D is for Death

Death is such an uncomfortable subject, even though most of us will experience it eventually.

When someone significant in my life dies, I like to mention him or her in this blog. They don’t have to be people I actually met, but are usually people who inspired me in one way or another. The late Roger Ebert’s birthday was June 18, and I had a passing recollection of how well he wrote about issues other than movies in the latter stages of his life.

Paul McCartney, who shared a birthday with Ebert – both were born in 1942- put out an album in 2007 called Memory Almost Full. The penultimate song was The End of the End [LISTEN], which had these lyrics:
“On the day that I die, I’d like jokes to be told And stories of old to be rolled out like carpets That children have played on and laid on While listening to stories of old.” He said on the audio commentary disc to the album that the song was inspired by someone who said, “I wish you a good death.” This initially startled him, but then he started to think of the tradition of the Irish wake, and he gained a greater understanding of the sentiment.

Death is such an uncomfortable subject, even though most of us will experience it eventually. I’ve been to LOTS of funerals in my time, quite a few fellow church members from my last two churches. I’ve come to the conclusion that being there trumps almost anything one can say because almost anything said can be taken wrong:
“Well, she lived a long life.” True, she was 92, but they wanted her to be there at 93 and 95.
“He’s in heaven now.” Even if all the parties believe this – some don’t – I’ve seen it used as an attempt to shortcut the grieving process, some theological variation of “Get over it.”
“It’s for the best,” usually said of someone who passed after a lengthy and/or painful illness. While this may be true, it’s not for YOU to say. On the other hand, you can say, “If you want to talk…” And let THEM talk.

This article about former BeeGees singer Barry Gibb losing all of his “brothers without being friends with them” is very sad because it is not unusual. Someone dies and issues remain permanently unresolved.

Whereas I enjoyed the story about National Public Radio’s Scott Simon chronicling his mother’s last days on Twitter. I mean, I wouldn’t have done it, but given his mom’s show biz past, it was appropriate for them.

I really liked the poem included in this blog post, which also includes this narrative: “For a time, it feels like the whole world should stop, when a loved one dies. I remember experiencing that feeling so strongly… Perhaps the nicest thing you can do for someone who has lost a part of their world, is let your own world stop, if only for a moment.”
It occurred to me I never gave props to Helen Thomas, pioneering White House correspondent, mostly because I had nothing to add to what others said.

I’ll also mention John Palmer, NBC’s White House correspondent, and later, a newsreader for the TODAY show, back when it was still doing news.

Michael Ansara was an actor who “specialized in playing American Indians and aliens”; he was actually born in Syria and was married for a time to Barbara Eden.

ABC Wednesday – Round 13

The new old movies

McMurphy from Cuckoo's Nest
That Jaquandor fellow did this exercise: “For me, when I think of an ‘old movie’, my brain always defaults to Casablanca, which by the time of my awareness of its existence, had become a venerable classic movie. Now, when I was born, Casablanca was 29 years old. So here is a list of films that, as of this year, are as old as my brain’s canonical ‘old movie’.”

My problem is that my default ‘old’ movie was The African Queen (1951), only two years before I was born, because I saw it long afterwards. So the list generated would be too recent. I thought of 1939, but I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz so often, not to mention variations on it, it’s still new. So I finally decided on Birth of a Nation (1915); now that’s an old film.

1953-1915=38. 2013-38=1975

These are the movies of 1975, as old today as Birth of a Nation was when I was born:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Love and Death
The Stepford Wives
Dog Day Afternoon

Lots more, of course, but these jumped out at me as films that either reflected the era, or are timeless classics. And the latter two I’ve never seen.

Of magpies: WWII black veterans edition

I wrote a blog post, in part, about an Ebony article from October 1946 about black GIs in Germany after World War II, of which my father was one.

Dustbury noted that he and I have something in common: we are both magpies. As he put it: “The Eurasian magpie… is wicked smart, especially for a bird… I am not quite sure how “magpie” became a descriptor for humans who flit from topic to topic unless it has to do with the bird’s tendency to be attracted to Shiny Things, but I’m pretty sure I fit that description, and I have several readers who seem to do likewise.”

The problem with that is that I often move onto the Next Thing, less out of boredom, but the need to find something mentally Shiny, I suppose. Intellectually, at least, the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” is pretty true of me. I know very few things in depth, but I know a little about a lot of things.

Sometimes, people have suggested that I ought to focus this blog on one or two topics. There’s only one reason why I don’t: I don’t wanna. But it is interesting that people look to me for whatever expertise I might have.

When I stopped working at FantaCo, the comic book store in Albany, in 1988, and subsequently quit collecting comics, I figured that was the closed chapter of my life. Yet I find myself working on a FantaCo bibliography this month.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post, in part, about an Ebony article from October 1946 about black GIs in Germany after World War II, of which my father (pictured above) was one. A German documentary filmmaker wanted a high-resolution scan of the story, and thanks to a Facebook request, I was able to get one.

Incidentally, one of my sisters is convinced that one of the guys pictured on this page of the Ebony story is my father. I’m not entirely convinced. What do you think?

In any case, even though I’m not an expert at much of anything, I can be rather useful.

50 signs of aging

I have the Beatles’ song ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ stuck in my head, specifically the lyric, “The soap impression of his wife Which he ate and donated to the National Trust.”

The fine blogger Shooting Parrots, from across the pond, did this quiz: “Do you feel like you’re getting old? Take our 50 signs of ageing test to find out.” They – the quiz writer and SP – are from England, so obviously they can’t spell “aging.”

Feeling stiff
Yes – especially the left knee

Groaning when you bend down
Well, no. Not yet, anyway.

Saying: “It wasn’t like that when I was young.”
Occasionally. Usually it was to suggest that Republicans, such as Jacob Javits, Everett Dirksen and William Scranton were quite all right fellows, unlike most of their recent counterparts.

Saying: “In my day.”
No, because I would sound like my maternal grandmother.

Losing hair
Yes, but I’ve been losing it since I was about 18, so it’s hardly a function of getting old.

Not knowing any songs in the top 10

No. This is the advantage of having younger colleagues: I actually own 3 of them the week I checked, two by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and one by P!nk

Getting hairier ears, eyebrows, nose, face etc
Not that I’ve noticed.

Hating noisy pubs
Yes, but I hated noisy bars when I was in my 20s. Found it too difficult to have a conversation.

Talking a lot about joints/ailments
Yes, the aforementioned knee. Plus an elbow.

Forgetting people’s names
Yes, but I’ve been doing that for decades. When I was in New Paltz in 1974, I was backing this Congressional candidate named Matt McHugh. He was GREAT at remembering not only names of people across this wide swath of state (Ithaca to Woodstock, for you upstaters), he remembered details of their lives. “Hi, John, how’s your wife Mary?” or “Hello, Karen. How did your husband Bill’s operation go?” He won and served 18 years in Congress.

Choosing clothes and shoes for comfort rather than style
Yes, but anyone who knows I wear red sneakers often will suss out that 1) I don’t care about style and 2) form over function irritates me. That’s been true for decades.

Thinking policemen/teachers/doctors look young
Yes, especially my daughter’s elementary school teachers, who ARE in their 20s and 30s.

Falling asleep in front of the TV
Seldom, and this was more likely in my 20s than now.

Needing an afternoon nap
Only when I’m ill or injured.

Finding you have no idea what young people are talking about
Occasionally true, though that was also the case when I was a young person.

Struggling to use technology
Sometimes, but that has long been true.

Losing touch with everyday technology such as tablets and televisions
I don’t have a tablet, but I know how the TV works.

You start complaining about things more
Yes, and this I WILL attribute to getting older. Pretty much a “Why not?” It’s also why I have a blog.

Wearing your glasses around your neck
No, because that DOES look old.

Not remembering the names of any modern bands
I know a few, even own a few albums.

You avoid lifting heavy things due to back concerns
Not really.

Complaining about the rubbish on TV these days
Yes, but there IS rubbish on TV.

Misplacing your bag/keys etc
Keys, yes, afraid so, but was true three decades ago.

Switching from Radio 1 to Radio 2
Well, I don’t listen to Top 40 (1), but not much middle-of-the-road stuff (2), either. Probably leave them both off.

You start driving very slowly
The few times I’ve driven, it was slow.

Preferring a night in with a board game than a night on the town
True for decades.

Taking a keen interest in The Antiques Roadshow
No. The show irritates me with its “maybe I’ll be rich” mentality.

You talk to colleagues who are so young they don’t know what an Opal Fruit is
I had never heard of this.

You start you taking slippers to a friend’s house
Yes, many of my friends like us to take off our shoes when we go to their houses. In the winter, slippers are a great choice.

Listening to The Archers
Not following US soap operas, so I’ll say no.

Falling asleep after a glass of wine
Funny thing about wine and me; it’ll put me to sleep if I drink it in the midday, but not at night. That’s been true since my mid-20s.

Never going out without your coat

Getting bed socks for Christmas and being very grateful
No, though I’ve gotten better in general about getting clothes as gifts than I was when I first got married.

You can’t lose 6lb in two days anymore
Never could, except in preparation for a colonoscopy, and it comes right back.

Gasping for a cup of tea
No. (I do not understand the context for this.)

Taking a flask of tea or coffee on a day out

Joining the WI
Don’t know what the US equivalent to this would be.

Taking a keen interest in the garden
No, but I don’t see what the problem with that is. My wife and daughter have a plot in the community garden.

Spending more money on face creams/antiageing products
Zero dollars.

Spending money on the home/furniture rather than a night on the town
True, but it’s an old home, though in fact I’d rather spend it going to a movie or play.

Taking a keen interest in dressing for the weather.
Yes, especially in winter. Once one’s had frostbite – to the feet, when I was 16 – one tries not to repeat it. So I cover well the head, the ears, the hands, the feet.

Putting everyday items in the wrong place
Not yet.

Obsessive gardening or bird feeding

Really enjoying puzzles and crosswords
No, though I used to do crosswords when I was younger.

Always driving in the slow lane or below 70 in the middle lane

Consider going on a ‘no-children’ cruise for a holiday
Actually, when my wife was first pregnant, we went to ‘no children’ resort in Maine.

Your ears are getting bigger
I was told I have tiny ears.

Joining the National Trust
Based on what I’ve read, if I lived there, I probably would. (I have the Beatles’ song ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ stuck in my head, specifically the lyric, “The soap impression of his wife Which he ate and donated to the National Trust.”)

Drinking sherry
No, it gives me a headache, and last I checked, did not like the taste.

Feeling you have the right to tell people exactly what you are thinking even if it isn’t polite
Nah, I’m still stuck with that politeness flaw.

So my takeaway from this is that I’m getting old, but was probably old 35 years ago. The only things that are appreciably different from then are the younger teachers and the achier joints.

Dealing with that “white privilege” conversation with humor

These are examples of showing, in a satirical way, how white privilege is so ingrained. As Hayes points out at the end, if you had substituted “black” for “white”, it would sound like normal American media chitchat.

One of the things that many right-wing Americans are fond of saying, and there are variations in the wording, is that there are a bunch of “professional black people” stirring up trouble between black and white people. By “professional black people,” I don’t mean black people who are doctors and lawyers and the like. Rather, their profession is BEING a black person. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are ALWAYS cited, and Barack HUSSEIN Obama has been recently added to the mix.

The general narrative is that, racially, things are FINE in America, that we have a post-racial society. I mean, we have a President who’s black! What more proof does one need? Well, none for the Supreme Court, which decides to gut the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action.

Every suggestion that things are NOT hunky-dory has a pushback. The difference in unemployment, wealth, and health care? That’s black laziness, and it’s self-victimization to even discuss it. Trayvon Martin’s shooting? He was a thug. Etc, etc.

In the last forty or fifty years, I’ve been to a number of talks, workshops, etc., in which the notion of “white privilege” shows up, and almost invariably, the air goes out of the room. White privilege, Wikipedia says, “refers to the set of alleged societal privileges that white people benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of color in the same social, political, or economic spaces (nation, community, workplace, income, etc.). The term denotes both obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages that white individuals may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice. These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; greater presumed social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely. The concept of white privilege also implies the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal.” You can find a whole category on the topic in the Huffington Post.

The reason it sucks the air out of a room, particularly early on, is that it has led to either a rejection of the notion altogether or a wallowing of white guilt with nowhere to go with that. Here’s a decent list about privilege (and no, it’s not just racial).

A popular trope out there is that the (non-monolithic) black community, or Muslim community, is need of Rising Up and Keeping Its Folks in Line. Even black people, such as Bill Cosby, say it. But the great thing about white privilege is that no one would be ridiculous enough to say that about white people.

Until now.

If you’ve heard too much about the “pathology” of black people, you might appreciate Cord Jefferson of Gawker.com showing this Video of Violent, Rioting Surfers Shows White Culture of Lawlessness. But it was astonishing when Jefferson is interviewed on an episode of All In With Chris Hayes on MSNBC to discuss that video. They play it straight, like any other “talking heads” interview on the news programs. It works on multiple levels for me.

These are examples of showing, in a satirical way, how white privilege is so ingrained. As Hayes points out at the end, if you had substituted “black” for “white”, it would sound like normal American media chitchat.

Related: I was touched by this story: I have experienced what it is like to be a “sort-of white” person because of my racial background, my upbringing, and the way I look.

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