On Vaccinations

It has been reported that one out of three adult Americans has already had at least one COVID vaccination shot; we seem well on our way toward President Joe Biden’s expressed goal of being able to provide a vaccination to all Americans who want one within, at the latest, the next sixty days.  I hope that the Administration is already setting plans, assuming our domestic rollout remains on track, to make our unneeded vaccinations available to citizens of disadvantaged nations as the summer proceeds.  Although our international image has taken on more than a bit of tarnish over the last four years, I would venture that these nations, if given the option of receiving vaccines from the United States, China, or Russia, will still instinctively prefer the American option:  likely better quality, almost certainly fewer explicit or implied strings attached.

Closer to home, set forth below is a note I received recently from a very close friend of many decades – whose antics our adult children still well recall from their early days — who will only become aware of my intent to enter it here as he reads this post.  I am confident he won’t mind; when you read the note, I suspect you will share my confidence : ).

“When I was waiting for my second shot, a young lady (30 – 35) or so was pacing around.  I asked her if this was her first shot and if she was nervous.  She said yes.  I told her not to worry, this was going to be my second shot and it’s no big deal.  You just pull down your pants, they give you the shot and you are on your way. 

????!!!!!  She said WHAT???   She thought you get the shot in your arm!  I asked her who told her that?   She said she saw it on TV.   I told her that they can’t put people getting butt shots on TV plus if they did a lot of people might not get the shot.  Then they called her name and I said Good luck.   

Do you know she gave me the finger when she got out of the office?   How rude!” 

I suspect that all that read these pages either have received their vaccinations, or intend to do so when given the opportunity … while of course, keeping their pants on  ;).  Hopefully, many of our fellow citizens currently expressing reservations will soon resolve to do the same.  In the meantime, stay safe.

Easter Reflections on the Georgia Election Law

As all who care are aware, the Republican-dominated Georgia legislature recently passed the state’s “Election Integrity Act of 2021,” purportedly to address alleged irregularities in the state’s voting processes that, according to Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger and as established by several state presidential vote recounts, were never there.  The law appears a pretty ham-handed attempt by Georgia Republicans to limit the voting opportunities of Democratic-leaning voters in a state that has, judging by the narrow 2020 victories of Democrats President Joe Biden and U.S. GA Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the potential to trend increasingly Democratic.

A provision in the statute that has garnered a fair amount of attention is Section 33, which in the guise of preventing voter inducement, prohibits anyone but a poll officer from “… giving … food and drink, to an elector” in the vicinity of a polling place.

Clearly, anyone determined to wait in line to vote despite a notable thirst has already affirmatively decided how s/he will vote; the rationale that evil doers might be able to persuade a malleable voter to change his/her vote by offering the elector a drink of water – when the voter, if s/he cared so little about the substance of his/her ballot, could simply leave the line and slake his/her thirst — is on its face absurd.  The repressive aspect of the measure has been extensively noted; however, what also struck me were the ironies related to the provision.

First, the prohibition on furnishing food or drink to an elector waiting in the vicinity of a polling place evinces such mean-spirited pettiness that it has made me ponder whether such an obvious display of cancerous partisanship might even cause a conscientious conservative jurist to question the statute’s constitutionality.

That said, what seems to me the sharpest irony arising from this provision — perhaps brought to mind by the Easter Season, combined with a high level of confidence that the majority of the Republican Georgia legislators who voted for the Act consider themselves Christians — is embedded in the Gospel:

“Jesus said, ‘I thirst.’  There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  When Jesus had taken the wine, He said, ‘It is finished.’”

John 19:28-30

Georgia Republican legislators have prohibited the provision of a humane accommodation to fellow Georgians seeking to exercise their constitutional rights that Roman soldiers provided to one they had just crucified as a criminal.

May you have the opportunity to celebrate this time of the year, including as it does holy days sacred to those of multiple Faiths, in the manner you consider most fitting.  Stay safe.

Breaking Out

There was extensive focus last week on the anniversary of the day when America officially shut down because of the Coronavirus.  There has been much appropriate coverage of the COVID stresses that have built on our people over the last year:  on those infected by or taken from us by the virus, and on those that have attended or grieve for them; on healthcare and frontline workers; on the health and emotional challenges faced by large families living in cramped quarters; on parents trying to work from home while ensuring that their children maintain their studies; and on the terrified, looking at their four walls after being laid off.  These have borne the brunt of the pandemic and the attendant enforced isolation.

As all who care are aware, President Biden recently declared that during May, there will be sufficient COVID vaccine for all adult Americans who want one.  I can’t believe that someone who has been as adept at setting COVID expectations as the President would make such a statement if he wasn’t very confident that he could meet it.  This presumably means that all adult Americans seeking to be “fully vaccinated” can achieve the condition within July.  Our need for enforced separation is apparently coming to an end.

I tend to agree with those commentators that have suggested that it will be difficult for the Administration to maintain the cautious line it is currently taking – to the effect that in the summer when all Americans desiring a vaccination will have already had one, it will then be appropriate for limited gatherings.  I expect that the sentiment among the majority of those that get vaccinated will be that those who choose not to be vaccinated had best take care of themselves, and that it will be time to break out — to start “getting back to normal.”  That said, I suspect that there may be a wide variance as to how we each individually emerge from our cocoons.  Some of us have appeared to handle seclusion better than others.  While having a reserved disposition has outwardly provided a healthy coping mechanism throughout the crisis, I would suggest – being cognizant that there are learned psychologists that read these pages, and so tread lightly — that while there has been extensive reporting on the deleterious effect that enforced isolation has had on those commonly considered “extroverts,” those commonly thought of as “introverts” may now be facing a different, but perhaps nonetheless trying, virus-caused transition.  Emotional as well as physical muscles need exertion. Too much isolation for too long might have become too cozy, might have arguably bred in some a disinclination to socialize that could, unaddressed, seemingly become detrimental. 

The other night, we watched one of our favorite films, Shawshank Redemption, which, as virtually all are aware, sets forth events involving prisoners in the fictional Maine Shawshank State Prison.  Toward the end of the film, Morgan Freeman’s character, Red Redding, remarks, “These walls are funny.  First you hate ‘em.  Then you get used to ‘em.  Enough time passes, you get so you depend on ‘em.  That’s institutionalized.”

It would seem that merely getting used to COVID-induced walls, at least for the period we have had to abide thus far, wasn’t bad; that said, the fictional Redding’s observation resonates.  I would submit that this summer, it will be beneficial for those of every personality inclination to actively “break out” — while paying appropriate heed to then-current CDC COVID safety protocols, of course  :).

Reflections on a Requiem for a Republic

Requiem

2a. A solemn chant (such as a dirge) for the repose of the dead; [2]b.  Something that resembles such a solemn chant …”

  • Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

For someone who fully anticipated the Senate’s Saturday impeachment acquittal of former President Donald J. Trump, I nonetheless found myself unexpectedly despondent. 

My disappointment, at least on Saturday, surprisingly did not relate directly to the damage to our nation that Mr. Trump himself, given the high likelihood that he will soon start loudly proclaiming that he was exonerated by the Senate, may now seek to wreak.  Although one would certainly never count him out, there seems a substantial chance that the former president, reportedly a pariah among serious financiers, will struggle to find lenders willing to help him address the $400 million debt his businesses face in the next few years; he will undoubtedly be dogged by criminal investigations in the State of New York and other parts of the nation, and perhaps in civil venues by those seeking recompense for his part in the Capitol raid or otherwise; and despite his apparent strength among rank-and-file Republicans, his execrable legacy will forever unite quarrelling liberals and progressives and repulse sensible centrists and conservatives.  These factors will arguably make it difficult for him to mount another winning national campaign.

Nor was my ill humor primarily wrought by the knaves and nincompoops that have enabled Mr. Trump:  malignantly ambitious connivers such as U.S. MO Sen. Josh Hawley and U.S. TX Sen. Ted Cruz, or those that can’t find the bathroom (or, if they can find it, are concerned about being exposed to Jewish lasers while within it) such as U.S. WI Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. GA Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.  We have always had and will always have our share of nitwits and nefarious.

Nor did I feel any regret for the rioters who actually genuinely believed they were saving their country and now face lives forever altered, at least one ended.  They are adults who should have recognized the grotesque nature of their enterprise.  (I do wonder whether it will dawn on the elite-loathing segment of the Trump cult that while many who heeded his call will suffer, the former president himself will almost certainly “walk” – i.e., face no criminal exposure for his part in causing the riot.)

What troubled me was the fact that 135 more Republican House Representatives voted by secret ballot to keep U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach Mr. Trump and condemned his behavior in the strongest terms, in GOP House leadership than had the courage to vote to impeach him themselves.  What troubled me were credible reports that if the Senate’s impeachment trial vote had been secret, there would have been 80 to 90 votes – i.e., 30 to 40 Republican votes rather than the seven actually cast — to convict Mr. Trump, presumably including Senate Minority Leader U.S. KY Sen. Mitch McConnell, given his dramatic denunciation of Mr. Trump following the Senate trial.

This amounts to approximately 30% of our national representatives who, when facing the most direct internal challenge to our Republic in 150 years, didn’t have the courage to do their duty although they knew better.  Even U.S. AL Sen. Richard Shelby and U.S. OH Sen. Rob Portman, who are retiring from the Senate and are reputed to be serious men – voted to acquit, presumably pulling a Paul Ryan:  finding it safer to abide un-American behavior than risk being exiled from the safe Republican cocoon in which each has dwelt his entire adult life.  It has made me question whether even imposing term limits on Congressional careers will remedy politicians’ urge to prioritize pleasing their supporters above all other values.

I have no illusions that had the demagogue confronting us been a Democrat, that Congressional Democrats would have performed appreciably better than the Republicans have.

I have heard mixed reviews of Sen. McConnell’s comments after the trial even among those that agreed with their substance.  A very close friend noted to me that although – as Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi noted – the blatant hypocrisy existing in the contrast between Mr. McConnell’s vote and his statement were manifest, Mr. McConnell’s remarks were of exactly the nature that I have indicated that I hope will persuade non-cult Trump followers to abandon him.  Perhaps; but what actually came to my mind as I listened to Mr. McConnell was the oft-quoted observation of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg in November, 1863 – words that in their modesty were perhaps the most inaccurate ever publicly uttered by Mr. Lincoln, but ironically apropos to Mr. McConnell’s post-trial protestations and the Republicans’ acquittal votes Saturday:  “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” 

Since Mr. McConnell cannot believe the poppycock he was spouting about the unconstitutionality of the Senate proceeding, it would appear that either he voted in concert with the Trump zealots – after signaling his sentiments in advance — because he feared ever regaining a Republican Senate majority if a substantial number of Republicans voted to convict Mr. Trump, or he feared losing his leadership mantle if he voted contrary to the wishes of his caucus majority.

Sen. McConnell is undoubtedly familiar with the 18th century Irish-Anglo statesman Edmund Burke, one of the founding fathers of modern conservative thought, who embraced the belief that reliance upon traditional institutions, community, and customs is the best way for a society to advance itself.  Addressing his constituents, Mr. Burke once declared, “ [A representative’s] unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living.  Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

As all are aware, I never have any sympathy for Mr. McConnell.  That said, I sensed remorse in his rationalizations.  There is no real justification for what the Republicans have done.  He knew – he knew – that when facing the most perilous internal challenge to our nation in his lifetime, he and his caucus abandoned their duty by failing to convict Mr. Trump.  His remarks seemed akin to a chant; perhaps he felt in his own words a Requiem for a Republic.

An Apology

In the original version of a post published earlier today that appears immediately below, I disparaged in provocative terms the intelligence and savviness of those that might view differently than I do President Trump’s level of culpability for the Capitol riot and the motives of any Republicans that ultimately vote to acquit him at the conclusion of the Senate’s current impeachment trial.  I regretted the tone of the note almost as soon as I published it.  While I have no difficulty condemning in harshest terms the patent malefaction of Mr. Trump, his enablers, the Capitol rioters, and those such as espousers of racism, gender or religious bigotry, one of these pages’ guiding principles is to maintain a level of civility when referring to those of our citizens who, while maintaining the same fundamental values, may simply weigh the same facts differently than I do.  The note as it now appears makes the same substantive points as the original, but in at least a somewhat gentler manner. 

An apology – and an appropriate consequence of Irish Catholic guilt  ;).

The Perspective of an Aging Packer Backer

I know; it was extremely disappointing – indeed, wrenching – for many of those that follow these pages to watch the Green Bay Packers lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a game that the Packers should have won.  I doubt many, if told before the game that the Green and Gold, playing in Lambeau Field, would intercept Buccaneer Tom Brady three times, would have predicted a Packer defeat.  Since I consider the officiating mistakes and the two teams’ physical miscues to have about evened out, I would place the loss at the feet of the Packer coaching staff:  it was inexcusable not to impress upon the Packer secondary, with seconds left in the first half, what any sixth grader would realize – Don’t let a receiver get behind you; in going for two points after a touchdown with a lot of time left in the game, rather than taking the almost certain PAT, Head Coach Matt LaFleur was oblivious to what the late Marquette Coach Al McGuire called the “rhythm of the game” – that more points were certain to be scored by both teams and what was needed at that point was to maintain momentum – i.e., avoid the risk of emotional deflation that would necessarily occur if the two-point attempt failed (as it did); and Mr. LaFleur’s coaching malpractice involved in kicking a field goal rather than going for the tying touchdown in the waning minutes.

Fine.  I’m not sure that this would have as readily occurred to me 20 years ago, certainly not 30 or 40:  it is only a game.  Speaking as someone who our nieces and nephews used to say was as entertaining to watch, watching the Packers play, as the game itself – someone who has recorded the vast majority of Packer games for decades rather than watch them live, since his wife didn’t like putting up with the disgruntlement on Sunday nights that invariably accompanied a loss – Packer fortunes, or indeed those of any team, while providing a pleasant distraction from the many cares we face, are indeed that – a distraction.  On the macro level, even if Packer Quarterback Aaron Rodgers never plays another game, Packer fans can look back on the last 29 seasons – since then-Packer Quarterback Brett Favre threw his first touchdown pass to Kitrick Taylor in September of 1992 – and truly say that while the team has at times been an underdog in a given contest, there hasn’t been a game in almost the last 30 years, with Messrs. Favre and Rodgers at the helm, that at the beginning, the team had no chance of winning.  I doubt another pro football franchise can say the same.  We Packer fans have no kick [so to speak ;)] coming.  Was it disappointing for Mr. Rodgers that he didn’t win last night?  Sure.  Given his salary in the tens of millions of dollars – or the fact that every Green Bay player earned at a rate of over $500,000 this season — does his or their disappointment rank with the millions upon millions of afflicted we have around the world?  Obviously not. Regrets devoted to sport today might better be centered on the passing of Henry Aaron, a giant of a man who I submit remains baseball’s true home run king.

So let us reflect on what I consider the brightest national note of 2020 – that by the virtue of a relatively few votes in the states of Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin, we avoided becoming prey to a leader I truly consider deranged, and subject to fascist tendencies.  At the same time, we remember the arguably hundreds of thousands of avoidable American deaths and millions of lives needlessly and terribly disrupted by his twisted malfeasance in dealing with the Coronavirus.  Let us look forward with hopes of doing better in this still-new calendar year.  We are led by a good man who truly means well.  The vaccine, despite distribution hiccups, is in the offing.  Most economists cited in the Wall Street Journal believe that our economy will strongly and quickly rebound.  While we cannot bring back those we have needlessly lost, or repair all of the economic loss so many have suffered, as we remember them we can hopefully be part of a renewal that will make the lives of at least some of us, here and around the world, at least a little better.

I recognize that this note sounds less like the vehement lament of a dedicated Packer backer than the ruminations of an aging citizen; I confess that my thoughts didn’t cover as wide an expanse in the moments after the Packer game as they do as I type this; but age does have its benefits.

Stay safe.

Happy Holidays

[These pages may well address on another day the continuing flagrant – if hardly surprising – depravity we are witnessing as the Trump Administration dissolves.  It seems that the remainder of at least this week is best devoted to what Mr. Lincoln in his first Inaugural Address called, “the better angels of our nature.”]  

Perhaps you believe that God sent His (hopefully all will excuse this note’s use of male pronouns for the Almighty) only Son into the world as the Sacrificial Lamb that redeemed us from our sins.  Perhaps your Faith, proclaimed by the Prophets, holds the promise of a Messiah yet to come.  Perhaps you worship Allah, and abide by the teachings promulgated by his Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad.  Perhaps you devoutly follow one of the great Eastern or other sacred Faiths, of which my own knowledge is embarrassingly inadequate (a gap on my retirement list yet to be addressed).  Perhaps you have placed your trust in the Great Spirit of Native American tradition, or have made your own peace with a Being beyond our comprehension.  I believe that one who lives a life pleasing to the Almighty will be reconciled to Him, no matter by what path one has chosen to reach Him.  After a terribly challenging year on so many levels – including a virus which might be characterized as a plague, by Biblical standards – let us hope that as we take heart from what will be an uncommonly limited level of community with family and friends as this year ends, the Almighty provides us the strength, grace, and wisdom to have greater understanding in the coming year for the justifiable concerns of others, and that we work together so that by the end of next year, life will be at least a little better for at least some of those of our citizens and around the world beset by so many burdens.

Have Happy and Safe Holidays.   

Not in Our Stars

“The President … shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

  • United States Constitution, Article II, Section 4

As indicated in these pages close to a year ago, as soon as I read the word, “Biden,” in the White House Memorandum of the call between President Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, which undisputedly showed an American President pressuring the leader of a vulnerable foreign ally to help him politically against another American, Mr. Trump’s despicable conduct – call it a “high Crime” if you prefer; I considered it Treason — was ample evidence that he was unworthy of the office he holds, and of the American people.  While he was impeached in the House of Representatives, the Republican sycophants in the Senate refused to remove him from office, more concerned about their own careers than about the good of our nation, Congressional responsibility, and our democratic processes.

“Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

  • United States Constitution, Amendment XXV, Section 4

A number of trustworthy news outlets have recently reported that during the past week, President Trump inquired about the feasibility of a scheme, offered on a conservative media outlet by his convicted and now pardoned former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, that Mr. Trump impose martial law in the swing states won by President-Elect Joe Biden and have the military redo the presidential election in those states.  It has also been credibly reported that Mr. Trump has suggested that the Department of Homeland Security should seize voting machines in swing states in order to investigate baseless claims of election fraud thrown out across the country by judges of every judicial philosophy.  If the reporting is accurate, these and other far-fetched strategies have been, thus far, shut down by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who have been two of the President’s staunchest loyalists – hardly pillars that give one confidence that our Constitutional safeguards will hold.

We have no idea at this point whether Mr. Trump actually believes the lies regarding election fraud that he has so perniciously spread over the last six weeks.  His niece, Dr. Mary Trump, stated in her book, Too Much and Never Enough, “The people with access to [Mr. Trump] are weaker than Donald is, more craven, but just as desperate.  Their futures are directly dependent on his success and favor. … His pathologies have rendered him so simple-minded than it takes nothing more than repeating to him the things he says to and about himself … to get him to do whatever they want …” 

Most charitably, the President has come to believe his own fantasies, and is now dangerously unbalanced.  More malevolently, he knows his claims are lies and simply seeks to hold on to power at any cost.  (Although such intent would constitute treason, there is no longer time for Congressional impeachment and removal proceedings, even if such had any prospect of success.)  In either event, Mr. Trump is manifestly “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”  (For as steadfast a defender of the President, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, to stage as abrupt a reversal as he has in recent weeks – first indicating that there was insufficient evidence of fraud to affect the outcome of the presidential election, more recently declaring, despite the President’s protestations, that Russia was responsible for the recent deep and widespread hack of federal government systems and adding that there was no ground for the federal government to seize swing state voting machines or for a special prosecutor to investigate Hunter Biden or the election – makes one ponder whether Mr. Barr has noted something increasingly disquieting in Mr. Trump’s conduct since the election.)  Despite all of this, can we have any hope that Vice President Mike Pence and a majority of Cabinet officers will have the courage to institute proceedings under Amendment XXV to protect our nation?  To ask the question is to answer it.

I am tired of Donald Trump.  I am tired of writing about Donald Trump.  (Something of which the President himself is only too well aware:  he shrinks without a spotlight.)  This should be the time focus on the myriad of daunting substantive domestic and foreign policy concerns that will confront us upon Mr. Biden’s inauguration.  That said, we may still be facing the most perilous 30 days that our nation has seen since the darkest days of World War II, or perhaps the Cuban Missile Crisis – brought upon us not only by Mr. Trump’s deformed psyche and his enablers, but by the rank cowardice of so many Republican office holders that could – as a group, if not singly — have stood in the breach and defended our nation, but have not.

“Cassius: 

‘Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world

Like a Colossus; and we petty men

Walk under his huge legs, and peep about

To find ourselves dishonourable graves.

Men at some time are masters of their fates:

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.’”

  • William Shakespeare:  Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II

A Day of Deeply Conflicting Emotions

Yesterday, the Electoral College cast its votes for president.  Despite the apparently inevitable Trump Conspiracy histrionics that will continue until Congress counts the Electoral College votes on January 6, and the likelihood of partisan Republican obstructive tactics during that Congressional proceeding, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s election to the presidency will then and there be formally acknowledged. 

For those of us who feared America’s descent into fascism had President Trump been re-elected, the Electoral College’s official rendering provided a significant sense of relief; but my overall reaction to yesterday’s news was bittersweet. Even as the Electoral College results arrived and the trucks carrying vaccines rolled, we reached 300,000 American Coronavirus deaths — many of which seem indisputably a result of the President’s abject incompetence.  Notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s manifestly undemocratic conduct of office throughout his entire term, my suspicion persists that his gross mishandling of our COVID response was the primary factor in his narrow loss of the combined 37 Electoral College votes of the pivotal states of Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin.  If such was indeed the case, let us pray that despite the fringe elements, we can move ahead as a nation – that the avoidable virus deaths we have suffered across our land, and those tragically to come, will not be entirely in vain.

Fifty Years Ago

Fifty years ago tomorrow – December 12, 1970, also a Saturday – at a about 4 in the afternoon, I left my Marquette University dormitory, McCormick Hall at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and 16th Street in Milwaukee, and walked 12 blocks east to the bus stop at 4th and Wisconsin, outside the side entrance to Boston Store, in order to catch the westbound 57 Center bus.  The University’s semester class schedule had just concluded; final exams were to begin the following Monday.  I was (hopefully) bound for the home of my date, in Wauwatosa, WI, a bedroom community immediately adjoining the city.  I was significantly weighted down; the bus fare was 40 cents, and I was carrying 24 dimes – four to get me to my companion’s house, eight to get us both back downtown, eight to subsequently get us back to her house, and four to get me back downtown at the end of the night.  Our evening’s primary activity was to be watching Coach Al McGuire’s national powerhouse Marquette Warriors host the Nevada Wolf Pack at the Milwaukee Arena; I had secured her ticket to the game from a dorm mate who had opted to spend the night studying for his upcoming finals. 

I had met my evening’s companion the preceding August, before the start of my very first Marquette class.  I had signed up for 8AM Spanish – incredibly naïve and stupid scheduling for a college student lifestyle; I never took another 8AM class – and when I reached the classroom door, I surveyed the scene, went and sat down next to the best-looking girl in the room – sparkling dark eyes, stunning very curly dark brown, almost black, hair, bright smile – and started talking.

Spanish class met four days a week, and we ended up talking much of the time.  She was a townie – living in Wauwatosa (“The next city over,” she had to enlighten my Chicagoland consciousness).  Both of us had a free hour after Spanish, and ever more as the semester went on, I walked her from Spanish to Marquette’s Union, frequently staying to visit further before we separated for the day.  Sometimes, because I couldn’t study in the racket that is any men’s college dorm, I would run into her at the end of the day in the lobby of the Marquette Library, and wait with her until her brother came to pick her up.

Shyness around women has never been one of my prevailing traits, and I liked this girl.  At the same time, she was — as my dorm mates frequently noted – a townie.  They pointed out that there were literally hundreds of coeds living on campus within a five minute walk from our dorm.  Half the people in my classes were women, and – at a point when Wisconsin’s legal drinking age was 18 – the campus bars teemed on the weekends.  I obviously had no car, and those that know me won’t be a bit surprised that my male dignity, however inapposite, would never allow for the suggestion that my Spanish classmate could drive us on a date.  Heeding my dorm mates’ advice, I ventured out with several charming Marquette women during the semester; although those outings were fun, I was in Spanish four days a week, and couldn’t escape the fact that I really liked … this girl.  While we had gotten well acquainted, she had never indicated whether she was dating anyone (although one conversation made clear that she had had to sequence a series of prom dates the preceding Spring – not exactly a boost for a young man’s morale  ;)], or dropped any veiled hint that I should ask her out.

As the semester drew down, I was torn:  I was running out of weekends in the semester.  There was really no longer time for dating; I needed to study to do well in finals.  There was always next semester to ask her out.  I certainly did not relish taking a Milwaukee city bus for the first time for what I was pretty sure wouldn’t be a short ride over dark and cold (Milwaukee gets cold in winter) unfamiliar night terrain.  And yet … I liked this girl. Even then, I understood that Marquette was big; we didn’t share a major, and our paths had only crossed because we had happened to take the same general language elective during the same idiotic early morning slot.

At the beginning of the last week of class, I made up my mind, and made the leap:  I asked if she’d like to go with me to the Marquette game that Saturday night.  She immediately said yes.  She offered to drive (I found out later that she had gone on dates during the semester in which she had picked the guys up at the dorm).  I said that I preferred that we take the bus; how did we do that?  I could tell:  she liked that.   She told me what the fare was – that they only accepted exact change — where the bus stop was, where I could get a schedule, and that it was going to be about a 45-minute ride.  She gave me her address in Wauwatosa, told me what stop to get off, and the directions to her house from the stop.  We were on.

The memory of the evening itself is a warm glow.  The bus was on time; the fare was right; I got off at the right stop; I found the house.  In a sense more a high school date setting than a college meet, I met her parents.  (I found out later that her father, who I came to revere before he left us too soon, liked me immediately because I insisted on taking the bus.)  On that Saturday evening, she was every bit as open, dark and exciting, as I had come to know her, but a bit more mysterious.  We took the bus downtown, saw the game (it was a blowout), had dinner at a nondescript place afterward that had looked better through the window in early reconnaissance than it was in reality (she didn’t seem to mind), got back on the bus and to her home at the right time.  It appeared … that she had enjoyed herself (a lady, I came to find out later, never lets a gentleman know all of what she is thinking).  She agreed to go out with me again after finals before I went home.  I was … on top of the world.  Finals starting Monday?  No worries.  What brought me back to earth:  standing on a bus stop in Wauwatosa, WI, at 1AM in the dark of December in a whipping wind waiting for the last bus downtown.  I pulled out a dorm mate’s stocking cap that he had insisted I take – I never wore a hat in those hirsute days – clamped it on, and held on until the bus arrived.

McCormick Hall has been demolished.  The Marquette Union has been replaced, the Marquette Library has been expanded beyond recognition.  The Marquette Warriors became the Marquette Golden Eagles a quarter of a century ago.  Al McGuire, on that December 1970 night still years away from his 1977 NCAA Championship, will be dead twenty years this January.  The Marquette basketball team vacated the Milwaukee Arena (now the Milwaukee Mecca) for the Bradley Center “eons ago,” as Coach McGuire would say – and has now moved on again, to the Fiserv Forum.  The Boston Store, long a city fixture, is physically gone, now merely an online brand of bailout owners. The unremarkable restaurant in which we dined that night has disappeared.  She and I never had another class together, and even after she moved to campus starting our sophomore year, we didn’t coincidentally run into each other on the street more than a few times during our remaining years at Marquette.  There is still a bus route from downtown Milwaukee to Wauwatosa, but it is no longer the 57 Center.

I still have the notes I jotted down of her directions to the bus and her house. Those sparkling dark eyes now sometimes look up at me over the brightly-colored frames of her reading glasses, as she lifts her gaze from her iPad galleries of our children and grandchildren.

We have all attended many weddings, and heard many a groom describe the nervousness he felt as he prepared to propose to his bride.  When it came time for me to propose to her, on a December night five years after our first bus ride, a delay born of the extended education regimes we undertook as part of our life’s plan, I felt no apprehension [as a matter of fact, on the night I formally proposed, I think she kinda expected it, as I kinda expected that she would say yes ;)].  The hard decision wasn’t to ask her to marry me; the hard decision – the most important of my life – had come when I decided that I liked this girl enough to risk taking the 57 Center bus.