Category Archives: Resist

Hot Air: The People’s Court

I’ll cut to the chase before it even begins:

  1. The court of public opinion does not operate under the rules of the courts of American law. Nor should it.
  2. The people we elect to office should be held to higher standards than the rest of us.

That’s the stuff of today’s Pencil. Now here’s the stuffing. The IDS has reported that three figures in Brandon Hood’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for Indiana’s 9th District seat in the United States Congress have resigned and are calling for Hood to drop out of the race. One of them, a volunteer, has charged that Hood sexually harassed her and then acted in a threatening manner when she told him to buzz off. The alleged incidents were witnessed by Hood’s campaign manager and an organizer. All three have severed their relationships with the Hood campaign and have called for him to quit the race. The Bloomington police have been notified of the accusations but no criminal charges have been filed.

Brandon Hood

One of the local organizations supporting Hood, the Rose Caucus, has withdrawn its endorsement, acc’d’g to the Herald-Times. (My search for a website for the group turned up no results.)

Joey Bollings of the IDS reports the campaign volunteer claims several other women have come forward on social media to accuse Hood of sexual harassment since the alleged incidents came to light earlier this week.

The Volunteer’s Facebook Post.

Thus far, Hood is keeping mum regarding the developments. Hood appeared on my WFHB radio interview program, Big Talk, in 2017, when he was running for the Democratic nomination for the seat the first time. In both campaigns, he has positioned himself as a champion for the working person and a political outsider.

Hood, Laura Lane of the H-T reports, has had a couple of scrapes with the law the last few years. He was charged with theft and possession of a controlled substance in September, 2018. A woman for whom he’d done home repair work claimed he’d stolen some prescription medications from her. Hood agreed to a deal in that case, pleading guilty to misdemeanor public intoxication and paying restitution to the women. Earlier this year, he’d been placed on probation for a separate case of public intoxication, for which he is serving probation until July.

A Subsequent Facebook Post by the Volunteer.

The story brings back memories of the Amanda Barge contretemps in early 2019. Barge, then an up-and-comer serving in her first term as Monroe County Commission and already a declared candidate for the Democratic nomination for Bloomington mayor, was reported by the IDS to have pressured a county contractor for sex and romance. The contractor had recorded Barge pestering him for an intimate relationship. Barge was forced out of the running for the nomination and subsequently resigned as Commissioner. A licensed social worker who ran her own practice here, she moved away from the area later in the year and has established herself in another state.

A Democratic Party activist has written on social media: “Let’s not do the Bloomington thing where we seem to feel the need to destroy people.” It was a comment under a post linking to the IDS story about the charges against Hood and was an obvious reference to the earlier Barge incident. Another commenter, noted for frequent political statements on social media wrote: “Like how the community destroyed Amanda? Sick of double standards…” A different commenter, referring to both the Hood and Barge situations characterized Bloomington as a “hate culture.”

Hood had been an administrator of the private Facebook group in which the above comments were posted. He has since been removed from that position.

These objections and characterizations might be valid if the accusations against Hood and Barge were hearsay. I have heard unflattering anecdotes about both Hood and Barge in the aftermaths of the accusations against them. I won’t recount them here because they are indeed so much hearsay and, on the part of several accusers, sour grapes. Truth is, I’ve never given these particular accusations much credence.

Why? Simple. None of gossipers was able to offer the slightest evidence for any of their professional and/or official charges. No one was able to produce written documents or recordings to back up their assertions.

Hood’s actions as laid out in the IDS article were observed by three separate people, at least one of whom reported them to the police. The three were not Hood’s enemies or antagonists. In fact, they embraced him to the extent that they either were employed by his campaign or volunteered to help him get elected to public office. A careful reading of the article and of both the volunteer’s and one of the campaign employee’s statements indicate that up until the very moment of the incidents, all three gave Hood their loyalty and trust. It was, they say, only Hood’s actions and his subsequent refusal to apologize or even acknowledge them that caused them to turn away from him.

Were this a jury trial in Monroe County Circuit Court, we’d need more, definitive evidence to convict Hood of a crime. To be sure, the Bloomington police have determined there isn’t enough evidence to bring criminal charges against him in this case. But they — and the courts — operate under more stringent standards than the voters do.

Same with the Barge story. She can be heard pestering — even pressuring — the county contractor on the recording. Copies of her text messages to the contractor along those lines also were presented in the original IDS story. Again, a savvy defense attorney might easily persuade a jury that none of this was enough to return a guilty verdict against her. The attorney would be correct; guilt can only be arrived at beyond a reasonable doubt.

The stakes in a court of law extend to putting the guilty in jail, ordering them to do community service, and/or slapping them with punitive fines. These are real retributions that we in a (purportedly) just society wish only to be visited upon those who have been found, again, beyond a reasonable doubt, to have broken the law.

But our court, the court of public opinion, isn’t so hamstrung. We want our public officials and candidates for elective office to be innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. When three friends of a candidate attest that he’s done something wrong, it’s eminently reasonable for us to believe them. When we can listen to a recording and read a politician’s text messages implicating her in exerting the power of her office over a county contractor for personal benefit, it’s reasonable to conclude, yep, she did it.

That’s not too much to ask. Our loyalty to, and our preference for, any particular candidate should indeed be free of doubt. If we should turn against Hood as many of us turned against Barge, he won’t go to jail. He won’t have to give up a year of weekends or vacations to pick up garbage at the side of county roads. He won’t have to pay a hefty fine. He’ll simply go back to doing what he’s been doing all along; that is, making a living as a private citizen.

And isn’t that precisely what happened to Barge? She’s not confined to a jail cell; she continues to ply her trade, albeit in another state.

All we ask for is exemplary behavior from our candidates and elected officials. Those who run for public office had better be certain their houses are in order. Hell, I wouldn’t run for office; there’d be a dozen or two things in my past I’d have to either explain away or do my damnedest to conceal. Nobody’s perfect, me especially. But I’m not so oblivious to think my mistakes, my idiocies, my peccadilloes, and my harebrained life of the last 40 or so years wouldn’t make an awful lot of voters think long and hard about my fitness for office.

Ideally, we want people better than ourselves to be our leaders and our representatives. That doesn’t sound like hate to me. That sounds like good sense.

Hot Air: When The Possible Is Impossible

There’s a reason things, actions, hopes, dreams, schemes, plots, and plans can be called impossible.

If, by calling them impossible, you’re looking at them through an unjaundiced, unbiased eye and you’re not engaging in hyperbole, you do so because reason, reality, the twin fascisms of nature and human behavior, and a good bettor’s eye will tell you some things simply can’t be.

I can’t walk through the brick wall that separates my living room from the front yard. Impossible.

I can’t levitate and transport myself to another land. Impossible.

I can’t become a NASA astronaut nor can I become a Major League Baseball player. Impossible and impossible.

I can’t afford to purchase a private jet. Impossible.

Can’t Do It.

Other things have been called impossible, wrongly so. Back in my hometown, for years and years any number of people would say, quite confidently, that the Chicago Cubs could never win the World Series. Impossible, they’d say. They were wrong. The year 2016 was their comeuppance.

That same year saw the ascension of an unprepared, incurious, self-absorbed, amoral, inexperienced, crass, mean, unread, obsessively greedy, pathologically lying, reactionary bully to the presidency of the United States. Funny thing was, the idea that such a thing might occur was never called impossible — at least accurately so. It was a joke, sure; Matt Groenig saw to that. It was unlikely, of course. All the polls leading up to the election indicated that. Political/social/cultural odds touter Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight told us on the eve of the election that a Clinton victory stood a 70 percent chance of coming true. That looks like a prohibitive favorite but it wasn’t. It meant Clinton stood a hair better than a 2-1 chance to win. Donald Trump, under that scenario, had a 30 percent chance of emerging victorious.

Not impossible. If you bet on Trump winning, sure, you’d be buying the long shot. But the reason people take risks on long shots is, every once in a while, they pay off.

Here’s another proposition that’s not impossible: the Democratic Party could put up a progressive, scandal-free friend of labor, an advocate for universal single-payer healthcare, a responsible environmental steward, a candidate pledged to topple the stacked economic deck that funnels ever more wealth into the hands of those who have it already, a passionate protector of the consumer, a cheerleader for renewable energies, a fighter against Citizens United, an adherent of established scientific research, and countless other attributes dear to “our side.” The party could run that person — say, a black Puerto Rican lesbian who grew up in abject poverty but worked her way up by dint of hard work and an unerring focus on what was right and fair, a graduate of Harvard who’d served as head of a global NGO that brought food, medical care, and education to poor children on every continent save Antarctica.

Could that person win the November, 2020 election for president? Y-y-y-y-yes. But the chance that might happen are vanishingly small, comparable, in fact, to the chance that I might walk through my living room brick wall, a potentiality advanced physicists tell us is…, well, actually possible. Here are some comments made by physicists on an online discussion forum asking the question, “What is the probability of a person walking through a wall based on quantum mechanics?”:

  • The probability is non-zero, very small, but non zero.
  • It’s a number which isn’t zero but is too small for any computer to even begin to calculate.
  • It’s so low that if our entire universe were composed of copies of yourself and walls dedicated to attempting this feat from now until all the neutrons in the universe decayed, we still wouldn’t realistically expect to see it happen.

Get the point? Something can be possible while simultaneously being impossible. Call it Schrödinger‘s Morning Line.

Erwin Schrödinger: A Tout For The Ages

That straw candidate I described above would make a lot of people happy. Perhaps millions of people. But to win a national election, you must make tens of millions of people happy. Or at least not nauseated.

I’m thinking of Joe Biden. He doesn’t make tens of millions of people happy but he does, indeed, make that many not want to spew projectile emesis around the room. And that’s what’s needed right now after nearly four years of the Trump circus. We need someone who reminds us of gentler, more civil days.

I, for one, would vote for that straw candidate in a heartbeat. But I am certainly not the average American voter. That candidate would scare the bejesus out of too many people. I’d loved to try to persuade them that she would be the best thing ever to happen to them but it’d be a thankless and ultimately failed task. She may even be the candidate of the future, perhaps in 2028 or ’32. But not now. Not today.

We’re not going to see the “revolution” this year. For now, what Americans want is to relax. To take a deep breath and not have to worry about their blood pressure every time they go online or watch TV news. For the next four years, we want to take a break from high noon politics.

Joe Biden, that blithe, doddering, familiar, wired-in pol who’ll keep his liver-spotted hand steady on the tiller until 2024 or such time as his creaky ticker goes out, is the guy for now. And it may be that his running mate — be she Kamala Harris, Val Demings, Stacey Abrams, or whomever — will be the president seeking to be reelected in ’24. Who knows when the chess-playing wraith will challenge him to a game?

It’s Time, Mr. President.

In any case, this coming presidential term will be a transition and not a revolution.

We revolutionaries have a lot of work and a lot of planning to do over the next four years in order to make our candidate’s chances a tad better than those of me walking through a wall or becoming a NASA astronaut.

Hot Air: The Constant Alarm Warps Us

Had this COVID-19 pandemic been dropped on the world in, say, 1969 or even 1999, we’d be viewing things a hell of a lot differently. For instance, our social media is awash in jaw-dropping and often infuriating stories about people gathering in large groups sans PPE, stores being opened and filling up with customers not observing social distancing etiquette, and even lunkheads turning to violence — or at least threatening same — in resistance to good, prudent protective guidelines.

You’d think the whole nation has lost its mind, especially when you see posts about armed protesters marching up state capitol steps carrying placards calling for the beheadings of Anthony Fauci and/or Bill Gates.

How common are these incidents of idiocy? How many convenience stores are posting signs like this:

This sign, supposedly, had been posted last week in a Kentucky store. Andy Beshear is the Democratic governor of Kentucky, so there’s that overlap. Resistance to pandemic restrictions seems to be confined to the MAGA cap crowd, Trumpists who view any and all Democrats as conniving arch-villains creating viruses and shutting down stores and making people lose their jobs for…, for…, well, I have no idea what in the hell for and, thus far, they haven’t cited any possible motivations for this vast conspiracy either. Other than, I suppose, Democrats and liberals and blacks and gays and abortionists and Mexican rapists just want to destroy our perfectly holy land just for the fun of it.

Millions of us see pix of this sign and other images of enraged protesters confronting heroic hospital-scrub-clad front line workers and all the other bizarre tableaux of people acting like jackasses. We see the images within minutes of the incidents occurring. The images assault our senses every day.

These people, for chrissakes, are everywhere!

But are they?

The internet has shrunk our view of the world, taking this huge globe, 29,901 miles in diameter, jam-packed with 7.8 billion human souls, and stuffing it into our 13″ laptop screens. It has warped our perception of the world. In 1969 or even 1999, no one was constantly confronted with examples of outlying behaviors. Had COVID-68 been our crisis, we’d get our info from the six o’clock national news on TV and the daily newspaper. Neither would carry on a regular basis stories about simpletons in southeastern Kentucky forbidding mask-wearers from entering their stores. Maybe the newspaper might carry a story like that, but it’d be a tiny filler piece on a deep inside page, the kind of story that’d make readers go, Huh. Imagine that. It takes all kinds.

No one would be alarmed by it because we’d see by the story’s placement and the scant column inches devoted to it that it was not indicative of any large-scale behavior. We’d throw open the Indy Star or Chicago Sun-Times and see headlines about presidents Nixon or Clinton telling us to wear our masks. We’d watch Walter Cronkite of CBS or, thirty years later, CNN’s Bernard Shaw demonstrate how to put the mask on. And that’d be it!

Sure there’d be anencephalics in backwater environs saying, “Hell no, I ain’t gonna wear no sissy mask,” but we wouldn’t have to listen to their spewings or see pix of their bizarrely-inspired signs every goddamned day of the week.

An opinion article in a recent issue of The Atlantic asserts the vast majority of us are four-square in favor of a continuing lockdown and maintaining strict PPE and social distancing protocols. I’d guess the same kind of majority would have held in 1968 or ’98. The author of the piece, David A. Graham, writes:

A poll from the Washington Post and the University of Maryland… finds that eight in 10 Americans oppose reopening movie theaters and gyms; three-quarters don’t support letting sit-down restaurants and nail salons reopen; and a third or less would allow barber shops, gun stores, and retail stores to operate. An NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll last week found similar numbers. Nine in ten Americans don’t think sporting events should have crowds without more testing; 85 percent would keep schools closed, and 80 percent would keep dine-in restaurants shut.

Wow. These are overwhelming figures. This nation rarely in the last 30 years — hell, as far back as I can recall — has been so unified.

Sure there are the lunkheads and the anencephalics within those minorities but the key takeaway here is those minorities are vanishingly small. Just as they would have been in 1969 or ’99.

Maybe we’re not as doomed as many of us — and me — fear, after all.

Counting Grains Of Sand

My pal and two-time guest on Big Talk, Jeff Isaac, has been putting his thoughts down in a blog for the last couple of months. Jeff is about as partisan as a person can be — he’s as slanted in his views as I am, for pity’s sake! — and that’s why I enjoy his stuff. He’s the James H. Rudy professor of political science at Indiana University. He’s been editor-in-chief of Perspectives on Politics and senior editor at Public Seminar, both academic serial publications dealing with how our species’ baffling political relationships work.

As far as I’m concerned, parsing global politics’d be a task comparable to counting the number of grains of sand on a medium-sized beach. Folks like Isaac and his poli sci colleagues around the world dig that kind of Sisyphean toil. And if you, too, dig delving into whys and hows of global politics, you might click on over to Isaac’s blog. His most recent couple of posts deal with IU’s and Purdue’s plans to reopen for in-person classes this coming fall.

Isaac’s blog is entitled Democracy in Dark Times, although googling those four words won’t get you very far. Here’s the link to it.

Black Was The Week That Was

I’m fascinated by the year 1968. I turned 12 that year and was starting to become a news junkie. Believe me, ’68 was a year for news like no other. Unless the year was 1969 or even 2020…, but we can quibble about that another time.

One of the things that was going on in ’68 was the continued emergence of black faces on the nation’s television screens. Things had started rolling in 1965 when the NBC espionage comedy/drama, I Spy premiered. It featured a couple of United States secret agents posing as world-traveling tennis bums, Alexander Scott and Kelly Robinson. The two were played by Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, respectively.

Culp (L) and Cosby in I Spy.

The big takeaway was Scott/Cosby was a black man. Never before had a black man played a lead role in a television series, except for the cartoonish stereotypes Amos ‘n’ Andy in the early 1950s. Cosby in I Spy played a talented, engaging, three-dimensional, adult, dark-skinned man — as revolutionary a concept as TV had ever offered to that point. Nevertheless, I always had the impression that the white Robinson was really the boss of the duo. Remember, this was not terribly long after movie mogul Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures had issued his edict that no black person should appear in one of his movies unless s/he was in a subservient position. And Cohn’s attitude certainly was not unique in the TV and film industries.

When, in ’68, the TV detective series Mannix intro’d a black character, the two leads — Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) and his secretary Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher) — gave hints that they might be sweet on each other but, even as late as 1975 when the series was cancelled, they’d never cashed in on those feelings. The very idea that a white man and a black woman could kiss or fall in love was as anathema to TV as portraying a child molester at work. And were their positions switched — say Mannix were black and Peggy white — a putative coupling between them was simply out of the question.

Fifty-two years ago, there were no black anchors on national TV news. No black men ran businesses on our TV screens (that’d come later, in 1972 with the premier of Sanford and Son — and Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) was a comedic junkman, not a three-piece suit CEO. The few blacks that got TV work by ’68 were exclusively servile. They were secretaries or nurses (back when nurses were not as independent and esteemed as they are today). They were elevator operators and taxi drivers. That is if they appeared at all in our living rooms.

Nevertheless, whatever inroads blacks characters made on TV by 1968 were eye-opening, earth-shattering even.

For a week in February, 1968, Johnny Carson handed the reins of his Tonight Show to Harry Belafonte. Back then, The Tonight Show was a staple in American homes. A huge percentage of Americans tuned in to the NBC-TV program each night before going to bed — that is, those who didn’t have the set in the bedroom already. My old man concluded every weekday of his life with the closing theme of The Tonight Show, the ashtray on the side table next to his recliner filled with Tareyton butts.

The Tonight Show, February 1968

My Daddy-o was no virulent racist in 1968 (I should add, yet; family events over the next few years would change all that) but he wasn’t going out marching in the streets for integration either. He was, probably, as average as can be for a white working man regarding race in America. My father never opined about the week Belafonte hosted The Tonight Show. For all I know, my father might have refused to watch the show; I have no recollection the event. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised because Belafonte, rather than welcoming the likes of Henny Youngman or or some plate-spinning circus act on the show, hosted an all-star cast of activists, politicians, cultural icons, rebels, quasi-revolutionaries, and esthetes, all of whom were revered for their broad-mindedness. And, yes, that was the term used in those days for white people who thought black people ought to get a fair shake.

Take a look at this lineup of some of Belafonte’s guests:

  • Robert F. Kennedy
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Bil Cosby
  • Lena Horne
  • Melina Mercouri
  • Nipsey Russell
  • Leon Bibb
  • Paul Newman
  • Wilt Chamberlain
  • Zero Mostel
  • Buffy Sainte-Marie
  • Petula Clark
  • Dinonne Warwick
  • Robert Goulet
  • Tom and Dick Smothers
  • Sidney Poitier
  • Marianne Moore (Poet Laureate of the United States)
  • Thomas Hoving (Director, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Mostel and Bibb (a Broadway singer and civil rights activist) both had been blacklisted by the obsessively anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s. The white people listed above, by and large, had been out-front civil rights supporters, most of whom even appearing at the 1963 March on Washington. Some 15 of the 25 guests who appeared with Belafonte were black.

Suffice it to say, that lineup would be the equivalent of, say, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Noam Chomski, and The Dixie Chicks appearing as judges on American Idol today.

Belafonte (L) and Bobby Kennedy

Belfonte was the only black man who could be asked to host The Tonight Show because he was urbane, educated, sophisticated, articulate, white-sounding, and — most important — safe. Stokely Carmichael, to be sure, would not have been asked to fill in for Carson.

I wish I could say I saw any of the Belafonte episodes. I don’t even remember reading about it at the time. That’s a damned shame. I learned about it because there’s a new documentary out now called “The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show,” directed by Yoruba Richen, who produced and directed for 20/20 and Independent Lens and directed the 2013 doc, “The New Black.” Even more of a damned shame, it was common practice back in those days for TV stations and networks to reuse the videotapes of shows; much of the footage of the Belafonte week has been lost forever.

Nevertheless, Richen has cobbled together a doc and it was scheduled to have been shown at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival. That event, of course, was cxl’d due to the COVID crisis. I don’t know if any of the streaming services or cable channels will pick up the documentary but I’ll be keeping an eye open for it and as soon as I find something out, I’ll let you know.

Hot Air: Not Too Swift Regarding the Race

A woman online yesterday lamented the passing of the Memorial Day holiday weekend sans the Indy 500. She typed something about missing the roar of the engines.

Seems simple enough, no? The 500 is one of this state’s few nationally recognized symbols. It is, perhaps, the only thing people in other states know about Indiana; I’ve long held that if Indiana is not the most anonymous of the 50 states, it certainly is running strong for the title. Hell, I grew up in a state and city that borders on Indiana and the only thing I and my friends ever really knew about it was it has foul-smelling air, it’s covered by a dense layer of smog, and it’s flat. Of course, our only reference point for the state was the far northwest corner of it, chock full of industrial society’s Vulcanic forges and dumps. We could literally see the plume of haze hanging over Indiana from our vantage point dozens of miles away on the cool shores of Lake Michigan and if we should have happened to find ourselves for some godforsaken reason near southeast Chicago — the Hegewisch neighborhood, specifically — we assumed the mucked up environment there was just spillover from Indiana. (It wasn’t, the simplest inquiry would reveal; Hegewisch also was home to steel mills, oil refineries, and garbage landfills. But we weren’t at all interested in simple inquiry.)

A T-bird Sets the Pace in 1961.

Anyway, it wasn’t until I moved to South Central Indiana when I was 52 years old that I discovered the state actually is a little bit more than just Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, and foul air and water.

If the people of Indiana’s next door neighbor and kin by alphabetical order don’t know anything about the state, imagine how in the dark those of, say, Hawaii or Vermont are about it.

So, yeah, the Indy 500. Our claim to fame. (And don’t go hollering about Kurt Vonnegut or Cole Porter or Hoagie Carmichael. No one — no one — outside of Indiana would ever connect any of those names with the Hoosier State.) The big race is not to be this weekend. It has been rescheduled for August 23rd. And I doubt anyone’d be so rash as to place the smallest bet against that date being broken as well.

The Biggest Crowd In Sports.

Perhaps half a million people converge on the little suburb of Speedway outside Indianapolis each year to watch — or at least hear — super-fast cars go around in circles. Or ovals. Or whatever they go around. What other event in this holy land attracts half a million people? Not even the Super Bowl, the most sacred of American Sundays.

So, the woman, exhibiting understandable state pride, mourned its absence. As I say, simple, right?

Wrong. Here was another fellow’s comment about this year’s race-less Memorial Day: “What did you expect? The Indy 500 people are probably liberal, too.”

And therein lies one of the most telling examples of where we are in America today. Everything — e-ver-y-thing — is a litmus test. You’re either on one side or the other, period. And if you aren’t on my side on every single issue, every splitting of a hair, why then, you’re a bad person. You’re one of them.

The commenter, obviously, is equating adherence to pandemic precautions to being liberal. Bad. Them.

He could have said, “Aw, for pete’s sake, we coulda run the race. Things are getting better. And we gotta get back to normal sometime.”

See, that’s an argument, in the real sense of the word. Here are some definitions of the term argument as offered by Merriam-Webster:

  • the act or process of arguing, reasoning, or discussing;
  • a coherent series of reasons, statements, or facts intended to support or establish a point of view;
  • a reason given for or against a matter under discussion;
  • a form of rhetorical expression intended to convince or persuade.

There’s a few more. The venerable lexicon even offers one definition as “mathematics: one of the independent variables upon whose value that of a function depends.” Among all those denotations there is, lonely and seemingly in contrast to all the rest, this one: “an angry quarrel or disagreement.”

This year, today, now among us, there is only that last definition. If we’re arguing, we’re not trying to talk each other into accepting a point of view. We’re screaming to the world I am right and you wanna destroy our cherished way of life!

The pandemic response, however you support it or not, however you keep to it or flout it, is just another sign of how bad a person you are. The people who want to get on with life aren’t just antsy or even ill-informed. They are bad. They’re dangerous. The sooner they die off, the better for the rest of us.

If you wear a mask, why then, you’re a sissy. A coward. Probably gay. Worse, you’re a liberal.

Me? I wear a mask. I stay away from strangers. I rarely go out in public — only to the Kroger for tomatoes, fish, rigatoni, and bourbon. But I really get that others are eager for life to resume as before.

I’m not talking about those who carry military-style automatic weapons into McDonald’s or brandish placards calling COVID-19 a hoax and call for Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates to be beheaded. They are loons. I wouldn’t even try to argue with them. Argue, that is, in the classical definition of the word. I wouldn’t be able to persuade them. They’d be incapable of hearing or grasping my “reasons, statements, or facts.”

They are, indeed, “dangerous.”

No Argument Here.

It all makes me wonder if I, too, have fallen under the universal litmus test spell. Am I just another knucklehead who thinks anybody who disagrees with even the tiniest sliver of what I say “would be better off dead”?

Nah.

Hot Air: All News, All The Time

Did you miss the Big Talk broadcast yesterday? Then click on over to this week’s podcast. My guest was Jack Dopp, the big cheese at Bloomington News. He and his crews have been bringing daily newspapers into the city — as well as surrounding areas — since the early 1970s. He goes back to the days when workers had to drive to Louisville and Indianapolis and Chicago and back all through the night to get the news to our town. He’s one of the last local figures who harken back to the glory days of newspapers.

History, in the Indy Star and the Bloomington Herald-Telephone

Entire generations including people creeping up on middle age — those, for instance, who are 35 or so — have grown up without depending on the daily paper for news of the city, the state, and the world. The daily newspaper is fast becoming a relic.

Jack’s story is a sort of history of daily newspapers from 1970 onward.

Sadly, Jack will fetch his last batch of papers Sunday, May 31st. His contract with the Indy Star will not be renewed. The Gannett Co., the paper’s owner, will ship the Star as well as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal down this way from now on. I hesitate to predict how long Gannett will be willing to do that.

Big Talk airs every Thursday at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM.

More Media

In January, 1978, the Chicago Sun-Times broke the Mirage story. The paper’s investigative team had concocted the wildest scheme to expose petty corruption in a town that was world-famous for it. They persuaded the paper, along with the Better Government Association, to buy a dive bar in an area of town that was, at the time, decayed. The bar was in a dilapidated building and its clientele was as broken down as the neighborhood and the structure. (The River North area now is among the most desirable locations in Chi. in which to live and run a business.)

Reporter Pam Zekman and BGA investigator William Recktenwald assumed aliases as a married couple and bought the saloon, using Sun-Times dough. Then reporter Zay Smith and another BGA investigator went to work as bartenders and a couple of the paper’s photographers posed as repairmen, setting up secret cameras to catch kinky building and safety inspectors, cops, lawyers, and accountants holding their hands out, looking for bribes. The reporters and investigators intentionally did not correct the bar’s structural or consumer safety violations and willingly participated in bribing the men whose job it was to enforce the city’s ordinances covering such things. The bribes usually were for piddling amounts — ten bucks here, 25 there — but the guys who took them had blocks and blocks of similar establishments from which they collected, making their weekly or monthly draws handsome indeed.

Reporter/bartender Smith then wrote a 25-part series detailing the whole dirty business. The upshot was the city pretty much cleaned up the petty restaurant, bar, and convenience store bribery that had gone on for decades in Chicago. Zekman, Smith, et al were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1979. They did not win the award.

Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, who’d already been lionized and idolized in the book and film, All the President’s Men, was the most powerful voice on the Pulitzer committee at the time. A man who rubbed shoulders — and reveled in it — with the high and the mighty in the nation’s capital, convinced the committee to snub the Sun-Times because the paper’s investigation had been based on subterfuge. Apparently, Bradlee looked askance at reporters going undercover to get a story.

See, when Bradlee was hobnobbing with the likes of John F. Kennedy, he never disguised himself. He made sure The Beautiful People understood he was one of them. Nor did he go undercover when one of his reporters, Janet Cooke, came in with a 1980 story about a Washington, DC 8-year-old heroin addict for which she won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize. When it was discovered Cooke had fabricated the story, Bradlee rode to rescue saying it’d never happen again — despite the fact that it had happened, under his watch.

Smith, Tending Bar [Image: Jim Frost/Sun-Times]

As Mike Royko was to argue soon after, if he were the editor of a paper and his reporter came in with a story about adults helping a small child shoot up junk, his first instinct would not have been to run the piece and then nominate it for an award, but to demand the reporter reveal the precise names and locations of the participants and immediately drop a dime to the cops. Bradlee, of course, chose a different path.

Anyway, Zay Smith, the author of the 25-part Mirage series, died earlier this month of lung cancer. He was 71 years old. His obit rightly should have included the notation that he’d shared the 1979 Pulitzer Prize with his colleagues. It didn’t, though; one of The Beautiful People saw to that.

Hot Air: Roar!

DNR rangers are back in the Paynetown State Recreation Area entrance shack, checking for annual passes and, when necessary, charging people admission to get in. Inside the park, the general store looks to be ready for business just as soon as Indiana’s five-step program allows for campsites to open.

When I arrived for breakfast/crosswords/reading at about 11am, the beach was fairly well-populated, pickups pulling boats on trailers were lining up at the ramp, and people out for a walk singly, in pairs or in groups almost outnumbered the park’s turkey vultures.

I’m afraid these developments spell the end of Paynetown as my own little private reserve. For the last couple of months I’ve enjoyed a certain solitude there as the rest of Hoosier humanity either hunkered down indoors or flouted the strictures of the governor and good sense to bounce around in public spreading their little corona-adorned organisms.

Truth be told, my mornings and evenings at Paynetown, rain or shine, warm or cold, windy or calm, have been as instrumental in me maintaining my sanity as anything during these COVID lockdown days. These days are fast coming to an end, annoyingly premature on the one hand, dangerously so on the other.

Paynetown At Sunset.

One thing missing from Paynetown during my halcyon days there this spring were the sounds of roaring motors pushing craft this way and that across the lake like so many laser beams during an Alice Cooper concert in 1973. This AM, middle-aged guys piloting cigarette boats and younger versions of same riding Jet-Skis like bucking broncos turned the otherwise serene lake into a din.

As I sat there reading the fourth volume in Robert A. Caro’s magisterial biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson — I’m addicted, I tell ya! — it occurred to me that out of the entire panoply of useless, pointless, exasperating human inventions, the Jet-Ski holds an honored position. I can even justify — just barely, mind you — the existence of cigarette boats if I were to twist logic into an Escher drawing and say, well, it’ll get you quickly from dock to fishing spot or, more likely, hidden cove where you can bonk an easily impressed divorcee outdoors w/o fear of being caught. Haste, in the latter case, being valued greatly.

But the Jet-Ski is not a mode of transportation. You don’t use it to get anyplace. You use it to move, at speed. Once your wrist tires of holding its throttle at max, you slow down, come to a stop, look around, and then gun the thing back up to top speed in the opposite direction. Have I stressed the machine’s uselessness enough?

And, as an accoutrement to the Jet-Ski’s speed, it roars like a thousand lawn mowers racing against each other. The Jet-Ski, of course, scrimps on the muffler end of its gas engine because, y’know, a muffler is biggish and heavy-ish and who needs that just for the sake and comfort of people sitting on the shore hoping to hear the more dulcet sounds of waves and red-headed woodpeckers?

Man, I gotta go fast and if that bothers you that’s your problem!

Yeah, it’s a problem. And it’s mine.

Weaponized “Fun”

Jet-Ski™, I now have learned, is the trademark for a particular product manufactured by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Motorcycle & Engine Company of Tokyo, Japan. The generic moniker for such things is “personal water craft” (PWC),  a euphemism if I’ve ever heard one. It puts one in mind of a canoe or a kayak, oared by a serene nature lover in silence among god’s green things. Nuh-uh.

There are, in fact, two categories of PWCs: 1) the “runabout” or “sit-down” where one or two riders, naturally, sit down while plowing through the water at the speed of sound, and 2) the “stand-up” on which a sole rider…, well, you can guess the rest.

Acc’d’g to a University of Vermont study at the end of the last century, PWCs accounted for one of every thirteen registered water craft in the US but they were involved in 36 percent of all boating accidents.

Watch This Video Only If You Want To Get The Poo Scared Out Of You.

Concerned that PWC users were dropping like flies when they and their craft smashed into unyielding objects on lakes and rivers all over the country, the USCG in 1999 started negotiating with manufacturers. Pointing out that riders and, all too often, innocent bystanders were killed or maimed in loud, gory splashes, the Coast Guard got a consortium of them (Kawasaki, as mentioned, as well as Yamaha, Sea-Doo, and even a Canadian outfit named, believe it or not, Bombadier, among others) to agree to an industry standard maximum speed of 65 mph for the things. For pity’s sake, you mean to tell me the things went faster than that at one time? Yep. Even at the new speed limit riders can be seriously injured by falling off and hitting the water or slipping into the pump-end output. Hell, riders can even sustain injury opening their mouths at 65 mph and being hit by a spray blast of water or a bird or even big insect.

The things must be loads of fun. But, y’know, I gotta go fast….

Pomp, Circumstance & Uncertainty

Charlotte, Upon Acceptance To IU Four Years Ago.

Did you miss Thursday’s Big Talk? My guest was WFHB deejay and member of the Indiana University 2020 graduating class, Charlotte Wager-Miller. The idea was to hear from a typical grad looking ahead to real life during these COVID-19, potential economic depression days.

Charlotte, to be honest, is really not all that typical, as you’ll find if you listen. Nevertheless, she’s facing the same uncertain future as hundreds of thousands of other 2020 college graduates. Go here for the podcast of my chat with her.

Big Talk airs every Thursday at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM.

Hot Air: Cleaner (and Safer?)

Doing a little research yesterday into the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed, some observers have estimated, 100 million people across the globe, I found that many — if not most — deaths might have been attributable to poor hygiene.

See, people weren’t as…, shall we say, anal about body cleanliness a hundred years ago as we are today. The truth is, it wasn’t until the latter part of the 19th century that people even started thinking about taking weekly baths — and that didn’t really become a habit for millions until well into the 20th. Now, of course, we scrub and perfume and primp and preen from morning until night, the better for outfits like Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and Colgate-Palmolive to keep us addicted to Crest™, Dove™, and Mennen Speed Stick™.

May As Well; It’s October.

There’s good and bad in this evolution of body care. The bad: we strip our hair and skin of essential oils and interfere with the body’s natural protections against microbes by showering and shampooing every single day with harsh chemical-laden products. The good: most deaths (not including those attributable to old age) in the old days were caused by infections and other maladies that could have been prevented if only people had known to wash their hands, their areas, and other appendages on a regular basis.

The Spanish Flu, I learned, not only made sufferers feel sick as dogs, it also profoundly weakened the body’s immune system, making people who carried the virus susceptible to a legion of infections and illnesses. And since people weren’t exactly religious about washing the day’s grime off themselves, the little bugeroos that love to frolic about in skin-oil laden filth had a field day. And should there have been even the slightest tear in the skin — a common occurrence for people who often engaged in manual labor — those bugs got to enter Valhalla, the juicy, warm, nutrient-filled playpen that is the inside of the body. Once inside they were able to overwhelm whatever cellular defenses the body attempted to muster and, next thing you knew, you were being laid out in a wooden casket, waiting to be picked up by the horse-drawn carts that would pass by every day or so, collecting the dead. Yep, that’s how quickly people were keeling over.

And don’t forget the war that was raging in the trenches throughout Europe. Any good history of World War I will convey to the reader the misery, the stink, the hork-inducing nastiness of the excrement-, urine-, and food waste-tainted environs around those foxholes. Tens of thousands of American soldiers (and hundreds of thousands of European civilians) died of disease, including Spanish Flu, during that calamitous conflict.

The Typical WWI Trench Wasn’t Exactly Your Great-Great-Grandma’s Kitchen.

The good news is that kind of thing won’t be too much of a factor as we continue to see the death toll rise from COVID-19. The successive waves of death that followed the original toll from this 21st century virus, it is to be dearly hoped, won’t be as dramatic this time around.

Looking To The Future

The young adults who graduate this month from Indiana University and countless other factories of higher educ. around this holy land are facing a real world unfamiliar to alums of years past. Even as recently as last year, college graduates could entertain reasonable hopes their parents’ six figure investments in their future would pay off to some extent or another.

Wager-Miller

I mean, if a 22 y.o. with a Bachelor’s in, say, Viticulture & Enology (yep, Cornell U. offers that degree program) wasn’t enough to qualify you to immediately step into a position as sommelier at Le Bernadin in Midtown Manhattan, you could reasonably expect to score a gig at your local package goods store.

Now that COVID-19 is making even operators of carry-out liquor stores wonder if they can stay in business past the end of the month, the Class of 2020, collectively, has to be chewing their fingernails, unsure of where and how they’ll land that $250,000 a year position they were certain they’d get after cramming and cribbing through four years of college.

So, this week, joining me on Big Talk will be a member of last week’s IU graduating class, Charlotte Wager-Miller. She’s a typical college grad (well, not really all that typical, as you’ll find out) but she’ll be tackling the same lockdown economy, to be followed by a potential depression, that hundreds of thousands of other fresh-ex-students are.

Tune in today at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM. And come back here tomorrow for a link to the podcast of the program, as always.

 

Hot Air: She’s A Grand Old Flag

The Loved One and I took our usual Sunday drive yesterday. We travel the curvy, hilly back roads of southern Indiana. We get a kick out of seeing cows and steers, horses, goats, and turkey vultures. Sometimes chipmunks race across the road in front of us, scaring the poo out of us.

See, we’re the type of people who get scared that we might do harm to another critter; as opposed to people who live in dread fear that something might happen to them, like this guy…

… who, apparently, is worried another Subway patron will throw a pickle slice at him.

Anyway, another thing we do is point out all the Trump 2020 signs and Confederate flags on people’s properties. All too often, both flags are on display at the same location. Naturally, when we see these flags, we conclude we’d like to have nothing to do with those people.

As I was driving yesterday, it struck me that a lot of these same people run the American flag up their poles. I’ve never been a big flag guy. I grew up in the Vietnam War era when the flag was used as a symbolic cudgel by hawks, implying that we anti-war types didn’t love our country.

Back then, I thought I did love my country. Now, no. And it isn’t just that I dislike America, particularly. I detest jingoism wherever it exists, here or in Norway or Mali. Waving the American flag in front of a home hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the nation’s borders seems a tad overkill. It’s not as if some hapless Canadian motorist will find herself lost on Indiana State Road 150 near Williams not knowing she’s in a foreign land or anything.

You might say, well, these folks are simply celebrating Americanism which, I’m sure, is true. Only the odds are their homeland-ism has so little to do with mine that they and I ought to be from, respectively, Monaco and Cuba.

I concluded yesterday that the displaying of the American flag — alone, even w/o the other two detestable banners — now marks the displayer as someone I’d expend a lot of energy avoiding. It wasn’t, for instance, Obama voters who went around waving the American flag in everybody’s face, although it must be said Obama voters actually, y’know, went out and voted which seems to me the foremost demonstration of love for this holy land. Then again, scads of American flag wavers went out and voted for one Donald J. Trump in 2016. Proving, I suppose, that many Americans love America but hate Americans.

I wonder if there could ever be a time when the gaudy display of the American flag would mark the person as someone I’d like to know and, maybe, share a drink with.

Outta My Way!

The day before yesterday, Saturday, I took my normal breakfast — crunchy PBJ, an apple, a banana, and a 55-gallon drum of coffee — at Paynetown on Lake Monroe. I do my crosswords and then read another chapter of whatever book I’m into at the time. See, I’m a creature of serial habit. Meaning, my habits last only about six months or so and then I get bored of them and start getting into other habits. So these days of COVID Fever fit perfectly into my lifestyle, inasmuch as (it is to be dearly hoped) we’ll be out of lockdown by September and I can start taking breakfast elsewhere.

So, Saturday I did two crosswords and read about Lyndon Johnson stealing the 1948 Texas senatorial election. Then I scouted around for herons, kingbirds, and others with my binocs. After a couple of hours of sitting on the peninsula parking lot that affords a 270-degree vista of the lake, I packed things up and started for home. I drive extremely slowly through the lanes of Paynetown, hoping to see more critters and hoping even more not to squish any chipmunks or squirrels or eastern box turtles rash enough to cross the roadway. My pokiness seems to annoy a lot of people who think the roadways in Paynetown ought to be traversed at at least 83 mph because, hell, we’re in a state park, a gorgeous nature setting, and why wouldn’t you want to get the hell out as quickly as automotive technology will allow?

Usually, I try to time it so I trail other cars, rather than have them tailgate me. Saturday, I did that. There was a car coming from my right and I let it pass even though I had plenty of time to pull out in front of it. Turns out this driver, too, was poky, so it was cool. We both could inch along at 18 mph, looking for deer.

We both turned right at the park general store and then she slowed to a stop. A big gang of geese was moseying across the roadway and she, as I would, let them pass. Only another guy, in a huge pickup truck, came up behind us at some speed. I checked him in the rearview and he looked mightily displeased. For chrissakes, let’s go people! What’s the damned hold up?

The Gang Problem At Paynetown.

He decided he didn’t have the time to wait behind us, probably because he’d just been notified that the United Nations needed his advice on a pressing matter and he had to get home to his red phone. So he swung around and past us and sped straight for the geese.

The fowl scattered as if in a comic strip, flapping and waddling and honking shrilly. If there weren’t feathers flying, there ought to have been. Somehow, some way, no geese were flattened by the big pickup. Mark this one down for dumb luck. The pickup driver sped on ahead, eager to solve that crisis with the Rohingyas in Myanmar.

Just one of those little infuriating episodes that make me wish — for a brief few moments — that this COVID-19 thing will wipe the lot of us off the face of the Earth and let life thrive again without the likes of humanity around.

Hot Air: Through Gritted Teeth

A couple of things before I commence screeding*.

[ * New word, coined by me, from the root screed. ]

  1. In keeping with a practice that I occasionally adhere to, I’ve waited a few days before writing this in order to let both my body temperature and blood pressure return to something near normal. Otherwise, had I posted this, say, on Monday — when I really, really, really wanted to — I might have opened myself up to charges of terrorism, or at least defamation, although the legal definition of defamation requires the offending statement to be false and the tales of woe to follow are all true. Of course, the offended parties surely keep armies of lawyers on retainers so as to crush any criticisms that might embarrass them. Me? I’ve got a single attorney, a neighbor, who’s really good but has better things to do than get me out of scrapes due to my hot-headedness.
  2. Get out your micro-violins as the tales I’m about to relate pale in comparison to just about anybody else’s in these days of COVID Fever. Nevertheless, I was prepared to go to war over them as they accumulated over a two-day period.

Okay, that stuff out of the way, here we go. I’d been scheduled to get a COVID-19 test at a church up in Indy Sunday afternoon. It was part of the State of Indiana’s testing program. I’d been sent a postcard asking if I wanted to participate and I replied, well, yeah. I’m an at-risk patient on at least three levels: I’m in cancer remission; I was born with a congenitally malformed heart; and I’m an old. The state’s testing program picked me out at random as it’s trying to figure out where and how far this virus has infiltrated Indiana.

Troublemaker.

So, The Loved One and I packed the car with bottles of water and road snacks and hit SR 135, heading north to Nap Town. I was under the impression that the fastest route north, SR 37/I-69, had been blocked off for construction around Martinsville, necessitating our roundabout route. (I’ve since learned SR 37 remains wide open at this time.) We weren’t exactly running late but I’d timed it so that we’d make it to the Mount Sinai Evangelical Church on Lafayette Rd. on the north side of town just in time. Naturally, following Gov. Eric Holcomb’s announcement Friday that Indiana is embarking on a five-step program to reopen, much of the citizenry of this state took that to mean COVID Fever is done and gone, so far back in the rearview mirror it’s like Prohibition or the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. SR 135 was packed with drivers of the most Sunday variety, tootling along like so many Indiana motorists, driving as if any speed over 31 mph is tantamount to recklessness.

I mean, good for them that they could finally get out and enjoy some fresh air and see the sites but, jeez, people, wouldja get the hell out of my way? I gotta be somewhere sometime this month!

Eventually, the Sunday drivers peeled off one by one and so I was able to floor my hot rod, taking corners on two wheels and occasionally stopping so abruptly at red lights that TLO found herself scrunched in a ball wedged between the windshield and the dashboard. Her affection for me was waning with every screech of the tires but, I assured her, we were going to get to the church on time. Finally we got to Lafayette Road and, as we searched for the address, I noticed a cop car blocking the entrance to a parking lot up ahead. “That’s it,” TLO announced and we pulled up next to the squadrol. The lot was packed. The cop got out of his car and, his manner pleasant, informed us there’d be no more testing today.

Apparently, the place was inundated with Hoosiers looking to get tested. Who knows if people who hadn’t been scheduled to come to the church on this day had elbowed their way in or, like so many other COVID programs in this holy land, this one’s planners had eff-ed up, majorly.

We sat there for a moment — I don’t know precisely why; perhaps we were hoping the cop’d say, “Aw, that’s alright, you like like nice people, go on in.” He added with a smile, “Yep. No more today.” So we drove off.

Now, that was only mildly annoying. Perhaps even annoying is too strong a word. Standing alone, the whole incident would probably slip my mind in a day or two.

Ah, but the next day, Monday, I was scheduled for a CT scan prior to my regular visit with my oncologist next week. These CT scans cause me no end of stress in the weeks leading up to them. Acc’d’g to the latest research, people with my form of cancer have a 95 percent chance of getting through the five years after treatment without any tumors returning. Those are great odds, right?

Well, yeah, I’d take ’em were I holding a straight flush but that 1 in 20 chance I’d get malignant lymph nodes in my neck again looms huge in my nightmares. The nearer I get to my CT scan appointment, the more I’m dead certain they’ll find new olive pits around my throat. It’s only after the scan and after my oncologist gives me the all clear that I can breathe again.

I’d been sitting at my garage-office desk, clacking away at this very keyboard up until the last moment, hoping to distract myself from the worry and not having much success, when It came time to go to the imaging center. I dashed out to the hot rod and clicked my smartkey fob. Nothing. I clicked it again and again, bouncing from the lock to unlock icons like a madman. Still nothing. The fob’s little battery was dead. Neighbors no doubt heard my entire lexicon of obscenities, both alone and in creative combinations with each other. When it comes to cursing, I am truly a wordsmith.

Back into the house to beg TLO to drive me to the center; hopefully, she wouldn’t be involved with a Zoom meeting or anything at the moment. TLO instead dug out her own copy on my smartkey fob and said, “Here, take this.”

I sprinted out (well…, I hobbled out, thanks to my two bone-on-bone hip sockets that’ll be replaced this year) and jumped into the Prius and sped off. Now my nerves were protruding from my skin like whiskers. I wondered — nay, fretted — had I drunk enough water so the technician can find the median cubital vein in the crook of my arm? Finding that vein is always problematic in my case. The CT scan calls for a radioactive glucose solution to be injected into my bloodstream, the idea being tumors are greedy little bastards and they’ll suck up glucose before any other structure will get some and the radioactive stuff carried along with the simple sugar will show up hot on the scan image. That’s how they find new tumors.

Okay, so I drink water like crazy before I’m due to get pricked, thereby upping my blood pressure and, it is to be hoped, bulging my median cubital vein. Dear god, I don’t want to get poked and prodded and stuck like a pig by a technician blindly probing for the vein. And, for chrissakes, please, please, please don’t let there be any new tumors. I dunno if I could take another round of chemoradiation. I lost 80 pounds the last time I went through it! And who’s ready to guarantee this round will work as well as the first round did?

I was holding on to the steering wheel so tightly it felt as though I was bending it out of shape. I squealed into the imaging center lot and made my way for the door. The door normally slides open as someone appraoches but, thanks to COVID Fever protocols, it was disabled. A sign posted to it instructed me to wait until someone opened the door by hand. It took a few minutes for someone to get there, my nerves jangling all the more as I waited. Finally, a woman in scrubs pushed the door open and told me to sit at a table that’d been set up in the vestibule. She walked me through all the COVID-related questions that have become so de rigueur all over the place these days and then said “Okay, when was your appointment?”

I told her and, using her pen as a pointer, she scrolled down her printed schedule, looking for me. Then she scrolled down it again. She asked: “What did you say your last name was?”

I repeated it and she scrolled down a third time. “Spell it for me.” I did. She scrolled again.

“Who was your doctor?” Now she scrolled a fifth time.

She stood up and went off behind the reception window. When she came back, she said, “You’re scheduled for May 20th.”

“Um, no. I was scheduled for today. Your office called me and gave me that appointment.”

Back to behind the reception window where she made a quick phone call. When she returned, she said, “You’re right. You were scheduled for today. But it’s been changed. It’s now May 20th.”

Silence.

I looked at her and she looked at me.

Finally, I said, “My appointment is for today. It’s for right now.”

“Yes, I’m sorry. But it’s been changed.”

“But I’m here,” I said, after rejecting three or four more juicy epithet-laden retorts.

“Well, we’d try to squeeze you in but there’s no wiggle room today.”

Silence, again.

I looked at her and she looked at me. Again.

Calmly (on the outside; on the inside, I was rumbling), I said, “That would be your problem. I’m here, as instructed, and I think you should make this happen.”

“We can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

Silence. We looked at each other. She stood and offered me a printout she’d made of my new appointment time. I did not take it. I stood and started walking out.

“Don’t you want this?”

“No. You keep it.”

The woman looked at me as if I’d profoundly disappointed her. I don’t know if I pounded my feet as I walked but I wouldn’t be surprised if I did.

“You have a nice day, sir,” she said, fairly sarcastically, as if I were the unreasonable one.

When I got into the car, I phoned The Loved One and unloaded. TLO had the good grace to understand I was ranting against an unfair world and not her. After a few minutes I felt as though I were breathing normally again, and drove off.

Now I face the prospect of another few weeks of worrying about new tumors.

As I said earlier, these frustrations are no more important or severe than anybody else’s. But they’re mine and now, aired and exposed, they seem as nothing compared to how they felt Monday at about 11:00 am.

And so it goes as we cope with these COVID Fever days.

Buyer Beware

Tune in this afternoon at 5:30 for Big Talk with this week’s guest, Eric Brown, co-owner of Caveat Emptor, the long-standing used, rare, and collectible book shop on the east side of courthouse square in downtown Bloomington.

Eric Brown

Caveat Emptor next year will celebrate its 50th year in business. The place was opened in 1971 by Janis (pronounced YAH-niss) Starcs, an émigré from Latvia who, I believe, was a refugee from the Holocaust as a little boy. Starcs ran Caveat for some 45 years until he decided he was getting too old to handle it and downtown rents were becoming…, well, absurd. In March 2016 Starcs announced he would be closing the store. Eric’s wife Katy caught wind of the news and telephoned her husband who was away on a business trip to let him know. What Eric said next was half joke, half serious.

To find out the rest of the story, tune in to WFHB, 91.3 FM, today at 5:30pm. Or come back here tomorrow for the podcast link.

Big Talk airs every Thursday at 5:30pm on WFHB.

Hot Air: All Clear! Uh, Wait A Minute…

I have never, ever seen both the Paynetown and Cutright accesses to Lake Monroe so packed as they were when I left them a few minutes ago.

The combination of the first really glorious day of the spring — brilliant sunshine, just a few high clouds, and the temp sitting at 78º as of 12:53 pm — with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s announcement yesterday that the state will embark on a five-stage reopening culminating in no restrictions by July Fourth indicated to more people than I could have guessed that the COVID-19 lockdown is dead and gone. It is to be hoped the emphasis will not be on dead.

More. State Road 446 on the way to the lake was jammed to the point where I could imagine I was back on the Kennedy Expressway at 3:00pm on a typical Friday.

And another thing: an unusually large number of boats displayed fluttering American flags on tall poles, some of the craft festooned with two and three big banners. It was reminiscent of the weeks immediate following 9/11 when even non-jingoists like me plastered American flags, decals, and pins on our homes, cars, and — in my case — motorcycles. My conclusion? Scads of Hoosiers see America and freedom a hell of a lot differently than I do.

I hate to be a buzz killer but this morning and afternoon’s revels look to be merely preamble to, perhaps, the mother of all epidemic spikes. We’ll see. I hope I’m wrong.

Not Quite SR 446 [Image: Chicago Tribune]

I’m Innocent, I Tell Ya!

In any case, you may be wondering why I was at the lake. Truth is I’ve been going to the lake pretty much every day since the lockdown began more than six weeks ago. I either drink my coffee and eat my breakfast there, packing my crossword puzzles and whatever book I’m reading at the moment, or I wait until later in the day and go down to watch the sunset. I maintain prudent social distancing, never getting out of the car, and keeping my mask and disinfectant wipes within easy reach all the while. And so it was today: me with my peanut butter (crunchy, natch) and strawberry preserves sandwich and thermos-ful of joe (honey and soy milk added). Today’s book: volume two of Robert A. Caro’s magisterial biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson, Means of Ascent, covering his time as a Congressguy from Texas’s 10th District. It’s my second run through the tome.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the 1960s gave us three remarkably complex and fascinating characters: LBJ, Richard Nixon, and Bobby Kennedy. The three of them combined enormous strengths with tragi-comic weaknesses. Nobody today even approaches them as compelling characters, not even Li’l Duce, who’s not so much interesting as he is repulsive.

I can’t wait for Caro’s fifth volume, covering the latter years of LBJ’s presidency, to come out. Caro long ago announced he planned to have the book finished and on the street by 2013. The old bird (Caro, that is; he’s 84) is still plugging away on that manuscript. At last report, he was working on Johnson’s shepherding of Medicare and Medicaid through Congress as well as LBJ’s relationship with Bobby Kennedy, a real-life libretto if there ever was one. Shades of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I hate to say it, but I dearly wish Caro…, well, stays alive to complete his opus.

Back to Lake Monroe. I’ve never felt my daily treks there during this COVID crisis were in any way risky, either to myself or others. Nor was today’s jaunt. I remained in the car even as many hundreds around me gathered and gamboled in the sun. Fingers crossed today’s merriment won’t be the Carnival before their dolor.

There. I feel better.

Big Talk

Did you miss Thursday’s Big Talk? No sweat! Here’s the podcast of my interview with Henry Leck, founder of the Indianapolis Children’s Choir, world-renowned expert on young people’s voices, and now that he’s retired from the ICC and Butler University, a painter. His work is hanging in the Bloomington Arts Alliance’s ArtBeat gallery in the College Mall, reopening sometime between now and Independence Day.

Big Talk airs every Thursday at 5:30pm on WFHB, 91.3 FM.

%d bloggers like this: