‘Aw, your mom wears Army boots’
December 3, 2003
Childhood is full of memories for all of us, and I wanted to share one in particular that became a great lesson for me.
I grew up in a typical Chicago ethnic neighborhood. There were two “candy stores” within walking distance of my home. One of them, Cummings, was at the north end of my block, at 76th and Wellington. The other, Fanella’s, was a block and a half south. By today’s standards, both stores could be referred to as 7-11 prototypes, except that they had nickel pop machines, penny candy and owners who knew your parents.
Our neighborhood was primarily Irish and Italians with a few Poles and Germans thrown in for good measure, but it never occurred to us kids that an Irish family owned one store and an Italian family the other. Where we chose to hang out depended upon where we were playing or fighting. The John Mills public school playground (the preferred venue for baseball) sat directly across the street from Fanella’s. The St. Celestine playground, which was best suited for football, was a short-block west of Cummings.
Back then, it seemed that we were always fussing or fighting about something, but our quarrels were never ethnic in nature. We fought about whether the Sox or the Cubs had the better double play combination, whether the Apaches were tougher warriors than the Sioux, and sometimes whether the east side of the street was better than the west side.
We also had a kids Geneva Convention of sorts regarding the rules of combat. Boys could never hit girls, even if they hit you first; stones were not allowed in snowballs, although throwing sticks or small rocks at each other was allowed; and using a baseball bat or any metal object was reserved for the juvenile delinquents who hung out at the drug store at 78th and Belmont. Hey, it was a rough neighborhood sometimes.
Like all kids, we would dare each other to do things and then double dare each other. But the mother of all dares was the double-dog-dare. A double-dog dare could place one’s manhood in jeopardy if not handled just right. However, one rule was inviolate – no mothers! Calling anyone’s mother a name was strictly prohibited and was enforceable by kid law. If a kid crossed that line, the offender was immediately ostracized – some things are just too sacred to mess with.
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I recall one particular summer evening when a group of us were engaged in a war of words and my best friend for that week, Wayne Reczek, said to Sammy Fusco, “If you don’t have something nice to say about someone, then don’t say anything at all.” I don’t know why that resonated with me, but it did. Wayne was unusually wise for a 10-year-old.
Which brings me to the point of today’s commentary. I believe that the public debate in America is becoming more vitriolic every day, and it’s unnecessary. Conservatives bash liberals, and liberals bash conservatives, resulting in a nation more polarized than anytime since the Civil War.
Recently I promised a friend that I would read Al Franken’s book as a counterpoint to reading Ann Coulter’s latest. Wow, talk about polarization! Regardless of which of these two pundits one agrees with, it seems to me that the content of their respective messages is lost in the transmission.
Those who read my columns know that I have a conservative bent, but I was genuinely interested in what Al Franken had to say. Unfortunately, I could barely make it through the book because of his relentless attack on anything to the right of Mao Tse Dong’s philosophy.
It caused me to reflect upon why it’s necessary to resort to name-calling and making abusively rude comments when discussing issues. For example, many of the letters to the editor and other comments found right here in the Vail Daily frequently cross the line of propriety. It’s great to feel passionate about an issue, but why is it necessary to impugn those with a different point of view?
The right to disagree verbally with someone’s position on a given issue is guaranteed by the First Amendment, but assailing a person’s intelligence does not promote dialogue. It encourages intransigence.
Politicians, pundits, columnists and letters to the editor writers are always fair game – it goes with the territory. And the Daily’s policy to print all letters to the editor allows any letter writer to reveal his or her brilliance, bias or idiocy. But it seems to me that letter writers would enhance their credibility by using objective criticism, satire or disapproval instead of resorting to these “drive-by shootings” that do little more than insult and deride.
Some letters are clear and concise, while others are laborious and rambling. But it’s the misguided few who coarsen our society and hasten the decline of the rules of civility by their continuous insults and ridicule.
Attacks on a person’s character and intelligence aren’t good for anyone. Besides, if someone really wants to make an ad hominem comment when disagreeing with another, just tell them that their mother wears combat boots.
It’s much less personal that way.
Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org