Friday, July 26, 2013

Vintage Rolling Stones

                                  I was driving my daughter into the church parking lot for
                                  Vacation Bible School when the voice on my car radio
                                   said it was Mick Jagger's 70th birthday. I'm like, "Holy
                                   sympathy for the devil!" But hey, the Rolling Stones
                                   never get old. Happy birthday, Mick.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The 'race card'


Hate evil and love what is good; turn your courts into true halls of justice. 
--- Amos 5:15 (New Living Translation)

It's funny (well not really funny, sad and pathetic actually) how white people, like myself, can take four or 500 years of oppression against another race of people -- be it people of African, Latin American or Native American descent -- and turn it around to make themselves look like victims.

I'll say it again. Four or 500 years of oppression -- rape; robbery; kidnapping; murder; slavery; trumped-up court system; genocide; economic injustice; impoverished reservations; tenement slums; infanticide; breaking up families; false imprisonment; inaccessibility to education, economic opportunity, food, transportation, housing, health care -- and white people, white males like myself --

are the victims.

The prosecution in the Trayvon Martin murder case played the "race card." They played it against George Zimmerman.

George Zimmerman was in fear for his life. He was getting his ass kicked by that kid. He was justified in taking out his gun and shooting Trayvon Martin. So it turned out that 17-year-old was unarmed. Zimmerman didn't know that.

This was simply a case of a guy defending himself against perceived mortal danger. The person shot to death happened to be black. That was coincidence. Why do you have to make it about race?


There are reasons why not everyone's buying the self-defense line. A black unarmed kid killed. His murderer acquitted by a jury.  It's not like this hasn't happened before.

In the summer of 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago youth, was visiting relatives in Mississippi. It's not clear what happened. He either flirted with, whistled at or touched the hand of a young white woman. That was all they needed. Around three days later -- late at night -- two white men, brandishing guns, dragged Emmett out of bed, kidnapped him, brutally beat him, shot him in the head and tied him with barbed wire to a large metal fan blade and dumped his body into the Tallahatchie River.

An all-white male jury acquitted the men. A few months later, protected from double jeopardy, the men bragged about the killer to a journalist.

Oh but that was a long time ago. All the marching back in the '60s was successful. They got their Civil Rights legislation. Blacks are all over popular culture now. We have a black president. Racism isn't that big of problem anymore.

A day before the verdict was delivered in Zimmerman's trial, a link comes across my facebook page. Three black men allegedly robbed and murdered a white waitress for her tip money. We've heard all about Trayvon Martin. Why haven't we heard about this one?

In other words, we have it splashed all over the media about the white (actually half white, half Hispanic) man shooting a black youth. But we hear nothing about these black men murdering a white woman. So the entire white majority has to take offense because one of its own is on trial, charged with murdering a black youth. This is a threat to us. Oh, the media has to play it up about a white guy shooting a black. How come we don't hear about the black guys who murdered a white woman? This is media bias. It's unfair to us.

We are the victims.

It's hard to say why some crimes make national news and some don't. Wouldn't you think people would consider it a tragedy when any murder occurs? Do we have to trivialize barbaric inhumanity by reducing it to some scorecard that only perpetuates bitterness and rivalry between races?

Fine. Heard about any of these cases?

On New Year's Day, 2009, in Oakland, Calif., Oscar Grant, unarmed and restrained, was shot in the back by a police officer in a Bay Area Rapid Transit Station. The murder was captured on cell phone videos. A jury acquitted the officer who did the shooting. http://www.naacp.org/news/entry/naacp-denounces-verdict-of-oscar-grant-case http://www.oscargrantfoundation.com/

Video of Oscar Grant shooting, captured by a spectator's iphone.

In the early morning hours of Nov. 25, 2006, Sean Bell, a 23-year-old man planning to get married later that day, stepped outside a Queens, N.Y. strip club with some friends. Bell, unarmed, was shot 50 times by five police officers. The officers waived their right to a jury trial and were acquitted by judge Arthur J. Cooperman. http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/sean_bell/index.htm

On Feb. 4, 1999, Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from the West African country of Guinea, was unarmed and standing in the vestibule of a Bronx apartment building when four undercover police officers fired 41 shots into him. The officers claimed at trial that Diallo matched the description of a serial rape suspect. They were acquitted.  http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/law/jan-june00/diallo_3-3.html http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/26/nyregion/diallo-verdict-overview-4-officers-diallo-shooting-are-acquitted-all-charges.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/03/nyregion/amadou-diallos-mother-asks-why-officer-who-shot-at-her-son-will-get-gun-back.html?_r=0

These incidents go way back. On Feb. 13, 1946, Army Sgt. Isaac Woodard  -- honorably discharged after serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II, still in uniform and wearing his medals -- was dragged off a city bus by police officers in Batesburg, beaten with nightsticks in an alley and thrown in jail. He woke up the next morning blinded. For the rest of his life. The officers were acquitted in a jury trial and the courtroom broke into applause. The incident led Woody Guthrie to compose "The Blinding of Isaac Woodard" and Pres. Harry Truman to issue Executive Order 9981, desegregating the U.S. Armed Forces. http://www.yahspeople.com/3/post/2013/04/us-army-sergeant-isaac-woodard-jr-the-blinding-of-an-american-soldier.htmlhttp://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Isaac_Woodard  http://disstud.blogspot.com/2010/02/13-february-beating-of-isaac-woodard.html

World War II veteran Isaac Woodard, beaten and blinded by police.



Trayvon Martin's case isn't just an isolated incident. It is only the latest major headline in a persistent historical pattern of black unarmed men being killed by white armed men who are then given a pass in the court system. It seems every time this happens, the black murder victims are put on trial and the killers play the martyr. He was drunk. I thought he had a gun. He looked suspicious. I feared for my life.
http://www.ebony.com/photos/news-views/10-others-before-trayvon-martin#photo-6

And whites are offended because the prosecution in the Trayvon Martin case "played the race card." As if race is something we can ignore.

I can hear them saying, "Hey, you let O.J. walk." So one miscarriage of justice justifies another? It's true that the late defense attorney Johnnie Cochran inflamed racial tensions in the infamous, media-frenzied 1990s case by asking the jury to "send a message" with their verdict. The implication was, "Don't decide based on the evidence. Let's have payback for all those times blacks have been hijacked by the U.S. criminal justice system." In other words, Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman died for your sins.

It set a bitter precedent. Too many whites are painfully unaware of the long, nightmarish history of injustice African Americans have been dealt by the cops and courts system. Many of them do remember the O.J. Simpson verdict and it's just another pawn in their game of racial antagonism.

In his memoir, African American prosecutor Christopher Darden said the jury had to believe police would go to "supernatural" lengths to contaminate the air-tight evidence against Simpson. Whites were shocked when the not guilty verdict was read. They were revolted when blacks cheered.

I'm not justifying the O.J. verdict, but maybe we should ask ourselves, what would drive African Americans to believe that such a massive frame-up could be possible? There couldn't be any reasons why they would think in that direction, could there?

The race issue is ever present. It's enmeshed in the deepest fiber of our DNA. American history documents a long history of race consciousness that has manifested itself in everything from unspeakable crimes against humanity to veiled, subtle, psychological prejudice. To not acknowledge the presence of race would be to ignore an inordinately huge elephant in the room.

For whites to applaud the Zimmerman verdict shows cruel, arrogant disregard for the mistreatment of fellow citizens by the long arm of the law. Or, at the least, it shows us to be naive about history and the ghastly realities in a system acting in our name. Ignorance surely isn't bliss.

There's much more going on here than the surface illusion of a "race card."




Trailer for the just-released film, Fruitvale Station, about Oscar Grant.



"Things I've Seen" by the Spooks. Contains the lyrics, "Mentally cuffed, thrust by a cop thinkin' he tough, you bust Amadou Diallo is us, and what now I'm on my knees, beggin' 'God please!'"




"American Skin (41 Shots)" by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. About the Diallo killing.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Just-us system




Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control. Thank you all for your prayers and support. I will love you forever Trayvon!!! In the name of Jesus!!!

(Words tweeted by Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, following the verdict, acquitting the man who shot him to death.)

Saturday night. A few hours after a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of second degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. I'm on the living room sofa with my wife and son, in between picking another netflix movie, checking the facebook messages and tweets on my iphone.

A compilation of these posts, the gist, among several of my friends and followers is this: "The jury found Mr. Zimmerman (love that, Mr. Zimmerman. What have they been watching? Hannity?) innocent.  Let's respect the jury's decision. The facts were presented. The jury had the evidence and Mr. Zimmerman is innocent. Please, let's have no more killing. Riots are not needed."

Okay, so they (read: black people) had their day in court, the system worked, let's embrace it and please don't pull anyone out of their cars and start beating them to death, bust a storefront window or steal televisions. In other words, trust the established order and stay in your place.

People in this country who enjoy the perks of wealth or a light skin tone sure have a habit of telling people, not so privileged what's best for them, whether its billionaire Charles Koch trying to dissuade the poor masses from fighting for minimum wage or people of my skin shade telling our darker brothers and sisters how to behave.

If you're poor in this country, but you're white, you still have something going for you. Add to that a penis and well, there's at least two things in your favor. Oh I've heard it all. The white conservative victim card. Freakin' NAACP, ACLU, NOW. The white male is the most discriminated against person in America. I took a fitness walk at around 5 a.m. today. Sun wasn't up. I was in a reasonably nice neighborhood. Nobody reported me as a "suspicious person."

And I wasn't even dressed especially nice.

It's true, the jury was limited in the evidence presented before it. The cops bungled the case in Sanford, Fla. right from the get-go. Zimmerman was charged and issued a warrant for his arrest nearly two months after the Feb. 26, 2012 killing of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an African-American kid wearing a hoodie.

Authorities sure didn't take Zimmerman in for questioning the night of the murder, just took his word that the gun was fired in self-defense. He'd been bleeding from the head and nasal cavities. Must've been the case. I wonder if they would have rested so easily on Zimmerman's word, had his and Martin's colors been reversed. That's okay, they charged him eventually after the FBI, Justice Dept. and national media became interested. http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/05/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-fast-facts

Yup, that's your race card on the part of law enforcement and the prosecution.

Those reverse racist smear artists were out to make an example out of Zimmerman. They called out the other side's grandstanding, making this Trayvon Martin kid out to be some martyr. We heard about how the kid got suspended from school and smoked marijuana. Not reasons to justify killing him, I wouldn't think.

The kid had not been in trouble with the law, unlike Zimmerman who had to take anger management classes due to such things as assaulting a police officer and having a restraining order filed against him by his ex-fiancee. Those things weren't admitted into evidence. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/25/us-usa-florida-shooting-zimmerman-idUSBRE83O18H20120425

Trayvon Martin was the one put on trial for his own murder.

All that aside, the evidence wasn't there to convict. Not enough to declare Zimmerman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We can't second-guess the jury, we don't know what was going through their minds and what they had to work with. So we have to defer to their wisdom.

Except for one little thing.

Juries, as a branch of the just-us system in America, have a long history of coming down punitively against African-Americans in vast disproportionate numbers. All those travesties of justice that took place 50, 100 years ago. Or how about one year ago.

In the state of Florida.

Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother, trying to defend herself and protect her children fired a warning shot to ward off her estranged husband, a man with a documented history of domestic abuse against various women. A jury sentenced her to 20 years in a Florida prison.
http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/07/14/why-did-marissa-alexander-get-a-20-year-sentence-despite-invoking-stand-your-ground/ http://gawker.com/5910700/stand-your-ground-ladies-you-have-no-ground-to-stand-on

Nobody was injured when Alexander fired that handgun. The man who admitted in a sworn deposition to abusing her when she was pregnant -- he wasn't hurt. Alexander had a permit to carry the gun. She was a law abiding citizen, had never been in trouble. She'd earned a master's degree and was an asset to her community, but Florida's "stand your ground" law wasn't applied to her case. I guess the U.S. criminal justice system hates women about as much as it does, black people.

Alexander is African-American. Oh, you better believe it. There was one lone, beleaguered defense attorney sitting at Alexander's table. The cops and prosecution team were an army.

So you see why I might be a little skeptical, cynical actually, about the court system, including the jury system. And I love that system. I want it to work. Citizen juries are a bulwark against tyranny. I hate seeing them used as tools by that system they're supposed to guardians over.

A system that's moved Jim Crow from the plantation to the coffee counter to the prison industrial complex. But oh no, just listen to my enlightened facebook friends.

Mr. Zimmerman is the victim here.

Et tu, America?
(Tweeted by Trayvon's brother, Jahvaris Fulton, following the verdict.)



Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sunday mornings


Walking down.

The hill hidden behind the houses that dot my street is a long slope. A drop. No chiggers sticking to my socks or Converse shoes as the grass is refreshed, newly mowed by the Jett, Kan. school district's finest from its parks department. This is the big drop into life, facing behind the middle school and towards Colorado.

Forgot my watch. Look at Maria's Android phone. (My iphone is back home on the charger.) Time -- 5:47 a.m. Temp. 73 degrees. Hummingbirds are chirping -- you hear them out here, all over the trees in the neighbors' backyards -- and a vocal family of pigeons have roosted clandestinely in our gutters at home. During the nice occasions when it snows here in winter and school gets called off on account of "Snow Day," you'll see families - each individual waiting his or her turn to swoosh down the white fluffy hills in a sled.

Below, past the soccer field and goal posts, there's the old soccer field, boxed inside a frame of white peeling paint. The orange sign, "Keep Out" looks you in the face. From there, I wander into neighborhoods. A garage door is open, a group of guys are sitting at a table underneath a lightbulb and tool racks, laughing and joking. Smoke traveling like Hunkpapa signals.

A young dark-haired woman stands in her driveway behind a Suburban. She's wearing a black sleveless top, a white skirt with a palm tree design and neon prints of exotic florals, left arm tucked under the right elbow bent upward, a cigarette between the two main fingers of her hand.

I gotta ask about those guys.

"They havin' a poker game?" I ask her.

"Beer pong," she says, affably.

"Man," I say. "They been goin' at it all night?"

"Pretty much. I just got back from work."

(smile) "Pretty cool. Well, have a nice day," I say, waving my hand, walking away.

"You too."

What's the story, morning glory

My grandpa Mac would always be up early like this. I'd rise early as well, catch him on the back porch, looking at morning glories and vines twisting around the lattice wall. He liked talking about that stuff. Old man would be facing true north, looking ahead, across the street at Kober Brothers Supermarket. A few years earlier, in the early '70s, it was a grassy field. My sister, Angie, and I would run around there with our uncle Ted, flying a kite.

For Grandpa, the greatest year ever was 1929. Sure it was the year the stock market crashed, and he and Grandma would go on and on about how horrible the depression was. But for Grandpa, something good happened that trumped all that.

His 17-year-old bride was on a hospital bed. The doctor said "she had once chance in a million of living through the night." I could picture him in my mind, outside pacing like he said he did, unable to sleep at all. Now I wonder why he didn't just stay in her hospital room, but maybe they didn't let them do that, then.

"I prayed for probably the first time in my life," Grandpa said. "I went to her room the next morning. She was sitting up in bed and asked, 'What are you doing here?'"

He told the story so much that for me it was relegated to the ramblings of an old man. Happened to people a long time ago. Had nothing to do with my life, but Grandma was alive, right? Frying chicken on a gas stove and setting a karafe percolating on one of the burners.

I would go to church with the grandparents on those weekends I stayed all night there, which was frequently. The Bible Baptist Church, a red brick building at the corner of State and Seventh streets, next to the full-service Texaco station, rivaled the Methodists for the status of biggest church in town. This bigness opened up a world for me.

What were Grandma and Grandpa learning in their old people Sunday school classes? Adults, my parents' ages, in their classes? Teenagers? Had to be sophisticated, deeper than what I was learning, but I'd get there.

It was fun. The piano. Singing songs like "Come Into My Heart, Lord Jesus" and "How Great Thou Art," which was accompanied by beautiful pictures of sunsets and thunderstorms. Before Sunday School, Grandma always handed my sister and I, dollar bills, which we'd throw in the basket when the offering came around.

On your birthday, you could pick prizes from a basket. Stuff like a pack of bubble gum, picture of Jesus, a Swiss Army knife. Mrs. Lowery, the woman leading Sunday school, would talk to us about our "mommies and daddies." I'd get so pissed off, thinking, "I'm not a little kid! I call them Mom and Dad!"

After a few songs and a lesson from Mrs. Lowery, we would split into the little classrooms for first, second and third-grade. I remember in second-grade, our teacher was an 18-year-old woman, just out of highschool. Eighteen, might as well had been 28 to me. I remember her name was Sandy like Sandy Duncan, the Broadway actress who appeared in a bunch of TV variety shows in the 1970s. (I was always amazed how this woman could pass for a 12-year-old boy, playing Peter Pan in some television production.)

Seemed like old people style, cornball entertainment was always on at the grandparents house. (Grandma and Grandpa Guy even watched Lawrence Welk.) On Saturday nights, it was always The Carol Burnett Show. They were so cool. Weren't like the hillarious, yet tragically hip young pot smoking Not Ready For Primetime Players on Saturday Night. When Tim Conway and Harvey Korman would start laughing, breaking character in the middle of one of their skits, it was refreshing.

The bad thing was the question-and-answer session at the start of the Carol Burnett show. Someone in the audience was always asking her to do that stupid Tarzan yell.

So one morning, we're in the Sunday school classroom with Sandy. It's a free-for-all. Kids are all over the place, bouncing, loud-mouthed. Just obnoxious little shit-asses. Can't speak for the other kids, but I remember exactly what I was doing that day. Mrs. Lowery comes in, dresses us down and says, "And who's doing the (she pantomines chest pounding, makes a yelping sound.) Tarzan yell."

"Jeff!" Every kid in the class points at me.

I don't remember what I was doing the night before, but I bet you a million dollars, I'd seen it the night before on The Carol Burnett Show.

Friday, July 5, 2013

July 5, 1954


My favorite line in this song is: "Son, that gal you're foolin' with, she ain't no good for you."

The story is that on that hot July 5th day in 1954, the chords just struck up from osmosis while they were sitting in the break room, drinking from bottles of Coca-Cola. Rhythm guitar strumming, bass slappin', jumpin' around. You know the story.

A more obscure figure in rockabilly history, Charlie Feathers, said he arranged the session with Elvis, Scotty and Bill. With all we know, what exactly do we really know? Who's to say, but we need our mythologies, don't we? Our stories?

Feathers, who spent his childhood around Holly Springs, Miss., was embarrassed for the rest of his life about having to leave school in the third grade. (He went on to work in oil fields all over Illinois and Texas.) But hell, he co-wrote "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" for Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys, didn't he? Song spent five weeks at #1 on the Billboard C&W Most Played in Juke Boxes chart.

Old Charlie Feathers
It's a standard known fact that Feathers was like a Greek god to punk and soul rockers like Johnny Thunders, Roky Erikson, The Cramps, The Gun Club and the city's own Alex Chilton. ("If he died in Memphis, that'd be cool.")

So anyhow, the opening shot in this video of young Elvis was

Elvis Presley 1939
 taken in front of the house he'd bought for his mama and daddy on Memphis's Audobon Drive. (It's tough to find a Presley video on YouTube that's not cheesy. This one's not perfect, but it's miles above most.) A white bred neighborhood much more Leave it to Beaver than feudal, farmland mansion. It was Big Time, baby, from a Big Town. He was literally thanking God his family was out of Lauderdale Courts at the north end of downtown Memphis.

Bought the place with some royalties from Sun Records. It's how he paid for the pink cadillac, flashy clothes and Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Well it's Memphis, right? W.C. Handy. Beale Street. Sleepy John Estes. Memphis Minnie. Rufus Thomas. Howlin' Wolf. Sam Phillips. Ike Turner. The Stamps Quartet. B.B. King. Junior Parker. Johnny Cash. Carl Perkins. Jerry Lee Lewis and his pumpin' piano. Barbara Pittman. Billy Lee Riley. Warren Smith. Sonny Burgess. Little Milton. Carla Thomas. The Mar-Keys. Donald "Duck" Dunn. Booker T. and the MGs. Steve Cropper. (Didn't my friends from Moreland Arbuckle work with him?) Jim Stewart. Estelle Axton. Otis Redding. Wilson Pickett. Isaac Hayes. Chips Moman. The Staple Singers. Al Green. Albert King. The Box Tops. The Isley Brothers. Big Star...


Moreland Arbuckle with Steve Cropper. I guess they're in Italy or Holland now. That'd be cool.

Love light. Chuck Berry immortalized the town in his blues-rockabilly tune about standing in a phone booth, calling long distance information to get in touch with a girl he'd lost because her mom didn't agree. In the ending poignant twist, we learn the girl, Marie, is his six-year-old daughter and the mom who didn't agree is his estranged wife.

Dylan.

Oh mama, can this really be the end? To be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again

Years ago, Chuck D said Elvis was "straight up racist." But that's bullshit and he now knows it. In 1956, the African-American newspaper, The Memphis World reported that Elvis Presley defied local segregation laws by showing up at the Memphis Fairgrounds amusement park “during what is designated as ‘colored night.’” http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/11/opinion/11guralnick.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Was he really conspiring with Richard Nixon to kick John Lennon out of the U.S.? Hell no. The man just wanted his FBI badge and he was going to say what he had to, to get it. If he had to go knocking the Beatles and Jane Fonda, oh well. Personally, I wouldn't do it, but that's me.

Private Presley (he'd been promoted to the rank of sergeant when he left) considered it his patriotic duty to serve his country in uniform. He'd go on to sing patriotic hymns from the Vegas stage. But he was also buddies with Muhammad Ali, who had converted to Islam, loved the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and refused to be inducted into the armed forces, saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.”

In the '70s, Elvis presented Ali with a white robe bearing the words "People’s Champion." Unfortunately when Ali wore it for the Ken Norton fight he lost. Never wore it again, but that's life.

The Civil Rights significance to our mythical heroes cannot be separated, nor cast asunder. When the Beatles covered Smokey Robinson and the Rolling Stones covered Solomon Burke, that was Civil Rights.

And no, it was not these white artists' fault that they amassed all the glory and fame on the backs of black music. They were musicians, not accountants. They were artists, and they did their jobs as artists, deriving from the influences that gave birth to their giftedness. It's the fault of a greedy, exploitative industry and an apathetic, mediocrity loving public if these unsung and beautiful black artist's arent' given their due. If the word rejects the "king of rock and soul" -- Solomon Burke, it's the world's loss, not his. Don't blame it on Elvis and the Beatles. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxBs_vgW95U https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5ukRkaUbMo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDtCOvAEpUM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVPS0ETuUYE

The Civil Rights Movement that started a long time ago with Moses leading the Israelites through a clearing of the wilderness and about the wilderness toward a long, painful journey home. When Chuck Berry wrote about a man "bound for third, he was headin' for home," it was a veiled reference to Jackie Robinson. What I said about Moses and 40 years in the wilderness -- it reminds me of this line:

I saw a woman walking across the sand
She been a-walkin' thirty miles en route to Bombay.
To get a brown eyed handsome man


So many anniversaries lately. Don't even go there with me about how I have not yet written columns commemorating the Battle of Gettysburg or D-Day. I eat lunch with World War II veterans -- average age 88 and up -- every chance I get.

That's all part of the story, the myths, legends and heroes. The sons and grandsons of Ellis Island immigrants. The American Indians leaving alcoholism and the reservations for the U.S. Military and earth's skies. Japanese-Americans leaving California to fight Hitler's tyranny in Germany, relatives left behind in humiliating sardine camps.

They came back and claimed America for their own, didn't they? And they gave everything -- their muscle, intellect, paintings, music, wages, work hours at factories, in universities...their lives. Sports, music, the arts, are indispensable to the story. It's so much more than mythology.

Go cat. Come on, get rhythm.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sprightly with the spirit


Old Wichita newspaper office and print store.


(for Kenzie)

She was a doll.

More so than the most treasured beauty dotting a Victorian girl's toy shelf, that precious figure, miniature dress of the finest, soft cloth, eyes of glass and with a deep blue gaping that would draw your moral soul into a sea of life that never ends. Eyes that, like the most delicate of hands, would clasp time for you, keeping it still and in safe-keeping. Such a figure, possibly from the farthest seas of the orient -- a little monument of wood, metal, paper and china, never able to match ---

"So what do you think, Little Girl? Wanna go inside the schoolhouse?" I asked my daughter, Gabby.

My daughter always loves going inside the old school building at Wichita's Old Cowtown Museum. She loves sitting behind the oak desk in center stage before a blackboard filled with white chalked representations of the alphabet, set in the most self-assured calligraphy of the Victorian Age. On the board, there is arithmetic and at the tip-top, sterling portraits of the presidents from George Washington through Rutherford B. Hays.

Bonnet falling over her eyes as she leaps sprightly from her chair, she grabs a McGuffey's reader and talks to the empty bleachers, pretending rows of 1870s children are seated in them, slates in their laps.

Gabby loves playing teacher, loves pulling the chord that rings the school bell and signals class to be in session. That's what she loves -- the play.

I want to make sure she likes it here. After all, her brother, Max, didn't want to come. Doesn't like dressing up. Not like at Halloween when you get candy for doing it. But Gabby's all for it. She and I sampled clothes in the Old Cowtown Museum wardrobe, searching for the right look and the right fit, which is sometimes elusive.

"I can hem this up at home tonight," my friend Jacky says, standing with a strip of measuring tape over Gabby's slight frame. You gotta appreciate Jacky and all she does for that place. She's really the face of the museum.

Jacky assures me that Gabby's dress will be ready for the 4th of July 1876 centennial-style celebration Saturday. That morning, I will lace up and tie in double knots the strings going up the long black boots she will wear over black stockings. I'll be in my bowler hat, suspenders and with my vest completely fastened as men of a more flowery era would never bare their cotton shirts before the public.

And there we were. On a Saturday. Just leaving the school, walking past the old Presbyterian Church --  Wichita's first real house of worship -- almost next to the tire swing and across the dirt street from the Munger House, the first permanent settlement on the land that would become Wichita.

They came-a-beatin' and stompin' with the vibrant kick of righteous indignation. A group of fine Christian woman clothed respectfully from their necks to their ankles called to the masses and marched onward, led by a pious man wearing a frock coat and tall black hat, King James Bible clutched like a cast iron hook.

"We gotta go, Gabby," I tell my girl. "They're having a temperance rally. They're gonna talk about how bad alcohol is, how it's from the devil and all. It'll be funny."

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve...


Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,

"C'mon Gabby, I say. They're singing and crap, this rocks, little girl, we gotta join 'em," I tell her and she eagerly takes my hand.

An 1870s baseball player, a member of the Wichita Red Stockings, stands in the wings. He's wearing a flat hat, the brim wide enough to shield away the hot, pastoral sun, a red long-sleeved shirt, grey knee-length breeches and long red stockings.

"Well, most baseball players were lushes, but I'm game," he says and joins the ever increasing rag-tag of marchers.

Gabby and I tag along, walking long, veering around the corner past the hotel, blacksmith shop, Fritz Snitzler's Saloon and Turnverein Hall toward the train depot and a platform, from which the esteemed clergyman delivers his discourse, flanked by the town's leading dignitaries and U.S. flags with 38 stars representing every darn state in the union.

"Beloved, we gather before you, knocking at your door today, in proclamation of our blessed king and savior, the Lord Jesus Christ," he exclaims, voice booming in the outside air, traveling with the audacity of a modern telegraph.

"My friends, we beseech you this day within the ancient, mystic chords of the spirit, arms wide open and with a love as natural as that love, with which Christ loved his Bride, the Church."

Amens abound from the women. Silk handkerchiefs wipe the sweat from their unmade faces. The man leans in, an accusatory finger calling down evil like Christ over Satan at the end of a fast.

"But today, evil is upon us!" he exclaims. "Evil! An inexorable growth infesting the soul of our nation! Invisible spirit forces, upon which we have a wrestling of the flesh, have corrupted our farms, towns, cities. Demonic stimulants have entered the body and stolen the farmer from his plow, the mechanic from his industry, the banker from his till and -- beloved -- the husband, father and spiritual head of his brood from the family."

We're laughing, Gabby and me. At the hyperbole, the comic herky-jerkiness of the preacher's flailing arms, the 19th century patois.

"The fruitage of the spirit that Paul talked of in his epistle to the church of Galatia, the fruitage -- love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, faithfulness, meekness -- Temperance -- has been usurped by the vineyards and barley and hops and the distilleries of demonism.

"A brood of vipers has taken over this generation and our nation might not survive till tomorrow if it is not snuffed to the ground like dust. We must eradicate the artificial stimulants, the evil liquid spirits that put out the sunshine of life -- we must cast them like serpents from the land. We must close the doors forever of the tavern, the beer hall and the winehouse. We must pour fourth all beer, all wine, all whiskey into the rivers that will wash our nation clean and reclaim our moral souls before the blessed kingship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Then they all get off stage, singing, "Shall We Gather at the River?"

The passers-by are laughing in the sunshine. I've met all kinds of people here. From all over the USA, Europe, Asia and Africa too. I was in the carpenter shop when a fellow told me he was from Seattle. Home of the sonic boom and grunge rock, too. Jimi Hendrix, who performed the National Anthem at Woodstock.

"Yeah, I knew his dad a little bit," the guy said. "He passed away not too long ago."

Wow!

I can generally tell what states they're from by the accents. Although I'm not as good as my dad, who's better than Click and Clack from "Car Talk." Raised in the most bucolic of Kansas farm settings, and after two years in the Army, he can tell you what town in New Jersey someone is from.

Yup. The fellow in the khaki shorts and Indiana Jones hat is from Minnesota. "I'm Lutheran," he says. "We only drink alcohol on days that end in y."

"A Minnesota Lutheran?" I say. "Just like the Lutherans in Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon."

"Ohhh, those are Norwegian Lutherans," he says. "We're the German Lutherans."

Me and Gabby at Jimie's Diner, Wichita, Kan.
Back in the break room, Gabby and I return to our street clothes and the 21st century.

I pass by Denyse, who played one of the Christian Temperance women flanking the pastor. She's back in her black Nirvana T-shirt and jean shorts, grabbing a Marlboro from the pack kept tight in her purse. I've known Denyse since my first year of college. She and I and others in our circle used to hang out under the stars of her hometown in Rushing Waters, Kan., smoke, have a few beers and talk about life.

Then I see Jacky, who makes small talk with Gabby, and looks up to tell me the girl is like her own daughter. I thank her for being so good to my girl.

"She's a cutie," Jacky says.

"She's a drama queen," I say. "Superdiva, that's what I call her."

But Gabby really loved being here, dressing up like a little girl from another place and time. "It's like being in a movie," she said.

Jacky tells her that from time to time movies get filmed at Old Cowtown and perhaps someday she can be an extra.

"Maybe someday, Little Girl," I tell her. "Maybe someday."

                                          "Stars and Stripes Forever."



4th of July

         Turn that sky into a birthday cake, baby. Have a happy 4th of July. And be careful.