Monday, June 23, 2008

Brilliant Anarchy

The world is now down two great thinkers and, let's face it folks, there weren't that many to start with.

Tim Russert and George Carlin present an interesting study in contrasts. Russert got us thinking by learning his subject's points of view and then taking the opposite position with a flow that was totally natural. He could move seamlessly from right to left and visit everywhere in between, all with an unassuming enthusiasm that often belied his questions' underlying toughness.

George Carlin never varied his position for the situation. Liberal anger and combative nonconformity were the swords he handled deftly. Mercilessly, too. No attitude or institution was safe. I didn't always agree with what he had to say - part of me wants to say I rarely did - and he frequently made me very uncomfortable and wanting to speak back to the television or radio. And I am grateful for that. I can't think of a single case in which he changed my mind about something, but he had a genius for making you push your emotions through the filter of your intellect, the way an espresso machine forces water through the coffee under pressure and you end up with something richer and stronger. When George Carlin got on a roll you had no choice but to gel and verbalize ideas you were satisfied with only feeling instinctively before that. It was no longer enough to figure out what you thought; out of self-defense you were driven to figuring out why you thought it. He recognized the irony of instant information becoming a superficial cover-up for an epidemic of unexamined lives, and he would have none of it.

A few years back, when Richard Pryor, another seminal comedian, passed away, some pious friends expressed mild outrage that such a fuss was being made over this comedian known for using crude language. I tried explaining that, well, there was content in between the salty expressions, but was rebuffed with some out-of-context biblical quote about "the word." Regular readers know matters of faith are important to me. That said, I am firm in my belief that you should run, and fast, from people who use expressions like "the word" with a self-satisfied, hands-folded piety that oozes the very divisiveness and hatred they say they're railing against from high atop their sanctimonious pedestals. (Not that I'm bitter about it.) I'd love to hear what they have to say about George Carlin.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Musings at the End of a Father's Day

From the great songwriter Harry Ruby came this:

"Today, father, is Father's Day, and we're giving you a tie.
It's not much, you know. It's just our way of showing you we think you're a regular guy.
You'll say that it was nice of us to bother, but it really was a pleasure to fuss.
For, according to our mother, you're our father. And that's good enough for us."

As one might reasonably expect, I'm thinking of fathers today. My own, of course, missing him much. Thinking good thoughts too for Mary, whose fine journal is one of my favorites, and of this being her first Father's Day without hers. And of other fathers I've observed, and the nature of fatherhood itself. Odd as it may seem, I was reminded of some of this by recent news coverage of a convicted hedge-fund swindler who, on his way to report to prison, parked his car on a bridge with a suicide reference written on the hood . No body has been found yet, and I'm fairly certain that when authorities do find it the heart will be beating and the body temperature will be something like 98.6 F.

Why does this remind me of fatherhood? It starts with my having the peculiar distinction of having known, or at least having been acquainted with, a man who spent nearly two years in the mid-1980's as No. 1 on the Federal Marshall's Most Wanted list. No joke. Multiple journal entries could be devoted in their entireties to his adventures/misadventures. For now it will do that while he was awaiting sentencing for taking about
$2.2 million from a Teamsters pension fund (remember, back then that was a lot of money), the news reported he had disappeared in a scuba-diving "accident" and was presumably killed. Now, the reaction you'd have if you heard most people you know were killed in a diving accident would be something like, "Wow. That, really terrible. How sad." In this case, my reaction - and that of most people to whom I spoke who also knew him - was "Yeah. Right." He was eventually found - tan, smiling, and running a chain of successful scuba-gear stores on the appropriately named Maldive Islands. (I suppose if a guy is dumb enough to steal from the Teamsters, he's dumb enough to live a conspicuous life while on thelam.) After his capture, I was struck by a newspaper article's mention of the love and loyalty his daughter, a lovely kid I knew while in high school, continued to demonstrate. I know she had to feel great hurt and shame, and yet - he was her dad. This was more than 20 years ago, and I still think about that. Not so much in terms of him, but in terms of her.

More fatherhood stuff, oddly timed too. In my office there's a bookshelf where people bring books they've finished reading so other people can borrow them. This past Friday, I saw someone had brought in Tim Russert's "Big Russ and Me," a book I'd been wanting to read about his relationship with and admiration for his father. When it was time to leave I picked up the book to put it in my bag, and stopped to read the forward. Thinking about my own father, I teared up a little at Russert's account of accepting an award at the American Legion in Buffalo, and calling his father up to give it to him instead in thanks for the values and courage he and this room full of old soldiers have lived and given us. Suitably moved, I left the office, and on the ride down in the elevator saw the item on the video screen about Russert's sudden passing at 58.

At Last I Understand

This started with song lyrics. Here are some more to finish. (I'm providing a link since the lyrics are under copyright.) They're from Bobby Russell, whose better known lyrics include "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," "Little Green Apples," and the inexplicably successful "Honey." These are from "Saturday Morning Confusion," one of those songs - "Is That All There Is" and "It Was a Very Good Year" being two others that come to mind - that you really don't understand till you get a whole bunch of years under your belt. Fatherhood in a nutshell...

And this to close...

A few weeks ago we were pulling out of the church parking lot after the service and were trying to decide where to go for lunch. My sons wanted Taco Bell.

Me: Did you bring your driver's licenses with you?
Them: No.
Me: Then we can't go to Taco Bell.
Them: Why not?
Me: Because if I eat at Taco Bell I'll keel over and die, and without your licenses you'd have no way to get home.
Them: You mean if we'd brought our licenses we could have gone to Taco Bell?

Happy Father's Day, everyone.