Doing one’s duty.

Posted by ROBERT ZERR on February 1, 2021 in The Soapbox with Comments closed |
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We’re coming up on a year now since the stay-at-home orders began. In that time, I have been out of the house (i.e., beyond the street in front), a total of 14 times. Most of these were out of absolute necessity because of family health issues. Otherwise, I’ve been on lockdown.

I see others out and about on social media all the time. That’s cool. I don’t expect everyone, or anyone for that matter, to be like me. I just have a sense of duty to do my part in this war against this invisible enemy we can’t see, smell or hear.

Yes, duty. I’ve been thinking about how I grew up over the last few months as I live life in my self-made monastery. I’ve come to realize that I have a very different set of values than others. I supposed I gained it through osmosis in my youth. Or maybe it’s a generational thing.

As I was growing up, I can still remember the few times my father spoke about his service in World War II. He was a ground pounder in the Army. A lowly private, 19 years of age, sent to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. It was one bloody battle after another for four long years. At one point, my father was training for the invasion of mainland Japan, but a couple of atomic bombs saved him from that ordeal and probable demise.

My dad had already been through a lot by that time. He would reminisce about the many landings he did, where half of the soldiers on the landing craft were dead before they reached the shore. How the guy next to him took one in the head that with a simple pitch of the sea, could have ended up taking him out instead.

He spoke about the holes and caves he had to go into on the many islands that dot the Pacific. How the Japanese soldiers refused to surrender, believing the U.S. troops were lying to them. More often than not, they took their own life rather than be disgraced by surrender to the Allies.

I also think about my brother who went to Vietnam. He didn’t have to. He had a deferment because he worked for a military contractor. But he went anyway. He said it was his duty. That sense of duty almost killed him. He was attacked in the middle of the night at a bridge outpost. Instantly he was in a firefight with the Vietcong. They threw grenades, they shot at him. The only way he could save his life was to drop off the side of a bridge into barbed wire. It was a drop of about 25 feet. The enemy threw more grenades on him as he landed. He broke both legs, took a bullet in his arm and was still picking out shrapnel from his legs for when he returned home. His war injuries are one of the reasons he later drowned at the age of 24.

I think about my grandparents who immigrated from Russia. They had to flee the Cossacks and leave their land grants behind. They had to flee on foot, traveling hundreds of miles to get somewhere safe and could sail to America. They didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the customs, but the promise of America was worth the hardship, the risk, and most importantly, the sacrifice of having to start over from scratch in a land that was foreign to them.

And then I think of my own plight on lockdown. No one is shooting at me. No one is taking away my home or land. I have shelter and food. I am mostly healthy. I live a life that my parents would marvel at; a comfortable life where I don’t have to worry about the things they worried about – my dad and brother being shot at, my grandparents being thrown in the gulag, my mother having to forage for food during the Great Depression, wearing the only pair of shoes he father could afford.

All I have to do is stay home and be a good soldier. When I’m out, I need to physically distance, wash my hands and wear a mask. That’s it. That’s all the sacrifice I have to make. No food rationing coupons, no gas shortage, no blackouts at night or air raid sirens, no blistered feet from walking days and weeks, carrying everything I owned on my back.

This is my duty right now. To be safe, to contribute to this war effort against this invisible enemy and wait for reinforcements to arrive in the form of vaccines. It’s been a little less than a year now. Big deal. My dad did four in hellish conditions, my brother two in the stifling heat of the jungles of Southeast Asia. Others who came before them dug into the trenches in France or fought their brother hand to hand in the Civil War.

All my country is asking me is to be safe, be considerate, wait out the battle and try not to pass COVID onto others, and more important, overwhelm the healthcare system by being selfish and insisting on living life like it was normal.

It’s not. It wasn’t for my ancestors either. I can only imagine my father if he were still here, wondering what the hell is wrong with me because I think I need to go out to eat when there was a deadly virus making the rounds. How I would put myself and others in danger because I was in his mind, just being selfish and self-centered.

Again, I’m not judging others. They didn’t grow up in my family or have my dad. But his truth rings in my ears as I wait for help to arrive. I see the end is in sight, I’m not about to shirk my duty now and leave my post.

North of the Emerald City, content with my marching orders,

  • Robb

Speech has never been free.

Posted by admin on January 23, 2021 in The Soapbox with Comments closed |
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There’s an awful lot of hoopla right now about freedom of speech, the clampdown by social media companies on certain striations of public discourse, and the role media companies have in our seemingly fundamental right to freedom of speech.

First, let’s start with the fact that social media companies – nay, all media companies – don’t have to protect your right to say anything you want to on their platforms. This has never been the case, even if you go all the way back to the beginning of mass media.

I know, you’re trying to quote me the First Amendment right now. I will save you some time. Here it is:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.[3]

You’ll notice that it says that “Congress shall make no law.” Since its enactment, courts have largely held that it’s not only Congress, but states as well who shall not infringe on your right to speak freely.

Notice it says nothing about media, social media, corporations, organizations, schools or any other body. The government, and the government alone, cannot prohibit you from the right to freedom of speech.

Still with me?

Now let’s move on to the current hubbub about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al. We’ll start with the history lesson.

If you watched Citizen Kane, then you probably know it was all about William Randolph Hearst. At the height of his power and fame, he owned 28 major newspapers and 18 magazines, along with several radio stations, movie companies, and news services. He is known for ushering in the age of sensationalized news, what is commonly known as yellow journalism. If Hearst didn’t like it, it didn’t run in his papers or on his stations. It was a benevolent dictatorship.

Fast forward to the dawn of television. As many of you old farts remember, there were only three national TV networks: CBS, NBC and ABC in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. These networks decided what went on television and what didn’t. They decided what shows you saw, what news you heard and even drove what our culture looked like through advertising. If you were really lucky, you got an independent station in your hometown and a public television station.

The point here is that the public didn’t have any say on what was shown, outside of the Nielsen Ratings. Live TV didn’t allow you to fast forward through commercials or even watch the show as a rerun, in its earliest form. Network executives dictated what the content was. Another benevolent dictatorship, controlled by three large corporations with holdings in radio, TV, publishing and music (remember the Columbia Records club?).

Then the Internet arrived. A new medium that seemed so democratic. Anyone could logon and revel in content that was of specific interest to them. Well, kind of. First, you had to login through an Internet provider who charged you for the privilege of accessing their version of the Internet. AOL and Compuserve gave you an edited version of the Internet in the early days. They dictated what you saw and how you interacted, much as the major TV networks did.

Eventually, it got easier to access the Internet. As it did, companies began to explore it as a new business model, one where they could tap into their customer base to create relationships around their brands. Again, this was a benevolent dictatorship. You could post comments or even testimonials on products, but these were approved by a moderator. You never had free speech on these sites either. Discussion forums and BBS were pretty much the same thing. We thought they were democratic until we ran afoul of the site’s terms of use and were blacklisted or at least got a hefty slap on the hand from the moderator.

As more and more people got on the Internet, newcomers started to notice the power of the web, not as a tool for communication and an exchange of ideas, but as a data goldmine. We probably all remember MySpace, one of the pioneers of data amalgamation as a business model.

Today, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tik Tok, etc., use this same model. You get to be on their site for free because your the price you pay is the surrender of all your data to the host company. Everything you do on a social media site is logged, analyzed, synergized, and then shared with other companies who buy your data. Ever wonder how an Amazon ad shows up on Facebook for a product you just searched for on Google? It’s data shares, my friend. That’s where the money is.

If you ever read the Terms of Service on these sites, you’d quickly learn that you don’t have the right to say anything you want. To be fair, you’re given a pretty wide space to play in, but if you cross the line, you run the risk of getting a timeout. Why? Because these businesses don’t want to lose revenue. No advertiser wants to hang around an insurrection-minded mob. There’s no money in it, except to sell Trump flags and ammo. I am singling them out unfairly because being on the far, far left isn’t any better for these businesses.

This all seems so unfair, I know. But these companies don’t have to pander to your desire to post whatever you want to on their sites. They aren’t charging you to be there. You’re there on their dime and you’re paying for the experience with every poll you take, every post you like or dislike and any ad you click on because it has an amazing offer for something you were just thinking about buying.

There is a simple remedy for this. Stay off social media. There was a time not so long ago when people managed to live without Facebook posts and Tweets. There was no need to feed your ego or engage in pseudo-debates with click-baiters on the other side of an issue.

We wonder why we’re so divided? Because Facebook has convinced us that these people we Friend are actually our Friends. In most cases, they aren’t even our acquaintances and in many cases, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, there to tear you down, fuel your fears, create fear about others who aren’t exactly like you, and divide us even further.

In short, mass media has never been democratic. There is a buck to be made in any media company’s business model. It was never about creating something for the greater good. It was about making money off of you.

If you can live with that, enjoy social media. If you can’t then perhaps you need to question why you’re really spending so much time there. Regardless, realize that your freedom of speech is not being abridged by these corporations or the sites they run. You gave them the right to delete content you post the day you signed up, logged in and clicked on the Terms of Use. Read the terms sometimes (see Facebook’s terms). You’ll be amazed at what rights you gave up. Your freedom of speech was just the start.

Somewhere north of the Emerald City, exercising my freedom of speech in my own sandbox,

  • Robb

Deja, deja, deja vous.

Posted by admin on January 18, 2021 in Life Lessons with Comments closed |
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I am hardly the first to recognize that these are interesting times. Especially for people born after 1969. For Xers, Z’s and Millennials, everything seems to be falling apart, civilization crumbling all around us as we deal with the issues of racism, white supremacy, homelessness, poverty, violence and hatred. Oh, and a global pandemic.

It would be easy to blame a president or a party for all of this, but it’s been bubbling under the hood for as long as I have been on this earth. Like McCarthy and Communism, Trump and his henchmen simply gave a voice and legitimacy to divisions that have been part of this country for generations.

I could go way back to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes to start. Or talk about the Ku Klux Klan in its heyday, who got away with murder, literally. There have been countless politicians before that espoused hatred for minorities. Just look for the video of George Wallace standing in the doorway of the University of Alabama preventing two black students from entering. And he was Governor at the time.

Then there’s the march on Selma and a sheriff’s use of a private police force armed with clubs wrapped in barbed wire and attack dogs, to rain hate and violence on unarmed men and women who were peacefully marching for their right to vote.

We could look at Mayor Daly in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention, ordering his police to beat demonstrators or the hatred that drove men to assassinate the likes of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X.

Or the time we took away the Olympic medals of two athletes who put on black gloves and raised their hands in a fist as the National Anthem was played. And the false rage over Colin Kaepernick taking a knee in protest of the same flag that was used to beat a police officer at the insurrection at the Capitol Jan. 6.

We could go on. The assassination of Jack Kennedy, the anti-war movement that took a president down, the lies and coverup that caused another president to resign instead of face the disgrace of a certain impeachment and conviction. And, of course, the Oklahoma City bombing, one of our more recent cases of domestic terrorism and 9/11, which shook us all to the very core.

As I look at how little things have changed in our world, I think of a couple songs that were done in the early 1960s.

Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Change a few names of the politicians, and you pretty much have the same white supremacy you see today, except this was in the 1960s when making fun of it was the most powerful way to remove its power and keep in in the margins where at least, people kept their own feelings to themselves and didn’t try to storm the nation’s Capitol because their leader told them to.

A Merry Little Minuet is hauntingly familiar as well, given that many of the problems The Kingston Trio sings about are still problems today (it was written in 1949, BTW). And, of course, there’s the John Birch Society. Change commies to socialists, snowflakes or any other term you want to use for the other side and you have today’s divided politics and nation.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like if we didn’t have social media these days. Rather than following along with the bouncing ball of moment-to-moment existence – entirely without context or the weight of the passage of time – we would instead patiently wait for the likes of a Walter Chronkite or Huntley and Brinkley or to tell us what happened, why we should care and what it means to us as Americans.

But no, we’re left to our own devices these days. The media is more splintered than it used to be (I will cover that and freedom of speech in the next RobZerrvation), so people just suck up what their favorite news channel says and spew it back out with a Tweet or a meme. Sadly, social media is becoming the main source of news these days, and with its popularity comes a bunch of snake oil salesmen with sinister agendas, convincing people there are plots and conspiracies everywhere. A pizza joint the epicenter of an evil cabol? Spare me.

I’m hardly naive enough to try to tell you that everything is sunshine and lollipops. This country has some historically significant problems. My only point here is that history will show us its weight and how it fits into the timeline of our nation and this great experiment we call democracy.

The endless social media posts and Chicken Little warnings that the sky is falling is akin to the Breaking News breaks I see every morning on the news. A big red Breaking News comes on the screen. You hold your breath, at least I do, for in my life that meant an assassination, an invasion, or a 7.0+ earthquake somewhere. Instead, it’s just a boring car accident, one where nobody was killed, no one was stealing the car or running from the police. Someone was just not paying attention, probably trying to post a conspiracy on Facebook as they tried to round a curve. That is not breaking news, folks.

So, as we move forward with a new four years with another new president (my 12th now), let’s quit hanging on so tight to the world as it turns. History has been marching on for a really long time now. It was chugging along before we came to be. It will keep going on long after. Every single thing isn’t the end of the world. It can’t be. Even a giant asteroid didn’t manage to accomplish that. Though I will make the case that it would be a time when “Breaking News” would actually make sense.

North of the Emerald City, month 10 of my lockdown of a pandemic I didn’t even bring up this time (damn, just did),

  • Robb

Where the hell have you been?

Posted by admin on January 9, 2021 in Defies Description, Life Lessons with Comments closed |
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That’s a question I often ask myself, now that the calendar has changed over from a virtual hell to one of promise and hope. I was going to originally add peace but we all know how the previous week has played out.

My last RobZerrvation was just shy of one year ago, when I was covering our visit to Latitudes in Daytona, where we were considering retiring.

When the pandemic struck last March, I thought, along with probably most of America, that we would hunker down for a few weeks or even months, and then it would all go away magically, as we were promised, when summer hit.

It didn’t, of course. People are still dying as I write this and I slowly got caught up in the grief of life lost for much of the past nine months. Not only for the lives needlessly lost to COVID, but my family’s own lives as everything we looked forward to was canceled one by one.

No festivals to perform at, no bars to roam as mirthful, mischievous pirates, no trips to anywhere and basically no fun whatsoever. Add to that, some tumultuous calamities in our housebound world – including emergency surgeries and scary fires – and an increasing belief by some that our democracy no longer works and that it’s time to start over. No one seems to know what that actually entails, except to destroy and desecrate our cherished symbols of democracy and rant and rave that they didn’t get their way.

My own job has shifted dramatically from helping small businesses grow and attracting new business to Washington to helping businesses survive and now, restart and regrow. The work has been heartwrenching at times. The sad stories I have heard would fill an encyclopedia from A-Z that no one should have to read.

And yet, I am still here. I’m relatively intact, even though I have only been off my property perhaps a dozen times since last March. In an effort to protect my household and my own health, I have become a shut-in of sorts. I certainly don’t want to arrive at the Pearly Gates or Depths of Hell and have the gatekeeper announce to the band of angels or gathered throngs of demons, “Hey everyone, here’s that dumbshit that just had to go out for a drink in a bar when he had a fully stocked bar at home. And to think he was going to live another 30 years if he just stayed home.”

In the process of being on my own Gilligan’s Island for what will soon be a year, I’ve learned a lot about myself. First and foremost, I am far stronger than I thought. I can handle just about everything that can come my way, from summoning emergency responders to our house (I swear they drive by regularly now to see if we might just have a crisis) to ensuring that our supplies are always topped off without becoming a senseless, fearful hoarder of toilet paper.

I have also discovered that I am very resilient. My core is still here, my sense of humor still chugging along, even in the worst of times. Yes, I went through a long grieving period which took away my joy temporarily, but with the new year I have regained my sense of hope and certainly my joy by making a firm choice to do so.

This was not without the miracle of modern science, I admit. Being home and having what I call the “worry gene” can really play games with your mind. I have always had the tendency to loop about things that aren’t probably going to happen. The problem is part chemical and part creative. The chemical part is in my brain. The creative side, well that’s there too, I suppose. As a writer, my mind continues to create endless plot lines and if they aren’t about the outside world, they will inevitably turn to the inside world. So I will loop and loop, much to the consternation of my dear wife.

Modern science at 10 milligrams a day keeps that creative side intact, removes the worry gene and restores joy. Good stuff! The only regret is that I should have admitted to the struggle earlier and sought help. But at least I finally did and mental health has been restored to the point where I could go another year with this, if I had to.

That’s not likely, however. More modern science is bringing us a solution. My wonderful wife has received her first vaccination and my own healthcare provider has been actively keeping in touch with me on when I’m up. Eventually, our external routine will be restored and we will once again go to festivals, sing, laugh and entertain. I look so forward to returning to my favorite places sans mask, enjoying my waning years, knowing that all of this was really, as Kat loves to say, just a season.

In short, RobZerrvations are back. I have perhaps 30 waiting to write, from exploring the miracle of quantum physics that helps dictate what our reality is to how we love to be a Rubik’s Cube in our relationships, even though we don’t really have to be. Plus some other nutty musings that have come to my mind over the past year that have been bottled up, waiting for better times.

Those times are here, my friends. Try to look forward and not back. We can’t do a thing about yesterday. We only have right now, and with a little luck, we’ll get a tomorrow.

In the Emerald City, soaking in a sunny morn, looking forward to a bright day,

  • Robb

Just Sign On The Bottom Line.

Posted by admin on March 2, 2020 in Defies Description with Comments closed |
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Kat and I have been retirement home shopping lately. The big day is several years still on the horizon, but we decided to get an early start so we could actually plan something in our lives for a change.

This led us to check out the new Latitudes Margaritaville in Daytona Beach, Florida a few weeks ago. If Margaritaville rings a bell, then you know this over-55 retirement community reflects a Parrothead lifestyle, complete with streets named after Jimmy Buffett songs and a bar called Changes in Attitude.

It seems like an idyllic place and it is for the 350 or so homeowners there. We talked to more than two dozen of them and everyone gave glowing reviews of the community, the amenities and activities, and the developers.

We liked it so much that we did what they call a Stay and Play. We stayed for two nights at Latitudes and enjoyed full ownership privileges, right down to a golf cart that we got to drive everywhere, even to the local Publix Supermarket down the street.

We were pretty sure this would be our landing spot in our Golden Years. That is until we thumbed through the 194 pages of homeowner association covenants that guide your use of the property. There were an awful lot of rules, especially for a guy who is pretty rules adverse and prone to mutiny at the slightest provocation.

But it did get me thinking. In some ways, the government operates as a homeowner’s association, giving us all covenants that we must live by. There are local, state and federal laws/covenants about what you can and can’t do as a citizen and as a “homeowner” (property owner). Some of the rules and laws are pretty basic. Others are pretty restrictive and downright invasive.

As “owners,” some of us are good with having even more covenants. We don’t mind having the government telling us what we can and can’t do and we’re attracted to perks like free college and universal healthcare, even if it means Uncle Sam is going to have a bigger say in our lives since he runs the “homeowner’s association.”

In homeowner associations, this is akin to being told what color you can paint your house, what plants you can plant, and even what flag you can fly from your flagpole, if you’re even able to have one.

Other “owners”, however, want fewer covenants. They don’t want to be told what to do and how to do it. They want to be able to add a 20-foot flagpole to their front yard and proudly fly a pirate flag if it amuses them or turn their deck into a pirate ship. They don’t want the homeowner’s association (re: government) telling them what they can and can’t do on their property or in their lives all the time. They want to have that wonderful freedom called choice.

I fall into this latter camp. Historically, I have not played well in an HOA world, either as an occupant of a home or as a citizen of this country. I really don’t like being told what I can and can’t do, at least when the rules at hand seem arbitrary or unduly restrictive.

It’s not that I reject all law and order. I religiously stop at stop signs. I always use my blinker. I have a license to drive my car. I pay my fair share of taxes. And I try to be a thoughtful neighbor, both in my own neighborhood and in the community, state and nation at large.

As such, I don’t try to foist my own views or covenants on others. I don’t expect them to march to the same drummer I’m groovin’ to.

For instance, the same people who want us to embrace Biblical laws say Sharia Law is the work of the devil. Frankly, all religion-based law is the work of the devil in my opinion. I really think the Golden Rule – treat others as you yourself would like to be treated – should be sufficient.

As we approach election time, I can’t help but wonder how the elections will affect our nation’s covenants. As I’ve said, I’m not big on more regulation, more rules and more laws. I can barely remember a small number of them at any one time.

Me? I am coming to find that I am pretty much a laissez-faire type of guy. I don’t want more government control of my life or interference. Hell, even after being on this earth for 62 years and being a government employee, “the man” still doesn’t have my fingerprints. There are job interviews I have turned down over the years because that fingerprints were required. I simply didn’t want “the man” to finger me that easily. If I haven’t done anything wrong, then why should they want to see what I’ve been up to?

As I read through Latitude’s covenants and as I drove through Florida’s more rural parts, it dawned on me that these folks, those with the Trump signs in their yards (and they are plentiful there) weren’t yokels or zealots. They simply want the government to leave them alone.

Quit telling them what to do with the land, quite requiring a permit or inspection for every little thing, quit taxing them to death for programs they didn’t ask for, want and will never use, and stop telling them that they have to live a life that is politically correct and all-inclusive when to them, that is unwarranted overreach into their personal and private lives. They don’t want to sign the covenants. They certainly don’t want to be PC. They just want to live their life without being told how to live it.

After coming so close to signing my life away at the bottom of 194 pages of covenants, I have begun to see their point. If by nature we are mostly good and law-abiding, and in some cases God-fearing, why do we need so much oversight and unwarranted interference?

Can’t we all be a little more laissez-faire in the way we conduct our lives (letting things take their own course, without interference) and a little more laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll) in the way we live it?

Wouldn’t we all be just a little happier if we all lived this way?

Me? I’m back to taking the hands off the wheel again. I’m going to let someone else drive for a while. After all, I have 193 more pages of covenants to pour through before I can dive into the 23,000 pages of federal laws we must obey.

Somewhere north of the Emerald City, anchored serenely next to Buccaneer Creek in Neverland County.

  • Robb

The Secrets of the Fire Swamp.

Posted by admin on February 24, 2020 in Defies Description with Comments closed |
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I just returned from Florida. You know, that place I lived almost a decade ago that I often referred to as Hell.

Well, I’ve discovered a few things on this last trip. First, Florida wasn’t really Hell. The relationship I was in was Hell. I got the two confused and blamed Florida for all the ills in my world. Sorry, Florida.

Second, I’ve learned all the secrets of the Fire Swamp. If you don’t know what the Fire Swamp is, you should watch the Princess Bride. In the movie, the Dread Pirate Roberts and his beloved Buttercup escape from the evil clutches of Prince Humperdinck and his henchman, the Six-Fingered Man, by taking refuge in the Fire Swamp. There, they conquer the three dangers of the swamp: flame bursts, lightning sand and rodents of unusual size (R.O.U.S.).

Florida is my Fire Swamp. It has lots of dangers and secrets to learn, from poisonous caterpillars and snakes, no-see-ums and fire ants to muck fires, hurricanes and some crazy-assed drivers of Fort Lauderdale. After eight years of living there and numerous visits since, I have become quite comfortable with the idea of spending my retirement in the Fire Swamp as I have mastered most of its many secrets.

Yes, it’s terribly conservative and Christian down there (I guess that isn’t really a secret). Instead of a Starbucks on every corner, there’s a church. There are Trump signs everywhere. And lots of old people. And you know how much I like old people.

Even with all its Trump Lovers and Bible Beaters, Florida is still filled with really nice people. They don’t talk about politics or religion, at least to strangers. They don’t think it’s appropriate or polite. They’d rather talk about the nuances of the Daytona 500 crash and discourse about the best way to clean lovebug guts off your windshield during mating season.

Of course, none of this would really matter if I was just visiting. But Florida is the top choice for retirement as we look to our Golden Years and where to spend them. If the real estate gods cooperate, we will be selling off our home in the chilly-willy great white north in four years, heading for the sun-filled skies and warm beaches of the Sunshine State.

Yes, I know. Most people on the West Coast move to Arizona when they clock in for the last time. For us, that is a non-starter. First, I don’t know any of the secrets of that particular Fire Swamp. Plus, water is not exactly plentiful in the desert. I would suppose that’s why they call it a desert. Kat and I must be able to at least see water regularly, if not revel in it. And no, water from the tap doesn’t qualify. We need big bodies of water. Think gulfs and oceans.

So Florida it is. And for those questioning my sanity as to why I would once again move all the way across the country to live, I offer up these simple reasons:

  1. We don’t hurt. The pain of arthritis has made its presence known a scant 48 hours after returning to the soggy Northwest. In Florida, I made it up 105 circular stairs to the top of the Jupiter Lighthouse. Here, I can’t seem to make it up 13 steps to our bedroom without a lot of pain.
  2. People are really nice down there. Maybe it’s an east coast thing. Total strangers strike up conversations with you. The Seattle Freeze seems more real now that I’ve returned from the south. Case in point: Total strangers welcomed us to the retirement community we were considering and gave us a lovely tote bag for our groceries without us even asking or them asking that we return it. They were being nice and neighborly because that’s what you do down there.
  3. Depending on where you choose to live, the pace of life is very islandy. Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa are all big city nightmares., of course. But out in the coastal communities, life is pretty laid back and chill. There’s not a lot of hurry and scurry.
  4. The food is different. I love conch, lobster po’boys, gator bites and Cuban sandwiches. And thanks to Amazon, I can now get Snoqualmie Pancake Mix and Fisher Scone Mix anytime I want, so there will always be a little taste of home. While I will dearly miss Taco Time, I will get to enjoy Checkers and the multiple-choice test of “sides” at Cracker Barrel.
  5. There’s a tiki bar nearly everywhere. Kat, it turns out, has a thing for tiki bars. They aren’t very common as you travel north in the state, but once you get below the Orlando area, they start to pop up everywhere. Kat loves a good tiki bar and its laid-back feel, nonstop music and libations. It’s her happy place. Give her a tiki bar with mermaids and manatees and she will probably just move in.
  6. It’s new, but familiar. Upon returning to Washington, it’s become very Groundhog’s Day (yes, another movie reference), in that everything predictably repeats year in and year out, so much so that I don’t even need to look at a calendar to know what’s happening on any particular weekend. Over more than a half-century of living here, I’ve pretty much seen it all, done it all and then some.
  7. It’s a two-for-one. If I were to sell my house today, I could buy two in Florida for the same price or a lakefront home with a pool for the price I paid for this house four years ago ($389,000) and put a couple hundred grand into the retirement kitty.

Now, we’re onto the question of where. Picking Florida was relatively easy. But it’s a damned big state, so there’s more homework to do. We’ve pretty much ruled out the entire left coast of Florida, from Cedar Key to Fort Myers. Too much hub-bub for us. And quite frankly, the area feels like Oregon and Alabama went on a date and made a baby.

We also ruled out anything north of Daytona Beach. The weather there is too cold and the conveniences of life too far and in between.

Future trips will determine the Goldilocks Zone for us, you know the place that is “just right.” While this trip put 1,900 miles on our rental car (we could have almost driven home), we’ll stay put for a week or so in a single locale next time, maybe even renting a house to get a feel for the area.

Still, it’s a queer feeling, knowing that retirement is a scant four years away for me and that I have to do something as grown-up as figuring out where Kat and I are to live until we aren’t living anymore. But as Jimmy Buffett once warned me many years ago, “changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same.” And maybe that’s just as it should be.

In the Emerald City, tiki bar to the starboard side and mermaids to port,

– Robb

The Days of Wine and Noses.

Posted by admin on December 30, 2019 in Relationships with Comments closed |
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I readily admit that I have a less than stellar nose. Like the AMC Gremlin of yore, its designers started off with a good idea, lost interest halfway through and tried to end it as quickly as possible.

It’s not nature’s fault, really. She did start out with a great idea. My childhood photos show a lovely, even classic Zerr nose. My fifth grade photo, however, shows a vastly different nose. Somewhere in 4th grade I caught a softball with my face instead of my glove. Unknown to me, I had broken my nose. I didn’t even know I had broken it until I was almost 30. I was trying to give a willing nurse CPR and while I was checking out her vitals, she casually mentioned the fact. Needless to say, it really killed the mood and here I was doing such a good job playing doctor.

My mother obviously never gave my swollen snot box a second thought. I was the last of four rambunctious boys. Blood and guts were the norm in my house. A broken something or other? Not even worth a Band Aid, let alone a trip downtown to see Dr. Pettibone (yes, that’s his real name).

Hey, that’s life. I don’t hold a grudge about it. I can still breathe, which is something I can’t say about my mother.

At least no one could accuse me of being a Pinnochio. How could they? I could tell lies all day long and my nose would never grow, not even one teeny-tiny bit. Lord knows I have tried over the years.

O.K, so that was a bit of a lie. While it’s true that I did indeed lie a lot when I was a kid, it never got me anywhere. The nose never got longer, but I sure got a sore rear end. I was a master at making up a tall tale to cover my tracks. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember the damned story a week later when my mother slily prodded for a long lost detail.

And then God created truth serum. Well, wine. But in sufficient quantities, it is as good as any spy-strength sodium pentothol when it’s used on me.

Consumed in small quantities, I become far more interesting at cocktail parties since I am a bit shy in unfamiliar surroundings. In slightly larger quantities, however, I become an old “Truth Teller.”

In the early moments of a party, I will compliment you on your new dress or lovely tie. A few glasses of drunken grapes later and I’ll ask you in all honesty why you picked that unflattering cut for that two-sizes-too-small frock you wore to the same party last year. Or wonder aloud whether that Rorschach Test tied around your neck had been a gift from Helen Keller.

This can be both good and bad thing, of course. In the rare examples above, it has never proven to be a good thing as I begin to question – often with razor-sharp wit – why your world is not as neat and tidy as you make it out to be. This would explain why re-invites to parties are a rarity for me. The truth – at least my version of it – isn’t necessarily welcomed in select social circles, well, any circles.

That said, the right amount of wine can wash away all the hubris and guile I possess, turning me into an old Truth Teller who can wash away all the pain, guilt and uncertainty you possess along with all the veneers that protect my too-often broken heart and very fragile ego.

The tipping point for this is well known by now. In the name of science, I did quite a lot of research on this matter when I was younger. Somewhere around the end of glass three and beginning of glass four, all social pleasantries go out the window and the truth – welcomed or not – finally comes out.

I confirmed this fact once again last week. Kat and I were on our Friday date night. A glass and a half at dinner and pleasant conversations ensued at Olive Garden. Two glasses more afterwards and I let Kat know what I really thought of her. Both barrels. The unvarnished truth!

When you’re younger, you want to think that someone will love you for all the silly things you say in your wedding vows. But as the years go by, you find out that not everyone can make it through the “worse” part of “better or worse” or the “poorer” part of “for richer or poorer.”

This is what Kat found out as the third glass of wine took hold. The whole truth spilled out of the glass in front of me.

As we all know, I have run the gauntlet of love over the last few decades. I’ve had some famous flings, some near-fatal failures and yet I remain a hopeless romantic who still believes that someone will see the joy in my tortuous flaws and wimsy in my enduring uncertainties and self-doubt.

I just never thought it would truly happen and eventually I would have to settle for someone who would hopefully tolerate me on occasion, and perhaps be horny enough to have her way with me on special occasions, like when a total solar eclipse appears over Washington State on a sunny day.

Then, like magic, Kat came into my life.

There has never been another Kat. I don’t think there ever will be. For some inexplicable but delightful reason, she loves me for who I am. For better, for worse, richer, poorer, sickness, health, cranky or off the charts hilarious, she still love me.

As I spilled my guts to her, it reminded me of a very good friend of mine. His wife passed some years ago. He has gone on with his life, of course, even found companionship at times with others, but there is only his one love. He can never love another like he did her. She has his heart and his soul.

Thanks to some so-so Merlot, the no-holds-barred truth was laid out in all its scary glory that night. The heart laid bare. The ego checked. The gloves off. Kat finally knows how crazy in love I am with her.

Who knows what would have happened it if was a really good bottle of wine instead of the so-so Merlot? I can only assume that clothes would have gone flying to the floor, romance would have played its fickle hand, there would be lots of moaning and groaning, and then the cops would show up, largely because we were at the Lynnwood Elks and it was BINGO night.

In the Emerald City, wondering if 7:30 a.m. is too early for a glass of honesty,

  • Robb

Rrrrrrrrr, Rrrrrrrrr.

Posted by admin on July 29, 2019 in Growing Up, Pirate Adventures with Comments closed |
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It’s hydro season again. Sadly, the sport ain’t quite what it used to be. The races, which used to draw 250,000 people to the shores of Lake Washington, is having difficulties finding a footing in this age of 2,345 cable channels and social media.

It used to be huge in Seattle. Long before there were the Seahawks, there was Wild Bill Cantrell and the Gale boats, Jack Regas in the Hawaii Kai, Jim McCormick in the Miss Madison and racing bad boy Bill Muncey in the Miss Thriftway.

 

I grew up with these guys. From my bedroom window in Renton I could hear the guttural roar of the World War 2 V-12 fighter engines that powered these water-born aircraft. They flew along at breakneck speeds with only one square foot of the boat touching the water, the rest suspended on a cushion of air.

They were among my first heroes, as these were the days when drivers weren’t seated in closed cockpits. They didn’t even wear seat belts, believing (falsely) that in an accident they would be thrown clear of the boat. The only thing that kept them in these things were two hands on the wheel and a left foot jammed against the firewall as they reached speeds of 170 or so down the straightaways.

I am reminded of this because I recently became a supporter of the Unlimited Hydroplane Museum here in Seattle. There, they not only lovingly restore the old boats to their former glory but run them at various races, recapturing my youth every time one of those now vintage boats takes a turn around the course.

When I worked at Associated Grocers, I made it part of my job to smuggle out some of the old trophies and films that are in the museum now. I knew that if I ever left the company that one day all that history of the Miss Thriftway and Thriftway Too would be lost forever.

So it seemed fitting that I support the museum as much as I can. These wooden boats can’t maintain themselves, and a single trip down to the museum sends all those memories of my youth and young adulthood flooding back.

In 1988 I took a year off from the Seafair Pirates. My own pirate band was quite busy and it was a good time to step away, in part because they had a silly rule that you couldn’t ever go out in a pirate costume without them, even though you owned the damned gear yourself.

Of course, I never listened and my own antics led me to be in the presence of giants that summer. Over the years, the Pyrate Band has donated itself to raise money at auctions. It’s an easy way to give back. We provide the pirate band, you provide the party.

Earlier that year, we donated the band. We went for about $400 I believe. Eventually, the buyer contacted me. It was none other than Don Jones, the Managing Director of Seafair. He was having a little party at his house and wanted us to entertain.

On the appointed day we arrived at his home. As pirates, instruments in hand.

At the entrance, there were two large inflatable hydros, one filled with Miller Lite, the other with Budweiser, two of the major sponsors of hydros. This was going to be a great party, I thought. Don invited us to grab and beer and ushered us into his lovely waterfront home.

Then it struck me. There at the party were all my modern hydroplane heroes – Chip Hanauer and Jim Kropfeld for starters, Jim Lucero, boat designer, John Walters, driver of the Pay n’ Pak and occasional crew chief, Bernie Little, owner of the Budweiser – the list goes on.

And here we were, a band of pirates, brought in to entertain them. Being a pirate, and better, a pirate musician, is the ‘E’ Ticket at Disneyland. You get to go places no one else would get to, meet amazing people and do things you just can’t do as an ordinary pirate or civilian.

This was one of those days. The beers were flowing, the food was never-ending and the party was in high gear. The drivers and crews were an awesome bunch. They told stories, gave each other endless grief and one-upped each other for much of the night. All we had to do was sing some songs, mingle, make everyone laugh with our own antics and soak up the ambiance of hanging with the sport’s elite at the home of the head of Seafair, his own pirates not invited.

I must say one of the highlights was Jim Kropfeld’s decorations. He had broken his neck in a racing accident and was wearing a halo brace while it healed. It wasn’t hard to spot him in the crowd. On the large brace he was wearing, which included a halo to keep his head steady while he healed, other drivers had hung beer cans representing the two “beer boats”. You could hear him clinking and clanking wherever he went.

Sadly, the evening ended all too quickly. Our two hours drifted into three, then four, then five. We left about the same time as everyone else, sharing stories of our run-in with our hydroplane heroes all the way home.

As the boats arrive in the pits this weekend, I’ll think back to those days. Many of those wonderful guys are no longer with us. Their spirits will be in the Stan Sayres Memorial Pits this weekend. And I’ll be thinking of each one of them, not only this weekend but whenever I head down to the Unlimited Hydro Museum to ogle at the likes of the Winged Wonder, the Pay ‘n’ Pak, the Blue Blaster, the Bardahl, Wahoo, and soon, the Squire Shop.

I’m sure kids today have the same fun I did as a kid.

Just kidding.

In the Emerald City, hydro fever and nostalgia upon me,

Rrrrrrobb

Son Of A Gun.

Posted by admin on July 22, 2019 in Randomalities with Comments closed |
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I just became a gun owner. To be precise, a modern gun. I’ve shot historic weapons for more than a decade, you know, the ones with flints and gunpowder.

A real gun, though? I’ve never felt the need. And, after shooting historic weapons all these years, a modern boom-boom stick comes across as much too high tech for my tastes. Stick a shell in it, point and bang. What’s the fun in that?

With a flintlock, you never know if or when the gun will go off. That’s part of the fun. And while modern gun enthusiasts will brag about the firepower and kick their weapons have, their eyes go wide with wonder and delight when they fire off a .60 caliber round with my doglock. Kick? Hells ya!

I know people that own dozens of these new-fangled techno guns. Me, I’ve never really wanted to. In fact, as of today, I have never even shot one. While I’m no peacenik, I tend to leave law enforcement in the hands of professionals, especially since I tend to shoot everyone in a simulation game, friend, foe, family – no matter.

But the earthquake a week or so ago reminded me that the Big One is out there somewhere. Officials say we may have to be on our own for up to two weeks.

True, I could pull out our cannon and the three flintlocks we have around here to protect the family. We have enough powder to mow down a small army – if they are patient enough to wait while we reload them one at a time.

If you haven’t fired a black powder weapon, it isn’t a quick process. You need to pour the measure of powder down the barrel, add some wadding if the ball is much smaller than the bore, and ram the ball down the barrel until it seats snuggly against the powder. But wait, there’s more. Only then do you pull back the hammer. Add powder to the pan, cock the hammer back off safety and BLAM! Hopefully. As I said, more art than science.

I don’t think it’s the optimal defense system to ward off angry hoards who want my food and supplies. In the aftermath of the Big One, people will make do for a couple of days. But once they’ve exhausted all their goodies, they’ll go foraging and that means coming to my house.

When I was in Florida I always had the requisite two weeks of food and water on hand, along with provisions such as a crank emergency radio and flashlights. But in Florida, angry hoards are few and far between, largely because disasters (hurricanes mostly) happen with such frequency that everyone knows the drill. Wait for the storm to pass. Gripe that you have no food and water. Bitch that the AC is out. Rinse and repeat.

But here in Washington, we’re fairly unprepared. We don’t get hurricanes or tornadoes. Just the occasional volcano and earthquake, including the ever-present Big One that is supposed to last 15 minutes or so.

So, it was with a lot of trepidation that I finally broke down and purchased a shotgun. Well, technically my wife Kat bought it. I have stayed true to my promise not to own a weapon. Yes, it’s a fine line in a community property state, but this is my story so I’m going to tell it my way.

We didn’t know where to buy a gun but had seen a Big 5 ad that showed a nice enough looking shotgun on sale for $239, so we headed there to buy a gun. Here we are, two innocents and non-gun owners at the counter, pointing to the gun like two tourists who had never seen the Grand Canyon before.

And here’s where it gets really weird. It seems that you can take a shotgun home with you in Washington State in about 30 minutes time. Some basic paperwork with basic questions (Are you a loyal American? Have you ever tried to overthrow the government?), a quick background check to make sure you’re not a convicted felon, and they hand you the box.

As we waited for Kat’s I.Q. test to be graded (she has not tried to overthrow the government I can safely say), Kat wondered aloud if we had to come back the next day to buy shells, a kind of cooling-off period.

Nope. We bought those too. We laughed to ourselves as the salesman showed us our options. We couldn’t tell one from another. But no matter. Eight bucks later we had enough buckshot to fill up the retreating fannies of 25 angry hoarders.

No test to see if we knew how to work the gun or even load it. Just a quick thank you for your business and we were out the door.

We could have been anyone. We could have been unhappy with our meal service at the Red Robin next door. We could have crazed racist Trumpers. Sure, Kat had to certify she was not mentally ill, but what mentally ill person would ever admit they were, well, mentally ill?

One two-sided form, a check with the government to see if you’ve done time and there you go Mr. Gun Owner, you have exercised your 2nd Amendment right.

Thank god for YouTube. Videos showed me how to load and unload the damned thing. It also showed me how to change the barrel (it comes with two barrels, the reason I am still not sure of) and another video showed me how to take out the wood dowel in it so that it could actually hold more than one shell, which is comes in handy when faced with angry hoards, or so I’m told.

And thanks to Amazon, I can now accessorize it to my heart’s content with all sorts of after-market goodies, including a pink bandolier that holds 25 shells, just in case Kat needs to get her Rambo on in the post-Big One apocalypse.

I won’t feel that need of course. I know how to work it now and it’s safely put away for the day when the angry hoards try to storm my castle.

But truth be told, I will probably give them a good shot or two first with the cannon and the flintlocks. Unleashing the holy hell of black powder is just too irresistible and the element of surprise would be worth it.

I’ll let Kat do the Rambo part. The angry hoard will probably see the pink bandolier with clashing red shells and drop dead on the spot – from laughter.

In the Emerald City, burning the NRA application that came with the gun,

  • Robb

That Isn’t Funny.

Posted by admin on June 17, 2019 in Life Lessons with Comments closed |
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We are losing our sense of humor. And that is an extremely dangerous thing for our civilization. Our new found P.C. attitude where everything ends in “-ist” and “#metoo” is creating closed off worlds where we no longer have to think about our own belief systems, foibles and fears.

instead, we isolate ourselves in spaces where everyone is just like us: scared, judgmental and angry.

Now, I’m not saying that every joke out there is appropriate. I mean, we figured out long ago that blonde and Polish jokes weren’t appropriate any longer. There are many more thing we don’t joke about. That is the norm in comedy. Comedy evolves with the times.

But as of late, it is being shut out and worse, it is being demonized, like higher education. More and more we are calling out humor we personally don’t think is funny, shaming humorists, columnists and comedians and in some cases in social media, even silencing them for good.

Comedy and humor were never meant to be politically correct. It is meant to shock you, to cause you to consider other truths through absurdity, to stand society on its head and turn it 180 degrees so we can see our collective similarities and shortcomings.

Back in the late 50s, early 60s, Lenny Bruce was jailed for some of the things he said on stage and in records. His routine was at the cutting edge of where we as a society needed to go. The same could be said of Richard Pryor, George Carlin or Robin Williams. Think Carlin was tame? Look up his landmark Supreme Court case regarding the Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television.

Lately, I’ve been watching comedy from the 1970s and 80s. All in the Family, Happy Days, Family Ties seemed like harmless sitcoms in their day, but they tackled so many social issues we are still trying to come to terms now – racism, gender equality, politics, religion, abortion, crooked politicians, molestation, school bullying – a litany of topics that are in the headlines today.

The difference? Their approach – comedy – tackled these issues in a safe place. We watched stereotypical families work their own way through these problems and resolve them through dialogue, respect and humor.

Sure, this was all scripted stuff. But the issues they covered were relevant to their day, just as they are now.

Case in point. There’s an episode of Happy Days where Richie is planning to vote Democrat. His father is Republican, as was his father and his father’s father. The back and forth reasonings could have been performed today – the situation today is nearly identical with the polarization of political beliefs in our communities and our homes.

Perhaps no place is this more evident than Laugh-In. Watch a couple of episodes of Laugh-In on Netflix or Prime and you’ll be shocked to hear all the jokes that are still so relevant and topical today. The show touched on so many things we are afraid to even talk to our best friends about today for fear of sounding racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic or what have you.

Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten how to laugh about our shortcomings and imperfections. We take everything so seriously these days. We have become so afraid of being misunderstood in social media that we had to create emoticons with a big smile just so someone sees that we are trying to be funny.

The problem with humor is that it is very situational. The words count yes, but so does the delivery. The nuance of what is and isn’t said creates the humorous situation, the one-liner or plot context. We understand that it is humor, we allow it to disarm us for the duration and once we are through being entertained, we find that we may have actually learned something about ourselves and what it’s like to be a human.

I’m sure that certain groups would think that the Coyote & Road Runner shows were all about cruelty to animals instead of the idea that intelligence can beat technology and that good always triumphs over evil. Pepe Le Pew would seem like a misogynist to some, even though as kids we only laughed at the case of mistaken identity and the impossibility of a skunk and cat every finding true happiness.

Sure, there were some horrible stereotypes along the way. F Troop with its “Indians” and Speedy Gonzales.

The point here isn’t about the missteps we have taken in our attempts at humor. Again, times change, standards change, and what was funny in one time is inappropriate and even repulsive in another.

But these days, everything is becoming inappropriate. Instead of waiting for a good laugh, we are waiting to be insulted so we can exact our revenge on even the most innocent of observations about this crazy thing we call life. We don’t want to be entertained; we just wait for that moment where our clan became the butt of a joke so we can raise holy hell about it.

That is a sad thing for us. Ultimately, it will be our undoing. Watching some of the shows from the 1960s and 70s show how little we have progressed, even though we think we have made such great strides in our society.

If anything, we have regressed. We are back to those dark times when people were afraid to make a joke in order to break the ice and start a discussion or make an audience think. We are afraid to laugh at a joke that yes, may be a bit off color, but thankfully isn’t so sanitized that it doesn’t challenge us intellectually or emotionally.

Without humor and the ability to look at ourselves and society in a mirror, we lose our ability to evolve. We instead, slip back into the days when we were afraid of those who were different from us, shunning them instead of engaging them.

Humor is the universal icebreaker. Without it, we turn ice cold.

In the Emerald City, looking for punch lines in all the wrong places, 😃

  • Robb

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