Friday, January 18, 2019

Just Another Pretty Face

      No longer content to hide under our beds, Russians are everywhere these days from fake memes and online trolling to NRA galas, Trump Tower and, maybe, even the White House. It takes me back to my year in Moscow, 1988. Gorby and glasnost were in, as was rock, long hair, and dissent. I felt so at home.
      I was working on my study, which I hoped would be the crowning achievement of my academic career, “The Moral Advancement of the Soviet People Because of Their Contacts with Americans.” Although, much to my surprise, things weren't going so hot. My interviews with Russians would go well, until they found out I was American. Then they'd try to interest me in smuggling, you know, the usual – designer jeans, Playboys, nuclear warheads, toilet paper.
      I got so discouraged I spent most of my time wandering the streets of Moscow, foraging for edible food. One twilight I ended up at the University of Moscow, a hotbed of the kind of activism we saw here in the states during the early eighties. Spying the bulletin board with its gigantic posters advertising a Milton Friedman Fan Club, a conference on how to smirk like Donald Trump (hmm, that might explain some things), and a colloquium on unenlightened self-interest, a small notice in the corner caught my eye.
      It was an announcement of a meeting about, of all things, Lenin. Now this was an eye-opener. What would I find at such a conclave – a cabal of geriatrics planning sedition while comparing gall bladder surgeries? I grabbed the address and went straight there.
     At the meeting, I found thirty people crammed into a living room the size of a walk-in closet, literally sitting on top of one another, eating cabbage rolls, sampling just picked mushrooms, downing shots of vodka along with Pepsi chasers, and arguing passionately about all sorts of intellectual topics. I knew right away I'd come to the right place.
      I overheard a distinguished middle-aged gentleman with a salt and pepper beard argue, as he pointed at a bottle of Pepsi, that they “should not drink this sugary example of capitalist thuggery.”
      “Dmitri, this is perestroika, drink up!” a woman next to him replied.
      “Excuse me,” I interrupted, “what is the purpose of this meeting?
      “What you see before you is our national tragedy, men and women who are in the grips of terrible oppression,” Dmitri answered, then began to weep openly and without shame.
      “Dobryy vecher,” said the woman, “I'm Anna. I'm sorry. Dmitri is much too upset to talk. You see, we are a support group for unemployed Lenin statue makers.”
      Dmitri then grabbed my shoulders, sobbing, “All over the world Lenin statues are being destroyed by peasants who don't understand great art. It is too much to bear!”
      “But can't you make other statues?” I asked.
      “Have you ever seen Lenin's face,” Anna replied.
      She picked up a small statue off the coffee table. The room suddenly went quiet, everyone staring at this simple bronze statuette of Lenin.
      “Look at this face,” she said, then she began to sing (to the tune of “Baby Face”):

                       There's not another one to take his place, Lenin's face.
                       I'm in socialist heaven when I see his pretty face.

      “Look at these cheekbone,” Dmitri sobbed. “I can't sculpt anyone else!”
      “Listen,” Anna said, “we all had years of training and were given all kinds of privileges by the state. We enjoyed dachas, vacations on the Black Sea twice a year, and toilets that actually flushed.”
     Men and women began to cry. Some whimpered, “Imagine, a toilet that actually flushes.”
      “But now,” Anna continued, “we have nothing. Nothing!”
      Then Dmitri screamed, “Life is hell. It is unbearable!”
      Anna slapped him, pulled his face close to hers and gave him a big, passionate kiss. Then whispered in a sexy Lauren Bacall voice, “Dmitri, let us dance, until we drop dead.”
      The meeting quickly broke up, and we had one of those barn-burners for which Russians are justly famous. What an experience for an American in Moscow to be hung by his heels out the window in below-zero weather, while singing such great American favorites as “If I Had a Hammer” and “Rainy Day Women  #12 and 35.”
      Those Russians are such cards. I thought they had forgotten me, and to tell the truth, my feelings (not to mention my frozen extremities) were just a teensy bit hurt. But when the party finished, they dragged me back up, and everyone gave each other big hugs and kisses. Then we did the traditional Russian dance of Danceolovich Polnochke, which roughly translated means “The Groin-Destroying Dance.”
      After several more shots of vodka with Pepsi chasers, we walked out into the early morning streets of Moscow,  promising undying friendship. It was one of my most memorable experiences in Moscow, ranking right ahead of finding a clean bathroom in the Moscow subway.
      Of course, there were many things I learned during my stay. Not to eat food without smelling it, not to let fat bearded men who have been eating cabbage kiss you on the lips, but, most of all, that though in Dmitri's word's “life is hell” we can make it if only we have enough vodka and an unlimited credit line from the Russian mafia, like you-know-who who used to smirk so well. Udachi!

Friday, December 28, 2018

My Neighbor Jerry

[Blogger's note: The piece below originally appeared in the December 26, 2018 issue of The Fort Worth Weekly. Since I was never quite happy with it, I kept reworking  it. This is, I hope, a final version.]
    After I texted a woman down the street that my next-door neighbor, had died, she wrote back, “The grumpy guy?” Yes, the grumpy guy.
      My neighbor Jerry was the quintessential Trump-loving, angry, old, white, working class male – profanely belligerent, proudly politically incorrect, and decidedly racist. And without a doubt, he was the worst neighbor I've ever had. That said, in the past few years, as his health began to fail, we became friends of sorts.
      About 14 years ago when he first moved in, he came over to introduce himself. He told me he was moving from Meadowbrook because it was getting a little too dark over there, “if you know what I mean.” Then if that wasn't enough, he went on to explain that he wanted to be a good neighbor, so I needed to tell him if he did anything wrong. All that left me scratching my head, but, in retrospect, I should've smelled trouble coming.
      It didn't take long. After a few months of relative peace, it became clear that Jerry was a week-end drunk and not a nice one. Because he was spying on some neighborhood teens who were partaking of drugs, he asked me to turn my porch light off. I complied, but one time I forgot and did he tear into me. I explained to him that neighbors don't talk to each other that way,. His response was to double down, dropping f-bombs like a rap star. After that I made damn sure to leave my porch light on.
      Of course, it wasn't much later when his demeanor shifted again. Suddenly, he was all smiles and good cheer. Turned out, Bell Helicopter had laid him off, so he needed to borrow my computer to file for unemployment. I was glad to help, but, as my Daddy used to say, no good deed ever goes unpunished. While hunting and pecking, he noticed the “No War in Iraq” stickers on my file cabinet. It was now confirmed. I was one those anti-American subversives Fox News had warned him about. And from then on, living next door to him became a living hell.
      One of his favorite modes of harassment was to wait till almost midnight then rev up his Dodge Ram truck, his twin glass packs hardly muffling its 318 cubic inch engine, and make our south bedroom windows vibrate like his dual chrome tailpipes. I often had to call the police on him. But one Jim Beam drunk night, he called the police on himself. I'm serious. Cops came over, asked me, what the hell? “Man, that dude's just a few fries short of a Happy Meal, ain't he?” shared one of Fort Worth's finest.
      But the years of belligerence and drinking finally took their toll. About five years ago, Jerry's health began to fail. One day Smoky his German Shepherd got out. Since Jerry was in no shape to chase it, another neighbor and I corralled it. After we returned his much beloved dog, Jerry shook my hand and thanked me enthusiastically. It'd been years since we'd had a civil conversation.
      At the time, my late wife thought our rapprochement a God-send. I wasn't sold it on it myself. But after she died, and Jerry's health continued to decline, I tried to help him, rationalizing that she'd have wanted it that way. I did all matter of things I thought I'd never do. I called ambulances for him. During his frequent hospitalizations, I mowed his yard and picked up his mail. I even lifted him off the ground a couple of times. No easy task, since Jerry was, even in ill-health, a big guy.
      Yet as much as I'd like to wrap this up in a pretty bow and make it a feel-good story of our politically polarized times, I can't quite do it. With his health in decline, Jerry surely mellowed, but he was never an angel. Not many months ago, he bragged how he'd cussed out a young pharmacy tech because of some perceived misstep, while at the same ragging on one of drinking buddies for getting his panties all in a knot over something Jerry'd said.
      But I can't stop thinking how during the past few years, he'd call me “bud” when we talked. I don't know if I really was much of a friend to him. One thing I do know is Jerry wasn't just the grumpy old drunk on our street. He was more than the angry white man people saw from the outside. Like all of us, he had some good in him. I hope he now gets the peace he never quite got in life.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Et Tu, John Miller!

     You got to hand it to the Trump Administration, even though they've had more turnover than your neighborhood Walmart, it's managed to keep a razor-focus on job number one, screwing over the American people. While the nation was riveted by the Kavanaugh free-for-all, the administration proposed weakening mercury regulations (mercury is especially dangerous to children and fetuses) and effectively eliminating the EPA office in charge of children's health. (And they call themselves the pro-life party? Hmmm.)
      With all the distractions and uproar, it would have been easy for the Trump Administration to lose focus, maybe, even cave in to common sense and decency. So how does the Trump Administration do it? According to Ihor Binko, former chief lobbyist for The Big Belching Energy Corporation and now head EPA Administrator for Polluters, a new office created by the Trump Administration, it's all been one hard, long climb.
      “Washington's all aghast,” Ihor said, while sitting at a park bench on the National Mall, munching his favorite hot dog with extra red dye #3. “Cabinet members and twitter storms come and go. A new scandal pops up every other day. But in our office, I make sure we keep our eyes peeled on getting the job done: helping polluters navigate and avoid the administrative state.”
      After I coughed up a good chunk of my tofu wrap, I asked Mr. Binko, wasn't it the EPA's purpose to stop polluters?
      He chuckled. “Lots of people have that mistaken impression. Go figure.”
On deep background, Trump Administration official, John Miller, agreed to talk to me on the phone, “Ihor, fine man, one of our top people. Really! Believe me!”
      “But you don't think weakening mercury rules and eliminating the office for children sends a bad message?”
     “No, that's fake news! And what's your name again? Wheatcroft-Pardue, what is that, a hyphenated name? Sad. Little Kenny, we all know who wears the pants in your family.   You sound like a loser to me, an enemy of the people. I got a good friend in Montana who can body slam you.”
      “Excuse me.”
      “Listen, I'm close to the President. Very, very close, if you know what I mean. You play ball, maybe, I can get you an ambassadorship. Bound to be some shithole country without one now.”
      “I'm not interested in an ambassadorship. I just want to know how the party that claims to be pro-life can back policies that are obviously hazardous to young children?”
      “Pro-life is better. It helped me – uh, the President, in his great, amazing victory. That night was so, so amazing. Nobody thought we could do it. But, interestingly, I was pro-abortion in my younger days. Lot of guys went to Vietnam, but my Vietnam was 5th Avenue. After all that sex with 10's, (I only do it with 10's, I'm not a loser, like you) no STD's. Nothing, and me, without a condom. Always. Now people say I have small hands. I can tell you I never heard any complaints in bed before. Believe me.”
      So there you have it, despite having a “spokesman“ who way over-shares, you truly have to hand it to the Trump Administration. It has done exactly as promised. Help rich polluters ruin the environment and our children's lives, too. The real question now is, what are we going to do about it?
  

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Trump to Refugees: Drop Dead!

     Over my two decades as a high school ESL teacher, my refugee students were my heroes. They'd left their countries in the midst of conflicts and came here to learn a new language and culture, while at the same time navigating the minefields of adolescence. Many were victims of our country's foreign policy. In the nineties, that included my students from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Vietnam. By the time I retired in 2013, Palestine and Iraq were added to that list.
      I'll never forget one Salvadoran student, I had in the early 90's. This young man was quite the charmer, always sporting a big grin, yet it's clear to me now that part of this was show in order to hide what we would call today PTSD. Once, he confessed to me that at night when he heard police helicopters hover over his neighborhood, he always dove under his bed and shook like a leaf because that sound of chopper blades reminded him of los escuadrones de la muerte he and his family had fled in El Salvador. Death squads our country backed with weapons, money, and training.
      In the 20-teens, my Iraqi students recounted to me tales of growing up in a war zone. Immediately after we stupidly invaded their country, they were forced to stay inside their homes because our troops, expecting throngs “with sweets and flowers,” couldn't secure Baghdad. So for months these children at very important ages for their development couldn't go to school. And, of course, when they were finally able to go out, they would often come upon the brutal aftermath of firefights, IEDs, and suicide bombings, not something we'd want any child to experience.
      Today with the Syrian Civil War dragging into its seventh year, and an unstable Middle East, which we are partially responsible for, the world has more refugees than at any time since World War II. In 2016 the UN Refugee Agency estimated that there were 22.5 million refugees in the world. So, in the Age of Trump, what has been our response to this crisis? In one word, obscene.
      The Trump Administration had promised to take in 45,000 refugees during fiscal 2018, a paltry number considering our population of over 325 million, being the largest economy in the world, and, as compared to 2016, when we accepted nearly 85,000 refugees. Even so, at the halfway mark, we've only admitted a little more than 10,000. So in this very important respect, the Trump Administration has gone all in for globalization – or, as Pope Francis called it “the globalization of indifference” to refugees.
      Look no further than recent news for proof of the world's hard-heartedness. Netanyahu just changed his mind about resettling African migrants. Anti-immigrant parties are ascendant in many Poland, Hungary, and now, Italy, while Trump demagogues about “caravans” of “illegals."
      Yet the fact is most refugees are not in Western countries, but in Lebanon, Uganda, Kenya, and Jordan, countries much smaller geographically and economically than we are, so much less able to handle influxes of refugees. If these relatively poorer countries can step up, why can't we?
      We have a moral responsibility to do more, as we have in the past, yet today even mainstream Republicans seemingly equate refugees, who have already gone through a rigorous vetting process, with terrorists. That's not just a lie. It's the big lie on steroids.
But, worst of all, it's self-defeating. Under Trump, the world's opinion of the U.S. has plummeted. A Gallup survey earlier this year documented an almost 20-point drop in global confidence in American leadership.
      But if we accept more refugees, we might be able to change the world's opinion. Our intransigence is especially galling to me because, from my experience, we are good at assimilating refugee students. After the shortest time imaginable, my students, no matter where they came from, would be acting like typical American teenagers. Typical American teens who later would be a credit to their adopted country.
_______________________________________________________________________
Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated that the U.N. Refugee Agency had estimated there to be 65.6 million refugees. That is in error. The U.N. Refugee Agency estimated that there were 65.6 million "forcibly displaced people worldwide." There are an estimated 22.5 million refugees. That error is now corrected.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Believe it or Not, Trump is Not Our Main Problem

      Donald J. Trump, America's fevered dream, a lonely grifter who expertly used fear of the other to ascend to our nation's highest office . . . He strode fully-formed, from New York tabloids and reality TV, with the huckster's gift of gab and the uncanny ability to hone in on other's weaknesses. But from that fateful day he rode down on his golden escalator in Trump Tower, he's been our slow-motion national train wreck from which we cannot for even a day avert our eyes.
      Just try, for I have, and every time I do, I still can't quite ignore him. Just think of all the myriad of ways, he has sullied his office – the constant lying, the shameful bullying of others, his blatant disrespect of our courts and media, his cartoonish threats in the U.N. to destroy another sovereign nation, and, most shameful of all, the defending of Nazis and white supremacists. Interestingly, what would have dominated the news for any other President, the paying off of a porno star, doesn't even make the cut. Chew on that awhile.
      By the dizzying number of unforced errors, Trump has proven his worst detractors correct. He is spectacularly unsuited to be President. So it is with some sadness I have to admit that Trump is not our main problem – even though saying that I know I might well lose my glow-in-the-dark Trump Hater decoder ring that George Soros uses to communicate with we minions of the Deep State.
      A number of factors made Trump's election possible a strong right-wing news media impervious to facts and the manipulation of voters through largely unregulated social media sites, to cite only a few. But whenever I hear the usual political blah-blah-blah about Trump speaking for the forgotten man, Democrats being condescending toward the working class, or Hillary Clinton being such a flawed candidate, I can't shake the notion that something very important is being ignored.
      Namely, that Hillary Clinton, for all her many weaknesses, real and imagined, managed to win by nearly 3 million votes. So the proximate cause of Trump being in the White House is not Russian bots, the mendacious Fox News, or, even, the unpropitious James Comey, but because of the out-dated, convoluted way we pick our Presidents.
      It is richly ironic that the Electoral College, which was supposed to be our bulwark against populist demagogues, made it possible for the most demagogic President ever to win. In Federalist No. 68, Hamilton contends that the Electors would be “most likely to have the information and discernment” to choose wisely so as to avoid selecting someone “not . . . endowed with the requisite qualifications.” To belabor the obvious, in December 2016 when the Electors met last that didn't happen. Instead, they voted for the obviously unqualified Donald J. Trump.
      So far this century, we've had two candidates who lost the popular vote and won the Electoral College, Trump and George W. Bush. And, if you're of my political persuasion, that's more than enough to convince you the Electoral College needs to go.
     But if you still need more reasons, here goes. Part of the Electoral College's original purpose was to keep southern states relevant despite their built-in disadvantage of a disproportionate number of 3/5's of human beings (slaves, in other words) in their populations.
      So it helped slave states, and now it benefits lightly populated, largely rural states that are predominately white. Think, Wyoming. So as the nation becomes ever more diverse and urban, we will continue to elect Presidents by a method that strengthens the vote of the minority at the expense of the majority. This is not one person/one vote. It's not majority rule.
      If your city privileged a mostly white conservative neighborhood by giving their votes more weight, regardless of our political persuasion, we'd all be outraged, but that is exactly what happens with the Electoral College. Wyomingites have 3.6 times the voting power of Californians. The Electoral College is a radically undemocratic anachronism that virtually guarantees we'll have more Presidents who represent the minority of voters, not the majority. It needs to be abolished. Period.
      That can either be done by a constitutional amendment or by the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), which is an agreement among states that the popular vote winner will be elected President. Over the years, upwards of 700 amendments have been introduced in Congress to reform or abolish the Electoral College. It's time we finally got the job done.
      In 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto won by two-and-a-half million votes to become President of Mexico. In 2017, Emmanuel Macron won by 10 million votes in France. In neither country, in fact, in no other country does the second-place vote-getter win. Our presidential elections should be no different. Just as Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida should be the last school to face a mass shooting, Donald J. Trump should be the last second-place voter-getter to become President.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Houston Park, a Naked Angel, and Pure Evil: My Southern Heritage

      I admit it. I love grits with lots of butter, hot cornbread, and fried anything. At 60, I still say “yes, sir, no sir, yes, ma'am, and no, ma'am,” the way it was drilled into me as a boy. And, no matter which side of the Mason-Dixon I land, I use the plural of you every chance I get. In fact, I'm such a son of the south that my great grandfather, a Tennessee farmer, was named after not only one Confederate “hero” but two, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.
      Yes, I love my southern heritage, a phrase that's only besmirched, when you package it as an excuse to keep symbols of white supremacy, which in 2017 we should be long past defending. Our southern heritage, you see, is not only all that bad stuff. It's our food, our friendliness, our beautiful accents. But, most of all, it's our culture.
      Imagine American music without the three Southern cities of Memphis, New Orleans, and Nashville. It can't be done. American music does not exist without the south. And our culture doesn't stop there. Southern writers, like Robert Penn Warren, Flannery O'Connor, and William Faulkner taught me the pure joy of words and gave me, a teenage misfit in suburban Houston, a way to make sense of the craziness that has always been the south. To me, this is my southern heritage. But, obviously, others see things differently.
      When I was a teenager, after a morning doctor's appointment in downtown Houston where my dad worked, I was allowed to play glorious hooky the rest of the day. That afternoon I wandered through underground Houston, long hallways under streets that connected downtown buildings back in the seventies, and, for all I know, still. Later, I found myself in the old downtown library, a multi-story red-brick affair, now long torn down. But I didn't stop there. I wandered all the way to Sam Houston Park, a little west of City Hall. If you've ever driven on 45 through downtown Houston you've seen it, an oasis of green with old buildings, and yes, a statue.
      Picture me there, a 70's high school punk happily AWOL from the internecine conflicts of high school, sunning himself on a bench, just enjoying a little teenage R&R. After breathing in all that youthful freedom, I noticed an especially ugly statue looming behind me. It was a male angel with wings and a sword and not much else on. Curious, I got up and spotted its name: the Spirit of the Confederacy. I then read its dedication: “to all the heroes of the south who fought for the principles of states rights.”
      Gob-smacked, I reread the inscription again and again. Here we were in the seventies, and there was an actual statue honoring those who'd taken up arms against our nation, who, in other words, were traitors. And, even though, I was white and privileged, I remember being bowled over that in downtown Houston, where many African-Americans lived and worked, there'd be a statue to people who thought enslaving other human beings was not just par for the course, but worth fighting an especially brutal war over. How the hell must that make them feel?
      One argument I've seen on Facebook is that this struggle over statues is overblown. It's just not important. One meme blared as Harvey was pummeling my hometown with trillions of gallons of water that nobody in Houston now cared about Confederate statues. A statement, I suspect, even then was false.  This urge in 2017, some commentators believe, to get rid of these statues is just so much misplaced angst. Why now? they opine.
      But this specious argument can be turned around. If the existence of these statues is as unimportant as some conservatives claim, then one could plausibly argue, why not take them down if some members of the community are offended by them. Yet the truth is these statues, like most symbols – our flag, for instance – are important. Yes, the removal of these offensive monuments will not magically heal the very deep and real wounds caused by America's original sin of slavery. But it is still very much a fight worth having and having now.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dating in Your Sixties or Beware of Crazy Greek Psychotherapists!

     Remember how awful junior high was? Well, dating in your sixties is worse. Women complain of hoped-for princes turning out to be frogs, mansplainers, or pervs, but, let me tell you, it's not so easy for men either. After my wife of 30 years died almost 2 years ago, I thought having a long successful marriage, plus still having my hair and being in relatively good shape, would bode well for me in the dating world. After all, I'm a nice guy, hard-wired for a long-term relationship. Surely, some woman would see that, and the rest would be history.
      Boy, was I ever wrong! Think something on the scale of Columbus believing that bumping into a few islands in the Caribbean meant he was on his way to China and mega-riches or working-class voters buying any of Trump's flim-flam, faux-populist rhetoric. World-class wrong!
      For example, none of the dozen or so women I've dated have been my ideal exactly, but I've always tried to see the good in each one. Some had nice smiles, while others were good conversationalists. But women, I've found, are not quite so broad-minded. They're like shoppers who know exactly what they want, and it hasn't been me. I don't seem to display quite the self-confidence of the narcissistic sociopaths they divorced and are used to. For example, I've been dumped for rather exacting reasons: not being able to salsa dance, not traveling to the “right” places, and, my personal favorite so far, being too intelligent.
      A while back, I exchanged emails with an attractive woman from Match.com. I learned she was Greek and a psychotherapist. Of course, I didn't know then that she was crazy. But when we talked on the phone, I ought to have figured it out. Enough red flags were raised that for a moment there I felt like I was in the middle of a Mao-era Chinese ballet.
      After she wondered how she would know me when we met, I told her I could wear my baseball cap. “That's a deal breaker!” she exclaimed. Taken aback, I explained I'd only wear it till she saw me, then discreetly put it away. That seemed to calm her, for a while. Then when she found out where I live, in a working-class, urban neighborhood, you would've thought mi barrio was a slum known for druggies and drive-byes, instead of great taco trucks and pho.
      Despite all the red flags, we met for lunch, and it went pretty well. Afterwards, we exchanged hugs and agreed to a second date. Or so I thought. But that night I got the “adios” email from her, which happens. I've rejected women and been rejected, but you try to do it nicely, not like a certain crazy, Greek psychotherapist.
      She wrote: I want to “enjoy the rest of my life with a romantic partner who wants and is ready to focus on his last love. You are not him. BTW, You are not the only one who watches 'Friends' and borrowing their 'sometime' line. Not very unique for a writer. LOL . . . I feel great to have said the Truth.”
      I had to ask my daughter about that “Friends” line. Who knew that show had a copyright on the phrase, “Let's go out sometime?” I sure didn't. But in the end, the crazy, Greek psychotherapist, who seems like she might need a little work upstairs herself, did me a big favor. Honestly, would I have really wanted to go on a second date with that nut job, even if she was quite attractive?
      Undeterred I've gone on to date two other women. A Brazilian who sent me tons of cute texts, until she broke our third date. And I haven't heard back from her since. Then I had 2 dates with a gorgeous 54-year old with a personal trainer, until she regained her sense of sight.
      Sure, I think about giving up sometimes, but then I realize all of it – the crazy Greek psychotherapist, the Brazilian addicted to cutsie texts, and la belle dame sans merci – are just fodder for my memoir, tentatively entitled, Worse than Junior High: the Ken Wheatcroft-Pardue Story.