This Is Animal Crackers

When I was a kid, we spent large chunks of the summer at my grandfather’s house in southern New Hampshire. On one visit, we went to Benson’s Wild Animal Farm in nearby Hudson. Benson’s was part zoo, part circus, part kiddie amusement park. I have vague memories of seeing some animals in cages, watching some animal shows, and riding around the park on a little train. Feeling nostalgic recently, I wondered about the history of Benson’s; naturally, I turned to the Internet.

Original Newspaper Ad for Benson’s Opening in 1926.

I learned that Benson’s opened in 1926 but was in a period of decline in the 1970s when I visited. A new owner, Arthur Provencher, bought Benson’s in 1979 and tried to create publicity for the place. One stunt was an attempt to put the zoo’s 500-pound silverback gorilla on the primary ballot for the 1980 presidential election. Colossus G. Benson was driven to Concord, the state capital, to file the forms, but he was kept in the parking lot on a truck trailer, since a gorilla free in the statehouse was deemed too risky. Instead, a chimpanzee in a white tuxedo was sent inside with a note that declared Colossus’s candidacy. Provencher argued that nothing in the US Constitution prohibited animals from running for president. His dream was dashed when Colossus was rejected—not because he was a gorilla, but because he wasn’t thirty-five and didn’t meet the age requirement.

Colossus G. Benson Presidential Trading Card

Ultimately, Provencher was unable to turn Benson’s Wild Animal Farm around, and it closed in 1987, the victim of the economy and a growing understanding of how animals in captivity should be housed and treated. The land it sat on was eventually given to the Town of Hudson, who turned it into a public park in 2010. Some of the original landmarks, like the Old Lady in the Shoe shoe-shaped building and Colossus’s cage, were restored as part of the rehabilitation and are now available for families to explore. The new park gets excellent reviews on Trip Advisor, with one 2013 reviewer, Amanda6500, noting, “I think the favorite part of the park was the gorilla cage that the kids can play in . . . There is a gorgeous mural on the back wall and the kids seem to love the novelty of being in a cage.”

That metal-on-metal sound you are hearing in  your head as you read this is my Internet research coming to a screeching halt, as my brain, fully functioning in 2019, screamed, “Wait. What!? Do they though?” This casual 2013 comment was really jarring when juxtaposed with the fact that our current government has an actual policy of keeping kids in cages.

On an average day in the United States in 2019, our government has more than 2,000 kids being held, without their parents, by the US Border Patrol. In theory, the law says they can be housed for up to 72 hours, but then they are supposed to be released to a relative in the United States. In practice, kids are often kept much longer, and over the last couple of weeks, we’ve learned more about the conditions in which many of the children are held. They are often housed in make-shift cages with a mat on a concrete floor to sleep on. Sometimes, they don’t even have that, if the guards take the mat away as punishment. The government also withholds showers, soap, toothpaste . . .

One Trump administration lawyer tried to argue that they were only charged with maintaining “safe and sanitary” conditions, and soap and toothpaste were unnecessary to meeting that requirement. This prompted clapback on Twitter from Michael Scott Moore, who in 2012 was kidnapped and held for two and half years by Somali pirates. On June 22, he tweeted, “Somali pirates gave me toothpaste & soap.” David Rohde, a journalist kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008, retweeted Moore on June 24, and added, “The Taliban gave me toothpaste & soap.” What does it say about us when the US government has lost the moral high ground to pirates and the Taliban?

Meanwhile, we’re arguing semantics. Are these “concentration camps”? Does this constitute torture? The Trump camp argues no, but under a different presidency, if this were happening in a different country, we would be discussing human rights violations and talking about UN sanctions. A June 21 report by the Associated Press noted after a visit to the Clinton Detention Center in El Paso, Texas, that “kids are taking care of kids, and there’s inadequate food, water and sanitation for the 250 infants, children and teens at the Border Patrol station.”

The outcry after the report was so great that the acting head of Customs and Border Protection, John Sanders, stepped down, and most of the children at Clinton were removed to a tent detention center. But they still remain in the custody of US Border Patrol. I don’t think “Kids in Cages” was the legacy Sanders wanted to be remembered for. We citizens need to continue pointing out the depravity of the situation until the Trump administration as a whole is shamed into following the law and treating immigrants and asylum seekers humanely.

Thus far, however, the current government shows no signs of either shame or willingness to act to rectify the situation. Perhaps then, we need to get Ndume on the New Hampshire primary ballot. He’s a western lowland silverback gorilla who currently lives in the Cincinnati Zoo. Ndume is thirty-seven, so he meets the age requirement. He knows a modified version of American Sign Language, so he is probably better at communicating than some currently serving in government. Most importantly, Ndume knows what it is like to spend life confined—of course, his “cage” has plenty of room and is designed with his health and well-being in mind.

Text © Rebecca Bigelow
Photos © 1 & 2 public domain; 3 from The Lego Movie;
4 screenshot (6/30/19) of Moore’s Twitter post.

RESOURCES

On the history of Benson’s Wild Animal Farm:

On what is happening at the border:

On Ndume:

Cake and Sympathy

512px-closed_sign_hawkins

At one particularly stressful job, a colleague gave me a Marie Antoinette doll. When you press the button on her back, her head flies off with a satisfying thwack. It was very cathartic. Unreasonable deadline? Thwack. Overly demanding boss? Thwack. Thwack. Ranting company owner? Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. Marie’s bewigged head would roll around on the desk as we chuckled through our do-it-yourself therapy sessions.

I’ve been thinking about that doll a lot lately as the US government shutdown enters its thirty-fifth day.1 Like Marie before them, certain members of the ruling government can’t seem to help themselves from making tone-deaf statements about the laid-off government workers who have now missed two paychecks.

One White House aide likened it to a “vacation.” The president’s daughter-in-law opined laid-off workers may suffer a “little bit of pain” now, but their grandchildren would thank them later. The Commerce Secretary, a multimillionaire, expressed his inability to understand why unpaid workers needed to use food banks. The president himself suggested that stores would gladly extend credit to furloughed workers, like they all shop at an idyllic 1950s mom-and-pop-style market that keeps a ledger under the counter to track their thirty-cent bread purchases. Newsflash! It doesn’t work that way anymore.

Granted no one close to the president actually uttered the words “Let them eat cake,” but neither did Marie Antoinette, and look where just the rumor of her saying that got her.  Still modern politicians have come perilously close, and they definitely lack empathy for the paycheck-to-paycheck workers. Meanwhile the pictures of government employees lined up around the block to get food handouts are eerily reminiscent of 1930s Depression-era breadline photos.

It should be obvious that it is rude to suggest the peasants eat cake when they don’t even have bread, but I’m not sure everyone got that memo. I see memes from Facebook friends and other internet commentators that suggest these laid-off “nonessential” workers mean that the government is bloated, and the United States should seize the opportunity to “right size” the government.

I try not to reply to these sorts of provocation on social media. Well, to be perfectly honest, I try not to post replies. I confess to angry-typing responses: Click. Click. Clickity click. Click! Of course by the time I’m done with my scathing retort, I usually feel better and cooler heads can prevail. Then it’s Delete. Delete. Backspace, backspace. Delete! After all, it is unlikely we’ll change hearts and minds in as few as 140 characters or a single paragraph, so engaging is usually futile.

Still there are times when I can’t help myself. Recently, one too many people suggested that 800,000 government workers were extraneous, and we were well shot of them. So I did reply to a post; I likened those laid off more to cannon fodder for the whims of erratic politicians, since many of the so-called nonessential workers were actually being called back to work without pay. It’s easy to call a job nonessential if it doesn’t directly affect you personally. But the same could probably be said of my job—or yours—by someone who doesn’t need the goods or services that you or I provide at any particular moment.

Meanwhile, the president and the people in Congress play a game of political chicken with federal workers as the unwilling hostages. Now I do have a side in this fight. For the record, it is this: Never negotiate with terrorists (political or otherwise) because if you do, they are much more willing to try the same tactics in the future. Also for the record, it is obvious—or it should be—that a thirty-foot wall is ineffective, since you can just go down to the nearest hardware store and buy a thirty-two-foot ladder. Assuming of course, you’ve received a paycheck recently.

So to me, this whole shutdown is manufactured pain for political theater, and it’s ridiculous. For two years, there was no crisis on the border that required urgent border funding, but as soon as the US House flipped political sides, it was a calamity of epic proportions.

And as absurd as this “thirty-five days and counting” shutdown is to me, I’m sure to the laid-off federal workers attempting to keep their lives together it is beyond ridiculous and frustrating. And the cost to government workers and their families doesn’t even address the other collateral damage elsewhere: destruction in national parks, FEMA funds withheld in disaster areas, the potential that SNAP benefits won’t be paid, scientific research that is ruined or put on hold, crimes that aren’t being investigated due to lack of funding, and now a major East Coast airport shut down by the FAA due to staff shortages.

This has become a rapidly moving story. I began this opinion piece before any sign of an agreement was on the radar. Then suddenly today, as LaGuardia shut down and I was getting ready to go to press, there were talks underway to reopen the government for three weeks, so a spending deal could be negotiated. An announcement quickly followed to that effect, but with it came the threat that the president could shut down the government again or declare a state of emergency if he didn’t like what Congress came up with.

I’m glad they stopped the pain for furloughed workers in the short term, but now politicians need to get down to the hard work of passing a budget that we can live with, one that keeps the government open on a long-term basis, so that we don’t repeat this game of political brinkmanship and that potentially only postpones the pain of furloughed workers. And while money can certainly be appropriated for better border security, it is my hope that politicians don’t saddle taxpayers with paying for an ineffective wall.

I believe our politicians can do all this, if they can find a modicum of sympathy for those affected by their actions, including both asylum seekers and US government employees. Unlike Marie Antoinette (life size or six-inch versions), we can end the shutdown properly, if we keep our heads. Forget “Let them eat cake.” Get this done, so affected families can just eat.

Text © Rebecca Bigelow
Photo © Ken Hawkins, Wikimedia

1. I began writing this piece on January 23, 2019, with an aim of posting it on Friday, January 25. When I started writing, the stalemate seemed insurmountable, but when the dam broke this morning with the LaGuardia closure, things moved quickly. By the time I was ready to post at lunchtime, rumors were swirling that the president would announce a temporary ceasefire in the shutdown. Given these changes, I spent the evening revising this piece to reflect them.

Exorcising Your Right to Vote

I once cheerfully disenfranchised my whole family. We were taking a vote on something trivial: what movie to watch—Mulan vs. Aladdin. My husband and kids voted for one movie. I voted for another. Gleefully, the kids crowed about winning. I doubled down.

“Put your hands down!” I ordered. I pointed to the twins. “You two aren’t old enough to vote.” Then I pointed to my husband. “And you can’t vote in this country because you’re English. Since I’m the only one in this family both old enough to vote and a citizen of the United States, I win!”

See how easy it is to make it hard to vote? There are all sorts of ways that people can try to take away your vote. Gerrymandering is a fun one. We once lived in Pennsylvania. After we left, the district we were in became one of the most gerrymandered in the United States. The press called it “Goofy kicking Donald Duck.”

Goofy Kicks

Donald looks more like Stitch to me, but regardless, the Republicans in Pennsylvania cheerfully created this district to give themselves more seats in the legislature by grouping together as many Republican votes as possible. Here’s how District 7 looked prior to this 2003 gerrymandering.

PA 7

And when we lived there, the district had even more regular boundaries than that! But lest you think this is only a nefarious plan on the part of Republicans, the Democrats are guilty too. Here’s Maryland’s District 3, which a local politician once said looked like “blood spatter from a crime scene.”

MD 3

Of course, gerrymandering is not a recent phenomenon; in fact, it takes its name from a former governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry. Gerry was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and James Madison’s vice president, but he’s most remembered as the governor whose administration enacted an 1812 law that created more senatorial districts in Massachusetts, thus giving his party more votes. Since one of the newly created Boston-area districts was said to resemble a salamander, the press dubbed it a “Gerry-mander.”

Gerry-mander

Elkanah Tisdale political cartoon of the “Gerry-Mander”

But gerrymandering is only one way to favor a particular outcome in an election. If you can’t redraw the map to make it harder for your opponents’ votes to count in the newly rigged district, you could try implementing a voter ID law. Twelve states, all Republican held, now have strict voter ID laws where voters have to show an approved ID to vote. Eight other states (six Republican, a swing state, and a Democratic state) require the ID, but they will allow voters to cast a provisional ballot without it. The problem here is that voters have to return with a valid ID within a certain time frame (usually a few days) for the provisional ballot to be counted. Which ID is valid varies by state. In Texas, for example, you can show your gun permit, but your university ID doesn’t count.

Opponents liken this mandatory voter ID system to a poll tax because the voter usually has to pay for the ID, and it is often inconvenient for voters to get because they have to go to a centralized location. Poll taxes (essentially a fee for voting) began in the late 1800s in the South as a way to keep African Americans and poor whites from voting, although the latter might be “grandfathered in” if they had a relative who voted before the Civil War. The legality of the direct fee-to-vote system was struck down by the 24th Amendment in 1964. So of course, proponents of strict voter ID laws argue that these laws are not a poll tax at all; after all valid government ID is useful in other situations besides voting. But an analysis of the effect of voter ID laws show that, like the poll tax, they disproportionately prohibit minorities, students, and the poor—the very people who struggle most to find transportation to a state-approved ID facility and the money to pay for the ID—from voting.

Poll Tax

While you might think these voter ID laws are a legacy from years ago, they are actually a relatively new voter suppression tactic. Indiana was the first state to pass a strict voter ID law in 2005. The Supreme Court upheld the law in 2008, and additional states have piled on since. Proponents argue these ID laws are important for preventing voter fraud at the polls, but study after study has found there are actually very few instances of impersonation voter fraud—the type that a voter ID would prevent. According to Justin Levitt, a professor with Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, that number is 31 attempts in more than a billion ballots cast since 2000. That result doesn’t even round to a hundredth of a percent; it is basically zero.

If you’re not a fan of looking at terrible voter ID pictures, you might choose to make it physically harder to vote. You can do that by closing polling places or shortening the hours of voting (both in the period leading up to the election when absentee ballots are cast and on the actual day of the election). This tends to create long lines, causes confusion on where to vote, and often forces the voter to have to travel farther to get to the polls. Again studies show this tactic disproportionately affects minorities and the poor. In the South alone, after part of the Voting Rights Act was struck down in 2013, almost 900 polling places were closed in areas that served these populations in the period leading up to the 2016 election.

And if you find it too much trouble to close down the polling places, you can always just drop people from the voting rolls (sometimes without telling them), prevent released convicts who have served their sentences from ever voting again, change the rules about how the voter has to go about registering, or any number of other methods politicians use to keep people from voting—usually in the fear that the masses won’t vote for their candidates and thus the only way to win is to game the system.

vote here

Sure, it feels great for a minute or two to win that election because you suppressed the vote (after all, I still feel sure my favorite Disney movie, Mulan, is superior to Aladdin,* one of  the kids’ favorites [Mulan is literally a kick-ass female lead; what’s not to love?]), but if we disenfranchise other voters, a tenet of our democracy is lost in the process. If the politician (or parent) has to rig the system to win, they aren’t really representing the will of the people. In the years since the movie incident, I’m pleased to report that my husband became an American citizen and the kids are now duly registered voters. Their votes each count equally to mine, and that’s how it should be.

On Tuesday, November 6, voters will once again head to the polls to vote in the midterm elections. As we’ve seen, plenty of people want to suppress your vote. Don’t let them. Please check your local requirements and take the time to let your voice be heard. It belongs to you alone, and it matters.

Text © Rebecca Bigelow
Photos from Wiki Commons

Additional Reading

 

*Hey, Aladdin fans, I like your movie pick. I just like mine more! YMMV.

Bailing on Straws

Costons soda_fountain 1909

My mother liked to take us to an old-fashioned soda fountain for special occasions when we were young. I liked the coin-operated vintage music machines that played songs from piano rolls or hole-punched metal disks. I liked the marble table tops and the wrought-iron chairs. I liked the egg salad sandwiches cut into triangle quarters, and of course the milk shakes were excellent. The only thing I didn’t like about this trip to a time my great-grandmother might have found familiar was the paper straw.

The paper straw was, I felt, a worthless invention, as it became soggy after a few minutes in my chocolate malted. The waitress would bring a new one, of course, but I’d run through a few of the paper straws before my shake was done. Authenticity triumphed over convenience here, so if you wanted to go on this outing with Mom, you just learned to suck it up. At home, we had a set of pastel-colored, straight, aluminum straws from when my mom was a girl. They had a little paddle on the bottom. My mother said that was to scoop up your milk shake. I thought they were pretty and retro, so I liked to use them, but they were a pain to keep clean, so they didn’t come out very often.

The older I got, the more abundant the plastic straw seemed, although it is quite likely that I just did not see them very often as a kid because we did not eat out that much. Today, if you order a drink out, the plastic straw is often already plunked in your beverage when it arrives. So many of us use these straws that, in the United States alone, we go through half a billion plastic straws each day (yes, billion with a B). That’s shocking given there are only 325 million of us in the country!

Sumerian Straw

The first straw was found in the tomb of a Sumerian dating from circa 3000 BCE. Art in the tomb shows two Sumerians drinking beer with straws from a large jar, presumably to avoid the sediment at the bottom of the container, and a gold, inlaid straw was found in that same location. Of course that is just the first evidence of straw use. As long as there were hollow reeds and grasses, ancient people were likely using them as straws. In fact, this natural use of grasses gave us the modern straw, as the inventor of my childhood frustration, the paper straw, didn’t like the grassy taste his rye straw gave to his afternoon adult beverage as it disintegrated into the alcohol. To fix this travesty, Marvin Chester Stone wound paper around a pencil, coated it with paraffin, and promptly patented that sucker in 1888.

paper straws

There were improvements along the way to the modern plastic straw: Joseph B. Friedman made the straw bend. He received a patent for that in 1937, creating the accordion shape by crimping a paper straw on a screw, and by 1939 he was selling a lot of them to hospitals because they made it easier for reclining patients to drink. Plastic straws came in, competing with paper straws at first, because the plastic ones were too buoyant for fizzy drinks; plastic finally won the straw wars because the plastic straw could be jabbed through a plastic lid, whereas a paper straw could not. Indeed, by the time I was a kid, the plastic straw was ubiquitous, and the paper ones, like my nemesis found at ye olde soda shoppe, were old-timey.

And with the rise of fast food and more people eating out, we arrive at 2018 and 1.5 straws per person per day. Of course, if you are in the straw business, this is great news. If you’re a sea creature, not so much. The plastic in straws doesn’t biodegrade—it just breaks down into ever smaller pieces—so the problem of plastic straws in the environment doesn’t go away. Regrettably, straws are also hard to recycle. Most are made of #5 plastic, which certain recyclers will take, but just as they float in fizzy drinks, they are also too light to make it reliably through the recycling machines. They bounce off the belts and fall through the screens. They end up in landfills or, worse, blowing around in the environment, where they often end up in the ocean. In fact, plastic straws are now one of the top-ten items found in beach cleanups, and zoos often don’t allow them because they too easily end up in the animal enclosures.  Animals may think the straws are food and ingest them or otherwise become entangled with them. One viral video this spring graphically showed a sea turtle having a plastic straw removed from its nose, where it was obstructing its airway and causing breathing issues.

plastic straws

Luckily, people are becoming increasingly aware of the plastic straw problem. The United Kingdom announced they would ban all single-use plastics (straws, drink stirrers, etc.), and the law is set to go into effect next year. Seattle’s law banning straws begins July 1. Reimagined paper straws (that thankfully don’t collapse as quickly as they did in days of yore), bamboo straws, compostable straws, even pasta straws are being tried in various markets. We bought sets of metal and silicon straws for home use, and the “hard to clean” aspect of my mother’s metal straws was solved because they came with flexible brushes, so you can give the insides a good swab.

Out in the world, we are learning to refuse the straw. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because it is so ingrained for the waitstaff to give a straw with your water or soda. The key is to try to remember to say you don’t need a straw when you order, otherwise your drink may come with the straw already in. Often the waitstaff is trained to leave straws on the table when they set down the drinks, and we’ve had this happen even after we said no to the straw. Then the trick is to get the wait person to pick the still-wrapped straw up and return it to the pocket of his or her apron, because if the straw is still on the table at the end of the meal, the bus person is likely to just clear it with the rest of the trash.

Actually, this is a conversation starter with the waitstaff. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many of them are aware of the problem and say they are actively working to get their managers to make a change (although they admit the constrawversy will continue as long as the plastic ones remain the most economical). Of course there are people who actually need plastic straws to drink because of a disability or medical issue, but the rest of us can cut straw use by refusing the straw or using a personal travel straw while out.

Still, you may say, this straw thing is only a small part of our plastic use. And that’s true, but once a straw goes into use, it has a life expectancy of less than an hour from unwrapping to trash, so it is an easy place to think about reducing our dependency on plastic. We aren’t going to solve our pollution issue by banning straws alone, but it is an excellent first step on our way to the last (plastic) straw.

Text: © Rebecca Bigelow;
Photo 1: Costons Soda Fountain, 1909, Public Domain;
Photo 2: The Met, Public Domain;
Photo 3: Stone’s Julep Straws Ad, Public Domain;
Photo 4: Horia Varlan, Wiki Commons


Resources:

Video of turtle having straw removed from its nose: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wH878t78bw

Patent for the bendy straw: https://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/01/04/f2/13db9a8c162c5b/US2094268.pdf

The Met’s page on the Sumerian straw artwork (see upper right of photo): https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/324572

Additional Reading:

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/11/the-amazing-history-and-the-strange-invention-of-the-bendy-straw/248923/

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/06/disposable-america/563204/

https://www.bonappetit.com/entertaining-style/trends-news/article/history-of-the-straw

 

On All Hallow’s Eve

 

The artist down the street
Gave delicately iced, arched-back
Black cat sugar cookies.
The people in the castle
Gave homemade popcorn balls
That stuck in your teeth.
The neighbors ’cross the way
Gave gooey caramel apples.
But we always hoped for
Store-bought candy.

And now, you can’t give
Hand-crafted goodies
Because parents are afraid
Of razors in apples,
Or drugs in cookies,
Or worst of all,
Of not knowing
All the people
In the neighborhood.

I guess irony is knowing you
Only wanted Snickers as a kid,
But as an adult, you are sad
That homemade sweets
Have gone the way of the dodo
At Trick-or-Treat.

Text: © 2017 Rebecca Bigelow
Clipart: WikiClipArt

Advice to Charlottesville Marchers

Extinguish your Tiki torches.
They may light the night,
But never your soul or mind.

Take off your hood.
It may offer you anonymity,
But it can’t hide who you are.

Stop worshipping monuments
To treasonous generals
On the wrong side of history.

Put down your vile flags.
They celebrate empty promises
Of a false superiority.

Don’t allow yourself to be frightened.
Different threads woven together
Make the fabric of our nation strong.

Cease your vacant railing
For a fairy-tale time when
America was great.

Remember whatever era
You think that was
Had problems of its own.

Lay down your burdens
Of animosity and ignorance.
Only then will you be free.

Because hate yokes you now,
As surely as chains once enslaved
Our brothers and sisters.

Written August 17, 2017, in response to the events
 in Charlottesville, Virginia, the previous weekend.
©2017 Rebecca Bigelow

On First Concerts

My first ever concert was when I was seven; I didn’t pick the artist. My older sister had a mad crush on David Cassidy—a crush of the his-poster-over-the-bed, his-face-on-all-her-Tiger-Beat-magazines, his-music-on-her-45s variety. So for her birthday, my parents indulged her and bought tickets to see him at the Springfield Civic Center.

I don’t remember much about the concert—mostly screaming girls. My sister enjoyed every minute of it. The rest of us were clearly not in the target demographic. My mother, for years after, would wonder why they had paid good money for David Cassidy to shake his white-fringed-jumpsuit-wearing heinie at the audience for 90 minutes. I naively (but breathlessly) waited for the rest of the Partridge Family to come out. I was doomed to disappointment. Did the abstract-painted-modern-art school bus break down? Did Chris and Tracy have school the next day? It was years before the Milli-Vanilli scandal, so someone eventually had to explain to me that just because their faces were on the album cover did not mean they were either (a) a real family or (b) actually sang on the records. My dreams of hitting the road for a world tour with my family before third grade were crushed.

Flash forward a decade and a half, and I finally bought my first concert tickets on my own: Huey Lewis and the News. I didn’t have a crush on him—if he had posters and magazine covers, I never knew it—but I liked his everyman anthems, his explorations of acapella, his catchy horn section, and even his harmonica solos. My husband and I were young, newly married, and in grad school, but we squeezed the household budget and bought the tickets.

Held at Broome County Arena, it is still the concert to which we compare all others. I don’t remember screaming girls, but I do remember people dancing in the aisles, singing along, and begging for more than one encore. Huey had great stage presence, and everyone in the hall was happily along for the ride. We saw lots of bigger names later, but it turns out that the Beach Boys were fun, but so old they had to bring cheerleader-types to keep the crowd entertained; Paul McCartney looked tiny from our nosebleed seats at the Vet in Philadelphia; Chicago were lifeless and out of tune on stage; and Paul Simon was too loud (my ears literally rang for three days afterward, despite holding my hands over my ears for the entire concert).

We saw a lot of the greats that made up the soundtrack of the 80s and 90s, but I think one of the reasons I still have so much affection for Huey Lewis and the News is that I chose the concert myself, and I went with someone who also wanted to be there. Going was a rite of passage and I still look back on it fondly.

My sister, I have to think, finally realized she had terrible taste in first crushes, not to mention music; her later concerts were much more mainstream. Although, I admit to rolling my eyes when she confessed that she had gone to see Barry Williams—Greg Brady!—in Branson a couple of years ago. Maybe her taste hasn’t improved that much.

After we had kids, we took them to some of the concerts they wanted to see, starting with a parade of Disney Channel stars: Cheetah Girls, Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers. We learned to bring earplugs and, as the kids got older, we introduced them to more mainstream stuff—yes, even Huey. When they were teens, they had their own rites of passage. I happily dropped them at the Warped Tour—an all day concert featuring screamo and emo and latter-day punk. It was so not my thing, but they loved it.

And that is what the concert-going experience is supposed to be: a shared moment, a rite of passage, a fondly remembered first—whether it’s your technical first with David Cassidy’s jumpsuit or a real first with Huey Lewis’ cry for a Couple Days Off. But this week, thousands of kids, some on their own and some with their parents, attended a concert in Manchester, England. For a lot of them, it was probably their first concert. For twenty-two it was also their last concert. One man, and a handful of his associates, made sure that those in attendance would always remember it—but not because the singer had no stage presence, or was too loud, or because they had sung along and danced in the aisles for two hours. And that makes my heart hurt for those who were there.

I’m angry that something that should be remembered with joy or humor or fondness (or even irony years later if your taste in music changes) or any of a thousand other positive emotions can now only be remembered as a tragedy. I’m angry that those kids were not allowed to hold that elation for even a moment. Music should bring us together—a time to laugh, a time to dance. But this week it is a time to mourn: the senseless loss of life, the loss of childhood innocence, and the muting of the music.

But this last is temporary because music expresses all our emotions, from deepest sorrow to highest delight, so we’ll return to see the horn sections, to listen to the harmonies, and to wonder if the rest of the Partridge Family will show up. Because the music, and our need to share it, is greater than those who would silence it. The beat will go on.

 

Text: © Rebecca Bigelow

Quarter Rest Image: free clipart