Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dee Howard

In the narrow hallway behind the chapel, someone had set out coffee and pastries. After the service, we gathered there, in small circles mostly, and started talking about Dee.

After a while, the sad talk gave way to remembrance of some of the funny things Dee had said or done. M. and I remembered/laughed at how appalled she was to find out that the CEO of WHYY/PBS makes $500K a year. “But that’s a fraction of what the average CEO makes,” I’d said. “And he’s running a major affiliate in a top-five market.” No matter. Dee was pissed.

Thinking back on who Dee was, that reaction really wasn’t funny at all. It made complete sense. Her thinking probably went something like this (and forgive me, Dee, for presuming to speak for you; but what choice do I have?): “Bringing important, enlightening information to people — without the taint of commercialism — is a reward in itself. PBS shouldn’t need half-a-million dollars to get an eager, capable person to do it.”

Of all the Dee stories I could be telling, I’m not sure this is the right one. But it taps into a big part of who Dee was. She had an unwavering sense of Justice, which is hard to find in this world. (Not “justice” as most of us conceive it — e.g., a guy breaks into your house, a judge punishes him — a desperate attempt to bring balance to, and control over, the universe’s inherent chaos.) Dee’s sense of Justice was about more than mere fairness; it was an extension of a pure vision, however nebulous, of what the world should be.

As I left the church Saturday morning and drove off, I thought about the difference between rare people like Dee and everyone else. I would always tell Dee to stop obsessing over her political blogs, to stop worrying so much. “What can you do?” I’d say. When something unjust happens, you endure a moment of sadness and then quickly let it go. What can you do? The world is what it is. But no, Dee wouldn’t have it. Wouldn’t have a world that insisted on showing itself as different — worse — that it should be, than it could be.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Dee was unreasonable. Her frustration and anger were unreasonable. But if it weren’t for people like her, the world would be weighed down with nothing but ineffectual dopes like me who just accept things as they are. Dee Howard, in her not-so-small way, pushed the human race forward. She pushed the world closer to the way it should be.

Jesus Christ on toast points, I’m gonna miss that gal.


P.S. It’s worth mentioning that Dee detested Shaw. She once wrote: “With everything [he] writes, you can hear him congratulating himself. The minute I didn’t have to read any more of his plays for a survey course, I cheered.” Now that’s funny.


Michael Nolan said...

Nicely done, definitely doesn't blow goats!*

Outstanding that you managed to define her very essence with the most enduring thought of the writer she detested most. She's going "bwaaahhh!" right about now. Thank you, my friend, for doing her justice (in yet another sense of the word).

* "Such-and-such blows goats" was Dee's way of letting you know when something didn't meet her high standards. I think the last time I heard her use it, she was referring to Huey Lewis and the News.

Greg Ippolito said...

Awesome. I think she also, recently, used it in reference to Bret Easton Ellis.

Some of my favorite other Deeisms:

“Jesus Christ on ___________”
(various: “toast points,” “a white horse,” “a muffintop,” etc.)

“[Name] looked like he was rode hard and put up wet.”

“That just chaps my ass.”



lindawbailey said...

Just reading your Dee-isms makes me smile—and remember the unique character that we've lost. Bravo for your loving tribute.

Linda Bailey

Katy said...

I wish I'd known her better. What I did know of her, I totally "got." She was an original, the bravest of the brave, and (as you point out) an unswerving champion of justice. LOVE "Jesus Christ on toast points" - Dee, I hope you don't mind, but I'm totally stealing it.

Ronda Lane said...

I was missing Dee, and doing a little search when I found your blog. Thank you SO much - my heart feels better. A Dee-ism you missed is "(blank) of the Gods"... in my case, she said I had the "bladder of the Gods" as (when we went out) I wasn't up with her every half hour for a powder-room trip... and (of course) her scalding hot cup of black coffee was always "nectar of the Gods"... I loved that woman!