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Gary Horton: Blind to our own blindness

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: February 2, 2010 9:16 p.m.
Updated: February 3, 2010 4:55 a.m.
One day I’m sitting at this bar when a blind man walks in with his seeing-eye dog. The dog leads the man straight to the bar and the man pulls up a chair. All of a sudden, the blind man yanks the dog up by the leash and starts spinning him around and around over his head.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I yell at the man. “Chill out,” he says calmly. “I’m just taking a look around.”

It’s true I was at the bar. The rest of the story might be fabricated.

Let me tell you another bar story, this one completely true.

So there’s this bald man sitting at a bar overlooking Ventura Harbor. Carrie and I had been eating lunch in the restaurant when Carrie became entranced in the Chargers/Jets game on the big screen over at the bar. Rather than just go home after eating, we decided to sit at the bar so Carrie could be the football-loving fantasy wife she is for yet another game.

The bald man, looking like Mr. Clean from the old TV commercials, pulls out two chairs and invites us to sit with him.

He’s sipping from a full glass of beer, but given the glazed look in his eyes, the full beer he’s holding isn’t his first he’s had this afternoon.

The man’s munching fish and chips, the same dish we enjoyed. “Good stuff,” I comment.

“Best around,” he replies. “They’re why I come here. I’ve got a 30-foot sailboat in the harbor, and whenever I come down to Ventura to visit my 92-year-old mother I stay in my boat and eat here at Brophy Brothers.”

We’re getting to know Mr. Clean fairly quickly as the Jets grind down the Chargers on the big screen. I tell him we’re power boaters and we’ve been married 30 years.

“With her eyes,” he says of Carrie, “you’d better take good care of her or someone will whisk her away.” I’m keeping my eye on Mr. Clean, lest he decides to be the one doing the whisking.

Halfway down his glass Mr. Clean opens up. “After Vietnam, tired of having stupid people telling me what to do, I became a self-employed, general contractor in Redondo Beach. Thirty years I ran my own business and paid my own way. I saved up enough money to retire and I bought a home in Grass Valley, north of Sacramento. I live mostly there, except for when I visit mom I stay on my sailboat.”

Mr. Clean’s mom worked for Pacific Bell her whole work life. After her first husband died, she thought she would marry a guy who would outlive her, but her second husband gave up the ghost in 1986, leaving her alone in her twilight years in a fabulous home she built with that short-lived soul in Ojai.

Mom lives off a wonderfully generous Pacific Bell pension that provides generously for her needs, including the full medical that paid for her two hip surgeries when she was in her late 80s, plus a knee surgery since.

“I tell mom,” says Mr. Clean, “Don’t vote, mom. That socialist Obama will only take away what you’ve already got.”

Now, that’s a new spin I haven’t heard before. The self-made, uninsured man warning his union-endowed mom of the socialist spread-the-wealth president. Maybe it was the beer talking, hazily.

Mr. Clean is a libertarian, with good cause. Everything he owns, he earned with his labor. He’s no union man, and says he doesn’t expect anything from anyone, least of all the government.

But, he admits, he’s got his Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits, and that helps when he’s in a fix. And he’s glad Pac Bell gave his mother such a ride. He loves his mom and it’s great that she’s well taken care of. But he’s forgotten it was liberal unions that forced Pac Bell into coughing up those bennies keeping mom cozy to the present day.

Few private employers fund such rich pensions today. Most non-union, non-government workers get self-funded 401ks, partially paid medical and that’s it.

Mr. Clean thinks that’s fine, because, after all, he made it on his own. But as for mom, good she worked for Pac Bell in the good old days of rich benefits.

Libertarian Mr. Clean overlooks that his mom’s union forced wealth distribution when it clawed profits from phone company shareholders and paid them out as high standard wages and benefits to workers. His mom is secure now because in the 60s, 70s and 80s unions were strong and good benefits were the norm.

President Barack Obama isn’t so liberal as to attempt such audacity. He’d be satisfied just seeing every American covered with some sort of health care. Employment doesn’t guarantee it anymore, so we’ve got to fill the gap. But Obama has lost Mr. Clean on the cause.

I wonder how Mr. Clean would see things if mom was suffering in Ojai, lacking money for needed prescriptions? Or if she had to sell that beautiful home in her old age to pay for medical care.

Sometimes our life experiences blind us from a wider view. Try as we may, we can’t get a good look at what’s happening around us. We just can’t see.

And that’s no silly bar joke.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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