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It’s Not Wickedness, It’s Just a Choice

A famous writer of horror novels was supposedly asked; “You’re such a good writer, why do you write horror novels?” He supposedly answered; “Why do you think I have a choice?”

We watch people do stupid or wicked or evil things and wonder why they choose to do such things. Why do we assume they could choose to do anything else? Have we considered their options? Maybe their other choices are worse.

Let’s consider a hypothetical example.

Suppose a political party was faced with extinction. Their demographic was generally older and getting still older, generally white, and generally male. Their country was becoming increasingly younger and increasingly diverse; racially and sexually. The political power of their numbers was fading with no real prospect of preventing the eventual loss of monopoly of control. What are their choices?

Choice #1;

  • Change the party to enlarge the membership.
  • They could reach out to women; leave women’s health decisions in the control of the women involved, pay equally for equal work…
  • They could reach out to non-white people; support immigration reform, equalize access to medical services and equalize educational opportunities…
  • They could reach out to the LGBTQ population; end discrimination, stop talking about bathrooms…

It might work. It might gain voters. It might renew the party. It might.

But it would be a lot of work and it would take time and it would change the party.

The current membership of the party might not have the time or energy…or incentive to change the party. What’s in it for them?

Survival?

Perhaps…

But at this stage of maturing life, maybe long-range survival of party…or even country… isn’t as pressing an issue as clinging to the “bird-in-hand” for just a few more years. It’s good to be a senator. It’s good to be a majority leader. The offices are nice. The perks are killer. The stock tips are most highly useful. The dinners in Moscow on July 4th are real nice clambakes. Limos are nice. Insurance is great – better’n ObamaCare – hell, better’n Medicare – and a whole bunch better’n nothin’ at all. Pay’s good. Lots of time off. Hate to give it up.

Is there another choice?

Sure.

Choice #2;

  • Change the election rules. Suppress the vote.
  • Reduce the number of voting machines and locations.
  • Restrict absentee voting.
  • Reduce early voting.
  • Gerrymander voting districts to protect party members.

Or even;

Choice #3;

  • Launch an insurrection and kill a few people.

Whoa!

One can’t make good choices when every available choice is bad.

It’s not wickedness.

It’s just all that remains.

And one must choose.

Let’s Make a Deal

I’ve tapped my inside sources of Washington political doin’s for inside information for inside dope.

I live in Lexington, Kentucky, a bluish dot in a ruby red state. My votes count for little in a chorus of “I ain’t wearing no mask” chanters.

My connection to my red state senators consists of one Chamber of Commerce session listening slack-jawed to Rand Paul’s creepy musings about constraining welfare mothers, one Mitch McConnell political-donation harvesting event in a white mansion full of dark suits and dead animal heads, and an afternoon meeting in a small room in McConnell’s Washington digs with two of the myriad blonde young office ladies with whom I had made no appointment, listening to them earnestly explaining that my issues were Kentucky issues and that Senator McConnell tried to leave Kentucky issues to Kentucky elected officials while he concentrated on world issues.

These senators don’t call me with the inside scoop.

Nor do those myriad blonde young office ladies…but that’s probably for the best. Janie might hurt’em.

Mr. Trump calls me…often.

Well, he used to.

He was calling every night there for a few weeks. He stopped after I told him for the third time that the check was in the mail and perhaps he should reconsider that last brilliant hire he made for Postmaster General. I think he realized I was being a liar about the check. It takes one…

No, my inside info about Mr. Trump’s behaviors and motivations are divined from TV news, reporters’ and politicians’ twitter accounts, and newspapers (on-line)…

…and an afternoon seminar about 30 years ago.

It was a seminar by Herb Cohen, the author of YOU CAN NEGOTIATE ANYTHING. At the time I felt I was poor at negotiating and being left behind by my world because of it. Thus, I was in the group of listeners.

The first question asked of the speaker was predictable; “Can you really negotiate anything?”

The answer was one of the wiser and self-relieving things I’ve heard; “YES……but why would you want to?”

Damn straight.

Push, pull, strive, strain, fret, scheme, connive, cajole…when it matters. Otherwise, breathe an un-negotiated breath, and dance like nobody’s watchin’.

Another part of Mr. Cohen’s presentation has stayed with me and resurfaced this week as I watched Mr. Trump’s reactions to his electoral loss. Mr. Cohen described a negotiation using a picture of a scale (it was before power point had been foisted upon us). In order to move a scale in the desired direction, something must be added to the high side to raise the lower. Negotiations are like that. You have something I want. I must add something to my side that you want in order to move the scale.

It sounds so simple.

Why are we not seeing it in Mr. Trump’s recalcitrant behavior since the election?

The media says he’s pouting.

The media says he’s positioning himself for another run at the presidency.

The media says he’s establishing his legacy.

I don’t think so.

I think he’s adding to the scale.

What does he want?

  • He wants the Southern District of New York to leave him alone.
  • He doesn’t want to reveal his taxes.
  • He doesn’t want to go to prison.
  • He wants the Mueller Report/Steele Dossier/Russian collusion to be forgotten.
  • He wants his extortion of Ukraine to be forgotten.
  • He wants his frolics with Epstein to be forgotten.
  • He wants his payments to Stormy Daniels to be forgotten.
  • He wants his former aggressions against how many women to be forgotten.
  • He doesn’t want to go to prison.
  • He wants his kids and their spouses left alone.
  • He doesn’t want to go to prison.

His language to the president of Ukraine might go far to explain his actions since the election; “I’d like you to do something for us.”

  • You want to me to concede the election? I’d like you to do something for me.
  • You want me to stop challenging and denigrating our vote? I’d like you to do something for me.
  • You want me to allow and assist the transition to Biden? I’d like you to do something…
  • You want me to not purge the Pentagon? I’d like you to do…
  • You want me to not draw down the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq? I’d like…
  • You want me to send the Covid vaccine to New York? ……

Let’s remember this is the guy that wrote THE ART OF THE DEAL.

You want what’s behind door #3?

What’s it worth to ya?

A Face in the Fog

Movie Night!

Another stroll through Poverty Row, the tawdry low-low-budget collection of film studios that probably were not the stuff of which dreams were made.

Tonight it’s Victory Pictures’ 1936 ludicrous The Face in the Fog – a great title.

The movie…not so much.

But it has its charms;

  • It features bullets made from frozen water. The bullets melt after doing their damage, destroying the evidence (brilliant!), but amazingly survive for hours in the killer’s pocket before they’re used (stupid!).
  • There’s a theatre company terrorized by a hunchbacked villain called “The Fiend.” Well of course there is.
  • It features the classic death scene line; “I recognized him. It was…agh-h-h-h-!”
  • Our hero (an obligatory and intrepid newspaper reporter, engaged to marry the obligatory social editor) has to race to his desk to retrieve his pistol and his snap-brim chapeau before he can “follow that car!”
  • Said hero-reporter is accompanied by an obligatory and comedic dumb photographer. People once built careers playing this stock character. All my actor friends sitting idle in these pandemic days should be weeping now.
  • Beautiful and plentiful shots of great shiny cars with running boards and exterior-mounted spare tires are major moments in the flick. I’m not a car guy but these are knockouts and probably a single man’s ticket home.

All that…

All that……

…and it’s still pretty silly.

…frozen bullets…

I loved it.

Caravans

I was in Mexico and I saw the caravan.

Actually, I saw several.

My favorite was led by a decorated burro carrying a beautiful bride. The groom strutted beside her, followed by musicians, and formally-garbed family members and well-wishers. They sang. Yes – “Ay-i-yi-yi-i-i” rang in the narrow cobblestone street.

I sang too.

The caravan did not seem to be heading in a direction that threatened an invasion of my country and I admit to mixed feelings about that. This looked like a group of people that would make any country better.

The bride and groom were younger than, and the street was older than my country. I felt happily in between.

So, I sang too.

I was told a bit later by a cab driver that 28 weddings were taking place in San Miguel that day. 28 caravans not coming to invade the US.

I also saw a caravan of uniformed schoolchildren with backpacks released from school for the day. They ran, they screamed, they giggled…some of them even danced.

None of them demonstrated any invasive intentions.

One Sunday I was part of a caravan of gringo baby-boomers bouncing through the countryside to an open-air venue that featured killer tacos and a réchauffé of US rock from the 60’s. It was a real good time, but frankly, it felt more like an invasion than the other caravans I’ve described. Still, there was no threat in the air or on the news…just Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs in Spanish.

I know there are serious sadnesses in our hemisphere that need to be addressed.

But there are also celebrations to be had around every corner if we are open to them. Fear and threats and lies will deny us the celebrations while doing naught to assuage the sadnesses.

I was in Mexico and with me was spring.

I returned home where spring was imminent.

I vowed to celebrate that spring…and sing…and find me some killer tacos.

Frettin’ in San Miguel

“You learn a lot when you travel.”

“Travel makes you a bigger person.”

“Travel broadens…”

Yadda yadda yadda…I have heard all the travel bromides my whole life and I believe them.

Then why do I hate it so?

Fretting.

To travel today is a banquet of fret.

I fret about tickets and time and baggage and passports and house sitters and currencies. It does not spark pleasure.

In my work life, I believe the most important thing I was paid to do was to fret. I fretted over every store, every day. I fretted about employees’ attendance. I fretted about inventory. I fretted about equipment. I fretted about the weather forecast.

It’s hard habit to break.

So…

This week Janie and I are traveling and it has triggered my almost subdued fret habit.

Now I’m fretting over hiccups and bird poop.

However, we’re here now. The traveling part is over until we return.

The city is old and beautiful, the weather’s perfect, the food’s fine, and the company has been sparkling.

Plus I’ve picked up some Spanish.

“Hiccup” is “hipo.”

“Fret” is “inquietarse.”

“Bird poop” is “caca de pajaro.”

You do learn a lot when you travel.

Butterfly’s Relentless Pizzicato

I experienced Puccini’s Madama Butterfly for about the 50th time; three live productions, two radio broadcasts, and countless various recordings. Since I first heard a Met Saturday broadcast performance in my teens, I don’t believe any years have gone by that I haven’t least experienced “Un Bel Di” at least once. I look forward to another 50.

It’s not my favorite opera. It’s not even my favorite Puccini. It’s only a perfect story, told to perfect music. It is of small things and huge ideas. It crashes planet-spanning cultures into each other. It pits religions against each other. It stirs ancient needs and passions (pure and sullied, exalted and mundane). It hints that miracles can happen, and replies to itself that usually they don’t. It does all this in one house with a garden, on a hill, near the port of Nagasaki.

It is inevitable and cruel;

– Give up your child.

– He will not return.

– You cannot grow.

– You are alone.

But…

-There are seasons.

-The cherry tree blossoms.

– The ships in the harbor keep coming.

– The pizzicato in the orchestra at the end of Act II will…not…stop…

It’s a story I could tell you in an hour, so of course an opera will tell it in three hours.

So what?

To be told a story artfully, to hear and feel music and startling word choices, to revel in the joy of knowing someone of my species thought of this and wrote it down…for me…is not a thing that cries to be hurried.

I hope I will always have time for Butterfly. Otherwise, why bother to resist?

…the…pizzicato……will………not…………stop……………

Alaska Daydreaming?

Some pondering on a cool evening before a fine summer in Lexington…

I recently passed my anniversary of my time with the Canadian-owned Liquor Barn. It has since returned to being a Kentucky-owned business.

The anniversary prompts me to meditate.

My last two years with the very large group that owned Liquor Barn involved a lot of travel. It probably wasn’t that much travel compared to other hardy folks, but to this fixed-footed Lexingtonian, it was too much travel. Boston, Mobile, Tampa, Montana, Chicago, San Antonio, Phoenix, Washington…and Alaska required visits. These are all places that have interest for me, but for a business trip…meh.

I hated the travel. For those who know me you know I try to use the word “hated” rarely and with deliberate thought. The air travel that was a delight in the 60-70’s has decayed from delight to ordeal. Hotels are amazing…but not my home. They try to substitute free breakfast, daily clean linens, and tiny plastic bottles of shampoo, for my wife, my critters, and my trusty roster of pizza delivery partners. LOUD BUZZER; thank you for playing.

Given that, I generally enjoyed my times in Alaska. There were things that stirred me to think;

  • Alaska’s young. They just recently celebrated their 100th anniversary. We have neighborhoods in Lexington twice that age. There are whole periods of architecture not present in Alaska because of that youth. To quote one of my favorite songwriters; “It feels like something’s bein’ born.” There were no buildings in Anchorage that didn’t scream; “We think this is the way to be, but check with us tomorrow, we may change our mind.”
  • Anchorage seemed often suffused by an “end-of-the-continent Western light.” I’m paraphrasing Jack Kerouac’s description of a late 1940’s San Francisco. When this happened in Anchorage, I felt like I was walking in a nickel postcard from the 1950’s, a fantasy ideal of possibilities, again quoting Kerouac; “What will happen! Hey!!”
  • Alaska is young but it lives in the shadow of instant destruction every day. Earthquakes and tsunamis…we don’t let those things affect our days in Kentucky.
  • The color pallet of Alaska seems to only include 12-14 shades of green, not the 1,248 we have in Kentucky. That’s a serious problem for me.
  • High humidity lingers for 15 minutes in Anchorage, not the four generations we occasionally live through in the Bluegrass State.
  • The distances that are part of Alaskans’ lives dwarf ours. No, they double dwarf ours. Their state capitol is a 750-mile flight over water away from their home, not a twenty-minute drive from my house. On clear days, Anchorage citizens can see Mt. Denali. That’s the equivalent of me walking out on my front porch and seeing Indianapolis. Damn!
  • Their mountains are towering, jagged, snow-covered, around the corner, and intimidating as hell. Ours are round, green, womb-like, enveloping, and seductive on the horizon.
  • Their nights are sharp and invigorating, challenging us to plunge ahead into the night’s adventures. Ours are soft, narcotic (thank you, Tom Waits), and contemplative, inviting us to go for a stroll with our ghosts.

All that being said, let me be clear; I enjoyed being in Alaska, not going to Alaska. It was a lo-o-o-ng journey for this geezer.

Ask Permission

“How can men embrace feminism and still be gentlemen?”

The question was posed by a male Facebook friend just now. I understand the consternation.

I like to open doors for women, especially my wife. They don’t need for me to do it. They’re certainly strong enough to open their own doors. In Janie’s case, she’s probably more capable than I am. She’s strong, like bull – and graceful like the dancer she is.

I love to hold Janie’s coat as she slips into it. She doesn’t need for me to do it. She’s far better at dressing herself than I am at dressing myself.

When we’re out, I like to hold her chair as she sits at dinner. She absolutely has no need for me to do so – strong and graceful, remember?

So.

Why do I do it?

For me.

It’s a feeble attempt to atone for all rude and stupid moments from the past. It’s an elementary school level reasoning; “if I’m nice to you today, maybe it makes up for one stupid and rude thing I did yesterday or five years ago.”

Of course it doesn’t, but for a moment, it feels like my world has been made a smidge better and that I was the agent for that improvement. That’s not a bad thing. A selfish thing perhaps, but not a bad thing.

But Janie and the other women in my life don’t need to participate in my atonement. Indeed, they may feel belittled by my “gentlemanly” actions.

So.

I try to ask for permission.

It may be a look. It may be spoken.

If it’s spoken, it’s a request, not an order. It’s “May I?” not “Let me.”

“Let me” implies “You need for me to do this for you.”

“May I” states clearly “I really would like to do this for you and you’d be doing me a personal favor by allowing me to do so.”

Would I want to do these courtly deeds for men as well as women? Yes! But permission from men is seldom given and the request, in any form, is most often resented.

Am I over-thinking this?

Probably.

It’s my gift.

I’ll simplify it.

In every happy and life-enhancing and guilt-free experience I’ve had with the opposite sex, permission was asked. Thus, my two-word answer to the question; “How can men embrace feminism and still be gentlemen?” is;

Ask permission.

Pitino Musings

A “Lex-patriot” friend (temporarily living in the Northwest until he inevitably is drawn back to where he belongs), prompted by recent FBI/NCAA headlines, asked me this week what I thought of Rick Pitino. The quick and easy answer that slipped into my mind was a quote from that source of all wisdom, Facebook;

“It’s complicated”.

But it’s not really.

The Italian restaurant incident, the basketball dorm stripper parties, the big-dollar payments to lure college basketball talent, and a couple of un-admirable experiences related to me by local business friends that occurred during Mr. Pitino’s University of Kentucky career are more than enough evidence to convince me that I would not want a child of mine to grow up to be like him. And isn’t that the bottom line of what a coach ought to be?

… << ahem >> …isn’t that what an adult ought to be?

…… <<double ahem>> ……isn’t that what an adult ought to expect from another coach/adult?

…or even demand?

So.

Why is it complicated?

I believe we are profoundly confused about sports.

Except in some movies and imaginary decadent Rome, sports are not existential. They’re games. They’re amusements. We should not be so serious and somber about players kneeling (or not), whether replay is a good thing or not, whether “one-and-done” is the best strategy in basketball or sketchy restaurants. It’s a GAME, ferchrissakes! Nobody’s gonna die…well, maybe at the sketchy restaurant.

There are, right now, possibly existential things happening the world;

  • North Korea’s belligerence.
  • Russia’s clear-to-anyone-with-half-a-mind cyber-attack on our country.
  • Climate change.
  • Too many folks anguishing over pieces of cloth (flags and masks) while hundreds of thousands die.

Sports is not one of them.

Yet sports is what we dwell upon overmuch.

I’m guilty.

I find myself living and dying 15 times a night during UK Wildcat games. My seeming life and death held in the hands of five to six young men who were trying to garner a date to the senior high school prom nine months ago. As passionate as I am, part of me knows it’s just me being foolish…and I’m usually entertained by my own foolishness.

I may alternately rave or moan about baseball and “my beloved Reds”, but that’s just me being romantic and nostalgic…and perhaps…dare we say…old.

But it’s just a game.

Except…

There was a time in Lexington in 1989 when things were about as depressing as things could be. The UK basketball team had justifiably been spotlighted by Sports Illustrated magazine with a cover story headlined; “Kentucky’s Shame”. A player had been recruited to UK’s team with dollars direct. Maybe not the amounts bandied about today, but it was the existence of the deed, not the amplitude. The coach was removed, the athletics director left as well, the offending assistant was ostracized, and the program laden with appropriate penalties. Players left. Gloom and guilt signed long leases in the community.

At an initial press conference, the new athletic director at UK, C. M. Newton introduced his choice as the new coach, Rick Pitino.

Pitino’s confidence and his demeanor at that first press conference changed everything in my home town. Belief and will kicked gloom and guilt out of their digs. Mr. Pitino took the remaining Kentucky players (who were almost all from Kentucky) and over the next 24 months made them into the best versions of themselves. He took them from “shame” to one shot away the Final Four, and took Lexington along for the ride.

No, I would not want a child of mine to grow up to be like him.

But I will always be grateful for what he did for my home town.

It was unforgettable.

Absolutely!

I’m not much on absolutes – haven’t had much luck with ‘em.

I’m not sayin’ there aren’t any – but there’s certainly not many, and most of the ones I uncover seem to be negative.

There’s death and taxes…and of course, my dancing abilities. I think we can all stipulate to the absolute awfulness of those.

But practically speaking, it’s real hard to find principles that work every time in every situation.

That said, I have one modest, but useful absolute to offer that has never failed…thus far.

ANNIHILATION PREVENTION STRATEGY (APS, if you must)

There are four steps;

  1. Identify and locate all things nearby that tend to explode and/or burst into flame.
  2. Don’t stand next to them.
  3. When implementing #1, err on the side of instant assumptions, right or wrong.
  4. When implementing #2, err on the side of alacrity and distance, right or wrong.

I know this sounds like a solid recipe for a dull and unadventurous life, but the key word here is “life”.

This has worked for me…always…thus far.

By the way, the same steps work for emotionally combustible people.

Absolutely.