This Explains Everything

I suspect most of us have struggled to understand all that is happening in our country at this time.  Pundits, politicians, and plain folk have all put forward explanations for the craziness afoot in our land.  Nothing that I read connected all the dots.

Then I saw that the Washington Post published Trump Goes Back to His Professional Wrestling DaysAnd suddenly, it all made sense.

Writer David Von Drehle says that too little attention has been paid to Trump’s wrestling background from when he was active in the golden age of “rassling” back in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“Trump was among the first self-promoters to hitch a ride on impresario Vince McMahon’s WWE juggernaut. He sponsored two of McMahon’s early WrestleMania extravaganzas back in the Golden Age, steering them to the Historic Atlantic City Convention Hall and promoting them through his Trump casinos…But the peak of Trump’s career came in 2007, when he was written into the script of WrestleMania 23 as one-half of the Battle of the Billionaires, facing off against McMahon. Before a crowd of 80,000 at Detroit’s Ford Field, with a million more watching on pay-per-view, Trump played his role to the hilt, clotheslining McMahon and pretending to pummel him on the floor before shaving the promoter’s head as the fruit of victory. The drama culminated with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin administering a Stunner punch to the future commander in chief.”

 So how does this explain everything?  Von Drehle continues:

“This might be a mere footnote to Trump’s story — a celebrity-age version of young Abraham Lincoln’s match against an Illinois roughneck — except for this: The Trump presidency is right out of a WWE script. His brawling news conferences, his beefs with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Mika Brzezinski, the who’s-up-who’s-down chaos inside his White House, all bear the imprint of a man schooled on the melodramatic storylines of pro wrestling.”

Tojo Yamamoto

Tojo Yamamoto (credit: Wikipedia)

As someone who grew up watching Tojo Yamamoto, Jackie Fargo, and other professional ‘rassling heels and stars on local television with my grandfather and cousins long before there was a WWE, this strikes me as the perfect frame for what we’re seeing.

“You might say all politicians tell stories of conflict. But with Trump, it’s relentless. He takes us from bout to bout — Trump against China, Trump against Comey, Trump against Kim, Trump against Fake News — with a head-spinning undercard of Jared against Bannon and Spicy Spicer against The Mooch. Every policy choice, every personnel decision, every setback can be fodder for the next day’s script. ”

“At this point, many Americans would like to change the channel. And indeed, pro-wrestling ratings have been dropping for years. But as long as Trump’s core audience laps it up, there will be more — culminating, perhaps, as Bob “the G-Man” Mueller delivers a Tilt-a-Whirl Headscissors Takedown followed by a Rude Awakening.”

This. Explains. Everything.

As a sidenote, Wikipedia has a great story about Tojo Yamamoto, who took his name from two World War II enemies and played up the evil foreigner to the hilt, especially throughout the South.  I have to repeat the story here, simply because it is so perfect:

“Wrestling in Boaz, Alabama, Yamamoto gave one of the great performances in pro wrestling. Before the start of the matches, he asked to give a statement to the crowd, which booed and hissed and threw things. In broken English he said, “I wish make aporogy. Very sorry my country bomb Pear-uh Harbor.” And the crowd quiets, as he wipes away tears, and they awwww in sympathy. “It wrong thing to do, I wish not happen.” They begin to applaud. “Yes, I wish not happen, because instead I wish they BOMB BOAZ!!!” Needless to say, the arena erupted.”

More to come…

DJB

 

Observations from the Road (Or The “I’ve Been Everywhere” Edition)

Rook Coffee

Dad Hat from Rook Coffee (photo credit: Rook Coffee)

Life on the road can become a blur.  I began writing this from the Molly Pitcher Inn’s dining room which overlooks the Navesink River in Red Bank, New Jersey. Candice and I have come here to celebrate the 40th wedding anniversary of her cousin Mary Beth and husband Greg.  It is the second time we find ourselves in Red Bank in three weeks, as we were here earlier in the month to celebrate with family and friends the life of Candice’s aunt and godmother, and Mary Beth’s mother, who passed away at age 90.

June is perhaps a bit more than typical in terms of travel (16 out of the first 24 days spent on the road), but only at the margins.  Good thing that I enjoy it.  In June alone I’ve not only visited Red Bank twice, but I’ve also been to Madison, Wisconsin (one of prettiest small college cities in America…in the summer); Athens and Atlanta, Georgia (my God, they never stop building highways); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (a gem of a city with much to recommend it and work to be done); and Hampton, Virginia (home of Fort Monroe, Freedom’s Fortress). And there’s still a week to go before we hit the 4th of July weekend!

I’ve thought so many times of writing a blog post on this or that subject, only to drop the idea as I rush to a meeting or another airport.  So this “Observations from…” post will be very short (dare I say Twitter-like”) comments on several things swirling around my travel-addled mind.

Rook Rocks—The waitress at the Molly Pitcher on Friday morning commented on my big cup of Rook Coffee. I told her I just had to try any independent coffee shop with the guts to locate next to a Starbucks, as is the case with Rook in downtown Red Bank’s wonderful Main Street.  She replied, “Oh, you’re not from around here.  In these parts, Rook so out-performs Starbucks.  After a few sips, I knew why.

Independent Coffee Shops (and bookstores) are holding their own—I’ve come to seek out those independent coffee shops no matter where I go.  When in Madison, stop by Colectivo Coffee on the Square. Their baristas  rival Rook in their friendliness (and they have that Midwestern Nice vibe going for them).  Jittery Joe’s is a tasty find in Athens. And on that rare occasion when I’ve been in DC, I took the time to stop by my favorite bookstore, Politics and Prose, where Candice and I enjoyed a late-night coffee recently at The Den after stocking up at the store’s member sale.

Everyone (and every thing) needs refurbishing now and then—I have stayed in just about every type of hotel imaginable this month. Most have been great.  A couple have been a bit long in the tooth.  Just like people, hotels need the occasional refurbishment every now and again. Let’s begin with those electrical outlets. (I’m looking at you, Molly Pitcher Inn!)

If I keep up this level of travel, I’m going to have to break down and get the MLB network—In June I’ve been to the ballpark once (but have a second game next week to see the World Champion Cubs and our Nats) and have only caught about five games on television. While I have enjoyed catching up with some other teams, I miss seeing my Nats on a regular basis.  And I really like our announcers—Bob and F.P.—after sampling home team announcers in other cities.  Truth be told, however, I don’t miss the heartburn that goes with the all-too-frequent Nats bullpen meltdown.  Come on, Rizzo, please go find a closer.  Thank God for yesterday’s laugh-fest blowout against the Reds!  And I want to have a renaissance like Ryan Zimmerman!

I have to drive HOW FAR to go see the Braves—Even though I don’t need to visit the new Atlanta Braves stadium to add another one to my bucket list, I gave serious consideration to taking in a game one evening while I was in town.  Then I Googled the distance from my mid-town hotel.  Then I drove a bit in Atlanta.  Then I watched the game from the comfort of my hotel room.  What a dumb way to build a broad base of support for a sport that’s already seen as too old and white…build a new stadium way out in the northern suburbs to make sure that the city’s African-American fan base (real and potential) can’t get there.  Jeez.

If I bite my tongue any more, part of it will fall off—I try to keep politics out of my blog. For now.  But with so many things happening to endanger our American experiment in democracy, I may have to throw caution to the wind.  I’ve traveled in both red and blue states this month and I’ve spoken with people from across the political divide.  We need to face some hard facts as a nation.

Celebrate family and friends—Candice and I were talking today about all the interactions with family and friends we’ve experienced in recent months.  Funerals.  Weddings.  Wedding Anniversaries (our own and others). Birthdays.  Celebrations of Mothers and Fathers. Dinner parties. Picnics on our saint’s day at church.  We’ve traveled for as many of these as we’ve celebrated at home in Washington.  When family isn’t nearby, you lose something by not making the effort to see them on a regular basis.  And friends expand the family circle.  We are blessed on both counts.

Father's Day at Jack Rose

Drinking whiskey at Jack Rose on Father’s Day with Andrew

Is anything better than bourbon and baseball for Father’s Day—That’s a trick question.  Nope.  Well, yes there is.  It would have been even better if Claire had been here in D.C. with us.  Andrew and Candice took me to Jack Rose Dining Saloon for a Father’s Day feast and some mighty fine bourbon last Sunday. (Largest bourbon selection in the Western Hemisphere!) Claire and Andrew are buying me a Nats jacket in anticipation of those October playoff games.  What could be finer?  (Another trick question.) Woo hoo!

Even in very busy and often challenging times, it is important to remember the wonder of travel, the joy of seeing new places, the lifetime pleasures of staying connected with family, the unexpected moments of delight that come from an expanded circle of friends, and the satisfaction of seeing (and being) people living their passion.

More to come…

DJB

A Family Celebration

Erin Brown Belcher

Erin Brown Belcher on her wedding day

After three family funerals in the past eighteen months—two of which came much too early in the lives of those we lost—the Brown family was able to come together this weekend for a family celebration.

We gathered at my brother Joe’s beautiful Cripple Creek farm on a sunny and cloudless spring day to celebrate the wedding of our niece, Erin, and Jonathan Belcher.

The bride looked beautiful in the wedding gown she had made by hand (over 53 1/2 hours!). The bluegrass music for the reception covered the countryside. The children of our other nieces played games and ran through the fields and around the pond.

A good time was had by all.

It is nice to remember the cycle of life continues in a year when we’ve said goodbye too many times.  So on this Mother’s Day, which falls on the one-year anniversary of my father’s passing, here’s to Erin and Jonathan and to the resiliency of family and love.

 

Remembering those who came before

Remembering those who came before

 

The farm

The farm

 

The family gathers to celebrate life and love

The family gathers to celebrate life and love

More to come…

DJB

 

Chowing Down at the Red Rooster

Spring succotash

Spring succotash at the Red Rooster

I had two meetings yesterday in Harlem.  Fortunately, the second one was over lunch at the Red Rooster.

Oh my!

Deviled eggs to die for.  Homemade lemonade.  Cornbread that “came from heaven” according to our wonderful waitress (and her sense of direction was pretty good).  My main dish (an appetizer) was described on the menu as:

No Better Place to Become a Citizen

Naturalization Ceremony

Judge Fine presides over the naturalization ceremony at the Painted Desert Inn

Sometimes you find yourself in the right place at the right time.

Last Wednesday I was in Arizona for work at the Petrified Forest National Park.  But first, a colleague and I attended a naturalization ceremony that the park hosted at the National Historic Landmark Painted Desert Inn for nine new citizens and their families and friends.

It was Americana at its best.  No, it was more than that.  It was deeply moving as nine people made a life-changing decision to establish a new home in a new land.

A local girl scout troop – with a diversity that “looked like America” – acted as the color guard.  The Honorable Deborah M. Fine, other federal officials, and Park Superintendent Brad Traver, made remarks that got to the heart of the privilege and responsibilities of citizenship.  Several speakers noted that there was no better place to become a U.S. citizen than a national park – America’s “best idea.”  A recording of America the Beautiful took your eyes to the desert and the spacious skies, bringing chills to the bone.

Painted Desert

The beautiful Painted Desert

Painted Desert from the Inn

The view of the Painted Desert from the Inn

My colleague Brian turned to me and said, “Is there a better place to sing America the Beautiful?”  Nope.  I wish we would stop singing God Bless America at all these sporting events and sing America the Beautiful instead.  It is so much more inspiring.

In this day and age when we often demonize immigrants, it was refreshing to be part of a celebration of immigration.  Nine new citizens from eight countries, coming together as one.

More to come…

DJB

35 Reasons I’d Do It All Over Again

At Prospect Hill in 1982

The newlyweds – poor graduate students – on our honeymoon at Prospect Hill

Thirty-five years ago tomorrow – March 20th – Candice and I started our adventure together.  I remember the first time I saw Candice.  She was coming around the corner of an office cubicle at the Georgia State Historic Preservation Office – where we’d both just been hired – and I thought, “Wow!”  (That’s a technical term meaning, “This could be interesting!”) As I got to know her over the months and years, my initial assessment was more than confirmed.

In her book Two-Part Invention:  The Story of a Marriage, Madeleine L’Engle describes the evening that her husband Hugh proposed to her.

“We went to one of our favorite restaurants in the Village, and after dinner he came home with me.  We talked.  About this, about that. He suggested that we play records, and chose Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

He picked up a book of poetry off the shelf and began leafing through it, and then read me Conrad Aiken’s beautiful words:

Music I heard with you was more than music, and bread I broke with you was more than bread.

And then he said, ‘Madeleine, will you marry me?'”

I love that sentiment of how two make something more than what we feel alone.  That is so true with Candice.  In honor of our anniversary, here are thirty-five reasons I’d do it all over again.

1. Thinks deeply about what type of wife, mother, sister, in-law, and friend she wants to be.  Then she acts out of that conviction.

2. Will go to a restaurant, taste something we both love, and come home and duplicate it for us.  How does she do that?

3.  Treats children as people. They respond to her respect with love and respect of their own.

4.  Is both romantic and pragmatic, and knows when each is the proper approach.

5.  When we were first married, I brought a habit of buying things on credit to the marriage.  Candice grew up waiting until she had cash before making a purchase.  We talked through our attitudes toward money, and then we adopted her overall approach whenever possible.  (House mortgages excepted.)  When I look at our family’s financial situation thirty-five years later, I am so glad she had the patience to work with me on financial management.  She’s also taught Andrew and Claire about the thoughtful use of money.

6.  Even in light of the previous reason, when I took a shine to several very nice guitars, and had the wherewithal to buy them, she fully supported the scratching of my Guitar Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S.) itch.

Playing my Running Dog

Playing one of my Running Dog guitars

7.  Has consistently seen more in me than I see in myself.  Over thirty-five years, that’s a great confidence builder.

8.  Remembers everyone’s birthday, and sends cards, calls, and otherwise makes you feel very special…even if you don’t want to remember that you’re now 62!

9.  There have been times of misunderstandings.  All marriages have them.  Yet when one of us outruns the other, Candice will wait for me to catch up (if she’s ahead) or ask me to wait for her to get comfortable with wherever I am.

10.  We renovated two old homes early in our married life.  On the first house, we found ourselves arguing over how well I did the detail work and how slow she was in moving through items that didn’t require a lot of thought.  She had the good sense to point out that her focus made her the best person to take the paint off the baseboards, while my zeal for the big-picture meant that I should strip wallpaper to my heart’s content.  We never again strayed into each other’s territory, and it probably saved our marriage.

11. Wears “jewelry” created by Andrew and Claire in kindergarten and pulls it off as if she’s wearing the latest designer creation.  She always gets compliments when she brings them out.

12.  Is incredibly patient.  Will wait (and wait, and wait) for what she wants.  I guess that was a good trait, in that she waited for me!

20th Anniversary Dinner

20th Anniversary Dinner at Prospect Hill

13.  Is non-judgemental.  She has said that when she sees a situation where she might get frustrated by someone’s action, she stops and thinks, “What don’t I understand about this situation?”

14.  Loved both my parents and always treated them with respect and affection.  Candice and my father had a special bond, driven, in part, by their shared love for theology.  When my father died, Candice asked me to get as many of his theological books as I could from his library.  Two or three boxes of books later, we had significantly added to our collection.

15.  Knows how to snuggle.

16.  Takes good care of me when I am sick – especially those times when I’m a terrible patient.  I certainly would not put up with what I put her through when I don’t feel well.  (Note:  The times I am really sick, I’m actually a pretty good patient.  But that’s not often.)

17.  Is a wonderful mother to our children. I give her (and the twins) all the credit for how well they turned out as people.  Plus, I think the twins have been helped by having a mother who is a teacher.  She knows things from her training where I am clueless.

San Gmignano

Claire and Candice in San Gimignano

 

Andrew and Claire in Stockholm March 2014

Andrew and Candice in Stockholm

18.  Loves to travel, and is a great traveling companion for all of us.

19.  Does everything in her power to get me to eat a healthy diet.  If you see me with an order of french fries, you can be assured that I made the choice (instead of being served them as part of one of her dinners.)

20.  As the years of our marriage have passed, Candice has become much more comfortable with each of us separately focusing on things we enjoy.  I might go to a ballgame with a friend, and she’s fine with that (and in fact, is supportive.)  We can now spend the day together at home, and go for hours between checking in.  Yet she’s also aware of when we might need to connect.

21.  Loves good food and encouraged us to sit down and eat a civilized dinner with well-cooked food, thoughtful conversation, and no television.  We’ve been doing that for thirty-five years, and I think all of us have benefited.  As the children became older, we added candles (and later wine) to the mix.  Andrew and Claire have always been able to carry on meaningful conversations with adults, and I credit their experience at the dining room table.  We’ve also had some amazing conversations with them in recent years around topics that I never thought I’d consider – much less discuss.  All because of the good food and drink, and the space and time to share.

22.  Laughs at (most of) my jokes, even when she’s heard them dozens of times before.

23.  Has never been afraid to try new things.  In the course of our marriage, Candice’s jobs out of the house have included preservationist, teacher, tutor, shop keeper, caterer, teacher (again), innkeeper, and teacher (yet again).  I may have missed one or two.  Her curiosity, openness to new experiences, and desire to make a difference in the lives of others has taken her down many rewarding paths – for her and for our family.

Candice and Margaret

Candice and Margaret – two thirds of the catering team at Table Grace – seen here preparing one of our Thanksgiving dinners with the Pearsons

24.  Makes getting up early on Saturday to get to the Farmers’ Market fun, by tying it in with coffee and pastries at Tout de Sweet.  Saturday mornings are our time to connect with each other, catch up, and look ahead.  We both see it as our sacred time.

25.  Her idea of a perfect evening is to have an intimate dinner and conversation for several hours with a small group of friends.  As someone who doesn’t like large parties, I am forever grateful that this is her preference.

26.  Can get me out on the dance floor.

 

Candice and David celebrate their 32nd anniversary in Copenhagen, March 20, 2014

Our 32nd anniversary – celebrated in Copenhagen in March 2014

27.  Makes an effort to stay connected to family and friends.  She calls her family faithfully, and visits often.  When she hasn’t heard from someone in a while, she’ll often reach out with an email, Facebook post, text, or call to see how they are doing.  Once she “retired” she took to scheduling regular tea time or lunches with friends new and old.  My social life would be pretty limited without Candice’s instincts to connect with others.

28.  Loves traditions, and makes great ones for our family.  The twins – at age twenty-four – still look forward to getting their shoes filled with goodies on St. Nicholas Day.

29.  When cancer, a concussion, and hip replacement entered her life (at different times), Candice tackled each recovery with a dedication that I’ve seldom seen. She is a great example of how patient, doctor, spiritual director, family, and friends work together to bring healing to one’s body.

30.  Jazz is the only intersection between our musical tastes, but she has been to many more folk, bluegrass, and acoustic music concerts than I’ve been to concerts with acapella singing groups. She will put up with my music for a long time until she asks for a change (and Del McCoury is often involved in pushing her over the edge.)

31.  Candice grew up Catholic.  I was raised Southern Baptist, but by the time we met I had joined the Episcopal Church.  We agreed that we both wanted to worship in the same church, so we each took classes in the other church as we were preparing to get married.  (Note:  You can tell the difference in the two when you hear the names.  In the Episcopal Church, one attends the “Inquirers Class.”  For the Catholics, one goes to the “Converts Class.”)  I will always appreciate Candice’s willingness to move from her family’s church and towards the Episcopal church, where we’ve now been members for 35 years.

34th anniversary

Celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary at Ditirambo in Rome

32.  Neither one of us is perfect (surprise) and we often disagree.  But as Alain de Botton said in Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person, “The person we are best suited to is not the person who shares our every tastes (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in tastes intelligently – the person who is good at disagreement.”  Candice is good at disagreement, in that she never makes that disagreement personal, hurtful, or permanent.  To use de Botton’s phrase, “She can tolerate differences with generosity.”

33.  Loves to cook and is very good at it!  The first meal she made for the two of us had me hooked, and she hasn’t let up yet.  Yes, I know how lucky I am.

34.  For our 35th anniversary, was “all in” when I suggested a long weekend away at Mohonk Mountain House, for time to eat, read, meditate (yes, I went to a guided meditation class!), eat, get a massage, do yoga, eat, drink, and celebrate.  We had a delightful time re-connecting with each other and with this wonderful place.

35th anniversary dinner

Celebrating our 35th Anniversary at a snowy Mohonk Mountain House in March 2017

35.  Loves me unconditionally.  Who could ask for more?

Thank you, my love.  Let’s do thirty-five more!

Love, and with hopefully much more to come…

DJB

The “Risk” of Values

ValuesAt the National Trust, we begin each executive team meeting with an example of our values in action. Discussing how our colleagues have exemplified our values of integrity, collaboration, diversity, and innovation – all focused on making a difference – is often my favorite part of the meeting.

National Trust Trustee emeritus Ken Woodcock was a consistent proponent of the importance of organizational values, an approach that came from his years at the energy company AES.  At Ken’s urging, I read Joy at Work by the highly unconventional AES co-founder and CEO Dennis Bakke, who spoke eloquently about the importance of values.  In one especially telling example, Bakke quoted from the company’s public-offering memo, which read in part:

“An important element of AES is its commitment to four major “shared” values:  to act with integrity, to be fair, to have fun, and to be socially responsible….AES believes that earning a fair profit is an important result of providing a quality product to its customers.  However, if the Company perceives a conflict between these values and profits, the Company will try and adhere to its values – even though doing so might result in diminished profits or foregone opportunities.  Moreover, the Company seeks to adhere to these values not as a means to achieve economic success, but because adherence is a worthwhile goal in and of itself.  The Company intends to continue these policies after this offering.”

Staffers at the Securities and Exchange Commission suggested that this paragraph should go into the section of the document entitled “Special Risk Factors.”  In other words, the SEC officials thought that values were a hazard!  As Bakke noted, he could now say that the U.S. government thought it was very risky to attempt to operate a business with integrity, fairness, social responsibility, and a sense of fun.  While AES certainly had its ups and downs though the years, the company is ongoing and these core values remain under the current leadership.

Bakke’s overall point about the importance of values is a good one:  We should attempt to live according to a set of unchanging shared ethical principles not because doing so might result in economic success to the individual or organization, but because it is the right way to live.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB