Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nixonland, Page 341 and Counting

I'm a slow reader, which is embarrassing for a member of the Leftist Elite, but I do great on reading comprehension tests.

After a summer of struggle (and a few sidetracks, such as reading Little Women and Werewolves, listening to several Audible books and a half of a Kindle-for-iPhone book - hey, it's a weighty subject) I am up to page 341 in the 748-page (not counting footnotes) opus Nixonland by Rick Perlstein. I probably would have not made it to the cash register with it, but once Patton Oswalt quoted from it on a podcast, I was determined to not let a very busy comedian trump me in the Leftist Elite department.

The reason I bring it up now and not 406 pages from now is that every page seems to resonate with the current political climate - you know, the crazy Vietnam war, the dumbass Iraq war, the massaging of the media, the left against the right, etc.

The page in question recounts how the public's reaction to the severe beating meted out by cops and National Guardsmen on teenagers and journalists alike at the 1968 Chicago Convention was not anger at the cops, but overwhelming anger at the hippies and blacks in general (by then, there had been a rash of inner-city riots with a myriad of causes, lack of fair housing opportunities being only one). The Average American saw cops pummeling kids, and assumed, no, imagined scenarios in which, the kids had driven them to it, and got what they deserved.

Perlstein points out that at that time, there had been more damage done by terrorism (in the form of bombing and arson) on the right, by groups such as the Cuban right and conservative militia groups, then by the hippy-dippy left. However, the images of the leaders of the Black Panthers making threats against the police were so powerful that the majority of the country were convinced that the hippies and the blacks were the sole architects of the lawless state of the cities. And they certainly did their part. Both sides resorted to random acts of violence (i.e. terrorism) to promote their cause.

I saw a tweet today with a quote from a right-wing wingnut conflating some of the more fear-mongering names from the sixties with the mosque contemplated to be completed some two large blocks from the north side of the gaping hole that is still ground zero.

First, if I had not been in the middle of reading this book, I, a forty-eight-year-old, would not have recognized any of those names, as I was six in 1968, so who is the audience for this sort of scare? (Answer: your grandma and grandpa. They still vote.)

Second, who were the terrorists in the 60s? That's right. Us. Us meaning We Christians and We Hippy Hindus. Islamic terrorism was not a thing. Yet, we were just as scared. More, if you realize that our fear elected Nixon.

It doesn't matter what you're scared of. Somebody is going to find a way to push your buttons with your own fear. Don't let them. The founding fathers didn't.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Please Don't Tap On The Glass

Joking while texting is very unsatisfying - especially now, in the post-LOL days (and the pre-HHHH days*).

A text message conversation I had with Dean while he and Jenny were touring the Newport Aquarium last Wednesday. I'll be here all week. Enjoy the veal.

Dean sent me a text message consisting of this photo.

Me:  The 2nd part of the sentence doesn't make me not want to do the 1st part.

Dean:  Turns out it's somewhat difficult to agitate an otter.

Me:  Try calling them weasels.

*I'm starting a new LOL. It stands for ha-ha-ha-ha!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rest In Peace (Eventually), Charles Lee Tracy

The Captain's dad died. He was a Good Man: honorable, loyal, slow to anger, and quick to laugh. It was pretty sudden - after fighting cancer for something like six months and surviving in remission for six years, the damn cancer swooped back, and within a week of feeling poorly, he was gone. It was a hard blow for The Captain and his family.

The Captain's mom and dad, Marlene and Chuck, in 2007 at Dean and Jenny's wedding

But there is no better cure for grief than a big family funeral. And no, not because it's cleansing and closuring, but because there is no time to think about the sad passing of a beloved when you are negotiating your way around twenty of your closest and craziest relatives.

Oh, come on. I can talk about The Captain's relatives, because they are no crazier than mine or yours. Every family just has a slightly different brand of crazy.

Chuck and Marlene, putting up with some of Dean and Jenny's crazy.

The craziest thing about The Captain's family is that they live in Ridgecrest, California. Ridgecrest is in the uninhabitable expanse of the Mojave desert, within spitting distance of Death Valley (unfortunately, after twenty minutes exposed to the super-heated air, it is impossible to produce spit, so this cliche is unhelpful).

They live there, and the town exists, not on some dare gone horribly wrong, but because it is the home of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center. The China Lake Naval Weapons Center is in Ridgecrest because China Lake is actually a large dry lake bed, so far from anything important that the Navy can practice blowing things up there and no one will be inconvenienced. You know, because of the uninhabitable desert thing.

Chuck Tracy worked at the China Lake Naval Weapons Center for twenty years, so it makes sense that they lived there. However, it must be noted that they did not move away after Chuck's retirement, so it has to be deduced that they enjoy living there. Indeed, The Captain's sisters choose to live there, as do other family members, even though they have experienced life elsewhere. There's something powerful about familiarity. That's all I can figure. Well, that, and steady employment.

We drove down, because in addition to baggage fees, legroom fees, blanket rentals, and food fees, the airlines have quietly done away with the emergency bereavement fare that once reduced the price of a last-minute ticket by up to fifty percent. Now, if it exists, it's a wopping five percent discount. So we made arrangements for the dogs and hopped into the Prius for the two-day trip down.

Travel tip #1: do not stay at the Motel 6 in Carson City. Just trust me on this.

Something about driving into Ridgecrest, which we have done many times over the past twenty-eight years, always makes me want to eat York Peppermint Patties.

After some (understandably) distressingly tense voices on the phone over the last week, we didn't know what to expect at The Captain's mom's house, but everyone was on their best behavior. Plans were made for the funeral the next day. The pallbearers, in honor of Chuck's favorite piece of haberdashery, were to all wear Hawaiian shirts. Flowery shirts were distributed to those who were undershirted, and The Captain's mom warned those known to be promptness-challenged to be there on time.

Travel tip #2: No matter what Motel you stay in, get yourself a white noise machine. I don't know if they work, but they couldn't hurt. Air conditioners cycle on and off. Dumbasses talk outside your room. Cars gun their engines and honk their horns. Neighbors play their TVs too loud. Motels are just not designed for sleep.

The funeral was lovely, although I couldn't help but notice that the front wall of the church held a strong resemblance to the Laugh In set, if it were decorated by a 70-year-old Victorian Bed and Breakfast proprietor.

The next stop was Bakersfield National Cemetery, an hour's drive away. If you've never seen a hearse lead a funeral procession at somewhere over 80 miles an hour, then I win, because I have.

Bakersfield National Cemetery is brand spanking new, with a temporary headquarters in a mobile unit, and bulldozers going nonstop. It makes for less than a restful place of rest, but I'm confident that eventually, it will be nice. Right now, it's a dusty, loud construction site.

The highlight of the interment ceremony (if there can be a highlight) was the military rites performed by the Blue Eagles Honor Guard from Edwards Air Force Base (Chuck retired from the Air Force before he moved his family to Vernonia, allowed his son, Captain America, to get involved with a local hussy, then hightailed it out of there to save the rest of his family and take a job at China Lake.) They were beyond sharp, in ninety-plus-degree heat, in dark blue dress uniforms. I've never seen a flag folded with that kind of aggressive perfection. It was beauty in blue.

Stock photo of the Air Force Honor Guard. You get the idea.

We ate at Del Taco on the way home from the funeral. I don't know. It just seemed right.

We stayed a couple of days after the funeral to visit with The Captain's mom. The temperature topped out at around 105 most days, so there were no pickup games of touch football on the lawn. We mostly stayed inside and watched the kids take short forays into the back yard and back in for needed rehydration. Luckily, Mom will continue to have plenty of kids and grandkids around to keep her busy.

Travel tip #3: Do NOT stay at the Mt. Shasta City Inn & Suites. Beds past their dump date. Bathrooms that smell like an old mop. "Continental breakfast" that consists of Cheerios and an empty coffee pot. Broken air conditioner. All for twice the price of the awful Carson City Motel 6.

Now we are glad to be home but still sad about losing Chuck. Chuck was a wonderful man who touched a lot of lives in nothing but a positive way. But maybe, with the help of crazy relatives in a crazy place, we're a little less sad than before.