Friday, September 18, 2020

Monday, September 7, 2020

Labor Day

Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times

Having grown up in a union town that was near a large city that relied on union labor, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the people who most hate unions are folks who think that it is unconscionable that workers should have the same rights as the managers and the owners of the company. How dare they demand a living wage and safe working conditions. Who do they think they are?

Yeah, yeah; in every large group there are bad apples and examples of bad faith and extremism. Welcome to the human race. The Republicans hold the unions up as the boogeyman of the Western world and label them as thugs… and give tax breaks to the corporations because they know that if they don’t, the corporations will kneecap them. Not literally; they’ll just stop giving them money, which, in corporate circles, is thuggery. The people who whine about “class warfare” always turn out to be the ones who are winning the war.

Perhaps one of the reasons that union membership is down is that unions have accomplished a lot of what they set out to do 100 years ago. Factories are safer, working hours are reasonable, wages are better than the minimum, and pensions provide some security. The unions have learned, however awkwardly, to accept that they have been successful, but they also know that if some people had their way in the world, they would turn back to clock to 1911, put children to work, take away the healthcare, and demand more production. After all, it works for the Chinese, and look how they’re doing.

By the way, not all union workers are Democrats; they certainly weren’t were I grew up. A lot of them are hardcore Republicans or conservatives — including police officers — who don’t care about the politics; they just want to be treated fairly. And a lot of people who are not union members are working under union contracts; in most places there is no requirement to join a union to benefit from their efforts. So while actual union membership may be down to 15%, the number of people who are part of the union is far greater. That includes public sector jobs as well as private. So the next time someone feels the urge to union-bash, be sure you’re not peeing in your own campfire.

Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of a union of sorts; I belong to the Dramatists Guild. It provides services for writers and lyricists and makes sure that when our works are produced, we have a fair contract and get paid our royalties. The joke among us is that we don’t go on strike; we just get writers’ block.

[Originally posted September 2, 2013]

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Glorious Fourth

Flags in the Rain 07-03-14When I was a kid I was very outgoing in putting up displays for the holidays — Memorial Day, Christmas, the Fourth of July. I liked the flags, the lights, the stuff. It was cool to make a big splash. But as I grew up I grew out of it, and today I don’t go much for things like that. I don’t have a flag to fly on national holidays, and the most I’ll do for Christmas is a wreath on the door because it has good memories and the scent of pine is rare in subtropical Florida.

I suppose it has something to do with my Quaker notions of shunning iconography — outward symbols can’t show how you truly feel about something on the inside — and more often than not they are used to make up for the lack of a true belief. This is also true of patriotism: waving the flag — or wrapping yourself in it — is a poor and false measure of how you truly feel about your country.

There’s an old saying that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. As Benjamin Franklin noted, no country had ever been formed because of an idea. But when the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1776 and passed the resolution embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that was what was being done: create a nation not based on geographical boundaries, property, tribalism, or religion, but on the idea of forming a new government to replace the present form because the rulers were incompetent, uncaring, and cruel. The American Revolution wasn’t so much a rebellion as it was a cry for attention. Most of the Declaration is a punch-list, if you will, of grievances both petty and grand against the Crown, and once the revolution was over and the new government was formed, the Constitution contained many remedies to prevent the slights and injuries inflicted under colonialism: the Bill of Rights is a direct response to many of the complaints listed in the Declaration.

But the Declaration of Independence goes beyond complaints. Its preamble is a mission statement. It proclaims our goals and what we hope to achieve. No nation had ever done that before, and to this day we are still struggling to achieve life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness goes on with no sign of let-up.

That is the true glory of America. Not that we complain — and we do — but that we work to fix those complaints. To put them right. To make things better than they were. To give hope to people who feel that they have no voice, and to assure that regardless of who they are, where they come from, what they look like, who they love, or what they believe, there will be room for them to grow, do, and become whatever it is that they have the capacity to be. It’s a simple idea, but the simplest ideas often have the most powerful impact.

This nation has achieved many great things. We’ve inspired other nations and drawn millions to our shores not to just escape their own country but to participate in what we’re doing. And we’ve made mistakes. We’ve blundered and fumbled and bullied and injured. We’ve treated some of our own citizens with contempt, and shown the same kind of disregard for the rights of others that we enumerated in our own Declaration of Independence. We have been guilty of arrogance and hypocrisy. But these are all human traits, and we are, after all, human. The goal of government is to rise above humanity, and the goal of humanity is to strive for perfection. So if we stumble on the road to that goal, it is only because we are moving forward.

I love this country not for what it is but for what it could be. In my own way I show my patriotism not by waving a flag from my front porch but by working to make things work in our system and by adding to the discussion that will bring forth ideas to improve our lives and call into question the ideas of others. It is all a part of what makes the simple idea of life, liberty, and that elusive happiness so compelling and so inspiring, and what makes me very proud to be a part of this grand experiment.

Go forth!

Photo: The Avenue in the Rain by Frederick Childe Hassam 1917.

[This post originally appeared on July 4, 2005.]

Friday, July 3, 2020

Happy Friday

It’s the long Fourth of July weekend.  So what do you do when you’re supposed to stay home and social distance?  Watch from your back porch.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day

I grew up in Perrysburg, Ohio. It’s a small town, a suburb of Toledo, and when I was a kid in the 1950’s and ’60’s, it fit all of the images that small towns in the Midwest have: tree-shaded streets, neat homes, lots of churches, and a main street — Louisiana Avenue — with little shops like the drug store with the fountain, the dime store, the barber shop, the hardware store, the bakery with the smell of bread baking and the sweet scent of icing, and the bank with the solid stone exterior. They’re all still there, just under different names now, and my parents, who still live there, still call the drug store by its old name, even though it’s changed owners and become a jewelry shop. In the winter the Christmas decorations line the street, and each Memorial Day there is a parade that starts at the Schaller Memorial, the veterans hall, and proceeds up Louisiana Avenue, taking a turn when it reaches the Oliver Hazard Perry Memorial (“We have met the enemy and they are ours…”) and marches down West Front Street past the old Victorian homes that overlook the Maumee River.

When I was a kid the parade was made up of the veterans groups like the American Legion and the VFW, and platoons of soldiers and veterans, including, through the 1970’s, the last remaining veterans of World War I. They wore their uniforms and their medals, and those that couldn’t march sat in the back seat of convertibles, waving slowly to the crowds that lined the sidewalks. They were followed by the marching band from the high school, the color guard, the Cub Scouts, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the drum and bugle corps, floats from church groups, all of the city fire equipment, antique cars, and the service groups like the Shriners, the Elks, and the Kiwanis Club. After the last float came all the kids on their bicycles decorated with streamers, bunting, flags, and all the patriotic paperwork we could muster. My friends and I would try to outdo each other, and it had less to do with patriotism than it did with seeing how many rolls of red, white, and blue crepe paper we could thread in between the spokes of our wheels.

I was about ten or so on one Memorial Day when I spent a lot of time getting my Schwinn Racer ready for the big parade. It was a perfect day; the sky was a sparkling spring blue and all the floats, cars, and fire trucks were gleaming in the sun as the parade organized on Indiana Avenue in front of the Memorial Hall. The high school band in their yellow and black uniforms marched in precision as the major led off with a Sousa tune, and as the parade slowly made its way down the avenue we could see the crowds along the sidewalks waiting and waving. As we waited our turn we wheeled our bikes in circles, just like the Shriners in their little go-karts, and finally we got the signal that it was time for the kids to roll. There was an organized rush to lead off, and then we were slowly pedaling down the street, waving to everybody outside the library, the Chevy dealership, even the people lined up on the roof of the pizza parlor. I looked for my dad shooting movies with the 8mm camera, but didn’t see him. Oh, well, it didn’t matter; we were supposed to meet at the home of friends who were hosting a post-parade picnic in their backyard. Their house was at the end of the parade route, so that was the perfect place to pull out of the parade and have the first of many Faygo Redpops that summer.

But for some reason I stayed with the parade, on down West Front, and then up West Boundary and past the gates of Fort Meigs Cemetery. The floats and the fire trucks were gone, but what was left of the parade — the color guard and the veterans — went through the gates and along the path. There was no music now, just a solemn drumbeat keeping a steady muffled tapping. The color guard turned at a small stone memorial, and then past it to a gravesite where a family was gathered; a mother in a black dress, a father in a grey suit, and a teenage son and daughter, looking somber and out of place. The grave was still fresh, the dirt mounded over, the headstone a simple marker with a flag. A minister spoke some words, and then the color guard snapped to attention. A volley of rifle fire, then Taps, and then a tall young soldier in dress blues handed a folded flag to the mother, who murmured her thanks and tried to smile.

I suddenly realized that I felt out of place there with my gaudily-patriotic bike and my red-white-and-blue striped shirt. No one noticed me, though, and when the people started to slowly move away from the gravesite and back to the entrance, I followed along until I was able to ride slowly back to our friends’ house, park my bike with all the others, and find my parents, who probably hadn’t even noticed that I was not there with all the other kids running around and playing on the lawn.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

This post originally appeared on May 25, 2009.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Happy Easter

To those of you who celebrate in any way, be it by Zoom or in the room, happy Easter.

Easter 1957 with my siblings.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Passover

Passover (Pesach) begins at sunset tonight. In Miami that would be at 7:42 with last light at 8:05.  Whether its just you in your social distancing group, your family, or via Zoom, make it a good one.  Next year we will all be together.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Primary Day

In spite of the coronavirus shutdowns and lockouts, the Florida primary election is going forth.  I have seen scant election junk mail about it, and less on TV.  I couldn’t tell you who’s running in the local races because there aren’t any in my precinct that I’m aware of.  But I’m going to vote; I haven’t missed a primary since I started voting in 1972.

I went to work yesterday, and I’ll be going back today and probably tomorrow; time, tide, and paperwork wait for no one.  Our students have been given laptops and distance-teaching is going on.  So far the general atmosphere at work and other places I’ve been such as Starbucks, which is limiting itself to to-go orders, has been one of acceptance and accommodation: “Hey, we’re all in this together, thanks for stopping by and stay safe.”

It’s also St. Patrick’s Day, but it looks like the celebrations are going to be reduced to the level of those they have in Ireland itself, where they don’t appear to make a big deal out of it no matter what the viral load is.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther KingToday is the federal holiday set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.

For me, growing up as a white kid in a middle-class suburb in the Midwest in the 1960’s, Dr. King’s legacy would seem to have a minimum impact; after all, what he was fighting for didn’t affect me directly in any way. But my parents always taught me that anyone oppressed in our society was wrong, and that in some way it did affect me. This became much more apparent as I grew up and saw how the nation treated its black citizens; those grainy images on TV and in the paper of water-hoses turned on the Freedom Marchers in Alabama showed me how much hatred could be turned on people who were simply asking for their due in a country that promised it to them. And when I came out as a gay man, I became much more aware of it when I applied the same standards to society in their treatment of gays and lesbians.

Perhaps the greatest impression that Dr. King had on me was his unswerving dedication to non-violence in his pursuit of civil rights. He withstood taunts, provocations, and rank invasions of his privacy and his life at the hands of racists, hate-mongers, and the federal government, yet he never raised a hand in anger against anyone. He deplored the idea of an eye for an eye, and he knew that responding in kind would only set back the cause. I was also impressed that his spirituality and faith were his armor and his shield, not his weapon, and he never tried to force his religion on anyone else. The supreme irony was that he died at the hands of violence, much like his role model, Mahatma Gandhi.

There’s a question in the minds of a lot of people of how to celebrate a federal holiday for a civil rights leader. Isn’t there supposed to be a ritual or a ceremony we’re supposed to perform to mark the occasion? But how do you signify in one day or in one action what Dr. King stood for, lived for, and died for? Last August marked the fifty-fifth anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. That marked a moment; a milestone.

Today is supposed to honor the man and what he stood for and tried to make us all become: full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; something that is with us all day, every day.

For me, it’s having the memories of what it used to be like and seeing what it has become for all of us that don’t take our civil rights for granted, which should be all of us, and being both grateful that we have come as far as we have and humbled to know how much further we still have to go.

*

Today is also a school holiday, so blogging will be on a holiday schedule.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Boxing Day

In many parts of the world, including Canada, today is Boxing Day and it’s a holiday, too.

The name derives from the tradition of giving seasonal gifts, on the day after Christmas, to less wealthy people and social inferiors, which was later extended to various workpeople such as labourers and servants.

The traditional recorded celebration of Boxing Day has long included giving money and other gifts to charitable institutions, the needy and people in service positions. The European tradition has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown and there are some claims that it goes back to the late Roman/early Christian era.

In the United Kingdom it certainly became a custom of the nineteenth century Victorians for tradesmen to collect their ‘Christmas boxes’ or gifts in return for good and reliable service throughout the year on the day after Christmas.[1]

The establishment of Boxing Day as a defined public Holiday under the legislation that created the UK’s Bank Holidays started the separation of ‘Boxing Day’ from the ‘Feast of St Stephen’ and today it is almost entirely a secular holiday with a tradition of shopping and post Christmas sales starting.

As mentioned, it’s also St. Stephen’s day, which, unless you’re up on your Catholic mythology, you only know about because of the Christmas carol, Good King Wenceslaus.

At any rate, today is the day to clean up after the holiday if you celebrated or head out to the mall if you want to exchange the mystery gift or use the gift card you got from a friend at work. Or you could stay at home and nosh on the leftovers from Christmas dinner and start writing your thank-you notes.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Sense of Christmas

I’m continuing a tradition I began back when this blog was new, which is another way of saying that I’ve posted this on Christmases past; this makes the twelfth Christmas that I’ve shared this story.

Christmas WreathWhen I was a kid, our family lived in a house with tall ceilings so we always got a Christmas tree that was at least ten feet tall – maybe taller. (It could have been less, but when you’re six or seven, it looks a lot taller.) We had tons of decorations from our family history; gingerbread decorations held together with fine wire, bubble lights that never seemed to work right, and hundreds of ornaments. We always had a debate about tinsel – I hated it, my sister wanted it. Guess who won that one. Every year we put the tree in a different room – one year in the living room, the next in the front parlor, and then in the bay window in the dining room.

That was not the extent of the decorating by any means. While my family was not particularly religious, we went all out for the season in the decor mode that would have made Martha Stewart get out of the business. This was a tradition carried on from both of my parent’s families; my father tells how his father was a meticulous hanger of the old-fashioned lead tinsel, and my mother’s family did it up to the heights of giddiness that included the tree and presents magically appearing overnight on Christmas Eve. So we had a legacy to live up to. Lights on the front porch were interwoven in the cedar roping that looped down from the eaves. There was more roping on the bannister going up the front stairs, tied on with red ribbons, and roping again around the big mirror in the front hall. Candles in Christmas candelabra filled the house with the scent of candle smoke, merging with the evergreens, and on Christmas Eve, when the big roast was in the oven for the dinner with Aunt Margaret, the house was awash with homey aromas.

We had an old-fashioned hi-fi system with speakers throughout the first floor of the house, and as we put up the tree and the roping – usually the weekend before Christmas – we would dig out the Christmas LP’s. The perennial was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Joy To the World that began with “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” That would be followed by the Bing Crosby Merry Christmas album and anything else we had in the rack.

We had two fireplaces in the house, including one in the kitchen, so that’s where we hung our stockings with care. Christmas morning would arrive and the four kids would line up, youngest first, on the back stairs, squirming with anticipation until we were let into the kitchen and a breakfast of Christmas baked treats, including a Scandinavian stollen baked by a family friend. (Never one who liked things like that, I often wished the stollen would be stolen….) Then we’d line up at the appropriate closed door behind which lay the treasure. Nearly fainting with the anticipation, the door would be flung open – a four-voiced gasp of breath, followed by pounding feet and squeals of delight. We took turns, shredding the wrapping, opening the boxes, reading the tags – “From Mom and Dad,” “From Santa,” “From Grammie.” My mother kept a list of who got what from whom so that the thank-you notes could be written. There was always one Big Present for each kid – a bicycle, skis, a train set, a kitten – and lots of books and clothes, too. And each child was sure to give his sibling something, usually something oddly appropriate; like lavender bath beads from me to my sister.

When it was all over, the trash can was filled with the wrappings, the loot taken upstairs, and new clothes tried on. I would pore through the new books until I was nagged to get dressed to go to Christmas dinner somewhere else – with cross-town relatives or the Carranor Club – and the streets would be empty as we piled into the station wagon. We’d come home in the cold and dark, tired from all the excitement, ready to come down from the sugar-spiked high. The next day we’d pack up for our annual skiing trip to Boyne Mountain in Michigan, complete with its own set of sense memories.

These traditions were carried on as we each grew up and started our own families, adding our own touches; Allen and I merged some of each to come up with our own for fifteen years, including the tree (artificial, though – he’s allergic to pine) and music. (I’ve got the Bing Crosby CD on as I write this.) My sister has passed it on to her children, and my younger brother, with his three kids, carries on much as we did when we were young.

So while there may not be a whole lot of religion in any of it, there’s the strength of the ties of family and love that surpasses any denominational definition. It is a common thread that binds us all together whether we say “Happy Holidays,” “Merry Christmas,” “Felice Navidad” (which I immediately corrupted to “Fleas On Your Dad”), “Happy Hanukkah,” or “Good Kwanzaa.” It’s the sense of togetherness and hope that can be spread regardless of whether or not you celebrate the birth of the son of God, and the thankfulness that you feel that you have made it through yet another year and look forward to making the next one better.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Card

From my family to you and yours.

Christmas Wreath

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be

Christmas 1953

Christmas 1953

What is amazing is that sixty-six years later, only three people in this photograph are no longer with us.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Festival Of Lights

Menorah

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah (חנוכה). If you celebrate the festival, best wishes for a peaceful and joyous eight days, and remember to save some of the leftovers for your goyishe friends who have a hankering for the delicacies of the season.

Have fun taking the dreidel out for a spin.

Sunday Reading

The Eclipse of Reason — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

The shock of Donald Trump’s election, in November, 2016, obscured a tragedy of equal moment—the eclipse of reason, fact, and ethical judgment in the Republican Party.

Twenty-one years ago, during the impeachment of Bill Clinton, there were numerous Democratic lawmakers who lambasted him for his trespasses; five voted against him. Clinton, for his part, apologized to the American people before the House voted on his fate. “What I want the American people to know, what I want the Congress to know, is that I am profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds,” he said. “I never should have misled the country, the Congress, my friends or my family. Quite simply, I gave in to my shame.”

Clinton had lied about sex. That was the root of the accusations against him. Trump, with the help of Rudy Giuliani and others, attempted to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance to Ukraine, an ally under assault from Russia, as a way to extract a crude and distinctly personal political favor. Was this not a far graver offense? And yet everyone knew that there was never the remotest chance of hearing a word of contrition from Trump—and that from the Republican Party there would be no self-questioning, no doubt. Tribalism—and the demands of Trumpism—would not permit it.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Lindsey Graham recognized, and said publicly, that Trump was “unfit for office”—and when Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, and so many other Republicans in Congress recognized Trump for the moral vacuum that he is. Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff, once called Trump “a terrible human being.” Rick Perry, his Secretary of Energy, saw him as a “barking carnival act” and deemed his candidacy “a cancer on conservatism.” Ted Cruz called him a “pathological liar” and “utterly immoral.” They used to care. But things have changed.

At the same time, nearly every loyalist who leaves the Trump White House—James Mattis, Gary Cohn, H. R. McMaster, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, et al.—comes clean, on or off the record, about despising Trump. They describe in detail the President’s countless acts of duplicity and incompetence. Only fearful, humiliated ex-Trumpers in need of campaign support, such as Jeff Sessions, who is again running for the Senate in Alabama, abase themselves and speak of his virtue. Nikki Haley, who seems intent on being Trump’s successor (or perhaps Mike Pence’s replacement on the ticket), refers to Trump as “great to work with” and “truthful”; in 2016, she said that he was “everything a governor doesn’t want in a President.”

In other words, when it comes to Trump, everyone knows. As the Republican caucus members fell into line on Wednesday, they revealed themselves. No one defended Trump on the merits, on the facts—not with any conviction or coherence. Who came to praise his character or values? No one. Instead, there were only counter-accusations, smoke-bomb diversions about procedure, ill will, and even talk of the President’s martyrdom. Barry Loudermilk, a Georgia Republican with a name fit for Mencken, was distinguished in his metaphors, yet hardly eccentric among his caucus, when he said, “Before you take this historic vote today, one week before Christmas, keep this in mind: when Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded this President in this process.” Democrats, in fact, had offered the President the chance to defend himself, but he had declined to do so. His “defense” was to hold back as much evidence and as many witnesses as he could.

No one marshalled any evidence to dispute that the President had dispatched Giuliani and others to assist him in manipulating and muscling the Ukrainian government into doing him a “favor.” No one denied with any conviction that Trump had asked for foreign help in 2016 (“Russia, if you’re listening…”) and was looking for it this time around, too. Not only had Trump not apologized or denied it, he doubled down. Hadn’t he asked the Chinese, in October, to carry out an investigation of the Bidens right there on the White House lawn?

Republican members may sincerely admire the judges whom the President has appointed, the tax cuts for the wealthy that he has supported, and the ad-libbed trade war that he has waged. But they also know that Trump is, as Adam Schiff put it in the most eloquent speech of the day, a cheat. On July 24th, Trump watched as the special counsel Robert Mueller testified, damningly but ineffectively, in Congress. On July 25th he called the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, and asked for his “favor.” On July 26th, he called his million-dollar campaign donor and Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, at a restaurant in Kyiv, to make sure that the Ukrainians were going to do it—that they were going to investigate the Bidens, on his behalf. He didn’t care about corruption in Ukraine, or the war Russia was waging against Ukraine. He cared only about “big stuff,” as Sondland put it. He cared about himself. And he was willing to extort an ally to get what he desired.

On Wednesday evening, the commentators on television solemnly invoked the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, history. Everyone went full-on Jon Meacham.

But Trump made it plain that he would not nod to any sense of grace or occasion. During his impeachment crisis, President Andrew Johnson was quick to the bottle and revealed, in many speeches, a deep streak of self-pity. “Who has borne more than I?” he asked an audience in Cleveland, in 1866. Trump is certainly as thin-skinned as Johnson was. Consult his Twitter feed. And yet just around the moment when the House passed the first article of impeachment, Trump was trying his best to do a rhetorical devil-may-care act at a rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, asserting that real Air Force pilots were more handsome than the “Top Gun”-era Tom Cruise. He improvised. He did shtick. He threw out one random insult and Dada observation after another. He talked about Beto O’Rourke. (Remember Beto O’Rourke?) He talked about showers. He talked about sinks. He talked about many other things. He performed as if none of what was happening in Washington mattered. He was now impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, but he felt safe. He had his party. He had Fox News and his Twitter followers. He had his base. He could not be touched. “It’s impeachment lite,” he told the crowd. “I don’t know about you, but I’m having a good time.”

God Bless Us, Everyone! — Charles P. Pierce.

As you may have noticed, the shebeen has been disarranged for the past couple of weeks. The sudden intervention of an automobile into my affairs—and, it must be said, into my lower back—has kept me watching the considerable landfill of recent news from the sidelines—often, I must admit, severely hopped up on goofballs, as Joe Friday would have said. (I got a small glimpse of the opioid crisis from the inside and, let me tell you, the other day, the oxy was whispering to me the way Richard Pryor’s crack pipe used to talk to him. Motherfcker is strong, Jack.)

I am one lucky motherfcker, I’ll tell you that. If I had bounced another foot, I would have bounced into oncoming traffic, which would have complicated matters considerably. My head landed hard, but it landed in a snowbank, which not only cushioned the blow but slowed the bleeding. I was one lucky motherfcker because of the people who surrounded me while I was on the road. The first-aid worker who was first on the scene and called my wife. The nurse who had just come off an overnight shift and who apparently left all the fcks she had to give back in her work locker. Some idiot started honking his horn to get around the scene, and she took a bit of time out to yell, in a wicked pissah Boston accent, “Will you shut the fuck up, you arsehole!” at him. Nurses, man. They could take over the world in an hour.

I am one lucky motherfcker because of the people at The Brigham who worked on me. The ER doctors and nurses, many of whom I will never recognize again because I only saw them upside down. They kept me calm and comfortable while they inspected, detected, neglected, and rejected every part of me. Of course, my family, who went to DefCon 1 immediately. My wife and daughter beat me to the Brigham and, when I began to get agitated, as is my wont in any medical situation including reruns of MASH, my daughter booted up the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack on her phone and put it next to my ear. Worked as well as the Toradol did. (Hi again, Toradol!) I am one lucky motherfcker.

And then there were the ward nurses and the nurses aides and the various types of orderlies and technician. At one point or another, I was shuffled around the hospital hallways by a man from Ethiopia, two people from Haiti, and a woman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Americans all, dammit. Let me tell you about Myosha. Her parents brought her from Haiti when she was very small and now she’s in high school. She works six days a week hauling the likes of me around on gurneys, and she was taking me down to get yet another X-ray when I asked her what she wanted to do when she graduated. She wants to be a physician’s assistant, Myosha told me, and she wants to work in the ER Trauma unit. That’s tough work, I told her. I was just there. Yes, she told me, and that’s where people need help the most. She was disappointed because she’d learned that morning that she wouldn’t have to work on Christmas Day. “I wanted to work that day,” she told me. “with the old people in the hospital, because they have nobody with them and it is Christmas.” Honest to god, if she’d sprouted wings and flown me down the hall, I wouldn’t have been shocked at all.

I have heard from so many people, even some of them who have felt the kick of the shebeen’s poitin straight, no chaser. Joe Scarborough shouted me out on TV; that one had me wondering whether or not it was the goofballs, I admit. My direct-messages on the electric Twitter machine included old sportswriting pals and people I’d worked with at all my various stops. (One former colleague assured me that we could commit a federal narcotics crime and get away with it.) I heard from the longform brigade, one and all, and from athletes and coaches, pols and pundits and TV stars, and even from one presidential candidate, who shall remain anonymous. I heard from all corners of the blogosphere.

And, best of all, of course, I heard from the longtime denizens of the shebeen, many of whom are now paying a cover charge for the two-drink minimum, and I thank you all for that again. What I’m saying is that, along with a look into the opioid crisis, I got a deep vision of the simple fact that there is still a lot of good in this erratic, carbon-based lifeform that we are. Generally, at this time of year, I quote from A Christmas Carol the rebuttal that Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, throws back at the wretched, covetous old sinner in reply to the very first “Bah, Humbug” that the old man utters. (By the way, ACC was first published in London on this week in 1831. I learned this on the intertoobz because what in the hell else did I have to do.) But we’re going a little deeper into the text this year, I think, to our first visit to the home of the Cratchits. Scrooge and the Spirit of Christmas Present are invisible in the corner of the little hovel when Bob and Tim come back from church.

“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content. “As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

These are the some of the things I thought while I was lying alone, in the street and in the hospital. We are all lucky motherfckers, the lot of us, even if sometimes, we can’t quite see it. I hear the mail thump. Christmas cards!

Nope. Another inescapable milestone on the road to recovery.

Letters from personal-injury attorneys.

God bless us all, everyone.

Doonesbury — Holy smokes!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

O Christmas Tree

As previously noted, for the first time in over twenty years I have a Christmas tree in the house.  In the old days — back in the 1950’s and ’60’s — folks would bring home their Christmas tree lashed to the top of the station wagon.  There were Christmas cards with that motif.

Not to be outdone, and to celebrate the return of the tree to the house, here’s my homage to the old tradition.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving

I’ve been looking back through some of my Thanksgiving posts over the years for some inspiration and perhaps a perspective on the holiday. Taking a day off to express thanks and brace ourselves for the rest of the holidays is a good time to reflect and be grateful for some of the good things we have and the memories. The post below is from Thanksgiving 2007, when I was looking back at a special holiday weekend.

When I was a kid growing up outside of Toledo, we had some relatives in the area, and we also belonged to a local tennis and social club that served as a gathering place for a group of families like ours and we often went there for holiday dinners. It relieved my mom from cooking one of the two big meals at the holidays; if we had Thanksgiving at home, then we went to the club or another relative’s place for Christmas, or vice versa. We also would have the Thanksgiving meal later in the day — usually around the normal dinner time — because we had season tickets to the Detroit Lions football team, and we would go up to Detroit to sit in the freezing cold bleachers to watch the Lions play their traditional Thanksgiving Day game, then come home to the dinner.

It’s been a while since my family has gotten together for Thanksgiving. We’ve all moved on to different places and have our own families. It’s been many years since my entire immediate family — Mom, Dad, and my three siblings and their families — were together for the occasion.

However, there was one Thanksgiving that I’ll never forget: 1967. I was a freshman at St. George’s, the boarding school in Newport, Rhode Island (and also alma mater of Howard Dean and Tucker Carlson). It was my first extended time away from home and I was miserable. My older brother and sister were also away at school; one in New Jersey, the other in Virginia. My parents made arrangements for us all to get together in New York City that weekend, and they booked rooms at the Plaza Hotel. We saw two Broadway musicals — Mame with Angela Lansbury and Henry, Sweet Henry with Don Ameche — and a little musical in Greenwich Village called Now Is The Time For All Good Men…. We went shopping in Greenwich Village, took hansom cab rides in Central Park, had lunch at Toots Shor’s (and got Cab Calloway’s autograph), dinner at Trader Vic’s and Luchow’s, and saw all the sights that a kid from Ohio on his second trip to NYC (the first being the World’s Fair in 1964) could pack into one four-day weekend. Oh, and we had the big Thanksgiving dinner in the Oak Room at the Plaza with all the trimmings. That night we went down to the nightclub below the Plaza and listened to smoky jazz played by a trio and a lovely woman on piano…could it have been Blossom Dearie?

It was a magical weekend. To this day I still remember the sights and sounds and sensations, and the deep sadness that settled back over me as I boarded the chartered bus that took me back to the dank purgatory of that endless winter at school overlooking the grey Atlantic Ocean.

I’ve had a lot of wonderful and memorable Thanksgivings since then at home and with friends, everywhere from Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, and even one in Jamaica, but that weekend at the Plaza forty years ago will always be special.

*

I’ll be on a holiday schedule until Monday. Posting will be light and variable, but tune in tonight for A Little Night Music Thanksgiving tradition.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Call The Butterball Hotline

I’m not the greatest cook.  Hell, I’m not even a good cook.  I get by in the kitchen, but when it comes to making dinner, I make reservations.  So I’m glad to see there’s a support group for people like me when the going gets tough.

NAPERVILLE, Ill. — The internet should have killed the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line years ago, but all the Google searches, YouTube videos and turkey tweets in the world can’t match the small-bore magic that happens here on the fifth floor of a suburban office building 34 miles southwest of Chicago.

Each year from Nov. 1 through Christmas Eve, 50 Butterball experts ease more than 100,000 nervous cooks through their Thanksgiving meal, either over the phone or, more recently, through text, email or live chat sessions.

The talk line started 38 years ago as a marketing gimmick, and has grown into a seasonal slice of Americana as sturdy and reassuring as a Midwestern grandmother with a degree in home economics, which many of the experts are.

“People can be just paralyzed with fear,” said Phyllis Kramer, who first took the seasonal job 17 years ago after retiring as a home economist. “All they usually need is someone who takes the time to be personal and sympathetic.”

Ms. Kramer embraces the talk-line ethos, which requires a cheery, solution-oriented and nonjudgmental demeanor. But who doesn’t love a good kitchen disaster story? It doesn’t take much to coax the experts into spilling some tea on America’s turkey illiteracy.

Their version of comedy gold often centers on thawing, the most common topic among callers. People ask if they can thaw a turkey in the dishwasher, under an electric blanket or in the backyard pool. One man threw a wrapped turkey in the bath water with his two children.

Here’s a classic: A man called in, worried about whether his bird would thaw in time. “What state is your turkey in?” the expert asked, trying to do a little culinary detective work. “Florida,” he answered.

Then there was the woman who wanted to know if she could check the turkey temperature with a fever thermometer, another who used dish soap to wash the turkey and the newlywed who called from a closet, fearful that her mother-in-law would discover she didn’t know how to roast a turkey.

Ms. Kramer’s favorite call came five years ago, when a group she suspects was fueled by a few holiday cocktails complained that the 21-pound turkey they had just pulled from the oven had barely any meat. She was puzzled, but then had a moment of what she called divine inspiration. “Turn the turkey over,” she suggested. They had cooked it breast-side down.

“The internet isn’t going to tell them that,” Ms. Kramer said.

Even the leader of the free world can avail himself of it.

Failing that, I’ve come up with a foolproof way of making sure I can just enjoy someone else’s hard work.

Don’t worry; I’m bringing a pumpkin pie from Publix.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans Day

One hundred and one years ago today — November 11, 1918 — the guns fell silent across Europe, marking the armistice that brought an end to the fighting in World War I. It used to be called Armistice Day. Today is the official holiday to commemorate Veterans Day.

It’s become my tradition here to mark the day with the poem In Flanders Field by John McCrae.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872-1918)

I honor my father, two uncles, a cousin, a great uncle, many friends and colleagues, and the millions known and unknown who served our country in the armed forces.

My father (left) and his twin, 1944