Aliens, art, As it should be, beauty, common human decency, honesty, ourselves, poetry, revolution, The Future, The Past, the rest of us, truth, Uncategorized

Tell it like it is

My dad’s obit appeared today in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Saint Paul Pioneer Press and the Sioux City Journal and will also appear in the Lake County Chronicle on Thursday. What does that mean? Our little final story will hit three papers near to where he’s most recently lived and soon one where he really recently lived.

I’ve read the obituaries every Sunday for the last 25 years of my life. Since I was 25, I guess. I don’t know what got me into that habit, but the habit I got. It’s become a ritual for me because I find myself wanting to know who’s dying. And more than that, and here’s how most obituaries so fail, why. I was certain to mention what ailed my father before he died because I think it’s terribly important. An obituary without a cause of death is just a greeting card. With a cause of death, it’s a statement of fact.

We, the living, need to see what’s killing the rest of us – no matter how awful or what we think wrongly is embarrassing. It’s the truth that we need to recognize together. There’s no shame. Suicide or aneurysm or cancer or car accident. The truth of the matter is what matters. It’s what will touch us to be aware of what is killing the rest of us. Lewy Body Dementia isn’t pretty, but I’ve now heard from others that have loved ones that suffer similarly. That’s good. Because they find solace in the diagnosis, reason and love. And shared experience.

When I read those that do tell the whole truth, I feel alive. When I read those that don’t, I’m not sure exactly how to feel. Yes, I revel in a life well lived, but beyond that it’s what behind door number one. You guess. But you could never possibly figure it out.

Death by any means is noble – whether it is an old woman dying in her sleep at 95 surrounded by family or a young person suffering from mental illness who commits suicide. It’s entirely equal and important. Obituaries need to spell it out and allow us to respond as human beings. Even a suicide bomber. We should know that, see who they were and who loved them, and we’ll be that much closer to knowing what causes something so hideous, and maybe be there to affect such a decision in the future.

But that is extreme. What about the rest of us and all the diseases and accidents that take us out of this life? The more we know, the more we can understand and be prepared and aware. Cancer, stroke, old age, [insert that which killed your loved one here] – let the people know. Let them know what took this great person’s life so they, the rest of us, can be aware with the ones we love.

We hear statistics, trends, numbers, chances, but they’re just that. Not human beings, but numbers. Give the body a reason. Give the people a chance to understand and maybe respond. All death is noble, if we take the time to understand why. Life is what we’re living, death is not just a concept, it’s more true than you can ever be yet. Tell it like it is. Let that be your favor to the future.

aminimals, art, As it should be, beauty, common human decency, cool, honesty, kids, meditation, ourselves, poetry, SCIENCE!, The Future, The Past, the rest of us, truth

First a father, then a friend

See ya, Dad! Glad you could finally get the hell out of that memory care crap. As much as those people are saints and angels, it was a living hell for you, sir. You spend the last thirty years of your life on 13 wooded acres with streams and deer and fox and bears and a view of “the largest fresh water lake in the world,” as you were wont to say, then the last three months in a glorified hospital room, dubbed your “apartment”. You were a “resident” but I preferred a “guest” hoping your stay wouldn’t really add up to any sort of actual residency.

And it didn’t. It was as if you looked around you and said, “No, thank you.” You rallied for a few weeks and seemed darn good – if all the mumbling, confusion, hallucinations and falling down constitutes darn good. But it’s all relative, and you quickly crumpled and exited with great class.

You and mom must have had quite a connection. She up north suddenly struck with the thought – the compulsion – that she needed to get down here to see you on Friday. “Mom,” I said, “you’re coming next week.” “No, I need to see Bob.”

We saw you Friday early and you smiled when I whispered to you, “Dude, mom’s coming today and it would be a perfect time to get the hell out of here.” When we left you almost broke my hand squeezing it and you almost hugged Jana and I inside out. I wondered if you didn’t have a plan.

She came, you sat on the deck in the sun together – as you did on various decks, docks and beaches throughout your 57 years together – you had a little dinner and when she ran to the store, you took the opportunity to leave this strange little planet in the care of the nurses, who gussied up the old bod in some nice pajamas, combed your hair and laid you down on the bed like the best of open-casket moments. Brilliant! Mom got to be there and you know just how important that was! God, I love you, Dad. And Mom.

I know you had no time for religion, the afterlife and all the rest. You were a scientist – a surgeon who had to go into work at 2 am and piece together some poor kid whose parent’s station wagon was t-boned by some drunk in a big old Buick. That boy never did anything to deserve a skin-bag full of crushed bone. And you did everything you could. And mostly it worked, but sometimes it didn’t. And the little boy, or girl, or teenager, mom, dad, grandmother – whoever – would die. There was simply no room for some sort of caring god who answers prayers in that world. What god would answer this mom’s prayer over here for the new couch and then allow this mom’s kid to be crushed to death on a dark highway, whether or not she thought to pray.

We talked about the afterlife and you were curious – as any good scientist would be. But you knew you could not know, nor could anyone else without proof, real proof; stories in old books and old men’s promises from pulpits do not constitute any sort of proof whatsoever.

So we left it at that knowing we didn’t know… but now you do! I’ve no idea where you are – let me rephrase that: I’ve no idea where your soul is (if that can be separated from the body; if there is such a thing as a soul) but your corporeal self is lying in a drawer awaiting the great cremation oven. It’s got to be great, and by great I mean, big. Some a bit more religious might see that as a metaphor of you burning in hell for your agnosticism. I see it as the incredibly unselfish choice of someone who really doesn’t believe they should take up 28 square feet of earth for eternity.

We’ll toss the ashes out on Lake Superior and maybe some on South Long Lake. I know you think that sort of thing is silly, at best, but we’ll enjoy it. I’ve got to tell you that the guy at the cremation society said that if you’re tossing ashes outside anywhere you should “mind the wind!” Can you imagine? We make great speeches, open the lid, toss the ashes that are you (not really) and whoosh! It all blows back in our faces! You’d love that just to drive home just how silly all this is. I know you would.

So where are you? Can’t you give us a sign? Move a chair, or a lamp, jeez, how about the cursor? That can’t be all that hard. Are you IN some sort of heaven? Or OUT there in the firmament? Jetting from star to star, universe to universe? Are you everywhere? Flowing with the energy that moves all things? Or will you be reborn a black bear? (Colin came back as a rabbit. I see him everywhere.)

I’m just like you, Dad, I’ve no idea how that all works, and will never take it on faith from any man – ever. You instilled that bullshit alarm in me from an early age and it’s there and it’s calibrated and it has never, ever failed me. For that, I thank you dearly.

I also thank you for that sense of wonder and curiosity that is the flipside. You instilled that in me as well and it’s made my life richer than I could imagine. In fact, we had many a cocktail conversation about the existence of the god concept and what that might look like if it did/does exist. These were wonderful conversations that, of course, didn’t really lead anywhere. Instead it was the journey, as they like to say.

So now you know – or at least you know where death leads us – all you dead people know! Good for you, dead people. But maybe in death you learn what death is, but all of you are still knocking around wherever with no more proof of a god than we have here on earth. Who knows? Well, you do.

I’ll keep that curiosity and sense of wonder at the world, nature, the universe(s) and pass that right on to Olivia and Ben. I’ll hold my hand out in front of me, like you did, and think, “Look at that thing, it’s absolutely brilliant!” And it is! I told that to some people at work just the other day and they also looked at their hand, moving their four fingers and the mind-blowing opposable thumb, and I’m pretty certain that they will also never see it the same again. You taught me that there’s enough right here in our physical world to explore, learn from, and wonder about without conjuring all-knowing and eternal gods and the like. We don’t know how gravity works, but we’re running around telling people what the creator of everything thinks? Good Lord.

We were best buddies at the end. Even after that sick disease wrecked your brain to a place where I only got glimpses of you, we still connected. We could sit in confusion for an hour and then you’d suddenly give me a look that said, “Don’t worry, Luke, I’m still in here.” I loved those moments. I loved all the moments. I even loved the shitty moments that pepper the care of a guy with your disease. I learned a lot in the last year. You taught me right up to the very end.

I love you. I will always love you. Godspeed! (Yes, I had to say it!) And don’t forget to stay in touch! I’ll be listening, my friend.

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Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina

(And how it applies to the Winter Olympic Games)

My younger brother Daniel and I were talking on the phone last night and commenting on the Winter Olympic Games. He said, “The U.S. is kind of sucking this year.” And I said, “Yeah, but doesn’t it blow your mind how many of the athletes are such freaking Hotties?” And he said, “Yeah, and they’re all fucking each other all the time! As soon as they finish their events they go back to the Olympic Village and fuck each other over and over!” He’s right, by the way. I read about that years ago. If you don’t believe it, look it up.

Anyway, when he said that – PING! It popped right back into my head: Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina. I remember the exact day of its origin. Many years ago my two brothers, my sister and I were riding in the back of our parents van and passing through Edina. Edina is a very wealthy suburb of Minneapolis, and at the time, around 1976, it was the quintessential wealthy suburb of Minneapolis. So I looked out the window of the van at a group of girls standing in front of the Edina Theater and said, “Man! Why are there so many hot chicks in Edina?”

My other brother, Jonny Pie, looked up from whatever technical manual he was reading (for fun) and said:

“It’s really quite simple. The fathers in Edina are wealthy men and their wealth gives them certain advantages in picking a mate. One of those is in the looks of the women. In other words, they can choose more beautiful wives – whether they are handsome themselves, or a troll. So it follows that, over time, the prevalence of beautiful children will increase. And it follows then that if the families stay in Edina for generations, the genetic probability for good-looking children continues to increase. Therefore, ergo, you are absolutely right: there are ‘so many hot chicks in Edina’. Simple as that.”

Bam! He knocked that fucker right out of the park! His simple logic stunned my young mind. It was suddenly obvious. Rich men = hot wives = more hot chick babies! Simple as that.

“It’s not the same in Minneapolis where we live,” he added, and we all glanced up to see if Mom and Dad had heard that.

So now I see that Jonny Pie’s Theory can easily be applied to the prevalence of Hotties at the Olympic Games; and it’s not because they are all having sex in the Olympic Village like Daniel was quick to point out, as you might be thinking. That story was actually about all of the condoms that are provided by the US Olympic Committee for all that sex which would, hopefully, avoid any unwanted, albeit off-the-charts cute, babies.

It’s because the Olympic athletes in the winter games are all basically Edina kids. Every last one of them. Yeah, yeah, NBC likes to drag out the one story of the middle class kid from Indiana who mowed lawns to afford to become a snowboard sensation, but seriously, how many lower or middle class families can afford to send their kids to luge camp, or snowboarding school, find them a Romanian skating coach, or buy them a four-man bobsled? None. That’s how many. Most of those families couldn’t afford a day pass at one of the Utah ski areas these actual, and decidedly hirsute, snowboard sensations no doubt basically live in.

You don’t learn how to do a Triple Raspberry Flip Flop 1280 with a Double Sow Cow Inverted Twist, or whatever the hell they make up to call that shit, in a few runs. It takes hours, days, months and years, and ain’t no poor kid gonna get that opportunity. No, sir.

So, really, we have Jonny Pie’s Theory on Why there are so Many Hot Chicks in Edina, Postulate 1 (As it Applies to the Athletes at the Winter Olympic Games), and it really simply states: There are so many Hotties at the Winter Olympic Games because they are all the offspring of rich parents, therefore, rich kids, ergo genetically predisposed to be Hotties. Rich Parents = Rich Hottie Kids = Kids with the time, money and resources to spend a lifetime learning to do a Triple Raspberry Flip Flop 1280 with a Double Sow Cow Inverted Twist, or whatever.

Simple as that.

Aliens, art, As it should be, beauty, brands, Civics, common human decency, kids, ourselves, seasonal affective disorder, The Past

I forgot to wear a belt today

I forgot to wear a belt today and lord was I annoyed. I was constantly pulling up my pants, in fact, holding them up at particular moments throughout my day. It was a relentless bug in my bonnet. When I had a belt, my pants sat exactly where they should sit, as they should, and I was free to go about my business. But not today. I was in a constant battle with the level of my pants!

But then someone noted that and said, “Are you saggin’, dude.” And I said, “What?” And then realized that my missing belt made a fashion statement – by me – that I would never make. Look, I’m all about fashion statements, it’s how we physically speak to strangers about who we are. Long hair, short hair, t-shirts and jeans, bangs and rhinestones, fat ties and afros, skinny jeans and speedos, tattoos, caps, hats and mustachios, blue hair, gray hair and hair nets.

But this? Shit, I might as well pluck an eyelash and poke it into my eye so all day I am constantly irritated by the pain and incessant tears.

God bless the dudes that can pull it off – running down the street with the belt line down around the knees, undies flapping, and hopping as if they just crapped their pants, and yet, looking cool, right on, with this new fashion sensibility.

I can’t pull it off, for a host of reasons, the main reason, I will not be annoyed by myself. I annoy myself enough already.

art, As it should be, beauty, cool, honesty, Information, Reading, revolution, SCIENCE!, television

Good writing and all that good stuff

Writing. I have nothing to write about so I will write about writing. I wanted to be dramatic and say something like Writing is a lost art! Yes, I would just get it out there! But how stupid is that? There’s so much great writing happening right now that to make some ridiculous blanket statement like that is, well, ridiculous. How’s that for losing the art?

In fact, there are so many books of poetry, essays, fiction and nonfiction; movies, even television shows that showcase spectacular writing all of the time that one couldn’t possibly read, watch or otherwise experience in a decade that which is created in a single year. It’s truly astounding. I’ve read mostly unread blog posts that brought me to tears. How cool is that?

One of the things that I don’t necessarily cotton to is off-the-charts shockadelica writing. I remember a long time ago watching ER, which had great writing, but they were one to often go a bit over the top. A patient comes in, impaled by a tree! That was knocked down by a crazed killer’s car! Who had just abducted an innocent child! And the patient was a nun – who had AIDs! Sometimes it was all too much – like when the helicopter crashed! It’s like our threshold for shock had become so numbingly inflated that they had to raise the bar – constantly. Now we have/had serial killers who kill bad guys. Nice, that.

But, whatever, people love it – and the writing is still really, really good. I wonder if there’s an upper limit. Will simple love stories disappear lest they make certain they are vampires in love? Will we be bored unless the love includes one person who is not just a bad guy, but a flesh-eating bad guy?

Took the family to see Frozen today. Nice movie, kid-friendly, visually pretty stunning and all that good stuff. On the way out, my 9-year-old daughter said that it would be cool if it had real people in it, echoing a sentiment I felt throughout the movie. I’ve grown a little weary of the Disney/Pixar and the like cartoon characters. They’re just not all that expressive, although they certainly try, and those big ballooney eyes they like and particularly on the female characters, while once pretty compelling are a bit empty now. The reindeer was the most expressive character in the whole movie strangely.

But the writing was very good. Some of the song lyrics set the teeth on edge with a saccharine coating, but that’s a small complaint. Maybe they’ll bring it to the stage.

But I digress. We’re having a veritable renaissance of writing – and especially in the entertainment industry. That’s where the money is so that’s where a lot of great writers are going. It’s exciting. Let’s hope it inspires lots of young people to take writing seriously. I can’t imagine it won’t.

Aliens, art, brands, Uncategorized

Toilet Candy

candy toilet
Candy Toilet

Toilet Candy. That’s what I’m talking about right there. Candy toilet – or at least a plastic toilet filled with flavored sugar into which you dip lollipops for even more sugary delights! I believe these arrived in my kids’ stockings this year and I think I was the most surprised. Not by their appearance, but by their very existence. Who on earth manufactures these things? Who thought them up? Who thought, “We could, you know, if we wanted to, make a candy toilet.” And then who are all the people in the R&D, design and manufacturing who collectively thought, “Makes perfect sense to us – candy toilets!”

I can just hear some dopey branding consultant talking about “experience candy,” and “appealing to kids’ inherent fascination with their bowels” and other such nonsense.

I have ideas, weird ideas, crazy ideas, stupid ideas but would never deign to take them to fruition – or even mention. And maybe that’s why I’m here making a modest living and not there at the top of the world hobnobbing with the One Percent. I saw a quote from Stephen King recently that said something along the lines of talent is as common as table salt; it’s the hard work that makes one successful. (Terrible paraphrase, sorry about that.)

Toilet Candy
Toilet Candy

What’s the connection? I suppose that everyone’s got a good idea or two up their sleeves, but only those who can take that toilet candy idea through to kids’ stockings and stocked shelves win. That’s how the toilet candy made it here. They willed it. They made it happen. Someone took their dream of toilet candy and made it a reality – and the world is anew because of it.

I’m off to work on my Outhouse Lunchables.

Aliens, art, As it should be, beauty, Civics, common human decency, cool, God Bless America, honesty, Information, ourselves, Politics, revolution, truth, Uncategorized

Let’s first look and then think

Let us all stop.
pay the attention that the rest of the world deserves. travel.
puts our own life into some sort of matrix with the rest of the world.
We have our one percent, god bless em,
and then there’s the true reality of our
one world.
I once read that one in seven people on our planet is a Chinese peasant.
Think
create some semblance of equality, fairness and decency
in the most basic of all human needs – the care of ourselves,
our loved ones
and our families’
health.

art, As it should be, beauty, Civics, common human decency, cool, God Bless America, honesty, kids, meditation, ourselves, poetry, Politics, Reading, truth

Perspective from the Mini Van

I was driving the other day with my daughter in the back seat when she asked, “Papa, are we rich?

I looked around me at the cracked and worn interior of our ten-year-old rusted Mazda Protégé, glanced at the 126,000 miles on the odometer and noticed the always-on engine light. My mind wandered to our other 10-year-old mini-van, our 1,100 square foot house in need of windows, siding, and roof among other repairs and thought about the piles of debt our family had, laughed a little sarcastically, and said, “No, Olivia, we are not rich.”

Then it dawned on me and I added, “Actually, we are rich.”

“We have our own home with a roof over our heads, that we can keep 70 degrees when it’s 30 below and 68 degrees when it’s 100. We have more than a thousand square feet in there – plus the basement! We have two cars that run – with just two drivers in the house. We have a pantry, refrigerator and freezer that are bursting with food – there’s no room to put anything more! We get new clothes constantly. We have so much stuff that we get to go to the Goodwill twice a year and give a box or two away to people who are not as rich as us! We have computers, an iPad, smartphones, internet access, and cable tv.”

I was just getting started.

“We have a brand new street in front of our house, and roads to take us anywhere we want to go that are lit at night. We have free parks, schools, and libraries all around us. We have wonderful family and great friends who love us and we love back. We have amazing neighbors. We have our own business that provides six darn good jobs. We are surrounded by great little Vietnamese, Thai, East African and good old American restaurants that we have enough money to enjoy!”

“Yeah, there are a lot of people with much more than us and many with much, much more, but there are a hell of a lot more people on this planet with much, much less! We are blessed! So, hell yes, Olivia, we are rich!!

I half expected some applause to accompany my goose bumps, but when I looked in my rear-view mirror, my little girl was just gazing out the window of the van at the world passing by.

“Pretty sweet, huh?” I asked, and she turned, met my eyes in the mirror and smiled.

“Yeah.”