Those Were the Days

When I was 7 years old our upstairs neighbor lady was a nice old born-again Christian who had me and my brothers and sister up for cookies and proselytization. One day she showed us a picture of Daniel in the Lion’s Den and my little brother started crying. Moving in for the kill, she asked what was wrong. And my brother said: “That lion in the corner isn’t getting any.”

Those were the days, when you could talk about religion without people getting all upset about it.

Thirty years later I was a city editor and was invited to roast Governor Ann Richards at a fund raiser. I gave it to her pretty good, after which Governor Ann — a lovely woman — ad libbed a severe tap-dance on my head. She was great.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she told the distinguished crowd. “This guy is the editor of a newspaper? I thought he was going to try to sell me a tofu sandwich.”

On the way home from the free-for-all, my Salvadoran wife, a refugee, told me: “Now I understand your country.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“If you had said those things in El Salvador there would have been blood on the floor. Now I love your country even more.”

Those were the days, when you could talk about politics without people getting all upset about it.

And when I was in college, my grandfather, who ran his own company, asked my advice about a business proposition a friend had offered him. He handed me a 1-page, single-spaced letter outlining the deal.

This fellow said that feather dusters were becoming expensive because of a dwindling supply of ostriches, and the difficulty of importing the feathers from Africa. He said a cheaper alternative, closer to home, could be found in cat tails. Not the plants —cats.

Every big city has an animal shelter, and there are thousands of feral cats on the streets. You wouldn’t have to kill the cats, he wrote: You could just surgically remove their tails. Each tail would be cut up into four pieces, glued to a stick, and used as a feather duster.

“We’ll sell them for five dollars apiece,” the letter concluded. “And you have to admit that five dollars is pretty good for a piece of tail.”

Those were the days, when you could talk about sex without people getting all upset about it.

Let’s see: politics, sex, religion — any other forbidden planet I can despoil? There’s race relations, I suppose, but I see nothing funny about that today. Nothing at all.

My point (he has a point?) — Yes! — my point is that when a topic makes people either whisper or holler, it’s probably important enough that we should be able to talk about it in a normal voice. And when the number of topics that we cannot talk about without shouting adds up, as they are adding up today, it indicates not that there is something wrong with the topics, but there is something wrong with us.

Weather, for instance. Hot enough for you? A subject so boring that its very boringness is a joke has people shouting.

Science and scientists. Charles Darwin, for example, or Edward Jenner, who invented vaccination. Interesting and important fellows. Wonderful examples of disinterested observation. Dead long ago. So what are we hollering about?

Immigration. It’s how homo sapiens populated the planet. Animals, too. Interesting, no? Why can’t we discuss it, instead of holler about it?

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.

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