Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dog And Butterfly

This past week I celebrated an anniversary, a rather unusual one, but nonetheless one I am proud of.

November 14 was my one-year anniversary of practicing yoga.

Like I said, kind of an unusual one. I’m sure some were expecting something of a more substantive nature; a marriage or the like. No, nothing like that. This one is far more impactful on my life.

I’ve written often about my yoga experience and my Yoga Hero, my instructor Lee. And she gets embarrassed when I do so. In the past I have professed my love for her…which embarrasses her. I’ve professed my deep respect for her empathic, gentle nature…which embarrasses her. Now that I’ve gotten to know her better, I understand why – she keeps saying, “It’s not me, it’s the yoga. Thank the yoga.”

I see that now. Much of how Lee is is due to what she has learned as a yogi for years. Now that I have a year I am seeing it. The message is starting to sink in. Being a practicing yogi does instill a feeling of strength and calm, of confidence and humility. Of other amazing dichotomies. I get it now.

But I still love and respect her. I gave her an anniversary card the other night, and I told her there are only two women in the world who I will do whatever they tell me to do with no questions asked – my mom and her. She laughed at that.

Lee plays music at each class. A delightful collection of songs which are upbeat yet calming. Music to contort to, as it were. One song that she almost always plays is Dog and Butterfly, by the band Heart. It’s a wonderful story about a dog seeing the butterfly floating above and wanting to try to fly, but alas, cannot, because he is, after all, a dog. Dogs don’t fly. But yet he still tries. He then rolls back down on the warm soft ground laughing as he tries -

See the dog and butterfly 
Up in the air he like to fly 
Dog and butterfly, below he had to try 
He roll back down to the warm soft ground 
With a little tear in his eye 
He had to try, he had to try 
Dog and butterfly

Dog and Butterfly.

Me and Lee.

In yoga I am that dog trying to catch that elusive butterfly. I see what Lee does with her poses and I really try to emulate them, every one of them. Like I said, I will do anything she tells me to do. But some of them I just cannot physically do - yet. But I try. And then I fall over on the mat. And I laugh.

There is no ‘right and wrong’ with yoga. By simply showing up you have already succeeded, since you have shown your intent and honor to yourself. It took me months to understand that, as I went through my Alpha Male phase of doing every single damn pose, and cursing myself for the inability to do them. I got frustrated. There were times I thought of quitting. But I never did. And I never will.

Like the dog chasing the butterfly.

It is in the dog’s nature, and it cannot be removed.

Thank you, Lee. 

And, just to keep you from being embarrassed, I also thank the yoga.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

It Ain’t a River in Egypt

The people have spoken. This last Tuesday, President Obama was re-elected by over three million popular votes and, with the Florida results now in, by 126 electoral votes.

That’s the modern-day version of a landslide. Which, by the way, was what I predicted.

I’m not here to gloat. On my Facebook page the day before the election, I promised not to gloat after Obama won. All I asked for in return was for the Conservatives not to de-legitimize the results. He didn’t win due to voter fraud, Acorn, rigged Chicago polling machines. He also isn’t from Kenya. And I don’t care what his college transcripts say, Don. His intelligence is evident.

So the purpose of this post isn’t Obama and his historic win. Instead, it is some advice to the losing party, so that they don’t continue to lose elections.

Even as a Liberal, I have to admit America is a center-Right country. I wish it wasn’t, but me wishing for it won’t change that fact. America is a center-right country, with the emphasis on the word ‘center.’ Enter the party that used to reside there – the Republican Party. There was a time where they had strong convictions that reflect this center-rightness. Nowadays, they still have strong convictions, but not reflective of that reality. Which comes to my first suggestion –

Ditch the Tea Party. They are a vocal group emboldened by the results of the 2010 elections. I won’t get into my personal opinion of this group, as that would be a story unto itself, but let’s just say they are not representative of the overall electorate. For that matter, not even half of it. More like maybe ten percent of it. And that ten percent is the far right fringe. Republicans, anxious to be the party that represents them, slid to that fringe to cater to them, and they got their vote. Problem is, they lost far more votes than they won. In order to be a relevant party, Republicans must tell the Tea Party to take a hike; start your own party and see where that gets you. They then can nominate Michelle Bachmann as their candidate and the 90 percent of the rest of us can laugh at them.

Read on for some more common-sense ideas to return to relevancy.

Rich White Guys Isn’t a Base To Win Elections With. This presidential election was the first one after the Supreme Court weighed in on the Citizens United decision, which resulted in obscene amounts of money pouring in from outside, unidentified sources used to attempt to sway elections. Well, rich white guys have a lot of money, but all that money wasn’t enough to defeat Obama. For Republicans to rebuild a more winnable base, they must untie themselves from this money. I know this isn’t likely, but at the very least they should not take their marching orders from the Koch Brothers anymore. If the Koch Brothers want a party more representative of what they believe, they got enough money to start their own party. And this 'Rich White Guys Party' will garner exactly the amount of votes their demographic represents – less than one percent.

Which is a great segue to the next suggestion.

Expand Your Base. There is a very easy way to do this - Support Lilly Ledbetter & the Dream Act. These two bills, respectively, grant equal pay to women, and a roadmap to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants. Two common-sense initiatives that aren’t, as they would have you believe, fantasy stuff from the Left Fringe. They represent what women and Latinos want. Two groups, added together, are well over half of the electorate. If you don’t support those two bills, you are, essentially, kissing off any chance to win anything.

Govern. Lastly, those Republicans still in office have to understand how to govern. And the first rule of governing is compromise. Ideological rigidity may have gotten you into office, but it won’t get you any bills passed once you are in there. Realize that another party is represented there too. Work with them. Otherwise, your stay in power will be a short one, as those now-defeated winners of the 2010 election have found out. Defeating Democrats is a noble cause while you're running for office, but once you've won, you now must work with them. Understand the difference between campaigning and governing.

So there you have it, Republicans. If you want to stay relevant, it may be a good idea to listen to a bleeding heart Liberal for once.

Denial ain’t a river in Egypt.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Off The Fairway, Installment 2

(Writer's note: This is the second installment from my novel, Off The Fairway.)

Shakes was sitting on the butt end of the huge black staff bag that was lying on the ground and emblazoned with ‘Billy Edwards’ on the side. Smoking a cigarette, he nervously kept checking his watch. “C’mon B.E. You said nine o’clock. Don’t let me down again. Don’t let them down again,” as he peered over to the grandstand by the first tee that was starting to fill with patrons. Nine fifteen…9:30…9:45. This will be the last time he does this to me, thought Shakes, I got five pros begging me to bag for them and I’m sitting here waiting on this crackhead.
Finally, at 9:55, the black Buick roared into the parking lot. Billy stumbled out and motioned for Shakes to come over to the car.
“Yo B.E., we ready to do this?” said Shakes as he approached the Buick.
“Piece of cake, Shakes. But listen – go over to the player’s tent and grab me two bananas, a bottled water and some Tylenol. My head is killing me. I’ll meet you on the putting green.”
Shakes shoulders slumped, his fears realized about his man and why he was late.
But before he left, Shakes had a demand.
“Lemme see your eyes, B.E.”
Billy was wearing his signature wrap-around Oakleys, which he claimed were to protect his eyes from the harshness daily exposure to the sun could cause. What was closer to the truth was that they were to keep the world at bay. If the eyes were the windows to the soul, well by God, Billy was not going to let anyone peer there.
Except Shakes. Billy obliged by flipping up the Oakleys for Shakes’ inspection.
“You happy, Shakes?”
“Yeah, I reckon,” said Shakes as he handed Billy the putter out of the tour bag before placing it over his shoulder and trudging off in search of fruit and pain reliever for his man.
Billy made his way to the practice green. I should ditch Shakes, he thought, Motherfucker is like a goddamn wife and parole officer wrapped into one. Lemme see your eyes…who the fuck does he think he is? Then the rational voice kicked in. Let it go, Billy. It’s Sunday and you’re one shot out of the lead. Game face time.
Billy opened a brand new sleeve of Titleist ProV1s and dropped them onto the practice green. Starting with some six-footers, he ran three straight into the heart of the hole, retrieved them and repeated it two more times. Nine in a row. Good, the nerves seem okay, he thought. By that time Shakes had returned with Billy’s order – two bananas, three Tylenol and a bottle of water. Billy wolfed down the first banana, washed it down with a swing of water, downed the Tylenol, took another gulp of water, and put the second banana in the golf bag.
“Let’s see what swing I woke up with today, Shakes,” as they headed to the range.
Starting with half-swings with the pitching wedge, Billy methodically worked his way through his bag, hitting every other club - nine iron, then seven iron, five iron, three iron, 3-hybrid, driver, then half pitch shots with the sand wedge. Every shot was purely struck, each one with a soft right-to-left movement indicative of a tour pro draw, each shot landing within ten feet of the flag, taking two hops before dutifully spinning backwards. The man is amazing, conceded Shakes.
“Okay Shakes, what time is it?”
“Ten thirty-five, B.E., we’re up in fifteen minutes.”
“Good. Let’s hit some more putts.”
Going back to the putting green, Billy, using only two balls this time, worked on his lag putts before ending with ramming in ten straight four footers.
“Let’s do this,” said Billy.
“Ladies and gentlemen…” barked the announcer on the first tee, “This is the final twosome of the day. Now on the tee, from Orlando, Florida, Freddie Phillips.” The gallery exploded with applause interlaced with hollers of “Go get ‘em Freddie!”
Phillips, a rail-thin but wiry six-foot, 165 pounds, acknowledge the crowd, placed the ball on the tee, took two practice swings, then unleashed a screaming hard draw that started down the right edge of the fairway before gently curving towards the heart of the short grass, 290 yards away.
“Now on the tee, from Las Vegas, Nevada, Billy Edwards.” The applause was also loud, but not with the same ferocity as for Freddie. Not that it mattered to Billy. He was in his zone. “He got The Look” as Shakes would say. “You could drop a screaming chicken next to Billy, but if he got The Look, he won’t even know it’s there.”
Billy teed his ball, stood behind it with ‘The Look’ as he picked out his target. Left edge of the right bunker. Commit, was the only voice in his head at that moment. That was why Billy loved playing golf. The voices were silent when he was inside the ropes.
The ball cracked off the clubface with the unmistakable ‘Whhhhhh…SLAPPPinnnggg’ sound seemingly reserved for only the best players in the game. The ball started exactly where Billy visualized it, left edge of the right bunker before gently moving about ten yards to the left; the same draw that Phillips put on his drive. With one exception – on the second bounce the ball leapt past Freddie’s drive and galloped out about thirty yards beyond. The gallery responded, first with the awe-filled ‘ooooh’ sound then with applause then with screams.
“Go get him Billy...Way to Ronstadt him!”
Billy gave a glance over to Freddie as if to say, Get used to hitting first into the greens today, Cuz. It will be Blue Bayou all day, in confirmation of the Ronstadt remark from the gallery. Billy then strode confidently down the first fairway with Shakes three steps behind.
The final round of the Show Me State Open was underway.

“Let’s talk about your family,” said the counselor.
“My family – you mean my ex-wives or my biological family?” said Billy.
“Your biological family, your upbringing. I want to know what kind of life you had growing up.”
“Oh okay. I didn’t want to talk about those two bitches anyway.”
“Hold on…two bitches? Your exes?”
“Yeah,” said Billy. “The first was an immature kid who used me to get her green card and the second was a gold-digging cunt.”
“Do you always marry women who aren’t right for you, Billy?”
“Fuck you.”
“Maybe I will fuck me, Billy. Anyway, your biological family. Parents, siblings. Tell me about your childhood.”
Billy let out a deep sigh and thought, What the fuck does this have to do with anything? but he knew the only way he was going to get keep playing the tour was to endure this loser social worker who makes about the same amount in a year that he makes finishing in thirty-fifth place in a given week. “Okay. I’m the youngest of four. My dad was a plumber and my mom an accountant. I grew up in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, right outside of Akron, a very middle-class upbringing. No real trauma that I can recall.”
“Did anyone in your family have a drinking problem?”
“Yeah, my dad. He worked hard and drank hard. I can’t blame him, though. He put the food on the table.”
“Well that’s good. It seems you put blame on your ex-wives enough as it is.”
“Fuck you.”
“Anyway, let’s talk about your dad. He drank a lot?”
“Yeah. He got sober when I was thirteen. Hasn’t touched it since.”
“Interesting. How did he do that?”
“He went to AA.”
“How did that make you feel?”
“How did it make me feel? What the fuck kind of question is that? What difference does it make how it made me feel? My mom was threatening to leave him. He saw the writing on the wall. So he stopped. As far as how it made me feel, happy I guess. I mean he just wasn’t part of my life when he was drinking. I rarely saw him.”
“And after he got sober?”
“Oh, it was great. He was a golfer, and took the game back up when he got sober. He saw how my game was progressing and decided that we could make some money hustling on local courses. When I was fifteen we would go out to courses and my dad would set up money matches – him and me against a couple of saps. We would kick their asses and my dad would flip me a twenty for the effort.”
“How much did your dad make out of those matches?”
“I don’t know, maybe a hundred bucks or so.”
“So he was your pimp.”
“Excuse me?”
“He was your pimp, Billy. He used your skill to make money. He used you. Don’t you think it would have been fairer had he split the money evenly?”
“I suppose, but that wasn’t the point. He bought me my first set of clubs. He got me lessons with the local pro. I wouldn’t have made it to the tour without him.”
“My point, Billy, is that at a young age you were exposed to the idea of using people for personal gain. Doesn’t matter how you have processed it. I’m sure you loved your dad. But your dad used you.”
“I guess I never looked at it that way.”
“That’s why I’m here, Billy.”
“I know. Fuck me.”

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Off The Fairway

(Writer's note: Over the past few months I have been writing a novel. The following is the opening excerpts.)

“Man, it’s hot,” Shakes said to Billy.
It was a typical Midwestern summer afternoon. Uncomfortably muggy. Air you wear.
Billy Edwards was toweling down his face for what seemed like the umpteenth time as he strode up the eighteenth fairway at the Bear Creek Country Club in Joplin, Missouri. On this Saturday, Billy had played himself into earshot of the lead in the Show Me State Open with a bogey-free six under par. He knew that one more birdie and he would post a very satisfying 65, which would put him one shot behind the leader and playing alongside him the next day with the title on the line. Right where I want to be, thought Billy. I can stare down Phillips, and then take him down.
Phillips was Freddie Phillips, three-time winner on the tour already this year, gunning for his fourth win and first-place on the Tour’s money list. The $800,000 first prize would all but assure that. Phillips was already in the clubhouse with an up-and-down round of two under 70. His four-shot lead at the beginning of the day could shrink to one if Billy could coax one more putt to fall.
As Billy approached the green the gallery reactively began to applaud. But it was not the typical enthusiastic swelling applause reserved for the, well, Freddie Phillipses of the tour. It was more of a courtesy applause given to a player who is not a fan favorite. Instead was a begrudging way to acknowledge a talented person doing their talented thing.
Billy recognized it. “Fuck them. I’ll get them back on my side,” he snarled under his breath as he doffed his cap to the crowd with a tight smile that more resembled a grimace.
He then turned his attention to his 18-foot birdie putt. With the assist of Shakes, his weathered, much-younger-than-his-face-showed caddy, they got the read down. Two balls outside right lip, cup speed. Don’t get frisky with it, die it into the hole. Billy went though his pre-shot routine permanently hard-wired into his psyche via rote repetition. Two practice swings. Deep breath. Place the Ping B-60 putter behind the ball; look at the hole, back to the putter, back to the hole, back to putter. Keep the head still. Swing.
The putt came off exactly as Shakes instructed; two balls outside the right lip of the hole. For the longest time it looked like it would stay like that, not taking the break but sliding by on the right. Then in the last three feet the ball, almost on command, broke hard to the left and tracked into the dead center of the hole.
“Like it had eyes,” said Shakes.
The applause was sudden, powerful. Billy gave his trademark fist-slam move, where he started his hand at his temple and brought it down hard and fast, as if he was hammering a nail. He let out a “Fuck yeah!” that was, fortunately for him, drowned out by the crowd. Retrieving the ball from the cup, he turned to the crowd, took off his cap, and mouthed a ‘Thank You’ as his playing partner finished out. Shakes came over and gave him a well-deserved hard handshake that Billy responded to equally. It was as if Shakes’ handshake was saying Great stroke, and Billy’s was saying No…great read, Shakes. Such was their relationship – one of mutual admiration and trust.
Walking to the scorer’s tent through a line of fans, most were supportive. “Great round Billy! Take down Freddie tomorrow! Billy Edwards is back!” But there were also a couple of wiseasses interspersed. “We’ve seen this before Billy…How you gonna eff this one up, Cuz?”
Billy was used to it all – the good and the bad. And besides, he was just trying to get to the scorer’s tent so he could post his 65, answer a few questions in the press tent then just relax. He signed his card and then took a look at the scoreboard that indeed confirmed he stood one stroke behind Phillips. He talked to a few reporters outside, and then decided he was going to hit the range for about an hour, take the courtesy car back to the hotel, order room service and get plenty of rest. Tomorrow was going to be a big day.
When he got to the range he pulled the cell phone out of his golf bag that had been shut off since before teeing off that morning. A few voice messages, a couple of texts. But there was one that caught his eye, and it totally entranced him –

Nice round. Gonna need anything tonight?

That was when Billy knew he had no chance to win the Show Me State Open.


Billy looked up to see a church built what appeared to be at least a century ago – Queen of Peace Catholic Church, in the heart of Charlotte, North Carolina. This is stupid, Billy thought, as he eased the Buick into a parking spot just as another thought hit him, No, you’re the stupid one. Just get this over with. Billy had a lot of voices going on in his head which created, at times, a cacophonous din which he pleaded to stop but could never make do so.
Getting out of the car, he referred to the meeting guide he printed off the website. Yep, this is the place. Next to the building stood about ten people who were smoking cigarettes and laughing. Fucking alcoholics with their chain-smoking, said the judgmental voice that seemed to be a permanent part of Billy’s chorus of cranial critics.
Attached to the meeting guide was a slip of paper that resembled an affidavit – I _____ hereby vouch that I attended the ____ meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous on this ____ day of ____, with a space below for a signature.
I should just forge this fucker and hit the closest bar, said the destructive voice. Dude, just do this. It won’t hurt you. Besides, Halsmith isn’t going to let you play this week if you don’t, said the rational voice. Fuck Halsmith, that paper-pushing hack who couldn’t break par on tour so he kissed ass to become tour commissioner, said the judgmental voice.  Hate him if you want, Billy Boy, but he’s got you by the balls, said the logical voice. Maybe I could call some guys who could fix this for me said the dope fiend voice.
            After all sides were heard from, Billy walked into the church.
“Good evening! Welcome to Alcoholics Anonymous!” chirped an obese elderly lady whose body resembled a bowling ball. Her hand was stuck out, demanding to be grasped. “Uh Hi…” mumbled Billy, as he shook her hand. “Where’s the coffee?”
“Why, it’s right around the corner, hon. Make yourself at home, and keep coming back!” Billy blurted out a “Yeah, okay” without taking the time to explain to the Human Ebonite that he was only here for the week, and he was about to put Charlotte in his rear-view mirror. The next stop was Memphis.
But first he had to take care of business if he wanted to see the first tee at Memphis. He had to get that paper signed.
The meeting began with a man who was probably in his mid-fifties but looked much older, pounding a gavel. “All right, let’s settle down. My name is Frank and I am an Alcoholic.” A dutiful chorus of “HI FRANK” resonated from the fifty or so people in attendance. A young man in his twenties read from a blue book. An attractive woman with way too much makeup read from a laminated document, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path…”
When she finished Frank then spoke, “Do we have any newcomers or visitors in attendance?”
Billy could feel the eyes move towards him even though his head was down. He was filtering through the various thoughts his cranial chorus was spitting out. Realizing the uncomfortable pause, he looked up and saw the eyes were trained on him.
“Oh, uh, hello, my name’s Bill…Billy.”
The pause continued. The group wanted more.
“Oh yeah, I uh, I’m an Alcoholic.”
That prompted some chuckles, the dutiful “HI BILLY!” and a couple of “Keep coming back” well-wishers. Billy’s mind went into hyper-drive. Fucking sheep, was the first thought that crossed his mind as he forced a thin smile.
Frank then spoke. “Okay. Welcome Billy. Now, does anyone have a topic for tonight’s meeting?” followed by another long pause.
What the fuck, thought Billy, Don’t these people have anything to say? You mean they get together in the piece of shit church basement and chant their shit, read their propaganda, then fucking look at each other? How in the fuck am I supposed to get anything out of this? What’s the fucking point of all this? When can I get this God-DAMN paper signed?
Frank then broke the silence. “Maybe our newcomer would like to say a few words,” as the gazes were trained back on Billy. Taken aback by the interruption to his stream of unconsciousness, Billy was not prepared.
“Uh, no, that’s okay. I am just visiting…”
Tell this half-inflated basketball head to go fuck himself, said the angry voice in Billy’s head. Nah, make up some shit, said the egomaniac. Billy, filtering through all this, finally said “Uh yeah. I am in town for a tournament…a golf tournam…well, I mean, I’m not from here…”
“OOH! You’re a professional golfer?” asked Bowling Ball Lady.
“Yes. Yes I am. Anyway, you asked why I am here. To be honest, I am here to get this paper signed,” as Billy pulled the affidavit from his pocket. That elicited laughter from the crowd. Tell these inbred yokels to jam it up their ass sideways, said vindictive voice. Calm down, keep your cool, said inside the gallery ropes voice.
“Ah, the old nudge from the judge eh?” said Frank.
Billy looked puzzled, and then he got it. “Oh, uh no, It’s not like that. Commissioner Halsmith is making me attend these meetings in order for me stay on the tour. Last month I withdrew from a tournament in New Orleans because I was…”
The group had turned their collective attention towards Billy and he realized it. He was about to say he was arrested for attempting to buy cocaine from an undercover cop, showed up the next morning for his 7:43 a.m. tee time, played the first nine holes in six over par and was forced to withdraw by the rules officials.
“…Because I was hung over.”
Two days after the arrest in New Orleans Billy got a letter from Commissioner Halsmith’s office, informing him to be at his office that Tuesday. It was at that meeting that Halsmith gave Billy one more chance, informing him that he had the authority to suspend him from the tour, or to banish him outright. He could have told Billy to go make his living over in Europe – there was no room on this tour for a player with the issues he has. But Halsmith didn’t do that. Instead, he required Billy to go through counseling followed by regular AA meeting attendance. He also made it clear this was the final chance. One more questionable tournament withdraw, one more outburst, one more report from any volunteer at any event that Billy was anything but totally professional and you can try to scrape out a living on the Australasian Tour…if they will have you.
Billy got the message, kind of. Like a good addict he knew when his back was against the wall and that it was time to fly straight. So the outbursts stopped. But Billy had found another way to feed the beast, and it was a brutally simple one. Just play bad. Purposely miss the cut. Not that he could do that forever, but he had enough money in his bank account to last at least a year out on the tour. So what if he bagged it a couple of times? Guys miss cuts all the time.
So here he was in Charlotte, at an AA meeting, trying to explain to people he didn’t know why he was there.
So he lied. Billy was an expert at lying.
Frank thanked Billy for sharing and then turned to the group. “Okay I think we have a topic for the meeting. Let’s talk about denial.”
Denial?!? thought Billy. Was that some kind of slap at me, you fuckface? I will come across this motherfucking table at you so fast that you will not know what hit you.
What Billy didn’t realize was that Frank was a four-handicap golfer and an ardent follower of the tour. He knew who Billy was. He also knew of the arrest in New Orleans so he knew Billy wasn’t just hung over. Frank was also a volunteer at the tournament that Billy was playing in that week. He was actually honored to have Billy at the meeting and was holding back the urge to ask him for an autograph.
Frank was also sober for fifteen years and could smell bullshit from a mile away, and Billy was reeking of it.
At the end of the meeting, Billy took his paper up to the podium to be signed. Realizing he had a moment alone, Frank seized the opportunity and said, “U.S. Amateur Champion Billy Edwards. It’s an honor.” Billy was almost embarrassed by that, but was also buoyed with pride. “I still remember how you came from four down in the morning match to dust off Angel Hernandez in the finals three and two. That approach you hit to the sixteenth was a thing of beauty.” Billy stumbled out thanks. Frank continued. “What in the hell happened, Billy? Everyone thought you were the next great thing. Well hell, the fact you’re in an AA meeting I can guess what happened. I read the papers. Did you really punch that waiter in Portland? Ah never mind. Look, here’s my phone number. Call me anytime, but preferably before you take a drink, okay?”
Billy said sure. He put the signed paper in his shirt pocket and left the church.
On his way out he threw Frank’s phone number in the trash.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dee’s New Digs

My mom went to her new home today. An alter care facility in Brimfield, Ohio, specializing in people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. My sister called me today to give me the derails.

My first thought was one of shame. My mom lives in Brimfield? Brimtucky?

I’ll get over it.

Anyway, it sounds like a nice place. She has a private room just off of the nurse’s station. My sisters went to mom’s house and got her the comforts of home – skeins of yarn, packs of smokes and, knowing mom, a rolling pin.

Hey, she’s Italian. They don’t speak with their hands. They speak with their rolling pins.

I asked my sister what kind of activities they have at the facility. She said lots – crafts, exercise, music…and bingo.

Hoo boy. Bingo. Mom’s an accountant, and she looooves her some bingo. Her and I used to go to bingo at the AA meeting place in Cuyahoga Falls on Monday nights, and mom was one of those people who brings half of their belongings and sets them around their space, marking their territory – daubers, good luck charms, cigarettes, pictures. That woman could keep up with 30 cards and a numbers barker on speed like no one’s business. She would smack-dab those cards then lean over and start dabbing mine that I couldn’t get to.

Black-belt bingo babe.

Mom is, obviously, adjusting. Having dementia, she slips in and out of lucidity, and from what I hear; the times she’s not with us are great fun. She’s skinny-dipping at the blue hole in Peninsula, playing golf with my dad (who died 15 years ago), sitting at an AA meeting bitching about the loud drunks in the back of the room. She wonders where long-dead people went when they were talking to her a minute ago. There are also heart-wrenching moments of ‘When can I go home?’ where she doesn’t realize she is home. Her new home.

But she is comfortable and will eventually acclimate to her new surroundings. And she is going to make new friends and crochet them each an afghan.

And kick their asses in bingo.

Y’all been warned.

What Will Happen

The last weekend before the presidential election.

And there was a collective “THANK GOD” heard around the country.

Myself included. Our presidential elections have become nothing more than big money driven dueling campaigns of attacks, distortions…and lying.

In fact, you can tell which side is losing by the amount of lies being tossed out there. And in this case it is the Romney campaign throwing out such whoppers like Obama took Detroit into bankruptcy and forced Jeep to ship jobs to China.

Wrong. One both counts. But don’t take my word for. Ask the president of Chrysler/Jeep.

Anyway. Come this Tuesday, after the polls close, the electoral votes will be determined.

And Obama will be re-elected.

Not because I say so, or even wish so, but because the math will say so. Romney would have to do a serious and damn near impossible needle-thread of winning every toss-up state – Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Iowa and Nevada – to win the White House. And that’s not going to happen. Obama is up 5 points in Ohio, 8 in Wisconsin, and ahead in a few of the others of those seven battleground states. If Obama wins Ohio and Wisconsin, the election is over. Romney has to win all seven to even have a chance.

That is our electoral college. That is how we elect the president. Romney may actually win the popular vote, like Gore did in 2000, but it won’t matter.

Being a Democrat, I am not gloating. Truly. But I will admit I am relieved. I firmly believe a Romney presidency would be Dubya Redux. He has surrounded himself with the same power players GW Bush had around him – Rice, Senor, Bolton to name a few. And Romney is malleable enough to acquiesce to their wishes. It would be the Return of the Neocons.

But aside from my relief, here is what I truly wish will occur after Obama’s victory:

I hope everyone will realize he didn’t win due to Acorn or voter fraud.
I hope everyone will realize he didn’t win due to ‘Black Guilt’.
I hope the ridiculous right wing-nut talk about him not being an American citizen will end.
I hope everyone will realize he is not a Muslim.

These things I hope.

And these things, I doubt will occur.

Because there will always be a block of people that simply cannot accept that he is president, now a re-elected one. These are the ‘We Want Our Country Back’ people. The people that think 2008 was some kind of ‘give’ to the minority by allowing a black man to become president. The people that think someone ‘took’ their country from them.

These kinds of people are dangerous.

Why? Because they think the system only works if either their guy becomes president or their guy is white. There was, and there is, no conspiracy. Obama’s victory in 2008, and his impending one in 2012, is the result of our system working as designed. If you don’t like that design, then change it. But he wasn’t elected because he was black.

The reason I voted for him – twice – has nothing to do with skin color. It has to do with competence and results. He promised certain things he would do if elected…and then he did them – health care reform, ending the war in Iraq, ending don’t ask don’t tell.

Now, debate what he did or didn’t do all you want, then go vote for whoever based on those debates. Choose the person you want for president based on those kinds of factors. That is how it is supposed to be done. I don’t think Romney is a bad or evil man; I just don’t like his policies and I think he’s an empty suit who will be easily persuaded to do things by those he surrounds himself with, whereas I believe Obama is a far more principled man who will do what he says he will do. He has, and he will. That’s why I’m voting for him. All I ask is for each person to at least try to give your vote that level of analysis then pick the one you want. Avoid the lies and distortions.

But if your man loses, do not claim conspiracies.

Just accept that the majority has spoken, like it did in 2008.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Reassuring Chuckle

My mother is dying.

In checking my blog stories, I realized I’ve written about mom and the state of her health, which recently has taken a serious decline, a few times now. Here are a couple -

Right now she is in a Palliative Care unit of a local hospital. Her dementia has progressed to the point that she doesn’t know she is in a hospital, which is the beautiful thing about palliative care; it doesn’t look like a hospital room. No medical equipment, no meds in view. Far as mom knows, she’s on a nice vacation in a nice room.

Which is exactly where we want her mind to be.

Her mind is now at a point where people long dead have visited her. She’s perplexed that Kenny, my brother, is not sitting on the couch talking to her when a few minutes ago she swore was there. Which would be kind of tough since Kenny is here in Florida and my mom is in Ohio. But at least she is now in a place where she can just relax and let her mind go wherever it wants.

Being the youngest, mom likes to sound brave when I talk to her. And, thank goodness, whenever I call she knows it’s me. I consciously test this each time I call. When she answers, I just say “Hello there,” without giving my name, and she always replies “Well hello, son.”

And then she gives me that reassuring chuckle.

It’s a delightful little sound which gives off the message of, ‘I’m doing just fine; it’s just a thang. Don’t worry about me.’

Oh, but I do. Or I should say, I did. She’s now in a place where she is safe and she’s comfortable. I don’t have to worry about her lighting a cigarette on the gas stove anymore, her grey hair hanging precariously close to the open flame. Going back home is not going to happen – she can no longer take care of herself.

She also has stopped taking her meds. Which is fine, as the palliative care staff does not make patients take them. They are there to manage pain, and if mom is in pain she will take something to ease it. But blood pressure meds, heart meds, meds for the sake of taking meds? She’s done with that.

Cue the reassuring chuckle.

Aside from the obvious emotional trauma of watching a loved one slowly die, and dementia is way too long of a death, it has almost been, and I hesitate to use this word but I will – fascinating – to watch. To watch a woman who was the smartest person I have ever known, who could balance million-dollar corporate budgets to the penny while raising four fantastic kids, to watch her mind atrophy to the point where she does not know where she is and is imagining people that aren’t there is, well, fascinating.

Cue the reassuring chuckle. I inherited it.

Sometimes the reassuring chuckle is akin to whistling past the graveyard. Mom knows how bad it has gotten. But she will never level with me on that. Being the baby she has to appear strong to me. I, of course, know how bad it has gotten, so when she gives me the reassuring chuckle it comes across differently now – it comes across as a mother being motherly. Parents do not let their kids worry about them – it’s their job to worry about us.

Which, until the day she dies, is what she will do. Unfortunately (or maybe thankfully), that day will be very soon for mom. She is in a comfortable place now, and old dead friends are visiting her. She is happy.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

My God, What Is Going On?

Remember that horrible song from the 1980s, The Politics of Dancing? Here, let me make you hate me –

Ah, the eighties. Those banal toe-tapping synth-tinged ditties that combined words like ‘politics’ and ‘dancing’ into the same sentence. Fun.

Those days are long gone. Now we have – are you ready –

The politics of rape.

Somehow, this presidential election, the one that was supposed to be about jobs, has been (not surprisingly) hijacked by tinheaded Neanderthal men on the far right who can’t seem to help themselves but to wade into the swamp of what constitutes rape.

You have Todd Akin talking about what is ‘legitimate’ rape. You have Richard Mourdock talking about how, if a woman is raped and gets pregnant, that it’s God’s will.

And what both these knuckleheads have in common is, one, they’re Republicans. And two, they’re men.

Here’s my view. To begin with, if you are running for political office, I don’t want to hear what you think about rape. It redefines the term irrelevant. Ah, but it is relevant, because these guys also want to make abortion illegal. And if you want to make abortion illegal, you have to wade into inanity (and into women’s uteri) and state what abortions you would let stand. And that’s where rape comes in, since some want to allow abortion in the instances of incest, health of the mother…or rape.

So they now have to discuss what is, ahem, ‘legitimate’ rape or what God intended.

It bears repeating at this point – these men are running for public office. An office that, should they be elected to, should be used for representing their constituents. And my guess is, about half of their constituents are women.

But they are men. Which brings me to my second point. Men should be disqualified from even chiming in on this issue. Unless they’ve been raped. Chances are they weren’t.

Now, I am not naïve. This is all about a party platform that is chained like an anchor to making abortion illegal. Anchor is a good analogy. Because it will sink them.

Why? Because we are talking about governing, not morality. What a woman decides to do with her body is her business and whomever she wants to bring into the discussion. People like her pastor or parents.

Not a fucking politician.

There are a couple of tangential issues here that really grate me. The first of which is invoking ‘God’ into any political discussion. I don’t give a damn what a politician’s religious beliefs are – they are irrelevant to performing the job. You don’t need strong faith to pass a budget or shepherd a bill through committees. I am beyond sick of hearing about how strong a politician’s faith is. What I want to know is, how good of a politician he or she is, because that is what they are being elected to do. Pray on your own time.

The other issue is this unquenchable thirst that male politicians have in wanting to tell women what they can or cannot do. Which brings us back to abortion. I have a real simple question to any politician that wants to make abortion illegal, and it’s this –

How much time in jail should the woman get for having an illegal abortion?

Because, Mr. Akin (and Ryan and Romney), you can try to make abortion illegal, but you will never eliminate abortions. They will happen, legal or not.

So again – how much time in prison for the women?

And don’t give me ‘We will only put the doctors that perform them in jail, not the women.’ Uh huh. And we only incarcerate drug dealers and not drug users, right?

Republicans have painted themselves into an ideological corner by doggedly holding onto an issue that our Supreme Court decided almost forty years ago. The highest court in the land had its say on the matter. And not to mention that you are pissing off half the electorate by inserting your views into their private parts.

It has been decided. So move on to something that is actually relevant.

That is, if they can actually be relevant.

I doubt they can.

Secure Our Borders!

This country has a real problem. A 2,000-mile unsecured border, where the inhabitants of the neighboring country can just waltz in unchecked. They can then assimilate into communities where they are absorbed and invisible. They are stealing our jobs.
Damn Canadians.
Oh, you forgot about that border? Then look at a map – I am shocked that the residents of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho & Washington aren’t outraged. The God-forsaken Canadians wither their ‘eh’ accents are milling ‘aboot’ with us born-here Americans. They can’t even speak English correctly!
Something has to be done about this.
I propose an electrified fence reinforced with a moat. In the winter the moat will freeze, so it has to be artificially heated. We have to keep these people out to uphold the integrity of our sovereignty. I also propose a ban on Canadian bacon and hockey. And Molson beer. Cost is no object – who cares what the fence and moat will cost? There are things far more important that money. National security, for example.
Wait, what? You’re telling it’s only the Mexican border you want fortified? You’re good with Ice Farmers infiltrating our country but not those dirty Beaners?
Is it because they don’t look like us? Is it because they speak a different language? Oh yeah, I forgot – it's because they’re taking our jobs. Good thing no Canadians are doing that. Right, Detroit? I'm sure no Canucks are coming over the bridge from Windsor to work in your factories.
Most likely the reason Mexicans are coming to the U.S. is because their country is such a shithole that they want to come to a better place? That’s probably it. Seems I recall that was the rationale of the Germans, Irish, and Italians who came here around the beginning of the twentieth century, and later, the Cubans and Haitians - the want for a better life.
“Ah, but those people came here legally! Mexicans didn’t!”
Well no shit. I don’t think anyone swam across the Atlantic. European immigrants had to come over on boats. Boats that just so happen delivered them to a processing center on Eliis Island or Key West. In contrast, Mexicans have to wade thru a waist-deep 100-foot wide river to get here.
My point in all this is, one, we are a nation of immigrants. The only “Native” Americans we forced onto reservations after we stole their land. And two, a Mexican wading across the Rio Grande is no less noble in his cause than an Italian taking a steamer to Ellis Island. Both left their homeland for a sight-unseen land and a tacit promise of a better life. Look at it this way – were those Italians all documented when they hit our shore? Uh, no. They crammed into the steerage compartments of whatever boat was sailing west - without papers. Which, by the way, is where the derogatory term "Wops" came from to refer to Italian immigrants. They were undocumented - With Out Papers. They were 'illegally' entering the country.
I know the next argument – “That was a different time! America needed that labor as part of the Industrial Revolution. Mexicans aren’t needed now.”
Tell that to the residents of Brownsville, El Paso and San Diego. And while we’re at it, I bet if you went to El Paso you would find fifth-generation Mexican-Americans whose great-great-great grandfathers, uh, swam across the Rio Grande. They are descendants of illegal immigrants.
So where am I going with all this? Couple of things. One, our history cannot be denied, and two, our country shouldn’t be denied to those who want to come here. While it would be nice to have an orderly, documented, ‘legal’ flow of immigrants to our country, geography simply does not make that possible. We got those two unsecured borders, ya know.
So for anyone who decries what is happening at our southern border while ignoring the northern one is either a racist or a hypocrite. You can’t ‘selectively’ secure only one border, which just happens to be the border with the country with people who don’t look like us or talk like us.
Unless you’re a xenophobe.
Which you are.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Holy Crap I’m Getting Old

I just finished a very interesting weekend. I drove two hours south of Orlando to meet with my 18-year old son and his mom to discuss college. College!

It wasn’t that long ago that I mastered how to change his diaper on a dresser top by holding him in place with my foot as I grabbed a Pampers with my right hand & a body wipe with the left.

And there’s the first slap of reality. It was that long ago. Seventeen years ago in fact. Somewhere in between I went from a wide-eyed new dad trying to understand the world of child-rearing to a mid-fifties aging geezer more concerned about how in the fuck I am going to retire in eleven years than which college my son is going to attend.

Yeah, I know, that last sentence seemed rather self-centered. More concerned about myself than my son? What kind of dad am I for thinking that way?

Well, a pretty good one, if you ask me. Elaboration – Nick is talented. He is at a magnet art school where 87 percent of the graduates receive scholarships. Nick is intelligent. He knows what he likes and what he doesn’t. He doesn’t need to be told what to do anymore…he just needs informed.

And that’s what my role as father has morphed to. I’m an informant.

And I’m good with that. That’s what I should be. I have to, and I do, respect that Nick is now an adult (legally at least), and we are now at a point where he has to make his own decisions. His choice of college is his decision. Of course, there are limitations; he’s not going to Harvard, and that’s where his mom and me enter the picture – a sobering dose of fiscal reality. But it is still his decision. And as he moves on from here, I look forward to a role of taking his phone calls, slipping him a twenty when he needs it, buying him a beer when he wants one, and imparting whatever the hell I have learned on him when he requests it…or even when he doesn’t.

His mom and I had long chats about Nick’s nature and whether he would be able to handle life at a college where he may not be near either one of us. She worries about that. I don’t. Because if that happens; if Nick goes to a school hundreds of miles from either of us, he will be handed daily doses of reality – his clothes won’t clean themselves. Nobody will cook his meals. He will have to do those himself.

And he should. Dude needs to learn – just like I did – that they ain’t shitting when they say to wash white separately. Wearing pink underwear that was white before washing teaches a better lesson than anything him mom or I could impart on him. In short, he has to grow up on his own. I will always love him. I will always be there for him.

But he has to do his own laundry.

On Sunday I met up with some old friends in West Palm Beach to watch the Cleveland Browns lose a football game. The President of the fan club just got married with a baby on the way. The vice president of the club showed up with his wife and two toddlers in tow. They are thirtysomethings with that wide-eyed look of ‘OMG I hope I know what I’m doing here’ on their faces.

That makes me smile. Been there, done that, got the Diaper Merit Badge.

Just don’t blink, guys. They grow up fast.

And the undeniable fact of life is, they grow up exactly when they need to.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Letter to a Coward

Dear Thief:

Yes, I saw what you did.

When I got back to my car today after my round of golf in Fort Myers, I saw it missing.

And  yes, I am pissed off.

First off, who in the hell gave you the right to take anything off of my car? Keep your fucking hands off my property. Secondly, the magnetic Obama bumper sticker is also my property. You stole it. 

Now I am sure the bumper sticker had no value to you – it’s not like you took it so you could sport it on your car –it’s likely in a trash can somewhere. What is obvious is you didn’t appreciate me exercising my freedom of speech and expression, which is a right in this country, even for those who disagree with you. Especially, in fact, for those who disagree with you.

You are a thief. But moreso, you are a coward. And while I’m at it, you are a nutless, gutless piece of crap unworthy of the freedoms granted to our citizens. Thieves lose those freedoms. You're obviously a Republican, so you cherish those freedoms, remember? It's your party who is railing against Obama because, among other lies your party is purporting, he is taking away our freedoms.

You took away mine. The correct term is irony. Or hypocrite. Both fit.

Now, I am sure you are likely thinking I am overreacting. Perhaps. But it bears repeating – my car and what is on it is none of your fucking business. If you don’t like what I have on it, too fucking bad. Just consider yourself lucky I didn’t witness you taking it. Not that I would have picked a fight. I just would have slashed your fucking tires. We call that frontier justice – you deface my property, I deface yours.

My buddy Mike said to me, when I noticed it missing, ‘Hey, you’re in Republican Country here in Southwest Florida, Jer.’

No. I am apparently in intolerant douchebag country.

Anyway, I hope you got a few seconds of some kind of vicarious thrill out of sticking it to someone who doesn’t share your political views. Enjoy it while you can, because once this country speaks on November 4, your frustration will return when the president in reelected in a landslide.

But you will always be a nutless, gutless thief. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012


I was driving to work the other day. In front of me was a car that had one of those stenciled sayings on the back window. Due to my obsessive habit of tailgating, I got close enough to see the message – “In Memory of (name here), July 12, 1983 – August 27, 2008.”

Now. I have never (thank God) had to bury a child. I cannot comprehend the grief a parent must live with on a daily basis as a result. It has to be a constant, consistent burden that never really ends. My heart goes out to these people for having the fortitude to even get out of bed each morning and face a life that seems so grossly unfair.

But stenciling a reminder of their sorrow the window of their car?

I don’t get that, for a couple of reasons. For one, it just doesn’t seem appropriate. Again, I am not trying to tell anyone how to grieve, but is that a proper method of doing so? I mean, the parent obviously is already ‘in memory of’ the deceased – they sure do not need reminding. Which brings me to the second reason – what are they going after – reminding the rest of the world they lost a child? Is it their intent to let total strangers, like me, know of their unfathomable burden that will beset them the rest of their life?

Why would you even care what I think? I’m just a guy following you too closely on the highway.

Sure, when I saw that message, my first thought was, ‘That poor person,’ but just a couple of seconds later my thought shifted to, what are trying to accomplish with this message?

I am going to try to inject myself into their shoes for a moment. Let’s say my son died tragically. I go through the grieving process – denial, hating God, anger, compromise, then finally acceptance. Now, where would my mind be at after all that? I honestly do not know, but really, about the last thing I would think on doing is stenciling a reminder (to who?) of my loss.

My son’s mother lost her other child tragically to a drug overdose. He was 17. She channeled her grief into action – she took autopsy photos of him to schools and spoke to other 17-year olds on what would happen to them should they follow the same path her son did. I am sure she, by doing so, saved lives. She kept other mothers from the incomprehensible sorrow of having to bury their son or daughter. To me, that was a perfect way of her to express, process, channel…and help.

What does stenciling an epitaph on a window do, other than remind? Isn’t that what gravestones are designed to do? If you want a tangible reminder, why wouldn’t you visit the cemetery or look at the urn on the shelf? Why do you want it sitting there whenever you take the car to Publix to get some milk?

I just don’t understand.