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Friday, August 26, 2016

Zaevion William Dobson

I've been hella busy this week and don't have a missive ready to post. I need a break. We all need a break, methinks.

Here's my suggestion: Turn off CNN. For twenty-four hours, don't think about Trump or Clinton or LePage.

Instead, if you need someone to read about, Google the young man whose name I've used as a title for this post. I guarantee he'll make you happier than any politician.

Sad, too.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Carl and Joe

(Written during a flight a few days ago)

I am astounded at the generosity of a friend who passed away last week. I can’t stop thinking about the most-of-three-days I spent chatting with him less than a month ago.

Joe was the second husband of my wife’s sister, a guy who came into her life after her children had been mostly raised. For each of them, the pairing was not so much about building a future but rather about settling into a life together after many of the lessons have been learned. And as far as Mary and I could tell, their settling in was natural, effortless, meant to be.

They had too few of those ‘here were are together and life is good’ years before the cancer made itself known. They should – if a normative can be applied to something as capricious as a person’s fate – they should have had those golden years that all seek but none are promised. But life is what happens, so Mary is in Florida as I type this, trying to help her sister cope.

The world without Joe is a lesser place, I can assure you. This was a man whose stepdaughter found in him, finally, a true ‘daddy.’ Whose son’s passing was mourned by a father who was born to the title. Whose love for his wife bordered on adoration.

This was a man whose approach to knowledge of his own impending mortality was to blog about it, so that the people he cared about and who cared about him could be reassured and comforted by the chronicle of his battle, without whining or self-pity.

Selfishly, Joe and I were brothers-in-law who made the annual Jonardi gatherings enjoyable for each other. Or so it was for me and I like to think, for him as well. I’ve always been uncomfortable at these yearly extravaganzas at which I felt an interloper but with Joe there, I had a friend, a brother in the strange world of family history that wasn’t mine and references I didn’t understand.

And toward the end, rather than cocoon or rage against his condition, he shared, honestly and without a hint of bitterness, his story that could only have one ending. His humor and decency and amazing knowledge and insight when I was last with him made me think about others who have displayed grace in the face of their own demise.  Gilda Radner’s It’s Always Something, Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture (and Robert Schultz’s, for that matter) come to mind.

It was with all this playing on my psyche that I picked up two books by Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, and his last book, Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium. I read the first to sort of calibrate myself to his style, although it turned out not to have been necessary. It was a good book, but the style of writing was quite different from the later (last) one.

Sagan, knowing that his nine lives were sorely depleted and that his time was nigh, elected to have a conversation with us about the ideas that mattered to him and that he felt should matter to all of us. I am reading ‘Billions’ now and so far, it’s a glorious book, a wonderful journey through the mind of a man who devoted much of his professional life to understanding difficult concepts and then explaining them to the rest of us.

I hope to provide you with a book report some time soon. But even if not, please consider reading this book. Three chapters in, I’m already better off for having done so.

Both Carl and Joe chose to leave behind evidence of their love for this world and the people in it. And today, at 36,000 feet over (Montana?), I raise my orange juice in salute to them. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

It's not sacrifice

My whole life – at least my adult life, so that would be the last few days, anyway – I’ve read and heard frequent references to the sacrifices parents make on behalf of their children.

While I understand what people mean I’m not sure the characterization is apt, at least not for people who earn the right to be called Mom or Dad. The truth is, I think I’ve done okay as a parent and I don’t recall making any sacrifices.

Perhaps I just have a bad memory or perhaps I’m misconstruing the term but I don’t think so.

Mary and I entered into a pact early on that served us reasonably well throughout our child-rearing years. We would face what came at us while trying to tend in the direction of positive outcome. And when we had to make a choice between our comfort and our children’s well-being, we would opt in favor of the kids.  I know, that sounds very ‘well duh’ but really, that’s sort of how we planned our life as parents. We voiced nothing more or less philosophical than that.

So as the challenges came, as we knew they would, we just did what parents do. We had a white wing chair in which one of us spent most of the night every night for well over a year. Having a sick baby meant Mary and I were both able to recite the Nick At Nite rerun lineup and I’m pretty sure I memorized a couple episodes of The Donna Reed Show in their entirety. Came to hate a certain purple dinosaur but that may have just been a matter of druthers.

I recall some long periods of budgetary skinniness when we had to pony up for choir fees and tour costs.

Mary and I both volunteered for various and sundry kid-focused activities over the years. We’ve stood out in the cold with cookie-hawking Girl Scouts, chaperoned car washes, built scenery and a portable puppet theatre, provided refreshments, swept up after, you know how it goes.

Mary and I volunteered for most of Two’s high school volleyball games, Mary as scorer and yours truly as line judge. I can tell you now without fear of scarring my daughter too badly that I really hated that gig. I would much rather have watched the games and line judges are not well respected in high school volleyball circles.

More than one Christmas, Mary and I limited our largesse for each other in order to make sure the kids got their fave toys and yes, there was at least one Christmas Eve that found us frantically trying to find the favored toy of the year.

It’s not sacrifice. It’s something good, perhaps even mildly noble. But it’s not sacrifice. Because the whole point of being a parent is the creation and nurturing of something better than oneself.

And besides, how can it be sacrifice when you end up with these daughters? 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

(Insert expletive)

Two deaths in the family, within the last 24 hours, of people I really care about.

Please take a few minutes to hug someone you love.

Dinner guests

I’m pretty sure I’ve done this one before but I’m too damn lazy to sort through six hundred-plus entries to find out. So, I’m just going to risk redundancy.

I was cross-commenting in Facebook with Cecille, a friend from high school days about a woman who runs the Safe Place for Kids in Baltimore and I mentioned this woman is someone with whom I’d like to have dinner. Which of course led me to thinking about how to round out the guest list, which of course, included the word ‘list’ and you can guess where this is going, right?

My perfect dinner gathering, not including the people who read this, who go without saying will be invited but will probably have to sit at the kids table, no offense intended:

·         Ericka Alston – She created the Penn North Safe Kids Zone, and you could spend 21 minutes in a lot worse way than watching her TED talk, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.

·         Sheila - Because I think she and Ericka would drive the conversation even if no one else spoke.

·         Carl Sagan – For his humanity and intelligence and incredible insight.

·         Elie Wiesel – So we don’t forget
·         Chita Rivera – When I did a show with her we had some dead time waiting behind a set piece together for our entrance and she talked and talked about her daughter. Not about herself or her career on Broadway or politics or, or, or… Oh, and also for her jokes.

·         Sylvia Earle – The marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence. I could listen to her for hours.

·         Arland Williams, Jr. – He chose to save others at cost of his own life and had to have known he was doing so. I’ve wondered about him from time to time for thirty-four years.

·         Malala Yousafzai – Shot for daring to demand her right to an education, she has become a beacon for a generation.

Mary and I would serve, thus allowing us to eavesdrop. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Back home

I’m home for a week or so and taking a day completely off to rest and write.

Okay, I’ll do some cleaning and take shirts to cleaners and cook the pork roast for lunches in the coming week. But no work-work today, although I can’t promise for tomorrow. And no yard work or garage straightening. I’ll do whatImustandnomore because today is my day to be me.

Part of being me is spending some time with Daughter One. Spent some time talking about family and work gossip and that was wonderful but not necessary for my happiness. Just being in the same space with her is precious time. She’s a good head, as we used to say.

Night before last, I had dinner with Sheila and Karen and that was special in its own way. And I’m planning a road trip wit me bro in a month or two that will be fabulous.

But today, I’m alone with my stuff and my thoughts and the knowledge of my daughter close at hand.

My life is good. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Cleo the Crafty

It’s been some time so I figured I’d catch you up on the dog-related doings at Chez McDermott.

Previously on the Canine Hour, Odin the Large and Lazy had passed on to that big doggy bed in the sky, and his absence had left Zoey the Small and Annoying confused and saddened. So, not long after the tragic event, Daughter One and I went to the local animal shelter to start perusing breeds and planning our next adoption. We made it about halfway down the line of cages before I could tell by the angelic glow surrounding One’s head that she had found The One.

I have also let you in on the fact that having lost a Great Dane / Black Lab mix, One elected to fill the void with none other than a Chihuahua, one of the five or six breeds concerning the adoption of which I had famously and - as it turns out, ineffectually - said, “Never!”  (Side note: When a father of daughters says ‘never,’ that translates roughly to ‘until the women in my life inform me otherwise.’)

Ahem, moving on…

So Cleo, as she came to be called set about winning the hearts of the humans of the house and gradually wormed her way into Zoey’s heart, as well. She really is a cute little thing, runs like a bandy-legged gazelle and loves nothing so much as to be in physical contact with one of her peeps, preferably in a position of repose on a convenient lap.

Lately, she has fallen into habits that are somewhat, shall we say, less cute. For a while, she decided that she was too dainty to go out in the rain so she took to conducting her fluid adjustment activities on the dining room rug. We humans were slow to figure out her subterfuge, which accounts for the fact that said rug is now rolled up outside, awaiting my next trip to the dump.

She is a master at pulling crapola out of any trash or recycling receptacle she comes across and has developed an acrobatic routine that involves leaping up, hooking front paws over the lip of the trash can, then leaning back so that her weight tips the can over, the better to access the contents, my dear. It is not unusual for me to come upstairs from my office to find the family room strewn with an assortment of discarded mail, wrappers of various descriptions, and the occasional used cotton swab. (I agree – ew!)

 We wondered why the lid to the dog food bin was repeatedly left askew until one day One came into the kitchen to discover a pair of itty bitty doggy legs sticking up over the rim, blissfully dancing to the rhythm of the munching sounds coming from inside.  Her latest skill involves burrowing her way into the forty-pound bag of kibble. For at least twenty years, through the various dogs and combinations of dogs the bag containing extra dog food has resided in the cubby behind the ready bin. Twenty years it went unmolested.

Until now. 

Until Cleo.

Now, I don’t want you to think we’re silly enough to leave her alone in the house so she can commit her burglaries unobserved. No-o-o-o! She does not require our absence in order to commence her perfidy. The brazen little monster carries out her criminal actions right in front of us! The other day I heard a rustling and went into the kitchen – barely around the corner from where I sat working in the dining room – to discover her doing her darnedest to chew a hole in the kibble bag, having already managed somehow to slide the bin out of her way.

So now our home d├ęcor includes a half empty bag of dog munch sitting on top of the sideboard. It won’t be there for long. We’ll find a more protected – and we hope out of sight – place to store it. And not entirely for reasons aesthetic.

Yesterday I came around the corner to discover a Chihuahua sitting in the hallway in front of the sideboard staring up at her erstwhile prize. Since she was entirely unconcerned at my presence, I was able to stand there and study her for a moment. And I saw the look on her little face.

This was not the forlorn countenance of a tiny animal recognizing defeat. No, what I saw there was a world class climber, dispassionately calculating the route for her free climb up the face of El Capitan.

Gawd help us. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016


I met Marsha on the bus. This is how I meet many of the ‘new people’ in my life these days. I spend almost an hour, usually with many of the same people.

I tend to be sort of cocooned, pulling out my book or my Nook and going into another world other than taking occasional glances outside to look at people or water or mountains, only emerging from my chrysalis stage at the last possible moment upon arrival at my stop. But every now and then, something spurs interaction in a less superficial way than the normal ‘excuse-me’ and ‘did you drop this’ sort of engagement.

I’d been riding the same morning bus with Marsha frequently since last time I made a routing change and other than nods and occasionally teaming up to help a newbie figure out their stop, we’d never spoken. But one morning we were standing next to each other in the queue and one of us commented on a particularly clueless set of riders the day before and it turns out Marsha is as much of a gabber as am I, so off we went.

She’s quite an interesting women. After spending x number of years serving as a crew member on private yachts and charters, she holds multiple certifications and now teaches at a maritime academy in Seattle. She has great stories of dealing with self-impressed sea dogs who consider themselves far too salty to accept guidance – or worse, grading and correction – by a ‘mere slip of a girl.’ Never mind that their sole path to qualifying for a higher paying job and more prestigious position in the maritime world passes through her evaluation of their grasp of the material. 

This is a woman who started her career working large private yachts for a captain who maintained about 50/50 gender division in his crews. She says she “kept my mouth shut and head down and just did the work,” and fortunately this guy was more interested in developing talent that checking out the local talent so under his tutelage she flourished.

She worked hard and was smart enough never to pass on an opportunity to learn or to assume more responsibility. And when she was ready to spend some time ashore, found a berth teaching other people what she had already learned.

She told me about dealing with gruff old duffs. And people who inexplicably ignored their lessons after ponying up several thousand dollars for the privilege. Go figure, but I’ve seen the same thing elsewhere. It kills me to have a class of twenty or so in a classroom in, say, Denver and realize that the guy who flew there from Hawaii or the gal from New Hampshire can’t be bothered to pay attention to the material. Marsha and I share that experience.

You might suppose that having both spent significant periods at sea – I was in the Navy during my formative years – we would spend our time together swapping yarns about exotic places or typhoons we’ve known and loved.

No, mostly we talk about teaching adults – actual or theoretical – in professional development courses. It’s shop talk between peers of a sort and I really enjoy our time together. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a truly nice person. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Difficult times

I am watching several young adults of my acquaintance go through some difficult times. Emotionally, financially, physically tough stuff. And I am finding it very difficult to hold in abeyance my natural tendency to step in and fix things. Not that I’m sure I could, if I tried.

What’s difficult is the not trying.

My mind is awhirl with dread if/then imaginings of what will come to pass should they not find their way. Not because the world is hard (it is) or because I am frustrated in the knowledge that all of them are so smart and insightful and good people who could own the world if only they understood how to make a start (I am).

They will. Find their paths and make a start, I mean. But knowing the sun will rise doesn’t make the night less foreboding.

It’s not my role as elder that binds this fear to me, not at all. If I looked at things entirely from where I now stand, I would be able to embrace the certainty of their success. I know now that if you just keep chugging, things eventually work out. But we are each a collection of points of view, each from a different age and situation, a different point in time. And each of those snapshots is laden with the feelings that accompanied the versions of ourselves they represent.

The snapshot from when I was their age is of a not very hopeful me. It is a picture of a ‘me’ who had lost the woman who I thought would be the one, of a ‘me’ feeling unloved and therefore unlovable. Of a ‘me’ with no particular career direction, whose attempt at college had been abortive, who didn’t respect himself and saw that lack of regard reflected in the eyes of those around him. A ‘me’ who – thanks to the tender ministrations of a drunk driver – could not be certain that the seizures would ever stop or the memory ever fully return.

I went through a shit-storm of self-doubt during what should have been years of defining and forging a trajectory. Instead, I simply kept colliding with myself. And I grew fatigued by the sheer effort of recovering from self-inflicted failures.

I did recover. A good woman and a caring family and a very few steadfast friends saw me through. I found my path and eventually my stumbling became a stride. Life does get better if you just keep on keeping on. Or to be more accurate, if you steadfastly refuse to finally give up. The dawn comes, the storm abates. Life becomes livable, then enjoyable, and eventually precious.

But you have to trust enough to make the start.

I wish I’d understood that sooner. I gave up much of fifteen years of my life. I can’t get it back.
So, I guess what I would say is simply this: today is your life. Yesterday is gone and next year is never promised.

Please, live today. It’s what you have. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Hillary Clinton

Yes, I will mark your name on the ballot.

Please, please do not think for a minute that I am voting for you. As has often been the case in my life, I am voting pragmatically rather than hopefully.

You see, I know personally the truth behind only a couple of your claims but in both instances, you vastly overstated your advocacy for the downtrodden and your own achievements on their behalf. So I have to wonder about the rest.

So, I can’t trust you.

But the thing is, I think you’re even more of a pragmatist than am I. And while I’m willing to accept claims that you’re a hard worker, I don’t for a minute believe you will try to do it all yourself. And I view that as a compliment.

It’s important for a leader to realize they can’t know all, do all, adjudicate every argument. It’s important for a leader to rely on staff and advisers and subject matter experts. And from what I know of you, you will likely do that.

I believe you will lead a team that will bring some balance back to the Federal judiciary. And I believe you will listen to people on matters and issues about which you simply can’t ever know enough because no one person can know it all.

I’m glad we’re finally electing a woman. But make no mistake – there are other women I wish had been on the ballot. Still, a woman’s perspective is welcome, so please do remember that constituency.

BTW, you should really send a fruit basket to Donald Trump. He has given you the great gift of being allowed to run against a candidate for whom no thinking and caring person could ever vote. 

Ultimately, it is likely that fact that will land you in the White House.

I believe you’ll be elected. But don’t count on a second term. You have to actually earn that because next time around the Republicans will work very hard not to supply you with such an easy target as The Donald. If you do, if you actually earn this office I will more gladly vote for you next time around.

But you do need to earn it. Get busy.

Because I want so badly to be wrong about you. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Garage sale

We are holding a garage sale today.

Of course, my use of the first person plural is, shall we say, figurative. The truth is that Mary, One, and Boyfriend Of One are holding a garage sale whilst I sit in my comfortable office chair in my comfortable office, writing about said event. You see…

I don’t do garage sales.

I am happy to help find unused or used-to-near-extinction or ugly or even fugly items to offer for sale. I am willing to help move junk – er, make that fine vendables – out to the driveway. I offer wisdom as to how to set things up and I occasionally saunter outside to nod and make unsolicited comments to those doing the actual, you know, work. But I don’t actually take part in the selling phase of operations.

Why, you might ask? Simple…

I don’t do garage sales.

For one thing, I am uncomfortable with the whole haggling nature of these events. I would be sorely tempted to offer the whole shebang to the first prospective customer to arrive with an empty pickup truck for five dollars cash money on the sole and non-negotiable condition that they take it all, take it now, take it far away, never to return. This, however, is not Mary’s preferred sales technique and I’m fairly certain she would express her dismay in no uncertain terms.

Then there’s the customer who wants to purchase the lightly used Samsung tablet for twenty dollars. Yeah, that’ll happen! I’d sooner donate it to the school – hey, that’s an idea! (More frowns from my beloved.)

And there’s the wanderer who somehow makes it past the hanging tarp to explore my actual garage, which at this point contains nothing with which I’m willing to part. Except maybe the chipper. Yeah, I’d sell the chipper. It’s a pain to start and requires actual work to use. Now THAT you can have for twenty!

Let’s face it: I am neither interested in nor am I competent at the operation of garage sales. And that’s why…

I don’t do garage sales.

Glad my beloved does, though. Lots of junk moving in a satisfactory direction. That would be, out the door. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bird's eye view

Flying eastward over the Cascades on a recent morning, the combination of sun angle and my plane’s altitude provided the perfect moving postcard view of the terrain features. I found myself looking down from above the peaks and ridges with just the right shadowing to reveal every feature, nook, and also, cranny of this grand mountain range.

Now, before I start sounding too much like a travelogue, allow me to admit that my words do no justice to the quality of the view. That said, please believe that the view was worthy of a much better notice / describer than I and that I so wish each and all of you could have shared the experience.

I’m always a bit surprised and thrilled to my bones at the number and clarity of mountain-top lakes in this region. Yes, the ones nestled in lower valleys are lovely but the ones that catch my eye are the smaller, usually circular catchments right at the peaks.

One of the lakes I spot this morning is maybe a few hundred yards across, edged by the merest fringe of dirt before the old growth forest begins. The deep blue – not to mention the snow on the peaks around it – offers testimony to the frigidity of the water, even now in mid-July. I’d give anything to be on it in my kayak but fortunately, it is not accessible for such activities, given the density of forest, steepness of the slopes and lack of a road anywhere near. I say fortunately, because given easier access this gem would surely be spoiled by the incursions of the likes of moi with our boats and coolers and campfires.

Gawd, but I love where I live. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Understanding the inputs

I’ve had an odd combination of inputs of late.

My mother-in-law passed away. She was a good person and an important contributor to the life and lives of our little clan. She was a teacher to our daughters, helping them understand much more than how to crochet or reduce cherries for pie filling or make caplets. She was the center of her family and even in dying did much to pull her children together. We miss her and will continue to miss her.

The horror that is national politics is on all our minds today. And it goes beyond Trump and Clinton, although each of them in their own way represents the worst we have to offer in the realm of leadership. The worst aspect of our political torment is the enforced realization that the evil that inflicted us before the Sixties remains rampant. It would be simple to blame the hateful rhetoric on the likes of Cruz and Ryan and Limbaugh. But rhetoric requires an audience and the rabble standing with Trump are not of Trump’s creation.

A free press - so necessary to the maintenance of an informed electorate - itself depends for its validity on both competence and positive intent. Both attributes seem sadly lacking in the ‘journalists’ of today. I’ve nothing against advocacy but when advocacy is disguised as information we all suffer. So I watch the political falderal and I’m at a loss to determine the proper course. Not because I can’t trust this candidate or that but more because I can’t trust much of the ‘information’ I’m receiving about any of them.

My daughters are both going through changes in their lives that will alter their futures and by extension, Mary’s and mine. No judgment, no good or bad. But the future will diverge from the past.

I’m getting older and while I’ve long since accepted mortality, I can’t as readily accept the end of my ability to contribute. So, do I work harder or faster or both? And can I work harder or faster or both?

The passing of Elie Wiesel has affected me more than I would have imagined. I’m re-reading Night to try to understand exactly why. A wonderful, crucial human being but why is his passing so viscerally important to me? I hope to figure that out because I suspect that in this case, knowledge might bring wisdom.

Friends are going through, well, stuff and I hope for them. So much, so sincerely do I hope for each and all of them.

As our ability to gather data expands exponentially, our ability to absorb and understand what the data mean is steadily diminished. But how do we choose which data to try to understand? How do we conduct the triage?

DO we even know what success would look like? Do any of us truly recall Original Position?

I don’t have answers. But I have inputs and I like to think I’m starting to understand the questions.

For now, that will have to be enough. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dodging bullets

I went to the doctor today. To a specialist to find out if the ‘thing’ my GP was worried about was going to turn out to be malignant. 

Good news: Benign

Bad news: Everyone doesn’t get this reprieve.

Right on the heels of the WHEW!!!, I found myself thinking of the many people who received less desirable news from their practitioners.

Don’t get me wrong, no guilt here. I didn’t think why-me-and-not-them although I could have, since I haven’t always done the smart thing when it came to health management. But still, why them?

No answer. What is, is. What is not, is not. Is that it? It is. (With a nod to Daniel Keyes and Flowers for Algernon)

But still.

I was terrified, afraid even to tell Mary how afraid I was. The last two days were mental torture. Surely, one of these times – no, don’t go there.

Not this time.I am thinking tonight of the people who got bad news today.

I’m so sorry.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A disturbance in the Force

Elie Wiesel has died.

He was a hero to me, and the mentor I never met.

After surviving the holocaust, he spent a lifetime trying to convince men and women of goodwill to speak out because silence always favors the oppressor. And he reminded us that to be a bystander is to be part of the problem.

He judged an essay I wrote once and I have to say it was a peak experience to know he'd read my writing. And frightening beyond words.

He taught me as he taught the world. And he has died but he will never be gone.

Please read his trilogy. Do that for me.

But even if not, please read Night, the first of the three. Do that for yourself and for humankind. If you haven't read this book, you might be in danger of believing the Holocaust can't happen again, here.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Browsing 101

I’ve been working on framing content, delivery and medium for a training project at work and it got me to thinking (yes, I know, a miracle – very funny!).  Anyhoo, during the week long drive with Homer (not his actual name) I was reminded that the challenge of providing teaching and training for folks living with certain types of disabilities is really no different from finding ways to effectively communicate with gen X, Y, Z, etc. It’s about directing their attention to things that matter. And that’s not always easily accomplished.

It has become emblematic of folks under 30 – well, now under 40, I suppose – that their lives revolve around information that comes to them through various electronic devices. Of course, through any channel or device from YouTube to one’s personal communicator, there are seemingly infinite applications vying for one’s attention at any given time. And many of these seem to be in the business of truncating communication. (I could get all snarky here about a certain candidate’s penchant for using Twitter but the problem there is not so much about compression as incomprehension, so…  let’s just move on, shall we?)

In order to ‘access the information,’ one must first know it is there and that it is potentially of interest.  Communicators of various stripes have understood this for many generations.  From bills posted on street corners to broadsheets with bold type headlines, we’ve understood the need to draw the audience in. Book dust covers, theatre marquees and billboards all play to this need. The book cover fulfills two functions – announcing content and inviting desire. We walk into the book store, pick up the book we came for and then browse our areas of interest for covers that might pique our interest. And there’s the dust cover, trying its hardest to make us pause and pick up this book.

‘Browsing’ has taken on a whole new meaning for the digitally directed generation. Which books or other content is presented for consideration is defined by algorithms set up to predict your preferences, in order to enhance success of the browsing session. (‘Success’ being a subjective term – for me, it means I find something of interest while for the algorithm setter-upper and the site host it means  that I might purchase the item I find of interest – these being very different but not necessary mutually exclusive definitions.) But there seems to be an inherent limitation in browsing as our children are coming to understand it.

When one’s browsing is directed, even in a well-intentioned way by an algorithm set up to drive sales, it will necessarily tend to lead us toward those ideas or products for which it assumes I’ll feel an affinity. This is why I get so many popups for sexual enhancers and sports crapola. The algorithms have figured out my gender and age and probably a zillion other characteristics and have tailored their marketing to me accordingly. (Joke’s on them if they think I’ll ever voluntarily view a professional sports event and Casanova I‘m not, but they keep trying.)

To be fair, this was already a problem with the traditional book store, since we tend to look for what we already know we like – novels or historical fiction, how-to or new age. Of course, in a book store we have to walk through the stacks to get to our chosen area, whereas computerized shopping takes us as efficiently as possible to an item we might actually, you know, pay for.

Okay, enough with the rant. Where is this going?

I recently spent a week in a car with a younger man who by date of birth could be my grandchild. This is a guy who is very much in sync with the modern digital milieu and I worried about how well we would engage when his attention was taken up with the world as defined within a two-inch-square screen.

Turns out I need not have worried – Homer is a very interested guy, curious about more than what’s trending and willing, even eager to get out and look.  I am delighted to report that he spent more time holding his camera than his cell phone. He did a lot of the driving and when I drove all day, a misplaced charging cord ensured that his cell phone use was foregone for hours at a time. But I sense that even had he been the passenger with a fully functional i-Thing for all seven days, he would not have spent much time texting or trolling.

He wondered about farm fields and crops, animals we saw, geologic formations and towns and all the stuff that you see on a road trip if you just look up. And he found things of interest at every turn, as did I. We joked about our stops at identified oddities such as the UFO Welcome Center, but we actually spent most of our time noticing and discussing more mundane – and infinitely more fascinating – sights. The incredible straightness of a farmer’s rows. Why cattle on a beef farm are counted in pairs.  The architecture of a town, the number of churches, the sense of welcome (or not) we got from the places we stopped...

Stuff. Interesting stuff. Stuff that no algorithm would likely have led us to.

We truly had a wonderful time and I yearn to know that other folks his age would stop texting long enough to understand what they’re seeing.  Windows may be old tech, but they are a vastly underutilized tool, methinks. (That’s windows, lower case w, of course.)

My buddy Sheila frequently posts pics of her world travels and she’s quite adept at capturing a sense of place. I wonder how many people these days ever just turn around and look. Clue: It’s about the place, not about the fact that you’re in front of it. Take a cue from Sheila and think about what you’re seeing.

And I also wonder:  when eyes, ears and the tactile sense are all engaged by an electronic device, how does the world around us compete for our attention? Because to me, it’s far better to be interested than interesting, and I’m not sure the selfie-takers get that.

Anyway, it was a wonderful trip.

And I’m an old Fudd. But then, you knew that. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

All fifty

As of last week, I’ve set foot in all fifty states. Doesn’t exactly make me unique but still, it was cool. (In case you care, these last two were Delaware and Rhode Island and I picked them up during the Kazoo Tour with Two’s amour.)

Still have some goin’ to do . I’ve been to Guam, the Marianas, Wake Island and American Samoa but not Puerto Rico, the Palmyra Atoll or the U.S. Virgins.

This sort-of milestone got me to thinking about some of my favorite sights and sites.

The Grand Canyon, of course, and Half Dome. Mt. Rainier from Paradise, Mt. St. Helens as a boy from the former Spirit Lake and much later of what’s left of it from the tourist viewing stand.

Fumaroles. If you’ve not been to Yellowstone, why not?

It’s the places that fewer people know about that tend to catch my fancy. Not because I feel proprietary about them but rather because in most cases, they were unplanned and frequently, unexpected. And so, especially pleasurable to experience.

The International Ice Carving Festival in Fairbanks is something to see. Try to be there the night before judging so you’ll get to gawk at the almost finished carvings and also the frantic last-touches process.

Both a moose calving (Alaska) and brown bear fishing (Montana) – the Discovery Channel is cool but in person, wow.

Virga backlighted by an incredible sunset in Wyoming or the Aurora Borealis from Chena Hot Springs – these two are in a dead heat.

The cemetery on a recent trip that made me think of Our Town.

The kazoo factory in Eden, NY.

A docent at the John Brown House on a slow day who was thrilled to have a couple of rump-weary travelers with whom to share a few minutes in friendly conversation.

The hill country of Texas – specifically, Fredericksburg.

Any fresh water lake, from its middle, seated in a kayak.

New parents taking their baby on a flight to see the grands for the first time are frequently priceless (but damn, they do carry a load of crap nowadays).

Farm country in Nebraska as seen from a section road.

The old guy in Oto, Iowa (pop: 108) who watched my every move while I drove slowly into town, stopped, got out and took a picture of the ‘veterans’ wall’ inscribed with the names of my Dad and two of his brothers, then – just as I turned to leave – raised his hand in a salute without changing expression.

The last orange stand on old Hwy 99 in the Central Valley.

Many of the sites along the Natchez Trace.

The World’s Largest Pheasant outside Huron, South Dakota.

The waters around Peaks Island and Great and Little Diamond in Casco Bay, Portland Maine (Again, from a kayak – due to a cancellation, I had the guide all to myself that day and it was glorious! His wife was supposed to be my guide but wanted to hang with a friend so to entice him to trade with her she made us a killer box lunch – total win all around!)

The UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, South Carolina. Don’t believe me? Google it if you must, then apologize.

The Badlands. Can’t understand going to Rushmore and Crazy Horse but failing to drive the extra hour and see one of the truly remarkable natural sights on the continent.

“Winged Victory,” the memorial to fallen soldiers in Vancouver, B.C. – the one with the angel. It’ll make you tear up. I’m not a big statue guy but dang, this one got me. And yes, I know this Vancouver is in Canada. Go see it, anyway.

The Devil’s Backbone in Colorado. Very cool and walkable, even for an old coot like moi.

Herds of antelope and other critters on the road from Blackfoot Idaho to Grand Teton National Park.
And Marmots on Hurricane Ridge in Washington.

The same blue heron that’s nested in that one place on Lake Washington for years.

Cue Julie Andrews, because these are truly a few of my favorite things. The moral is, you gotta get off the interstates if you want to inside the states. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016


One of life’s greatest questions is ‘Why?’ Or at least, one of the questions most asked when folks find themselves in reflective mode.

For me, it is the most fascinating and yet paradoxically, unimportant of the Great Questions.

‘Why’ leads us on a search for that which is unknowable. The quest for an answer to ‘Why?’  is a fool’s errand but one for which many (most) of us can’t help saddling up and sallying forth. It compels us to seek that which explains all but for which there is ultimately no satisfactory answer.

I suppose you might wonder whether this is truly what I believe – it is – and if so, doesn’t that lead me inexorably to a bleak dead zone in which all things, all conditions or endeavors are ultimately pointless. I have been told by well-meaning people that I need to reconsider my citizenship in what they view as a land of hopelessness.

And yet, I maintain that I am one of the most hopeful people you could ever want to meet. I need not have a spiritual reason for all I do and see and experience. But those things and ideas I embrace must fit a cosmic structure which I find believable. And so, the search for a reason is (almost always) defeated by reason.

I do not claim to be incurious. I am driven to know how, for what purpose (no, not the same as why), when, where. A road trip with me is an adventure in noticing and wondering at that which is observed. I can drive a trip-mate wild with my constant, verbal contemplation of the purpose of a piece of machinery or the straightness of a farmer’s tilling.

I want to know everything I can about the farmer’s methods and equipment. But as to the origin of the farmer, I find myself utterly uninterested.

I simply don’t choose to explore questions for which there is no provable answer. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Road trip

I love road trips. No surprise there for anyone who knows me.

This one was special. I spent a week in a car and hotel rooms and diners with a young guy just starting out in life. And it was one of the best weeks of my life.

The purpose of the trip was to collect his ‘stuff’ from Miami and Boston and transport it and him to Chicago, where my daughter – his amour – awaited the big arrival. And as you can tell from my last post, we saw a few things along the way, some goofy and some magnificent.

By far the best part of the trip for me was just talking. Sharing. Discussing and agreeing (or sometimes, not), then talking some more.

I’ve never had many male friends and fairly recently said goodbye to one who turned out not to be the friend I thought he was. I’m just more comfortable in the company of women.

But now I think I’ve found a buddy.

It was a great trip. But more than that, it was a wonderful visit.

Thanks, Louis!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

On the road again

Currently in Wauseon, OH.

Tomorrow, Chicago, then home.
-UFO Welcome Center in Bowman, SC
-Moses Cone Park in Boone NC
-Kazoo Factory
-Blue Ridge Parkway

Details soon

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dawn at SLC

Getting stuck overnight twice in two weeks doesn’t happen very often. Not to me, at least. But when your flight from Seattle to Salt Lake arrives twenty minutes after the last connector to Casper has departed and everything except your computers resides out of reach in a checked bag, it’s time to roll with the punches.

The airline provided a hotel and it was actually a decent overnight stay, friendly people, clean room. There was a drug store within walking distance where I found the essentials – toothpaste, etc.

I even found a clean shirt. Well, sort of… if you count a hoodie emblazoned with the logo of the local high school sports team.  Lovely. But given a choice between putting on a dirty shirt after my morning shower vs. acting as a sports billboard, I’ll swallow my pride. So, second day in the same shirt, until I get to my hotel in Casper. I’ll pawn the hoodie off on a family member.

Long story short, I now find myself watching the post-sunrise flurry of activity at the airport. And it’s actually sort of lovely. For those who’ve not been here, Salt Lake City sprawls across the alluvial fans of one mountain range with a view across a desolate valley to another mountain range. Lots to look at for a confirmed noticer.

Even better noticing is to be had in the terminal itself. A women just walked by totally oblivious to the people around her as she pantomimed her own private script. There’s a story there.

Clearly, it’s migration season for Mormons, as evidenced by the many small flocks of youngsters in suits and dresses, each proudly displaying a black badge identifying him or her as ‘Elder (insert name here)’. I mentioned this to Daughter Two, who in her response opined that perhaps the rapture requires TSA clearance.

It always amazes me how abruptly an airport goes from somnolence to frenzy as the people-shipping day begins.

I know this is blasphemy of a sort, since air travel has come to be a major pain in the caboose, but I have to admit I love spending an hour or two sitting out of the way watching a concourse come alive.

Gotta go now – the sun angle is just starting to reveal the folds in the mountains and I need to get back to my noticing. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

What do you say?

What do you say to a daughter, already dealing with the aftermath of violence against her body and soul, who learns that among the 38 so far identified, 3 were friends?

Really, what do you say?

What do you say to the woman whose son died this year but part of whose legacy lived on in the joy and community at this gathering place where he once worked, now forever linked to a historic mass murder?

What do you say to your wife, spending her last night ever alone in her mother’s house, who has so much else on her mind and now, this?

What do you say to the parents of Sandy Hook and Columbine who must have thought, ‘Surely, now action will be taken?’

What do you say to the parents and friends of the murdered and maimed when the news brings them tidings of hatred from ‘Christians’ spouting Leviticus?

What do you say to your friends among Muslims who are once again painted with an unfair brush? 

Or your friends among Christians who understand that the hateful mob from Westboro et al who don’t represent them will nonetheless be identified as Christians?

And what do you say to the many who believe in their hearts that access to firepower is a crucial right of citizenship?

…what do you say?

As I’ve shared before, the murderous intent is on the perpetrator. But access to obscene levels of firepower – that’s on all of us.

So…what do we say? 

Friday, June 10, 2016


I’d like to thank those of you who’ve expressed such kind thoughts on news of the passing of Mary’s mom.

This week’s news cycle is full of what to the world must seem like larger issues. Muhammad Ali passed and I view him as a great guy who will be sorely missed. Hillary Clinton has emerged as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, which presents a conundrum for many of us who don’t like to face voting for her (the lesser of two evils still being, you know, evil). An inconceivably light sentence for a despicable crime, college and high school graduations, changing weather, business news – all of these affect more than a few people.

But it is the few people whose concerns have occupied my thoughts this week. The six who have lost their mother, the few who have lost their sister, or their grandmother or mother-in-law.

I don’t have anything profound to say about Norma except that I liked her and she was a kind and caring friend to me. And goofy, in her own way.

Perhaps the most profound thing I can share about Norma with folks who never met her is that when she passed, all six of her adult children were in attendance. Because they couldn’t not be. Because she was and always had been Mom.

A body could do worse than to raise six kids who become the adults who made sure she was never alone these last months.

Goodonya, Queenie!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The blame game

                It’s easy to dislike and even ridicule the businessman-turned-politician whose name rhymes with dump (as in, take a…) and I admit I do dislike him.

                I dislike him for his ludicrous ‘birther’ campaign, for his baseless claims to superiority in all endeavors, for ridiculing a reporter for his disabilities, for his attitudes toward women, for “…my African-American…,” for cheer-leading the thugs who attend his rallies, then cringing behind his security folks when someone tries to return the favor.  His abject failure to present a single fully formed and intelligently expressed idea for making ‘America great again’ is laughable. His ‘…bleeding from…” comment displays not only his hatred of women but his incredibly bad taste.

                This guy’s ascendant candidacy is making us a laughing stock the world over. Serious people of good will can only view it as a failure of this country to make good on the promise of representative democracy.

                He represents everything I dislike about big-money politics. And he exposes the atrocious state of political reporting these days as reporters and pundits who prefer sensationalism over sober reflection and blather over insightful commentary grant him the most extensive free coverage since Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface.

                He is a buffoon, a bully and a bigot. But because he’s also a billionaire, he can buy a platform and as long as what he says is sufficiently outrageous, what passes for the press these days will continue to guarantee him as much publicity as he desires.  He has nothing real to say, which explains why so many of his pronouncements take place through a platform that limits comments to 140 characters.

                It’s fair to say I am not a big fan of this overblown nincompoop.

                It is also fair to say I don’t blame him for his fame or even for his standing in the primaries.

                I don’t blame him for the same reason I don’t blame a neighbor’s dog for crapping on my lawn. Crapping is a central skill for dogs and understanding appropriate social context or cultural rules of civility is not.

                This guy does what he is inclined to do, based on an upbringing and business climate that has encouraged him to believe that his way is by definition the right way.

                I don’t blame him and if he’s elected to the highest office in the land, I still won’t blame him.

                Should that happen, I blame us. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Things you learn during an overnight in the airport

Most people don’t know the questions to ask. I am totally alone in an upper floor passenger lounge with maybe 60 easy chairs, a table to work at and relative quiet. Most of the MANY people who missed their connection and have to wait until morning are downstairs with the thin and very used floor cushions the airport puts out for their use. (Update: Between 8:18pm and 5:31am, only four other people made use of this great space. Go figure.)

The TSA folks are really nice when they don’t have a mile-long line of stressed passengers in front of them. I’m just across from their office.

Speaking of TSA, when you go in their office to ask a question, don’t step into the part with all the radio gear – it makes them quite touchy.

All-nighters are for college-age humans, not old Fudds.

You can get a lot of writing done when you have nine hours to kill and a comfortable chair in a quiet area. Which is not to say good writing, but what the hell.

Those recorded messages about not letting strangers touch your baggage get more annoying the longer the night drags on.

You should not begin an airport overnight in a state of fatigue. You see, I am afraid of falling asleep – not because I might get robbed, although I might – but because I don’t want to wake up covered in drool surrounded by smirking strangers.

The night janitor in the ‘quiet’ section of this lounge is a really pleasant, hardworking guy. Jamaican, I’m guessing from the accent when he declines my offer to move out of his way.

There are 1,036 itty-bitty holes in each of the vent grills in the ceiling above me. Counted, did the math.

I am no more erudite in the MSP airport in the middle of the night than at any other time.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My life

 I may be the most fortunate man I know.

I am married to a wonderful, strong woman who puts up with me. And we have two daughters who are quickly becoming two of my favorite adults in the world.

My job gets me through the day, rather than just getting through my work days. Sure, company politics and such can be a pain. But the work I do and the people with whom I do it are exactly what I would have chosen under the Veil of Ignorance, assuming I could have known from initial position how right this outcome would be for me.

I have some wonderful long-time friends – you know who you are and I so love you.

A young man has come into my life with whom I’ll be taking a road trip soon – one of my favorite activities with one of my favorite people.

I love that I can write and you can read it in near real time and I so appreciate the when/where in which my life is playing out.

I know it might seem like I’m building to some sort of twisted reveal but no. I’m just happy tonight and wanted to share it. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Neutral corners

As I type this, Mary is in Chicago, taking a break from hospice-nursing her mom to spend a couple days being a Mom herself. Specifically, she is helping Daughter Two and The Boy choose an apartment suitable for (ahem…) cohabitation.

Since I am not part of the process except, of course for reminding them that if they expect me to visit, a manse on the 40th floor is out, I find myself thinking a lot about texts I won’t send. Such as: Where are you now – What have you seen – Are they agreeing… Texts I will not send because I’m not a dummy and a flurry of text-based interruptions would not please the woman with whom I have to, you know, live.

So the scripts run unheard in my brain. And now, on this page.

If I was to give sage apartment-choosing advice, I keep coming back to one admonition – the importance of neutral corners.

When people ask how Mary and I have stayed lovingly together these thirty years, I have to say it’s not about agreeing or never getting angry. It’s more about how you handle things when you tick each other off.

I wish I could tell you we have developed a rubric for working through our disconnects with logic and love but for most such incidents, that would be a lie. Truth is, it has usually been about allowing each other time to simmer in peace.

And that means neutral corners.

You each need a place to go and fume without being tempted to fire off just one more perfect argument. We’ve found that just one more perfect argument is frequently what will convert a relatively mild issue to ground combat. So, when we reach that point we (sometimes - I have to admit we’re not perfect in our combat avoidance scheme) go to neutral corners and eventually, usually, one of us finds it in our heart to apologize or in our mind to reframe the question at hand or in the best circumstance, both.

That’s it, the whole nugget for today.

Neutral corners.

They don’t have to be far apart or commodious or even sealable, as with a door. All they have to be is recognized and inviolable. (Yes, yes, it helps if you can’t hear each other breathing.)

If your new apartment allows for neutral corners, and you start off with love and respect, you’re well on your way to thirty years.  Trust me on this.

(Damn, I’m brilliant!)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Norma in passing

As I type this, my mother-in-law, Mary’s mother lays dying. Mary is with her at her home in Florida, as is another of her daughters and a granddaughter and son-in-law. The family is well represented, as it has been these months as Norma’s children and their children visited, paid respects, conveyed their love and helped her through a process we all know but none of us really understands.

It is revealing of Norma as mother that each and all of her offspring has made a point of being part of her process of farewell.

There are tears, of course. Always, there are tears but there is also satisfaction in knowing that what could be done to help her has been done and by people who love her.

She's been mother to my wife, grandmother to my daughters and my friend, now of 30 years. And while we will be diminished by her passing, each and all of us were enriched by the time we had with her.

We all knew this day would come and that made it easier during the long denouement of her life. But today, it doesn’t help so much to say that she had a good run or that she knew she was loved, although those are both true enough.

Today is difficult because although we all knew this day would come, now the day has come. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

On her own terms

Sometimes the best thing that can happen to you as a parent does not involve having your kid graduate or learn to drive a car or win a contest or pass a test.

Sometimes it’s not about anything you have helped her do, or taught her or provided for her.

Sometimes it’s not about telling her what she should do, advice being a poor substitute for learning through experience.

Sometimes there is nothing for you to do but wait and watch, which is of course the hardest thing of all. So hard not to lend a hand or a word. Soul wrenching not to help.

Sometimes the kid really does surpass the parent who at her age would never have stood up and said enough of this.

Sometimes you just have to trust. And when it turns out the trust was well placed, now that is a moment!

She stood up for herself, drew a line she would not allow to be crossed. Because beyond the line was the land of herself and it turns out she loves herself enough to protect her borders.

She makes me so proud. This one was not interested in being what she needed even as he insisted she fulfill his needs, so this one had to go away. There will be others, but only on her terms.

She will shape a life that works for her, which is of course the only way it can ever work for a future them.

She gets it and she is courageous.

Sometimes the best thing a parent can do is believe.

So proud. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Planting trees

“Society grows when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.”

I’m told this is an ancient Greek proverb. Couldn’t say definitively and it doesn’t matter where it came from. It’s my thought for the day.

This is one of those times when it would do a disservice to both the original quote and my readers if I was to try to improve on it.

Have a good night. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

You know what to do

Until recently, I didn’t think there was any possible combination of conditions or events that would make me vote for Hillary Clinton.

After all, she is a totally fake person who did a poor job as Sec State. She would lie when only the truth could save her. I really don’t like the idea of another Clinton on Pennsylvania Ave. I could go on but too many of you seem to actually like her and I don’t want to lose friends.

Let’s just say that based on long observation of H. Clinton I have concluded that she would be a disaster as president (although admittedly she could hardly be worse than some recent vintages – her own hubbie and George W come to mind). And I believed the worst thing that could happen this electoral cycle would be for her to prevail.

 I was wrong.

Turns out, there is something worse than a candidate who has no soul. It’s a candidate who is the embodiment of evil. And now, the Republican Party is about to put one on the ballot.

Friends, please vote. Please encourage others who are not misogynistic, racist, narcissistic dumbasses to vote, as well.

We can survive Hillary. I’m not sure the same would hold true for the other choice.