The geezer at midnight 

Sorry to have gone senile on you. Some of you weren't surprised, I'm sure, but it was a shock to ol' moi. You're cranking along not noticeably different from five year ago, or 20, then you awake one morn like Gregor Samsa only it's a geezer you've turned into rather than a cockroach. You can chop off a cockroach's head, and it will go on functioning normally for weeks, probably glad to be rid of the encumbrance. Roaches have that in common with geezers. A geezer might as well not have a head, for all the good it does him, for all the imbecile notions it contains. Here's the kind of thing that gets on a geezer's mind. Late 1950s, there was a TV program about Wyatt Earp, with Hugh O'Brian prissing around in the lead role. Had a theme song that included these lines: "He cleaned up the country, the old Wild West country,/ He made law and order prevail./ And none can deny it, the legend of Wyatt/ Forever will live on the trail." So here's your prototype geezer, lying sleepless the other midnight, trying to conjure some profound thoughts about the 2004 presidential race to share with y'all in this space, and all he can do is play that Wyatt Earp song over in his mind, and think about how irritating the words are. Here's what I was thinking: Who ARE these sons-a-bitches who don't have anything better to do than go around denying that the legend of Wyatt forever will live on the trail? There aren't any such people, never were. They're like the Lilliputians or the Borg. They're dreamed up for one-time use, in this case to get that deny-it/Wyatt rhyme in the song, and then sent back to the temp pool or clip-art file. The proper name for them is in formal philosophical discourse somewhere, but who wants to go poking around in there? Anybody with the historical knowledge that the "legend" of Wyatt Earp was just so much hooey would also have known what a big waste of everybody's time it would be to go around tugging at people's shirtsleeves and telling them, "Listen, I'm denying that the legend of Wyatt will live forever on the trail. In fact, it has already pretty much petered out on the trail. In fact, there's not any trail any more for it to live forever on." The Trail of Tears, the Oregon Trail, the Chisholm Trail, the Trail of the Lonesome Pine, the Long Long Trail Awinding, the Happy Trails of Ray and Dale - all that's left of any of them is an occasional historical marker that nobody stops to read except geezers in Winnebegos and they won't stop either unless there's also a comfort station and a soda pop machine. But this stupid song has stayed with me going on 50 years while the important stuff leached away that might've made me some money or got me into some Hall of Fame or off the phone with tech support a few dozen hours sooner. One definition of geezer is someone who has lost the essential and retained the inconsequential. That's ol' moi. I have considerable more to say about that damnable Wyatt Earp theme song but a couple of those topical thoughts have unaccountably drifted back from the geezer oblivion that rarely admits of retrieval and I want to squeeze them in here before my space runs out completely. One is this: Let's resolve that the first spinner who says after the upcoming presidential debate that his or her candidate "hit a home run" shall be publicly whipped. I don't mean anything like Mel Gibson's knouted Jesu, but serious enough to smart. A new metaphor, maybe "kicked a winning field goal," might be tolerated briefly. The second observation is that we are at the dawn of an era of great repression. Sorry to be the bearer of crappy prophesy, but things are going to get bad and stay bad for a long time. Big Brother is on the way, only 20 years behind schedule. As the government has got bigger, stronger, more of a threat to liberty in the modern period, the only effective check on it has been the free press. The press can stand up to it, can get in its way, can take up for the little guy, for the rights of the minority. But it can only perform that watchdog function if it has the public trust. And it has lost that trust, as various media outlets have abandoned their posts to sign up as partisan volunteers. Nobody's left to interpose or intercede, nobody with the requisite institutional integrity. The press is kaput here insofar as playing a meaningful role. It's become just a sideshow as in Britain or France. Dan Rather wasn't the latest casualty, just one of the last to find out. Look for B.B. to proclaim himself right soon, and loose on us the traditional dogs of tyranny, the fanatics and the goons. Just the other day the brains of the local daily was mooning wistfully about the prospect of scrapping habeas corpus and shutting down critical newspapers in the name of advancing the war on the latest shadowy enemy ism. It's happening. Be nimble. Trust no one. Good luck.

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