COFFEE WITH ALI

This is a reblog of a post I did June/8/2014, right after Muhammad Ali died.

It recalls an isle of calm for me in the sea of fire. Civil Rights Protests. Anti-Vietnam Protests. Looting, destruction, and shouts of blame from both side of the political aisle.

When this incident took place, we had Hope. We knew that once things calmed down the Civil Rights would take hold in fact not just word. And we knew that we would never go to a War again unless it was really needed, and we would never allow the War to last very long.

But like the song says: ‘We were young and foolish.’

I need an isle of calm today so I brought it out and read it. So topical! Topical in that it follows my Dalton Trumbo posts regarding a man standing up for his beliefs, only to be persecuted by politicians whose only belief is pandering to the lowest common denominator. So topical! I wish today’s violent ‘protesters’ could hear the words of Muhammad Ali, a man known for his violent art, speak with the wisdom of Martin Luther King, a man known for his non-violent speech.

There was this old bulll standing in the middle of the railroad track and far away the train was comng fast. But that old bull just stood there and the people all admired the old brave bull. And the train blew a warning…anotherand another as it came full steam head on. And the people oohed and aahed because that old bull never flinched. Just stood his ground…And…

And all those people that oohed and aahed when the brave bull was standing tall in the center of the tracks, just looked around at what was left of him scattered in little pieces for a good miles, yup, all those people who called that bull brave a short time before changed their tune.

Boy, was that bull ever stupid,” they said, and walked away.’

Thus spoke Muhammad Ali talking about Violent Protesting.

Today I have Hope. I believe that when the stupidity of the politicians is removed from the equation, the genius of our medical scientists will find a cure and a vaccine for the Virus. As far as the Civil Rights issue is concerned…Hatred and genocide are embedded deep in the history of this country.

ali rip            The Champ and I spent the better part of an hour, just the two of us, talking and drinking coffee in the stagehands’ room, my office, at Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota.

I called him Champ, even though he no longer had the belt, lost it, not in the boxing arena, but in the political area.He was on a lecture tour, Pro  Civil Rights, Anti  Viet Nam Involvement. Although the latter was the stated reason for taking away his right to be called World Champion, the former had earned him powerful enemies, just as it did for Martin Luther King. Overlooked by the main stream press, the Champ had a third point he stressed, namely Anti Violence. After his speech at Northrop, there was to be  an interview and a Q&A with reporters from TIME. Finally what he was actually saying was  more important than his celebrity status.

Today Americans accept his views; but in the late 60’s, these views were tinder for the fires that were spreading out across the land. But the Champ spoke his piece and stood his ground even though it was highly controversial and had cost him greatly. It wasn’t that he was wrong, it was just that he was ahead of his time. I had always felt strong about Civil Rights; but it really wasn’t until our status in Nam changed from advisory to full scale combative, that I took a better look and decided against us being there.

When the Champ and his welcoming committee walked backstage, he commented on the aroma of coffee coming from the open door of my room. One of the committee said he would run to Dinky Town and get him some coffee. I told the Champ that I would be glad to bring him a cup in his dressing room. He nixed both offers and instead said he wanted to go in the room, drink coffee and relax. When some of committee tried to follow us in, he held up hand. He told them to stay out, close the door, and see to it that nobody bothered him until he came out.

He commented that he realized they meant well, but he was getting tired of the constant ‘meaning well’ pressure of people. He said he was tired of the tour, tired of being away from home, his wife, and especially his little baby girl, Maryum, his first child. He slumped down in the chair, and when I handed him a cup of the fresh coffee, he raised the cup in thanks. I respected his need for silence.

In those days, boxing was followed much more than today. Early TV had free major matches weekly. And sitting across from me was a boxer I had followed since his Olympic days. I remembered listening to a radio as he did something nobody thought he would, take the title away from Sonny Liston. Oh, there was no way I would have called him the ‘Greatest’ at that time. His best was yet to come.

But, that day, I was more in awe of him as a great human being than a great athlete. It takes a brave person to stand up for one’s beliefs the way he did and at what cost.

When he finally did break his silence in the room, he spoke of being afraid his little girl, Maryum, wouldn’t even know her daddy, because he was away so much. She wasn’t even a year old yet, and he heard that the first year of a baby’s life was so important in their life. And she wouldn’t even know her daddy.

I assured him she would know her daddy, even though she wasn’t seeing much of him at this time. I told how I had worked two jobs for years, and now at Northrop, I was averaging over eighty hours a week, and my sons, only four at that time, always knew their daddy. He had nothing to worry about. He smiled and said he hoped so.

He opened his wallet and took out several pictures of his little Maryum and asked if I had any pictures of my sons. He looked at my pictures and wasn’t satisfied until he remembered their names and could match the name with the right boy.

We didn’t talk about his boxing career, about civil rights, and about his refusal to be drafted. We just talked. There was no chucking or jiving, no boasting and poetry on his part. His public image was set aside and he presented his personal side. Just two men, two fathers, talking, taking the time to know a little about each other.

He was interested in what went on at Northrop. I told him about the various attractions: lectures, music, dance, even a week each May of seven different Metropolitan operas on tour and how much work and how many stagehands it took to put them on. The Metropolitan Opera was familiar to him because of where the building was in relation to Madison Square Garden.

We did touch on boxing when I mentioned that recently Paul Newman had been at Northrop talking against our involvement in Viet Nam, the Champ told how much he liked Newman playing Rocky Graziano in SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME.

I related how I got so excited watching Sugar Ray Robinson defending his crown against Graziano on TV, that I knocked over and broke a lamp. He laughed and asked who I was rooting for, and I told him Sugar Ray, my favorite boxer. He said Sugar Ray was his favorite too.

The time flew by. He finished off his second cup of coffee, thanked me, and followed as I led him to his dressing room. Naturally, his committee followed also, ready at his beck and call for anything he might want, or anything they think he might want. As much as I admired the man that day, I wouldn’t have traded places with him. I could see one of the reasons he was tired and just wanted to go home and play with his baby.

My coffee with Ali took place almost a half century ago. I remember seeing his arm raised in victory many times. I remember seeing his arm raised as he lit the Olympic torch. And I remember he raised his cup in thanks for my coffee. I was so fortunate to have sat and had a quiet talk with the man now referred to as ‘The Greatest’.

R.I.P. CHAMP

There were event entering into this story and after; but I will save them for another time. Right now I am too sad because he is no longer with us.

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PRAYER TODAY/GONE TOMORROW?

There’s a wartime saying, ‘There are no atheists in a foxhole.’ Since we are hunkered down in our ‘foxholes’ in today’s war, it seems appropriate for the times. While prayer/religion is not the same in lives as it was 60, 70 years ago, I imagine that in the last couple months, it has taken a rapid rise in popularity.

If for no other reason than the one W.C. Fields used when on his deathbed a friend walked in and caught Fields reading a Bible. Surprised, the friend asked if Fields had gotten religion. Fields answered, ‘Just looking for loopholes.’

Religion has been a hub in the lives of Mankind since before they warmed their hands over a fire. It comes in all shapes and sizes…From a simple Thank You looking at your baby sleeping in the crib, to a lengthy pilgrimage that culminates in an elaborate ritual.

We have reached a point in this war where even the biggest scientific naysayer, the President of the U.S.A., has accepted that this is not a political hoax that will evaporate by April 1st and by Easter we will be back to normal. We must listen to the medical scientists, hunker down, wash hands, and practice social distance. The later directive has evolved into everyone who is not in the Front Lines of this war should stay within the confines of their homes.

And even with this life-preserving quarantine, ordered by almost all the state governors, 14 refused to declare any type of shut down, people ignored it in the name of prayer/religion, especially in states where Trump reigns supreme. One gov said she would not obey that ‘Draconian’ law. One woman declared that nothing can happen to her because she has been washed with the blood of Christ. A preacher said if grocery stores can be open, churches can also.

Last Sunday a church in Louisiana played to a SRO crowd in spite of a state directive outlawing it. Louisiana is a hot spot already because the celebration of Mardi Gras was too ‘important’ to be canceled, and the Federal Government had not told them to shut down. Louisiana is one of the states that rejects the government’s recent suggestion to shut down.

Criticized, the Louisiana pastor declared that the next Sunday he would send out 27 buses to pick up and transport people to his service.

In Florida, a megachurch pastor held services in spite of a local ban against it. He was arrested and jailed, released on a $500.00 bail. $500.00 bucks…Not even a drop in a KFC bucket they pass around in his church instead of collection baskets.

He vowed to continue and to take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary. Only the case will have to wait a long tine because the Court is closed due to the Virus.

In this war we have a multitude of media services on the Internet, the TV, and the radio. The faithful who think their prayers will not be heard unless they are said in a congratulation in a certain building should be call the faithless…Not enough faith in their God to think he demands a certain ritual and place to be heard.

If your pastor makes such demands, perhaps you should stay home, obey the rules, and come the light again, turn to the Yellow Pages under Churches and play Pin-The-Tail-On-The Donkey for a new place of worship.

Human sacrifice did not prevent the Aztecs from the wrath of Cortez and his gold seekers. On-line, TV, even radio preachers have ways of getting your money…PayPal, personal checks etc.. The difference is those methods of payment are harder to skim off the top like buckets of cash collected in person. First count on the collection buckets is their #1 perp.

Prior to when the Federal Government and Fox hinted that we might be in for some problems from the Virus, there were many innocents who attended funerals. Here’s three documented disasters.

In tiny, rural Martin county, Minnesota they packed the church to say goodbye to a beloved man. Shortly afterwards the county, far from any big cities, became the hot spot of the Virus in the state, quickly recorded the most infections and the first 2 deaths.

After a funeral in a small town in Georgia, the Virus exploded and spread like wildfire.

A funeral in the Four Corners section of the Navajo Reservation brought the Virus to the tribe. Because the tribe is physically susceptible to disease as a whole, life style, obesity, poverty, and the policies of the Federal Government, there are estimates that the entire Navajo Nation is at great risk. The Virus is the Small Pox of our time.

There are a multitude of ways to send your condolences upon a death of a friend or relation without attending the funeral in person. Use them. If that seems cold, just remember if you don’t attend your friend’s funeral, it is tit-for-tat. He won’t be attending yours either.

And with every disaster comes the scam artists. Remember Jim Bakker, the Big Time TV evangelist who became a Hard Time convict? Heeee’s back. And outside of a different wife, he hasn’t changed. He just got ordered to stop selling his elixir to cure the Virus.

Another pseudo-preacher and conspiracy spreader was selling tooth paste that cured the Virus.

The President is going against all medical/scientific advice and is promoting using a malaria/lupus medicine as a cure. He has said in spite of the fact he does not have the Virus, he might just take the medicine himself to prove it cures the Virus that he doesn’t have.

In the second week after we were in a shut down mode, things got worse. More churches offered in-person attendance. Jealous that Florida and California beaches had been big money makers during Spring Break, the governor of Georgia reopened a popular Georgia beach. Rumor has it, he tried to get Chris Christie to bring down his beach chair and promote the grand opening. The money wasn’t bad, but Christie asking for all the free food he could eat, nixed the deal.

The third week will bring Easter, and perhaps Trump’s hinted- at- declaration that the shut down will be lifted to attend Easter Services.

The T.S. Eliot line, ‘April is the cruelest month’, might take on a deeper meaning this April. All major religions have important happenings in the month of April. Some will take place in the safety of the home, others in crowded places of worship.

Our heroic Front-Liners can’t stay at home. If we are not Front-Liners don’t add to their danger. Obey the rules of the shut down.

And for those of you who believe your faith in God will overcome any dangers, consider:

The man sat on the peak of the roof of his house and watched the raging flooded river rise higher and higher toward his temporary place of shelter.

A boat stopped and the man was told to come and jump in the boat.

The man refused, stating, ‘Don’t worry about me. God will save me.’

The waters rose higher and the boat reappeared and again the man was asked to get the boat.

And again the man refused, stating his belief that God will save him.

The water was soaking the man’s feet when a helicopter hovered above and lowered a rope ladder.

And once again the man refused because he had faith and God would save him

And the river rose and took the man to his inevitable end.

And standing in front of the Pearly Gates, waiting to be sorted, the man asked in a pleading voice, ‘Wasn’t my faith strong enough? Wasn’t my prayers sincere enough? Why didn’t God save me?

And the sorter gave him his answer…

God sent a boat, twice, to pick you up and even sent a helicopter, and you refused all three times. Just what more could he do to save your stubborn ass?

God helps those who help themselves

Obey the rules. Keep safe.

The lives you save maybe the lives of those you love the most.