Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Saturday, May 08, 2010

What Are Best Friends For?

Last week, I mentioned that our band played at the dedication of a local historical museum. The museum is housed in the town’s former railroad station. The line ended long ago (why, I will never understand, but that is often the way of things) and the tracks taken up.

All that remains is a grassy trail – and a rich history.

I did not grow up in that town, but spent as much of my young girlhood exploring its ways and byways as I did my own. My guide was a plucky young adventuress, and my then-best friend, G.

It was another second-generation friendship like the one I described the other day, the product of our mothers’ friendship. We were thrown together by their proximity to one another. Like the abandoned railroad line, that line ended long ago, bitterly and, to others (including G.), for mysterious and baffling reasons.

A present-day friend would say that not only did that train leave the station long ago, but would laugh that the tracks, rails and ties and all, taken up and shipped off for scrap. Only revisiting one of the sites of our former romps opened that very old wound.

That present-day friend was surprised to learn that I, not G., ended the relationship. Perhaps breaking that tie would not have been necessary had that rail line not ended, which once upon a time passed through my town and hers. Instead, we were left to the complexities and dangers of modern-day transportation, ruled by the child-unfriendly automobile.

The short answer to why I put an end to our friendship is: we lived too far apart, with a dangerous highway between us, and she was too bossy. Not that that highway (which had no traffic lights in our childhood days, only traffic circles) nor the formidable hill upon which my house sat posed an obstacle to the ever-plucky G.

When she found that I'd stopped calling and writing her, she climbed on her bicycle and rode the five or six miles to my house (visiting my house was something she rarely did and was a sticking point in our difficulties, though I certainly never would have insisted on her coming by bicycle) to find out why.

She would have been better off coming to my house more often, that highway and our hill notwithstanding. My father, and my family, were very different from hers. I can only recall her visiting me once or twice, where she discovered one attraction of my house over hers, our pets - cats and dogs and parakeets and goldfish - something her father would not permit.

My father was quite tall – 6 foot 2 inches – and my friend was quite diminutive. Not a dwarf, but she was quite a slip of a girl. We were in the hall during one of her few visits to my home and I introduced her to this towering man as my father.

You know that famous comic picture of the Chihuahua and the Great Dane, and the way the Chihuahua looks up at the bigger dog, its eyes wide in alarm? That’s the way my friend looked up at him. For his part, my father had to quite bend his head to take her in.

Her mother and certainly her father would not trouble themselves to bring her to our house. The only way she could get there was to ride her bicycle, which to her credit and my alarm, she did. My mother was more accommodating, at least up to a point.

That was another problem. My mother was less and less inclined to make the trek, being too busy with her new part-time job and household duties. I was not so inclined as G. to traverse that highway, nor would my father allow it even if I had been.

We were quite young when we were first thrown together – only about five or six, respectively (she was a year older than me). School ties hadn’t yet formed which would eventually preclude any out-of-town friendships, as they often do.

Not that school ties were a problem for me. I had no friends in school, only enemies. Ungainly and homely, unlike my friend, I was always the target of jokes and cruelty. That G. accepted me for who I was was just incredibly amazing and endeared herself to me forever (even now, after all these years and my own insistence at ending the friendship).

The tracks have been taken up, but what a ride it was while it lasted! She had a boundless imagination. One winter’s day, we climbed into a rusting, abandoned car (which is still there) and won the Indianapolis 500.

It was a glorious victory, with the crowds cheering and our engines roaring to the finish line!

We frequently went hunting for diamonds. In our quest, she said we needed to go to Africa, where there were vast-diamond mines. But we needed a raft, ala Tom Sawyer. Her mother was studying to be a librarian and her daughter, as a consequence, was quite literate, more so than I.

“We’re going to cross the ocean on a raft?!” I exclaimed. Undaunted by the lack of materials needed, she appropriated a neighbor’s rowboat. Wrestling me into a life preserver, we boarded our “raft” and set sail down the river to make our way to the Atlantic Ocean and on to Africa, where fortune awaited us.

Luckily, a neighbor spotted us. Jumping up and down on the riverbank, he finally persuaded her to head for shore. With a tisk, she steered us in. The neighbor scolded my quite-unfazed companion and looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.

“You!” he thundered. “I expect it of G. But you should know better!” Her picture must certainly have been in the dictionary of the day under the word “scamp.”

G. was as little fazed by the technicalities of the law, and such inconvenient matters as property rights. She inveigled me to hoist her up (being that, though I was younger, I was taller) to the branches of another neighbor’s apple tree that she might partake of the forbidden fruit.

The neighbor came roaring out. Being a coward, I dashed off for the bushes, leaving the hapless G. dangling from the branch. He got her down and then threw the apples at us, effectively chasing us off. She scrupled not to scoop them up, as I protested.

“Well, at least we got our apples,” she said.

G. was quickly developing a taste for purloining even more tempting fruit, such as lipsticks out of the local drugstore. Being manhandled into an oar-less rowboat or stealing apples out of a tree were bad enough, but criminal activity (however minor) was a line I didn’t wish to cross.

She was becoming a little too imaginative. I felt I’d been brought up better than she had, although her parents were unaware of her activities. When I refused to become her partner in crime at the drugstore, we actually got into a wrestling match that got us removed from the store.

It was very embarrassing. I told her mother about it and her father beat her. My own mother said I shouldn’t have tattled.

That was the least of poor G.’s secrets, though. There was a much more devastating secret she was harboring. One which I did not reveal to her mother, but hinted at to my own. Being friends themselves, my mother evidently shared her knowledge with G.’s mother.

Eventually, a divorce ensued, although the damage was done.

G. lived in a dream world and idolized her father. Her parents had separated earlier, but during this time period, her returned. Her imaginary, adventurous world I suppose was her way of dealing with the harsh realities of her life.

What else could she do but pretend that her life was one of picnics and sunshine and rainbows? (My family rarely went on picnics together. It was difficult to tear my father away from his Sunday New York Times.)

They were fairy tales at which I, ever the cynical realist, scoffed at.

Meanwhile, it was becoming more and more difficult for us to get together, and more difficult for me than G. to accept a false vision of her home life. She was always terrified of him, for all her depictions of the beau ideal of family life.

If we were playing together somewhere and he approached, she’d quickly put an end to our games, saying that her father was coming and that we had to go someplace else. She would never tell me why.

At last, as we were playing with our dolls one afternoon – our mothers were off on a shopping expedition, leaving us in the care of her father – she showed me what her real life was like.

“Do you ever sleep in bed with your father?” she asked.

“What do you mean? Are you crazy?” I responded. “My father doesn’t even let me in their bedroom, much less the bed. If I come in, he gets mad and orders me back to my room.”

Then, using our Barbie dolls, she demonstrated what sort of activities occurred in her father’s bedroom, when her mother was away, as she was that afternoon. Shocked, I stopped her.

“What are you doing?!” I cried. “Stop that!” She just looked at me sadly. At that moment, her father came out and ordered her to his bedroom, where he had her change into a white nightgown.

Hearing her weeping later, in her own room, I asked her solicitously if she was all right. She said she just didn’t feel like playing right then. Meanwhile, I was assaulted by sarcastic and malicious epithets from her brothers and sister, their voices muffled by their closed bedroom doors.

I was told to mind my own business, to go home, that I wasn’t welcome there, and that they had never liked me. Go home? Though my heart was pierced by these revelations, I was only too glad to go back to my own, proper home and particularly my own, infinitely superior father.

In such ways are wrongs perpetrated and perpetuated, protected and protracted. The brave are banished and castigated by the weak and the wicked.

Finally, those school ties of which I spoke were asserting themselves. Naturally, G. was making other friends and spending more time with them. Not only was it harder to convince my mother nowadays to take me to visit my friend, but more difficult to get onto G.’s social schedule.

My mother advised me not to go to her house without calling first. But I was shy and couldn’t bring myself to beg an invitation. I was rejected all the time and couldn’t bear to risk rejection from her. In any case, as G. always made the decisions and vetoed mind, I could only expect that she’d reject any invitation I made.

G. had also always been in the lead. She had the power in the relationship. Mostly, that didn’t bother me. I generally enjoyed following where she led. She was a fun and entertaining companion.

However, it was always her way or the highway. One time, when we were riding bikes, I wanted to go one way and she, the other.

“Well, I’m not going that way,” she announced and rode off. Either I followed her, or I would go alone. Being of an independent mind, I did go the other way. A most prophetic decision.

I arrived unannounced, against my mother’s advice, at her house, and received the response I should have expected, the very rejection I had feared. I was told that I should have called first, and did I think I was her only friend, and that she should drop everything just to play with me?

Undiplomatically, I pointed out that since she and I seldom saw one another, and she saw her other friends all the time, maybe she should consider it. Or at the very least, invite me along with the others.

But her new best friend, J., a tough, pudgy, common-looking girl, instantly negatived this suggestion and their gang (I use the word advisedly) thuggishly supported it, physically blocking me from even tagging along. Unbelievably, they balled their little fists and menaced me.

G. made no effort to intercede on my behalf. Petite and dainty, perhaps she was in no position to do so. Or maybe she enjoyed this vulgar demonstration of support. She’d met her match, all right, and found a friend even more domineering than herself.

I’d abased myself to no good end and got, no doubt, the rebuke I deserved. Embarrassed, I had to call my mother to come and get me again, who reproved me for inviting myself without checking first.

It’s worth noting here that men roll their eyes at the notion of best female friends, with good reason. Although I was an outcast at school, I didn’t exist in a vacuum. I’d witnessed countless acts of feminine cruelty.

Little girls tended to change best friends as often as they changed day of the week hankies, taking up the new and tossing off the old over their shoulders without glancing back to see where the wreckage had landed.

It was of no moment to me; I was no one’s best friend. But I remember witnessing the formation of one such alliance, as the new best friends, their eyes alight, went off arm and arm, in each other’s confidence, leaving behind a former friend of one of theirs crushed in their vicious wake.

My heart went out to that unfortunate little girl, young as I was. The look on her face as she (and I, an unintended witness, standing unseen a discreet distance behind her) watched them go off was a study in innocent pain, her eyes yearning after one or the other of the pair.

The memory of that little girl’s heartache served me well in my own trial, watching G.’s and her new best friend’s faces light up in the same way, flouncing off together in the same manner. In a moment I understood it was simply the heartless nature of little girls. I was hardly the first.

There was nothing for it; there never was and never will be. Little girls, and their adult counterparts, also have a web of unwritten rules about that term, “best friend.” It must be used absolutely in the strictest terms of mutual consent.

Use it about someone who does not feel mutually inclined and they will give you a stricken, terrified stare, like a cat caught in a cage, and they may even circle the cage upside-down, looking for the escape route in their panic.

Women consider it an affrontery of the worst sort, a first-class breach of feminine etiquette, to declare someone is your best friend if that honor has not been bestowed upon you, if it’s an honor they don’t wish to claim. Facebook is the electronic-age manifestation of that rule.

For myself, I always use the phrase “one of my favorite friends”. It absolves the recipient of any sort of commitment, saves them from being placed upon an unnatural, superlative pedestal, and yet gives you all the power you need to declare who your friends are.

Whether they like it or not. They might view the term suspiciously, wondering what it means exactly. But what’s it to them or what are they going to do about it if they’re one of your favorite friends? They’re simply part of a casual collection, that’s all.

But for the fact that I saw at first glance that this new girl, of whom I was as contemptuous as she was disgusted by me, was considerably beneath G’s maturity level - I didn’t consider it my business.

Had she been pleasant, kind, well-mannered, had she welcomed me, stranger though I was, I would have philosophically accepted my place in the pecking order. I might have even have been glad that G. found such a companion, my being too far away to be of help to her.

G.’s companionship was of the sort that no matter where you were on the roller coaster train, you were guaranteed an excellent adventure.

(Here I may be romanticizing and giving G. more credit than is her due. She was literate, intelligent, and a good student, but I’m not certain how deep she actually was. She seemed more inclined to dream than to think. A superficial friend may, in fact, have suited her better.)

G. was superior to this girl in one virtue, at least, and that was in her kindness, at least up until that point. I blame this girl, but the responsibility was G.’s – she was the hostess and had to take the blame.

Anyway, as it was, I saw at once, in this girl’s reception of me, that she was arrogant, provincial, brutish, superficial, and vicious beyond description – a total peasant in my notions of society, probably the descendants of the former hog-farmers who once populated this valley.

This was the girl’s pedigree, was it? This was how her parents raised her? This was her attitude, and that of her other friends with her, glaring at me, poised in solidarity, their little fists clenched? The little dears.  Sugar and spice and everything nice.

Well, we were in the neighborhood of the river, known to be the worst part of this small town, with the lowest grade of people. Perhaps this was what came of playing amongst the river rats.

Later, I would come to know her, and found she had developed no more understanding over the years of our mutual friend’s nature (or problems) than she had at nine, nor had her manners improved significantly. Oh, she observed the basic customs of etiquette, but she was conceited still. She glossed herself over with makeup and nail polish, but she might as well have painted lipstick on a pig.

Because of the other associations between myself and this woman, I had to mind my own manners and guard against the bite of jealousy, to which I was as susceptible as anyone else. In engaging in her conversation about our friend with whom she had the privilege of growing up, she was herself as possessive – and as ignorant - as ever. I hated her for her role in all this.

If this girl’s friendship had one virtue, besides proximity, it was her father, whom I would come to know quite well. Though this was a decidedly down-scale neighborhood, he was a prosperous, local businessman and Boy Scout leader, respected and loved by all his scouts.

In short, like my father, he was another example of an excellent, educated man and good father for G. to witness and keep in mind in the future (in yet another irony, it was his apples we had pilfered). Had he known about his daughter’s behavior, I think he would have been appalled, as was G.’s mother.

I confessed to her that I had come without invitation and that G. had castigated me. But why I was standing there in the driveway, she wanted to know? Why didn’t I follow them, go with them? I tried, I told her, but they wouldn’t let me.

G.s mother was so very kind and gracious. She always was. I liked G.’s mother immensely. She invited me to stay. She said that while I should have called, my mistake didn’t rate being treated that way and she would certainly speak to G. about it when she came home.

However, I’d seen more than I admitted to G.s mother. I thanked her for her hospitality, but that I really wanted to go home.

I had more respect for G. than to dictate to her, evidently more than she guessed, and there was the true wound – that she didn’t know me any better than to think I could feel threatened by her choice of friends (especially that one - that was an insult in itself).

That she thought I expected her to sacrifice all her other friendships for my sake.

As for selecting this particular friend (her very good parents notwithstanding – let this be no indictment of J. and B.), what could G. do, growing up in such a town as this, anyway? The choices for companions were severely limited. My only business was to accept what was, as my no-nonsense, journalist parents had taught me.

Reflecting on my faux pas, I had done so because I knew what G’s answer would be. Ever the realist, I saw what sort of future lay in store with this changing relationship. I had foolishly suspended my belief in reality and indulged in a fantasy.

There was no need for any dramatic denouement, in my little girl opinion. The matter was really very easily resolved, or so I thought.

As she evidently didn’t really care (I felt rather like an old, unwanted shoe), it was simply a matter of not writing or calling her anymore. It was not that I blamed or reviled her, other than for being too bossy (which I told her) though my feelings were hurt.

Matters were proceeding naturally and will me, nil me, I felt it was my duty to accept what was. Would I thrust upon my friend the same loneliness and isolation I experienced? Or just let her go on to make whatever friends suited her and be done with it?

My mother repeatedly asked me why I never called G. or wrote to her anymore (we were great pen-pals, both being inclined towards reading, writing, and music). I stubbornly refused to answer. At this point, I felt it was none of my mother’s business and to explain would only invite further useless and painful criticism.

The matter was settled in my mind, but not apparently in G.’s. That’s when she showed up at my house on her bicycle. This was not what I had expected at all, or wanted. I wasn’t one to play games, to manipulate some sort of scene.

I meant business and now I was forced into the position of inflicting further pain not only upon myself, but her as well. To me, there was just no other choice, though. While I expressed surprise and dismay at her journey, and relented in my stubborn silence long enough to point out how dangerous it was (“But I love riding my bike,” said she. “You know that.”), I’d had enough.

I was beyond words by then, or the reach of any mitigating compromises. I wanted her to go home and leave me alone. She remained in our living room quite a long time before coming up to see me on her own, after my mother’s entreaties on her behalf failed.

In my defense, I can only say that I had enough problems and sorrow, at school though not at home (where for G., it was the reverse); I didn’t need to compound them. I sought relief from them with G. (I was as happy and content in our escapist adventures as she) and found it for awhile, but my Elysium had been usurped and now I was no better off than I had ever been.

Finally, after saying some words I never even heard, she did leave. After she went, I asked myself if I really knew what I was doing and if there wasn’t some other way. Still, the answer was “no.” I’d passed my breaking point and couldn’t return. Things would not change, I feared, but only worsen.

My father insisted on my mother packing up G.s bicycle in the trunk of our car and taking her home. I was so proud of my father that day. He was what a father ought to be. Not perfect, maybe. A little too stern and silent sometimes, unapproachable. But a thoroughly good man.

I considered myself a lucky daughter.

G. would not be back. Heartbroken, I cried and cried that afternoon. I only saw her once more, at my father’s funeral. My brother’s girlfriend and I were doing something when we looked up and there she was.

That she came was such a tribute to my father. She said that she’d been extremely jealous of me, that he had been nothing like her own father.

Looking back, I was probably right in my unhappy assessment. With her parents’ eventual divorce (and it wasn’t long in coming – my mother had passed on the information I gave her), her situation would have improved and she would have found herself on a more normal footing with the other girls at school.

She would no longer need escapist adventures or a fellow traveler in them. I often speculate how long, had things gone on as they were going, it would have taken for childish fantasies to give way to the stronger effects of drugs or alcohol. As far as I ever heard, that did not happen.

I like to think that’s my legacy towards her as a friend. I played a role in relieving her of her father’s “company.” Once he was gone, she could live happily ever after, though I would not be at her side to see it or share that happiness with her. Fate had set us too far apart.

The train indeed went on to other stations.

At dinner that night upon hearing the tale, my father was less impressed with G.’s spirit than my mother and commanded me to never do such a thing. The narrow and shoulderless Hamburg Turnpike was no place for a little girl on a bicycle, he pronounced. He preferred sense to spirit.

G. was succeeded by a line of best female friends, all but one ending worse than the next. In my Thirties, yet another female friendship having gone down in flames, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t cut out for best female friendships.

I knew that men – my brothers, male friends, and so forth - rolled their eyes at the vagaries of female friendships. I was beginning to see why.

Ironically, the one that has lasted, was tested by that friend’s move to California (the same place where my friend G. wound up moving). The friendship with her has been an adult friendship, mercifully.

I babysat her children. She was a beautiful young woman. As she would dress up for dates with her husband, I was reminded of princesses and prom queens. She was not your typical prom queen. She was sweet and good-natured and everyone loved her (and still does).

She was no snob. She wanted to be friends with everyone, as many different types of people as she could cram into her schedule. She told me once the conditions of her friendship.

“As long as you don’t mind the fact that I have a lot of friends, not to mention KIDs and a husband, and that the bus is a bit crowded and sometimes I’m busy but will try to make time for you, you’re welcome to jump aboard!”

Glad news and exactly what I wanted to hear! It was all and everything I wanted or could ask - nothing more - and we’ve been friends ever since.

Even that friend and I have trouble keeping in touch. That is only the result of busy schedules, though. I’m determined not to make the mistake with her that I made with G. (if mistake it was). Sometimes, even she would vex me with tales of all her best friendships (it seems to be a common female failing).

Having learned the lesson of G., though, I wisely let such taunts pass.

She recently sent me – and all her other friends – an e-mail about how we’re all her best friends. It was such a sweet e-mail, really. However, I know her true best friend, who is deserving of the title in every respect. I babysat her children as I babysat my friend’s, while they still all lived in New Jersey.

This friend of hers is the epitome of best friend and if there were a title of Best Friend of the Century, I would post the nomination myself on my friend’s behalf. If she were ever to forget who her best friend is and all she’s done for her, ever turn her back on JK to flounce off with some new “best friend”, hurting her, I would gladly take my friend’s princess wand and conk her on the head with it.

I wrote my friend and told her as much. But I fear she may have misunderstood the note and I intend to e-mail her as soon as I have the chance to make sure there is no misunderstanding. Still, some gulf could come between them, too, perhaps of the other friend’s generation.

She has asked me to keep in touch, despite three thousand miles of continent between us, and I intend to keep faith with this friend, at least. I don’t intend to tear up the tracks to this other, California friend, though. Between hearts, there are no miles; only fond memories.

You know, the thing is, you don’t want to sound like you need therapy or that 40 years after the fact you haven’t moved on from a childhood relationship. Intellectuals call it psychological “backing up” as though they’re talking about an overflowing toilet and you’re in danger yourself of overflowing like a weeping bathtub, and that that beeping signal that trucks make when they’re in reverse is warning others to clear the area.

It’s not like that. It’s more like you’re busy doing stuff, you have a lot of activities and a lot of work to do, housework and otherwise, and you go to put something away in the attic. But you keep tripping over this stupid trunk with all these old photographs and letters in it.

You don’t want to get rid of the trunk because some of the memories inside are valuable. But some are bitter and you keep tripping over this thing and you wind up using color metaphors.

“Rattzenfratzen, full of fratzen trunk [to quote the old Fred Flintstone cartoon)! One of these days, I’m gonna get rid of this stupid thing!”

But of course you don’t. You don’t really want to do such a callous and pettish thing. Still, you keep stumbling over the stupid trunk and stubbing your toe (the same toe) on it. It’s annoying the hell out of you, and it seems determined to keep on annoying you, managing to force you to trip over it until you finally open it up again and figure out what was wrong.

So, while this is a political blog, once in awhile you have to take that trip down memory lane, and hope you can find something that’s relevant to what’s going on today.

Fortunately for my faithful readers, who might rightly fear that this is turning into a weepy, treacly women’s column – the Belle Sog-Blog – full of maudlin sentimentality, complete with straining violins - there are political lessons for America in this tale of a friendship gone wrong.

Yeah, okay. So it’s today. Get over it. Deal with it. Move on with your life.

It’s today. Right - got it. And in today’s headlines is news that the Muslims will be building a state-of-the art mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. Say, what?! Muslims who, to the last imam, despise Israel and blamed our relationship with that country for the 9/11 attacks that brought down the Twin Towers, are building their worship center that close to that sad and venerated location?

And no one has a problem with it? Certainly not the blame-America’s-relationship-with-Israel-for- 9/11 Truthers crowd. Dump Israel, and they’ll be satisfied; they promise they’ll never launch a plane into another building or set off another car bomb in Times Square.

They promise they’ll be our best friends.

Yeah, right. The supporters of this mosque can stand upon the U.S. Constitution, civil rights, and political correctness all they want. They can protest that those attacks had nothing to do with the true tenets of Islam (not that anyone really believes them).

But like the parents of a wayward child who’s created mischief or a gaffe, they’re going to have to own up to their “children’s” mistake and take responsibility for it. They need to back off and build their mosque somewhere else, far, far away from Ground Zero.

They have, though, the confidence and support of the new leader of the gang, Barack Obama, who’s busy sweeping our long-standing relationship with Israel under the rug, disavowing all ties to that relationship and establishing new relationships with their enemies.

When Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu came to visit at the White House, Obama left him in the middle of dinner when it appeared that he was not going to get what he wanted. He stomped off in a huffy, hissy fit, a tantrum worthy of the most sulky elementary school prima donna.

America should beware of leaving its old friend, Israel, sitting on the curb while it jaunts off with the “new friends.” She should be cautious in heeding their pugnacious calls to abandon that friendship. Threats, intimidation, and manipulation ought to give America pause.

Loyalty should be able to stand the test of “new friends” (Liberals and the American media) who seek to dismantle and discourage that older friendship. Both jealously advance their deceitful and malevolent agendas, and certainly will do all they can to discourage other friends who would enlighten and defend the innocent.

Often, the righteous stand alone, and victims are isolated from the truth. Who would abandon a friend so beset and abused? Would we leave Israel to dangle from the apple tree while we cower in the underbrush? Is the price of the apples she covets death? Shall we leave her to an ignomonious fate because the wolves howl at those who would come to her aid?

She’s independent and has more courage than we do. Would we reject the hand of friendship she rides so far to proffer against all odds, misplaced pride blinding us to our own injustice towards her? Are we as faithful to freedom as we think we are?

Or is the world’s opinion so precious to us that we would purchase it at the cost of truth and honesty? Do we also prop up humbug with socialistic visions of a utopian new world order, expecting Israel (and the few other truly democratic nations left) to blindly subscribe to it?

Is that little country’s spirit, whose obstacles and challenges dwarf ours, greater than our own? Its dream of liberty more substantial? Its adherence to the ideals of freedom and democracy more steadfast? Still, in proferring the hand of friendship and amelioration, we must take care that it’s not offered at a price the other can’t afford to give.

What compromise would we ask of Israel? How far should we go in exerting our authority over her? Is it our way or the highway for Israel?

If so, should we be surprised if one day she decides she’s had enough and strikes out on her own, letting the train leave the station and forever after tearing up the tracks until we’ve reached a point of no return and, only when it’s years too late, mourn the relics of that relationship?

Or worse, shrug our shoulders at its demise, the leader of the gang (Obama) triumphant at relegating the memory of its once-greatness to a musty historical museum?

Obama is busy pulling up the tracks. He won’t regret it – but one day, we may.

Friday, May 07, 2010

A Grand Old Flag

I’ve always been fond of patriotic songs. As a girl, I could sing them by heart.

Upon hearing the news yesterday that a high school in California had punished a group of students for wearing American flag tee shirts on Cinco de Mayo, I wanted to jump up from my desk and sing “This is My Country” with them in solidarity.

Bravo to columnist Michelle Malkin for calling that high school administrator out in her column, stating that instead of lecturing the students on the potential for causing violence by wearing controversial tee shirts, maybe the students offended by the display of the American flag should have been lectured about threatening violence to those with whom you disagree.

The last time I checked, California was still part of the United States. Mexico lost the Mexican War and they’re just going to have to deal with it. The American flag, not the Mexican flag, flies over that high school. Or does it?

Did the school pull down their American flag and run up the Mexican flag to appease their Mexican students pining for the “old country”? Did they sing the Mexican National Anthem that morning instead of the Star Spangled Banner?

My great-grandparents came from Germany. Although they brought with them some of the customs of the old country, German recipes and so forth, the first custom they abandoned was speaking German in favor of the language of their adopted country.

They didn’t come here to conquer America, as the Mexican immigrants obviously intend to do. Germany wasn’t all that great; that’s why they left. Mexico isn’t all that great, either. One only has to look at their headlines to know it: Mexico City is the murder capital of the world.

Phoenix is becoming the kidnapping capital of the United States. What does that tell people about the illegal immigrants, who are here illegally, the operative word here being “illegal.”

When they’re finally here, and made citizens of this country without earning it, are they then going to abide by our laws, magically and all of a sudden? Are they going to begin speaking English? Are they going to salute the American flag?

Or are they going to run up the Mexican flag and continue in their old habits of murder, kidnapping, and stealing? Will they bankrupt and corrupt our country as they have their own, and when they’re through destroying our country, move on like locusts to Canada and parts beyond?

This holiday, it turns out, isn't even about Mexican independence (Sept. 16th is Mexican Independence Day - thank you, Rush Limbaugh, for that info!).  It's a cultural heritage holiday created by a beer company.  Ironically, the event around which this holiday revolves was the invasion of Mexico by France, and Mexico's victory in that battle.

They have no problem invading other people's countries, though.

We Americans are proud of our flag in a way no citizens of any other country are. For other citizens, their flag represents a plot of land, family and tribal connections, a favorite ethnic dish or ancient custom.

Our flag is about more than our beautiful land. Old Glory is about an idea – that people can determine their own destiny, that they can make their own laws that will protect them from royalty, military dictators, and invaders (Mexicans, take note).

Our flag represents freedom. Our flag even has its own holiday, not always universally observed, a minor holiday (like Cinco de Mayo in Mexico). But it has one. On June 14, 2001, I paraded up and down the hallways at work with an American flag in each hand to remind my co-workers of the importance of the day.

They laughed genially and encouraged me in my patriotic fervor.

After 9/11, they joined me in that fervor. Waving the American flag became the popular fashion and it hasn’t faded, as evidenced by the boys in that California high school.

Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes. Long may she wave!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Montezuma's Revenue

That title was supposed to be Montezuma’s Revenge, but sometimes typos happen for a reason. Anyway, Happy Cinco de Maio, plus one.

I’ve been wondering when Fox News is going to grow a spine and stand up to these immigration activists? They seem to have caught the racism disease, afraid any refutation of allowing millions of illegal Mexican immigrants into the U.S. and granting them instant citizenship somehow translates into racism.

Just a few facts would settle the matter.

In 1845, Texas voted to become part of the United States (a prescient move on their part). The next year, the Mexican War began when Mexican immigrants settled on this side of the border in a passive-aggressive attempt to bring Texas back into the Mexican fold.

Mexico was completely unable to govern the vast Spanish-held territories north of its border, up to and including California. The country had neither the resources, the population, nor the political experience to manage such a vast expanse of land, and the United States did.

Californians are vowing to boycott the state of Arizona. This threat comes from a financially and morally bankrupt state with the highest population of illegal immigrants, the greatest number of tax-paying defectors from its own borders (particularly businesses), and the highest debt in the nation.

It is also a state notorious for its advocacy of drug use, among other immoral activities.

Are we supposed to be impressed? Or quaking in our boots? Are we actually supposed to “return” allegedly “stolen” territory to a corrupt, bankrupt country? Are we supposed to pretend that these are law-abiding citizens (whose first act is to violate our immigration laws)?

Wake up, America, and Fox News: it’s all about the drugs.

On April 12, the State Department issued an updated warning about Mexico, particularly the northern border states.

According to the State Department website:

“While millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year (including tens of thousands who cross the land border daily for study, tourism or business and nearly one million U.S. citizens who live in Mexico), violence in the country has increased. It is imperative that U.S. citizens understand the risks in Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and who to contact if victimized. Common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where prostitution and drug dealing might occur, can help ensure that travel to Mexico is safe and enjoyable.

“Recent violent attacks have prompted the U.S. Embassy to urge U.S. citizens to delay unnecessary travel to parts of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua states (see details below) and advise U.S. citizens residing or traveling in those areas to exercise extreme caution. Drug cartels and associated criminal elements have retaliated violently against individuals who speak out against them or whom they otherwise view as a threat to their organizations. These attacks include the abduction and murder of two resident U.S. citizens in Chihuahua.

“Mexican drug cartels are engaged in violent conflict - both among themselves and with Mexican security services - for control of narcotics trafficking routes along the U.S.-Mexico border. To combat violence, the Government of Mexico has deployed military troops throughout the country. U.S. citizens should cooperate fully with official checkpoints when traveling on Mexican highways.”

The warning goes on to caution that the powerful drug dealers – with armies or militias the size of small states – will kill anyone who gets in their way or even voices opposition to them.

The state of Arizona has made the mistake of enforcing illegal immigration laws and wrought the ire of Liberal and immigration activists nationwide. Unlike the Tea Parties, they’ve caused riots and committed vandalism.

They fly under the banner of righteous indignation against racism and mask their true colors. California, in particular, is up in arms. The Golden State has more illegal Mexican immigrants than any other state in the nation, and also has a bad reputation for drug abuse.

San Francisco has issued a boycott of all things Arizona. “Weed, the People” is their creed.

Unfortunately, Fox News gave more coverage to the May Day rallies than they deserved. Obviously well-organized and well-funded, they dictated the agenda, placing all the blame on “racist” Americans who insist that immigrants to this country earn the privilege (what's the saying:  the best defense is a good offense?).

It’s no coincidence that California leads the way in another legalization effort – the push to legalize marijuana. They tout it as a harmless drug, no different, no more “addictive” than cigarettes or alcohol. Their political action organizations have produced many “scientific” studies dispelling the notion that this drug is harmful, except for its carcinogenic properties.

Among the many proponents of the legalization of pot is our old nemesis, George Soros. Glenn Beck, take note. Reportedly a former cocaine addict (?), Glenn could probably add real drug education to his education agenda. If anyone can wake America up, it’s Glenn.

A pot proponent once challenged me to use the stuff. “How do you know what it’s like if you don’t try it?” went the sneering argument.

“I don’t need to try it to know what its effects are,” I replied. “I can see what it’s done to you.”

How anyone can not see that they’re being sold a bill of goods with marijuana is just beyond me. They might as well take that $20 bill and light it up. You could say the same thing, of course, about cigarettes and booze. But then again, I don’t do those, either.

I can think of better ways to waste my money.

The appeal to Liberals is obvious. We know they’re hopeless. I can’t understand Conservatives who do this stuff, though. Don’t they realize they’re helping to fund the Liberal agenda? And create that army of mind-numbed robots Rush Limbaugh always speaks of?

The first thing to go when smoking pot is the judgment center. It’s practically instantaneous. And because there are no after affects, as with booze (hangovers) and cigarettes (cancer), it’s hard to convince users what’s wrong with it.

It’s very simple – the stuff turns you into a simple-minded idiot. Just add water, and poof – you’re a fool. You turn your brains into instant oatmeal. You’ll agree to anything, anytime, anywhere. And because that’s the only seeming side affect, you’re good to go the next time.

Some people go on to bigger and badder stuff. Others don’t. It’s strictly a game of Russian Roulette. People just can’t seem to resist playing chicken, to see who blinks first. Yeah, go ahead, take another toke, Dude. It won’t kill ya. Heh, heh, hehhh.

And if you go voting for someone like Obama, it’s just a big bonus. For the Liberals. Now, they’ve not only got your money, but they’ve got your vote. You’ve fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker.

You don’t think illegal immigrants should be given amnesty, made instant citizens? Well, let’s think it over a little campfire weed. You’ll be seeing it their way in no time, you big goofball. It’s all in fun, like binge drinking.

Except, when you overdrink, you wake up with a hangover. When you do a few puffs, you wake up with a bunch of illegal immigrants for neighbors, armed with submachine guns to protect their drug trade.

And you’re doing the Mexican Hat Dance with them.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Home-Town Terrorists

Back in May 2000, we were on our way to a friend’s birthday party. She was my mother’s god-daughter. She and her brother were moving to Florida soon and wanted us to see how she re-decorated the house for sale. They were second-generation friends. Our mother and theirs had known each other since childhood.

It was a rather cool day on Memorial Day weekend. I had just come back from a parade and had to put on a vest to keep warm. Strange weather for the end of May.

We stopped at the gas station at the end of town. My older brother was driving, but it was our mother’s car. Fortuitously (as it turned out), he paid for the gas with his credit card, although my mother promptly handed him the cash.

My younger brother and I were in the back seat. I was nearer the pump island. Looking out, I noticed a man in a car on the other side of the pumps.

What a face he had! Malice and evil were etched into every lineament. This was not a face one was born with; one had to do a lot of hating to create such a face.

My older brother, it turned out, was staring, too. Suddenly, the Turkish gas station owner gave us a sharp reprimand, and my brother paid the bill. The man, meanwhile, was signing his credit card slip.

He said something in Arabic to the owner, to which the soothing response sounded something like, “Don’t worry; everything will be all right.”

As the other car drove away, I exclaimed to my younger brother, “Did you see that guy?! He looked just like a terrorist.”

My younger brother grimaced in agreement. Up front, my mother whipped her head around and cried out, “What? Who’s a terrorist? Where?!”

“Nobody’s a terrorist, Mom,” my older brother replied, sardonically. He started up the car and we drove on to the birthday party.

Yet there he was – after 9/11, I would recognize the man as Mohammed Atta – on the very Main Street I’d ridden up and down on bicycles with my best friend, the street I’d paraded on with my band, the road I’d spent my lifetime driving on.

About 14 months later, I was on a photography assignment – never mind where; the FBI doesn’t like to be reminded of past history. At the corner of the road I had to turn onto – and it forked off in two directions – stood what looked for all the world like construction workers, not terrorists.

They stood on one side of the fork; my destination was the other fork. As I made my turn, they suddenly sprang to life, running around in all directions. I wondered if the road was supposed to be blocked off for construction work.

If it was, there were no barriers, I thought. Meanwhile, this construction worker group was performing some very strange theatrics, running around in circles, waving their hands in the air, like Keystone Kops.

One short fellow ran blindly into a big, burly thug who threw Shortie off in annoyance. He then glared at me with stone-cold contempt.

Well! If that just didn’t top off the ice cream sundae. What on earth was that all about?

I won’t go into the rest of that particular adventure. What’s troublesome is these people are permitted to wander in and out of our country unchecked and unchallenged. Defended, even, by Liberals who accuse us of racism if we object.

Don’t mind those people behind the curtain, we’re told. Don’t even question them. Let the authorities handle it. That was sound advice in this instance, as the further adventure revealed.

They’re supposed to be handling it, at any rate. What are we average people supposed to do when we see Mohammed Atta at a local gas station, filling up? Call the FBI because he looked like a terrorist?

Turns out, that might not be a bad idea. Checking out the FBI website for mug-shots of these goons may just yield fruit. The authorities can’t be everywhere. In the Times Square incident, an alert bystander called the cops when he noticed something suspicious about that SUV.

It’s pretty easy to spot these people. It’s not so easy to spot their supporters here in the United States. We need to do background checks on the officials we elect purportedly to protect us, but who wind up protecting our enemies instead.

We citizens need to do better background checks on the Barack Obamas, the Hilary Clintons, the Barney Franks (he’s a financial terrorist, but when you see his background and associates, you wonder how anyone could have elected him).

We need a task force on terrorist politicians and the terrorist activities they furtively and tacitly succor. Their propaganda machine crows about home-grown terrorism, trying to distinguish between foreigners and naturalized citizens who come here with only one purpose in mind.

If we are to prevent future calamities, we don’t want to wait until the TUV (terrorist utility vehicle) is smoking away on 45th Street or find ourselves looking down a telephoto lens at the world’s most wanted terrorist guy.

We submit to thorough and embarrassing searches of ourselves at the airport, all in the name of political correctness, and still the terrorists slip the net. The Times Square terrorist was already onboard the plane, ready to take off for the Middle East.

The plane had to be brought back to the terminal to drag him off. Belatedly, he was put on the no-fly list and only caught at the last minute. Why wasn’t he being watched when he spent five months in Pakistan, learning to make fertilizer explosives?

We need to swivel our necks a little sooner and ask, “Who’s a terrorist guy?! Where?!”

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Birds of a Feather

Last week, I attended the Hispanic Federation’s 20th Anniversary gala at the Waldorf-Astoria. I was so uncomfortable and felt so out of place.

It wasn’t the fact that I was among people who spoke a different language than I did, were of a different race, or even that their politics differed from mine.

The problem was the men were all dressed in tuxedos and the ladies were all glammed up in evening dresses, wearing jewels and beautifully coiffed hair-dos. While I was dressed in business casual, as befitted my lowly position as a photographer.

I bemoaned the fact that I had not thought to perhaps purchase a female tuxedo, a ball gown being out of the question for the function which I had to perform. I apologized profusely to my hosts for not being properly attired.

But then I spotted them. People of my own kind.

They were behind the red-velvet ropes and brass poles. They were my kind of people. They were photographers. And they looked terrible, bless their hearts! They made me look like I was wearing a tuxedo.

The guy photogs were dressed in blue jeans and stadium jackets. The ladies were also in jeans and sweatshirts. One young lady was decked out in a furred vest, straight off the racks in So-Ho, I’m certain.

They clearly had no ambition to be invited to partake of the gold-plate dinner, which meant I wouldn’t have to, either. I would be free to jump back in my little SUV and return home to relax on my living room couch.

I have no veneration for high society. I am a veteran of countless admirals’ receiving lines. My grandfather, being an instructor at a government academy, often rubbed elbows with the elite of maritime and naval society. He had met President Roosevelt.

We, his grandchildren, were brought to these elaborate events that we might learn how to conduct ourselves with decorum in polite society. We were taught (by my mother, not my grandfather) the correct way to place our napkins, eat our soup, break our bread, return our utensils, and greet the admiral and company.

The training has come in handy in my current position. Being required to attend formal functions, I am literate in the ways of the elegant table, and have been known to prevent co-workers from committing the faux pas of cutting their bread with a knife.

I’ve held them back from taking the first bite before the hostess does. You don’t even pick up your utensils until she does. Each of these rituals is critically important in correct society. The unwary do not know their danger in making such mistakes.

Soup-slurpers beware: you are under surveillance and every mistake marks you as one of the bourgeoisie, the canaille, the rabble, the ragtag and bobtail, the four million.

Jacqueline Kennedy, a hostess famed for her coterie, was an amazing snob who would soothe the mortification of a guest who had committed a gaffe, and later rip that unfortunate guest to shreds after they had departed and she was alone with her own kind.

Oh, what sharp and pointed teeth these aristocrats possess. No hoodlum of the street ever wielded a more filed and vicious blade than their rapier tongues. With every virtue of good manners in evidence, they sit silently watching, holding their weapons in check until the opportune moment comes to slit their victim’s emotional gullet.

The participants at this particular dinner, I think, are not yet tutored in the ways of aristocracy. They only see the glittering chandeliers, the glamour of a well-appointed table, and the beauty of the women in their finery.

I’m no advocate of picking up your soup bowl and slurping down the contents, of course, or wiping your dripping chin with your sleeve. Ordinary, normal etiquette is an advantage in any society, whether you’re at McDonald’s or the Waldorf.

I simply become bitterly suspicious and contemptuous when those rules of etiquette are honed to a fine point of absurdity, whose only purpose can be ridicule. When a society draws its lines too closely, forcing its actors to balance on a tightrope of conformity, awaiting with anticipation a fall, good manners become bad manners, etiquette becomes caprice, and social occasions turn into warfare.

That’s when I abandon the battleground (as duty allows). I do find certain entertainment in watching the players, the home team, as it were, drawing an unwitting adversary into the breach.

But I painfully recall my first forays into childish society, being invited to my first birthday party, only to be berated by the other young guests for wearing a hand-me-down dress, all that my impoverished family could afford.

I soon liberated myself from this outrageous situation by dousing the hostess with the contents of my soda glass. Chaos ensued and I was promptly sent out to the garage to await my mother, who would take her uncouth, ill-mannered daughter home.

Naturally, I would never dream of committing such an act as an adult. But I avoid voluntary social situations – even lunch – at all costs. As a photographer, I’m welcome at functions, but obviously not being on the social list, I am absolved from the normal backbiting activities involved therein.

In any case, if it’s not wise to insult your hostess, it’s even more ill-advised to upset the photographer who’s holding the camera.

I’m still aghast and agog at Carrie Sheffield’s column in The Washington Times and write this blog with her in mind. Her obviously Republican (or is it Democrat) blue-blooded notions of propriety and demeanor take me back to the Admiral’s Receiving Line.

Her dismissal of the Tea Party activists, as though they were party-crashers at some affair of state with silver service and chandeliers, ought to raise eyebrows in a free society. She and the Liberal Media, to the manor born, prefer the salle a manger to the plebeian public square.

Shall all matters be decided in the privacy of aristocratic salons, where the privileged meet in seclusion? Wait – they already do that. That’s what the Tea Parties are protesting and I suppose Ms. Sheffield is Marie Antoinette dismissing the mobs at the gate out of hand, not imagining that they are clamoring to escort her (figuratively speaking) to Le Machine.

We eat cheeseburgers not pate de foie gras. We go to Little League games, not polo matches. We drive Fords not Merdes Benzes. We listen to Oprah not opera. We graduated from local colleges, not the Ivy League. Nevertheless, she underestimates the level of our education. And our resolve.

And we hold big Tea Parties, not little tea parties, where we hold up signs, not our little pinkies.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Rose of Brookside

Carrie Sheffield, writing a commentary in today’s Washington Times, complains that the Tea Party patriots are too common for her tastes and that their ‘antics’ are demeaning the good name of the Republican Party.

She notes that wise Republicans “want to keep the movement at arm’s length” like country bumpkins who smell of sweat and horse manure. She dubs them the not-ready-for-prime-time movement. Indeed, her own photograph is of a dainty-nosed debutante.

Her bio says she’s traveled to Berlin. But when was the last time she ventured outside the city of Boston. Or any other city?

Timothy Cahill, Massachusetts state treasurer and Democrat-party defector, she says, “seems to think the Tea Party movement is more than off-key, patriotic crooners and corny colonial outfits.” This statement appears to imply that she does not think so.

This mistress of public policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School was once a reporter for POLITICO, pointing clearly to her own political leanings.

Re-enactors are held in great esteem in the countryside she evidently finds so repulsive. Any Fourth of July parade would instantly contradict her definition of corny. There she would find characters in Uncle Sam costumes, walking on stilts, who could certainly be categorized as “corny.” Or maybe just funny. Humor; it’s a difficult concept, especially for intellectuals.

Not so corny are the Revolutionary and Civil War re-enactors. They preserve for us a history that Ms. Sheffield would probably just as soon we forget. A history she might perhaps define as “passé.” Or irrelevant.

Over 10,000 colonists died in the American Revolution. An irrelevant number by today’s population standards. Out of a population of somewhere under 3.9 million, it would have been somewhat more significant.

Over 750,000 died in the Civil War, combining the casualties on both sides. A somewhat larger number. By comparison, 75,000 U.S. soldiers ied in the 11-year Vietnam War. Another inconvenient statistic.

Ms. Sheffield is in good company in her distaste for the Revolutionary re-enactors.

In David McCullough's book, “1776,” Gen. George Washington, upon visiting the Boston encampment in 1776, was horribly dismayed at the filthy condition of his militia soldiers. He found it beneath him to even ride among these social outcasts.

The encampment was rife with unwashed masses, ignorance, and disease. Yet these common soldiers built an impressive fortress around Boston with nothing but their simple tools and mechanical ability.

This fortification helped enable the Continental Army to eventually drive the British out of Boston. Perhaps that’s not welcome news to the oh-so-refined Ms. Sheffield, who might wrinkle her nose at the thought of digging into the roots of American history.

Earthworks. Redoubts. Entrenching tools. Spades. Picks. Shovels. Lumber. Beams. Dirt. Slime. Mud.


Like the militia they represent, the re-enactors provide their own uniforms and weapons. They volunteer their time and serve to educate young people on life in a Revolutionary or Civil War unit.

There was no Internet during the Revolutionary War. No cell phones. No television. Letters home could take weeks. Meanwhile, the militia were away from their farms or shops, losing money every day they were out in the field.

You can just imagine the prim and proper Ms. Sheffield, with her little heart-shaped chin, plucked eyebrows, and perfect smile, cooking up a meal for her husband over an open campfire. Oh yes – there are not only soldier re-enactors, but re-enactor housewives and children.

Often, relatives would follow their soldiers’ regiments. They would form bands to provide music and morale for the troops. During battle, the musicians would have to lay down their instruments and pick up a rifle. Or dead and wounded bodies as medics.

Can you just see Ms. Sheffield playing the part of Molly Pitcher, the New Jersey housewife who took up her husband’s position at the cannon when he fell in battle?

Finally, she laughs haughtily at the "patriotic crooners singing off-key."  I recall a Fourth of July parade I played in some years ago in Brookside (Mendham), N.J.

My band was scheduled to play the Star Spangled Banner. But we were asked (politely) to stand down to allow a 13 year-old young lady to sing the national anthem a capella. I presume the Boston-bred Ms. Sheffield understands that term.

A capella (for you country bumpkins whom Ms. Sheffield disdains, that means “unaccompanied”) is a certain invitation for off-key notes, snickering, and cringing. We experienced musicians stood at attention, nervously awaiting the dreaded musical calamity.

Which never occurred. The young lady sang the song perfectly, in as pure a tone as you’re ever likely to hear. Her notes caught the morning rays and pealed out across the nearby meadows, fields, and brooks (for which Brookside is named), over its homely church steeple and firehouse, and skirted the treetops and the rather expensive suburban homes, as sweet as the dew that clung to the nearby roses.

Her voice reminded you of those patriotic (and hackneyed, Ms. Sheffield?) musings that invoke images of fields of waving wheat, and fruited plains, of oceans white with foam. Of broad cornfields, vast rivers, eagles soaring over mountaintops, and American flags waving in the breeze.

Of hometowns like Brookside. And glistening cities like New York, San Francisco, and yes, Boston. Of everything that is good about America. You could imagine people in all those places, stopping in their farm fields, in their cities, on riverboats on the Mississippi and on horse ranches in the West, to listen to her voice.

This slip of girl was that good. And only thirteen. She was also of Vietnamese descent, if I recollect rightly. Not the sort of immigrant stock who makes for good America-bashing, being that the Vietnamese refugees fled the “glories” of Communism. And here this kid was singing the National Anthem. Where’s a good Mexican illegal immigrant when you need them?

The band had just a moment more below the reviewing stand before the drumbeat marched us off. But it was long enough to overhear the girl ask her teacher if she did all right.

The teacher laughed and assured her she did more than “all right.” As we marched off, the band broke decorum to give her an old-fashioned shout of “hooray!”, nodding and giving her the thumbs-ups as we passed by.

(Yes, Ms. Sheffield, it was the modern day "Hooray!" not the 18th Century "Huzzah!")

The Tea Party patriots’ homespun activities are not what has doomed the Republican Party’s fortunes, nor what will sabotage its future.

It’s the manicured snobbery of newspaper roses like Ms. Sheffield that will put the Grand Old Party in its political grave.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Keeping Up Appearances

My apologies to my faithful fans. You’re a handful, but you’re all I’ve got!

Last week was a hectic week, and one thing led to another. Because I had a photo engagement at the Waldorf-Astoria, I had to drop one of my band rehearsals off my schedule. Charles being more persnickety than Roger, I had to skip Tuesday night band rehearsal.

Only we had a concert this weekend. Because I wasn’t there at rehearsal, I didn’t get all my music. Since I then only had two numbers to play, I spent more time photographing the event than playing for it.

Which was a lucky thing because it was a gorgeous (if very hot for May) day, and I got some lucky shots in that I wouldn’t have been able to take if I’d been playing. Besides, while most of the band got to play in the shade, I was stuck out in the sun, and when you have silver bells playing in the sun is not something you want to do.

At least not without those special dark glasses that welders wear.

I had all sorts of things I wanted to write about the Waldorf and the illegal immigration rhubarb, my brother’s gal-friend’s exceptional cooking skills, and today’s concert and why small-town America is so important.

Having to take so many photos forced me to finally download long-neglected photos from my card, some from last summer at the N.J. Firemen's Parade ins Wildwood. So here are some photos to share.

This young lady is a talented musician – and chatterbox.  

So is this young lady.  If I had two advanced degrees in the biological sciences, I wouldn’t be able to shut up, either. She graduated h.s. at 16 and college, at 19. Advanced education pays. Minorities, please take note. She’s also an exceptional photog.

Speaking of photographers, I sure was glad to see these folks at the Waldorf-Astoria. More on this tomorrow.

A perfect day for a
photo-op. A co-worker
had just been mentioning
that I should get out in the
sun more and take photos.

My poor neglected bells are off to the right here. Mercifully, most of the band got to sit in the shade. Only the poor, long-suffering percussion section got stuck out in the sun. Well, our courageous director, Roger, sucked it up.

A Civil War re-enactor
showed me some “vacation”
pictures from a re-enactment
his group took part in in
North Carolina. The photo
in his hand got a little
flashed-out, but it’s a tinfoil
type of his group.

Pequannock’s mayor and town council pledging their allegiance at the dedication of their train station, which now serves as the historical museum.

Congressman Rodney
Frelinghuysen made a
brief appearance.

In the background is where
the railroad used to run and
where my bcf Gracie and I
and our siblings used to hike.

And of course, we mustn’t forget about the band!

Our “Trombone Kings”! Dave, in the back
there, is looking a little worried. He and
I are in a friendly contest to see who can
take more photos of the band. But he’s
got a lot of catching up to do; I’ve been
at it a lot longer than he has. And I’ve
got a bigger camera. 

This fellow has at least
seven tubas at home, in
addition to his other
brass instruments, and one
very strange-looking
double-bell euphonium
he made himself. One
day, he’ll start his own
tuba museum.

And finally, our percussion section.


Pete (on bass drum)

and Re-Pete (on cymbals)

The cross and the horn on this re-enactor's hat meant that he would have done triple-duty during the Civil War. He was a rifleman, a musician, and a medic. The Bloomingdale Cornet Band was formed 20 years after the Civil War, in 1884. However, such town bands had their basis in regimental bands that were formed to follow the troops into action.

Often populated by relatives of the soldiers, the regimental bands served their regiments as musical marching units and for morale. When they weren’t playing, they were often fighting and also served as medics during and after the battle.

Today, some of our band members still do double-duty as musicians and EMS technicians.  And some of us do double-duty as musicians and photographers!