Well, it’s almost the end of the year and in the spirit of the holiday season, I’ve decided to give away a lot of topics that really didn’t warrant a thousand words. Now, It’s not that a thousand words are somehow magical. It’s not like the heavens will suddenly open up and swallow me whole if I came up a couple words short. But it seems to be the number of words I usually suck up exploring a topic.
Of course, I’d like to think about having an inexhaustible supply of words. I guess all writers do. At one time, I mused that we all were born with a finite number of words. We are given lots of an’s, the’s, and or’s, of course, but a lot fewer uses of words like beleaguered, disingenuous and fugacious. I like to reason that this is why we are eventually reduced to a stream of ums, uhs, and swear words as we age, since we seem to have been given an inexhaustible supply of those.
I even wanted to write a book like that. A book where I would eventually run out of words, using up my life’s remaining allowance, finishing with a stream of leftover a’s and and’s as its closing sentences.
I never wrote it of course. It was simply too daunting, trying to keep track of the available words and never using them again once I thought my quota had been exhausted.
Well, there’s the first clearance sale item. An idea that is still awaiting the world to welcome it, if only someone could figure it out.
Let’s move on to some other sale items:
The Second Amendment: Sorry, you’re not going to find me taking either side on this one. That’s what Supreme Courts and self-serving rights groups are for. But following the most recent spate of shootings, my son put his finger on a good idea: require a background check for the purchase of bulletproof vests for anyone who isn’t in law enforcement. Yes, I hear that hunters use them, which is itself kind of sad, but for argument’s sake, they too have to go through a background check. When someone sees you have a hunting license, great, here’s your vest. Now, to be fair, you don’t get one with the stopping power of the ones the police have. That just doesn’t make sense. They should be able to take you out, you shouldn’t be able to take them out. But as my son so wryly noted, bulletproof vests are often a sign someone is planning to do some mass shooting and it’s definitely not included anywhere in the Second Amendment. Taking offers on this one.
Regrets: I could start off by saying that this is something I regret not writing about, but that kind of defeats the purpose here. Rather, I have discovered that having regrets, let alone wallowing in them, is a total waste of time. You can’t take what happened back and you certainly can’t change it, so why continue to revel in it and relive it over and over? It just sucks up valuable time and keeps you from moving forward with your life. What happened, happened. You can tell yourself any story about it you’d like, but chances are pretty good that 1) it never happened the way you like to think it did and 2) no one really gives a sh** anymore anyway.
The Perfect Crime: I have thought long and hard about this one. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to put it on sale, not that I would ever do it, but because it could cause a rash of very embarrassing robberies. Here’s the deal. The perfect time to rob a guy of his wallet is when he’s standing in front of the urinal. His mind is elsewhere, he’s defenseless and once you take his wallet, he’s going to find it difficult to run after you, at least immediately. What’s more, he’s probably not going to want to report it since the cops will be telling that story in the precinct for weeks and months to come.
A College Education: I didn’t need to go to college. I don’t think a lot of us did. It’s hard to tell my son that he should go to college when I simply went there because I didn’t want to get a real job. No one has ever asked me to prove I went to college (go Huskies!), and nowadays I could have just scanned a friend’s diploma and added my own name to it in Photoshop. Alternately, and even still occasionally, I wished I had it tattooed on my ass so when someone asked to see my B.A., I could show them right there and then. I’ll let this one go cheap too.
Unfounded Fear: Yes, I’ve touched on this a time or too, but all those fears seemed pretty founded at the time. What I’ve come to realize is that 95% of what I feared would happen never did. Instead, it was most often those things I never could have dreamed of and I’ve managed to deal with each relatively fine. If only I had known how little we can really control in our lives, I would have had a lot more fun and a lot less worry. This one is free to anyone who needs it. And if you still have unfounded fears, I highly recommend the God Jar. Write each down on a piece of paper, put them in the jar and let God handle them for you. They probably aren’t going to happen anyway.
Package Shaving: No, this isn’t about being well-groomed downstairs. Rather, it’s about the practice of companies that continue to reduce the size of packages while keeping the price the same. You know, the 16 oz. bag of coffee that is now 12 oz. or your favorite chips that are now measured in grams, like anyone outside of a drug dealer knows what a gram is.
I only wish this shaving practice would reduce the calories as well. My ever expanding waistline tells me this isn’t so. I knew I shouldn’t have bought that second bag of Cheetos in a fit of self-righteousness.
In the Emerald City, lightening the load with a quick sale,
The elections are done. The unrest is not. For some reason, many of us can’t accept an outcome that doesn’t match our expectations. Instead, we once again bitch that we were ripped off, that the other side stole the election, blah, blah blah, blah blah!
Don’t try to justify it all to me. I’ve seen the popular vote. And I know that the Electoral College ultimately decides, and as we all seem to know, the outcome is pretty certain.
I’m not asking you to just get over it either (I probably won’t.) And I’m not judging you if you want to just stew about it for the next four or eight years (I people probably will be too). Protest is a natural part of our democracy, and I celebrate the right to peacefully protest as much as I do the right to vote and the right of free speech, since RobZerrvations seems to be the epitome of free speech.
But there’s something that runs much deeper here. We are indeed a divided country, but not in ways that most people think. It’s not the white men against every person of color. It’s not even Democrat vs. Republicans.
I saw this coming some months back. In my job, I work with a lot of rural counties in Washington State. There is a huge have/have not divide between urban and rural in Washington. Eastern Washington is heavily conservative and the urban centers in the west are heavily liberal. There are pockets elsewhere of both conservatives and liberals, but the divide we see most at the state level and certainly the electorate level is between Eastern and Western Washington.
This recent election tells the same story nationwide. If you look at the numbers, and I’m not talking about the popular vote, the divide is daunting and alarming.
Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of the data. You can read an interesting article about this in The Atlantic or this one today in The Seattle Times, but there are other sources that confirm the data points and the resulting extrapolations.
There are 3,100 counties in America. Obama won handily in 86 of the 100 largest urban counties in the 2012 election, but only won 600 of the remaining 3,000 counties. He was fortunate that he had 12 million more votes in those 100 urban counties, because he lost by seven million in the rural counties.
Fast forward to this election. Clinton won the 100 urban counties by 12.6 million votes and counting, but she won only 420 counties in the rural parts of the U.S. Trump trounced Clinton in the other 2,580 counties by 11.5 million votes.
On CBS Sunday Morning a couple Sundays ago, they had a piece on people living in McDowell County, West Virginia, smack dab in coal country. At one time, the population was around 100,000. Today, the county only has about 19,000 residents. They voted 4 to 1 against Hillary.
This has been a traditional Democratic stronghold, going all the way back to Kennedy. But over the years, the Democratic party has increasingly pursued an increasingly liberal agenda, which doesn’t resonate in small communities that are economically challenged and often poor.
Remember back in the sixties when the Democrats were all about the poor? This time around, it was all about the middle class, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, gay rights, abortion… I could go on. The party forgot about the rural poor.
People in rural communities want to share in all the economic wealth of the urban centers are enjoying. But they don’t necessarily want to buy urban liberalism.
I can’t say I blame them. Part of the charm of rural life is that it hasn’t changed much over decades or even centuries. People can still leave their doors unlocked at night, everyone knows their neighbors by first name and chances are very good that if your children go out to play, they won’t be snatched by a pervert. The pace of life is slow and predictable, something a lot of my urban friends wish they had as they sit in miles of Puget Sound traffic, look at huge condo projects going up across the street where quaint bungalows used to be, and freak out when their kids are three minutes late in answering a text.
Sadly, creating economic vitality in rural areas is not easy. Employers want a qualified workforce but you can’t get the training you need until you know what an employer needs. Regulations have killed a lot of these communities as wekk. A good example lies in Skamania County here in Washington.
A state-of-the-art mill lies dormant there. Until 2008, workers at the mill made veneer. But regulations on timber harvests and a complex, burdensome review process has created a shortage of logs. The mill needs 15 million feet more of timber to open. Without it, it sits idle and the region’s economy continues to suffer.
I could name many more towns, just here in Washington State. These communities can’t grow without jobs and companies want vibrant communities to do business in, not ghost towns. The residents of these towns, traditionally Democratic strongholds, are angry and they are taking their anger out on the liberal agenda they see foisted on them by urban centers.
Now, I’m not saying this is what cost the election. But if you listen to people in small towns, especially those who have a history of supporting the Democrats, they have lost hope. They feel ignored. They feel that they are no longer important or relevant and that they have taken a back seat to the urban money-making machines. The result: they are angry, dispossessed and lashing out.
This divide will continue until someone pays attention to the economic disparity that exists nationwide. As I said, it’s not all about whites and minorities. The numbers don’t support that. Rather, it’s about a historic shift to urban centers, the decline of once thriving rural communities and age-old resentment by the have-nots of the haves.
Bitch all you like, but if you’re liberal, you need to realize that things are going to get worse, not better. And until the poor, the dispossessed rural folks have hope, you will hear their voices loud and clear at the polls.
So, go ahead and stop by Starbucks on your way to your protest rally in downtown Seattle or Portland. Continue to delude yourself that you were somehow wronged. Blame the supposed uneducated white men in small towns if you like. Continue to believe that you’re the smart one and that all these people are idiots, or worse, continue to marginalize them as being somehow less of a person than you are because they didn’t see the world through your urban eyes.
America is already great for many of us; we’re the lucky ones. But, there are those who are losing hope that their tomorrow will even come, let alone show any signs of greatness. And believe me, they are pissed!
In the Emerald City, thankful that I came from where I did, as I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to be poor,
I used to waste a lot of time. I mean, really waste it. After all, back when I was in my 20s, I had a lot of time to kill. Time seemed infinite back then, so I would mire myself in wishes without making them so, drama that had no possible resolution, inexcusable errors of judgment that sent me back into the dark ages a time or two, and dead-end relationships which never held the promise of ever leading anywhere.
I can wish all I want to have that time back. But, as we all know, wishing doesn’t make it so and there’s no way to turn back the clock to even capture a second, let alone a minute or two of it.
This isn’t, of course, some insipid tome about regret. I only have one regret as we all know, and while it sucked eight years of my life away, it was something I had to go through in order to pull my head out of my ass and realize that the grass is never greener on the other side.
As of late, however, I have been noticing that time is now limited. Somewhere in my 40s I passed the halfway mark of a normal lifespan, and I am now cascading down the slippery slope of the other side of the bell curve that marks one’s life. I mean, even if I make it to, say, 85, that’s only 27 years from now.
That seems like a long time still, but when you break it down, it’s not.
There’s a song by Cheryl Wheeler called 75 Septembers that puts it all perspective. It’s all about how you only get ‘X’ of any particular day in your life, the ‘X’ being the years you are here. Have a listen.
Think about that for a moment. If you live to be 75, you get 75 Septembers. Put another way, you get 75 Christmases or any other date on the calendar. That’s it. 75.
So, using that logic, I have only 17of any particular day left if I make it to 75, 22 if I hit 80 and 27 if I manage to hit 85.
One could argue that that is indeed a long time. But as those of us who have hit their 50s know all too well, time plays that funny tricks on you where it speeds up, or at least, appears to speed up.
For example, it seems like only yesterday that I came back to Seattle. But it’s been 4 1/2 years already. My how time flies.
So, what’s the point of all this? Well, there’s no magic message to give you. It’s just a realization that time is damned shorter than you think it is and there’s really no time to do anything that doesn’t bring you happiness and joy.
Indulging in the bullshit of a presidential election that by any measure is nuts or spending time pleasing others as you become more miserable about doing so, is pointless. We only have so much time on this rock and it’s fleeting at best.
My brother only got 24 Septembers. My father, 56. I’m blessed to still be here, chalking up more Septembers on the calendar than they got to. But still, I know that the numbers game is running against me, which makes it more imperative with each passing moment that I make the most of every day, week, month and year, as I only have ‘X’ of them left.
It’s funny when this hits you. As I said, I used to spend a lot of time doing things that didn’t really jazz me. At times I did things just to please others, like period camping or letting a nut-job, suicidal exhibitionist stay in my house. And then there were those times when I let the drama of others become my drama, taking in their wayward souls in some useless and certainly pointless attempt to fix them.
God, speaking of a waste of time. If only I had the perspective I have now. I wouldn’t have wasted a minute on any of it because it was all bullshit. Hell, most of the time I didn’t even get a thank you for taking the time, my time, to reach out and help.
Lessons learned, I guess. Which leads me to the real lesson here. Your time is extremely valuable. You can use it wisely or you can fritter it away on distractions and dead ends. You can spend it all hating your neighbors or an entire race. You can fret about national politics or the fact that your job sucks.
It’s all for naught in the end. It’s all a waste of time.
It reminds me of the five things people who are dying say they regret towards the end. We should tack these up on our refrigerators to remind us of what is truly important about the time we have left here.
The Five Things People Who Are Dying Say They Regret:
- I wish I’d have the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Powerful stuff. I can safely say that I am doing a lot better than I used to in making sure none of these are my regrets when it comes time to check out. I admit that in my younger days (which ended last week, by the way), I indulged in several of these. I have withheld my true feelings, lived a life others wanted me to live and sacrificed happiness for what I falsely thought was the greater good.
Yes, there are still few more things on the workbench, but I have begun to work on them too. With another September recently come and gone, I want to make sure that I make the next one a doozy. Time really is fleeting, and it’s a waste of time to waste the time on things that don’t add up to a hill of beans in the end.
In the Emerald City, making a list and checking it twice,
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,