When the chips are down...

Thanksgiving is safely past and I pretty much survived...I think. *quick non-T.S.A. pat-down* Yeah, pretty much still in existence. Although, the day before Thanksgiving, I was seriously considering alternatives to this state.

This year, we decided to buy the Thanksgiving dinner pre-built. A couple of the local supermarkets offered already cooked Turkeys, side dishes, and pies for a reasonable price, and this looked like the way to cut down on combat around the dinner table. Until recently, rather than looking like Norman Rockwell's version of Thanksgiving, ours tended to have more in common with discussions between, oh, say Julius Caesar and Vercingetorix at Alesia? (I would have said Lee and Grant, but our scrums weren't nearly so Civil.) We figured out that most of the fighting took place because everyone was exhausted by dinnertime Thursday afternoon. The wife and number one daughter had worked until late at the supermarket the night before (when you work in the service industry, there is no such thing as a holiday--those are for your betters who work weekdays, 9-5). Then everybody'd hit the floor early so as to get the cooking done for that photo op banquet table that only we would see. By the time dinner was ready, we really shouldn't have been allowed anything sharper than a bowling ball with which to carve the turkey.

After about fifteen years of this stupidity, the penny finally dropped. Why did Thanksgiving have to be on Thursday? Why not Friday? It's not like it's a religious festival that's pegged to one particular day. If you really are thankful, I suspect the Lord will probably take your "thank you" call on Friday. Besides, by celebrating on Friday, both ladies were more likely to be off from work and they could recuperate from what they un-laughingly referred to as "hell week" by sleeping-in Thursday.

Anyway, back to my bid for nonexistence. I'm at the store Wednesday morning to pick up the Thanksgiving dinner when I think of something. This grocery chain carries my favorite salty snack, Wise potato chips (Dr. Pepper and Wise BBQ chips, breakfast of champions--it's a Southern thing). Why not pick up a bag or fifteen? I normally shop at the store at which the ladies of the house work, so I wasn't sure where the chip aisle was located. I see a stocker adding a competitor's brand on a display in front of the checkout aisles. I look around and notice he's the only employee in sight aside for the red-shirted cashiers. I go over and ask, "Excuse me, could you tell me where the Wise potato chips are located, please?" He straightens up and blinks at me. His accent is purest Caribbean as he replies, "I beg your pardon?" Okay, I probably said it too fast and most likely mumbled. "Could you tell me where to find the Wise potato chips, please?" As he stares at me, my eye travels over his left pocket on which is emblazoned, "Frito-Lay." As my mind goes from All Ahead Two-Thirds directly to All Astern Full, I notice that his shirt's red doesn't exactly match the store personnel's red. He looks at me oddly and points down the main aisle. "Uh, chips are down on sixteen." My first thought is to reach inside my mouth, grab my butt from the inside, and jerk hard in hopes that I can cause myself to pop out of existence on this particular plane. Instead, I thank him profusely, assure him that Lay's is my number one choice when Wise aren't available (true), and beat feet out of sight. After adding two bags Wise chips to my cart (Regular and BBQ) I went back up to check out, taking care not to pass the gentleman working on his display. I'd like to take this occasion to tell Frito-Lay that they have a very nice, extremely patient, and mega-forgiving gentleman stocking shelves for them.

Note to FTC: Bought the Wise chips myself. Frito-Lay probably isn't about to send me anything now.

28 November 2010: First Sunday of Advent. Feast of St. Andrew Trong. Council of Clermont launches First Crusade 1095, Magellan sails into Pacific from Atlantic 1520, Beethoven premiers Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major 1811, Louis b. Mayer opens his first movie theater 1907, Tehran Conference 1943, Mariner 4 lifts off for Mars 1964.

"Dem funeral bells is breakin' up that old gang of mine."

One begins to suspect something temporal is afoot when one realizes that they know far more dead people than living.

Back in the garden, if I remember correctly, besides the Tree of Knowledge, there was also the Tree of Life. This one's fruit would grant eternal life (one wonders if this might be where the Norse picked up the idea of the apples that kept their gods young). If the first juvenile delinquents, (look, they couldn't have been more than a few months old--the Bible says nothing about either acne or teen-age angst) had gotten to that one, man's three score and ten would have been a lot longer. Me, I don't think I could stand the boredom.

With mortality, comes the crap-shoot, lottery, number coming up on the wheel, or draw of the card (notice how all of these seem to have something to do with losing money?) which determines check-out time. For some reporting in comes sooner than one would hope for (being more or less a believer in Christian charity, I won't discuss the other group). One who's stay was cut shorter than some of us would wish was Charley McDowell.

Charles Rice McDowell, Jr. managed something of a miracle in his time, he managed to be both a journalist AND a gentleman. He wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch (known to all of us who love it as the "Times-Disreputable"). I'm told that his political column was avidly read. Looking at an example--the way he wrote about the effect on people's lives of the wait for Richard Nixon's resignation, I can well see why. Column of 9 August 1974. Rather than speaking to its meaning for history or the interests of the political class and other elites as did most of his colleagues , he wrote about the people.

This view of the commonplace is what I remember most about him. I first met him while watching "Washington Week in Review" on the PBS station in DC, WETA. My wife and I watched that show right after "Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser." Neither of us had any money and we certainly weren't "movers and shakers" (rather, we tended to be the "moved and shaken"), but here was intelligent TV before the term "spin" had been invented.

Back in those days (1975-1990) PBS attempted to attract people of all stripes to their viewership by providing a forum for Left, Right, and the folks in the middle caught in the crossfire. "Washington Week in Review" was a round table discussion show in which the moderator, Paul Duke, (who displayed no bias) and four (I think) journalists talked about the week's happenings inside the beltway. Usually there was a hard Leftist, an equally hard Rightist, and a utility player who sided with one or the other. Sitting on the moderator's physical left was Charley McDowell. He tended to be the voice of Everyman, neither far Left nor far Right. In fact, he seemed to pretty much hug the center of the road. This, along with his Shenandoah accent (hey, you gotta like someone who sounds like you among all those TV voices that say, "Hi, I'm from nowhere."), made him a favorite with the wife and me.

Here's the paper's writeup about him: Charley McDowell.

Now, he's gone, at least from around these parts. But, maybe in a couple of years we'll get to see him again. I suspect (and fervently hope) the Lord don't mind the sweet tones of a Shenandoah accent.

7 November 2010: Feast of St. Ernest. Ensisheim Meteorite - first dated impact - hits wheat field in Alsace 1492, Royal Governor of Virginia offers emancipation to slaves who fight for British 1775, brigantine Mary Celeste sails from New York 1872, Jesus Garcia saves Nacozaride de Garcia in Sonora from burning dynamite train 1907, Suez Crisis 1956.