Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fallen Brothers

On Halloween night a Seattle police officer was gunned down and his trainee partner wounded by an assailant whose purpose was unknown. The trainee officer managed to get off a round or two at the fleeing vehicle. The alleged killer was wounded and is now in police custody awaiting court proceedings.
November 29th four police officers were assassinated at point blank range at 7:43 a.m. as they sat in a coffeehouse in Lakewood, Washington. They were preparing for their patrol shifts and reviewing the latest Department information on their laptop computers. One officer managed to return fire, wounding the murderer before succumbing to his own wounds. About sixty six hours later a police officer shot and killed the suspect as he reached for a weapon in his waistband. That weapon turned out to be a service pistol taken from one of the dead officers.
Impromptu memorials spontaneously appeared. Hearses carrying flag draped coffins along with mournful processions of hundreds of emergency vehicles followed routes lined with stunned citizens waving flags. Tears streamed down onlookers faces, newscasters choked up and couldn't speak. Emotionally draining memorial services were held in cavernous stadiums filled to capacity with officers from all over the country and the world.
The thin blue line seemed a bit thinner to many, but officers will close ranks and if the line is a bit thinner, its tensile strength is up by an order of magnitude.
I know a bit about cop culture. My father was a charter member of the Idaho State Police. My grandfather on my mother's side was a county Sheriff in Idaho. I have an Administration of Justice certification from Monterey Peninsula College. I've worn a badge. I've even been shot at a couple of times. I don't know by whom on either occasion, but I do know they missed--but not by much. My grandfather retired. Like a lot of Sheriffs in rural areas, he also was a farmer and later a shopkeeper. Law enforcement didn't pay very well, which is why my dad left the force. He just couldn't make ends meet on patrolman's pay with a growing family. The fact that he was the only State Policeman assigned to an area about the size of Delaware may have had a bearing on his decision as well.
My career in law enforcement was truncated by a California initiative. Proposition 13, more commonly known as "The Taxpayers Revolt" rolled back property taxes and caused widespread panic among public budgeteers. Departments froze hiring and laid off new hires (guys like me) until the dust had settled and people realized it wasn't quite the crisis it appeared to be. In the meantime, I, like my father, had to make a living and never did get back to law enforcement.
What did my grandfather, my father and myself have in common with the five officers killed in the last month and half? We all shared the desire for service; the calling to help. We are part of the community; parents, kids, neighbors, friends.
Cops run toward the gunfire so citizens won't have too. Firefighters charge into burning buildings to save those who cannot flee by themselves. They do so willingly, sometimes tragically, to help; to serve.
Mostly, we don't know why we do these things. Some call it altruism, some call it patriotism and some call it lunacy. But for whatever reason the thin blue line is what stands between the darkness and the light. If you hide in the shadows of darkness, beware; my active brothers will work tirelessly to expose you, apprehend you and make the streets safer. If you live in the light, the next time a cop pulls you over, do what he says. And after you've signed the ticket, thank him for his service. For you, you've just paid with a wallet, for us sometimes we pay with our lives.
And from generations past, and those yet to come, I can tell you: We would do it all again.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Out of service

Just in case anyone was wondering, I haven't run out of ideas for posts, but my computer is wonkered right now, so I won't be making any entries until it is fixed. Here are some of the things I'm working on at the moment:

Incarcerationville, U.S.A.

Restaurant Reviewing & the Art of the Good Meal

The Substitution Principle

Thanks to all of you who regularly read my posts, I'll be getting back at it when I'm on my own computer with my own resources at hand. Here's a little teaser for you though, I'm working on putting together podcasts of my posts, which will link to a website and my Face Book page. But that is in the new year, and probably a few hours of tech help down the road.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a joy filled New Year to you all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Its in the Genes-Redux

Faithful readers of this blog may recall a post (It's in the Jeans) where I waxed nostalgic about my family and revealed that I was adopted. You should know that there is not a moment in my life when I wasn't aware of my adopted status. My parents thought it was fair for me to know from the beginning. No secrets, no whispered conversations, no big deal. Just a fact shared by millions of adoptees around the world. It was just one of those abstract bits that clog the neural network, like remembering the words to an old song, or recognizing a photo of a long departed movie star.

My adoptive parents loved me, sacrificed for me, worried, fretted, helped and cared deeply. I loved them, cared for them, handled their final affairs and was at their bedside in their last days and grieve for them still in my own way. Their family has always been my family. My childhood recollections are of tolerant grandfathers (both my grandmothers had passed by the time I was born), fishing and hunting trips, family holiday gatherings and never a whiff or suggestion that somehow I didn't belong. I have older sisters. Their kids are my nieces and nephews, and their kids kids are grand nieces and nephews, and one of them adopted. All cherished, all family--my family. So it was completely natural for me that when I married I 'adopted' this new set of relationships, enfolding all the love, heartache, challenges and joys that come with the shared human condition into my life experience.

But in some ways, I've been living a double life. I knew the names of my birth parents and that I had a sister, and as I grew older a few details were fleshed out by my parents. Not much really; in truth after the adoption, there wasn't any contact between the families. Its the way adoption was in the early '50's. No 'visitations' or open adoptions, especially of infants. It explains why my adoptive parents are shown on the birth certificate as my parents. I was a done deal before I was born. A mother in a distressed circumstance needed a home for a baby on the way. There was a hint of scandal in the air regarding my natural father (more on this perhaps, in a later post). My mother's father was a County Sheriff, my father a charter member of the Idaho State Police. They had lost a young child only two years earlier. Fate, kismet, call it what you will; arrangements were made in the way of small, rural towns far out west and I was born Robert Louis Pace. A member of the Pace/nee Davis family from the start, in every way but genetically. But occasionally, there was that moment of daydreaming when I wondered about that other family. That family that shared my genes, that maybe looked like me.

None of those daydreams every consumed a very big part of my thinking. I don't recall ever wondering if my life had been different if I had stayed with my genetic family, because the answer was self-evident. Of course it would; in the same way a left turn will take you someplace different than a right turn. It may be better or worse, but once embarked upon, the alternate will forever be unknown. My life was simply what it was and what I made of it. I had no burning passion to find my missing kin. I was busy living the moment before me, meeting the challenges of the day and reveling (when moments for reflection presented themselves) on the successes of the past. And yes, probably pissing and moaning about the mistakes as well.

My wife, to whom I have be married nearly half my days and who is more precious to me than the very breath of life, could not, however, imagine how I could have another family out there somewhere in the shrubbery and not be clamoring for more information about them. Early on she accepted that in the twilight of my parents life, I wished to spare them the spectacle of some tearful reunion which might leave them with some degree of angst or regret. They deserved my respect and gratitude for a job well done under difficult circumstances, and I aimed to give it to them.

As years passed, though, little tidbits would find their way into a file. A vacation trip through Idaho to show her my roots turned up puzzle pieces. We spent an hour or so in the tiny village where I was born looking for the hospital. Turns out, I was born in what is now the produce department of a Safeway store. The old hospital had been demolished, a shiny new one had replaced it and suddenly a sense of sand through the hourglass intruded upon my conciousness. A few more years passed as did my parents--and my excuses with them.

Still, I was happy with my family. Those other folks were probably nice enough. But they were just names on a page. Well, names and one photo. My Idaho trip had yielded a photo of my natural father taken a few weeks before I was born. While sharp and detailed, it was clearly not taken on one of his best days. I searched that face for traces of my own. My wife saw them, I couldn't see the forest for the trees, but I've always been bad at that sort of thing. The upshot is that while I understood these names were my family, they weren't really my living family. There were no memories of shared moments, no babysitting nieces, no baseball or football games. No connections. They were strangers, with whom I had nothing in common.

When I posted It's in the Jeans my wife came to me to tell me she had done a little research when I wasn't looking. Spouses can be sneaky that way. I had only been blogging for a little over a month, and had reluctanly opened a Facebook page only a week or so later. Social networking was something my grandkids did. As was texting, Tweeting, My Spacing, 12 Seconding and however many other killer apps about which I know or care nothing. My wife had done a little research: My father had an unusual family first name, my sister's was equally novel; this was information known to me already. Still, I had nothing in common with any of these people.

Until now. Two weeks before my son's wedding I received this response to an email I had sent a day earlier: "Yes Robert I am the W------ that is your sister. I have thought about you all my life, but never tried to find you as I didn't know if you wanted it. This is such a wonderful surprise. Our father's name was C------ and our mother's name is W-----. Please keep in contact." So much information in so few words. My natural father had passed. My natural mother was still living. My sister is out there, somewhere in the shrubbery. Except now she has email, and a Facebook page and reads my blog. Just by reading my blog she knows more about me that I about her. We are strangers still, but somewhere, somehow a starting point must be found, and for me it's still all about the adaptation to adoption. This time I try to adopt my genetic family. It remains to be seen if they are ready to adopt me. Time will tell if I can close this circle in my life, but for now, I suppose it's best to begin at the beginning.

Hi, sis. It's me, your brother Bob.

Friday, November 20, 2009

When Harry met Sully

In truth, this post should have been made before the election. Washington State voters, to their credit, became the only state where civil unions among gays and lesbians were upheld when placed before the voters. Take note of the words 'civil unions', or as it is better known here, the 'everything but marriage' law. It gives domestic partners legal rights and protections which cannot be denied in this state simply because some yokel thinks "this just ain't right".

For once, legislators got it mostly right; but as is more common, for the wrong reason. When Congress sent the Defense Of Marriage Act to Bill Clinton's desk he should have sent it back with a Post-It that said "Bubba sez no", even knowing his veto would have been overridden.

Here's why: At its root, marriage has always been a ritual steeped in tribal culture. Over time with the advance of organized society it became a religious ceremony, culminating in the variants we see today. With the advent of written law and codification of legal obligations it morphed again into something with real-life implications for everyone living in modern society.

Therein lies the rub, and the opportunity. Imagine for a moment that civilization could turn back the clock to that point where religion and law began to go their separate ways: The rules and customs of the church(s) governed the behavior of the faithful; civil law recognized and governed a larger populace that didn't necessarily agree on religious tenets. At that moment the logical thing would have been to leave marriage as a religious ceremony, with rights and responsibilities within the church; and let a secular government establish rules for civil unions that allowed for two consenting adults to enter into a contractual arrangement that spoke to the needs of modern lawmaking in a constitutionally secular legal system.

Okay, fine. How would that help us now? Among other things it would have rendered DOMA irrelevant. States would be obligated to recognize contracts entered into by parties from other states as required by Article IV, Sections 1 & 2 of the U.S. Constitution (which, in my humble and decidedly unscholarly opinion, renders DOMA unconstitutional). Gays, lesbians, muffin bakers, candlestick makers, zoo keepers and even internet posters could create boilerplate legal contracts to protect their rights. Go to the courthouse, get the contract form, sign it in the presence of witnesses and bingo, on with your lives together.

You want to shout Hellfire and Damnation from the Pulpit? Knock yourself out, but understand you have no legal authority to intervene. Another faith wants to enfold these couples--no problem--have your marriage ceremony with the understanding that it carries no legal authority outside the church.

This is where we fell short. We let the wisdom of the Founders...well, founder. We have allowed religious doctrine to infiltrate what should be straightforward secular governance. We have created angry schisms instead of reaching back for guidance. It was clear from the beginning that running a government for disparate peoples couldn't work from the dictates of the church--any church--and current events prove it still.

The increasing radicalization of the right by fear mongers, opportunists and outright liars is creating a pitchforks and shotguns mob mentality of the ill-informed set to storm the castle. History shows time and again that the tactics of the Glen Becks, Michelle Malkins and Rush Limbaughs of the world enjoy short term success in uncertain and worrisome times but ultimately the fall from grace is spectacular, and well deserved. Look no further than Lou 'all our problems come from illegal aliens' Dobbs.

Those of us on the Right that actually think about what our Constitution intends (you might want to read my first post, '52 Words), recognize that perfecting the Union takes real work. Equality is still just a phantom for far too many citizens and that means we need to roll up our sleeves and get back to work. How about a new party? I think I'll call it the Rational Republic Party and adopt the Mobius strip as our political symbol. What do you think? Wanna join?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I've been a little busy...

Marrying off my eldest son to a wonderful woman, showing friends from London around our neck of the woods and a few other errands irrelevant even to Fbook. Fear not, though, soon I will have something to say about a few things political rattling around in my skull, and other thoughts as well. In the mean time, here's a little piece to tide you over from my short story archives.

The Tower

It was a perfect plan. Discussed at length, examined from every angle. It accounted for each contingency and even had a complete back-up plan just to be thorough. Supplies had been quietly acquired over the last year and training sessions conducted. Three dry-runs had been initiated and successfully executed. It was a perfect plan and tomorrow was launch day.
In study hall students in the loop exchanged smug glances, secure in the knowledge that a Senior Prank that would achieve immortality was only hours away.
I gazed out the window idly studying the trees unfolding shiny new sets of bright green leaves. It was a warm late-May day and I was distant and disconnected from the classroom in the way only a high school senior days away from graduation can be. Without conscious thought, I was confident in the role my particular skills would play in tonight’s effort.
Springtime in the Magic Valley of southern Idaho is a busy time. The fertile volcanic soil is released from its winter freeze and manipulated by busy tractors planting sugar beets and potatoes, corn and dry beans, alfalfa and Timothy hay. A little later in the year, watermelons and cantaloupe would ripen to sweet perfection in the sun-drenched Hagerman valley of the Snake River.
Actually, it was all this activity that lent itself to our plan. Farmers and farmhands alike rose early and stayed home in the evenings. Not many would be in our town’s three bars this time of year, and the town deputy would be sleeping in his patrol car at Gary’s Gas & Go where Main Street and Highway 30 crossed. This intersection sported the only traffic light within five miles, flashing red for Main Street traffic and yellow for Highway 30. Walter was as regular as a twenty dollar railroad watch and could be counted on to be snoring loudly by ten-thirty. Everyone in town knew this and if his services were ever needed, someone would go rouse him. He was rarely disturbed.
Overnight Tuesday into Wednesday had been chosen. Too many family obligations on Sunday what with church and all, and Monday to Tuesday left us open to retaliation by the school board. After Tuesday though, we seniors had fulfilled our last obligatory day to the state and the printed diplomas would have arrived. We were home free Wednesday morning.
Virtually everyone knew the open secret that Wednesday was Senior Sneak anyway, and some of us had been planning this since we were sophomores.
The last bell rang for the final tedious time and I sauntered out of the school and walked the block and a half to my Dad’s tavern. Kip walked with me—he was my best friend—and my assistant for the night.
“Hi, Dad,” I said as I breezed through the door. “What’s new?”
“Think I’ll close early tonight,” he replied.
I took a quick survey; Donnie was at the bar on his regular stool, clearly having had an early start today. He would stagger home by nine o’clock for sure. A middle-aged couple, probably at least in their late twenties, sat at a table near the front window nursing a couple of beers and chatting while a few uneaten slices of congealed pizza curled up on the serving tray. They would be gone in twenty minutes.
“Yeah, what time you think?” I asked.
“Probably about ten, I called Ernie and Red and they’re both dead too.”
It was an unwritten code in this three block town (each block with its own bar) that if one decided to close early everybody closed at the same time. It seemed only fair and it kept any one owner from having to manage all the town drunks single-handedly. You’d be surprised how many drunks one small farm town could produce. Well, maybe you wouldn’t.
“Kip & I thought we’d go plink some jack rabbits then maybe go fishin’ down where Rock Creek comes into the river. Probably camp overnight.” This was an altogether common practice for Kip and I, so Dad thought nothing of it.
“Sneak tomorrow?” He winked.
“Just a rumor, Dad, just a rumor.”
“You guys want something to eat before your go?”
“Sure!” I said enthusiastically. I had just turned eighteen and food was second only to sex at the forefront of my cerebral cortex, “Kip?”
Kip thought for a moment then said, “mushroom, beef & onion pizza.”
“One track mind,” I jibed. “I’ve know you three years and it’s the only thing you’ve ever had here.”
“Consistency,” he countered, “is the hallmark of an organized mind.”
“Or one with the needle stuck in the groove,” I retorted, “Ham & Swiss on rye and a bowl of chili, Dad.”
Kip and I walked past the end of the bar, around the corner through the dance lounge, and into the storeroom where a rather commodious space had been allowed for my work bench. After four days of pulling rogues from bean fields three years ago, and a spasmodic effort at picking potatoes one autumn, I had befriended an art teacher. He painted signs for extra money and I had studiously apprenticed him. I made a lot more money and it was a damn sight less strenuous than working the fields. It wasn’t that I was lazy, just that I was smart. Well, a little lazy too, I suppose.
There between the cases of beer and chili and behind the twenty five pound bags of popping corn and five gallon cans of popcorn oil was my sign shop.
Over the last week I had moved the brushes & rollers I would need for tonight. All that remained was to take the pounce patterns and I would be ready.
Kip and I unrolled the huge banner and gazed at the perforated outline of letters and a picture.
“Are they big enough?” Kip wondered aloud.
“Seven foot caps, five foot lower case. Easily read from at least two miles, maybe more,” I replied. Dad came into the store room as I was rolling the last banner.
“Your food is ready.” He glanced at the enormous roll of paper.
“Johnson Lumber,” I lied smoothly. “Saturday and Sunday probably, I was showing Kip before I put them in the truck.”
“Oh, well eat your food while it’s still hot.”
“Right there, Dad,” I replied.
“Wow,” Kip intoned. “That was close!”
“Naw, Dads' seen dozens of these by now, he could care less. C’mon, let’s eat.” We voraciously pounded down the proffered food like only teenage boys can then we gathered up what we needed for the night and headed out to the truck.
“What are you gonna shoot?” Dad asked.
“I’m taking the Winchester pump,” I said. That was a 15 shot .22 caliber genuine Model 1894 pump action rifle with a checkered walnut stock and slide action, and a trigger pull as smooth as glass. “Kips’ gonna use his over/under and his pistol.” My friend had an unusual firearm. A two barreled affair with a .22 caliber rifle on top and a 410 gauge shotgun below. He also had an eight shot .22 caliber Ruger pistol. He was a great shot at moving targets, easily nailing everything at which he shot . However, standing still, right in front of his gun was the safest place on the planet a critter could be. That was my area of expertise and between us no creature in reasonable range was safe.
There wasn’t anywhere in particular to be for the next few hours so Kip and I actually went to Rock Creek and did a little fishing. We snagged a few squawfish suckers and tossed them up the bank for the magpies, but caught nothing worth keeping so about half an hour before sunset we headed back toward town.
We met some of our classmates at the warehouse of Steve’s father’s painting business; Industrial Painting and Coatings. Over the last two years Steve had been accumulating the required supplies in a dusty backwater of the huge building. Under the old tarpaulin was nearly three hundred gallons of industrial enamel paint; nearly two tons worth. Steve was on a forklift loading the pallets of paint onto one of the three trucks we would be using that night. Fred and George, both of whom worked for Steve’s dad after school and in the summers, were loading slings, harnesses and belts onto the pressure truck along with the four power lifts that would be used to transport all these supplies to their final destination. I tossed my patterns and other equipment in the back of the one of the trucks and ambled over to Steve.
“How long will it take to get set-up once we get there?”
Steve stopped loading for a moment, “About an hour if we don’t attract any unwanted attention.” We had not been what you might call friendly during our high school careers, but this was a unifying moment for everyone, so petty differences were temporarily held in abeyance. Besides, school was over, and after tonight the only time I had to revisit these losers was graduation day.
“Don’t forget to shoot my areas first, and don’t forget to add the drier. As it is, I’ll be the last one up there in the middle of the night,” I reminded him.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get your precious spots painted first, and I’ve already mixed the drier in the paint. It should be fully workable in two hours. You’re not painting the Mona Lisa up there, yah know. Just whip it out and get down as fast as you can.”
“Nonetheless, I do take a certain pride in my work,” I countered, slightly miffed.
“So do we butt wipe.” The forklift swung back into action as Kip and I left the warehouse headed for the next rendezvous point.
Tanya had the life most of us wanted. Her father was the town doctor and lived in the biggest house with the biggest lawn and the longest Cadillac. They actually went on real vacations to places where they stayed in motels, not with relatives. In other words, they were rich, rich, rich. Most of the girls from the class were there and a few of the boys who lacked technical skills, or even coordination for that matter, and were therefore considered a danger to themselves and others for this project. We breezed in with the update.
“Steve says about an hour to move the stuff, another hour for rigging and set-up, so about ten before anything really starts. Kip and me can’t really get to our part probably until about two a.m. I’m not worried about us though, the real coverage will be most important till about one I think. After that everybody should be asleep. I just hope nobody hears all the equipment and racket from tearing down the set-ups.”
“What about setting up” Tanya asked, “won’t people be more likely to hear that?”
“Yeah, but that’s the beauty of the plan. Everybody knows the I P C trucks. They’re around setting up jobsites all the time. No one will give it a second thought, especially with Steve’s dad out of town unexpectedly.”
“Yes, that was a bit of good luck,” Tanya agreed.
“Hey, where are your parents, Tanya.” Melanie was seldom heard from. She was shy and unattractive. With mousey hair and a sharply pointed nose to go along with pimply skin and an overbite with a weak chin, she was the unofficial spokesman of the female Outcasts. Every class has such a group, one for the girls and one for the boys. That she and her friends were here at all was evidence of the importance of the event at hand.
“Bridge night in Twin, they won’t be back before midnight. Besides, they think we will all be gone on sneak anyway. They won’t worry about me.”
“I wish I could be gone all night,” Melanie whined. “My parents would have the Sheriff dredging the river for my body if I weren’t home by eleven.”
“That’s good though, tonight,” I said. “It’s important that at least some of us appear to have a completely normal night; really important to all of us.”
“Thanks Bob. Nice try.”
“No, really, it’s an important thing.”
“Okay, I suppose.”
“Beside,” Tanya observed, “after about three a.m. you sneak out anyway and head for the City of Rocks.”
“Well, let’s review our assignments and get going.” Alan was the nerdiest of all the seniors, and perhaps all of humankind. He actually understood calculus. He actually carried a small slide rule in his pocket and knew how to use it; his pocket protector protected a pocket filled with pens and mechanical pencils. “And let’s not travel around like a herd of buffalo either, that would seem very unnatural.” As the consensus deep thinker of the class we did precisely as he directed and after having reviewed our assignments and wholly unnecessarily synchronizing our respective watches we drifted out to our stations to bide our time.
It was useful that the target of our work was located away from any residences in what passed for the industrial part of our tiny village. By ten Steve and his crew were fully set up and had begun the frantic work that would consume them for most of the night. Kip and I helped where we could, mostly keeping sprayers loaded with paint and yards of hoses untangled. About 1 a.m. my special materials were hoisted skyward and secured to the railing and Kip and I began the long ladder ascent to our goal.
By a little after two we had the pounce pattern in place and the two of us dusted the blue chalk on the perforations that would leave an outline for us to follow when the pattern was removed. Next we set up the paint and while I painted the edgework my partner followed along with a roller to fill in the outline. It took a little longer than I expected and Steve was completely unrigged and had left the site by the time we put on the finishing touches.
The first streaks of daylight were appearing in the eastern horizon as we lowered first our equipment and then ourselves back to ground level. We were cutting it much closer than I had expected—or wanted—as farm traffic was already beginning to stir. By now someone had almost certainly seen our handiwork, so we crammed our stuff in the pickup and left down the alley and out the back way from town. We got to the City of Rocks about an hour later, had a couple of beers with our friends and promptly fell fast asleep.
It was a busy few days before graduation. The school board had a special session. So did the City Council. Then they met together, which wasn’t too difficult since about half the members were on both bodies. In the end, after lots of head scratching and hand wringing the conclusion was that there wasn’t much to be done, so that’s what they did, nothing.
Graduation day dawned gloriously in our little community. About noon all the graduating seniors had donned robes and mortarboards and were sitting on folding chairs on the football field facing friends and family in the bleachers just across the track. One by one our names were called into the tinny P A system and we marched across to receive our diplomas, sneaking a peek at our handiwork which served as the backdrop to the proceedings and the real focal point of the audience this year.
Towering one hundred twenty feet over the city was a now shocking pink water tower, complete with blinking red light on top. Emblazoned on both sides in Chinese red were AMBERLY, then, Class of ’70 and the school mascot bulldog.
It had been the considered opinion of the relevant boards that the water tower had needed painting and while pink wouldn’t have been the first choice it was well done and the signage was. . . .well, professional, so they left it. Ten years later at our first reunion it was still that way and had earned the nickname we had all so earnestly hoped for. Amberly was the proud home of the Titty Tank.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Back by Popular Demand

Owing to the overwhelming demand for another short story, here y'all go.
Another Late Night

“I didn’t hear you come in last night, Fred.”

“Damn right you didn’t, Lady. I still have skills.”

“Another night skulking around town?” she asked.

“Yeah, found a great new bistro. Not too far away, fabulous food. Dining alfresco is wonderful in the summer: And the girls; oh my, the girls.” Fred slicked his hair back behind his ear.

“You get any action?”

“That’s a rather indiscreet question, don’t you think?”

“Well, I don’t get out much anymore. I sort of live vicariously through you.”

“Yes, since the operation…” Fred let the sentence trail off, then he sauntered over and whispered in her ear, “but since you ask, I’ll say this; it was a hot night and some screaming was heard in the neighborhood.”

“Yeah,” she replied dreamily. “I remember a few nights like that out with the boys myself.”

“What about them?” Fred asked, nodding toward the bed.

“Nothing much, he snores, she goes to the bathroom every hour.”

“Still with the huge stomach?”

“Yep, I don’t know what’s up with that. They never tell us a damn thing. I think she should have a doctor look at that.”

“Relax, girl. If it were serious we would know. She’s a big girl; she can take care of herself.” Fred arched his back in a stretch and a yawn. “Well, I’m gonna hit the sack. I need my strength for tomorrow night.”

I suppose you’re right, good night, Fred.”

“G’nite, kiddo.” Fred hopped up onto the bed and found a nice warm spot in the small of the back of the sleeping woman.

She roused slightly, threw her arm back and scratched Fred behind the ears. “Stupid cat,” she murmured, “been out all night again?” Fred purred loudly.

Lady circled three times in her bed on the floor then curled up and went back to sleep.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's in the Jeans

Married life is much like white-water rafting. In the beginning there is uncertainty mixed with great expectations. Toss in a dash of trepidation and a generous pinch of exhilaration and the stage is set. Then you get in the boat and begin the journey. You start in fairly calm waters, then a few ripples rock the boat and pretty soon, great founts of water are crashing over you as you slam headlong into rocks and swirl around in eddy traps. Most times you float into placid waters again, life settles down and the business of simply getting through the rough patches and enjoying the scenery when you can, proceeds at the pace of the river.

Sometimes the raft is overturned. You find yourself in over your head, gasping for breath, flailing for something to cling to to survive. When you are very lucky someone grabs your hand and saves you. Your are luckier still if that hand belongs to your spouse. I'm the luckiest man alive, and I have the family to prove it.

Recently I have had reason to reflect on family life. The precipitating occasions for this introspection are two-fold. First is the passing of the torch from one generation to the next, and with it, all the memorabilia and family treasures reaching back more than a century. The second is the imminent nuptials of my eldest son.

In the first case, the care needs of the nearby Patriarch and Matriarch precipitated a change in their living circumstances to allow for more care and less room. This in turn created a need to begin the difficult process of winnowing the accumulated treasures packed carefully away in boxes and bins, files and folders, and sometimes just piles and pillboxes. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of photos to sort.

We all have them. Shoeboxes of snapshots, racks of slides, old albums with black and white Box Brownie snaps of people in front of old houses and old cars. People we don't recognize, places we don't remember, events erased from our memories, or just faded, like the photos. Moments frozen in time, collected for a posterity that will not want or understand them.

Many of these photos, along with newspaper clippings and old yearbooks, antimacassars and doilies, and favored dollies and souvenirs are deeply meaningful to our elders. The old cars and houses weren't old when they were photographed. The elders remember riding in the autos and running through the screen doors into kitchens smelling of freshly baked bread. They recall sitting in the chair protected with the antimacassar and the vase with the doily underneath. These were the homes and family of their youth, more vivid in their memory now than last night's supper. When they are gone that link will be broken, so while they are still with us we work to get a name attached to a face and a date and with great effort sometimes even an address. Someday, we assure ourselves, we will put together a proper record. Someday is so easy, and so distant and so comfortable; and so it goes that the demands of everyday life overtake us until someday we will be the Elders, needing less space and more care. We will be the ones struggling to put names to faces and places. We will be living vividly in our past.

Which brings me to the second case; imminent nuptials. I remember well excoriating a teacher on behalf of my eldest son when she casually and wholly erroneously charged him with a grievous scholarly sin. I remember playing a role in a movie he was making with a friend. I remember the birth of my first grandchild. I rub the scars of fixing cars and the more recent scabs of porches and railings. I look at photos of all these events and I am glad to be a thread in the life we all weave together.

It was a patient explanation my youngest son gave me when he was six. The roly-poly bugs were cold outside and needed a warm place to stay. This shoe box under the bed, he opined would be just right. His indignation was righteous when his good deed was underappreciated as the sow bugs made an abrupt departure to the garden. To this day his heart is moved by the plight of misfortune and injustice. He strives to make a difference as an educator and a thoughtful human being. Another life, another thread and there I am, part of the warp and weft.

My daughter wants to fix broken things; mostly broken hearts. She wants to rescue every puppy that needs a home, feed every hungry cat in the neighborhood and find a quiet place in a sunny window of her brain into which she can retreat. She has told me things which troubled her that she hasn't told another soul because she knows she can trust me. I cannot begin to explain what a gift that is and how valuable beyond measure it is to me. I am incapable of betraying such trust, yet I weave it still into the cloth.

My wife and I belong to what has been labeled the 'sandwich' generation. We care for the elders while managing our own lives and helping where we can with our children and grandchildren. We share the joys and shoulder the burdens willingly, knowing that each generation gets it's own turn as the filling of the sandwich. It is the richness of the fabric of family. We get tired and discouraged; we're only human, after all. But we carry on looking forward to better days and times and gazing backward to happy memories and preparing to introduce a bright new thread at the wedding.

Family and friends will gather from near and far, tears will be shed, joy will be shared, children will be embarrassed by old stories, bread will be broken and glasses raised in salute. I will be with my beautiful bride and her parents, my children and grandchildren, and our friends and our children's friends. Together we will weave just a bit more of this tapestry we call family.

It is particularly fitting for me personally; I was adopted as a child, never to know my birth family. So too was I adopted by this family; taken in, loved and embraced without so much as a single shared gene. Despite what you see in the movies, I'm pleased as punch to be a stepdad.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Health Scare Reform

I don't want to write this post. I don't want to relive the agony of watching family members wither and die because a treatment wasn't 'covered' or was 'experimental'. I don't want to be reminded of living six years in personal agony because my condition wasn't sufficiently acute to warrant a surgical repair. I don't like being reminded with each step I take of the permanent nerve damage that resulted from the delay. I don't want to recall my drug-induced fog of depression the family was forced to endure as a result. I don't want to think of the knife-edge my family still lives on because of pre-existing conditions and unaffordable health care coverage. I despise knowing that we can't afford to get sick. I don't want to write this post; yet I must.

As we are wont to do in this country, we have chosen up sides in the health care game and sent our warriors into battle. Shirts vs Skins with most of us on the sidelines rooting for 'our' team. Like some of the fans in this metaphorical contest, a few get way too deeply involved in winning at any cost and lose sight of the greater prize, the love of the game. It's easy for insurance companies to sway the poorly informed who lack the time, perhaps, or the resources, or even the capacity to understand what is at stake. It is simpler still to scare elders with misleading innuendos and damnable lies about what is proposed in reform packages. It is cynical, dangerous and ultimately not in the best interest of the public or the forces that seek to defeat reform. It is time to embrace the word re-form in its most fundamental sense. Let's 'improve by alteration, correction of error, or removal of defects' as the dictionary suggests.

Let's begin with the notion of what health care is and isn't. It is essential in a modern society. Maintaining a healthy populace is not optional in the age of the Internet. Economies worldwide depend on a well trained cadre of producers and consumers to keep things humming along. Interconnectedness is the rule now, not the exception and keeping up means keeping fit and ready for action. This cannot occur in the system currently in place in the U.S.

In the rural, agrarian nineteenth century, health care was often distant, ill informed and performed in crude settings by people with marginal skills. Even in the best of circumstances medicine was performed by common sense and instinct with a dash of experience tossed in. In the same time frame producers, industry and labor were engaged in titanic struggles for control of the levers of power. Rail lines colluded to fix prices for transporting goods. Steel producers drove smaller competitors out of business with unfair practices. Oil giants cornered markets and crushed competition. Does any of this seem familiar? More recently financial manipulators created paper phantoms that were meant to look like money and profit, but in the end went right back to the heart of the nineteenth century; they stole dreams and dollars from the most vulnerable among us with our unwitting consent. Everyone was chasing the elusive American Dream right down the rabbit hole. The common denominator was money, corruption, collusion and manipulation (or outright purchase) of legislators. I ask again, does any of this seem familiar?

The solution at the turn of the twentieth century was for a courageous President to bully Congress into reform. Theodore Roosevelt, Republican conservative to the core and part of the elite moneyed American aristocracy, broke the trusts. He understood that when any industry corners a market it's first instinct will be to bleed it to death, then move on looking for another body to turn into a carcass. Unconstrained profit motives drive companies and their leaders to kill the host without considering the consequences to the parasite. It is an exquisite death spiral that is even now being played out in Washington D.C. Look no further than the financial industry crisis, the insurance crisis, the housing crisis and subsequent market meltdown as proof positive of the postulate.

So, what to do? What we have now clearly doesn't work. It seems to me that we have missed something in the analysis of What To Do Now. From time to time government has seen fit to alter the relationship between business and consumer by deeming a business as essential to the modern functioning of society. We call those businesses utilities. When it became apparent that electricity was going to be essential, governments set out guidelines. Everybody needs the service so yes, Mr. Businessman, you may make a profit, but you may not rapaciously exsanguinate your customers. Water, sewer, garbage hauling, cable TV and sometimes even cemetary districts are all public utilities. Employees are properly compensated, CEOs make a decent living, investors make safe, if relatively modest returns and the public is provided with an essential service. Sometimes those services are provided by government agencies, like Medicare and Social Security, sometimes by private companies like Puget Sound Energy or Con Edison, but they are provided. Is their performance perfect? No, humans haven't quite conquered perfection yet, which is why our Constitution seeks to work at perfecting; understanding it will be a task always in progress.

Until meaningful reform occurs we are all at risk. Our nation, our status in the world of nations and our chance to compete into the future hang in the balance. Those who claim to love the health care plan they have now have probably never had to truly test that plan. I pray for their sake they never will. Let's support another President seeking reformation of dangerous business practices. Let's not screw this up. Let's not settle for second-rate. Let's win one for the gimper. That would be me.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I'm watching you

The old proverb reads, "those in glass houses should not throw stones". What to do when everyone lives in a glass house becomes less prosaic and more practical as more lives become transparent in the Age of Cameras.

I'm titling this post 'I'm watching you' because chances are someone is doing just that: At this very moment while you're reading this post. If you are in an internet cafe' there is probably a security camera posted nearby. Same thing if you are in an office, sitting on a park bench perusing your Blackberry or even driving. Cameras are everywhere, and some of them carry guns. Like some omnipotent being, revealing all, passing judgement and carrying out executions. Video games with real life consequences.

I have recently begun to engage in the 'social networking' phenomenon on the internet, having been assured that any chance at business success depended on 'having a presence'. So, I have a presence. Finding success as a writer in the Age of Cameras apparently depends on having a blog, which hopefully gathers a large following over time, eventually attracting the attention of someone scouring the web looking for the next breakout bestselling author. Think Julie & Julia. Therefore, I have a blog. Next, I suppose, I will need a website, where people can download a story for 99 cents, or subscribe to a podcast of me reading my book. Technology everywhere, and not a moment to think as we follow threads, keep readers informed of the most inane (and eminently unimportant) minutiae, and follow one another over the cliff.

The irony of this state of affairs seems lost to those adrift in a sea of 'too much to do, not enough time to do it'. There is much wailing and lamentation for our lost 'free time', yet no clear grasp that we have sacrificed that free time willingly to peer into the electronic window. We are like an army of peeping Toms hoping to catch a glimpse of something shocking. Be careful what you wish for; your most embarrassing moment, captured from different angles from multiple cell phones may have a date with You Tube destiny.

For me, the most interesting aspect of this phenomenon is observing how quickly it spreads. Viral is now probably thought of more as an electronic event rather than a biological one. Unquestionably humans are social animals. Our lives are more entangled with one another than any other species and social webs let us keep in touch with family and friends easily. Graffiti probably started as a means of communication among tribal groups (and mostly serves that function still), then letters became family events. For some they became touchstones of contact with those still remembered but far removed. Telegraph, telephone, pictures, home movies, radio, television, cell phones and now the internet have sprung from fertile minds to become common tools. The laptop replaces the plow as the principle source of income in a household. Try to imagine doing whatever you do for a living without using a computer, or the internet.

Thus has it happened that we all live in glass houses. We see what we are all doing by staring through the digital looking-glass at one another. 1984 was a novel predicting a future where Big Brother watched over everyone, monitored every move and corrected behavior according to an acceptable set of guidlines. George Orwell was on the right train but missed the correct track. Big Brother has turned out not to be a central governmental authority, but instead it has become us.

Don't look now, but I'm watching you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sense & Sensitivities

I imagine life sometimes; like a clock. We start with a tightly coiled spring and a shiny new mechanism and the days of our time tick away. The escapement traps and releases the stored energy of the spring bit by bit. Tick, a moment of life passes; tock, another flees; and so it ebbs until the spring is rewound. In some lifetimes the clock may be wound many times; in others only once, but in any case the spring begins to lose its resilience, the gears wear away, the mesh isn't shiny and new anymore, and ultimately the last tock occurs.

Countdowns, time left, time outs; we are obsessed (some of us at least) with time. How much time it takes to commute, to do the laundry, dress the kids, feed the pets, mow the lawn. How long will it take to download a file or respond to an email or Farcebook post. Am I likely to read all the blogs I am ostensibly following, much less take a moment to comment. What is important and what is chaff and how do I tell them apart?

I've been reminded recently, in a different context, that the pursuit of happiness is less about the destination and more about the journey. It has led me to ask which makes me happier, the having of a desired thing or the wanting of it. So often the 'new' thing proves to be not necessarily disappointing so much as anticlimatic. Achieving that goal of happiness is elusive because there is always the next thing out there. In modern terms I guess we are always looking for the next 'killer ap' in life.

Just for myself I have resolved to spend time with what feeds me as a human. Contact with friends and family for one. Time alone spent listening to what the flowers and the seas and the birds and the bees have to say. I want to feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face and the texture of sand and stones and trees. I will be reading less about how horrifying the mean streets are and more about triumph on scales large and small. I will write more, not because I have any great revelations to share, but because it brings me joy. If it brings others joy, so much the better.

It is the greatest mystery of life--the length of it. I have no idea how many times my spring will be rewound but I am resolved to spend more of those precious ticks pursuing that which is of value to the spirit and less in the chase for the ephemera of stuff. I promise to keep at it right down to the last tock.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh, now I remember...

...why I started this blog. A little commentary, a little chit-chat, and oh yes, maybe a short story of two. Here's one, see what you think. Oh yeah, there's this whole 'it's copyrighted' thing going on here too.

The Day I Got Wings

I floated down to breakfast on wings, when my mother called. Above the gelatinous mucous-like oatmeal forced upon me thrice weekly I hovered enraptured; refusing to allow even this peasant offering to dampen my spirits, for today, indeed for the rest of my life I had wings.

Yesterday had been my birthday, a noteworthy date any year but of special significance on this, my tenth, because I had been inducted into the realm of Explorers Extraordinaire. Gone were the days of plodding earthbound along dusty paths worn by generations of lemmings, or perhaps wildebeests mindlessly following the ancient instincts of the pack. Ahead of me were endless days of adventure in distant lands amongst exotic peoples living in mystical castles. Now I could visit other famous adventurers known to me. Sherlock Holmes could show me the crooked streets of London. I could help the Hardy boys solve the mystery at Devils’ Paw. If I hurried perhaps I could get to the spaceport in time to ship out with the crew of the Copa de Oro to help them pick their golden apples from the sun. Anything is possible now, I have wings; I have a bicycle.

And not just any bicycle. Certainly not the tiny toy with spare wheels upon which I had tottered panic-stricken down the driveway as a child, (now a hopelessly embarrassing relic rusting away under a moldy tarpaulin in the back yard) but a Schwinn; and not just any Schwinn either, but a Tiger. This black beauty beckoned me to adventure with its sleek lines and graceful fenders. It promised, with its two speeds and impossibly large whitewall tires carried firmly with countless shiny spokes, to speed me along faster than Silver could carry the Lone Ranger to bandit hideouts. Even the dark of night would be held in abeyance by the bullet shaped chromium headlight with a black plastic switch on top and two D cell batteries to power the penetrating torch. Secured to the top of the graceful arch of the handlebars with premium vinyl grips this lamp would turn effortlessly to illuminate the trails ahead no matter the direction I chose. And with the addition of some playing cards and strategically located clothes pins I could create enough racket to simulate the roar of a real motorcycle.

Wiping an errant fleck of oatmeal from my face I dashed toward the back door barely noticing the nattered safety warnings issued from my parents. I did take just a moment to savor a sidelong glance of jealousy from my little sister made manifest by her protruding tongue as the screen door flung itself aside in self defense. Down the back steps, across the driveway and into the garage I ran and there--just where I had left her--was my Tiger. No mirage, no illusion, just waiting patiently for my commands.

Astride my trusty steed I raced down the driveway and onto the sidewalk, the warm June sunshine fell upon my face and the fragrant air rushed by as I set myself on the path to adventure. The steeplechase of the street was on; leaping effortlessly over curbs, dodging dogs, racing cars, waving madly at the neighbors as the trees and flowers and lawns flew by. Soon my posse was in hot pursuit. Billy and Jack and Harry and Joe trailed behind on their inferior one-speeds alternately struggling to catch up or dodging down an alley to try to cut me off.

All day we traced the steps of our adventures over hills and neighborhoods. We pedaled to the old sugar factory where we swung wildly on the rope dangling from the cottonwood above our swimming hole in the irrigation canal. Alternately we fled from lawmen to our secret hideout or died gallantly in heroic battles.

Old man Jenkins bought me a Coke at the Arctic Circle when he discovered it had been my birthday yesterday. My gang and I ate French fries dipped in secret sauce and hamburgers with pickles before sallying forth again.

But this day, like all others must come to an end and so as the sun sank lower in the late afternoon sky I bid my compatriots goodbye one by one as their names echoed down the streets, called back to the stables by their moms. Eventually of course my name could be heard in the distance too so, reluctantly, I headed home. Slowly now I savored the last moments, the halcyon time as familiar landmarks appeared, then all too quickly fled by, on the pathway back. I wheeled my Tiger to its place of honor in the garage and climbed the back steps of home.

I didn't even object to a bath after dinner and have no recollection of what I watched on the screen in the living room flickering by in shades of gray before ascending the stairs to my bedroom.

As I lay in my bed before dreaming of knights and knaves and damsels in distress I knew life could never be better than this because today was the day I got wings.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mason Jar madness

I'm a foodie. I admit it with my fork held high and my taste buds waiting in anticipation for the next truly transcendent morsel to cross my lips. In the last year or so I've graduated from quantity to quality and in so doing have lost about 80 pounds. What I haven't lost is the pure sybaritic pleasure of a superb savory sensation, nor have I lost the pleasure I derive from creating great food for friends and family to enjoy.

And therein lies a problem. At any given moment, members of my family are on 'diets' or 'plans' or 'lifestyle changes' or medical restrictions or, among the preteens and teens just plain pickiness. Which would be okay if 'pickiness' wasn't defined by fast fooditis and sugar highs (I don't care what the damn studies say, kids get wired on sugar--or maybe just the anticipation of it.). So I don't get to cook that much for anyone except myself, which leads to a huge array of small containers in every nook and cranny of the fridge containing the remains of some wonderfulness only I have experienced. Fortunately, I hardly ever write down how I made something, so every meal seems like a new adventure. Occasionally I even get around to eating some of the leftovers.

I'm the only person I know that makes his own ketchup. I do so with tomatoes fresh from my tiny garden. Canned some yesterday and, today I used the last of my jalapeno crop to create pepper jelly. I make my own chicken stock. I'm sure it costs twice as much (or more) as the stuff in the box, but I'm such a cheapskate I just can't help it when chicken is cheap. First I fill the freezer with cut up fryers, then the backs, wing tips, excess fat and skin gets browned, add some spices, herbs & vegetables, simmer for 4 or 5 hours, filter, skim, bottle, process & voila, chicken stock. If there are enough livers, perhaps a nice pate' is in order.

When I owned a restaurant, and later when I was a caterer (two different endeavors), cooking was work. If you were good you did it to please patrons, not yourself. I was good. Chef-ing was long, grueling hours in a hostile environment which left you dead tired and yet exhilarated beyond common sense. It's hard to explain, really, unless you're a foodie, then you just get it.

Because of who I am, I pay as much attention to what and where I am eating when I dine out as a movie critic might to the acting, score, directing and editing of a motion picture. Which leads me to the real reason for this post; a recommendation.

If you live in Whatcom County, or visit, you must experience Soy House. The unassuming name and tastefully minimalist decor, tucked away in a new shopping center at 414 W. Bakerview in Bellingham, disguises the tasty treasures on the menu. A Vietnamese cuisine cafe, this is not a six bucks a bowl pho joint. The menu is carefully constructed to offer a wide range of palate pleasers without trying to be all things to all people. To be sure, they have pho and it is superb. Well balanced broths, (not the same broth for everything) fresh organic ingredients, choice of noodle types. All well and good, but venturing into the heart of the menu is much more fun. Each recipe has been honed to perfection before being offered to the public and it is literally impossible to make a bad choice for a meal. I know this because I've tried virtually everything on that budget friendly menu.

Including a new take on an old favorite; flatbread. Okay, pizza really, but flatbread is so much more trendy in a 90's sort of way, and this flatbread is fab-u-lous. Forget glops of insipid tomato sauce & greasy slathers of cheese-like substance, that's old news-college kid stuff. These pies are at the same time ethereal yet substantive. Thin, crispy, crust and lightly sauced with a southeastern Asian pesto, just spicy enough to illuminate your senses, just subtle enough to demand your careful attention. Not up for pesto, however succulent and not Italian? Okay, how about savory pineapple sauce--just enough sweet, that little acid for balance yet not cloying in the least. Even the cheeses are selected for a smart new take on balance and flavor. Toppings are a work in process as they develop this menu line. I'm pushing for the lemon grass chicken on the pesto, and maybe Chinese sausage on the pineapple. There are a couple of other options for sauces, but you get the point--it will redefine how you think of bread, sauce and cheese--and it will be a good thing.

Now, I just have to educate all you eaters out there about the virtues of duck and maybe I can convince them to put some on the menu. Soy House, are you listening? How about a play on an Asian style BBQ sauce with duck breast on that pizza? Or maybe smoked duck pho. I'm telling you, it could be a real winner.

Just ask me, I know these things; I'm a foodie.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Connections-present tense

Time was when my household had one telephone that lived in one room of the house, with a cord that was six feet long (it cost extra for a longer cord). We didn't own it, we rented it from Ma Bell. It weighed about three pounds. When the phone rang (yes, real bells smacked by a tiny clapper in the body of the phone) we had no idea who it was until we actually answered the call. We had one phone number which was assigned to us. We shared our line with five other phone renters. It was called a party line, and though it rarely led to parties, it was often the source of lots of snooping when neighbors surreptitiously tried to listen in for juicy bits of gossip. Today this is done through something called Facebook.

When we wanted to speak to someone we dialed a call (yes, put our fingers in little holes and rotated a dial). If they picked up the phone receiver we talked. If they didn't, we called back (because answering devices didn't yet exist) or wrote a letter. With an actual pen and a piece of paper, which we stuffed in an addressed envelope to which we affixed a postage stamp and then mailed. Call it texting, for lack of a better description.

It was possible, way back then, to go fishing, or play golf or just a read a book at the beach and be unreachable. It was how we 'got away from it all' for a while. We left a note on the fridge. Mostly nobody worried much, eventually most people found their way home. Life was good. A person could think deep thoughts, ponder the universe if they so chose. Or even think shallow thoughts like how someone would look naked (usually not nearly as good as one imagined) or why red cars seemed faster than white ones. It was bliss. Now, not so much.

I suspect that Twitter is the most logical and least useful extension of a society that now obsesses over the trivial. It tirelessly demands through shrill electronic chirping, beeping, whirring, singing, grunting (or whatever sound has been downloaded) an instantaneous response. And we do respond. Scarcely anyone is without a cell phone. Try to imagine resisting the urge to at least look at the I.D. screen to see who it is, unless of course you have assigned different sounds for different callers and then you know just by listening in many cases. Anyone with a library card has internet access. At any given time of the day or night a photo or even a video clip shot on a cell phone makes its way to You Tube hoping for a moment of fleeting glory as the day's download king.

Is it really necessary that followers in say, Madagascar know that the lettuce in my turkey sandwich was a little wilty today? Or that my left sock keeps falling down? Come to think of it, is it really necessary that anyone other than the waiter and the cook know about the lettuce? And guess what, I can tell them directly...I don't even need a battery. And certainly my sock status is wholly irrelevant to everyone but myself.

I know, I'm hopelessly old fashioned. I have a cell phone. Should I wish it, it will take photos, it will text, it will access the internet (for an additional fee) and it will even take movies for me. Here's the thing: I don't wish it. On rare occasions I will actually use it to make a call. On slightly less rare occasions others will call me. Otherwise, I just want it to be a phone.

I recently discovered something important about this device. I can turn it off. I could go golfing if my back didn't ache so much, or fishing if I had any gear and a license. I can think deep thoughts, ruminate on the intricacies of my next post, relax on the beach. Life is good, it is bliss once again.

Did I mention my left sock keeps falling down?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

52 words

Fifty two words: "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.''

What follows are several articles setting out the mechanisms for electing and removing representatives, divisions of power, allocations of responsibilities, and twenty seven amendments correcting, modernizing and otherwise making more (or in some cases less) perfect this experiment in government. You should read it, it takes less than an hour and can be found in any library in the country and about twenty six million places on the internet.

Since ratified, this document, more than any created before or since, has been scrutinized, dissected, pored over, mulled, modeled, muddled, misconstrued and manipulated. It has been used to further and beleaguer the same issues, to ascribe rights by inference and deny them by constructionism. Liberals and conservatives, the fearful and the fearless, solace seekers, religious zealots and atheists, businessmen and unionizers all frequently point to the same article or amendment to press their case. Indeed, its very existence solicits these debates with the implied promise that each decision rendered regarding the broad, and deliberately vague it seems, words within, will make incremental steps toward that 'perfect union', so unattainable, yet wished for so devoutly.

But it seems to me that so many of these debates miss the main idea and forget a critical point. Those fifty two words, which I was required to memorize in the fourth grade, are not just the 'preamble' to the Constitution, they are the soul of it. Everything that follows those fifty two words are just the sausage of lawmaking; the meat and potatoes the founders created in order to implement the ideals and goals so nobly and simply advanced at the outset.

Raging now is the debate about healthcare reform. Outrageous lies fly carelessly about in a maelstrom of partisanship. Each histrionic syllable is breathlessly reported by an increasingly flaccid Fourth Estate, which has overthrown responsibility for ratings, and rushes past reasonable discourse to get to the most contentious and least illuminating sound bite. Creeping Socialism, Death Panels, higher taxes, hidden agendas, birthers, do nothings, abortion squads, Medicare killers, these are all code for the right wingnuts (yes, I do mean wingnuts) to try to cobble together the remains of what was once a party that honored those fifty two words, into a mean-spirited cabal of embittered, racist, fear mongers. I don't use these terms carelessly; words matter, lies matter, truth matters and these words reflect what I believe to be true.

Lest anyone think I'm just another leftie posting an anti-conservative screed, I should tell you I'm a Republican. Or at least I was. Now I guess I'm a republican-one who favors the republic form of government-soon to be no longer a member of the Republican Party. When I change my affiliation back to Independent it will be done wistfully, wishing that the Bill Buckley's of today's party, if any are still out there, would have the backbone to call out, expose and excoriate the misanthropes that have hijacked and held hostage my party. They are killing thoughtful conservatism, and in the process, strangling those precious fifty two words.

Surely it is not just, that the most vulnerable among us perish at the doorsteps of insurance companies for want of affordable healthcare, any more than it was just that children should labor at dangerous machines for long hours during the industrial revolution. That was wrong and our government made it illegal over the vociferous objections of business owners, yet our Republic survived, thrived even, as an example of enlightenment.

The common defense is not just about wars and rumors of wars, but about enemies within and without. When the Constitution was written little was known of disease, medicine had little or no scientific basis, and food born illness was only a vaguely formed theory. But these were, and are enemies within. We as a nation commonly defend our citizens against disease, regulate foodhandling and purity and devote billions for the relief and reconstruction of the ravages of disasters natural and man made. How is defending our population from illness on an individual basis through health care suddenly creeping Socialism? It's not, purely and simply.

The general welfare and the blessings of liberty are not free. Civil war was waged (and in some quarters is ongoing) over civil rights. The opportunity to vote as a person of color or as a woman required repairs to our founding document's articles, but not to it's ideas. However this debacle over health care resolves, whether with justice and dignity for all citizens or as a lingering albatross around our collective necks, is yet to be resolved. But I believe in those fifty two words. They are why I fly the flag. They are why I get sentimental at parades and put my hand over my heart to say the pledge. They are why I thank members of the Armed Forces for their service. They are why I decided to start this blog. They are what set forth the most precious tenets of our Republic. They provide the working definition of what it really means to be an American.