Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Reflections of a deep 2012.

As we say at work, I thought a little "touchbase" was in order for today. It's been about a week since I've written anything, and today can be kind of rough for a lot of us.

It's December 26, the official day of Christmas hangovers, the morning when we walk into the living room and discover just how dried up the tree really is. Tiny shards of "wrapnel" that were missed after the initial cleanup still litter the floor, mingling with those little T-shaped plastic strands that we've chewed through to remove the tags from our cozy new Peruvian ski caps.

How did things work out for you? Did you get both items on your list, the digital garden hose and the limited edition Justin Bieber toilet targets?

I hope so. We all want the fat guy to grace our homes with an abundance of first world treasures and not use our abodes as merely a convenient rest stop for Stingle, the elderly elf with a spastic colon.

Traditionally, I've found today, or Christmas Anti-Eve, to be a good time to reflect. It's important right now to embrace a year that has about as much time left as a freshly shorn Ted Bundy did upon nestling into his two thousand volt LA-Z-Boy.

And so, I'm going to attempt to steady my hands enough from the giddiness I've been feeling since the clock struck midnight on December 22 and rendered the Mayan's forecast as meaningless as Rush Limbaugh's elliptical trainer, and type out a little synopsis of the year's highlights.

I'll try to keep things buoyant, since hurricanes, mass shootings and convicted child molesters who establish charities to advance their perverted ends, horrific and significant as they are, are hardly cause for lampooning.

So here's some of the other stuff:

Mitt Romney rises to the top of the scrap heap to secure his party's nomination for the presidency. Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann, each enjoying a half-can of Coke Zero as front runners, can't prevent themselves from yakking up chunks of stupid all over their American flag lapel pins, leaving Mitt standing alone on stage in those stonewashed mom jeans he constantly wore.

General David Petraeus, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, admits to repeatedly launching his predator drone into enemy territory. As a consequence, he loses his job and is deemed the odds-on favorite for the presidency in 2016.

Jamie Dimon, President and Chief Executive Officer of JPMorgan Chase, reveals that his company lost at least three billion dollars to bad investments. Testifying in front of Congress, Dimon claims the "Groupon Defense," insisting that he's entitled to another three billion at no additional cost.

Social networking pioneer Mark Zuckerberg takes Facebook, Incorporated, public. The stock loses over a quarter of its value in less than a month and half its initial public offering value in three months. Check it out. It's in their timeline.

The New York Giants, Miami Heat and San Francisco Giants win the world championships of their respective sports, making the phrase, "I couldn't care less," second only to "I know, right?" as the most overused phrase of the year.

Clint Eastwood talks to a chair at the Republican National Convention. While some claim this futile attempt at improvisation sealed Mitt Romney's fate, I disagree. In one fell swoop, Romney secured an untapped section of the voting populace— those who actually saw Obama sitting in the chair.

And speaking of Barack Obama, how about that one? After Karl Rove pumps tens of millions of Super Pac money into attack ads, then performs a nationally televised, election night tantrum that would rival the one my daughter threw in the children's shoe department at Nordstrom on October 17, 2000, the President emerges victorious in a landslide.

I used to think that Karl Rove was the Devil, but I'm pretty sure Satan wouldn't allow his diaper to soak all the way through his Dockers.

So much more amazing stuff happened this year, from legalizing weed to almost losing our friend, the Twinkie, from citizens finally approving same-sex marriage to the Supreme Court nixing Arizona's ridiculous immigration law.

I guess all that's really left for 2013 is bringing our troops home and getting Led Zeppelin back together...

...in that order.

Monday, December 17, 2012

When He Read Their Names.

We sat and watched as he read their names.

The kitchen was a sugary mess, the house thick with the aroma of the fudge and bon bons my wife and daughters had been baking, when the president came on TV.

And he read their names. All twenty of them.

There was Dylan and Emilie, there was Olivia and Noah, kids whose first and last names were probably scrawled by their teacher in neat black printing on cards that sat taped down to their desks, each waiting to unite with a real person on that electric first day of school.

Some had probably been drawn on a little by now, doodled with pencils or crayons or maybe speckled with a little Elmer's School Glue.

And as awful as I felt, it wasn't until President Obama uttered their names that I felt such an untapped, overwhelming sorrow.

I looked over at my seventeen-year-old daughter, perched on one of her favorite vantage points, a large exercise ball. At that moment I didn't see a full grown young woman about to step into adulthood.

Instead, I was looking at a seven-year-old tomboy wearing a blue denim jumper and white tights that betrayed the outline of a band-aid taped to her knee. Rather than a head of neatly brushed hair pulled back in a ponytail, it was the tangled rat's nest of a kid who'd spent an entire day playing in the mud puddles and wood chips of her school playground. No mirrors out there, Dad. Geez.

As we huddled together in our small family room, my twelve-year-old took on the appearance not of the beautiful girl a hundred days from becoming a teenager, but a six-year-old cutie pie with rosy cheeks and no front teeth, determined to persuade us that her favorite dress wasn't too dirty to wear again this week.

I looked at my wife, herself an elementary school teacher. Seen from my perspective, her raw grief convinced me not only of a capacity, but a willingness to place herself between one of her students and a bullet.

I couldn't help but summon the words an ignorant person once coined: "Those who can't...teach." Really? Tell that to the parents of the kids who lived.

In the past when I've felt this vulnerable, I've typically followed the same pattern of rooting out the easy answers. I convince myself that if we get rid of the handguns and assault rifles, if we require mental health assessments for gun ownership, if we make firearm possession a privilege rather than a right, maybe the insanity will stop.

Maybe that's true. Maybe it isn't.

Hug your family.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Morning After

"And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him."
- Revelation 12:9


Is it truly the beginning of the end or just another dry run?

Right now, we seem to be sitting squarely in the eye of two catastrophic prophesies; or in delicious terms, we're in the fluffy white middle of the dark Oreo wafers that signal the end of time.

Some, including Columbia Pictures, have sided with the ancient Mayans, predicting December 21 as the end-date of a five-thousand, one-hundred and twenty-five-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. 

Or who knows, maybe the guy jotting down the calendar put down his Bic after hearing that a couple of dudes down at the temple had just invented basketball using the enemy chieftain's head for a ball.

Calendar shmalendar, game on.

Others may feel that the events which ensued last Thursday in my home state signaled the death knell for a hopelessly sinful human race. At the stroke of midnight on December 6, two groundbreaking Washington statutes linked elbows and dos a dos'd onto the shiny parquet of the square dance floor.

We, the citizens of the Evergreen State, may now marry whomever floats our tug. How about that?

Oh, yeah, we can also possess an ounce of weed. I wonder how many Seattle's two-hundred fifty couples that received their licenses at midnight opted to take advantage of both new laws shortly thereafter.

King County's courthouse overflowed with giddiness; these people have been waiting...and waiting...some as long as thirty-five years, to tie the knot all legal like. For all intents and purposes. most of these pairs are already married anyway. With or without this new edict, people are still greeting each other after a long day at work, figuring out dinner and discussing whether or not they trust their daughter's new boyfriend or how that woman at work who never washes her hands after leaving the stall did it again today. 

And then there's the weed. A fairly sizable throng gathered for this one, too, but these folks thought it might be cool to swarm around the Emerald's City's largest hookah—the Space Needle—to usher in Seattle's new status as the sticky icky capital of green America. If you'd like, feel free to pick the moniker which most accurately portrays our little city of smoke on the water:

- Clamsterdam
- Eutokia
- The Big Apple...pie with ice cream.

Since the Needle's home, Seattle Center, sits a mere roach clip flick from most of the city's newspaper offices and TV stations, photo ops abounded for those willing to smoke openly early last Thursday morning. I say, well played, red-eyed renegades. After all, when are you ever going to get another chance for your mom to see you on ActionNews8, your bloated purple face choking and heaving trying to contain massive huff from a tar-speckled Bart Simpson bong?

Lately, public apprehension has reminded me a lot of the mood around that whole "Y2K" thing back at the turn of the millennium. We agonized and prepared tirelessly for the likelihood that our digital toasters would think it was 1900 again and wouldn't work since toasters hadn't been invented yet.

And nothing changed.

Or remember when Bewitched got a new Darren? I didn't think there was any chance that Dick Sargent could have the same carnal magnetism with Samantha nor the raw emotional connection to Larry Tate that Dick York had.

How dreadfully wrong I was.

So here we are, four days out, and everyone still seems to be okay. Perhaps a few states will follow suit in the coming years and gradually wear away the stigma of both issues, much as the civil rights movement and repeal of prohibition assimilated paradigm shifts which we now take for granted.

A few states will surely hold out, believing that allowing same sex marriage will only burst open the floodgates of permissiveness toward legalized plural and bestial wedlock.

Ironically, those are the states where that behavior is most prevalent.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Brokepass Mountain

I've got one of those bus passes that's electronically loaded each month. Last week I sat on it and cracked it with my powerful right glute, rendering it inoperable.

I called and ordered a new card and was told it would arrive in five to seven business days. No big deal, I thought. I've had the same driver for a couple of months. I'll just tell him what the story is and he'll remember, possibly with a little prompting, from that moment forward.

Well dip me in Tang and call me John Boehner, if a new driver didn't show up on my inaugural morning with a useless bus pass. And the next day another new driver. And the next day a different one, yet. By gum, I've had a different driver each of the past four days.

It's been interesting.


Day One

Me: Morning.

Driver: Good morning, sir.

Me (brandishing my scotch-taped card): My card's broken.

Driver: Can you try to tap it?

Me (fruitlessly tapping): Yeah, see.

Driver: All right, bro. Go ahead.



Day Two

Driver (after seeing that my pass doesn't work): Do you have any cash?

Me: No. Plus, this thing costs ninety bucks a month.

Driver: Next time, just bring some cash.

Me (walking away): Yeah, maybe.


As I retreated down the aisle, the driver's voice continued. Was he still talking to me? Who else would he be talking to? Do I stop in the aisle and try to hear what he's saying? Should I return to the front?

Nah. I sat down and eventually he stopped talking.


This morning

Driver (again after seeing that my card doesn't scan): So it's loaded monthly, huh?

Me: Yeah.

Driver: Do you have a pass or a purse?

Me: Do I have a pass or a purse?

Driver: Right.

Me: I'm pretty sure it's always been a bus pass.

Driver: Go ahead, I believe you.

Me: Thanks.


A purse? Since then, I've found out that "ePurse" is a service for manually loading your bus card. I'm thinking if the driver had said "ePurse," rather than "Do you have a pass or a purse?" it may have held a bit more context.

So anyway, you're welcome, Metro. No charge for being your customer service mole ever since my card broke. In the final analysis, the drivers I encountered were courteous and accommodating, albeit a little quirky.

Four stars.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Top Ten Holiday Treats.

This Christmas season couldn't have happened at a better time.

I hadn't realized how profoundly burned out on politics I am right now. Plus, you know, Romney has gone away. He's probably lounging on a tropical beach staining his teeth with so much Strawberry Crush, he could play the lead in the new ABC sitcom, CEO Vampire.

And not only has Mitt git, but so have his Republican nemeses; no more Perry or Bachmann or Cain. The airwaves are no longer dripping in Santorum. 

If you'd like to know exactly how much I'd like to discuss politics, please read the following paragraph. Some readers may consider the subject matter disturbing and may choose to skip it. Bear in mind, it is intended solely for immature audiences. While it may sicken you, if you aren't disgusted, then wow, are you messed up.

I would rather discuss politics today than nibble savory opiated droplets of perspiration from the murky confines of Rush Limbaugh's inner thigh meat.

I knew you'd read it. Anyway, this time of year is meant for basking in the warm bubble bath of the holidays. Doggone it, I love this time of year, don't you?

It's a season of smells. I think that's what conjures such strong emotion—there's a six-week window of aromas that doesn't exist the rest of the year. Only then do vapors of peppermint hot chocolate meld with cinnamon and Douglas Fir to instantly remind you of your great aunt's house in Tacoma.

And, holy sweet mother, Yuletide is a season of tastes. Like I say when I walk into my daughters' rooms, "There's shit everywhere." Please reply with  your top ten or five or one or whatever. I know I'm just scratching the sweet, buttery surface.

Here are my top ten holiday treats:

10) Little oranges—Today, I've got three Satsumas at my eleven o'clock and a container of homemade truffles at my five o'clock. It's going to be a battle.

9) Pumpkin pie—Don't so quickly forget our friend from two weeks ago who gave his life for breakfast.

8) Almond Roca—I love it so much, the stuff in my cat's litter box looks tempting.

7) Russian tea cookies—Funny story, I've never had them with Russian tea.

6) Hickory Farms—A nice little stack of cheese and summer sausage on a cracker, combined with your favorite hoppy beverage can turn The Today Sponge Bowl into the championship game.

5) Chocolate mint Frangos—One time back in college, I ate nearly an entire box. That's all you need to know.

4) Divinity—My mom made it. I never liked it very much, but remembering her makes me love it.

3) Frosted sugar cookies—Preferably shaped like a tree and covered with red or green frosting (or both) and sprinkles. Oh, Christmas tree.

2) Irish Whiskey—A holiday tradition begun decades ago by none other than my papa, Lionel Haywood. Deliciousness.

1) Fudge.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Television's Top Ten Christmas Specials



Will Bing and David make the list?

Do you even care?

We'll see. I feel fairly qualified to build this compilation since I've been watching this stuff for fifty years now (Yeah, still freaking out quite a bit about that number.).

This roster is heavily back loaded with shows from the Sixties and Seventies. It seems like they were more popular back then since we had access to a mere fraction of today's channels and we were afforded one chance to see each show—no VCRs, no DVRs, no TEVO, no Tebow.

I'm not positive about which program I watched first, but I'm thinking it was shown on a Jetsons-type black and white console. My dad, always a proponent of sweet audio/video setups, had perched it in the southwest corner of the living room. I vaguely recall sitting cross-legged on the braided rug, my chubby proboscis glowing in the Zenith's mutating rays.

But anyway, enough about me, let's talk about my list.

Here's how I ranked the top ten Christmas specials, including made-for-TV movies. As always, my opinions are just that—facts, so feel free to reply with your own memories or ego-maiming criticism of this list.

10) The Andy Williams Christmas Specials—not a huge production, just a guy and his family crooning holiday hits in a cozy domestic setting. Fire up the cocoa and put on your dicky.

9) The Bob Hope Christmas Specials—Loved them for one reason: each member of the College Football All-American team would walk individually onto the stage in full uniform, at which time Hope would make a wisecrack. He'd say something like, "Joe here weighs two-hundred-and-seventy pounds. The last time I saw a guy his size wearing tight pants, it turned out to be my mother-in-law in some hip huggers!"

Too bad his mother-in-law would have been about a hundred and sixteen.

8) Santa Claus is Coming to Town—Mickey Rooney provided the voice of Santa. This drama-infused nugget gave us an early glimpse of a young, ginger-haired Kris Kringle and his fiery courtship with Miss Jessica, the future Mrs. Santa Claus. They were crazy about each other from the getgo and as much as we don't like to think about it, I don't think they "waited."

7) Frosty the Snowman—this show made the top ten due solely to the brutal revenge exacted upon evil Professor Hinkle. Delicious.

6) The Bing Crosby Christmas Special—of course this made the list. By the way, this was Crosby's last television appearance, and he had actually died before it aired.

5) A Matter of Principle—I know you've never heard of this Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, but do yourself a favor and check it out. Set in snowy, rural Virginia, it stars Alan Arkin as Flag Purdy, an obstinate and semi-abusive patriarch of a large family who seeks redemption. A young Virginia Madsen plays his independent-minded daughter.

4) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—come on, admit it—Clarice was hot. Kind of like Betty Rubble is hot in a cartoon human way, Clarice is hot in a cartoon deer way.

3) A Charlie Brown Christmas—I loved all the Charlie Brown specials because kids were the only characters, they faced adult-type problems and solved them without adult assistance.

2) A Christmas Story—Darren McGavin is simply brilliant as the bumbling and cursing, yet warm, father. My family and I quote lines from this movie throughout the year, and by the way, I never thought the meatloaf and mashed potatoes looked all that nasty.

1) How the Grinch Stole Christmas—not the Jim Carrey hack job, but the 1966 animated masterpiece. Dr. Seuss' writing coupled with Chuck Jones' directing was like Joe Montana to Jerry Rice. Genius.

I just realized that since it was made in 1985, A Christmas Story is the most recently produced show on the list. Apparently I'm an old dog, since fresher specials like Fruitcake Boss or Sixteen, Pregnant and Christmas Shopping came along after my holiday soft spot had closed.

Nonetheless, enjoy.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Merry Christmas! Or Else.

"...the second reason I love Christmas season is because it has amazing food. For example, cookies, hot cocoa (technically it's not a food), turkey, ham, peppermint bark, etc. And I love these foods especially because they are filled with butter, cream, fat and sugar. C'mon, let's not act like we are not in love with these ingredients."

-An excerpt from my twelve-year-old daughter's seventh grade expository essay about Christmas. For the record, she will receive each and every food item listed above.

And so, it's time to move on to the main event. Kind of like when you sat through Laverne and Shirley just as a warm up to Happy Days.

Yeah, there's some turkey still left, but it's mostly dark meat and the remaining white meat is either ribboned with brown streaks or hanging in limp strings from thick bands of cartilage. Someone has picked the sausage out of what's left of the stuffing. And one sliver of pumpkin pie has been sliding around in an oversized Tupperware container, absorbing its petroleum essence and rendering it inedible.

And for the the two citizens of my house under the age of forty-eight, Thanksgiving has been over since Thanksgiving.

You see, they've got these rules, and there are lots of them.

Christmas music is strictly prohibited prior to Thanksgiving Day. However, once the first Macy's balloon skims the toupee off the grand marshal's noggin, it's game on. Whether it's in the car or at home on the Pandora, Christmas tunes permeate every nook of our family's together space.

In our luxury Hyundai, the kids listen only to the twenty-four-hour holiday music station. And while most human beings can't physically endure back-to-back numbers by the Michaels (Bolton and Bublé) without presenting shingle-like symptoms, my girls bask in the milky glow of their croaky croons.

Oh, yeah, that reminds me, one positive lesson I've garnered from those two is that the name "Michael" is so much classier than "Mike." So if you don't mind, from here on out, please call me Timothy, maybe even Timothy Andrew. Hey, if it can mean the difference between an Oscar-nominated performer named Phillip Seymour Hoffman and just a chubby actor known as Phil Hoffman, I'd like to pursue this.

Anyway, back to the kids and their rules:

Peppermint hot chocolate can only be consumed during the Thanksgiving to Christmas Yuletide window. In their scientific view, doing otherwise would jinx the season with more fury than would using your brand new Hello Kitty backpack for camping two weeks before school starts.

It's okay to watch television specials with the exception of A Christmas Story, which can only be viewed on Christmas day at Grandma and Grandpa's. Doing otherwise could cause death or dismemberment to untold innocents.

Christmas Eve is the only occasion when shrimp cocktail, crab cakes and Oprah's cheesy mashed potatoes (also known as "Oprahtatoes)" can be eaten. Swarms of rabid locusts lie in wait for the violator.

The tree has to be real. I've been told that fake trees are cousins of fake boobs, and would I want fake boobs in the house?

I'll have to think about that.

Before I became a dad, I giddily anticipated an era where my family and I could create our own set of holiday activities and rituals. My challenge, now that it's come to fruition, is to view these rites as ever solidifying and blossoming traditions, not as mandatory exercises to stave off the screaming banshees of ill fortune.

Let me be the first to wish you a peaceful holiday season. Do what you must to keep it from violently derailing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

How Much Might Petraeus Have Leaked?

Author's note: The following disclaimer is intended for the right-leaning reader, who may believe that analyzing the behavior of a highly decorated American military leader is akin to wrapping a healthy Caucasian infant in a gasoline-soaked American flag and setting the bundle aflame...while dressed like a Taliban guy.

My views are focused solely on the behavior of a man outside his workplace. I would never question the sacrifices he bore or the hardships he endured so that I may speak out in this forum.

Oh, and by the way, speaking of sacrifice, should we talk about Mrs. Petraeus, too? Yes, let's, but first a little backstory.

By now, we've all heard the sordid tale of David Petraeus, retired four-star general and driver of the F-150 that spun its tires a few times, but finally dragged a bloodied America out of a swampy, Mesopotamian cesspool.

Petraeus then loaned his rig to a friend with instructions to perform the same task in Afghanistan while the general swapped his canteen for a decoder ring to take over as head spymaster back stateside.

The general apparently decided, after gazing back upon his illustrious career, that maybe we, the inquiring public, might be intrigued by his personal memoir. Well, one thing led to another, and ultimately a woman with really toned arms and a slightly psychotic glare offered to pen his tale.

With benefits.

The book is entitled All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, and it's just criminally easy to write a one-liner about that.

Look, we dudes are weak, I think we all know this. Here are just a few examples of my own shortcomings:

On Saturday, I nearly convinced myself to orally rescue three pristine slices of pizza lying exposed on the gritty Costco parking lot. Mmmm...pizza.

The only reason I majored in accounting was because the Business School was the closest building to my fraternity and I only had to miss five minutes of "All My Children" to make it to class on time.

Last Wednesday, I declined a flu immunization because I mistakenly believed Walgreen's offered an oral version in Gummi Bear form.

So yeah, weak, party of one, your table is ready.

But I'm just a simpleton with the same security clearance as my cat. This guy Petraeus knows more secret stuff than a room full of Solo-Audited Operating Thetan Scientoligists, or, you know, a playground full of five-year old girls.

Who can say what the guy barked out in the throes of passion? We may never know exactly what he meant about troop deployments from the south being imminent, but the risk of leaks is inevitable.

I know, such cheap humor. Remember, I'm an irresolute male.

My point is, it's quite disturbing that this man who has exhibited the integrity to lead a nation in two wars and command its intelligence apparatus, has allowed his carnal appetite to compromise the security of many who have placed themselves in harm's way. That's frightening.

And now back to General Patraeus' wife, Holly, a woman who has taken care of business all these years on the home front, living in the wings while her husband climbed the political ladder. While I'm sure she derived some benefit, I wonder if, living somewhere beneath those layers of humiliation, shame and sadness, lies an anger at the injustice of it all.

Through no fault of hers, she's the third face in this scandal. And that really sucks.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Some Thoughts About Death and Dying.

I was sitting at my desk, eating pineapple out of a plastic container when I received an email telling me that my friend John had died in an accident.

We can never predict what thoughts will pierce our consciousness after being blindsided with such traumatic news, and I remember calmly thinking, "From now until the end of my life, pineapple will remind me of John dying."

I clutched the sticky fork and stared at my computer screen. The plastic handle shook in my hand so I put it down. Someone said something to me about a work thing. I don't remember what.

More thoughts invaded: That's crazy, he just posted to Facebook a couple of days ago. Oh, my god. His wife must be devastated. Should I call someone? Should I call my dad since he used to coach John? What should I do? I should do something.

I did nothing.

I sat and lectured myself as different emotions penetrated my consciousness. They came strongly, yet were muted by a foggy curtain of shock and then guilt.

Why hadn't I called him at least once in the past ten years? For God sakes, I was his best man. I could have easily put forth a little more effort than "liking" his photos of martinis and Halloween costumes on Facebook.

I felt so weak.

He had been such a positive spirit in my life. In high school, we discovered the Beatles together, ten years after their breakup. We plastered the locker we shared with stringy-haired photos from their later years, and John and I traveled to Seattle to watch a tribute show entitled "Beatlemania."

We hadn't yet grasped life's fragility. Death was for pets and old people and soldiers in Vietnam on the six o'clock news.

But when John Lennon died that Fall, together we experienced the cold injustice of a life cut short. It was supposed to be just, logical; it had been for our entire lives.

And now, here I was, sitting at work, cradling my head in my hands and feeling the same anger I'd felt thirty years ago.

There's something rich and enduring about relationships which began in childhood, with that small cabal of folks whose brains were percolating and hard wiring themselves right next to you on that bumpy school bus ride. Maybe no one else could relate to you, but by God, who cared? There's an invisible adhesive stronger than cedar pitch which binds you to these people forever.

Back then, my mom told me that death is part of life, and we must carry on.

I never liked that philosophy. Naturally, as biological organisms, we're built to survive and adapt in the face of physical adversity. The debilitating, raw agony must dissipate in order for us to function.

When someone we love goes away forever, life doesn't go on, at least not like it had before. Everything shifts, whether it's the memory of my mom in my daughters' smiles or the taste of pineapple from here on out.

It's a shift that can ache dearly, yet sometimes force a loud chuckle in a quiet room.

You were a good man and a great friend, John. I hope you know.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What Am I Going To Be Like At Her Wedding?

She's twelve-and-a-half.

I know, that whole "and-a-half" thing usually gets jettisoned before a kid's tenth birthday, but in her case, twelve and-a-half is closer to fifteen than it is twelve, know what I mean?

I don't consider my daughter a "tween" anymore; she's a bona fide, one hundred percent, USDA certified teenager. Numbers schmumbers.

We're spending the weekend together, just the two of us, mano e womano, or however the saying goes. My wife and older daughter fled to the windy brushlands of eastern Washington, touring the brick-and-ivy-encrusted campus of Central Washington University along with a friend and her daughter.

It's been a father-daughter Saturday.

If you were to enjoy slightly more than one cup of Sanka in the presence of our nuclear family, you'd understand that our younger daughter must have swum in amniotic fluid stocked with more of my characteristics than there are fat grams at Costco.

We share a love of art, food, drink and music, but not in that order. Food would probably be number one. We're a little too sensitive and we take things a bit too personally. We can sit or lie down for long periods of time, often only shuffling about after our lungs begin retaining fluid.

We like sleeping. Mmm, do we.

But since her road trip to adolescence has reached the Midwestern states, she's become like an ant beneath a magnifying glass. Each school day is a Shakespearean comedy or tragedy. The same friend on Wednesday may play the role of Portia, the plucky and insightful heroine in The Merchant of Venice, yet on Thursday, transform into the betraying Brutus from The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.

Every emotion is raw and intense, and my challenge as her father is to plow a straight line through these sine waves of sensitivity.

This morning, her soccer team lost another hard fought battle. In fact, they've lost every battle this fall; they're zero for autumn. After the game, she broke down. She waited until we had walked safely out of sight of her teammates and their parents, and then opened the floodgates.

"Dad, I'm just so tired of losing. And those girls were so rough and number sixteen played really dirty and I just want to win a game." Tears rolled down her frosty red cheeks.

My first inclination, as usual, was to solve the problem, then and there. I wanted to say, "Look, you guys have improved so much this year. You used to get blown out every week, but now you've been playing everyone so tough. Just hang in there. Good things will happen eventually."

But I didn't. For once, I just listened.

You see, she really wasn't asking Mr. Alpha Male to solve her problems. She just wanted me to shut up and hear her out.

My twelve-and-a-half-year-old vented her frustrations as the car heated up on the drive back home, and by the time we rolled into the driveway, she'd put the soccer game in the rearview mirror.

"Hey," I said, unlocking the mailbox, "how would you like to go see the new James Bond movie?"

"Yeah!"

"Okay. I'm going to do a little yard work. How about if you take a shower and then we go?"

She calls me Tim on random occasions. "Yeah, Tim. That sounds great!"

The mall parking lot was packed. As the movie time creeped up on us, we still couldn't find a parking spot. Her emotions again ran rampant.

"Dad, I don't even want to see this movie! This is just too stressful!"

"It'll be fine." I tried to reassure her. "The movie doesn't even start until the previews are done, and that's, like, fifteen minutes from now. And if it's already started, we'll just go to the next one."

"Okay."

By the time we'd parked somewhere around Iowa and traipsed into the carpeted lobby of the googolplex cinema, James Bond was one secret agent we realized we wouldn't be seeing. The lines were massive, even for the screening which wouldn't begin for another ninety minutes. We slumped against a brass railing.

"What do you think?" I asked. "How about if we take the money it would have cost to go to the movie and just shop around for something that costs twenty dollars?  Hey," I remembered, "Nordstrom is having their half yearly sale. Maybe we can find something there. We can look in BP."

"Okay, yeah," she said. "Yeah, that's even better than a movie, Tim."

And then she melted me...again. "Dad, thanks for bringing me here. I know you tried. Can I have a hug?"

This young woman is not the hugging sort, so, boy, did I hug her. She didn't even seem to care if the cool police had posted its elite mall surveillance team, but she still had to finally pry me away.

We shopped and talked and smelled stuff at the bath shop. And then, at Nordstrom, she found the prettiest dress which satisfied the twenty dollar requirement—give or take five bucks. I waited as she tried it on, and wondered if she'd actually walk out and show me how it looked, remembering her self-conscious nature.

As I sat outside the dressing room, I felt my phone vibrate and expected it to have been a message from my wife or other daughter.

I slid open my phone and read the message—"What do you think?" I pressed the "OK" button to reveal  a self-portrait of my girl, in front of a three-way mirror a few feet away, wearing the dress and the most beautiful smile I'd ever seen.

"It's fantastic," I punched in. My eyes welled ever so slightly.

 It's been a good day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I Am So Sorry, You Guys.

I awakened this morning a citizen of a new era. No longer will people in my state be compelled to marry only those with complimentary plumbing or fake a migraine to score some magic snickerdoodles.

But here's the thing, and I do feel badly. Throughout this tumultuous time, I've been a little too obnoxious, a bit too snarky, for some of my compatriots.

And for that, I must apologize.

What began as a final Facebook appeal to other members of my choir, materialized into a philosophical battle, ending in some hard truths about your humble bloggist.

Monday night, feeling inspired and giddy after a spirited dinner table chat regarding the impending election, I pecked out the following status update:

"Just listened to Romney's '47%' speech with my daughters. I can't believe anyone who has kids or wants to retire someday or serves in the military or thinks someday they may have a costly medical procedure, would vote for this guy. Let's hope he returns to whichever mansion he crawled out of."

Inflammatory? Absolutely. Offensive? Hopefully.

My Facebook universe, like most, is occupied by predominately like-minded thinkers. A cool cloud of agreement settled in over my stance, the smattering of "likes" lighting the blue and white page with those familiar red kibbles of acknowledgment and approval, making me salivate like a Pavlovian Pekingese.

Then this response popped up from an old fraternity brother:

"And your employer is in the 99% correct?" (Please excuse the plethora of spelling and grammatical errors you're about to wade through. He obviously felt the need to expedite his message sans that liberal spell checking entitlement.).

I paused, confused about what my former brother in beer quaffing (I'll call him "Barton") was talking about. The number he threw out concerned the majority of disenfranchised Americans which spurred the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. I was referring to Mitt Romney's comment that forty-seven percent of America doesn't pay income tax and wants lots of free stuff.

Finally, after weighing responses with varying degrees of severity, I replied, "Barton, my employer isn't a person. Apparently, you're confused about the difference."

He exhibited further confusion by including the world's richest individuals as members of the ninety-nine percent, rather than the one percent:

"I'm very grateful that Bill Gates (an individual in the 99%) gives my employer money to help the people in Zambia battle Malaria. There are many others who are in the 99% that give to charity. They don't have to give but they do. And many benefit from the money they make in our capitalist system. Ever heard of the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Foundation, and The Rockefeller Foundation. They were all created by individuals who were successful.

"...Walmart Foundation gave 958.9 million in cash in 2011."


Oh, no he didn't mention Walmart. Game on.

Others joined the fray. A high school friend chimed in: "958.9 million? Well that sounds about like 47% of the money they save each year not providing health care for their employees, using third world countries to produce their products in poor working conditions, and not honoring their leases on many of the stores they have closed this year."

Another fraternity brother added, "Your strong character and bravery are apparent as you stand with the strong against the weak. Well done."

Barton doubled down. "Corporations employs human beings and poor people don't employ anyone."

Touche, my English-challenged college graduate.

I snapped a bit. "Dude, how twisted are you? Are you saying corporations are inherently virtuous institutions to which we owe a debt of gratitude? They're responsible for most of society's ills, i.e. Walmart, Union Carbide, Monsanto, big tobacco, etc. People aren't poor in spite of most corporations, they're poor because of them. Holy shit."

He fired back. "Tim, I've been poor growing up in Thailand and to hear you and Chris talk about the poor get's (sic) rather annoying. I don't think you guys  have any idea what being poor is about. I've worked very hard to get where I am and I've been greatful (sic) for the opportunities this country has provided me. I just find it interesting that those who have lived here all their lives don't seem to appreciate what they have."

I rolled back in my chair and stretched, trying to make sense of Barton's views.

As a final salvo, I replied, "My wife teaches fifth grade at a high poverty public elementary school with 87% free and reduced lunch. A lot of the kids are on their own most of the time because their parents work two jobs. Some are actually homeless and eat all three meals at school. We have to buy recess balls and school supplies due to educational budget cuts. Don't patronize me. You don't know my background. Chris and I are sticking up for poor people, but you're not! Conservatives make themselves feel better by convincing themselves that it's a level playing field. It's not."

"Patronize?" he retorted. "I've read your writings. You are the king of condescending essays."

Ouch. Game over. Come to Jesus, Tim.

He's right, and the truth hurts.

I am the exploiter of the weak. I do run roughshod over America's messengers of patriotism, portraying them rather as greedy hypocrites, racist pundits and religious zealots. And it's time to clean the slate, so here goes.

Rush Limbaugh, words can't describe my remorse regarding my attacks on your misogyny and drug dependence. You are a true American and I take back what I said about your wearing an ill-fitting bra. You don't. It's obviously quite expensive and expertly hugs your moon-like terrain of torso folds.

Sarah Palin, I've treated you so unfairly. I promise to make it up to you should you choose to run in 2016. By then, you'll be the hottest great grandma in the lower forty-eight.

Donald Trump, you are a patriot, a sage and you are grossly misunderstood. I pledge my continued support—as soon as you produce some documentation that you've gone back on your daily lithium drips.

And finally, Willard "Mitt" Romney, you fought the good fight. You've endured endless vitriol at the point of my poison pen, and my oath to you rings as sacred as those golden plates translated by Joe Smith just outside of Rochester, which then went missing. Nary another cross word shall grace my page...

...as long as you go the hell away forever. 

At least I'm the king of something.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Let's Re-Elect Barack Obama.

Finally, it's almost time. Good God, are you ready for this thing to be over?

I know I am, but it's my own fault. I mainline so much of this political stuff, I'm having trouble finding a vein these days.

Ever since Chief Justice John Roberts' stammering oath billowed wisps of partisan divisiveness into that frozen January sky, the 2012 election season has burned like a crusty coating of eyelid eczema.

And I've been out of lotion for four years.

Maybe it's because I live in a state where we cast our votes solely through the infrastructure of the United States Postal Service. Perhaps I'm concerned that the extinct ritual of closing the curtain and turning the crank in a room filled with volunteer octogenarians smelling of crock pot chili, will lead would-be voters down a trail of apathy and inaction.

What a shame it would be for those who mail it in to "mail it in," you know what I mean?

So I'm going to try to lay it out one last time, on the oft chance that you haven't yet decided. No judging.

Granted, the differences in presidential candidates are starker than they've ever been, and the only reason I can imagine that you can't make up your mind is that you've been listening to "Dave Matthews, A to Z" on the local classic rock station since March of 2010, and as soon as the extended jam version of "Stay" ends, you'll do a little research.

That's supposed to be around 2:30 on Sunday.

So yeah, let's talk about your choices. Oh, did I just use the word "choice"? Heavens to murgatroyd, what a great segue.

Mitt Romney considers personal liberty and freedom of choice as the cornerstones of his campaign. He reveres the promise of a truly free society with nearly equal vigor as the planet he will someday rule after transcending the veil of death and settling into eternity a mere seventeen light years from God's home planet of Kolob.

And you know that Ann— already taking little campaign side trips to Ikea to buy beds and rugs for when the grandkids finally die and can visit.

Anyway, Romney maintains that maximum choice leads to maximum benefit:

We should be free to choose our kids' schools, and therefore, a government voucher system should be established. Although private schools will then be subsidized, leaving precious little to a public education sector already in crisis, things will somehow work out. A massive undereducated cross section of America will then be free to utilize their talents in manufacturing cheap goods for poverty-level wages. Unemployment will drop drastically.

Boom.

We should be free to choose our doctors, and by no means should insurance companies be denied the profit motive. Shareholder wealth will seep through the cracks of capitalism, benefiting both the uninsured and those with pre-existing conditions.

Like he said, it's all about choice. Stop smoking and eating fast food, fools. You're free to scarf down fourteen Reese's on Halloween night and wake up with a zit on your forehead that looks like Willy Wonka, but take care of yourselves and you won't need to wait for six hours in a cold emergency room. It's your body, after all.

Bam.

Oh yeah, except when it comes to reproductive rights. Then it's not your body anymore, it's his—his and those other old, white dudes who use terms like "legitimate rape" and "the rape thing." Those are his buddies, so even though he used to be one hundred percent pro-choice, Romney has decided to weigh in somewhere around ninety-three percent in favor of that whole liberty thing.

Look, things aren't fantastic now, but they're certainly better than they were when Bush left office four years ago. Back in the forties, people branded Roosevelt a socialist when he enacted Social Security. Since then, the poverty rate for the elderly has decreased from forty-eight percent to twelve percent.

Medicare stirred up another commie-baiting shit storm during the 1960s, yet Lyndon Johnson helped reduce the senior poverty rate another seventy-five percent.

Conservative friends, I know you believe that we progressives defer to government to solve all of society's problems. We don't, but this health care thing isn't working. The United States is the only developed nation without a systematic plan to take care of its poorest and sickest citizens.

Romney claims to have a solution, but have you heard it? I haven't. Apparently, it's too long and too complicated to explain, according to Paul Ryan.

Well, here's an idea that's neither long nor complicated—Mitt Romney is the wrong guy for the job.

Let's re-elect Barack Obama.

Monday, October 29, 2012

No One Likes a Sore Winner.

It was a beatdown, an ass whoopin', a curb stompin'. Sweet mother, those guys were dragged behind the woodshed and force fed a couple heapin' shitloads of chucknorris.

Oh, yeah, and really boring.

Aside from a few randy fetishists who occupy the outlying regions of society's bell-shaped curve, does anyone really enjoy experiencing total domination?

Well, that's just what happened last night, when the San Francisco Baseball Giants finished off the toothless Tigers of Detroit, sweeping the American League champs four-zip in a World Series with about as much spice as a Mitt Romney knock-knock joke.

It normally lives up to its billing as the Fall Classic, usually expected to extend into the blustery month of November.

Yeah, not this one, which returns me to my point—how dull is it to witness this kind of stuff?

And beyond the viewpoint of a passive observer, I maintain that an unchallenging sweep doles out an equal amount of harm to the broom clutcher as the dust bunny skidding along the linoleum.

In the 1972 presidential election, Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern in the largest landslide in American history, clubbing the hapless Democrat 520-17 in the electoral vote tally. Holy shit, that's almost as bad as those lop-sided ping pong victories my big brother still brags about even though I was still in utero.

Nixon seemed to think such a resounding political mandate provided the keys to a brand new thugmobile, thereby allowing him to back over the Constitution and shred it in his spinning Goodyears.

All I can say is, thank God for Deep Throat.

That didn't come out right.

Or how about when Titanic swept the Oscars, winning eleven golden eunuchs including Best Picture, Director, Actress and Supporting Actress? I'll tell you, when James Cameron barked out, "I'm king of the world!" I couldn't have cared less about the frozen North Atlantic, because I would've drowned his smug little weasel face in two inches of tepid bathwater.

Then, of course, there was Team USA's stirring medal sweep in the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. The stars and stripes needed a couple of railcars to contain its haul of one hundred and seventy four medals. The next closest competitor was Romania, who tallied a paltry fifty-three.

Of course, the Soviets and East Germans boycotted those games, but how cool was it to rub Romania's face in it? Sure, we're talking about a country the size of a large shopping mall, but whatever. It was morning in America. Ronald Reagan had upped our VISA card max and Mary Lou Retton made it okay to be attracted to adults who had stopped menstruating due to abnormally low body mass indices. USA! USA!

Years later, in response to the taunts of a defiant dictator who eluded capture through a sophisticated network of rat holes, American forces swept into Iraq, occupying Baghdad within days. The city was looted by throngs of grateful citizens who then greeted their liberators with bouquets of improvised explosive devices.

Mission accomplished, indeed.

Sarcasm aside, people don't take kindly to a drubbing. Whether it's that kid who's just moved here from Illinois to pitch for the other team, and he's, like, five-feet eleven, with more facial hair than your great aunt, or that woman who wins some sort of award at every quarterly work meeting, it gets old pretty fast.

And trust me, this has absolutely nothing to do with my daughter's soccer team, who hasn't won a game in two years.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How Well Do We Really Know Each Other?

It's been a while, now.

As of this juncture, I've been hurling my half-century-old carcass through the blogosphere for three years plus some change.

And throughout four hundred and fifty three posts, I've offered unsolicited insights into my worldview, submitting these thoughts while clenched in a perpetual kegel of misplaced paranoia.

Okay, that's a little much, but I do appreciate your patronage and care what you think.

So, as a small test of your loyalty, I've decided to play out a fictional scenario to see how well you've been listening. Since I've hung my wife and daughters out to dry more often than June Cleaver with a Clorox jug full of clothespins, I'm going to spin a yarn involving every member of our tribe, and you must decide which statements ring true and which qualify as slanderous ridiculousness.

If you can find at least one falsehood, I commend you and your vigilant readership. Let's begin.

I arrived home after a long, yet satisfying day spent brainstorming new baking recipes for the dispensary. My wife greeted me at the door, assisting me in peeling off my threadbare, yet favorite, Count Chocula hoodie and hung it neatly in the closet.

She pecked my cheek and carefully re-arranged my comb-over, finally stepping back and asking, "Hello, foxy guy. How was your day?"

"You know, it was really nice," I replied. "Nothing beats a nice modified Toll House cookie recipe for helping Americans deal with their chronic pain. For you see, dear, the good lord has chosen that I should be a healer."

"Yes, he did. I married the right guy, that's for sure." She straightened her apron, turned and cheerfully bellowed, "Girls. Your father's home! And dinner's ready!"

As I scooted my chair in to my customary position at the table's head, I glanced into the kitchen, where my bride readied the final touches on a promising repast. "And how about you?" I queried. "Still being hassled by those derelict kids at school."

She exhaled deeply. "It just keeps getting worse. Two of my fifth graders fell asleep today. After I woke them with the super soaker, which, by the way, was the most thoughtful of birthday gifts, I asked one of them why he had nodded off. He said he was up late playing video games because his single mother was working her second job cleaning office buildings and he didn't have anyone to put him to bed."

"What do you want to bet she's an illegal," I offered.

"Of course she is. And let me tell you, she won't be cleaning offices in this country much longer if I have my way." She set the casserole down on two of her famous hand-crocheted pot holders. The heavenly aroma of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup toyed with my senses. "And if they can afford an X-Box, they can afford a good immigration lawyer."

I placed my linen napkin across my lap. "Amen, sister."

"Hi, Dad." My seventeen-year-old daughter kissed my forehead and settled into the spot to my right. "Is it okay if I clean the basement after dinner? It's really been bothering me."

I playfully slapped her face with the back of my hand. "Oh, I suppose. Hey, by the way, did you notice that our Mitt Romney for President sign has been stolen from the front yard?"

"I did, Daddy." My twelve-year-old entered through the kitchen, sliding a frosty martini to my dinner plate's two o'clock. I couldn't help but marvel at what a great little wife that gal is going to be some day. "I'll bet the gay couple down the street swiped it. They're always causing trouble."

I gingerly sipped the sweet liquor—so soothing. "I'd bet dollars to donuts you're right, honey. You stay away from those people. Now go wash up. It looks like you've gotten a little gay on you. Heh, heh!"

"Oh, Daddy. Can I dish you up some tater tot casserole?"

"Absolutely. I've been thinking about this all day."

She scooped a heaping pile of the steamy hot dish onto my plate. "Hey, Dad, is it okay if I go to a rave on Saturday night? I'm not sure where it is or how I'm getting there or how I'm getting home."

"I suppose," I said sternly. "But you have to promise to leave a couple candy necklaces on the table for your mom and me, or no deal."

"Oh, Dad, you're so strict."

"Life is about rules, sweetie. And the sooner you realize that, the better."

At length, we ate quietly, but a look of concern betrayed my older daughter's face. Finally, she spoke.

"Dad, we've been learning a lot about evolution in my biology class. It really seems to make sense, but I know it's not true. What should I do?"

I thought carefully, since knee-jerk reactions only apply to the weaker sex. "I'll tell you what. I'm going to let you take my handgun to school tomorrow. If that biology teacher of yours wants to spout any more lies, you tell her that Smith and Wesson disagree and show her the business end of that thing. I guarantee she'll tell the class the world started when Reagan was elected. Ha!"

"Dad, you're so smart."

At the opposite end of the table, my wife's eyes welled up. "We are the luckiest ladies in the world, girls. God has truly blessed us with your father and his profound wisdom."

I drained my martini and stifled a belch. "Thank you, honey. She's right, girls."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lance, What Did You Tell Your Kids?

Twenty years ago, Nike aired a television spot featuring Charles Barkley. As the camera framed his round face in an extreme black and white close-up, Barkley proclaimed, "I am not a role model...just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids."

True enough.

But if Swoosh and Company's aim was to evoke emotion in its audience, mission accomplished. Even though I was still two years removed from being a parent, I recall thinking:

Screw you, Chuck. First of all, you're shilling for a company who's made its fortune selling overpriced merchandise to children.

Secondly, your employer, the National Basketball Association, an organization that has secured your future and likely several generations of your descendants, currently sells a jersey with the name "Barkley" scrolled across the back for around $39.95.

And if I'm not mistaken, it's offered in kids' sizes.


So, whether you like it or not, you've chosen a profession which renders its employees role models. Don't agree, Chaz? Then be a mail carrier or a life insurance salesman, because you can't have it both ways.

A few years later, my six-year-old daughter discovered the allure of professional athletics and its personalities, deciding to hitch her wagon to Alex Rodriguez, then a young shortstop on the Seattle Mariners.

We spent countless summer evenings watching him play, discussing his work ethic and his respect for the game. Toward the end of that season, in jagged, unsteady words betraying her new found literacy, she scrawled A-Rod a note, proclaiming her admiration for him and his playing style. 

Before his reply could grace our mailbox, Rodriguez jumped the good ship Mariner, signing a two hundred million dollar contract with the Texas Rangers. In his parting press conference, he emotionally maintained that Texas was a better fit in his quest for a championship; money was not a factor.

Until that moment, I hadn't held an ounce of contempt for Rodriguez' decision. After all, who'd turn down a couple hundred million bucks to play baseball? But when he chose to proclaim to my kid and everyone else that it wasn't about the money, his hypocrisy hit a walk-off home run.

I can remember thinking, Alex, you can't have it both ways.

With A-Rod in the rear view mirror, the search for an heir apparent commenced immediately. And since no parent wants to hasten his child's journey down the path to cynicism, my cackles stood tall for a worthy candidate.

It wasn't difficult; he stood out so vividly in his yellow jersey.

Back in 2001, what larger source of inspiration existed than Lance Armstrong?

Yes, that's a real question.

After vanquishing a disease which ravaged the most sensitive region of the male anatomy than spread to his brain and lungs, he recovered to win the most grueling athletic contest known to humanity, the Tour de France...seven times.

We latched onto Lance like a piece of bacon to a maple bar. My girl and I spent countless July mornings chatting about his latest Tour exploits. We'd look east toward our mountain range, the Cascades, and marvel that anyone could traverse such heights in a bicycle, let alone pull away from world class competition.

And almost every year, one of Armstrong's chief rivals would succumb to a dirty drug test and withdraw from the race in disgrace, unable to maintain Lance's lofty, drug-free standard of excellence. We'd shake our heads and smile because cheaters deserve to get caught.

In a world where our children are modeled such a diverse spectrum of adult behavior, Lance Armstrong stood tall among the pretenders; he showed our kids that they can play by the rules and still be the best.

And now this. And he won't admit it.

I haven't really discussed this with her, but I plan to. She's seventeen now, and obviously her world view has changed substantially since that summer of 2001 when Lance Armstrong swooped onto our radar. She's seen a lot of people mess up, especially me, and she's seen how those people handled the consequences.

And I hope she's learned that, while we're human and we'll never cease erring, we can nevertheless be accountable, because therein lies a sliver of virtue and a first step toward redemption.

I hope she knows you can't have it both ways.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What's the Big Deal About Binders Full of Women?

Binders full of women?

To make a Gilligan's Island analogy, last night's debate reminded me of an argument between the professor and an exotic hybrid combining Gilligan and Thurston Howell III.

Good God, where do we begin?

According to the talking heads, President Obama needed to climb through the ropes clutching a couple of canisters of Whoopass with the lids already off. He knew this Romney guy was girding his loins for a street fight.

And considering that special underwear he sports, that's a lot of Kevlar.

At the outset, the former Massachusetts governor looked cocky and relaxed. He leaned against his bar stool, casually rose and swaggered across the red carpet, clutching the mic like it was his second Shirley Temple on an empty stomach.

No podium, no notes, no problem.

The debate's format was town hall style, comprising an audience of undecided voters, a few of whom had been selected to ask questions of the candidates. Surprisingly, none appeared filthy, bearded, or exhibiting any other attributes of having lived in guano-oozing caves without cable or internet access for the past two years.

Governor Romney initially employed the same tactic for which he received little challenge during the last debate, utilizing numbers to appear competent and truthful. He claimed that oil drilling on federal lands has decreased by fourteen percent during Obama's tenure, thereby causing a surge in oil and gasoline prices.

Our president stood and glared at Romney, as if to say,"Not so fast, my gray-templed, Just for Men spokesmodel." Oil production on federal lands did decrease once— during 2009—but that was due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and overall, drilling has increased by ten percent during the Obama administration.

Oh well, potato potahto. Romney hadn't campaigned relentlessly for the past seven years to cut and run now. If numbers don't work, maybe he could skewer Obama with his own words. When the topic switched to the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, he asserted that Obama waited fourteen days to label the killings an act of terror.

The President appeared annoyed, as if he'd regretted not having shown up with his daughter's Etch-a-Sketch, since it would have been a lot easier just scrawling out the word "bullshit" and holding it up to the camera every couple of minutes.

With the same incredulous look, Mr. Obama retorted that on September 12, the day after the attacks, he declared that ""No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for."

This time, it was Mitt who lacked for words. Little help, Candy Crowley? He did say that? Whatever, he's still a commie.

Finally, Romney called off the dogs, believing that since facts and figures were just tools for manipulating the truth, he could sell the audience on his own accomplishments as Governor of Massachusetts.

Asked by Crowley what he would do as president to tear down the glass ceiling denying women equal pay for equal work, Romney avoided the question, instead deciding to boast of a mandate he enacted while governor.

He'd adeptly noticed that, since few women were being vetted for cabinet-level positions, he would initiate a search for qualified women.

Here's the thing, though—that didn't happen. Romney was actually presented his infamous "binders full of women" by MassGAP, a group of women who had resolved to present a list of qualified personnel to whomever was elected governor.

In the end, it was a win-win for Massachusetts, since women comprised forty-two percent of the cabinet and they didn't cost as much.

But I'll tell you, even though Mitt lied about it, it's not like possessing binders full of women is that big of a deal.

When I was a teenager, I didn't put them in binders because that would have been really uncomfortable and hard to fit under my mattress, but I totally could have put them in binders if I had wanted to.

I wonder what ever happened to those.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bless the Beasts and Cabbage Patch Children.

Seriously, this couldn't have come at a better time.

After basking in eighty-one straight shimmering days of Pacific Northwest sunshine, I awakened at five-thirty this morning nearly as grumpy and sore as Jerry Sandusky after an evening horsing around with the prison tickle monster. Things were damp and things were dark.

Usually on Mondays, I drag my carcass, newly heaped in the weekend's toxins, through the throbbing florescent glare of the gymnasium lobby. Once inside the door, I'll do just about anything to forestall the anguish of an impending anaerobic frenzy.

And since I'd already memorized the fire exit diagram and Puget Sound YMCA location poster, a freshly printed item perched atop an easel beckoned my dilated pupils and encrusted eye sockets:

Did I say I was cranky? Yeah, I thought so. Yet sometimes the smallest gestures, the tiniest beacons, can morph your outlook from sour to super, from grim to vim, and by God, that's just what happened as I stumbled upon this poster in the lobby that the Y shares with a local church.

Finally, our furry friends can receive the same blessed Godscreen SPV 50  the rest of us have been slathering on this whole time.

If our lord and savior can ensure that Tim Tebow runs for a first down as a reward for pointing skyward, why can't my one-toothed cat Leo receive a little unwavering heavenly intervention? Could a quick nod to JC possibly spare him from yakking his profoundly undigested Little Friskies grilled veal spleen into the crevices of our steamy baseboard heater?

Well?

In 2006, Star Jones claimed she was spared certain death from the devastating Asian tsunami thanks to her devout faith and prayer.

And of course that thirty-day gap between when she was there and when the thing hit. But still, you know, let's not split hairs when it comes to divine intervention.

Pat Robertson prayed during the Bush era for Supreme Court vacancies and his request was granted.

Sure, John Roberts cast the deciding vote in favor of Obamacare, but how is it God's fault that Robertson wasn't more specific?

Convinced of her personal status on God's VIP list, supermodel Linda Evangelista once proclaimed, "It was God who made me so beautiful. If I weren't, then I'd be a teacher."

Well said, but come on, she's way too smart to be a teacher.

I would like a little more information, however, about this animal blessing coming up on Sunday. It says it's okay to bless a dead pet. Sounds fantastic, although I had a cat named Simon, and I think he may have been Jewish. The last thing I want to do is pull a Mitt Romney and retroactively baptize him into another faith like the Mormon Church did with millions of dead Jewish people, including Holocaust victims like Anne Frank.

Yeah, no.

The lobby sign also suggests bringing a stuffed animal if you don't own a pet. That's cool,  but I am wondering if it's okay to have other stuffed stuff blessed— like is it plausible that God might reduce the fat content on Costco chicken bakes or various deep friend fair foods?

Because that would be awesome.

Anyway, I'm really stoked about this, and it's nice to have a full week to ponder all the live and inanimate objects which can now be engulfed with a condom of heavenly protection, thanks to Fauntleroy UCC.

And it's so wonderful living in Seattle, a place where Leo won't have a problem finding something nice to wear.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Youngest Child: Victim or Victor?

Since he was thirteen and six years my senior, he played on his knees while I was allowed to stand.

The living room was the stadium, our avocado carpet serving as the faux turf field and the fireplace mantel the glorious pay dirt of the end zone.

Clutching the football in the crook of my right elbow, I feigned left and nimbly juked right, my brother's awkward lunge embracing nothing but the stale living room air.

I slowed my sprint to a jog, confidant that he'd surrendered the touchdown to his overmatched little brother. Without audible warning, his fleshy talons hooked my shins from behind, chopping my balance and sending me airborne.

Cradling the pigskin to avoid fumbling, my face slapped the cold slate of the fireplace foreground like a seasoned spaghetti squash. A burst of crimson blinded me upon impact, the polished stone shattering my horn-rimmed glasses. I struggled to my knees, nauseous from shock and dripping thick pearls of blood onto the carpet and my favorite mustard-tinted turtleneck.

But goddammit, I had scored. Touchdown, little guy.

This tale from 1969 poked its way into my consciousness last night as my family attended my elder daughter's high school volleyball senior night. It was her final home game, prior to which she and her fellow seniors were regaled with flowers, praise and adulation from fans, teammates and families. By the end of the evening the only missing accolades were a beer-massaged calf for each player and a case of Turtlewax.

And there next to my wife and me, watching her sister...again...was my younger girl. She's been dragged to so many of these contests, someday she may pave the way for a new breed of humanoids who can sit comfortably without back support for hours on end.

Throughout these twelve years, she's packed water bottles and books, crayons and Barbies to pass the time huddling in drafty gyms and soaking on muddy soccer pitches. Through no fault of hers, she's hoisted that splintered wooden cross of being the younger sibling.

Can I relate? Why, yes I can.

As the youngest of three, I grew up sharing airtime with a brother and sister who weren't exactly excited to see my jaundiced little noggin show up in the baby carrier, the one that my dad had to dig out attic and try to bleach off the mildew spots. One boy and one girl already rounded out our Cold War family, so I'm pretty sure the bomb shelter wasn't really built with me in mind.

Nonetheless, I was allowed to stay, albeit with stipulations—I was entitled to a mere fraction of the photo ops to which my brother, a.k.a. "Prince William," or my sister, a.k.a. "Only Adorable Little Girl if the Family," were afforded. I never had the option of sleeping in the top bunk, and many of my t-shirts weren't exactly gently used. Never certain of the source of the stains, I was still confident that they contained my brother's DNA.

And of course, the youngest child gets lowest billing in all family marketing pieces. You know, like "Merry Christmas, from the Haywoods—Lionel, Peggy, Tom, Ann and...hang on...I know this...Shit...Oh, Tim, yeah, Tim."

Am I bitter? Hell, yes, but it's not all bad being the kid who comes along when his parents are so freaking worn out already, they don't care anymore. As a teenager, if my brother arrived home a minute past midnight, he'd activate an alarm which also scanned his pupils and searched his orifices.

When I reached my teenage years, I could cruise in at one-thirty, turn on the lights, build and chow down a bacon sandwich that Elvis could smell from his Graceland toilet perch.

All the while, my parents slept the sleep of the weary traveler.

So, yeah, I can understand the plight of my number two daughter. She isn't as sporty as her big sister, but few people are. In a pinch, that kid would play catch with a shovel.

But our twelve-year-old does have orchestra concerts and soccer games on the horizon.

And by God, her big sister will be attending.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Heartfelt Appeal to Hallmark's Struggling Business.

Dear Hallmark,

Why did you allow things to get to this point without calling me? Come on, you guys, you know I'm here for you.

It's obviously too late to reverse this current wave, now that you've announced the impending layoffs of seven hundred and fifty full-time American employees due to struggling sales.

And let me emphasize, the era of the paper greeting card has not perished; I love receiving material greetings. It shows effort, not just the mindless thirty-second response to a Facebook tickler.

But look, people, it's time for a little upgrade. The same cheesy lines that made Uncle Hector laugh so hard that Aunt Sarah had to tuck his hernia back in just don't cut it with today's cynical card shopper.

If you're looking to downsize, here's where to start, and it's really simple: get rid of all kids' cards. They're a waste of money. When six-year-old Jakey is sitting in the living room, waiting to ravage a mountain of presents, the only thing standing between him and that new X-Box is some card with a picture of Optimus Prime that says, "Wishing you a 'Transformative' birthday!"

Mom makes him open the card so she can write down who gave it to him so he can send a thank you note later. Here's an idea—just skip the card altogether and write who it's from in big, black Sharpie right over the Elmo wrapping paper.

From a kid's point of view, the only good cards arrive with Benjamin inside. And those don't get read, either.

So, yeah, Hallmark, let's nix cards for anyone under, say, twenty years old. After that, we can tweak the subject matter for more adult audiences.

A huge portion of your market is the card which lampoons those advancing into older age. Most are meant to skewer folks who've begun to experience physical challenges. These contain messages like, "You know the worst thing about getting older? Gravity!"

That's not funny. It's true, hurtful and mean-spirited, but not the least bit humorous. What's funny about showing cartoon boobs hitting the floor, when a lot of us have been watching it in real time every day for the past twenty years? That's like telling someone in the elevator that they look tired. No point, you know? Why not use the Marine Corps method and knock down while building up?

If you want to really slam someone, yet compliment them as well, you can avoid paying all the fancy illustrators and photographers and offer a simple white card with black type. On the cover it will say, "Dude, seriously, I didn't think you'd make it this far, especially after all those years not using protection..."

He'll open the card to find a little envelope of sunscreen taped inside with the words, "You're welcome."

But hang on. Underneath that, again in black letters it will read, "Plus, oh my God, you were a slut. Seriously, anything that moved..."

His wife and kids and mom will love it, and I'm pretty sure he'll feel better about himself.

Another area of dead weight that could really use some pruning is your sympathy card business. Good Lord, those cards are terrible. Have you ever tried finding one which simply states, "I'm sorry for your loss"?

It's impossible and it reminds me of when someone is trying to express his or her condolences but they're uncomfortable and don't know when to stop. They end up saying something like:

"Hey, I'm really sorry about your mom. It's probably good, though, right? I mean, you know what I mean? It's good that she's not suffering, you know? I mean, I'm assuming she suffered, like, a lot, right? Like super, super painful probably, right? Yeah, so it's good she's dead. Take care, and if you need anything, just text me, but not after eight."

Here's an example of an actual Hallmark sympathy card:

"Your loved one's with our Lord above,
Away from earthly pain.
And over time,
The Lord will lift,
Your sorrow once again."


That's nice. Kind of a Dr. Suess feel, too.

Hallmark, it's good to know that someone at your fine company can pen such a personal note to me and my unspecified loved one.

Good luck with your foundering business, and in addition to the above suggestions, I implore you to revisit the time-tested idea of limericks.

Sincerely,
Tim Haywood

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Why Obama Won the Debate.

I'm obviously in the minority, here.

Apparently, I can be counted among those groups whose memberships are painfully small:

Those who feel O.J. didn't do it.

People who decided that it was finally safe to open the sliding glass door and let the raccoons meet the kittens.

Parents who choose a daycare based on the size of the trampoline and love the teacher/student ratios provided by the halfway house next door.

You see, I believe Barack Obama won last night's debate. In fact, I didn't even think it was that close.

It's hardly a secret that I'm all in for this guy. I'd still vote for him if he'd walked onto the stage and become Barack Madonna greeting Mittany Spears with a one-tongue salute.

Frankly, I was taken aback by the overwhelming sentiment against the president's performance:

Score One For Romney—CNN.com

Debate Praise for Romney as Obama Is Faulted as Flat—New York Times

Presidential Race Reset, GOP and Some Democrats Say—Washington Post

Romney Obliterates Muslim Antichrist, Says He's Happy to Take the Job Off Jesus' Plate*—Fox News
*Among headlines considered but not chosen

I must have been in the bathroom when Romney walked into the party and passed around Kool-Aid beer bongs, because I just didn't spot a sizable advantage. My daughters and I agreed that, while far calmer than his challenger, the president stated his case using facts rather than platitudes.

In addition, we broke the contest into the following categories:

Appearance—In a nutshell, we felt that Romney looked like hell. His eyes were bloodshot and his lips cracked and dry. I'm not sure what looked worse, last night's pallor or the freakish facial dye job Mitt donned for an interview on Univision two weeks ago to appear simpatico with Latino voters.

President Obama looked more relaxed, yet with a considerably heavier dusting of gray than during his 2008 campaign. I'm thinking a lot of that may have transpired during that whole Bin Laden reality TV episode in the Situation Room.

Delivery—We surmised that Governor Romney may have received a special church dispensation and guzzled seven cups of Folger's Crystals prior to the debate; the guy was geeked up. Hopefully, the Secret Service had a nice stash of Handi Wipes to pass the president immediately afterward to squeegee his opponent's caviar-laced spittle from his face and neck.

Mitt interrupted and spoke over moderator Jim Lehrer so frequently, I thought Lehrer might cut his mike, walk up and punch Romney in the hair.

Message—This is the most disturbing reason why I'm stunned that so many believed Romney excelled last night. He provided no solutions for our foundering economy, other than lowering tax rates and eliminating deductions. How much lower and which deductions? Too complicated. You wouldn't understand.

He hates Obamacare, that's loud and clear, but what's his alternative? Romney's already stated that we've got a system in place for the uninsured, and that's provided by America's emergency rooms.

According to Romney, parents should be free to send their children to the best schools, not the ghetto schools that contain all the lazy teachers. Come on, folks. If you live in a bad neighborhood, just move to a good one. For Pete's sake, why must he spell everything out for you people?

It's true that President Obama didn't display the stress-induced energy that Mitt poured onto the stage like a sack of Jello. He also didn't capitalize in Romney's innumerable gaffes: the forty-seven percent comment, the flip-flops on women's and gay rights.

So, Mr. President, you've got two more chances. Please finish this bonehead off. As Mrs. Romney said, "Stop it. This is hard."

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Learning Tweenglish: An Adult Primer.

Remember back in the day, when a friend ventured to Europe for a semester or two, and returned speaking French with the fluidity of a Muppet chef or rattling off German with greater proficiency than Colonel Wilhelm Klink?

I didn't quite reach those aptitudal levels yesterday, but I came close to becoming fluent in a highly unorthodox tongue:

I'll call it Tweenglish.

You see, I was around them a lot, far more than I'd planned. What began as a double-header afternoon of soccer team pictures followed by a game, morphed into full immersion in a chunky pre-adolescent stew. I was the fresh slice from a crusty artisan loaf who'd been dipped into the broth and forgotten, only to bloat into an unrecognizable softball of brown swamp gunk.

My daughter's U-13 soccer team, the Mustangs, made quick work of their team picture this year. Gone are the days of herding them into a line and trying to achieve a decent pose prior to someone biting the top of someone else's head.  In this, the era of Instafacebookagramterist, these girls know how to pose for pictures.

Feeling spry after downing a venti dark roast and conversing with similarly perked-up parents, I retreated to our minivan for a short trip to the ferry dock to support my little Mia Hamm and her teammates at a game on Puget Sound's Vashon Island.

I waited in the captain's chair, wondering what was taking my young Brandi Chastain so long to get in the car and hoping it wasn't another sports bra incident. Before I could say "stop using 1999 Women's World cup references," she'd arranged for six other kids to ride with us to the ferry dock, across the water and to the soccer pitch for our one o'clock contest against Vashon's finest.

Hastily computing, I calculated that my daughter had set us up to spend the next three hours with six tween-age girls, a total of eightween hours, in the tight quarters of my sapphire blue Kia. One by one, parents approached my driver's side window, greasing my palm with ferry money and paying their respects, like a reception line prior to a lethal injection.

"Apparently, Bridgette is riding with you," said one father. "Thanks a lot. You're a brave man. I guess we'll just see you at the game."

"Will you?" I thought. "Or will you be joining Bloody Mary thanks to your newly freed-up schedule?"

Once everyone was off each other's laps and belted in, we embarked for the ferry. I resolved to become a fly on the wall since any of my seemingly witty parental input made me feel more like a fly on the windshield. The kids were very polite to me, yet when they spoke of their own parents, they railed at the lack of respect and understanding displayed by their caregivers:

Girl 1: "My mom made me peanut butter and jelly with honey. I'm so tired of healthy food all the time."

Girl 2: "All my mom packed me was two turkey sandwiches and some chips and an apple and some grapes and some string cheese and three granola bars. How's that supposed to last me all day?"

Girl 3: "My parents are so boring. They don't even watch TV."

Once on the ferry, I sat in the car and listened to sports radio while the kids bounded up to the passenger deck for the fifteen-minute trip to the island. The brief silence tasted sweeter than any PBJ&H sandwich, but before I could say "Justin Beiber," the six of them were embedded back in the van and we were ascending the Isle of Vash (That's an example of Tweenglish—abbreviations galore.).

For those unfamiliar with this rural island west of Seattle, Vashon is a highly organic community: we observed several locals walking the streets barefoot on their way to the farmers' market. It's an area that prides itself on independence and nonconformity.

So, yeah, the kids in the van couldn't really relate. While riding through the small hamlet, I heard the following comments:

Girl 1: "You guys. Seriously, there isn't a mall here. And I so love malls."
Girl 3: "Is there a Target?"
Girl 1: "No, but there's a Subway over there."
Girl 2: "I love malls. I love how they smell."
Girl 5: "I so love to smell malls."

Girl 6: "Oh, my God. I swear I just saw a guy killing a cow with a knife. Just stabbing it, like you'd stab a person in a movie!"
Girl 2: "Eww, Oh, my God."
Girl 1: "Oh, my God, eww."
Girl 4: "Oh, my God. Cows are disgusting."

Girl 3: "This place is so boring. Look at that guy going into the quilting place. I would be so embarrassed if that was my dad or my grandpa."
Girl 6: "Oh, my God. I could never live here."
Girl 5: "Oh, my God. I'd be so bored if I had to quilt for fun."
Girl 4: "People quilt? Oh, my God. I thought you just buy quilts."

That was about, oh, I don't know, three minutes worth of our little journey right there. It was like listening live to Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, Tween Edition, sponsored by Kia.

These kids are experiencing the same thing we all went through during those tumultuous pubescent years; it truly is a jagged pothole in everyone's road. And from time to time, I'd notice, lying dormant yet occasionally bubbling to the surface along with all the insecurity and giggly giddiness were the personalities of six caring, thoughtful and highly humorous human beings.

And that's what kept me from leaving them on the island that day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby.

Ouch.

For the past three weeks, these poor guys have been bloodied. They've been battered and bludgeoned. They've been abused more than a dog whose tag is etched, "Property of the Romney Family. If found, please hose off and return."

The National Football League Referees Association has been on strike for the first three weeks of the NFL season, holding out for the guaranteed pensions that team owners would like to eliminate in favor of a defined contribution, or 401k, plan.

While I won't delve to deeply into the muck of this labor dispute, it is curious that the lords of a nine billion dollar industry have chosen to embed their diamond spurs over $3.3 million. According to my calculations, that's approximately bullshit point four five seven percent of the league's annual revenue.

And because these millionaires and billionaires can't seem to defibrillate their own blackened hearts, a motley assortment of replacements have  crawled up through the cracks, wearing black hats and white knickers, to officiate America's premier spectator sport.

In the words of Homer Simpson, "Those refs sure did suck last night! They just plain sucked. I've seen refs suck before, but they were the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked."

Or something like that.

As recently as Monday night, my Seattle Seahawks benefited from a grossly botched ruling on the game's last play to defeat the storied Green Bay Packers. Although the Packers were justified in their outrage, there's something unappealing about huge dudes who resemble superheroes whining like my kids when they're told to go back and wipe a little better.

Bad call aside, I enjoyed watching the disciples of St. Vincent de Lombardi suck on a sour grapcicle.

And what did we expect? Our lives are crammed with experiences involving impostors and charlatans, imitations and pretenders, especially when we're kids.

I remember entering my third grade classroom one morning and there stood a strange lady scrawling "Mrs. Priqué" on the blackboard? Once we were all seated, her fakey teacher voice boomed for the first time: "Good morning, class. Mrs. Henderson was feeling under the weather this morning, so I'll be filling in today. My last name is pronounced 'Prick-ay.' No other pronunciations are acceptable, ladies and gentlemen. If you happen to mispronounce my name, you'll be corrected and given a warning. If you do it again, you'll be sent to the office."

I was a fairly well-behaved kid, but as we know, all bets are off when the sub shows up. I considered it a great opportunity to channel Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now, and since I'd been given one free pass, it was time to stir up a good laugh from my fellow nine-year-olds. I raised my hand.

"Yes...let's see...Tim, do you have a question?"

"Can I go to the bathroom, Mrs. Prick?"

The class erupted. Miss Prique wrote down my name on the board and probably still hates me.

Kids have to deal with other below-par choices, too. Since they don't have the means to select their own food, they're constantly bombarded with inferior substitutes for the good stuff:

"No, it's not an Oreo, it's a Hydrox. But they taste the same."

No they don't.

"No, it's not Heinz ketchup, it's Hunts 'Catsup'. But it tastes the same."

No it doesn't. And I know you added water to it, Grandma. For God's sake, this isn't the Depression anymore.

And why was it that a company called Dolly Madison made the exact same stuff that Hostess made, only much worse tasting? Plus, they only advertised during Charlie Brown specials. I took the bait once, but after barely choking down a Zinger, I returned on bended knee to my steady girlfriend, the Ding Dong.

So let's be patient with these guys, eh? Everyone knows they're not as good as the real thing, but what replacement is? We'll keep watching because that's just what we do.

Just ask Leno.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Hell Is So 2001.

“Religion has convinced people that there's an invisible man...living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn't want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer, and suffer, and burn, and scream, until the end of time. 

"But he loves you.”

-George Carlin

Time for the heathens to weigh in.

I'm fed up with religion; actually, let me rephrase that—I'm fed up with religions.

This may offend a few of you, including some of my friends and Platinum-Club-level family members, but what the hell.

Good heavens, did I just say "hell?"

This morning, CNN.com, in one of its Sunday-paper-inspired cover features, posed the query, "Should we abandon the idea of hell?"

Hunh, what do you think? Sounds great to me. By abandoning the idea of hell, does that just make it go  away? Sure, we'd run the risk of allowing Hitler and Bundy to pack up and move north for eternity, but if I knew heaven was a given, I'd be okay with the occasional awkward sighting of Jeffrey Dahmer at the St. Peter's Gate Mall Hickory Farms.

In the piece written by Frank Schaeffer, New York Times bestselling author of the book "Crazy for God," Schaeffer posits that hell has been fabricated by man as the ultimate fruit of revenge, yet ironically, the stress we create through our nurturing of resentment and vengeance contributes far more to our own demise than our enemies' downfall.

So, yeah, seams like doing away with hell might lead to a few less evenings sucking down equal parts Ben & Jerry's Heath Bar Crunch and Smirnoff''s Liquid Stress-Be-Gone.

I probably would've stayed blissfully mute on this subject if the column weren't followed up by the opinion of a man for whom I feel such vitriol, I'd be willing to keep hell open past closing time so he could attend the afterparty.

His name is Mark Driscoll, and he's the founding pastor of a cash cow here in Seattle known as Mars Hill Church. It's a rapidly growing enterprise in the western United States, whose business model involves attracting youngish followers with hip technology and informal, stubbly-faced Sunday brunch-time services.

Yet if someone were to ask me which post-apocalyptic baked good most closely resembles Driscoll's message, I'd say it's probably a  a poo-filled Twinkie. Beneath the fluffy goodness that pulls people into his church lies a dogma which preaches the evils of gay rights, women in leadership roles, and...

yoga. I'm not kidding. He believes yoga is evil. And not just hot yoga.

I've written about this guy before. So when I again read the blatherings of some dude who uses religion as a way to control people while enjoying an aristocratic lifestyle, it's pretty hard not to call bullshit on everything which lies under his bigtop of douchebaggery.

How materially different is America's Christian right from those Muslim folks across the water who consider a North Face vest both a fashion statement and a highly explosive trip to paradise, where everyone on eHarmony is a high school sophomore girl with freshly waxed calves?

Each religion lays claim to the truth in all caps, and any infidels will pay dearly, like really a lot, like hangnails that never heal and everything smells like your old dorm's stairwell.

Why do we live this way? I understand the opportunism of those who seek to exploit and the need for their followers to find comfort and reason in a highly unreasonable and unfair world. But do we really have to elevate things to this level, to tell each other, "Look, dude, I love your food, especially that yogurt-based stuff served with lamb and pita bread, so I really need to get the recipe from you before you die and spend eternity getting your intestines pulled out with plastic salad tongs."

I'm ready for hell to die. Are you?

Monday, September 17, 2012

An Act of Faith.

September, 1987

The tires of our U-Haul brushed against the curb as my roommate, Dave, and I pulled up to our new home, a duplex in Seattle's Central District. We walked up the porch steps, opened the door and gazed at the narrow stairway which led to our top-floor unit.

"This is going to suck," one of us muttered.

After pulling up the cargo hatch to discover a freshly decapitated philodendron, I craned my neck to see a strange figure approaching and stopping next to our truck's ramp. Tall and lean, he clasped his hands together as if praying. He wore a loosely fitting beige tunic and pants, a skull cap and sandals. A long, black beard flecked with grey nearly concealed his sun-leathered skin.

"I help you, please." He looked up at us, his wide grin revealing the absence of two teeth.

Dave and I glared at each other skeptically as most sheltered white men in their twenties might do when faced with a stranger's generosity, especially one who looked so out of place to us.

The man rested his open hand over his sternum and gently bowed. "Raheem," he offered. We hopped down from the truck and introduced ourselves, extending our hands. He shook them robustly and repeated, "I help you."

"Okay, yeah, sure. Thank you," I said.

Within seconds, Raheem was hefting a heavy box of books down the ramp and up the stairs. He continued carrying the heaviest objects—he even tried to haul a couch by himself— and easily equaled Dave and my output combined. An hour later, the cargo area sat empty, all our possessions stacked in our new place. Only then did Raheem stop.

I brought down a six-pack of Pepsi and offered one to Raheem, his knees propped up high where he sat on the curb resting.

"No no please." He waved his hand and a drop of sweat rolled off his nose. Dave and I popped open our soda and sat down next to the benevolent stranger. We asked him a series of questions, but an embarrassed grin washed across his face. He didn't understand.

Raheem reached his long fingers into a breast pocket and removed a folded piece of paper, He unfolded it and handed it to me:

Hello,

My name is Raheem. My family and I came to the United States from Afghanistan after our village was bombed by the Soviets. Our home was destroyed and two of my children were killed.

I formerly worked in food services at the Kabul Airport, where I became acquainted by an American pilot. After hearing of my family's misfortunes, he offered to sponsor my family as refugees in America.

I am currently enrolled in English and catering classes at South Seattle Community College.

God bless you.


"Wow," I said, immediately knowing Raheem wouldn't know the meaning of such a word. I handed him back his information sheet and he smiled, tucking safely back in his pocket.

Raheem stood and shook our hands again "Goodbye."

Still stunned by this man's gesture, we watched him amble slowly away, not a shred of urgency in his gait. A large oval of sweat darkened the back of his beige tunic.

"Thank you!" we yelled. "Good luck!"

He turned and faced us, clasping his hands and bowing as he had done an hour before. As Raheem retreated down the street and disappeared, Dave and I shook our heads and looked at each other, wondering if we'd see this man again.

We did. Three months later, on a chilly December evening, the doorbell rang. Not used to drop-in guests, I opened the front door tentatively, peaking around in case imminent danger required any kind of hasty maneuver.

Raheem stood on the porch in the cold, wearing the same clothes I'd seen him in before, smiling the same incredible gap-toothed smile. In front of him, he balanced a fully decorated Christmas tree—ornaments, lights, tinsel, even a stand to hold it. "Meddy Cdismuss!" he laughed. His strong arm held it out to me and I invited him in, pulling his offering awkwardly through the doorway.

Unbelievable.

In light of all the ugliness that's been happening, I just wanted to relate my personal account of a man I encountered twenty-five years ago, a man who endured unspeakable hardships, yet one whose goodness will forever live in my heart.

They're not all terrorists.