Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"What we have HEEyah is a FAILyah to communicate..."

What a freakin' mess. Just a mess.

For the first time in generations, our children will be worse off than we are.

Now that college loans will be harder to get, who do you suppose will be going to the "best" schools?

I suppose if I have to sell my house in four years to send my son to college, it won't be the worst thing that happens. Hell, at least I have something to sell at the moment, which is more than too many folks can say.

I hope Wall Street is happy. Even though intellectually I understand that something has to be done, it seems to me when you have to prop up the finance and auto industries that a little something is lost. Like, oh I don't know, our competitive edge, perhaps? We lost that a long time ago, but this is welfare for rich people. Wefare for people who should know better. Welfare for people who went to the best schools and who sent their kids to the best schools. Not the kind of welfare that statistically supports single mothers for an average of 6 months. We are all going to be paying for this, paying for a very long time, with our hard earned money that should have been spent on our families and in our communities. To quote just this once Senator McCain, "This is horseshit."

Tomorrow I'm going to Nashville. Maybe I shouldn't, but I'm going, because there might not be a next year. I'm going to skip Del McCoury's hosting the IBMA Awards Show and watch the Veep debate instead with my sister and her husband and eat apple pie, and then I'm going to spend three days surrounded by bluegrass people. As Blueberry has reminded me, at least we still have the music.

For now.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

And Speaking of Sexy...We Lost the Man Who Wrote the Book

Paul Newman died yesterday at the age of 83. He had been ill. But like a lot of people, I wasn't ready. It's hard to let go of an icon like that.

Newman was just beautiful. He played good guys, bad guys, sad guys, joyful guys. He worked a really, really long time. I think he still looked good in 2002's "Road to Perdition" opposite Tom Hanks. He was the voice of the Hudson Hornet in last year's Disney hit, Cars. He did anything and everything when it came to movies, but never won an Oscar. From the time I remember first seeing Paul Newman in the movies I think I had a thing for him. Who didn't?
He was kind of a rock solid actor that you could build just about anything around. He apparently was in a lot of stinky movies but didn't get blamed for those. The movies back then could put two people like Paul Newman and Robert Redford (yes, even I have a thing for him) onscreen at the same time and not lose anything.

Paul Newman was a born and bred Northeast Ohioan. He went to Shaker Heights high, just down the street from where I work. He once said that he wasn't running toward acting as much as away from selling sporting goods. He was an Ohio trained actor, at OU and Kenyon (my sister's alma mater). He loved kids. He loved his wife. (He once told Playboy, "I have steak at home. Why go out for hamburger?") His politics got him into trouble with people like Richard Nixon, perhaps one of America's least sexiest people ever. He was a philanthropist. (I am a freak. Someone who has a ton of money and likes to give it away is, to me, sexy. Hell yes, even Bill Gates looks good in this light. You have to admit he has a certain goofball, geek charm...) He did things with his spare time and change to help others. And his salad dressing ain't half-bad.

Paul Newman wasn't just sexy. He was devastatingly handsome in every sense -- mind, body, spirit. There are a few actors, men and women both who are coming up through the ranks who have the potential to take up that heavy mantle, and I hope they can.
Thanks, Paul, for everything you gave.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Very Sneaky, Mr. Senator

(I'm listening to the President right now. Do you hear the crickets in the background?)

Watching the news and hearing people discuss the events of the last week does have my head spinning a bit. I’m trying to keep my focus on a couple weeks from now, when I’ll get a little breather while being cradled in the arms of the music I’m mad about.

My sister and I also realized that I will be at her house for the Vice Presidential debate. This is perfection. She, her husband, and I watching together in real time as opposed to the cell phone updates that might have ensued. She also makes the best apple pie on the planet, which will make listening to Palin’s grating, nasal voice go down a lot easier. (Again, to you merry men who think she’s sexy. Think of the audio that would go with. WAKE UP.)

But this morning I woke up and realized something very important. I am so distracted by my disapproval of Palin that I’m not paying attention to what is actually being said by our presidential candidates. I’m not thinking about, or working toward an intelligent discussion of where my candidate stands because I’m so goddamn terrified that if McCain is elected and chokes on a chicken bone that Palin will drag us all through her End Times Fantasy and get us all killed.

Now, that ain’t right. And I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t in fact McCain’s true intent in selecting such a miserably unqualified running mate. And by unqualified, I mean, as in the town this woman ran is smaller than the town where I grew up, Martins Ferry, Ohio. And folks, it don’t take much to run Martins Ferry.

So it occurs to me that by throwing so much of the focus ON to Palin, McCain has taken the heat OFF of himself AND Obama. And now he wants to postpone the debate to fix the financial crisis? Weenie. Work on the Hill until 6 p.m., do the debate, and then go back to the Hill to finish your job. That’s how it should be done. There's no reason you can't keep doing your job and interview for the next one at the same time. People do it every day. Have your scheduler call me, I'll explain how it works.
On my way to work I decided, with IBMA looming ahead, I needed to give myself a break from the chatter in my head and the news blasts, and listen to some real old fashioned bluegrass. So I pulled up some Bill Monroe. Early bluegrass is basically old time music on stimulants. And, it reminds me of what happens when you try to do things too fast. Kind of like this bailout package Herr Pretzledent wants us to welcome with open arms. This one is called, appropriately, Fire on the Hill, er, I mean, Mountain. Learning a tune like this might require a "slow downer" program, something Congress might do well to put into service about now, too, before they do something hasty.
And before you do something hasty, make sure you do your homework. Don't get too caught up in the Palin love fest or the attention-grabbing grandstanding McCain is using to buy time and make it look like he cares after 26 years of doing nothing. To both candidates, if you have to be in Mississippi at 8, and then back in DC to finish the job at 1 a.m., well, that's the way it goes. You think being President of the United States is a 40 hour a week job?
There is a fire on the mountain. Run, boys, run.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Out of Leadership, er, I mean GAS, I mean...What do I mean?

As I arranged myself for a 30 minute stationary bike ride through another chapter of "End of Faith", I got a call from my sister. She was explaining that Nashville found itself at the epicenter of embarrassing human behavior yet again.

Nashville ran out of gas.

Yes, it's true. Nashville ran out of gas. But what is more telling is not that this rather isolated western Tennessee city ran out of gas, but that it's Mayor has not spoken a single word to the public about it. Not a peep. At least not as of this writing, a good day and a half into the crisis.

Sis proceeded to tell me that she sent the mayor a little note, suggesting that perhaps had he taken the initiative to say a few words about what is really going on, there wouldn't have been two-mile lines from the 15 percent of gas stations in middle Tennessee that had any fuel left. You know, like, maybe if he said a few words of wisdom, like, "Don't drive if you don't have to, we'll have things back on line soon, we're working on it..." or, you know, something.

What we decided is that Americans who support McCain or even those who simply support his VP Nominee have absolutely no idea that this is precisely the situation that would repeat itself over and over if the GOP ticket takes office in January.

Everyone would do well to read this essay, for example, by Sam Harris. Before I saw this, I was pretty down in the dumps this morning, thinking that so many Americans simply have gone batshit crazy to think Sarah Palin would actually make a good Vice President. SHE HASN'T DONE ANYTHING RIGHT. Good LORD, what is the matter with people? And I am damn tired already of hearing about whether she is a good mom, rides a four-wheeler, or is, give me strength, sexy. I'm sorry, but any man who finds that woman "hot" must be the kind of man who would enjoy suddenly finding his balls in a vice.

It's not that this blog is about politics, or anything, but when my sister told me what happened, I thought, "How is this possible?" But it is. My sister, a well-educated woman, mother, professional, organic gardener and all around good gal, is not endowed with any particular influence over public policy any more than the rest of us. So why, on a Sunday morning, is it necessary for an ordinary citizen to point out things like, "You know, Mr. Mayor So and So, it might be a good idea to plan so that Nashville doesn't find itself in a situation where it has to evacuate the city and has no fuel to do so."

This is part of what makes me angry. While 80 percent of America sleeps off the election, the other 20 percent of us who still give a shit are scrambling to figure out whether we should get passports or just hunker down. And we spend a lot of time, an inordinant amount, pointing out basic things like this to people who presumably hold the offices they do because they convinced enough other people that they were endowed with the intellect and common sense to take charge of difficult situations. In other words, Mr. Mayor, YOU ARE MAYOR SO I DON'T HAVE TO BE.

According to everything I've read, every situation Palin has taken charge of, she either has FUBAR or sent mysteriously packing. If she doesn't like something or someone, she turns to her Bible, finds a passage to justify her action, and it is then "handled." Her frightening fundamentalism notwithstanding, she's absolutely and completely unqualified for this job, and is simply a miserable excuse for a nominee. I'm ashamed and embarrassed that someone with McCain's experience has lowered himself, and frankly, his entire party, Lincoln's party, to such a base level. Worst of all, the fact that his choice has been wildly popular reflects just where that party, and a lot of Americans, really are. A lot of Americans evidently enjoy having a mouthful of sand, because that's where their heads are buried.

I mean, this is not brain surgery. As Harris points out, and as just about every thinking person I've talked to about this has been saying over and over, should McCain have an aneurysm in the bathroom or choke on a chicken bone, this woman, whose only public offices were as Mayor of a one-horse town and Governor of a state that has fewer people than Manhattan, who claims that she's qualified to drive foreign policy because she can see Russia from her house, who referred to Obama's defeat of Hillary as "Sambo" beating "that Bitch," will be the Commander in Chief of the United States of America. If we're lucky and McCain does not die from some sudden illness or injury, she'd still be in charge while he's incapacitated. Still plenty enough time to do a whole lot of damage, like, appoint someone to the United States Supreme Court. The next time someone says to me, "I'm not voting because the Office of the President has no effect on me," I may just have to violate my personal commitment to nonviolence.

When I am in Nashville a couple weeks from now, providing it's still there, I know that for the most part, people are there to concentrate on their work as musicians and enjoy the show as fans, but I know too that it will have been more of a hardship this year for people to get there, and I know the election will be discussed on stage and off. I remember my first FanFest in Kentucky and I remember thinking, "Oh boy, this is going to be tough," and then I saw a bunch of Kerry/Edwards stickers on instrument cases. But Kerry and Edwards are both white, and one is from the South; I don't think the same majority will be pulling for an educated black community organizer from Chicago. I hope I'm wrong; I might be. All I know is that I hope Americans step back and start thinking seriously about this election and all that's at stake.

Here's a tune from the late, great John Hartford. It's a live performance from a tribute concert a few years back. It talks about settin' and watchin' the Ohio river just roll on by. And how people can do that and nothing happens, because sometimes that's what people do, whether it's sanctioned by some invisible Supreme Being or one's interpretation of moral law, or not. I miss sitting at night on my mother's porch on a warm night and hearing the boats and the barges go up and down the river, sometimes with only a stitch or two on. Something tells me if we're not real careful, a chance at that kind of simple life for you, for me, for our kids, for anyone who wants it, will be gone.

Watchin' the River Roll By

Friday, September 19, 2008

Life is Cheap...

It seems we all like little single-engine boats being tossed around on a big angry sea of incalculable stupidity.

It's been a long week, and I'm tired, and I have too much to do, but at least I can stop and take a breath and write a word or two.

Unlike a lot of Americans, I'll sleep ok tonight. Tonight after I got home I worked out, spent about two hours tidying my modest home and pushing a fair amount of laundry I'm lucky to have, got rid of a fair amount of paper, and am now winding down with a glass of wine and the blog. I'll get up early tomorrow, attend to a few obligations, spend a truly fun day with my kids' Auntie D looking at wedding dresses and other fun weddingy things for her nuptials, later do a little work I brought home, enjoy the outdoors and wind down again in relative contentment. I'm not in any real danger of losing my home, not this year, anyway, although I have my small share of debt to service on top of some home and car repairs I'm about to take on to the tune of around $5,000 altogether over the next several months. But I'll manage it. It's what folks do.

At the same time, tourists were interviewed on NPR this week as they watched and took pictures of Lehman Brothers employees leaving the New York office with their belongings after being sacked. We are learning things about the Republican Vice Presidential candidate that have convinced me that Canada is not far enough; I'll have to head to the UK to get away from "Sambo-Beat-The-Bitch!" Palin. We're watching a good swath of coastal Texas recover from one of the worst storms in its history, a storm from which thousands of residents refused to flee. It's now suspected that most of these men, women, and children have been washed out to sea, never to be heard from again. And in rare form, the US government has made us all homeowners by taking on the largest bailout in history and more than likely sticking us with the bill.

But nonetheless I booked my now overpriced flight to Nashville for my escape two weeks from now. I really cannot wait. For starters, I'll get a good chunk of badly-needed time before and after IBMA with my sis and her family, test the new deck and check on Mr. Bill and Mrs. Peck (it's a long Pondfest story). If time allows I'll take my niece for ice cream at the Ben & Jerry's where my sister and her husband got married. Two weeks from this moment I'll be sitting in the Nashville Convention Center ballroom about two-thirds of the way through the evening's lineup, followed by a night of late showcase sessions and jamming. Somehow I managed to book a room at the conference hotel (on a nonjamming floor of course), which means that I can chuck my stuff, kick off my shoes, and sit on the floor in the hall playing or singing with other pickers until I can't take any more (what does IBMA stand for, now?). Then I can crawl back to my room to rest up for Saturday.

I am so very fortunate that I will be able to do this. Who knows how much longer those of us with normal, boring lives and responsible routines will be able to hold on to these tiny expressions of belonging and meaning. Right now, we pay our mortgages and our taxes, make sure the lights and heat stay on, buy or replace things we need, and sometimes take little trips or get on with home repairs. We slide a dollar or two into our kids college savings, hoping they'll keep getting good grades, and put another dollar aside for ourselves, hoping we can still work when we're 70. In short, we're pretty much propping up the economy at our own expense. My boat's getting full and I'd bail myself out except for the fact that my bucket has a hole in it called the United States Treasury.

So much for wishes comin' true. Life is cheap, but it ain't free.

And as Darrell Scott sings, when it's coming down, it call comes down to you.

Life is Cheap. Check it out. It's my new tune.

(And watch this space for the Kent Stage Folk Fest lineup which features Scott along with folks like Tony Rice and Pete Rowan and a bunch of other bluegrass masters.)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I should be...

...working, or looking over stuff for a shootout we have tomorrow, but I just can't muster the fear. Maybe fear isn't the right word. I think I'm too tired to muster any kind of stage fright. I may feel differently tomorrow when I'm finally sitting across from three board members of one of our local urban universities.

They are looking for a president, and it would be good fun and good work to do that project. Just don't know what the odds are that they'll pick us. I was pretty uninterested in going -- felt like window dressing at first -- but now I'll go if nothing else to support my troops and put in a good word or two about leading the research time assigned to this. Well, if we get it.

And it would be fun to do, really.

But I haven't looked at the information all weekend. Too busy having fun -- went with daughter to The Infamous Stringdusters show Friday night (she picked the best seats in the back with room for her to dance), more Son of Mando birthday fun last night, and just general relaxing and watching the wind blow (and blow, and blow) today and tonight. I don't feel unprepared, just a lot less worried than I thought I would be.

I guess, all things considered, that's ok.

By tomorrow I'm sure I'll feel a bit more worried, edgy, jazzed...more like, this tune, Black Rock, by the Stringdusters, which they played early in the show Friday night. First string break of the evening!

Wish us luck. If the Browns-Steelers game is any indication, if we just play it cool it will turn out ok. (I'm not a Browns fan.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Oy maria, I've been tagged by Blueberry!

1. Where was I ten years ago?

In Sept. 1998, my son had just turned four. We had just moved to Suburban Hell, and Ohio was in the middle of Welfare Reform Insanity. I had begun to be confused about my marriage but I had a job I really loved as publications director for a human planning agency and I was deeply involved in the issues and having a great time professionally, so I wasn't paying attention. The work was wonderful but the commute sucked, especially once we moved down here. I ultimately quit the following year and consulted from home until my daughter was born in 2000.

2. What was on my ToDo list today?

Usually I don't make to-do lists. I have things that I mean to do for weeks and suddenly in a burst of enthusiasm they get done. I feel good if I go to bed with a clean-ish counter, and leave the office being able to see a little bit of my desk. Yesterday, I did take my car in for a routine oil change that was free, but I paid $112 for a diagnostic on an EVAP problem that eventually will lead to an $800 repair. That would not have been on my to-do list.

3. My favorite number.

Three. It's a magic number. If I meet a wonderful man we can adopt and vice versa, I'll change it to four.

4. Five places I've lived...

Wow, no place as cool as Blueberry -- I don't think I can even come up with five. Let's see:

1) Route 5/150 between Adena and Mt Pleasant, OH
2) Martins Ferry, OH
3) Granville, OH (college days)
4) Cleveland and Cleveland Heights, OH
5) Twinsburg

Wow, ok, technically, that's five!

5. Bad Habits.

Whoa, too many! Thinking for others. Procrastination. Shooting myself in the foot. Disorganization. Falling into internet research like it's a chocolate donut. Not getting enough sleep. Buying stuff because its on sale and I have a coupon, even if I already have three.

And lastly: tag five others -- As Blueberry writes: and if this is a second tag, ignore it unless you can list 5 MORE places (that's the one I can do), and MORE bad habits, and MORE stuff to do today. If you don't want to play, that's OK too. I, like, totally understand. ;-)

Ok, you five, I know, I know, but what the heck...
Ipsissimus and her Pandora's Box
Boring Best
Confessions of a Yarn Slut

Monday, September 08, 2008

Shakin' That Family Tree

Last night I did something I never expected I'd do. No, I did not call up John McCain and tell him that if he wins, I'm going to stop paying taxes and give all that money to the family of an Iraq war veteran instead. But, that's tempting, that, and reminding Sarah Palin that the world is not flat, nor did the founding fathers have anything to do with the Pledge of Allegiance....

Ah, but I digress.

Anyway, last night I wrote to a distant living relative I've never met, because he and I are related through one of my great great grandmothers. I'm finding more and more that the further back I go, ironically on my mother's side, there is quite a collection of living folks doing the same type of digging. It's kind of neat.

When I got started with ancestry.com earlier this summer, I guess I never imagined it would lead to meeting actual living people, but of course other people out there are curious about the same things. I have to admit it was a little disconcerting at first to set up a search for one of my ancestors on a random shot and see her pop up on someone else's family tree. Of course, many branches from a few roots, right?

My great great grandmother, Mary Budd, wed Charles Johnson sometime before the War Between the States. Their kids included my great grandmother, Isabel Johnson, and her brothers and sisters (my great aunt Tune's real name was Unity, a popular post-War name for obvious reasons). Mary's ancestors turn out to be stalwart nonconformists -- one of her ancestors took the Quaker oath and died in prison for it. Isabel married Thomas Williams, my great grandfather, a good old-fashioned Republican who ran for public office in Martins Ferry, Ohio. There was a time when I figured that's where the story started. But in fact I've been digging up all kinds of nuggets that take the story wayyyy back and across the pond.

We're just getting started on this little odyssey. It's an interesting task, and one that shouldn't have waited until after my mother was dead. I can count three, possibly four living relatives I know personally on my mother's side; I'm not even sure if they're all still alive.

I'm also not sure what I'll find, on either side. What all else do I have coursing through these veins besides a little hutzpah and a love of baked goods? That's kind of the fun, and the mystery, of family history.

Family History
Tim O'Brien, from Traveler

Friday, September 05, 2008

Out of Time, Out of Place

Can there be any greater horror for people of a nation than Civil War? Let me be clear that I'm not suggesting by anything in this post that I want to go back to that, but, the fact is that people on two very different sides of an issue were worked up enough to kill each other for it by the tens of thousands in this country. It wasn't even 150 years ago. Really, 150 years is nothing.

Yet, good LORD, think of all that's happened since that time. You can start with the end of the Civil War and the preservation of the Union. Then there's the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment (and all the rest of them since),Lincoln's assassination, the light bulb, cars, refrigeration, Suffrage, World War I, telephones, Jim Crow, the Great Depression, World War II, the Holocaust, the threat of nuclear holocaust, penicillin, television, the Cold War, National Parks, satellites, the Red Scare, the Folk Scare, space travel, John Kennedy, MLK, Bobby Kennedy, Vietnam, Watergate, thalidomide, the end of Apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, laser discs, personal computers (thank you, Apple), cds, cell phones, the ERA (still not ratified in all 50 states), electric cars (again), two gulf wars (the second one is still going)...it's just exhausting. Think of all the things I've left off. Mind boggling.

So much progress, but, the last week has me wondering about life in a different time. I don't want to say, simpler, because I'm not sure they really were. A lot of things were harder than they were today -- we take for granted things like indoor plumbing and refrigeration and whole-house wiring. And as the world became smaller, especially during the first War, there was a lot of complexity that people weren't quite ready for. There was a lot of ugly stuff, too, not to be forgotten. Still, some things were different. Or, there was universal denial.

Well, maybe not universal. If everyone had been in denial about the inherent potential in the colonies, we might still be English. If everyone had been in denial about slavery, then there would not have been an underground railroad. If everyone had been in denial about what Hitler was doing to the Jews then Germany might have succeeded. If Kennedy's advisors had been in denial about the final frontier, there wouldn't be an American flag on the moon.

Today is different, though. A lot of people are in denial. Coupled with the fact that there are a lot more people, period, when a lot of them are in denial, it's a lot harder to move the needle. Let's take the GOP's VP candidate. I know, I know, aren't we all sick of hearing about Sarah Palin? Me too, but check it out. The woman has never been out of North America. She doesn't believe in global warming. She says abstinence education is enough but the evidence to the contrary is growing inside her own daughter. And as most readers know, she told ministry students that the war in Iraq is a "task that is from God." If her vice presidential nomination isn't an act of denial by nearly half the country, then I don't know what is. The thinking people of this country are like a collective Sisyphus, pushing democracy like a 20 ton boulder up a steep and craggedy mountain. Truly, it seems almost hopeless at times. And very lonely.

The election isn't going to change much of anything for anyone, either. Even I know that. No matter who takes office in January, he will inherit a mess unseen by any incumbent in our history. Most days, I can't believe anyone is crazy enough to run at all. As most of us have come to believe, I'm not sure the office of the President even means much anymore given the way the office has become an ugly charicature of its former self in the last eight years.
I think what I may be romanticizing is the fact that once upon a time before we were even a country, people did things. People, everyday people, changed things. There have always been such people but we don't see it as often anymore. People hid slaves in their homes, women were beaten in public by straw-hatted gentlemen because they wouldn't back down on the right to vote, doctors performed abortions in safe, sanitary conditions, black and white students lost their lives in order to move equality forward. The decades before may have been a simpler time but there was a lot of daring in it, too. A lot of everyday people died doing not so every day things that moved that boulder another quarter of an inch up the mountain.
I think things are different now. Look at Cindy Sheehan, who took on a bold protest when her son was killed in Iraq. She camped outside Bush's ranch -- how many of us would love to do that for so many reasons and she did it! But she ended up being the only one behind the boulder of apathy and in the end it rolled right back over her. When she gave up, she wrote that more people are interested in who wins American Idol than what's happening with our country. That's the sorry truth.

I don't know that this election coming up is the thing that finally matters to anyone. I don't see scores of people signing up to do community organizing -- a one time fan of it myself, even I don't invest the time or effort anymore; my sleepy denial-driven Stepford community doesn't care and it's a 40 minute drive to anyplace else that might. There are things I believe and things I want to see happen, and I write to my Congressional representatives, and maybe I get a nice little note back. But little changes.
So I guess that's why I'm feeling out of place, and out of time. Even the music I love harkens back to a different way, a different era, some of it from that time and some of it new but in the spirit of those days.
Mac Wiseman, one of the remaining first generation bluegrass players, was recently honored with the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Mr. Wiseman suffered from polio as a child -- not many people remember pre-vaccine days anymore -- but that didn't stop him from becoming one of the most accomplished bluegrass musicians and recording artists in American musical history. Early on he played with Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt in the Foggy Mountain Boys band. The son of Virginia mountain parents who sang old time ballads and enjoyed early country music, Wiseman has gone on to become an original tradition bearer. You can read more about the honor and his achievements here.
This tune is from the recording, Arkansas Traveler, which I have blogged about previously several times. It is one of two recordings issued a couple years ago by the Pa's Fiddle Project to honor the music that appears throughout the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This little ditty is called The Monkey's Wedding -- I figured it would be a nice change of pace from Froggy Went A Courtin' for you and your listeners of all ages. Hope you'll enjoy it right down to the end of a glass of lemonade and some homemade ginger cake. Meanwhile, I've got to crank up the horseless and get into town for some postage stamps.

Monday, September 01, 2008

A Real Labor Day

Today marks the 14th anniversary of the birth of my son. While we are struggling to keep the house cool tonight, the day we brought our new little 7 lb. bundle of joy home from the hospital it was so cold we had to turn on the heat. New parent jitters, probably.

Now he's taller than I am by a full five or six inches, sports a deeper voice, and has begun "the maturation process" as I'll call it. But inside he's still a fairly magical little guy driven by an incredibly active imagination, always creating, always wondering, asking questions. During a trip over the weekend he acquired another morphing lego-type creature, and even I shared his delight in seeing how many iterations it could take. It was a good prelude to two days in Dearborn, Michigan meandering through The Henry Ford and what amounts to Ford's personal playground, Greenfield Village, where Ford himself assembled a collection of friends and their memorabilia -- like, the original courthouse where Abe Lincoln practiced law, the chair in which he was sitting when he was shot at Ford's Theatre, one of the 30 remaining handwritten copies of the Declaration of Independence, the car in which Kennedy was shot, the home of his favorite childhood teacher, the seat in which Rosa Parks sat and changed the nation's relationship with race forever, the original Fort Myers workshop of his good friend Thomas Edison. (Edison was alive and well. Ford brought the old workshop up to Greenfield, and built Edison a better workshop in its place in Florida. After all, what are friends for?)

At one point over the weekend I looked at my son and said, "You know that game where people ask each other which ten famous people they'd have over for dinner? It's like Ford played the game for real." All of these monuments -- right down to the oldest remaining Windmill in America -- are literally yards from his childhood home.

The museum is also a wonder, a collection of unimaginable breadth and scope in its eclectic-ness. The camper Ford built for Charles Lindberg, the picnic table used by "The Vagabonds" during their not-so-roughing-it camping trips, a model of one of those crazy round metal houses that was sure to be a hit (at 1096 square feet, even my house is bigger, although, we don't refresh the air every six minutes through the handy top-vent or have cool revolving shelves). The collection both in the Village and the Museum just goes on and on -- after two days we still had not seen everything, it would have been impossible.

On the ride home, coming over I-75 I spotted the Libby Glass Company in Toledo. What crystallized for me in that moment was how the Museum and the Village and their contents were not so much Ford's toybox as his way of bringing together in one place all the best things he could find about America and Americans. The museum was a real tribute to innovation and courage. The Village really memorializes Americans who made a significant contribution to culture, politics, or the development of our economy.

As we traveled further East, I thought how alike these two Great Lake communities continue to be. Cleveland was once a center of industry, like Dearborn and Detroit were the seat of what at one time was a ginormous and overpopulated automotive industry. Today both are near ghostowns. Where did it all go, and why? Are people less inspired? Less innovative? What's taken the place of these iconic leaders? Some of it probably has to do with the fact that once cars and trains started to advance in their technology, everything changed rapidly compared to the first 1800 years AD. So the innovations are so numerous that there is no way to keep up. And so much of industry is automated these days that a revolution in technology is not going to necessarily translate into hundreds of thousands of new skilled-labor jobs.

One of the stops on our journey was the property belonging at one time to the Amos Mattox family of Georgia, a slice of an America to which most of us have never been introduced. The Mattoxes were a black family of little means. Amos Mattox worked several jobs to take care of his wife and family. The little tin-roof porched home had newsprint on the walls and cardboard on the ceiling (which Mr. Mattox innovated because its insulating properties kept things incredibly cool in the summertime). Out back there was a little yard with a chicken coop and a grape arbor, and in front a small garden with not a lot of grass out front so as to keep the mosquito count down. Mrs. Mattox took care of the garden and the animals and canned much of what was grown. Not far from there was a replica of the home of Ford's good friend George Washington Carver, a naturalist and agricultural scientist who transformed the agronomy of the post-Reconstruction South with his discoveries in sustainable agriculture.

My son is at heart a discoverer, a connector, and at times an inventor. The spirit of that place has a good shot at living on as long as kids like mine are supported in their endeavors to continue to examine the past, consider the present, and imagine the impact of ideas -- quite possibly their own ideas -- on the future. We all need to let our own imaginations soar more often, and try not to squelch those we witness unfolding. If you see a kid obsessed with taking apart a new flying toy, let it go. He or she will not only likely put it back together no worse for wear but may already be on to something else.

And don't worry if your kid isn't first in line for everything, head of class, fastest on the track team. If he or she is inquisitive, creative, eager, there will be a way to put smarts to work. Remember, the early bird may catch the worm, but it's the second mouse that gets the cheese.

The Second Mouse