One 400-word paragraph on why I, and men like me, will never go to Mars, even if we wanted to go to Mars

One 400-word paragraph on why I, and men like me, will never go to Mars, even if we wanted to go to Mars

It’s a problem of denied ritual comfort and losing the chance to absorb the contemplative benefits of that comfort.  A person once could enter their residential bathroom and sit unchallenged for 45 minutes. Now, it’s never more than 45 seconds before someone pounds on the door and demands: “Are you gonna be in there FOREVER?” Even if you never sat on the toilet in your home with the bathroom door open and everyone you know gone for the day, you’d like the chance to do that, just so you could read an old paperback John Steinbeck novel in peace, and smoke a cigar while thinking up ways to use the word “alimentary” as a Conan Doyle pun. We have lost some convenient places to sit and think. No one thinks in the bathroom anymore. If they did, they know it’s a totally emcompassing ritual that fulfills all the reasons it’s good to be a man of a certain age, even though no one in your life would understand the attraction. They would be alarmed that you harbored such secret ambitions. We all seek out these oases of personal comfort, power and total indifference to the rest of the world. And, after all, is that not the ultimate lottery prize for growing older: To become a man of a certain age? I do not know the precise age that is, though I probably have attained it. The rest of the world will insist this is disgusting, but it’s my disgusting, so just deal with it. It’s saying to the world: Yes, I know this is preposterous and insulting that I had to start this sentence with a colon, but deal with it. I deserve this; this is mine; this is a prerogative I earned. As for the open bathroom door/toilet/Steinbeck/cigar convergence, will you—can you?— ever do that on the way to Mars, and or even once you get there? No. The act of launching yourself to Mars guarantees you will spend the rest of your life in one form of hermetically sealed porta-potty or another. You will be surrounded perpetually by people who consider the consumption of a cigar in a closed environment to be a debauched assault on human dignity. No more maduro hand-rolled cigars for you. Mister Space Traveler. Given all those insights, I’m not going to Mars, even if you ask me.

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“Horse feces (left)”

According to an LA television station’s news report, someone left a Christmas gift-wrapped package on a residential driveway this week. It was addressed to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The brightly papered package contained horse feces.

The police first identified the unattended article as “a suspicious package.” The bomb squad arrived.

I, as a man of some experience, know a few things, and one of those things is that a brightly wrapped package of horse feces will not remain a “mystery package” for very long. All of you need to do to remove the “mystery” is sit there for a few minutes with the package in your lap. By the by, it will become apparent this is not a package of explosives sent by a radical Islamist terrorist unless Isis has somehow figured out how to weaponize horse feces.  That would be redundant.  Horse feces pretty much works as a stand-alone weapon all on its own.

And if you sit close to a package of horse feces on a warm California morning, the package’s true nature will be revealed to you, unless you have a really bad head cold and your sinuses are clogged.

It’s similar to Jeff Goldblum’s dinosaur “life always finds a way” warning  in “Jurassic Park.” The same also is more or less true about a package containing horse feces. It will find a way to reveal itself.

Steve Mnuchin and his “let-the-peasants-eat-cake” model wife are among the most hideous troglodytes populating the current Cabinet, which is saying a lot.

As far as I know, if there were a photograph of Stece Mnuchin holding a brightly decorated package of horse feces,  a good journalist would have to specify the photo’s caption as “horse feces, (left)”

Also as far as I now, attempting to use the U.S. Postal Service to mail a package of horse feces to a federal Cabinet official is a crime.

But simply filling a brightly festooned package with horse feces, addressing it to Strive Mnuchin and then leaving the package on his driveway would not appear to be a crime.

It’s a fine joke, though, and laden with rude, but focused symbolism. A package of horse feces makes a point.

That act seems like a good idea to me.

Maybe if more people follow the example, it will become a social movement and “go viral” in the most literal use of the phrase.

The return of the Christmas Ninjas

This is a story about my father, the Christmas Ninja. Maybe there is a moral lesson to be learned from this story. Maybe not.

You will have to be the judge.

For some reason that could not be explained in hindsight, my father thought it would be a grand gesture to steal a Christmas tree. Not from a store or some commercial lot, for that would seem petty and venal in a low, common way.

No, he seemed more inclined to a grander gesture of protest against the commercialization of the holiday season. Something devilish. Something in a Guy Fawkes motif.

Then, there were several other factors at work. I do not recall if the Rock Island and Frisco Railroad had ever done anything to my father that would provoke retribution.

Though he generally had a jaundiced, disdainful view of large, greedy, commercial institutions, the aligned events might have been essentially random. He was living on the Southern Plains where there were few stands of anything that looked like a fir tree, except the ones planted along the right of way of the Rock Island.

Thus, the railroad and its assets became targets of opportunity.

The plot was afoot with its shape gradually forming. From wild, loony idea eventually to wild loony plan contained in an orderly, if not sane, system of execution.

He would wear all black. Naturally. Ninjas afoot do not like bright colors. So he’d go with the black ski mask, black sweater, black pants, black socks, black shoes. Black underwear, as far as I knew. He would drive a black pickup. He would be the Christmas Ninja. Striking a blow against The Man. Honoring the Little Lord Jesus in the most appropriate way possible—stealing a Christmas tree.

It was both noble and spiritual. And, besides, it sure beat spending 40 bucks for a Christmas tree at Kmart.

He would wait until several weeks before Christmas before launching his protest commando raid. All the while carrying his well-sharpened and trusty “Babe the Blue Ax,” he’d drive down the rural railroad frontage roads with his lights turned off. He would carefully assess the Rock Island trees and, when he found the exact right candidate, he would alight from the pickup truck, scamper up the gravel-filled gradient, whack down that tree in two or three powerful swings, haul the deceased conifer trunk-first back to the truck, toss the ax into the back bed and hightail it down the darkened road, all the while cackling in felonious glee.

This was the plan.

You would have had to know my father well to understand how this plan would have seemed perfectly natural and workable to him. First, he had always been a meticulous planner and at some point in his golden years—“Mine are brass.” he told me — Dad completely had lost his fear of bad outcomes.

He referred to his new-found freedom as “my give-a-shit threshold.”

In this new plateau of life, he liked to measure how much trouble would be levied upon him if something were to go askew.  Like, getting caught. After all, how much effort do you spend on throwing a 65-year-old grandfather war hero in jail, no matter what he’s done?

As far as I know, my father never knowingly did anything wrong before the Night of The Christmas Ninja or thereafter. It was simply that he liked to calculate limits, risks and benefits. He measured what the boundaries of his imagination could afford.

On this blessed Christmas, he had decided that a free Christmas tree stolen from Profiteering Capitalists was worth the risk. And further, it would be fun.

When all of this was explained to me afterward, none of it, except for one fact, seemed surprising in the slightest.

The singular exception was how he convinced my normally responsible sister to join him. Now there were two Christmas Ninjas. My father’s lunacies could be contagious.

Though  it’s been 30 years, it’s never totally come clear about her inspirational role in this family episode. Maybe she decided that Dad could hurt himself in the dark and that cutting down trees was at the far perimeter of his physical skills.

Plus, if Dad was going to get handcuffed by a deputy sheriff for destroying Rock Island property, she’d just as soon be in the county calaboose with him to offer moral support— and bail.

And to be fair to her temperament, the entire yuletide Black Ops would have seemed like a perfectly swell concept to her, too. She was the Ninja Apple that did not fall far from the Ninja Tree.

Thus the Christmas Ninjas headed out on their raid, bouncing along county roads on their path to criminal destiny and high hiliarity.

At this point, my sister informed Dad of several pertinent safety facts that he had failed to incorporate into his planning. It’s dark in rural Central Oklahoma at night. Really dark. There are snakes with big teeth. Walk carefully. And skunks. Don’t forget the skunks. And also, if we get caught, don’t run. Oklahoma deputies shoot first. It’s their way.

The proper howevers and whereases having been dispensed, they went speeding down the county road in the dark. When it’s midnight dark on the plains of Oklahoma, it’s in-the-bottom-of-the-coal-mine dark except for the glorious stars. If you had shined a flashlight into the truck’s cab, all you’d have seen were four luminous eye-whites staring back, big and round.

They drove stealthily without the illumination of headlights.

They ran off the road only twice, and never so far they wouldn’t get back to the proper path. Pavement is a civic amenity having come only recently to Oklahoma and not yet to its county roads.

But eventually they came to a stand of trees, outlined against the stars. This was to be the scene of the crime. And together, like the Lone Ranger and Tonto on a mission of justice, they climbed the little hill near the railroad tracks, spotted a likely tree, and began to whack.

And whack. And whack. And then whack some more.

A half hour later, they were drenched in their sweat-soaked Ninja garb. The tree had swooned against the barrage and then fell with a muffled plop.

Dad had assigned himself the role of lookout. So he stood in the dirt road and watched for approaching phantom vehicles, as she dragged the tree foot by foot down the incline. Every few seconds, he would claim to see a coming vehicle and signal for her to duck behind another bush. So down the hill she came, tip-toeing in tiny steps — and grunting loudly—from one hiding spot to another, like Bugs Bunny sneaking up on Elmer Fudd, except much louder.

She dragged the noble tree to the truck, and they heaved it over the side of the truck bed with a loud, joint ha-rumffff! Dad reached into his pocket and withdrew the coup de grace, a large red plastic “SOLD” sign which he wrapped around the end with a cellophane sleeve. He had expertly scissored the sign from a Grippos Potato Chip sack.

And then they headed off. The crime was done. The Ninjas had escaped.

It would have been unkind to be too critical of the tree they acquired that night. After all, the tree was a statement, a matter of protest. The two Ninjas spoke of the tree later in the barest of detail.

Later at home they piled layers of sparkly garland and dozens of glass ornaments, and twinkling lights both large and small and filled every crevasse and thinly foliated branch with decorations. It was a Tammy Fay Bakker tree makeover if ever there was one. (Note to newcomers: She was a televangelist’s wife and sidekick who always wore about three pounds of Max Factor makeup and fake eyelashes that were at least 6 inches long).

But the night had deceived them; It was not a fir tree at all they have pilfered. It was a cedar. And when they were done, and Mother got a chance to carefully assess the handiwork, all she could do was look woefully at the tall bush and shake her head in dismay. “That’s not a fir tree,” she declared with thin contempt. “It’s a cedar, for pity sake. It’s a tall bush!”

It was the most forlorn, ugly, bedraggled Charlie Brown Christmas tree she had ever seen. It was barely 5 feet tall. This was a Christmas bush that starving Ethiopians would have pitied.

“Where did you buy THAT thing?” Mother demanded to know with sudden curiosity. She mumbled something under breath that “you couldn’t have done worse if you’d just gone into the woods and chopped one down.”

The Two Christmas Ninjas said nothing. They would not allow their eyes to meet. There are times when the truth is simply not a useful choice. And besides, they were too busy scratching their arms. The cedar’s sticky, gooey residue had soaked into their forearms, like a fiberglass body lotion. I’m almost sure the two Christmas Ninjas had learned their lesson. Learned it once and for all. They surely would ponder long and hard about their many blessings, and vow never to do anything this stupid again.

They had finally learned The True Meaning of Christmas.

Or maybe not.

An anniversary to mourn

Anniversaries dominate your life as you get older, which is, I suppose, the inevitable cost of survival.

Our corporeal lives face expiration dates, and each significant marker on the toll road edges us closer to that exit ramp. But we’re optimists; so we choose to plop one foot in front of the other and walk ahead as best we can.

But some days are harder than others. This is Dec. 13. This is my hard day.

I thought long and intently about it seven years ago when I first wrote about Dec. 13 memories I had never really shared until then.

I contemplated more than I had done in the past and maybe more than I should.

That’s because Dec. 13 is the one anniversary that feels more like unfinished business than a milestone.

We all have moments we can’t shake. This is mine.

On Dec. 13, 1977—40 years ago this week— many of the people I knew most well and cared about most deeply died in a massive fireball just off the end of an airport runway in Evansville, Ind.

Fourteen were basketball players for the University of Evansville Aces, and the rest were the official family of the team, plus a few crew members of an aging DC-3 that burst into flames and crushed a town’s soul.

I still believe I should have been on that plane that night. Believe down to the core of my heart. I always flew with the Aces. But we all receive good luck we don’t deserve and bad luck we probably do deserve. Maybe every resolution works out exactly as it should.

There is no good reason other than random chance that steered me away from it. We all are handed such detours in life, but never recognize them except when our luck is obviously bad.

In those days, I had been the “beat” reporter who covered the Aces for nearly a decade and only months before had been asked to be News Editor of the paper where I had grown up. Though it was more money and more responsibility, taking the new job was a tough call because I had to give up the Aces.

I would give up all the night flights back from jeweled basketball palaces, for even as a “college division” team, the Aces played a national schedule, though with a quaint, homespun approach.

Athletic Business Manager Bob Hudson saved meal money by serving chicken box lunches on the charter flights. There were no Nike apparel contracts or loitering pro agents for this family.

But it was a joyous life. Peter Pan could have been a sportswriter. It was, in many fundamental ways, my professional childhood.

The team and the people who adored it – most of Evansville’s 130,000 citizens – were a family and I was a chronicler of that family’s history. To give up that was not an easy choice.

But even Pan grows up; so I accepted the news job because it was the responsible thing to do.

I grew up at 7:22 p.m. on Dec. 13.

Aside from the days my parents passed away, it was the hardest day of my life.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one who easily could have been on the plane that blustery, awful, hateful night, but wasn’t.

Jerry Sloan could have been sitting next to me in that old DC-3.

He was the greatest player the school ever produced and later one of the Chicago Bulls’ early stars. Sloan had taken the head coaching job there for a week that summer, but had second thoughts and decided to stay in the professional ranks.

In 2009, when I first wrote this, Sloan had coached his 1,000th game in the NBA that week. And I turned out the 10,000th newspaper of my career, give or take a few.

In 2009—but never before and never since—it was the only reflection on this topic I figured was worth me repeating.

I survived because I was toiling away that night in my little office cubby hole on the second floor of the Second and Vine street fortress that once housed the Evansville Courier. The Aces were taking off for Murphreesboro, Tenn., to play Middle Tennessee State the next night.

The larger reasons why I did not die that night elude me. I kept my feelings to myself for 30 years because there was nothing in my pain that could offer much illumination for thousands of others who had shared even deeper grief from that night.

I did not attend any college basketball game for years afterward. I stayed away from Roberts Stadium, the team’s home floor. I mostly stood far back from the annual memorials of the event. Public heartache did not appeal to me, especially displaying mine.

Perhaps I never figured out how to mourn properly, or share my loss in public.

I lost whatever remained of my childhood that night, or least my adolescence. Many of us in the newsroom wanted to cry as that night crawled into dawn, but held it back out of respect. We viewed the duty to tell the Aces’ story with a clear head as a higher mission. We all suffered.

But I never mistook my loss for the one suffered by my friends on that old DC-3. No vanity rightly deserves that hubris.

If there is such a thing as survivor’s guilt, mine would deserve no sympathy at all, and I claimed none, even inside my own private thoughts.

But all 24 remain in my heart, and I remember each of them on Dec. 13. Their faces are all still there. When I am alone today, I will stop and summon memories of the rain-soaked field where they all perished.

And I will remember the nights of triumphs and loss we had shared.

They were great kids.

My silent benediction will not seem much commemoration for the loss. But it’s all I know how to do.

I was just a would-be Peter Pan, and they were the Lost Boys. We shared remarkable times and grand adventures.

As for me, I had to grow up. There seemed no other choice. I never cried for the Aces that night or any other Dec. 13 since then. But I never stopped wanting to.

The cure for depression is dirt

First frost briefly enveloped the home plantation in a dusting of frozen ice crystals, and it’s way too deep in autumn to plant my face in dirt and get happy.

What, you say? Dirt?

Why, yes. In fact, yes, I did mean dirt.

As I was leafing through my irregular survey of scientific breakthroughs from the journal “Neuroscience,” I came upon this examination of dirt I had missed and was riveted. OK, you’re just going to have to buy the premise of this story for it to make any sense, and you pretending that I read “Neuroscience” is part of the gig. It’s not that much to ask for.

There’s not much news about Beyonce or the Cubs in this magazine. But the pictures are cool.

But it’s got the scientific dirt on dirt.

The happy microbe in question is Mycobacterium vaccae, which is common in dirt and has the same properties to change human moods the way the antidepressant Prozac does.

But Prozac occasionally produces the exact psychic side effect the drug tries to cure — it makes patients want to kill themselves. This is a bad side effect. Instead, Mycobacterium vaccae makes you happier and has no obvious bad side effects.

 

Even cancer patients reported they had a better quality of life.

Without serotonin, humans are prone to depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar problems.

Think of the macro socio-economic applications. As civilizations flee farms as their home base and move to urban life, we gain income, sophistication and culture. But we also trade the serenity of long country walks for hostility, aggravation and stress.

Until now, the unhappy pressure of urban life was an unwelcomed but irresistible byproduct.

But it turns out we gave up more than bucolic charm.

We gave up the natural, self-produced mood-regulating drug that makes us bearable and happy with life. We gave up dirt. We gave up serotonin.

As for me, this largely lets me off the hook for being a lifelong jerk. I’m merely serotonin-deprived.

 

But the solution is less repugnant.

Just be a gardener.

If you have known many gardeners in your life — my maternal grandfather was a farmer and most of my kin have been green-thumbers — you would appreciate how they loved to putter and wallow in their dirt.

 

The same mother who would huff in distaste if you arrived home from school with a smudge on your pants would happily immerse herself in potting soil for hours.

She essentially was a farm girl, who learned the grandness of good taste. But she had no argument against dirt as long as you got dirty planting flowers and vegetables.

I should be like that, too. But I’m not. To me, gardening is sweating over tilled plots that produce the same vegetables you can buy in a store.

While I like serotonin just fine, I also dislike sweating. So the garden bug never infected me, although you can admire its genteel benefits as you sit on the porch watching someone else weed the tomato patch.

I admire the “idea of gardening” without the need to actually do it. Fortunately, the microbe is inhaled or absorbed in feeling the urge to partake in it.

Thus, the direction of scientific inquiry suggests gardeners often reflect a sense of joy and calm in their pursuit. But that’s not only because they are good at it, but because their serotonin juices are cranked up by sitting in dirt all day.

According to the weed pluckers at www.gardeningknowhow.com, the natural effects can be felt for up to three weeks. You can get the same effect by eating lettuce and carrots.

Graham Rook, a British immunologist at University College London and a coauthor of papers on the topic, suggests depression itself may be in part an inflammatory disorder. By triggering the production of reaction typical of allergies, “M. vaccae” may ease that inflammation and hence depression.

All the human dirt-o-file observations dating back to 2007 were replicated on rats.

Many rats were much happier as a result.

Of all the gardeners I’ve known, they seemed happier than I am. They loved the dirt.

Remembering Pearl without the anger

By the time my Old Man fell asleep never to reawaken, he had long ago lost his anger with the Japanese.

To be specific, this was the Japan of 1941 that had riled him. He sort of hated the entire nation from the Emperor on down. He had hated sampans and saki. He hated sushi.

He would not drive Japanese cars. He did not like people who drove Japanese cars. “What American would drive a car built by Mitsubishi?” he once asked incredulously. “They built Zero fighter planes, for crying out loud!”

He would roll the cigar at the corner of his mouth all the way across to the other corner without ever opening his mouth or biting off the end. It was a male point of righteous emphasis.

It was World War II, of course.

It was Dec. 7, 1941, and all the December Sevenths since.

We always remember the historical Japan and Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 as we did recently, but our anger is a history book memory. Just as well.

Mostly we remember as solidarity with the nation’s pride. They hit us below the belt that Sunday. They were treacherous and duplicitous. We hate thugs who hit below the belt.

And to be fair, the Japan of 2017 might be our mature, industrious partner in capitalist progressivity. In 1941 murderous militarists and brigands ran it.

The Japanese killed thousands of Americans that day in Hawaii, and thousands more over the next four years until mushroom exclamation marks over Nagasaki and Hiroshima ended their national lunacy.

But at some unpredictable, unforeseen bend in history, your dad’s war is no longer your war. You can respect his anger without sharing it.

Anger can’t be summoned on demand from the deep well inside you. So we still commemorate, although those who picked up a rifle in those years mostly are gone now. Their sons and daughters are left to remember, but anger is a function of proximity.

Our parents are no longer here to reinforce why the anger of 1941 was righteous and deep.

As for the Old Man, the eventual rebalancing of his historical view only marginally related to forgiveness.

The initial emotion was a visceral distaste. But it was not a feeling he shared about other cultural groups, including the Chinese who he silently revered from his military days there.

After 50 years, his memories of southwest China and those who lived there were gentle and gracious.

As far as I know, he was at peace with the universe and his place in it when The Last Call was sounded. Don’t have to go home, the bartender hollered out, but you can’t stay here.

But men who served in the Pacific during World War II never forgave the Japanese. To impose our sense of generosity on them would be pointless, considering the provocation.

In my growing-up home, this remnant manifested in several ways.

First, he never forgot December 7. Thus, I never forgot it as a newspaper editor for decades even when newsroom colleagues were not always sure why we made it a big deal in print. Younger colleagues shared in the reporting, I suspect, only because I insisted they remember.

Second, The Old Man persisted in using the insensitive sobriquet “Jap” as a description even though the word often made those close to him wince. He had little need for our approval or even less for shallow criticism.

It’s a jarring word in the 21st century, but it was ubiquitous in 1941. I suspect he clung to the word precisely because it infuriated some people for their misplaced sensitivity and stamped him as a man of 1941. It was an insulting word, and was meant to be.

It was his way of remembering what had angered him.

“Dad, it’s culturally offensive,” I once whispered to him when he used the word in public. I was 30 or so and flexing my politically correct muscles. But lecturing your father about cultural sensitivity is patently arrogant and pointless.

He’s already figured out his place in the universe and needs no lectures from his offspring about the topic.

“Son,” he said, “they shot at me. They shot at my friends. I have earned the right to call them whatever I (blanking) well please.”

To that logic, I had no answer. He won the Bronze Star. That earns forbearance, too.

But time sutures wounds.

He showed off his almost-new car to me many years later. “But dad,” I sputtered, “it’s an Infiniti, a Nissan. That’s a Japanese car.”

“Yes, son, I know,” he said wistfully, “but you should feel how great this baby rides.”

Lordy, we are an ignernt bunch

As I sat in an idling car with several new friends on a chilled working-day dawn last week, the topic turned to politics which is always a mistake these days.

By that I mean, it’s a mistake for me.

Because when that exchange arises—unless everyone in the car believed everything I believe—the conversation is likely to be transformed quickly into a hysterically shrieking hurl of crude insults.

At the very fork of life where mature balance and generosity of spirit should be my guiding influence, I have found just the opposite seems more likely. Why is this happening to me? Can I not find a better way to deal with the world’s conflicts than this barely restrained hostility? Apparently, these are rhetorical questions for which I have no good answers.

I take no solace in my enduring juvenile temptations.

But I suspect this conversation stands in symbolic stead for millions of similar conversations that Americans are having among themselves these days. At least, that might be true for those ever-diminishing numbers of Americans who still courageously debate public issue among themselves.

In this realm, where all facts and truths are amorphous changelings, we are told that everyone has a right to opinions no matter how scurrilous and defamatory they are.

But, lordy, lordy, we are an ignorant people these days—truly “ignernt” as my dad would say—and demanding equanimity of me in this era just does not seem to work. Or be satisfying.

I’d prefer to scream. Howl. Bay. Mock. Hoot derisively.

This does not presume I am always right about matters either large or small, because I am not. My only protection is that when presented with better evidence (tested, scientific, validated, observed reality), I often change my mind.

The topic of the moment was J.B.Pritzker,  the Chicago billionaire who is running for Illinois governor as a Democrat. I do not understand how any one person with $3 billion in the bank can also be a down-home one-of-the-average-Joes he portrays on TV commercials. That needs more research.

“Sure, he’s rich, but he married into the money. She’s an Abbott (of big pharma fame) or some other rich family,” said my friend with such calm assurance that you’d never doubt he had or needed independent evidence to support this theory.

This description was meant to reinforce the sly slander that not only is Pritzker trying to buy the governor’s mansion, but he’s doing it with pillow-talk financial benefits. So he’s a skunk who married for money.

This theory has a few holes. Pritzker doesn’t need the governor’s mansion because he already owns a much grander 12,500-square-foot version on Chicago’s Gold Coast.

But my friend’s statement is an apt distillation of where intellectual and political debates have landed us as a nation.

As I sit there in the car, I silently debate the choice presented to me. I can keep quiet and preserve the momentary harmony of the gathering. Or I could gently point out that my friend might not have all the facts.

Or I could simply scream, “HE’S A PRITZKER, YOU MORON!! His family INVENTED money!”

But as the outwardly silent screeching was ricocheting inside my head, I only nodded affably, and pretended my friend’s discourse was so obviously true that it did not even require my assent. So I stayed quiet. Peace was maintained.

But my friend had grown up in Chicago and probably even stayed some nights somewhere in a Hyatt hotel, the hospitality empire that the family transformed into a $15 billion empire. When the family divested its holdings in 1999, the family split the business into 11 pieces worth $1.4 billion each.

J.B. took one slice of the pie, and built it into $3 billion.

As to the source of Pritzker influence, power and money (all forms of the same cosmic force), Bryan Smith wrote this in a 2014 Chicago Magazine profile: “The tale of the Pritzkers’ rise from penniless Ukrainian Jews to stupendously wealthy power brokers has already passed into legend. Nicholas, J.B.’s great-grandfather, moving from Kiev to Chicago in 1881 at the age of 10, attending Harvard Law School, and starting his own law firm. The expansion into business under Nicholas’s sons, Harry, A.N., and Jack, who made a fortune buying up distressed properties and other assets. And then, thanks mostly to the savvy of A.N.’s elder sons, Jay and Robert, the growth into a multibillion-dollar family held conglomerate called Marmon, which owned mostly manufacturing companies; they also acquired casinos and even an airline (Braniff). In 1957, Jay, an indefatigable dealmaker and the de facto head of the Pritzker family’s third generation, bought a Los Angeles hotel called Hyatt House. He soon summoned his younger brother Donald—who had recently earned a law degree at the University of Chicago—to run it.”

The Prizkers have made billions and given away billions to improve the lives of the communities in which they’ve lived. They are not perfect people, and no one claims such economic moral spotlessness in their behalf.

All these facts are easily at the right hand of anyone who wishes to know the truth or at least know the facts. Secure a library card of a Google account. Invest in awareness.

My friend in the car chose his own facts, which I suppose is the enduring reality of human consciousness. The delight in choosing to be deliberately self-duped seems strangely addictive these days.

We only know what we choose to know.

And the rest?

That’s left to drift in the eternal but comforting void of ignorance and deliberate prejudice which all Americans claim as their natural right.