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Those Pigs.

Posted by admin on December 11, 2017 in The Soapbox
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You can’t open up a newspaper or watch the 6 o’clock news these days without some guy being outed as a lech, pervert, scumbag or abuser. From politicians to the Hollywood elite, everyone seems to have used and sadly, abused women.

Even sadder, we have this strange sliding scale about when it comes to this piggish behavior. While we’re hanging Harvey Weinstein out to dry in Hollywood, we’re pretending the guy in the White House never said all those heinous things about women in a tape recording.

Locker room talk, my ass! Long ago, I learned there was no such thing. It came about around the time my daughter became a teenager and I realized that if someone talked about her in these terms in my presence, they’d be laid out flat on the floor.

But this isn’t about the guy who’s in the White House at the moment. That’s hardly worth my time.

It’s also not really about my own transgressions for I am hardly without sin here. Afterall, I was part of the Seattle Seafair Pirates, a group of chauvinistic pigs who preyed on women and treated them like whores. Sounds a lot like today’s Congress, but without the diversity. For six years I watched the wholesale bedding and belittling of women. I went through a brief period of sluttiness myself (I told you I was not without sin). I fell for the whole thing, hook, line and sinker for about a year.

And then it all came to an end. I realized that this wasn’t who I was. That these women – groupies or not – were someone’s daughter, sister, aunt or even mother. They weren’t chattel. They had dreams and hopes and feelings, that should not be trifled with, especially at such a debasing level.

I left not long after this revelation, realizing that this macho culture was not for me. And I have since seen, as late as this past July, that this hideous debasement of women continues in that group to this day, now playing out as a slideshow for all to see at the club’s annual reunion.

Why does this happen in general? And how did this happen to me specifically? Well, I can tell you, after years of soul searching and some therapy, that part of it was cultural. The fraternal organization I was in celebrated this behavior. To fit in, it was important to put a few notches on the ol’ cane, if you get my drift. I told you. Congress.

It didn’t help that this was a period in my life when I hated myself. I guess it’s easy to think little of others when you’re heading for rock bottom yourself. It took a long time to come to realize that this was not who I wanted to be in life.

Thankfully, I was only in my 20s when I started to figure this whole thing out.

Times change. So must we. But looking back, I’m pretty sure none of this behavior was ever O.K. It was certainly never welcomed. I have heard a lot of horror stories from my female friends in the intervening years that certainly opened my eyes. So when the #metoo movement took hold, I was hardly surprised that nearly every woman on earth has a story to tell.

And yet men continue to be shocked at the outfall. Worse, some of these men have tried to skate around the subject, pointing at others with a “they did it too” finger or outright denying that the episode ever happened. In their eyes, maybe it never did. Maybe those in Congress or Hollywood live in that same strange culture the Seafair Pirates do. It’s a man’s world to them. The feminist and women’s movements never came along. They are there for my pleasure…, blah, blah, blah!

Spare me, please. None of this is O.K. If a woman you work with, dated or encountered anywhere thinks you crossed the line, you did. Their private space and their private parts are the final arbiters here. Live with it. Own up to it. Apologize for it. And most important, change who you are right now because it was never O.K. to begin with.

Geez, if for no other reason, remember that these are someone else’s daughter, wife, girlfriend, sister or mother. If you have girls of your own, think how you would feel if someone took a photo with them, touching their privates. That should anger you, just as you should be angry at yourself for not evolving above the level of a primordial ooze (sorry ooze, I didn’t mean to insult you here).

Yes, I wasn’t always on my best behavior and if my mother had heard about my behavior, even in her advanced age, she would have slapped me stupid. She didn’t raise a pervert or a degenerate.

I offer no excuses for my own past. I don’t justify any of it. I should have figured it all out sooner, but I was an immature piece of sh** back then who had no regard for himself or others.

But those days are long gone. They need to be long gone for all of us. I know that somewhere in those locker rooms I keep hearing about, there are men speaking in hushed tones about how this is all blown out of proportion and it will eventually blow over.

Go ahead and lull yourself into a false sense of security and revel in your own stupid self-righteousness. It’s no longer a man’s world. And if you hadn’t managed to somehow suppress women to the point that they were once treated as legal property, I doubt it would have ever been a man’s world.

To all the women I know and all the women out there in the world who still have a story to tell, I applaud you for your courage. I know it’s not easy. But I know there are guys out there, guys like me, who will listen, who will understand your anger and most important, believe you because we know it happens – a lot.

In the Emerald City, coming to terms with the past in order to move an inch or two out of the primal ooze,

  • Robb

 
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The Lazy Life.

Posted by admin on November 27, 2017 in Randomalities

They say that there’s nothing good on television today, but I have to say that a news article this morning and the movie WALL-E shed a lot of light on our world and how we’re gleefully heading off into oblivion as a society.

We’ll start with the news article. ‘Tis the season as we all know and the segment on the morning news was on technology gift giving. There’s a fervor these days about creating the connected home, where we run everything on our smartphones, from starting the dishwasher to turning off the bedroom light that is right next to us on our nightstand, just an arm’s length away.

The show this morning showed just how inane and dangerous this can all be. First, they were showing us how we could see our kitchen from our bedroom on our television with Google’s technology. Ignore the fact that in the time it took to load the camera feed, I could have bounded downstairs and been back into my bed before the cursor stopped spinning.  Once it loaded, we got to see mom drinking coffee. Wow, can’t live without that piece of tech.

Yes, I get that it could be a security feature. I mean, when people break into my home, the refrigerator is the first place they would stop and I’m sure they would never even notice the camera in the room.

But it gets better, my friends. Next, we turned to the living room. It’s the holidays, so it was very festive. There was mom, her son and her pet rabbit sitting on the couch. Across the way was the Christmas tree. There on live TV she said, “Google, turn on the Christmas tree.” Long, long, long pause, and the tree comes on.

I have a tree up in my living room right now. As the coffee perked a good morning to me today, I turned the tree on. I didn’t talk to any device. I simply bent down and pushed the damned button. No pause. No technology. No need.

And the coup degrâce of the news segment? The so-called technology expert on the segment asked Google to sing Happy Birthday to the lady’s son.

Now, when I think 15th birthdays, I think Google. Why should I sing an off-key rendition of the song when Google can sing my son a disembodied, machine-ish version because I am obviously too lazy to do it myself.

Which brings me to WALL-E. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should. This Pixar gem takes place in the distant future, long after we’ve polluted the earth to the point that we need to leave it. WALL-E is stuck cleaning all of it up. Thankfully, he has a videotape of Hello Dolly to keep him company. And a cricket, or a cockroach. Maybe it was a cocket or a crickroach. I don’t know.

Fast forward through the movie and we’re on a spaceship. It’s filled with everyone who used to live on earth. They’re flying around the solar system, waiting for the earth to be habitable again.

And here’s where the movie WALL-E, which was made almost a decade ago, really shines. It shows the future inhabitants of our earth as rolly-polly fatsos. We’re all obese, so much so that we have to live life in a Starship Lounge Chair that does everything for us. Right in front of us is the Apple iPhone-35 monitoring all of our needs on the screen. We don’t have to lift a damned finger.

Sound familiar? This is where this connected home crap is taking us. Now, I readily admit that I am a technophile. I like my technology. I like my toys, especially the bleeding-edge stuff.

As such, I can readily understand the importance of having a doorbell at the front door that shows me on my phone who is standing there. True, I have the luxury of having a window on my door, so I can always creep up on it to take a peek. But if I weren’t here, it would be nice to have the video feed so Kat feels safe.

I also used to have a video camera in my house that connected to my phone. I had it so I could make sure my step-daughter wasn’t sneaking boys into our house while I was at work. Once she moved out, the camera went away. I don’t even know where it is right now.

As you can see, I have drawn some lines in the sand. I like to be connected, but not too connected. I don’t ever see a time when I will need an app and a smart-socket to turn my tree on and off with my phone. Or my lights. I kind of like doing it the old-fashioned way, if for no other reason than it makes me get up off my fat ass and do what little exercise I do in a day.

I worry that we’re all going to end up making WALL-E look like a documentary some day. We barely need to lift a finger now.

My lovely wife is the proud owner of a Fitbit. She regularly reports how many steps she takes in a day, which is far more than those cows in the Organic Valley commercials are taking. I told her that I would be unlikely to wear one, if only because it would show I only take about 500 steps in an entire day. It would track and alternately mock my connected life where I sit at a computer and make stuff up for a living, rather than having an honest job that requires me to move.

Just what I need, more technology to show me that I am on the fast-track to getting the first WALL-E Starship Lounger on Amazon. Hmm, I wonder what they are selling for today, since it’s CyberMonday?

“Alexa, what is the price on the…?”

I am freakin’ doomed.

In the Emerald City, wishing I had a drinkevator in my house so I didn’t have to go downstairs to refill my coffee cup.

  • Robb

 

 
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Practis, Practise, Practice.

Posted by admin on November 20, 2017 in Storytime

I admit that I am a bit out of shape right now. I have not been working out as much as I should. Part of it has been the nature of my work lately, which is more strategic than it is literary. I have also been a bit under the weather for the last week, which has muddled my brain more than usual and disrupted my workout routine.

There was a time when I worked out every day. I churned through 1,000 reps like it was nothing at all. I could almost do it in my sleep. And rather than be exhausted at the end, I felt energetic and liberated.

These days, I probably get 2,000 reps in over the course of a week instead of the routine I once had. Still, I probably get more of a workout than 95% of Americans. I know this because Grammarly sends me a weekly report telling me as much.

Yes, I’m talking about a writing workout. My friends often ask me why writing seems so easy for me, why I can whip out thousands of words and they not only largely make sense, but often are a bit lyrical and even informative. Of course, they can also be lighthearted or persuasive, sometimes thoughtful, other times provocative.

Such is the magic of the language. In skilled hands, the keyboard is still mightier than the sword. And like swordsmanship, the craft requires continually exercise, exploration and refinement.

Writing isn’t an easy task. Some of my friends think it is easy for me. It is easier for me than others, but only because I work at it constantly. I have since I was young, I guess. I have come to learn that the voracious pursuit of knowledge in my youth contributed greatly to my writing today. You have to read the writing of others to write your own. There’s no shortcut for this. You can’t take a writing class and suddenly think you’re Twain or Hemingway. Hell, you can’t even become a Dave Barry.

As the headline says, it takes practis, practise, practice.

There was a time, not so long ago, that I churned out a thousand words every morning. I had heard Jimmy Buffett wrote this way. He said that if you write a thousand words every morning, you end up with a 52,000-word book by the end of the year.

That’s a bit of an oversimplification, of course. You’ll end up with 52,000 words indeed, but it may include 24,000 words that are complete crap. Few people on earth can write a book without the inevitable rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite. Writing is not so much the discipline of putting words to paper, but refining these words so that they are the Goldilocks – not too many, not too few, all just right.

That takes a lifetime of practice. Even a best-selling writer will tell you so. There is little perfection in this line of work. Given time and money, every writer will tell you that they would rewrite everything they have done previously because writing is an exploration of the soul. Everything you learn in life informs your work, and as you go through this journey we call life, the view through the looking glass changes continually, so what was once good or even great, is now schlock, even to the point of embarrassment.

Can you become a good writer? Sure, you can. If you paid attention in language arts to the basic rules, you can master the rest through continual practice and refinement of the craft. Writing is like playing the piano. It’s difficult at first to create any melody at all. Your hands don’t want to follow along to what your mind them telling it to do. Eventually, though, the simple scale that is the basis of all music exposes its masterful simplicity in an endless variety of notes, phrases, passages and opuses.

Funny how both pursuits of the arts – music and writing – today rely on a keyboard. I will readily admit that a piano has way too many keys for me to make anything masterful. I mean, I only have eight fingers and two thumbs and a piano has 88 places where I need to place them. It is simply overwhelming to me.

Yet, as I write this, I realize that I can play my computer keyboard with the same relative ease, not once having to look down at the keys to see where my fingers are going. Long ago my fingers learned to stop tying letters and type words instead. That single skill has allowed my fingers to almost keep up with my mind, the words spilling from the latter to the former in close to real time.

It is practice to make perfect, even though perfection is never achievable by a writer. That’s part of the fun. It’s also part of the great torment that all artists experience at one point or another. They fear the blank canvas or piece of paper, or in this day and age, the blank screen.

Without practice, filling that page becomes far more difficult. I think most artists understand this. Certainly, painters or sculptors do. They continually practice their strokes and motions. A masterpiece just doesn’t fall from the sky. Like a classic novel, every stroke, every chisel chip, reveals the masterpiece that is awaiting discovery.

So it is with writing. Thankfully, I am back to working out. This page is proof of that. I’ve been writing for about 20 minutes now, this stream of consciousness. Such are RobZerrvations. They are more of an early morning workout before the real work begins, a way to limber up the muscles and memory so that as the day goes on, writing is not a chore, but a pleasure, a mere extension of my being and my soul, which yearns to express itself as much as the ideas that are put to page.

I consider myself to be the luckiest guy on earth. I get to write for a living. I get to share my unique human experience and perspective with others. If just one person on this earth learned something from a piece I’ve written, then I have succeeded, for it shows that I was here and I had something to say. I’m sure you do too.

In the Emerald City, about to get my cup of coffee so I can read back through this and think, “What the hell was I even thinking?”,

  • Robb

 
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Exstinktion.

Posted by admin on November 13, 2017 in Randomalities

I was watching George Carlin last night. Yes, I know he’s dead. A real shame, too, as he seems to be one of the few that can bring tremendous clarity to any subject while tickling your ribs at the same time.

Such was the case with this particular concert he did for HBO. If you want to find it out there on Netflix, Amazon Prime or the Internet, this appearance was titled, “Jammin’ in New York.” This was 1992, mind you, and some of the stuff he said is still so true today, such as the attempts by the upper class to create division in the middle and lower class so the rich can steal all the money while we’re fighting among ourselves.

In one particular bit, George touched on the world’s attempts to save endangered species. It was pretty funny, but also quite poignant. He noted that over the last few billion years, some 90% of all species that ever existed are now extinct. While mankind has perhaps sped this extinction process up with the Industrial Revolution, a lot of extinction would happen naturally. And he made the point that interfering with it was not only irresponsible, but downright dangerous.

Now, I’m not going to weigh in on the whole global warming issue or the fact that we have indeed contributed to the extinction of specific species, either by clearcutting their delicate habitat, overfishing, overhunting and polluting this great land of ours.

But what stuck with me more than anything was his statement that the earth could really care less that we (i.e. humans) are here. While we think we’re pretty special, we also have the balls to think that we and we alone will decide the fate of the planet.

The earth has been around a long time. Billions of years. It will be here long after we are gone, too. The earth has a funny way of cleansing itself of the parasites that live on it. The dinosaurs went extinct, even in a time when they were the masters of the planet.

The point is, we shouldn’t be worried about the planet’s future, but our own. The whole global warming issue isn’t going to wipe out the planet, it will wipe us out as a species. We aren’t very resilient creatures. I mean, the dinosaurs somehow went extinct, and they didn’t have all the creature comforts we have like smartphones and forks.

It’s somewhat poetic that we actually benefited from their extinction, since oil comes from their rotting bodies. Someday, we will be the rotting bodies too, because the earth will get rid of us one way or another so it can return to its natural state.

We’re already seeing this happen. Historic hurricanes and tornadoes. Hell, a hurricane even hit Ireland. Earthquakes, volcanoes, wildfires… the list goes on. We cower in fear as Mother Nature reminds us who’s really in charge. One thing’s for sure, it’s not us, we pitiful little humans. It’s the earth and come hell or high water, and often both at the same time, the planet is going to protect itself against the parasites.

Yes, I’m talking about us. In Carlin’s monologue, he touched on the single reason he could think of as to why we’re still here at all – plastic. According to him, the earth has let us survive and even thrive so that we could give it plastic. From here on out, future creatures will refer to the Pre-Plasticene Era and the Post-Plasticene Era of the earth.

Wow. Even though we are at the top of the food chain, we are still disposable. No creature is indispensable. We see that in the extinction of once thriving species. They failed to adapt to change. Even our own ancestors fell by the wayside, though I would argue that there are still plenty of Neanderthals around because I’ve seen them at some Walmarts in Florida.

And there lies the danger. Dinosaurs perished and they didn’t even need a Walmart. We probably couldn’t last two weeks without Walmart, Target or two-day delivery from Amazon. We are terribly dependent creatures, prisoners on our own reliance on “civilization” at the expense of staying connected to nature, as our forefathers had done. We’re fat and lazy, largely because we think we are Masters of the Universe when indeed, we are just lowly parasites sucking on the host.

Eventually, the host is going to tire of this relationship and it will self-correct. We will become the next extinct species while the land returns to its natural beauty. If you’ve ever watched one of those cool shows about what a city would look like 20 years from now if we were gone, you know that Mother Nature has a good plan for all this. Hell, I can barely keep the grass from growing through the cracks in my asphalt. Imagine if I weren’t here at all. Everything would be ashes to ashes and dust to dust in a couple of decades.

Next time you want to argue about global warming with a denier, skip the science lesson. Skip ahead to the part where the earth will be just fine without us. Ignore all the nonsense about going into and coming out of ice ages for tens of thousands of years. Ignore the fact that the overall temperature has risen a few degrees.

Instead, go right to the heart of it all and talk about how the earth is going to fanny whack us for being bad guests. That Mother Nature is going to fix the earth by getting rid of us one at a time. That as natural resources dry up, we’ll inevitably return to our primitive, warring ways and lob bombs at one another. Eventually, we will be the next oil boom for a future generation as we march on to oblivion, just like the dinosaurs.

Fear not earthlings, the earth will be just fine without us. It was fine before we were here and it will be just fine after we are wiped from its face.

At least future inhabitants will know we were here. And archeologists will have a big laugh about all the stupid things we left behind, our strange remnants of this so-called civilization.

In the Emerald City, wondering what, if anything, it all means,

  • Robb

 
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“The Man.”

Posted by admin on October 23, 2017 in Life Lessons

For almost all of my adult life, I have been under a serious delusion. It’s a delusion that I created myself, I suppose. After all, I made the decisions about who I dated, who I had long-term relationships with, and who I eventually married.

But something has changed this time around. And I’m only beginning to understand the significance and gravitas of it.

You see, I’m finally the man. Not a man, mind you. I kind of figured that out some time ago. I mean, the man.

No, not the man as in “I’m da man!,” that odd declarative statement men make when they think they’ve mastered one universe or another, bested their friends in a game of upchuck, or avoided killing themselves doing something asinine.

If that was the case, then I’m pretty sure almost all of my past lusts and loves have, at one time or another, secretly fist-pumped and uttered “I’m da man!” under their breath when they were with me. Most were somewhat manly. Not in a having a dick kind of way – though I still question the ex in Florida. But they all seemed to like to be the man of the family.

I admit. I like strong women. I get to blame my now deceased mom for that. She was by far for the strongest woman I’ve ever known. I guess you have to be when you’re the mother of four rambunctious boys.

She also had to be both father and mother most of the time, since my own father was in and out of the hospital and in and out of work all the time. She even had to master signing his name, since women back then couldn’t own anything or get their own credit card or checking account. She was so good at it that the one time my dad actually signed his name, the bank called, thinking it was a forgery.

When I married for the last time, I just naturally figured that history would repeat itself. Kat is, without a doubt, a strong woman with an iron will. I mean, she raised her kids all by herself for 13 years, putting them ahead of any of her own happiness. How she did it, I still can’t figure out. If I was asked to do the same, DSHS would have had to break in the door, only to find me alone in a corner, rocking and sobbing uncontrollably.

But something strange happened after we said our “I do’s.” Kat let me keep my dick. I still remember the time she explained how she wanted to conduct our new relationship. While she wanted to be a true partner, she would ultimately defer to me as the man of the family and head of the household.

Wait! What? I waited for the other shoe to drop. It didn’t. There was no addendum such as “…except when it’s important,” or “…except when it comes to money.” Nothing, not a single except.

I am still a bit dumbstruck about this. Over these many years, I’ve gotten quite used to not being the decision maker. Oh sure, I’ve been consulted regularly, but most of the time it wasn’t really my decision.

Case in point. In Florida, I always wanted to live on the gulf side. When it came time to buy a home, I found the perfectly affordable new home. It could be delivered to either side of the state. Where do I end up? Catty-corner to her parents. In Melbourne no less.

It wasn’t an option really. Her parents dangled a free acre that she could have title to. I wasn’t on the deed for the land. I only owned the house so if things went south, as they did, well, you know that left me.

But with Kat, there’s no fine print in the contract. If we don’t agree about something, even if it’s something important, I am the tiebreaker. No flip of the coin. No, “I’ll get this one, you get the next” answer. I make the decision.

Wow! Talk about pressure. Now I know men have been in this role for centuries. My father originally had this role until he drank himself to death and my mom had to take over by default. Then women’s liberation came around and everyone seemed to want to be in charge and that was fine with me, because hey, that’s how I grew up. Since my mom did a pretty good job, I figured all these strong women would too.

So here I am. The decision maker. I’ll let you in on a little secret. This is a pretty scary world to be in. I mean, I have no one else to blame if the decision turns out to be a total turd. Only myself. I can’t get into a fight over it, I can’t wish it all away because I made the bloody decision and my wife deferred to me to make it.

I’m sure that some guys would just run roughshod all over this and go on a huge  “I’m the man!” power trip, buying season tickets to the Seahawks in lieu of food for the family, picking up the tab at the bar for all his buddies and turning the living room into a man cave with a 300″ big screen over the mantle.

Me? I’m taking baby steps. It’s still very new to me. Sometimes I feel like I’m in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, trying to decide which is the right cup was the Holy Grail. I’d better get it right or I’m going to melt down in front of everyone, and Kat hates it when people do that on her wood flooring.

I suppose I will get used to it over time. I’m already making some headway. I no longer stare blankly at Kat when she looks at me and says, “It’s your decision baby.”

Deep down, I know she’s there right with me, going over all the options and supporting me in whatever decision I finally make. That alone makes it all right, even when I’m wrong. I think…

In the Emerald City, trying to decide what’s for dinner,

Ack!!!!!!!!

  • Robb

 
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Well Bully For You!

Posted by admin on October 16, 2017 in The Soapbox

We live in a very funny society. I’m not talking about the “ha! ha!” kind of funny. But rather the funny that is unsettling, almost pathetic.

On the one hand, we go on and on about the poor elementary or high school kid who was bullied at school and finally does something about it, whether he shoots the place up with his father’s AR-15 or simply kills himself. We wonder why bullying is allowed and why no one will stand up for these kids.

We’re indignant and angry that in this world today, bullying still goes on. Even with anti-bullying laws, there are still school bullies and kids are smart enough to know that if they tell on the bully, there will be retaliation, retaliation that is often worse than the actual act of bullying.

Bullies simply take their bullying to the streets instead of the playground. They continue to beat up on those who can’t defend themselves off campus. They don’t even have to use their fists these days; they can do all their dirty work on social media. Facebook posts and Tweets have now become the uppercut and left hook of the bullying world.

I know a thing or two about bullying. I was bullied in school almost constantly as I grew up. I can still remember the time Marvin Hill punched me in the mouth in front of the portables at McKnight Middle School. And the time I was surrounded by senior football players at Hazen High School and unceremoniously dumped in a garbage can, a strange welcoming ritual that helped establish the school’s caste system.

Of course, there was the name calling. I was called a “fag” and a kaleidoscope of words that were far worse. I became withdrawn and sullen to the point that I wouldn’t even ride the bus to school because the bullying there was so bad.

I was even turned on by one of my supposedly good friends. John Rhode was a jock, but our families were all friends. Don Rhode was Jeff’s friend so it was natural that John and I became friends. That was until he gave me a box of candy at school one day. I unwrapped it and in my innocence, didn’t know that road apples were horse turds.

I was heartbroken by his betrayal. He would call me “Zerrber Baby Foods” in high school; a rather banal tease by today’s standards.

It wasn’t until the day that I came to school and told everyone I was rich, that I was an apparent heir to a baby food fortune, that the bullying stopped. I learned to make fun of those who made fun of me through my razor-sharp wit.

I was bullied in my personal life too as an adult. Famously, my Florida ex tried to claim I was emotionally abusive to her; a charge so hurtful that I contacted some of my other former relationships to ask if I had been that way with them.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that I was once again being bullied and worse, bullies are very good at convincing you that everything is wrong with you, not them. I never thought women could be bullies, but over time and through therapy I came to realize that I was in an abusive relationship and that I was being bullied through emotional control that was both mean and calculating. The almost constant berating and remonstrations – privately and publicly– took a tremendous toll on me, turning my hair temporarily gray and temporarily taking away my manhood, if you get my drift.

So I can see how bullying can affect you. I have bullied and been bullied. And I have had to learn the hard way how to stand up to it.

What mystifies me still, however, is why we as a society can feel such empathy for the little kid who’s bullied why we allow ourselves to be bullied on a level that is unparalleled in modern times.

Perhaps we are just all shell-shocked as the constant barrage of Tweets flow from the Bully in Chief. We can’t imagine anyone in that position being so callous and mean to others, from members of Congress and the parents of a Gold Star veteran to the onslaught of anger at Puerto Ricans for not fending for themselves. He spends days tweeting about football players and ignores the ongoing plight of California fire victims.

All the while he smiles and says he’s helping us. He promises better healthcare but guts the core of what we have. He returns women to the dark ages, while he reminds us that he’s going to make America great again. He throws paper towels in Puerto Rico for the cameras like he is in the Super Bowl, but denies them aid, telling us that it’s really their problem, not ours.

And like all great bullies, he tells us that its everyone else’s fault and makes us believe that something must be wrong with us instead of him.

Small wonder why Congress is in shock, as is most of the country. Our leaders aren’t supposed to be bullies. Yes, they should be strong. But they should also be the poster child of compassion, understanding, and empathy. True leaders lift others up; not tear them down.

Still, we all stand still while this crazy loon tears the country apart using tactics befitting Marvin Hill’s sucker punch or John Rhode’s road apples. What’s worse, we allow him to do it.

Regardless of our political leanings, bullying is not acceptable under any circumstance. If we are truly going to walk the talk, how can we look our children in the eye and tell them bullying is bad when we stand silent when the Bully in Chief lashes out like he’s still on some New York schoolyard.

At least in school, the bully might have to visit the principal or even get expelled. But what’s the penalty to the Bully in Chief? The only weapon that seems to work is the public’s disapproval of these behaviors, and yet, we are loathed to take a stand against presidential bullying. Through our silence, we are condoning bullying of the sick, the poor, the needy and the weak in this country by the very guy who is supposed to support us and protect us.

Regardless of our own political persuasions, we all need to be anti-bully. This should really be a no-brainer. I’m not telling you to like or dislike the guy or his politics. What I am telling you is that we as Americans and as parents, need to stand up to the biggest bully of them all. If we don’t call him out on his behavior, how in the hell are we going to tell our children not to do something that we ourselves are obviously condoning by our own silence and inaction?

In the Emerald City, seeing all bullies for what they really are, or more important, what they aren’t,

  • Robb

 
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Words, Words, Words.

Posted by admin on October 2, 2017 in The Soapbox

I don’t play bar games very often. I prefer steel tip darts to soft tip, but don’t like trying to keep score. I love the idea of pool, but I never paid much attention in math class to things that seem to be important in the game, namely geometry and physics.

This is not surprising, given that I can’t even add the tip to the bill without using a calculator. I famously failed this last Friday, having to scratch out the number twice before getting it right.

It’s not that I’m stupid or that I don’t like the idea of math. I suppose it has its place in our world. I hear there are even people who get degrees in mathematics, but I still have no idea why.

It’s a writer’s lot, I suppose. You can’t be good at everything and I am told that my gift is writing, even though I would still really like to be an astronaut, but I hear they require math so that has always been a non-starter.

Of course, writing has its own mathematics, of sorts. No, it’s not 1+1=2, because in writing, even this simple equation doesn’t have to really add up to what it says on some math teacher’s chalkboard. If it did, we wouldn’t have any fiction, because as we all know, in fictional relationships 1+1 can equal 3, which makes for a very interesting plot twist.

It’s times like this that I am reminded that my craft demands as much work as math. Like physics, writing can have gravity, velocity, and weight. It can also have geometry: angles and intersections, for instance.

As a words guy, I understand this all too well. I can eviscerate someone with words, to echo the Chaucer character in Knight’s Tale, leaving them naked for eternity on the pages I write.

Anyone can do this to one degree or another. Words are powerful things. When it was said “the pen is mightier than the sword,” believe me, it’s true. I have caused others to crumble in fear, pain, and sorrow with the rapier wit I was born (and cursed) with. I can drop them to the ground in just a few carefully phrased sentences no matter how tall and mighty they think they are. I can also disarm their anger with a carefully delivered jest or something that was self-deprecating, executed with master craftsman accuracy and timing.

I suppose that’s why it alarms me so that we are choosing to let this art go. In a world of Twitter and texting, words are tossed about without understanding their nuances or their inherent and often lasting power.

Dangerously, we are also casting aside our common understanding and agreements about what words or even a single word actually means. You can blame the “Fake News” for that or the current president if you’d like, but I think it’s our own laziness and self-absorption that is to blame, for we ultimately have the power to hold ourselves and others accountable for the language we use.

I admit that I was taken by a statement Timothy Snyder made as of late. He has written a book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. I haven’t read it yet, but in an interview he said, and I will paraphrase:

“Without agreed upon language there can be no shared truths. Without shared truths, democracy fails.”

See the problem?

Before social media, we as a society made a collective decision to care about language. We came to a common understanding of terminology, issues, and ideas through a carefully designed dialogue between two or more people. We didn’t have a technology where we could all babble and rant endlessly without dialogue. In social media, there is no give and take as there was in the decades and centuries before.

In social media, there is no give and take as there was in the decades and centuries before. No one is controlling the media anymore. But instead of finding enlightenment through the sharing of a common language and listening to opposing views openly, we have retreated into our own Disneylands.

Rather than endure the often painful exercise of a logical progression of thought and persuasion through the presentation of facts, we have chosen instead to make our own Happiest Place on Earth where only those who have the same views are allowed to play. After they have all been left in, we close and lock the gates and enjoy our safe world where everything and everyone is happy, happy, joy, joy.

In the process, we lose our common language. We lose the meaning of words. We no longer believe simple facts, such as the sky being blue or the earth being round because we have isolated ourselves to the point where facts take on a life of their own because there’s no one there to scream bullshit!

As we have learned in the mental health world, a person who retreats from the world in which he or she lives will become mentally ill. Lock a seemingly sane person up in a mental institution and he will go nuts because his only support group is composed of other residents and eventually, they will become his North Star.

We must fight to keep our language common. We must resist the efforts of loony politicians who want to twist us in the wind with their own word choices. We must learn to listen to one another and agree to a common set of definitions about what is decent, what is just, what is right and what is wrong.

It shouldn’t be that hard. Most of us were raised by good parents who taught us the values and morals we live by. They also taught us the language of love and acceptance, not of hatred and division.

Me? I am lucky. I still love words. I still regularly look up their definitions to find out what they really mean and obsess about their structure, form, and origins. I write about these things – the difference between patriotism and nationalism, for instance – because they matter to us all.

As a writer, I’m not about to give up and join the crowd. I don’t Tweet because ideas can’t adequately be expressed in 144 characters. Ideas need the word equivalent of Montana, where the open spaces allow the words to breathe freely so that we can come to appreciate the tremendous power and weight they have once again.

Don’t surrender your own power to others when it comes to words. Use them wisely, choose them deliberately, exercise your vocabulary, and most important, use words to build bridges, not chasms. Because if we don’t build a common truth together, our democracy will wither and die in a sea of separation and societal malaise.

In the Emerald City, choosing his words oh, so wisely,

  • Robb

Oh, and if you need some refreshers, here’s a great resource.

 

 
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Hooray For The Red, White & Who?

Posted by admin on September 25, 2017 in The Soapbox

DKfvD2cXoAAXie2There’s a lot of people whipped up into a real frenzy these days, largely because of the caustic remarks of a president who had the nerve to call American citizens choosing to take a knee at a football game, “sons of a bitch.”

Well, that’s a first for me. I’ve never heard a president call a rank and file American a name, and then spin around and claim that he’s all about patriotism and honoring the flag when he can’t even honor the people he governs.

Let’s jump off the crazy train for a moment. First, it’s all cool to honor the flag and veterans and such. If that’s your bag, then go for it! You feel it’s your patriotic duty. Woohoo! Good for you!

But those who feel oppressed in our country have a right to protest. If you’ll all open your history books to page 10, you’ll see that America was founded by protestors (remember, the guys who dumped the tea?). Our forefathers fought against the tyranny of an unjust king. To the British, these “patriots” were terrorists and traitors. Those who sided with the king and remained loyal to him back in the colonies, they were tarred and feathered, had their property seized, and were beaten and often hanged – by so-called patriots.

Let’s remember what patriotism really is. It’s a relatively new word by the way, dating back to the middle of the 16th century. Its origins are from the French, dating farther back to the Greek root word (where’s the Windex?), “patrios,” which means “of one’s father.”

Patriotism is a love or devotion to a homeland.

On the dark side of that is nationalism. The two used to be virtually the same. But in the 19th century, they went in different directions. Patriotism is still about love for and devotion to one’s country, something I think most of us feel, no matter how we display it.

Nationalism though, is patriotism on crack. It’s about exalting one nation above all others and placing its culture and interests above all other nations and supranational groups. It’s what the president was pushing this week – a blind loyalty to the U.S. above all else.

These days, patriotism tends to be all about bravery, valor, duty, and devotion. Good stuff! And we should all aspire to have these qualities. Nationalism, however, is not about these amazing qualities. Nationalism is about superiority and putting national interests above self. Take that in for a moment. Putting national interests above self. 

Here’s an easy way to think about it in your own life. You have the privilege of loving your wife because you think she’s amazing (patriotism). In an alternate universe, your father-in-law demands that you love your wife at all costs, even though she can be a total shrew at times, is a bit of a whore and makes you feel like you’re complete dirt (that’s nationalism).

Nazi Germany is the poster child of nationalism, of course. North Korea is the scary nationalist country today. China comes in pretty close, as does Russia and some Middle Eastern countries. The individual is not important – the nation is everything.

We love to think we’re pretty exceptional here. I mean, that’s what American Exceptionalism is all about. The belief that we are better than anyone else, ordained by the Almighty, even to the point where we won’t dip our flag as we pass the grandstand at the Olympics, even though every other nation does to show respect.

Does this somehow make us a better country? Does standing up for the flag or the National Anthem make you a better American, even though many of us harbor our own personal version of nationalism, thinking that we are better than other Americans because we were born a certain color, we have a certain religious belief, live in a certain neighborhood, or even drive a nicer car than the guy the other guy?

America is a great melting pot. Democracy is messy by design. Get over it. Protest is part of what makes this nation so wonderful. If we hadn’t embraced it 242 years ago as a foundation of democracy, we’d still be celebrating the Queen’s birthday. At the very least, we would have never have had unions that protected worker rights, got kids out of dangerous sweatshops and got African Americans out of the back of the bus. And we would still think it’s OK to let private police posses beat men, women, and children in Selma, Alabama for walking across a bridge.

I love how we want to change our nation’s history to suit our own belief systems. But history doesn’t lie. We did and still do hang people because they are a different color than us. In the south, all they did really was take down the signs on the water fountains. We still discriminate against women with every paycheck we hand them. We pretend that we’re not racist, but we have no idea what’s it’s like to be in the minority.

So, we rally around the flag, claiming we’re being patriotic when we’re really showing our own true colors. We want the safety of not having to question who we are as a nation, or even as individuals. We want to take the easy route and say we’re turning off our televisions or giving away our sports jerseys in protest, which I find a bit ironic. We draw a false line in the sand because it’s too hard to take a real look at the issues we are facing today and how our own ethnocentrisms color our responses to what’s really going on.

Spare me. I can safely say that my brother, a veteran, would have been one of those on his knee this weekend. He felt discrimination first hand when he returned from Vietnam. He was spat upon and couldn’t get a job. He ended up tossing all of his military gear, decorations and famously, an American Flag, off the Green River Gorge to protest his treatment by the nation he fought for.

Our forefathers would be proud of those today who protest the injustices, the inequalities and the hatred we continue to harbor in our country. Quit trying to whitewash history. It’s messy. We’re messy. And thankfully, there are those of us who still have the courage to fight for what is right, not what is expedient. We should be celebrating this, not griping about it because it ruined our Sunday Sports lineup.

Perhaps we should all take a good hard look in the mirror and come to terms with who we really are and what we really stand for. Quit hiding behind the red, white and blue of indignance. Have the courage to show your true colors.

In the Emerald City, wondering what flavor of Kool-Aid everyone seems to be drinking these days,

  • Robb

 

 
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Yes, It Blows Bigly.

Posted by admin on September 5, 2017 in Life Lessons

Over the last week, I’ve been glued to the television. As we all know, Harvey came to Houston, and I’m not talking Wallbanger. Perhaps I actually am, for the fierce winds and torrential rains certainly did a number on the town.

It still amazes and humbles me how we see the very best in people at these defining moments in our lives. Total strangers risk their own lives to save others, countless boat owners come to town to lend a hand, and search and rescue teams from thousands of miles away drive night and day to get to the southeast Texas area to provide aid.

I have always been fascinated by hurricanes. It’s a bit funny that my pirate moniker is Hurricane, and for an entirely different reason. But even before I lost my mind and went to Florida, I used to watch these mighty storms unfold, wondering what it must be like to be in one.

Of course, I eventually found out. The first year I was in Florida, three of them rolled through the state in six weeks: Charley, Frances and Ivan. Charley was a huge hurricane, a Category 4 when it hit. Frances and Ivan were smaller by the time they reached us inland, but the cumulative effects of the storms were horrendous.

If I recall, we were without power for two weeks or more during the time of the year where it is outright sweltering. We were really lucky compared to those in Houston, and I’m not trying to compare my own experiences with what all these tens of thousands of people are going through. I simply can’t imagine it.

My own experiences, however, have helped me understand what folks are going through. Certainly, watching the people in Beaumont and Port Arthur struggle hurts my heart. I had the privilege of spending some time down there, performing for many of these people and I continue to wonder daily how they are doing, how their own struggle to survive is going.

I also traveled to New Orleans about six months after Katrina. Another horrific hurricane. I had brought instruments to donate to a high school band that had lost all of theirs in the flooding. It was a small thing, but as we’ve seen in the aftermath of Harvey, even the smallest of things can mean a lot to people who are trying to return to some level of normalcy after a disaster has struck.

All of this has helped to inform me about the importance of preparing for disasters, natural or manmade. While I don’t live in the path of hurricanes or tornadoes these days, I do live in earthquake country. As anyone living in the Seattle area knows, another big one can come our way at any moment, setting off what some say would require the biggest relief effort in the history of civilization.

Since I was a kid we’ve all been told to have at least three days of provisions available. In the last two years, that has increased to two weeks. According to disaster planners around here, it may a full two weeks before someone can get to you, depending on the severity and intensity of the quake.

Florida helped me be ready. We have the necessary supplies tucked away to weather a disaster. There’s a backpack filled with survival goods – tarps, tape, rope, a first aid kit, batteries, lanterns and a crank emergency radio. There’s also a big tub of freeze dried food in there, enough for two weeks. Add in the cases of water, the tent, the extra water in the strapped down water tank and the understanding that not everything will be destroyed in a quake, and I think we are pretty well prepared for any disaster that could come our way.

I did the same thing in Florida, of course. But it was always seasonal. Every May, I would stock up on food in the dry goods pantry, make sure there were cases of water, and made sure we had things like batteries and a weather radio in the house.

Here, there is no earthquake season. They can happen anytime. I’ve been through two major ones in my lifetime and countless smaller quakes. Hell, I’ve even been in what is known as swarms in San Francisco, spending two hours watching a split screen of the San Francisco and Santa Cruz TV news studios, the quakes starting in Santa Cruz, ending in San Francisco, with me in the middle. Talk about surreal. There were something like eight quakes in an hour and a half. The Santa Cruz crew would experience it, seconds later my apartment started shaking, and then it would hit the studio in the Bay Area.

I did not find this fun, by the way. I also didn’t find the Nisqually Quake particularly enjoyable, as I was underground in our basement for that one. I have never been surround by the earth before. Being below the surface is a very different experience, one I don’t really want to go through again.

As for going through any disaster, it’s inevitable. I don’t think there are many parts of the country that are safe from them, whether it’s a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or snow or ice storm.

The only thing we can do is prepare for it the best we can, ride it out and hope for the best, and then pick up the pieces. For those in Houston, and later this week in Florida, that may be years from now.

But the great thing about America is that we are at our best when things are worst. As much as we bitch and moan about the littlest of things, Mother Nature has a way of reminding us that we are just little ants when it comes right down to us. And we all need each other, whether we like it or not. Funny how moments like this makes even the most ardent haters of one another fast friends, at least until the crisis passes. Perhaps Harvey will remind us that we’re all not so different after all and that nature doesn’t care what the color of your skin is or your economic status.

In the Emerald City, waiting for the inevitable shake, rattle and roll, wondering what that powdered cheese in the five-gallon tub really tastes like,

  • Robb

 
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I Pulled Out Too Soon.

Posted by admin on August 28, 2017 in Home Ownership

Before I owned this house, I used to laugh all the way through the movie The Money Pit. Now, I think of it as a documentary.

This isn’t to say that the house we bought is a wreck or a shambles. The bones of it are very good. We had a top-rated inspector go through it all before we closed on the purchase. But the house is 33 years old, making it the oldest house I’ve ever owned.

As such, it has some quirks; some of its own making, others of my own because, well, I’m just not very handy. I am the first to admit that I am really good and rip and tear, but not so good at fix and finish. And, of course, I am famous for fixing it worse.

Such was the case last week. A strange spot had appeared in the corner of our master bedroom. Originally, Kat thought it was a small spider nest and tried to clean it as best she could. Still, the stain remained.

I had to check it out a little more closely, of course. As I went to touch it, my finger went right through the wall. What happened next was nothing short of biblical. From out of the hole poured yellow jacket after yellow jacket. The first one made a bee line (pun intended) down my back, stinging me in the butt crack. I let out a howl of pain, then dispatched him accidentally when my cheeks reflexively tightened, squishing him to death.

What happened next was nothing short of biblical. From out of the hole poured yellow jacket after yellow jacket. The first one made a bee line (pun intended) down my back, stinging me in the butt crack. I let out a howl of pain, then dispatched him accidentally when my cheeks reflexively tightened, squishing him to death.

By now, another 50 or so wasps were flying and flitting about, terribly confused about this new universe that had suddenly opened up as a new back door to their large nest in my wall.

I am often amazed when these moments arise, that I can have perfect clarity in the face of total disaster. Ignoring the riveting pain in my butt crack, I simultaneously called out for Parker to run to the store to buy a can of RAID, closed the door to the bedroom and flew down the stairs. There, I grabbed the flyswatter, a tub of spackle and a spackle knife. Back I went, but not before fetching a tube of sticky craft glue from the loft at the other end of the house.

The battle was on. I took a deep breath and entered the fracas. By now the wasps were pretty pissed that they couldn’t go back to their hive. I launched on them, swinging the flyswatter with laser-sharp accuracy, downing two dozen in seconds.

I then grabbed the sticky glue and waited for a lull in the activity in the new hole in my wall. I squirted glue in, temporarily halting the angry hoard, as they got stuck in the glue. Then I popped open the spackle and scooped a large dollop on the knife. On the wall it went in a one-two flourish that Picasso and Bob Vila would have been proud of.

That would have been the end of the story, except the wall had obviously been weakened by the wasps. A new opening sprung up along the roof line as I spackled the first and more wasps poured out. Again I spackled like there was no tomorrow, finally stemming the tide.

Now for the rest of the wasps still in the room. By now Parker had returned with a RAID can in hand. I quickly opened the window so 20 or so could fly back to their nest, which they could see, but not reach, due to that mysterious force field (glass) that stood in their way.

We had halved their ever increasing numbers. The can of RAID took care of the rest. All that was left was a mop up operation, which Kat kindly did. She was amazed that I had done this all in bare feet without getting stung again because the floor was littered with yellow jackets, some whole, others looking in pieces like a Cootie game was just starting. One unfortunate wasp even ended up in the jar of spackle, interred in a heinous pose in the white goo.

Two days would have to go by before the exterminator would arrive. That first night, I hardly slept, totally convinced that they would make a second raid on our master suite as I dozed.

It turned out I was right. On Wednesday afternoon, they broke through again. They were looking for that guy who had interrupted their work party two days prior.

I learned of this while I was in a meeting with my boss at work. The phone rang. It was Parker. A flood of text messages followed.

“They are in the house.”

“Who? The exterminators?”

“No. The wasps. They made a new hole.”

“Spackle the hole.”

“I can’t. There are too many of them. I have to kill them first.”

Throughout all this, I continued my meeting.

“Do you need to take that?” my boss asked, as I replied to another text.

“No. The house is just filled with wasps, again.” I said casually.

As we finished, my boss looked at me in amazement. He called me Zen Master Robb at a meeting a few weeks before when we were going over all the budget cuts because I always seem to be calmest when things are going haywire. I think he thought I had reached a new level of Zen.

As I hopped on the first bus north, the exterminator arrived. In just 20 minutes, he had applied the poison that would kill all the wasps and left me a bill for $248. Man, am I in the wrong business.

The buzzing behind the wall stopped about a half hour later. It was all quiet on the western front again. The battle was over. Dead and dying wasps continue to spill out onto my walkway.

Still, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that there will be another breach. And the clean up, well, it continues.

During the final battle, Parker used about a half of can of exterior grade RAID on the hoard. The carpet was soaked with poison and had to be shampooed. The blinds were stuck together by more RAID and the windows were covered in film.

Today, as I right this, things are returning to relative normal. I’ve begun to even like the smell of RAID as there are parts of the room still airing. No signs of any yellow jackets, at least inside the house.

In the future, I will tackle the spackle and repair the wall. It is a battle best left for another day as I’m not exactly sure how sturdy the wallboard is. And I just can’t face another wasp, dead or alive, right now.

In the Emerald City, beewitched, bothered and beewildered,

  • Robb

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