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...a sweatshop of moxie

Friday, January 27, 2006

Humanity

Are you this kind of person?

The one to whom it doesn't really matter what political party an ex-President of the United States belonged to; you are respectful of the person, just BECAUSE.

Well, I am.

It's part and parcel of my personality, this traditionalist attitude, I figured out longgg ago.

Instead of fighting against it, and trying to be sophisticatedly critical like you're supposed to be, I accepted it and have never been unhappy with myself, since.

Alongside this ease, is also a certain sadness, as you can imagine.

For not everyone shares my attitude, although despite what people would have you think, I believe the overwhelming majority of people do -- because the overwhelming amount of people in our world, is decent at heart.

Hatred. Fanaticism. Vitriol.

These are emotions very difficult to sustain without ending up hurting you much more than they hurt your targets of dissaffection.

This then, sets the scene when I tell you about my having met President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter once -- to date, the only POTUS I've ever met, and that includes having waved at Ronald Reagan at the US Embassy in London, once. Oh happy day.

In fact, for almost 3 days, I laboured alongside them in the pounding Florida summertime sun. Well, me and almost 50 other volunteers.

You've guessed why, I'm sure. Yes, for Habitat for Humanity.

And it's not like the Carters and I had heart-to-hearts, either, but I felt I got to know them and yet...so very not.

Let me explain.

The date is sometime in spring 1993. It's the year after Hurricane Andrew, which devastated so much of our area.

It had been decided that I would attend 11th grade here in the States, since the storm brought my parents and I much closer to each other, even for our affectionate standards.

Both my schools and my parents demanded community service when I was growing up, so apart from being a CYO counsellor, which I loved by the way, they put me down for Habitat work in Homestead, which Andrew just levelled.

Everything needed re-doing. It took years, in fact. Just like Katrina will.

We all feel shamelessly innocent just thinking of the 1990's, because in those pre-2001 days, you didn't even present an ID to work alongside an ex-Prez.

You had an official letter you presented at the check-in desk, and that's it. You signed for your tool belt, got a Habitat hat and other goodies, and went to your assigned section.

No security details. No wands. No cavity checks...alas.

Now, what I know from building, could still today, be written on the inside of a Coke cap.

But I was energetic, eager, young, and did whatever they told me to do.

At the end of the day, they had pizza from a restaurant called Capri, and we chowed down, red faces and arms all.

Obviously, when you have such famous people around you, you try to look discretely in their direction, and slink ever so quietly towards them, hoping no one is looking, especially not the Secret Service agents (at least 2, dressed like all of us, to my slight surprise. What did I expect -- black suits and earpieces in 85F heat? Man, I WAS young.).

Now, to me President Carter was a figure from history, and not much else.

Yes, even then I was a budding historian, but I confess, I am allergic to the 1970's.

Nixon, Vietnam, Ford, Carter, Jefferson Airplane mean NOTHING to me. Nothing.

I refuse to listen to its music, and avoid watching film of the period. To this day, I have never seen Taxi Driver or Chinatown. Me, the obsessed cinephile.

(Refrain from emailing me with "What, no way!?!", I know, I know).

I hate every last day of the 1970's, except that day I was born during it, and even then, I question its obvious bad timing.

(My parents could've waited until the second after Reagan was inaugurated, to pup me into this world, don't you think. If it's good enough for the Ayatollah, dammit...)

The only thing I knew about him personally was that he was considered a very ineffectual US President, but a very upstanding kind of guy.

The proof of that, was right before me.

The man didn't let up. He was all business. And so was his missus.

He didn't just do the light work, like I did (painting, etc.). He did the power saw work, and seemed to like it a lot.

Maybe it's something about power saws that bring out the Iron John beast in Presidents, because, of course, famously both Reagan and Bush 43 loved nothing better than to cut wood to pulp.

-- Churchill liked bricklaying, which is practically effete by comparison. And we will glide over Ted Heath's piano playing in eyebrow-raising sniggers. --

But if you want those personalised details which make a reminiscence more like a gossipy kaffeeklatsch, I'll give them to you.

President Carter ("Mr. President", "Sir", never just Mr. Carter, or God forbid, Jimmy -- although others were not as formal as I was, sigh) wore tennis shoes, or what we in Britain call plimsolls.

You know the kind: the ones Mr. Rogers changed into when he got home from his "neighbourhood". Before he put on the even nerdier cardy.

I only mention this because even then, those kinds of tennis shoes were considered old-fashioned, and I distinctly remember my having those Air Bacons Michael Jordan made so popular, which even had that stupid button you pumped "air" into the sole to give you...I don't know what, oxygen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide? Whatever.

I've seen more recent photographs of the President at Habitat events, and now he's wearing himself some phat Timberlands. Mrs. C too, come to that.

But back then, it was a ratty pair of tennis shoes, looking very circa Camp David 1977.

That, and his paunchy Levi's, Habitat red bandana, and a very goofy ballcap, gave him the look of a rather natty hobo, and I do believe that's the first time I've ever had occasion to write the word "hobo".



But this is the clincher.

The most personalised detail I can give you, is about their manner.

Frosty, would not do it justice.

In fact, they were glacial.

That I didn't expect, to be perfectly honest.

When you see an ex-President getting mucky with just folks in a building project, somehow you picture that person as a huggy, emotional type of man President Clinton seems to exude to be.

Not President Carter.

I remember thinking he had the coldest blue-eyes I've ever seen, and my father has eagle blue eyes which would scare Bram Stoker himself.

It was Mrs. Carter that blew me away, because she was literally inapproachable. Watchful. Not arrogant, mind you. Just very very cold.

What they were doing was not perfuctory, or to get publicity for their good works.

That was plainly visible.

They were doing it because they were compassionate about their fellow man, but also didn't mind putting action alongside thought.

But they didn't look to be enjoying themselves, but not one whit.

I kept thinking, what makes these two tick?

This ex-Naval nuclear engineer turned peanut farmer, and his vigilant hausfrau?

If someone had described Richard and Pat Nixon in such uncomfortable terms, I think most people would think, sure. Distant, watchful. I mean, look at their lives' end. No. Look at their lives.

But it's commonly accepted that both the Carters were fantastic and loving people, warm to a degree almost unknown in the Presidency.

Since that time at Habitat, I have read several accounts of the Carter Presidency, and the one thing which many people relate, is that Mrs. Carter is tougher than she seems, and is very protective of her husband, whilst he is a control-freak.

And yet, because of their good works, very few people seem to want to penetrate deeper into their personalities, usually giving them huge thumbs up as being warm individuals.

How does this disconnect from perception to reality happen?

I don't pretend to imagine that 3 days in semi-proximity to the Carters make me an authority on their persons.

Certainly, restraint, coldness, distance, standoffishness are no crimes, and they could be the reactions of two very private people in a very public moment.

Or maybe, they're just very WASPy.

But I know for sure, other Presidents have not had the same fuzzy halo of warmth given them, for doing equally caring things in their off-time.

And this is when this memory of President Carter was sparked by currently reading a book about 5 ex-Presidents: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush 41.

It's called Fraternity:

Stories of these once all-powerful men, compiled by journalist Bob Greene, over a period of a decade interviewing each of them.

I'm just at the very beginning, when Greene is interviewing President Nixon, who Greene hated as a young University student...and he told him so, to his face.

But something in Nixon's manner also provoked, oh, who knows, a certain nostalgia.

Greene even admits an unexpected sentiment about the previously reviled Tricky Dick, like talking to a father you were long on the outs with, but suddenly you find youself relating to at long last -- the fires of hatred long since damped by the grace of age.

His and yours.

But it's not long before they start to talk about Nixon's prickly dealings with the press, so evocative of what President Reagan dealt with, and certainly now, President Bush 43.

President Nixon had a very clear sense of himself, even if he was self-tortured and often, deluded.

Even so, it came as a surprise when I heard him saying something all of us think, especially in relation to the distaste many of us feel, about Mainstream Media.

He said:

"I could have had all sorts of chatty dinners, and the rest, and you might get a nice warm piece the next day.

But deep down, the problems I had with the press [...], the problems had to do with what I believed in.

I believed in different things than what they did."


And that's it in a nutshell.

Now, Nixon's failings as a man were very real, but even so, he never stood a chance. No one like him does.

Whether or not the Carters are fantastic, tactile, effusive folk, or standoffish hard as nails folk, doesn't matter.

What matters for those who cover them, is that they believe in the same things that they do.

And if that President should happen not to, their press clippings are that much less forgiving.

In fact, I would go so far to say, that they are much less interested in finding, much less propagandising, your very real humanity.

Ah well...

President Carter still has, and will always have, my respect.

Just because.

18 Comments:

  • I've been feeling somewhat presidential myself lately...
    I am preparing to publish "Republican Corruption Scandals for Dummies"
    A cover draft is awaiting your perousal at www.vergelimbo.com

    Let me know what you think

    PS: I am impressed with your sampling of Aquapooch. Err, did you have it out of the bowl?

    Curious
    VL

    By Blogger vergelimbo, at Fri Jan 27, 04:51:00 am GMT-5  

  • Gee, I made my derisive comment in the next post about Jimmy because I was reading today's posts bottom up. That will teach me.
    Sorry. I meant no disrespect to your feeling about him. Had I known, I probably would have held my tongue simply for my enormous respect for you.

    By Blogger Paul, at Fri Jan 27, 09:11:00 am GMT-5  

  • I share your traditionalist attitude of respect in general, however, I would prefer for Carter to stick to building houses and get out of foreign policy matters asap as we never re-elected him!!!

    By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Fri Jan 27, 10:16:00 am GMT-5  

  • Soon, soon I'll qualify for my Old Coot combat ribbon; when I was a wee lad, I met LBJ in the White House! They used to do tours, and if the Chief Windbag was feeling social, he'd invite the tour in...Rats, I missed Nixon!

    By Blogger Ron, at Fri Jan 27, 11:29:00 am GMT-5  

  • Well, it's true that Carter didn't rape anyone.

    By Blogger JSU, at Fri Jan 27, 11:40:00 am GMT-5  

  • I've been feeling somewhat presidential myself lately...

    Hail to The Verge?

    I am preparing to publish "Republican Corruption Scandals for Dummies"
    A cover draft is awaiting your perousal at www.vergelimbo.com


    As long as you did one during the Clinton years, I'm so there! Oh happy years of corruption-city.

    Let me know what you think

    I shall try.

    PS: I am impressed with your sampling of Aquapooch. Err, did you have it out of the bowl?

    I don't think I need deign this insulting question with a response!!

    Anyway, I answered it already in the comments section of that thread, humph. ;)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Jan 27, 01:31:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Gee, I made my derisive comment in the next post about Jimmy because I was reading today's posts bottom up. That will teach me.
    Sorry. I meant no disrespect to your feeling about him. Had I known, I probably would have held my tongue simply for my enormous respect for you.


    Paul, please! I've told you, comment anything you like. We won't suddenly stop being netpals because of it. Promise.

    Anyway, the point is, I didn't like President Carter when I met him, even though I was fully prepared to -- because I like Presidents of the US, JUST BECAUSE.

    Oh some part of me still likes him. But that chilly couple will long live in my mind.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Jan 27, 01:34:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I share your traditionalist attitude of respect in general, however,

    I guess all who are like us, have to an extent that same attitude.

    I would prefer for Carter to stick to building houses and get out of foreign policy matters asap as we never re-elected him!!!

    Me too. ;)

    BTW, it's not correct to say, as many have, that Carter was the first ex-president to carve out a niche for himself, once outside the White House.

    His Christian good works, and electioneering supervision, etc. in no way compare (except at the human level) to President William Howard Taft, as one example, who rose to be Supreme Court CHIEF Justice AFTER he was President of the US.

    Can you imagine the Senate Judiciary Hearings for that one?

    I'm sure Kerry and Kennedy would've fillibustered the dread Republican anyway.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Jan 27, 01:37:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Soon, soon I'll qualify for my Old Coot combat ribbon; when I was a wee lad, I met LBJ in the White House!

    Great!! Tell more.

    They used to do tours, and if the Chief Windbag was feeling social, he'd invite the tour in...

    The innocence of those times. I can picture it now.

    Ron in his wee Davey Crockett hat, and Bonanza chaps, being hailed over by a huge man with a spaghetti tie, too tongue-shy to ask him about his gallbladder scar.

    Ron, that's definitely a chapter in a book somewheres, you know?

    Rats, I missed Nixon!

    Me too. My mother once said she saw him walking down the street in NYC, very lonely-like, and of course, she went up to Jackie Kennedy once, and asked her for an autograph...(declined, but softly).

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Jan 27, 01:43:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Well, it's true that Carter didn't rape anyone.

    Naughty JSU. ;)

    This reminds me of when Barbara Walter was interviewing Larry King on his show.

    She finally finally weaseled out of Larry, that he loved Clinton the best because like he, he rose from nothing.

    But he did say that his ultimate president would be one that combined the morality of Carter, and the compassion of Clinton.

    I'm not so partisan.

    I would combine the steadiness and organisational ability of Eisenhower.

    The dazzling glamour and sense of promise of Kennedy.

    The political savviness of Johnson.

    The intellect and audacity of Nixon.

    The moral conviction of Carter.

    The unshakeable confidence, communication skills and sense of rightness of Reagan.

    The good-naturedness and to the manor-bornness of Bush 41.

    The effusive warmth of Clinton.

    And finally, the folksy common touch and cojones of Bush 43...

    ...to get my ultimate President.

    Or maybe, I'd just stick to Reagan.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Jan 27, 01:50:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Back to LBJ: He gave my dad a White House ashtray and a pen! When LBJ refused to run again, my Dad was convinced that Eugene McCarthy would be the candidate, and that he would lose to Nixon, so in anger he threw the ashtray and pen away!

    I had no Davy Crockett wear, but did have a James Bond briefcase with concealed plastic knife, fake UK passport, plastic Luger(!?!) that actually fired hard plastic bullets, fake billfold with "OO7" only visible under a red filter, loaded with fake pounds, dollars, etc. And an official-looking "License To Kill," from Her Majesty!

    Ah, back when kids toys taught the right values..."Mum, I'd like my Nestles Quik shaken, not stirred please."

    By Blogger Ron, at Fri Jan 27, 03:02:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Carter did have that hefty "loan" from BCCI Bank, on which he never made a payment. His reply? Something to the effect that he didn't know a payment was required. We all can empathasize with that...If we only had a press!

    By Anonymous Darrell, at Sat Jan 28, 12:02:00 am GMT-5  

  • Back to LBJ: He gave my dad a White House ashtray and a pen!

    Wow! I can picture you and your dad*, going to the Antiques Roadshow together today, and telling your story to the experts, for future showing on PBS.

    AR: "And because of the provenance of the item, can you imagine how much it costs today?"

    Ron and Dad: "Surprise us"

    AR: "It's worth 1,000,000 dollars!"

    *thud*

    * I recall what you said in earlier reply about your dad, Ron, and I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable by dredging up the memory...

    When LBJ refused to run again, my Dad was convinced that Eugene McCarthy would be the candidate, and that he would lose to Nixon, so in anger he threw the ashtray and pen away!

    OMG.

    This is so human, it's unbelievable.

    Like ripping out signed pages in a book, once autographed by Queen Victoria...

    ...like a person I once knew, had done.

    Reason: she didn't think it made any difference who had signed it. Did it make the book more readable?...

    People do the darndest things.

    I had no Davy Crockett wear, but did have a James Bond briefcase with concealed plastic knife, fake UK passport, plastic Luger(!?!) that actually fired hard plastic bullets, fake billfold with "OO7" only visible under a red filter, loaded with fake pounds, dollars, etc. And an official-looking "License To Kill," from Her Majesty!

    That is positively amazingly cool. So 60's, it hurts!

    I loved this anecdote, Ron.

    (I didn't have my equivalent generation's Charlie's Angels wear, etc. but I did have a bedroom fully themed by Hello Kitty, if that's of any help ;)

    Ah, back when kids toys taught the right values..."Mum, I'd like my Nestles Quik shaken, not stirred please."

    Heh. But you know...

    The first thing I'm buying Junior, when I give birth to him, is a little plastic gun.

    Just because. ;)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sat Jan 28, 03:36:00 am GMT-5  

  • Carter did have that hefty "loan" from BCCI Bank, on which he never made a payment.

    Whoa! That I didn't know.

    Was it after he was President, as I assume it was, Darrell?

    As an aside, the whole Clinton saga upon leaving the White House was nauseating to me, because it topped 8 years of the same-old, same-old.

    Not only did had he sold the Lincoln Bedroom to the highest bidder, used the Oval Office for his private high-jinks (which I doubt even Kennedy did), but he stole stuff from the White House to furbish his new home in upstate NY...with a fishy personal loan from rich friends. When his fancy digs in uptown Manhattan were denied, he suddenly remembered his good friends in Harlem (which if he really cared about them, he would've gone there immediately).

    And then there was the Marc Rich scandale royale...

    Chances Dubya will pardon Jack Abramoff on his last day in Office: 0.

    His reply? Something to the effect that he didn't know a payment was required. We all can empathasize with that...If we only had a press!

    You can't shake that reply with a stick. Priceless. ;)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sat Jan 28, 03:45:00 am GMT-5  

  • Bah, my reply immediately up top is disjointed -- but my excuse is, I'm very sleepy, at almost 4 AM.

    I had some blogposts I had wanted to get out now, but this lack of cohesive thought makes me realise it's no time to be writing a post. I'll do it later Sat'day.

    Hasta la pasta. ;)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sat Jan 28, 03:48:00 am GMT-5  

  • * I recall what you said in earlier reply about your dad, Ron, and I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable by dredging up the memory...
    Thank you very much, Victoria, that's very touching of you to show such concern.

    By Blogger Ron, at Sat Jan 28, 10:00:00 am GMT-5  

  • Victoria:
    If junior really is a "him", he'll come equipped with his own "gun". Have you never seen "Full Metal Jacket"? This is my rifle, this is my gun. One is for shooting. One is for fun.

    My co-worker who has a shrine to Reagan in his work cube went to visit Plains, Georgia and heard the former president preach. Apparently, when he's breaking open scripture, he's a lot less icy.

    By Blogger Ruth Anne Adams, at Sat Jan 28, 04:22:00 pm GMT-5  

  • If junior really is a "him",

    He better be! I'm very Henry VIII about this.

    Listen, I'm an only child. A girl only child...thus, I have an unbelievable curiosity about having a male child, just to see what it's like watching them grow up.

    And anyway, I want my father to have a grandson, so he can teach him soccer.

    he'll come equipped with his own "gun". Have you never seen "Full Metal Jacket"? This is my rifle, this is my gun. One is for shooting. One is for fun.

    Erm...I never did watch that no. Or Hamburger Hill, which came out about the same time as FMJ (however, I love Kubrick, so this is very puzzling even to me).

    I do know about 'sooky-sook' though. ;)

    My co-worker who has a shrine to Reagan in his work cube went to visit Plains, Georgia and heard the former president preach. Apparently, when he's breaking open scripture, he's a lot less icy.

    I have no doubt that's right.

    But then, it could be that Mr. Carter is like many famous people -- better in crowds, than one-on-one.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sun Jan 29, 06:13:00 am GMT-5  

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