Jay Meehan: Gateway drugs to life
In the beginning was the word, and once a few of them had been lined-up and deciphered they expressed notions to the effect that “Jack and Jill went up the Hill” and “See Dick and Jane run.”
Warnings began raining down almost immediately that such recreational usage would lead to stronger stuff like “Call me Ishmael,” and, “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.”
So, in that sense, “Jack and Jill” became my “gateway drug” to various reading addictions from beat poetry to postmodern fiction with some delightful gibberish in between.
It was the same with politics. Prior to them beginning to double down, the first one was free. This may be just a wild stab, but I believe what got the ball rolling featured the mention of songwriter, itinerant laborer, and union organizer Joe Hill as part of a dinner conversation at the grandparents’ place, which overlooked the smelter smokestacks just a short mosey down the street.
Joe, executed by firing squad at the Utah State Prison following conviction on a highly debated murder rap back in 1915, became a cause célèbre – especially after entering the past tense.
And for some strange reason, those very same class struggle dots, once connected and having run a few stop signs to gain momentum, performed a head-on collision with the narcissistic auras of Joseph McCarthy and his lawyer and future Donald Trump mentor, Roy Cohn.
Collateral damage included the then-recently elected Junior Senator from California, Richard Milhous Nixon, an innocent bystander of note who just happened to be occupying an adjacent chair at the infamous, and televised, Army-McCarthy Hearings.
Well, although Joe Hill obviously came first, I like to think of “Tricky Dick” Nixon as my true gateway drug to politics. Who else but the Godfather of Slime to serve as the moral progenitor to the likes of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, not to mention the Russian agent who currently resides in the White House, Donald J. Trump.
It won’t take a covert visit to the “deep background” memory lobes of my laughingly referred to “cognitive centers” in order to identify my father, Robert E. “Bob” Meehan, as my gateway drug to all things sports.
An Irish Catholic clan, we were all Notre Dame fans back in those years. To this day, I’m not sure if it was ironic or not that I had a closer affiliation with Knute Rockne’s 1924 “Four Horsemen” backfield than with the New Testament foursome of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Visions of sports heroes the likes of Jim Brown, Hugh McElhenny, Paul Hornung, Ernie Davis, Jackie Robinson, Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Meadowlark Lemon, Stein Eriksen, Tony Sailer, Andrea Mead-Lawrence, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Sugar Ray Robinson, Floyd Patterson, and Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) danced in my adolescent head.
Science-wise, arriving at a gateway drug involves Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Observation becomes problematic. At any given time it’s pretty much impossible to know both where I’m at and at what velocity I’m running-in-place.
At 14, a friend and I started a Science Fiction Club. We had a lending library of classic comic books and a few hardcover out-of-date texts. We learned Morse code and got into ham radio. Having already studied up on tube theory, we were ecstatic about the impending arrival of the transistor.
But we were traumatized by the onset of automatic bowling-pin-setting machines, due mainly to economics. As members of the lawn mowing-paper route-pin setting economy, it cut deeply into our discretionary income.
Neither of us had much of a clue as to the then recently proposed Double-Helix structure of the DNA Molecule, but, nonetheless, we name-dropped James Watson and Francis Crick, the discoverers, at every opportunity. Likewise, although ignorant of the minutia involved, we attempted to use the phrase “quantum mechanics” whenever a void appeared in the discussion.
No gateway drug has prepared me for the horror of the evangelical “right” and its purchase of Trump’s Republican Party, however. They found a lower-case god who has welcomed the moneychangers back into the Temple while leading a white supremacist onslaught upon the heavens and the earth. To them, nothing is sacred!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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