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Number 24:

Uncle Frank’s Diary
Number Twenty-four

Mourning in America:
Uncle Frank Deals with It, Sort Of

So Uncle Frank was lyin’ awake at 4 a.m. today, thinkin’ about the goddamn war. Turn over this way, turn over that way, it’s still there, like a cold wet spot on the sheet. Sleep is impossible. Get up, pull on some socks, go downstairs, turn on the television. There’s the CNN insomniac-hour anchor, lookin’ like she’s about 23 years old, unlined, perky, perfectly made up, eyes the size o’ saucers glowing in her unwrinkled, flawless face.

     Christ. I don’t want perky, perfect and unwrinkled at 4 a.m. I want to see a news anchor who reflects my own perspective of the moment: aggravated, haggard, and disheveled. I want someone, I don’t care whether it’s a man or a woman, whose appearance and tone match the gruesome, inhuman stories oozing out of the tube. I want someone with a suitable scowl, a whiskey & cigarettes rasp, and a big cup of coffee from which he (or she) takes regular long drinks, preferably in the middle of a sentence.

     At 4 a.m. I want to see a newscaster who looks like he’d just as soon stomp on my instep as read me the news. Remember Hughes Rudd? He did the morning news on CBS back in the ‘70s, and was just about right for the job. He usually managed to sound as though he thought everything he was reading was nothing more than part of the tracking record of a crazed species committed to self-destruction. Which, one suspects, it was.

     The war, the splendid little war. It won’t go away.

     How do you deal with it? Do you sign on with the yellow-ribbon support-our-troops brigade? What does that mean? Cheer and shout as they’re sent off to be blown up and maimed to feed the idiot-in-chief’s delusional claptrap about freedom being “on the march”?

     You can try to ignore it, repress it, deny it, look the other way. You try that. It won’t work The war’s enormity will blindside you at bad times.

Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad

     Like when you’re driving. On the way to work a few days ago, I was listening to a good interview with my old favorite, John Fogarty. He sounded relaxed and in good spirits, talking about his first CD in several years, “Déjà Vu All Over Again.” He gives a fascinating account of the nearly mystical way in which the title song came to him, and it’s worth a visit to the NPR site to hear his interview with Scott Simon: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4178668

     “Déjà vu” is a powerful antiwar song, made doubly so by the grief and weariness that mark it throughout. This is no political rant, but a deeply humane, soulful response to Fogarty’s terrible sense, as he wrote the song, that we were about to do the same damned thing, all over again, that we did in our gloriously stupid exercise in Vietnam. “The song is about the sorrow and utter waste of war,” says Fogarty in the interview, “especially the effect on families.” Yup:

     Day by day we count the dead and dyin’

     Ship the bodies home while the networks all keep score…

     Day after day, another mama’s cryin’

     She’s lost her precious child to a war that has no end…

     It’s like déjà vu all over again

96 Tears (Or Thereabouts)

I started getting glum as soon as the song began; when the line about “mama’s cryin’” came, I started sobbing. I  blubbered my way along the freeway until the song ended. I do not recommend this as a good way to drive in heavy traffic. The tears blur up your vision, and your attention wanders while you’re trying to find something for nose-blowing purposes. I finally found a napkin left over from a McDonald’s drive-by. Drive-through. Whatever.

     I thought, Jesus, where did this reaction come from?  But I knew: It’s been there all along. About as well as anyone else, I can intellectualize the whole wretched business, and keep the tears at bay. It’s more acceptable in red-blooded America to express anger than grief, and sometimes anger is the right emotion—but sometimes, you just gotta cry.

     Today, in my office, I went to the NPR site and found a link to “Déjà vu.” I played it, and had the same reaction.

     Hey, Uncle Frank! How come you cryin’ in your office?

     Can’t help it, Pardner. There are just too many mamas’ precious children dying for nothing but a fool’s fantasy to do otherwise.

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