Archive for the ‘Memory Lane’ Category

Wednesday night I got to share an experience with my oldest son which he will never forget. As my two regular readers will already know, both my sons are on the autism spectrum. The oldest one has Asperger’s Syndrome. Unlike his little brother, he is in regular classes, and if you were to encounter him in public or on the street, depending on the setting, it might take a few minutes for you to figure out that he doesn’t see the world the way you and I do. And like me, he is an Eric Church fan.

At The Key Arena

When we learned Chief was coming to Seattle this spring, my wife got on-line and we bought two tickets, so he and I could go and see one of our favorite singers in concert.

While I have been to many “big” concerts over the years, mostly at Michigan venues like Meadowbrook, the Pontiac Silverdome, The Palace at Auburn Hills, The Saginaw Civic Center, and Pine Knob, I have never been to any major Washington venue other than McCaw Hall.

We left in the early afternoon, so to avoid any traffic issues, and arrived in plenty of time to enjoy a spring afternoon at Seattle Center, and found a line forming already, with hard-core fans outside. I wish I could say that I was impressed with the venue’s handling of guests outside the building, I can’t. Conflicting information and instructions given by the venue’s workers made the wait frustrating and disappointing, especially for a young man who has a need to clearly understand what he is expected to do and participate in. However, once we finally got to the entry, the credit card/ticketless entry system seemed to work very well. The lines for souvenirs were long, but moved quickly, and soon my son had his first concert t-shirt with the image of his hero on the front and a list of concert venues on the back. We went to the concession stand to get a snack and some drinks and went to find our seats.

Let me say that for a concert, I don’t think there can be a bad seat in the Key Arena. We both spent a fair amount of time looking around and watching people file in, and looked at the stage at the south end of the arena.

The Brothers Osborne took the stage at 7:30 pm, and played a great show for about 45 minutes to a half-filled arena. I had heard them before, and knew they could play well, but judging from some of the reactions around us, several people were hearing them for the first time…and liking it. They played songs from their EP, including “Let’s Go There”, and “Rum”, and connected well with the audience when they spoke about knowing that you don’t have to be from the south to be country, before launching into a blistering rendition of “Down Home”. But my moment of great surprise and wonder came when they admitted to being great fans of The Band, then started playing an ambitious take on “The Shape I’m In.” While my son wasn’t familiar with the songs, he still enjoyed the performance, as did the concertgoers there to see it.

Eric Church

After the Brothers Osborne left the stage, the workers came to clear everything off, and soon a slide show started playing on the jumbotron above the stage as the arena filled over the next hour and fifteen minutes.

When the lights darkened and the opening strains of “The Outsiders” started, my son’s eyes got wide and he turned to give me a high-five as the crowd erupted. By now the woman next to me had figured out that my son isn’t “normal”, and that it was his first concert. At different points she tried to engage him, asking him what his favorite song was, high-fiving him when he appeared to be excited about a particular song, and urging him to wave his arms and cheer like everyone else in the arena, sometimes successfully and sometimes not.

Eric and the band played an excellent show on a stage meant to allow them to play to the front, the sides, and the back. His energy was undeniable, and he reminded the crowd of his many visits to Seattle. The drum kit came down from the ceiling and turned during the show, and lights lowered and raised from the ceiling and from the back of the stage throughout the show. Eric drew on his vast catalog of songs, getting some of the strongest crowd reactions to favorites like “Sinners Like Me” and “Pledge Allegience to the Hag”. As the top-fueled 2+ hour performance drew to a close, he and the band played a poignant version of “Springsteen”, and before he wrapped it up, he talked to the audience about the line “Funny how a melody sounds like a memory”, and how he wanted us all to form a memory of that special Wednesday night, before he invited the audience to sing along with him to the “Whoa-oh-oh-oh, Whoa-oh-oh-oh,Whoa-oh-oh-oh”.

I was glad for that. For that evening, my son was part of an arena full of family, united in their love of a performer’s music, and of the performance itself, which was one of the best I’ve ever witnessed, and he got to just belong, and enjoy the irony of not being an outsider. I saw his shoulders droop just a little as the band left the stage at the completion of the song, and then I saw them raise back up a bit when Chief walked back out alone, and stood in the spotlight as he played “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young”.  It was a good ending to a great concert.  And we got to enjoy a day of good conversations, before and after the concert, and one of the best performances he’ll ever see by a guy who sings songs that will be permanently embedded in the soundtrack of our lives, and those melodies will always be memories.

Thank you, Chief.

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Sometimes, movies for me are as much about the memory of who I watched with as they are about the movies themselves, and no movie embodied this more than “A Christmas Story”.

Its funny how we remember our parents, or how we think about them after they are gone. I don’t ever remember my father being terribly open about his feelings about the people he loved. It wasn’t that he didn’t love them; it was that he just seemed to take it for granted, and expected the rest of us to do the same. But those weren’t the only things that I recall about growing up with him. Phrases such as “No brain, no pain.” “Pain is nature’s way of saying don’t do that” and “No good deed goes unpunished were repeated so often in my home that they became automatic responses to certain circumstances and events…so much so that it became difficult to think of him in terms other than a gruff guy of few words and flinty sarcasm for the words that came. As a result, I remember hearing some of his friends speak at his funeral service, and wondering who it was they were talking about. But the single greatest character trait I recall was a real humbugism about Christmas. This would have made his love for “A Christmas Story” seem to be an anomaly unless you knew of his love of Jean Shepard stories.

When this movie was on, it was its own Christmas miracle, as my father would watch it, and laugh. Not chuckle. Not chortle. Not guffaw. LAUGH.

For years after his passing, I would watch the movie with him every year. Oh, I knew he wasn’t really there, but just the same, I felt that I could look over, and see him smiling and laughing, in what was for me, an unfamiliar attitude from him. And though I have sons of my own, I didn’t share this experience with them. It wasn’t something I could adequately describe, and I never wanted to feel compelled to do so. But each year, this echo of memory seemed to fade a bit more. Last year, I strained through the movie, to see Dad laughing, to hear him, and it was difficult. It wasn’t a good experience, and I was left feeling frustrated.

This year, when I sat down to watch the movie, I got nothing.
I let it play, and I listened. Darren McGavin was still the Old Man. Melinda Dillon is still Mom. But Dad wasn’t there. And I realized that even though I like Jean Shepard’s stories too, I watched it to spend time, as fleeting as it was, with the ghost of my Dad, and without him there, it is reduced to a story that I know too well, and that holds no new meaning to replace the one I’ve lost. As I watched the scene where Mom and the Old Man are sitting in the dark with a lit up Christmas Tree and the snow falling outside, I realized that this is how I want the memory of my Father and this movie to remain. A quiet moment with someone he held dear, saying nothing and everything in a setting where he could speak volumes without saying a word and still be perfectly understood.

I’m sad that I can no longer hear him when I watch this, and that no matter how hard I focus in my mind’s eye, I can’t see him just enjoy this story, and let his guard down completely. I still carry other memories. Other movies. Other experiences in which he chose to share something with us that wasn’t for everyone. But the lag in the echo grows longer with the years, and the echo grows quieter. I like to think that the silence in this movie is an indication that he is at peace, but I suspect that it has more to do with me finding peace with my memories of him, and the realization that I need to make such memories of my own with my sons. Maybe something to help them understand me when I am gone, as they so the same with their own kids. But in the interim, I’ll be looking for my own moment with my wife, in the dark before a lighted tree, with a steady snow falling outside.

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Paul Krugman.

No.  Seriously.

I really am thankful that the First Amendment protects the vile nonsense that he spews.  Not because I enjoy him proving with each column the utter meaninglessness of being a Nobel Prize Winner, but because it makes him feel secure in revealing who he is, namely a slimy little toad who thinks nothing of disparaging men whose boots he isn’t fit to lick, let alone fill.

Krugman eagerly attacks men who stepped up to lead when it was required of them.  Bush never complained about the “inheriting” Bin Laden from his predecessor.  Giuliani never whined about the “bad luck” that befell his city on that sunny autumn morning.  Instead, Giuliani went to help coordinate the response to the attack, and he himself was temporarily trapped at the command center.  Bush went to Ground Zero for those of us who couldn’t go ourselves, and personally carried the thanks of a grateful nation to those whose profound sadness and mourning we all carried on that day.  And then he put the resolve of a wounded nation into words, and directed it in a fashion that took the fight to those who thought they humbled us on that day.

Paul Krugman doesn’t live in the same world as the rest of America.  Every word he types, every “nuance” that he utters in the service of a worldview that misplaces its hope and drips contempt for anyone who believes not in the justice of redistribution and Keynesian economics, but in the power of the individual, and the government that would respect it, rather than restrain it, and every fantasy to empower the government he would worship tells us all that we need to know about him.  And that’s a good thing.

In a world where such a small person can lash out at people who can’t help but to be better than him, we can all count ourselves lucky that he and others like him not only reveal their true character, but their tragic lack of understanding.  It is good that such would-be tyrants, and others like him can show themselves without any modicum of self-reflection or shame, because then we are all put on notice of exactly who they are, and that all of us can fulfill one of the many duties we each have as citizens, and keep such people from gaining any more power than they already have by challenging all of the false assumptions and conclusions foisted upon us by people who let their jealousies blind them to the nature of evil, and the ability to discern what it is.  I thank God for the wisdom he gave to the Framers who made such that we had such freedoms, knowing full well the capacity for their abuse, and I thank the generations of men and women who made sacrifices to defend the flag that waves over all our heads today, and the guarantees we enjoy because of it.  And I thank God for those who looked upon the dust and rubble that settled over lower Manhattan on that day and put their lives on the line to make sure that Krugman, Bloomberg, and others could continue to show their contempt for the things that continue to make this country great.

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…the images and sounds still evoke anger.

But the government still isn’t serious.

I know that sounds somewhat incredible, and I suppose it deserves some qualification.

Ten years after muslim terrorists boarded commercial flights determined to use jetliners as weapons, our government is still no more serious than it was then about preventing terrorists from committing horrific acts on U.S. soil.

Sure, they have instituted no-fly lists, and installed intrusive and constitutionally questionable devices designed to make those who are inclined to obey the law and not be murderous asshats to surrender both personal privacy and dignity before we are allowed to board our flights to all parts of the country.  The government has created a whole new agency to guard these check points and feel up passengers, and to do so in a heavy-handed fashion.  It has also stepped up its scrutiny of citizens, and issued warnings about those who have served this country and would object to having the weight of a security and intelligence apparatus meant to prevent those who are foreign to us in every single significant way fall most heavily on those it was meant to protect.

At the same time, our borders are no more secure than they were on 9/11.   Illegal immigrants still spill over our borders, making some parts of the US no-go zones, not just for normal citizens, but for law enforcement as well.  And it makes me very angry.

While I believe and support the idea that “fighting them there” in Iraq and Afghanistan decreased the likelihood of “fighting them here”, the fact remains that we still face people who are not only willing to kill us because we refuse to adopt their backward way of viewing the world, but they are also willing to kill themselves to accomplish it.  That makes them immeasurably dangerous, and opens up avenues of attack that are unthinkable for people who want to live again to fight another day.

When I look around today, I see that just like that day 10 years ago when the skies fell silent, save for the F-16s flying over head, many of our softest targets are still very soft and very vulnerable.  As a parent of two school-age children, I can’t tell you how much this distresses me.  Although I’ve struggled with it in the last two decades, I have always been able to “dream really dark”, and I see no limits on what a handful of determined, bloody-minded suicide killers could accomplish with the right weapon and a little bit of planning.  Beslan isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a school full of children, and it gives me no joy to say that.

The terrorists won ten years ago.

I hate typing that more than you hate reading that.  But consider this:  They managed to change everything about a routine part of the day for millions of Americans that we took for granted and was a symbol of our freedom…the ability to travel freely in our own country.  They managed to make an entire nation willingly surrender its privacy and dignity for what has already been proven to be the illusion of security, and spend a great deal of its own resources in installing and maintaining this illusion, while empowering malefactors who are supposed to work for us in promoting an agenda against people who object to government having such powers in the first place. 

It isn’t so much a border as it is a sieve, and sadly, it won’t take much for the next attack to bring horrors that will shatter the senses of people who believe themselves protected from such things.  Even more sad is the degree of liberty that they will surrender in the wake of such an event to a government all to willing to accept that sacrifice to “make us safe”.

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I’ve long maintained that if as a society, we all come to fear words, or shy away from the discomfort they may occasionally cause us, then you can stick a fork in us, because we will be done.  The minute any real exchange of ideas can no longer be met on an honest basis, all that remains is the inevitability of conflict.

The problem is that we have been on the road to exactly this for quite sometime.  While there is something to be said for not going out of your way to be offensive, or to at least not take an “in your face approach” with any and every conversation, there also comes a time when to walk the opposite path, and to always expect it in others, leads to a form of repressive dishonesty, where the consensus is that there is nothing ugly, wrong, or offensive in the world.  In this world, the oppressors drink their tea with their pinkies out and carry on with muted, unflinchingly polite conversations not because it is appropriate for the surroundings, but because it is all they wish to see.  This dichotomy is perhaps best viewed through the lens of the 1950s.  Ozzie and Harriet, Wally and the Beav…it could get very easy for a shallow swimmer to believe that these were halcyon days.   But there was a lot underneath that tranquil, ordered surface that would surely disrupt the digestion of Hugh Beaumont and Babs Billingsly, from a population that had started the process of desegregation in the military, which helped the promise of freedom to blossom, and then wither, as the liberators brought new dependency, trading an enslavement of the body for one of the soul.  These forces also brought a push against social norms that was spread from person to person through the invocation of freedom, but only lead to bitter harvests of broken homes, lives lost to chemical dependency, and the destruction of families.  I think that a failure to honestly confront the “scarier” aspects of the world laid the groundwork for the revolutionary changes that came in the decades after after.

Not everyone stuck their head in the sand though.  A few people were brash and uncompromising in the face of a monolithic conformity, the avenue they took was that of comedy.  People like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin challenged it by deliberately being offensive, both by saying “those words“, and by poking at many of society’s conventions.  Carlin moved beyond it to attack the use of euphemisms that the early stirrings of political correctness started to impose upon society in the late 70s, because of the fear of “offending” other people.

Unfortunately, political correctness marched on, and managed to foster the movement not to offend until, at some point, it morphed into a right not to be offended, which is a useful tool whenever you don’t want to have an honest conversation, and you don’t want others to either.  Sadly, we also had a corresponding change in the very philosophy of learning at the same time.  Modernism, which was flawed largely because of it starting its analyses in the wrong place gave way to post-modernism, which is distinctive because of its refusal of the notion of truth (except for the truth that there is no truth).  When the two came together, and the very notion that there is truth (at least outside of scientific theories which are to be unquestionably accepted as truth) became offensive, and something to be avoided in order to not be complicit in the act of telling or repeating the truth. To do so is to risk becoming a pariah, or worse, as the reaction to the Tucson shootings confirms.

Now it is dangerous to even be associated with (or standing next to) someone who utters something that smacks of the truth.  It is one thing for everyone to look in each other’s eyes and think “I know.  But we can’t say it.” and quite another to let it slip in polite company, because of what observers might think.  Now, it is required to step away from the speaker and say “They said it.  Not me.”, and then to walk away, and turn your back on the criminal who committed the last great crime.

This last week, I saw someone push against this tendency.  Someone I respect a lot, and who has been the older brother I never had.  I’ve been fortunate to call him friend, and I hope to do it for many more years.  I was shocked, and disappointed with what happened, but I’ve come to realize that he knew exactly what he was doing, and expected it.  It was his departure from a world that he helped bring me into, and that I still find to be informative, entertaining, and even cathartic.  It completed an exit that started a few months ago, and while I think I will still see him in comments, the starts to the conversation are gone. 

Understanding this helped me to understand what happened and to reform my expectations going forward.  Without a change, the window of what does not offend can only grow smaller and smaller.  At some point, all but the most milquetoast and vanilla of us in the medium can expect to learn that we occupy the space on the bubble of what can be tolerated, until the next contraction, where we find ourselves on the outside looking in.  The only question that remains is one personal to each of us: Do I change my speech, and with them, eventually my thoughts, in order to conform to a world where casual truths become offensive, and finding anything to say that doesn’t cross the listener’s/reader’s line becomes a Herculean effort, or do I remain who I am, and damn the delicate sensibilities of others?”

In retrospect, it was one Hell of a flame-out, sir.  And I apologize for not getting it sooner.

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Sometimes, a person or a voice gets so intrinsically combined with another thing that the person becomes an institution. One of those institutions was stilled this week, but if you close you eyes and listen, you can still hear his voice echoing without fading not just from Comerica Park, but from the corner of Michigan and Trumbull as well.

Ernie Harwell wasn’t just the Voice of the Tigers. He was the Voice of Michigan. A Michigan Icon as ubiquitous as Faygo Redpop, Koegel’s Viennas, Stroh’s Beer, and Mooney’s Ice Cream. It may have sounded corny when he mentioned being invited in to our cabins up north, our back yards, or in the transistors hidden under our pillows, but he was there. He was the sound of campouts next to Lake Huron. He was the sound of summer at my grandparents’ home in Waterford, his voice ringing with clarity from the table radio in the kitchen into the living room, and upstairs on a hot but fragrant summer night.

I would be hard-pressed to say why I feel the need to write about it here, but I went to youtube, and I listened. And remembered. I remembered not just a simpler time, but a time of innocence. I remembered those things that meant “Michigan” to me, and I reflected on those things that no longer exist. And sometimes, I think what it would mean to be six again, having a hamburger and some of Grandma’s potato salad and a slice of her strawberry rubarb pie for desert, and sitting next to my Grandpa as I eat it, sitting on the back deck at their house as the sun sinks lower in the trees and lights up the canal, shimmering until sinks low enough on the horizon that the stars become visible in the eastern skies.

If you will excuse me, I’m going to listen to a little bit more now, and when I’m done, I’ll try to figure out where all this dust in my eyes is coming from.

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He ain't heavy, he's my brother.

Once again, we’re at that time of year when everyone examines the year that was with their clever lists, and wry observations.  being neither clever or wry, I’ll simply point out where we weren’t a year ago, before the Dawn of the Age of the HopeyChangeyness (now with Skittles-crapping unicorns.)

A year ago, the government wasn’t the owner of two previously privately held auto companies, the largest insurer in the nation, or a large mortgage bank.

A year ago, our President wasn’t buddy-buddy with Chavez or Castro.

A year ago, we didn’t have a tax-cheat as Treasury Secretary.

A year ago, we didn’t have an Executive Order authorizing the immigration and placement of thousands of Palestinians in the U.S.

A year ago, U.S. taxpayers weren’t funding and facilitating abortions in other countries.

A year ago, five percent fewer federal employees made over $100,000.00 a year.  It must be nice to get a raise in the worst recession in my memory…especially when you already have the job security of a federal employee.

A year ago, we had a President who wasn’t on record as thinking that the Constitution is “fundamentally flawed”.

A year ago, we had a President who did not bow deeply to the Saudi King and the Japanese Emperor.

A year ago, we had a President who did not avoid the Senate’s advise and consent role by appointing czars in places where they had never been before.

A year ago, we had a President who did not go out of his way to insult average Americans by casting aspersions on their values and the values of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.

A year ago, we did not have a Supreme Court Justice who completely and utterly disqualified themselves before appointment with repeated statements calling their integrity and impartiality into question.

A year ago, we did not have government officials threatening private investors who were trying to protect their legal rights in bankruptcy.

A year ago, we did not have a presidentially appointed self-admitted Communist in government.

A year ago, a government official would not have dreamt of quoting Mao in public as a favorite philosopher.

A year ago, our elected representatives would not have dared to ask constituents for ID before answering their questions, or used union goons and police to silence and remove constituents from public meetings.

A year ago, the conventional wisdom would have laughed at the notion that we need hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus spending that stimulates nothing in order to turn the rising tide of unemployment.

A year ago, the government did not deign to set compensation levels for employees of privately held companies.

A year ago, the idea of government health care for all was the punchline of a Hillary Clinton joke.

A year ago, we didn’t have a President who has informed a whole sector of the energy industry that he wants to put them out of business.

A year ago, the EPA was not threatening to regulate carbon dioxide emissions if Congress doesn’t.

A year ago, INTERPOL could not operate on American soil without regard to the American Constitution and American due process.

A year ago, we didn’t have an attorney general who believed it was appropriate or necessary to try foreign terrorists in Article III courts.

A year ago, we had a President and administration that recognized that we were already in a war on terrorism, because the terrorists had already declared war on us.

A year ago, a statement to the nation about a terrorist act committed against Americans by the President was a duty, and not an annoyance.

A year ago, carbon dioxide was good because it helps plants grow, and not a pollutant requiring taxes by Congress that will be paid by energy consumers.

A year ago, in was understood that the government cannot force me to buy a government-approved health care plan with the threat of exorbitant fines and/or jail time.

A year ago, it wasn’t the priority of one political party to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to a group of community activists that have engaged in voter fraud and other criminal enterprises…time and again.

A year ago, the government didn’t fire watchdogs who caught influential friends of the government with their sticky fingers in the government till.

A year ago, we had a President and Leader of the Free World who didn’t sit on his hands and “bear witness” to the brutal repression and murder of people resisting a totalitarian regime that is determined to destabilize the region it is in.

A year ago, we had a President who did not support a leader attempting a coup by vilifying the people who lawfully prevented it.

A year ago, we did not face a government that grows fat and belligerent on our tax dollar, while constantly threatening to take more of our money and freedom from us.

A year ago, we didn’t have a President that accused our soldiers of perpetrating war crimes for political gain, or declared police guilty of acting stupidly while admitting in the same breath that he didn’t have all the facts.

A year ago, dissent was the highest form of patriotism; now it’s racist!

Crossposted at The Hostages.

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