Surprised that 65 percent of Americans support President Obama’s contraceptive initiative, we decided to look a little deeper into the poll. We were surprised only because we heard so many D.C. pundits go on and on about Obama making a mistake with the initiative. Still, we wanted to see where this overwhelming support was coming from.
It turns out that the answer is a little embarrassing for those of us who live in or near the more red neck enclaves of red states. I use the term “enclave” to protect the innocent. Anyway, in or near those enclaves, it turns out that male voters think the controversy involves sex contraptions, not contraceptives. They are, it seems, intrigued by the prospect that their little darlins will now have access to some kind of new fun stuff for after closing time.
My guess is this support will evaporate soon as one of the male respondents gets up the guts to ask his new girl companion where her contraption is. It’s conceivable that it might be the last thing he ever asks, so maybe it won’t matter for support of Obama’s initiative in the long run.
What’s all the fuss about Americans not following religious doctrine? Seriously, we all know that none of us dance and drink as passionately as Baptists. Few are as happy with the invention of the Pill as Catholics. Many seem grateful that Jesus’ plea to help the poor is taken no more seriously than an Ogden Nash poem.
Oh, I have no doubt that Catholic Church leaders are quite frustrated that their flock no longer does what they are ordered to do by the self-regarding, closer-to-god Church hierarchy. And, it’s probably true that Mormons are, as these things go, a little more obedient to doctrine, right down to their underwear, than members of most other faiths. Credit where credit is due.
Lurking behind the church/state controversy over the morally righteous effort to make contraceptives available to American women is the certain truth that even the most devout Catholics ignore the Church’s medieval doctrine on this one. The controversy was truly like arguing about the number of angels on the head of a pin. There are no angels; there are no pins. Just pundits and panderers.
Denial may not be a river an Egypt, as the 12-steppers say, but it’s broader than the Mississippi in America. If there’s anything we do better than escaping religious doctrine, it’s denying that we escape it.
Now, it must be admitted that many can get themselves into a righteous snit when they discover that others have also sawed through the bars and run away across the fields. High-tailing it to freedom like the trio of miscreants in O Brother Where Art Thou, they look over their shoulders and shout at the escapees behind them, “Get thee back to God’s House, sinners!” Their indignation is born of two parents: seeing themselves unhappily mirrored in their doctrine-denying brethren makes their denial a little more difficult; and, they are worried about the lack of parking spaces near the bars, the dancehalls, and the contraceptive-dispensing pharmacies.
Speaking of the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, the scene where Delmar is saved by the preacher may be the most accurate portrayal of Americans and faith on film:
Delmar: Well, that’s it, boys. I been redeemed. The preacher done washed away all my sins and transgressions. It’s the straight and narrow from here on out. And heaven everlasting’s my reward.
Everett: Delmar, what are you on about? We got bigger fish to fry.
Delmar: The preacher said all my sins is washed away,
including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.
Everett: You said you was innocent of that.
Delmar: Well, I was lyin’. And the preacher said that that sin’s been washed away, too. Neither God nor man’s got nothin’ on me now.
Secretly, we’re all thankful for the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. God forbid (pardon the reference) that the State should enforce church doctrines under penalty of the criminal law. If we think we have a prison crisis now…
So what’s behind all the hooting and hollering over the Obama Administration’s contraception initiative? Why is it that even some progressive pundits are arguing for more deference to the Catholic Bishops on an issue that’s not even about religious freedom, but women’s health? I think it’s because they feel we’re not showing enough deference to pretense. That the health of American women would be put at risk by such deference is kind of beside the point.
I don’t mean to in any way mock religion. Many – most – of us draw deep and abiding values from the faith traditions we were raised in or discovered on our own. I think humans come with a wonderful ability to look for answers beyond what’s immediately at hand, and religions can facilitate that and a give us a sense of community, too.
But I do mean to mock those who argue that we must sacrifice women’s health on the altar of a religious doctrine no one in America takes seriously. On the other hand, Republicans who think this is a viable wedge issue might discover it’s a wedge between themselves and the rest of America. I’m tempted to say, go for it.
When then-President Richard Nixon sat down at the piano on the stage of the Grand Old Opry in 1974, he was reinforcing a conservative, polemical wall of sound to help contain several decades of transformational popular music, from blues and jazz to rock & roll. Music was the last thing on his mind.
At his Grand Old Opry gig, Nixon bragged that White House performances by Merle Haggard and others had been huge successes with his “very sophisticated audiences” because the country singers spoke to “the heart of America.” He was lying, of course. In his diary, Nixon aide Bob Haldeman confessed that the Haggard concert “was pretty much a flop because the audience had no appreciation for country/western music and there wasn’t much rapport.”
Nixon’s tricky fib and Haldeman’s confession are just more evidence of conservative elites’ cynical manipulation of lower middle class whites in the wake of the Civil Rights Act and other transformative rebellions of the 1960s. Nixon had nothing in common with Merle Haggard’s audience. Blueblood George H.W. Bush had nothing in common with Lee Greenwood’s audience when he deployed Greenwood in his 1988 campaign. That didn’t mean they couldn’t pretend.
Alone in the walnut-paneled music room, his favorite of Fair Lane Mansion’s 56 rooms, automobile tycoon Henry Ford picks up one of his two Stradivarius violins. It is 1920 or so and Henry, cocooned in his woolen three-piece suit despite the summer heat, stretches his bow arm for a little elbow and shoulder room.
Henry plucks the A string uncertainly, then steps to the grand piano at the far end of the room and searches the keyboard for A. Counting forward on the white keys from Middle C – C, D, E, F, G, A – he pokes at the A, then plucks the A string of his violin again. His ear hears the same pitch. Unison, they call it, a good name for the sound of happy hands on his assembly line. He plucks the other strings and touches a couple of tuning pegs lightly, but doesn’t adjust them. Close enough.
Tucking the fiddle just so under his narrow chin, he bows each string once, and then, pinching his eyes at the difficulty of playing in E-flat, he begins to play one of his favorites, the 19th Century hit “Home, Sweet Home.” He whispers John Howard Payne’s lyrics as he plays.
Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.
Henry Ford’s industrial brainstorm – a moving conveyor that brought parts for assembly to stationary workers – was matched only by his insight that mass production was worthless without mass consumption. So, he helped invent American consumers. They, like his assembly line workers, would have the goods brought to them for assembly into an all-American consumer lifestyle. In this there would be harmony.
What social or psychological dysfunctions led UC-Davis police lieutenant John Pike to brutally assault some sitting, non-threatening protestors with chemical pepper spray?
Clearly unthreatened and acting with a sociopathic coldness, Pike had obviously dehumanized his targets. I just don’t think it’s possible to act in that fashion against other human beings if you regard them as sharing your humanity.
But I also think a concept of authority is growing in America which wants to justify any action by authority against anyone perceived as defying its power.
I can’t see any legitimate basis for police action like what is shown here. Watch that first minute and think how we’d react if we saw it coming from some riot-control unit in China, or in Syria. The calm of the officer who walks up and in a leisurely way pepper-sprays unarmed and passive people right in the face? We’d think: this is what happens when authority is unaccountable and has lost any sense of human connection to a subject population. That’s what I think here.
These twin evils – individual loss of empathy and social retreat to authoritarian absolutism– feed one another. Sociopaths seem “normal” in the midst of an anti-human milieu that condones dehumanization and violence.
Sometimes beauty hides in the magic of a URL. The nearly indecipherable strings of letters and numbers that only make sense when fed into a machine. But the code and the sound and the light the machine spits back is pure beauty. Pure magic. Pure love.
And sometimes this gift is delivered with the simple chime of the arrival of a new text message. Cutting through haze and blur of just another day. Landing like a burning ember, glowing red hot, right in the crotch of our day causing us to jump and slap wildly, dancing, flailing. Trying in vain to maintain the shroud of an ordinary day.
The spark sets us alight. And for a few minutes, as the flames consume us, feeding off the tinder we pull over ourselves to keep out the cold, we can see in the light a different world. A place flickering with hope. Shining with love. Radiant with life.
Shake the Dust came to me today. Sent unheralded, unannounced. A flaming cannonball shot over my wall. And my kingdom is ablaze.
May the fire spread to your heart. The amazing and incomparable Anis Mojgani.
In my last review of Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs I promised a follow up about how their album would have a living room sound to it–meaning intimate and minimal studio intervention in the music. So I’ve been waiting to talk about that while the band fine-tuned their album before release for over a year. Definitely worth the wait, the album, Alone in This Together, has been out for a couple of months, along with a video. Meanwhile, the band has been busy with a west coast tour, planning an upcoming east coast tour and even some small portion Star’s boots and maybe some elbows and knees of other band members made an appearance in a Rolling Stone photo while they performed with Pearl Jam for PJ20. Now that’s rock and roll. Speaking of the living room, here is the band jamming on children’s instruments at Keith Ash’s (bass) house where the band was hanging out together for a barbeque.
Back to the album. I believe that had I listened to the album at the time of the first interview, talking about the living room flavor would have made a ton of sense. While it is, as promised, intimate and not at all overproduced, enough hard work and I assume, massively creative energy has influenced what this album has ultimately become. What I hear when I listen closely, is a sophisticated layering effect that I usually find in great bluegrass.
Don’t get me wrong, the album sounds nothing like bluegrass.
But I draw the analogy because like great bluegrass, skilled musicians take us on a ride full of pleasant surprises, full of complex and unexpected arrangements. However, unlike Bluegrass, the overall effect of this ride is subtle. Noticeable, yet subtle. And actually, I didn’t notice it at first. Initially, I was swept up by the vocals and the lyrics as you might be–you’ll want to know more about what she is saying; you’ll sit still and imagine the situation that provoked those words to come together the way they did. See what I mean in the track titled Gold and Silver:
Love could never live here
In a house that is so cold
The windows bolted down for good
The window panes are dull
The floor it creaks with every step
And echoes through the air
‘Til it’s swallowed up by silence
Through the cracks and down the stairs
-Alone in This Together, Star Anna & The Laughing Dogs
And have a listen to Star’s vocals, which are frankly just becoming indescribable for me. Flipping through a thesaurus for hours wouldn’t give me the right words. The effect of her vocals on her fans (if I may say so) is more of a gestalt experience—the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Back to the subtlety. Now that you hear how down right awesome the title track is and recognize that you are also, in fact, hearing is Mike McCready of Pearl Jam on guitar, the word subtle might be a confusing description. Here’s what I mean: you can sit on a plane and listen to this album four times in a row (yes, I did this) and sometimes you really notice how the guitar (Justin Davis) goes left while the keyboards (Ty Bailie) go right and something interesting is happening with the drums (Travis Yost), or you connect to the lyrics—your mind winding down a road you took once and the nostalgia it still evokes in you. Still another time, you listen to the album while you read and it just works without you noticing much at all. As Peter Griffin might say, it doesn’t insist upon itself. But it is there for the taking. I never have exactly the same experience when I listen to Alone in This Together. I think that speaks to the depth of the album. Star and the dogs are never self-conscious or affected personally or musically. As I mentioned before, they are deep, genuine and just all around great people to meet. And maybe that is what Justin Davis (guitar) meant when he described the album as having that living room sound. Could be it…provided that your living room has Star’s unflinching and smoky vocals, a talented band that loves doing what they do together and guitar accompaniment by Mike McCready of Pearl Jam. So yeah—I definitely need a living room upgrade.
Listening to Alone in This Together, or any recording of the band, for that matter, leaves me with an intense craving to see them live. The album is great. Instantly a favorite. I have two. No shit. I bought one, got one as a gift and I’m keeping them both. However, listening to this album just allows me to get a fix in between the few shows I can make in Seattle. Much to their credit as musicians—this is a band that is best live. Which brings me to their east coast tour. If they are going to be anywhere near you—buy tickets. Go see them. Show the hell up. Anyone who has seen them will back me on this. You can not miss them if you are lucky enough to be anywhere within a 3 hour radius of them. Even if they are planning to play children’s instruments (probably not). Do it.
Here’s a little taste of them live with Mike McCready at PJ20.
Here are their tour dates. Get out your calendar.
10/14/11 Great Falls MT- Machinery Row
10/15/11 Bozeman, MT – The Filling Station
10/16/11 Spearfish, SD – Back Porch
10/17/11 Sioux City, IA – Chesterfield Live
10/18/11 Des Moines, IA – Mars Cafe
10/20/11 Chicago, Il – The Hideout
10/21/11 Milwaukee, WI – Shank Hall
10/23/11 Cleveland, OH – Brother’s Lounge
10/24/11 Buffalo, NY – Mohawk Place
10/25/11 Albany, NY – Valentine’s
10/26/11 Allston, MA – O’Brien’s Pub
10/27/11 Brooklyn, NY – Southpaw
10/28/11 New York, NY – Piano’s
10/29/11 Hoboken, NJ – Maxwells
10/30/11 Philadelphia, PA – The Fire
10/31/11 Asbury Park NJ- The Saint
11/01/11 Washington DC – The Black Cat
11/02/11 Chapell Hill, NC – The Cave Tavern
11/03/11 Atlanta, GA – Smith’s Olde Bar
11/04/11 – TBA
11/05/11 Kansas City, MO – Czar Bar
11/06/11 Lincoln, NE – The Zoo Bar
11/09/11 Boise, ID – The Reef
Purchase their album and visit their site www.staranna.com.
Check out my work at www.keeshadavis.com and www.simfotico.com. I am a professional photographer and do freelance web design while I juggle a full schedule at the University of Washington as a Ph.D student in Education. Photos of Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs copyright Keesha Davis, Simfotico, LLC.
In the aftermath of revelations about the ugly name of Gov. Rick Perry’s hunting lease, some Democrats and pundits, including some friends of mine, are pardoning Gov. Rick Perry on the question of race. I’m not certain how you issue such a blanket pardon to a sitting Southern governor who tossed out the idea of secession or who signed a Voter I.D. law everyone knows is aimed at disenfranchising minority voters.
It’s true that contemporary racism doesn’t look exactly like yesterday’s racism. In many social circles white people no longer use the N-word. Lynchings have disappeared it hate crimes haven’t. We can all eat at the same restaurants and use the same drinking fountains and restrooms. But this self-contratulating myth that we as a generation have magically transcended race is not just immoral, it’s destructive. It blinds us to a racism that continues to have terrible consequences.
Rick Perry’s policies punish people of color. He’s tried to walk back his talk of secession, but he mentioned in purpose multiple times in order to fire up right wing nuts who heard the code for just what it was: a harkening back to a time when white people ruled and people of color were considered less than human.
We are very reluctant these days to brand anyone a racist. Even racists. I suppose there’s some good in that. At least we realize that racism is so evil we shouldn’t toss the word around lightly. Is the name of a hunting lease enough to earn Perry the brand? I don’t know. But the rush to issue a blanket pardon — “Rick Perry is not racist” — seems a bit too much to take. A governor who plays upon racial prejudice as Perry did with his secession comments should not be pardoned for their racial implications.
What interesting parallels I’m having this week with the stories I wrote ten years ago as the Slate Diarist not long after 9/11. There was a lot of talk in the media then about how 9-11 had changed everything, but I suspect that less changed than we predicted. Ten years ago I was trying to shape my thoughts about writing simply, about telling stories that move me, and about my recently published Christmas book, When Angels Sing that has this past year been made into a feature film.
I was even more focused on my script, Waiting for Gordo, a South Texas adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s classic that I had set on the border, not far from where I am writing this week on the Rio Grande River in and around Laredo. Gordo was a small effort to personalize a story that is too often dehumanized and always politicized.
A decade later, the eight candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination – arguing like an octopus turned on itself – are arguing about border immigration and freeloading illegals in the same tone I was hearing then. I’m not going to hold my breath for a solution, but I have learned this week that border intervention is a huge business and not likely to ever become a smaller one. It’s been an honor to look for a little understanding of border issues in the company of Time Magazine’s Joe Klein and one of the greatest and bravest photographers of our time, Lynsey Addario. Watch for Joe’s stories and Lynsey’s photos on Joe’s Swampland Blog and in Time Magazine for the next month.
But first, here’s my Slate Diary Blog from soon after 9-11 – a time capsule to a me that I hope I can hold onto.
The beauty of being a free-lance writer is you get to pick your subjects, themes, and characters. Unless they pick you. The age-old dictum, of course, is to “write what you know,” a philosophy that works for a time, though I wouldn’t recommend it as a tattoo. Much better to write what you learn.
So after a long day on a film set watching my words turn into pictures, the questions before me tonight are: What did I learn today? And what can I write?
Foremost, I learned that my daughter is not the only one plagued by dreams hanging on our fears of a darkness that threatens to envelop the earth. This morning, one person after another related their sleepless experiences until it seemed like half of America must have awakened at 4 a.m. from what I can only describe as a collective nightmare. Oh, if this war were only a dream, how sweet would be our waking tomorrow.
One thing I learned in that quest today, learned and relearned as I have to learn nearly every day, is the aspiration to write simply. Misquoting Faulkner—but raising a glass to his spirit—my goal is to write from the heart, not from the balls or brains (though those can be handy in a pinch).
A few years ago, while a guest on Sky TV’s literary talk show from London, I was talking with Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass series and other timeless tomes. Pullman is a former schoolteacher who started quite a row in the literary world by saying the art of storytelling had been foolishly devalued by hip literary stylists. I believe Martin Amis was one name that he singled out, though I don’t intend to reduce one great writer to hoist up another. But I do think Pullman was right to wonder if the literary hipsters weren’t forgetting to give something back to their readers.
I later shared a few ales and words on this subject with Richard Cohen, the British publisher of my novel, Fast Greens, which I was promoting at the time. Richard fell more into the Pullman camp than the Amis, saying that he had once worked for a marvelous publisher who only asked one question when Richard found a novel that he wanted to publish. “Did itmove you?”
Cohen also gave me a piece of advice I’ve carried ever since. One of the advantages of being a Southern writer (or a Texas writer), he said, is that the innate style and language of our region enables us to write close against the line of sentimentality. (He neglected, however, to mention the Sisyphean nature of defining the line that separates sentiment in its true light from blatant sentimentality.)
A couple of years ago, I wrote one of those little Christmas novels that a cynic might think the product of monetary desperation. But this was a story that chose me. I’d been thinking of writing something for my family’s Christmas but had no solid ideas. Then one morning I awoke from a late night’s reverie and began to write. Twenty days later, I stopped writing and sent the book to my friends and family as a Christmas present. One week more, and the editor of Algonquin Books called to say she’d like to publish When Angels Sing, which most critics lauded as a heartfelt story simply told. But two critics (fans of Martin Amis, I imagined) absolutely loathed my story of a man who had to shed his hatred of Christmas in order to hold the love of his son.
I dashed off irate letters to these reviewers—letters I later regretted, learning the hard way that it’s better to offer thanks to those who give us praise. I also learned a more valuable lesson—that we can’t make the entire world into what we want it to be. The writer’s job, if you put your faith in the verities of old, is to shine a light on what is already there. To help us all awaken from the dream within a dream so that someday we may realize the dreams within our hearts.
Samuel Johnson wrote that we tell each other stories in an attempt to be made whole. Through storytelling we reveal who we are at the core; through storytelling we lay bare the hearts and souls of humankind, 6 billion people whose DNA can all be traced to a handful of common ancestors. Can there be any wonder that we share the same dreams?
So let me tell you a story from the set of Going to California—a story that even a sentimental writer wouldn’t have the balls to make up. In my episode, “Waiting for Gordo,” the two guest roles are Pucho and Fortunato, Latino characters inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Pozzo and his slave, Lucky. As the coyote Pucho, we enthusiastically cast Tony Amendola, the kind of actor you always dream will say your words. A man of infinite moods, Tony moves so deftly from darkness to light and back again that I wish I could be his full-time scribe, following close behind and whispering everyday lines into his ear just to hear him make me sound brilliant.
More important to today’s story, though, is the young man cast as Fortunato. The show’s producers knew only that on videotape, Bernardo Verdugo seemed to be an angelic natural as an illegal alien who is discovered in the trunk of a car where he has been locked by a coyote. Like so many people from so many parts of the world, Fortunato’s great aspiration is to come to freedom, to make a new life in America. After the first few scenes this morning, I complimented Bernardo on his performance, and he said that it was not a difficult part for him. Six years ago, well before he got his green card and residency in the United States, Bernardo was brought to America by a coyote.
“How did you cross the border?” I asked.
“Locked in the trunk of a car,” he said.
And then I watched him climb back into the trunk of a car. The lid slammed shut, and I thought of him there in the darkness, wondering what awaited him. Cameras rolled and our director softly said, “Action.” As the trunk came open, the sun peeked out from behind a tall cloud, and long rays of light shone in upon the face of Bernardo Verdugo.
And on a film set high atop a hill on a ranch outside of Austin, the shared dreams of a young man from Mexico and a writer from Texas came true.
We finished the scene to everyone’s delight, then the sun slipped back behind the clouds. That’s when I heard someone say, “We need more light.”
Ten years later – here’s the third of my Slate.com diaries written in the wake of 9-11. I’m don’t have any vintage photos to post with this one because I’m on the Texas-Mexico border this evening with Joe Klein from Time Magazine and, ironically, the great photographer Lynsey Addario who was tough enough to endure her kidnapping in Libya earlier this year and continues to be one of America’s greatest news photographers. All three of us spent much of the decade since 9-11 filming, shooting photos and writing in a lot of crazy places around the world, and each of our journeys seemed to have been launched by the incredible tragedy of 9-11 and by America’s response to the attack on The World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Like the rest of America and the world, there’s no going back to who we were before. We can’t undo the falling of the towers or the growing tragedies of the Iraqi and Afghan War, but we’re still searching for the best way ahead through the stories we tell in words and pictures. Much of the diary below is about Willie Nelson and a voice that continues to fill a need in so many people. Willie’s still out there doing what he does. The rest of us can only follow his example to the best of our abilities. One happy note – the diary mentions our upcoming American Masters film on Willie which later premiered to great acclaim and was rewarded with an Emmy Award for the best non-fiction series. Thanks for all the music, Willie. We still love you; still need you.
So here’s my Slate Diary #3 – in the wake of 9-11
Slate.com Diary by Turk Pipkin
This has turned into the right week to be buried under a tall pile of work. When I’m talking on the phone about one project or another, I’m not watching my country edging toward a growing anthrax panic, our national consciousness flinching as we wonder where and how terrorism will strike next.
This afternoon, I tried to sit down to some serious writing, but the words wouldn’t come, so I decided to call someone I knew could lift my spirits. Most of us have that one person who can reliably bring you up. It may be your mother or your brother, your new best friend or a pal from long ago, but the bottom line is, you hear that voice and the world suddenly looks better. Or it may turn out thatthey need their spirit lifted, and the job of strength falls upon you. Not quite the same, but you do learn that perhaps you had it better than you knew. I’d been saving that phone call, and the time had come.
Willie Nelson and I have been occasional golf buddies for 20 years. I’ve written a few things for him and about him, but mostly we just like to shoot the shit. Lately he’s been fighting a nagging case of pneumonia but is still playing his gigs, so I called him on the bus that he calls home for a couple of hundred days a year. For a long time, when I called the bus I’d ask where he was. He’d look out the window at the passing countryside and say, “I see some fields,” or “Looks like America to me.”
So I already knew where he was, he was at home in America.
“Mr. Nelson, Mr. Pipkin,” I said.
“Hey!” he said, his mellifluous tone rolling back at me, strong enough for me to know he was feeling better. “I enjoyed that magazine story!”
A couple of months ago, we’d spent the day playing golf and chess, shooting pool and listening to his upcoming album The Great Divide, which I think is one of his best. I took notes all day and wrote a story for a new magazine called Fringe Golf. Lemme tell you, writing about your friends is no gimme. Willie’s a better golfer than most people suspect, but I couldn’t resist saying his swing looked like “fly-casting a frozen turkey,” so hearing that he liked the piece was all the lift I needed.
Just hearing his voice sent me back a couple of weeks when I’d watched him on TV singing “America the Beautiful” to close the “Tribute to Heroes” telethon. As Clint Eastwood’s speech morphed into Willie’s first guitar licks, I found myself fighting back my tears. Then Willie got to the line that got to all of us: “Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.” Like so many Americans, I just let it flow. Willie had given me permission.
Today we had some new business to go over. The Emmy-winning PBS documentary seriesAmerican Masters is producing a two-hour film on Willie. I initially took the project to American Masters, and it’s since taken on a wonderful life of its own. American Masters knows what they’re doing, and New York filmmaker Steve Cantor is directing. That leaves me as a producer whose main job is to make sure everyone’s happy. Willie sounded happy. We talked about filming his upcoming 10k race for Farm Aid in Austin and about the photo Texas Monthly is going to take of Willie and mystery writer Kinky Friedman posed as the farm couple in American Gothic.
“I get to hold the pitchfork; Kinky’s going to wear the dress,” Willie told me. “Kinky’s always been mad he wasn’t born a woman anyway.”
I was still laughing when, as they say in London, we rung off. A smile had found my face, and for the first time all day, I had the general idea that everything was going to be OK.
For the next couple of hours, I managed to put in some good work on a whole string of projects: the still-pending movie of my coming-of-age golf novel, Fast Greens; a first-look at the Web site, turkpipkin.com, that my sister-in-law is putting together, and a magazine pitch about the dam the government of Belize foolishly wants to build on the upper Macal River basin that will destroy much of the breeding grounds of the endangered scarlet macaw and Baird’s tapir. Good news and bad, the world was moving on.
I didn’t even let the round-the-clock anthrax coverage get to me. Not until my wife came in this evening to report why our 10-year-old daughter was so emotional tonight. She’d been having trouble sleeping and finally told her mom that it was because of bad dreams. In her dream, she was at a local market when a man asked if he could sit down with her and her friends.
“What was that chemical that they used to spray on crops that was so poisonous?” my daughter asked.
“DDT,” my wife answered.
“That’s it,” she said. “The man was mentally disturbed, but he looked normal, and he had this big tank of DDT that he started spraying on us.”
Believe me, this is as hard to write as it is to read. The worst part was, in my daughter’s dream, her best friend had died. Not too surprisingly, our girl was scared and sad. I think my wife came up with some pretty good answers for her, but let’s face it, they’re answers to questions we never wanted to hear.
“Sadness is a real emotion in your heart,” Christy told our first-born, “but fear is in your mind. And your mind you can control. If you live in fear that things might happen, it can be as bad as if they really did happen. You have to take strength from what’s real, even when it’s sad.”
When I was 10, my fears were that Communists were going to sweep across America, lock us in our stadiums, and torture us until we thought like they did. In the ensuing years, I somehow came to the conclusion that we’d done a better job in the world since then. But now my daughter is 10, and the world is falling down around her.
“Man has been faced with terrible tragedies and events throughout our history,” my wife reassured her, “and we’ve always come through it.”
“I know that,” our daughter said, “but this is the first time it’s happened tome.“
Our daughter is asleep now, her dreams beyond our reach. Tomorrow is another day, more bad news from far away no doubt, more fears from just around the corner, and more phone calls to the people we love.