Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Otis Redding - Merry Christmas Baby (1967)



Merry Christmas to all. May the new year bring you peace and joy.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas parody letter 2012

(singing) “It came while I was drinking beer.”


Ho! Ho! Ho! To all my Yuletide friends, hope you’re having the Christmas jollies this holiday season. 25,000 twinkling lights on the ol’ Guy house, can’t say I don’t have the Christmas spirit. True, holidays can be a little stressful like when I was setting up the sleigh and reindeer in my lawn, broke into fits of rage scarier than Bing Crosby with a belt like when I punched the plastic Santa in the face. But with prayer and medication, I’ve redeemed myself & I’m spreading Christmas joy about the town like it’s reindeer pellets.

It’s been a lovely year. Maria (ain’t she the sexiest thing this side of Anne Romney?) has been busy manning the volunteer booth at the town Zen Grasshopper Festival, attending Chamber of Commerce luncheons for her job, participating in the Christian Women’s Secret Santa gift exchange at Church and sharing about 20 posts a day on fakebook from the Concerned Christian Conservatives for America.

She and her girlfriends had a bachelorette party for one of their peeps. White Russians, Hairy Virgins and Alabama Slammers. Crazier than the mosh pit at a Godsmack concert.

Our son, Max, is doing excellent in school. Playing trombone in his school band, (says he can make "high-pitched & low-pitched fart sounds") racking up AR (Acelerated Reading) points. It comes naturally. You know he was reading Goethe and Marquis de Sade when he was in kindergarten, didn’t you? He also carved a hunting weapon from a tree branch he cut down at a Cub Scout camp out. He plans to kill a Grizzly bear with it and earn a new badge. That’s my boy, always going the extra mile, always serving his community. Take last week for example. He and his scout pack sang Christmas carols to the residents of Lakewater Nursing Home. Max didn’t laugh too hard when his xbox-fiend friend Kristian sang the word “boobies” in the middle of Jolly Old St. Nicholas.

Then there’s our daughter Gabby. She is so artistic. She’s at the dining room table drawing right now as I write this (ha!) magnum opus. Maria taped a picture she drew in school of a snowman to the refrigerator. Guests can overlook its resemblance to a phallic symbol. Gabby is a girly girl, always coming home from school and changing into her “princess dresses.” Snow White, Cinderella, Belle from Beauty and the Beast – we’ve bought her the whole damn bunch. But she relishes her princess garb, her “princess movies,” “princess dolls” and Barbie dolls. She loves the two-story doll house we gave her last Christmas with a bathroom on both levels. For authenticity, she peed in one of the plastic toy toilets. Her brother discovered where that smell in her room was coming from --- three months after the fact.

And in other news, Maria’s aunt Mae had surgery due to Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs). There were submucosal lesions in her body. Not good. Not good at all. Although GISTs occur most frequently in the stomach, Aunt Mae’s took place in her small intestine. In addition, GISTs can take root in the colon and rectum. The good news is Aunt Mae is doing well now. She even decorated her yard with a snowman, Santa and manger scene. Goes well with the tombstones, skeleton and grim reaper she still has up from Halloween.

My local mailperson Roger delivered to me a beautifully sweet package. It arrived just in time for me to wish the sender a merry Christmas, while thanking him profusely (and I mean as profusely as the sweat drenching from Elvis’s black Jim Morrison-esque leather suit on the ’68 Christmas special). I was in gratitude, you see, for this package contained a cherished possession – my iphone.

For three weeks, I was without my precious lifeline & thus I was bored when I had to poop. The last I remembered seeing the iphone was in the restroom of Toot’s Diner in Backwater, Okla. where I was playing Angry Birds.

Max's 5th grade class wrote letters to the kindergartners in which they forged the name, Santa Claus. It went well except for the girl in his class who was traumatized when they told her Santa didn’t really exist. No chance of Max having such a meltdown. He never believed. At 3-years-old, he declared Santa “Fake.” I, however, held out like his devastated classmate. Fourth, fifth grade  -- my friends all said Santa was bullcrap, but I was going to believe, dammit.

And turns out I was right. Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus. I caught him rummaging around our Christmas tree last year, said “take a load off, Annie.” We sat at the kitchen table, shot the breeze & had a drink together. Maybe two or three.

Maybe this year, you’ll kick it with Santa. Have some Jack and Coke, talk about zooming around the big wide world. (Readers who grew up in the Wichita area in the ‘70s, you know what I’m talking about.) Maybe you and the fat man will even roll a sweet Christmas Yule log. Hey, it’s even legal in a couple of states now. You'll probably get the munchies for some Christmas cookies and if you have cookies, you'll probably want some milk to go with them. And if Santa’s eyes become as red as his suit, it’s cool. He has a designated sleigh driver.

Merry Christmas,

J. Guy & family

P.S. I know I usually end my Christmas letters with something silly. This year – and I hope I only have to do this once --- I’m going to leave on a more heartfelt note. It’s a tumultuous, heartbreaking world, but don’t our children bring into it, a ray of hope? Our lives are made better and brighter because they’re here. Let’s work to make it a better world for them. For the departed children and brave teachers of Newtown, Conn., here is a Christmas video.



Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day, 2012



In every election cycle for the past 10 years, it seems I’ve heard newscasters say the war isn’t a big issue with voters. What? Something seems wrong with that. Yes, the economy is a huge issue and people vote with their pocketbooks. But to relegate two wars in which fellow Americans – acting in our name -- are fighting, dying and losing limbs to an issue of picayune importance?
It’s not right.
To be fair, most Americans are supportive of our nation’s military. In a 2011 Pew Research Center survey, nine out of 10 Americans are proud of our troops and many have personally thanked someone who is or previously has served. http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/05/us/war-attitudes/index.html
Still, there’s a disconnect between America’s civilians and its military personnel. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2012/11/09/veterans-day-charlie-rangel-miltary-suicides/1692757/ It’s not like during the Vietnam War when Americans watched the atrocities on the nightly news every night. Not like World Wars I and II when folks on the homefront were buying war bonds, rationing goods and planting victory gardens. That cohesiveness has long since disipitated. We’re disparate parts, unfamiliar with each other.
It’s ironic. Today’s super-media world in which we can speak to each other over time and distance hasn’t erased the loneliness and isolation our military men and women feel. We can consume all the news we want anytime we want, yet our infinite choices leave us more fragmented than connected. There are intelligent news stories from reputable news sources, but overall –and it’s probably all our faults – they’re given short-shrift in the public landscape.
Yet, we all get the gist; something is wrong here. Most of us don’t understand the unique pressures our service men and women are enduring, but we know it’s nothing good and it leaves this uneasy feeling in the air. We’ve caught enough of the news to know that veterans are exhausted from multiple tours of duty. (Some have been deployed 10 times.)
It’s taxing on a person on a person to make the transition from a war to peace time environment. In a war zone, a soldier witnesses horrific violence, sees friends killed. The soldier constantly has to be on guard to save his or her own life. Making the transition from life in an unfamiliar, inhospitable country back the United States where life goes on as it always has would be tough for anyone. For servicemen and women, dealing with the anxiety of not knowing if they will be called back for deployment, it has to be all the more worse. There would be no time to readjust to life at home.
We’ve lost more of our active duty and veteran service men and women to suicide than we have to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. While active military in these wars comprised less than one percent of the population, veterans make up 20 percent of the nation’s suicides. The Dept. of Defense reports that veterans take their lives at the rate of one every 80 minutes. A veteran’s likelihood of committing suicide is double that of the civilian population. For a person between ages 17 and 24, that number is quadrupled. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/kristof-a-veterans-death-the-nations-shame.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0  
 
That is unacceptable. We can never do enough to thank our veterans. This small, brave group of people has put their education, family, careers…their lives on hold to defend America, and if they are unable to access adequate mental health care, it is a shame we all share as a nation. They should never be left behind, never forgotten.
Of course, all veterans are aware of the U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs http://www.va.gov/ and the American Legion http://www.legion.org/veteransbenefits/99627/va-revamping-suicide-prevention-campaign.
Here are some organizations designed to help empower veterans and their families.

http://veteranscrisisline.net/ The number is 1-800-273-8255. Press 1 or text 838255. Help is available 24 hours a day.

This site, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has links to several sites sponsored by community organizations and all branches of the service designed to prevent veteran suicides. http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Find_Support/Veterans_Resources/Veterans_and_Suicide/Veterans_and_Suicide.htm

This is a program started by the Dept. of Defense to provide resources and encourage active service members and veterans to seek help as needed. http://www.realwarriors.net/

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America http://iava.org/veterans2012/index.html

The National Military Family Organization http://www.militaryfamily.org/


Here is a link from the Obama Whitehouse about laws signed in the past year to assist veterans in such things as tax credits, continuing education and finding employment. http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/veterans

Here is an excellent list of things ordinary people can do to honor veterans: http://militaryblog.militaryavenue.com/2009/11/101-ways-to-thank-veteran.html

Despite our apathy toward the wars, I sincerely believe that the vast majority of Americans  -- Democrats, Republicans, white, African-American, Christian, Atheist, Jewish, people who believe in the wars, people who have protested – want the best for our veterans and active service members. Perhaps all of us --- from a public sidetracked by entertainment to politicians not making it a big enough campaign issue to a government telling us to shop and go to Disneyland – are at fault.
 It’s no use, casting blame though. Let’s work on doing better. Check out the above listed websites and look for more. Seek out ways you can improve the lives of service personnel overseas whether it’s by sending books, toiletries, a Christmas tree…whatever. If you know a veteran, talk to them and more importantly, listen. Our oldest veterans, those who served in World War II and Korea, are sadly dying off, and to be in their presence, to hear their stories, is a thing to be treasured.
I read that around half the Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans think the wars were not worth it. That’s profound, especially considering the tragedies, the loss of lives, limbs and brain functioning resulting from those wars. I don’t know exactly what I think, but the veterans of those wars can surely speak with more authority on the subject than I can. Their words, experiences and lives underscore how important it is that we as a public educate ourselves and stay informed.
I’ll never forget driving in my car on the eve of the Iraq War and hearing people call into the radio (a classic rock station nontheless) to say, “Let’s blow em’ off the map.” Uncool.  War is not some video game. Lives are involved, human lives hanging in the balance. Having to engage and witnessing the death and violence of war has no doubt contributed to the mental health crisis among veterans.
Cheering on war is tasteless. Being there for our military men and women, supporting them, welcoming them home and doing right by them will always serve the interest of righteousness.
 

 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Monday, November 5, 2012

1976 Campaign Ad: Southerner Jimmy Carter



They don't make campaign ads with this kind of honesty and authenticity anymore. What a shame. Much more pure and heartfelt than a certain movie actor's phony "Mornning in America" ad four years later. I think my heart and intellect is as etched in the 1960s and '70s as the Bob Dylan lyrics Jimmy Carter used to quote from the campaign stump.

The first Presidential election I remember was the 1976 election between Carter and Gerald Ford, the last moderate (with the exception of Kansan Bob Dole in '96) to ever run for President on the Republican ticket, the last Republican to run for president and not sell out to the Religious Right. I remember being in second grade, after he was elected President and hearing my Grandma Mac and her sister, my aunt Velma talk about how Jimmy Carter was a Christian, well versed in scripture. But even at 8-years-old, I knew that was separate from his job as president. I had learned in school during the Bicentennial year how the Pilgrims came to this country to worship as they pleased. In America government didn't tell you what church to attend.

Grandpa Guy sold handcrafted Jimmy Carter donkeys made from the shop that housed his woodworking business. He used to tell me how Carter was a peacemaker.

"Be a Democrat all your life," the old man told me -- this man who told me about the Great Depression before I ever heard about it in school.

We'll fight the good fight, Grandpa.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Michael Jackson - Thriller





A couple of Sundays ago at church I was among a group of people who emerged like corpses and walked in weird frankenstein-like motionon to the stage where we came to life and re-enacted the famous dance sequence to Michael Jackson's Thriller. It coincided with Pastor Torozian's series, "The Zombie Apocalypse." Zombies and vampires are in vogue right now and Torozian stresses how Christians need to "engage the culture," while not necessarily becoming part of the culture. Something like being in the world without being of the world, which I've always had a bit of trouble understanding.

People close to me say I can become like the walking dead, myself, all weighed down by the anxieties of this life. But the chance to get on stage, perform and be a little goofy

Michael Jackson Thriller HD



Five a.m . Darkness, save for scanty shapes of moonlight on the leaves outside my window and the screaming glass screen perched before me like a life.

Thoreau wrote that most men live lives of quiet desperation and I’m sure my preacher friend Torosian had this in mind when wrote a series of sermons he called “The Zombie Apocalypse.” Zombies and vampires are in vogue right now and Torosian says Christians need to – not necessarily imitate the culture – but engage the culture. Something like being in the world without being part of the world. He asked Martha, a dance teacher in the congregation, if she would choreograph a group of dancers re-enacting Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Sometimes I find myself enervated by a noonday demon. It’s like I’m among the walking dead. A 21-year-old J. Guy, himself, no stranger to depression, was nevertheless a bolt of frantic vivacity, lustful for a stage, experience, about nine different lives. I channeled that person when I volunteered to be one of the dancing zombies. It was pretty groovy, rehearsing the steps alongside corpulent ex-high school football players, a mom or two and teenagers from the church drama group.

We performed our Thriller routine for both Sunday services. The darkened sanctuary became strangely sepulchural while a narrow overhead light beamed from the projection booth to the stage. Silence was interrupted by the sound of a creaking door, a noise like something out of that Vincent Price movie we saw in Mrs. H’s English class in junior high, House of Usher. Edgar Allen Poe, you know. At the third wolf howl, we arose slowly like corpses from a tomb and hobbled Frankenstein-like to the stage where we transmorgrified like Lazarus into living people.

Our dance moves were comically herky-jerky in contrast to the fluid motion of the mutant beings in Jackson’s iconic video. Bu it was cool, good for a laugh. Having practiced those steps, I can say my respect for Jackson as an artist has risen significantly. No doubt, he was agile and fit. He was a dazzling performer and when I was in junior high, Michael Jackson was the most popular person on the planet.

The first Jackson song I remember hearing, other than I Wanna Rock With You, was Billie Jean. Heard it on Casey Casem’s American Top 40. It had just slipped from the charts that summer in 1983 when Jackson’s next hit supplanted it in popularity. During the summer, I would go to weight lifting at the high school at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday. Then I would stay for an hour of aerobics, in which spandex wearing woman leading us played Beat It on a jam box. I was surprised to hear the rock guitar (which I later learned was from Eddie Van Halen) in a black disco star’s music.

On Christmas Eve at my Grandma Mac’s house I opened a present from my cousin Dean. It was Jackson’s Thriller album. I was more into stuff like AC/DC and Ozzy Ozbourne. AC/DC songs like Hell’s Bells and Ozzy Ozbourne’s possessed looking eyes glaring from album covers featuring lightning bolts and upside down crosses. Now that was Halloween, the dark side. Not Jackson’s pop horror.

Open-minded guy that I was, though, I gave Jackson’s Thriller a chance. I liked some songs from it, didn’t like others. Still I recognized that the album as a whole was polished and professional. Jackson also revolutionized the video industry. Music videos had previously been crude and primitive, but Jackson and the production team working with him elevated them to an art form.

Approaching Los Angeles gang members and teaching them the sophisticated choreography for the Beat It video – that was brave and innovative. Thriller was hands down Jackson’s best video, the music video equivalent of an epic motion picture. While I may have written off the video’s scare factor, watching it today as a parent, I can see how Thriller, with its growling werewolf and demonic looking dancers, could be disturbing to small children.

All I understood at the time was that Michaelmania had taken over the world. Everything he touched was a media event. Michael Jackson made a Pepsi commercial. MTV produced a documentary about it. Michael and his brothers went on a world tour and you could buy their signatures on a Pepsi can. Michael Jackson moonwalked through a door Little Richard, Jackie Wilson and James Brown had opened and kicked it out of the solar system.

My mom took my siblings and I to Worlds of Fun in Kansas City the next summer and every kid there was wearing a Michael Jackson T-shirt. Sure he was over-exposed, but the media tentacles of the time didn’t stretch over a million brands of smart phones with a bunch of slobbering babies, homeless karaoke singers and obese Americans farting the alphabet and going viral every 15 seconds. Jackson's media presence was still massive and gluttonous.

I rummaged ravenously through my grandma Guy’s collection of National Enquirers, Stars and Globes where there was always hot stories about the day’s celebrities – Liz Taylor, Dolly Parton, Frank Sinatra (was he hosing Nancy Reagan or what?) and of course Michael Jackson. Long before the tabloids made him a fixture with lurid tales of sexual perversion, excess and mental breakdown, the gossip was innocuous. Was he sleeping with Brooke Shields? Jackson was a Jehovah’s Witness and there were all these accounts of the sect’s elders riding his back about his worldliness. That summer in 1984, reading those tabloids, I concluded that the JW leaders were a bunch of stuffy old men.

Earlier that year, I’d felt more magnanimous toward the sect. I had recently read Peter Brown’s sensationalized biography of the Beatles, The Love You Make. Read how they went to India and studied meditation from a guru. One day in math class I said to my friend, Drake, who wore a red jacket, sleeves pushed to the elbows and sported perm-gelled hair like Jackson “Hey, wouldn’t it be neat if Michael Jackson’s religion becomes popular just like the Beatles’ did?” I was naïve as hell then.

Years later I would look out my window, spot these sharp dressed people with their book bags and Watchtowers, approaching my house and I’d answer the door in my underwear, holding a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

I don’t know, maybe they were going to talk to me about the approaching end of the world. A lot of religions have jumped on that crazy train, mixing Armagaddon theology with extremist right wing politics. Torosian isn’t emphasizing the end times with his Zombie Apocalypse sermons. I’d say he’s more concerned with the personal apocalypse that haunts people – depression, schizophrenia, meth addiction, broken dreams, failed relationships, job loss. Stuff like that. Torosian cares about broken people and telling them about Christ’s grace.

Back in junior high, I didn’t realize how temporary the world is. Didn’t know my particular youth culture was not the apex of Western civilization. Didn’t realize how scary fame can be. Michael Jackson’s final years were tragic. Even worse than Elvis's.

It’s mentally conflicting, contemplating broken lives. Forced to rehearse, record and perform throughout his childhood, Jackson missed out on playing outdoors and doing the normal things kids do – something he lamented for the rest of his life. Yet Jackson loved performing with a passion. Most likely he wouldn’t have been the performer he was, had he not slaved away as a child. Great things can spring from sorrowful origins. And that's hell to accept.

I’m trying to get through life. My wife, Maria, tells me to go out and have fun. Discuss classic books. Go bowling. Be in some skit at church. Trick or treat with the kids. My friend Jackson (no relation to Michael) – if I text him that I’m bored, he’ll reply, “So write.” When I do, it’s like I’m channeling something good, kind of spiritual.

















Sunday, October 21, 2012

George McGovern: Liberal American hero

It was a little after 7 a.m. this morning. Small flakes of light were signaling day into the overarching darkness I would soon leave behind. I was driving straight up a rural highway on my way to church. I turned on the radio to listen to NPR. It was the voice of George McGovern, conceding the election to Richard Nixon.

“They’re comparing the 1972 election to the 2012 election,” I thought to myself. Next, I heard Gary Hart reminisce about working for the McGovern campaign and talking about the character of the liberal senator from South Dakota.

Then I knew.

The reporter’s words issued like a coarse sticking in my throat. “George McGovern died at age 90.”

As a rule, I’m not a fan of politicians. But George McGovern was a super cool guy. (He went to Hunter S. Thompson’s memorial service.) He stood for great things: advancing civil liberties; improving the lives of the poor, elderly and minorities; universal health care; providing a living wage; women’s rights; the environment; labor rights; gay rights; and most importantly in 1972, ending the Vietnam War.

I guess all that looks too much like freedom and equality for some people. McGovern lost by a landslide.

I’ve read on-line comments today from people who feel justifiably proud to have voted for McGovern. Wish I could’ve been part of that history. Would’ve been a blast, but I was just a little boy of 3 at that time. Twenty years later I was working on my campus newspaper, taking in all the excitement of covering the 1992 election between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. My newsroom friend Cheryl told me how when she was in eighth grade in 1972, her social studies class was divided into teams – one supporting Nixon and hers, supporting McGovern. My interest in McGovern was piqued.

A couple of years later, Republicans took over Congress. I read articles quoting that pugnacious loud-mouth Newt Gingrich, making war on the 1960s and deriding all liberals as “McGoverniks.” A few months later I read a guest newspaper column by McGovern, saying that it was an honor to have his name turned into a metaphor for liberalism, but he didn’t deserve it. He talked about heroes in America’s liberal tradition, who he felt were more worthy.

That same year, 1994, Nixon died and there were all the tributes on TV. I watched bemused as an African-American teen-ager said we should focus on the good things the man did. I was like, “Learn your history kid. Tricky Dick Nixon was no friend of the black man.” (Photo ops with Sammy Davis, Jr. notwithstanding.) I had read All the President’s Men the previous summer and remembered a passage in which one of Nixon’s self-named “ratfuckers” called prospective voters and played on their racism by saying McGovern wanted to do a lot “for the black man.”

Doesn’t that sound like the kind of crap right wingers pull today? Except present-day ratfuckers smear political opponents by saying they support “the homosexual agenda.”

That’s the American way, our enduring legacy. Nixonian politics has become a template for the presidency. Nixon-like paranoia and McCarthy-esque demagoguery is still a weapon wielded against anyone who doesn’t resemble a “real American.” By the way, Nixon was also a rabid anti-communist. Launched his career slandering others.

It didn’t have to be this way. America missed an opportunity – in 1972 – to elect a man of integrity to the presidency. We had an opportunity to continue advancing the socially progressive policies that were enacted in the ‘60s. But no, America didn’t want that. Come on, we gave them their Civil Rights. What do they want? This country bought into Nixon’s Southern Strategy in 1968 and we’ve been there ever since. Even though Nixon would go down in disgrace and several of his minions would go to prison, conservatives use McGovern’s name like it’s a cuss word.

For his anti-war stance, conservatives denounced McGovern as weak and disloyal to the United States, just as they do today to anyone who’s not hawkish enough. It didn’t matter that McGovern flew 35 bombing missions over Nazi targets in Europe during World War II and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for successfully landing a plane that was falling apart and saving the lives of every man in his crew.

Oh, but McGovern was a liberal wimp. Just like Jimmy Carter, who by the way, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

I know a lot of good Christians in my state are going to vote for Mitt Romney, not because he has the best policies, but because, well, you know God is Republican. Democrats, liberals are all about immorality. Just forget about those Sunday School classes Carter has been teaching in Plains, Ga. for the past 30 years. McGovern, the son of a South Dakota Methodist minister, attended seminary school and worked as a minister himself for awhile, but decided his calling was in public life. He simply took the Christian principles of love and social justice into his career as a public servant.

Wimps? Carter has spent the past 30 years building houses for the poor and promoting peace and democracy around the world. After his political career ended, McGovern promoted world peace and worked to eradicate hunger throughout the globe. I would be proud to be aligned with these humanitarians called wimps.

America, what does it say about us? That we cheer on bellicosity, prejudice and paranoia, while disparaging leaders who are mild in tone, peace oriented and open-minded?

McGovern never apologized for his liberal views. Why would he? I’m going to stand by my convictions as well. Come election day, I will be proud to be one of the few in my backwater of a state to vote for Obama. Just as I was proud a few years back to vote against that horrible anti-gay state Constitutional amendment.

I hope somehow the ideals practiced by America’s true heroes will live on, and although McGovern would disagree, he’s one of those heroes.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dick Clark Dead at 82 ABC best video with links



I was probably from the last generation of kids to watch American Bandstand. On a Saturday morning, I’d be at my grandma Mac’s house, watching cartoons. The earliest morning show came on at about 7:30 a.m. and was 90 minutes long – The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show on CBS. From there, I would manually switch channels over the three major networks and catch stuff like Superfriends, Jabber Jaw, Scooby Doo.

At 11:30 a.m. I would see people dancing on TV, the huge train track-like letters appeared on the screen and I heard Barry Manilow’s jumpin’ voice singing about going “hoppin’ today in Philadelphia way.” (Actually, the show had long left its Philly roots and moved to Los Angeles by the time I saw it.) The music signaled that the cartoons were over, but that was okay. I got to see these grown up looking people disco dancing.

I remember watching the Sylvers perform “Boogie Fever.” This was in the ‘70s, an excellent decade to be a kid in, and I saw other neat shows of the era at Grandma’s house – The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and Donny and Marie, for example.

In the early ‘80s, I saw Kim Carnes lip sync “Bette Davis Eyes”, minutes after having talked to Dick Clark about how she’d received a friendly letter from Ms. Davis. I had Grandma come out of the kitchen where she was baking cookies to watch Rick Springfield sang “Jessie’s Girl.”

“Noah?” she said, surprised to see Dr. Noah Drake from General Hospital (one of her stories) as a rock n’ roller.

Grandma would say, “Vickie and David (my mom and uncle) used to watch the Dick Clark Show. He’s been on for years.” I wondered what the show was like with the Doo Wop groups, old dances like the Stroll and the Twist, all that excitement over a show in black and white. But American Bandstand adapted to my childhood and I figured my kids would watch it and people would be buying 45 records forever.

I had no idea that Mtv, tape cassettes, compact discs and all that came after would render Bandstand passé. No more enjoying the music, just from watching people dance to it on TV. No more excitement over lip syncing singers and Clark – surrounded by teens, a microphone in his hand, Colgate smile as he held up the act’s latest album. No more of my favorite Bandstand feature – “rate a record.”

As a more cynical adult, I saw Clark act like a jerk in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. In the same film NRA spokesman Charlton Hesston looked a little more flawed, human and less like Moses. It was the same cut-the-celebrity-down-to-size technique Moore had used back in Roger and Me, keeping the camera rolling as old Newlywed Game host Bob Eubanks told tasteless, bigoted jokes about Jewish people and AIDS.

(Sigh.) Sometimes I wish we could just let it be – the old celebrities held up to their illusionary public faces. At the same time I wish all the tweeting and morning talk show gabbing about some Hollywood hunk proposing to his do-gooder live-in would sink like a ship tapping an iceberg.

I remember when it was so cool that the host of American Bandstand also hosted $20,000 Pyramid. I remember innuendo being funny. Host Bob Eubanks: “Who was the last person to catch you making whoopee?” (I wasn’t sure what sex was, but the TV dropped hints.) I remember when staying up late on Friday nights to watch Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show was cool. Heck, just seeing Starsky and Hutch make a cameo on Charlie’s Angels was waaay cool.

At one time, New Year’s Rock n’ Eve was the coolest -- hot celebrities, a huge party. Not obligatory. Not more of the same. No way! To see John Schneider (the Dukes of Hazzard’s Bo Duke) co-hosting with Marie Osmond – that was cutting edge! Mega-celebrity, party all night long coolness.

Sure my tastes were bubblegum. Sure, I wasn’t listening to Velvet Underground in jr. high as I would in college. But isn’t that …………a beautiful thing? The same day Clark died, it came over the news that Levon Helm, drummer and lead singer of that phenomenal roots rock band, The Band, died. The Band is where my musical taste went later. Music From Big Pink is, in my estimation, one of the greatest albums ever.

Now, that really crosses back over my parents’ generation and back to my grandparents. In the middle of Vietnam War protests, riots, assassinations, acid flavored and classical music infused rock, a rootsy rag-tag mess of musicians, steeped in rockabilly and Dylan -- so aware of the here and now -- would revive the southern gospel, country and folk like my people had heard 30 years earlier among the oil drilled fields, wooden churches and dustbowl farms of the Depression.

The Band must have been on Bandstand in their late 60s or early 70s heyday. All I remember is Tom Wopat (Luke Duke on The Dukes of Hazzard) on the main floor chatting with Dick Clark, then doing a cover of “Up on Cripple Creek” on some Saturday morning in the early ‘80s.

In his final years, Helm, his voice coarsened by throat cancer, recorded a brilliant roots album, Dirt Farmer, which took the music further back – over the woodsheds, humble prayers and farm fields of time. Levon Helm on The Midnight Special singing "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." Grandma’s people fought for the South in the Civil War. Grandpa’s grandparents were Yankees. Sleep with the angles, all.

RIP, Levon Helm.

Dick Clark, we’ll miss you.

Grandma, I miss you every day.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Woody, relevant at 100

My wife, Maria, and her brother ________, saw the Del McCoury Band perform with the New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band at Wichita’s Orpheum last night. I was unable to go, which sucks. Spectacular show, I was told. McCoury has performed with Pete Seeger.

If that wasn’t a sign I should write about the folk troubadour, maybe this clenched it. My reporter friend, P.J., who chronicles agriculture in Kansas, told me about a down and out farmer whose barn, equipment and several animals were destroyed in a fire. Hot wind and drought has left his property “looking like the 1930s,” she said.

The Dust Bowl.

This weekend in Okemah, Okla., the townspeople have been celebrating the centennial of native son Woody Guthrie. I wasn’t going to write about Guthrie’s 100th birthday because I don’t want to become known as the guy who always writes about dead people. But hell…last year, I acknowledged Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday on this blog. (Still with us, thank God.) How do I pay tribute to Dylan without recognizing Guthrie?

Woody Guthrie matters in the 21st century.

When following the news reports about union busting in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states, I thought about Guthrie’s songs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kknr-advKkgHe spoke up for working man whose rights were being trampled on by the privileged class. Along his travels, Guthrie talked to thousands of migrant workers in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and who migrated west to a false Promised Land in California.

Today, Guthrie would feel solidarity with the people of the Occupy movement in their protests against social and economic inequality. He would feel compassion for the immigrants from south of the border, being exploited by business owners and vilified by nativist demagogues.

In his song, Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos), Guthrie wrote about a 1948 plane crash in California that killed four Americans and 28 migrant workers being deported back to Mexico. The local newspaper identified the Mexican workers, not by individual names, but by the blanket word, “deportees.” Today, we use the dehumanizing term, “illegals.” Back then it was “deportees.”

Guthrie sounds strangely current. Economic disparity in America is worse than it has been in the past 70 years and the eliminationist party is trying to dismantle every safeguard FDR and his team put in place to prevent another Depression. They want to bring the country back to the eat-the-poor conditions that existed in Dickensian England.

A couple of years ago, before he was fired into obscurity for being too conservative for Fox “News”, Glen Beck was ranting about Guthrie, calling him a communist. (This wasn’t considered a bad thing in the 1930s. However, while Guthrie agreed with many of the party's views and wrote a column for the Daily Worker, he never joined the Communist party.)

Naturally, Beck with his pseudo-populist diatribes that really only serve the rich and powerful, would not get a guy like Guthrie. That folk song we all learned in grade school, This Land is Your Land, is, according to Beck “Maoist.”

I hear freedom in its lyrics. Guthrie wrote the song in protest against God Bless America, a radio hit popularized by the biggest female pop star of the day, Kate Smith. I can see where Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin was coming from when he composed the song. He wanted to pay tribute to the nation that had afforded him freedom and opportunity. But I also see Guthrie’s view. Berlin’s song is jingoistic and perpetuates the myth of a divine American exceptionalism. God Bless America magnifies patriotism. This Land is Your Land is about freedom.

This Land is Your Land  (its melody adapted from a Carter Family song, When When the World's on Fire, which itself was adapted from a Baptist hymn) is most likely the first Guthrie song you ever learned, something you probably sang in music class, while playing with tambourines and triangles. Of course, you’re not going to be singing about lynchings, anti-union massacres and protests against the death penalty when you’re in first grade. It’s like learning the Beatles’ All You Need is Love before turning on to Happiness is a Warm Gun. You have to drink milk before moving on to meat.

But This Land is Your Land is a bridge that can lead you there. In his protest songs, Guthrie was speaking for America’s disaffected, for the rights of all our country’s people to enjoy the blessings of freedom. The song celebrated inclusivity – something Guthrie knew. He was born and raised around Creek Indian land in Oklahoma. He worked with – and was influenced by -- African American musicians like Leadbelly. While living in New York’s Coney Island in the 1940s, he was inspired by his Jewish mother-in-law, Aliza Greenblatt to write Hanukah songs. Clearly, Guthrie valued pluralism and social justice, terms considered dirty words by right wingers. But 50 years from now, Glen Beck won’t even be a footnote to our history while Guthrie, like Dylan, the Beatles, Louis Armstrong, Hank Williams…will still be remembered as an important artist.

True artistry challenges the status quo, society’s convention. The social issues Guthrie addressed weren’t invented by Karl Marx. They have been a part of human condition ever since man’s inhumanity to man began. Injustice exists today as surely as it did in the Depression and in an America split into fragmentations and living in apathy where people living in poverty are concerned, we could use a voice like Guthrie’s.

He’s still relevant.

                                 Cool soul version of This Land is Your Land.

                                Dropkick Murphys put music to lyrics Guthrie wrote.

                                 Oklahoma Depression era outlaw, folk hero.

                                 Here is a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6kuvBnNNUs

                                 My favorite Woody Guthrie song.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Dean Martin - Bumming Around



My friend Sudz and I were sitting at a back table playing poker at the Senior Center where I volunteer. Sudz, at 59, is something of a volunteer there as well -- holding chairs out for frail old ladies and helping to serve meals from the kitchen. Sure I call him an old man, but to the regulars in their 80s and 90s, Sudz is just a kid.

A happy kid, too. With his family, particularly his wife of 20 years (his third) and his grandchildren, he's all about the best things of life.

He had to take an early retirement from the refinery, lives on disability, goes to the VA for all his medical needs and maintains quite well. A few years back he was diagnosed with the same degenerative condition that took his old man -- a hard, formidable square-jawed 1950s man and the lingering light in Sudz's life. To hear Sudz talk about his dad is to hear him being young and strong again.

After a game of draw poker, I got up from our round table and placed a record on the turn table of the chestnut 60s era Zenith stereo. Dean Martin -- he was a stallion in his day, aw' shucks humor and the quintessence of cool. He sang country songs backed by a swingin' orchestra.

"Is that one song on there," Sudz asked and started singing, "my old top hat?"

I didn't know. I'd just bought the old album a couple of days earlier at Flashback Sound Shack, a used record shop in the Delano district of Wichita and I hadn't had time to listen to much of it. A little while later the needle came to that groove in the vinyl.


I got an ol' slouch hat,
got my roll on my shoulder
I'm as free as a breeze
an' do as I please,
just a bummin' around . . .


Sudz's dad sang with that song on the eight-track tape, sang all the songs with Dino for the three-hour drive to Kansas City office where 19-year-old Matthew (Sudz) would officially sign up for the military.

"My lottery number would be up in a few months so I figured I'd sign up when I could pick the branch I wanted," he recalled over a cup of black coffee, discarded cards before his hands. "A few months later, they discontinued the draft.

"There were a lot of war protesters, but I didn't know much about it. I figured if my country was in a war, it must be right."

He stops and sings with the vinyl. "Just a bummin' around."

Sudz's old man loved that song and "he had one good singing voice." It was a sonorous baritone, emanating from the lungs of a broad man with a gift for pugilism and physical stanima. A veteran homicide detective and police chief, he had been among the thousands -- the young men stomping through the ocean waves on to the shores of Normandy in June of 1944.

It was a fall day in 1971 when Sudz's dad drove him to the induction building. A couple of years later, FBI agents, police chiefs, detectives and seargeants from all across the country would be at the old man's funeral.

Actually, he died young, nearly a year short of his 50th birthday. Sudz, who like most of us, doesn't come close to the strength his father had, has outlived the man by around 10 years.

Sudz recalled different choices he could have made. He's diehard patriotic and respects all men and women who have served, but he can't help but thinking what it would have been like to go another way.

"He could've got me into the FBI," Sudz said, recalling the pull his influential father had.

After his dad drove away, Sudz hesitated for 10 minutes before walking into the building and then there was no going back. The old man drove around for awhile, but came back to see if his son wanted to change his mind. He was already in the building. Gone.

"If I had seen him, I would've turned back," Sudz said.

"My life would have been totally different."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

America by the heart


Sure I was a wayward youth, an ACLU loving tree hugger, but I’m older and wiser now. I’ve seen the light and the inescapable truth is that way in the deepest trenches of my soul, I am a hard core Buchanan-Bachman-Limbaugh loving Born Again conservative man.

For some time I’ve been secretly reading books by Pat Buchanan and other such American thinkers and I see that they make sense. Our Christian American way of life – the precepts upon which our Founding Fathers built and blessed this country – is under threat. We have a Muslim in the white house. The Obamanites have instigated a war on white people and Christian values. We have allowed socialistic terms like “diversity” and “tolerance” to incubate and systematically spread genocidal disease upon traditional White Anglo Saxon American, Bible-based, Constitutional American culture.

The unrestrained promulgation of this perverted disease is transmitted by the Liberal Media Establishment. A radical chic East Coast – a Godless Information cabal -- has a throttle choke on The Culture and its agents are raping our sacred values with the perverted glee of a Babylonian whore. The evidence is incontrovertible: Madonna’s satanic ritual during the Superbowl Halftime show; Lowes and Home Depot buying ads during the blasphemous Muslim in America on A&E, the surreptitious promotion of sexual impurity in the High School Musical movies and the war on heterosexuality waged by ESPN. Look at the liberal-instituted crucifixions of Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck and Dr. Laura Schlessinger and the emergent --high-tech cultural suicide -- “hipster” status of left wing propaganda vehicles like PBS, NPR and the BBC and is it not a clear sign? Public radio? Public television? More like public toilets. Oh well, satan is ruler of the airwaves and he’s stinking up the crapper.

The Elite Media Establishment is in cohoots with a Godless educational system that outlawed school prayer and will place your children in concentration camps for reading the Bible. Remember when schools were just promoting “safe sex” and condoms even though thousands of evangelical teens have signed an abstinence pledge? (To hear the failed prophecies of “safe sex”, if Custer had been wearing a condom during the Battle of Little Bighorn, he would’ve lived through it.) NOW, our children are being taught how to masturbate and have perverted homosexual sex in the satanic laboratories known as the United States public education system.

Is it any wonder that my Christian voter friends in South Carolina are concerned that Obama is the anti-Christ? Barry Hussein Obama is the worst president we’ve ever had, even worse than that gay loving, socialist Clinton and his lesbian wife. Secretly Muslim? Hell, Obama-bin-laden has made no secret that he’s a jihadist-racist-Adolph Hitler loving Muslim. Why did he apologize to the Afghans when our God-fearing men burned the Koran? No gonads. If it were up to me and the right conservatives of this land, we’d see a Hiroshima-saki conflaguration of Islamist verses scorching every day.

I remember having a beer with my right-wing buddy Mr. Grissmachy at the Backwater Bar and Grill. (This was before I became a Christian and quit drinking.) Osa – oh, I’m sorry Obama was giving some Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery.

“I bet Ol’ Obama’s burnin’ up inside ‘cuz there ain’t no crescents on the gravestones there,” Mr. Grissmachy said, right before he raised his right leg to fart.

Also, like my good friend Glen Beck said, Obama has a “problem with white people.” They’re so thin-skinned, so bitter and desperate. If you have the slightest disagreement with Obama, you’re a racist. I love all my black brothers and sisters in Christ, but Barry Osa – sorry, Bama is horrible. Why do the black people keep falling for this liberal crap? Do they want a gangsta government headed by a food stamp prez who wants to turn their children into pimps and crackwhores? Maybe if the black people would pull themselves up the bootstraps, stop the illegitimacy and low education rates – perhaps through janitorial work by black school children as Newt Gingrich so brilliantly suggested --they would see through the black godfatha’ superfly’s liberal brainwashing.

We’re all one in Christ and we need to show our black brothers and sisters toughlove instead of giving them other people’s money. Like Gingrich, I also don’t believe slavery was a good thing, but that was along time ago. Get over it, Brother. Get off your welfare ass and stop bitching.

If Bachman, Rick Perry or Newt can’t be president, then Rick Santorum is our country’s only hope for salvation. It could trigger instant destruction if that non-Christian, moderate, Obama-light Romney gets anywhere near the White House. Our hope rests in a true Christian American whose looking out for real Americans.

Santorum is the only one telling the truth about the politically correct, liberal indoctrinating factory systems known as the United States university system. Obama wants every child in America to be able to go to college. Freakin’ snob! Why can’t some children be sent to trade schools and education camps where they can be taught the tenets of America’s fundamental values? Why the liberal breeding grounds known as college? It’s socialist dictatorship 101. Obama wants to take your children and re-make them in his Kenyan image. And why would he want to do that? It’s because he doesn’t value God’s creation and is dead set on pushing life-killing contraceptives on people who aren’t even married.

Why would fuehrer Obama care about lives? Instead of my personal Jesus, he proselytizes an environmental theology, an orthodoxy with seeds in animism. Makes me want to vomit like a sick, yalping dog at a JFK orgy-fest.

Americans were born here by Divine Providence and proclaim God throughout the world. Jesus has elected representatives to have dominion over the Earth as they morally see fit. So we need to get the government out of our lives, let the invisible hand work its divine magic over industry and if you’re a soddomite, Islamo-facist or non-English speaker, you can go to jail.

Yes, I have disavowed my Godless liberal youth. I’m a gun wielding states’ rights lovin, Old Testament thumpin', Confederate flag wavin’, lay- the-smackdown Hard Core Conservative. All you monkey lovin’ Obama lovers , illegals, welfare queens and Cadillac pimps, Muslims, sodomites and other sandlot infidel cannibals of the devil’s world, watch out. Somebody might take up Michele and Sarah on seeking some second amendment remedies and I’d love to smoke a napalm-laced camel and send you back to the Garden of Eden.

By the way, April Fool.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wordsuck


My preacher friend Torosian was discussing the spirituality of superband U2 and the thousands of souls at the outdoor concert arena standing in one accord to Where the Streets Have No Name. Torosian acknowledged, however, that Bono, the Edge and company aren’t perfect people.

“I’ve heard them on TV releasing some bombs,” he said.

Dropping explosives from a Cold-War era bomber? No, it’s some lame abbreviated slang for dropping expletives into language. You knew that, totally up with that shit. I’ve heard my 21-year-old brother-in-law, Matt, drop that buzzword in conversation. “…and then Dad said the f-bomb.”

You will never catch me copping to that term, “the f-bomb.” It’s nothing but a wrung-out, pussified euphemism signifying nothing but social-media plasticity and trendiness. Just an emasculated, punk-ass word.

Back in the early ‘90s, in my Media Writing 301, our instructor Les Anderson told the class of a group of Vietnam War protestors from when he in college. They marched around campus, carrying a banner that read, “Fuck Lyndon Johnson.” Actually the word signifying coitus and various nouns, verbs and adjectives was not used. It was just inferred by the three dash marks trailing behind the F.

I’m not advocating for profanity, but it’s like Les said: “If you’re going to use a word, use it.”

Dammit.

Back in the mid-90s, my Pabst Blue Ribbon loving city editor, Jackson, banned the word, “teetotaler” from ever appearing again in the pages of our precious newspaper – our good little product. (I had used the word in a quote from a local public official bent on keeping the county dry.)

“I’m a beertotaler,” the man said, using a hybrid term with true coined-word potential.

Now, I’m enforcing a prohibition over the “f-word” or the “f-bomb” in my columns. I hate the terms even more than I hate the N-word. Not talking about the racist epithet, which I also disdain. I’m speaking of that phrase, “the N-word.” It’s a polite way of referring to an ugly word. Bowdlerizing, or raping, the works of Mark Twain and Harper Lee to save readers from discomfort only insults their intelligence.

A word or phrase doesn’t have to be controversial to deserve annihilation from the language, just stupid and weak-sounding. For me, the most offensive thing about Superbowl XXXVIII wasn’t Janet Jackson’s controversial nipple exposure. The sad legacy of that event is that now every time a woman’s tits fall out of her dress, we have to hear about a stupid “wardrobe malfunction.”

After 9-11, broadcast journalists and the subjects they interviewed kept talking about “the culture of the FBI” and “the culture of the CIA.” Culture? Okay, so you have Renaissance paintings, ballet, regional folk art…you know, culture, and the FBI and CIA. What the hell were you thinking? Maybe they didn’t“connect the dots.”

I got tired of hearing the word, “gravitas” used during the 2008 election year. It was a good word the first time I heard it used – by Katie Couric, but when pundits went on the bandwagon, that word got old quicker than a Celine Dion song from Titanic.

Gravitas is dead in the water now. This election year, the Republicans are too busy spewing hatred to overuse a smart person’s word – I’m just sayin’. Hate that one. It’s the Seinfeldian “I don’t think so” of the 2010s.

“That’s tight.” I’ve actually used that one, but last week after hearing my 16-year-old nephew use that expression 20 times in about five minutes, I completely lost my taste for the term. Totally.

“How’s Jeff?” Okay, I’m right here and you’re referring to me in the third person because you think it sounds sweet and cute. Not a fan of sweet and cute, but it’s all good. No, it isn’t.

How’s it hangin? Life is good.

So glad my wife, Maria, doesn’t make me sit through that dreadful American Idol anymore. Wassup dawg? You made it your own.

I was writing an article and had to call a source at home. I got her husband -- a Wichita media personality -- on the answering machine and he ended the recording with “toodles.” I could never again watch that man do the weather without getting a sick feeling, but whatever.

Anyhoo. Some words jump the shark through over-usage, but this one, like the despiciable “toodles” and “man boobs” was dead on arrival. Anyone who says anyhoo should have his --or her -- head shoved down a toilet to be flushed down like a turd.

Maria and I were watching a stupid “reality” show in which some classy guy had a photograph taken of himself naked and surrounded by fruit. He cleverly placed a banana over a part of his anatomy, which he identified by a refuse-like term. Don’t understand it. I would never refer to my package as “my junk.” That’s way worse than even “the c-word.” What’s up with that?

Oooo-kay, let’s go there. Some slang terms for sex just aren’t beautiful things: “knockin’ boots,” “horizontal push-ups,” “bumpin’ uglies.” That’s a vile, ugly expression. I prefer an expression more palatable to my ears like “gettin’ a freak on.”

In the ‘70s “what’s your sign era,” great sex and anything else of above average quality was “far out.” Didn’t John Denver – whom I can’t stand – use that phrase on the Carson show, like, 20 times one night? That phrase deserves to be obsolete.

Maybe, “awesome” should go down with it. I heard a 70-year-old woman use that term three times in conversation recently. From Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times At Ridgemont High (one of Sean Penn’s most brilliant roles) to Grandma. How cool is that?

You didn’t hear “awesome” much in the 1970s – at which time I was a kid and in Sunday School, (yes, I’ve gone from sex to church in two paragraphs – omg.) We sometimes sang this hymn: “Oh my Lord! When I in awesome wonder…” Thunder. Lightning. Sunrise and sunset. The Big Man in the sky and phenomenons of nature. Inspires awe, doesn’t it?

Last night, my wife called me by cell phone. We’re both about to get into our cars, but we should arrive home at the same time. “Awesome,” she said. Yes, we’ll both arrive home at around 6 p.m., that’s pretty awesome.

Sometimes I’d like to get away – to an honest place, free of social media and celebrity-like pretenses, a watering hole where the language is real and unvarnished. So I went to the Backwater Bar & Grill and enjoyed a few refreshments alongside my vociferous and portly friend, Mr. Grissmachy. When Mr. Grissmachy isn’t on a right-wing anti-Obama rant, he loves to wax nostalgically about his younger days as a street brawler.

“I literally kicked kicked that guy’s ass,” he bragged.

Mr. Grissmachy, unless your foot actually made forceful contact with the man’s buttocks, I don’t think so. I don’t call a house fire an inferno unless the whole dang thing is engulfed in angry circle of hell flames and I don’t say literally unless it actually happened that way.

We’re cool, I guess. I would take the old man’s misuse of syntax over a wuss phrase any day. Mr. Grissmachy’s word choices – like referring to a remote control as “ta ta” aren’t weak; they’re just annoying. Okay, “tata” does sound a little pussified.

S’all right though. Too old and fat to physically fight, there’s nothing the old man likes better than bashing liberals, shooting pool and some good old fashioned raillery just for – what’s that he calls it? – “shits and giggles.”

Overall, I’m steadfast in my standards. Most of the aforementioned words and phrases have no place in the J. Guy dictionary, but I admit I’ve occasionally said “awesome” when it wasn’t warranted, when something wasn’t awe-inspiring.

I’m not proud of that, but, it’s like, you know, it’s cool. I’m not a perfect person.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Margins


Three forty-five p.m. Having just walked inside, I loosened my belt and dropped my wrist watch on the kitchen table beside my roughed-up, but as of late, untouched laptop.

The space I live in was hot and smelled like middle-age, nine-hour old coffee and unforgiving lassitude.

I live in a box, perhaps not so remote from the trailer Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart lived in with his wife in the Mojave Desert, circa 1980, his 12th album rolling out of warehouses and into the poetic hands of the few and faithful.

Cell phone was lying upside down by the laptop where I had left it that morning and the morning before, battery wearing down. I robotically checked my text messages. Something from my reporter friend Jackson in Wyoming. A text from Jackson is always surreptitious and shadowy, but when you talk to him, you feel it -- life’s always sunshine and Saturdays in Jackson’s world.

“Where’s vintage J.Guy?” the text read. “Where’s the dope? The writing, man? Missing it.”

“Still writer’s block,” I texted back. “Just lamenting my fucked up, misspent life. ”

I changed into my ripped jeans and T-shirt, then returned to the kitchen and the sound of my phone vibrating from the counter where I’d set it. The icon of an envelope like a cruel reminder of the past, signaled a quick text back from Jackson.

Fine, fine. I told him I’d throw some shit together and post it “you know where.”

The last contact I had with Jackson was when he texted me a couple of weeks earlier.
“Deleted my fb.”

Social Frankenstein

Neither of us could stand to call this media-plex wet dream by its Christian name. Somehow, we’d both just fell into it – Jackson like aimless elements in the wind and me with the initial élan our sports and photography editors felt when they laughed at the obscene imagery and screwed with depraved souls on the swinging chat rooms, circa 1996.

That was in a more wonder-eyed, white space and virginal time when saying “I surfed the net today” was a novelty. But isn’t it more than obvious now that facebook, Zuckerberg and the whole damn internet of Gates -- which bred into it some brave new world , a clonish death star spawn of satan – is, like television before it, a 24-hour reminder of the glut, excess and emotional obesity that stands in for the vacuum of life today?

To say so is to commit a modern-day blasphemy – and for a writer –career suicide. I should ride this highway all the way into the Twitterverse and beyond because every writer is telling you where she bought latte’s and shoes and everyone is into three-line“blogging,” writing advertorials and marketing their images across some impersonal expanse where a thousand faces stare at you from fakebook like your surrogate family.

As I sit at my sectional writing – my daughter beside me, wearing a “princess” dress with Disney-Pixar’s Rapunzel image sealed to it, watching some stupid panda on the flat screen – stories abound on NPR about fb going public, as did Google and Wal-Mart. Corporate personhood, of course, is the next logical transition for a vehicle predicated on the commercialization of friendship.

It would have behooved me, I guess, to attend the recent meeting of that writer’s group I belong to, my ass warming a folded chair as I sip coffee in the banquet room of a suburban neighborhood library. There would be speakers there, I read on the net – self-marketing gurus extolling the virtues of making love with the social media.

My fatal obstinacy and lingering Weltschmerz leaves me resistant to the world as it is.

Unlike Jackson, however, I haven’t de-activated my lamebook account. I will post this column there and tell my friends in fakebookland that they’re crazy and brain-damaged if they don’t read it. Yes, I will use that social media purlieu like a southside whore straddling her man, exclaiming “I’m gonna ride you like a horse.”

No long hours cruising the social media universe, sucking at the glass teat, though. No collecting virtual jewels or pretending to pioneer some artificial farmland where the crops always flourish bountifully under a never ending sun. I’ll leave it to sit like unread books on a shelf – something like a ghost site or zombie bank.

No Jackson in the social media universe.

Off the map

Jackson was a benevolent sadist.

When possessed by loving good vibrations in his soul, he might send me out to interview models – perfect innocence gleaming like youth and activity from their expensively shampooed blond manes and soul-stealing cleavage.

If he were cruel and spiteful, Jackson might compel me to drive to the shitty part of town and interview the 700-pound man asking the community for donations to support a much-needed life-saving gastric bypass surgery.

I forgave him, though, as he forgave my youthful narcissism and intransigency. All was cool on the weekend nights, sipping Pabst Blue Ribbons in the darkness covering his back porch like a shroud, the alleyway and Sunset Motel laying out before us. Jackson lived on South A Street where his neighbors included an African-American couple living catty-corner to a man who hung a Confederate flag in his window.

We smoked cigarettes and we barked at the moon

The worn tape would play as it had so many times before from the scuffed box Jackson had been lugging around since the ‘70s. If one were to codify a cannon to encapsulate Jackson’s life, Tom Petty would be as integral to the religion as human train wreck stories, Sir Walter Raleigh cigarettes and ESPN. A loyal fan since circa 1978, Jackson had – at that time – seen Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in concert three times.

Jackson graduated from a liberal arts college where his old man was an English Lit professor. His people had migrated from West Virginia to Michigan and possibly a few other places before setting up in the northern Oklahoma/southern Kansas area.

“My grandma was a preacher,” he said. “Back in the ‘40s when women didn’t do that.”

She tried to bring a message of hope and salvation to coal miners. Their daily bread was rock dust and danger. A sense of fatalism entrenched itself inside their lives.

“Someone should tell all their stories,” I’d say.

We’d talk like that, about other stories in other lives and places and other rooms. About cool places…like…

California

California. California. CALIFORNIA.

A place we had both seen. Narrow streets aligned with bauble shops, bungalows and palm trees. Sudden waviness in the road would wind down to the sands and sidewalks of CarlsBad where the waters built themselves into waves, onrushing and descending over the shores like a cleansing. That same Pacific ocean, infinite looking and stretched endlessly like the arms of God, was a connection between us and, perhaps, someone in Asia of Buddhist persuasion.

“There’s so many stories in the naked world out there,” I said. “Somehow I just don’t see how I’m gonna get past this town and -- you know, the bosses and office politics and constrictions that make you feel uncomfortable. It’s like some prick teasing. You feel like something cool is in your grasp, but you can’t reach past the clusterfuck to get it.”

“The information superhighway,” he said, “that place is gonna get as crowded as the path to destruction. I guess all you can do is accept, get what you can and keep writing your ass off. “

“It’s gonna be the end of the world as we knew it,” I said, taking a drag from a cigarette.

“Always has been," he said, the screen door slamming behind him as he walked inside to get a couple of more beers.

“I don’t wanna be left out,” I said after he came out and handed me another beer. “This writing’s the only goddamn thing I know how to do and sometimes I’m not so sure of that. Fuck, I’m 25-years-old and already, this life ain’t what I planned.”

“So, just write your ass off,” he said. “You live in complicated shadows, Dude. You’re like all the beer and energy of life, but you get it messed up and torture yourself into a state of lethargy.”

Sensing the dark pensiveness coming over my face, he slapped his palm on my left shoulder and said, “It’s all cool man. Fuck all the other voices in the wilderness. There’s still only one J. Guy rockin’ out, right? Shit’s all gonna pay off, man.”

Baby, even the losers have a little bit of pride. Yeah, they get lucky sometimes.

It’s fitting today -- that Jackson lives in Wyoming. I’ve been there and it’s ascetic. You can see the stars at night.

People won’t see the vivid prose he wrote for our small-town paper years ago, but he couldn’t give a shit. He’s still around even if he did drop off the map. Jackson exists somewhere in the spaces between the clogged lines that stand in for – and complicate – our lives.

In the margins.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Prayers from the Heartland




At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do, it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”
-- President Barrack Obama at a memorial for the victims of the Tuscon, Ariz. shooting, Jan. 11, 2011.

What the hell is the matter with Kansas?

A man representing our state, its legislature and people thought it would be cute to forward an email, praying for the death of our president. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2009/1116/biblical-anti-obama-slogan-use-of-psalm-1098-funny-or-sinister Kansas Speaker of the House Mike O’ Neal said he had at last found a “Biblical prayer for our president.” He then quotes Psalm 109:8:

"Let his days be few; and let another take his office. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children."

What a sterling example of our Middle American Heartland values – faith, family and good old fashioned Kansas pragmatism. The man doesn’t like President Obama’s politics so he uses God and the Bible to justify wanting him dead. This compassionate, conservative Christian wants God to make Michele a widow and Sasha and Malia, orphans.

Invoking God and a religious text to wish death on a human being – I thought only radical Muslims did that. But I’ve found that many right-thinking Christian conservatives believe praying for the death of those evil, unsaved elements destroying America is under God’s umbrella. Take my fat friend, Mr. Grissmachy, for example.

Mr. Grissmachy, an old guy from my hometown, likes to seat his corpulent torso over the stools of the Backwater Bar and Grill and preach God, country and the American Way. Ever since the 9-11 tragedy brought Americans of all stripes together in a harmonious spirit of pride and patriotism, Mr. Grissmachy has been on the warpath against Democrats, liberals, Muslims and everyone else ruining America.

Like many common sense, regular average Joe Americans, Mr. Grissmachy believes Obama is Muslim. He’s not buying Obama’s calm public assertions of being “Christian, by choice.” Nor is he fooled by those falsified birth certificates. Barry Hussein Obama is a radical Muslim, born in Kenya, Indonesia or some such country. He’s not a real American.

America is exceptional to all other countries in history, a Christian nation granted divine providence. Obama is The Other – a man whose presidency possibly signals the end times. He might be the anti-Christ. For these reasons, righteous Americans who believe in Jesus, guns, limited government, state’s rights, Ann Coulter, Ayn Rand and the Tea Party can justify a Christian fatwa against the president. When Obama is dead and Christian sharia is the supreme law of the land, they should all rejoice at that city upon a hill.

Naturally, in a nation founded on laws, many feel wishing death on the president crosses a line. They might be wondering why the Secret Service isn’t knocking on O’Neal’s door. But maybe those people are mistaken and O’Neal is misunderstood.

His response to the backlash is that he was only referring to the first sentence in the scripture, the part about “another taking his office.” He’s only praying that God will elect a new president to the White House in 2012.

Okay, so was O’Neal only talking about first sentence of the verse, as he says now, or was he referring to it “word-for-word,” like he said in his email?

I don’t cut the guy any slack. Only days before his latest hate-mail went out, O’Neal was in the news for another mass email he sent, calling the First Lady, “Mrs. YoMama.”

It’s a bottomless sea of national embarrassment here on the Great Plains. Just when it looks like Texas, Arizona, South Carolina or some other state will become the laughing stock -- the model of bumpkin-ness and intolerance in America – Kansas comes back to claim its place on the throne of backwardness.

I would like to think that most Kansans are not as cruel and mean-spirited as our loud-mouth leaders would lead the public to believe. Then I think of the bumper stickers I’ve seen on the road, reading: “Prayer for Obama: Psalm 109:8.” Now I know what that meant.

O’Neal speaks for the clergymen and church-goers I know in this area who “like” a page calling for Obama’s death on their facebooks. For awhile, there was a preacher in my hometown who said he didn’t think anyone who voted Democrat would make it to Heaven.

I’m embarrassed to have yet another hate monger make the news in my home state, but Kansas is just a slice of Intolerant America. The sentiments of many here were expressed a few years ago by California Southern Baptist pastor, Wiley Drake. In a 2009 interview with Fox News, Drake said he was praying for Obama’s death. http://video.foxnews.com/v/3931975/

Blasphemous prayers that someone dies, crude racial caricatures in emails and Tea Party signs – that’s where we are in America in 2012 a year after the Tuscon, Az. shootings, a couple of days away from Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Biting the hand


Boeing is not your salvation.
--From the preacher's sermon this morning

It was a Saturday afternoon around 20 years ago. I was at the home of a friend of a friend. The man worked for Boeing in Wichita, Kan.

This guy, whose name I don’t remember, lived in an upper middle class home nestled cozily in a country housing addition outside Arkansas City. He had a luscious green sprawling yard and a stylish rock driveway, all of which the man worked hard to make presentable.

There were tees set up in his lawn, golf bags filled with clubs, golf balls and I was all over that shit. The three of us guys bantered good naturedly over a few beers. It was a fun day.

He had two elementary school-aged daughters. They had a croquet set in the lawn and (I shit you, not) asked their dad if they could go to the country club that day. Obviously, it was a place they were familiar with.

My friend and I were in our early 20s, when visiting that Boeing worker. We’re in our early 40s now, and I hope that guy is retired. If he’s not, well, I remember that Fitzgerald’s line from The Great Gatsby when only four people showed up for the lavish, party giving millionaire’s funeral.

The poor sonovabitch

Last week, Boeing announced it will close its Wichita plant at the end of 2013, leaving 2,160 people without a job. Over the past two or three generations, the union backed aircraft industry of Wichita, Kan. has launched blue collar workers into the upper ranks of the middle class. Wichita is the Aircraft Capital of the World and Boeing has long been the Big Daddy of all the aircraft plants that comprised this aviation kingdom and built this city.

On both sides of our families, my wife, Maria, and I have family members who work or have worked for Beech, Boeing and Cessna. It’s a cultural DNA aspect of this community, steeped in hope and anxiety.

Oil to aviation boom
Wichita’s aviation history is descended from the discovery of oil in nearby Butler County. In 1915, a huge gush of oil was drilled on land three miles northwest of El Dorado. A few years later, the oil field was producing 29 million barrels of oil per day and eight refineries were operating within the county. Oil production in that field helped the Allies win World War I.
http://www.kansastravel.org/kansasoilmuseum.

Jake Mollendick, a Wichita businessman who struck it rich in El Dorado’s oil boom, invested his fortune into the neophyte airplane business. During the 1920s, his company employed Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman, who later started their own company with barnstormer Clyde Cessna. By 1933, these men had all gone their separate ways – the result: Beech, Boeing and Cessna. http://home.iwichita.com/rh1/hold/av/avhist/wichita/aircap_x.htm The Depression years were terrible for local plane makers. Then in 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt summoned the Wichita aircraft leaders to Washington D.C. and told them he needed 50,000 aircraft for the inevitable war that was brewing.

Military-Industrial magnet
Wichita employed around 600,000 people in its aircraft plants during WW II. More than 26,300 military planes were built in Wichita and production in the rest of Kansas made the state’s total output 34,500 aircraft. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wichita,_KansasPresident Obama’s grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, known as “Toot” worked as a night shift supervisor on the B-29 assembly line. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/120104/boeing-closing-wichita-factory-b52-b29-kansasWar production transformed Wichita from a bucolic cow town into an urban center. The aircraft plants brought in further industry and thousands more workers, adding to the population of the city and the suburban towns that were also booming.

During the Cold War, Wichita’s aircraft industry, its employees and the community benefitted from the Millitary Industrial Complex. Periodic layoffs and labor strikes, over the years, have hurt the local economy.

The end of the Cold War, 9-11 and globalization have left the aircraft industry in Wichita more uncertain than ever. All the aircraft plants have cut back. Boeing -- if a person could hold on to a job there -- offered an excellent wage and benefit package. A Boeing worker told me a few years ago how there were people in his department who had earned master’s degree, but preferred to continue working at the plant because it paid better.

Also, two people from his department – distressed over being laid off – committed suicide.

No doubt conservatives are already using the Boeing closing as an excuse to bash Obama for cutting the Defense Dept. budget by $450 billion. (Winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bringing our people home, I would say, is a good thing.)
http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/manufacturing/story/2012-01-04/boeing-plant-closing-wichita-kansas/52377688/1 Naturally, the complainers will be the same conservatives who blame the president for the deficit, which they helped create.


Hit and Run
The state and community have rolled over and given Boeing a good time for decades. The company has benefitted from decades of industrial revenue bonds – more than $3.5 billion since 1979 – and has received $650 million in property-tax relief.

This past year, Kansas lawmakers moved heaven and earth to ensure that a $35 billion contract to build an aerial tanker for the Air Force went to Boeing and not a European competitor.

“If Boeing wins the contract, the company promises, it will create 11,000 jobs in Washington state and 7,500 jobs in Kansas,” the Lawrence-Journal World reported last Februrary. /http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2011/feb/17/senators-jerry-moran-and-pat-roberts-join-groupsu

Boeing gave verbal assurance that it would stay in Wichita, but apparently the company’s word isn’t its bond. State Rep. Jim Ward D-Wichita, called Boeing “a poster child for corporate tax incentives."

After 85 years in this town, Boeing bit the corporate welfare hand that fed it.