Friday, January 29, 2016


“The cheaper the punk, the gaudier the patter” - Sam Spade about the punk gunsel Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon. That's what we got these days, a buncha cheap punks.

Let me start this way, with observations on my growing up and hanging around with my dad. He came from Europe and grew up outside of Chicago. He liked horses, was always working with them, training and taming and settling them. And trading them. His friends included an eclectic mix:  Hungarian Gypsies that were hard Balkan boyos; some minor mob guys - Dagos - small timers from the Cicero area that were mostly bootleggers and bookies, connected but not heavy;  some machinists and workers from the EMD/General Motors plant, various town guys most of whom went to WWII and came back. What all these fellas had in common was morals, sense of community, honor, strength, the good old virtues. They vibed calm, deadly if necessary; do the right thing always, no speaking falsely, word is my bond. No showboating or colorful language tossed around just to hear themselves talk, no hey look at me how important I am sort of conduct. The Polack that ran the junkyard, he still dressed like a Polack even though he came home from the Pacific with a sack full of ears and a face full of shrapnel. "Wat? Wat? I went dere. I done some tings, I come home. Dat's it."
 Sometimes my dad would stash some thoroughbreds for the bookies, keep ‘em hidden to stack the odds at some racetrack or other. Once and a while he would help one of them haul a car to dump into some quarry in Lemont, where it would just … disappear. He never knew if the car had, uh, anything else in it; didn’t want to know I guess, let them guys sort it out amongst themselves. He’d go out with the Gyppos to deal horses, he’d have a wad of hundreds in his pocket and I saw him shove a pistol in his back pocket once when he didn’t think I saw.
The point is, my dad hung around with some serious people; I guess he made his bones somehow or other, I never knew and he wouldn’t say, but the guys always gave him respect. He never bragged or swaggered or acted all tough and the guys he was with, they didn’t either. I watched this when I was around my dad; he didn’t expose me to any heavy action that was going down but I saw stuff during the more social get-togethers. These guys were by no means exceptional or heavy-duty. They were just regular fellas, living life and doing things the right way, same as all over the country, men of that generation, Americans to their last breath. What they didn’t do was talk like some kinda punks that had paper brains. They didn’t have to. They knew their strength and were secure with it.
I learned from this that first comes the man. His reputation follows like dust down a country road.  It's not like that these days. A lot of guys in my generation, Boomers if you will, their reputation is concocted and sent in first, like a brass band marching into town ahead of the circus. It is fear-driven. Large promise and poor performance might be their mantra.


And all the awareness, the, ah, touchy-feely sensitivity these days is like an albatross. Damn the pusher man. With the advent of all the psychotropic drugs, the turn on/tune in/drop out horsecrap of the 60s, began our societal decay. Do you think them guys back in the 30s, they worried about the cultural mix? As if what was happening in some yocky-dock country in the Balkans - ooh, the Muslims are this, the commies are that - as if that was gonna affect them having a roof over their heads and food on the table for their families? If you didn't work you didn't eat. That's pretty basic. Didn't have to think about injustices to migrant workers or whether women were getting paid the same or whether queers could get married. They weren't reluctant about calling some folks deadbeats, moochers, parasites, like, gee, it's gonna hurt their feelings. People back then (including the women folk who were a hell of a lot stronger than the men sometimes) people had some clear understanding of morals, civic duty, work together-ness. The kids even knew it: if you're in the lifeboat, it is best to have your hands on the oars.

Say what you want about the WPA or the CCC. See what those guys have in their hands? Shovels, not syringes. And they ain't too fussy about the color of a man's skin. How he swung a pick is what counted.

We are breeding out the strengths and virtues that can keep our nation together. I think I am a pretty good guy, but I am not half the man my father was. Blow wise to this: we are not, any one of us, half of what our parents were. Oh yeah, we got the iPods and the internet, the SUVs, we are so cool our lips turn blue just shooting the breeze. But we don't have anything worth keeping. Look around you, folks, is this still a nation of strong free people?

You think there are many today who could do what all these guys, like my dad and his pals, could do what they did? Enlist in the Army, Navy, whatever, and go "over there" and win the war? The military we got now is good. Good soldiers, winners, but they are somehow different. Current military choose it as a career, figure on being in for a long time, it becomes their life. The guys back then, they dropped whatever they were doing, put their lives on hold, went over and (most of 'em) came back and picked up where they left off. 

1 comment:

Andrew Scarborough said...

Both my parents were born in 1920. Yup, I will never be half what my parents were. I pray to God that I don't have to be.