One for the Marines

Whenever I meet a Marine veteran, I like to tell him about my last two years in the Navy. That’s when I served on a commodore’s staff in the amphibious Navy and we would take Marines to the Mediterranean on six-month deployments and relive D-day landings at all of the important World War II sites.

Toward the end of my second and last cruise, several of us had a chance to take a group trip from a port in Italy to Munich. We went by train, of course, from Italy through the Brenner Pass in the Alps, through Austria and on to Germany. (I was hoping they’d rename the pass in my honor, but that hasn’t happened yet and we’re nearly 50 years out from my trip.)

I was one na├»ve sailor. At the time there was a rule that you were not allowed to bring civilian clothes on a ship—so I didn’t. But when we boarded the train for Munich, all in uniform, it wasn’t long before everyone in our group was in civvies. There were two exceptions—me and a Marine.

It was really no big deal until we got to the border checkpoint at Austria. A border guard walking through the train said that military were not allowed in Austria and that the Marine had to remove his blouse. The result would be a guy in khaki trousers and a T-shirt, which is not military uniform.

Sitting next to the Marine, I immediately offered to take off my jumper.

The guard shook his head no.

“Military only,” he said.

I was crestfallen. I wasn’t military.

Then again, why would anyone in landlocked Austria consider the Navy military?


What We Don’t Need in Pennsylvania

Voters decided the other day to oust an inept Republican governor in favor of a Democrat and to increase the number of Republicans in the State Legislature. It almost looks like a mirror image of Washington.

Let’s hope that the new governor and the legislators work for the benefit of Pennsylvania, not their political bases, and help bring the Commonwealth out of the dark ages. We do not need—or want—gridlock in Harrisburg.

Compromise is not a dirty word. It is the art of the possible.

R Thomas Berner
Benner Township


A Way with Words

The other day I waxed indignant on Facebook when Leroy Jethro Gibbs of NCIS, a Marine veteran, used the word “boat” to refer to a ship. It’s a common mistake that civilians make, but Gibbs, now working for the Navy, should know better. Besides, as a Marine veteran he’s no doubt made several cruises with an amphibious task force, although I don’t recall that he was with me on the two I made as a Navy radioman on a commodore’s staff.

Someone made the comment that it didn’t matter and pointed out—disdainfully—that some curators also wax indignant when people refer to a painting as a picture. As long as the communication is clear, what’s the issue, the person asked.

Clarity and precision.

A picture can be a painting, a photograph, a drawing, a petroglyph, etc. You get the picture. A painting is a picture with certain attributes, starting with how it was made.

The person asking the question fails to recognize general and specific terms. Let’s hope the FB discussion showed her the light.


Columbus Did Discover America

I know it is not politically correct to say this, but let’s face it: Columbus discovered America.

The major argument against giving him credit for discovering America is that people were already here, it had already been discovered. That’s half true in that there were Native Americans living from north to south and south to north, many probably unaware of the others.

But that’s just it. There was no America. There was a land mass on which discrete groups of people, from the Iroquois to the Mayans, lived. But the groups were not united under major governments and never conducted business very far from their villages.

As we all know, Columbus set sail looking for India. And why did he want to find a shortcut to India? Riches.

He wasn’t interested in creating a better society; he was interested in finding riches for the royal family of Spain. Others followed him, most with the same goal in mind.

Out of that came America, the continuing quest for riches. Columbus didn’t invent that quest, but he certainly extended it when he discovered America.

So like it or not, for better or worse, Columbus discovered America. Remember that on payday and when all the bills come due. 


For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge

I am growing weary of the use of the word fuck or variations thereof in movies and television shows. “You better not fuck with me, Mickey,” or “Watching yourfuckingself, Ray,” just two made-up quotes based on the excellent TV show Ray Donovan.

We went to see Jersey Boys in Vegas a few years ago. It was a good show, but every third word was fuck. I complained to my wife and she said: Well, that’s the way it was then. (I didn’t ask her how she knew.)

I know that, I replied, but that doesn’t mean they have to use it so many times in the show.

And to top it off, one of our daughters took her daughter to see the show! (The dialogue in the movie, written by the same people who wrote the show, was not so overwhelming.)

I’m hardly old fashion. As I like to say, I was in the Navy; I can make Madonna blush. But what’s  happened is that the word has lost is potency through overuse. Even Donovan’s wife uses the word. About the only place it’s not heard is on the three networks, which have to deal with the FCC and the religious right.

Just the other day a reporter on an Alaska television news program used the word. Here’s what Romenesko reported:
She told viewers: “[I] will be dedicating all of my energy toward fighting for freedom and fairness, which begins with legalizing marijuana here in Alaska. And as for this job, well, not that I have a choice but, fuck it, I quit.”

The station manager subsequently apologized for the “inappropriate language.” Obviously, he doesn’t get out much.


Notes from a Week in Ireland

Johnny O'Leary

I’ve submitted my story and photos to State College Magazine and now I can clean out my notebook and post what isn’t going to be in the magazine next month.

Not every church in Ireland is Catholic, as one would assume, and to add to the confusion there can be two churches with the same name, but not the same leadership. In Killarney, there are two St. Mary’s—one Catholic, one Protestant.

One of our guides asked me if I had ever heard the phrase “tomorrow for today’s bread.” I thought it might be something from a Panera ad. Turns out, what she really said was: “To Morrow for today’s bread.” Morrow was the baker’s name—and the guide’s maiden name.

We managed to get a couple of rounds of free drinks. In a restaurant on Grafton Street, the computer ate our order, which the waitress figured out only after we complained about not being served. She gave us a round of free drinks. A couple of days later there was a screw-up in our order at the hotel after the game and one of us successfully got the manager to give us a round of free drinks.

All the letters to the editor of the Irish Times end with “Yours, etc.” A quick search of the Internet reveals that it’s a Britishism and akin to Yours truly. A waste of space, if you ask me.

Speaking of words, I noticed a street in Killarney named Cuntaoise, which means countess in Gaelic. I thought it might have engendered a vulgar back-formation, but research on the vulgarism indicates an earlier derivation.

I keep telling my friends who watched Penn State come from behind to beat Central Florida that it was even more exciting to be at the game. We had seats on the 50-yard line and could cheer the team when it went into the locker room. Last to cross the field from receiving the trophy for winning the game was Coach Franklin. We cheered louder and he led us in a We are chant. The guy is definitely a college coach and I don’t think he’ll be heading to the pros in my lifetime.

Some Irishmen sat around us and actually knew something about football. After the game, the chap next to me wanted to know if the atmosphere was the same back in the States. You know the answer to that.

And to keep the Penn State connection alive, the restaurant at Kylemore Abbey was selling Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. The big obsession in the gift shop was anything connected with the film The Quiet Man, which was shot nearby.

Our guide thanked us profusely for coming to Ireland. Newspapers reported that it was a 30 million euro boost to the economy and our guide said it was helpful since Garth Brooks had cancelled a sold-out, five-night concert recently. Brooks did that after residents living near the concert site (the football stadium, no less) objected to the disruption and asked for fewer concerts. Brooks said it was five or nothing.

Ireland traces some of its roots to the Vikings, but that’s on the east coast. In Galway, we were informed, the origins were medieval and Columbus had visited there before 1492. There’s a type of boat in Galway called a hooker. I never got to photograph one, but I did drink a beer by the same name.

Oscar Wilde and his
distant cousin Eduard
in Galway
I was overwhelmed by the number of statues of people throughout Ireland, ranging from Oscar Wilde to Charlie Chaplin to Johnny O’Leary, a renowned accordion player from Killarney. I don’t remember seeing any pigeons, though. 


Book review: Under This Beautiful Dome

Under This Beautiful Dome by Terry Mutchler is a multi-layered book whose subhead, A Senator, a Journalist, and the Politics of Gay Love in America, merely hints at some of the layers. As I see it, they are the love two women have for each other but dare not make public, journalism ethics, raging, recurring and ultimately terminal cancer, sexual abuse of one of them as a child, and a family’s behavior toward one of the women when the partner dies.

The lovers are Illinois Senator Penny Severns and journalist Terry Mutchler, who falls for Severns the moment she sees her. Thus arises the ethics issues for as the women draw closer, Severns sometimes gives her Mutchler inside information. Quoting a journalist who spoke to one of her classes at Penn State, Mutchler knows that it’s one thing to cover the circus; it’s another thing to sleep with the elephants. (Yes, she was one of my students.)

Their love deepens, but they dare not go public, for both their sakes. After all, this is late 20th century Illinois (1993, to be exact) and a gay politician faces extinction at the polls no matter how good she is—and a friend in Illinois tells me that Severns was quite good. And no one can know that Mutchler, who is the Associated Press’s statehouse bureau chief, is sleeping with the elephants.

Severns and Mutchler eventually buy a house, but because deed transfers are public records, they agree that only Severns’ name will go on the deed and Mutchler’s contribution will be undocumented. They set up an elaborate routine to hide the fact that they are living together, although it becomes clear, perhaps more in retrospect, that some people had figured it out anyway.

Then Severns contracts breast cancer, which killed one of her sisters and has threatened the life of her twin sister. Mutchler blames herself and makes a one-way pact with God that she’ll atone for her ethical lapses by taking a job in Alaska. It is an unanswered prayer.

With the ethical issue out of the way, the two continue a very warm and loving relationship. Eventually Mutchler returns to Illinois, not as a journalist but as a student in law school. At the same time, she becomes Severns’ press secretary in her reelection campaign, which enabled them to be together in public, but not really the way they want to be together.

Five years after they fell in love, Severns dies. We know that will happen from beginning and we get a hint of the exclusion that Mutchler subsequently endures because few knew that they were partners, that they considered themselves married to each other. But as members of Severns’ family learn of the real relationship, that it’s not just a senator and her press aide, exclusion takes over.

Mutchler is not allowed to sit with the family at the funeral service, she is not allowed to deliver a eulogy, she is eventually locked out of her own house. The twin sister you thought would have been her standard-bearer turns out to lack the spine to stand up to her father, a bully and someone Severns never even wanted to include in her will. Mutchler barely survives, and it is to the credit of some of her friends that she eventually pulls herself together and gets on with her life, with the memory of her first love to keep her going.

The title of the book comes from a speech given by an Illinois lawmaker as the legislature considered a marriage equality bill (now law) in 2013. “One of the greatest love stories I have ever heard played out right here, under this beautiful dome,” the lawmaker said. “But it was a secret.”

Thanks to Terry Mutchler, it no longer is.