The Technology of 1,000 Spoons

While Brandon was home this winter he was imitating a Coast Guard cutter on our frozen pond, whacking the ice from a kayak with a double-bladed oar. He broke the oar like a hobo eating a hard pretzel. Which means he really is my son. Our family has a long legacy of tearing things up. Oars, lawn mowers, houses…Dad once hit the corner of our house with the tractor…which led my brothers and I to complete the demolition, sledge hammering the stone wall creating space to add four new windows. Sometimes accidents become a serendipitous remodel to your house…other times, you just have a busted lawn mower and shin deep grass.

Which brings me to my son’s equipment legacy. I once made my son a promise, that one day, when he had a house and a lawn mower of his own, (or a kayak) I would go to his house, borrow it…and beat the crap out of it, kind of like that oar against the ice. Here is my chance…his mower is defenseless in my shed.

I opened the door to my tool shed last week and spotted his electric lawn mower which he had left for me to store away until he returns from Toronto where he is doing graduate work on the atmosphere. I’ve heard of electric lawn mowers, but had not seen one close up.

I have a running debate with Brandon about this electric lawn mower. He is a meteorologist, smart, and ecologically aware. I applaud him for caring about the environment. But, I also enjoy giving him a hard time.

His rental home in Norman had a 100 foot deep back yard and the mower had a 90 foot cord because he had to splice the original 100 foot cord when he…well, you can imagine. I asked him, “Why do you have an electric lawn mower?”

His reply is typical of twenty somethings. “The environment, you obtuse carbon-eating dinosaur.” (He actually is polite but that is the tone)

Humans have always struggled with technology as simultaneous curse and blessing.

The famous economist, Milton Friedman was touring China and came upon a team of nearly 100 workers building an earthen dam with shovels. Friedman pointed out that a single worker could create the dam in an afternoon using a bulldozer. An official replied, “Yes, but think of all the employment the shovels create.” Friedman replied, “Oh, I thought you were building a dam. If it’s jobs you want, then take away their shovels and give them spoons.”

Which got me thinking of a better way to mow my lawn. Can economic theory apply to lawn care? Utilitarian economic theory permits my use of a Bad Boy riding mower. My son prefers environmental theory and a tethered mower running on watts instead of barrels.

But in the spirit of Milton Friedman, if it is less pollution we desire, take away our mowers and give us goats. If everyone employed a herd of goats, think about the benefit to the atmosphere, notwithstanding the ancillary impact of goat flatulence. Just for the record, I do care about the environment, but I have 12 acres to mow and I can’t find a 12 acre cord.

Here is my latest argument. Brandon’s mower is powered by coal and my mower by oil.

The arrow in my argumentative quiver is courtesy of Senator James Lankford.

As a self-proclaimed political recluse, I was at first reluctant, yet still fascinated to attend a round table session with Senator Lankford, and I listened to his story of an exchange he had with a proponent of electric vehicles. The Senator said, “My vehicle is fueled by oil, yours (electric) is fueled by coal.” Meaning, power is produced from the electrical grid to power hybrids and all-electric vehicles. So, please don’t blissfully believe you are not polluting while plugging in.

Like most statements made in the political realm, one can find truth and hype. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, coal sourced power plants make up the largest percentage of electrical power plants in the United States at 33.28% followed by gas at 32.77%, nuclear at 19.57%, hydro at 6.04% and wind at 4.69%. Oklahoma is decidely more clean, with gas plants leading the way at 45.2%, coal at 32.71%, and wind at 18.43%.

So, the Senator is correct. When you plug-in your electric vehicle, there is a price of emission. But according to the Department of Energy, that cost of emission is still currently about half the pollution footprint of a gasoline powered vehicle.

The take-away is to not be fooled into believing there is no environmental cost to plugging in your electric vehicle…and it’s a much higher cost than I would have imagined…and yet, 11,435 annual pounds of CO2 equivalent is still a lot of environmental impact for a gasoline powered vehicle versus 6,258 annual pounds of CO2 for hybrid and electric vehicles.

http://www.afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.php

My son is making me a better man. I’ve grown mellow and have repented of my malevolent revengeful scheme against his power equipment. I will leave his gentle grass shaper to collect dust in silent repose awaiting his return from the Canadian halls of meteorological research. Maybe I’ll even power it up and take it for a gentle spin through a meadow of clover.

I think he’s probably right. I admire my son’s tenacity dragging that ragged cord through grass clippings during a sweltering Oklahoma summer. Here’s to the spirit of my son and the younger generation who are gaining on me fast, busting down stone walls with sledge hammers, mowing gently, and building dams with 1,000 spoons.

I wonder how many goats it takes to mow my lawn? Someday my son will debate the impact of greenhouse pollution with his son and his son will win, but he’ll still promise to go over to his son’s house and beat the crap out of his goat. Legacy doesn’t die without a struggle.

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Line ‘Em All Up

It’s a unique thing we do with our American Presidents. We roll out the red carpet and play Hail to the Chief while mocking them around the coffee pot and on Saturday Night Live. 

No other country does this so well. We glorify on the one hand and belittle on the other.

It gives our Presidents a cartoonish caricature…a surreal mix of reality and fantasy, the unreachable quality of royalty mixed with that of a sceptre-wielding buffoon.

But we want our President to be, well, Presidential, in the vein of, ask not what your country can do for you and fireside chats, however, twitter seems clipped and brassy, perhaps 140 characters shallow?

Hubris seems to be an occupational hazard of the presidency. If you were lacking in self-awareness when you took office, it’s clear that by the time you say goodbye to your staff that you are now more aware that the world revolves around you. It is, to be fair, a challenge to remain humble while listening to Hail to the Chief every time you enter a room.

Which gives me great pause to consider that President Trump, (if I had written that a year earlier, I would have typed LOL after Trump), enters the White House with infinitely more hubris than any predecessor, even without hearing as yet, Hail to the Chief.

But there are occasionally Presidents who seem earthy, more human. Lincoln, FDR, Truman, and now, for me, Obama. I haven’t always agreed with him, and I’ve even described him as arrogant at times, but I understand his humanity more deeply than Reagan, Carter, Johnson, Nixon…

Speaking of Nixon, I’m reminded of a song by James Taylor titled, “Line ‘em Up”, about the moment he left office, and about the hypocrisy and denial in the midst of hubris in that moment of goodbye:

I remember Richard Nixon back in ’74 and the final scene at the White House door

and the staff lined up to say good-bye, tiny tear in his shifty little eye,

he said, “nobody knows me, nobody understands.

These little people were good to me, oh I’m gonna shake some hands.”

Somebody line ’em up, line ’em all up, line ’em up, line ’em all up.

Eight years of Obama have gone by. Where have they gone? This morning I watched a clip of Obama saying goodbye to his staff and others. It wasn’t anything like that Nixon moment. It was classy and full of grace.

No, I didn’t always agree with President Obama, but I’m thankful for Barak and Michelle Obama, for their humanity, their passion, their grace.
You can tell they were loved. They were real. They defined grace and class. They were human.

Early in the Day of Cold and Green

These are the salad days of my son and daughters, my nephews and nieces, not that they are cold and green, rather that it’s their heyday, their walk in the sun, although salad, like the heyday of the young, can quickly go from crisp and cool to limp and warm, in an East of Eden boxcar minute.

Wedding Brandon Liz

Brandon and Liz

In Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra is regretting her youthful dalliances with Julius Caesar when she says,

…My salad days, / When I was green in judgment, cold in blood…        

Shakespeare uses the phrase salad days presumably to mean youthful and impulsive. Cleopatra’s words, “green” and “cold” suggest good qualities in salad and youthful dalliance.

 

Wedding Drew Brittany 2

Drew and Brittany

 

Which leads me to another tossed salad, the offbeat love story of H.I. McDonough (Nicholas Cage) and Edwina (Holly Hunter), in the movie, Raising Arizona.

H.I. McDonough – voiceover (Nicholas Cage): These were the happy days, the salad days as they say. And Ed felt that havin’ a critter was the next logical step. It was all she thought about. Her point was that there was too much love and beauty for just the two of us and every day we kept a child out of the world was a day he might later regret havin’ missed.

Wedding Tom Michelle crop

Tommy and Michelle

The term salad days represents H.I. and Ed at the zenith of their youthful exuberance. I mean, after all, H.I. did rob a convenience store with a ladies panty on his head. That’s very cold and green.

wedding nieces nephews 2015

Salad people (except the Garden State romaine)

These salad days remind me of the weddings of the past few years in our family and of weddings to come. I recently asked Karen, “Have you attended all of your nieces and nephews weddings so far?” There are 26 possible weddings…7 so far…Karen has made all 7, and has plans to attend 19 more, if invited.

Wedding Megan Ray

Ray and Megan in New Jersey

It’s early in the day of cold and green for these youngsters, so much so that I’m changing the name, with all due respect to Bill Shakespeare. I’m changing the name from salad days to cake days, these days of love and marriage, of youth and odd behavior, and wedding cake. Besides, cake is sweeter and you can stick cake in the freezer and eat it a year later on it’s anniversary. Try that with salad.

wedding Liz George

George and Lizzie

In two weeks, we’ll be fork deep in icing on the wedding day of Brandon and Liz, and Liz will become Elizabeth Taylor, who once played Cleopatra in the eponymous movie. And I’ll do what I love to do at weddings. Dance and eat cake.

Wedding Jace

Cousin Brooks son, Jace Davis walks his Mom down (not technically a nephew but he calls me Uncle, so…

As for dancing, my skills are measured in pulses of bodily confusion, illustrated again with dialogue from “Raising Arizona,”

Gale (John Goodman): Everybody freeze. Everybody get down on the ground.                                      

Old Man: Well which is it young feller? You want me to freeze or get down on the ground? I mean to say if’n I freeze I can’t rightly drop and if’n I drop I’m gonna be in motion.

That’s exactly how I dance…somewhere in between frozen and dropping to the ground.

Cake on the other hand is more natural. The last wedding cake I had was so good that I had it and I ate it too. I had always heard that you couldn’t do that, but I did.

wedding Tom Cristine Mason

Thomas IV and Cristine

Twenty-six salad and cake people, ages 16 to 35. Hmmm, we’ll eat a lot of cake in the coming years, and dance many strange dances.

Wedding Jim Robyn

Jimmy and Robyn

Just think honey, only 19 more weddings to go. You better buy some dancing shoes and a silver fork because that’s a lot of cake and kemosabe. But it will be fun…we’ll dance like Justin Timberlake doing the Mambo Cakewalk while everyone watches and we won’t even care and then we’ll eat Italian wedding cake with coconut icing, but unlike Cleopatra, we won’t regret that dalliance one little bit, because these are after all, our cake days, when we dance with abandon and lick the icing from our fingers.

wedding-lauren-beck-1

Lauren and Beck

Stolen Babies and Shallow Advice

I was holding Jude when I realized why I steal babies. We were at Jace and Carly Davis’ wedding and Jude looked like he wanted me to hold him so I held out my arms and he held out his and we sashayed about the dance floor doing the Baby locomotion. More about baby stealing in a moment…

It was during the trip to the Davis wedding in Little Rock with two of our adult children and their dates this past weekend, that I told my wife something I had shared with no one else. It was about a waning feeling as a young man while losing the Samson-like invincibility grown from long hair and vanity. It was the feeling of power Springsteen sang about in Born to Run, “…girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors and the boys try to look so hard,” which is really difficult to pull off when my barber is cutting my hair and referring to the recession again and again before I realize he isn’t speaking of the economy.

It sounds comical to me in my mellow years since I rarely try to look hard anymore, as I once did in my raging Springs-teens. I’m more into comfortable quirky, like Andy Griffith wearing Sanuks and strumming Suwanee river on the front porch swing. And my ego is unaffected by insult because there is none left to shatter when my wife says to me, “You are the hippest man I know, from the ankle down.” “Thank you,” I reply, before the subtlety of the insult becomes clear. (This means I have great taste in shoes and socks…and nothing else)

I am no longer invincible and it’s a relief to be unburdened. Once nothing remained to be admired in the window of shallow self-reflection, there still remained my teen Geist masquerading as a father, doling out wisdom like Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Vacation. (Good talk Russ) Some of the most useless advice I’ve given to my children over the years, although stolen and shallow, is nevertheless memorable, which often returns to me in remarkable ways wearing the garments of profundity.

When my son left for college, I told him what Steve Martin’s father told him. “Always carry a trash bag in your car, it doesn’t take up much room and if it ever gets full, you can just throw it out.” And I’ve also passed along to my son a love for colorful socks and advice on wearing them. One Sunday morning we were loitering in the garage waiting for the girls as they put the finishing touches on their Sunday go-to-meeting outfits. Four year old Brandon was wearing a Lord Fauntleroy outfit with shorts and dress shoes and I envied his dapper look, the socks-on-full-display style I couldn’t pull off due to my age and social convention. He sported a black sock and a blue sock, which I advised would be frowned upon by those who devise the color matching rules. He said that mattered little to him. He told me, “You can’t really tell in the garage, it’s too shadowy. Besides, I don’t go by color, I go by thickness.”

Youth is indeed wasted on the young.

And when Jenna was seven-years old, I took her aside before a soccer match and said to her, “I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.”

Of course, that’s Ty Webb telling Danny Noonan how to excel at golf in Caddyshack, but Jenna didn’t know that. A ball is a ball is a ball and there does seem to be a cosmic force connecting the ball with the feet of the greatest players. As Jenna grew older, I shortened the pregame admonition to, “Be the ball.”

So, back to baby stealing. As I was holding baby Jude at the wedding, my cousin told me that just for a moment, he caught a glimpse of me holding my own son, 22 years earlier. And I realized that I was still holding my son, because these moments with our children are not restrained by time. They move freely in and out of our consciousness like the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision crying “Holy, Holy, Holy,” to one another. And so I remember those moments when Karen and I left the kids with Nammy on date night and returned to find them snuggled up in pajamas and we raced to get to them first, literally knocking each other down to be the first one in the room upon our return. So I guess stealing babies is about returning to those moments on some level.

We watched Carly and Jace kiss after saying “I do for as long as we both shall live.” And I thought about how happy Jace and Carly looked as they danced among family and loved ones. I remember Jace Davis and Drew Taylor and Brandon Taylor just a few months old, rolling on their backs on the carpet together like upside down turtles trying to get upright, to get on with it, this business of life.

And when I see my grown children, and understand that they have survived my dim and strange advice, it’s like looking beyond time and seeing the glory of God flowing like wine, as they discover for themselves the force in the universe that moves mountains. It’s amazing how the Good Lord can make something good out of advice like Be the ball.

I sometimes struggle to describe what it means to be a Dad, because I feel like I’m cheating, like somehow I get more than I give. My kids are all grown now, and I find myself at a wedding holding baby Jude and I remember my own children, like it was yesterday. There goes my daughter walking onto the pitch. “Be the ball,” but how can she possibly know what that means?

Yesterday I opened a mysterious package thinking it could be a bomb, so I opened it slowly so the bomb would detonate slowly…but no, I realize my birthday is only a few days away. Maybe it’s a gift.

It’s a gift from my 24-year-old daughter who is now a soccer coach in Nashville.

And I find my stolen words have returned to me written on a shirt.

 Be the ball Jenna

Kicking the Wickets with Yogi

I miss the elocution of Yogi Berra. He once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Last night as I watched Draymond Green’s leg fly north like a sledge hammer on wings directly into the fork of Steven Adam’s wickets, I couldn’t help but remember how much better it was in the old days when I played basketball and the physics of a 5’9” white kid who couldn’t jump nor discriminately kick past ankle height made the basketball court a safe haven for opponents body parts.  

Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams reportedly said Draymond Green has reached “peak annoyingness,” to which Draymond replied with gleeful wit, “I just be me.”

Apparently the advanced physical gifts of today’s high-flying athletes has hamstrung their elocution. I miss the old days when athletes spoke meaningfully, without malice, and with full wisdom and transparency, like Yogi Berra.

If only Draymond could tell us what happened in the language of Yogi.

Maybe he would have said, “When you come to a fork in the road, kick it.”

I miss the old days of plain simple to understand language from sports heroes. It’s accessible. I can understand it. And it points out the absurdity of trying to figure out everything on my own. In that spirit of human understanding, I’ve listed some of my favorites bits of wisdom from one of the greatest catchers and philosophers in baseball history, Yogi Berra.

Yogi knew how to rate a 5 star hotel.

“The towels were so thick there I could hardly close my suitcase.”

And he gave much thought to legacy.

  • Yogi was asked in an interview to play a game of word association and the interviewer said, “Mickey Mantle”, Yogi answered “What about him?”
  • On death and memory: “You should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”
  • And my favorite quote about death when his wife Carmen Berra said, “Yogi, you are from St. Louis, we live in New Jersey, and you played ball in New York. If you go before I do, where would you like me to have you buried?” Yogi replied, “Surprise me.”

Yogi was so wise, he could subdue Mother Nature. “It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”

And yes, Yogi summarized the basis of all scientific methodology in seven words. “You can observe a lot by watching.”

Yogi also knew the value of goal-setting when he reminded us, “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”

And he certainly gave me my finest tip on selecting a restaurant. “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

There have been Nobel Prizes awarded for economic thought that were less nuanced than Yogi’s words, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”

And as someone who has swung a golf club all my life, I relate to Mr. Berra’s advice on how to swing a bat. “How can you think and hit at the same time?”

Exactly.

And, some words from Yogi about what Draymond may have been thinking when he flailed his leg long after the basketball had left his hand and his foot had found a home, “You don’t have to swing hard to hit a homerun. If you got the timing, it’ll go.”

Finally, words from Yogi that express how I felt the first time I visited the New Jersey home of my wife to be,

“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.” Thanks for the memories Yogi, I remember that like it was yesterday, or was that tomorrow?

The Cruise of the Rolling Junk

I was ready to say, “One Provolone With”, which means give me one Pat’s cheesesteak with provolone cheese and fried onions. But I choked.

Since the lines at Pat’s King of Steak often stretch out onto Passyunk Avenue, you have to order quickly or risk the disdain of the cashier, not to mention the withering stares of South Philly cheese steak veterans who order with the swagger of Peyton Manning calling an audible while shouting “Omaha.”

Pats-HowOrder

“I guess I’ll have a…umm…a cheese steak. Oh, and provolone cheese with it also. And I forgot the onions, can you do those fried? I like them fried. I really hate cheese whiz, glad you have the provolone. Ya know, I’m from Oklahoma. We have license plates on the front of our vehicles that say, “Eat more beef…it’s what’s for dinner…or something like that, I can’t quite remember how that goes, but it’s really catchy and steak-like…”

pats-cheesesteaks pic

And then I noticed a guy who looked like Salvatore Tessio in The Godfather (Abe Vigoda of Barney Miller fame). He was staring at me with a steak spatula leveled in his right hand as cheese and beef painted his white apron in Philadelphia earth tones. I threw a twenty-dollar bill on the counter and slid down the sidewalk outside the order window. “Keep the change,” I mumbled, which was a 100% tip, but you are more grateful when you have felt the death stare of the steak man and lived to tell the story.

Karen and I love to eat when we travel and our rule is simple. If we can get it back home, we are not eating there. I went to the doctor recently and my cholesterol was 208 and I’m sure it was from the cheese steak I had in Philly. That’s why we only travel occasionally because the cheese steaks, lobster rolls, and cannoli kill me faster than going for a drive in the New York countryside with Rocco and Clemenza (Clemenza stops to take a leak and Paulie gets three bullets to the back of the head and all Clemenza can think of is the cannoli…”leave the gun, take the cannoli”).

Eating makes me happy, which also makes eating dangerous. If it really tastes good, I make soft but audible yummy noises, while Karen likes to sing and dance, which makes me sometimes uncomfortable in fancy restaurants. We are all different, and just like we have geographical linguistic differences, we have geographical food differences.

While a student in the foothills of the Ozarks at Harding University, Karen tried to order cream of wheat and the lady in the hairnet corrected her. “Honey, dem is grits.” Grits are well named. They are terrible unless smothered with cream and butter and gravy (and perhaps a little Cheese Whiz).

I was reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, “The Cruise of the Rolling Junk” recently and a passage reminded me of regional food differences when Fitzgerald writes of his wife singing about biscuits.

F Scott Fitzgerald the cruise of the rolling junk

“Zelda was up. This was obvious, for in a moment she came into my room singing aloud. Now when Zelda sings soft I like to listen, but when she sings loud I sing loud too in self-protection. So we began to sing a song about biscuits. The song related how down in Alabama all the good people ate biscuits for breakfast, which made them very beautiful and pleasant and happy, while up in Connecticut all the people ate bacon and eggs and toast, which made them very cross and bored and miserable–especially if they happened to have been brought up on biscuits.”    F. Scott Fitzgerald   The Cruise of the Rolling Junk

Zelda was from Alabama and Scott from the North. I’m an Okie and Karen was raised in New Jersey. Although Karen and I are thirty years happily married, we are not soul mates. At least not in the usual way of knowing what the other is thinking and finishing sentences for each other. But there are moments when we are the same spiritual soul.

Like Zelda and Scott, we travel for biscuits and cheese steaks, but also to hear music. Music takes us places. And if it’s Saturday, we time travel using Sirius satellite radio with an assist from Casey Kasem and replays of his American Top 40. Now, you can Google the top-selling song in the land, but in the Seventies, a gradual building of anticipation developed in living rooms, cars, and bowling alleys, from 40 down to 1. And if you had an FM radio, you had cutting-edge technology, although I preferred the AM crackle which seemed more urgent and authentic to me like Walter Cronkite was more believable than Dan Rather.

Now Karen and I try to eat well, by leaving the gun and the cannoli behind. We shop for groceries together, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, local farmer’s markets, and try to make up for all that cheese steak, tiramisu, and fettucine alfredo from the Seventies. It seems like the food is getting better these days, healthier, less added stuff, but the music, ah the music. The music from our formative days will always be our music. Springsteen, Eagles, JT, Three Dog Night, Stevie Wonder, Boston, Billie Joel, and yes Karen, even Barry Manilow.

That music was heavy, like our food, full of saturated fat and sugar, sentiment by the glow of the dashboard radio. I’m glad I only have to listen to Casey Kasem while traveling on Saturdays, and that we only eat cheesesteaks when we are in NJ or Philly. Otherwise, it would be too much, like eating dessert for breakfast and pancakes for dinner.

But it’s good for the soul to stroll up to a Pat’s King of Steak every now and then and say, “One provolone with,” and know that you ordered well and that the spatula wasn’t pointed at you and you can glance back at your linemates and nod in acknowledgement that you did your job well. Because after ordering well, all that’s left is to sit down and sink your mouth into the wonder. To eat in another world across cultural differences, like the time we enjoyed Indie food in Wittenberg, Germany, or Johnson’s Caramel Popcorn on the boardwalk in Ocean City, or Bar-B-Que at Fat Belly’s in White Springs, Florida.Ralph Fat Bellys

We travel a lot like Zelda and F. Scott. We are the Cruise of the Rolling Junk. And we travel backwards on Saturday with Casey Kasem. We travel back to days when our hearts were full and our arteries were clear and the number one song could only be found on the radio. It makes me hungry thinking about it, our next road trip. Think we’ll head out on a Saturday. Until then, we’ll be happy with keeping our feet on the ground, and reaching for the health food stars.

Bona Fide Creative Plagiarist

Bernie Sanders is the grandfatherly hippie from a generation that is stealing Facebook from the young and dancing to the Beach Boys at 50 year high school reunions. Why does Bernie resonate with young voters? Perhaps grandparents are easier to relate to than parents, and are thought to be more “themselves”, more real, more authentic, than their career chasing money-jaded baby-boomer parents. This helps explain how the oldest man in the Presidential race appeals to the youngest voters.

Most of us long for the authentic, the real McCoy, the bona fide, just as we are repulsed by the deceitful, the veiled, the mala fide. In the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Everett, after escaping prison, discovers that his wife is planning to marry another man, because according to his wife, Penny, he is not bona fide, and to accelerate the demise of his reign as paterfamilias, she tells the children their Daddy was hit by a train.

Ulysses Everett McGill:  Why are you tellin’ our gals that I was hit by a train?

Penny:  Lots of respectable people have been hit by trains. Judge Hoover over in Cookville was hit by a train. What was I gonna tell them, that you got sent to the penal farm and I divorced you from shame?

Ulysses Everett McGill:  Uh, I take your point. But it does put me in an awkward position, vis-à-vis my progeny.

Bona fide is not as easy as it sounds and is difficult to find in public figures who intentionally conceal their devils while displaying their angels. In another scene from the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the wandering protagonists, Everett, Pete, and Delmar, stumbled upon an African-American guitar player by the name of Tommy Johnson, who explained to them what the Devil looks like.

Pete: I’ve always wondered, what’s the devil look like?

Ulysses Everett McGill: Well, there are all manner of lesser imps and demons, Pete, but the great Satan hisself is red and scaly with a bifurcated tail, and he carries a hay fork.

Tommy Johnson: Oh, no. No, sir. He’s white, as white as you folks, with empty eyes and a big hollow voice.

According to Tommy Johnson, Satan could be Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, or a Presidential Candidate.

Being true, original, authentic, or real, sounds easy enough, but it isn’t. My brother Greg once reminded me while I was complaining that I couldn’t find anything original to write, that everything has already been written, so don’t waste your breath trying to write something new. Just do it again, but say it in your own words.

Understanding that there is nothing new or original helps assuage my guilt because I confess to sometimes stealing stories. Sub-creation is what I do. I take what is already created and rewrite it…I’m a bona fide creative plagiarist.

Presidential candidates, like writers, are creative plagiarists. They take what is already created and rewrite it for good or evil. Politicians take the great Constitutional ideas of our forefathers, Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, and sprinkle in the good sense of Martin Luther King, Jesus, and their favorite Supreme Court Justices, or they re-write the ideas of Machiavelli, Adam Smith, and Walt Disney, while stirring in some Scripture for good measure, “Anyone who refuses to work should not eat.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10, or, “All the people had everything in common, sharing their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” Acts 2:42

presidential candidates 2016

To pick on Bernie Sanders as an example, he isn’t saying or proposing anything new. He’s been saying these things for many years. He simply stuck around long enough for an electoral cluster of young voters with no political memory to sprout like winter wheat in the greenhouse gases of polarizing politics. “He (Bernie Sanders) doesn’t seem to have ulterior motives,” said Alison Sanderlin, a 26 year old who works in a photo lab and believes the GOP message has fallen flat.

Today, our country’s youngest block of voters are searching for their own truth, their own verity, their own authentic voting souls. I remember a recent conversation with my son, Brandon, who is a 23 year old meteorologist from Norman, Oklahoma. We were watching television and had a brief political conversation. He asked me who I was voting for in the Presidential Election and I asked him the same question. I didn’t fully reveal my hand, but simply said, “Not Trump.” He said, “I’ll probably vote for Bernie Sanders.”

That was a revealing moment for me as a white middle-aged male with socially compassionate, fiscally conservative, and bureaucratically libertarian leanings. I’m not sure if that makes me liberal, conservative or whig, but I do sense the deep alienation that exists between the young in this country and the entrenched.

Exit polls in New Hampshire and Iowa confirm that Millennials from the age of 18-29 prefer Mr. Sanders by 84% to 16% over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. WSJ page A6 Tuesday February 16, 2016

So I’m wondering, among the candidates, who appears to be ulterior in their motivation? Or to say it backwards, who are the overt, the revealed, the fully disclosed? Hillary, Ted, Marco, Donald, Jeb, Bernie? In other words, are we able to discern underlying or private motives behind a candidacy? Isn’t politics in it’s very nature a blending of the overt and the covert, the hidden and the revealed, the undisclosed and the divulged? Are the Millennials saying that Donald Trump isn’t bona fide? How dare they! Perhaps the Donald sold his soul to the Devil like Tommy Johnson.

Ulysses Everett McGill: What’d the devil give you for your soul, Tommy (Donald)?

Tommy (the Donald) Johnson: Well, he taught me to play this here guitar real good and to evade the real question by ruthlessly attacking mealy-minded political opponents.

Delmar O’Donnell: Oh son, for that you sold your everlasting soul?

Tommy (the Donald) Johnson: Well, I wasn’t usin’ it.

John Della Volpe, who as director of polling at the Harvard Institute of Politics has been surveying millennials since 2000, says young voters generally seem less interested in politicians resumes than in their candor. “Young people are really less interested in past accomplishments and more interested in today and the future,” he says. “They look for candidates who are focusing emotion, talking about the moment, being authentic.” Janet Hook WSJ Tuesday February 16, 2016 Millennials Unsettle Race

Authenticity seems to be what my children, all three now in their mid-twenties, listen and respond to. Socrates would have called this verity. Policies and philosophies matter, but only if they are sustained by truth. The bona fide, the real, the authentic, is something to consider when you enter the polling place next November. Otherwise, you might discover that you’ve been hit by a train, like Ulysses Everett McGill, and placed in an awkward position, vis-à-vis your progeny. I’m not sure for whom I shall cast my vote. I’m just suggesting that we heed the words of Abraham Lincoln who said, “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have.”