That Smile

That Smile

1984

It was a fall day, one of those few and far between, pristine days that can only be described as crisp. The air possessed a clarity, a perfection of optics, that we pilots call “clear and a million.” For a few more minutes at least, I could see 93 million miles. The sun was setting, the color of an ember deep in the belly of a campfire, behind the bleachers of the football stadium.

I did not care for football nor about football. I did not usually watch the game nor, to be honest, did I share the devoted, patriotic hope that our Rockets would “Trounce the Tigers” or “Whomp the Warriors” or “Charge the Chargers” (not enough thought put into that last one by the cheerleading coach.) I might, if I scoured the entire varsity roster, have found a single name which didn’t inspire in me a visceral disgust. These were the beefy, bully sons of beefy, bully farmers who, by virtue of their great-great-grandfather’s covered wagon breaking an axle here, claimed pride of place in the community and in our school and on the football team. They were “the jocks” whom I hated with a white-hot passion when they singled me out for persecution and hated all the more when they ignored me. In my narrow world view, it seemed that they lived charmed lives, enjoying the adulation of the community, hero worship by the local WHBF sportscaster, and, I always imagined, the sexual attentions of any and all the girls in my class. 

Still, I attended the Rockridge home games religiously. I even came to enjoy the chilly autumn evenings with my breath visible in the air and the interesting contrast between the brilliance of the “Friday night lights” and the blackness of the cornfields beyond. I liked the unpredictable sounds generated by a crowd in the stands, the half-audible conversations of 500 people discussing soybean yields, PTA fundraisers, and, inevitably, the dickhead quarterback’s prowess on the field. I liked the occasional exuberant roar when our team scored, a bit like the flocks of red-winged blackbirds that twisted and turned in a synchronized ballet, as if a thousand organisms could share one brain. 

All of this modulated sound, was underlaid by the carrier wave drone of the big grain dryer at the nearby elevator, the sonorous, white-noise of continuous combustion. I came to enjoy these things – or tolerate them. But they were not, ultimately, the reason I was there. I came for the band. I came for the marching band and, particularly, a pretty, little dark-haired clarinetist who had stolen my heart and took my breath away. 

She was the loveliest thing my newly-pubescent eyes had alighted on. She was an angel – in every possible sense. She was beautiful and confident but with the demure shyness of the cherubs in Raphael’s Sistine Madonna. And she was smart, the polar opposite of the redneck linebackers on the field. She thought interesting thoughts and said interesting things and knew about books, had read books, and despite being the daughter of a local farmer herself, whose grandfather’s father had broken an axle in Edgington Township, she was the opposite of whatever a beefy, bully was. She was decidedly different from the stuck-up, pageant-queen-wannabe cheerleaders sharing the field with her.

I watched her from the stands as she played the national anthem. I applauded wildly as they covered Wipeout, with accompanying full drum kit on a hayrack towed behind a lawn tractor. I gave the stink-eye to the football fans who talked through her performance.  I had, after all, offered their moron progeny the courtesy of tepid clapping at touchdown time. 

And I had contrived, when the band returned to their designated seats in the grandstand, to sit nearby, in a place that offered me a convenient view of the little black-haired girl and her clarinet.

She had other suiters, a fact which now makes me reflect on the unlikelihood of what happened. She had even accepted an invitation to the dance that night from a “friend.” Still, after the game, I waited in the grass practice field behind the stands, with happy people filing past to their cars (we won the game.) I was miserable. There is very little worse than being miserable in the presence of happy people. 

I had brought a pitiful little flower for her. Initially this struck me as a “smooth move” but, as the minutes ticked away, my droopy carnation seemed to grow more pitiful and less adequate to its purpose. I saw a couple of trumpet players pass on their way to the band room. When they saw me they pointed discreetly and emitted a joint titter that echoed across the lot. I felt small and cold and stupid, a nerdy boy shivering in a nerdy tan jacket and corduroys. I held out unreasonable hope that something might yet be salvaged of this pathetic catastrophe.

And then she appeared, disgorged with the streaming crowd, from the opening between the bleachers. She was with her best friend and she was laughing. And she was beautiful. She was wearing a black sweater with a panda knitted on the front. She was wearing black and white saddle shoes, and, oddly, a black bowler hat. Her cheeks were rosy from the cold, one of Raphael’s cherubs. She looked up from her clarinet and noticed me standing alone in the middle of the field and, to my ever-lasting gratitude, she smiled. She smiled genuinely, involuntarily, the kind of smile that a person hopes for, longs for, lives for, all his life. It was a smile that demonstrated, without the need for mere words, that she was happy to see me and my sad flower standing there. It was an honest smile, with no sign of irony, or artifice, or even charity.  She was happy to see me. She was actually happy to see me. My heart skipped a beat. 

She left her friend then, and she came to me, and she gave me a hug. I remember that hug as if it were here and now. I wanted to remember it. I concentrated on the moment to grasp it, to capture it, to file it away. I recall the chill air in my lungs from that first intake of breath. I remember her friend, over her shoulder, tittering as her bandmates had done. I remember the beep of a car horn in the parking lot behind, not a warning or a display of anger, but a friendly acknowledgement of one friend in a car to another in the crosswalk. I remember the smell of bratwurst and charcoal drifting from the concession stand. I remember the visiting team’s dejected bus idling nearby. But mostly I remember her, the feel of her sweater and the clean smell of her perfume and the unruly shock of her bangs protruding from beneath the brim of that bowler hat. Above all, I remember the enveloping warmth of her hug as if she exuded a supernatural energy that lit me up inside like a neon bulb. 

Skip forward thirty-four years.

The term long day doesn’t begin to describe the labyrinth I found my way out of. I woke up before dawn in the featureless frozen tundra that is Fargo, North Dakota. I mainlined caffeine in the form of an acrid-tasting, styrofoam-cupful of perfectly mediocre hotel room coffee. And I started the day.

My crew was crabby and the airplane was cold. Even the water bottles in the galley cart were frozen. We had to deice the hoar-frost-covered wings and it took forever. Ineptitude seemed epidemic, from gate agent to ground crew to air traffic control – to me. I signaled the ramper to disengage the ground power unit before deselecting the switch in the cockpit, precipitating a ten minute delay as I restarted the plane, reentered all of the flight plan data, and suffered the Flight Attendant’s caustic remarks when the plane went unexpectedly dark and quiet. We flew to Chicago. 

We swapped airplanes at O’Hare, from Gate B24 to gate F14 (about 1/4 mile of walking.) We had to repeat all the pre-flight steps we had accomplished, so laboriously, in Fargo. The new airplane was late and included its own catalog of maintenance deferrals, including one that limited our airspeed on the ensuing flights to 250 KTS (about 80 mph slower than our usual speed). 

The weather sucked. When we arrived overhead, Dayton, OH was suffering a runway closure, leaving only one plausible instrument approach, one which would allow us to descend to 450 feet above the ground. The solid cloud deck hovered 230 feet above the airport. Aside from the top third of a tall radio mast sticking up through the murk, we could see nothing. We entered a holding pattern. 

As you might imagine, people who buy an airline ticket to Dayton, OH would prefer to go to Dayton, OH. They are not well-pleased when you take them, after 3/4 of an hour of airborne holding, to Columbus.  They are less enthusiastic when you tell them the punch-line to the biggest joke of all;  Dayton’s weather will not improve until tomorrow night. We will be either: A. leaving them in Columbus, B. transporting them on a bus to Dayton, or C. taking them back with us to Chicago, from whence they had commenced. 

Every passenger was surly to the flight attendant, which translated into a general crabbiness on her part, which ultimately poisoned the congenial relationship the First Officer and I had built up over the course of four days. Oh, and the weather had deteriorated in Chicago. The windy city was windy as hell. We made it back to O’Hare four hours late, tired and disgusted. Then I had to drive home, three hours across frigid northern Illinois.

I pulled into our icy driveway, and, with relief, turned off the ignition. My hands were sore from clenching the steering wheel. My back hurt from leaning forward to peer out of the ice- obscured windshield. When I cracked the car door, I was greeted with a blast of arctic air that made me think, just for a moment, that I had gone full-circle and was back in god-forsaken North Dakota. 

I trudged to the house, dejected, exhausted, defeated, my thin leather wingtips filling with snow. I opened the back door of our crappy little house. The screen door, with it’s sticky latch, was frozen. I had to batter it with my fist to break it loose, which, of course, released a cascade of snow from the gutter down the back of my neck. The inner door, with the bad seal, was also frozen and required battering. All of these things should have been repaired long ago. Something about my door battering vibrated the filament of the motion detector light on the front of the house and it broke, leaving me standing in the cold, covered in snow, in total darkness. I stepped onto the cold porch, set down my flight case, and reached for the kitchen door. And the world changed.

The kitchen door swung open. The porch flooded with warmth and light and the aroma of something delightful. And there, in the glow of a new and different world, stood the little black-haired girl. She had waited up for me. She had, indeed, waited up for me for thirty-four years. And she had made me cookies. She took my wet jacket and hung it on its peg. She set my suitcase over by the furnace register. She reached up and took off my epaulets and put them in their place in the china cabinet. And, all this done, she gave me a hug, a warm,  enveloping, life-affirming hug. And then the little black-haired girl smiled. 

I am one lucky bastard.

 

By: Dustin Joy

Quotes, etc.

For most of my adult life I have been a collector of literary esoterica. I love clever turns of phrase (intentional or not), strange juxtapositions of images and words, and brilliant quotes, both funny and serious. To satisfy my habit I seek out these gems in the places I have long found them. Local newspapers (particularly police blotters) are a treasure trove of entertaining tidbits. I also search the ubiquitous local guide books found in hotel lobbies. Not every town can be New York City, open 24/7 and overflowing with culture. When you are a little burg in the middle of nowhere you may have to get creative to bring in tourist dollars. Superlatives may be hard to come by. A recent “facts” segment in the Eastern Washington State tourism guide states:

The Palouse region grows 18% of the country’s lentils. 

Yes, yes they do. You have to work with what you’ve got. 

You might even have to add a few qualifiers to your local claim to fame:

 COME AND SEE THE second LARGEST antique GUMBALL MACHINE IN southeastern McClean county MISSOURI!

I love these things, no matter how trumped up or qualified. I will happily drive 40 miles to see the largest ball of twine in Minnesota. I have. It is really big! – for Minnesota.

I plan to include more of my travel magazine finds in future posts as well as sundry items from small town newspapers. Here is a nice example from the Durango, CO Herald police blotter for Wednesday, August 22:

1:02 AM – Someone called to report that a man punched a car in the 900 block of Main Avenue.

1:26 PM – Someone’s tire was punctured in the 2700 block of Main Avenue. (This guy really has a problem with cars, I guess)

4:23 PM – Someone locked a bike to another person’s bike instead of the bike rack near Main Avenue and East Eight Street. (No crime too small)

10:54 pm – A man was in his underwear in the 500 block of Animas View Drive.

I think you see what I mean. This stuff is better than reality TV. 

I have been reticent, lately, about posting to my blog. I have been working on some other writing projects and, I must admit, have been a bit lazy. I hereby pledge to post more regularly. That may include my own essays, short stories, and poetry. It may also include some of the “stuff” I encounter in my travels around the country. It’s stuffiminterestedin, after all.

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Today I want to feature the fruits of my other collecting hobby – Quotations. Everywhere I go and in everything I read I seek out really excellent quotes. I jot them down in my notebook and store them away for future inspiration. I look for profundity  and humor. Great quotes are often the product of great minds, but not always. One of my favorite quotes of all time is a quick piece of bluster from the boxer Mike Tyson:

“Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth” 

Quotes represent, to me, the perfect distillation of complex or confusing ideas into coherent, often beautiful, English. I love them and I collect them and I will share a bit of my collection with you. The quotes presented here will obviously reflect my own biases both politically and philosophically. Still, I am open to the well-crafted quote from people who represent other points of view and even some who I do not respect very much (Mr. Tyson, for example, or … Ronald Reagan). 

I will start today with a couple of gentlemen who recently passed away and whose voices will be greatly missed. Both of these men were brilliant and intelligent and funny. Both had principles and were, in the truest sense of the word, humanists, which is the greatest compliment I can give a person. 

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Senator John McCain

The following quote was made by Senator McCain at a campaign rally on October 10, 2008 in response to one of his supporters who had called his opponent Barack Obama an “Arab” and said she was frightened of Obama being elected. This moment of political courage is unmatched in my lifetime. It shows definitively what a noble man John McCain was and why he will be missed so badly.

About Obama:

“No, M’aam, No M’aam, he’s a decent family man citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. He is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as President of the United States.”

More quotes by Senator McCain which reveal his humanity, brilliance, and logic:

“Our shared values define us more than our differences. And acknowledging those shared values can see us through our challenges today if we have the wisdom to trust in them.”

“Every day, people serve their neighbors and our nation in many different ways, from helping a child learn and easing the loneliness of those without a family to defending our freedom overseas. It is in this spirit of dedication to others and to our country that I believe service should be broadly and deeply encouraged.”

“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.”

“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”

“War is wretched beyond description, and only a fool or a fraud could sentimentalize its cruel reality.”

“Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed.”

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Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain was not a politician. He was a sometime drug addict and directionless youth who became the Executive Chef at a well-regarded New York restaurant. His 2000 book Kitchen Confidential became a surprise best-seller and catapulted Bourdain to fame and other media opportunities. Chief among these were No Reservations on the Travel Channel and CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Both shows, focusing on food and travel, revealed Bourdain’s fundamental humanity, humility, decency, and integrity. He was intelligent, broad-minded, and generous.

“I should’ve died in my 20s. I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s. I feel like I’ve stolen a car — a really nice car — and I keep looking in the rearview mirror for flashing lights. But there’s been nothing yet.”

“Life is complicated. It’s filled with nuance. It’s unsatisfying. … If I believe in anything, it is doubt. The root cause of all life’s problems is looking for a simple fucking answer.”

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”

“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”

“Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia — the fruits of his genius for statesmanship — and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milošević.”

“I love the sheer weirdness of the kitchen life: the dreamers, the crackpots, the refugees, and the sociopaths with whom I continue to work; the ever-present smells of roasting bones, searing fish, and simmering liquids; the noise and clatter, the hiss and spray, the flames, the smoke, and the steam. Admittedly, it’s a life that grinds you down. Most of us who live and operate in the culinary underworld are in some fundamental way dysfunctional. We’ve all chosen to turn our backs on the nine-to-five, on ever having a Friday or Saturday night off, on ever having a normal relationship with a non-cook.”

“Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have.”

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Favorite Quotes from others

Kurt Vonnegut – American writer

“I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead.”

“If what Jesus said was good, and so much of it was absolutely beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not?” 

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow.”

“Evolution can go to hell as far as I am concerned. What a mistake we are. We have mortally wounded this sweet life-supporting planet – the only one in the whole Milky Way – with a century of transportation whoopee.”

“Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.”

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”

“We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” (Vonnegut credited this statement to his son, Mark)

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Mark Twain – American writer

For those of you who think Mark Twain was some sort of comedian only, a humorist, try this on for size:

A God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell, mouths mercy and invented hell, mouths golden rules, and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man’s acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused slave to worship him! . . . 

“What a helluva heaven it will be when they get all these hypocrites assembled there.”

“Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is. I dunno. If the Eiffel tower were now representing the world’s age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man’s share of that age; & anybody would perceive that that skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would. I dunno.

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” 

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform.” 

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” 

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” 

“Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.” 

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” 

“I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” 

“God created war so that Americans would learn geography.” 

“Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.” 

“Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.” 

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Elie Wiesel – Holocaust Survivor, Nobel Prize Winner, and author of Night

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

“Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.” 

“Once you bring life into the world, you must protect it. We must protect it by changing the world.”

“That I survived the Holocaust and went on to love beautiful girls, to talk, to write, to have toast and tea and live my life – that is what is abnormal.” 

“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.” 

“Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.” 

“When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude.”

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Henry David Thoreau – American writer

“It is never too late to give up our prejudices.”

“If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.”

“The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.”

“My greatest skill has been to want but little.”

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

“The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” 

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

When his aunt Louisa asked him in his last weeks if he had made his peace with God, Thoreau responded:

 “I did not know we had ever quarreled.”

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Stephen Fry – Comedian, actor, intellectual, and atheist

To the question “What if you are wrong and find yourself standing before the Pearly Gates talking to God:

“I will basically say: Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It is utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who created a world which is so full of injustice and pain. I wouldn’t want to get in [to heaven] on his terms. The god who created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac. Utter maniac. Totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him? What kind of god would do that? Yes, the world is very splendid, but it also has in it insects whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. They eat outwards from the eyes. Why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable. So, atheism is not just about not believing theres a god. On the assumption that there is one what kind of god is he? It’s perfectly apparent he’s monstrous. Utterly, utterly monstrous and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner, more worth living in my opinion.” 

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OTHER FAVORITE QUOTES:

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Martin Amis – British novelist and essayist

“To say he is humorless I mean to deliberately impugn his seriousness.”

“If God existed, and if he cared for humankind, he would never have given us religion.”

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Edith Sitwell – British poet and critic

“I am not eccentric. It’s just that I am more alive than most people. I am an unpopular electric eel set in a pond of catfish.” 

“I am patient with stupidity, but not with those who are proud of it.” 

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Dorothy Parker – American poet, writer, and critic

“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.” 

“Razors pain you,

Rivers are damp,

Acids stain you,

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful,

Nooses give,

Gas smells awful.

You might as well live.” 

“Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.” 

“Don’t look at me in that tone of voice.” 

“I don’t know much about being a millionaire, but I’ll bet I’d be darling at it.” 

“Tell him I was too fucking busy– or vice versa.” 

“By the time you swear you’re his,

Shivering and sighing.

And he vows his passion is,

Infinite, undying.

Lady make note of this —

One of you is lying.” 

“That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment.” 

“What fresh hell is this?” 

“They sicken of the calm who know the storm.” 

When asked by a friend to use the word horticulture in a senetence:

“You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” 

“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.” 

But now I know the things I know

And do the things I do,

And if you do not like me so,

To hell, my love, with you.” 

“This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.”

“I require three things in a man: he must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.” 

“Take me or leave me; or, as is the usual order of things, both.” 

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” 

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John Cage – American Composer

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”

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Bill Nye (the Science Guy) – Television presenter and science communicator

Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”

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Willa Cather – American writer

There are only one or two human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened.”

“I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.”

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Christopher Hitchens – British/American journalist, writer, and prominent atheist

“Our problem is this; our prefrontal lobes are too small and our adrenaline glands are too big and our thumb finger opposition isn’t all it might be, and we’re afraid of the dark and we’re afraid to die and we believe in the truths of holy books that are so stupid and so fabricated that a child can, and all children do, as you can tell by their questions, actually see through them.”

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Robert M. Price – American theologian and writer

“I’m going to hell according to someone’s doctrine. (Islam, Christianity, etc). I may as well call them as I see them.”

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Pete Docter – Director of animated movies UP, Monsters Inc., and Inside Out

Anyone out there who’s in junior high, high school, working it out, suffering, there are days you’re gonna feel sad, you’re gonna feel angry, you’re gonna be scared. That’s nothing you can choose, but you can make stuff. Make films. Draw. Write. It’ll make a world of difference.”

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H. L. Mencken – American journalist, essayist, and cultural critic

“A philosopher is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there. A theologian is the man who finds it.”

“On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

“Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another.”

“It was morality that burned the books of the ancient sages, and morality that halted the free inquiry of the Golden Age and substituted for it the credulous imbecility of the Age of Faith. It was a fixed moral code and a fixed theology which robbed the human race of a thousand years by wasting them upon alchemy, heretic-burning, witchcraft and sacerdotalism.”

“The final test of truth is ridicule. Not the laws of the United States but the mother-in-law joke brought the Mormons to surrender. Not the horror of it but the absurdity of it killed the doctrine of infant damnation. But the razor edge of ridicule is turned by the tough hide of truth.”

“We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

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Garrison Keillor – American writer and radio host

“People with plenty of work to do are less enamored of self-destruction.”

“One reads books in order to gain the privilege of living more than one life. People who don’t read are trapped in a mine shaft, even if they think the sun is shining.” 

“God writes a lot of comedy… the trouble is, he’s stuck with so many bad actors who don’t know how to play funny.” 

“Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known. ” 

“Intelligence is like four-wheel drive. It only allows you to get stuck in more remote places.” 

“Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.” (I’m not too sure about that one)

“The most un-American thing you can say is, ‘You can’t say that.” 

“They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad to realize that I’m going to miss mine by just a few days.” 

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Anonymous

“Saying Lincoln was a Republican is like saying Nicholas Cage won an Oscar. Technically it’s true, but a lot of shit has happened since then.”

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Malcolm Gladwell – Canadian journalist and author

“You don’t want bureaucracies run by Marine Corps guys. The worst thing that can happen if you’re in a bureaucracy is if the bureaucracy gets really, really good. Our liberties are imperiled overly competent bureaucrats.”

“We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we really don’t have an explanation for.”

“Insight is not a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads. It is a flickering candle that can easily be snuffed out.”

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Groucho Marx – American comedian, writer, and actor

“There is one way to find out if a man is honest: ask him; if he says yes, you know he’s crooked.”

“I dont want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

“A black cat crossing your path signifies…that the animal is going somewhere.”

“Quote me as saying I was mis-quoted.”

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Ernest Hemingway – Nobel prize-winning writer

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” 

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

“The first draft of anything is shit.”

“I drink to make other people more interesting.”

“It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”

“All thinking men are atheists.”

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

“But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” 

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”

“If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it.”

“All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.”

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Joan Didion – American journalist and writer

“we tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

“I did not always think he was right nor did he always think I was right, but we were each the person the other trusted.”

“Innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself.”

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Elif Shafak – Turkish novelist and essayist

“If we learn anything, we learn it from people who are different from us.”

“For extremism to work they need to dehumanize ‘the other.’ Fiction rehumanizes. Fiction tells us that the person you saw as ‘the other’ has a story. If you know that person’s story, you can connect with that person’s sorrow or hopes. In a world of so much conflict, we need the art of story-telling like never before.”

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Iris Murdoch – British novelist

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”

“I daresay anything can be made holy by being sincerely worshipped.”

“At crucial moments of choice most of the business of choosing is already over.”

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Neil Pasricha – Canadian author, blogger, and podcaster

“None of your ancestors was a virgin”

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Ronald Reagan – (Written by Reagan’s chief speech writer Ken Khachigian)

“How can we love our country and not love our countrymen, and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they are sick, and provide opportunities to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?”

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 Charles Dickens – English writer

“Spring is the time of year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade.”

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Eleanor Roosevelt – First lady of the United States and diplomat

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

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Samuel Johnson – English writer and lexicographer

“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”

“Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.”

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.”

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Adam Smith – Scottish Economist

“Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.”

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Richard Feynman – American Physicist 

“Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” 

“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.” 

“Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.”

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” 

“If you thought that science was certain – well, that is just an error on your part.”

“I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb.” 

“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.” 

“All the time you’re saying to yourself, ‘I could do that, but I won’t,’ — which is just another way of saying that you can’t.” 

“Physics is to math what sex is to masturbation.” 

“It doesn’t seem to me that this fantastically marvelous universe, this tremendous range of time and space and different kinds of animals, and all the different planets, and all these atoms with all their motions, and so on, all this complicated thing can merely be a stage so that God can watch human beings struggle for good and evil – which is the view that religion has. The stage is too big for the drama.” 

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And, finally, some immortal wisdom from The Princess Bride

“A few more steps and we’ll be safe in the fire swamp.” 

“We’ll never survive.” 

“Nonsense, you’re only saying that because no one ever has.”

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by: Dustin Joy

If this isn’t nice…

If This Isn’t Nice…
by: Dustin Joy

Well I’m not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short, and the days too fast
The things you lean on are the things that don’t last
Well it’s just now and then my line gets cast into these
time passages
Time Passages – Al Stewart

Kurt Vonnegut, in his later years, concluded many of his speeches with a simple lesson. He was scrupulous about crediting the idea to his uncle Alex. He felt that a simple mental exercise had made his life better. In Vonnegut’s words:
And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim, or murmur, or think at some point, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

I have been trying to take Vonnegut’s advice to heart. I think his mantra contributes to a better life. I think it works in the present tense but, I would like to suggest, it applies quite as well to events in the past.

Memories are our possessions. More than any other kind of property they belong, personally, intimately, to us. Only dementia can steal away the treasure we possess in our memories. They can be called on for strength in times of trouble. They can be a reservoir of hope, and they can serve, per Vonnegut’s suggestion, to uplift the spirit and remind the downtrodden that there once were good times and might be again.

Sometimes, when I am down or nursing a grievance, I go on a little mental journey. I am buoyed by a lovely memory, a piece of mental real-estate which has been mine for nearly 40 years. It never fails to offer me comfort. I close my eyes and relive an afternoon from my childhood and, no matter the present circumstances, I feel better.

A boy of 14 and a man of 65 are in a boat. They are not speeding down the channel but floating, drifting among tall trees, the trunks of which have been overtaken by a Spring flood. Here and there one can see little mounds of earth poking up through the floodwaters, but mostly it is a wet world. It is a wet world dappled with sunlight and filled with a the croaks of frogs, the plops of turtles, and the startled cries of wood ducks.
The boy guides the wooden boat with a pair of oars. He is a skinny boy with a notable awkwardness in his manner. He is no athlete and mostly lacks grace and coordination, that is, on land. Here he is smooth and efficient, propelling the narrow craft between the maples and the cottonwoods quietly. He executes long power strokes when he can but is compelled, frequently, to retract one or the other oar into the boat, dripping, to avoid bumping a branch.

The boat is a beauty, his Grandfather’s pride, and the boy takes pride in it, too. He takes pride in it’s lovely alternating oak and pine ribs. He loves it for the sleek, elegant curve of its transom and the v-shape of it’s bow. He loves the creaky brass oarlocks and the varnished gunwales. He loves this boat because he knows it’s history. He knows the story of how the boat was ordered from a catalog and arrived at the depot in town on the back of a railroad flatcar.

He can recite the outdoor sagas; this bow piled full of wild ducks and monster catfish whose length matched the boat’s beam. The boy loves this boat precisely because it is an anachronism. It is an oddity among the fleets of metal Jon Boats which ply the Mississippi. Other fishermen have been known to mock it at the boat ramp – impractical. At this point in his life the boy sees the boat as a proxy. He is coming to realize that he himself is, if not an oddity, then at least odd. His quirky pastimes (collecting coins, reading the encyclopedia, flying model airplanes) are symptoms of a congenital “un-coolness” which will be made painfully manifest in high school.

There is a fine line between quirky and weird, after all, between eccentric and crazy. He senses this already. He knows that the lovely cheerleader who sits next to him in English class, will not really be part of his life, his daydreams notwithstanding. If he has to be odd the boy wants, somehow, to be oddly beautiful, like his Grandpa’s boat. That afternoon, enjoying nature, soaking in the sounds, the smells, the warmth, and taking in the wonderful curiosity of floating on an island, the boy is transported. He is transported from the daily life where he is an awkward, bumbling nerd to a place where he is competent and impressive and beloved.

I still have my Grandpa’s boat, and… I am still odd. I retain the memory of that perfect day, and the flood, and the wood ducks, and my Grandpa, sitting in the bow seat, leaning back and resting his head on a boat cushion. I still remember how the narrow sunbeams burrowed through the canopy of branches above and exploded in the rivulets of water running down the oars. I remember the serenity and the solitude and the perfection of the day.

Neuroscientists have demonstrated that the “use” of a memory; recalling it and then storing it away again frequently alters or degrades it. Like the famous telephone game our memories undergo a loss of fidelity and can, in fact, begin to incorporate elements which were not present in the actual incident. But It may be that perfect fidelity is not what matters.

It may be that, as a crutch to mental health, a modified memory is just what the doctor ordered. My treasured afternoon with my Grandpa is sweet to me and though it is possible that it did not occur as I describe it to you here, let alone how I might describe it to you in five years, or ten, it is of great value to my sanity. I miss my Grandpa. I miss the way he cocked his head to listen for geese. I miss the rough feel of his five o’clock shadow when he would puff out his cheeks and I would run my little hand across the whiskers. I miss the way he would pretend to struggle with some simple mechanical device so that I could “help” him. And I miss the genuine and exuberant little whistle of appreciation he would give for some trifling achievement I had obtained. I have never had a better cheerleader, and I never shall.

And so I draw on this memory frequently. I open the rusty file drawer and I pull out the yellowing folder. Inside is a photograph as vivid and as clear and as powerful as it was the day I put it there. I pull it out and I look at it and I remember. I think to myself, and I exclaim, or murmur (as is appropriate) “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Charity Nebbe

 

Charity Nebbe
by: Dustin Joy

Note: In case you are wondering; yes, this post was approved by my dear wife. 

 

I am obsessed with Charity Nebbe. In case you don’t know who Charity Nebbe is, I will tell you. Charity is a public radio host and the on-air personality for the show Iowa Ingredient. She is smart and clever. She has a playful wit and an infectious laugh. She listens politely and says intelligent, insightful things. Charity is pretty. She might not be considered beautiful in a shallow, conventional, commercial sense. She has a generous, natural nose that is to me, superior to those rhinoplastied monstrosities we see so often on TV. She has short, pixyish hair, giving her a flirty, devil-may-care look. She is thin but with just the tiniest bulge of a belly as if to say, “sure, I go to the gym,” but I’m not one of those “I go to the gym people.”

Charity is a vegetarian, but not a preachy one. She’s written a children’s book, and…get this… she won an Emmy. Well, okay, a regional Emmy. Charity is an Iowa girl. She lives on a farm near Kalona, with her two kids and her … baker husband. He’s a baker. Not that there is anything wrong with that. God knows loaves must be baked and someone must bake them. So what if he wears an apron?

Charity was born in 1975 which makes her only five (or six …or seven) years younger than me. She grew up in Cedar Falls and attended Iowa State University majoring in Political Science and Biology. I majored in Biology with a concentration in Political Science. I know, right? Charity went on to a successful career in radio. With her undeniable good looks and irrepressible joie de vivre, the move to television was inevitable. Each week on IPTV she gives Iowa, finally, something to be proud of.

Now I know you are asking, “how does he know all these cool things about Charity Nebbe?” or, perhaps, “why does he know all these cool things about Charity Nebbe?” It’s not because I have stalked her. Parenthetically, that is really unfair of you to think that. I just did a little research on Wikipedia, that’s all. My interest is a healthy interest, literally. Ive learned a lot from Iowa Ingredient. I’ve learned about the merits of arugula, kale, and organic honey. I’m a better person for my obsession.

And here’s the thing. I am married. I am happily married and have been for 26 years. I love my wife with all my heart. I’m not at all suggesting that I would leave her and my beloved, beloved kids to run away with Charity Nebbe to a cabin in the high Sierras where we would hike and paddle around mountain lakes in kayaks and eat wild chanterelles which Charity would sauté up with a little garlic and thyme wearing that cute apron.… I would not do that.

But my wife and I have a deal. If, hypothetically, the rock star and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin shows up at our front door in Illinois City and asks my wife to come away with him to the south of France I, as a good husband, would step aside and … go back in and watch Iowa Ingredient. Likewise, and it’s only fair when you think about it, if Charity Nebbe someday recognizes that her glamorous life as a public television star is hollow and meaningless and that her …baker…husband does not adore her like…well, like his precious crescent rolls…then.

I think I have a perfectly acceptable, not-at-all weird obsession with Charity Nebbe. I watch her show. I know things about Charity that I do not know about Jaques Pepin or Mara Liasson. So what? I care, for some reason, that Charity raises chickens and that she once went sky-diving. I really don’t care how much marijuana Rick Steves smokes. Why is that? Is it okay to Google Charity Nebbe? Would it be okay to write her a fan letter? Does it matter that I am a middle-aged man? Why? If I were a teenage boy with a poster of Ariana Grande on my wall that would be okay. But if I’m an adult man with a life-size poster of Charity Nebbe on my wall (and I’m not saying such a poster exists) am I eccentric?

Maybe this obsession is like my infatuation with geocaching. Maybe it is a little stranger, like my brief devotion to the discography of Glen Campbell. Both were harmless and transitory. Charity Nebbe is a real, live person, though. It’s not that Glen Campbell wasn’t a real person. But a superstar is really more of an abstraction and, ultimately, it was just Wichita Lineman, Galveston, and By the Time I get to Phoenix that rattled around in my iPod for a time. I was really more obsessed with Jimmy Webb than Glen Campbell.

I could download episodes of Iowa Ingredient I suppose and study them like the Zapruder film. That is a tolerable eccentricity. If I drive past Charity’s house, though, that is a different thing, maybe? If I call her at work or write her a letter that is odd? Probably. If I meet her outside her office with a heart-shaped box of candy I’ve probably crossed some kind of line. Women, in our culture, have put up with this sort of bullshit in a way that most men never will.

The news today is full of men behaving badly, and stupidly, in the company of women. Certainly these things run on a continuum. There’s Jimmy Carter, who admitted to “lusting in his heart” and then there is Donald Trump who, you know, said all the things he said…and continues to say…and continues to say. There is normal, and then there is deviant. But where, exactly is that line?

I suspect every person becomes obsessed with another person at some point in their lives. These interests are usually controlled. You are a “fan” or you have a “man-crush” or you “really enjoy the company of” so-and-so. You might know that Mark in accounting is an avid cyclist. But a “normal” person doesn’t fish Mark’s discarded chewing gum out of the garbage can when he leaves the room.

I once had a co-worker who followed the Moody Blues around the world, spending, by her own estimate $50,000 on travel and concert tickets. She was clearly obsessed with Justin Hayward in a way that was unhealthy. Or was it? It appeared to make her life richer and, at worst, constituted an occasional nuisance to the Justin Hayward. Until it doesn’t. It is that “until it doesn’t” that is the problem.

I don’t think I’m crazy. I will never pursue a relationship of any kind with Charity Nebbe. I predict that my interest in her will fade like my devotion to Hemingway’s short stories, my crush on Pam Dawber, and geocaching.The only question that troubles me is this; does the unhealthy obsessive know when he crosses that line? Does the devoted fan recognize when he becomes a scary creep? I fear that, at some point, he does not. That is the scary part, scary to the obsessive, but scarier by far, to the target.

Distilled Arguments

Distilled Arguments

The world is a complicated place. Determining the facts, figuring out the truth, making the fine distinctions necessary to alight on the right course of action, these are difficult things. They call for free inquiry, diligent research, the application of logic, and a thorough challenge in the free market of ideas. At least that’s what I think.

Our President and his administration see things differently. Their world is a small, simple place where the opinion of every redneck in a pickup truck is equal to that of a PhD in physics. In their minds all political arguments can be formulated from a bible verse (mostly Leviticus), a twangy country song, or a Fox News ticker.

Not only have the President and his cronies done away with free inquiry and the thorough vetting of facts, he has even made a mockery of the need to explain and justify his positions. Our complicated world and all that is in it must now be distilled down to a nasty 140 character screed from the Chief Executive of our nation.

Question: Compared to other Presidents, how did Barak Obama carry out his duties during his first term? Was he an effective leader? Was he a good steward of our resources and talents as a nation? Did he advance our nation’s purposes on the world stage? Was he a steady and sane force for good? How did the economy perform under his leadership? What do the data and statistics say?

These are all great and necessary questions for determining the direction our democracy should take in the future. Here is what Mr. Trump reduced these questions to:

“Obama is, without question, the WORST EVER president. I predict he will now do something really bad and totally stupid to show manhood!”

The irony is so rich it makes Scrooge McDuck look like Mother Theresa.

Apparently those of us who value education and science and the pleasure of intellectual inquiry have lost. We who find beauty in a cleverly and subtly woven argument cannot compete with the President’s literal mind and lightning-fast thumb. SAD!!!!!!

I surrender. I concede that the American public will not sit still for complicated explanations. Our eyes glaze over at anything short of fireworks if it lasts longer than a YouTube video. But the problem is, I still like philosophical questions. I still believe in science and investigation and free inquiry. What is a boy to do?

Here is what I’m gonna try. Without much confidence I am going to take a swing at dumbing down some complicated political and scientific ideas I have spent years trying to understand. I have not been able to get them down to 140 characters but most of these will be shorter than a YouTube video of guys kicking each other in the balls. I call these DISTILLED ARGUMENTS. I’m thinking of making this an occasional series. I’ll start with a pair of contentious ones. Here goes:


EVOLUTION:

This is an easy one, I think, the no-brainer which generated our enormous brains. Here is the argument for evolution in seven lines.

  1. Offspring tend to have a combination of the physical characteristics of their parents. (Well, Duh!)

2. In every generation fewer offspring survive than are born. (Duh, again)

3. The ones who survive are the ones who reproduce. (Duh, Duh, and Duh)

4. In limited environments (all known environments) some individuals will be more successful than others. Those are the ones who survive and reproduce.

5. The next generation will be made up of the offspring of these survivors.

6. Repeat this process for thousands or millions of generations and you have a population made up of individuals well adapted to their environment.

7. That is evolution in a nutshell and it is not complicated or unlikely. It is simple and it is inevitable.

 

 


Next, a political argument. Everyone I have ever met in Canada thinks this is a no-brainer (and I’ve met quite a few.) If you disagree I would love to hear your thoughtful, well-reasoned argument.

 

WHY WE SHOULD HAVE A SINGLE PAYER HEALTHCARE SYSTEM:

1. People should not die because they are poor. People should not be bankrupted because they get sick. If you cannot accept these two assertions as axiomatic I will acknowledge the intellectual consistency of your argument but I can never find common ground with you. I cannot teach you to care about other people and show empathy.

2. If you accept the above premises you have accepted, unambiguously, the proposition that providing the best health care possible to all Americans is somebody’s obligation.

3. It’s our obligation. There’s nobody here but us chickens. We Americans need health care. We are the ones who must provide it. That means taxes, or premiums, or whatever you want to call them.

4. The cost of doctors and nurses and hospitals may be “too much” but they contribute to the goal of using the resources available to provide healthcare to all Americans.

5. Insurance Companies, conversely, who must make a profit for shareholders, do nothing but take resources away from the system.

6. While for-profit insurance drains the system of resources the concept of “insurance,” spreading the risk over the entire American population, makes perfect sense.

7. An insurance pool of the entire population paid for by the entire population is, in fact, the most efficient possible model for providing healthcare to all citizens.

8. People who are healthy now but do not buy insurance are parasites on the system. There is nothing noble about them because every single person requires healthcare at some point in his life.

9. Finally, I have to address the boogie-man of rationing. Rationing will and currently does exist in every healthcare delivery model on the planet. In our current system for-profit insurance companies do the rationing and have, of course, the incentive to ration coverage aggressively. A government payer system would have to ration care, also, but without the incentive to make a profit could base such decisions on science and logic and compassion. And, if people were unhappy with the way the government was carrying out this responsibility, we could vote them out of office. Try voting the President of United Healthcare out of his office.

Nuff said.

 

I will have more distilled arguments in the future. If you think I’m off base or mistaken I’d love to hear from you. Give me a comment.

 

by: Dustin Joy

Hamilton – A Review (of the soundtrack. I still can’t afford Broadway tickets.)

 

For the last few months I’ve been part of a local writers group and it has inspired me to explore different forms of writing. I’ve now written short stories, non-fiction essays, even poetry. This is my first try at a review. 

 

HAMILTON

A few years ago we drilled a new water well at our house. When I say we, of course, I mean that we hired a crew of professional drillers to do it for us. While I did not turn even a spadeful of earth, I found that I could sit for hours and watch these masters of their craft at work.

As they emerged from the ground on steel cables, the heavy lengths of pipe would be casually tossed over the shoulder of the hoist operator and would arc around his back and be guided smoothly and apparently effortlessly into the rack by his assistant. Any one of these 1000 pound chunks could maim, cripple or kill in an instant. These men knew their business. They knew the physics involved in every step even if they had never drawn a vector diagram. They were masters of their art. Watching a master work is one of the great pleasures of life, as far as I’m concerned.

I have never considered myself a Broadway guy. I worked on the lighting crew for Godspell in high school but if more recently, I had won tickets to see Rent on Let’s Make a Deal I might have asked to trade it for curtain #2. Also, I seem to have a powerful curmudgeonly aversion to anything that is suddenly “must see.” When the crowd is surging one direction, I am usually lurching in the other. So it was with great skepticism and out of respect for her feelings that I let my daughter play and sing for me a few of the songs from the Broadway phenomenon called Hamilton. “Pffft! A rap version of the life of a more or less obscure founding father. Yeah, that must be great.”

I will grudgingly have to tell you: It is !@#$% GREAT!

Taking in Lin Manuel Miranda’s play is like watching a ballet, or in my vernacular, watching a couple of really talented guys drill a well. The music is masterful. He makes it look easy. But the songs are complex with layers of meaning and each interacts with and builds upon the preceding songs. Miranda’s songs draw you into the story. You find yourself suddenly invested in the lives of people who are dead two centuries. You catch yourself getting choked up about the plight of a former Secretary of the Treasury. You find yourself rooting for the ostensible villain, Aaron Burr. You are made to care about the women, Eliza, Angelica, Peggy, and Theodosia, who made these founding fathers what they were but never got the credit. I don’t know what you can say about someone who can take a Broadway skeptic and have him humming “talk less, smile more, don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for” as he walks through an airport. Lin Manuel Miranda drills a mean well.

The story of Alexander Hamilton’s life is compelling. It has been told before, of course, in history books and biographies. We look at his face nearly every day on the ten dollar bill, though most could not say what he did to earn that honor. Miranda’s genius, aside from songwriting of course, was to recognize a good story when he heard one and to retell it in a way which is fundamentally true but which also distills the battles of a lifetime into an understandable and digestible morality play.

An example is worth a thousand explanations:
Hamilton is blackmailed, at the height of his powers, by the husband of the woman he has had an affair with. Not one man in ten-thousand would do, in that circumstance, what Hamilton did: he openly published an account of the affair to undercut the blackmailer. This is a truly unique and fascinating episode which reveals a unique and fascinating personality. It requires some unpacking as to motivations and consequences. Hamilton stopped the blackmail at the expense of his wife, his children, and his career. The approach turns out to be consistent with his history, and his hard-headed principles, while it would be unthinkable for a modern celebrity, say Bill Clinton, to take this approach.

Miranda captures and distills this story masterfully into the song The Reynolds Pamphlet. He opens with whispered voices saying “Have you read this?” This sets the salacious tone. The song, two minutes and nine seconds long, progresses quickly to the taunting voices of Hamilton’s antagonists Thomas Jefferson and James Madison singing “never gonna be President now. Never gonna be President now. That’s one less thing to worry about.” In these lines Miranda speaks to the complexity of Hamilton’s relationship with his fellow founding fathers and invites the question: who has one less thing to worry about, Jefferson or Hamilton? The next heart-rending verse is sung by Hamilton’s sister-in-law and long-time confidant Angelica, as she dresses him down and leaves him twisting in the wind with the phrase “I’m not here for you” and “you can never be satisfied! God I hope you’re satisfied!” It ends with the powerful final phrase uttered again by the uncomprehending crowd “Have you ever seen somebody ruin his own life? His poor wife.”

Hamilton’s behavior would be incomprehensible to us here, except for the beautiful and haunting song Hurricane which precedes it. If past is prologue as Shakespeare says, Hurricane, explains Hamilton’s particular devotion to the idea that the truth will set him free and to his confidence that he could explain things, to the nation and to his wife, through his writing.

Hurricane is somber, opening with spare, low piano chords, accompanied by Miranda’s (Hamilton’s) pain-filled voice telling the story of his traumatic childhood on the small, poor Caribbean island of Nevis. His father had abandoned the family early in his life and his mother died when he was 12. Miranda’s powerful verse “She was holding me. We were sick and she was holding me,” encapsulates, in 12 words, much of what we need to know about the tragedies that shaped Hamilton’s view of the world and established his recurring insecurities which he confronted with hard work and “excellence.”

As in all his songs, Miranda’s metaphors are beautiful and poignant here. The hurricane which destroys his town when he is 17 offers him his first opportunity to “rise up” from his squalid condition and to show the world what he is capable of through writing. At that tender age, he wrote an account of the hurricane which was published in newspapers and brought him to the attention of community leaders on his home island. The song’s refrain “I wrote my way out,” begins a powerful momentum at this point which replaces the somber opening. One senses, as Hamilton must have, that his ability to “write it all down” was his salvation, from a real hurricane, and later from the metaphorical one that surrounded him when his enemies discovered the affair and subsequent blackmail. “I’ll write my way out, overwhelm them with honesty. This is the eye of the hurricane. This is the only way I can protect my legacy.”

Perhaps the saddest part of the song is the naiveté revealed by Hamilton’s confidence that other people hold and respect his principles as well. If not one in ten-thousand would respond to this crisis as Hamilton did, not one a thousand would understand and forgive his forthright confession. At the end of the song, as he contemplates writing the Reynold’s Pamphlet there is a swelling crowd of voices urging him to “Wait for it. Wait for it. Wait for it.” It is a foreshadowing, really, of the collision with Burr that costs him his life. He seems to be asking “How can anyone object to what I’m saying, controversial or not, as long as it is true?” His audience, the readers of the Reynold’s Pamphlet, obviously did object, as did Burr seven years later, about the “truths” Hamilton told about him.

If Hamilton is a morality play, as I have suggested, it is a hazy and troubling one. It would be facile here to sketch Burr as the Snidley Whiplash of the play; he is a killer, after all. But Miranda captures the reality that there is seldom a white hat and a black hat in human interactions. In the song The World Was Wide Enough Burr sings, not in his own defense, but resignedly “He may have been the first one to die, but I’m the one who paid for it. I survived but I paid for it. Now I’m the villain in your history. I was too young and blind to see. I should have known. I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.” Burr is not Snidley Whiplash and Hamilton was no Dudley Do-Right. They are friends, even admirers of each other in the beginning. As years go by and water passes under the bridge, their relationship is sabotaged by their own stubborn and disparate philosophies and by the magnitude of the dramas that envelope them.

Leslie Odom Jr.’s Burr is a complex character. He is a man of high ambition but a cautious nature. His trademark motto “Talk less, smile more” is reiterated in no fewer than four of the songs, by himself in Aaron Burr, Sir and The Election of 1800, by George Washington in One Last Time, and even by Hamilton himself, reluctantly in The Room Where it Happens. His personal philosophy, “work hard, keep your head down, and good things will happen to you,” seems to pay off for him early on. He is elected to the New York State Assembly, appointed New York Attorney General, and ultimately elected to the U.S. Senate, replacing Hamilton’s Father-in-law Philip Schuyler. The one and only time he embraces Hamilton’s hard-driving philosophy, in The Election of 1800, it leads to his downfall.

Hamilton’s philosophy is very different. If Burr’s is “keep your head down” Hamilton’s is “stick your neck out.” He is vociferous and bombastic. He says what he thinks always and frequently draws the ire of his rivals, and as we know, eventually his friends, notably Burr. Burr admires Hamilton’s work ethic but scorns his headstrong ways. He expresses both in the song Nonstop. He sings, “Why do you always say what you believe? Every proclamation guarantees free ammunition for your enemies.”

Hamilton retorts in the song The Room Where it Happens.
“When you got skin in the game, stay in the game. But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game. Oh, you get love for it. You get hate for it. But you get nothin’ if you wait for it, wait for it.” The verse is a direct taunting challenge to Burr’s contemplative song Wait for It.

Wait for It, to me, is one of the most beautiful and enlightening pieces in the musical. It reads like a mantra that Burr repeats to himself, justifying his actions and inactions. Despite his ambition, Burr is afraid to take a chance and therefore passes up opportunities. He believes, honestly, that prudence is his way forward. His self-catechism carries him through the first few verses as his confidence in his own strategy augments with his successes:“I am the one thing in life I can control. I am inimitable, I am an original. I am not falling behind or running late. I am not standing still, I am lying in wait.”

His confidence flags in the middle as he contemplates Hamilton’s success. “Hamilton faces an endless uphill climb. He has something to prove. He has nothing to lose.” That’s not me, he seems to say. I am a Senator. I have a successful law practice.

The repetition of his mantra in the chorus, “Wait for it! Wait for it! Wait for it!” doesn’t ultimately assuage his burning envy of Hamilton’s reckless, but successful, methods. He grudgingly acknowledges the method of Hamilton’s madness:

Hamilton doesn’t hesitate
He exhibits no restraint
He takes and he takes and he takes.
And he keeps winning anyway
He changes the game
He plays and he raises the stakes.
And if there’s a reason
He seems to thrive when so few survive, then Goddamnit, I’m willing to wait for it.

Miranda has spoken about writing Wait For It:
“I think we’ve all had moments where we’ve seen friends and colleagues zoom past us, either to success, or to marriage, or to homeownership, while we lingered where we were—broke, single, jobless. And you tell yourself, “Wait for it.”

Burr tells himself that, until, ultimately, he no longer believes it. It is a bitter revelation and he concludes the song confused, shaken, and uncertain of what he believes.

Life doesn’t discriminate
Between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes
And we keep living anyway
We rise and we fall and we break
And we make our mistakes
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive
When so many have died
I’m willing to
wait for it.

There is comedy here as well as tragedy. Miranda is a master of both. His Message from the King monologs are extravagant tongue-in-cheek works of art. They provide the needed history lesson again in the form of an efficient metaphor, the breakup of a relationship. The talented Jonathan Groff portrays a flamboyant King George III. In the first of the monologs, called You’ll be Back he plays the part of the spurned boyfriend who is irked, but also heartbroken that his “loyal subjects” are no longer so loyal.

You say,
the price of my love’s not a price that your willing to pay.
You cry,
in your tea which you hurl in the sea when you see me go by.
Why so sad?
Remember we made an arrangement when you went away.
Now you’re making me mad.
Remember despite our estrangement, I’m your man.
You’ll be back, soon you’ll see,
You’ll remember you belong to me,
You’ll be back. Time will tell,
You’ll remember that I served you well.
Oceans rise, empires fall.
We have seen each other through it all,
And when push comes to shove,
I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love.

There are several clever little historical tidbits in these pieces in addition to the reference to the Boston Tea party. The final verse of You’ll be back includes a reference to George III’s mental illness in his later years.

When you’re gone, I’ll go mad.
So don’t throw away this thing we had,
Cause when push comes to shove,
I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.

 

From the follow up song I Know Him there is reference to George Washington’s precedent-setting refusal to run for a third term as President. “They say, George Washington’s yielding his power and stepping away. Is that true? I wasn’t aware that was something a person could do.”

And, finally, in the song What Comes Next King George nurses his wounds about losing the war:

They say,
The price of my war’s not a price that they’re willing to pay.
Insane!
You cheat with the French, now I’m fighting with France and with Spain,
I’m so blue,
I thought that we made an arrangement when you went away.
You were mine to subdue.
Well, even despite our estrangement, I got a small query for you,
What comes next? You’ve been freed.
Do you know how hard it is to lead?
You’re on your own. Awesome! Wow!
Do you have a clue what happens now?
Oceans rise, empires fall,
It’s much harder when it’s all your call.
All alone, across the sea,
When your people say they hate you, don’t come crawling back to me.

When I reflect on the importance of this musical, I come back again and again to Miranda’s metaphors. They are efficient and masterful. Each one provides a perfect brick in the edifice of Hamilton, building a complex and intriguing story of ambition and pride, of loss and sorrow, and, ultimately, a questionable redemption. The metaphors make this play and deserve a final review.

Hurricane – a literal hurricane, surely, but also representing the self-inflicted storms of Hamilton’s life.

The Room Where it Happens – A brilliant metaphor for Hamilton’s (and Burr’s) powerful ambition to play a role in the shaping of the new nation.

I am not Throwing Away My Shot – The expounding of Hamilton’s carpe diem philosophy which is cleverly integrated with the two duels central to the story – the one in which his son was killed and the one in which he was.

Wait for It – Previously explored above.

Quiet Uptown – A beautiful meditation on death and sorrow, and dealing with them.

If you like musicals, or perhaps even if you don’t, if you are a history buff, or even if you’re not, Hamilton is a pleasure and an education. Miranda, of course, has taken liberties with the historical record. The story is true to the spirit of the feud which led to Hamilton’s death at Burr’s hands, but alters slightly the details. He inserts Burr and Jefferson into the episode called We Know about Hamilton’s Democratic-Republican enemies confronting him about the Reynolds Affair. They probably weren’t there really, but it is a minor offense and certainly moves the narrative forward more smoothly.

Thanks to Hamilton many more Americans will know about their history than do now. Will that knowledge be perfect and comprehensive? – no. But neither is history perfect and comprehensive. Hamilton is a work of art, a well-drilled well, brought to us by a master at the top of his craft. I will still admit to being a Broadway skeptic, but I’m learning. Anyone got tickets to Kinky Boots?

By: Dustin Joy

3…2…1…Liftoff!

In May my beautiful daughter graduated from high school. She is smart, talented, witty,  and clever. She is a hard worker who always got good grades and did as she was told. Just yesterday she was a tiny baby cuddled in my arms. Today she walked across the stage an impressive young woman. In the Fall she begins a new adventure at St. Olaf College. I could not resist, in such a moment, expressing to her how proud I was and to offer some small piece of advice for what it is worth. What I wrote is a tribute to her. It is also a tribute to my own parents who made me what I am today. I am fortunate to have such a family.

 

 

The Launchpad

Dear Chloe,

There are plenty of times in our lives when we have to do what we are supposed to do. As an adult you will be obliged to tow the line, to meet your obligations, to smile when you don’t feel like smiling, to laugh at jokes you don’t find funny. You will be asked to demonstrate your acumen, your diligence, your gumption, and your stick-to-it-iveness. You will be required to do the sensible thing, the rational thing, the thing calculated to achieve the maximum return on investment. In the words of Roger Hodgson:

They sent me away to teach me how to be sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

There will be ample time for all that. For four years and more you have done that. You have learned how to do that. You have done what you ought. You have done what you were told. You have gotten the straight A’s.

I believe life must amount to more than that. I think there is more to be gotten out of it. I think that stuff is a foundation for building a more impressive structure. Even the animals work day-to-day to make a living. The nobility that is within us, if it exists, is not simply an extension of the economy of animals – getting and consuming. Nor is it the natural extension of that economy – the accumulation of wealth and dross. The truly noble things that people have accomplished, Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, Salk’s Polio vaccine, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Armstrong’s footprint on the moon, were not done for the money. They were not achieved by people obsessed with security or the accumulation of wealth.

Thoreau described what I’m talking about in Walden. He said about the average man:

He has no time to be anything but a machine. How can he remember well his ignorance — which his growth requires — who has so often to use his knowledge?

At Cape Canaveral, in Florida, there is a place called complex 39A. Most days it is a quiet place. You can feel the salty breeze off the Atlantic here as it rustles the marsh grass. You can hear the squawk of the gulls and see the pelicans wheeling overhead. It is a place of beauty and silence. The manmade obtrusion into this place of nature is an industrial looking platform rising many stories into the air. Standing by it is a water tower. Beyond that are several smaller towers topped out with lightning rods. This complex stands on an earthen berm built up for the purpose many years ago. These skeleton-like structures, stark as they appear, have a purpose more noble and awe-inspiring than the pyramids. They are merely a foundation, sure, but a foundation assembled lovingly and with meticulous attention to detail. This is the place where thousands of individuals, dedicated to a dream, realized the aspirations of thousands of generations of humans who looked up at the night sky and thought “what if we could…” The summer your mommy was born this quiet place was the center of the world’s attention and imagination. The hard work of building the foundation was complete and from this little berm rose a rocket on a pillar of flame which carried with it the aspirations of those thousand generations.

On your graduation day this example may seem like hyperbole. It may seem a grandiose metaphor – the Saturn V launchpad and you, going off to St. Olaf. But I assure you it is an apt metaphor. All those visionaries I mention above, Thoreau, King, Twain, Salk, Armstrong, started from a firm foundation built up by their parents, and their parents, and their parents.

Mommy and I love you very much. Our aspiration is to be your foundation. We want to be your launchpad. We have worked every day and socked away money and planned and worried so that you can have this opportunity to be the rocket, to find your dream, to imagine a better world and do what you can to make it a reality. This is your chance to think big thoughts and explore the amazing worlds a place like St. Olaf can show you.

I know that everyone you meet today will ask you “so, what are you going to study in college?” This comes with the implication that you had better choose a major that “pays off.” I say “to hell with that!” Going to college is about building yourself as a human being starting with the foundation your parents laid for you. What if Martin Luther King had majored in accounting because there was a “good living” to be made? What if Mark Twain had become a plumber because there was a “lot of call” for that in Hannibal, MO?

You are smart. You are capable. You are a hard worker. You have good social skills. It would be a horrible waste for you to take on a mundane, work-a-day, “practical” profession that did not draw out and call upon your natural gifts. You may not know, right now, what will inspire you. You may not know, for awhile, what the world calls on you to do and to be. That is what education is for. That is what St. Olaf is for. That is what youth is for.

We are your launchpad but, more importantly, we are your safety net. Whatever I have accomplished, whatever chances I have been able to take to achieve my dreams, were made possible by the foundation laid down by my Mom and Dad and by the safety net they provided me while I was struggling to “figure things out.” My Mom and Dad lived in a mobile home when I was born. My Dad worked third shift in a machine shop to buy me toys to inspire my imagination. My Mom clipped coupons and made us beany-burger and skimped and saved. All of these things laid a foundation for me so that I could go to college, so that I could explore the world, so that I could find my place. They did not expect or ask me to pay it all back. They worked and saved and “did without” as a pure gift to me. It is an awesome responsibility.

The only way I have found to pay my parents back is to live by their example. Mommy and I have worked and saved and “done without” because we believe in the sacred obligation of building a foundation – a launchpad. I want you and your siblings to have the opportunity, the freedom, to be all that you can imagine. As my parents did for me we now do for you. Your only obligation is to do the same for your kids someday.

Love,

Your Daddy

 

Goosegrease



I realize it’s been a few weeks since my last post. Given that one of my most recent blog posts concerned whether or not to continue blogging you might have guessed that you were finally rid of me. No such luck!

On the contrary, I’ve actually had some interesting things going on on the writing front. I’ve been working on a few new pieces for the blog, but also, get this, I seem to have actually sold my first piece of writing for real money. Well, I haven’t got the check in my hot little hand yet, but I have apparently had an article accepted for publication in Plane and Pilot magazine. I’m not quite sure which issue it will appear in but I’m pretty excited about it and hoping it leads to more in the future. We shall see.

Also, I’ve joined a writing group based in Muscatine called Writers on the Avenue. It is comprised of local writers, some amateurs, some with a number of publications under their belts, and all friendly and eager to hear each other’s work. We get together once a month and bring something we have written to read out loud. There are poets and comedy writers and essayists and novelists. It has been great fun, so far.

One of the most entertaining parts is a word challenge exercise. At the end of the meeting each member, in secret, writes down a word on a piece of paper. The words are collected and make up the challenge list for the next meeting. Each member is obliged to write an essay, article, poem, short-story, etc. incorporating each word from the list. It can be a bit of a challenge, especially when our local comedy writer contributes words like GOOSEGREASE. It is interesting to see what people do with the list. Some are very clever, indeed.

Below is my first attempt. It uses all the words. That’s about all I can say for it. Hopefully mine will get better over time. The quote I use later on in this short-story is from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and here is meant to give the protagonist hope that his hosts are good and thoughtful people. Our group leader, an English professor from the local community college, reminded me, however, just what a nasty little play M.O.V. was and that the speaker, Portia, hardly had clean hands when delivering these pretty words. Good point, I think. Though I still like the way it turns the anti-semitism of the play on it’s head a little bit here.


 

THE LIST:
affirm
classical
genesis
goosegrease
gumption
grit
heartless
inspired
prime
quality
repulsive
spout

THE STORY:

 

Goosegrease
by: Dustin Joy

The kitchen was redolent with goosegrease when Emily opened the back door and beckoned Mark inside. The aroma of freshly baked rolls enveloped him. A big, stainless pot of potatoes churned on the rear burner of the antique gas stove and an old-style percolator gurgled softly on the front burner, a curl of steam starting to rise from it’s spout. The pies cooling on the counter, apple, sweet potato, and pumpkin, carried him back to his own Memaw’s kitchen, another place of warmth and pie.

Still, Mark had hesitated, reluctant to enter this old clapboard farmhouse, at the end of the sidewalk, at the end of the gravel road, at the end of Illinois. “The end of the world,” was what he thought. The end of their fledgling relationship seemed a distinct possibility.
Emily had told her grandparents that Mark was coming with her for Christmas, of course. She had assured them that he was a nice boy and a fine student, endowed with grit and gumption and good manners despite his big city origins. He was studying English literature at the University of Chicago.

Likewise, Emily had assured Mark that her people were, like her, warm and loving. They were not heartless racists with repulsive opinions despite their rural origins. The fact that sweet, beautiful Emily derived her DNA from them gave him hope, but not much confidence.

The long voyage down Interstate 55, his Prius a very small boat on this ocean of corn, had inspired in him an irrational dread. The presence of no fewer than four pickup trucks in the driveway seemed to affirm his fear, as had the tattered confederate flag he had glimpsed near a fallen-down barn a few miles down the road. He was not certain that he was the first African-American to visit this township, but he was pretty sure he was the first to cross this threshold.

Emily, a smart girl who understood well the genesis of his fears, patted Mark’s hand and reached up to give him a kiss. Then she disappeared down the short hallway past the classical cupboard with its bird-claw feet, the mahogany washstand with its ceramic pitcher, and the oak bookshelf with its ticking mantle clock.

Mark stood alone in the kitchen, rotating slowly in his apprehension and indecision, the prime meridian of his gaze taking in the pantry and the sink and the pot-bellied stove and the refrigerator covered in unfamiliar photos, save one. Then he saw, in the far corner, a framed needlepoint and below it a basset hound slumbering on a big, puffy pillow.
He approached the dog gently, and she, waking to his presence, raised her nose and nuzzled his outstretched palm. He patted her head gently as he read the little name tag attached to her collar – Portia. He smiled – a coincidence perhaps? Then his eyes were drawn to the needlepoint again. It was a quote, one he knew quite well, and from his favorite writer, too.

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes

“It’s going to be alright,” Mark thought. He stood and followed Emily down the hall.

To Blog, or Not To Blog? That is the Question.

When I began this blog, in May of 2015, I had a desire, as I think we all do, to say something, to have my voice heard. I wrote in my introduction:

Every blog is an act of vanity. The idea that anyone else gives a damn about your “observations” on life is presumptuous at best and probably ridiculous. But I like to think it is also a hopeful thing. It is an effort, like Facebook or a phone call, to make a connection with other people in the hope of finding something in common.

I also wanted to hone my craft and see if I could develop a voice that someone other than my Mom would want to hear. I said, “I enjoy writing. It helps me organize my thoughts and better understand what I am seeing and thinking.” I still think that is a valid and worthwhile motivation. Self-improvement through practice can pay unexpected dividends. Still, I am reminded of the lyrics of the 1987 song Come from the Heart – “You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watching.” For a blogger I guess the motivational tagline would be “You’ve got to write like nobody’s reading.”

I certainly think I wanted some readers, though. I wanted this website to accomplish something, to have an effect. I had some goals, vaguely, about touching someone’s emotions, teaching someone about something, or persuading someone to think differently. I hope I have not been unrealistic in my expectations.

I believe that I have fairly valued the output of my pen. I assigned the exchange rate for my writing at exactly zero dollars and zero cents. After all, I acquired the domain name, registered the website, designed the website, and built the website. Critically, I also paid for the website. I did not even require my readers to suffer the inconvenience of looking at ads. As a novice writer the market dictates this. There are a lot of damned good writers out there and today they are easy to find. I acknowledged as much in my intro:

The internet is a big place with many options, so while my site is called stuffiminterestedin you can be sure that stuffyou’reinterestedin is only a click away.

It is said, although there is little research on the subject, that the average blog has a lifespan of 100 days. Another source says that 60-80% of blogs are abandoned in a month. I have been at this now for almost two years. I suppose this is an appropriate time to take stock of my little project. So, what has been the result?

In the two years since my post called Merle, which was a tribute to my Dad’s cousin, I have written and posted 52 essays, articles, or stories. These averaged 2,125 words per post which adds up to 110,509 words (feel free to count them if you like). Wikipedia says, in its Word Count article (somebody has too much time on his hands) that a novella is between 17,500 and 39,999 words and a novel is anything over that. They say, further, that “Numerous American universities limit Ph.D. dissertations to 100,000 words, barring special permission for exceeding this limit.” I am pretty certain that some of you who wandered into my blog unawares probably reflected that it reminded you of a bad Ph.D. dissertation at times. I guess I should ask for special permission to proceed.

My point here is that, for better or worse, I have gotten some writing practice in the last two years. My blog posts, as promised, were all over the map. Some were short (210 words for my story called Chicory). Some were long (8,117 words for my essay called Michael, about finding a dead body).

Some were good (I think The Boy in the Picture and A Step Forward are some of the best things I’ve ever written). Some could have been better (I loved the idea of St. Louis Breakfast when I had it, but I think the execution was a bit ham-fisted).

Some were self-indulgent (okay, a lot were self-indulgent: And the Loser is, Close the Door, and Being Ward Cleaver). Some were unabashedly sentimental (Missy, The Boy in the Picture, A Force of Nature, and The Sycamore). Some were nakedly political (Washington vs. Trump, Trump – A Retraction, President Trump – There, I Said it, and Mister We Could Use a Republican Like Herbert Hoover Again).

I hope some of my posts were informative (Glacial Erratics, My Giant, and Spiders, Ewww!). I hope some of them made you think (Thank God?, Tiny Glowing Screens, The Island, and Raise my Taxes, Please). And, finally, I kind of hope a few of them made you laugh (Minor League Hero, North Dakota – The Dirty White Pickup Truck Driven by Vaguely Threatening White Guys with Facial Hair State, Sex Appeal vs. Bacon, The Dude, and A Hero – of a Sort). All in all, I’m pretty proud of the output.

Still, I have two questions: 1. Has it been worth it? and 2. should I continue? Neither answer is obvious to me at this point. I like blogging and have gained some skill in writing short-form essays and stories This will come in handy in case I’m ever kidnapped by that Saw guy and find myself chained to a radiator and am required to save myself by writing a clever essay about the Westminster Dog Show or cutting off my own leg with a butter knife. Is that enough reason, though, to divert myself from legitimate concerns (working, spending time with my wife and kids, bathing)? There is also the non-negligible cost of maintaining a website. GoDaddy doesn’t advertise during the SuperBowl for nothing, after all.

To keep stuffiminterestedin.com going I think I need some evidence that it is accomplishing something worthwhile. My site view numbers are not impressive, and possibly never will be. I am content with that. What bothers me, a little, is that I receive almost no feedback from those of you who read my blog. Since August of 2016 I have had exactly 1 legitimate comment from a reader. Part of the idea of this, as you recall, was “to make a connection with other people in the hope of finding something in common.” If I write and you read but tell me nothing about the experience I’m not sure what I’m getting out of this except writer’s cramp.

Even a lack of feedback from my readers might be tolerable to me if I did not, instead, receive 3-4 comments per day from “spammers” whose motives I’m not sure I understand, who don’t seem to have a grasp of the English language, and who appear to be trying to hock Viagra on my website. Here is a verbatim comment left on my blogpost about the Illinois budget crisis from, apparently, the owners of the high-quality website sextoysfun.

Great beat ! I wish to apprentice even as you amend your website, how can i subscribe for a blog web site? The account aided me a acceptable deal. I had been a little bit familiar of this your broadcast offered brilliant transparent concept.

Attached to the comment, as always, was a link to their website. It’s like getting a Valentine in the mail and finding out it is from your insurance agent.

I have two or three good friends who read my posts religiously and can be counted on to offer some praise or constructive criticism. You know who you are and let me say, loud and clear, your attention means the world to me. But, realistically, I could email each of them my useless rants each week and “save the postage.” I could get on Facebook and dump my sage observations between the Trump memes and photos of people’s dinners. But, dang it, blogging is an act of vanity and I like the idea of this website.

There is a passage in Walden which has always captured my imagination. It is a critique of capitalism in parable form and I wonder if it applies to this situation. It goes like this:

Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. “Do you wish to buy any baskets?” he asked. “No, we do not want any,” was the reply. “What!” exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, “do you mean to starve us?” Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off—that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed—he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy. I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. 

Like Thoreau, I may continue to weave baskets, even if it is not worth anyone’s while to buy them. I find that my profession is, for the time being, lucrative enough that I can afford to take time for writing. Also, I spend a great deal of time in hotel rooms, so the bulk of my writing does not rob my children of my treasured presence in their lives (yeah, right). Even so, I’m confident that even Thoreau (with an ego such as he had) would not have minded some constructive feedback about the quality of his baskets.

I, quite frankly, am getting too old to want to make a fool of myself if I don’t have to. God knows I do it too often without intending to. If this blog is meaningful to you, please send me a comment. It’s easy to do. It doesn’t have to be a dissertation- a few words will do. And it doesn’t have to be praise. Rip into me. Point out my grammar mistakes. Assail my logic. Call me a doo-doo-head. If you are the type of guy who keeps a bust of Donald Trump on your mantlepiece with a candle burning beside it and you have been suffering in silence while I been “dissin’ your guy,” give me your two cents. I would love to have that conversation. And, what the heck, if you enjoyed my picture of the guy in the chicken suit reading a newspaper or were floored by the eloquence of my prose, you know, mention that, too.

by Dustin Joy

Another Day, Another @#&%$*#* Moral Dilemma!

Okay, I like to feed the birds. Is that so wrong? Does everything have to be a #^$%@&*moral dilemma? I like to watch the little feathered critters. It lowers my blood pressure to see the juncos hop around in the snow on their absurdly short legs. It tickles me to watch the red-bellied woodpecker and the red-headed woodpecker squabble over suet cake. It brightens the cold winter days to see a tree full of cardinals and hear the chirp of the wren.

Goldfinches brighten any day

Juncos in the Snow

A Tree Full of Color – Cardinals

 

A Eurasian Tree Sparrow Waits for his Turn

A Hairy Woodpecker Dismantles the Suet Cake

A Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Takes a Rare Rest

If It’s Cold and Snowy Enough Even the Pheasants will Deign to Dine with Us

A Mourning Dove Samples the Seed

A Barn Swallow – Not a Seed Eater but an Occasional Visitor

I spend a considerable sum of money every year on sunflower seeds, corn, thistle, and suet. I build feeders, I fill feeders, and I fix the damage inflicted by the raccoons and possums. I have reconciled myself to a certain amount of inconvenience from them. I actually watched a raccoon stand on his hind legs, tilt my hummingbird feeder, and pour its syrupy contents into his mouth like drinking a bottle of pop.

Leave some for the Birds

A Prehensile Tail Comes in Handy

I am not averse to feeding the possums, either. As the only marsupials in North America (In fact, almost the only ones outside of Australia) they are an interesting little novelty and we are lucky to get to see them. I can spare a few sunflower seeds for them.

The moral dilemma comes with another mammalian species which has started “using” my tender-heartedness for it’s own evil purposes. These are not merely mess-makers. They are cold-blooded killers.

Perhaps you are familiar with the old proverb “Love me, love my dog.” It means, according to the Oxford Dictionary “If you love someone, you must accept everything about them, even their faults or weaknesses.” Well, I love my wife and I love my daughters. I would even love their dog, if they had one. The proverb I have trouble with is “Love me, love my cat.”

I noticed a pile of feathers near the sidewalk, the other day and realized, to my distress, that one of my daughters’ outdoor cats had slaughtered (my emphasis) one of my beloved chickadees. Despite being well fed (to the tune of hundreds of dollars per year) these cats are carnivores and frequently kill local mice, voles, shrews, moles, baby rabbits, and even, once, a rat. I don’t, philosophically, have a problem with this. I know how the world works. I’ve seen The Lion King.

What I don’t appreciate is being an accomplice. I looked out the window this morning and saw our local Simba, a black and white cat named Poe (after Edgar Allan Poe. The female’s name is Lenore, of course.) Poe was crouched in the foliage of my clematis and stalking birds as they landed to eat at the feeder. I pounded on the window and shouted like a lunatic. I don’t know if it’s technically possible for a cat to smirk, but I swear to you, Poe looked up at me from his hiding spot and smirked. I ran outside and drove the little bugger away. He skulked off to the cover of the cedar tree but within minutes was back again, this time with a Harris Sparrow in his evil jaws.

The Killer

 

 

According to a 2013 scientific study published in the journal Nature Communications free-ranging domestic cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds per year. That’s billion, with a B. The researchers also estimate that cats kill 6.9-20.7 billion small mammals. Most people are sanguine with that if the 20.7 billion are beady-eyed, grain-eating, plague-ridden rats. What about 20.7 billion baby bunnies? Now it’s a genocide, right?

I can’t stop Poe and I’m not sure I possess the moral high ground here, anyway. I eat meat and I have been known to trap and kill mice and rats around the farm. Is killing a mouse morally defensible but not killing a Cardinal? What about a mole? What about a baby bunny? Why?

All I know is that I like birds. I like birds and I like feeding them and I didn’t want to make a whole god-damned thing out of this. It’s bad enough that I have to think about the fair-trade status of my coffee. I didn’t know feeding the birds would be a moral conundrum. Now I’ve got to decide; stop feeding the birds or kill some cats. It’s the circle of life, you know; cats, rats, bunnies, cardinals, they’re all the same, right?

 

Oh, come on! You know I’m not gonna kill the damn cats. A man can dream, though, can’t he?

by: Dustin Joy

Thank God?

A massive storm swept through Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia recently. Twenty people were killed by a swarm of tornados including one which hit a mobile home park.
As always, brave and generous people rushed in to help the survivors and save those who could be saved. I find people to be universally good and kind to one other in such awful circumstances. I am inspired by this. I think it is the best part of human nature.

What I cannot always understand are the comments people make in these cases. Our need to explain tragedy often leads to a response which to me feels hollow, illogical, insensitive, or even cruel.
Here are some examples from that weekend’s news reports:

“God was with me that day .”
“I’m just blessed to be here.”
“God was in the room with us.”
“God was looking after them,”
“Is God mad at us?”

I wrote the following piece several years ago after a tragic outbreak of tornados killed 24 people in Oklahoma. I have been reluctant to post it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, matters of religion are sensitive. This piece, while it was not intended to be offensive, might appear so to some. I have no desire to hurt anyone’s feelings. There are quite a few “believers” whom I like, and respect, and count as friends.

Secondly, there is often a price to be paid, in this Christian dominated society, for even admitting that one is an atheist or agnostic. A young person who thinks differently, expresses doubt, or questions the answers his pastor gives him can be branded a trouble maker and ostracized. An adult who does so is subject to subtle, but very real penalties.

It is difficult for Christians in the United States to understand just how powerful they are. You sometimes hear them lament the“war on Christmas” or the “rise of secular humanism.” But, if you consider, for just a moment, the quantity of Christian references in our daily life compared to that of any other religion or set of beliefs it is overwhelming. As I write this the television is on. When I flip through the 18 channels I find fully a third devoted, 24 hours a day, to Christian programming. I find none dedicated to Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or Atheism. When I drive to our local town to the store I pass 8-10 Christian churches, each with a billboard out front admonishing us to believe as they do. Do I pass even one center for agnosticism or free thought? Not one. In fact, I never have seen one.

The good thing about being an atheist is that we are not obliged to proselytize. I will explain my point of view to you here, and I might be gratified if you came to believe the same thing, but I don’t have to save your soul. All I ask of the dominant Christian culture is that my tax dollars not be spent to support religion and that kids who attend public school not be compelled to believe in it. That’s in the Constitution and that’s not a big demand.

On a personal level I generally like religious people and am fascinated by religion. If you approach me in a friendly way with a Bible tract in your hand or knock on my door, full of enthusiasm for your new devotion, I will smile and listen thoughtfully, as I have done for 30 years. It might be nice also, in an open and free society, for Christians to listen occasionally to those who think differently? After all, as the Turkish writer Elif Shafak has said, “If we learn anything, we learn it from people who are different from us.”

 

 

 

Thank God?

It is always troubling to encounter a concept I cannot grasp. The embarrassment is compounded when I discover, to my chagrin, that the idea is easily understood by others. There are many examples. My father-in-law can rattle off a list of numbers (rates, capacities, volumes, ratios, percentages) and within seconds arrive at a mathematical solution which is invariably correct while I am still hunting for the square root key on the calculator. Many times my father has tried to explain elementary radio theory to me only to leave me smiling and nodding like Dan Quayle at a spelling bee. And don’t get me started on quantum physics. Actually, you can’t get me started on quantum physics.

It is not so bad to be bested by intelligent women and men from time to time. How else can one learn? I will readily admit that there are things I do not understand and possibly will never understand. I am willing to concede that there are better brains out there than mine. What is truly unnerving, though, is to be at odds with a majority of the world’s population on a question of importance. Religion is such a stumbling block to me.

It is estimated that 89% of the U.S. population believes in a God, of one sort or another. That is a pretty resounding number and it suggests that I might be wrong in my thinking. I do not regard being wrong as a moral failing, since most people are from time to time. The remedy is simple; merely collect more information and revise the hypothesis. Yet my mental roadblock here is thick. The more information I collect the more I am convinced of my previous hypothesis. I am no more able to accept religion at face value than I can start a gouda mine on the moon.

I listen to the 27 televangelists on my TV, I read the Bible, I sit quietly waiting for my still small voice and…and…and…nothing. Nothing comes to me. Nothing persuades me to ignore the contrary evidence I see all around me. My own innate sense of what is true will not give credence to stories about a 6000 year old planet, nor all the earth’s creatures escaping a giant flood on a vessel built with hand tools by 5 senior citizens. I cannot comprehend a system of good and evil in which an omnipotent God allows the non-omnipotent Devil to get the upper hand even occasionally. I cannot adhere to a moral code that puts a book filled with contradictions and of unprovable provenance above other human beings.

When I look at the misery in this world which is the direct result of arguments over religion I am loathe to conclude that I want to be on their side, even if they are right. And how does one choose the one true faith if such a thing exists? As Professor Robert Price has said, “I’m going to hell according to somebody’s doctrine (Islam, Hindu, Christianity, etc). I may as well call them as I see them.”

The closest thing I have found to representing how I feel about religion is a quote from Kurt Vonnegut in his later years.
“I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without expectations of rewards or punishments after I am dead.”

Still, being a humanist has to mean also that we show a decent respect to the thoughts and feelings of other humans. That means the other 89%. I have tried to do this throughout my life as I have been bombarded with Christian culture every day on the airwaves, on billboards, at public events, and in person. Christianity enjoys such hegemony in this society that it is an affront apparently to simply express your non-evangelical ideas in public. It is hard to be different, as we all know, especially when the odds are 89% to 11%.

Let me offer an example, from my personal life, where I have been at odds with the majority of people around me. The following story illustrates my difficulty, as a believer in logic and science, in coming to the same conclusion as the majority, who are religious believers.

Take the case of Officer Norman Rickman, a member of the Knoxville, TN police force. In a U.S.A. Today article about police officers embracing the use of bulletproof vests it was explained that Mr. Rickman had been shot twice in the line of duty while not wearing a bulletproof vest. The story says, “Yet he was on the ground within minutes, blood pouring out of bullet wounds to his chest and left arm as one of three suspects stood over him and fired two more shots into his upper back at point-blank range.” It continues, “More extraordinarily, perhaps, is that the May shooting marked the second time in seven years that Rickman had been seriously wounded while not wearing a bullet-resistant vest.”

The story includes two quotes from officer Rickman. One says that he will wear a bulletproof vest when he returns to work. The other, while it mystified me, was readily understood by others to whom I showed the article. It was this, “God was on my side that day.” This, to me, invites two questions and I do not mean them to be flippant or disrespectful. I should like to ask Officer Rickman the following:

1. If God is on your side, why did he let you get shot four times?

2. If God is on your side, why wear a bullet-proof vest?

I explored these questions for some time after reading the article. I concluded that there were four possibilities, logically, with respect to God and Officer Rickman. They are as follows:

1. There is no God and Officer Rickman was shot by a sociopath who himself had been created by a combination of his environment and genetics. Officer Rickman, in this scenario might have been saved by a bullet-proof vest. Logically Officer Rickman should place no faith in God and should wear his vest.

2. There is a God and he (or she) allows free will. In this case God allowed the sociopath to develop from his environment and genetics and shoot Officer Rickman without intervening. In this case, logic dictates that Officer Rickman should place no faith in God and should wear his bullet-proof vest.

3. There is a God who has malevolent aims for humanity. In this case God created the sociopath on purpose and sent him to shoot Officer Rickman. Logic dictates that Officer Rickman should actively oppose this God and wear his bullet-proof vest.

4. There is a God who loves us, but desires to teach us moral lessons through adversity. In this case God created the sociopath and sent him to shoot Officer Rickman, but did so for a noble objective. Whether Officer Rickman assimilated the lesson is unknown, unless that lesson was “Wear your bullet-proof vest!”

In only one scenario would I conclude that Officer Rickman might, and I emphasize might, thank his God for the treatment he has received. That is the benevolent God who continually treats us to his “tough love.” If God’s lesson was to wear a vest, which is a good lesson for policemen according to statistics, it seems a harsh form of instruction. The article states that 37% of the officers murdered in the line of duty in 2007 did not have on a bullet-proof vest. Those officers died. They had no opportunity to learn God’s lesson about vests, or any other moral instruction he might have been offering.

Are we to conclude from Officer Rickman’s statement and the opinions about it from religious believers that these unfortunate officers did not have “God with them.” Again, I do not wish to be flippant about so serious a tragedy. I am anxious that no one die under these circumstances. It is not I who trivializes this tragedy, but the people who chalk such things up to “God being with me.”

This same story can be seen night after night on the news with the names and locations altered slightly; A tornado rips through a subdivision in Oklahoma annihilating houses on one side of a street and leaving them standing on the other. Invariably a survivor from the “lucky” side will credit God and his love for her family’s survival. This explanation is accepted readily by the majority of conventionally religious people in this country who can be seen nodding their heads as the woman speaks. But is it not insulting, both to our intelligence and to the people who were killed, to credit God’s mercy for saving those who survived. In fact, it is a cruelty to say such a thing. Does God hate the other families?

We might be better off as a civilization if we worked out problems logically, with the human costs evaluated, than to offer credibility to supernatural sources. If we did not give the credit for good things to God and bad things to the Devil, we might conclude, rightly I think, that people are complex and must be dealt with (helped or punished) on an individual basis. God did not make us all either good or bad, but a complicated combination of circumstances did make some people more selfish, more corrupt, less empathetic, less kind than other people. Without the easy answer of religion and the stark contrast between good people and bad people, between believers and heathens, we might be forced to try to understand the problems we face. It is entirely possible that we might come up with solutions to some of them.

by: Dustin Joy

And Now For Something Completely Different – A Weird Year In Review

One of the fringe benefits of my job is, of course, the ability to travel around the country. If I’m lucky I get to see some weird and interesting people and things. Since I love oddities, superlatives, and miscellany I always keep my camera at the ready and I am seldom disappointed. Here are some things that brought a smile to my face in the last year. I took all these pictures of actual places and things I saw. Hopefully you might get a chuckle, too. God knows we could all use one right now.

by: Dustin Joy

Tourism

Every City wants to attract tourists, even if it doesn’t have all that much to brag about (I’m talking to you Fargo, North Dakota). Cities have tried this in different ways but the  common approaches are the “braggy” tourism guide from the Chamber of Commerce and the “do-it-yourself” tourist attraction.

The Braggy Guide

Fargo’s try – It is so flat and cold and boring in Fargo that their local tourism museum’s biggest attraction is the iconic wood-chipper which rearranges Steve Buscemi in the movie Fargo (most of which takes place in Minnesota)

 

Santa Fe is a little cooler but still has to qualify their claim a bit. Not Best Cheeseburger in the USA, but best Green Chile Cheeseburger. Still a good try.

 

Richmond not only runs their NASCAR races “at night,” WOW!, they also…

Have the 9th best Shopping Neighborhood in America. Go Richmond!

Noticed this ad for the Richmond Ballet (Yes, Richmond, Virginia has a Ballet.) What caught my eye, though, was the name of the Artistic Director. What kind of person, exactly, names his son Stoner?

 

Alamagordo, NM might have other exciting tourist attractions, but I put my money on PistachioLand U.S.A. After all, they do have the World’s Largest Pistachio. By the way, PistachioLand and “World’s Largest Pistachio” are trademarks so don’t go using them yourself.

Finally, there is Nemaha County, Nebraska which has a pretty nice tourist guide for a little place and a catchy motto, “All Roads Lead To Nemaha County.”

Unfortunately, two of the three roads depicted on their own map fail to lead to Nemaha County.

 

 

The D.I.Y. Attraction

The DIY is usually a representation of something or someone the city is famous for, sometimes life-size, sometimes absurdly big.

 

 

Louisville, KY has a couple. Here’s the blue horse.

And the giant baseball bat (A Louisville Slugger, of course)

 

Silver Bay, MN has Taconite Man who is, I guess, what a lump of iron ore would look like if you brought it to life.

 

Lubbock, TX, home of Buddy Holley, has, of course, giant nerdy glasses, just like Buddy.

Many cities opt for something made of bronze, Lubbock included.

Here’s Buddy himself.

 

Go on down to Corpus Christi, TX and you will find another hometown singer who died tragically young. Here’s Selena, immortalized in bronze. I hope if they immortalize me they at least put a shirt on me.

Here’s President Jimmy Carter. Oddly, though, this is not Plains, Georgia or even Atlanta. It’s Rapid City, SD. Don’t ask me.

Here’s a creepy bronze bust of rocket scientist and ex-nazi Werner vonBraun emerging from …a flowerpot, I guess, in Huntsville, AL. The green cast is not an optical illusion. The statue really is that color. Weird.

 

Finally, here’s a careless Ronald MacDonald in downtown Chicago.

 

 

The Local Paper

In addition to browsing the local tourism magazines I absolutely love small-town newspapers. They are usually good for a hilarious police blotter, a grammar-deficient news story, or a raving editorial about a monumentally unimportant subject. Here are a few tidbits I gleaned from local papers this year.

Rock Island is a tough place, after all.

 

I love the detail that it was a “three-legged” tiger.

Part two. She was intoxicated? You don’t say.

Part three. The final quote from the Omaha Police speaks for itself.

 

Leave it to Oklahoma.

 

I’m sorry to keep picking on North Dakota, but, you know.  So, let’s get this straight, you want to put a tax on windmills to offset the tax credit people get for building windmills. Brilliant! That’s the kind of forward thinking we expect from North Dakota.

 

This is the one and only picture here I didn’t take but you gotta admit it’s a good one. This is the headline the East Oregonian newspaper came up with for the Associated Press story about Oakland pitcher Pat Venditte – who is ambidextrous. Who knows, maybe he can pitch underwater, too.

 

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

Traveling about I also get to see some pretty interesting signs from time to time. Here is a collection from this year.

 

At the Ottawa, Ontario airport.

 

Ottawa again.

 

Louisville, KY

 

Hayden, CO airport.

 

The Muscatine Environmental Center, Muscatine, IA.

 

The Lavatory of an EMB-145 jet. I wonder what part of the country you are in if the second notice doesn’t go without saying? Okay, I won’t say North Dakota. They’ve taken enough abuse.

 

I’m certainly too smart to comment on this.

 

Just outside security checkpoint at the Fargo, ND airport.

 

As you might have guessed – over the urinal. Restaurant/ Bar in Andalusia, IL.

 

Actual restaurant in the food court at the Maine Mall-  Portland, ME. You don’t want to know what’s in the ….well, anything.

Any children or my children?

Montreal, Quebec. So, no golfing and …what… no pooping goats? Or is it a sheep? Or is it a dog?

More damn rules. Okay, so no golf, no pooping sheep , and no hunting campers. I got it. State park in the arrowhead of Minnesota.

 

Deli in Iowa City, IA. Okay, maybe I’ll just go to McDonalds. The spatters of blood are a nice touch.

 

Hospital – Aledo, IL. I love glyphs! Where are his arms, by the way?

 

Carleton College – Northfield, MN. I love it that the Career Center is in Severance Hall.

 

Super 8 – Cloquet, MN. Are hard boiled eggs regional or rotational? Must be rotational, because they’re round. Get it? Get it?

 

Old Threshers Reunion – Mount Pleasant, IA. Sign needs to be…bigger, maybe?

 

Yes, we carry this sign with us everywhere we go.

 

Preston Hotel – Nashville, TN. No crappy little Gideon Bible is gonna cut it at the Preston (an awesome and quirky hotel, by the way.) In addition to the Spiritual Menu they ask you when you check in if you want a fish or a lamp. When you look puzzled they tell you that they will deliver to your room either a live Guppy in a fishbowl or a Lava Lamp for company or ambiance. Love that hotel!

 

A sign next to the history museum in Dickinson, ND. “German’s from Russia – They Came?” Well, good for them.

 

The Game Cleaning Room at Bemidji State University – Bemidji, MN. I bet Harvard doesn’t have that.

Some Questionable Grammar

Buckle Up. It’s more important then you think.

 

With rights comes responsibility, eh?

 

EL PASO, TX. Somebody has to sell tickets for Virgin Galactic.

 

Des Moines, IA. – Who says Iowans lack a sense of humor?

 

Beef Jerky Outlet – Huntsville, AL. Who says Alabamans lack a sense of humor?

 

And my final sign.

No comment.

 

 

Buy, Buy, Buy

Here are some actual products I saw, and you can buy.

Really?

 

For Deer hunting. God I hope it’s for deer hunting!

 

This slogan seems needlessly menacing, or is it me?

 

A real game but I should get some royalties from the manufacturer for infringing on my joke – What does a Yeti put on his spaghetti? Squatchsauce!!!! Get it? Get it?

 

This is not your Grandma’s hot sauce. Check out the attached label in the next picture.

With great hot sauce comes great responsibility!

 

I know this is an engraving art set but I just can’t stop thinking that this is a Jedi Kitten holding a light-saber. Use the Force Jedi Kitten!!!!

 

Yes, everyone will think you are cool if your wear these.

 

Try our recycled Kleenex, too.

 

Sorry, I thought that was a different product.

 

Do you want some of my Nut Goodies? What? What? They’re really good.

 

Halloween costume…er…costumes.

 

Don’t know why this makes me laugh but it does every single time.

 

At The Bookstore

I’m not sure what the Dewey Decimal code is for Hipster Baby but here’s the section.

 

Okaaaay?

 

Best Book Title Ever!

This should be shelved with the Vegan Stoner Cookbook, I guess.

 

Spoiler alert ……..

 

Yes. Yes we are.

 

I’m all for it.

 

A Millennial update of the old classic.

 

Cleanse is one term for it.

 

Etcetera

And, finally, other random stuff I saw this year that gave me pause…

Or Paws…

You can’t unsee it. I’m sorry.

 

Merry Christmas …. I guess. (I wonder what the Chinese kid thought when he was painting this.)

 

Santa Fe, NM – A VW Bug – I get it!

 

I thought there was a limit to what states would allow on a vanity plate. So did he get this one first?

Or this one?

 

Mmmmmm. Jesus Donuts. They are HOLY!  Holey, Get it? Get it?

 

Aquarium bar. The Galt House – Louisville, KY. It really freaks out the drunks.

 

It’s the Christmas Dragon …I guess. What’s the Christmas dragon again?

 

A perfect square knot spontaneously tied by my iPad charger and my iPod charger. Cool, huh? I wasn’t even a Boy Scout.

 

Walking Sticks making the beast with two backs (and twelve legs) on my shed. I’m sorry. This was just so weird and cool I had to include it.

 

Cool! A Lego version of Mark Twain’s House – Hartford, CT Airport.

 

Amish men watching the Saloon show at the Midwest Old Thresher’s Reunion – Mt. Pleasant, IA. I guess they didn’t want the elders seeing them inside.

 

A Tesla charging station in Amarillo, TX in the middle of Texas Oil country. Not even any graffiti.

 

The box the box my new shoes came in came in.

 

My son’s class did dioramas of the U.S. states. My son did Vermont. It was awesome. I do have to give honorable mention to the kid who did Tennessee, though.

 

Parked in Nashville next to the Rolling Stones tour plane and had to get a picture. My twenty-something FO looked puzzled. “The Rolling Stones, MAN!” I shouted by way of explanation. He turned back to me and said, in all seriousness, “That’s a kind of candy, right?”

 

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum – Chantilly, VA. Actual china found in the wreckage of the Hindenburg. And I can’t even get a cup of coffee to the table without spilling it all over myself.

 

Best bumper sticker of the year, bar none.

 

Photo caption – Smithsonian Magazine. Favorite phrase of all time – Raze the Ruins. Sounds like a great name for a band.

 

Have some almonds. But be careful if you are allergic to …almonds.

 

Dye used in our PTC fundraising Color Run! Maize starch I get. But what, exactly, are permissible colors?

 

Who puts this ornament on their tree? And what does it mean if you do? Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men?

 

Bass Pro Shop Store – St. Charles, MO. True Story. I was looking at the fish in the big aquarium in the middle of the store when I became aware of a middle-aged lady standing beside me also looking into the tank. She was a store clerk it turned out. After an uncomfortably long time she turned to me and said, very calmly and seriously “I hate that fish. He watches me all the time I’m stocking shelves over here. He just watches.” I smiled politely and backed away slowly.

 

Final cool thing I got to do this year in my travels. On Veteran’s Day in Ottawa, Ontario I got to meet the Prime-Minister of Canada and get his picture. He’s a smart, young, handsome Liberal who doesn’t seem to hate too many people…I’m not sure where I’m going with this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicory

I recently entered, for the second time, the River City Reader’s short fiction contest. It is an interesting little challenge for someone who tends to go on and on and on in his writing. The challenge is to write a short story of 300 words or less incorporating a writing prompt from Iowa Author Ethan Canin. About 10 prompts were available, consisting of sentences plucked from Canin’s novels and short stories.

If you are a writer you will recognize that 300 words is not a lot to work with. New Yorker Fiction editor Deborah Treisman says stories in the magazine average about 2,000 – 10,000 words. To give you another idea of this limitation, the word magazine, in the last sentence, was the hundredth word in this introduction.

Last year my story A Hero of a Sort, heavily edited to make the 300 word limit, got honorable mention in the contest and was published in the Reader. This year I got honorable mention again and had my story published on the Reader’s website. While I can’t seem to break into the medals I have enjoyed the challenge and am considering some more short-short story ideas for my blog. Please enjoy here, a story I call Chicory, the first sentence of which is a prompt from Canin’s novel We Are Nighttime Travelers. My story was inspired by walks with my daughter (who is not handicapped) and my father’s devotion to this beautiful roadside flower.

 

 

Chicory

by: Dustin Joy

My hand finds her fingers and grips them, bone and tendon, fragile things. She smiles and swings our two hands back and forth extravagantly. We walk together feeling the heat in the soles of our shoes as the blacktop gives up a day’s worth of stored up sunshine. I take baby steps. She can’t walk very far or very fast with her braces.

“What is that flower, Daddy?” She pauses to allow a honeybee’s evacuation and then bends at the waist until her nose touches the cornflower blue blossom at the side of the road. “It is sooooooo pretty.”

“That’s chicory.” I sound it out for her and she forms the word, “chick-ree.”

“It grows in the rocks, Daddy. It grows real pretty. It’s the bluest flower I ever saw. Isn’t it pretty?”

“Yes, it is sweetheart.”

She bends down again as if paying her respects to the chicory. She sniffs. “Why does it grow in the rocks, Daddy, and not in the garden with the other flowers?”

Our shadows lengthen, one long and one short.

“The prettiest flowers grow in the rocks, my dear.”

Now she grips my fingers, tendon and bone. We are all fragile things.

“Why, Daddy?”

“Nobody knows why, my dear. Nobody knows why.”

Close the Door

I was recently given an opportunity. I was given the opportunity to close a door. At first I didn’t see it as an opportunity. In fact, it felt more like a betrayal, or a slap in the face. Viewing the situation as a choice struck me as the kind of cock-eyed optimism that leads, inevitably to such bullshit as “when God gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

I will concede one thing, though. If you are going to get slapped in the face it feels a lot better to get it over with. What really hurts is to keep getting slapped in the face for years only to realize that the big slap is still on its way. It might be advantageous, sometimes, to give yourself a hard slap in the face and to wake yourself the hell up. Okay, enough potty mouth.

The door in question is one which I have held ajar with my foot for about twenty years. Behind it lay a cherished little fantasy that I have carried with me since graduating from college. I have had many opportunities over those years to let the door slam shut. I also probably had it within my power to prise it open and  to walk through it. Why I did neither is a question I have had trouble answering. How can a man who flies jet airplanes through thunderstorms be so indecisive?

These little fantasies that we carry with us throughout our lives are powerful. I suspect everyone has one, or two, or fifty. Maybe it’s the girl we broke up with in high school. Maybe it’s owning a Mercedes. Maybe it’s buying our own business. Maybe it’s punching our boss in the nose on the day of our retirement- see “Oney” by Johnny Cash.

Most of these fantasies never see the light of day. They run on an endless loop inside our brains, mostly in the background, but occasionally on the center screen. Sometimes they motivate us to action but more often they simply cheer us up or bring us down like a dose of melatonin or serotonin. Sometimes they are merely an escape from the drudgeries of our day to day life.

Letting go of cherished fantasies is a sign of maturity, I think. It is logical. It is reasonable. Unfortunately, it is against human nature. Economists have a concept called the sunk costs fallacy which we all, from plumbers to presidents, are taken in by. We have a very human propensity to base our decisions not on cold, empirical facts but on our emotional attachment to the past and our fear of loss.

Wikipedia says, “In economics and business decision-making, a sunk cost is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.” The sunk cost fallacy is described by Economists Hal R. Arkes and Peter Ayton in their paper: The Sunk Cost and Concorde Effects: Are Humans Less Rational Than Lower Animals? They say:

“The sunk cost effect is a maladaptive economic behavior that is manifested in a greater tendency to continue an endeavor once an investment in money, effort, or time has been made. A prior investment should not influence one’s consideration of current options; only the incremental costs and benefits of the current options should influence one’s decision.”

By the way, if you were wondering if lower animals are more rational than humans, Arkes and Ayton say yes. “A number of experimenters who have tested lower animals have confirmed that they simply do not succumb to the fallacy.”

So, what does all this economics jargon mean? It means just what your old Grandfather said. To wit: “Don’t throw good money after bad!”  Also, “Know when to fold ‘em!”

I find it hard to give up my little fantasy because I have invested years of labor and time and money in its development. I have cultivated it carefully in my own mind. I made decisions, over the course of twenty years, which accommodated this fantasy but which made my life much more difficult and expensive. My wife and I made compromises to this fantasy which appeared to me to be investments but which, ultimately, were written down only in my own ledger book, not the one which mattered. It is probably time now to stop.

The door which I held open so long for myself, to benefit my indecision, was ultimately opened by another, a late-comer, who opened it by simply reaching out and grabbing the handle. The door opened for him and closed on my fingers while I wasn’t paying attention. I have been angry at him for doing that which I had neglected to do. I have been angry at him for taking my little fantasy away from me. I have been angry at him for betraying my good-natured sympathy for his situation. I have been angry at him for redefining my years of work and sacrifice as “sunk costs.”

My fingers are still in the door. I have a choice. I could shout my righteous indignation to the rooftops. I could demand satisfaction from the world. I could, in short, make an utter fool of myself and poison relationships that I have built over the course of a lifetime. Or…I could not do that.

Viewed correctly any choice is an opportunity.  It may be irrational to consider sunk costs when making future decisions. It is also irrational to let anger get the best of you. A quote, attributed to Mark Twain, says this:

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

However hard this aphorism is to accept and live by, I believe it to be true. It’s time for a new fantasy, I think. I pull my hand away now. The door is closed.

Missy

 

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“Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.”

-Mark Twain

 

Later this week my wife and I will celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Twenty-five years is a long time. It is time for a lot to happen. It is time for things to evolve. It is time for things to go wrong. It is time for things to go right. It is time for laughter. It is time for tears. It is time for babies to be born and, indeed, for babies to grow up. It is time for misunderstandings. It is time for perfect agreement. It is time for amazing victories. It is time for spectacular failures. It is time for two people to get to know each other pretty well.

In the last twenty-five years I have made some dumb mistakes. My choices, taken on the whole, have been pretty questionable. Hell, I owned four Fords in that time. I did get one thing right, though, despite myself. The decision I don’t regret, have never once regretted in twenty-five years, was asking Melissa Mueller to marry me. And my hero Samuel Clemons, as always, is on the Mark. Love gets better over time. Perfect love needs incubation. It needs refinement. It needs twenty-five years together. Romeo and Juliet aside, kids don’t know anything about Love.

I was a nerd in High School. Who am I fooling? I am a nerd, now. But it was a nerd sport which led me to Missy. Scholastic Bowl is a trivia contest where teams compete to answer questions in various knowledge fields. I had joined the team as a freshman and by my sophomore year I thought I was pretty good.

I liked going to the tournaments and I liked the practices. But what I really liked, after the first meeting of my sophomore year, was to see a certain cute little black-haired freshman girl come through the door of Mrs. Smith’s classroom. She made me feel all funny inside. She made me stammer. She made me loose track of time. Egad! She made me miss tossup questions. And on those days when she didn’t show up (she also played clarinet in the marching band) I was distraught.

Missy caught my eye because she was pretty. I can’t deny that. She had short, black hair and a cute little button nose. She had rosy cheeks and an omnipresent smile. Her eyes sparkled. When she entered a room she brought a kind of warmth and energy with her. She still does.

I probably would have wanted to ask out Melissa Mueller (once I built up the courage) even if she had never spoken to me. But she did speak. She came up to me and said “Hi.” I have never tired of hearing that voice.

Missy was not just another pretty girl. She had a brain. She had a wonderful, complex, fascinating, engaging brain. She challenged me in every way. Ultimately she challenged me for Captain of the Scholastic Bowl team and she won. She has won many times since.

I finally did ask her out. In my usual fashion I almost waited too long. On the eve of the homecoming dance I discovered to my horror that another boy, a band nerd no less, had asked Missy to the dance. Cravenly, I went to the dance alone, green with envy and with cruel intentions for the other boy. I got lucky. She didn’t hold my knavery against me and surprisingly neither did the other boy. She danced with me most of the evening. In twenty-five years Missy has tolerated a lot of plodding, slow, indecisiveness from me. I don’t know why. I don’t know how. I only know that I have always depended on her kindness and tolerance and, up to now, she has always bestowed it on me. As to the other boy. Well, he… became a doctor or something …no need to mention him any further.

Why do Mark Twain and me both agree on the quarter-century. It’s because men are dumb. It’s because we are blockheads and slow learners. The truth is that when you are lucky you don’t always know how lucky you are. I know it now and I shall never forget it.

Missy and I have had our struggles as I imagine all married couples do. We have argued about money, sometimes. We have argued about politics, sometimes. We finish each other’s sentences, occasionally, for better or worse. But our love for each other and our respect for one another (at least mine for her) has constantly augmented.

Here’s one thing I know is true about my wife. Missy is the smartest person I have ever known in every sense of that word. She is sharp and intelligent and possesses a rapier wit. She loves a good pun and a clever turn of phrase. Her vocabulary is impressive (English major, you know) which I love. She is superlative (see, she’ll get that).

Missy’s memory is prodigious. No, that isn’t quite right. To say her memory is prodigious is to say Michael Jordan was a pretty good basketball player. On questions requiring memory I concede the point immediately. She is correct. I am mistaken. Case in point: On a recent vacation to the north shore of Lake Superior we visited a park we had passed through on our Honeymoon twenty-five years ago. Trying to evoke a romantic response and impress her with my less than prodigious memory I asked her (rhetorically, of course) if she recalled standing by the waterfall as we watched children playing in the mist. Yes, she said, “you were wearing a yellow shirt.” I think that’s what she said. I can’t really quite recall. That was two weeks ago.

Cynics say that familiarity breeds contempt. I guess I’m not as cynical as I think. My love for Missy has only grown stronger as we toddle along together toward old age. I travel a great deal for my job and my profession has a tendency, in some cases, to be hard on a marriage. I have flown with a number of younger married First Officers who seem rather ambivalent about the trip ending. At least a couple dread the thought of going home to their spouse or, worse yet, ex-spouse. Not me. I am a lucky bastard.

I am not a composer so I can’t write a fitting symphony to honor our twenty- five years together. I’m not a sculptor so there will be no soaring block of granite with hearts and cherubs to proclaim it. I am a pilot but the company really (I mean really!) discourages skywriting with passengers aboard. Tributes can come in different forms. Here is mine:

Missy, I always want to come home. When we touch down in Chicago and I set that parking brake there is, like the Roadrunner, a puff of smoke in the shape of me and I am gone. I am gone home to your loving arms. Your arms are my favorite place to be on this planet, wherever those arms are.

Happy Twenty-fifth my Love! May I be lucky enough to get fifty more with you.

Dustin