Saturday, March 28, 2015

You Can't Be Good At Everything

My mother sometimes said I was a good for nothing kid. True, I never had a knack for mountain climbing, playing the accordion or tying a noose in the Boy Scouts. However she was wrong. I was good at remembering what she said. And after a while I learned to climb trees (if they had good elbows), play the horn at birthday parties and tie my shoes.

Achilles had that heel to blemish his resume. Baseball players are labeled all-field, no-hit or vice versa. There are no more sixty-minute players in football. FDR had a second-rate intellect, according to Justice Holmes, but a first rate temperament. Reagan had no intellect at all but he got by well enough. Fred Astaire most likely couldn’t play Macbeth and Macbeth probably couldn’t twirl Ginger.

Early on, the term, Jack of All Trades, was seen as derogatory. In fact it was written as a slur against Shakespeare in the late 16th century. Perhaps he couldn’t play the accordion either but History has a way of correcting mistaken blurts. The Renaissance was a time when Jacks become generalists. Jack Da Vinci. Jack Michelangelo.  

James Madison was not among our notable presidents. Maybe he was too short to be noticed; even by his wife, Dolley, who was a head taller. He did not serve in the revolutionary army being too slight at under 100 pounds. Nor did he have a law degree.  However Madison was the first among our Founding Fathers when it came to conceiving a Constitution.

Just the other day I was communing with Jemmy (as he was known to friends) about his document. Never intended to be sacrosanct, said he. Clearly it can use a re-write. The legislative branch is both gerrymandered and absurdly disproportionate; the Senate is presently controlled by 18% of the population. The judiciary has become a quasi-legislature and the executive, a smear upon our nation's heritage. All of them wholly owned subsidiaries of corporations.

Madison was taken aback by what he saw and remarked that they had subverted his intent. He lived long after his presidency, until 1836, and declared several times that revisions were needed in each generation. For this he stands tall.

How I ended up here may vindicate my mother. One never knows where the keyboard will lead. I seemed to have landed in the midst of a good-for-nothing Executive, Congress and Supreme Court, its extension, notable for tying nooses.  Do their mothers know what they do for a living?

It needs to be said that, at some point, I learned to translate my mother's personal attacks to a general grievance with the world. They fell on my deaf ears. She cursed God for God knows what. She cursed trucks while crossing the street and damned the superintendent for holding back on the heat in winter. She had no kind words for merchants, even verbally abused neighbors. The expressions she uttered were like some mindless phrases passed along from her family which included five brothers. The no-good kid was probably herself after being teased by them. My mother lived like a frightened child masquerading as a domineering woman with a nasty tongue. Life was combat until she mellowed toward the end. 

Somehow I survived those years, not suited for everything, but for somethings and that's enough. I forgive her and even thank her for not depriving me of a deprived childhood. 

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