What's All This Then?

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

It’s hard being a pioneer. That’s something I wrote decades ago when I launched a company newspaper for WBKB TV in Chicago, having chosen "Pioneer" as the paper’s name. It was damned hard because I was the editor, wrote most of the copy, did the press run on a mimeograph machine and hand carried copies from floor to floor and department to department. And I didn’t get a paid a dime over my regular pay for all the effort.

A few days ago I launched another pioneering effort - calling for a new national holiday - Pundit Free Day. I tried to set an example by refraining from punditry myself for days on end, hoping that others would notice and send words of encouragement and agreement. I even sent the Pundit Free Day comments to two of my favorite Chicago Tribune columnists and asked for their support - but I never heard a word from either of them - not even an automated "out of office" response. It’s damned hard being a pioneer.

But despite the lack of encouragement, I was determined to hold forth - if necessary alone - until someone noticed and applauded my bravery and seconded my pronouncement. But that was until the other night - when I heard Rachel Maddow talk about an organized right wing plan to engage in "tea bag protests" - and I was no longer able to maintain my personal pundit free odyssey. I’d heard some vague talk about such an event before but I’d put it out of my mind as the usual foolishness of the fringe right. The fact that Rachel thought it worthy of mention persuaded me to break my silence of the pundit vow and step into the fray.

There is an aspect of tea bag protest that I understand full well. As readers of this blog know, I was born and spent many of my formative years in England - and of course was nurtured on the British national drink, which, contrary to misguided belief, is not warm draft beer - but of course tea. Tea sold in varying amounts but never in anything called a "tea bag." It was loose tea, spooned into a tea pot over which was poured boiling water. You had the option of using a hand held strainer to pour your tea from pot to cup, but most people didn’t bother. A true tea drinker isn’t bothered by the occasional leaf that settles to the bottom of the cup.

It wasn’t until I settled permanently in the United States as a young a adult that I was introduced to the tea oddity known as the tea bag - which I instinctively rejected - protested if you well - as an unacceptable aberration. But after a while I came to the realization that if I was to live my life as a true American, I would have to learn to accept this strange product as something born of Yankee ingenuity rather than a deliberate assault on revered tradition - and soon I was popping an appropriate number of tea bags into my tea pot and happily drowning them with the appropriate quantity of boiling water. And it didn’t take too many years before I abandoned the tea pot altogether and began drinking my tea one bag at a time. Bag in cup, boiling water poured over and milk and sugar added. The civilized way to drink tea.The age old argument over whether milk should be added to the tea or vice versa is a question for ultra sophisticated tea drinkers only and will not be discussed here. Perhaps someone will create a milk first or last blog and I will submit a contribution there

I sometimes think I was punished for my almost casual break from tea preparation tradition when, years later, on a visit to the old country, I sat down in a country tea shop for cup of tea and some munchies - only to be told "we don’t do tea!!" The influence of being overrun by coffee drinking tourists. Of course American restaurants have never "done tea." They have tea available but they have no idea how to serve it. It doesn’t matter if the establishment’s average charge for an entrée is five bucks or fifty five bucks - a cup of tea order still brings forth a small pot filled with hot but never boiling water - and a tea bag on the side. Tea of course should never be "dunked" into water - boiling or not. The boiling water should always be poured on top of the tea - whether loose leaves or in a tea bag. And of course if one is a natural tea drinker from birth, one adds milk and sugar. And always over dark tea - Orange Pekoe or similar.

I don’t know any of the people who are involving tea bags in their protests, but I would be willing to give odds that they are not "tea people." Ask of the significance of 4 p.m. , you’d likely be answered with a blank stare. These are people who wouldn’t know the difference between Typhoo and Typhoon. It is an insult to this noble nectar of civilized people to have it hijacked by such people for their silly little "protests." After suffering through eight years of lies, incompetency and lawbreaking by the president that I presume most of them supported wholeheartedly - they have now been blessed with a president who respects the rule of law and is respected by the nations of the world. And is leading us out of the worst recession in decades with bold plans. A change of immeasurable magnitude. And how do they respond? By using the drink of my forefathers to express their unhappiness.

It is of course their right to protest - and this president would support that right with his dying breath. But not having sworn any oath to protect and defend any constitution , I don’t have to agree with that right as long as it involves tea. Coffee is another thing entirely. If they want to protest, let them protest with coffee. From the Atlantic to the Pacific - let them pour coffee down the drains of America while screaming protests at the top of their lungs. And preferably, let it be Starbucks coffee. My wife can’t stand the horrible brew and people who have been conned into buying it are likely the same people waiting for their pet rocks to wake up and say their first words.

So let them protest with Starbucks coffee. Maybe pour it over pet rocks and turn them into Chia Rocks. Just leave my tea alone.