Climate, political and father issues in Albuquerque

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George A. Morrison, circa 1954,  reports the news on KOB-TV. Son Brian Arbenz 60 years later blogs on his patio in Louisville.

I saw my father infrequently growing up – I mean once or twice a decade, so I do not at all identify with Robert Bly’s assertion that males are collectively wounded by the transition to industrial society that resulted in their fathers leaving home for eight hours a day.

These dads came back each evening, right, Mr. Bly?

When I was 20, on the advice of a sibling, I decided to give a father-son relationship another try. So, in 1979, I boarded a plane for Albuquerque to spend a week with George A. Morrison.

I didn’t really have a sense of who he was, and on a brilliant August day, as my plane crossed the sensually tan Sandia Mountains and landed at the Albuquerque Sunport, my lack of familiarity with him set me apart from most of the 400,000 residents of the city. My father, for 10 years in the 1950s and ‘60s, had been New Mexico’s best known television news anchorman, delivering daily 6 and 11 pm newscasts which – for the lack of another TV market in the state during many of those years – were beamed statewide. That’s a territory that would stretch from Louisville to Minnesota.

After my dad earned a law degree, he left the news business, but remained highly recognized while serving as assistant district attorney for Albuquerque, frequently talking on the air about high profile cases.

So, in 1979, instead of my father showing me his home state, I had the inverted experience of being introduced to him by New Mexico.

In the three trips I had made in 15 years to the Land of Enchantment to visit my father, I had learned that governors, senators and the University of New Mexico football coach were cohorts or acquaintances of his. Two of Dad’s close friends were author William Eastlake (Dad and other friends had helped him choose the title of his signature book Castle Keep) and Clarence Birdseye Jr., whose father’s invention of frozen foods still determines the itinerary of your grocery trips.

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The author at age 9 photographed in the summer of 1967 by his KOAT-TV news anchor father in the Sandia Mountains overlooking Albuquerque. 

In a room filled with my dad’s friends from New Mexico, it seems the only one I wouldn’t already know the life story of was the one who had sired me.

I knew he was a Democrat and had from time to time been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor, a quest which could have succeeded before Watergate gave media the mandate to report on personal missteps such as the philandering and heavy drinking my father did until his early 50s.

What kind of Democrat was he? I heard him say good things about civil rights (he had once served as the legal counsel for the Zuni Indian tribe), but overall supportive things about the Vietnam War (he told me of a passionate argument with the very anti-war Eastlake). An English lit degree holder from U of L, Dad was, by any standard, pro-civil liberties and he once oversaw the consumer protection division of Albuquerque’s Bernalillo County — but knowing he came of age in the 1930s and 40s, can you wager a guess about which issue would prompt this otherwise enlightened intellectual to lapse into bigotry at the drop of a hat? Or, more precisely, at a gesture or an enunciation that struck him as effeminate?

I don’t mean my father would ridicule anyone in their presence, but while at his apartment during my 1979 visit, I saw him launch into a tirade of insults while we were watching a brief TV segment featuring an interview with a man he figured was gay. Suddenly, I saw the Male High School football star and World War II submarine warfare veteran my father also had been.

But there was one more famous person for Dad to introduce me to on this trip. I asked if he knew U.S. Sen. Harrison Schmitt, a first-term New Mexico Republican. In keeping with Dad’s Robin Leach-like knack for associating with the rich and famous, yes, he in fact worked down the hall from and occasionally chatted with Schmitt, who went by his nickname Jack. Dad said he would be glad to try to arrange a meeting.

The senator, my father added, was a political wunderkind, winning election in 1976 as a dogmatic conservative counterpoised to unions in such a pro-labor state. Of course, four years before that, the geologist Jack Schmitt had walked on the moon on Apollo 17, the grandest and most successful of the six lunar landing missions.

Extra-terrestrial glory can obscure a clash in political philosophies – or in the case of John Glenn, even ease the effects of being mired in the S and L scandal.

So Schmitt wasn’t that extremist out to break your union. He was a space hero, who had turned moon dust into politically magic dust.

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Future Senator Harrison Schmitt as Apollo 17’s geologist on the moon in 1972.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the ex-senator Jack Schmitt has become a climate change denier, repeatedly condemning the theory of human causes of global warming as fiction by an environmental movement he has described as the place communism essentially migrated to after the opening of the Berlin Wall. (Makes sense; I mean there was no environmentalism here before 1989, was there?)

So, we’re talking quite a chasm to bridge when I shake hands with Senator Schmitt. Could it get tense?

No. My fascination with space would make meeting Jack Schmitt an apolitical thrill. And if memories of his three walks on Taurus-Littrow weren’t enough, Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt also had been my first same-sex crush. I mean minutes after the Apollo 17 crew returned from the moon, splashing down near Samoa, I saw him without his helmet for the first time and… well, he had just returned, and I was now off TO the moon.

That was the instant I, as a 14-year-old, knew I was bisexual. I never told my father of this, and didn’t care to seven years later during my 1979 visit, but wouldn’t Schmitt’s office have been a bizarre venue for that? Imagine coming out to your father, a senator, an astronaut, a veteran journalist, a Republican, a Democrat and a homophobic district attorney all at once!

I don’t know whether I would have been prosecuted, disinherited, evicted or pepper sprayed. You would have read about me in a news story datelined Albuquerque, that’s for certain.

This explosive moment of familial and political drama never happened, though. Schmitt wasn’t in town during my visit.

That is not surprising. You see, the senator went on to be defeated in 1982 – marking the only time an astronaut has lost a U.S. election in nine races – and the big issue raised by Democrat Jeff Bingaman (and yes, Dad knew him, too) was the fact that the incumbent simply was never in the state, physically or ideologically. Schmitt was constantly touring, speaking about the cause of mining the moon, an issue absolutely irrelevant during a severe recession in 1982 which had focused voters’ attention on the here and now, not on rocks a quarter-million miles away.

Today, his status as a private citizen gives Schmitt the mobility to challenge the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming and on his still passionate cause of building a thriving lunar extraction industry, which almost every other scientist and financer dismisses as pie in the sky.

Oh, and as for my crush – I don’t even remember what I saw in the guy.

This column is from Brian Arbenz’ book “Lost And Found In Louisville.”

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The flaky origins of a morning icon

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By Brian Arbenz

It sounds like the stuff of urban legends that bedevil corporations by smearing their legendary products: Kellogg’s Corn Flakes were invented as part of a master plan to reduce our sex drives.
Got to be a rumor started by an angry ex-employee, right? Or, just another example of the gullible mass public circulating nonsense.
Well don’t look for the Kellogg Co. to launch a campaign to refute this malicious attack on such a wholesome and iconic part of the morning routines of American households – because to a great extent, it’s true.
Yes, the company whose spectacular popularity was celebrated with the advertising line, “Kellogg’s – The Best To You Each Morning,” has roots in a widespread crusade perhaps best summed up as: “Nothing To You Each Evening.”
Fear not though, for there is no link between that puritanical quest and what you pour into your breakfast bowl today. Still, it’s a documented if tortuous trail back to a powerful multi-national, but scientifically groundless movement to eliminate masturbation.
Physician John Harvey Kellogg was a surgeon, nutritionist and, for much of his life, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. His medical research and religious zeal in the late 1800s led him to prominence in this movement against sexual self-stimulation. Along with this specific goal, the married but lifetime celibate Kellogg passionately wanted to reduce the human species’ interest in sex, seeing masturbation as medically and psychologically dangerous and sexual thoughts overall as good for only moral debasement and spreading disease.
“Masturbation was the worst sin imaginable to him. He believed it led to leprosy, tuberculosis, heart disease, epilepsy, dimness of vision, insanity, idiocy, and death,” psychologist Michael Ashworth writes of Kellogg’s beliefs on the website http://www.psychcentral.com.
“He also preached that masturbation led to bashfulness in some people, unnatural boldness in others, a fondness for spicy foods, round shoulders and acne.” Oh dear…. Kellogg’s opposition to the habit, regrettably, went far beyond the amusingly quirky. He published materials detailing how to perform circumcisions and other procedures to deter masturbation in pubescent children – including techniques designed to use short term pain to extinguish the desire.
Kellogg and his brother, W.K. Kellogg, worked in tandem to develop foods that would aid in achieving this goal, including a cereal whose ingredients and production methods Dr. John Kellogg believed would greatly reduce sexual drive, opening the way for his vision of a celibate society. They called it Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and it became the flagship product of the iconic Kellogg’s breakfast foods company, which was formed in 1906 out of a food company W.K. Kellogg started after a break with his doctor brother.
John Kellogg, Wikipedia said, was an acclaimed surgeon whose patients included Amelia Earhart, Thomas Edison, Johnny Weismuller and former president William Howard Taft. He served as medical officer of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a Seventh-day Adventist owned health and education center in his Michigan hometown which taught what today we would call a holistic program of diet, elaborate exercises and stress reduction methods to maintain health.
Dr.Kellogg advocated vegetarianism, believed there was too much emphasis on expensive curative medicine and provided surgery free of charge to the needy. He had a dark side, though – and on more than just sexual issues. Kellogg promoted the discredited field of eugenics, claiming racial segregation would improve the species. He also believed in frequent enemas and developed one using yogurt.
And if one more lurid piece of history is all that is needed to strip Corn Flakes of its simple noncontroversial image, John Kellogg claimed that nationwide competitor Post Cereals started its rival version of Corn Flakes after a patient, company founder Charles William Post, stole the formula from Dr. Kellogg’s safe in the sanitarium office.
As for the risk that Corn Flakes may actually achieve its purpose of giving you a better night’s sleep than you want, Michael Ashworth of psychcentral.com wrote that there is no link between eating the cereal and experiencing lower sex drive, or becoming celibate.
For more reassurance, simply look across the breakfast table at your kids munching their Corn Flakes just as you did.

Brian Arbenz, 57, of Louisville, has never been a Corn Flakes eater. Yet he has no children. Go figure.

You’ve seen these – the 10 types of Facebook posts

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By Brian Arbenz

Several computer nerds of his generation could have mastered the technology involved in creating Facebook, but Mark Zuckerberg’s healthy social skills, which are unusual for a techno-prodigy, gave him an edge on making his invention user friendly.
He knew that dispensing with the questionnaires other social web sites required new users first to answer, although it would sacrifice a ton of instantly marketable data, would fill Facebook’s ranks rapidly.
And thus, the 21st Century’s “Ma Bell,” the new monopoly we just can’t argue with, was off and racing — way past any competition.
You’ll never again plan a reunion, form a new club or walk past a clever “viral potential” business sign without the name “Facebook” flashing across your mind.
You also may never again get as many as two or three consecutive good nights of sleep, as the need to refute that misguided zealot in Spokane or find out if your fifth-grade teacher is still around makes the next two hours go by like ten minutes.
Then, there are the sort of cyber street fights, into which inexperienced Facebook users can wander.
In one grueling 24-hour span during my neophyte period, I was attacked and ridiculed by a former professional colleague — who had unexpectedly turned hard right — for my refusal to agree with her call for mandatory full body searches of Moslem- or Arab-appearing airline passengers. The next night, I was skewered just as harshly by a leftist because I would not agree to implore President Obama to deport Rupert Murdoch from the country.
Feeling like the only reasonable person on this medium, I was prepared to bolt from it, but then, while browsing the personal profile of a supervisor at my workplace, I realized that she and I had been childhood acquaintances and that our grandparents had been next door neighbors and close friends for decades.
So Facebook was saved by a delightful find. The pleasures have continued to outweigh the tensions, so as an expression of gratitude to the son of a Westchester, N.Y. dentist who while barely out of his teens started this company, I offer my greatest skill – classifying things. Here are the types of Facebook statuses:

The Time Bomb
A friend posts, “I’ve just finished the dishes and now I’m going to do a little work in the garden. Perfect day for it!”
Wanting to post an equally cheerful comment about your own recent gardening experience, you tranquilly scroll down past more than 80 posts, the most recent of which is someone you’ve never heard of telling someone else you’ve never heard of:
“Take the s#it out of your stupid arrogant ears and pay attention to the facts, idiot! The governor’s a fuc&ing crook and dupes like you who voted for him are bottom feeding lowlifes!”
Maybe you’ll just send your gardening friend an e-mail instead.

The Aw, Look At This.
Someone has gotten an inspiration that life can be good after all from this picture of a jaguar eschewing its predator role by cuddling a fluffy white rabbit, or one of a tiger shark doing duck face with a 10-year-old swimmer. Swept up by sentiment, your Facebook friend immediately links to this photographic evidence that a utopia is possible after all! You then remind them that whereas utopia hasn’t arrived, Photoshop has.

The CLICK – Another Problem Solved!
These end with personal appeals like: “Repost if you care about homeless koala bears with ADHD.“ It eases your conscience knowing you have “raised awareness” about some distant problem — while you are oblivious to having worsened the “First World problem,” of data mining, the real purpose of most of these crusading memes.

The Ewe No Your From…
The folks back in Walapehagua Falls were the greatest to grow up with, and for a few minutes, your face lights up in a nostalgic glow from all of them posting about those Friday nights hanging at the mall and making popcorn at slumber parties and cheering on the WFHS Fighting Giraffes hockey team all the way to the regional! Then, you notice this thread has four its/it’s errors, five non-punctuated sentences and three accusations that Obama is planning to secretly microchip newborn children, and you realize why you left Walapehagua Falls.

The Integrity Junkie
For a second, you gear up for a laugh over what looks like a classic George Carlin-style observation about why we go through our silly conversational habits. But five sentences into this status bemoaning our ritual of asking, “How’s it going?” you still don’t see a humorous pay off, and you realize, OMG, this person means it!
In an indictment of the evil of scripted banality, the person posting asks: “What do we mean by ‘it?’ And ‘going?’ Going where? This sort of mindless conformity blocks people from genuine communication, blunting our spiritual growth, leading to school shootings, global warming, flatulence and…”
Sheesh!

The Eternal Vigilance!
This status features a link to some catchy meme about how awful it is that Facebook enables the government to violate our privacy. Amen, we all say, liking it in droves in a show of solidarity for the principle that our private lives must remain private!…. Then, over the next week, half the likers post statuses about their latest “episode,” which abusive person from their past caused it and what medication they are taking to get through it.

The Surely Everybody’s A Fan
“How’s that marmalade, Dexter?”
Just as baffling as that vague status are these following comments:
“Ever tried Neptune?”
“Just because that floats my boat!”
“Bring your own porcelain next time!”

When you post the begged for question, what in the world do all these mean, you are asked in return, “Don’t you watch ‘Lentil Fusion?’ ”
A quick Google search reveals that this is the name of an early 1980s satirical comedy show aired in Finland and Tierra Del Fuego which launched several trademark expressions. It also reveals to you how suddenly you can be out of the loop for the lack of the 400-channel dish required to pick up reruns of Lentil Fusion.
So the next time you casually assume anyone worth their salt in hipness must share your cult classic passions, please stop, Dave. My mind is going. Say no more. Nudge, nudge.

The Angry American!
Someone links to a story about a senior citizen center in Pocatello, Idaho renaming this year’s Christmas Party the “Holiday Party,” then bemoans this as another example of God being taken out of the season.
No sir, don’t dare say “Happy Holidays” to them, for that defiles Christmas! Singing about a reindeer with a nose that lights up? No problem! Just don’t be anti-biblical by using a secular term like “holidays!”

The Breakfast Joke
This status starts with the oldest form of ecumenical relations known – “A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar….” Well, you were about to log off and go to bed, but hey, what better way to end the day than with the chuckle you’re guaranteed to get from this classic formula for a joke!
After the third paragraph, you decide to scroll down to see how long this will take, and when the scrolling seems like it will never stop, you realize just how tired you are. So you decide to log off and maybe you’ll dream the perfect punch line.

The “Oh, Sno-opes!”
The government of Ecuador just voted to allow ground up lizard tails to be sprinkled into lattes served in coffeehouses, so boycott (insert product name here).

This column is featured in “Lost And Found In Louisville,” the third book by Brian Arbenz, a journalist, activist and researcher based in that city. 

You Don’t Say – Unreal Quotes We Believe Are Genuine

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By Brian Arbenz

Mightier than the pen, it would seem, are words never actually spoken, but which moved mountains by helping shape our understanding of big institutions, celebrated people or powerful moments.

“What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”
When GM president Charles E. Wilson was nominated by President Eisenhower in 1953 to be Secretary of Defense, critics asked how a conflict of interest could possibly be avoided, as Wilson had made much of his fortune from General Motors military contracts during World War II. In a closed Senate hearing about his personal finances, Wilson is said to have testified, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country” – presenting the very picture of cigar-chomping arrogance that is still used to characterize the hubris of big corporations.
The quote was first used by The Detroit Free Press in an interview with one of those senators passing on Wilson’s words from the hearing, and it still annoys the biggest of the big 3; GM’s initial web site in the ‘90s included a page devoted solely to refuting the widespread belief that its CEO ever said such a megalomaniacal thing.
Well, the Free Press itself acknowledged in 2008 that transcripts show Wilson actually said “…for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors and vice versa. The difference did not exist” – an attitude of interdependence with, not domination of the nation.
Shed no tears, however, for a GM misjudged as putting itself first. This little known, yet truly revealing quote from the 1920s by its president Alfred P. Sloan, reported in the film “Taken For a Ride,” illustrates the documented strategy of GM joining with many other corporations to illegally sabotage mass transit: “If we can eliminate the rail alternatives, we will create a new market for our cars. And if we don’t, then General Motors’ sales are just going to remain level.”
Not exactly good for the country, or a world being torn by war after war because of U.S. overdependence on oil and petrodollars.

“I invented the Internet.”
Critics of Al Gore, including GOP partisans and cynical centrists, pounce on the preposterous statement in 1999 that a vice-president or senator could find time in his schedule to invent anything, particularly the biggest technology of our era.
Even some defenders of Gore change the subject quickly, rather than attack the real falsehood – the misconception that Gore lied or even overstated his relationship to the medium through which you are reading this.
Few can cite the time or place the vice-president and hard charging 2000 presidential candidate actually is supposed to have said the words they use to characterize Gore as dishonest, or at least a braggart by nature.
Here’s is where it all began: Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “Late Edition” program on March 9, 1999 asked Gore why he stood out from challenger Bill Bradley, the New Jersey senator also seeking the 2000 Democratic nomination. Gore said, “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.”
Sloppy sentence construction, to be sure — and communicating a vision clearly being a key task of a president, Gore’s overall presentation problems could make an issue – but Al Gore’s appraisal of his connection to the internet is correct.
Two of the real inventors of the internet, Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf (the latter often referred to as the “father of the Internet”) wrote in 2000 that “Al Gore was the first political leader to recognize the importance of the Internet and to promote and support its development” and that, “No other elected official, to our knowledge, has made a greater contribution [to the Internet] over a longer period of time.”
Snopes.com calls the claim that Gore ever said he “invented” the net, “just silly political posturing.”

“Houston, we have a problem.”
The 1995 movie by Ron Howard about the real-life drama of Apollo 13’s nearly fatal mishap pegged the climax on Tom Hanks as mission commander Jim Lovell announcing the explosion of an oxygen tank with the understatement of all history.
“A problem?” Well, three men 200,000 miles from Earth with quite possibly not a way to get home and not enough power or air to stay alive — yeah, that would unsettle your contentment a bit.
Howard’s “Apollo 13” intelligently mixed melodrama with fact to make the finest space movie ever, but in choosing a signature line, he did muddle what was said, who said it and in what mood.
Actual recordings from Apollo 13 on April 13, 1970 show that a minute or so after the explosion, one of the astronauts says in a matter-of-fact tone, “OK Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” ABC News says it was Fred Haise. A site called phrases.org.uk attributes it to Jack Swigert. It clearly isn’t the highly recognized dulcet voice of Lovell, who then repeats it upon Houston’s request, saying: ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a main B bus undervolt.”
Though “bus undervolt” isn’t a common term in our culture, call anything Houston, and you’ll invite a reuse of what Jim Lovell almost said.
Difficulties in the life of Whitney Houston and poor play by Houston sports teams have provoked re-call to duty of the former astronaut and Navy pilot, and a Los Angeles Times review of a Houston’s restaurant said: “Houston(‘s), we have a problem.”
Yet if they’d called the place “Bus Undervolt’s,” his actual words, who’d have thought of Jim Lovell?

“Beam me up, Scotty.”
Unlike Ron Howard, Gene Roddenberry didn’t have to face the matter of historical accuracy, so how could myth play a role in the many iconic lines for which Star Trek characters are revered?
Yes, Dr. McCoy really does say, “He’s dead, Jim” several times. And Spock’s constant calls for the use of logic justly prosper as they live long in the Trekker acumen.
Exactly whether engineer Scott really harps on his professional inadequacies I will leave for some other time, but no, the man at the helm of the enterprise does not once say, “Beam me up, Scotty,” a phrase sometimes used on bumper stickers and memes to poke fun at places considered undesirable by showing Captain Kirk ordering a quick return to the Enterprise.
“The closest that Captain Kirk ever got to this was “Beam us up, Mr. Scott”, in the ‘Gamesters of Triskelion’ episode,” reports phrases.org.uk.
If you already knew that, to the point of being able to cite that episode immediately, then you need to, as William Shatter told a group of archetypal Star Trek devotes in a Saturday Night Live skit, “Get a life!”

“Just the facts, ma’am.”
Jack Webb’s “Dragnet” has changed form many times since its debut as a radio show in 1949 billed as a more up-close and personal look at police.
In the 1960s, the second Dragnet TV series was known as frenetic, preachy and filled with indelible verbal and music trademarks often parodied, but none of them, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
The book, “My Name’s Friday” by Michael J. Hayde traces the association of those words with detective Joe Friday to Stan Freberg’s 1953 comedy record “St. George and the Dragonet,” for which Webb gave permission to use the Dragnet theme music.
A skit, as accessible online, includes a Joe Friday-like “Detective Wednesday” asking questions of citizens in the case of “Little Blue Riding Hood.” He twice says, “Ma’am, we just want to get the facts.”
And ever since, the man who told us weekly, “I carry a badge” also carries an undue image of cutting off female witnesses.

Brian Arbenz is a writer and researcher in Louisville, Ky. Enjoy without guilt this thoroughly researched piece, for he considers delving into the arcane pure leisure.

Mitch McConnell and 0.3 Penny Opera

By Brian Arbenz

What on Earth could have transformed Mitch McConnell from a baron of subdivision drainage and park maintenance three and one-half decades ago into the bare-knuckled power-wielder for the nation’s elites?
How was a bespectacled, ostensibly nerdy, tentative-voiced suburban county government chief turned into America’s prime arbiter of conservative priorities with the mandate to declare to the pundits which law is the worst of our time?
The man who once politely asked for legendary civil rights activist Lyman Johnson’s endorsement today confidently defends his party’s various state voter ID laws which will keep millions of minorities and the poor home on election day.
Who or what made this once mousey-appearing civil servant roar? Did someone push Mitch’s buttons in a moment of crisis decades ago, setting off a hunger for validation, the kind to which politicians (including those actually in office and those of us who once seriously thought of running) are so vulnerable?
Remember that word “hunger,” as I start to recount a brush with a future Senate Minority Leader in 1978 that, who’s to say, didn’t change the course of history.
Then, as now, I was on the far left, not an easy place for a college student in the era quite accurately deemed the “Me-Generation” on campus.
Today, while Mitch McConnell and other Republicans insist they aren’t for exploiting the 99 (or, as Mitt Romney puts it, 47) percent, one of that group now named Brian Arbenz (nee George Morrison)  collected concrete evidence – actually copper – that could qualify me for a spot on Rachel Maddow to portray Mitch as cheap and arrogant – to Marie Antoinette proportions.
But hold on. Adequate wages must be earned, not guaranteed. Yes, you heard correctly; I’m on the far left, and my encounter with my side’s future nemesis taught me that bit of conservative wisdom. Let me tell you, though, it must have taught the powerful something we leftists always hold true: poverty hurts.
Now unless first-year Jefferson County Judge-Executive Mitch McConnell 35 years ago had an intelligence gathering operation that would make today’s Secretary of Homeland Security blush, he could not have judged the 20-year-old college student bussing tables in a downtown Louisville restaurant he entered at noontime one autumn day as anything more than an inconsequential, pimply kid out to make enough in tips to buy a six-pack.
Well, in defiance of that period’s youth norms, I eschewed the brew and spent my dollars instead on the works of Michael Harrington, Kate Millet and Norman Thomas.
Mitch entered a Main Street row restaurant called the New York Steak Exchange with two other suits, presumably from county government or the business realm.
To everyone’s dismay, this power lunch happened on absolutely our worst day. Even on our best, we were no gastronomical gem. A newspaper review said our various gimmicks – including a real working stock ticker over the bar – couldn’t make up for the mediocrity of the food.
On this day, the service was poor to boot. So crowded were we that my supervisors had me work as a food server while not busing tables. After Mitch’s party had waited an inordinate amount of time for their food, we hauled three plates through the frenetic din to their table, only to be told this was not what the trio had ordered. We apologized and took the plates back and placed them under red lights to await their rightful owners.
More time went by as the judge-executive and his cohorts were just the most recognizable people in this restaurant hungering. Only so much politics and policy can be discussed at a table before, “Where’s our food?” becomes the sole concern.
And the three orphan plates sat there under the red lights until another server was ordered to take them to the McConnell table on the chance that they were theirs. Oh dear.
I gave chase trying to stop her. You see in the restaurant business, there is no mistake worse – more glaringly unprofessional and insulting — than bringing someone the wrong food. At that moment, I realized that there in fact is. That is bringing someone the wrong food twice. And as though the damage to us could have been worse, we were bringing the wrong food – twice – to the head of county government, the government that includes the restaurant inspection division of the health department.
She reached their table, asking: “Is this what you ordered?” Out of breath from running, I watched as Mitch and the other power hitters looked at the food, and looked at each other. Then the nation’s future highest-ranking member of the Republican Party looked at this young woman and said, in his classic McConnell-esque understated way: “Yes.”
Now we weren’t a grand jury, so this one-word lie doesn’t have the scandal potential of Bill Clinton’s “No” in response to an inquiry from Kenneth Star about the president’s involvement with an intern, though if the Democratic Party had the GOP’s chutzpa, learning of this would prompt it to call for McConnell’s resignation tomorrow. But the Democrats, unlike their opponents, tend to know not to make a federal case over an unimportant falsehood which, like Clinton’s, stemmed from a crucial human need — in this case, food.
And Judge-Executive McConnell – as they say in Senatorial debate lingo – ate someone’s lunch, learning in the process to avoid all contact from then on with the New York Steak Exchange, except – who knows — perhaps to send a memo about the restaurant to the health department.
So could it be that the indignity of eating survival rations, instead of what you wanted, soured Mitch McConnell on those of us who can’t afford to start our own Super PAC?
Well, who among us wouldn’t have sympathized at that moment with Mitt Romney’s declaration: “I like being able to fire people?”
Restaurant diners can’t directly do that to those who inflict even the lousiest service imaginable, but Mitch’s trio found an even more revealing way to express their discontent.
No tip? Nope. Lying on the McConnell party’s table, inscribed with that Eisenhower-era legislated monetary notation “In God We Trust,” was a penny – for the three of us who had waited on them somehow to divide among ourselves.
Notice Senator, that the nationwide perception of your party in the crucial year of 2012 – fair or not — is that you have it in for low-wage workers, the left and women.
Whether the ravenousness and disrespect we made you endure three and one-half decades ago lit your still burning fire, or was forgotten the following morning, shouldn’t you find cause to declare peace between the GOP and those constituencies from the knowledge that you once – albeit justifiably by most any standard — tipped a representative of each, literally, one-third of a cent?
If invincibility in politics is possible, Mitch McConnell appeared to have achieved it going into this decade. He won against the 2008 anti-GOP tide, he had in 2002 garnered endorsements from even liberal publications and he was always bathed in corporate money.
However, as a working person, I also am perched on a privileged spot. I got to witness something astounding in 1978. I saw the well-heeled and self-assured Mitch McConnell hungry and frustrated – so desperately that he was reduced to lying. How many people can say that?

Brian Arbenz retired from busing tables in 1979 to become a journalist, researcher and author. His third book, “Lost and Found in Louisville,” includes this recollection, which he wrote in 2012. 

Who is Brian Arbenz?

Who is Brian Arbenz?

Born George Morrison in 1958 in Indianapolis and raised in New Albany, Ind., Brian Arbenz (the name he legally took in 2014) writes of his crazy and prescient 1978 encounter with Mitch McConnell in “Lost And Found in Louisville,” one of his three books.
Brian writes commentaries and news online and did so for newspapers, magazines and wire services from his college years in the late 1970s until 2011, when he finished a 21-year stint as editor of FORsooth, the monthly newspaper of the Fellowship of Reconciliation Louisville chapter.
Brian believes in conflict resolution, a matter he has researched, promoted and practiced as a volunteer mediator between offenders and victims of crimes.
In this era of stoked hostility, Brian’s bent toward reconciliation is one of his many unorthodox ways which shape his personal reflections, sharp commentaries and offbeat observations to topple many widely accepted myths about our world.
Read on, to see what Brian’s unbridled and colorful mind can show you!