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November 28, 2013
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Vail Daily column: A late bloomer, or what?

Something is desperately wrong.

I’m listening to the classical channel on Pandora. No, not the Rolling Stones or Lou Reed. I’m talking Rachmaninov. Rachmaninov?

I was reading “Crime and Punishment,” the literary classic by Dostyevsky, as I started this column. Worse, this is 87 percent of the way through Harvard’s anthology of the greatest works of fiction, although really it’s the best of European fiction between the late 1600s and late 1800s. There’s a token of entries from America — Poe, Harte, Hale, Twain — but we were pretty tied to Europe then in terms of culture.

Looking recently through the charts listing top TV shows and music in USA Today, I was overly pleased to see none that I’d ever viewed or knowingly heard.

What a nerd. Yes!

But somehow, Taylor Swift’s outings in song of torched lovers still penetrates. I’m aware of the Kardashians, Miley, something called “twerking” (no details, please) and Jimmy Kimmel’s hilarious survey of Americans explaining how they love the Affordable Care Act, but just hate Obamacare.

Right now, I’m believing the research showing Americans have grown especially fat and stupid of late.

But then, face it, we’ve always been stupid. Dumber than the Chinese, the Japanese, the Finns, the Koreans et al. That is, if you are foolish enough to buy into the academic scores of the elite of each of those countries compared to the masses we force public education upon in America.

Riddle me this: If we’re really so lagging in our scholarship, why do we continue to lead the world in innovation?

It’s not a difficult question. The answer is obvious, for all the handwringing and political nonsense. Here’s a hint: The world still sends its best and brightest to U.S. universities. There’s a reason for that.

Um, their masses are even dumber than ours. That’s not politic, but it’s true.

And ours are really dumb.

I know, I am one of them. I grew up poor. I grew up in one of those too-typical dysfunctional families that endured divorce — an act so devastating, if routine, that Jesus railed specifically against it in his time, according to several gospels, for very good, practical reason. Believe me, I know.

I didn’t get through college. I labored, for years. I don’t think I cracked 24 grand until I was 30. If you measure worth in dollars, I was honest (give me that) but nuthin’.

I remember visiting a friend who was a firefighting air tanker pilot at the Santa Barbara airport, and one of his other friends, a professor, asked me what I did.

“Um, I’m on the hotshot crew.” There was only one in the area, the Los Prietos Hotshots (now Los Padres), I’m proud to say one of the original five such crews.

Utter disdain. Obviously I had no brain. Probably drank Bud (yes), and lived and died on how the Dodgers, Rams and Lakers fared (true). Listened to God knows what music (also true). No degree, no pedigree, no higher purpose, no apparent future. (True, true, he missed on that one, and … true.)

Of no consequence, basically. He didn’t deign to acknowledge my presence after that. I still remember, so I must have felt it.

I knew full well that I was a dumbass, a dirt bag of no real account. And yeah, sadly, my first thought was I could kick that pudgy professor’s butt in a fistfight, followed quickly by guilt that I’d think such a thing. Still, I could kick his butt. And wouldn’t it be fun to get that dude on the fireline?

And here I am tonight, decades later, listening to Rachmaninov. Rachmaninov? Really?

How far I have fallen.


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The VailDaily Updated Nov 28, 2013 08:27PM Published Nov 28, 2013 08:27PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.