February 2013


The Cosmopolitan Texan – Not An Oxymoron

A good man can make you feel sexy, strong and able to take on the world…Ohh sorry that’s vodka….vodka does that. Anonymous

Ha! Ha! I’m writing about a good man this week and I Googled quotes on the “good man” and I came across the above which caused me to laugh out loud.

What makes a good man? The first quality that comes to my mind is kindness. Is he kind? Not only to family and friends but to strangers as well? Is he generous of spirit? Does he have empathy? Does he connect with humanity and see his story as part of the fabric of life?
Kindness, generosity, empathy, connectedness are often considered “more” feminine qualities yet they are the first attributes I would use to describe my good friend and confidant, the quite masculine Louis Hughes.

Mr. Hughes was my age, 64, when he hired me in 1986 to work with him in the Development Office of Winter Park Memorial Hospital. This Tuesday past, he celebrated his birthday. Hughes, today, volunteers three days a week in the WPMH emergency room. We lunch several times a month.

Louis Hughes grew-up on a West Texas ranch. During the Dust Bowl Days no less. He experienced the greatest gift any of us every receive, that of the good parent(s). That and oil leases, eh, Louis? Hughes “left” Texas to be educated in the East, served in WWII, eventually living, working and parenting in the Northeast. He worked for Harvard and The University of Pennsylvania Development offices before arriving in Winter Park in 1984 to become the Vice President of Development for WPMH.

The first thing I noticed about Louis was his sartorial habit. He wore three-piece suits everyday. A bit of a clothes-horse myself, I judged his ties rather conservative. His attire contributed to an over-all initial impression that Hughes was formal, formidable and somewhat unapproachable.

Hughes is a snob. He’ll deny it. He’s well read. He likes art. He’s cultured. He plays the piano. Today. He’s been places, seen things. He appears to be the type of gentleman who will not indulge in small talk. It’s all a façade. Not his cultural attributes, his veneer of aloofness. He doesn’t take himself seriously. Hughes resists, however, sophomoric humor (which I do employ) yet will indulge my uncouth, “common” observations. We both appreciate beautiful (in every sense of the word) women. He’s a wonderful, delightful man with which to enjoy life.

Two closing observations. Hughes married for a second time to Arlene “Petie” Showalter of Winter Park, Florida. She was the love of his life and they had over two decades of happiness together before her death.

A final story. Louis and I would, upon arriving for work each morning, stand at the development office receptionist counter for ten or so minutes, coffee in hand, and discuss the “nature” of life. Much laughter ensued. One day, Louis, said in passing, that at one point in his life he had four children in diapers. You could have picked my jaw off the floor.

I only found out some years later that all four of those once-diapered children were adopted. His love for his four children (Ned, Margaret, Justine & Jeff) has been unconditional and unwavering. They give him much joy.

Hughes is a prince among men and on his 91st birthday, vodka is unnecessary (champagne, perhaps) when singing his praises. Happy Birthday, Lad! More!

What Does This Country Need?

What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar. Thomas Marshall, United States Vice President

The cigar quote is attributed to Woodrow Wilson’s two-term Vice President, Thomas Marshall. Presiding over the Senate and after listening to an interminable senatorial speech on what America needs, Marshall allegedly leaned over to a colleague and offered his pithy assessment of what the country required. And, of course, Marshall is remembered today. A footnote.

What do you think America needs today? Seriously, if you could wave a magic wand, what would you implement/initiate that would make America a “better” place?

I think the nation is “half-measuring” itself to the dustbin of history. We seem incapable of achieving two important tasks: 1.) Determining (as a society) important national priorities and, 2.) Agreeing (a consensus) on how to achieve/pursue them. I am sadly disheartened regarding the course of America.

Is there one particular example that best exemplifies where 21st century America finds itself? I am sure that my more reflective readers could provide an illustration, or two. Send me your examples but I insist they be unambiguous as to how they clearly demonstrate the nation’s descent to mediocrity.
I make the distinction between specific acts of self-interest (recall Alaska’s bridge to nowhere), which was merely legislative “PORK” run-amuck. It is a timeless practice, based on greed and power. No, I want clear-cut examples of systemic deterioration of the national fiber.

Among the many examples that immediately come to mind, I’ve one that clearly captures the challenge confronting the United States.

In the summer of 2012 the Texas Republican Party agreed to the following provision in its Party Platform: Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills . . . which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

To go on record, publicly no less, that as Republicans you oppose teaching our children critical thinking skills is a staggering indictment of the nation as a whole. Why oppose critical thinking? Because it might challenge one’s “fixed beliefs?” What? Critical thinking might actually lead to behavior modification? For shame, that we ever change our thinking or –horrors!– our behavior!

My goodness, Jepson, I’m not sending my kid to school so she learns to think for herself! Sacrebleu!

What does it say, that the governing political party in the second largest state in the United States goes on public record opposing higher order thinking skills, critical thinking, because—bottom-line—authority may be challenged?

This is at the crux of much of human history. Time and time again, authority opposed change because change is threatening. To power. To privilege. To wealth. To what is known. To the status quo. To the “sacred” unchallengeable verities.

Fortunately, for humanity, such rearguard reactionary actions never succeed in the long run. Change is as predictable as each new day. Mercifully so. No nation, no people remain “in” power forever. We like to think we (Americans) are different in that regard. That history is irrelevant, that we will be on-top forever.

To oppose the teaching of critical thinking facilitates America’s decline and is emblematic of us today, as a culture. Someday future Americans will sadly ask, “What were those people thinking?” The answer: we weren’t.

Nay, Republicans are actually on record opposing it.

I Can Take No From
Anyone But You.

Ah, love. Is it like pornography? You’ll know it when you see it?

I marvel at human beings. We’re this complex soup of chemicals that one moment we’re higher than a kite on adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin, such, we’re “riding high in April.” Only, to be (at times), “Shot down in May.” Sing it, Frank!

I confess to thinking babies are cute. I don’t think that necessarily makes me a girly-man (although I do like fabrics, too); I imagine our species is chemically induced to think as much. Consider the alternative. That we (men & women) didn’t go “Aw-shucks” at the sight of the newborn. Young love, however, is much more interesting to observe than the immediate byproducts of our, hmmm, unions. Young adults (so beautiful and physically lean)—all ga-ga in love—are such a hopeful expression of what it means to be human. Being in love puts a kick in your step, is inherently hopeful and, I think, makes you more generous toward your fellow man.

That you are in this chemically-induced state of euphoria and that it is attributable—directly linked—to your being enthralled with another person is a fairly predictable (regular) human experience. I read a study suggesting that it takes oh, about 90 seconds to determine if you “fancy” someone. And it’s based on body language and the “speed and tone of their voice.” Not so much on what you say as how you say it. It’s initially all about how you look and how you talk. Not to rain on anyone’s parade but what’s the definition of superficial?

And why is that? It’s the lament women worldwide wail. That, that . . . MEN! . . . are all about the physical. I hate to disabuse my feminine friends but that GONE IN 90 SECONDS phenomena mentioned earlier applies to both sexes. And I again ask, “Why is that?”

Why would the human species place such a premium on what we today determine to be superficial, all surface—substance to be determined later?

Because, contrary to what anyone might suggest, there is no more meaning to/in life than the perpetuation of the (a) species. Arguably, pursuing the meaning—any meaning—in life is an individual trek (and expression). But from the perspective of our species, making babies (and having them live) is it.

We are hardwired, chemically induced to copulate. At some core, primitive level of our being (if you will), our attraction to one another (male/female) is predicated on perpetuating the species. All those wondrous chemicals that our bodies so eagerly produce when we first encounter “our desired” are created so we will “create” the next generation. It’s all about sex. In the beginning.

Actually, I am not convinced it isn’t the underlining impetus for all human encounters/ unions/bondings (at any age, even in your 80s). These chemicals (Better Living Through Chemistry, for sure) we so willingly manufacture are with us, to varying degrees, all our lives. We may have sex in our 80s with no chance of a baby outcome but how we came to be in the sack (so to speak) may be the result of the same driver that has us making love in our 20s. It’s really not so mysterious after all. Perhaps.

I am reminded of that famous—so hauntingly melodic—country-western classic, I Can Take No From Anyone But You, that this Valentines Day, a hot “Yes!” be on your lips. Go ahead, blame it on the drugs. You’d be justified.

At The Dance.

Ah, such goodies I have for you.

Many of you will already know from whence I speak. I’ve a book and movie by the same name to recommend. Here’s what Bosley Crowther, movie reviewer for the New York Times, had to say August 13, 1963, “The film that Luchino Visconti and his star, Burt Lancaster, have made from Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s fine novel The Leopard is a stunning visualization of a mood of melancholy and nostalgia at the passing of an age.”

The Leopard was published in 1958 and made into a movie five years later. I highly recommend that you first read the book and then Netflix the movie. The writing, the book is spot-on marvelous. The movie is gorgeous.

It’s Burt Lancaster as the lead who makes the movie so fascinating to watch. Lancaster plays a Sicilian prince in 1860s Italy. Everything is changing. His world is disintegrating. But what’s a prince to do? He hunts. He reads. He conducts scientific experiments. He carouses. He leads his family. He debates with the family priest. He’s sexy. Ironic. He’s a modern man (of sorts) lamenting the loss of his privileged status. He has faults. What man hasn’t? But as one English lady observed of the Prince, after reading the book, “There is a man I could have loved.” And how difficult could it be to have loved the likes and looks of Lancaster?

I cannot specifically remember how I first came to read The Leopard but I was still an impressionable teenager. I missed the movie’s release in 1963, probably not seeing it until Blockbuster Video opened in the late 1980s. What I do vividly recall was my utter fascination with the author’s creation of the primary character, the Prince, a man at the pinnacle of the social order who clearly understood that his day in the sun was inexorably passing. Not only was Italian nobility being replaced by—of all things!—a bourgeoisie middle class but the Prince was now one of the “old ones at the dance.”

I could easily live in Italy today. The land, the food, the history, the art, the climate, the people, Italy is a grand experience. And to have, once-upon-a-time, lived there as a Prince on 700-year-old estates, well, sign me up.

Burt Lancaster was born in 1913 and was 50 years old when The Leopard was released. He looks about as good as a man can look (in life/or movie). He’s trim. He’s fit. He’s handsome. He’s educated. But he’s melancholy. Life, alas, hasn’t stopped, hasn’t paused even briefly for him, a Prince no less. Time unfortunately does not defer to title or social class.

The last 45 minutes of the movie is a gaudy, extravagant ball where the Prince dances with a rapturous Claudia Cardinale, whose character, Angelica, is described in the book as “tall and well made, on an ample scale; her skin looked as if it had the flavor of fresh cream, which it resembled . . . and emanating from her whole person was the invincible calm of a woman sure of her beauty.” So lush a woman that one man upon first seeing her could “feel the veins pulsing in his temples.”

I’d cry, too, as does the Prince in the movie. So much beauty in life—sigh—so quickly gone.

The Leopard captures that dichotomy of human experience, hmmm, shall we say, beautifully.