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Well Bully For You!

Posted by admin on October 16, 2017 in The Soapbox
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We live in a very funny society. I’m not talking about the “ha! ha!” kind of funny. But rather the funny that is unsettling, almost pathetic.

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

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

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

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

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 I became withdrawn and sullen to the point that I wouldn’t even ride the bus to school because the bullying there was so bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Robb

 
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Words, Words, Words.

Posted by admin on October 2, 2017 in The Soapbox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the problem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Robb

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

 

 
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Hooray For The Red, White & Who?

Posted by admin on September 25, 2017 in The Soapbox

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

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

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

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

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

Patriotism is a love or devotion to a homeland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Robb

 

 
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Yes, It Blows Bigly.

Posted by admin on September 5, 2017 in Life Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Robb

 
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I Pulled Out Too Soon.

Posted by admin on August 28, 2017 in Home Ownership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They are in the house.”

“Who? The exterminators?”

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

“Spackle the hole.”

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

Throughout all this, I continued my meeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Emerald City, beewitched, bothered and beewildered,

  • Robb

 
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Just One Thing.

Posted by admin on August 21, 2017 in Life Lessons

I have spent most of my life, it seems, either caught up in the past, which I can’t change, or the future, which I can’t control.

I suppose it’s something that most of us do. Certainly, we spend a lot of time in the River of Regret in our youth. We visit the river again later in life, looking back at all the wasted opportunities we let slip by or the horrendous errors in judgment we made at one time or another.

I certainly know that I spent a lot of time worrying about the future. I could explore all the angles with this brain of mine, running through different scenarios of boom or doom, depending on the moment. Things that could never possibly happen, or if they did, I had absolutely no control over to begin with anyway.

The simple fact is, we love to think we have control of stuff. I think it’s what brings a lot of drama into our life. We think we can affect the future by controlling relationships, our work, our friendships… you name it. We spend a lot of time trying to make things happen in each area, often forcing the proverbial round peg into the square hole just to demonstrate that we do indeed have control over our lives.

I’ve been fighting this again recently. Yes, I know better. I know there’s very little I can control in life. It’s part of our journey as humans. But I have to say that a video this week from Tony Robbins really hit me between the eyes to remind me once again to focus on the one thing I have control over: NOW!

I could regurgitate the whole idea myself and spare you a couple minutes of Tony. But he really says it fine, and he kept it mercifully short. Thank God, because I’m not a big Tony fan.

See? It’s so damned simple. We all know by now that life is painfully short. The endless horizon of youth now has an edge on it and someday we will fall off it. There is an end, somewhere out there. We don’t know when, but as we get into our mid to late 50s, we start to know that it’s out there.

Social media has been such a blessing and a curse for me. I see lots of people who have joyful lives. I see others who claim to be cursed by all that is happening around them. Me? I live a mostly happy life. Yes, I have my share of problems. But I choose to focus on the things I can control rather than the things I can’t.

It’s all about having joy in life. It’s a conscious decision to get up in the morning and look forward to the day holds. It’s about facing those things with passion, a sense of humor, a sense of purpose and even some playfulness. Sure, you might have some maladies as you age. I certainly have my share. But I treat them as best I can and I don’t try to be a downer, complaining to everyone else about the things in my life that aren’t working as they should.

I approach my work day the same way. Work has been a bit worrisome as of late. The legislature didn’t give us a very positive budget and we have to do some things differently than we used to. People are worried about their work and jobs and they can be in a pretty defeatist mood about it all.

Famously, when asked how I am, I respond, “Great!” I’m not lying. The day may even suck. I can’t control the suck, but I can control how I react to it. I can either let it drag me down or let it go. In the end, I have a job, I have a roof over my head, I have food in my tummy, great friends and a nice life. Most importantly, I have a woman who loves me for who I am, and who gives me such strength that I can face darned near anything.

I am lucky in that respect. But even when I was on my own, I was still good. I learned a few years back that it is always a choice. As Tony pointed out, we have control over one thing and one thing only – this moment.

It’s all we got. That’s one of the reasons people at work like to stop by my office and chat. I’m in a usual state of joy. Not all the time. That would mean I’m not being authentic. But even after all these years, I still have a passion for what I do, I have been lucky enough to get paid to be a creative and even write all of my adult life, and I get to live in this amazing world of ours, with all its ups and downs.

As you go forward with your own day, remember this simple fact. You can’t change the past, you can’t control the future. You can, however, live in the moment and enjoy it fully and unflinchingly. It is the only thing you have, my friend. Everything else, especially the illusion that you are in control, is a waste of time and energy.

So sit back, take a breath, pop a tall cool one if that floats your boat, take your hands off the steering wheel, turn off the smartphone and enjoy the life you were given through whatever miracle it is that put you here. You owe it to yourself and others to do this because you don’t know when you’ll reach that horizon out there, the one where everything you have here comes to an end.

Try it. It’ll take some practice. But as I keep finding out, it is the most freeing thing you can do in life, controlling how you are in the moment you are in, knowing that it’s all you have. And it’s yours to selfishly enjoy to the fullest in any way you see fit.

Living this way can change your stars. And it can change the world around you.

In the Emerald City, enjoying the moment. The moment. The moment.

– Robb

 
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Hey Whitey!

Posted by admin on August 14, 2017 in Culture

It appears that white men are in a ruckus these days. Just look at the nonsense that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend as a bunch of white guys carrying Walmart tiki torches chanted, “White lives matter.”

Now, I am the first to admit that I am a white man. It’s really hard to deny that. And quite frankly, I never give it a second thought when filling out a job application or similar government form. I check White when asked my race, unless they go with Caucasian, which at least sounds more exotic than being plain-old lily white.

It’s not my fault that I am a white man. To paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, I was just born that way.

There’s nothing I can do about it, outside of becoming a white woman.

Still, I tend to reject the stereotype when it is bandied about in the press or in social circles. I am hardly a typical white man, as I don’t have any chip on my shoulder, I don’t harbor any hatred and I don’t really care what color, creed, religion or orientation you are. Frankly, I have more important things to do while I’m still here on earth than worry about the “struggles” of white men.

But many of my fellow whiteys seem to feel lost in America these days. They are tired of minorities or foreigners “taking” their jobs or working for female bosses. They yearn for a much simpler time where men were men, women were pregnant and in the kitchen and everyone else knew their place.

I guess I missed those good old days somewhere along the way. I have always welcomed the idea of equality. Yes, it has cost me some jobs, largely because, again, I’m a white male, and hiring requirements for a position dictated that someone who wasn’t white or male got the job.

I don’t hold any grudges about this. The world changes and I have to change with it. I will say, however, that it is easier because I am one of them. You know, one of those college grads.

A lot of white men don’t seem to like my type. They even go so far as to call me an intellectual or a liberal.

I am neither. I grew up in blue collar Renton in a racist, lily-white family. I went to college mostly because I didn’t want to go to work when I was 18. It was an either/or proposition from my mom and I picked ‘or.’

Still, I admit to having a hard time fitting in with all these white men the media keeps talking about. They complain that all the working wage manufacturing jobs have been moved overseas and they are struggling to support their families. They say that if only we bring all those jobs back – and keep that statue of Robert E. Lee  – things will be much better.

It is to laugh. I don’t mean to be rude, but the whiteys aren’t living in the real world. They obviously haven’t been for the last 15 to 20 years. We are no longer a manufacturing economy. We are an information economy. The jobs, the money and the opportunities are in high tech, not manufacturing. Just ask any white millennial whose a programmer.

There are a couple reasons for this. First, the last thing any company wants to do is add a worker to its payroll. Human resources, i.e., people, are the biggest cost for a business and a decent paying job with benefits is not something any company looks forward to adding. Second, the U.S. economy historically makes these major shift.

At one time, workers made stuff by hand and then machines came along in something called the Industrial Revolution and suddenly all those craftsmen at the turn of the 19th century were out of a job.

And now, manufacturing has moved overseas because as customers, these same white men who pout about losing their jobs would lose their minds in Walmart if an American-made DVD player suddenly cost them $500 instead of $75.

You can’t have it both ways. The economy can’t grow and expand and still remain the same. It is the very essence of a capitalist economy to continually change and adapt. If it doesn’t, it languishes and dies.

Some people invariably get left behind. I get it. Changes in energy usage in this country and abroad have nearly destroyed coal mining as an industry in this country. This change has been coming for years, even decades. Yet, coal miners in rural parts of the country stand there with their mouths agape, wondering why they can’t feed their families.

As a white man, I’ve had my share of career-altering events. If I hadn’t changed with the times, I would still be trying to be a journalist in an age where newspapers are folding like origami. I retrained, I turned on a dime to where the future was going. My father taught me this lesson because he failed to do the same. We ended up in poverty because he world of a TV repairman went from vacuum tubes to transistors and he didn’t change with the times. He lost his business and livelihood as a result.

You don’t see me complain about any of this as now I am both white and old. Hard lessons along the way have taught me that I need to shift with the tides and row towards the next opportunity with reckless abandon rather than turn circles in a cesspool of inaction as the winds of the economy turn against me. (Sorry, I really wanted a sailing analogy in this somewhere)

Yes, I feel sorry that your $25 an hour manufacturing job in a shoe factory in Kentucky is gone. I am sorry that you still live in the small town you grew up in and haven’t done anything in the last 20, 30 or 40 so years to learn something new or at least pay attention to where the world economy was going.

Like the cobbler at the turn of the 19th century who gave up his job to your mechanized shoe factory, factories overseas have now taken your job because they can make shoes cheaper. No, it’s not fair and you can be angry. But don’t blame others for your misfortune. Don’t turn your anger into hatred for others who aren’t a whitey like you, and don’t assume that I should share your view of what America is, or should be, because I have the same skin color.

Instead, maybe you should question your own choices along the way. Choices have always been there, you know. We weren’t born into a caste system. We decided what our lives would be like. Perhaps you just decided to take the easy route, working your 9 to 5 factory job, drinking Buds in the local bar with your buddies after work and toasting the good life you had as the world passed you by.

All good things must come to an end, even the glory days of a white-centric and often whites-only existence. Have a last, long toast to your past, but don’t try to get me to listen to your sad tale of woe. I’m not listening.

In the Emerald City, working hard for the money while always looking for the next land of opportunity,

– Robb

 

 
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Moron!

Posted by admin on August 7, 2017 in Working Daze

A couple days ago I was talking to a coworker about lost opportunities. I was telling a story about the fantastic, often crazy ideas, I would come up with for trade show exhibits.

This included the cruise ship I thought up once, a 20’x40′ deck of a ship, complete with wood decking, lounge, portholes and waving passengers above. Not one to let any detail slide, the theme of the cruise changed every day, as did the passenger’s clothes, to match the ports of call we had sprinkled elsewhere on the show floor.

32117_392617826730_870589_nIt was ambitious, to say the least. And as always, I didn’t have a big budget to match my big ideas. I did manage to find the right partner, however, a little exhibit company that had done some great work in the past.

The owner was a nice lady. Her two children were her employees. If you’ve ever seen the movie Splash and remember the two guys helping the scientist out on the beach – the Moron Twins – then you can picture her sons.

Everything seemed to be going well, until the day of setup. The guys were no-shows all day. Finally, after numerous calls, they showed up at 8 p.m., unloaded everything into a single pile, and announced they were heading off to dinner.

An hour went by, then another, then another. They never came back. With the show coming up quickly the next morning, I needed a miracle. So, as usual, I called all any friend I had who owned a screwdriver or wrench.

There was so much work to do, not only to put together an entire ship but the various ports of calls, all with a debris field in the aisle that looked like it have been found in a city dump. No instructions, no Tab A into Slot B. Nothing but our own resourcefulness to figure out how it all went together.

If only my bosses had known how perilously close we had come to having empty space. To add insult to injury, Mom and the Moron Twins returned to pick it all up two days later and threatened to sue us because we had damaged their exhibit materials. The gall!

I ended up recounting this all to a business associate a few months later. She owned a promotional item company and my company was one of her main clients. We had become good friends over the years, the type that would go to dinner and a show on occasion.

It was during dinner that we talked about the cruise ship fiasco. I regaled how Mom and the Morons went to dinner and how they had threatened to sue me. In my youthful exuberance, I boldly announced that I could have run that company better than she could.

Her husband listened politely as we talked. He didn’t say much, but he seemed interested and somewhat amused by it all.

A couple days later, he called me at work. I had no idea why.

“Robb, I checked out that little company you told Sue and I about at dinner. They appear to be in a bit of a financial mess,” he said.

“Really?” I replied. “I guess they won’t be suing us after all.”

“I have a bit of a proposition to discuss with you. Can you meet me tonight?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’m easy,” keeping the whole thing light.

We met later in a bar near work.

“I want to make you an offer,” he said. “Well, Sue and I want to make you an offer. We want to buy this exhibit company and send the owner and her kids packing. And we want you to run it for us.”

I was 29 years old. Three years before I had been working in a mailroom. I was two years into my chosen career of communications, having fought hard to get the promotion it had taken almost five years to get.

I didn’t know anything about running a company. Yes, I could build stuff. After all, the inventory was basically theater sets and I had worked at a theater for a few years, learning how to build almost anything out of something else.

I was so flattered. I was also flummoxed. I didn’t know what to say. On the one hand, it was a chance of a lifetime. I was being offered the chance to be a CEO of a company, a company someone else basically bought so I could run it. All I had to do was make it make money.

Of course, I had no idea how to do that then. I had no business background. I had only been working in the business world for seven years; a big corporation at that. I was just a cog, not the owner or operator.

I told Al I would sleep on it. I did. In the end, I told him no.

Well who’s the moron now? As I told the story, I thought how funny it was that I said no. Seven years later, I started CommuniCreations. I not only ran a company, but started it from scratch. And I figured out how to make money with it for almost 20 years.

I’ve given some thought to what stopped me. It’s not that I’m not entrepreneurial or risk averse. I think the latter parts of my life have shown this not to be even remotely true. I think I was just afraid. Afraid of failure. Afraid to fail someone else.

Running CommuniCreations was relatively easy. If it failed, it would have affected me. But if I had failed with the exhibit company, I would have failed a couple friends, friends who had invested money in the company and invested in me. The thought of failing them was the reason I turned this golden opportunity down.

It’s funny how life can be at times. One moment we can be charging into the unknown, full of fire and passion, unafraid of what the future holds. And there are other times when our wildest dreams could come true, but shouldn’t because the timing just isn’t right.

I’m still good with the way it all turned out. But who knows what would have happened if I had decided all those years ago to become the Exhibit King of the Pacific Northwest.

In the Emerald City, still building stuff, still dreaming,

  • Robb

 

 
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Party! Party!

Posted by admin on July 24, 2017 in Randomalities

I am hardly the life of the party. Now, anyone who knows me may argue that fact because I do know how to party. And often times, I have been just a lampshade shy of being the party itself.

But given the life I lead, I can also be a real wallflower. Yes, dress me up in pirate gear and Hurricane is the center of attention. But dress that same guy up in a pair of jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, and he can be a real dud, unless plied with copious amounts of wine.

There are two really good reasons for this. The first, I’ve known for years. Deep down, I am shy, very shy in fact. I find it hard to make conversation with people. I’m not very good at meeting new people or remembering names. So, I just sit in a corner, nurse a drink, and watch the partiers roll by.

This offers great fodder for being a writer, by the way. This talent for observing is the reason why so many familiar people are in my Brewster McCabe sagas. I notice stuff, stuff that eventually finds it way into fiction, or in the case of my Memoirs of a Buccaneer, non-fiction.

One character I should write about and never do is the party wallflower. It should be really easy too since that’s what I tend to be.

Oh sure, I used to fake my way through a party, pretending to be in the moment, laughing at other people’s obscure jokes about people I don’t know or places I didn’t work. I mastered the friendly handshake and “nice to know you” nod. But eventually, I would retreat, sinking into a comfortable seat as far in a corner as I could find.

It wasn’t until about a year ago that I stumbled onto the other reason for this shyness. It’s a reluctance to talk about myself. It’s not that I’m not somewhat interesting. But I’m not really any more interesting than anyone else.

But I am reluctant to talk about myself because my interests simply don’t jibe with others who want to make casual conversation. I’m not really into the latest bands or movies. I don’t camp. I don’t go to concerts much. I am definitely not the trendy bar type. I’m not into hot cars, I think pho is outright stupid as a meal solution and I don’t live on my smart phone.

Well, there goes my being topical.

The life of a creative is often a lonely one, if not an isolated one. I don’t have a lot of friends, in part because I don’t do any of the other things people do. And I’m definitely not one to hang around with the creative crowd because I am constantly afraid that I will go all Tourettes on someone at a poetry reading, telling them their work is total crap and that they should just kill themselves.

I guess you can be grateful I never got that job at Suicide Hotline.

I suppose it would be easier if I was more traditional in my creative pursuits. Yes, I sing and play music in a band. But mostly we are dressed up as pirates and instead of booking gigs in bars, we just roll in, instruments in hand and inevitably someone asks us to play.

The pirate thing alone is a real conversation killer. It definitely is a second date killer. “So what do you do for fun, Robb?” she would say. “I’m a pirate,” I would reply, which then required 20 more sentences to explain and even then her eyes would glaze over as her head kept nodding feigned interest.

Let’s just leave those two things off the table. Let’s see. I could talk about my art, but then I’d have to explain why I still have a drawer full of lady’s pantyhose containers they haven’t made since the 1980s. For the longest time, I didn’t even think of this as art, let alone art that used repurposed stuff that would otherwise end up in a landfill. In the 1970s, I was just a dweeb. Today, I’m suddenly a visionary in upcycling and recycling. Go figure.

For the sake of argument, I don’t usually talk about my stint making art cars before anyone knew what an art car was. People nod politely, then I show them the tank I built from a 1962 Ford Galaxie to prove that I’m not making this stuff up. And if they really push me, I’ll show them the Super Car I helped build for Rainier Beer and their superhero Vat Man and sidekick, Choice Hops.

You’re starting to see why I head for the corner, right?

I could go on and on about the plays I’ve written and performed in, about the deck I’m designing for the house that is a replica of the Long Tom Barge used in “Peter Pan.” Or the cottage I designed and built in high school for Brigadoon, complete with a fire hazard of a roof made of real thatched straw.

Or the hydroplanes I used to make to pull behind bicycles. The ones with the actual model V-12 Allison in them. How about the Han Solo Blaster I made out of a plastic Mauser and a Kirby Vacuum Cleaner attachment? Or the freighter I built for the Milk Carton Boat Derby that had a helicopter on the back and smoke that poured from its smokestack?

You’re getting the idea, I’m sure. Being a creative is the E-ticket to peace and quiet at a party. A lot of people secretly think that you’d be interesting to talk to as you fold the beer label into an origami swan, but they just don’t want to open that can of worms.

It’s better to let the guy sit there alone than try to understand exactly what he does for a living or a hobby for that matter. It certainly kept my mother wondering for all her days. No wonder she never invited me to a party.

In the Emerald City, making stuff up… again!

  • Robb

 

 
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Pirate Skool.

Posted by admin on July 10, 2017 in Pirate Adventures

My last RobZerrvation reminded me of an exercise Krimson Kat and I did a few months ago. We were having a little toddy when the subject came up about what kind of advice I would give to a pirate or wench who is new to the craft.

Obviously, I know nothing about being a wench, so I will let Kat handle that here at the end. Plus she’s tossed so many additions into my own list that I can’t tell who is who. Since we really are pretty much the same person (Katticane? HurriKat?), think of the lessons below as coming from the both of us.

As you know, I was trained by a bunch of old farts who pretty much invented pirate entertaining in 1949. By the time I came along in 1982 some of these guys have already been pirates for 33 years.

Yes, there have been some others here and there in the U.S. who figured it out for themselves along the way (Ben Cherry and Cascabel come to mind). But the Seafair Pirates have been doing it for the last 68 years now, long before that Johnny come lately Sparrow guy came along.

I used to jealously hold on to all these lessons I’ve learned about how to be a great pirate and an awesome entertainer. But now that I’m getting older, I think it’s time I share some of the lessons the old farts taught me. It’s time to mentor a bit, if for no other reason than all these lessons won’t fit in my last will and testament.

Some of it is just common sense. But some of it comes from life lessons learned by doing this all these years. Trial and error, if you will, emphasis on the error.

So, let’s get to it:

  1. Find a good teacher or mentor. Not just a good teacher of how to be a pirate, but how to be a good human being.
  2. Be a good student. Keep an open mind and learn from those who have made all the mistakes before you.
  3. Be original. Don’t rip off someone else’s persona. No offense, but once you see six Jack Sparrows together, it gets pretty old, even if one of them is African American, another Asian and the third a midget (unfortunately, I have seen this first hand). And don’t steal someone else’s gimmick. It only shows that you lack imagination and have no respect for those who put a lot of time and effort into their craft.
  4. Have fun… always. If you’re aren’t having fun as a pirate, maybe you should be something else – like a civilian. Why would anyone do something they don’t truly enjoy? After all, this is a damned expensive pursuit, in more ways than one.
  5. Be a good audience. I can’t emphasize this enough. When others are performing, don’t step all over them. Don’t try to steal the moment. Don’t sing along if you’re not asked to. Or try to be funnier than they are. Applaud wildly when they are done. You can’t be a good entertainer without first learning how to be a good audience.
  6. Indulge in the unbelievable. Revel in the moment you are in. Enjoy the circus going on around you as if you’ve never seen any of it before. Especially if it’s a pirate joke. Let the civilian deliver it then laugh as if you’ve heard it for the first time. Refer back to #5 above when in doubt.
  7. Be legendary. History is filled with regular seaman no one remembers. Be a Blackbeard. Be a Morgan. Being a Leviathan means nothing to a child. Being bigger than life in his or her eyes does. It will make a memory that will last a lifetime.
  8. Never take yourself seriously. You are not a real pirate. Don’t run around acting as if you’re the king. The secret is to be the jester in the king’s clothing.
  9. Always give quarter. Never go first, never accept a drawing prize at a fundraiser if you’re there to entertain. Always give special attention to the disabled and the elderly. If you’re pirating for you, you’re in the wrong line of work because it is not about you (see above).
  10. Don’t expect anything but be open to everything. When you do, magic happens, from being invited onto fancy yachts to being flown across the country by a millionaire because he wants to play some more (and yes, these things have happened to me over the years).
  11. You are a fantasy for many. Indulge in it. No one writes romances about clowns.
  12. Watch your weapons. Learn to control them and most important, guard them. I always have my arm over the hilt on my weapon and I never carry the sharp ones in public unless they are latched down. And be sure you don’t leave a real weapon behind somewhere. I know a guy who was so drunk he lost a real flintlock. The thought of a kid finding it and loading it with fireworks still makes me shudder a year later.
  13. Always be willing to pay your own way. No one likes to hang around someone who never has the money and needs to borrow some. If you don’t have the dough, don’t go. Don’t be a bum.
  14. Find out what feeds your inner pirate. Are you an affiliator? Adventurer? Do you enjoy the camaraderie or the adrenaline of it? Are you interested in community service or history? Weapons or music? Find out what you love about it and focus on it. Few can do it all.
  15. Always be humbled by the moment you are in and always be in that moment. No one likes an ass. No one likes an egotist or narcisscist. Pirating is a gift. Appreciate it for what it is.
  16. Don’t be a drunk. The public expects pirates to imbibe. It’s OK to be a little swaggery in the street. But don’t be a complete lush. No one likes to be around a drunk.
  17. Always leave a good taste in the public’s mouth. The quickest way to ruin it for all of us is to be an ass or worse, do something that is downright mean, like stealing bags of candy from children in a parade (that’s how the pirates got thrown out of the Poulsbo parade – because of one person being an ass to little kids).And some wench-specific adds.
  18. Wenches have more power than pirates. Pirates always play like they are available. It feeds that romance novel fantasy. But wenches have a special power. As the old saying goes, “Men always wonder if they are going to get lucky, the woman already knows.” That said, no one likes a cock tease.
  19. No man likes to be played either. Never emasculate a guy. Your power lies in being the beautiful, alluring one. Emasculation while fun, can be very ugly as well.
  20. Don’t get in over your head. If you want to play hard, be sure you have a way out. We used to have a tough guy around always who could insert himself into any situation that had the slightest potential to get out of hand. Be mindful of what you are doing and the situation you are in, especially if you’ve been drinking and/or flirting heavily. Guys don’t always understand when playtime is over, or that it never even started.

Well, there you have it. There are many more, of course, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. Plus, the Internet is finite. I don’t want to fill it up with 35 years of lessons all at once. I might crash the damned thing.

In the Emerald City, looking for the next adventure and the next lesson to learn,

  • Robb

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