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Posts Tagged ‘Opinion’

A Malignancy

Well, this is one way to put it: someone pointed out that one-third of the men on the Supreme Court were confirmed despite being accused by multiple women of either sexual harassment or sexual assault.

That would be Clarence Thomas re the sexual harassment and Brett Kavanaugh re the sexual assault. In Kavanaugh’s case, the Republicans brushed aside three assault accusations. Their “investigation” of the women’s claims amounted to not looking into them.

That’s the way it goes. The truth can be a hot potato. Can’t let the truth derail your guy.

Frankly, I can feature a Democratic Senator wanting to know the truth, regardless of the consequences. But not the Republicans. It’s quite revealing how expendable fairness and integrity are to them.

At first, Jeff Flake got points for wanting the FBI to investigate the women’s charges, but that was just a feint. He accepted the faux investigation and voted to confirm.

Susan Collins, who has a knack for sounding almost objective, ultimately declared that the women’s claims were phony, and she gave Kavanaugh a full-throated partisan endorsement. She was “McConnell’s closer,” some observed.

I am reminded often these days of the old adage, attributed to Henry Kissinger, that Republicans have an instinct for the jugular, and Democrats have an instinct for the capillaries.

If you doubt that, you’ve forgotten what the Republicans did to Merrick Garland. Or else you’re a Republican and you approve.

As for the Supreme Court, I learned my lesson about that body long before Garland and Kavanaugh. At one time, the Court was a respected institution, and the integrity of the justices was rarely in doubt. But now it’s just another entity guided by politics. The conservatives have made it that way.

If you doubt that, you’ve forgotten what the conservative justices did in Bush v. Gore. Or else you’re a Republican and you approve.

The Kavanaugh episode was especially galling because he was a terrible choice for the Court. Some Republicans even warned Trump not to nominate him due to his long-time role as a political operative. Kavanaugh worked for Ken Starr during the Clinton-Lewinsky period.

For his service to the cause, the GOP rewarded Kavanaugh with a judgeship, which later became his stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

So, Kavanaugh was nominated to the Court already carrying the baggage of being hyper-partisanwell before the accusations surfaced by one, then two, then three women.

When he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he denied all charges, but chose to do it in a vitriolic tirade that blamed his Democratic enemies, including the Clintons by name, for being out to get him. And he did it with prepared remarks, not in the heat of the moment.

I didn’t plan to watch all of his testimony, but I did. It was surreal. Amazingly, he also was belligerent with the Democratic members of the Committee.

It was like a tantrum by a toddler, or a spoiled frat boy. A shocking display of anger and political bias. The temperament he displayed for all to see was anything but judicial.

That rant alone should have disqualified him from serving on the Supreme Court, or any other court. But, in keeping with the state of things these days, it did not.

Then, speaking of the surreal, there is Donald Trump, a man devoid of redeeming qualities. Trump is a disgrace. A philanderer, a pathological liar, an amoral creep. A daily embarrassment.

He’s also a treasonous crook. Trump has been owned by the Russian oligarchs since the 1980s, when he began accepting their money because banks in the U.S. stopped making loans to him. By many accounts, some of his companies were set up, and maybe still are, to launder dirty Russian money.

This vulgar man is President thanks to a witches’ brew of sordid factors:

Republican gerrymandering.

Republican voter suppression.

The right-wing penchant for playing dirty.

The mean, selfish, and increasingly wacko beliefs of the conservatives.

The malevolent influence of Fox News and the rest of the right-wing propaganda machine.

The artful interference of the Russians in our politics and elections.

Etcetera, etcetera.

Republican voters were — take your pick — callous enough, reckless enough, unhinged enough, deluded enough, or stupid enough to vote to make one of the most dreadful human beings alive our President.

Rational people knew full well that a Trump presidency would be a trainwreck. But the conservatives, to whom rational thinking has become an alien concept, voted for him anyway. And continue to support him, with relish.

Trump is deplorable to the core, surrounded by a rogue’s gallery of lesser deplorables. But, in truth, he is only a symptom, not the problem.

The real problem is multi-faceted:

– The negative, hateful conservative mindset that put him in office.

– The MAGA crowds that cheer and jeer when Trump holds a rally to attack some target of the moment.

– The morally bankrupt GOP politicians who abandoned their few remaining scruples and got in bed with Trump.

You’ll recall that a dozen of them recently used the same simultaneous talking point: people who wanted the accusations against Kavanaugh investigated amounted to an “angry mob.”

It’s a fact that today’s right-wingers are in favor of virtually nothing. They only oppose. They oppose people they distrust, people they fear, people not like them.

Sometimes, their opposition is merely a finger in the eye of their enemies. Plenty of right-wingers claim global warming is a hoax because doing something about it would be detrimental to capitalism. But probably just as many deny climate change simply to be contrary and in opposition to the liberals.

And consider that conservatives are almost exclusively white. In 2016, 63 percent of white men voted for Trump. 52 percent of white women voted for an admitted womanizer whose low opinion of women is obvious.

The 52 percent figure seems both high and counter-intuitive. But remember, women are just as susceptible as men to groupthink, mental aberrations, and delusional thinking.

Whatever their reasons for being on Team Trump, these are the people who have controlled American society since our founding. No surprise that they fiercely oppose any change that might diminish their power.

And really, the conservative way of thinking only makes sense as a product of their fear of losing their positions of privilege.

The conservative mindset is a malignancy that has impeded the advancement of American society for half of my lifetime.

As for the rest of us, we constitute a clear majority. The solution is to rise up, overwhelm their voter suppression efforts, vote them out, and put an end to it.

Early voting started yesterday in Georgia. I was at the head of the line.

The pols

The voters

 

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The ear tends to be lazy, craves the familiar and is shocked by the unexpected; the eye, on the other hand, tends to be impatient, craves the novel and is bored by repetition.

— W. H. Auden

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If things go wrong, don’t go with them.

Roger Babson

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I am fond of children — except boys.

— Lewis Carroll

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Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.

— Lois Wyse

Auden WH

Auden

Wyse L

Wyse

 

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Quotes o’ the Day

Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

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You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.

— Indira Gandhi

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Better to get hurt with the truth than comforted with a lie.

— Khaled Hosseini

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I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.

— Oscar Wilde

Emerson RW-2

Emerson

Wilde O

Wilde

 

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(My report on The Village Idiot, a short-lived humor magazine at the University of Georgia in 1964, continues herewith.)

In 1956, Patti Carruthers graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Education. (I looked it up on the Google.) After teaching for a time in Missouri, she moved to Hollywood, where she worked as a substitute at a junior high school. Her salary was $550 per month.

In 1959, at age 24, Patti Carruthers accepted an offer of $1,000 a week to become a stripper at Hollywood’s Moulin Rouge. She took the stage name Patti White.

“I miss teaching because I love boys and girls,” she said in an interview at the time. “But this is a great switch, getting up late and sleeping late.”

Miss White, who measured 37-22-36, said she was glad she made the career change because “the traveling involved is so educational.” But, she added, stripping was just a stepping stone. She aspired to be an actress.

“Now I can afford acting lessons, singing lessons, and dancing lessons,” she said.

By 1961, due to circumstances I was unable to ascertain, Patti White was working as a stripper at the Domino Lounge in Atlanta.

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Promo flyer from the Domino Lounge, 1961.

And it was there that the editorial staff of the Athens magazine The Village Idiot (see my previous post) interviewed her…

———

Q & A

An Interview With Miss Patti White in Which She Exposes All

NOTE: This story was so important to our first issue that we decided not to entrust it to one reporter. Miss White’s tale, we reasoned, required the attention of our whole staff. So off we went to Atlanta and THE DOMINO, where the following conversation occurred.

Q. (By the staff) May we buy you a drink, Miss White?

A. No, thanks, boys. I don’t drink. Well, maybe just… you know. But, please be my guests. I feel I owe you a great deal, you know.

Q. Aw, you don’t owe us nothing, Patti. (Double scotch, waitress.) (A double CC, ginger chaser, doll.) (I’d just like a whiskey sour, please.)

A. But I do owe you something. Anything I can do, please ask.

Q. Well, now… (Shut up!)

A. I mean, really. After all, it’s not every day a girl gets to be the Village Idiot. I mean, I’ve just never been an idiot before, you know?

Q. Great sense of humor there, Patti. Great, just great. (Another Scotch, please.)

A. Now, boys, tell me about your publication. I’ve always been interested in books and things like that. You know, I’ve been thinking that someday I might go back to teaching again. Or maybe I’ll open a string of Patti White clubs. I mean, after all, why not? Playboy has its rabbits springing up everywhere, so why not me?

Q. Do you mean you’ll have white rabbits? Ha-ha. (Write that down.) (Yeah, we may have to use it.) All right to order another round, Patti?

A. Sure, boys. I get a discount. But let me tell you my idea. See, the Patti White clubs would have all these darling little waitresses — all young and beautiful and eager to serve, and guess what they’d be wearing!

Q. A happy face? (Scotch on the rocks.)

A. No, silly. You’re pulling my leg.

Q. (Pregnant pause while the Idiot staff grins.)

A. Now, in my club, the girls would be first class. They’d wear mortar boards and cute little shorty gowns. Wouldn’t that be clever?

Q. Sure it would. (Yeah, they could take orders on cute little blackboards.) (In chalk.)

A. Oh, that’s a wonderful idea. I ought to have you boys help me, you’re so clever.

Q. That calls for a drink, right Patti?

A. Right! And I’m buying. After all, a person in my position shouldn’t risk getting on the wrong side of the press.

Q. Speaking of blackboards and chalk, Patti, how did you happen to quit teaching and become a stripper?

A. Oh, I’m not really a stripper. I mean, well, I take off my clothes and all, but when I’m up there, I still feel like a teacher, you know?

Q. We’ll have to admit, it’s a revelation.

A. You see, I was really a dedicated teacher. I tried everything I knew to get across to my students, and I think, I mean I really do, that I must have been pretty popular with the boys at Sun Valley School. I mean, I could tell. hey would watch me very carefully, no matter what I was doing. But then, the administration began to watch, too.

Q. And what did they think?

A. Well, I think they looked pretty hard at me, too. But it wasn’t my fault I was a healthy girl. Why, ever since I was 14, I could pass for a… well, you know what I mean.

Q. Yes, ma’am, we know. (I can understand how you’d have trouble with the administration.) (Another Scotch, please.)

A. Well, the whole trouble was in the way I dressed. Do you see anything wrong with the way I’m dressed?

Q. No, ma’am.

A. So, either my clothes had to go, or I had to go.

Q. So, both of you went, huh? (Tragic loss to Sun Valley.) (Another example of inept administration.)

A. I keep hoping that someday, I’ll find a principal who’d like to have me.

Q. Well, now, I’m sure there must be many. (That brings up the big question, Patti.) (Anybody want another drink?)

A. Order up, boys. I have to perform in a minute. Say, you boys are pretty clever. I wish you’d tell me what you think of the act.

Q. I’d be glad to tell you. (Uh, the big question, remember?) Oh, yes. Patti, do you think a college degree is a liability or an asset?

A. Well, in my case…

Q. Thank you, Miss White.

A. I didn’t finish. You see, after college, I went into teaching. Now, the California system doesn’t pay too badly, but teaching doesn’t pay enough for what the administration wants you to do. Sometimes, I could hardly make out. But what was a liability in teaching turned out to be an asset in show business, and now I make up to a thousand a week.

Q. A thousand a week?

A. Oh, yes. I mean, well, I work very hard. Twice a night, six times a week.

Q. Wow! Miss White, we of the staff salute you. Now, gentlemen, let us quaff a final toast — one more, Patti? — to Patti White, the Idiot’s Delight.

VI-7

VI-8

———

The Patti White interview no doubt was the pride of The Village Idiot staff. They probably thought the story would make The VI an overnight sensation.

For all I know, it did. I didn’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of Athens in those days.

In truth, I was just an anonymous 20-year-old, no car, chronically broke, a guy with Buddy Holly glasses and a flat-top haircut. My chief interests, beyond keeping my grades respectable, were observing females and conspiring to get alcohol.

In other words, The Village Idiot easily could have been the toast of Athens that year without my knowledge.

Anyway, that’s the story of The Village Idiot. If you know what became of the magazine, the people who created it, or, for that matter, the lovely Patti White, fill me in.

 

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In January 1964, during my senior year at the University of Georgia, a “provocative variety magazine for University students” made its debut in Athens. It was The Village Idiot.

VI-1

An editorial said it would be a monthly publication similar in concept to such college humor magazines as The Harvard Lampoon and The Florida Orange Peel. To set the tone, the VI featured this depiction of the Idiot himself.

VI-2

Note his lapel button, which is a slap at The Red & Black, the longtime University-approved student newspaper.

Volume One, Number One of the VI consisted of 32 mostly black-and-white pages plus a two-color cover. Inside was a mixture of articles, cartoons, and short fiction. Much of the content, if you’ll permit me to be frank, was forgettable. Still, several things stood out.

First, no Volume One, Number Two ever materialized, to my knowledge. And I don’t think I simply missed it. More likely, the people who conceived The VI (students, I assume) simply walked away. The Dublin musicians in the movie The Commitments come to mind.

Second, for a modest startup, the staff did a good job of selling ads. Scattered through the publication are two dozen display ads by respectable Athens businesses of the day — restaurants, clothing stores, drug stores, news stands. Making those sales took some skills.

VI-3

Third, even though the writing isn’t as funny/thoughtful/compelling as the staff probably thought it was, some of the stories have their moments.

There is, for example, “Requiem,” a nice remembrance of the Old South Tavern, a beloved Athens beer joint. The Old South was a local institution for two decades until, over the 1963 Christmas holidays, it abruptly closed, causing widespread anguish.

I was among the anguishees. I wrote about the Old South, its mystique, and what it meant to the students of UGA in this post in 2016.

Here is the story from The VI.

———

Requiem

By William Straightarrow

VI-4

There was no epitaph, no word of explanation: there was only a crude sign, “CLOSED FOR CHRISTMAS.” I sat on the curb outside and watched the line of students step up to the door. A rattle of the glass and a long perplexed stare at the marker provided the prelude for a chain of oaths.

The Old South was dead. Athens’ most famous beer hall has passed into history without even the fading scent of magnolias. There were no street demonstrations by the D.A.R. The Athens Historical Society had not even proposed a marker. The local temperance league commemorated the event with a wild party that ended with everyone getting stoned on the communion wine.

But the Old South Tavern was just as much one of Athens’ institutions as Henry Grady’s home, the first garden club, Crawford Long’s ether-filled handkerchief, and Effie’s.

(Ed. note: Effie’s was an Athens brothel that operated for nearly 50 years before the law finally shut it down in 1974.)

“Closed for Christmas,” locked tighter than the lace on a preacher’s daughter.

Why so much concern for a beer joint? The question is unanswerable. It’s like standing on the corner and gazing at girls, or shooting pool for a round of beer, water-battling on a warm spring afternoon, listening to a forgotten tune on a raspy radio late at night. Nostalgia is a cheap and childish emotion, but we are all guilty.

The history of the Old South is linked directly to Athens and the University. Stories of its past reek with the distinct, often offensive odor of the brew it dispensed. At the same time, the Old South was not offensive.

“They were perfect gentlemen… drunk or sober,” recalls Miss Lula Blakey, who worked in the Old South from its beginning in 1946. She had been everything to the establishment: busboy, barmaid, waitress, cashier and occasionally ex-officio manager.

“I just can’t sleep since they closed this place,” she says when recalling the happy hours she spent in the tavern. Reaching back into the foamy past, she recalls the many Homecoming Weekends which always meant “elbow room only at the horseshoe bar and rickety booths. The boys brought in such pretty girls with such pretty flowers… and they’d just be so drunk.”

Miss Lula had an added role at the Old South — confessor for the myriad characters who needed someone to listen to their woes. She’s probably patched up more engagements than anyone around.

Few people in school now can remember when the tavern gained a wide reputation as some sort of fairyland without frills. A few fraternity men would still come in for a quick beer and a hamburger, but public opinion had indicted the clientele, thus the reputation of the Old South.

The well-known haven of hops was dominated in those days by limp-wristed leftovers from Greenwich Village. Such sensual sipping and intellectual intercourse had long since found another haven before we first learned to chug-a-lug and eat hard-boiled eggs.

University alumni always used to come back to the old malt emporium as if it were some fraternity lodge. Miss Lula seldom forgot a name of a former regular customer. She could spot them in spite of physical changes. Some were broader; some lacked hair; all were older.

“Everyone would come back on football weekends — already drunk — and stay up all night raising all kinds of hell.”

“The brotherhood” had its peculiar “grip” — a hand extended to receive a frosty mug or some luscious little lass.

“Nobody ever drank us dry,” said Mangleburg, the Old South’s third owner since it opened. Customers would drain about 10 kegs of beer a week, but the draught just never really caught on. “We sold about 3,000 mugs a week, but four times as many cans.”

A good weekend would put $800 or $900 into the till. The personality of the dim hall kept the taps flowing. Nowhere in Athens could you find the same kind of atmosphere that hovered in the Old South.

Stories about the Old South are as numerous as the names carved in the booths. Most of the tales are attributed to Miss Lula and Chuck Cain, who managed the tavern for several years.

One afternoon, a strapling jock-type lumbered into the door carrying an overloaded armful of mugs. “I’m graduating next week, and I thought maybe you might like your glasses back,” he explained.

Chuck’s face was stern as he raised hell with the boy for stealing the mugs. “Well, if you’re gonna be so damn mean, I ain’t gonna bring the rest of ’em back,” was the embarrassing reply.

An unusually busy evening resulted in a shortage of mugs and soon a complete lack of them. Chuck bristled his feathers and steamed. He watched several fellows return from the head without their mugs. He found his entire stock of mugs stacked neatly in a closet which stored other items more directly associated with rest rooms.

Chuck fathered the Old South inspiration and furthered its relations with the students. Just as Miss Lula played housemother, Chuck was a natural big-brother type. He had a glibness about him which was excelled only by his knack of knowing when to use it. After closing, Chuck often bought a case of beer and went out “drinking with the boys.”

Chuck made the Old South hamburgers famous, preparing them with an undisclosed technique of his own. Miss Lula says the hot dogs have kept many boys in school. A few of the regulars used to be able to get credit on food bills.

One of the most famous (and popular) features of the Old South was its bathroom. Its decor was early American outhouse, but necessity overlooks much. Drunks found pleasure in knocking holes in the wall, ripping off plaster, and generally contributing to its character. The commode was busted, and the floor received its share of punishment… not always with city water.

Ah, but the art work. Sheer genius. Not including a local female directory, there are the complete works of Kilroy, Zorro, Melvin Ford, Anonymous. The proper poems for an occasion, the profound thoughts of deep meditation were constantly being replenished. Outstanding revelations of our time startled the wandering eye. Best known is the inscription, “God picks his nose.”

So another tradition falls without a protest. No mention of the death in the newspapers, no Society for the Restoration and Preservation of the Old South, no SOS movement. No one seems to want to save the Old South.

Mangleburg says he is trying to find someone to operate the place. Rent is very high for the location, high overhead, various notes on equipment are discouraging for operators. Perhaps our favorite oracle is doomed. We can only hope that the South will Rise Again!

———

“Requiem” celebrated a colorful local joint that was remembered fondly by multitudes of UGA students. Considering the abrupt closing of the Old South, the story probably was a last-minute addition to the magazine. The article is a bit rough, a bit lacking in places, but still a solid effort.

In my next post, another noteworthy article from the first and perhaps only edition of The Village Idiot: an interview with Miss Patti White, an exotic dancer at the Domino Lounge in Atlanta.

VI-5

 

 

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The following recollection isn’t a parable, because parables involve human characters. I looked it up. Nor is it quite a metaphor. Metaphors are about symbolism, not literal truth.

Allegory? Analogy? A label eludes me. You decide.

———

In 1979, having lived in Ft. Lauderdale for most of a decade, my family and I moved back to Metro Atlanta.

We settled in Lawrenceville, a bedroom community in Gwinnett County northeast of Atlanta, near my parents and siblings. My job was in the eastern suburb of Conyers, and I began the routine of weekday commutes cross-country from suburb to suburb.

Back then, Lawrenceville and Gwinnett were growing uncomfortably fast. The county government had been taken over by developers, literally, and one of Gwinnett’s major assets, the beautiful greenery, was disappearing lickety-split.

Subdivisions and strip malls sprouted everywhere. The communities and neighborhoods became badly overcrowded. Government resources were strained. The traffic was terrible. Nobody liked it except the landowners, developers, builders, and tradesmen who were cheerfully cashing in. Because America.

My commute from Lawrenceville to Conyers was a drive of about 25 miles and 40 minutes. Usually, traffic at the Lawrenceville end was busy and unpleasant, but the rest of the drive was easy and peaceful along rural roads.

I thought of those commutes as my personal time to relax and reflect. I became an attentive observer of life along the route of the commute, about which I elaborated in this post in 2009 and this one in 2015.

I mention this because of something else that held my attention during those years: a handsome forest of hardwoods along Georgia Highway 20, the main route between home and Lawrenceville. Over time, as the human presence expanded, I watched the forest change.

The hardwoods were at their most picturesque near the intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive. Swanson Drive led east to the county jail, the animal shelter, and an elementary school. There, of course, the trees long since had been razed.

But at the aforementioned intersection, the trees were striking — a mature stand in its prime, dominated by beautiful White Oaks with broad, dense crowns.

At the southeast corner of the intersection, under the oaks, was a small building, originally a residence, now a business.

The sign in front read

WHITE OAKS DAY CARE CENTER

For several years, I passed the place twice a day on my commute, and it was one of the highlights of the drive. The setting was attractive and restful. The little building under the trees was a pleasant, welcome sight.

Apparently, the day care center was doing well, and the time came to expand. The house was demolished, and most of the surrounding oaks were cut down. Only half a dozen remained.

A new building was constructed on the property, suitably larger and more elaborate.

The new sign in front read

OAK GROVE DAY CARE CENTER

In 1996, I moved to Walton County, and my days of commuting across Gwinnett County ended. After that, I passed the intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive only on weekends, on my way to see my parents in the old neighborhood.

Time passed. Outwardly, little changed at the intersection. Then, in 2001 or 2002, the parking lot was repaved and expanded. Of the remaining oaks, all were cut down except two, one on each side of the building.

I wondered if the business would rename itself TWIN OAKS DAY CARE CENTER, but I was disappointed.

During the next several years, my life and routine changed significantly. Mom and Dad passed away, and I retired. I moved to Jefferson to be closer to my son Dustin and his family. Trips to Lawrenceville became a rarity. I lost track of the property at the intersection and its two surviving oak trees.

Over the decades from 1979 to the present, GA 20 north of Lawrenceville progressed from two lanes, to three lanes, to four, to six. Swanson Drive was extended west across GA 20, where a massive new industrial park was built. All typical of Gwinnett’s pell-mell growth over the years.

If you sense that I disapprove, you are correct. The county is overcrowded and choked with traffic to an appalling degree. Home prices and taxes are prohibitive. In short, Gwinnett long ago squandered its redeeming qualities. I avoid going there when possible.

In the end, the county’s steady growth and constant road improvements effectively canceled each other out. Morning and evening traffic have attained a state of hopeless, permanent gridlock, probably forever.

But I digress.

A couple of years ago, I passed the aforementioned intersection and was surprised to find that the day care center was gone. That was unexpected, but things change. Maybe the owners had retired or moved away.

Occupying the property instead were three small businesses: a U-Haul dealership, a rental car company, and a used car lot.

Also, I regret to report that only one of the two large White Oaks remained. There it was, the lone survivor of the original stand, providing shade for a row of used cars.

Too bad no one thought of LONE OAK AUTOMOTIVE.

Lone survivor

The intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive in Lawrenceville, showing the surviving White Oak.

The day care center, by the way, did not close. I discovered later that it merely had relocated a few blocks south on GA 20. The sign at the new location reads

OAK GROVE CHILD DEVELOPMENT CENTER

I certainly understand. “Child development” has much more panache than “day care.”

Still, considering the fate of the trees at the old location, the use of “oak grove” is ironic.

That, and the fact that the new location essentially is treeless.

OGCDC

Quercus alba

Quercus alba, the White Oak, native to North America from southern Canada to Florida to eastern Texas. So named because of the color of the finished wood. In favorable conditions, a White Oak can live for 450 years.

 

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Out the Window

In 1866, the Civil War barely over, German immigrant William A. Breyer of Philadelphia was unemployed with a family to support. He got the bright idea of making ice cream in the family kitchen and selling it around the neighborhood.

Breyer made a variety of flavors, and he advertised that his home-made ice cream contained only the finest all-natural ingredients: cream, cane sugar, fresh fruit, nuts, and healthy, yummy flavorings.

Further, Breyer did not add egg yolks to the product for richness, which was the practice with the French style of ice cream popular at the time. (The Breyer style later became known as Philadelphia or American ice cream.)

Breyer’s ice cream was a hit, and his business venture clicked. Family members pitched in to increase production. To reach more customers, Breyer purchased a horse-drawn wagon, insulated to hold blocks of ice and equipped with a dinner bell to announce its approach.

Soon, several horse-drawn rigs were in operation. Before long, the family opened a retail shop.

When William died in 1882, his son Henry took over the business. In 1896, the era of hand-cranked Breyers came to a close when the family opened a manufacturing plant.

In 1908, Henry incorporated Breyer Ice Cream Company. Trucks replaced the horses and wagons. By 1918, the company was producing and distributing over one million gallons of ice cream annually.

Through it all, the Breyers organization built its reputation on using only a few select, wholesome ingredients.

Even after Breyers was purchased by Kraft in 1926, the “all-natural”mystique was so strong that the ice cream remained relatively unchanged — carefully unsullied by the sinister-sounding additives and preservatives that were creeping into competing ice cream brands.

You had to wonder how long that mystique could prevail over the baser instincts of capitalism.

———

As far back as I can remember, Breyers was the Smith family ice cream of choice. Flavor preferences varied, but, when it came to birthday parties and holiday get-togethers, only Breyers would do.

The brand became a family tradition because, first, it was great ice cream, and second, we admired Breyers for keeping the ingredients minimal and natural.

The label would read MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, VANILLA; or MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, COCOA; or MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, STRAWBERRIES.

Sure, a random new ingredient would sneak in now and then — TARA GUM and SOY LECITHIN and such.

Sure, that was unsettling. But maybe, we thought, the additives genuinely benefited the product. Or perhaps they were required by some new government safety regulation. Besides, it still tasted like good old Breyers. So we looked the other way.

———

Clearly, Breyers was aware of the value of its “all-natural” reputation. A few decades ago, the company ran TV commercials featuring children struggling to read the names of the ingredients in competing brands. The ads were quite effective.

Those sentiments, of course, were phony. Sheer corporate crapola. They were ironic, too, considering the downward spiral, ingredient-wise, that Breyers soon would enter.

The decline of Breyers can be traced to 1993, when Kraft sold its ice cream brands, including Breyers, to the British-Dutch company Unilever. That was when the Breyers commitment to making ice cream with simple, all-natural ingredients went out the window.

Under Unilever, Breyers folded like an empty ice cream carton. Steamrolled, as it were, by expediency and the pursuit of profit.

Today, a Breyers product can contain up to 40 additive ingredients.

For example:

Breyers-1

Food additives fall into a range of categories: preservatives, stabilizers, sweeteners, thickeners, bulking agents, coloring agents, antioxidants, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, and more. All have legitimate purposes.

But some varieties of Breyers now contain so little milk and cream that, legally, they no longer can be called “Ice Cream.” They are classified instead as “Frozen Dairy Dessert.”

To be fair, Breyers branched out to market a range of dessert variations — Gelatos, CarbSmart, Lactose Free, Fat Free, Gluten Free, Non-Dairy, Non-GMO. In those cases, simple and all-natural are not going to happen anyway. But the classic flavors have been adulterated, too.

The company does its best to apply lipstick to the pig, but only embarrasses itself:

“Only the highest quality ingredients go into Breyers® original flavors. We start with fresh cream, sugar, and milk and then add ingredients like real fruit and chunks of chocolate.”

“Add ingredients,” indeed.

———

Speaking of additives, here are the ingredients of “Breyers No Sugar Added Light Vanilla Ice Cream”:

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And here are the ingredients of “Breyers Blasts! Sara Lee Strawberry Cheesecake Frozen Dairy Dessert”:

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Indeed, the mighty have fallen.

At least William Breyer isn’t around to see what the suits have done with his legacy.

———

I close with one final observation.

Here are the ingredients of “Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream”:

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To the company’s credit, the ingredients are few and the additives minimal.

But please note that vanilla is not an ingredient of Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream.

 

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