The price of war

I was raised by a Vietnam Veteran and a WW2 Veteran. It didn’t take me long to learn that their experiences impacted them profoundly and that most vets didn’t talk about it. I once worked for a guy that would wake some nights finding himself on top of his wife attempting to strangle her. I asked my Dad about it and he said flatly “he saw and did some shit.”

Just take a moment to let the fact that 22 Veteran’s a DAY commit suicide in this country sink in.

Last week I was watching Forrest Gump with my mother’s BF. We were hanging out, drinking a beer and chatting back and forth. All of a sudden we came to the scene where Gump and his platoon came under heavy fire in the Vietnam sequence. Dave suddenly raised his voice and said loudly “turn it off, turn it off! I hate this shit!.” I quickly changed the station and I asked no questions. I knew that the scene had touched a nerve with him. We never spoke of it.

In the current news there is a lot of talk about Syria. There is controversy about pulling out. Many think we should stay, many think like our President, that enough is enough with foreign wars.

I agree. To be honest, we’re not over Vietnam yet. If you don’t believe me, please watch Ken Burns’ documentary.

Then you see kids, good kids from good families, kids that back home would help little old ladies across the street and go to Bible study, do these horrible things. They’re in country for a little bit and it’s like the veneer of civilization peels right off of them

The above quote was from a Vietnam Veteran as interviewed for the 10 part documentary The Vietnam War by Ken Burns. He was talking about “acts of war”. In particular, the acts of savagery committed by some American soldiers while serving in Vietnam.

At an average of 90 minutes per episode, completing the series was challenging. But I did and I have a lot of takeaways. Hours of battle footage, commentary, and interviews with all the players; politicians, soldiers from South and North (the enemy) Vietnam and all of the geopolitics involved in Cold War Southeast Asia. Per usual Burns provides an honest, balanced and unflinching look at one of the darkest chapters in recent history.

The veterans interviewed did the unusual. They talked openly about their experience. They ranged from the reluctant draftee; to the wide-eyed eager recruit seeking the honor and glory his father achieved; to the everyday guy from Anytown, USA that felt the call of Patriotism. They all went to the same place but all came back very different. It wasn’t like the last war, their Dad’s war. And glory was not in the cards.

A lot of men did and saw things that would haunt them. When villages were razed, livestock slaughtered, suspected enemies gunned down and food supplies destroyed were part of “following orders” a lot of soldiers found their moral compass in danger. Some made “deals with the devil” to rationalize their acts. One soldier said “I will never kill another human, but there’s no limit to how many Vietcong I will waste.” His compromise was to not see the VIetcong as people. If they are no longer people then it becomes easier. They are the enemy they do not matter.

Then there were those who stretched the thin red line even further. Rapes, mass killings of civilians and excess brutality sometimes occurred. As it says above, it was if the veneer of civilization had worn off of them.”

At home, the war had changed people as well. The escalating campaign was enormously controversial. Young people broke rank with their parents’ beliefs. Students took to the street and challenged authority figures. Peaceful protest morphed into violence as frustration with a growing conflict grew. Pictures of bombing campaigns and burned children were finding their way into American living rooms and people were outraged. Some activists decided that violence was justified and riots and bombings occurred. It culminated when the National Guard opened fire on a crowd at Kent State and killed four. One veteran lamented “It has gotten so bad we are killing our own at home”. By the time of the Saigon airlift of ’73 this country was divided and forever damaged.

When the soldiers returned, there was no ticker tape parade. The hostility towards the war had been directed towards those who had been charged with fighting it. The brave men and women who fought the unpopular war emerged from planes and boats to be called “baby killers” and were spit upon. These people are still owed the Welcome Home they deserved. But as I have said. Everyone changed.

What are the rules of civilization? Are they inherent? Are we born to act rational and be decent to each other? Is it the job of parents to instill the concept of society in us? Is the veneer of civilization so thin that it can be easily worn down to the point that we are easily capable of barbarism and savagery?

If you don’t know what it was like to see the political climate of the late 60’s and early 70’s it isn’t too late to see it. Just turn on your TV. Riots, Nazi flags, death threats, mass shootings, people just being ugly to each other.

So I have to ask…how thin is your veneer?

more on being a man

This is the third installment in my series on being a man. If you have been following this series, you will know that it is a reaction to the attack on masculinity. Being a man has become taboo and traits formerly known as “masculine” are under attack as toxic. I have detailed and acknowledged a few that are indeed toxic and have tried to outline “good” masculinity and the traits that define a good man. So far I have listed Honest, Accountability, Integrity and Humility.

Let me continue.

Work Ethic.
There is an old saying. “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will feed himself for life.”
Why is this significant today? Hard work is under fire in this country. Young people are told that they have to go to college and consequently the trades are suffering. They are told that the dirty hands of the working man is somehow crude and beneath societal standards. Consequently, the unemployed guy with the Philosophy major and 100k in student loan debt is having his power shut off by the guy who went to work for the power company right out of High School, did an apprenticeship, has no debt and is earning 80k a year. Hard work is not a bad thing. Would you rather wear a suit and earn 50k or overalls and make 100k?

There is a push in this country towards Socialism under the guise of Democratic Socialism. I get it, our system is not perfect. There is inequality in all areas of society; income, gender, the list goes on. In many ways it is unfair. Our system is based on free markets and industry which are driven by the workers. At the heart of any booming economy is the drive of the workers to succeed. Because men inherently want to earn, to succeed, to achieve, to accomplish and to win. Not to win against each other, but to collectively win over complacency and the need for a handout. A real man will always choose to work for his paycheck over having one handed to him. The best beer is the one that is placed on a sweaty forehead and then twisted open with dirty hands.

Do more than the bare minimum. Someone will almost always appreciate the extra effort. Don’t just show up, make your mark while you are there. Be a great worker and a greater co-worker. At my Dad’s funeral, several of his co-workers showed up to pay their respects. I asked them one question,
“Was my Dad a good co-worker?” The unanimous response was that he was the best.

The thing about work ethic is that it tends to be learned early on, usually from the father. Myself, I was raised by a man with a tremendous work ethic and I would like to think that I grew up with a similar one. I always wanted to be the best, to be valuable. My dad always said “be the guy that when he calls in sick, people notice”. But you don’t need to learn it from your dad, some people are born with it and others develop it out of necessity. But it is definitely generational. If you come from a long line of dependency, it is much more difficult to develop a killer work ethic. But it is possible.Which brings me to my next, related topic.

Grounded.
A good man is grounded, feet firmly planted on the ground. The best way to get somewhere in life is to know where you come from.

It is said that the best father can come from two things. A great father or a terrible father. Either way, the tools are there to do a great job. You just have to know your roots. Humility, work ethic, the entire way you carry yourself comes from having a healthy knowledge of who your family are and where they came from. Heredity motivates us to either maintain the good or change the bad and a good man is capable of both.

My father had a terrible upbringing. His family was very poor. Welfare and alcoholism were prevalent. Instead of falling into the same trap, his upbringing motivated him to do better. Consequently, I was raised with a better life and I was motivated to do the same for my children.

A man with a healthy goal for the future must have a solid appreciation and understanding of his past.

more to come…


What is a man? cont’d

Welcome to the next installment of my impromptu series on what constitutes a “real” or “good” man.

Several weeks ago my son called me to talk about his girlfriend. He was upset and needed an ear and possible some advice. He has been involved in a long-distance relationship for 18 months (she lives 60 miles from him and goes to school 100 miles from him). He loves her and for the longest time felt that the feeling was mutual. Lately, he feels that she isn’t investing as much in their relationship as he is. It is not lost on him that he is doing a lot of driving for very little actual time with her. He described her behavior to me as cold, distant, unaffectionate. His “I love you’s” were met with a nod or a “um hmmm.”
“Dad,” he said, “I need more than that. I’m an affectionate guy. I need to know she’s as invested as I am.”
“So what do you want to do?” I asked him.
“I’m going to break up with her. But I have to wait 6 long days to see her again.”
Fishing for the right answer I asked,
“You can do it over the phone.” (To be clear I wasn’t advocating this, I was testing him).
“No.” He paused. I need to do this face to face.”
The kid has it. The third, not necessarily third in importance but in my blog, trait of a good man. Integrity. He made his ol’ Dad pretty proud right then.

Integrity.
Integrity is a word thrown around a lot, mostly by people who don’t have it. In short layman’s terms, Integrity is doing the right thing. The right thing is often the hardest thing to do. In the case of my son, he knew that a text or a phone call would do the job but it wouldn’t be the right way to do it. Even though he was hurt, upset and annoyed at his girlfriend, consideration for her feelings was paramount. Doing what is right, not expedient or easy is the very definition of integrity.

As a society we have come to rely on what is quick. On what is easy. And sadly, what we can get away with. Only when it is convenient do some ask what the right course of action is. I suspect that deep down inside we all know what the right thing to do is in any situation. It may not be the easiest, cheapest or most convenient but it is right there in the forefront of the mind of any morally virtuous person. A good man always strives to do the right thing…even when no one is looking. A man of integrity makes sure that what he says and does are in alignment. I’m proud to say that my son is a man of integrity.

In order to reconcile the man with the image, one must be able to take a hard and unflinching look at himself and make changes if needed. Therefore the next, and I think related virtue of a good man is that of humility.

Humility.
Humility is the antithesis of hubris and arrogance. A humble man does not take himself too seriously because to be full of oneself you are not allowing room for others. A humble man knows the world around him and exactly where he fits into it. When charitable, he is not concerned about accolades and recognition. He values accomplishment and achievement and satisfying a need, all the while motivated by integrity, his inner desire to do the right thing for the right reasons.

I have known many great and humble men and I strive to be like them. Men who are genuinely more concerned with you then they are with themselves. Men who accept criticism as a means to self improvement yet are slow to criticize others. Men who are involved but want to blend into a crowd, not stand on a mount waving a flag that says “look at me!”

A real, humble man wants everyone to achieve and be happy, not seek an advantage of perceived superiority over others. We need more men of integrity and humility in this age of relative morality and rampant egoism.

to be continued…

Let’s talk about Ellen

Let’s talk about Ellen. Let’s talk about respect.

Ellen DeGeneres, a self-described homebody, ventured out to the Cowboys/Packers game in Dallas on Sunday. She and her wife Portia Del Rossi sat next to George and Laura Bush. She is now embroiled in turmoil. Not because she cheered for Green Bay while sitting in Jerry Jones’ luxury box, but because she has the nerve to sit with and admit she is friends with George and Laura Bush.

One angry tweeter stated, “Sitting with George and Laura Bush. What a great way to get cancelled.” Ignoring this remarkably tolerant tweet and others like it, Ellen dug in. She is not to be intimidated or told who she should or shouldn’t be friends with.

Monday night she addressed the faux controversy with her fans. To be clear, she did not defend it but instead took an opportunity to provide the intolerant left a teachable moment with a long overdue message; “I can be friends with people who I don’t necessarily share beliefs with.”

“People were upset,” she said. “Why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican President?” With the opportunity to share some of the nasty, negative tweets about the event, she chose instead to share one that went the other way. The one fan that tweeted “Seeing Ellen and George Bush together makes me have faith in humanity again.”

Boom! There it is! Humanity is about love, acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness but we’ve forgotten that and instead we are swimming in a filthy pool of hate, division, judgment and vitriol. It needs to stop. Now.

I know so many people that regurgitate the tired, and incorrect, mantra “Never discuss politics and religion.” I reject that wholeheartedly. We need to do it more. With open mind and open ears, not the other way around. We were once taught to disagree based on facts and to always tolerate opposing viewpoints. Somehow we have evolved to think with our emotions and listen only while waiting to respond. Then, if faced with a opinion that threatens our paradigm we try to win by volume. We need to learn, or relearn that if we don’t listen, we may never learn anything. Do you want to live in a world in which we only listen to our own voices and refuse to learn anything!

We need to accept each other, embracing the good and the bad alike. We need to learn from each other and appreciate what makes us different while recognizing and celebrating what makes us the same. We are not supposed to be the same, isn’t that an obvious point to make?

Life, unlike the football game Ellen went to, is not all about winning and overpowering your opponent. Life is about the individual functioning and achieving within the parameters of society. In order to do so we need to lift each other up, support each other all the while recognizing that our differences are not meant to be a threat to each other. Life is not a competition and blowing out another’s candle does not make yours shine brighter.

“Be kind to everyone…” was her response. Exactly.

Good for Ellen. Shame on those who chose to attack one of the few celebrities that has a “you be you and I’ll be me” mentality. She never asked for your acceptance and she doesn’t need it. I respect her and anyone with the ability to rise above the toxic identity politics that plague our nation. That’s what it’s about after all…respect.

She provided the teachable moment, let’s see who actually learns something from it…It’s really not that hard to do if you try.

Sold!

“Would anyone else like to speak?” the moderator asked as she peered around the room.
I raised my hand, she acknowledged me and I went to the podium.
“Hi I’m Bill.”
“Hi Bill!” the many members in attendance roared in unison.
I paused to collect myself. “I’m addicted to American Pickers.”

Of course, this hasn’t happened in real life, I just wanted to get your attention. But if such a group exists, I may have to grab a meeting someday. I am completely and utterly captivated by the show. Ok, addicted.

Mike and Frank are “the pickers”, antique enthusiasts that cross the country in their signature white van chasing the next great “pick” based on leads from Nicole, who holds the fort down at the shop and fields calls from people who want Mike and Frank to check out their collections of all things old, retro and vanishing from the American landscape.

There is so much for me to love about this show. I love old things, I am a history buff, a seasoned negotiator and I love a good story. I think I am a lot like Mike and Frank. Where most see junk, we see memories and a glimpse of days gone by. We live by the mantra “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. “

Mike and Steve go to houses, museums, warehouses, barns, storage containers and open fields in search of the next old/new thing. They get to know the owners, they get the backstory of why they collect or how they came across their forgotten treasures. Cars, toys, signs, shoes, juke boxes, photographs, truly anything can be found. When others open a barn door and retreat when greeted by the smell of mold and decay, Mike and Frank roll up their sleeves, put on gloves and climb over heaps of clutter in search of unique items that they can sell for a modest profit. As they do, I find myself captivated at what they may come up with.
pickerspickers4

I love the stuff. Seeing old Gas Station signs, board games, a rotting “Bob’s Big Boy” statue, a ’37 Harley Knucklehead with a sidecar, Flintstones lunchbox or a vintage Coca Cola sign really brings out the nostalgic side of me. And I get off on the enthusiasm, knowledge and respect Mike and Frank show the objects and owners alike.

It’s fun to find out who is a seller and who isn’t. Who is willing to let their stuff go and who will cling to it. The Pickers are wholesalers, they need to pay wholesale in order to sell for a profit. Some people are so sentimentally attached to their items they just won’t sell. The Pickers don’t get mad if they don’t get their item. They understand and respect it. They may leave just happy to have held that vintage GI Joe doll or Easy Bake oven. They love the process.

Maybe it’s the old auction guy in me but I so enjoy the negotiating process. They know what stuff is worth but never try to underbid and take advantage of the seller, and most know exactly what their stuff is worth. The Pickers offer a fair price and the real treat is when they tell someone that an item that they thought was worthless is actually worth serious money. And the Pickers pay it, if they agree to sell. You still have that guy, like on Pawn Stars, that wants 50 bucks for something, gets offered 10,000 and then counters at 11,000. You originally wanted 500! But, that’s human nature. Most items start at a fair bid, a chin scratch from the collector, a high counter offer and then a concession from the pickers. I’ve been around such transactions for decades in my career but I still watch in fascination. More often than not it ends up as a sale and the trademark handshake and verbal exclamation of “SOLD.” If they but 50 items, they shake on it each and every time. An old fashioned-gesture in a modern world.

All of the above are solid motivators to make me come back to the show week after week. But there is a much greater draw for me and that is the people behind the junk. It is the backstory behind the item and the tales of the collector. I have seen people that I would give anything to meet, to sit in their glorious, dusty personal museums and listen to their stories.

Oh, the stories. There is the man who finally agreed to open his late father’s garage to reveal a collection of all that is the motorcycle and talks fondly about his dad. There is the couple that once ran with Andy Warhol and have hundreds of pictures to prove it. There’s the elderly man selling rusty, abandoned pieces of his old amusement park who tells with a tear in his eye of the joys of seeing the smiles of the children as they rode in the Rocket Ship cars and miniature trains so many years ago.

Almost all of the collectors have one thing in common, they are middle aged to elderly and are connected to their treasures in a way that most in our throw-away society cannot relate. They come from or have a deep respect for the generation that knew how to build things that lasted. The generation that fixed things instead of discarding them. These collectors, as well as Mike and Frank, recognize that their belongings serve as a time capsule and a representation of a generation gone by. They hold onto their belongings until the right guy comes by, and it feels like the right time to let it go. Not to a junkyard or a landfill, but instead to someone who loves it as much as they and will promise to share it with the world so that the magical memories will live on. That someone is The Pickers. They are the Archeologists of Antiques, the enthusiasts of other’s crap, the curators of curiosities, and they are dedicated to preserving yesterday for the sake of tomorrow.

The show stirs up a wonderful memory of my Grandfather’s garage. It was a converted barn and I spent hours fishing through it when I was a child. He had so many old coffee and oil cans, tools, posters and auto parts to fit cars that weren’t made anymore. He never threw any of it away. I still have a license plate of his from 1929 on my wall. It was on his first car. I wish he was still around, so that we could drive the back roads of NH and Maine. We would drive by barn after barn and nod at each other, because we would be thinking the same thought…what treasures are behind those doors?

hipster

I see you there
with the skinny jeans
your Che Guevera shirt
surplus military jacket
and silly wool hat
In the summer heat
You’re so delightfully ironic
Take another selfie
The world is waiting
Holding its breath
To LIKE your pic

You reject all that is
the status quo
Just one thing?
Do you know
what it is that you don’t?
You talk the talk
You’ve learned your lines
Your indoctrination complete
but can you speak for yourself?
You challenge
Rebel and dispel
Then expel
the lies you are fed
As easily as you reject
Those that know the world
Yet it would be odd
If the young had wisdom

Free thought is still free
But you join the sheep
grazing on the grass
that was planted for you
yonder meadow calls
if you have the goddamn balls
to put down the phone
and try some of its own
different
controversial
unpleasant
real grass

Youth is wasted on the young

the quest for open-mindedness

I have faced many obstacles in my life as I have gotten older. Health issues, financial issues and a turbulent marriage both scarred me as well as taught me many lessons. I have largely let go of anger and bitterness over things from my past and have learned to pick and choose what I allow to bother me. I can almost say that I have conquered all of my demons. Except one. I struggle with open-mindedness.

To be clear, I am not closed-minded by any means. I am largely receptive to opposing viewpoints and I am civil and tolerant of those who disagree with me. But that’s a learned behavior not a mindset. In my heart of hearts I still get annoyed, even angered by things that go against my grain. And it bothers me.

I’m sure that I am not alone in this, especially among my age group. I was raised in a wonderful time period. I was exposed to the influence of my Grandparents, people who lived through the Great Depression and a World War. They knew frugality, community and practiced old-fashioned values of honesty, integrity, civility and the unspoken bond of a handshake. I then had my parents, who had the luxury of the same influence but also of the societal shifts in the 50’s and 60’s that saw great turmoil but also resulted in an expanded view of the world and society in general. Yet, they both were largely black and white on a lot of things. Unfortunately, I have been accused of that very thing. I was very bothered by that accusation. I didn’t agree and resented it. I had a black and white reaction to being called black and white. Isn’t that irony?

Being black and white is a defense mechanism. We take between 18 and 30 years to form our identity and belief system. Our identity can either be our aura that casts light on the world or a suit of armor that shields us from that which threatens us. I feel it safe to say that as we get older it is almost inevitable that our identity becomes a shield. Unless of course we make the effort to recognize and change the pattern.

This is the road that I am on. I am annoyed at the extremes of society that gnaw at my sensibilities. While I have never lacked compassion or empathy, I have had a fairly narrow view of the world. I sometime feel that part of me fights to maintain that narrow view as another part of me struggles to escape the confines of my upbringing and take a broader view. It is a daily struggle.

The knee-jerk reaction is the thing that has to go. Life is not about what happens but instead how you react to it. The knee-jerk reaction happens when something that you don’t agree with results in a visceral and personal reaction. But it’s not personal and it only affects your life if you allow it. Very few things are actually a personal affront. Yet we act as if they are. I’m guilty of it. It took me a long time to admit and address it but I’ve made progress. I have come to the conclusion that in this day and age of bad behavior, short attention spans, poor education and general lack of civility people have taken sides. When one takes sides, it is not unlike war. Defend your position and attack when able. It’s going on everywhere but I refuse to add to the insanity anymore. I have chosen to take the “walk a mile in their shoes” mentality. Every hot-button issue exists because a percentage of the population is affected by it. It is not an attack on me and I need to remind myself of that. Constantly. It sometimes requires me to even count to 3.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. There is a caveat of course, it must be an informed and properly communicated opinion. Just as in childhood, we responded positively to a even tone of voice laced with understanding, even love. When we were yelled at, we closed ourselves off and most importantly, fought to keep the words out. I am very open to an even voice, I am angered by being yelled at. In the whirlwind of the hundreds of issues debated constantly, the message is often drowned out by the noise and anger behind it. Thus, so is the reaction to it.

I have decided to count to 3 before I speak or type, I will then look at as many angles of the issue at hand as I can. I will do some research if necessary. Most importantly, I will try to not be offended. And then, once all that is completed, I will measure my response. If I even choose to offer one. I’ve been practicing this recently and I have to tell you it works. If more people adopt this mindset, imagine the difference in our current climate?

At an age where many are closed off, I want to open up. Many of my fellow bloggers are already on this path and I openly admire them for it. They are ahead of me. It’s up to me to catch up.

I want to end with a question? Would you call yourself open-minded?