My friend Ted sent me an email picture of himself, along with our buddies Greg and Darcy, fishing for brook trout at Dark Cove on East Grand Lake. The lake had finally frozen over, and Darcy had drilled down through the ice to the frigid lake water below. There was Greg all bundled up holding his fish amidst the paraphernalia of ice fishing. Our last fishing trip together for trout was in August at Beaver Dam, where we cast for the loveliest speckled brookies. Oh how I miss those days of a quiet summer afternoon, wading through the dense forest to reach the beaver ponds. Muck up to my knees, pulling myself loose from each step in anticipation. Funny how one can recall the details of an afternoon last August and barely recollect what happened yesterday. I suppose it is the personal moments in life that stay with us. So many of them for me are connected to Maine. Like finding that bright star, Sirius, the faithful “dog star” which always shines off the dock, never diminished by other stars or clouds. I locate that star the first night at camp when I arrive. It sets me in place. I know I am where I am supposed to be. Above all else that star is a constant. The Earth rotates, Washington changes Presidents, the weather is spotty, my stomach sometimes rumbles but the star is always in the same place watching over us souls on Earth while we stumble through the mud on our way to Beaver Dam to fish for brook trout. Be there soon.
I anticipated writing a very different column this week. It was to be about something timely and momentous and to me, very exciting: I just got my first Covid vaccine. Then, on Wednesday, during painting class, a breaking news notification popped up on my iPhone. I put down my paintbrush and watched in horror as the events in the Capitol unfolded. Seeing the Chambers of Congress in the news footage took me back to the summer of 1963 when I served as an intern for the esteemed Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. It was the most exhilarating and inspiring time of my life up to that point. I witnessed the Civil Rights Act debate on the Senate floor. I was introduced to and had a bourbon with the legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow in Senator Kefauver’s office. I met Senators Barry Goldwater and Ted Kennedy, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy as well as other greats of that era. My biggest thrill was meeting President Kennedy in the Rose Garden after he addressed us, the interns of ‘63. Bill Clinton visited the White House that summer as a high school senior—there is a famous photo of him shaking hands with the President. I may have crossed paths with him too, in one of those august halls of government.
That is the background against which I viewed the shocking events of Wednesday, January 6, 2021, events that will live on in my mind and memory for the rest of my years. How does one react to such destruction in the heart of our democracy, the hallowed site of so much of our collective history, of our Republic? Perhaps Doris Kearns Goodwin said it best when she suggested it would take a hundred years for historians to fully assess this tragedy. I don’t need a hundred years to come to my own conclusions about it. I have thought long and hard since that day and I have decided that I will no longer associate with any of my friends who still support Trump and his lies. I tried to discuss it rationally and sensibly with these few friends, some of which I have known since college in the 1950s. They are not ignorant, uneducated people. They have had careers in business, law and medicine. Yet they still believe the election was stolen and that the mob that invaded Congress are patriots. I am done chilling over their stupidity. They are of the same ilk as Cruz and Hawley and all the other House members who voted to deny the validity of the election. No longer will I tolerate them–no more sympathy or conversation. I am blocking their email accounts and the repugnant diatribes they forward to me from the right-wing groups in bed with the white supremacists and anti-Semites.
My father left Ukraine as a teenager to avoid conscription into the army. He fled to Argentina because he could not enter the United States. His family that stayed perished in the Holocaust. Seeing the invaders of Congress wearing t-shirts with “Camp Auschwitz” and other anti-Semitic slogans emblazoned on them settled it for me. I believe I learned the lesson. Those who lingered in Germany, Hungary, France, Italy, Poland and Ukraine as Hitler spread his anti-Semitic rhetoric became victims. Hitler’s followers believed the lies. Trump’s followers believe his lies and have acted violently at his bidding. This is not going away after Inauguration Day. Congress must take a stand. We must all take a stand.
Thursday was sign up for Vaccine Day here in Palm Beach. There were only a limited number of spots available online and they were gone after 30 minutes. Whoever got the email and responded instantly was given an appointment. It was like a free for all and if you hesitated you lost out. What a way to handle distribution. Some folks I know have flown back to New York to get their shots. Others, such as wealthy donors and board members of a local long-term-care facility, got personal invitations to come in first for their jabs–before the residents and staff. Everyone over the age of 65 is using their network to find a way to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and for some, all bets are off when it comes to ethics. I suppose it is to be expected in these times. Like a game of musical chairs, when the music stops make sure there is a chair for you, but in this version the stakes are life or death. I am patient and will wait my turn, just like my mother taught me to do. Do not cut the line to be first for pizza at school lunch. Do not look over at Gary the math whiz’s exam for your answers. Your turn will come. Be honest. Be patient. It is amazing to me when smart people don’t follow the rules. We are seeing it in Washington with the election. Rules don’t matter when political ambitions are on the line. Constitutional law only applies to the winners! These are not good lessons for our children. Cheat, scheme, do whatever you need to do to get ahead. Watch your parents offer bribes to get you into college. Another great example. We need to put on our big boy pants and stand up occasionally for the right things. The moral things. The honest things! I am cutting this short– time to get back online. I am following the vaccine rollout and need to get in line!
An unidentified call lit up my cell phone screen. “Grandpa, it’s me, Billy! I got a phone!” Yes, a ten-year-old with a cell phone. First it was a TV, then an iPad, now a cell phone. When I was his age in Rochester, New York, playtime was decidedly more low-tech. All I asked for, repeatedly, was a Daisy BB gun and an Indian Racer bike. Eventually, I wore down my parents and got them both. Electronics for kids were not yet invented, but Kodak was just across the Memorial Bridge and if you took their tour, they offered free film and a loaner camera. No one had their own cameras back then, at least no one I knew. Today’s youngsters have an abundance of battery and cable-powered toys and devices from which to choose. My Billy is also into Legos and puzzles and I push him to read with incentives. He has an interest in coin collecting and his father established a savings and investment account to encourage some good financial habits. Things are sure different from the late 1940s when I was ten years old. My savings account was one set up by my teacher in elementary school, and we were advised to deposit a few coins in a jar each week. I was thrilled with the few dollars I had accumulated at the end of the year, and it permanently instilled the idea of saving, which was far more valuable.
My friends and I played cowboys and tried to dress accordingly. I maintain that Ralph Lauren, who is of my generation, must have breathed in the western style from similar games in his youth. Soldiers returning from WWII discarded their uniforms and other surplus. To me and my friends, getting our hands on a real Army jacket was the ultimate prize. I was able to collect some of the castoffs and to this day have a few Army shirts that I still wear, for fishing at camp. Some old habits never fade, though the shirts certainly have. One of my favorite haunts as a youngster was the public library across from Ben Franklin High School. I must have ridden my bike there hundreds of times. The librarian would sit me down at a table and bring me a book. I was a slow reader and would never finish. I had no basket on my bike so the librarian would mark my place and set the book aside for my next visit. During my last trip to Rochester a couple of years ago, I saw the library had been permanently closed. My old high school is now a technical school, and the neighborhood was recently the scene of some rioting. Yes, times have changed but not always for the best. I will be returning there to visit the cemetery of my parents once the pandemic is finally under control. If science created a complex cell-phone-camera device operable by a ten-year-old, it can and will defeat Covid with a vaccine—as long as everyone is willing to play along.