A Dan Good Time

Something you should know about me at this point.

I’m a man. Who’s a fan. Of the Dan.

Steely Dan, that is.

I just saw them in concert this week, and it reminded me of why I love those guys so much. Those guys being Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, the driving force behind Steely Dan.

Heck, let’s face it: those guys are Steely Dan.

My taste in music is pretty varied. I enjoy rock and roll, jazz, country, bluegrass, classical, gospel, blues, R&B, even some rap. Don’t go much for heavy metal, though. Sorry, all you headbangers; in my younger days, I did like me some Black Sabbath now and then, but now that I’m a geezer, it’s just a little too hard on the ears.

Anyway, back to those guys.

The brilliance of Steely Dan is that they arranged a perfect marriage of straight-up rock and cool, slick jazz, creating their own little niche, where no one else resides. Even if someone does, Becker and Fagen were there first, and do it best.

Listen to the breezy melodies over the complex chord structure, the musical performances buffed to an ultra-high gloss in the studio, with the help of some of the best jazz musicians in the business. Early on in their career, Becker and Fagen abandoned the idea of a band, forsaking live performances and focusing instead on bringing in outside session players to help them achieve the sophisticated sound they were looking for. Even without touring, they built up a fiercely dedicated fan base.

Pay close attention to the lyrics, though, and you realize there’s some sinister goings on under all that sheen and polish: stories about incest (“Cousin Dupree”), pedophilia (“Everyone’s Gone to the Movies”), drug manufacturing (“Kid Charlemagne”) and dealing (“Glamour Profession”) and consumption (“Time Out of Mind”), gang violence (“Josie”), psychotic breaks (“Third World Man”, “Don’t Take Me Alive”) and, especially, dirty old men (“Hey Nineteen”, “Janie Runaway”, “Babylon Sisters”). And all delivered by the wonderfully sardonic vocals of Donald Fagen. You can just see the arch of the eyebrow when you listen to him.

But they sound so good. Especially, in concert, when they have such a topnotch assemblage of musicians backing them up. A couple of particular standouts are drummer Keith Carlock and guitarist Jon Herington, but they all tear it up right good, believe me.

If Steely Dan has escaped your radar to this point, I highly recommend you check ’em out. Oh, and they can definitely rock when they want to; “Kid Charlemagne”and “Bodhisattva” are all the proof you need for that.

And if you really want a treat, look into where this duo got its name. That’s all I’m saying on that.

Those Words

Hot summer evening in Texas.

I’m about nine years old, I think, outside in the front yard with Mom and Dad. They’re probably finishing up yard work, and I’m just playing, like nine-year-old boys do on summer evenings.

Dad loved working in the yard. Loved it. He took great pride in having a terrific-looking landscape, and he busted his butt for hours to achieve that goal.

This great love for yard work was a gene that definitely did not duplicate to any of his sons, I assure you. Just sayin’.

Anyway, our dog, a little toy fox terrier, is out there with us. Not a good thing; he’s supposed to be in the backyard with the gate shut, or else, he’s got the green light to take off down the street, with me in hot pursuit. So far, fortunately, he’s chosen to just stay close to us in the yard, so Dad tells me to grab him (the dog, not Dad) and return him to the backyard and close the gate. (which, by the way, yours truly probably left open, causing this situation in the first place. oh, well…)

One problem: Just as Dad’s telling me this, the dog decides he has to pee.

So I stand there and wait for him to finish. Rude to interrupt him, don’t you know; I certainly wouldn’t want anybody grabbing me when I’m right in the middle of taking a leak. Besides, some of it may get on me. Ewww.

Well, you know what comes next. Soon as he finishes, he takes off running, and my chance to just grab him is lost. Great. Now I gotta chase him again.

That’s when I hear Those Words. The words that have stayed with me from that day to this:

You idiot!!

Why are you such an idiot??

 

Ah, fathers and sons. A historically complicated relationship.

My father was a good man. He truly was.

He worked hard all his life to provide for his family. He was determined his sons would all get a college education, something he never got; he knew a degree would open a lot more doors of opportunity for us. He had a big heart for people (and animals), and would help anyone in need as much as he could. His faith was a huge part of his life; he loved God and did his best to be a loyal follower.

He also had a wonderful, wicked sense of humor, always making wisecracks and playing pranks. He couldn’t help being the naughty boy. He was the court jester, providing those around him with a good laugh.

He took me to ball games. He took me fishing and swimming at the lake. He played catch with me. He played board games with me. He patiently listened as I recited TV commercials and comedy routines I had memorized. And he laughed at the punchlines.

He told me he loved me. Often.

I feel genuinely sorry for all the people who had fathers who beat them, or molested them, or abandoned them, or neglected them, or always came home drunk, or in any other way put their families through complete hell. I know I’m one of the fortunate ones; I was raised in a stable, loving family environment, for which I’m so glad. And my father was one of the main reasons for that.

I loved him. I looked up to him. I wanted to be just like him. He was perfect in my eyes. So, what happens when such a person looks you in the eye and calls you an idiot?

When you’re nine years old, it totally crushes you.

I went into the house and fell on my bed, crying. I was certain I had just failed him beyond measure. I hated myself for being such an idiot.

Unfortunately, as I grew, it was hard to shake that feeling. See, Dad had this…tone sometimes when he talked to you. It was very condescending. You could ask him a question, and he would answer in a way that made you sorry you asked. You would end up believing he thought you really are an idiot, whether he actually said it or not.

So I resolutely held on to the belief that he thought his youngest son was the dummy of the family.

And no amount of “I love you”‘s and “I’m proud of you”‘s could totally wipe that away. I still could seldom times look at him without imagining him looking back at me and wondering how he could have been stuck with such a stupid son.

If he ever told me he thought I was smart, I don’t remember. Selective memory, I guess; it wouldn’t have fit my perception of what he actually thought of me.

And, see, I know he didn’t mean what he said that day; he was angry, and don’t we all know, we say things in anger we never really meant to say.

But that doesn’t make it hurt any less to hear.

Now, please understand, this isn’t a Dad-bashing. I really loved the man, and am forever grateful to him for all he did for me. I don’t hate him. I don’t resent him. I’m not blaming any failures or missteps in my life on him; I own all that. I’m not wallowing in self-pity over a “troubled childhood”.

I just wish he’d never said Those Words. Or, at least, had apologized for saying them.

So this is for all you dads out there, about to enjoy Your Day. Even though I’m not a father myself, I had one once, and I’m telling you…

Please, please choose your words carefully when you talk to your children, even in anger. Especially, in anger. If you say something you don’t mean, apologize, and reassure your child you love him or her. Those Words have a much greater impact on a child than you can ever imagine.

Oh, and all you sons (and daughters) out there: show some love to your dad this weekend, and the rest of the time, too.

Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad. Sixteen years after your passing, I still miss you.

And I still love you. Like always.

On the Road Again (sorry,Willie)

Good news, fans! I’m back behind the wheel, in a new driving job.

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I gotta say, it’s good to get back to work. Granted, I wasn’t jobless very long – about three months – but long enough.

I’ll be driving a shuttle van for a local business, going from one location to the other and back, all day long. The distance, round-trip, is about two miles. Sounds exciting, right?

That’s okay, though; it’s a steady job, the hours are consistent, the pay is decent, and it’s about as low-stress as a job can get.

In other words, perfect for me.

 

Like I said in my very first post, I enjoy driving, but chauffeuring could, at times, get a bit too crazy for me. Getting to this airport or that hotel or that office on time, dealing with flights arriving too late or too early, last-minute schedule changes, fussy passengers…Aaaaaarrrrrggghhh!!!!

This will be more pleasant, I’m sure. A lot of things other chauffeurs have to deal with will never come up on this job.

I look forward to building a relationship with these people whom I’ll be seeing on a regular basis. Granted, I won’t have much time to talk to them on any given trip but, over time, maybe I can develop friendships with a few of them, anyway. We’ll see.

Regardless,  it’ll definitely beat not working. Happy days are here again.

 

Real Men (Not)

I’ll tell you, there are some days when I am thoroughly, utterly, unspeakably ashamed for my gender.

From the Associated Press: (5/27/2016)

“DALLAS (AP) — After months of silence, Baylor University responded to mounting criticism of its handling of accusations of sexual assaults and other attacks by football players by demoting its president, Ken Starr, and firing its football coach, Art Briles.

“Baylor also released Thursday the main findings of a withering report by a law firm that reviewed the school’s handling of such cases and found, among other things, that administrators denied that the university had a sexual violence problem and failed on several levels to investigate claims. In one case, they retaliated against someone for reporting a sexual assault, it found…

“The review by Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton found systemic failures that extended well beyond the football program, though it was the cases involving players that brought the issue front and center.

“Not all victims received hearings for their cases, sometimes because the university claimed it had no control over anything occurring off campus. The review found the “overwhelming majority of cases” of sexual assault or harassment did not get a hearing, and an “extremely limited number of cases” ended in a finding against the accused or a significant punishment.

“Investigations of sexual assault were often “inadequate or uninformed,” the firm said. Administrators were not given enough training on how to evaluate domestic violence, stalking or the role of alcohol in a sexual assault case.

“In addition, the investigations were conducted in the context of a broader culture and belief by many administrators that sexual violence ‘doesn’t happen here,'” the review found. “Administrators engaged in conduct that could be perceived as victim-blaming, focusing on the complainant’s choices and actions.””

This is going on at my alma mater! 

I’m a graduate of Baylor University, though I’m not sure I want to admit it, lately.

Again, from the Associated Press: (6/7/2016)

“SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Stanford University “did everything within its power” to ensure justice in the case of a former swimmer sentenced to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman… (italics mine)

“The university banned Brock Turner from campus after wrapping up its investigation less than two weeks after the attack…

“The 20-year-old Turner was sentenced last week to six months in jail and three years’ probation, sparking outrage from critics who say Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky was too lenient on a privileged athlete from a top-tier swimming program. Some are urging he be removed from the bench.

(The judge, incidentally, is a Stanford University alumnus.)

“The case gained national attention after prosecutors released a poignant statement from the 23-year-old victim that she read in court. Criticism intensified when a letter from Turner’s father to the judge was released, in which he pleaded for leniency and said his son had already paid a steep price for “20 minutes of action.””

Admittedly, I was not even aware of this story before reading Katherine Fritz’ powerful post on http://www.iambeggingmymothernottoreadthisblog.com (a post you all MUST read)

It’s a genuinely sickening tale.

It’s horrifying enough that these assaults actually took place, but the aftermath is equally horrifying.

Indifference. Denial. Intimidation. Betrayal. Miscarriage of justice. Protection for athletes, contempt for victims.

If this is what women face who come forward about what was done to them, it is an unmitigated wonder any of them do.

 

I had a rather startling experience the day after I read about the Brock Turner case. I was at a fast food place, getting some lunch. As I stood in line to order, and as I sat down to eat, I looked around at all the females in the restaurant…

…and I saw them all, for probably the first time ever, as potential assault victims.

It could happen to any of them, I thought. The little girl, the old lady, the tall one, the short one, the thin one, the heavy one, the white one, the black one…

Any of them.

That almost incomprehensible truth hit me like a shot. In that moment, I had a glimpse into how the world must sometimes look to women. How honestly terrifying.

They live in a culture that ignores, denies, misunderstands, excuses, tolerates, even justifies, in some cases, the sexual assault of women. To characterize that as wrong is woefully inadequate. There is no excuse. There is no justification.

Period.

And, by the way, I do NOT want to hear that “Sometimes, she asks for it,” or that some women just cry wolf to exact revenge on some poor schmuck.

Guys, listen up for a second.

Are you listening? Good.

NO.

WOMAN.

ASKS FOR IT.

EVER.

I hope that was clear enough for you.

And, do you really think some woman could get pissed off at you enough to fabricate a whole story about you assaulting her, knowingly subjecting herself to shame and humiliation, not just for herself, but her family and friends, willingly going through the process of a trial, answering one embarrassing question after another, just to get even?

I can’t begin to tell you how ridiculous that sounds.

There are several important women in my life, within my circle of family and friends. Women I love and care for, deeply. The thought of any of them being violated (and, tragically, a few have been), then betrayed by a cowardly, clueless school administration, or a worthless, pathetic justice system…

“Pillars Of Society”, in other words…

It lights a fire in my very core.

Because, I realize, this goes beyond one school, or one judge. This is a systemic problem throughout our society, and it absolutely must be addressed, confronted, and fixed.

And, my brothers, we must be part of the solution. Because far too many of us are part of the problem.

And, as a member of the male species, I’m fed up with it.

 

BTW: Bravo to the two grad students who caught Brock Turner in the act, chased him down and held him for the police. There are still a few heroes out there.

Louisville Slugger

I’m a sports fan. Not a rabid sports fan, mind you; I don’t paint myself before attending a game, I don’t tailgate, I don’t go to the local sports bar, I don’t even watch that many games at home. Especially if it involves a team I have an emotional investment in.

I wasn’t always that way; the turning point was the 2011 World Series, when my Texas Rangers broke my heart into millions of little pieces in Game 6. We had that game won, we had that damn series won, and we let it slip away. Twice. The St. Louis Cardinals were down to their last strike twice, and we didn’t close the deal.  Ever since, I find it just too stressful to watch one of my teams play. The only time I can watch a sporting event in a relaxed state is when I really don’t give a rat’s youknowwhat who wins.

Besides, I find watching sports these days a lot less pleasant then I used to. For starters, I have given up watching football, on any level. I just can’t watch these huge, strong, fast young men have collision after collision after collision, knowing full well what they are doing to themselves and each other, physically. Yeah, I know it’s what they signed up for, and yeah, I know not all of them end up physically and/or mentally disabled, perhaps even suicidal.

But, with what we know now about CTE, and concussions and head trauma, I just can’t help but wince every time these guys crash into other at full speed. I’ll just skip it, thank you.

Then, there’s all the headlines about players who cheat, lie, steal, fail multiple drug tests, beat women, rape and murder. About coaches who look the other way, as long as these disgraceful excuses for human beings help win games, because that’s what matters, right?

Yes, I’m well aware, there are plenty of players, coaches, owners etc. who are solid citizens, who do things the right way, and who stand as worthy role models to all who revere them. Unfortunately, they’re just usually too boring to be written about.

Which finally brings me to the subject of this post. One notable exception to that rule left us last week. He was an honorable human being, but he sure wasn’t boring.

 

Muhammad Ali (nee Cassius Clay), of Louisville, Kentucky was, to use a popular term, a polarizing figure in sports. No; in society, actually.

His truculent braggadocio, as longtime foil Howard Cosell might have put it, was endlessly entertaining to watch. He was a poet who elevated boxing to performance art, and won the World Heavyweight Championship three times in the process. His fights were legendary, from the knockout of Sonny Liston to the epic battles with Joe Frazier to the astonishing conquest of George Foreman. Even someone like me, who never really cared for boxing, can’t help but appreciate what Ali accomplished in the ring.

But, more than Ali, the fighter, it’s Ali, the man that is the reason for the worldwide outpouring of accolades and love we have witnessed these last few days. He was a man who unashamedly, unwaveringly stood up for what he believed in, regardless of the consequences. He was a proud black man and a proud Muslim which, in the 1960’s, many Americans found threatening. (Still do, apparently.) He refused to be drafted by the Army and go to Vietnam to fight in a war he found antithetical to his religious beliefs. He never backed down, even though it cost him arguably the prime years of his boxing career, and nearly landed him in prison.

In his later years, he was a tireless advocate for peace among all races and religions. I remember him speaking out after 9/11, denouncing the terrorist actions and explaining that they did not represent true Muslim ideals and values. He personally visited Saddam Hussein in 1990, prior to America’s declaration of war against Iraq for the invasion of Kuwait, and secured the release of 15 American hostages. He was a true humanitarian who was a force for positive change in the world. We all can, and should, aspire to that.

R.I.P., Muhammad. You told us you were The Greatest, and darned if you weren’t absolutely right.

And Now, the News

We live, we are told, in the Information Age.  At times, though, it can be more like the Misinformation Age. I’ll explain why, shortly.

When I was younger, we got our national/world news reports from the daily paper, or the radio, or the evening news on TV. The TV news was broadcast on one of three national networks. For 30 minutes a night. 

That was it.

Can you imagine? There was no 24-hour news channel. Now, we’re absolutely inundated with them.

We just had folks like Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and, on the public station, Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, spending 30 minutes sharing the most newsworthy events of the day.

And we depended on them to inform us with the facts. Mr. Cronkite even attained the status of “The Most Trusted Man in America.”

Nowadays, we have access to news all day and all night, whenever we want it, from multiple outlets. Not just news, mind you, but in-depth analysis, panel discussions (which often become shouting matches), interviews, whatever else they can think of to fill 24 hours. Everything you ever wanted to know about a story, and so much more you never did.

Not to mention, all the news sites available on the Internet, pertaining to news in general or to specific subject matter and, of course, all these wonderful individuals who circulate all these falsehoods and rumors, passing them off as News. Chain emails are the absolute worst.

Now, I’m not saying information itself is a bad thing. Knowledge is power, after all. The problem, though, is when you have this many people telling the same stories, you can hear so many different versions. Different details are included, or ignored, according to the storyteller. And, while some news stations may aim for objectivity, others definitely imprint their ideology on what they report.

So, then, the question becomes, who do you believe?

 

Well, obviously, human nature leads us to believe who we want to. Most of us usually have our minds already made up on a particular subject, be it a person, issue, event, what have you, and we’re likely to apply that filter to the news we consume. Stories that may offer a different perspective than our own mostly get ignored, right? So, while we claim we want to be informed, chances are, we choose to believe only the information that reinforces our preconceptions.

Now, how useful is that?

I used to be, and mostly still am, insecure about expressing my opinion regarding people and events in the news when I’m with other people, because it always seems to me that the other people speak their opinions with so much conviction, supremely confident in their stance, so they must know what they’re talking about. I rarely feel such conviction, and for a long time, I thought it was because I was an indecisive, wishy-washy milquetoast.

The older I get, though, the more I think that rather, I’m more willing to look at both sides of a story, and recognize there are valid points to be made on either side. These days, I wonder if the people with the strong convictions attained them by looking at both sides before choosing one, (and good for them if they did)  or did they simply latch onto one side, with no consideration for the other, because it matched their own philosophy, and that’s that?

So, here’s a challenge for you. If you’re used to getting your news from the same source every time, consider trying a different one, one that may not align as closely with what you believe. I know that’s difficult; I don’t like doing it, either. But perhaps, it can cause you to look at a person, issue etc. in a way you haven’t before, and maybe reevaluate where you stand. That’s scary, I know; it means you might have to admit you were wrong about something and, if you’re like me, you HATE that!

On the other hand, it could lead to more productive conversation if we’re willing to challenge our preconceived notions and open our minds just a bit.

And, thinking optimistically, here, more productive conversation may even lead to more productive actions, and I think we can all agree, it’s long past time for those.

As Mr. Cronkite used to say, “And that’s the way it is.”