David Bouchier

Commentator

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost twenty years. After coming to the United States in 1986 he continued to teach and to publish a regular humor column in The New York Times regional edition.  He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996. His latest book of essays, Peripheral Vision, was published in 2011. His other books include A Few Well Chosen Words, The Song of Suburbia, The Cats and the Water Bottles, The Accidental Immigrant and Writer at Work. He lives in Stony Brook, New York with his wife who is a professor at Stony Brook University, and two un-musical cats.

Presidents’ Day gives us an excuse, if we needed one, to look back into history, to try to understand why we voluntarily choose to give so much power to ordinary human beings. The two great leaders we honor today really were rather special: George Washington, the first president of the United States, and Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president, who really made the mythical journey from log cabin to White House, rather than penthouse to White House, and was elected president at just about the worst moment in the history of the United States. These two men were far from perfect but with hindsight, we can certainly see them as men of heroic stature and historic importance. They cast a long shadow.

On December 31 last year, and this at least is absolutely true, the first Valentine’s cards, chocolates, and plush bears appeared in our local supermarket, 45 days before zero hour. The bears are still there, they scarcely seem to have moved, and there are plenty of cards and chocolates left if you are running late. But this greedy commercial overreach is yet another sign that Valentine’s Day is out of control. It’s been around at least since the 1800s and, like most festivals that have a long history, it has lost almost all of its original meaning.

You must be familiar with those mail order catalogs that promote devices and gadgets, designed to make your life safer and easier. In fact they make your life harder, because they create guilt and anxiety, which of course is the whole point of the sales pitch.

A good barbershop is hard to find. When a man needs a haircut he needs just that, a haircut, nothing complicated. An authentic barbershop will display a symbolic candy-striped pole outside, and will be starkly utilitarian inside. Until the last century, barbers also acted as rough-and-ready surgeons, at prices far below the current AMA rates. This history should be reflected in the plainness of the decor: it should look like an operating theater.

We all learned in school about young George Washington’s confession to his angry father, which included the famous words "I cannot tell a lie." I don’t know what children are taught these days, but it can’t be that – those words sound too strange to us in 2017. If young George had grown up in our time, even if he had cut down a whole forest of cherry trees, would never respond to the accusation with such a simple confession. He would denounce it as fake news, call an attorney, and take the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

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