Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Only the Hemlocks

  
Raindrops splash on a dashboard Jesus.
The coroner’s van sits black as a crow.
Streetlight halos hang empty of angels.
While hemlocks watch over the chaos below.

Over water and blood and gas and oil,
Over hush of death, and hand of fate,
Over waning cries, and tears and toil,
As they flow into the culvert’s grate.

Into the blackness, toward the ocean,
Back to the place where life began,
And what remains is towed away,
Or placed into the waiting van.

And only the hemlocks stand in witness,
As flashing lights at dawn abate,
And as painted roadside crosses fade,
Only the hemlocks wait.
  

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hanging the Ivy (A week in the life of a handy man)


Monday
I went to Home Depot today and told the sales guy I wanted to buy a stud finder finder. He said “You mean a stud finder?” I said “No, I already have one of those. I just don’t know where I left it.” Well to make a long story short, customer service is NOT a top priority at this place. Okay “Mr. Tool-man” that condescending attitude just cost you a customer. Geez, Sometimes I think those orange vests go straight to their heads!

Tuesday
I went to Lowe’s today and told the young sales lady I needed a stud finder, but I wasn’t about to buy one from those knuckleheads over at Home Depot. She smiled knowingly and said “If you’re looking for a stud, all you need is a mirror.” Oh yeah, the service is way better here at Lowe’s …way better! I followed her down the aisle, finished my shopping, and filled out a glowing comment card. Then half way home I realized …oh crap! Now I have to explain to my wife why I bought this dang mirror, and I have to find a place to hang it …but before can I hang it, I need to go buy a stud finder.

Thursday
Okay, today I’m standing on the edge the bathtub holding my new top of the line electronic stud finder, with built in voltage detector (purchased yesterday at Ace Hardware.) I position the stud finder against the wall, just above a window where I’ve been planning all week to mount some decorative cast iron hanging plant brackets, so that soon my sickly green ivy plants will be flourishing over a steamy Jacuzzi tub as they swing in the late afternoon sun. I press the button and begin scanning the wall in great anticipation only to have the Studmaster 3000 blurt out “Whoa, dude, there’s nothing behind this sheetrock but a bunch of hot wires, and maybe a little wood here, and a chunk over there. I wouldn’t hang a picture of my mother-in-law on this wall! …let alone those heavy brackets.”

And so here my story ends …with a new stud finder, and some nice iron brackets (and a full length mirror, if you believed that part of the story) all being hauled out to the garage, to be added to that pile of stuff that I might need someday. I guess I’ll go to Home Depot tomorrow to buy some of those cheap ceiling hooks for my disappointed ivy plants.

”Come on, stop pouting ivy. Just another day or two on the floor, then you’ll be livin’ the high life …I promise.”
“Sounds like more fertilizer to me” mumbled one of the plants.
”Hmmmph!” said the other.
  

Sunday, November 7, 2010

November Recall

  
My unsettled thoughts
Seem to stir in November.
I wonder, do you have
A month that you dread?

A time or a season
When angels forsake you
To gather in valleys,
With wings to be shed.

When hope turns to sand
Sifting fast through your fingers,
Cascading o'er beaches
Where memories still play.

Where you walked to your future,
And followed your own path,
And left your own footprints
That waves swept away.

And I wonder today,
Could you swim in that ocean,
On the blackest of nights
Without any fear?

And the wind on my neck
Coldly curls up to whisper
In the voice of a memory
“November is here.
  

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Luckily, I’m More Forgetful than I Used to Be

  
I can’t tell you how many times (although my wife probably could) that I’ve put something on the stove, or in the oven and forgotten all about it …until a cloud of smoke caused me to suspect that perhaps I was cooking something. Well today would have been number something or other in that long series of mishaps, but luckily evolution in its slow, but ever prudent manner averted what could have been another smoky disaster at my house.

You see, about an hour ago I put some fancy jalapeno bread on a cookie sheet, grated some cheddar cheese over the top, and flipped on the broiler. Then I filled my coffee cup and wandered off to the computer to do a little reading at Craneleg's Pond. Well, a little reading led to a little writing, and the next thing you know I thought I smelled smoke. So I ran into the kitchen and flung open the oven door. I know readers, I know ..."you’re not supposed to close the oven door when you’re broiling, blah, blah, blah," but that little lecture is wasted on me. I always close the oven door. I've convinced myself that “with the door closed, whatever’s in there will cook faster and be done before I can forget what I was doing and wander off.” What? …you don’t see the brilliance in that? Okay, I’ll concede that point.

Note to self: From now on …uhh …something about an oven door.

Now where were we? Oh yeah! I flung open the oven door and only a tiny puff of smoke came out. Where was the usual head enveloping, eye watering, cough inducing, billowing black behemoth that I’ve become so accustomed to? ...and where was the carbon lump, and ruined cookie sheet that should be in there? It’s gone! Where’s my cheesy bread?!

Oh, there it is …sitting on the counter by the coffee maker. I forgot to put it in the oven. Well how’s that for Darwinism at its best! You see, forgetful Randy may have nearly burned the house down again, but super-forgetful Randy merely preheated the oven to the Hell setting. Well to make a long story short, I popped the cheesy bread under the broiler, shut the door and came in here to tell you all about how I almost ...Oh crap!!!
 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Unfinished Letters

  
A pencil whispers secrets to the page.
A pen scrawls out in bitterness and rage;
while typewriters plink, and clink,
and hammer at their ribbon’s ink,
catapulting words at paper walls,
sending soldiers running down the halls
with orders stuffed in envelopes
dashing everybody’s hopes
that they may all be home before the fall.

A Private in his barracks writes a poem.
His Sergeant scribes an angry letter home.
Then rockets shake, and bullets rake,
and walls collapse, and windows break,
and blood runs o’er the words of each man’s page;
o'er the truth about the waste of war they wage.
But it’s in plinks, and clinks as cold as ice
that we’ll read of their sacrifice,
then fold our paper, sip our coffee, disengage.
 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Cowboy in Time Square

  
Along the sidewalk he strode,
'Neath the shade of a well worn Stetson,
Past a thicket of women.
They beckoned to him.

As tempting as a clump of August blackberries,
And seemingly as juicy and sweet.
Their smooth plump fruit,
Hanging swollen in the hot sun.

But he imagined the vines were tougher,
The roots more hardy,
And the thorns even sharper,
Than the blackberries he knew from home.

So he kept on walking.
Though he had to look back and wonder,
What it would be like,
To pick just one.
 

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Turkey Sandwich Incident

  
Does anyone remember when manufacturers started packaging mayonnaise in plastic jars? I suppose it seemed like a good idea at the time, like getting rid of whitewall tires, but after today I’d like to go back to a simpler era (whenever that was) when mayonnaise came in good ol’ fashioned glass jars. Back then when you dropped a jar it broke like it was supposed to; the mayo oozed out, and the whole mess stayed on the floor where it belonged for easy clean up. But you can kiss those fun times good-bye because now mayonnaise is packaged in plastic NASA designed mayonnaise launching containers.

That’s right “launching containers.” Today while making a turkey sandwich I accidentally knocked a newly opened 30 oz. launcher of Kraft Light Mayo off the edge of the kitchen counter, and before I could react a physical chain reaction demonstrable by a mathematical equation had been set into motion, and there wasn’t a darn thing I could do about it. Now in the good ol’ days that equation would have been (Mayo + Glass) x Gravity = Splat. But noooo! …now we have to do the “new math.”

What happened today was: As the 30 ounces of mayo accelerated towards the floor, the jar’s aerodynamic design automatically tilted the tiny craft to the optimum launch angle of approximately 60°. Then at T-minus .2 seconds the lid was ejected in preparation for launch. Upon impact the bottom crumple-zone of the launch vessel instantly reduced the capacity of the 30 ounce jar by a good 8 to 10 ounces. Mathematically speaking, the now 20 ounce jar, still containing 30 ounces of mayo, could only do one thing.

Unable to get out of the blast zone in time, I could only watch in horror as the mayonnaise meteorite hurtled skyward. Now in deep space a mayonnaise meteorite can orbit for eons, but within the confines of a modern American kitchen with its heavy atmosphere and all, these things tend to sputter out in short order …but not without leaving an impressive path of destruction (called mayonnaisation) in their wakes. This one for example managed to hurl mayo across my pants, shirt, in my hair, all over several cabinet doors and drawer fronts, the range, refrigerator, countertops, toaster, coffee maker, curtains, window, table, light fixtures, ceiling, floor, and various other kitchen items …and a little, just a little, just enough, landed on my sandwich.
  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

American Mosquerade (a party crasher's viewpoint)

  
The U.S. Constitution applies to all Americans, not just to Republican WASPs, and it applies 24-7-365, not just when it’s convenient. So to Sarah, Newt, FOX “News”, and their Tea Party sheep who continually abuse the first amendment as they cling to the second at the peril of the other 25, they can take their feigned Constitution lovin’, States rights touting, no government intervention B.S. hypocrisy and shove it. We don’t need their lies anymore. The Mosque at Ground Zero, that isn’t a Mosque, and isn’t at Ground Zero is just the latest in a long list of things they want us to fear. The entire power-hungry mindset of the Republican Party is based on just one idea: “People in fear are people that can be controlled.” We, who are still sane in America, need to stand up at every opportunity and call them out, or America will surely slip back into the mire that we have come so close to crawling out of. And given the putrid bigotry that has shown its ugly face during these past two years, we are in danger of slipping even deeper into that mire than we could have previously imagined. And if we slip, history will look back at our time, and wonder why. Why, as we wonder why slavery was accepted, why Hitler was revered, and why masses of Japanese Americans were imprisoned in American internment camps. If we fail to stop the attack on our country by the right wing multi-national corporatist Generals (armed with billions of dollars of now legal campaign contributions,) and their conservative Christian Lieutenants (who lead an army of ignorant Tea Party foot-soldiers) history will, as it has so many times before, look back at this generation and ask why …why were so many so blind?
  

Friday, July 2, 2010

Modern Life

  
Living in America today is like living on a train
That’s speeding toward a distant cliff.
The scenery is going by so fast you can hardly see it,
And when you do spot something nice
Its miles away before you can get the lens cap off your camera.
Once in awhile you just need to get off.
Walk around. Skip a stone. Sit in the grass.
If you get bored, don’t worry.
The next train comes in fifteen minutes.
  

Monday, June 28, 2010

The 1968 Torn Shirt Incident

  
Most days I was a well-behaved kid, but those days make for boring stories, so, to keep you from nodding, off I’ll tell you about a day in the fourth grade when something in my young skull went haywire. On this day a kid named Steve, or maybe it was Bob, I don’t remember (we never really became friends) …anyway, after recess this kid went and told the teacher a big fat lie that got me into a whole lotta trouble. Well "a big fat lie” is what I called it. That was my initial defense strategy, but as it turned out I was no Perry Mason, because right after I said “big fat lie” the kid reached out and displayed two handfuls of very compelling physical evidence.

Exhibit A.) One shredded dress shirt. The prosecution would assert that prior to recess the alleged victim was wearing this “dress shirt” and that it was in a whole and un-tattered condition. Standing there in his undershirt, he handed the torn pieces to the teacher, who with me in tow, delivered them to the principal, who would later deliver them to my mother in a brown paper bag.

The pile of material was placed on top the principal’s desk: sleeves, cuffs, a collar, and a bunch of miscellaneous scraps. Sort of a make your own shirt kit. Without the advice of counsel I was forced to take the witness stand, and was soon badgered into abandoning my original defense strategy. That prosecuting teacher was really good, but then in the cross-examination I produced some compelling physical evidence of my own.

Exhibit B.) My top button was missing. “Objection!” “Overruled!” I could hear the murmurs from the jury. I could even see ol’ Perry standing in the doorway, smiling. Convinced that their unjust case against me was falling apart, I decided to fight truth with truth! “Steve, er Bob” I explained “grabbed me on the playground, and my button popped off.” The prosecutor paced back and forth trying to regain her lawyer legs, and then came right at me. “So you decided to rip his shirt off and tear it into little pieces?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

The principal’s gavel hit the desk. “Guilty an all counts!” No leniency for the missing button was even considered. Looking back on it, I probably should have gone with a Napoleon complex defense. Being the smallest kid in 4th grade you sometimes have to overcompensate to protect your playground cred.
  

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hot Tub Owners: Important Warning Number 27

  
Whenever you go to the online parts catalog to order yourself a new 230V-1ph-60Hz-SM909-NHR662.9 circulation pump, and a pop up window says “We’re sorry. Item# 230V-1ph-60Hz-SM909-NHR662.9 has been discontinued. Please order our universal replacement pump: item# B-2” you can bet your last unscarred knuckle that you're going to be disappointed in the B-2’s ease of installation …but discontinued means discontinued so you’re options are limited:

Option #1 Call a certified repairman
Option #2 Order the B-2.

The smart choice of course is option #1.

Well the B-2 arrived today so out to the hot tub I went with 20 lbs of tools, and an ounce of optimism (I would need more of both before the afternoon was over.) Then first thing I noticed was that the pump was shorter, and the bracket was different, and the hoses didn’t line up quite right, but hey at least they both had three wires so how hard could it be. All I had to do was release the clips, remove the screws, and disconnect the wiring, and the old 230V-1ph-60Hz-SM909-NHR662.9 popped out just as simple as you please.

Popping the new B-2 in however would require moving the main control panel, re-routing some hoses, tossing out the old bracket, and cutting a new support block before it could be attached to anything, or before anything could be attached to it. Ninety minutes of Cirque du Soleil contortions later everything seemed to be in place. The deck looks like a Maytag repairman exploded on it, but I’ll clean that up when I'm sure I'm actually done dancing with the B-2. Right now it’s time to put 800 gallons of water back into the tub so I can see if this thing’s gonna fire up.

Will it run without leaking? Will it go the right direction? Will it work at all? Maybe I should have read the return policy ...or at least the installation instructions. Oh well, too late for all that now. I’ll find out in a couple hours.

~ A couple hours later ~

Well nothing exploded when I flipped the breaker switch. I almost feel giddy when that happens. Upon further inspection, the thing seems to be running perfectly. No noise, no leaks, just quite circulating water! Was there ever any doubt?
  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gathering of the Clouds (The Prequel to Dinner Plates)

  
Introduction: I recently finished editing my June 10th post “Dinner Plates” when I noticed that it begins at the end of what was a rather cloudy month around here. Then I remembered something I'd written awhile back that describes exactly how the month began. So here without further ado is that previously un-titled story:

Earlier today the sky was blue, the air was calm, and one of my favorite local restaurants had just called to tell me I’d won a free lunch in their business card drawing. Ha! ...and I thought there was no such thing as a free lunch. Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket today. With all the optimism of a springtime moth beguiled by a 100 watt light-bulb, I wandered out onto my deck with a thick book and a tall glass of iced tea when the phone rang again. This time it was my wife calling from work to tell me her car had a flat tire. Let’s review that first paragraph: There is such a thing as a free lunch …however, it’s customarily served with a side dish of karma.

“When did it go flat?” I asked.
“I don’t know” she said, as though it was an unfair question.
“One of the employees just looked out the window and noticed it was flat.”

Well, with all of them pressed up against the glass sizing up the situation, it soon became obvious that I, being only twenty-two miles away was in the best position to open the trunk and change the tire. With that news the wind gathered up a few dark clouds, and followed me down to my wife’s place of employment.

I opened the trunk to find that the spare tire had unfortunately been left in the spare tire compartment ...underneath the carpet, below, the trunk-mat, under a couple folded lawn chairs, bags of rock salt, various notebooks, blankets, a gym bag, extra shoes, a handy cargo net full of handy cargo, an emergency kit, and a variety of other stuff, all of which had to be pitched into the parking lot in order to flip, unlatch, and turn the various gismos that would eventually release the spare tire, the jack, the jack handle, and the lug-nut wrench from their convenient factory installed positions. Well this must have been quite a sight, because the clouds overhead began laughing until they started crying. And they cried real hard for about an hour.

As it turned out, the correct answer to my aforementioned unfair question “When did it go flat?” was “quite awhile ago” according to the guy at the tire shop, because all the clues suggested that the tire had been going round and round in an un-inflated condition long enough to render it un-reparable. We’ll skip the part where the money rushed out of my wallet faster than the air rushed out of my wife’s tire, and we’ll fast-forward through the part where I had to put the new tire on in the rain. Let’s jump ahead to the part where I’m back home with a hot cup of tea, relatively dry, typing this story. The rain can pour and the wind can blow and I don’t care anymore because… What the hell was that noise? Hang on a minute, would you please?

~ leap forward 20 minutes with the miracle of time lapse notography ~

Okay, I’m back again; this time to report that the hot tub cover just blew across the yard, and I’m no longer relatively dry. In fact I’m soaked for the second time today. It didn’t just flip open like it does sometimes in a windstorm. This time it bent the big metal arm (that holds it up,) and broke one of the support brackets clean in two as it sailed across the deck and onto the lawn. It looks like a tough repair to me. I’m pressed up against the glass looking at it now, just outside the window there. I think I’ll call my wife to ask if she can drive home and fix it, while I go out and have my free lunch.

...There I go, flying into that 100 watt light bulb again.
  

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dinner Plates

  
Today I can report that things are “as usual” around here. The trend that began a month ago continues. The rain keeps falling, and things keep breaking (e.g. the hot tub cover lift, hot tub pump, kitchen faucet, porch light, gate latch, garage door, cable modem, TV receiver, dinner plates, etc.) But hey, broken stuff is just stuff, and it can all be fixed ...well, except for those dinner plates. I dropped two of 'em last week while emptying the dishwasher and pieces flew everywhere. Superglue step aside, this is a job for Super-Broom; and so with the help of his partner Dustpan-Man soon every last ceramic shard was safely disposed of, but my plate troubles didn’t end there.

Two days later I was broiling some cheese over a bagel, which you should never do on a good plate, and in half the time it takes to walk out of the kitchen I’d forgotten that I was cooking ...until I smelled smoke. The second rule of broiling (after the no plates rule) is don’t shut the oven door, but being culinarily challenged I broke that one too. When I ran into the kitchen and flung open the oven door, thick black smoke billowed into the room; so I swiftly turned on the fan and the smoke quickly abated.

Being an expert at burning things in the kitchen, I’ve become very adept at hitting the fan switch. Faster than Wyatt Earp could draw his gun on me, I could have all the smoke cleared from the Tombstone Saloon. Which come to think of it would only serve to give ol’ Wyatt a better shot. Similarly in this situation the lack of smoke that initially seemed like a good thing, really wasn’t. Seeing a flash of light I realized that …no, not that I’d been shot ...I realized that the smoke had suddenly stopped because the fresh air rushing into the oven had caused the smoking bagel to burst into a flaming bagel, and a very efficient clean burning one at that.

Well by the time I got the fire put out the plate had reached temperatures that the manufacturer was clearly unprepared for. Amazingly though it didn’t break, but now it looked like something pulled from a 16th century Japanese raku pit, and it no longer matched the other dishes. Later that afternoon, when it was cool enough to touch I threw it away.

In hindsight, I wish hadn't. I wish I had washed it, and re-stacked it with the rest of the dishes Though wounded and scarred for life, it should not have been discarded. Like so many other outcasts it had a story to tell. A story of hardship and misfortune, but like other poor souls who are tossed aside and shunned by society, those stories will never be heard. The other plates were just left to say among themselves “where’s Bob?” Then one of them said “I told you, these things always happen in threes.” To which one of those know-it-all bowls replied "you mean fours, bad things always happen in fours." This morning I swear a coffee cup flinched when I reached for it. Everyone's on edge. They're probably gonna want to sleep with the cupboard door open again tonight.
  

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday Morning

  
Sitting in a hot tub with a warm cup of coffee,
Looking across the lawn, and into the back woods,
Watching the creatures begin their daily routines,
Unaware that today is Sunday; a day to relax.
The donkeys turn their broad sides toward the East
To collect the gathering heat of the rising sun.
The goats chase each other around an old tree stump
Butting heads, and wagging their stub tails.
A pair of wood ducks venture down to the pond for a swim,
Scooping up a slug or bug or two along the way.
A lone squirrel darts behind them all, and scampers up a cedar tree.
Swallows swoop and hummingbirds dart, as robins toil at the ground,
All as busy as can be, as though it were already Monday.
  

Friday, April 16, 2010

Argumentatively Speaking

  
If we can’t argue with our friends, who can we argue with? More and more I see people separating themselves from those they don’t see eye to eye with. I cannot find any benefit in this trend for anyone. It seems to me that this mindset is only making us more and more certain that we’re right, with less and less information to base our rightness on. When we surround ourselves with only likeminded people, we stand unopposed. This feels very comfortable, but the problem in this harmonious existence is that unopposed views get weak. If we never listen to opposing views we are never forced to examine our own views, and unexamined views become less relevant every day. If we do not challenge our views with discussion and debate, our views languish due to lack of exercise. Views that are not exercised become rigid and inflexible, and inflexible views eventually splinter and break.

I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by people who argue ….I mean challenge me regularly.
  

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Advice on Cussin’ for Today's Youth

  
Any old cuss can tell ya, shootin’ off cuss words is like shootin’ off an old air pump BB gun. The longer you pump it up, the better them BB’s (cuss words) fly, and the more impact they have when they hit something. If you (like so many young people these days) just keep pulling the trigger after each pump (of your jaw) all you’ll end up with is BB’s splayed all over the place, and you’ll look (and sound) pretty stupid doing it. On the other hand, if you keep your finger off the trigger ‘till there’s plenty of pressure in the chamber, that four letter word’ll fly straight, and put a hole clean through whatever you shoot it at. So (and here’s the important part) when you’re pressure’s in the red, and you’re ready to fire, don’t point at nobody. Instead, for politeness sake, go out to the woods and plink off a few tin cans ....unless of course someone shoots at you first. In that case you can aim right between their eyes ….unless of course there’s a lady in the room.
  

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ray

  
Today while I was cutting firewood in the backyard, I began reminiscing about my job at the sawmill, over thirty years ago. The fresh Douglas fir sawdust flying from my chainsaw smelled the same today as it did back then. I began to hear the sounds of the sawmill. The pounding of logs on their way to the head-rig, the tearing of saw blades, the rip of the planer, the slapping of lumber coming off the green chain. I could feel the building shake, and I began to see their faces again. Phil, Bob, and Jay. Mark, having a laugh with Cho and Kim. Patty with her leather gloves tucked in the back pockets of those tight blue jeans. Glen and Old Throp, grading and stamping the lumber. Ken, high on speed, keeping up with the best of ‘em. And Ray.

Today I wished I could go back to that mill just one more time. Back three decades. Back to the night before Ray died. I’d sit by him at the lunch table and say “Ray, don’t come in to work tomorrow. Take your wife and kid out for a drive in that new truck you’re so proud of. And when you come back, don’t wear those steel toe boots. They’re not safe. They’re more dangerous that you could ever imagine. And from now on, don’t climb up on that machine of yours anymore when it’s running. And when boards get caught in the rollers, don’t ever try to kick them through with your foot. When boards get caught like that, turn off the machine Ray. Turn off the machine.”
 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Driving Lessons with My Father

  
When I was a kid my father drove a jet black 1965 Pontiac GTO, and I just couldn’t wait to drive it someday, but by the time I turned 15½ and was ready to get my drivers permit my father was driving a pea green 1962 Ford Falcon Station Wagon. "Deep sigh."


LESSON I

My first driving lesson (in the old Ford Falcon) began in an open field near the Tacoma City Dump back in 1974. “Slowly let out the clutch and apply the gas” dad said. “Slower, more gas.” Clunk! “Okay, let’s try again. Ease the clutch. More gas!” The car began to lurch and stop, lurch and stop. "Clutch, gas... more gas!” The car began to fight back, and violently lunged forward. Without seatbelts it was hard to stay on the seat. Squeak clunk, squeak clunk! By now the car was bucking as though I’d just planted a pair of silver spurs deep into her rear fenders. Then after what felt like at least 8 seconds, but must have been less because I didn’t hear a horn blow (or see any rodeo clowns run in front of the vehicle) the bucking gave way to rocking as the engine wheezed, coughed, and finally died.

With a pine tree air freshener swinging in circles from the rear view mirror (no doubt trying to hide the smell of fear in the air) and my outnumbered two feet stabbing at the three pedals on the floor, I heard dad say “Start it again ..start it again.” After a moment of silence I replied “I can’t find the keys." They’d been thrown from the ignition while I was busy hanging on for dear life. "What do you mean you can't find the keys?" "They’re not in the ignition" I said. More silence. After getting out of the car and searching, the keys were finally found hiding under the front seat, probably looking for an escape route. I was looking for one too.


LESSON II

A couple days later, after perfecting the art of engaging the clutch, I was now ready to hit the open road. Oh look, there goes the old Ford Falcon now, with me driving and dad navigating: “Turn left here. Go straight. Take a right at the light.” So far so good “Now take the next right.” “What?” I gulped to myself, “the next right?” The next right would take us over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, or more specifically: The Tacoma Narrows Bridge version 2.0. The first Tacoma Narrows Bridge (version 1.0) also known as Galloping Gertie collapsed and fell into Puget Sound in November of 1940. God rest little Tubby’s soul (the cocker spaniel who was the only fatality of that famously filmed event.)

While this Tacoma Narrows Bridge (version 2.0) didn’t sway in the wind like its predecessor, it was indeed very narrow (unlike it is today with its version 2.1 updates.) Back then it was a two-way four-lane death trap famous for its frequent head on collisions. However, thanks to the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge (version 3.0 built adjacent its 2.1 updated sister bridge in 2007) each bridge now transports one way traffic too and fro from Tacoma to Gig Harbor, making for a much safer crossing.

But back to 1974: “Take the next right.” “Okay” I said as I turned the wheel, and there it was jutting out of the icy waters of Puget Sound, appearing to be at least a thousand feet tall and approximately four feet wide, The Tacoma Narrows Bridge! Over a mile long, but less than a half mile away, the giant green Leviathan was coming right at us. If I were prone to hyperbole I might call it a bridge of peril in a fog of misfortune spanning a sea of cold and certain death, but I’m trying hard to stick to the facts here. Toward the bridge we went. The first sign on the approach to the bridge read “CAUTION: SEVERE SIDE WINDS AHEAD.” The next sign read “CAUTION: DO NOT CHANGE LANES ON BRIDGE,” and with the last sign my fate was sealed. “NO U TURNS!” So there I was ....the Ford Falcon was but a bullet in the chamber of a cocked gun, pointed right between the eyes of destiny. BANG!

The first thing you notice while driving on the bridge is that the lanes immediately narrow to make room for the one foot wide metal grates that separate them. These grates were designed to allow wind and rain to pass harmlessly through the bridge deck, but they also allow car tires ignore steering wheel instructions whenever they touch them. To protect human lives however the grates running down the center of the bridge had been painted yellow, and in later years even had little orange plastic tubes clipped to them. Being made of rubber and therefore subject to melting, tires naturally fear the colors of fire (mainly yellow and orange.)

Not willing to trust life and limb to my tires natural instincts, I chose to drive in the outside lane. As I was tight-roping down the concrete strip at 45mph I became uncomfortably aware of the steel pipe mounted eight to ten inches off the pavement to my imediate right, just between the road and the sidewalk (Note: the version 2.1 update replaced this pipe with a sturdy thirty inch high guardrail.) I noticed that the pipe didn’t seem high enough to nudge me back into my lane if I were to hit it. Rather it appeared to be the perfect height, if I were to strike it at the proper angle to launch the car up and over the bridge's outer handrail, and into the dark churning waters two-hundred feet below.

“Don’t touch the grate, stay away from the pipe” I repeated over and over in my mind. By the time we reached the first suspension tower I was squeezing the steering wheel so hard that the car was beginning to turn blue. “Don’t touch the grate, stay away from the pipe.” Mercifully the second tower finally passed by. We’d traveled nearly a mile on the bridge and were almost to the other side. Blood was slowly returning to my fingertips. “Take the first right turn after the bridge” dad said. Now until that moment the last thing on my mind was doing this again anytime soon, but “take the first right turn” could only mean that we were going to loop under the highway, and get right back on going the opposite direction. Couldn’t we just take the 110 mile trip around the water to get back home? What’s the big hurry?

Then I heard the instruction again. “Turn right up here.” Slowly removing my left hand from the steering wheel, I grabbed the turn signal lever and pulled up on it. Adrenalin is a funny thing. Sometimes it's very useful, but when you’re learning to drive it usually isn’t. For the next several hundred feet with the right turn signal blinking away, I was caught in an awkward predicament. I couldn’t let go of the turn signal handle to re-grab the steering wheel. Well I could have, but it would have fallen to the floor and I thought I might need it again. Seeing only one thing to do in this situation, I reached over and handed my dad the turn signal lever that I had just ripped right off the steering column of his car. I won’t quote to you what I heard next. Let’s just say it was an emphatic expression of disbelief. Apparently in all my father’s years of driving, he had never (not even once) torn off a turn signal lever, nor had he ever seen anyone else do it. Well what’s a son for if not to teach his ol' dad a new trick every now and then?

I’m sure you’ll be relieved to hear that we made it home safely that day, and I even got to practice using my hand signals, to warn everyone within striking distance which way I intended to turn next.


To view the fate of the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge click the link below:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu4LPTsy_xY

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Letter to the Editor:

  
Do you read the daily Letters to the Editor in your newspaper? Well, I read one last week that ruffled my feathers a little bit. The writer complained that because the President is on TV so often, he feels like he’s living in a Third World country. It seemed like a strange complaint so I wrote the following Letter to the Editor (Tacoma News Tribune) which they printed a few days later (2/10):

A reader recently wrote that because Barack Obama is seemingly “on TV daily” he’s “beginning to realize what it feel’s like to live in a Third World country.” A third world country? Really? We have groups of people organized to do nothing but trash our president 24/7. People who are not only free to express their opinions, but are free to make up their own “facts.” So called “facts” often based on politics, hatred and fear rather than reality; fueled by corporate interests, along with second and third generation millionaires and billionaires who stoke the fires of ignorance in order to further their cause of power and self-reward, at the exclusion of those of us who must work (if we can find work) to survive. We even have an entire pseudo-news network dedicated exclusively to this cause. Would this be allowed in the third world country? If you want to call us a third world country, call us one for relying on the outside world by exporting our raw materials, and importing finished goods like real third world countries do. Call us a third world country for making medical care a privilege rather than a right, while giving corporations the right to profit by gouging consumers for needed medical care and to profit even further by denying that same care when it suits their bottom line. Maybe becoming a Third World country is what our president is trying to save us from.

That letter set off a barrage of comments on the Tribune’s website, most of which were very unhappy with my letter. So unhappy that several of their comments were removed by the paper for being too “abusive.” While most of the 110 comments were negative, here’s one of the few that defended my viewpoint:

“Randy, this is one of the best letters that I've read in awhile! Each and every post proves your point! Sad to say, however, that some of the entertainment value in the different post are over shadowed by the hatred, ignorance and racism in other post, which really comes back to your main point, which is that "people are not only free to express their opinions, they are free to make up their own Facts." And I might add that people are also free to live their miserable, hate filled lives, as evidenced by some of the fine comments on here.”

Well, in the end, I had to leave one last comment of my own on the website:

It’s a shame that we’re so easily polarized by buzz words, and that we so quickly turn to name-calling instead of thoughtful problem solving in this country (and I mean that at every level, from our Congress to our blogs, to our dinner tables.) Single-payer has become such a loaded term these days. To some, single-payer = Socialism = Communism = Fascism = Liberal = Democrat. Have we forgotten what these terms really mean? Do we care anymore, or are they just words to sling back and forth at each other like mud? Is a single-payer system really evil in all cases, or is it in some cases a reasonable option? Isn’t it in some ways a sort of reverse monopoly? A monopoly that benefits people, rather than corporations by replacing several for profit companies with one non-profit government run (ie. citizen run) entity. For many enterprises this would be a terrible option (I am not anti-capitalism, just anti laissez-faire capitalism,) but in some cases it just might be worth considering. Do we like our single-payer military protecting our shores? Do we like our single-payer fire departments protecting our homes? Do we like our single-payer police departments protecting our property? Shouldn’t we at least consider a single-payer basic health insurance to protect our very lives? For some reason we start screaming “Socialism” at the very thought of it, yet our military, our fire departments, and our police departments are all “social” programs that few of us would want to privatize and turn into for profit enterprises. I don’t want to have to pay private companies to protect my home from fire, my children from being assaulted, or my shores from being invaded. Sure I can pay for “extra” protection if I feel the need and have the means to do so, but for the basics I kind of like having those aforementioned American institutions standing at the ready in case I need them. And by the way, private insurance companies will still be able to make billions of dollars each year by insuring all kinds of valuable “things” that need insuring, but lives are not “things” and one person’s death, shouldn’t be another person’s performance bonus (at least I don’t think it should be.)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Writer’s Block

 
A blank page
and a blank mind
Stare each other down.
Determined adversaries,
Each waiting for the other to blink.
Eventually a thought worth writing,
A clever rhyme, a new idea,
An image will come to mind.
A compelling argument,
An inspired story, or maybe not.
Maybe tonight the page will win,
And I will say uncle.

Maybe tonight, I will crumple up my mind,
And toss it in the wastebasket,
And take my empty head to bed.
But tomorrow, I will make the page blink.
  

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Dime’s Worth of My Mind

 
Those who know me know that I’m never bashful about adding my 2 cents worth to a political conversation. I’m also prone to jotting my opinions down from time to time. Here are a few excerpts from last year's stack of rants:

My 2 cents worth about the end of the Bush/Cheney era
(November 2008)

After witnessing since the beginning of the new millennium the financial and moral gutting of our country and constitution by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the administration’s inner circle of neo-con criminal co-conspirators, some of whom date back to the Nixon administration; at last we in America and across the world received the welcome news on Tuesday, November 4th of 2008, that the devastation of the Republican pendulum that has cut through so much on it’s eight year swing to the right is finally nearing the end of it’s destructive arc. (Think Poe’s Pit and the Pendulum here.) As we look up at it today, the blade’s dulled edge seems almost harmless. Because of our collective efforts we can be assured that it will slow a little more each day until it finally comes to a complete rest on Tuesday January 20th of 2009 when Barack Obama is sworn into office. And when it finally stops the rusty blood stained blade will be removed from the pendulum to be replaced with the hope of a nation ready to come together to do the hard work to repair the damage that can still be repaired, to make amends for that which cannot, to pray for those who have suffered and died beneath the slicing fascist edge of this administration, and to shine a light on those who were responsible.

My 2 cents worth about the Bush crime family
(June 2009)

Why are we quietly allowing the Bush administration to sail off into the history unchallenged? We can clearly see that crimes were committed in our name, and we know for the most part who was responsible. Why then are we not demanding that Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and the others be tried for the crimes of their administration? I don’t expect Barack to go after them, but I damn well expect him to get out of the way and let the Justice Department its job. The last four Republican administrations have all committed serious crimes against our country and all four have been allowed to get away with it, signaling to each successive gang of criminals that they will not be held to account for their actions, no mater how unlawful or destructive to the country they may be. If the Obama administration does not allow the justice system to work as it was designed, allowing no persons to stand above the law, then it will have failed us all. For whatever other good President Obama may do in the next four to eight years, it will all be undone if the next gang of thugs who enter the White House are allowed to do as they please without fear of laws that once upon a time governed even them.

My 2 cents worth about the "Right to Bear Arms”
(September 2009)

Like so many Americans, I own a gun or two and believe in the second amendment, but unlike many I believe in the ENTIRE second amendment as it was written; “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Did you notice the “well regulated” part? Remember folks the second amendment was written with the idea that America would NOT maintain a permanent standing army, and that in times of war EVERY man from 17 to 47 would report to his local militia to fight for his country. Funny how the N.R.A. crowd always seems to forget that part. Maybe they never knew it in the first place, but their “smarter” Bible thumping, corporate pumping right wing media talking heads ought to know it. However they seem to suffer from a selective memory disorder so unwavering that the ignorance of the masses they lead seems destined to become permanent condition; a terminal tumor on the brain of America. The “shoot first and ask questions later” crowd is now just the “shoot first crowd.” They no longer bother to ask questions.

My 2 cents worth about President Obama
(September 2009)

He was tossed the keys to the Titanic after it hit the iceberg, and the republican sharks are now in the water convincing the ignorant among us that lifejackets are a socialist plot, while the filthy rich commandeer the lifeboats. Under the circumstances, swimming against the currents of bigotry and stupidity, he's working his butt on our behalf, and I for one think he deserves our support.

My 2 cents worth about “One Nation Under God”
(October 2009)

The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy without any reference to God, but in 1954 Reverend George Docherty convinced President Eisenhower and the U.S. Congress to insert the words ''under God'' into the Pledge during the anti-Communist fervor of the McCarthy era (during the black-listings of teachers, professors, actors, writers, etc. who Joe McCarthy and his ilk deemed to be communists.) The change was made to link religion with patriotism and to separate us from the “Godless” Soviet Union.

It’s too bad Eisenhower (I like Ike) didn’t realize that telling people to disavow God as the Soviet government did, and telling people to pledge to a nation “under God” as the U.S. government did, were BOTH acts of governments telling people how to think about God. What business is that of ANY government?! I know Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Taliban, etc. will be furious at me for saying that, but they can go to hell for all I care. I’d rather my government worshipped FREEDOM, and let me worship my religion (or not) as an individual. –Amen
 

Friday, January 8, 2010

Fear of Flossing

My head bounced off the vanity,
and rolled across the floor.
I saw the ceiling, wall, and tile,
and then the wall once more.
The view just kept repeating,
and my nose was getting sore.
The redundancy was killing me,
'til alas, I saw the door.

Out on the kitchen floor I rolled,
between the dining chairs,
underneath the dining table.
It was dusty under there.
I hadn’t noticed that before,
but I guess I shouldn't care;
because I had bigger problems,
for example - cellar stairs!

My trip down the hall was fretful.
All my sins I did confess,
'cause the cellar door was open,
adding greatly to my stress.
Yes, I always get religious,
when I'm facing such duress.
Then just inches from the stairs,
my lucky noggin came to rest.

And while my glee was genuine,
it was also quickly spent,
as I recalled the minute prior,
when I was a taller gent;
before I grabbed that length
of waxy string with minty scent.
Before I had my horrible, freakish,
dental floss accident.