed at a concert in Las Vegas.

I woke up just after 5:00 AM Eastern time to news reports of the screaming in Las Vegas, this time documented with smart phone video.  Now, about 15 hours later, nearly 60 souls are lost and over 500 lay injured by a sniper attack.  One that could have been prevented.  How do we stop the screaming?  Thus far, the answer has eluded our collective efforts as a country.

The screaming defies race, gender, age, sexual orientation, occupation or religious preference.  Notice those are all things that are supposed to be protected by constitutional guarantees, except the 2nd Amendment.   All of those things listed above are basically rights covered in the 1st Amendment, but they seem to be consistently trampled by the rights of the 2nd Amendment.

Numbers

I want to do justice to the screams by accounting for each and everyone.  But, I didn’t list every gun tragedy that has occurred in my lifetime, so no grisly body counts.  The last time I got this worked up about senseless gun violence was Newtown.  My girls were in graduate school and high school at the time and I don’t think I had ever been so angry.

I foamed at the mouth, paced the floor and sat down and wrote and re-wrote a 644 word op-ed and submitted it to my local newspaper with my name and picture.  I was still living in my hometown and was in sales and cared not one bit, what was going to happen to me as a result.  Four months later, my anger boiled over, I quit my job and started a one-year hiatus that cost me financially.

Those are my numbers.  There is no real need in tallying up the body counts.  Those are numbers that disrespect those who screamed.  The argument changes from the subject to the numbers if you do.  Mark Twain is attributed to have said “there are lies, damned lies and statistics”.  Those who screamed, deserve better than being designated as simply, statistics.

My Anger

There is one number, however, that I do want to share.  That number is $85 million.  That is the reported net worth of former FOX personality Bill O’Reilly.  Mr. O’Reilly chimed in on the events of the last day and on his blog post said “This is the price of freedom,” he continued. “Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are.”

Well Mr. O’Reilly, you’re dead wrong.  What you are describing is not the price of freedom.  While it may be to someone with a reported net worth of $85 million.  to the rest of us, we consider it to be the Cost of Freedom.  See there is a difference between you and the rest of us.

When you have money like yourself sir, things have a price.  You have the money, you just have to figure out the price.  You can afford most things that most of us can’t.  We look at things a little different than you.  We look at a lot of life from the cost side of the ledger.  As we do this, we ask ourselves “what will we have to give up in order to acquire this next new thing?”

That’s the math that we live with.  My decision to deal with my anger in 2013 cost my youngest daughter her 1st year of college.  Oh, she got there and is doing just fine thank you.  But because of my anger, she waited a year after high school, but she waited.

I would guess that it’s been awhile since Mr. O’Reilly waited for anything other than his pink slip from FOX.  You see, there is a difference between the price of an item and the cost of that item.  If you think the lives lost and permanently altered in Las Vegas are simply about price, well, you’re wrong.  Ask the families of the 18 students that Charles Whitman killed in 1966 and the 31 that he injured that day in Austin.

That was a cost you arrogant self absorbed predator, not a price.  What we are talking about tonight is the same thing we have been talking about for over fifty years.  Why?  Because arrogant elites like yourself Mr. O’Reilly, look at things from the price standpoint.  You can afford for us to die, it costs you nothing, but it costs us everything.

It cost us JFK, RFK and MLK in less than five years.  You do remember the five years after that?  So here we are again.  In 1970, there were four dead in Ohio.  Kent State.  Just one of the many tragic events of the Viet Nam era.  There was a song written about that shooting.

It was recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and  was on the “A” side of the single.  “Four Dead in Ohio”.  It  became one of the many anthems of the early 1970’s that led to the end of the Viet Nam War.  After watching Ken Burns’ film last week, we now know President Nixon’s duplicity in how that war ended.  That duplicity led to Watergate and his ultimate downfall.

The “B” side of the single by CSNY contained another song that attempted to call out the similarities between Viet Nam and our own Civil War fought barely 100 years before.  The name of that “B” side single?  “Find the Cost of Freedom”.  The lyrical references are to the Civil War, but the inference is clear.

You’re a smart guy Mr. O’Reilly, or at least you say you are.  For years you declared 9:00 pm EST to be the “No-Spin Zone”.  I hope that you and your millions can recognize that what you see as price, we see as cost.  If you do see that, then apologize to the hundreds of families with loved ones simply attending a music concert less than twenty four hours ago.  It’s not the Price of Freedom, it’s the Cost of Freedom.  Don’t make me have to take this much time out of my day to remind you of the difference.

My net worth is somewhat less than $85 million and I have a daughter with less than two semesters to graduation.  She has a GPA above 3.8 and deserves to go to graduate school.  I need to work for a few more years, so I would appreciate it if you could learn the difference between price and cost.

The following video haunts me almost as much as the screams that I started talking about in the begining.