One never knows when change is in the air

One never knows when change is in the air

As innocuous euphemisms go, it’s a killer.

“Pardon our noise,” the signs says. “It’s the sound of freedom.”

North Carolina boasts a huge military presence, which, along with its Second Amendment allegiance and fondness for the legacy of Jesse Helms, makes it a perfect breeding ground for fanaticism.

Helms, in particular, is revered for his opposition to “civil rights, disability rights, feminism, gay rights, affirmative action, access to abortion, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the National Endowment for the Arts,” all this courtesy of his Wikipedia page.

He also was probably not a big fan of letting dolphins live instead of limiting offshore drilling, but I’m only guessing on that one.

A U.S. senator from 1972 until 2003, Helms was a fixture of hate-based opportunism, the kind of rancid politician that reveled in grievance-based fear mongering, a waste of humanity and someone who ought to have been shown the door long before he had to go.

I mention good ole Jesse because some folks down here still adore him and his particular brand of getting things done, no matter who gets hurt. I mean I’m happy he’s dead and all, but a stench lingers.

Don’t get me wrong.

I still like living in the Tar Heel State, with its beaches and mountains, its cultural centers and museums, not to mention its sporting venues and culinary excellence, but I’m ready to leave.

At least I think I am.

When you’re just south of 70, you understand if you’ve got one more move left in you, it’s probably best to do it right now.

I came to this realization last week. My wife had arranged a week away — just the two of us — in a resort enclave called Emerald Isle, a little strip of land where property values are exceeded only by the exorbitant costs of everything from tacky souvenirs to succulent shrimp, a place that only exists due to an accident of geography.

She had downsized my financial contribution to the entire enterprise, knowing how close to the bone I have to live, owing to my various predilections, few of which have to do with essentials like food, shelter and clothing, which, I figure, can always wait.

It’s all too true.

Were it not for her watchful eye on my bottom line — precarious as it is and promises to get worse, sooner rather than later — I’d resemble something like the antagonist in Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,” the one who’s “living beyond all his means.”

All my life, all I’ve ever wanted from money is not to need it, which may sound disingenuous, coming from a college graduate who stumbled out of the University of Notre Dame with a BA in English and not a single, solitary clue as to what to do next. I kept listening as President Carter delivered our commencement address, thinking anyone who was tight with the Allman Brothers Band might hold the key as to how I might unlock my future, but no dice.

I felt, to quote their best song, like I’d been tied to the whipping post, especially after my on-again, off-again girlfriend left me for one of my best friends, a time when I’d taken the GRE and had been offered a fellowship, effective the following winter semester.

So what to do, what to do?

To quote Steely Dan, I was never going back to my old school.

Instead, I took a job writing sports for my hometown newspaper, found a lovely lady to care about, moved out of my parents’ basement, got a nice apartment with a fine balcony, bought a silver Mustang fastback and began, quite tentatively, to smile once again.

I think even Jay Gatsby would have been proud of my progress.

So that’s how the late ‘70s bled into the early ‘80s, a kind and gentle slow ride, mellow and not at all complicated, a time when I paid my rent, handled my business and got the oil changed every 3,000 miles, whether it was necessary or not. I was a stickler when it came to maintaining my Mustang’s peak performance, and the primo stereo that I had installed was perfect.

Speaking of loud noises, that brings us back to last week and the oceanfront condo where I began to be aware of something disruptive that happened every evening between sunset and moonrise, an ear-splitting, sky-shredding, shrieking cacophony of military might that accompanied jet-training runs over the Atlantic.

I cannot do the sonic, dissonant hideousness of those celestial sorties proper justice. My limited vocabulary simply, alas, fails me.

As I quoted the words on the warning sign outside one of the bases, it was the “sound of freedom” come calling, and all I could do was bear with it. I grew up at a time when the military/law-enforcement establishment was linked to Dallas and My Lai, Chicago and Kent State, Watts, Selma, Hough and that last chopper out of Saigon.

I’m thinking that it all happened for a reason, that North Carolina — for all its wonderful qualities and friendly folks — might not be an ideal place to die, not that I plan on doing that for a long while yet.

I don’t believe Jesse Helms and his ilk would miss me much.

Mike Dewey can be reached at or 6211 Cardinal Drive, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where jet bombers turn into butterflies.

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