After damn near two decades of day care, pre-school, private middle school, public high school and then busting his butt at the university level, real life beckons my son, Charlie Garcia, as the child I brought home wrapped in a blanket one cold January day 22 years ago, graduates with an Audio Engineering degree from Middle Tennessee State University this Saturday.
I know the economy still kind of sucks, Charlie. You’d be forgiven if you feel a little trepidation about entering the great American work force. But here’s why I know you’ll be alright, son.
I think you were 15 when it hit you; when music became not just a fascination but a passion. When it became a direction in life. And like the good, practical Capricorn you are, you dissected every element of what it would take to live your life dedicated to a creative craft. And you have stuck with it with dogged determination. You can count on one hand, my friend, the number of human beings who get a notion of what they want do with their life at that young an age.
That was about the time we met Alex, a real-life audio engineer working in Manhattan, who agreed to meet with us in Greenwich Village one Spring afternoon and who laid out the not-so-glamorous realities of life in the music business. Wrapping up a recording session at 4am and setting up for the next session at 7am. Making good money mixing rap, even if it was classical quartets that were the true love of his creative life. Ah- compromises.
I remember the portable, digital, recording “studio” I had in my apartment that you used to cut your very first mixing teeth, playing a blue telecaster you would later fix up and own as one of your main performance instruments.
I remember the song you wrote called City Lights, inspired by the twinkling beauty of New York City as seen from the 18th floor of a West Side apartment, a song that appropriately enough, was simply about the joy and angst of writing music.
I remember the young man who in his heart of hearts, wanted to be a record producer but fully understood that to get there, you have to know every aspect of music. You need to write and perform. You need to understand music theory and sound waves and acoustic properties. You need to engineer. You need to edit. You need to mix. You need to manage artists. You need people skills and you need the artistic vision to take your projects from inception to fruition.
And then there is the matter of fear- like that you feel none. Who else meets one of the top music producers in the business at a festival, gets his business card and just a few months later, happens to be in Athens, Georgia, rings him up and ends up sharing lunch with the dude who first recorded R.E.M.. Same with the way you are on stage and performing- no fear. Just tenaciousness…and joy.
This is why, in the long term, you will succeed, Charlie. Because the whole time I’ve known you, if you didn’t have the natural skill, then you worked your butt off to get where you needed to go. Whether it was intense physical training so you could be a goalie on your varsity high school soccer team. Or relentlessly practicing guitar, or piano, or drums or banjo or whatever instrument had most recently made its way into your soul.
And if you needed a little extra cash, you never had any qualms doing honest, physical labor, like tearing down walls and floors for a contractor. Success is not something that has ever been handed you. You have achieved it through sweat and effort. You have never lacked in the area of striving and desire.
I suppose there’s some aspect of genetics that plays a role in creating a young man with such character. But that doesn’t do justice to the effort you put into life every day. I know your incredible mom, Laurie Spencer, who raised you largely by herself while I recovered from one journalistic layoff or another, gets the lion’s share of the credit for the kind of man you’ve become- but even that doesn’t do justice to the fact it’s you who have learned life’s sometimes hard lessons and emerged as a strong, gentle, loving, balanced human being.
I suppose I should get some credit for supporting you emotionally and financially, and, yes, it gives me a measure of pride that you graduate with zero debt to your name. But it has been you who got through the drudgery and the glory of four years of college- growing, challenging yourself, discovering; open to all things professional, spiritual, personal.
So let me let you in on a little secret. Your future is unlimited. Your potential is enormous. But success? You have already earned it. You are already a successful man. And in achieving that, my friend, you have ultimately made me a success as well.
Congratulations, Charlie Garcia.
Forty years ago, as he was chasing Babe Ruth’s all-time homerun record, Henry Aaron was the subject of death threats and vile racial slurs and insults. Now 80 years old, Hammerin’ Hank is once again the subject of death threats and vile racial slurs and insults. His offense? He told USA Today reporter, Bob Nightengale, that he thought the nation still had a way to go on the race front and that today’s racism is particularly insidious because as he put it:
“The bigger difference is back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.”
I’m not sure what they’re actually wearing these days, but they are clearly armed with internet access and computers. Nightengale reports that in response to Aaron, the Atlanta Braves baseball club has received a torrent of the nastiest, racist e-mails you could ever imagine:
“Hank Aaron is a scumbag piece of (expletive) (racial slur)” a man named Edward says in an e-mail to the Braves front office obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
Edward invokes the epithet five times in four sentences, closing with, “My old man instilled in my mind from a young age, the only good (racial slur) is a dead (racial slur).”
And there’s more:
Marion calls Aaron a “racist scumbag.” Ronald won’t attend another Braves game until Aaron is fired. Mark calls Aaron a “classless racist.” David says that he will burn Aaron’s I Had A Hammer autobiography.
Oh good, book burning- another sign of enlightened tolerance.
As reporter, Nightengale, puts it quite eloquently- the difference between 1974 and 2014 is that back then, Aaron had the gall to pass Babe Ruth as the all-time homerun king, today, he had the audacity to speak his mind.
Mr. Aaron has kept a good sampling of the hate mail he received forty years ago- as a reminder of what he and Jackie Robinson and dozens of other black players had to put up with. It was when he was asked why he still has all those hate-filled attacks filed away, that Aaron responded with the sentence above- the sentence that has proven his point so vividly and so sadly.
Back when I worked at CNN, Hank Aaron ran a BMW dealership in Atlanta and he wanted the CNN Radio newscasts pumped into the showroom for his customers to get the latest news updates every half hour. Hank loved CNN back then. He was close to Ted Turner and then CNN President, Tom Johnson. We gave Hank’s dealership access to the CNN Radio feed and he very graciously sent back an autographed baseball that I have proudly on display in the living room of my Pentagon City apartment.
I used to look at that baseball from time to time and think, wow- signed by the legitimate home run king of all time. Today, I look at it and see a baseball signed by a kind and wise man who counters hatred with the sword of truth. And it makes me even prouder to have an artifact that, to me, now also stands for the righteous but elusive goal of social justice and racial tolerance.
Please- keep speaking your mind, Hank. Your words in 2014 are as powerful as all the lumber you ever used to pass the mighty Ruth all those many years ago.
The National Science Foundation released a survey last month that found nearly 1 out of 4 Americans mistakenly believe the Sun orbits the Earth. This was all cleared up about 500 years ago by Nicolaus Copernicus who correctly theorized that the Earth and all the other planets in our solar system orbit a largely stationary sun. Still, 25% of the country disagrees. So does this mean the media is obligated to present the other “side?”
We know by now that the earth is a spherical object. There are satellite photos that confirm it. There are still-photos from the moon. Get high enough in a jet and you can see the curvature of the earth. Yet, there is an actual Flat Earth Society that contends otherwise. This is, literally, their take on the world:
Do we carve out a few minutes to give the Flat-Earthers their “side” of the argument?
There is something called the “Creation Museum” that opened in Petersburg, Kentucky six years ago, that among other things, shows humans walking around with their friends, the dinosaurs. There is ample evidence, of course, that humans never co-existed with dinosaurs; the creatures had gone extinct by the time relatively new-fangled human beings came along. But let’s find the Museum Curator and put him on the air because, surely, this is the other “side” of the Dinosaur story.
And now, Neil deGrass Tyson, hosting a modern-day sequel to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is under attack from some quarters for espousing Darwin’s theory of evolution with opposing groups demanding equal TV time from FOX and National Geographic to talk about creationism. That is the very definition of false equivalence.
Science and religion, fact and faith- are too entirely different realms. This does not mean there are no religious or spiritually-inclined scientists or that there are no persons of the cloth who subscribe to scientific discipline and study. It would be great to hear both “sides” on a show that deals with the controversy of creationists versus scientists. But if you’re writing a book or producing a TV series on the history of the universe- it’s about facts, not opinions.
From a philosophical point of view, I must admit I have never understood the revulsion on the part of fundamentalists toward the theory of evolution. How is it, in any way, an affront to the belief in the existence of a higher power? How amazing is a God that creates a universe that allows for the constant change and improvement of all living things through the process of natural selection?
I would go even further and wonder aloud how anyone who studies the infinite nature of our universe could be without a sense of wonder that eventually lands at a spiritual place that attempts to answer what we can’t with pure science. What came before the “big bang” is not knowable. What extends outside the edge of the universe is unfathomable, because theoretically, there is no edge of the universe.
It is in the realm of philosophy where science and spirituality rightfully mingle together. I am grateful to live in a world that considers both. There is little doubt in my mind that all of life as we know it and understand it, spiritually and scientifically, is, in fact, an amazing miracle.
But let’s not corrupt scientific fact with religious opinion by putting spiritual beliefs on some kind of equal footing with objective scientific inquiry. Those beliefs are completely legitimate. In a church. Or in a museum dedicated to Creationism. But not on a television series based on the story of our universe as we’ve come to understand it through long-established methods of scientific research, inquiry and peer review.
I still find it hard to believe I received a cancer diagnosis almost a year ago. The tumor that was discovered in the stomach was surgically removed last May and there are no signs of any return of the disease though I suppose you’re never really certain enough to declare victory over such a thing, pretty much ever.
One of the courses of treatment you take to prevent the return of cancer via the bloodstream is chemo therapy in pill form- a much more civilized, seriously less horrible alternative than the kind of chemo you get intravenously. It’s called Xeloda and it’s a rather amazing drug. When used to actually attack tumors, it has an excellent track record of shrinking if not annihilating them. And for preventive purposes, as I used them, there is strong statistical evidence they do the job as well.
They are no picnic. Extreme fatigue is one of the effects, along with nausea and uncomfortable things that can happen to your hands and feet. I started taking them July 1st and they gave me weekends off to recover.
I take the last of the pills tonight and I’m done which is worth celebrating- but also kind of scary. As long as you take them, you feel like you’re doing something proactively to keep cancer from coming back. When you’re done with them, it is apparently quite normal to feel like you’re operating without a safety net.
Except you‘re not. My doctors at Georgetown tell me there is new research that indicates that minimal, regular exercise, to the tune of 45 minutes a day of even casual walking, has just as strong a statistical correlation for cancer prevention as chemo-therapy. About a week after they told me this, there it was in the Washington Post- same research-same conclusion.
This is good news for me as I don’t own a car and I actually already walk 36 minutes a day back and forth to the subway. Hopefully, the weekends I was using to physically recover from the effects of the chemo drugs will now be filled with more energy and a little less couch potato action.
This is the last time I intend to blog about this whole thing. It was, honestly, very helpful to me to write about this journey from fear to good health. It’s been a long path, but one that need not be revisited. I continue to be incredibly grateful to my friends, family and colleagues for the tremendous support, love and prayers, all of which worked remarkably well. Thank you all.
And now on to the business of living.
There’s a piece in Politico today (a publication that exhibits all that is wrong and twisted about political coverage with its superficial and cynical repackaging of what is pretended to not be conventional wisdom), that says it’s time to do away with the annual State of the Union speech. I could not disagree more.
I will admit that in the hours leading up to the event last night, I was kind of dreading the tediousness of it all; the 75 interruptions for applause with the one side clapping while the other sits on its hands, the requisite heroes in the audience sitting with the First Lady, the tiresome glad-handing and back-slapping that occurs as the cabinet and the Joint Chiefs and the Supremes and, finally, the President, enter the chamber.
But sometimes the event- the speech and its reactions- surprise you.
There were several moments that made it all worth it to me. In every case, it was when unity unexpectedly filled the chamber. Hope for the future of the Republic!
Unity Incident #1: When the President spoke about America as a place that offers unending possibility and opportunity.
It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker; how the son of a barkeeper is Speaker of the House; how the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth.
The line about Speaker John Boehner was classy and it was greeted in the chamber by a standing ovation by both parties. And when the President delivered the line about himself being the son of a single mom, Boehner, in turn, graciously stood and clapped for him.
Unity Incident #2: Ok, granted it was kind of minor, but when the President riffed on the importance of equal pay for equal work he offered this great line:
It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.
Boehner’s reaction was a genuine smile. Clearly the Speaker has taken in a few episodes of Don Draper, Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell, and company. It was kind of like an athlete tipping his cap to an opponent; a “well-played, sir” kind of thing.
Unity Incident #3
The amazing moment that involved one of the heroes sitting with the First Lady, Army Ranger, Cory Remsburg. It just could not get more poignant:
I first met Cory Remsburg, a proud Army Ranger, at Omaha Beach on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Along with some of his fellow Rangers, he walked me through the program – a strong, impressive young man, with an easy manner, sharp as a tack. We joked around, and took pictures, and I told him to stay in touch.
A few months later, on his tenth deployment, Cory was nearly killed by a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain.
For months, he lay in a coma. The next time I met him, in the hospital, he couldn’t speak; he could barely move. Over the years, he’s endured dozens of surgeries and procedures, and hours of grueling rehab every day.
Even now, Cory is still blind in one eye. He still struggles on his left side. But slowly, steadily, with the support of caregivers like his dad Craig, and the community around him, Cory has grown stronger. Day by day, he’s learned to speak again and stand again and walk again – and he’s working toward the day when he can serve his country again.
“My recovery has not been easy,” he says. “Nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy.”
Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.
The applause in the chamber was deafening. And lasted for at least five full minutes. Forgive me for abandoning my usual snarky cynicism, but that, was a deeply moving experience.
And it’s moments like those- the ones that belie the divisions and anger and hatred, that are good for the country to see. Yes, it’s mostly predictable and the ritual, for some, gets annoying. But there’s a, perhaps, naïve side of me that gets damn near misty-eyed when I see Americans standing together united by…anything. We need to see more, not less of that.
If ever there was a no-brainer for Time magazine’s selection of Person of the Year, it is this amazing Pope. There’s an interesting new survey that explains how he is resonating with Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
The Washington Post/ABC News poll finds an amazing 92% have a positive view of Francis and 95% of the Catholic Church in general. Pope Benedict was at 73% after the announcement of his retirement last February.
There is a slight political divide. His ratings are highest among Catholics who describe themselves as moderate or liberal. But even “conservative” Catholics give him a 91% approval rating. Non-Catholics give him a 62-18 favorable/unfavorable, compared to 48/31 for Benedict.
The reasons for the amazing appeal of this Pope seem fairly obvious to me. His humility, his call for economic justice and equality, his warnings about the excesses of capitalism all echo the words and philosophies credited to Christ himself. Those who know Francis say his own experiences as a Cardinal in Argentina inform these views, especially on economic issues. Through Argentina’s rough, depression-like economic downswings he saw first-hand the massively wide gulf between the poor and the rich. At a time when this disparity has never been greater in the United States and throughout the world, his message resonates powerfully.
But those on the moderate/liberal side of the equation should not misconstrue the Pope’s populist positions as a change in Church doctrine on a host of controversial issues. What has changed is the emphasis.
Agree or disagree with aspects of these doctrines, for example, there is a basic consistency to them. On abortion, it is completely consistent to be anti-abortion and anti-death penalty. Conversely, in my opinion, there is a dissonance in espousing pro-choice/anti-death penalty views or anti-abortion/pro death penalty positions. I mean sanctity of life is sanctity of life. And while I admit I am still in the “dissonant” camp, I can still step outside my views and see the inconsistencies of my own political beliefs.
The point in regard to the Pope’s emphasis on certain issues is that the Church often lands on both sides of the political ledger, with positions on economic equality and against the death penalty, for example, falling on the liberal side and policies on abortion and homosexuality on the conservative side. The most recent Popes have dwelt exclusively on the conservative side of things and in the process have alienated moderates and progressives. Francis, meanwhile, is emphasizing things like economic equality and brings his great sense of humility to bear on topics like homosexuality in which he states, in his own words- “Who am I to judge?”
Ultimately, I think it is his disarming humility that is the foundation of his appeal. He walks the walk. He lives in a modest apartment. You won’t ever see him wearing Benedict’s famous red Prada slippers. He has literally washed the feet of convicts and beggars. Vatican security confirms he regularly sneaks out at night to mingle with normal people. He classifies himself first and foremost, not as Pope, but as a sinner.
I know there remains a very deep well of anger against the Catholic Church for its past actions; from sexual abuse and attendant cover-ups to economic hypocrisy in building wealth- quite literally through the contributions from the poor and dispossessed.
But in this miracle of a Pope, there is hope. Hope that humility, enlightenment and the philosophies of Christ himself, will lead the Church, and the rest of us, to a much, much better place.