Save The Date

I’m not particularly interested in this year’s general election, which is not to say that I’m uninterested. Just not particularly. That is, I pay a lot of attention to it. I just don’t feel compelled or even vaguely inspired to say anything about it, here or anywhere else. Maybe I will; there’s no reason not to, but so far, yeah. Not particularly interested.

But at some point last winter, and carrying into the summer, I began watching The West Wing again, from start to finish. I think I started when I heard about The West Wing Weekly, a podcast with one of the show’s stars, Joshua Malina (Will Bailey, seasons 4 through 7), and a big fan, podcaster and musician Hrishikesh Hirway. Their plan was to talk about each episode, in order, one per week. It’ll be a while.

I couldn’t resist watching ahead, though, and then I just outraced them, probably averaging four or five episodes per week, and a little binge-watching at the end. I started for a reason and continued for a different reason, or several different reasons. Boredom was one. Procrastinating was another.

And a sense that I was trying to wash away the bad taste in my mouth that 2016 has left and will probably continue to leave by watching a shiny and theatrical but idealistic and civic-minded version of governing.

I also began posting little presidential trivia on Facebook, another effort at mouthwash via proxy. These started off with little things I’ve noticed over my lifetime of reading about American history, and then it progressed as I began searching for material that musing late at night inspired.

So I was primed for what came next (inside joke), if surprised by when. Watching the series finale, season 7, episode 22, I saw something that in my current mindset led to an eruption of nerdicity. I caught an error.

I didn’t catch it in the sense that, you know, I alone caught it. Lots of people obviously did, or have over the past decade since it first aired. I’d seen the episode a couple of times. Maybe I even caught the goof before, and then forgot. Don’t rain on my parade. It was fun.

I’ll assume no one reading this knows the show, although if you do it won’t matter. It’s set on the morning of Inauguration Day. The outgoing President and First Lady have just gotten up. The President is looking out the window. His wife starts to banter, not sure if he’s in a funk or just thoughtful about leaving office after 8 years. They comment on the weather and how cold it’ll be outside at the swearing-in.

I’ve got to stop me here. In at least a couple of other places in this episode, the cold weather is mentioned. The President-Elect is seen putting on long underwear and explaining to his wife that someone on his staff advised him against wearing an overcoat, so he would look young and vigorous. A call-back to JFK’s inauguration, actually. Anyway, no coat and hence the long underwear. We obviously didn’t elect an idiot.

I’m just putting that out here. I have no idea why they kept mentioning the cold weather. There’s no plot development that relies on the weather.

Back to our goof. The First Lady tosses out an apparent rhetorical question. “Who in his right mind decided that January would be the best time of year to hold an outdoor ceremony north of the equator?”

Me again. Who talks like this? North of the equator? It’s the inauguration of the President of the United States. We know which side of the equator we’re on. You had me at “ceremony.”

The President laughs and starts naming names. “Jefferson, Adams, Franklin…”

They joke a little bit more. Poke a little fun at those guys in the powdered wigs and their dumb ideas when it came to scheduling stuff.

The President isn’t gloomy, it turns out, just thoughtful. We know this because he speaks softly and doesn’t launch off into one of his soliloquies about meteorology or the Founding Fathers or the benefits of long underwear. He’s a brilliant man but he does go on sometimes.

He certainly doesn’t explain to his wife, an educated person and now First Lady for two terms, that she should know better. In fact, she just asked the question; he’s the one who gave the wrong answer.

And this character, on this show, as written, wouldn’t give the wrong answer because he’s never wrong about stuff like this. Other stuff. But not historical fact stuff. Jefferson, Adams, Franklin.

Again, I’m sure I had to be in the right frame of mind, thinking about history, trying to wring out a few drops of trivia but making certain I remembered everything correctly, so always on guard and rechecking my facts. I was in that frame.

And it was the last episode. This show ran for seven full years and put a lot of effort into getting it right as much as they could, understanding that they were entertaining but also providing a little civics lesson each week if we were receptive to it. This is how you pass a bill. This is how you run a campaign. This is how diplomacy works, etc.

Not to mention our nerdistic fictional president, who most certainly would know that there’s nothing in our founding documents, particularly the Constitution – the writing of which did not involve either Jefferson or Adams – about the inauguration of our presidents. No dates, no structure for ceremony. Just take an oath. The Constitution went into effect – our true birthday as a country – on March 3, 1789, and after Washington’s first term (when he was sworn in on April 30, in fact) Inauguration Day remained on March 3 by statute for 144 years. There were plenty of people alive when I was a kid who remembered inaugurations as taking place in March, since the first one on January 20 (established by the 20th amendment, ratified in 1933) didn’t come around until 1937. A few weeks after my parents were both born. There are less but still plenty of people today who remember March inaugurations.

Ah. Well. It amused me, anyway, that this show would break this carefully constructed fourth wall with such a mistake. The President would have known, and wouldn’t have let his wife off the hook. Not that she wouldn’t know, too. It was dumb.

Now, The West Wing takes place in a slightly different universe, although one that matches ours pretty much up until the mid-60s or so (they refer to Vietnam but don’t reference any presidents past Kennedy). In theory, any screwing around with historical facts is allowed. In practice, I don’t buy it. It’s a goof.

And somehow it still seems more believable than this 2016 election. Go figure. What’s next?


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(Note: On Friday night, July 29, three former Kamiak High School students were murdered while they were enjoying a backyard party, shot by the ex-boyfriend of one of the victims. This is my column for this week.)


I know what I’m doing, and how it works.

I’ve written in this space for 15 years, and being a digital pack rat from the early days, all 750 or so of those columns are sitting on my hard drive. And a couple of other hard drives. And in the cloud. Possibly in a scrapbook that my mother made (she likes to scrapbook; I haven’t asked).

The disadvantage to writing for so long is that I repeat myself. Constantly, actually, or that’s how it feels.

The advantage is that probably no one remembers, but it bothers me. So whenever I get the feeling that I’ve used the same phrase before, and maybe several times before, I do a quick search through the archives just to see what turns up. Sometimes I’m surprised. Sometimes not.

There’s a phrase that’s been running through my head for the past few days, though, and it doesn’t belong to me. I’ve never used it before, as far as I can tell, but it still resides somewhere in what passes for my brain.

I began to think that I might have read it in a book when I was in high school, and somehow it stuck. High school was a long time ago, though.

In fact, my 40th high school reunion in this weekend, held at a fancy resort in Phoenix, where by the time the festivities get started it should cool down to somewhere in the upper 100s.

I’m not going, but not really because it’s being held in August in a city where people who actually live there leave town. I’ve just got things to do, and I’m not really that interested anyway. I know a few people from high school, and can easily keep tabs on others if I wish. In the past year, as a matter of fact, I’ve had mini-reunions with several of my fellow 1976 graduates.

I wish them all a good time, though. I imagine a lot of stories will be told, once everyone figures out who the other people are (we’ve probably aged a little). Favorite teachers, the big state football championship game (we lost), the fact that it was the Bicentennial year.

Maybe they’ll remember our last day of school, which was memorable. A senior who failed a class or something and so wasn’t going to be able to graduate got angry, and somehow got hold of an Army tear gas canister. He set it off in a trash can on that day, sending clouds of gas swooping through the hallways and panicking everyone, of course. It was all over the news, and we never went back to our high school until we walked across the football field stage a few days later to get our diplomas.

This was domestic terrorism, or we’d call it that today. It was just a minor trauma for most of us, confusion and fear mixed in with a big day. When Columbine happened, it brought back the memory, although they were two different events, of course. No one died at my school.

And that’s not where the phrase stuck in my head comes from. But it’s part of it.

There were no school shootings back then, or if there were they were so isolated, and so resistant to copycat behavior for whatever reason, that we didn’t notice.

We noticed in 2014, when a few minutes after my wife left her job as a professor at Seattle Pacific University, Aaron Ybarra entered Otto Miller Hall and began firing, killing 19-year-old Paul Lee and injuring two others. I sat by my phone, eyes on the live video coverage, waiting to hear from my wife, imagining the worst.

By then, of course, we were all used to the horror. Not desensitized, but it was beginning to feel familiar. Sandy Hook. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Springfield. And so on.

I wrote about some of this, but never used this particular phrase. And yet it bounced around my brain all last weekend, until I gave Mr. Google a try.

I didn’t want to plagiarize, and it felt so familiar, those words.

It turns out that they have a confusing provenance. A version appears in Tom Hank’s acceptance speech when he won an Oscar for “Philadelphia.” Another, with slightly different wording, comes up a decade later in an episode of “The West Wing.” So now I know why I was hearing them, and why now.

The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight.

My daughter went to Kamiak High School, and sang in the choir.

The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight.

My wife has taught many high school singers from many of the high schools in this area, including Kamiak. Jackson. Meadowdale. At least a couple of the young people at that Mukilteo house party have been in my home.

The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight.

I have no solutions. No answers. No nothing. I just know singers, and I know young singers, or something about them. I hear them, have heard them, for years, many of them in my living room.

But this is community grief only. Not the grief of parents and family and friends. Just grief, and shock, and sameness that leads me to dark places. I need music. We all need to sing.

I like to believe the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight, and I like to believe they are singing.

(Photo by Sara Bruestle)
(Photo by Sara Bruestle)
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The Days Are Getting Shorter

My uncle died on our 33rd anniversary, on July 30. It was also his mother’s (my grandmother) birthday, although she’s been gone for a few decades.

He was a good guy to my mom after Dad died (his brother), doing chores around her house that she could use an extra hand with, and occasionally making her crazy. Both Sigars brothers had a tendency toward perfectionism and the attitude that there was one way or the highway. It could be frustrating but also inspiring, in a sense. I sort of like the idea of one good way.

This is fairly ominous for me, should I decide to look at it that way. He was around 74, tying with my maternal grandfather for the oldest lifespan of a male in my family, at least going back a couple of generations. My father died at 67, and his father at 66.

My grandmothers landed in the same territory, early to mid-70s. I am, then, at least from a family history standpoint, 15 years away from living on borrowed time.

It’s possible to whistle my way past the graveyard on this a bit. Both my father and his father had some very dangerous habits, cigarettes being the main culprit but alcohol had a part to play, probably more so with my grandfather. This will cut your lifespan, you betcha.

Grandmothers? Dunno. There were issues, but we all die from something. My family tends to die young.

On the other hand, Mom turns 80 next January. We’re having a party. She’s our only hope.

I don’t know what to make of this, or why I should spend much time worrying about it. My uncle died from a rare disease that can strike anyone, without cause or provocation. He was always lean, a radical nonsmoker, and active and engaged. Bad stuff happens.

This existential flavor to the past year or so is getting a little tiresome, but here we are. It’s time to see life as finite, finally, and figure out what I’m going to do about that.

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