Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Personal Asides: Mea Maxima Culpa—Michael Richards Confesses all to a Bored Jesse Jackson…Getting There with Wife Driving is Twice the Fun.

Michael Richards.

If you are a big celebrity name and you say the “n” word you must go immediately to confession to the Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson who with his stage pout before the media will consider whether or not you are contrite and deserve absolution. Which is what the man who played Kramer on “Seinfeld” did. He told Jackson he didn’t know what came over him in his outburst at the Comedy Club. He had never used that term before—ever. Jackson, in recounting it later, said he was sure Richards had. That may mean that as a fellow racial explective user, Jackson knows that he himself had used the phrase “Hymietown” before…maybe often… to characterize New York city as the city of Jews. Jackson’s contrition was not presented like Richards did his: but as a general self-absolution politicians make in the middle of a stentorian oration to the Democratic National Convention—“if I have offended any--.”

But the interesting thing in the Richards confession was Jackson’s total disinterest. He spotted the chance to go after bigger game, (a) monetary enrichment which is always tops on the Reverend’s agenda and (b) politics. Jackson turned the subject over to the fact that Hollywood and TV entertainment has a dearth of black faces…forgetting to mention Oprah, of course…but sending a hint to the forces of TV syndication that he, Jackson, is available for another recast of a show he had had earlier and lost due to slumped ratings. The second: Richards had not yet begun to wipe away his tears of remorse when Jackson changed the subject to an even worse crime than Richards had committed: the years ago stupid salute to the 100-year-old Strom Thurmond by Senator Trent Lott who did not use the “n” word or anything like it. Lott is now being partially rehabilitated by becoming the Republican Whip. The salute performed the good deed of taking Lott out as Senate majority leader. He is a lousy spokesman anyhow but is a superb nose-counter…which he is doing now under one who is a great spokesman, Mitch McConnell.

Getting There.

Whenever my wife, Lillian, and I go to the same destination, she drives. That has led some to imagine that in my present stage of decrepitude I have lost the ability to determine where I am going. Well, they are wrong. As they should know, whenever I have to go somewhere alone and must go by automobile, I drive myself. And I usually get where I’m going: usually.

Which leads me to recount a basic secret about how our marriage has succeeded for twenty of its total 47 years. First, we love each other dearly…second, we have just about the same interests: I say “just about” because she is not entirely as gripped by politics or history as I and I am not nearly as schooled in English poetry as she. She is far more religious than I. But don’t discount another subordinate but in the long-run very important practice we adopted twenty years ago.

Our only long-range point of contention was how I drive. I think when I drive but not about where I am going with the result that I rarely know how to get to my objective. A friend of mine had a device many years ago which he would plug in when he drove out of his driveway. A woman’s voice would tell him how to get to his destination: “turn right here…now at the next corner make a left…and there you are, at your goal.” I said I had another female voice directing me to my destination but it says: “turn left…no, left, I say! What’s the matter with you? No, no, no: listen to me! No, don’t back up—go to the next crossing and turn around. You see where I’m pointing? There! There, I say! Now go! Not so fast we want to get there in one piece! Here’s where you turn! No, wait a minute, there’s a truck behind you! Now you may go!” By the time we would arrive, I would be refreshed from not having to think where I was going but she would be exhausted.

In 1986 we determined that life was more important than she giving me these instructions and I obeying them. So we came up with the proposal that when we are both in the car, she should drive and I will either sit there and watch the scenery or will read. It has worked fine. In fact, I have discovered that I would much rather have her drive than not, which doesn’t mean very much because by now when we are together she will drive notwithstanding. Now when I am to drive alone I (a) miss not being on the passenger side and (b) not hearing her instructions. I am thinking of asking her to record just a sample from the old days to keep me alert—some generic commands: “Why are you dawdling along? You can’t think of other things and drive, remember that! Now, slow up: you are not going to a fire.”

But I will not ask her to do this. Instead when I drive alone there will be silence from the passenger side and I frankly miss her direction. But you have to give up some things in order to have a happy marriage.

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