Category Archives: Holidays

Now even the Easter Bunny is normalizing Trump

The night infiltration course. See the earthen berm in the background? See that line of little bumps right below? Those are the soldiers, staying as low as possible under the MG fire. What I saw looked way sharper than this; it was hard to line up my camera lens with the night-vision device.

The night infiltration course. See the earthen berm in the background? See that line of little bumps right below? Those are the soldiers, staying as low as possible under the MG fire. What I saw looked way sharper than this; it was hard to line up my camera lens with the night-vision device.

Last Tuesday night, Bryan Caskey and I were observers at Fort Jackson when some recruits went through the night infiltration course.

It was fascinating, and we both appreciated the opportunity. Basically, here’s what happened: We were bused out to the course right after dark. The course consisted of 100 yards or so of soft sand. At one end is a trench and a tall earthen berm. At the other are two towers, with machine guns mounted atop them. At the appointed time, soldiers slithered up out of the trench and made their way on their bellies and elbows through the sand toward the towers. The machine guns fired over their heads, with tracers so we could track the rounds. We civilians (several dozen of us) stood 15 or 20 yards behind the towers with foam plugs in our ears and — here’s the cool part — watched through night vision goggles.

Earlier, before we boarded the buses, we received a briefing from Maj. Gen. “Pete” Johnson. He gave a great, highly informative talk that even civilians could understand. But after he was finished, Bryan turned to me and sought my reaction to one tiny, relatively insignificant part of the speech. He asked me whether it seemed weird to me to hear a serving United States Army general officer, in uniform, make a passing reference to “President Trump.”

Yes, I said, it did. The general, of course, has no more say in the matter than I do. But it is disturbing to reflect that we have this wonderful, professional army, with fine officers and brave recruits ready to sacrifice for their country, and the supreme commander who gets to tell them all what to do is You Know Who. There’s no way that gets to feeling normal. One hopes.

But over the weekend I experienced a bigger shock. It was one thing to see Henry McMaster, and other Republicans who should know better, stand next to Trump back during the campaign.

But to see the Easter Bunny himself, a revered mythical figure, standing next to the Trumps at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll — that just takes the weirdness to a whole other level.

That just makes it all a little too real…

That's the Bunny on the right -- the one with the shocked expression.

That’s the Bunny on the right — the one with the shocked expression.

What? Where did the Surfside Pier go?

Pier 1

The only thing I saw over the last few days that was newsworthy was that a huge part of the Surfside Beach pier was missing.

It was the first time I’d been there since Hurricane Matthew, and it was weird to see people playing in the surf out past the end of the pier.

Apparently, local folks have been having trouble figuring out whether and/or how to rebuild it, and it probably won’t be up and operating until next year sometime, at best.

It’s amazing anyone would even consider not rebuilding. But then, I remember when the pier played a more central role in the town’s life. When I was a kid, and even later when my older kids were young, that was the place to go. There was the pier, and the bingo hall, and the arcade, and the little family-scale amusement park, all right there together. Back in the days before cable TV, there wasn’t anything to do in the evening in Surfside besides going to the pier — unless you wanted to go down to Murrells Inlet and wait an hour to be seated for dinner.

Here’s what it looked like back then. I wish this had been taken from a different angle, so you could see the arcade and amusement park better — as opposed to the parking lot (which used to be free, by the way) — but you can see it would be the focal point of a sleepy, family beach town.

Then, sometime in the 80s as I recall, someone got the idea of replacing everything but the pier itself with a high-rise hotel. There went the center of Surfside life. Sometime after that (I’m thinking after Hugo repairs), someone got the idea of charging people a dollar or two just to walk on the pier.

Still, I hope they get it together and rebuild. The pier may not be what it was, but I still can’t imagine Surfside without it.

You know what it looks kind of like from this angle? One of those Imperial Walkers from "The Empire Strikes Back." To me, anyway...

You know what it looks kind of like from this angle? One of those AT-AT Imperial Walkers from “The Empire Strikes Back.” To me, anyway…

Valentine’s Day has to get better from this point on…

potted-tulips

Last night, I gave platelets, and the morning after I often feel a tad out of it — not quite the thing, you know?

And then the alarm woke me when I was deep, deep into a stress dream — one of those where you’re trying to get a big, complicated (in fact, truly impossible in this case) thing done, and worrying over how to do it, and because you were awakened in the wrong part of the cycle, you have trouble shaking the worried feeling, like part of your brain still believes that you have to solve this problem

OK, maybe you don’t do that, but I do.

When my wife got up, I told her a little about it, and she sort of chuckled at the sillier aspects, which helped put it in perspective a bit, but I still hadn’t shaken the feeling of needing to deal with it when I headed downtown to have breakfast, thinking coffee ought to sort me out…

Well into my second cup, something came to me. Moments later, I Tweeted this:

And I’d been so on top of this! I’d bought those potted tulips on Saturday, way earlier than I usually think about Valentine’s Day.

The day has to get better from this point on, right?

Belated Top Five List: Best Christmas toys ever

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Technically, this list is not late, as this is the ninth day of Christmas. In any case, I didn’t see the inspiration for it until today. Also, it’s a slow news day.

My fellow former Cosmic Ha-Ha Dave Moniz posted the above photo on Facebook last week, with this caption:

Patrick and Monica somehow found this vintage “electric baseball” set. What a lovely Christmas gift. Unlike its first cousin, “electric football’ this actually works without little plastic men running in hideous circles or clumping in immovable scrums.

My first thought was, I’d like to try that game out. My second was, I hated to see him run down electric football, which frankly, I liked better than real football. Any of y’all remember those? You’d put your little plastic players on the line of scrimmage, with one of them holding the little felt football, and hit the switch, and the whole stadium started vibrating like mad, causing the men — whose bases were perched up on thin, flexible blades of clear plastic, would start moving independently, one hoped toward the goal line. But really, they went wherever they wanted — which quite frequently was backward.

It was a pretty wild toy, both in concept and execution.

Actually, here I am describing it like something from the distant past, and apparently they still sell these things! Which was a surprise to me. But if you’ve never seen one of these in action, here’s video of a fancy modern version.

Bottom line, I loved my electric football game.

Which got me to thinking: What would be my Top Five Toys Ever, with an emphasis on those received from Santa. Here’s a hastily assembled list, which I may amend as we proceed:

  1. My BB gun — To be specific like the kid in the movie, my Daisy Model 1894 authentic saddle gun. This was probably the greatest surprise of my childhood, as my mother had always assured me I would never get one because — and she actually used this line — I would put my eye out. This was a beautiful rifle, the metal parts a nicely blued steel, with the stock rendered in plastic that at least looked like wood from a distance. The moment I found it under the tree was special: Santa had laid out my new sleeping bag that I was expecting, and the rifle was slipped inside it. This, of course, proved the existence of Santa, because I got it when we were living in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and I don’t think there was a store on the entire continent of South America where my parents could have bought this. I had a lot of fun with it, and never did put my eye out.
  2. Any Official Boy Scout gear — All through my Cub and Boy Scout years, nothing could top any gift that had an official Scout logo on it. These were items that a guy had to have to make his way in the world, to Be Prepared (I had never heard of the Zombie Apocalypse, but I instinctively sensed that every boy should be prepared for it), and the Scout emblem, to my mind at least, spoke unfailingly of quality. I received a bunch of stuff from this category over the years. Some items that stand out are my official Cub Scout pocketknife, and my official Boy Scout mess kit and canteen (which I think I got the same Christmas as the BB gun and sleeping bag, so I cleaned up that year).
  3. Tabletop hockey — As I worked on the list, I thought of something I liked better than electric football. That was the non-electric hockey game my brother and I had — this kind, which had the metal rods that you’d move in and out to move the players across the “ice,” and which you would spin to make them shoot the puck. We had some pretty furious, active games with this, which we would play for hours. I still remember with shame how petulant I got the first time my brother — who is six years younger — beat me at this. But mostly, it was fun.
  4. Cowboy six-shooters — This is a whole category because I had a lot of them in the ’50s and ’60s, but I’m going to zero in on one particular product. Do you remember the Mattel Shootin’ Shell system? The Shootin’ Shell was a three-part piece of ammunition. It had a brass shell with a spring inside, a gray plastic slug that you’d push into the shell until it clicked, and a little round paper cap that you’d stick on the back of the brass shell. When the gun’s hammer hit the back of the shell, the shock would cause the spring to eject the little gray slug out the barrel of the gun, and the cap would go off to provide a semi-realistic sound. Here’s video. Anyway, at one point Mattel released a mechanical adversary with which to have gunfights. He was this villainous-looking little mannequin who, when you pulled a string, would start to draw. If he fired before you, you were “dead.” If you managed to draw, fire and hit him with your Shootin’ Shell slug before his arm got to a certain point, his arm would stop. No, I am not making this up. I was able to shoot from the hip and stop him. And yes, boys of my generation were really into violent toys…
  5. The see-through submarine — This was another one that we got when we lived in Ecuador, which speaks to extra exertions by my parents — they no doubt arranged to get these things from the Base Exchange up in the Panama Canal Zone, via the monthly C-47 that brought nonperishable groceries down to U.S. personnel. Anyway, this was an impressive toy. I had forgotten the name of it, but Google has identified it as the Remco Barracuda Atomic Sub. It was about three feet long, and had a motor that moved it on discreet wheels along the floor (water would have destroyed it), while it automatically fired torpedoes out of the bow. The coolest part, though, was that it had a transparent top deck that you could remove, and move around the little blue plastic crewmen inside. For whatever reason, I seem to recall you could also rearrange the bulkheads — which made it more like a Napoleonic-era warship than an actual sub. A friend of mine, also a Navy brat, had a huge toy aircraft carrier made by the same company. It had a pretty powerful catapult for launching aircraft, but that’s not what we used it for. This kid also had a construction set for building skyscrapers. We’d build a skyscraper, and then launch leftover plastic girders at the building from about six feet away to knock it down. A lot of trouble, but eminently worth the effort.

Honorable mention: Hot Wheels. These came along a little late for me, but I had an awesome time playing with my brother’s Hot Wheels — and my sons’, and my grandson’s (every time I go into Walmart today, I have to fight against the temptation to buy him another — they’re only 94 cents apiece, and they’re awesome!). I had grown up on Matchbox cars and thought they were pretty cool, but Hot Wheels just blew them away. Matchbox would later ape the fast-wheel technology, but they were just playing catch-up from then on.

Yep… guns and war toys and fast cars. But I was an actual kid, not a hypothetical one, and that’s what I liked, and I was lucky enough to come up before these things were thoroughly frowned upon. So there.

Now… what are the vintage toys that make you wax nostalgic?

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Enough with the materialism orgy, already!

materialism-orgy

Maybe it’s envy. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have money to buy expensive gifts. Or maybe it’s that I wouldn’t buy these kinds of gifts even if I could. I’d give people something more practical. Or burn the money.

But it seems to me that each Christmas, the materialism orgy gets several degrees more offensive.

Get a load of the guy in the screengrab above. Excuse my imagery, but he looks for all the world like he’s about to have an orgasm from sticking his nose into a wineglass.

This is from a pop-up video act that forced itself upon me when I tried to read a story on the New York Times website. The video went on and on like this, in slow motion. With “Ode to Joy” as the background music, just in case the images didn’t lay it on thick enough. It all just seemed to embody perfectly everything that bugs me about the ads for jewelry and perfume and watches that cost more than my house (and what’s more pointlessly ostentatious than an expensive watch, in an age when we all carry phones that keep perfect time?) with which we are inundated this time of year.

Part of this is that I’m kind of jaded about foodie stuff. (And may that’s because I have such a limited diet, and tend to think good food is anything I can use for fuel that won’t kill me.) People make WAY too big a deal over how good a bite of food or a sip of a drink — or in this case, the smell of a drink — can be. Face it — if there’s a cake recipe that you think is better than sex, you’ve got a problem.

But there’s much, much more than that going on here. A lot of effort was put into making this guy look posh, upper-class, refined, better than you, and something to aspire to — if only you can afford and appreciate this product, you, too will be a superior being. It’s so extreme, it’s laughable. Like a Thurston Howell caricature of wealth and snobbery, only with better production values. The makers of the ad were going for the same effect I was going for in my own cheesy way with this selfie, except they weren’t kidding.

This is actually expected to appeal to… somebody. Donald Trump, maybe. He probably thinks it’s classy.

This holiday started with celebrating a poor child born in a stable. And now this.

Do y’all know what I’m saying here? If so, what’s the materialism-deifying ad you hate the most? Share, so we can heap scorn upon it.

A cautionary tale as we head into the holidays…

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I have no idea what I was searching for the other day when I ran across this page, but I found it interesting.

There’s no text with it to explain what’s going on, beyond this:

Portraits after 1, 2 & 3 glasses of wine

And I suppose that’s sufficient.

In any case, the results were fairly predictable. People seemed slightly more apt to smile after one glass, then got really friendly-looking after two. Especially the ladies, thanks to their lesser mass. And, since the photographer chose only attractive young women, some came across as very, um, sexy at that point. Rather come-hither, or at least indiscriminately friendly. One senses the approach of an indiscretion. But that might be a perception bias on my part.

Then they had the third glass, and it was just… too much. As seen in the above example. This one, too. Obviously a bad idea. Should have stopped at two, or maybe one, since two seems liable to get people in trouble.

Some of the males got almost as goofy as the women, while others, such as the extreme example below, held rigidly to the traditional maxim that a man must be seen to hold his liquor.

But you know what? He may look sober, but I worry about him getting behind the wheel of a car.

A cautionary tale, as we head into the holidays…

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Memorial Day music: Dire Straits’ ‘Brothers in Arms’

Heard this on the radio this morning, and as usual it shifted me into a different state of consciousness.

It’s not the words or anything obvious like that. It’s just the otherworldly mood that the song creates.

Anyway, it occurred to me after I heard it that maybe it was being played in honor of Memorial Day.

In that spirit, I share it.

I find myself reminded of this other little-known James Taylor song — a song fragment, really — from his “Mud Slide Slim” album, which I’ve always thought had its own mildly hypnotic effect. I was always struck by the sudden shift in tone — from the battle-weary soldiers “with eleven sad stories to tell” to the narrator and his very different reality — after which the song abruptly ends. It was like suddenly awaking from a dream — or, to invoke an obscure reference, like the effect when Don Juan suddenly slapped Carlos Castaneda on the back, sending him into a state of heightened awareness.

It may seem an odd way to mark Memorial Day — these lyrical expressions from pop musicians who never heard a shot fired in anger. But that’s what I have for you today.

It’s National Pig Day. How will YOU celebrate?

Since it’s also Super Tuesday, lots of voters in other states can — and will — celebrate by going out and voting for Donald Trump.

Since that option is no longer open to us here in South Carolina, any ideas?

Cindi Scoppe’s 8th annual cake party

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She surveys her handiwork with satisfaction just before allowing her guests to plunge in.

What does Cindi Scoppe do when she’s not producing the best print commentary — nay, the best political journalism — in South Carolina?

She bakes cakes.

Cindi shared this shot taken by a priest who observed, "She laughs uproariously at things that aren't even funny."

Cindi shared this shot, which reflects what Tucker Eskew once said about her: “She laughs uproariously at things that aren’t even funny.”

Not just a cake here or there. She bakes a lot of cakes. And not your yellow cake out of the Duncan Hines box. She bakes, from scratch, such things as “Cookie Dough Brownie Cake” and “Caramel Almond Torte” and “Orange Cheesecake” and “Apple Sharlotka” and “Pistachio Baklava Cake” and on and on.

And she does it all at once.

Several score of her closest friends were reminded of this over the weekend at her 8th annual Advent cake party. She served 25 cakes in all.

She took off all of last week to complete the task, even though that meant doing the whole week’s editorial pages ahead of time. What of that? Those cakes weren’t going to bake themselves.

Cindi… needs this outlet. What’s more, she deserves it. She works long hours at the paper doing the work of eight people. Then she takes home mind-numbing documents such as legislative bills and academic studies and reads every word of them on nights and weekends.

Someone out there who knows this about her may object, “But she’s diabetic.” True, and I think that may have something to do with the… intensity… of her cake fixation. But there was never a diabetic who more assiduously kept track of her condition or addressed it more readily. More than once, I’ve seen her hike up her skirt and give herself a shot of insulin in the thigh because there was a slice of cake before her that needed eating. (Once, she did this in the governor’s office over lunch. I thought Mark Sanford was going to fall out of his chair.) Cindi’s just a very matter-of-fact person who deals with things, eats her cake and moves on.

I asked her for some stats — how much sugar, for instance. She said she had no idea, but she did offer, “I want to say around 25 pounds of butter.”

She sent me all the recipes. I count, let’s see, 99 eggs, plus the yolks of two others. One recipe, chocolate mousse cake plus chocolate buttercream frosting, called for eight eggs.

Needless to say, I wasn’t eating any of this, or even coming into contact with it. Nothing is more deadly to me than dairy products and eggs. But I took a plateful home, since my wife couldn’t make it to the party. She appreciated it.

Bud Ferillo (seen at the far left in the photo at top) took this somewhat blurry shot. See how dangerously close I was to the cakes?

Bud Ferillo (seen at the far left in the photo at top) took this somewhat blurry shot. See how dangerously close I was to the cakes? Not to mention that very sharp pink knife she’s wielding.

The extreme embarrassment of Ultron

In another context, his stance might look menacing. Here, he seems mortified...

In another context, his stance might look menacing. Here, he seems mortified…

Forget about separate bathrooms; there is no more dramatic separation between the sexes than the stark contrast between the store aisles devoted to items marketed to boys and those aimed at girls.

The “boys'” aisles are filled with menacing things that shoot, crash, kick, punch or snarl, and the dominant colors are not baby boy blue, but black and brown, relieved only by blood red, ninja turtle green and sometimes alarming orange.

And the “girls'” aisles are, well, pink. That’s about all you can see at a distance, and sometimes close up. So much pink that I still feel an aversion to walking down them, like there is still a trace of Wally and the Beave in me, thinking, “Aw, Mom! Don’t make me go there! What if one of the guys sees me! He’ll give me the business!”

And anyway, we try hard to find more neutral things for our granddaughters — building sets, puzzles, games — something less frou-frou at the very least. There are such things still to be found, for girls and boys, and they are only occasionally to be found floating in the sea of pink.

And when you find something that doesn’t belong there, boy does it stick out. Like “Ultron” above, which I found amid the pink at Target, no doubt left by some kid whose parents said, “Put that down; we’re shopping for your sister.” (Or maybe the sister wanted it, and her parents preferred to buy her something more “suitable.” I don’t know…)

How did I get here? I'm not touching anything!

How did I get here? I’m not touching anything!

I like Ultron’s stance in the photo. With his shoulders hunched up toward his ears (or where ears would be if he had any) and his arms hanging in a way that suggests a reluctance to touch anything, and that mechanical grimace, he looks terribly awkward and embarrassed, as though he had accidentally gone clanking into the women’s bathroom. He seems to be thinking, “Get me outta here before the Avengers see me! They’ll give me the business!”

Well, it just serves him right for being such a testosterone-fueled bully who wants to dominate the world. Maybe in the future he’ll remember to check his privilege before barging in among all these lady dolls…

How can we have a ‘War on Christmas’ when it’s not even Advent for three more weeks?

Central Park detail

Detail from a family picture taken on Black Friday 2007 in a frigid Central Park.

When I met Howard Duvall at Starbucks the other day, I was delighted to see that they’d started using the red holiday cups. I have a lot of pleasant associations with that annual sign of the season, such as the time three of my kids and I stayed warm with such cups on a Black Friday visit to a bitterly cold New York (see above).

Some people, however, see the cups’ arrival as an opportunity to increase the amount of division in the world:

Starbucks has come under fire from some Christians who say the company isn’t repping hard enough for Jesus on its recent understated holiday cups. The problem? Political correctness, according to one evangelical.

“I think in the age of political correctness we become so open-minded our brains have literally fallen out of our head,” Joshua Feuerstein said in a widely viewed anti-Starbucks rant on Facebook titled “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus.” “Do you realize that Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups? That’s why they’re just plain red.”…

Everyone has his or her peeves. Here’s one of mine…

Why on Earth would I expect to see “Christmas” on a coffee cup on Guy Fawkes Day? That’s more than three weeks before Advent even starts, much less Christmas. You want to complain about Christmas being underplayed, get back to me sometime between Dec. 25 and the Feast of the Epiphany.ATT_b1_Bradwarthen_233x233_011515_d2

When I get a red cup on Nov. 5, it really is a holiday cup, since it will span the period that includes our first experiences of cold weather, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas. It’s about celebrating a season — you know, the holiday season, and yeah, that includes Hanukkah. Maybe New Year’s, too (I’m not clear on when they stop using the cups).

If your excuse for protesting is that you are a Christian, how about checking out a liturgical calendar sometime? Yeah, I know, not every Christian is in a liturgical church, but come on — just how early do you want the Merry Christmases to start?

McCartney’s enthusiasm for Guy Fawkes Day creeps me out a bit

I say that on account of my being Catholic and all.

I reTweeted this from Paul McCartney yesterday, which included a picture of him that appears to be from his “Maybe I’m Amazed” period:

But this was a classic case of a reTweet not constituting an endorsement.

Now, y’all know that I’m an Anglophile from way back. I generally love English traditions, including some of those involving fire.

But I’m a bit squeamish about the one that involves burning in effigy a Catholic-rights activist who in reality was tortured by English authorities before being drawn, hung and quartered.

OK, granted, we’re not talking Pope Francis here: Guy Fawkes was a terrorist who intended to blow up the king and Parliament and had the explosives to do it.

But still. The English had already been oppressing Catholics for Fawkes’ entire life and then some, and they used the Gunpowder Plot as an excuse to step that persecution up and continue it for most of the next 400 years. The celebration, unless I mistake, was of a victory over the Pope and papists as much as over a terrorist cell.

Which I kind of resent, because, you know, we’re not all terrorists.

So excuse me if I’m not too thrilled about your bonfire there, Paul…

 

‘Le mort du guerre’

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Reading various editorials and such about Memorial Day, I’m reminded of our time in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, where so many suffered so much as prisoners of the Japanese during what is referred to locally as “the war of 1939-1945.”

Specifically, I’m reminded of how deeply impressed I was by how beautifully maintained the cemetery for British and Dutch POWs was.

Yes, I know this is American Memorial Day (known in SC, at least until recently, as “Yankee Memorial Day”). But this is what I thought of. And there is an American angle to this mostly British story.

monument

The monument says 356 Americans died building the railway; Wikipedia says 133. I don’t know which is right.

You’ve seen the picture of me standing in front of The Bridge on the River Kwai. Well, that was taken by the Thai wife of one of a trio of American veterans I ran into next to the bridge. It was hard to miss them — two middle-aged white guys and a black guy busily painting and restoring the monument at right. Even though two of them were wearing the proverbial Asian conical hat.

They were from an American veterans’ lodge in Bangkok. They had come to spruce up the one monument I saw in the town to the 133 Americans who died building the Death Railway or Burma Railway connecting Bangkok to Rangoon for the Japanese.

I asked them how to find the cemetery where the POWs lay (thinking at this point there would be Americans there among the Brits). They gave me rough directions — too rough, it would turn out — and an idea of how long it would take to walk there. I thanked them for their service, got my picture taken, and hiked back upriver to our resort.

When I got there, we decided to go see the cemetery before dark, which was coming on soon. So we headed out in the general direction on the Maenamkwai Road. Maenamkwai ran parallel to the river, and was something of a party district, as evidenced by the signs in front of pubs offering such experiences as “Get Drunk for 10 baht” — which seemed both a fiscal and physical impossibility, 10 baht being just under 30 cents, but I don’t know because I didn’t test it. Those kinds of places were a bit… unsavory. Quite a few of the patrons were white men about my age — some Brits, some other nationalities — who could occasionally be seen groping the pretty young Thai girls.

We began to despair of finding the cemetery based on the veterans’ directions and the insufficiently detailed map we’d obtained at our resort. Finally, we decided to ask directions of a typically seedy-looking white guy we encountered coming out of a Tesco Express. He wasn’t, as I’d hoped, a Brit. He was French, and had no English. I was enormously proud that, though I think of myself as having no French, I managed to come up with “le mort du guerre” in my effort to tell him what we sought. (Google Translate says I should have said “les morts de la guerre,” but whatever — he seemed to understand). However, he was much confused by our map and perhaps by his own whereabouts — I suspected that he’d spent at least 10 baht at one of the local establishments — and his directions were decidedly vague.

But we carried on, and eventually found it, a few blocks further.

As I said, I was deeply impressed by what we found. Not just the sheer number of graves — almost 7,000, according to Wikipedia — but how meticulously they had been cared for. One section was cordoned off, where someone was putting in new sod so as the improve upon the near-perfection. I was astounded that a graveyard so far away from the families these men left behind was maintained to this extent. (I noted the plaque saying the land was the gift of the Thai people, but I learned later that the graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.)

When we arrived we were accosted by a couple of young Thai women. One of them explained that her friend was studying English, and had come here hoping to find someone to practice with — which impressed me with her initiative and desire to learn (if only that Frenchman had had such an ambition). So we chatted a bit along the lines of “Hello, how are you?” Then I excused myself because the light was failing and I wanted to explore the cemetery.

My aim was to find the Americans, but there were none. I kept walking from section to section, thinking that the next one would be the American grouping. No luck. I would later learn that the American remains had been repatriated. Eventually, I gave up on my chauvinistic impulse, and appreciated what I found. Most were from the Commonwealth, although there was a big Dutch section with 1,896 graves.

All these mostly young men, who died under such horrific conditions, at the hands of an enemy that regarded and treated them as less than human, under that generation’s twisted version of the Bushido code. All those families that would never even be started back home, on the other side of the world.

As we headed back, we passed Beata Mundi Regina War Monument Catholic Church, which was founded by some Carmelite nuns who located there to care for the graves. I don’t know whether they are still the ones who do that work, under the aegis of the commission, but whoever does does so lovingly.

That night, I purchased The Bridge on the River Kwai from iTunes — I wanted my daughter to have some idea of what had happened there — and tried to watch it on my iPad, but the wi-fi had trouble handling it. I would finish watching it after I got home, and also order the DVD of “The Railway Man” from Netflix.

But of course, there’s no way I will ever fully appreciate what those men experienced there.

 

Our new, entirely commercial, liturgical calendar, purged of all religion

A still from very shaky, low-res video I shot inside Macy's flagship store on 34th Street in New York on Black Friday, 2007.

A still from very shaky, low-res video I shot inside Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street in New York on Black Friday, 2007.

Once upon a time, we kept track of our days this way throughout what was termed Christendom:

  • Michaelmas — Sept. 29 — Not only a day to celebrate the archangels, and especially Michael, who defeated Lucifer in the original War on Terror. It was also the ending and beginning of the husbandman’s year, when the harvest was over and the bailiff of the manor would make out his accounts for the year. Big day, back when most of us were engaged with agriculture in one way or another.
  • All Saint’s Day — November 1 — Also known as All Hallows, making the night before… well, you get it, right?
  • First Sunday in Advent — fourth Sunday before Christmas, which this year was yesterday — The beginning, NOT of the Christmas season, but of the time of contemplative anticipation looking forward to the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world. Christmas begins, not ends, on Dec. 25, which if you go way back, was once Saturnalia. This occurred this past Sunday.
  • Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception — December 8 — No, this is not about the Virgin Birth, which is a whole separate concept. This was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854, and he was infallible in setting out this dogma, because he spoke ex cathedra, and… well, it’s complicated. Elaborating might make Protestants’ heads hurt…
  • Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe — December 12 — This celebrates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to an American Indian named Juan Diego (who has his own feast day three days earlier). She spoke Nahuatl to him. Among us Catholics, she is the Patroness of the Americas.

Anyway, you get the idea. There wasn’t a day in the calendar that didn’t have its own, holy designation — if you belonged to a liturgical church. Although some feast days were more equal than others.

But as Bob Dylan would say, it used to go like that; now it goes like this:

  • The Day after Halloween — When you can start to see the Christmas displays in the stores.
  • Black Friday Eve — A day once given over to thanks to God is now increasingly the day when those who can’t wait a day to shop traipse to the stores.
  • Black Friday — Not to be confused with the one in 1688, when the Anglican bishops were imprisoned, or the one in 1929 when the market crashed, or any of a couple of dozen other dark days in history. No, this is a recurring day, the observance of which has crept up on us over the last few decades. It’s allegedly the biggest shopping day of the year, and the “black” has a couple of meanings — it’s a day without which merchants’ books might never get into the black, and it’s also a hellish day to go shopping.
  • Small Business Saturday — Just in case you only went to the chain stores on Friday.
  • Cyber Monday — The reason this falls on a Monday is that people like to do all their online stuff while they’re at work, something I discovered back when I started blogging and tracked my traffic by the day and hour. Anyway, this is the day when people buy the gifts that they looked at while showrooming on Friday.
  • Giving Tuesday — This is the only day in this new calendar that bears any relationship to the traditional reason for the season. I’ve gotten solicitations from several local nonprofits, wanting me to give today. This is the first time I remember being aware of this one.
  • The Day After Christmas — Once known as Boxing Day in some cultures, it’s now the second-biggest shopping orgy of the year, supposedly.

You’ll note that, with the exception of Giving Tuesday, this new liturgical calendar is about nothing holy or transcendent, but all about the gimme-gimme, pure commerce. For that matter, Giving Tuesday is about trying to adapt altruism to this new, entirely secular calendar of recognized (and much advertised) observances.

This formalization of the shopping calendar has pretty much taken place entirely within my lifetime.

400 families waiting for help to have a Merry Christmas

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One of our friends over at the S.C. Center for Fathers and Families forwarded this message from the Palmetto Project over to me, so I’ll share it with you:

If you’ve been thinking about adopting a family this Christmas, we have more than 400 families left, a lot of these are families of 2 or 3 – and we really need your help.

Please call the WIS TV phone bank at 251-8501 and speak to a volunteer today so that we can make sure you get your information ASAP!  Or you can go to http://www.wistv.com/story/24003113/2014-families-helping-families to register on line.

Phone Bank is open now until 7:30 and tomorrow from 5 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.

If you have already adopted a family, thank you very much!  You should have received your information already, so please call us at 251-8501 if you have not.

Thank you so much for your continued generosity.

Mother’s Day thoughts from our baby, in Thailand

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Our youngest, with friends in Thailand.

As you may recall, our youngest daughter is in Thailand with the Peace Corps. She’ll be there another two years. So as the family gathered yesterday for a Mother’s Day cookout, she couldn’t be with us physically. But she posted this on her blog:

I love this time of year. Although nothing’s really changing on this side of the planet, my southern blood can feel the dogwoods bloom and the Atlantic Ocean warming up begging me to dive in. It’s when my South Carolina soul is set free — those first few Charleston summer nights spent riding my bike through the cobblestones of the Battery, down alleyways like magic gardens, past beautiful long pastel porches where belles once kissed their beaus by the flickering light of oil lamps.

I’m sure it’s getting to be the perfect weather for a backyard barbeque — which is exactly what I’m missing out on today as my family gathers to celebrate Mother’s Day.

While I wish I could be there, my service in the Peace Corps is a daily reminder to me of my mother’s influence. I often think, as I find myself in shocking situations, how would my mother handle this? And the answer is always the same — graciously, and with style. My mother would smile and calmly treat any human she came into contact with, with the same dignity and respect as the next person, no matter their approach or appearance. I learned from witnessing my mother’s consistent interactions as a social worker and active volunteer that all people deserve equal attention.

I feel that my parents, particularly the long hours I spent alone with my mother as her last baby, are largely responsible for any humanitarian tendencies I may possess. As I dug for grubs at her feet in our backyard organic garden, I learned that the easy way is not always the right way, i.e., cloth diapers for five children is better than polluting the planet with disposable diapers for five children, dryers are unnecessary when you have a sunny sky, and that your recycling and composting piles should always outweigh your trash.

My mother taught me a sense of social responsibility, but what’s more is she taught me how to live. She showed me by example the importance of prioritizing and maintaining a positive outlook. When she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, she fought it so gracefully that I never questioned her survival. A steel magnolia if you ever saw one.

I’ve come a long way from my childhood, which I spent totally preoccupied with my mother’s activities and whereabouts. Sure, all children are concerned with their #1 caretaker’s well-being, but my interest was border-line stalkerish. Maybe I was just spoiled, but I couldn’t stand for her to be out of my sight for a minute, and I needed constant validation of my status as the baby. I still do. Some things you never grow out of. While I have some minor personal goals for my life, the one over-arching theme is to make my mother proud. At the end of the day that’s what I really care about. That’s what would make me happy. I know in order to do this I must try to live selflessly as she does, not missing an opportunity to make my life worthwhile. This doesn’t come as naturally to me, but I am trying.

When I was little, I would stare at my mother’s face and marvel at her beauty. Now I’m wise enough to marvel at her strength. Each day I spend in Thailand is a test — a beautiful, delicious, sweaty test filled with smiles and laughter, but a test nonetheless. One that forces me to channel my mother from the other side of the world.

I wish all the mamas a happy Mother’s Day and I miss you from Thailand!

I was at St. Pat’s in Five Points. Where were y’all?

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Late in the afternoon Saturday, I sent out the above picture with the challenge,

My HQ today is @yesterdayssc in case any of my blog peeps care to join me. And if ye don’t, yer an eejit…

But none of y’all showed. At least not immediately. I only waited about another half-hour.

Sorry about the “eejit” thing. It was the only Irish-sounding put down I could think of. I get it from Roddy Doyle.

Saturday was a quick-in, quick-out deal for me, compared to my usual habits on this day. I had been uncertain that I would attend at all. My son’s band was going to play at Henry’s up the street, but one of his bandmates had a death in the family the night before and they had to cancel the gig. I did run into a couple of his present and former bandmates — these guys have played in a lot of bands together over the years — at Yesterday’s, sans instruments.

It was a beautiful day for it. Sorry I missed y’all.

My grandson, waving to a tractor in the parade. You have to understand, that tractor was The Most Important Thing in the parade...

My grandson, waving to a tractor in the parade. You have to understand, that tractor was The Most Important Thing in the parade…

I thought it very Hemingwayan to celebrate standing in one spot, foot propped on bar.

I thought it very Hemingwayan to celebrate standing in one spot, foot propped on bar.

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When I arrived for the party in mid- to late afternoon, things had already reached this stage…

That's Laura and Brooke, moving at blurry speed behind the bar at Yesterday's/

That’s Laura and Brooke, moving at blurry speed behind the bar at Yesterday’s/

Troy Thames and Adam Jones, two of my son's past and present bandmates.

Troy Thames and Adam Jones, two of my son’s past and present bandmates.

This table at Yesterday's kept breaking out into wild cheering, for no apparent reason.

This table at Yesterday’s kept breaking out into wild cheering, for no apparent reason.

Kept trying to get a decent panoramic photo. Kept failing...

Kept trying to get a decent panoramic photo. Kept failing…

Best costume. This guy was all like "I'm going to be a James Joyce character today."

Best costume. This guy was all like “I’m going to be a James Joyce character today.”

Pay AGAIN? Sure and ye must be after takin’ me fer an eejit

How many of these people do you think would pay TWICE?

How many of these people do you think would pay TWICE?

That’s what I expect a lot of people to say when they leave the St. Pat’s celebration in Five Points this Saturday and try to come back in — assuming, of course, that they’ve learned a cheesy Irish accent from the same dialect coach who trained the “Lucky Charms” guy in “Austin Powers.”

Expect a few donnybrooks over that.

I don’t know what I think. On the one hand, it seems reasonable to me, as it has seemed reasonable to the organizers of this annual festival from time immemorial (this never happened in Jack Van Loan’s day!), to allow people to come back in if they’ve paid once. I mean, when you’ve paid for an all-day event, I can think of all sorts of reasons (say, for instance, you are constitutionally incapable of taking advantage of a port-o-john) why you might need to leave briefly and come back — and you DID pay for the whole day.

On the other hand, the public safety argument has some force on its side, although I’m not entirely devastated by the logic:

But the new policy will allow police and private security to better monitor who is coming and going.

In the past, people were screened the first time they went through the festival gates but not necessarily when they came back, interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago said. Instead, those returning just showed an arm band and walked in.

Now, everyone inside will have been screened, eliminating the risk of bringing contraband, Santiago said. The policy also keeps people from leaving so they can drink more or use drugs before coming back, he said.

“We know that everybody who is in there has been through security,” he said.

Franks also hopes the no re-entry policy curbs some of the disturbances the festival causes in surrounding neighborhoods. There should be fewer people walking through yards and less trash…

What do y’all think?

Famously Hot New Year, 2013-2014

A video, some Tweets and images from last night…

Watching the @FamouslyHotNYE festivities from @CapCityClubCola, going to descend for some music on the street… #fhny

Digging some Z. Z. Ward down on the street @FamouslyHotNYE. Very bluesy at the moment… #FHNY pic.twitter.com/jR7jxfzhNI

Z. Z. Ward singing a song called “Cryin’ Wolf.” Says it’s about drinking. Very popular selection with the crowd @FamouslyHotNYE#FHNY

Discreetly in the background @FamouslyHotNYE, like a roadie backstage, lurks the State House itself, beating heart of power in SC… #FHNY

Your correspondent, on the scene.

Your correspondent, on the scene.

 

Oops; forgot to show you the State House… See it back there? #FHNY pic.twitter.com/fiPn00A9EB

Z. Z. Ward favoring the appreciative crowd with one more number before Kool and the Gang… #FHNY pic.twitter.com/lPMAFB4QBt

A quick glimpse of the swelling, surging throng @FamouslyHotNYE#FHNY pic.twitter.com/nLL8hqndYo

Brad Warthen ‏@BradWarthen21h
So jealous of this item @pushdigital, overlooking @FamouslyHotNYE. http://Bradwarthen.com  needs one of these. #FHNYpic.twitter.com/4yO09qgWyX

Kool & the Gang in tha house! Or on the street. Whatever… #FHNY pic.twitter.com/SydQXkOOZf

Kool & the Gang kooling off the Famously Hot Columbia, SC, crowd in front of State House @FamouslyHotNYE#FHNY pic.twitter.com/Mq9Qig13fW

One lone, Famously Hot soul boogeying at the top of the State House steps to Kool and the Gang… #FHNY pic.twitter.com/BLQyyKsZbX

Kool and the Gang schooling the young folk of Famously Hot Columbia, SC, as to what FUNK sounds like… #FHNY pic.twitter.com/wMmcsK9FaD

Love the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band jacket on Kool and the Gang’s trombonist! #FHNY

Am I the only one who finds it a bit odd that the most active live tweeter at Columbia SC’s Famously Hot New Year’s is @BradWarthen? #fhny

@DanCookSC Hey, @FreeTimesSC didn’t name me one of the Twitterati for nothing… #FHNY

I’m doing a Nerd Dance on Gervais, like Dick at the end of “High Fidelity.” Sorry. Obscure pop culture reference there… #FHNY

And… a big finish with fireworks… #FHNY pic.twitter.com/Ow35UaPJQa