“Like the Latin for fingernails”: Remembering Hesburgh

Students walked out on Pence’s commencement speech today at Notre Dame. Good. I’m reposting this piece from a few years ago because readers might be interested in the other time ND students protested a commencement speaker, Ronald Reagan in 1981.

We, the class of ’81, didn’t walk out. This year’s students look to be braver than we were….

See below.

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When it comes to the Catholic Church and the priesthood, to say that I am deeply conflicted does not begin to get at it. But reading this morning about the death, and the legacy, of Father Ted Hesburgh brought me to tears, and not for just a few seconds. I am still wiping them away.

There are two good appreciations at the Post and the Times, and I am sure hundreds more to come.

Hesburgh was outspokenly liberal and a man of ideas, who was at ease with the powerful but never a panderer to power. The Post piece ends with something of a shot at the current breed of academic CEOs:

In 2001, Father Hesburgh lamented that university presidents had become distant from public affairs.

“Once upon a time chief executives in higher education talked to the press about military policy in the same breath as the Constitutional amendment for the 18-year-old vote, but I wonder whether we’d hear them taking stands on similar topics now,” he wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Where we once had a fellowship of public intellectuals,” Father Hesburgh asked, “do we now have insulated chief executives intent on keeping the complicated machinery of American higher education running smoothly?”

***

I loved the “fishing, steaks and martinis” story, also from the Post piece:

President Dwight D. Eisenhower named Father Hesburgh to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission at its inception in 1957, a position he held for 15 years, immersing him in confrontations over racial discrimination.

In one of its first actions, the commission held hearings in Southern states to investigate the suppression of the black vote. When it came time to write a report to Congress, Father Hesburgh brought the commission in 1959 to Notre Dame’s Land O’Lakes retreat in Wisconsin for a day of fishing, steaks and martinis — and votes on recommendations that later influenced civil rights legislation.

Eleven proposals won unanimous support from the six commissioners, and a 12th won approval from five. The degree of consensus shocked Eisenhower.

“I told Ike that he had not appointed just Republicans and Democrats or Northerners and Southerners, he had appointed six fishermen,” Father Hesburgh recounted in “God, Country, Notre Dame,” a 1999 memoir written with Jerry Reedy. Eisenhower replied that more federal commissions should be sent to Land O’Lakes to resolve disputes.

***

What’s the difference between God and Father Hesburgh? God is everywhere. Father Hesburgh is everywhere but Notre Dame.

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Hesburgh was an almost mythic presence at ND when I was there. My memory of my four years Under the Golden Dome, from 1977 to 1981, are pretty hazy, but I’m fairly sure I only stood face to face with the great man on two occasions.

The first time was on the very last day of the 1980 spring term. A friend and I had to drop off our housing election forms for senior year. We were stoked about going off-campus and maybe a little panicked we would be forced to pay for on-campus housing if we missed the deadline, so we trudged over to the Administration Building with our forms. It was Saturday and the building was locked up tight. For some reason we banged on the basement door. Nothing. We turned to leave. Then, footsteps. And yes, Father Ted himself threw open the door.

We yammered something about our housing forms and he was all, “Yes, yes, of course. I’ll take them,” and he invited us to introduce ourselves. My friend Chris stuck out his hand and it turned out Hesburgh was on a first-name basis with Chris’ older brother and father, both alums. Chris and Father Ted shot the breeze for a few more minutes and then a lull came and it was my turn to say something.

I blurted out: “Uh, um, I’m Tim Ungs, from Minneapolis.”

He paused a beat, then gazed down at the back of his hand, and said pensively, “Ah, Ungs… like the Latin for fingernails….”

***

My second face-to-face was when Father Ted handed me my diploma at commencement.

Like maybe a couple hundred other students I had white tape on my graduation cap in tepid protest of Ronald Reagan’s being invited as the commencement speaker (also on hand were Pat O’Brien and Kurt Waldheim).

Reagan’s being chosen as speaker was, in retrospect, not at all unusual. If Hesburgh’s status as America’s preeminent Catholic gave him the sway to have every president come to campus  when he calls them, well, why not Reagan?

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But I think people forget how polarizing Reagan was in his day, and his being guest of honor at commencement (his first public appearance since the attempted assassination) divided the campus. That polarization even made it into this history of commencement ceremonies from the Notre Dame alumni magazine.

 Vocal protests against Reagan’s presence at Notre Dame created an especially tense atmosphere. “Every liberal advocacy group, including many from the Catholic left, had been waiting for an opportunity to protest what they considered Reagan’s lack of concern for society’s marginalized members,” [Richard] Conklin [former University spokesman] recalls. More than 1,500 protesters marched outside the Joyce Center while Reagan spoke. Inside, a few students reportedly wore white arm bands and covered their mortar boards with white paper.

Reportedly? I was one of them and we were more than a few.

I remember fairly vividly one gathering at the end of April protesting the savagery of Reagan’s policies, many of which, sadly, have since become mainstream. What made the rally stand out in my memory was that a group of student counter-demonstrators came forward, shouted, and pelted the speakers with eggs. I remember one student was reading poetry in her father’s Notre Dame letter sweater when the eggs rained down. English professor Joseph Buttigieg (whose son is now mayor of South Bend) was treated especially badly as I remember. He contrasted the decorous manifesto of the Students Concerned about Commencement with the counter-protesters’ “Don’t Give the Gipp No Lipp” banner (“a poster made up of mono-syllabids”).

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That’s a distillation of my memory of Notre Dame. A small core of passionate progressive people in a generally reactionary environment. That Hesburgh managed to make the university as open-minded as it has become is a testament largely to his energy and powerful personality. Hesburgh didn’t have to embrace civil rights, didn’t have to transfer university governance to a board of lay trustees, didn’t have to be first to admit women undergraduates, didn’t have to battle the Vatican and assert the “Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”

He didn’t have to. But he did. RIP Father Ted.

 

Rookie mistakes

When you walk through that gate to check on the herd, don’t think Oh I won’t need to latch it after me. I’m just going out for a quick look. Because you might see that white steer has gotten out into the winter wheat, and is not grazing it, but just sunning himself, and feeling proud of finding his own space. And you might walk across the wire into the wheat, and try to get outside of him to coax him back under the wire, but instead he sees you, and gets spooked, and starts a quick trot, and then a full gallop away from you. You keep walking after him, and you’re relieved he’s keeping to the perimeter of the wire, but he goes all the way around to the road fence, and finally ducks under and back with his momma.

You, slightly dazed, make your way back to where you had entered the pasture, and realize the gate you’d walked through is now wide open, and there are four grown cows banging the mineral buckets around right in front of the gate, and all that unmown grass on the house side of the fence. You got lucky. They’re good cows. But you keep making the same mistakes.

The “stuttering prick” messaging strategy

Every day comes more confirmation of my sinking feeling that–as horrifyingly stupid and inept and arrogant and mean-spirited as Trump has been–the Democrats seem uninterested or incapable of taking advantage of the many opportunities he’s giving them.

Think of the first few weeks of the clown car that is the Trump administration, the disorganization (lest we forget, they could not, literally, figure how to turn on the lights in the cabinet room, so they met in the dark!), the myriad gaffes, the misstatements and not remotely credible clarifications. Think of that and see how much ground the Democrats have gained in the wake of this ongoing disaster. NONE. They are in fact losing ground.

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Chart from March 8 shows….

It’s been noted all over the place that the leadership and HRC campaign folks (too often the same hacks) continue to point fingers at everyone but themselves for their diabolical failure, not just in the presidential debacle in November, but in letting the GOP take control of everything else–House, Senate, governorship, state houses. In a just world HRC, her husband, her top campaign people, the DNC leadership, and maybe for good measure assorted surrogates such as Neera Tanden and Peter Daou, should have been placed on an ice floe and shoved into Arctic waters somewhere. I’m speaking figuratively OF COURSE. But some contrition, some introspection, some walk of shame seems pretty clearly called for.

Instead, these people (well, not Hillary, last seen in … the woods somewhere?) are everywhere, being asked for their wisdom on the television, and generally–incredibly–acting like they’ve done nothing wrong, or that they fell victim to an act of God, or … a shadowy conspiracy. Well, we ALMOST won. In fact, we won the popular vote. And have you heard the latest Putin dots we’ve connected (LOOK at this chart)?

As Matt Taibbi points out in his excellent Rolling Stone piece this week, the entire Putin paranoia machine is fueled by things that have not been proven, and “that both the Democratic Party and many leading media outlets are making a dangerous gamble, betting their professional and political capital on the promise of future disclosures that may not come.”

No introspection necessary. Change? Moi? It’s Comey’s/Putin’s/Bernie’s/Susan Sarandon’s fault. Can I interest you in an “I’m With Her 2020” t-shirt?

I recently was turned on to Jimmy Dore, who I enjoy quite a bit. I see traces of the angry, later George Carlin in his schtick, and he’s a welcome change of pace from the disappointing, often cringe-worthy political comedy we see from SNL and the various Comedy Central talking heads.

The other day Dore ranted on this remarkable San Diego town hall appearance by Democratic reps Scott Peters and Susan Davis, in which the US Congresspeople cannot even say what it is they stand for. Peters and Davis appear never to have considered condensing their message into something easily understood and concrete, the 30-second self-promoting “elevator pitch” every young job seeker is meant to have committed to memory.

Instead, they mumble uncertainly, platitudes like “everyone should be treated fairly” and oh, uh, “opportunity….”

Dore has a lot of fun with this performance, which for me called to mind “Goodfellas”–that immortal “I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown?” scene where Tommy breaks Henry’s balls, to use the terminology of the film.

After Henry realizes the joke’s on him, everyone laughs and Tommy shouts:

Ya motherfucker! I almost had him, I almost had him. Ya stuttering prick ya. Frankie, was he shaking? I wonder about you sometimes, Henry. You may fold under questioning.

Maybe I just needed an excuse to share this clip, but I stand by this: The Democrats, circa 2017, have become the party of stuttering pricks.

***

Since I wrote a draft of this, Shaun King had a good column addressing this very frustration. In The Democratic Party seems to have no earthly idea why it is so damn unpopular, King writes of asking crowds on his speaking tour this question:

The first question is, “If I asked you, in just a few sentences, to sum up what specific policies the Democratic Party stands for, what would you say?”

“The response that I get is always the same – mass laughter or audible frustration,” King writes.

So is this inarticulate stuttering a feature or a bug of Democrat messaging?

Yesterday, New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino tweeted about Bernie Sanders’ assertion that “our ultimate goal is not just playing defense. Our goal is a Medicare-for-all, single payer system”:

I’d personally like to see how many Democratic politicians actually support Medicare-for-All/Single Payer. I don’t know the percentage breakdown, but it’s certainly not “every single Democrat politician.” The potentially good news is that I imagine more Democrats are inching towards the RIGHT to health care, not just ACCESS to a health care PRODUCT, a fuzzy conflation the Dems have taken pains to maintain.

***

ANOTHER UPDATE:

Bernie Sanders has a pretty good answer to the question in question:

The year Merle Haggard died and we had kittens

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On the home front….

My better and more talented half wrote another beautiful book.


The eldest turned 16, In Every Way. The twins turned twelve.  Lila is becoming quite the equestrian, and both boys continue to be obsessive ballers–Daniel’s the star of the rec team I’m coaching, and Theo plays on the Middle School team. I never have to worry about having something to talk about with them. It’s hoops chatter 24-7. (I should mention Theo ran cross-country and made the all-region team!)

Also, the boys have really excelled  at that bottle-flipping thing.

An undetermined critter got at what was left of our chicken brood, on two successive midsummer nights, and the coop, devoid of avian life, has become the home of a huge woodchuck who tore the floor out and burrowed a home beneath.

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on


A stray cat wandered up to the house, and withstood the combined efforts of our two dogs and four established felines to run her off. Then she had four kittens.

The cowherd got bigger, again, and the count is up to 46, far too many for the pasture I have. Got a good price on hay in the fall, though. I bought enough to last through winter, and will lighten my load when (I hope) the market firms a bit in spring.

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The bees looked to be going great guns for the first part of the season, which was awfully wet. I got a fair bit of honey from all of my hives in June, but starting in mid-July it stopped raining. I really don’t know what the bees had to forage from August through October, but they were in just OK shape when I left them to ball up and face the winter. There are five hives going right now. I hope there will be that many in April…

For the third year running, 2016 was the hottest on record in, basically, the world. Locally, and more critical to my needs, it was also dry. Ordinary folks thought that made for pleasant weather (it did), but farmers thought it was weird. I had to pump spendy city water for five months. Thanks to winter rains, the spring  in the cave field only just started to flow again.

I got to go to Nashville, again, solo, to hang with my peripatetic scholar friend John, and Atlanta, with the entire family, to see the other John, his wife Nuria, and boy Pau.

All smiles at the Carter center

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on

Had visits: from dear sister Caroline and her dog Emma, and the annual return of my old Great Plainsman comrade Charly. The MacNeal clan, now based in Taiwan, honored us with a very fun visit. A pleasant surprise was the arrival of Anna, my old Australian friend, with whom I traveled to a good few countries, including hers (for half a year!), in the mid-eighties.

From what I could gather, Anna had somewhere in the range of six to twelve international trips in the last year alone. Me? Me, I have a passport I renewed in 2003, which has never once been stamped. She brought a big canvas sack of my old letters to her, which I have yet to dig into. I’m a bit afraid they will seem to have written by another person….

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on

I had to be reminded of it, but I had not one but two aces in  2016. I accept I may never have another. I’m fine with that.

Neither ace had a witness (so go ahead and append the asterisk). In any case, I was far more impressed with myself when I pured a 7-iron to inside a foot on a back pin on #13. I was playing through a foursome of well-lubricated Louisvillians on the tee, and we all became good friends for a brief moment.

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Repost: Closed for the season

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[July 23, 2016: Can’t muster the time or energy for new posts, but I have been scanning my old ones. I re-read this the other day, and it’s really good, if I do say so myself….]

Yesterday ended up being a fantastic day.

Saturday I spent the afternoon playing golf and it went long. I walked with a couple of friends and the pace was excellent but then we ran into another group as we made the turn. As is our custom in winter golf, we decided to join up–to form a sevensome.

Returned home later than I said I’d be and well, hey, some amazing college football on, and then got a call from my friend John, back in town after two years in South Sudan. Could I meet him and his wife for a drink? How could I not?

So Sunday dawned and Heather was exuding a serious “you’re not holding up your end” vibe. She made it clear that it was a day to “do something with the boys.” They wanted to fish, and I was totally OK with that, had only the best intentions.

But then my neighbor Dave came over to move some of my hay around and I asked him if he would take a quick look at my rickety old ’88 Chevy Cheyenne. The serpentine was off and there was antifreeze everywhere. I was in a panic about being low on firewood and being without the truck for the three or more days it would take in the shop. I was (typically) focused on the wrong problem and was fretting about the tensioner, but he saw immediately that it was the water pump. “You just take the cowl off with these bolts here, and then the pump unbolts down there, and … aw, hell, you don’t have the tools. You want me to help you?”

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I did what I could to assist. Holding this. Pulling that. Using my longer reach to get at places he couldn’t. Picking up bolts as they fell through to the ground (he hated bending over). I was apprehensive about working with him, having witnessed his volcanic side when he worked his cattle. But I really admired the way he worked on cars. Our ratchet sets had similar sizes missing, so there was more than a little improvisation. He got frustrated but usually chuckled at setbacks. It brought me back to the days of helping my dad with his car repairs, minus my dad’s (rest his soul) bellowing rage.

I was ever aware of Heather’s own simmering anger, as the job went from “just half an hour” to an hour, then more. One o’clock. Two. Three. Daniel, my older boy, kept asking When are we gonna go? Almost done? He looked disappointed every time, but it was a fine day and the three of them has a rambunctious Hunger Games-inspired game involving tobacco sticks and handcrafted bows and arrows. They were fine. No one got hurt. When Daniel came along to the parts store to pick up the pump, Dave grunted a few little things to him about beer and girls, and made a crack about the cologne the clerk was wearing, which made Daniel smile in a way I was unaccustomed to seeing.

Finally, job over. The last hose clamped, a couple of gallons of antifreeze poured through a funnel made with a Mountain Dew bottle, and the truck starts right up and is running fine. “You don’t owe me nothin’, Tim. But I do have a couple more lists of songs….” That’s how I’ve been repaying him for his help with the cattle and the hay and now this. Burning cds for him. Totally inadequate, but he seems to appreciate it. His taste is Skynrd-ish country, but he is (as he says himself) very particular about what he wants. “Rollin’ with the Flow” by Charlie Rich and Reba’s “Fancy” along with Jamey Johnson; Nitty Gritty Dirt Band along with Craig Morgan; Allman Brothers along with Travis Tritt. I burned an extra CD of things I thought he’d like from my collection but he said he couldn’t get into it. I had to admit his playlists were better than mine.

It was time to fish. We loaded the poles and tackle into the Subaru. With the late start we didn’t go to our usual Garrard County spots. Instead we went to the Chimney Rock marina on the Mercer side, just under the Kennedy Bridge. The boys handled their own snags and tangles without asking dad to fix their lines. It was not a good time of the day or the season for catching anything, and they were content with the few nibbles they had. It was a lovely quiet December afternoon. Everything some muted shade of blue, brown, gray–the sky, the cliffs, the water. Chilly, but no wind, and we were alone. Someone who worked in the Marina entered and left the office a couple of times. Maybe to keep an eye on us. Above the Marina an animated sign kept flashing the same message over and over. “Closed for the season. See ya in May….”

It got cold in a hurry when the sun went behind the cliffs. I had promised to let them fish after dark, but when I said, “Five minutes,” there were no objections.

The three of us then indulged in our shared passion for Long John Silver’s. “We’ll pretend we caught this fish,” I suggested as we gobbled down the tongue-burning flounder. Usually the pickiest of eaters, they were insatiable, and I had to go back up to the counter twice for more.

At home the boys and I played Texas Hold ‘Em for about an hour. Lila didn’t want to learn how to play but she did want the boys to do something else, and got into high pestering mode. Theo reached the end of his attention span, and wandered off. I had incredible cards, the kind you never get when playing for real money.

Just before bedtime, Daniel announced that he had uploaded a clip to Youtube about Bongo, our Boston Terrier we had just recently put down. We all gathered around my laptop to watch his touching, loving collection of still photos and video snippets going back to Brooklyn days. When it was over all three kids were bawling. Theo rubbed his face against our new dog Elbee’s back and sobbed, “When are we going to get a new dog?” Elbee picked her head up with an indignant look, and that made up all laugh.

I joined Heather briefly in watching an especially gruesome episode of The Walking Dead, but sneaked upstairs a few times to watch UK-Providence with Daniel. When I went up after halftime he was sound asleep. I turned the sound down. Nine blocks for Willie Cauley-Stein!

I can only blame the fried fish and hushpuppies, but I had crazy dream after crazy dream. In one I looked out the living room window to see a tsunami sweep across the pasture and crash up the walls of the house. Then was back in New York, working again at Harper & Row. I walked around the publicity office but couldn’t find my desk. The phones just would not stop ringing.

It’s Sandro about Biennale

I just had a bizarre twitter encounter with a fancily-titled music writer that made me feel … old. See below.

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Instead of engaging in further back-and-forth I’m taking it here to my safe space. My first comment was a little flip, I admit, but them I spent a few minutes coming up with a conciliatory follow-up, which was met by an even more spectacularly tourrettes-y outburst, and lots of faves for the eruption. Some jolly folks chimed in to make light of “this guy,” (i.e. me).

I’ve gotten more mentions on this encounter than in my entire previous twitter history…

The experience made me feel like the Dude in The Big Lebowski in the Biennale scene. Lots of stuff whizzing past his ears that he doesn’t get, except that it’s clear he’s the butt of the joke.

And yet… I still feel like I’m right. Why would you credit the Jam with David Watts’ “critique of masculinity” just because they covered a Kinks song…

Let me know what I’m missing, folks….

Friday miscellany: Fecundity, Andre the Giant, and an epic photo

Sunday evening Buster Pike bike ride

A photo posted by Tim Ungs (@timungs) on

This is the time of year when I am overwhelmed by the fecundity of the world. Calves dropping, bees swarming, grass growing what seems like inches every day. Nothing to complain about, just that it’s a pretty intense time in the cycle of the farm.

So far it looks like four cows have calved without major complications. Only fifteen (or more) to go.

There is always a dance involving me and the mama cows, who tend to hide their calves in the first week after birth. Our farm is 20-some acres of pasture surrounded by hundred of acres of crops farmed by renters. Right now, the winter wheat is two or three feet high, and offers a tempting place for a calf to crawl off to and sleep away the day. The problem is that the pasture and the crops are separated by a single electric wire. Sometimes the calves scoot under the wire, and the mamas are left on the other side.

Often the cows get agitated by this situation, but just as often they’re cool with it. There has only been one time when a cow has lost her calf, but I am always worrying that will happen. I try to keep track of the calves twice a day, and sometimes have to follow the cows I know have given birth. Sometimes I’ll get lucky when they stare in the direction of where the calf is hidden, but other cows are cool customers. What? A calf? There’s no calf around here! I have known cows that will look in another direction to throw ME off.

I don’t want to call my tracking wasted effort, but sometimes it is. By dusk, cows and calves are usually together, and the babies gambol gaily (never used that phrase before, but it’s apt) and the mamas call for them with their low moo, which quickly becomes a bellow if the calves aren’t paying heed.

***

 

Apparently, Andre the Giant was born 70 years ago yesterday.

Brush with fame anecdote #201542a323:

Of all the famous folks I waited on when I worked at L’Hotel Sofitel in Bloominton, Minnesota–and that includes the Stones, the Eagles, the Cars, Kenny Loggins, and televangelist Rex Humbard (lousy tipper)– Andre was by far the coolest. He sat by himself in the no smoking section, and ordered two main courses (saucisses de Toulouse aux pommes), three orders of Profiteroles, and four triple cognacs…. I still marvel at the size and beauty of his snakeskin cowboy boots …

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Just need to share this incredible photo, which came up on the often terrific Facebook Old Minneapolis group:

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The subject is Sherwin Linton, who has been performing folk, country, rockabilly cowboy and gospel music in the Upper Midwest (and for some time nationally, touring with Roy Acuff) for sixty years. His own annotation for the photo is priceless:

There is an amazing thing about this photo. t I did this routine frequently in 1958 at The Rail Inn Tavern on Central avenue in Minneapolis.. As you look at the photo the customers at the bar were like “Ho Hum. here he goes again. Some goofy guy with outlandish cowboy boots dancing up and down the bar playing a guitar upside down. He better not spill my pitcher of beer”.

 

RIP Guy Clark: Annus horribilis, cont.

The wicked year of 2016 has taken another great one from us.

A couple of years back, John Spong wrote He Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, a terrific piece on Guy Clark as he looks back on what was an amazing life: full of art, strong friendships, lots of chemically enhanced fucking up, and dark, sad times when first Susanna’s and then Guy’s bodies gave out.

I’ve added three Clark songs that I personally adore to the end of this post. I can’t claim any special knowledge or insight into Clark. I’m just a fan, who was lucky to see him play once, with Townes Van Zandt at the Bottom Line around 1990. I listen to Texas Cooking, Old No. 1, and Boats to Build all the time, and I’m sad that he’s gone.

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Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden

But the Susanna Clark living upstairs when Sampson came to write scarcely resembled that woman. In the early 2000’s, reeling from the twin defeats of a debilitating back condition and the early death of her and Guy’s best friend, Van Zandt, she’d taken to bed. Though she eventually quit drinking, she upped her intake of pain pills to a point beyond lucidity, seldom leaving the bedroom or changing out of her white cotton nightgown. Then came lung cancer and her refusal to stop smoking. Through much of that time, until his own health turned south, Guy was her sole caregiver. When he went to the basement to work, she’d call on his cellphone and ask him to cook for her or sit and keep her company as she moved in and out of reason. On his walk to the stairs, he’d pass by that Polaroid. It was taken, he told visitors, one afternoon when he and Van Zandt were day-drunk and acting like assholes. She’d had enough and was ready to get as far from the two of them as she could. She stands center frame, arms crossed, glaring at the camera like she might make the photographer’s head combust.

Sampson’s line could only refer to that photo. Guy started into his writing ritual, spreading out sheets of draftsman’s graph paper and grabbing one of the music chart pencils he orders special from California. Methodically, he wrote in all caps, giving each letter its own box on the page.

My favorite picture of you
Is the one where it hasn’t rained yet
As I recall there came a winter squall
And we got soakin’ wet
A thousand words in the blink of an eye
The camera loves you and so do I
Click

“The whole song just kind of poured out,” Guy explained one afternoon a few months ago, sitting in the same workshop, holding the same photo. “I didn’t have to think too much other than to get it all down. Then I went upstairs, sat on the edge of the bed, and played it for her. She said she liked it, I guess. Whenever I wrote about her, she was always . . . I don’t know if ‘touched’ is the right word. She was always flattered. Usually she said, ‘Well, it’s about time.’ ”

That was particularly true in this instance. Susanna’s slide out of life lasted just another year and a half. In June 2012 her heart gave out, and it’s hard now to listen to “My Favorite Picture of You” and not think of it the way Guy describes “The Randall Knife,” as a cathartic piece of writing. Only he wrote “Randall Knife” a couple of weeks after his dad’s death. With Susanna, he tried to say goodbye while she could still hear him.

“I never was much for moaning and crying with this kind of experience,” he said. “This is the only way I know how to deal with it. To get it out.”

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Re-up: Hillary’s Emails? Hillary Smails!

nothinandlikeitUpdate, July 14, 2016: The news today is that Hillary Clinton’s once-formidable lead has shrunk to basically nothing, in a contest with a candidate who is pretty obviously trying to gift her the election.

 

If you are casting about for explanations of what is it about HRC that fails to connect with the voters, I’d like to re-up a little thing I wrote a couple months ago…. Bernie Sanders is apparently out of the race now, but that does not change the basic fact that Hillary’s is the “You’ll Get Nothing And Like It” candidacy.

***

Everybody’s got Hillary Clinton all wrong. So many words spilled about Hillary’s emails, sure, but nothing about Hillary Smails! There is only one letter that’s different! I have googled around and have not seen this argument advanced anywhere, so let me be the first to assert that Caddyshack gives us the key to understanding the 2016 race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Hillary’s email issues are not nothing, especially for a politician who was high-handed and hawkish when it came to, oh, say, Snowden’s leaks. Definitely, Snowden has a point:  “Others get prosecuted for what Hillary Clinton did.”

I don’t know the status of the investigation, but a potential FBI indictment is a hell of a thing to have hanging over a campaign, especially for a candidate widely considered a lock for the nomination.

Let those chips fall where they may. I’m with Bernie: enough with this talk about Hillary’s emails. A single letter is the difference between Hillary’s emails and Hillary SMAILS. And THAT’S what I want to talk about.

Hillary Smails, as in Judge Elihu Smails. Don’t go saying Murray or Dangerfield or, God forbid, Chevy Chase was the star of Caddyshack. They were all good, but Ted Knight so completely ruled.

THIS SCENE!

Feel free to savor this terrific compilation reel of Smails highlights at your leisure. I started the clip at 1:30, where there are three straight scenes where Smails’ nervous little non-verbal chortles are just genius. “Ohh? Ho Ho. Ha Ha!” And of course at 2:38 comes the line that defines the character. “You’ll get nothing and like it!”

Now, cue up the all-but-certain Democratic nominee, SHOUTING something like Elihu’s catchphrase: that single payer “Will never, ever come to pass.” You can see her crew nodding their heads sagely. Tsk. Tsk. Those silly single-payer dreamers.  “You’ll get nothing and like it!” is an applause line for her! Last week we learned that consultants working for the Super PACs backing Hillary Clinton are joining in the battle to defeat a single-payer proposition for the state of Colorado. So not only is it, “Single payer is never ever going to happen.” It’s “Single payer is never, ever going to happen, because my people are working to prevent it from happening.” One wonders how that would play as an applause line.

Just as Judge Smails had a foil in Dangerfield’s crass interloper Al Czervik–utterer of the the film’s ultimate line,“Hey everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!”–so too does Hillary have a a foil in Senator Sanders, portrayed (widely and wrongly) in mainstream accounts as a naif promising everybody “free stuff.”

Even as the consensus says he has no path to victory, he continues to surge, filling stadiums, dominating primaries as he did Tuesday, winning every county in West Virginia. West Virginia! (I know. It’s become home to racists since Hillary won there in 2008, apparently, a state of affairs that can only be explained by Carl Diggler.)

My admiration for Bernie is neither absolute, nor unconditional. I don’t agree with him on all policy fronts. There’s the gun control thing, and the fact that he’s a little too accepting of the foreign policy consensus–drone bombing, extrajudicial assassination, and whatnot. But all in all, for a candidate that actually still has a (slim) chance to win the whole thing, I mean, my God. He has ideas, good ones, and speaks his mind. This is a once-in-a-generation politician.

Whatever happens over the next 180 days or so, Bernie has changed the expectations of what government can offer. His proposals for tuition-free public college and single payer are far from idealistic, or unrealistic. They are what governments offer in virtually every other civilized country. Sanders putting those ideas out there is an embarrassment to Clinton and the DNC, and their promise of nothing–of basically not being Trump. (Do I even need to say I find Trump terrifying? But he is a symptom, not the disease.) I may be wrong, but there’s a fair bit of evidence that the neoliberal experiment–from the Atari Democrats forward–is in its last days. Add up the Sanders and Trump supporters, and you’ll find something like two-thirds of Americans are contemptuous of the pitiful things the Democrats (and their Republican partners) have offered in exchange for economic security. You may have lost your job and your pension, but LOOK: NAFTA and 401(k)s!

Hillary’s going to get the nomination. The MATH! They say. And she will go on to win easily. If you say so.

Ignore all the polls that have Sanders easily beating Trump head to head, and Hillary struggling. Just today a Quinnipiac poll reveals that Clinton’s until-very-recently substantial lead is gone: she and Trump are virtually tied in three key swing states, and yes, that Bernie beats Trump in all of them.

Contrast the images from, say, the Sanders rally in Washington Square Park with this pitiful clip from an appearance by the front-runner in Los Angeles earlier this week. Which candidate looks like a future president?

 

“Game, Blouses!” My little piece ☮ Prince

I’m probably unable to process Prince’s passing with the requisite amount of grief, coming as it does hard on the heels of Merle Haggard’s death. Two of the brightest stars in my musical sky, gone. Poof. Within a couple weeks of each other. I am still stunned.

Well, hell. This week! This month! This year!

It’s been quite a cull of beloved musicians. Can’t recall a year like this. Maybe Fall of 1970, Jimi and Janis, which I only dimly remember. I delivered papers then, the now defunct afternoon daily Minneapolis Star. “Bad news on the doorstep” — I lived that! Weekly body counts in the bottom right hand counter.

I have a sense just about everybody will see Lonnie Mack‘s name on the list of Entertainers Who Died In 2016, and say, “Wait! When did THAT happen?” The day everybody was talking about Prince.

I must get this out of the way first: even though I am a massive fan and have had plenty of opportunities to see Prince, I never went to a show. Hockey rink shows are never ideal, and I probably still would not go out of my way to see anyone in a really big venue like that. But seeing Prince in the First Avenue Main Room! Where Purple Rain was shot! I passed on more than a few chances to see him in that fantastic venue.

To my shame I think I have to put it down to my Midwestern, penny-wise, dollar foolish attitude to spending money. Are you kidding me? They want fifteen bucks for those tickets. Figure in three or four Special Exports and I’ll be laying out thirty bucks for the night.

Yes, I am a garbage fan who never bothered to see Prince perform, but (I maintain) there remains some (pathetic) evanescent connection.

Prince and I were born 10 months and a couple miles apart in South Minneapolis. He went to Bryant, the public junior high school on East 38th Street. I went to Incarnation, a Catholic grade school a mile west on 38th St., on the other side of 35W, the freeway that pretty much separated black and white Minneapolis. I remember Bryant came to Incarnation once for a scrimmage, either in late ’72 or early ’73. The racial situation in Minneapolis was edgy at best, owing mainly to the ignorance of white people. Black Panthers! Rumors of black gangs riding around in cars with machine guns. (This predated Sign ☮ the Times (and crack) by more than a decade but looky! another connection — “high on crack totin’ a machine gun”). Of course our basketball team was nearly all white kids, terrified of black people in general, and more than a little intimidated by our opponents.

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Prince with his Bryant teammates.

In addition to their massive afros, and generally being much taller and/or muscular, I remember all the Bryant players wore boxers under their uniform shorts so they stuck out. A bit of sartorial flair that I had never seen before, or since. I wonder who might have started that trend?

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I was the Big Man on this team, 6′ 2″ and 140 lbs. dripping wet.

I told everyone for years, “I played basketball against Prince.” Now I am not sure I was on the court or if I (Blue team) was watching the Gold Team play Bryant. At any rate, I was there, but not necessarily playing. I did reach out to a couple of old Incarnation classmates on Facebook. My my best grade school pal, now a lawyer, wrote back, in very lawyerly terms, “This is consistent with my recollection”–meaning (I like to think) that we, the Blue team, were in fact the team that scrimmaged Bryant.  But, for what it’s worth, his memory was that we played at their gym, not ours. I also must add that he had no memory of the machine gun rumor, so that might have been my own individual racial panic dream.

Bryant mopped the floor with us of course. The core of their team went on to form a fabled Minneapolis Central team that was undefeated but lost in the region finals to North. I was at THAT game, for sure, at the old Met Center. Johnny Hunter, Pastor and Founder of First Community Recovery Church, had the game of his life.

I always thought Prince didn’t play in high school, but today I entered a few obvious search terms and learned that Prince indeed played at Central, at least up until his sophomore year. Al Nuness, a legendary player in his own right for the Golden Gophers, was Prince’s coach for the sophomore squad. Nuness told the StarTribune Prince was “a darn good basketball player. The problem is he just didn’t grow.”

Basketball’s loss was everyone else’s gain. That seems obvious now.

Over the years I’ve come across more than a few doubters of my modest connection to Prince, and even more who could not believe that the diminutive Prince had ever played competitive basketball, so when the fantastic Chapelle Show Charlie Murphy bit came out, I felt vindicated.

Prince really enjoyed that sketch, apparently.

***

UPDATE: I wasn’t going to go there, to mention the other famous music person of my youth (and in fact of my twenties, when we lived across the street from each other), but I just read what Paul Westerberg wrote about Prince and it makes what just about everything everyone else wrote kind of pointless. Heartfelt, observant, poignant and funny as hell. What you would expect.

The first time I met him was at a urinal at a nightclub in St. Paul. There he was, and I said, “Hey, what’s up?” And he answered, “Life.” One word: “life.” And I can’t say that we went on to be pals. But we did record a lot at Paisley Park, and he became comfortable enough to grace us with his presence, not bejeweled and not dressed up. He’d be wearing maybe his jammies and sweat pants or maybe a pear of jeans and sneakers. He could sort of just hang out. He may have been a little more normal than he would’ve liked people to know. That’s the treasure that we got, to be able to sit in the big atrium where you’re taking a break and Prince shuffles by in his slippers and makes some popcorn in the microwave. My sister’s a disc jockey, and he would pass by and say, “Tell your sister hi for me.” People like to paint him as a reclusive this or that; I think he was genuinely truly, truly shy. But one thing says a lot about him: I was there making a solo record a few years later, and I got a message that said that my friend had just died. I was truly rattled, and the next time I went back into the studio, he had filled it up with balloons. Now I’m gonna cry.

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Paul Westerberg in the 1973 yearbook. All the way on the left.

Winning, losing, and winning while losing

I cringe to paste in this title: Hey, Democrats, stop gloating — your party is imploding right before your eyes, too. Salon gon’ Salon. But I’m pretty much completely down with Steve Almond’s sentiment:

There’s been a gleeful sense of schadenfreude in the coverage churned out by left-leaning outlets in particular. How lovely it has been to watch the conservative movement’s house of cards fall into shambles!

The problem, of course, is that Republicans aren’t the only party facing an historic rift. Over the past two weeks, it’s become increasingly obvious that grassroots liberals are thoroughly disgusted by their own party establishment.

The Republicans no doubt face a brutal convention, in which they must either nominate an unpopular candidate or incur the wrath of the masses by handpicking an establishment figure.

But the Democrats already face a kind of inverse dilemma. Barring a miracle, they will nominate an establishment candidate who is at best tepidly supported, and at worst reviled, by those who have rallied behind her insurgent foe, Bernie Sanders.

Remember, the whole primary season is designed to consolidate support behind the frontrunner. At this point in the race, with only one opponent—an elderly socialist from Vermont with a degree from the Larry David School of Charm — Clinton should be turning her attention to the general election.

Instead, she’s lost eight of nine contests many by a wide margin, and is barely hanging on in her home state, where her opponent is drawing huge and ecstaticcrowds.

Right wing pundits—a sad and desperate lot at the moment — eagerly compareSanders to Trump. The idea here is that the widespread disgust with Washington’s dysfunction has opened the door to outsider demagogues who spout lurid promises.

In fact, Sanders and Trump have about as much in common as George Wallace and Eugene Debs. Sanders isn’t trying to sell steaks or live out some Reality TV fantasy. He entered politics from the tradition of social justice .

The reason he keeps beating Hillary Clinton is because a huge portion of the electorate—particularly young voters—is yearning for the kind of explicit social justice he’s prescribing. To put it bluntly: he’s articulating a moral vision, not an electoral path to the White House.

And that, frankly, is what the Democratic Party used to do, back in the era of the New Deal and the Great Society. It offered as its essential pitch to voters a compassionate and responsive government that sought to combat — or at least mitigate — the corrosive values of a capitalist theocracy.

What does the modern Democratic Party offer? The strategy put forward by Bill Clinton was called “triangulation.” And while it may have worked in an electoral sense, the de facto result was a strategy of appeasement that left Democrats pushing conservative policies: welfare reform, tax cuts, financial deregulation.

Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, is essentially theprogram Bob Dole proposed back in 1993. His solution to our suicidal dependence on fossil fuels—cap-and-trade—is yet another recycled Republican idea.

The modern Democratic Party, in other words, has chosen to enable — and in many cases sponsor—policies that have allowed capitalism to act like a giant centrifuge, concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the few to the detriment of the many.

 

Not entirely bad news, this implosion. I guess I have my own twisted version of the schadenfreude regarding a party whose leader Debbie Wasserman Schultz carves up legislation to benefit PAYDAY LENDERS–in an election season. Is that party — or the dominant DNC wing — really worth saving?

But I will confess to getting sad in advance at the prospect of Hillary barely surviving Bernie’s challenge, thanks in large part to mastery of the arcane anti-democratic machinery of primaries, caucuses and superdelegates, and limping to the presidency. Where I have every confidence she will be terrible.

But should that happen, I’m hoping to see follow-through with the 80-90 percent of young voters who favor the Sanders view, that there will be progressive candidates winning the seats the Democratic leadership can’t even be bothered to contest, obsessed as they are with the spoils of presidential politics.

Not giving up on Bernie, though. If the Dems REALLY cared about guaranteeing a win for the party in November, he is their guy. If he falls short, it will be a race between two candidates everybody hates.

My optimism is stubborn, though. I hold out high hopes for the Mark Ruffalo/Rosario Dawson ticket in 2020.

Ineffable beauty, unspeakable evil, and all sorts of crap in between