For a long time now I have been under the assumption that medals were awarded to those esteemed for acts of courage, heroism and valor, as well as to those Olympic athletes who can run faster than their nearest competitor from Belarus and survive the performance-enhancing-drug tests that follow.
I have a medal. Unlike my father’s Purple Hearts, mine is not to honor any act of courage, heroism, or valor. Neither is it for my athletic prowess, which would by now find me unable to outrun an inanimate object.
No, my medal is a participation medal awarded in the days before they became known as that. Today, they are as common as dirt and are awarded to anybody who regularly shows up for no particular reason. “Last place in the standings? Good job. Have a medal.” “Eliminated in the first round of the spelling bee? ‘Fig’ isn’t that hard to spell, but OK, here’s a medal.”
Unlike Trump, kids know when they lose.
Geri found my medal in a box in the garage and asked me why I had never told her of my great medal-winning accomplishment. I told her that it wasn’t much of a story. It was an Award of Excellence for having competed in the American College Theater Festival in 1971. I was a part of a writing/performing team that put together a rock ‘n’ roll adaptation of Aristophanes’ “The Birds.” It was topical, campy, colorful, musical and loads of fun, and it was chosen to be the first show of the competition. The festival itself was the first event held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts.
It was a very heady week in Washington, D.C. The band component of our show performed at Ford’s Theater, which, as the site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, may be the most historic place I’ve ever been. During a break in an encore performance at the National Press Club, I accidently flicked a cigarette ash into the martini I was drinking while talking to Eric Sevareid, the erudite political commentator on the CBS Evening News.
We were chauffeured around for a few days in black stretch limos—I actually arrived late because two days before we were to leave Cleveland for Washington, I had to detour to Chicago to fail my draft physical. We stayed at the Hay-Adams, and one night we dined at the famed (now a parking lot) Sans Souci restaurant with a host who seemed possibly to be the majority owner of our nation’s capital.
(He also arranged for a private tour of the then-closed medical section of the Smithsonian Institution. I had expressed an interest in seeing a preserved human leg infected with elephantiasis I had read about, and he didn’t want me to be disappointed. This man could pull some strings.)
Anyway, Aristophanes’ “The Birds” failed to impress the jury as much as it did the Cleveland Playhouse audiences where we subsequently ran for a few SRO months.
Today, my bronze medal hangs framed with a green velvet background in our dining room. Several times a day I am reminded that we lost. It’s humbling.
Although Trump has managed to turn most of everything he’s touched into dangerous folly, some of his choices for the Presidential Medal of Freedom are, if nothing else, just kind of peculiar. Considering that there are no restrictions on who he selects to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, he can stand in a schoolyard and hand them out like cheap cut-outs on Valentines’ Day should he please.
Obviously, rich donors to his campaigns and his failed businesses are rewarded first. And next, those of his staunchest supporters are rewarded, including such egregious toadies as Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan who are about as deserving as Pol Pot would be for a humanitarian commendation. Rush Limbaugh, the provocateur of the racist, hysterical right, hasn’t even managed to win a Peabody Award. And yet there he was in the U.S Congress accepting his Medal of Freedom during a State of the Union address that sadly illustrated our state of the union.
I thought it odd that Tiger Woods received one, back when he made his comeback to win the Master’s. His winning wasn’t particularly brave or heroic—it wasn’t as if he had snatched a drowning child from Augusta National’s swimming pool, after all. He managed to win a four-day golf tournament that, between purses and endorsements, places him in the suspicious company of Jeff Bezos.
Last week, more golfers joined the ranks of American freedom fighters, despite two of them being foreign nationals (not that there haven’t been other foreign awardees) and one of them long dead. But considering Trump’s disdain for foreigners, it surprised me. No, it didn’t. Nothing surprises me anymore.
We’ve known all along that Trump was forgoing his love of golf to run the country. Well, that didn’t pan out so well, but I suspect that the soon-to-be ex-President wants golfers to accompany him to the awaiting bunkers, armed with sand wedges to fight insurgent caddies.
(I once placed thirty-sixth in a field of forty in a golf tournament. At the time, I wasn’t so much worried about freedom as I was of not missing a fifth putt on any given hole.)
I’m not of fan of country music or bluegrass. I have nothing against it, really (although my medical record at UCHealth in Denver does list country music as an allergy), I just like other music better. So, for me to have even heard of Ricky Skaggs and Toby Keith is a testament to their success. Good for them. I’m guessing that they are nice guys who love their children, don’t kick dogs, and have mastered the necessary nasal twangs required by their professions.
But I can’t quite imagine that their abilities to entertain line-dancing audiences with snap-buttons on their plaid cowboy shirts go much toward advancing the cause of freedom or helping create a lasting peace. Lots of fun? For many, absolutely!
Of course, I could be wrong. I frequently am, as Geri reminds me.
I’m also not much of a football fan which, along with my disdain for songs about pickup trucks and divorce, makes me somewhat un-American. I’ve nonetheless learned over the years that the bellicose Bill Belichick is nobody I would want to meet. He’s been caught and fined for cheating with his New England Patriots, all the while defending quarterback Tom Brady from charges of his own infidelity to the rules of the game.
Not that it matters, but Coach Belichick earned a little of my respect this week for refusing the freedom honor offered him by Trump in the wake of the January insurrection.
There are those who will shoot themselves in the foot to get a Purple Heart.
And there are those who won’t.
Photo Illustration by Courtney A. Liska
Pork Chops alla Bamonte’s
If you’ve ever eaten at the red-sauce Italian restaurant Bamonte’s in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and not had the joint’s pork chop with cherry peppers, you’ve missed something special. I served my take of this dish from time to time at my Montana trattoria, Adagio. The secret is in the brine.
2 (1-1/2″thick) bone-in pork chops
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3-4 Tbs. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
12 pickled cherry peppers, halved
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup veal or chicken stock
Brine the pork chops overnight. Add to four cups of water, 1/4 cup kosher salt, 2 Tbs. dark brown sugar, 1 tsp. black peppercorns, 1 bay leaf, and 1 sprig of fresh rosemary. Bring mixture to a boil and allow to cool completely before adding the chops.
Heat oven to 450°. Rinse and dry the chops before seasoning with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in an oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Fry chops, flipping once, until browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer pan to oven; roast until pork is cooked through, 14–18 minutes. Transfer chops to a plate and cover. Return pan to medium heat, add remaining oil, garlic, and peppers; cook until garlic is golden, 3–4 minutes. Raise heat to high, add wine and stock; cook until reduced by half, 3 to 4 minutes. Spoon sauce and peppers over the chops and serve.