Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday spectacular for 2011

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – when I struggle like a madman trying to get his head unstuck from the revolving door before that big guy on the other side tries to come through - to think of something both holidayish and spectacular for my – holiday spectacular. After my last year’s effort, Don did put on some pressure for me with his Christmas Day comment: “If you're gonna top this one next year you better start working now.” I’m not sure I can do that off the top of my head, as I don’t even remember last year’s.

Comments

Every holiday season I like to set down the best comments I got during the year, the sole criteria being, I guess, that they insult or make fun of me. Bear has always dominated and now that Don has all but dropped out of the insult-comment field, Bear strives uncontested upon the field.  In fact, two people who actually read my blog regularly (and I’m still shocked anyone reads it) but rarely if ever comment told me they actually only read a little bit and then scroll down to see how Bear insults me. Just great.

Here are Bear’s finest comments for this year, made with all the ardor of a ten year old knocking down his friend’s blocks. I don’t rank them, but put them in reverse chronological order. My present comments are put in italics:

Here Bear weighs in on my Christmas movie list.

She's Got Mail", "Love, Actually" great movies????? Who is the Mary writing this stuff? "... the effervescent Jeremy Pivin.." How GAY is that? Next time I see you and have the urge to whack you in the head, I'm going to blame it on an "EPIC attack". What a ma-roon.

* * *

What scares me the most is that you think these quotes sound normal. Put down the books and go outside, Webblefester. Now.

Webblefester?

* * *

Bear analyzes me.

Hmm, I'm talking sexual deviance and you start talking rape and murder. This is deep psychological quicksand, Frodo. Worrisome indeed.

* * *

Here he goes on a rant that makes me chuckle out loud every time I read it.

AAARRRGGGGHHHHH! First, a'quick hop through history" that goes on FOREVER, then, finally, diarhhea mouth gets to the point. And what a grand point it is: Liberty, you're darn tootin'. It's good. REALLY? Was it necessary to quote 4,000 friggin' philosophers and historical figures to come around to "America is bitchin'"? Write about growing up,or books, or living in the country... PLEASE, I AM BEGGING YOU. How about a list? Top Ten ANYTHING....

* * *

But, there is that line between artistry and craziness, and here my friend goes a little over it.

O I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner, that is what I truly want to be-ee-e. For if I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner, everyone would be in love with me. Join the Weiner Party for a better America in 2012. Vote with your Weiner, for a Weiner, and we wll a be shiny happy people, forever and ever, thus spake Zarausthra. * * *

But here, he’s just mean.

It takes balls to write 700 paragraphs on ths crappy idea and then call someone else's work on the same thing pretentious babble. Rock on, Hippocrites.

* * *

I think this one made me laugh the loudest.

I’m reading along: Glenn Beck, Olbermann, Tunisia, Egypt; and I’m thinking for once his political commentary isn’t boring. This is pretty good stuff. Should have known it was a set up. Health care: “I see a liberty interest here… more pressing than the commerce clause…I would have to put in a lot more time…perhaps I will in another post.” NOT IF THERE IS A GOD IN HEAVEN. ‘Nuff said.

* * *

But, his first one of the year was a pretty good shot too.

more at http://pewstinko.snoozefest/longwinded blowhard/faith-in-shut-the-hell-up-before-I-slash-my-own-throat

 - to which I responded, “Now you are just trying to write a contender for the top ten best comments at the end of the year, aren't you?”

Thanks, Bear, for all the hard work you put in knocking down my blocks.

I just had a Christmas epiphany. This holiday spectacular is going to be all about my two most frequent commenters, and good friends, Don and the Bear, who I’ve known for a total of about 66 years.

Bear

I met Bear 41 years ago as 7th graders. We didn’t become friends until a few years later, but we played basketball together once at the caddy house, a magical place it would take too long to explain in the new world where children have play dates instead of just playing and where they play video sport games instead of actually hitting, kicking and shooting balls together, and I went to his house and met his mother. He wrote a newspaper article for the school about the alleged ghost in my basement. In 11th grade, we became good friends, realizing that we had a tremendous amount of interests in common, including history, mythology, science and literature and that we were both ridiculous underachievers lucky that we didn’t flunk out of high school. He’s introduced me to the authors Robert Howard and James Lee Burke and books I still have like The Dun Cow and Red Eye. There was a time he nearly went off the deep end when a young man, though doing his best to hide the worst of it from me and I’ve seen him nearly sink into oblivion and rise like a phoenix to being a school president in a major city. He chased skirts like a dog after a bone when he was young, but now has one of the most loving and stable marriages that I know and he has a man-cave in his house that looks like it could be the parlor in a Hollywood manor in which he houses my second favorite private library. He makes Maryland home with his wife, M, the only talented home designer I know (the ones on tv appall me). He knows more about sports and higher education than anyone you are likely to meet and in 41 years, I can remember only a very few times in our entire life he was not in a good mood. He is an excellent poet (an activity in which I excel in sucking) and should have done more of it. Unaccountably, he actually looks good in hats. He has a booming laugh that is impossible to stop and is a world class mocker and ranter when he wants to be.

Don

Don came to work in a law firm I was at when we were both young lawyers back in the days when you could open the door to a law firm and there might not be one computer inside. We became friends, working, skiing, going out at night and on one laughable occasion, even going dancing, an event I’d rather forget. Jesuit educated in high school, he was a wild man nonetheless and claimed he couldn’t be an alcoholic no matter how much he drank because he didn’t go to meetings. Around 7-8 years ago (he can correct me if I'm off), he moved to Montana to escape being a lawyer and, initially, to chase some crazy chick who was out of his life before he got there. The home he bought on the banks of a small river in the mountains is so remote, that it makes the 1300 pop. town I live in surrounded by national parks seem like a metropolis. He can recite lines from movies he saw decades ago like he was holding the script in his hand and is still an athlete in his young 50s. He lives again on the east coast, longing for the west, running a law office in Long Island and living on the Jersey Shore. He is a bachelor and please lock up your daughters when he is in the room. He is a fierce debater, who talks faster and more assuredly than almost anyone else can, even when he is defending the indefensible, but is one of the few people you can call at 3 in the morning, say, I need you to help me right now, and know he will come without needing an explanation. If he is on your side, there is no other side.

Don and Bear

Though they sometimes argue about politics in comments here, they actually have a lot in common. They both are insatiably curious and read as much as possible, share many high falutin’ interests, and both know far more about sports and entertainment than I ever will. They met when we were in our young 30s through me, when Bear managed a bar that Sam Spade would have hesitated to go into and Don liked to hang out in such places. Don is a long time conservative who has become more of a libertarian, more so than me, and we have both influenced one another’s political thinking as much as it is possible with two very opinionated people. Bear is not as interested in politics as Don and I are and will argues with me when I say he is a liberal (at least a cultural one), but that is true of almost every liberal I know. I see signs in the last year that he is moderating some but we don’t discuss politics that much and it is hard to tell. The two will probably never agree on global warming or climate change or whatever it is being called these days. Both are raconteurs, more so Bear, but neither lets the actual facts damper a good story. I’ve always said that there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who are unhappy absent some immediate gratification and those who are happy unless they have a good reason not to be. Fortunately, both of my friends fall into the latter category. However, each have had their demons and conquered them. And, they are both good people with consciences and I’m lucky to have them as friends. They mostly ignore my faults even if Bear likes to pierce my delicate pride every week or so and enjoy a hearty laugh at my expense. And when Bear is laughing, there is nothing you can do but sit down and weather it, because no force known to man can stop it until he is done.

They will both have to live with my descriptions, now immortalized in the most important blog on my block, but I don’t think they will argue that much with them. Everyone has faults – even, and this may shock you, dear readers, me – but they have been great friends for most of my life, and that is no small thing.  Here now are some tales from the lives of Bear and Don, performed in my presence. Their more sordid tales, for which I was absent, will have to await their memoirs.

Don

Don was going stag along with me, my insignificant other and another couple in New Hampshire on a New Years’ Eve ski trip in the early 90s. The first night, we went to the hotel bar, where Don flirted with the waitress. Don flirts with a blowtorch, not a feather. We didn’t notice that the bartender was her boyfriend. It got a little hot in there, but not overtly hostile at all. We went out to dinner for New Year’s and Don, not imbibing particularly moderately, decided to lift a drink off the tray a waitress was carrying on her upraised hand to the next table and in doing so, broke the delicate balance you need to do that and caused her to upend all the other drinks onto her other customers. We left very quickly. When we got back to the hotel, the manager informed Don that he was not welcome in the hotel bar. We all defended him that he had done nothing wrong and he really had not. We argued it was not a good idea to have a waitress and a bartender who are dating. Don went to his room and called his credit card which - and I don’t know how he accomplished this, determined not to accept the hotel charges, and had a very nice three days for free.

Bear

We went to the local ice cream place, Friendly’s, where we had had more than a few adventures. We went up to a group of kids we knew from school. One of them, a big blowhard who thought he was much cooler and tougher than he was, suddenly turned to us with plastic ketchup bottles in both hands and squeezed, catching Bear in the chest with both of them. Bear did not yell, fight or whine. He walked away and up to the counter and ordered an ice cream cone. We went outside with him happily lapping it. Then, we went over to get our bikes in the rack. He located the bike of the idiot who had sprayed him and turned the cone upside down on his seat. It was pretty hot out and in 5 minutes that cone had to melt all over, by which time, we were long gone. Now, that was cool.

Don

Don and I were working in a firm in the mid 90s. We debated constantly. Don was much more demonstrative than I, would raise his voice a lot and talk very fast. We weren’t fighting. It was just his style and it intimidated a lot of people. But, I knew he wasn’t violent (well, not to his friends) and it didn’t bother me at all. In fact, it usually amused me. One day we were in my office with the door closed. I was sitting in my chair with my hands behind my head and my feet up on the desk. Don was standing in front of the desk pacing back and forth and arguing very loudly and forcefully. I am sure the people outside the door could not hear me, although I was talking as much as he was. Suddenly, on one of his swings to the door, Don stooped, picked up a piece of paper, unfolded it, read it and cracked up. If was from my secretary and it said, “David, should I go for help.”

Bear

Also back in high school, Bear, who I then often called Lars Wonderchild, and I would hang out at a local Baskin & Robbins where a friend worked. One day when we were there Bear wandered near the open freezer door. Our friend and I pushed him in from behind and shut the door, locking it. Why did we do this? Because we were teenage boys and he was momentarily vulnerable. Any two of us would have done the same to the third. But, you need to be a teenage boy, or remember being one to understand – so ladies, don’t strain yourself. But, of course, we had no intention of harming him. So after about ten minutes, we opened the door. There was Bear, his pockets stuffed with ice cream sandwiches, calmly munching on one and smiling, as calm as could be.

Don

Don and I were going to a local pizzeria. I parked in the little lot behind and got out of my car to see Don pull into the lot across the street. Just before he pulls into the spot, another car pulls in front of him and gets it. Two guys get out of the car and Don gets out of his. Don demands that they move their car and they pretty much laugh at him and one says “What are you going to do? There are two of us and one of you.” I am thinking, great, now I have to get in a fight for my crazy friend over a stupid parking space. But, Don doesn’t even look at me, but says, “Fine.” He goes to his car while they watch him like deer in headlights and he comes back with a baseball bat and the same guy says, “I’ll move the car.”  When Don comes over after parking in his spot, I say, “You know you are out of your mind, right?” He says he does, but can’t help himself sometimes, and he suggests we go to a different pizzeria a few doors away to avoid a further confrontation. Actually, he was trying to be nice, because they were terrified of him.

Bear

I am at a pizzeria in Queens, NY, a great restaurant by the train station in Kew Gardens, near where Bear and M are living. I am thinking this has to be about 15 years ago.  Some nice teenage boy, skinny and acne-faced, is our waiter. We were finishing up our meals and the nice young man comes by and scoops up the plate in front of Bear’s wife on which there is a little food left. You know how you don’t want to come in between a real Bear and her cubs. Similar, if less lethal, reaction here. Bear snarls “MY WIFE ISN’T DONE WITH HER MEAL YET!” and the little kid is practically shaking. After he scuttles away practically bowing, M and I both look at Bear and say something like, “What are you doing?” “Well,” he says, “she wasn’t done.”

Don

Don and I are in Pennsylvania to ski at a little mountain where his parents have a trailer. It is freezing inside it and there are no sheets or blankets. We drive up to a hotel and Don goes in to inquire if they will be kind enough to lend us a few blankets for the weekend. I am out there in the car for about 5 minutes when Don comes sprinting out to the car screaming “Go, go, go.” He jumps in and I speed off asking him what the hell happened. “I couldn’t find anyone to ask, so I figured we’d just borrow them for a few days.”

“And?” I ask.

“Apparently, someone saw me and started chasing me. So, I dropped them and ran.”

“Oh, God,” I said, and looked in the rear view mirror for the whirling red siren that fortuitously never came.

Bear

We went to a local, family owned movie theatre in the village near where we lived. The couple who owned it were very friendly but a little odd in that really nice way. Few people went there as it was old, not so clean and ran old movies. We were going to see Field of Dreams. Before it started, Bear warned me. His father had died earlier in the decade and when the end of the movie came, and the ghost of the lead character’s father asked his son if he wanted to play catch, Bear was going to cry. We watched the movie and then the scene came. Suddenly Bear gets up and hustles out of the theatre. It’s the end of the movie, so I go out into the lobby too. There is Bear, glasses off, wiping his eyes and being accosted by the owner of the theatre who is talking to him, but shouting to his wife across the lobby, “Honey, look. This man is crying.”

Bear does his best to explain and then we go out to the alley beside the theatre where immediately Bear goes into a rant about what just happened and how the man buttonholed him when he came out with tears in his eyes and instead of letting him hurry away, insisted on knowing what had happened. No one rants like Bear and I laughed so hard my ribs hurt and I seriously thought I might break one. But, I couldn’t stop. I am trying not to laugh now. As for the owner, I imagine him sitting in a rocker this Christmas, smiling to himself as he remembers the time his wife and he touched someone’s life with film.

Don

One day Don calls me up and asks me for a favor. Back in those days, when Don asked you a favor, you went into a panic, because you never knew what was going to happen. If you covered a court case for him he described as “in and out,” you might find that it was the 37th time on and the judge threatened to hold him in contempt if he didn’t show or something worse. But, he had always helped me when I needed it and I said okay without asking what it was. It had nothing to do with the practice of law. He wanted me to come to his girlfriend’s house and keep the old man who used to be her stepfather from coming in the house when he came to pick up his furniture. Don liked the old fellow, who was probably 75, and didn’t want to do it. So, when he showed up, I was standing in the doorway, trying to smile pleasantly and said that I was sorry, that he couldn’t come in, but I would get anything he wanted for him.

Like a jack rabbit he jumped in my face, cocked his fists as if in a movie, and said that he could kick my ass.

“I’m sure you can, Sir,” I said, seriously doubting it – he was 75, after all, “but I have to stand here anyway.”

“What are you? The hired muscle?”

I laughed to myself, careful not to smirk. I was raised to be a pacifist and not the hired muscle type. I had never had a real fight in my life, always preferring persuasion or just backing off in bad situations. I sometimes regretted that when older, at least in a few instances, but this was not a possibility. “No, Sir, I’m just a family friend. I’m sorry about this, but it was requested by your ex-wife that I help you, but not let you in and I promised.” That much was true. His ex had been nice to me and Don said that was what she wanted. Don, whose girlfriend was cowering upstairs, was, of course, just standing to one side, and shaking his head sympathetically for the old guy, like I’m some kind of jerk he found standing in the doorway when he got here.

Fortunately, the fellow’s older brother, who Don said was 85 years old, was also there and he pulled his brother back before he whacked me in the face and there was a problem. He shouldn’t have worried. I had no intention of hitting a 75 year old man no matter what he did to me, and had already told Don that. But, I really didn’t want my ass kicked either, did I?

There wasn’t much furniture, actually, and it soon ended, but, I noted in my mental notebook - do not do favors for Don without checking first exactly what it is.

I’ll leave off with Don as I started off with Bear’s merciless commentary.

Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukah, y’all.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cherchez la femme.

Good G-d almighty, I am still in New York suffering through an interminable trial in which I am a witness and can’t leave until it’s over. So, for the three or so people in the world who actually like the equally interminable posts on history and politics I post here, sorry, not until I get back. Instead, I will quickly tear off another autobiographical post – this one about my former dating life, although, as usual, before I start, I am not sure I have enough material. But, sometimes I think that and find I have too much. We’ll see.

Whatever I write below – because it is more fun to write about things that were embarrassing or humiliating to me - I am not complaining about my dating life before SHE (aka here as the New Miss Malaprop and my Insignificant Other) took over my life close to 20 or so years ago. I actually really enjoyed dating, even the blind dates. On the whole, the good dates dramatically outweighed the bad ones, even if I wasn’t interested in them or visa versa. I had one rule that I still urge other people to follow when they are nervous about dates and I think it’s a good one:

The only thing you owe the other person is to try and have a good time.

Some people, particularly women, are too nervous for even that. I admit, the older I got, the harder it was to ask out women during my “breaks” with my Insignificant Other and I don’t think I’d get very used to the computer dating very easily now anyway. It is also very hard for me to be callous with someone I go out with, even if I don’t know them well, and callousness has become institutionalized in computer dating to the degree that it is really just considered normal. By callous, I mean things like just walking away in the middle of a date; getting up after a few minutes and saying “thanks, but no thanks,” ignoring them if you aren’t interested, etc. You can say these things have always existed with dating, but I believe the level of it has gone dramatically up. I had difficulty not calling some women again even if I wasn't really interested because I felt it would be rude or hurt their feelings. Maybe I was wrong about that as it probably was puzzling to them.

I’m using fake names for the women I mention below. Nothing sexual is mentioned at all, if you were preparing yourself to gag. Some of these stories were failures or in some way embarrassing to me anyway, so I'm not bragging either. The order is neither chronological or by category, but mentioned as they occur to me while I write this. And, the dialogue, of course, is all paraphrased as I can’t remember exactly what I or they said all those years ago.

And, to my dear Insignificant Other, let me say now, I’m sorry. I don’t know for what yet, but I’m sure you are going to make me sorry I wrote this one way or the other. But, all these stories are from a long time ago (I swear), and only one or two after you and I started dating.

Why you can’t get too cocky - Bailey – My early 30s. Something brought her to mind recently, but I forget what already. I doubt I had thought of her in 20 years or so. I was walking through my friend’s office building one day with him at my side when I saw a dazzling young woman, very Brenda Starrish, if that means anything to you, with long red/auburn hair, hurrying into the building. I was trying to think of some way to talk to her when she and my friend say hello to each other. I ask, very insistently, if he will make an introduction. He basically asked her out for me later in the day and I called her.

Like many people, I hate that first cold call, because when you are together, even if you don’t know each other, you can easily find things to talk about all around you. But, when you are on a phone, it is much harder. However, my experience has been when I finally got the nerve to dial the phone number, they almost always made it very pleasant, as she did. I had a very good feeling about our date and didn’t have any nerves about it.

I took her to dinner in Roslyn, New York, a very old quaint village, but I didn’t get to take her to the duck pond there, which I had found almost irresistible to women in letting you steal a kiss. She had to get up early the next day, so after a long dinner, I just took her home. I rarely tried for a goodnight kiss on the first date unless the woman made it plain or jumps me, and didn’t then. But, we had laughed the whole night and I was very confident she would go out with me again when I asked and she did. The second time was also great.

Again, we couldn’t stop laughing the whole night. At the time I did not have a steady girlfriend (although, gulp, I had started seeing my Insignificant Other), but I thought I might even date Bailey for a while before doing my usual thing and letting her know in casual conversation that I was not into long term commitment. But, when I took her home, she asked me in and I admit I was figuring on things going well that night. I asked her if she’d like to do something the next day.

She said, “Oh, why bother?” with a pained expression on her face.

“Really? Aren’t you having a good time?” I said.

She said “I had a great time, but you are not who I am looking for in my life. I’m anxious all day long and work and go to school. You work but you just seem not to take anything too seriously. I need someone who is going to worry with me. Why go further if it isn’t going to work out?” I think she may have also said that she was an ant and I was a grasshopper, but maybe that is just what I got from it. I don’t think she mentioned the fact that I was already a father, but it is possible that was a reason too. Or, of course, maybe I wasn’t good looking enough for her or not her “type,” which are always possibilities. But, taking her at her word, she was right. I was looking for fun and a notch on the bed post. And I tried not to take life too seriously. That does irritate some people. But, I was kind of disappointed that we had gotten along so well and I didn’t even get the all important third date.

The worst – Maisie – my middle 20s. When I was a very young attorney I used to flirt with some of my secretary’s friends on the phone, particularly Maisie, who I had never met. One day I asked my secretary if Maisie was good looking, and she assured me she was beautiful, so I asked if she thought it was okay if I could ask her out next time we spoke. Maisie had made inquiries too and soon after I was on my way to her house to get her. I met her father at the door and then Maisie came out. She was very attractive but completely smashed. We got in my car and headed for the city.

Not only was she word slurring drunk and talking nonsense, but she really freaked me out when she mentioned that her mother was her best friend. I knew from my secretary that Maisie’s mother was dead. That was creepy. But, what really got tedious was that she kept referring to other anonymous women who got ahead in business by sleeping around. One, she just wouldn’t shut up about it, but, two, it was kind of putting a damper on any plans I might have had.

She wanted to go to the top of the sixes in the city and I took her there. We sat at a table and ordered drinks. I didn’t really drink then either, but would have one if it meant getting a young woman in the mood.

Next to us was a table with another young couple. I really was planning on how to get rid of this drunk obnoxious girl early when she stands up, points at the young woman next to her and starts saying how she knows what she is up to – she’s going to sleep with the guy to get ahead at her job. I literally had to drag her into the next room and begged her to please shut up while I paid and left.

When we got into the car to take her home she put her feet up on the dashboard and alternatively slept (a blessing) and ranted how she hated her father, how she knew I wasn’t going to call her again (exactly) and asking me to take her to my house, which was only a few blocks away from hers. I did take her to my house because she was so pitiful and I am a big softie, and we even called our mutual friend at 3 a.m.

The next workday, I told my secretary that her friend was crazy. She insisted she wasn’t and that she was just kidding about her mother and about gold diggers. I never called Maisie, again, of course. However, a few weeks later a friend of mine met her in a bar and called me that night to tell me how she flipped out on him. Soon after my secretary mentioned that I was right, she was crazy and she would not hang out with her any more.

Then, sometime in the next year, she said to me, “Remember, Maisie. Her aunt left her over a million dollars. She’s completely fine now.”

Good for her, but she wins worst date of my life.

Who knew? – Darby – my middle 20s. I had known Darby while still in school and asked her out once then, but it turned out she was dating someone else with whom I was slightly acquainted. Some years later we both became lawyers and we ran into each other. I tried again and she said yes. We went out three times and when she didn’t jump me on the third date or give me the high sign, I stopped calling her. She obviously – in my world – wasn’t into me.

Flash forward about 10-12 years and I am with a young intern, Anne, in court showing her the ropes when we run into Darby, who says she is now married with children. I introduced them and said “You know, Anne, Darby and I actually used to date a long time ago.” Darby fixed me with a look and said, “Yeah, what ever happened with that?”

I said “Well, you didn’t seem to like me too much, so I stopped calling.”

She said “I liked you a lot (I forget if she added, “you idiot,” or if her look said it). My kids could be your kids.”

“Oh.” What do you say to that? It didn’t appear she was kidding at all although she wasn’t hostile either. But, the next time I saw her she was just a little bit cold to me. But, maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Dizzy – Monica – my late 20s. One of my best friends was going out with his girl to an amusement park and wanted to fix me up with her friend. I said sure and we all met. I wasn’t really into her from the beginning, but she was a very sweet kid. When we got to the park we all went on some whirling ride. It made both Monica and me sick to our stomachs and for the next few hours, while our friends went on ride after ride, we sat on a bench and could barely talk – only enough to say every little while, “how are you doing?” Not the fault either of us, but a disaster. My second worst date.

Color Blind – Petra – my 20s. She was introduced to me by a friend who grew up with her. She was pretty, so I asked her out, even though I had my doubts. We went to NYC. While we were working down the street together, I was a few inches ahead of her and looking forward, and I mentioned I really hated the color purple (not the movie - the color). I heard a little gasp.

As I turned around I saw a purple hair band, purple eye shadow, purple nail polish, purple top, purple bottom and purple shoes.

Damn. My apologies were sincere and she accepted them gracefully. A week or so later I thought I should call even though I wasn't crazy about her. In the middle of the conversation I decided neither of us was really into it and didn't even ask her out. But, the purple thing. Boy, was that dumb.

Ah choo - Charisse - my late 20s. I met this girl at a friends’ Halloween party and we hit it off and started dating. She was also a red head and just a terrific person. But, she made it all too clear that she wanted to get married soon. After a month or so I started to feel bad. She was coming to my apartment and I decided to just tell her. Normally, I let the girl figure it out for themselves, but I felt that was wrong in this case. When she came over she said she had a surprise for me. She had two front row seats to see Dracula on Broadway.

Feeling not so good about my decision and her gift, I told her the truth anyway and said maybe it wasn’t too late to ask a friend. But, she took the break up very well and said if I wasn’t interested in marriage now, she was glad I told her. More, she wanted me to come to the play anyway. So, off we went. We sat in the front row and watched Frank Langella play the title roll. Once during the play, Dracula even paused to look at me in the front row. The reason he did this is because I was having a sneezing fit. After breaking up with her, I felt like I couldn’t make her leave the play early and just suffered, as I’m sure she did and all those around me including the actors.

About a month after we broke up I learned she had gotten married to the next guy. About a month after that she called me to ask if I would do their divorce. I took care of it for her. I saw her about ten years later at a party. She was still single, but now in her early 40s. I wisely declined her invitation to get together.  Too bad for someone because she’d probably be a fantastic wife. Maybe she is now. I hope she found what she was looking for.

Getting cocky II – Becca – my middle 30s. This wasn’t really a date, but close enough and it’s a good story. I and my Insignificant Other were taking our first long break and I went to the city with a female friend to get dinner one night. We found a place not far from the 59th Street Bridge. It was a Russian restaurant called The White House. Our waitresses were twin sisters, beautiful girls and daughters of the owner. For all they knew I was there with my girlfriend and I was a little taken aback at how flirtatious they were with me. Admittedly, I had the sort of fantasy playing in my head that most men would in that situation.

When we were leaving Becca went to the ladies room and I waited near the front door after paying the bill.

I looked back towards my table which had been up one or two steps with a railing around it. The two waitresses were practically posing in front of it, each sort of lying across the railing and looking at me.

One beckoned me with her index finger – you know what I mean - and suddenly I was on fire. I thought – Oh, yes, this is going to happen. But, how am I going to get rid of Becca? I quickly decided to just tell her the truth, tell her to take my car and beg her not to be mad at me. I did not want to ruin a long and solid friendship, and this kind of thing might, but I was still stunned at the audacity of these two sisters to act so brazenly with her in the restaurant and I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.
I went over to them and one of them leaned forward and said in a low and sultry voice – “Don’t you teep?” All of sudden I realized why they had called me over and the money came flying out of my pocket as I stuttered “Oh my God,” “I’m so sorry,” and the like. I had just forgotten to do it after I paid. Damn. And it was such a good fantasy. Naturally, I told Becca the whole story as soon as we left. I don't know why, but she was a little focused on the part about my leaving her in the middle of the city.

Now that’s a coincidence – Lola – my early 20s.  I am not a bar person for the most part as I rarely ever drink anything and I rarely ever met a girl at one. But, one night while in law school I went to a bar with some friends and I met Lola, a pretty blond, blue eyed girl. I called her the next week and it took two weeks before I could remember her name, and I doubt I would have ever except she mentioned it in a story she told me. We started dating but promised to keep it casual and if one person lost interest, they’d just be honest and say thanks.

Finally, one night, after I took her to a strip club (this worked even better than the Roslyn Duck Pond), things became you know, friendly between us. I went home early in the morning.

I called her the next day and she was not very happy. She lived with her brother in the house they grew up in and had warned me about him. She never introduced us but he knew what had gone on.
He also hadn’t had a date in a long time. In the morning he had screamed out the window for a while to their neighbors that she was a whore, slut, etc.

She said maybe we should wait a week to see each other and I said fine. But, the next week, when I called she said her mother was coming in and she couldn’t go out. I said, Lola, we said if we lost interest we’d just be honest and move on. She said that wasn’t the case but didn’t sound sincere to me (I can hear Bear snickering from here – “D’uh.”). I called two buddies and said let’s go to a movie. So, we went to the closest theatre to them which also was not too far from Lola’s house. I told them that I was a little bummed out because I was sure I was getting dumped and I wish she had just been honest instead of leading me on. I had a two week rule to let myself whine if I got hurt, and then I'd feel better, but it couldn’t start until we ended it.

As we walk up to the end of the line at the theatre, I’m thinking that I have to get a grip because the girl at the end of the line looked too much like Lola. But, when we got there I realized it was her and she was not with her mother. If she was, her mother had an unbelievable resemblance to a young man. I pantomimed for my friends what was happening and we slowly backed away. That was the last time I saw her except a glance of her at a nightclub the next year. She had gained a lot of weight and I can’t say I didn’t smile to myself.

But, I learned a valuable lesson. I was a little upset about what had happened but knew it was not serious enough to get me down for long. In school I talked to a female friend about it and said that if Lola had been honest with me, it would take less time to feel better.
 
My friend asked me if I thought she herself was a good person. I said absolutely. She was great (let me skip a semester once and gave me all her notes). Then she said, “I would have done exactly that she did. I know you shouldn’t, but I wouldn’t have been able to bear it otherwise.”

I got it. Some people, maybe most people, were not just going to behave well in situations like this. But, it didn’t mean they were bad people. People do what they can and sometimes we are weak. It’s not an excuse for bad or selfish behavior, but it is an explanation.

The fun of dating me - Malista – my early 30s. Malista was a friend’s secretary and we liked each other. So, I hit on her one Thanksgiving week and we started dating. She was another terrific person and we were later friends for years, but she was very insecure and emotional and I didn't do well with that. She was also about ten years younger than me and had a little trouble understanding why I didn’t get upset and yell at her when her friends were late or why I didn’t seem to be stressed out about our dating. At first she had the crazy thought that maybe it was because I didn't like her enough. No one she had dated had ever been as nice to her before or really nice to her at all (I found that hard to believe, but she later told me this long after we were done). She also decided she liked me a lot, that she was my girlfriend (for as long as a year after we stopped dating. Go figure.)

One night we had a date and she came over all decked out. When she saw me in jeans and sneakers her face went ashen. Hadn’t I remembered that we were going to go somewhere fancy for dinner? No, I didn’t remember that at all. I thought we were just going to hang out and I had eaten dinner already. I could tell she was really upset. This was how she was used to being treated. I said I was sorry and that I would make it up to her next week. For now, I suggested, let’s just go to the mall for a movie and get something to eat there.

So, I drove her to the mall, walked into the south entrance and took her to Burger King. Unbeknownst to me, taking her to BK was another insult to this young girl’s fragile self esteem. She was all dolled up and I was acting like it was nothing. Well, it was.

But, it got worse for poor Malista. We ordered out food and I reached into my pocket. “Uh, I forgot my money. Do you mind paying?” She didn’t tell me that night but she cried over this for days. I stopped dating her a few weeks or maybe a month or so later, because I couldn’t take the drama and told her so (on the phone, naturally).

She cried and I scolded her, telling her that she only thought she like me so much and wouldn’t even care in a week. She should stop crying. She did stop and when we spoke a week later, she did feel much better, even told me, without reference to what I had said to her the week before, that she realized we hadn’t dated that long and she wasn’t in love with me. Good enough for me. I took it.

That should do it for now. Another successful post which will make you wonder if anything ever happened in my life that wasn’t embarrassing, dangerous or bad. But I just find this kind of stuff more fun than telling you how I threw 4 touchdown passes in a single game while playing for the Polk High School Panthers (Al Bundy) or that I tried the Penge-Bungalow murder case alone and without a leader (Rumpole of the Bailey).

Next week is my annual holiday spectacular and as usual, I have no idea what I am going to write about.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I survived.

I’m still back in New York (which I still call “home” when I am in Virginia) and away from my beloved old, over-handled, poorly maintained, bindings broken paper library from which I gather most of my inspiration for this evalovin’ blog. I’m a witness in a trial, which I won’t really talk about except to say it is sad to see a family disintegrate, but it is all too common over a parent’s estate, even when it is the last thing the parent would have wanted. Yccchh. I say again, yccchh.

A political update is due (my own self-imposed monthly schedule) but I don’t much feel like it. So, I’ll just say, as follows about politics:

Though I do not buy the Trumpian or tea partyish view of the president that he is not a patriot, that he is crooked and at the same time a Muslim and a bad Christian born in another country, I do think he is ill suited for the presidency in most respects and that he shares at least enough with socialists to believe that more spending, taxation and government are the answers, that our money is really on loan from the government and that the equality due us is not of opportunity but in assets and income. Leaving aside that Republicans are almost as bad as Democrats when it comes to these misapprehensions, I do want to see him lose the next election. But, I don't want Newt Gingrich to win one either.

Newt Gingrich has surged the last few weeks, for the most part based upon the fall of Herman Cain from the lead, of which now only the most die hard partisan or supporter can deny is likely true. But, Gingrich was already gaining a little bit when that happened. Cain supporters who need a new home will most likely look to Gingrich and that may give him what he needs to win Iowa and possibly New Hampshire and South Carolina. As has been pointed out many times by others, we pay the most attention to Iowa and New Hampshire because they come first, but South Carolina determines the nominee. However, the past is the past and every election something new seems to happen.

But, while my predictions for who would run and who won’t have been very good, I was wrong about Gingrich running and wrong about how he would do. That’s one self-aggrandizing reason for wishing him to fail. My second reason is because he is, in my view, a religious bigot and no believer in the first amendment, which, also in my view, is the number one reason we have become a great country. My third reason is that he is way to partisan and narcissistic, even for a politician, to be president, and last, I think if nominated, Obama will be president for four more years. Conservatives, led by Rush Limbaugh have insisted they want a real conservative and only a real one can win. This is not only ironic, because Gingrich is hardly a conservative in the mold of Rush Limbaugh – he has more in common with liberals than Romney – but he will also lose the general election, because he will turn off a lot of independents more than Obama will. I still am calling Romney to win, because you can't credibly switch every time someone new takes the lead.

But, none of this is what I am writing about today. Instead, I want to go autobiographical (which some of my few regular readers seem to prefer) and write about something about as personal as you can get – the number of times I have almost offed myself. I mean accidentally, as, leaving aside a whimsical notion of blowing a cooling hole in my head with a shotgun when I had a bad migraine headache on a few occasion, I have never had a suicidal thought in my life. But, sometimes when driving along and having nothing to read I do think about how many times I have come close and for a long time have thought about a post recollecting them for posterity. For otherwise, when I go to the big buffet in the sky (my secret hope), this crucial information will be lost forever. Some of these you may have read here before, but this is the first complete coverage.

1.           Once upon a time, when a mere youth, sometimes in the 60s, I was climbing a willow tree in my backyard. We had two willows, both of which were beautiful. Eventually, perhaps as proof how sayings are just sayings (the willow bends in the wind but does not break), both of them broke in the wind. But, the one furthest away from my house was a frequent destination for me when I was young and imaginative, and I loved to climb it and imagine. One day, alone in my backyard, I began, slothlike, to inch my way upside down along a big branch, away from the main trunk. I can’t say how high it was – it’s just too long ago – but I doubt it was less than 6 feet or more than 10 feet off the ground. Suddenly, the branch clean snapped off and I plummeted to the ground head first with the branch over me. I landed square on my head and felt my neck bridge under me. I didn’t break my neck. It just hurt a lot. But, however old I was, it was old enough to realize that if I had hit a little harder, or my neck was a little more extended, I would have killed myself or paralyzed myself for life. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this before. But, I survived.

2.           There have been several biking accidents from which I mysteriously walked away from without injury as if providence was intervening. Once when I was in my young teens I was riding my stingray bike (I include a picture here as it is possible, you have no idea what that is, as I don’t believe they make them anymore). I was coming from a small stationary store and reading a comic book (some habits die hard, although I am more attentive now when I read and drive). I rode my bike right into the back of a standing car, flew off the bike into the car at quite a high rate of speed. It really, really hurt. But, I survived.

3.           Later as a teenager I was with some friends returning from Oyster Bay where Teddy Roosevelt’s home was located. There are some very big hills there. We were coming down one (I now owned a ten speed bike) and due to gravity, were going almost as fast as the cars. I estimate about 35 miles per hour. I had a bike lock wrapped around the post for the seat and somehow it slid down and lodged itself between my rear brake pads. It stopped the back tire, causing me and the bike to flip rear tire over front. I came off the bike and began rolling down the hill much as you’d expect. When I stopped rolling, I immediately stood up, expecting a bloody mess. But, I did not have a scratch. Nor, if I recall, did my bike. Odd, that one. But, I survived.

4.           I am in my late teens and at dinner with my fiancée and some other couple (I think a couple who I haven’t spoken to in at least 30 years and have no idea what happened to as she got them in the future divorce) at Red Lobster. I was eating a salad and got it into my Neanderthal head to try and swallow a cherry tomato whole. Sometimes I get confused between grape tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, so let me make it clear, this was the larger of the two. I did not know at this time that I had a very small opening for food (I learned that when I was about 50) but I had a long history of choking on food, even when I wasn’t being almost preternaturally stupid. So, of course, it got stuck in my throat. While my friends chatted on I quietly sat there, tried to relax, and waited for it to go down, trying to breathe through my nose, which didn’t work so well either. I did not use the international sign for choking, for whatever good it would have done me. Instead, after a while, I took a sip of water. I expected to pass out any moment, when all of a sudden it went down. I think of that every single time I pass a Red Lobster. But, I survived.

5.           Somewhere around the same time, my fiancée and I were at a local community pool. She told me that her brother, who was my age, had done 10 somersaults underwater. So, being a boy, I determined to do 11. And, I did. I also succeeded in making myself so dizzy that I literally could not find the surface. Finally, just about of air, I decided to just dead float and my fiancée, who was right there, would certainly rescue me. She did not, but when I relaxed, my head floated to the surface. I was not happy and asked her why she didn’t help me when I was flailing about. She said she thought I was trying to do one more. Well, that was fair. Anyway, I survived.


6.           I was 25 and in London in 1985. It was my very first day out of the country. I was happily crossing Trafalgar Square, walking from Whitehall and crossing the big traffic circle towards the statue of Lord Nelson looking down upon us, if you are familiar with it. I was the only one in the street and no, I did not look the wrong way. I heard a motorcycle coming around the curve towards me and as it did not look like it was going to stop, turned to face it so that he could go around me. He did not look like he was going so I moved slightly to one side just as he began to turn in the same direction. Then I went the other way and so did he. This happened a few times as he approached – STILL NOT STOPPING – and I realized I might die. I let my arms fall to the side, tried to become loose (I remembered that from somewhere) and he hit me square on. I know I went in the air and that I landed on my backpack. I know I closed my eyes but I do not believe became unconscious. When I looked up there were a group of punkers (if you are too young to know what that is, I have attached an example) around me and I remember joking to myself that I hoped this wasn’t heaven.

What I would call a brownie, that is, a women traffic cop, helped me to my feet and began talking to me. She was Scottish. I was deliriously happy to be alive. But, after a few seconds I said something like – I feel great, but I can’t understand a word you are saying. She helped me to the curb where I was approached by a number of American tourists who had taken pictures. A couple sent them to me, but I can only find one I had digitalized and it is from after the crash. You’ll notice I am covering something with my hand. It is my smashed camera. I don’t know why I thought that necessary, but, after all, I had been run over. I still felt great at this time, but later the pain, and a gigantic bruise that ran my entire lower left leg set in. It eventually turned black and then green and I thought I might have gangrene, but refused to give up my vacation and see a doctor. It turned out it was just a terrible bruise. However, there are some doctors who believe it was the genesis of my chronic leg pain/dysfunction, which began hurting the next year. Who knows? But, I survived.

7.           Later that same trip I was in Amsterdam and waiting for a tram, which are virtually silent. While waiting, I decided to cross the tracks. As I did, I felt a hand grab my lapel and pull me backwards just before the near silent train crushed me. I never knew who do it, but if you are religious, you might start believing I had a guardian angel watching over me. But, I survived.

8.           A few years later (1990) I went to Greece and Turkey with a friend. We rented motor bikes. We decided to see what was at the top of the island and rode up. We found out what was there. A garbage dump. So, we turned around and headed down. Fortunately going fairly slowly still, my rear tire hit an oil patch and I was thrown off. I was able to avoid hitting my head or face, but tore up my right elbow and left knee fairly badly. I didn’t want to go to the hospital or doctor, so we just continued to the beach where I submerged my wounds in salt water. It hurt. Let me demonstrate about how much. Owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! But, I survived.

9.           On the way back to our hotel, my friend was ahead of me as I was now a little timid about riding the motorbike. I crossed a small bridge just as a large bus turned into it on the other side. There was no avoiding it and we passed each other with inches to spare. If I had been hit it would have slammed me into the wall to my right. I did not get hurt at all, and, more important, I survived.

10.           A few minutes later I suddenly felt a terrible pain in my throat near or on top of my Adam’s Apple. I still remember it as one of the most painful few minutes in my life until my throat surgery in December, 2009. I did not want to stop as my friend was way ahead of me. When I finally caught up to him and pulled alongside, I asked him to see if my throat was bleeding. I was actually worried he would think I was imagining things. He reached over and pulled a long thistle out of my throat. It must have been blown along and just lodged in there. I don’t know how close to death this was, but, it is too weird a story to pass up. But, I survived.



11.           A few years later I was with the same friend and his girlfriend in Portugal (I think around 1996, but I could be wrong). We were at a castle on the Atlantic shore. While they wandered off I decided to get a picture of the pounding surf at the foot of the castle. I slowly extended my body over a rampart by hooking my insteps on the inside. I took the picture but then realized I was too far out. My friends were too far away too help. Slowly, like a worm I inched my way back, realizing the whole time that it would be really hard for them to explain to my daughter how I fell off a castle to my death. But, I survived.

That’s all I can think of right now. I have had more lives than the proverbial cat. I have had many car accidents, but none have been serious at all. I have had two surgeries, but both were without complications. I have climbed small mountains and found myself in precarious positions, but always without incident. I have screwed up a zillion times, leaving myself at the mercy of the elements. I have been hospitalized a few times, once for a mysterious disease no doctor could figure out. But, all of these without mishap. My near misses have all been through stupidity or bad luck and not from the run of the mill accident or illness. I notice a couple of times that relaxing when things looked bad was the best thing I could do and I'm grateful for whatever experiences taught me that. I have found that many times in my life doing nothing saves you, and not just in near death situations. Here's a little from Lao Tze:
"Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
The Master doesn't seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things."

From the Tao Te Ching, 15:13-19 (1988 Stephen Mitchell translation). Or maybe it was Master Po from Kung Fu.

Do I have a guardian angel? Well, I don’t believe in things like that. All I know is, I survived.

Postscript: I forgot about this one. It is 1978. I am just married or about to get married and have my first apartment. There is a gas stove. Neither of us has ever turned one on. So, I say (I'm not kidding about this either) something like "I think we have to let the gas build up for a while." So, after letting it do so, I light a match and literally blow myself across the room and into the wall. But, that's not the funny part. I straighten up and say something like "Well, it probably hasn't been lit in a while." And I did the same thing again. After my second meeting with the wall, we called her mother, who said that we really shouldn't be allowed to live by ourselves. Too true. But, I survived.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Political update - early report

My political update for December is due at the publisher later this week, and I may or may not get to it. But, while I'm sitting in front of the computer, let me make a couple of quick comments (how unlike me).

First, one of the best thing going for Newt Gingrich, which makes me worry, is that the so-called pundits and experts keep saying he doesn't really have a chance. That makes it much more likely he will get nominated.  Those guys are so wrong so often they are poison. I'm still calling Romney, but something may get in the way. Here's what.

Herman Cain is going to - it was inevitable and now is doubly so - get out of the race. When he does - where do you think his supporters are going? Not Romney. His best buddy up there so far has been Gingrich. And, they attract the same kind of religious following (which, of course, is ironic in both cases given their personal histories, at least as reported). If Cain goes out, expect Gingrich to take big leads in Iowa and S. Carolina and some kind of lead, or at least a statistical tie in New Hampshire.

As for Cain, I have two remarks. First, what is the delusion these men have that this stuff will not come out in a presidential run. Second, does anyone now doubt any of the reports about Cain except his most ardent followers or conservatives who are just positive someone with their political philosophy could never behave that way?

Let this be a lesson to you pols (I'm laughing because they never will listen to anyone about this. If you have bad skeletons in the closet. Bring them right out before you start and say it is no one's business any further than this - and then be as expansive as is decent. Or don't run and ruin your family's lives? How do you think Mrs. Cain and their children and grandchildren feel right now?




Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why don't we have a Franklin day?

I have delayed and delayed writing about my favorite founder, Ben Franklin, for a long time now, but not just because the amount of material out there is overwhelming. Unlike with Thomas Jefferson, whose character I loathe, I have nothing really original or bad to say about Franklin and the subtitle to this blog says – My thoughts, what else? However, now that I decided to write about him anyway, his having been on my mind for a couple of weeks, I’m not sure how I will keep it from growing like a stalk out of a magic bean, given how verbose I am even on limited topics.

I have lost track of the biographies I have read about Franklin, but I usually recommend his own brilliant, but short autobiography on the first part of his life and H.W. Brands’ The First American (although I am not the biggest Brand fan otherwise). I’ll also expand below on Tom Tucker’s Bolt of Fate, which is a sensational book on a limited topic. But, I’m not going to scare you away from Carl Van Doren’s classic, Benjamin Franklin (my first after his autobiography when I was a kid), the always readable Catherine Drinker Bowen’s The Most Dangerous Man in America, the equally fun Thomas Fleming’s The Man Who Dared the Lightning or Stacy Schiff’s recent award winning retelling of his years in Paris, A Brilliant Improvisation, which was much better than I had thought it would be.  Less interesting to me were both Walter Isaacson’s somewhat prosaic Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and Edmund S. Morgan’s Benjamin Franklin, though he might be the best historian of the group (if not the best writer).

I’ve decided what I’ll do is talk about a few things about Franklin that make him my favorite founder and why we should have a Franklin day. Although I think he and Washington, were the only indispensible Revolutionaries, I will not try to convince you about that here. It’s enough for me that other than the ever cranky John Adams and a few other contemporaneous critics, almost everyone else thought so too. Maybe another time. As always, this is not Wikipedia, and if you love Franklin or find any of the following interesting, try one of the books I recommended above. The information I give here is derived from them, among others, original research not being in the cards for me.

A really, really brief and completely inadequate overview

I heard Walter Isaacson say once that Franklin was not a genius. I don’t know what he is talking about. If he was not, I’m not sure we ever had any. Franklin's list of inventions, not least his revolutionary discoveries in electricity, his ability to re-invent himself and be immensely successful at whatever he tried, his unparalleled diplomacy in France (against all odds), his civic work and writings among other achievements, cannot be compared levelly with any other American's, at least in sheer talent and diversity of talent. He was the American Leonardo DaVinci. He showed his genius in his writings and even in his playfulness. I understand Isaacson doesn’t want to be a hagiographer, but, really? 

Franklin was endless fun

Long after Ole Ben was dead, Jefferson recalled his own torture while congress tore apart his draft of the Declaration of Independence (Franklin had been on the committee and helped a little) and his conversation with Franklin about it while he was listening. Someone else less inventive than Franklin might have just said, “Don’t worry so much, Tom,” or "It will be okay," but according to Jefferson, Franklin said:

"I have made a rule, whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draughtsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident which I will relate to you. When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprentice hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome signboard, with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words, 'John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells hats for ready money,' with a figure of a hat subjoined. But thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he showed it to thought the word 'Hatter' tautologous, because followed by the words 'makes hats,' which showed he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed that the word 'makes' might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats. If good and to their mind, they would buy them, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words 'for ready money' were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit. Every one who purchased expected to pay. They were parted with, and the inscription now stood, 'John Thompson sells hats.' 'Sells hats!' says the next friend. 'Why, nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?' It was stricken out, and 'hats' followed it, the rather as there was one painted on the board. So the inscription was reduced ultimately to 'John Thompson,' with the figure of a hat subjoined."

The Great Speech

Franklin was a very old man approaching death when the Constitutional Convention was held, and if it were not in his home town, he would not have been there. He contributed little to it. But, what contributions they were. If Franklin did nothing in his life but write his last great speech which was read for him by James Wilson at the convention, he would deserve the title – great man (excerpt follows):

“Mr. President:
I confess that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present, but Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve it: For having lived long, I have experienced many Instances of being oblig'd, by better Information or fuller Consideration, to change Opinions even on important Subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow the more apt I am to doubt my own Judgment, and to pay more Respect to the Judgment of others. Most Men indeed as well as most Sects in Religion, think themselves in Possession of all Truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far Error. Steele, a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only Difference between our two Churches in their Opinions of the Certainty of their Doctrine, is, the Romish Church is infallible, and the Church of England is never in the Wrong. But tho' many private Persons think almost as highly of their own Infallibility, as of that of their Sect, few express it so naturally as a certain French Lady, who in a little Dispute with her Sister, said, I don't know how it happens, Sister, but I meet with no body but myself that's always in the right. Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison.
In these Sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its Faults, if they are such; because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no Form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well administered; and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a Course of Years, and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other.

I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution: For when you assemble a Number of Men to have the Advantage of their joint Wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those Men all their Prejudices, their Passions, their Errors of Opinion, their local Interests, and their selfish Views. From such an Assembly can a perfect Production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this System approaching so near to Perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our Enemies, who are waiting with Confidence to hear that our Councils are confounded, like those of the Builders of Babel, and that our States are on the Point of Separation, only to meet hereafter for the Purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.
The Opinions I have had of its Errors, I sacrifice to the Public Good. I have never whispered a Syllable of them abroad. Within these Walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the Objections he has had to it, and use his Influence to gain Partisan in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary Effects and great Advantages resulting naturally in our favour among foreign Nations, as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent Unanimity. Much of the Strength and Efficiency of any Government, in procuring and securing Happiness to the People depends on Opinion, on the general Opinion of the Goodness of that Government as well as of the Wisdom and Integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own Sakes, as a Part of the People, and for the sake of our Posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution, wherever our Influence may extend, and turn our future Thoughts and Endeavours to the Means of having it well administered. . . .

His brilliance still shown there, even after the great speech.

While others were just milling about during the signing of the constitution, Madison recorded Franklin saying as follows:

“Whilst the last members were signing it Doct FRANKLIN looking towards the Presidents Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.”

Come on, who says things like that spontaneously? Pretty much no one but Franklin:

The Inventions, improvements and innovations

If he had invented or played a role in only a handful of the following, it would have been remarkable. I include those social innovations attributed to him as well as improvements or introductions of institutions to America:

Electricity – I’ll cover this later. But, it was the hallmark of his great fame which led to his great success as a diplomat. Aside from that, he was one of the first proponents of the theory that light traveled in waves.

Flexible catheter: he didn’t invent it, but his was probably the first ever made in America.

The lightning rod: He invented it. How many lives and how much property did this one invention save?

The first volunteer fire company in America.

The first fire insurance company in America (at the least, he was one of the founding members and the inspiration)

Bifocals (which he called “double spectacles.”)

Refrigeration. No, that wasn’t until the 20th century. But, he and one John Hadley made early experiments with ether demonstrating it almost two decades before the revolution.

Copperplate printing press (first in America). He made this himself after observing them in England.

First political cartoon (you’ve seen this – the segmented snake representing the colonies and the words “Join, or Die”.)

The Franklin Stove (more heat, less smoke)

The Gulf Stream (not that others didn’t know about it – sailor’s did, but by taking temperatures with ingenious methods, he discovered how to map it).

First secular subscription library (at least in America)

First use of matching funds to raise money.

The glass armonica (a musical instrument – Franklin’s was not the first instrument to work by touching whirling glass, but was a remarkable improvement – Handel, Beethoven, Mozart and Richard Strauss all composed for it and Tchaikovsky almost used it in The Nutcracker, settling instead on another recent innovation).

Hospital – he didn’t invent this, naturally, but in connection with a doctor, he started the first one in America.

I’m not going to try to be comprehensive here.  But, please don’t tell me the man was not a genius. By the way, the invention by him of the rocking chair, is most likely just apocryphal.

Scientific skepticism

While Franklin was in France during the Revolution Mesmerism, that is, hypnotism, then called “animal magnetism, was foisted upon the public by Friedrich Anton Mesmer. Ironically, he initially tried to use (inspired by Franklin’s electrical experiments) electricity as a conduit from the stars to humans, then turned to magnets and finally a Mesmerizing personality. When the French medical establishment denied him a license, Mesmer created a public company and raised a lot of money from citizens. The government intervened and created a committee to investigate it. It’s three most famous members were Joseph Ignace Guillotin, who later became famous for something obvious if you read his name again, Antoine Lavoisier, father of Chemistry and one of France’s greatest scientists who happened to end his life at the wrong end of a guillotine, and the world’s most famous scientist, Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin and his co-committee men did scientific experiments with one of Mesmer’s followers and determined that at best, Mesmerism was unproven, but also dangerous (but, because it might excite women to you-know-what).

Franklin did not, however, doubt that Mesmer got results - psychological ones - just that his explanation - that some kind of magnetism was responsible, was correct. Despite the report condeming it, he did not believe that they could stem the popularity of what we now call hypnotism. As he wrote later, “[s]ome think it will put an end to Mesmerism. But there is a wonderful deal of credulity in the world, and deceptions as absurd have supported themselves for ages.”  And, he was right, as hypnotism is still quite popular and believed by many people. Even America’s crusading skeptic, Michael Shermer, who has worked on debunking many magical and superstitious beliefs, accepts it as true (I still don’t understand why). But, I know many credible people who tell me they have been hypnotized. I don’t believe that, though I believe they think they have been hypnotized, much as I believe many people who are sure they have seen a UFO, have seen something else. Of course, all they need to say is, you just haven’t experienced it, and how do you argue with that. Yet, whatever you have read or heard, there is no credible scientific evidence of a “hypnotic” state. And, please, no jokes about using my blog to put people to sleep. Anyway, this topic is for another day.

I just like that Franklin was involved in debunking Mesmer.

The great electrical hoax

I don’t like to do book reports here, but I don’t mind turning you onto a book. Tom Tucker’s Bolt of Fate: Benjamin Franklin and his Electric Kite Hoax, was published in 2003 and I came across a library copy up for sale a year or two later. I am always skeptical of historians who come up with radical ideas for which there seems little but speculation in support, like - X (Jesus, Homer, etc.) was a woman, or, that Dead Sea Scrolls are really evidence of an desert drug cult or there is a code in the Bible, and so on. Sometimes though, scholars or even journalists convince me of something I didn’t think true before. Lionel M. Jensen’s Manufacturing Confucianism, which I recently browsed at an afternoon at a library (yes, I didn’t say I read it completely  – Will Durant pointed out in one of his books that you can’t read everything, and I no longer even try after reading that; if he couldn’t, I certainly can’t) which very ably argues that Confucius is a creation of 17th century Italian missionaries to China, is one example. Donald Foster's research showing that Henry Livingston, Jr., not Clement Moore, wrote A Night Before Christmas, is another.

Tucker goes after an American legend that we all grow up on and believe. Franklin flew a home made kite to which was tied a thread and a key, to demonstrate that electricity and lightning were one and the same. I can’t believe it after reading Tucker’s book. Instead, it seems more likely that it was one of Franklin’s many hoaxes. His career is filled with them, beginning from when he was a child. Certainly many other historical figures have engaged in hoaxes, but I doubt any with Franklin’s regularity or success.

You can read the book if you are interested, but he shows how, for example, there was no key in Philadelphia that would have been light enough to float on a kite. Moreover, the wet thread Franklin described would have likely ruined, not helped, the experiment. If it hadn't, the experiment might have killed him (and, in one instance, apparently did prove fatal to another scientist). Also, he laboriously goes through various correspondence from Franklin and others further showing the likelihood of the hoax. Tucker’s book is a great piece of detective work and it includes a lot of material on Franklin’s literary battles with the Royal Society (which later made him an honorary member) that I had not seen elsewhere. Franklin won. He almost always did since he was little.

Don’t go away thinking that most of Franklin’s scientific experiments were a fraud or hoax. He was correct that lightning and electricity were the same, but was certainly not the first to suspect that and he certainly did not completely prove it even if his experiment was real. He coined the terms plus and minus, conductor, armature, positive/negative, battery, condenser, to explain his single fluid theory of electricity, which was also correct.

Franklin's electical experiments are his greatest achievements other than his political one's. Tucker's book does put a little hole in this claim, but, though he has persuaded me of his point, it does not erase all of the rest of it.

Franklin and Slavery

I have always been a critic of the founders when it came to slavery, not just because they owned slaves or tolerated them among others, but because they absolutely knew better and emphatically said so. Some like Washington, Jefferson and Madison kept many slaves and John Adams, the only early president not to own one himself, would make no argument to Southerners of their deserving freedom, thinking it not his business. One of Patrick Henry’s letters, which I’ve posted before, stated it most accurately, admitting that however much of an abomination it was, it was to convenient to give up.

Franklin was a slave owner. He did not own very many (I think 3, but maybe it was more – too tired to research it - you do it), but numbers don’t matter. Is there perdition for slave owners? I hope so or Franklin is sunk. But, like Hamilton (whose wife owned them and he also bought some at least once for a relative) and Burr (who also owned slaves during his life), Franklin became an abolitionist. With only a few years to live he took up the presidency of the old Quaker Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery . . . and really tried to make it a force. There had to be a solution to what to do with newly freed slaves who were incapable of living on their own, and he proposed that America had a duty not just to free them, but to educate them. Good luck on that, of course, and in this, he failed.

Also, in the year of his death, Franklin wrote another hoax, which he never published, likely because he died soon after, in which he created a historical character to lampoon our own slavery, a supposed African Muslim arguing against a petition by a group known as "Erika" against the enslavement of Christian slaves.” I give you only a small part of it:

“Have these Erika considered the consequences of granting their petition? If we cease our cruises against the christians, how shall we be furnished with the commodities their countries produce, and which are so necessary for us? . . . Who are to perform the common labours of our city, and in our families? Must we not then be our own slaves? And is there not more campassion and more favour due to us Mussulmen, than to these christian dogs? . . . But who is to indemnify their masters for the loss? Will the state do it? Is our treasury sufficient? Will the Erika do it? Can they do it? Or would they, to do what they think justice to the slaves, do a greater injustice to the owners? And if we set our slaves free, what is to be done with them? Few of them will return to their countries, they know too well the greater hardships they must there be subject to: they will not embrace our holy religion: they will not adopt our manners: our people will not pollute themselves by intermarying with them: must we maintain them as beggars in our streets; or suffer our properties to be the prey of their pillage; for men accostomed to slavery, will not work for a livelihood when not compelled. And what is there so pitiable in their present condition? . . . While serving us, we take care to provide them with every thing; and they are treated with humanity. The labourers in their own countries, are, as I am well informed, worse fed, lodged and cloathed. The condition of most of them is therefore already mended, and requires no farther improvement. Here their lives are in safety. . . Let us then hear no more of this detestable proposition, the manumission of christian slaves, the adoption of which would, by depreciating our lands and houses, and thereby depriving so many good citizens of their properties, create universal discontent, and provoke insurrections, to the endangering of government, and producing general confusion. I have therefore no doubt, but this wise Council will prefer the comfort and happiness of a whole nation of true believers, to the whim of a few Erika, and dismiss their petition.”

And . . . I just love

- that when someone at a gathering suggested that all of the great animal fables had been written, he was able to make up a pretty good one on the spot.

- that he developed a new phonetic alphabet in which he removed letters he thought redundant but added others (it went nowhere, as have so many other attempts).

- that he seemed so unlike other politicians then and particularly now, truly interested in doing public good for no reward, and was all but indefatiguable in it.

- that he so often met his greatest critics and defeats with silence, except when absolutely necessary, and that his fame still greatly exceeded their own (excepting, I guess, Adams, who is in our pantheon).
- that he avoided public argument, instead only asking questions of those he disagreed with.

- that when he went to France he did so without his wig on, which was fairly shocking at the time.

- that he appeared at the peace treaty signing with England in the same gown he had worn when he was humiliated in front the Privy Council 9 years earlier.

- that he swam long before it became popular.

- that he loved to play chess. In fact, there is no one else in America known by name who played before him - but he had to learn from and play with someone, didn't he?

- that he wrote his epitath (it wasn't used) that stated:

“The Body of B. Franklin Printer; Like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and Amended By the Author”

- that though he believed in God and frequently referred to him, he was non-denominational and wrote some memorable lines about “Him.” At the Constitutional Convention, in suggesting a prayer – he argued: “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”

- that shortly before he died, when asked about his beliefs about Christianity, he wrote with his customary humor: As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his divinity; tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and I think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble.” (Italics added).

Jefferson, another great founder-writer, was never so funny.

The virtues

At the very last, having long exceeded your patience, I give you his 13 virtues, and, in blue, my own comments upon them:

"1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation." Yeah, yeah, yeah. Good advice, of course, but did he look skinny to you in all those illustrations?

2. "Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation." Please, Ben, that is half the fun in life.

3. "Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time." I suppose. But, I’d add – but first read number 9.

4. "Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve." I try, I try, but he didn’t have NCIS or the internet to take up his time.

5. "Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing." Probably great advice. Some people actually follow it and we call them cheap or boring.

6. "Industry. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions." Isn’t this the same as 4?

7. "Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly." This from a man who would do anything to win a contract or job.

8. "Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty." No complaints.

9. "Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve."

10. "Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation." He clearly had no idea of how a real bachelor lives and of the pleasures of messiness.

11. "Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable." If I could, I’d put this before the eyes of almost everyone I know, every second of the day.

12. "Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation." Chastity? He (like me, but the similarities end there) had a child out of wedlock. By venery, he must be referring to sexual desire (and not hunting, the other possible meaning). And, of course, screw him when it comes to that.

13. "Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates." Sure, try, but not when it comes to accepting death meekly. Then listen to Clint Eastwood’s in The Outlaw Josey Wales:

"Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. 'Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That's just the way it is."

How is it possible to write about Benjamin Franklin and not mention his almanac, his printing business, any many great writings I couldn't get to here? I'll tell you. It's because there is just too much to talk about with him.

Peace out, fellow Franklinphiles. I have a busy week coming, so I may or may not skip a post next week. Try and live through it.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .