Wednesday, June 29, 2011

WE THE VERY SPECIAL AMERICAN PEOPLE


June 29, 2011

In answer to Armed & Angry of Monticello: Affirmative, old boy, I am very much an American chap, by jove, even though I speak funny and write funny like this, and even though I don’t believe in all the gubbins you believe in. My president, George W. Bush, assured me I’m every bit the Septic* you are, squire .
[* Septic tank: London Cockney rhyming slang for Yank.]
Hundreds of millions of us are native born, some with foreign ancestors going back to 1776 and many before 1492. But there are millions of new Americans. Apart from the indigenous tribes, we’re originally from all over, which makes us such a special nation. It’s our diversity that unites us.
The Irish Americans, I’ve noticed, are just that. They make no distinction between northern and southern. While back across the water these two “brands” have been killing each other for centuries, here it’s beautiful: they’re all just Irish.
Nonetheless, not many Americans, I’ll wager, come from the following place...
It’s a little Viking island in the middle of the Irish Sea that has its own stamps, coins, tail-less cats and the oldest continuous parliament in the world, the thousand-plus-year-old Tynwald. It’s the Isle of Man, and those born there, as I was, don’t have Manx citizenship per se, they’re just common-or-garden British.
I did have German nationality once as well, because the rule there is that if your father is from the Fatherland then you, too, are a Kraut. My cousin Horst would often lecture me: “If an elephant ist born in a lion cage zet dussent make him a lion.”. Noteworthy that he would equate his dumpling-eating countrymen with elephants and the British with lions.
But when I went to the German embassy to have my passport renewed they just snatched it out of my hand with a curt “Senk you!” in which the “you” was at least an octave higher than the “senk”. They refused to issue me another.
All this bypasses the fact that my forebears way, way back came from Koenigsberg in East Prussia, now absorbed into Poland. And that some drunken New Yorker with one of those ten-foot Polish names once told me: ”Szcwzkrzcvw brczwkrkzski cie!”. Such a wit. Very droll. I laughed at that one till I cried. And then he sank another slivovitz and said: “Two hundred years ago, buddy, we whupped you.” Whupped, you say? Did you really! Two hundred years ago we were probably neighbors, my fine inebriated przyjaciel (przyjaciel means ‘friend’), and most likely you were just as obnoxious then.
Either I told the following to Norman Nicholas of Monroe Optical or he told me. “Read the bottom line,” the optometrist instructs his Polish patient. The patient replies: “Read it? I know him!” This joke doesn’t work in Poland where two out of three people actually do know him.
And this leads me to the true story of how international trade began eons before the Columbian Exchange, the unlikely business partners being the Hawaiians and the Poles. These two nations are – you’ve guessed it - poles apart. Seven thousand miles, give or take a few waves, but measured in nautical miles a mere 6,000, so the naked oarsmen heaved a sigh of relief when they learned that.
Yes, oarsmen. Naked to spare the added weight of their loincloths plus they stayed slim on low-fat coconut water and, boy, were they furious paddlers – as evidenced in the Seventies TV series Hawaii Five-O .
Anyway, the Hawaiians had stripped their language of all its consonants from B to Z, loaded them into the canoes and paddled like demons till they reached Gdansk. There, they traded those consonants for all the vowels in the Polish language, piled them into the boats and the two nations bid each other a fond “Gdby” or “ooe”, depending on who was saying it. After a quick glug of grog - that slivovitz stuff again – as a brace against the Baltic winds, the islanders rowed back singing “A Life On The Ocean Wave.” Devoid of consonants, it came out as Aloha Oe.
Hawaiians today are all Americans, our most notable being Barack Obama – unless you’re in Loganville still thinking he’s Kenyan - and Don Ho. And this country has its share of Poles, too, the overwhelming majority being descendants of people who rowed over from Poland... no, that can’t be right; maybe they rode.
Measured against New York, where I lived 12 years, and especially Chicago, where I didn’t, you don’t see too many Poles down here in Dixie. Nor Ukrainians, Bulgarians, even Italians. Atlanta’s changing dramatically, but the overwhelming percentage of Southerners are descendants of immigrants from the British Isles. You can tell by the names.
Nationally, nearly 13 percent of us are labeled black with more than 16 percent Latino and over 72 percent white, although white also includes Arabs. Foreign-born Americans are as numerous as black folks. So the short answer, A&A, is yes, I am an American – a new one, but still a proud and loyal one who loves apple pie.
Hearing the Star Spangled Banner brings me twice the pride. It’s really an English ditty from 1780 called ‘To Anacreon In Heaven’ that Francis Scott Key heard and assigned new lyrics while captive on a Royal Navy warship. The original was a somewhat raunchy song about wine and wenches and Baccus and back again to wine and women.
Much more fun than saying and seeing by the dawn’s early light.

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

MOVIE CREDITS: THE END ALREADY


June 22, 2011

What an excellent movie we just watched. The hairstyles were superb; Wifey commented on that; she particularly liked the ginger bouffant. And no wonder, because they were done by Giorgio’s of Baltimore, no less. She can’t wait for the next Giorgio’s film.
My own choice would be another flick that features J&R Caskets for the interment scenes and, of course, Sunkist pistachios. I enjoyed watching those coffins and the nuts. Without them, you know any picture just, well, falls short.
Sure, I’m being facetious. And I’m not at all ashamed of it. Who, watching that film in, say, Abu Dhabi, Wagga Wagga or even here in Walton County cares which company did the catering for cast and crew and provided the coffins to the Leber Funeral Home. They’ll never go to Giorgio’s for a shampoo and perm. They’ll never drop dead in Baltimore.
But I could drop dead watching those movie credits rolling on for what seems an eternity.
Do we really need five-to-ten minutes of just names. Furs by Zamir. So what? Furs by foxes and rabbits and minks, more like it, with greedy old Zamir just taking your money. Do we care who the best boy was? The assistant to Mr McGurglethorpe? No.
And yet they serve us up all this stuff anyway. It’s like an antidote to a good thriller. You get all hyped up as the story climaxes and then at the end you get this other, yawn-inducing monochrome monotothon to prepare you for bed.
Ah yes - bed, the place from which to watch movies these days, or from the living room couch if you’ve incurred the wife’s displeasure. Better than sleeping pills. Because there aren’t too many non-boring flicks any more. And because going to the theater means you have to listen to audience members giving one another a loud running commentary to explain the plot. If there is one.
My jollies would come by asking these irritating theatergoers to explain the MCMLXVIII and MMXI stuff that appears at the very end together with that squashed down, egg-shaped drawing of the world. Because I bet they can’t. M is a thousand, C a hundred and I’ll get back to you on the Ls and Vs once I remember which is five and which is fifty.
This way of counting became the betamax of numerology once the Arabian system was introduced, the one used by everyone in the world except the Chinese and the showoffs. Nowadays it’s surely just these smartypants who use Roman numerals, designed to demonstrate their superiority. “My IQ? It’s way, way up there at CCCXII above Stephen Hawking’s. What’s y’all’s? LV?”
Big deal. Clever you. So Hollywood is a town of geniuses?
No. Notice how many films these days seem to make sense until suddenly the main character - a person of great strength, determination, intelligence and foresight - does something totally and utterly dumb. I mean stoo-pid. This has to happen, for otherwise there’s no drama. If the hero handles every situation with ease... ho hum.
We are consequently subjected to an improbable situation in order to make the movie “work”. Which, because of that aberration, it doesn’t for me. Maybe yes for those who came for the car chases, explosions and foul language.
There are all manner of little annoyances in just about every picture. For one, they never actually drink when they drink. You never see them swallow. And when they drive they look at the front seat passenger for what seems like centuries. When I drive it’s never for more than a split second. I’m looking at the road, glancing in the mirrors, watching side to side... But it’s different in the movies. Apparently Hollywood uses special “thinking” cars that allow the driver to hold an entire conversation face-to-face with his passenger without running off the road. Often it’s at high speed. There’s the pretend steering to go with it, the most bizarre I ever saw being in the horror film “The Devil Rides Out” although Satan wasn’t in the car at the time.
What about those “historical” pictures that make no sense. Biblical characters with Bronx accents. Robin Hood versus the French invaders? Umm, really? But Robin’s wearing a wifebeater and the Frogs come ashore in drop-front vessels that look suspiciously like the D-Day Normandy landing craft from World War Two. A big “huh?” on that one. Again, 250 years before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, there’s a published poster. Same major faux pas as in a Kevin Costner version ten years earlier.
He also did Dances With Wolves, which I call a major swizz because there was only one dance and it was a foxtrot.
Man, could I ever go on complaining! The subtitles in white on a white background? Well, these films are usually French and that’s the color of their flag, so...
The End. Oh yeah? Not really. After the credit-o-rama they sometimes add a little extra actual footage, as though we’ve endured that interminable rollcall in order to see it. Well I might, because IX times out of X I’m still propped up in bed trying to figure out the film’s date from its Roman numerals.
Final whine: Does anyone else hate it when the movie has no title at the beginning and goes straight into the story. So you’re watching for 20 minutes before you find out it’s something you don’t want to watch. That’s like thinking you’re reading the Wall Street Journal and then, when you get to the Church News page, discovering that it’s really the Walton Tribune!

ENDIT


© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

CERTAIN DEATH AND TAXIS

June 15, 2011

When it’s toe tag time I want a dumpster funeral. The cheapest, easiest, least aggravatin’ of all. Just toss me in. Leave my clothes on.
My dentist, the mischievous mouth-manglin’ Dr Kenneth Grubbs, said he’d prefer someone with one of those Wild-West-style post hole diggers to prepare his grave. I had a chuckle at that one until the novocaine locked my jaw in permanent laugh mode. But while I love the sentiment his motive was lost in our joshery and never fully explained. Mine was that I don’t want to cost my widow any extra money for the disposal of my worn-out old carcass.
And definitely no cremation. We’re all aware of the ol’ switcheroo some of the more unscrupulous funeral homes have been known to pull. This being where that beautiful inlaid mahogany coffin with the ornate carved fittings morphs into one of cheap hardboard, even cardboard, just before being slid into the oven.
Surely, that’s the final flamin’ middle finger farewell to corpse and kin.
Funny smell, that. Uncle Elmer never did smoke. You sure that’s him up there in the urn? Might be someone else or just the emptyings from the hearse’s ashtray with the cigarette butts picked out.
Most folks do consider the cost. A cremation will run less than a thousand versus a burial at three to ten times that amount. There are those who believe the more you pay the more respect you’re affording the one who croaked. Which is why funerals in this country generate over $15 billion a year: But then, dying has always been somewhat of an epidemic.
Someone kicks it and, espying the widow, the Death Dealers rub their hands in sweet expectation: “We’ve got a live one here!” Meaning a dead one. It’s a vulnerable time for those of us left behind, so it’s important to be prepared for the slick salesmen of the expiration business. And the perfect word to offer them repeatedly is “no”.
No to the open casket for viewing: it’s a uniquely American thing and it’s distressing. I, for one, don’t want to be on display like that, not with all the bullet holes in me. And when these guys “prepare” the body they sometimes do the most preposterous things such as giving an albino a tan. Or caking inches of make-up on a lady who mebbe never in her life put on so much as a spot of rouge.
No to the embalming and no to the specially sealed casket, each costing hundreds more: neither one of these preserves the body entirely, and why, anyway, for someone six feet under?
No to all the warranties and extras they’ll conjure up like “grief counseling”. Do you hear that, next-of-kin? If I’m not part of a waste dump I’ll be worm fodder, so let’s not spoil their dinner with formaldehyde. And the price of myrrh has gone through the roof lately.
Trying to compare coffin prices is impossible when the model numbers never seem to correspond. Therefore the best advice of all is to buy your casket elsewhere and pay as little as one fifth the mortician’s fee. If they refuse to accept it or try to add some kind of handling charge they’re breaking the law. For each breach the Federal Trade Commission imposes a $10,000 fine.
Buy the headstone for as little as $100 including shipping. And funeral homes are required to give an itemized price list in advance, even over the phone; in person it has to be a written menu. To forestall any jiggerypokery ask for their prices first, before announcing you’ll be bringing your own stuff.
It’s a huge no to letting the funeral home sniff around your burial insurance policy where they’ll make sure every available penny is spent. Or to placing the obituary for you at three times what you yourself would pay.
Want to be buried on your own land? Sure thing. There’s no state law addressing that, but Walton County says it must be on a site of at least 20 acres, landscaped and maintained. So much for that idea.
The death industry can’t grab your money and dump your loved one into the hereafter fast enough. Before coming to this country I had never seen a funeral cortege burning rubber along the interstate. It was quite unnerving: ovetaken by an undertaker! Should’ve been given a citation, except the defense would be he was in the ‘passing’ lane.
Comical, in a way, and quite different from the poignant notion of a carriage drawn slowly by six tearful black horses.
But forget about these grand funeral corteges anyway. Take taxis, they’re cheaper. For an extra five bucks the cab driver may well help load the body into the trunk. He might also know of a good landfill.
Kidding, but we shouldn’t have to be on guard against the heartless hombres of the death industry. Since we are we could do worse than to contact the non-profit Funeral Consumers Alliance at 1-800-765-0107.
Who am I accusing in Walton County? No-one, although the bereaved are always at a low ebb, falling prey to high-pressure – sometimes fraudulent - sales tactics
So:
Make sure this Dear Departed really is departed. Pinch me. Insult me. Slap me around a bit. Invite my enemies over from Loganville to give me a good pummeling, a hefty kick in the groin. Doesn’t work? Then try something really drastic: play Sarah Palin speeches at me.
Think to compare one funeral home with another across town? Prices are the same because they’re probably owned by the same large corporation; nearly three quarters of them are, and quoted on Wall Street, too. As are the giant food producers and medical corporations. So the Big Boys have us in their clutches throughout our lives, and they don’t even let go once we’re dead.

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

FISH CATCHES TWO THAT GOT AWAY


June 8, 2011

Sometimes when government fails good people spring into action, and a laudable case in point is FISH – Faith In Serving Humanity – right here in Walton County.
These compassionate members of our community will now be operating a free medical center out of the old Cofer Adams building on Monroe’s East Spring Street. Full praise to them.
These are the true Christians, the real ones with hearts the size of whales. And here is the saga of a wild, destructive lady and two of her desperate victims who fell into the FISH folks’ caring fins.
For a decade, my daughter Louise had been living in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, right on Rampart Street hearing gunshots, screams and great music. She had braved the storms that swept her town, all except one time when I insisted she evacuate. On her return to a virtually undamaged Big Easy she felt like one of the wimps and vowed to be more courageous.
So this time she and husband-to-be Mark elected to ride out the next one, some minor zephyr, they thought, called Katrina. Such a pretty name. It couldn’t be more than a mere breeze, could it. But as a precaution, and knowing fuel might be in short supply, they gassed up their two small cars the night before. Smart, smart move...
Because next day mayor Ray Nagin urged his citizens to flee and we joke that it was their parrot, Junior, who had the birdbrains to insist they evacuate by constantly repeating the radio warnings and, with his little beak, leading their five large dogs away. So three Great Danes and two others not much smaller crammed into the little cars, an ancient and cantankerous Dodge Neon and a little Honda they’d named Rhonda.
New Orleans was fixing to become Atlantis. The westbound escape route to Texas was already choked up, leaving only two bridges out to safety. The 24-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway had enormous problems due to its narrowness. They chose the other, the twin span Crescent City Connection, but it wasn’t much better. They were stuck. They moved a few yards. They were stuck again.
“Radio reports told us we were heading east right into this approaching behemoth,” recalls Mark. “Traffic was at a standstill. We were helpless. I’ve never been so scared. Talk about hair-raising? That day I grew a full mustache, beard and mullet.”
Adding to the problem, Mississippi governor Hayley Barbour refused to open up a westbound lane or two on I-10 for the fleeing masses, so no contraflow. And, inexplicably, he also ordered one of the three outbound lanes closed and guarded by troopers, creating an even greater bottleneck. There were orange cones and armed cops, but no sign of any road work. What were his motives?
“We expected Katrina to sweep us into the drink,” says Louise. “We would not even be ending our lives together.”
The heat was unbearable. Motorists cut each other off, jockeying to get ahead. With their phone batteries dying, Louise lost Mark. Some frantic creative driving and she was able to catch up again.
As the traffic continued in crawl-stop-crawl mode they would pass gas stations, deserted, their dangling pump hoses lashing wildly about. The attendants had already fled, and, in callous acts of wantonness, had even shut down the option to buy fuel with the swipe of a credit card.
Those stranded pleaded hysterically for help. A can of gas, a ride...
A middle-aged lady cradling a small dog tearfully offered $200 to anyone who’d pick them up. Her car, like so many along that wretched route, had run dry.
With their menagerie pressed up against the windows, Louise and Mark had no room for passengers. They were unsure they’d even make it themselves.
They did. To Alabama. Mobile. A three-hour ride had taken them all day. The next day they were here in Monroe, tired, hungry, severely shaken, carrying a few vital documents and just the clothes on their backs. But safe.
They would learn that their house in the Lower Ninth Ward had been awash and all their belongings lost. Imitating Houdini, their insurance company, Louisiana Citizens, slipped the claimants’ clutches and were successfully sued in two class action suits in which Louise and Mark missed out.
Yet FISH excelled. Hearing their horrendous tale, the ladies supplied clothing, gasoline vouchers, food boxes. They provided Wal-Mart gift cards and basic necessities, even furniture. They got them in touch with Social Services and the Red Cross and continued to support them for months. These caring folks of FISH and those who donate to them help the needy every day.
At their new place on East Spring FISH will be offering free medical attention. This because our broken health system has driven the homeless, the indigent and folks not even quite so destitute to rely on charity. It’s a sorry state when Americans are turned into Third Worlders, but thank God the angels of FISH are here to help.
Louise and Mark lay on the gravel outside our house and stared at a sky they had barely known existed back in New Orleans. They looked at each other and said we want to move to this area. And so they did.
Three months after their ordeal they were married at our home. Mark chose to wear the suit he’d bought from FISH for two bucks.

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

PREPARE TO MEET THY... NO, SCRATCH THAT


June 1, 2011

Oops! Sorrysorrysorry. Sorreee! Yesyesyyes I know nobody was turned into a pillar of salt and no-one was crushed and burned by the molten lava but it’s still gonna happen. Verily. O yea.
The new Rapture date is May 21 2110. That’s definite this time. It’s when the great earthquake we were talking about will hit, transporting all believers to Heaven to meet Jesus while all non-believers will suffer those ghastly scorchings and squashings. And when that awful moment arrives calling out His name won’t help you because you’re too late, buddy. Should’ve thought of it before.
To the wonderful souls who prepared themselves for last Saturday’s non-Armageddon, an apology’s in the mail. Was it 200 million of you? You are the best. Not like those others who ignored the call and shopped at the mall instead, and that includes the overwhelming majority of Christians. How could they!
The new date isn’t new, just a revision: we got the year wrong. Our own secretary was on a hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca – she’s a Muslim - so we hired a temp, and she mistyped, got the figures round the wrong way: 2011 instead of 2110. Oh well. Mistakes do happen. God forgives and you should too.
And speaking of happening, it still most decidedly is, but in 99 years’ time, so mark my words you folks who expect to be alive then... and prepare thineselves.
It will still be a worldwide event, beginning at 6pm Eastern Daylight Time with those in other U.S. time zones feeling the good or bad, depending, up to three hours later. The first place to be obliterated will be Christmas Island, out in the Pacific, which survived the British H-bomb test in 1957. Poor saps thought they’d had their fair share of devastation. However, with two thirds of its people Buddhist and Muslim and its 18 percent Christians somewhat out of touch this lot are doomed.
For us, though, there’ll be plenty of advance warning next time about getting your affairs in order, especially making provision for beloved pets who – sorry animal kingdom – will not be transported upward and will not be meeting Jesus. No, not even you parrots who’ve been trained to say the Lord’s Prayer. Sorry .
They’ll be left behind, to be roasted and flattened like the seven billion remaining humans, but worry not. For ten bucks payable now, a lady called Susan Moss will take care of your pets... if she’s still alive a century later. Same with Bart Centre who charged $110 for ten years’ coverage. No refund, however, for those gullible folks who coughed up the dough this time around; it was like an insurance and they should count themselves lucky they can still care for their pets themselves.
Family Radio president Harold Camping, 89, championed the Prepare To Meet Thy Doom movement. He told New York magazine: “I would be absolutely in rebellion against God if I thought anything other than it is absolutely going to happen without any question."
He’d done his own math and calcull... callcul.... worked out that May 21 2011 was precisely 7,000 years from the date of the Noah's Ark flood, and he laid it all out in his 2005 paperback Time Has An End, a used copy of which you can get for five bucks, probably just pennies now that time doesn’t.
What’s that on your face, Harold? Looks like egg. Maybe you’d like to wipe it off and revise your warning. Just like you didn’t once your previous Armageddon prediction of September 6, 1994 never happened and you remained phlegmatic. Hello? Harold? Helllo-ow? Guess he doesn’t want to talk right now.
Harold wrote the books and did the radio. Then there’s an original idea by Robert Fitzpatrick, a 60-year-old Staten Island retiree from New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Robert wrote his own paperback last year, The Doomsday Code, not terribly original, considering The DaVinci Code, and paid to have it published at $17. Nobody took any notice, of course, so he then spent his entire $140,000 retirement savings on placards and ads on city buses and subways proclaiming Armageddon. But only in New York City. My question: Why didn’t he warn the rest of us? There are loads of good, honest, Jesus-loving Christians down here in Dixie and that callous cad cast us all to the winds.
So it’s not the end of the world for the rest of humankind, not yet, however now that he’s broke I’m assuming it is for Robert.
And there’s Julie Baker, still alive and kicking herself, probably. I’m wondering if one of the items at her next yard sale will be the “King Jesus Returns May 21 2011” T-shirt she so proudly wore.
We are a religious nation but we’re far too open to crackpot ideas. You can interpret the Bible or the holy book of any other religion in so many different ways and extremists always seem to find the craziest interpretations – and the fervent disciples
We’ve had kooky religious soothsayers from Waco wack-job David Koresh to Pat Robertson to four-times-married tugboat captain Hal Lindsey who gave up after all his world-will-end predictions became world-continues events. He now makes a living declaring Obama a close pal of the Antichrist.
There’s a small coven in Walton County that puts me in that same damnable category. They will undoubtedly twist my words once more and claim that I’m attacking Christianity, which I most emphatically am not. Just the lunatic fringe.
Of course the true prophet, for those who like Nostradamus-type individuals, is my friend Paul Bannister, who presaged there would be no Rapture at 6pm on May 21 this year. And by golly was he ever right.
From now on I’m following Paul’s predictions.

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.