Monday, June 18, 2012

Vote for Joe Smith…Redux

It is the anniversary of the birthday of my favorite uncle, Buddy.  His real name was William , but all I ever knew him as was the nickname.  He was largely responsible for the man I am today, and I miss him greatly.  He is gone many years now, but the memory of him refuses to leave my heart.  I am grateful to have had this man I my life, and always add his name to the list of people my God needs to bless.  

What follows is a reprint of a piece I wrote many years ago.  It still rings true for me today as, I hope, it will for you.

Sitting at my almost comfortable chair, eating supper and watching television I experienced something yesterday of a decidedly profound nature.  I heard the sounds of a Public Address system moving down the road.  I brushed it off for a moment as being one of the kids from the dorm.  I live directly across the street from a small college where they are forever making some kind of noise; Hip-hop from jam boxes, the school marching band traipsing about my street in practice, or the neighbor dude using some kind of construction power tool.

Public addresses occurred from time to time with the main noisemaker being a bull horn.  This time the noise came from a pickup truck with large speakers mounted on its roof, facing both front and back, castigating about in an attempt to humiliate people to go and vote.  The voice didn’t sound as if it cared who one voted for, just that the citizens should get off their dead asses and go exercise their constitutional rights.

I found it a humorous experience in that it reminded me of one of the best times in my life.  One summer (13? 14?), I spent with my favorite aunt and uncle.  I would, right after school, go to spend the summer with them.  My Aunt Dotty would be my main companion.  She was a wonderful lady with a somewhat alternative view on life.  In today’s world of politically correct language, she would be accused of being a blond.  She could and very often did amazingly odd things which were ofttimes the brunt of family jokes around the holiday table.  Nothing mean spirited or cruel ever came out of anyone’s mouth, and she always took the jibes with grace and would be a good sport and go along with the joviality.

The real pleasure in those summers came when my Uncle Buddy was at home…and sober.  As I have explained in earlier writings he and my Grandfather were the main male influences in my life.  (Well, there were others, but these two gentle-men were my favorites)  He worked as a tug boat captain and was off every other day.  At times he would wake early and take me out with him as he ran errands.  This always meant a stop at the “Gin Mill” down at the shopping center.  “Gin Mill” was what bars were called in my family in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  He would buy me a coke and himself a drink and play pool with me.  He always said that he wasn’t really good at the game, but this always proved untrue.  I watched him take hundreds of dollars from the denizens of that establishment over the course of the summer.  I loved it, and still find comfort in “Gin Mills” despite the fact of my active participation in recovery.

That summer, my other uncle, Sonny, decided to take on the world of local politics and ran for city council.  Uncle Buddy always did what Uncle Sonny told him to and dragged me to the local party committee meetings.  Uncle Buddy had been a paratrooper in WWII while Uncle Sonny spent much of that conflict in a Prisoner of War camp.  He told me that the war was tougher on Uncle Sonny then him, and that he felt guilty about it.  Uncle Buddy confided in me quite a lot when we were together.  It was a dual edged sword for me to hear.  He chose me to explain his life in the military, and I got to learn about horror at an early age.  But that is for the next page.

Uncle Buddy taught me many things.  He was forever telling me about important skills that I would need to have when I go out into the cold cruel world.  Paramount among these stood the art of spitting.  Next came the trick of blowing smoke rings.  Although he refused to let me smoke in front of him out of respect for my mother’s wishes, he was smart enough to know that I had already embarked on the journey to COPD or worse.  He had mastered the talent to the point that he could blow a ring and shoot smaller rings through it.  I am still trying to learn that one.  Any way, he taught me how to sit in a car and be real cool.  He would drape his wrist over the steering wheel and lean his elbow out the window (this was years before automobile air conditioning and littering campaigns) and drive along flicking the ashes off his cigarette ashes with his pinky and spitting out the window.  It was cooler than shit!

My Uncle Sonny’s campaign got started and Uncle Buddy and I would drive around the hamlet of Jackson, New Jersey and bellow out the windows “VOTE FOR JOE SMITH.”  Every time we eyed one of the numerous signs we had put out for him, or just for the hell of it.  We spent the summer actively campaigning for our candidate.  Much the same as the old gentlemen in the pickup with the PA system that passed my house, we rebuked the citizenry who might mistakenly vote for the wrong candidate and jeered the name of all opponents.  One gentleman from the other party, my uncle’s opponent, had a decidedly European sounding name…Perchanko.  My Uncle Buddy told me that it sounded communist and that we were in charge of slurring his name.  We would scream “Hey Perchanko, get out of the way you commie SOB,” and laugh outrageously at each other.  While these things were not really what I would try to teach a kid today, I cherish the memory because I know in my heart and soul that, despite the smoking, drinking and cursing, I was loved and valued.  Times change, but not love.

My Uncle Sonny won the election (chiefly due to our efforts Uncle Buddy said) and went on to be indicted for graft.  Go figure.  Regardless, I have always voted and will always vote.  I will, also, respect the guy driving down the street telling me to get off my dead ass and go vote.  Thank you Uncle Buddy, I love you.