An article I submitted to the NewPeople, a publication of the Thomas Merton Center, was going to print, but I didn’t yet know what title the editor had chosen for it. It turned out to be “Affordable housing in crisis.” That was fifteen years ago. Now, just moments before this story goes online, I’m again in the dark about what title my editor will come up with.
To be honest, I’m not even sure what this article is about. Housing would be the obvious guess, but I’m still sorting it out. Let me start over.
Strange times they were, the summer of 2001. For the previous eight years, the wily tax-and-spend Democrat in the White House turned a crippling national deficit into an economic cinnabun. Yet the Republicans wrested control of Pennsylvania Avenue by way of losing the popular vote, and soon after employed their fiscally-responsible pedigree towards wrecking the economy, again. Their leader, a misunderestimated walking malaprop, was a man of great wealth and dubious achievement. He was impressively unread. He was caught in the eternal struggle between finally earning his father’s love and poking him in the eye by upstaging him once and for all.
You see where I’m going, and we could go on for a long, long time. Or we can succinctly encapsulate it with this satisfying bit of wisdom: “Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” And besides, it’s not like things are exactly the same today as they were then. To wit (and speaking of epic father/son conflicts), Attack of the Clones wouldn’t be released until 2002, and Rogue One is already in theaters. So there you go.
I found the July/August 2001 issue of NewPeople in a box in the part of our house known as the deep, dark corner of forgotten things. When I read the 15-year old headline, “Affordable housing in crisis,” I confess to having a momentary gleeful reaction, expressed eloquently and out loud as: “See, I fucking told you so!” I also confess to not knowing who I meant by “you,” nor what I meant by “so.” And then I remembered that I wasn’t the one who came up with the title in the first place. Nevertheless, I read on and found a few largely inconsequential inaccuracies, which was not surprising, given that I didn’t really know what I was talking about back then.
One of the mistakes stands out above all others, and for this, Downstream will issue a formal correction: In the July/August 2001 issue of NewPeople, a writer by the name of Jason Vrabel incorrectly attributed the phrase “BEAM ME UP!” to Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey. “BEAM ME UP!” was actually the signature closing statement for many of the outrageous tirades of Representative James Traficant Jr. from Ohio. On behalf of the author, Downstream apologizes for conflating two members of Congress who were embroiled in (and later thrown out of office for) corruption scandals during roughly the same time period.
Ethics aside, the two men were quite different. Torricelli raised more that $1 billion for affordable housing in New Jersey. Traficant, both a former Pitt Panther and Pittsburgh Steeler, railed against immigration, gave Nazis the benefit of the doubt, and seemed particularly fond of Ivan the Terrible.
Traficant’s pugnacious character and vile statements were outdone only by his own hair – a wild-ass shaggy pompadour (imagine Sir Rod Stewart, had he been born in Youngstown) that he said he cut with a weed wacker. Before fatally crashing his tractor into a barn, Traficant found the kind of contemplation and atonement that only the deep solitude of seven years in prison can provide, and admitted that it was a toupee all along.
Yes, those were strange times indeed. Just imagine a day when another foul-mouthed elected official with impossible hair goes to prison for bribery, racketeering and tax fraud.
Like I said, I’m not sure what this article is supposed to be about. But the one below is decidedly about housing.
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