Sunday, July 13, 2014

It Happened at the Fair and I Hope We All Survive.

The County Fair supplied us with a lot more than the usual prize pigs and blue-ribbon pie recipes this year.

A few nights ago, the 2013 Fair Queen turned over her crown to her successor. As the retiring queen walked off the stage, the love of her life got down on one knee and proposed marriage.

Wide smiles and good cheer abounded, but I wouldn't put money on the public joy lasting long. Because both of them, the outgoing queen and her intended, are women. It's legal here in Illinois, don'tcha know.

A friend of mine was there and is certain that most folks, like her, mistook it for a traditional, if rather public, hetero proposal. And why not? The outgoing queen was in her gown, her love had short hair and was wearing trousers.

Social media quickly came alive with commentary, pretty much what you'd expect: it's sick, it's wonderful, it's sin, it's none of your business. Aside from that, the public furor has been comparatively minor. But believe me, it's gonna become major in a few days.

Because there's more to come. My wife is a Googler Par Excellence (GPE). Internet research is her game, and she's adept at ferreting out info, locating the lost and finding the forbidden. She's uncovered a bit of news that the local press, radio and small-town grapevine haven't yet made public:

The outgoing queen's girlfriend, to whom she is now engaged, is transgendering from male to female.

If you live in New York or L.A., you're probably saying, "And?" But that's not what we're saying around here. Believe me.

Here's my two cents on the subject:

Cent One: How tacky. A marriage proposal is one of the most serious events in your life. It's not a midway sideshow. For God's sake, people, is there left no decorum? No propriety? A touch of class, no matter how minuscule?

Cent Two: I don't make the rules about other peoples' marriages. If they're happy, I'm happy. It's none of my beeswax, and if I don't understand it, who cares?

Still, I don't get all the nuances. Outgoing Queen is in a same-sex relationship. This means she's gay, right?  No problem, except the woman she's marrying is becoming a man. Does that turn the queen straight?

No. Person A's sexual identity does not change Person B's sexual orientation.

I think.

But, then, whom is the Outgoing Queen engaged to, the woman she loves, or the man the woman is becoming, and will he still be a lesbian? Was that even a sentence?

As I say, it doesn't matter to me. Times are tough around here, and if these two want to hitch up and fight the battle together, I'm all for it.

And battle there will be. Because those who have already been offended by hearing about a same-sex marriage proposal in front of God and everybody at the County Fair will be doubly-offended hearing about a same-sex marriage proposal from a transgendering male to a lesbian in front of God and everybody at the County Fair.

This will barely register on my sympathy meter. Taking offense is a choice. When your stomach turns at the thought of things that have nothing to do with you, hurt no one and spread a little joy into the dark corners, you deserve the cramps.

Fortunately, there's a simple remedy. Add one teaspoon of mind your own business to a cup of grow up, shake well and take as needed.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Unappetizing Truth

I'll be listening to a radio advertisement for, say, Billy's Steakhouse or the Family Roundup and everything will be fine. Then the announcer says, "You'll love our 'appeteasers'" and suddenly everything is not fine. Everything is bad. Very bad.

Attention all employees of every dining establishment in the universe: Do not ever, offer me an "appeteaser."

Offer me an appetizer. If you must, ask me if I'd like something to munch on. You can even beg me to chew on your shoelaces.

But don't offer me an "appeteaser."

You, the restaurateur or menu designer who came up with this word: kill it, dump its remains down the toilet and flush until midnight. "Appeteaser" should not be allowed to exist. I feel dirty just typing it.

I pity you, the server in a restaurant that offers "appeteasers." It wasn't your idea. You didn't decide to pervert a perfectly good word into a word that serves no function, that makes you sound like you don't know how to pronounce the word "appetizer." You're just doing your job.

Which you should quit. A job that requires you to offer "appeteasers" to intelligent human beings is degrading.

(I insist on putting the word in quotes because it is not a real word. It is an incorrect, false, self-hating word in drag masquerading as something it is not: clever. I put "appeteasers" in quotes only because I cannot put it in leg irons.)

I am not a word purist, one of those self-appointed grammarians that love to quibble over "who" and "whom" or the contextual strengths of "yadda yadda " versus "et cetera." Such fine points often lead to questions that have no firm, universal answers.

But there is a firm, universal answer to the question, "How often should Frank Mullen have to hear the word 'appeteaser' spoken in a restaurant?"

Never. Not ever.

All you in the restaurant business who would desecrate the English language with the filth of this vulgar word, hear my solemn vow: if you offer me an "appeteaser," or if I even see the offensive world on your menu, I will pick up my coat and hike around the salad bar, past the cash register and straight out the door.

You are warned.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Another First in Communication

May 24, 1844. After 12 years of work perfecting the world's first system of long-distance, instant communication, Samuel F. Morse sends the first telegraph message:
"What hath God wrought?"
Dec. 24, 1906. After working for a decade to adapting Marconi's radiotelegraph to carry the voice, Reginald Fessenden speaks the first words broadcast over radio:
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, goodwill to men."
March 31, 2014. After 11 hours trying to figure out what "texting" is and attempting to contact his wife's telephone upstairs from his computer in the basement, Frank Mullen sends his first text message:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Who do you remember on Memorial Day?

People disagree on the intent and customs of Memorial Day. I've been to ceremonies that honor every deceased veteran, whether they died of injuries in war or old age in the nursing home. Some families decorate the graves of all loved ones on Memorial Day, whether or not the departed served in the military. Sometimes you can't tell the difference between Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day, great-great-uncle Hezekiah's birthday, a beer blast and a half-price sale on suntan lotion.

I grew up observing Memorial Day as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs defines it, a day that "commemorates the men and women who died while in the military service."

So, on Memorial Day, I particularly remember my grandfather. LCDR Frank Aloysius Mullen, USN, retired during the Great Depression, was called back to service in World War II and died in the last year of that war. As a child, we hung the flag that draped his coffin out the front window of our house every Memorial Day. As an adult, and a veteran myself, I continue that tradition.

I was born a few years after his death, so I have no specific memories of my grandfather. I remember him in the broadest of senses; at times we are called to ponder and reflect upon people we did not know and experiences we did not witness, yet whose legacies still affect us. For reasons that I cannot explain, because I don't fully understand them, I doubt that Frank Mullen III would ever have found a home in the Navy were it not for the family stories and remembrances of Frank Aloysius Mullen.

Who do you remember?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My favorite compliment

Yesterday, I received a letter from a woman in a nearby Illinois town telling me she enjoys my weekly column in the Rock Island Argus. She closed with a heartfelt line that, I have to say, moved me deeply. I've heard it before, but every time a reader compliments me this way, it's as powerful as the first time. She wrote:

"You're the Garrison Keillor of the Midwest."

This is particularly poignant because I live in western Illinois. I don't know if I'd be as humbled and gratified if I lived elsewhere and was told I was "The Garrison Keillor of New England" or "The Garrison Keillor of Miami Beach."

But to live in the Central Time Zone and be told you're the Garrison Keillor of the Midwest is a fine, rare compliment, and I wonder--does anyone ever say this to Garrison Keillor?