Monthly Archives: July 2015

I Really, Really Wish I Hadn’t Said That

Have you ever opened your mouth to speak and before the words had completely left your lips, realized that you have said something totally ludicrous? Of course you have; we all have.

Is anyone else old enough to remember when President Jimmy Carter was speaking at the funeral of former Vice-President Hubert Horatio Humphrey — and for whatever fluke of the moment — instead called him Hubert Horatio Hornblower, a fiction British Naval officer created by author C. S. Forester?

My most spectacular faux pas — from an old French term that means “screwed up, royally” — recently happened at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant in North Knox County, where I had met with Gary Wade, Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court and one of his friends for breakfast.

The meeting was ostensibly to discuss a football game played between Powell High School of Knox County and Sevier County High School of Sevier County (of course) in 1963, which Powell, the decided underdog had won.

Wade played in the game and I watched it from the stands, holding hands with a high school sweetheart. I had written about the game a few weeks earlier and the Tennessee Supreme Court Justice and I both agreed it was at least among the most exciting games we had ever witnessed and saw nothing odd about meeting to discuss an athletic contest that happened more than 50 years ago over breakfast.

Having exhausted game talk after a few minutes, the conversation drifted to other subjects. I can’t recall many details of a conversation that happened weeks ago, but part of it had to do with the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, because I was venturing the opinion that if the Founding Fathers of this country had written as clearly in our Bill of Rights as Tennessee’s Constitutional framers wrote in their equivalent Section 26 in the Declaration of Rights, it would have avoided a lot of squabbling.

That Section 26 of the Tennessee Declaration of Rights, said: “That the citizens of this state have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defense; but the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.” Just imagine if that sentence had been added to the U.S. Constitution’s 2nd Amendment, how different things might have been to day — when it comes to, say mass killings, if weapons were really regulated enough to be kept from the hands of the severely mentally disturbed and criminals.

In the heat of the moment, as I was making my point, I blurted out, “Have either of you ever actually read the original Tennessee Constitution?”

The words were out there with no way to turn them into a joke or make them go away. Chief Justice Wade is a merciful and courteous man who may have produced just a flicker of a smile, as I dropped my head and mumbled something along the lines of, “That was a really silly thing for me to ask.”

I don’t know if the judge’s friend was amused or not because my eyes were downcast in shame on my biscuits and gravy. But being the nice man he is, Justice Wade changed the subject — probably back to the football game –and pretended I had not just made an ass of myself.

It was even worse than a television interview 25 years ago during which I was talking to an attractive television news woman about a new adult entertainment ordinance passed by Knox County. She asked what separated an adult oriented film from one that was permissible without a permit.

As I opened my mouth to say something about “gratuitous nudity,” my tongue froze, my mind shut down and I realized could not remember how to pronounce gratuitous. Rather than stopping the way a wise man would have and just rephrasing the answer, I pressed on and came out with a garbled word that sounded something like grat-chew-u-tus nudity.

It was almost as humiliating as asking the Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court if he had ever read the Tennessee Constitution. I comfort myself by promising never to say anything else without thinking it through — but I know that if I live long enough, I probably will.

Thinking is the hardest job

Several years ago, I started receiving e-mail from a man I’ll call John Doe. Whatever lands in my electronic mailbox is mine and I could easily identify it as having been labeled with his real name, but it’s not my style.

His early e-mails were nothing unusual — just condescending points made by a conservative Republican as to the error of my political values, with an underlying certainty that once he pointed out a few basic facts I had overlooked, a confession would quickly follow in which I would repent of my errors.

If a piece of mail, electronic or hard copy, is halfway courteous, I generally answer in kind by explaining that I had not overlooked the basic facts to which I had just been exposed, but was well aware of them and had carefully thought matters through, then decided I believed otherwise — though I am willing to admit I was wrong when I become convinced of such because failure to do so shows the lack of an inability to use basic logic.

Another e-mail reiterating what Doe had said the last time was quickly returned and the process was repeated several times until he, apparently in frustration, questioned my patriotism and loyalty to my country. This never sits well with me.

I calmly explained that when this country was at war, I made myself available by enlisting in the military, and though I did not serve in the Republic of Vietnam, I had served on the streets as a police officer in a different type of combat. Then I asked in what capacity, if any, he had ever served his community or country.

Doe allowed that he had never put himself in harm’s way for his country or community but it made him no less of a patriot because he faithfully served his country by being involved in the Republican Party — after which he once more went over my errors, the one’s I was overlooking because I’ve been blinded by liberal political and religious views. That that was the point at which I explained to him that further discussion was pointless and I would no longer open his-mails.

His e-mails kept coming, probably dozens over the years and I steadfastly didn’t open them, except on two occasions when I overlooked the name. Once I open an e-mail, I feel compelled to respond — call it compulsive-obsessive behavior. The first I accidentally opened had reached the point where Doe was using phrases such as “even a person like you would have to admit…” I explained once again I had no interest in discussing anything with him. That was a year or so ago, but his e-mails never stopped.

Yesterday, while in a rush to answer numerous e-mails about my Knoxville News Sentinel column (7-14-15), in which I spread the irony pretty heavily, about how my marriage of 38 years had not been destroyed by same-sex marriage.

Once more I clicked on one of Doe’s e-mail and found this pithy statement: “DH, Help me out. Are your columns written out of stupidity or ignorance. I actually read it twice but I can’t tell. It has to be one of the two. There is no other explanation!” I was impressed with his lack verbosity, but I responded, then set his e-mail address to go into the junk mail, called Spam. I was also brief, and deciding that rationality having failed, it was time to say what I thought of Doe in plain English.

“The reason you can’t understand what I’ve written,” I explained, “is because literal-minded, sanctimonious Tea Partiers have no sense of irony, satire or humor. Fortunately there are a lot of people who don’t take everything literally and do understand irony and satire:” I attached an excerpt from a column of 3/1/15 written by my boss, Jack McElroy, in which he listed the rankings of News Sentinel columnists, in which I did very well.

If Doe has responded, I don’t know because I haven’t looked in the Spam folder and don’t intend to do so.