Day of Infamy

Today happens to be Pearl Harbor Day. Usually days special enough to be commemorated are good ones, but this one calls us to remember a betrayal, the Japanese attack on U.S. naval installations in Hawaii which occurred on the morning of December 7, 1941. It was the event that brought about an immediate declaration of war against the Empire of Japan. Three days later Germany and Italy, declared war against the United States, and we were off and running into World War Two.

I was only six when that war ended, but seven of my uncles served in the armed forces during the war, and I have memories of them in uniform, the comings and goings of hordes of soldiers and sailors at railway stations, the food rationing that was endured, and the horrible stories that began to come back from the war zones. Even though the adults tried to shield the children, we learned names like Nanking, Dachau, Auschwitz, et al. through the childhood grapevine.

On the news tonight was a report of a dinner that ex-president Cluck gave recently for some holocaust deniers, Hitler sympathizers, and white supremacists. Sickening.

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Way way back in a day when there were things called malls that actually had record stores where you bought and owned (how quaint a notion that was) a music album, I ran across singer/songwriter Chris Whitley.

I was spending my lunch hour going through record bins, looking for something new, when up popped this CD with a drifter-looking guy on the front. I’d never heard of him but it was the photo that sold me. Through the years I have bought a lot of crappy music because of interesting album cover art, so it wasn’t like I have some special powers for divining content through imagery. But this time … I struck it rich.

One listening to the album … no, just listening to the first cut, and I became a Chris Whitley fan for life. That record, Living With The Law, is still in regular play at mi casa. It never wore out its welcome. What would be my word for it? … I don’t know … maybe haunting.

Whitley lived a life, a friend of his said, “where he went to the edge of the world, and looked over.” He smoked too much, drank too much, and died in 2005 of lung cancer, at the age of 45. So far I haven’t seen a single photograph of him where he looked healthy. There is a movie-length documentary of his life on YouTube. If you like his music, it’s a place to go to round out what you know about him. Watching the film, it’s interesting to see the other characters … musicians, producers, friends … trying to describe what they know in their hearts is indescribable.

Sometimes when music comes at you it blows right past all your defenses and leaves your vocabulary behind. That was the case for me, with Chris Whitley.

Living With The Law
Poison Girl
Dust Radio

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The cartoon above tells a truth, doesn’t it? Especially during the summer travel season, one of the most dispiriting scenarios is this: you have driven as far as you can for the moment, and have reached the point where hunger pangs and bladder spasms have hijacked the functions of your mine entirely. Seeing a sign for “FOOD” ahead you pull off at the interstate exit and into the restaurant parking lot, just in time to see a bus containing eighty Australian travelers disgorge its contents into the establishment.

You realize two things. One, that the aims of each of these men and women is the same as yours, to first find a restroom and to next be fed. Two, that it will be a very long time before any waitperson gets to the shabbily improvised table behind the coat rack to which you have been assigned. In fact, the view from that table is of an unswept corridor rather than the dining room.

So you sit listening to a bunch of Outback chatter as orders are taken, painfully slowly: “No, we don’t serve wallaby here, never have.” It’s quaint and amusing and all that, but in your heart of hearts you are wishing for a plague just bad enough to empty a few tables and in so doing move yourselves closer to the front of the line.

On the flip side, what greater pleasure than to enter a nearly empty restaurant, get a very good table, have a waitperson appear instantly to take your order, and then see those eighty folks from Down Under come through the door. Your appreciation of your meal is enhanced as you realize the caliber of the bullet you have just dodged.

Ahhhh … the gap between despair and ecstasy is often such a narrow one.

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Speaking of ecstasy, an allegedly decorous production of Lady Chatterley’s Lover has come our way, and is now streamable on Netflix.

Having grown up in a household where sex wasn’t so much repressed as unacknowledged, I was eager to read the book, which in 1959 had only then escaped from censorship here in the U.S.. I purchased my paperback copy at a campus bookstore but had to wait until I got home to crack it open and find out finally what all the fuss was. About sex, that is.

I wasn’t disappointed, although it did strike me that there seemed to be a lot more dialogue associated with the act of having sex than I had imagined. Something which, in my experience observing animals on the farm, was largely absent among them, as were foreplay and the post-coital cigarette. In those cases it seemed to be a case of contented grazing followed by a sudden violent obsession followed by the renewal of contented grazing.

I haven’t revisited the book since 1959. I suspect that I might find it less revolutionary now, so I’m going to start by watching the movie to see what the Lady and the good old gamekeeper are up to these days. After that, well, we’ll see about re-reading the book.

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For men of a certain age, the movie Jeremiah Johnson was one of those films that took you to a place where you could so easily fantasize about living a life completely free of any restraints not imposed by nature. Like a man oughta live, you know? Never mind that few of us had the skills necessary to survive more than a fortnight in the wilderness. Any fantasy worth its salt easily dispenses with such trifles.

But there was a line in the film that resonated with me as a younger man, and does so a little more with every year that passes.

“I’ve been to a town, Del.”

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