Category Archives: Holidays

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


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 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


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?


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.


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 for 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

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

Z. Z. Ward favoring the appreciative crowd with one more number before Kool and the Gang… #FHNY

A quick glimpse of the swelling, surging throng @FamouslyHotNYE#FHNY

Brad Warthen ‏@BradWarthen21h
So jealous of this item @pushdigital, overlooking @FamouslyHotNYE.  needs one of these.

Kool & the Gang in tha house! Or on the street. Whatever… #FHNY

Kool & the Gang kooling off the Famously Hot Columbia, SC, crowd in front of State House @FamouslyHotNYE#FHNY

One lone, Famously Hot soul boogeying at the top of the State House steps to Kool and the Gang… #FHNY

Kool and the Gang schooling the young folk of Famously Hot Columbia, SC, as to what FUNK sounds like… #FHNY

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



Choose Your Ride: A blunt public safety announcement


On my way in to work this morning, at the junction of Sunset Boulevard and Meeting Street, just before the Gervais Street bridge, I thought I saw a speed trap.

Then, just before I drove past, I noticed the sign, and the cab.

Y’all have a good, safe time tonight. Maybe I’ll see you at the Famously Hot New Year’s celebration at Gervais and Main.


Here’s how we used to find stuff out in the old days, kids

Since this post the other day, I’ve been listening more closely to the Christmas music to which I’ve been exposed.

This morning, I heard something really unusual. What got me was the very different rhythm part of this rendition of “O Come Emanuel.” I’d actually been listening a while before I realized what the song was — even though it’s my favorite Advent song. This was before coffee, you understand.

I wanted to know right then who it was. But I couldn’t do what I would normally do. I was driving the truck, which is straight-shift and takes two hands, and wearing my winter coat that zips up, and couldn’t get at my phone to get my SoundHound app to give it a listen and ID it for me. Frustrating (in any event, as I discovered when I got to work, I’d left my phone at home — again, the lack of coffee).

So I decided that I’d fall back on trying to find out who that was when I got to a keyboard. To my inexpert year, it sounded like Pearl Jam. So I hunted on Google, and on YouTube. I asked everybody on Twitter:

Heard a very offbeat rendition of “O Come Emanuel” on radio this a.m. Sounded like… Pearl Jam. Google couldn’t find that. So who was it?

Weirdly, no one answered. I asked again about six hours later. Still no takers. Which is unusual. Normally, someone at least guesses.

So you know what I did? I found out the old school way. Soon as I got a moment (late this afternoon, after a busy day) I called the request line at Magic 98.5. I asked who that was doing “O Come Emmanuel” between 7:45 and 8 this morning.

Turns out it was Third Day, a Christian rock band that formed back in the early ’90s. You know, when everybody was trying to sound like Eddie Vedder.

The fact that my crowd-sourcing efforts failed, I suppose, testifies to grunge-style Christian bands  occupying a lesser-known part of the pop music spectrum. Even Rob, Dick and Barry might have had trouble with it.

I’m just glad I solved the mystery. I’m sure you’re happy for me.

Humbug: Top Five Worst Christmas Songs


Paul and Linda, “simply… having… yadda-yadda…”


And now that my temper is up, I may as well go on and abuse every body I can think of.
– Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Is that headline a contradiction in terms? Should it be, “Bottom Five?” Or would saying that, with “Worst” — which I feel compelled to use — be redundant?


But before I get to my list, allow me to complain that we are not in the Christmas season. This is Advent. Even though I was sick at home with a cold the first Sunday, and late the second Sunday, and therefore missed the candle-lighting ritual at Mass both times, I know this is Advent. You know how? I can read a calendar. Christmas starts on the 25th (remember how we used to call it Saturnalia, o fratres mei?), and ends on the Feast of the Epiphany.

Silence kindly created this image of me as Scrooge to go with this post.

Silence kindly created this image of me as Scrooge to go with this post.

Oh, you say only the Church calls it that? Well, let me clue you in: The Church invented Christmas. In fact, Protestants refused to celebrate it for generations because it was seen as so Catholic. Even Santa Claus is a saint. So there.

Speaking of which, one category of song you won’t see represented here is the kind that isn’t really a Christmas song at all; it’s really a winter song. Take “Jingle Bells,” please. (OK, I don’t really hate “Jingle Bells;” constant repetitions of it when I was a small child conditioned me to associate it with festivity. It’s just an illustration of my point, so bear with me.) Does it say anything about Christmas? No, it doesn’t. OK, there’s the sleigh — but it’s not, specifically, Santa’s. It’s a run-of-the-mill sleigh. It’s drawn by one horse, not by reindeer.

Or, worse yet, “Frosty the Snowman.” Is there a single Christmas allusion in it, direct or indirect? No, there is not. It’s about winter. Ditto with “Let it Snow,” which was thrust upon me one morning this past week.

Moreover, it’s about winter as we in South Carolina seldom experience it. Oh, sometimes we get a dusting of snow — in February. I, having spent most my life in the South (or in the tropics), have never experienced a white Dec. 25th. Granted, we had a nice blanket of the stuff fall on the second or third day of Christmas in 2010, but that’s an exception that proves the rule.

Songs like that are about winter in a particular part of the world, which is not here. So where’s the relevance?

Mind you, it’s not that songs must contain Jesus, Mary and Joseph, much less the Three Kings (who in any case should not be heard from before Jan. 6) in order to make the category. I’m happy with Santa, or the elves, or the reindeer, or a Yule log, or a tree… something, anything, that relates it to the actual holiday.

But enough about what the list is not.

Here’s the actual list:

  1. The Little Drummer Boy” — OK, you’re thinking, how could anybody hate “The Little Drummer Boy?” Well, I have since I first heard it, sometime in the mid-60s. It had been around since 1941, but I first heard it in about ’65 or ’66 (I remember being puzzled by it when we lived in that old converted barracks in New Orleans) — and then heard it and heard it and heard it. Everybody covered it; it was in everybody’s special Christmas album, and seemed to turn up on every Christmas special on the tube. What’s wrong with it? Let’s start with this: Where did a drummer boy come from? I’m not demanding that everything have a biblical basis — after all, I’m a Catholic. But how does a drummer boy make sense? Maybe a shepherd boy with a lyre or Pan pipes, but a drum? Who brings a drum into a home — or temporary quarters — where there’s a newborn? Mary didn’t have enough problems with having to give birth in a shed, and having to lay her baby in a filthy feeding bin, and all these strangers tramping through the place? The song suggests Mary and the baby dug the drumming. Yeah, right. Had I been there, I’d have been the third shepherd, the grumpy one, raising his crook menacingly and saying, “Go ahead, kid. Say ‘pa rum pum pum pum” one… more… time…”
  2. Wonderful Christmas Time” — You know, “Simply… having… a WONderful Christmas time…” The greatest offense against music ever committed by Paul McCartney. He is absolved by all his really great stuff, but this monotonous bit of tinsel should never be heard again.
  3. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” — Do I have to explain? Yeah, it’s satire. But I’m pretty sure I thought it was bad satire the first time I heard it. And every repetition grates a little more.
  4. Santa Baby” — When I was a young lad, they used to have these cartoons in the December issue of Playboy — in those days, as you may have heard, it was filled with interesting articles — that would feature these mostly or entirely nude, extremely pneumatic bunny girls in some sort of sexual situation with Santa Claus. And I always found that offensive. It felt like a form of libel of a beloved figure. Santa should be nothing if not G-rated. “Santa Baby” has always seemed like the musical counterpart of those cartoons. Not to mention the fact that it’s probably the most materialistic of all “Christmas” songs.
  5. Santa’s Super Sleigh” — OK, I’m cheating here. But I was having trouble coming up with a fifth — I’m really not as much of a Scrooge as I’m letting on to be here — and in tribute to Nick Hornby I always try to do Top FIVE lists. But I think this is OK because Nick himself invented this song for his novel About A Boy, and it was recorded for the film version. It’s a deliberately bad song that the protagonist hates to hear (even though it’s the reason he doesn’t have to work for a living). But I believe if the actual song marketplace had come up with it, rather than it coming from a novelist’s imagination, I would still dislike it.

It’s beginning to look a lot like pushing the season

holiday cups

Above is a cropped shot taken of three of my kids in Central Park in NYC on Nov. 23, 2007. It was the day after Thanksgiving, the day merchandisers call “Black Friday.” It was bitterly cold, and those cups of hot coffee were welcome.

I show you this in order to note that, to the best of my recollection, that was the first time I ever saw the red Starbucks “holiday cups.” Ever since then, I’ve been happy to see them come out again each year, because I have pleasant associations with that trip to New York.

I was a bit less delighted than usual to see them come out this year on Nov. 1, All Saints Day. Yes, when kids had hardly dented their candy hauls from Halloween.

That, to me, is going too far.

Nor was I thrilled to receive the below promotion on Veterans Day. The text with it said:

One Cyber Monday a year just isn’t enough. That’s why it’s a month-long event here at Musician’s Friend…

No, actually, one is quite sufficient, thanks. Or if you must have two, have the second after the usual one. Have three or four, if you like. I’m all for everybody making a living. But wait, please…


Do you really think it’s not a war if Americans aren’t there?

As the kōan goes, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

Here’s a tougher one to contemplate on this Veteran’s Day: If there’s a war and no Americans are participating in it, is there still a war?

Many Americans, based on rhetoric I’ve heard in recent years regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, would apparently answer, “no.”

Sorry. “Rhetoric” isn’t quite the word. It suggests overtly political speech. I’m talking about plain ol’ everyday newswriting at the moment.

From an AP story today about the president’s remarks on Veteran’s Day:

Obama used his remarks to remind the nation that thousands of service members are still at war in Afghanistan. The war is expected to formally conclude at the end of next year, though the U.S. may keep a small footprint in the country.

Soon, “the longest war in America’s history will end,” Obama declared.

The boldfaced emphasis is mine.

I think sometimes that my years on the editorial pages made me more sensitive, not less so, to creeping editorializing in news copy. I know it, and I recognize it when I see it. And I saw it there — the representation of a worldview rather than straight reporting.

In the president’s partial defense, he didn’t exactly say the first of those boldfaced statements, although he did say the second one, the one that was a direct quote (I mean, one would certainly hope so, AP):

Our work is more urgent than ever, because this chapter of war is coming to an end.  Soon, one of the first Marines to arrive in Afghanistan 12 years ago — Brigadier General Daniel Yoo — will lead his Camp Pendleton Marines as they become one of the last major groups of Marines to deploy in this war.  And over the coming months, more of our troops will come home.  This winter, our troop levels in Afghanistan will be down to 34,000.  And by this time next year, the transition to Afghan-led security will be nearly complete.  The longest war in American history will end.

He was right when he said “this chapter… is coming to an end.” That doesn’t overstate the case the way the AP version did.

And on the second statement, I suppose you can defend the president on a technicality, saying that it would then end as “our war” — but only in that sense. And such a statement still represents a rather startling indifference toward what happens after we’re gone. It suggests that after we’re no longer in a position to hear them, we don’t care how many trees fall.

An Armistice Day reflection

Doughboys of the 64th Regiment celebrate the news of the Armistice, November 11, 1918

Doughboys of the 64th Regiment celebrate the news of the Armistice, November 11, 1918

I originally posted the below material as a comment on the “Top Ten War Movies” post from over the weekend. Bryan suggested that today, it should be a separate post. I suppose he’s right.

The context is that I was responding to two previous comments — one by Rose praising the TV series “Band of Brothers,” and the other from Phillip about “anti-war” messages. This lies in the larger context of a long debate of several years’ standing, in which Phillip takes the position that all sane people oppose war, and I take the armchair-warrior position of “not always”…

“Band of Brothers” was the best thing ever made for television.

And it had the kind of anti-war message in it that I appreciate [as opposed to the kind of anti-war message I hate, which I had described earlier as “one that beats you about the head and shoulders with the idea that war is futile and stupid and anyone who decides to involve a nation in war is evil and unjustified, and we should never, ever engage in it”]. It’s very similar to a powerful one in “Saving Private Ryan.”

There’s this great scene in which the actor portraying David Kenyon Webster — the writer, from Harvard — is riding past thousands of surrendering Germans being marched toward the rear (the opposite direction from which he and Easy Company are traveling) and he spots some senior German officers. He starts shouting at them (excuse the language):

Hey, you! That’s right, you stupid Kraut bastards! That’s right! Say hello to Ford, and General fuckin’ Motors! You stupid fascist pigs! Look at you! You have horses! What were you thinking? Dragging our asses half way around the world, interrupting our lives… For what, you ignorant, servile scum! What the fuck are we doing here?

To explain what I mean by this… I grew up with shows like “Combat,” which gave a sort of timeless sense of the war. Sgt. Saunders and his men were soldiers, had always been soldiers, and would always be soldiers. And they would always be making their way across France in a picaresque manner, doing what they were born to do.

Well, what Webster is shouting at those Germans is that NO, we were NOT born to do this. This is a huge interruption in the way life is supposed to be.

That lies at the core of Tom Hanks’ character in “Saving Private Ryan.” His men think HE was born to be a soldier, and can’t imagine him in any other role (as Reuben says, “Cap’n didn’t go to school, they assembled him at OCS outta spare body parts of dead GIs.”) — hence their intense curiosity about what he did before the war. And their stunned silence when they learn the reality:

I’m a schoolteacher. I teach English composition… in this little town called Adley, Pennsylvania. The last eleven years, I’ve been at Thomas Alva Edison High School. I was a coach of the baseball team in the springtime. Back home, I tell people what I do for a living and they think well, now that figures. But over here, it’s a big, a big mystery. So, I guess I’ve changed some. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve changed so much my wife is even going to recognize me, whenever it is that I get back to her. And how I’ll ever be able to tell her about days like today. Ah, Ryan. I don’t know anything about Ryan. I don’t care. The man means nothing to me. It’s just a name. But if… You know if going to Rumelle and finding him so that he can go home. If that earns me the right to get back to my wife, then that’s my mission.

There, you learn this this is NOT supposed to be where he is. This was not the way his life was supposed to go.

Now… on the other hand…

Dick Winters was a real-life guy who had no desire to be a warrior. After surviving D-Day (having led his men in an action that should have gotten him the Medal of Honor, but he “only” received a Distinguished Service Cross for it), he took a quiet moment to pray that “I would make it through D plus 1. I also promised that if some way I could get home again, I would find a nice peaceful town and spend the rest of my life in peace.”

That’s all he wanted.

And yet, by having been forced to be a soldier, he and everyone around him found that he was superbly suited to it. He was one of those rare men who thought quickly and clearly under fire, and communicated his calm and his self-assuredness to his men. He knew what to do, and how to give orders so that it got done. He had a gift.

And that gift actually was a thing of value — to his society, and to the world. And here’s where we separate. Here’s where we draw a line between being “anti-war” as an absolutist position — that war is always wrong and evil and has no redeeming qualities — and my position, which is that sometimes nations need people like Dick Winters to step forward and exercise those abilities that they have. In other words, the warrior is a valuable member of society like the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker (actually, nowadays, perhaps more valuable than the candlestick-maker).

Which seems like a good place to stop, a little more than an hour before 11 o’clock on Nov. 11.


Images from 2013 St. Patrick’s Day fest in Five Points


With the Yesterday’s float gang, just before we set out. (Photo by Keely Saye)

Running a bit behind with this, but it was a busy weekend.

As you can see, a good time was had. Particularly by me, what with the honor of riding on the official Yesterday’s float. My first time on an actual float in an actual parade.

They issued me a green cowboy hat, but it was too small, and I was already wearing a hat, so I used it to wave with.

Turns out that early is the time to go. It wasn’t as hot as later, and you miss a lot of the crowd. I was a bit concerned at what I perceived as low turnout, but Scotty at Yesterday’s said, wait until about 2. I left a little before that, and the mob waiting to get in was impressive. The crowd was later estimated at 40,000.

Among all of them, I only ran into one person who I actually knew was Irish, as in personally from Ireland — Jerry Hackett, who teaches philosophy at USC. He and Bud Ferillo were sitting out in front of Starbucks. I joined them for a bit and we talked about the new Pope, which seemed the thing to do while celebrating a saint’s day.

Speaking of philosophy, I heard a pearl or two from the mouth of Cedric the cowboy as I stood next to the bathtub from which he waved. For instance, as he looked out on the sea of green-clad folk, he wondered aloud, “How come on St. Patrick’s everybody wants to be Irish, but on Martin Luther King Day, nobody wants to be black?” I’m not sure what it meant, but that was the only thing I actually tweeted out from the float.

I got a bit sunburned and my famous gigantic hornrim glasses got broken. No, I didn’t get into a brawl. And I had not so much as touched a drop. It was right after the parade, as I was re-entering the festival area; I was trying to remove my green sweatshirt and my glasses flew off and hit the pavement, and I saw one lens go skittering off down the street. I sort of repaired them with some tape from behind the bar at Yesterday’s, but it might be time to invest in some new ones.

So when you next see me, I might look different…

Watch for me in the St. Patrick’s Day parade tomorrow!

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You can usually count on seeing me at the St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Five Points, but this year is special — you’ll be able to see me in the parade itself!

The way this happened is slightly complicated. My daughter who used to work at Yesterday’s somehow won the right to be on that fine establishment‘s float. But she won’t be in town on Saturday. This situation led to a worldwide search, and I was deemed best qualified to fill in for her, what with the close DNA match and all.

I’m told I’ll be right beside the bathtub itself, and there is no greater honor than that.

As I participate in this spectacle, I will endeavor to be as appealing as the Twins were when they appeared in the parade two years ago, below. Even though I probably look more like the old guy in the Mustang above.

Oh, well…

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Hoping to find a new St. Pat’s T-shirt like this one…


The St. Patrick’s Day party in 5 Points is just a week away, and as Tina Fey would say on “30 Rock,” I want to go to there.

And I’m hoping that I can find a new T-shirt like the one I bought at the 2007 fest, which still stands in my memory as the most awesome one ever. My brother-in-law (who was in town for my son’s wedding, that night — it was a very memorable day) and I had an awesome time. Not quite as awesome as the time Frank the Tank had at the party in “Old School,” but right up there.

You can see the back of it above, and the front below (from when I thoughtlessly wore it to the Italian Festival one year).

As you can see in the above pic, it’s getting a bit worn. That’s because it’s my very favorite weekend shirt. So a new one would be in order. I’ve written to the folks at Newcomb Graphix, hoping they’ll have a stall at this festival. If not, I’ll be hoping for next year.

Speaking of next year — I keep thinking that one year it would be cool to have a float in the St. Pat’s parade. We could dress up my battered pickup truck. Anyone game to ride in the bed and throw trinkets at the crowd?


Modest turnout for King Day at the Dome


I went down to the demonstration, as Mick Jagger would say, for just long enough to take a few pictures before walking briskly back to the office (I’m really trying to work in a little exercise each day).

What I saw was a respectable-sized, but smaller-than-usual crowd.

Of course, it might be a bit unfair to compare this to previous such events that had a special “draw.” There was the first of these events, in 2000, at which a throng estimated at 60,000 — you couldn’t move on the grounds, and the crowd covered Gervais and spilled northward up Main Street — demanded that the Confederate flag come off the dome. (Which it did later that year, and now all subsequent King Day events have occurred under the one flapping on the grounds.)

Then there was the big turnout for the aforementioned one in 2008, with all the presidential candidates. The one before that, at which Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd spoke, wasn’t bad, either.

But this time, the event was up against Barack Obama’s second inauguration, and a lot of people who go to demonstrations went to that instead. Or watched it at home, instead of on the screen provided on the State House steps.

I didn’t hear much — as I said, I was just there long enough to take a few pictures. And as usual, that was a challenge, with the crowd in sunlight and the speakers in shadow. One of these days, somebody needs to have one of those on the other side of the State House.

I did hear part of an address by the Rev. Brenda Kneece about gun violence (from what I heard, she was against it). Then, as I was leaving, Tom Turnipseed got up, and after a reference to his having been “hooked up to jumper cables” (it was him saying it this time, not Lee Atwater) in his youth, he started talking about MLK Jr. having psychiatric problems. I’m not sure where he was going with that, but the theme of this event was supposed to be mental health, so…

As I walked away, I ran into Sammy Fretwell of The State. Someone else was doing main coverage of the event, he said, explaining that he was there to look for “fringe elements.” And as it happened, someone had just been arrested… he broke off then to ask a passing cop about it, but didn’t get anything.

Anyway, I hope Sammy found some fringe elements, to make his efforts worthwhile.


SC’s historical resistance to Thanksgiving

The WSJ today had a piece today about the first official Thanksgiving proclamation — which was George Washington’s first proclamation of any kind as president — and it struck me how fitting that the main objections to it came from South Carolinians. During debate over the resolution asking the president to proclaim the holiday:

Rep. Aedanus Burke of South Carolina objected on the grounds that a Thanksgiving was too European. He “did not like this mimicking of European customs, where they made a mere mockery of thanksgivings.”

Rep. Thomas Tudor Tucker, also of South Carolina, raised two further objections. “Why should the President direct the people to do what, perhaps, they have no mind to do?” he asked. “If a day of thanksgiving must take place,” he said, “let it be done by the authority of the several States.”

Tucker’s second reservation had to do with separation of church and state. Proclaiming a day of Thanksgiving “is a religious matter,” he said, “and, as such, proscribed to us.” The Bill of Rights would not be ratified until 1791—but Congress had just approved the wording of First Amendment, and that debate was fresh in everyone’s mind.

It fell to a New Englander to stand up in support of Thanksgiving…

Of course, the only one of those objections that had a ghost of substance was the church-and-state one — you can see how someone who had recently debated the First Amendment might pause remembering the words “Congress shall make no law…” But of course, a reasonable person’s next thoughts would be that this was just a resolution, it only asked that the president recommend a day of thanksgiving, and it in no way established anything, much less a religion, or inhibited the free exercise thereof.

It’s not the substance of the objections that strike me. It’s that it’s so very South Carolina to be the ones objecting to even the most vanilla, Mom-and-pumpkin-pie actions by the federal government. I mean, leave it to a South Carolinian to inject state’s rights into a discussion of Thanksgiving.

What is it in our water, or whatever, that has always made white men from our state so prickly?

An appeal from Harvest Hope

If you’re looking for a place for end-of-the-year charitable contributions, here’s a good place to consider:

Dear Brad Warthen,

Harvest Hope wishes you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving at this time when we acknowledge all our blessings, and our most generous of thanks for all your support in our mission to provide for hungry families across 20 SC counties.
Families and friends gather at this time to celebrate and offer thanks for all the blessings the year has provided. Yet, 1 in 6 families in SC does not know where their next meal will come from. Thanksgiving only serves as a painful reminder of their struggles to put food on their tables.

Over the last four years Harvest Hope has seen a steady decline in not only the number of donors who are the cornerstone of our mission, but the monetary level of their donations as well. Our donations for 2012 to date are down more than 21% over the same period of time in 2010.

Yet in the face of decreasing donations we struggle to make sure no one is turned away hungry. Your generosity helps Harvest Hope make sure families in our community do not have to experience the pain of hunger while so many others celebrate the simplest of joys. Your kindness is how we continue our mission of HOPE. Giving to Harvest Hope is easy at click here.
The lines were long yesterday at our own Emergency Food Pantries on Shop Road and in Cayce, and they even longer this morning. Many requests are coming into our Florence and Greenville Branches for help with families in those communities struggling to put the most basic of food items on their tables.  Help is needed and your support can provide great nourishment and great Thanksgiving by going online today or dropping off nonperishable food at any of our four locations.


2220 Shop Road, Columbia – 29201

1175 12th Street Ext, Cayce – 29202

Pee Dee

2513 West Lucas Street, Florence – 29501


28218 White Horse Road, Greenville – 29611

During this season of thanks ~ thank YOU for sharing your

kindness with your neighbors struggling with hunger.