Dr. Seuss was a Racist! Really?

The headlines tell us Dr. Seuss was a racist.

You say, “What? The beloved children’s book writer was a racist?” Yes, he has been dead for 26 years and his ‘racist’ drawings were published before and during WWII in a low circulation newspaper. So he obviously must now be outed for his despicable attitudes. After all, our founding fathers have all been denounced, why not the much praised and awarded author of successful children’s books?

At the beginning of his career, before WWII, Dr. Seuss began drawing propaganda cartoons for a New York daily newspaper, PM, with a circulation of about 150,000. His drawings of Hitler and Mussolini depicted the mass murdering bullies alternatively as ridiculous and menacing.

It is true that Dr. Seuss drew a few cartoons depicting the feared imaginary ‘fifth column’ of Japanese-American saboteurs. However, it was not Dr. Seuss who suspended the constitution to put Japanese-American citizens – men, women and children into internment camps without due process. That was done by the then Democratic administration and led by future Supreme Court Chief Justice, Earl Warren.

Just because Dr. Seuss was a Democrat doesn’t mean he was a racist. He condemned the Jim Crow laws, segregation, poll taxes, discriminatory hiring practices and the KKK supported by the Democratic party of the day.

Dr. Seuss also was very critical of outspoken American anti-Semites and isolationists like Fr. Coughlin and Charles Lindberg. In times of complacency in the face of an enemy bent on our destruction (a topic Dr. Seuss also addressed eloquently), it is easy to forget that WWII was a struggle for our survival.

WWII was as close to all-out war anyone wishes to see. Western civilization was attacked from all sides by brutal and ruthless enemies who had no respect for life or liberty.

Propagandists use simplistic humor and the grotesque to dehumanize and portray the enemy as beneath contempt. The de-humanization of the enemy has existed as long as humankind. Have you seen German and Japanese propaganda pictures from the era? Better check your delicate sensibilities before you look. I promise these disgusting images have none of the wit of those produced by Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss lent his support to our war effort by producing propaganda cartoons to boost morale and to paint the enemy in the starkest terms possible.

Hitler (representing the Third Reich and the Nazis) is variously depicted as a giant snake, a dog, an insect, crocodile, octopus, a mermaid, a cherub and other creatures. That ‘Japan’ is depicted similarly hardly makes those drawings racist.

In a cartoon depicting ‘Japan’ as a giant snake consuming a helpless Asian man labeled ‘China,’ who is Dr. Seuss being racist about? It is Japan’s actions Dr. Seuss condemned, not its race.

Lest we forget, Seuss was a cartoonist. If those depicted in his drawings came off as caricatures, it is because the drawings were caricatures. Hitler and Mussolini didn’t come off any better than Hirohito. And that trio were the true racists.

So, roughly eighty years after publication, drawings done by Dr. Seuss are dredged up as proof of his racism. Really? What possible good is intended by making these claims? If they are so hurtful and dangerous, to what purpose are they returned to public view after all this time?

(Certain advertising drawings Dr. Seuss did in the ‘30s are embarrassing and offensive by today’s standards. They were in line with what the media was promoting during the Depression.)

One value of knowing history rather than merely erasing it, is one can track changes in behavior. If you insist his propaganda work is racist – let’s examine his career. The core of Dr. Seuss’s work stands as a testament to the American values of fair play and equality like few other children’s authors. Dr. Seuss’s post-war creative output is remarkable for its optimistic tone and positive, anti-racist messages. He was doing his own work and not as a ‘hired gun’.

Not only is there no evidence Dr. Seuss held onto ‘racist’ attitudes after his propaganda work, at least one of his books takes racism head-on and shows it for what it is. ‘The Sneetches’ positively explodes all the bogus in-crowd / out-crowd superiority scams used by some groups when putting other groups down – from high school cliques to dominant ethnic groups.

The book “Dr. Seuss goes to War” (from which the images leading to the charges of racism are found) states that “Horton Hears a Who”, published in 1954, was the direct result of Dr. Seuss’s post-war trip to Japan. The book is dedicated to a Japanese friend of his.

Horton is the lovable elephant who discovers a whole civilization (of Whos) living on a dust mote. Horton’s compassionate efforts lead to the Who’s isolated world being preserved from destruction. How many know Dr. Seuss’s post-war experience with the Japanese people led to this wonderful story?

Racism is a terrible thing. The charge of racism is too easily made. The motives of those who make that accusation are suspect.

The United States operates on the ideal that all people are created equal. Shared cultural values such as those enshrined in our Constitution are what allow our people and country to thrive. These ideals are what bind us, not ethnic or tribal identity.

One would be hard put to find a true racist able to declare one of Dr. Seuss’s most famous and favorite lines from ‘Horton Hears a Who’: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

 

Lord of the Condom

Everyone carries maps in their heads. The best route from here to there might be about traversing difficult terrain, by-passing traffic, or navigating emotional shoals.

I can detail the floor plan of each house I lived in growing up. But the emotional map of my childhood homes was always the same. There were common rooms with smells of good food and rooms for privacy, concentration and sleep. Basements were damp and often forbidding.

And there were those boundaries beyond which one dare not pass, like my parent’s room. Their room wasn’t scary. It was just a place I had no business being. Which makes sense. Parents need space to be together without intrusion.

Imagine my surprise then, when my mother gave me a very private gift from my Dad.

I was at the age where my curiosity about girls raged, driven by a flood tide of hormones. This gift was given to me after I digested the book about ‘The Creation of a Life,’ also handed to me by my parents. They said to read it and come to them with any questions I might have. (Yeah, right.)

The book contained many diagrams designed to dampen my instinctive enthusiasm for the wild act of procreation. It was all so theoretical. I knew what I wanted.

But I received this gift before I had the epiphany that the captivating (and sexy!) figures all the girls were developing, actually contained very real persons. Can you say ‘superficial’?

I think I was in the ninth grade.

Mini-skirts were very popular. How can I describe the exquisite daily torture I suffered watching the girl next to me in home room repairing yet another run in her panty-hose, half-way up her thigh? (Anything I can do to help?)

Trust me when I say my interests ran to the purely physical. Of course, emotions were important too. My emotions!

It was a crazy time.

One day, after school, Mom handed me a rolled-up pair of socks and said, “Dad doesn’t need these anymore. He said to give them to you.” Huh? Socks? What was that about?

Putting them away, something crinkled and inside one sock I discovered a condom, still wrapped in its clear plastic wrapping! Hot damn! Now I had some questions.

Did Mom know what she was giving me? Was I supposed to use it? Or, if not, what was the point? Did I receive it accidentally? Was it left over from one of Dad’s business trips and she didn’t know about it? Or had Mom discovered it and was sending a message to Dad?  If I asked Mom, was I busting Dad? If I asked Dad, would he answer me honestly? How would I know? If it was safe to ask questions, why the secrecy? Was this the same mother who disapproved of her child watching Betty Boop cartoons because Betty was too provocative? I was perplexed and had no one to talk to.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Huzzah! What an opportunity! I couldn’t wait to use it. I felt free! I was ready. Knowing it was secure in my wallet, I didn’t walk, I swaggered. I saw things differently. People saw me differently. That little plastic package was going to make me a man!

Now I just needed a girlfriend!

Of course, my friends gave me plenty of advice. They assured me they could use it better than me.  Their envy was palpable. I wanted very badly to share it, but not with them.

I knew the theoretical mechanics of the situation but there were too many missing elements for successful implementation; mainly a willing female. This appeared to be an insurmountable problem. It was excruciating, but I had to come to terms with the fact that, though granted great power, I lacked opportunity, or the sophistication to recognize it should it knock.

How to broach the subject with a likely young lady? I was clueless! Finesse? You must be joking.

My condom was going to waste. It was a tragedy!

Eventually I realized, if desperate, I could find some girl with whom to use my precious condom. But then what of the ensuing complications? Would she want attention? Dates? Affection? If expected to invest all that time and trouble, I wanted to be with someone I actually liked and wanted to be seen with. This was getting complicated.

This great power I possessed began to possess me.

Finally, the precious condom became an absurd reminder of my inexperience. Reality called me out from the dark corners of my imagination. I hid it in my sock drawer. Family tradition.

****

A few years ago, I visited my parents in Florida. I had kids of my own. We were all adults. Decades had passed. While recalling old times I thought to ask them. It was so long ago. I could finally put the mystery to rest. It would be a funny story to share.

I got blank stares. No one knew anything. Nope. Nothing. Wasn’t me. Move along, nothing to see.

I couldn’t believe it.

There are some boundaries that one simply cannot cross.

You Kiss with that Mouth?

Dentists don’t have an easy job. I can’t imagine entering a career where my clients fear or resent me. Then there is the job itself. How many hours per day do you want to poke and scrape at people’s teeth while their tongues wag at you?

I always thought I took pretty good care of my teeth. However, my long history of braces, root canals, crowns etc. is pretty bad. My mother in law would say, “If you aren’t feeling well, you need a new toothbrush. You have a new toothbrush? You should have kept the old one.”

The typical healthy adult human mouth has roughly 32 teeth in it, minus the wisdom teeth, which generally get removed so as to avoid your mouth looking like a multi-car pile up on a foggy highway. If you had braces your dentist probably removed one or two to give him (or herself) more elbow room.

I lost count of the number of root canals I’ve had in my life. But counting redos I suspect I am approaching the maximum legal limit. (Yes, Grasshopper, there are ‘redos’ in the world of root canals. One would think once was enough. This isn’t golf after all.) Suffice to say I’ve had so many x-rays, when I turn out the lights, my head glows like Reddy Kilowatt.

I have so much metal in my mouth it is a wonder I can get through airport security. As a result, one environmental group is suing to declare my mouth a toxic waste dump. A mining company is working to stake a claim for extraction rights (which I’m not quite ready to surrender. Make me an offer.) And a third entity wants to bestow national park status on my mouth as a natural wonder.

Due to numerous moves around the country, the list of my former dentists now exceeds the number of laborers who worked on Mount Rushmore. That number will soon increase and there is a waiting list. I should start charging a toll.

I am tempted to compare my experience with dentists to that of the unfortunate character played by Dustin Hoffman in the movie “Marathon Man” but that would be unfair to but a few. I have known many fine dentists and cannot subscribe to the idea that they are sadists in lab coats. Many relieved me of considerable pain. I suspect several are frustrated sculptors yearning to work on a grander scale.

One however, seemed more concerned with securing the next payment for his Bentley than for enhancing my gleaming smile. He always greeted me by urgently lobbying to replace a perfectly good bridge. But getting him to attend to the immediate pain in my jaw was like pulling teeth. After another worked on me, I awoke feeling like he’d used a wrecking ball and a chisel on my jaw. No jackhammers though.

I once had a dental hygienist who insisted on singing along with the Muzak featuring a Barry Manilow song as she probed my molars and I gazed up her nostrils. How romantic! Had I known the words we could have had quite the duet.

One dentist was hilarious (just what you want in a dentist). After trussing me up with a multitude of metal appliances and ensuring I couldn’t move, close my mouth or respond with more than a gurgle, he performed a stand-up routine of funny jokes. Talk about timing. I felt like Malcolm MacDowell in “A Clockwork Orange” only instead of Beethoven’s Ninth, I was subjected to his version of Henny Youngman one liners.

Once, after getting a gold crown glued on, I fixed myself lunch and inadvertently swallowed the crown when it unexpectedly came loose. I spent the next week literally panning for gold. Losing that would definitely have been a high stakes royal flush.

Years later, I needed to replace the gold crown (yes, that gold crown). That dentist protested when I wanted to keep the scrapped gold for myself. After all, I paid dearly for it, in many ways.

Excuse me. I need to go buy a new tooth brush.

Force of Nature takes on the IEP

My daughter, Natalia struggled when her mother and I split up. She didn’t talk about it but her grades suffered badly. When I offered both my kids a chance to attend a therapy group for children of divorcing parents, she joined it for a while.

Her 2nd grade teacher was concerned about her. Eventually, Natalia was held back and put in remedial classes.  Then, on top of feeling ‘stupid for flunking the second grade,’ the powers that be wanted to test her for learning disabilities.

I always described her as a ‘force of nature’ which Natalia was none too sure was a good thing. But she really didn’t feel like one when it came to her academics.

Her remedial teacher Ms. Reed, became her mentor. Ms. Reed told me she could not detect a disability in Natalia. The problem was a mystery. Natalia would skip over words when reading aloud, but her comprehension was better than most. Natalia would help other students with their work. Anxiety from the divorce was never considered as a factor.

And yet they wanted to test her. I feared Natalia was being considered for this designation, less for any actual disability than for the additional funds she would bring to the school, bolstering the ranks of LD (learning disabled) students. Labels are powerful things and this one would follow Natalia through her education and life.

I wasn’t yet familiar with the concept of ‘learned helplessness’ but it stands to reason that a decade of being told by experts that you are incapable of doing something would take its toll. That “soft bigotry of lowered expectations” generates anger that will be expressed. Research reveals that authorities treat individuals and groups in a manner consistent with their predetermined expectations. Groups and individuals respond in kind.

Natalia’s mother and I were informed when her IEP committee would meet to discuss the results of her assessment tests. They were the experts and so we parents were only there to observe. No input was desired from us. The committee members patiently responded to our questions.

Near the end of the meeting, Natalia’s case manager was analyzing the test results for us. She sympathetically described how she “helped” Natalia to navigate the difficult test by telling her that if she “got stuck, she could just guess.”

All eyes were on me as I burst into laughter. Incredulous, I asked for confirmation that Natalia was actually told to guess her way through the test. The case manager said she told Natalia “only to guess if she got stuck.” I laughed again and an explanation was demanded for my rude behavior.

I told them when Natalia was about four years old, and hadn’t yet had any instructions in reading, I had installed a program on my computer for her older brother to ‘jump start’ his reading skills. One day Natalia proudly presented me with a certificate of completion from that program, featuring her name and a score of 100%.

I congratulated her, but questioned how she could get this since I hadn’t helped her and she couldn’t read. She said she did it without her brother’s help either. Natalia then explained she went through the program, guessing her way through each test question until she got them all right. She then, all by herself, figured out how to print the certificate.

I looked at the committee members, each armed with multiple degrees in education and psychology.  I asked them if they seriously expected me to believe Natalia had learning disabilities after hearing this story, and with the results of the test being skewed by permitting her to guess?

At that point there was some uncomfortable fidgeting and shuffling of papers. The test results came out to be 50/50 right and wrong, exactly the statistically predicted results if one were to randomly answer without reading the questions at all.

The topic of Natalia’s projected learning disabilities never arose again.

Natalia’s home life stabilized. She thrived throughout her schooling and easily made tons of friends. She was elected Student Council President in high school, and ran the debate club. She also has an impressive resume for someone so young. As her graduation from college approaches, she is selecting a grad school to attend.

When is an Interview not an Interview?

Being a writer for a local newspaper, I am often assigned interviews promoting a current play or an event of local interest. Phone interviews are typical. Circumstances occasionally require that we meet in person. This is not usually a problem.

I was assigned to interview a man who works in Public Relations. He had several items he was promoting. And being a personable fellow (did I mention he works in Public Relations) he preferred to speak face to face. We set a time to meet at a coffee shop easily accessible to both of us.

I followed his directions and arrived at the wrong place a few minutes early. My actual destination was about two blocks away. I got there on time, parked and went in.

I entered the nearly empty restaurant and looked around.  A man at the counter caught my eye and nodded to me. He stood and got off his cell phone. I introduced myself while shaking his hand.  He suggested we adjourn to a table at the rear of the restaurant where we could talk undisturbed by other customers. A waiter took our orders for a light lunch.

It was going to be a lengthy and detailed interview and I wanted to make sure I got all my facts straight. I wanted to get some good quotes that always liven up the text. I put my legal pad on the table and prepared to write. Curiously, he asked why I had brought a pad.

I reminded him of our scheduled interview and that I wanted to maintain absolute accuracy. It was odd he didn’t remember which paper I worked for.

Respecting his valuable time, I bypassed the small talk and got straight to the interview. I asked how he got his start and he settled into a rambling account of his youth. He went into some detail about how his father belonged to the culinary union. “That’s very interesting,” I observed, “but how, from there did you get into Public Relations?”

He scoffed. “I don’t do public relations.”

What? “I’m sorry, but I think there may have been a mix up.  I’m supposed to be interviewing a PR guy. Are you ___________?”

“No, I own this restaurant. My name is Biff.”

I called my contact. He apologized and said he was about ten minutes away. He tried to call but was in the canyon and had no reception. I assured him I would wait. There was nothing else to do but finish my lunch and continue my conversation with Biff. He told me how he was the namesake for a character in a Micheal J. Fox movie from the ‘80s.

We were about finished when Biff signaled to someone. I turned to see my guy had just entered and was walking our way. I offered my hand to shake, but he walked by me to shake hands with Biff. They began talking like old friends.

What was happening? Wasn’t this my interview subject? Did these guys know each other? Then Biff said something and the new guy turned toward me. We shook hands. He explained that since Biff signaled to him, he thought Biff was me.

We adjourned to another table and started the interview. But, apparently feeling like we were all old friends now, Biff kept interjecting his observations on whatever he thought we were discussing. I finally thanked Biff for his charming conversation and let him know it was not an open forum.

To no one’s surprise, all the delays and confusion kept us from getting to the meat of the interview. We rescheduled the interview for another day.

By phone.

Another Brick in the Wall?

Years ago, I attempted to become a teacher. I thought “How hard could it be?”

It proved to be the most stressful year of my life.

After a year of preparation in the LAUSD teaching internship program, I was hired to teach algebra to students with learning disabilities at a middle school in the San Fernando Valley. One of the Intern Supervisors warned me not to work at this particular school. I needed the job and this was a viable offer. “The principal has a reputation for… Well, you’ll find out,” she said.

Algebra. Learning Disabilities. Middle School. What could go wrong?

The greatest barrier was not the learning disabilities, but the students’ ‘learned helplessness’. They learned from infancy that any effort was rewarded with failure. Mastering a video game might take a few minutes, but learning multiplication tables was impossible. They just would not try. They didn’t need yet another confirmation that they were ‘stupid’. The phrase ‘I can’t’ relieved them from countless disappointments.

Of course, forcing these kids to sit still, to be lectured to on a subject useless to them was a completely wrong-headed approach to teaching. They were bursting with energy, passion and desire. They wanted to move and express themselves. Or watch TV.

The old scenario of putting a hundred chimpanzees into a room with 100 typewriters with the expectation of randomly getting a Hamlet out of them presumes those chimpanzees will sit at those typewriters. But my students were not chimpanzees nor machines. They were feeling people, infinitely more resourceful in devising ways to express their pain and frustration.

The educational system could not serve them but also could not release them. They were squeezed into an ill-fitting box which satisfied the mandates of Washington bureaucrats and local administrators. I was the sole representative of this broken system to whom they had access. Their actions were eloquent.

Some students passively did their time. Many students though, were creative in wasting time and disrupting the class. Their favorite was taking turns filing formal complaints accusing me of striking them. I never laid a hand on any of them but the accusations occurred weekly. Investigations always absolved me of any wrong doing. No one answered the question, “How did they learn to do this?”

One kid bragged that he “made more money” than I did. I believed him. I think he was someone’s drug business apprentice. The incentives of money and peer acceptance far outweighed school for overcoming his learning disability. And he was a natural salesman. I told him I once had his opportunities but didn’t like the retirement plan. His puzzlement at that confirmed he had a lot to learn.

My internship instructors assured me that providing elements of ‘enrichment,’ props, colorful décor, candy rewards and toys for demonstration purposes would provide positive returns far beyond my monetary investment. I learned they were a futile waste of time and money. Items brought to the classroom were inevitably stolen or destroyed to no good purpose. Did I mention the threats? Or breaking up the spitting contest?

Observations of my teaching methods were conducted regularly by administration and internship staff. I received good marks and was applauded for improvement in my educational strategies and student engagement. Though a struggle, I felt I found a calling.

Then I learned the secret behind the principal’s mysterious reputation. Each year, for her own amusement, she would select one new teacher from the staff and systematically ruin their career. It made no sense, but her destructive behavior was confirmed to have gone on for years. She was legendary and untouchable. This is what I was warned about. Why willfully destroy eager young talent?

I then found out I was that year’s recipient of her malignant whimsy. Despite my hard work and the good reports on my progress, she arbitrarily decided that I should not be a teacher at her school nor at any school. By not renewing my contract, my position in the internship program would also be terminated, with no credit accrued. To teach, I’d have to start completely over.

The teacher’s union informed me that even if I won, I would still be out of a job. My teaching career was over. However, I needed to stand against such injustice. I filed a grievance.

The union allowed me to work as a substitute teacher. I could earn a living part time but without benefits or a future.

On assignment, I told another substitute who knew this principal about my experience. A teacher walked by and interjected, “I know who you’re talking about. She ruined my career too!” He had to start from scratch and lost years of his life recouping his investment and career. He named her and described her in terms both vivid and profane.

I left teaching to pursue more lucrative prospects. I received notice from the teacher’s union that the principal settled and accepted early retirement.

A year later, while enjoying lunch with my wife in a restaurant, a man walked by who looked vaguely familiar. He saw me and stopped. Excusing himself for interrupting, he asked if I was John Adams, the former math intern at ________ school. I cautiously admitted he had identified me correctly. He offered his hand and thanked me profusely for himself and the staff of the school for standing up to that horrible principal.

He said no one would call her out. “She was a petty tyrant, ruining people’s careers for her own amusement because everyone was afraid of her.”

I thanked him and said I had only filed a complaint. I needed to call out her abuse. He insisted my grievance forced her out. Because no one would jeopardize their career, including himself, they effectively supported her heinous behavior for years.

I told him it was nice to be appreciated and was sorry we couldn’t have worked together longer. We shook hands again and he left us to our meal.

Did I learn more from my students than they learned from me?

 

 

But Some are More Equal than Others

We are constantly told through the media, the world will be better when women are in control.

Aggressive, predatory behavior towards members of the opposite sex, the groping of strangers in a bar, intimidation tactics like stalking and unsolicited taking pictures of individuals and their license plates… This stereotype du jour fits what most would presume was a description of the bad behavior of that most despised demographic, ‘white men.’

Yet all of this behavior was imposed on me recently, by women. Why would a so-called ‘oppressed minority’ adopt such ugly behavior? ‘Because they can’? Getting their ‘evens’? Are women literally becoming the men they hate?

My wife and I recently visited family in another city. Out for the evening, we stopped at a club. Dueling piano players played to a standing room only crowd. Scattered in the crowd were three women wearing sexually explicit pink head gear recently become fashionable.

After receiving several hard pinches and harder slaps on my back-side, I was an unwilling target. My peripheral vision confirmed that at least one of the ‘liberated’ wearers of the pink hats was responsible for this physical abuse.

How did I respond? I didn’t faint. I didn’t melt. I just left with my family. Other men in our party confirmed getting the same unwanted attention.

‘That’s what you get for going to that kind of bar’. Really? That’s an eerie echo of the old ‘blame the victim’ excuse decried by feminists when some fool claims ‘she asked for it.’

Any woman treated like that should call the police. Discretion being the better part, I chose against confrontation and the resulting silliness.

How clever of her to hide in plain sight. How mature. How progressive.

A few weeks ago I went to Balboa Park while waiting to pick up my wife. I parked in the shade and walked around the lake. The drought had taken many of the cherry trees. Young trees had replaced those that had died. The swans still swam elegantly. The coots moved like a massive black carpet in search of food.

When I returned to my car, another car was parked next to it occupied by a young woman. She caught my eye, I nodded and continued to my car. I began to read. Then I noticed the woman staring at me. I politely nodded and returned to my reading.

I did not engage with her.

She must have stared at me for ten minutes.

Should I flee every time I sense someone’s displeasure? Trying to second guess everyone quickly transforms to paranoia. I minded my business. What was my offense?

Then I looked up to see her photographing me with a smart phone. She left her car to grab a shot of my license plate. What mischief might she create with my image on the internet?

I stayed in my car. To ‘talk it out and reach an understanding’ seemed futile and absurd.

She drove away.

And had I snapped pictures of her? Imagine.

I know our Constitution has no ‘right to not be offended.’ However, I wish there was a right to be let alone.

This is how a culture ‘evolves’? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

How My Dad Solved the Cuban Missile Crisis

My father was a confident man. I never saw him anxious for anything. If he ever was, he kept it to himself. Even in the face of his own impending death, he put his concerns aside to comfort his loved ones, assuring them that all would be well.

He joined the Marines after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. He fought in the South Pacific until he returned stateside for officer’s training school.

While in the Solomon Islands, he was assigned to the radio corps. Once an island was ‘pacified,’ his job was to lead a squad past any remaining resistance to the highest point on the island and install an antenna with which to establish radio communications to the outside world.

Hauling radio equipment up a mountain can’t be that easy. Doing so while an enemy is shooting at you would be nigh impossible.

I think, after surviving that, everything else was just gravy for him.

At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in October of 1962, the threat of nuclear war was a big deal. A few years before, Nikita Khrushchev had declared “We will bury you.” Now they were installing ballistic missiles in Cuba, aimed at us. What next?

Nowadays, nuclear annihilation is just one more item on the menu of devastating threats.  But then the weight of potential nuclear conflict was palpable.

I remember the many air raid drills conducted at my school. The idea that hiding under my desk would protect me in the event of a nuclear attack, seemed fanciful to me even then.

The poster advising citizens “In the event of nuclear attack, tuck your head between your knees and kiss your ass good-bye” had not been published yet. However, it perfectly captured the ironic sense of those drills. Mass incineration might be our collective fates, but at least we would be orderly and quiet.

At that time we lived in Wilmar, a farming town in central Minnesota, about two hours west of Minneapolis, out good old Highway 12.

The news on radio and TV incessantly explored all the ramifications should war break out.  Every night WCCO would broadcast a map of Minnesota. The animated overlay graphically depicted the radius of damage we could expect should an atomic bomb hit Minneapolis. Concentric circles would radiate out to 100 miles in every direction from ground zero. It was terrifying.

Everyone I knew was anxious. We had no context from which to judge these dire threats to everything we had ever known. Those Russians were crazy.

One promising solution was to build a private bomb shelter. The news talked about these and Popular Mechanics magazine published an article describing all the things a shelter should contain. It would be cramped but safe. It was do-able.

Dad had been through the war. I gathered some friends and approached him about the feasibility of building such a shelter.

He said, “You don’t need it.”

“Why not? The maps say the explosion will reach 100 miles and Wilmar is 100 miles from Minneapolis.”

“But we live on the west end of town. The radiation will never reach us.”

His perfectly reasoned argument put our minds at rest. Days later, the crisis was over. The Russians had blinked.

My Dad was so smart.

The False Karass is Your Friend

Kurt Vonnegut’s concept of the false karass from his masterpiece Cat’s Cradle (1963), has assisted me to understand how things work, and don’t in social events.

Vonnegut’s definition of the false karass, (or granfalloon) is a group of people who imagine they have a connection that does not really exist. (A karass is a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial links are not evident.)

That Vonnegut, however cynically admits to a divine purpose in his book is remarkable in itself.

How this concept has played out in my life may best be illustrated by two small examples.

When visiting friends in Buenos Aires, Argentina an evening ‘out at the clubs’ was planned. My hosts determined that I should borrow some clothes so as not to look “too American” and thus avoid becoming a target of the pickpockets known to frequent train stations and other gathering places.

Suitably disguised (in a shirt and blue jeans), we set off for the evening. While standing on the platform awaiting a train, I assumed what I thought of as an ‘Argentinian stance’ to better blend with the crowd.

Out of nowhere, a ‘man on the street’ news reporter and camera crew approached me and abruptly thrust a microphone in my face. She urgently asked my opinion on who knows what? I was busted. All I could do was stammer that I didn’t speak Spanish in broken Spanish.

Our best efforts ended up signaling every pickpocket within fifty yards that an illiterate foreigner was primed for fleecing. However, we drew so much attention that anyone with malevolent plans steered clear of our party.

//////

Shortly after moving to Los Angeles I was invited to a costume birthday party to be held for the American drummer of what was then a prominent English rock ‘n’ roll group. Jane, my date was high school friends with the drummer’s wife. It sounded like it might be fun. Jane always insisted that one of their hits was about her.

I was told the planned theme of the party was for everyone to dress as the ‘minister of a church’. There didn’t seem to be much to that requirement. Having lived in the South, I thought I could do a funny version of a huckster – Southern preacher/snake oil salesman.  I found a loud, plaid, polyester jacket to go with a straw hat, string tie, spats and some other details.

When we arrived at the party, I was chagrined to see everyone dressed in long black robes as ministers of the Church of England. One was dressed in drag as a nun. The theme was in the vein of what Monty Python might do.  It made perfect sense that an English band would play with that theme. I didn’t get the memo.

Of course, everyone ignored me. They didn’t know me and it was a party for a member of a close knit group. I had no standing. A non-entity, I felt as appropriate as a beach toy at a baptism.

Then came the big surprise. Jane’s ex-husband arrived carrying a cheap prop cross and dressed to look like Jesus Christ.

He didn’t dress according to the rules either, but being long-time friends with the group, he got a pass. It annoyed me since I was technically dressed as a minister – perhaps in the uniform of another team, but hey…

I always maintained a standard that if dressed in costume one should try to be ‘in character’. When the ex and I were introduced I mustered up my best Foghorn Leghorn, southern drawl and delivered a line that bordered on ironic genius.

“Ah’ve heard a lot about you but I don’t believe we’ve met.” If he was in character, his graceless portrayal was too subtle for me. I offered my hand to shake but his cross was apparently too cumbersome for him to reciprocate.

And not one seemed to notice the brilliance of my delivery.

The rest of the party has faded from memory. Like many parties, the most interesting moment is when you realize you have no reason to be there.

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Nowadays I side-step any false karass that looms on the horizon. I have a strong sense of those with whom I am cosmically linked. The evidence is irrefutable.

Hits and Misses from the Past Year

It has been a very busy January and I have not produced much new writing this month.

However, the last year was an opportunity to write my blog, re-publish some items from my output at the Tolucan Times, and also, in a burst of creativity, to write a series of eight short plays. One of these received “semi-finalist” status in a short play competition.

Some of my blog posts did not get the attention I thought they deserved so to reprise 2016, I offer a collection of links for those of you who might enjoy a play review, a commentary, or a few memories from my past in no particular order:

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/12/29/lying-in-wait-for-santa/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/the2tails-helps-you-celebrate-your-inner-mermaid/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/an-evening-with-betsy-oconnell-is-an-evening-well-spent/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/sexist-pet-costumes-or-the-unexamined-life-is-not-worth-leaving/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/09/25/p-l-a-y-noir-one-acts-as-dark-as-it-gets/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/an-occasional-squall-would-add-to-the-source-and-create-a-rising-crescendo/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/say-centanni-for-romantic-italian-dining-in-burbank/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/racing-with-evolution/

https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/missed-opportunities/

Enjoy!