Sunday, July 05, 2020

My Sunday Feeling

I love the smell of cordite in the morning.  Beyond that I have nothing to allow on this, the 5th of July.  

Except that I might have liked to have been a fly on Jefferson Davis’s wall on this day in 1863.  

Talk to you later.  

Sunday, June 28, 2020

My Sunday Feeling

They own it.  I suppose that they can change the name if they want to.  Yesterday, Gayle Benson, widow of Tom Benson and owner of the Saints, the Pelicans, numerous car dealerships  and Dixie Beer announced that they had decided to change “Dixie” to a less racially tinged brand name.

Anybody that knows me and has followed this blog-all 10 of you-knows that I am sympathetic to those who wish to erase Confederate iconography from public places.  Especially that iconography that was funded and maintained by tax money.  And I get that the song “Dixie” is associated with the Confederacy, mistrel shows (which were mercifully before my time), white supremacy and, worst of all, Ole Miss.  This despite the fact that Abraham Lincoln thought it to be a pretty snappy tune.

But to paraphrase Mr. Justice Kavanaugh, “I like Dixie Beer.”  When I was at Tulane, Dixie practically flowed from the drinking fountains.  You could get it for a quarter a glass at most of the bars around campus.  On Fridays in the spring Dixie would send a truck with about 5 taps per side.  We would sit in the Quad and drink free Dixie and eat free crawfish.  Granted, Dixie is not the best beer ever brewed.  Indeed, some would say it is an acquired taste.  But it was ubiquitous in nature in Orleans Parish and I have fond memories of it and those times.

The old brewery on Tulane Avenue over by the med school downtown looked like something  out of “Bride of Frankenstein.”  A friend of mine in Covington, where I last bought a case of it, told me that her Dad’s first job as a 13 year old boy was to shine the silver dome at the top of the tower of the old brewery.  Things were different then.  

Back in the day, New Orleans had 2 or three breweries.  Jax and Falstaff were brewed there as well.  When I was in school you could see the smokestack of the old Jax brewery from the top floors of the grad school dorm.  At night the word “JAX” was illuminated.  One of the letters was always burned out.  The brewery was empty back then.  It’s highest and best use was to give the bums a place to sleep.  Now it is a shopping mall and aquarium.  

And despite it being the lone survivor of New Orleans brewery history, Dixie was not the brew of choice for New Orleanians of a certain age and station.  As was described to me by a semi-reliable informant classmate who was raised in the Ninth Ward, there was the infamous “bad batch” of Dixie that got past what was euphemistically referred to as “quality control.” 

Seems all commercial brewers inject gas into their products to give it that nice foamy head when you pour it into a glass. Not to get too technical on you.  But this is referred to as “good” gas.  There is also a gas that is a byproduct of the brewing art that they bleed out of the mash.  This is called-guess what?-“bad” gas.  Well one fateful day, somebody screwed up and took the good gas out and injected the bad gas in.   

Anyway, the infamous “bad batch” that escaped the brewery up and killed some folks before they could get it all back.  And just like that a generation of your basic Yat types became Miller drinkers.  

What’s a “yat” you ask?  In some places in town you are not greeted with “Hello! How are you?” Instead they call out “Hey! Where ya at?”  I have heard this. These sorts of indigenous people are referred to as “Yats.” 

Anyway, Katrina destroyed the old brewery.  The old owners sold it to Miller if I am remembering correctly under some other brand name.  The Bensons bought it back and Dixie was reborn with a new brewery out in New Orleans East.  Old Tom said he bought it so he could drink on the job.  Your average Saints fan could be excused for wondering whether Tom had tipped the bottle a time or two during his tenure as owner.  

So, as you can see, me and Dixie go back a long ways.  I can scarcely conceive of New Orleans without Dixie.  And now, just when you can buy it here in Little Rock -and not at a stick up price-they are going to change the brand name.  

I say you have to draw the line somewhere.  As far as I’m concerned they can knock down every Confederate soldier in every courthouse square  in, well, Dixie.  They can disinterr Nathan Bedford Forrest and re-bury him in Forrest City.  They can set fire to the State Flag of Mississippi. They can rebrand Rebel Yell because I don’t drink it anyway.  And speaking of whiskey, they can change the name of the University of the South to Jack Daniels University if for no other reason than the distillery is down the road from “the Domain” and the streets on its property aren’t named for Confederate officers. And while we’re at it, for God’s sake get rid of the Redskins, the Indians and the Braves.  

But leave Dixie alone.

You can’t change my history.   

Sunday, June 21, 2020

My Sunday Feeling

I had to see it for myself.  There used to be a statue of a Confederate soldier out in front of the Arkansas Museum of Military History downtown in MacArthur Park.  You know. Defensive position with bayonet and equally steely gaze pointed north.  Somebody had defaced it with varnish or something last Wednesday.  So on Thursday, the City of Little Rock took the damn thing down.

No hoopla.  No press conference.  No demonstration.  No nothing.

They just went over there and pulled Johnny off his pedestal.  Then they surrounded the pedestal with a wooden box.  I first learned about it from Friday morning’s paper.  I suspect that’s the way that most folks found out about it. And sure enough it was true.  I saw it with my own two eyes.

My thoughts?  I really don’t have any.  Other than it’s kinda surreal for a big honking piece of public art to not be there after being there all my life.  I vividly remember it greeting us elementary school kids when we went over there for field trips.  And a couple of years ago I went to see Johnny around dusk to try my hand at arty farty photography.  I failed.

I have always been ambivalent at best about “Lost Cause” iconography.  At worst I found it all overwrought and silly.  I remember the first time I ever saw Robert E. Lee way up in the air on Lee Circle.  I pulled the car over.  I got out and stood at the base and gawked.  I used to run from my hovel on Napoleon to Lee Circle most days.  And most days I would catch my breath beneath old Bobby and marvel at how “out there” Lee Circle was. 

And I suppose that, being a middle class white kid, I was just not attuned to the wider implications of the glorification of guys who pretty much under any other normal definitions that might govern armed conflict and/or political science committed treason against the United States of America.  I just thought “this is how they do down here.” Down here being Mississippi and Louisiana.  

Sure.  Back home we had rednecks waving the Rebel flag at Central High.  And Rebel flag bumper stickers were once abundant in nature around here.  But to consider Arkansas part of the antebellum south is ludicrous.  

Still.  I didn’t think much about it one way or another.  Background noise. That’s just the way they do down there.

I eventually was required to confront the issue.  And what forced the confrontation was, as is often the case, kids.

I was teaching high school history for juniors about the time Trump was running for the Republican nomination.  I think the Robert E. Lee thing had just cranked up down in New Orleans.  Anyway, about a third of the boys in each of my classes were incensed by the notion of taking down statues, pulling down flags etc.  About a third were all for it.  The rest could give a shit.

“You can’t change history Mr. B,” was the most persistent argument of the preservationists in front of me.   My response that so long as the Army War College exists so will Lee was deemed a little too facile.  Or would have been so deemed had any of them ever heard of that word.

Huey Long said that sometimes you got to put the hay down where the goats can get at it.  So I sat on my porch swing after school one day and cooked up some goat feed.  The final product went something like this.

“Let’s say I’m a black guy in Memphis.  I have a wife and a family.  I have a good job.  I pay my taxes just like anybody else.  And every day when I go to work I have to drive past a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest.  Nathan Bedford Forrest who was as ruthless a slave owner as ever was.  Who made a fortune off the slave trade.  And finally I get to thinking I’m sick of driving past a monument to a man like this.  And I really don’t want to have to explain to my children why they got to look at it either.

I know you can’t change history.  I’m not trying to.  I can’t bring back the lynched.  I can’t unseparate the families.  But what I can do is make damn sure that my children don’t have to look at Nathan Bedford Forrest every day.  I can damn sure try to make sure not another nickel of my tax dollars goes to the upkeep of that thing.  

And your only response is that you can’t change history?”

You may well ask ,Gentle Reader, “Did it work?”

And the answer would be “Of course not.”  I wasn’t exactly running the local chapter of the  “Dead Poets Society” in there.

I run into some of those guys from time to time. Or they look me up on Facebook.  They typically share with me a favorite memory of those days.  And it’s different with each former student. Some things I emphasized went in one ear and out the other.  Somethings I didn’t think all that important is remembered with crystalline clarity. I bet if you talk to any teacher they will tell you that this is pretty much par for the course. The fact that a kid remembers something-anything- is a win.

 But maybe some of my former students will remember the lunch Huey Long and I fed them 5 years ago as our country currently confronts the systemic racism embedded in much of our public art and iconography.  Racism that I didn’t ever really catch as a young man who looked up in the sky in wonderment at Marse Robert 3-4 times a week while I ran the streetcar lines.  Maybe my history boys will recognize that there is another side.  If they can do that, then I did my job.

“I pay my goddamn taxes just like anybody else.  And I am sick of looking at this.“

There are worst arguments.  

Sunday, June 14, 2020

My Sunday Feeling

I got nothing.  Or, more accurately, I got too much.  

Let me ponder the situation and get back to you.

Wear your mask.  Wash your hands.  

Don’t be a jerk.  

I will report back later.  

Sunday, June 07, 2020

My Sunday Feeling

I can't quite put my finger on it.  But things feel different.  Not particularly good.  Not really hopeful.  But different.

It is popular nowadays to refer to tipping points.  Ok. If the present moment is a tipping point what was its cause?  

The bungled response to the pandemic by this Administration?  The evisceration of the economy?  Unemployment numbers that rival those of the Great Depression?  The brutal torture and killing of yet another black man by the police?  A man who was completely subdued and in cuffs?  Who called for his mother as his life was being choked out of him? 

The ensuing, and occasionally violent protests across the nation?  Subjecting peaceful protestors to rubber bullets and tear gas in order to clear the space they occupied for a photo-op?  Was it the President-who is hardly known for his deep religious convictions-using a Holy Bible as a prop in front of a church whose door he hasn't darkened since his inauguration?

Was it the millions of people who still haven't gotten their unemployment or their Paycheck Protection loans?  Was it the threats of the use of active duty servicemen and women against Americans?  

Was it this week's jimmied up unemployment numbers?  The ones the President said George Floyd was smiling down on?  

Was it his inane promotion of quack cures and dangerous treatments?  Was it the criticism from all former presidents?  Was it the condemnation by his former head of the Joint Chiefs and Chief of Staff?  Was it the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs stating that he was opposed to using the military for law enforcement purpose?

Was it property destruction and mass arrests in an otherwise peaceful-well, peaceful if you're white-town like Little Rock?  Was it seeing my wife in her clerical collar join a protest with other clergy downtown with her daughter?

Was it noticing that the coronavirus cases here are spiking again?  Was it the lack of a vaccine?  Was it wondering how we're going to do school much less sports?   

Was it the Trump Administration trying to end Obamacare during a pandemic?  With no alternative to replace it with?  Is it the low esteem with which we are held by our European allies?  Upon whose shores much blood and treasure was expended on yesterday's date in 1944?

Is it the fact that the President is fundamentally incapable of empathy?  Of kindness? Of appealing to what Abraham Lincoln famously referred to as the "gentler angels of our nature?"  Trump likes to say he learned how to be tough from his late lawyer Roy Cohn.  Big difference between Donald Trump and Roy Cohn.  Like Trump, Roy Cohn was live evil.  But Roy Cohn was smart.  Donald Trump has a big mouth.  He is not particularly smart.

Is it the fact that the man who is leading-check that-in charge was freaking impeached?

And all of these calamitous events-or three of them at least(the pandemic, the crash and the execution of George Floyd) -took place within 6 months.  

I believe that America is a good country populated primarily by good people.  I believe it or I would like to believe it.  I get the sense that people, even maybe people that were willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt in the last election are weary of the incompetence, the meanness, and the constant drama.  

We are 5 months from November.  That is an eternity in politics.  But, for all of these reasons, I sense a tipping point.

And if it's not? God help us.       

Sunday, May 31, 2020

My Sunday Feeling

You could fill a thimble with what I know about psychology.  But I believe that the phrase "cognitive dissonance" pertains to things we experience that don't quite fit within our experience.  When things just don't look right.  However you define it, I'm pretty sure I  experienced it Wednesday morning.

I was driving down a major artery in the neighbors en route to the running track at school.  Suddenly I saw something low to my left out of the corner of my eye.  I looked in my side mirror and thought I saw a little boy, a baby really, walking down the sidewalk.  

I was like, what?  That's not supposed to be there.

I hung a left and went around the block.  There he was.  A toddler. No more than 3.  Barefoot and in his jammies walking toward me bigger than Dallas.  I started slowing down.  I guess that spooked the little guy because he turned and ran the other way.  I followed him as he went up the front steps of one half of a house.

I pulled onto a side street and got out of the car.  He was banging on the storm door and calling "Mommy! Mommy!"

What to do?  Apart from hoping that Mommy would open the damn door that is?   I started to go up the steps to bang on the door myself.  

But then I thought of George Floyd.  Certainly not in the sense that I feared any retaliation by the cops.  I'm white.  I'm older.  As far as I know, I'm not wanted for anything. I drive a late model car festooned with stickers that indicate that I am well educated although just because you have a particular school's sticker on your car doesn't mean much.  My stepson is a Georgia Bulldog fan for reasons that are by no means clear to me and despite my attempts to raise him better.  He has the red "G" on his truck.  Perhaps it is for "Go Figure."

No.  I was hesitant to intervene further because between the pandemic, the horrifying circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Floyd and the outbreak of protest afterwards along with the fact that there are touchy white folks out there with too many guns, I thought it not outside the realm of possibility that I might get shot for my trouble.  I mean, what's scarier than seeing a lost child with a stranger?  

And it occurred to me that "aint that a hell of a thing to have to worry about at a time like this?"

So I developed a plan.  I was not going to leave the little boy who was not particularly disturbed by my presence thank God.  I decided to give Mommy a couple more minutes to get her ass to the stoop and then I was going to call 911.  Let a cop knock on the door.  

A few minutes later I heard running down steps in the back.  A man who I assumed was Daddy came tearing around the corner with a cell phone in his hand.  He was obviously terror-stricken.  I came around my car with my hands held out to him as if to say "Whoa!.

I pointed to the porch.  

"He's right there.  He's OK.  I stayed with him."

The man scooped up the boy and held him close.

"Thank you," he muttered.  

"Look man," I said. "When I first saw your kid he was halfway down the block walking around like he owned the place."

I was yelling.  I am not a yeller.  

"Thank you. Thank you."

About that time a car pulled in behind me.  Lone female driver.  I figured it was Mommy.  

And I figured things were fixing to get real with Daddy.  I'm prescient like that. Besides, I had done my civic duty.  The child was safe.  I had experienced enough drama for one day.

Later on I wondered, and still do, whether my reluctance to put my hand on the child and knock on the door myself was justified. Or paranoia.  Or both.

But I know this.  The whole country seems to be on fire in 9 places at once.  And at a time when we could use a leader in the White House we have a rageaholic who seems intent on fanning those flames.  People are on edge.  And there are too many guns.


Aint this a hell of a thing to have to worry about when you're trying to get an escaped child home?

I mean really?   

I believe they call it "cognitive dissonance." 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

My Sunday Feeling

If memory serves, it was right around Katrina.  The United Methodist Church (back when there was such an entity) ran a series of ads.  The one I remember most showed a scene of devastation.  Police directing traffic.  Sirens.  People lined up to get food from a canteen van.  Rain.  Flashing lights.

A young man's face was superimposed on this scene.  His countenance was solemn if not grim.  He looked the viewer directly in the eye so to speak.  

"Do you recognize this?" he asked as nodded his head back toward the scene.

"This is church."  

I thought of this ad about the time that the Moron-in-Chief took it upon himself to threaten to "override" any particular governor's orders limiting crowds of people to gather so as to "open the churches."

Now, as a matter of Constitutional Law the Commissioner of the NFL has as much authority to "override" the governors as the President does.  Actually, Roger Goodell probably has more.  Let's see what happens if the Mayor of New Orleans tries to stick to her position that the Saints are not going to play in the Superdome during this crisis without permission from her office.

As Bugs Bunny used to say, "It is to laugh."

But hell this is football we're talking about.  That's important.

Besides Saints fans can just get all those bags out of storage and cover their faces that way.  It was good enough then.  It should be good enough now.  

But I ramble.

The cynics among us view this latest typically unenforceable edict by Trump, praying man that he is known to be,  against the states to be a dog whistle at the  evangelical types in his base alerting them that he is not letting "the State" tell the churches that they have to keep their doors closed. 

I'm willing to bet that this was his target audience because most "mainline denominations" including the Formerly United Methodist Church have voluntarily shut their doors for the time being.  This is not due to slavish obedience to government fiat.  They did it to keep their congregations and visitors safe. Think about it.  Off the top of my head I can't think of a better way to spread germs around then singing hymns and having Communion together. It is hard to maintain social distance at the Rail.  Which is, of course, the very idea.

But other folks, most of whom probably enjoy a closer walk with the Almighty than I do God knows, have pointed out the flaw in what passes for Trump's reasoning.  "Church" is not a building.  People are the church.  Church is what happens when you visit the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and try to bring aid and comfort to the victims of a natural disaster. 

But "Church" in this sense is not particularly narcissistic. It is outward directed. Not inward.  It is "Go out into the world to love and serve the Lord." It is not "Go out into the world to bitch incessantly about how unfair it is for you to have to wear a face mask before you can gain entry into Taco Bell."

But I will grant you this.  

Nobody takes up a collection at a disaster site.  They do at the Lakewood Church.

I'm certain that this latter consideration had absolutely nothing to do with the latest toothless pronouncement from the Roger Williams of Pennsylvania Avenue and FOX News.