Under The Maple
Ollie sits with Twinkie and Sally as they wait for the others to arrive, and when they appear at the side gate to the backyard, they are in deep conversation. Harvey holds the gate for the other two men.
"Hi guys," says Ollie.
Greetings are exchanged, and Ollie returns to Shal, "Hey Shal, is that watermelon for us?'
"You betcha. Shall I drop it on the ground the way we used to as kids when we were stealing from Mr. Wilson's watermelon patch?
"No," we're sophisticated now. I'll get a knife. I'm ashamed that we were stealing."
"Mr. Wilson knew it."
"I know, but it was underhanded."
"It was a cat and mouse game. He loved it."
"Yeah, but we could have asked."
"What, and ruin the fun? I'll go into the kitchen and slice this. You stay." Oh, by the way," he turns back, "You know what? After our talk last week about finding truth, I came upon a book titled How to Win the War on Truth the very next day. I was telling the guys."
"Fascinating when we find something on the very subject we were discussing. says Ollie, "Tell us about it."
I haven't read the book but listened to the author a bit. The part I heard was about recognizing propaganda.
"I'm listening," says Twinkie."
Shal sits down, still holding his watermelon." It was a crash course in recognizing propaganda. Did you know that after WWII, the word propaganda—by then, people knew it was biased and misleading information—publicists changed the wording to 'Public Relations."
"Nooo!" says Sally.
"Yep. "To recognize propaganda, we need to see that it is trying to sell something, whether it is an idea, a concept or a product."
Harvey chimed in, "Shal told us the word came from the church, in 'To Spread the Truth."
"Well heck," says Sally, Nothing wrong with spreading your ideas, just don't mislead us in the process."
"Ungh," Harvey drops his 250-pound frame into a lawn chair. "Wouldn't honest advertising do it?"
"Sadly, not in most cases," says Shal. "People resist parting with their hard-earned cash and need a compelling reason to do it. Try to be a used car salesman. People take your time, but are, ‘Just looking.’”
"Shal, you're not a used car salesman."
"I was to help pay for college."
"I'm glad I'm in the food industry," says Sally. "People don't need much of a push to eat."
"Your food is incredible, Sally, but few restaurants last longer than two years."
"Yeah, it takes business sense plus good cooking."
"Being Italian doesn't hurt, Sally."
"Yeah, why do you think I named it da Venezia, ‘from Venice.’ Was that deceitful? My great-great-grandfather was from there, and I use some of his recipes.
You're entitled to name your restaurant whatever you want. Hagen Daz sounds like happy days, but the words don't mean a thing."
"You guys are making me hungry. I'll go slice this watermelon. Let's meet tonight at Sally's for dinner. Sally, your Bruschettas are to die for."
"No dying here, Shal."
"Just a figure of speech."
Shal disappears into the kitchen, whose widow overlooks the backyard where they sit. When he returns, the watermelon is in bite-sized squares with a container of toothpicks on the platter. He sets it on the low table in the center of their circle.
"So Shal," says Ollie, spearing a chunk of watermelon, "tell us more about finding lies."
"Well, some are clever marketing ploys, like the Macy's Thanksgiving parade the day before the hottest shopping day of the year. It's to promote Macy's.
"Listerine mouthwash, formerly used to clean floors, convinced people they had halitosis and needed a mouthwash.
"The 50-foot Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, California, originally had nothing to do with the Hollywood Film industry but was put up by a Real Estate Company to sell houses. Today, it's an icon."
"Those are relatively benign campaigns," says Harvey."
"It emphasizes that manipulation is involved," says Shal.
"Yes," and see how a clever phrase or icon catches on." Harvey lays one ankle over his other leg. "People visit that Hollywood sign every year. Now we hear that they are looking at a Real Estate Billboard."
"But a selfie of them and the sign proves they have been to Hollywood," says Sally. There they are at the film capital of the world. Oh, is it of the world? See how I've been led to believe it."
"I think it still is," says Sahl, "We just need to know that propaganda is to sell us something, and usually it uses biased or misleading information. If it wasn't misleading, it is marketing, although marketing is often overblown information."
"It's called dramatization. Shal," says Harvey.
"But unless overblown, it wouldn't be interesting. It's a catch-22 situation. When science becomes political, it's dangerous. For example, 98 percent of the world's scientists say that Global Warming is a fact. Yet there is that 3% hanging on that it isn't happening. It is a mystery to me. I grew up where we had severe winters that froze the river so you could walk over it. Now my hometown might get a snow flurry in February, maybe none at all."
"Maybe it's denial. Who wants to believe the world is heating up on us."
"You are being generous, Twinkie," says Ollie.
"Yeah," Twinkie responds," but how do we counter that?"
"I don't think 3% have much to say about it."
"Maybe not, but it causes dissension among the ranks. And we need to know if people brought the warming about and if there is something we can do about it. We need to get together to find answers. Not argue with each other. Can we either slow or stop the process, and what should we do? Stop using hair spray, stop industries from throwing toxic chemicals into the air and water? Yes. Can we assist with the process? I want to know what that is. I could go back to the horse and buggy days if need be. And now we understand animals better and would be kinder to them. I should invest in horses.”
"You go, girl," says Ollie.
"On one hand," says Ollie, "I'm impressed that people want to believe others are telling them the truth—it snows the goodness in people. One the other hand, it appears there is a range of people waiting to manipulate to promote their agenda. I heard that most of President Reagan's political people were from ad agencies."
"Oh, that's funny—well, not really." Says Harvey.
"Nothing wrong with promoting your product—people need money to live." Says Sally.
"Maybe that’s something we need to change. Well the subject of money can go off oin a n entirely new direction. Even with bartering, horse traders tried to disguise a lame horse under the guise that it was sound. What'a ya do?"
"Oh, we know fakers came in long ago in ancient marketplaces. And they came with an agenda," says Ollie. "It a 'Look at me. Follow my way of thinking. How do we know the fake from the true? Isn't that what we were into last week?"
"Yes, we were trying to see what's real from what's not. Fear creeps into the discussion. It's like the people who believe in God have a moment of doubt, and the ones who do not believe in God have a moment when they think maybe they're wrong.? Oh, I’m sorry, I butted in Ollie."
"You're right, Sally. We have that desire to believe, and then there is the skeptical part of us. It's tricky. There are two fractions: the believers and the manipulators.
"I guess that's why I'm such a poor marketer," says Simad, "and thus, my books sell like day-old bread."
"You're a great writer, Simad," says Twinkie, "I believe that the people seeking what you have to say will find you. Like attracts like you know."
"I suppose," says Simad, not sounding convinced.
"Shal, though," says Sally, "How do we know the difference between good news and bad?
"Bill Moyers, the journalist, said, "News is what people want to keep hidden, and everything else is publicity."
“His buddy Joseph Campbell, the father of 'The Journey of the Hero,' would say we are drawn to the story.
"We like drama. We are geared to the story," says Sahl, the way Deepak Chopra said we are hardwired to believe in God. Simad here's where you come in. You're the writer."
"Then, I need to tell a good story."
"Right on, good buddy," says Shal.
"But, back to what you were saying, Shal, how do we tell fact from fiction?"
"Here is one way: Does what we see or hear cause a negative reaction? I don't mean in fiction; I mean in real life."
"Hell, I can't tell the difference," says Harvey, plopping a watermelon cube into his mouth.
In world events," says Shal, "in dealing with people, does it enrage us.?"
"Hell yeah," says Harvey.
"Harvey, we need some criteria with which to judge. Let your feelings guide the way.
"It does enrage us to find we have been manipulated. I know it's more fun to be a true believer; it's more comforting. But perhaps a good dose of skepticism is important in a world where there is too much. Step back and be with people as we are here. Be with people who want what's good for you. Be with people who have your back and you theirs. Be with people who support your dreams and call you on your bullshit." He turns to Simad. "Simad, tell us, how do you find your inner path through life?
"Well," says Simad thoughtfully, there are three rules to find that inner path." He pauses.
"Come on, Simad, urges Twinkie, “tell us.”
"Number one:" Simad holds up a finger." Do the inner work to find the thing that rings your chimes.
"Number two: Take a step toward that goal that feels the most delicious.
"Number three: Repeat steps one and two over and over until you're dead."
They all laugh.
P.S. Did you see this house in Lahaina Hawaii?
The owner was on the mainland when the fire occurred, and figured his home was gone only to come home and find this. He suffered survivors guilt, but decided to have him home be a hub for those who are cleaning up and rebuilding. He bought the simple wooden home and renovated it himself, putting on a steel roof, and replacing the landscaping with river rocks. It doesn't even look singed.