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“Caedite eos, novit enim, Dominus qui sunt eius.”

That does it. The final straw, the line crossed that must not be crossed, and once crossed cannot be uncrossed, the bridge too far, the Popeye Moment. Believe thee you me, if this isn’t a sign that the Apocalypse is at hand (and not a moment too soon), I don’t know what is.

The source of my discontent is news that Pope Francis is authorizing changes to The Lord’s Prayer and The Gloria. I was born and raised a Catholic in the heady days of the mid-1940s and 1950s and although I’ve consider myself a cultural Catholic—as opposed to a practicing Catholic—since I stopped attending Mass more than five decades ago, I still hold some atavistic attitudes. I, therefore, cannot, will not, shall not countenance such apostasy.

On those rare occasions when I am compelled to recite The Lord’s Prayer (funerals of late, and I only do it out of love and respect for the deceased), I shall continue to say “and lead us not into temptation” rather than the suggested “do not let us fall into temptation.” As a side-note, I also am wont to say, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” although I do not object, on theological, moral, or aesthetic grounds, to saying, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,”

As far as The Gloria goes, I think the proposed change from saying “Peace on earth to people of good will” to “Peace on Earth to people beloved by God” is dangerously discriminatory and I will have nothing to do with it. Does this God not love all people? Are we not admonished to hate the sin but love the sinner? Doesn’t such a change not merely condone, but promote, tribalism? How many more religious wars will this benighted policy spark among the religious fanatics. Who is to decide who is “beloved of God” or are we back to the motto of the Albigensian Crusade: “Caedite eos, novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.”  Roughly translated: “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

Regarding the changes in The Lord’s Prayer, Pope Francis suggests that the change is a translation that better reflects the Church’s view that we are the authors of our own misfortunes; that God, in his or her infinite  wisdom, benevolence, or I-could-care-less-about-my-minions attitude would never bait human-kind into transgressing the Divine Will. Oh no, our Father or Mother who art in heaven is no God of Entrapment. HAH! Tell that to Job. There is that nonsense from the Apostle Paul (among much nonsense from Paul) in his letter to the Corinthians to the effect that “God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). If someone offers such cant to you in times of trouble, I encourage you to punch that person in the face. No, really, punch him or her in the face and then go buy yourself some ice cream.

But Francis says that the proposed change in The Lord’s Prayer is a better translation of Divine Policy. Translation? From what? The Greek (and Coptic Greek at that)? Aramaic? Latin? Please! It took Mother Church more than a thousand years to decide that we have a bad translation to deal with? This is a problem when, for example, the Washington Post just reported on a Vatican report that details how the leader of the Catholic Church in West Virginia gave cash gifts totaling $350,000 to fellow clergymen—including young priests he is accused of “mistreating”—and more than a dozen cardinals in the United States, and at the Vatican? And, as we know, this is just the tip of the iceberg that is the moral rot at the heart of Mother Church—I hope you’ll forgive me, Gentle Reader, for the mixed metaphor. Bad translation, my eye (I was thinking of that portion of the anatomy a little lower, but one does not want to be crude). A distraction, that’s all it is—a distraction.

I have no idea why the change in The Gloria was proposed, other than to fall in line with the growing tribalism that increasingly describes today’s troubled world.

Lest you think of me as one to oppose all change, let me say that I welcomed the fresh breeze of Vatican II. Well, maybe not doing away with the Latin Mass. But then I always viewed the Mass as dramaturgy rather than theology ever since I fell away from the symboled world at about age fourteen. Even then, I did thrill to a Latin High Mass complete with incense, bells, couture vestments, and the Bach Mass in B Minor sung by a competent choir. A folk-songed-guitared-up Mass is no match  for that. Still, Vatican II was not without its virtues as evidenced by the resistance of the right-wing conservatives in the Vatican to Pope John XXIII and the proposed changes in Church culture designed to bring the Church—kicking and screaming much too often—into the 20th Century .

The question now is: Where do these changes lead me? Admittedly, my behavior is apt not to change much since I can’t attend church less than I attend now—it’s only a funeral that takes me into a church service today. I am far too old to be invited to weddings, or Christenings. My monetary contributions can’t decline any more either. But, by golly, I am changing my attitude about Francis, a pope I was inclined to think well of up until now. I fear he may be not much better than Benny the Rat, though Francis neither is nor was a Nazi as was and still is, I suspect, Benny the Rat.

Small solace, I’d say.  Still, it’s something. And it seems to me better than “killing them all and letting God sort them out.”



Living the Dream: Kondo, Kondo, Kondo, Kondo

This is my dream: I am in a city—unnamed though familiar enough to me in my dream—in a commercial district dominated by antique shops, second-hand stores, and used bookstores including several antiquarian bookshops. The store front windows are crammed with the bric-a-brac, curios, gimcracks, and bibelots characteristic of the particular shop. They are both luring and alluring to me.

I am, by the way, entirely alone in my dream. No one else walks the streets. There is no sound of traffic, no buzz of commerce. I am not sure this means anything, and I certainly take no notice that, in my dream, none of the stores has customers or shop-keepers.

I browse through bins of leather-covered books, their colors, textures, and musty odors massaging all my senses. Here is a store filled with Toby jugs of all sizes and characters; there a store filled with nautical memorabilia—scrimshaw, ships’ bells, brass lanterns and portholes, nautical compasses, brass telescopes and sextants, even an old copper-covered diver’s helmet and a full-sized ship’s wheel. Another store front window is festooned with old gold jewelry, pocket watches, gold coins, gold cigarette cases all of which glitter and gleam, pulsing with a light of their own.

There is a sort of Dickensian “Old Curiosity Shop” feel to the streets and the stores. I feel a little like Nell’s grandfather in his shop…

The place through which he made his way at leisure was one of those receptacles for old and curious things which seem to crouch in odd corners of this town and to hide their musty treasures from the public eye in jealousy and distrust. There were suits of mail standing like ghosts in armour here and there, fantastic carvings brought from monkish cloisters, rusty weapons of various kinds, distorted figures in china and wood and iron and ivory: tapestry and strange furniture that might have been designed in dreams. The haggard aspect of the little old man was wonderfully suited to the place; he might have groped among old churches and tombs and deserted houses and gathered all the spoils with his own hands. There was nothing in the whole collection but was in keeping with himself nothing that looked older or more worn than he.

These are fantastic, chaotic displays that somehow never seem to completely overwhelm my senses. In fact, I find great comfort in both the extent and the variety of the treasures that surround me.

The dream is recurring, and I always welcome its return. I would like to think that, somewhere in this favored land, bands are playing, hearts are light, and the streets and stores of my dream really do exist. What a fine place that would be to live. But I know that I have never actually trod the streets of my dream nor browsed in its shops. And yet…and yet!

So, from what springs this curious, charming, welcoming dream? There are many theories about dreams, of course, dating from the ancient Sumerians in 3100 BC, to Plato, to Freud, to Calvin Hall in the late 1950s, to Ann Faraday in the 1970s. Preoccupation with unfulfilled sexual fantasies, and stress dreams—taking that test for which you are unprepared, forgetting your lines as you step on-stage, running naked down a crowded public street—aside, why might I be having this dream?

Well, Gentle Reader, the answer is that I am, in truth, living the dream here in my small suite of rooms at Stately Johnson Manor South, a space that some—even I—refer to as “The Bunker.” The Bunker, by the way, includes a sign that lights up in neon-blue like a ten-fold beacon in the night proclaiming The Bunker. It’s a beautiful piece of art given to me by my brother. Given—I fear—not so much as an embracing of my dream, but as a gentle chide.

Toby jugs? I’ve got about three dozen from miniatures to almost head-size. A ship’s wheel? Got it, though not full-size. I’ve also got a glorious, full-color, 18-inch tall, papiermâché statue of a ship’s captain at the wheel. Next to him stands a shorter (15 inches) ship’s captain at the wheel, this one in bronze.

There are a dozen or so book-end sets some of which are actually used to support books, though most of the books—twelve-hundred or so—are found in the 14 bookcases that occupy much of the wall space of The Bunker and my attached bedroom.

The bookshelves contain, not only books, but other treasures such as a matched pair of rabbits in livery holding service trays upon which a candle might be impaled. There are commemorative plates including a John Wayne Commemorative Plate given to me, in jest, by my great and good friend, John Fortier. John Fortier is no fan of John Wayne, but the plate was produced by the Franklin Mint on bone china and trimmed with 24-carat gold. This is my only John Wayne Commemorative plate and I treasure it. There are many different John Wayne plates depicting him in various of his movie roles and I am a fan of John Wayne’s movies—if not the man himself or his politics.  If you are somewhere and see a John Wayne Commemorative Plate for sale, buy if for me. I will gladly and promptly reimburse you.

What else decorates the bookshelves? I am an admirer of lusterware— a type of pottery or porcelain with a metallic glaze that gives the effect of iridescence—in its several variations of copper, gold, silver etc. On my shelves you will find a dozen or so lusterware pieces, none of which were particularly expensive, but all of which are fine examples of the craft. There are small brass or irons busts of characters from Mark Twain to Lincoln to Eisenhower to JFK, as well as a nifty Nixon commemorative medal.

Then there’s the array of decorative wooden boxes from cigar box size (oh, I have several old cigar boxes too) to breadbox size—about 15 or so of these little gems. These find a place primarily atop the bookcases. What also finds a place atop the bookcases are a half-dozen replicas of three-or-four-masted sailing ships. They will serve as a nice complement to the half-dozen or so framed pictures I have of three-or-four-masted sailing ships. But since there’s no current room on the walls to hang all these pictures, several of them are leaning against the bookcases, along with about two dozen empty frames that I recently purchased at a thrift shop.

My intention is to use these empty frames to hold some of the several hundred pieces of old sheet music—popular tunes of the day—that I purchased at Chester Creek Books & Antiques in Duluth, MN, my favorite “old stuff” emporium. The sheet music runs from the late 19th century to the 1920s and 30s. The graphics are spectacular and are works of art in their own right. I also purchased a trove of WWI sheet music, equally as spectacular, with titles like I didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier, Good-bye Broadway-Hello France, We’re all Going Calling On The Kaiser, Hunting The Hun, and Set Aside Your Tears Till The Boys Come Marching Home. They are going to look fantastic matted and put in my recently-acquired frames.

I can’t end the tour without mentioning my “Wall of Industry” that features an antique, hand-cranked, wall telephone, two 100-year-old+ regulator clocks that keep excellent time, a bright red (and very heavy) fire alarm box, and a card-punch time clock.

There are a few other odds-and-ends, but I sense you are getting weary, Gentle Reader, and so we will stop for now. Refreshments are available down in the fire-place room which, you will see, has a wall of books and treasures that is part of a separate tour.

You are always welcome here in The Bunker, even though my long-suffering wife, on her rare visits to The Bunker, claims she cannot breathe here. I claim that, if that’s so, it’s simply because she is out of shape and the climb up the stairs to reach The Bunker has winded her.

I’ll tell you who is not welcome here in The Bunker: any of those irritating Marie Kondo-decluttering-types. You know Marie Kondo, don’t you? The current guru of “organizing.” By the way, when I hear her name, after I stop shuddering, I hear Engelbert Humperdinck singing, Quando, Quando, Quando, Quando, and I start shuddering all over again. Of Marie Kondo, Wikipedia says, “In junior school, Kondo ran into the classroom to tidy up bookshelves while her classmates were playing in physical education class. Whenever there was nomination for class roles, she did not seek to be the class representative or the pet feeder. Instead, she yearned to be the bookshelf manager to continue to tidy up books.” But wait, it gets worse: Kondo said she experienced a breakthrough in organizing one day. “I was obsessed with what I could throw away. One day, I had a kind of nervous breakdown and fainted. I was unconscious for two hours [hmmm—sounds like Nancy’s recent experience here in the bunker]. When I came to, I heard a mysterious voice, like some god of tidying telling me to look at my things more closely. And I realized my mistake: I was only looking for things to throw out. What I should be doing is finding the things I want to keep. Identifying the things that make you happy: that is the work of tidying.”

“God of tidying?” This is not the “what ever gods may be” that drove William Ernest Henley to pen Invictus. “God of tidying?” Give me a break!

On the other hand, there may be a kernel of wisdom here, if only one can extract honey from the weeds. Kondo’s calls her method of organizing KonMari [now I am thinking of Louie Prima’s Oh Marie which does not make me shudder]. The KonMari method consists of “gathering together all of one’s belongings, one category at a time, and then keeping only those things that ‘spark joy’ and choosing a place for everything from then on.” Well, all righty then—all my belongings “spark joy” in me; and as for “a place for everything,” that’s summed up in a framed cartoon hanging on my bedroom wall whose caption reads: “A place for everything and everything all over the place.” Thank you, Marie Kondo, for providing me with a quasi-philosophical underpinning for the state of the bunker. I find that I am living, not only the dream, but KonMari as well. Kondo preaches:  “Treasuring what you have; treating the objects you own as not disposable, but valuable, no matter their actual monetary worth; and creating displays so you can value each individual object.” Of this philosophy, I am a true believer.

So, back to the dream. I don’t remember when I realized that the dreamscape was, in reality, sort of the stage version of the bunker, but when that realization did come to me, it came like a bolt out of the blue. I still have the dream occasionally but living the dream—and practicing my own version of KonMari— is so much better.

Democracy Hung Out to Dry

One of the reasons why Democrats have some difficulty in “messaging” is that they simply do not know how to frame an issue for rhetorical impact. The latest example of that is the incredible statement by Jon B. Erpenbach, a Democratic member of the Wisconsin Senate who, speaking during the lame-duck session of the WI Assembly and Senate that resulted in lame-duck legislation that would diminish the powers of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general, compared the action to someone “stealing towels from a hotel.” Pardon me? Stealing towels from a hotel? WTF! This was an unbridled power grab by a bunch of anti-democratic legislators who actively sought to thwart the will of Wisconsin voters. Rethuglican Assembly and Senate mob bosses, Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald—two as insincere, dishonest, untruthful, false, deceitful, duplicitous, lying, mendacious, hypocritical pieces of scum as you are ever going to find slimming the halls of power —mouthed justifications about “balance of power” that would be laughable if they were not so blatantly fascist. And all Mr. Erpenbach can say is that this is like “stealing towels from a hotel.” Shame on you Senator Erpenbach. Shame on you. But this sort of framing is so typical of the Democrats. What’s more powerful, Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, even though pro-lifers really are only pro-birthers and care little about life after the womb. Pro-Choice sounds like part of an advertising pitch from your local ice cream shop.  How about “Make America Great Again” as opposed to “We’re Better Together”? Of course MAGA means make white nationalism, racism, and misogyny an acceptable part of the national dialogue. But the god-terms—America, Great—are higher up the rhetorical impact ladder than “We’re better together” which sounds like a line from one of those kumbaya songs popular during the folk song scare of the ’60s. As long as mealy-mouthed politicians like Erpenbach choose to define unprincipled attacks on the fundamentals of democratic government as “stealing towels from hotels,” the fascists win. It is as the historian, Norman Cantor, wrote: “The hard men with The Truth usually prevail over the tolerant liberal who, by his own philosophy, cannot bring himself to destroy his opponent, while his opponent does all in his power to destroy him.” The time has come (it is really long past the time), for the tolerant liberal to draw a line in the sand, roll up his sleeves, spit in his hand, and deck the “hard men with the truth.”

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The Bell Tolls for a Gigantic, Hispanic, Titanic Mechanic

Today, April 10, 2018, marks the 106th anniversary of the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, bound from Southampton to New York, but which, as we all know, sunk on April 15, 1912 in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg.

Dramas played out on the world’s stage sometimes have a way of intruding on our everyday existence in ways that are so commonplace that they would be hard to imagine. Not included among the estimated 705 survivors, or the nearly 1500 victims of the Titanic disaster was a woman whose life on this earth was long and whose influence on the people with whom she came into contact profound. Naomi Halstead nee Lenander was 22 years old when she returned to Sweden from Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1912. She had been sent from her home in Malmo, Sweden by her parents when she was barely 11 years old to escape from the hard and bitter times, the bad harvests, and near famines that had descended on Sweden at the end of the 19th century. Now, no longer a child, but a young woman trained as a teacher, Naomi returned to Sweden to visit with family and friends.

It had been a grand visit, but now it was time to return to her home in America. And so, Naomi booked sea-passage—no jumbo jets leaving daily from Southampton to New York in 1912—and began the final round of visits and good-byes. Naomi came from a loving family who were reluctant to let her leave—particularly when her birthday was only a few days away. “Stay at least until after your birthday,” her family implored. “Who knows when we’ll see you again?”

Naomi heeded the entreaties of her family and turned in her tickets. She did not sail on the Cunard Liner Titanic, the largest and most luxurious ship ever built, leaving Southampton, England on its fateful maiden voyage on April 10th, 1912. On April 14, 1912, at 11:40 PM, the Titanic struck an iceberg about 400 miles off Newfoundland, Canada. Less than three hours later, the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the sea. On April 17, 1912, Naomi Lenander celebrated her 23rd birthday safe in Sweden in the loving embrace of her family.

Naomi Lenander Halstead was my grandmother-in-law and lived with Nancy and me for several years prior to her death at the age of 89 in 1978. I have often thought how different my life might be if Naomi had sailed home as planned. Nancy Lofkvist, my wife, would not have been born. Presumably, I would be married but to someone else, living somewhere else, doing something else. The mind reels.

Many long years ago I was telling this story to a group of my students, all members of the Davis Chapter of Model United Nations at the University of California at Davis. The occasion was a party and we were talking about the “small world” concept—how we are all connected to each other at some point of acquaintanceship. Later, American playwright, John Guare, wrote a play called Six Degrees of Separation that explored this notion [many years after this, I was in the Knickerbocker Tavern in New York City, one of Brother Tom’s locals during the days when he was a resident of The Big Apple, having a drink with Tom and a friend of his, the writer, Brad Morrow, when in walked John Guare, a friend of Brad’s, who joined us, thereby creating zero degrees of separation in a sense, but I digress]. Meanwhile, back in Davis, we were all intrigued by the implications of my story. One of my students, a Mexican—Jose Baron—said that he believed that he had a distant uncle who was a mechanic on the ill-fated Titanic. It was a family story often told, said Jose. I observed that that meant his uncle was a Hispanic Titanic Mechanic. And, if he were tall, well then, he was a Gigantic, Hispanic, Titanic Mechanic. That occupied our time for the next half hour or so (evil? —Satanic; showed off his learning? —pedantic, etc.) and probably obscured the original source of our word game. But here again was a connection.

And so, on this auspicious anniversary date, I see Naomi and Jose and Jose’s uncle, that gigantic, Hispanic, Titanic mechanic, in my mind’s eye and I recall the stirring words of the 17th century Scottish priest and poet, John Donne: No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less as well as if a promontory were; as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind. And therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.



Broken Yolks and Balms in Gilead

Broken egg yolk

It was a cold morning here in the greater Windsor metroplex, and I decided that, rather than venture abroad to procure my thrice-weekly health-conscious breakfast at McDonald’s (an Egg/Sausage/Cheese McMuffin and an order of hash browns), I would fry up a couple of eggs in the warmth of the kitchen at Stately Johnson Manor South. It’s a contradiction, I suppose, that, if I am frying my own eggs, or when I have eggs at breakfast at Gus’s Diner (or anywhere that I am having breakfast out), I want my eggs over-easy. The egg yolk in an Egg/Sausage/Cheese McMuffin is broken of course. No problem for me. Luckily, the “law of contradiction” is never enforced otherwise the jails would overflow and I would be a frequent guest. I suppose I shouldn’t confess that I do not eat cheeseburgers, but I would be incensed if the cheese were omitted from my thrice-weekly Egg/Sausage/Cheese McMuffin. And while I won’t eat pastries that contain nuts, yet a bowl of vanilla ice-cream strewed with salted peanuts and chocolate sauce is among my favorite foods.

But I digress.

I broke the first egg successfully (no broken yolk) into my cast-iron skillet. I did not have the same success with the second egg as you note in the picture. “Damn,” I cried, “and double damn.” Nancy Johnson, my wise and wonderful wife, who was boiling porridge next to me, asked what was the source of my vexation. “Look,” I said, “See the waste I have laid to this egg rendering it inedible.” Did Mrs. Johnson roll her eyes? Perhaps. After 49 years of marriage I really don’t notice those things anymore. I used to tell Nancy that, if she continued to roll her eyes over my every little inconsistency, she might get them stuck in the “rolled-up” position one day.

Did she offer me comforting words, a balm in Gilead, extinguishing my sorrow and pain? Well, perhaps. Her reply was, “May that be the worst thing that happens to you today.” And I thought that that was a kind and generous response, whether it was meant to be or not. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. It was certainly kinder and more generous than Nancy’s normal advice to me when I am confronted with a situation that calls forth my best whining: Cope!

And so I hope for you, Gentle Reader, that, whatever your metaphorical broken egg yolk might be, that that is the worst thing that happens to you today.