A Coda For Matt

Well, not really a coda.  Matt Maupin really came home four years ago to pull this town together in a way politicians and athletes couldn’t figure out if you put it up in large letters on the Fountain Square video screen.

Just over two weeks ago, I posted my outrage that the Westboro lot were coming to town to protest at Matt’s funeral.  It was the most viewed and most commented post on this blog.  One of the points I drove home was, “This is about Matt and about pulling a community together.”

If you read the comments section, that point was driven home.  And there was nothing – absolutely nothing – anyone could do to take away from that.  The route from Lunken Airfield, the municipal airport on CIncinnati’s east side, up Route 32 to the Union Township Civic Center was lined with yellow ribbons all last week.  The Westboro lot were kept 500 feet away from the procession, their view blocked by bikers sporting huge American flags.  But the bikers weren’t there just to drown out the people who wanted to ruin the event.  Some of them rode with the family from Eastgate to Great American Ballpark for a military funeral attended by some 4000 people and shown on most local television stations.  Most of these people never met Matt Maupin, but they came anyway.

The bikers also escorted the family to the cemetery, closing it off to the public so they could have a private burial.

It was all about a staff sergeant who served his country in life and pulled a city together in death.

Sgt. Maupin, we never met, but I miss the hell out of you already.

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Wormtongue Explains It All

Actually, one gets the impression Karl Rove thinks he might have wasted his talents in 2000.  He’s already given advice to Hillary Clinton.  “Quit being an ass” was not the sort of advice I’d expected from The Architect, but there you have it.

Now, The Architect sets his sights on Barack Obama, and I have to agree with Karl on this one.  (Actually, I also agree Clinton needs to quit being an ass.)

“Even liberal commentators who adore you warn you can’t win with a McGovern coalition of college students and white-wine sippers from the party’s left wing,” says Rove.  “Saying small-town voters cling to guns, faith and xenophobia because of economic bitterness hurt you; it reinforced the growing sense you don’t share Middle America’s values.”

He’s right.  While I have, in fact, seen what Senator Obama said up close and personal, it’s not the sort of thing you tell a person when you’re asking for their vote.  The truth hurts, especially when you don’t think it’s the truth.  The fact is if people are clinging to guns, faith, and fear, they probably don’t want to be reminded.

So what does Karl suggest?  Slinging mud at Hillary?  Swift-boating McCain.

Actually, Karl’s pretty pragmatic.  And insists Obama get back to his original message of hope.

1. Your stump speech is sounding old and out of touch. You made a mistake by not giving the bored press (and voters) something new last Tuesday when you lost Pennsylvania. Come up with something fresh that’s focused on the general election. Recapture the optimistic tone of your start and discard the weary, prickly and distracted tone you’ve taken on.

2. When you get into trouble, pick one, simple explanation. And stay with it. Take the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. You said you weren’t sitting in church when he said those ugly things. Two days later, you excused him, saying his comments didn’t give “a well-rounded portrait” of him. Two days after that, you condemned his statements as “not only wrong but divisive” but still couldn’t “disavow him” any more than you could your grandmother. Ten days later, you implied if Wright hadn’t retired, you might have left his church. It would have been better to say from the start that Wright’s words were wrong and offensive and you should have spoken out earlier. The applause would have been deafening.

3. Your lack of achievements undercuts your core themes. It’s powerful when you say America is not “Red States or Blue States but the United States.” The problem is, you don’t have a long Senate record of working across party lines. So build one. In the coming months, say that you’ll appoint Republicans to your cabinet and get a couple to say they’d serve. Highlight initiatives Republicans can agree on. Most importantly, push for a bipartisan issue now before Congress.

4. You speak of the “fierce urgency of now” that calls leaders to confront important challenges. Sounds good, but people are asking, what urgent issues have drawn your enormous talents? It’s counterintuitive, but spend less time campaigning and more time working the Senate. Pick a big issue and fight hard for it. Win or lose, you’ll give your argument substance.

5. Stop the attacks. They undermine your claim to a post-partisan new politics. You soared when you seemed above politics, lost altitude when you did what you criticize. Attacks are momentarily satisfying but ultimately corrode your appeal.

6. To answer growing questions about your inexperience, people need to know, in concrete and credible ways, what they can expect from you as president. That’s missing now. And don’t think those position papers written by academics and posted on the Web do the job. They have a check-the-box quality to them. Americans want to see your passion and commitment to things they care about, in ways that give them confidence you’re up to the job. They can smell when something is poll-tested and focus-grouped, not from the heart.

There are two reasons Senator Obama needs to pay attention.  First off, America needs change, and the right’s assertion that Obama is more of the same – I’m assuming this “same” was culled from a Rush Limbaugh rant from 1990 – doesn’t wash.  A black, left-leaning president who admires Ronald Reagan?  Vs. a pro-war Republican and the Second Coming of the Clinton Administration?  Yes, kids, that is change.  And change is overdue.

Second, I keep hearing “Why can’t Obama close the deal?”  Obama needs to close the deal now, or we will be in for another close, contentious election, and America simply cannot afford that anymore.

Less George W. Bush, Barack.  You’re too smart for that.  Less JFK from 1960.  You’re better than that.  More Reagan.  More FDR.  More second-term Teddy Roosevelt.

And for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t drive a tank!*

*John, Hil, do us a favor and stay out of tanks as well. 

Attention, North Carolina and Indiana…

Your primaries are on May 6.

May 6 is also the 42nd anniversary of the day I mooned the world (literally) after putting my mom through 36 hours of agonizing labor.

Now, My True Love has told me something about Marylin Monroe and “Happy Birthday” that day, and I’m looking forward to it.  But I want more.*  Citizens of Indiana and North Carolina, you can do it for me.  You can do it by saying no to another political dynasty.

Gimme two Obama victories that day.  That would make for a happy birthday for me.**

*A wide-screen for the family room hooked up to an HD satellite box, a Wii, and a PS/3 would be nice.
**I checked with the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.  Yes, I get to borrow the bus that weekend.  No, there will still be no unicorns under an Obama Administration, though Jeff Jena says a McCain Administration might look into it as a source of cheap meat.

Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On!

Well, not really.  While hundreds of earthquakes happen under everyone’s feet everyday, feeling one is a novelty.  This morning, all of Cincinnati is abuzz from feeling the shake from a 5.4 tremor centered near Evansville, Indiana.

I didn’t feel a thing.  I only knew because Fox19 went to commercial only to come back with anchor lady Sheila Gray saying, “What was that?  The whole studio just shook.”

The last noticeable tremor came in the late 1990’s.  I worked downtown (where, in fact, it’s hard to miss when your building starts swaying.)  Didn’t feel that one, either.  In fact, the last Midwestern quake I’d felt happened about a month after the Challenger disaster.  I thought it was a truck going by, supplying whatever to the construction crews on nearby I-71.  Before that?  1979.  My brother and I had a bunk bed at the time.  I thought my brother had been shaking it, waking me from a Sunday afternoon nap.  I came flying out of the bedroom to yell at my brother only to hear Curt Gowdy calling a Cleveland Browns game say that Municipal Stadium had just shaken.

I went to California for the first time last year, and while I wasn’t looking to feel the Northridge quake, I was disappointed the earth remained stable during both trips to the Bay Area.  The only sign of an earthquake I saw on either trip was a few pictures on the wall of the old Port of San Francisco on the Embarcadero. 

People in California probably laugh whenever there’s a quake east of the Mississippi.  After all, the strongest one I ever felt I thought was a passing truck.  But it’s like snow in the south.  Atlanta gets half an inch and panics.  Lexington, KY, gets half an inch and takes the day off.  Cincinnati gets half an inch and drives slow.  Cleveland gets half an inch and calls it a dusting.  Denver calls it a flurry.

Someday, I may live in the Bay Area (because they can’t pay me enough to move to LA for very long).  Then I’ll really laugh at the quakes here.

In Case You Were Wondering, I Sound Like I’m From Cleveland.

Cincinnati?  Not so much.  After nearly two decades in the Queen City, I still don’t say “Please?” when I want someone to repeat what they’ve said.  I do, however, make fun of people for saying “Cincinnatuh” instead of “Cincinnatee.”  But then no one who lives in the State of Ahia* says that.

What American accent do you have?

Your Result: The Midland
 

“You have a Midland accent” is just another way of saying “you don’t have an accent.” You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The Inland North
 
The Northeast
 
Philadelphia
 
The South
 
The West
 
Boston
 
North Central
 
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

*For the record, no one from Ohio says Ahia either.  If they do, we call them “hicks,” even out in SE Ohio, where it’s all trees and hills.

An Open Letter To Fred Phelps

Dear Fred:

I hear you want to bring your God Hates Fags circus to town for Sgt. Matt Maupin’s funeral.  Let me be blunt:

Don’t.  You’re not welcome here.  Matt’s visitation will be in my neighborhood.  His funeral will be near where I work.  I don’t want your hate-mongering inbreds in my town.

There is no threat here, Mr. Phelps.  I am being honest with you.  See, you claim God hates fags.  Well, I talk to God all the time, Freddie.  The subject never comes up.  More importantly, He never mentions you.  I take that as a sign He probably doesn’t like you very much.

I will do nothing, of course, to stop you, Mr. Phelps.  It is a free country, and you are free to express your opinion, even if it’s wrong.  You also have a right to be unmolested in your protests.  It’s what made this country great.

That said, I know there are those who are tempted to do you harm while you are in Cincinnati.  I don’t encourage that.

But I will kick in a big chunk of my savings to their defense fund.  Like Chris Rock says, I wouldn’t approve.  But I’d understand.  Do you?

Sorry I won’t be able to do the same for you.  I have a conscience, and my conscience wouldn’t permit me to help you get out of whatever charges will inevitably be filed against you while you’re here.

It’s a free country.  I’m allowed to do that.

This is about Matt, and about a community, and about his family, who’ve done so much for this community.  It’s about saying goodbye to someone who rallied us.  It’s about honoring sacrifice.  There will be antiwar advocates there.  They, too, will be honoring Matt, because it’s about Matt doing his duty.  Do you understand duty, Fred?  I don’t think you do.  I think all you understand is your hate speech is a sham to make money.  So take it elsewhere.  This one’s for Matt.  All you’re doing is stealing attention you don’t deserve.  The flags are at half-staff for Matt.  Will they ever fly half-staff for a man who soils soldiers’ funerals with ugliness?

Somehow, I doubt it.

UPDATE:  In my obsessive checking of stats for this blog, I followed a link back to a forum that announced Fred is, indeed, coming to town.  I wanted to check this, but BigHugeCo has blocked the Westboro Baptist Church’s web site as “Violent/Racism/Hate Speech”.  God bless our IT Security guys!

I Got Bad News From A Long Time Ago

One thing I’ve learned is very difficult as a standup is dealing with tragedy or hard luck in your act.  If someone close to you dies or you go through a divorce or bankruptcy, it doesn’t matter how much time passes.  If this is the first time someone’s heard of it, they want… maybe need… to offer sympathy.

Divorce is not so hard to handle on stage.  Hell, Diane helped write half the divorce set.  My new lady thinks it’s the strongest part of my set.  And the audiences respond to those jokes more than some of the other material.

But death?

Recently, at the monthly show at Ft. Thomas, Kentucky’s Midway Cafe, comedian Mike Gunns hosted the end-of-show segment called “One for the Road,” where Gunns will free associate in whatever medicated haze he’s in that night until a comic or even a bar patron comes up to tell a joke.  This time, we seemed to be trending toward dead baby jokes.  (It’s as bad as you think, which made it a crowd hit.)  To be different, I went up and nailed Gunns with a zinger, to which Gunns said, “I guess that was a joke about me.  I’ll ask your mother next time I do her.”

Rude?  It was supposed to be.  Which prompted my next comment.

“My mother’s dead, you prick!”

“I know,” he said.  “Explains why she didn’t move.”

Cheap shot?  Yes, but I set it up for Gunns, and he knocked it down.  The crowd laughed, which is what both of us were going for.

A woman came up to me shortly afterward and said, “I’m so sorry.  You must be heartsick over what that nasty man said.”

“What nasty man?”

“That stoner up on the mic.”

“What did he say?”

“About your mother.”

“My mom died six years ago.  He knew that.”

“Then why did he say that?”

“Have you noticed the dead baby jokes we’ve been telling since the last set ended?”

She wasn’t happy with me.

True, she needed to notice that virtually every comedian up there was dropping an F bomb.  (‘Cept me, mainly because I was doing a PG-13 set I’d first trotted out the night before.)  At the same time, I’ve noticed people go straight to mourner mode when they learn both my parents are gone.  Never mind that I’ve been an orphan for four years now.

People also don’t seem to handle divorce well unless I’m at the mic and in my fedora.  “Oh, that’s too bad.”

“Dude, I’m almost engaged, and Diane’s flying to Australia to see her new man.  We’re soooo over it.”

I keep forgetting we didn’t tell anyone until January.

“Aren’t you moving a bit too fast?”

“Faster than what?”

“It was only a couple of months ago.”

“No, you found out a couple months ago.  We found out back in September.”

“But…  But…”

I just shrug.  I haven’t got time to be miserable about my own hard knocks.  Even if it’s for someone else’s benefit.

One guy who is really a master at this is Robert Schimmel.  I first noticed Schimmel when he started talking about his heart attack in his set.  Since that time, he’s amped it up a notch.  Some friends of mine went to see Schimmel at the Dayton Funnybone recently.  Schimmel now does a slide show…

About his cancer (“Here I am at my next-to-last chemo treatment.  I’m down to 145 pounds, almost my target weight.”*) and the death of his son, also from cancer.  You’d think the audience would be staring slack-jawed at him but no.  Schimmel talked about taking his son out of hospice (“What’s going to happen to him out there that’s not going to happen here?”) and letting him drive his car through the desert.  As his son hit every cactus and every rut, enjoying the only time in his life he would drive a car, Schimmel says, “I kept thinking ‘Why didn’t I rent a car for this?”

I wouldn’t wish Robert Schimmel’s woes on anyone, but this is his way of dealing with it.

The lesson here is don’t be afraid to laugh at tragedy.  Humor will rob it of its power faster than anything.

*Paraphrasing, though I hope he does this on HBO soon.