145. Titans and Tyrants

In Greek myth the Titans were the family of gods who birthed Zeus and his siblings, the Olympians. The main king figure was Cronus, who had a nasty habit of eating  his immortal children so that they would stew in his gastric juices but not overthrow him. Typical tyrant stuff– destroy your competition, swallow your kids. Titanium and titanic come from the same word along with the meanings of strong and huge. We call big dudes in business “titans of industry”– like Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, or Andrew Carnegie. Those boys ate up their competitors and government oversight. I think of big music artists as titans– Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Hendrix, Elvis, Clapton. You get the picture, especially if they are one word Titans. These were HUGE influences who actually ate up their ancestors and transformed them into something new when they musically spat them out. So I guess there are bad titans and good ones… depends on which generation they eat.

I’ve never liked tyrants, however. I don’t think you are supposed to like them unless you are also a tyrant. My deceased father-in-law was a tyrant. I think we managed to get along because I played chess with him and always lost after giving him a run for his chess cookies. He was a retired government worker who spoke five languages but could not talk about his work, if you know what I mean. Pretty sure he killed a few people along the way, and I did not want to be the next one. He was harsh on a good day. His idea of a good time for his granddaughters was sorting used nails from a bucket. He expected somehow that little girls who sorted Barbie clothes would just jump at the chance to sort out rusty ten penny nails from bent finish nails from crusty masonry nails.  Oh what Joy! Granpa. A former smoker, he got upset if someone flicked a cigarette butt on his well groomed lawn. Is there a 12 step recovery program for smokers? He needed one. I recall him saying once that “Smoking covers a multitude of sins.” So I guess not smoking reveals them.

He told stories of growing up in the Great Depression. Though he had no dog, he went to the butcher on Tuesdays and asked for a bone for his nonexistent dog. The butcher, knowing full well if this poor child of immigrants had a dog it would be on the menu, would leave a little extra meat on the invisible dog’s bone. Kid Granpa would take it home and the family would make soup out of it. Most likely he would have gnawed it like an all day sucker. On Thursdays he went to the Fishmonger’s for fish heads for his nonexistent cat. The fishmonger, knowing full well if this urchin had a cat it would be on the menu, left a little extra meat on the fish heads for the cat made of fog. Kid Granpa would take the fish heads home and make a chowder out of them. He laughed and marveled at the unspoken game that was played back then. I smiled and marveled at the unspoken grace extended from poor haves to the poorer have nots in the 1930’s.

His childhood food deprivation resulted in forced eating at adult Granpa’s dinner table. You had to clean your plate or there was condemnation and shame. Nothing like fear and tension hovering over some Pacific Rim chicken stew meal to entice little kids to eat heartily. Once my daughter Grace undid the tyrant by saying, “Granpa, I don’t like things that are yukky.” There was no possible come back to such an astutely closed  statement.

I recall one summer day we visited him with our Fresh Air girl from the Bronx, Joanna. She was visiting us for two weeks and Granpa for a day, and he determined to correct her grammar. Lovely thought. In the absence of fondness or relationship, why not just hammer a strange, vulnerable kid who is away from home? Why not teach an ethics course to a telephone sales person?  I mentioned his moral inconsistency to him once as we traipsed across his two hundred acre farm near Warrenton, Virginia. He was ranting on the immigration issue and how foreigners just pour into our country and drain us of our resources, forcing poor rich guys like him to pay more taxes. I seized on the opportunity to correct the tyrant or at least point out his inconsistency. “You know, if you applied the same reasoning to your people 80 years ago, you would not be here to complain about the most recent immigrants.”

His response? “And it would be a damn finer country without me!” I did not expect this, so I chuckled in agreement. “Yes, it would be.” See, tyrants can never be wrong, nor can they stand a challenge to their power. Which is why figuratively or literally they eat their young in soups and chowders with saltines if available.

Now I have been told not to speak ill of the dead, and I get that the dead have no rebuttal time left on the clock. On the other hand, if the dead in question had just lived a decent life, no one would have anything to worry about now would they. It’s sort of like living in a small town, blog citizens. If you keep your nose clean, pay your bills on time, and keep your dog on its leash, then you can face your neighbors with a clean conscience in the therapy waiting room, the liquor store, or the vasectomy out patient clinic. And don’t even try the “Me? I’m waiting for a friend of mine” line.

“Your friend could not make his vasectomy appointment and you didn’t want to waste it? uh huh.”

“Yes, so I stopped at the liquor store for some cooking sherry after my friend’s therapy appointment.”

“I see…” And then under their breath…”right through it, Bozo.”

There is something about a small town that fights both for and against the baser instincts of humans. Gossip grows fast and furiously in the over-fertilized souls of torpid little boros. But there is a familiar wall of accountability also. Like the weed killer Round Up, one squirt can kill the evil word weed at the root. Keep in mind that the likelihood of running into some unfriended former friend is exponentially increased in a small town. So, no matter what’s on your menu — fish heads, cow bones, kids, chicken, vengeance, mercy, justice, grace, titans or tyrants– be kind, blog nation, be kind. ‘Cuz once you’re dead, you can’t talk back.


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