Hot Air: Everybody’s Black! Everybody’s Gay!

I’m a couple of days late with this one but that’s no news — I’ve been running slow ever since this pandemic lockdown became the new norm. As, I’d imagine, have you. In any case, here’s a musing on St. Patrick’s Day, a fete about as relevant to its purported national celebrants as Columbus Day is to the Italians. Neither honoree brings untainted esteem to his respective land. Not that anybody on Earth throughout history can claim to be untainted by human foible, weakness, or outright assholiness, but, for pity’s sake, there have to be some standards. I draw the line at genocide and slavery. How about you?

Anyway, here’s Neil Steinberg, from his blog:

My sympathies to the actual Irish. Being Jewish has its downsides, true, but at least we don’t have to put up with a lot of crude expropriation of our religion (by people other than ourselves, I mean). I wouldn’t want to walk to synagogue for Yom Kippur through a crowd of rowdies swilling Manischewitz from blue and white plastic cups, wearing fake beards and rubber noses and big black foam Borsalino hats, chanting, “Re-pent! Re-pent!”

It’s the intro to a reprint of his 2015 Chicago Sun-Times column about that year’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations. I love the image of Jews getting bombed on Manischewitz and marauding down Chicago’s streets. Woody Allen would have had a field day portraying that imaginary event — that is until he self-immolated due to his own human foibles, weaknesses, and outright assholiness, emphasis on assholiness.

Steinberg’s piece brought to mind Mike Royko’s hilarious column, years ago — many, many years ago — about Mayor Richard J. Daley’s annual embrace of his Irish roots on this March slosh-fest.

Daley, the first of the two so-surnamed Windy City pharaohs, every year led Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade down State Street, wearing a green top hat, strutting with a shillelagh, and festooned with an emerald sash proclaiming him the Grand Marshall and implying he was this nation’s King of the Irish. He’d be accompanied by one or more Irish-American celebrities like Pat O’Brien. Daley never grinned more broadly than when he led those parades. It was as though all the cares of running a big city through challenging times had magically dissipated as tens of thousands of already inebriated revelers roared when he and his party passed.

I recall being amazed as a teenager, witnessing so many people half in the bag already at the parade’s 11:00am start time. Within an hour many of the sloppy, polluted, grinning parade-goers would have begun to take offense at some imaginary slight or another and the fights would start to break out. The cops usually waited until the combatants had punched themselves nearly unconscious before wading in to restore the peace at seemingly every downtown corner. Hey, the cops were no dummies; they knew fighting drunks rarely were constrained by the sight of their blue uniforms and likely would take big swings at them. Better to wait till the pugilists were on the verge of mutual kayoes before putting their own noses and chins on the line.

Royko wrote his piece in 1972, a few short years after civil rights leaders and prominent black activists and celebrities began to embrace their own roots. Prior to the late 1960s, the dominant media portrayals of blackness were either cartoonish, wide-eyed, happy-go-lucky buffoons who were likely to break out in song and dance at the drop of a hat or, less so — much less so — pomaded, hair-straightened, exaggeratedly well-behaved Negroes whose speech more resembled that of Oxford dons than actual southern emigres to the northern cities of the Rust Belt. The embrace of Black pride was refreshing to many and alarming to the vast majority of white people who’d been quite happy indeed in the knowledge, fast slipping away, that “those people” knew their place and kept to it.

By ’72, Black power and Black pride were watchwords, causing some people to swell their chests and others to run and hide in the basement. By that year, anybody with a finger in the wind was aware that the United States had become not one nation but two. In the words of of the Kerner Commission Report, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal.” The report was the result of the establishment of a commission set up by President Lyndon Johnson in response to the countless riots of 1967, the “long, hot summer,” that devastated cities big and small across the country. The commission found that urban blacks had long been denied basic rights and privileges afforded to whites and so, naturally, many of those black people were boiling mad and ready to tear down whatever citadels they could.

Yet, every March 17th, Old Man Daley proclaimed all Chicagoans Irish even as a significant population of the city was hard-pressed to consider itself American. Daley liked to crow that everybody loved the hell out of each other in Chicago and our shared local roots made any divisions between us — skin color, religion, political party affiliations (no, let me amend that: Daley had little tolerance for Republicans, but I digress) — magically disappear. St. Patrick’s Day was the No. 2 holiday on Daley’s yearly calendar, second only to Election Day. Everybody in Chicago, Daley preached, came together on March 17th.

As Royko wrote 49 years ago:

Few days are as festive and joyous for all Chicagoans as St. Patrick’s Day.

Although it is an Irish observance, people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds take part because, as Mayor Daley is fond of saying:

“Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”

And to a visitor, that might appear to be true. In City Hall and other government offices, just about everyone wears a touch of green, whether they are Irish or something else.

The Chicago River is dyed green, and green water spurts from the fountain at Civic Center Plaza.

Regardless of what they usually serve, most restaurants add corned beef and cabbage to their menu, and some put green coloring in the beer.

But the true spirit of the day can be seen at the great parade down State St., with a green stripe painted down the center of the road.

Royko went on to write that the Mayor would lead Puerto Ricans down State Street every San Juan Batista Day. He and all his fellow marchers would wear the pava, a Puerto Rican straw hat. Restaurants would serve roast pig and boiled green bananas. Daley’s cronies would crack, “There are only two kinds of people: Puerto Ricans and those who wish they were Puerto Rican.”

Of course, Mayor Daley never led any Puerto Rican Day parades, nor were most restaurateurs even aware of the existence of Puerto Ricans in their city. But Royko, in his fertile imagination, went on. Every January 15th, he wrote, the Mayor led a parade of Black people celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday:

[A]s Mayor Daley is fond of saying:

“Everybody in Chicago is an African on Martin Luther King’d birthday.”

And to a visitor that might appear to be true. In City Hall and other government offices, just about everybody is wearing an African dashiki.

Again, that never happened.

If only.

Royko doesn’t stop. He cites Hanukkah, writing:

Although it is a Jewish observance, just about everybody else joins in, because as Mayor Daley is fond of saying:

“During Hanukkah, everybody in Chicago is a Jew.”

Finally, Royko gets to the kicker. He concludes, “When you think about it, these special days, which every ethnic group has, are one of the reasons the people of Chicago get along so well together.”

See, that’s the punchline. Because in 1972, the people of Chicago didn’t get along so well together.

And the funny/tragic thing is, the divisions between us, not only in Chicago but in the United States and the world for that matter, have only become more stark.

It makes me wonder, what if Mayor Daley I was alive today? Would he lead a parade up Broadway on Chicago’s North Side to mark Gay Pride Month? And would he proclaim, “Everybody in Chicago is gay on this day?”

Chicago’s 48th Annual Gay Pride Parade, 2017.

Even better, would he proclaim, “Everybody’s trans on this day!”

[Image: Jessica Griffin/Richard Louissant/The Philadelphia Inquirer]

Oh, well. Drink up. Let’s not kid each other: that’s the whole idea of St. Patrick’s Day anyway.

Hot Air: Enemies

I want to get this on the record as the United States marks a half million fatalities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

No, let me correct that. I need to get this on the record.

The number of American dead in the last year because of this illness is greater than all the soldiers and civilians killed when we as a nation turned against ourselves in the Civil War. The number of dead by the virus has exceeded that of the combined American fatalities of World War I, World War II, and Vietnam together.

The previous President of the United States of America criminally and morally abdicated his duty as the leader of this nation from the very onset of this health emergency. A true leader, one who thought a bit more about the welfare of his people and his country, would have said something on the order of the following as the novel coronavirus first made inroads on these shores:

We are facing an enemy. One that is as dangerous and fraught with peril as any hostile army we have ever encountered. We must come together now to conquer it.

We are a strong people, a determined people. We have faced crises and terrors time and again throughout our history. We will face this crisis and triumph.

We will sacrifice. We will suffer hardship and grief. But we will emerge united and well for having made the effort, a truly patriotic effort to eradicate the virus that has invaded our nation. We love our nation and that is why we will embark on this fight.

Join with me as I put on my mask. Join with me as I maintain recommended social distancing. Join with me as I stay indoors as much as possible. It won’t be easy. We won’t be terribly comfortable. We’ll feel hemmed in. Businesses will suffer. People will lose income. Our world will be changed.

We’ll do all these things, and we’ll do them now, because that is the best and quickest way for us to return to normal. And we will return to normal because — it bears repeating — we are a strong and determined people.

That’s what the previous President of the United States of American could have said in mid-March 2020, when the real impact of the pandemic was becoming known.

But no. Here’s the message the President of the United States of America imparted to the 335 million citizens of the nation at the time:

This virus is a hoax perpetrated by the Democrats and my other enemies to make me look bad.

That message completely ignored the danger to be faced by 335 million people. The president’s sole concern was himself. As it ever has been.

Two Scourges.

And so, a half million people are dead. The bells of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC today pealed 500 times in succession, one ring for each thousand Americans dead. Many experts say that 500,000 figure is short, that because of misdiagnosis and other factors, the real number may be closer to one million. As far as I’m concerned, half a million is plenty.

And, as far as I’m concerned, when that criminal, that immoral former President of the United States of America dies, this world will be a better place.

Hot Air: Rush to War

Rush Limbaugh is gone and that’s that. He became part of our collective consciousness about 30 years ago and that was far too long for such a verbal vandal to hold sway. And hold sway he did.

I had a friend named Terry for whom I worked back in the early- and mid-’90s. Terry idolized Rush. I spent a lot of time in Terry’s little red pickup truck as he blared WLS in Chicago carrying the man’s program in the afternoon. Every day. Every single goddamned day.

Terry and I argued like cat and dog back then. Seemingly every sentence out of Rush’s gaping face hole drove Terry to exclaim “YEEE-aaaah!” and me to scream, “You’re both fuckin’ deranged.”

Truth is, Terry and I dug the ongoing fight over Rush. Neither of us really saw him as the voice of a huge swath of the American population. To me, he was just an over-the-top, lonely voice broadcasting from some uncivilized backwoods to a few thousand equally lonely borderline sociopaths. To Terry, he was the courageous voice of righteousness whom the vast majority of Americans were ignoring.

We enjoyed our fighting over him because it seemed more a game than a cultural touchstone. Sadly for our country, that’s what Rush became. He was as important to the growth of the Tea Party, Trump, the border wall, climate change denial, misrepresenting Black Lives Matter, hatred of women, obsessive anti-Clintonism, and all the rest of the dog whistles and overt calls to idiocy he spewed for lo these many decades as any other living human being.

It can be argued he was one of the single most important people in the history of the country. As recently as last year, his radio program attracted a daily average audience of 15.5 million, a jaw-dropping number considering how much the overall radio audience has shrunk since the dawn of the internet. One of St. Ronald Reagan’s pet projects, tearing down the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, allowed radio stations all over the country to air Rush’s viewpoints without having to present opposing opinions. It was deregulation run amok and led to a dramatic growth spurt for Right Wing blowhards in all forms of media. Rush was the chief blowhard. He earned, it has been estimated, more than half a billion dollars yelling into his microphone over the years.

Melania Trump Hangs the Medal of Freedom on Rush.

A current friend of mine has said Rush became popular because he raised his middle finger to all those “politically correct” hall monitors who wanted to tell the rest of us what to do. My friend is right. Rush’s listeners detested college eggheads telling them what to think and say — as if some TA at the likes of Oberlin College held any sway over breakfast diner conversations in Topeka, Kansas. But Topekans and millions of others like them felt aggrieved, felt assaulted for chrissakes, that they had to feel guilty for calling Black people colored or woman bitches among their pals. Thanks to Rush, they were granted the imprimatur to substitute instead the N-bomb and the C-bomb.

They felt free at last. Much like a three-year-old pulling out his penis in front of the dinner guests.

More truth: Having lived in this college town, Bloomington, for a touch more than ten years now, I can attest that “political correctness” — or, as I prefer to characterize the phenomenon, orthodoxy v. heresy — is alive and well and, in fact, probably more insidious than ever. That said, Rush’s strategy of fighting it employing racism, nativism, misogyny, male idolatry, anti-intellectualism, and every other evocation of hatred and incuriousness in his sick arsenal is not so much refreshing as flat out evil. What we need is a voice that says “Fuck you, don’t condemn the whole of me because you disagree with a sliver of my perspective. I’m still in the fight with you.” Key words: “with you.”

But that brand of “good behavior” isn’t turning us into wholly self-centered, hateful, incurious, regressives. It’s just annoying and we can handle that. It was the reaction to “political correctness” that’s destroying us.

More than anything else, Rush led the charge to skew, perversely, the very nature of public discourse. Hand in hand with Newt Gingrich, aided by the former Speaker’s infamous Gingrich Memo, people who dissented from their orthodoxy no longer were opponents but satanic child molesters.

No wonder so many Dittoheads and Right Wingers armed themselves to the teeth and are itching for the coming civil war.

Tagged

Hot Air: The Game, Stop

I have a mental block when it comes to understanding much of anything to do with economics, macro-variety. Mostly it’s because I see economics as a contrived, flawed, crooked game. The whole scheme for centuries has been molded and manipulated by the haves in order to keep them that way. The entire foundation of economics is based on the unspoken philosophy that holds, Hey, we’ve got dough so that means we’re smarter people, more hard-working people, better people; if you haven’t got dough, too bad, you deserve your lot in life.

Just this past week some weird Wall Street thing went on that I’ve struggled to grasp. That is this whole GameStop phenomenon. I have long been unable to wrap my modest cerebral cortex around the very idea of short selling. I’ve tried to read explanations of it and within seconds my eyes glaze over and I start wondering if perhaps I should clip my toenails. BTW, toenail clipping is out for me for at least the next couple of months due to restrictions placed on me in the wake of my right hip replacement in late December. I am walking, though, and exercising and, slowly but surely, getting back to some modicum of normality I haven’t felt in nearly a decade. Here’s my new gadget:

I sometimes think about that long screw connecting my new plastic joint cup to my hip bone and start shuddering. The very idea that a piece of hardware store merchandise is inside me — permanently — doesn’t quite sit terribly well with me. Then I shake my head and worry about other things, like trying to persuade The Loved One to clip my toenails. (She does, happily. Bless her.)

Anyway, GameStop and short selling. I was listening to On the Media with Brooke Gladstone today. She covered it all because it is perhaps the definitive third decade of the 21st Century media story, inasmuch as the players involved used what-the-hell-ever social media to upend the market for a few days. She had a guest on, some fellow who writes about the economy, meaning I’ve never heard of him although, acc’d’g to Gladstone, he knows his stuff. She asked him the perfect First Question: What is short selling?

I’m a huge advocate of First Questions, employing them on my Big Talk weekly radio interview program on WFHB, 91.3 FM, Bloomington. First Questions are those queries about concepts and things that we all talk about regularly and confidently that we know what we’re talking about but…, well, maybe we’re not so smart about them as we’d like to fancy ourselves.

This fellow launched into a lengthy explanation of short selling, in keeping with economist-talk. Economists cannot, psychologically or biologically, explain anything in simple understandable terms. Y’know, because then it might dawn on the rest of us that the game is rigged. It’s like priests and ministers talking about god and existence. They go on and on for hours, dancing around the conclusion that, golly, we just don’t know.

Toward the end of the economist’s disquisition he said, and I paraphrase, in short selling, somebody borrows a bunch of stock from somebody else and sells it at, say, twenty bucks a pop. They’re hoping the stock’s value is tumbling so they can then turn around and buy back those shares for a ten-spot each. Then, when they return the stock to its owner, they’ve ended up making ten dollars on each share.

If I were a cartoon character, a lightbulb would have gone on over my head. Aha, I though, now I get it.

The economist continued: short selling is good for the market because it keeps certain stocks from becoming overvalued due to irrational exuberance, although why that’s important remains unclear to me. And, trust me, I wont be delving any deeper into these things because…, economics, right?

But I get it — as much as I care to get it — now. Short selling. Makes sense. And it sucks to high heaven. All I could think of was any system that rewards people for the woes and misfortunes of others is sick, probably fatally so. You, the short seller, are hoping an entire company — investors, managers, laborers, plus their families, their butchers, their mortgage holders, etc. — suffer the collapse of said biz just so you can make a few bucks betting on that failure.

My pal, the Lake County Republican, tells me capitalism ain’t perfect but it’s the best thing we’ve got. For my money, if that’s true we’re in a world of shit. I wouldn’t brag about it.

Hot Air: Homo habilis and Homicide.

The Loved One and I went out to Paynetown tonight, hoping to take advantage of the first good clear sky in a long time. Funny thing is, we’d gone out Saturday night even though it was overcast and it turned out there was an outage in the area so we were in near total darkness. There are overhead lamps here and there and security lights around the camp check-in shacks and the general store. Saturday none of them was lighted so we could have had a great sky to scan but, this being the Midwest, all we had were low stratus clouds reflecting the glows, low in the sky, of Bloomington, Bedford, and Columbus.

We didn’t entertain any hope that there’d still be an outage tonight and there wasn’t, but the sky was awfully clear and it’s dark enough at Paynetown even with the odd light on here and there to allow us to see stars all the way down to the horizon. Which, by the way, is where both Jupiter and Saturn are these days as they race toward their conjunction, the first since the year 1226, the night of December 21st. Of course, I won’t be able to see that phenomenon because I’ll be doped up in Bloomington Hospital after my total hip replacement that AM. That’s okay, seeing as how our Solar System’s two biggest gas giants have entertained me nightly (clear nightly, to be sure) since the spring.

The Andromeda Galaxy.

My goal this evening was to finally catch a glimpse of the Andromeda Galaxy, the farthest object visible to humans in the night sky. The truth is, it’s awfully hard to see the Andromeda even in these semi-rural environs. At best, the galaxy is a faint smudge near the torso of the mythical Greek princess who was chained to a rock at the seashore as punishment for her mother, Cassiopeia, bragging she was more beautiful than the Nereids. Those ancient Greeks sure dug spinning yarns inspired by the twinkling stars.

Homo habilis.

Anyway, my National Geographic Guide to the Night Sky told me Andromeda is near the zenith in December so I had to spread a blanket out and lay flat on my back in order to focus the binocs. It took me about 15 minutes but I finally spotted the galaxy and I let out a whoop that echoed through the trees. It was a discernible spiral, tinged in red.

Hell, I’ve seen a lot of things in my (gulp) nearly 65 years but the very idea that I can see a thing that’s all of 2.5 million light years from…, well, Bloomington strikes me as something akin to a miracle. What I’d spotted was actually an object as it was at the time of the appearance in central Africa of Homo habilis, “handy man,” who were the first hominids to use stone tools, mainly to carve up the critters they’d hunted. H. habilis was not human. It was at least one species removed from ours, by Homo erectus. Oh, and the Ice Ages first began about 2.5 million years ago. So that’s how long light, traveling from the Andromeda Galaxy to my eyes, took to make the trip. Light, for reference, travels at 186,000 miles per second in a vacuum. Suffice it to say it’s a long slog.

On our way back home, we caught an interview with Dolly Parton on American Routes. Man, she’s a pistol. She talked about having a crush on Johnny Cash when she met him as a teenager even though he was, she said, skinny and all drugged up. Then she recalled her first records, mainly bluegrass stuff. The host then talked about a couple of bluegrass legends, the Louvin Brothers. They’d recorded a song called “The Knoxville Girl.” It was sung from the POV of a lovesick guy who fallen for a very young beauty and he just up and killed her. The lyrics describe the killing in lurid detail. To wit:

I met a little girl in Knoxville, a town we all know well
And every Sunday evening, out in her home, I’d dwell
We went to take an evening walk about a mile from town
I picked a stick up off the ground and knocked that fair girl down
She fell down on her bended knees, for mercy she did cry
“Oh Willy dear, don’t kill me here, I’m unprepared to die”
She never spoke another word, I only beat her more
Until the ground around me within her blood did flow
I took her by her golden curls and I drug her round and around
Throwing her into the river that flows through Knoxville town
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl with the dark and rolling eyes
Go down, go down, you Knoxville girl, you can never be my bride
I started back to Knoxville, got there about midnight
My mother, she was worried and woke up in a fright
Saying “dear son, what have you done to bloody your clothes so?”
I told my anxious mother I was bleeding at my nose
I called for me a candle to light myself to bed
I called for me a handkerchief to bind my aching head
Rolled and tumbled the whole night through, as troubles was for me
Like flames of hell around my bed and in my eyes could see
They carried me down to Knoxville and put me in a cell
My friends all tried to get me out but none could go my bail
I’m here to waste my life away down in this dirty old jail
Because I murdered that Knoxville girl, the girl I loved so well

The song was released on the Louvin Brothers’ 1956 album Tragic Songs of Life. It’s gloriously haunting. And, as you can see, he murdered his girlfriend for no stated reason! I actually gasped midway through the song. I thought about people who lived miles from nowhere back in the middle of the last century, before TV and the internet tied us all together. I imagined them thinking, Well, he didn’t want anybody else to have her or, Maybe she jilted him and what else could he do? I figured plenty of people would have identified with the guy. Yeesh!

We may be living in bizarre times but I don’t see contemporary songwriters penning pretty ballads about braining their girlfriends.

Altogether, a fascinating night.

Hot Air: Politics & The Quantum Kid

A Couple of Quickies

Hey, kids, you know we’re not at all out of the woods yet. Even if Texas et al‘s frivolous lawsuit before the Supreme Court fails (itself not guaranteed, BTW) the new Congress in January will vote on certification of the Electoral College result. I have a feeling that’s gonna be a hell of an alley fight.

Here’s some free (and unsolicited) advice for Kamala Harris or whomever runs for president under the Democratic Party banner in 2024.

The Loved One and I have taken dozens of Sunday drives throughout southern Indiana since the 2020 presidential campaign began. We’ve both been struck by the overwhelming number of Trump yard signs, banners, flags, and house drapings. Yeah, house drapings — these Trumpists are really into their boy.

Her Face On Every Garage And Barn?

Sometime in the summer I’d read that the Trump campaign was running short of cash, primarily because it had given away all those Trump things for free. Generally, you have to contribute at least the cost of the sign before a campaign gives you one. The idea in the story I’d read was the campaign was wacky for that kind of spending.

I’m here to tell you it was a hell of a smart strategy. Everybody in cow and corn land thought their guy was going to win in a landslide. The proliferation of the signs surely influenced a lot of voters who may have been iffy on four more years. Everybody wants to be on the side of a winner.

That said, I urge the putative Harris campaign to do the same thing. Flood the cities with Harris yard signs. Inundate the countryside with Harris flags. Anybody who wants to emblazon the name Harris anywhere on their property or body can on her dime.

It’ll seem like a grass-roots uprising. And it just might make farm and small town folk feel less sure that they can only be Republican.

Baby Steps

Ready for a healthy helping of optimistic news? Not all young people are stupid, annoying, and/or vapid. To wit: this brilliant human being, Maryam Tsegave, 17, of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, has created this wonderful video explainer about one of the pillars of our physical existence:

This is one of the basic tenets of quantum electrodynamics. Now, the parent of that arcane, inscrutable discipline, Richard Feynman, famously has said anyone who tells you they understand quantum physics doesn’t, period. Maryam, though, has come up with a metaphorical model of how quantum tunneling works. Quantum tunneling is at absolute odds with our everyday understanding of how tangible things work. The idea being on the sub-sub-sub-sub-atomic level particles can go through walls. We’ll never be able to truly understand how and why that is so. But Maryam’s tutorial allows us in a fresh, exciting way to gain a teensy tiny grasp on the phenomenon.

Just watching this thing makes me feel a bit better about humanity this morning. Just look at her eyes, the joy and energy in them, as she talks to us.

Hat tip to Maria Hamilton Abegunde for pointing this out.

Hot Air: They Had A Lot Of Fun

A guy I once knew shared something precious with me one night. He’s dead now. Lived a good long life. Within a year after I met him, his wife up and died. She hadn’t been sick; at least no one knew of any medical problems she might or might not have had. One day living a carefree, retired life; the next, being dressed and coifed at the undertaker’s.

The guy was crushed, naturally. He’d married his wife when he was in the army. A Korea vet. He never looked back. Now, whether or not the wife was altogether thrilled, lo those many years, is an unanswerable question. But she remained wed to him so one might suspect she found the situation at least tolerable.

Anyway, a few weeks after the funeral, the guy came back to the saloon where I met him. Everybody bought him drinks and hugged him or patted him on the back. The night was his. He pulled out a pile of snapshots of his wife and began showing them off to the rest of us, one by one. That is, he’d get each of us alone and share the pix. Finally, it was my turn.

By the time he got to me, he was well fortified. He could hold his liquor quite well and, that night, his capacity to process alcohol was put to the test. Let’s say his pain had been abated for the time being.

As he showed me the photos, he’d linger over this Christmas scene or that birthday or one of the kids’ graduation parties, the kid in cap and gown standing between the guy and his wife, everybody beaming. Once or twice I got the idea he might start crying. Considering we were in a bar in Kentucky where a grown man crying might be grounds for ejection, I wondered how things might play out. But he never did cry, although I’d bet his pillow was soaked later that night.

So, the pictures kept coming. We came to one that, frankly, jarred me. His wife half-sat, half-lay provocatively across their living room sofa, wearing only a negligee. Or maybe it was a teddy or a baby doll. I just tried looking each of the terms up and I still can’t tell one from the other. All I know is what she was wearing was sheer and lacy and it wasn’t some full length thing, if that’ll help you.

I think I may have actually recoiled a bit, not as if I’d seen a poisonous snake but, say, a half dozen one-ounce gold bars in his hand. It wasn’t so much frightening as…, well, odd. He noticed how disconcerted I was. “It’s alright,” he said, as if he figured I needed permission to continue looking at the photo.

What does one say in a situation like that? All I could think of was, “She was beautiful.”

The guy grinned in a way that told me for a brief moment he was happy just to remember how beautiful his wife was and how great it felt to have another guy confirm it. Guys are like that. They need reassurance from each other about such things. Don’t ask me why.

“She sure was,” the guy said. And then he fell into something of a trance, staring at the picture. I understood why, yet it remained an uncomfortable moment for me. Perhaps, I mused silently, he might better indulge in this alone.

Then, he seemed to snap out of it. He grinned again and looked me in the eye. “We had a lot of fun,” he said.

I don’t recall if there were more pictures. I was just touched by that remark. Here was a man mourning his wife. He was pushing 75, relatively vigorous but, nevertheless, a septuagenarian. You wouldn’t have mistaken him for a younger man. She was about the same age when she died. That picture of her in her negligee or nightie or whatever had been taken decades before. I’d bet that little sheer, lacy thing had sat, neatly folded, in her bottom drawer for a long, long time. Or, maybe not. Whatever, had she worn the thing the night before she died, she certainly wouldn’t have resembled the younger version of herself in the picture.

Yet, in that guy’s mind, she’d forever be a young, thirty-something beauty. His eyes were moist. I watched him hold that picture in his big, meaty, weathered hands, carefully, as if it were a fledging bird. He was thinking, remembering. He didn’t have to tell me what was going on in his head. I knew it.

Some other person might have interpreted his remark — We had a lot of fun — differently. That person might have thought it offensive or inappropriate or even an insult to his wife’s memory.

Me? I just saw a man who’d lived a good long time and was lucky enough to have found the love of his life early on, one who still looked ravishing in his eyes even though she was old as the hills. And he wasn’t at all ashamed to say so.

Hot Air: The Real Identity Politics

Here it is almost three weeks to the day after the 2020 election and as The Loved One and I took our traditional Sunday drive through South Central Indiana we both were struck by how many people in these rural environs still are proudly displaying their Trump flags and yard signs. It brings to mind a meme I saw a couple of days ago that went something like this:

Okay, I voted for Biden, but I’m not going to keep a Biden sign up in my front yard for the next four years like a freakin’ idiot.

And, the truth is, many, many, many of those Trump signs we still see in the hinterlands have been there since 2016. A lot of them are faded and tattered from having weathered four goddamned frigid, windy winters and four sun-baked summers. Isn’t the whole idea of putting up yard signs and other candidate paraphernalia an attempt to persuade neighbors and passersby to vote for the person you think is best for the job? That argument needs only to be made every four years, not every day of every year from now until the end of time.

I guarantee you the vast majority of the Trump signs on display today will still be there the day Joe Biden gets sworn in as the 46th President of the United States as well as the day, November 5th, 2024, of the next presidential election, whether there’s a Trump running or not.

So, what’s the deal, what’s the argument these people are trying to make? My answer: They’re not making an argument at all; they’re making a statement. They’re telling the world who they are. These people now have a rock-solid, distinct identity. Before, they were just anonymous schlubs, mowing their lawns and reclining in front of the the TV to watch American Idol like every other schlub on the block or down the country road. They are somebody now because they’ve seen and attached themselves to an idol of their own, someone who talks like them and thinks like them and maybe even messes up like they would if only they had a billion dollars and didn’t have to give a shit about anybody else in the whole wide world. For all Donald Trump’s sins and peccadilloes, any and all of which should have precluded him years ago from any consideration as the leader of the last remaining superpower on Earth, for his ridiculous dyed combover, for his ballooning backside, for his contempt for the authority of experts, for his utter un-interest in books or reports or studies, for his proud ignorance of the needs and wants of anyone who’s not directly related to him, everything about him is exactly how tens of millions of people in America would see themselves if they suddenly woke up one morning with an unimaginably huge fortune and the keys to the White House in their pockets.

He is me. That’s what they’ve been saying when displaying Trump’s flags and signs every day for the last four or five years.

And there, finally, is the answer to the question, How can people still back Trump after all the shit he’s pulled? After he’s screwed up this nation’s relationships with its allies, after he’s dismantled the government’s environmental protection apparatus, after he’s rammed through tax cuts for hundred-millionaires, leaving the middle class to pick up a greater share of the burden of supporting America, after he’s defanged all the federal consumer and workplace protections he could find, after he insulted and demeaned handicapped people, fat people, brown people, foreign people, Muslim people, urbanites, immigrants, asylum seekers, women, veterans, prisoners of war, and everybody who, again, was not Donald J. Trump or anybody related to him?

The answer is they still back him because he is their avatar, their icon, their god, for chrissakes. Throughout human history, people have created gods in their own image, created them to validate who they were, to tell everyone else who and what they were. They still do it today. And their new god is Donald J. Trump. He is me.

That’s why you can’t argue a Trumpist away from the outgoing president. You’re asking them to deny who they are. You’re asking them to admit the identity they’ve assumed is warped. Nobody wants to lose their identity.

To tens of millions of Americans, He will always be me.

Hot Air: Melange, Olio, Medley, Miscellany…

And The Answer Is

In the wake* of the death of host Alex Trebek, I’ve learned the correct Jeopardy! answer is, “What is robbing the cradle?”

Jean Currivan (L) and Her Husband, Alex Trebek.

[ * You’ll pardon the pun.]

Customer Service

When I worked as a bartender for Club Lago, a delightful Italian family restaurant in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, one of the owners, Guido Nardini, said to me one night, “There’s a reward beyond money in serving people.”

Now, a cynic might respond that’s a boss’s way of saying “You should learn to be happy with the peanuts I’m paying you,” but, no, I earned a nice chunk of change pouring drinks at Lago. No complaints there; from the sheer volume of customers to the fact that a lot of people used to love to throw c-notes around as tips, I was able to stash big piles o’cash in my home safe.

Guido meant what he said because he and his co-owner bro., Giancarlo, loved to serve customers well. And, yes, it did please me to please my customers. I treated everybody with great respect and care regardless of what I thought their largesse capacities were.

At the Book Corner ( ✯ more on that later) I continue to take great pride in going out of my way to satisfy customers and nobody (except for one guy — I’m looking at you, J.D.) tips me. I like to call myself “the book detective,” often standing on my head to find something rare or out of print or unheard of for customers. When they tell me they appreciate my efforts and I see the looks on their faces, that’s a reward in and of itself.

So, I’m particularly attuned to people’s customer service skills. The following are some encounters I’ve had recently. I’m not complaining or indicting, simply observing.

“COME HERE OFTEN?”

I saw my oncologist last week. As an aside, I’m right at the time when I should be declared cancer-free. It’s been five years since my bout with squamous cell cancer leading to malignant lymph nodes. You may recall my long series herein called My Olive Pits™. For five years I’ve existed in a limbo the docs call remission. Once my latest PET scan results are in, it is to be dearly hoped, I’ll get my parole. Anyway, there’s an impromptu check-in desk positioned down the hall from the oncologist’s lair where a masked receptionist takes patients’ temperatures and grills them about possible COVID symptoms. I wheeled up (Aside #2: Yes, I use one of these⬇︎ now because my hip arthritis has reached crippling dimensions)…

…and presented myself to the woman at the desk. The first thing she said was, “Do you come here often?”

Well, jeez, that’s a straight line if I’ve ever heard one. Besides, I’m always nervous as hell when I visit either my oncologist or my ENT doctor so I look for any excuse to lighten the mood. I responded, “Ha! Is that a pickup line?”

The woman stared at me.

Being met with a stony face is the ultimate negative feedback when delivering a joke. And, sure, the joke was lame and predictable. I wasn’t looking for reassurance that I’m the liveliest wit in South Central Indiana, just an acknowledgement, a sign of bonhomie, I guess. So I doubled down.

“That was a joke,” I said.

The woman continued to stare at me.

Rather than retreat then and there, I pushed further into the realm of red-faced-ness.

“Which you didn’t get,” I said, nearly sotto voce but not quite.

Her stared bored a hole through me.

Somehow we got on to the business at hand. My temperature was normal and I swore I had no coronavirus symptoms, so she passed me through.

In her defense, I’ll admit it’s a little more difficult these days to tell if a person is smiling or grimacing under the mask. But a smile is as readable in the eyes as it is by bared teeth. The woman’s eyes were not smiling.

Someone might say, “Well, maybe she thought it inappropriate that you were coming on to her.” Which is utter nonsense. I’m a crippled old goat with hernias galore, a bald head, barnacles on my scalp, and an implanted defibrillator in my chest. Only the most neurotically sensitive 20-something could interpret the joke as a come-on from the likes of me. Here’s a bit from Curb Your Enthusiasm, where Larry tells an attractive receptionist he’s talking to her because human-to-human contact is the goal, not because he’s hitting on her. (Go to the 1:30 mark of the clip for the exchange.)

Have I ever mentioned I believe Larry David is a dybbuk that resides in me and that my growth as a human depends on expelling said dybbuk?

On to the next encounter.

GO WHEREVER YOU WANT

Last week was an orgy of doctors for me. I’ve finally been okayed to go into surgery for my right hip total replacement. I’d originally been scheduled for surgery on June 8th, only a cancer-related CT scan the week before revealed I was suffering from pulmonary emboli. These obstructions in lung arteries usually are caused by clot particles that travel up from the legs. They are life threatening and usually cause breathing distress and syncope. Sometimes the first symptom is the sufferer simply drops dead. Serious stuff. Mine apparently were caused by my inability to walk much anymore so clots formed in my legs. That’s all cleared up now, thanks to a daily regimen of an anticoagulant that has turned my blood into something more akin to a fine mist. At this point I begin to bleed simply by thinking about blowing my nose.

So, I visited my orthopedic surgeon last week to get the ball rolling again. He turned me into a pretzel to see where things hurt the most (answer: everywhere) and then brought out a model of the hip joint as well as the prosthetic ball and socket joint he’d be hammering into me. His nurse then came in and gave me a new date for surgery (December 21st) and told me about all the things I’d have to do before and after. Included is a month or two of intensive physical therapy with my new hip in place.

“You can do your physical therapy here,” she said. The IU Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine complex just off Sare Rd. on the south side has a big gym/PT center. The she added that if this particularly facility was too far away from my home I could do my PT elsewhere.

“Well,” I asked, “what are my alternatives.”

“You can go anywhere,” she said.

I resisted the urge to quip, “So, can I do it at the library?” I’d already struck out once with mild humor in a medical setting. Still, I pressed on.

“Where are other facilities?”

“They’re everywhere.”

“Okay, I live off SR 446. Which one would be closest to that?”

“Oh, they’re all around. Go wherever you want”

We were getting no place fast. “Fine, I’ll do it here,” I said, and she duly marked that down in her notes.

All the way home, I fixated on the exchange. Why wouldn’t she tell me where another gym/PT center was?

I chewed over this for a few days until it occurred to me that all these different IU Health facilities are run as discreet little revenue centers. Individual doctors, or groups of them, have ownership stakes in their facilities. In the interest of fairness and convenience for the patient, the nurse felt compelled to tell me I could get my physical therapy anywhere but she really, really, really wanted me to do it at her place because that’s where the insurance payments would be sent.

Okay, fair enough. But it wouldn’t have hurt for her to say, “Y’know, we like to keep everything in-house. It’s easier for insurance and for record-keeping.” She might even have admitted her facility had an interest in getting the insurance payments. I’m an adult; I know how business works, even if that business calls itself nonprofit.

Instead, I was left wondering why she couldn’t tell me where other gym/PT centers are. Like Larry David, I obsessed over that question for far too long. I told you he’s a dybbuk inside me.

✯ Farewell, Book Corner–For Now

I’m taking a leave of absence from the Book Corner because 1) the pain in my hip has become unbearable and 2) I don’t want to catch COVID and have to reschedule surgery again — or die.

Both The Loved One  and Patty, the manager, have told me time and again I’m deranged for going in to work three times a week with this hip. TLO has shared horror stories about people suffering from the coronavirus with me in an effort to scare me off going in. At last I’m listening to them.

You won’t see me at the store until February at the earliest. I’ll miss the hell out of the books and the people. I’ll also miss the rush and madness of Christmas there. A big family comes in every Christmas Eve. Each member, from grandma and grandpa to the littlest arrival, gets to pick out a number of books as their Christmas present for the year. It’s become a tradition. And grandma always brings in a huge stash of holiday sweets and treats that I do my best to take an unfair share of home with me. I’ll miss the hell out of them, too.

But, truth is, I won’t cry too many tears over it all because by the 24th, I’ll be sitting on a brand new hip and I won’t be a crippled old goat anymore.

Hot Air: Torture & Tyranny, Happy Monday!

Two things, today. First:

Stuck

Back when I was a kid, I’d heard of Sérgio Mendes and Basil ’66. It was a small combo featuring a pair of female singers that produced a few bossa nova/jazz/funk singles and some LPs that the kind of self-identified sophisticates who read Playboy had on their hi-fi’s.

I didn’t pay much attention to the group because I was too busy listening to the Beatles and the Stones and even the Turtles. Or, I should say, especially the Turtles.

The Turtles, the Coolest Geeks Around.

Over the ensuing decades, my musical tastes have broadened and I’ve become extremely partial to the Brazilian sounds of samba and its stepchild, bossa nova. I delve regularly into the recordings of Joāo Gilberto, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Walter Wanderley, Elis Regina, Gilberto Gil, and Gal Costa, among many others.

So, the other night, I was surfing through YouTube looking for new songs and came upon something called “Pretty World” by Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66. Hmm, I thought, let’s give it a spin. I did and the thing turned out to be the biggest earworm I’ve experienced in years.

It’s the most insipid tune imaginable, in terms of lyrics, melody, and arrangement. Here’s a sampling of the words:

Why don’t we take a little piece of summer sky,

Hang it on a tree.

For that’s the way to start to make a pretty world,

For you and me.

And for the sun we’ll take a lemon bright balloon, You can hold the string.

Oh, can’t you see that little world of ours will be,

The prettiest thing.

I want to scream!

Later, the two female singers harmonize that in this prettiest of worlds, “Nothing must be made but breakfast and love.”

I want to break things!

There’s a little one-measure keyboard bridge, repeated twice, that’s about as musically vapid and inane as the tinny canned calliope in a carnival merry-go-round.

I’ve got to control myself!

Turns out Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66 churned out a kind of Disney-version of South American music. It’s sort of like the real thing but, all in all, it’s not really. That’s no sin. All I have to do is not listen to it — and I haven’t.

That is, I haven’t clicked the play button on my laptop. But the damned song has been playing over and over and over and over and over in my head for the last week! It’s insane, I tell you.

Get out! Get out! Get out!

Earworms are torture. It’s no wonder the US Army used blaring music to drive Manuel Noriega out of his compound back in January, 1990. Apparently George Orwell never thought of it, preferring his character O’Brien to torture Winston Smith to the point of madness via a face-cage containing a rat rather than, say, playing for poor Smith over and over and over again something like “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (with Anyone Else but Me).”

I believe I’ll survive this bout of psychosis. “Pretty World,” one day, hopefully soon — very soon, dear god please! — will be forgotten. But, honestly, what a bizarre thing it is for us to flagellate ourselves so.

At least nine noted researchers and psychologists have studied and written about earworms, Oliver Sacks among them. There’s even a formal medical term for the phenomenon: Involuntary Musical Imagery, or INMI. Some 98 percent of people experience earworms. A study sponsored by the American Psychological Association actually found that the most common earworm among those polled was Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” I’ve never heard the song, thank goodness.

One group of scientists suggested in a paper doing anagrams or Sudoku puzzles can break the cycle or even reduce the occurrence of earworms. Another group actually advises sufferers to chew gum.

I’ll try anything.

Second:

Baby Steps

All great advances come incrementally. The electric lightbulb wasn’t invented without the discovery and understanding of electricity, the means to generate electric power, the ability to create a vacuum inside the glass bulb, the resilience and brilliance of a charged tungsten filament, etc. The automobile depended on the discovery and refinement of petroleum, the interworking design of pistons, rods and the camshaft, the transfer of torque energy though the drive shaft to the wheels, etc. That is, is if you consider the age of the automobile an advancement. As the planet warms and species die off and the weather becomes a horror show, we really have to reconsider whether it was all worth it for every-damned-body to have an SUV so they can go four blocks to the Kroger for fifty-five pounds of steaks and ground beef, which itself is destroying millions of acres of rainforest and arable land that might otherwise produce a healthy grain or two.

Whatever. Countless seemingly insignificant inventions and developments precede any great achievement. Nothing happens like magic, like a miracle, popping into existence so suddenly, so unexpectedly that people gasp in shock. Yeah, they may gasp in awe at, say, the Apollo 11 Lunar Module landing on the Moon in July, 1969, but no one was surprised because humankind had been toying with rockets for warfare and fun for the previous half century.

Robert Goddard and the First Liquid-Fueled Rocket, 1914.

Same goes for horrible happenings. Hitler didn’t climb out from a cave. Wars don’t start in the snap of a finger. And, of course, climate catastrophe has been racing toward a climax ever since the first internal combustion engine was built.

This year, today, the President of the United States is refusing to acknowledge that he lost the general election, both by popular vote and in the Electoral College. He’s tweeting and pouting and raging and suing everybody in sight. His federal administrator in charge of presidential transition is refusing to get to work. He’s moaning about voter fraud without producing any evidence. He’s shrieking about some huge, vague conspiracy involving the Democratic Party and the mainstream media and everybody else up to and including the Mexicans, BLM advocates, and Tom Hanks.

His gambit is not going to work. He will vacate the White House at noon, January 20th. We’ll say, Hurrah, democracy works!

But Li’l Duce, as he has in countless ways since he won the presidency on a technicality in 2016, has moved the bar, lowered the standard, muddied the waters. Pick a metaphor; it doesn’t matter. What does is the next guy who comes along and thinks himself greater than the nation, greater than the very idea of democracy itself, will stand on Pres. Gag’s shoulders and bring us even closer to authoritarianism, to tyranny than the outgoing president. He may very well push us over the edge.

So, yeah, cheer nine and a half weeks from today when Joe Biden swears out the oath. But don’t think we’re home free. The term of the disgraceful 45th President of the United States very well may be merely an incremental step toward a glum and alarming development.

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