Category Archives: Diary

Saturday Odds & Sods: Disturbance At The Heron House

Elijah and the Ravens by Ralph Chessé, 1945.

Winter played a fleeting return engagement in New Orleans this week. Unlike the Mid-March blizzard in the Northeast, it wasn’t anything to write home about but we ran the heater and shivered a bit. I’m not a fan of the new practice of naming winter storms even if the first one is named after a famous theatrical character, STELLA. Unless, that is, it’s named for the Hunter-Garcia ballad Stella Blue. The mere thought of a blizzard makes me blue so that could be it.

It may have been chilly of late but Spring allergy season is upon us with a vengeance. I have a mild case of red-eye but I’m used to that. A worse pestilence is this year’s flea crop. We haven’t had a hard freeze for several years so the nasty little buggers are dining on Oscar and Della Street. All we can do is treat the house, medicate the cats, and hope for the best. The idea of putting a flea collar on Della is particularly unappealing. She’s been known to draw blood so I’ll pass. Chomp.

This week’s theme song comes from R.E.M.’s classic 1987 Document album; more on the album anon. It’s my favorite record in their catalog and Disturbance At The Heron House is the kat’s meow. The lyrics were inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is another reason I like it so much.

Here are two versions. The original studio track and one from R.E.M.’s appearance on MTV Unplugged. The second video has Radio Song as lagniappe.

The “followers of chaos out of control” indeed. In fact, they can follow me to the other side after the break. I hope it’s sufficiently chaotic.

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Saturday Odds & Sods: Top Of The Pops

Swing Landscape by Stuart Davis.

Swing Landscape by Stuart Davis.

It’s time for the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day parade later today. This year’s route is so long that it should be renamed the Uptown/Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day. We’re fleeing to our friends Greg and Christy’s annual shindig, which puts the bang in shebang or some such shit. And I know the parade isn’t happening on the day itself. This is New Orleans, we do things our own way. Y’all should know that by now. There will, however, be drinking involved. We’re not that bloody different: walk me out in the Tullamore morning dew…

The big local story is that the Fifth Circuit has lifted an injunction against removing the white surpremacist monuments. They’ll be gone pecans soon enough. The erstwhile Gret Stet Fuhrer has been relatively silent this time around. He’s too busy fluffing Trump on Twitter to get worked up about it. For now. I guess that makes him a fluffer nutter. I hereby apologize to others out there who love marshmallow fluff, which recently celebrated a somewhat sticky centennial.

This week’s theme songs qualify as benign earworms. My mind keeps drifting back in their direction, which is why I’m taking you to the top, top, Top of the Pops.

We’re going in reverse chronological order with the 1991 Smithereens tune first. The video was filmed in Atlantic City. I looked for Chalky White but didn’t see him.

This week we’re back in same title, different song territory with the Kinks who were the band that most influenced the Reens. I’ve always preferred this loose live version of Top of the Pops to the more buttoned down studio track:

Now that I’ve rocked your world, it’s time to insert the break. This post grew like Cat’s Claw vines on an abandoned shotgun double so one is in order. See you on the other side.

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Uncle Tack

His given name was Thedrick Emerson Wright, but nobody ever called him that.

To anyone who worked with him, played softball for him or just spent time with him, he was just “Tack.”

Or if you were a kid like me, he was “Uncle Tack.”

It was never clear to me, or my dad who befriended Uncle Tack through his work at Ladish, where that name came from. Ted, Thed, TE or even “Big Man” would have made more sense that “Tack.” What was clear was that he was an integral part of my life growing up and loving man-child who always made us laugh, even as he fell apart.

Depending on who was around or how much beer had begun to flow, the stories about Uncle Tack were as legendary as they were outlandish. His supposed height was somewhere between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-8, depending on the length of his Afro and who was telling the story.

When you are 5 years old, the truth of the matter tends to matter very little, as he was simply a giant to me.

His weight fluctuated from a lean and powerful 270 to what he often called “a biscuit,” as in “I’m just a biscuit off of 300” or “a biscuit off of 320” in his later years. Dad used to tell me that Uncle Tack was short-waisted, so when they sat down together, my 5-foot-9 father and Uncle Tack looked to be about the same size. Only when he rose did he unfurl the towering figure he truly was.

I remembered how he would wear those 1970s outfits, including short shorts and long athletic tube socks in the summer. His legs reminded me of a frog’s: long and muscular with a sense that he could leap over anything. I also never forgot his hands: he would envelop my tiny paw with his giant ebony mitt, wrapping his narrow fingers all the way around it as he would say, “How you doin’ there, Little Man?”

Growing up where I did and when I did, I had little concept of the issue of race or how divisive of a topic it truly was. We moved into my parents’ new home when I was 4 and Uncle Tack came to visit. I remember yelling, “Uncle Tack! Uncle Tack!” and rushing up to hug him. Neighbors looked over at us quizzically and asked my parents in an almost “hope against hope” tone, “Uh… UNCLE Tack?”

My parents explained that it was a term of respect for family friends to be designated as “aunt” or “uncle” as opposed to “mister” or “missus.” That part never trickled down to me at that age. He was just as much of a family member as anyone else with that familiar moniker. It’s probably why when I was 7 or so, I asked my parents quite loudly at a McDonald’s, “What color will I be when I grow up?”

Uncle Tack, however, dealt with a lot of the racism of the day, even though he never seemed to let it impact him when he was near us.

One time, Mom and Dad went to Las Vegas with Uncle Tack and wandered around the strip in those halcyon days of the early 1970s. Dad and Uncle Tack went to the bar to order a drink. The bartender served Dad, but skipped Uncle Tack. Dad called the guy back and ordered a drink for Mom, giving the guy another shot to do the right thing.

He skipped Uncle Tack again.

“Hey,” Dad barked at the guy. “Aren’t you going to get my buddy’s drink?”

“Oh,” the barkeep replied. “Sorry, sir. I didn’t see him standing there.”

It could have been an honest mistake, although I somehow doubt it was easy to miss a 6-foot-5 black man standing at an empty bar sporting a fire-engine red three-piece suit.

Other stories came home of people at the factory tossing around what we would now call “casual racism,” but back then they called it “teasing” or “pranking.” One such case happened after Uncle Tack shaved his head. Some guy put five Milk Duds in a row on his desk with a sign that read, “Tack’s family.” Instead of filing a complaint or blowing up in a rage, Uncle Tack simply ate the Milk Duds. Why let them go to waste?

He always was that “gentle giant” in the most clichéd terms possible, but there were also legendary stories of him dispensing justice, or at least putting people on notice that he would.

In one such case, he was attending a Kool and the Gang concert at some local venue when a guy behind him kept kneeing him in the back. Uncle Tack asked the guy to stop, and the man kind of mumbled something in return. A few minutes later, the guy was back at it. Uncle Tack became slightly more firm in his request as the guy gave him kind of a look like, “Hey buddy, I paid for this seat.” A third time, the kneeing returned, so Uncle Tack rose from his seat, turned to face the man and in an even voice declared:

“If you knee me in the back one more time, I’m kicking the shit out of your whole row.”

The man quickly stopped.

Even when he was older, he had no compunction about evening the odds when he felt his family or friends were in a rough spot. My freshman year of college, I had a roommate who was making my life hell with drug use and other shitty behavior. Repeated requests to the hall association to try to fix this fell on deaf ears. When Dad shared the news with Uncle Tack, my protector replied, “So when are we driving up to Madison to take care of this kid?” Uncle Tack had to be in his 50s at that point, but he still was ready to go.

Above all else, I remember laughter surrounding Uncle Tack. He would sit in our kitchen and tell stories and Mom and Dad would howl with laughter. He would even tell stories about things they had all experience, but he did so in such a way that made you think, “Man, I wish I had been there…”

There was the time he came over to meet with my folks around dinnertime: He had just polished off two Big Macs, fries and a Coke, but my folks were eating supper, so he sat down and joined them. He ended up eating almost two-thirds of a full pot roast that was supposed to be sandwich meat for the week.

Nobody minded. It was Uncle Tack.

Each spring, he’d come to the house and coax my mother into joining his softball team. He was a hell of a recruiter and a great motivator, but my mother was getting on in years and each season he asked, it took a little more to get her to bundle up for those frigid March games and play for him.

She had to be in her 40s near the end of his coaching career and he had tons of younger players from which to choose. Still, he always told Mom he needed her left-handed bat and her speed to make the team complete.

I remember hunkering down on those freezing cold bleachers at Beulah Britton Park and watching my mom play each season. I still remember the other players on the team: Sharon, the giant guard from the factor who could crush a homer on to the tennis courts. Joyce (also known as Ice), a sharp short-stop with a quick first step, a wicked bat and a glare in her eyes that would just cut you in half. Steady Betty was there in left, catching everything hit to her and hugging Uncle Tack each time she came in from the field. Carol, the pitcher who was the only one about my mom’s age, who we still see from time to time around Cudahy.

The hard part for me is understanding now that Uncle Tack wasn’t the saint I always remembered. Laughter often covered pain. The “dapper” outfits often hid financial problems. Other positives painted a thin coat of cover on top of the negatives.

He was divorced from his wife, which rumor had it, was because he had been fooling around with some of the younger softball players on his team. He had trouble at work, as he often missed a day or two with no real reason for doing so. His kids were at odds with him and somewhat wandered aimlessly, based on the chatter I overheard.

The biggest problem, though, was his inability or unwillingness to take care of his diabetes. When he retired from Ladish, he headed back to Tennessee to be near family. By then, he was a massive man who loved sweets more than anything. A few years after he left, his health really began to fail. Recently, he had both legs amputated at the knee. Always the joker, Uncle Tack explained in a phone call to my father how he looked:

“I’m the same but now you’re as tall as me.”

That was the last thing Dad heard from him and that was several years back.

When I called home last night, Dad was talking about the weekend card show and other such things, when Mom shouted something from the living room to him. He then told me that he’d just heard from a friend of his that Uncle Tack died earlier this week. He was about 68, Dad said, although that was as much of a mystery as everything else surrounding the man.

It’s hard to write this, not just because it’s so hard to capture the essence of who Uncle Tack was and what he meant to me, but also because I’ve learned that writing like this is often seen as an affront to “more important discussions” of race and human interaction. That makes me worry people will overlook the man I know for the broader picture I have no intention of painting.

Uncle Tack wasn’t the “magical Negro” in my life, to borrow a term from Spike Lee. He wasn’t the “black friend” that got rolled out to counter claims of racism. Even though I hadn’t seen him in quite some time and I’m in my 40s, he will always my Uncle Tack.

He hugged me as a kid. He stood up for me as a young man. He danced with my wife at my wedding (albeit under the watchful gaze of his new protective girlfriend). He made me laugh all the time.

He was family and I’ll miss him something awful.

Friday Catblogging: Krewe du O

This week’s catblogging features a snapshot of Oscar snoozing next to my Krewe du Vieux costume a few weeks ago. The bag he’s sleeping on contains a krewemate’s costume. All Oscar knows is that it’s comfortable and that’s all the matters to a cat:

Oscar Spank

 

Resist Smart

The good news is that this will not be another episode in the ongoing saga of <cue soap opera organ riff> how the blogger’s stomach turns. It was a helluva bug but I’m on the path to recovery. I’m about 70% today but still jittery about drinking coffee or anything acidic, so a nice cuppa tea it is. I look forward to a cuppa joe tomorrow. The worst thing about that stupid MSNBC show is that it’s ruined a perfectly good phrase. I’m fighting back. Why? I’ll never know.

I’ve been pondering how best to resist the Trump-Bannon regime. My social media feeds are full of people over-celebrating minor triumphs. Yes, it’s great that Jeff Beau was caught in a stupid lie and while it damages his credibility as AG, it’s not going to bring either him or Trump down. Or if it does, it’s going to take time.

We have a predominantly 18th Century removal process in place. Impeachment is designed to be a slow, arduous process. That’s why only two Presidents have been impeached by the House and none have been removed by the Senate. Some of the Senators who voted against Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, hated the drunken, racist moron. They just didn’t think he’d committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” as constitutionally required. It’s supposed to be hard and slow to prevent injustices such as removing Bill Clinton for being horny and needy.

The 20th Century wrinkle on the removal process, the 25th Amendment, requires Republicans to turn against Trump. If they cared about the country, they would but tribal Republicanism got us in this mess and all they care about are tax cuts and placating angry Trumpers. The hardcore MAGA maggots are still out there, but had difficulty mustering crowds to support their dear leader this weekend even in the Gret Stet of Louisiana:

I am also perturbed by those who are praising former President Beavis for implicitly criticizing the current occupant. Remember: the Bushies lied their way into an unnecessary war, intimidated the media, outed an undercover CIA agent, and smeared their opponents. W has never recanted or regretted any of this. I’m willing to give him credit for being a better man than Trump but, given his track record, that’s faint praise. Repeat after me: the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend.

Then there were the people who fell for Trump’s diversionary tweets. You know the Obama bad/sick guy who bugged Trump Tower one. Yes, it was inflammatory and untrue but it was tirade with a purpose: to get his opponents to take their eye off the ball of the slowly unfolding Russia scandal. It’s a classic reality show tactic: one-up an accusation with an even more inflammatory one. If you watched the Real Housewives of Atlanta last night, you know what I’m saying. (I’m Team Kandy all the way, y’all.) Keep your eye on the ball and don’t fall for Trumpian smoke blowing. It’s what he does best; that and lie like a gaudy orange rug.

Another surreal moment took place on MSNBC’s AM Joy last Saturday. Let me preface this by saying that I love and respect Joy Reid but nobody’s perfect. She was discussing Trump’s obsession with Arnold Schwarzenegger and The Celebrity Apprentice. Joy actually said that Arnold was an ideal foil for the Insult Comedian because he was “an immigrant and conservative.” Unfortunately, Joy also dismissed Arnold’s extensive record of groping and pussy grabbing as not as bad as Trump’s. This is akin to saying it’s okay to praise GW Bush because he isn’t as big a liar as Trump. The current term for this is normalization. I hate the word but if the shoe fits, throw it. Repeat after me: the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend.

Back to the post title. Smart resistance requires neither getting too high over momentary triumphs nor too low over setbacks. This is going to take time and patience, which are qualities that seem to be in short supply in the 21st Century. There’s no scandal genie to grant your wish of removing Trump from office. The genie is out of the bottle and is hanging out with Bannon at the Brown House. They’re mocking the mugs who think this will be easy.

The people who think a quick fix is possible are the same ones who thought faithless electors would deny Trump the Presidency even if they were hazy on the details of how the electoral college works. Smart resistance also requires being better informed and taking some time to digest the news as opposed to issuing hot takes and fighting with strangers on twitter. I know people who do that but it’s not worth it, as the line from a film classic goes, “It’s Chinatown, Jake.”

These are surreal times. If anyone had told me in 1987 that Senator Al Franken would be a leading critic of president* Donald Trump thirty years later, I would have told them to stop bogarting the joint and share. One advantage the resistance has is that, as Athenae pointed out yesterday and I’ve said repeatedly, Trump has no plan, he’s making it up on the fly. In fact, Winging It With The Insult Comedian was the title of a post I wrote way back on December 9, 2015. I make no claim to be a prophet but while Bannon may have a plan, his boss has ADD or something much worse. The best response to chaos is to organize, organize, organize.

Resist smart and remember: the enemy of your enemy is not always your friend. The last word goes to the late, great Paul Kantner and Jefferson Airplane:

Vive les Maquis. I continue to have trouble sticking to that whole last word thing. Oh well, it’s the era of a demented president* who says shit like “the leaks are real, the news is fake.” So it goes.

Saturday Odds & Sods: Sick Day

The Grande Jatte Hibernators by Max Ernst

The Grande Jatte Hibernators by Max Ernst

I needed to rest my sore legs and feet after standing so much during Carnival but catching the stomach flu was not how I intended to do it. I’ll skip the details but suffice it to say that this is the longest I’ve sat up since Tuesday. I’m still afraid of eating so I’ll eat my words instead.

This week’s theme song, Sick Day by Fountains Of Wayne, was a no-brainer. A very good thing since my little gray cells aren’t firing on all cylinders as of yet:

I do have a few links to share this week, which is why I rose from my sick-bed. Also, I’m bored: sleeping all day like Oscar and Della isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, y’all.

Tweet Of The Week: I like signs. I like HuffPost senior politics editor Sam Stein. I like anti-Trump signs posted by Sam Stein:

Most people don’t have strong views about punctuation but I do; as does the author of our next piece. I’d give him a piece of advice except that I agree with him.

Satan’s Punctuation: I am on the record as being anti-exclamation point. The only good thing I can say about the Insult Comedian is that his overuse of them has led to a backlash against Satan’s punctuation. BBC Culture has an outstanding piece by Philip Cowell wherein he discusses the pernicious EP.

Along the same lines, legendary lizard lady Liprap made sure I saw this tweet by Houston Chronicle sportswriter Stephanie Stradley:

She’s a woman after my own heart. I seem to like Stephanies even if I never dated one. Of course, it’s been years since I dated at all. I guess I’m dating myself…

Let’s move on from Stephanies to one of my media crushes, Julia. Julia Ioffe:

Rootless Cosmopolitans: The State Department is in deep shit under the Trump-Bannon regime. They’re committed to “burning it down” thereby dumbing it down, which could lead to military options being first on the list as opposed to last. We saw that movie during the Bush-Cheney years and it didn’t end well. The brilliant and beautiful Julia Ioffe has the details at the Atlantic. 

Am I still allowed to issue such a compliment? I don’t want the people who attacked Steve Martin for making a similar comment about Carrie Fisher coming after me. Actually, I don’t give a shit: they’re trolls who attacked someone who knew her IRL and not just as Princess Leia. Fuck them and the tweet they rode in on.

Speaking of entitled people who want to burn it down:

The Feud: I originally planned to give up Susan Sarandon for Lent but I’m not Catholic so I won’t. Besides, the thought of her as Bette Davis and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford is impossible to pass up. Sarandon’s status as an unrepentant Buster-n-Steiner means that I’ll have to root for Joan Crawford in the upcoming FX show and I’ve always been pro-Bette. But I am a Clint Eastwood fan despite his abominable politics. Now where did I put that empty chair?

That brings me to the point such as it is. In anticipation of the teevee show, Vulture reposted a fine 2016 article by Angelica Jade Bastien about the storied Davis-Crawford feud.

That concludes this edition of sick blogging. I hope I didn’t embarrass myself any more than I do every Saturday. Admittedly, that’s a low bar in an era when the president* is praised for not whipping out his tiny member and pounding it on the podium while addressing Congress.

Thanks to the Trump-Bannon regime’s version of white nationalism, anti-Semitism is fashionable in certain quarters. As a form of rebuttal or rebuke, I’m giving three famous Jews the last word. Zeppo also attended:

marx-bros-meme

 

Lundi Gras Odds & Sods

I decided to emerge from the Carnival bubble today just to mess with y’all. Our run of hosting came to an end yesterday. It’s fun but I’m always glad when it’s over. We have two more days until we repent our Carnival sins on Ash Wednesday. I’m an agnostic but my legs are already repenting all the standing and walking I did this  year. And there’s more to come. Ouch. Pass the Ibuprofen.

Obviously, we were not impacted by the accident Saturday night at the Endymion parade. That’s the *other* parade route and we take the night off. I also hate that fucking parade: the riders tend to be suburban yahoos who snub small black chirren in favor of blond bimbos. It’s the “show your tits” parade. I like tits as much as the next guy but that parade is tacky and tawdry.

We had an enormous party on Muses Thursday. Muses is an all woman krewe who had a Dr. Seuss theme in 2017. Their signature throw is decorated shoes. One of my quirkier Muses friends, Jen K, made a shoe just for me. Remember Ken Bone? He’s the dorky dude who asked a question during the town hall Clinton-Trump debate and briefly became an internet sensation. Here is the Ken Bone shoe, Jen threw to me. Thanks, sweetie:

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In a visual pun worthy of this feature, Jen replaced the heel with a plastic bone:

33024056411_c88936023b_n

Another highlight of Carnival for me was a book signing on the Uptown parade route before the Tucks parade. There’s a rolling group in that parade: the Laissez Boys. They parade in pimped out motorized recliners whilst wearing smoking jackets. I am not making this up.

I have some friends in the group and decided to get one of them, Michael Tisserand, to sign my copy of his latest book, Krazy. It’s the story of George Herriman the creator of Krazy Kat. He was from New Orleans and was a black creole who passed as white. It’s the next book in my hopper so to speak.

Michael is an online friend so we surprised him with the help of my friend Paul aka Q. He was as thrilled as I was, “I’ve done a lot of things in this chair but never a book signing.”

Later on twitter he said this:

Here are a few pictures of the event taken by Dr. A:

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The only thing that came close to the Krazy book signing last weekend was the mishigas at the end of the Oscars. There’s a first time for everything. I hope it’s the last time for that sort of fuckup and of Jimmy Kimmel as host. Flying donuts? Mean tweets? Jimmy should get on the tour bus with Gary from Chicago.

Back to the bubble. Proteus and Orpheus await.

Seeds of Hope

The young woman sitting next to me scrunched up her face as she looked at a resume I would have killed for at her age. She had three internships, including one at a major media outlet and a second at a center for investigative journalism. She was the editor of her paper and had earned honors and awards along the way. Still, she had that look.

“I just hope I get a job,” she said. “It’s rough out there…”

I half smiled as I shook my head and told her, “You’re going to be fine. You have a ton of great experience. We just need to rearrange a few things to put the emphasis on the best stuff first…”

I suggested moving a few things around, emphasizing professional experience and pushing her college work down. We talked about her social media presence and if it would be something that would showcase her journalism or if it fit the “I ate a hot dog today. It was good.” motif. I told her I knew her boss and that he didn’t hire crappy people, so that should help her feel better about herself and that she should ask if he would be a reference for her.

In the end, she seemed to feel better and thanked me for my time.

“You’ll be fine,” I told her again, emphasizing each word. “You’ll be just fine.”

I’ve spent the last two weekends working with student journalist at a variety of conventions, which is one of the best things I do in life. Last week, it was Minnesota’s best of the Midwest convention while this week, we convened for a pro/college hybrid for the best journalism the state has to offer.

Being around people “like me” is usually a comfort to most humans, in that we enjoy social gatherings that emphasize shared, learned behavior. Even more, we tend to understand each other better when we have chewed some of the same dirt. As Eddie Murphy once remarked about marriage, “Find the perfect person for you. I’m not saying they’re perfect. Find someone just as fucked up as you are in the same way and settle down.”

Still, this convention was one I had dreaded for a number of reasons. First, I’m running the board of the college group, which means I need to show up, dress sharp and schmooze with people, all things that don’t really thrill me. Second, it’s like Bill Buckner walking back into Shea Stadium for me in many ways.

The people I know there knew the much younger version of me: The one who fucked up a lot. The one who bordered on arrogance and then swung to a complete lack of self-esteem. The one who was probably the annoying kid they wished would learn to calm down a little more and not be so excited over every police scanner call. It’s painful thinking back about that “me” and it’s even more difficult realizing how long ago that was.

The kid I helped work through her resume was someone I probably would have never dealt with back then. She worked at the Badger Herald. I’m from the Daily Cardinal. Capulet and Montague don’t have shit on that turf war. However, as I talked with her a bit, it dawned on me she wasn’t even born when I was a college journalist. The dislike I have for her institution remains, but for some reason, it wasn’t as hard as I would have once thought it to be when I helped her plan out Life 2.0.

Later that day, I walked through the exhibit hall, and I ran across a guy I worked with back when I was a night-desk reporter. Andy now runs that center for investigative journalism at which this kid was interning. When he noticed me, he stopped what he was doing to say hi and prepared to introduce me to the folks gathered around him.

One of the people who turned around was another former newspaper staff who remembered me and gave me a huge hug. It turns out Pat had retired from the paper during one of the rounds of “downsizing” efforts and was now teaching at a small, private college and advising the paper. I told her, “We need to get you onto our board…” before explaining what it is I was doing and what our college group was all about.

She had this look on her face, and I couldn’t really figure it out. It was half amazement and half pride.

“Yeah,” Andy chimed in. “He’s all grown up now…”

I laughed. He just smiled.

He remembered how excited I was the time he offered to buy me a six-pack of beer if I’d take some mundane assignment he’d been given. Andy was happy he could go on his vacation without worry. I was thrilled: You mean I’ll get some extra hours, mileage money, a story in the paper AND BEER? Holy shit!

I didn’t know if Pat remembered the time she and I were working on a Sunday together and two stories had rolled in: Racist literature was found in a news rack at a grocery store and major vandalism had hit the area Walgreens. She was coming in later and I had half of each story and I hoped she’d let me keep one. When she arrived, she told me, “Take them both. I’m working on something else.” It was like a day of free ice cream. I can still remember thinking to myself, “Wow. I’ve got TWO STORIES in the paper today. This is unbelievable.”

Back then, moments like those were the world to me. For them, it was just another day of work.

After I left Andy’s booth, I wandered over to the walls of poster board that contained the award-winning work of journalists throughout the state. Not more than a minute of browsing went by before something grabbed me: A column with a familiar face staring back at me. The hair was more professionally cut, the cheeks a bit fuller but I knew the half-grimace that stared back at me.

One of my former students: First place for local sports column.

I backed up and started from the very first board, carefully examining each byline.

Second Place: Environmental writing

Third Place: Business coverage

First Place: Local education coverage

Third Place: Feature Writing

More and more of the names came back to me. Scared kids, wondering if they’d ever get an internship. Wondering if they’d get a job. Wondering if they’d be any good.

Professional journalists, all. Award-winners to boot.

My eyes settled on the last panel where the college winners were and found one bittersweet moment:

First place, News/news features.

The kid who wrote it was my editor during last year’s run of crushing misery. She stuck with me through thick and thin, knowing her life would be so much easier if she just asked me to quit. Instead, she hunkered down and dealt with the pounding, just like I had. In the end, though, she couldn’t take it anymore.

She dropped out of school, refusing to return for her senior year. She moved on to the tech school last semester, where she hopes to earn a degree that will let her work as a nursing assistant. She never wants to be in journalism again.

She wrote a personal experience feature story on Project Semicolon, a movement that started in 2013 after founder Amy Bleuel lost her father to suicide. Bleuel also struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, so she looked for a way to communicate that struggle to others in hopes of shedding light on these mental illness issues. The non-profit organization uses the semi-colon as a symbol of how you are the author of your life and authors choose how to end a sentence. The semi-colon says, “I’m pausing here, but I will choose to continue.” Many people who back the movement get a tattoo of a semi-colon as a way of reinforcing this belief.

Katie’s piece wove her own struggles into the broader story of Project Semi-Colon, which was started only about an hour’s drive from here. The narrative thread was her decision to get the tattoo and to share that moment with her mother.

I could feel the tears welling up as I started to read the story, so I just moved on and took a breath.

A great moment. A great kid. The one I couldn’t save.

My career choice often leaves me with mixed emotions. I think back to the most stinging comment people make about educators: “Those who can’t do, teach.” There are days I think maybe they’re right. Could I have stuck with journalism for 22 years and done more and better things than I did? Maybe I’m that tragic tale of wasted youth, the human vessel of lost potential I now try to drag out of other people as some sort of penance for my own transgressions…

Then there are days like yesterday, where I see how the kids who once pondered their own inadequacies are tearing it up at various publications in places they want to be. I see it in every “noun-verb” attribution they use and how I pounded that into them. I see it in their commitment to fairness and accuracy. I see it when they email me to ask, “Hey, I don’t know if you remember me, but I was a student of yours and you really helped me out a ton… I’m looking for an intern and I was hoping you had one of your kids to help me fill the slot…”

Those days, I see myself as a good farmer: I take those little seeds and put them in the best soil I have, tend them the best I can and then watch them grow to fruition. I help make sure the seedlings get what they need to survive. I realize how important this is now more than ever, in a field littered with cutbacks, high stress and public malice toward the profession.

Maybe that’s a good way to look at this.

I sow some of these seeds of hope for journalism.

And sometimes, it’s important to step back and enjoy the garden.

Saturday Odds & Sods: The Forecast (Calls For Pain)

Rockwell

The Problem We All Face by Norman Rockwell.

We’re back on the weather roller coaster in New Orleans. One day it’s unseasonably warm, the next it’s colder than average. It’s almost as crazy as the Current Occupant of the White House. Did you see that insane press conference by the least racist and anti-Semitic person ever? In response to the crazy, I tweeted this:

I hope all the Busters and Steiners are happy right now. They insisted that there was no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. They were wrong. She’s sane.

Did y’all see the cartoon that was based on the Norman Rockwell painting that’s this week’s featured image? Here it is on the Tweeter Tube. I refuse to upload it:

That’s right, folks, Cartoonist Glenn (Not The Real) McCoy compared billionaire dilettante Betsy DeVos to NOLA’s own Ruby Bridges That’s preposterous and typical of the whiny titty babies on the Right in 2017.

Btw, BuzzFeed: You got something wrong.

On Sunday, the Belleville News-Democrat published this cartoon by Glenn McCoy. It appears to equate Betsy DeVos, Trump’s controversial pick for secretary of education, with Ruby Bridges, the first black child to attend an all-white school in the South.

Ruby Bridges *was* the first black student to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans in 1960. She was not the first overall: that honor belonged to the Little Rock Nine in 1957. The last I heard New Orleans was in the South. Y’all should spend less time cutting and pasting tweets and more time on research.

This week’s theme song fits both my mood and the temper of the times. The Forecast (Calls For Pain) comes from Robert Cray’s brilliant 1990 album Midnight Stroll:

It’s time to take a midnight stroll to the break. The forecast is for more mirth than pain on the other side.

Continue reading

Friday Guest Catblogging: Dennie Meets The Insult Comedian

Dennie the Den of Muses cat found an unusual spot to nap last week before Krewe Du Vieux marched. She spent much of the week lying on the back of a Krewe of Craps built effigy of Donald Trump in the stocks. It was tremendous. Believe me.

Here are a variety of pictures taken by my krewe-mates Wendar, Chris, Jennifer, and, of course, Dr. A. The last picture features my old pal Loki.

Dennie Trump

Dennie Trump

32095870624_004753c51e

Finally, this is the best picture of Dennie. What cat doesn’t like scritches?

Dennie Loki

Power Before Country

Comatose 2017

Krewe of Comatose float. Photograph © by Ride Hamilton.

It’s not original to think that the 21st Century Republican party *always* puts power before country. It’s Athenae’s pet hobby-horse. She wrote quite eloquently about it just yesterday. It’s time for me to climb on back of said rocking horse and join in. I’ll try not to break it. That would be too much like Henry Drummond’s Golden Dancer story in Inherit The Wind for my taste, and I try not to be overly derivative.

What am I on about? Read and learn:

I was seven years old, and a very fine judge of rocking horses. Golden Dancer had a bright red mane, blue eyes, and she was gold all over, with purple spots. When the sun hit her stirrups, she was a dazzling sight to see. But she was a week’s wages for my father. So Golden Dancer and I always had a plate-glass window between us. But—let’s see, it wasn’t Christmas; must’ve been my birthday—I woke up in the morning and there was Golden Dancer at the foot of my bed! Ma had skimped on the groceries, and my father’d worked nights for a month. I jumped into the saddle and started to rock— And it broke! It split in two! The wood was rotten, the whole thing was put together with spit and sealing wax! All shine, and no substance! Whenever you see something bright, shining, perfect-seeming—all gold, with purple spots—look behind the paint! And if it’s a lie—show it up for what it really is!

That’s how Republicans *should* have reacted to the Trump phenomenon from the git-go. The Trump “movement” is all shine and no substance, much like the Insult Comedian’s taste for gaudy, glitzy, goldleafy decor. I shuddered when I heard that the Trumps might redecorate the White House living quarters. It’s the people’s house and the thought of any of it resembling Trump Tower is nauseating. In the immortal words of Garth Algar: “I think I’m gonna hurl.” Holy crap, I’ve gone from Spencer Tracy and Fredric March to Mike Myers and Dana Carvey. And I’m okay with that. 2017 is the 25th anniversary of Wayne’s World, after all. Excellent. Party time.

Where the hell was I? Oh yeah, the rottenness beneath the surface shine of conservative ideology. They’ve made a deal with the devil to get tax cuts for the 1% and to take away people’s health care among other horrors. It’s being done in the name of freedom but it’s really just selfishness. In that way, Donald Trump epitomizes what has happened to the GOP since the Reaganite wave election in 1980. Who’s more selfish than the Insult Comedian? If you know anyone, please keep them away from me.

In the wake of the Out like Flynn moment, there was a fleeting notion that Congressional Republicans might conduct a proper inquiry of the improper Russian connection. That moment has already passed because they realize this fiasco is apt to land at Donald’s doorstep. He was warned weeks ago that Flynn was susceptible to blackmail and nothing happened until Monday night. Why? I believe Trump (aka Putin’s Pawn) knew of, and initiated, Flynn’s contacts with Putin’s people. Flynn is not the only senior administration* official who has been compromised by the Russians: every word spoken, and action taken, by Trump indicates that he is susceptible to KGB-style blackmail. As Josh Marshall put it this morning: Flynn doesn’t matter. This is about Trump.

I’m not sure where this is headed. Events have been Russian by at a break neck pace. Flynn resigned while I was publishing my post about him, which had my head spinning like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist. It’s certain that Trump administration* is headed for the rocks, it’s only a question of how extensive the damage is and who will be forced to jump overboard along with Flynn. It’s irrelevant whether he was pushed or jumped. The scariest thing about this week’s events is that Bannon is piloting the ship. The B3 Brownshirts are trying  to turn the White House into the Brown House. They’ve even unleashed Bannon’s creature Stephen Miller on the media. Unlike the rocker, he’s no Joker. Maurice would kick the little bastard in the balls.

There’s been a lot of discussion about prosecuting Flynn and other Trumpers for violations of the Logan Act. I, for one, am leery of that idea. The statute has been on the books since 1799 and it has only been invoked twice with no convictions. It was passed by a Federalist Congress and signed by President John Adams. It was aimed at the Jeffersonian Republicans who sided with the more radical factions of the French Revolution. In short, it was designed as political payback. It was mentioned by pro-Roosevelt forces during the isolationist America First moment but was never used. Wise choice.

Dusting off a 218-year-old statute to go after the Trumpers is a bad idea as far as this lapsed lawyer is concerned. It is a very frail reed and could easily be ruled unconstitutional if tested in the courts. That means anyone convicted under the law would walk and the GOPers would scream political persecution. The potential for backfire outweighs any positives.

The Logan Act is much like Golden Dancer in Henry Drummond’s story. A conviction obtained under it would be like Henry’s rocking horse: “The wood was rotten, the whole thing was put together with spit and sealing wax! All shine, and no substance!”

There’s an understandable temptation to fight fire with fire and sink to the Republicans level. I’m all for the resistance but we lose if we become carbon copies of them. Unlike our enemies, I believe in putting country before power.

I’ll give Spencer Tracy as the Clarence Darrow-like Henry Drummond the last word:

 

Crass Menagerie

Crass Menagerie

Krewe du Vieux rolled on Saturday night. It was a blast to march through the streets of the Marigny, Quarter, and CDB. I did my share of spanking and handing out throws. The Krewe of Spank’s theme was strictly local as you’ll see below but several Krewes did Trumpian themes. Below are two of the better efforts.

First, the Krewe of Mishigas with a sci-fi twist:

Mishigas 2017

That’s right, it’s Jabba the Trump.

Second, the Krewe of KAOS. Their marchers dressed as droogs, which was simultaneously brilliant and simple.

Kaos 2017

The first set of photos were taken by my old friend Brian. He also captured us Spanksters as we milled about whilst stalled. I’m not in the picture but Dr. A is:

Spanksters 2017

Spank has always done local satire. This year’s theme took a poke at JazzFest. We’ll begin with two views of the float taken by my pal, Christy Boom Boom Brackenberg:

Spank Float 2017

Spank 2017

Dig that crazy Spank-o-vision, y’all.

One of our throws was a sensation and still has the twittering classes abuzz. It’s a two-sided post card-sized parody of the JazzFest schedule cubes:

Cubes front

Cubes 2017

The cubes are, of course, loaded with fictional and wildly inappropriate acts.

A few quick notes:

Krewe du Vieux is *always* cold except for 2017. It was in the mid-70’s, which meant it was hotter than hell as we marched in our costumes. It was unnatural. We’re supposed to shiver, not sweat.

There are people in Krewe du Vieux who didn’t get the Glass Menagerie pun. The Glorious Bird weeps.

The crowd was huge and better behaved in the Quarter than in past years. Of course, it helps when you’re wielding one of these:

Paddles

And yes, people want to be spanked on the parade route. I don’t have any pictures of me doing so, all I have for you is this tweet:

Carnival is hard work. And there’s more to come. Let’s close with some seasonal music:

Saturday Odds & Sods: Night Parade

Spank Squad

Krewe of Spank float, 2015.

It’s the most wonderful day of the year, for me at least. Krewe du Vieux rolls at 6:30. That’s why the full-blown madness that is Saturday Odds & Sods has been dialed back this week. I’m too busy Krewe of Spanking, y’all.

I do, however, have a theme song: Night Parade from Robbie Robertson’s Storyville album. We march not far from where the red light district was located. It’s long gone. Time for some music. Hit it, Robbie:

I may not have a Saturday post extravaganza this week but I do have an Insult Comedian meme courtesy of my Spank krewe mate David M:

Trump Spank

That’s it for now. I’ll be back next week with a post that has more meat on the bone.

Riddler Meme

Dear CMU Republicans, Hitler was never fucking funny.

Oh for fuck’s sake:

A Central Michigan University registered student organization apologized via social media late Wednesday night after an anti-Semitic Valentine’s Day card apparently handed out by a member of the group sparked anger among students and community members.
The Valentine features a photo of Adolph Hitler on the front and the words, “My love 4 u burns like 6,000 Jews,” and is signed “XOXO, Courtney.”

I’m waiting for Sean Duffy to find the “good things” that came out of this whole Holocaust deal, now that it’s clear we can always find a silver lining in whatever stupid shit people on your team do.

A rally against hate came out after this hit the fan at CMU, and it’s good that people get loud enough to let assholes know that this kind of behavior isn’t acceptable. That said, who the fuck thought this was a good idea in the first place? Someone actively went about building this stupid valentine and made sure to place multiple copies into the bags of students who were getting them. And of course, I’m sure, they thought it was hysterical because, hey, nobody THEY know ever got shoved in an oven or gassed in a shower. I mean, can’t we all get past this?

When I was in fifth grade, we had a Holocaust speaker and I will never forget some of the stories he told us about death and hopelessness. I can still see his gnarled, age-spotted hands in my mind’s eye as he pointed to the ceiling during a story of how he watched a man hang himself from the rafters with a belt and did nothing to stop him. It was survival, he explained, and we didn’t have the luxury of worrying about people we knew but for whom we had no direct responsibility.

He came back and spoke to us one more time a few years later. During that time, there were many people who still could speak but chose not to. People who hid their tattoos and spoke about such things only in hushed tones or drunken despair. As the years went by, however, there were fewer and fewer people who could speak from a first-person perspective on what had happened.

When I wrote for the local paper, I met a woman who escaped from Germany before the Holocaust. She married a man later who survived Bergen-Belsen and she told me the horrors he experienced. Until the day he died, he slept motionless, with his arms crossed, because that’s how he was forced to sleep in the camps.

At each institution I taught, whenever a speaker on this topic visited, I actively encouraged my students to attend. I explained that it would be horrifying and painful, but that it was something that they MUST experience in life if they are to understand basic human decency and dignity. To understand how those places existed and took so much from so many for such a stupid fucking reason was to understand the dark side of humankind.

I have to admit, I’m sure I said and did a lot of shit stupid things when I was that age. I’m sure I didn’t sidestep every gay joke or correct every negative stereotype associated with race or gender. I’m positive that I am fortunate as hell that social media didn’t exist back then, or else, God alone knows what might have come rolling out today about me. However, stupid though I was, I knew there were very clearly some things that were way the fuck out of bounds.

Hitler is NOT a meme or the ace in the hole you drop when you want to win an argument. He was the central gear in a movement that showed us how deep the rabbit hole really is and how dark night can be. He is not a colloquialism.

Neither is rape, as in “That math test totally raped me.”

Neither is gay,  as in “He’s so gay over his new truck.”

Neither are a dozen other terms that take life-altering events and turns them into euphemisms for casual conversation.

The thing that makes it easier for us to course-correct some of these fuckups is to have actual, live examples of those things that show up in everyone’s faces and say, “Really? The math test slipped something in your drink, took you to an apartment and told you to relax as it ripped off your clothes and forced itself into you repeatedly as you were too incapacitated to move, scream or fight, leaving you with a lifetime of physical, mental and emotional scars? It did all that?”

Unfortunately, we keep losing those people who can explain what life was like living six inches from death for years at a time because of the whims of a madman. And because time erodes direct contact and immediate understanding, we get the Hitler Valentine and someone who thinks it’s fucking funny.

Confessions Of A Super Bowl Troll

I’m a bad American sports fan. I don’t *have* to watch the entire Super Bowl unless there’s a team I like playing. Last night, we watched an old John Ford movie, then tuned in for Lady Gaga’s half time show and the rest of the game. A lot of people missed her subtle political subtext but my friend Roberta did not:

Sometimes the subtle can be radical. I found her opening with snippets of “God Bless America,” “This Land is Your Land” and the pledge to be audacious and absolutely brilliant. She let the righties know that they have no monopoly on love for the USA, and she reminded lefties that there are bigger reasons to fight for what’s right than whatever our own, personal identity may be. And then came the Big, Gay Anthem. It was a million times more brilliant than an overt FU to Trump. Had she done something blatant, it would have fulfilled the negative expectations of the haters and allowed them to dismiss her as just another rude, obnoxious liberal. By making the song selections she did, she made it impossible for them to do that. It’s really quite genius.

Thanks for boiling that down so I don’t have to, R. It’s good to have clever friends who understood that Gaga was working with a scalpel and not a meat dress cleaver last night. And, yes. I like Lady Gaga. Sue me.

Everything is political in the winter of our discontent including this Super Bowl. (I refuse to use the Roman numeral: it’s pompous beyond belief.) Much of the country was rooting for the underdog Atlanta Falcons and against the plutocratic Patriots with their overt ties to Trump via owner Robert Kraft, Coach Grumpy, and Brady the ball inflator. I was too despite the fact that many in New Orleans consider rooting against the Falcons to be a Nolier than thou litmus test. The Falcons are, of course, the Saints arch-rivals but that’s mere sports hate. Real world concerns trumped sports hate for me yesterday.

One reason I pulled for the losing team is some of the people who were rooting for the winning team. The president* was one but so were some more blatant bigots. Here’s a sampler from my old “friend” the erstwhile Gret Stet Fuhrer and that punchable Nazi, Richard Spencer:

Rumor has it that Trump wants to gay marry Tom Brady but is afraid of Mike Liar Liar Pence On Fire’s reaction. I suspect the white-haired prevaricator from Hoosierland could find a way to rationalize it. It’s his specialty as Trump’s Veep.

Let’s do some virtual Nazi punching:

Can’t have a majority black city’s team win the big game. Of course, it’s already happened with the Saints. (I’m too lazy to research other possibilities. Again, sue me.) Also, one of the white receivers is Jewish. Chew on that, you fourth-rate Streicher.

Spencer also called Brady an Aryan avatar. I am not making this up. Does Spencer’s fulsome praise make Brady a white nationalist or neo-Nazi? Of course not, but his silence about his less savory fans makes him look like a worm, weasel, or toady. The Patriots represent one of the bluest regions in the country so I hope that someone in the Commonwealth calls him on this shit. It would give Brady the chance to spout *new* clichés. The old ones are getting a bit shopworn.

Another thing that makes me a bad American is that I didn’t pay much attention to the ads. I’ll let others talk about them elsewhere. I was too busy trolling lefty Saints fans who allowed their sports hate to overrule everything else. I don’t get extreme sports hate. I dislike some sports teams but I *hate* racism and bigotry and those who go along with it infinitely more. There’s a perfect example here at First Draft of putting real world concerns above sports hate. Athenae and Mr. A are ardent Packers fans who hail from Wisconsin yet they live in Chicago, which is home to the Packers arch-rival, Da Bears. I guess they should move in order to satisfy the purity trolls. It’s just sports, it’s supposed to be fun and unimportant. Football isn’t life, it’s just a game.

I, for one, am glad that this particular Super Bowl is over. Its peculiar mix of sports hate stupidity and politics will not be missed. One good thing that happened was that Roger Goodell got booed last night in Houston. Sometimes you get the sweet with the bitter.

I think Mick and Keith got it right by analogy with this song so I’ll give them the last word:

 

 

 

Saturday Odds & Sods: Trouble In Mind

Woodruff Underground RR

The Underground Railroad by Hale Woodruff, 1942.

Another week, another mural as the featured image. Hale Woodruff is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice. If you don’t recognize Trump’s Frederick Douglass quote, I have failed as a blogger.

It has been a Krewe of Spank-centric week at Adrastos World HQ. We’ve been helping with the float, buying costume bits, and even went to a pizza-n-shirt-iron-on party. Bet you’ve never done that. We also drank beer. Bet you’ve done that.

This week’s theme song was selected with our politically chaotic moment in mind. I am mindful of the fact that Trouble In Mind was written in 1924 by jazz pianist Richard Jones. It has been recorded oodles of time by oodles of artists. I have selected worthy versions by Big Bill Broonzy, Nina Simone, and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the post only without the dirt or the band. That’s right, this post will be unbroken…

Emmett Till: Every social movement requires a spark. For the Civil Rights movement, the spark was provided by the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955. In fact, Jesse Jackson describes a conversation with Rosa Parks that confirms the importance of Emmett Till:

“I asked Miss Rosa Parks [in 1988] why didn’t she go to the back of the bus, given the threat that she could be hurt, pushed off the bus, and run over, because three other ladies did get up. She said she thought about going to the back of the bus. But then she thought about Emmett Till and she couldn’t do it.”

There’s a new book about the murder of Emmett Till wherein author Timothy Tyson got the woman who was allegedly the target of unwanted attention by Till to admit that nothing much really happened. Vanity Fair’s Sheila Weller has the details.

It’s abundantly clear that the Current Occupant has no knowledge of the Civil Rights movement or how important it is to many of us. It didn’t involve him directly so it’s off his radar screen. I suspect Trump and his dreadful, racist daddy regarded the movement as a nuisance. It made it harder for them to discriminate against black folks in their apartment buildings in the outer boroughs, after all. So it goes.

We go from the crime that inspired the Civil Rights movement to a look at how Hollywood is taking on the  Insult Comedian.

The New Culture War: We tend to think of Pats Buchanan and Robertson when we think about the culture war. Buchanan’s 1992 GOP convention speech scared the living shit out of middle-American and was a factor in Poppy Bush’s defeat. Thanks, Pat.

The culture war used to be a right-wing thing. It no longer is. The Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries takes a look at how Hollywood and others on the left are standing up to the Insult Comedian. My favorite bit involves the divine Julia Louis-Dreyfus:

At last Sunday’s Screen Actors Guild awards in Hollywood, barely anyone who got to the stage failed to denounce Donald Trump’s immigrant ban. Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, for instance, accepting her award for outstanding performance by a female actor in a comedy series with her portrayal of a (with all due respect) venal and useless president, said: “I am the daughter of an immigrant. My father fled religious persecution in Nazi-occupied France, and I am an American patriot … I love this country. I am horrified by its blemishes. This immigrant ban is a blemish, and it is un-American.”

Her speech came from the heart and was clearly not written by Selina Meyer’s staff. They would have found a way to fuck it up and elect Hugh Laurie President…

There’s already a backlash over comments like Julia’s and Meryl Streep’s but, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. The rank hypocrisy on the right about celebrities in politics is breathtaking. The GOP elected an actor President, sent Gopher from The Love Boat and Sonny Bono to Congress, and now they complain about free speech from Julia and Meryl. As the Cowardly Lion would surely say, DA NOIVE.  I fed Siri that sentence and she had a nervous breakdown. It was most amusing.

Speaking of the culture wars, our next segment takes a look at cursing. Hmm, I wonder if we still have a fuck quota at First Draft.

Fucking Around: There’s a motherfucking good review at the New York Review of Books by Joan Acocella of two bloody buggery bollocky books about swearing. You should read the fucker. Fuckin’ A.

Speaking of people who got fucked over, here’s a look back at Grateful Dead’s 1970 arrest in New Orleans. They did not return to the Crescent City until 1988.

Busted Down On Bourbon Street: The Grateful Dead were “set up like a bowling pin” in New Orleans on January 31, 1970. The city fathers were terrified that hippies would overrun the city and interfere with their drinking. They simply could not have that.

There’s a fun look back at Live For Live Music.com. I can say fun because nothing much came of the bust except for semi-lurid headlines and this mug shot of a certain lead guitar player:

man_file_1055638_jerry-mugshot-1970

Notice that Jerry had the good sense to smile, not glower in his mugshot. Never let the bastards see you sweat.

I obviously have to post a version of Truckin’ at this juncture. This is a good ‘un complete with tight musicianship and sloppy vocals, both trademarks of the good old Grateful Dead:

Let’s move on to a sporadic Odds & Sods feature:

Separated At Birth? I added a question mark because I’m not 100% sure this works but it cracked me up when I saw it on the Tweeter Tube.

Instead of being leery of the idea, Leary responded without so much as a leer:

Just imagine it: Denis Leary in The Bowling Green Massacre. He really needs to wear Kellyanne Liar’s inauguration day outfit:

conway-meme

Let’s move from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Saturday Classic: I posted the Queen of Soul earlier, it’s time to listen to the King of Soul, Otis Redding. Note that the album begins with Ole Man Trouble. It has nothing to do with the Insult Comedian but we do have more than our share of trouble right now.

That’s it for this week. We’ll be back with more hijinks and shenanigans next week. Who better to have the last word than three Jokers? Heath, Jack, and Cesar beat the hell out of the joker in the White House. Figuratively, not literally.

jokers-memejpg

“Keep it”

I was 12 years old when my great-grandfather died and my experiences with him were limited to Christmas events, birthday parties and the occasional times we watched a parade from his porch. Most of what I know comes from family legends and stories others told. Two things sat at the core of each tale:

  • He worked hard all his life.
  • He was an immigrant.

I thought about him this week with the immigrant ban, the Muslim ban or whatever the hell “anti-terrorist” spin the alt-White House is putting on this. His life spanned exactly 100 years and there was a lot of life in those years.

He came from a country that no longer exists: the “Kingdom of Bohemia” which later became squished into Czechoslovakia. Bias was pretty clear in that area of the woods as the Czechs and Slovaks didn’t have a lot of love for one another. The Bohemians were kind of the Stu Sutcliff of that area, but after World War I, they got stuffed into this new set of boundaries and that was that.

Great-grandpa was long gone by then, setting off for America on ship of some kind. How he got the ticket or how much money he had on him never made it into the family story, but he came from a family of farmers in the Old Country, so the answers were probably “No clue” and “Not much.” What did make it into the mix was that he met my great-grandmother when he got here, another Bohemian refugee. They were in the early 20s when they got married, or “spinsters” in the language of the time. Nobody thought it would last or that any future generations would spring forth.

They stayed married 72 years, until great-grandma died at 96, and produced four children (“Joe, Doc, Pa and Aggie,” my father would say.) So much for conventional wisdom.

They landed in a small Wisconsin town abutting Milwaukee, where my grandfather found work at the local factory, like most immigrants. He was a carpenter by trade, however, so each summer he would quit the factory job and build houses in the area to earn a better living. When his own family had reached a critical mass, he built one for them, finishing it up right around the time my grandfather was born. He lived there, raised four kids in that tiny building, outlived all of them and died in his own bed a month after he turned 100.

The backyard was the size of a two-car garage, but it sported a plum tree that produced enough fruit to eat, can and squeeze into a liquor-based form. When he sensed the plum tree was coming to the end of its useful life, he’d plant a half dozen seeded saplings and wait for one to assert dominance. He’d then destroy the others and chop down the old tree. The plum wood served to heat the house and cure meat.

He had a postage-stamp sized garden that was crammed to the hilt. Every time he picked something, he planted a new item to squeeze more food out of his patch of land. He also went to church every morning with a small paper bag, a useful item to collect the mushrooms he found along the way. By noon, great-grandma turned his find into a soup. That would be lunch.

Of all the stories I remember, this one always stuck with me:

Somewhere around between the World Wars, he got an official letter from a government agency in the old country. It explained that his father had died and that as the oldest son, he had inherited the family farm. It was a reasonably decent enterprise and during that era (the Great Depression), the farm would provide him a nice financial boost. The letter said he had to go back to fill out some papers and it was his. He could even sell it right then and there if he wanted.

My great-grandmother, who never really bothered to learn much English, wanted to go back. She missed her homeland and she also wanted to show off how well the family was doing. My great-grandfather, a practical man who knew how tenuous life could be in unstable times, scrawled a word in Bohemian on the letter and sent it back.

The mystery of that letter and the farm and the family remained part of frequent discussions around the family. We never really knew what happened or why until somewhere around his 90th or 95th birthday, where my father and his siblings managed to get great-grandpa to sit down at the kitchen table and tell stories. He eventually got around to the story about the farm and revealed what he had  written:

“Keep it.”

My great-grandfather saw himself as living the American dream. He came here with very little, found love, started a family and set down roots from which future generations could grow. He knew that if he went elsewhere, he might not get back or might not get let out. The whims of others would dictate his situation if he decided to reconfigure his life. So, he stayed put, built a life and never stopped working to improve things around him. (Another legendary family story was when my father stopped by to wish him a happy 97th birthday, only to find him on a rotten wood ladder climbing onto the roof. “Grandpa, what are you doing?” my dad shouted. “I cleaning rain gutters,” he said in his broken English. “But Johnny (a 30something cousin of mine) just cleaned those last week!” Great-grandpa shook his head. “You kids… You never do good enough job.”)

For generations, people who ARE here have always come up with reasons that THEY are OK being here, but THOSE GUYS shouldn’t be. It’s a continual series of, “Go back where you came from!” We can make weak arguments about potential terrorism, but that’s all they are: weak arguments by irrational people hoping to keep others from taking something they believe is essentially theirs. It’s less of a “Give me your tired” crowd and more of a “Go back where you came from!” contingency that makes the noise.

Great-grandpa never mentioned outright bias or hatred. He wore it on his face: A grim, tight-lipped determinism seemed to be his resting pulse. Dad heard stories second and third hand about how if it weren’t for a particular supervisor who liked great-grandpa, he’d have been out on his ass several times, simply because he wasn’t “one of us.”

What Trump and his supporters tend to forget is that every point in time, all of us used to be “one of them.”

Three or, A List of Things, In No Particular Order, My Daughter Says Now

“Up. Up. Up. UP. UP. UUUUUUUUUUP.” This is her morning greeting and my daily alarm clock. With the exception of an 18-month sleep regression that almost killed us all, Kick has always been a championship sleeper. She has never once, however, climbed out of her crib. She stays in there, yelling in increasing volume, until she’s fetched from it, and as much as sometimes I would love for her to just get up and get dressed and make her own damn breakfast for once, most days I get out of bed smiling at the steady increase in volume and exasperation.

“That doesn’t sound right.” This is an all-purpose phrase for declining anything she doesn’t want to do, from putting her toys away to eating her dinner to getting out of the bath. It has the effect of making me laugh, whereas her previous go-to, a loud NO followed by screaming, got her a time-out and a discussion about what exactly deserves to be made a federal case in this house. While I’m laughing at the airy detachment with which she interrogates even the most mundane request, she gets to keep playing, so it’s an effective temporary tactic if not a permanent one.

“Come on, guys.” This is always either directed at her plastic animals and dinosaurs when they are being recalcitrant, or at the football players on the TV to whom Dad has just said something very rude.

“I’m going to work.” She gets up sometimes, from playing, and puts on her sunglasses and picks up a Hello Kitty bucket in which she shoves some random collection of plastic toys, and bids me adieu as she saunters down the hall. Working mom guilt is bullshit, but it is real bullshit, and that she sees it as normal for her tiny little female self to have a job assuages some of it.

Some.

“I want to be alone right now.” I suggested she say this as a polite alternative after she told me to “go away” while she played with her toys. Kick has always needed her space. Even as a newborn, she would get overstimulated and only calm down when put down in her bassinet by the window, where she could watch the birds and catch her breath. She hugs and cuddles on her terms, for a few moments, and then is off again, completely at home in her skin.

“Whose streets? Our streets!” She picked that one up at the Women’s March last weekend in Chicago. Kick’s an easygoing child, and generally willing to be dragged along on whatever trip Mom and Dad were taking anyway. She’s spent a lot of time in the car driving to various relatives’ and friends’, she loves street festivals and anything outdoors and loud, so seeing the weather was balmy we determined to all go protest as a family.

Someone asked us at a party once what our “parenting philosophy” was, and I said something like, “we are hoping to keep her from electrocuting herself until we can send her to college.” An only slightly expanded version is this: We will do stuff on the assumption that she can handle it, and preserve an escape route in case she can’t. An acquaintance, seeing her picture as she reveled in the experience, wondered if she “really” understood what the march was about or what was happening.

Of course she didn’t.

A good friend, while I was publicly fretting about one of Kick’s feral, stabby phases, described parenting preschoolers as “creating norms” and I’ve been relaxed ever since she said it, like the job is not to control their behavior but to show them what normal behavior is. At this age, you are building muscle memory. They are saying please and thank you because it gets them what they want and makes you happy, not because they understand the network of underlying social conventions that make up humanity. They refrain from hitting or biting not out of profound empathy but because the last time they did that you subjected them to a severe talking-to and took away a stuffy.

And normal behavior when confronted with injustice has to be to confront it right back. Nothing weakens you like thinking you are powerless, and she will never be powerless. She can be whatever she wants, except that.

The older she gets, the more aware I am of the ways in which the world is designed to hurt her. When she was tiny and fragile, it was cold and sickness I feared. As she grew, it was sidewalks and slides and jungle gyms and anything else that would bruise or scrape her. Now, now that she walks with confidence and runs with joyous abandon and plays with curiosity and focus, I turn my attention to all the discouraging things people say.

The things people say when you’re a girl: “Get your shotgun, Dad.” All the things people say when you’re young.”The teenage years are going to be tough!”All the worries and the drags and the “oh, she’s not doing this yet?” I turn my attention to those things because the other day at dinner Mr. A and I were discussing something to do with her preschool and she turned to us and said, “Are you talking about me?”

We used to be able to have whole conversations, even arguments, about her without her ever catching on. Now she notices and she knows, and she says it right back.

A.

Saturday Odds & Sods: End Of The Line

Rivera

Man at the Crossroads by Diego Rivera.

The image you see above began life as a joke at a rich man’s expense. Nelson Rockefeller commissioned the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera to do a fresco at Rockefeller Center. Big mistake: Rivera was not only a lefty, he was a Communist. If you take a closer look at the image you can see Lenin, Trotsky, and Karl Marx among the figures. The future Governor of New York was not amused and had the mural destroyed. Mercifully for art lovers, Rivera had a friend take pictures of the Rocky mocking work. He later did a second version in Mexico City. Take that, Rocky. There’s a lesson in this story for our times even if Rocky’s politics weren’t as odious as those of the Insult Comedian.

This January is a time for sad songs. End Of The Line is a rock torch song. It was written by Bryan Ferry for Roxy Music’s brilliant 1975 album Siren. I listened to Siren obsessively during the bleakest time of my life and it helped me get through it. Thanks, Roxy.

We begin with the studio version; sung by Ferry as if his heart was ripped out of his chest. It’s followed by a swell but less overtly emotional 1993 cover by Concrete Blonde:

I’ve also been known to sing End Of The Line under my breath when taking the bus or streetcar downtown to Canal Street, which is the you know what. I don’t think I’ve been caught in the act but ya never know. I suppose this is as good time as any to insert the break thingamabob. See you on the other side.

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Friday Catblogging: I Looked Away

Help, I’m running out of clever catblogging titles. The best I could do this week was to use an Eric Clapton song title. So it goes:

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And yes, Oscar’s bald spot is back. Otherwise he’s as fit as a fiddle and ready to play some Dominos.