This was the worst of all possibilities. Somehow, against all reason, all the remaining women of the household had awakened simultaneously, and in the dim fog of cognition, realized at precisely the identical moment that the house had no power and, in fact, yes...they were sweating. The gutteral groan/screech/ wail that they let out was amplified throughout the house in a stereophonic wave, some coming from upstairs and the rest from below like a rising tide of hot molten lava. Then the sound of thundering footsteps pounding the stairs. The men in the living room braced themselves for the onslaught.
Aunt Paula: I demand to know what idiot is responsible for this outrage! It is a thousand degrees in here. This is totally unacceptable! Someone needs to find the headquarters of this construction company and drive me there this instant!!!
Patrick had stumbled up the stairs, following the tumult and had his fully charged cellphone in hand.
Patrick: Looks like the headquarters is in Paramus, New Jersey, Aunt Paula...so that will be quite a long drive.
Aunt Pam: What about the food?? Has anyone checked the refrigerator?
Jenny: Wait...will there be no hot water?
Uncle Ron: Not only no hot water, but no coffee either.
An audible gasp shot through the room. Jenny, half dazed, began shuffling around in silence, her mouth agape, pondering the fresh hell she had woken too. After arriving at the snack table she began to weep, pitiful wails of crying ringing throughout the house...
Jenny: and the scotcheroos are melting!!
Suddenly, in a flash of fury, Pam darted across to the snack table, grabbing the tin of scotcheroos out of Jennyy's hands. Give me that, she hissed. She looked down into the sweating Tupperware container at the sad sight of melting chocolate and disfigured Rice Krispies all askew in a large clump in one end of the container. Her shoulders slumped, and she let out a long baleful sigh...
Aunt Linda: Bill, what are we going to do??
Uncle Bill: Listen people, this is certainly not how we all dreamed this vacation would go. Yes, no electricity will be a challenge. It will be warm in here, making dinner will require some ingenuity. But guys, we have to ask ourselves one question...what would Nanny & Papa do? What would they think of us if we all just threw up our hands and headed back to Richmond? I mean, honestly, I would have thought that this family would have been made of sterner stuff than this. Why, I can remember when we stayed in a rat-infested scrapheep of a rental house in Sandbridge with no AC. Am I right? Our forefathers wouldn't have tucked tail and scurried home just because of something as simple as losing power? Are we mice or men? Come on guys! Let's pull together and make this thing work! We've already paid the money, were all here...let's show the world how a real family comes together in a crisis! Tonight, we can all gather around here in this big room and feel the soft ocean breezes cooling us off. I'll make some popcorn and we will make some incredible memories together...and,
Paul: That's a big negative on the popcorn. Microwave won't work without power.
Christina: ggrroocckkkkstagggargh, no popcorn?? That's it. I'm out of here...
The stories and pictures coming out of Hatteras Island are heartbreaking. There are scores of cars waiting for the ferry on Ocracoke, long, choked lines of cars crawling along the sandy two lane highway, headed for Nags Head. All because of an accidental severing of an underwater power line by a construction crew working on the repair of bridges taken out by violent storms a few months back. I read the stories and look at the pictures, all the while trying to imagine the hell that would have been unleashed if this unhappy accident had occurred just two short weeks ago, when 18 members of the greater Dunnevant family were on that beleaguered island for vacation. What follows is my imagination unleashed on that unthinkable prospect...
The thirteenth edition of the Dunnevant family Beach Week vacation is a mere two days old and all is well when 18 family members climb into bed on night two. Unfortunately, while they slept, electric power was severed from the entire island by a construction accident under a bridge thirty miles away. During the night, as our heros slept, the temperature inside the house rose from its perfect 71 climate controlled degrees to a stifling 82 by the time the first vacationer awoke. During that fateful night, two refrigerators full of meat, cheese, milk, eggs and a varied assortment of culinary delights now lay dead and reeking inside their stainless steel tombs.
(Uncle Doug walks into the family room and sees Matt Hawkins sitting by the window doing his devotional)
Uncle Doug: It feel a little hot in here to you?
Matt: Now that you mention it, it is a bit warm.
Uncle Doug: You better turn that lamp on. It's not good for your eyes to read without good light.
Matt turns on the switch. The click seems ominously loud, and when no light is forthcoming, a feeling of dread invades the large room with the thirty foot ceiling.
Uncle Doug: Holy Crap....
Soon it becomes clear that something is dreadfully wrong. Uncle Ron and Uncle Bill enter the room with an expression of forlorn resignation.
Uncle Bill: Ok guys, we've got a problem. Pretty soon the women in this house are going to wake up and as all of you know, they are not going to be amused.
Uncle Ron: I don't want to even think about what is going to happen to Paula when she wakes up and realizes she is already sweating. I swear to you guys, I'm a dead man!
Uncle Doug: You're a dead man?? I'm married to a woman from freaking Maine!! If the thermostat ever rises above 70 at our house, she turns into a raging psychopath.
Matt: Guys, guys!! Pull yourselves together!! Now is not the time to panic. Let's put our heads together and come up with a plan.
Uncle Doug: Yeah Matt. Great idea. A plan is what we need. Let's see...how about we have Ron here draw up some preliminary plans for building our own nuclear power plant!!
Uncle Ron: As fate would have it, I decided at the last minute not to pack my portable drafting table, so that's out.
Uncle Bill: Isn't that always the way it happens? The one thing you actually need, you never pack...
At this point, young Bennett makes an appearance, free from any worry or concern, secure in the cocoon of childhood oblivion.
Matt: Bennett, listen to Daddy. There has been an accident and there is no power, which means we have no food, there is no air conditioning, there will be no hot water, no way to charge your video games, and we will no longer be able to use the pool since the water pumps don't work...
Uncle Bill: (rolling his eyes at Doug and Ron)...Parents today...have they completely forgotten how to lie to kids??
Bennett: Uncle Doug, this is the best prank ever!!
Suddenly, Christina enters the room. This is the best of all possibilities, Christina being the only female in the house without a hair trigger temper and an instinctively violent reaction to high temperatures. Perhaps the men of the family can recruit her as an emissary to the still sleeping female contingent downstairs.
Uncle Bill: Sweetie...we have no electricity. Do you have any ideas on how we can break this news to your mother, sister and aunts without risking serious, permanent injury or death?
Christina: Dad, come on now. It won't be that bad. Sure, it's going to be a challenge, but isn't that half the fun? Just think of the stories we will be able to tell about this in our old age.
Uncle Ron: See, that's the thing that worries us...whether or not we will ever reach old age.
Christina: Oh come on now you silly gooses...
Bennett: Geese! That's silly geese. There's no such thing as gooses.
Matt: Well done, Bennett.
Christina: I'm sure the power will come back on soon. The important thing is...we will all still be together!
Uncle Doug: That's right Chrissy...we'll all be together. All 18 of us. In this ginormous house. With no air conditioning. Pretty soon it's going to smell worse than a Turkish bathhouse in here...and tonight it's our turn to make dinner!!
Uncle Ron: Don't worry about that Doug. You'll be cooking on the gas grill...
It is an unfortunate fact of the human condition that so few of us can be persuaded to change our opinions. We decide what we think about something years ago for a variety of reasons involving education, training and experience. Then we have a tendency to cling to that opinion forever, despite evidence that might raise doubts about our original conclusion, even when that evidence becomes overwhelming. Basically, human beings suffer from an age old character flaw...pride, which makes it extremely difficult to admit error. This writer is no exception to this condition. But when we double down on long held ideas despite contrary evidence, we become that thing we hate when we see it in others. We become an ideologue, slaves to tribalism and dogma.
So, when many people who I respect start to call into question some of my long held views on politics, the role and nature of government, and economic theory, as a thinking person, I owe it to myself to reexamine those long held views. I do this out of what I believe to be my obligation as a citizen of a constitutional republic, but also out of the respect due to some very fine people in my life who I know, love and trust. I write this as an attempt to question myself in an organized and public way, and in doing so, I invite your responses, whether intended to encourage or correct.
First, some background. My views on government and economic theory have evolved partially out of my real world experience as a small business owner, but their foundation was built by three influential books I read 40 years ago...The Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith, The Road to Serfdom by Freidrich Hayek, and Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. I was a sophomore in college at the time, and these three books, all read within a stormy six months made a huge impression on me. It is from these three gentlemen that I formed my thoughts on public policy. Accordingly, I have for most of my life taken a very dim view of governmental attempts at economic planning. Stemming from that dim view grew the parallel fear and suspicion of the heavy hand of centralized power and its wretched record of totalitarianism. The fact that powerful governments corrupted both sides of political theory, Fascists and Communists, seemed to conform my fears.
So, in 2017 some things have noticeably not changed. Unchecked centralized governments still tend to treat human beings in despicable ways. The question now seems to be, is my justifiable fear of muscular government blinding me to what its proper role in today's world could or should be? Are my fears overblown? Should I have more confidence in the ability and the motives of my government to do what is best for the people? Is my confidence in Adam Smith's Invisible Hand misplaced? Has a generation of pocket-lining plutocrats and crony capitalists poisoned the well of free enterprise and stacked the deck so overwhelmingly in their own favor as to demand a new response? These are the questions that I have been asking myself for quite some time now. Let's examine one such response that I hear frequently from people who I respect...the living wage.
Income inequality is the problem, my friends say. A very small ultra-elite at the very top of the pyramid are gobbling up far too large a share of wealth creation, often at the expense of everyone else, especially the very poor. Their preferred solution is some combination of a surtax, or tax increase on these elites, in addition to either a big increase in the minimum wage or some sort of guaranteed income for all.
I won't get into the weeds of the specific numbers involved with the income inequality argument, but I will freely admit that it exists. The question for me becomes what, if anything, can be done about it that won't have an unintended destructive impact on the larger economy? It is my view that in any free, or even semi-free economic system, there will always and forever be an elite class of human beings who will grab an outsized share of wealth. This is due to the fact that while all men may be created equal, that equality doesn't last very long. Some of us are smarter, more disciplined, more energetic, more creative, more willing to take risk, etc.. Since those particular qualities are not evenly distributed among the population, we should not and cannot expect an equality of outcomes in a free society. But, are the rather massive concentrations of wealth seen today solely a function of these personality traits, or has what is a naturally occurring economic outcome been artificially juiced by horrible tax policy and the crippling power of oligarchs? This is a fair question, and I am increasingly thinking that something needs to be done to correct it. I have long argued that the number one source of power for crony capitalist and oligharchs alike is our ridiculously complex tax code...but that is a problem for another day.
So, if I acknowledge that income equality is a problem that demands redress, what about raising taxes, hiking the minimum wage or a guaranteed income for all as solutions? Here, I must do battle with my philosophical mentors.
Part of me can get on board with the idea of raising taxes on the rich, and for this discussion I will refer to the top 1% of taxpayers in America...those with incomes of over $470,000 a year for a married couple and $418,400 for an individual. They are currently taxed at a top federal tax rate of 39.6%. These people earn about 20% of all income earned in the United States and pay roughly 40% of all federal income taxes collected. But, taxes are collected on income earned, not wealth. And, guess what? If you jacked up the rate on these people to 70%, they would find a way to avoid the taxes by various deferral schemes, courtesy of our aforementioned ridiculously complex tax code. Contrary to your average John Oliver rant, wealthy people are not idiots, and even if they were they have enough money to hire out the brains of others to avoid taxes. But, just for a moment, let's assume that this new 70% rate was both collectible and enforceable. The problem I have with the logic behind a tax increase is the assumption it makes that what is ailing public policy in America is a lack of revenue to the Treasury. This is unarguably a false assumption. Our government is currently raking in record amounts of revenue. In fact, for the first six months of fiscal year 2017 (ending in March, 2017) we took in record amounts of both income and payroll taxes totaling $1,242,882,000,000. That's 1.24 TRILLION. However, despite this mind boggling haul, we still managed to run a deficit of $544,491,000,000. That's right, we went half a trillion MORE in debt, despite breaking all revenue records. This is the sort of unreported fact that blows the mind of an Adam Smith disciple like me. It would appear to me that our fiscal problems are not based in a lack of revenue, but too much spending.
Now, if you're still in favor of taxing the rich it would appear that you would need to admit that the payoff would not be an economic one but rather the more emotionally gratifying payoff of fairness. Fair enough.
As far as a national guaranteed income goes, I have warmed to the idea and argued as much in a previous blogpost ( http://doug-thetempest.blogspot.com/2017/03/a-plan-to-eliminate-povertyimmediately.html ). When one considers the massive amount of money this country spends on poverty-fighting programs, a national guaranteed income becomes more attractive as an alternative. It would in fact be a money saver, if, and only if, the other programs were replaced upon installation of the new plan. A brief look at the history of entitlements in this country does not bode well for that particular if.
I've listened carefully to all of the arguments for and against the $15 minimum wage. I've read the articles pro and con about the Seattle experiment. Again, my old views cause me to doubt the workability of such an immediate, mandated wage increase. But, as a tool to make it easier for entry level workers to become self sufficient as they find their way in the world, and considering the massive cash holding of some of the biggest complainers about such an increase, I am willing to lend some support for at least giving it a try.
Here's what I know. Right now, this country is as divided as I have ever seen it. No accommodation is being sought, or even desired across the political divide, by anyone, about anything! Our politicians are more interested in winning than they are governing. If this is ever going to change, it will have to start with each of us being willing to question ourselves, to be willing to examine our biases to see if we can discover common ground, common goals. Sometimes it will mean being willing to let go of a bit of dogma. Smith, Hayek, and Solzhenitsyn are still my heros, but Adam Smith died 227 years ago this month. Maybe, some things have changed these past two centuries that would allow for a few tweaks. I'm willing to tinker with all of this if it means finding workable solutions to what vexes us in 2017.
The evacuation of Dunkirk was perhaps at once the most precarious few days for western civilization, while at the same time one of her most inspiring triumphs. The world will never know just how close the Allies came to total defeat and capitulation to Adolph Hitler. The miracle at Dunkirk was a combination of inexplicable unforced errors by the German high command, the finest hour of the French army, and the indomitable spirit and will of ordinary British citizens. Last night I went to see Christopher Nolan's film adaptation of this great epic story. I was disappointed.
First of all, the film was not without merit. Nolan is very good at filming and directing intense scenes of agonizing warfare. He did a particularly outstanding job of depicting the violence and terror of a capsizing ship, the claustrophobic horror of being trapped in an oil fire on the open sea, the anguish of a man swimming toward a ship to save himself, only to see that ship destroyed by a Stuka dive bomber. But, that's about all that you get from Nolan in this film. If you know nothing about what actually happened at Dunkirk, Nolan's story amounts to a made for television minis-series in three acts. He focused, rather randomly, on three short stories, a dogged British fighter pilot, one private rescue vessel and its father and son crew, and a couple of beleaguered British soldiers trying to escape the carnage. He plops the viewer down in the middle of this maelstrom with absolutely zero explanation of how it came to be that almost the entire British Expeditionary Force, all 13 divisions of them, found themselves standing in long lines, hopelessly exposed on a French beach, the future of the world hanging in the balance.
When I complained about this bizarre lack of context, my son, who attended the show with me, asked..So, were you expecting some sort of history lesson? The tone of his question suggested very much that the term history lesson was a pejorative. Well, no...I didn't expect a history lesson, but some small attempt at staging the story might have been helpful, some explanation of the great-how did they get here-would have made for a more coherent film. My criticism of the film owes a lot to my being a history geek, I suppose. Despite its flaws, Dunkirk was worth seeing, if for no other reason than Hans Zimmer's sledgehammer score which literally never stopped in the background, pulsing and pounding away, assaulting the senses, adding brilliantly to the gut wrenching tension on screen.
I read a Twitter review this morning where some guy opined that Christopher Nolan did an outstanding job of depicting the futility of war. I thought...what movie did this guy watch??? Futility of war? Are you kidding me? What, in God's name was futile about 300,000 British troops being rescued from an exposed beach and certain death by a flotilla of over 700 private vessels, saving Britain from having to surrender to Nazi Germany?? Horrible? Yes. Tragic? Yes. War is, after all, hell. But we don't live in heaven, just a little east of Eden. And this side of Utopia, sometimes very bad people and states have to be vanquished. To do so often requires superhuman valor, bravery and sacrifice. There's nothing futile about that.
On a sweltering evening in the summer of 1955, my mother stood at the sink of her small kitchen in a tiny house at 414 Dick Ewell Avenue in Colonial Heights, Virginia, doing the dinner dishes. My older brother and older sister, Donnie and Linda, were involved in some sort of mischief in the cramped living room, getting on my mother's last nerve. It had been a long day, middle 90's and terribly humid with nothing but a couple of table fans to circulate the heavy air. My Dad was struggling to make the rent payments working a series of sales jobs that required him to be on the road for long stretches. Now that school was out, she found it harder and harder to get anything done during the day with two kids under foot and newly pregnant with my sister Paula. I was still nearly three years away from entering the world, but my life was about to be dramatically changed by a faint knock on the screen door.
I have often wondered what might have happened to the Dunnevant story had what follows never happened. Suppose Mom had just stepped out to go for a walk. Suppose she had been at the grocery store. What if Nathan and Dora Radford had not bothered to go visiting that particular night?
Mom thought she heard a knock at the door but couldn't be sure because of all the racket Donnie and Linda were making, so she turned off the water and dried her hands on a dish towel and gave a closer listen. Three soft taps on the ill-fitting screen door with the hole in the bottom screen that let in every stinging fly in Chesterfield county. How many times had she asked my father to get that fixed? Mom went to the door in an ill temper, not in the mood for the Fuller Brush man or anyone else for that matter. Yes? Can I help you?
There was the cheerful woman who would become my mother's best friend, Dora Radford, with her plump face and bright eyes and a smile that exploded out from her like it had supernatural powers. Her handsome husband Nathan just stood there looking like a movie star. She introduced herself and explained that they were in the neighborhood inviting people with kids to come to something called Vacation Bible School . . . Do you have kids, Mrs. Dunnevant?
Despite the heat and her foul mood, my mother found herself inviting the couple in to hear more. The prospect of having somewhere to take the kids every morning for a week sounded potentially heavenly. The Radford's church was in southside Richmond, nearly ten miles away. What in the world were they doing down in a poor neighborhood in Colonial Heights drumming up business? Not to worry, they could send a church van to pick up the kids. My parents didn't go to church. They had been a few times growing up in Buckingham County when they were kids, but back then...everyone did. They weren't hostile or antagonistic to church, just apathetic and exhausted by the time Sunday rolled around. But this Bible School thing sounded like just the thing to get the kids out of the house for a week during that dreadfully hot summer and maybe give my mother a break. She agreed to let them go, on the condition that she be allowed to come along the first day just to make sure that this Kingsland Baptist Church wasn't some sort of cult.
And that was it. It was as simple as that. That was the day that changed the trajectory of the Dunnevant family in ways great and small. Even though I wasn't even alive at the time, my life story was altered and consequently the lives of my children. It is a mind-numbing exercise to contemplate the vicissitudes of life. Sitting around pondering the random collision of people and events in life is a recipe for madness. Some believe in fate, others call it chance. I have come to believe in the divine appointment.
Because of a seemingly random visit that humid night 62 years ago, literally everything changed for one small, poor, insignificant family in a run-down neighborhood in Colonial Heights. My mother would wind up being captivated by what she saw that first day of Bible School. She would attend every day. Both of my parents would attend the family night service at the end of the week, their first time in church together in years. They started attending regular services, and an adult Bible study class together. Within months, both of my parents became Christians and soon couldn't get enough of the church. They went to every class that would take them. They met new people their own age who welcomed them into the fellowship of a dynamic church. They immersed themselves in the place and soaked up the words and teachings of Jesus Christ. It transformed their thinking and the direction of their lives. After several years of discipleship and personal and spiritual growth, my father (for the first and only time) heard the audible voice of God calling him into the ministry while driving his beat-up Plymouth down Jeff-Davis highway.
This calling was ridiculous on its face. Back in those days, becoming a Baptist minister required not only a college education but also a seminary degree. Needless to say, my Dad had neither, and the prospect of getting either with little money and 4 children seemed like a pipe dream. Nobody in my dad's family had ever attended college. Heck, my dad's father had been a sharecropper at one point. The whole idea seemed impossible, and many questioned his calling. You're sure it was the voice of God, Emmett? Maybe it was the fan belt!
But against all odds, my dad persevered. He enrolled at the University of Richmond, becoming a 38 year old freshman. He had to quit the best job he had ever had at Allied Chemical (confirming his madness in the eyes of some) and take a job at Reynolds Metals working the graveyard shift at night (11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.) and going to school full time during the day . . . with four hungry mouths to feed. He graduated on time and with honors. Then it was time to pack up his family of six in a Chevrolet Impala station wagon for the twenty hour drive to Louisiana to attend the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for three years. All of us lived in a two bedroom campus apartment with a barely working window air conditioner. Within two weeks of our arrival, we were welcomed to our new city by a raging hurricane (Betsy) which flooded the place and filled the streets on campus with poisonous snakes and alligators. We weren't in Virginia anymore.
My Dad became a Teamster, loading trucks on the docks where the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico meet. Three more years of graveyard shifts in tropical heat and humidity, which made the summers in Richmond seem like the Garden of Eden by comparison. I don't remember ever seeing Dad during the week in all the time we lived in New Orleans. But again, he graduated . . . on time and with honors. Soon he would receive his first church job as senior pastor of Winns Baptist Church in Elmont, bringing the family back to Virginia.
Before the visit, the Dunnevant family was part of an uninspired demographic in America . . . poor, rural, lower class, with no education and thin prospects for advancement. Some did advance, and spectacularly so, but most didn't. But on a steamy night in 1955, everything changed for one such family. My parents went on to have four kids, nine grandkids, and four great grandkids before they passed away. In total, eleven college graduates, four with Masters degrees, all long ago having escaped poverty and the other pathologies that poverty breeds. In his 45 years as a minister of the Gospel, at least a thousand others were introduced to the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, transforming their family stories, the ripples produced by a single stone on the water seeming never to end.
All because a bright eyed couple went to the trouble of making a visit in a run-down neighborhood on a hot summer night 62 years ago.
Every once in a while I have one of those weeks at the office that reminds me of what every week at the office was like twenty years ago. Tons of appointments, incessant telephone calls, mountains of paperwork, way too much interaction with customer service phone trees. It makes me wonder how I ever survived it all back then. It also makes me extraordinarily thankful that I did. This enterprise I have built over the past thirty five years has been rewarding, but today it looks very different than I thought it would look by this time thirty years ago. I thought that I would have a larger payroll and perhaps a few more pieces of beach/lakefront property. But, fourteen years ago, after surprise open heart surgery, my career ark was dramatically altered. Maybe it was an overreaction, perhaps I made a mistake, but that experience kicked me out of the grow, grow, more, more club permanently. When suddenly, some strange man cuts you open and starts tinkering with your heart, priorities tend to become less oriented around the pursuit of wealth, and more towards the pursuit of life.
So, I dialed it back. I started taking fewer new clients. I centered my goals around taking more time off each year. The payoff has been a smaller portfolio, but a vastly larger amount of freedom. My business is not the all consuming machine that many private businesses become, so much so that when something like this week happens, it's the startling exception. Whenever I begin to complain about something work related, my wife reminds me of how fortunate I am. She's right.
Speaking of good fortune, my son and his girlfriend are headed to Short Pump from Nashville as I write these words. Patrick will be staying with us all of next week, working remotely, while Sarah will continue on to Princeton, New Jersey to attend a vocal pedagogy conference at Westminster Choir College. It will be the first time Patrick will have slept in his old room for an entire week since the summer of his sophomore year at Belmont! Finally, the kid's wing of the house will get some use. Lucy will be thrilled.
This coming Sunday we will be hosting a farewell party for two of our oldest and dearest friends, Rick and Linda Stroup. They have retired, and are relocating to the beautiful college town of Wake Forest, North Carolina. It will be difficult watching them leave. They have been a part of our family for 28 years now. Their daughter, Jessica, felt like one of my own children back in the day, and my kids considered her their sister. Friends are great, but every so often you make a lifetime friend. Those, you never replace. The fact that they will no longer live around the corner will feel like a loss. But, it's not like they are moving to Burma or anything...Wake Forest is just a couple of hours down the road. Still, we will miss them. So, they must be sent off properly. I am so thankful that Patrick will be here for the party. They have always loved my boy very well.
The Republican Party of 2017 reminds me of Michael Jackson's infamous single glove. Neither of them serve any useful purpose. As a political party they are a disgrace and have managed the nearly impossible task of making the Democrats look more attractive. Let me explain...
After Obamacare was passed, the Republican Party made a big show of their determination to repeal the odious legislation. In fact, in Janurary of 2016 the Republican House sent a repeal bill to the President's desk for his signature. Obama's signature. In other words, they sent a repeal bill to the White House in Janurary of 2016 secure in the knowledge that Obama would veto it and they would never have to face the wrath of voters. Now that many of them ran for reelection promising to repeal and replace Obamacare, and now that they have a President, ostensibly of their own party, who is ready and willing to do it, suddenly they can't get anything done. This, despite the fact that their party controls the White House and both houses of congress. Worthless.
Here's the thing. What few convictions the Republicans may have, they lack the courage those convictions require. Contrast their performance with that of the Democrats. Granted, as a liberal party, their life is made infinitely easier by the nature of their beliefs about the role of government. How hard is it to always propose the expansion of government? How difficult can it be to always be proposing programs that create entitlements for voters? How fun must it be to always be coming up with new schemes to confiscate money from a smaller, more productive class and distribute it to a much larger class of voters? Don't get me wrong, I don't think that Democrats do this out of spite or rancor. I think they firmly believe in wealth redistribution and that their plans are best for the country...but come on, talk about your low hanging fruit...Vote for me and I'll take money from your rich neighbor and give it to you!! Not exactly a hard sell since there will always be fewer rich people, and there will always be human beings eager to spend other people's money. But, at least Democrats can be counted on to act on their principles. They are a dependable party. They exist to grow government and in doing so, advance the interests of the marginalized members of society...allegedly.
What about the Republicans? A very charitable reading of their charter would suggest that they stand for fiscal prudence. It is the job of Republicans to stand athwart a profligate, spendthrift government yelling stop!!! It is the job of Republicans to promote freedom, to take up the cause of the individual getting crushed by the demands and edicts of his out of control government. It is the job of Republicans to champion the free market and the notion that decisions about how to allocate resources will always be made more efficiently by a functioning free market than they ever will by a government committee. But, whenever the Republicans get their chance to actually govern, the American people get none of these things. What they get is the promotion of crony capitalism, tax cuts for people who don't really need them, and...squirrel!!!....Hey, let's go fight a war in the Middle East!
I have gotten to the point where I truly despise politics, every single thing about it. Each day brings fresh evidence of the cluelessness of the American ruling class. Politicians in Washington from both parties act as if we don't know that part of the reason they aren't in any hurry to fix our health care mess is because they have all exempted themselves from the mess. Their health plan is perfectly fine. Their tax burden made less burdensome by their well paid accountants taking advantage of escape hatches for the well connected. They don't have to fret about saving for retirement, their retirement plan is pretty sweet. They don't have to worry about illegal immigrants taking their jobs, or moving in next door...they live in gated enclaves. They don't have to worry about the crumbling public schools...their kids go to private academies.
So, going forward, here are our choices. If you want a government to provide more and more subsidies and welfare programs to make your life easier, vote Democrat. You know why? Because they will deliver. If you want a government that is less intrusive and does only the things clearly mandated to it by our Constitution, and does so without wracking up unfathomable debt, don't vote Republican because they won't.
Last year we were in Maine for Pam's birthday. Most years we are at the beach when the big day comes. This year, its after returning from the beach, on a Wednesday, and its yoga night. She's busy with a thousand things, and since it's the first week back after vacation, so am I. It won't be a big party night, but that's not to say that I don't have plans. I've got a few things up my sleeve.
Five years ago, I wrote a post about my wife on the occasion of her 50th birthday...here. All of it is still true. If anything, it's all more true now than it was then. With each passing year she becomes a better person, if that is even possible. I don't think it is with most people, especially me. As I get older I find myself becoming less patient, less compassionate, less kind. It's something I have to fight against, this hardening of my spirit. But with Pam it seems she has turned aging on its head. She has somehow found a way to become more patient, more compassionate, and kinder with the passage of time. I don't know anyone who loves new things more than her. While some of us resist trying new things, she thrives on it. It's one of the things that keep her young. That, and the ridiculous genes she was born with that make her look thirty years younger than everybody else her age.
I fell in love with this woman 35 years ago. I'm still in love with her. Who wouldn't be?
Back to responsibility. Back to the daily disciplines. Back to accountability. Back to the rigor of a routine.
These are the things you return to after a vacation, the things that you largely abandoned while away, but must pick back up as soon as you get back.
There are hundreds of people counting on me to get back. There will be messages waiting for me, the flashing red light on my credenza. There will be mail to sort through. There will be a stack of bills to pay. I'll have to quickly find my place, find the exact spot I was when I left, remember what was happening the moment I walked out of the building. Then, I will climb back into the saddle and carry on.
I will ask everyone at the office about any new developments on the DOL front. I will get five or six different stories, none of them definitive, several of them contradictory.
I will be disoriented for an hour or so. It is always this way after time away. But it's always surprising how quickly everything comes back into focus. Even last year, after a month in Maine, I was up to speed in a couple of days. It was as if I had never left.
There is something oddly comforting about work. Having a place to go and something to do is the great leveler. No matter the weight of responsibility, the thought of not having a profession is a frightening prospect. As much as I worry over the damage done to my mental state by the unrelenting stress of it all, the fact is...part of me needs that stress. I need to be driven out of bed in the morning. I need people in my life to whom I am answerable. Without them, I could easily go off the rails. I could easily become a self-centered narcissist.
So, today I'm back...and it's ok.
This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.
So, I've got a new app from Blogger. I actually paid money for it...$4.99 to be exact. This is my first post using this new system which is supposed to be far better and more intuitive than my old, outdated version. Unfortunately, this app comes with no special function that will improve the quality of the content found at The Tempest, so settle down out there. But, it advertises itself as a much easier platform for adding pictures and videos into the text of my blog. I won't bore you or embarrass myself by explaining the Rube Goldberg, jack-legged procedure I have been using to add that sort of thing up until now. Suffice it to say that it was similar to the communication system employed by the ancient Greeks in their battles with the Persians...send a runner through hostile territory with a 30% survival rate, then hope for the best.
But, I'm already confused. It is clear that I will have to sit down with Pam for a couple of hours one night to figure out how to properly use all of the bells and whistles on this thing. I wouldn't have to do this if I had one ounce of patience. Just one lousy ounce! If I can't figure out something computer related in five minutes, I get flustered. Then, I get mad, then embarrassed at my ignorance. Whenever I give Pam some shiny new computer/technology gizmo, she looks at the box with a facial expression which I can only describe as something very close to how she used to look at me when I was 30 years younger and 15 pounds lighter! She literally can't wait to rip the box open and begin the hours and hours and hours of learning how to use it. She rejoices in the glorious trial and error of discovery, the magic of learning all about the inner workings of the latest thing in technology. Me? I want to know how to turn it on, open my email, and find the box scores.
So, I will fumble, bumble, and stumble around with this new app for a few days until I've risen to the highest level of my natural incompetence, then reluctantly plead with my wife to help me. She will...because she is awesome that way. Then, once the scales have been removed from my eyes and I actually know how to productively use this app, I will promise myself to go to her first...next time.
Beach Week 2017 is in the books. We made it back in a reasonable amount of time, despite the side trip to the Norfolk Airport to drop Patrick off. A few delays, but no interminable backups. Lucy was pleased to see us, and intrigued by all of the new smells and beguiling aromas we brought back with us.
It was a good week. I enjoyed being with my family. I only gained 4 pounds, probably because of the 15 miles of road work I put in for the week. Had I not done that, I would be on the north side of 200 once again!
One thing is disturbingly clear...Maine has ruined me. Spending a month up there last summer has flat out ruined the beach for me. Let me try to explain.
Our weather over the past seven days was very good for the Outer Banks in July. The only rain we got was at night. Five out of the seven days were mostly sunny. But...man was it hot. The presence of a brisk breeze on the beach almost nonstop didn't help in the slightest. It was like being in the sauna at the gym, only every few minutes you could get up and walk down to the surf to cool off. But, dang was it hot out there. Although Hatteras Island, compared to most beaches on the East coast, is not overrun with vacationers, there were still a lot of other people on the beach. Again, nothing wrong with that at all...but did I mention how hot it was?
By contrast, our month in Maine in July of 2016, featured a gorgeous fresh water lake with our own private dock and float. There was a neighbor on the float next to ours, roughly a football field away, but our only communication with her was a lazy wave of the hand as we kayaked by. Unlike the quarter mile hike up the hot sand mountain required to reach the beach in Waves, the walk to our lake dock was maybe a hundred feet. And although there were a few nights early on that were uncomfortably warm in an air-condition-free house, most nights felt like heaven with the fresh breeze from the lake drifting through the opened windows. The morning's were actually a bit chilly.
Whenever it rained, which thankfully wasn't often, we would just hop in the car and drive the 15 minutes into Camden and tool around in that fabulous little seaside village, grab some blueberries pancakes, or shop for hidden treasures at the Smiling Cow. We could take a ride on a lobster boat, or take in a play at the local theatre. One thing we never had to do was...make dinner for 18 people on a gas grill that didn't work!
Of course, the Dunnevant Beach Week isn't the same thing as a month in Maine, so it's not fair to compare the two. But, fair or not, once you go there, you can't help but measure everything else that comes afterwards to its standard.
One very cool thing about our Beach Week vacation is the fact that because it only happens every two years, it's fascinating to see how much of a difference those two years makes in the little ones. In 2015 little Evelyn was just a baby, this year she was an adorable princess. Two years ago Ezra would freak out whenever anyone stated singing. This year he was making requests during singing night! Darcy shocked us by how tall she had grown in two short years, and Bennett wore his baseball uniform one night after dinner...is it possible that he is old enough to play baseball?? Generally, it was amazing to watch how well all of them played with each other this year, no where near as many fights and arguments as in years past. They are all growing up and maturing. Two years makes a big difference. We grown ups change too over two years. We are all older, maybe a bit slower. Two years hence we might need more bedrooms. There might be new members added to the family, perhaps a new grandchild. Our beach week vacations serve as measuring sticks, a chance to take pictures and compare them to the ones in the picture albums from 1999 and 2009. But, honestly...someone in this family needs to win the lottery so we can afford to have the thing catered. If I'm asked to make dinner for 21 people on a strange grill again, I might revolt.
In 54 days, Pam, Lucy and I will make the drive to Quantabacook Lake in Searsmont, Maine.
It occurs to me that many of you might not know everyone in attendance at this Dunnevant Beach Week, 2017. Part of the reason for the confusion might be the fact that this particular event is ill-named, since not everyone here is a Dunnevant. To clear up the confusion, I have composed the following scorecard of all attendees with a brief description of their contributions for the week...
Of course, all of you know the only actual Dunnevant's at Beach Week:
Doug Dunnevant...Commissioner of Pranks, Putt-Putt Champion, Taker of Naps
Pam Dunnevant...Organizer-in-Chief, Placecard Czar
Patrick Dunnevant...Designated Liberal, Hummer of Melodies, Professor of Video Games
My daughter once was a Dunnevant, but now she has lapsed into the wife life and has become:
Kaitlin Manchester...Ruler of South Carolina Middle School ne'er do wells, Whole30 Survivor
Jon Manchester...Mosquito Mogul, Identifier of all life forms coughed up on the beach
Then, there's the Schwartz contingent:
Bill Schwartz...Curator of Puzzles, Elder Statesman
Linda Schwartz...Mimi Maven, Cell Phone Whiz, and Grandchild Magnet
Matt Hawkins...Family Photographer, Undoer of Damage done to children by Uncle Doug
Jenny Hawkins...The Great Sleeping Chef who might not be able to get a decent night's sleep, but has
no problem dozing off while preparing a meal for 18
Paul Garland...Pool Monitor, eater of Pizza, Pasta, and nothing else
Christina Garland...Shusher of late night outbursts, Harmony Officer
Ron Roop...Building and Grounds Chairman, Kite Flying Foreman, Official Putzer
Paula Roop...Complaint Organizer, Person most likely to send husband to the store for something
Ryan Roop...Person most likely to end up on a milk carton..."Have you seen This boy? Last seen going for a walk on beach with soccer ball
Darcy Hawkins...Soon to be Middle Schooler, Boss of the grandkids, wearer of turbans
Bennett Hawkins...Aspiring Prankster, Instigator of pool fights, up and coming left handed power
Ezra Garland...Announcer of Intentions in clear, loud voice, Explaner of all things Transformer
Evelyn Garland...Princess of Cuteness, Redhead, Giver of side eye to Uncle Doug
Ok, there you go. That's everybody. So, it's actually the Dunnevant/Manchester/Schwartz/Garland/Hawkins/Roop Beach Week, 2017.
The Dunnevant Beach Week contains a bizarre tradition first started by my mother, who after a particularly trying day had thrown up her hands at the prospect of preparing the evening meal with the now famous exclamation, "I'll be John Brown if I'm making dinner for this bunch of hulligans tonight. Either somebody else makes dinner or they can all starve to death!" Thus launched the ill-fated let's all take turns making dinner for twenty people at the beach and call it a vacation gambit of 1991. The fact that it survives today is a towering monument to the power of inertia. It has become a permanent feature of this trip...not a bug, a feature! Last night was our turn.
I've got an idea, someone foolishly once said, why don't we just make hamburgers and hotdogs for our meal at the beach? That will be easy. And baked beans...everybody loves baked beans. It will be a cinch!
When financial writers know even less than they normally know about the direction of the stock market...that is to say, when their non-existent crystal ball is more opaque than usual they often trot out that rediculous formulation...the markets are currently struggling for direction. However, this worthless declaration makes--hamburgers and hotdogs will be easy to prepare at the beach--sound like a Princetonian doctoral dissertation. Here's how it all went down...
By 5:00 the situation was well in hand. Pam had everything organized to within an inch of its life. The table was set with fake Fourth of July finery. Pies had been made, secondary dishes were lined up on the huge kitchen island with ruthless assembly line efficiency. All that was left to do was slip the baked beans in the oven and fire up the grill to cook the burgers and dogs. I exited the kitchen out into the deck where the suspiciously new looking gas grill sat, arms loaded down with 16 burgers, 16 dogs, and six brats. The tank was filled with propane. I had a sweating glass of sweet tea in hand and was ready to put my 'Murika face on. I turned the dial counter clockwise, waited for the click, then listened for the whoosh. I took a confident sip of tea, then paused to admire the setting sun as I waited for the grill to heat up.
It was a long wait.
While, the tank was filled with gas, and the four elements all emitted flame, the heat that all of this produced wouldn't have been enough to melt a stick of butter. I could have jumped up on that grill naked without fear of getting burned. After twenty minutes it became clear that if anyone wanted to eat hamburgers and hotdogs this evening, an alternate plan would have to be devised.
Meanwhile, inside the kitchen, the baked beans caper was in full swing. Despite knobs that indicated that the gas oven was fully engaged, the two dishes of beans looked fresh as daisies after twenty minutes in close contact to allegedly fatal temperatures. Perhaps the particular type of gas pumped to this address was of a timid variety, propane which feels guilty for the damage it is doing to the planet and has decided to not cook stuff when asked!! To make Pam's situation worse, here I came marching onto the scene commandeering the entire surface of the stove for the purpose of frying hamburger. The popping, spitting grease storm that ensued made flipping these burgers a test of will, courage and endurance...Stand back..I'm going in!!! Godspeed, man!!
Dinner was eventually served, albeit forty minutes late. Everyone was complimentary. The burgers were actually pretty good. My blood pressure sat an all time record for the systolic reading, Pam's hands eventually stopped shaking, and we both take comfort in the knowledge that we won't have to do this again for two full years!
The thirteenth iteration of the Dunnevant Beach Vacation has gotten off to a rousing start. Saturday, travel day, was a lost day of angst, frustration frayed nerves, and therefore will never be spoken of in this space again. But, yesterday, our first full day, was a blissful delight.
First, the house. This place has no pretentious name like 2015's Absolutely Fabulous. But this house actually is. The bedrooms are huge. The kitchen is sprawling, although oddly...has no pantry. The house is dominated by a freakishly large family room:
There's an entertainment center that is so ponderous, it's hard to imagine how the thing could have gotten inside the house. We have come to the conclusion that it was either built in place, or lowered by crane before the roof was built. It's the kind of entertainment center that Louis XIV might have had at Versailles if they had had big screens back in the 1600's. The only problem with the room is the furniture. Again...grotesquely huge pieces of furniture have been thrown about the place, sofas, love seats and ottomans all designed and built for the long since extinct race known as the Pygstilt people...that strange tribe of humans known for their stubby torsos combined with seven foot long legs. If the Dunnevant clan was so built, we would all be raving about how comfortable the sofas are. Since we aren't, here we all are...awkwardly splayed out on these too low to the ground pieces, feet dangling weirdly mid-air, heads sticking high up with nothing to lean against like the stilteyes of sand crabs.
But, enough of the obligatory complaining. This place is beautiful, and we are all happy with our purchase.
Yesterday, in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, there appeared an irksome piece which turned its journalistic nose up at the family vacation with this condescending turn of phrase:
Family vacations often mean bad food and slothful habits...but it doesn't have to be that way.
It's written by some nerd-king dork who begins his piece complaining about how the first day of his family vacation was spent desperately searching for WiFi so he could submit his latest column to his editor. The fact that his accommodations didn't provide instant, reliable and free internet service was a source of great consternation to the writer. My response to this idiot would have been...Ok dude. First of all, why didn't you finish your column before you went on vacation. Poor planning on your part does not constitute a vacation internet crisis on anyone else's part, moron! And secondly...what are you talking about with this bad food crack??
And, slothful habits? Are you kidding me?
Do you have any idea how much work it is to haul this many chairs all the way from the house to this beach every morning?? Slothful habits..pphhssttttt! I have to climb 49 steps just to get to my bedroom. We are a thousand feet from house to beach here, so if you want to call that slothful habits, be my guest.
So yeah, if this guy wants to take a couple weeks off every summer to train for a marathon while eating twigs and berries, then he can help himself. As for me and my house, we will lounge around on the beach all day making fun of each other while eating five meals a day plus snacks.
Can I get an amen??
Anyway, things are going swimmingly. Last night's meal was a triumph. Kaitlin, Jon and Patrick offered up spicy chicken fajitas, some sort of delicious corn salad thing and sopapilla cheesecake for dessert. Linda, inexplicably found a rubber snake in her shower, and had a fake mouse jump out at her from a small wooden box.
I'm sitting in the parking lot of Wells Fargo at 8:50 am, desperate to be the first order of business for the Pump and Three Chopt branch brain trust. I'm quietly rehearsing my pithy takedowns when I see a post from my wife reminding me of the money verse from last Thursday's bible study...James 1:19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...
Great, I thought. What a lousy time to have gotten involved in a small group bible study at Hope. Now, on top of bank problems, I've got the specter of spiritual accountability hanging over my head!
So, I take a couple of big, deep breaths, slap on the phoniest smile I own and boldly walk through the doors with great expectations. Just my luck, Clarise has the day off, so the assistant manager listens to my case and leads me over to the desk of an eager young man with a broad smile who will help me get everything cleared up. The assistant manager explains the situation of the double mortgage payment debits to my new smiling friend, who promptly picks up the phone and calls someone in the bill pay department. When he begins to speak, my spirits dropped considerably. This eager young man had the thickest Pakistani accent I have ever heard. I was sitting less than five feet from the man and could hardly understand a word he said, how was someone a couple of states away going to decipher his gibberish across a phone line?? My suspicions were confirmed when it took him three attempts to communicate my account number to the poor sap on the other end..
...No no...dhat was V as in Rickter, not B like in DOB...
Despite this setback, I remained confident. Surely, my bank would be able to correct so obvious an error as this in no time. My fake smile was positively beaming at this point.
Then, it all went wrong. Very. Very. Wrong.
Without wading deep into the weeds of bank-talk, let's just say that in modern finance, the efficiencies of electronic banking are very much a one way street. Ever since the advent of the internet it seems that my bank has been hounding me to go electronic! I have been told of the many benefits to be had from leaving old school paper banking behind. Why, Mr. Dunnevant, imagine the speed with which transactions would fly from one of your accounts to the next without having to wait on the US mail? And, think of the trees you'll be saving?! Think of the children, Mr. Dunnevant. You want our planet to be healthy for your children, don't you??
But there's always a catch, always some absurdity just around the corner anytime somebody pleads with you to do it for the children. In my case, it became apparent after poor Rashid spent thirty minutes on the phone translating my problem into fluent Urdu for not one, not two, but three separate bank functionaries, that while the bank recognizes their role in this situation, and has ever intention of making this customer whole, unfortunately, the second mortgage payment could not possibly be returned to my balance until the passage of ten working days.
Now, upon receiving this vexing news, things began to go in slow motion. A seed of righteous fury had germinated inside my brain and was morphing rapidly into what very easily could have become a raging spittle-spewing tirade. But then...just like Tom Hanks' character in A League of Their Own, when Evelyn, his right fielder who keeps missing the cutoff man, and he gets ready to unload on her but then remembers that the last time he did she had burst into tears, and he had had to remind the entire team that there, in fact, was no crying in baseball!!!!...yeah, just like that, a weird, strained calmness came over me. The entirety of my response is as follows:
Rashid, is it? Yes, Rashid...let me see if I'm understanding you correctly. You're saying that despite the fact that Wells Fargo can remove money from my account in literally a nanosecond, it will take two entire weeks for them to put the money back into my account. Is this what you are saying, Rashid?
Rashid nodded in the affirmative, as his eyes took on a deer in the headlights look.
There was a time in my life when this might have triggered what people in the banking trade call a situation, as in...Hey, Fred, we might have a situation over here with this Dunnevant guy...But, today was not that time. I lowered my head, shuffled my feet a little and replied with all of the sincerity of a politician...
"Listen, I really do appreciate all of your efforts here, and I know that this isn't your fault...but Rashid, this is exactly why people hate banks."
That was it. I didn't even raise my voice. It was almost like a miracle. The branch manager then stepped into the void left by my unanswerable factual statement with a workable plan to work around the rules blah, blah, blah, and get this fixed by no later than Tuesday of next week. They begged my forebearnace and assured me that once the dust had all settled, I would be charged absolutely nothing for the trouble caused by their mistake.
So, there you go. As it turned out, I was, in fact, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Apparently, there's something to this bible study thing.
This morning, 48 hours before I depart for the beach for a week, I was alarmed to learn that my checking account at Wells Fargo had a balance of only $31. By my calculations, the number should have been many multiples of this paltry sum. Upon further investigation, I discovered that the overdraft protection feature of the account had been launched, whereby the deficient sum is summoned from my equity line in order to cover the overdraft. What fresh hell is this?..I thought. A few more clicks of my iPad revealed the problem...my bank had decided to draft my account for my mortgage payment...on two consecutive days.
The conversation that I intend on having with my banker this morning could go two ways:
Possibility number 1
Clarise: Good Morning Mr. Dunnevant. What can I do for you this fine morning?
Me: Hello, Clarise. You are certainly looking well his morning. I was wondering if you could help me with a little snafu that I have discovered in my checking account. I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for it, but somehow my mortgage payment was drafted two days in a row. Since I was not expecting the second draft, the overdraft protocol was initiated, costing me $100 along with much embarrassment. Is there some way you can have this reversed and my account credited properly?
Possibility number 2
Clarise: Good morning Mr. Dunnevant. What can I do for you this fine morning?
Me: What can you do for me? What can you do for me????!!! I'll tell you what you can do for me...your bank can stop being the most incompetent enterprise in America, that's what you can do for me. Your bank can stop taking two mortgage payments out of my account when I have only authorized one, and then you can reverse this outrageous overdraft charge, then beg for my forebearance and thank me profusely for agreeing not to make a scene!!
I'm thinking that the real conversation will probably wind up being something in between...formalized politeness and bile-churning venom. When confronted with bank shenanigans I usually start as Dr. Jekyll, but withing five minutes get transformed into an enraged Mr. Hyde. This transformation stems from the arrogant position universally assumed by the banking class in matters of their own errors. It can't possibly be our mistake, Mr. Dunnevant, we have done studies and have discovered that 99.9% of these sort of conflicts are a result of customer error, that sort of thing.
But then, I set my jaw in that certain way that my children can recall with crystalline precision, that expression that possesses my face just before I launch into a withering takedown. My children referred to it as simply...the look. It gives off a certain vibe that suggests the possibility of madness, the very real chance that I might be capable of virtually anything. Of course, I am not a violent man...but sometimes it helps if other's don't know that.
By 9:30 this morning, the charges will be reversed. Hopefully, an apology will not be needed from me an hour later, when wracked with guilt by my performance, I will drive back over to the bank, flowers in hand, begging Clarise's forgiveness.
Preparations are at a fever pitch for Dunnevant Beach Week 13.
Meals have been planned. A grocery list has been made. All but one of the six prank gags I ordered from Amazon has been shipped. On cue, a tropical storm has begun to form out in the Atlantic Ocean somewhere and brings with it the possibility of a midweek weather event. Andrew Freiden=Satan.
Of course, a big part of pre-trip logistical planning involves the actually drive to the beach. In our family, this means six vehicles leaving from four different places, plus my son who will be flying into the Norfolk airport for pick up by his Mom and Dad. To make this year's voyage just a bit more difficult, our rental agency has come up with a 6:00 pm check-in time. Here's the controversy:
Two schools of thought have emerged. One, championed by my brother-in-law, is that we should leave as early as possible to beat the worst of the traffic. If this means we arrive six hours before check-in, so be it. The second idea seems to be, why not chill at home for a while, eat a leisurely lunch, then hit the road later, and if we need to stop for dinner on the way down, fine. Since Pam and I have to pick up Patrick at the Norfolk airport(arrival time 12:30, assuming no delays or hijackings), we have no choice in this matter. So the debate has become...do we all plan on eating dinner on our own, or do we wait until we all arrive and order pizza at the house?
We have spent the better part of two days debating this topic on the Dunnevant VACAY 2017 Facebook page...yep...and after all the back and forth, the conclusion we have reached seems to have been:
Everybody leave Richmond at whatever time you like, and we can either eat dinner on the road or maybe order pizza if the trip goes better than expected and we all find ourselves at the house at 5:00 and the rental agency allows us to check in an hour early, which may or may not happen.
In other words, Shakespeare had the Dunnevant's pegged pretty well when he wrote, It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Our "debate" produced a thunderous maybe. But at least we didn't venture into the murky waters of trying to decide on pizza toppings...are you kidding? That would take a second Council of Trent!
Anyway, the day is fast approaching, and everyone is putting on their game faces...especially my nephew, Bennett, who offered this 24 carat gem to his mother the other day...
...I hope I find another shark tooth at the beach this year. That would be cool. I lost my other one. Or, I might find some buried treasure. I could. And then Pops could figure out how to open the box with his knowledge. Or maybe Uncle Ron. But if I find some, I'm keeping it. And everybody will be like, "can I have some of your gold?" And I'll be like, "no way--gold doubloons are expensive!" You know, cuz they are--I'm not going to be giving away my gold doubloons and diamonds and stuff....
Kid is eight years old and already understands the relationship between scarcity and price, the productive division of labor, and has come out steadfastly against wealth redistribution!!
One last thing...here's a teaser shot of the prank box...
A fair amount of space on the bookcases in my library are filled with books of history. Most of them deal with the history of my country, America. I suppose this is natural and proper, that a man would be most intrigued with the story of his native country. I have been so for the majority of my life. I love America. I feel a great devotion to her and I'm grateful for the great accident of birth that granted me all of the benefits that she conferred upon me when I was luckily not born in Afghanistan, Bangladesh or North Korea.
But my love for country has evolved along the way, been made more mature by the great tumults that have roiled this nation since the year of my birth, 1958. On many occasions my devotion has been tested. Often I have found myself disappointed by events, even embarrassed by what we have done, or failed to do as a country. But if the history of a country is like a balance sheet, I have confidence that we are still running a positive balance. It's easy to to lose sight of the grand sweep of the greatness of a country if you succumb to recency bias. What we may look like today is but a dot on a ponderous timeline that stretches 241 years.
As we celebrate America's birthday, these are the formative events of my lifetime which have formed my thoughts and feelings about what it means to be an American citizen. For you, these may not resonate at all. Other things may have impacted you more profoundly. Or, you may have lived through these chapters of American life and come to different conclusions. That's ok. I can only tell my story.
The first memory I have as a child that had anything to do with history, politics or government was the cold November afternoon when my older brother and sister got off of the bus early and scrambled past me into the house. I followed them and heard someone say that the President had been shot. I
was five years old. All I really remember about it was how quiet everyone was. Something bad had happened, and my Mom and Dad were very upset.
My next big memory was of John Glenn, the hero. I read about him in the Weekly Reader. I wanted to be an astronaut for a couple of years after that. So did everyone else.
I remember hearing about my Uncle John and my Uncle Harry, my Mom's brothers who were both heros in WWII. Uncle John drove a tank for George Patton. Whenever I visited him when I was a child, I remember him being so gentle, nothing at all like the fierce combat veteran of my imaginations. He also always had a certain sadness in his eyes. My Mom told me that he was a different person when he got home from the war, nothing like the brother who left.
In 1968, I was ten years old and paying closer attention. In June of that year, I found myself in my Grandma Dunnevant's trailer, watching Robert Kennedy get shot on a black and white television no bigger than a bread box. I saw Rosey Greer on the screen and I knew him as a football player for the Rams and was momentarily confused. All of the grown ups in the trailer were upset, some cried. Martin Luther King and now this...someone said. Something was wrong with my country. Young people were marching in the streets. I didn't understand it all, but I could figure out that people like my Dad were the enemy of the people marching in the streets. He was older, and couldn't be trusted, they said.
Then, less than a year later, we put a man on the moon. Another crowded room. Another black and white television, this one an RCA Victor with aluminum foil around the rabbit ears. That's one small step for man...bl>#%\ckkk...one giant leap for mankind. I was thrilled and proud to be an American. But alongside the thrill came questions...what the heck was going on? These people in the streets, burning down Watts and Newark didn't seem very thrilled to be Americans. They were burning the
flag. Thus began my lifelong quest to understand, to square the circle that was my big, brawling country. I began reading...a lot.
Our amateur boys beat the Professional Soviet hockey team at the height of the Cold War. A big night.
I cast my first ever vote in 1976 for Jimmy Carter. He was a Democrat, and he wasn't Gerald Ford.
College introduced me to a group of professors who loathed America. Well, they loved the perks of tenure and the abundance in the stores, but in their telling, America was the worst actor on the world stage, and we were responsible for most of the world's problems. I listened, and read. Some of it made sense, most of it didn't.
Ronald Reagan came along. Owing to my youthful fondness for liberalism, I voted against him the first time, but he soon won me over. Adulthood brought me down on the side of freedom and individual liberty and the power of free enterprise as the best system ever conceived to produce wealth and to bring goods and services to market. But, even then I sensed that capitalism wasn't enough. There was more to life than economics. For, despite the incredible accomplishments of my
young and confusing country, there were glaring weaknesses...mostly having to do with race
I watched Bill Clinton, with his southern charm and roguish manner stumble through his Presidency
and was horrified that he would be so foolish as to carry on with an intern...in the Oval freaking Office!!
I watched George W. Bush grab that megaphone on that smoking pile of twisted metal after 9/11. I was with him that day, and so were most people. Then I washed him throw away all of that unity, all of that good will by settling scores in Iraq.
I marveled at the sight of Barack Obama taking the oath of office. Even though I never voted for him, something in me was stirred seeing such a dignified man become President in the shadow of the statue of Abraham Lincoln, the freer of slaves.
While all of this politics was going on, out there in the rest of the country, Americans were changing the world, rewriting its history. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did what my countrymen have done for 240
years...innovate, create and change the world. While Washington dithers, Americans produce and pursue their dreams with unrivaled success, assuring us a dominant place at the world's table.
Now, we have elected an entertainer, a successful business tycoon with the temperament of a carnival barker. It has been a wild six months. Some are ecstatic to have a street fighter in charge. Many love his counter punching, his coarseness, his bluster. Others are horrified.
But, I'm still an American. Politicians don't define me. The ugliness in Washington, now increasingly amplified by a thousand electronic voices doesn't wipe away the triumphs of this great land. There is
much left to do to make us a kinder people. We have work to do to become more fair, more equitable. But the heart of America is decency. Sometimes we are too slow, sometimes some catastrophe has to shake us to it, but we eventually return to decency. We eventually overcome our self centeredness and exchange it for caring for one another. Every raging tornado in the Great Plains gives us a glimpse. Every hurricane that lashes the coasts brings out the spirit of loving kindness. We all know that we have it in us, the capacity for charity, the gene of courage which was bequeathed to us by our ancestors.
We are a mightily blessed people, blessed and cursed. It's my hope that the better angels of our character will eventually win the day.