There are times when I tend to believe what H.L. Mencken, the acerbic columnist for The Baltimore Sun, once said: No one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
OK, so I'm in a bad mood. I have just come back from court trying to select a jury in an uncomfortable risk of injury case where one third of a 15-person panel revealed direct experience with some type of sexual abuse. And one of the others said his father had been convicted of that charge. If they were fibbing to get out, it's bad; if not, it's worse. Then I watch former ESPN Sportscenter Anchor Keith Olberman, now a pundit whose politics appeal but whose sneer I can do without. How he hopscotched from badminton highlights in Bristol to sagacity in Manhattan I can't explain. He's taking off on Sarah Palin, another personification of the inexplicable, for her clothing allowance. She responds that she's going to turn over the wardrobe to some charitable cause, but, given her unique, very personal relationship with the Almighty, it's probably not going to the Hadassah Thrift Shop. The talking head economists are at high babble on CNN. NBC, having abandoned the allure of people eating bugs while blindfolded on a wire over Niagra Falls, devotes consecutive nights of prime time to people losing weight. And ABC has captured the public's fascination by placing 82 year-old Cloris Leachman in a dance competition with an abs-of-steel partner who was not born when she played Nurse Diesel in High Anxiety. Ron Popeil at least did it without pretense.
I write this some ten days before the presidential election. I am hopeful for better days ahead, and not just politically. Plodding to court every day can lead to a skewed perspective. As a rule Courthouses are not happy places. They are, quite logically, repositories for people with problems. And the problems are generally never resolved in a totally successful manner. Sometimes its half-a-loaf; sometimes, more; often less. The winners never completely win, and the losers lose big. Unhappiness and dissatisfaction are the common currency. A breath of fresh air is often necessary.
I unexpectedly experienced one recently. I attended a ceremony for World War II veterans at Sliney School in Branford. Eighty- five mostly men and a few women ranging in age from 80 to 94 were recognized. Part of the Tom Brokaw-designated "Greatest Generation", they sat uncomfortably on a stage and endured some speeches by politicos. Then, the good part, a number of them offered brief memories of a simpler world with fewer shades of gray. An entirely upbeat event. Everyone-the honoring and the honorees-was satisfied. No one spoke of fault, fines or filing fees. A plus all around.
What made the afternoon even better was the activity outside the school. The fields were filled with scads of middle school kids playing games from soccer to football to hide-and-go-seek. There must have been five or six separate events going on simultaneously. The fields were ringed with spectators-- parents, grandparents, friends, teachers and anyone else who just happened by. The enthusiasm was contagious. There was an air of optimism that was almost tangible. The future lies ahead. For the veterans inside it was the past that was special and satisfying. For those on and at the fields the present was good and the future even better.
Father Bob Beloin, the Chaplain at Yale's St. Thomas More Chapel, has a refreshing perspective on all of this. "You know", he says, "I get older every year, but the freshman are always eighteen." He's right about that, but what he doesn't know it that they're not eligible for Youthful Offender Treatment. Well, there's always Accelerated Rehabilitation.
Come to think of it, maybe I should get out more.