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Columns

May 4, 2010

Let's put the shoe on the other foot

Uncle Chet was wearing his wide-brimmed khaki hat, sunglasses, jeans and a long-sleeved flannel shirt when he arrived at the door early Saturday.

He ducked his head inside. "Mind if I borrow your pond?"

"Help yourself," I said.

"And take the boat out?"

"The oars are in the garage, right by the side door."

"Thanks."

"Want a coffee before you go?" I looked at the stove, wondering how much remained in the pot.

"I don't suppose I could convince you to go along ... ?" he hung up the hat, a Tilley, I noticed.

"I'm going to finish that closet today."

"How about Buddy?"

"Hey, Buddy," I called upstairs. "You want to go fishing?"

"Sure!" the 9-year-old said enthusiastically, then his desk chair squeaked and rolled on the wooden floor, and he bounded downstairs.

"Right after coffee," Uncle Chet told him. "You can row and I can fish."

"He can row, anyway," I said, as I rinsed the dregs out of the pot and made a fresh batch of coffee.

"So, where are the girls?" our visitor took a seat at the kitchen table.

"On the way to a b-ball game," I said. "The little miscreant is now a power forward."

"Speaking of which, have you been watching the NBA playoffs?"

"We saw the Celtics beat the Heat," I said.

"I like Big Baby," Buddy said.

"The Celtics are toast," Uncle Chet said. "The Knicks are the team of the future. Next year, we're going to have LeBron and Wade."

"That coffee will be $5 and boat rental is $100," I said.

"It's amazing how your loyalties get such a grip on you, you can't let go," he said. "You've been in New York since the '60s and you're still a Boston fan."

"It's never going to change," I said. "I'm worse, now that they have forums online."

"It's like that with politics," Uncle Chet said. "You usually stick with what you learn at home, and if you haven't rebelled by the time you're 21, you probably never will."

"True."

"Of course it leads people to vote against their self-interest, like hourly workers voting Republican," he said. "In the last 30 years, both parties have veered right, bent over backwards for captains of industry, but the Democrats are still more aligned with labor."

"Darned liberals." `

"Still, today's left is in right field, compared to the '50s, in every way except civil rights," he turned to Buddy and switched gears. "It's bright out there. Do you have a good hat?"

"How can left field be in right field?" Buddy asked.

"It took a lot of money, a lot of brainwashing, but that's what happened," Uncle Chet said. "As the rich got richer, they bought up the media, bashed the unions, shipped jobs to China, reduced their taxes, stripped regulations, became so powerful that just a few of them are running the world. I mean, when I was your age, I'd never heard of a billionaire. Back then, it was enough to be a millionaire."

"It's still enough for me," I said.

"But nothing compared to the power of a hundred billion," he turned to the boy. "Did you ever see `The Beverly Hillbillies?"'

"Yes."

"Well, that was the 1960s and Jed Clampett, with $25 million, was considered very rich," he said. "These days, we have people who are a thousand times richer, richer than whole nations. That's the biggest threat to our democracy and the problem has only been getting worse."

"At least we're improving in civil rights," I said.

"We have been, but now I wonder, with that new immigration law in Arizona," Uncle Chet said. "It's pretty bad when you can be pulled over for looking Hispanic."

"Maybe we should join the boycott," I said. "No more anything from Arizona."

"That's a start," he said. "But what we really ought to do is put the shoe on the other foot: let's give Arizona back to Mexico."

Cooperstown Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit www.thedailystar.com/tomgrace.

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