Conventional Wisdom

Life’s a gamble, yet I don’t spend much time in Las Vegas. The last time I was in Atlantic City, I listened to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons at the Steel Pier, long before a single roulette wheel was set in motion along the boardwalk. Albert Einstein reportedly once said, “I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.” I think that’s because the physicist may have summered in Monte Carlo and wintered safely in Zurich as the National Socialists came to power. Hindenburg was out and the fix was in. The fix is often in. I watch photos on the news of flag-draped caskets and wonder if this current fix is fixable. I know Sing Out! is about people and their music, not soap boxes. So – consider this column one self-absorbed, rambling, annoying song lyric without much melody, fated to piss folks off. The world continues to tap dance on the edge of oblivion, and the electorate in the US of A gets worked up about interns with blue dresses, drunken frat-boy joy rides, failed land deals, national guard non-attendance, and who did or did not toss medals into the Potomac. Those aren’t issues. That’s the sideshow. Let’s stay on point.

When I was a youngster, my father took me to a sideshow. As a young man he ran a wheel of fortune on the midway at Coney Island. Years later, I begged him to take me to a carnival. Cotton candy in hand, I pulled him towards a game booth and asked if I could play, place a bet. First he scowled, then he agreed. Dad carefully looked round and about the booth, nodded a knowing nod to the man running the wheel, and agreed, “Sure, you can play.” The man winked back asking, “What’s your number?” “Five red.” I tentatively ventured. “Place your bets,” he roared as he strolled by, cane in hand. Clickety-clack went the wheel, and – five red came up! “How about the lucky boy!” the stranger exclaimed. “Wanna try again Butch? Still feeling lucky?” said the man in the straw hat and striped shirt. “Eight black,” I chose more confidently. “Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows!” he crooned as the wheel clicked and clacked and slowly came to rest. Sure enough, the wheel stopped on eight black, as it miraculously did on the next couple of numbers I selected. “Wow!” I thought. “This is easy.” The nice man in the straw hat handed me a large stuffed panda. “Luck?” asked my father. “Yes,” I nodded in the affirmative. Then Dad took the panda and gave it back to the man standing in front of the wheel. “Hey,” I whined, “ I won that.” “Not really,” was Dad’s response, “you didn’t win anything. Luck had nothing to do with it…the fix was in.”

“Hey friend,” Dad said knowingly, “show the kid your shoe.” The man in the straw hat smiled and placed his shoe on the counter. It was a normal looking shoe…except for a small copper plate on the anterior right sole. My father then pointed to a neat row of nails hammered in across the wood floor. The “contact” on the sole, when placed across any given pair of nails, could complete a circuit. This would, as Einstein and any electrician might surmise, stop the wheel anywhere on the dial…usually away from a winning number, sometimes on a winner to keep the stiffs betting. “But Dad, that’s cheating! And why can’t I keep the bear anyway?”

We really are taken in by a good show. We hear what we want to hear. We see what we choose to see. I would rather hear what I need to hear. I am tired of the sideshow. It’s unnerving to watch the 9/11 hearings teeter between the center ring and sideshow. Much of the political scene is a sideshow. “Ladies and Gentlemen, gather in a little closer. Don’t be shy. I have something I want you to marvel at. It slices, it dices, it cuts your daily drudgery in half, makes your big SUV run twice as far on a gallon of gas and improves your sex life. It gives you a tax rebate while running up the national debt and ignores healthcare, human rights and the polluting of the environment. It panders to the lowest common denominator and the largest voting blocks. It’s compassionate, holy, patriotic, and always makes a nice profit. Or rather, a nice prophet.” Enjoy the conventions. Enjoy the colored balloons. Enjoy the rhetoric. The fix is in. And whether it’s President Body Bags, Vice President Dip Stick, an alternative canned-idate with 57 varieties of positions or a third party spoiler whose 2000 run proved to be more dangerous than a fleet of 1963 Chevrolet Corvairs, they’re all working the angles. They’re wearing copper-bottomed shoes. I loved my Dad too…but I think I would stop short of invading a country for him. I guess it’s easy to criticize. I wouldn’t really want to carry the heavy burden of following my father into the wheel of fortune business, nor the oval office. Democracy requires our full attention. Then again, we could just let the Supreme Court vote for our next president. Wait…that idea holds an element of déjà vu. Did I mention the fix is in? Anyone have a pair of dice?