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MARTHA SEZ: Blowing smoke in politics

November 15, 2011
You’ve probably seen it by now: presidential contender Herman Cain’s political advertisement, in which a mustached man says it’s time to take America back and then blows smoke at the camera, followed by Herman Cain’s slow smile. Yes, the ad is making people talk about Cain.

The first thing I want to ask is, back to what? How far back does Mr. Cain wish to take America? I wouldn’t think very far.

With what group is Mr. Cain allying himself? Some group that previously felt it had ownership of America, presumably. But then to what America, or segment of America, or idea of America, is he referring?

Maybe the good old days when everybody smoked or at least inhaled secondhand tobacco smoke every day. People smoked not just sitting in bars or huddled, ashamed, outside buildings, but also during college classes; they smoked at work, they smoked at home, they smoked in the hospital waiting room, they smoked in the grocery store, they smoked in the teachers’ lounge, they smoked in the Chevy while their children bounced up and down on the back seat. I remember those days very well. But can that really be what Cain means?

“Oh, Martha,” I can hear my mother saying, “you don’t need to carry on about that.”

My mother followed politics, and she always voted, but she was dismayed by my tendency to get all worked up and sidetracked by random issues. She thought I should put my mind to more useful purposes.

I suppose it would be more useful to figure out how to deal with the school children I work with, a group of 20, more or less, of disparate ages and temperaments.

“Work with” is a very optimistic phrase, as applied here. When I visualize myself “working with” the children, mostly I am just standing in the center of a room yelling “Quiet down! Quiet down!

“Don’t throw that, Montague! You know better!

“Estelle, we do not tape inappropriate notes onto other people’s backs, we have talked about that. Yes it is, Estelle, and furthermore it is not only inappropriate, it is downright vulgar.

“Yes, but, Leslie, you grabbed that glitter glue right out of Mina’s hand while she was using it. Yes, you did, I saw you! I was looking right at you, Leslie, so don’t tell me—

“Belmont, put that camera down, what did I tell you about that camera, gently, gently — Why? Because it cost me a lot of ...

“Montague! That hammer could hurt somebody! Rodney, I know you’re trying to help, but that does not give you license to whack Montague with the Whiffle Ball bat. I mean it.”

Meanwhile, the youngest children are sitting at a table quietly coloring pictures of pumpkins and making little picture books, scrawling their letters as best they can, looking up wide-eyed every now and then, either frightened or intrigued by the commotion, it’s hard to tell which.

Well, maybe something will come to me. Right now I should get those daffodil bulbs in the garden.

Except it’s raining again.

The rain is raining

all around,

It falls on field and tree

It falls on the

umbrellas here

And on the ships at sea.

That’s from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “ A Child’s Garden of Verses.” That’s it — I can read them poetry. I have lots of poems children love.

Oh, yes, and while good little Bessie and Tom-Tom are cuddled up on either side of me listening to the poems and pointing at the illustrations, what are Montague and Rodney doing over there? Boys!

I am not at all sure that planning is any help at all. Where has analyzing ever got me? I wish I could be like those people who don’t stew over every little detail, but just operate on sort of an unconscious, automatic pilot level. Doers. Men of action.

There are also people who strategize and analyze and come up with real solutions to the world’s problems and apply them and are responsible for the great advances of civilization. Some people portray Newton discovering gravity while lying under a tree when an apple fell on his head, and Pasteur discovering penicillin mold by mistake, but there had to be more to the march of progress than a series of errors.

Now I’d better plant those bulbs.

The rain is raining all around, it falls on field and tree, it rains on the umbrellas here and even in U-bekky-bekky-bekky-stanstan.

Have a good week.



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