Tuesday, September 22, 2009

An East German Joke

The story goes that one morning Erich Heneker, East Germany's leader from 1971-1989, opens his window and says "Good morning, sun."

And the sun says, "Good Morning, Comrade Honeker."

At noon, Honeker says, "Good afternoon, sun."

And the sun says, "Good Afternoon, Comrade Honeker."

In the evening Honeker says, "Good Evening, sun."

Dead silence.


More silence.

And Honeker yells, "Hey, sun!"

And the sun yells back, "GO **** YOURSELF HONEKER! I'M IN THE WEST NOW!

Erich Honeker spent the last five years of his life as a fugitive from justice... in exile...in the West. :)

For the Hate of God

For the Hate of God
One day in Bethel, I had a completely routine assignment to assist a teenage Yup’ik girl in pleading out to a charge of public intoxication so she could go home with time served. I seem to recall that she had double-digit priors. During our conversation, minutes before the judge took the bench, she mentioned that she was pregnant.

I then said to her in the most solemn, dead-serious tone of voice, “You can go home today, but for the love of God, don’t drink while you’re pregnant.” She let out a loud giggle and said, in a thoroughly silly voice, “You mean, for the hate of God.”

At that moment, my blood turned to ice. I repeated to her, in that same tone, “For the love of God, don’t drink while you’re pregnant.”

Once again, she let out a silly giggle and once again said, “You mean for the hate of God.”

I was beyond appalled, and not with her language. If anyone reading this doesn’t understand the depths of my disgust that she would endanger the health of the child she was carrying, perhaps you’ve never seen the all-too-common results of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which is quite common in Western Alaska. When the magistrate asked me if my client wished to enter a plea, I took a deep breath and said that I did not think my client was competent to enter a plea.

That young woman spent another day in jail. And I was admonished not to do that sort of thing again. As far as I know, she went home the next day. I have no idea what happened to that woman or her child. I like to think that I gave the kid a break at least for one day.

Bill (Walton) and Hilary (Bacon)

Bill (Walton) and Hilary (Bacon)

This is a story about Bill and Hilary, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the former President and First Lady. One of my classmates at Notre Dame Law School was a delightful lady named Hilary Conant Bacon. She is a sweet-natured lady possessed of an amazing intellect. (That intellect earned her degrees from Harvard, Notre Dame and Boston College.) There are, however, some fields of knowledge with which she has no familiarity. For example, anything having to do with sports is beyond her ken.

Once, at a party in Boston, she met a young man who happened to be white with flaming red hair and who happened to stand seven feet tall. No, that’s not a mistake: seven feet tall. Upon learning that his name was Bill Walton, she asked him what he did for a living. Readers outside the United States might not appreciate the humor; in America, anyone who is extremely tall is likely to be asked, ten times a day, if they play basketball. Mr. Walton was, at the time, one of the most famous basketball players in the world. I suspect he was surprised to encounter someone who didn’t know who he was. Hilary asked which team he played for. I suspect many onlookers had a giggling fit: at the time, Walton was a Boston Celtic.

Well, Hilary managed to charm Bill Walton, just as she charms everyone she meets. That includes Christopher Gabrieli, an investment banker who repeatedly ran for office in Massachusetts. Her five children are lucky to have such a mother. To me, the moral of the story is that Will Rogers is right: everyone is ignorant, just about different things.

The 45th Division Shoulder Patch

Each division in the US Army has its own shoulder patch. The 45th Division, made up of National Guard units from New Mexico and Arizona was one of the first unites to be shipped to Europe. They arrived in North Africa in May of 1943 and fought in Sicily, France and finished the war in Germany. Perhaps the 45th’s most famous member was Bill Malden, a cartoonist and creator of Bill and Joe, two archetypal infantrymen.

They did experience problems with its shoulder patch. Originally, they had chosen as their symbol an ancient Navajo good luck sign. However, the top brass suggested that they change it. They acceded to the brass’s request to remove the swastika, replacing it with a thunderbird symbol. I can only imagine what the reaction would have been in the closing days of the war, when the 45th liberated the Nazi death camp at Dachau. I can only imagine what the inmates would have thought had they seen their liberators wearing swastika shoulder patches.

The original 45th infantry insignia with the swastika is now one of the most highly prized bits of WWII memorabilia. On a similar topic, I have always admire the panache of an American soldier, Sergeant Paul Hitler. When he heard suggestions to change his name, Sergeant Hitler said, “Let that other guy change his name.”

The first design for the 45th's patch, and the redesign, from www.45thdivision.org/Veterans/Barnhart179.htm.

Indecent Proposal

I once dated a young woman who was a Christian Scientists. Based on that experience, I am of the fervent opinion that, while everyone should be able to worship as they choose, Christian Scientists should not have custody of their children. When I was a sophomore at Ohio State, I took up with a Christian Scientist named Donna. I did not have a particularly strong opinion about the faith, but that changed when I discovered that Donna had a lump on her left breast, and she intended to read Science and Health Mary Baker Eddies. I implored her in the strongest possible terms to get to a hospital and get the lump examined forthwith. I managed to convince her to do so. Happily enough, it was benign.

Sometime during our relationship, Donna said to me, “Let’s get married.”

Long silence.

Finally, I replied, “Let’s pop some popcorn.” We broke up shortly after that. I saw Donna with a man she described as a husband a couple years later. I checked for rope burns on his hands, but apparently, he had married her willingly.

Donna had a brother named Ron who was a Columbus Police Officer. I eventually came to the conclusion that I would very much like to have Ron as a brother-in-law, provided I did not have to marry his sister to do it. A few years ago, I was researching a point of Columbus Police procedure, so I looked up Ron’s number and we had an interesting conversation: the first time we had talked in more than 25 years. He informed me that Donna was married and had a child. One day, when the child had a high fever, she did not take him to a doctor. Instead, she read that stupid book. The youngster suffered irreversible brain damage. Donna is now pushing 60 and still lives with her mother.

I have made some egregious mistakes in my life, but I am grateful for the fact that I at least had the good sense to decline Donna’s proposal.

Lieutenant Eileen Finkel Hering, USMC

When I was at Fort Meade, I got to know a young woman Marine officer named Eileen Finkel, who I thought was an impressive young lady. She was smart, 5’11” and athletic as all get-out. I understand that she ran three or four miles a day and did serious time in the weight room. Furthermore, anyone who paid attention to detail could not help but notice that she had earned marksmanship badges, having qualified as expert with the automatic pistol and M-16. I think it would be fair to say I had a very polite crush on her. She got married to another Marine officer named Hering. As a wedding present, my dear friend Sue Miller and I purchased a couple of yards of camouflage material, some black lace and Sue was resourceful enough to sew it into a nightgown.

Before I left Fort Mead in June of 1984, I did give Lieutenant Hering a poem I had composed in her honor. (Predicting that, if she ever got into combat, she would be the first Marine officer to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.)

Lieutenant Eileen Finkel Hering
In combat proved bold, brave and daring
She took direct hits
In both of her tits;
But she was unharmed due to the Kevlar brassiere she was wearing.

Societal Progress

In the past years, I’ve traded e-mails with a pleasant young man who lives in Singapore. He sent me the following YouTube clip, one of John Quinones hidden-camera shows depicting a shop worker refusing to help a young Muslim woman. Of the forty-two people they observed, twenty-two took no action, seven overtly approved of the clerk’s behavior and thirteen people reprimanded the clerk for his actions.

I want to make the point first that I’ve never witnessed any such behavior in my life. If I did, I would have approached the young lady and informed her that her being insulted and refused service was only a bad start of an extraordinarily lucky day because I would be delighted to assist her in suing the clerk and the store. That sort of discriminatory behavior is not just terribly rude. Ever since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is *illegal*. Had I been there, I would have presented her my card and counted the dollar signs.

I once had that experience when I tried to enter a restaurant and was brusquely shooed away, when the proprietor told me, “Japanese only.” I remembered that I was in Japan, and the Japanese can do whatever they like.

Several years ago, the Denny’s restaurant chain was sued for refusing service to black people. They won a huge civil settlement. I’m reminded that sort of behavior was quite common fifty years ago. Today, it is very close to being completely unheard of. I am also reminded of the immortal words of the New York Yankees’ Vic Power. Upon being informed that the restaurant he was sitting in did not serve Negroes, replied, “That’s okay. I don’t eat them.”

Monday, September 14, 2009

Meeting Katie Feenstra

As long as I can remember, I’ve always had a thing for statuesque, athletic women. A couple years ago, I had the rare treat when the WNBA team when the Detroit Shock and the Washington Mystics played an exhibition game here in Columbus. The Shock’s center is a young lady named Katie Feenstra. She is a nice-looking lady who happens to be six feet, eight inches tall. In the crowd after the game, I couldn’t help but notice that Katie’s parents were in attendance. Katie’s mom is six-four and her dad is at least seven feet tall. I’m not much for asking for autographs, but I did get to compliment Katie on playing a good game. I couldn’t pass up the chance to tell Mrs. Feenstra that her daughter gives a whole new meaning to the term, “Every inch a lady.”

I’m happy to report that Mrs. Feenstra has a very nice smile.

Mormons and Book of Mormon

As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to Mormons and the Book of Mormon, it’s a good news/bad news situation. The good news: to this date, I’ve never met a Mormon I didn’t like. When I was in the Navy, I knew two Mormon guys, Al Cantwell, who was in my Arabic language class at Monterey, and Jim White, who I knew at Fort Mead, Maryland and who served with my on board the USS Coronado in 1982. (Whenever you called Jim White at home, he enjoyed answering the phone, “White House.”)

When I was public defender on the island of Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia, in 1999, I met a number of Mormon missionaries who were spending two years away from home, spreading the faith. I told them very politely that I simply wasn’t buying what they were selling. We did not have any problem at all.

When I was public defender in Bethel, Alaska for five years, I knew a lawyer named Dave Henderson who was Mormon. Good lawyer, nice guy, no problem. Of the Mormon celebrities, the first who come to mind are Marie Osmond and her many brothers, none of whom have ever been photographed for a mug shot, busted for drunk driving or been ordered into drug rehab. The most famous Mormon athletes who come to mind are Merlin Olsen, the Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle who achieved greater fame as America’s most famous flower salesman pitching for FTD. Don Fulmer, the great middleweight fighter, was a Mormon. He managed two wins, one loss and a draw against the great Sugar Ray Robinson. I always enjoyed Robinson’s bewildered question after dropping a decision to Fulmer: “He’s a Mormon, but he fights like a barroom brawler. Where’d he learn to fight like that?” (A side note: if you get in a fight with a Mormon, hide in a liquor cabinet; they’ll never look for you there.)

In politics, there is former governor Mitt Romney and his father, former governor George Romney. Those two are certainly not the worst people on the political scene. Somewhere, there are sleazebag Mormons, but I have yet to meet a single one.

The bad news? While on Yap, I had occasion to read the Book of Mormon cover to cover and it completely fails, in my opinion, the giggle test. A young man with a criminal record named Joseph Smith claimed to have found a set of gold tablets in Upstate New York in 1827 which purported to tell the story of a group of Israelites who migrated from Palestine to America in the eighth century B.C. and founded a civilization and lasted for twelve hundred years. Interestingly, in the 175 years since, there has never been another copy of those plates found, and the originals, Mormons say, were raptured back to Heaven.

Further, no indigenous tribe, from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego, is known to have a written language at all. For all the wonderful archaeological discoveries made since then, there’s not been a single bit of evidence to indicate there was a great walled city anywhere in the United States or Canada.

I found the story of the Nephite Migration pretty hilarious. Nephi and his followers build a ship and sail to the West. Kindly note that the Israelites had no seafaring tradition. That was very much a Phoenician specialty. The Jews of biblical times were barely able to handle fishing on the Sea of Galilee. So Nephi and his followers undergo on their westward journey. Do they stop in the Greek Isles? No. Do they stop in Italy or in Northern Africa, which was in the early days of the Cartheginian civilization. Do they stop in Spain or at the pillars of Hercules? No. They set sail across the Atlantic to the coast of America. It’s about 2000 miles from Palestine to the Straits of Gibraltar. It’s about 3000 miles-plus from Gibraltar to the American coast. That’s a voyage that took Columbus about three months. The Nephrites apparently made this trip with a gaggle of women and children. As a child, my parents would drive the family from Columbus, Ohio to eastern Kansas with one stop in Missouri. So I have some experience dealing with ten-hour car drives with six people in a station wagon. I invite the reader to ask exactly how long into a 3000-mile, three-month-long ocean voyage they would last before they would throw any children overboard. (“Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?”)

Upon reaching the shores of America, the Book of Mormon tells us, the Nephrites found horses and asses in the forest. This came as a surprise to me, as Native Americans had never seen horses until the Spanish brought them across the Atlantic in Columbian times.

The big finish: Jesus had a “second ministry” in which he came to America. His messages to the faithful were, word for word, the same as the Book of Matthew. How anyone can take the Book of Mormon seriously is beyond me.

The Mormons I’ve met are, without exception, wonderful people. They are far, far better than their religion.

Zero Hour!

I had occasion recently to happen upon an old film from 1957 called Zero Hour!, starring Dana Andrews. It concerns a man named Ted Stryker, who, years before, had a terrible experience while flying during World War Two. As a result of the entire crew of a commercial airplane falling ill to food poisoning, is called upon to land the plane. I could not believe my senses. That film was the prototype of the 1980 hit, Airplane!, even down to the air tower control boss say, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.”

It’s interesting how humor can apparently destroy drama. During the Civil War, the commander of my Great-Grandfather Mitchell’s unit, the Confederate Army of Tennessee, was General John Bell Hood. As a general, Hood was a terrific platoon sergeant. At Antietam, his brigade took more than eighty percent casualties. At Gettysburg, Hood was so badly wounded that he lost use of one of his arms. Two months later, at Chickamauga, he was again wounded. This time, so badly that they had to amputate one of his legs. I’ve sometimes wondered if the cartoonist Al Capp had Hood in mind when he created the character of Confederate Jubilation T. Cornpone, the author of Cornpone’s Defeat, Cornpone’s Demise, Cornpone’s Disaster, Cornpone’s Debacle and, of course, Cornpone’s Utter Devastation.

While General Hood was a very brave and very unlucky man, it’s a bit sad that I can never hear his name without thinking of John Cleese’s pugnacious but dedicated Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (“It’s just a flesh wound.”)

Mr. Taliferro’s Lucky Day

Every summer when I was growing up, my parents would take us out to visit my maternal grandmother on the family farm that has been in our hands since 1881. Our next-door neighbor was a fellow named Mr. Taliferro, which, for reasons I cannot understand, was pronounced, “Tolliver.” He had a son who my brothers and I would play with. I remember being very impressed by Mr. Taliferro. He was very tall and slender, but very strong. In hay hauling season, I was amazed at how easily he could stack the bales for hours on end. About forty years later, it occurs to me that, since he did not own, but rented, the small farm, he was enduring a very hard way to make a living.

One day, we heard that he needed some help in harvesting the hay on a piece of land close by, and the Mitchell brothers volunteered to help. (For people who never had the experience of hauling hay: The hay is cut by a machine and arranged into furrows. After drying for a couple days, the farmer comes along with a baling machine and the bales come out and you need to ready with hay hooks to stack them on a wagon following behind the baler.) I don’t remember the exact years, but I think that even my eldest brother was barely into his teens. Mr. Taliferro very politely mentioned that if we found the going to be too hard, he could just unhook the wagon and let the bales stay on the ground for future collection. Most readers do not appreciate how heavy those hay bales are and exactly how hot it can get in the mid-day sun in eastern Kansas. I honestly don’t think Mr. Taliferro fully appreciated the effect his words had on us. I believe he was expressing concern for the well-being of his neighbor’s young ‘uns. What we heard him saying was more like a taunt: “I’ll bet you city boys can’t hack it!”

“Not hardly,” we thought. “We’ll show him.”

That day, the four Mitchell boys worked like dervishes. We were boys, but we did men’s work that day. At the end of the day, every hay bale was stacked. The Mitchell brothers were completely exhausted and so thoroughly dirty that we all had to take a dip in the farm pond before we could even think about taking a shower. The next day, Mr. Taliferro paid us a visit and offered to pay us a full day’s wages. I’m not sure, but I think he might have been a little choked up. We waved him off and wouldn’t hear of accepting his money.

I hear Mr. Taliferro has long since gone to his reward. Some people get teary-eyed over the demise of the family farm, but it can be a very tough way to make a living. Everything you buy, you buy retail. Everything you sell, you sell wholesale and you pay the shipping both ways. My mind reels at the thought of the amount of backbreaking work Mr. Taliferro did, year after year after year. But one glorious summer day, he really lucked out when four city boys decided to help him out free of charge.

Jeff Johnson: Fiction and Real Life

One of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain is that America has no native criminal class except for Congress. James Garner played a thoroughly corrupt Congressman who dies before launching his re-election campaign. Eddie Murphy plays a small-time con man with the name of Jeff Johnson who asks the Congressman’s widow if he can use her late husband’s campaign posters. He manages to win the election running on the platform of “the name you know.” Of course, when the new Congressman Johnson arrives in Washington, originally intent on making off with anything he can steal, he finds his conscience and does the right thing. In real life, Ohio had a state senator named Jeff Johnson, who, since he was a black man and a Democrat, became a minority who was the minority leader in the Ohio State Senate. He managed to wind up doing 15 months in prison for accepting bribes. Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?

Three Jeff Johnsons.

The Two Most Important Jobs in Bethel, Alaska

The two most important jobs in Bethel, Alaska are two truck drivers. One of them drives the water delivery truck. The other drives the sewage collection truck. It is absolutely imperative the two not confuse their duties.

Dear Prudence’s Advice on Brassieres

I frequently read the “Dear Prudence” column on Slate (www.slate.com), Recently, a fellow wrote in complaining that his girlfriend had been wearing the same brassiere for over a week and it was grossing him out. As I read that, I thought that as fond as I am of brassieres, I have zero experience wearing them. So I have no useful opinion of how long a woman should wear the same bra. It did, however, occur to me that if a guy is grossed out by his girlfriend’s failure to change her bra, there is a very simple solution: take her to Victoria’s Secret and buy her anything she wants.

I guess I’m just as intrigued by female lingerie (my collaborator points out that this should just read “lingerie,” as there is no male lingerie. I suppose he’s right, but if he’s not, I don’t want to hear about it.) I wouldn’t say that brassieres are the best things in the world. However, they are very close to the best things in the world.

My Great-Grandfather Blecha, Al Capone and a Priest

Back in 1881, my maternal grandmother’s father, Albert Blecha, got off at the wrong train station in Eastern Kansas. He had intended to go to a community that had a large Czech population and a Catholic church. He soon discovered that he was in a community with no Catholic churches within several days’ journey, and decided that going to a Protestant church was better than being a total social pariah. But for that quirk of fate in the town’s religious demographics, the Blecha family might have remained Catholic. He spent the last thirty-eight years of his life farming in Greenwood County, Kansas.

Just yesterday, I happened to be listening to a Catholic radio station and heard a story which I FERVENTLY hope is not true. The speaker related that many years before, he had met an elderly priest who as a young man, had been assigned to a diocese in Chicago where Al Capone’s organization was active. I want to point out that what I heard is, as any good lawyer would tell you, at least double and possibly triple hearsay. This, however, is what I heard the commentator say.

He said that the priest had told him that Al Capone took Catholic ritual so seriously that if he was going to have someone who had not really ticked him off “whacked,” he would arrange for a parish priest to hear the doomed man’s confession before he went for his last ride. On the other hand, if Al decided that someone not only needed to be killed, but had also really ticked Capone off, he would arrange for the doomed man to be invited to a party with drugs, alcohol and prostitutes and would order his hit man to wait until the target was in flagrante delicto with the prostitute, whereupon they would inform the guest of honor that he was in a state of mortal sin and would then shoot him. (The commentator would not mention what, if anything, became of the poor prostitute. Jeez…talk about a hostile working environment! I find it difficult to believe that any working girl would willingly sign on for that arrangement.)

Let me say again that I find that story of very dubious authenticity. But I was appalled beyond words that the radio host seemed to take the attitude that Al Capone was “quite a guy,” and was happy Capone held Catholic ritual so close to his heart. It certainly casts Catholic doctrine in a terrible light. If you’re a business associate of a man who steals and murders on a regular basis, terrorizing an enormous city for years and are about to be “involuntarily retired,” so long as a parish priest hears your confession, then, although this is the hour of your death, you’re promised an eternity in paradise. On the other hand, if you happen to dally with a prostitute, your next stop is an appointment with eternal fire.

Hearing that particular commentator’s story made me profoundly grateful for the fact that Great-Grandfather Blecha got off at the wrong stop.

Greenwood, Kansas in 1878.

The Man With the Golden Nose

While taking an astronomy course at Ohio State many years ago, I learned about the great Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe, the man with the golden nose. As a young man, he fought a sword duel with another young nobleman, with the unfortunate result being that Tycho Brahe lost most of his nose. This totally ruined Tycho’s marriage prospects among Danish noblewomen. He managed, however, to have a prosthetic golden nose fitted and married a woman of common birth, by whom he had several children. He also achieved great success as an astronomer, using nothing but the naked eye. His observations formed the basis of a great deal of the later work of Copernicus and Galileo.

The cause of Brahe’s death lies shrouded in mystery. One theory was that he was poisoned by a rival. Another is that, upon relocating to Prague, he had the misfortune of attending a banquet where it was customary for no guest to leave so long as the host remained seated. Legend had it that Brahe had a few too many beers and respected protocol a bit too much. His bladder burst and he died of urine poisoning. I’ve often wondered why Hollywood has never made a film about him.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mr. Palmer's Class Reunion

There are some people who are going to have a rough time in school because of their names. I can only imagine the amount of razzing endured by a young fellow by the name of Richard Palmer. In later life however, Mr. Palmer became a successful restaurateur, and he managed to woo, win, and wed none other than Raquel Welch. They are currently separated, but I do hope Raquel has accompanied him to at least *one* of his high school reunions. How cool would it be for Mr. Palmer to get to say to his former tormentors "Hey guys! Look who I'm 'palming' now!"

Is Irony Now Dead?

I recently read Levi Johnston (now eternally famous for having impregnated Sarah Palin's daughter) that he doesn't think ex-Gov. Palin is a good parent.

So, is irony now dead?

One more note: I agree with Pat Buchanan on one point- what the Palins need to use in dealing with Levi Johnston is a big gunny sack, a couple of cinder blocks and a large body of water.

Remembering Uncle Terry: Three Lessons

My Uncle Terry was four years younger than my father. He was born in 1924 and lost his father when he was only seven. His full name was William Terry Mitchell, but we all called him Uncle Terry.

When Terry was still quite young, he learned a harsh lesson. Terry liked to ride his bicycle and was especially fond of following fire engines when there was a run. All the members of my family know, more than seventy years later, that you should not follow a fire engine. One night in Osceola, a wooden-frame house caught fire when there were several children inside. The firemen could not get inside to help them. Terry had nightmares for months.

During World War II, my uncle was drafted and proved to be so good at his job that he was a senior enlisted man at the end of the war and was responsible for two hundred men and a 155-millimeter artillery battery. I heard my uncle joke about his experiences. He once said he was so good at digging foxholes that his commander once told him if he dug another, he’d be charged with desertion. My father assures me that my uncle is not the only GI to have told that one.

By an accident of history, his division, the 104th infantry, was one of the first through Nordhausen Concentration Camp just a few days after liberation in April, 1945. Uncle Terry took some photos of what he saw and I happened to see them when I was not yet into my teens. I did not have nightmares, but they very much impressed me that there was something absolutely unspeakable about the evil of the Third Reich. I am very proud that both my uncle and father risked their lives to play a part in its destruction.

My Uncle Terry was a charming man who I enjoyed visiting every summer. It always troubled me that he was a very heavy smoker. On more than one occasion, I implored him as strongly as a middle-schooler could, that I wished he’d quit. It was in October of 1970 that Uncle Terry’s luck ran out. He had a massive heart attack and was dead a few hours later. He left a wife and four children. He was only 46. Now that I’m about to turn 54 myself, that no longer seems very old at all. It’s an object lesson on the folly of smoking. His four-years-older brother, my father, has now outlived him by thirty-nine years.

While I was very fond of my uncle, I sometimes wonder if by some miracle I could see him for one hour, I honestly don’t know if I would hug him out of love or slug hum out of exasperation that he never gave up those coffin nails. I thought of my Uncle Terry purely by coincidence. In 1991, the Kevin Kline film Dave was released. It concerned a double of the President of the United States who temporarily takes office when the real President suffers a stroke. I the film, the real President was none other than Bill Mitchell.

I thought it was too bad that Uncle Terry hadn’t taken care of himself to have seen.

The patch of the 104th infantry.

Speedy in Mombasa

Speedy in Mombasa

When I became a shellback, back in August of 1982, on board the USS Coronado, one of the chief instigators of that ceremony was a black gentleman named Speedy. When I chided him about the appearance of his shellback costume, he informed me that he was going to hit me with his wog whacker. I kept a low profile and did not get whacked.

The day after the shellback initiation, we pulled into Mombasa, Kenya. During that stay, I did take the opportunity to go on a wildlife safari in one of Kenya’s national parks. I also repeatedly passed up opportunities to get up close and personal with the local working girls. I won’t say that all American sailors go wild in the presence of “economically priced pleasure providers,” but many do. To accentuate the positive, I want to single out one of my shipmates, a Mormon fellow named James White, for special praise. One afternoon, the two of us were in a city park and one of the local girls tried very hard to close a sale. Jim behaved himself in an absolutely exemplary manner, informing the young…well, lady wouldn’t be appropriate, that he was a married member of the LDS Church. I was half-expecting him to tell that woman to sin no more.

In August of 1982, no one had ever heard of AIDS. The thought of needing a shot of penicillin was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. Needless to say, I have never regretted my abstinence in Mombasa, even though some of my shipmates razzed me about being the only virgin ever to return from that place.

Probably every one of the prostitutes we saw-and they were ubiquitous-died before the age of thirty. At the opposite end of that spectrum was Speedy, as shipboard legend had it, hit the beach with the intention of engaging in relations with every woman in Mombasa. Legend has it that he went ashore with a huge carton of the blue XXXX lambskin condoms. Legend further has it, that he came back for a second huge package before we set sail a week later.

The reason why that detail stays in my mind, more than twenty-seven years later, is that that brand of condom now carries a warning that it doesn’t protect against the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Years later, I was teaching a PACE class on board the USS Josephus Daniels. One day in Bahrain, I bumped into Speedy. He was paunchier than I remember, and he was wearing a wedding ring. Speedy was an amiable fellow. I did not bother mentioning that I was glad that he had apparently avoided any horrific consequences. It has often occurred to me that if his wife found out what he was doing that day in August, she is quite likely (and justifiably so) in doing something that would make Lorena Bobbitt cringe.

The gateway to Mombasa, Kenya.

What My Father Asked the Brigade Commander

A few days ago, I visited my father in the retirement center where he lives to attend a lecture by a retired Army Colonel who was once a Brigade Commander in Iraq and served on General Petreus’s staff. He is now a professor at Ohio State. If anyone is surprised by his career path, they shouldn’t be. I have always respected the wisdom that General William Butler showed when he said, “Any society that divides the scholar from the warrior will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”

I found the colonel’s speech fascinating and anyone who thinks he would rubber-stamp any decision made by higher-ups in Iraq and Afghanistan would be in for a few surprises. When the colonel finished his speech and took questions, my father asked, “Why is it that the United States is doing all these things? Who says we have to play global policeman?” The colonel said, “Whatever you think of American policies, the simple fact is that, if America doesn’t do it, it won’t get done.”

Kindly note that I’m not saying that our policies, but I’m pointing out that, seventy years ago this month, Americans might reasonably hope that the British and French empires would deal with unpleasant situations overseas. Those days are long past.

Anyone who thinks that the United Nations will ever accomplish anything is willfully ignorant of the history of the past sixty-four years. A bit later on in the day, I did chide my father, pointing out that the answer to his question would have been the same in the early months of 1945 when he and the rest of his B-24 crew flew missions over Germany.

All Hail Charles Barkley, Our Next President

One of my favorite semi-jokes at Juvenile Court is to inform people that I can bet I know who their favorite politician is. When they wonder how I know, I inform them that Charles Barkley, the retired basketball star, has announced he intends to return to Alabama and run on the platform that, if elected, he will institute a policy that any man who fathers a child and doesn’t take responsibility will have their future abilities surgically removed in a public, live, televised ceremony.

As yet, Mr. Barkley enjoys an approval rating among Juvenile Court workers above 95%.

My Delaware Client

A few years ago, I had a client (let’s call him “Del,” not his real name ) who lived in Columbus who had to face charges in Delaware, the county seat twenty miles north of the capital. He was in danger of doing jail time if he didn’t pay the County of Delaware a fine of several hundred dollars.

I made a couple of phone calls in his behalf, trying to fix him up with a job. Somewhat to my surprise, I lucked out and found him one. I called a man who had a business putting liquor initiatives on the ballot, getting people to sign petitions. It’s a couple of bucks a signature, and if you manage to get fifteen signatures in an hour, that’s a pretty decent day’s paycheck. The guy I knew remembered me for having done good work quite a few years earlier when I (and my legs) were a whole lot younger.

He told me he’d give my client a job one Saturday, provided I worked too. I figured, what the heck, I’m going the second mile for a client. Since my cash flow situation was less than ideal, I took him up on his offer.

I told Del to be ready at 11 on a Saturday and told him to be ready, wearing a dress shirt and a tie. When I arrived, he wasn’t ready because his grandmother was out getting him a dress shirt from Goodwill. I drove him to my ex-boss’s office and learned that this petitioning project was in Columbiana County, on the Pennsylvania line. I thought, what the hell, I’ll be in the Guinness Book of Records for this one.

We had a pretty productive day. My client cleared a hundred bucks worth of signatures, while I made two hundred bucks in signatures and mileage. As we drove back from Columbiana County, Del asked me, “How far are we from Mansfield?” I told him the sign just said ten miles. He said, “That’s where my father is. I hate him so much.” Turns out Del pere most of the boy’s life in Mansfield Correctional. When we got our checks a few days later, I told my client this was not his get-out-of-jail-free card, but definitely a break. All he had to do was sign his check over to the County, and they wouldn’t toss him in jail.

At this point, Del said, “Well, I don’t necessarily agree.” I had to be in Delaware Court anyhow, so I offered him a ride to pay the fine. He walked home instead. Del skipped his next court date and the court issued a warrant for his arrest. I then withdrew from the case.

Almost a year later, I got a call from the Delaware County Court informing me that Del was in their custody after a spell in Franklin County Jail, and that I was assigned to represent him again. When I went in to see my client, what do you suppose he said to me? “This is all your fault!”

Tom Hanks Gaffe, Good for a Laugh

I once saw Tom Hanks give an interview about his role in Saving Private Ryan. He described himself and the others on his team as “Marines who just want to go home.” I wonder if anyone else caught Mr. Hanks’ gaffe.

In the film, Hanks plays Captain Miller, the commanding officer of a small group of Army Rangers who are on a mission to inform a Private Ryan of the 101st Airborne division that he has a ticket home. Both Rangers and paratroopers are extremely fine fighting men, both in 1944 and in the present day. My only small gripe with that film was that the unit’s translator is a complete wimp who is, by comparison, rather weak. He is wearing the blue and gray shoulder patch of the 29th Infantry Division. If I seem a bit touchy about that, it’s because I wore that patch myself for a brief time.

I think the reason Tom Hanks made that mistake is that, in preparing for the role, he and the other actors involved went to a mini boot camp put on by a retired Marine Captain named Dale Dye. Dye served in Vietnam as an enlisted man, picked up a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. He’s mentioned Michael Herr’s famous memoir, Dispatches. As a young man, he had enough braggadocio to wear a flower in his helmet liner, as if daring the enemy to shoot him. Dye advanced to the rank of Master Sergeant and became a warrant officer and then was commissioned as a Captain.

From everything I’ve heard, Dale Dye has is one hell of a Marine. By the time he was done with those actors, they very much wanted to go home. So in Tom Hanks’ conversation, apparently “Marine” is a synonym for “great fighting man.” That may be a gaffe, but I can only imagine that bit of news will make a certain retired Marine of my acquaintance laugh heartily up his XXXL sleeve.

A Sioux Joke

One of my Notre Dame Law School classmates is a fine gentleman who is a member of the Sioux Indian Nation and is something like 15/16s Sioux. He once informed me that the extreme ends of his alimentary canal are French, but everything else is Sioux. He is quite fond of politically incorrect humor and once asked, “What do you call a white man surrounded by fifty Indians?”

The answer: A bartender.

The flip side of that joke: “What do you call an Indian surrounded by fifty white guys?”

A casino operator.

A British Joke

I rather enjoy the story of eight Britons who were shipwrecked on an island. When they were found the next year, the two Welsh were found at singing practice, the two Irish were busy contesting the middleweight boxing championship for the island. The two Scotsmen were busy in the distillery they had constructed and the two English were still waiting to find someone to introduce them.

A French Joke

The story goes that three little French boys, a five-year-old, a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old are walking along the street when they look into the window of a basement apartment and see a couple making love. The five-year-old says, “Look! They are wrestling!”

“No, no,” says the seven-year-old. “They are making love!”

“Oui,” says the nine-year-old. “And so very poorly.”

Three Black Oscars

A few years ago, when Halle Berry won an Oscar for her performance in Monster’s Ball, she and a few other people made a big deal out of it. Personally, I thought that was one of the most egregious examples of miscasting I’ve ever seen. Ms. Berry played the widow of a recently executed death row inmate who had not had a date in fifteen years. (The length of her husband’s stay on death row.) I would very much like to know what planet it is that women who look like Halle Berry go dateless for fifteen years. However, what those people apparently overlooked was that Ms. Berry was not the first black actor to have won an Oscar. In fact, she was the fourth. (I said, very much to my collaborator’s surprise.)

Looking at those four actors tells us a lot about how Hollywood has changed in the past eighty years. The first black actor to win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel in the role of Mammy, a house servant, in Gone with the Wind. The most famous line spoken by a black actor in that film was not Ms. McDaniels’, rather from Butterfly McQueen who played Prissy and said, “Lawdy, Miss Scarlet, I don’t know nothing ‘bout birthin’ babies.”

Years later, Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win an Oscar in Lilies of the Field. In the early years of his career, he was stuck playing straight-arrow, righteous characters who were, in the expression of that long-ago time, “a credit to their race.” The most memorable lines from Lilies of the Field were no doubt Mr. Poitier singing hymns with his costars. Mr. Poitier played Homer Smith, a handyman whose costars are five white women, all nuns: Mother Maria, Sister Agnes, Sister Gertrude, Sister Lisbeth and Sister Albertine. I don’t think there could be any more dramatic contrast in roles than between Mr. Poitier’s Homer Smith and the role that Louis Gossett Jr. won his Oscar for in 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman, Marine Gunnery Sergeant Drill Instructor Foley. Foley doesn’t sing any hymns; he puts the fear of God into his officer candidates.

Hattie McDaniel played a house servant, Sidney Poitier plays a handyman and Louis Gossett, Jr. is the man. Forgive my warped sense of humor, but one of my favorite parts is when, during a serious brawl, Gunnery Sergeant Foley says to Richard Gere’s character, Zach Mayo: “How about that, MAY-O-NNAISE? Your blood’s just as red as mine.”

Kindly note this public service to my readers. If you haven’t seen An Officer and a Gentleman, it isn’t a good idea to throw down with a Marine Drill Instructor.