Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jimmy's Right

Last week, Jimmy Carter drew fire from the right over statements that the more viruluent strains of criticism toward Barack Obama were based in latent racism. He was particularly critical of Joe Wilson's "You lie" outburst, and of email strings that continue to be circulated by conservative interest groups that compare Obama to, alternately, an animal and Adolf Hitler. Since I have the misfortune of having a new boss who is fascinated with conservative talk programming, I am force fed Fox News Network and Rush Limbaugh in stereo most days. Somehow, by the time those talking heads finished spinning their revisions of his comments, Carter had said that any disagreement with the President's policies equated to racism. The network even trotted out their usual stable of conservative minority commentators who, to a one, denounced the former President as an unrealistic apologist, wallowing in white guilt.

But was Carter really off the mark? It used to be that a certain level of formal respect was afforded the office of the Presidency, period. There was a sacred and inviolable decorum required of and around our highest levels of government, period. Opponents may not have agreed with the decisions made, may not have even respected the man himself, but one of our country's strengths has traditionally been our ability to debate our differences and then respect the decisions made by the majority of our countryment. Our government has always been one built on civil discourse and compromise. That's why the level of disdain shown our President over the past couple of months has been both unprecedented and unconscionable.

Granted, many of the issues that have been debated recently have been the most divisive in my personal memory. The country faces deep philosophical rifts in many areas, not the least of which is health care. But when the President WE elected to office not nine months ago is blocked from speaking to school children about such an innocuous topic as responsible behavior, ostensibly because certain groups don't want to risk politicizing the schools; when an elected Congressman feels justified in calling the President a liar in a joint session of Congress ostensibly because he passionately disagrees with what is being said, WE have a serious problem the root cause of which no one besides Jimmy Carter seems to want to admit. What other President has ever been blocked from speaking to school children as if he were some common pedophiliac who couldn't be trusted alone with our children? What other President has been called a liar in a joint session of Congress, in front of a national television audience? What else has changed? What other conclusion can be drawn? That these public displays of utter disrespect are somehow justified because the country is facing more challenges than ever before? Please, refer to the Great Depression and World War II See also Vietnam and energy crisis of the 1970's. More likely, it is the 2 ton elephant of a racially divided past that we're still not ready to honestly confront. That elephant may be covered in a cloak of policy disagreement, but it's still a big damn elephant.

Monday, September 7, 2009

I Will Fish No More Forever

Late last Wednesday afternoon, I was hugging myself, knowing that I had just set in place the last of a carefully choreographed series of events that would result in the orderly departure of almost 4,000 used books from my bookcases and, in turn, the bookcases themselves. I congratulated myself on having managed all this with minimal interference to my new job and finessing the details down to the point that I would only need to take three hours off of work (time I had already made up, no less) to get it done. I had spent several nights in a row at the bookstore and had gotten all the new books off the shelves, stacked them in the floor in a way that wouldn't interfere with the removal of the book cases. I had gone to bed Wednesday night wiped out, but with an overwhelming sense of relief that things were finally happening.

Thursday morning at 8 o'clock, the thrift store employees who were supposed to be taking all the used books away decided they couldn't manage it. It was just too much. Never mind that I had very carefully explained the scope of the task beforehand. Never mind that the same guy had vehemently insisted that not only could they do it, but that it would be done in time for the book case people to show up at 10:30. Never mind that he had shown up at the store at 7:45 with two guys and a truck, and I had someone there to meet them as we had discussed. I made it to work at 8 a.m. only to get the call that my carefully laid plan had just fallen apart.

A melee of frantic book and shelf moving, a too-long truck, a busted light on the building across the alley, denials by the truck driver over the light, many hours and much sweat later, I said goodbye to the book cases. It was striking how much care had gone into placing them, just so, into the building, contrasted with how little care had gone into slinging them willy nilly into the back of a semi to jostle across Virginia to their new home in West Virginia. I was left with 6500 books stacked on the floor, so I decided to open the store ONE MORE TIME on that Saturday to try to rid myself of as many of them as possible.

So what does this have to do with fish, fishing, or the price of tea in China? After this flurry of late-week activity, we got up early Sunday morning and went out on the Swift Creek reservoir for some much-needed relaxation. I've never really been much of a fisherman as an adult--somehow it seems kind of self-serving. Who am I to kill worms and inflict pain on a fish just to amuse myself? It doesn't seem fair. So mostly I just lay around, drive the boat, look at the wildlife or swim and let other, less moonbeamy people fish.

But on Sunday, moody thing that I was, suffering from the collective exhaustion of several weeks of doing two jobs, and the recipient of a brand new bream buster pole, I decided I'd do some fishing. My book-weary hands were too stupid to do anything that required manual dexterity, plus I hadn't seriously fished in several years, so it took some doing to set myself up with a rig. By the time I settled down to fish, Beth had already gone around the bend to fish her own spot.

I experienced a minor moral crisis when it came time to put the worm on the hook. I am not a vegetarian, but I have a hard time inflicting pain on any living thing when there's no good reason. I managed to reconcile myself with that concept by promising the worm that his life would not end in vain. I spoke it out loud: I would take any legal sized fish I caught home, clean it and eat it.

I only had a few minutes to wait. I felt a tug, saw the cork disappear, and snatched up a little bluegill about the size of half my hand. I pulled it on into the kayak and saw, to my horror, that the poor bastard had swallowed the hook. An existential crisis ensued. I tugged on the hook. I looked again, it was still buried. I searched my limited tackle for pliers. None. I tried emergency surgery with a fish stringer. To no avail. I burst into tears. The fish stared at me accusingly. I had, after all, promised. I trailed the poor fish behind me and set out across the lake for where Beth had disappeared. It was like the canoe chase scene from Last Of the Mohicans. I was crying and rowing for all I was worth. By the time I reached her, all I could do was sputter and bring the hooked fish (with its accusing eyes) around for her to look at. She shook her head and said she couldn't do anything for it.

I do not recommend having a breakdown in a kayak. After I cut the line and let the fish go to what I am sure was a starvation death, I drifted out in the middle of the lake and cried me a river. Not only for the fish, but for the bookstore, and for the realization that I, like so many others, can't always keep my promises.