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.

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.”

The Human Condition of Toxicity

This is not a tale of our environment trashed and gone rogue on our poor souls. This is the story of just one woman – a woman who I both despise and pity, a woman who is obviously evil and hurting. So does the latter negate the former? Maybe, in theory, but not in practice. Our actions are our own, no matter what the extenuating circumstances – maybe not in the eyes of the law, but in the practice of the person and the outcomes they beget. For it is not some statute or former case that decides this sort of guilt, but the suffering of the innocent players. A well-paid lawyer can turn his eye to her actions, but no one in her cross-hairs can.

Okay, that’s a rather overblown beginning just to talk about a regular person in the regular world going about her life in a regular job among regular professionals. So what makes her so evil? That is the question – and that is why I am torn about her. I had the opportunity to work with this person for about a year. It began with warnings about her from those who knew her, but I saw none of the serial negativity they described. In fact, it appeared we were on an entirely different track. She seemed to like us and what we did, she even, and this is where I should have seen it coming, acted as if we were in cahoots as she quickly denigrated her colleagues conspiratorially almost immediately when we were alone. I was taken aback as it was entirely unprofessional, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. Mistake, that.

Needless to say, she turned. Her vitriol was soon pointed my way, and you could see that the cahoots was now among others and we were the denigrated and trashed. It’s mostly over, and I certainly don’t judge myself in her eyes, and I’m angry and even shocked that she gets away with what she does, but ultimately I pity her. She’s old. She’s alone. She’s bitter. I can imagine that this is her purpose – so much easier and more powerful to be small, malevolent and angry than to do the work required to make good, make friends and even love. She fills her emptiness with that contempt. She doesn’t deserve that life. Something outside her led her there. No one chooses to be that toxic because there’s never a happy ending. Only endings. And lots of them.

I can’t despise her. I can only feel bad for her. I’m a karma guy. I believe, despite my reality-soaked, scientific enlightenment bent, that somehow she’ll have to pay for these actions, but then again, maybe she already is. We reap what we sow, not in some distant imagined place of suffering, but right here and right now. Bless her.

Joe Six Pack is Dead – in Praise of a Nine-Pack

Joe Six Pack was something other than a real man.

The kind of guy who would flinch. Step aside. Protect himself

when the damsel’s distress got ugly.

Sure, he was buzzed, but also cognizant of his own mortality and I think a drink should conjure immortality.

Save that girl.

Step in front of the bullet.

Or you’re just Joe,

just plain Joe.

And a twelve pack is a bit much, ain’t it? A six pack gets you up the chair lift,

but a twelve pack will lead you                    astray,

a ski stuckinarut,
and off the peripheral cliff,
crashing
onto the rocks
below,
the end of Joe.

Much too much.

A nine-pack would give you the gumption to get up the hill and then

drop

down

over the lip,

through the moguls and flats, over the jump into a Steamin’ Streamin’

(daffy, tip-drop, daffy, if I recall),

then back into moguls, dips, flats, and whatever the mountain had to present.

Represent, mountain, it’s our challenge now.

So let us all call unto the brewers, the big boys and the small taps. Give us a nine pack, we ask,

or give us death – or trepidation. We need neither, but the sweet spot in between, the middle, the fiddle-de-diddle.

Let us fight the tyranny of the six and the twelve together.

Fire and Flintstones

I was reading something about the ineffectiveness of various youth programs around the United States and was struck by a thought that rarely enters my mind: oh, t’were it we only had more fire and brimstone! Well-meaning liberals (and some conservatives surely) put their grand efforts into turning troubled and disadvantaged kids around at every corner. And they mostly fail, but that is not for lack of effort. There is such a giant stew of reasons – ranging from rap music to broken homes to lack of jobs to under-funded schools and missing parents – that something like after-school basketball just can’t make much of a difference. The kids spend a couple of hours a week in some well-planned utopia and then the other 165 in reality. And reality sucks for most of those we are trying to help.

But back in the day, see, religion had an iron grip on many kid’s minds. Yes, they were also more likely to be from two-parent homes, the union kept dad working, there was no such thing as thrash metal and Facebook, and watching too much Flintstones was what parents feared most about the effects of the media, but it was the Sunday sermon that often prevented the slide from good boy to juvenile delinquent. The real horror of burning in hell for lifting a pack of bubble gum held some sway back in those days. And while my own opinion is that it was (and is) tall tales long ago concocted by men wanting to control other men, women and children, Jesus man, it worked!

The Reluctant Alpha Dog

Okay, so how did this happen?

First, I never wanted a dog. I was fully aware of how much work dogs are, how much they tie you down, how much exercise they need (that is, if you care enough about them you will make certain they get, which is one of the things that so amazes me about many so-called dog lovers who let their dog sit in the house all day long and then merely open the back door when they get home so doggy-do-nothing can amble about in the 300 square feet of outside space available to them – rant complete), I was especially fully cognizant of how much they poop, and also how much the annoying little bark machines can cost you in food, dog accouterments and vet fees. So how did this happen?

It may not come as a surprise, but I don’t even really like dogs and those same dog people are always quick to say, “That’s because you never had a dog growing up!”, as if not having a dog growing up is like not having ever ascended Mount Everest growing up. I had plenty of access to dogs because pretty much everyone else had a dog and quite honestly even that was too much dog for me.

So one night, admittedly, after a few beers – and years and years and years of friends, family, and every other dog person who felt the right, telling me that I had to have a dog and that my kids needed to grow up with a dog (lest they end up a dog-hater like me – touché) – I simply caved. I walked into the living room where the kids were watching tv and my eight-year-old daughter asked again, as she had a hundred thousand times before, “When can we get a dog?”

I remember the moment. It’s visually kind of gauzy now, like one of those wax paper photo effects of yore, and I felt my strength not only ebb but drop out of me like I’d eaten a pound of resolve laxative. I paused for a split second and then said it, “We can get a dog.”

All faces turned to me, stunned, which would have been truly comic had it not simply reinforced what I suddenly realized had come out of my mouth.

I was screwed.

I followed up with something about how it had to be a rescue dog, as I’m particularly annoyed by those who concern themselves with holding one bucket of dog genes above another. You know the Nazis did that.

And, yes, I know, suddenly I was the great champion of dogs, but I do have to make that distinction: you can heartily dislike dogs as an aggregate, and yet also not want any one of them to suffer. I don’t have any particular affinity for deer but you’ll never find me hiding in a tree (dressed like a tree) punching a hole through one’s neck with a high-powered rifle. There are plenty of people we dislike passionately, but we’d still pity them their terminal cancer diagnosis, right?

My wife was on the Google and in minutes and had all sorts of printed pictures of future dogs that they all pored over screeching, “Oh, look at that one!” “Ooh, daddy, I want this one!” “I love Scout!” “Can we get Molly?”

Note that I married into a family of serious dog people. There are more dogs than people, I think. These people would shoot one another rather than withhold a biscuit for Spunky. Family get-togethers are like trips to the humane society. Imagine the stress I was under.

Fast forward to today and we have a half black lab/half Australian shepherd (we think) female dog animal named Bindi (came with that, by the way) and here’s the mystery: I’m her alpha dog. She follows me everywhere – up the stairs, down the stairs, into this room and out of that one – into the bathroom for the love of god. She lies at my feet at any opportunity. She stares at me.

The entire family can be yelling “No, Bindi! Drop that, Bindi!” and she’ll just stand there looking up at them, and then I can walk in the room and say, “Drop it.” And the ravaged shoe is on the ground.

But why me? Does she know about my past? Is she affording me this deference because I never wanted her in the first place? Is she trying to break me as they did, but this time not from non-dog-owner to dog-owner, but from dog owner to dog lover?

Restaurants consider themselves either “kid-friendly” or “kid-tolerant”. I am dog tolerant. I am a dog tolerant alpha dog.

Yes, there are fleeting moments where I look over at her and she’s staring up at me, cocks her head every so slightly, and raises an eyebrow and, yes, it’s kind of cute. But, really, did I trade my freedom (she can’t be alone for more than about 6 hours), my money (we talked about that), and my dignity (I pick up her poop, she does not pick up mine), for kind of cute?

Apparently so. And she does sit when I tell her to sit.

I'm only smiling because she's not pooping... right now.
I’m only smiling because she’s not pooping… at least, not right now.

Only the children and the animals can make us better people.

That just occurred to me, suddenly, but what does it mean? I think that what it means is to be good is simple and all of our evolution and intellect and religion and forward progress really has nothing to do with being good. Good is there in its most basic form. You can see it in children and you can see it in the animal kingdom. That’s enough. The rest is all of us just trying too hard to claim it.

Just because!

We do lots of things and believe lots of thing without really thinking about them and sometimes someone else shines a little light on the strangeness of it all. To wit: I came into the bathroom and my eight-year-old daughter was holding one of the large bath towels. The area between her two hands – an eight inch circle – was soaking wet. She was obviously washing her face with it.

“What are you doing?”

“What?”

“The towel – it’s soaked!”

“So.”

“That’s a towel!”

“So.”

“You should be using a wash rag!”

“Why? It’s the exact same material.”

“Wash rags are for washing!” I was getting a little snarky. “Towels are for drying!”

“Wet things.”

“What?”

“Drying wet things so they get wet – like this.” She held up the towel.

“Not like that they don’t!”

“If it’s wet enough they do.”

“Yeah, but now…”

“It has to dry.” She finished my sentence. “Like it always does when it gets wet. And then it gets dry and everything is fine.”

“But that’s too wet!” I said and just then realized how ludicrous this all was. Two pieces of the same material – one two feet by four feet, the other six inches by six inches. I’ve always known that the smaller piece could get really wet and the bigger one could not! Period. End of story.

But why? Just because!

the republicans have been robbed!

Part of me wants to say “Hip Hip Hooray for Rob Portman!” The republican senator from Ohio came out yesterday in support of same-sex marriage – which is gutsy in a party that generally thinks homosexuals are deviants, the earth is seven thousand years old, and all you need are bootstraps to be as fat and happy as Wall Street CEOs.

It seems Rob’s son came out to him and that is what changed his mind. This is all still laudable, but when you are unable to have empathy for any sort of person until there is one of those sorts of people in your own family you might be lacking a sufficient amount of empathy. I’m not even sure empathy is what we feel for our own children considering the absolute closeness we feel with them. The sadness and joy we feel when our own children feel sadness and joy seems closer to some sort of Vulcan mind meld than something called empathy.

Either way, I’ll go with “Hip Hip Hooray!” And add, “Welcome to the enlightenment, the 21st century, and common human decency!”