Thankful, grateful, hopeful

Recent Thanksgivings have found me in this spot musing on watching my Facebook feed as people debate being ‘thankful’ versus being ‘grateful’ – a semantic back-and-forth that, due to being the writer and English I am, I have taken more than cursory interest in.

This year, as you might expect, is quite different in tone, due in large part to our recent election.

Not terribly unusual in-and-of-itself, but this year is different; the divisions and emotions are far more raw, due in large part to two very unpopular (by most everyone’s estimation) presidential candidates, and, I believe due also to the fragile psyche of the American populace. Politics has always been partisan; our reaction doesn’t have to be, and if we are being honest, should not be. – if we, as America, are who we claim to be.

This Thanksgiving, there are too many people who will not be spending time with family directly because of the way people they normally break bread with did, or did not vote this election.  Some people have made the choice to stay away on their own, others have been asked to not come, to not be part of the divisiveness, many are staying away from traditional settings to not expose their children to familial discord that, for whatever the reasons, can’t or won’t be controlled or curtailed in the name of family.

Therein lies a new, great American tragedy.

There are those of us who will not be with family today due to simple geography or finances – absent by circumstance, not choice.  Others will be missing from their spot at the table because of service to others; military personnel, first-responders, medical workers.  The list is substantial.

Those who are distancing themselves by choice because of politics may have very legitimate concerns; previous history of conflict, distrust, old wounds people do not want reopened.  Some may have underestimated the capacity of family members to not engage in dinner table divisiveness, and some are so angry they are staying away out of pure rage.

More is the pity.

Most of us who lived an appreciable amount of life have come to realize that sometimes there are no second chances, there will be no next year’ or even ‘next time’ – or even tomorrow. Nothing is guaranteed except that many of those who will not be with family this year, by choice or by circumstance, will not have another opportunity to make it up; life just doesn’t work that way.

There are no do-overs.

My family and I fall into the because-of-logistics-and-finances not-being-withfamilyy category; distance, travel time and cost are the only things keeping us from being with loved ones today, and even were that not the case, we would be with family knowing full well that the political divide would be wider than the array of foods lining the center of the table.   But we would work through it, civilly and hopefully without lasting damage.  Come Christmas, we will hopefully prove that theory.

Which brings me back to the thankful-versus-grateful issue that I first dove into a few years back.

Curiosity drove me to Merriam-Webster where I found that being thankful and being grateful have some very unique connotations, to wit:

To be thankful is to be conscious of benefit received.

To be grateful is be appreciative of benefits received.

The distinctions are important. Am I conscious of the blessings in my life? I hope so. Am I grateful and appreciative? That is something I ponder.

Consciousness is pretty straightforward, and my list is a lengthy one starting with my loving, healthy family; wife, sons, daughter, son-in-law and grandson. My extended family and in-laws. Friends old and new. Health, shelter, a full pantry and refrigerator. For a loving G-d, for a country where I can live freely. These are some of the people and things I am conscious of and thankful for, but rarely think of in such terms as thankfulness. Except on days like today.

Am I appreciative of all of these things? Probably not as much as I could or should be.

Bigger picture. There is much, as Americans, that we are conscious of, and should be thankful for, but I think take mostly for granted. In 1943 Norman Rockwell painted an iconic series of oil paintings entitled The Four Freedoms; Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. Those are enduring things that resonate (or at least, should) more strongly today than ever.

four-freedomsThere is nothing new or unique about these musings on what to be thankful for; every fourth Thursday of the year we are awash platitudes from various points and perspectives, Hallmark cards to social media, everything in between. Hence the debate I alluded to: are we thankful, or grateful.

Thankful or grateful? We all know we should be one or the other for something or another – our culture tells us so every November.

Still, when it comes right down to it…

I am grateful today for my life, what it is today and what it was and who it was that got me here: family, friends, mentors, past and present. I am grateful today for the memories of those who have been a part of my life at every step, but who are no longer here physically. I am thankful to live in a time and a place where technology allows old friends to find me, new friends to enrich my life. The ability of all of them to reach out in support – theirs and mine. To ask for and offer advice and comfort, to share a laugh or kind word when most needed.

I am grateful and thankful for the love of family. They help teach me humility, to see beyond myself.

I am thankful for the children in my classroom, for they teach me patience and understanding.

I am grateful and thankful for friends who are hurting and who have suffered loss, for they teach me compassion, and allow me to share it.

I am grateful for the gift of discernment, which allows me to see where I can do better, understand that I always can.

Mostly I am thankful and grateful for G-d’s grace in my life, as all of the things I am thankful for and appreciative of stem from that grace. I am happy and blessed to be who I am, where I am today. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.

Peace.

Mark,
Thanksgiving 2014, 2015, 2016

The Bird

Thanksgiving 1979 found me in living in on my own in Marshalltown, Iowa and working at KDAO radio. I was going to be working on Thanksgiving, but what was cool was that my friend Rick Hunter was going to be joining me, on his holiday break journey home to Colorado from chefcollege life in Minnesota.

An actual guest! A real opportunity to make a full-fledged Thanksgiving!  A couple of cookbooks supplemented with phone calls home to mom in Denver to help iron out some nuances and I was ready. I was nineteen and knew my way around a kitchen, having worked in a professional one for most of my high school years.

O.K., I was a dishwasher. Stil, I picked up more than a few tricks-of-the-trade.

With Rick scheduled to arrive sometime Wednesday, I thought I could get a lot of stuff done on Tuesday. Mom had confirmed my planning, but she also added a key point: thawing the bird. My initial plan was to pick up the turkey on Wednesday and be ready to go, but mom cautioned that thawing was a time-consuming process, that should start on Tuesday at the latest.

The bird.

As a Thanksgiving gift from the radio station, every staff member got a fifteen dollar gift certificate to the local Fareway store, and a gift certificate for a free, ‘up-to- twenty-pound’ frozen turkey.

Perfect.

The gift certificate covered the bulk of the non-poultry essentials: cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green beans, and gravy. Marshmallows, a box of instant mashed potatoes, a pumpkin pie, an apple pie, a package of a dozen (big) bakery chocolate chip cookies. Rolls, a jar of olives, a jar of pickles, a bag of Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing and a pound of Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage so I could duplicate my mom’s fabulous sausage stuffing rounded out the grocerieslist.

We also needed appetizers: cheese, sausage and crackers.  Just like mom would do it at home.  I also picked up a bulbous turkey baster, a six-pack of Coca-Cola, and a disposable aluminum turkey roaster. Fifteen bucks went a lot farther in 1979 than it does today. My out-of-pocket was less than three bucks.

Oh yeah. The bird.

Getting a free turkey was a big deal. Small market radio was not lucrative. Plus, popping into a store with a gift certificate from the radio station was a sign of small town prestige and celebrity. The dang things were a full sheet of parchment, like a stock certificate. People at the store knew who you were.

The key phrase here was  ‘up-to-20 lbs.’ This, of course, meant I could have chosen pretty much any turkey, but in my 20-year-old mind, the gift certificate screamed, ‘Free twenty pound turkey’.

Never look a gift bird in the mouth.

I picked out a prime, nineteen pound, ten-ounce bird; the twenty pounders all gone by the time I showed up at the store Tuesday afternoon. Arriving home as pleased hunter-gatherer, my next turkeyraw1order of business was to get that rock-solid bird thawed.

Dilemma one.

My apartment was on the third floor of an old bread factory where the former executive offices had been made into apartments. The rooms were spacious, with high ceilings, funky old moldings, and big water and steam pipes snaking their way through the place. But in redeveloping, they furnished the kitchen like an efficiency apartment; the gas stove was one of those old, narrow jobs with burners so close together, that if you were cooking more than one stove-top item at a time, you could only use small saucepans and angle the handles oddly so they would stay on the stove. The single compartment porcelain-sink-on-legs was so small the plastic dish drainer I got when I first moved in barely fit in it.

Where to thaw a 19-10 bird?

The refrigerator was small and filled with other stuff. I had a cheap, Styrofoam cooler the turkey dwarfed – that left the bathtub. What they had skimped on in the kitchen, they made up for in the bathroom: a Chester-Arthur-sized, cast iron, claw foot tub with single spigot that took roughly 20 minutes to fill to take a bath in. Or to get enough water to cover a twenty pound turkey to thaw.

Dilemma solved, provided I didn’t need to bathe.

The bird bobbed placidly in the filled tub, though I periodically had to refresh the water level. The rubber drain stopper was cracked and not very efficient, and the large, cast iron radiator next to the tub accelerated evaporation.

I called mom to update her on my progress to date, commenting about the hassle of filling the tub to thaw the bird.

“Couldn’t you just put it in the refrigerator or a cooler?” she asked quizzically.

“Nope” I replied, “It wouldn’t fit.” There was a pause.

“Well, how big is the turkey?” I told her about my free, nineteen-pound, ten-ounce bird. There turkeyraw1ewas another pause.

“What the hell are you doing with a twenty pound turkey!?” I knew that tone of exasperation.

“It’s what the station gave me.”

“For two people!? I thought it was a gift certificate. Couldn’t you pick out your own turkey!?”

“Yeah, I did. It was a gift certificate for a twenty pound turkey – so that’s what I got.”

“Oh, Mark!” She was trying to be cross. She was snickering (sort of) as I heard her turn away from the phone and exasperated, tell my father, “Mark has a twenty pound turkey for he and Rick.”

I heard my father reply dryly, “I hope they like turkey sandwiches.”

My mother then calmly tried to explain to me that even for the six guests she was expecting on Thursday, she did not have a twenty-pound bird, and that I had better make sure I had plenty of aluminum foil to wrap leftovers in.

foil(Extra foil had not been on my shopping list. I ended up needing two full large rolls of Reynolds Wrap.)

Wednesday arrived, as did Rick. The bird continued to bob and thaw.

My Thursday plan was to wake up early enough to get the turkey in the oven, prep whatever else I could, get to the station for my 10-to-2 shift, come home, watch some football and hang with Rick, and feast.

Getting the turkey in the oven was the biggest issue.

As noted, my oven was narrow. I plucked the bird from the tub, and began prepping it by cleaning it, taking out the gizzards, buttering it, seasoning it, stuffing it, etcetera, without incident. Rick awoke, joined me in the kitchen, observed the scenario and said, matter-of-factly, “Is that thing going to fit?”

Well, wasn’t that spatial.

The turkey didn’t fit – at least not at first shove. Fortunately, I had a disposable aluminum roaster and the sides were pliable enough to be bent on both sides, plus get scrunched up against the back of the stove. It took some extended shoving and pan bending, but we got the bird into the oven without getting ourselves burned.

That oven was wall-to-wall turkey.

A good turkey needs to get its moisture regularly, and I had devised a plan that would benefit everyone: the ‘KDAO Bird Watch.’

JackLaLanneEvery twenty minutes on-air I would announce “It’s KDAO Bird Watch time!” and remind people that it was time to ‘baste those birds’ – leading them through the process ala Jack LaLane with the mantra, “And baste, one…two…three! Baste! One…two…three…” as I then smoothly segued into the next record. Sometimes we basted on the beat of the music.

(It was a public service and programming success to the extent that, much to the bewilderment of Paul, the guy on after me got phone calls of complaint when he failed to announce the bird watch every twenty minutes, and he was also later blamed by some listeners for dried out birds.)

It was one fine, juicy turkey we indulged in that afternoon….save for the leather-tough burns on the outside of each drumstick, where they had spent their roasting time shoved up against the walls of the oven.

We ate, watched football, called high school friends in Colorado, ate some more. On Friday, Rick hit the road for Colorado with a load of turkey sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and I can’t remember what else. If memory serves, he took the offered sandwiches grudgingly, as he appeared to be turkeyed out. Me? I had no such qualms…until about mid-December.

turkeydoneTo this day, I enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers almost more than the initial meal.

Mom was right about the foil, dad the sandwiches. Every last nook and cranny of my meager freezer was stuffed with turkey (pun intended) and the last frozen pack made its way out for freezer-burned consumption on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, 1980.

My best advice for a successful Thanksgiving feast? It’s pretty simple, kids: “Baste! One…two…three! Baste! One…two…three…””

The week that was, the now that is

Let me tell you about my week. The fact that I did not like the outcome of the presidential election pales in comparison to what many of the people in my life are feeling, as I am, but being a middle-aged white guy, I am admittedly somewhat insulated from a lot of the garbage being strewn about the country.

Let me tell you a bit about my situation. I am in my ninth year of teaching in the inner city of New Orleans, having left twenty-plus years in the business world behind in 2008 to help rebuild the educational system here post-hurricane Katrina. My school’s student body is roughly ninety-eight percent African-American, with a smattering of Hispanic students.

This week, I have hall duty both before and after school, in the main entry area on the second floor. Wednesday morning, somewhat sleep deprived, I was on my post when the first bell rang, allowing students in. It took less than thirty-seconds.

“Mr. Lucker! Did you vote for Donald Trump?” The young woman’s anger and fear were palpable. “Mr. Lucker you voted for Donald Trump, didn’t you?!” came from another young woman, not one of my students, but who knew who I was. Her anger was much more accusatory. To both young women, and the others that followed over the next ten minutes, I could only sadly shake my head ‘no’. Then I had to get to my homeroom full of seniors, who were waiting outside my locked classroom, unusually subdued. I greeted them, unlocked the door, we went inside.

I only have the seniors for twenty minutes a day, but we have gotten to know each other pretty well. Many had asked me previously if I would be voting for Mr. Trump, so their reactions were not directed at me, but they did vent over the outcome of the previous night. I tried my best to placate them, with little success.

“Donald Trump is going to put us in concentration camps!” “The police coming after everybody now! Because of Trump” “He is going to arrest Obama!” There was plenty more from my group of nineteen, but that was the gist of my homeroom group. Except for one young man, a quiet, thoughtful kid who was obviously in pain. His reflection on events was focused on one specific point:

“He calls us ‘the blacks’.”

He said it a few times, but his classmates, into their own rants, were not hearing him. As their energy began winding down, he repeated his lament, and they all heard him: “He calls us ‘the blacks’.”

His classmates had no response. I could think of nothing to say. I still cannot come up with anything to tell this young man, as I have heard Mr. Trump use that phrase, I have seen the video clips; he likes to use ‘the’ when discussing various groups. Pointing this out, I felt, would sound like an excuse so I didn’t bother. Saying ‘I am so sorry’ crossed my mind, but that, too seemed like an excuse for something I would personally consider inexcusable.

I could only take a deep breath, sigh, and shake my head as I checked off the roll. My face, however, must have given something away.

“You O.k., Mr. Lucker?” A young woman was the first to ask, then young man, a usually jovial sort, asked as well. “No” I replied, still shaking my head, “Not really.” They nodded. Empathy knows no color. They are a cool bunch of kids. I am very proud to be their homeroom teacher.

The bell rang, and as they headed out the door we exchanged the typical ‘see you later’ and ‘have a good day’ salutations, though the mood was decidedly subdued.

My first period on Wednesday was, thankfully, my planning period, so I had a hundred minutes to work on class material and prepare, and to reflect. I think I got a fair amount done, but I was most assuredly distracted; by student’s words, their tones, their anger and angst. The tension in the hallways was palpable. I was grateful for the early morning downtime.

Then it was time for my first class of the day: sophomores. Fifteen, sixteen-year old tenth graders who are as far removed, maturity and intellectually from the seniors as one could possibly imagine; their anger and confusion is less easily contained, far more difficult to channel into constructive dialogue on even rudimentary classroom topics, so my expectations for issues were heightened.

The half-minute threshold of hall duty was a record quickly broken. “Mr. Lucker! Why you vote for Donald Trump?” “Mr. Lucker! You voted for that man! He’s racist!”

I simply said ‘good morning’ to everyone as usual, adding the admonition to ‘get in and sit down and we’ll talk about all of that’. The bell rang, I closed the door. They were clamoring for answers, yelling at me, to me, against me. Against the president they had just seen elected.

Getting them calmed down was an even bigger chore than usual. The class had an assignment on the smartboard, they had all grabbed laptops from the cart and were logging on; I encouraged them to focus on that while I took roll. Some students just wanted to log on, get to work and/or just be quiet and hide, but this was not the day to be a wallflower.

“Mr. Lucker! You voted for Donald Trump, didn’t you? I know you did!”

“O.k.” I stood in the front of the class, arms clasped behind me, rocking on the balls of my feet as I do when I am trying to get a group to calm a bit. I sensed a teachable-moment. “Just out of curiosity, why would you make an assumption like that?” The response was immediate, and from multiple sources. “Because you a white man!” I nodded, shook my head and sighed.
“First of all, don’t be racist in my classroom.”
“I aint being racist!”
“We have talked about this; if you make an assumption about someone just based on their color, in my opinion, you are being racist.” This took some of the wind out of their sails; we have had that discussion.

“Wait!” said one girl, an always vocal class leader. “You DIDN”T vote for Trump?!”
“I did not.” The class was buzzing. They looked at each other, puzzled.
“Are you telling us the truth?”
“Yes, I am.”
“You did. Not. Vote. For. Donald. Trump?!” It was the vocal girl, her skepticism in full bloom.
“I did not, and would not. Not ever.”

My sophomores calmed down somewhat, many of them started in on their assignment from the board. Some kept chatting, a few just angrily muttered epithets as they got to work. A few repeated concerns shared by the seniors and added a few: ‘arrest all of us’ ‘send us away’ ‘send us back to Africa’ and ‘he’s going to build walls around the hood’ to name some of the favorites.

A short time later, the principal came on the P.A. with an announcement that Hillary Clinton would be shortly making her consolation speech, and if we wanted to air it, it might help calm some folks down to hear some reassuring words. She also noted that president Obama would be speaking at noon. My students wanted to watch it all, so I told them if they could keep working, we would watch it. I pulled up the CNN feed, keeping the volume off until Tim Kaine got up to introduce Ms. Clinton. We watched, they were mostly attentive, but confused.
“Why are those people cheering her? She lost!”
“Why is she making jokes? She lost!”
“Why are those people laughing? She lost!”
“Man, Donald Trump is a racist!”

After Clinton spoke, the students wanted to watch the president, but class was about to end, and it was time for students to go to lunch. They put away their laptops, filed out quietly – for them – and I too, went to lunch.That afternoon, my two classes of tenth graders followed pretty much the same pattern; my ‘good afternoon’ greetings answered with accusatory electoral assumptions, followed by getting kids in, relatively settled, and telling them the same thing:

That afternoon, my two classes of tenth graders followed pretty much the same pattern; my ‘good afternoon’ greetings answered with accusatory electoral assumptions, followed by getting kids in, relatively settled, and telling them the same thing:Don’t be a racist in my classroom.

Don’t be a racist in my classroom.We had no speeches to watch for the last two cases, but the kids were asking a lot of the same questions, having watched it in other rooms; why is she laughing, why are they cheering, Trump is a racist, etc.

We had no speeches to watch for the last two cases, but the kids were asking a lot of the same questions, having watched it in other rooms; why is she laughing, why are they cheering, Trump is a racist, etc.

Thursday found us with a fresh day, but more of the same – though more subdued in nature. Generally. My hall duty followed the same pattern, my homeroom was still agitated, though a few could at least joke a bit about ‘all being locked up’ and my sophomores (three different groups, as we are on an A/B day schedule) still angry and questioning –of me and the fates in general.

Friday found us all running emotionally empty, with even the really vocal ones protesting seemingly having lost their energy to do more than just throw out a few f-bombs with the new presidents name attached. A few kids incredulously mentioned that they heard the KKK was going to have a parade for Trump, which I thought might ignite some verbal fireworks, but again, everyone was pretty much out of gas.

The longest three days of my teaching career, no contest.

The months ahead, I am afraid, promise more of the same, on different levels, with varying degrees of bewilderment, anger and apprehension taking root like weeds in parking lot pavement cracks; randomly, expectedly and at times both colorful and curious, but an unseemly nuisance. Very organic, and totally expected.

It is a different time we now live in, let me tell you.

Onward

Faded are July’s warmth, summer’s cheers. Supplanted now by sundry, encroaching hints of cooler days; forgotten expectations, procrastinated chores now mothballed, he can only now muse without dwelling on what won’t be. Could-have-beens and maybes aren’t statistically meaningful; they never po2really were, except to others in relation to their expectations and dreams on his behalf.  The math was never his thing – nebulous nature of those with good intentions notwithstanding.  Regret is not something that taints him; he does not feel his talents wasted. He recalls every crucial moment as it was, for what it was.

Unburdened by excuses, unwilling to pass blame. Treasured character trait; a gift not wasted.

It was what it was, nothing more to be read into any of it. Done with. Droll, philosophical meanderings passé. He did what he had to and could – more than expected, less than some feared – and it has all come down to this: seasons of joy, of youth, of expectations – dwindled. He takes energy and solace in their uncertainty of numbers. Youth cannot serve that master. He revels in coming autumn and finds it no burden as winter creeps in to bury and renew. Spring will be welcome, but no more or less than its brethren. Seasons, as is their nature, gladly provide strategic resets.

No, it was not always this clear.

Memories are not sustenance; this he knows for fact. Cheers he once accepted have faded, substitutes and replacements have taken his place on various stages. He knows as many have forgotten as remember him. The field of honor which he once ruled by force and triumphant jousting he now benevolently maintains, in supportive peace. The thought occurs that maybe the soul is autumn grass; wearily vibrant, going wearily dormant by design. Ingrained need of a respite.  The patriarch emeritus he imagines smiles in triumph, allowing for sly winks to various fates.

He zips his coat, turning its collar turned upward against the gathering, refreshing winds of fall. He leans willingly, comfortably into the loving embrace of the breeze, securing  his resolve. The air is quiet, save the wind. He is at peace with the simple knowledge that spring will, someday, for whatever it’s own reasoning, return.

But for now, time is pleasingly in his comfortable grasp; he now understands its tenuous and uncontrollable nature. Time can be tucked safely away like a pocket watch in a vest, allowing him to stroll through the lovely, dark, and deep woods without fear of reprisal from any promises not kept.

– Mark L. Lucker
© 2016
http://lrd.to/sxh9jntSbd

Still politicking me off

I originally wrote this back in 2010 – not a presidential year, but still rather volatile, politically. Stumbling across it again now, I wondered if my gripes then differed from today.  I’ll let you be the judge, though I have added a few more contemporary comments, in bold italics.

October, 2010

I recently had a firsthand experience that outlines just how acutely American politics has gotten to the vapid, too-partisan-for-words, what-about-us-in-the-mainstream, point that it is now at.

The other day, my phone rang; picking it up, I was not surprised to hear a chirpy-sounding pollster/political operative voice on the other end asking me if I “had a moment” to answer a quick question. Before I could get the “Sure” out of my mouth, the young woman (no personal identification, party phonebankor PAC affiliation given) just jumped right in:

“Good afternoon, sir, I am wondering if you plan to vote on November second?”
“Indeed I do.”
“Great! Could you please tell me then, do you plan on voting for the Republicans, the Democrats or are you undecided?”
“Well, I plan on voting for some Democrats and some Republicans.”

Pause.

“Soooo….then I should mark you down as ‘undecided’?” she asked as a statement, in a puzzled tone.
“Not at all! I know exactly who I am voting for.”
“O.K….but will you be voting for the Republicans or the Democrats?”
“Some of each, actually. I haven’t voted a straight party line ticket for many years.”

Pause.

“So, I should mark you down as ‘undecided’.” She was quite certain this was the correct answer.
“No,I am definitely not ‘undecided.’ I will be voting for some Democrats, some Republicans.”
“O.K. – so you’re not undecided.” Her tone reverted to bewilderment, but at least it was a statement, not a tentative question.
“Not at all. I know exactly who I’ll be voting for. . . I can tell you I will not be phonebank2voting for the Republican running for the senate.”

“O.K….well…” it seemed as though she was checking her notes seeking the proper response to my, uhhh…independent streak, “…you’re not undecided.”
“No, I ‘m definitely not undecided.”
Short pause.
“Thanks a lot, sir. Have a nice day.”
“Thanks. You too.”

Click.

Again, I don’t know what organization, party, PAC, coffee klatch or bridge club she was representing – but there were a few things about the call that concerned me.

The first is that my answer should not have been seen as such an oddity.

Surely I am not the only person in the country who will vote for – GASP! – the best candidate (as I see it) for the job, regardless of party affiliation – or am I truly the last of a dying breed? I wouldn’t think my answer should have led to such consternation; flustered the woman completely, I did.  2016: I believe I may indeed be the last of a dying breed, and should photo-5-copyprobably be protected in a game preserve somewhere to prevent my extinction.

Secondly, given the state of today’s political landscape, why was I only given the ol’ Repubs/Dems option – even in Louisiana? It’s 2010, for crying out loud – no Tea Party, Independence Party, Tupperware party – nothing? (Not that any of those entities have much to offer me– except I could use some new storage bowls.) It’s just the principle of the thing: only offering bunting2me ‘will you be voting for the Republicans or the Democrats’?  makes no sense, though I especially liked her old-school ‘THE Republicans’ and ‘THE Democrats’. then again, maybe having principles is too old school for the modern electorate.  In 2016, here in the deeply red state of Louisiana, the Republicans running do not identify as such in their advertising; they simply geaux (sic) with “x-and-o, CONSERVATIVE for (whatever office)”.  I have yet to see a commercial here identifying a candidate as ‘Republican.’

All in all, it was a very strange call to be getting but certainly not the most egregious political intrusion of the season. Some other election year pet peeves? Let me count the ways we can make this a much more comfortable process.

1. Keep yours/ours/their religion out of politics – and vice versa. Yeah, we may belong to the same faith – heck, even the same denomination – but just because we share a pew on Sunday morning doesn’t mean I share your political stance. And it really ticks me off when you start talking politics over coffee, and you assume we all agree – because we go to the same church – and you continually use the pronoun ‘we’ in your pronouncements. Let me tell ya, guys…you seem like basically decent fellows, but there is usually no pogo3‘me’ in your ‘we’.  Six years later, I am attending two different churches regularly, and this is not an issue at ether. Though at one, people do not discuss politics at all, and the other is a more social justice oriented congregation, where differences are discussed and celebrated.  A much more comfortable scenario in either case.

2. Along the same lines is this sidebar to candidates; stop telling me you’re a ‘family values’ kind of guy. Who’s family? Aadams? Manson? Swiss Robinsons? It’s especially galling when you talk of ‘family values’ and your background includes dalliances with hookers, DUI’s or past domestic disturbance calls to your home. I’m all for redemption, but don’t play the family-values‘family values’ card – stick with issues, give me your solutions to problems – ya know, the stuff I really want my politicians to do. This is more true than ever – at least in regards to the phrase ‘family values’ which now has the linguistic value of a three-dollar-bill.

3. Quit demonizing everyone you disagree with absurd labels: Socialist! Darwinist! Illegal immigrant supporter! Racist! Anti-business! Muslim! Not a real (fill-in-the-blank)! I know, I know – shock value gets attention…when you are in the sixth grade. Grow the hell up, people. Yes, please do – as individuals, and as a culture. 

4. Oh yeah, while you’re at it, please drop the use of the word ‘pro’ from your electioneering. Pro-life! Pro-choice! Pro-guns! Pro-business! Pro-environment! Pro being pro-whatever-you-want-me-to-be! Per the fine folks at Merriam-Webster:

  • pro (noun) \ˈprō\  1.an argument or evidence in affirmation  2: the affirmative side or one holding it.

‘Affirmative side or one holding it’. By definition, you are implying that anyone who is not ‘pro’ like you is automatically ‘anti’ whatever you are ‘pro’ of. That is absolute nonsense. On any issue you want to be ‘pro’ on, there is pros-and-consplenty of room on the spectrum of logical, rational thought before you get to ‘anti’. (see number 1, above)  Does this one still hold true?  Absolutely. ‘Pro’ may be the single most misused word in American political discourse. 

You get the idea. The whole black/white concept of American politics is ridiculous, dangerous and stupid – and the results are pretty obvious. Our national debate should be taking place in the gray areas where most of us live – somewhere between the I’m- pro-this-and-you’re-anti-that-so-go-to-hell extremists.

As Walt Kelley’s  famous comic strip character Pogo famously observed, way pogo1back in the 1950’s, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

In 2016 it remains true: we have, they are – and therein lies our greatest weakness as an American electorate:  we, they.  Very little ‘us’.

As in all of us.  As in U.S.  As in ‘We are all Americans’.

We need to start acting like it

Disguised as good ideas

It is Halloween season, and as always, I hope to be invited to a costume party.  So far, my mailbox remains Charlie-Brown-on-Valentine’s-Day empty, but I am hopeful.

Just in case, some costume ideas are in order – if not for me, maybe someone else can get some costume_party_iiiideas.  This being a political year like no other, I’ll stay away from any of that craziness.  That whole scene is scary enough without my participation.   If I do end up getting invited to a costume party, it would be in concert with my wife, so  it would seem that a couples costume of some sort would be worth considering.

She would probably cast a more dubious eye on the concept.

There are a world of possibilities that go far beyond renting Yogi and Cindy bear costumes (too old school)  Antony and Cleopatra (too pedestrian) or Grant Woods American Gothic (too dangerous, see: pitchfork) plus, I  am not shaving my head, so that’s another nada.  F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald have potential, but Scott was clean-shaven and I don’t think I want to go there, though I could see my wife Amy as Zelda.

Maybe if we still lived in (their and our) native Minnesota
Maybe is we still lived in (their and our) native Minnesota
250px-grant_devolson_wood_-_american_gothic
The pitchfork would be a party liability, safety wise, though it would be handy to hold multiple hors d’oeuvres

In the past, Amy also shot down going as the best couples costume idea that I have ever seen.

Some years ago, I was at a costume party with some friends, and there was a young couple there that nobody could quite figure out at first. The young man was about six-one, dressed in a tight-fitting, dark brown body suit; the woman was a good foot shorter, very petite, and was wearing a snug white body suit stuffed with foam rubber. They each had a rectangular piece of cardboard with dots on them attached to their backs, and periodically they would have people stand back so they could run to the center of the room and embrace. They were, of course, a s’more.

Ehhh…no.

Back on the literary front, I could try to talk her into going as the Venus de Milo and me as Ernest Hemingway, her biographer, billing ourselves as the “Original Farewell to Arms” – though the Venus get-up would probably impair her ability to easily partake in any culinary delights or  libations.

We would probably  just have to go as separately costumed folk, sans connective theme. In fact, Amy might just prefer that.

There are options, of course.

If I could find a pair of grey long johns and some knee-high red wool hunting socks, I could glue dollar-store Barbie dolls all over me and go as a chick magnet – though with recent political events being what they are, I think I’ll file that one away.

I do have an old, red, shortcut tuxedo jacket that passes as a matador’s uniform – though I would need some sequins or a Bedazzler. That could be fun as the evening progresses and people get a bit more…loosened up. I could walk by with a swoop of my cape and a pseudo-Latin dialect,  telling  pretentious-sounding people, “That is bull! Ole’!”

Probably not.

Contemplating costume ideas, I took a good look at myself in the mirror and that’s when it came to me: Sigmund Freud! Let the beard grow out a little bit, add some gray, get a big cigar, a pocket watch and a nice vest from Goodwill, then brush up on my best Viennese dialect. I can walk around introducing myself: “Hell-lo. I am Doctor Zigmund, Freud. I understand you are having zum trouble vith your zex?”

There is your conversation starter.

This seemed workable, so I dug up a picture of Freud and then went looking for one of myself to use in this blog post. Taking most of the family photos leaves me out of most of them, so my pickings on the ol’ hard drive were rather slim, and none too complimentary, save one.  And there was my costume idea:

Mardi Gras Sigmund Freud. freud-2

Vest, cigar, Viennese dialect – I could wear crinolines instead of pants; very southern in a Freudian slip sort of way.

Or is that mixing too many costume metaphors?

This whole thing is still a work in progress, so I am very open to suggestions. Please act now; this operator is standing by.

Dressing the part

Friday was a ‘dress down’ day at school – pay five bucks for the privilege of wearing your favorite pro or college team jersey and jeans. Yee-ha!   My inner city New Orleans high school kids know img_20161007_155732nothing of hockey, so I was interested in gauging their response to me wearing my U of M hockey jersey.

With the exception of one kid who said, “Ummmm…Michigan?” (detention, AND an automatic ‘F’ for him) the kids mostly got the ‘M’ for Minnesota part, because they know me well enough, but my favorite interaction was with one of my more thoughtful tenth graders, a gregarious kid who always shares his writing with the class, and who often ponders things before speaking – a rarity in my classroom.

“So, Mr. Lucker…Minnesota, right?”
“Yep.”
“That’s where you went to college?”
“One of the places.”
“That a hockey jersey?”
“Yes it is.”
“You were a hockey player?”
“Nope.”
“You played football.”
“Nope.”
“Baseball.”
“Nope.”
Pondering pause, trying to fathom, “You weren’t a basketball player?!
“Nope.”
Pondering pause, ‘I give up’ head shake, shrug.
“I was a mascot.”

Pondering pause, eyes growing wider.

“You mean, a suit and everything? A costume?”
“Yep.”
Pondering pause, eyes still wide.
“Costume, big fiberglass head. I was awesome.”
goldie4Pondering pause, scrunched-up face, look of confusion.

“What Minnesota is again?”
“The Gophers.”
Pondering pause, head shake of incredulity.
“Damn, Mr. Lucker.”

He smiled, still shaking his head as he went back to his writing.