Randon thoughts on politics, spelling and show tunes

For more than 17 years, this column has featured my intentions to provide pointed perspectives about Naperville, often with trips down Memory Lane. Today, I'm headed down a Rambling Road.

In a world of constant distractions and trying to be first in real time, I'm hardly the first to admit ways to inform readers have changed.

Competing with the distribution of quips and sound bites, who knows who's going in the right direction?

As a news junkie who enjoys American wit, local lore and politics, I'm keenly aware of extremes and emails soliciting funds for elections.

Considering that so-called silly season kicks off on Labor Day, my thoughts turn to "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," a 1963 slice-of-life comedy with traffic congestion, portrayals of greed and wacky puns.

Along the way, I learned lyrics in songs from "Stop the World. I Want to Get Off." Inspired to do great things by "Gonna Build a Mountain," a song we college students sang the summer I worked at Mt. Rushmore. Today's banter and my love for the American spirit make me wonder, "What Kind of Fool Am I?"

Why am I suddenly hesitant to speak my mind in the land of opportunity when so many brave men and women have sacrificed and fought for that freedom?

About 20 years ago, one of my local breakfast buddies introduced me to satirist P.J. O'Rourke with a copy of "Parliament of Whores, A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government."

Comparing two major political parties, O'Rourke wrote, "The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer and remove the crab grass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it."

Even back then, I questioned how government had grown to be so taxing in the 20th century.

If you were to meet me on the Riverwalk, I hope you'd notice that I'm a human being among the wildlife.

You'd likely note that I've been around for decades. I hope you'd respect that fact. I can't change it.

If we had time to talk, I'd describe myself as strong-willed, community-involved, energetic, frugal, sentimental and imperfect; and faithful to my core values for individual liberty, individual responsibility and individual dignity in support of free enterprise and peace.

I enjoy walks in May Watts Park with camera in hand, where I often capture the colors of the natural habitat surviving, changing and adapting.

I love singing Broadway tunes when I walk alone. I'm horrible with a microphone.

I'm forever grateful for the experiences and practical advice passed on to me by my parents.

My two younger brothers and I grew up in a home where dinner was a command performance. We called it supper. We shared our days and discussed hot topics.

Our dad, now 93, owned an independent construction company, where he demonstrated that he was a humanitarian before I knew what the word meant or how to spell it. He enjoyed working tirelessly for our family and for others.

That thought reminds me of a summer evening when I was 9 and school started after Labor Day. I asked my dad if he knew a word with more than 12 letters because one of the neighbor kids teased, "I can spell hippopotamus and you can't."

My dad taught me "chry-san-the-mum."

Today, finding a 13-letter word is as easy as an online search. I'm thankful my dad always has been available when I've needed him.

My friends represent a plethora of different opinions, as do the volumes of books on my shelves and the internet. I try to think critically, considering unintended consequences.

When I listen to other opinions, I learn. Robust debate with facts is healthy.

As I wrap up, I'm mindful of good nature, old songs and other peoples' thoughts that enrich my cultural literacy.

During a silly season that seriously involves much more than the election of a president ("All politics is local," according to former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill.), I hope and pray solutions will be found by listening, learning and human intelligence with careful examination of candidates, consolidation, term limits and fair constitutional reforms proposed by Illinoisans.

"After all, tomorrow is another day," said Scarlett O'Hara in the 1939 epic film "Gone with the Wind."

Unlike Rhett Butler, I've got to believe most of us do give a damn.

• Stephanie Penick writes about Naperville - and other things - each month in Neighbor.

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