HERE I AM in Sioux City, Iowa, to address the Chamber of Commerce. The day started well, with a late lunch of prime rib at a place called Bev’s attached to the Hilton Garden Inn on the river—the mighty Missouri. It was served expertly, was heavenly tasting and amazingly inexpensive.
I went off with my fine host, Chuck, director of the C of C, and spent a good while taking pictures, then rested and fell fast asleep in a chair for about half an hour. Then I was shown to my table, where I was seated next to a man whose family company makes agricultural sprinklers. I am bound to say that I have rarely in my long life met a man whose company I enjoyed more. He and I agreed on so many points about the cultural and social landscape, it was simply great. This man and I are twins separated at birth.
He was so very kind as to offer to fly me to my next stop on his airplane, but that was too much of an offer and I declined. But this man is proof that everyone has a twin.
If this mid-section of America has more like him, we still have a fighting chance.
I spoke and it all went well and the audience and I loved each other, as I knew we would. Heartland America chambers of commerce. That is where I belong.
Alas, upon returning to my room and checking my texts, I found alarming news about Tommy, our son. He has a bad, serious infection and his limbs are swelled and he is in the ICU at Greenville Memorial Hospital. So, a flurry of calls to our ace travel agent, Babs, and much struggle, and then a midnight limo ride to Omaha to catch a plane to the south.
I liked driving through the night with my driver, texting and talking on the phone for two hours of Midwest darkness. It was exciting.
We got to the Omaha Hilton, where they greeted me like an old friend. Hilton is an amazingly well-run hotel company. Just extraordinary. Good desk people. Good room service. Just a fine company and obviously they care about their guests, which is rare.
I was so glad to be in Omaha, probably because of happy memories of dinners there with Mr. Buffett. I am guessing that I will be back in the fall. Speaking of Mr. Buffett, I am endlessly being asked where people should invest their savings. I always say that if you can get Mr. Buffett to invest for you, you should do it. You can, just by buying BRK, which is his main investment vehicle. I humbly insist and admit that I am just an amateur and have no licensing at all. But Mr. Buffett is an awfully good investor and if you buy BRK, you get him to invest for you for free. As we all know, past performance is no guarantee of future performance.
A GRUELING DAY. I went to the airport in Omaha and flew on a small but perfectly comfy US Airways plane to Charlotte. Then I transferred to a far smaller plane to fly to Greenville, S.C. Flying on those small planes is a bumpy affair, but it worked and soon I was being met at the GSP airport by my wife, dressed like a college girl in bright pastels, and Kitty, Tommy’s beautiful wife.
We went to the hotel, checked in, and then off to the hospital to see Little Perfect.
What a sight. Tubes everywhere. Arms and legs badly swelled. Monitors beeping and flashing. Many, many nurses and doctors rushing around the Intensive Care Unit. Tommy, eyes swelled shut, incoherent, dosed with immense floods of antibiotics, but still recognizably Tommy. All very upsetting.
But then, a vision of perfection swam into my eyesight: Nurse Katie B., so beautiful it hurt my eyes, blond, young, blue eyes, played the flute in the high school orchestra. Since Tommy could not really talk and my wife was endlessly texting—she is a texting addict, as I am—I decided to fix my gaze upon the perfect Katie B. Just a dream. I am addicted to beauty.
Beauty of all kinds. My very favorite is the beauty of my wife’s smile. I also love my dog’s perfection. Also Lake Pendoreille. Also Malibu at sunset. But my wife on the Cobalt as the sun goes down on the lake—that’s the summum bonum of human experience. However, we are a long way from Lake Pendoreille, so my wife’s stunning smile in the dimly lit ICU—plus the radiant 22- or 23-year-old magnificence of Katie B.—will have to do. My wife sat behind a curtain next to my son, our son, and kissed him on his sweaty forehead. Kitty put her head on Tommy’s chest and cried. I talked to him as best I could about the Manning brothers.
Then Katie B. left the room and came back about an hour later with her hair down. She was the perfect nurse. Her beautiful colleagues, Sharon and Anastasia and everyone else on staff, lit up the room. A well-run, attentive, loving hospital is the joy of mankind and Greenville Memorial Hospital is the epitome of this genre. I cannot imagine better care.
We stayed for a long time and then I was so tired from my travels I had to go home. “Home” in this case is the Westin Poinsett, also a great hotel with friendly, charming staff. The first room they put me in was a mistake but they soon corrected it and I was happy. What a difference one’s surroundings make.
I watched a documentary about some imaginary war between the KKK and the Mafia. It was silly but it did make some good points. The main one was that the Mafia represented immigrants and rum (what is the phrase, “rum, radicalism, and Romanism”?) and was endlessly fighting the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan hated Catholics, Jews, liquor, speakeasies, and thus hated organized crime. Organized crime, according to this film, was all Jewish, black, and Italian. Well, it didn’t quite make sense. But it actually came across as funny when the narrator explained to us that J. Edgar Hoover hated the Klan because he was black. What?
Anyway, good laffs.
A TOTALLY EXHAUSTING day with trips all day long to the food court (the immaculately clean food court) to pick up snacks at Starbucks and at Chick-fil-A for our son and us. Many conversations with the doctors. A long, fruitless wait for Nurse Katie but lots of nice interactions with a delightful nurse named Miss Tucker. She could not have been more charming.
Then, back to my room to pay bills. I do not have a car here but there are so many newcomers to G-ville that many cab drivers do not know their way around. Luckily, I do. I don’t even mind being lost in Greenville. That is how much I love it.
Gosh, I hope Tommy gets better soon.
I spent much of the day just sitting in a chair looking at my (our) son sleeping. As I did, I thought about China. What an astounding success story of capitalism and free markets China is. Now, I well know that China is not a fully free country nor a fully free trade area. Not even close. But it is a helluva lot freer than it was, and what a miracle that has wrought.
In 1973, when RN visited China, it had a population of over a billion, and yet its GDP was far less than that of Italy. The average citizen lived off about one dollar per day. Millions had died of starvation in the Great Leap Forward and in the Cultural Revolution. The country had endured a long war with Japan and a brutal civil war.
Then it endured collectivism and state planning.
Yet all it took was a good big whiff of free markets, and the whole place is buzzing like a honey hive.
Second largest GDP in the world. Thirty years of average 10 percent annual growth in GDP. Personal income of (very roughly) $6,000 per capita (about one-eleventh of the U.S. figure). Largest steel producer in the world. Largest hog producer in the world. Largest manufacturer in the world. Rapidly growing prowess in all things technological. Rapidly growing military force.
And smart. Wow, are they smart. Long ago, I had a close friend at a large investment bank. He told me he had never seen a large Japanese acquisition in North America that worked out well. And he had never seen a Chinese acquisition that failed. The Chinese are patient and painstaking.
And they are smart about imperialism. Great powers on the ascendant often try to control the world and amass territory. That just exhausts the nation and leads to wars. Those wars can be costly and slowly bleed the treasury, as with the UK. Its empire did not make it rich: The British Empire was a sickness for Britain.
The Nazis tried basically to take over the Eurasian land mass. Hitler had the mad, deluded idea that the Reich could not be great unless it had vast territory. That led to catastrophe for everyone. If Hitler had just concentrated on using the superb German labor force to make it into the manufacturing and finance power of the world, it probably still would be.
China has learned these painful lessons. It concentrates on building itself up, not on acquiring nearby countries. (Tibet was a big exception.) Thus, China grows and grows and grows. And it does not waste its resources in wars and conquest.
So I thought as I the nurses came and went, to put in tubes and take out tubes.
I awakened from my thoughts and started to walk around the hospital. Everywhere I was recognized. “Clear Eyes,” the patients cry out. “Bueller,” they cry out. They want pictures. When I tell them I am there because our son is ill, they don’t say, “Sue the bastards.” They say, “Tell us his name. We will pray for him.”
Truly, Greenville, The Promised Land. Black and white, they will pray for our son. Young and old, they have God in their lives. To them, God is not a joke that they cling to, as Obama would have it. God is a moving presence in their lives.
And to those who doubt America, look at Greenville, where everyone gets along, no racism, no hate, just, “Tell us your son’s name and we’ll pray for him.”
When I got home to my hotel, I watched another documentary, this one about Operation Desert Storm in ’90 or was it ’91. We had seven carrier battle groups deployed plus more roaming around other places. Now, to attack Syria, we have four destroyers. We have four carrier battle groups, maybe three, in an ever-more dangerous world.
Shame on the politicians of both parties who cut the nation’s defense to the bone for foolish, demagogic lies. Shame on a president and a Congress that will not defend the greatest nation on earth, ever.
And please, God, cure our son, whom we love so much.
AND NOW I am back in L.A. and our son’s infection is no longer critical, and I am grateful for all prayers. I flew through Atlanta and I met, by total chance, a man who had been a high school classmate of a girl I had a mad crush on years ago, when dinosaurs walked the earth. The girl has had a serious illness for decades now and is barely ambulatory, but I remember long, long ago when she was more beautiful than a flower.
High school crushes, as Wlady says, are really what life is all about. We can talk about investing and budgets and wars, but it’s really all about high school crushes.
And about blacks and whites, young and old, rich and poor, in glorious Greenville, praying for our son.
And about a magnificent club there called the Poinsett Club where a woman plays piano, old standards, and I look across the table at Big Wifey as the pianist plays “September Song” and we both start to cry. Then we go back to our steaks and then we start to cry again as she plays “Send in the Clowns.”
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