Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Adjusting to the Times

Bill Gelz hadn’t seen his old high school classmate, Tom Pierpoint, in years. After taking a degree in mechanical engineering, Tom had moved to Detroit to work for one of the large automakers. He hadn’t been back in town for a decade at least although his mother, a widow, still lived up on the hill behind the grammar school that Bill and Tom had both attended a long time ago. 

But that was Tom, Bill was sure of that, on this sunny Saturday morning, wandering around the Farmer’s Market, carefully picking out some fruits and vegetables. Bill was happy to see him. Both had been Eagles Scouts together.

“Hi Tom,” Bill yelled from two aisles away. “Great to see you.”

Tom waved back but didn’t seem too interested in a possible reunion and small talk. But Bill was not to be deterred so he made his way over to Tom, who was now investigating the kiwi fruit.

“How’s the car business, Tom? I read in the paper that sales have picked up now that folks are going back to work.”

“Bill, we were doing great and the industry as a whole was doing great until the Supreme Court passed that new law on same-sex marriage. Word is, the whole industry might have to shut down now for a year, maybe more, to remake our cars to complement that law. It won’t be easy. But we can’t be out of step. Times change. Values change. And the car industry has to keep up with the changes in our culture and mores.”

“I don’t understand,” said Bill, "what does that law have to do with the car industry? It just means men can marry men legally and women can marry women legally if that’s their choice. Everyone will still need cars.” 

“True enough,” said Tom, stopping with the five kiwi fruit he thought his mother would like. “But the car industry has to adjust to the changing times. It used to be just fine to have a car or truck with just one gas tank that was easy to fill. Now, the auto industry may have to outfit all cars and trucks with two gas tanks. The second one would go in the exhaust pipe. If we want to sell cars to everyone, the auto industry must keep up with the culture of our times.”

Bill thought putting gas in the exhaust pipe for a second and then said, “You don’t mean….”

“Indeed I do,” Tom said. “The Supreme Court has spoken and the auto industry must respond to the needs of all. We cannot discriminate. We must be politically correct. If bakeries must make wedding cakes for everyone, we must make cars for everyone. So I suggest you don’t buy a new car until the new models come out. It might be difficult to sell the older models later on.”

Donal Mahoney

Friday, July 17, 2015

Love and Anger at 80, According to Elmer 

When ancient Elmer was young and dashing and on the prowl, he would wait for a phone call about love or anger from someone important to him at the time. Over the years more than a few women had reason to call. Some were happy with Elmer and some were not. 

According to Elmer, more than a few of those women today, five or six decades later, take advantage of the new technology and Google his name in an effort to find him. Many want to confront him for past promises not kept. Some want to see him again if he's single, widowed or divorced. Others just want to see him again, whatever his marital status. 

The vote on him, Elmer says, is split down the middle. He fooled some of the women some of the time but the others never forgot. At age 80 he wishes most of them--but not all of them--would.

"What can I tell you," Elmer says. "Besides drinking, the only thing I was good at in life was talking to women until they caught on. I may be old but I can still talk nice to a lady. I specialize in buncombe and balderdash. But I can't run any more from the angry ones. The legs are gone. 

"And that damn Google can be a real problem. I guess my address and phone number got on the Internet somehow and some ladies who are still able to get around have come looking for me. It's happened more than once. I wouldn't be surprised to answer the door some day and find one of them in an electric wheel chair. But all of them, good and not so good, had energy and spunk."

His many children are now adults, he says, but they wasted his money in college. Instead of applying themselves to their studies, they would wait for an email about love or anger from someone important to them for that semester. The following semester, he says, they would wait for an email from a new love interest. This would go on every semester until they flunked out or managed to graduate. Email in the lives of his children was not a positive thing when they were in college.

"I have 12 kids," Elmer says. "Six have degrees and six flunked out. More of the flunkers have jobs than the graduates. What does that tell you about this economy? And what does that tell you about my kids? The apples, I guess, fell close to the tree."

Elmer also has quite a few grandchildren, most of them adolescents. They waste time in school, he says, waiting for a text message about love or anger from someone important to them for a day or a week or over spring break. Texting is not a good thing, Elmer says, in the lives of his grandchildren. And it won't be a good thing for any of them able to get into college.

"Kids today," he says, "are on a carouselespecially the girls because they trust boys and most teen-age boys are louts. I can tell you that from personal experience because I was a teen-age lout for several wonderful years," Elmer says. 

"As a teen-ager, if I ever told a girl the truth I must have been drinking beer in back of the Masonic Lodge earlier that night. We had no dope back in those days. Never even saw the stuff. Wouldn't touch it if I did. But we drank a lot of beer on the weekends and maybe a little vodka and Squirt on Sundays. After church, of course. Times were different back then. You could meet a lot of nice girls at church." 

Now in his dotage, and feeling the effects in his joints and muscles, Elmer still maintains that love or anger shouldn't arrive by phone, text message or email. It should arrive in person, smiling or spitting with rage. He's had it happen both ways. And he's ready for more if time permits. 

Elmer doesn't have a computer or cell phone so emails and text messages never ruin his day. He has a land-line phone to make outgoing calls but he adjusted it so he cannot hear the ring of incoming calls. He did that two months ago after Bertha, a woman he took to her prom more than 60 years ago, found his phone number on the Internet. She called twice a day for a week until Elmer turned off the ringer, as he calls it. He never turned it back on. Now he calls out once a week for a large meat-lover's pizza and two quarts of beer. He'd make the same order more often, he says, but he has to watch his cholesterol.  

Elmer, however, would not be disturbed if Bertha--or any other woman from his youth--came knocking on his door. He has always believed that love or anger should pound on the door with great emphasis--like the baton of a policeman at midnight yelling the music's too loud, stop the party or everyone's going to jail. 

The pounding would have to be loud enough, Elmer says, for him to hear it--and even louder at night to roust him from his bed in his nightshirt to search for his teeth and toupee before he answered the door. He wouldn't care who's pounding as long as it was love or anger and not some guy in a ball cap selling aluminum siding. 

"Every man, no matter how old, deep in his heart wants to hear one more coo or even a gripe from a woman," Elmer says. "In fact I'd like to hear both before I go--and I won't go quietly--into what Dylan Thomas called that good night. Did you ever read his poems? I did and I thought if I'd had a brother, it should have been Dylan Thomas. Or Salvador Dali. Did you ever see his paintings? I see life the way he painted it. "

Donal Mahoney
Is the World off Its Meds?

The old guy on the next stool is half drunk and I’m not but he had walked into this lounge in Manhattan many hours before me. As soon as I sat down and opened my iPad, he started talking, long before and long after I had been served my first drink.

"I have been alive a long time, young man,” he said, "and I have spent much of that time watching politics. It started after I had to pull my red wagon home from the grocery store in the Forties during World War II. It was my task as a kid to bring home the groceries with my mother. She would use ration stamps to buy oleomargarine, as it was called then, instead of butter. A can of Spam or Prem, sliced and fried, would often be the entrĂ©e for dinner. Couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Still like Spam. Don’t know if they make Prem anymore.

"I remember in the Fifties,” he continued, "being glued to a 12-inch black-and-white Muntz TV and cheering for Adlai during two conventions and him being crushed twice by Ike.

"I was too young to go to Korea but I saw the older guys in the neighborhood come back. They were talking to themselves and smoking incessantly. This was before anyone had ever heard of the term PTSD. People simply said they were shell-shocked. They were more like zombies although no one used that term either back then."

The old fellow was on a roll now and so I stopped typing and listened to him, figuring eventually he would come to his point, assuming despite all the liquor he had one.

“I wasn't drafted in the Sixties for Vietnam,” he said. "I was pursuing degrees, married and having children. I received continuous exemptions from the draft board. I was lucky, very lucky. 

"I was neither in favor of nor opposed to the war in Vietnam. Because of ignorance, I was unaware of the issues. I was trying to make great grades and after graduation trying to find good jobs to feed the children. The army didn’t need me. They drafted a lot of other guys in my old neighborhood whose parents didn’t have the money to send them to college. Perhaps there were student loans in the Fifties but I don’t remember them.

At that point I asked him a question or two, hoping to move him along but he just kept on rolling out the personal history of his life.

“I recall dying a little three times as a young man--when JFK, MLK and RFK were assassinated. The killing of RFK helped me swear off politics for many years. But I remember being in a small, dark Chinese restaurant on August 9, 1974, and watching Nixon resign on television. The proprietor, who spoke little English, looked at me after the speech was over and just shook his head. I did the same. It was a crushing embarrassment for all Americans, natives and immigrants.

"After Nixon,” the old man said, "I paid little attention to Ford, Carter, Reagan or Bush 41 because RFK was dead and most of what I had believed as a college student died with himI found the Man from Hope entertaining (still do) and Bush 43 confusing except on 9/11 when he was reading to a kindergarten class and that aide bent over and whispered in his ear what had just happened at the World Trade Center. At that moment I realized the World officially was now off its meds.

“And after 9/11,” the old man continued, “I came to believe the World would not go back on its meds during the remainder of my life. For the last 14 years I have not been wrong in that speculation as much as I would love to be.

“Some people, of course, think I’m off my meds when I tell them what I’ve been hearing recently in my visits to different bars. What I’ve been hearing is that many of my fellow Americans have come to believe John Wayne has risen from the dead and is masquerading as Donald Trump. Many of these people, albeit mostly white, believe The Donald will wear a ten-gallon hat and ride on a white horse all the way from New York  to Washington, DC. Even women who like Hillary take The Donald as a possible threat. 

“Most of these folks think CNN or MSNBC or PBS can’t stop him. Despite what the naysayers may think, it’s too early to tell what price Fox News is willing to pay to see the GOP back in the White House. The Donald is a real wild card. Question is, is he an Ace or a Joker.

“Honestly, young man,” the old man whispered to me after buying my second drink, "if I were off my meds, I'd be willing to go back on them if it would help the country. But whether The Donald rides his horse to the White House in January 2017 or not, the World is in for more of the same. More war and more poverty. The lust for power and money guarantees that. I don’t even know if RFK could have made a difference if he had lived and become president. I can only hope that he and JFK and MLK are resting in peace. At my age, I’ll find out pretty soon."

Donal Mahoney

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Just in Case

A rather tall woman about my age was standing at the other end of the subway car talking to another woman. She had a stack of newspapers under her arm.
A minute later she was talking to a couple of guys in business suits. Soon she had moved on to someone else. She seemed to be trying to sell her newspapers.
As she got closer, I realized just how attractive she was. Her long blonde hair hung straight down, which meant she was probably what was then called a “hippie chic.” She was even wearing “granny glasses.”
When she got to me I smiled at her. She smiled back. I wanted to ask her to just forget about those newspapers she was selling and sit down next to me. But then she began her pitch. “Just in case you haven’t seen the latest issue of the Socialist Workers’ paper, it’s got a great article about capitalist exploitation of workers in the South Bronx.”

She wasn’t wearing a wedding band or an engagement ring. So maybe I had a chance. I just kept smiling and not saying anything; she kept right on about what a great article this was.
Meanwhile, the absurdity of her pitch began to make me start laughing to myself. She noticed my mood change and stopped smiling. “OK mister, what’s so funny?”
Let me see if I can explain. First, the Social Workers’ paper may be really fantastic, but come on now, what are the chances that I am at all familiar with it – let alone that I had read that article?”
I could see that she was really getting angry. “Look, mister, if you don’t want to support the American worker, just say so. But there’s no need to make fun of our paper. Especially since you never read it.”
No, that’s not it at all! This may be the greatest issue of the greatest newspaper in the world, but let’s face it: what are the chances that anyone you approach has even heard of it, let alone read this particular issue?”
I’m sorry, but if you’ve not interested in our paper, please stop wasting my time.”
Look, I apologize. Obviously you really believe it’s a great paper, and I wasn’t trying to make fun of you – or your paper. I just couldn’t get past the absurdity of your premise.”
Well, why don’t you just have a nice day.” And with that, this lovely and very earnest woman walked out of my life.
Later that day, when I told my friend, Bob, what had happened, he called me an idiot. “Steve, you should have bought her entire stack of papers!”
Now you tell me?”
A few years later, a group of writers I knew launched a literary magazine, Box 749 – named for the post office box they had been assigned. While the list of contributors in the first issue was almost identical to the list of editors, the level of writing was quite good. I especially liked an article written by Patricia, which was a rebuttal to a piece by Norman Mailer in Playboy. In it, he revealed his fantasy of having sex with a woman on a pool table, and then watching her slide down into a pocket.
Patricia’s friend, Gail, who wrote the small banks column for The American Banker – “The nation’s only daily newspaper” – was also infuriated with Mailer. But her editors would have been less than pleased if she had cited Patricia’s article in her column. So the two of them schemed about what they could do to let Mailer know just what a male chauvinist pig he was.
Something about the plan they concocted sounded vaguely familiar. Gail typed a letter to Mailer on American Banker stationery and enclosed Patricia’s article. He never replied.
Sometime later, it dawned on me why their strategy sounded so familiar. Gail’s letter had begun, “Just in case you haven’t already seen this article….”

Steve Slavin