Monday, March 12, 2018

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Big Fan

The air conditioning in my house went on the fritz on the 4th of July.  The landlord came by and it was determined that the main cooling unit needed to be replaced.  This being the busiest time of year for air conditioning replacement, it will take a couple of days before they get to me.

I spent the first 20 years of my life without central air, and summers in northwestern Ohio are as sweltering as they are down here, the difference being that in Ohio it cools off a little at night and doesn’t last six months at a stretch.

My parents tell me that as an infant I was fascinated with fans.  I have a vague memory of that, but I do have memories of being lulled to sleep by the hum and breeze from the fan in my room.


I’ve opened the windows, turned on the ceiling fans, and dug out an old fan to move the air around and do its evaporative cooling magic.  Just like the summers I remember.  Now all I need is Ernie Harwell calling the Detroit Tigers game and lightning bugs out in the backyard.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Myth America

Patrick Thornton at Roll Call says it’s time to stop making the heartland the “real” America.

The Road to the Quarry 09-24-11I’m from the rural Midwest. I now live in Washington, D.C. All of this talk about coastal elites needing to understand more of America has it backward.

My home county in Ohio is 97 percent white. It, like a lot of other very unrepresentative counties, went heavily for Donald Trump.

My high school had about 950 students. Two were Asian. One was Hispanic. Zero were Muslim. All the teachers were white.My high school had more convicted sexual predator teachers than minority teachers. That’s a rural American story.

In many of these areas, the only Muslims you see are in movies like “American Sniper.” (I knew zero Muslims before going to college in another state.) You never see gay couples or even interracial ones. Much of rural and exurban American is a time capsule to America’s past.

And on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, they dug it up.

The first gay person I knew personally was my college roommate — a great man who made me a better person. But that’s an experience I would have never had if I didn’t go to college and instead decided to live the rest of my life in my hometown.

That was when I realized that not supporting gay marriage meant to actively deny rights to someone I knew personally. I wouldn’t be denying marriage rights to other people; I would be denying marriage rights to Dave. I would have to look Dave in the eye and say, “Dave, you deserve fewer rights than me. You deserve a lesser human experience.”

When you grow up in rural America, denying rights to people is an abstract concept. Denying marriage rights to gay people isn’t that much different than denying boarding rights to Klingons.


To pin this election on the coastal elite is a cop-out. It’s intellectually dishonest, and it’s beneath us.

We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.

We must start asking all Americans to be their better selves. We must all understand that America is a melting pot and that none of us has a more authentic American experience.

With a few changes to the narrative (I’m the gay roommate and I live in Miami, not Washington), this is my story, too.  I grew up in a nice quiet suburb of Toledo.  It was pre-1960 Norman Rockwell with the 99.9% white Christian population, the soda fountain, the bakery, and everyone voting the straight Republican ticket.  The other difference is that my parents knew it was a bubble and encouraged me and my siblings to get out of town as soon as we could.  (I remember my mother being disappointed that I went to Miami because my grandmother lived twenty miles from campus.  Yeah, like a 19-year-old theatre major is going to hang with his grandmother.)  But for the rest of it, Mr. Thornton and I are on the same page and I concur wholeheartedly.

I also know that this part of the country has had it rough, not just in the last twenty years and not just economically.  They have seen jobs go away, shipped overseas by large corporations; agriculture taken over by big business, and kids graduating from high school take off for Minneapolis or Denver or Miami because they want to find a better place to be themselves.  A lot of them have done it not in defiance of their upbringing in rural America but at the urging of it.  Ask most people in small town America if they don’t want their son or daughter to have a chance at a good education if not at Harvard than at The Ohio State University.  In short, they aspire to become coastal elites.

Yes, they worry about the coarsening of the culture, of the changes that multiculturalism has wrought in the society as seen in the films and on TV, but they’re also the ones with the satellite dish and the subscription to People and can name the Kardashians by height and hair color.  But they’re not hypocrites; they’re human.  It’s natural to be curious about other ways of life as long as theirs is still safe to come home to.  (If you think I’m being elitist or over-generalizing, I refer you to John Steinbeck’s observations of America in Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962).  Steinbeck was many things, but an elitist he was not.)

We all come from small towns.  Even if you grew up in a neighborhood in the Bronx, Liberty City in Miami, or the South Valley of Albuquerque, you had a community of family, neighbors, schoolmates, church/temple/meeting that was your small town.  The values they share are not that much different than those in Perrysburg, Ohio, or Van Meter, Iowa: safety, security, companionship, and hope.  To say that one experience is better than another only enforces the walls of the bubble.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The View From Here

Here is the updated photo I promised.

027One of the adventures I signed up for was a horseback ride.  I used to be quite the rider when I went to camp in the 1960’s, and when I was a counselor I often accompanied the kids on their all-day rides.  So it was like old times yesterday when I saddled up Jamaica Jet and went for a ride around the ranch.  It was a great time.  I would have worn the cowboy hat I had when I was a camper — it still fits — but rules require that we wear helmets.

034The view from the saddle.

036I return to sea-level tomorrow, but I have enough great memories to last at least until the next reunion… and a lifetime.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Rocky Mountain High

I made it safely to my destination, high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains at a place dear to my heart for a reunion with old friends and making new ones.  Internet connections are limited, and besides I am having too much fun with my memories and friends.



So this will be it until Sunday night when I will upload a bunch of pictures and then hit the road early Monday morning.

Happy trails.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sunday Reading

Saturday Mornings at Ten — Mary Norris fondly remembers calling in to “Car Talk.”

For years, “Car Talk” has served as the Saturday-morning cartoons of my adult life. If I am home, I turn on the radio at ten, and I don’t turn it off until I’ve wasted another hour listening to Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, and heard the complete list of fake staff members: Marge Inaverra, the bookkeeper; Pickup Andropov, the Russian chauffeur. If I am leaving on a trip, I time my departure so that I can listen in the car. Like Tom, the older of the Magliozzi brothers, who died this week at the age of seventy-seven, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, I like to drive with the windows open.

Click and Clack stopped making new shows a few years ago, but the best segments of old shows are still on the air, and “Car Talk” still sounds fresh to me. Maybe, like Tom, I have a touch of Alzheimer’s. (Ray was the first to make a joke about how his brother really did not remember last week’s puzzler.) I follow “Car Talk” on Facebook, where they post pictures of eccentric cars sent in by fans. I wish I had sent them my shot, taken in Howard Beach, of the car in the shape of an avocado before someone else did. There’s also a funny-sign contest. I could have sent in “ASS COLLECTION,” the segment of crawl on the L.E.D. sign outside an optical shop in Rockaway that you see only if you’re stopped at the red light at exactly the right moment (“DESIGNER SUNGL … ASS COLLECTION”).

I called “Car Talk” for advice once about my ’85 Ford Escort, which I had dubbed the Death Trap. It had a lot of problems, number one being that it was so rusty that parts were always snapping off, but the car was always cheaper to fix than to replace. Sometimes, it would just be dead on arrival: that is, on my arrival at wherever I had parked it to try to start it up and go someplace. I suspected a bad connection—if I opened the hood and took off my shoe and whacked the engine, sometimes it started. Success depended on the style of shoe. When that didn’t work, I’d call AAA (not to be confused with A.A.), and they’d send a tow truck, and the driver would shake his head and say that a jump would not take me very far, and then he’d tow the car to some cavernous garage on the far West Side, near the car pound, and the mechanics would fleece me for the cost of a new battery and an alternator.

It wasn’t easy to get on “Car Talk,” I discovered. I was not put through to Click and Clack at Car Talk Plaza. Instead, I was instructed to leave my name and number and a brief description of my problem. The calls were prearranged—no doubt by their producer, Doug (Bongo Boy) Berman—but the guys heard the problems for the first time on the air. I soon realized that my problem was nowhere near entertaining enough for “Car Talk.” I was competing with the guy in Brooklyn who parked on the street in a car that drove only in reverse. And the woman in Colorado who was looking for a used stretch limousine so that she could roll up the window between the driver and the passengers and not have to listen to her grandchildren bickering. And the woman in Maine, or somewhere, who drove to the grocery store, parked and locked her car, did her shopping, and only when she came back out to load the groceries into the car saw that there was a rat in it. Eek!

But the idea of calling Click and Clack had the same effect as drafting a letter to Ann Landers: it was enough to make me figure things out for myself. Obviously, I should get rid of the Escort before it got rid of me. My next car was a 1990 Honda Civic—not the most boring car on the road, according to Tom and Ray (that distinction was reserved for the Toyota Corolla)—and my problem with it was not the car but the mechanics. Informed through the mail that I had an unpaid parking ticket, I requested a copy of the original summons, and, sure enough, the ticket was acquired while the car was in their hands. One of the mechanics must have been running an errand (a test drive?) and parked the car illegally somewhere I had no reason to go. What do you do when your mechanics stiff you with a parking ticket? Do you confront them? Or do you shut up and pay?

I paid the ticket and kept the mechanics, and my local stand-ins for Click and Clack (decidedly not educated at M.I.T.) never overcharged me, even though they knew I loved that car and would spend any amount of money on it. I think they loved the car, too. Once, when I picked it up, I found in the back seat a gift of men’s cologne from Lacoste, the company with the crocodile insignia (or is it an alligator?). It was shortly after Valentine’s Day, and I hypothesized that the second-generation mechanic had received it from a girlfriend while on a date in my car. Should I return it? Why? He obviously didn’t want it or he wouldn’t have left it there. Regift it to a friend with a February birthday, without telling him of its provenance? That seemed slightly cynical, but better than the more forthright “Happy Birthday! My mechanic left this in my back seat.”

I wonder what Tom would think of the new speed limit in New York City: twenty-five miles per hour unless posted otherwise. “Whaddya kidding?” he’d say. “You’d be lucky to get a car up to twenty-five miles per hour on the streets of New York City!” And then the laugh.

Tom will drive off into the November afternoon today as Ray does a show in his memory. The Best of “Car Talk” will play on, like the classic it is.

Now What? Steve Coll on what the president can do with two more years.

The Republicans won a clean technical knockout against a hamstrung opponent, but they pranced as if they’d walloped Joe Louis in his prime. Party spokesmen described the victory as a referendum on Obama’s failed leadership. That was spin, yet Obama does deserve much of the criticism he has taken for his party’s defeat. Before the midterms, amid public scares over Ebola and ISIS, approval of the President’s performance sank. He was late to lead in these crises and he failed to inspire swing voters with his successes: for one, his Administration is presiding over the fastest-growing economy in the industrialized world.

Now Obama seems at risk of running out his time in office by accepting dutifully the shrinking boundaries of his Presidency. Last Wednesday, at a press conference in the East Room, he spoke about how, even without congressional support, his Administration might yet improve customer service at government offices—an aspiration so small that it would sound sad if voiced by a mayor of Topeka. Asked about being called a lame duck, Obama replied, “That’s the label that you guys apply.” He outlined a modest legislative agenda that might be pursued with Republican coöperation, if such a thing could be obtained: infrastructure spending that would create high-paying jobs, a raise in the federal minimum wage, and programs to expand early-childhood education and to make college more affordable.

In private, Obama and his aides are discussing a different agenda, one that could be achieved without Congress, through regulation and executive orders, such as the ones he has already signed to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers and to triple the government’s use of renewable energy. Separately, the E.P.A. has proposed to reduce carbon emissions from electricity plants by thirty per cent before 2030, which could hasten the country’s transition away from coal, if the regulations are seen through. In the aftermath of the Ferguson crisis, civil-rights groups have pressed the White House to order the Justice Department to end racial profiling in federal law enforcement. And the President is reportedly considering two exceptionally bold ideas: to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay and to temporarily normalize the legal status of undocumented immigrants who have been living and working here for years. These proposals would require enormous political tenacity, but would greatly elevate Obama’s legacy.


Last week, McConnell said that if Obama acted unilaterally he would so inflame Republicans that it would be like “waving a red flag in front of a bull.” Obama’s choice of sports metaphor involved basketball. He’s playing in the fourth quarter, he said, but “the only score that matters” is how he serves the American people. The President has always preferred to win his points through legislative process. Bill Clinton, who faced Republican majorities in both houses of Congress for six of his eight years in office, signed three hundred and sixty-four executive orders; Obama has signed a hundred and ninety-one. The reality now is that either Obama outruns McConnell’s bulls or he waddles down Pennsylvania Avenue like a certain duck.

 Why Not Al Franken?  Charlie Pierce thinks he’d make a great president.

Brother Dave Weigel points out that Al Franken ran a populist campaign for re-election — straight, no chaser. His ads were direct, and their message was impressively disciplined. (It also helped that the Republicans ran the perfect foil for Franken’s message, a guy who makes Willard Romney look like Henry Wallace.) If you’re looking for a way to do this, Franken and his people have written the primer. So here’s what I’m thinking — why don’t we hear Franken’s name bandied more about as a Democratic presidential possibility in 2016? I suspect that the chances of Martin O’Malley, Esquire’s Favorite Politician ™, rather cratered the other night when his lieutenant governor got whipped, largely because he was a terrible candidate, but also because he was lieutenant governor under, ahem, Martin O’Malley. Senator Professor Warren doesn’t want to run, even though the most compelling conclusion to be drawn from the blasted landscape of the Democratic campaign is that running away from her particular economic message is disastrous, no matter where you happen to be running. Franken showed through his campaign how you embrace the themes on which Warren has based her career in the context of a political campaign.

Since arriving in the Senate, Franken clearly has made the decision to be a workhorse, and not a show pony, which was something that his friend and mentor, the late Paul Wellstone, once told me was the first decision any new senator has to make. You can’t run for president without showing a little show pony. Maybe he doesn’t want to do that. But given the choice between the coronation of Hillary Clinton, and the suddenly desiccated range of options, it’s hard not to see a space for Franken to run. Hell, back in the day, he even wrote a novel about a Franken Presidency. Was he kidding on the square? Good enough? Check. Smart enough? Check. The fact that this would cause Bill O’Reilly’s head to detonate in a gorgeous orange fireball is merely a bonus.

Doonesbury — Tobacco states.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Day Off

Today is another use-it-or-lose it day off.  I’ve been looking forward to it not just because I get time off but because I’m going to do something special that has something to do with this picture below.


This house is located at 409 East Front Street in Perrysburg, Ohio.  No, I’m not going to actually go back to Perrysburg, but in a way I will be.

I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Springtime in The Rockies

Cheley - 05-17-83

This photo was taken 31 years ago today at Cheley Colorado Camps as I was helping to move the camp office from Denver to Estes Park for the summer. It was May 17, 1983, and it snowed in Denver as well. (In fact, the city’s slow response to the snowfall on that day — Election Day — brought an end to the McNichol mayoralty.)

They are having a volunteer weekend up at camp today and tomorrow as they help get ready for another great summer and finish the recovery efforts from last September’s devastating flood.  I wish I could be there.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sixty-Five Years

June 16, 1948 was a Wednesday.  It was a pleasant day in St. Louis, Missouri; the high was about 78 with a little haze left over from the morning fog along the river.  It was a nice day for a wedding.

The young bride and groom came to the Church of St. Michael and St. George on Wydown Boulevard for the ceremony, with the two families and close friends gathering.  The bride’s younger sister was the maid of honor and the groom’s twin brother was his best man.  After the brief Episcopalian service, the bridal party went to the bride’s parents home for a small reception, and then the newlyweds left on their wedding trip to Chicago, staying at the Blackstone Hotel.  Then they went on to their new home in Princeton where he was finishing up his studies before moving on to Houston, Texas, where he would take up a job in the bag business.

The first child, a daughter, arrived the following year, followed the next year by a son.  Then, after moving on to Dallas, a third child, the second son, arrived in 1952.  Shortly thereafter they moved again, this time back to St. Louis, where in 1956 the fourth and last child, another son, completed the family.

Then in 1957 the family moved again, this time to Perrysburg, Ohio, and there they stayed, the kids growing up in a big house with a big yard, lots of friends and things to do, and the usual joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies, that come along with any family.  Dogs, cats, birds, bikes, camp, school, Little League, dancing school, tennis lessons, swim meets, all of the cacophony and organized chaos that fits in the wayback of the Ford Country Squire for trips to the lake and the ski slopes.

All too soon came the departures: college, weddings, new worlds for the kids to explore, new lives to lead, but always knowing they had a place to come home to, a phone number — TRinity 4-7824 — to call.  Over the years there have been bright days and dark nights.  There have been additions and losses, pain and laughter.  After all, it has been life.  And through it all Mom and Dad were there for us and for themselves.

Trying to put into words what a child feels when reflecting on the lives of the people who brought him to this world is not easy.  And knowing that among many of my friends, the simple fact that both of my parents are still alive and well is a rare blessing.  So I will make it very simple: on the sixty-fifth anniversary of the beginning of the journey that has brought me and my sister and brothers to life, I say thank you and I love you.

Nancy and Phil 2011

Friday, May 10, 2013

Welcome to Perrysburg

Here I am, in the welcoming arms of my parents and my home town for the weekend.


This is the house I grew up in. Our family moved into it in June 1957 when I was four years old.  My parents sold it in 1982, moved to northern Michigan, and then moved back in 1997 to another place up the road from here. Now they’re on the verge of moving again, and I’m back home to help with some decisions about what to do with some of the things I grew up with. It is nostalgic, poignant, but also uplifting because it is a looking-forward time and sharing of memories.

By my count, I’ve lived in about twenty different places since I went off to college in 1971, and I wasn’t born here, but Perrysburg, Ohio, will always be my home town.  This is the small town of my writings, this is the place where I learned about trust, family, friendships, and the sorrows that come with life.  So the technicality that I was born in Dallas and now live in Miami and that other people now live in that big house doesn’t change my answer when people ask me what’s my home town.

This is not goodbye.  I will be back in August for the annual Stratford pilgrimage.  But I can’t miss one last spring in Perrysburg: they do it like no one else.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I Still Like It Here

Kyle Munzenrieder at Riptide counters Buzzfeed’s 43 reasons why growing up in Florida was a paradise, including huge bugs, smelly sunscreen, impossible-to-spell place names, and the sight of 40-year-old tourists in Speedos.

Pool noodles, manatees, and free Publix sugar cookies were great and all, but we feel like it’s not so much the joys but rather the shared pains that truly unite a people.

So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to list 43 reasons why growing up in Florida could also be hell on Earth. We do this not to disparage our great state, but because we feel the need to commemorate and recognize the great quasi-First-World struggles of our childhood.

I didn’t first move here until I was 19 and going to college, but for all its faults, I still like living here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012