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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Quick Hits from a Nicely Spent Saturday

Darling girl and I have started haunting a little used book store here in Aurora. It’s run by an older couple and it sits in an anonymous little strip mall where the only real draw is the book and those two who seem to have been running the place for something close to ever. Anyway, when I was finishing up my run, I happened to spy a little hardback copy of Bill Mauldin’s Up Front.

I grew up with “Up Front,” which was Mauldin’s World War II infantry-eye view of World War II. Mauldin himself was an infantryman and his characters, Willie and Joe, were one of the most honest looks at the infantry that you could find, warts and all.

It may sound strange to hear that I, who wasn’t born within decades of WWII, grew up with those guys, but it’s true. One of my father’s friends had this same book and another (the name escapes me, sadly), and I read through not only the cartoons, but Mauldin’s commentary about the soldiers, the war, the cartoon, and the stories that inspired it all. I would still say that if you want to get an idea of who wartime grunts really are, this is a great place to start. It doesn’t sugarcoat the guys, but there is an obvious, gentle affection to the poor bastards who carry the load.

The technology and some of the terminology have changed, of course, and there is an old-fashioned feeling to the cartoons, but there is a reason that his fellow soldiers loved him, there’s a reason that he enraged Patton and the Eisenhower protected him, and there’s a reason that he won a few Pulitzers for his work. I have no idea what kind of a guy he was in the real world, but “Up Front” was as much a love letter to the infantry (and more authentic) as Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

Of course, I picked up the fragile old book--pages yellowing and tearing in a few places--and brought it home with me.

Mauldin had a very obvious concern for his fellow soldiers and was concerned that the returning soldiers wouldn’t be taken back in by the country that sent them off to war. A bit that I read pretty close to the front of the book probably bears repeating today:

They don’t need pity, because you don’t pity brave men--men who are brave because they fight while they are scared to death. They simply need bosses who will give them a little time to adjust their minds and their hands, and women who are faithful to them, and friends and families who stay by them until they are the same guys who left years ago. No set of laws or Bill of Rights for returning veterans of combat can do that job. Only their own people can do it. So it is very important that these people know and understand combat men.

Absolutely right.

If you see a copy next time you’re in your local used book store, I highly recommend picking it up. It’s well worth the few bucks you’ll spend. Mauldin passed away a few years back, but he’ll be remembered as long as his doggies have to go to far off lands to fight wars on behalf of the rest of us. Mauldin told their story, perhaps, better than anyone else has ever managed.



I also picked up a copy of PJ O’Rourke’s wonderful Parliament of Whores. It might seem a little dated--the book is nearly two decades old at this point and some of the stories stretch back to 1988--but it’s still a fun romp at the expense of the political class (finished with a painful look in the mirror).

Anyway, here’s a quote for you. It’s from the opening paragraph of the chapter entitled, “The Three Branches of Government: Money, Television, and Bullshit.”

Feeling good about government is like looking on the bright side of any catastrophe. When you quit looking on the bright side, the catastrophe is still there.

I grew up reading this stuff: is it a wonder that there is a streak of cynicism in me that rears up now and again?



Lastly, we also picked up Crazy Heart since the local Blockbuster didn’t have one to rent.

No regrets on that. It’s a wonderful movie with absolutely stellar performances and surprisingly good music. It might be a little smaller than some people might expect--there are no grand gestures and no earth-shattering themes--especially given all of the Oscar talk. But it’s that tightly-focused look at one lonely, old, alcoholic that keeps the movie good.

No politics, no “brave” agenda about racism or sexuality or any supposedly hot-button issue of the day, and no overblown sentimentality leave it being a wonderful movie with more humanity, by far, than something like Avatar. Of course, I’m also of the opinion that District 9 was the best science fiction story last year, so take that as you will.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and I have to say it again: the music was surprisingly good. Jeff Bridges, as Bad Blake, actually made a credible country music artist. I didn’t realize that he sang so many of the songs in the film, but was pleasantly shocked by just how well he pulled it off.

That’s not my favorite song from the movie (that would be “The Weary Kind”, but that song isn’t sung by Bridges) but it has the bonus of featuring Collin Farrell, too. Again, surprising.


And here’s one more for the road.



I hesitate to throw this story in the mix, but I can’t stand not mentioning it. I realize that not everyone is heroic in action or willing to sacrifice for others--although I hope that if I’m ever tested, I would would be both--but this story is not only one of the saddest things I’ve read in a very long time, but also one of the most shameful. Not shameful to me, of course, but to those people who saw, who knew, and who still did nothing.

If I were to say a prayer on this day it would be that I am never so callous, never so uncaring, never so low as to leave a man dying in the streets while I did nothing. I’m sure that some of the passers never noticed, never saw the blood, and never realized what had happened, but, just as surely, some of them did see.

This man deserved far better not only because he had acted with courage to save a woman that he didn’t even know, but because he was a human being dying in the streets. He didn’t have to die and he deserved far, far better than this.

A heroic homeless man, stabbed after saving a Queens woman from a knife-wielding attacker, lay dying in a pool of blood for more than an hour as nearly 25 people indifferently strolled past him, a shocking surveillance video obtained by the New York Post reveals.

Some of the passers-by paused to stare at Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax last Sunday morning and others leaned down to look at his face.

He had jumped to the aid of a woman attacked on 144th Street at 88th Road in Jamaica, Queens, at 5:40 a.m., was stabbed several times in the chest and collapsed as he chased his assailant.

In the wake of the bloodshed, a man came out of a nearby building and chillingly took a cellphone photo of the victim before leaving. And in several instances, pairs of people gawked at Tale-Yax without doing anything.

Shame, shame, shame on those people who let the man die.

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