My Irish Up: You didn’t build that
By Mike Corrigan
Had I only listened to mother!
About what? you ask, not unreasonably.
I don’t know exactly; I already told you I wasn’t listening. But, I’m sure it was important, whatever she was babbling about then, back when I was young (July of 1970) and still impressionable enough (July 1 to 4 of that year) to not bust out laughing immediately. Now, it’s too late; my sainted mother died in 2010. As did my real one. That leaves no one for me to ask for clarification.
“Son,” she shouted (we were surrounded by street protestors singing “Kumbayah” — it was still almost the Sixties), “never give a (something/static hiss) and eat a bake.”
“What, Mommy?” I yelled back affectionately. I was only 24, and impressionable and already hard-of-hearing.
But, it was too late. The police had arrested us for engaging in a discussion too close to a street demonstration. It was an America much like today’s, only not quite so densely populated by cryptofascists and socialists locked in a fatal power struggle. And, we never saw Mother again, though every once in awhile, when the wind was right, we could hear her singing.
It’s a sad story, one all too common for an American family of that troubled era, when, much like today, there was a war on and you couldn’t say anything bad about its motivations or prosecution without being branded a traitor and possibly getting dragged off to be tortured. Yes, tortured, much like today — though, in those times, there was very little chance of a drone landing in your family room. So, at least we’ve made progress in the area of government-directed domestic terror.
I was reminded of this painful family story last week when I saw President Obama on TV. “You didn’t build that,” he carped. And, he brandished a picture of the White House. “Oh,” I thought, “It’s that Republican attack ad, where they edit out the rest of what he actually said, to make it look like Obama is chiding businessmen, when what clearly, in context, he meant was that the government helps business by building roads and bridges and airports and providing loans and bailing out banks and pretending it’s actually regulating stuff, when all it’s really doing is increasing paperwork on small businesses.”
In other words, the perfect FOX-newsization of a non-story.
But, it turned out to be an actual direct message from the president. I guess they can do that now. President Obama said to me: “Mike, you didn’t build that!” And there was a picture of the church I built for Christmas out of American Plastic Bricks in 1959. (Italics, mine.)
“But I did too build that!” I said, incensed.
Then, they showed a picture of The Bridgton News office. “You didn’t build that, either!” the president said. And I sputtered, a little indignantly, “Well, I helped, some.” And he said, “Oh, pooh. I’m the president. When I say you didn’t build something, you didn’t build something, you got that?” I thought about the machine guns, and my mother tortured into singing opera, all those years ago, and the president’s itchy drone-finger. I nodded nervously.
Then, there was a map of a country where the people who actually worked for a living — or who currently would be working for a living, could they find a job that paid at least minimum wage — get no credit for building anything, or for entering public service, or for actually helping people by teaching or ministering or racing the other rats around the maze. On the TV, the map of that country had a big flag sticking out of Nebraska.
And then the music swelled, and I saw Obama’s face, and, in some sort of electronic mirage (as I said, it was either a surreal nightmare or one heck of an app), the faces behind him of Biden and Romney and Ryan and Boehner (the last three waving a banner: “Ha-ha, you’re the 47% — Losers!’”) — and also someone who looked a lot like Rodney Hayes, who was my best friend in fourth grade.
“Et tu, Rodney?” I said.
“You didn’t build that!” Rodney thundered, along with the rest of them.
I nodded. But inside I was thinking, “America, the Land of Importunity… Just like Mother said!”
When he was 12 years old, former Bridgton News editor and reporter Mike Corrigan actually did build something — a scale model of the Battleship Missouri! At the same time, setting a personal record, he also glued three fingers of his left hand to his upper lip.