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Words from Our Wise Rulers

“A lot of people don’t know it, but our country’s in trouble.”
— Trump
“Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.”
— Trump
“It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write.” — Trump
“I hate everyone in the White House!  There are a few exceptions, but I hate them!”— Trump
“It’s very tough because it’s an island…an island sitting in the middle of an ocean — and it’s a big ocean. It’s a very big ocean….This is a thing called the Atlantic Ocean.”
— Trump
“I don’t stand by anything.”
— Trump
“So I deal with foreign countries, and despite what you may read, I have unbelievable relationships with all of the foreign leaders.  They like me.  I like them.  You know, it’s amazing.”
— Trump
“No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.”
— Trump
“I have a certified letter.  I’m not just saying that.  It says I’m not involved in Russia.”
— Trump
“Better to get your news directly from the President.
In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.”
— Congressman Lamar Smith (R)
“Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”
— Congressman Raul Labrador (R)
“…your value as a human being is equivalent to what you are paid…teachers are not worth much because they aren’t paid much.”
— Robert Mercer, Billionaire Trump Backer
“When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
— Richard Nixon
“I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.”
— Eric Trump (son of)
“Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
— Trump
“This is infinity here.  It could be infinity.  We don’t really don’t know.  But it could be.  It has to be something – but it could be infinity, right?
— Trump

Give Trump a Break, Why Don’t You?

I feel I know Donald Trump in a personal and non-fake way, I am proud to say, and he is a kind, warm-hearted man whose only interest in life is using the Presidency of the United States to make everyone in the world happy and rich.

Since “happiness” and “richness” are, as psychologists tell us every day, states of mind, Donald does his noble work through Twitter where he can reach out to those with happiness and richness spiritual deficits and bring them along to self-fulfillment.

Twitter allows him to perform this noble mission in the simplest, most easily understood language of the great masses of humanity.  Meaning our God-given English language in 140 characters or less.  Just as Jesus did with those short, snappy parables of his.

(I know I should have said “fewer” there but, as Donald knows, good grammar and spelling are elitist tricks sponsored by that wiretapping Nigerian former U.S. President and his fellow travelers to divert us from Donald’s good work and the high praise he deserves for it.)

It is not enough for me to say that I find Donald noble and praiseworthy.  No, there are never enough accolades (Hosanna in the highest!) to heap on this fine man.  For instance:

Do you know that all those years Donald was amassing and losing fortunes built on the scant billion dollars lent him by his father with no expectation of repayment, Donald donated most of his money to anonymous charities and kept back only a little to furnish in gold plate his small penthouse mansions in New York City in which to keep his various wives and children in semi-splendor?

There is the nobility of the man!  He gave to the poor.  He sheltered the lost and miserable.  He met strangers and treated them as angels.  He sponsored whole hosts of charities and said nothing about it, so modest and kind-hearted is he.

Do you know that Donald has a yuge plan to rebuild America in his own noble image starting with the falling bridges and potholed highways and proceeding on to the reeducation camps called voucher-based schools and the elimination of pesky newspapers?

Do you know he has a plan to insure your comfortable old age and your health, both plans focused keenly on the good psychology of the “happiness” and “richness” states of mind?  When in old age or sickness you are feeling a little bit down or hungry, just concentrate on the concepts of “happiness” and “richness” and you, following our noble leader Donald, will be all right.

If, of course, you have the grave misfortune to be black or yellow or red or some other color or race other than white, such as Democrat, or female or gay or transgendering or poor or blue collar or white collar or pink collar or redneck or trailer trash or illegal alien or some other of all those very popular genders these days that do not fit into the billionaire class, all of which The Donald celebrates in his magnificent low-key way, then you, too, can feel better about your wrong racial/sexual/religious/economic choices in life by concentrating on happiness and richness and Donald’s stratospherically high popularity ratings and magnificent Inauguration Day (now a public holiday by executive order) crowds.

If, in some bizarre moment of weakness, you doubt this solution to all your woes, tune in to Fox News or the next White House press briefing, if there ever is one again, and enjoy an upbeat moment to join his paid crowd cheering The Donald and that will cure you.

We all are on a new path behind our dear leader toward untold happiness and richness, and you better believe it.

Cheerio!

© 2017 Boomers End

Our Great New Old Politics

“Our leaders are sick of all the solid information that has been dumped on humanity by research and scholarship and investigative reporting.  They think that the whole country is sick of it, and they could be right.  It isn’t the gold standard that they want to put us back on.  They want something even more basic.  They want to put us back on the snake-oil standard.”

– Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

America, Not So Special

“My country doesn’t feel so special anymore,” says the Millennial waitress pouring our coffee.

“Just because we’ve elected a spoiled brat as President?” says The Boomer.  “Oh, we’ve done worse.”

“When did we do worse?” she says, startled.

“Well, John F. Kennedy.”

“Whoa,” I say, shoving aside my coffee cup.  “Didn’t JFK avoid a nuclear war over Cuba that would’ve blown us all to pieces?  How is he worse?”

“He promoted civil rights for all citizens regardless of race or anything else, him and that ghastly Lyndon Johnson,” says The Boomer.

“That’s bad?” says the Millennial.

“It interferes with the traditional way things are done in this special country of ours and just can’t be allowed,” says The Boomer.  “It’s like the Federal anti-lynching law.”

“What about it?” she says.

“We don’t have one.  Lynching is as American as apple pie.”

“Are you trying to make me sick?”

“Nixon was pretty bad, too,” says The Boomer.

“You mean,” I say, “because he was impeached and forced to resign?”

“No, no, that was silly politics.  He expanded the social safety net for the poor, established agencies to protect the safety of workers on the job and to preserve the environment, and made our peace with China.”

“Those aren’t good things?” says the Millennial.

“Only if you think Christian charity to the poor and the health of American workers are good things and that doing business with the Communist enemy is in any way smart.”

“I don’t even know what ‘Communist’ means,” she says.

“There you have it!  See the damage Nixon did to American values?  There’s also the monster Truman.”

“I’m almost afraid to ask what crimes he committed,” she says.

“Integrated the Armed Forces!” says The Boomer.  “Really messed things up for lots of traditional-type guys who should have been promoted if there hadn’t been so much competition from those others.  And it led to women in command of soldiers in combat.

“I suppose you have something bad to say about Franklin Roosevelt who got us through the Depression and World War II?” I say.

“Oh, yes, he’s the worst of all, him and Lincoln.  FDR proposed national health care, a real crime against traditional American do-it-yourself medicine.”

“You’re exhausting me,” says the Millennial, “but I have to know how Lincoln was a monster.”

“Why, he’s where America really started going downhill.”

“You can’t mean because he fought a war to free the slaves?” I say.  “Then I’m going to need more than coffee to listen to this.”

“Hey,” says The Boomer, “slavery offers the advantage of depressing the cost of labor and drives out those awful unions.  That keeps down the cost of everything we buy.  If it weren’t for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, we could try it again, using illegal immigrants this time.”

“You make me want to scream, Boomer!” says the Millennial.

“But Lincoln’s real offense was promoting land grant colleges, a national banking system and free land in the West.”

“What’s wrong with all that?” she says.

“Can’t you see, child?  They’re all crimes against the American Dream to get rich.  Do you really want working men and women educated to complain about how you make your fortune?  Why have a national banking system when trading gold nuggets allows easier Wall Street manipulation?  Why give away free government land in the West when billionaire bankers and real estate moguls can sell it to make personal fortunes?”

“Boomer,” cries the Millennial, “I think you’ve lost America from your heart!”

“Oh, I believe in America,” says The Boomer, “just not the one we’ve got right now.  I believe in that other one.”

“What other America is there?”

“The America that still says, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’”

“You make me want to cry, Boomer.”

“Go ahead.  Then wipe off your tears and let’s all go find a way to bring back that other America.”

 

© 2016-17 Steven Hardesty

Stolen Valor, Stolen What?

Hey, why’s this stolen valor thing in the headlines again? says Molokai, slapping down his newspaper.

What headlines? says our Millennial waitress who gets her news in happy snippets online.  And who can steal valor, anyway?

Molokai grabs for his cup of coffee and drinks it down hot and furious.

You don’t know? he shouts at her.

Oh, don’t be upset with a Millennial, says The Boomer sitting on a stool further down the diner counter.  We never taught them to know any better.

Better than what? says the waitress, archly.

It’s like this, says Molokai with a patience that further infuriates our Millennial.  This guy – Molokai taps the newspaper – claimed he won the Medal of Honor in Iraq and a Purple Heart for war wounds and wears his old Army uniform to give speeches to beg money to pay for his medical treatment but he never left a Stateside training camp and flunked out of that!

So he dresses up his C.V., says the waitress.  Everyone does that.

Molokai howls in frustration.  People flee the diner knowing what comes next from him will be volcanic.

But The Boomer says to the waitress, It’s not just playacting.  Claiming valor medals not yours demeans what men and women who are true heroes in war did to keep this country safe and free.

Oh, says the Millennial.

“Oh?” cries Molokai.  Is that all you can say, you poor child?

You want more coffee in your cup or in your face, Molokai? she says, surprisingly calm.

The Boomer says to her, I think you’ve got something to tell us, don’t you?

My granddad, she says, was there in Vietnam like you boomers.  He deserved some medals but never got them.

What? says Molokai in fresh rage.  No one made the effort to do the stinking Army politics to write him up for medals?

He didn’t care so long as he came home alive, says the Millennial.  He got the Purple Heart, though.  They gave him that.  I don’t even know what it means.

It means a lot, says The Boomer.

But now here’s this creep – Molokai slaps the newspaper headline again – working the system to cheat everyone like your granddad who stood up for the country.

The waitress says, sweetly, So send him to the war zone and leave him there until he earns what he claims.

Molokai and The Boomer raise their coffee cups in salute to our favorite Millennial.

The rest of us cheer.

 

© 2016 Steven Hardesty

The Ultimate Bucket List

I’ve just decided I can’t do everything before I die, says The Boomer.

What do you mean – climb Everest, steal a kiss from Tina Turner, learn to play the sackbut, shake Donald Trump’s hand? I say.

Tina who? says Ms Millennial behind the diner counter, pouring the coffee.

Rob a bank, says The Boomer.  I’ve always wanted to rob a bank.  That’s something I can do in the time I have left.

Did you also budget twenty years in prison? says our waitress, scoffing in good Millennial style.

Oh, the bank I want to rob the cops don’t care about, says The Boomer.

Name this bank, I say.

It’s more of an international cartel with money stuffed everywhere.

You mean want to rob all the world’s drug traffickers?

It’s the least I can do for the world before I shuffle off.

Try that and they may help you die ahead of schedule, I say.

The Boomer takes out a bit of marijuana and cigarette paper, rolls a joint and lights up.

You can’t smoke that stuff in here, says the Millennial.  You oldies go smoke outside.  Shoo!

We do and we share tokes with passersby.

Why do you think it’s your job to bankrupt all the world’s drug traffickers? I ask The Boomer.

Because our generation made this drugs mess and I say we clean it up.  We destroy the drug cartels by stealing their money.  We do that by legalizing drugs.  They go broke.  Bingo.

“Bingo?” says the Millennial, joining us on the sidewalk and lighting up her factory-rolled joint.  I wish you golden oldies would speak English.

What do you think of The Boomer’s scheme? I ask her.

I’m a Millennial, she says.  I try not to think too much.  It distracts from blowing weed.

She sucks in some smoke and says as she exhales, When I think about drugs at all, I wonder why fight them?  Dope is bad stuff but it’s not going to sink the country, is it?  Besides it’s done some good things for us.

Like what? splutters The Boomer.

The war on drugs is like the war on terrorists, says the Millennial.  It’s made us build a huge structure full of jobs and expensive drug tests and wonderful new surveillance inventions.  Bankrupt the drug cartels and what have we got?

A bump up in the unemployment rolls? The Boomer says weakly.

Don’t be so optimistic, says the Millennial.  The word is “depression.”

So we need drugs and the drug war to keep employment up and the economy going? The Boomer says, agog.

Until we can think of a better way to provide jobs, says the Millennial, like building rocket ships to boost astronauts to Alpha Centauri or maybe something even tougher – ending disease and poverty and ignorance everywhere on Earth.

Yeah, like that will ever happen, says The Boomer.

That’s why we need drugs, says the Millennial.

 

© 2016 Steven Hardesty

Why You Aren’t Dead Yet

Some mad scientists have combined human stem cells and pig DNA to make interchangeable parts to be grown inside pigs so we humans can live forever, says David Leighton at our monthly bloggers’ roundtable, and I just don’t like it.

You don’t want to live forever half-pig and half-man? says Carlos Henrico, opening another twelve pack of beer to boost along our deliberations.  Whyever not?

I’d rather die in the natural way than be a half-pig, David says, at age 103.

Oh, I solved this death problem long ago, says The Masked Blogger.  When I reached A Certain Age, I started counting birthdays in reverse.  Now I’m 51.  So long as I can count backwards, I’ll never die.

I’d stop my regression in my twenties, says Carlos.  Those were good years.  I was strong, healthy, girls were crazy about me and I was happy about everything in life.  I’ll stop there.

None of that backwards foolishness for me, says David.  My doctor says I could live to be 90 but I’ve figured how to beat his odds.  When I see that 90th birthday coming, I’ll just jump ahead to 91 and keep on going.

Looks like we’re all going to live forever, I say, emptying another can of beer.  But what do we do for eternity?  Or is it like the eternity I spend every night trying to find something to watch that isn’t reality TV?

I see by the papers, says David, that a certain very lovely beauty pageant winner got stripped of her title for having live sex on a reality TV show.  One I missed, I’m sorry to say.

Sounds like your reality TV is more fun to watch than mine, says Carlos.  All I get is Naked & Abandoned in the Jungle & Very Very Unwashed.

Oh well, says The Masked Blogger, breaking open another twelve pack.  The sun will blast apart in ten billion years and there goes reality TV showing naked pig-men rooting through our fossilized empties.

There’s always hope we’ll find a habitable planet to escape to and start over, David says.

My big fear, says Carlos, is we’ll discover life on all those other habitable planets and it’s just like us – half-pig, half-men scheming to live forever.

Why don’t we ever have enough beer at these meetings? I say.

 

© 2016 Steven Hardesty

Who’s Your Nanny?

Officer Musso is not a beloved figure.  Last week at Home Depot, “Moose” noticed a trailer hitch infraction and left a municipal valentine on the windshield of Big Truck’s hemi.  The guy’s halfway in the door at the Java Shack and BT’s already winding him up.

“Damn, it’s hard,” says BT.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“Been figuring how to get the seat belts out of my ride,” he replies.

“What?  Why do that?” asks Moose.

“The whole nanny state thing.  Sick of being schooled.  This is good for you, that’s bad for you.  Want to live free again – like it used to be,” says BT.

“This freedom thing is catching on,” Baja Shirt nods.  “Not as sexy as the girls and their Free the Nipple crusade.  But as they say in New Hampshire, live free or die tryin.”

“Unbuckle and live free,” Padres Hat makes it a bumper sticker.

“Sure, however briefly,” our barista murmurs.

“Come on, think about it people, why buckle?” asks BT.   “Safety?  Says who?  Nothing but Boomer babble!”

“What about years of studies and tests done by big-name research centers and universities, crash test dummies, all that?” says Moose.

“Bah!” snorts Baja, “a bunch of back-scratching grant whores, in it for the money.”

“Yeah, and take a closer look at the Institute for Highway Safety.  You know who’s behind that?  Big, corporate insurance, that’s who,” says Padres.

“Or that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – part of the executive branch – buried deep in the heart of big government.  Busily eroding the freedom of American drivers since 1970.  Ask yourself, why?  They’re even doing research using biomechanics and human modeling – you think that’s OK?”

Moose laughs, with a straight face.

“And the worst?” BT cries.  “Every year, your so-called Safety Administration doles out over 500 million smackers to the states for the specific purpose of influencing, be honest call it manipulating, drivers like you and me. ”

“Click it or ticket,” says Padres, “what a damn rip-off.”

“Looks like they’re running the same scheme with this climate business,” I suggest.

“Another freedom-destroying fraud,” roars BT.  “Nothing but bought-out science, and researchers for hire, drooling for prestige and government bucks.”

“Get this,” adds Baja, “I heard that over 97% of the world’s top scientists read English.  Think about that.  They’re all in on it.”

“Makes me barf,” says Padres. “Pure scum.  Trump’s new campaign manager got that right.”

“Time to make a stand, says Baja.  “Just say no to the obvious treachery of global elites.”

“Me?  I say to hell with them all.  Get the damn nannies off our backs.  Unbuckle and live free!  Even sounds great,” declares BT.

“So, BT, you going to hook up with those freedom loving gals in the Nipple campaign?” I ask.

“Can only hope,” he chuckles.

I’m outside pumping more silver into the slot that never pays.  Moose comes out, asks me, “BT’s just joshing about the belts, right?”

“Dunno.  Have to wonder,” I shrug.

Let him think about it.  Musso’s keen on nanny.  The rest of us, not so much.

 

© 2016 David Leighton

Who’s the Happy Veteran?

I may be the only happy veteran in America, The Boomer says to me as we’re watching the grandkids in the park.

Who says you’re the country’s only happy vet? I ask.

Every politician who wants my vote, says The Boomer.  Every damn one of them tells me all vets are homeless, sick, war-wounded and unhappy.  But I’m none of those things so I must be happy.

I’m pretty happy, too, says Mandi, pushing her littlest grand on a swing.  But I don’t listen to politicians.

Whoa, you two! I say.  How can anyone be a happy vet with the Veterans Administration screwing us all and Congress cutting our benefits?

There’s plenty wrong with the VA, The Boomer says, and its bureaucracy and silly rules.  I suppose there might even be something wrong with Congress, but.

But what? I say.  Hey, Boomer, didn’t you work for the VA just after Vietnam?  Sounds to me like you favor the people screwing us!

Mandi sits beside us with her grand on her knees.  You want to hear a VA story the politicians will never tell? she says to me.  A real double-hanky story but full of heart and all true?

You’re going to tell me the VA has a heart? I say.

This little one, says Mandi, squeezing the grandkid on her lap, is some of what I have left of the boy I loved and married before he went off to be killed in Vietnam.  I have six grandchildren now from the two babies he left me.  Do you know how I lived after he was killed?

The Boomer glances at his watch and says, Oops!  Gotta grab the grands and go.  Lunchtime!

Stay, Mandi says, firmly.  Time for you to hear my side of the story.

The Boomer sits down again, looking embarrassed.

I was very young, a child, really, says Mandi.  I was a child war widow with two babies.  No job, no skills, no education but high school.  My parents were a thousand miles away.  They could barely afford to send me the few bucks each month that kept us one notch above starvation.  But nothing for diapers or blankets or a place to live.

Where did you live? I say.

The street.

But you had his GI life insurance coming to you, I say, beginning to feel angry for her.  Social Security, Army benefits, VA benefits.  Where was all that?

How do all those things find me in the street? says Mandi.  I was a child with no idea what to ask for or where to go to ask for it.

Now I am angry.  Sweet Jesus, Mandi, I say, somebody should’ve been there for you.

Somebody was.  He was, she says, turning to The Boomer.

You? I say to him.  How did you know Mandi back then?

I didn’t, he says.

Then what’s the story? I say, puzzled.

I put my kids on a cardboard mat in an alley, says Mandi.  The babies were crying from hunger.  I was lost and terrified.  A young man came into the alley.  He was looking for us.  Do you know what that meant to me to have someone looking for me?

I put an arm over Mandi’s shoulders and ask, Who was he then?

Just another war veteran, she says.  A kid with PTSD working to get himself normal again by finding me.

Working for the Salvation Army? I say.  The Red Cross?

He was a kind of back-alley ranger, Mandi says.  They hired him and a thousand others all across America and sent them out into the alleys to find derelict vets, homeless vets and war widows with babies living in cardboard boxes.  He found me.

I put my other arm over The Boomer’s shoulders.

Mandi says, He took me and my babies to a place that fed us and gave me diapers.  Then he looked at the scraps of Army documents I had.  He gave me an advance of money and helped me find shelter.  He got my widow’s benefits started.  He got me into school.

I say, The Boomer did all that for you?

The VA did all that for me, Mandi says.

The VA? I say.

The VA sent The Boomer to find me and my babies so I could sit here with you today and dandle a grandchild on my knees.

It is lunchtime, after all, and The Boomer rounds up his grandkids to herd them away.  Mandi does the same.

They leave me there alone to wonder at the wonder of a huge, faceless bureaucracy that sends a wounded boy searching through alleys to rescue a frightened girl with two hungry babies, and to heal himself.

 

© 2016 Steven Hardesty

(BTW, this is a true story.  I was a witness. – Editor)

 

Brexit, Frexit, Swexit, Nexit?

Why should we worry over Brexit? says the Millennial pouring me that good diner coffee.

Because Britain leaving the European Union has got the French talking exit, too, plus the Swedes and Italians, I say.  The whole EU could collapse and then where would we all be?

Where do you think? she says.

The economic impact! I say.  The hit on world trade, jobs, free movement of people, global security, all that.

You don’t think the Brits, the Europeans and the U.S.A. can figure how to put all that back on track pretty quickly?

Well, sure, we’ll have to.  But it will be chaos until then.

Is that all, a little more chaos? she says, giving me that piteous glance Millennials reserve for boomers.  What’s this presidential election but chaos?  Police killing black people on the streets?  Loonies with automatic rifles shooting up dance clubs?  We live in chaos.  We’ll get through Brexit just fine.

Do I believe my ears? I cry.  Millennials all over Britain are terrified of what comes next but you don’t care?

Oh, I care, she says.  But I want something fresh and new in my world, not more of what we got from you boomers.  Brexit could open the world to something good.

Mandi down the counter, soaking a donut in her coffee, says to me, You need to listen to those younger and wiser than you are, old man.

But she’s talking crazy, I say.  The risks are huge, my retirement fund already took a big hit…

It’ll pass, says Mandi, when all those talking heads on TV get bored with Brexit and move onto something else to get frantic about.

Why do you boomers always blame the talking heads, says the Millennial, when there’s something so much bigger here?

What’s bigger? say Mandi and I together.

Democracy, says the Millennial.

Did I just hear a Millennial say something sensible? I say, stunned.

My generation is not entirely ignorant, she says.  Some of us can see the EU is not just un-democratic but in too many ways anti-democratic.  What do you call a few thousand unelected bureaucrats in Brussels dictating how cheese is made in Italy or ending bull fights in Spain or telling a man in Britain he can’t power his car on his own used cooking oil?

Tyranny, I say, that’s what you call it.

So the problem isn’t Brexit or Frexit or Swexit, says the Millennial.  The problem is what’s left in Europe if all that happens.

Germany is left, says Mandi, with all its client states.

That’s an outrageous thing to suggest, I say to Mandi.  Brexit can’t lead to another 1914 or 1939.

No, says the Millennial, because this time everyone is a democrat.  And no democracy has ever gone to war on another democracy.

Not since 1861, anyway, I say.

Or since the Spanish-American War, says Mandi.  Or the Kashmir wars, the Football War, the Six Day War, parts of the Cold War…

Enough! I say.  Where’s the nearest bomb shelter?

You boomers, says the Millennial, exasperated, always looking for more chaos.  Sure, we’re in for a rough ride.  But democracy’s stronger for the Brits’ voting to take back their independence from an overbearing EU, isn’t it?

I agree, says Mandi, but now you’ve got me worried about a Fourth Reich.

 

© 2016 Steven Hardesty

Where Have All the Boys Gone?

Where have all the teenage boys gone?   They used to be everywhere, laying rubber on country roads, engine grease under their fingernails, evenings spent at mud-spattering stock car races, oblivious to everything but hammering pistons and how to fix them.

Sure, girls were important then, too.  Just not quite as important as the four-on-the-floor of your Chevy or lowriding your Buick.

When Friday night rolled ‘round, a boy had to decide if he’d spend the ten bucks in his jeans pocket on a date or his car. You remember that, don’t you?

Blow it all on a drive-in movie and burgers with a girl tonight and tomorrow night, when you’re broke, you’ll see her out there riding around in a car with another guy.

Hey, better to spend your hard-earned cash on your car.  You can count on a car to be there for you.  You can’t count on a girl.

Besides, money means car parts.  Parts mean tooling around town leaving envy in your exhaust.  Or another set of tires for next Friday night at the races.

One Saturday, after I’d refused to waste ten bucks on a girl, hoarding the money for parts, my dad and I hauled the engine out of my Bugeye Sprite.  Just four little cylinders.  No hopeless strings of computer wiring or horsepower-eating pollution devices.

We unhooked the mechanicals and pulled out the engine with our bare hands.  Then we rebuilt it with new parts.  Fresh air, perfume of oil, the feel of metal on our fingers.  What better way to spend a Saturday morning?

Even in those days ten bucks wouldn’t stretch to cover all the new parts I needed, so I cleaned up some old parts and used them, as well.

Took the Bugeye out for a trial run and got as far as a beautiful shade tree beside the road about ten miles from home.  My refurbished parts didn’t do so well.  They busted.  Engine stopped.  I cheered.

I pulled open the front end and got dirty with the engine.  It was great.  But I needed more parts.

My brother happened by and we hauled the Bugeye home.  I spent the rest of the day just me happily hauling out the engine and tearing it apart again.

I borrowed a few bucks for new parts.  Applied the old screwdriver test to the crankshaft – you’ve done this work yourself so you know what I mean – and bam! she cranked over sweetly.

Took her for a spin and got way past the old shade tree.  My little Bugeye kept going for years and years driving through lots of happy memories.

When I’m down, I think back to that Saturday afternoon stranded under a shade tree with engine grease up to my elbows and I feel better.

Where are the teenage boys under their shade trees by the roadside?  I don’t see them there anymore.  Don’t see them working in the driveways, either, or out back of a service station borrowing tools.

It’s the cars, of course.  Today’s cars are all computerized and internet-wired and so ridiculously complicated no teenage boy with a good set of garage tools can fix them.

He’d have to be a software engineer or a lab technician in a white coat unsmudged with engine oil to do anything under the hood of today’s cars.

And now the kings of the internet are making self-driving cars.  First the world steals the joy of engine work from a teenage boy.  Then it steals the joy of driving.  What’s left to do but play silly videogames hidden under a hoodie instead of half under the hood of a car?

Say, you don’t suppose we could persuade carmakers to build just a few cars in that old way once again?  I mean without computers and e-hookups so that teenage boys could be teenage boys, buying their own parts, fixing their own rides and feeling like boys.

Or is it too much to ask of modern technology to produce anything simple and fun?

 

© 2016 Steven Hardesty

Damn the Millennials, Sort of…

Damn Millennials! shouts The Boomer, throwing down the TV remote control and spilling my coffee on the diner counter.  Are they really so stupid they don’t know what day today is?

It’s Saturday, I say.  Put the TV back on.  I like watching blow-dried newsreaders in tight outfits who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Don’t pretend you don’t know the date, says The Boomer, furious.

April 9? I ask.

Appomattox Day, says fellow boomer Mandi down the counter.  The day Lee surrendered to Grant and ended the Civil War and slavery.

The greatest single day in American history, says The Boomer.  But it’s not here on TV or in all these techno-hip electronic newspapers.  Not a single word of it!

Millennials aren’t responsible for what’s not in the news, I say, mopping up my spilled coffee.

No, says The Boomer, bitterly, we are.  Us.  You, me, the whole of our generation.

The Boomer’s right, says Mandi.  I got me a kid born on June 6 and all he knows about that date is birthday cake.

The waitress at the counter, a Millennial, pours us all more coffee and says, I know June 6.  It’s D-Day, isn’t it?

What’s D-Day, young lady? asks The Boomer, suspicious.

I heard it somewhere, she says, but no one ever told me what it means.

I want to scream! says The Boomer.

Don’t or I’ll have to shoo all you golden oldies out of here, says the waitress.  Especially if you keep spilling coffee and leaving stingy tips.

Here’s a tip, says The Boomer.  There are five dates in American history you Millennials need to know.  I’m going to do for you in two minutes what my generation failed to do for you in twelve years of compulsory public education.

So I can recognize those dates on “Jeopardy!” or in a funny kitty podcast when they come up? says the waitress, full of sass.

July 4, 1776! shouts The Boomer.

Oh, I know that one, says the waitress, I think.

April 9, 1865.

You just told me that one.

August 6, 1945.  We dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima.

What’s an atom bomb and why did you have to drop it? says the waitress.  And so what?

1968!  The Tet Offensive and the defeat that cost us the war in Vietnam.

If you’re going to talk foreign, says the waitress, how do you expect me to understand you?

The Boomer thrusts his empty coffee cup toward her and says, Make it hot and black this time and sweeten it with arsenic, if you please.

I wish I had some of that for all you boomers, she mutters, pouring the coffee.  What’s the last date, old man?

The Boomer, nearly exhausted by his educational effort, says, Okay, I’ll lob you a softball – 1972.

The waitress gazes at him waiting for his explanation.  The Boomer is too drained to answer.

So I say to her, But you’ve got to know 1972.  It’s the year the Jefferson Airplane broke up.

Thomas Jefferson made an airplane? she says, startled.  I thought Mr. Boeing invented…

It’s when rock-and-roll died for good, interrupts Mandi down the counter, shaking her head.

No Lady Gaga? says the waitress.  No Prince?  No Beyoncé?  No Taylor Swift?  No Bill Withers?  No Lou Reed?  No Joan Jett?  No Pat Benatar?  No…

I watch The Boomer sink his face lower and lower toward his coffee cup as though he wants to drown himself in it.

All right, I say to the sassy waitress, the old boy gets your point.

But I like to beat dead horses, she says.  And his is the deadest.

You’ve got to admit, says The Boomer, that your generation is the damned ignorantest.

I admit, she says, that every generation of boomers thinks every generation of millennials is too stupid to breathe because they don’t know this or that detail of their own history.  And the boomers are right.  But the millennials are righter.

How can they be righter? says a puzzled Boomer.

Because every younger generation is righter than the one that went before or we wouldn’t get anywhere.

I’m not so sure we are getting anywhere, says The Boomer.

Oh, and thank you, Boomer, the Millennial says, for winning the Civil War for me and World War II and the Vietnam War and all those other wars since.  But we Millennials have got to clean up the mess you left after each one because none of those wonderful things actually got finished, did they?

I suppose not, says The Boomer.

The waitress tops off his cup and says, This is your last free coffee this morning, Boomer, unless you want the arsenic sweetener.

 

© 2016 Steven Hardesty

Why Are We Failing Our Veterans?

Mondays are not a quiet time in The Java Shack.  Folks jolting the week into gear with an assist from the craft roasters at Café Moto.  Today was different.

Two steps in the door and there’s the reason in headline bold: VA Scandal Hits Home in Painful Fashion.  Damn.  The VA story, a slow-drip horror, has now come to our neighborhood.

Another American vet has chosen suicide, a local this time.

“Shit,” I say.   Only the espresso machine answers.   I exhale, sit and wait.   A long minute passes.  Then Big Truck erupts.

“Bullshit! Nothing but gawd-damned bullshit.  We’re not keeping faith.  We’re not honoring the deal we made, America made,” he says.

He’s right.  With nine years and counting since the first big vet-care scandal was ripped open at Walter Reed in Bethesda, I wonder, how long must veterans wait?

“People who answered the call are dying.  Good people.  People who believed in the deal,” Big Truck sighs.  “Capitol Hill ditherers knot the purse strings with one hand and polish their Stars and Stripes lapel pins with the other.  Makes me puke,” says Big Truck.

As congressional committees preen for the cameras, and despairing vets are lost in endless queues, others respond.  Some have the best intentions, and some are opportunists.  The opportunists and their eyebrow-raising balance sheets are also making the news.

“Last week we got a nice, glossy solicitation in the mail,” says Retired Accountant.  “Gut-punching appeal to help our wounded warriors, but all I could think was Why?  Not why help, but why isn’t the help already in place.  Why is there any doubt that our vets are getting what they need, when they need it?”

Padres Hat had had enough.  “That there’s one steaming pile of hooey,” he spat.  “We need to pass the tin cup for our vets?  What the hell?  That stinks.”

“Bullshit, pure and simple,” Big Truck echoed himself.

“Well, I’ve talked to many vets,” said Math Teacher.  “They’ll tell you that some VA facilities are first rate, others more akin to Third World.”

“Why?” I ask.  “They can’t say,” he replies.  “But the suicide stories keep coming, each one a call too late.”  We stared at our cups.

The muscles twisting Baja Shirt’s face have a story to tell.  But the anger runs too deep.  He keeps his counsel and everyone respects the silence.

Shack regulars bring in a dog’s breakfast of opinions – smeared all over the political landscape.  Still, we get along just fine.  We leave big words in the dictionary and trust that our nation’s promises will be kept.

A deal’s a deal.  Not a bundle of assurances tied with strings of sand.  We’ve got suitcases of cash for warlords in the ‘stans.  So where’s the money to care for our injured troops?

People don’t leave the Shack depressed.  Today we did.  Thinking about the deal we made – every damn one of us.  And ashamed.

© 2016 David Leighton

Black Magic Vietnam

The Boomer is dawdling over a mug of coffee at his favorite breakfast place, ready to be late for work, so I ask him why he can’t seem to put his ass in gear and get his day started and he says, Vietnam.

Oops!  That’s a black magic word.

Baby boomers know what the word means, in all its definitions.  But you may not have the privilege of being a boomer.  You may not know more than Vietnam is a country in a far corner of the world where the United States chose to make one of its longest and least profitable wars.

So here we go, says The Boomer, explain it all to me.

I mean, The Boomer says, there are things everyone else understands about life that I don’t understand at all.  Some things commonsensical to other people are mysteries to me.  Like why wars happen.  Why did Vietnam happen and why did it happen in the 1960s when I was young and itching to start life with a bang?

Why, The Boomer says, did the fabulous 1960s sweep me up into war?

I don’t suppose, I say, pouring my own coffee, you want to hear the usual rot about our stopping the stinking Commie rats on the far frontiers of the American Way?

No, he says.  I want an explanation why I had to go over there and do the god-awful things I did.  I want to know why now, a couple of generations later, none of what I did over there and the buddies who died there means anything at all.

Because the Vietnamese are our pals now? I ask him.  Most Favored Nation trading status and U.S. tourists going over there to gawk the lovely countryside we tried to bomb and burn to ruin and eat the great local food we tried to starve those people out of?  That what you mean?

Is that really what the war was all about? The Boomer asks.  Killing enough of them until they became our friends and trading partners?  Until we could make a lot of money together?

I think you’re being romantic and stupid, I say to The Boomer.  We’ve fought a lot of wars and only every now and then does one of them turn out a success.  Like World War II ending German/Italian fascism and Japanese imperialism.  The Vietnam war was one of those many that just didn’t work out for us, that’s all.  Don’t sweat it.

The Boomer shoves aside his coffee mug.  Today’s the day I came home from that war, he says.  It’s my fiftieth anniversary.

Ah, I think, that’s why he’s in this mood.  But I say, So what?  Lots of men and women can say the same.  You want us to declare a national holiday for your anniversary?  Get real, Boomer, and forget all about it.

Yeah, I guess that’s what we ought to do, he says.  We killed three million Vietnamese in that war for just 57,000 of our own dead.  Plus the dead soldiers from South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and the Taiwanese mercenaries.

I do a calculation on my smartphone and say, That’s a kill ratio of fifty to one.  We should’ve won that war.  Why didn’t we?

But we did win the war, says The Boomer.  We’ve just forgotten why.

How did we win a war we lost? I say, confused.

By discovering how stupid we are about war, he says.  We Americans like war.  We might even love it.  We’re always ready to make war.  We’re just not very clever about choosing which wars to make or which enemies to go after.

How does that mean we won the Vietnam war?

Here we are, you and me, says The Boomer, brooding over morning coffee and wishing to hell we hadn’t gone to that place and done the things we did there, and left those people in misery and ruin.  But those folks over there, the Vietnamese, are doing business with us today and welcoming our tourists and all those other normal things countries do for each other.  And we haven’t got the sense of shame in us to apologize to them for what we did in Vietnam.

So that’s how we won the war? I say.  By having no shame?

The Boomer glances at his watch.  Going to miss work today but so what?  It’s my fiftieth anniversary of the war and my private holiday.  Tomorrow, I’ll do something else about the war.

What’s that?

I’ll apply some black magic, says The Boomer, and forget about it.

Now I am confused.  But what about the shame? I say.

 

© 2016 Steven Hardesty

This Retirement Gig is a Great Thing, eh?

This retirement gig is a great thing, The Boomer tells me the other day. But there’s a big downside to it.

What’s that? I say, startled, because I really don’t want to hear there’s any downside to being retired, free and lazy.

There’s no time in it, says The Boomer, and he’s serious.

But you’ve got all the time in the world to do whatever you want, I say. Don’t you?

There’s the problem, says The Boomer. I want to do everything and all of it at once and can’t seem to find the time to squeeze it all in.

I kind of thought, you know, he says, I’d retire to peace and quiet and a new motorcycle or join a rock band. That at long last I’d get organized in life. You know, pay a bill the instant it arrives. Fix up the garden. Repaint the house. Put on that new addition all by myself. Let the wife slap together the Hail Mary of honey-do lists, then rip through it presto-chango with all that free time. So sweet.

You don’t? I say. Have the time, I mean?

Hell no, The Boomer says with a theatrical sigh, I spend more hours each day at retiring than I ever spent at work. There’s the morning sun to feel bright and warm on my face. Couldn’t do that when I was at work. The afternoon breeze whirling through my slightly thinning hair (which I’m going to shave off for kicks). That cardinal over there singing out of the bamboo stand in a corner of the garden. All the books I want to read. The old friends around the world I’ve got to visit and catch up with. The trips to India and Timbuktu. That cousin in Colorado I haven’t seen in years. And, best of all, finding my own Rocket 88 to shove in the garage and rebuild and paint fire engine red with yellow flames down the sides.

But you’re doing all that, I say, confused and slightly amazed.

Yeah, that’s the problem, says The Boomer. No time for anything else. Know what I mean?
© 2016 Steven Hardesty

Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll Forever

Ah, yes, The Boomer says to me over a six pack, it’s tremendous fun remembering the merry, sexy, riotous 1960s when all young people everywhere, and some of their less benighted elders, began their crusade to overturn the established order and make a New World.

And we did it, didn’t we? I say.

We did! says The Boomer. Now we have no more wars. No more famines. No more race hate. No more nuclear bombs. No more cancer. No more tyrants. No more Lawrence Welk (that’s what passed for music before the 1960s). And no more everything else rotten, foul and over 30.

All women are safe and equal in our land, with equal pay and equal respect. All races, colors, faiths and unfaiths are safe and equal, too. So, too, are those of sexual preferences a bit different from yours and mine, or at least mine as I’m never too sure about yours.

Yep, I say, sex, drugs and rock & roll made it all happen and we should be proud of what we accomplished.

Oh, well, says The Boomer, there were one or two downsides to the ‘60s. We beat polio but didn’t know we had AIDS. That surprise would come a bit later. We didn’t do much about the miseries of people of color or the poor. They had to make a revolution of their own to get even a bit of what the generous American spirit should have granted them from the start, and the start for some was 450 years ago.

But we made the Vietnam war end, I say, and that’s really what the ‘60s was all about, right?

Sure, says The Boomer. Ending the war. Ending the draft. Ending young (white) men being drafted. Ending their fleeing to Canada or Sweden or their pet psychiatrists or the favorite party colleges to keep out of the draft and let other young men (less white, less rich, less clever in running away) carry their burden.

You make it sound, I say, like the weedy, sexy, boozy, motorcycle-y, folk-singing 1960s really were all about ending the killing of white boys?

Well, I suppose it was, says The Boomer, when you get right down to it.

So, I say, all that sex, drugs and rock & roll was all about sex, drugs and rock & roll and nothing more?

Oh, no, says The Boomer. We really did make a New World. Trouble is, it looks a lot like the old world.

Pass me another six pack, I say to The Boomer.

© 2016 Steven Hardesty