Bear Bryant, Retirement, and More

Statue of Paul “Bear” Bryant outside Bryant-Denny Stadium at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa (Library of Congress)

On retirees, WFB, nationalism, mistresses, and more


ot long ago, I was asked to do a little thinking about time — time in “this time of pandemic.” (I have been writing the phrase “this time of pandemic” for weeks now. Perhaps there should be a macro, on my keyboard.) I penned a little essay, here.

Let me paste a couple of paragraphs, then tell you something else:

I am working, lucky dog. (I consider myself lucky to be working in normal times.) My deadlines come fast and furious. “A deadline is your best friend,” I once heard William F. Buckley Jr. say. He worked, meeting deadlines, right up to the last.

And yet, some people are able to see past their working lives, thanks to the shutdown. “I never thought I could be retired,” said a friend of mine. He has a job that takes him all over the country, and world. “But now, I think I can do it. I’ve really liked being at home.”

Are you the retiring type? Some are, some aren’t. Some people flourish in retirement. Some people more like wilt.

I often think of Bear Bryant, with a bit of a chill. Bryant, as you remember, was the longtime football coach at the University of Alabama. After his last game, someone asked what he planned to do in retirement. Bryant said, “Probably croak in a week.”

It was four. Granted, Bear was in bad health. But, for some people, work and life are bound up.

I’d like to do a little more pasting, because I have a song in my head. Be patient with me, please, while I paste:

Everyone has challenges, including people who live alone. For one thing, they don’t have to keep up appearances. If they did not stir themselves to dress, shower, make their bed, etc., would anyone care? They themselves have to care. Some do, some don’t.

My grandmother knew a lady who, one day, became a widow. She lived alone. She could have eaten dinner standing up in her kitchen, or propped up in her bed. Instead, she set a table with linen, silverware, and china — plus a candle, plus a flower in a slim vase. She thought it important to her mental health.

I myself knew a lady — a writer — who, after working in an office for some years, started to work at home. Before sitting at her desk in the morning, she dressed nicely, did her hair, and — get this — put on makeup. There was not a soul to see her. But these things made her work better, she thought, and they surely made her feel better.

Personally, dress does not make a great deal of difference to me. I’ve felt lousy in finery, and great in rags. But I think I understand the power of dress, to affect mood.

The song in my head is, “Put on your Sunday clothes when you feel down and out. Strut down the street and have your picture took. Dressed like a dream your spirits seem to turn about . . .”

Hang on, is that a dangling modifier? Is it your spirits that are dressed like a dream? But I’m not here to nitpick Jerry Herman (who wrote the words and music of Hello, Dolly!, from which this song is drawn).

I know that many people have been feeling “down and out” lately, and, of course, many people feel this way in non-COVID-y times, too. Maybe it’s not a bad idea: putting on your Sunday clothes, strutting down the street — masked or not — and having your picture took. Or taking a selfie, to be posted on Instagram.

• The National Review Institute has a book club, and some of us recently read Up from Liberalism, the book that William F. Buckley Jr. published in 1959. In some columns and posts, I have been quoting from the book, and commenting on it. Maybe you would indulge me two further items right now.

A perpetual problem is: What do you do with industries that are dying, or, more particularly, with the people who are working in those industries? I myself once did a piece on steel, and steelworkers. Closely related is coal, and coalminers. Reading the WFB of 1959, you might think he sounds very . . . modern.

As I write there is mass suffering in Harlan County, Kentucky, where coal mining has become unprofitable, and a whole community is desolate. The Liberal solution is: immediate and sustained federal subsidies. The conservative, breasting the emotional surf, will begin by saying that it was many years ago foreseeable that coal mining in Harlan County was becoming unprofitable, that the humane course would have been to face up to that realism by permitting the marketplace, through the exertion of economic pressures of mounting intensity, to require resettlement. That was not done for the coal miners . . .

That is an interesting phrase, “breasting the emotional surf.” Do conservatives, on the whole, still do it?

More WFB:

Will the grandsons of the Harlan coal miners be mining coal, to be sold to the government at a pegged price, all this to spare today’s coal miners the ordeal of looking for other occupations?

“Ordeal” is certainly right.

I remember speaking to a man in Weirton, W.V. — a steel town — who said roughly this: “The older workers should be permitted to finish out their careers. They have known nothing but steel. You can tell the youngsters, ‘No way. I don’t care if your father, grandfather, and great-grandfather worked in the mill. This is finished. You must find something else.’ But what about people in sort of mid-career? People who are neither old nor young? What do you do about them?”

That is a vexing question. The only thing I can think of is, retraining and other transitional help. If there are brighter ideas out there, I’m all ears . . .

Another line or two by WFB — lines that appear in a footnote: “In America the rich man is no longer the natural antagonist of the people. The demagogues and egalitarians need to work hard to keep lit the fires of egalitarianism and envy.”

Do you believe this is true today? Demagogues and egalitarians certainly use “Wall Street” as a class. Or possibly “Silicon Valley.” Individual rich people? I’m not sure. Class warfare never goes out of style — but it is more intense in some periods than in others . . .

• Donald Trump likes to say that elections are, were, or will be “rigged.” He said it throughout the 2016 Republican primaries and caucuses, especially when Ted Cruz won one. He said it in advance of the 2016 general election, which he himself would win. And he said it with regard to a special House election in California that took place on May 12.

Mike Garcia (R.) and Christy Smith (D.) were running to replace Katie Hill, who resigned in scandal last November. The balloting was done by a mixture of mailing in and in-person voting. The mayor of Lancaster, Rex Parris, requested a voting center in his town, which he got. Parris is a Republican, a supporter of Garcia’s, and a supporter of Trump’s.

But Trump said the following: “So in California, the Democrats, who fought like crazy to get all mail in only ballots, and succeeded, have just opened a voting booth in the most Democrat area in the State. They are trying to steal another election. It’s all rigged out there. These votes must not count. SCAM!”

In the end, Garcia, the Republican, won in a landslide. National Review’s John McCormack wrote about the race here. This game of “rigged” and “SCAM!” grows tiresome.

• Over the last several years, many of us have done a lot of reading — and writing — about nationalism, especially in right-of-center publications. Recently, I was reading about South Korea. That country is an extremely interesting place, politically (and otherwise, to be sure). I would like to excerpt a paragraph from a piece at The Diplomat, by Joseph Yi and Wondong Lee. I found it surprising.

The group with potentially the most radical cultural and political impact are self-described post-nationalist classical liberals, who reject South Korea’s ingrained, anti-Japanese nationalism — for example, fans of the highly controversial 2019 best seller Anti-Japan Tribalism (edited by former Seoul National economics professor Lee Young-hoon), which sold more than a hundred thousand copies in Korea and double that in Japan. Emerging “new right” or “post-nationalist right” groups, such as the intercollegiate Truth Forum, have endorsed Lee’s book and promote a South Korean identity based not on ethno-nationalism but on universal values of individual freedom, free markets, and religious-based (especially Judeo-Christian) morality (i.e., “markets and moralism”). They oppose the nationalist and anti-Japanese historiography taught in schools and promote a “liberal-democratic” alliance of South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.

Holy-moly. Such an interesting world.

• I don’t think I have any music for you, unless you count the latest Music for a While, here. Shall we end with some language? I saw this tweet, from the Associated Press:

We now say not to use the archaic and sexist term “mistress” for a woman in a long-term sexual relationship with, and financially supported by, a man who is married to someone else. Instead, use an alternative like “companion” or “lover” on first reference. Provide details later.

To hell with that. I am not under the jurisdiction of language cops, no matter who they are. (I should say, however, that my reliance on the AP is great, and I would hate to live without it, especially as a journalist.)

I may well be the last person on earth to say “concertmistress,” for a woman sitting in the relevant chair of an orchestra. I think it’s such a beautiful word. And I love its old-fashionedness. I’m grateful to work for publications that allow my language-lover’s flag to fly.

Some years ago, I wrote a piece on “gender issues” in language. If you’re so inclined, here ’tis.

Have a great day, my friends.

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