If you’re like me, you are painfully aware of the state of this country and the world. Day after day, we fill our Internetz tubes, visiting both news and blog sites to find out how much further America is tilting towards fascism, how closer the Middle East is to total combustion thanks to American interference and how well Bush’s new Napoleon costume fits.
And, then, sometimes reality sucker-punches you and all Bush-inspired insanity takes a back seat to Life 101. A month ago, I was writing about Bruce Springsteen. In the last four weeks, my home has been buffeted by 75 mph winds, the place my wife and I were married was destroyed by the California wildfires, a movie I wrote tanked, my union went on strike and, oh yeah, my Dad died.
My Dad was the kind of guy that would have panicked the pompous PNAC putzes and sent Dubya running for the hills. He was the real deal, embodying the type of American principles that give today’s conservative Republicans skid marks.
In his later years, my Dad became a Zen master at reading contemporary America. He astutely summed up politicians with a succinct: “They’re all bums.” He interpreted the credo of the uber rich as being: “Hooray for me. The hell with everybody else.” He viewed televangelists with disdain, calling them “goddamned hypocrites.” He distilled the post 9/11 political mind-set thusly: “This country is fucked up.”
He watched Fox News because he hated it, singling out O’Reilly and Hannity as “IBMs – Irish Big Mouths.” Dad watched a lot of stuff that got his dander up. Why? Because he was born in a time when ordinary Americans had to fight to survive and, to the end, he was a fighter.
Dad (born George H. Nahaczewski) was a child of the Depression. I guess if you had to pigeonhole him, politically, he was an FDR populist. For him, it wasn’t a political philosophy, though. It was second nature.
Dad was one of seven children, his parents immigrants. His family moved from rental house to rental house in Elizabeth, New Jersey, often slipping out at night when the rent couldn’t be paid and the landlord wasn’t around. At an early age, he helped his family by stealing both food and clothing and staying one step ahead of the beat cop. All his gang did. If Martin Scorsese directed “The Little Rascals,” you’d have an idea of that hardscrabble lifestyle.
After FDR was elected, Dad saw his chance to help out his mom financially, since his father had the habit of trading paychecks for hooch. He quit school and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, cutting down trees and building fire roads. After his stint in the CCCs, he got work in a factory to help keep his family afloat.
When World War II started, he enlisted in the Army. He sent most of his money home to his mom. To the day he died, my father regarded that War as one of the greatest experiences in his life. My brother, George, found a secret stash of Dad’s photos from the service. He was happy, determined and proud. You could see he felt he was making a difference.
After the war, Dad went back to the grind of factory work, got married and raised a family. We didn’t have a lot of money (We got our first car, my uncle’s used Plymouth, when I was six.), but Dad was used to that and made the best of it. Laid off from a non-union gig after nineteen years, he took a variety of jobs before joining the Teamsters and working as a yardman for a motor freight company for another twenty years. Double shifts. Night shifts. Chaining autos to train cars in both sub-freezing weather and blistering heat.
If it fazed him, he didn’t let on. He was proud that his kids went to school and that, down the line, they’d graduate college. He was proud to be a union man, too.
Dad wasn’t a big churchgoer, but he lived the Golden Rule. In New Jersey, you’re not allowed to pump your own gas. When I was a kid, we’d pull into a gas station and this guy in a uniform would gas the car, wipe the windshield and check under the hood. If the bill was two dollars, Dad would give the guy three bucks and tell him to keep the change. I’d ask Dad why he gave the man a tip. Dad would say:
“He works hard for his money. He deserves it.”
Known and very popular cialis coupon which gives all the chance to receive a discount for a preparation which has to be available and exactly cialis coupons has been found in the distant room of this big house about which wood-grouses in the houses tell.
(Years later, when I had my first – used – car, gas station attendants were shocked to get a tip from a long-haired, bearded weirdo. Ah, genetics.)
Dad was the ultimate Good Samaritan, too. If you needed a helping hand, if your car had a flat, or you ran out of gas, he was there. It didn’t matter to him if you were white, black, brown, yellow or paisley. You were in a fix. He knew what that was like. He pulled over.
If he had a buck fifty in his pocket and you were hungry, he’d give you a buck twenty-five.
He knew what it was to go hungry.
And he didn’t do good deeds for bragging rights. He did them because it WAS right.
My brother told me this story after Dad died. He’s a musician. A drummer friend of his, from Brooklyn, had car trouble in Jersey. He called information to get my brother’s number but got Dad’s instead. Dad, who’d never met the guy, drove out to the guy’s car, took him to a nearby train station and, then, asked him if he had enough money to get home okay. The only way my brother knew about this was that, the next day, the drummer called him up to get Dad’s address to send a thank-you note. He told my brother: “They don’t make guys like that, anymore.”
And, you know what? That shouldn’t be the case. America used to be a place where it wasn’t odd to find a Good Samaritan. Everyone was in the same boat, chasing the same dream: a steady job, a home of your own, kids who’d have it better than you did. Folks worked hard to achieve that dream, because they knew that working hard was the only way to attain it.
Somewhere along the line, the American dream turned into a nightmare. Greed was good. The bottom line replaced the Golden Rule. Companies turned on their workers. Captains of Industry became Captains of Outsourcing. Union-bashing blossomed. Politicians saw themselves as either prophets or profiteers. A sense of entitlement wormed its way into the country’s DNA. The percentage of flaming assholes in high places soared. A lot of folks, folks like my Dad, reacted with a WTF look of astonishment. They remembered Pearl Harbor. After that attack on American soil, they were asked to sacrifice – not to buy big-ticket items at the President’s behest.
Now, I’m not nominating my Dad for sainthood. He could swear like a sailor, was great at holding a grudge (Up until his death, he still was dissing my Mom’s mom, and she died in 1972!) and would threaten physical harm to anyone he felt crossed him. But he was part of an America that, perhaps, we’ll never see the likes of again. He was part of a generation that has been called “The Greatest.”
I don’t know whether it was the Greatest, but it sure was the most Genuine.
Dad was 86 when he died, the world changing rapidly around him. Yet, he still found a way to link our current Bizarro times with the times he grew up in. Dad did grunt work all his life. I’m a writer. My brother is a guitarist. Imagine how hard it was for him to wrap his head around that. Yet, he always praised us because he knew “how hard you guys work.”
At the cemetery, a military honor guard was present. They took the American flag from Dad’s coffin and folded it. A bugler played “Taps.” Only the bugler didn’t have a real horn. He had a Mattel deal that had a pre-recorded version of “Taps” embedded in it. The soldier raised it to his lips and pushed a button. You see, between all the WW II vets passing and the deaths of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, our military has run out of buglers.
One of the honor guards, a petite young woman, presented the folded flag to my younger brother, saluting and saying that “President George W. Bush” was honoring my father’s service to his country.
A sense of anger welled up within me even as my tears fell. A phony President and a bogus bugler. Welcome to America.
A few weeks ago, our Popinjay-in-chief said that vetoing bills was a way for him to remain relevant.
Guys like Junior are, and always have been, irrelevant in the greater scheme of things. Their greatest talent is causing harm.
Ordinary folks like my father were and are the backbone and heart of this nation. Out of the spotlight, they are the glue that holds what’s left of America together.
They define the word “relevant.”
So, taking the lead from the Rolling Stones:
“Lets drink to the hard working people.Lets drink to the salt of the earth.Lets drink to the two thousand million.Lets think of the humble of birth.”
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