March 2009

Someone’s Mother 50% Off

I spent last Saturday as a day of art and artifacts, walking the Winter Park Art Fair in the morning before heading north to Mount Dora’s Renniger’s Antique Market. This year’s Winter Park Art Fair, the 50th, was a markedly improved collection of artists. For whatever the reasons, the quality of art was an upgrade over previous years. A sincere thank you and a tip of the hat to the selection committee. Good job.

The recent Mount Dora Art Fair was a joke. I went with a little jingle in my pocket and after looking at each booth determined there was only one person’s art I would actually buy. From hundred’s of possibilities. If Mount Dora isn’t careful, it’s fair will deteriorate into something that is little more than an amateur arts & crafts expo hawking crapola, wacky yard art and those gawd-awful funnel cakes. I so like Mount Dora, though.

I’ve been to Renniger’s, as chance will have it, twice in one month. I was more into antiques 20 or 30 years ago. Unfortunately one has only so much room for stuff. But I so like to look. And I’ve become inspired. I recently purchased an antique standing candelabra that holds nine, count’um, nine large candles. Quite frankly, I don’t know how I’ve lived without one these past 60 years. It stands in my dining room and when lit emits such a glow as to be magical. It is a thing of beauty and awe. It’s reason enough to have dinner parties.

There is a new, well, sort of new antiques store in Winter Park directly across the street from the Catholic Church on Park Avenue. Nice assortment of “stuff.” I bought the candelabra there and it has put me on a mission to secure another. Which had me walking the aisles of Renniger’s in Mount Dora.

Aside: if you’re looking for something to do with guests for a day after you’ve exhausted Winter Park and the theme parks are no option, I recommend Mount Dora. You can easily while away the better part of a day (if you’re the meandering type) and if you go on a Saturday or a Sunday, Renninger’s (off Highway 441) is open.

I walked the aisles there, eventually purchasing a small, inexpensive, transparent Japanese glass bottle with a hand-painted pastoral scene of a solitary, reflective mendicant. I offered $500 on a $2,300 gorgeous rug and passed on the $1,600 counter offer. What did catch my attention however was a booth that was going-out-of-business with everything 50% off. It was chock full of knicky-knack stuff, essentially late 19th, early 20th century, Depression era household items that once might have intrigued me (in my 20s) but no more.

One item did, however, stand out. On the wall, just under the going-out-of-business, 50% off everything sign was a photograph of a distinguished looking woman, obviously in its original frame. It was a black & white photograph. The woman looked straight out with crisp eyes and high, pronounced cheekbones. She had such an authoritative, in-control demeanor that you were almost reluctant to look directly at her. She was somberly enough dressed but that was, I am sure, a reflection of the times when sitting for a photograph was one of life’s transitional moments.

And then it dawned on me. Here was this incredible woman, startling in her demeanor, someone’s mother on sale, 50% off. She could have been had, literally, for a few bucks. Probably, and sadly, just for the frame. I thought why isn’t this mother’s photo, someone’s great grandmother or sister in a family collection securely tucked away in a box of memorabilia in the back of a closet? Periodically trotted out, remembered and venerated. Why is she anonymously on display at a cheesey, going-out-of-business vendor’s booth for the price of a two-bit frame?

Was she inconsequential? It dawned on me about ten years ago that when I die the last person alive dies who knew what an extraordinary woman Edith Belle Moore was. She was my mother’s mother, my grandmother and one hell of a fine, fine woman. When I go, there will be no more thoughts of her extraordinary life floating anywhere in the ether of the universe. For all intents and purposes, it will be as if she never was.

There will be no one to sing her praises and recall her toughness and determination. Nana put a brick in the toilet tank to save water and didn’t flush when she got up in the night to pee, to again save water and money. She made suet pudding to die for. She made money while others were going broke. When my mother was in her 40s, Nana paid for her to complete her college work through her doctorate. That directly changed the trajectory of my mother’s life. My life, too.

She paid for mom’s first cosmetic eye surgery (Check your bags, Ma’am?). Nana took care of me when the rest of the family vacationed. Her house smelled like cedar and so did she. She walked miles every day. Her husband, Robert, had to smoke in the basement because the smoke was offensive. But we surmised that it was because Grandfather cheated on her and Nana found out and it was the basement for evermore.

Nana’s house was always cool during the hottest summer day and she kept a white linen perfumed hankie on her at all times. She cooked popcorn nearly every evening and to spend the night with her in the 1950s meant popcorn and TV and nighty-night at nine. She drove like banshee out of hell until she came home one day and at age 83 never drove again. Family lore has many stories associated with the possible reasons. Fortunately, there were no hit and run deaths reported that day in Northwest Iowa. Seriously.

So it saddens me (a bit) to see a photo of a distinctive, clear-eyed woman, someone’s mother being sold for the frame, 50% off. But, alas, that is all our fates. Inevitably. Sigh.

I headed back to downtown Mount Dora and went to the delightful Tea Shoppe near the railroad tracks and had tea and a scone to die for. Nana would have approved but she would have graciously declined. Kind of spendy, don’t-cha see

The many uses of history.

I attended college so many years ago, during a time when a liberal arts degree was still acceptable. This was a pre-MBA era. For any number of reasons, I majored in history and ended up with Masters in 19th century European history. Ah, the 19th century! A great century for art. Today, I lament ever so slightly the fact that I didn’t take more literature classes. So many books, sigh, so little time.

To a degree, we can know our story. It is not like humanity has been writing about itself for 200,000 years. Can you imagine if it were the year 200,009 and you were enrolled in a general World Civilization course. Will the 20th century rate a paragraph? Seriously! Will we get even a photo? We are so into our events and times that we understandably lose “our” perspective.

But we’ve not been writing about ourselves for 200,000 years, maybe 6,000 or 7,000 years is the approximate number. We’ve been doing art far longer than any critic’s quill has written on how we should feel/think about it. The Lascaux cave paintings, located in France are sublime creations, 17,000 years old. (A critic then might have written if she could have, “It’s just a bunch of bull!) It would take another 10,000 or so years for humans to create written symbols for language. My sister refers to us humans as clever little monkeys. Indeed. Nasty, too. And violent.

But the story of humanity is only a few thousand years old and we can get our minds and imaginations around our story. Sure there are many gaps in our knowledge. Even our modern times have lapses of “factual” information. One immediate example is the former Bush Administration attempt to cloud the record on why we invaded Iraq, a completely unnecessary, illegal, immoral and tragically costly war foisted off on America for bogus, deceitful reasons. We may never get the straight “poop” from our government officials but historians will have enough of the story to flesh out the account.

Our history, some 7,000 years of it has to varying degrees been recorded and can be absorbed, distilled and taught. Ah, but there is a rub and it is a major one. Alas, sigh. We humans agree on so little and history is no different. Examine our ecological history.

In the March, 2009 edition of “Harper’s Magazine” is a timely essay by Edward Hoagland on dying and its acceptance. Hoagland, 78, is a delightful writer. He writes from a distinctly male perspective that I do appreciate. For any number of considered reasons he accepts his mortality with few regrets. He speaks poignantly about why he will miss living. He doesn’t want to be alive, however, as our fertility eats what’s left of dear ol’ Mother Earth.

He writes, “Yet, we’ve had too much fecundity; it’s now no virtue; it’s eating us out of house and home. The strangulations of fecundity precipitate African and Asian extinctions, and there will be a worldwide avalanche of these. Death will save me from witnessing the drowned polar bears, smashed elephant herds, wilting frog populations, squashed primate refuges. Believing life has universal value, I’m worn quite threadbare from caring already—as early as age eighteen, I knew a chimp and an orangutan, and my concept of genocide never excluded them.”

That is the price we pay for knowledge. Ohh, Eve! What have you done? The forbidden fruit was what? Some suggest it was a metaphor for the knowledge of the duality of life/living. Good/evil, etc. Fecundity/extinction.

I’ve had a growing number of individuals announce, “I am not going to read the papers, listen to the radio or watch TV, so disturbing are today’s events. I inwardly laugh and think whatever we are experiencing this moment is but (x) when compared to other “bad” historical times. History has recorded our story warts and all and believe me if you are reading this you may have only the foggiest idea of how wretched humanity’s lot can be. Oh, sure, we can read about the Black Plague, the Hundred Years War, the Trail of Tears, the Holocaust, The Killing Fields, Stalin’s purges, Mao’s marches or America’s 200 plus years of slavery. And that just scratches the surface of our illustrious history.

I was fascinated by a recent story out of Brazil. A nine-year-old girl was raped by her stepfather and had an abortion. The girl’s mother and the physician were excommunicated from the Church by Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho. The girl was pregnant with twins and the doctor said her tiny nine-year-old hips wouldn’t accommodate such a pregnancy. For being concerned for the health and welfare of the nine-year-old child, the family and physician were kicked out of the Church. It is too funny. Except it isn’t.

History has not been kind to the many religions spawned from our imaginations. Did you know the Pope wears red Prada loafers? Yes, Prada. Did you know there is a “small” controversy going on right now in Rome over who is the “official” clothier of the Pope? Too funny. That actually is too funny. Red Prada shoes. And sometimes a large white conical hat with gold trim. The last word on human fertility for millions on the planet is determined by a I-Can’t-Possibly-Be-“WITH”-A-Woman priesthood, led by a red Prada loafer wearing celibate priest. Hmmm? It’s just another case of “The Boys” once again deciding for “the girls” what’s in their (a woman’s) best interest(s). Except in this particular case the boys don’t know from Eve about women and the head-honcho wears red Prada loafers and a large conical hat. Could you even imagine such a sitcom?

And that Dear Reader is a big, big theme in history. Men telling women what they can and cannot do. But it’s for their own good, don’t-cha see. It saves them from having to think, don’t-cha know. Can they think?

It is reprehensible. It is 12th century. History will judge us by what “good” we did with the information (knowledge) we had on hand. We subjugate women and knowingly consume (destroy) our planet and call it God’s will. Imagine the history texts 5,000 years from now. The entire 20th century may be summed up with just a single photo of an old, bent over white man, decked out in a long, flowing dress, wearing bright red Prada loafers and a large conical hat with gold embellishments, sitting small in an oversized ornate throne. The caption will read: “What were they thinking?”

We aren’t. Thinking. History will say as much.

Reciprocity is the lubricant of life

It’s crisp $50’s time again. I will be turning 60 next week and I just know so many of you will be left wondering what to get the man who has nearly everything. For a guy whose motto is “It’s art,” please don’t give me art. No clothes. Books, no. Music, no. Cash is king. (I once had a staff give me a money clip with that motto inscribed, “Cash is King.”) Particularly when compared to anything else at the moment. Crisp $50s are always appreciated. It’s a decent bottle of champagne with a bag of M&M’s left over. Know what I mean?

There are so many birthdays in one’s life that are supposed to mean something. I was listening to NPR recently and someone remarked how important becoming ten was to them. Never again would that individual be single digit young. For a guy (me) who actually didn’t start thinking until he was 36 or so (seriously) I found that a little deep.

Turning 18 is supposed to be a watershed but I believe that is more a factor of graduating from high school which most of us do at age 18. Again, 21 is supposedly a biggee because you can legally drink but I hadn’t paid much attention to that restriction since I was, oh, 17 and then I was in college and drinking anyway so that was of no particular consequence.

Growing up and coming of “age” in the 1960s, turning 30 was allegedly a benchmark. We were advised to not trust anyone over 30 for some inexplicable reason. I never did quite grasp the meaning of that but more importantly you moved from still being young to something else at age 30.

Women it is alleged are more concerned with aging than men. Perhaps. Men are as vain as women about most of the same things women are accused of being overly (overtly) vain about. We (men) just don’t have it shoved down our psyches on daily basis to the same degree. That does seem a bit unfair. I acknowledge that.

About age 22 I figured out I really was going to die. Me personally. Oh, I knew concretely that life ended, I lived on a mink ranch and participated annually in the killing and pelting of the herd. But all that life you have within you just doesn’t seem to allow the notion of your own mortality. Until. I was reading a lot of Russian authors at the time and I actually refer to this time as “My Russian Period” when it just sank in—I was on-the-clock. So to speak.

It was at this point in my life when I calibrated my remaining years based on my grandfather’s length of life. My father had yet to die. Gramps died at age 83 so I figured I had approximately 60 years to go and I tucked that bit of information into the back recesses of my mind but do periodically drag it out and announce (to anyone who will listen) my updated death watch. 54 years to go. 40 years to go. 32 years to go. Gallows humor, huh? I figured I might even get a few additional years because I could never in two lifetimes equal the amount of red meat and whiskey both my father and grandfather consumed. Different times.

It has never disturbed me that I am going to die and that will be it. I grew up in an atheist’s home and am glad to not have been handicapped. I didn’t have to overcome any of the gibberish that passes for spirituality. Thank you, Father. Now that sounds spiritual. Yes, indeed. Thank you, Father.

I have a saint of a lovely daughter who is nearly as old as I am. Ha! Not true but she’s closing in on 40. I started telling her when she was so very young that we’d someday sit on a front porch together, each of us in our own rocking chair. I particularly like that image. Always have.

Other people’s birthdays, particularly their births have been momentous for me. I was in the delivery room for both my son’s births, as well as my grandson (seminal events all). They wouldn’t let a man into delivery for my daughter’s birth so different was the time then. Goofy, huh?

You move. You work. You move some more. And the years pass. And the birthdays come and go. During my 50s, each additional year I would add that good old Anglo-Saxon swearword in between the 50 and the year I was in. For example 52 became Fifty-Fxxxxxx-two. It rolls off the tongue so smoothly. So alliterative. And everyone laughes and acknowledges a certain point. My 60s are going to become Sixty-Sucking-One, etc. I haven’t decided on my 70s. I refuse to be repetitious. How about Seventy-Sexy-Seven? One can only hope.

What have I learned in 60 years? I’ve learned to MYOB. Mind Your Own Business. I want to have lived such that if I fell off a cliff and passed a rose growing out of the side of cliff during my fall, I would have enough presence of mind to say, “My gawd, what a gorgeous flower.” Splattt. Ha! In the moment.

I’ve learned that you can spell fun with a capital PH. Big Phunn! I’ve learned that stuff ain’t all that important but if you do have stuff, why not have beauty surrounding you? I have not learned to carry a tune. I’ve learned that relationships are an integral part of a rich and full life. You know, Rich & Full. I’ve learned to laugh a lot. At myself, too. I’d sooner live the “explored” life than the unexplored life. Beauty is more than skin deep. But, oh my, such skin. Books, art & music matter, so too ideas. Have more flowers in your life. And laughs. And friends. And family.

I may have a tombstone that reads, besides my name and date, “Reciprocity is the lubricant of life.” I coined that as a summation of how this enterprise called life works. Believe me, to a degree, that is it in spades. You get as good as you give.

Now back to those $50 bills. Send them to the Observer c/o “That Liberal Dude!” Remember: Crisp New Fifties Now!

If not, send a contribution to Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando or WUCF 89.9 Jazz. One is fighting for women’s rights and the life of the planet, the other is beauty for the ears (mind)! Do both.

The Sacred and the Profane Past

My tendency when starting from the beginning is to start from the ideal. Why not? Why not start from the ideal? Of course, like anything else associated with humanity, the definition of an ideal is subject to debate.

I become quite amused over the association of capitalism with the idea of representational democracy. To suggest that the two are not axiomatically joined at the hip or that you cannot have one without the other is, well, historically laughable. What we have is a system of governance and commerce, that for better or worse, is hitched to the wagon before us. Those who embrace the system as is have what I consider “a lack of imagination,” but that is grist for another column.

Conservatives always trot out the Founding Fathers whenever debating the “nature” of things, of what is immutable, not subject to exigency and what is acceptable change. I get that, I do. I like certainty as much as the next person. And there are historical “ideals” worth preserving, worth protecting.

In 1780, just after our Declaration of Independence, there were approximately 2,780,000 Americans. By 1810, just a few years after acquiring the Louisiana Purchase, our population had swollen to 7, 230,000 people. Our documents of governance were drawn, were created during a time when America was agrarian and our population was small. America was a small, agrarian nation in possession of millions of square miles of unoccupied land (of course, they were occupied by native Americans but as we know, historically speaking, that didn’t count for much). You lived on a farm all your life. You grew what you ate and sold the rest (if the markets supported that model). Americans were of the land and the land supported them.

Social programs were, uh, more modest then. Grandma, if she lived long enough lived in a back room and shelled peas for the evening’s meal. That crazy uncle who never fit in either lived out in the barn and was seldom seen or was “encouraged” to head west and start anew. Damaged babies either died upon delivery, shortly there after or limped through life until finally “done-in” by events or circumstances. Welfare such as it was, was nonexistent. My all-time favorite quote is “The cowards never started and the weak died along the way.” It’s a quote dealing with America’s pioneers. I find it applicable in so many assessments of humanity. Even today. But I can be rather hard-nosed.

I don’t know the statistics for homelessness in America in 1800. I am sure there were drunks, reprobates and other societal misfits scurrying along the edges of America’s small towns and villages but unless you were totally “daft” you were virtually on your own in America. Either you worked, either you pitched-in or you died or moved on. And as model for a functioning/operating society, it worked. Go West Young Man! And get the hell out of town.

Let’s jump ahead to 2010 America which is now closing in on 350 million citizens. Only a few million are associated with agriculture and even those people might actually starve if push came to shove so distant from the land even our farmers have become. Most of us live in the cities and suburbs and are incapable of sustaining ourselves as compared to our 1800 ancestors. For the sake of this discussion that is neither good nor bad, it simply is.

The Bible says the poor will always be with us. So will all of the maimed servicemen as a result of America’s many wars. So too our nonfunctioning alcoholic and drug addicted citizens. So too the mentally disabled. So too the chronically lazy and shiftless among us. So too the criminally inclined. So too our imprisoned populations. So too our “Alzheimeric,” abandoned and impoverished elderly. So too our many children virtually abandoned in state Children Services Agencies. So too our chronic, mentally-challenged homeless. So too “X” number of women who produce baby after baby after baby at “our” expense. You fill-in here your group (X) that takes (uses) more than they provide (net).

Three hundred and fifty million Americans. Let’s pick a percentage of that total that represents the above paragraph of Americans and juxta-position what America did with “those” people in 1800 (Founding-Father time) and what we are prepared to do today, 200 years later. I won’t even include the growing legions of unemployed. Are there 10% of Americans who will not or cannot sustain themselves? Pick a percentage? I pick 10%. That’s 35 million Americans that we do what with? That’s five times the nation’s total population from 1810. That’s all of Texas and Florida today.

In 1810, in such circumstances, you died or you lived in incredible squalor and poverty and subsisted on what you could hunt, fish or scrape from the land. Those were the options. Our Founding Fathers did not envision an America of the 21st century, like the one we have today.

But those are not viable options today. Are they? Ignoring the 10% is not an option either, is it? Particularly when there is a gun readily available for every American. Drive down the interstate shall we? So we ignore the 10% at our peril. Let alone the moral considerations. To my conservative readers, please send a letter to the Observer and outline what you would do with the non-performing 10% of America. Be specific. Over what period of time? And if you want, please tie it all together with your gibberish of the original intent of our Founding Fathers.

If we lived in an ideal world, all our children would grow-up healthy, loved, cherished and productive human beings. They would join an intellectually stimulating, environmentally sustainable culture of free people. But we are well short of the ideal. We don’t have the options or the philosophy to handle our 21st century problems with 18th century rhetoric. What our Founding Fathers achieved is undeniably significant, an historic precedent.

I believe our Founding Fathers would be horrified at how often we look back (evoking the “sacred” past) when ahead is where America’s vision must be.