Friday, October 18, 2013

Omni-ism

Dear Republicans, Tea Party sympathizers, and European bashers:

Capitalism lovers, especially Libertarians, and even more importantly Ayn Rand fans (who for the most part have absolutely no idea what her core
philosophy, “Objectivism” actually is) need to understand that the United States of America since its very inception has always been a semi-balanced blend of capitalism and democratic socialism. They need to understand this little fact before they put all of their ideological eggs into the mythological unregulated free market basket and join in the chant, “We want our country back!” because failure to understand this will… well frankly, it will make them look a little dumb when someone asks them the question, ”Back from what?”

Now to those people whose reaction to this historical truth is that socialism is evil, I ask them to look at it this way:

Being a purely capitalist society would be a lot like being a nation of absolute carnivores. Now while I’m sure that sounds great to a lot of folks (very macho and American,) it wouldn’t be very healthy for our citizens, and it would no doubt lead to an early death for most of us (not to mention the years of gout we’d have to suffer through.)

On the other hand, being a purely socialist society would be a lot like becoming a nation of complete herbivores. Now while this might appeal to our strict vegetarian friends, it would be unacceptable to the vast majority of us, many of whom would probably stage a revolution after a just few weeks without bacon.

Therefore, just as we humans are naturally omnivores, I suggest that we should accept omni-ism as an economic model as well. A nice juicy capitalistic steak (USDA approved of course) along with a crispy green socialistic salad makes for a balanced meal, and a historically sustainable society. Yes, yes I know we Americans will keep arguing about how much meat we should eat and how many vegetables we need… and Texans will keep gorging on giant steaks while refusing to finish their peas… and Californians will continue nibbling on carrots and greens while exporting almonds to the rest of us, but in the end the value of private (for profit) enterprise, and the sensible benefits of social (share the risk, share the wealth) contracts will serve us all well... just as our founding fathers intended
  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Life is like a bag of Bridge Mix:

The other day I ate a bag of Bridge Mix. Now I’m not much of a candy consumer, and I’ve never walked into a store mumbling to myself, “Man, I’ve got to get me some Bridge Mix!” In fact Bridge Mix has never been on my shopping list (not even once) and until recently I’d have been hard pressed to tell you what the stuff was. But the other day I found a bag of it lurking in a coffee themed gift basket that I bought at a charity auction. It was a small bag among a variety of other small bags of snacks and coffee blends stuffed into a wicker basket along with a pair of Starbucks mugs arranged in a nest of mocha colored shredded paper, and shrouded in light blue cellophane.

I read the label, “Bridge Mix, hmmm.” I opened it up thinking of old people playing an old card game at an old wood table in a black and white movie. Hoping that the candy was fresher than the image it inspired, I popped a piece of the mix into my mouth. Mmmm, a malt ball. I liked Bridge Mix already. Malt balls were always one of my favorites as a kid. I grabbed a few more pieces off the top. Another malt ball, and maybe a macadamia nut or something like that all covered in chocolate. Everything was covered in chocolate. “If this is what they serve at Bridge tournaments,” I said to myself, “I might just take up the game.”

Then I gulped up another little scoop, peanuts mostly. Well, a peanut can’t hold a candle to a malt ball, but there’s nothing wrong with a good ol’ peanut now and then. Besides, peanuts make good filler. Plus, they serve to cleanse the palate in between bites of more tasty tidbits.

Undeterred, and with my palate duly cleansed, I grabbed a few more pieces of the Bridge Mix and tossed them to my eager taste buds. “Peanut, peanut, peanut,” my taste buds reported back to me. I peered into the bag searching for another malt ball. I shook the bag looking for a possible macadamia nut, or a hazelnut or anything more exotic than the common Arachis hypogaea.  But the variety of sizes was gone. The chocolate lumps were all small and nearly uniform in shape. There would be no more malt balls, or macadamia nuts. My chances of encountering a cashew just plummeted to zero. The Bridge Mix had given me false hope, and the Bridge Mix had let me down. It appeared now, that I was stuck with a bag of chocolate covered peanuts.

Now I wish I could report that that was the end of the story, but as they say, “Just when you think things can’t get worse, they do.” I dumped some more Bridge Mix into my mouth: peanut, peanut, peanut, raisin. What the… raisin?! I could have gotten: peanut, peanut, peanut, grasshopper, and I don’t think I would have been more upset. From that first raisin to the bottom of the bag, raisins ruled. Like tangerines in the toe of my childhood Christmas stocking, they were 50% of the weight, and 0% of the enjoyment. Worst of all, they were the final impression of an experience that began with so much promise.

Now this leads me to my point: You may have heard that, “life is like a box of chocolates,” and I hate to ruin that Gumpish imagery as you await some nougat filled dreamy confection that we all hope tomorrow will bring you, but realistically life is more like a bag of Bridge Mix. Yes, Bridge Mix. So live for today. Don’t lament that yesterday’s choices may no longer be an option, and don’t grab too quickly at tomorrow. Instead, join the tournament, pick up your cards, and enjoy the game…and if at all possible, learn to like raisins.
  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

In Praise of Mr. Hibbs

Today I attended my youngest son’s wedding, outdoors among the autumn oak and chestnut trees at a nice little park in Auburn, Washington. Everything went off without a hitch. Even the weather cooperated from beginning to end, and don’t even get me started on how good the minister was…

◄◄
Rewind


4 Days ago:  With the final countdown to the wedding well under way, the person scheduled to perform the ceremony suddenly became unavailable. To put it mildly, this was a wee bit stressful on the Bride and Groom to be.

“Dad?” my son asked on the phone, “Remember that friend of yours who does weddings? Do you think he might be able to help?”

I was thinking “This close to the wedding? Ain’t no way!” but my answer contained more hopeful phrases like, “I doubt it,” “Don’t get your hopes up,” and, “but I’ll call him.”

Now to bring you readers up to speed, “my friend who does weddings” is Jonathan Hibbs; recently ordained minister, longtime friend, and the co-conspirator in many of my most ill-conceived, and therefore coolest and funniest childhood (and teen) adventures. Though our communications were infrequent for a few decades there after high school, we’ve done a better job at staying in touch recently, and despite the years I still consider Jon to be one of my closest friends.

So I called Jon, explained my son’s situation, and asked for his advice on how to go about finding a minister that could do a wedding on 4 days’ notice. It seemed unreasonable to ask Jon to do it, so I hemmed and hawed, hoping that maybe he knew of some kind of ordained guy network, or secret call center where wedding officiants waited around like day-laborers at Home Depot ready to jump in your truck, and go conduct a wedding. Well I guess that network doesn’t exist, but before I could think of how to give my son the bad news Jon said, “I’ll do it.”

Slam, bam thank you Jon! On ridiculously short notice, without an opportunity to even meet the couple-to-be, Jon reviewed the planned wedding vows and ceremony script via email, complete with Scottish handfasting tradition, and…

Fast Forward ►►

Today I attended my youngest son’s wedding, outdoors among the autumn oak and chestnut trees at a nice little park in Auburn, Washington. Everything went off without a hitch. Minister Jon, though it was only his third wedding, did a phenomenal job. The ceremony was reverent, entertaining, sweet, and funny in all the right places.

My dear old friend, Mr. Hibbs, did more than just save a wedding for my youngest son, and new daughter-in-law today. He, and a well-timed window of September sunshine conspired to make it perfect. And that will be long remembered.
     
  

Friday, September 13, 2013

Free Calendar Offer

If you buy a calendar from one of those kiosks at the mall, or from your local office supply store, or even from a plaid suited door to door calendar salesman it’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll be able to start using your new calendar right away, or at least very soon. But if instead of acquiring your calendar the tried and true old fashioned way you dare to print up your next calendar from one of those new-fangled printable calendar websites, well let me warn you right here and now that that might not be the case.

“Why?” you may ask, “might that not be the case?”
“What?” you may ponder, “could possibly keep me from using my shiny new calendar festooned with improbably posed adorable kittens (or similarly posed scantily clad women) in a timely manner?”
Well, to cut to the chase as they say, I’ll tell you about my experience, and explain exactly why I’m typing this warning (and free calendar offer) instead of circling birthdates and putting stars on anniversaries on my new calendar from printiblecalendarsgalore.com. The reason I’m not drawing circles and stars is because the stupid 3 key on my computer is right next to the darn 2 key! …Wait, I hate to interrupt here right in the middle of cutting to the chase, but thank goodness they didn’t make that same mistake with the letter keys. Can you imagine all the things that could go wrong if the A key was right next to the B key?!  But I digress.
Because the stupid 3 key on my computer is right next to the darn 2 key, I’m now sitting here with a 3013 calendar on my desk. Yes, you read that right “3013,” and considering my age I’m probably not going to need it.  Even if I do, a millennium from now I won’t be able to remember where the hell I put it, and extending my file system out that far just doesn’t seem very practical, or affordable (even with my Staples discount card) so if anyone wants this thing, it’s yours… FREE!
On the other hand, you could just print one up yourself. But be careful not to mix up the 2 and the 3 key, or you’ll just end up with another 2013 calendar that you probably have no use for!!
Oh look! ...missing 3013 won’t be such a big deal anyway. My birthday falls on a Monday.
   

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Old Jack


“Jack be nimble. Jack be quick,” and Jack was very nimble and extremely quick... nimble and quick enough in fact to make it to the top of the Nursery Rhyme Pop Charts season after season, but today Jack finds himself reduced to jumping over candlesticks at PartyLite® Candle Parties in and around Plymouth, Massachusetts on weekends just to make ends meet. You see kids, superstars like Jack didn’t make the kind of coin that celebrities make these days. Even in his prime, when Jack wasn’t jumping candlesticks before an adoring public, he was working the swing-shift at a local candle factory to support his family. This was back when professional baseball players had to take up side jobs during the offseason to pay the rent. Your grandfather can tell you all about it. But back to Jack: As poor ol’ Jack performs today at candle parties for ladies yelling “jump over the peach one Jack, jump over the peach one!" all I can say is that life isn’t fair, especially as we grow older. Some of us who were great in our prime don’t look like much in our later years, so as you see Jack jump (and sometimes miss) and as you walk past that old person on the street, give them a smile and a little extra respect, because once upon a time they were great too… and truth be told, they probably still are.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Old Screen Doors and Telephones

Gosh, I miss the soothing sound of a rotary telephone, and the way it used to take twice as long to dial SK9-9978 as it did to dial SK2-1312. And I miss saying Skyline instead of SK, and I miss saying SK instead of 75 …and if none of this makes any sense to you, you’ve probably never heard the sound of a wood screen door slamming either. What a shame. You grew up in a world of aluminum screen doors with hydraulic screen door closers. For crying out loud, you can’t even slam one of those damn things! …and don’t even get me started on TV dials, and radio knobs!!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Walmart Doesn't Love You (and Exxon doesn't either)


I haven’t warned America about corporate evil-doers in a while, so here goes for old time’s sake:
WARNING: Until further notice Representative Government in The United States has been suspended! Our eminent (i.e. eminently stupid) Supreme Court has effectively (if not officially) granted corporations the power to pick and choose our leaders for us, and dictate what laws they pass, thus accomplishing what Benito Mussolini (“Booo, hissss, booo!”) failed to do seven decades ago… bring fascism to America.
ENTER TOM: (“Yeah Tom!!”) Thomas Jefferson was wary of the Supreme Court for a reason. He warned us long ago that the Supreme Court’s power must be curbed or it would overrun the other branches of government. Jefferson argued that the Court’s independence from the will of the people would eventually upset the checks and balances established by the Constitution, and I now present to you exhibit A.) the recent Citizens United decision as proof that Mr. Jefferson was absolutely right… But Mr. Jefferson is way too dead to help us now, so EXIT TOM.
ENTER AL: (“Al who? Oh, that Al,” …polite, yet unenthusiastic applause.) Al Gore (like him or not) was also absolutely right when he said in his new book The Future, that Congress “is now incapable of passing laws without permission from the corporate lobbies and other special interests that control their campaign finances.” The Als, Gore and Franken, along with Robert Reich, Bernie Sanders, and other hefty lefties are sounding the alarm (and by hefty I don’t mean fat, with the possible exception of one of the Als. I mean important and imposing, like Robert Reich) and we need to tune into their message before it’s too late! Unfortunately however, those who control most of our media are doing their best to mute this information, and distract us with their own brand of pseudo news and propaganda, as they continue to build unprecedented wealth, and consolidate their power.
MY WARNING CONTINUED: (“Is he almost done mom?” “Yes, I think he’s almost finished dear…  Here, have a lifesaver.”)  Ahem! …We can fall for their propaganda and continue to arm ourselves against every other nation on the planet, especially those damn commies, and we can pretend that Muslim terrorists are the threat of the future, but the greatest threat to our American way of life is not foreign. It is domestic! We created it, and we feed it, and only we can kill it… but not if it keeps us divided and ignorant, and that IS the strategy of corporate America… to keep us divided and ignorant, and they're doing a bang up job. As I suggested above, the Citizens United Decision, if we let it stand will be looked back on as the birth of fascism in America. Okay, run along now and save your country while there’s still time.
  

Monday, February 11, 2013

If We Accept Wayne Lapierre's Logic:

I had planned to write an article about what things might look like if we embrace Wayne Lapierre's vision of gun use in America, but instead, for better or worse I ended up creating a magazine ad that you just might read in that alternate future:
 
 
 
click image to enlarge



Friday, February 1, 2013

The Kid (and the jump)

We never learned his name, but the Kid would be hard to forget.

I was ten when the Kid appeared. Summer break had just begun, and all the neighborhood boys my age were gathered at the corner of our block. The Kid coasted up on an old bicycle that instantly told us he didn’t belong in our gang, but he asked me anyway, “Can I jump?”

The Kid was taller than any of us, and skinny, but he didn't look much older than we were. None of us knew who he was, or where he came from, but that didn't stop him from riding up and asking that question, “Can I jump?”

I was standing astride my metallic gold Schwinn Stingray. My buddy Matt was making a final adjustment to the ramp we had just set up a short distance down the sidewalk. “On that bike?” I asked.

“Sure, why not?” he answered.

Matt walked back from the ramp. “It’s ready,” he said. The ramp consisted of a plywood board leaned up against an assortment of bricks and cinder blocks collected from a nearby alley.

My friends and I all rode Schwinn Stingray bicycles that summer with banana seats and ape-hanger handlebars. We reveled in the thought that we rode the coolest bikes around; except for Brad. Brad had a Huffy. We pretended not to notice, but we were all very aware that Brad had a Huffy. The Kid’s bike was different from all of ours though. It didn’t even try to look like a Stingray the way that Brad’s Huffy tried. It was a taller bike, like an adult would ride. “You can jump if you want to,” I said.

Jumping was the reason we were there. More times than I can remember we set up the makeshift ramp and took turns riding our bikes over it. We jumped high over imaginary obstacles to the dismay of elderly neighbors who peered at us through foggy windows in the fall, and over neatly trimmed hedges in the spring and summer. “Someday we’ll jump over a car,” Matt would declare.

“Two cars!” one of us would add. That’s what young boys did back in the daredevil days of Evel Knievel.

Without a word I pedaled toward the ramp to show the Kid how it was done. I quickly sped up to a pace that would launch me nearly two feet off the ground, and shoot me two yards down the sidewalk. An impressive jump by neighborhood standards.

Just before hitting the ramp I stood up on my pedals, and held tight to the handle grips. As I flew off the end of the plywood board I leaned forward just enough to keep the bike level with the ground, and braced for the landing. Then, as the imaginary crowd cheered, I slammed on the brake and did my signature half turn skid before circling back to the corner.

As I pedaled up to the gang I saw the Kid riding away. “Scared?” someone taunted.

“I wouldn’t jump that bike either!” sneered another voice.

The Kid rode across the street and up the hill to the next corner. Then he turned around and stopped. Even though the Kid was tall, his bike was too big for him. He stood there looking down at us with one foot on the ground, and his bike leaning way too far over to look comfortable. I didn’t really know what to make of him. But I do know if it hadn’t been for what he did next, that image of him up there on the hill would have faded from my memory long ago.

With a hard shove off the ground the Kid was suddenly back up on his bike, and peddling toward us. He accelerated faster and faster down the hill. As he neared the intersection his intent became clear. We scattered out of the way. Matt ran into the middle of the street and yelled, “No cars!” to let the Kid know that the coast was clear. With no curbs to watch out for in the neighborhood the Kid flew across the street and was now back on our block speeding toward the ramp.

“Oh no!” we must have all thought at the same time. Who would run to get his parents? We didn’t even know where he lived. I always hated running to adults for help. The last time I had to do it was when Kenny jumped into the telephone pole hole.

One Friday afternoon the phone company drilled a hole for a new telephone pole, and set an orange cone next to it to warn people away during the weekend. Well by Sunday Kenny just couldn’t resist any longer. He walked up to the edge of the hole and jumped in. Three of us witnessed the event. It looked like someone jumping into a swimming pool, except there wasn’t a splash when Kenny submerged himself into the earth. There was just a thump and grunt as he instantly disappeared up to his arm pits.

The next thing we heard was our own laughter followed by Kenny’s frantic screaming. “Get my mom!” he yelled. Not wanting to face Kenny’s mom, we pulled on his arms. We couldn’t budge him. “I can’t breathe,” he cried. Tears began streaming down his now bright red face. His house was four blocks away, so I ran and pounded on the nearest door for help. After I managed to spit out the details of Kenny’s stunt to Mrs. Olsen, she went back inside and made the necessary phone calls. A policeman came. A fire truck came. Kenny’s mom came. Half the neighborhood came to watch them dig Kenny out of the hole. We called him Kenny the Cork for a long time after that.

The Kid was going way too fast. All of us knew it, but it was too late to stop him. He’ll swerve around the ramp I thought. He’d be crazy not to. But he stayed in the middle of the sidewalk peddling harder and harder as the ramp got closer. We should have all been yelling at him to stop, but we just stood there speechless. I heard his tires hit the ramp, and I saw the board flex and bounce up as the Kid went airborne.

I don’t think any of us could believe what we were seeing. Not even Matt would dare to hit the ramp at full speed, let alone with the gravity of that hill pushing behind him. Why would the Kid do something so stupid?

When I was nine I met a bunch of strange boys who were rolling a big culvert pipe down our street. They said they were headed to the park to push it off the big hill. It sounded like a cool idea, so I tagged along. Then as we all stood at the top of the hill someone came up with a second cool idea. “I’ll do it!” I quickly said. For reasons I can’t explain I had just volunteered to ride inside the tube.

Moments later there I was, inside the thing. “Ready?” they yelled.

“Ready!” I yelled back. As soon as the boys started pushing I knew I’d made a mistake, but I couldn’t take it back. My head slammed against the inside of the pipe repeatedly as I bounced and rolled like a cat in a tumble dryer all the way to the bottom. The boys stood whooping and laughing at the top of the hill. When everything finally stopped spinning, I crawled out of the tube, and threw up in the grass.

Frozen with fear, we just stood there staring slack-jawed as the Kid soared high into the air. “Lean forward!” I willed, but he didn’t lean forward. In fact he seemed to be pulling back on the handlebars. The entire gang watched in horror. Evel Knievel’s infamous Caesars Palace jump replayed in my mind. “Someday we’ll jump over a car,” a voice inside my head whispered. “Two cars!” a second voice added.

The Kid would easily fly high enough to clear two cars on this day, but he was turning upside down now. He looked like he might even do a full back flip, but he had no landing ramp. Evel Knievel always had a landing ramp, but Evel never tried to do a back flip. If holding our collective breath could have helped the Kid complete the flip and land on his wheels, then he certainly would have landed on his wheels. He would have completed the greatest stunt a kid could ever dream of pulling off. But nothing we did now could alter the chain of events that was about to occur.

At the peak of his jump the Kid abandoned the bike. Still tumbling backwards, he twisted and turned, desperately searching for the ground below. If he caught a glimpse of the ramp, it must have seemed very far away.

Nothing but concrete awaited the Kid now, like tarmac awaiting a crippled airplane descending for an emergency landing. But instead of firemen and medics, only a bunch of ten year old boys were standing by.

When the silence was finally broken there was yelling, and crying, and panic. I tried to run to the nearest adult for help, but the door flew open before I could even reach the porch. Mr. Harris bolted past me toward the Kid, with Mrs. Harris chasing behind. “Call an ambulance!” he yelled, and she ran back inside the house.

Mr. Harris tried to comfort the Kid as he lay in a heap in the middle of the sidewalk. Jenny Harris brought her dad a towel that he used to soak up the blood from the Kid’s face, and arms, and chest. Mrs. Harris yelled from the porch that an ambulance was on the way. Moments later she came running across the yard holding a green wool army blanket. They carefully lifted the Kid off the sidewalk and set him on the blanket in the grass. Mrs. Harris took Jenny back inside the house, leaving Mr. Harris alone with the Kid.

Some of the gang fled, but most of us remained in a wide semi-circle around the scene. The circle soon filled with onlookers from nearby homes, one muttering, “This was bound to happen eventually,” and others nodding in agreement. A siren could be heard in the distance.

Some of the gang’s parents started showing up. Brad’s dad came running over from across the street. He went straight to helping Mr. Harris tend to the Kid. He knelt down and assured the Kid that everything would be okay. “You’re going to be fine,” he said, “Just try not to move.” Matt’s Mom walked up and took him home. A couple other parents did likewise.

Soon the siren’s promise of help arrived. Two men in white uniforms quickly took over the Kid’s care. They asked him some questions and thoroughly looked him over from head to toe. Next they wrapped him in gauze, one damaged section at a time until there wasn’t much left of the Kid to see. Then they carefully loaded him into the ambulance, and shut the doors.

I was standing astride my new metallic gold Schwinn Stingray when they rushed the Kid away. As he disappeared around the corner I pedaled up the hill to where his daredevil ride began. I turned around and stopped where the he had stopped. I looked down at the ramp and imagined racing toward it. I watched Mr. Harris wash the blood off the sidewalk. I watched Brad’s dad dismantle the ramp, and discard its various parts. When they were finished I coasted home.
 
As dusk approached that evening an old pickup truck drove down our street and stopped at the corner. The vehicle’s lone occupant, a tall thin man with dark hair got out and walked over to the Kid’s broken bicycle. He paused for a moment, studying the bent metal. Then he carefully loaded it into the back of the truck, climbed inside the cab, and slowly drove away.