Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Laugh at Fascism

A personal reflection in tribute to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”

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A friend and I were chatting about our different Thanksgiving Day plans one recent Thanksgiving and he asked me if I had ever been to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. (I almost marched in it one year, by accident of all things, but that is an anecdote for a different post.)

“Well, I just hope,” he said, “that no one tries any terrorism down there today, but if they do,” and here he looked like someone who perhaps hoped that “someone” would indeed “try terrorism down there” because he added, “If they do, I hope we go ahead and use our nuclear weapons the way they were meant to be used. Just go over there and flatten that whole place.”

Quietly infuriated, I found for myself something else to do somewhere else at our gathering. I hate that I do not ask the question, “Why would you think that?” of some of my acquaintances more often or at all, but I know that such a question is seen as confrontational more than a provocative expression of a hope that our nation uses nuclear weapons if and when it is attacked is seen as confrontational.

I did not ask where this place that he seemed to want to “flatten” is. I did not think I needed to inquire. Some of my neighbors walk around with the fear-hope that a horrible act of terrorism is a given in our country’s near future and that it will be, obviously, the act of someone from a part of the world whose foreign-ness (to them) is the only thing they care to know about. They, my neighbors, want to be angered so much that they already can smell the blood that they want the youth of our nation to spill.

They want to be angry perhaps more than they are angry.
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Of Presidents and Emperors

Former constitutional scholar Alan Dershowitz posited on Fox News on November 25 that the “president’s not the king; the president’s far more powerful than the king. The president has the power that kings have never had.”

This is not an argument the former scholar offered for any previous occupant of the White House in Alan Dershowitz’s long life, so one wonders what renders this an argument worth pursuing on Fox News or anywhere that is not a mere public park with wooden crates available to stand on and bellow from. But he did so anyway.

The United States of America has three coequal branches of government to run its operations; our constitutional arguments usually concern which branch ought to run which operation. Our executive branch is one of those three, and we have not been ruled by a king or an emperor for a very long time. America’s last emperor died in 1880, after all, and we have not had a monarch since (or since 1776). (1880? Needle scratches on record as the music stops.)

When Emperor Norton I died in San Francisco in 1880 he left no offspring and no claimants to his (our) throne. We have been a republic ever since, although Alan Dershowitz seems to think that the current executive in the White House has the most legitimate claim to the American throne since Joshua Norton, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, last occupied it.

Come to think of it, Mr. Dershowitz may be onto something when he asks us to compare the current occupant of the White House and Emperor Norton I.
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The Antimony Year

The clicks on life’s odometer resound with more of an echo on certain days—one’s birthday, usually.

In Paul Auster’s diary of his sixty-fourth year, Winter Journal, Auster recounts a moment in which the actor Jean-Louis Trintignant tells him solemnly, “Paul, at fifty-seven I felt old. Now, at seventy-four, I feel much younger than I did then.” Auster writes that he was confused by the remark but that because it seemed important to Trintignant to tell him this, he did not ask the actor to clarify. Auster writes that as he has entered his sixties, the comment has come to appear true in its own way, for him.

Today, November 18, I am fifty-one. In Trintignant’s schema, at least six more years of aging until I feel old lies ahead for me, to be followed by the youth of old age. (The great actor himself is still with us, eighty-eight years young, with a birthday in December.) It is probably true that I feel younger at fifty-one than I felt in my thirties, and this is not from a sense of renewed vigor or newly discovered stamina. It is more that life as I have experienced it has shifted my priorities away from the obsessions of my twenties and thirties: dollar bills and public esteem.
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My Mother’s Day

My mother taught me to read when I was so young that I do not have a active memory of it. My memory device (I think it is referred to in medical texts as a “brain”) started to record life when I was two-and-a-half, and in my recollections of moments spent with my mom and books, I am an active participant in the task at hand: our endless laughter at the very idea of eating green eggs and ham (the “and ham” was my favorite part), our (re-)discovery of the Cat in the Hat’s many hijinks.

Mother’s Day, the annual holiday, is one whose date I annually forget. It is perhaps because it is celebrated on different dates in different nations and I have online friends in some of those different nations that “Happy Mother’s Day” Facebook posts make a weekly appearance in the spring. I think that I have sent my own (American) mom a Happy Mother’s Day note twice in one year thanks to this phenomenon.

Today is not Mother’s Day; it is my mom’s birthday, my own Mother’s Day.
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The Defining Dignity Initiative, an Essay by Matt DeHart

Published exclusively in The Gad About Town.

This is the fourth article in a series of prison essays by Matt DeHart. The first: “You don’t act like an American,” the second: “Hospitality in Mexico,” and Matt’s third: “Shattered.” It is a personal honor for me to publish his words from prison.

Matt DeHart’s voice is one worth listening to. In “Defining Dignity,” he challenges us all to put meaning—and action—behind that commandment that is so often expressed and so little heeded: “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” which of course is found in the Book of Matthew.

The essay published below is one of the few public statements he has made. It was sent to me by his mother, Leann DeHart, with the request that it is published as written.
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Thanks for Thanksgiving

In her earlier career as a poet and editor, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1788–1879) composed a poem so beloved it is a surprise to learn that a human being wrote it: “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She is also the individual most responsible for the creation of an American holiday so beloved that it is a surprise to learn that someone had to campaign for it: Thanksgiving, which we celebrate today.
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The Tin Man: A View from 50

Let us gaze in the mirror alongside the subject as he assesses life on the morning he crosses the half-century point. He needs a helpful, objective view. Thank you for helping.

From the top, the hair. He has a full head of hair, and the ratio of follicles that still produce dark-brown versus white interlopers remains 80-to-20 in favor of dark brown. He has a single white hair visible on his right hand, which he has nicknamed “Memento Mori.” There is white in his beard, so he shaves, but white hairs have not yet appeared on his legs.

The ratio of brown to white is such that a friend asked him several years ago which brand and color dye he uses, which shocked and pleased him at the same time because he does not dye his hair. This is because he is proud of his full head of dark hair as if it is a comment on his positive qualities as an individual rather than an accident of genetic inheritance.
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‘Dulce et decorum est’ …

My grandfather’s younger brother, my great-uncle Walter, fought with the 104th Infantry and died in action in France in 1944. Above is a photo from Find A Grave.com of Walter Aldrich’s gravestone in Lorraine American Cemetery, near Metz, France, one of 10,000 Americans buried in that cemetery. It is the largest American World War II cemetery in Europe.
My family is not one that talks much about its military service, but many members on both sides served. Today is Memorial Day, and my family’s attitude of doing service because service is what one does without expectation of reward is worth celebrating.

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