"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

I'm a year away from Social Security!

Here I am at a younger age, in George Jones' tour bus in Nashville TN.
"Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter."
- Satchel Paige
John Wayne walked with his characteristic elan up to the saloon counter. We were entering the last stage of his movie "The Shootist."
"Today is my birthday, give me the best you've got." It sounds like a joyful scene but a gunfight was looming.
My birthday has always been in the dead of winter. It comes at around Super Bowl time. Maybe the Super Bowl has replaced Groundhog Day as the real emblem of winter, a time when maybe we should all hibernate. Look at the recent weather in Morris. Two weeks ago we had our church service canceled. Rumors have circulated that something other than the weather was involved. Church and rumors are bedfellows.
Our church is down to one pastor. I'll repeat: There ought to be just one ELCA church in Morris. One of those initials is for "Evangelical." However, when I hear the team "evangelicals" in connection to the Iowa caucuses, I don't think they're talking about people like me. The media coverage has us assume that "evangelicals" are totally Republican, and not just that, they're on the right wing of "Republican." Ted Cruz is probably your man.
Few of us would actually want someone like Ted Cruz governing us. I don't think Cruz gives a rip whether any new laws get passed against abortion. I don't think he really feels the Second Amendment is threatened. He doesn't lose sleep over it. Self-styled "conservatives" or "evangelicals" have just learned to put together a coalition of supporters (like in parliamentary government) that can bump up poll numbers. Someone like Cruz seeks to ride the wave.
So the media impress on us this term "evangelicals" which becomes a turn-off to a wide swath of our youth, who are more receptive to Bernie Sanders' message. The youth become less inclined to attend any kind of church. Do you have to be a right wing Republican to be a Christian?
First Lutheran Church had a guest pastor not long ago, for one of the Wednesday night services, who implied that "Occupy Wall Street" was somehow the work of the devil. We don't need Pat Robertson-type messages in our mainstream churches like this. I shared a concern with our pastor at the time - it has been a revolving door there - and I said "Jesus Christ would probably be a member of Occupy Wall Street." Pastor Don was receptive.
What if the stock market crashes? Are you saying this can't happen?
Anyway, I share the same birthday as Alan Alda. For years I was reminded of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster on my birthday. It happened on that date. The media have backed off a little on this. I learned through reading that I share the same birthday as the last big league baseball pitcher to legally throw a spitball. Hmmm.
As I reach my new age, I'm one year away from being eligible to collect at least some Social Security. I'm inclined to take whatever I can get, beginning right away. Bank interest has been lousy. One of these days I probably ought to get health insurance again. I have been without it for ten years. But at any rate, one's birthday is a time you ought to feel a little buoyant.
I should be like that John Wayne character: "J.B. Books," an old gunfighter, an anachronism at the turn of the century. In my opinion it was Wayne's best acting job, right at the end of his career. He had been an SOB in the 1960s, going against the tide of our nation's young people. Ugly as all that was, we moved beyond and in the end, felt affection for Wayne. We have had to dismiss much of what developed in the '60s, when the boomers were young and were amazed at how the Viet Nam war was thrust on us.
"America, love it or leave it."
The schism in our society faded as if it had been a bad dream. Boomers went from embracing the "new left" to becoming the foundation for the tea party, what John Stewart called a "going out of business sale for the boomer generation."
I'm turning age 61 today: Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. When I was younger I might stop by the Met Lounge and get my complimentary drink for my birthday. Just like I used to get my "Tom and Jerry" drink on Christmas Eve day there. I'm too homebound today to consider doing that. I guess I have no inclination to do it. I'll watch Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC and then go to bed.
I was born in 1955 in the heart of the Eisenhower administration. I spent the first five years of my life in St. Paul. I developed an attraction to journalism and it might have been a mistake. Maybe I should have just washed dishes. I have observed much of Morris history in a most vivid way.
In 1980 we were at the end of the Jimmy Carter malaise period, never mind he didn't actually use that word. There was a very tepid quality to Morris life at that time. Everything was so quiet and predictable. It's as if we were content simply being blessed by getting lots of state paychecks, and we didn't have to actually do anything to show dynamism. We began talking about the Wheaton fair like it was the really big-time fair in this part of the state. You would have gotten no argument if you suggested our Stevens County Fair was ho-hum. Eventually we woke up.
Our school system became the epitome of small town conflict by the end of the 1980s. If you're new here, you must realize I'm not exaggerating. The public school had devolved into an ossified mess of self-interest. The remedy to that involved such base tactics as petitions. How much fault was owned by the superintendent? That's hard to say because he dealt with a teachers union that was absolutely fierce and entrenched. The union put aside ideals and fought in a parochial way in the manner that all labor unions do.
The conflict was of course so needless. Principle took a back seat to who your buddies were. Teachers used those ubiquitous house parties to develop synergy for their efforts, making the superintendent into an ugly gargoyle of sorts.
School-based conflict was common around Minnesota in the early and mid 1980s. It's just that it was worse here. We're talking social cliques and base retribution that caused an odor to begin emanating from our community. Previous generations of parents wouldn't have recognized it. The venom was poisonous.
I tried viewing things from the standard of principle, not from expedience. Technically I survived. My image in the community had taken a serious hit, though. I could never function the same again. I had to watch my back for the next 20 years, and that was a shame. The late Don Fellows implored me on putting that conflict period in a better context, a more realistic context. Fellows is one of the real shining gems in Morris history. He was the school counselor. His sense of humor always calmed things.
In the wake of the vicious conflict that shook the community in 1987-88, he told me that I shouldn't generalize about all the Morris teachers. "Most" of the teachers, he said, weren't preoccupied by the divisive issues of that time, much of it centering on youth sports and the kind of guiding philosophy it ought to have. You would think this was a small potatoes issue. Oh no, it fed an atmosphere of contention that smeared the community.
Mr. Fellows said there was "a group" of teachers on the front lines of that, but that "most" of the teachers didn't care, in the sense they'd be perfectly happy to sit back and follow the directives of those who in theory were in charge. These lines can get blurred in a small town. A school board member might have a spouse on the teaching staff.
Consider: why has our school taken such a firm stand against hiring spouses of teachers? I remember Paul Court being upset that his wife couldn't even get an interview for a job, such was the firmness of the policy. Why the firmness? Had the district been through some bad experiences? The problem with married couples within a given enterprise, according to my friend Brent Waddell, is that they develop a "proprietary" sense, as if they own it. The marital relationships develop into a synergy of power, greased by those notorious house parties where people gossip and build strategy for their narrow interests. I have witnessed some of this directly.
Things did calm down in our community. Around Minnesota we began seeing fewer headlines about teacher strikes or threatened strikes. The system must have gotten tweaked in some way.
I resent the power that the public school monopoly had on my life when I was young. I was a below-average student who should have been treated as such. But I came from a UMM-oriented family so I was supposed to be special. So as a sophomore I got put in Gene Mechelke's class with all the other "smart" types (not that they were really smarter).
I found Mechelke to be a distasteful person. He attacked me in a visceral way one day. Steve Poppe can tell you about that. Jerry Lembcke thought I should actually take action against this pretentious fool. Many years later when I was dealing with Diane Kratz on a newspaper project, I shared a comment about Mechelke and she said "He was in trouble a lot." Really? Were the problems with him ever solved?
Here's how I saw his modus operandi: He'd identify a couple kids in class who seemed unsure of themselves, give them low grades initially, then prop them up which of course caused them to praise him out of a sense of relief. He said things to agitate us, as if he enjoyed just seeing our response, as if he had some inner psychological need satisfied.
An example: he started carrying on one day about Donnelly being a backwater place (hint: w/ ignorance). There was a rather attractive girl in the class, whose name I won't type here, who everyone associated with Donnelly - Donnelly kids had a real group identity in those days - and she was so incensed at Mechelke's language, she stayed after class to dispute him. Did he get his jollies from that? He was arrogant and overrated, IMHO.
Approaching one's birthday causes you to reflect on the highs and lows of your life. Would I be a less cynical person if I had had Al Hendrickson instead of Mechelke for those classes? Hendrickson was just like Fellows: a genuine, gentle and caring human being. Life's road is challenging, though, and you'd better be ready to confront the SOBs. The union probably had more power than the superintendent or the board. We learn that life isn't fair sometimes.
Still I'll try to project the John Wayne persona today (Thursday, Jan. 28), my 61st birthday. Happy birthday, Alan Alda.
Addendum: One day in some idle moments toward the end of class, with 4-5 students hovering close to Mechelke's desk, he began speaking in a mocking and disrespectful way about one of his teaching colleagues: Andy Papke. He wondered if Papke might pronounce the word "psychology" as "psychogee." I don't think Papke would do this and regardless, he was a far classier person than Mechelke. Mechelke made a big deal out of Francis Gary Powers the spy plane pilot. It was a down note in our history. I resented the emphasis. America was fighting the Soviets. Of course, teachers unions at that time were very friendly to communism or collectivism. How much better off we'd be just reading a nice mainstream historical novel like by John Jakes. Mechelke gave us these eerie reading assignments out of Japan. That's how I learned the word "concubine" which is "prostitute" or "mistress." Such distasteful memories. Mechelke derided "American Heritage" magazine because it was "superficial." What is that supposed to mean? The diss was just typical academic pretentiousness (i.e. bulls--t). I think we all needed to be deprogrammed. The story circulated that Randy Thraen's parents made pre-arrangements to make sure Randy never got Mechelke as a teacher.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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