Month: September 2017

The Mysterious Old Place

MRI of an old fogey’s brain. Mysterious looking old place, ain’t it?

When I was young my grandparents did many strange things. But they were much older than me. Their minds lived in a mysterious old place, packed with esoteric wisdom gathered from decades of experience.

To be old was a mystery that I could not question. I would see them engage in unusual behavior and conclude, “They must know things that I cannot know, because I am so young.”

I remember asking my grandfather why he put his pants on backward. He looked down, then sputtered a bit as if at a loss for words. He began by explaining all the things arthritis does to you, and tried to convince me that wearing backward pants was therapeutic to the hip joints. But when he noticed my creased forehead he gave up and blurted, “Wait’ll you get to my age, then you’ll understand!”

That was all he needed to say. I was convinced he wore his pants that way for a very good reason that one day, many many years down the road, would become clear to me.

And now, here I am, many many years down that road. I now live in the mysterious old place my grandparents once occupied. And I notice how often young people defer to me. They seem to regard me as an oracle of occult knowledge. A possessor of gnosis and ancient arcana. A black box aerated by wafting unseeable winds of wisdom.

And I have come to the same ageless realization that I’m sure my forebears came to. And that is, my grandparents were full of bullshit. And more importantly, I realized that my youth made me blind to the ignorance of my elders.

“Wait‘ll you get to my age,” is a magic bullet explanation that has stood the test of time for countless generations.

Are your grandkids harassing you because you voted for Donald Trump? Just wink at them, give them a wise look, and say something like, “You know, when you’re my age you’ve learned some things that just can’t be explained to young folks like you. But you’ll understand one day, and be glad I voted for him.”

Maybe some youngsters in your family are getting on your case for gambling away your pension at the casino. It won’t work to tell them that you want to win a big pile of money so that just once in your life you can act like a bigshot and do lots of bigshot things before you up and croak. They’ll just tell you that you’re old and going to die soon, and you don’t need anything more than that pension check to carry you creaking along until it’s time for that final ride in the coffin.

Instead you have to play the mystery card. You have to give them a whiff of your black box. Your bullshit box. So just say something like, “I’ve been going to casinos all my life. I don’t make the kind of gambling mistakes that young people make. At my age I’ve learned the right way to gamble. Just wait and see. I’m going to win a big jackpot one day, and you’ll inherit it.”

That should suffice. Young folks are in constant awe of our mysterious old place. We can parlay it into excuses for all kinds of outrageous and foolish behavior. But we do have to be careful. We do have our kryptonite. We have one weakness that can get us into a world of trouble.

And that is when young people suspect us of being senile. Be on the alert when they ask you questions like, “Hi Grandpa, do you remember me?” Or, “Grandpa, what year is it?” Or, “Grandpa, why do you wear velcro shoes?”

They’re trying to gauge your memory skills. So carry crib notes on you at all times. Learn how to fake it. There might even be a book for sale on Amazon on how to cover up dementia. Hell, if there isn’t, write one. If you can remember how to write.

The last thing you need is to be dragged away from the comfort of your own house, to spend the rest of your life in some pissy, stinky nursing home. There’s too many old people at those places, and you might even have to share a room with one of them.

Never forget: It’s far better to live in the mysterious old place, than the crappy old place. So be wise, and keep the mystery alive!

Dick’s Place

My wife and I took a trip to the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Or as I like to call it, Dick’s Place.

My wife has an interest in Dick. Her grandmother was a friend of his mother. They were next-door neighbors who visited over the fence and talked about their hobby. Which was, raising exotic roses. And which no doubt involved some one upsmanship. This was when the Nixons lived in Whittier, California.

Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin that he helped his father build. Similarly, President Nixon was born in this farmhouse in 1913. His father built it in 1912, with young Dick’s assistance.

Impressed? I thought not. Okay, enough with the name-dropping. But maybe I can impress you with some research. As part of our visit to this academic oasis, I did a little research on our ex-prez. Here’s the real story on the rise and fall of Dick:

Our 37th President was actually born in Yorba Linda, California, and this is where his library is located. The Nixons had a citrus ranch and raised lemons. But they were squeezed out of business when Dick was nine. His family moved to Whittier, where they bought a gas station and small grocery store. They took Dick with them.

I suppose this is how Dick learned how to turn lemons into lemonade. His beginnings were humble and hardscrabble. His family struggled. When Dick was 14 his older brother fell ill with tuberculosis, leaving him to step up to the plate and assist with the family business. He worked hard to help out, and no doubt learned a few of the dirty tricks for survival that all struggling people must learn.

While touring Dick’s Place, I turned down a shadowy hallway and got lost. Suddenly I happened upon a ghostly apparition of our former president, napping on a chaise lounge while pretending to work. He startled me, and my reaction startled him awake. He explained that as one gets older, one has a right to take naps more and more often, to make up for all the hard work they did when young. I heartily concurred and found my opinion of this man doing a complete about-face. Dick’s ghost won me over in that precious moment.

Dick was no dickhead. He was sharp as the juice of pure lemon and got good grades in school. He impressed his rich grandmother, who fortunately died and left him a bequest to attend Whittier College. That served as a stepping stone to a full scholarship to Duke University School of Law.

Dick graduated Duke in 1937 and tried to get a job with the FBI. But he couldn’t pass the fortune-telling test, which predicted he would one day get into serious trouble with the federal law. So he had to settle for a position with a legal firm, as a practicing attorney.

A full-sized replica of the Oval Office, as it appeared when Dick was lodged in it. This is the selfsame desk that Dick used during his five-and-a-half years in office. LBJ allowed Kennedy’s famous Resolute desk to go on a traveling exhibition, and then be put on display at the Smithsonian. Jimmy Carter brought it back in 1977. This irresolution about the placement of the Resolute desk left Dick with the need to scavenge a replacement from another room in the White House.

World War II found Dick bored, flaccid, and craving action. He joined the Navy as a Lieutenant Junior Grade, and was soon immersed in the South Pacific Theater, heroically preparing manifests and flight plans, and supervising the loading and unloading of cargo from aircraft. He nearly received a Purple Heart from several paper cuts incurred on an especially busy day.

In 1946 a committee of frustrated Republicans wanted someone who could defeat incumbent Democratic Congressman Jerry Voorhis. One of the committee members knew Dick. Dick rose to the occasion and thoroughly fucked Voorhis, by painting him as a communist. Red-baiting was one of the first dirty tricks up Nixon’s sleeve, and it got him elected.

In 1948 Dick pulled out another of his dirty tricks by taking advantage of a crazy California election rule. He ran for, and won the DEMOCRATIC congressional primary. Under this crazy rule he also ran, and of course won the Republican primary. This allowed this incumbent to run unopposed for reelection. “None of the above” was not on the ballot, so naturally he won the general.

In 1950 Dick ran against Helen Gahagan Douglas for the U.S. Senate. He again relied upon red-baiting, and described her as “pink, right down to her underwear.” She riposted by calling him “Tricky Dick.” This epithet stuck with Nixon for the rest of his political career. But sadly, she and her pink panties lost anyway, and Tricky Dick became a Senator.

In 1952 a smoke-filled room of Republican bigwigs selected Dick as the running mate for presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower. They liked him for all his hard work fighting harmless American scapegoats dangerous suspected communists, while on the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Plus they thought he could help carry California.

Soon a huge scandal blew up, where Dick was accused of accepting bribes in the form of a slush fund from his supporters. Pressure mounted for him to resign from the campaign. But on September 23rd, 1952, Dick gave his famous televised Checkers speech, and won widespread sympathy and popularity.

In this speech he proclaimed that he would not resign, because was “no quitter”. And he lamented that he was just a man of modest means, and that the only gift from his supporters that he had accepted was a pet cocker spaniel that his daughter named “Checkers”.

Why it brought the populace to tears, and everyone suddenly loved Dick and liked Ike. They beat Adlai Stevenson and easily won reelection against the same Adlai in 1956. But then Dick’s long string of victories was torpedoed by a former PT boat commander.

Dick Nixon ran for President in 1960 and lost to John F. Kennedy by 84 votes. Electoral votes, that is. I won’t tell you the popular vote margin, because that doesn’t count in America.

In 1962 Dick ran against Pat Brown (Jerry Brown’s father) for governor of California. He was trounced, and after the election he announced his retirement from politics. He quipped that we wouldn’t have his dick to kick around anymore, or something in that vein.

Turns out, Dick really was a quitter.

But not for long. Good fortune once again smiled on this lemon picker from Yorba Linda, in the form of the Vietnam War, and the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. Dick rose again, and stood for election in 1968. He beat Hubert Humphrey by 110 votes and became President of the United States.

Bumper stickers from Dick’s presidential campaign of 1968. I wonder what happened to the “Honk If You Love Dick” sticker?

Dick ran under the promise of getting us out of the Vietnam War. Which he did, four years and 21,000 American lives later. He accomplished many other things also, and could have been considered one of America’s greatest Presidents–if it only hadn’t been for that other thing he did.

A short-timer’s combat helmet, in the Vietnam War. Apparently this soldier loved Vietnam so much he was counting the days until he could go home and tell his friends all about it. Photo of a photo from Picturing Nam: U.S. Military Photography of the Vietnam War, an exhibit organized by the National Archives and Records Administration, currently on display at Dick’s Place from 9/2/17 – 1/7/18.

He was the last progressive Republican president. Under today’s standards I think he’d be a screaming liberal. Here are some of the things we can thank our Dick for:

  • Reformed the Post Office Department by converting it into the modern day Postal Service. This included allowing postal unions to negotiate with the federal government for decent wages and benefits.
  • Implemented the desegregation of public schools.
  • Supported the Clean Air Act of 1970.
  • Formed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
  • Presided over the first landing of human beings upon the moon.

This is the actual phone Dick used when he called Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who at the time were taking a stroll on the moon. That’s space food in the middle, and a moon rock on the right.

On the left is the actual spacesuit used by Neil Armstrong when he walked on the moon for the first time. Depicted here, Neil and Buzz are on the verge of a great discovery when suddenly their phone rang.

  • Restored diplomatic relations with China.
  • Negotiated the SALT I treaty with the Soviet Union, limiting the deployment of nuclear weapons.
  • Prevented global thermonuclear war by helping Israel avert defeat in the Yom Kippur War.

So he was a man of many accomplishments, even when beset by scandal in his office.

In 1972 he won reelection by defeating George McGovern by 503 votes. But in that same year he used one of his dirty tricks to burglarize the Democratic Party’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. This was the dirty trick that broke Dick.

He spectacularly accomplished reelection, but spectacularly lost popular and political support. On August 8, 1974, Tricky Dick quit again, by resigning from the presidency.

Marine One. Dick flew a total of 125 times in this helicopter. This includes his final trip from the south lawn of the White House, where he famously waved goodbye from the door after resigning, while millions of Americans famously flipped birdies at their television sets.

He went from hero to zero in the last 18 months of his presidency, and transmogrified into the most reviled personage of our country. Everybody hated Dick. That was the popular thing to do.

These masks became popular on Halloween after Dick resigned. To this day they sell well every October, for reasons that confound all Halloween mask experts.

But in the 1980s and 90s Tricky Dick rehabilitated his image. He served as an ad hoc advisor and diplomat to Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. By 1986, a Gallup poll ranked Dick as one of the ten most admired men in the world. Suddenly, everybody loved Dick again.

On April 22, 1994, Dick Nixon died from a stroke. He was buried beside his wife, Patricia, at his presidential library in Yorba Linda, California. Dick’s Place.

Pat and Dick enjoyed a lifelong romance. Dick felt devastated after she passed away and he followed her, with his broken heart, ten months later. Strange presidential trivia: She was ten months older than him, so their lifespans were almost identical in length, with Dick living only five days longer.

Whatever you think of Dick now, don’t forget that we are all a basket of contradictions. There was much good in the man, in spite of the deplorable.

We can take comfort from his humble origins, in knowing that anyone in America is capable of great success. You don’t have to be the child of a millionaire tycoon.

We can also take comfort from his downfall. We see that when someone in America abuses their authority, and cheats, lies, and covers up, they can be held accountable, no matter how rich or powerful they are. (Okay, somewhat accountable. After all, he was pardoned.)

Let’s hope we continue taking comfort in knowing these things.

Death with honor.

Samuel Wilson

[Note: this is a cheap rewrite of a post from last year. If you remember it, you become eligible for a drawing to win a prize. The prize will be a chance to enter a drawing for a drawing to win the drawing of the prize that was first drawn.]

Samuel Wilson was a middle child, born the seventh of thirteen children. He came to this world near Boston, Massachusetts, on September 13th, 1766. So today is his 251st birthday. Happy birthday, Samuel Wilson!

Samuel Wilson, 1766-1854

But just who was Samuel Wilson? And why the hell would we want to give a damn about his birthday?

Well, to start off with, he was a solid American, and the descendent of one of the oldest families of Boston.

When he was a boy his family did what many American families have done. They moved, searching for greener pastures. And so they left Massachusetts and resettled in New Hampshire.

Around the same time our nation was born, and war came to the colonies. There are many things that can kill children before they reach adulthood, and war is one of them. Samuel took the risk. He joined the Revolutionary Army at age 14. But seven months later the war ended and he returned home alive, a war veteran at age 15.

Adventure has also been known to kill people at a young age. But Samuel was willing to take that risk, also. At age 22 he caught the traveling spirit, and he and his brother, Ebeneezer, headed west on foot. They settled in the pioneer town of Troy, New York.

Samuel and Ebeneezer teamed up in Troy and started a family business. At first they invested their sweat and energy into making bricks. The hard work didn’t kill them, and after this success they moved on to the laborious trade of meatpacking.

Then the brothers made a risky business decision. They leased some land along the Hudson River and built a dock. Now they were able to ship meat to buyers downriver, and throughout the country. And the risk paid off. The two men prospered. Soon their business grew so large it employed about 200 people.

Samuel Wilson got rich, living the American dream.

Many men wait until they’ve proven themselves before they start a family. At age 31, Samuel’s new fortune emboldened this rich bachelor to travel back to New Hampshire and marry Betsey Mann. She was the daughter of Captain Benjamin Mann, a Revolutionary War hero who fought at Bunker Hill. Samuel brought Betsey back to Troy, and they began adding new little Wilson citizens to the town’s population.

Prosperous family members tend to attract other family members (quite a few being leaches). And so it happened with the Wilsons and the Manns. Many of their numerous extended family members relocated, so that before long the town of Troy was abustle with brothers, sisters, cousins, in-laws, nephews, and nieces of Samuel and Ebeneezer. Samuel didn’t mind. In fact, he liked it when his little nephews and nieces saw him on the street and called out to their uncle. He was an affable man, and very family-oriented.

In fact, his avuncular ways were popular even with those who were not related to him. Samuel Wilson had become a beloved pillar of his community.

And then war broke out again. In 1812, the new United States declared hostilities against their old enemy, Great Britain. Britain was testing the muscles of our stripling nation.

Our military began recruiting, and the ranks of our army and navy swelled. And with all these new recruits came a new need. Food. The U.S. Government had to feed its growing military forces.

We often associate prosperity with peace. But it’s also quite available with war, at least for those who are strategically positioned. And Samuel and Ebeneezer were in just such a position. They subcontracted with a man named Elbert Anderson, from New York City, to provide meat from their meatpacking operation for troops in New York and New Jersey.

They stamped each barrel of meat with the initials “E.A.–U.S”. “E.A.” stood for “Elbert Anderson”. But what did the “U.S.” stand for? Nowadays it’s easy to assume it stood for the United States. But this was 1812. Our country was still very young, and so the initials “U.S.” were not quite so obvious to the average citizen.

One day a visitor to Troy asked a dockworker about the meaning of the “U.S.” initials. This dockworker was very familiar with the popular and avuncular Samuel Wilson, so he jokingly replied, “Why, Uncle Sam Wilson! It is he who is feeding the army.” Several bystanders overheard him, and they repeated the joke.

There was no internet in those days, but the phenomenon of things going viral is nothing new. It happened even back in 1812. And so it occured with the Uncle Sam joke. It went viral and spread all the way up and down the eastern seaboard. Before long, anything owned by the government and bearing the initials “U.S.” came to be called “Uncle Sam’s”.

And that is how Uncle Sam became the symbol of the United States.

Samuel Wilson died in 1854, at age 87. But Uncle Sam as a symbol continues to live on. His life is a fitting symbol of our country, because it represents the fortune that any American can achieve, with a willingness to take a risk, hard work, and some luck.

In 1961 the U.S. Congress recognized Samuel Wilson as the origin of Uncle Sam. And in 1989, Samuel Wilson’s birthday, September 13th, was designated by Congress as “Uncle Sam Day”.

So happy Uncle Sam Day! And happy birthday, Uncle Sam.

“Girls Don’t Fart”

“It must have been the dog. Girls don’t fart,” she stated as a matter of fact.

I scowled at the dog. He lowered his head and ears and wagged his tail at me. He suspected that for some reason he was in trouble.

“I don’t even like to say the word ‘fart’,” she added. “Farting is what boys do, and I’m not a boy. Don’t ever accuse me of farting, again!”

I averted my eyes from her outraged glare. I kicked the dog out and hung my head. I felt ashamed and embarrassed that I would have the nerve to accuse a girl of farting.

Girls are delicate little things who would never do something like that.

Of course girls don’t fart. Girls are like delicate flowers. They’re too dainty and feminine to do something as crude as that.

But a few minutes later I smelled it again. And the dog was outside. And I knew it wasn’t me.

That was the first secret I ever figured out about girls.

Funny Signs

When you want someone to take you seriously, put up a sign. Signs have all the authority of a deadpan official with zero sense of humor. So I always enjoy the irony when I find a sign that cracks me up. The following are a few such discoveries my camera and I have made over the years:

That’s okay, I’ve got some new clothes and shoes. Look out below!

It creates a safety hazard, you see. Makes the floors slippery.

But how else can anyone have fun riding in an elevator?

You may have guessed that I did not discover this sign in Utah.

So even if you’re too short to deface this sign, you must report your injuries.

I always get a little laugh out of this sign.

This sign appeals to rebels like me. Why, I could stare at it all day long.