Who the hell cares?

Apologies for my quietude.  I’ve fallen into one of those rare moments of clarity, one might say “my muse hath come my way,” and I have been trying to make use of each moment she deigns to stick around. But I had to weigh in on a current controversy.

In 1994, an American writer by the name of Ethan Canin published a short story collection titled after its most famous story, The Palace Thief.  In this story, Mr. Hundert is a classics instructor at an elite prep school outside of Washington DC who encounters a student (Sedgewick Bell) who has no ethics. Bell mocks Mr. Hundert and the other boys in the class who are there to learn.

When Mr. Hundert catches him cheating at their annual Mr. Julius Caesar Contest, he calls the boy out. Twenty-five years later Bell gets his chance at vindication when, as a candidate for Senate, he lures Mr. Hundert and his former classmates to a campaign fundraiser at his estate and convinces them to recreate the Mr. Julius Caesar Contest. Again Bell cheats and Mr. Hundert calls him out.  But not in front of Bell’s audience of wealthy campaign donors. Instead, he lectures him in private.

The book was made into a movie titled The Emperor’s Club.  It’s a very good movie, however in the book Mr. Hundret is a far more complicated character than Kevin Kline’s portrayal. His commitment to teaching and to ethics borders on prissiness and inflexibility. He’s accused of being detached from the “real” world and his dedication is unappreciated by his peers. So, when he realizes he’s devoted his entire adult life to creating honorable men and has failed miserably with a man who might one day be in a position of great power, he falls off the cliff and into an ocean of self-doubt.  Is he mourning the decline of ethics in the modern world or the futility of his own life?  It’s hard to tell.

I thought about the Emperor’s Club this week as the Senate moves to approve the nomination of someone like Bell to the Supreme Court.  I’m not saying that  Kavanaugh would be the first unethical prep school boy in a position of power,  but the alarm has been sounded. Are the words of writers and the efforts of movie makers in vain in this our new reality, the real world? As Bell says, who the hell cares?

A Plea from the Headwaters

From the SF Chronicle today: “Our culture does not know the dream of the individual, the single person.  We have never lived with the dream of the self-made man.  We only know a world of symbiotic coexistence, one universe, and shared perpetual interconnectivity.  And that is what we wish to share, considering the destruction of the headwaters of the Amazon and the “aerial rivers” of vapor will affect both the residents of your Fisherman’s Wharf and our Sapara community of Naku.”

Read the whole article here:


The Fruit Stand Guy

This post was inspired by Dan Antion’s recollection of an event during which people were compelled by compassion to sacrifice for a stranger.  I thought I’d try to carry on the idea.

Not my gang but much the same.

I’ve known many people who’ve made great sacrifices of their time and energy to help others.  One couple, I’ve known longer than I care to admit, organized a monthly dinner for fifty to eighty seniors who were living barely above homelessness and it wasn’t one of those cafeteria-style soup kitchen deals.  This was a sit down meal with waiters (us), real silverware and china.  And we made everything from scratch: green salad, meatloaf, mashed potatoes (with gravy) and corn. We served each course separately and always ended with a generous piece of sheet cake topped with an inch of icing and those fancy little rosettes. Then we did the cleanup.  Although the seniors always thanked us profusely, it was the couple who organized the event, buying all the food and then distributing left-overs to homeless shelters, that deserved all the praise.  Although they no longer have the time for the senior dinners, they still manage to be the most generous folks I know. 

But what needs highlighting in these troubling times are those unexpected events that give a group of people the opportunity to go out of their comfort zone to help a someone they barely know. I have to admit, when I sat down with this theme in mind, my mind went blank.  I thought oh no, that can’t be right. Certainly those of us who’ve been around for a while should be able to recall many an instance of spontaneous compassion.

And then, luckily, this story came to mind.

My daughter lives in a beach town north of San Diego, which, for those of you outside of   the United States, is a city from which you can see Mexico.  It also has a large port and therefore a huge Naval presence. Whenever we visit, I always insist we stop at a tiny market along the coastal highway that sells produce and the best tortillas available in the States. They also have a variety of speciality foods used primarily in Mexican recipes, and, homemade fruit pies. The clerk is a young man who is slight of build but generous of smile.  The regulars address him by his first name.  Let’s say that name is Juan.

One morning a post appeared on Facebook, shared by my daughter, that Juan had been detained by the immigration officials.  Apparently he’d been pulled over while driving home and then arrested, not because he was here illegally but because his papers weren’t in order.   Then he was taken to a detention center for an unspecified amount of time. I don’t know who did it  the owner of the market or one of the regulars but someone had created a GoFundMe to raise money for a lawyer for Juan.  So that evening, after talking it over with the hubs and determining an amount to contribute, I went to the GoFundMe site, credit card in hand. 

Guess what folks? I was too late.  They’d already raised almost fifteen thousand dollars.  More than enough for the lawyer and so the site had been closed.  After a week had passed, I heard that he’d been released but was too traumatized to return to work for awhile. Makes you afraid to imagine what all those detained children are going through. 

Anyway, that’s my story.  I hope I can remember more.  I really do.  How about you?  #TheBestinPeople is something to pass on and so I have.  Thanks Dan.

The Best in People – #1LinerWeds

A poignant reminder of human compassion.

No Facilities

I’ve had this subject kicking around in my drafts folder for years. As we enter the season of political ads, non-stop analysis and social media spew that seems designed to pit everyone against everyone else, I thought this little story might help. Also, given that the heat index in Connecticut is supposed to be 110°f (43°c) today, I think the setting and the photos will make us feel better.

This story starts on Halloween in 2011. A freak snow storm dropped a foot of heavy wet snow onto trees that had not yet lost most of their leaves. The devastation came quickly. By 7:00 pm, we had lost power. Not just our house, not just our street, the entire town and most of the region. We remained without power for ten days.

It wasn’t as bad as you might imagine, for several reasons:

The company I work for allowed us…

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Wonderful Opportunities on Mars

I turned on the television last night and watched a reporter interview a group of Trump supporters about the Space Force.  He asked them perfectly reasonable questions such as: We already have a branch of the military dedicated to space exploration.  Why do we need to spend billions of dollars for another? 

The answer that made the most sense was “Because I like the way it sounds.

Another question was: What will the purpose of the Space Force be?

There again the answers befuddle the mind. Apparently General Zod is planning to return from exile and join forces with the ISIS terrorists currently circling earth in their drones and, because Superman is dead, we’re up shit creek without a paddle without Space Force.

Kneel before Zod

The last question I remember was:  The Pentagon says forming another branch of the military is pointless so why go to that expense?

The Sea of Tranquility on Mars, honest.

Guess what? NASA hasn’t been telling us the truth about what’s up in space. Mars is a lush paradise with riches beyond belief and plenty of oil so drill, baby, drill!  Jobs for everybody! 

Here’s the question I wish the reporter would have asked: Once Space Force conquers Mars and forces out the current occupants (who are illegal rapists and murderers from the planet Saturn) would you take advantage of his offer to send you and your family on an all expenses paid vacation to the Trump Red Planet Resort on the Sea of Tranquility? 

What question would you like to ask Trump supporters about Space Force?

What do your favorite movies say about you?

I had an intriguing comment from Mr. Duke Miller on my last post.  He wrote that when he had to interview people he asked them for a joke and then the names of their three favorite movies.  His jokes would start with a man drinking in a bar and his top movies were: Old Yeller, Psycho, and Blue Velvet which he interpreted to mean he liked mezcal, soft cloth, hot showers and dogs.  I’m sure he probably does.  But who doesn’t?  So I thought if I were interviewing Duke what would my take away be? 

After struggling to ferret out the commonality between the three,  I decided his choice in movies meant he valued loyalty above all else. Here’s why.  Old Yeller is a dog who puts his life on the line to save his family,  Norman Bates is so devoted to his mother that he dresses up like her, and Jeffrey Beaumont simply must try to save a damsel in the most extreme distress.  All three protagonists are loyal.  Duke’ll probably inform me that I’m totally full of beans and so I decided what’s fair is fair and provided my three choices for his analysis. My picks were North by Northwest, Tender Mercies and Mr. Smith goes to Washington. Really doesn’t say much about me, does it?  In the first, a case of mistaken identity almost gets a man killed.  The second is a slow paced story of redemption and the third is about the filibuster to end all filibusters!  I have a thing, evidently, for hopeless causes. 

Just for fun. What do your three favorite movies say about you? 

By the way.  Duke didn’t offer me the job. And I’m not really a shrink although I do play one in a book (Flipka) so any analyses provided by me is not worth the time you might take to read it.   It’s just for fun on a hot Sunday when trying to avoid cleaning that dirty kitchen  floor.


What not to do on a hot and smokey day

Generally to escape a hot and smokey day I turn on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), a channel that airs primarily movie classics.  Take me away to the frozen tundra of Dr. Zhivago or the beaches of The Black Stallion. I don’t care.  Any place but here.

However, yesterday, they were broadcasting movies set at the height of the Cold War, 1964, an era of bomb shelters, duck and cover exercises and squadrons ready at any moment to start World War III. Of course that year I could care less about the end of the world.  The Beatles had landed and all that mattered was which one I was going to marry.  I was leaning towards George but then John was so clever and Paul kept telling me with babyfaced sincerity how much he loved me. So it was a hard decision.  Other than chocolate, they were literally all that existed in my addled pre-teen brain. 

I do remember Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb because it starred another great love of my life, Peter Sellers.  It may have the same premise as Fail Safe, the movie I saw yesterday, but Strangelove is so off-the-wall wacky that at least you get a few laughs.

Fail Safe takes itself much more seriously.  The movie was shot in black and white, using as many sharp edges and deep shadows as possible.  Thus, it’s one of those movies so hyperreal that when a character lights up a cigarette you can smell the smoke.  I turned it on just as a squadron of high speed jets carrying nuclear weapons reach the so-called fail safe boundaries. Because of an earlier, misidentified blip on the radar, they assume the US has been attacked and that they have been given the green light to bomb Moscow.

By the time the Central Command figures out what has happened, the pilots have entered a mandatory state of  radio silence.  Enter the President (Henry Fonda) to save the day. At least that’s what I hoped so I stuck with it.  What follows is a heated debate between generals and their “experts” about what to do. The final decision is to send a group of jets on a doomed mission to shoot down their own colleagues.  By this point the Soviet Premier is on the phone with Henry Fonda who promises if our bombers can’t be stopped, he will bomb New York City.  Bye, bye Moscow.  Bye, bye Manhattan.  It’s not the sort of movie to perk you up. On a hot and smokey day, you want Henry Fonda to save the world.

Of course the plot is about as believable as, I don’t know, Dr. Strangelove.  But the ending  is unforgettable.