Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

  • Blog
  • November 16th, 2018

…..DON’T ASK ME!

By Joel M. Vance

Okay, the election is over. We all are disappointed to tears or elevated to joy. Time to get back to the realities of life, like cowboy bars.  There are bars and there are bars. There is the “Cheers” bar where the same group of regulars gather every day to knock back a few and listen to Cliff Clavin  pontificate  on dubious theories and watch Sam Malone try to make out with his latest squeeze. Then there’s Duffy’s Tavern for those of you with long lives and longer memories who recall the opening: “Duffy’s Tavern where the elite meet to eat. Duffy ain’t here. Archie the manager speakin’.”

 

And there are roadhouses, distinct from cowboy bars although both are far more likely to serve beer in pitchers as opposed to cocktails with fruity little umbrellas in them. Anyone asking for a Manhattan or a James Bond martini, “shaken not stirred”  in either of them would likely wind up in the parking lot with multiple bruises.  Both have music and dancing but there the similarities end.

 

A roadhouse is far more likely to feature the music of a jukebox, whereas the cowboy bar is more likely to host a live band. And, while beer drinking is the preferred form of exercise while seated, active participation in Terpsichore is so de rigueur the beer often goes flat while the table occupants are busy figuratively cutting rugs (although no carpet ever adorns the scuffed wood floors of either roadhouses or cowboy bars).

 

I have had a lifelong aversion to barroom dancing faster than what we called buckle polishing  since a traumatic incident in 1955 in Lawton, Oklahoma, where I, filled with misplaced confidence after a couple of beers, dared to ask a beer joint queen to dance with me, possibly to Fats Domino’s spirited rendition of “Ain’t That a Shame?”. The shame, it quickly turned out, was mine when the girl stopped mid-dance and snarled “What the hell are you doing?” Two things were obvious to me. She knew what she was doing— and she knew I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Her words stuck a psychological stiletto in me which has lasted now for some 60 years.

 

I’ve tried nearly everything to cure myself of this psychosomatic roadblock short of psychiatric treatment, which costs far more than the beer that doesn’t go flat while I sit at the table and watch the active dancers, often with my date as a participant. How I wish I could equal my wife Marty (my date of 62 years) as she pirouettes and gracefully spins like the vintage Ginger Rogers.

 

She loves dancing and has since her teenage years frequenting Louie’s Sweetshop, a Macon, Missouri, ice cream parlor hangout for the teenage crowd, with no beer, but a jukebox and a throng of dance worthy Macon high school teens who could easily have outclassed the gum chewing teenyboppers of Dick Clark’s Bandstand.

 

Every time the movie Swing Time appears on television I watch it. Ginger Rogers is a dance instructor who is assigned Fred Astaire, with whom she has had a previous disagreement. Fred pretends to be a bumbling incompetent at learning to dance and she is exasperated with him until, like a beautiful butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, he becomes Fred Astaire and they in turn become Fred and Ginger and not once does she stop him and snarl “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

 

I have tried the Astaire approach to dancing many times over the years and have the bumbling Fred part  down pat; however, so far, my butterfly remains locked up in an impenetrable chrysalis. Mr. Astaire summed up my lifelong attitude toward dancing perfectly in 1936 in the movie Roberta when he memorably sang “I won’t dance, don’t ask me” and summed up his reluctance this way: “I feel so absolutely stumped on the floor.”

 

Of course he finally did get coaxed to the floor and proved that not only he would dance, but that he was not absolutely stumped and instead was Fred Astaire. The few times that I have been coaxed to the floor, mumbling “I won’t dance, etc.” I proved conclusively that I was stumped. Many have tried to turn my feet from stumps to Cinderella’s slippers and have failed , from my mother to my wife.

 

The mother part began on the rickety floor of the Dalton Hotel, the ramshackle one time railroad hotel where we lived as a family of three people and a small dog in 17 rooms during the 1950s. There are few things more intimidating than dancing with your mother.

 

My parents were products of the Roaring Twenties, the Flapper Era, who abandoned their origins in the boondocks of Wisconsin and Missouri for the flamboyant lifestyle of Chicago in the Capone years. They would go to nightclubs  for dancing and the kind of upscale revelry only seen in the movies of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, leaving me in the care of a babysitter who, as best I can remember, was so geriatric as to barely be able to negotiate our apartment, not to mention too feeble to teach me the Charleston. It was left to my mother to indoctrinate me into the mysteries of the foxtrot.  Waltzing was best left to the fans of Wayne King, the Waltz King, and his orchestra, heard on our Zenith upright console radio. I could imagine people waltzing or foxtrotting in a ballroom high atop some exotic hotel in some distant city— but not in Dalton Missouri population about 200 which had no hotel other than the decrepit white elephant in which we lived and which was about as exotic as the noisy feed mill that was directly across the dirt street.

 

So, my mother and I, squared off in the Dalton hotel, a 78 RPM record tinnily sounding a danceable melody on my record player which, to that moment, had played only Hank Williams laments. Elsewhere, my high school classmates were jitterbugging and, for all I knew, even waltzing. But I was gingerly trying to coordinate my feet with the music and with my mother’s instructions all of which left me in the same mental state I suffered when our algebra teacher tried to explain how “a” equaled “b” over “c”– that is to say helpless confusion and an almost overwhelming urge to burst into tears.  “You take two steps to the left, one to the right,” mom said. “Then you do it again.” She dragged me in a sort of circle around the rickety floor and it must’ve looked the way it looks when a dog’s owner tries to drag him in the door to the vet’s office for a series of painful shots.

 

There was no attempt to explain dancing to the musical beat or naming the name of this simple exercise which I assumed to be the foxtrot. I’ve never seen a fox trot, but I would suspect one doing what I was doing of being afflicted somehow, possibly with rabies.  If you have seen the movie Frankenstein, the original from the 1930s, and watched Dr. Frankenstein’s monster lurching through the countryside creating havoc, you will know what my dancing looked like. Or perhaps it looked like a wind up mechanical toy with a defective mainspring.

 

In Keytesville high school there were a few guys who could fast dance and they were universally despised by those of us relegated to the sidelines. All the girls knew how to fast dance and frequently danced with each other, an in your face insult to those of us brooding out of the action. Up the road, in Macon, where Marty thrived, all the guys knew how to fast dance because they had Louie’s Sweetshop as a training ground.   I lived six miles down the road from Keytesville in Dalton where there was no jukebox, no Louie’s Sweetshop and where gilts and heifers were far more common than available human female dance partners.  Even had my mother been capable of teaching me to fast dance, she was a graduate of the era of the Lindy Hop and out of the dancing mainstream by the time the Jitterbug came along.

 

Fast forward 60 years or so—not too fast or I can’t keep up— to the present time.  Marty and I are fond of sitting on our deck on a soft summer night, the stars sprinkling the sky, our outdoor speaker tuned to a 1950s rock ‘n roll reprise , enjoying a glass of wine, each other, and our cherished memories. Marty’s memories are of dancing at Louie’s Sweetshop, possibly to the same melodies now echoing across the Cole County nightscape, while mine are not of dancing, especially with my mother in the Dalton hotel—although I could have been listening to those same rocking melodies and wishing my feet knew what to do with them. But I probably was listening to the St. Louis Cardinals with Harry Caray shouting exuberantly “it might be—it could be— it is! a home run!”  We have our priorities and I didn’t know Marty and Louie’s Sweetshop existed then but I did know everything there was to know about the St. Louis Cardinals. And, while Stan Musial often danced around the bases, he didn’t do it to a boogie beat.

 

Every so often now so many years later on our deck, emboldened by wine, the romance of the stars, and the presence of Marty, I will say “let’s dance!”  And I clumsily stumble around the deck trying to emulate what Marty does so effortlessly. To give her credit and, as a measure of our everlasting love, she does not stop me in my tracks and snarl “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”  But after a few fumbling steps, it is painfully obvious that I still do not know what I’m doing, and we go back and sit. Once, on the deck late at night, I saw what I am certain was an unidentified flying object—a bright light which arced across the sky and was not an airplane or a satellite or anything I have ever seen before. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps aliens would land and somehow through superior, alien intelligence,  plant in my mind and body the ability to dance fast.

 

And now we come by circuitous route to cowboy bars.  We have arrived at a point in life where (and I have photos to prove it) Marty is fast dancing with our married grandson, while I sit ringside, and stare moodily into my rapidly going flat beer. I have done so countless times in roadhouses stretching nearly nationwide, and in a few cowboy bars as well.

 

. The occasion was a night out in the mountains of Colorado at a bar called Crystola where a live cowboy band delivered high-energy dance music to an enthusiastic local crowd. Woodland Park, at 8500 feet of elevation, is high enough that, for the geriatric crowd, even shambling from the bedroom to the john (a frequent occurrence for us elderly folks) is enough to get you out of breath. Fast dancing is for teenagers and those acclimated to living with minimal oxygen.  Crystola is notable for having a huge cutout of Johnny Cash giving the finger behind the bar and a portrait of a naked woman on the ceiling, obviously visible only to someone passed out on the dance floor (which I figured I would be if I tried fast dancing at 8500 feet).

 

Our daughter, Carrie, and son-in-law, Ron, had promised us a surprise anniversary present—which turned out to be the night at Crystola.  Was that a strange anniversary present or did they perhaps sense something epochal blowing in the thin mountain winds?  There, at the age of 84, and at a celebration of our 62nd wedding anniversary, I decided that enough was enough

 

I watched entranced as a thirtysomething father and his adolescent daughter flawlessly emulated one of those boogie-woogie couples from 1940s black-and-white movies, twirling, whirling, and executing acrobatic dance moves that would have left Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse speechless with admiration.  And Marty danced with grandson Nickolas, the years falling away like autumn leaves and Louie’s Sweetshop lived again.

 

“Enough is enough!” My inner self shouted to my outer self, especially my feet. And I hadn’t even had a sip of beer when I jumped to my feet, grabbed Marty by the hand and said “Let’s dance!” She looked at me as if I had grown a second head and followed me onto the dance floor. Somewhere the spirit of Chuck Berry was writing new lyrics: “Roll over Little Richard/tell Fats Domino the news!”

 

Well, I won’t say that I suddenly turned into Fred Astaire, playing a con game with Ginger Rogers, but I managed to get through a dance or two with my beloved and without having to relinquish her to the educated feet of our grandson (although my knees ached for several days afterward). Perhaps a new day has dawned.

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  • Blog
  • November 10th, 2018

ONCE MORE INTO THE FRAY

I have posted this blog before on Veterans Day and on the Fourth of July– but especially on Veterans Days because that is the celebration for which it is intended. It seems most appropriate this Veterans Day because it is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I— the war to end all wars as it was termed inappropriately at the time.

And the election is over but two months remain for our insane president to do unimaginable damage to the country before the people’s house takes over and perhaps puts an end to the division and outrage of the past two years.  Trump allegedly will be meeting with his puppetmaster Vladimir Putin in Paris in the next week and there is no telling what instructions the Russian dictator will have for him. Trump already has deployed something like five active duty soldiers for every expected man woman and baby still far from our southern border, hoping for asylum and freedom from fear and, oppression only to face the same probability from our bloated butthead of state.

Let me restate my feelings about our country as I have known it for more than eight decades. We have been great; we can be great again— but we need to purge ourselves of the toxic divisions that threaten us today and return to the visions of the founding fathers. It starts with calling to account our lying, deadbeat, crotch grabbing president who holds the prestige and heritage of 241 years of the United States of America in his grubby little hands as he faces the world’s leaders.

 

By Joel M. Vance

It was Veteran’s Day and our local symphony orchestra preceded Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with a tribute to the nation’s servicemen and women. “Bring the house lights up,” said the concert master, “and all those who have served in the military stand up.”

Quite a few men stood, mostly bent with age and various infirmities. I didn’t stand, although I spent 13 years in the Reserves and National Guard. But when I was in the Guard we attended weekly drills, and for two weeks each summer we invaded northern Minnesota to keep the nation safe from people named Olson.

I didn’t feel entitled to be showered with the same appreciation given to men who actually did risk taking a bullet for us.

The old men sat and we hunkered down for the musicale. The first number was a medley of patriotic songs. “Over There” echoed from the War to End All Wars (several wars ago) and that morphed into “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” I appreciated the homage to the guys with the long guns in “The Caisson Song,” even though I never saw a caisson during my tenure in the artillery.

And finally they played “American the Beautiful” and I realized that my eyes were wet. This is a beautiful country, not like any other. It offers everyone the chance to be something, just like it promises.

Some citizens choose to be evil, mean, obnoxious, bigoted and awful. Others choose to be saintly. Some go to church, well, religiously, while others just as religiously avoid it. Supposedly Stephen Decatur said, ”… may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” Since, it has been corrupted to “my country—right or wrong” but if every citizen hewed to that philosophy we still would be paying homage to a queen and eating boiled kidneys.

We are a nation founded on civil disobedience. My immediate response to bumper stickers reading “My country—love it or leave it” is anger because what they really mean is “my country—love it my way or leave it.” And it’s not “my” country. It’s ours, mine too, even when I disagree with the bumper sticker bigots.

We should acknowledge that maybe we aren’t as good as we think we are…and try to do better. It’s not fruitful to talk only of the glories of the mountains and the prairie and the oceans white with foam…and ignore the ghettos and the mountain top strip mining and the many other abscesses on the face of the nation.

But to concentrate on those open sores at the expense of all that’s right with the land is as wrong as refusing to admit them. There is no anthem called “America the Ugly” and I hope there never is. We can’t control the occurrence of hurricanes, ice storms, floods or, most of the time, wildfires, but we can control the ugliness and despair of human life. We just don’t try hard enough.

It sounds Pollyannaish, but the alternative is to grumble and carp and create a sort of national dyspepsia. There is no cosmic Pepto Bismol. I hark back to the Eisenhower Decade, the 1950s when I graduated from high school and college, got married and participated in creating our first child—a momentous time that is accused today of being a national nap.

Maybe so, but it also was the decade when the high speed interstate highways we love today were born, when the Korean War ended and when we enjoyed postwar prosperity, economic growth and that 10-year nap. Conversely, it also was a decade when we overused pesticides, swallowed the family farm with a corporate one, used the mega-machines developed for war to create environmental outrage, and heard the first whispers of Viet Nam and the racial unrest that would plague the 1960s—evil twins that still haunt us today.

We will always be a nation at war with itself specifically because of our freedom to do so. For every mining entrepreneur who would rip the top from a beautiful mountain to get at the precious ores beneath there is someone who will tie himself to a tree to prevent it. For every sodbuster who would upend the last acre of native prairie with massive plows there is someone who would buy that prairie only to leave it alone to bake in the summer sun and bend beneath winter’s nor-westers.

While diversity can be aggravating, it’s what makes this country the confused whirlwind it is. It’s no great revelation that we live in a country that embraces every form of human behavior that offers vistas from majestic to dismal.

So once in a while it is helpful to the human spirit to hear a local symphony play “America the Beautiful” and really mean it.

-30-

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  • Blog
  • November 1st, 2018

VOTE! TO SAVE DEMOCRACY

By Joel M. Vance

Donald Trump describes himself as a nationalist and as if to underscore that he understands the historic meaning of that self-description, he says “we’re not supposed to use that word” and added “you know I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Use that word.”  The most notable nationalist leaders in modern history to identify themselves as nationalists were Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, the dictators respectively of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Heidi Beirich, a spokesperson for the  Southern Poverty Law Center said this about Trump’s use of the word nationalist: “When you see the rise of nationalist movements— in Europe, America and other places—it can signal bad times ahead for minorities. Historically, it’s taking a stance against newcomers and those who are different.”

 

Does this description resemble the Trump attitude toward the migration of Honduran refugees headed toward the United States, still some 900 miles short of the border between the United States and Mexico? Donald Trump refers to this caravan as “an invasion”, as if it were some sort of incipient blitzkrieg marching toward our southern border. So afraid, apparently, of these people seeking asylum because they are fleeing from death and destruction in their native country, Trump has sent several thousand troops to defend our border against women, children and desperate fathers.  He threatens to send up to 15,000 regular Army troops, more than are currently deployed in Afghanistan.

 

Every time I hear the right wing denouncing the asylum-seekers as invaders or as a Democrat funded rabble or a mob of “very bad people” I am immediately reminded of the words inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty, our very symbol of what the United States stands for. “Give me your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

 

Stephen Miller, a senior advisor to Trump, and somewhere to the right of the farthest right of the Republicans, said this about the inscription on Miss Liberty: “I don’t want to get into a whole thing about history here. The poem that you’re referring to was added later. It’s not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”

 

Actually, Miller was correct in that the inscription was not part of the original statue— it was a poem written by Emma Lazarus to raise money for building the pedestal on which Ms. Liberty stands. Sadly, Ms. Lazarus died of cancer a year after the Statue of Liberty was dedicated and it was another two decades before the words were inscribed on a plaque fixed to the inner wall of the statue’s pedestal.

 

Ms. Lazarus was Jewish, which should have no bearing on the words she wrote or their meaning except that the country right now is mourning the massacre of nine Jewish worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.  Anti-Semitism has a long and ugly history in the United States, along with other unforgivable prejudices like those against African-Americans, Native Americans—or, for that matter, against my Irish forebears.

 

Trump’s answer to the Pittsburgh massacre was to suggest that if the worshipers in the synagogue had been armed the killer could not have survived a shoot out. This echoes his earlier suggestion that teachers should be armed and ready to start shooting. His parents must have supplied him with too many Gene Autry cap guns and too many hours of watching John Wayne westerns on television when he was a kid.  Or maybe his daddy wouldn’t let him go to a Ku Klux Klan rally and it pissed little Donnie off.

 

Trump flew to Pittsburgh with his daughter Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, both of whom practice Judaism (Jared is Jewish, Ivanka a convert), but before even the first of the victims was laid to rest and against the wishes of city leaders and grieving members of the synagogue. Some of the Jewish community were upset feeling that Trump put more blame on the synagogue for not being weaponized than he did on the crazed killer whose only aim was to kill more Jews.

 

In an especially ugly historic anti-Semitic incident a boatload of 900 Jewish refugees seeking asylum in the United States after fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 was turned away from our border and forced back to Europe where an estimated 28 percent of those refugees were sent to concentration camps and died, among the six million Jews killed by the Nazis. The boat they were on was named the St. Louis.  As a proud Show Me state resident, that factoid gives me a cold chill.

 

The synagogue shootings happened amid a spate of multiple gunfire murders this year, along with the mailing of a series of pipe bombs to prominent Democrats, including two past presidents, by a deranged and self proclaimed Donald J Trump supporter. His bombs did not detonate; but the guns of the various shooters did.

 

Anyone who suggests the necessity for sensible gun laws automatically earns the wrath of the National Rifle Association and from far too many legitimate gun owners— it seems to me that the biggest enemy responsible gun owners face too often is gun owners themselves. I own a dozen guns, hunt with them, have target shot with them and see no justification for gun confiscation or other restrictions that other countries have imposed.  But there are proposed regulations on gun ownership that are no threat to me or any other responsible gun owner. Why not work toward limiting access of guns that could be used to kill people?

 

On the heels of the horrific shooting in Pittsburgh, Trump assaulted the Constitution of the United States by saying that he would issue an executive order denying automatic citizenship to babies born within the borders of the United States— a right guaranteed by the 14th amendment. Even Paul Ryan, usually his fawning acolyte, said that proposal could not legally fly. But Trump continues his nonstop tirade against this imagined invasion by the Honduran refugees.

 

Trump tweeted “I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught—and if unable to do so I will call up the US military and close our southern border!”  Trump, and his toadies and right wing talk show mouths claim that the caravan is being financed by the Democrats to influence Tuesday’s election results and the primary culprit, according to them and without even a shred of credible evidence, is wealthy George Soros who just happens to be Jewish.

 

The onslaught, as he terms it, or, variously, “the invasion” is not being financed either by the Democrats or by George Soros. It is self financed and desperately poor. Often, towns along the way have furnished the migrants with food, water and shelter— things that Trump would deny them if and when they reach our border. Trump claims the caravan is infiltrated by criminals and, as he terms it, people from the Middle East— a euphemism for Muslims. As is true of almost every Trump statement on anything, that is a damn lie. There is absolutely no evidence of any infiltration by anyone who could be considered a threat to this country.

 

To hear the right wing tell it, the Honduran migrants are coming to the United States to take our jobs, vote Democrat and commit crimes. Among other valid reasons, they are fleeing crime—Honduras and El Salvador are among the top five deadliest countries in the world. Their homeland is rife with corruption and there is little opportunity for employment for young adults. It probably wouldn’t be much if any better in the United States, but it couldn’t be worse.  It is overlooked by the frightened right that these are asylum-seekers looking for safe refuge, not a ravening Mongol horde bent on rape and pillage.

 

The right-wingers claim that the refugee caravan carries deadly diseases that will overwhelm the United States with pestilence. Does anyone remember when our forebears traveled up the Missouri River and deliberately furnished Native Americans with smallpox contaminated blankets?  That was genocidal reality but today it’s political scare tactics just it as is the claim that the caravan is a murderous mob when in reality the mob is our own brutal right wingers wishing they had Trump’s 20 foot tall wall to hide behind.

 

On a sultry summer evening some years back a group of us gathered in the street at Sedalia and watched as a dark green cloud loomed over the city and someone said, “I’ve never seen a tornado but that sure looks like one building up. And if it isn’t I’d be surprised— not to mention, scared to death.” We opted to go down a flight of stairs into a basement which just happened to be a bar, and we rode out the storm and indeed, there was a tornado just south of town.  We had averted disaster, helped along by the cooling and soothing application of beer. I don’t advocate taking a sixpack to the polling place, but you might consider having one on hand at home after you finish voting.

 

That dark green cloud springs to mind immediately when I consider that on November 6 an ominous green cloud known as election day will loom over us. It has the potential, I think, either to devastate the country or to wash away many of the nation’s political ills with a healing rain and no whirlwind of destruction.

 

I’ve said and I firmly believe that this is the most important election I’ve ever voted in since the first where I was eligible in 1956. Never have we faced so many threats to our democracy and only a record and overwhelming turnout of voters will decide whether the country will continue as we have known and cherished it for more than 240 years. We can’t erase the transgressions of the past but we can amend the transgressions of the present.

VOTE

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Blog
  • October 25th, 2018

SECOND TIME AROUND

By Joel M. Vance

Ah, Joel Vance, the vaunted outdoors writer–and credentialed as such!–who shamed himself by arguing against the Second Amendment. Now Joel M. Vance argues the Communist cause in the vein of Bernie Sanders and what’s-her-name Ocasio Cortes. Pity, Joel M. Vance, that you have not learned anything in your many years on this planet. You were apparently indoctrinated early on by FDR’s socialist contingent and were never aware or “wake” enough to make up your own mind. Sorry, but your writings are meaningless “useful idiot” mumblings of the 1930’s. You deny natural law. So there were 32 tax-paying fools to finance one destitute widow in the 1930’s, who should have been supported by the churches of the time. Now there are 4 to pay every malcontent fatso in an electrified chair, and you think that’s cool? Sorry, dude, you’re a moron. #VOTEREPUBLICAN

Above is the only negative response I got to my last post which I am repeating in this blog but with some additional comments as a preface. I’m posting the comment above to let the rhetoric speak for itself. Actually I’ve been called worse by better people and you know the old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Enough said.

As I write, the news is filled with developments about seven apparent pipe bombs mailed to prominent Democrat critics of Donald Trump. That’s what we’ve come to, folks, a national divisiveness so virulent that some think a viable solution is to blow up the other side. Let’s just take a moment and examine where this dangerous trend originates.

Generally the impetus toward violence originates with someone throwing gasoline on a fire—the fire being the right wing anger toward the left. And who is throwing gasoline?
At least twice in my home state, Missouri, Donald Trump has encouraged the crowd to “beat the crap” out of protesters. Repeatedly over the last two years, on the campaign trail, and as president, he has encouraged violence. As our Missouri president Harry Truman once famously said about his own responsibility for unpopular decisions, “the buck stops here.” Not that Donald J Trump himself has been mailing pipe bombs to his detractors. In fact, both he and First Lady Melania issued quick condemnation of violent acts against anyone.
Still, one of the pipe bombs was mailed to CNN headquarters and it is worth noting that Trump repeatedly has called the media “the enemy of the people.” And, in a couple of weeks ago in Montana, Trump praised Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte for body slamming a reporter saying, “any guy that can do a body slam— he’s my kind of guy.” And Trump’s response to the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, apparently by a Saudi Arabian hit squad, has been confused and inconsistent at best.
His latest summation of the horrific incident was this “They had a very bad original concept, it was carried out poorly, and the cover-up was the worst in the history of cover-ups.” That sounds mostly like someone griping more about a screwed up murder plot then about the murder itself. So— advice from our president— if you’re going to kill someone at least do it right. His first comment to his loyal base at a Wisconsin rally was, to best describe it, smug. “Let’s get along. By the way you see how nice I’m behaving tonight? Have you ever seen this?”

At last count, there had been seven pipe bombs detected and possibly there are more. Predictably, the right wing talk show blatherers, led by Rush Limbaugh, quickly blamed the Democrats for the pipe bombs, claiming that it’s all a hoax designed to gather sympathy for the Democrats before the election.
So, in case you missed it the first time around, here is what I posted last and feel free to comment pro or con, but especially feel free to pass the plea for voters to go to the polls to everyone you know. Let’s practice democracy for a change instead of acrimony.

On to the repeat of the last blog:

 

Remember? No of course you don’t—you weren’t even born in those days when we stayed up half the night to hear the latest returns. It was election night and the radio was tuned to whatever station was broadcasting the up-to-the-minute results.

They didn’t call races in those days almost before the polls closed. There was no television or at least it was so rudimentary that not even Huntley and Brinkley had appeared to speak like gods from Mount Olympus. Television, if any, was black and white and it was grainy, often filtered through what appeared to be a Dakota blizzard.

But we all cared deeply about elections in those days. The only thing that approached the intense anticipation of a national election was a heavyweight boxing bout or the World Series. I was a little kid in maybe the sixth grade when I heard Brooklyn Dodger Al Gionfriddo rob Joe DiMaggio of what would’ve been a game-tying double to force a game seven in the 1947 World Series by racing to the bullpen gate some 415 feet from home plate to make an incredible catch.

I don’t remember the name of the teacher who must have been a baseball fan and who let us listen to the radio in the classroom, but I do remember that catch and the hysterical announcer shrieking about it (he must have been a Dodger fan).

In the next year we moved to Missouri from Chicago and I remember Bobby Thompson’s three run home run off Ralph Branca four years later to give the New York Giants a playoff victory against those same Brooklyn Dodgers. Time having moved along, I watched that game through the ever present Dakota blizzard on Mr. Sadler’s television set in Keytesville, Missouri , where I was, by then, imprisoned in high school. It wasn’t very good television, but it was all we had— possibly Mr. Sadler had the only TV set in Keytesville at the time. Mr. Sadler, who happened to be the school superintendent and, unlike that Chicago elementary school teacher, did not let us watch the series in a classroom.  But we sneaked off during school hours to his house while he was busy administering paddling to delinquent boys (his son, Foster, was my best friend but probably would’ve been among the paddlees if his daddy had known he was cutting class to watch a playoff game at home).

And I used to listen to heavyweight boxing matches on our old upright Zenith radio between Joe Louis and everyone he knocked out and later Rocky Marciano doing the same. There was excitement riding the airwaves in those days and the entire country was riveted in a way that seems to have gone, as have all those dynamic moments of yesteryear— boxing, baseball, and politics.

There is an election upcoming in a few days that may be the most important in the nation’s history, far beyond anything I heard through the static on the Zenith or watched on a grainy RCA television set. It’s an off year election, an event which usually is defined mostly by apathy. And apathy is the biggest danger facing the country.

Good citizens often say, “there is no excuse for not voting.” That’s not quite accurate because thousands of people do have an excuse for not voting—they are not being allowed to thanks to discriminatory regulations which prevent them from going to the polls. In Georgia the Secretary of State who is also running for governor as a Republican and who is in charge of voter legitimacy is sitting on more than 50,000 voter registrations, mostly African Americans who tend to vote Democrat, and has over the past several years disallowed thousands of other registrations, again mostly African Americans, who vote Democrat—probably because they can’t stand the politics of the Republicans in power.

And how about North Dakota where Native Americans are being disenfranchised because of a Republican established law demanding that voter registration contain a street address without which a person cannot vote. Thousands of Native Americans on reservations have only a post office box, but that ain’t good enough for the Republicans who suspect, with good cause, that Native Americans in a bloc will vote for Heidi Heitkamp the Democrat candidate for the Senate.

Those egregious examples of voter suppression aside, if women, minorities, and young people, don’t get off their all too often indifferent rear ends and go to the polls, we are in grave danger of at least another two years of the most destructive government in the history of the nation. The Donald Trump regime has managed to dismantle more progressive legislation than was done by inept and incompetent politicians in the previous 200-plus years. Give them another two years and we are likely to see such vital programs as Social Security and Medicare vanish or be rendered impotent.

Mitch McConnell, the chinless wonder, already is promising to cut Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid to pay for the $1.5 trillion tax cuts the Republicans forced through Congress and which have had the result of ballooning the national debt while padding the bank accounts of the nation’s richest 1%. “It’s disappointing but it’s not a Republican problem,” said the Senate majority leader.  What he means is that it is not his problem— it is the enormous problem of the American people who will suffer because of his odious legislation.

His toady, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, said “you have got to generate economic growth because growth generates revenue. But you also have to bring spending under control. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries.”  No, Marco, the driver of our debt is you and your fellow Republicans who owe more to your rich donors than you do to anyone who relies on Social Security and Medicare to keep them from poverty and the graveyard.

Think beneficiaries president future, of the disintegration of Medicare and Social Security. Especially, think about it when you go to the polls to vote on the people who are promising to take away these vital benefits.

As a grateful recipient of both programs, without which I would be destitute or probably dead, I dread the consequences of more Trumpism. The world so far has survived such isms as Nazi-ism, fascism, and communism, but I’m not so sure we can make it through Trump-ism without the ship of state sinking. We don’t need a political Titanic-we need a political ship of mercy filled with the promise of enduring benevolent government.

Election night anticipation , which once was looked forward to with eagerness, no matter which party you were supporting, has, given the results of the last few elections, been more like waiting for the results of the x-rays. Even when Barack Obama was my candidate I felt more like curling into the fetal position and covering my ears on election night. He won twice and I exulted, but it was more like being a diehard fan of one of our hapless local football teams (whose name I will, out of sympathy, keep anonymous since they haven’t won a game all season) because I knew that an antagonistic Republican Congress would make Mr. Obama’s life a living hell— which it did.

Sandwiched as it was between the Bush and Trump eras, it was a temporary triumph of good over evil, but hardly representative of democratic values.  I went to three election night parties, two when Bush won and one when Trump won, and what began each time as a festive event featuring gourmet chili and beer turned into a funeral. In this age of instant communication, Huntley and Brinkley would be as superfluous as Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny.

Doomsaying scientists warn us that global warming is a dire threat to the planet but of course Trump’s drooling sycophants don’t believe it, or choose not to, and I suspect that before rising temperatures force the oceans to overtop low-lying countries, create droughts and other horrific weather conditions, this country will be submerged by a storm surge of political catastrophes that will turn us into a reprise of what has happened to so many wannabe democracies around the world. Mob rule— led by self-serving autocrats, dictators, plutocrats or whatever you want to call them who are interested only in their own ends not those of the common good.

There was a great vision for government in the late 1700s by men of intellect, foresight, and dedication to the betterment not only of their fledgling country, but of mankind in general. Now we have a bloated dictatorial sociopath who has the unfortunate ability to rally the mob behind him, as well as fatcat money interests to finance him and his evil intent and to elect those who slavishly do his bidding.

In the run-up to the election Trump and his despicable toadies have flooded television with lies and defamation, counting on the credulity of the electorate to believe the wildest stories imaginable about  Democrats running to unseat the entrenched Republicans. There is little doubt that computer hacking by foreign interests—certainly Russia, probably China, Iran, North Korea or, for all I know, aliens from outer space— are helping confuse the democratic process. Any thinking person would discount 90% or more of the crap that flows from the television sets, realizing that it no longer is intelligent thought and careful consideration that wins elections, but actually is the amount of money poured into any given candidate’s campaign. It’s a sorry state of affairs when democracy becomes a matter of who has the biggest pocketbook.

And that accusation applies equally to Democrats as well as Republicans. Any voter who is swayed by paid for advertising rather than by intelligent thought deserves what he or she gets and if that is at least two more years of Trumpism I fear for the country and for the future of our form of government. Don’t forget that the German electorate voted for Adolf Hitler, and other dictators of the past. Hitler appealed to the basest instincts of the masses and that is precisely what Donald Trump does today. He incites; he does not lead.

That’s why election night has become more of waiting for the other shoe to fall than it has to celebrate the triumph of democracy.  There is, of course, a remedy— it is for every able-bodied citizen to cast a vote and hope that the country still contains a majority of voters dedicated to the principles the United States adopted more than 200 years ago.

 

VOTE!!!

 

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  • Blog
  • October 23rd, 2018

OUR WORLD HANGS IN THE BALANCE

By Joel M. Vance

Remember? No of course you don’t—you weren’t even born in those days when we stayed up half the night to hear the latest returns. It was election night and the radio was tuned to whatever station was broadcasting the up-to-the-minute results.

They didn’t call races in those days almost before the polls closed. There was no television or at least it was so rudimentary that not even Huntley and Brinkley had appeared to speak like gods from Mount Olympus. Television, if any, was black and white and it was grainy, often filtered through what appeared to be a Dakota blizzard.

But we all cared deeply about elections in those days. The only thing that approached the intense anticipation of a national election was a heavyweight boxing bout or the World Series. I was a little kid in maybe the sixth grade when I heard Brooklyn Dodger Al Gionfriddo rob Joe DiMaggio of what would’ve been a game-tying double to force a game seven in the 1947 World Series by racing to the bullpen gate some 415 feet from home plate to make an incredible catch.

I don’t remember the name of the teacher who must have been a baseball fan and who let us listen to the radio in the classroom, but I do remember that catch and the hysterical announcer shrieking about it (he must have been a Dodger fan).

In the next year we moved to Missouri from Chicago and I remember Bobby Thompson’s three run home run off Ralph Branca four years later to give the New York Giants a playoff victory against those same Brooklyn Dodgers. Time having moved along, I watched that game through the ever present Dakota blizzard on Mr. Sadler’s television set in Keytesville, Missouri , where I was, by then, imprisoned in high school. It wasn’t very good television, but it was all we had— possibly Mr. Sadler had the only TV set in Keytesville at the time. Mr. Sadler, who happened to be the school superintendent and, unlike that Chicago elementary school teacher, did not let us watch the series in a classroom. But we sneaked off during school hours to his house while he was busy administering paddling to delinquent boys (his son, Foster, was my best friend but probably would’ve been among the paddlees if his daddy had known he was cutting class to watch a World Series game at home).

And I used to listen to heavyweight boxing matches on our old upright Zenith radio between Joe Louis and everyone he knocked out and later Rocky Marciano doing the same. There was excitement riding the airwaves in those days and the entire country was riveted in a way that seems to have gone, as have all those dynamic moments of yesteryear— boxing, baseball, and politics.

There is an election upcoming in a few days that may be the most important in the nation’s history, far beyond anything I heard through the static on the Zenith or watched on a grainy RCA television set. It’s an off year election, an event which usually is defined mostly by apathy. And apathy is the biggest danger facing the country.

Good citizens often say, “there is no excuse for not voting.” That’s not quite accurate because thousands of people do have an excuse for not voting—they are not being allowed to thanks to discriminatory regulations which prevent them from going to the polls. In Georgia the Secretary of State who is also running for governor as a Republican and who is in charge of voter legitimacy is sitting on more than 50,000 voter registrations, mostly African Americans who tend to vote Democrat, and has over the past several years disallowed thousands of other registrations, again mostly African Americans, who vote Democrat—probably because they can’t stand the politics of the Republicans in power.

And how about North Dakota where Native Americans are being disenfranchised because of a Republican established law demanding that voter registration contain a street address without which a person cannot vote. Thousands of Native Americans on reservations have only a post office box, but that ain’t good enough for the Republicans who suspect, with good cause, that Native Americans in a bloc will vote for Heidi Heitkamp the Democrat candidate for the Senate.

Those egregious examples of voter suppression aside, if women, minorities, and young people, don’t get off their all too often indifferent rear ends and go to the polls, we are in grave danger of at least another two years of the most destructive government in the history of the nation. The Donald Trump regime has managed to dismantle more progressive legislation than was done by inept and incompetent politicians in the previous 200-plus years. Give them another two years and we are likely to see such vital programs as Social Security and Medicare vanish or be rendered impotent.

Mitch McConnell, the chinless wonder, already is promising to cut Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid to pay for the $1.5 trillion tax cuts the Republicans forced through Congress and which have had the result of ballooning the national debt while padding the bank accounts of the nation’s richest 1%. “It’s disappointing but it’s not a Republican problem,” said the Senate majority leader. What he means is that it is not his problem— it is the enormous problem of the American people who will suffer because of his odious legislation.

His toady, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, said “you have got to generate economic growth because growth generates revenue. But you also have to bring spending under control. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries.” No, Marco, the driver of our debt is you and your fellow Republicans who owe more to your rich donors than you do to anyone who relies on Social Security and Medicare to keep them from poverty and the graveyard.

Think beneficiaries president future, of the disintegration of Medicare and Social Security. Especially, think about it when you go to the polls to vote on the people who are promising to take away these vital benefits.

As a grateful recipient of both programs, without which I would be destitute or probably dead, I dread the consequences of more Trumpism. The world so far has survived such isms as Nazi-ism, fascism, and communism, but I’m not so sure we can make it through Trump-ism without the ship of state sinking. We don’t need a political Titanic-we need a political ship of mercy filled with the promise of enduring benevolent government.

Election night anticipation , which once was looked forward to with eagerness, no matter which party you were supporting, has, given the results of the last few elections, been more like waiting for the results of the x-rays. Even when Barack Obama was my candidate I felt more like curling into the fetal position and covering my ears on election night. He won twice and I exulted, but it was more like being a diehard fan of one of our hapless local football teams (whose name I will, out of sympathy, keep anonymous since they haven’t won a game all season) because I knew that an antagonistic Republican Congress would make Mr. Obama’s life a living hell— which it did.

Sandwiched as it was between the Bush and Trump eras, it was a temporary triumph of good over evil, but hardly representative of democratic values. I went to three election night parties, two when Bush won and one when Trump won, and what began each time as a festive event featuring gourmet chili and beer turned into a funeral. In this age of instant communication, Huntley and Brinkley would be as superfluous as Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny.

Doomsaying scientists warn us that global warming is a dire threat to the planet but of course Trump’s drooling sycophants don’t believe it, or choose not to, and I suspect that before rising temperatures force the oceans to overtop low-lying countries, create droughts and other horrific weather conditions, this country will be submerged by a storm surge of political catastrophes that will turn us into a reprise of what has happened to so many wannabe democracies around the world. Mob rule— led by self-serving autocrats, dictators, plutocrats or whatever you want to call them who are interested only in their own ends not those of the common good.

There was a great vision for government in the late 1700s by men of intellect, foresight, and dedication to the betterment not only of their fledgling country, but of mankind in general. Now we have a bloated dictatorial sociopath who has the unfortunate ability to rally the mob behind him, as well as fatcat money interests to finance him and his evil intent and to elect those who slavishly do his bidding.

In the run-up to the election Trump and his despicable toadies have flooded television with lies and defamation, counting on the credulity of the electorate to believe the wildest stories imaginable about Democrats running to unseat the entrenched Republicans. There is little doubt that computer hacking by foreign interests—certainly Russia, probably China, Iran, North Korea or, for all I know, aliens from outer space— are helping confuse the democratic process. Any thinking person would discount 90% or more of the crap that flows from the television sets, realizing that it no longer is intelligent thought and careful consideration that wins elections, but actually is the amount of money poured into any given candidate’s campaign. It’s a sorry state of affairs when democracy becomes a matter of who has the biggest pocketbook.

And that accusation applies equally to Democrats as well as Republicans. Any voter who is swayed by paid for advertising rather than by intelligent thought deserves what he or she gets and if that is at least two more years of Trumpism I fear for the country and for the future of our form of government. Don’t forget that the German electorate voted for Adolf Hitler, and other dictators of the past. Hitler appealed to the basest instincts of the masses and that is precisely what Donald Trump does today. He incites; he does not lead.

That’s why election night has become more of waiting for the other shoe to fall than it has to celebrate the triumph of democracy. There is, of course, a remedy— it is for every able-bodied citizen to cast a vote and hope that the country still contains a majority of voters dedicated to the principles the United States adopted more than 200 years ago.

VOTE!!!

Read More
  • Blog
  • October 19th, 2018

THE GHOSTLY RIDGE

By Joel M. Vance

Everybody thought of Harry Jenkins as “sensible” and they said it as if it were a handicap, as if Harry had suffered an accident and lost a vital part of himself. Harry plodded through life with the resolute steadfastness of a coon hound never baying a fancy, nor tracking a whim.

“He’s the most no-nonsense guy I know,” said his boss.

“Harry?” Said his wife, with a hard laugh verging on bitter (she was a romantic who’d thought to marry a prince and instead had gotten a bean counter). “He’s practical.”

“Imagination of a buffalo in a herd,” said his best friend. So, when Harry found himself in the middle of an abandoned cemetery at the time of night they call the hour of dying, he didn’t succumb to childish fears, nor even feel a prickle of apprehension. He merely grunted and backed away from the tall monument he had run into in the dark, slipped on his tiny flashlight and read the inscription: “Cpl. Andrew Parker, killed in action April 25, 1863. Here lies a good Union soldier.”

“R.I.P, Andy,” Harry said. “Sorry to disturb you.” Harry was turkey hunting and had no time for romanticizing Civil War cemeteries, at night or at any other time. He needed to get himself set up before roosted gobblers roused enough to be alerted by movement through the woods. He wanted to be in place long before the first sleepy morning yelps came from the trees.

The night silence gathered around him as he moved along the ridge, away from the cemetery. He heard the murmur of the river below as it worried at a snag. A whippoorwill began its endless repetition, sharply trying to shout away the night. The moon floated ahead in and out of thick clouds. Harry was far from the road, far beyond the granola bar wrappers and other detritus of the fair weather hunters.

He began to look for a place to wait for sunrise. He found an ideal setup: a broad tree slanting to make a comfortable back rest, soft mossy earth at its base. Like a television recliner he thought. Have to concentrate not to go to sleep. Moonlight filtered through the scattered clouds showing him a sparse stand of big trees, with little underbrush, a natural arena. The bluff dropped steeply to the river to his left, which reduced the possible directions from which a gobbler could approach him.

He settled back against the tree and felt something prodding him. He dug beneath his seat pad and removed a sharp bit of flint, flipping it into the dark and heard it strike with a muffled sound. He rearranged the seat and leaned against the tree. Perfect. He dug his heels into the leaf mold, creating rests for his feet. The old Model 12 pump lay across his knees, loaded with three Super-X double X shot shells.

The number six shot would drop a gobbler in its tracks at 20 yards. There should be no need for a second or third shot (and certainly not for the fourth and fifth the gun would hold if he fully loaded it). “If you can’t kill ‘em with one shot, you shouldn’t be hunting ‘em,” Harry often said. Besides, a practical man doesn’t waste expensive ammunition.

Harry waited for first light, first activity. Usually he never worried about falling asleep and missing anything. He didn’t do that. Falling asleep on stand was impractical. But there were sounds in the night that distracted him. Maybe they weren’t even sounds. They were like the feeling you get when another person is breathing in a dark room. You don’t know if you really hear the breathing or just feel the presence of someone. But Harry wasted no time on imagining things in the night. He knew what should be in the woods and that was good enough for him.

Except he was experiencing a feeling he never had before, an uneasiness as if another hunter were slipping up on him, just stealthily enough to be noticed. But there were no other hunters. Not that far back and not this early. He’d bet the farm on that. So what was it? Who gives a rats? Harry thought. Get a grip.

Maybe he fell asleep. After all, it was comfortable and it was plenty early. People do fall asleep and anything can happen in dreams. But sometime later—he didn’t know how long— he heard a strange muffled jingling sound, like bits of chain gently disturbed.

He saw the shadowy figures of horsemen making their way across the night shrouded clearing in the moonlight. There were perhaps a dozen of them, silent save for the creak of their saddles and the muted whisper of their horses’ breathing. Despite himself, Harry felt a skitter of goose bumps chill his legs and back. “The hell?” he muttered. The riders passed 20 feet in front of him. The leader was caped and a couple of the riders wore dusters. Their caps were distinctively short billed with flat tops crushed forward. He’d seen such uniforms all his life, but only in the grim gray photographs of Matthew Brady.

They were dressed as soldiers from the Civil War. His first thought, being a practical person, was that it was a group of history buffs en route to a recreation of some forgotten skirmish. That perception lasted only an instant. It was not likely, in the middle of the night! Get serious!

The riders passed, almost close enough to touch, though by now he would not have reached out to touch one for any amount of money. Dread was a stranger to Harry— he had never awakened in the night with a panic attack, nor spent his waking hours worrying about cancer or tax audits. Harry worried about what he could see and feel, not conjures in the night. Although he could see this— but not, under any circumstances, feel it.

This was something he could see and he was suddenly afraid that if he touched it, there would be a result he didn’t want to think about— or know how to think about. So, Harry’s heart thudded and his mouth turned dry. It is unpleasant for unimaginative people when they are confronted with creatures that must be of their imagination.

Harry deeply wanted daylight, though he knew sunrise still was some minutes away. Inexplicable things wash out in the strong light of day. The slight sound of the riders vanished in the night, leaving only the demanding call of the whippoorwill. Harry tried to make sense of what he’d seen. Finally, he could only conclude that he had drifted off for a moment and had experienced an unsettling dream. He rarely dreamed of anything, but never had concocted a dream as vivid and disturbing as this one. But a dream it had to be.

Why Civil War riders in the night? That damn cemetery he thought. Hanging around in my subconscious. Just a dream, that’s all. Fell asleep there for a minute. Should have had more coffee. Acting like a damn scared kid in the night. It was a rational explanation and Harry gratefully accepted it.

Relieved, he put the incident out of his mind and thought it had to the turkey hunt, not imaginary fancies. Turkey hunting was real; ghost riders in the night were so much imaginative smoke, time wasters. More sleep and fewer cemeteries, Harry thought.

Thick darkness was draining from the night. He now could see his feet and hands and the silhouettes of the trees were sharper toward the east. The tentative hoot of a great horned owl sounded behind him, and as if in sharp challenge, a barred owl defied the stillness with its strident interrogation. A tree gobble rattled through the forest and Harry’s breath came quicker. This was a brassy old ridge boss challenging any other critter’s right to signify. It was, it announced, the most virile animal in the spring woods.

With exquisite caution, as if the bird could hear his very pulse beating, Harry withdrew a little container from his breast pocket and carefully fished out a mouth caller, which he installed against his palate. He liked to soak and soften the calls before using them. The faint taste of Scope brightened his sour early morning mouth. He always soaked callers in the mouthwash to freshen them. Harry felt in another pocket for a headnet and carefully slipped it on and adjusted the eye frames. He pulled on mesh camouflage gloves and shifted the model 12 slightly in his lap.

He was ready.

The turkey began to gobble every several minutes, a harsh, single-minded petition. Harry took a deep breath, let out half as if he were target shooting and clucked softly just one time. Instantly, the gobbler answered, its attention captured, its keen hearing fixing Harry’s location as accurately as an electronic rangefinder.

This seduction lasted nearly an hour. At first Harry answered each gobble with a sleepy cluck or two. Then he mixed a few soft tree yelps, as if a hen were rousing from sleep to find herself sexually aroused and receptive. The gobbler paced impatiently along a lofty branch with much of its innate caution seared away by passion. It no longer was a creature that no predator could approach by guile. It was addled by lust.

The turkey double gobbled and Harry interrupted with answering yelps, further inciting the bird. There was nearly full light now. A cardinal whickered and distant crows called. Small, drab birds flitted through the undergrowth and a gray squirrel pounced through the dry leaves with muted rustling. Harry heard the bird fly down—the sound of someone beating a carpet, then a thump and silence. Harry was taut, with the focused attention of the predator.

His eyes caught a flicker of motion through the trees and he saw the dark shape of the bird. The gobbler with the slow majesty of a schooner under full sail, wings dragging, tail fanned, head tucked tight to its puffed chest. Harry couldn’t resist a trio of yelps, even though it probably wasn’t necessary. The bird’s head shot forward and it gobbled, as loud as thunder.

There is noble ceremony in the measured approach of a gobbler. Everything seemed slowed, including time. Harry heard nothing but the spitting and drumming of the great bird. It seemed to take a lifetime for the gobbler to cross the fifty yards between them.

The morning sunlight reflected from the back of the gobbler, revealing a coppery sheen. The bird’s sharp eye seemed to cut through the camouflage to the hunter beneath. They looked, one into the other, the hunter and the undaunted prey. It was as if the turkey could see right down into his soul and take its measure. Harry had killed turkeys before, without a thought and with no flights of fancy about soul measuring, but this one was different.

The bird was 30 yards away and Harry leaned slightly forward, sighting along the barrel of the Model 12 propped on his knee. He moved his leg just slightly and the bead of the shotgun settled on the turkey’s head. Harry’s finger tightened on the trigger.

And then the gobbler wavered and shimmered as if it were a mirror image just at the instant before the mirror would shatter. The image blurred and became vaporous. In place of the gobbler there was a strange fog. The vapor flowed into the ground, then materialized as a second gobbler, wavering but distinct. The hazy apparition gobbled but there was no sound. It fanned and strutted, colorless in the morning light, a gray specter that paraded the ridge and drained the life from it.

Harry sensed motion to his right, but could not move. He was paralyzed, locked in time suspended. The motion resolved as a man, crawling with infinite caution toward a nearby log. The man’s clothing was wrinkled and torn and the man himself unshaven and haggard. The clothing was the uniform of a Union soldier. The soldier cradled a battered musket as he inched forward on his elbows. The soldier reached the log and cautiously peered over it. The ghost turkey fanned once again and as it pirouetted away, the soldier lifted the gun and aimed.

The turkey spun back toward the soldier, saw the gun, instantly dropped its fan and feathers and raised his head as if to flee. There was no sound but the soldier jerked with the recoil of his gun and there was a belch of silent fire and smoke from the muzzle. The turkey tumbled backward, flopping.

The soldier struggled to his feet and Harry saw how emaciated and weary he was, eyes dark with fatigue. But his shoulder straightened and he ran awkwardly to the thrashing bird and grabbed it by the neck, hoisted it shoulder high. His ghost patrol would dine well that night.

Then the soldier lurched backward as if hit by an invisible hammer, dropped the turkey and clutched at his breast. Slowly he crumpled to the ground, rolled onto his back and was still. The dead turkey lay beside him. A second military phantasm walked soundlessly to the fallen Union soldier, his bayoneted gun at the ready. His uniform was a ragtag assortment, but the butternut britches identified him. He, too, was tattered and worn and obviously felt no satisfaction in what he had done. He prodded the body with the tip of the bayonet, then, sure that his foe was dead….again, picked up the turkey and shambled toward the morning light. He blurred and then vanished.

The soldier on the ground faded slowly until he could’ve been nothing more than lingering ground fog. Time returned to the clearing. The real gobbler in front of Harry tensed, aware that something was wrong with his world.

The gobbler’s keen eye fixed on Harry and the bird poised to bolt. It would spook in the next instant and be lost if he didn’t squeeze the trigger. Instead, Harry exhaled explosively and sat up straight. The gobbler leaped into the air with powerful wing beats and flew straight up through the trees and into the sunlight.

Harry Jenkins, the man with no imagination, laid his model 12 on the ground and got to his feet, feeling 1000 years old. He walked to where the gobbler had been and found a single wing feather on the ground. He picked it up and went back to retrieve his gun. He paused a moment to rub his bristly face and dig at gritty eyes. He had never been more tired.

Harry passed through the old cemetery on his way back to the car. He stopped at the monument to Cpl. Parker and laid the feather on the weed choked grave in front of the marker. “Was that you, Andy?” He said aloud. “Do you have to come back and play it out again and again?”

Harry stood before the marker, feeling the heat of the spring sun. A squirrel barked at him from a nearby white oak. A blue jay shouted. A bumblebee landed on a spray of honeysuckle and swayed there. “Is this your Hell or your Heaven?” Harry asked the silent marker. There was no answer and there never would be one.

Harry’s wife was stunned when he came home not with a nice gobbler but instead with a spray of roses. “Let’s make today memorable,” he said. “We might have to relive it.” She stared at him with her mouth open. Had someone stolen her husband?

“Is that you, Harry?” She said. Perhaps he had caught some kind of virus. She watched as he moved through the house, touching old possessions as if he’d never seen them before— as if they gave him great pleasure and were not just old things. “Are you all right?” She asked half in fear, half in hope. He nodded.

She met her best friend the next day for coffee and fiddled with the cup while the brew cooled. “Well,” she said slowly, “whatever it is, I hope it lasts a long time.” She shook her head.

“Something weird happened to him out there in those woods,” she said. “I can’t imagine what— and I thought I was the one in the family with all the imagination.”

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  • Blog
  • October 12th, 2018

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH

By Joel M. Vance

Every Sunday evening at 7 PM I open a time capsule now more than 40 years old. I do this by turning on the television set to a rerun of Hee Haw from the 1970s, where I can see in living color performances by legendary country entertainers, now mostly pages in history.

An enduring feature of Hee Haw was a segment called Pickin’ and Grinnin’ where cohosts Roy Clark and Buck Owens trade corny jokes interspersed with Clark playing an instrumental break, with the assembled group singing the chorus:

“Going up Cripple Creek, gonna have a little fun”

I never gave much thought to Cripple Creek, although I vaguely knew it was a town somewhere in Colorado, where once miners flocked, high in the Rocky Mountains hoping to strike it rich digging for gold. The town lies at nearly 9500 feet in a broad valley where in 1890 gold was discovered and a gold rush ensued that attracted 10,000 prospectors following their glittering dream. They dug $500 million worth of gold before the riches ran out and the town dwindled to a population of about 100 and became one of Colorado’s many ghost towns. It attracted the hardy few who could stand the altitude for a chance to peek into mining history.

30 years ago it was a crumbling assortment of mostly deserted buildings approaching a century old. There still is an operating gold mine in the area, but now the more than 1000 inhabitants mine their gold from the pocketbooks of tourists who flock to what has become a mini Las Vegas in the mountains— gambling is the main industry anymore and some of the casino buildings cover-up the bed of the Creek that gave the town’s name.

But there is one building that caters, not to hopeful gamblers but to the arts. It is the restored Butte Opera house where recently I saw the finest theatrical performance I’ve ever seen and those include Broadway and regional productions of famous musicals productions by local and national theater groups.

The occasion was my wife, Marty’s, and my 62nd wedding anniversary and we celebrated it by watching a magical two hour production of “Always…. Patsy Cline”, a musical which has sold out off-Broadway and in repertory company productions all over the country as well as in foreign theaters.
The musical features only two performers, one channeling Patsy Cline, the other her devoted fan Louise Seger. Both are on stage virtually the entire performance and in Cripple Creek they were backed by an outstanding cowboy band that had assimilated the Patsy Cline arrangements to the point where I felt trapped in a time warp— listening to radio from the late 1950s late on a Saturday night when the reception was good from WSM in Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry was in its true heyday (not the overproduced, pop diluted crap that passes for country music today).

This was a country music I grew up with, twiddling the dial on the old upright Zenith radio in our ramshackle Missouri home trying from about 5:30 PM to pick up a distant signal, usually contaminated by a.m. radio static, from Nashville. There were early shows in those days, before the Opry began and I remember hearing Hank Williams Senior during his brief stint, both on the Opry and in life. They’re all gone now, those Grand Ole Opry stars of the 1950s—Red Foley, Roy Acuff, Carl Smith, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Bill Monroe, Marty Robbins and…. Patsy Cline. Not to mention and not to forget Hawkshaw Hawins and Cowboy Copas who died in a plane crash with Patsy Cline.

I would haunt the radio until the closing of the Ernest Tubb record shop show after 1 AM. My high school peers probably were out on dates and few if any shared my enthusiasm for country music. To them Patsy Cline couldn’t hold a candle to Patti Page. As a social life it wasn’t much to brag about, but maybe that intense exposure to classic country in my early life gave me an appreciation for a musical dedicated to the memory of Patsy Cline that few today can share. Consider that most people today were not even born when Patsy Cline died. It is a tribute to the Cline talent that her songs and recordings became more popular after she died than when she was alive and that even today more than half a century after that tragic plane crash her voice still resonates as powerfully as it did for six short years of fame.

Anyone who has even a passing interest in country music knows that Patsy Cline died in a plane crash in 1963 after a brief (six-year) career as a superstar. Her legend now has spanned nearly 60 years since her death and her album of greatest hits has sold more than 10 million copies and continues to sell every day.

Her death, along with those of fellow Grand Ole Opry stars Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas and her manager and pilot Randy Hughes (Hughes was married to Copas’s daughter), was part of a seemingly unending tragedy. Hughes flew into bad weather, which already had canceled the commercial flight that Patsy was scheduled to take, and the plane crashed 85 miles short of Nashville. They were returning from Kansas City where Patsy had done a benefit performance for a local disc jockey (who had been killed in a car wreck). Days later, Jack Anglin, half of the singing dual of Johnny and Jack ( smash hits Poison Love and Ashes of Love) died in a car wreck en route to a memorial service for Patsy Cline.

Patsy Cline spearheaded the Me Too movement long before today’s women coined the phrase. More than just the best female vocalist in any area you care to name, she represented woman power at a time when women still were accessory items in a man’s world. She took no crap from anyone. She knew what she wanted from life and she seized it with authority, yet was beloved by everyone she ever associated with— and that includes two husbands, two children, and every legendary entertainer she worked with.
At one point in the performance, Patsy, spending the night with Louise, sings a lullaby to Louise’s two kids. She is off stage when she starts the song and after she gets the kids to sleep, she appears on stage, in a robe, clutching a teddy bear, and finishes the song. If there was a dry eye in the house it wasn’t mine.

Mixing comedy with heartrending drama, Louise opines that roadhouse dancing is about as much fun as anyone can have and comes off stage while the band is playing a song with a boogie-woogie beat and Patsy is singing. Louise grabs a guy from the front row and they dance. Maybe the guy was a plant who was part of the performance, but if not—if he actually was a local— he was a regular Fred Astaire of the beer joints and the two of them got an ovation when they finished.

Most of those who see the Patsy Cline musical know only the talent of the actor playing the part of Patsy Cline and what they know of her life is what they read about. I was there when it happened. I heard her live (by way of low-fi a.m. radio) on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, standing on the hallowed spot in the middle of the stage where the featured performer was spotlighted. It’s my regret that I never saw her in person the way I have seen, for example, Willie Nelson, perhaps the last legend of that storied era of country music. Most of them now are gone and when I watch the Hee Haw reruns I can tick off the members of the cast who have died and there are more of them than those who are still alive.

According to the story, Louise Seger was so captivated by Patsy Cline’s voice on her radio that she pestered a local disc jockey to play Patsy Cline records so persistently that he finally gave in. And Seger also pursued a meeting with Patsy Cline when the already established star performed at Houston’s cavernous Esquire Ballroom and that’s how they became friends. Seger invited Cline to spend the night with her and the tired entertainer agreed.

On the night that Patsy Cline and Louise Seger stayed at Seger’s house, the story goes they sat around the kitchen table (which is part of the stage set in the musical) until 4 AM and Seger is quoted as saying we were “Talking over broken hearts, husband problems, children problems, love lost, love won. We sounded like two people writing country songs.”

We all know what happened to Patsy Cline but what about Louise Seger? It turns out she died quietly and peacefully October 28, 2004. Patsy Cline’s biographer recalls having met Seger for an interview: “We met in 1980 in Houston Texas. It was quite a scene: Louise showed up in a white Caddy convertible, and a white cowgirl outfit, with holsters of canned Buds on both sides looking every bit like a blonde Patsy!” Patsy Cline’s second husband, Charlie Dick, died in 2015. Her daughter, Julie Fudge, is the caretaker of the Cline legacy with a museum in Nashville.

There is a YouTube video of the entire production, shot from the audience, and of marginal quality but if it were a Hollywood production of the off-Broadway original it would not have half the quality of the Cripple Creek outing featuring Kelli Dodd as Patsy Cline and Rebecca Myers as Louise Seger. These two young actresses may never star on Broadway, but if not it would be a travesty. They are major league performers and outshine a video of the original musical cast. The miners of old may have been looking for gold in them thar hills but today’s theater goers found a pair of diamonds gracing the stage of the Butte Opera house.

Dodd mastered the Patsy Cline vocal sob to perfection and tore my heart out with her re-creation of Cline singing Faded Love, Sweet Dreams and other Cline classics that once came from Nashville through the static into our old Zenith and into my memory and my heart. But if anything, the night belonged to Myers as Louise Seger with more energy packed into her trim frame than a stick of dynamite. If anything, she reminded me of Betty Hutton, the original blonde bombshell of movie fame who created the role of Annie Oakley in the movie version of the Broadway stage production.

All in all, it was a magic afternoon capped off by a drive through the mountains where the aspens flamed against the dark green background of pines and the red rock bluffs added another color to the palette and Pike’s Peak loomed in the background like the massive Rocky Mountain presence that it is.

Marty and I are fans of musical productions and have been to many including The Music Man and the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. We’ve seen South Pacific and Chicago at the Maples Repertory Theater in Macon, Missouri, Marty’s home town, and Mary Poppins at the Lyceum Theatre in Arrow Rock, Missouri, a rep company which has been in existence for many years and is nationally renowned.

But if we’re married another 62 years we will not duplicate the magical two hours spent high in the mountains of Colorado in what once was the location of a gold mining bonanza, in a venerable opera house, where once grizzled and weatherbeaten prospectors gathered for an evening of rustic entertainment. Some of them found gold in the hills around Cripple Creek. We found it in that old opera house and for two hours our lives were enriched beyond anything those 10,000 miners ever experienced in any given two hours of their hardbitten lives.  

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  • October 4th, 2018

YOU GET A LINE AND I’LL GET A POLE

By Joel M. Vance

Another lobster knows the difference; another crayfish knows the difference, but without some scale of reference you wouldn’t. Look at a photo of a lobster and one of a crayfish and you couldn’t tell one from the other. Side by side, yes, but not individually. That’s why you wouldn’t make either a good crayfish or a good lobster.

Basically, a crayfish is just a freshwater lobster, lacking size and gushy press clippings. Big ol’ lobsters are not a big ol’ deal to a Cajun, one of those displaced Nova Scotia lobster country expatriates who long ago forsook the rocky northeast coast for the sullen swamps of Louisiana where the crayfish is king.

Mostly they are crayfish except with the commercial crayfish farmers who call them crawfish. There are multiple species (at last count 42 native species in one state, and three non-native species). For many, crayfish are called, somewhat contemptuously, “mudbugs” but many species inhabit clear, cold water, lurking under flat rocks.

There’s a cruel irony in the only song dedicated to the Little Lobster, irony which hit me one sunny afternoon when I was playing the banjo and singing:

“Whatcha gonna do when the creek runs dry?
Just sit’n watch them crawdads die!”

What a terrible fate for such a cool critter! Crawfish, crayfish, crawdads, you take your pick—they are revered in Cajun Country but often ignored or considered only as prime live bait elsewhere. Even when they are called “mudbugs,” they are eagerly sought after and consumed by the descendants of Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline.”

The crayfish even starred in a memorable episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, some 50 years ago—Jed Clampett, had some crawdads shipped from home back in the hills, proving that someone among the scriptwriters had a southeastern rural background.

If you want to trace the name back and amaze friends while you’re chomping through a heaping helping of boiled crawdads, you can tell them that according to one story the name Crawfish began its life as krabba “crab” in one of English’s ancient Germanic ancestors. It’s also theorized the name comes from Old High German “krebiz” which means edible crustacean and that makes more sense. It was borrowed by Old French and became crevis or crevice “crayfish”. More modern French retuned this word as crevisse which the English promptly converted to a more palatable crayfish. Now, since crayfish crawl, it ultimately became crawfish in some regions. And crawdad is “a fanciful alteration of crawfish” according to one dictionary.

Crayfish are creatures of the wet, from lakes and ponds, to streams and even wet meadows. If it has water it can support crayfish. Some even have adapted to the complete darkness of caves and no longer have eyes or coloration. And, in contrast to sighted crayfish with a two or three year lifespan, blind cave crayfish can live for 20 or 30 years. Other crayfish burrow deep into a meadow, far from standing water, leaving tall mounds of excavated dirt above the tunnel entrance.
While a crayfish can exist out of water for some time, it is aquatic, with gills for breathing. The land-based crayfish who build tunnels, dig those tunnels deep enough to reach the water table and thus they can luxuriate in a subterranean bath full time.

As delectable as crayfish are for humans, they’re equally so for a variety of other critters, finned and furred. Otters and raccoons are especially fond of ecrevisse au naturale, and any angler knows that a soft-shelled crawfish hooked through the tail and drifted down a rocky run in a smallmouth stream is as close to a guaranteed strike as sportfishing gets. Use as bait has resulted in exotic or non-native species being introduced into habitats where they compete, sometimes successfully, with the native crayfish.

Accidental or deliberate introductions have had serious ecological results—the starling is an exotic as is the gypsy moth. Any introduced species does just what introduced people would do—it competes for food and shelter with native species. While crayfish largely are good citizens, their mounded burrows can damage earthen dams, gardens and fields, and some species have internal parasites which can affect humans.

Nationally crayfish farmers produce up to 85 million metric tons of the little lobsters every year—more than a billion pounds, with Louisiana and Texas the major producers. One crustaceans expert says, “Because of their roles as both consumers and prey, crayfishes are vital forces in the flow of energy and nutrients within aquatic ecosystems. Without crayfishes, the health and integrity of freshwater ecosystems would be severely damaged.”

Thus the crayfish is the “canary in the mine,” an indicator of either good or bad things happening to the water. A crayfish’s optimum water temperature is 55-60 degrees, relatively cold and coincidentally close to the water temperature favored by trout. So a healthy crayfish population in a trout stream is a good indicator that the trout are doing well also.

Crayfish are “soft-shelled” when they shed their exoskeleton (human skeletons are inside, while crayfish skeletons are outside). This molting happens several times in the crustacean’s lifetime, a lifespan that usually maxes out at three years. While it defies logic, it’s true that the older a crayfish gets the less tail meat it has compared to head mass, so the best eating size is young-of-the-year. About 15 percent of a crawdad is edible by humans. Some of the leftover can be converted to catfish food which in turn becomes human food.

It might dim the appetite of the would-be crayfish eater, but it’s fact that the little mudbugs are scavengers, often feeding on dead meat. They are omnivorous, though, and vary their diet with all sorts of juicy goodies in addition to the occasional defunct and grossly bloated catfish. Most of the diet (80 percent) is vegetative but worms are the preferred entrée.

For humans, eating a crayfish is similar to eating unpeeled shrimp. In common with other shellfish, the exoskeleton surrounds all the edible stuff. Break off and peel the first three shell segments of the tail. The “vein” (the creature’s gut) should pull free as you tug at the tail fin. Dip the tail in hot sauce and enjoy. Cajuns also suck the “fat” or mustard-yellow liver out of the head portion—a practice it’s better for non-Cajuns not to think about. One commercial species, the White River, has green fat which turns most folks off, but might be appreciated on St. Patrick’s Day.

As food crayfish are as good as it gets. They are high in protein, low in saturated fat and they are tasty. They are high in cholesterol, but also contain various vitamins, iron, calcium and phosphorus. It would take more than six ounces of crayfish meat to exceed the American Heart Association’s accepted daily cholesterol limit (300 milligrams). For the mathematically inclined, a three-ounce serving of crayfish tails contains 178 milligrams of cholesterol and would be slightly less than an average serving.

And a 3.5 ounce serving contains only 75 calories for those who count such things. Of more concern would be anaphylactic shock for those allergic to shellfish. Anyone with a shellfish allergy should stay far away from cooking or eating crayfish or even using any utensils or anything else used in the preparation of a shellfish meal—it’s the most common food allergy and a reaction can range from mild to fatal. While it’s not common, such allergy can occur anytime, even if the victim never before has reacted.

But allergy and cholesterol whim-whams aside, many thousands of Cajuns and apprentice Cajuns gleefully dive into a heaping mound of crayfish, a crayfish etouffe, jambalaya or any of the many recipes where the mudbug flourishes with no more serious repercussions than a need for bicarbonate of soda.

The simplest recipe is boiled crayfish. Drop live crayfish in a rolling boil of seasoned water (crab boil or any of the many seafood seasonings will do) and rescue them when they float to the top, now a bright orange color.

It takes about seven pounds of crayfish to produce one pound of tail meat and the average serving is between three and four pounds of whole crayfish or five or six ounces of tail meat per person per meal. Obviously the serving depends on the appetite of the person. In 1991 a fellow named Steve Luman ate 30 pounds of crawfish in 30 minutes. The contest was co-sponsored by Weed Eater.

The easiest way to collect a meal is to buy the meat (you can buy live crayfish on the internet for between $5-$6 per pound) but if you want to get them yourself, a bait seine with two energetic youngsters, one on either end, is the weapon-of-choice. Someone upstream kicks over rocks and the disturbed crayfish drift into the net.

A slower and less ecologically-intrusive method is to carefully lift rocks in the shallows of clear streams and either hand grab the crayfish hiding below or position a dip net just behind the little fellow and feint at his upraised dukes. He’ll flip backward, right into the net. Put the rock back where it was, haven for the next resident.

And if you do collect your dinner from the stream or pond, refrigerate it immediately, but not below 38 degrees or the crayfish can die. Make sure they have oxygen and either eat them within 24 hours or freeze them cooked. Discard any dead crayfish before cooking.

Given that it takes a bunch of crayfish to feed a hungry horde of shellfish lovers, it is necessary for the little lobsters to practice crustacean love often and productively. A female crayfish will lay from 400 to 800 eggs.

Crayfish love occurs in fall and winter. The mating is both conventional and peculiar in that the male, after depositing sperm in the female, plugs her receptacle which serves both to keep sperm in and other males out. After the female lays her huge clutch of eggs, she fastens the egg masses to her swimming legs, called swimmerets, and hides until they hatch in a few weeks.

As is true of all prolific creatures, mortality is high—just about every fish that swims relishes a juicy crawdad, not to mention four and two-legged predators and even the occasional winged one.
Crayfish are largely a creature of the eastern half of the country—almost all of the estimated 350-400 species (no one knows for sure how many species there are) exist east of the Rocky Mountains and more than 90 percent of those are in the southeastern United States—oddly there are no crayfish in Africa.

But you’ll find them in every corner of Missouri, dukes raised, ready for a fight, ready to help you catch the smallmouth bass of a lifetime, ready to indicate the health of your favorite river, ready to grace your dinner plate with a heap of their peers—all-around good fellows.

“You get a line and I’ll get a pole
And we’ll go down to the crawdad hole….”

-30-

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  • September 27th, 2018

THE SHUFFLE OF TIME

By Joel M. Vance

In 1956 my favorite aunt gave me a Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch as a college graduation present. Armed with a diploma and a Rolex I was prepared to ascend into social circles where surnames were followed by academic designations and wrists were circled by Rolex watchbands.

My eyes, a charming bright blue, have been likened to the late Paul Newman’s famous orbs (although the rest of me is closer to Alfred E. Neuman). That’s one link between me and Mr. Newman; the other is that he was a fan of Rolex watches and wore one when he drove his race car in competition. I wore mine when I drove my Hillman Minx to work. James Bond also wore a Rolex in Ian Fleming’s spy novels, as did Sean Connery when he played the famous 007 in the movies. We both have thinning hair and a Rolex and that ends the similarities between me and Sean Connery.

My Rolex was a status symbol far advanced from a bachelor’s in journalism and was the only status symbol I owned. I did not have a Cadillac or a membership in the country club. I owned no stocks or bonds. My starting newspaper salary was $65 a week, nothing extra for overtime. My savings account consisted of a slowly-maturing $50 War Bond, bought by my parents when I was a toddler.

The Hillman Minx was a British import, cheap and with an engine which quite possibly consisted of a pair of geriatric gerbils running around in a cage which somehow propelled the car at a blistering 25 mph. Maybe I didn’t have a Paul Newman racecar, but I did have a Rolex Oyster Perpetual and I could hang my arm outside the window of the Minx (which I had to do to signal turns since there was no turn indicator among the car’s accessory items) and let people see my glittering status symbol.

I had a Rolex Oyster Perpetual and it guaranteed I would know what time to show up for work and what time to quit. It functioned as an elegant starting block in the race of life, a sprint to where I would activate its self-winding mechanism through vigorous clipping of bond coupons.

And then it died. It just quit running.

My Webster Collegiate dictionary, the one I got with my degree and my Oyster Perpetual, defines “perpetual” as “Lasting or enduring forever.” Apparently Rolex’s definition varies from Webster’s because, about 30 years into the life of the Perpetual it died in the words of T.S. Eliot: “not with a bang, but a whimper.”

I quoted this to a watch repair man, showing him the stilled second hand. “It whimpered when it quit?” he asked in astonishment.

“No…that’s a literary allusion…nevermind,” I said. “Can you fix it?”

He kept it quarantined for several days and then told me that he couldn’t get parts for it anymore, that Rolex did not make them for a watch not even 50 years old. “You mean that a perpetual watch is dead in less than half a century?” I said. “That’s not my idea of perpetual.” He shrugged and said, “I’ve got some really good watches for $100. Run on batteries.”

The watch he suggested was made by the Mallard watch company. This seemed a good omen because I am a great fan of duck hunting, especially for mallards, among the best of ducks on the dinner table. A mallard drake is almost a trophy bird when it comes to duck hunting. According to their promotional material the Mallard watch is “built for action, and for life!” Sounded like a good fit for me because at the time (when I was less than decrepit) if not exactly built for action, at least I was ready for it.

The Mallard also touted that “you won’t find these fine watches in big-box or discount stores”. If there is anything that I avoid like the black plague or underarm odor it is big-box and discount stores. A day when I am not in Walmart is a day in the sunshine.

Mallard watches are the brainchildren of a fellow named Jules Borel, a Swiss watchmaker, who immigrated to the United States in 1920 and opened a watch repair shop. The business grew as a supplier of parts and tools for the watch industry and eventually Borel came out with his own line of watches which for whatever reason he named the Mallard. Mr. Borel did not choose the glitzy confines of Manhattan as his home base; instead he chose Kansas City as his watchmaking home, in my home state, Missouri, proving that you don’t have to be uptown to be a down-home feller.

So I plopped down my $100 and went home with my Mallard. At this moment I can look at my wrist and tell within a few seconds exactly what time it is in my universe because after more than 30 years the Mallard keeps the kind of time that Mr. Rolex and his fellow horological legends can only aspire to.

The Mallard has been sweated on, been through the hell of 1000 grueling hunts in inhospitable hells, traveled thousands of miles on the road– and it keeps time the way time should be kept, accurately and without failure. Without a whimper and a lost moment never to be regained.

On the other hand, the Rolex went back into its original case and got stuck in a drawer with old pocketknives, my expired passport with the photograph that makes me look like Osama bin Joel, decorative belt buckles and lint-covered breath mints. There it has languished for a couple of decades while my Mallard continues to be a highflying exemplar of a watch which marks time with nary a missing second.

I sneered at the audacity of Rolex to call any watch “perpetual.” It’s arrogant to label any watch “perpetual” unless it has been around since the time of the Pharaohs. And I haven’t seen any hieroglyphs of Tutankhamen sporting a wristwatch. Rolex is more than 113 years old, founded in 1905.

It’s actually English, not Swiss, in origin. One story about the origin of the name is that founder Hans Wilsdorf thought that “rolex” is the sound a watch makes when it’s being wound. Mine, of course, made a tiny whmper (actually, I would’ve settled for a whimper rather than dead silence).

A Rolex watch has been to the bottom of the Mariana Trench and to the top of Mt. Everest. Mine never went higher than the highest spot in Missouri, Taum Sauk Mountain (1,772 Feet), or deeper than six inches in a trout stream when I stepped on a condemned slippery rock, did an acrobatic pratfall that would have gained the envy of Buster Keaton, and the watch flew off my wrist and plopped into the water.

In 1927 Mercedes Gleitze was the first English woman to swim the English channel and she did it with a Rolex Oyster watch tied around her neck. Although she nearly died of exposure, the watch was in perfect shape after 10 hours submerged. Chances are then my watch’s short dip in Roaring River creek was not what caused its fatal illness.

One watchmaker took it apart and said the self-winding mechanism was worn out. Self-winding is an invention of 1923 (1931 on a Rolex). A tiny balance wheel swings back and forth with the motion of the wearer’s arm and powers gears and other mysterious stuff that winds the mainspring.

I can see that if I were operating a jackhammer 15 hours a day it might stress the self-winder into exhaustion, but I’m just your average couch potato, occasionally raising my arm to grab a Bud or another nachos. My winder should last a thousand years (actually, being “perpetual,” it should last forever—just ask Mr. Webster).

Years passed and my Rolex moldered among the detritus of my life, a pearl among swine, albeit a pearl that told the right time only twice each 24 hours. I ran across it while searching out my fifth grade report card which had a breath mint glued to it and decided to beard the horological lion in its den. I called the New York Rolex headquarters and spoke with a gentleman whose accent reflected advanced educational institutions where the annual tuition equaled what I spent in four years at the University of Missouri and who doubtless spent more on one sneaker than the cost of everything in my closet.

He told me that Rolex did not make parts for that watch anymore but I was too intimidated by his smarmy accent to ask why in the hell a watch with “perpetual” in its name would be outdated in half a century. He gave me instructions on mailing the watch to them in a tone that resembled the way one speaks to children who can’t quite grasp long division, a mixture of pity and resignation. He seemed to imply that if it came from Missouri it probably was dysfunctional because it had become clogged with horse manure.

The ensuing estimate allowed that Rolex possibly could make my watch functional again though it never would keep Rolex Time and who knows how long the duct tape and Elmer’s glue would hold? Cost? About $1,000.

That would have bought 10 of the Mallards I could have bought to replace the defunct Rolex, but I didn’t bring that up—had he known I’d defaced my wrist with a $100 watch he probably would have hung up on me.

The Rolex went back among the rusty pocketknives for several more years and then I read an article about a rural watchmaker who specializes in Rolex repair. He was in the tradition of shade tree mechanics who are open a couple of days a week if they feel like it, but who can turn a 1923 John Deere tractor into a competitive NASCAR vehicle.

I explained my plight and said Rolex wanted $1,000 to maybe fix my watch. “They want you to buy a new watch,” said the little watchmaker, who I think was named Geppetto, although I may be confusing him with another craftsman. As it turned out, I needed Geppetto, the woodworker who turned Pinocchio into a real boy, more than I needed a watch repair man. I never met the guy but if you remember the Pinocchio story, every time the wood kid told a lie his nose grew longer. I couldn’t see the watch guy over the phone but I suspect maybe his nose lengthened as we spoke.

Commenting on the $1000 Rolex estimate I said, “Yeah, I’ll send it off to them right after I buy the surplus aircraft carrier and renovate it as a luxury liner.” The heavy sarcasm flew past him like a Nolan Ryan hummer.

But I was paying him to fix watches, not to appreciate subtle humor and after I sent him the watch and $200 he returned it running with James Bondian éclat. I practiced my Paul Newman chuckle as I slipped the Rolex back on my wrist. The second hand lurched around the dial and the watch gave every appearance of actually telling time for the first time in decades.

The refurbished Rolex ticked on, …picking up about 10 minutes a day, apparently what the Rolex folks consider Rolex Time. Perhaps it was trying to make up the lost years. The repair job lasted, as best I remember, for about a month and then the Rolex returned to its natural state—inert. Back in the drawer with the breath mints. The passport still is expired and so apparently is the Rolex.

The Mallard, meanwhile, is back on my wrist where it belongs and back in a duck blind where a Rolex wouldn’t be caught dead (well, if it was my Rolex, it would be).
-30-

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  • September 21st, 2018

DROP THE HAMMER ON BRETT

By Joel. M. Vance

I had sworn off of writing about Donald J Trump in this blog because it was too much like the old joke about the reason for hitting yourself on the head with a hammer is that it feels so good when you quit.

And it seemed like such an exercise in futility because today’s outrage is superseded by another one even before the electronic ink has time to dry. It is as if Steph Curry, launches one of his patented 35 foot three point bombs right on target only to see the entire backboard rim move 2 feet one direction or the other just as the ball gets there.

What more can you say about this sociopathic nut job that isn’t said nearly every day by anyone with enough perspicacity to see through the deluge of obfuscating garbage dumped by him and his supporters. The man is truly evil, the absolute personification of the anti-Christ. One (this one anyway) wonders how the guy can walk around a golf course and not worry about a sudden heavenly lightning strike taking him out. Of course, fatso doesn’t walk around the golf course anyway—he rides in a golf cart, his preferred mode of transportation since he spends more time in one that he does in the oval office pretending to be the leader of the free world. His main worry in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence was whether or not his golf course in North Carolina had been harmed.

So, setting aside my disinclination to pick on the easiest target on the political landscape and feeling particularly dyspeptic today, and despite the wonderful news that Mary Poppins is returning to the silver screen at Christmas time (and where the hell were you Ms. Poppins when we needed you to fix all that was wrong with the 2016 presidential election) I’m going to write once again about the blathering blimp.

Trump and his sycophantic coterie of supporters are trying to ram through the elevation of Brett Cavanaugh to the Supreme Court which would further tilt the ultimate check on congressional and presidential misdeeds toward acceptance of their incompetence and toward a government that would bear no relationship to what was created 250 years ago and which has somehow managed to endure periodic assaults on its integrity ever since.

Not only would the Supreme Court be seriously capsized toward the extreme right wing of the political landscape, it would feature not one but two sexual predators (if you have forgotten, we already had one in Clarence Thomas). So how would a court with a couple of good old male supremacists as the swing voters rule on issues such as gender equality, a woman’s right to choose, and other hot button women’s issues?

I signed and reposted a petition on Facebook which said “we already have an accused sexual predator in the White House. We don’t need another one on the Supreme Court.” The reaction was immediate and virulent with nearly 60 comments almost none of which was suitable for family consumption— I had prodded the extreme right and the reaction was extreme. But, hey, these are the folks who hear black helicopters anytime someone in the neighborhood starts a riding lawnmower.

I thought about and discarded many really nasty replies but settled for saying simply, “I’m glad to see that the First Amendment is alive and well”.

That there will be extreme and no doubt ugly pushback from the Cavanaugh and Trump supporters against Cavanaugh’s accuser goes without saying (they already said it to me). One unnamed defender says that nearly any guy could be accused of something. Nevada Sen. Dean Heller describes the situation as “a hiccup”.

Unfortunately, there is an element of truth in those statements but the difference is that most guys who have made a pass at a girl sometime in their past (and most have) have backed off when the girl said no and it is no defense to excuse what amounts to an attempted rape by saying, “hey, it’s just a guy thing”.

The woman in question, Christine Blasey Ford, now is an adult—but at the time the alleged incident occurred she was 15 years old and she was at a party where beer was available and consumed and where there was no adult supervision. In that situation it would be highly unusual for a frightened teenager to report the incident either to the authorities or to her parents. But it left a mark on her that has persisted into adulthood and resulted in her seeking counseling— from which she has notes that provide a written record of what happened, how it happened, and how it affected her entire life.

There is absolutely no benefit to her now at the age of 51 to come forward with the story unless it is true. To risk going public with a shameful incident from the past makes no sense unless it is true and she knows full well that she is setting herself up for ridicule , not to mention physical threat, from the right. It has already started. Proving that the rotten apple does not fall far from the tree. Trump’s kid, Don Junior, mocks the allegation by posting a photo of a crumpled up piece of notebook paper with a scribble message which says “Cindy will you be my girlfriend, love Brett.”

This is a classic Trump response to an accusation. Discredit the accuser, throw dirt on the evidence and try to ride it out—he already has told his dear friend Sean Hannity that he feels he has survived the damning effect of the Bob Woodward book, and the uncomfortable fact is that he probably has.

Donnie Junior’s clumsy attempt at sarcasm exposes Junior for the chip off the old blockhead that he is. Talk about a dysfunctional family! I wonder what the legitimate women in Trump’s life think about the old sexual predator’s excesses—Melania, Ivanka, and Tiffany? Perhaps the goldplated lifestyles they lead is enough excuse for them to ignore their patron’s sleaziness. At least one source has said that Ivanka has told her father to drop Cavanaugh—arguably she is the smartest one in the family and, considering she is listed as a trusted advisor, Trump would be smart to take her advice.

The right-wingers will try to excuse Cavanaugh by saying that it happened a long time ago and will imply that he should be forgiven for youthful indiscretion if indeed it did happen. But we’re not talking about a DWI like that that George W. Bush incurred or someone smoking a joint in college (like Bill Clinton—but he didn’t inhale—yeah, right) or some other socially unapproved behavior of long ago. We’re talking about a physical assault on a 15-year-old girl. And there should be no statute of limitation on anything like that, especially when it concerns an appointment to a position with the potential of affecting the entire course of the country possibly for decades to come.

Presumably most of the senators who would vote on the suitability of Brett Cavanaugh to be a Supreme Court justice have families and at least some of them will have had girl children. How would they feel if it had been their 15-year-old daughter who was assaulted? The all-male Republican half of the committee is running scared and reportedly would not question Ms. Ford directly, but would find women among their aides compliant enough to do the dirty job with the old white guys feeding them the inappropriate questions.

It’s not exactly a secret that society is male-dominated and has been since biblical times. I once went to a wedding where part of the vows demanded that the bride pledge to be subservient to her husband in all things— and this was demanded in the name of God and in a holy place. I’m still steamed about this blatant nod to male domination done under the guise of religious dogma. According to the religious right a woman is no more than a spare rib, ripped from a snakebit Adam in the Garden of Eden.

Not that Donald J Trump, the Groper in Chief, has any devotion to religious belief, having lived his entire life in opposition to most of the precepts of recognized religion. Makes you wonder why a lightning bolt hasn’t turned his golf cart into a Viking funeral pyre.

Elizabeth Warren, I think the most respected woman in politics today (sorry, Hillary, I never did have that much respect for you) , had this to say about the Cavanaugh nomination, “There is already a long list of reasons why Brett Cavanaugh should not be allowed anywhere near the highest court in the land (and I’ll bet that list would be even longer if Republicans weren’t still hiding over 100,000 pages of Cavanaugh’s work in the George W. Bush administration).”

The far right, especially the religious right, is fond of maintaining that the founding fathers intended a Christian government, ignoring the fact that the founding fathers set up a three-part government whereby the president would be prevented by Congress from becoming a leader with kingly powers, and the Supreme Court would oversee the other two branches of government to prevent them from accumulating excessive power.

And the same founding fathers adopted an amendment to the Constitution that guarantees religious freedom and said nothing about Christianity being a dominant religion—in fact a number of the founding fathers specifically warned against adopting any single religion as an official one.

Predictably, Orrin Hatch, the Neanderthal senator from Utah has pooh-pooed the accusation, sneered at Ms. Ford as a ‘mixed up person” and said that he implicitly believes Cavanaugh’s version of what—he thinks— didn’t happen. Hatch was prominent 27 years ago when an all-male Senate hearing committee humiliated Anita Hill, the accuser against Clarence Thomas.

Hatch said the same things then that he is saying now. He was wrong then and he is wrong now— an out of date, over the hill, misogynistic cretin who never should have been elected to any office, much less the high office of the Senate. His doddering colleague Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, has done his best to push the vote for Cavanaugh through, scheduling a hearing for the two combatants, offering a single date and saying that if Ford doesn’t show up the vote should happen quickly. I hope it works out and that the world sees incredible woman tell an all too familiar story of sexual misconduct, rubbing the face of those who belittle her in their own mess.

Considering that the Republicans wouldn’t even consider a hearing for Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, the unseemly haste with which the Repubs are trying to shoehorn Cavanaugh onto the court is beyond suspicious—it’s just flat out political and everybody with a brain should know it and be disgusted.

I’m posting this two days before accuser Christine Ford and Cavanaugh were scheduled to testify before the committee to tell their diametrically opposed stories. It’s worth noting that Ms. Ford has passed a lie detector test administered by a former FBI agent, and that she has notes from a psychologist who treated her for trauma associated with what Cavanaugh’s defenders deny happened. She also has witnesses whom she told about the incident contemporaneously.

Ms. Ford rightfully has claimed that the FBI should conduct an investigation before any testimony by her and Cavanaugh. But the big fat fly in the ointment is Donald Trump who apparently is the only one who can involve the FBI. Chances of him risking an investigation which would implicate Cavanaugh are about as remote as him admitting to any of his own sexual predations.

And Trump’s Senate lapdog, chairman Grassley is trying to mousetrap Ms. Ford by saying that if the doesn’t testify on Monday with only two witnesses—her and Cavanaugh— and without an FBI investigation, the committee vote will go on.

. He’s betting that his political game of chicken will work. In other words there will be no witnesses called, no chance for Ms. Ford to offer any evidence other than her own word—and you can guess how that would play with a bunch of doddering old man Republicans. I wonder how the two woman Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both of whom try to maintain a reputation as champions of women’s rights, will vote when push comes to shove.

The Republican old white guy half of the judiciary committee has two members who also were associated with the humiliation of Anita Hill during the hearing for Clarence Thomas. And both of those guys, Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley, have said there was no reason to hold a hearing on Ms. Ford’s allegation and that maybe a simple phone call would settle the matter.

It’s too bad Ms. Ford won’t be able to call possibly the most expert witness to testify— Donald J Trump the Groper in Chief who has bragged about his ability to assault women without subsequent consequences and who has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 14 women and who paid off a porn star and a Playboy model so they wouldn’t tell stories about their misadventures with the King groper.

Cavanaugh would bring to the table a defense which largely consists of echoing Donald Trump’s own advice on how to deal with accusations of sexual misbehavior : “you’ve got to deny, deny and push back on the women,” Trump is quoted as saying “If you admit to anything and any culpability, then you’re dead.”

That’s a quote from Bob Woodward’s best-selling book, titled Fear, a chronicle of the twisted world of Donald J Trump. Woodward a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and half of the team that exposed Richard Nixon’s crimes and led to his resignation from the presidency is the most respected reporter of his time and if he says it you can take it to the bank.

Let’s hope that in this case “deny” means what happens to Brett Cavanaugh’s nomination to become a Supreme Court justice.

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