Friday, August 8, 2014
Thursday August 8, 1974.
A beautiful, calm, late summer, early evening day in Lake Country, Haliburton, Ontario.
My memory doesn't hold what I or my family did up at the cottage that day but there is no doubt what we did when we came in for the evening.
The adults were seated around the dining room table - it must be a farmer-thing to sit at a table - I, not having been a farm girl, always thought that habit strange when perfectly good, comfy chairs and couches were on offer in a room constructed for the purpose of living – the Living room.
With that personal logic firmly in place, then as now, I took my preferred seat in an antique rocking chair which sat opposite and catty-corner the portable TV and the picture window looking out on to Maple Lake. I remember the leaves were already turning but the grass was still very green, no real summer heat to speak of at this setting-sun hour unless one meant the white-hot heat coming from the picture tube which projected out to us all the Washington DC announcement being aired, live, on the CBC channel. We were lucky to tune in any TV station in those days, for aerials on roof-tops were the only technological innovation available to dial in a decent picture.
Luckily, or unluckily, for me, that Thursday was a clear TV viewing day and the image of a slate-blue backdrop curtain, a nondescript desk and a Brylcremed-hair man in a dark blue suit, well familiar to us all, filled the screen;
“Good evening. This is the 37th time I have spoken to you from this office, where so many decisions have been made ...” he began.
This televised speech was not unexpected by most but for me, at age nine, what you expect and how you react to that expectation were two different things.
The worst time of life to have any traumatic event must be at the age of nine. You're old enough to understand what is said and are able to see with your own eyes events which are unfolding but not old enough to properly digest nor appreciate nor truly comprehend the Big Picture. What adults witnessed that night they knew would eventually be overcome. An imaginative child like me saw this Thursday at 9:01pm, as the end of the world;
“Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow....”
My ears tuned out after that sentence.
If I had been an adult, I would have known the Vice President would have had the seamless transfer of power, that oft unheard, unseen, quiet, sedate, level-headed soul, the former Congressman from the Warren Commission, Mr. Bland himself, known by all as Gerald Ford. And knowing all that, I would have realized that the big chair in the Oval Office would have been well occupied, surely preventing my wild speculation,
or Russian Martians!
Nobody is minding the store!”
My Mom had joined me in the Living room when Nixon got well into his speech, sitting, she did, to my left, on the couch, while the rest of the adults were still holding court at the Dining Room table, talking in low tones, solemn, serious. I looked left and right in a rather controlled panic to see if anyone else in the cottage was as frightened as me and although no adult was panicking, none were jumping for joy either. They all had that look parents have when their kiddies have done something wrong – that look of disappointment. I knew Nixon must have been very bad.
Admittedly, I long ago knew he had been very bad. I, like the rest of North America had been glued to the TV all those months before, watching the Ervin Senate Hearings but somehow I couldn't, or wouldn't, connect the wrong-doing stated there, with Nixon. Naive, I guess I was, believing that Presidents don't lie, Presidents don't cheat, Presidents don't cover up mistakes...because, well, Presidents never make mistakes, right?
That Thursday, as the sun sank low on Maple Lake and gave the land a soft orange glow amid the fluttering leaves of the maple trees, I knew something terrible had happened and now we were all alone...without Him.
I know what you're thinking, you're thinking, Big Whoop, and what do you care, MsBurb, for you are a Canadian and Nixon wasn't exactly Pierre Trudeau or John Kennedy, even on his best day?
But Nixon, like Kennedy and Trudeau, were of my Father's generation, all born from 1913-1919. Nixon and my Father both hearkening from Northern Ireland, both with that uptight demeanour, overly proud, formally dressed, card-carrying members of that Brylcremed-hair crowd. Those men were all of our Fathers back then and if a seemingly strong, intelligent, controlled man like Nixon can do wrong and can be severely punished, banished to God knows where after such a fall from grace, what about Us, their kids, what about our future?
Trusting no more in our Leaders was the populous result of my generation, fear of change and political uncertainty forever flooding the ether. This was not the era of FDR's New Deal where when Franklin said keep your money in the bank and trust the system to protect you, citizens listened and heeded his request and trusted in his judgment, and in doing so saved the country. No, as of this Thursday August 8th, the citizens had stopped listening, stopped trusting and we as a generation would never feel secure again.
Weeks before I had heard Dean's whistle-blowing testimony and I had watched as his wife nervously twirled her earring, fearing for her husband's fate. I had watched bug-eyed when Deputy Assistant to the President, Alexander Butterfield, finally had to let the cat out of the bag and divulge that, yes, all had been taped. I had watched the fight with the Supreme Court for admissibility of those tapes and I had heard the commentators and the adults around me shake their heads in disbelief after the Saturday Night Massacre when Nixon's only option was to fire anyone in his way. An Imperial President had reigned in North America, completely impossible to accept. Was the Saturday Night Massacre a shade of the Nazi Night of the Long Knives? Maybe, scarily, so.
Things were unraveling, the future was growing dim...
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
And Yeats poem was becoming real and I feared...
...what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?
Was it only me who could sense The Monster approaching? Stern faces on the adults, to be sure, in '73 to '74, everyone had been glued to their TVs, reading every inch of newsprint, all those weeks and months leading up to this moment but no one, but me, feared the monster yet to come? We had a Super Power leader in Gerald Ford after all, no Martians or Russians, or Russian Martians for that matter were “...loosed upon the world...”, or were they?
From that Thursday night until this very moment, we, my generation, the citizens of the West, have crawled through this life always looking over our shoulders, always fearing the monster. He was no longer under our beds, he now inhabited the Oval Office and although we may not voice it as adults, we fear his power, we distrust his judgment and we very rarely heed his words.
November 22nd, 1963, we may have lost our naivety that great men can be brutally killed by a nobody but on August 8, 1974, we lost our willingness to put the word “great” before any other political leader's name ever again.
The mistrust which was born out of Watergate has now morphed these forty years into outright political paranoia and the hysteria therein is growing ever rampant. Extremists like Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh and yes, even Watergate's own, Gordon Liddy, have thriving radio shows preaching fear and distrust, espousing preparation for The End, encouraging gullible, ill-bred, ill-educated Americans to rise up, take up those arms they cherish so much and fight the battle against tyranny – the moniker affixed to any American President, post-Nixon, most especially any Democrat, Harvard-alumni Catholic with skin anything less than lily-white.
The irony of this tirade on tyranny – the extremists are all ultra Right Wing, Republican. If Nixon were alive today, he would be criticized by these fear-mongers as being too centrist, too egalitarian, horridly too liberal. Heck, Tricky Dick would most likely despise what the Republican Party stands for today and surprise us all by crossing the aisle and become a Democrat!
The ripples of that Thursday night still roll out into our political waters. The mistrust and fear which was germinated in us all then, has fermented and grown feral. Could Nixon have foreseen the permanent damage, well beyond the initial lies and the cover-up? Can any of us foresee the damage yet to come?
Now I know why normal nine year olds are supposed to be in bed by nine. Wish I had been.
Title Photo: Retro TV – glogster.com, Spaceship – rq87.flyingomelette.com; Maple Lake Photo: foreverafangirl.com; Nixon on TV photo: movieposterkey.com; Martian Cartoon Photo: desura.com; Stalin-Martian Cartoon – ign.com; John Dean Senate Photo: nixondetached,com; Monster Cartoon: montauk-monster.com
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Long before D-Day, the men on the battle-fields and the family members left behind sacrificed in ways we will never quite appreciate. Many of us kids have made fun of our parents and grandparents when they would scrimp and save, keeping cans of used fat, darning old socks, eating left-overs and turning off lights, saying to them in frustration, “Why on earth don’t you live a little?”
We, our generation, was who they fought for, who they sacrificed for, and once you live without for what seems like a five year warring lifetime, the habit is instilled. Pay by cash, don’t amass debt, don’t abuse nor live in excess, your word and your handshake, your bond.
No, all was quiet on the Western Front, or so they thought, in the late-night and wee morning hours, exactly 70 years ago this very minute. North Americans were enjoying their evening papers, while the British slept in their beds, but quietly and with the greatest force of manpower and materiel ever amassed, an entire modern-day Trojan Horse was being assembled on the English Channel, the likes of which had never been seen in human history.
Patton had done his bit very successfully, promoting his grand fake army positioned near Folkstone facing Calais. A vast Division of balloon ships, artillery pieces, army jeeps and tanks, fake airplanes and fake radio communications, fooling the Nazis into thinking that when the Allied attack on France did happen, it would surely happen on the beaches of Calais. And for all their intelligence and diligence, the Germans were fooled, no member of the Nazi High Command ever thinking Patton would head anything but a legitimate force. Of course, Patton hated Eisenhower for giving him this order but it was this sneaky strategy which enabled complete tactical surprise on those five beaches in Normandy at dawn on June 6, 1944.
By the time Britain's were rising from their beds, padding downstairs to put the kettle on for yet another of many such tea brews which sustained them through the war years and those awful Blitzkrieg air attacks, from the Messerschmitt's to the V1 & V2’s, a floating armada of Allied battleships and troop carriers, an advance party of paratroopers and glider pilots, all quietly fought the turbulent Channel winds to land on French soil and begin what would be the eventual ending of that horrible Nazi Regime.
My Mother was only 18 years old on June 6th, June 4th being her birthday, working for the Medical Division of the Canadian National Railway in Winnipeg. My Father was 30, defending our Canadian soil as a Constable in the RCMP. Their Generation smoking cigarettes, reading newspapers, listening to the radio and living on food rations, scrimping and saving wherever and whenever they could.
These people are dying now by the hundreds and with this 70th anniversary the last World War as a living memory will become a thing of the past, only read in history books and talked about dispassionately, for the heart and the soul of that last, great fight, is dying with those people who made it happen.
The world holds court now with the children and grand-children of those brave men and women and we have assumed their gift of freedom as a birth-right, something which will never be at risk again. We celebrate this so-called “fact” by buying everything on credit, amassing great personal debt, buying material objects which are well beyond our means and not caring, really, if what we are doing and how we are living, flies in the face of what was so precious to the Greatest Generation who fought so hard and sacrificed so much for that freedom – the freedom of choice, the freedom of voice – the freedom to forget and not appreciate and the freedom to abuse.
Tomorrow, not many will care.
Tomorrow, not much will be said nor reported on TV.
Tomorrow, not many will walk the beaches of Normandy, literally or figuratively, nor will many know or care why those beaches, code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword matter and are so integral to this, our generation.
More graves will be dug for their generation, more headstones etched with names only remembered by a few and not by the many. And once our generation of Baby-boomers dies, no visitors will stand over those graves to appreciate the bravery and the sacrifice made by such an exceptional human breed. The war, the fields, all those cemeteries, all just historical factoids and archaeological sites.
Today, right now, in Normandy, the skies are overcast, threatening storms, the winds up and picking up now over the Channel and on those beach-heads, precisely as they did all those decades ago. The ghosts of the men getting shot by machine gun fire as they bolted off the Higgins boats, ducking against the metal tripod beach emplacements in sheer terror, the explosions of anti-tanks mines surrounding them, the cries and moans of the wounded and the dying floating in the sea and lying crumpled on the sand, those sounds of hellish war all muffled now by those same Channel winds of today, heard only, faintly, as a haunting memory in the minds of a very few, now in their late eighties or nineties, who lived through that tumultuous time.
If today you have a living parent or grand-parent from this generation, give them an extra long hug, tell them you love them and thank them and mean it. They fought for and valiantly grasped the key to everything you now enjoy, now hold dear and take so for granted. Walk those beaches in your own mind today and tomorrow and replace your greediness with a wee bit of humility, even for one day, what was the Longest Day in the history of man.
It won’t kill you but it did kill them.
Thank-you and God Rest their Souls.
Title Photo: the70thnormandy.com; Patton: fineartamerica.com; D Day: Getty Images via cnn.com
Monday, May 12, 2014
It’s been on my mind lately, how we are all shaped by our environment as we meander into adulthood…and how often our past is as cuff-links to our present, whether we like being cuffed or not.
Such, to me, seems the plight, however great, however onerous, of the son, the actor, the man, Woody Harrelson.
He may deny it all but it seems to me that he was haunted by his hit-man Father even when the man was alive, struggling, I think Woody was, with the Why;
Why could someone with my blood be a cold-blooded killer?
And struggling also, Woody may have been, with the How;
How could he kill and still be my Dad? How could I still love him regardless?
Woody started out in the Light & Funny of Hollywood. You couldn’t get much more light and funny than the sitcom “Cheers” but within him dark shadows lurked and the darkness grew or it had courage, finally, to escape and flourish in all the film-noirs Woody has made over the years and for which he was justly rewarded.
So, it really came as no surprise to hear that there would be an HBO series with a dark and terrifying nature, starring, who else, Harrelson.
But the joke and yes, the surprise, was on me, for Woody sacrificed his reputation by forcibly staying more or less in the Light in this series, allowing another to slither-swim in the Darkness. Maybe Woody has come full circle. Maybe now he knows that the true answers to his questions about Good Vs. Evil could not be sought through his own angst-ridden artistic efforts but through the efforts of those who wade around the Haunted - the Innocent, the Fresh, the true Boy Next Door.
Enter Stage Right, Matthew McConaughey, and Curtains Up on…
The series has long ended but the ripples and reverberations still linger within me.
Sure, if we could all have nickels for each sociopathic drama which has aired on TV, we’d all be producing our own sociopathic dramas on TV, but “True Detective” was different, not for the story, per se, not for the serial killer, per se, but for the men who were in the story to fight the evil by going on the hellish journey of the hunt.
The “Good Guys”, the cops, the men who start out wanting to make a difference, to vanquish all evil, end up being forever tainted by the evil within, that even when collared, the killer manages to “kill” one last victim - the Good Guy hunter himself, the one who finally solves the killer’s perverse riddle and traps him in his own signature.
This series is fictitious but the fantasy isn’t too far away from reality. When the crimes are so heinous, when the hunt is so long and when the list of victims bodes even longer, investigators can fall very far and be wounded very deep, not unlike the war veteran who often can never claw his way back Home even when he comes back Home.
Matt’s character, “Rust” Cohle, is one such cop. His personal baggage melds with his professional and it erodes his very soul. The caring, the emotional wreckage, is just too much and Rust goes rogue, becomes feral, fights only so far then runs away into his own black-dog thoughts, never to be seen in the light again. Rules are ignored or bent, authority is only his own and sooner or later he quits or gets kicked out of the force, his reality now having nothing to do with head-quarters, the parties must part and not in a good way.
Such behaviour manifests itself physically too. The cop stops eating, stops sleeping, stops talking, stops caring about anything else but catching the killer and in the process becomes a concentration camp image of his former self, almost as if the serial killer is killing his hunter by ounces and scratches, not by pounds and stabs. Either way, the job is eventually done and as the cell doors clang shut, the killer knows he had that one final proverbial kill and it was the best of them all – his own jailer.
Matt’s performance is the best of his career, whatever it took, however much he researched and focused, whatever the personal cost, if any, the true actor-supreme in Matt shone supernova in True Detective. I think Woody Harrelson must be damn proud.
This isn’t a review; although, if it were, I’d tell you to watch the series, it’s well worth your time. No, it’s an acknowledgment of the effort and the sacrifice in both the real actors and in their characters, how the Haunted enabled the Innocent to view a glimpse of Evil and make it his very best, a sacrifice I’m not sure people see in Woody as per this endeavour and it’s in this missed sacrifice for which I am saddened.
Woody could have man-handled this series and glinted out and up over Matthew but he saw the need to down-play, to step aside, to allow some light into his own performance in the offering up of all-evil to “Rust”.
After this performance, no longer do I look at Matthew as a silver-screen two-dimensional sex-symbol nor a pretty-boy flogging high-end cologne but a man who would gladly trade in all that fluff for the best work of his life.
Now he is sexy. He wasn’t before.
People with guts and the smarts to be gutsy and risk all are always sexy.
But Woody has known that for years. Maybe Matt has known that too and finally, his artistic caterpillar morphed into a performance butterfly.
Oh, to be a butterfly on the wall when Woody had “that talk” with Matt. You know the one. The one where they decide this series will be like no other, where the message will be as deep and as shattering as any that could be displayed on the big screen. A truly finite story, regardless of the popular or monetary success, that will end when it must, damn all.
Thanks, Woody, you were haunted but you survived the haunting and now enable others to walk through that emotional fog as well, if only on screen. Thanks, Matt, for “going there” when you really didn’t have to. We, your new fans, now have a reason to truly admire your work.
A price was paid by both men, I’m sure, but we thank them for the cost.
I’ll not look at antlers the same way again.
Title Photo: vigilantcitizen.com; True Detective Logo: xxivmagazine.com.au; Matt as “Rust”: effluve05.blogspot.com; Matt for Dolce & Gabbana: calibanbooks.com
"The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it."