The current election cycle, hell, the state of America at large for that matter, is all our fault. Why? Because we have forgotten a fundamental truth about what drives us.
No, this is not about economic wealth or the lack thereof. It’s not a racial divide or even the lies of politicians that is causing all this ruckus. It’s not being rich or poor, living on the right or wrong side of the tracks, being an evangelical Christian or an atheist, or being one of a seemingly endless choice of sexualities or genders.
We have forgotten that we are storytelling machines. It is in our DNA to tell stories. Almost 60% of our day is spent telling stories, either to ourselves or to others. These stories help us understand the world around us, how we fit into that world, and who we are as individuals.
In the beginning of the human race, stories were told by tribal leaders. They were oral traditions, designed to keep a community on the same page. These stories told us about what happens when we venture out at night alone, or what happens when we don’t all work together to tend to the harvest.
Stories are guide points for civilizations. They help keep us on that proverbial same page.
Before the advent of the Internet, there were people who helped us do that. These book and newspaper editors were stalwarts defenders of storytelling. Yes, they decided to some extent what we should consume, but in doing so, they helped us stay together as a civilization.
Everyone read the same bestseller or classic or a book highly recommended by a trusted friend. We subscribed to trusted publications like Look, Life, Time and Newsweek. We voraciously consumed knowledge because it taught us – these stories – about us. It gave us context for fitting into, and contributing to, an increasingly changing and challenging world. And it kept us relevant in it.
To some extent, television did the same thing. In the United States, we even became more homogenous. Certainly, the Boomers became more so, for the stories we consumed were common to all of us. We only needed to mention a few words about a TV show and others would nod in agreement or add their own two cents to the discussion. We were all on the same page as we continued to share stories.
In many cases, these stories helped shape our world, such as the nightly broadcasts. We saw the horrors of the Vietnam War, watched a president resign in disgrace and wept a collective tear when the Challenger exploded.
Yes, we were often divided on the issues, but we continued to have a shared sense of destiny. Truth was the rule, not the exception, and we engaged in open dialogue, sharing views about the world, culled from our vast individual resources. We became a collective, rather than separate, mind.
The Internet is changing our stories and ourselves. Increasingly, we are tuning out stories that cause us to question our belief system, our faith, our values or politics, because doing so requires us to question ourselves.
Rather than do all that difficult work, we have the option to select our own narrative. We can choose to tune out actual facts and instead live in a world where others spoon feed us what they want us to know, whether they are indeed actual facts or twists of reality to the point where everything is a conspiracy carried out by others.
Yes, the others. Those evil-doers that drive the plot lines in fiction are now becoming real to us. They are the ones seeking to control the media, bring us all to personal ruin, destroy the country we love, undermine our freedom, take away all our rights. After all, isn’t that what makes fiction so wonderful? A classic antagonist?
Of course, in these works of fiction, the good guy always triumphs. And when he or she does, we revel in the fact that we triumph as well because we can see ourselves in that individual. We lived through all those dangers, right by their side, and emerged unscathed. In the process, we learned just a little more about who we are as a person.
Sadly, we are increasingly confusing fact from fiction in this world of ours and there’s a good reason.
Recent studies using MRIs have clearly shown that the human brain can’t tell fact from fiction. The brain registers it all the same, whether something is true or not. Before I go on with this, let’s clarify something. I’m not talking about facts with varying degrees of truth. I’m talking about absolute, verified, simple truths. Like the earth is round. Or Washington was the first president.
The goal of these studies was to find out if we have a built in B.S. Meter. Unfortunately, we don’t.
The only thing allowing us to tell fact from fiction, truth from bald face lie, are the stories we have been told and tell every day. Our entire understanding of the world, based on everything we have learned to date, is what lets us know what is true and what is not.
And there’s the rub. The Internet allows us to sink into a world of our own making, surrounded by all the sunshine and lollipops we need to exist in this world. Reality, truth and facts aren’t relevant in this made up world. We don’t have to engage in the truly hard work of deciding what is real and what is not. Of discerning fact from fiction. Or even, determining what is right and what is wrong, often at the most basic moral level.
Rather than live in a difficult world with competing belief systems and honest, and often uncomfortable dialogue, we revel in the false security of our own homogenous world. Not a homogenous society, mind you. But a homogenous world of a few or even just one.
We eventually sink into our own madness, a madness where our own version of truth is all that matters, regardless of whether it is considered madness from an objective standpoint. Everyone else becomes the crazy ones as we live in the false world of our own stories and the stories of others who are “smart” enough to see the world as we do. We become the Charles Mansons and Unabombers of the world.
This is the true danger to our society and to our republic. It’s the slithering and slinking into a world, our own world, where facts and truth no longer matter. Where lies and deceits are so widespread, so often told, they become the new reality.
Gee, where have we seen that before?
In the Emerald City, refusing to believe that our better days are behind us or that the current snake oil salesmen have the easy answers,
I admit that I have a pretty old car. It’s a 2004, in fact, a Saturn VUE. Yes, it’s true. They don’t make Saturns anymore, but in my defense, I didn’t pick the car.
It was a consolation prize of sorts. I guess my ex-whatever felt I should get a consolation prize for putting up with her in that joke of a marriage we had. While I’ve lost a house or two in other competitions, I’ve never ‘won’ a car in the end.
That said, I have never been attached to the Black Widow as it’s come to be called. I called it this because 1) it’s black, and 2) I used to tell people it was my wife’s car, until she died in a horrific accident, leaving me all alone in the world. Frankly, it was a better story than telling a first date that I had divorced, again. The whole widow thing was far more empathetic and far less pathetic.
But, the time had finally come to take the car in and get a new one. Now, “new” is a relative term for me. I’ve never owned a new car. I’ve always had a used car. It may have been gently used, as in the case of the Black Widow, or it may have already been on its last legs when I arrived on the lot.
I think the term pigeon is the word they use for me at car lots. I know nothing about cars except that they hate me. But it was time for the Widow to go, so off to the used car lot I went.
If you live in the north end of Seattle, then you know that Aurora Avenue excels at two things: hookers and car lots. I think both are pretty similar pursuits. Both provide a service for a price, both rely on bottom feeders to handle the delicate negotiations, and chances are good that you’re going to walk away disappointed and always poorer for the experience.
I thought I knew all the lots up and down Aurora. But a new one was lit up brightly near Harvey’s Tavern. A spotlight cleared a pathway in the night sky, as if the star of Bethlehem was guiding the faithful to this particular spot on earth.
The VUE seemed almost too willing to pull into the lot. By the time I had popped the latch on the door, the salesman was on me.
“Need a car, do you?” he said, taking me by the arm. “Nice American car, a beautiful American car. They don’t make them like this anymore. All the jobs have gone to Mexico. The Mexicans have taken our jobs and given us crappy cars.”
“Now, what can I help you with?” he said, brushing the hair from his face.
“I’m looking for a car, I guess. This one has seen better days.”
“Right you are, my friend. I’ll tell you what. I will show you some beautiful cars. Beautiful. Stunning cars. Made in America. By Americans. Not unsavory immigrants.”
He led me to a row of four-door sedans, all in muted colors.
“Beautiful cars. And not too showy.”
“You mean conservative?” I said with a smile.
“Nothing wrong with being conservative, my friend. These are real beauties. Low miles, one owner. Little lady drove it only to church and back. Never over 20 miles an hour. Can you believe that? Never over 20 miles an hour.”
“Why, no, no I can’t,” I replied. “I know you’re trying to sell me something here, but I really think it’s an over-do in the lying department.”
“Look,” he said. “Don’t let a little thing like the truth get in the way of our relationship. I want to make you great again. I want you to enjoy the feeling of driving a great car, an American car. Not one of those two-bit import jobs, the ones that are flooding in from overseas.”
“Can I take it for a test drive?” I asked.
“Drive? You think you need to take this thing for a spin to make a good decision? I know spin. Spin is a bad thing my friend. Don’t trust it!”
“What kind of media does it have?” I asked.
“Media? Don’t ever trust the media. They are always out to get you. Media.”
“I’m talking about a CD player, Pandora? An iPhone connection. Internet?”
“The Internet,” he said. “Let me tell you something about the Internet. Our government plans to give it away to the United Nations. They want to give our Internet away.”
“Well, I don’t really know anything about that. I just want to know if I can listen to… just forget it. Let’s talk terms instead. Are your terms liberal?
He looked at me as if I had just shot his puppy.
“Liberal? There’s no one liberal around here. We don’t even use the ‘L’ word on this lot.”
I could tell I was getting nowhere with this guy. By now we were deep into the back lot. It had grown dark by now and I really couldn’t see the way back to my car.
“Where’s the entrance?” I said. “I should really be going.”
“Don’t be in such a rush, friend. We haven’t found you the car of your dreams. I promised you an amazing car. A beautiful car. And I always keep all of my promises.”
He was starting to freak me out. He had tightened his grip on me as we continued to roam through the aisles of deals he had for me.”
“Great deals. Best deals ever. You won’t believe the deals I have for you.”
I finally found a cute little car near a huge wall at the back of the lot.
“I like this one,” I said.
He leaped in front of it. “You don’t want this car,” he said. “It’s foreign. It’s untrustworthy. It could even blow up on you as you roll on down the highway. I would never trust a foreign make. I doubt there are even papers on it. Foreigners never seem to have papers.”
He steered me back to the American makes.
“This one,” he finally said. “A nice Ford. Made in the good old USA.”
“Um, Fords are made in Mexico, these days,” I replied. “If you want American these days, you need to buy a Toyota.”
I could see he had lost all patience with me.
“Get off my lot, you, you, commie son of a bitch. Get out of here before I call the cops. And I know cops. I have cop friends.”
I ran for it as he began to dial his phone.
A couple weeks later I drove by his lot again. He was gone. All that was left was a sign that said, “Future Home of Lynnwood Toyota.”
I heard from a friend that the dealer had moved out of town in the dark of night. He opened up another company a short time later. In El Paso. Seems he got a hefty incentive package from the city to open a manufacturing plant making kitchen gadgets. Something about Making America Grate Again.
In the Emerald City, still driving my American-made car,
I used to be one of the most pessimistic people on this planet. When I was in my twenties and thirties, I could have won the Lottery and still found something to bitch about. I could find something wrong about everything.
As I look back at this part of my life, I like to see myself looking a bit like Joe Btfsplk. For those of you who aren’t comic strip fans, he was a character in Lil’ Abner comics who walked around with a dark rain cloud perpetually over his head.
To be fair, Joe’s cloud was a symbol of the misfortune that followed him everywhere. For me, the cloud represents my uncanny ability to find doom and gloom where others only experienced sunny days.
I can only imagine how taxing I must have been to be around then. Not only was I a bit of a doom and gloomer, but I could inject worry into nearly everyone. I could get others to worry about things that couldn’t possibly ever happen, but my sales job was so good, so thorough, that it sounded entirely plausible.
I suppose it was my own unhappiness that made me so dour. As they say, misery loves company and I was as miserable as anyone could be. So why not share that misery amongst the masses?
And then this turning point came. I’d like to say it was the anti-depressants I was on, but I don’t think that’s the case. Nor was it an absence of disasters in my own life. They were actually thick as thieves at the time, from a car that taunted me at every turn with a new mechanical problem to a failing marriage where I was the only who seemed to notice or care that it was going down the dumper.
Perhaps that low point is what finally gave me hope. Maybe reaching the bottom left me nowhere to go. Or maybe it really was the Xanax that was finally kicking in at the right time as I imagined my own doom and gloom scenarios in breathtaking Cinemascope.
I will never truly know. But what I do know is that I gained hope then. I had one of those moments like the Grinch had as he stood on Mt. Crumpit. My shriveled heart grew in size that day, for I began to fill with unbridled hope about the future.
Not just my future. But the future of everyone and the future of the world at large.
I know a lot of people seem to be losing hope. I’m not really sure why. We’ve survived the Great Recession, we’re not all standing in soup lines, we are seeing amazing innovations arriving daily, and even some once fatal diseases are being beaten back by new research and treatments.
Yes, I know that we have a racial divide. I know children go hungry at night in our country. I know the middle class is getting squeezed on all sides. And I certainly know that tens of thousands of Americans are homeless.
And yet, I have almost unbridled hope. I am still amazed that we could, in just eight short years – the term of a single re-elected president – go from knowing next to nothing about space exploration to putting a man on the moon.
We have the same power in us to solve the greatest problems our world faces today. We have the power to eradicate starvation and disease around the world. We are on the precipice of finding a cure for cancer, and we are learning to harness information at levels no one can even imagine, connecting one another in a single chain of knowledge, know-how and ideation.
What is there not to be hopeful about? As I said, we do have our problems. Being hopeful doesn’t mean you turn a blind eye toward them and pretend they aren’t there or aren’t important. They are.
But hope lets us all believe as individuals and as a nation that we can fix every problem if we only muster the desire and collective spirit to tackle it like we did the moon.
Nearly a half million people worked on that singular problem. When Kennedy made the promise to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth, we had a total of 15 minutes in spaceflight to our credit – suborbital at that.
But we rose to the challenge in a time when computers took up entire buildings and calculations had to be done on a slide rule. We didn’t know anything about docking, maneuvering, spacewalks – nothing.
And yet we landed on the moon just eight years later.
I like to think that our better days, like those days, are ahead of us, not behind us. But we’re not going to do anything great while reveling in pessimism and longing for the good old days.
We really need to get off our collective butts. We have to remember that this is the world we are leaving behind to our children and grandchildren. That we (and I can only speak for the Boomers here, my generation) were the ones who were going to make the world a better place to live, we were going to eliminate pollution, in racial harmony and make wars a distant memory.
I hope we haven’t given up on all this. I hope we’re not becoming a society of old and bitter men and women, ones resigned to leaving a world behind where none of our promises were made true, where things are actually worse than they were, all because we lost sight of our bold vision and hope, embracing hopelessness and despair in their place.
I for one will continue to believe that tomorrow will be better than today. I will continue to try to convince you of it as well. Hope is the light that flames the candle of our hearts, minds and souls. We can’t let it be extinguished, at least not without a fight. We must fight the good fight until the end. And if we do only one thing with our lives, it’s to leave our children and our children’s children with the hope we once had, hope that the future is brighter than the past.
In the Emerald City, lighting the next candle and passing it down,
I went to see Uncle Bonsai last week. For those newbies to Seattle, and for those who have never been part of the music scene here back in the 80s, Uncle Bonsai is a singer/songwriter trio that writes hilarious songs, such as “Cheerleaders on Drugs” and an entire suite dedicated to the life of poor, hapless Doug.
Trust me, you have to see or hear it to believe it. OK, take a moment to hear and see it. I’ll wait.
One of the songs they do is an apology for all the songs they’ve written in the past.
As I listened to the song, I thought long and hard about apologies. Yes, over the years I’ve apologized for many things, usually for unintentional hurt I’ve delivered with a knock out punch of words, which are always my weapon of choice.
In my younger days, I used them to wound, often with lethality. These days, I am softer in my choice of words, as I’ve learned the secrets of their super powers.
I readily confess that many of these past apologies have been hollow; born out of a desire to make peace as quickly as possible after saying something that while true, inflicted unnecessary levels of harm.
But still, I think it’s important to apologize for some things now that I’m getting older, so here it goes.
To Mrs. Hacker, my high school journalism teacher. I apologize that my initial RobZerrvations seemed a bit weak to you and that I was driven to plagiarize obscure works of other humorists from library books. And yes, I held my breath when the Seattle Post Intelligencer posted that one on shaving. I thought I would go to jail.
To my brothers, I apologize for not having a spine earlier, so that you never tried to manipulate me in the years before we stopped talking. I also apologize that I haven’t spoken to you all these years since, but that sex with an alien thing and all the right-winger nonsense freaks me out. I still think we had different parents.
To my ex (first), I apologize for wanting to see your breasts, even though you had mono. I deserved that three months in bed recuperating, unable to walk. If only I had known that I would see a lot of other breasts over my lifetime, I may not have snuck you out of the house that day to play “you remove your top, I’ll remove mine.”
I apologize to Jasper, my dog, for making him endure 84 hours in a Windstar so that I could run away from home and join the circus, that circus being my life in Florida, you know, the one with Horse Face. I know you hated car rides Jasper, but you did get to see Mt. Rushmore, albeit from the floor of the mini van. Oh, an additional apology to Horse Face, for liking the nickname my friends gave her a little too much.
I apologize to my daughter for those years as a Seafair Pirate when her birthday often took a back seat to a parade. I wished I would have found out earlier how much I hated parades. I would have ruined fewer birthdays for you. Still, it wasn’t my fault that your birthday fell in the middle of Seafair. If I would have already been a pirate when you were conceived, I would have chosen the timing of your conception better.
I must apologize to the people who now live in the home I grew up in. I really do know where all the bodies are buried and if you find yourself overrun with ghosts of hamsters, kittens, cats, turtles and a Guinea Pig, you have me to blame. I’d be happy to point out where their remains are buried. The bird in the saltine cracker can is particularly easy to find, if you have a metal detector.
I also apologize to all the women whose hearts I broke along the way. I really didn’t love myself back then and was incapable of understanding the gravity of being charming to the point where you may have fallen for me. In most cases, I did enjoy our time together and have fond memories of much of it. Still, there are other times I would just rather forget (see Horse Face above).
O.K, so I guess that was only a half apology.
I apologize to my step-whatevers for stealing your mother away. She was a good catch and I couldn’t really her slip by. My apology isn’t so much for marrying your mom, but for giving you the impression that I am some kind of dick because of it. I guess you just don’t get me, or haven’t taken the time to see that I make your mom really, really happy.
I apologize to the pirates of the world, the ones I meet on a regular basis but don’t necessarily spend much time with. It’s not that I’m judging you. I just have really high, and some would say unrealistic, expectations about how you should be; if you dress like a pirate but aren’t really one at your core. I’m sure you’re a nice person, even if you’re not really a pirate. I just don’t have a lot of time for you these days, and as such, have to pick and choose.
I must apologize to Bernie for puking in the back of his brand new car the night I learned to drink wine. Of course, I have to apologize to Faith for hooking her nose with the anchor on my chain and to the housekeeping staff in the Caymans who had to clean up all the blood on the carpet.
I apologize to the Seafair Pirates for… nah, forget that one. The mutiny was well worth it. I should have taken more of you with me and really gutted you, you swine.
Oh, I need to apologize to Bob Core for hitting him over the head with the Tonka Toy and being more concerned about the bent truck than my bent friend. But it was a really great truck and you did have a pretty hard head.
I also need to apologize to Lori Burton, the Hermiston Watermelon, for that horrible bruise I caused trying to feel you up. Anatomy wasn’t really my strong point when I was 17 and I didn’t know how all the, uh, pieces of the puzzle in the lower 48 fit together. I hope it’s healed by now.
Well, that’s it for the apologies. If I didn’t apologize to you, it may be because I didn’t know I wronged you, forgot I wronged you, or simply don’t give a rat’s ass how it all played out. I will let you decided which is which.
Quite frankly, I’m pretty wiped out after all this apologizing. Sorry.
In the Emerald City, sorry I said I was sorry just now,
I used to love the band Chicago. Yes, I was in my teens in the 70’s and in concert band to boot. So it was natural that I would love a band that had a great horn section. They also had a string of hits that seemed to speak to me back then. I was always in love, or should I say with hindsight, lust, and those songs just hit me right in the heart (or some other piece of anatomy).
One of their big hits was Old Days. It’s easy to be nostalgic for the Old Days. The problem is, however, while you can be nostalgic for them, you can’t go back to them. Sure, they seemed like simpler times, but only because the times now seem so challenging.
Sure, they seemed like simpler times, but only because the times now seem so challenging. What we forget is that those Old Days were pretty challenging as well. Hell, if you don’t believe me, find time to watch Tom Hanks’ series on The Sixties. The 1968 episode alone will quickly teach you that the Old Days weren’t so great as we’d like to think they were (the Tet Offensive, USS Pueblo attack, assassinations of King and Kennedy, the Democratic convention in Chicago – I could go on).
I know that my fellow white guys are feeling pretty put upon these days. For many, the world has passed them by. They want to return to the days when manufacturing jobs were plentiful, women knew their rightful place in the home, minorities stayed on the other side of the tracks and children kept their mouths shut, unless they wanted a bar of soap in in it.
Well, get over it.
These Old Days aren’t coming back, not even if you put a guy in the White House that tells you the big lie that he’s going to make America great again.
Why? History should teach us all a lesson. Just open up your history book and read all about how the world works. Change is constant and inevitable. If it weren’t, we’d all be still living in caves.
Probably the best lesson lies in the turn of the 19th century. This is the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Thousands of craftsmen lost their jobs as factories became mechanized and automated. The world turned and some people didn’t turn with it. They became anachronisms. Craftsmanship became a niche. Mass production ruled the roost. The economy changed. Workers changed. The world changed.
We are in a second revolution right now. Turn to page 220 in your history book. Go ahead, I’ll wait. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, postal carriers, fast food clerks, data entry keyers, food service managers, electrical assemblers, prepress workers, file clerks, florists, farmers and loan interviewers will all be in the career dustbin by the year 2020. Technology will have replaced most if not all of their skills and responsibilities.
It is the Information Revolution. There’s no escaping it. We aren’t going back to the Old Days – any more than we decided to go back to quill pen and parchment after the printing press came along.
One only has to look at what Boeing is doing with the new 777X to see where manufacturing is going. Robots are doing all the riveting and assembly work. Even the painting is being done by robots. At Amazon, warehouse pickers are being replaced by robotic pickers that never need a break, never call in sick and work nights and weekends.
I know a lot of us are feeling left behind. But it’s not really the world’s fault. Change has always been there, nipping at our respective heels. It comes with or without our approval or participation.
The world changes. There. I said it. It always has. The only difference is that we now have technologies that report the changes to us every second of every day. We can’t escape change, if only because we are addicted to it.
Just look at the folks glued to their smartphone screens. They walk down the street, staring at it as if it is some wise sage that will tell them the meaning of life. They don’t want to miss a second of any of it, even if it is all relatively meaningless.
It wasn’t so long ago that people had to wait for letters to get news. It wasn’t even that many years ago that you would miss a call if you weren’t home because no one had invented the answering machine.
Somehow we all survived. We managed to remain disconnected to some extent from it all. This is largely why we perceive change being so brisk these days; because our methods of communication are immediate.
I remember the so-called Old Days. They weren’t really that great. I know my parents certainly would have looked aghast if you had said those were the good Old Days. It was a struggle for them back then; my father sick, us on welfare, my mother trying to be both father and mother to her brood of four rambunctious boys. She would have loved some of the wonders we take for granted these days.
Me? I could have reveled in the Old Days. I could have taken a manufacturing job at Boeing or Skyway Luggage. I could have found a comfortable blue-collar life and toasted to it with my friends at Dino’s on Sunset Boulevard. I could have just stayed in the past and not relish the future.
I could have given up on my dream to start my own business and remain where I was safe, stuck in the Old Days while I became something of an anachronism because the world changed and I chose not to.
I know that the Old Days are just that, Old Days. They are history. And even if we could magically go back to them, the experience would be different because we are different. We have lost that innocence that came with the rose-colored glasses. Because deep down, we know that those good Old Days weren’t really that good at all.
In the Emerald City, enjoying Chicago’s Old Days, but not wishing to return to my own,
As most of you know, I am family challenged. Thirty-five years ago, my brothers ended their relationship with me, all because I had my hand in someone else’s cookie jar, a hand in jar that would lead me to divorce while I was still something of a child.
Years later, I discovered I had a half brother. How cool was that, I thought? Another family. Well, long story short, half brother was not much more than a victim of a sperm donation by my dad. We had nothing in common because, well, nurture is far stronger than nature, at least in my very selective family.
Though the “biologics” came up a bit short in the family department, I have still been able to cobble together a wonderful family of my own, thanks to some really good friends who have always had my back as I have had theirs.
Some of these “brothers” and “sisters” go way back in time, some 35 years back when my own brothers ditched me. Cassie and Mike have pretty much been my sister and brother from another mother for all those years; sticking by me through thick and thin, even through all the bone-headed decisions I’ve made.
Somehow, we always found our way back to one another. And while my mother stayed in my life for much of my adulthood, my father passed on when I was just 24.
Again a new family member stepped in to fill that void. My dear friend Bobby came into my world those 35 years or so ago, and he has been a surrogate father figure to me for these intervening years, providing me with friendship, love, acceptance and a world of sage advice.
So, as you can see, I do have a family, one by choice not by birth.
As with any adoptive family, my family has changed a lot over the years. I am only reminded of this as I wended my way through the old crewe pages in The Pyrates of the Coast website over the weekend. There, before my eyes was a collection of some two dozen acquaintances who never quite managed to become my sisters and brothers from another mother.
As I scrolled through the pages, I found myself laughing a bit. These were all people I thought important enough to let into my family, thinking that I had given them a safe harbor to play in, to be themselves and, in turn, give me back a little friendship as well as loyalty.
Yes, loyalty. If I agree to watch your back, then you damn well better watch mine. If you choose to be family, you are in the inner circle, and I will follow you through hell and high water to keep you safe and sound.
This is, after all, what families do.
Case in point. Years ago, one of my good buds suddenly headed off to Alaska. This was before the Internet, so it was easy to lose touch. We did. The whats and whys of it really don’t matter; it’s just something that comes along with the territory sometimes.
Fast forward to this year. Through a series of events, we found one another again through the miracle of Facebook. “Long Gone” John is back in Washington, back in the town where I used to live even, and back in my life.
It’s as if no time has passed at all. We simply picked up where we left off. He has my back and I have his without each of us even asking for it. And when we’re together, it’s like the old days, whether we’re out pirating together or playing music. Family.
Back to the list of former crewe. As I looked through it, I could almost instantly remember why we never jelled, why we never came to watch one another’s backs and why they drifted away. We never became friends, let alone family.
Now, if I were to come across them again today – and I have had the good fortune to do so on occasion – it’s been nice seeing them again. They moved on with their lives, I moved on with mine, there are no hard feelings, life goes on and it’s all good. We exchange pleasantries and go on our respective ways, no knives in the back, no back biting. It just didn’t work out.
But there have been a few that couldn’t seem to let go with any measure of grace. They didn’t seem to understand what makes a family. They never accepted my invitation to be family, for whatever reason, and decided not to become a true part of it.
And so we went adrift. Instead of being like brothers or sisters, we ended up feeling more like first cousins who hooked up one drunken night in the hills of West Virginia. The next day, all that remains is an awkward silence and an avoidance of eyes. Neither one wants to be the one to bring the episode up, so each ends up pretending it never happened. They person suddenly finds other places to be, anyplace except together.
Can these disconnects be fixed? In my experience, they rarely have. You can’t make someone like you if they don’t. It’s not that I’m being mean or that I wish anyone any harm in life. If you’re not friends, you damned well can’t become family.
I’m too old to give it much thought really either. People come and go in your lives, for whatever reason. Life goes on. I recently had this epiphany that I am one of those in the world who gives and gives, while others are more than glad to take and take. I sacrifice my own happiness for the happiness of others and that crap is rapidly coming to a crashing end in my life right now.
I finally figured out that having a small family is just fine; that a large family can suck a lot of life out of you. Quite frankly, I don’t know how Mike Brady ever managed all that drama in his brood.
In the Emerald City, loving my friends who have become my sisters and brothers from other mothers,
I’ve been sailing along now in life for almost six decades. There have been many times I’ve been without a compass, certainly a moral compass. I’ve been shipwrecked, sidetracked, hornswoggled and downright lost at times. I’ve let others tell me where north is, well, at least the north they wanted me to sail toward and I’ve even let them grab my tiller a time or two and do all the steering for me.
Yes, I have been a pleaser. I have done things in life largely so others will like me, be my friend, love me, and even, on occasion, just put up with me. I have sold out so many times I should be on back order. All because I wanted others to enjoy their time, have what they wanted or get what they want out of life or me.
I’d like to blame it on a faulty compass, but it’s operator error. All this time I’ve been sailing toward magnetic north when I should have sailed toward true north, that place your internal compass points when you are aligned with your purpose and place in life.
You know it when it happens. It feels a lot like being on the deck of a sailboat. When you catch the wind perfectly, she heels over and locks in the wind, picking up speed as she goes.
Any sailor will tell you that this is hard to achieve, this perfect wind, but when it happens, you never forget it.
I found the perfect wind on Saturday. I finally shifted off my fixation with magnetic north, and felt true north again.
How do I know? Well, I’ve been there before. Like the sailboat heeling and locking, you never forget when it happens and when it happens again, you know it almost instantly.
For me, it was Saturday. I was over in Port Orchard to go sailing on the Lady Washington. That was my entire responsibility. We had no gig to play. No schedule to follow. No crew to babysit. And there was no one to please except me.
True north was bound to appear on the horizon. The conditions were perfect.
Now, there’s a funny thing in this life of mine. I get the rare honor of being a pirate entertainer. I get to carry around a sword, travel the world and become pirate Hurricane. It’s the E-ticket at Disneyland, if you’re old enough to remember those. It’s the best ride you can ever have in life; if you’re brave enough to get on it.
My own E-ticket on this particular day were the kids. Kids are so cool because they don’t have to pander to anyone, they don’t have to pretend they like you, and they don’t have to soothe any wounded egos of playmates. They just get to be in the moment.
Yes, the moment. That magical place where you are sailing on a true north course. You are who you are without apologies, without pretense.
I got to sail that course again. There are those in my peer group who like to think I am a snob or a bit of a prima donna. I’m not. Those who truly know me know that I will readily put others in the limelight and play the part of the buffoon. I certainly do that with kids. And I think that’s part of the secret to being a great entertainer.
I could have done something to belay that impression on Saturday. But I learned long ago that entertaining pirates is a fool’s errand. I’m there to entertain people; that’s what I do well and that’s what I was put here to do.
So that’s what I did. In the process, I found true north again, that place where kids get to always live because they are in the moment. No future to worry about, no past to consider. They are in the moment, right here, right now.
When I’m there, everything else just fades away. There are no worries, no random thoughts – it’s just the here and now. It is so cool to be there because you experience stuff you could never otherwise. The world comes alive with stimuli, stuff you’ve never seen before, even if you’re in the most familiar of surroundings.
God, it’s fun. It’s damned intoxicating, being aligned with who you are and who you were meant to be. No worries about what others think because you don’t really care. You are who you are. It’s a bit of an out-of-body experience, really.
So there I was, standing aboard the Lady Washington. We had been sailing for about 90 minutes. Resisting temptation, I didn’t return the guitar to the car as always. Instead, I took it aboard ship. But I didn’t start playing until we were about a half hour from port.
True north! I couldn’t resist the temptation. I had been having a blast interacting with people and getting into a rather long, hilarious exchange of false oaths and comebacks with Long John who was aboard the Jolly Rogue as we exchanged broadsides.
But then I just had to play. The wind, the water, the luffing of the sails. It was all too perfect. I just had to sing a couple songs, with or without anyone’s permission.
Pirate. I just let go of life and lived in the ever-elusive moment. I didn’t have to worry what others thought. Hell, I didn’t have to even worry about what I thought. I just had to be.
And in that moment, I discovered true north again. In the ensuing day, all sorts of things were to become realigned, realizing that I no longer had to pander to the needs of others or put their happiness ahead of my own. I could revel in having my compass aligned with where I needed to go, with the wind to my back, clear sailing ahead and all the reefs and shoals that I once feared put asunder by a new sense of calm and direction. True north, dead ahead.
In the Emerald City, rising with the tide,
One of my favorite movies is Dave. If you haven’t seen it, Kevin Kline is moonlighting as an impersonator of the President of the United States, doing personal appearances in some nondescript rural town. Through an unfortunate series of event, he finds himself at The White House, standing in as the President.
It’s a hilarious movie. At one point, he even says one of the most amazing things about the position of President of the United States — “Somewhere along the way, I forgot to do my job, a temp job at that.”
Every four years, we fill this temp position. Sometimes we keep the incumbent around for another contract period. Other times we look for someone new to take on the assignment.
It’s hardly a glorious role to take on. The pay (at least by corporate standards) is mid-level management at best. The accommodations are nice, but you’re basically a prisoner inside its walls. The hours are unpredictable and often long. The pressure? Well, you’ve seen the before and after photos of Lincoln and Obama. It takes its toll on you and you end up aging decades in just a few years.
In my current role job with the state’s government, I manage a few staff members. This includes hiring and firing them. It’s not an easy task. You want the best person for the position, but gauging who is a good fit can be dicey, even if it’s clearly one person over another.
This is certainly the case with the President of the United States this time around. As I’ve noted, and in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve voted for Republicans and Democrats equally over the years for the nation’s highest office. I tend to choose the best person for the position, since really, as voters we are all HR managers.
Any smart hiring manager wants the best person for the position. For example, I have a senior communications staff member. That role requires a lot of experience in branding and design. It’s not an entry level position by any stretch. I would never hire someone right out of college to fill the role, as it would be setting that person and my department up for failure.
It’s nothing personal. I’m just not going to take the risk on someone who is unproven. It’s a critical role in my department and in the state. I can’t afford to experiment with an unknown.
I certainly wouldn’t hire the guy from the mailroom to take the position. He definitely wouldn’t have the experience or skill set to step into the job and be successful. Again, I would be setting us all up for failure.
When I was casting about for a candidate to fill the ultimate temp job, I admit that I was initially drawn to a certain person who was brave enough to not be PC in a very PC world. I liked the fact that someone is willing to call it as he sees it. It was the same qualities that caused me to support Ross Perot back in the day.
But ultimately, I came to realize that Ross would have been a horrible choice for the temp job. He was the guy in the mailroom. Sure, he was a billionaire and a CEO, but he had no idea how government worked or how to navigate the often delicate and mystical waters of government.
I’ve been found the transition fairly difficult. I came from the private sector. And I’ve been schooled over the last four years in how government actually works. The machinations are very different from what we perceive as outsiders or even voters. There’s are way more rules and regulations to follow than you can imagine and the political waters alone take a lifetime to learn to navigate.
Perot would have failed miserably because everything that made him successful in business – the top down decision making, the risk taking, the bold acquisitions and takeovers – are completely worthless when you’re called on to govern. Governing is a completely different skill set, so much so that while I toil away successfully at the middle level of government (the Governor is my boss’ boss’ boss), I could have never transitioned successfully from CEO of CommuniCreations to Governor of Washington State.
The sad truth is, governing is not something rookies should be tasked with. It’s complex, it’s taxing, it’s thankless and it’s often immovable. A former CEO just can’t wave his hand and erase legislation. There are laws layered upon laws that are meant to keep the government running no matter who is in charge of it. The system is designed to protect the Republic and ensure that change is slow and deliberate, not quick and random.
While I was indeed swayed early by this candidate for this particular temp job, the manager part of my brain finally took over.
Just as I wouldn’t hire the mailroom guy to step into a strategic communications role, I find it hard to “hire” someone with no government experience into the job of President and Commander in Chief.
This doesn’t mean, however, that I am a fan of the other candidate for the position. Hardly. I don’t feel I can trust her.
Here’s how I like to put it:
Say I’ve have two candidates for the chief of surgery role at my hospital. The first guy has actually worked in a surgical suite. Yes, he has had a malpractice suit or two and yes, he’s been known to steal some painkillers now and then from the pharmacy. The second candidate lists his medical experience. He’s never been in a surgical suite, but he has visited the doctor regularly, largely because he’s a hypochondriac with Tourette Syndrome.
Who am I going to hire? Well, the surgeon, of course. At least I know going in that I’ll have to watch him like a hawk, but I’m not about to hire a guy with no experience to operate on my patients.
In this scenario, I ultimately have the responsibility for the health of the hospital and the safety and well-being of its patients. Likewise, as a voter and employer, I have a responsibility to my fellow citizens and the Republic to put the most experienced person in the position. I may not like who I hire this time around (I never liked Carter, Bill Clinton or George W either), but as history has shown they were the best choices available at the time. Except Carter, of course.
In the Emerald City, wishing there were more candidates for the position,
My life is one gimmick after another. I don’t mean this in the negative sense of the word. I’m not talking about “a devious aspect or feature offered up so that you’ll purchase something.” No, I’m talking about the more classic form of gimmick: “a novel or ingenious device, something that is supposed to attract attention.” In short, schtick.
You can use schtick if you like, but I prefer gimmick. I just got used to the word back when I was first learning to be an entertainer. It all started with the band my brothers and I had. We mostly played novelty songs, you know, Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor and My Boomerang Won’t Come Back.
Yes, pretty gimmicky. Downright schtick, actually. Like all gimmicks, I knew early on that this style of schtick wasn’t my schtick. As soon as I could figure out how to unravel my sad little life, I left it all behind in what became know as “The Renton Years.”
By then, of course, I had found the Seafair Pirates. The old timers in the group were gimmicks personified. The master of all gimmicks was Weaver Dial, a guileful rogue if ever there was one. I could finish this entire RobZerrvation talking about his gimmicks alone, but I will give you just one. Famously, Weaver had a really long striped sock. At the top, he sewed the clasp of a small woman’s coin purse. When it came time to pay for a drink, he would reach deep down into his seabag, pull out the sock, unroll it ever so slowly down the bar, labor to unclasp the clasp and reach way down to the bottom. This took him so long that the bartender usually just said with a smile, “Forget it, it’s on me.”
I fell in love with gimmicks. One of my favorites was Spike the Wonder Dog, a battery-operated dog with an eye patch and earring. He would bark, then sit down in the street. I knew his actions, so I could make it look like I was commanding him. “Sick ’em!” I would yell, and off the dog went. When he sat down, I would remonstrate him loudly, then wag my finger. As I did, I would stealthily slip my finger into his mouth and act like he had bitten me, running down the road, trying to shake him loose.
Yeah, cheap schtick. But it sure made people laugh, almost as much as my Kid Catcher and my radio control shark, which is hilarious to see in action. It’s an inflatable shark, mind you. On a bright orange car. Yet still, the kids jump and run when it heads their way.
That’s the beauty of good schtick. As a performance artist, a well executed gimmick is as good as a top hat and a dozen rabbits to pull from it. The crowd, young or old, in a park or half drunk at a bar, loves it universally.
Over the years, I have had many gimmicks. Some have stayed with me forever, like the 24 Hour Marriages and Mark the Shark. Others have come and gone. I still have Bob the Mobster Lobster that I can tie onto my buttocks. Every time a kid points out that it’s following me, I run faster. For some reason, I simply can’t get away from it. (Cue the laughter now.)
I’ve also met Mom over the years. I met her most recently in Edmonds. She’s always unaware that her “son” is about to walk up to her yelling, “MOM!!! Why did you leave me in the Kmart parking lot!? Look what’s become of me!? I’m a pirate (with pathetic, mock dread and sadness).”
I used to worry that if I shared my gimmicks with others, they would steal them. A few have tried. Famously, a fellow mate tried to do the Kid Catcher gimmick. The net he used ended up wrapped around his legs and the kids yanked on it, dropped him to the ground and caught themselves a pirate.
Not quite the way it’s supposed to work. That’s usually the case though. The beauty of a gimmick is that it has to be performed. Without the performance, it’s just static stuff that may not make a lick of sense to the person who sees it.
I’ve always been blessed with that ability to see things that aren’t there. I like to think it’s because I always misunderstand the world around me. I misinterpret what I see.
Thank God. While others see an innocent ponytail scrunchy, I see a five minute improvisation about the Tidy Bowl man and his missing life ring. If nothing’s around, I can simply say the word “Cocoon,” and go off on a Scottish accent tilt-a-whirl that will have people projecting beer from their snot boxes.
I can’t seem to stop either. I have several reduxes of past gimmicks; one is the fencing sword that looks like it runs through someone when you poke them with it. It’s still in the undone pile. The shark was much easier. A quick trip to eBay and Amazon and all that was left was to blow hard and charge some batteries. Wait, that sounds a bit dirty.
And then there’s the desire I had one day to save some pirate’s mortal soul. I will admit this inspiration came from dear Paisley, a pirate I knew in Tampa who would dress as a nun and perform last rites, reading random scripture from the Bible while offering up communion Nilla Wafers.
About a month ago, I thought I could improve on that a bit. Sure enough, Amazon has cases of communion wafers and grape juice so that I can save sinners wherever I go. I still have to figure out how to substitute cheap wine for the grape juice though.
When I do, you’ll find me in a bar, tossing over one of these kits whenever it appears someone is about to stray. Too much lust in their heart – communion kit and a quick smack on the forehead to absolve them of their sinful ways. Too much drink – a communion kit, a smack on the forehead to absolve them of their sin and prompt removal of further temptation, which I will pour unselfishly into my tankard.
I know. I just can’t help myself. Gimmicks are everywhere in this world of ours. But I have come to learn that a gimmick has to speak to you; it has to be yours and yours alone.
Originally, Weaver tried to give me an old piece of wood with a rope on it. The schtick (and everyone can play right along here) – that I was “walking the plank.” Groan. Weaver could have made it work though. He could make anything work. I let him walk the plank in the end. It wasn’t me. But he did give me an appreciation for the magic of performance art, one where anything and anyone, can become part of the act.
In the Emerald City, ordering up a party cup of Communion wafers from the Lowest-Price-Christian store on Amazon,
My revisionist thinking would like to believe my generation was better than the current one masking as America’s youth. Of course, I don’t really have to be revisionist, because we had parents who would just as soon smack us across the phase in public than watch us act like neanderthals.
Manners were beaten into us, literally. Wolf down your food at dinner and you were likely to get a dog dish for a plate the next night. Treat someone with disrespect and we’d be treated to a bar of soap in your mouth. Throw a tantrum in public and you’d wish to god your life would end right then and there once your mom said, “just wait until I get you home, mister!”
Today, we indulge our children to the point where they are just a step or two up from neanderthals. I really do think that neyoungerthals is a fitting term for these little monsters, for it would be far more fitting for them to live in caves than in our own homes, or even in our own communities.
I’m sure that sociologists and behaviorists will be studying these little sh**s for generations to come. It’s as if we simply gave up as parents and gave all our kids carte blanche to be self-indulgent, prepubescent little pukes.
I’m sure the germ of this regression lies in those kooks who thought we should give everyone participation trophies for sports, even though a team finished dead last. We piled self-entitlement upon self-entitlement and stroked egos when we should have been dealing out a healthy dose of reality therapy. We have created our own monsters, all because we wanted them to feel good about whoever they were rather than helping them transition into a world filled with often harsh realities.
Of course, it didn’t help that we jumped on the PC bandwagon at the same time. Yes, we do need to be sensitive about the labels we use, but now the neyoungerthals have taken it to a new level, bandying about -ists like there’s no tomorrow.
Everyone seems to be an -ist in our world these days- leftist, racist, apologist, ageist – hell, I can’t even keep track of all the -ists out there these days. It’s like a second language to the neyoungerthals though. Every post on Facebook, every text, every word spoken in school seems to have an angle to it. You can’t even be honest with someone close to you now as you’ll be labeled an -ist, then end up chastised, shunned, beaten and finally, Unfriended.
Yes, Unfriended. This seems to be a big thing to people these days. I don’t think it is to my generation. I have been unfriended many times and in a few instances it took me months to notice. No wonder they weren’t returning my phone calls.
I get it. Admittedly, it used to be simpler in the olden days. We didn’t have all this new-fangled technology where our lives could be posted and paraded 24 hours a day online for all our “friends” to see.
Back in the day, people were more decent about it. They would simply talk about you behind your back and spread rumors on the playground or around the water cooler. Word spread at a snail’s pace about your -ist behavior; so slow, in fact, that people forgot all about it over a long Memorial or Labor Day weekend.
Still, that doesn’t explain the neyoungerthal problem we’re facing. These folks seem to be absolutely clueless about that little thing called life. Oh, sure. There are exceptions. I hear these amazing stories about other’s children who have managed to get a decent job and even move out.
But then I see those terrifying stories about children, neyoungerthals, living with their parents until they are 34. I think they just want to outlast you, hoping you’ll leave the house and maybe even the car in the driveway to them in your will when you finally find a way to get them out of your lives, even if it meant dying.
They just don’t seem to be evolving as quickly as we did back in the day. Sure, we were still kind of infantile when we were in our late teens and even early 20s. Maybe that’s because we didn’t get awards for just showing up for things. We didn’t get a cap and gown or graduation ceremony at the end of kindergarten. Or elementary school. Or middle school. Or…
No, we got one cap and gown. It took us 18 years to get it. Our parents expected it. We earned it. We didn’t get all get a trophy just for showing up to class. We had to get good grades, because if we didn’t, our parents would give us a good paddling or at the very least, take the keys away to the only car the family had.
Today, kids are getting a Mercedes when they turn 18. A used one, granted. But still, a Mercedes, just for turning 18. Me? I got nothing memorable when I turned 18. I did, however, get a Sears electric typewriter as a graduation present. I still can remember that it cost $256.00.
I’m not even sure that covers a month’s insurance premium on the Mercedes these days.
And we wonder why all our kids are turning out as neyoungerthals. We give them trophies for making their first poopy, a cap and gown for making it through preschool, a Mercedes for their birthday and we cap it all off by paying for their college education.
We have created our own monsters. We have set our own evolution back a hundred years or more, churning out a new generation of useless children, children who are supposed to be our future leaders.
It’s days like this that I feel blessed to be on the waning days of life here on this rock. I don’t have to endure another 50 or 60 years of the neyoungerthals and their misplaced entitlement. I get to check out of this crazy place sooner than later. I only hope I get a trophy when it’s time.
In the Emerald City, wondering what we hath wrought, spoiled children, rotten to the core,