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Friday, August 19, 2016

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Me and Andy

Originally published November 7, 2011

I know, I know, it should be Andy and I, but as the Andy might have said, “If I wanted to say Paul and I, I would have said Paul and I. I know the rule and I broke it because it suited me, so sue me”. Best practices are to know the rules before breaking them. In this case I do. Mostly I don’t. Last time I diagramed a sentence was in junior high. Now they don’t even have junior high. Now they probably teach texting or even sexting. I’ve done the former, but not the latter.

I’m one of those that still believes phones are for talking and real phones have a cord attached to them. An exciting day for me was when I got my first cordless phone. I took a walk into the backyard and kept talking. What’s more I kept listening. I was actually able to hold a conversation without being attached to the rest of the world.

Cell phones, on the other hand are a different matter. For a long time I considered them a passing fad and an unnecessary luxury. Do you remember that they were originally called “car phones” and were the personal province of stock brokers and lawyers? Probably not. They used to mount on dashboards and were about the size of a home phone, they even had a cord! They were the essence of status. The next installment came with a should strap and was about the size of a WWII walkie-talkie. I’m guessing this was 1980-something and the digital revolution was still picking up steam. The Sony Walkman was cutting edge and joggers everywhere were thrilled. If you still have one, I’ll gladly take it off your hands. I have an anti-skip CD player I’ll trade for it. Deal? No?

OK back to the telephone. It was patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. There is a apocryphal story of its invention. Bell was in his laboratory when he spilled some acid. In his panic, he shouted into his prototype invention, “Watson, come here! I need you!” And sure enough his assistant in the next room came to his aid. This is probably not true, but I like it. Every great invention should have an apocryphal story. Even Archimedes jumped from his bath tub shouting “Eureka!” when he invented the wheel or one of those ancient Greek things, like algebra or hummus. Thanks to Archimedes, miners now have something to shout when they discover gold.

But I digress, again. What was I talking about? I think it was Andy Rooney , who passed this weekend. It is not my idea of a good Sunday to wake up to the headline, “Andy Is Dead”. There was no mistaking it: it could only be Andy Rooney, a curmudgeon’s curmudgeon and longtime commentator on 60 Minutes. Rooney lampooned the English language and the minutia of daily life like no other. He knew the value of a word misplaced, and he knew that an archaic term spoke to some viewers and perplexed others. Either way he had their attention.

He was a professional complainer and a hero of mine. Once in awhile he would wander too far from the reservation. A commentary on race offended the guardians of political speech, and as the usual suspects raised hell, Rooney saw the writing on the wall. More than one public citizen has had his career torpedoed by repeating publicly what is often said privately. While not retracting his words, he expressed regret. I was disappointed. I wanted him to make a noble stand against political correctness, but Rooney saw the wisdom of bending before breaking and lived to complain another day–many other days.

Andy Rooney had been a fixture on CBS’s 60 Minutes for decades. He could create a story from thin air. Nothing was too mundane. He could talk about paper clips and make it seem funny. I could tell you a few more facts about his landing on Omaha Beach and his first hand accounts of World War II, but they just wouldn’t capture the man. As it turns out, Rooney is a YouTube star. There are scores of Andy Rooney and psuedo-Andy videos online.

So here’s to the memory of Andy Rooney and all the wry smiles he gave me. He is one of my personal heroes, and I feel his loss like some felt the loss of Steve Jobs. We are all the less for it. I’ll remember him each time I whine about matters large and small and hope in some way he will look down and approve.

Andy Rooney died this past Friday at the age of 92. He worked for seven decades as a journalist in print and on television. His last broadcast was October 2nd. He leaves behind four children, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

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Thursday, April 07, 2016

For a Dancer

Can it really been 3 ½ years since I have contributed to this blog?  Sometimes I forget it even exists.  Such is the way of blogs.  It’s passe’ today, as much as it was de rigueur in the early oughts. I’ve been filling my time by way of social media, but it is an unsatisfying and often losing proposition.  The social media comment is a thing unto itself, part wisecrack and part thoughtful rejoinder, part sport and part warfare.  While part of modern life and quite entertaining, it makes a poor medium for long form commentary.  For one, it can be an obnoxious waste of time.  Social commentary should be short, witty and to the point.  I use it to challenge prevailing opinion and to deflate egos.  Neither are welcomed by most readers and are soon buried under an onslaught of kneejerk reactions with a shelf life measured in minutes and hours.  The golden ring of social commentary, one that has mostly eluded me, is going “viral”.  My comments are cutting, clever and brief, everything a viral comment should be.  I’m convinced, on Facebook at least, that it is more a matter of luck and timing.  I’m not giving up, but I am going to be more selective with my time.  Facebook consumes days, weeks and months of your life and as I grow older I realize there are only so many of those to go around.  Also, I miss long form commentary.  Social media is ephemeral.  Well written essays can be read months or even years later with some appreciation.  Some of it is just a snapshot of what’s on my mind or a meandering ramble like this.  I’m reading about a young diarist, Everette Ruess, from the early 1930’s.  Wikipedia describes him as “a young artist, poet and writer who explored nature including the High Sierra, California Coast and the desert”.  A vagabond and a wanderer, he disappeared in the desert at age 20, leaving only a written record of his short life.  His star burned brightly and briefly, but made a permanent impression on those who knew him or learned of him.  He was never found.  Nothing beguiles like a mystery.

When I started this blog in 2003, I hadn’t written in years.  I didn’t know then if I had it in me and I still don’t today, but some of it, I think is worthwhile.  Ultimately, I do it because it pleases me.  It certainly changed my life.  It is my written record.  These years are given me as a witness, a storyteller and to make some small difference.  Jackson Browne put it this way in one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

Into a dancer you have grown,
  from the seeds somebody else has thrown.
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
  and somewhere between the time you were alive
    and the time you go …

May lie the reason you were alive
   that you’ll never know

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Friday, December 14, 2012

A Time for Everything Under Heaven

So goes Ecclesiastes, and so goes Roger McGuinn.  The slaughter of the day is barely 6 hours old.  Myself, I only woke up to it 4 hours ago.  Another massacre on the television.  It seems like I've seen this program before, but there was something more hideous this time.  The victims were children, five year olds, six year olds, seven, eight, nine and ten year olds.  I can even believe I am typing these words. I am just now facing the reality of it.  Food doesn't feel so well in my stomach and nothing seems appropriate right now but this, writing, thinking, processing.  I can't deal with anymore facts.  They seem to have no meaning right now.  Somewhere in this country parents are dealing with the unthinkable, the unfathomable.  Somewhere in our country there are children who have seen what no one, not a fireman, policeman or soldier should ever have to see.  Our national mourning is just beginning.  The obsession over what has just happened has already begun.  Radios, TVs and computer screen are bleeding facts, shock, pictures, interviews and disbelief.  If only it were not true, if only.

I have no 6 year old of my own to hold, hug and cry over.  I've never felt the absence so keenly.   Since I don't pray, now is not a good time to start, but if I did, I would be.  I'd pray, Lord, what can I do to prevent this, to keep another parent or child from seeing this, feeling this and when can I start?  What, what, what should I do Lord?  What should I do?

There is no TV on in my home right now and there will not be.  I do not feel like being entertained, gazing into the abyss or even talking for that matter.  I had hoped to say something here that would matter, give someone some bit of hope to hang on to, some word they share with their family, something.  I'm not sure what that something could be.  Right now I just want to be with someone, someone who does pray.  Someone not to talk with, but to seek some peace with, someone to our hearts with, someone to cry with, someone who care, a stranger preferably.  Why?  Because these days it seems everyone is a stranger.  We all walk around in our private little worlds, with our private angers, hopes and fears,  It takes a disaster, a 9/11, a Columbine, and now a Newtowne, Connecticut to knock down these walls we surround ourselves with.  So what am I going to do?  I'm going to walk.  I'm going to look into the faces of these strangers, into their eyes and see whatever kind of pain is there and acknowledge it.  I don't need to know what it is, I just want them to know that I care and that maybe they care to.  Maybe they can take that home to their loved ones.

Children will never understand something like this.  Till now, I guess they never had to.  My hope is that parents all over this city will turn off their TVs, their radios, their computer and sit with their little one, pray with them, read to them or just hold them.  There will be time enough in their lives to deal with horror, but this is not that time.  Let them wait five, ten, twenty years to learn about hate and evil. Let them learn now that they are loved and protected and that as long as you are there, nothing will ever harm them.  This may not be true, but they don't need to know that, yet.

The politicians and pundits are already all over this. I can't listen to them.  I can't stand it and I won't stand for it.  This is not that time.  God knows we'll have plenty of time in the days to come.  In the mean time, if you have any prayers left, say one for me.  I'll be going for a walk and thinking about you.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Night to Remember

(Written between 1:00 am and 4:00 am Wednesday morning Nov. 7th)

Can't sleep. Don't want to sleep. I want to remember. It's Tuesday night, November 6th and I just felt the ground move. This election is one you will want to remember, to save. It is pivotal. It is the first one I have really cared about in decades. For a political junkie this is not so good. My vacation from politics started in the 80s when Ronald Reagan of all people became the hero and savior of the Republican Party. Let me back that up four years though to 1976. Jimmy Carter was the first candidate and winner I ever voted for in a Presidential election. I actually got to speak to the man about a year earlier when he was just a nobody ex-governor from Georgia going around to college campuses introducing himself as "Hi, I'm Jimmy Carter and I'm running for President." That was about the extent of our conversation, but I remembered the friendly way he explained himself to a small crowd of college students and thinking, "I'm gonna vote for this guy." Why not, he got to me first. Well this simple Georgia peanut farmer sailed under the radar to the Presidency with the campaign slogan, "I'll never lie to you," very appealing in the post-Watergate era. While he was there he brokered the first Arab/Israeli peace agreement and officially recognized China.

Let's back up four more years. It's 1972 and a much younger political junkie gets hooked on the campaign of George McGovern. I've been thinking about George lately. If you don't know, he just passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 90. He is another of my father's generation that grew up in the Depression (nobody called it Great), served in war, got married and raised a family. They are about mainstream as you can get. Tom Brokaw called them The Greatest Generation, but they didn't think of themselves in terms like that. They just dealt with the world they were given and didn't complain about the cards they were dealt. If you asked them today, and you still can, they would tell you they had it pretty good. Families were strong. They had brothers and sisters to keep them company in life. Mothers were strong-willed and everpresent and Fathers served as benevolent dictators and divorce was almost non-existent. I could go on, but you get the picture. Think Norman Rockwell and you won't be far off.

Where was I? Oh yeah, politics. My family were New Deal Democrats. Franklin Roosevelt was the only president my parents ever knew growing up. From 1932 to 1945 and four presidential elections Roosevelt helped redefine America. People who grew up in that era, well people who weren't Republican, never questioned their party affiliation. Of course you would be a Democrat. In a parallel to our current President, Barack Obama, Roosevelt saw us through the worst economic crisis in our nation's history. He saw us through a war that threatened the survival of the Western world. Why would you be anything else? Of course there were those other guys, God help me if I knew who they were, but there were a bunch of them just chafing at the bit (think Mitt Romney) at the chance to dethrone President Truman and restore the republic. The salvation of the Nation was at stake and Truman was considered a light-weight nobody who accidentally became President. They had just the candidate to do it, another governor, Thomas Dewey of New York. Dewey was an old-line Republican insider and was considered a shoo-in. Truman, one of the feistiest campaigners ever (Give him hell, Harry), began a cross-country whistle stop trip campaign that caught the public's imagination. Crowds grew daily and so did his momentum. Truman ended up pulling off the Presidential upset of the (last) century.

But I digress. My political memory is littered with milestones and tombstones. My earliest memory is the death of President John Kennedy. I just vaguely remember him, but I do remember how he was idolized and the speeches that are still talked about today. The death of his brother Robert 4 1/2 years later cemented the Kennedy name as a symbol of sacrifice and courage. They represented the new postwar generation of Democrats, a strange mix of nationalism, optimism and progressivism. My mother, like mothers everywhere looked to Jackie Kennedy as an American ideal. Hair styles were changed and babies were named. George McGovern was that same kind of Democrat, baptized in war and committed to social justice. As a 16 year old kid, he captured my imagination. The fact that he was tilting at windmills only added to the attraction. My life from August through November was consumed with posters, politics, telephones and donuts, the fuel on which volunteer campaign workers lived on. Almost no one, including myself, believed McGovern had a snowball's chance in hell of winning, but it didn't seem to matter. We were involved with something bigger than ourselves for the first time in our lives. If we didn't have close friends before, we had them then. We had stuff to do, older people who were looking out for us and absolutely no time on our hands. It was great. Well, you know the end of that story. Richard Nixon went on to win one of the greatest landslides in American history and we moved onto other things, college, first girlfriends, and the political haze of the 70s and 80s. It was an interesting run, but as the politics of bitterness descended (Democrats hated Reagan and Republicans never forgave the Watergate trials) I just quit caring. I just couldn't get angry or hateful enough to get involved and I went through a long string of picking losers. Let's see, Carter in '80, Walter Mondale in '84, Dukakis in '88, George H. Bush, yes Bush in '92. I voted for Clinton in '96 then Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004 and much to my chagrin John McCain in 2008. In my defense, I was tired of amateurs and I knew that Obama was going to win anyway. So I wasn't part of history then, but history has overtaken us all since. A first black President took office amidst some of the greatest hopes and fears of a generation. There was blood in the water at the time. In my lifetime I'd never seen the kind of fear we felt then, the fear of economic chaos and collapse. Like Europe now, no one knew if or how disaster could be avoided. I knew it wouldn't take a Black President to save us, but a courageous one and in one of the miracles of history, that is what we got. Barack Obama became the right man in the right place. He put his entire political career on the line by signing and implementing the TARP, the auto bailout and bringing in a bipartisan economic team to steer us away from the fiscal cliff, steps that were started by the previous President. He did this in the face of a united Republican Party that opposed at every move. They were horrified that a young, black, savvy politician from Illinois could sweep them from power. With virtually no support from the opposition, he took the steps needed restore faith in the American economy. The numbers WERE staggering, an 800 billion dollar stimulus plan, the auto bailout, millions of people losing their homes, their jobs. Then he took the last bit of his capital and spent it on a landmark healthcare bill which the Republicans had vowed to repeal. He and his party paid the price the following year when the Tea Party swept the elections and laid siege on the Obama Presidency. In a cynical and unpatriotic move the Republicans decide to take the economy down and Obama along with it. All the while he kept his spirit and laid the question at the feet of the American voters, "Shall we reward those whose only motivation is revenge, whose only goal is power?" When the dust settled and the smoke cleared we saw an historic rejection of bitter partisanship. The American people said, "Look, if you are going to serve you have to govern and that means compromise. If you don't, we will punish you." And they did. In the face of the worst economic climate in generations, the President has triumphed with victories in both the popular and Electoral College vote. It was a Gettysburg moment. The Republican nearly took the summit but were swept back. Will they go kindly into that good night? No, but they have been chastised, demoralized and confused. Watch as they start to eat their own and new moderate voices emerge. The President on the other hand is on a roll. Business will come to terms with he new political reality and start investing and hiring. I think there is more hope for the future now than there has been in years. In a dangerous world we have a President who hates war and will work to prevent one. The Republicans can only step back and let him govern. The American People have spoken. So as far as I am concerned Obama did deliver on his promise of hope and change.

I've been up about 18 hours now. Much as I hate missing sleep, I didn't want to miss this either. This will be a night I remember, Obama won, Tim Kaine won, a close personal friend, Charles Samuels defended his City Council seat and City Council's loudest mouth, Marty Jewell got voted out of office. It feels like the country is moving in sync. It feels like the country is moving in sync. My job is going to change, the city will, maybe even the country.

When I heard that the national election had been called, I said "screw sleep, screw work, I'm gonna be part of it, and I hit the streets of Richmond, started violating the City's new noise ordinance. The streets were full of dancing, chanting VCU students and by virtue of my Chinese-made OBAMA hat I led them in cheers and posed for pictures. I told one group of bewildered students to be happy, "your future just got brighter." There nothing like optimism to make a body politic feel better. If Obama can tap into some of that optimism he has created, the hope and change he hoped for, may just become a reality. You don't want to get in front of an America full of spit and vinegar. You just get on board or get out of the way.

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