Author Archives: Tom Cook

Politics Are Damaging to Our Health

A study has found that 11.5 percent of U.S. respondents believe politics is damaging their physical health.

                                                                          Rosie McCall

                                                                          Newsweek September 25, 2019

Crazy uncle Izzy (the one with the plate in his head that allows him to get Conelrad and police scanner dispatches to his brain) is taking all us kids on a Sunday drive in his Ford Country Squire station wagon. It is 1957 and America is great for the first time. There are ten of us, and we are rattling around, climbing over each other, spilling our burgers and strawberry shakes as Izzy roars down the highway, driving (in his estimation) “perfectly” despite spending a considerable amount of time on the shoulder, then surprising other drivers by passing them on the right as we head for the far left lane. We often hit 90 mph “because speed limits are for squares.”  Why did our parents let us go? He promised a nice short, safe drive to get lunch.  Where are the police? 

Adam and Nancy are screaming for him to stop, which only goads him to accelerate and drive more recklessly.  Somehow a couple of french fries with ketchup get stuck in Izzy’s hair and he goes even more berserk.  His left foot on the gas, he is sweating, swearing and rooting around in the back seat trying to quell the rebellion. He seems genuinely hurt that we do not appreciate the burgers (although our parents supplied the money and he pocketed the change) or that no one has ever driven from the Twin Cities to Brainerd faster.  We are three quarters of the way there.  We have forced three cars off the road. Hundreds of drivers have honked at us. We and the naugahyde are covered in vomit.  Little Caroline’s shrieks and cries will haunt me into my forties.  If we get to Brainerd alive, we will kiss the ground and hug each other. Of course Izzy will want us to get back in the car with him for another term.  

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I won’t pretend to know how this all ends or if it ever does.  My fantasy is based upon the last episode of Seinfeld.  Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer are called out on their lives of privilege and casual disregard for the feelings of others.  They face a jury of their peers; Babu (the failed restauranteur) and many more get to air their grievances in court.

Our democracy badly needs aPeople’s Court for this president.  An open hearing for those who have been personally cheated, violated, defrauded, intimidated and slandered. They would have an opportunity for a face-to-face redress of their grievances. We know the president lacks the empathy and self awareness found in most humans and higher animals; that is how we got into this mess in the first place. Of course he will not change. But this televised event (he will gloat over the ratings) will not be aimed at altering his behavior or seeking enlightenment or contrition. Funerals are for the living, and we need this catharsis.

The fairest way is to line everyone up chronologically, beginning with nannies and governesses he terrorized as a child. They can come forward and talk about his tantrums and cruelty. Classmates in private and military school can share stories about the “Richie Rich” bully and braggart.  Next would come tutors paid to do his work at Fordham University. Bribing his way into Penn and graduating without cracking a book did not happen without witnesses; they will be up next. Bone spurs is well documented. The Roy Cohn years are a cesspool of Studio 54 exploitation of young women. Let them have their say.  Next are the scores of plumbers, carpenters and laborers he refused to pay, including the honest contractors he drove out of business. “Sue me,” he would say. The women he grabbed, the contracts he defaulted on…  already there are hundreds of aggrieved New Yorkers and he is not yet thirty. There is even a book documenting his life-long cheating at golf. Coming up, The Art of The Deal, Atlantic City bankruptcies, German banks, Trump U. and Marla Maples!

We are going to need a bigger courtroom.

How many firsthand victims/survivors are there?  We must be well into four figures. The line would stretch double file from Congress to the White House.  Imagine the visual, and the interviews with those waiting to be heard. Franklin Graham would be called on to view the assembled mass of humanity and attempt to justify how these hundreds of people are all mistaken and the president really is a swell guy. Then he will be asked to name which of the seven deadly sins and Ten Commandments the president has not broken.    

Tom H. Cook would not be invited to this twisted This Is Your Life spectacle.  But every one of us who merely lost sleep, gnashed teeth, or saw our ideals shattered will be able to watch it on every channel except Fox.   

Pickle Ball

image by Tom Cassidy

Friend:  “So what you been up to?”

Me:  “I started pickleball classes.”

Friend:  “Congratulations!

Me:  “It’s not a big deal…”

Friend:  It just means you are officially old.”

My friend may tease me all she wants.  We have been close since the mid-80s and she always has a spare bed or couch for me when I return to Minneapolis.  She is also right about the makeup of my classmates.  They are old but, as I learned, feisty and competitive.  Sharing informally before our first session almost everyone was describing and displaying the scars from their past life in real sports.  Most were former jocks: skiers, golfers, equestrians and tennis players, not to mention contact sport veterans.  All had succumbed to broken patellas, bad rotator cuffs, mangled meniscus’s, cracked ulna’s, slipped disks, hip replacements, fractured fibula’s, or pin-filled ankles.  The scars are their badge of honor.  They speak with an air of sadness and pride as they recount accidents and crazy risks undertaken in their ”hell for leather” days.

I started to say something about being a collection of broken toys but thought better of it.  Our pickleball class was a mix of beginners and intermediates.  It was high school all over again, and not in a good way.  Nothing like being tisk-tisked by a 75 year old grandmother because I was unable to learn the scoring system which was laid out by Hammurabi.  It became clear that I wasn’t there because of a competitive fire to compete. I never laid my body out on the gridiron for old Pennsauken High, reasoning that an institution that sanctioned bullying, assigned homework and detention was not going to get my 5’6” 125-pound body for practice fodder.  I hadn’t “earned my (bone) spurs” from a debilitating sports injury because I was always picked near the end. While decently coordinated, I was not as tough as my teammates even on our championship co-ed slow pitch softball teams in college.   

Our instructor (a former tennis player with an impressive scar running across her shoulder and upper arm) rode me pretty hard.  We were not just hitting a whiffle ball with a paddle.  Pickleball was a game of strategy, teamwork and occasional power.  After a miscue she raised her voice at me.  I didn’t respond, so she goaded me. “What’s the matter? Do I sound like your ex- wife?”  “No” I responded “You are actually much nicer.”  She smiled and while she continued to be firm it did not bother me. Besides learning to score, stay out of the kitchen (a pickleball court area), and move in tandem with a partner, I was happy to have the four week session end.  The group felt cold and unfriendly.

To my astonishment I re-upped for the second term in part because a friend was in it but I mostly because I wanted a Groundhog’s Day do over.  This group was much warmer and supportive.  They “got me.”  As I have done my whole life, I used humor to build bridges.  I was the foil for many of the instructor’s jibes: “Karen, come on, you’re hitting like Tom!  Racket up!”   A number of my fellow students spoke with me out of teacher earshot and thanked me for bringing lightness and humor to the class.  I am glad I stayed with it.   Perhaps some late life maturity is finally kicking in.

Tennis, while beautiful and requiring great skill, can be a bombastic grunting dialogue with an exchange of 100 mph serves.  It is often like cable news with two loudmouth blowhards trying to “hold serve” by screaming over each other.  Pickleball is a fun, challenging mental game.   A player may not cross the seven foot line (the kitchen) which runs parallel to the net and just slam shots back.  Pickleball is like the parry and thrust of fencing.  It is stimulating dinner party conversation with all participants encouraging each other.  After a long rally with many artful saves, all four players feel they have contributed and the point winner is secondary.  Pickleball is mysterious.  Every evening is not Camelot, but even the most competitive players seem to respond to the synergy that the sport provides.      

Tom H. Cook is always promoting something.  This month it is Netflix.  Huge in France  is a comedy series about a famous French comedian who seeks to escape the Parisian celebrity limelight.  He does too good a job and can’t get a break or a cab in L.A.