Thursday, February 25, 2016

Making Chili

Today I made my second vat of chili of this mild New Orleans winter ... or maybe it was the third. I like to make chili and have done it for many years. Today's batch-making reminded me of one of the few truly great ideas in my "storied" life. (I like my stories, and I stand by every one of them.)

During the holiday season of 1993 or 1994, my then-wife-and-mother-of-our-daughters Linda and I talked about having a Christmas party, and while so discussing, inspiration struck. At least. that's how it seemed to me. (As I recall, Linda, mother-of-our-daughters-and-bringer-home-of-the-bacon, wondered if I'd had a brain lapse or worse. Maybe being home with the kids had rendered my mind ... that's all, just rendered it, like fat.) I said, "Instead of having a (boring, staid, follow-the-leader) Christmas party, let's have "A Chili & Eggnog Party"! And despite some(one's) misgivings, we did. (I will add that this occurred at the end of the Great Period of our marriage, shortly before (or before I recognized) the beginning of the Gradual and Fateful Decline. A year or two later, this inspiration would have been thrown onto the ash heap of Fading-Marriage Suggestions!)

We had never had a party before; probably there had never been more than 6 other adults together in our house during the period of our marriage, but we started a list and it kept growing. We decided to invite close friends, members of Linda's family, a few near neighbors who we did not know well ... and then we decided to invite some more people who were not close friends or close neighbors but who we thought might enjoy the party: nice acquaintances and not-quite-close-but-nice neighbors.

We did not have a big house and did not know whether everyone invited would fit, if they all came. Also (and this was one of the heart-breaking aspects of our marriage over the last 12 of its 20 years), our house did not have "flow." I hate to admit, but (as a male) have to admit, that I do not relate to or value "flow" in a house; but for this night and while anticipating perhaps 50 people in our house, flow was an issue.

But, could it possibly be that 50 people - many of whom we barely knew - would all say "Yes" to our invitation? "Chili & Eggnog" was, after all, scheduled during the Christmas/Holiday Season?

We planned other edible items and drinks, guessing at how much we might need; but the core treats for the night were to be chili and eggnog, lots of chili and eggnog. I composed invitations, humorously & somewhat fictionally describing the genesis of this party idea, and we sent them out. Everybody responded.

Everybody responded in the affirmative.

We began a slowly growing panic as the date got closer and we bought supplies.

No one canceled. We continued to build our panic.

The night came, vats of chili and gallons of eggnog were prepared and arranged. Other drinks and treats were spread, and we crossed our fingers.

Everybody came. No one failed to appear. At first it was a little weird; there were lots of people there who did not know many of the other people. And, of course, there was NO FLOW!

But the weirdness did not last long; people drank and talked, ate and talked, found interest in new acquaintances and talked. The music we had chosen seemed to be the correct volume and type. Life was good; people were cheerful. Several people came up to me and thanked me for inviting them. Some said they had been surprised at the invitation and did not know why we had invited them, but they were glad we had. Several people remarked on what a fun time our party was.

No one left early. No one got drunk or otherwise obnoxious. No one spilled chili on the floor. No one got sick. People stayed till after midnight. We did not run out of food or drink, but almost all of the chili was eaten, eggnog was drunk. For the only time in my life I had had a part in creating a great party. We (I) had billed it on the invitation as "The First Annual Chili and Eggnog Party." There never was a second one. But for one shining moment, "Chili and Eggnog" was The Bomb.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Musings about USA/Amurrica/'Merica/Amerika

This has been some week. A family member is angry at me for failing to honor my father and my mother. The Mardi Gras period has ended here in South Lu'Zana. And in the public life of Our Republic there have been the death of Scalia and the carnival event of the Republicans' latest "debate." Quite a week, yessiree.

As I have read, powerful Senatorial Republicans have declared that they will not honor the President's Constitutionally-mandated appointment of a Supreme Court Justice - all while maintaining that they love, cherish and obey the Constitution. Their view that the current Prez cannot effectually appoint a Justice is disingenuously based on their stated belief that "the people" should have a say in who is appointed, notwithstanding that the people have chosen Barack Obama twice, by compelling margins, to be precisely the person who is not only authorized to make these appointments but required to do so by that same Constitution. In my opinion the real foundation for their view is that the President is black, secondarily that they are not quite sure he is Christian, or at least not a Christian as in the Conservative White Christianity that they purport - or pretend - to follow.

Does a significant proportion of likely Republican primary voters view the "debates" so far of that Party with alarm? Does a significant proportion of them find them satisfying and helpful to them in discerning who to vote for, who would be a good President and who would be a wise and judicious Commander-in-Chief? Alternately, is there a significant proportion who are appalled at the substance of these "debates" but who are nonetheless thrilled at the spectacle?

The ultimate convergent on one nominee and the changes of attitudes of those not chosen will be interesting to see. The effect on the populace and the preservation of the Republic, on the other hand, of the calamitous debates and the actions of the Senate might well be more than interesting.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Visceral Reflections From Today's News

It's only mid-morning, but already there is news that has unnerved and distressed me, led me to gasp in wonder-horror. Carrier Corporation - maker of air-conditioning systems - has announced that it will shut down its giant plant in Indianapolis, eliminating 1,400 jobs over the next two years. It is moving this plant's operations to Monterrey, Mexico.

NAFTA, we more than know ye. American "corporate citizens" - we know ye too well.

In Maryland yesterday, a 67 year old man shot an officer who approached him in a restaurant, then fled. He was pursued by another officer, and the 67 year old shot him, too. Both officers died. As it has been reported, the first officer was not attempting to arrest the 67 year old, but asked how he was, and was then shot in the head. I have no information about the man's motive(s) or mental state.

I have no wisdom about these events, but they are exemplars of two of the major political-cultural issues of the U.S. in our time - employment/corporate behavior and availability of guns.

Regardless of Carrier Corporation's prospective improvement in its bottom line, removing 1,400 families from the ranks of the employed middle-class cannot increase the number of families that are available to purchase air-conditioners from Carrier. And it will not only be the 1,400 families' purchasing power that is affected. I recall the time in my childhood in Evansville, Indiana, when Chrysler Corporation closed its local automobile assembly plant. It did not affect my father's employment with Peabody Coal Company, but when we had to move because my father was transferred, two years later, my parents could not sell our house because the housing market in Evansville had crashed with the closure of the Chrysler plant. In fact, it was after two transfers, and two moves for our family, that my parents were finally able to sell the Evansville house - at a loss - 4 years later. So, there was a ripple effect of that plant closing that damaged the entire region and affected people's ability to buy houses ... and air-conditioners.

It has not yet been reported whether the Maryland killer had a concealed-carry license, or whether he had a mental health (or other) condition that should have prevented him from owning or carrying a gun. If he had a concealed carry license, clearly he should not have had one. If he did not have such license, he still carried a concealed weapon. If she should have been disqualified, he still carried a concealed weapon. The common variable: the existence, presence and possession of a gun ... an artifact of our society's culture of gun specialness.

As it is plain to those who will see that racism is endemic in our culture and has had, and continues to have, enormous and deleterious effects on people who are not white, it is plain that corporations doing whatever they choose in order to pursue profit has damaged and is damaging our society. As is just as plain, the presence and unique position of guns in our culture is killing us - individually and as a whole. We are not an 18th Century society without a standing army, needing a citizen militia. We are not an 18th Century society that possesses only single-shot, muzzle-loading firearms. We are a society that has not grown up; we have a culture of adolescence - we cling to laws and rules from another time that we simply hold onto because some of us want what we want and refuse to grasp that we can only prosper (in all senses) from recognizing that we are a community. We can be healthy as a community - a group that recognizes our sameness and supports ourselves generally - or we can continue our dysfunction as a failed proto-community that nurtures self-destruction. We can care and be oriented to the health of a society, or we can seek our individual desires and demands. We can choose "us" or "me." We cannot choose both.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Fortunate Result of Being Mindful

Holly Troup and I were walking back from the library (again) and passed a man who appeared deep into middle-age sitting on a metal railing along the sidewalk. The bus stop was across the street, not hear him; and something about him simply did not look right. So, I walked back a few steps and stopped in front of him and said, "Are you all right?" He responded, "No, I'm really not. I'm sick and don't have enough money to take the bus to get my medicine." I told him I did and got out my wallet. I asked him what had happened, and he pulled up his shirt, revealing two significant scars near his waist. I asked if he had been shot, and he told me he'd had colon surgery. We talked for another minute, and then introduced ourselves. I told him - candidly - that I was glad I had met him; he said he would remember me. I believe I'll remember Mr. Wayne. (In the deep South we often append a "Mr." or "Ms." to a first name.) I am glad I paid attention to my awareness that something was amiss. It was good for me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How to View - or Happily Live Through - the Democratic Race

I read a lot of news and commentary, so I am aware of an alleged fight between "bots" or automatic nags of Sanders and Clinton supporters. These people apparently are saying mean, harsh or untrue statements about their opposing candidate. Being a Sanders supporter I am sensitive to those labeled "BernieBros" who supposedly are for Sanders because they *HATE* Hillary Clinton (and will lie or do anything harmful to her campaign). This alleged hatred is supposedly mean, nasty and horrible - much like the members of The Group W bench in "Alice's Restaurant."

However, I cannot tell whether these people (1) exist, (2) are mean, nasty, horrible and dishonest, or (3) *HATE* Hillary Clinton. One of my problems in trying to grasp this alleged phenomenon is that I have read many statements, posts and tweets by people favoring Clinton that say that the act of posting exact quotes of Clinton is harassment, sexist, evil, cowardly, awful and unfair. I also do not know whether those who claim there are terrible "BernieBros" mean to imply that all terrible "BernieBros" are male. (It might be difficult for Clinton supporters to claim that female Sanders supporters are sexist, but I am not young enough - or cool enough - to know whether or not that would be difficult for her supporters.)

Another aspect of this situation is that the Clinton supporters whose words I have read deny that any of them do, have or even might ever say anything underhanded or mean, despite statements slandering, quoting, disparaging and denying Sanders' ideas and actions. When Bernie supporters assert that Clinton supporters have "gone negative" against him, some Clinton supporters claim sexism or flat denial; others say, "He started it!"

For a few days I wrote asserting certain facts about Clinton's career, and that was not productive. Recently, I have made a point of addressing supporters of both candidates to the effect that it is harmful in the long (November) run for anyone who intends to vote for the nominee to be divisive or destructive of the reputation of either candidate. Some people have responded positively to this idea; others have not. I understand the frustrations of hearing seemingly untrue statements made about one's favored candidate, and I feel those frustrations from time to time. But few partisans are open to learning or hearing about the warts on their preferred candidate or are interested in being reminded of the contradictions or flip-flops on positions that inevitably appear to exist. One thing that I thought both groups of people could agree on was being non-destructive. I was wrong.

So I have decided to view this contest - and indeed the upcoming likely *TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD* general election campaign - from a perspective of hope ... and amusement. Nothing I do or say is likely to affect the outcome. Regardless of how it goes or how it ends it should be a very interesting, dramatic and possibly fun experience. I do not have an idea what the resolution will be, or who the main participants will be. I expect to feel exhilaration, bewilderment, fear, anguish and ... at some points, condescension. I may feel part of this - a human involved in and affected by this process. At certain points I may feel so bewildered that I find it difficult to grasp that I am part of this group/gang/mob who are simulating self-government. Probably some of the time - hopefully not at the end! - I will look down on the nitwits who nominate or vote for one or more the candidates. (Will another Quayle/Palin be chosen for Veep?)

But I intend to be, although partisan, not demeaning or despairing of a cataclysm. That is my story on February 3rd, 2016, and I believe I will stick to it. Of course, I could be wrong.