Reader Reactions & Anecdotes

01 March 2008

We're Worldwide!

As you know by now, this blog began — and remains — as a place where all those who remember or are interested in America and Americans of the past century can exchange reminiscences and personal anecdotes. Here, firsthand, we learn, laugh, and sometimes cry about the extraordinary people, famed and obscure, who brought the nation from a Victorian aloofness and naivete to the incredibly complex world power it is today. We eschew partisan rancor of any stripe, nastiness in any form, gutter obscenity, and any other attitude that deflects from the easygoing sharing of true life experiences and the cool expression of reasonable points of view on the human condition.

In today’s world, it sounds like pretty dull stuff, doesn’t it? Something unlikely to interest anybody but a handful of over-the-hill American porch-sitters, right?

Well, not really.

This morning I checked out the private readership analysis service we’ve hired and suffered a flash of astonishment and stage fright. A world map showing the geoposition of those who click on the blog and read its contents is spattered with dots that range across 38 nations and principalities. The confidential service shows that we are being read in locations as far apart and diverse as New York City and Accra, the Big Burg in Ghana.

Not to worry. The service does not reveal personal identities or IP addresses, only the number of readers and their geographical location. Nor do we, here in our stupendous one-room Florida blog headquarters, reveal the identities of our respondents and contributors, unless they specifically request it. Your privacy remains intact.

The preponderance of our readers live in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Germany, France, and Australia. The rest are located in India, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain, Indonesia, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, China, Philippines, New Zealand, Ukraine, Israel, Hong Kong, Poland, Singapore, Mexico, Algeria, Romania, Thailand, Kuwait, Egypt, Japan, Hungary, Belgium, Argentina, Luxemburg, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Colombia, and Ghana.

Seems to me there are an awesome number of people interested in America and the way it once was and could and should be.

And it does this old codger’s heart good.

* * * * *

Mitch

Mitch was a high school classmate, and we had an ambivalent relationship, simultaneously attracted and repelled by what we each represented. He was a scion of an important-money family, and they had a huge house in a ritzy exurb and could have well afforded to send him to any of the tony private schools dotted along Philadelphia’s Main Line. But for reasons that were never clear, the family chose to have him commute to the school in the village where I lived. I think that even then, for all my undeveloped perception, I suspected that they were a lot less snobbish than the locals gave them credit for being and wanted Mitch to have the public school experience so he wouldn't turn out to be just another prep school snot.

This idea intrigued me, and I think the fact that I found him interesting made him find me interesting, and so we got along — despite the wide gulf of contradictions that separated us. He lived on Mansion Row, I lived on a middle class side street; he had a classy Chrysler coupe, I had a Model A Ford; he dressed in costly-tailored, I dressed in bargain-basement shapeless; an "A" team football player, he hung out with the fast-lane jocks, while I was identified with the artsy-craftsy lounge lizards; he was coolly handsome and built like an Adonis, I was a poor-man's Mickey Rooney. Most girls liked me, but all girls adored him.

One day Mitch had a date to drive a particularly pretty girl home after school, a fact I happened to be privy to, thanks to a conversation between them I overheard in study hall. When classes let out and we all were pouring from the schoolhouse like ebullient ants, I saw Mitch and the girl standing by his car, and he was visibly ticked and embarrassed because the left front tire had gone flat. I could see that his visions of a romantic afternoon were dashed by the need to get down and dirty and sweaty, and for some reason I felt sorry for him. I ambled over to where he was fussing and fuming and I handed him the keys to the Model A. I said something like, "Here. Take (Tillie? Mary? Flossie? Janet?) home in my car. Then drop it off at my house after you get the flat fixed. Don’t hurry. I'm not going anywhere tonight."

When Mitch returned the keys that evening we went up to my room, and he seemed to be fascinated by all the model airplanes and my sketches and my record collection. We sat up there for a long time, chewing the fat about this and that, and I could see that he was quite a nice, deep guy. He told me about how his parents had been divorced and there was a big, ongoing fight about money, and his stepfather was a good enough guy but couldn't hold a candle to his real dad, while his mother spent most of her time crying and getting her hair done. I allowed as how that was a tough row to hoe, and I said just enough other things to keep him going, because it was clear that it helped him to talk about it.

We eventually became pretty good friends, but on a kind of sidebar basis, since I didn't think much of his crowd and he was edgy with mine. Which made it easier for us to talk about stuff other than girls and sports, and we got into some heady things, like was there a God, and why were some guys leaders and others followers, would there be a war in Europe, and what we planned to do with our lives.

We were in his Chrysler one afternoon, waiting for a traffic light on Philadelphia Pike, when, out of the blue, Mitch asked, “Have you ever gone someplace new and felt like you’ve been there before? When you know damn well you haven’t?”

“Well, yeah. Why?”

“I’ve had a lot of that lately. Weird. I even have quick flashes, when I see a place in my mind. A place I couldn’t have been, but it all looks sorta familiar.”

I felt a kind of chill. How should I handle this? Obviously he was bothered by it, so to fake the old high school cool and be amused or dismissive would be a bad idea. But to get too earnestly reassuring could smack of condescension or plain old suck-uppery. I went down the middle.

“You having one of those now?”

“In a way. A minute ago I had the feeling that I’ve known you before. Before here. Some other place and time.”

“I’ve had some experiences like that. Not about you. Other people — along the way.”

Along the way. That’s the weirdest part. I keep feeling that I don’t belong here. That I’m just passing through, on my way to someplace else.”

“I used to have a lot of that. When I was a little kid. Not so much now. But a lot then.”

“Weird, eh?”

“Sure is.”

The light changed and we were off.

For all his tentative hopes and doubts and bravado and tacit anxiety, I knew that here was one guy who had it made: a rich, socially prominent family and the consequent powerful contacts; great good looks and a personal magnetism, an assured Ivy League education followed by an assured position in the family business. Yet he seemed to worry about that, and once he told me that he wanted to do something that had nothing to do with the family — something to show that he was his own guy and could make his own way.

I guess that's why, as soon as they’d take him, he signed on as an Army Air Corps flying cadet.

The last time I saw him, he was driving off in his fancy car with a fancy girl beside him. And I felt a deep melancholy, because I knew at that moment I would never see him again. I simply knew it.

He never got a chance to prove he was his own guy, because a few months later, flying solo in a training plane in Texas, he became disoriented in a thunderstorm and spun in and died in a fiery crash.

I lost a lot of friends in the war that subsequently came, but I don't remember ever being more cut, more saddened, than I was as a kid hearing of Mitch's useless, inexplicable, ironic death.



Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.