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Biff America: Trying to talk when there is nothing to be said

by Jeffrey Bergeron

We introduced ourselves, but I have since forgotten her name.

She was a little older than me, dressed much nicer, and her accent sounded Southern. We met at the local recreation center; she was sitting on a bench near my locker waiting to play tennis.

“Sad day,” she said and shook her head.

“It is that,” I agreed but could not think of anything else to say.

I’m sure, that same conversation, or one much like it, was going on all over America that day. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others were shot at a political even in Tucson only hours before.

After the shock wore off, America looked to understand how it could happen – and where to lay blame.

I began getting my stuff out of my locker to go in to the locker room and change when my new friend asked: “What’s your column about tomorrow?” When I told her it was a story of my buddy and me trying to fix my toilet, she said, “I hope it is funny, I think we all need to lighten up.” I told her that though I thought it was funny when I wrote it, in comparison to how sad the event in Arizona was I was afraid it would fall far short.

“Every little bit helps,” she said.

I wish I could blame Sarah Palin for this. But she is a mother, wife and person first- rabble rouser fourth. I’m sure she was as affected by this madness as anyone else. By the same token I’d like to blame Glenn Beck, Limbaugh and the various media blowhards that use anger to get ratings. But that would be like blaming McDonald’s for obesity. All of them, including Palin, Beck and Limbaugh, are little more than performers giving their audiences what they want – and their audience wants malice.

I guess if there is one easy finger to point, it might be at a system where crazy people can buy guns. But I say that knowing that I have a gun, and some might call me unstable.

“Do you ever remember this country being so divided?” I asked the lady.

She said that during the Vietnam War she remembered a lot of anger, but it seemed to be from the far ends of the spectrum compared to now, when even the middle is mad.

I, too, remember the ’60s, and yes there was violence and divisiveness delivered by the fringe. You now have elected officials and mainstream editorialists saying what only the most radical were spouting back then.

A candidate for Colorado governor said our own president was “More dangerous that al-Qaeda”; a candidate for a Nevada U.S. Senate seat said “Second amendment remedies” could be necessary when our government gets too tyrannical; another said, “If ballots don’t work bullets will.”

I don’t believe any of these officials meant their statements to be taken literally, but in a media world where it helps to be outlandish to get attention, reason becomes boring.

This country has no reason to be nasty. We are the richest, freest, most idle nation in history. Perhaps it is just because of those freedoms and luxuries that we have the time and energy to be angry.

But after saying all that, I believe what happened in Tucson was mostly one crazy person doing something really crazy.

If any sure-fire fault can be found in this rich nation of ours, it’s that there is little medical help for the mentally ill. And like all preventive medicine – be it mental or physical – an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Just like a poor woman who can’t afford a PAP smear may develop cervical cancer and cost the system a hundred times more than a preventive procedure, a disturbed man left untreated is a ticking time bomb of future disaster.

All these thoughts and more were exchanged between that silver-haired tennis player and me. Some of them were my thoughts, some of them hers. But I do think it is safe to say that both of us were both distressed and hopeful. Certainly we were saddened by the horrific event yet hopeful that we as a nation can learn from that tragedy.

And speaking only personally, I’m sorry last week’s column was not funnier.

Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8 and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at biffbreck@yahoo.com.


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