Wise-Ass Wednesday (or whenever)

Takes a REAL wise-ass, a persistent curmudgeon, to post a Wednesday rant days later…

But I digress.

Vin Diesel has much to answer for. 

Drivers are emulating his “Fast & Furious” film antics and turning roads into raceways. Meanwhile, COVID is tearing up conventional behavioral restraints as police departments face calls for reform and deadly, rising rates of gunfire – while ignoring almost everything else.

Race-tuned road rockets blast past and backfire at all hours of the day and night.

This is to request whatever entity operates re-incarnation to bring Diesel and the whole F&F cast and production team back in a very specific way:

Bring them back as speed-bumps, on MY street. 

This may discourage the manic motor-heads roaring past my place – and endangering anybody unlucky enough to be walking or driving there – by beating the blazing crap out of their cars. With every crashing lurch, this would impose valuable lessons in car karma on those intoxicated by a dangerous cocktail of gasoline, hormones and entitled narcissism.

And it would give Vin Diesel et al some bumps and bruises, too.

“…the rest of the story…”

CBS Sunday Morning swung and missed badly in their May 23 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young story.

Celebrating the quartet’s 1970 “Deja Vu” album, CBS went all obvious. They recalled romances and breakups and discord within the band and its celebrated second gig at Woodstock.

Touting what Rhino Records calls a super deluxe version of “Deja Vu” (four CDs and a vinyl LP, with many out-takes and demos), the story featured interviews with all members but Young. Nash cites an included demo version of “Our House,” singing with then-girlfriend Joni Mitchell who inspired that cozy tune.

In this superficial telling, however, CBS completely ignored how two C,S,N&Y songs of that era encapsulated the band’s unlikely blended history of happy harmony singing and angry activism.

On May 4, 1970 – fifty one years and a few weeks ago – Ohio National Guard troops shot dead four unarmed, un-menacing students at an anti-Vietnam War protest on the campus of Kent State University. They also wounded nine other student protesters.

As Graham Nash told me in an interview some years ago, C,S,N&Y were riding high that week with “Teach Your Children.” A gentle cautionary tale that Nash has said was inspired by a celebrated Diane Arbus photo of a young boy in shorts, grimacing as he held a toy grenade, the song featured a sweet Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead) pedal steel solo on an easy country-rock groove. It peaked at No. 16 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

In a hot rush, almost immediately after the Kent State shootings, Neil Young wrote “Ohio,” a protest anthem that angrily mourned “four dead in Ohio.” They hurried to record it but had to fight their record label to release it as a single, backed with Stephen Stills’ thematically related, somber “Find the Cost of Freedom.” 

Nash told me their record company wanted to delay “Ohio” since it would likely push “Teach Your Children” down the singles chart. But C,S,N&Y stood their ground.

In a sense, the record company was right: “Ohio” surged to No. 14 on the Hot 100 as “Teach” slid down. 

But Nash also said they were proud of their defiance.

Insisting on relevance, they ultimately won the long-view argument by releasing a protest song of enormous, timely impact. However, as predicted, releasing “Ohio” also marginalized “Teach Your Children” – which otherwise would have paid Nash greater songwriter royalties without Young’s “Ohio” making a bigger noise and sales.

Too bad CBS went all “People” mag – and I don’t mean that in a good way – and ignored this key facet in the endlessly complex tale of C,S,N&Y.

Their last chapter is far from written, but the “Teach Your Children”/“Ohio” story may be their proudest.

A walk in the woods and the wet

We must have passed the place a thousand times without stopping: a roadside parking lot with a quiet sign inviting visitors. Then a miniature windmill was added, amplifying the welcome. So when we found the Plotterkill Preserve overflowing on Mothers Day, the Great Flats Nature Trail proved a fine Plan B.

Clouds cloaked the sun by the time we hit the trail. In an hour of slow walking and gawking under gray skies, we met only four other groups of wanderers. All were families; half with dogs, securely leashed. Nobody wore masks, but distancing was easy and everybody did.

The trails mostly offered dry footing; where some went soupy, logs laced our way across ink-black mud. Wooden platforms spanned the swampy parts. Walking there was its own reward, among endless varieties of green. Gray and brown vines reached upward on trunks from boggy flatlands, sometimes eclipsing the trees supporting them. Ponds and streams threaded through rusting dried grasses; some bubbly-alive, some stagnant-still. Wildflowers clumped sociably together. 

Enough people roamed the place that wild-life seemed scarce, hiding from us – except for birds. Cardinals, red-winged blackbirds and mallards perched, flew or swam nearby. Some yelled at us, others kept up their everyday conversations; bragging about the Red Sox leading the American League east, complaining about the weather, ridiculing what we wore.

This was their place and we were just visiting.

Help…

Three strangers said “God bless you” and a woman handed Ellie an umbrella from her car window and drove on.

Ellie and I were standing in the rain directing drivers to a drive through food distribution event Wednesday in Collins Park – a miserably wonderful experience, and vice versa. With our son Zak, we joined a few dozen volunteers at 4 p.m. to prepare for the 6 p.m. distribution, but customers started lining up even before we arrived. 

We never actually saw the distribution across the park, but saw everybody drive in, then out. 

By 5 p.m., we’d waved more than 100 cars into line as sprinkles muscled up into a downpour for real.

Drivers were grateful, but some seemed shy as if they’d had to suppress their pride to take free food in a public place. As rain poured down and Ellie and I refined our direction raps, the most common emotion coming through their open car windows was sincere thankfulness, but sometimes a desperation we could feel.

To keep traffic from backing up onto the roadway, Ellie stood near the corner and waved cars on to me. I waved them forward and told them to stay on the road, not turn into the parking lots alongside it. As I spoke to the first driver and more cars drove in, Ellie addressed the second while the third, fourth, fifth and sixth waited.

Complicating things, a baseball game, an event at the adjacent Beukendal Lodge and a young girls’ track and field event also brought people to the park, as did the usual attractions of the lake and picnic areas.

When I waved a car to a stop, I’d ask, “Here for the food drive?” – in a way I hoped felt neutral. If “no,” if they came for baseball or track, I’d apologize for stopping them. If “yes,” I’d ask, “Picking up?” If “yes” again, I’d say, “Great! – you’re in exactly the right place.” I assured them, “You’ll be there in a minute; thanks for coming.” If they came to volunteer, I sent them to the parking lots, again with thanks.

Masked, I stood back from the car windows. 

As customers drove in, some thanked me and said, “God bless you.”

We saw folks of all ages and conditions, in all sorts of vehicles from battered sedans and pickups to newish, pricey SUVs. Some seemed to be in their last miles, and several drivers seemed to be living in their cars. A mother and daughter, both in good moods, ate ice cream cones from Jumpin’ Jacks near the park entrance. Many were un-masked, some held their hands over their mouths. A guy with Confederate flag headrest covers in his beater pickup rushed to put his mask on before opening his window. He was poignantly grateful; so was the young couple in a pickup with REDNECK CHICK across the windshield. A well-dressed couple in a new Porsche SUV avoided eye contact. Hunger can hit anyone.

Folks driving away with their food bags – our son Zak helped pack and hand them out – waved gratefully. They mouthed “Thank you” or stopped to say it, relieved and happy. An outbound woman stopped to wave Ellie closer and handed an umbrella out her window. Ellie tried to decline this sweet gift: “How would I ever get this back to you?’ The woman waved and left. I could tell Ellie was smiling through her mask.

Set to run from 6 to 8 p.m., the Drive-Thru was all but over by 6:15. 

In-bound traffic peaked around 5. Outbound drivers soon started warning us “They’re running out.” Zak texted from the distribution line that the food was all bagged; his work was done. He told the volunteer coordinators about his “two old folks directing traffic” – could we go?

Wet shoes squished as we walked to Ellie’s car, cold and emotional. 

We’d seen people in dire straits, trying to hide desperation that was often all too clear and deeply sad as they drove in; and we felt their gratitude as they drove away.

Realizing that this scene of volunteers handing donated food to our neighbors is playing out across America brought a disturbing recognition. Something is deeply, maddeningly wrong.

In what some claim is the greatest country in the world, we had seen desperate people in their hungry hundreds lining up for donated food. The embarrassment some seemed to feel was in the wrong place. It belongs instead to a society or system that rewards selfishness and pushes millions down through the cracks. 

For a nation that worships winners, we tend to overlook how each winner requires a sacrifice by dozens or hundreds of “losers,” some struggling, some dead. For each Bezos, multitudes of marginalized workers literally piss into bottles, working without breaks in warehouses. Hunger and homelessness are essential in this system for the greedy to win. 

Fortunately, resources – both material and human – are gathering to meet this gnawing need. There IS help, and helpers.

Earlier in the pandemic, we’d stifled our own impulse to join those helpers. Now, all three of us vaccinated, we were glad to volunteer – and felt a little uncomfortable at the gratitude that greeted us. 

As we peeled off wet clothes and started to make dinner, we realized we had seen humanity at its worst in the inequality that brought people to us in such desperation. And we had seen humankind at its best in both our fellow volunteers and the gratitude of those we helped.

This made the experience of sharing simply wonderful, delicious and nourishing.