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Mad Magazine, RIP

We read that Mad Magazine has announced it will soon stop offering new content, and it’s perhaps the most disheartening obituary we’ve read in a while. As embarrassing as it is to admit, the “usual gang of idiots” at that comic book rag was one of the formative influences on our lives.
Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s when Mad was at its peak readership we were exactly the school age and exactly the pretentiously intellectual type that the magazine targeted. It was all cartoons and captions, except for the brilliant Cold War tale of “Spy vs. Spy” feature that had no words at all, but for a precocious sixth- or seventh-grader it was satisfyingly literary. The magazine lampooned the politics of the time, respectfully assuming its young readership was well-read enough to get the jokes, and did hilarious parodies of the vast wasteland of television as well as old movies we’d watch on late night TV and the new movies we weren’t allowed to see, and it generally conveyed a smart-alecky attitude about everything.
Some of our friends’ parents wouldn’t allow them to read Mad Magazine, as they considered it subversive, which it undeniably was, but our parents were always willing to pay the 50 cents or so per month to buy us a copy of the latest edition. They’re both big Bob and Ray and Coen brothers fans with sophisticated senses of humor, and they’re both inveterate readers who encouraged their children to read anything they might come across, and they also got an occasional chuckle from Mad.
It worked out well for us, as far as we’re concerned. Mad made satire our favorite literary genre, and we wound up reading Jonathon Swift and Mark Twain and Evelyn Waugh and all the great satirists of the English language, and writing our attempts at satire. Along with W.C. Fields and Jack Benny and the Marx Brothers and “Laugh-In” they formed our sense of humor, which has often come in handy in this world of troubles, and we think it makes us less susceptible to whatever nonsense the current politics and popular culture are peddling. These days there’s more than enough subversive satire around to jade any youngster, but that’s largely due to Mad magazine.
Before we hit high school we had graduated from Mad to the National Lampoon, which had the same subversive and sophisticated satire as Mad but also lots of words and complex sentences and gratuitous profanity and nudity that we’d have to hide from our parents. That led to Saturday Night Live and modern comedy, with the “Airplane!” movies and Mel Brooks spoofs mimicking Mad’s movie parodies, which we can’t say has worked out well, but we don’t blame Mad for that.
One way or another, we hope the youngsters will learn to read and get wise to all the nonsense that politics and popular culture are peddling.

— Bud Norman</p<

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The Third of July

As patriotic Americans we don’t want to spend the Fourth of July with another screed about the President of the United States, as it’s supposed to be one of those all-too-rare apolitical and non-partisan days, so we’ll get it off our chest on the Third of July. President Donald Trump seems intent on turning Independence Day into another one of his endless campaign rallies, with a heaping helping of militarism on top, and several million taxpayer dollars thrown in, with big-bucks donors getting front row seating, and we find it outrageous.
Starting with President George Washington it has been a time-honored tradition for presidents to stay out of the spotlight while the country celebrates the birth of America, except for a brief and humble statement acknowledging the occasion, but Trump cares little for time-honored traditions and always on insists on being the center of attention. He’ll be hogging a stage that’s been set up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, claiming credit for the traditional fireworks just as he claims credit for people saying “Merry Christmas” in December, with generals and admirals of the American military standing next to him as tanks and troops march down Pennsylvania Avenue as fighters and bombers fly overhead.
Trump is calling it a “Celebration of America,” as if it were his novel idea to celebrate America on the Fourth of July, but everything about it seems a betrayal of American ideals.
The basic idea of the Declaration of Independence that was signed on the Fourth of July in 1776 is that all men are created equal, none are above the law, none are irreplaceable, and America’s greatness derives from e pluribus unum. Trump openly brags about being exceptional, brazenly violates the rule of law and dares his opponents to do anything about it, has repeatedly said that “Only I can solve,” and claims full credit for supposedly restoring America’s greatness by his clear efforts to divide the country. If he somehow manages not to do so on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the Fourth of July we will be surprised, but his mere presence there seems to imply his usual political rally rhetoric.
America’s military might won our independence from Britain, and has maintained our freedom throughout some very difficult years ever since, so of course it deserves some gratitude on the Fourth of July. Still, the show of strength that Trump has planned is not the way to do it. The top military brass has made it clear to Trump that their soldierly humility makes them uncomfortable flexing their muscles in gaudy parades, the enlisted men and women would probably prefer to have a day off with their families rather than being props in a Trump propaganda ploy, and the whole thing seems more like something you’d see in the old Soviet Union or modern day North Korea rather than in the United States of America. The draft-dodging Commander in Chief bragged the parade would include the Sherman tanks, although there haven’t been any Sherman tanks for more than 50 years, and he also bragged there’d be the newest Abram tanks, although they’re actually called Abrams tanks.In Trump’s skewed worldview America is great because it can kick any other country’s ass in a war, but to our thinking America has that capability because a nation of free men and women and free markets that doesn’t want a fight with anybody made it rich enough and great enough to sustain such a formidable force.
As rich as America is it’s more than $20 trillion in debt, and racking up a trillion more every year even in what Trump calls the best economy ever, and Trump’s show of force won’t help with that problem. He’ll spend millions with the flyovers, millions more rolling tanks and other armored vehicles over streets that weren’t designed to bear such heavy loads and will surely require expensive repair afterwards, and he’s diverting some $2.5 million dollars appropriated for the upkeep of national parks to pay for the stage on the Lincoln Memorial and the other changes to the time-honored tradition of Fourth of July celebrations in Washington, D.C.
Way back in our early teens we had the good fortune to be in our nation’s capital for a couple of Independence Days, and we can say that even Trump couldn’t have made it any greater. They had great fireworks even then, which lit up the skies over the Washington and Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and the Capitol and the reflecting pools and the rest of the gorgeous National Mall, and it was jam-packed with Americans of all hues and every variety, and nobody seemed to care much who was a Republican or who was a Democrat. Rich or poor didn’t make any difference, either, and there was a wonderfully palpable sense of e pluribus unum.
Tomorrow we expect there will be a lot of people in those red “Make America Again” ball caps showing up for another Trump rally, as well as a lot of people and that “Baby Trump” balloon showing up to protest the President of the United States, so at least a few fist fights will result. You can add the D.C. and Capitol Hill police department’s costs to the total bill, and subtract that from how great the Fourth of July used to be on the glorious National Mall of our nation’s capital. The big bucks donor who bought the front row seats for Trump’s speech and “Celebration of America” might not notice, but any average American who gets caught up in the potential riot surely will.
Our plan for tomorrow is to watch our city’s annual dazzling fireworks display in front of the Wichita Art Museum on the banks of the Little Arkansas River, which will light up the skies over the  Keeper of the Plains statue on the nearby confluence with the Arkansas River that marks the spot still  held sacred sacred by the plains Indians. We look forward to sharing the moment with Wichitans of all hues and every variety, and not caring who’s a Republican and who’s a Democrat. Wichita still has a palpable sense of e pluribus unum, and now that we’ve got this off our chest we won’t let the likes of Trump ruin that on a Fourth of July.

— Bud Norman

J’accuse, Against Both Parties

For many years a woman named Juanita Broaddrick has publicly alleged that President Bill Clinton raped her in a hotel room while he was the Arkansas Attorney General, and we’ve always believed her. President Donald Trump believed her, too, or at least said he did when he invited Broaddrick and three other women who accused Clinton of sexual misconduct to a news conference in the aftermath of the release of the famous “Hollywood Access” tape that captured Trump boasting about his ability to get away with sexual assault.
Since then 13 different women have publicly accused Trump of the very sort of behavior he had bragged about, and  a former teen beauty contestant has accused him of invading a dressing room to ogle her in a state of undress, as Trump had bragged to shock jock Howard Stern about doing, and now a woman named E. Jean Carroll is publicly alleging that Trump raped her in a fancy department store’s dressing room while he was a name in the New York tabloid headlines and failing casino mogul. We believe them, too.
Broaddrick had no apparent motive for lying about Clinton, and ample reason to not expose herself to the public scrutiny and partisan opprobrium that her allegations inevitably brought. Clinton had already paid a sizable settlement to a low-ranking Arkansas civil servant named Paula jones who alleged he had exposed himself and made lewd suggestions in another hotel room, and he didn’t seem to mind his longstanding reputation for being a sexual predator, so given our general lack of respect for his character the accusations seemed plausible enough.
Carroll has a new book out that makes brief mention of the incident, but she’s a former writer for the “Saturday Night Live” comedy and a widely-read advice columnist and established author, and the press is by now inured to such allegations, so that doesn’t seem sufficient motive for her to lie about Trump and invite the death threats she’s inevitably received. She’s a registered Democrat who’s made contributions to Democratic campaigns, but so was Trump at the time of the alleged rape, and our experience of Democratic women is that they’re no more likely to make false allegations of rape than their Republican counterparts. As we’ve already mentioned Trump has boasted about the sexual misbehavior he’s been accused of, and he went on at length in his book “The Art of the Deal” about his aggressive and adulterous sexual appetites, and he’s carefully cultivated a reputation as a man who won’t take “no” for an answer.
Trump says she’s lying, of course, just as he says those other 14 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct are also for some reason lying. None of them have become rich and famous on their accusations, which Trump and his apologists said was their motivation, and all of them are still sticking to their highly credible stories despite all the grief and public embarrassment it has caused them. Meanwhile, Trump’s denials are not convincing.
At first Trump denied ever even meeting Carroll, but a picture of him and his then-wife laughing it up with Carroll and her then-husband at a fancy New York party made that hard to sustain. By Monday Trump was telling The Hill newspaper that “I’ll say with great respect, number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. Never happened, OK?”
This doesn’t strike us as at all respectful, for one thing, and the implication that he might have raped her if he’d found her hotter is not at all reassuring. Carroll strikes us an attractive woman of a certain age, and we can easily believe her modest claim that 24 or 23 years ago she happened to be one of the more attractive women in that fancy department store on that particular day. For another thing, we’ve noticed that whenever Trump says something twice and adds “OK?” to the end he’s usually lying.
We say that with great respect, by the way. OK?
Way back when Broaddrick and Jones were making their highly believable accusations against Clinton we were mightily disappointed by most of our Democratic friends. They’d all believed every word of Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, as well as anything salacious any woman had to say about any Republican candidate or office holder, and they were all the sorts of feminists who insisted on believing the woman in any he-said she-said situation, but they made an exception for Clinton. He was in favor of legal abortion and was otherwise in line with their notions of women’s rights, after all, and the only bulwark against the “Handmaiden’s Tale” theocracy that would surely result if another Republican ever became president, so they were willing to extend a very generous benefit of the doubt, and in many cases admitted they’d give Clinton a pass even if the allegations were true. Jones accused Clinton of pulling out his penis and telling her to suck it, having used a state trooper to bring her to his hotel room, and ultra-feminist Gloria Steinem gave him a free pass on the “one grope free” rule, as he eventually took “no” for an answer, which was pretty much the end of her reputation, and which she now regrets.
This time around we find ourselves even more disappointed with our Republican friends. The erstwhile party of “family values” and “character counts” and the gentlemanly Judeo-Christian tradition has reconciled itself to a thrice-married and six-times-bankrupt casino mogul who has publicly bragged about all the married babes he’s bagged over the years, and it’s willing to extended him a seemingly unlimited benefit of the doubt about everything, and the once Grand Old Party doesn’t seem to care much even if Trump has grabbed some women by the pussy over the years. They believed Broaddrick and Jones and any other women making allegations against Democrats, but this time is different. This time it’s the sort of alpha male behavior that Trump’s die-hard supporters seem to love, after all, and they always tell us he’s the only thing standing between us and the socialist hell that would surely result if another Democrat were ever elected president. Such self-proclaimed “religious right” leaders as Jerry Falwell Jr. have declared Trump a divinely chosen leader, and we expect they’ll eventually regret that.
We never intended this to be another pornographic web site, so we apologize about writing about men pulling out their penises and telling women to suck it, or men grabbing women by the pussy, and it’s more painful to write that we believe at least two of the presidents of the United States in our lifetime are probably rapists and certainly moral reprobates. That’s where we find ourselves, though, and we hold out faint hope that sooner or later both our Democratic and Republican friends will insist on something better.

— Bud Norman

Between Brawls and Debates

On an otherwise slow news day, a couple of stories in The Washington Post caught our eye. One was about a brawl that broke out between some parents at a Little League baseball game in Lakewood, Colorado. The other was about a supporter of President Donald Trump allegedly assaulting a newspaper reporter outside Tuesday’s big reelection announcement rally in Orlando, Florida.
The stories might well strike you as entirely unrelated, and perhaps they are, but we read them as just two more in a daily diet of tales about America’s gradually slide into trash-talking and sucker-punching incivility, which seems to have picked up pace over the past few years. There’s no blaming Trump for human nature’s most savage impulses, of course, but we can’t say he’s done much while in office to encourage what President Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”
Which is not to say the damned Democrats are any better, or aren’t arguably worse. The left includes the black-masked Antifa and other gangs that often smash both windows and heads during otherwise peaceful protests, and for all its good intentions the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality has led to deadly attacks on blameless law enforcement officers. The equally well-intentioned Me Too movement against sexual assault and harassment has harmed the reputations of celebrities whose only crimes seem to be acting like slightly less than perfect gentleman, and conservative youngsters are being kicked out of fancy colleges for some stupid things they said on the internet in their high school days.
There are also plenty of pundits on the left, not just on the far fringes of the vast internet but also in the mainstream media, who encourage such behavior by casting their ideological opponents as spiteful enemies of the common good for their insistence on such radical notions as property rights and individual liberty and low taxes to pay for a limited government. Many high-ranking Democratic office-holders use the same extreme and provocative rhetoric, in some cases as they pursue the highest office in the land, and they’re not setting a good example for Little League parents anywhere.
Alas, neither is the current President of the United States. Trump refrained from urging the crowd to beat up protestors, as he repeatedly during the ’16 campaign, but he goaded the crowd into once again chanting “lock her up” about his vanquished and currently irrelevant opponent Hillary Clinton, and as always he stoked the crowd’s already red-hot hatred of those “enemies of the people” in the free press “fake news” media who were then broadcasting his remarks to the nation. The guy who is charged with assaulting the reporter from the Orlando Sentinel was also charged with public inebriation, and seems to have been kicked out of the rally for that offense, but the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board had endorsed anybody but Trump that same day, and we guess that the alleged and caught-on-video assaulter been emboldened by what he’d heard before being kicked out of the rally.
Some Trump apologists we know and love tell us he’s the leader they’ve longed for who fights fire with fire, and punches back ten times harder, as it’s come down to street-level and existential battle with these damned America-hating Democrats. They hear it on the eight straight hours of talk radio that a local station broadcasts, in most of the evening opinion shows on the Fox Network, and on Tuesday night they could have turned to any news channel and hear Trump accusing his opponents of “un-American conduct” and warning “they want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as they know it.” We have to admit it’s frightening stuff, even a call to arms, but we find it unpersuasive.
There are indeed some dangerously deranged people out there on the left, but most of the damned Democrats we drink beer and do business with and encounter in our neighborhood walks are patriotic and well-intentioned people who happen to have some very stupid ideas about certain things. Lately they’re all talking about whom to choose from a very crowded field of contenders for their Democratic presidential nominee, and they all seem to be weighing who’s mostly likely to beat Trump with the most leftward platform. In these strange times, we find ourselves wishing them the best in figuring it out, along with the advice they choose the least stupid and most electable of the candidates. We’re urging such centrist candidates as Colorado Gov. John Hicklenlooper and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and despite being a Democrat from California with some very stupid ideas the Democratic California Sen. Kamala Harris impresses us with her calm demeanor and carefully parsed answers in every interview. In any case, we don’t expect Trump will once again have the good fortune to run against Hillary Clinton and her long-forgotten e-mails
Many of the Democratic presidential candidates want to impeach Trump, others want to impeach him but only after a fair trial, while some want him to face federal and state charges after he’s removed from office next election, and at this point any of these options would be agreeable to our formerly Republican selves. They’re all running on specific policy positions, however, and although most of those stands strike us as damned stupid we have to give them credit for that. Any candidate of either party who wants to return to debating policy matters rather than questioning the other side’s patriotism and calling for them to be taken out on stretchers will earn our consideration.
Our mostly civilized experience of American life tells us that in a civil and carefully deliberated debate property rights and individual liberty and low taxes to support a limited government would prevail over some of the stupid socialistic ideas so many of the damned Democrats are currently peddling. Infuse that with the idealism of the party of Lincoln’s call for “malice toward none and charity towards all” and we think a Grand Old Party would be cruising to an electoral victory. It’s hard to imagine such words coming from party of Trump, though, so we’ll hunker down here at home and see how it all plays out on the streets, and await a president who appeals to the better angels of nature.

— Bud Norman

Fair Play and Foul Times

Now is far too early to be writing about the upcoming Democratic party primary race, although we’re tempted to by a newly released Quinnipiac poll that shows many of the contenders currently well ahead of President Donald Trump in key states. Trump was waving around of piece of paper that he contended was a secret agreement he’d reached with Mexico, which reminded us of Sen. Joe McCarthy waving a piece of paper he contended was a list of all the communists working in the State Department, but better to let that play out before writing about it.
There was plenty of other news afoot, as usual, but two separate stories in the sports page caught our eye. Both had to do with sportsmanship, which is one of those old-fashioned values our conservative souls hate to see slipping away.
Although we’re too all-American to care much about soccer — or “football,” as the damned foreigners insist on calling it — we’ve been pleased to see that for some time now the American women’s team has been quite good. The American men’s team has achieved respectability, but the distaff national squad has been a dominant force, winning three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals and more than two dozen titles in other prestigious international tournaments. They started their defense of the World Cup championship on Tuesday beating Thailand by a score of 13 to 0, which prompted criticism in some quarters.
Soccer is such a low-scoring game that a three goal differential is considered a butt-kicking akin to the 60 to 6 scores that the big time college football teams routinely rack up in their early games against tune-up teams, so the record-setting 13 goal difference was considered an unsportsmanlike running up of the score intended to humiliate a clearly outmatched opponent. The team and its coach were unapologetic, however, and based on accounts of the game we figure they had nothing apologize for. Old-fashioned notions of gentlemanly and ladylike require that a team pull its starters once a game has been clearly won, even if it’s not yet halftime, which the American squad apparently did with a six goal lead or so. No coach can ask the substitutes to play less than their best during their time on the field in front of family and friends, however, and in this case the bench was also six or seven goals better than the Thai starters.
“To be respectful to opponents is to play hard against opponents,” U.S. Coach Jill Ellis said, which sounds about right to us. Ellis also noted that the team is playing for another world championship, adding that “I don’t find it my job to harness my players and rein them in.” Those substitutes will play some crucial minutes in the closer matches are sure to come, and Ellis is wise to keep them sharp. We do feel badly for those outmatched Thai players whose family and friends watched them endure a record-setting butt-kicking, and after our inept years on the playgrounds we can empathize, but our best advice is that they try to get better.
The other story came from the National Basketball Associations finals, where the powerhouse Golden State Warriors, the defending champions and winners of three of the last four playoffs, found themselves down by a seemingly insurmountable three games to one in the best of seven series against the underdog Toronto Raptors, who were in the finals for the first time in franchise history. One reason for the Warriors woes was that the supremely gifted small forward Kevin Durant, a recent most valuable player who was twice the the MVP of the finals, was on the bench with an injury. Durant either foolishly or courageously took to the court for the fifth game, depending on how you look at it, and although the Warriors won and are now down only three to two and have a chance of extending their dynasty he aggravated an achilles tendon in the efforts, and he wound be around for game six or a possible game seven and might even start next season on the bench.
As Durant was being carried off the court many of the Raptors fans loudly cheered the injury, and there’s no excuse for that. Canadians are typically very polite people, but the big sport up there is ice hockey, which doesn’t understand the concept of unnecessary roughness, so we weren’t entirely surprised. To their credit the American players who make up the Raptors’ roster chastised the cheering fans, and gave Durant respectful applause on his way to the hospital, and the team’s management also issued a “tweet” saying they don’t approve of anyone cheering a player’s injury. The Warriors had earlier apologized for one of its franchise owners who started a sideline fight with Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, and banned the fellow from the rest of the finals, so at least the league is taking an admirable stand on sportsmanship that shouldn’t be necessary.
Both stories are about mere games, but we think they illustrate a broader cultural decline that also infects our politics. On both sides of the political divide people want to run up the score, recognize no standards of unnecessary, and think it doesn’t matter how you play the game so long as you win. We hate to lose a game just as much as the next guy, but we’d hate even worse to lose the tradition of fair play by the fair rules.

— Bud Norman

Technical Difficulties and the The Rest of the Damned Modern World

No new essay was published at the Central Standard Times yesterday, the first time we’ve ever failed to provide readers with our freshest working week day outrage in the past seven-and-a-half years we’ve been doing this, and we apologize for that. It’s not that the spirit was unwilling nor that the flesh was any weaker than usual, but rather a problem with this damned computer gizmo we write and publish on.
The intermittent problems with these damned computer gizmos are just one of the many things we find infuriating about this modern age of technological miracles. We also hate the way those “smart phone” thingamajigs seem to so mesmerize people that even the young lovers sitting across from one another in the booths of the dives we frequent are staring at their machines rather than one another, and we even resent our suddenly old-fashioned flip phone and miss the good old days when our bulky and murder-weapon solid phone was tethered to the wall instead of us being tethered to the gadget in our pocket. Don’t get us started about those computerized drum machines the modern music recordings use instead of Gene Krupa or Baby Dodds or some other more brilliant and real live drummers, or all the computer generated images that modern movie makers use instead of plot and characters and dialogue and making some point.
Worse yet is the way you can’t live without it. Due to our stubborn and cheapskate resistance to “smart phones” we can’t summon an Uber or Lyft driver in case of some emergency, and would be hard-pressed to find the phone number for a taxi, and we can’t rent one of those bicycles that are suddenly all over our the prettier parts of our town, nor participate in any of the local radio stations’ promotional contests. We’d get along just fine without those drum machines and computer generated images in the comic book movies that dominate our currently sorry popular culture, and still enjoy our freedom from those “smart phones,” and otherwise enjoy our proudly Luddite existence, but we have to admit that the 24 hours we endured without internet access left us feeling like our heroin junkie friends who were occasionally forced to go cold turkey.
It’s bad enough that we couldn’t vent our spleens to the world wide web about the latest outrageous thing that President Donald Trump said or did or “tweeted,” but without access to the internet we didn’t even know what it was. Our television hasn’t worked in years, and we’d lost interest in the once-amazing gizmo long before that, and the local AM radio stations are disinclined to say anything negative about Trump. There was yet another threatening storm cloud to the west, and we were unable to track it on the radar at the essential wunderground.com website. These days the local newspaper is printed up in Kansas City and trucked down the interstate, and is therefore always a day late with the baseball scores, so we had no idea where the New York Yankees stood in the American League’s eastern division, which is also a matter of personal importance.
For the first third or so of our surprisingly long lives there was no such thing as an internet, and we can’t recall ever missing it in those halcyon days. The then locally written and printed morning afternoon papers kept us updated on President Richard Nixon’s latest craziness and the Yankees scores, the local television and radio meteorologists told us when to take to the basement during a storm, the radio stations were pumping out groovy soul music and rock ‘n’ roll with real live drummers, the local bijoux had movies full of plot and characters and dialogue with some pretty good points to make, and we rather liked it, even if the Yankees didn’t always win.
As you can see we worked out our internet problems, for now at least, and that’s mostly attributable to our aging Dad. He grew up in an Oklahoma oil patch during the Great Depression and World War II in the early years of rural electrification, but he got an electrical engineering degree from the University of Oklahoma and started working on computers when they were room-sized Rube Goldberg machines back at the beginning of his illustrious avionics career, and to this day he’s more up-to-date on the modern world of miracles than we’ll ever be. He had no more idea how to solve our problem than we did, but he did know the right phone number to call, which was hand-written in his old-fashioned notebook, and with help from a very friendly and knowledgable and young-sounding woman in some far-away location and a few mouse clicks we were once again back in the blessed bosom of the internet.
The moral of the story, we suppose, is that the modern world provides pretty much the same frustrations and satisfactions of our much-missed old world, when those then-newfangled automobiles used to die on the side of the road the way the horse-and-buggies usually didn’t. We surely hope so, as come Monday we’ll probably have something nasty to say about whatever our president said or did or “tweeted” over the weekend, and will be eager to publish it to a world wide web.

— Bud Norman

Chief Two Toes, and Other Reasons for Memorial Day

Our old newspaper pal Hoot, also known as Skippy Sanchez, went to Facebook on Sunday and linked to a Memorial Day post that ran in the Central Standard Times five years ago about our late mutual pal Jerry Clark. We thought it a well-written tribute to a bona fide American hero, and decided to take the day off in Clark’s honor and re-run it.
Today is Memorial Day, and we plan to charcoal some meat, drink a beer, and fly our Kansas flag from the porch. In keeping with our holiday custom, we will also spend the day missing Jerry Clark.
Clark, who was also known as Clyde Suckfinger and Chief Two Toes, was a good friend from way back in our newspaper days. When we broke into the newly computerized newspaper racket at 19-years-old as glorified copy boys he was an aging photographer who’d been shooting since the days of the massive accordion-lens cameras with the searchlight-sized flash bulbs, but we hit it off immediately. He liked that we had been born in Manila in the Philippines while our dad was paying off his AFROTC debts by flying single-engine planes and doing various other First Lieutenant chores, as he had his own connections to Manila and the Philippines, and he liked that we were the very last ever hired to work at the late Wichita Beacon where he had started his ink-stained career.
The twenty-something college grads from fancy journalism schools who then dominated the paper’s reporting ranks were often embarrassed to have him along on assignments, with his rumpled suits and conspicuously ugly shoes and the ties marked with holes from the chemicals that splattered around in the dark room, not to mention his ribald sense of humor and uncomfortable candor and unabashed Kansasness, so naturally we regarded him as the coolest cat in the newsroom. At every opportunity we’d hang out with him in the darkroom or the smoker’s lounge and swap jokes, the dirtier the better, and he’d tell us tales of the good old days when the reporters wore fedoras and shouted “get me rewrite” into candlestick phones and everything was in glorious black-and-white. Most of the stories were funny or risqué, and always infused with a necessary cynicism about the business he was in, but he’d still choke up occasionally at the recollection of a murder or other grisly crime scene he’d been sent to, or the sorry state of the slums he’d documented during the paper’s occasional urban crusades, or the tornado that wiped out the tiny town of Udall just south of Wichita.
The photographs Clark took of the aftermath of that tornado were reproduced in publications around the world and won him a nomination for the Pulitzer prize, but you had to get to know him for a while before he mentioned that, or anything else he’d done that was worth bragging about. Eventually we got to know him well enough to hear about his Great Depression boyhood in an Atchison orphanage, where all the kids rooted for the Detroit Tigers because the team was rough and ugly and all the respectable town kids with parents rooted for the St. Louis Cardinals, and how at the age of 16 he spent a year of more or less indentured servitude at a bakery in Hutchinson. When he turned 17 years old Clark was inducted into the Army and shipped off to the Pacific to fight a war against the Japanese, and after a while he even talked to us about that.
One sunny summer day we noticed that Clark was less than his usual ebullient self, and assumed it was because the young whippersnappers from out of town who were then running the paper had pulled him off the street and relegated him to darkroom duty, but he scoffed at the idea and explained it was the anniversary of the very worst day of his war. He told how a landing craft had stopped too short of the shore on one of the many islands he had been obliged to invade, and how he had gone charging out of the deployed door and immediately sinking into the depths of the ocean under the weight of his helmet and gun and backpack and heavy boots. He somehow managed to jettison all the gear and make it to the beach, but he arrived there in the middle of a pitched battle without a helmet or rifle or rations or boots, and spent the rest of the day crouched in a hand-dug hole as machine gun fire whizzed overhead and mortar shells landed close enough to toss sand on his back. He had relived the experience once a year ever since, he said, and assured us that nothing those young whippersnappers running the paper could do seemed quite so bad.
On another occasion he told how his regular assignment after a beach was taken was to leap into the enemy foxholes further inland and either shoot or knife whoever he found there to prevent them from placing magnetic bombs on the bottom of the tanks that would pass over. He was neither boastful nor ashamed about it, and he’d always add that pretty much every other able-bodied American male at the time also had some nasty chores to do in the war, and we had to agree with him that it was of greater importance the Axis powers didn’t win.
On most occasions he told more light-hearted war stories. He liked to tell about the time he saw a zoot-suited Cab Calloway and his swinging orchestra while on leave in southern California, or the time he was in the boxing ring with Joe Louis, who served as a referee for one of Clark’s bouts against fellow training camp lightweights while the heavyweight champ was on a morale-boosting tour, or the friend and fellow soldier who contracted what Clark thought a particularly amusing case of testicular elephantiasis from a Singapore prostitute. Like most combat veterans, our friend preferred to remember the good times and funny anecdotes.
We’ve forgotten how Jerry Clark came to be known as Clyde Suckfinger, although we vaguely recall that it couldn’t be recounted in such a respectable publication as this in any case, but we clearly remember how he came to be called Chief Two Toes. One day in the early ’90s Clark took ill and was taken to the local Veterans Administration hospital, where we found him lying in bed with both feet sticking out of the blanket. One foot had only the big toe and the pinkie toe, and when he caught us looking at it he explained with a shrug that the other digits had been blown off by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Battle of Manila. He gave us his full account of the famous fight, which is still troubling to recall and far too gory to recount here, but suffice to say that it ended with him spending two years in a Hawaiian hospital partially recovering from his numerous wounds.
Clark also told us that one of the men who occupied the next bed wasn’t so lucky, and when he died Clark inherited a camera, which he spent the rest of his time in the hospital learning how to use. When he was eventually shipped back to Kansas he got off the train in downtown Wichita, walked a few blocks down Douglas to the Beacon Building and managed to convince the photography editor that he could take good pictures and wouldn’t be intimidated by any of the gore that newspapers loved to cover back in the day. That’s how Jerry Clark came to be a newspaperman, and he so loved the job he always said that he counted himself lucky, no matter how bad things got.
He spent the last years of his newspaper career relegated to the dark room, and whenever the photography editor would rap on the door and demand to know what he was doing in there he’d always say “I’m doing the three and the five,” which we found out was an allusion to an old Army joke that absolutely cannot be repeated in such polite company as our dear readers, and the whippersnappers from out of state who ran the paper forced him into retirement earlier than he wanted. At his retirement party the Vietnam vet who was then the photography editor made sure everyone saw Clark’s Purple Heart and numerous other decorations, along with many of the excellent photographs he’d taken over the years, and even the most callow of the college-educated reporters who’d been embarrassed to have him along on assignment seemed to realize how shabbily he’d been treated.
We like to think he got some revenge during several years of a seemingly happy retirement, savoring the loving company of his longtime wife and taking pride in a son who had gone off to sea with the Navy, and indulging in a variety of hobbies that did not involve photography or newspapers or war. We are happy to say that every time we’d see him he was in high spirits and low-brow humor.
Those doctors in Hawaii never did get all of the Japanese shrapnel out of his legs, though, which is how we came to visit him in the VA hospital. The war was still trying to kill him, he said, and he was still determined that it wouldn’t. He died a few years later in a seizure-caused car accident, and the medical report suggested it had something to do with the lead in his bloodstream. The war wound up killing Jerry Clark, after all, even if he’s not counted in the official and horrific death toll, but we think it a testament to his toughness and stubbornness and Kansasness that it took more than 50 years. That it never stopped the hearty laughs he’d get from a dirty joke or the pride he took in his son’s military service or the compassion for his fellow man that somehow persisted in the loving and gentle soul of such a fierce and fearsome warrior is all the more remarkable.
Chief Two Toes would be annoyed with us for saying such flattering things about him, and insist that he was no different from any of those other hard-luck sons of bitches who had the misfortune to don a uniform in a time of global war, so we’ll also take time out today to remember all of his brothers and sisters in arms. There are still concerns about the care that America’s heroes are receiving from the VA, which used to send Clark two pairs of those famously ugly shoes each year, one of each with a cardboard box to take up the space where his middle toes used to be, so we’ll try to keep agitating about that through another year and another election cycle.
By all means enjoy some charcoaled meat and a beer today, and fly a flag from your front porch, if the weather permits, but come tomorrow be ready to insist we do better by the likes of Jerry Clark.

— Bud Norman

The Weather and the Rest of It

There’s plenty of important news afoot today, as always, but around here and in much of the rest of the American heartland the big story is the weather. It’s wet, chilly, and bringing down catastrophic thunderstorms and hailstorms and tornados and flooding rains from the Texas panhandle to Lake Michigan.
So far our beloved hometown of Wichita has been spared the worst of it, but it’s been bad enough that we’ve lately been keeping a nervous eye on the sky and the Nexrad radar and the seven-day forecasts at wunderground.com, none of which are saying anything hopeful. Nearby communities are largely underwater, friends of ours in the outlying areas have been stranded in farm homes that are suddenly islands, and on Tuesday some very fine Kansas towns not so very far to the north of us were threatened by tornados that largely preempted our afternoon “Jeopardy!” viewing.
We’re also keeping a nervous eye on the confluence of the Little Arkansas and Arkansas Rivers that border our home in Wichita’s fashionable Riverside neighborhood, as well as the canal that runs along the overpass Canal Route through the middle of town and the Big Ditch that was dug in over on the west side, and although they’re all far higher than usual they seem safe enough for now, but the seven-day forecast calls for at least another week of heavy rains and chances of severe thunderstorms, so that’s something to worry about.
There’s plenty else to worry about in the rest of the news, as always, but one of the benefits of a harsh prairie upbringing is a certain soothing stoicism. Things can only get so bad, we’ve noticed, and despite our instinctive fearsome awe of God’s nature our prairie Protestant nature is assured by God’s promises of grace that everything will more or less work out in the end.
In the meantime, we’re obliged here on Earth to deal with both nature and human nature and the resulting problems as best we can. It’s a damnably tough job, but here’s hoping at least the weather will better. We’ve  confirmed that amazing Holzhauer guy won yet another huge payday on “Jeopardy!,” the feud between the executive and legislative branches continues to grind out in the judicial branch, the Kansas weather is always uncertain, and that some things can be counted on.

— Bud Norman

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Doris Day, RIP

Monday was warm and sunny and gorgeous here in our wholesome hometown of Wichita, so it was sadly ironic to hear about the death of Doris Day. Despite a hard life she made it to the ripe old age of 97, and we took some solace in that, but we couldn’t shake a melancholy feeling that a more warm and sunny and gorgeous and wholesome era of American popular culture had passed away with her.
The youngsters won’t recall, and probably can’t comprehend, but back in the late ’50s and early ’60s of the previous century Day was pretty much the epitome of perfect American womanhood. She was a sweet-faced blond with a fit physique, and a pretty good actress who always played the chaste young heroine being pursued by the lecherous leading man, oftentimes played by the excessively handsome and hunky Rock Hudson. She was an even better singer, scoring huge pop hits with such romantic fare as “Que, Sera, Sera,” “Secret Love,” and “It’s Magic.” In all her public appearances on the talk shows and awards ceremonies she always came across as the all-American girl that every red-blooded American boy fantasized was living next door.
It was all Hollywood hokum, of course. After growing up in less than all-American circumstances Day was married to a wife-beater, then another husband who resented her success and wound up leaving her, and then a third husband who wound up cheating her out of a big chunk of her hard-earned fortune. The excessively handsome and hunky co-star who was her most famous on-screen romance turned out to be homosexual as all get out, and he died of AIDS back in the  ’80s as a result, and by that time the Rock Hudson-Doris Day romantic comedies and her even more romantic pop hits were considered quaint and far out of date. As far back as the early ’60s, the late and great comedian Groucho Marx used to get a laugh by saying “I knew Doris Day before she was a a virgin.”
Even so, we miss the lies Hollywood used to tell back in Day’s day. Better to aspire to the pure chaste love of a Doris Day movie, we figure, than the equally unattainable and far less tempting carnal delights with excessively physically-fit starlets that Hollywood mostly peddles these days.
Day seems to have made peace with the modern world in her later days, even if it had left her far behind, and we’re glad of that. When her dear friend Rock Hudson was dying of AIDS she was outspokenly eloquent about his stellar character, and she did much to encourage a tolerant and sympathetic attitude about the epidemic that was controversial at the time but we still consider very all-American. She was an animal lover who understandably preferred her cats and dogs and horses to any of her husbands or most of the show biz people and fickle fans she had to deal with in her career, and she devoted much of her post-show biz life to the worthy cause of animal rights. When she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, Day was cited for her activism as much as her by then long-forgotten career as America’s sweetheart.
Given everything, Day seems to have made the most of her 97 years. Her corny movies and mushy pop hits will probably continue to pop up on late night television and the oldies radio stations for years to come, and we hope they’ll inspire some unattainable aspirations of pure chaste love and perfect American womanhood in yet another generation.

— Bud Norman

Happy Mother’s Day

Thursday proved so eventful in our personal lives that we couldn’t keep with the even more frenetic news of the rest of the world, and Sunday is Mother’s Day, so we decided to republish an essay from ’13 about our beloved Mom.
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A recent pleasant spring day stroll through Wichita’s picturesque Riverside Park took us past the spaceship, and once again we were reminded of Mom.
It’s not an actual spaceship,  just an antique piece of playground equipment that vaguely resembles a sci-fi B-movie version of one, but it’s real enough that our childhood imagination could take flight in it whenever Mom would haul the kids to the park on a summer’s day. On this day there were no children scampering up the series of ladders to the cockpit, though, a consequence of some do-gooder group’s insistence that the entrance be bolted lest some unattended urchin injure himself on the steel artifice, and the spaceship seemed lonesome without them in its belly. We also felt badly for the park’s children, even though they seemed content on the wood-and-plastic and playground equipment that looked just as dangerous and far less inspiring to us.
Sadder yet was the realization of the societal assumption that the children didn’t have an eagle-eyed mother hovering over to keep them from harm.
No noisy do-gooder groups were needed to get us through childhood. Although we suffered from the usual boyish lack of risk-assessment abilities, ever-vigilant Mom had an uncanny knack for plucking us out of danger at the last possible moment. It could be quite annoying, of course, but in retrospect we can see she also allowed us a glorious degree of freedom that must have been quite nerve-wracking for the poor woman. Mom would become frighteningly ferocious when her children were threatened, a marked contrast to her otherwise ladylike behavior, and she was no less protective when confronted with well-meaning busybodies who would have placed limits on our sense of possibilities.
Pardon us if a sentimental Mother’s Day tribute turns into another political rant, but there’s a lot of collectivist do-gooder nonsense that would be entirely unnecessary if everyone had a mother like ours. Countless children could have been spared the dreary and wasted time of Head Start if they’d only had a mother who sent them off to Kindergarten knowing the alphabet and what the letters looked and sounded like, and able to count well past 10, having memorized the family phone number, and possessing a vocabulary that included “precocious.” Mom saw to it that her children were fed, cleaned, clothed, sheltered, and otherwise cared for, and any intrusive social worker who thought he could have done better would have been in for a hell of a time.
Spend all the trillions you can tax, borrow, or print, but you’ll never fund a social program that is an adequate substitute for  a good Mom. Fashionable opinion is fond of an old African adage that “It takes a village to raise a child,” and Hillary Clinton even used it for a book title, but that’s the sort of balderdash that has kept Africa largely poor and backwards. In truth it takes a mother to raise a child, and preferably such a good one as ours. Fathers are important, too, and given current policies that probably requires even more emphasis, but we’ll take that up in June around the time of the U.S. Open Golf Tournament.
This weekend should be devoted to wishing a Happy Mother’s day to all the Moms who have done a fine job of it.

— Bud Norman