Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mosques and Memorials

Maybe I'm just not as sentimental as some people but, generally, I don't invest much reverence in places where people died. Where they lived, yes. Where they accomplished success, yes. Where they made history, yes. But where they died, not so much.

For instance, if I'm killed in an automobile accident, please, please, don't put up any roadside crosses to memorialize the event. Send a bouquet of flowers to some lonely old lady in a nursing home from me, don't stick them into a traffic median somewhere.

Lots of people are killed in vehicle crashes at lots of different locations. If we all keep this up, every trip will soon just be one sad reminder after another. I know it sounds selfish, but I don't really care where your Aunt Sue was t-boned. And I don't expect you to care about my Uncle Bill getting rear-ended either.

I don't go to the cemetery to visit my family members because I don't think anything important that was part of them is there. Their everlasting souls (if there is such a thing) have long departed and I believe they really could care less whether you decorate their grave with plastic blossoms and balloons. If it makes you feel better, there's not anything harmful about it either but I expect if they were watching, they'd just as soon you spent that money to plant a tree or spay a cat.

All of this is, of course, by way of leading to whether it is acceptable to build a Muslim Mosque/Social Center/Whatever at Ground Zero.  To be clear, it isn't at Ground Zero. It is near Ground Zero. As I understand, it is a couple of blocks away. So, I suppose the first thing we have to decide is how near is too near? Two blocks? Obviously? Ten blocks? In another city? Another state? Anywhere in America?

We've diddled around for almost a decade trying to decide what kind of memorial we want to honor our loved ones at the World Trade Center and we still haven't come up with anything we can agree on. Every idea is too big or too small or too low or too high or too dark or too bright.

So, instead of something uplifting and inspirational, what their memorial is going to be is a public airing of our prejudice, a bitter march of narrow-mindedness, an exhibit of our inability to get along. How proud they must be (if, in fact, you believe they are monitoring the situation from above).

Back in America's pioneer days, there was a saying that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." We said it that way because there were some truly bad Indians but we didn't want to bother to distinguish between the bad and the not bad so it was easier to "kill them all and let God sort them out".

That's rather the way we are with Muslims today. Twenty-three per cent of the population of the world is Muslim. There are Muslims in almost every country. Indonesia has the largest percentage with 13 percent of the Muslim population. Fifteen percent live in Africa. Only 20 percent are from the Middle east. China, Russia, England, America all have significant numbers of Muslim citizens.

Like Native American tribes, there are different sects of Muslims. The two main ones are the Sunni and the Shi'a but there are also Sufis and Ahmadiyya and others. Makes your head ache trying to figure out the difference, sort of like our ancestors felt about the Indians, I guess.

So, what let's do is judge them all by the same standard. We will let the however many Muslims who were complicit in the World Trade Center tragedy stand for all the 1.57 billion Muslims in the world. That way we can feel righteous about our decision to deny the Mosque.

We'll worry about what we can to that's positive in memory of our fallen heroes later.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Time for Another Shower

Approximately 25 years ago, I worked in a factory and for a while, it seemed as if my co-workers were getting married and having babies at a record pace. Besides that, they were moving into new homes and their kids were graduating. Not a week went by that someone wasn't coming around to take up a collection to buy a gift for Susie's wedding shower or Tammy's son's reception.

After a while, I started complaining because I'd never been the guest of honor at a gift-giving party, not ever. Both times I got married, I just went off and did it. I didn't expect my friends to furnish my house. No one gave a shower for me when I got pregnant. My son quit high school and graduated via a GED so there was no reception. I never settled down in one place long enough to rate a Housewarming party.

It just didn't seem fair to me that I'd given for gifts for everyone and their brother but I'd cost them absolutely nothing in return.

My whining must have hit home because all my friends got together and had a surprise All-Occasion shower for me. They all dressed in costumes that represented the various milestone events in my life. They came in a bridal gown, a nurse's uniform, a builder's overalls and tool belt, a graduate's cap and gown. There was a cake decorated with a wedding bell, a baby rattle, a door key, a diploma. I got flowers and towels and lingerie and a new toaster.

"There," they said when it was over, "you've had your shower. Now quit your bitching."

Well, it is two and a half decades later and circumstances are much the same, only now it's my younger co-workers who are getting married, having babies, buying homes. With my own friends, it is their children and grandchildren for whom I'm being invited to give gifts for one reason or another.  And it is just as lopsided as before. My son went to Florida to get married. I have no grandchildren or great-grandchildren. I've never gotten married again myself and I haven't earned any late-in-life degrees.

But I was in the drug store the other day (buying diapers for a baby shower at work) when I happened to notice a gift bag featuring NASCAR drivers, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt. I bought it (for myself because there's no one to give it to) and it gave me an idea.

I think it's time for everyone else to pony up in return for all the gifts I've bought them since I had my last shower in 1987 or so.

But I don't need the usual things, like linens and waffle irons and candles. I have plenty of all those things already. No, I think they should give me a NASCAR shower.

Decorate the cake with race cars. Set the table with checkered flag napkins.  The centerpiece could be multi-colored flowers tied with a big NASCAR bow.  Put my gifts in the bag like the one I bought. (I'll even give that one to someone to use since I'd be getting it back anyway).

The gifts should center around Jimmie Johnson, since he's my driver. A JJ key ring and playing cards, teeshirts and hats, cold drink coolers and maybe a gift card to a tattoo shop (okay, no, that's too extreme!). How about a number 48 flag for outside, Jimmie Christmas ornaments and Lowe's Chevrolet diecast cars in various paint schemes?

Oh, man, wouldn't that be cool? I can see it all now.

If any of my friends are reading this, I'm just throwing the idea out there......

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ode to Chickens

A friend on Facebook recently posted that she had an excess of chickens and wanted to know if we wanted any. Immediately, I thought of happy days gone by and wished I lived where I could have taken her up on her offer. Because I flat love chickens. Chickens are the Rodney Dangerfield of birds - they don't get no respect although they absolutely don't deserve their feckless reputation.

Not long after my husband's return from Vietnam, we moved to our little five-acre farm. We had one of the premiere subscriptions to Mother Earth News. We planted a huge garden.  We were city kids who knew nothing about country life. For instance, we planted 40 tomato plants, enough to sub-contract our harvest to Heinz. I blew up my first pressure cooker of green beans and had to re-paint the entire kitchen.

Our first livestock purchase consisted of 12 pullets "just ready to lay", or so our hatchery salesman told us. We brought them home and put them in the chicken house. We took turns checking the coop each morning, both of us longing for the honor of finding our first egg. Within a couple of weeks, we arguing over who had to go. It was depressing to  face all those empty nests. We got so we checked only every other day or so.

We often got a lot of helpful information from our friendly neighborhood farmers but they liked pulling tricks on us too. One of them told us seriously, when we complained about our non-productive hens, that it was because they were virgins and what we needed was a rooster, of which he had several young studs coming up.

We drove over to his farm and came back with Goliath. To this day, Goliath is my most admired bird. For one thing, he was beautiful with a honey-colored head and feathers that shaded from copper to dark auburn on his back, to a tail that fountained into black. And he was a ultra responsible leader, taking charge of his wives' welfare from the first. He scratched up bugs and called them over, giving up his own dinner so they could eat. He was courageous. If a hawk flew over, he warned them to head for the coop while he stood outside, with ruffled feathers, daring the other bird to attack his home.  Every morning, he flew to the top of the gate and gave his clarion call to the sun. I loved waking up to him in the morning.

I know now that it was only a coincidence but the day after Goliath's arrival, I heard my husband screaming across the barnlot. I went running, figuring he'd sawed off a finger or pounded a nail into his foot, but it turned out, he was egg! We celebrated that egg. It seemed to us like a small miracle and I never got over that feeling with all the ones that followed.

At first Goliath was harassed because our 12 Highland White airheads were the blonde jokes of the chicken world. They truly didn't have sense to come in out of the rain. Convincing them to seek shelter when he gave the word, teaching them to scratch out food that wasn't poured into a pan - it was all beyond their mental capacity. I was hoping they would sit so we'd have baby chicks but they never seemed to have the slightest urge to do so. They didn't even use the nests very often but just dropped their eggs wherever they happened to be if we didn't keep them penned up.

I asked the hatchery man about it - "those hens you sold me sure seem dumb".

"Yep," he said, "that's deliberate. Bred the intelligence and maternal instinct right out of'em so they won't try to sit. They're meant to be egg-laying machines, that's all. Do you have a rooster?"

I told him about Goliath.

"Well, then their eggs are fertilized so if you would happen to hatch any of them, that next generation would be smarter and the one after that, smarter yet. After awhile, you'd have normal chickens again. You might want to get some Banty hens. Those little gals will sit on anything."

So, I did. And sure enough, the Banty mamas sat on their own eggs, as well as those of the hybred hens, so their broods came out looking like affirmative action was alive and well on the farm. Their own little ones were tiny and black or brown while their step-brothers and sisters were large and yellow. The Bantys didn't care and neither did the siblings.

I'm sure Goliath heaved a rooster sigh of relief to have some assistance in the barnlot. The little hens were clever and resourceful. They could hide a nest under your nose so you couldn't find it. They taught the kiddies how to be independent, to find their own food just in case the humans fell down on the job. And sure enough, when the yellow chicks grew up, they were twice as smart as their mothers, having had the benefit of both Goliath's genes and tutoring from him and the Bantys.

We used to sit out on the picnic table and watch Goliath fly to the fence to stretch his wings and throw his head back to announce that all was well at the farm. And we'd see the Banty hens coming out of hiding with their Joseph's Coat of babies pittering along behind them.  And running counterpoint to other farm sounds was the "bluck, bluck, bluck" of chickens scratching and clucking and pointing out food to the little ones. They are part of my fondest memories of the farm.

Isn't it just typical of humans to take an animal and deliberately manipulate its genetics to make stupid and useless except for the one thing that suits our needs, laying eggs, and then make fun of it for being unintelligent?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Little Older, Not Much Wiser...

I was 64 yesterday. One year from retirement. One year from never having my hair colored again. (Is it white beneath all these years of strawberry blonde?) One year from having to plan vacations (if I can ever afford another vacation after retirement) and doctor's appointments and family visits around a work schedule. One year from waking up every morning knowing the day is mine to do with as I please.

When I look back on the person I was when I was in my 20's and 30's and 40's and 50's, I look different, of course, but I don't think I've changed that much inwardly. I still love all the same things I loved back then but I've added a few. Maybe I don't hate as many things.

My heart still thrills to the screaming guitars and pounding drums of rough and rowdy rock and roll. I still love the throaty roar of a Harley starting. But now I think the most exciting sound in the world is 43 NASCAR Cup cars firing their engines.

I'm still attracted to men who have a touch of outlaw in them. Oddly enough, working for the Sheriff's Department, I discovered that the cops are closer to the outlaws than they are to every day citizens. Maybe it's because they both tolerate living on the edge although they may be on opposite sides of the cultural divide.

So, to the sex appeal of men in uniforms and holding guitars, add drivers dressed in logo-covered firesuits.

I still love hot fudge sundaes and daffodils and ocean waves. I still have a soft spot for teenage boys and Vietnam veterans. I still prefer German Shepherds and Camaros and Glocks. I am fascinated watching buzzards soar in the sky and pelicans dive-bombing the sea. I love wolves and wild horses. I hope we never succeed in driving them to extinction but considering the greed of humans, it's probably only a matter of time.

Politically, I still lean toward the liberal. I think homosexuality is fine and people should be accepted for whatever they are. Some of my best friends are gay; some of our best soldiers are gay. I still believe what a woman does with her body is her business and no one else's. Oh, you're morally opposed to abortion and shouldn't have to help pay for it? Well, big whoop, I'm morally opposed to lots of things I have to help pay for, including unjustified wars and torture.

Spiritually, I'm as much of a doubter as ever. I don't know what the truth is and I don't think you do either. If you've found a faith that gives you comfort, I'd never try to talk you out of it. But I'd appreciate the same consideration. Don't try to talk me into it either.

I still love to investigate new places. Never understood those vacationers who made a beeline for the exact same place every year when the U.S. (and the world, for that matter) is so diverse and has such magnificence to offer. I prefer to do it in a car because the road trip with the sights, the sounds, the smells, the motels, the regional food are part of the fun. I've never overcome my fear of flying (though a Xanax before boarding helps a lot).

Ireland is still my favorite foreign country. Chocolate is still my favorite ice cream. Reading is still my favorite extracurricular activity. I still wish I could live on a farm although, practically, I know it's too late for that. I hire help to weed my flower beds, for heaven's sake, so how would I take care of a farm? Nevertheless, I will continue to adore chickens and wish I had a few hens and a macho rooster in my back yard.

I'm still pretty laid back about sex but I think if people are going to have children they should get married. If you don't like someone enough to form a family with at least the anticipation of staying together (even if it doesn't work out later), then you don't like them well enough to make them the parent of your child.

I think if we want to improve our schools all we have to do is look back to the way we educated students for 200 years. My mother got a great education in a railroad car in Arizona where her parents homesteaded a ranch. All aged kids together, white and Hispanic helping each other learn their languages. I got a great education at various schools across the country. I have a Indiana fourth grade textbook. Difficult spelling words, history, memorization assignments, math, a government section. Today's students would be aghast at how hard it was. I returned to my old high school as the principal's secretary 20 years later to find the inmates had taken over the asylum. I discovered that the Moms who lied about their kids being sick in bed when they'd just been seen at McDonald instead of at school were the same ones who alibied their children years later when I worked at the Sheriff's Department.

So, I'm 64 now and still muddling through life as best I can.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Where Are The Heroes?

Strangely, I'm having the same kind of debate with both my political friends and my NASCAR friends, as it pertains to those two subjects. Each discussion revolves around the past versus the present and how, basically, both Washington and NASCAR have gone to hell in a handbasket.

For instance, one of the political types sent around a question entitled, "How is Obama like Lincoln?" Here are just a few of the answers:

1) Lincoln was hit in the head from behind; Obama has his head up his behind.

2) Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater; Obama shot up in the back of a Lincoln made by Ford.

3) Lincoln was born in KENtucky; Obama was born in KENya with both of them eventually moving to Illinois.

There were more but those three give you the flavor. I don't know about you but the comic genius who came up with these had me rolling on the floor laughing my ass off, as we say in Cyberville. (Sarcasm alert here for those who may be tone deaf to written nuance).

It's not just Barack Obama so many Americans find beneath contempt these days; it's all of our elected representatives. Compared to the statesmen of yesteryear, they are a motley crew of corrupt buffoons.

NASCAR feels the same way about its current crop of drivers. They can't hold a candle to those tough old rednecks that were there at the start of stock car racing. Compared to those wheelmen of yesteryear, they are a collection of simps and wimps.

I wonder if it simply human nature to revere the past and diminish the present? I also wonder if the modern media doesn't have a lot to do with it. And if we, ourselves, don't play right into those attitudes.

Here's a for instance. My family had a friend who was one of John F Kennedy's secret service detail. Until the day he died, he denied the allegations about Kennedy's womanizing despite all evidence to the contrary. I don't know how he personally felt about JFK but I do know he considered it his duty and his honor to uphold is oath to protect the president in all ways, his reputation as well as his physical body, and he believed that oath extended even past the president's lifetime.

That was the pre-Baby Boomer definition of loyalty. Were we better off then, when we were still allowed to respect our presidents?

By contrast, Bill Clinton's various security personnel, both state troopers and Secret Service, couldn't wait to testify against him. Some of his cabinet penned their poison memoirs before the ink was dry on their letters of resignation.

Were the reporters of his era aware of Kennedy's sexual proclivities? Without a doubt. Did they feel the need to root around in his personal life and print all the gory details? Evidently not. But the Clinton media, ah, they positively salivated at the thought of informing us about all the titillating specifics and we salivated ourselves about blow jobs and cigars.

If you took a cross-section of Washington from how ever far back you want to go and could somehow know everything about them and not just the authorized biography stuff, would they truly stack up as stronger and wiser and more virtuous than a similar group from today?

My answer is no. People are people. Most of us are a mixed bag of positives and negatives. Even George Washington had his weaknesses. Even Abraham Lincoln made mistakes. If you could dig deeply enough into their personalities, you'd find some cruelties and kindnesses, some great visions mixed with a few blind spots. You'd find addictions and heartaches caused, selfishness mixed with generosity. You'd find some moral certainties and some agonizing doubts.

I think you'd mostly find men who believed they knew what was best for the country (and that very quality says something about a towering ego right there) who tried their very best to put their ideas into practice. I think you'd mostly find men who deserved the benefit of the doubt rather than crappy little jokes like the ones quoted above, whether you agree with their political philosophies or not.

And it's not much different in NASCAR. To old school NASCAR fans, the Richard Pettys and Cale Yarboroughs and Junior Johnsons and Dale Earnhardts, et al, were little short of being gods. Larger than life characters, secure on their pedestals into perpetuity.

No driver today can possibly measure up no matter how much they accomplish. Jimmie Johnson with 4 straight championships, something no other driver has ever achieved? Put asterisks beside his his years. Those championships didn't come as hard as those of the old timers. He didn't have to be as good or as brave or as smart as they did.

I think all this says more about us than it does either politicians or stock car racers. Why is it that we get more joy from bashing than believing? Why is it that we prefer to withhold respect and refuse honor? If we can't find any heroes in our world, it's because we hold them to an impossible standard, not because they aren't available to us.