The Antivenom for Trumpian Times

Generally, I score optimistic on the life-outlook meter. But after three years of the orange madman helming our mothership, it’s hard to whip up even a soupcon of positivity. As we whirl around the sun at Trumpian whim, anything seems possible – and all of it negative.

Like most of us, I feel powerless on this carnival ride. I worry about nuclear North Korea and World War III breaking out in the Middle East.  But if Jared can’t fix it, who can?  I guarantee you, the Ayatollah isn’t taking my phone calls.

It doesn’t help that our public discourse has taken on the aspects of toxic sewage slime. The blame for this lies, partly, with talk radio and social media sites that have emboldened people to abandon civilized dialog and spew their pugilistic, profanity-laden tribal passions. But even more blame should be heaped at the feet of our madman-in-chief who takes pleasure in whipping up the hate, racism, and the general godawfulness that his devotees used to keep among themselves.

If only there were an antidote to snark, a neutralizer of artistry and grace that would celebrate community and feed our souls. It may sound crazy, but could infusions of poetry provide us some immunity against despair?

This possibility occurred to me after reading a blurb by Austin poet, Robin Cravey – written long before the Trump regime and these seasons of our discontent. On the back cover of his book, Diverging, he writes,

A culture lost between aimless materialism and empty religion is one failed by its poets. Human culture is self-awareness in the universe. Poetry is self-awareness in culture. Poetry is also universal awareness in the self. It closes the circle.

Robin Cravey

You may wonder, perhaps, what happens when this circle is closed? I wondered, too. Could it be a cessation of angst and the existential fears that render us incomplete, anxious, and susceptible to fear-based intolerance?

In fact, I had been reading more poetry after a presenter at a summer writing retreat had made a strong case for it improving our prose. I tried it at bedtime and almost immediately noticed my awareness shifting away from the potholes of daily life. By  simile, metaphor, meter, assonance, and alliteration, a new lens was focusing me on the marvels of life, the emotional responses to wonder, and our shared tenancy on the planet with all its living creatures. Even brief poetic immersion induced a sense gratitude and reverence that I don’t often experience without a magnificent sunset involved. Might that work for others? Could we begin tweeting, if tweet we must, in the key of Awe?

Wimberley 2013

Closing the circle also suggested a reconnection with our earliest selves who were fed a steady diet of rhythm and verse along with mother’s milk. Rock-a-bye, baby, soothed us, Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man… , called us to play, and Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle . . .  delighted our budding imaginations. Did we wonder why everything didn’t rhyme like Jack and Jill going up a hill or Little Miss Muffet sitting on her tuffet? Only the most precocious among us cared what a tuffet might be – it was enough that it rhymed with Muffet.

Then our young minds moved on from the nursery with an owl and a pussycat who went to sea . . . and danced by the light of the moon. Dr. Seuss was a perennial friend. With misty eyes we might have read Poe’s Annabel Lee, the maiden who “. . . lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by me.” Or we might have thrilled to Rudyard Kipling’s manly verse, Gunga Din, or Robert Service’s Yukon foray in The Cremation of Sam McGee. In English classes, we found Emily Dickinson contemplating Death stopping by and Robert Frost stopping in the woods with miles to go before he slept.

But, soon thereafter, many of us abandoned poetry – maybe we wanted it to be rhymed instead of metered. Free verse was hard to embrace because aside from O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo? it didn’t enchant us or whet our appetite for more. Eliot’s Waste Land and Joyce’s Ulysses, seemingly written in Enigma code, frustrated us.

We are older and wiser now, and, no doubt, hungrier for connection, be it with the universe or our inner selves. No spoiler alert here: we won’t find it on Twitter and Facebook. Might we return to our early love of verse and discover kindred spirits in the images and expressions of the universal so intricately wrought by the likes of Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman, and H.W. Longfellow, to name a few? Is poetry really dead to us?

Some contend that poetry is alive and well because we have rap music. But rap songs are not pieces of great artistry for the simple reason that they are not written to be. Rather, the words merely serve an external beat. While the lyrics possess musicality (repetition, assonance, alliteration), that musicality is incomplete without the beat and notes of the music.

And when was the last time your spirit soared to rap song? Compare Tupac’s verse (“If you make it through the night, there’s a brighter day/everything will be alright if ya hold on …”) to Maya Angelou’s poem that we heard her intone at President Clinton’s inauguration:

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out and upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope –
Good morning.

Maya Angelou

Such words inspire and remind us that we are not adrift, stranded in a morass of our primitive and most brutish natures. We are beings who have courage, grace, and hope. We co-exist with our brother- and sister-travelers, sharing the same existential reality, its inherent fears, and our need for hope and compassion. Cravey sums it up in the last stanza of “Kinship,” a poem from Diverging:

I feel therefore I am
kin to every feeling being
I love therefore I am
committed to speak up against hate
I act therefore I am
free to change the world
I am therefore I believe
every living one has the right to be

During the last 1,111 days, I’ve often felt less kin and more stranger in my own land, a refugee from the state of decency, occupying a territory governed by divisiveness. I need more than just another story of murders and detectives to take residence in my head.  I’ve found that poetry has the power to transport my awareness to another level of existence, where labels like democrats, republicans, socialists, and concepts like racism, hypocrisy, and bigotry are meaningless. In this heightened state, I find hope . . . hope for a restoration of our country’s ideals, hope for a healthier planet, and hope for the rediscovery of civility as the guiding principle of our discourse. So, Ms. Oliver, Mr. Frost, Mr Auden, Ms. Alexander, be my bedfellows, stir my soul with your words and help me face, with hope, the miles to go before I sleep.

Hey, diddle diddle . . . let’s take the antivenom, let’s close the circle.

Posted in Great Lessons, Language, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

An Ode to the Symphony

Living through the debacle of the Trump presidency, I imagine that I share with others the sense of dread that greets my mornings. With the help of my snooze button, I manage to avoid wakefulness a few times, but eventually I force myself to concentrate on the broadcast from the NPR-tuned clock radio. It’s a good sign when I hear conversation about a movie or book, or maybe an interview with a presidential candidate, all indicators that Trump didn’t start World War III while I was sleeping. I’ve found myself relating to Maureen Dowd, one of my favorite political columnists, who reports girding herself every morning for the latest vitriol coming from the White House, her energy sapped before she even gets out of bed.

Many friends have suggested that I would feel better if I just cut down on news consumption. But I am compelled to check on the travesty du jour because I worry about the raging narcissist with nuclear codes and abuser of small children who follow their parents despite Donald Trump’s personal preferences. As Mayor Pete Buttigieg says, “It is the nature of grotesque things that you can’t look away.”

Which brings me to my soul yearning for escape and the sweet solace of the symphony. Before the music even begins, I forget our national nightmare, finding myself calmed by the sight of six dozen or so musicians, after their tuning session, sitting immobile on stage at the ready for their signal to break into motion.  The thousand or so audience members are settling in and chatting softly. But, as lights dim, they, too, fall still into a profound silence – the hall is preternaturally quiet with nary the ping of a cell phone, the whine of a child, or even a whispered word. Here, in the Dell Concert Hall in Austin, Texas, a city renown as the allergy capital of the world, no one sneezes, coughs, or even clears a throat. I savor these wondrous few moments infused with both serenity and anticipation.

When a smiling man with floppy black hair and glasses strides in from stage right, looking more like Harry Potter than Leonard Bernstein, the silence is broken sharply by applause as instantaneous as glass shattering on concrete. Maestro Peter Bay steps up to the conductor’s podium acknowledging the audience with a brief bow. The silence returns as he lifts his baton and with one precise flick of the wrist starts the music that will suffuse our ears and lives for the rest of the evening.

At one recent performance, the concert began with the William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini.  I’ll venture to say that all audience members are familiar with at least the last three minutes of this overture, having grown up watching the Lone Ranger astride his horse, Silver, galloping across our television screens to its accompaniment. But the magnificence of this musical piece never shines as brightly as it does when played by a full orchestra flooding a hall with near-perfect acoustics, the instruments in perfect balance, tugging at our collective consciousness and spurring on our passions. As the horns pump energy into the melody, the strings play furiously, reined in only by the magic baton. Adrenaline courses through our veins as our spirits soar, transported to another level of awareness beyond our anxieties and earthly concerns. We want it to continue – to ride ever faster on our stage-bound steeds!

And yet, the last note must be played. Its airy life has barely died when the audience explodes like a champagne cork, excitement no longer containable. Minutes of sustained applause are required before we can gather ourselves and get our bodies seated and stilled again. After another respectful bow, Maestro Bay leaves the stage.

We wait for the next item on the program – a Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major K. 218 featuring visiting soloist, William Hagen described as a “brilliant virtuoso,” in a quote from the bio printed in our programs. Notably, he would be performing on the 1732 Arkwright Lady Rebecca Sylvan Stradivarius.

And so, Maestro Bay returns to the stage with Mr. Hagen and the precious violin. Ascending the conductor’s podium, Bay takes his baton and begins the process of weaving together his musicians, the soloist, and the sound from one of the world’s 600 Stradivarii into the blissful musical tapestry that Mozart intended.

Maybe I was merely in the throes of musical emotionalism, but at times I felt far away from where my body sat – I seemed to be floating within the collective awareness of millions who had listened to this concerto across the world during the almost 250 years since its inception. Periodically, the Italian craftsman, Antonio Stradivari, would come to mind.  Did he ever imagine that audiences in a country that was barely discovered when he lived would be enthralled by his craftsmanship 300 years later!  Could Mozart and Stradivari ever have dreamt about their places in the cultural soul of Western Civilization?

Granted, classical music is considered classic because it has stood the test of time, because true genius doesn’t lose its currency with each new generation. But there’s something else about it – the way its melodies and motifs embrace and transport us to another dimension  where there are no political parties, concentration camps, wars, divisions between people because of their origins, skin color, religious preferences, or who they love.

Yesterday, on July 4th, the Austin Symphony Orchestra, along with orchestras all over this country, performed the 1812 Overture while audiences tingled to the sounds of cannon fire at the music’s climactic end. Did anyone complain that it was written by a Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, to commemorate Russia’s successful defense against the Napoleonic invasion in 1812?  Did anyone complain that it’s an un-American piece of music?

Chances are that no one complained.  The 1812 Overture was played right along with the Stars and Stripes Forever, because despite its national origins, it’s become American, just like The Star-Spangled Banner (set to the tune of an old English drinking song) and My Country ‘Tis of Thee (sang to the tune of God Save the Queen, the British National Anthem).

When we applaud for our orchestra performers, we are commending them for more than a job well done. We cheer them for their devoted care-taking of a timeless and all-embracing musical heritage and for their ability to reset – in 90 minutes – the rhythm of our lives from a 24-hour news cycle to a flow of centuries.

In these days, when we are bedeviled by a leader whose goal in life is to win the day’s news cycle with an emphasis on discord and aberration, we need more harmony and artistry to sooth our increasingly tired and troubled souls. Here in Austin, I urge you to support the Austin Symphony Orchestra, the Austin Civic Orchestra, and the Austin Symphonic Band, so they can continue to support us. As long as they perform and this music survives, I can continue believing that so shall we.

Posted in History, Old/New Austin, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Defying the Kill Shots of Never

Long-time readers may recall that I’ve tried to build a convincing case for high school reunions hoping folks will attend and end up enjoying them as much as I do. Admittedly, my efforts may be akin to cultivating affection for root canals, but I persist.  I believe that if I come up with enough good reasons, maybe I can get some of the fence-straddlers to come down to my side.

Believe me, reunions can be addicting. Our class of ’71 enjoys getting together so much that many classmates clamor for something more than the regular five or ten-year reunion schedule. For example, in April of this year, we held a get-together to celebrate our 65th birthdays, which we advertised as a Medicare Part-EE. We similarly celebrated our 50th and 60th birthdays even without clever names for them.

Obviously, we wouldn’t keep doing this if there weren’t a big group of us who relish spending some hours together, catching up with old friends, hearing forgotten stories, or finding a connection with someone we only knew distantly in our school days (or daze). The most common complaint I hear is that the parties aren’t long enough!

At our last event, I attempted something new – by squinting just right, I could almost envision my fellow students as their younger selves. Instead of schmoozing around on the floor of Scholz’s, we were milling around between classes, after lunch, at a party, or in the Holiday House parking lot.  Did those youthful versions, I asked myself, ever imagine we’d be singing ourselves “Happy Birthday” at the ripening age of 65? Hell, no!

But, did we ever think we’d be gunned down at our high school before we could even graduate? Never!

I’m still haunted by Emma Gonzalez’s words at the March for Our Lives describing the reality that she and her surviving classmates at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will face for the rest of their lives:

Six minutes and 20 seconds with an AR-15, and my friend Carmen would never complain to me about piano practice. Aaron Feis would never call Kyra “Miss Sunshine,” Alex Schachter would never walk into school with his brother Ryan, Scott Beigel would never joke around with Cameron at camp, Helena Ramsay would never hang around after school with Max, Gina Montalto would never wave to her friend Liam at lunch, Joaquin Oliver would never play basketball with Sam or Dylan. Alaina Petty would never, Cara Loughren would never, Chris Hixon would never, Luke Hoyer would never, Martin Duque Anguiano would never, Peter Wang would never, Alyssa Alhadeff would never, Jamie Guttenberg would never, Jamie Pollack would never.

I can still see her face as she held the marchers in stillness for the six minutes and 20 seconds of horror that the students endured. As I stood among my treasured friends celebrating our 65th birthdays, I could only add to her list of “nevers” — the murdered students will never celebrate a 10th high school reunion, nor a 20th, 30th, 40th, or, in fact, any. The victims of that Parkland high school shooting will never get together and celebrate their qualification for Medicare cards or any other of life’s milestones.

Our class maintains a list of deceased classmates. I think we started compiling the names and posting them at our 25th reunion. It was a short, partial column with the names of about 10 students, a couple who died before graduation in accidents, a couple of suicides, a flood drowning, a college murder, etc. In the years since then, the “In Memoriam” list has grown to two full columns, each addition being a somber reminder of our fleeting time.

Looking around at the 65th birthday party, I thought about that list and tried to imagine it with 16 additional friends that we would acknowledge, no doubt, at our very first reunion. Which 16 among our student body would it have been? Would we never have known the iconic bakery owner, the award-winning playwright, the various actors, singers, dancers, or the educators and counselors who have shepherded so many young souls? Maybe some of the doctors and surgeons would never have grown up and been able to treat us, our friends, and families.  Who among the lawyers, volunteers, professors, government employees, and the mothers and fathers would be missing from our ranks?

It made me realize that the best reason for being there that night and at every other reunion event is much simpler than anything I had thought of previously. The best reason is because we can!  We can get together and remember the idiosyncrasies of that English teacher, the hoopla over dress code hem lengths, student council battles, keg parties, crazy choir trips, the tree-scaling ski boat, war protests, and all the other things that consumed us back then.

The Parkland victims will never get to reminisce, to laugh about crazy high school antics, and remark to one another, “It’s amazing we’ve lived long enough to qualify for Medicare!” The Parkland victims will never get to share each others’ stories about surviving cancer, caring for their elderly parents, the joy of grandchildren, or finding love after a bitter divorce. Sure, they are spared life’s disappointments and heartbreaks, but who wouldn’t argue that they should have been able to make their own calculus of whether good times outweighed the bad? Why was a mentally disturbed gunman given the ability to shatter their dreams and liquidate their futures, good or bad?

All I know is that whenever classmates gather, we are defying so many odds and  celebrating the special bond of survival . . . one that we took for granted and that no other high school student can ever do again. (Here’s where I spare you the diatribe about our politicians who won’t regulate guns in our society. You know what to do about that.) I’ll simply suggest that the next time you find yourself pondering whether you should attend your high school reunion, remember the murdered students of the many American schools where gun-toters have planted their rounds of “never.”  Show up and celebrate simply because you CAN!

Posted in Reunions | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Speaking from the Closet of Shame

I know a woman who was raped in college. She did not report it. Nor did she tell her parents or any of her friends. She didn’t speak with a doctor, mark it on a calendar, or write about it in a journal. If she were to come forward today, she’d have no corroboration.  Some people would find it inconceivable that she wouldn’t tell anyone after it happened, and consequently, contend that she can’t be believed.

This woman would explain to those people that she didn’t speak up because of her profound shame.  She chastised herself innumerable times for putting herself in the situation that led to the event, and, thereby, being complicit in her own victimization. After all, hadn’t she been taught that all young men suffered from raging testosterone and what they all wanted? She was a smart person who had been utterly stupid.

Her rapist was the older brother of a boy in her high school, who she didn’t really know, but was a friend of a friend. Their father was a very important person in the state, leading her to believe he came from a “good” family.  The guy, who we’ll call X, was tall but not stocky, wore wired rimmed glasses, and, in general, seemed mild mannered, somewhat immature, and a bit timid with women.

It was the first semester of her freshman year in college where she was taking the last required foreign language credit after placing out of the first four. Accordingly, the class was full of college juniors who had slogged through the preceding four and were anxious to be done with this last requirement. Not too far into the semester, X realized that she had a better grasp of the material than he, and asked her to help him prepare for upcoming tests. She agreed, figuring it would help her prepare, too. Over the semester, they had two or three sessions in a neutral location.

After finals in December, X called her and said he was having a small Christmas party for some of the residents in a mental health facility where he volunteered and asked whether she had any “girl things” he could give the women as presents, e.g., purses, hats, or what not. She appreciated the good cause and brought some things – as he suggested – to his apartment. First mistake.

Upon her arrival, he brought out bottles of tequila and margarita mix that he had recently purchased on a weekend at the Mexican border. She should try some, he urged, and he blended up a delicious concoction, more sweet than citric, making it very easy for her – not a big drinker – to consume. It was like lemonade. Second mistake.

She was a bit buzzed when he suggested they go outside and play Frisbee, which seemed like it could be fun.  Did the physical activity pump the alcohol faster through the blood stream to the brain? As they played, she began feeling very inebriated and slightly nauseous. The Frisbee play seemed to be another mistake.

Back in the apartment, she realized she wouldn’t be able to drive, but had an important errand to run. X agreed to drive her where she needed to be. Along the road, they stopped a few times so she could vomit out the door. Afterwards, they returned to the apartment where he suggested she lay down until she felt capable of driving home.  By this time, her multiple mistakes left her no option.

Shortly after laying down, she blacked out. When she awoke, much of her clothing was off and he was on top of her on the floor. It was like waking from a terrible nightmare to discover the monster in the dream is real and your limbs are paralyzed. She had no strength to push him off and her repetition of “no” and “stop” had no effect on him.  Then she blacked out again. When she next came out of the blackness, she was in a bathtub and X was attempting to wash away the vomit from her hair and body.  Was he being considerate or cannily destroying evidence?

At some point after the bath, she was able to make her way home, although the details of that drive remain sketchy. If asked today, she wouldn’t be able to identify the apartment location except to say it was somewhere south of the river.

In the aftermath, she felt she could never tell anyone what happened because she would have to admit to being an accomplice to her own rape. If her mother had taught her anything, it was that the apartment of a man she barely knew was dangerous territory. Moreover, she had allowed herself to get profoundly drunk (assuming he hadn’t added drugs), consuming the alcohol quite willingly. And since she couldn’t remember much, could it be that she somehow consented? Wouldn’t the totality of her actions lead a reasonable person to discount a rape claim?

Later circumstances convinced her that there was no consensual sex – he failed to contact her ever again and made sure he never ran into her on campus or anywhere else, for that matter. Presumably, he spent a long time worrying about whether she would report the incident. Meanwhile, she worried about whether she could be pregnant with his child.

She spent about six months avoiding close contact with young men, nervous about putting herself into any situation where she didn’t control all of the circumstances. Eventually, a developing expertise in denial allowed her to go on with some sense of normalcy. Since no one knew about it, she could pretend it never happened.

Did she have panic attacks or any long-term debilitating condition? No. Her ability to function in the world was not impaired. But relationships with men were more difficult.  It wasn’t so much because any trust in men had been shattered, but because she lost trust in herself — could she trust herself to accurately judge people for who they really were?

In later years, she would remember that night and imagine how she could have been killed, maimed, and/or impregnated. She could have had a car accident on the way home or been stopped for drunk driving, having to reveal what happened, becoming the “talk of the town,” given the identity of his father.  She erases those visions with extreme gratitude that none of them occurred. Nevertheless, she knows she will always carry the vision of that man on top of her, taking advantage of her utter helplessness.

Now, almost five decades after this episode, she watches as Brett Kavanaugh seeks confirmation to our highest court, and ponders whether she could come forward and tell her story like Dr. Blaisy Ford were X in Kavanaugh’s shoes. Could she withstand suggestions, which would surely come, that she put herself in that position – didn’t she know that boys will be boys, even when they are college juniors and were raised in “good” families? Would she have the strength to testify in the face of death threats and other insults hurled her way by the deplorables (appropriately named by Hillary Clinton)? Would she crater under withering questioning by the gray-hairs on the Senate Judiciary Committee, be reduced to a blubbering puddle on the national stage?

In the final analysis, there is no evidence to corroborate my, I mean, her story. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen everyday in America.  There is a closet of shame where victims live and rarely leave.  That must change.

Posted in Women | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

How the NRA is Killing Christmas

Even before Charles Darwin explained species survival, our children have always been our most precious assets, our links to immortality. Like others in the animal world, humans instinctively protect their offspring until they can manage on their own. In the last couple of centuries, however, parental protection has expanded from teaching survival basics to obscuring life’s harsh realities. Until we deem their tender minds ready for the nastiness of a dog-eat-dog world, broken hearts, death, and taxes, we cushion them with a world of magic, fantasies, and sweet imaginings.


In her captivating novel, Hap & Hazard and the End of the World, author Diane DeSanders’ young girl in post-WWII Dallas wondered why the adults around her were so desperate for her to believe in Santa Claus, one of the many things she was precociously beginning to doubt. After enduring a steady barrage of her third degree, the girl’s father takes her to the movie, Miracle on 34th Street, hoping to establish Santa’s bona fides. It was an unsuccessful effort, as, afterwards, she reports:

It was clear from that movie that if that little girl was going to have a happy mother and a happy daddy and a nice happy house with a swing in front – and you cannot just go around being happy until you have all these things in place – then that little girl was going to have to go ahead and believe in Santa Claus and in all the things in which we’re supposed to go ahead and believe . . . . If only I could have a big brother or even a big sister, someone older, or just someone – I need someone– who will tell me at least what it is that we are pretending.

Of course, the honest broker she sought would tell her that we were pretending the world was a good place full of magical beings like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Prince Charming, the Easter Bunny, and in general, all sweetness and light. Nothing bad can happen to a child in such a delightful world and there would be plenty of time to learn the sad truths later.

These magical creations certainly played their role in my typical American childhood for an appropriate number of years. It wasn’t hard to believe in a world of goodness in my young Austin neighborhood where we never locked our doors and played outside all day, free to wander and pick our playmates. I never feared for my safety, never saw a real gun, and never learned to recoil from a stranger. We rode our bikes everywhere and were allowed to watch anything on television since the most violent show was Gunsmoke or, maybe, Bonanza, with one bad guy antiseptically shot or injured per episode. Watching Saturday morning cartoons was a religious ritual, my favorite being Mighty Mouse. He always came to save the day.

That all seems so quaint as we contemplate the world of today’s child having so much to fear. My grandson, age 7, knows that doors must be locked, stranger means danger, and, is a bit nervous when playing outside unless there’s an adult within calling distance. He will assure me that he’s watching an “age-appropriate” program on my iPad, well aware that violence, gore, and horror are lurking around the corner, ready to give him nightmares.  Even “Tom & Jerry”cartoons are considered “too violent” these days!

Thank goodness he still has Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny!

But how much longer until he learns that among the dark corners and dangers of the real world, there exists the possibility that he and his friends can get shot at school? How does Santa survive in the same young minds of children required to do life-saving lock-down drills so they won’t take a bullet and die?

During the duck-under-our-desks days of my youth, I don’t remember the notion of Russian bombs being scary.  Such attacks were theoretical, unlike the actual school shootings of today that are hard to avoid in any house with a television. Adults can try to screen children from the news and use only the names, Sandy Hook and Columbine, for example, to make the horror of child murder sound less horrific, but they will eventually learn the truth – that they may be the next targets of a deranged shooter at school, church, or any public gathering place.

Equally horrifying are our purported leaders sitting on their hands doing nothing about it (although Florida lawmakers have taken some baby steps). Nothing happens, of course, because the Republican party, that so-called party of family values, is owned – lock, stock, and barrel – by the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.), which deceptively suggests an interest in mere rifles while actually supporting unfettered access to every kind of killing device with a muzzle. As we consider this organization, look to every other country in the world and you’ll see their number of gun deaths are nowhere near our number. These countries have mental illness, guns, children, and politicians. What they don’t have is the N.R.A. It’s not rocket science: killing the undue influence of the N.R.A. is the only way to protect our children from the line of fire.

In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, the surviving teenagers have given me hope this can happen, even when so many have tried and failed before. So far, their voices have moved a nation, turned “N.R.A.” into a dirty word, and spurred others to reject political pablum in lieu of action. They have called out “bullshit” where they see it and who would dare muffle them? After facing a gunman ready to kill with an AR-15, or being deafened by the discharge of round after round exploding into the bodies of fellow classmates, they have earned the right to say anything they want – particularly when it’s the truth! I support them with all my heart, broken anew every time I think of the children, particularly the smallest from Sandy Hook, and imagine their young bodies destroyed by a cheap bullet from a weapon of war, lost to Santa Claus forever. It could be my grandchild next. Or yours.

This country needs comprehensive gun control, just like every other country that calls itself civilized. As the Parkland teens are urging so forcefully, we need to target those politicians who value staying in office more than the basic family value of keeping our children safe. We need to vote, America, like our lives and those of the people we love, depended on it!  We need to donate to organizations working against gun violence.  As these teens have said, thoughts and prayers are bullshit — something politicians say to usher us past the last shooting and back to a state of collective amnesia until the next one.

Can’t we finally refuse to be ushered, reclaim our power, and vote against the N.R.A. everywhere it rears its horror-strewing head until a safe day at every school is restored as part of the American dream? Surely, every sane citizen must realize that Prince Charming will not kiss us awake from this nightmare and Mighty Mouse will not save the day. Unless we go to the polls and vote in favor of reasonable gun control, we might as well kiss Santa Claus and all the magic of childhood, good-bye.

Posted in Old/New Austin, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Austin’s Sickening Cedar Problem

Most years I feel a civic duty to warn my fellow Austin residents that cedar fever season is upon us.  If you are in Austin now and still not sneezing and dripping, don’t count your chickens, yet.   The annual pollination festival is amping up this week and will continue into February.  The swallows might forego Capistrano, but Austin’s cedars are a loyal lot and they will bloom come hell or high water.   You’ve been warned.

Don’t Move Here

Among the reasons for not moving to Austin, I bet you think our transportation woes head the list. Or the lack of affordable housing. Or the high property taxes.

cedar.pollenBut you’d be mistaken. The number one reason not to live in Austin is CEDAR, specifically cedar pollen that pollutes our air and induces the truly abominable cedar fever. “Cedar is juniperus ashei,” allergist Dr. Eric Schultz explained.  “It’s one of the worst allergens, or most potent allergens on the planet. Here in Central Texas it’s rampant, especially in Austin.”

If you aren’t a current sufferer, you might think I’m talking about a runny nose or some sneezes here and there. Again, you’d be wrong. It’s far worse.  For weeks you can be plagued by sore throat, amazing phlegm production, constant runny nose, watery, itchy eyes, intermittent sneezing attacks, and a hacking cough. A guy who moved from Los Angeles to Central Texas reported that he had to start allergy shots after encountering cedar. “The fact that I can hold a regular conversation and see you five feet in front of me means it’s made a world of difference so far,” he told a reporter.

Sometimes the cedar pollen makes its appearance just in time for the Christmas season.  I can’t count the number of New Years Eves that have been ruined by this menace.  Even if I slide by Christmas because of a late pollen release, I could be sneezing my head off by New Year’s.  Having suffered at this time of year for as long as I can remember, you may forgive my bah humbug attitude toward the whole holiday.  Our family Christmas pictures attest to my misery.  Among those, you’ll see a girl with a bright red nose, a la Rudolph, and squinting eyes because she’s struggling to stay awake, being drugged to the gills with antihistamines. The best Christmases were those we spent in Dallas celebrating with grandparents.

Getting Immunized

Like the LA guy, I opted for weekly allergy injections that consist of ever-increasing doses of the allergens that I am sensitive to with hopes of building up an immunity to them.  This approach requires a visit to the allergist’s office to get the weekly shot, and then a wait time of 15 minutes afterwards to make sure you don’t go into systemic shock. If this were to happen, my understanding is that a shot of epinephrine would be quickly administered. (I always envision John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction” giving Uma Thurman a shot in her heart!) But I digress. How effective are these shots? Usually, they work to minimize my reactions, but with very high pollen counts, I still suffer.  Just not as bad.

Medicine Cabinets for your Allergy Meds

So, in the interest of full disclosure to potential Austinites, you’ll probably need more than just Austin real estate.  You should have a medicine cabinet with ample room for the following: antihistamines (non-drowsy and drowsy in both pill form and nasal spray), throat lozenges, pseudoephedrine (a.k.a. Sudafed for which you need a picture I.D. to purchase), cough medicine, analgesics, eye drops for allergies, and guaifenesin (Mucinex, Maximum Strength is best). And that’s just the first tier. Second tier drugs are those nasal irrigationneeded after your allergy attack has degenerated into a sinus infection or bronchitis. Then, you will probably need a steroid injection or prednisone pills, along with antibiotics and perhaps a respiratory anti-inflammatory (e.g. Singulair). Along the way, you may want a Netti pot/nasal irrigator or a bottle of saline solution to wash out your nasal passages and a cold mist humidifier to keep the ambient air moist. Did I mention Kleenex? Lots of Kleenex.

Now, I hear some of you saying, “This is not going to happen to me – I’ve never had any allergies, so I’m probably immune.” Not necessarily so, I assure you.  Sensitivities to pollen can occur at almost any time.  And if you think you can predict anything after a single cedar season, again, you are misinformed. It takes about seven years before new residents fall prey to Satan cedar.  But, at least you can say you had seven good years.

But remember:  It’s not all about you. If you have children, why would you subject them to this torture? They can get cedar fever, just like I did, and if they are miserable, you will be miserable. And if you are in cedar fever hell already, you will be doubly miserable when your kids are sick and you are washing out their nasal passages and sucking out nasal production (polite word) with those bulb things. There’s nothing more pitiful than a sick kid. And if you have a sick spouse? Quadruple agony!

Cedar Tree Removal?

In short, cedar is the most evil tree ever allowed to spread anywhere.  Moreover, there seems to be a controversy about whether cedar trees suck more water from the ground than other trees. Water sucker or not, I think it’s time to start a cedar removal movement.

But Austinites will not advocate the destruction of a single tree, and not because they may be needed as hardwood planking for West Austin McMansions. In Austin, we protect all of our trees, even cedar, because we frown on discrimination on the basis of color, country of origin, ethnicity, or costs to society.

But cedar trees don’t deserve tolerance from Austin’s tree loving citizenry.  Its pollen makes life miserable for at least half of the city’s populace. Imagine the loss in workplace productivity and the other trees that must be killed to produce more Kleenex and replace the printed page I just sneezed all over.  And public safety is surely in danger with so many people driving under the influence of cedar or all the meds we must take to survive it.

Another Music Festival

But there could be a silver lining to this cedar fever misery.  If we make a concerted effort to publicize it, maybe fewer people will move to Austin, and this horrible tree can serve a higher purpose. How about a new city moniker: “Cedar Fever Capital of the World?” And  while we’re at it, let’s consider a Cedar Fever music festival at Zilker Park, giving our city leaders another opportunity to authorize the trampling and destruction of park grass.  Only certain musicians could participate — those who are roused from their sick beds to perform, all the while sneezing, sniffling, and tripping on antihistamines. Just like Woodstock!

austin trafficDo you think that if more people around the world heard about our cedar trees they’d stay away? If so, I think I could start tolerating the tree (albeit from a distance). And just maybe, this could be the ultimate solution to our god-awful traffic!  In between sneezes, let’s spread the word!

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Keep Your Cleats Off of Austin’s Parkland!

Have they lost their collective minds? I’m talking about Austin city council members who are considering a plan from Columbus, Ohio’s professional soccer team,  Crew Soccer Club, to move to Austin and build a stadium on downtown lakeside parkland – Butler Shores Metropolitan Park. This kick-to-the-groin plan includes eliminating the three historic Little League ball fields and fails to provide for parking, among other things that don’t make sense.

Aside from the destruction and giveaway of city parkland, what confounds me the most is how this idea materialized. Specifically, in my six decades as an Austin resident, I’ve never heard anyone say, “What Austin needs is a professional soccer team.” Anyone who has lived here thirty minutes knows that Austin is a football town that bleeds arterial orange for the Longhorn football team and bursts a capillary or two over Longhorn baseball and basketball. If soccer were a money-making sport worthy of an investment, UT would have bulldozed the Engineering building to build a stadium for a university team. Since they haven’t done so yet, I rest my case.

Mind you, I have nothing against soccer. It’s a fine game that my children played when they were young, learning teamwork and honing physical coordination skills. Soccer also provides  an opportunity for the young and energetic to run up and down a field almost non-stop for sixty minutes without parents having to worrying too much about concussions or lost teeth from errant bats and sticks.

Skyline View for Soccer Fans?

In fact, if this company wanted to put the stadium over by the Travis County Exposition Center, or almost anywhere that doesn’t involve gifts of prime city parkland in a very congested area, I’d be applauding the deal. It seems, however, that the team’s owner, Precourt Sports Ventures, has its heart set on a downtown location so that television viewers “would know exactly what city the game is being played [in].” Let me just say, Precourt, I don’t think anyone watching the drama on the soccer field cares a flying flip about which city’s air those players are breathing. If using the city as a prop is truly a necessary element, I would urge them to watch episodes of Austin City Limits where the skyline is just a big wall mural. Maybe something like that could be rigged up. And by the way – Austin doesn’t need more advertising! We’re full.

Does Precourt Know Anything about Austin?

Another disturbing issue is judgment. If I were looking for a business partner, Mr. Mayor and council, I’d wonder about the reasoning capacity of a company deciding that Butler Park, off Toomey Road, just a block north of Barton Springs Drive and within a stone’s throw of Zilker Park, is a great location. To access such a stadium, fans would have to hope that neither Zilker Park, Auditorium Shores, the Long Center, or Palmer Auditorium are having big events.  Not only would attendees have to contend with congested streets both coming and going, but competition for parking in that area is stiff, spilling into the adjacent neighborhoods that already have to endure ACL for two weekends a year and the Trail of Lights during the Christmas holidays. Precourt wants to make their ordeal more permanent.

But wait, you might remind me, Precourt has said they doesn’t think parking is necessary for soccer fans. “Fans can access the stadium,” says Prescourt,  “just like they travel to their jobs in downtown Austin?”  (I spewed a mouthful of coffee all over the table when I read this!) Have these people ever been to Austin?!!! Are they confusing us, as many often do, with Portland?

Let me save you the research, Precourt, Austin workers travel to their downtown jobs by CARS!! And I don’t mean Priuses and Mini Coopers – I’m talking about sports utility vehicles and pick-up trucks!  Our bus system needs several more decades to become a viable mode of transportation and our train “system” sporadically drops people off from the northern hinterlands to east Austin. Simply put, there is no mass transit worth talking about.  And despite the miles of bicycle lanes you may have seen, not that many drivers have been convinced to ditch the cars and start pedaling.

If They Build It, Where to Park?

So, let’s get serious. Where will the 20,000 (planned capacity of stadium) soccer fans park? Maybe half of them will use some sort of park-and-ride system the soccer team arranges, but I suspect that thousands more may try using the garage at the Long Center/Palmer Auditorium. Others may look for spots at Shady Grove and the other establishments along restaurant row on Barton Springs. Will soccer fans have a few drinks or a meal at one of them and then, just casually walk past their cars to the stadium, figuring that lunch was enough to buy them a place all day? Okay with you, Shady G?

And then there’s the Zachary Scott theater complex adjacent to the proposed stadium that has weekend matinees and evening performances. Will they need to hire security personnel to police their lots? (By the way, won’t screams of “GOAL!!!!!!!” by 20,000 fans rock the theater walls and spoil the performances?)

Little Leaguers — Another Casualty?

And let’s not forget the razing of the three baseball fields used by South Austin Little League that have been hosting young players since 1951.  These fields accommodate about 250 families and no one wants to move them unless a new site with upgraded facilities can be found nearby.  Maybe they’ll find a way to obtain historic designations.

Is Good Faith Dealing with Precourt Even Possible?

As for good faith dealings with this team, Precourt seems to be holding the city of Columbus hostage, threatening to move to Austin unless Columbus can come up with a downtown locale for a new stadium. In response, an Ohio legislator has filed suit against the team alleging that a 1996 Ohio law requires a professional sports team that uses tax-supported facilities or gets public financial assistance to give six months advance notice of its intent to move and provide the city or local individuals the opportunity to purchase the team.  This law seems to apply to this soccer team by virtue of its below-market rate to lease state land for parking, having a stadium sitting on tax-exempt land, and benefiting from a State appropriation of $5 million for parking upgrades.  Representative Mike Duffey says, “This is our team, our town. We’re not going to go out without a fight!”

Does Austin really want to jump into the middle of this love affair/law suit for a sport we don’t really care much about? Are we just being played to get leverage for the stadium the team really wants in Columbus? And don’t forget, if they hold one city hostage, nothing prevents them from doing the same thing to us.


So, here’s my bottom line: we don’t need no stinkin’ soccer team, especially one owned by people who don’t have a clue about Austin, its culture, its infrastructure and have already shown their stripes in another city.  Precourt doesn’t seem to understand that we love our parks and other recreational facilities.  Austin citizens just approval two bond issues for our parks in November.

So, let’s tell Mayor Adler and the City Council that this is not the right team to welcome to Austin especially if they want to get their mitts (and cleats) on our parkland.   Precourt has betrayed the people of Columbus.  Let’s hope our City Council doesn’t betray us.

What We Want

And in case anyone asks what Austin really wants?  Tell them we could really use a world-class art museum.  Maybe we could strike a deal with Fort Worth to send us one of theirs, you think?

Posted in Old/New Austin | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

O Democracy, Wherefore Art Thou?

Once upon a time, I truly believed that I had a voice in my government, maybe not directly, but certainly through my elected representatives. Even while my preferred candidate in a particular race didn’t always win, I had more than a smidgen of faith that my preferred candidate could win in the near future.

I had little patience for my fellow-citizens’ excuses for not voting. I considered “I’m too busy,” or “My vote doesn’t matter,” to be lousy excuses for eschewing their duty as a citizens. These non-voters were risking the very underpinnings of democracy with this irresponsible behavior! Only confinement (be it hospital or jail) and death were acceptable excuses. Imagine, if we all decided our vote didn’t matter!

And yet, recently, my passion as a true believer is flailing. I have a new sense of apathy exacerbated by an ever-filling mailbox of messages urging me to sign petitions and contact my Congressional representatives to help sway their votes in favor of an issue. I’m confronted daily by the futility of my participation in our democracy. That’s because the men who represent me in Congress were not elected by my votes, don’t need my votes to win again, and ergo, don’t care about my opinions.

My congressional district has been drawn so its current occupant (or one with similar leanings) can win even if all the progressive voters in the district vote against him. In fact, he doesn’t need any votes from my urban area since the district has been drawn to run from San Marcos to south of Fort Worth, including Killeen, Fort Hood, parts of the hill country and only a smattering of Austinites. In other words, this man from bustling Weatherford is guaranteed a conservative vote majority from the largely rural Congressional District 25. So, while cattle ranchers in Lampasas may be happy with their representation, I’ve been drawn out of an opportunity to cast a meaningful vote. This is what political gerrymandering looks like.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional, but, thus far, its next best surrogate, political gerrymandering, has escaped court review. That will change this term when the Court takes up a case that brings political gerrymandering squarely before them. Ironically, the principle of “one person, one vote,” will come down to the vote of one man, Justice Kennedy. As the swing vote on voting rights, he will decide upon the constitutionality of a process that allows candidates to pick their voters instead of the other way around.

Yet, while gerrymandering of any type is an outright assault on democratic principles, in my opinion, our method of choosing Senators – two per state – seems to strike a bigger blow to democracy. Unfortunately, the election of senators — a tragic compromise to buy off the smaller states — is baked into the Constitution and off-limits to a judicial fix.  Proportional representation based on population in both House and Senate was the original goal of George Washington, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton, among other delegates to the Constitutional Convention who sought to create a strong national government. As powerful as their voices were, the delegates of small states threatened to walk out of the convention over that proposal.

Accordingly, the convention adopted a split-the-difference compromise that most delegates would swallow, i.e., proportional representation for the House based on population, but equal representation in the Senate wherein each State legislature selected two senators (later amended in 1913 to be elected by voters of each state). Allowing the states to maintain some control of the legislative process through the Senate was key to the Constitution’s ratification by the states.

But the compromise that birthed a nation packs a bigger wallop today than in 1787, when states like Texas and California were unimaginable. The smallest state, Tennessee, had a population of about 35,000, while the largest, Virginia, claimed 691,000, about 20 times greater. Compare that with today’s Wyoming with a population of 586,000, while California, with almost 40 million people is 68 times greater. So, when a citizen of Wyoming contacts one of their senators, there’s a higher chance that citizen’s opinion will matter to that Senator, compared to the possibilities for a voter in California or Texas, with a population of 28 million.

In fact, Wyoming has 262,719 registered voters, about the same number of people who live in Laredo, Texas. Conceivably, a Wyoming senator could know every voter in the state – or at least a member of their family! In contrast, when I’m asked to write my senators about abortion issues, health care, judicial appointments, taxation, gender equality, etc., I have to choke back a silent scream: “I am nobody to them!!” Actually, instead of sending anything to Senators Cornyn and Cruz, I might as well send a missive to Mars!!

And the situation is not going to get any fairer. Rural states are shrinking, as deaths outpace births and young people are abandoning rural life in search of better opportunities. Yet, their representation in the Senate will remain constant no matter the Census, resulting in an over representation of rural, conservative interests in a country that is largely urban and progressive.

The internet seems to be the key to understanding the disparity between rural and urban attitudes.  It allows for us to have friends on the other side of the planet, pay bills without a stamp, run a business at home in our pajamas, or read books without ever visiting a book store or library. The more we change our habitual ways of doing things, the easier it gets for us to embrace novelty and new information.

Yet, rural America has much less internet access and seems to be standing still amidst the digital revolution. They don’t see the world through the wide eyes of Google, don’t know anyone who is LGBT, needs an abortion, or is trying to escape the cycle of poverty. Successors of the Luddites who protested change some 400 years ago, they are, in effect, holding us hostage to their uninformed and short-sighted ways. Their short list of political interests include having guns to kill critters that threaten the chicken coop, ostracizing anyone who doesn’t look like them, and making sure their crop subsidies (corporate welfare) keep coming. Their suspicions about government (except for its aforementioned crop subsidy system) means they oppose most everything else government could do to improve the lives of the rest of their countrymen and women.

The unfortunate reality is that we are stuck with a government that gives folks in Wyoming and other small or rural states more than their share of representation in the Senate. As much as I wish otherwise, I realize it’s crazy to think that senatorial allocation could ever be realigned so that it more realistically reflects our evolution to a more urban America. A constitutional amendment would never pass Congress, since the small and rural states would block it just as they did in 1787. And no one wants another civil war – certainly not any of us urbanites. We’re too involved in living our busy, interesting, and diverse lives. Did anyone say “pumpkin spice latte?!”

I’ll try to content myself with the fact that I’m not living in a dictatorship, or Wyoming, for that matter. But, I liked believing that my vote and my voice mattered. I miss that.

So, where’s that email address for Mars?

Posted in History, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Untwinning from the Rich and Famous

Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I suffer from periodic bouts of conversation deficiency, particularly as a retiree without an office full of coworkers.  I recognize that I’m in the midst of such an episode when I allow small exchanges at the grocery store with fellow-shoppers to blossom into more than an “excuse me,” as I side swipe their carts.

For example, a few weeks ago, the purslane in another shopper’s basket prompted a conversation about its beauty, hardiness, and whether she was going to eat the leaves, which I’ve heard is a big thing. After exhausting purslane, we branched out to other topics, including her feeling that I looked very familiar.  Had we met at a certain workshop she’d attended recently?  No, I hadn’t been there, so we exchanged other potential meeting places, to no avail. We ended up concluding that I had a twin somewhere.

I was glad to finalize the conversation there since I couldn’t help but remember my brush with celebrity about three decades ago that began when a department store clerk, looking over my check and driver’s license, told me, “If we were in New York, I would just assume you were Nikki on the Young & the Restless. Of course, I can see here that you aren’t.”  I had never seen the show and didn’t know who Nikki was, but I was having a good hair day, so I assumed I should take her comment as a compliment.  I thanked her good-naturedly and left the store thinking the poor young woman needed glasses.  While I was blond,  skinnier, and made an effort to look nice most days, I didn’t see television material in my mirror.

But strangely enough, not too long after my encounter at the department store, a couple of employees in my office copy center mentioned the resemblance and began greeting me as Nikki, even yelling “Hey, Nikki,” down the hallway to tease me.  Other employees would ask me what was going on.  When I explained, an extraordinary number of them would say, “Now that you mention it, you do look like Nikki!”

What bamboozled me the most about all this was how so many 8-to-5 working people were so knowledgeable about a daytime soap opera.  These were the days before ubiquitous  VCRs and streaming was a next generation phenomenon.  I had to wait for a work holiday to get an opportunity to watch the soap opera and see my “twin.”

And as you’ve probably been thinking to yourself,  I looked nothing like Nikki!  Not that I wasn’t very flattered, but aside from my hair and the fact we are both Caucasian women, I couldn’t see any resemblance. Just one of the many differences I noticed was that Melody Thomas Scott (a.k.a. Nikki) has a cute uplifted nose – mine just sits on my face waiting for a nose job.  Don’t take my word for it:

Even so, my Nikki-ness seemed to grow like a cancer. At restaurants, waitresses would regularly note my resemblance and launch into the particulars of her character, her love life with Victor, etc.  Sometimes, other diners would stop by my table, interrupt any conversation, and ask me whether I knew of the resemblance.  Fast food counter people would ask me, “Do you watch the Young & the Restless?  You look just like Nikki!”

Some encounters would begin with “You look so much like someone . . . ” as they struggled to remember who. If I were in a good mood, I’d helpfully provide, “Nikki on Y&R?” “Yesss!! That’s it!” If I were lucky I wouldn’t have to hear about the latest Y&R plot twist and could get on with whatever business I had with that person. When I didn’t have time for a potentially long Nikki chat, I’d try to prevent any exploration of the subject with something innocuous like, “They say we all have a twin somewhere!”

Dealing with my Nikki-ness had already become an annoyance when I finally had my fill of being a celebrity.  On that particular day I was transporting a large un-crated German Shorthaired Pointer in the back seat of my new car while trying to find a kennel that was supposed to be on Brodie Lane (virtually uninhabited back then). Did I mention the dog drooled profusely?  When I spied a convenience store on the corner, I stopped to ask the clerk for help. (No google maps or cell phones back then.)

Here’s the short version of our conversation:

Me: I’m lost and looking for a dog kennel. Do you know of one nearby?
Her: Don’t I know you from somewhere?
Me: I don’t think so. Do you….
Her: Do you live around here? Where do you work?  I recognize you from somewhere.
Me: No, I don’t live near. I work downtown. I don’t know you. I need to find….
Her: (pensively) But I’m sure I’ve seen you . . . someplace.

This went on for a little longer, but I was determined not to mention Nikki, all the while imagining the saliva I’d be cleaning off my new back seat. I wanted to scream, “Lady, where’s the f….  dog kennel??!!!” But I controlled myself. And she finally said she didn’t know of any kennel, anyway. I eventually found it, fuming, frustrated, and understanding why Sean Penn would blow up at the paparazzi.

Fortunately, my life as a Nikki lookalike, seemed to die soon thereafter, mainly because I left my job, started law school, and didn’t get out as much.  None of my fellow law students and new friends ever mentioned a word about Nikki.  It was nice to put that behind me, but after two years in school, I started to worry that the Nikki thing might flare up again once I left the rarefied world of legal studies. I could imagine juries or court personnel seeing me and thinking about the soap opera instead of listening to my words.  Dying my hair could work, but it seemed a bit drastic.  After two Nikki-less years, I almost convinced myself that I shouldn’t worry about it.

But, one day while chatting about our hair with a classmate who had new highlights, I mentioned I was considering a change.  Red heads, I theorized, seem to get more respect than blondes and that might serve me better as a lawyer.  Expecting to share a good laugh over something quite ludicrous, I added, “You see, there’s this soap opera actress . . . ”

She didn’t even let me finish. “Nikki? Oh, I’ve always thought you looked like her!”  I couldn’t believe what I heard!  Had she and how many others been holding back all this time?  After all, it’s not like we only talked about Marbury v. Madison during our many days together.  Shortly thereafter, I threw out the peroxide and didn’t look back — I went red.

Since then, I’m happy to say that no one has mentioned Nikki to me. In fact, I would caution against anyone wanting to do something just to be famous. Anonymity is normal — it’s the way most of us are most comfortable (except for our current president and other narcissists). In this celebrity-obsessed culture, being famous is a major inconvenience, an artificial construct that we must work around in order to do what we want to do and be ourselves.

In the movie Notting Hill, I hear Julia Roberts channeling herself a bit as she was playing a famous actress trying to explain to Hugh Grant, a non-famous book seller, why he should overlook her celebrity and its attendant difficulties and be her beau.  She says plaintively: “The fame thing isn’t really real you know? . . . and don’t forget, that I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”

So, I didn’t tell the purslane lady at the grocery store anything about my brush with fame as Melody Scott Thomas’s twin.   First, she would have looked me over and thought me insane; second, the Young & the Restless will have to pay me some of those big diva bucks to promote their show this time around. And the biggest reason of all:  I prefer to remain mostly anonymous.

Best wishes to Melody.  We were sisters for a while.


Posted in Great Lessons, Television | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Core that May Always be With Us

Donald Trump, master of chaos, commander in crazy, continues to spiral out of control, and yet he continues to maintain a base of support comprising 35 to 40% of the American public. It’s hard to fathom how these core supporters can remain immune to facts and vulnerable to every conspiracy theory that gurgles up from questionable sources. Some people explain this phenomenon by pointing to the advent of cable tv, access to fake news via the internet, and the elimination of basic civics education in our high schools.  I’m wondering, however, whether the arc of history toward a more enlightened citizenry has some intractable obstacles?

Specifically, after reading an excerpt from the The Uncensored John Henry Faulk, published in 1985, I was struck with the notion that the DNA of some Americans may contain a baked-in suspicion of and resistance to facts.  Faulk, well-known humorist in the vein of Mark Twain, hatched much of his humor from memories and observations of characters and family members from his 1920s South Austin childhood and his travels around the South. In this piece called, “Defending National Security,” he brings his mother’s cousin, Ed Snodgrass, to life in a conversation about Nixon and Watergate. [Feel free to substitute our current president and the Mueller probe of Russian collusion.  And maybe Ted Cruz for Tower.]

At last I understand what national security means.  That is, what it means to Cousin Ed Snodgrass and his friends.  He explained it to me the other morning about daylight when he came over to have a cup of coffee with me.

“Got a letter from Senator John Tower’s office yesterday,” he remarked as he blew on his coffee.  “Really was an eye-opener, too.  Tower understands the whole thing!”

“What whole thing does Senator Tower understand?” I asked.

“All this plotting and conspiring against our national security,” he answered.

 “Tower’s on to the whole shooting match.  Them conspirators ain’t got John Tower fooled for one minute.”

“What conspirators are you talking about, Cousin Ed?”

“Sam Ervin and his committee, the New York Times, Washington Post, and them high and mighty TV commentators that’s plotting against national security.  That’s what conspirators I’m talking about!”

“What kind of conspiracy are they in against national security?’

“They are conspiring to git Dick Nixon!”

“Did Senator Tower say that the Watergate investigations were a conspiracy against national security?”

“No.  He just pointed out that they were all so prejudiced and one-sided that it amounted to a conspiracy to git President Nixon.  I figured out the rest for myself.”

“You know, Cousin Ed, you and Senator Tower and your friends amaze me.  In fact, you dumbfound me.  Here we are a self-governing people, a society that boasts about the fact that we control our government and that it does not control us.  Teach our children that.  Then we discover that the men whom we have entrusted with power have lied to us and deceived us.  And right off, you raise the howl that it’s unfair to investigate the wrongdoing!  You even call it a conspiracy.”

“Now wait a minute! Me and Senator Tower ain’t defending no wrongdoing.  We believe everybody that’s done wrong ought to be punished.  We just say leave President Nixon’s name out of it.”

“But he’s head of the administration that’s perpetrated all the wrongdoing and deception that caused such a crisis!  How do you think they can leave his name out?”

“They ain’t proved a thing on Nixon yet!  He’s pure as the driven snow.  That’s why it’s so unfair to go ‘round accusin’ him.”

“Hogwash, Cousin Ed.  What do want them to prove?  His own aides, members of his administration have publicly confessed to perjury, obstruction of justice, burglary, and God knows what other crimes.  His own staff now admit that he instructed them to follow a ‘basic policy decision’ to keep secret the gross misuses of the taxpayers’ money to the tune of ten million dollars on Nixon’s private homes.  That’s not speculation.  That’s now admitted fact.  Add to those things the fact that last week the Pentagon itself was forced to admit that it had systematically falsified records of bombing in Cambodia in order to deceive the American people.  At whose instruction?  Nixon’s!  And you sit there and say the Senate committee and newspapers are unfair to President Nixon.  What nonsense.”

“I said, and I repeat, I ain’t’ defending no wrongdoing.  I’m defending our national security.”

“Then why are you claiming that the investigators are all conspiring in a plot against national security?  Our national security isn’t dependent on official misconduct.  To the contrary, lying and deception threaten our nation’s well-being.”

“Son, anything that threatens Dick Nixon threatens our national security.  That’s just a matter of common sense.”

“What’s common sense about that?’

“If you was smart as me and Senator Tower, you’d know.  Dick Nixon is national security.  Anybody that goes around criticizing Dick Nixon is undermining our national security.  If you don’t believe me, ask the president.”

Seems like some things never change . . . arc of history be damned!

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