And a fine happy birthday to ya…

Saturday, 8:44pm
Reno, NV
They’ve all gone to look for America…” (Simon & Garfunkel)

Howdy.

I want to wish the country a happy birthday on this fine July 4th.

She’s looking not too shabby for 235 years old.  I’ve been here for a lot of those b-days, too… and here are a couple of random thoughts (before I get drowned out by fireworks):

Random Thought #1: I’m not gonna discuss politics, and I hope you have the presence of mind not to start in on it yourself in the comments.  However… as far apart as we seem today on the multitude of problems faced… I can tell you it has ever been thus.

At our very best, the country has always been like a dysfunctional family forced to co-exist at a perpetual holiday dinner.  My own family shows signs of it occasionally — somebody gets hot about some subject, voices rise, someone gets called an idiot, feelings are hurt…

… and then, minutes later, all is well and we’re laughing about some story from the family archives.  (I had uncles who couldn’t get through a game of gin rummy without throwing cards across the room and giving us kids an excellent lesson in swearing like a sailor before the aunts corralled them back into some semblance of civilized behavior again.  I miss those old farts, and a whiff of beer and cigars can take me back instantly…)

I was doing “Duck and Cover” drills under my desk in grade school, back when we were pretty sure the Commies were about to rain nuclear bombs on us.  My first notice of politics was when Kennedy was shot, and I was stunned to learn the first congressman I met (in a high school event) was a total brain-dead tool.

We’ll never get along completely as a country.  One man’s sensible solution is another man’s call-to-arms, and it will never change.

I realized this permanent division of political thought early on… and it’s helped (a bit) to alleviate the frustration.  I’m a political junkie, but I stay out of the public cat-fights that so many others love to start and never seem able to finish.

Like that dysfunctional family, you just gotta hope that — at the end of the day — we can put our differences aside and remember that we’re all in this crazy experiment in self-governance together.

Random Thought #2: Probably because I don’t wear my politics on my sleeve, I’ve got friends all over the political map.  Right-wing nutballs, liberal chickenhawks, dudes with loaded guns in every room, feminists on edge, Bible thumpers with an eye on the school board, deniers, accusers and nervous paranoids…

… you name it, I’ve got a pal somewhere walking the walk.

And I never discuss politics with most of them.  And we remain friends by ignoring the occasional outburst, and never, ever trying to change anyone’s mind directly.

It’s my experience that no one’s mind has ever been changed (I suspect in the history of the world) from an argument.  Facts won’t do it, personal experience won’t sway anyone… and you sure as hell won’t accomplish anything by insulting your opponent.

Alexander Hamilton — one of the Founders — was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr over… politics.  Nice work, guys.  Both were hugely influential (Secretary of the Treasury, and Vice freakin’ Prez), and both careers ended instantly — one dead, one done forever as a politico.

I know what it’s like to get so mad… so full of rage and so damned sure that I was on the side of the angels (while the other guy was obviously in league with pure evil)… that violence seemed like a dandy next step.

But long ago, I also learned how easy it is to let that rage go… and let the steam just dissipate, while rational thought returns.

You ain’t gonna change his mind.  And he aint’ gonna change yours.  And guess what?

That’s why this whole experiment in self-governance got rolling in the first place.  There was never gonna be any unanimous decisions, on anything.  So you vote for a representative, who does the job or gets voted out.  Three separate branches will hash it out, legislatively, legally, and (hopefully) leadership-ly.

The one constant I’ve seen over my decades of being addicted to watching politics (best reality show on the planet, BTW)… is that the loudest and meanest voices belong to folks who haven’t got a fucking clue how the government actually runs, or why the machinations of the beast works as it does.

There are no simple answers, just like there’s no simple way to shut up your dumb-ass brother-in-law with all his weird “fix the world” solutions.

Yes, it’s frustrating.  But it has ALWAYS been frustrating.  We had a civil war over it.  Assassinations.  One long, chaotic and maddening intellectual (and too often, physical) brawl that will never end.

Still…

Random Thought #3: As infuriating as it can be to try to coexist with so many fellow obviously-bonkers countrymen…

… I have a secret weapon against sinking into a funk about it.

And that secret weapon is nothing more than this realization: It’s a safe bet that — at most — maybe a few of my ancestors ever felt free to speak their minds.  At any point in their lives.

I come from solid working-class stock, as far back as the meager family tree has been tracked.  And I can easily imagine some distant Carlton… wracked with the same anti-authoritarian tendencies I have… spending his entire existence biting his tongue to avoid the gallows.

And wondering, desperately, why his thoughts and beliefs weren’t just as valid… and just as worthy of being aired… as the jerk-wads in charge.

It would blow his mind to know that I can pretty much write about whatever subject I like… and spout whatever nonsense pops into my head… whenever I feel like it.

Blow.  His.  Freakin’.  Mind.

Yeah, sure, there still are lines you can’t cross publicly.  Sedition, yelling “fire” in a theater, provable slander… the First Amendment is still a work in progress.  Not too long ago, they threw comics in jail for saying what you can now hear on regular cable stations 24/7.  And it kinda twists your gut when fanatics get a pass to offend people at funerals.

And what the heck is up with cash now equaling free speech in elections?  I wish more of the budding plutocrats out there would remember that Ben Franklin (among others) mostly distrusted the common dude’s intellect… but figured the vote was still the best of all paths to take for self-governance.

Every Fourth, I take a deep breath and give serious thanks that no one’s boot is on my neck censoring the crap that flows through my brain… as it was for just about everyone else in history.  What we’ve got is imperfect, it’s a legal mess getting messier all the time, and even constant vigilance is no guarantee it won’t be snatched away tomorrow by The Man.

But right now… for at least this 235th birthday… the rickety allowances of free speech is (as far as I’m concerned) still the crowning glory of my homeland.

Last Random Thought: We’re pretty spoiled.

Back when I was dead broke and living out of my car… I still enjoyed privileges and cool shit that past kings would have eaten their own arms for.  Plenty of inexpensive nourishment for body and soul, and even as a edge-walker in the economy, the means to enjoy life on a level unimaginable to my ancestors.

In that beat-to-shit ’81 Celica fast-back — both the ugliest and the most fun car I’ve ever owned — I had shelter, enough comfort to occasionally have sex in, a vast range of travel, free radio, piles of tapes, books, newspapers, a guitar, clothes, food, even my old typewriter and reams of paper.  And well-kept roads under the wheels.

One night, sitting on the hood watching the stars as the ocean boomed on the rocks directly below me… well-fed, guitar in my lap, a snug night’s sleep in the car ahead of me… I remember thinking I wouldn’t trade my life for any of the most privileged existences I knew about in history.

Drafty castles, Huns swarming, a mouthful of rotting teeth, no pizza or cold beer, lucky to make it past 30, a world teeming with ghosts and superstition, no TV or radio or media entertainment of any kind (except for poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio…)…

Screw that.

We live in interesting times.  And we have a catbird seat for monitoring the action (if you’re paying attention).

As annoyed as I am sometimes with the old broad, I’m tipping my hat to her on her birthday and wishing her many, many more.

And my love for her is genuine.

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. Have at it in the comments… but no political bullshit, all right?  You’ve got ample other places to do that to your heart’s content.

Tell you what.  Just for today… let’s celebrate what we have in common, all right?

 

31 Responses to And a fine happy birthday to ya…

  1. Sorry John…I gotta disagree with one thing: the idea that these are “random thoughts.”

    You’ve obviously thought long and deep about this subject and it shows…your words were most eloquent. It was refreshing reading them.

    Thank you for a wonderful essay and the perfect start to the holiday! Hope yours is everything you hope it is.

  2. We are fortunate that 235 years ago some men decided to try a new method of government.

    I live in a town where it’s legal to buy fireworks – there are tents in many of the parking lots, and Circle K has a small selection, but illegal to set them off.

    I have a lot of Mexican immigrants in my area. Many of them go back frequently and bring their own fireworks. Tonight, the show as my neighbors fire mortars into the air will be better than the one a few miles away at the College.

    Last year I sat on the roof and enjoyed the show. They come here to build a better life, what could be a better endorsement of the USA than the sheer numbers of people who come here to have a better life?

    • Sometimes, I nearly fall to my knees when the sheer weight of gratefulness I feel hits me. I’m spoiled, irreverent, too cynical most of the time, and I take too much for granted. But that’s why these holiday matter — wake the hell up and live the life your ancestors would have killed to have. You OWE it to them to embrace your freedoms, and do what you can to make the rest of the world a little bit better during your ride.

      Thanks for the note, Terry. Now, go blow something up…

    • The thing about that Celica was the bucket seats and the dashboard — I’ve never sat so low, so comfy, and never seen another totally bitchin’ spaceship-like array of glowing dials like that.

      And it was FAAAAAST. But so damn ugly, you had to prepare people before they saw it. I had girls who drove freakin’ Gremlins refuse to to be seen in my Celica (unless I got them really drunk first)…

  3. John, this is good stuff, as usual. I, too, miss those crusty old farts hanging out around fires at the horse stables; drinking, cussing, smoking, and getting louder as the night progressed, until Mom would drag me and the brother away from the “madness” that occurred most weekends.

    And the “duck and cover” drills were always a thrill; until Kennedy was shot and I decided to find out what the fuss was really about. Thankfully, Ed Sullivan brought us the Beatles, and I was hooked on music, which has made it easier to ignore the insanity of humanity!

    My car was pretty cool, though. I started working at the age of 8 and saved it all, then splurged on a used ‘Vette as my first car. Hot cars, girls they attract, and road racing became a way of life. Can’t do that in most countries.

    I’m so grateful to live in a place where we can write, say, and do pretty much whatever the hell we want that it leaves me speechless at times, and I’ve traveled enough to know just how good we have it. And we can shoot things and blow shit up at will.

    Since my great plan for fixing the problems probably won’t work, I’m living by the motto, “Have hammock, will travel!”

    Finishing up some homemade explosives now…
    Peace bro’ and keep ‘em coming ~ Gman

    • Your first car was a Corvette? You dog! Pop let me have the family ’62 Impala to drive in high school (long before it became a collector’s item). Man, our school parking lot was crammed with ’55 Buick Specials, ’57 Bel Airs, early sixties SuperSports, Corvairs, Bugs… all of them thrashed and not respected by our elders (who had all moved on to Lincolns, Galaxies and Marquis). Heck, even the fabulous T-Bird got stretched out and turned into a 4-door sedan. Horror!

      I’m about to dive into my autobiography, and I can tell ya that cars play a big role…

      Thanks for the note, Gary. Damn. A ‘Vette…

      • Yes sir, John. ’68 blue convertible 435hp/427 L71 w/optional M21 rock-crusher 4-spd. White rag & blue hard-tops. I’ll post a pic on FB. One of 2,898 L71 ragtops built in ’68. Estimated top speed was 172 mph stock, but it started floating over 145 mph, so I’d back off. My brother’s ’65 Malibu was mean too.
        Later ~ G

  4. I too have friends with political views “all over the map” and I’ve always prided myself with being open-minded enough to at least, by God, give the other fella a shot and listen to what he/she has to say. But I’ll be damn if I will ever go against my true beliefs and cave in to some nutball on a soap box who mesmerizes others with slick talk and smooth ways…it may all “sound great” but I look at what a person DOES vs. what they “say.” Call me callous, but actions speak much louder than words or pictures ever could. Ulterior motives and the seemingly predominant “me, me, me” attitude most people have today gives just cause to be skeptical of just any old S.O.B. that thinks their crap don’t stink like everybody else’s. In summation, I think just like you do: Show me, don’t friggin’ waste my time and everybody else’s by trying to convince me with words.

    • That ain’t callous, Wm, that’s smart. Action is what truly defines life, not talk. The current crop of politicos love to talk, and know how to feed red meat to the base… but they’re dangerously weak on pulling anything off…

  5. From over here, across the pond up in ole’ Scandinavia, it’s rather awe-inspiring… just how patriotic some of ya’ll tend to be. I guess in both a good and a bad way. Bad, as in when it borders on propagandic brainwashing. Good, as you’ve expressed it here.

    The same kind of love for one’s country isn’t really expressed in the same way over here. I guess our ancient history isn’t quite as glorious as yours. In the middle ages we were sailing viking longships, terrorizing the rest of europe… some scottish (I think) psalms still contain prayers for salvation from Swedish brutes…

    Fantastic post, John.

    Interesting times, indeed. Looks like it might get even more interesting over the next decade or so.

    Cheers,
    Linus

    • Oh, so you were one of those dudes trashing the coasts of Europe in longboats, huh? Good job. You guys turned pillaging into an art form.

      I cringe at the term “patriotism”, because it’s been co-opted by scoundrels. And I could happily live in several other countries I’ve visited, and embrace them fully as an ex-patriot. But my life is here, and I’m gonna do what I can do to keep the crazies and the fools from screwing it up. The pen can still, at times, be mighty… but the key is persuasion, not bombast. First, you gotta give the nutballs enough rope to hang themselves, which can take a while. Then, when they’ve exhausted themselves trying to make their dumb-ass ideas work, you maybe have a chance to turn it around. Prohibition was a disaster within the same year it became the law, but it took a decade (and a financial crisis) to turn it around.

      Anyway, thanks for the post, Linus…

  6. Top notch post, John!

    We ARE damn spoiled, ain’t we?

    I’m propped on a chaise reading your rant with a toasty laptop while the whole big laughing family splash in the pool outside.

    Everyone’s got a full belly and the biggest concern of the moment is “when’s cake?”

    The fact that we devote 600 hours of teevee “news” coverage to political peacocking every day in America is a (sad) measure of our overabundance.

    Yet, it gives me a fuzzy feeling to know that we’ve (so far) managed to protect our right to spout off these opinions at will.

    (Cue Lee Greenwood)

    Every year (with the sharpened perspective of age and fatherhood)I get more amazed at my good fortune for being dropped from the sky into this crazy, indulgent, jingoist, and breathtakingly beautiful country of ours.

    Even more… I’m increasingly overwhelmed at the idea that men and women much smarter ad braver than me sacrifice all those same comforts to fight (without regard to political reasoning) for our independence.

    Nuts.

    K-man

    • Indeed. For those of us who see the humor in every aspect of life (good and bad), it’s frustrating to realize too many others just take everything for granted. Like the dude flying 30,000 ft over the Grand Canyon in a comfy jet on the way to a huge adventure in another city, whose day is ruined — RUINED — because he had to drink Seagram’s vodka instead of his preferred Absolute.

      How we get through a day in the modern without our jaw permanently dropped is beyond me…

      Enjoy your holiday, K-man…

  7. John:

    Great stuff here.

    Just recently read a biography on George Washington. Anyone who thinks that “partisan politics” is something new doesn’t know how Jefferson bitterly hated Hamilton… or how Washington himself was savaged in the press.

    It’s a tough game keeping a free country…

    … and the biggest mistake would be to demand (in the words of Rodney King) that we all “get along”.

    Bullshit. Allow people to say anything they want… spark debate, controversy, riots in the streets if necessary… and trust that the Americans will (in the words of Churchill) eventually do the right thing.

    It’s worked so far…

    –JimmyCurley

    Winston

    • Of course, the Brits kicked Churchill out of power the minute the Nazis folded. Thanks, dude, and you’re fired.

      Average people, put in a position of power through an election, are appalled at becoming punching bags and targets for all the frustration of the folks who know what they don’t like, even if they’re dismally weak on how to solve anything.

      The best politico’s are either people who truly feel the drive to make a difference… or they’re drop-dead psychopaths with a blazing smile and a need for greed.

      Constant vigilance. That’s the price of our ticket…

      Thanks for the post, Jimmy…

  8. I’m reading Mark Twain’s autobiography… bitching about politicians, grumbling about needing money, worried about copyright laws in order to help create a living for his daughters after his death (in case they didn’t marry well), and a sense of overwhelm and frustration at not getting more done.

    It’s a fascinating read… but more so because though times are MUCH different than 100 years ago… they really ain’t that much different. It’s the same game.

    Except… us gals don’t have to rely on daddy’s book sales anymore. =)

    I love this country. The big dysfunctional family makes me feel right at home… and it’s nice to know it’s always been there, and always will be. God bless America!

    Thanks for the post… and the chuckles…
    Lisa

    • I gotta read that autobio, Lisa. Twain blazed his own way through the American business landscape as we went from agriculture to the Industrial Age (headed for The War To End All Wars), much like you and I and the rest are on the front lines of this strange new movement through the Info Age straight to the Tech-Dependent Age.

      Interesting times, Lisa. Always happy to provide a few chuckles…

  9. What a great reminder just how disgustingly spoiled we all are, and how much we love it! And how lucky we are to be here, and in these times…

    I wouldn’t trade my freedoms here (or beautiful California weather) for any other country. Though I’ve enjoyed all 7 or so I visited,some on taxpayer dime in haze grey for brief moments, some on my own for longer stretches.

    This blog is damn good-it even distracts me from youtube, which is a feat in itself! Loving writing, I savor the posts almost as much as the best chocolate-and chocolate is the one essential food group.

    These posts had better be in that autobiography. Or a book themselves. With a new edition coming out every year or two.

    I also love that I’m probably the baby of this whole group-been a little while since I’ve felt that! ;)

    • I spent the first part of my career as the “young punk at the table”, and my job was to piss off the older clients. Now I’m the oldest guy at the table, and that pisses ME off.

      So enjoy your youth, Devin. You’re on the right track, for sure. Just remember that, as fun as the ride is, it takes some unforeseen turns as you age…

      Thanks for the post, man.

  10. Great post John.

    I just read a great quote today, “The best way to predict the future, is to create it.” -Peter Drucker.

    Yeah, we have to pay attention to those in charge and keep them from going to far. But at the same time, if we just take care of ourselves, focus on our goals, and do the right thing, everything should work out. If we just weren’t so worried about what everyone else was doing, we could get on with our lives.

    As bad as we think it is sometimes, and as frustrated as we get with “the man,” we still live in the GREATEST country in the world. Sometimes I think the problems we face are caused by us taking for granted the things we have and becoming complacent.

    When the politicians get out of line too far, the American people always seem to stand up and fight for what’s right. Let’s hope that spirit lives forever.

    We live in the only country that people are willing to die trying to get here… let’s keep it that way!

    God bless America!

  11. I gotta say – I love it when guys tell stories about their cars. Is your car your first love – or what??
    My first car was a VW Bug – we called it the “bondo bug” because my oldest sister smashed the thing up – and it became a family project to piece it back together – with bondo. (And it had the greatest gas heater that you could turn on without starting the car.) I used to forget to turn the lights off – so I’d park on a hill, shove off to get rolling, pop the clutch, and go.
    Then…(and some of you guys are going to be jealous)…my Dad (a school teacher by day, insurance adjuster by night) bought me a “new” used car…I had my sights on a cute soft blue Dodge Colt I saw advertised…but Dad took action and brought home an AMC Javelin that he picked up from one of his body shop buds. It was black with silver stripes down the hood. The envy of every cool guy…In Minnesota winters we used to take it to the State Fair parking lot and spin wheelies, because it had such a light rear-end. I also was chased down the freeway by truck drivers on several occasions. Power, rear-wheel-drive, 3-on-the-floor, and a sleek design…
    Eventually traded it for…a new Plymouth Horizon…I know – disappointing! See – chicks love their cars, too!!

  12. “not too shabby” say you John..?? I have to diasgree. I know you said not to discuss any politics, so I won’t. But our country isn’t in the best of shapes. It could have been so different. Thats all i gotta say…

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