Monday, September 29, 2014

Spring Sprung

Not the way to start the week: a spring on the garage door broke and I’m trapped in the house until the repairman gets here.

As a friend said on Facebook: “Life is full of little surprises.”  Yeah, tell that to the bug on your windshield.

Update: The repair was completed by 12:05 p.m.  Off to work I go.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Just One Cup

Yesterday I fasted in anticipation of the wellness fair held at work where I got my insurance-required biometric assessment done.  That meant blood work, and although they didn’t require it, I held off eating or drinking anything more than water from midnight on.

BBWW Coffee MugThis fast meant forgoing my morning coffee.  I usually have one mug before work to get the day going and maybe one at the office.  Once the tests were over I had a light lunch and a regular dinner, but zonked out before dark.  When I got up this morning, I really needed the coffee to get going.  No, I didn’t have the shakes and symptoms associated with caffeine withdrawal, but it sure made a difference once I had that first couple of sips of Folger’s Black Silk.

By the way, all systems are functioning within normal parameters, but I still plan on getting in more exercise and losing some weight.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Playing In The Park

I’m not a parent, so other than ten summers of being a camp counselor, I don’t know a lot about raising a child… except my parents did a pretty good job with four of them.  So I defer to those who are when it comes to matters of parenting, but I don’t think I’m alone when I say that this is wrong on so many levels.

Debra Harrell is currently in jail because she let her 9-year-old daughter play, unsupervised, in a public park. Almost everything about this story (which I noticed courtesy of Lenore Skenazy) is horrifying. Harrell works at McDonald’s. Her daughter used to tag along and stare at a screen at her mother’s workplace during the day. She asked to go to the park instead, was discovered to be without an adult, and her mother was arrested.

The story is a convergence of helicopter parenting with America’s primitive family policy. Our welfare policy is designed to make everybody, even single mothers, work full-time jobs. The social safety net makes it difficult for low-wage single mothers to obtain adequate child care. And society is seized by bizarre fears that children are routinely snatched up by strangers in public places. The phenomenon is, in fact, nearly as rare as in-person voting fraud.

A couple of things to note.  First, Ms. Harrell is African-American.  Second, as the story notes, she works at McDonald’s.  I wonder what would have happened if she was white and worked at a job that paid a lot more than one that helpfully suggests how to collect welfare to make ends meet.  We would never have heard of her.

As for the parenting issue, I am pretty sure that if every parent who told their child to get outside and play unsupervised in the park for the day were subject to arrest, the jails would be full to overflowing with them, including my own.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Small Matter


Scientists said Tuesday that six glass vials found in a storeroom in a government laboratory outside Washington contained the smallpox virus. It was the second incident in a month that revealed government mishandling of potentially deadly infectious agents.

The sealed vials were discovered on July 1 in a Food and Drug Administration lab at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. The vials, which were labeled “variola,” another name for smallpox, were sent on Monday to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where tests showed that they contained smallpox, the C.D.C. said in a statement. Additional tests to determine whether the smallpox is viable will take about two weeks, the centers said, after which the samples will be destroyed.

Biosafety personnel “have not identified any infectious exposure risk to lab workers or the public,” the C.D.C. said.

Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980 following a long worldwide public health campaign. Until now, the only known samples of the virus were at high-security labs at the C.D.C. in Atlanta and in Russia.

All of the careful planning and high security can’t beat out “I thought you had them,” “No, I thought you had them.”

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Only In America…

…will you find people in a Chinese restaurant watching the US/Germany World Cup match from Brazil on a TV made in Korea with the narration in Spanish.

Or maybe that’s just so Miami.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Six Years

I almost forgot, but six years ago last Friday I moved into my present home.

Here’s what it looked like when I first saw it:

June 1, 2008

June 1, 2008

And here’s what it looks like today:

June 14, 2014

June 14, 2014

By my recollection, this is the longest I’ve lived at the same address since I moved out of my parents’ house in 1971.

Monday, June 9, 2014

On This Date

Forty years ago today — June 9, 1974 — I started out on a National Outdoor Leadership School wilderness course through the Uinta Mountains of Utah.  It lasted six weeks.

Uinta Mountains 06-09-14

I learned a lot about wilderness camping and survival skills, things that came in handy two years later when I went to work at a Rocky Mountain summer camp.  I also kept a detailed diary in a little notepad that I bought at Stapleton Airport in Denver on my way to Lander, Wyoming, where the trip began.  That’s the only time in my life that I’ve kept a diary (unless you count this blog).  It came in handy in 1976 when I wrote my first produced play about a wilderness course gone horribly wrong.

But mine was mostly uneventful — no one died.  I learned how to climb up and then rappel down a cliff, how to ford a stream with a fully-loaded pack, how to do what bears do in the woods, saw some amazing scenery — the photo is of Kings Peak, the highest point in Utah, and we crossed by it through Gunsight Pass — and learned that freeze-dried food and mountain bluebells can make a pretty good dinner.

We emerged from the wilderness in mid-July just in time for Watergate to blow up, and I made it home in time to watch the impeachment hearings on TV and see Richard Nixon resign a few weeks later.

The only souvenirs I have of the trip are that diary, a walking stick that I carved out of a ponderosa pine branch, and my mustache.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps was a terrorist.  He targeted innocent people and didn’t care who he inflicted harm upon.  The fact that he based his actions on religion neither mitigates nor magnifies it; whatever message he had was lost in the delivery.

As a Quaker I’m lead to believe that every life has worth.  In the case of Fred Phelps, his life was a cautionary tale that hatred can consume and torture the one who generates it as well as the intended target.  Since I don’t believe in a heaven or a hell, I can only hope that when the Light went out in his life, it moved on to someone who can use it for good, for love, and for caring.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Don’t Fill In The Blanks

Speaking of lazy journalists, Paul Campos at LGM has a handy-dandy template for those who want to seem like they’re on top of the latest tragedy and make it sound like they’re a posting something worthy of Sunday Reading.

The [death, hospitalization, arrest, other misfortune] of [celebrity] is fueling renewed concern about a recent upsurge of [bad things], brought on by a new wave of [drug of the moment] users.

[Prominent drug warrior] warns that if [extremely expensive pet initiative featuring no data on potential effectiveness] is not adopted, “we could lose a whole generation” to [drug of the moment] addiction.

Indeed [various authority figures] are sounding the alarm that [drug of the moment], whose use many Americans believe is confined to [socially marginal deviants] is suddenly appearing/making a comeback among upper middle class white kids suburban youth, who are drawn to glamorous portrayals of [drug of the moment] addicts in films, music, and on the Internet.

[Credentialed expert] argues that new strains of [drug of the moment] are far more potent and dangerous than the versions of the drug which were previously available, when [readers of this story] were engaging in youthful experimentation with [drug of the moment], and that rapidly falling prices are making [drug of the moment] a tempting alternative to alcohol, prescription drugs, and even marijuana [ed. note: last three words of previous sentence not suitable for stories about marijuana].

I didn’t know Philip Seymour Hoffman, but I know people who did and who worked with him.  Reading their recollections of his life and their friendship with him has been devastating, made all the worse by the moralizing, judging, and concern-trolling that has gone on since the news broke on Sunday.  What makes it all the more maddening is that it has happened before: Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, or anyone else whose name and fame overshadowed their capacity for being treated as a human being in both life and death.

What I want to say to everyone who furrows their brow and tells us that there is a larger lesson in his or anyone’s untimely and — to them — avoidable death is to take and keep the lesson for yourself.  Do not turn it into something more than the already unbearable loss that it is for his friends, colleagues, and family.  Let them grieve in their own way and stop trying to show your moral superiority by telling us what it all means.  Save it for your novel.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Cool Breeze

I rode up in the elevator this morning with three other people bundled up with scarves, gloves, and hats… and the outside temperature was 50 F.  But this is Miami, so it’s all relative.

12 Beach and Ocean

Trust me, I’m not feeling any schadenfreude over those folks under the thrall of the polar vortex.  I spent enough time — a total of 45 years — living in places where winter cold was not a joke.  I also understand why some people like it, as opposed to the permanent summer we have here in South Florida.  But I distinctly remember the first time I experienced a Florida winter.  I was 13 and visiting a friend who had moved to Florida from Perrysburg.  It was in March 1966 and I went from the cold and grey of Ohio to the lush sunshine and heady scent of tropical blooms in a day.  I was hooked, and four years later, when I went to visit the University of Miami at the same time of year and walked across the campus in the bright sunshine (and saw good-looking men strolling around in cut-offs and tank tops),  I knew I would end up in the tropics.

It took a while — almost thirty years and residing in Michigan, Minnesota, and Colorado — before the move was permanent, but I really like it here, and not just for the weather.  Summers are oppressive with dense humidity, there are no mountains, and tropical cyclones are as scary as ever, but just as my friends and family in the north have adapted to their climate, I’ve adapted to mine.  And six months from now, when the A/C is running full-time, the humidity is like a wet sauna towel, and the palmetto bugs are camped out in the garage and plotting their takeover, the folks up north will be enjoying the cool breezes of a Michigan blue sparkling day on the beach and wondering why I’m here.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Everybody Must Get Stoned

A majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana.

For the first time, more than half of Americans think that marijuana usage should be made legal, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday.

Fifty-eight percent of Americans now back legalizing marijuana. That represents an 8-point increase from the previous record of 50 percent in 2011, and a 10-point increase from November 2012, just after Colorado and Washington voted for legalization.

“With Americans’ support for legalization quadrupling since 1969, and localities on the East Coast such as Portland, Maine, considering a symbolic referendum to legalize marijuana, it is clear that interest in this drug and these issues will remain elevated in the foreseeable future,” wrote Art Swift, Gallup’s managing editor.

Stock up on Pop-Tarts and Pringles now and avoid the rush.  Or feel it.  Whatever, dude.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Kindness of Friends and Strangers

I’m back safe and sound from Lakeland.  We had a good time and saw a lot of great cars.

The Pontiac, however, is in Sebring, Florida.  About an hour into the return trip I looked in the rear view mirror and saw white smoke trailing out the back.  We pulled over into the parking lot of an abandoned feed store on U.S. 27, popped the hood, and saw flames coming out of the bottom of the transmission.  Luckily we had a fire extinguisher — standard equipment in antique cars — and were able to put it out.

We called AAA and they sent a tow truck.  Towing it the 150 miles back to Miami would have cost a small fortune, so I had them take to the AAMCO transmission shop in Sebring, 15 miles — and a lot less money — down the road.

The AAMCO shop is closed on Sundays, but when I called the shop’s number, the manager’s wife answered the phone, put him on the line and he immediately agreed to meet us at his shop, take in the car, and give me an estimate on the repair.

So, there we were, 150 miles from Miami and no way to get home short of renting a car from Enterprise, which is also closed on Sundays in Sebring.  Fortunately we had caravaned up to Lakeland with some friends from the car club, and between them we were able to get back to Miami late in the afternoon.  Thank you, Manny and Milli, for the ride, and John and Jon for keeping us company until they arrived.

A couple of lessons are learned here.  First, always carry a fire extinguisher in your car and make sure it works.  Second — and probably the most important — this happened on a Sunday in a small town in central Florida.  I will never cease to be amazed by and grateful for the help and generosity of people who went out of their way to help others.  In the immediate aftermath of pulling over and finding flames licking up from the bottom of the car, a man in a pickup truck pulled over to render assistance, and he stayed with us until we had things under control.  The tow truck driver offered a reduced rate to get us to Sebring.  And Troy Williams, the manager of the AAMCO store, came out from his one day off in the week to help total strangers when he could have easily have said no.  He also was able to work out a lower price estimate on the repair, and he promised to keep in touch with me as the repairs go along.

It’s really easy to be cynical and pessimistic about the world, especially after the last couple of weeks of infantile behavior on behalf of some of our elected “leaders.”  But the reality is that we are by nature kind and caring people, willing to help others who are in need, be it a major disaster like a hurricane or flood, or, in my case, an automotive breakdown on a rural highway in central Florida.  My faith in humanity is unwavering.

Note: A special thanks to Bob for showing grace under pressure and being there with the kind of moral support and calm guidance that is really needed in a time like this.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Don’t Bug Me

I was settling in with coffee, the crossword, and “Up” and I noticed a dead bug under the coffee table. Half an hour later I’m schvitzing like a racehorse from running the vacuum over the entire living room floor (it’s all tile), moving furniture, and finding more dead bugs than on the bottom of a birdcage.

Now I’m back to the coffee and the crossword in a clean place. Oh, wait, what’s that under the piano…?

That’s Florida in summer.  This month it’s these tiny flying bugs that are drawn to the light from my monitor while I’m writing with no other lights on. They die all of their own volition and cover the floor tile like ground pepper.

Next month it will be palmetto bugs that are so big that when you step on them, the crunch drowns out the TV. Then it’s the arrival of the little sugar ants in the kitchen.

The plague of locusts must be on backorder.

Friday, August 23, 2013

“I am female.”

From the New York Times:

One day after being sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking vast archives of secret government files to WikiLeaks, Pfc. Bradley Manning said Thursday that he is female and wants to be known as Chelsea.

In a statement read on the “Today” show during an appearance by his defense lawyer, David E. Coombs, Private Manning said he had felt that he was female since childhood, a fact that was discussed during his court-martial.

“As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me,” the statement said. “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.”

The statement went on to request that Private Manning’s supporters “refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility).” It was signed, “Chelsea Manning.”

I wish her the best of luck.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Goodbye, Perrysburg

Commodore Perry

Commodore Perry

I’m writing this from the sun porch of my parents’ house in Perrysburg, Ohio.  It’s getting on towards late afternoon, but the sun is still high in the August sky, the sky is clear, the leaves on all the trees are that deep green that you see when they know they only have about a month or so before the light begins to change and the air cools in the evening.  The trees have to store up as much energy as they can to get through the long, grey winter ahead.

This sun porch is a familiar spot for me.  Most of my visits to this house have been in summer, and here is where we have our breakfast over the morning papers, afternoons on the couch with Tiger baseball on the TV, and dinner in the deepening twilight that lasts in summer until long after sunset and the rhythmic chorus of cicadas, katy-dids, and other denizens of the evening compete with the traffic on the street and the trains on the C&O railroad a few blocks over.

This is not the house I grew up in; Mom and Dad moved here in 1997 after living in northern Michigan for a while, but countless evenings were spent on the back porch of another house down the street where the same sounds filtered over the voice of Ernie Harwell calling the Tigers’ games on the crackling AM of WJR 760, the static telling us that somewhere, a thunderstorm was bringing rain and cool air to the cornfields that surround this small town.  Lightning bugs danced and glowed down at the bottom of the yard among the yew bushes and rhododendrons, and minty iced tea — and later, Stroh’s beer — made the evening cooler.

Summer, as you might have guessed, was my favorite time of year here, and even with our three weeks up in Michigan on the shores of Grand Traverse Bay, nothing said summer to me more than those evenings on the porch with the orchestration of light, shadow and sound and the scent of newly-mowed grass and drying alfalfa from the grain elevator across town.

But if things go as planned, this is my last night on this sun porch in Perrysburg.  Later this fall my parents will begin a new adventure in a new place far removed from this little town that has been our hometown since 1957.  It is all good for them, and all of us — my three siblings — are with them every step of the way.  They are healthy, happy, and in good spirits as they forge on ahead as they have done with so many adventures in their sixty-five years together.  And as I sit here in the peaceful afternoon, watching a hummingbird busily sip from the feeder, I know that letting go and moving on is a good thing.  I should know; I’ve done it more times than I can count, and have the license plates to prove it.

In the many times I’ve moved and in the many places I’ve lived, I have never let go of the feeling that this town of Perrysburg will always be my home town.  I know the streets and side streets better than any other place I’ve lived, thanks to the bike rides with my childhood friends Joe and Randy and Deke and Trip and Cynny and Scott and Jim and Tommy and Marvin.  I still call the stores on Louisiana Avenue by the names I knew them then: Houck’s Drugstore, Mills Hardware, The Sport Shop, Mrs. Piatt’s Bakery, Ken’s Barber Shop, and Norm’s Appliance.  That’s where we sat at the soda fountain and read Archie comics; that’s where we bought paint and nails; that’s where Dad bought his duck decoys and shotgun shells; that’s where the smell of bread crossed the street and birthday cakes came the way you dreamed they did; that’s where a haircut cost a dollar; and that’s the place where you lined up between the Norge refrigerators and GE air conditioners to get your driver’s license and license plates because the wife of Norm at the appliance store was the Deputy Registrar for the DMV.  It’s where I got my first driver’s license in 1968, typed out on a green piece of paper from a battered Smith-Corona.  The stores have all changed their names and sell different things — and Mills is closed, the windows papered over — but they’re still there.

The tennis courts, the swimming pool, the elementary school where I attended kindergarten, the grocery store, the railroad tracks; they’re as familiar as old books on the shelf that you take down and thumb through, remembering the stories they told.  The sidewalks still have the same cracks in them, the street signs may be new but the names like Hickory, Elm, Front and Second are still where friends and family lived, and the new car in the driveway is the successor to the Country Squire and Pontiac Bonneville that once parked there, the keys in the ignition, the doors unlocked.

I made sure that as I drove around town on the way to do errands with my parents I took notice of the town.  It has changed over the last fifty-six years, but not so much that I don’t recognize it by the sights, sounds, and sense of place that comes with having something become a part of you over a lifetime.  And I made sure that I said goodbye with a smile and a nod to old familiar places, echoes of laughter, memories of sadness and passings, and knowing that while Thomas Wolfe gets all the press for saying you can’t go home again, you can visit, even if the place you lived in belongs to someone else and the people you know have moved on.

They’re still there.  And so am I.

Our house from 1957 to 1982.

Our house from 1957 to 1982.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday, March 18, 2013

It Shouldn’t Be Personal

Following up on the point I made at the end of my piece about Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) having a change of heart about marriage equality:

I respect Mr. Portman for his forthrightness in saying that it took a personal revelation to get him to change his mind.  It’s easy to be against something in the abstract but difficult to turn into a bumper sticker when it touches you: abortion is murder until your 16 year old daughter breaks the news, and God hates gays until your son sits you down and tells you that his roommate isn’t really just a guy who helps with the rent.  That’s when reality trumps the talking points.

My only wish is that it didn’t take a personal family experience to learn that.

I am glad to see that I’m not the only one who thinks like that, as my commenters pointed out.  Here’s Matthew Yglesias on the same subject:

But if Portman can turn around on one issue once he realizes how it touches his family personally, shouldn’t he take some time to think about how he might feel about other issues that don’t happen to touch him personally? Obviously the answers to complicated public policy questions don’t just directly fall out of the emotion of compassion. But what Portman is telling us here is that on this one issue, his previous position was driven by a lack of compassion and empathy. Once he looked at the issue through his son’s eyes, he realized he was wrong. Shouldn’t that lead to some broader soul-searching? Is it just a coincidence that his son is gay, and also gay rights is the one issue on which a lack of empathy was leading him astray? That, it seems to me, would be a pretty remarkable coincidence. The great challenge for a senator isn’t to go to Washington and represent the problems of his own family. It’s to try to obtain the intellectual and moral perspective necessary to represent the problems of the people who don’t have direct access to the corridors of power.

Senators basically never have poor kids. That’s something members of Congress should think about. Especially members of Congress who know personally that realizing an issue affects their own children changes their thinking.

Let’s take this one step further and say that it shouldn’t require someone to be poor, or gay or disabled to get a measure of understanding from a lawmaker.  Or anyone, for that matter.  It goes to the basic rules you learn in kindergarten: share, be nice, think of someone else first.  If you want to attach a religious theme to it, fine.  Or just remember the thing my father used to plead to us kids when we were fighting: Love One Another.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ripped From the Headlines

After the massacre in Connecticut, the search for answers came around — as it always does — to looking at the culture of desensitized people and horrific tales of violence that make up our everyday lives.

Stories like this:


Or this:


And this:


Not to mention this:


They are all tragic stories, and, of course, they are all classics of theatre, going back to the ancient Greeks.  They’ve been entertaining humanity for thousands of years, and each one bloodier than the next.  And if they are supposed to teach us a lesson, such as violence and revenge is bad and right wins out in the end, then we surely need to be taught this lesson over and over again, or theatre is a poor instructor.

When one of these massacres occurs, Hollywood and video games are always the first scapegoat, and usually by the people who have a vested interest in both tearing down art and building up the arms industry.  And yes, we make a lot of violent movies.  But they are seen all over the world, but we don’t see a rise in violence in places like Japan or Europe or India where American cinematic blood is very popular.  As Marc McDonald notes at The Reaction, the Japanese film industry’s propensity for violent films makes our worst slasher flick look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  And yet the number of gun deaths in Japan each year wouldn’t amount to a night in a major metropolitan city in America.  Other countries such as Germany, Great Britain and Canada all see our films, all watch our TV, all read the same stories, but it would take the combined total of all the gun deaths in those countries plus a few more to even get close to the number we have here.

It’s not that they’re any less violent or do not have the propensity towards it than us.  Certainly the last century proved that other nations such as Japan and Germany are capable of incalculable murder and genocide.  The one thing they all have in common is gun control.  Some countries are stricter than others, but none of them have the lax and laughable laws that pass for gun control here.  In America, it’s harder to get Tylenol with codeine than it is to get an AR-15.  (At least legally.)

We have always been a culture prone to violence, and not just in the modern Western era.  All of the stories cited above are based in Greek or European legend and history, and the Chinese and Japanese cultures have revenge and slaughter spattered through theirs as well.  We have just come up with more efficient ways of doing it: instead of swords, we have a semi-automatic rifle.

I don’t have an answer that doesn’t involve a course in constitutional law or a thorough examination of the reason for man’s inhumanity.  But if other people have found ways to do it and still enjoy the fundamental freedoms that we are entitled to, then there has to be a way to end the slaughter of children without infringing the Constitution, emasculating the issue-prone of the species, or banning Call of Duty: Black Ops.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

People You May Know

Facebook is telling me that I should add Tommy Tune, Anderson Cooper, Stephanie Zimbalist, and Darryl Hannah to my Friends list.

Gee, I didn’t know I was that famous.

Actually, I did meet Darryl Hannah once.  But it was in 1976 when she was a camper in Colorado and I was helping rescue her and the rest of her campmates out of a flood zone.  I don’t think that counts.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hunting Party

I was reminded by Thom Paulsen on Interlochen Public Radio that yesterday was the start of deer hunting season in Michigan.  Or, as it is also known, St. Venison’s Day.

I lived long enough in that part of the country to know that now is not the time of year to go for a walk in the woods while wearing a brown coat or pulling out a white handkerchief.  The woods are crawling with folks in Elmer Fudd hats, and blaze orange becomes the fashion in the woods and in town.

If you’re up there, watch out for the drivers of overstuffed SUV’s and butched-up pickup trucks from downstate; they live for their week as the primal hunter out for his kill and a six-pack of Hamm’s.

(Okay, this was just my excuse to pull out this video of Da Yoopers horsin’ around, don’tchaknow.)