(Note: This is two sections 15b and 15c pieced together. It appears as if a little bit may have been lost, so I'll try to clean it up in edits if I ever get around to doing more with this than posting to the blog. )
The passengers on the flight are not as curious to me as the passengers on the Brooklyn Ferry were to Whitman. On the ferry, it was a jostling crowd. On the plane, everyone is seated, strapped in, and facing forward. With the turbulence, the trip has felt more like an old train ride than either a plane or ferry ride.
I've often thought about the influence people we encounter have on us. Some of my thoughts took shape when I studied artificial neural networks back in the nineties. In these networks, the information is not stored in the nodes. Instead, it is stored in the different weightings of connections between nodes. As new information because available, the weightings between nodes changes through a process of back propagation.
If human minds are in fact neural networks, similar to the artificial neural networks I worked on years ago, then our social networks are simply networks of networks; or internet works of neural networks. Do the weights of our connections in our social networks change in similar ways, with information being stored in these connections?
I was at a conference on group psychotherapy a few years ago where a speaker described the self as existing at the intersection of our internal neural networks and our external social networks. It helped further shape my thoughts.
How does our internal neural network reshape itself based on the interactions we have with others? We can think of this on simple levels of peer pressure, but are there deeper dynamics going on? If information is stored not in the nodes, but in the connections, can the connections in our internal neural networks go beyond what we ourselves know?
And how does what we read shape us? The little bits of Whitman and Wittgenstein, of Kafka and Camus, or even some current day pulp writer, how do the connections we make with them and the characters they have created shape us. How do the dead shape us? When we write, we leave the ability for a connection to be made with those to come, similar, perhaps, to the connection Whitman wrote about.
One of the ideas about media that I've thought a lot about in terms of how the internet and social media has changed things surrounds the idea of post broadcast communications. For many years, we read our books, our newspapers, listened to the radio and watched television shows. It was all one way communications. Perhaps it shaped us, but we didn't have the ability shape things back. With the move to social media, communications has become more of a conversation, and the back propagation of our neural networks can go beyond our internal neural networks.
Perhaps this takes us to an aspect of how the death of a friend affects us. Beyond the grief, we find that our ability to communicate back, to back propagate information, if you will, becomes curtailed.
From this, we go to the interaction with animals. Animals have their own minds, their own internal neural networks. When we pat an animal, when we look in its eyes, when we call it, or interact in other ways, we are connecting our neural networks with theirs.
Can, or should we take this further? What about trees? What about inanimate objects like rocks? What about when an artist arranges rocks, or paints colors on a canvas?
There is the old saying that you are what you eat. Perhaps, we could say you are what you consume. How does our media diet, the media we consume, affect us? If we thought more seriously about this, would it change who we interact with and what we read or view?
This probably won't be part of my discussion about social media in Las Vegas, but it will be in the back of my mind.
On the leg of the trip from Denver to Las Vegas, I drink Wild Turkey, neat. I flip through some of the books I have brought. I've been reading Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes. Wasn't Hughes married to Sylvia Plath? In "Visit", the words jump out at me:
"'Daddy, where's Mummy?' The freezing soil
Of the garden, as I clawed it"
I remember taking time to lick my wounds after my first marriage fell apart. They told me to take time doing something enjoyable; reading. I joked that perhaps Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath weren't intended to be part of the lectionary. My eldest daughters were young then, nine and six. I wondered how they understood the time I spent away as the divorce proceeded and as I tried to wrap my mind around it.
After reading a few of Hughes' poems, I've had enough for right now. Can I incorporate some of Hughes' style into my experimental memoirs?
I set aside Hughes, and turn to a collection of e.b. white's essays. I often tell aspiring bloggers that they should read e.b. white's essays. They are masterpieces of taking personal experiences and creating topical essays. Afternoon of an American Boy starts off talking about white's neighbor J. Parnell Thomas, "who grew up to become chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities". The essay doesn't' manage to grab me this afternoon and I set it aside, all the while thinking about Occupy Wall Street, and the rest of the occupy movement. I wonder what e.b. white would have to say about this.
Next on my list is a collection of Jean Baudrlllard essays entitled "Screened Out". I turn to the title essay and read. "When the receiver and the source of transmission are too close together, a feedback effect ensues…" He goes on to suggest that this strips event of their historical dimensions. Again, my mind drifts to the online feedback loops of the occupy movement.
Later, Baudrillard writes about how "machines produce only machines". He talks about the "wearisome nature of films all this violence and pornographized sexuality, which are merely special efforts of violence and sex, no longer even fantasized by humans".
Does this provide a means of thinking about Las Vegas? Next to me, a young man with about the most tattooed ink I've ever seen on a person is watching "The Fifth Element" on a MacBook Pro. Is this what Baudrillard was talking about?
I look away out the window of the plane. Below me, barren ancient red rocks, cut into strange shapes through dry river beds slowly scrolls by.
The last time I was in Vegas was in 1983. I was hitchhiking around the country. In Boulder, I found a ride to San Diego by way of Las Vegas. The person driving was going to stop and visit his mother who was at a bowling convention there. We drove through the night through the barren lands.
It is frustrating. I am on a flight to Las Vegas for work. I had written over two thousand words and the computer crashed. I had been trying to save the documents, but it just wouldn't let me. So, I'm trying to pick up my train of thought from this morning and rewrite things. Perhaps it will be better written. On the other hand, I worry about thoughts that escape me.
Friends have suggested that I may have seasonal affective disorder. Starting around October or November, I find that I seem to become melancholy more often. There may be other factors leading to this, like old hidden memories beneath the surface of my awareness, but still affecting me. It may simply be the added challenges of the coming winters.
I find it harder to get up when it is still dark out, and even more difficult when it is chilly. Nonetheless, I dragged myself out of bed at five in the morning so that I could get ready for my flight.
The dog did not ask to go out when I got up and decided to rest a little longer. I made my oatmeal and coffee and briefly sat down at the computer to check on things. In New York, the police had raided the Occupy Wall Street encampment. The pundits were talking about the latest missteps of various Republican Presidential candidates. Friends were greeting one another online, and I checked on various websites.
I gathered my stuff and headed off to the airport. The dreariness was compounded by a mostly overcast sky, filled with stratocumulus clouds. Most of the leaves have fallen off the trees, and the trunks and branches stood naked and grey against the grey sky. In some places there were still leaves on the trees, but all that was left were brown leaves. The bright colors of fall had passed. The road itself exuded grayness.
From time to time their were splashes of color. Bright red tail lights, the red and blue of the flashing lights of a police car on the side of the highway. The green exit signs and yellow warning signs along add brief glimpses of color as well. Shen the sun managed to rise and break through the clouds it was a yellow sunrise without much for colors.
I had driven to the airport about a month earlier for a trip to a social media and health care conference at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. The route to the airport is fairly simple and straight forward, and I was sure I remembered the various turns. So, I didn't print out directions or enter the destination into the GPS in the cell phone.
For some reason, I thought that the exit was Exit 36. Before that exit, I started seeing signs for Bradley International Airport. Yet Exit 36 came and went, without the airport exit. I began to worry about if I had missed the exit and reached into my pocket to fish out my cell phone. However, before I could get it out and enter the airport destination, I saw a sign for Exit 40, which was the exit I was looking for.
I followed the familiar route to the airport, recognizing various signs along the way. At the airport, I proceeded to the Terminal B parking area. This is a cheap parking lot that is rarely full and is not a bad walk to Terminal A.
I followed the walkway to Terminal A, cross the street, and entered the terminal. In side, I pulled out my cell phone, checked in on Foursquare and proceeded to the ticketing booths.
The ticketing booths were up an escalator. The booths for my airline were at the other end of the terminal from where I entered so, I had more of a walk. In entered the serpentine maze of ropes leading up to the ticketing booths. In years past, I would speak with an agent to get my boarding pass. Now, the agents are replaced with kiosks. I entered my confirmation number into the kiosk and my ticket was printed out. The next stop was security.
Bradley International Airport in near Hartford is a relatively small commercial airport, and I've always made it through security fairly quickly and easily. Many of my flights are early morning flights which makes it even quicker.
Today, there was an older woman waiting in line in front of me. She had a couple large containers of fluids; hand lotions, hair conditioners. They were too large and were confiscated. This flustered the woman and further slowed down the process. I took off my shoes and emptied the contents of my pockets into one of the large grey trays. I put my computer bag in another tray and removed the computer. The weather has been warm, so I didn't have my coat. The various trays went through the Xray machine, and I walked to the scanner. Nothing beeped and I proceeded to the other side, where I gathered my belongings.
I trekked down the halls to Gate 4. My boss, who is flying with me to Las Vegas was already at the gate. He often arrives early. We sat and talked about what was going on at the office as we waited for our flight to board.
We were some of the first to board and got good seats. My boss always likes to sit on the aisle, and I always like to sit by the window, so we travel well together. It was a full flight, yet the plane boarded fairly quickly. We were fortunate that no one sat in the middle seat and a flight attended congratulated us on our good luck. I joked that perhaps it was because I don't take a shower for the week before I travel, and I often get empty seats around me.
It may well be, however, that our luck was actually due to the young woman seated with her infant across the aisle from us. Many people try to avoid sitting near a baby for fear of a long flight full of screams.
The plane headed out onto the runway. Glancing out the window, I noticed our runway number, 15-33. Runways are numbered after the points on a compass. 0, or 36, I don't remember, is the number for north. South is 18. East is 9 and west is 27. 15 would be southeast and 33 would be northwest. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, you could take off either direction and the lower number on runways always seems to be 18 less than the higher number. In some cases, an L or R is added to the runway number. This is for larger airports with parallel runways, to distinguish which is the left runway and which is the right run way.
My boss commented about how amazing it was that these heavy planes, full of heavy people could actually get off the ground. Looking out the window, I saw us head onto the runway to prepare for take off. I glanced at the lights and the familiar markings.
My mind went to the book Ridley Walker, which I had read many years ago. It was about a post apocalyptic London as the inhabitants tried to make sense of their life and their surroundings as they relearned simple things, like making charcoal.
What would inhabitants of a post apocalyptic America make of airports?
We began to roll down the runway and soon we were in the air. Outside, the gray of the morning, had given way to purplish hues. I looked down on a school with a tiny school bus pulling out of the parking lot. Beyond was a quarry with miniature toy trucks. I stream came out of the quarry and looked unnaturally shiny as if there was oil floating on the water.
Above, the stratocumulus clouds were a blanket of light gray. In places, there were holes in the blanket where the light shown down like biblical beams highlighting one area or another. In other places, the sky beneath the clouds also appeared gray and blurry as if it were raining.
As we approached the canopy of clouds, the turbulence increased. It became more pronounced as we passed through the clouds. Once we were above the clouds it briefly settled down and I looked down through holes in the clouds. We crossed a river with a bridge crossing it. I tried to guess what river it was, perhaps the Hudson? But I didn't recognize the bridge or the land formations, and couldn't be sure. Soon, the clouds closed in again, and the turbulence increased.
The flight service of snacks and drinks was delayed.
There are times when it is just hard to write. For blogging, there are times when the ideas are few and far between. It can be compounded by having too many other things on the plate or just being plain too tired. Yet with blogging, I can usually pull something out of the air to write about. This hybrid experimental memoir using a blogging form becomes much more difficult. I need to write 1,667 words a day to not fall behind. Half way through the month, I’ve fallen about four days behind. Then, there is the issue of trying to remember what I’ve already written. How much have I written about the challenges of writing? I think I did that earlier on.
When writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month, I’ve had a clear sense of the plot and an outline that I worked from. I could see which elements I’ve used already and have a sense of when the next element should be introduced. Yet there has always been a nagging fear of running out of plot before the fifty thousand words are achieved. I don’t have as clear a plan for this effort.
Yes, there are certain ideas that I want to introduce, but I want to introduce them at certain times, so I have the worry about running out of plot at multiple points. Will I have enough material to get me to my trip to Las Vegas. Will I have enough material to get me to Thanksgiving Day? When do I introduce some of my philosophical or psychological ramblings.
Today is one of those days. I am exhausted. Perhaps it is for no apparent reason other than the knowledge that I will have to get up early tomorrow morning to catch a plane. Perhaps it is because of the amount of things that I did today at work. I’ve always found that days right before I leave on a trip or vacation, I get a lot done in the days leading up to the trip or vacation. There is time spent making sure that tasks that I regularly do get taken care of while I’m gone. Then, there are the tasks that really need to get wrapped up before I go. It often seems like there is always more work than there is time to get the work done.
This becomes more of an issue when the day is full of meetings, and I had my share of meetings today as well.
So, I glance around the room as I look for energy and ideas. On the desk next to me is a coffee mug from the weekend. Over the weekend, a friend tweeted asking if people had specific coffee mugs that they save for specific days; the leisurely Saturday morning coffee mug. I actually have two.
There is a brown ceramic coffee mug that I received as a gift when I worked in the high school library about thirty five years ago. It has been with me ever since. Once, I believe it was when I was living on the sailboat, it fell and a chip came out of the lip. Other than that, it has survived, and I believe everyone in the house recognizes it as a special mug of mine, one that I use on the weekends, and others shouldn’t really use.
Another mug that has gained a similar importance is a ‘Great Moustaches’ coffee mug that Miranda got me for Christmas one year. Around the side are depictions of fourteen different moustaches. On the bottom it says that it is from The Unemployed Philosophers Guild and it has a legend saying which moustache is which, covering a wide array of characters.
I have mixed feelings about placing great importance on an object. I remember a Zen story about an important tea cup that a novice breaks. I remember telling my daughters not to be so attached to things that they can’t share them. Yet there is something special about having an object that links back to special moments.
There are assorted dirty dishes around the work area. Small plates that had held a dessert or large bowls that had held morning oatmeal. There are the accoutrements of an office, a stable remover and an electric pencil sharpener. There are innumerable papers lying around.
There is also a red box with two baoding balls. I received these Chinese Medicine Balls years ago from the therapist that I went to see when my first marriage fell apart. I use them at random times to unwind, or sometimes to procrastinate as I wait for words to come. There is also various paraphernalia from assorted political campaigns.
I pause to look around. It appears that this will be another day of falling further behind, but it is also good to have written enough to have the day not be a complete wash.
Friday was Veterans’ Day. Kim and Fiona both had the day off, but I had to work. It wasn’t a day off for Wesley, who came upstairs at 5:30 in the morning seeking attention. I took him outside, and then sat down to my morning ritual a little bit earlier than normally. It was all the more tiring because I had been up late the night before for a conference I was speaking at in Hartford.
Although Fiona had the day off, she also ended up getting up earlier than usual. She fed Wesley, but then asked me to take him for a walk as I was trying to get out the door. In the end, she came outside with him as I tried to get on the road for work.
Since Kim had the day off, I was going to drive the grey Prius. It gets better mileage and had more gas in the tank. I had to move my parking sticker from the black car to the grey car. My hands were full and it was frustrating. When I finally got going, I realized I had left my travelling mug full of coffee on the kitchen counter.
Like most mornings, I head out the gravel section of our driveway to the blacktopped section that is a shared driveway for several houses. I head down the little hill, and take a left onto the state highway. There is often a lot of traffic on the street as I head off to work, and I have to wait for a break in the traffic.
Friday morning, the traffic was a little lighter. I continue down the hill and drive under the old parkway bridge. Construction on the parkway started in the 1930s, and it is a grand old road. The underpass is a beautiful stone arch that probably is too often overlooked by people driving in or out of New Haven.
After passing under the parkway, I take a left onto a side street in New Haven. I would guess that many of the houses I pass on these side streets were probably built in boom after World War II. However, there are a few houses that appear older scatter amongst these houses. With the housing crisis of the past few years, there have been sporadic signs announcing bankruptcy auctions.
I pass a small Orthodox Church, and enter a business section of New Haven. There is a gauntlet of intersections I need to negotiate to get onto the Parkway just before the Heroes Tunnel passing through West Rock.
Once I emerge from the tunnel, I set the cruise control on in the car at a comfortable 60 miles per hour. That is five miles above the speed limit, slower than must traffic, but not slow enough to be a hazard. I settle in for the ride. Typically, I start drinking my coffee once I leave the tunnel, and I listen to some morning news. At times, my mind wanders as I think about the day ahead or of various things I need to get written.
On Friday, I didn’t have my coffee, but I listened to the radio, the endless patter of news. Much of the news blends together; the debt crisis in Greece and the debt crisis in Italy, the latest political debates, and random other bits of information.
When I was in college, I took an aesthetics course. I remember the professor talking about people who run through museums. They glance at one famous painting after another, checking them off on some bucket list, but never really taking the time to engage with the painting. I remember how he some about how people often go through life this way, that perhaps we are all museum runners. In a different course, something about religious experiences, he spoke about how many people rotely say The Lord’s Prayer, and various other religious texts, and about meeting a mystic who focused on each word, trying to be fully aware of it.
The parkway, even though it is one of the nicer highways around, is one that slips by too quickly and too easily. There is a section where a greenway walking path is being developed. Another area has an old dilapidated barn standing next to a field looking as if it should be in Vermont, and not in Connecticut. Beyond that, it is an uninspiring drive.
In Meriden, the parkway intersects with a couple Interstates. I could take a turn on to a town street and head a little more directly to work. However, that is normally a bit slower. If I see a traffic jam ahead as I leave the parkway, I head over these town streets. Otherwise, I take the slightly more convoluted but more reliable highways.
Soon, I start hitting sections of road that are a little more picturesque. On my left, I pass a reservoir. It is surrounded by woods. There have been mornings that I’ve seen various forms of wildlife swimming in the reservoir. Often water foul, but various mammals as well.
At times, the water is perfectly still, forming a natural mirror, reflecting the trees around it. Other times, the breezes make little ripples changing the reflection to an impressionist painting. Sometimes there is a mist rising from the water.
I try to make a conscious effort to draw in the beauty of the moment as I drive to work. It makes me think of driving up Route 6 at the tip of Cape Cod on the way from the campground up to the Race Point beach where we spend many summer hours.
There are other moments along the road, as I notice the different plants. Now that it is November, most of the plants have withered and turned brown, but at other times of the year, there are dandelion in profusions of yellow, blue chicory, white and purple clover and various colors of vetch. Later in the year, the sumac berries start to turn red against its green foliage background.
I grew up in a family that foraged wild food, and I think of chicory coffee, sucking the sweet nectar from the ends of the clover flowers, eating dandelion greens, which always seemed a bit bitter, or having lemonade seasoned with sumac berries.
I still drive the road too much like a museum runner, and don’t take enough time to soak in all that the road has to offer. After all, it is part of the daily commute. After the brief bucolic interlude, the road comes down into the outskirts of Middletown, an area dominated by strip malls. It is in this area, where I stop and get gas when I need it.
Then, on into the middle of Middletown. I pass the Wesleyan campus. I grew up in a college town and loved it. There were so many great activities to participate in. I go to a few things at Wesleyan from time to time, but not enough. The same applies to Yale which is close to where I live.
Then, I drove down Washington Street and turn onto Main Street and I am almost at work.
Besides not fully experiencing my commute each day, there are times that I just simply forget what I saw. As I work on writing this, my tendency to forget things like this comes to mind. What did I have for dinner on Thursday evening? Actually, this week’s meals have been fairly easy to remember.
Friday night, I was exhausted after my long week. Kim made sandwiches of Italian Sausage, peppers, and cheese. Fiona ate at our neighbor’s house. Growing up, sandwiches were normally simple things. A slice of bologna on some bread with a little mustard spread on it, or maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Kim grew up I in a family where sandwich making was an art form, with a collection of different meats, cheeses, and condiments.
Thursday night was the conference I spoke at. I had heavy hors d’oeuvres. Mostly it was Chinese dumplings, some chicken, some pork, as well as some stuffed bread. I had a beer with these hors d’oeuvres as I chatted with fellow panelists and attendees of the conference.
Wednesday night was just Fiona and I. Kim had an evening meeting so I ordered some pizza. We got two small pizzas, one plain cheese and the other with sausage. Tuesday night was another non-standard night. Wesley had been injured and there wasn’t really any focus on dinner. In the end, we had some fried ravioli and some kielbasa as we sat in the living room and tended to Wesley.
It is an interesting exercise to see what you can remember from the previous week’s dinners. The other thing that stands out is that from Tuesday through Friday, we did not sit together as a family at the dinner table. Saturday, Kim’s cousin was house sitting for her parents and Kim’s brother came down to visit and we all sat down together as an extended family for a wonderful dinner of leg of lamb and potatoes.
This extended family dinner had the trappings of so many extended family dinners. The adults sat at the dining room table and the kids sat at the kids table in the kitchen. The discussions were lively and everyone seemed to have a great time.
The Chamber of Commerce meetings almost feel like they come out of Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt. They feel like they are dominated by upstanding older white men; perhaps not the captains of industry, but the lieutenants of local commerce. They are sincere well meaning supporters of the businesses in their local communities. They gather approximately monthly, for a breakfast in the ballroom of a large hotel near the interstate.
The breakfasts are better then many breakfasts that I’ve often had at conferences. They do run into the problem of having to be produced in bulk. The breakfasts are served buffet style. There are two long sets of tables running down a hallway. At one end of each set of tables are large piles of full sized white plates. These are followed by several large silver chaffing dishes full of various foods. One dish is full of light fluffy scrambled eggs. I’ve often wondered how these eggs are prepared. Are they made from a powered and whipped up and served? Does someone in the back actually crack hundreds of eggs open and pour the raw eggs into some giant bowl where they get beaten by an industrial sized mixer, and then poured on a grill to cook? They seem too uniform, too unvarying to be cooked this way.
The next chaffing dishes are filled with bacon and sausage. Years ago I worked at a summer camp with giant camp stoves. I remember food cooking on the large grills and imagine the rows of bacon and sausage spread out on the grill tops in the hotel’s kitchen. Some conference centers seem to get overwhelmed by the crowds and the need to prepare massive amounts of food over a quick period, and the bacon and sausage isn’t always cooked as much as I would like. I always worry about under cooked bacon and sausage. However, the bacon and sausage in the chaffing dishes at the chamber of commerce breakfasts are usually cooked properly.
Also on the tables are platters of muffins and Danish. This is a staple of many a conference breakfast. Yet too often, they have been stale, as if they sat on a table the day before for some other conference breakfast. Again, this has not been the case at the Chamber of Commerce breakfasts. Likewise, the juice, typically orange juice, grapefruit juice, and often some other juice, perhaps apple, tomato or grape juice, adorns the end of the table. At most conferences, the juice seems to be a safe bet.
Other conferences I attend often have packed food of one sort or another on the tables, although this is more common for a mid morning break. Sometimes there are small containers of individual serving of yoghurt or individually wrapped breakfast bars. These are normally safe but make the conferences feel a little more generic. At a conference at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, there were unique ideas presented. One was of mixed nuts in shot glasses. Another was yoghurt with granola sprinkled on top in similar shot glasses. At times, they provided vegetables with some sort of dipping in similar glasses. All of which seemed much healthier and much more interesting.
As I gathered my food, I spoke with various members of the chamber. It was election day, and many sported little “I have voted” stickers on their jackets. I talked with them about how the voter turnout seemed to be going. Most said that turnout seemed light. Of course, it was early in the morning, and turnout is usually heavier at the end of the day. In addition, many areas were still recovering from a week without power, and some people may have been less inclined to get up early to vote.
I don’t know how many people in the chamber also hold elected office, but I suspect there is a good overlap and I wished one mayoral candidate that I recognized good luck at the breakfast. However, he ended up getting defeated at the end of the day.
One of the big issues in Middletown was about students voting. I remember when I was in college, registering to vote in the town I was attending college. I spent the most part of four years of my life in that college town. I ate there, in the college cafeteria as well as going into town to eat at local restaurants. I attended church there. In fact, with my interest in the varieties of religious experiences, I attended several different churches. I was involved in various civic activities in town. I don’t know who much most Wesleyan students get involved in the town they live in for four years, but for that matter, I don’t know how much people who live in Middletown get involved in their town either.
There were several articles in the town newspapers about whether or not students should be allowed to vote in the town they were residing in, so much so that at least one of the State Representatives and the Secretary of State weighed in, and local elected officials quickly corrected themselves in the local papers, only to then go on and make other misstatements about the voting process.
One person I ran into at the Chamber of Commerce worked at Wesleyan. He had voted already and was actively working to get the college students out to vote. I talked about the issue of the college kids voting in three different districts and pondered whether or not there were efforts to dilute the college student vote by splitting the university into three different districts. The time to redistrict is coming up soon, and we talked about whether or not the current districting should be challenged.
There are the normal traditional trappings to a Chamber of Commerce breakfast, the Pledge of Allegiance, the announcements and introductions. Depending on your perspective, it can be comforting and reassuring; things are proceeding the way they should be, even if there have been disruptions to the economy, to the power system, or simply to our sense of how things should be. To some, it can be monotonous; the same thing repeated meaninglessly and without feeling, month after month. To others it can be disconcerting; traditions propping up an old order of things that needs shaking up. Though I suspect that for most of the loyal attendees of Chamber of Commerce breakfasts, it is comforting and reassuring.
This month’s breakfast, falling a few days before Veteran’s day, was focused on the men and women that have served our country in uniform. Before the breakfast started, a local chorale performed patriotic pieces. The Governor’s Foot Guard was there to present the colors, and performed with the full pomp that has accompanied them for centuries. As an old bagpiper, I enjoyed hearing the pipes played as part of the ceremony.
Various veterans were recognized, including a World War II veteran wearing his uniform from over half a century ago. It was touching, but the words of “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” came to my mind
And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all
The keynote speaker answered the question, talking about how he had served in Vietnam and come home to find no crowds waiting to cheer him and his men and how he has vowed not to let that happen again. Yet he spoke with a decidedly political twist, talking about how important it is that the United States honor its commitments to the men and women that served in uniform. He spoke about making sure that we provided jobs for our veterans, and health and retirement benefits. He ended off with a touching story of a Vietnam veteran, recognized with a medal of honor, who was killed when he tried to rob a liquor store to get enough money to pay for medical coverage for his wife who was hemorrhaging as the result of a miscarriage. He ended his speech, which he gave without notes, perhaps because he has given it so many times before, to a standing ovation.
The story seemed so compelling that I thought it would be easy to find on the internet. I searched out the story and found a different version. The veteran had been killed in a liquor store robbery, but there was no mention of a wife hemorrhaging from a miscarriage and being denied medical treatment. Instead, the story was about a veteran who most likely had PTSD and had snapped. With any story, there is always more to it than is reported, and I wonder what the real story was, but without definitive sources, I didn’t link to it.
Whatever the story, the Chamber of Commerce meeting felt like it came right out of Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt, from a day before Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone. The men were sincere and well meaning, and while I felt a bit like an interloper from a different world, I have to respect their civic engagement and wished that more people from other walks of life were as engaged.