The silent majority. The huddled masses. The great unwashed. The deplorables. These are my peeps. We pine for our lost America. That ethereal past where morals and tradtions and work ethics roamed the cowpaths and the boulevards. America! Weren’t we supposed to win wars instead of turning “yeller” to a rag-tag army with machine guns and Ford Rangers? Did I wake up in China or North Korea or Cuba where laws and rules are set for me but not for the folks who make the rules and laws? When did I become poor? Poverty – romantic it ain’t. Overnight I limit my driving because gas doubled this morning. Cold cuts are out. PB&J is in. Milk is a luxury and I’d need a Pell Grant for shoes. So we’re scared. We can’t sleep; we can’t eat; and, probably the only plus, is we’re losing weight.
No wonder that I worry and I fret (which is only another word for worry). What happened to my America? Where is that homespun cover of the Saturday Evening Post? Where is Norman Rockwell when we need him so badly?
And then, in the waning days of summer, I unwittingly stumble upon him. First in the backyard of my friend Pat. Pat is a landscaper in Colts Neck. He’s a father, a husband, an entrepenuer, and a baseball nut. His father played baseball. He played baseball. His sons play baseball. Bottom line – he loves baseball. Sidenote: he loves kids. So it was with only a smidgen of surprise when I stopped to see him one evening and found his backyard transformed into a Field of Dreams. A batting cage and a pitching machine. Tee-ball stands, three pitching mounds, astro-turf and lights. Yeah: lights for the twenty-two kids that came that night to learn the game.
They pitched, they hit, they ran, they bunted, they slid. They ate pizza and a half-cup of soda by the bonfire. One kid, kinda’ chubby and uncoordinated, ran out for a fly ball tossed by a volunteer coach. He was slow. The ball sailed over his head. No way, I thought. And then, in a Willie Mays moment, he reached out and the ball plopped softly into his glove. The kids in line, waiting their turn, giggled and cheered while he sauntered back in. His smile outran his face; his gait had that bounce, that ease, that confidence that belongs to the young and to the all-stars.Pat tells me that when he first came here, he had social issues. Maybe asperger’s. But not tonight. Not in this yard. Not here, where the only masks are on the catchers. Not here where no cares if you’re chemically validated. Pat’s two golden retrievers get in the way. They’re chasing their balls. The kids are chasing theirs. Welcome home, Norman!
That was Wednesday. Friday I went to a concert at Daydream Farms in Wall. It’s an event sponsored by Daydream for Life, a wonderful non-profit devoted to addressing substance abuse and mental health. Melvin Seals is playing. He was the keyboardist for Jerry Garcia so he’d be a pretty big deal in any auditorium. But in a cow pasture at the edge of a pond? The stage looks like it was thrown together with logs but with an amazingly professional sound and lighting system.
I’d guess three hundred poeple. They park on the cornfield. They tailgate early and then lug in their lawnchairs. Tree stumps accommodate their drinks. Social distancing hasn’t even been invented here. Even King Murphy would lose his mask. It’s a calm autumn evening and the harvest moon throws enough light to see how much is left in your drink. Melvin drowns out the crickets and the tree toads. He pounds so many sounds out of that organ that you wonder where the orchestra is hidden.
Almost no one sits. One guy, way up front, sways; then shuffles, then gyrates as his energy soars. I expect that soon he’ll go Bojangles on me and click his heels; but then he runs out of steam and retreats back into swaying. The crowd pulsates with energy. Some hyper-active guy plays the air-guitar; another conducts the band. One lady’s on the imaginary drums while another took adult tap lessons. If they know the words, they sing along; if not, they fake it. The cows and the chickens wonder – what’s with all these silly humans? Don’t they know it’s dark out? It’s America, my friends. America!
Sunday,I tag along with my daughter and her two-year old, Eleanor, to another fund raiser. I have no idea what for. It’s a fundraiser; I pay my money; I go. My whole deal is just to enjoy some time with Ellie. She gets a little bag of popcorn to feed the baby goats. They eat some; she eats some; I eat some. And then off to other activities: miniature golf, ballooon people, fake-tatoo artists, clowns, giant transformer robots, and your cookie-cutter playground. Also $16 Sangrias and $14 mac&cheese. (Note to self: bring lots and lots and lots of money to kids’ fundraisers). Some of this is lost on Ellie; some of it momentarily interesting. But she’s a runner. For her nothing is more fun than the simple act of running just for the sake of running. If I were a mere seventy years younger, I’d be in agreement.
But just to watch these kids. In their innocence, with their moms and dads, their aunts and uncles, their friends, their strangers. The world outside this little fairground will have to wait. Tomorrow some hundred-pound head will proclaim they need to be masked. Tomorrow they’ll be certified disease carriers in need of innoculation. Tomorrow they may be taught to hate themselves. But that’s tomorrow. Today they get to enjoy America.
So, you see, Norman Rockwell is right around the corner. You just have to know where to look. And like that left-over meatloaf you can’t find in the fridge – it’s right behind the milk.