Father’s Day

My father died in 2007 and I haven’t celebrated Father’s Day since. My daughter and grandkids wish me Happy Father’s Day, but that’s it.

I didn’t really celebrate the occasion even when he was alive. My father and I did not enjoy what might typically be thought of as a “close” relationship.

Dad cut himself off from his family, sealed himself up in his own wounds, sickened, and died. There was nothing I could do to stop it. I finally just got tired of ramming head into the wall where he was concerned.

He was the most stubborn individual I ever knew. Warn him to stop drinking and he’d merely continue. Convince him to check into rehab and he would only escape. Remind him that he had a grandchild to think about, and he’d ignore the advice. Dad did what he wanted, which was to self-destruct. There’s not an obstacle in the world that would have stopped him.

Dad figured everyone else was stupid and that he was the smartest person in the room. Anyone who tried telling him he couldn’t handle anymore drinking was wrong, just wrong. His son was certainly wrong, about everything. Once, when we were having a hesitant conversation about the tragedy of 9/11, I made some passing comment, and he quickly informed me that I was ‘watching the wrong kind of news.’ He was referring to CNN, whereas, he was a Fox watcher. That pretty much ended that discussion.

Thing is, I knew news, and Dad wouldn’t even respect that basic fact. I’d been working in journalism for almost 20 years. I know propaganda and salesmanship from truthful reporting. I’ve made my living at it. Dad just sat in a dark room consuming Fox News. But he was right, and I was wrong. That’s how he lived his whole life. That’s how he approached every relationship. I’m right. You’re wrong. Not only did he have to win, but you had to lose. Or, at least, that was how he viewed the relationship he had with his son.

He took the same view toward his parents. They were wrong about everything. He was right. The same applied to his wife. She was wrong. He was right.

Hell, there’s no point berating a man who’s been in the grave 12 years. But these are the Father’s Day memories that I’m left with, of a man who refused to be wrong, about anything, even as he flushed his life down the toilet. I love him, ostensibly, objectively, but I couldn’t save him. You can’t save anyone.

 

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Gross … good, but gross

“Hannibal,” the now-canceled NBC series based on the Thomas Harris novels that included The Silence of the Lambs, is kind of like driving by a car wreck. You know you shouldn’t look, but you do, anyway – and usually regret it later.

I’m surprised this show ever made it to network television. I could understand something like it appearing on one of the cable channels, or on a premium service like HBO, or a streaming service like Amazon Prime (where I’ve been watching it). But for NBC to air a series that is graphically about cannibalism and other forms of human depravity is shocking. Too shocking, I guess, for most viewers – the show was canceled after just a couple of seasons.

So why watch it? Well, because it is, in the final analysis, a good show – brilliantly acted, exceedingly well written, beautifully directed. Each episode (at least in Season One, and so far in Season Two) is like a mini-movie that outdoes the 1991 Oscar winner. The series uses the Harris novels (and Silence) as a jumping-off point, examining the crimes of Dr. Hannibal Lecter before he famously met FBI agent-trainee Clarice Starling. Hannibal’s foil here is Will Graham, who features in the Harris novel Red Dragon. Given the show’s cancelation, we’ll never get to see Clarice in this incarnation of the story. It’s probably just as well.

Dr. Lecter was played magnificently by Anthony Hopkins in Silence and in Hannibal, the 2001 sequel directed by Ridley Scott. (That movie gets a bad rap, but I think it’s far better than you’d expect.) Here he is portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen, that sinister-looking, erudite Dane who once played a Bond villain in Casino Royale.  Mikkelsen is distinctive, but he looks nothing like Hopkins, and plays the character in a completely different way. Hopkins was operatically over the top, but Mikkelsen is quieter, more reserved. His Hannibal is content to pull the strings from way, way back behind the scenes, whereas Hopkins’ Hannibal had already been caught and, thus, had little to lose. Mikkelsen isn’t bad, he’s just … different.

Graham is played Hugh Dancy as a twitching, nervous wreck of a human being. He’s investigating serial murders that have all, in a sense, been perpetrated (or at least directed) by Lecter. (Remember, the cannibalistic psychiatrist hasn’t been caught yet.) Graham is slowly going crazy, so deep inside his head is Lecter. Laurence Fishburne is also in the cast as Jack Crawford, Graham’s FBI guru, who’s smart but blind to Lecter’s sick game. The entire cast is so convincing in their roles that we stop thinking of them as actors.

The murders in “Hannibal” are beyond gruesome. Some of them are sicker than anything I’ve seen in any format. A few have the power to make you wince, look away. If Harris’ novels suggest a plethora of bad ways for people to die, this show adds an exponential number, and develops them in horrifying detail. Yet the stories are so engrossing, and the atmosphere so thick and seductive, that you can’t help but watch. There’s never been a horror series before, but “Hannibal” is – was – just that. A horror movie for the small screen. Watch it …… if you dare.

See what I mean here:

And, here:

Oh, and here is the trailer for the 2001 sequel, which I think is underrated horror:

1981’s Dragonslayer

Visits to my childhood continue with the recent viewing of the 1981 film Dragonslayer on one of our (many) streaming services. The movie looked as good as I’ve ever seen it, and I rank it as one of the best examples of its genre.

I saw the movie in a theater when I was 11 years old and remember it as grim, scary, and pretty damn terrific. It is in some ways better than many of the science-fantasy films of the past few years. Funny, but on VHS, and even some early DVD versions, the movie looked grainy and fake — its age truly showed. But in the digital  streaming format, it holds up to anything you can name, including, probably, The Lord of the Rings (which seems to have taken many of its cues from this film).

Dragonslayer was part of a spate of sword-and-sorcery films that came out in the early 80s. There was also Excalibur, Conan the Barbarian, and a host of others that seemed to die out after just a couple of years. By and large, these films were grimy, bloody, cheesy, and filled with soft-core porn. Excalibur, for example, opens with a hot sex scene in which a knight in shining armor bangs a naked wench. Pardon me, while I cue that up …

OK, I’m back. Dragonslayer doesn’t have any sex — its heroine is, in fact, very pointedly a virgin — but it does have all the gritty violence we’d come to expect in our S&S adventures. It’s also the best of them. I’d rank its scariness and violence up there with Raiders of the Lost Ark, which might as well have had a dragon flying around in it, for all its fantastical elements. (Really, who can survive getting dragged under a truck?)

When I say it’s scary, I mean it — Dragonslayer is a scary movie. It has a horrible, fire-breathing, scaly, clawed, hostile, subterranean beast that burns people alive. It has a treacherous king who has devised an inhuman lottery system that’s rigged against the poor. It has a homicidal knight dressed all in black who murders old people. It has frightening magic, stony wastelands and gloomy woods where sprites might run around. It has dank, gloomy fortresses and frightening caves. There is wind and lightning. The movie goes to the trouble to create an unpleasant environment where people expect to have their faces gnawed off at any second. This is not a place for children.

Yet for all its gloom and doom, Dragonslayer looks great. The camera moves as if Spielberg himself were behind it, and the action scenes are concise, well-choreographed, and a tad gory. I’d say there is not one ounce of cheese in the whole thing. Yes, it’s about a sorcerer’s apprentice who pits himself against a fire-breathing dragon, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s almost as if the filmmakers picked up from 1981 and traveled to this place. (All or most of it was, in fact, filmed on location in Scotland, giving it a wild, rugged look.)

Set sometime during the demise of widespread “magic” and the rise of something that might be called primitive Christianity, the film impressively balances its supernatural aspects with a more realistic approach to the Dark Ages. The dragon is tied closely to the survival of the last great wizard, Ulrich, played with dry wit by the great Ralph Richardson. Ulrich is ancient, and so is the dragon, unforgettably named Vermithrax Pejorative. (Really, how great a name is that?) A small group of sojourners arrives at Ulrich’s castle one stormy night and asks the old wizard to come back to their kingdom and use his magic to slay the dragon. Ulrich, up for one last challenge, agrees, bringing along his apprentice, the wonderfully-named Galen Bradwarden (Peter MacNicol, doing his best Luke Skywalker impersonation).

Galen has no real sorcery experience, but he is learning. His education kicks into overdrive when a villainous knight arrives and murders Ulrich, seemingly at the old man’s command. This knight, appropriately named Tyrian, wants to maintain the status quo, which the king has established by setting up a lottery system that feeds one virgin girl per year to Vermithrax. (Hey, if it ain’t broke …)

After much intrigue, during which we learn that the boy who recruited Galen, named Valerian, is actually a girl in disguise, the team arrives at the dragon’s lair. (Vermithrax has already torched a virgin in a scene of visceral horror.)  Galen speaks a few words and brings down a landslide, seemingly burying Vermithrax underground. But that’s only the beginning of  the story. He is soon forced to enter the lair itself and confront the beast with little more than a semi-magical sword, a semi-magical amulet, and a shield cleverly made of dragon scales.

The movie might have been made in 1981, but its visual effects translate well into the digital age. Vermithrax is an intimidating, outright terrifying beast, especially when his size and hostility are merely suggested with a swipe of the tail or some lowering talons. The director, Matthew Robins, who never did anything else of note, does a great job of hinting at the dragon’s size by putting it in proportion to the human characters, or filming from the monster’s point of view. Simply put, the dragon in Dragonslayer is still the best dragon of all.

The rest of the movie reminds me of nothing less than an earthbound Star Wars. Galen and Valerian are Luke and Leia, Ulrich is Obi-Wan Kenobi, Tyrian is Darth Vader, and, I guess, Vermithrax is the Death Star, which has to be blown up in the end before it kills everyone with fire. There’s a sword battle, the death of an elderly mentor, a young trainee learning to master an unseen force, even a stand-in for a lightsaber. Yet the movie feels totally original and invests its characters with their own strong personalities. Also, the acting is slightly better than Star Wars. Just saying.

I would call for a remake, using today’s technology to reinvent Vermithrax and introduce him to a whole new generation, but what with the dragons in “Game of Thrones,” etc., there’s little point. But here’s a surprise: this gory, grim, surprisingly adult fantasy film was released by none other than Disney. I doubt the Mouse House would ever release a film this dark again.

Here’s more cool-ass Sword & Sorcery stuff from the Early Eighties:

And the trailer for this one, which I never saw but seems pretty definitive:

 

Dirty, rotten ‘Fleabag’

One entertainment subset that I’ve delved into fairly deeply is the British comedy or drama, both films and television. There’s no logical explanation for my fascination with the genre, other than that A) it is markedly different from American forms and B) I like mixing things up.

Almost any movie or television show made in England will have been filmed in London, which means many of the same shots of the Thames, with London Bridge, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the “Eye,” British Intelligence (AKA the Lego building), City Hall, and other landmarks getting their optics. Having seen this area of London so many times in so many different shows and movies, I would not only like to visit them myself, but see other parts of London, as well. I’ve grown rather fond of the geography.

I have become enamored of the British streaming program “Fleabag,” which airs on Amazon Prime. It’s not the usual kind of thing I’d watch, which is probably why it’s so appealing. “Fleabag” is the creation of one Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a British comedy writer whose personality and insights are, let us say, singular. I’d never heard of Waller-Bridge before queueing up “Fleabag;” apparently, the show is based on a one-woman play, or perhaps monologue, she performed several years ago. It got her a gig, and now she’s writing the next James Bond.

Seriously, Waller-Bridge, who specializes in jokes about anal sex, has been hired to contribute some wit to Bond 25. But I’ll get back to that.

“Fleabag” is a dirty, neurotic, “breaking-the-fourth-wall” comedy about an angry young woman living in London, and her dirty, neurotic, doomed-to-fail romantic escapades. Waller-Bridge, who writes and directs most episodes, plays the main character, known only as Fleabag (but never referred to as such). We don’t learn that much about her, though on the other hand, we learn everything about her. Waller-Bridge is unafraid of showing her character getting laid (mostly from behind), photographing her vagina for male “acquaintances,” coping with menstruation, etc. It’s the kind of show that starts at “too much information” and goes from there.

But I’m not complaining. It’s a great show. I’m hooked. That’s the thing about some of these streaming programs — they come out of nowhere and grab you like no programs on network television ever could, or did. They seem unbounded by time and space, and there seem to be no budget constraints. “Fleabag,” which, let’s face it, is just about this girl’s life, looks fantastic. The art direction and cinematography are as good as anything you would see on the big screen, and Waller-Bridge directs like a beast. Each half-hour installment is like a little mini-movie that not only got nominated for all the top Oscars, but swept them. Where does this stuff come from? How does it get made?

Who cares? The first season of “Fleabag” is fantastic entertainment, and Waller-Bridge is a tremendously exciting find. Did I mention she’s writing the next Bond?

My City

 

Twenty years ago, Sherman, Texas was to, me, a city and a frontier town, a place worth exploring, an exciting new home and a trap keeping me from my family. I loved it. Still do, sort of.

I moved there on the heels of a disastrous incident that ruined my first marriage and resulted in divorce. I’d been hired by the local newspaper, the Herald-Democrat, a seven-day weekly that made me its assistant city editor, in charge of 11 seasoned, hard-ass reporters. It was a trial by fire. I survived. I thrived.

Sherman seemed a wild place. Situated on the bustling U.S. 75 (which became Central Expressway as it rolled south into Dallas), it had a small-town feel and a big-city atmosphere — or maybe I have that backward. Either way, it had carved out a niche on the sprawling North Texas prairie, which was as flat, sun-bathed and cloud-covered a place as I had ever seen. Once you get past Paris on 82, the land opens up, and you can see for miles. The minute I entered the city limits, I grew up, and the second act of my life began.

I went for a job, but I was running from what was going on in my private life. I felt like a fraud of a husband, but quickly realized I could not translate this sense of shame into my career. As an editor, I had to be beyond reproach, and that knowledge prevented me from sinking deeper into the morass. I knew I had to straighten up, be a man, fly right, and run my business — or bust up for good on the shoals of infamy. Also, I knew I had to work exponentially harder just to see my little girl, whose innocence in the whole mess cannot be overstated. Sherman not only changed my life, it saved me.

Its flaws were noticeable, but I chose to overlook them. What I saw was a fun town with a mysterious night life. It seemed anything could happen there, and from one look at the police logs published in our newspaper, anything did. There were drugs and fights and busts and wrecks and fires. It had a real Texas feel to it, out there under that hot, dry sun, with no trees and hardly any wind. That summer, a storm of grasshoppers invaded the city, fleeing some ecological disaster elsewhere in the state, and I would drive my car over them on the way to work, listening to their winged bodies crunch beneath the tires. It was the weirdest thing.

We had good restaurants in Sherman, and it was there I discovered A) I like a social drink and B) I can hold my liquor. We had two theaters, showing a multiplicity of new movies, and I went to the cinema more times that summer than any other time in my life. We had a huge city park — Fair Park! — that was alive with activities and people, and home to some awesome sunsets. I walked there in the evenings, grateful for the beauty and wonder and solitude.

Solitude. Yes, I lived alone in Sherman, but I never felt lonely. Well, that’s not quite true. In the immediate aftermath of the divorce, yes, I felt terribly lonesome. My loneliness was almost embarrassing. It was made worse when people from back home came to visit. Once they left, a stifling silence fell across my life, and I would spend hours weeping. But I got over it. We move on. Love never changes if it’s real.

I learned to adapt and find things I liked to do. I dove into my work, forming new relationships, learning new routines. I had to earn respect from my staff, and in some ways, I was successful. (Some of our staffers merely tolerated me.) I learned that people from Arkansas really do have a bad rep in Texas, if for no other reason than we are from Arkansas. But I got used to it.

One day, I got in my car and said, “I’m driving to Dallas.” And I did! I took the Expressway all the way down, through McKinney and Allen, to Plano and Richardson. These were vastly different cities then. Today, they represent the Megalopolis, vast stretches of concrete and steel that reflect the sun like a diamond. Back then, they were large but manageable cities that were, for me, fun to navigate. I got almost all the way to downtown Dallas before I realized I might have bitten off more than I could reasonably chew.

It was the first of many, many, many such excursions.

This was 20 years ago, long before so many of the earth-shattering events that took place in the world. My own life has changed an almost incalculable number of times since then. It seemed to me to be the right place at the right time, in ways I can’t explain.

I’ll never forget it.

Funnily enough, you can see the Herald-Democrat building at the 1:28 mark in this video:

 

And this is grim but UTTERLY FASCINATING:

 

 

 

 

A question (don’t get mad!)

A question about the U.S. presidency: is it even necessary?

I raise the issue because last night, as I was flipping through the news on my phone (the present-day equivalent of watching Tom Brokaw at 5:30 p.m. on the NBC Nightly News back in 1986), I read an interesting article about Trump’s recent holiday trip — er, official state visit — to Great Britain. Trump got to visit the Queen and hear all about a little thing called D-Day, and what that meant to history. I mean, he had no idea.

Anyway, the article writer breathed a public sigh of relief, because Trump hadn’t done any serious, irreversible damage, or, at least, not as much as expected, given his history of blowing shit up with either his mouth or Twitter account.

It’s a good day, apparently, when Trump doesn’t do as badly as we expect him to. The bar is high, but sometimes, he clears it.

The reason (or so the writer opined) is that most world leaders now “price in” the fact that Trump is A) an idiot who is B) likely to say things that are simply to be shrugged off.

Which raises a question: if world leaders can brush aside the ignorant and potentially hostile comments made by a U.S. President, and still conduct business, then what the hell do we need one for?

Think about it — if the UK, France, and even, presumably, Trump’s handlers/enablers in Russia, know the man’s an idiot and doesn’t really represent U.S. policy, then couldn’t anyone serve as president? Couldn’t I, if they go ahead and “price in” my shortcomings in economics, foreign affairs, etc.? Or, really, couldn’t we just eliminate the office of President? Isn’t it a bit antiquated and, well, pricey?

How much does it cost to run for President? Half a billion? More? I could never raise that kind of money, and, I’m sorry, neither could you. Where does all that money go, anyway? Into the coffers of Big Media, which translates into Multinational Corporations, which are legally viewed as individuals, with all the rights and privileges of an individual, meaning that their agendas (whatever those may be) are well-funded by people who donate to presidential campaigns. What does the typical ad-buy cost on CBS these days? And who owns CBS? Not Dan Rather!

So, the money it costs to purchase a single ad on, say, CNN, doesn’t go to anything truly worthwhile. It just goes to media fat cats. Why should we, the taxpayers, continue to finance their agendas?

The President — as has been suggested with Trump — doesn’t really do all that much, anyway. Thanks to our Constitution, we have a system of checks and balances. The President doesn’t truly set the national budget or do any real negotiating — that’s all up to his (or her!) advisors (under normal circumstances, anyway). The President simply takes credit for it (look at Reagan, who apparently slept through most meetings). I think of the office as largely ceremonial, like the mayor of a small town with a City Manager form of government. Need someone for a ribbon-cutting photo? Call the mayor. Need your streets paved? Call the city manager.

Congress is our city manager. As we have seen with both Trump and Obama, Congress has the power to permanently derail, postpone, or just outright deny a President’s agenda. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. My point is, why can’t the leaders of Congress just take care of all the presidential duties, as well? Why couldn’t the Speaker of the House, for example, travel overseas for ceremonial photo opps like Trump’s visit to Britain?

Why does this country have to spend billions of dollars electing a figurehead, who’s then put up in government housing for years and years, and locked down under billions of dollars in security measures?

What’s the Secret Service running us these days?

How much does the Executive Staff pull down in salaries and benefits?

Couldn’t all that money go into roads and bridges?

I mean, after all, if what the President SAYS doesn’t matter all that much … what the hell are we PAYING for?

 

 

 

 

Shakespeare in Love

There’s no way Shakespeare in Love should have won Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan, but it’s one of my favorite movies, anyway, one that has held up beautifully in the 20 years since I first saw it.

Like many others, I was shocked and dismayed when Shakespeare won the Best Picture Oscar, which was so roundly deserved by Private Ryan that there shouldn’t have even been a discussion. This isn’t to say Shakespeare wouldn’t have deserved the Oscar in any other year – it would have! – but Private Ryan was a world-beating achievement. I don’t care what Oscar had to say, Spielberg’s war film was the best picture of 1998.

But let’s not re-litigate the past! Shakespeare in Love is a love story and a comedy and a spoof of all things related to the Bard, and a great movie, all rolled into one hilarious package. Gwyneth Paltrow (Best Actress! Yes!) is the shining star of the film, playing Violet De Lesseps, muse and eternal flame of the budding young playwright Will Shakespeare (a striking Joseph Fiennes). Together, they create the opening night performance of “Romeo and Juliet” (known earlier in the picture as “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter”), and fall in love, despite all the social, economic, cultural and political barriers that Elizabethan England can throw at them. (Barriers that are not, I should say, easily surmounted.)

The movie is light without being lightweight, a funny spoof that nonetheless honors its source material (Shakespeare) while putting a deliciously contemporary spin on things. (And yes, the movie might be 20 years old, but it still stands as “contemporary.” Watch it and you’ll see what I mean.) It is sexual without being smutty, satirical without being condescending, and romantic without coming across as disingenuous. We believe that Will and Violet are desperately in love and that they have no chance in hell of overcoming the politics that will keep them apart. The film’s final moments (beginning around about the conclusion of the performance of “Romeo and Juliet”) are still moving after all these years, and it has one of my all-time favorite closing shots.

Like Will’s play, the movie depends on the quality of the acting. The genius of Shakespeare in Love is that it gives us two great lead characters, played unforgettably by Fiennes and Paltrow, but at least a dozen minor characters who are equally entertaining. Colin Firth (who would go on to play the King of England in The King’s Speech), Judi Dench (who would win Best Supporting Actress – deservedly – based on only a handful of scenes), Ben Affleck (yes!), and, best of all, Geoffrey Rush (priceless), all deliver wonderful work, stealing almost every scene. (Let’s just go ahead and admit that Dench steals all her scenes.) And all the character actors, like Jim Carter, who portray minor cast members in the play, are just as memorable.

But Fiennes and Paltrow are both so strong that they continue to stand out even among this hugely talented and famous cast of British actors. (Paltrow, an American actress, seems ever-so-slightly out of place, but that only makes her more ravishing.) Fiennes gives a dashing, rip-roaring, fully athletic performance, turning Shakespeare into a “Will,” not some dusty old poet with a quill stuck up his arse. He’s the Indiana Jones of playwrights. Much was initially made of Paltrow playing a “double role” as Violet and Thomas Kent, the “male” actor cast as Romeo (women were forbidden from appearing on stage during the Elizabethan rule). But today the two performances blend into one. She’s simply stunning.

Needless to say, I love every minute of this movie. It is gorgeous to look at, moves at a lightning pace, is funny, playful, intimate, imaginative, and fully, truly romantic. But the best thing about it is the dialogue.

“You will never age for me, nor fade, nor die.”

“Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.”

“I know something of a woman in a man’s profession. Yes, by God, I do know about that.”

“I’m, uh… I’m the money.”

“Have her then, but you’re a lordly fool. She’s been plucked since I saw her last, and not by you… it takes a woman to know it.”

“A broad river divides my lovers: family, duty, fate. As unchangeable as nature.”

“Will Shakespeare has a play. I have a theatre. The Curtain is yours.”

“Good morning, my lord. I see you are open for business – so let’s to church.”

“Pay attention and you will see how genius creates a legend.”

“That woman – is a woman!”

The movie is pure entertainment.

 

A few birthday concerns

It sucks getting older, but what is the alternative?

My daughter turns 27 today, a fact I still can’t quite believe. It doesn’t seem real. I remember distinctly when I was 27. To put that in context:

  1. My hometown of Arkadelphia, Arkansas, had just been hit by a devastating twister that changed the landscape and economic fortunes of the city (not for the better);
  2. I was married to my first wife;
  3. my grandfather passed away;
  4. Titanic was the big movie;
  5. “Seinfeld” was still on the air;
  6. U2 had released “Pop” (a big deal to me).

I remember it all like it was yesterday. Today when I spoke to my daughter on the phone, she was driving her kids to visit a friend in the hospital. I wished her a safe trip, and wished her happy birthday. She’s “adulting” now, every bit as much a parent as I was at her age.

So strange. I feel like I should do more to make it real, but there’s nothing I can do. Time marches forward.

Sometimes I wake up at 3:00 a.m. (always 3:00 a.m.) with a weight on my chest that isn’t the dog or my wife’s arm. It’s the fear of the next 20 years. I’ll be 70 in two more decades, a fact that makes me feel a bit claustrophobic. It’s a funny feeling, not entirely pleasant. I’m not sure I know how to handle it, or get ready for it. How does one prepare for aging? I mean, I’m still relatively young (50 ain’t old!). I’m still in good health, so far as I know. (Friday’s upcoming doctor visit could change my view on that.) I can still get an erection (just being honest). I still eat as much as I want and hear fairly well (you say “fair thee well”?).

But I feel like I should be DOING something right now to prepare, damn it, or old age will creep up on me. I’ll have a sudden fall that will be disastrous. My blood pressure will spike. My skin will turn paper-thin and I’ll cut myself. A million little things could happen that will overnight make me OLD. And when I think of it in those terms, I get terrified.

I mean, I love my grandchildren desperately, but when they’re 20, I’ll be … well, we’ve already been over that.

So, the question becomes, what should I be doing to prepare for the imminent passage of time?

Should I be working out more strenuously (without doing more harm than good)?

Taking vitamins?

Getting more sex? (Well, yes.)

Doing more cardio, lifting more weights? (Probably.)

Investing more, as opposed to spending outrageously on shit we don’t need? (Talk to family.)

Eating more fruits and vegetables? (Duh.)

Getting more sleep? (Sure.)

Watching more informative, intelligent entertainment? (Does Star Wars count?)

Reading more books? (Fun to do, but probably not.)

Traveling more? (Absolutely!)

Or are there other helpful steps I haven’t thought of? For my money, that’s enough! I mean, there are only so many hours in the day, and I have work and other people in my life. So many demands, so little time.

A consequence, I suppose, of “adulting.”

The most frightening suspicion that occurs to me at 3:00 a.m. is that I haven’t done enough with my life so far. The fact I have no idea how much time I have left  (no one does) adds unnecessary pressure. Am I ever going to write the Great American Novel, or at least a best seller? Am I ever going to star in a box office blockbuster? Will I ever take a truly Great Photo? Will I ever visit Los Angeles or Hawaii, or go to New York again?

Some questions are of a more practical nature. Will I ever get out of debt sufficiently to go to New York or L.A.? Will I leave a sufficient inheritance for my grandchildren? Have I done enough to provide for my family?

Sadly, the answer to all these questions, if I am honest, is probably “no.” If I were to take a snapshot of my life at this moment, I would likely come up short in all or most of those categories.

I try not to worry about these things, but I have a feeling they are important, and at this stage of the game, I should worry about them. The concerns of a 50-year-old man are not the same as those of a 27-year-old.

Then I think, it isn’t enough to worry about them, or let them gnaw on me until finally I can’t sleep at all. The only remedy — the only real answer — is to take action. No, I can’t devote 8 hours of every day to preparing for my 70th birthday. But I can take small steps every day to help ensure that I get there safely. I guess. Hell, I don’t know.

Anyway.

Happy Birthday to my precious child! Isn’t that all that really matters?

 

 

 

My life with racists

 

I grew up in a small town in the South, and as a child, I was inundated, it seems, by the use of the N word.

This was in the 1970s and 80s, a supposedly more “progressive” era than, say, the 1950s, or any decade in which Jim Crow ruled the land.

Even as a child, I felt ashamed of the use of the word. Racial divisions were deeply felt, observed, and practiced in our town. I never saw any aggressive behavior of whites toward blacks, but the language used was hateful, and the attitudes entrenched.

For example: the waiting room in our family doctor’s office was segregated. Blacks on one side, whites on the other. We whites used a separate door — the “front” door — while African-American patients (old men, young women, small children, whole families) used the “side door. The receptionist’s cubicle separated the two races. My family used this physician until I was 13 or so. I don’t know when the practice closed for good, but it is, of course, no longer in operation. This was, however, SOP in those days.

I hate to say, “that’s the way it was,” because that is an excuse, like saying, “You knew I had a drinking problem when you married me.” Yes, racism was the unspoken, unwritten policy, even as late as the 1980s in “our town,” but that doesn’t mean it can or should be explained away by saying “that’s how things were.” It was a sickness. Excusing it as just another fact of life puts racism in the same category as, say, taxes. Racism is not an inconvenient thing to be put up with; it is a societal injustice.

Yet it was “put up with” in our town, for far too long. Black families “put up with” separate waiting rooms and who knows what else. I know that our black citizens also heard and “put up with” the public use of the N-word, which was pervasive on one side of my family. The other side, not so much.

My paternal grandparents were infected with the virulent attitudes of racism. They grew up that way, entrenched in it. There were Confederate soldiers on my grandmother’s side of the family. My grandfather collected Nazi-era artifacts — German pistols, army helmets, books, swastikas. He was also employed as an officer of the Treasury Department in the 1930s and 40s, serving under FDR, whom he bodyguarded. How this dichotomy — public service coupled with a private fasciation with The Enemy — was accommodated in his psyche, I will never know.

My mother’s parents were far more sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans. My mom’s dad employed a black woman for many years in his shoe store — she was the only employee he ever had, so far as I know — and my mom’s mom told me horror stories of injustice. She told me about the separate entrances and exits, the separate water fountains, the separate eateries, and the consequences that blacks (never whites!) paid for violating any unwritten social “norm.”

I saw blacks welcomed into the home of my maternal grandparents, which would have been a strict no-no elsewhere. I grew up knowing that one side of the family had it right, and the other side, depressingly, had it wrong.

I also associate racism with the support of gun rights, though I realize this is not a fair association. My father and grandfather were vocal NRA members — yes, they paid the dues and put the stickers proudly on their vehicles — but they were also the ones who voiced the most terrible racial attitudes. My grandfather feared “race war” and the sexual commingling of the races. He believed in the arming of the white race to defend against the militant black man. I grew up hearing these things.

Fortunately, I never took any of that stuff seriously. Even then, it seemed like the received “wisdom” of a completely different generation. My mom’s side of the family helped reinforce this idea. In the 1970s, her parents hired a black housekeeper who was treated like a member of the family. My grandmother even sat down with her at noon every day to watch her favorite soap opera. Their personalities suited each other; both were kind, generous, soft-spoken Southern ladies. I never understood how anybody could take the attitude my dad’s side took toward blacks. It was quite possible that they never knew any.

I did. My best friend in school was black. He was a cool, funny, generous, smart, talented kid. I never saw him as “black.” He was just my friend. If he had known all the vile things my dad and his side of the family said about black people, he would probably have remained my friend. He would have accepted that such attitudes represented the status quo, but that our friendship represented change. We were friends until we graduated from high school and are social media acquaintances today.

I kept a level head throughout my childhood. There was nothing I could do to change the bizarrely extreme attitudes that white adults held toward certain of their fellow citizens back when I was a kid. Nothing, that is, except harbor different attitudes and bring those forward. This I feel I have done. Nothing makes me angrier than racist attitudes, and I try to be alert to it in myself, since it lurks in my background. I have nothing but contempt for modern-day promoters of “Nationalism.” The creeping rise of National Socialism and white supremacy in this country makes me fearful, and angry. Today I fully support gun rights, as long as guns may be used to defend against totalitarianism. Totalitarians, by the way, are always, always racist.

My dad and his parents might have done me a favor, after all — inadvertently.

A legit-reading encapsulation of Jim Crow can be found here:

https://www.britannica.com/event/Jim-Crow-law

This is also useful:

 

 

 

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