For your Fourth – the rest of Zamboni Man

ZAMBONI MAN (conclusion)

The big clock says six-fifty.  Ten minutes to show time and where the hell is Jason?  He was supposed to be here at five, help with the chores, then we resurface for the first half of the show, which I have just finished doing myself.  I am part pissed and part worried.  Here I am going out on a limb for the kid, I even bought him that outfit, and where is he?

At exactly seven, the house lights dim, the lighting guys flood the ice with colored spotlights and Artie our part-time big-event announcer comes on the P.A., Arnie with the great voice – his real job, he’s a tekkie for BZ.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to Foley Rink’s Annual Fall Skating Classic.”  A big cheer comes up.  “We have a great show tonight, so let’s meet our skaters!”

He announces each in turn as he, she, they, or, in the case of Foal-ey, the six-legged horse, it, appear on the ice, take a jump and join the growing line.  In practice they had the tall kid Palumbo in the middle which made Foal-ey more of a camel but tonight Palumbo is in front where he belongs.  After a few minutes everyone has been introduced so they clear the ice and announce the first act, which tonight is the dance team of Rhonda and Randy Carlisle, brother and sister, regulars here since they were seven.  They graduate college next year, if you can believe it.

The show is two parts, an hour-fifteen each.  It’s long, but our rule is anybody who’s in the skating school and halfway decent can be in it.  Plus we always invite a special guest who tonight is Emily Hughes, the Olympic skater from Harvard.  She goes on before the grand finale, a skate-around where everybody makes a last appearance on the ice.

First half goes well, the crowd is really into it and Flo tells me our attendance broke the record.  A few minutes before the first half ends I am leaving the office for the Zamboni when who saunters in but Jason.  He is wearing his sweatshirt and cap and looking very sheepish.  “Where you been, buddy?” I say, glaring at him.

“Sorry Paddy, I couldn’t find my hat.”

“You couldn’t find your hat!”

“I lost my hat.  But then I found it.”

“Did it ever occur to you it was more important for you to be here?”

“But it was a present from you.  I didn’t want to make you feel bad.”

I nod.  “Well at least you’re here.”

“Are you mad at me?  Can I still ride the Zamboni?”

“I’m mad, all right, but yeah, you can ride.  Wait here,” I say, ducking into the office.   “Cover up with this,” I say, tossing a windshirt at him.  “And keep the hat out of sight.”

Time is short so we hustle to the far end of the grandstand.  I get up on the Zamboni and check the controls.  Very excited, Jason climbs onto his seat.  I fire up the machine and maneuver through the gate and out onto the ice, lifting my hat as I always do entering and exiting.

“Now can I take the shirt off?” Jason yells over the engine.

“Wait till we get to center ice.”

We proceed down the ice one machine-width from the boards then circle to the left and begin a pass down the middle.  Any number of patterns are possible with the Zamboni, even figure eights, but personally I like long ovals.  The ice next to the boards is the trickiest part which I save for last.  A couple of kids with a shovel and bucket pick up whatever I miss.  Big rinks have two Zambonis but we don’t need a second one even if we could afford it.

Nearing center ice I yell, “take off the shirt and put on your cap!”

Jason starts to remove the windshirt.  I look over a few seconds later and he’s still struggling with it.  “The zipper’s stuck!”

I reach across and with difficulty pull the shirt over his head and arms then toss it on the floor.  I have it worked out with Artie what to do as we approach center ice.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please direct your attention to center ice where Paddy O’Neill and Jason Phillips are starting their tour of the rink, laying down a new sheet of ice for our skaters.  You’ll notice Jason is appearing tonight as Zamboni Man.  Let’s give ’em a big hand!”

Now Jason is on his feet, his arms above his head in a victory salute.  As he takes off the cap and waves it around cheers and whistles ring out.  I am thinking I hope Junior’s taking all this in.  When I locate him top row center where he usually sits, even at this distance I see him shaking his head.  I feel like giving him the finger but then I think, why bother?  I already am.

“Cool it, Jason,” I say, turning back to the job.  We’re nearing the far end of the rink and I need to concentrate.  I turn inside the fresh strip of water we laid down that is now frozen.  Every time we hit center ice Jason takes off his cap and stands, hamming it up like I’ve never seen before.

Being a small rink, the job takes under fifteen minutes, more if I miss a patch or see a rough spot.  This time I decide to change the routine and I make one last pass down the center even though it doesn’t need it.  “Last turn,” I tell Jason, and again he stands, this time bowing to all four directions like the skaters do.  Artie calls for another round of applause and tells people to take their seats.  First up are the Lexington Ice Pixies, junior-high girls with a synchronized routine that always gets the second half off to a good start.

Heading for the gate I apply the brake but the pedal won’t go down!  I look down –  the windshirt’s stuck under it!  I bend over and try to free it but when I look up we are headed for the open gate!  I must have pulled the wheel too far left!  I take my foot off the gas but we’re still going fast.  I can’t barrel through the opening, not with people standing around, so I make an S-turn to line up parallel with the boards and only graze them.  By now it’s not if we will hit them but when.

“Jason!” I yell, “get on the floor!”

“Why?”

“Got down!  Just do it!”

As he hunkers down I cut the engine, waving people in the front rows out of the way.  Unfortunately I don’t allow quite enough room to finish the turn and we make contact a few feet short of the gate.  I watch the wood cave and hear the ugly sound of splintering.   People scatter but now we are stopped.  Are we ever.  I look down at Jason.  His forehead has a red patch and is beginning to swell.  He must have cracked his head on the metal frame.

“You all right?” I ask.

“I think so,” he says, feeling his head which is now showing some blood.

“Don’t rub it.”  By now the ice crew has reached us and they’re attending to Jason, pressing a towel to his forehead.  Smiling broadly, Jason is soaking up the attention, not at all fazed.  Several of our parents are doctors and for events we always have one on hand.  Tonight Ray Laporte rushes up with the first aid kit.  Ray sits Jason on a bench, swabs the wound with an antiseptic, applies a bandage, shines a flashlight in his eyes.  Jason’s parents have arrived and are buzzing around.  As soon as Ray clears Jason they scoop him up and disappear.  A couple of our kids are already nailing plywood over the gash in the boards.  As I am tucking the Zamboni in behind the grandstand, I see Junior approaching, breathing hard, his face purple.

“What the hell are you doing!” he screams.  “I told you never put that kid in the Zamboni!”

“Don’t blame him,” I say, climbing down from the machine.  “Besides, the crowd loved it.  They thought it was part of the show.  Which it was.”

A dark look comes over his face.  “That’s it, Paddy!  You’re outta here!  And don’t say I didn’t warn you!”

I sort of expected this but still, it comes as a shock.  I look down my nose at the creep.  “Fine by me, Junior.  Mind telling me who’s going to run this place?”

Junior puffs himself up to full height.  “I’ll run it myself.”

I start laughing.

“Clear out your things!  And don’t let me see you around here again!”

I walk onto the ice, then turn back.  “It can wait til tomorrow, asshole.”  I observe our kids finishing the repair, thinking, damn, I trained them well.  I did well by a lot of kids.  Then I get on the phone and tell Flo five minutes, signaling Artie for the announcement.

* * * * * * *

That night I don’t sleep well.  It’s not so much about me, I’ll be okay, but Jason.  Ray said the head knock was no big deal but it worries me, did I embarrass the kid?  Try to do something nice for him and, let’s face it, stick it to Junior, and look what happens.

The next morning I arrive around nine and start packing my stuff – papers, pictures, souvenirs.  People drop by, some I haven’t seen in a long time.  They start out gloomy but when I say this is the best thing ever happened to me, the mood lifts.  Ellen Baird from our Parents Advisory Board comes by and says Junior was out of line and they’ll fix it with his mother.  I say, don’t on my account.  Time I try something different, like growing up.

Flo tells me everybody says this was the best show ever and they’ll be putting together a roast for me, to which I don’t object.  Everybody is furious with Junior, saying he’ll have to hire somebody knows what he’s doing, which I also don’t disagree with.  Flo says she wants to clone me before I leave.  Great people, I will miss them.  Junior is nowhere to be seen, just as well.  At least he had the decency to leave an envelope with my last paycheck and a couple extra weeks which I wasn’t expecting.  Mrs. Foley didn’t show, which is disappointing.

It troubles me I haven’t seen Jason, but about noon as I am wrapping up he appears, wearing his Z shirt and cap.  He takes the cap off and shows me the bandage on his forehead.

“How’s your head?” I ask.

“Hurts some but it’s better.”

“I’m glad to see you,” I say, really meaning it.

“My mom said you got fired.”

“Word gets around, doesn’t it.”

“Junior is an asshole.”

“I never heard you use that word.”

“I think it a lot.”

“About Junior?”

“Other people too.  Not that many.”

“Don’t grow a chip, Jason.  Life’s too short.”

He nods.  “Last night was great.  Junior shouldn’t have fired you.”

“Not only that, he revoked my Zamboni license, yours too.  Zamboni Man’s career is over.  Too bad.”

“Not really,” he says smiling.  “I had my night.  Everybody liked it.”

“That makes me feel better,” I say, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand.

“When you start your new job will you get me one too?”

“Of course.”

Jason frowns, a serious look on his face.  “What will you do?”

I look at the boxes, a lifetime in three cartons.  “I don’t know, Jason.  I got a lot of irons in the fire.”

“Irons in the fire.”  He is quiet a moment, then this sly grin creeps across his face. “Paddy.  Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.  Lay it on me.”

“What I need to know, how are yours hanging?”

I throw my arms around the little guy and give him a hug, then I push him away and look at him a long time.

“They hang well, Jason,” I say, “very well indeed.  Thank you for asking.”

A Cool Story for a Summer Weekend

ZAMBONI MAN

Pulling my Bruins cap low, I lean across to the young guy next to me and punch him on the shoulder.  “How’re they hangin,’ Jason?” I say.

“Hanging?”

“You know, how’s it going?”

A smile spreads across his face.  “It goes well, Paddy, thank you for asking.”

Paddy, that’s me, Michael Patrick O’Neill, to be specific.  I look around the ancient building for which I have fond feelings, even though these days it is giving me a ton of headaches.  The roof that sheds shingles at the first gust of wind, the furnace that works great when you don’t need it and pulls a disappearing act every winter, the antique refrigeration system – and that’s just for starters.  I have to say, though, this weekend the place will look fabulous – banners and balloons, tables of sweatshirts, hats, food you’ll never see in our snack bar.  Foley Rink’s Annual Fall Skating Classic.

“Lot of people coming Saturday,” I observe.

My young friend nods.  “I hate it when nobody’s here.”

“Tell me about it.”

Last year after they put Old Man Foley in the ground it took less than a day for his missus to promote the son into the job.  Night and day, him and the father.  The old man used to say the rink had two emergency kits – one with tape and cold packs for sprains and sticks to the face, that one they kept in the office, the other for everything else, in the person of – guess who.  I used to laugh but not anymore, not since they put Junior in charge.

But badmouthing aside, to me this place is home.  Here is where I learned my hockey, hung around for pocket change, made some serious money in high school, then after the Army the old man gave me my first real job.  Nearly twenty years and I’m still here, but that’s okay.  What hurts is seeing the place go downhill and that idiot Junior doing nothing about it.  Especially when I could make this place really sing, not to mention I’m the one ends up doing all the work, anyway.

My jacket says Rink Manager, but for some reason Old Man Foley never let me in on the big decisions.  When he was around it didn’t matter that much – he kept things up well enough, considering there was never enough for repairs, let alone improvements, not after the utility bills and the taxes.  Admissions and skate rentals only go so far.  He even admitted it was a lifesaver, how I built up the merchandise – skates, sticks, pads, shirts, and so on.  The hockey leagues, I had a lot to do with that too, and the summer day camps were my idea.  Of course, the twice-a-year skating shows fill the place way beyond the Fire Marshal’s 285.  So we get by, but it’s a stretch.

The old man reached into his own pocket, too, that I know for a fact.  He personally bought the furnace and boiler, and before that the refrigeration system that’s still clunking along, long past the memory of a warranty.  And the Zamboni!  He said this friend of his practically gave it to him, but those machines don’t come cheap, even used.  We covered the original paint with Foley green and added our logo.  Only other color you’ll see around here is black and gold, if you get my drift.  The Zamboni’s bigger than we need and we park it in space I could dearly use for other things, but it beats hand-scraping and hosing.  And I have to admit, it is fun to drive.

Ma was against my going full-time at Foley’s – she couldn’t accept that a year of community college, not a great year at that, didn’t exactly open doors.  And what’s so terrible about getting paid for a job you’d do for nothing?  Besides, back then my business sense was on a par with my school smarts, but I get by, I’m not complaining.  The occasional check from the semi-pro club I was with used to tide me over until summer construction, which incidentally I still work at.  I was a damn good defenseman in high school, had my name in the Herald and Globe a few times, but even then I was more the enforcer type, not what you’d call a skills player.  Never been married, though I had a close call one time.  Not that I couldn’t still, if I wanted.  Maureen – she’s my sister – Maureen says I’m a typical Irish bachelor, whatever that means, but I don’t need no woman telling me do this, don’t do that.  I miss Ma a lot – hard to believe it’s been five years – but for now I am of the opinion one woman per lifetime is quite enough.

Everything considered, I’m in good shape for my age, better than most guys I grew up with, some of them gone already, which gives a person pause.  Old man Foley was great, cutting me slack to earn the extra bucks I needed, but this last year with Junior has been a royal pain.  If you’re working full time, he keeps harping, work full time, then he throws in a bunch of other things for good measure.  Him and me, we never got along.  Junior’s problem is he’s basically stupid but he thinks he’s a genius.  What he doesn’t know about running an ice rink would fill a book, and like I said, I’ve got it all up here in my head.

It bothers me I didn’t talk with the old man about my ideas for the place, my dreams, even.  A couple of times he as much as said the job was mine if I wanted it, but I was never very good at pushing myself forward.  I probably could have got a loan and gone in partners, something like that, but I never got my act together.  Not going to happen now, not with the old lady treating the place like the family jewels, though I suppose she was worried what else can Junior do.  That’s not for me to say, but he isn’t cut out for this, that’s for sure.  Can you believe, the jerk can’t even skate backwards!  A frog full of fart – that’s what we used to call some of the officers – that is Junior to a tee.  Can’t nobody talk to that guy.

“Paddy.”

I turn around.  “Yeah.”

“Paddy, you’re my best friend.”

I smile at the kid…he tells me that sometimes.  “Thanks,” I say.  I hope for his sake he’s got better, but it’s true we are pretty close.  Not that Jason reminds me of myself at his age, like some of the other kids do who hang around the rink.  It’s more like I sympathize with him.  He’s very strong, like a little bull, but his condition makes it hard to focus and his coordination isn’t so great.  Must drive the kid crazy because you can see he’s basically intelligent.  Over the years I’ve known a few Downs kids but none as well as Jason.  When we were thinking of taking him on I went to the library and checked it out.  Often overweight, shorter than most, limited life expectancy.  What he makes, he accepts with a lot of pride.  It’s more than the money – his father’s got a good City job – it’s about pride, pride and the Zamboni.  

You see, Jason’s one ambition in life is to drive the Zamboni.  My one mistake was letting him sit in the thing.  It was parked behind the stands, for God’s sake, not even on the ice, but apparently that was enough.  And why did I ride him around that other time and let him take the wheel?  Okay, I know why, it’s about dreams – but don’t get me started on that subject.  Thing is, he was so excited, so grateful, and all it takes is a little TLC to switch on that tremendous smile of his.

You don’t need a license to drive the Zamboni, not unless you’re on the street with it, which you hardly ever are, but that’s a whole other story.  Fact is, it’s complicated.  Took me a while to get the hang of it and I’m good with machinery.  The trick is doing it on the ice, making a clean, fast job of it when people are waiting to get back to their skating.  Our customers aren’t as demanding as the Garden’s – those people are in a league by themselves, not to mention they’ve usually had a few – but even here, miss a patch or graze the boards which happens at times, they’re going to let you have it.

After that first time Jason was all over me.  He begged me to let him drive it solo, but I draw the line there.  Every few weeks, though, I let him ride along for a resurfacing session – there’s this custom-made seat right next to the driver.  If I’m feeling particularly good, I’ll let him lean over and steer while I handle the controls, most important, the brake.  Even wide open the Zamboni is no speed demon but it takes time and distance to stop, though the studded tires it came with help a lot.

At first I wondered what Junior thought about Jason and the Zamboni, though I didn’t give it a lot of thought.  He’s not around all that much, but this one time he saw the two of us on the machine.  Perfectly safe and under total control but you’d think it was World War Three all over again.

“Next time I catch the kid in that machine you’re outta here!”  His exact words.

“I run this rink and I’ll give anybody a ride I damn well please!”  My exact words.

Anyway, our little discussion was, as they say, just a symptom.  I should tell you I was already looking around, though opportunities were few and far between, still are.  The B.U. rink guy and I always hit it off and he said he’d let me know if something opened up which it hasn’t – that’s about it so far.

Junior’s real problem is my working construction, or more to the point, putting in less rink time to work construction.  The old man never docked me for the maybe dozen hours a week I missed summers.  June and July we weren’t that busy back then, before the leagues and the day camps.  He knew I worked plenty extra hours the rest of the year and never put in for them.  Still do, in fact, as Junior knows damn well.

Long story short, that time I mentioned, Junior also told me, from now on I punch in like everybody else and get paid for time worked and not a minute more.  I told him I have no problem with that – construction pays so much better it’s still a good deal – and how about if I count all my extra nights and weekends?  He harrumphed and fumed but I had him, the jerk.  I haven’t done that yet but I’m thinking about it.  Anyway, we managed to get through the summer without killing each other, but it is not a good scene.

* * * * * * *

Now Labor Day Weekend is upon us, Saturday night and the big show.  Flyers all over town, big sign outside the mall, posters in stores and gas stations, on phone poles.  Articles in the papers courtesy of guys I’m friendly with, nice picture in the local Tab, announcements on BZ, EEI, couple other stations.  We even make a few parish bulletins.  Our new website ? give Junior credit for that, at least ? it has a big spread with pictures of all the performers.  Programs designed by Flo Sullivan, one of our mothers, printing by Rozzi Printing, bunch of ads that pay for it plus some.

Around five, the earlybirds start filtering in – warming up, last minute run-throughs, checking with Artie our part-time big-event announcer that he’s got their tapes straight.  Nothing worse than being out there on the ice ready for your routine and where’s the music?  Well, maybe taking a dump is worse.  As Rink Manager I am in charge of events, though this one pretty well runs itself thanks to Flo and our instructors, Tanya and Phil.  About six-fifteen the crowd is pouring in and, like I said, everything is in shape, but that doesn’t keep Junior from poking his nose into everything, telling everybody what to do which just pisses them off because they know their jobs.  This last week he has been seriously out of control, bouncing off the walls.  Usually I just ignore him, but a couple of nights ago he started chewing me out in front of my staff, disrespecting me, which I do not accept, so I gave it right back which bummed him out.

The other irritant, what else is new, is Jason bugging me to let him ride the Zamboni in the show.  I mean, it’s one thing when the rink’s empty, but in front of our biggest crowd of the year, no way.  I say no way, but after that last run-in with Junior I’d had it up to here.  Then this picture came to my mind of the crowd cheering Jason as we proceed up the ice leaving our trail of steamy water, making glassy circles and paths.  Everybody knows Jason is part of our team, people always stop with a word for him, and the more I thought about it, the better I liked the idea, not least of all because it will drive Junior ape.  After all, what can he do?  Run out on the ice?  Throw himself in front of the machine?  (Don’t I wish!)  Like I said, I’ve had it with that guy.  Never in my life have I been on unemployment but I guess there’s always a first time.

Thursday morning I pick a Bruins sweatshirt and baseball cap out of stock and tell Flo I need a favor.  Friday I notice Jason is quieter than usual and when I ask what’s going on, in his straight-up way he says he’s mad at me for not letting him ride the Zamboni in the show.  I let him stew as I go about my morning, but when Flo shows up I go looking for him.  “Got something for you.”  I hand him a bag.

“What is it?”

“Open it,” I say.  A couple of people are looking on, curious.

Jason pulls out the sweatshirt, frowning.  “This is for me?  What’s the Z for?”

Flo has sewn a big green Z on a white circle over the spoked B.  “Put it on, see if it fits.”  He starts pulling it over his head.  “Take off your other sweater first,” I say.

He rips off his sweater and on goes the sweatshirt.  Kind of lopsided so I smooth it out.  “Fits like a charm,” I say.  “What else’s in the bag?”

He takes out the hat.  “A hat!”

“Try it on.”  The kind with the adjustable back so you know it’ll fit.  “You look great,” I say as he struts across to the mirror on the far wall.

“I do, don’t I?” he says.  He has that big grin on his face.  “What’s the Z’s for?”

“What’s your favorite thing to do around here?”

“Thing to do?”

“What’s the most fun here?  Besides eating.”

He stops a minute.  “Zamboni!  The Z is for Zamboni!”

“Can you keep a secret?”

He nods.

“I’m going to let you ride it in the show.”

“In the show?”

“Yeah.  In front of everybody.”

Now the grin is really out of control.  “Thank you,” he says, “I been wanting to do that a long time.”

“I never would have guessed.  Listen, it’s a surprise.  Don’t tell anybody.”

“I got to tell my mom and dad.”

“Okay, but nobody else.”

“Nobody else,” he says solemnly.  “Keep it a surprise.”

I am really looking forward to this, I think almost as much as Jason, though my stomach has developed a case of the butterflies, why I don’t know.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Here’s a Short Story to Start Your Summer Reading…Enjoy!

GOOD DOG

People think it’s easy being a dog.  Lay around all the time, eat, drink, chase cats. Poop and somebody’s there to catch it before it hits the ground.  Well, let me set you straight.  It’s not that great, not if you’ve already been a human.  True, it beats being a grasshopper – been there, done that, and who knows what else?  That’s as far as my memory goes, though I have a faint recollection of spending a lot of time underwater once.  You ask if I know Gregor Samsa?  What a question!

My human memories are terribly frustrating, for nearly everything I enjoyed I can no longer.  Take driving.  When father’s aunt Martha passed away I came into a tidy sum and bought a Porsche, a silver 911.  Loved that car.  For my canine friends, cars are about chasing and tire-marking, but not me.

As for women, I’ll never be mistaken for a lap dog (they don’t call me Shep for nothing!) so my only strokes are head scratches and chin chucks.  The wife of the family is no great beauty, but compared to the collection of bitches in our neighborhood she’s an easy ten.  Of course, my present circumstances make such relationships impossible.  Try it and somebody’s going to get arrested.  So I lead a quiet life, celibate except for the occasional doggy fling, a serious letdown from my life as a human.

Nor can I talk with my master or mistress about any of this.  Barking and whining don’t cut it, and wagging doesn’t deserve comment.  But my mistress, she’s very nice, really, she says things like, “Shep seems to understand what we’re saying,” and “at times he almost acts human.”  Little does she know.  One time her husband Fred, he’s kind of a brick, she asked him to fetch her sweater but he was slow about it.  When I dropped the sweater at her feet she shook her head and gave me this searching look.

Of course I understand other dogs and they understand me, but we never get beyond dog topics.  If I try something different – books, say, or baseball, all I get are blank stares.  Though I still make the effort when I meet a dog who seems a cut above the ordinary.

The details escape me, but my transitions have been similar to Gregor’s – one day one thing, the next day something else.  At least I don’t have to live with my old human family like poor Gregor, putting up with their stares and snide remarks.  I was twenty-six and on my own, and of course my disappearance was a great distress to my parents and brother.  When my landlord finally let himself into my apartment he looked around for a note, anything, and said who is this strange dog, how did he get in here?  Not to mention the mess he had to clean up after my being cooped up a week.

I finally sneaked out and was just minding my business trotting along when the Animal Control picked me up.  Along the way I happened to see a newspaper rack and a headline about my disappearance.  I couldn’t insert a coin, not that I had one, not that I could have turned the pages, anyway.  It takes a certain number of years before you’re officially dead, how many I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter.  I hope my brother is enjoying the Porsche.

Speaking of cars, one of my favorite activities these days is riding in the back seat of our wagon with my head out the window.  I don’t do it often, the twins come first, of course, belted in their baby seats next to the windows.  That’s the way it is, I discovered, get used to it!  So I’m stuck in the wayback which is stifling in summer even with the AC.

One terribly hot day Fred left me in a parking lot for two and a half hours with the windows shut and no water.  Only thing kept me sane was the clock, inventing games like how many minutes since I checked it last, that sort of thing.  I nearly died, which actually might not have been so bad, except you never know what’s next.  I told you before the guy’s a jerk.

This adventure I seem to be on, my condition, if you will, you adapt, you trust, you do what comes naturally.  One day I’m loafing in the back yard, the twins are in their wading pool so I move closer to get some of the splashing.  The woman of the family, Felicia, I think her parents are from Puerto Rico, she goes in the house which I don’t give a second thought about until I see Ezra, the boy half of the twins, climb out and toddle to the big pool.  At this point I raise my head.  When he starts balancing on the edge I sit up.  It’s only three feet at the shallow end but for somebody so small three feet is bad news.

Of course he falls in and starts thrashing around, then he disappears.  In a flash I am there.  Good thing he’s wearing a shirt because I grab the collar with my teeth and pull him to the edge, keeping his head above water.  He’s bawling to beat the band which is also a good thing, because he’s too heavy for me to drag him out and if I bark I’ll drop him.  Finally Felicia comes running out.  She lifts him out of the water, gives me a curious look, then puts him over her shoulder and whacks him on the back.  After a minute he settles down.  She looks at me and says, “you saved him, didn’t you.”

I am panting hard.  I nod and wag my tail.

“What a dog,” she says, “what a great dog.”

Can’t argue with that.

“Tonight I’ll cook you the biggest steak you ever saw.”

That is fine, but at such a time I really wish I could speak.  My preference runs to chicken, particularly chicken parm.  I wonder if my picture will be in the paper, but my quick action kept it from becoming news, which is just as well.  My parents and brother wouldn’t have recognized me anyway.

After this near-disaster, heavy thoughts run through my mind.  As a human I used to wonder a lot about death and dying.  Our parents were very Christian, drumming into us that the purpose of this life is to get ready for the next.  Makes sense if you believe in a next, but I was never sure.   I understand some religions believe in the transmigration of souls, but not the one we belonged to.  So, unfortunately my condition was not a topic for discussion and I lacked the nerve to ask.

My early insect memories mostly involve terror and discomfort, birds and small animals, sudden downpours, my legs stiffening as the days grew short and winter came on.  The best were about flight, exhilarating but far too brief.  Given the chance I should very much enjoy being a bird.  An eagle or a hawk, something that soars.

I would hate to lose my human memories, and wonder if they are forever, whatever that is.  Or will they disappear after a certain number of transitions?  Losing your memories, is that what dying means?  Extinction…that would be sad.  I had a good run as a human, though not long enough, not nearly.  Perhaps one of my next lifetimes will be less taxing – not so much awareness, fewer goals, less striving.  How does a rosebush see the world?  Without many preconceptions, is my guess.  For all I know I’ve been one of those too, though it didn’t make any impression.

That night I awoke with a stomach ache, had to use the litter box which I seldom do.  As I say chicken is more my speed, and wolfing down that Porterhouse didn’t help.  I wandered around, ending up with my ear to the front door in case anything was happening outside.  As I turned and headed back to my blanket I spotted myself in the long mirror which Felicia always checks before going out.  No longer the young dog, so to speak, in his Porsche.  Just a mutt in the back of a wagon along for the ride, wishing he could stick his head out the window.  Though seeing my human life overturned in a flash, how much of a participant was I even then?  I thought I had a handle on things, but was that too just an illusion?  Not sure quite yet, check back with me in a while.

I’ll leave a forwarding address if I can.

Summer Reading Event: Short Stories Coming Here

Hello, everyone…

The last few months I’ve been finishing a collection of short stories.  In advance of publishing, we’ll be sharing some of them here, starting in a few days.  Some are bite-size – in a single post – the longer ones we’ll serialize.  I hope you enjoy them and tell your friends, and your comments are always welcome.  

I’m also well along on a new novel, working title Botticelli’s Revenge. It involves an art theft from a college museum, with a twist.  Completion is some time away, but meantime I hope you’ll enjoy the stories, and of course Twentieth Century Limited and Flight Path if you haven’t caught up with them yet.

Happy reading!

Jan

Two new saints named…and what this says about the current Pope

Last year as the Church was awaiting its new leader, I posted this: Is it too much to think that when the white smoke clears, we might find another John XXIII standing there?  Perhaps the Holy Spirit will intervene as when we were given Pope John and his Council. We can use another miracle about now. 

Then this, shortly after Francis was chosen: After Pope Francis’ first few days on the job – give him time.  It just might happen.

So is our new Pope a man in the spirit of John XXIII?  A year-plus into Francis’ astonishing pontificate, so far the answer is a resounding YES!!!  But ask yourselves, why does Pope Francis astonish us so?  His humility, his insight into what the Church needs, his courage to attempt it – they are such a departure from what we have come to expect of Church leaders.  No surprise, then, that Francis combined John XXIII’s canonization with John Paul’s.  Francis is sending the world a message about his priorities, which he means to make the Church’s priorities. 

John Paul II was a revolutionary in the political arena, and much credit to him.  But his view of the Church was tethered to tradition and continuity. Francis, however, is reaching back beyond Church councils and Papal encyclicals to Christ Himself.  This makes him and John XXIII the real conservatives, and what they mean to conserve is of supreme importance – the original spark and genius of the Christian Faith. No wonder Francis looks so out of place these days.

My novel Twentieth Century Limited speaks to these issues. One example. On the night of 9-11, after that horrific day in the streets of Lower Manhattan, TV newsman Paul Bernard has an odd dream, part of which imagines a dialogue between Pope John XXIII and John Paul II.  A brief excerpt follows, John XXIII speaking.

“Let me be candid, though, please God, charitable. It seems to me you do not…place the same trust in the people of the Church as I did. Many of our reforms, our aggiornamento, you have not treated kindly. Once again Rome dominates. The bishops are disheartened, a shadow of what they might be. The resistance I had to overcome in calling the Council bided its time and has returned in full force. My vision was to allow God’s people, under His guidance, to contribute from their own creativity, their spirituality, to the life of the Church, but you have shuttered my windows, John Paul. You surprise me, considering how deftly and courageously you shepherded your Polish flock to its political freedom.”

John Paul sits quietly, his head down. “Powerful charges,” he says, looking up, “especially from one I so respect and admire. I saw… we saw things flying out of control. Orthodoxy was threatened. Doctrine was whatever a professor of theology or a parish priest said it was. We feared that before long, the essential Faith would be damaged, that we would no longer be the One, Universal Church Christ entrusted to our care.”

“But all reform passes through difficulties before it finds its proper place. Were you not confident the Holy Spirit would bring everything back to center, would guide you and the Church through those trials?”

“I chose the direction I believed the Holy Spirit willed. Even with the Church, human intervention, human control is essential. In our holy enterprise we are partners with God.”

Pope John snorts “I rather think we poor clay are not partners but His servants. We open the door and Jesus walks through. If you deny man the ability to open that door,” the old pope smiles, “or shall I say that window, what then is his function? You have done much that is admirable, John Paul, don’t misunderstand me. You spoke truth to totalitarianism – even the miserable creature who appeared before us today admits that. Your overtures toward our Christian brethren, toward the Jews, they were long overdue. Let me put it this way. Does it please Jesus that you did not encourage our people to exploit their freedom for God’s glory? Everything considered, how will He judge your stewardship?”

John Paul smiles. “Surely you’re not fitting me for the Grand Inquisitor’s shoes?”

“Of course not. It is a fine balance we must strike. If I erred for freedom it was because I thought, better we emphasize Jesus’ love. What puzzles me, you were the one who shouted ‘be not afraid!’ and I will testify that on that day the choirs of angels applauded. If we truly believe Jesus when He says the Holy Spirit is with us, the institution is in splendid hands, is it not? How many other enterprises can claim Divine insurance? God knows, through the years its people have paid the premiums many times over.”

From time to time the path charted by Christ falls into disuse and becomes overgrown.  We are privileged – indeed blest – to have Francis bring us back to that path, most recently cleared by John XXIII.  Gratias!

Twentieth Century Limited at Harvard

Here’s Twentieth Century Limited in the Kennedy School Magazine’s current issue:

ksg mag tcl image

The Retreat – They Beg to Differ

Gus Flynn, the Berkeley historian who became Paul Bernard’s friend, mentor and keeper of his memory, collaborates with writer Jonathan Bernstein on a New Yorker profile of Bernard. And together they try to discover the who and why of his killing.

When you’re seventeen there’s a tendency to think you’ve got all the answers, but the great Earl Weaver put it well – it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts. As for the young Paul Bernard, he had no idea how severely tested his religious and patrotic certitudes would be in the years to come.

In this last presentation in our retreat series a dissenting view is aired. From Twentieth Century Limited Book One ~ Age of Heroes. Gus Flynn narrates.

* * * * * * *

“THAT RETREAT BUSINESS, GUS, I don’t know what to make of it.”

“How much of it did you follow?”

Jonathan pauses. “Not enough. I’m trying to relate it to Judaism. Some similarities – I mean they’re both about your relationship to God, but the details couldn’t be more different. It’s too complex – they’re both too complex. I hate to use the word gullible, but that’s what comes to mind when I see Paul tracking the party line like that.”

“Impressionable I’ll buy, not gullible. And for your information, a lot of people who still call themselves Catholics consider that hellfire and damnation stuff outmoded. All to the good, as far as that’s concerned, though there is a loss of seriousness I find troubling. Whatever religion is supposed to be, folksy and friendly ain’t it. And very significant, Paul’s comments about truth and honesty, they’ll bear close watching as we go along.”

“But how can he maintain a ‘passion for the truth’ yet hold such doctrinaire beliefs? The priest picked up on that – didn’t he say Paul wasn’t being honest with himself?”

“That wasn’t his point, but if you’re asking can truth and faith be made consistent, the answer is maybe yes, maybe no. Incidentally, don’t get the idea you have to solve these conundrums. What you need to understand is how Paul dealt with them. You saw how he was conditioned to give his superiors the benefit of the doubt, but that changed, and a good thing too. Some people are born skeptical, he wasn’t. It took him a long time to get there.

“But back to religion. When it comes to an all-seeing, all-powerful Being, sure, who wouldn’t like to think when you shuffle off this coil there’ll be somebody welcoming you into a better life? My goodness, nothing would compare with seeing my dear Akiko, even my parents, though they were often a trial. Thing is, Jonathan – if there is a heaven, I’m not sure how welcome I’d be, anyway. I haven’t exactly followed the party line, as you call it. For instance, I’ve often said a God that permits the atrocities we see every day, men against each other, nation against nation, earthquakes, floods and all – if He can’t prevent these, well, he’s not so almighty, is He? If He can but won’t, He’s a monster. You can’t have it both ways. Half a God is no God at all.”

Time to put it down for a while, take a break. I’m thinking, we’ve been at it almost four weeks and I still have no idea where Jonathan is, his organizing, his writing. Again I invite him to share a draft with me.

He shakes his head. “That’s not how I work. I’m one of those people who needs to know the end of the story before I can settle the rest down.”

“I didn’t understand that. That puts a big burden on you, not writing as you go along.”

“Oh, I’m writing, all right. It’s just not in shape.”

“What’s happening with the investigation part of the story?”

“It’s Hersh, all right. Word is he’ll be in Iraq next week.” Jonathan shakes his head, “it’s discouraging,” he says with a far-off look in his eyes. “No contacts, and even if I did, where would I find time to work on it?”

I don’t know the answer but it reminds me I need to make a call. I look at my watch. Tomorrow, for sure.

The Retreat – Knowing vs. Doing

Today is the final retreat scene. Look for a short commentary, also from Twentieth Century Limited Book One ~ Age of Heroes, later this week. In this excerpt Paul Bernard again narrates.

* * * * * * *

MORNING OF THE FOURTH AND FINAL DAY. “‘O Lord, rebuke me not in thy anger, nor upbraid me in thy wrath. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak. Heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled and my soul is troubled exceedingly.’ The Book of Psalms, Chapter Six, Verses Two through Four. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

“Amen.”

Father Ronan put his hands on the railing. “The end is in sight. Those of you who have applied yourselves these past few days, I congratulate. But unfortunately, in the quiet of your souls, some of you know you haven’t made a good retreat. This morning you can make up lost ground. Perhaps some worry has distracted you, if so this is an opportunity for insight. What is it about that worry that you couldn’t put it down for even a few days? Talk with your confessor about it, man to man. God wants you back as a friend. No one is so evil or so deluded that he cannot reform and repent, but you have to want to do it.

“Now please kneel.” The banging sounded through the building as we lowered the kneelers. Almost over. “In your own words, in the silence of your hearts, ask God for the grace to examine your consciences sincerely, for the wisdom to know your evil tendencies, to know where you have sinned.”

Father Ronan paused. “Now pray for the grace of a good confession, asking God for the courage to admit what you have done and how serious it is. Do not rationalize, do not make excuses. Be open and honest. Ask for sincere sorrow that you have offended Him and the Son who gave His life for you. Mean it when you promise to change and to live a life worthy of His friendship.

“A word about repentance. Today you will make a good confession. You will leave here on top of the world, in the state of grace, friends with Jesus again. Yes, it’s a wonderful feeling, but don’t get cocky. Together you and Jesus landed a good blow on the Devil but the fight isn’t over. Satan isn’t through with you. There’s a lifetime remaining – your lifetime.

“Now, I want to say what a privilege it has been working with you these last few days. I pray I have had a part in bringing you closer to Jesus and His Father, and that I will get to know many of you in the coming months and years. Now, if you will stand and move to the confessionals.”

Built into the side walls were a dozen dark wood enclosures. Picture three phone booths joined together, a cut-out in the center door covered by a thin curtain. When lit, the priest is in. The compartments are covered by heavy drapes you draw aside entering and leaving. We stood and stretched and milled around a few minutes. Several priests appeared to move things along. I walked to the back of the church and over to the side right aisle, pausing randomly at the last confessional. ‘Rev. William Ronan, S.J.’ the plaque said.

I frowned. He’d recognize my voice, for sure. When it comes to such personal things, anonymous suits me fine. I was about to move on when it struck me – it’s more than a coincidence, the cemetery, now this. I took a seat in the pew and awaited my turn. All of a sudden this huge wave of discomfort swept over me. I thought I had everything under control but now this… apprehension that I’d missed something important. I went through the commandments again, couldn’t find anything. My anxiety increased. Now I was third… the line was moving fast. Sweating profusely I raced through everything again. The last person rose and went in. Low voices, the drone of absolution, then the drape parted and in I went. On my knees I waited for the other side to finish then the little door slid open and there he was, in silhouette. I hesitated, trying to collect myself. Finally he asked softly, “Is anyone there?”

“I think so,” I blurted.

“Well, then, shall we get to it?” he said.

My face flushed. For the next couple of minutes I ran through my list. Nothing exceptional. I’d never been one for discussing complications in the confessional, but as I finished it occurred to me maybe this was different. “Father, what I told you is all I have to tell,” I ventured, “but outside, just now, I had this feeling something was missing and it really bothered me.”

“You have nothing more to confess, but you’ve missed something?”

“That doesn’t make any sense but yes.”

Father Ronan was quiet a moment. “Should we speak about your great failing and virtue? Perhaps that would help us get at it.”

“The virtue part I’m pretty sure about,” I went on. “Honest and direct, that’s how I want to see myself. I figure that’s my most important virtue.”

“That’s fine, but realize it gets harder as you go along. What about your worst failing?”

I paused. “I really don’t know what to say. I get tempted by impure thoughts but I don’t think about them all the time, it doesn’t drag me down like you said. The fact is, nothing really stands out.”

“So on the one hand you value honesty above all other virtues, but on the other hand you don’t have any important failings, just a lot of little stuff. Is that it? Is it possible I’m talking with a saint?”

I choked. “Not hardly.”

“Almost sounds like it, though I wouldn’t know, I’ve never met one.” Father Ronan chuckled. “Now, listen. I’m not trying to be hard on you, but I think you just gave us a clue. I’m going to say the prime candidate for your greatest failing is complacency, spiritual complacency. With a dash of tepidity sprinkled in.”

“I don’t understand…”

“What I’m hearing, you think your spiritual life is in pretty good shape. Sure, take comfort that you’re not sinning left, right and sideways, but where’s the passion that you might not be doing the best you can?”

I nodded… never thought of it that way.

“The trouble with complacency, it keeps you from growing spiritually, from reaching the next level of God’s friendship, then the level after that, and on up the ladder. And speaking of honesty, since you brought it up, if you’re not facing up to the fact that you could do better, are you really being honest with yourself?”

“I guess not,” I replied.

“If you don’t try to do better, you won’t do better. Don’t settle for average, for ‘good enough.’ If there’s as much in you as you seem to think, your goal should be nothing less than spiritual perfection and a life of works to match it. Not that you’ll ever get there but the effort is crucial, in fact that’s a big part of the reward. For your penance say the Sorrowful Mysteries. If you ever want to talk things over, I hear confessions Thursday evenings or come by Beaven III, you know where it is. Now make a good Act of Contrition.”

Into the brilliant mid-day sun. After kneeling so long I was stiff. Usually after confession I feel light, on top of the world, but not today. After an agonizingly slow start my life has gained a measure of self-confidence. I can’t afford to lose that, but if I have so far to go and such a difficult path ahead… this will take time to sort out. Spur of the moment the best I could come up with was – if Jesus is such a friend, he’ll be there for me. Then again, I thought, that should be plenty good enough.

The Retreat – The Good and the Not-So-Good

Continuing the retreat scene from Twentieth Century Limited Book One ~ Age of Heroes. Paul Bernard narrates.

* * * * * * *

EVENING OF THE THIRD DAY. Those saints couldn’t have been more different, some others I took a look at too. Disappointingly little is known about Joseph. The young Ignatius, like Augustine before him and Francis, for that matter, a wild man early. Aquinas, the towering genius. Francis and the simple, gentle things of God’s creation. Amazing, all finding their niche and thriving under the same roof, catholic with a small ‘c.’

Father Ronan was already in the pulpit, I didn’t see him come in. “‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.’ Words of Our Lord, my dear young men, from the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 14, verse 6. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

“Amen.”

“All of us have close friends. One of the best things about Holy Cross is the lifelong friendships you make here. At some point most of you will meet a special young woman who will become your wife and best friend. Now let me ask – who among you would deliberately reject such wonderful friendships? Stop washing, stop brushing your teeth, go around in dirty, foul-smelling clothes? Would you train your tongue to be unkind, caustic, vicious?” The priest smiled. “Of course not. That makes no sense.

“We’ve looked at Jesus’ character through his life, words and acts. Now we understand better what kind of person he is, why he is worth having as a friend. And so I ask you direct, why would you do anything that risks losing Jesus’ friendship in heaven? You shake your heads, but consider this. With a single mortal sin you can lose Jesus’ company for all eternity. All eternity! A single venial sin can deny it to you for eons as you suffer in purgatory to overcome its effects.

“There’s a very practical lesson here. If you really, truly want to be with God and his Son, you must hate sin with all your heart, all your mind, all your will. Not sin in general, but your sins, and not only hate but fear them, as well as the occasions of those sins.

“Now, one of Ignatius’ goals in designing this retreat was to help you discover that root failing from which all your others flow and how to deal with it, also that special virtue which can best help you conform your life to God’s will. Is there one key weakness that makes you an easy target for Satan? A key vice from which all your other faults spring? If so, what is it? Is it drink? You’re not so young or sheltered, you may already have trouble with alcohol. Does the mindlessness that accompanies excessive drinking loosen your inhibitions and make you easy prey for sin? Have you driven drunk, putting yourself and others in harm’s way? Have you fought and brawled? What about unchaste actions? Ask yourself, is alcohol the root cause of my difficulties?” I thought of Uncle Eddie, the friendliest, funniest person you ever met, but a terror after he’d been drinking. And that smoker…

“Perhaps you’re not tempted by alcohol,” he was going on, “though be vigilant, for it can come on as you grow older. Could your key vice be an unhealthy attachment to the things of this world? Those of you from so-called privileged backgrounds know what the striving for wealth and possessions can do to people. Others of you, your failing so far may be desire or envy. I single out this vice because a tendency toward acquisitiveness may develop into the full-blown disease once you get a taste of the world’s material rewards. Acquisitiveness is tied to the seventh and eighth commandments, for often it leads to cheating others out of what is rightfully theirs and lying to make things ‘come out right’ – that is, the way you or your boss wants them to.

“Let us next mediate on which virtue you have greatest need of, so you can nurture it in your souls. This may be the virtue opposite to your key vice or failing. For example if obsession with unchaste thoughts or acts is dragging you down, concentrate on purity. Or it may be a virtue you already have in good measure that you can make an even more meaningful part of your lives. Speak about this tomorrow with your confessor.”

Father Ronan paused, inviting us to relax a bit. There was a lot of noise as we shifted in our seats… heavy stuff, close to home. “This morning we spoke of discouragement. Well aware of our frailty, Jesus does not expect us to go it alone. He left us the help we need, His Church, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist and the other sacraments. The price of admission is a humble and sincere commitment to follow His will for you. Talk with Jesus as you would a friend, which is another way of saying – pray. Pray as the Psalmist prayed, ‘O Lord, teach me to do Thy will.’ What a joy to know you have everything you need for a holy life. You have only to ask.

“Tonight turn again to The Imitation of Christ, Book Four. Meditate on approaching Christ in the Blessed Sacrament in a worthy and reverent manner.”

Sitting in the bench I thought everything over. What particular weakness sets me up to sin? Not drinking. Impurity? Sometimes at night thoughts come to me and I would get to feeling lonely and the pressure was so much I sinned with myself. I usually fight it off but when it happens I feel bad. Is that my root failing? Possibly, though it doesn’t occupy me that much. What else? I went carefully through the commandments but couldn’t think of another sin I fell into that often or seriously. On the virtue side I had no doubt. Honesty is number one. Honesty, passion for the truth, this will be the soil from which everything grows that I want to be and become.

Iraq – Ten Long Years

Tomorrow marks ten years since the beginning of the Iraq War. As the fateful day neared, the U.N. was moving ahead on WMD inspections and missile demolitions, the international community with diplomatic inititiatives. But Washington’s mind was already made up. Excerpts from Twentieth Century Limited Book Two ~ Age of Reckoning. Once again, television newsman Paul Bernard is the narrator. 

Time grows short. The following day Hans Blix reports the inspections are making good progress, and so far, no evidence of proscribed activities. As for nuclear, Mohamed ElBaradei affirms the U.S. claim that Iraq had attempted to import uranium from Niger is based on fraudulent documents. The U.S., Britain and Spain circulate a resolution demanding that Iraq disarm immediately or be disarmed by force. Only four of the nine countries needed say they will support it. France threatens a veto, says it won’t be party to military action and won’t let the U.N. endorse it, not before the inspections are completed. Anti-Saddam demonstrations grow in Iraq. The global protests roll on. …

Courageous voices are heard. Senator Jay Rockefeller asks FBI director Mueller to investigate a possible deception campaign to manipulate public opinion and foreign policy. Representative Henry Waxman sends George Bush a letter charging that Bush knew the Niger uranium document was a hoax and still relied on it with Congress to secure his war authority. “Knowing deception or unfathomable incompetence,” Waxman wrote.

“Which is it?” I asked. “Does it matter? Either way it’s grounds for impeachment.”

George Bush gives Saddam and his sons 48 hours to leave Iraq. All efforts in the Security Council collapse. The U.N. withdraws its inspectors. Hussein rejects exile.

Thus it is, two days later, on March 19, feast day of Joseph the Worker, head of the Holy Family, honest, steadfast guide to Jesus and those who prize such old-fashioned virtues, George W. Bush takes our nation to war.

* * * * * * *

Paul Bernard and his network risk reprisals and worse if they oppose the war. This just isn’t done – but they know they must.   

THE WAR PRESENTED ETVN WITH A HUGE DILEMMA and we decided we needed to go public with it, fast. Dave and I worked up a statement, then a couple of nights before the attack I took to the air with it.

“When our country goes to war, Americans rally behind their President. We want the struggle to go well, end quickly. We want to minimize our losses, show our resolve and encourage our men and women in uniform. Send them in force, with the best equipment, and support them wholeheartedly. This really matters, I’ve been there and I know.” I paused and looked into the camera. “But, ladies and gentlemen, Iraq is different. This is a phony war. As one respected commentator said, sold on the wings of a lie, actually a long succession of lies. Though of course, the stress and danger are not phony to our troops, to their families, to their survivors, nor to the American people who have to foot the bill.

“Here’s the point. No imminent threat to America forces George Bush to attack Iraq. He wants to attack Iraq. He’s wanted this long before 9-11. The enemy who struck us on that terrible day is not in Iraq, he’s somewhere else. Bush had the chance to grab him but he messed up. Attacking Iraq is not going to deter Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda. Whatever threat Saddam Hussein might represent, diplomacy and inspections are finally bringing him to heel. Frustrating, too slow for our liking, but the U.N.’s program is working. …

“I ask you our viewers, put yourselves in ETVN’s shoes. Coming into your homes every night as we do, what should our role be? Now that George Bush has hung this war on the country do we overlook the manipulations, the phony evidence, the fake arguments? Do we say, you lied to us, George, but that’s okay. Now you’ve got us into the war we’re with you a hundred percent – is that what we should say?

“ETVN’s press credentials are still being held up. Should we make nice and hope Washington comes through? Is that worth the price of censorship?” I paused and shook my head. “Ladies and gentlemen, ETVN’s answer is no! HELL NO! We are not going to give George Bush a pass. We’re going to hold him to his promises, and we ask you to do the same. Insist that he prosecute the search for WMDs and level with us about what he finds. Insist that he maintain civil order in Iraq. Insist that he hand control to a broadly representative Iraqi government and do it fast.

“Our fighting forces will do their job superbly and we expect no less from George W. Bush. It’s your war, Mr. President. You asked for it, now finish the job and do it right. If you won’t let ETVN report your war from Baghdad, so be it. We’ll report it from New York.”

* * * * * * *

Some will say this is ancient history and useless to rehash. Not so – not when our country keeps making the same mistakes and for the same reasons. First Vietnam, then Iraq. When will we finally admit that bad things happen when we follow our leaders in a lie? As for the media – we don’t need cheerleaders, we need truth-seekers.

 

 

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