Final Thoughts On Same-Sex Marriage, And America

The Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling has America talking.  It’s one of those events that can’t help but cause people of all persuasions and perspectives to stop and reflect — not so much on the relative merit of the Supreme Court’s opinion as a matter of constitutional jurisprudence, but rather on the fascinating, shifting, never-set-in-stone course of public opinion in our country.

In many recent conversations with friends, people have shaken their heads in wonderment at the speed with which people in the country have accepted the concept of same-sex relationships and, ultimately, same-sex marriage.  It’s hard to think of any other issue, during my lifetime, where prevailing public opinion seems to have shifted more rapidly.  Millennials have had a lot to do with this change.  At a recent dinner party, one of our friends was relating a conversation she had with her Millennial son about sexual orientation, and he said:  “Mom, to us it’s like being left-handed.”  I thought that was a really interesting — and encouraging — perspective.

On another level, the issue of same-sex marriage shows that, in America, if you wait long enough and pay attention, you’ll notice that things often come full circle.

Those of us who lived through the ’60s and ’70s remember that the avant garde, liberal position in those days was that marriage was passe.  Some people advocated free love and “open relationships” and argued that true commitment couldn’t really be based on a mere piece of paper, others derided marriage as a quaint throwback to the outdated notions of prior generations that could only stifle personal expression, still others pointed to the increasing divorce statistics and argued that the realities of the modern world meant that old-fashioned marriage simply could not work in the fast-paced modern world.  Of course, those arguments didn’t stop most of us from getting married, anyway.

During the ’60s and ’70s who would have predicted that, decades later, the issue of the right to engage in a legal marriage, in all of its get a license from a public agency, say your vows in front of the world, traditional glory, would be at the very forefront of the social change agenda?

The Long, Hot Summer

There was rioting in Baltimore Saturday night.  Demonstrators protesting the death of Freddie Gray broke windows, smashed storefronts, threw rocks, and vandalized cars.  Gray died from spinal injuries a week after being arrested by police, and his funeral is today.  The Baltimore protests follow protests last year in Ferguson, Missouri.

Gray’s death, the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police, and other recent incidents involving African-Americans and police have raised tensions in our urban communities.  One incident follows on the heels of another, and the barrage seems to be having a cascading effect.  Many African-Americans feel that they are being racially targeted and, at times, brutally mistreated by the police, and the police in turn feel that they are under siege and unfairly maligned for a handful of incidents out of thousands of uneventful apprehensions and arrests.

Those of us who lived during the ’60s remember summers where rioting and violent clashes with police seemed to be routine and block after block of inner cities in America were looted, vandalized, and left gutted and smoking by arson.  Many neighborhoods that were destroyed never recovered and are still haunted ruins even now, decades later.  The ’60s were an especially turbulent time for many reasons, but that doesn’t mean what happened then could never happen now.  Simple protests can turn into riots when people feel sufficiently desperate and hopeless.

At this point, many of us are holding our breath and hoping that we can avoid another high-profile incident that might prove to be the tipping point.  Having lived through the ’60s, I have no desire to see another long, hot summer.

The Inner Sergeant Schultz

The other day I made a reference to people channeling their inner Sergeant Schultz.  The comment met with baffled silence, because the people to whom I made the comment had no idea who Sergeant Schultz was.  It was a sad but instructive moment.

Those old enough to have watched Hogan’s Heroes, of course, would remember the portly, bumbling prison guard who craved sweets and schapps, feared being sent to the Eastern front, and supposedly kept an eye on Colonel Hogan and his fellow prisoners of war who were actively working for the Allied cause even while incarcerated in Stalag 13.  Schultz’s catch phrase, always said with a cheesy German accent after Hogan’s band had blown up a munitions dump or snuck a valued escapee through enemy lines, was:  “I know nothing.  Nothing!”  And his comment usually prompted the equally inept Stalag 13 commandant, Colonel Klink, to squint through his monocle, frown like he had just smelled a fart, and say:  “Schuuultzzzz!”

Hogan’s Heroes has been off the air for decades; it probably isn’t shown in reruns even on the most cut-rate cable channels.  It was a ridiculous show with a ludicrous premise, of course, but Sergeant Schultz was a giant in the pantheon of ’60s sitcom characters.  Now he has vanished into the vast forgotten pool that includes the likes of Corporal Agarn on F Troop and Mr. Haney from Green Acres — and I’ll have to come up with another shorthand way of referring to know-nothingism.

Keeping Track Of Uncle Mack

10502429_944538671533_2387090454819837848_nFacebook obviously has its faults, but it’s got one huge virtue — it makes it so much easier to keep track of what your friends and family members are doing.  Take Uncle Mack, for example.  What’s the lawyer/saxophonist/actor/occasional Webner House contributor in the family up to?  It turns out he’s been working on a film called The Orangeburg Massacre.  Calhoun ‘da Creator’ Cornwell is the motivating force behind the movie, and his Facebook page has lots of information about it, including the photo above in which Uncle Mack is prominently featured.  A trailer for the film is due in the near future, and I’ll post it when I see it.

The Orangeburg Massacre is the name given to the incident in which South Carolina Highway Patrolmen opened fire on students at South Carolina State College, who had been protesting in an effort to achieve desegregation of a bowling alley.  Three African-American students were killed and and 27 people were wounded in the shooting, which occurred on February 8, 1968 — more than three years before the much more well known Kent State shootings.  Does anyone doubt that the relative notoriety of the two incidents has at least some relationship to the race of the students who were victims?  It is wonderful that a film is being made about the Orangeburg Massacre, 45 years later.

Some people retire and do nothing except work on their tans and frequent Early Bird specials at local restaurants; others use their newfound free time to explore new interests and expand their horizons.  Uncle Mack is squarely in the latter camp, and I think what he is doing is pretty cool. I don’t know anything about the movie or his role, but I am proud of his willingness to tackle it and, we can hope, contribute to greater awareness of a shameful, racist chapter in American history.

The Sounds Of A ’60s Summer

There was the ever-present throb of fans, because no one had air conditioning.  Square fan units that fit into the bottom of a window that you could yell into and have your voice emerge, chopped and distorted, on the other side.  Rotating fans that whirred from side to side, with streamers tied to their wire covers blowing in the breeze.  Standing fans in the corner that sent air circling around the room.  They didn’t make the air any cooler, but they helped the “circulation.”

Screen doors creaking open and slamming shut with a bang as kids came and went and exasperated Moms said:  “In or out?”  Baseball cards attached to bicycle frames with a clothes pin that were strummed by the spokes of the rear wheel and made a bike sound like a motorcycle.  The hum of riding lawnmowers, as the neighborhood Dads cut the grass on their acre-sized lots.  The fat from cheeseburgers sizzling on hot charcoal.

And, as the evening arrived and shadows grew long, boxy Zenith and RCA radio units were turned on.  The sounds of ’60s music floated out the open windows through the screens into the humid summer nights as the adults gathered on patios and kids ran around, waving sparklers or catching lightning bugs or playing flashlight tag.  Martha Reeve and the Vandellas and Dancing in the Street.  Frank Sinatra and Strangers in the Night.  The early Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Four Seasons.  Dionne Warwick and Petula Clark.  And, most of all, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, whose music perfectly captured the ’60s summer mood.  Happy, bopping music, light and upbeat, infused with optimism, as the adults talked quietly and laughed about last night’s Tonight Show or reenacted one of the bits from the latest great Bill Cosby or Bob Newhart comedy album.

When bedtime came, the beat of fans was still there, accompanied by the chirping of crickets and the buzz insects in the sultry air.

The Smells Of A ’60s Summer

The smells told you it was the high summer, too.

When you ran outside in the morning, the temperature was already above 70 and the humid air had a sharp tang and crackle to it.  Somewhere a Dad had mowed the lawn within the last 24 hours, and the spicy odor of cut grass salted the air.  This always brought a sneeze and made my eyes water, because I was allergic to cut grass — particularly when it came time to mow our own lawn.

In the woods surrounding our neighborhood the smells told of dampness and decay.  Fallen trees were slowly rotting, covered with fungus and mold, and the forest floor was carpeted with a layer for decomposing leaves and branches that sank into the soil when you stepped on them.  At the creek bed there was the clean, sharp scent of water and mud and stones slick with algae and moss.

But the smells I most associate with those long-ago summers were of the Kool-Aids, the frozen lemonades, and other drinks that every savvy neighborhood Mom had ready to pour out to the sweaty boys who might track dust into their kitchens at any moment.  When the manufacturers of those drink mixes said they were flavored, they weren’t kidding!  The smells and tastes were overpowering.  No need for subtlety!  Even a person whose taste buds and olfactory lobes had been disconnected couldn’t fail to detect the “flavors.”

The flavored drink mixes had the most intense scents, with grape and cherry being the most pungent.  If kids in the neighborhood had set up a lemonade stand and had mixed the concoction themselves, you had to brace yourself.  Just smelling a pitcher of grape Funny Face drink made you feel like you’d been immersed in a can of Welch’s, and even a small sip of the sugary liquid would cause severe mouth pucker.  No one could drink it without immediately chasing it with a glass of cool water.

The Feel Of A ’60s Summer

When you woke up to the thrum of the window fan, the day was full of possibility.  There were no plans, or schedules, or adult-supervised activities on the calendar.  There was no calendar.  It was July, and high summer.  It had been weeks since school ended and would be weeks before school began again, and the summer felt like it would last forever.

You pulled on a striped t-shirt and shorts, because that’s what everybody wore, and laced up your Red Ball Jets, because everyone knew they made you run faster and jump higher.  You raced downstairs and ate some Frosted Flakes, happy that it was summer and hot and your Mom wouldn’t make you eat a “hot breakfast” like oatmeal.  Then you and your brother said “Bye, Mom!” and charged out the back door, looking for your friends in the neighborhood.  They weren’t hard to find.  It seemed like every family had three, four, or five kids.

00019750So you’d round up the gang, and then talk about what to do.  The days were immense and wide open, ready to be filled by whatever you could think of.  Maybe you’d play baseball, or “army.”  Maybe you’d work on that fort you all were building in the woods behind the Shantzs’ house.  You could climb a tree, or see who could throw a crab apple the farthest.  Maybe you’d go exploring down by the creek and hunt for crawdads.  You could take your bike to the top of the Leahys’ hill, which had to be as tall as the Rockies, then coast down, feeling the momentum build until you were really flying, and see how far you could go without pedaling.  And if it was especially hot you could always take a dip in one of those plastic above-ground pools people kept on their patios, or drink cool water straight from a garden hose and maybe spray your friends while you were doing so.

You felt the sun on your scalp.  You felt dust on your skin and dried mud from the creek bed on your knees and the cool grass between your toes.  You felt the sticky drippings from a cherry Popsicle on your hands and the residue of bubble gum on your cheek.  When twilight finally came, and the lightning bugs came out, you felt the cooler air and the goosebumps on your arms because it was just so much fun to be outside with your friends in the gathering darkness.

And when bedtime finally came, you fell asleep to the thrum of the window fan, hot and happy and hoping that tomorrow would be another day just like today.