The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

24 November 2005

Talking Turkey


(Scroll down or go to main page for other new updates today)

While certainly a perplexing holiday to many outside America, Thanksgiving's meaning isn't always clear to those stateside, either.

I'll leave the history lessons to California Conservative, except to say it certainly is a major day around this neck of the woods.

Can it partly be seen, however, as a day to reflect on that uniquely American way of overcoming life's obstacles?

This week, I was interviewed for an entertainment industry trade publication, where I happened to mention two former coaches as influences. In the online article that appeared, there were links added to their own stories, that make this point clear.

Ed Burke, a three-time Olympian, overcame a huge setback in 1968 when a errant hammer throw hit his wife, who was sitting in their car while he practiced. From the Palo Alto Weekly:

Burke made the 1964 Olympic team and finished seventh. He made the 1968 USA squad that competed in the Mexico City Games. Then, after an accident where a throw got away from him and struck Shirley, Burke quit the sport for 12 years. At her urging, however, he came out of retirement in 1980.

While he failed to make the U.S. team that was boycotted from the Moscow Olympics, he did make the 1984 team at age 44. He was selected by the U.S. Olympic squad to carry the American flag in the opening ceremonies. He did so proudly, keeping the flag aloft with one hand throughout the march in front of thousands in the Coliseum and millions of TV watchers.

According to the story, he's again competing, this time at 65 years old.

If you want
a truly astounding tale of what America is all about, read the account of another coach of mine, Dr. Ladislav Pataki, who escaped from behind the Iron Curtain in 1985 with Burke's help. Here's an excerpt (but you simply must read it all, it's incredible):

I realized I could take very little of my work out of the country, so I had to pick and choose according to what might be most useful later on and what would attract the least attention to authorities should they examine our luggage. I took several volumes of my published research, a number of transparencies, and primarily ideas for work that I was planning for the future.

Considering what happened at the airport, I'm still amazed we got through.

Two days before our scheduled departure, I went shopping and bought two suitcases for our "vacation." Because I was very busy that day, I made the terrible mistake of bringing them to my office before going home.

My colleagues took one look at the size of these suitcases -- they were big ones -- and began joking about how, since I'd sold my car, had started studying English, and had bought two huge suitcases, I must be planning to stay in the West.

I laughed and smiled and joked with them, but inside I wasn't chuckling. Most of us instinctively understand that at the center of any joke there lies a kernel of belief. Further, in Czechoslovakia, when people suspect someone might be considering defection, they often write anonymous letters to the authorities. These letters frequently trigger investigations.

Transferring to the airport, I worried about all this. My wife and 15-year-old daughter and I were on our way, but I wasn't sure if it was to Sicily and Rome or to prison.

As we were attempting to clear customs, I thought our worst fears had been realized when we were singled out for "personal control". Instead of our passports being stamped as we were being waved through, they were taken away. We were told to step aside. The authorities began searching our luggage, item by item, inspecting everything.

It soon became clear they were looking for German marks or other free-world currency. This didn't bother me because we weren't carrying any, either on our persons or in our luggage.

What did bother me was the fear that at some stage, as a sharp customs agent went through the papers and documents I'd brought, he'd realize he wasn't examining light vacation reading or just a few ideas I wanted to play with over the holiday, but substantial, important portions of my life's work, a sure sign I intended to defect. The agent looked through the papers, however, and didn't ask any questions.

With the search concluded, we were sent upstairs to passport control -- without our passports. While most other members of our tour group were chatting and relaxing, or enjoying a drink at the bar, we and another family of three who'd also had their passports taken waited for what felt like the longest hour of our lives. Trying not to appear nervous, we watched events around us. The customs officials had a letter.

From a distance it appeared to be on official stationery. Was it from an office? I wondered. They showed it to the tour leader. The police were present, too. Something was terribly wrong.

Who was the letter about? we wondered. We hoped not us. The family across the way was probably thinking the same thing. It looked bad for all six of us.

We sat nervously at a very large wooden table and waited. Because of the size of the table, we were all three quite distant from each other. My daughter had no idea she was in the process of defecting. We had not told her. She expected to be returning to Czechoslovakia.

My wife was a great help to me in the crisis and really helped to sustain me emotionally. Calmly she urged, "Just pretend nothing serious is happening."

Across the room, the wife in the family of three that had also been detained was standing up, crying. At the bar, fifty or sixty feet away, the people who were supposed to be our fellow tour members were laughing and enjoying their drinks. They'd already started their vacation even though they hadn't yet left the airport. I felt very jealous and envious of them.

I also felt very much in limbo, caught as we were between the vacation revelers on one side of the room and the others who, like ourselves were quite possibly on their way to prison.

I also had a strange and terrible feeling. I'd been a model citizen all my life. I had achieved high status and had accomplished a great deal. I was, comparatively speaking, well off. Yet to the police a few dozen feet away I was a criminal.

They were ready to take me to prison. When you're used to being a decent citizen, to feel suddenly that to others you are a criminal makes you feel that you have become someone else.

Finally our name was called. I thought, "This is it. We're going to prison for the rest of our lives." But an official handed us our passports and said we'd been cleared to board the plane, which was an hour late. We couldn't show our relief and our joy, but what we felt was almost inexpressible.

The other family wasn't cleared to board. The letter must have been about them. I felt very bad because I knew we could just as easily have been in their shoes. I later learned they'd been detained because a large amount of free world currency had been hidden in their luggage. At best, they'd lose the money they'd paid for their vacation. At worst, if evidence were found that they'd planned to defect, they'd be imprisoned.

I have vivid memories of Dr. Pataki talking about portions of this story, it's great to see he's now put it all on paper.

What makes America's place in the world more clear than Pataki's life?

In addition, I think
the story of former KGO and WCBS news anchor Mary Ellen Geist (from today's New York Times) fits here, as well:

WASHINGTON, Mich. - Until last February, Mary Ellen Geist was the archetypal career woman, a radio news anchor with a six-figure salary and a suitcase always packed for the next adventure, whether a third-world coup, a weekend of wine tasting or a job in a bigger market.

But now, Ms. Geist, 49, has a life that would be unrecognizable to colleagues and friends in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City. She has returned to her family home near Detroit to care for her parents, one lost to dementia and the other to sorrow.

Ms. Geist sleeps in the dormered bedroom of her childhood and survives without urban amenities like white balsamic vinegar. She starts her days reminding her father, Woody, a sweet-tempered 78-year-old who once owned an auto parts company, how to spoon cereal from his bowl.

Then, in a Mercedes C230 that she calls the "last remnant of my other life," she takes him to adult day care, begging her mother to use her time alone to get a massage or take a painting class.

"Nobody asked me to do this, and it wasn't about guilt," Ms. Geist said. "I lived a very selfish life. I'd gotten plenty of recognition. But all I did was work, and it was getting old. I knew I could make a difference here. And it's expanded my heart and given me a chance to reclaim something I'd lost."

In another era, the task of caring for elderly parents often fell to the unmarried daughter who never left home and never worked for a living. But now, in a 21st-century twist on the 19th-century spinster, career women like Ms. Geist who have made their mark in the world are returning home to care for parents in old age.

No doubt there are many other stories we could add, with the sum total a real reflection of what this country means for its citizens and the entire world.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Planning Christmas shopping today? Why not support the Radio Equalizer at the same time? Your Amazon orders that originate with clicks here, regardless of your final selections, help to support this work. Thanks!


Post a Comment

<< Home

Page Rank Checker

Powered by Blogger