A Eulogy for Brooksie Belle Ketchum Booth, My Grandmother (2001)

I wrote the following passages in two separate sections over two separate days.

Part I – 2:00 a.m. San Francisco Time, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2001

The call I was dreading came just ten minutes ago – an unhappy, middle-of-the-night call – word from my exhausted and grief-stricken mother that her mother’s long battle was over and that she was at peace, finally. The call was more than simple news of a passing; it also evoked a curious mixture of grief and relief and joy and tears. Grief that a beloved woman, who was in part responsible for my existence on earth, had reached the end of her long and hard, but fruitful and accomplished life. Grief for the hole torn afresh in my chest, next to the three scars left after the departures of my other three grandparents. Stating a trite obviousness: Losing family is never nice nor easy. I also carry scars because I never had the priviledge of growing up and getting to know my uncles, Leon Ramsey and Jay Pollock. Yet, somehow, there was some relief that the imprisonment of that lively and articulate brain had ended and joy at the thought of all that she must be experiencing right now – in particular, a much-anticipated reunion with her husband and the healing in her heart of the missing of him.

I’m happy for her; but you’ll have to forgive me, I’m also a trifle perturbed – she was, after all, either supposed to hang around a lot longer or at least take me with her. But good for her anyway. I’m really not that selfish. Okay, maybe I am. A grandmother is something truly special, of course. Irreplaceable. And now both of mine are gone. I have a simple question today: How do you breathe after this? My throat was constricted after Mom’s call (it still is), and I relived the nightmares of 1988 and 1992 and 1993 and the loss of the other three grandparents all over again. As a matter of fact, the moment that stops my heart completely this morning is a memory which came rushing back at me with an overwhelming force after Mom’s call: In 1993, when I arrived at Meme’s house that cold January evening and approached Granddad’s bed and Grandma lovingly cradled his head, woke him up and with a big smile said, “Look who’s here! You know who that is?” and Granddad turned his head and lit the room for me with a huge grin and said, “Well of course I do! It’s Stevie!” And then I saw the tears in her eyes as she looked at him and bathed his face with a wet wash cloth, the knowledge that she was about to lose him sneaking up on her inexorably. The love there was suddenly naked and unabashed and I had never seen it quite like that between them before. These were not demonstrative people. Their 60th anniversary kiss was quite a production, as I recall.

I have to belive that, right now, Grandad’s returning the favor for her, welcoming her home, holding her tight as she adjusts to her new freedom. Just think about how she feels. No more pain. No more loneliness. Together again. And best yet, free from her mind prison of the last eight years or more, able to think and speak coherently again, calling him “Daddy” and asking if he still dips snuff, trades cars every two weeks and how many yards has he taken on to mow?

Because that’s the thing. The pain of loss is sharp, but bittersweet since you remember certain happy things and know other things and that makes it okay. In the first place, she deserves the peace and tranquility and family reunions and everything she’s experiencing right now even as we sit around her body, scarcely able to breathe. She earned this. Years of back-breaking labor over the stove, the ironing board, the cotton field, the cash register at the store at Central High. The labor of five pregnancies. And the price she’s paid and the hurt and confusion she’s endured over the last eight years of one of nature’s most cruel diseases – it was intolerable – both for those who were able to see her every day and those of us who were far away from her physically, yet always had her in our thoughts and hearts. Folks, she was unable to look at a picture and call it a picture; it came out that it was a cow. She could say, “Well, there you are!” oftentimes without being able to recognize or articulate who you were. And so now she’s at peace, whole again, rejoined with her husband and other loved ones who went before, rejoined with her mind. Joy unspeakable is hers and who am I to be selfish and piggish and want her here in the flesh? If anyone deserves what’s she experiencing right now, it’s Brooksie, our mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend, mentor.

She’s gone. And I personally hate it. I think it stinks. I’m a selfish lil snot. I so want her here. I want the consistancy she represented – she was as immutable and constant as the Rock of Gilbraltar. And sometimes just as stubborn and unafraid to get up in your face if you needed it. Especially if you and your cousin Jeff are playing with the porcelain spinning squirrel in the glass bookcase for the nine-hundredth time that day and she’s told you before and you’re gonna break the thing and then where will you be? I also doubt if she’d much appreciate me referring to her as Brooksie through some of this narrative. I’m sure to hear about that eventually.

Brooksie’s daughter, Janis Wynona, my momma, says I may be about to turn 38, but she is, after all, my mother and she has spoken and I better hop to it. How high, Mom? And if circumstances are just right, I might hear echoes from Wynemia Jenell, Joyce Lee, Patricia Jane and George Oval Jr. Now, do you think that Janis Wynona, daughter of Brooksie Booth, learned how to keep me in line by reading some book? Not on your life. Nope. She and Grandma had me tag-teamed before I was capable of rational thought processes and halfway coordinated motor skills. There is also some limited video evidence that certain aunts knew these skills also, before I could even feed myself, while I was still known as Porky Pig. By the way, I have to report here that grandma’s disciplinary techniques also work on beagles. Not even a halfwitted beagle like my Bayley can mistake the meaning of the phrase, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out,” delivered in my best Grandma Booth voice and intonation. He minds me quite well after that.

Her kids did turn out pretty decent, I s’pose. Meme showed me how to keep an immaculate house, feed hummingbirds and turtles and how to care for others under conditions which might make Mother Theresa sit up and say, “Whoa! No way Joe!” She hasn’t had a hair out of place in my lifetime. And that’s the one thing I can’t possibly hope to emulate her on; my hair hasn’t been in place since day one. I’m just not willing to make that kind of commitment to hairspray or gel. Her generosity of spirit is awe-inspiring.

I’ve written something about Mom, Janis Wynona, but might not be able to read it. Her inner beauty is in fact her inner strength. This is an intelligent woman who sacraficed herself to serve the elderly of her community for over 25 years – she paid a dear price for it, but I promise that there are stars in heaven because of her. She’s saved lives, both figuratively and literally. And it is due to her and Dad that I have everything I have and am who I am. Speaking of Dad, I congratulate him on his good taste in swallowing hard and taking the vow back on April 10, 1955.

Joyce Lee, always the rebel – after all her slogan is, “The South gonna rise again!” taught me to have fun, not take life quite so seriously and, as David Niven says in Please Don’t Eat The Daisies,” “I shall yell tripe! Whenever tripe is served!” Too bad she yells it for the rightwingers and I yell it for the leftwingers, but she’s such a remarkable woman, I can overlook that rather otherwise glaring fault. I shall never forget the day she gave her Herman the Lion monologue followed by the Ladies and Gentlemen speech in the crowded dining room of Mrs. Hap’s Smorgasbord Restaurant in Clovis, NM. I pray for the day when I find that kind of courage.

Patricia Jane also taught me to have a sense of humor, and adventure, but most of all how to survive. Dolly Parton in my favorite movie has the line, “Why when it comes to suffering, that woman is right up there with Elizabeth Taylor!” Her courage and fortitude in the face of some of the cards she’s been dealt in life is an inspiration to us all.

And what can we say about George Oval Jr.? What did he teach me? Well, he showed me, for one thing, how you can beat your nephew at cards by making sure that his back is to a blank TV screen – that way you can read all his cards without him knowing it – until about 25 years later. I grew up thinking I was truly lousy at “Go Fish.” But beyond the silliness, George, Junior, Son, whatever you wanna call him, shows his deep and abiding faith and plays a mean guitar, drives a mean drag racer and taught me how to build models and whittle sticks and play in irrigation ditches. Not to mention those invaluable “Go Fish” lessons. His biggest asset, in my child’s eyes at the time anyway, was that he was big enough to torment my big sisters, thereby freeing up a significant amount of my time, most of which I used burying their cameras and barbies in the back yard. I owe ya, buddy.

Now see, there’s the rub. These people, all of us, are Grandma’s legacy. There are pieces of her in each of the people I’ve just described. They are the fine people they are because of her and granddad. Therefore, her life should be uproariously celebrated. Her death mourned, but her life, full of laughter and joy, celebrated. And the pain of today does heal with time. While there are still moments when I bump up against the scars created by the passing of my grandparents, it’s made easier when Grandpa Pollock’s voice sounds in my head, saying, “Whoooah Steveus!” or I hear Grandma Pollock saying, “Now, Curt!” and laughing over incidents on a vacation trip to Gal-vest-un, as she pronounced it. And hearing Grandad Booth swap stories with Uncle Charlie and Uncle John, then get up, jangle his keys and start talking about the well running – well, it’s just better when I hear their voices like that. It’s also a bit scary when I hear their voices coming out of my mouth, but we won’t go there. Let’s just say that I came by my ranting at political news on TV honestly – Grandpa Pollock’s favorite stock phrase when referring to anyone in Washington DC was “dern fool.” I’ve changed that to “idiots!” but I doubt that, if he was still alive, that anyone else would want to be in the room with us while the news was on.

The aforementioned Dolly Parton in one of my favorite movies says, after the funeral of another character, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion!” Truer words were never scripted for Dolly Parton. I don’t know if it’s my favorite emotion, but the bittersweetness of it helps assuage the grief and lets me breathe again. And that’s why we remember the good times today, the funny times, the echoes of her voice. Her voice is silenced in the physical world, but it lives on immortally in each of us. As a matter of fact, I think I can almost hear her now, telling me to “get on with it, you crazy thang.”

Part II – 28,000 feet over the Central US, aboard United 138, an Airbus A320, bound for Chicago O’Hare International Airport, 12:15-17:00 local, 15 Nov. 2001.

But what about Grandma’s life? She was a quintessential rural 20th century American with feet in both the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. Consider the events of the span of her life:

At some time in her childhood, possibly while a Serbian national named Gavrilo Princip was officially ringing the curtain down on the 1800s by shooting the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and dooming the new century to perpetual war, and while the killing fields in Flanders were running at full bore, for-real Indians in for-real costumes not made in Hollywood, rode up to the dugout the Ketchum family occupied near Duncan. The menfolk were up at Marlow, cutting firewood, and it was just Hettie and the little ones Dick and Brooksie facing down a couple of braves and their squaws. I’m pretty sure Hettie’s heart was pounding in her chest as she asked what the visitors wanted and was probably fairly concerned at the reply, “This is our land and you must leave.” But the natives rode off and never returned. And maybe quite a few of us sitting here owe our existence to their forbearance. And to Hettie’s brave determination.

Grandma saw two world wars and the infamous depression that would so color their lives. Her father died in 1917, supposedly due to complications as the result of an operation that today would be a 15-minute, out-patient “procedure,” after which you’d probably go ride a horse or play tennis. In other words, she witnessed the greatest and most rapid advances in medical science in human history. She started life in a dugout on an Oklahoma dirt farm, but later watched Walter Cronkite report JFK’s death in Dallas and Apollo 11 touch down on the moon in mankind’s one giant leap. People began flying at Mach 2 in three hours between London and Paris a few short years later.

On a more personal level, my earliest congnizant memories of my grandmother: Out at Dexter, apple butter spread on thick bread slices, the taste of vanilla ice cream from her freezer. Store bought vanilla ice milk. Never tasted the same anywhere else. But at grandma’s at age five – glorious. Her singing while puttering around the kitchen, whippin’ up some red beans and fried taters and cornbread for when Granddad comes in out of the fields. Snippets of conversation, “Well, Stevie, I’ll just tell ye.” The comforting whirring of an electric fan in her bedroom during a nap, a sound which still comforts me and lulls me to sleep every night. My friends think I have a fan fetish; it’s hard to explain that each night I’m able to evoke the security and peace of being five and lying in grandma’s bed with the soothing whirring putting me to sleep by having my own box fan going all night. Other things: The mystery of false teeth. The way my bare legs would stick to her green naughahyde cowboy couch in the hot New Mexico summer afternoon. A dip in the irrigation canal and a refusal, timid child that I was, to take a deeper plunge in the irrigation reservoir. In later years, narratives about Miss McGee and her parrot. I only recall meeting the woman once, but at the time, I possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of her goin’s, doin’s and spendin’s. It was our own personal soap opera, written and narrated by Grandma, with detail so rich no visuals were needed. General Hospital and All My Children may have been on the air longer and have a few Emmys on the shelf, but Grandma’s production of As Miss McGee Turns was a vastly superior and far more fascinating entertainment.

Grandma had some verbal expressions with obscure origins. She said them so often that I’m comforted now when I hear them in my head. She lives clearly and loudly in my memory that way. One example: “Hateful take it!” Well, sweetie, your English major grandson wants to know – what exactly does, “Hateful take it!” mean?! I suppose it’s the verbal equivalent of iodine – at least that’s my best guess. As in: One of the little grandkids falls down – “Well, hateful take it!” A toe is stubbed – “Well, hateful take it!” But whatever it meant, I do suppose it’s preferable to other things that might be said under such circumstances.

She and Granddad both were fond of the following – which has entered the lexicon of family legend, and which I find myself using from time to time. You see, I’m very much like my granddad. I get somewhere and then I’m ready to leave. Sometimes within the same minute. So my friends are sometimes bemused when, after a visit with them, I stand up, stretch, jingle the change in my pocket, and announce, all grandad-like, “Well, I guess I got to get home and turn the well off.” My friends’ expressions are priceless – the word “huh?!” written all over their faces. I know I’m imagining it, but I could swear that the night he died, I heard him whisper, “it’s time to go home and turn off the well.” Or maybe it was that he had to go ‘cause the lights on the car didn’t work. I sincerely hope God’s been allowing him control of the pumps over the last nine years and that there’s a rousing trade in automobiles up there.

I really can’t imagine the need for cars in heaven, but if there are (and I hope for Grandad’s sake that there are), I’m wondering how many he has traded for over the last nine years. Last Wednesday morning in heaven, after the reunion, Grandma undoubtedly had some comments to make about his latest acquisition, calling him “Daddy” and wondering why, if the battery was dead, didn’t he get a new battery instead of a whole new car.

And now I’m now sitting aboard an Airbus Industrie A320, a technological marvel of engineering and physics, flying at 500 miles per hour 28,000 feet above California’s newly whitened Sierra Nevada, headed for Chicago O’Hare, a flight of just three-and-a-half hours in duration, 1,843 miles in airconditioned comfort, being served a, well, United Airlines called it a “meal,” a dubious appellation, yet enough to keep you from passing out from hunger prior to landing. And we didn’t have to stop at the filling station en route; the gas tanks are huge and the potty’s actually right in the plane! To us, mundane. To my grandmother, a contemporary of Wilbur and Orville Wright, miraculous. She was 14 when Lindbergh flew the Atlantic solo, an achievement that was so mind-boggling and thought not to be within the realm of reality.
Not that any of this impressed her; I think the miracle of ice cream in an electric freezer, or television or an automatic washing machine were far more impressive for her. And she certainly would not have stepped foot on United 138 with me; her philosophy was pretty straightforward: When asked if she ever had the desire to fly, the reply was invariably, “Naw sir, don’t believe that I do.” When pressed, you might hear, “That’s for folks ain’t got a lotta sense.” Same as saying, “If God wanted me to fly, I’d have wings ‘twixt my shoulder blades.”

Well, honey, I’ve got news for you. Look over your shoulder. God does want you to fly – he wants you to soar, free and unfettered – no more fear and trepidation and no more worrying ‘bout what the neighbors might say. Just joy unspeakable … finally, joy unspeakable.

Finally, there was something that she would say, over the last few years before the onset of Alzheimer’s, just to me, especially if she saw me dressed up: “Well! How ‘bout you and me a-steppin’ out tonight?”

Sweetie, I’ll step out with you any day, any time, any place. You keep a space on your heavenly dance card open for me, will ya? I’ll be honored.

And, by the way. Thanks for giving life to my mother, and by extension to me. And all the rest of your progeny. A great woman you are and a great woman my mother is. I’ve been all over the world and there’s not a better mother or a better grandmother anyplace on the planet. And we owe much to you for that.
I love you very much. So long and thanks for everything. See ya soon, sweetie.

Love, Steve, who is proud to be your grandson.

The Mark Morford and The Morning Fix Saga (2001)

1-Apr-01 (but no, it’s no April Fool’s joke)

The Article That Set Me Off: « SFGate.com Suspends Three Staffers Over Column »

My E-Mail to the offender and many other Bay Area Media staffers:

An open letter:

I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire
They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

Robert Cauthorn
Vice President, Digital Media
San Francisco Chronicle / SFGate.com
San Francisco, CA

Mr. Cauthorn:

Regarding the article, 3 Staffers Suspended Over SF Gate Column, written by Dan Fost on SFGate.com, March 28, 2001 (with advance apologies for the length of this missive – but I have a lot to say):

The article states: ”[Mark] Morford writes an edgy column called Morning Fix that appears daily on the Web site and goes out to about 13,000 people via e-mail.

“The column typically offers humorous and controversial takes on offbeat news stories culled from The Chronicle and wire services.”

The article reports the fact that you indefinitely suspended Mr. Morford because he wrote an edition of the newsletter that you personally found offensive. You also suspended (without pay) two other staffers who prepared and approved the column for publication, even though they apparently had nothing to do with its creation.

With all due respect, sir, as a professional journalist and communicator (not to mention one of 13,000 Morning Fix subscribers and 250,000 SFGate readers), I am much alarmed at the spectacle of a corporate vice president not only censoring one of his professional staff journalists, but also indefinitely suspending him, as well as two other members of his staff who did not apparently share the executive’s personal concerns regarding Mr. Morford’s writing. And not only that, but also publicly and in print castigating Mr. Morford, while not allowing the readership to view the column in question, referring to his work as “grotesque.”

SFGate keeps me up-to-date several times a day on anything worth knowing about the Bay Area. I am a faithful reader of it and the Morning Fix. I will not defend or condemn Mr. Morford’s column; due to your censorship, I am unable to read it and judge it for myself. He’s written other things in the past that I think are more “edgy” than what the offending, censored column is alleged to contain.

Yes, Mr. Morford does indeed sometimes skirt the edge of propriety, as he himself acknowledges. A newsflash for you: That’s the point of the whole exercise! Mr. Morford crafts well-written, amusing and sometimes thought-provoking articles that do indeed push some boundaries. And that’s what makes the Morning Fix_special, unique and a de rigeur daily read. That same sort of style is also what makes _SFGate a unique, entertaining and worthwhile source of information, as opposed to dry, formal, “straight-up” writing found on other news sites. It keeps me coming back for more. And that, Mr. Cauthorn, is, after all, the real measure of success for your SFGate staffers.

What concerns me, however, is the rather extreme actions taken against three excellent staff members – actions which have the appearance, according to your own news article, of being wholly out of proportion to the offense. While I do, in fact, agree with you that Mr. Morford needs to mix freedom of expression with a commensurate level of responsibility, this is pretty ridiculous.

I was taught that the journalistic process goes something like this (greatly simplified):

1. Writer writes something.
2. Editors proofread and correct the copy, and use their judgement and discretion to decide to publish it or send it back to the writer for redrafting. If there is some question as to appropriateness/legality, others in the organization can be consulted, i.e., lawyers.
3. If the decision is made to not publish the article, the article is not published. Or, a rewrite is submitted, edited and published.

You’ll notice that nowhere in this description is there any mention of a process where, if a writer’s submission is considered inappropriate, that writer is not allowed a resubmission or told “don’t do that again,” but is instead suspended, his publication cancelled, and the writing criticized in public as “grotesque” by an executive of the company.

Are you just experiencing a failure of courage? Or is there something else going on here that we don’t know and that you didn’t print? If so, why did you give us just part of the story? With all due respect, you do an outrageous disservice to your readers, sir. If the content was inappropriate (and it may well have been – how do I know? You won’t let us read it), you should have allowed Mr. Morford to rewrite the column, or choose another subject to “riff” on. Or even, horrors!, allow the readers to decide for themselves. The majority of Morning Fix readers are smarter and more reasonable than you appear to think, and quite capable of deciding if we wish to applaud Mr. Morford effort, send him a canned ham in appreciation, delete it in disgust, write him an outraged, condemning e-mail, cancel our Morning Fix subscription or burn him in effigy on the steps of City Hall. Having the courage to allow the readers to make journalists accountable — what a concept!

If you get nothing else from this e-mail, please understand my main point: American journalism is increasingly co-opted and taken over by corporate interests which rarely coincide with public interests, or even with subscriber interests. (And, as an aside, I deny that a corporation should have the right to free speech – Supreme Court decision of 1886 be damned!) The Morford Matter is symptomatic of greater American journalistic disease and decline. Case in point (from the San Jose Mercury-News): “Jay T. Harris resigned… as publisher of the Mercury News, saying he feared that corporate budget demands could result in ‘significant and lasting harm’ to the newspaper and the community it serves.” Journalism is now considered simply a product to be pushed by executives who hop from industry to industry – the equivalent of toilet paper, toothpaste, a ‘plane ticket or a Big Mac.

Whether the press is liberal-biased or slanted-right is a smokescreen; Journalism, in fact, with rare exceptions, is now corporate PR, in most egregious and insulting form. And that, sir, is highly offensive, outrageous, dangerous and unacceptable for American democracy and society. If drawing a parallel between your Mark Morford decision and the decline of free press and journalism in America makes you laugh and think I’m overwrought, then you’ve proven my point and I rest my case and thank-you-very-much.

Please explain to myself and the 12,999 other Morning Fix_subscribers and 249,999 other_SFGate readers (preferably in print on SFGate) how your actions serve the causes of free speech, and creative, engaging journalistic free expression – as opposed to “Oh my god! Somebody might sue us or cancel an ad or subscription or be offended!” – i.e., corporate interests. Are you trying to protect me from something? If so, how did you know that I needed to be protected? Did I participate in market research of which I was unaware? When I subscribed to the Fix, did I thereby give my implied consent to place myself under your protection and abdicate my responsibility and privilege to think for myself? Funny. I missed getting the memo on that. Do I owe you a “Thanks for protecting my fragile little mind?”

Finally (aren’t you relieved), I must say I am not surprised by the Morford censorship/suspension, however. My colleagues and I have a long-standing bet about when A.) Morning Fix would be censored by the Chronicle_and even outright cancelled; and B.) When the fresh, original and funny writing on the front page of _SFGate would go corporate – dry, serious, disengaging and not worth a visit. It is with bittersweet feelings that I report that my guess of “sometime in the first half of 2001” appears to be coming true.

Pity.

And shame on you.

Free (and Un-Gag) the Morford Three! Save the Gate!

Sincerely, Steve Pollock, San Francisco

(Note: I would be more than happy to give you my address and phone number for verification purposes, should you desire. Please reply by e-mail if you wish to have the information. And thanks for reading.)

Mark Morford’s Response to My E-Mail:

Incredible piece of work, Steve. Can’t thank you enough for your powerful and pointed defense. You’ve articulated a myriad of vital points not just about me and my columns, but about media and its spurious and often sinister corporate relationships in general. Marvellous. I thank you.

Remains to be seen how this mini-saga will shake out, whether or not my columns will survive. But with support like yours, I sure as hell know I’m on the right side of the debate.

Mark Morford

Carl Hall ’s Response to My E-Mail:

‘Hello and thanks for sending me a copy of your note to Gate management. You make some cogent points.

I am a staff writer at the Chronicle and also president of the Northern California local of the Newspaper Guild, which represents Chronicle employees and, by virtue of a new agreement with the Hearst coporation, most Gate employees. I just wanted to let you know that we will not rest until any and all injustices done in connection with this matter are corrected. You might already have noted in the Chronicle story that our member is not suffering any loss in pay.’

Robert Cauthorn’s Response to My E-Mail:

‘From: “Robert S. Cauthorn”
Date: Mon, 02 Apr 2001 00:34:05 -0700
To: AirBeagle
Subject: Re: Mark Morford and The Morning Fix

‘Mr. Pollack, [he misspells my last name]

Thanks for taking the time to write at such length about this incident.

For obvious reasons, I can’t discuss the details of staff issues with people outside this organization. However, please understand that I would never take such a step lightly and the column involved presented a serious problem.

It provides you any comfort with respect to your effort to cast me as some kind of soulless corporate hack — and from message I’m inclined to doubt that it shall — I happen come from the editorial side of the house and have worked as a writer and editor for more than 20 years.

Your description of the process is in part true, however it ignores aspects of the reality of web publishing. In normal publishing cycles before the page lands in your lap literally scores of people have seen it and vetted it. Web publishing’s accelerated pace means that sometimes no more than three people might have seen a piece before it hits the web. In this climate, matters of judgment become critically important.

I feel it would be a mistake to read too much into this with respect to the future approach of the Gate. The Gate’s unique voice and, indeed, its distinct flavor with respect to the Chronicle, is something we all savor.

Being edgy and risk-taking isn‚Äöt a binary condition it‚Äös not all or nothing. It just happens that in this case, the column went beyond the pale. Incidentally, unlike most _Fix_columns, this one was not intended as humor – it took an advocacy position and what was being advocated proved to be deeply problematic.

Best wishes,
Bob
Robert S. Cauthorn
VP Digital Media
San Francisco Chronicle

Frank’s Response to Bob’s E-Mail:

‘Typical corporate response, albeit a very slickly crafted one. It is the Special Variation 1A of the standard corporate response, that is, the "market populist deniability" response: I am not really a corporate hack, because I say I am not. Ergo, I am not. I am Big Brother, but I am not Big Brother, because I say I am not. Right = Wrong; Greed = Beneficence; War = Peace; et cetera.
He could be a speechwriter for Gray Davis. I.e.: from Davis’s remarks before the state party convention yesterday:
‘Davis promised convention delegates that if a rate hike proves to be necessary, ‘You can be sure of one thing from this governor: I’ll fight to protect those least able to pay, reward those who conserve the most, and motivate those who are the biggest guzzlers to cut back.’’" <LA Times, 4/2/01>

And finally, Mark has the last word on April 5:

MARK’S NOTES & ERRATA
Where opinion meets benign syntax abuse …

So it wasn’t really a vacation and it wasn’t really all that desirable a break but it all worked out in the end, I suppose, more or less, onward and upward, and for those who are interested in the Fix’s odd publishing lapse lo these past couple of weeks it was detailed in our very own SF Chronicleright here and noted again today here and for the record it was all rather enlightening and unfortunate and ethically sticky and not all that much fun, really, just like a thorny little journalistic brouhaha should be.

Overall a surprising and somewhat frothy, morally pregnant incident involving the Fix which was also picked up by various media outlets, everyone from KCBS to Romanesko’s Media News to the AP to the American Journalism Review and what a strange surprising mini-tempest it was, and me without my umbrella.

A rather tame and borderline pitiable fifteen minutes of fame for yours truly, and it ain’t exactly warming the heart of my cockles to think that a semi-scandalous blip regarding one of my columns may be the apex of the Fix’s rise to ticklish infamy and shimmery glory and free saki shots at area sushi bars, but what can you do.

But we’re all back on track now, more or less, and jiggling onward with one notable change for Fix readers, and it is this: the Notes & Errata column normally running every day in this space will now only run twice a week, to give the column more time for depth-plumbing and quality control and perhaps actual research now and again, with the other three days to be filled with obscure cookie recipes or bad teen poetry or whatever I can think of, or perhaps nothing, considering the rich panoply of glorious lickables the Fix already proffers. Ahem.

In sum: Morning Fix five days a week; Notes & Errata centerpiece column included twice a week (also running separately on the Gate). Edge and wryness and happyfun journalistic blasphemy fully intact, hopefully, only better and richer and more pointed but with the same grammatical gyrations and quirky innuendo and disparaging verbiage directed at the pope and Shrub and Jennifer Lopez, simultaneously. Thoughts, comments, who-the-hell-cares? Let me know.’

A Memory of My Grandfather (2001)

I am inordinately proud of all my grandparents, proud of their heritage and what they did and gave to us. All of them worked extremely hard under difficult circumstances to bring, in their own way, the basics of life, love and happiness to their families. We enjoy the blessed lives we have in no small part due to their sacrifice, courage and matter-of-fact commitment to making a better life for us.

My grandfathers, both, were awe-inspiring men. Flawed (charmingly, not fatally), down to earth; loved to laugh and loved life, didn’t put up with any baloney. Their gifts to us, both in genetics and memories, are legion. From my father’s dad, I got my bad eyesight, an impatience for ignorance in high places and the mouth to jaw about it – plus loyalty, integrity and an occasional impish sense of humor. And from my mom’s dad, the sweeter side of my nature, a dedication to work and friends and family and a wanderlust par excellence – plus a propensity to trade cars far more often than is healthy to the bank account. He was George Oval Booth, Sr., affectionately known as “Buck,” to his family and friends, and “Granddad” to his grandchildren. And he was the measure of a successful man.

Time has a way of healing all wounds, softening all memories, but I can honestly say that my memories of Granddad don’t need softening much. When it came to us grandkids, Grandad was always in good humor. I never remember him being short or ill-tempered with us (perhaps he softened up as he got older). I remember his laugh, and his sweet smile. I remember the smell of his snuff and the feel of his somewhat boney shoulders as you hugged him, shoulders and a back bowed and bent after decades of hard scrabble in the tough soils of west Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma, earning a living for his wife and five children. I remember drinking water out of his empty snuff glasses on hot days while playing in the hot New Mexico sun. And I certainly remember his singing, particularly, “Won’t It Be Wonderful There?,” the song that Aunt Joyce always thought was about her because it contained the line, “Joyously singing, with heartbells all ringing,” which she thought Granddad was singing, “Joyce Lee singing …”

And that wanderlust. I certainly remember his pacing, and jangling of change, and his excuses to get back home after a visit (“We got to get home and turn the well off”), even if they had only been there for a short time. I remember that mainly because it lives on in me. I can fully appreciate his sometimes acute need; the fun is in the journey, in the departure, in the moving from point to point, not the actual stay, which, while enjoyable in itself, means having to keep still, at which he and I both aren’t much good. This wanderlust is legendary in the family; mom and the sisters remember quite vividly leaving Roswell late on a Saturday afternoon after work, driving the 450 miles to Duncan, only to return late on Sunday night and be at work at sunup Monday morning. It was the only way he could see his family, particularly his mother, but there was certainly an element of restlessness to it, of always wanting to be on the go, the so-called “thrill of the open road.” I know, because I feel it keenly myself today, and think of him and smile when it happens to me. My friends are sometimes understandably confused when I stand up and stretch and say, “I got to get home and turn the well off.”

Granddad went through the entire lineup of automobiles produced in Detroit between the time he was old enough to drive and that final Oldsmobile in the ‘80s. Well, maybe not, but it certainly seemed that way at the time, particularly to my grandmother, Brooksie, who pretty much never knew what was going to be in the driveway and whether the key on her keychain was going to fit the ignition of whatever hot deal was sitting out in the sun. He was the quintessential American in that way; his car was his identity in some ways. It was a source of pride and pleasure – something to show for the hard work on the seat of the tractor. And hey, if a new car got a rise outta Brooksie, it was probably a secret little bonus for him. For some reason, I remember particularly a dark red Ford Torino in the ‘70s, and a journey through north Texas when he and Grandma took my cousins Jeff and Jami and I to Sherman, Texas, sweating in the hot back seat. This particular deal didn’t include an air conditioner. That car gave way to another in fairly short order.

His storytelling was often fascinating; one that sticks in my mind is most certainly aprocryphal, especially in light of subsequent research into the family tree. But he remembered it clearly and took it with some seriousness. One day on the family farm in Montague County, Texas, when he was somewhere around seven years old, he was in the field plowing with his father. A strange man came to the edge of the field out of some woods. His father stopped the team, handed him the reins and told him to not move. His father then went to the edge of the field, talked to the stranger for a while, then came back. According to Granddad, his father then said, “You know who that man was? That man was John Wilkes Booth.” Grandad’s sense of humor was sometimes quite subtle and easily missed. Either he had a grand joke on us, or his father had a grand joke on him. Or perhaps, who knows?

I remember the way he would punctuate a discussion with “why,” not as a question, but as a declarative (such as “well”), as in, “If he hadn’t done that, why, then …” I remember his devotion to watching the evening news with Walter Cronkite. The fact that the Depression of the ‘30s scarred him so deeply he lived out the rest of his life in fear of another one. How he loved taking care of his yard and mowing and watering. How careful and respectful he was of other people and their things. And the way that when he laughed he sort of bobbed up a down a bit, laughing whole-heartedly.

Shortly before his illness and death, he took a ride with me to pick up a package from the Roswell FedEx office. We had to stop in a farm implement store to ask directions; he knew the people inside. They brightened up when they saw him walk in the door. He seemed proud to introduce me and charmed the socks off the place, made the receptionist giggle and the counterman laugh out loud with some joke or comment which I have long forgotten. At that point, sometime in the early ‘90s, he hadn’t farmed in quite a long time, but they still remembered him. In his own quiet way, he made an impression.

Granddad lived a quiet, unassuming, unoffensive life. He was a bit timid about certain things, but never shy about things which truly mattered. He wasn’t perfect by any means. He could be stubborn, ornery, exasperating, sharp and no-nonsense, but the worst I ever heard said about him was that he spent too much time in car dealerships. And his wife was the one who made the comment and she loved him anyway. That’s a pretty good reputation.

This was a man whose life was proscribed inside a limited bit of territory, from roughly a line running between Houston and Oklahoma City, over to Albuquerque, down to Carlsbad and back over to Houston – in the jet age, a fairly small patch of the earth. Grandad lived much of his life in New Mexico, but didn’t visit the state capital in Santa Fe until the final years of that life. On that same trip, he saw the Grand Canyon and Phoenix for the first and last time. He knew every inch of every mile between Roswell and Duncan, knew when to plow and plant, how to read the weather and when to turn the well off, but never (to my knowledge) flew on a commercial airliner or toured the White House and never (also to my knowledge) saw either the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, although he did, I think, glimpse the Gulf of Mexico. He probably never went to a movie theater and certainly never crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.

But the richness of a man’s life is not defined by the title of his job, the money in his bank account, or the places he’s been or whether he’s bought cheap souvenirs at some tacky vendor’s cart in Paris. Rather, richness is defined by the job he did raising his kids and how much he loved his wife; it’s defined in the selflessness and devotion inherent in his daily life; it’s apparent in his reputation, his integrity and the love he gave and received. And in these ways, life’s intangibles, Buck Booth was wealthy beyond all measure.

Granddad was 85 years old when he died of cancer in 1993. He held his wife’s hand to the end and was surrounded by the love of his family as the final act of his long life played out. I arrived in Roswell several hours before he died and will never forget his grin and the spark of life in his eyes when Grandma asked, “Do you know who this is?” and he said, “Why, it’s Steve.” And not altogether without a flash of the old impatience, as if he was saying, “Well, of course, woman, I can see who it is. It’s perfectly obvious!” That scene is probably my most cherished memory; that when he recognized me, he smiled.

I watched him draw his final breath and felt acutely the sudden loss as that breath left his lungs, his spirit flying away with it, his body giving a final sigh as he finally attained the joy and peace he needed. We were all diminished by his passing, yet drew on the reserves of strength and love he gave us as his legacy to get through the ensuing period of grief. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him and wish he were around so that I could just simply listen to him. I’m sometimes angry that we can’t have our grandparents around when we’re older and can understand and appreciate them, but instead are ignorant, impatient youths right at the time when they have the most to give of themselves.

But at the same time, I know that much of what Granddad believed, the kind of person he was, and the legacy he gave lives on in his family. In a greater sense, he left the best parts of himself behind for us to benefit, and then laid down for the final long rest he so richly deserved. Pieces of him live on in each of us and we are humbled by the legacy. He was a grand old man.

Post-2000-Election Rant (Dec. 2000)


Original Message
From: Doe, John
Sent: Friday, December 01, 2000 6:54 AM
To: airbeagle
Subject: Palm Beach Video

Funny, slightly mean:

« Confused Palm Beach Voters »

AirBeagle’s Rant:

Says Steve, in his typically verbose manner showing that he’s fiddling while his company burns down around him (NorthPoint is 50 cents a share today!):

Yes, John, the cartoon is funny. Yup, repeatedly making fun of elderly Jewish voters who were supposedly confused enough by the ballot to punch chads for Pat Buchanan, a man who admired Hitler, could certainly be defined as “slightly mean,” as you put it. But funny, nonetheless.

I do like the other cartoon on the site above where Al and Dub duel it out in Tennessee with a banjo and guitar, a la Deliverance, then go to Texas and try to have a shootout, a la Wild West, but Al’s gun has a trigger lock and Dub can’t shoot straight enough to hit him. Hilarious. I’m not being sarcastic, now, either.

I honestly also like the following other laughable aspects of Indecision 2000:

  • Election night TV/Internet/News coverage. Laughable if it weren’t completely disheartening and ridiculous.
  • The Sore/Loserman 2000 posters. Brilliant.
  • The BUSH/CHEated 2000 posters. Cute, but a weakish response to Sore/Loserman.
  • Ralph Nader – “screw all you guys.” Pat Buchanan – “well, Hitler did have his good points.” Reform Party – “Are you ready to rumble?” Harry Browne – “Yes, we should make all drugs legal and get wasted out of our minds.” The REAL Florida ballot confusion – you could vote for the Socialist party or the Socialist Workers party.
  • Republican “rioters” chasing that poor Demo lawyer down the hall screaming, even though he’d just taken a sample ballot.
  • Thinking that Minnesota Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura should be taking the oath of office on Jan. 21. Can we still draft him? Jesse “The President” Ventura?
  • The picture of Dub holding up three fingers and Dick holding up two fingers and the caption, “How many times have you been arrested?”
  • America imputing tremendous significance in Al kissing Tipper on stage in Los Angeles. Retch.
  • The religious right having no problem with their candidate’s drunk driving or using a highly pejorative, scatological term to describe a member of the news media. Jesus may have changed his heart, but the mouth still needs some work. Can you say major league hypocrisy?
  • Speaking of major league bald-faced lying: Lynne Cheney hotly denying that her daughter, Mary, is a lesbian, when said daughter lives in Conifer, Colorado, with her lover and spent 1998 touring the country with Mr. Leather USA, while she was the official Coors Beer representative to the US gay/lesbian community, a post that she only quit shortly before the campaign season began.
  • Joe Lieberman looks a lot like the father on TV’s ALF, who was always being foiled by the hairy alien puppet, doncha think?
  • The blinking, deer-caught-in-the-headlights look on Dubya’s face as he stands in front of flags telling the nation what his handlers wrote that morning, praying that the teleprompter doesn’t break down or that he disappoints Poppy and Bar – clearly so far out of his league that he looks more like an emir of Kuwait in 1990 praying to Poppy, Dick, Colin and Norman to come rescue him and the oil wells from the great satan Saddam.
  • The sense I have that before Al-bot speaks to the nation that Joe is behind the screen winding him up and pointing him towards the cameras.
  • And speaking of cameras, I just wanna tell Tipper to stop with the Japanese tourist routine, already!
  • James Baker telling everyone that the election shouldn’t be decided in the courts, then watching the Republicans file the first lawsuit and subsequently filing twice as many suits as the Demos.
  • Hearing Gore’s campaign manager curse Republican “g-damn guerilla tactics,” then saying that if Gore is not elected, she’ll be fine at McDonald’s – “Girl! God will provide!” she said. Quote, unquote. (Maybe she should have been flippin’ Big Macs instead of running Al’s disaster of a campaign.)
  • The deep wrinkles on Laura Bush’s upper lip, from where she’s had to clench her teeth and lips together so tightly over the years in that disapproving librarian scowl while dealing with either her incredibly over-bearing mother-in-law or her drunken frat boy husband. She’s even having to take on Bar’s old First Lady cause: Literacy. Probably isn’t going to be allowed to have one of her own.
  • Hearing that the networks ran hours of video of a lone yellow Ryder truck speeding up the Florida interstate like OJ in the white Bronco runnin’ from LAPD.
  • And speaking of OJ, hearing him call in and compare the two events.
  • Hearing that, in Florida, Dems say every vote must count, even if handcounted and that voter intent has to be determined and “this number of undervotes is suspicious,” while the Repubs say everything’s been counted, and handcounts aren’t reliable and the election’s over; while in New Mexico, Repubs say every vote must count, even if handcounted and that voter intent has to be determined and “this number of undervotes is suspicious,” while the Dems say everything’s been counted, and handcounts aren’t reliable and the election’s over (regarding the election in Roosevelt County, NM). Yeesh. Now THAT’s major league hypocrisy.

The mean-spiritedness and nastiness of the last month is just part of the American experience. Thank god for the First Amendment. We can all scream as loud as we went one way or the other. We can also choose not to listen, too. I’ve been tuning out most of the news out this week. My opinion, bottom line: If the Supremes rule against Al, he should concede and come back in 2004 to send the drunken frat boy and Poppy’s Posse packing. In the meantime, he can help reinvent the internet or help Tommy Lee Jones shoot a remake of Love Story, where, he and Tipper play the leading roles themselves, he tells Tipper he needs a personality transplant and then engages her in the longest recorded movie screen kiss. I’m sure there’ll be a Buddhist and an ailing dog in need of prescription drugs in there somewhere.

Let Dub run around the White House for four years like he used to when he was a kid, tossing the baseball up in the air, sniffin’ and learnin’ to say “strategy” instead of “strategery.” Just pray that Dick’s heart attacks only come yearly and are never fatal.

A Rant on the 2000 Election Season (Nov. 2000)

In the current election season, and following revelations of Shrub’s DUI in Maine, here’s the latest rant.

The following is an e-mail that is currently circulating around the internet. Following this is AirBeagle’s ranting response. This is all very long, but stick with it.

Subject: Dear Mr. President

I recently saw a bumper sticker that said, “Thank me, I voted for Clinton-Gore.” So, I sat down and reflected on that and I am sending my “Thank you” for what you have done, specifically:

1) Thank you for introducing us to Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, Dolly Kyle Browning, Kathleen Willey, and, of course Juanita Broaddrick, who told NBC that you raped her. Are there any others that we should know about?

2) Thank you for teaching my 8 year old about oral sex. I had really planned to wait until he was about 10 or so to discuss sex in general with him, but now he knows more about that part of it than i did as a senior in college.The cigar thing was also neat for the kids.

3) Thank you for showing us that sexual harrassment in the work place (especially the White House) and on the job is OK, and all you have to know is what the meaning of “sex” is. It really is great to know that certain sexual acts are not sex and one person may have sex while the other one involved does not have sex. Monica said frequently while you were on the phone, she would work at one end, and you at the other. What productivity!

4) Thank you for reintroducing the concept of impeachment to a new generation and demonstrating that the ridiculous plot of the movie “Wag the Dog” could be plausible after all. The people of the Sudan, Afghanistan, and Serbia are all running to rent the video, now that you made them part of the story.

5) Thanks for making Jimmy Carter look competent, Gerald Ford look graceful, Richard Nixon look honest, Lyndon Johnson look truthful, and John Kennedy look moral.

6) Thank you for the 72 House and Senate witnesses who have pleaded the 5th Amendment and the 17 witnesses who have fled the country to avoid testifying about Democratic campaign fund raising.

7) Thank you for the 19 charges, 8 convictions, and 4 imprisonments for the Whitewater “mess” and the 55 criminal charges and 32 criminal convictions (so far) in the other “Clinton” scandles.

8) Thanks for remembering the families of the many deceased people who once were your friends, who served you and died so young and suddenly: Vince Foster, Jerry Parks, Ron Brown, Admiral Boorda, Les Aspin, Barbara Alice Wiese, Mary Mahones, Jim McDougal et al.

9) Thanks also for reducing our military by half, “gutting” much of our foreign policy, and for providing no real missle defense system for the American people. Thank you for sharing with our Chinese friends all of our nuclear weapon designs, the supercomputer technology to build such weapons, the ballistic missile technology so they can have more accurate missiles, and the encryption technology so they can keep it all secret too.

10) You are amazing visiting all those countries! Thank you for flying all over the world on “vacations” carefully disguised as necessary trips. It’s wonderful, too, how you have surpassed every other president in the size of you entourage on these trips: 75 jumbo jets and 2000 guests to China alone. Your Africa entourage also was remarkable and it was nice of you to bring Betty Currie. She needed a break from testifying before the grand jury.

Please give my regards to Hillary, when/if you see her. Tell her I’m working on a”Thank You” letter for her as well. Looking forward to January 2001.

Author Unknown

And now AirBeagle’s long and vitriolic comments:

I no longer identify with either party at all, although I tend to swing more towards the Democratic side. They’re just sexier some how. [grin]

But I get impatient with bitter Clinton-haters like the letter writer above. Clinton, like all our presidents, is human and therefore has made some really huge mistakes. We all do. I personally regret buying that silver 1976 Pontiac Sunbird with red stripes and loud side pipes that burned your legs every time you stepped out of the car. I still have the scars on my ankles. And that whole 1980 Volkswagen Scirocco thing. Ugh.

But ALL presidents/national leaders have made huge mistakes in their careers. As Churchill said, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Find me a president or leader, demo or repub, who can comport himself in high office with perfect behavior and I’ll tell you we’ve elected Christ himself. In other words, the perfect president doesn’t exist and is a figment of the collective national imagination. Get a grip, people, and some objectivity!

Now Shrub admits he got stopped for DUI. What else hasn’t he told us? How much more spin will Karen Hughes give us? I’ll bet Barbara is so hacked right now her head’s about to spin around in circles. NOBODY attacks her boys and gets away with it.

But ya know what? I’m FAR more concerned about his statement that Social Security is not a federal program and that he was responsible for having a hate crimes law in Texas, when he did exactly the opposite. So he was stopped for DUI … he’s an alcoholic … there but for the grace of God … but I’m more concerned about how many brain cells the drinking killed than a little traffic stop in Kennebunkport. By the way, do we REALLY think that Daddy didn’t get involved in that? A fine, license suspension in Maine for “a little while” and no overnight drunk tank time? Yeah, right, Poppy didn’t have anything to do with that.

It’s high time we remember some of the more salient points about our special American history, and how un-perfect it really is:

Our founding fathers were not, in fact, particularly Christian. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, John Adams, et al, to a man were Deists and denied that Christ was the son of God, that Christianity was a healthy religion and that heaven and hell existed. Thomas Paine was especially vitriolic in this (read “Common Sense”). Thomas Jefferson, who believed much the same, kept slaves even while writing “All men are created equal” and had a torrid affair with one of them. Ben Franklin used to sit naked in the window taking what he called “air baths.” By the way, “All men are created equal” actually meant to the founding fathers that “All white, land-owning, males over the age of 21, are created equal.” Nothing more, nothing less. Also, the second amendment was written at a time when Uzi’s and AK-47s were inconceivable.

Abe, the most revered Republican president, was not the saint/savior he’s made out to be. Freeing the slaves was merely a political tool. I quote: “If I can save the union by freeing the slaves, I will do that. If I can save the union by freeing some slaves and leaving others in bondage, I will do that. If I could save the union by not ending slavery, I will do that.”

Another quote: “I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution in the States where it exists. I believe I have no right to do so. I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together on the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.” Yup. Really sounds like Abe fought the war over slavery. In fact, slavery was a convenient political expediency to isolate the south and win back foreign opinion for the union, which had been slipping. He was against continuing the trade and allowing it to spread outside of the southern states where it was established. And he was definitely a white supremacist. Further, his stories of log cabin schoolwork with a piece of coal on the back of a shovel were nonsense and the raving lunatic Mary Todd Lincoln makes Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton look like harmless Barbie sorority sisters.

That Teddy Roosevelt stormed up San Juan Hill was probably a myth; as assistant secretary of the navy, he also manipulated the sinking of the Maine into an excuse to wage the Spanish-American War, in itself an excuse for a massive US Imperial land grab.

The three arguably most scandal-ridden US administrations were Republican: US Grant (you name it and it was a scandal); Warren G. Harding (Teapot Dome) and Richard Nixon (The gate thing; the Vietnam thing; the Checkers thing, etc.).

Calvin Coolidge had such contempt and dislike for the office and the people that he preferred to chop wood rather than deal with the daily drudgery of the office. He took no steps to prevent the ‘29 crash. His successor, Hoover, promised two chickens in every pot and two cars in every garage but could do nothing to turn around the depression. And Hoover’s tenure as the Secretary of Commerce and patronage of that department as president created such graft and corruption that his successor, FDR, had to perform a massive cleanup of the department.

As for sexual harassment, what about the great Republican “I Like Ike” and his long-time, well-known affair with his little Army secretary, Kay Summersby. And didn’t Ronnie divorce Jane Wyman to marry the Nanster? In my family’s church, that means he’s an adulterer and goin’ to hell, but they still voted for him in ‘84 anyway.

Poppy George: “Read My Lips” – What’s the difference between that and “I did not have sex with that woman” ?? One was about lying to the American people about a private consensual sex act, the other about lying to the American people about promising not to raise their taxes and take more of their money. Hmmmm. Why is America so uptight about sex, but so not about monetary matters, like huge government waste, an obscene stock market, corrupt corporate greed/welfare/purchasing of politicians and the political process? Also, the price of popcorn at the movies?

Reagan’s debate shenanigans, and what about that stuff about not letting the hostages off the ground in Iran until after he took the oath of office so he could announce publicly “Ronnie’s here, everything’s better, look what I done done”? Or for that matter, just who ran the country in his second term when senility was already setting in? And yes, Iran-Contra. Anybody remember James Watts? “Two blacks, a jew and a cripple.” Did Al Haig have his hand on the nuke button during the assassination attempt? So many questions.

What Democratic scandals other than “I hate Bill” have we had? Eleanor Roosevelt was a lesbian? Marilyn Monroe screwed JFK? Lyndon Johnson lifted his beagles up by the ears and miraculously got the dead people of the Texas Hill country to vote for him? Clinton can’t keep his pants on? Hillary’s a strong woman (read: Bitch), therefore, a de facto threat to all that is male and holy? Al Gore claimed to invent the internet, be the inspiration for Love Story and promises to fight for us?

And lastly, don’t get me started on Dick Cheney and Halliburton. Sorry, but this is a man who made some questionable and rabidly rightwing votes as a congressman, seeks to deny his own lesbian daughter rights and protections enjoyed by other citizens (not to mention attempting to deny she was even a lesbian, even though she served as the gay and lesbian community liason for the Coors company of Golden, Colorado, and once toured the nation with Mr. Leather USA 1998 and lives with her lover in Conifer), and a man who rakes in millions and millions of dollars in cash and stock while using his political connections at home and abroad to obtain lucrative contracts for one of the country’s most sleazy corporations, all while conducting massive layoffs (including my father once and my brother-in-law twice), all while generating record-setting profits. Not to mention that little “Let’s circumvent the Constitution of the United States by living in Highland Park, Texas, but making a quick hush trip to Wyoming to change our voter registration. Shhhhh.” Yeah. I want him a heartbeat away from the throne, pulling Dubya’s strings.

Finally, (aren’t you glad) anybody who can write can cast anyone else in a very bad light. The letter writer above can do it with Slick Willy; I can do it with any Republican administration, including several supposedly above reproach. So we can write the opposite: The Founding Fathers believed religion was an important part of life; Abe freed the slaves; US Grant won the war and was manipulated by unscrupulous politicians; Teddy won us an empire; Ronnie brought morning to America; Poppy won the Gulf War and began the economic miracle; FDR pretty much just continued what Hoover had already started; Gore did play a key role in nurturing the internet and was indeed one of the inspirations for Love Story and probably will fight for us, in a way. And Dick. Well, Dick. How to be nice to Mr. Cheney? Hmmmm. He hasn’t locked up his daughter (yet) and he was a dang fine Secretary of Defense. See? It’s easy. [grin]

As a matter of fact, I’m doing that myself at work. My assignment last week at work was to craft a vice president’s resignation message to the company, in which he/she claims to be leaving because he/she got an opportunity he/she can’t pass up and that he/she firmly believes in the company and what a great company this is and how much he/she loves the CEO. The truth: He/she told someone else last night that one of the primary reasons he/she’s leaving is that the CEO is, in fact, a complete and inveterate liar who can’t be trusted to tell the truth.

Knowing that my rent needs to be paid, which side of the story do you think I’ll be passing on to All NorthPoint? [grin] Yeah. That’s what I said.

So there. That’s my rant for today. If you’re still reading at this point, apologies for the length. I’m in an expansive mood today. Now, back to the salt mines. May God have mercy on us in the next administration.

The following are additional comments from Frank after reading my rant above:

Just a couple of non-brief side notes. Most Americans don’t remember or care about anything beyond the past year (i.e., history is meaningless). Your mention of Grant/Harding/Nixon is accurate and necessary. But nobody cares. I would love to commission a poll asking a scientific sample of Americans if they even know what Watergate was. I think part of our (when I say “our” I refer to you, me, and our age cohorts, or those in our age cohort who even think about these things) indignation about history, political scandal, hypocrisy, etc., comes from our having lived through a time when a president actively and directly circumvented and rode roughshod over the Constitution to take the reins of power into his own hands for his own corrupt uses – and kept a list of “enemies” for political liquidation. But Nixon resigned over 25 years ago. It might as well have been 250 years ago for all that anybody in this country cares about the lessons of history. I was reading an article in yesterday’s NY Times about a 13-year-old kid in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, who is the “chairman” of his middle school’s Bush “campaign.” He and another boy were debating about the election in his social studies class. When the Exxon Valdez spill came up, the Bush acolyte said, “People would rather pay less for oil and take the small risk that there may be a small spill. Besides, we did clean up the Exxon Valdez spill pretty well.” We live in a country where national amnesia is the norm, promoted at the highest levels, and starting with parenthood.

Richard Nixon makes Bill Clinton look like a penny-ante third-rate podunk dogcatcher from Little Rock, but nobody will ever admit that, because there is a national interest in promoting amnesia – unless the memory you are exploiting is nostalgic. It’s okay to have entire cable channels devoted to the regurgitation of old film clips of John Lennon, Jackie Kennedy, and Princess Diana, but when it comes to re-examining the wounds and atrocities of our national past, we would rather just stuff it and bury it. Unfortunately, I think the national mood right now is one of collective amnesia and apathy, and this is the perfect climate for someone like Bush II. (See the op-ed article, “George W’s America,” in the Nov. 4 NY Times).

The “author unknown” crap that you paste at the start of your e-mail is the usual boring litany of Republican/right-wing/Rush Limbaugh boilerplate invective against the Clinton years. It is a well-worn script they read from as though they were reciting Romans 1:26-27 for the 3,000,000th time.

These people are blind with rage and hatred, and they are obsessed with Old Testament vengeance, at any cost. “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." (Romans 12:19)

The lack of “moral outrage” by Republicans over GWB’s DUI arrest in 1976 (and whatever other skeletons he has in his vast closet) has not much to do with a lack of outrage or justice and everything to do with their single-minded mania about recapturing their White House and their virility as a political party, and erasing the fact that their greatest symbol, Ronald Reagan, is now a 90-year-old, doddering, drooling, catatonic zombie. The only thing that matters to the Republican Party is taking the country on a communal time-travel machine back to the days of (putatively) pre-Alzheimer’s and pre-Iran/contra Ronald Reagan – intoning, “Our reluctance for conflict should not be misjudged as a failure of will”; joking with his surgeons after he was almost assassinated, “I hope you’re all Republicans”; babbling in his farewell speech about “boat people” waving up to sailors on the USS Midway and screaming, “Hello, freedom man!”; and refusing to say the word AIDS in public until 1987.

The mood for amnesia – I just thought of this – is actually a national longing to BE Ronald Reagan (pre-Alzheimer’s). Forgetfulness is bliss. Sweep problems under the rug. Make up corny anecdotes to fit every occasion, bad or good. Reagan’s housing secretary, Samuel Pierce, just died, and in his obituary, the main thing he was remembered for (besides the scandals which plagued him) was that the Gipper had mistaken a member of his own cabinet for a mayor at a White House reception in 1981 (“Hello, Mr. Mayor”).

Hell, there’s even a website called ‘God Bless Ronald Reagan.com.’ (“Remember when we had a REAL president?”) I kid you not.

Letter to Santa (1981)

Dear Kris,

As you may or may not be aware of, that wonderful time of year is upon us, or rather, you. Yes, that’s right, dear Claus, the time for you to finally earn your keep and work off some of those extra pounds Mrs. Claus has so cruelly heaped upon your lean-in-spirit frame over the last 11 months, has jumped around again.

It’s time once again to fatten up the reindeer, or in your case, go out to the shed and see if those ignorant brownies have kept the poor beggars alive.

(By the way, you might be interested in knowing that one of our presidents went so far as to outlaw slavery, so you better start paying those little toymakers of your something, or you are liable to have a riot situation on your hands. Now we couldn’t have that, could we? What would all the stupid brats around the world do without all those useless toys to break. Now, I ask you, would that be fair?)

I have been a good little boy, so remember me, ole Saint Nick, and I won’t tell that I saw you and Mommy kissing in the kitchen last year while Daddy was asleep in the bedroom. I also won’t tell that I knew you were so drunk last year when I sat on your lap, that your nose was as red as your suit and Vixen and Blitzen were so bombed that they tried to eat a hundred dollars’ worth of sweaters at Albin’s.

That should wrap it up, so until next year, so long.

Your loving admirer,
Stevie Pollock

P.S. If that ignorant torch of a reindeer you call Rudolph shines that beacon nose of his in my bedroom window at 2 in the morning again this year, I will personally escort him on a one-way trip to the glue factory.

—Written for senior honors English class and published in the Duncan High School Demon Pitchfork, 19-Dec-1981

Letter to Santa

Dear Kris,

As you may or may not be aware of, that wonderful time of year is upon us, or rather, you. Yes, that’s right, dear Claus, the time for you to finally earn your keep and work off some of those extra pounds Mrs. Claus has so cruelly heaped upon your lean-in-spirit frame over the last 11 months, has jumped around again.

It’s time once again to fatten up the reindeer, or in your case, go out to the shed and see if those ignorant brownies have kept the poor beggars alive.

(By the way, you might be interested in knowing that one of our presidents went so far as to outlaw slavery, so you better start paying those little toymakers of your something, or you are liable to have a riot situation on your hands. Now we couldn’t have that, could we? What would all the stupid brats around the world do without all those useless toys to break. Now, I ask you, would that be fair?)

I have been a good little boy, so remember me, ole Saint Nick, and I won’t tell that I saw you and Mommy kissing in the kitchen last year while Daddy was asleep in the bedroom. I also won’t tell that I knew you were so drunk last year when I sat on your lap, that your nose was as red as your suit and Vixen and Blitzen were so bombed that they tried to eat a hundred dollars’ worth of sweaters at Albin’s.

That should wrap it up, so until next year, so long.

Your loving admirer,
Stevie Pollock

P.S. If that ignorant torch of a reindeer you call Rudolph shines that beacon nose of his in my bedroom window at 2 in the morning again this year, I will personally escort him on a one-way trip to the glue factory.

—Written for senior honors English class and published in the Duncan High School Demon Pitchfork, 19-Dec-1981

The Energy Crisis and Its Effect on America (1981)

The American Energy Crisis has had profound effects on us all. Past, present, and, most assuredly, future American presidents have shaped, and will continue to shape, the energy policies of this nation in a direction so as to increase production of domestic energy and to exploit alternate energy sources to decrease our dependence on foreign oil resources.

The American public, the consumer of energy, has changed its ideas also. Citizens have been repeatedly victimized by energy deficiencies and gargantuan prices. The average American has become skeptical about the truthfulness, the reality, of the crisis. They have begun to believe that today’s energy situations are simply the fabrications of large, profit-motivated oil conglomerates that are seeking ways to combat ever-growing government regulations concerning the accumulation of their carefully hoarded corporate earnings.

The American citizenry is struggling for answers to energy difficulties, but they are being hampered by endless bureaucracy; a slow-moving government delayed by its own laws of necessity and an obligation to be cautious when approaching sensitive, controversial issues; and the oil industries that refuse to divulge the truths of their operations and means of gaining profit. These interminable, incessant impediments to justice are adding to the public frustration.

The effects of today’s energy crisis on America cannot be summarized briefly. The crisis, real or imagined, has had profound effects on the people of the United States. It has driven our presidents to update our energy policies. It has made us look around ourselves—we must drive more fuel-efficient cars; carpool or use public transportation; and seek new and varied alternative energy sources. And it has forced Americans to think, to look at our situation objectively and face it with the courage and spirit of the United States of America.

—Written for senior honors English, 1-Dec-1981

The Energy Crisis and Its Effect on America

The American Energy Crisis has had profound effects on us all. Past, present, and, most assuredly, future American presidents have shaped, and will continue to shape, the energy policies of this nation in a direction so as to increase production of domestic energy and to exploit alternate energy sources to decrease our dependence on foreign oil resources.

The American public, the consumer of energy, has changed its ideas also. Citizens have been repeatedly victimized by energy deficiencies and gargantuan prices. The average American has become skeptical about the truthfulness, the reality, of the crisis. They have begun to believe that today’s energy situations are simply the fabrications of large, profit-motivated oil conglomerates that are seeking ways to combat ever-growing government regulations concerning the accumulation of their carefully hoarded corporate earnings.

The American citizenry is struggling for answers to energy difficulties, but they are being hampered by endless bureaucracy; a slow-moving government delayed by its own laws of necessity and an obligation to be cautious when approaching sensitive, controversial issues; and the oil industries that refuse to divulge the truths of their operations and means of gaining profit. These interminable, incessant impediments to justice are adding to the public frustration.

The effects of today’s energy crisis on America cannot be summarized briefly. The crisis, real or imagined, has had profound effects on the people of the United States. It has driven our presidents to update our energy policies. It has made us look around ourselves—we must drive more fuel-efficient cars; carpool or use public transportation; and seek new and varied alternative energy sources. And it has forced Americans to think, to look at our situation objectively and face it with the courage and spirit of the United States of America.

—Written for senior honors English, 1-Dec-1981

Tomorrow Today Yesterday (c. 1978)

Dreams, trials, memories
Hopes, fears, memories
Desires, defeats, memories
Isn’t yesterday anything but memories?
No, tomorrow is always a memory
     a scent a taste a touch

Why then is tomorrow nothing but dreams?
Why then is today always realizations?

God only knows, only He knows among everyone

Futile dreams, frustrating realities, bitter memories.

Is that ALL?

—Undated; probably 1978