I received an email today from someone I don’t know named Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner. Here is the opening text.
It’s Thanksgiving Eve! I’m making pies — apple, pumpkin, AND another pumpkin, and wondering if I should make a fourth. There’s a lot to celebrate, and a lot of work ahead, but this Thanksgiving, I’m feeling profoundly grateful — for YOU, and this whole community. Thank you.
Well, for today, that kind of sums things up. It is Thanksgiving. We have a lot to be thankful for and grateful for. I am not making pies but I do expect to eat a slice or two, and I’m grateful for that. There is lots of work ahead of us but today is a day for taking a break from it, which I shall do. Thank you, Kristin, your words are worth remembering.
As a toddler, I was a fan of the television bandleader Lawrence Welk, with whom I was on a first-name basis. Home movies show the 3-year-old me dancing happily in front of a television. I also have vague memories of watching the program, which I think I deemed thoroughly uninteresting when its host was off camera. One time a magician was a guest, and he put Lawrence into a lacquer box. Then, to my horror, he pierced the box with swords. Eventually the box was opened, revealing lots of swords but no Lawrence, who soon walks into view from off stage, wrapped in lots of bandages. I am sure the audience laughed. I was traumatized.
If you had asked my boyhood self to name my greatest fear, the answer would have been very simple. I was most scared of hypodermic needles, known to me at the time as booster shots. I remember receiving a LOT of shots, and absolutely hating them. I hated the anticipation en route to the doctor’s office, the intense pain on administration to the touchas, and the soreness that persisted for days. I expect someone had advised me that if I were to relax my muscles, both pain and soreness would be minimized, but that was not a practice I was prepared to enact.
My fear of shots was so intense that I remember feeling scared for contestants of a game show during the spinning of a picture-prize wheel, because one of the prizes was a shot. As I discovered eventually, the prize being pictured was in fact not a shot, but rather, a Bissell vacuum cleaner. Even with the revised understanding, I was still scared of the picture-prize wheel, because it might land on a shot.
On one occasion I spoke about my fear to my grandfather, the eminent physician Dr. Reuben Berman. As I knew, his wish was that I follow in the patriarchal footsteps and become a medical doctor. I discussed how I was concerned that medical students (so I was told) practiced administering shots on one another. He asked me how old I was, and I told him 8.
“Joey, I was concerned about this issue when I was 8, and when I was 18, 28, 38, 48, and 58, and I expect I will remain concerned when I am 68.”
I still have no idea what this means.
Which brings me to the buildup to the mines of Moria in the epic fantasy Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien. You might wonder how or why I claim a buildup to such a topic. The mines of Moria frightened both the characters and reader, but not because they housed white-coated Jewish pediatricians with vaccination fetishes, nor because they were infused with the soul-sucking stylings of an all white-guy orchestra, led by a North Dakotan on the accordion. Both serviceable ideas, I should add, but maybe for some other book.
Lesser authors would have had their heroes leave Rivendell and head for Moria directly, saying things en route akin to “Gee, do you think any monsters will ambush us in those dark, scary mines?” Tolkien, however, builds suspense more elegantly. First the team explores various options, with the underground passage clearly the last resort. They try climbing over the mountains, which doesn’t work because the winter weather is just too nasty. They consider a retreat back to Rivendell, but recognize, glumly, how bad an idea that is because it would ruin the story.
So they head to the mine entrance. A swamp creature attacks them, and they are forced to run frantically into the mine to escape it. Immediately thereupon, the swamp creature PILES LARGE BOULDERS AGAINST THE DOOR, preventing the party from going anywhere except forward into danger, which of course was a conclusion reached several paragraphs previous. Tolkien fulfills his foreshadowing by producing orcs and trolls and armies and, finally, that big bad Balrog from the depths of hell-—but what makes the situation so much worse is that we are on the Path that Fate and Our Choices Have Conspired to Define, and the path, in this case, is really horrible.
There is no way to go but forward.
Fortunately, the enchanted land of the elves is on the other side.
Sometimes I imagine Lawrence Welk in the afterlife, laughing at me for my modern worldview and bonehead decisions.
“You should have kept watching my show,” he says, “and learned the lessons I was trying to teach you. Ah-one, and ah-two….”
Lawrence Welk died in 1992, and cynics could argue that his music should have died long before then. It did not, and it lives on today on various platforms, including the Internet and public television. Look at the repeats (and honestly, I did so now only for research purposes) and you’ll see glimpses of a happy, enraptured audience of well-dressed, Geritol-swilling senior citizens, or if younger, seemingly well on their way. The music they were appreciating and dancing to seems, to be charitable, like the sounds of the death awaiting them. We can recognize rhythm and melody and harmony and other properties that are taught at Julliard and elsewhere, and we can appreciate the technical proficiency, but the effect is to drain and pickle the mind instead of to calm, let alone to stimulate. Human life is too painful and messy and emotional to sustain properly, so let us de-evolve into more suitable creatures, such as clams and oysters, who live free of care on ocean floors, gaining all nourishment by filtering tiny, harmless bits of sustenance—aka, the Lawrence Welk Show—from the surrounding water. (Vocabulary moment, courtesy of Wikipedia: A whelk is a common name applied to various kinds of sea snails.)
But that’s just one guy’s awfully snarky opinion, distilled over many years.
Sometimes I imagine Lawrence Welk in the afterlife, but today he is sitting with his musical family (as he called them) enjoying a turkey dinner. And maybe, just maybe, they are either discussing politics or deliberately avoiding the topic, like the rest of us.
That’s all I got for now. Happy Thanksgiving 2018, everyone.
Lawrence Welk, 1963