With the impeachment hearings going on in the background, it’s hard to write today about other topics on my mind, like Medicare-for-all or whether the laugh track is a spawn of Satan. Comparisons have been made for days back to the 1973 Watergate hearings, although I don’t know if that will turn out to be the right comparison. Historical accounts depict those hearings as riveting coverage that all of America tuned into, day in and day out, when the reality was a little different. I remember because I was there.
One of the reports last night showed a picture from the first day of the hearings, with the green Senate table, splashing across the view like a movie green screen. This is misleading. In 1973, less than half the households in America had color TVs, and even though we had one, that was not the TV being watched in the middle of the day. It would be doctoring the past to describe the hearings with that kind of illustration, though several journalists have done so in recent weeks. The first time I saw that vision, all I could think of was, “Well, the hearings weren’t conducted in color.”
The Senate Select Committee on Watergate convened these public hearings in May 1973, and they continued until September. When it’s noted they were on during the summer, that means All Summer Long. It’s hard for me to imagine today’s Congress or public having the kind of stamina or interest to generate hearings for that long.
There had been precedent: the Army-McCarthy Hearings of 1954. Those televised hearings were on the subject of whether the fanatical anti-Communist Senator Joseph McCarthy had misused his status in helping promote an aide. McCarthy had made a name for himself by accusing the government of being infiltrated by communists, and he was a rising star in the Republican party, which had control of the Senate. For several years, McCarthy had been pointing fingers at the Army for harboring enemies of the state, and the Army in early 1954 started pointing back. The Senate decided to investigate the counterclaims and chose to publicize the hearings. The brand new TV networks were happy to have something interesting to show.
The midmorning autumn sun was lasing into the windows of the Fun Car as we loaded it one last time. It gave me an instant headache. Wasn’t it raining just yesterday? Didn’t we spend all of Oregon trying to choose between windbreaker slicker, Danish raincoat, and umbrella?
Over the Green Pass into Chaparral
We had come over the Siskiyou Pass the previous night, south from Ashland in a setting sun that kept trying to peek through a cloud bank. The Pass is the highest point on I-5 at 4310 feet, and my ears popped coming down as KK, the better driver, carefully navigated among cautious truckers manually downshifting and deathwish sports cars.
I was treated to a stunning view of rolling brown hills of the Cascade-Siskiyou Forest to the east and Klamath to the west, polka-dotted with pumpkin-colored tamaracks. Just after the California border, the trees dropped away into what looks like desert, although this is chaparral, high desert. Central California is full of rolling hills with drought-reistant thickets like manazanitas. It just looks brown compared with the green we’ve left, but this is its own kind of tough and hardy place, as much as the climate and people we’ve left in the north.
KK had a memory, as we drove past these Oregon beaches, of daughter Lee and herself flying down the dunes at a hundred miles an hour on one of those crazy rides they would take together. We could not remember where Kelson was. I would have been elsewhere, on a slow-moving trolley contraption of some sort, as I don’t like scary rides. When was that?
The happy problem of too many memories.
Was Kelson with us? Was he with his friend in Cleveland that one summer? Down at camp?–no, Lee would have been at camp at the same time. How old were they? I think seven and nine because that’s when they were the best traveling companions, after they learned to mind us and ask interesting questions but before they lapsed into teenage silent nods and shrugs.
Continuing north, we passed Lincoln City, which is world famous for its kites. Sure enough, they had a kite festival in play, but we had cleverly flown ours on a more deserted beach, the day before. Meanwhile, I found the picture of the original One that Got Away with proof that Kelson was with us. Your Honor, if it please the court, this was 2004, and I was exactly right with the ages.
This quote from English novelist Zadie Smith is today’s provocative question (muchas gracias, Fandango). It suggests we remember the negatives and hope for the positives. The future hasn’t occurred, so it can be what our imagination creates. This is also a play on grammar, which is a subject much on my mind these days as I am attempting to learn Spanish. So, for me, the tense is confusing. The present might be more like the collapse of a wave, given that the arrow only goes one direction. But the Multiverses suggest that the arrows might go several directions, if we could but see them, and that would make the future perfect. Let me explain what I mean.
Tenses Are Difficult. Futures Are Also Difficult.
The use of the word Tense, in the sense of verbs and grammar, comes from the Old French word for time which was tens. That’s not to be confused with the current French word for time, temps; language has changed. Language, like time, moves forward (and collapses). The word does not refer to “tense” as in stretchiness, which comes from the Latin tendere. This is why Zadie Smith’s quote is a looping play on words, since it mixes emotions and grammatical expressions, and either deliberately or innocently uses them wrongly. Tense does not mean tension. It is a homophone. Which is intense. And perhaps what she intended.
The world is definitely going to hell in a handcart. Civilization has reached the breaking point. I’m talking about multiple stories in the NY Times this past week that suggest the relationships between colleges, their students, and students’ families have become completely dysfunctional. Today, the discussion about the 50% increase in traffic on Facebook pages for student parents was the last straw. Here’s my suggestion. Chill Out. Remain aloof. Just say, “I don’t know exactly what goes on at college these days.” Leave it at that.
Colleges Are Not Summer Camps
Apparently, more than 200,000 people joined university parent groups last year, which means such social media participants number in the millions by now. Typical posts discuss whether there are fire alarms going off, where parents can buy mattress toppers, what’s going on during sorority/fraternity rush week, and how to arrange to have cupcakes delivered. Yes, you read that right. A parent wanted to know how to have cupcakes delivered to her nearly-adult son for his birthday. As she might have done, maybe, every year when he was in elementary school. Do you suppose she had cupcakes delivered when he was in high school? Was her son mortified? Did he try to throw them in the trash before anyone outside the office saw them? Or disavow them? Or sell them to friends for extra cash? I have so many questions about this behavior…
Fun Memoir Fact. When my high school son was getting a ride to somewhere, like high school or a skate park, (which was often because he didn’t have a car), he wanted to be dropped off at least 50 yards away. And liked to get out of the car when it was still moving.