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Friday, July 12, 2019

On The Road Again...Again

An old friend recently came back to life after a long sleep.



I finally took my well-worn '82 Harley Superglide to the local custom shop for a little rehab. I thought for many years that I would never ride it again. She's been stored since 2012 (I only know this because that's the last registration sticker on the plate) and I couldn't even remember the last time I had my helmet on. the old road warrior just sat under a cover in the garage collecting dust. 

I guess it was time...

I bought that bike brand new in the summer of '83 from Harding Harley in Corning...a dealership now long gone...when I sort of 'outgrew' my '80 Roadster. I'd ridden the 'Baby Hog' to Florida and back twice and towed 20 kids around a roller rink floor with it (and that''s another story) but I'd always wanted a big-inch. 

The FXE was a carryover so I scored a deal on it to get it off the dealer's floor. 6500 bucks for a brand-new bike seemed like a lot at the time but compared to current prices, it was practically theft.  I could swing the financing without a cosigner so he made me a smokin' price. 

Harding wanted it moved because everyone had to have the almost-customs that were selling like hotcakes to yuppies and Easy Rider wannabes back then. This one was as plain as dry toast and nobody was nibbling.

You see, somewhere along the line, HD realized that the people they'd turned away at the door for years actually had money and were willing to spend it to look 'edgy'. Guys that would have gotten the bum rush and a cold shoulder years ago turned up on the cover of the catalog. Tattoos appeared on middle-managers and college kids, stock brokers wore Harley paraphernalia to work and Willie G. Davidson smiled every time a dentist bought a shiny new Road King. 

People who'd never ridden so much as a moped were showing up at the dealerships with enough credit score to wobble off into the sunset with a decked-out dresser or factory chopper. Half of them didn't or couldn't ride but hey...they owned a Hog and that was all the rage. If it said 'Harley' on it, it sold out. The fancier, the better.

Nobody was looking for the most basic model of the 'Glides like the one sitting in the back row...not much chrome...no bags...no Screaming Eagle goodies...nothing fancy...not even a kickstarter...just a ride. 

It wasn't much but it was 80 cubic inches of all mine.

When I took it home, it was fire-engine red and the only accessories I could afford were an aftermarket aircleaner instead of the ham-can that Harley threw on it and a slick, baffle-less turnout for the exhaust to replace the giant sausage-shaped muffler that was legal but as ugly as an Edsel. The sound was awesome.

I managed to wring out a few bucks soon after for a sissy bar and what used to be called 'Frisco pegs but I couldn't spring for real forward controls so I turned the shift lever up a couple of splines and learned to kick gears and brakes with my heels. I threw away the factory turn signals and bought a tool bag and that was it. 

I rode it everywhere for just days over a year until an Allen bolt head sheared off in the transmission and went between the gears. It cracked the case on the way through the teeth so off to the dealer we went. Harley...in typical Harley fashion...determined that the warranty had expired by less than a week so they were not going to fix it. I was too broke to foot a new four-speed so the head wrench at Harding...a guy I only remember as Doug...sort of pieced it back together and sealed up the spider-web cracks in the bottom of the transmission for the cost of labor. He said keep my fingers crossed and sent me on my way. I have to give him all the credit...it's still hanging together after 30+ years.

From there on out, it was just miles on top of miles. I got some throw-over saddle bags and used to load them with records to go to a DJ gig I had in Syracuse. A bunch of us would just head out after work some nights at 2am and ride to a place called The Roscoe Diner about 100 miles away just to have breakfast as the sun came up. I rode to New Jersey to go roller skating. I rode to New England with a monster known as Beast and got run out of town by the local PD in Montpelier Vermont. I made it as far south as Virginia and as far north as Montreal. I taught advanced MSF RiderCourses and used the FX to do demonstrations for the students. Somewhere along the way, I wound up with an '85 SuperGlide to go with the '82 but the payments got the best of me and so the original stayed and the '85 went. My ex and I rode away from our wedding on the Hog. The bike lasted longer than the marriage.

Over the years, it went from red to black and lost all the Harley decals. Leaded gas went away so the valve guides crapped out first. Two or three sets of rings wore out, the original Japanese carb vibrated itself to death, the rod bearings gave up after about 85,000 miles and the clutch finally started slipping at about 90,000. I never did put in a new primary chain although I wore out dozens of finals and a boatload of tires. But still the old thing ran.

I led MDA rides and Poker Runs with it when I was a Road Captain for ABATE...rode in the rain and snow trying to get home from someplace a thousand times...made it up the Cross-Bronx Expressway at 5 o'clock on a Wednesday with a broken motor mount (a miracle for which I promised I'd never sell her)...and most days, I just rode to work. So many miles and so many places along the way.

Decades later...what little chrome it had is shot and I never did spring for any on the heads and side covers. A fresh paint job would be good. The bottom of the turnout pipe is ground razor-sharp from dragging in right turns and there's a kid's sneaker sole melted on top. There's about a hundred things that need tinkering but somehow, they never seem to get done. The speedometer hasn't read right and I haven't seen anything but blurs in the mirrors since it was new. The left fork leg seal has leaked since 1987 and I just never get around to getting it fixed. I don't know why there's still anything in it. In true Shovelhead fashion, there's always an oil patch to mark my parking spots. A few things never change.

Maybe some year, I'll put her back to new(er). Paint, some snazzy chrome, forward controls, un-blued exhaust pipes, a fork seal...you know...all the stuff that never quite made it to the top of the list. Legally, at 37 years old, she's an antique now so it's actually more of a 'restoration' now than anything else. 

But still...the old FXE starts when I hit the button once again. Another chapter...another life...more miles. I never would have believed it.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

I Didn't Vote For This...

It's always about sex isn't it? 

Our elected government assemblies can't figure out how to do much of anything productive so they always default to something reproductive. When in doubt...moralize, criminalize or at best endlessly debate some aspect of sex. What's acceptable...what's not. What fits the ethics-du-jour. Who's doing what with whom. Who should use which restroom. And on and on ad nauseam...

Vis-a-vis, abortion...

The world teeters on ruin and yet, a woman's reproductive decisions and by extension, sexual life is the top priority this week in our governing chambers. There is a vigorous and extremely obnoxious march of morality among the mostly immoral, mostly white, mostly old, mostly male legislators to deny any woman...anywhere...any chance to have her own choice whether to or not to have a safe and legal abortion. The hypocrisy of this is mind boggling.

"Murder!" they cry. "Execution!" as they thump the Bible and pretend at piousness. "We must protect the unborn!" is the chorus of the agents of the theocracy. Of course, any sponsored form of government death is acceptable. Lethal injection jumps to mind for a start...but that's another story.

In a stunning rape of the separation of church and state, they have decreed that a shiny new soul is awarded the moment a sperm finds an egg and no choice is possible after that event. No woman, no physician, not even the father is better qualified to make decisions about this than they who sit in senates and on judicial benches. The Evangelicals have assured them that this is so. 

No circumstance or exception will be considered because every life is precious...at least until it can breathe on it's own and presumably join the military. 

No choice will be brooked. Punishment for an abortion will be swift and ruthless. Prison time will be mandatory for the mother and the doctor will share in retribution. The zealous at the statehouse will sit in judgement. They talk like Jules Winnfield quoting Ezekial in a diner. But unsurprisingly, there is no mention of keeping their own pants zipped. Who would think of denying sex to a congressman? Huh?

Abstain! Abstain!" is their mantra...as if they ever could or did. In their world, sex for the masses is only allowed for government approved, correctly gendered married couples and only for reproductive purposes. Wealthy and powerful men can do whatever they like but by God given strength of will and moral fortitude, no one else (especially women) will enjoy or even have sex. Does anyone really believe that these publicly indignant men would even attempt that? Look how chastity has worked out for the Catholic priesthood for the last thousand years...

Does anyone also believe that the wife, daughter or mistress of a "thoughts and prayers" senator would be unable to get an abortion should they choose or if it was convenient? And knowing they could...would it be performed in unclean conditions or with protesters marching outside the door? Would hers become the test case for Roe vs. Wade? Would she wear the scarlet letter and be shamed in committee or threatened on social media? I think not.

She will be able to afford the birth control that her male guardians are making impossible for her less-than-influential sisters. She will be able to travel...even out of the country if necessary. She will receive the care that the peasantry does not deserve. She will not be mutilated and will not die from infection. No one will bomb her clinic or murder her physician.

And that is the evil in this. All the "right to life" hand wringing and sermonizing doesn't apply to those who are taking away every woman's right to her own body. Wealth, power and privilege as always, provides a shield that separates 'them' from 'us'.

So women are required to carry every conception to conclusion but once born, all bets are off.  Once these children arrive, they are expendable.

That is the worst evil of all. There can be no support for the child or mother. Society, they say cannot afford to feed, clothe or house the children it demands be carried to term. Many may soon burn in the waste heat of unsustainable profits as the climate changes or starve before the next quarter...sacrificed at the alter of Lord Operating Ratio.  Only the for-profit prison system is happy to see them arrive...and yet we must make sure they and multitudes more are born. 

Planned, wanted or not...catastrophically incapable of surviving...the product of rape...none of that is of consequence...they must be born. They will be free to struggle and perish as necessary after birth...but until then, there can be no choice.

The elected have already decided that children should die by the thousands in front of guns...because the right to bear arms cannot ever be infringed lest the hollow men seem weak. They may die by the thousands in wars started by cynical leaders if only to prove how powerful they are. After the moment of delivery (or even during delivery) children have leave to die by more thousands because healthcare is a bridge too far to be agreed upon and none may trample on medicine-for-profit.

Time and again...'We can't afford to care for them all when they're young...we can't afford to care for them when they're old...we can't afford to educate them...we can't afford to pay them a living wage. They can have a firearm but they can't have birth control. They can lead a squad in combat but can't be trusted with their own bodies. We can't control designer drugs but we damn sure can make certain nobody outside the beltway ever gets a morning-after pill...

Listen, I could go on and on but the bottom line is...I will never, ever believe that any legislative body has any business regulating someone else's body. Get the hell out of bedrooms, doctor's offices and bathrooms and do something...anything that serves everyone. Find something to do that doesn't involve your own insecurities about sex. Just once...keep your Fundamentalist nonsense to yourself. You don't believe it anyway...

Because I and so many others are weary of yet another edition of the 'Moral Majority' that as they say...is neither.








Friday, April 19, 2019

Wondering

Let's get this straight. I don't claim to be particularly bright. I've never attended a college course or received any academic awards. I made it through high school (after at least two tries at Algebra 1, a swing and a miss at English and a short fling with Chemistry) but my grades were such that the Air Force recruiter at the job fair shuffled me off to the Army table for 'lack of aptitude' when I told him I wanted to fly. I hated almost every minute of my classes and wiggled my way off campus by 11:00 am my whole senior year so I could work on the farm. 

Against that background, it's hard to figure how I ended up being such a geek. I somehow developed an affectation for history, technology and science. Not that I'm any good at it...I just like it. 

I've spent my whole adult life reading and listening and trying to be at least a tiny bit literate on lots of subjects. I may not know very much about any one thing but I try to know a little about lots of others. 

Science in particular makes sense to me. It is true that not everything is known and some things may never be known...but there is a structure to the search. There is order in it that appeals to me. It says that not every answer is the correct one but the way to research and test those answers is understood and the language of verification is spoken by all.

History is a bit hazier at times but still, a fair percentage of it is facts and records. The interpretation of said facts gets murky and opinionated but much of that too is interesting and thought provoking. There is always something to learn...no matter what the subject.

In that light...I have to ask...why did so many people give up on knowledge? I've been wondering of late how ignorance became so popular and so...well...normal. And by the way...when did fact-based thinking turn into conspiracies?

"The scientists are all in on it"..."NASA is hiding something"...

Somehow, "I do/don't believe it" is now seen as a legitimate argument. Logical reasoning gives way to argument from incredulity. "I can't understand it so it can't be true." 



Anything more than a cursory Google search is viewed as "elitist" and therefore suspect. Social media posts are quoted as reliable sources of information. Videos on YouTube for instance, while very useful for reference on installing a light switch, are a cesspool of misinformation and bully pulpits for an endless parade of irrational peddlers of nonsense. Comment sections on almost any platform have to be monitored and periodically flushed of hate-mongers, keyboard warriors and the ever-present conspiracy porn. It makes one's head spin.

My purely anecdotal take on it all is that a significant number of seemingly functional adults have chosen to wholeheartedly believe in some form of completely unverifiable, irrational or long since disproven bullshit.

You know the ones...chemtrails; the flat Earth; vaccines; crop circles; denials of everything from moon landings to The Holocaust; pick your poison...there's something for every echo-chamber. From Nostradamus to Bigfoot; Pearl Harbor to Sandy Hook; GMOs to NWO; everybody is hiding something and no one is to be trusted.

Somehow, somewhere facts just evaporated and thousands of years of observation, record keeping and study degenerated into memes and fairy tales. It's as if a certain percentage of the population suddenly volunteered to be wantonly stupid and afraid.

Just for example...you'd have to knowingly allow yourself to be convinced that the Earth is flat. A Greek mathematician figured out the circumference of our roughly spherical planet with a fair degree of accuracy sometime around 240 BC and the proof of that roundness has accumulated nonstop ever since. Same with the idea that the Earth is the center of the universe...it's not, never was and the proof of that is mind-numbingly extensive. And yet...people believe it still. Against all evidence, no matter what it is or where it comes from...they believe. Photographs from space are fake...mathematical calculations are wrong...direct observation is unacceptable...every single scrap of proof is unreliable. This can only be willful ignorance.

The idea that science in general is a conspiracy and 'up to something' makes absolutely no sense when you realize that even the assertion of falsehood is being made on systems developed by the same science that is being disparaged. Does anyone think that the computer or phone on which they opine has always been around or just popped into being one day? Somehow, electricity makes it to the wall outlet to power it too. How did that happen? At least in the world in which we live; we travel, communicate, eat, shelter and yes...fight based on continuous experimentation. Everything we do and come in contact with is the result of ideas...failures...successes...giant leaps and small steps. 

Which leads to me wonder why. Why is it so attractive to believe that which is so easily proven to be false? What is to be gained by rejecting reality and retreating to fantasy? Is it to find safety in something made-up and easy rather than real and difficult? 

Or is it just plain fear? Fear of the unknown and unseen. As Clarke's Third Law states: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
I submit that it is also indistinguishable from conspiracy. 

Is it seeing oneself as being diminished by the accomplishments of others? Or is it just that the world has become too big? Is it that being so small and worse...being able to see that smallness that people fear? Is it fear of not being important?

After all, we're surrounded by 'influencers', 'curators', 'spokespersons' and assorted 'important' people...each telling us what to do, what to wear, what to think. It's an easy trap to fall into to believe that your own little corner is meaningless. 

Technology allows everyone to see the much bigger world like never before and it's oftentimes a very frightening place. I suspect...again with no evidence other than my opinion...that being part of something, even if it's wrong, is better than feeling alone and afraid against so much that is incomprehensible. Fear, after all, drives power in many directions. Inward and outward. Are so many people so afraid? 


_______________________________________


I don't begin to know the answer but I would like to think otherwise. My belief is that there's a much larger, quieter population that lives day to day without worrying about...well...everything. Maybe they're not the vocal ones who make the headlines. But they go on pushing ahead for the joy of it. Maybe all the noise in the news cycle is only aberration and not as prevalent as it seems. It's all just clickbait and sales pitch. Maybe there's a lot more people who look up a the stars and wonder. Everyday people who aren't afraid of the dark. Who see the world as it is.

People who see the universe as embodied by this picture of an object 55 million light years away and understand that we live in a far more wonderful and magical place than any made-up construct could ever be. It only worries me that anyone would wish not to see it and be a part of it. 



I read about astonishing new wonders almost every day. Successes like that photo of a black hole above...the mapping of the human genome...the biggest plane in the world making it's first flight...and even failures like a lunar lander crashing on final approach. To me, these things are magical and akin to miraculous. I cannot understand the science but I'm happy to see it at work. The nuts and bolts of it is beyond me but the results are incredible.

Besides...is it important to know how everything works anyway? Very few of us can truly comprehend all of the technology that surrounds us any more than I can. It's too pervasive and embedded. Do I claim to know what makes the computer I'm typing on work? In only the vaguest sort of way I suppose...but I could no more build it than the squirrel peering in the window at me. My phone could be operated by pixie dust for all I know of its internal workings. But I don't believe there's some dark forces at work behind it just because I don't know what makes the screen light up. My truck starts, the WiFi works, everything is cold in the 'fridge...I couldn't tell you how.

I'm amazed that all this stuff works and that's enough. There was a time not that long ago when nearly everything we take for granted would have been pure fantasy. I'm in awe of the power we all have that in another age, would surely have been seen as devil worship. The power to be almost everywhere at once...to see beyond our own horizon...to be able to know so much by just asking...to be able to be curious. People were burned at the stake for less.

Onward and upward.

In the end...I never did pass Algebra...or English 3. I squeaked out enough credit to graduate and never did learn to fly. I'm nothing more than the next walking talking blog opinion. Yes, I worry more than I should about things I can't control. I let the foolishness in the world get under my skin too much. 

But I try hard to never lose the wonder...the gift of being able to dream of things unseen and things unknown in spite of it all.

I only wish more of the world would tag along for the ride. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

For Minnie Louise...

Home isn't what it always was anymore. My Mom passed away a few days ago. It seems like a little more of the brightness drained out of the world when she left it.

She was almost ninety years old and had been married to the love of her life for seventy one years. She raised five kids in what amounted to two families in the old style...she ran the house and Dad worked. She had a faith that was unshakable. And she knew, even through the Parkinson's and her failing health that she was ready to close her eyes for the last time.

I saw her about a week ago and want to remember her as she was that day. She and Dad sat in the sunshine on their glassed-in back porch chatting and smiling. You could almost see through her she was so thin and frail but she laughed and held my hand like always. I imagine we talked about the kids, the weather, the usual comings and goings, the latest news and how nice it was to see me. I just want to remember her face in the sun and the feel of her hand.

When I got the call that she was in the hospital and she wasn't going home...I sat for a few minutes and struggled with going to see her. She was in a coma by then and so the Mom I knew was already gone. We had said our goodbyes a week ago without even knowing it was the last time. I didn't know if I could watch her leave us. But I went...

The whole tribe was already there by the time I made it to the ER. As the old saying goes, nothing brings a family together like a wedding or a funeral...or in this case, a crisis. My Dad was sitting on an unpadded stool by Mom's bed and wouldn't even sit in a more comfortable chair. He just held her hand and watched over her...as he always had. They were together even if she was only dreaming about it.

It's all a little blurry but doctors came and went. Nurses checked in and finally a surgeon took us to a small room for the news. The damage was too much and there was no reason to subject her to surgery. She didn't want that anyway and no one could disagree. All that was left was to wait. They moved her to a private room and said it was only a matter of hours.

She slipped quietly away the next morning with Dad by her side and I'd like to think she knew it somehow. Through it all, they'd been together. They were everything I ever wanted to be. Theirs was a love for the ages. 

So yes...losing Mom makes me terribly sad and yet somehow...it doesn't. She made the world a brighter place with her presence and everyone who met her saw it.  

She was my inspiration in every sense of the word. And what she taught...even if she did it by example or by accident, will stay with me until my own end. She gave to everyone around her. She gave just by being who she was. 

Perhaps her greatest gift was was to teach me to mark her passing with joy at her life well spent and her rest well earned. She knew I'd be sad but she wouldn't have wanted that...at least not for long. She knew me well and I think she'd forgive me one more time if I hurt for a while.

I know this is the way of things. Life ends for everyone someday and that's a part of it all. I'll grieve for Mom and now and again...and I'll probably fall apart sometimes thinking about her and wishing she was here. But I'll temper the pain with a treasured memory of her sitting peacefully on that bright porch in the sun...with the man she loved all her life by her side...holding my hand...smiling and laughing at some silly story. That's the Mom I'll remember always...not in grief that she's gone...but in happiness that I was lucky enough to be her middling son. And when the tears do come, I can promise her that they're not because I'm sad...but because I will always love her and miss her.

She was my Mom you know. And that makes me smile.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Coming Up Daisies

Songs do it to me all the time and another one got me the other day. I found it in a box of un-jacketed old 45's I was pawing through while doing some long-overdue sorting. 

I know I'm showing my age here but I still have shelves full of them from my DJ days and earlier. Most of you know that I have vinyl overload from years of pre-digital existence and in a tentative first step toward organizing it all, I came across this long-lost, long forgotten stuff under a shelf. None of it has seen a needle or a platter since Nixon was sweating out Watergate and the paper sleeves probably disappeared into history long before that.

I don't even remember for certain where they came from or when. I'm only sure they're leftovers from when I was much, much less gray and wrinkly. Some of the titles were familiar so I know they probably got mixed in with all the other working records somewhere along the line. I don't have a clue how they managed to still be with me after all the moves and purges but there they were.

Tucked away in a plain cardboard box among my junk were two stacks of beat up 7-inchers. A few of the names rang bells I haven't heard in longer than I care to think about but one caught me by the ear and gave it a real tug.

Under a layer of dust I could read a title...'Daisy A Day' by Jud Strunk. Why did that one catch my attention? That one in particular...a sort of syrupy minor hit by a long-gone singer. A quick search said it only made #14 on the chart in 1973 and Jud Strunk died in a plane crash in 1981. There was never another song to sing for him. What made that one jump out at me?

In 1973 I would have been...oh let me think...14 years old or so. That would have been early in my farming days. Long before a real first date...way before motorcycles...probably when my only real wish was to get out of school and drive something around a field. The world hadn't gotten to me yet and songs were just songs.

How could I have known that something like that scratchy tune would come back and bring a tear to my eye over 40 years later?

As soon as I saw it, the melody instantly returned. I could remember the chorus. I could hum the tune. And even though it doesn't have a clear memory or picture attached to it, it brought me to a screeching halt.

It's a story of an old man who loved so much that his 'Daisy A Day' didn't end even after the love of his life had gone. It's about believing that not everything is just 'for now'. It's about knowing that all is well and about staying true to the end. And the ending is what gets me...

He remembers the first time he met her
He remembers the first thing she said
He remembers the first time he held her
And the night that she came to his bed

He remembers her sweet way of sayin'
Honey has somethin' gone wrong?
He remembers the fun and the teasin'
And the reason he wrote her this song

I'll give you a daisy a day dear
I'll give you a daisy a day
I'll love you until the rivers run still
And the four winds we know blow away

They would walk down the street in the evenin'
And for years I would see them go by
And their love that was more than the clothes that they wore
Could be seen in the gleam of their eye

As a kid they would take me for candy
And I loved to go taggin' along
We'd hold hands while we walked to the corner
And the old man would sing her his song
I'll give you a daisy a day dear
I'll give you a daisy a day
I'll love you until the rivers run still
And the four winds we know blow away

Now he walks down the street in the evenin'
And he stops by the old candy store
And I somehow believe he's believin'
He's holding her hand like before

For he feels all her love walkin' with him
And he smiles at the things she might say
Then the old man walks up to the hilltop
And gives her a daisy a day

I'll give you a daisy a day dear
I'll give you a daisy a day
I'll love you until the rivers run still
And the four winds we know blow away

It's such a sweet and sad love song you see...but unlike so many, it's not about wanting...it's about lasting. Maybe that's why it made me pause. Such a tiny old tune...a simple little thing that suddenly meant so much.

A silly song in a box that kept an old man awake...thinking about how much his life has changed. Thinking about how lucky he is. Thinking about all that's happened since Jud put those notes down on wax. And finally looking forward again.

I think maybe when the sun finally comes out and the temperature gets above my age, it'll be time to walk hand in hand, buy a neighborhood kid an ice cream cone and sing a couple bars of an old song with my sweetheart. That's what music does for me. That's what love does for me.


Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Un-American

I guess that's me.

At least that's what a fair percentage of meme-posters on my unsocial media newsfeed would have me think. I'm a snowflake and a bleeding heart liberal. If forwards and copy/pastes rule the world, well yeah...I guess by their definition, I am.

Because I don't agree with them, I must hate America and pine mightily for the New World Order. Everything I know is fake news. I'm not them...therefore I am 'the other'.

Because I don't wear a MAGA hat, I am inextricably linked to some all-encompassing Soros/Rothschild/Antifa conspiracy to turn everything over to the UN. Since I've never used the phrase 'immigrant invasion' in conversation, I obviously can't wait for the 'terrorists' and non-white, non-rich, non-straight people to take over. Because I think it's obscene to shut down the government to extort money from taxpayers, I should move to Canada immediately. 

I'm accused of being a fascist because I believe there's lots of things we can do to make firearms safer without arming everybody and selling more weapons for the NRA. I obviously must be a Satan worshiper because I believe geriatric men shouldn't decide what's best for women and I'm not afraid of who's using which bathroom. I'm a communist because I don't think it should be a government priority to hand out tax breaks to those with the biggest campaign contribution or maximize profits for corporations with no regard beyond the next quarterly report. I'm a radical leftist because I think anyone...and I mean everyone who lives in this country should be equal under the law and I believe immigration is who we are...not what we should stop. And I'm an elitist because I happen to believe science is real, Global Warming is true, we did go to the moon, the Holocaust actually happened, vaccines are a good thing and just because 'everyone is saying' something...doesn't make it so.

I'm so many horrible things to so many people. It makes pruning my 'friends' list easier anyway. 

Here's the thing. I'm an American to the America I always believed in. But somewhere along the way, that America has turned from an ideal into what seems like a race to a lowest common denominator. Or perhaps the greatest common divider.

It changed from striving for 'E Pluribus Unum' to 'Ex Uno Plures'. Everyone for themselves. We are no longer willing to compromise. No one can win unless someone else loses. Negotiation is seen as weakness. There can be no armistice, only annihilation. Every issue is an existential crisis. Everyone not 'me'...is 'them'. Ex Uno Plures...From One, Many.

Worse perhaps is that it became fashionable to spend our time looking back instead of looking ahead. America was always great in my mind, and not just in the past. Yes, it's a mess most times and often lost and fumbling...but its greatest moments and finest hours were always on the horizon. Ahead, not behind.

Say what you will but I don't subscribe to the 'Make America Great Again' charade...it's backward facing. It's trying to be something vaguely remembered from the past instead of becoming the unknown of the future. It's pretending that things were better behind us than they will be before us. It's nostalgic but counterproductive. Looking back means we've run out of ideas to go forward.

When was America greater? Pick your time frame and look closely. It was never perfect and it was certainly never simpler or easier or cheaper. It's always been a tangled up half-catastrophe on the brink of a cliff but that's what made it work. There was forever something out there that we were working on. Tomorrow would be a brighter day.

I think we should wear hats that say "Make America Better" and keep our eyes off the rear-view mirror. Remember, objects seen there are closer than they appear...and they may be gaining on you.

Then there's the frightening change in thinking. It's strange to me but somewhere along the line, we turned a corner and went from "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" to "Mexico will pay for the wall." 

From "...and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." to "Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

From academics to conspiracy theory. From eloquence to Twitter. From thoughtfulness to posting a meme.

Somehow this all became sort of...well...acceptable. 

It became ok to believe whatever you want to believe and call it truth. Science became a dirty word. Facts became mutable 'alternatives'. Something made it normal to be afraid of what you don't understand. And if you don't understand...well just make something up and run with it.

I would submit that this and so much of what's happening around us is what's un-American.

Think what you want but fear, conspiracy fantasies, alternative facts, outright lies, hyper-partisanship and the 'us vs. them'; us against the world mentality is what's truly poisonous.

We have to be better than that. We have to lead, never follow. And somehow...we have to understand that we're all trying to be Americans. Even me.

E Pluribus Unum 

Friday, January 4, 2019

Delta Dawn

Every have a picture pop into your head out of nowhere? 

I was browsing around iTunes looking for a song or two the other day when something from a long, long time ago was suddenly just there. For some reason, as I was scrolling through some old stuff, out of the blue came a clear-as-day memory. I must be getting old.

It was from way back when when I worked on a farm. Just like I was still there, I could see a hazy field of oat stubble. Short, scratchy stalks and fat rows of straw left over after the combine had done its work. I was looking down the hood of an International 826 Hydro tractor with the throttle wide-open. 




I know it was a real scorcher because I remember the metal on the machines being almost hot enough to burn my hand. I was baling straw on a hilltop field that day, throwing kicker-rack wagons full of string-tied yellow blocks that would be stacked in a screaming hot, dimly lit mow by another bunch of kids that got paid a buck a load to empty out what I tossed in. I can still smell the dust, hot oil, baler twine and diesel smoke like I was standing by the big back tires. I was probably 16 or 17 years old.

Looking over my shoulder from the tractor seat, there was a white AM radio on the right fender. Somebody had bolted it on in just the right place to block my view of the baler pickup so I had to sit skewed sideways to see around it. It had the volume knob turned up as far as it would go. 
It had only one scratchy, over-driven speaker that was probably dying a slow, painful death at the hands of the teenage kid behind the steering wheel. It couldn't overwhelm the roar from the stack but it had enough oomph to catch a few notes of the songs if you leaned over a little closer. The only time you could understand it much at all was when you throttled off to make a turn at the end of a windrow. Tractor cabs with Bose sound systems and air conditioning were a thousand years in the future. It seemed like a miracle then.

And I remember that song. It wasn't what anybody remotely considers 'classic rock'. Certainly not much of a blip on the music world radar. Not even one of my all-time favorites; in fact I don't think I own a copy that I could put my hand on. But it has a picture attached to it that has lasted 40-plus years.

It was "Delta Dawn" by Helen Reddy. What a funny song to hang a memory on right? But I can hear it mixed with the pounding from the baler, the exhaust and transmission whine from the big red Hydro and the rattle from the loose shield on the PTO shaft. 

In her younger days they called her Delta Dawn
Prettiest woman you ever laid eyes on

Another bale gets airborne from the kicker into the pile on the wagon. The recoil makes the seat jump a little. I can feel the sun. I can see endless windrows of fluffy yellow straw shimmering in the heat...the wagons filling up and being hauled away...the empty ones coming back from the unloading crew at the barn. They're working a lot harder than I am so life's good. Helen's voice is hard to make out over Mr. Diesels invention but she's still there.
I know I'm covered in black dust because baling oat straw does that and I'm pretty sure I wasn't wearing a hat because back then, who cared? You burned to a crisp once and then tanned the rest of the summer.

Delta Dawn, what's that flower you have on?
Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?

I can't say for certain but there was probably a bread bag full of sandwiches in the tool box. Maybe a cooler of iced tea getting a lot warmer under a tree by the fence. And the rows upon rows that steadily turned into neat, tied up square packages under that summer sun. Fill the twine boxes when they run low. Drop a full wagon and start on an empty. Watch for woodchuck holes that'll snap an axle or tip a wagon over. 

And did I hear you say he was a-meeting you here today
To take you to his mansion in the sky?

Spin the steering wheel on the headland and get lined up for another pass. Slap the throttle back up and nudge the speed down a little while the song plays on. It was probably on WTKO AM in Ithaca because that was the only station the bent up whip antenna could pull in. The DJ most likely cut it off as it faded and read a commercial. I don't remember the end...only the song.

A silly song that packed so much into such a tiny little space. Something about what it was to be that kid. To sit on that dirty tractor and see that tiny piece of the world on that one bright summer day.

Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?

It may very well be...but it's pressed between the pages of a book that I can still take out and read once in a while. All it takes is something to help me find the right page. Ms. Reddy...I owe you one.