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Pain

19 Aug

 

Pain

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

When I was about ten years old, I began having intense attacks of pain on my right side under my rib cage. It was deep inside. The best way I found to describe it was it felt as though a double-bladed knife, triangular in shape from its tip to the hilt, was being slowly inserted into me. The pain would gradually increase over hours, and I did everything I could for relief to no avail. It got so bad I would force myself to throw up in order to empty my stomach. Again, useless. I even banged my head against the wall to distract my mind elsewhere.

I was checked and tested for a myriad of maladies, including hepatitis and ruptured appendix, during which time I must have drunk gallons of pasty, chalky “stuff” that would show up problems under x-rays.

Nothing.

The attacks repeated over a number of years, seeming to get more and more painful and intolerable. And the duration also lengthened, from several hours to a day and a half. The usual guess at a diagnosis was severe indigestion. So whenever I felt an attack coming on, I’d drain a bottle of Pepto Bismal – thinking it might lessen the severity. That’s what you get for thinking.

Finger down the throat. Head banging on the wall. Even had a pediatrician give me morphine once. Well, that worked, but it sure wasn’t going to be the normal treatment.

Over the years I suffered dozens of attacks. Only complete exhaustion and drop dead sleep helped me survive.

The spring before Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinkley, the attacks began to occur within weeks of each other. At the around the same time, I found out my older sister had her gallbladder removed due to having painful attacks.

Gallbladder!

A gastroenterologist told me I couldn’t have gallbladder disease, and my pain wasn’t the result of gallbladder attacks because I had been having them since I was ten.

“Improbable,” he surmised, having never heard of someone so young diagnosed with the malady.

This time the tests – for gallbladder – came back positive, and proved the doctor wrong.

The surgery took hours longer than was expected. My gallbladder had shrunk up under my liver, and the surgeon cut a large half-moon opening to the right of my stomach area in order to actually move my liver So he could get to the gallbladder.

It looked like a dried-up lemon, he told me later. And it was packed with dozens and dozens of BB-sized stones that had been produced over the years.

Pain.

It tells us something is wrong, and compels us to do something about it. I’ve heard preachers say metaphorically that it is God’s way of steering us in the right path. I have a response to that premise, but I can’t write it down in mixed company.

The solution for my pain over the years was first the diagnosis. And no one for the longest time reached a correct conclusion. At the time of those attacks, I was happy merely to have the pain go away, which they eventually did, but only to come back again.

There is no such thing as timeliness as far as pain is concerned, in my opinion.

I’ve been told that the pain of a gallbladder attack is at the same intensity as what women experience when in labor. I wouldn’t know. That could only be asserted by a woman, and I trust they would know.

We’re in a time of pain. The country.

Just shy of fifty years ago we were also in a time of pain not dissimilar to now.

Then, the sources of the pain were evident. On Sunday evenings when CBS covered the war in Vietnam on 60 Minutes. Kent State. Martin Luther King assassinated. The Black Panthers. The bombing of Hanoi. Bra-burning. Marches, marches, marches.

And like a gallbladder attack, it was like a two-edged knife being slowly inserted into the gut of the country, and there was no relief to be found.

We’re there once again. The faces are the same, only the names are different. Afghanistan. Syria. Al Qaeda. ISIS. Terrorism. Police brutality. Denial of rights to a different set of minorities. Racial tension. Political buffoonery. Fascists. Bigots. Racists.

For those of us who were around the first time during the 60s and 70s, it’s deja vous all over again. Ground Hog Day. Like the unseen gods are saying, “We’re going to do this until we get it right”-kind of scenario.

Is it just me? Or have I felt this pain before? And will we ever have a definitive diagnosis? Will we go into surgery to have this malignancy removed at last?

Were it only that simple.

In the meantime, we have the pain, which will persist and recur until solutions are found.

 

 

 

 

Forget About It

18 Aug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forget About It

By L. Stewart Marsden

Never forget.

Forget, hell!

Gettysburg. Manassas. Fort Sumter. Shiloh. Richmond. Antietam. Petersburg. Vicksburg. Andersonville. Chickamauga. Lookout Mountain. Appomattox.

Images of the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Baghdad, Iraq.

Images of the statue of Robert E. Lee being toppled in Durham, NC.

The oft-quoted maxim involving forgetting history – while a tired phrase – might apply here. The poet and philosopher, George Santayana is purported to have said:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Of course, various versions have been bantered about throughout time.

Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Winston Churchill weighed in with, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

And my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, put his spin on the phrase, elaborating, of course:

I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana … We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive. It’s pretty dense kids who haven’t figured that out by the time they’re ten…. Most kids can’t afford to go to Harvard and be misinformed.

History is filled with images and symbols that act as touchstones to the past. The Roman Empire SPQR held high on a pole; the sign of the fish for early Christians; family crests (I am currently wearing a ring with my family’s crest). From the benign to the monstrous. The cross on the shields of Christian warriors who slaughtered in the name of Christ during the Crusades; the swastika, “a sacred symbol of the spiritual principles in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism”† to a symbol of Nazi Aryan race identity, hate, and mass murder.

Flags of the nations. During WWII the Japanese flag elicited much anger on the part of Americans. The Russian flag did the same during the Cold War.

And statues and busts of every imaginable sort.

A growing sentiment is being heard across the country, urging the destruction or eradication of both symbols and statues that represent to that group something odious and despicable. Confederate flags, once incorporated into various southern state flags, are being removed from, or being called to be removed from those state symbols. The sentiment is significant, but not quite a majority.

There are those who are baffled by what seems to be as vitriolic a response as those who see these symbols as touchstones to a time and way of life they have identified with for generations.

Fascists, come the cries. Bigots and racists.

Liberals, come the retorts. Pinko commies who want to take without earning.

A fear has swept over the country, like tsunamis from two directions hurtling toward each other. One group fearful that the country will revert to pre-Civil War days, and minorities will be enslaved and hunted and valued at a lesser level (2/3?) than their white counterparts. The other group, doggedly holding onto values they believe to be inalienable rights, and angry and frustrated that the country “is going to hell in a hand basket.”

In the middle – between these two groups – a large segment of the country who are confused at best, ignorant at worst, at what to do. Wishing and hoping it will all “settle down” so life can resume as it was. Content with the status quo. Spectators.

Do you eradicate any and all controversial symbols of the past? Anything offensive to anyone? Do we bury the reality of a civil war on our soil that took between 620,000 and 750,000 lives on the battlefield? ††

It’s true that many in this country cling to these symbols as a connection to a time and way of life they would prefer. It is also true the symbols are odious reminders of oppression and worse.

One group says “you are erasing history.” The other, “we are removing the icons of hate and bigotry and fascism.”

Is there a solution regarding these remnants and reminders of a time our country was literally ripped apart? Do we eradicate these touchstones to a time when people, many born in the United States, were enslaved and denied the rights of citizenry or even humanhood?

It is revealing that descendants of the men depicted by statues honoring their ancestors express mixed emotion:

“William Jackson Christian (known as Jack) and Warren Edmund Christian are great-great-grandsons of Stonewall Jackson, the general best known for leading Confederate troops in the First Battle of Bull Run. On Wednesday, they published a blistering open letter in Slate, calling statues of Jackson and other Confederate leaders in their hometown, Richmond, ‘overt symbols of racism and white supremacy.’”

“‘While we are not ashamed of our great-great-grandfather, we are ashamed to benefit from white supremacy while our black family and friends suffer,” they wrote. “We are ashamed of the monument.’”

“Bertram Hayes-Davis, a great-great-grandson of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, has been less forceful than the Christians. In an interview with the CNN host Don Lemon, he said that statues of Davis and other Confederate leaders at the United States Capitol ‘were placed there for a reason,’ but that they should be moved to a museum if their current location is ‘offensive to a large majority of the public.’”

“The statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville was the cause célèbre of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who marched last weekend. But Lee’s great-great-grandson, Robert E. Lee V, told CNN he would not object if local officials chose to take it down.

“‘Maybe it’s appropriate to have them in museums or to put them in some sort of historical context in that regard,’ Mr. Lee, 54, the boys’ athletic director at the Potomac School in McLean, Va., said in the CNN interview. But, he added, ‘we have to be able to have that conversation without all of the hatred and the violence.’

“In a statement, he and Tracy Lee Crittenberger, Robert E. Lee’s great-great-granddaughter, said Lee would not have supported the actions of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Like Mr. Hayes-Davis, they defended their great-great-grandfather to some extent, saying his life ‘was about duty, honor and country.’

“‘At the end of the Civil War, he implored the nation to come together to heal our wounds and to move forward to become a more unified nation,’ they wrote. ‘He never would have tolerated the hateful words and violent actions of white supremacists, the K.K.K. or neo-Nazis.’

“A museum, Mr. Lee and Ms. Crittenberger said, might be a better place for such statues: a place where they could be put in the context of the 1860s.

“But Mr. Lee added in an interview with The Washington Post, ‘If it can avoid any days like this past Saturday in Charlottesville, then take them down today.’”†††

I am white. I was born in the South. I am part of the “privileged class,” and grew up in a small southern town and did not want for anything growing up. While my heritage was not based on Southern tradition (my parents relocated to the South at the end of WWII, having grown up in Minnesota), the norms of that quaint community were assimilated in many ways into my family. I attended an exclusive all-boys prep school nestled in the rural hills of Virginia not far from Fredericksburg and Lynchburg and Richmond. At the time, the school was all-white as far as students and faculty goes. Many of my classmates bore the recognizable last names of families steeped in Virginia and southern history.

In public school, there were no blacks in the schools I attended until I reached junior high, and then a hand-full only. Segregation was in force and enforced, with separate bathrooms and water fountains and entrances and seating for blacks. During that day, there were no Hispanics or Latinos that I knew of in the community. I’m sure there were, though.

As part of the ruling class, I unknowingly and unwittingly perpetuated the status quo. Along the way, between then and now, I’ve come to see how this “arrangement” benefitted only certain whites – those who occupied the most prestigious classes. And those benefits still remain into this day.

I cannot identify with nor tolerate the egregious attitudes of the Alt-right, the KKK, or any other hate group. I struggle with, however, how to deal with the clear-cutting of historical monuments or statues that represent a time when our country was not at its best. I tend to agree more with the idea of collecting these symbols in museums that treat the era in a way that places like Auschwitz treat the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Hitler and Company are not deified or aggrandize to my knowledge in those museums.

But then I cannot identify with people who have suffered generations back because of their countries of origin (my ancestors were largely Irish, according to DNA results through ancestry.com), the color of their skin, gender, or any of a host of other reasons. I can’t identify with profiling, or being a victim of police brutality. I can mentally understand why the strong feelings, still, I find the wholesale destruction of historical monuments/statues unsatisfactory.

Perhaps if we do not forget, and view our past with appropriate perspective and discernment, Mr. Vonnegut’s assertion that we will inevitably repeat history will be less likely.

I hope so.

§§§§§

†Wikipedia, under Swastika.
†† A December 2011 article by Professor J. David Hacker suggests the traditionally-accepted death toll of soldiers (620,000) during the Civil War was underestimated. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17604991
††† https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/17/us/confederate-monuments-stonewall-jackson-lee-davis.html

Nonsense.

15 Aug

Nonsense.

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

How’s it going?

Same old same old, with a sigh.

Ah. That good, huh?

The adages wear thin.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Well, the ball’s in your court, you know.

A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.

What you’ve got, is what you’ve got.

The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Why do it today, when you can always do it tomorrow?

If you don’t do it now, you’ll never do it.

It ain’t over till it’s over.

You can’t bale water with a butterfly net.

Huh?

I made that up.

‘Bout as useless as a screen door on a submarine†.

Waste not, want not.

A penny saved is a penny earned.

If it can be imagined, it can be done.

Not on my watch.

Timex: takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.

I can’t believe this isn’t butter.

See the USA, in a Chevrolet!

Wait!

What?

We’re off topic.

Which is?

Lessons in life.

I thought we were bantering in adages. We switched to ads somehow?

Some lessons in life are hard to learn.

Life can be hard. It’s easier to banter.

It is what it is.

What it is?

What it shall be.

What it possibly could have been?

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

The early bird catches the worm.

Goodnight everybody.*

Goodnight Momma.*

Goodnight Ben.*

Goodnight everyone.*

Goodnight Momma. Goodnight Daddy.*

Goodnight children.*

Goodnight Daddy. Goodnight Elizabeth.*

Goodnight John Boy. Goodnight Jim Bob. Goodnight Jim Bob!*

GOODNIGHT JIM BOB!*

What’s goin’ on? I was asleep. What’s everybody doin’?*

GOODNIGHT JIM BOB!*

Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?**

† “Screen Door,” Rich Mullins.
*ABC television series, The Waltons, 1972 – 1981
** “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell.

 

Triggers and Charlottesville: From the Whys to the Whats?

14 Aug

Triggers and Charlottesville:

From the Whys to the Whats?

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

When my son was diagnosed with childhood leukemia, I learned of a theory being studied to answer the question “Why?”

The thought behind the theory was the potential for cancer resides in many of us. Like a bullet, it rests harmlessly among the billions of cells from which we are comprised. At some point, an event occurs that “cocks the trigger.” Perhaps exposure to something in our food, or in the air.

In our case, we wondered if one of those inane plastic toy figures – like the soldiers in a box – that had fallen onto the baseboard heating unit in my son’s bedroom, was the trigger. We awoke in the dead of night to our fire alarms screaming, and dense oily smoke layering the upper half of his bedroom. The figurine had caught on fire. By the time we were awakened and I burst into his room, he had certainly breathed in the caustic smoke.

Or, perhaps it was the location of an electric power station, not half a block away. Studies were being done at the time on the effect of electromagnetism at a cellular level.

We wanted – needed – an explanation.

Why?

That question was never answered. Our attention, however, turned from the why to what we could do about his condition. At least that question had some answers.

Segue to Charlottesville and the conflagration that occurred over the weekend. Not so dissimilar from discovering you have cancer. And more readily predictable – especially the trigger theory part.

I wonder if Robert E. Lee were able to comment on the events of Saturday, what he would say. Lest he be cast as the trigger of this event, here are some of his recorded thoughts that contradict the fascist positions of the Alt-Right and the KKK:

  • In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral & political evil in any country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages.*
  • We should live, act, and say nothing to the injury of anyone. It is not only best as a matter of principle, but it is the path to peace and honor.*
  • What a cruel thing war is… to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors.*
  • I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.*

*www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/robertele753002.html

This is not, in my opinion, a conflict of anything but fear, hate, and a reckless loathing of anyone who differs from those who believe in White Supremacy. It smacks of a position that runs inexplicably across economic and educational stratification. And, it is not random.†

It is taught. It is the we/they mentality that boggles common sense. And it has been an underlying tear in this country’s fabric since the beginning. It cannot be legislated away. It metastasizes wherever separate but superior exists. It incubates for decades – for generations – until it erupts in events like Jim Crow, Selma, Watts, Charlottesville.

In the musical South Pacific, Lieutenant Cable addresses racism (Oscar Hammerstein, II) through the lyrics of You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

The song, according to an article by Andrea Most that appeared in Theatre Journal in October 2000, was the “trigger” for lawmakers in the state of Georgia to introduce legislation outlawing any entertainment that contained “‘an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow.’[2] One legislator said that ‘a song justifying interracial marriage was implicitly a threat to the American way of life.’[2] Rodgers and Hammerstein defended their work strongly. James Michener, upon whose stories South Pacific was based, recalled, ‘The authors replied stubbornly that this number represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in.’”**

**Andrea Most, “‘You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught’: The Politics of Race in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific” Theatre Journal 52, no. 3 (October 2000), 306.

In the cancer analogy, the triggers appear to be anything that threatens fearful people. And what is triggered seems to be anger and resentment at losing something that was once thought to be innate – the “superiority” of one race, one religion, one political spectrum.

From the beginning of time our ancestors have unknowingly set the stage for what occurred in Charlottesville this past weekend. Carefully taught to hate all the people your relatives hate. It is not in the DNA.

What are you and I going to do about it?

 

†In holding on to that anger and resentment, nothing can be accomplished in the way of progress – certainly not resolution. A mentor once used the illustration of how monkeys used to be caught. A clear glass cider jar was “seeded” with peanuts, and a rope tied to its finger ring near the opening, which was tied to a stake. Seeing the peanuts, the monkey would easily slip its paw through the opening to grab a peanut, balling its fist to hold the treat. When the monkey tried to pull his hand out, his fist was too large to come out of the opening. Because the monkey would not let go of his prized peanut, he was easily captured. The simple moral is we are captured by our own stubbornness to hold onto things we ought to let go.

Get the shopping cart into the correct place … Dammit!

2 Aug

 

Get the shopping cart into the correct place … Dammit!

By L. Stewart Marsden

A post on Facebook this morning got me to thinking. I know, thinking twice in one month is rather astounding for me. And painful – like a brain freeze.

It focused on people who do and don’t return their shopping carts to a cart station in the parking lot (perhaps, even, to the front area of the store). You’ve seen those people who don’t return theirs. They tend to smoke and drive big pickups and have Confederate flags on the rear windshield and have mud flaps with a chrome naked woman and spit on the pavement and wear greaser T-shirts and probably voted for 45. They shoo their carts and let them drift aimlessly in the vast parting lots like maverick cattle, creating chaos and confusion. Shameful!

The writer asserted – with admittedly no science to back his thesis – that successful people tend to return their carts, and the lazy bastards of our culture (see above) don’t.

I’m not sure this doesn’t fly in the face of what might be more accurately deduced. For example, the shopping cart returners seem to me more like Stepford Wives than successful entrepreneurs. More like the vast crowds who shift and turn based on the movement of the masses – unthinking and mechanically reactive. Like those schools of sardines you see during Shark Week, rippling through the water en masse. And, sad to say, I’m in that vast population.

I’m not advocating total chaos in the parking lots of America, mind you. And while the data are truly lacking*, this is also one of my peeves, although not a pet one. Mine is more unrestrained and feral. The point is whether you return your cart or not, I don’t think it’s an indicator of much of anything success-wise. But the post – like I said – got me to thinking.

Today there are at least two sizes of carts at most stores (Dollar General is the exception – and Aldi’s): the hunka-munka-I’m-here-for-a-whole-s**t-load-of-stuff cart, and the dainty-just-gotta-grab-one-or-two-items cart. (I normally use the latter cart, then cram it full of oh-I-need-thats until it looks like one of those commuter buses in India where passengers are literally hanging off the sides.)

Which brings up another pet peeve (squirrel!): going through the Express check-out with more than “about 12 items.” But I’ll leave that for another day.

So I get my stuff; wheel the cart through the parking lot with the one wheel spinning uncontrollably; unload my stuff in the trunk (cold stuff near the door, non-perishables in the back of the trunk); and turn to put my dainty cart in the cart station.

Again, there are usually two lanes of carts in each of these stations. Now at Lowe’s Home Improvement, one of those lanes is for the flatbed carts, and is much wider than the one meant for the regular carts. But at the grocery store, the lanes are the same size! AND, horror of horrors, the dainty and the hunka-munka carts are MIXED TOGETHER!

AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!

So, I spend time fixing the mess, pulling out the two sizes of carts and putting them together in correct sizes, and rolling those cart trains back into the cart station lanes, nice and neat. I even wait in my car a bit if someone who has just rolled out and emptied their cart to see if they are going to screw up the order! If they do, I don’t normally roll down my window and yell, “Hey! Asshole! Put that shopping cart in the other lane!” But I sure do think it.

I’m not sure this qualifies me for anything other than the Coo-coo’s Nest Elderly Care Retirement Home located on a dead-end street marked at its beginning with a sign that says, “No Exit.”

But it might.

–––––––––––––

*I understand the Federal Government is funding a $2.6 million study on this very subject.

Little Big Man

28 Jul

Little Big Man

Megalomaniac

By L. Stewart Marsden

It sounds like a period of prehistory. Megalomaniac. Surely somewhere near the Jurassic Age. Thundering dinosaurs. Sharp-toothed carnivores. Crashing through the tropical undergrowth to come down on some innocent triceratops who stopped to munch on a tasty clump of ferns or moss.

Perhaps this will be called the Megalomaniac Age Administration, where the tendency looks to seep down from the top and infect nearly every layer of staff.

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning
Very, very frightening me.

– Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody

Was Alexander the Great a megalomaniac? How about Napoleon? Attila? Nero? Hitler? Stalin?

To some extent, I suppose you could say every great leader had the tendency. JFK, MLK, FDR, Patton, MacArthur, Sherman … Franklin, Washington?

How much of it is okay? What’s the dosage? A teaspoon every four hours? Where is the line between acceptable megalomania and that which is unacceptable and tragic?

And who came up with the idea? What entity thought, “Well, I think we need someone obsessed with him/herself and power so that change can be ramrodded down the throats of the common person?

Or, “The common people NEED a megalomaniac in order to attain a little perspective.

Who thinks that way? Probably the same mentality as when a father says to his child just before punishment, “This is going to hurt me more than you.”

You wonder what event in the lifetime of a megalomaniac triggered the condition? Parental abuse? Childhood bullies?

In those cases a person is a victim. It seems the abusers or bullies reflect megalomania more closely than someone who is victimized. Compensation, perhaps? Small stature? Small hands? Maybe a Stephen King-like event in the formative years?

One apparent result of megalomania: things end badly for that person and those close by. Family, friends, work associates don’t seem to fare well when the megalomaniac is toppled. I would use the word “peers,” but I don’t think a megalomaniac has any. That’s not so handy when it comes to facing a trial by jury of one’s peers if one is a megalomaniac. At least a trial is better than tar and feathering, regardless. Not that I would know.

That’s when the word “karma” inevitably comes into play.

Or so one hopes.

 

Compromise

26 Jul

Compromise

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I love T-shirts. The kind with witty sayings. Over the last year or more I’ve become a sucker for eye-catching, cleverly worded cotton and polyester tees.

My favorite T-shirts are: “Irony: the opposite of Wrinkly”; “Hyphenated. Non-hyphenated. The irony.”; “You Matter, Unless you multiply yourself by the speed of light … then you Energy.” That last one might be perceived to have some racial undertones, so I’m careful where I wear it. I also have a neat yin-yang guitar design T, and one bearing the image of Eric Clapton. I wear those whenever I play my acoustic, or practice my mandolin.

T-shirts arrive where I live almost every week. I got Tees for all my kids. You know, “I’m the oldest child – the rules were written for me,” “I’m the middle child …” And I got them the “Thing I” and “Thing II,” ad infinitum tees. Ask me how many kids I have and I’ll answer “Five … that I know of.”

They rarely wear them. I don’t know why. Certainly not at the same time, which is what I wanted in order to take a group shot of the kids in their tees to put on a T-shirt.

I saw a T-shirt advertised on Facebook from my alma mater, High Point College, where I graduated back in 1975. The type read, “Never underestimate an Old Man Who Graduated from High Point University.”  (The school added some post-graduate degrees in an effort to separate from all the other small colleges that abound in North Carolina.)

Apparently I wasn’t the only disgruntled grad, and I added my comment of disdain: I’m an Old Man (nothing about women, by the way), but I DID NOT graduate from High Point University! I graduated from High Point College!!!

I also might have added some colorful commentary about how the school seemed to have lost its way, clear-cutting beautiful areas of 100-year-old oaks, in order to grow. Whenever I go back to High Point, nothing is the same. I think of the folk tune Greenfields, recorded by the Brothers Four back in the 60s:

Once there were greenfields kissed by the sun;
Once there were valleys where rivers used to run;
Once there was blue sky with white clouds high above;
Once they were part of an everlasting

The changes on the campus, going from a quaint college in a quaint town, (although some believe them to be good as well as progressive), to a super-modern, luxury campus, have signaled the end of an era to many others of us.

And so I refused to buy the T-shirt. Whenever I scrolled across the ad for a High Point University wearable, especially if it used the words “Old Man,” I would comment.

Like talking to a wall, I thought. No one is reading my comments. No one cares. The world is slowly draining down the eddy of a toilet flush. Suck … suck … suck go the old ways and memories down that drain. A forgotten man from a forgotten era.

Then, to my surprise, a new ad. The tune was the same, but the lyrics were changed! “Never Underestimate an Old Man who graduated from High Point.” Period. Not High Point College, but not High Point University, either.

While not perfectly what I wanted (and I don’t dare step into the area of coeds), it was … it was … compromise!

I know a little about the T-shirt printing process to realize that the manufacturer was going to have to burn new screens in order to replace the word University with College. So, why not merely cover the word University and avoid the added costs? After all, no telling how many Old Men who graduated from High Point were still alive, or how many of those curmudgeons, codgers, or skinflints would order a T-shirt?

Compromise!

In this day and age – what a concept! I think of Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), sitting down in his button-down sweater and smiling to the camera to calmly say, “Can you say compromise, boys and girls?

I almost had to look it up in Merriam-Webster. I had forgotten the definition, as have many others, apparently.

I didn’t get exactly what I wanted, but what I got was better for me than what was being originally offered. A win-win solution!

Where are the Richard Rogers when you most need them? Can you say compromise?

I bought the new T-shirt, by the way.

 

 

AC and the Fall of Western Civilization

23 Jul

AC and the Fall of Western Civilization

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Today the weather is challenging to my comfort zone. It is hot, and has been for the last several days. It is also very humid, and to add more hardship, there is little or no breeze. By way of explanation, I live in the mountains, where temperatures are normally dozens of degrees cooler than that of my friends, who do not live in the mountains. We are experiencing an extended heat wave throughout North Carolina.

Another hope for your sympathy is my home is not air conditioned. I rely on open windows, ceiling and various portable fans to move air and keep the condo cool.

My father used to tell me how in the winter men would cut ice blocks from the Rock River that meandered close to Luverne where he grew up in Minnesota. As in Disney’s Frozen, these ice blocks were essential during the short, but hot Minnesota summers, and were stored in sawdust to keep them from melting. People used them in their ice boxes, the forerunner of the refrigerator. Horse-drawn ice trucks cobbled down the dusty streets, stopping at each house to parcel out the ice, followed by swarms of young boys and girls who hoped to snatch a fallen piece of frozen river water to suck on.

What we now take for granted was more than appreciated in that day. Now, our “ice boxes” not only make ice, but tell us via cellphone what to buy at the grocery store.

Technology is great, and I love how it has advanced everyday life beyond that of basic struggles for survival. With every advance, however, we lose a part of another essential ingredient to life: appreciation.

It may not surprise you to know that names like Benjamin Franklin, Michael Faraday and others worked on evaporation and cooling. James Harrison, an Australian, developed an ice-making machine in the mid 1800s, and at the turn of the 19th century, Willis Carrier (that name sound familiar?), invented the first electric air conditioning unit in Buffalo, NY. His goal was not to cool, but to dehumidify the air to aid in the printing process.

In the middle of the 20th century, Packard offered the first factory-installed air conditioning in a car.

There it is.

Today we go from air conditioned homes and apartments and drive in air conditioned cars to our air conditioned places of work.

It’s not just AC that has cast a pall on who we have become. I chose that as an overall metaphor for technological advances. Again, I pretty much like and use them, and am guilty of the same ignorance regarding how each works. I have become dependent on all these advances. Heck, I’m typing on an iPad Pro ordered online and delivered in two days! Think of all of the advances that had to be made to enable that! And I don’t know much about any of it.

In Jurassic Park (the first movie of the series), Dr. Ian Malcolm complains of the laziness involved in the genetic engineering of the park:

Dr. Ian Malcolm: If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox …

I remember struggling in high school, and later in college, to solve a math problem using a slide rule (and slide rule doesn’t mean a baseball regulation for those who don’t know).

I remember sitting for hours on a chair in the kitchen, my ear glued to the telephone, having dialed the four- or five-digit phone number of my current girlfriend using a rotary dial.

I remember watching black-and-white television, and opting from three local stations for my viewing pleasure.

Today? I have a calculator on my iPad which I downloaded from the internet.

I have a smartphone that makes me accessible 24/7, regardless where I am located.

I have a smart screen that is connected to the internet via wifi, which gives me access to more channels and entertainment than I could ever hope to use.

You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it.

Again, there it is.

I’m not advocating getting rid of all technology – far from it. I’m warning that as we continue to forge ahead with our technology and as it takes us and our civilization to places we’ve only imagined (remember the Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip?), we need to take responsibility for it.

Air conditioning, for example, drains the power grid when the weather turns hot. Use of social media on the internet provides the user with relative anonymity, meaning the temptation to do or say things we might ordinarily not do or say becomes compelling.

Perhaps the onus for this abdication of responsibility goes back much further. The invention/discovery of fire? The wheel? The printing press? The bow and arrow? Gunpowder?

Are we flying too close to the sun, as with Icarus and Daedalus? I wonder. Where will it all take us?

The Perfect President

12 Jul

The Perfect President

By L. Stewart Marsden

I was thinking today – an achievement in and of itself lately – of the presidents of our nation during my lifetime.

Ike Eisenhower served during my early childhood years, and I remember little about him. He seemed grandfatherly, and my parents liked the heck out of him. I think both parties went after him to run on their tickets. Imagine that!

Then the Kennedy-Nixon race. In the debates, Nixon wouldn’t wear makeup, and his shadowy beard should have given all pause as a sort of foreshadowing (no pun intended). But Kennedy was a CATHOLIC! Forget the Southern vote. AND he talked funny! But he was handsome, and then there was Jackie. But he was a war hero (if PT 109 is factual … have to check Snopes on that one). With him, we went through the Cuber crisis, and the challenge to reach the moon. He reduced taxes (WHAT!?), and put civil rights on the back burner. And, of course, Dallas. So he is seared into history as the hero of Camelot, despite some seamy stuff with Marilyn and Bobby. Great men do have to have their pressure outlets apparently.

Then Johnson. Long ears. Belly scars. Back-room deals to accomplish surprisingly much in the areas of civil rights. But that damn Vietnam! Everyone in the family with the same initials. How he had wanted the presidency! How he suffered its curse.

Back from the politically-dead Nixon. Vees raised above his head with both arms and hands. Tapes. Missing tapes. Agnew. Phew! Bombing of Saigon – Merry Christmas! Paranoid surveillance of threatening people, like John Lennon. And, to his everlasting fame, Watergate. China legacy.

Gerald Ford. First error Nixon pardon? Sliding into the Oval Office through the back doors. Betty, tippling in the background. Stability?

Jim-mah Carter. Rosalynn and Miss Lillian – his stalwart women. Billy, his Hee-Haw brother. Ayatollah Khomeini, his nemesis. “Argo,” his movie detraction. Soaring gas prices and lines to the pump. His infamous “we are sinners” address to the nation. The outsider. The one-termer. The most misunderstood president ever?

Slow pan of a great western expanse – buttes in the background, massive white clouds in the sky – up big music. A rider approaches from the distance. He is dressed in white. His horse is white. He is white. Actor-turned-politician, ready to take one for the Gipper. Ronald and Nancy to the rescue. An insurmountable political tsunami where the Jerry Falwell’s and Newt the Grinch’s and Wheaties and Ovaltine take the day. “Tear down that wall!” Poland. Star Wars. John Hinckley. Dementia? Nancy in charge?

The “read my lips” president, George H.W. Bush, who defeated Michael “The Tank” Dukakis. NAFTA. Taxes? Desert Storm. Berlin Wall. USSR emplodes. Dan Quayle and Mr. Potatoe Head. Second one-and-done president since Eisenhower. First Republican president my dad had serious qualms about.

Billy “The Kid” Clinton (and wife). First bonus presidency, two-for-the-price-of-one. Kennedy-esque. National healthcare reform fiasco. Monica. Intrigue. Parsing is the new standard. Depends on what you mean by the word, “it.” Stand By My Man. Vitriol seeps from the political cracks in the DC sidewalks.  The white black man. Amazingly, second termer. Far-right radio commentators – Rush on the Rise. Gotta love those Arkansas Impeachments. Most popular president since WWII at his exit. Sax and violins.

Mr. Strategery, George W. Bush. 9-11. Iraq. Find those WMD’s please. Thank you, Florida and Jeb. Best First Lady since? Exploding deficits/national debt. Housing bubble pops. Banks too big to fail. Black October. Rev up the Nucular War Machine.

First Black President, Barak Obama. Birth Certificate? Muslim? Christian? Home church pastor rails. Osama Bin Ladin falls. Michelle shines. Ratings soar. Cooperation with Congress slumps. Hillary. Benghazi. Obamacare. Racist vitriol. Popularity polls dip. The great House and Senate divide. Barak ages in front of our eyes.

And then … Donald, a.k.a, #twitterprez. You fill in the blanks, ’cause he certainly won’t.

The perfect President is nonexistent. This need for perfection hies back to the Old Testament when the Nation of Israel wanted a King in order to be like all them other guys. They got Saul. Tall, handsome, wack-o. Then David. Statuesque model. Roving eyes. Murderer.

Hasn’t really changed much. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Not that any of our presidents had or have absolute power. That’s the genius of the Founding Fathers – who, I suspect, had their wives and girlfriends, sometimes at the same time, whispering in their ears, “And don’t forget about this ….!” Lucky for us they listened.

And lucky for us that none of our past Chief Executives was perfect. George had wooden teeth. Thomas was likely more agnostic than anything, withholding his stamp on the divinity of Jesus, and advising relatives to question boldly the existence of a god (my rewording of an article found on The Jefferson Foundation, Inc. on his religions beliefs1). Andrew Jackson did atrocious things to Native Americans. Lincoln was born before the NBA came to exist, and my relative, Ulysses S. Grant, was a renown tippler. Even FDR couldn’t stay true to Eleanor.

So what’s my point?

Quit looking for the Lone Ranger to come riding up with his VP, Tonto, to save us! The obvious lacks of our previous presidents protects us! These are men (and will eventually be women) who have feet of clay, to use a Biblical metaphor for those so inclined.

To not work on that premise is the surest way to usher in whatever cataclysmic Armageddon is ducking behind the horizon line of our future!

Are things good? Are we happy with Washington? Do we want to “Trow da bums out?” Yes, of course we do! But don’t be fooled into thinking that whoever we replace this gunk of goo with is going to be ANY better! It won’t happen! Ain’t in the cards! In the words of George W. H., “Wouldn’t be prudent!”

The people we elect have a job to run the country. For some reason they actually want the work (maybe because they get rich). I certainly don’t want to do it. Ain’t enough tea in China. You wouldn’t want me to, and I suspect you have no aspirations to that end either.

OUR job is to keep an eye on the foxes we put in charge of this very large, very complicated hen house.

That’s one responsibility none of us can afford to abdicate. It’s tiresome. It’s thankless. It’s frustrating. But you cannot complain (well, I guess you really could – but to no end) if you don’t pay attention. If you don’t register (you have time now, by the way, if you haven’t). If you don’t form your own ideas of how you’d like to see America survive. If you don’t vote this coming November.

Don’t tell me it’s useless or that it won’t make a difference. Hanging chads and margins of votes make a difference – first locally, then statewide, then nationally.

If you’re so inclined, let your representatives in DC or in your state capitol know your opinion. Smarter people than me long ago made up the phrase, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil.”

And this: United doesn’t mean we agree on everything OR anything! Again, to use a Biblical metaphor, the eye is not more important than the foot, and neither operates the same way in contributing to the body and its functionality.

As topsy-turvy as things seem right now, our system of government is working. Needs a little oil here and there from time to time. But it works.

Remember, the potential perfect president, who resides at 666 Main Street, Anytown, USA, is hoping you will quit and say “The hell with it.” And guess what? If you look for him, you will find him.

Please don’t.

 

1 https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-religious-beliefs

Opposite Poles

8 May

Opposite Poles

 

I had two related but poles-apart experiences today.

Experience One:

I read a post on Facebook that featured a picture of a rather large person tending one of those huge wood grill thingies where it looked like dozens of chickens were barbecuing. The gist was this is representative of Western North Carolina people.

The comments were varied to the extent those with something to say said the same thing from a different perspective. Red-neck came up often, along with colorful castigations of who the photo was being used to represent.

The Basket of Deplorables, no doubt. Those ignorant, overfed, racist North Carolinians. You know, the Andy Griffith type. Farmers. Factory workers. Hard-working people with bad teeth who like country music, apple pie and fly the American flag year-round, and not just on the 4th of July.

Why that grieved me so I’m not certain. I only have a college education — a bachelor’s degree. Plus I attended a summer class in screenwriting at NYU in NYC. And got my lateral entry teaching certification at Lenoir-Rhyne. You know … one of the ig’nant North Carolinians. Don’t have a Masters Degree. Don’t have a PhD.

Their bumper stickers read “My red-neck son can beat the hell out of your Honor Student.” Confederate flag covers the back cab window of their big-wheeled Hemi Dodge truck — a gun rack perhaps suction-cupped to the glass.

It grieved me. But no one else on that post, apparently. It was gang-tackle, pink-belly time. Dare I say it? Kind of a mob mentality.

Better than. Smarter than. More deserving than. Glad we’re not them.

Experience Two:

I went in for a weekly booster to help with my low iron counts. A very remote internist’s office in the North Carolina mountains where the physician (from Tennessee) and his PA take time with their patients, and know them by their first names. I sat across from a lady who preceded to hold church.

“I’m so glad I’m saved!” And went into great detail about her experience, down to the place (Pentecostal church), month, day, and nearly the time when she “died and came alive again! I ain’t been the same since!”

I had no reason to doubt her.

She flashed an eye my way and said, “God knows how many He is going to save before the end time.”

I’m thinking, but not saying, “144,000?”

“I’m so GLAD I’m SAVED and am NOT going to HELL, Amen?”

The others in the waiting room echoed, “Amen!”

She sounded like a familiar character out of a Stephen King novel. There’s one in each of his stories, if you hadn’t noticed.

Mercifully my name was called and I went into the back where I rolled up my sleeve for the stick.

“We were having church in the lobby!” I grinned.

The nursing assistant, pinched my upper arm skin and preparing to stab me with the needle, said, “That’s Mrs. Praise the Lord!” And she laughed. We all laughed and winked, then hushed ourselves so as not to be heard from the waiting room.

I did not fully recognize I was doing pretty much the same thing that was accomplished by the earlier post I had read on Facebook.

Better than. Smarter than. More deserving than. Glad we’re not them.

On the way home, it gradually dawned on me. And I grieved again — for different reasons.