Monday, March 12, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: Lessons My Grandfather Taught Me

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
March 11, 2012

Note: This will be my last Roundhouse Roundup column for about a month. I won't be working again until mid April, so there probably won't be much activity on this blog. But check in now and then. You never know.

Thinking about the poisonous hyperpartisan atmosphere surrounding national politics -- Rush Limbaugh's "slut" controversy being the most obvious manifestation -- I was reminded of a couple of sweet childhood memories involving my grandfather.

In an election year, some of that surely will trickle down to our enchanted land. In fact, when Sen. Steve Fischmann, D-Mesilla, announced recently he wouldn't seek another term, he said the "highly partisan" atmosphere of the Legislature was a big factor -- though compared with Congress, the Roundhouse is Romper Room.

My grandfather, C.W. Clift, wasn't a big partisan. He was a Republican, but according to family lore, he was cursing Richard Nixon on the day I was born. Pappa didn't talk much politics with me. But thanks to him, I learned some lessons I wish political mudslingers, Internet trolls, radio blowhards and others would take to heart. I know they won't, but let me try.

This was my idea of Russians
One day in the early '60s, Pappa, who was a honcho with the Kiwanis Club in Oklahoma City, had to pick up some Russian officials at the airport and take them to speak at the Kiwanis meeting.

Russians! Real live Russians!

This wasn't long after the Cuban missile crisis. I was still in grade school, so in my mind Rooskies were subhuman, godless evildoers who wanted to enslave us. Television used to run scary "public service" announcements with Kruschev bellowing, "We will bury you!" Local radio had spots featuring a local DJ using a phony Slavic accent bragging that he and his fellow commies wanted to outlaw religion.

I'm still not sure what these Russians my grandfather was picking up were doing in town. Probably some low-level diplomats. Whoever they were, I begged Pappa to bring them by the house on the way to the meeting so I could take a look. Bemused, he agreed.

Ethel & Fred
Besides my brother and I, there must have been a half-dozen kids in the neighborhood gathered in our driveway when Pappa drove up in his Buick Special. There they were. The Russians! There were two of them, a man and a woman. We kids stared at them like zoo animals as they smiled and waved at us from inside the car.

They looked like Fred and Ethel Murtz from I Love Lucy. How could you hate Fred and Ethel?

Around the same time, Pappa took us to the Friday night wrestling matches at Stockyards Coliseum in OKC. He was friends with an old man named Jerry, the guy who rang the bell at the start and the end of each match. Jerry agreed to take us to the dressing room and meet some of the wrestlers.
Vote Great Bolo in 2012.
Unless you're a slut

To my surprise, the dressing room was integrated. I'm not talking race. I mean there were both good guys and bad guys, sitting around talking and smoking cigarettes, like the old friends they undoubtedly were. They were all polite to us, even the bad guys.

I'll admit I was a little disappointed by that. It would have seemed far cooler had one of the masked maniacs taken a chair and bashed the skull of one of the heroes while we were back there. But I'm trying to find a moral here, so forget that.

With all the overheated political rhetoric that's become so routine, I've been thinking about those wrestlers as well as those Russians.

You can pump up your political opponents to seem like evil criminals or loathsome perverts. But chances are, they're probably more like Fred and Ethel Murtz than Dr. Doom. Figuratively speaking, knocking out your opponent's proverbial teeth with a verbal version of a flying dropkick might score points when you're in the metaphorical political ring. But remember, back in the dressing room, your "enemy" is just a fellow worker in the political grunt-and-groan business.