Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When the icons die

They say bad things happen in threes.

That was going to be my opening sentence for a commentary I’d planned about the concurrent deaths of Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson.

Ed McMahon was the voice of “The Tonight Show”. Johnny Carson may have been the host, but would it have been the same without Ed’s “Heeeere’s Johnny!” and the outstanding chemistry between these two men? I think not. McMahon was also a Marine aviator during War II, and left college to re-enlist for Korea. He was an all-around patriot and nice guy.

Farah Fawcett was the poster girl for the 1970s. She transcended her assigned role as eye candy, worked hard at her craft, and went on to become an accomplished actress.

Michael Jackson, for all his weirdness, was a superb entertainer. He sang well, and danced like nobody’s business, as we say down South. I was never a big fan, but he was extremely good at what he did. The numerous allegations about his predilections for children, and the cosmetic surgeries, put me off, as the British say. Two of my favorite jokes about him—and there were many—were:

“Michael Jackson is suing the Marine Corps. He made a substantial donation; then he found out ‘Toys for Tots’ isn’t an exchange program.”


“America is a great country! Look at Michael Jackson! Where else can a poor black boy grow up to be a rich white woman?”

I almost got slapped for thoughtlessly remarking that he was jealous and up and died because Ms. Fawcett had grabbed all the celebrity headlines last weekend.

I am older than Michael Jackson, and although I considered him creepy and definitely not a role model for anyone, I would not have wished his fate upon him. In this marvelous age of advanced medicine, when even a reprobate waste king like me can be successfully treated for cancer, he died too young.

By the way, when asked by doctors, I list Demerol as a drug I’m allergic to. Despite all the LSD I took during my misspent youth, Demerol is the only drug that ever made me hallucinate. When I suffered my life-changing injury in 2000, the doctors dosed me with it as a pain reliever. I reacted very badly, and changed into a chair-tossing werewolf. They switched me to pure morphine, and my recovery went quite well afterwards. There weren’t even any withdrawal symptoms after they kicked me out of the hospital, lending credence to William Burroughs’s argument in Junkie that the purity of legally obtained opiates determines their addictive qualities.

Jackson, Fawcett, and McMahon were all American icons. Each in their way represented a facet of American culture, and they will not be replaced.

I had not gotten this far in composing my eulogy when word came of a fourth death. There is apparently no counting bad things when they accrue to celebrities.

Billy Mays was the same age as Michael Jackson, give or take. He couldn’t sing, dance, or act. He was essentially a carnival barker, with a style that made me reach for the TV remote whenever one of his commercials came on. I wondered aloud if he even knew how to speak in a normal tone of voice, and groused that if he wanted to sell me something, he should not holler like a mouse was crawling up his trouser leg.

Then, I gained a measure of respect for Mays, through his Discovery™ channel program “Pitchmen”. He could speak normally, had a great sense of humor about what he did, and was a considerate, caring man. The stridency was just his style, and if you’re going to be in the public eye, you definitely need a sense of style. In his own way, he was as much of an icon as the other entertainers who have died recently.

The passing of Ed McMahon and Farah Fawcett was not unexpected. Both were in bad health. They died quietly, surrounded by loved ones.

Michael Jackson’s death was a shocker. Amidst his big plans for a comeback tour, he was called home to answer before God for what he may or may not have done. Ironically, his dying may have been his biggest comeback.

Billy Mays died in his sleep of an undiagnosed heart condition.

When my time comes I hope to go out like Billy Mays. My second choice would be having someone I love hold my hand when I say goodbye. For all the violence, accidents and general strangeness that have clouded my life, I have thus far avoided becoming a statistic. The older I get, the more I treasure serenity, tranquility, and the prospect of slipping into a final sleep without pain, fear, or bloodshed. Death comes to us all, but like these public figures that have passed away in rapid succession, a sense of style matters.

Farah, Jacko, Ed, Billy, you will be missed. May God bless and keep you.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

A quick update to the previous rant

Regarding the previous post:

Mr. Ersland’s first name is Jerome. He has a spinal problem that is painfully obvious, as he is always seen in a cumbersome back brace.

The robbers in his pharmacy were 14 and 16 years of age, approximately that of the dynamic duo who killed my friend Leprechaun on a dark Atlanta street. One of Mr. Ersland’s assailants was definitely armed—it looks like a Glock—and fired a shot at him.

Ersland has made an appearance on The O’Reilly Factor, and explained his actions. His co-workers in the store that evening were a mother and her daughter. They fled to a “safe room” in the rear of the store, but after dropping one thug and pursuing the other, Mr. Ersland returned to the store, and heard the younger woman screaming in the back. He feared she had been hit by the robber’s bullet that took the watch off his wrist in passing. The downed robber was conscious and moving. Ersland had no way of knowing if the thug was armed; it turns out he wasn’t, but one firearm per stick-up is usually enough.

Thankfully, except for the bullet that grazed Mr. Ersland’s wrist, none of the victims were injured in the hold-up. It wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of the robbers.

A lawyer/commentator suggested that charging Mr. Ersland with first-degree murder is a “back-door” way of acquitting him of any serious malfeasance. Normal people—armed or not—don’t show up at work wondering “how many people can I shoot tonight?” This incident was not pre-meditated on Ersland’s part. If you’ve never had a gun thrust into your face, I can assure you that the adrenalin level is off the charts, and the primal fight-or-flight reaction overrides any nonsensical consideration like “what will a jury make of this later?”

Hopefully, a jury will enforce the wisdom behind the old saying that “you pay your money and you take your chance.” In this case, the bad guys lost. It’s not quite as surreal as the coroner’s jury I sat on about that convenience store shooting, but the lesson is universal.

By the way, it was the younger of the two robbers who brandished and fired the handgun. Would you trust the judgment of a 14-year-old threat-screaming child behind the trigger of a 9mm weapon if said weapon was in your face?

The jury is yet to be chosen, and eventually someone will attempt to portray these two kids as victims of some sort. We live in interesting times.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Advocating for an American citizen...what I meant last time

There is a pharmacist out in Oklahoma by the name of Ersland. I’ll get his first name correctly on the next follow-up to this theme you’ve heard before; I don’t take written notes on the news. Mr. Ersland sells aspirins to grumpy old ladies, condoms to embarrassed teenagers, and life-supporting drugs to those who under-appreciate the true work of pharmacists.

Mr. Ersland is now charged with murder. A while back, a couple of thugs entered his store. One of them cocked a semi-automatic pistol, shoved it in his face, and demanded booty from him—either drugs or money; whatever.

Mr. Ersland drew a revolver from a hidey-hole, and shot the punk wielding the pistol. He chased the other bandit from the store.

There are some legal issues involved in what happened next. The bad-ass “alleged suspect” was shot five more times. The videotape allegedly shows Mr. Ersland retrieving a second handgun from a hidey-hole, and calmly giving the downed robber what we socially deviant types refer to as “good-bye shots”.

Not that anyone of great import reads this blog, but I want to give Mr. Ersland the best chance, so I’ll just flash back to a few life experiences while I pray he has the best possible lawyer. We will be following this one. Now, for the personal point of view:

I am a big fan of those real-life cop programs—I call them “dash-cam-video shows”—that feature surveillance camera footage and, yes, tapes from cops that are involved with chasing down suspects. The footage is grainy, and the language is censored, but us grownups get the gist of it. The alleged suspects in these tapes strike me as dumber than mud. Don’t pull a gun on a cop, don’t run from a cop, and don’t curse at a cop. Cops have bigger guns, faster cars, and they can out-cuss you on your best day. (Respect is a dead concept today, so we’ll leave it there.)

In 1970, I worked the counter at an Arby’s restaurant like many kids in those days. One night, following a pre-closing bonanza of four buses of hungry kids coming in from the homecoming game at the high school across the four-lane, two gentlemen of color strolled in with a shotgun and a handgun. They demanded money; we gave it to them. The following morning, I was fired for “not being an Arby’s type of person” because I didn’t grab the manager’s .38 from under the counter and take on the 2–to-1 odds against superior firepower.

In 1975, I sat on a grand jury and heard a case involving a stake-out cop who shot an armed robbery suspect in a convenience store. The cop had his version of what happened, and the clerk had his version. The “alleged suspect” had a surprised look on his face, and was not available to testify in court, due to his appointment with the coroner. The diverse versions of what had happened, from the cop and the employee, caused everyone in the courtroom—including the judge—to laugh themselves silly. File that behavior by the perpetrator under “buy the ticket, take the ride”.

In 1979 some miscreant hopped off a big-city bus bench and attempted to hijack a step-van I was driving with the doors open for fresh air on a hot night. The van contained thousands of dollars worth of electronic equipment. I put a .20–gauge shotgun in his face and told him “Sure! Hop in!” End of incident. He caught the bus.

In 1985, my father was murdered in the driveway of our family home. This crime remains unprosecuted, although the cops and I know who did it. The first shot of four took Dad in the shoulder, knocking a 78-year-old veteran down to wait for his killer, maybe knowing what was coming. The other three were in the head.

The following year, in 1986, one of my best friends was killed in an attempted street robbery. A companion was also killed. The robbers—aged 13 and 15—got nothing of value. I am godfather to “Leprechaun’s” child.

Personally, I have been shot, stabbed, severely burned, and blown up. There is no drama in this statement of past facts, but it is germane to the point I want to make.

I have zero tolerance for people who think power grows out of the point of a gun. When I taught combat shooting, I cut my instruction off at “Shoot until the assailant goes down. Don’t try to shoot the gun out of his hand; that’s a one-in-a-million shot.”

What I didn’t tell my students—because it would be inappropriate—is that once the attacker is down, you reload PDQ, walk up, and give them a good-bye shot or two in the head.

In Oklahoma, they have an enhancement to the “Make my day” law called the “Stand your ground” law. Simply put, if there is a threat to loved ones or property, you do what has to be done until that threat is removed.

“Make my day” laws exist in a number of states. If someone is across the threshold of my home, especially if it’s the middle of the night, I own them. I don’t have to turn on the lights, say “Boo!”, “Stick ‘em up!” or anything. Gun control is hitting what you aim at, and the addendum is target certainty before firing.

Watching the much-publicized videotape of the incident in Mr. Ersland’s pharmacy brought back a number of unpleasant memories. No one wants to do what he did. He had co-workers in that store, and he was the “front man” responsible for them.

I won’t try his case here, and I trust a jury will see truth from any notion of political correctness when it comes to—hopefully—dismissing these charges.

I was going to mention a Baton Rouge, Louisiana case from the 1980s here, involving a man whose 13-year-old son was kidnapped and raped by a trusted teacher. The man responded by blowing the “alleged suspect’s” head off on national TV. (Dan Rather led the CBS news with it that night.)

That might be a bit extreme. It is definitely not a role model. That man, and his family, deserves the time to heal, and they deserve their privacy after all these years.

The punks who killed my pal Leprechaun got the benefit of the justice system. They got “life”, which in most states is about seven years unless you murder a celebrity.

The cops have never been able to make a sustainable case in my father’s murder. It remains a case of justice undone. The cops gave me names, and some vaguely satisfying details that there is a God, because the shooter fell under a large truck some years subsequent to 1985.

Truth be told, if some creep had run into my store as they did with Mr. Ersland, and I dropped one with an initial barrage of return fire, I would’ve shoved a fresh magazine into the Browning .40, and given the scary little shit five more in the head, too.

I seem to recall a righteous citizen named Bernhard Goetz who had zero tolerance for nonsense on the New York subways about the time my daddy got killed.

Don’t try this at home, kids. We’re trained professionals. Uncle Obama will take care of you’uns, and us old dinosaurs will shuffle quietly offstage. Remember, call 911, assume the passive surrender posture—head down, ass up on the floor, like you’re worshipping Mecca—and the government will take care of you.

For those of you who question the validity of my previous statement: sorry, I don’t teach shooting any longer, I don’t know anyone to call who might sell you black market ammunition or automatic weapons when the federal “gun grab” comes, and you’re on your own when it comes to dealing with this socialist demon you chose to run things.

I’m old, tired, and in the way. All I have to look forward to is thumbing my nose and yelling “I told ya so!”


Ah, it all moves too fast these days!

Let’s see: the government has taken over banking, insurance, and the automotive industry. “GM” is now “Government Motors”, and Chrysler isn’t being sold to FixItAgainTomorrow [what my old Corvette mechanic called Fiats], it’s being given away to them. Pontiac is dead, and the only Hummers manufactured in the US from now on will be the under-armored wrecks we use in Iraq, where we surrendered last month. North Korea is threatening nuclear holocaust, and under our financial sponsorship of the United Nations, we are replying to them in very harsh language. Health care and gun-grabbing are next in line. The president says we’re out of money now, but like any other facts, why should we let truth stand in the way of a good idea for social engineering?

While the Speaker of the House of Representatives—the most dangerous woman in America; Hillary is thankfully marginalized—is now starting a war with our major intelligence agency—brought into being by Franklin Roosevelt, the most dangerous man of the 20th century—she says “we should take ‘inventory’ of our lives”, or something like that. I read that to mean thusly: since the government is now our nanny and sole voice, the government should now take an inventory of how we live. As Bill O’Reilly likes to say, stop me if I’m going wrong here.

Meanwhile, some wild-eyed gang called ACORN is sucking up millions of taxpayer dollars, and thugs calling themselves “The New Black Panthers” are standing around in front of polling places threatening people with truncheons and shouting racial epithets without being charged under the law.

(Stop me if I’m going too fast, or playing loose with the facts. I’m just channeling what I hear on the news. I don’t get out much, and have too much time on my hands.)

If some black guys with billy sticks stand in front of where I’m headed to vote, I’ll consider myself intimidated. There is a law against this, and it was enacted to deal with the kind of redneck trash that, as a true son of The South, I have spent my life refuting. I can’t confront such thuggery; to do so will get me charged with violating someone’s “civil right” to conduct voter fraud.

As for Ms. Pelosi: she should take a note from Alcoholics Anonymous. I used to drink too much—way more than I boast of now—and going to AA meetings for some years seemed like a good idea at the time. One of the tenets they hammered into us was the principle of not taking an “inventory” of another person. If I care to assess myself, to deal with what is screwing up my life, that is acceptable. It is recommended. On the other hand, I have learned from experience and empirical wisdom that it is not the right thing to judge others, no matter how wrong we might think them to be. People are going to do what they’re going to do. My belief in this is what differentiates liberals from conservative Libertarians. I am one of the latter.

I expect to be called a racist for calling out the Black Panthers. Save your pixels, kids. I’m from Georgia, born and bred here. Calling me a racist is hurling spitballs at a battleship. I grew up with the stuff you only see in movies like “Mississippi Burning”. I knew it was wrong from six years of age. I got brought up a little better—and though I’ll get no Politically Correct credit for it—I hope my children will be even better folks if they think, address the truth, and see through that which blinds us to that truth.

The woman of history who fascinates me the most is Joan D’Arc. The man of history is Wyatt Earp. Leaving St. Joan behind for a moment, let me comment on Earp. That day at the OK Corral, his brother Virgil is on record shouting “This isn’t what I want!” at the Clantons and McLaureys. I mentioned this once before, when this modest blog went completely off the rails with a disparity between what I meant to say, and what turned out in what Stephen King calls “the adventure of writing”. Once again, what Virgil Earp yelled is applicable. THIS ISN’T WHAT I WANT!

Not that pointing out the obvious has any less credibility or relevance; I just get tired of repeating myself. America is a train wreck, and I’m standing alongside the tracks waving “bye-bye”. I only meant to take up advocacy of a single American, which I’ll deal with in the blog post above. As for what I’ve said here, think about it.

Are you scared yet?

Say good night, Jay...

Seventeen years ago, I plugged in a new-fangled device called a VCR, and said good-night to Johnny Carson. Friday night, I guess I established an old-folk’s tradition by saying good-night to Jay Leno.

I guess it boils down to a variation on the cliché question: “Elvis or The Beatles?” In this case, it would be “Leno or Letterman?” I’m more a “Dave” kinda guy, even if our politics don’t agree. (I’m usually asleep or in some meth-frenzy insomniac movie-mode by 11:30 at night, but that’s beside the point. I sit up at 0430 in the morning to watch stuff like “Komodo vs. Cobra” because I can’t sleep, not because I think there’s any inherent cinematic value in it.)

Mr. Leno bowed out gracefully. I got a clue that I might have been missing some amusing stuff all these years when he ran the “Best of Jaywalking” segment. The gang of kids at the end of the show was cool. Johnny Carson had a dark side, but Leno always seemed upfront. After Carson, I always considered “The Tonight Show” to be light-hearted entertainment, no matter whose case Leno was on during the monologue.

Jay Leno has one of the best car collections in the Western World. His appearances on gearhead shows like “Rides” and “Overhaulin’” were always good-natured and built good will. At the same time, I always got the impression that Mr. Leno would never really drive those cars fast.

I don’t know how many vehicles David Letterman owns, but he’s on record as a speed merchant, especially during the commute from Connecticut to The Big Apple. I’m on record as an unreconstructed speed-demon, too. Perhaps it’s this outlaw spirit that takes one over in the wee hours of the morning that makes me a “Dave” guy instead of a “Jay” guy.

I doubt I’ll watch Jay’s new prime-time show, if it comes to fruition. Between trash programming and commercials, I watch little network TV, opting for junk movies or endless re-runs on The History Channel or MTV—Military TV, not the other guys—rock ‘n roll died about the time I drove my Chevy into the levee, and all that.

You did well, Mr. Leno. You showed grace and style, and you transcended the network office politics. You carved your legacy, and don’t need to work again. Go out and drive some of those hot rods really fast in the darkest hours of the morning, when the roads are empty. You deserve it.