The rearview mirror.
I am turning 65 soon. If I were a car I’d be in a museum. Or the junkyard. I’ve never been one to care much about the vehicles that carry me around in this world. I don’t think I’ve washed my car in over 10 years.
I’ve done much better with the one some would call my body. It gets a somewhat regular washing, but my wife still has to remind me.
To be fair, I have never cared much about the body I drive around in. I know others do. I see them applying paint, making sure their headlights shine, torturing over every curve of their body, and getting their tires rotated regularly after a night of being tanked up on alcohol.
Meh. I’ve never tortured over this body of mine. After all, I didn’t have any say over its features. No say on color, grain, driveline, or power package. I got a stick because no one asked if I wanted an automatic. My parents chose all these options for me the night they decided get a little horny after too many cocktails. Some egg winks as she passes by, I win a swimming competition and viola! – the order has been placed.
Sixty-five years later, that champion swimmer has a body that makes some funny noises under the hood. Time has taken its toll on some of the original manufacturer parts, but it still manages to get me around without giving me too much trouble.
I know this because I took it to the shop recently. The professional I take it to gave it a thorough once over. Sure, there was some additional mileage, and the spare tire around my waist had gained a few more psi, but overall nothing too much out of the ordinary.
Well, there seems to be a small problem with the rear end. I’ve been told that I might have a leaky gasket. So the person I take it to wants to do a closer inspection.
It’s always been a finicky rear end. For instance, it likes to omit really foul smells from the tailpipe at inopportune times.
But now it seems I need a rear-end job. This is a bit of a concern, in part because I’d had so little work done on this thing over the years. Sure, I had the dipstick cover taken off when I was born. A few years ago I had a couple nuts that needed attention, but nothing really major.
I’ve been fortunate in that regard. I’ve never had to have stitches to reconnect my ample upholstery. I did rip it wide open one time with an X-acto knife, but the guy at the shop put some tape on it and called it good.
Small wonder that to this day that I think tape will fix just about anything. Duct tape is by far the best, along with some Super Glue. A little here, a little there. All good.
Miracles of miracles, I’ve never had anything really break. I’ve done some pretty stupid things while moving about the cabin. I did hurt my ankle skydiving. But it wasn’t a break. My guy said I should have broken it; it would have been better if I did. So close, but yet so far. I didn’t get a cast. Just more tape.
Before you call my bluff, I will admit that I have broken my little toes so many times that I can’t even count them on two feet. I had my nose broken by an errant softball in elementary school, but no one did anything about it. To this day I look like an enthusiastic window shopper.
I did manage to break my ring finger in middle school. That was Harley Spaeth’s fault, not mine. He threw a volley-soccer ball – you know, those do-everything-but-not-well balls schools have. It knocked the end of the finger back into the knuckle. That split the bone in two. When I was taken to the shop, the guy snapped it all into place without much ado or warning and slapped a metal splint on it with you guessed it – more tape.
As I said, I have nearly all of my original parts. A few pieces of my grill have had some work done to them, and then there was the cap on the dipstick. The pesky nuts were disconnected by the Celtic Dick Snipper. The nuts are still there but they really have no use anymore.
As I look forward(?) to my rear-end job, I marvel at how lucky I am. I have only stayed in the shop for a week in my entire life. It was all my fault. I had never such headlights before. I have seen a lot since. How was I to know that they weren’t the best, brightest or biggest in the land? I did have those computer resets a time or two over the last couple of years; for some reason my body likes to do that. No one at the shop can tell me why the odometer rolls back an hour or more and then works starts clicking along again.
And I had that pool noodle that was shoved down my radiator hose that one time after it was blocked by an unchewed piece of grisly steak. I tried to do a flush myself with red wine but it really required the touch of a real pro armed with Armorall. Wait, that was Demerol.
I am pretty sure that I won’t enjoy the rear-end work as much as I enjoyed the “go ahead, rip it all out” feeling of the pool noodle drugs. I am told that I won’t be awake, but rather twilighted. I’m not sure what that exactly means and Kat isn’t very forthcoming with details. I did plan to bring my own borescope with me to the appointment. If I can save a dime or two while I’m in the shop, I’m on it.
But they say they have their own diagnostics at the shop. But as a thank you for being so thoughtful, they said they’ll send me a free drink to enjoy the night before. I love free drinks. So thoughtful.
Somewhere north of the Emerald City, kegeling unexpectedly,
A good lesson indeed.
In my youth (for me, that is from birth to age 55), I used to assume everyone was just like me. Since the only experience I had ever had as a person was as me, how was I supposed to think otherwise?
This, of course, caused issues in my life. I think the fact that I have so few friends to this day is because I held them to a higher standard than they themselves wanted to achieve. It could be argued that I did this was some of my exes. It wasn’t my ego at work; I could see the potential in them they couldn’t see. I thought if I could help them reach that potential, they would meet some kind of goal that was eluding them, whether it was being smarter, more creative, or as I have come to learn more recently, a better pirate.
The lesson became very apparent at a recent reunion of the Seattle Seafair Pirates. Many years ago, 40 to be precise, I was brought into this magical world. It was 1982 and in Seattle and its environs, the Seafair Pirates were the rock stars of their day. They could get away with things that to this day some people won’t believe. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about these antics, I mean, I wrote a book on that part of my life. But we could carouse, womanize, drink, drive drunk, fire sawed-off shotguns in downtown streets, and trash a hotel room or two (or three). Everyone ate it up.
Times have changed, of course. And I have too, it seems. I thought the reunion would be a lot of fun. My old pirate buddies are dying off by the day and the number of times we will spend together is rapidly dwindling.
I showed up early at The Ballard Elks. The pirates were upstairs, and I was down in the member’s quarters with my fellow Elks. As the time neared for the formal part of the reunion meetup, I found I couldn’t go into the room. It’s not that I wasn’t welcomed. I had been invited. But suddenly it felt as if I were attending a reunion for the Class of 2022 when I was in the Class of 1982, and from a different school. Though we claimed a similar origin, I had nothing in common with the guys assembled in the room, reliving a past glory they themselves never experienced firsthand. This isn’t to fault them mind you. Time marches on and people and experiences come and go.
Over the last few days, I have been counting pirates as I go to sleep. It’s a lot like counting sheep but there’s a lot more facial hair. As I did this, it occurred to me why I am so different in this world, the pirate world that is.
Forty years into it, my persona has continued to build on that period from 1982 to 1990 when we drank, cavorted and paraded as a band of pirates. Those 56 guys were my brothers (two of them really were brothers) and I was in the halcyon days of the group without even knowing it.
As a 24 year old, I got to learn from the same guys who started the group in 1949 and those who came along during the crazy days when Seafair handed the pirates a big check every year to run around town and party like there was no tomorrow. I was harvesting a gold mine of knowledge about how to do improvisation, perform, run parades and serve as goodwill ambassadors. In short, I was learning to live life as a pirate, both in gear and out.
My teachers had hundreds of years of experience. In those short eight years before I went off on my own in the famed mutiny, I went on hundreds of voyages with these characters; many of them were playing pirate a decade before I was even born. What would become my best friend to this day, Bobby Smyth, was Captain in 1971 of the Seafair Pirates. I was 13 years old.
It was like going to a music school and the instructors were Beethoven, Gerswhin and Jimi Hendrix. These guys were the rock stars of their time and I got the honor of being a young sponge, soaking up everything I could.
I paid back all this education, mind you. I was a singer. We’d hit a bar, I’d sing with my band or alone, and the patrons and bar owner would buy us round after round to keep us there. We were always late to the next place, in part because I have 80 or so songs in my head.
For 40 years, I have been able to keep their lessons alive and add a few of my own. That night at the Elks, I did what I always do. I brought my guitar in with me, sat it down on the table, and waited for someone to ask me if I could play that thing. At that moment, the Entertainment Light went on in my head, and like a jukebox stuck on random play, I sang whatever came to mind.
The next day, I remembered the comment from a former crewmate. She asked one time if the rest of the crew was just supposed to be window dressing or band groupies while the band and I did our thing.
I would reply, just entertain the crowd. Mingle, talk to them, make them laugh. Some could; others didn’t have a clue. Eventually, they would all sit down at a table and talk among themselves. It wasn’t their fault at all that they couldn’t do what I do. I learned from the best through osmosis (and alcohol). Hell, there are days when I still don’t sit down for hours because we used make fun of those pirates who were just holding up the bar or appeared to be supper clubbers, showing up for the freebies but not really earning their keep.
Most of those ol’ salts are gone now. There are few of us left from those days, and even fewer still pirating.
As I read the names on my list of 56 pirates who taught me so much, I think back to this magical time when I was still trying to grow up ever so slightly and all these old farts became my friends and crewmates. I wish others could have seen so many of them in action, from Weaver Dial who always had the right gimmick in his seabag to Bourbon Jack. Jack and Curly had the sixth sense to find all the best happy hours in town minutes after arriving, and more importantly, would get us invited to some premium places to play pirate, from Rosellini’s 410 to the Bull & Finch (the real Cheers) where, instruments in hand, we walked right by the block-long line of tourists waiting an hour or more to get in. We ended upstairs, singing songs to the owner’s mother. It turned out to be her birthday.
Thanks to all of you. And my apologies to those who I thought should be just like me, knowing now that we all have our own journeys, our unique talents and stories to share around the table.
But please don’t judge me if I smile at you, say “it’s good to see you” and quickly move off to sing another song, catch myself in a net or drive my terrifying inflatable shark on an RC car down the road. It’s what I know. It’s who I am. And I owe it to those who came before me to share the same magic.
Just north of the Emerald City, amazed by how lucky I have been to live the life I’ve had. So far…
My Taskmasters (1982 – 1990)
“Plywood” Bill Johnston
Art “The Chief” Karelsen
Bill “Taylor” Englehart
“Bourbon” Jack Langeloh
Dave “Dogmeat” Speckels
Ellard “Black Bart” Bartlett
Nick Nichols (Kinler)
Richard “Bulldog” Eberhardt
The unfriendly skies.
I used to enjoy flying. I took my first big trip in 1984. It was to the Cayman Islands. I was just 24. It was the first time I had ever been on a commercial jetliner.
Since then, I have rarely lost my love of flying. Even in the middle of a hellacious thunderstorm on approach to Minneapolis when we were bouncing around the cabin, I still found a way to enjoy the ride. In the spirit of the moment, I started singing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and by the time I had hit the chorus, the rest of my party was singing right along. A chorus of 12 heavenly voices, most drunk, singing our way to the netherworld – Minnesota.
I have been fortunate over the years. I have never lost a piece of luggage. It always showed up magically on the carousel. Sure, planes were late departing or leaving, but I never missed a single connection. All those horror stories on TV about people sleeping in airports for days at a time were unfathomable to me.
With all this in mind, I set off a couple of weeks ago to Key West. I haven’t been on a vacation in two years, thanks to COVID. So I thought, what the hell, let’s make it a memorable trip.
Back in November, I booked our flight. My favorite airline flies straight to Ft. Lauderdale or Miami. But it doesn’t fly to Key West. I guess the Eskimo on the tail of the plane didn’t wasn’t the sun-worshipping type. In normal times (re: Pre-COVID), I would fly into one of these two cities on Alaska and then rent a car to make the three-hour drive south through the Keys.
But this time, we weren’t going to need a car and figuring out what to do with it on the crowded, narrow streets of Key West would have been problematic. Most of the town is fairly walkable, so taking an actual car from Point A to Point B on a three by five mile island is nonsense.
Against my better judgment, I decided to take another airline this time around. Two airlines flew one-stops to Key West – Delta and American. Remembering that Delta killed one Jan’s dog, I opted for American.
One-stop of about 45 minutes in Dallas. Total price: $1099 for the two of us. Feeling a bit largess since I hadn’t gone anywhere in two years, I upgraded the legs to First Class. For those who haven’t traveled recently, that’s the part of the plane that arrives at the scene of a crash shortly before the peasants in steerage do.
I have always wanted to experience the luxury and pampering of First Class. Sitting with the highbrow and hoity-toity, sipping champagne and toasting our good fortune and so much legroom that you could have let two people in Coach sit on the floor and still have enough room to put your feet up.
The outbound flight was a joy. I was a bit concerned about the scant 45 minutes we had to make our way from our Seattle flight through the endless passageways of DFW, but it was a snap.
We had the same layover on the way back, and as a bonus round, the terminals were next to each other, so it would be a quick walk.
Our flight from Key West back home was right on time. We walked out on the tarmac and climbed the stairwell to the door of the plane and settled into our First Class seats. The peasants passed us on the way to steerage and we were off.
Free drinks, food served on plates with silverware, hot towels (I don’t get these at all), a dedicated bathroom and I had finally figured out how to work the Tetris-like seat tray.What could be better?
A lot, it turns out. As we approached Dallas, I started to notice that the flight tracker was getting a bit wonky. Our 45 minutes time to arrival changed to 60, then 75. We circled the airport for so long that we had to leave it and fly to Houston instead. The weather had closed in, and I guess American is famous for canceling flights because of a little crosswind.
Our pilot – a good ol’ boy from Louisiana who had about 33 weeks to go to retirement – was apologetic, but his voice had a slight overtone of unexpressed anger in it. He said that the crosswinds were gusting to 40 mph at DFW. I sensed that he had been through far worse. He seemed like a guy who would put it down on the numbers in a hurricane with both engines on fire.
Even so, we were off to Houston to refuel. Our flight from Dallas to Seattle was delayed too, so no biggy. We were 12th in line for fuel at Houston so it felt like we were taxiing back to Dallas for a while. Finally, we gassed up and took off, flying with reckless abandon back to DFW before they shut it down again.
So far, so good. But we climbed out of Houston, American became American’t. Our homeward leg was canceled, all of Monday’s flights were canceled, and the first we could get out on American was 8:35 p.m. Tuesday night. If we wanted to get home earlier, we had to fly from Dallas over to Miami and then back to Seattle. In Economy.
No biggy. We were in First Class, I thought. American will take care of us. That’s what airlines do with First Class passengers. They’ll already have us rebooked before we land or find us a hotel for the night. We’d hop off the plane and meet a gate agent waiting for us. There wasn’t one.
There was, however, a long line of peasants from previous flights waiting in a line. I figured that line was the Peasants Line because I had been in one before. It couldn’t be for the First Class passengers. But it was a general line, a line Kat took her place in as I called American’ts Customer Service. They were of no help at all.
A hotel room? All we got was a postcard with a QR code to some partner hotels at ripoff rates. That was a non-starter so I switched to Hotels.com where I had some free nights banked. I found a suite at a Sheraton six miles away. By now it was midnight. We should have been back in Seattle four hours ago. Now all that was left was to retrieve our luggage.
Another line. Another disappointment. Our bags were somewhere in the catacombs of the airport. Now I was stuck in my pirate geat in a cowpoke town with nothing to change into and nary a single clean piece of underwear in sight.
Oh well, we’ll get them tomorrow. Let’s just catch the shuttle to the airport. I called the hotel and they said the shuttle was about an hour late. No biggy. We were still trying to find our luggage so we had time. They finally said they had found them and would get them to us.
With nothing left to do, we called the hotel shuttle. They were running an hour behind. No problem. We could wait.
And wait we did. Before we knew it, it was 1:30 a.m. and raining. Another person was waiting for the same missing shuttle. We initially didn’t engage her because she kept mumbling into her phone, like the guy in Office Space. We finally named her Red Stapler Girl.
I shouldn’t throw too much shade on her as it was her idea to get a cab to the hotel. As a travel tip, know that taxis in Dallas seem to head off into some secret cave at night. They are impossible to find. To get one going out of the airport, someone has to be coming into the airport. An airport that was now officially closed.
Finally, we get to the hotel. It turns out the shuttle didn’t come because the hotel was officially full and they were hoping we just wouldn’t show up. They looked pretty surprised when we did. We had outsmarted their little game of “ignore them and they will just go away.” To their credit, they did give us a suite; one an assistant manager had to clean while we waited in the lobby. Kudos to him.
In the morning, I checked again on our bags. American’t had sent them on to Seattle. They were set to arrive at 10:30 Monday morning. We weren’t set to fly out until 6:10 a.m. Tuesday.
By now we had totally abandoned American’t, even though we had an unused leg to go. I booked on Alaska and decided to eat the cost of two one-way rides home. By now, our reservation with American’t had disappeared from their screens, as if we never existed, nor the money they promised to reimburse us for the last leg we never took.
The Eskimo didn’t let us down. Like someone who had been unfaithful, we were welcomed back to our first love – Alaska. We swore never to be swayed again by those fancy promise of First Class on another airline or any trip that used DFW in their itinerary. We won’t even do another one-stop. We’ll stay with direct flights from now on. I don’t care where they go, as long as I don’t have to be expected to fly the American’t Way.
Somewhere north of The Emerald City, thankful that the Eskimo is planning to fly direct to Tahiti in the fall,
A Real “Dating” Problem.
Being a pirate isn’t easy, at least if you want to have what some people call a normal relationship. I have written here and there about my many misadventures in pursuit of love, including a book that chronicled all my exploits in often embarrassing detail.
But now that I am in a happy, fulfilling relationship with someone that took the better part of five decades to find, I can reflect on the effect my pirate life has had on relationships, both good and bad.
I only write this because I was recently watching a documentary on the Treasure Island Resort in Vegas. This shouldn’t be more than a footnote, except that I got married there. This would be Marriage #2. This was back in 1994 when I was still so young and immature. But I am getting ahead of myself.
As you may recall in my missive about Diablo, the entire relationship could be described by the titles of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Episodes 3 and 4, At World’s End and On Stranger Tides, mirrored that relationship perfectly, right down to the moment when we struck the reef of romance and Diablo jumped ship, leaving me to go down with it, as any good captain would.
But as I think more about it, the years that end in a 3 and 4, much like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, seem to strange influence on my life.
In 1983, I became a Seafair Pirate. I had gone through my year of candidacy and the crew voted me in unanimously as a member in the fall of that year. I was a full-fledged pirate, in more ways than one.
I was told back then by a fellow pirate that “when you become a pirate, you know it, and so does everyone else.” This, I think, is where the casual pirate player and a pirate diverge. When you become a pirate, your brain changes. You no longer care about your job, your relationship, paying bills or civilian life. That world is a place you visit occasionally, but you no longer live there.
It is a transformative process, going through that year of candidacy, learning all the ropes, doing total shit work that would make the most determined individual quit, and then going through hell week, Seafair, where you stay in a hotel and live and breathe being a pirate 24/7.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that during Seafair 1983 I found my romantic sea legs and lost my “pirate virginity” as it was called. I was now a true pirate. And one of a select few.
Just one problem. I still had a wife in the civilian world. What to do, what to do.
Long story short, she found out I was spending a lot of time in someone else’s harbor and wasn’t thrilled I was visiting that particular port regularly. The following April (1994), I was on the lam, my brothers were trying to kill me, my soon-to-be ex was living with my mother and me, I was navigating a new world.
Not really proud of how it all played out, but hey, that’s life.
Almost 10 years passed before I found true love again. At least she was a wench and singer. She understood where I was coming from more than the civilian. Plus we went everywhere together as part of a crew, so what could possibly happen?
Back to Treasure Island. We started dating in 2003. We got engaged in the winter of that year. Looking for a place to get married, we saw that Treasure Island Resort had just opened. So we set a course for Las Vegas.
We were the first couple to get married in full regalia at Treasure Island. I still remember when the security folks tried to keep us out of the casino after we got hitched. Then someone whispered in their earpiece and we were free to roam about the cabin. Take that, members of the King’s Navy.
This was back when the pirates and navy fought one another in fully rigged ships in front of the casino. It was pretty cool, being in our gear, posing for photos in front of the ship and getting a salute from the crew on our wedding day.
The show went on for 10 years. About midway through it changed to a Sirens of TI show, the pirates becoming half-naked showgirls. It closed in 2003.
This was the same year we went down to Key West to renew our vows. It was the DVD release of the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie, titled appropriately, “Curse of the Black Pearl.”
Feel free to read the details of that misadventure in the Diablo chronicles. Talk about a curse. But let’s cut to the chase. I found myself dropping anchor in a different harbor again.
In April 2004, I was once again offered the chance to leave the wonderful life I had and set course for the stranger tides of Florida. Dumbass.
If I had only known that the Treasure Island Resort had shut down the show the previous October, I may have been able to keep a weather eye out for rough waters ahead in Key West, knowing my “dating” problem. As we know, history repeats itself and mine seems to have a love of Aprils, years ending in 3 or 4, and pirates, whether movies, events, or antics.
So it’s with a bit of trepidation that Kat sees 2023 on the horizon. I keep telling her that I don’t believe in all this nonsense. That’s it just an amusing coincidence or more likely, a writer’s overactive imagination.
I can’t say I blame her. I can take solace that there are no more Pirates of the Caribbean movies coming up and I have lost my taste for unfamiliar harbors. I’m very happy with the anchorage and safe harbor she’s given me.
The years are just years now. It’s 2021 now, next year it will be 2022, then comes 2025, 2026 and 2027. Just dates on a calendar and there’s not a single stitch of superstition left in me.
Somewhere north of Seattle, keeping my tiller in familiar waters,
Doing one’s duty.
We’re coming up on a year now since the stay-at-home orders began. In that time, I have been out of the house (i.e., beyond the street in front), a total of 14 times. Most of these were out of absolute necessity because of family health issues. Otherwise, I’ve been on lockdown.
I see others out and about on social media all the time. That’s cool. I don’t expect everyone, or anyone for that matter, to be like me. I just have a sense of duty to do my part in this war against this invisible enemy we can’t see, smell or hear.
Yes, duty. I’ve been thinking about how I grew up over the last few months as I live life in my self-made monastery. I’ve come to realize that I have a very different set of values than others. I supposed I gained it through osmosis in my youth. Or maybe it’s a generational thing.
As I was growing up, I can still remember the few times my father spoke about his service in World War II. He was a ground pounder in the Army. A lowly private, 19 years of age, sent to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. It was one bloody battle after another for four long years. At one point, my father was training for the invasion of mainland Japan, but a couple of atomic bombs saved him from that ordeal and probable demise.
My dad had already been through a lot by that time. He would reminisce about the many landings he did, where half of the soldiers on the landing craft were dead before they reached the shore. How the guy next to him took one in the head that with a simple pitch of the sea, could have ended up taking him out instead.
He spoke about the holes and caves he had to go into on the many islands that dot the Pacific. How the Japanese soldiers refused to surrender, believing the U.S. troops were lying to them. More often than not, they took their own life rather than be disgraced by surrender to the Allies.
I also think about my brother who went to Vietnam. He didn’t have to. He had a deferment because he worked for a military contractor. But he went anyway. He said it was his duty. That sense of duty almost killed him. He was attacked in the middle of the night at a bridge outpost. Instantly he was in a firefight with the Vietcong. They threw grenades, they shot at him. The only way he could save his life was to drop off the side of a bridge into barbed wire. It was a drop of about 25 feet. The enemy threw more grenades on him as he landed. He broke both legs, took a bullet in his arm and was still picking out shrapnel from his legs for when he returned home. His war injuries are one of the reasons he later drowned at the age of 24.
I think about my grandparents who immigrated from Russia. They had to flee the Cossacks and leave their land grants behind. They had to flee on foot, traveling hundreds of miles to get somewhere safe and could sail to America. They didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the customs, but the promise of America was worth the hardship, the risk, and most importantly, the sacrifice of having to start over from scratch in a land that was foreign to them.
And then I think of my own plight on lockdown. No one is shooting at me. No one is taking away my home or land. I have shelter and food. I am mostly healthy. I live a life that my parents would marvel at; a comfortable life where I don’t have to worry about the things they worried about – my dad and brother being shot at, my grandparents being thrown in the gulag, my mother having to forage for food during the Great Depression, wearing the only pair of shoes he father could afford.
All I have to do is stay home and be a good soldier. When I’m out, I need to physically distance, wash my hands and wear a mask. That’s it. That’s all the sacrifice I have to make. No food rationing coupons, no gas shortage, no blackouts at night or air raid sirens, no blistered feet from walking days and weeks, carrying everything I owned on my back.
This is my duty right now. To be safe, to contribute to this war effort against this invisible enemy and wait for reinforcements to arrive in the form of vaccines. It’s been a little less than a year now. Big deal. My dad did four in hellish conditions, my brother two in the stifling heat of the jungles of Southeast Asia. Others who came before them dug into the trenches in France or fought their brother hand to hand in the Civil War.
All my country is asking me is to be safe, be considerate, wait out the battle and try not to pass COVID onto others, and more important, overwhelm the healthcare system by being selfish and insisting on living life like it was normal.
It’s not. It wasn’t for my ancestors either. I can only imagine my father if he were still here, wondering what the hell is wrong with me because I think I need to go out to eat when there was a deadly virus making the rounds. How I would put myself and others in danger because I was in his mind, just being selfish and self-centered.
Again, I’m not judging others. They didn’t grow up in my family or have my dad. But his truth rings in my ears as I wait for help to arrive. I see the end is in sight, I’m not about to shirk my duty now and leave my post.
North of the Emerald City, content with my marching orders,
Speech has never been free.
There’s an awful lot of hoopla right now about freedom of speech, the clampdown by social media companies on certain striations of public discourse, and the role media companies have in our seemingly fundamental right to freedom of speech.
First, let’s start with the fact that social media companies – nay, all media companies – don’t have to protect your right to say anything you want to on their platforms. This has never been the case, even if you go all the way back to the beginning of mass media.
I know, you’re trying to quote me the First Amendment right now. I will save you some time. Here it is:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.“
You’ll notice that it says that “Congress shall make no law.” Since its enactment, courts have largely held that it’s not only Congress, but states as well who shall not infringe on your right to speak freely.
Notice it says nothing about media, social media, corporations, organizations, schools or any other body. The government, and the government alone, cannot prohibit you from the right to freedom of speech.
Still with me?
Now let’s move on to the current hubbub about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al. We’ll start with the history lesson.
If you watched Citizen Kane, then you probably know it was all about William Randolph Hearst. At the height of his power and fame, he owned 28 major newspapers and 18 magazines, along with several radio stations, movie companies, and news services. He is known for ushering in the age of sensationalized news, what is commonly known as yellow journalism. If Hearst didn’t like it, it didn’t run in his papers or on his stations. It was a benevolent dictatorship.
Fast forward to the dawn of television. As many of you old farts remember, there were only three national TV networks: CBS, NBC and ABC in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. These networks decided what went on television and what didn’t. They decided what shows you saw, what news you heard and even drove what our culture looked like through advertising. If you were really lucky, you got an independent station in your hometown and a public television station.
The point here is that the public didn’t have any say on what was shown, outside of the Nielsen Ratings. Live TV didn’t allow you to fast forward through commercials or even watch the show as a rerun, in its earliest form. Network executives dictated what the content was. Another benevolent dictatorship, controlled by three large corporations with holdings in radio, TV, publishing and music (remember the Columbia Records club?).
Then the Internet arrived. A new medium that seemed so democratic. Anyone could logon and revel in content that was of specific interest to them. Well, kind of. First, you had to login through an Internet provider who charged you for the privilege of accessing their version of the Internet. AOL and Compuserve gave you an edited version of the Internet in the early days. They dictated what you saw and how you interacted, much as the major TV networks did.
As more and more people got on the Internet, newcomers started to notice the power of the web, not as a tool for communication and an exchange of ideas, but as a data goldmine. We probably all remember MySpace, one of the pioneers of data amalgamation as a business model.
Today, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tik Tok, etc., use this same model. You get to be on their site for free because your the price you pay is the surrender of all your data to the host company. Everything you do on a social media site is logged, analyzed, synergized, and then shared with other companies who buy your data. Ever wonder how an Amazon ad shows up on Facebook for a product you just searched for on Google? It’s data shares, my friend. That’s where the money is.
If you ever read the Terms of Service on these sites, you’d quickly learn that you don’t have the right to say anything you want. To be fair, you’re given a pretty wide space to play in, but if you cross the line, you run the risk of getting a timeout. Why? Because these businesses don’t want to lose revenue. No advertiser wants to hang around an insurrection-minded mob. There’s no money in it, except to sell Trump flags and ammo. I am singling them out unfairly because being on the far, far left isn’t any better for these businesses.
This all seems so unfair, I know. But these companies don’t have to pander to your desire to post whatever you want to on their sites. They aren’t charging you to be there. You’re there on their dime and you’re paying for the experience with every poll you take, every post you like or dislike and any ad you click on because it has an amazing offer for something you were just thinking about buying.
There is a simple remedy for this. Stay off social media. There was a time not so long ago when people managed to live without Facebook posts and Tweets. There was no need to feed your ego or engage in pseudo-debates with click-baiters on the other side of an issue.
We wonder why we’re so divided? Because Facebook has convinced us that these people we Friend are actually our Friends. In most cases, they aren’t even our acquaintances and in many cases, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, there to tear you down, fuel your fears, create fear about others who aren’t exactly like you, and divide us even further.
In short, mass media has never been democratic. There is a buck to be made in any media company’s business model. It was never about creating something for the greater good. It was about making money off of you.
Somewhere north of the Emerald City, exercising my freedom of speech in my own sandbox,
Deja, deja, deja vous.
I am hardly the first to recognize that these are interesting times. Especially for people born after 1969. For Xers, Z’s and Millennials, everything seems to be falling apart, civilization crumbling all around us as we deal with the issues of racism, white supremacy, homelessness, poverty, violence and hatred. Oh, and a global pandemic.
It would be easy to blame a president or a party for all of this, but it’s been bubbling under the hood for as long as I have been on this earth. Like McCarthy and Communism, Trump and his henchmen simply gave a voice and legitimacy to divisions that have been part of this country for generations.
I could go way back to Jim Crow laws and poll taxes to start. Or talk about the Ku Klux Klan in its heyday, who got away with murder, literally. There have been countless politicians before that espoused hatred for minorities. Just look for the video of George Wallace standing in the doorway of the University of Alabama preventing two black students from entering. And he was Governor at the time.
Then there’s the march on Selma and a sheriff’s use of a private police force armed with clubs wrapped in barbed wire and attack dogs, to rain hate and violence on unarmed men and women who were peacefully marching for their right to vote.
We could look at Mayor Daly in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention, ordering his police to beat demonstrators or the hatred that drove men to assassinate the likes of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X.
Or the time we took away the Olympic medals of two athletes who put on black gloves and raised their hands in a fist as the National Anthem was played. And the false rage over Colin Kaepernick taking a knee in protest of the same flag that was used to beat a police officer at the insurrection at the Capitol Jan. 6.
We could go on. The assassination of Jack Kennedy, the anti-war movement that took a president down, the lies and coverup that caused another president to resign instead of face the disgrace of a certain impeachment and conviction. And, of course, the Oklahoma City bombing, one of our more recent cases of domestic terrorism and 9/11, which shook us all to the very core.
As I look at how little things have changed in our world, I think of a couple songs that were done in the early 1960s.
Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Change a few names of the politicians, and you pretty much have the same white supremacy you see today, except this was in the 1960s when making fun of it was the most powerful way to remove its power and keep in in the margins where at least, people kept their own feelings to themselves and didn’t try to storm the nation’s Capitol because their leader told them to.
A Merry Little Minuet is hauntingly familiar as well, given that many of the problems The Kingston Trio sings about are still problems today (it was written in 1949, BTW). And, of course, there’s the John Birch Society. Change commies to socialists, snowflakes or any other term you want to use for the other side and you have today’s divided politics and nation.
I sometimes wonder what it would be like if we didn’t have social media these days. Rather than following along with the bouncing ball of moment-to-moment existence – entirely without context or the weight of the passage of time – we would instead patiently wait for the likes of a Walter Chronkite or Huntley and Brinkley or to tell us what happened, why we should care and what it means to us as Americans.
But no, we’re left to our own devices these days. The media is more splintered than it used to be (I will cover that and freedom of speech in the next RobZerrvation), so people just suck up what their favorite news channel says and spew it back out with a Tweet or a meme. Sadly, social media is becoming the main source of news these days, and with its popularity comes a bunch of snake oil salesmen with sinister agendas, convincing people there are plots and conspiracies everywhere. A pizza joint the epicenter of an evil cabol? Spare me.
I’m hardly naive enough to try to tell you that everything is sunshine and lollipops. This country has some historically significant problems. My only point here is that history will show us its weight and how it fits into the timeline of our nation and this great experiment we call democracy.
The endless social media posts and Chicken Little warnings that the sky is falling is akin to the Breaking News breaks I see every morning on the news. A big red Breaking News comes on the screen. You hold your breath, at least I do, for in my life that meant an assassination, an invasion, or a 7.0+ earthquake somewhere. Instead, it’s just a boring car accident, one where nobody was killed, no one was stealing the car or running from the police. Someone was just not paying attention, probably trying to post a conspiracy on Facebook as they tried to round a curve. That is not breaking news, folks.
So, as we move forward with a new four years with another new president (my 12th now), let’s quit hanging on so tight to the world as it turns. History has been marching on for a really long time now. It was chugging along before we came to be. It will keep going on long after. Every single thing isn’t the end of the world. It can’t be. Even a giant asteroid didn’t manage to accomplish that. Though I will make the case that it would be a time when “Breaking News” would actually make sense.
North of the Emerald City, month 10 of my lockdown of a pandemic I didn’t even bring up this time (damn, just did),
Where the hell have you been?
That’s a question I often ask myself, now that the calendar has changed over from a virtual hell to one of promise and hope. I was going to originally add peace but we all know how the previous week has played out.
My last RobZerrvation was just shy of one year ago, when I was covering our visit to Latitudes in Daytona, where we were considering retiring.
When the pandemic struck last March, I thought, along with probably most of America, that we would hunker down for a few weeks or even months, and then it would all go away magically, as we were promised, when summer hit.
It didn’t, of course. People are still dying as I write this and I slowly got caught up in the grief of life lost for much of the past nine months. Not only for the lives needlessly lost to COVID, but my family’s own lives as everything we looked forward to was canceled one by one.
No festivals to perform at, no bars to roam as mirthful, mischievous pirates, no trips to anywhere and basically no fun whatsoever. Add to that, some tumultuous calamities in our housebound world – including emergency surgeries and scary fires – and an increasing belief by some that our democracy no longer works and that it’s time to start over. No one seems to know what that actually entails, except to destroy and desecrate our cherished symbols of democracy and rant and rave that they didn’t get their way.
My own job has shifted dramatically from helping small businesses grow and attracting new business to Washington to helping businesses survive and now, restart and regrow. The work has been heartwrenching at times. The sad stories I have heard would fill an encyclopedia from A-Z that no one should have to read.
And yet, I am still here. I’m relatively intact, even though I have only been off my property perhaps a dozen times since last March. In an effort to protect my household and my own health, I have become a shut-in of sorts. I certainly don’t want to arrive at the Pearly Gates or Depths of Hell and have the gatekeeper announce to the band of angels or gathered throngs of demons, “Hey everyone, here’s that dumbshit that just had to go out for a drink in a bar when he had a fully stocked bar at home. And to think he was going to live another 30 years if he just stayed home.”
In the process of being on my own Gilligan’s Island for what will soon be a year, I’ve learned a lot about myself. First and foremost, I am far stronger than I thought. I can handle just about everything that can come my way, from summoning emergency responders to our house (I swear they drive by regularly now to see if we might just have a crisis) to ensuring that our supplies are always topped off without becoming a senseless, fearful hoarder of toilet paper.
I have also discovered that I am very resilient. My core is still here, my sense of humor still chugging along, even in the worst of times. Yes, I went through a long grieving period which took away my joy temporarily, but with the new year I have regained my sense of hope and certainly my joy by making a firm choice to do so.
This was not without the miracle of modern science, I admit. Being home and having what I call the “worry gene” can really play games with your mind. I have always had the tendency to loop about things that aren’t probably going to happen. The problem is part chemical and part creative. The chemical part is in my brain. The creative side, well that’s there too, I suppose. As a writer, my mind continues to create endless plot lines and if they aren’t about the outside world, they will inevitably turn to the inside world. So I will loop and loop, much to the consternation of my dear wife.
Modern science at 10 milligrams a day keeps that creative side intact, removes the worry gene and restores joy. Good stuff! The only regret is that I should have admitted to the struggle earlier and sought help. But at least I finally did and mental health has been restored to the point where I could go another year with this, if I had to.
That’s not likely, however. More modern science is bringing us a solution. My wonderful wife has received her first vaccination and my own healthcare provider has been actively keeping in touch with me on when I’m up. Eventually, our external routine will be restored and we will once again go to festivals, sing, laugh and entertain. I look so forward to returning to my favorite places sans mask, enjoying my waning years, knowing that all of this was really, as Kat loves to say, just a season.
In short, RobZerrvations are back. I have perhaps 30 waiting to write, from exploring the miracle of quantum physics that helps dictate what our reality is to how we love to be a Rubik’s Cube in our relationships, even though we don’t really have to be. Plus some other nutty musings that have come to my mind over the past year that have been bottled up, waiting for better times.
Those times are here, my friends. Try to look forward and not back. We can’t do a thing about yesterday. We only have right now, and with a little luck, we’ll get a tomorrow.
In the Emerald City, soaking in a sunny morn, looking forward to a bright day,
Just Sign On The Bottom Line.
Kat and I have been retirement home shopping lately. The big day is several years still on the horizon, but we decided to get an early start so we could actually plan something in our lives for a change.
This led us to check out the new Latitudes Margaritaville in Daytona Beach, Florida a few weeks ago. If Margaritaville rings a bell, then you know this over-55 retirement community reflects a Parrothead lifestyle, complete with streets named after Jimmy Buffett songs and a bar called Changes in Attitude.
It seems like an idyllic place and it is for the 350 or so homeowners there. We talked to more than two dozen of them and everyone gave glowing reviews of the community, the amenities and activities, and the developers.
We liked it so much that we did what they call a Stay and Play. We stayed for two nights at Latitudes and enjoyed full ownership privileges, right down to a golf cart that we got to drive everywhere, even to the local Publix Supermarket down the street.
We were pretty sure this would be our landing spot in our Golden Years. That is until we thumbed through the 194 pages of homeowner association covenants that guide your use of the property. There were an awful lot of rules, especially for a guy who is pretty rules adverse and prone to mutiny at the slightest provocation.
But it did get me thinking. In some ways, the government operates as a homeowner’s association, giving us all covenants that we must live by. There are local, state and federal laws/covenants about what you can and can’t do as a citizen and as a “homeowner” (property owner). Some of the rules and laws are pretty basic. Others are pretty restrictive and downright invasive.
As “owners,” some of us are good with having even more covenants. We don’t mind having the government telling us what we can and can’t do and we’re attracted to perks like free college and universal healthcare, even if it means Uncle Sam is going to have a bigger say in our lives since he runs the “homeowner’s association.”
In homeowner associations, this is akin to being told what color you can paint your house, what plants you can plant, and even what flag you can fly from your flagpole, if you’re even able to have one.
Other “owners”, however, want fewer covenants. They don’t want to be told what to do and how to do it. They want to be able to add a 20-foot flagpole to their front yard and proudly fly a pirate flag if it amuses them or turn their deck into a pirate ship. They don’t want the homeowner’s association (re: government) telling them what they can and can’t do on their property or in their lives all the time. They want to have that wonderful freedom called choice.
I fall into this latter camp. Historically, I have not played well in an HOA world, either as an occupant of a home or as a citizen of this country. I really don’t like being told what I can and can’t do, at least when the rules at hand seem arbitrary or unduly restrictive.
It’s not that I reject all law and order. I religiously stop at stop signs. I always use my blinker. I have a license to drive my car. I pay my fair share of taxes. And I try to be a thoughtful neighbor, both in my own neighborhood and in the community, state and nation at large.
As such, I don’t try to foist my own views or covenants on others. I don’t expect them to march to the same drummer I’m groovin’ to.
For instance, the same people who want us to embrace Biblical laws say Sharia Law is the work of the devil. Frankly, all religion-based law is the work of the devil in my opinion. I really think the Golden Rule – treat others as you yourself would like to be treated – should be sufficient.
As we approach election time, I can’t help but wonder how the elections will affect our nation’s covenants. As I’ve said, I’m not big on more regulation, more rules and more laws. I can barely remember a small number of them at any one time.
Me? I am coming to find that I am pretty much a laissez-faire type of guy. I don’t want more government control of my life or interference. Hell, even after being on this earth for 62 years and being a government employee, “the man” still doesn’t have my fingerprints. There are job interviews I have turned down over the years because that fingerprints were required. I simply didn’t want “the man” to finger me that easily. If I haven’t done anything wrong, then why should they want to see what I’ve been up to?
As I read through Latitude’s covenants and as I drove through Florida’s more rural parts, it dawned on me that these folks, those with the Trump signs in their yards (and they are plentiful there) weren’t yokels or zealots. They simply want the government to leave them alone.
Quit telling them what to do with the land, quite requiring a permit or inspection for every little thing, quit taxing them to death for programs they didn’t ask for, want and will never use, and stop telling them that they have to live a life that is politically correct and all-inclusive when to them, that is unwarranted overreach into their personal and private lives. They don’t want to sign the covenants. They certainly don’t want to be PC. They just want to live their life without being told how to live it.
After coming so close to signing my life away at the bottom of 194 pages of covenants, I have begun to see their point. If by nature we are mostly good and law-abiding, and in some cases God-fearing, why do we need so much oversight and unwarranted interference?
Can’t we all be a little more laissez-faire in the way we conduct our lives (letting things take their own course, without interference) and a little more laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll) in the way we live it?
Wouldn’t we all be just a little happier if we all lived this way?
Me? I’m back to taking the hands off the wheel again. I’m going to let someone else drive for a while. After all, I have 193 more pages of covenants to pour through before I can dive into the 23,000 pages of federal laws we must obey.
Somewhere north of the Emerald City, anchored serenely next to Buccaneer Creek in Neverland County.
The Secrets of the Fire Swamp.
I just returned from Florida. You know, that place I lived almost a decade ago that I often referred to as Hell.
Well, I’ve discovered a few things on this last trip. First, Florida wasn’t really Hell. The relationship I was in was Hell. I got the two confused and blamed Florida for all the ills in my world. Sorry, Florida.
Second, I’ve learned all the secrets of the Fire Swamp. If you don’t know what the Fire Swamp is, you should watch the Princess Bride. In the movie, the Dread Pirate Roberts and his beloved Buttercup escape from the evil clutches of Prince Humperdinck and his henchman, the Six-Fingered Man, by taking refuge in the Fire Swamp. There, they conquer the three dangers of the swamp: flame bursts, lightning sand and rodents of unusual size (R.O.U.S.).
Florida is my Fire Swamp. It has lots of dangers and secrets to learn, from poisonous caterpillars and snakes, no-see-ums and fire ants to muck fires, hurricanes and some crazy-assed drivers of Fort Lauderdale. After eight years of living there and numerous visits since, I have become quite comfortable with the idea of spending my retirement in the Fire Swamp as I have mastered most of its many secrets.
Yes, it’s terribly conservative and Christian down there (I guess that isn’t really a secret). Instead of a Starbucks on every corner, there’s a church. There are Trump signs everywhere. And lots of old people. And you know how much I like old people.
Even with all its Trump Lovers and Bible Beaters, Florida is still filled with really nice people. They don’t talk about politics or religion, at least to strangers. They don’t think it’s appropriate or polite. They’d rather talk about the nuances of the Daytona 500 crash and discourse about the best way to clean lovebug guts off your windshield during mating season.
Of course, none of this would really matter if I was just visiting. But Florida is the top choice for retirement as we look to our Golden Years and where to spend them. If the real estate gods cooperate, we will be selling off our home in the chilly-willy great white north in four years, heading for the sun-filled skies and warm beaches of the Sunshine State.
Yes, I know. Most people on the West Coast move to Arizona when they clock in for the last time. For us, that is a non-starter. First, I don’t know any of the secrets of that particular Fire Swamp. Plus, water is not exactly plentiful in the desert. I would suppose that’s why they call it a desert. Kat and I must be able to at least see water regularly, if not revel in it. And no, water from the tap doesn’t qualify. We need big bodies of water. Think gulfs and oceans.
So Florida it is. And for those questioning my sanity as to why I would once again move all the way across the country to live, I offer up these simple reasons:
- We don’t hurt. The pain of arthritis has made its presence known a scant 48 hours after returning to the soggy Northwest. In Florida, I made it up 105 circular stairs to the top of the Jupiter Lighthouse. Here, I can’t seem to make it up 13 steps to our bedroom without a lot of pain.
- People are really nice down there. Maybe it’s an east coast thing. Total strangers strike up conversations with you. The Seattle Freeze seems more real now that I’ve returned from the south. Case in point: Total strangers welcomed us to the retirement community we were considering and gave us a lovely tote bag for our groceries without us even asking or them asking that we return it. They were being nice and neighborly because that’s what you do down there.
- Depending on where you choose to live, the pace of life is very islandy. Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa are all big city nightmares., of course. But out in the coastal communities, life is pretty laid back and chill. There’s not a lot of hurry and scurry.
- The food is different. I love conch, lobster po’boys, gator bites and Cuban sandwiches. And thanks to Amazon, I can now get Snoqualmie Pancake Mix and Fisher Scone Mix anytime I want, so there will always be a little taste of home. While I will dearly miss Taco Time, I will get to enjoy Checkers and the multiple-choice test of “sides” at Cracker Barrel.
- There’s a tiki bar nearly everywhere. Kat, it turns out, has a thing for tiki bars. They aren’t very common as you travel north in the state, but once you get below the Orlando area, they start to pop up everywhere. Kat loves a good tiki bar and its laid-back feel, nonstop music and libations. It’s her happy place. Give her a tiki bar with mermaids and manatees and she will probably just move in.
- It’s new, but familiar. Upon returning to Washington, it’s become very Groundhog’s Day (yes, another movie reference), in that everything predictably repeats year in and year out, so much so that I don’t even need to look at a calendar to know what’s happening on any particular weekend. Over more than a half-century of living here, I’ve pretty much seen it all, done it all and then some.
- It’s a two-for-one. If I were to sell my house today, I could buy two in Florida for the same price or a lakefront home with a pool for the price I paid for this house four years ago ($389,000) and put a couple hundred grand into the retirement kitty.
Now, we’re onto the question of where. Picking Florida was relatively easy. But it’s a damned big state, so there’s more homework to do. We’ve pretty much ruled out the entire left coast of Florida, from Cedar Key to Fort Myers. Too much hub-bub for us. And quite frankly, the area feels like Oregon and Alabama went on a date and made a baby.
We also ruled out anything north of Daytona Beach. The weather there is too cold and the conveniences of life too far and in between.
Future trips will determine the Goldilocks Zone for us, you know the place that is “just right.” While this trip put 1,900 miles on our rental car (we could have almost driven home), we’ll stay put for a week or so in a single locale next time, maybe even renting a house to get a feel for the area.
Still, it’s a queer feeling, knowing that retirement is a scant four years away for me and that I have to do something as grown-up as figuring out where Kat and I are to live until we aren’t living anymore. But as Jimmy Buffett once warned me many years ago, “changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same.” And maybe that’s just as it should be.
In the Emerald City, tiki bar to the starboard side and mermaids to port,