Monday, December 14, 2015

A Last-Minute Gift Guide For The Guy Who Doesn't Want a Gift

Last I checked—which was very, very recently—I’m a guy.

And we guys are not easy to buy stuff for; I understand this. We’re weird and quirky individuals. We’ll say thanks so much for the thoughtful gift, then secretly exchange the bow tie and sweater vest for a machete.

So I’m here to help. My aim is to assuage your uncertainty, to hedge your apprehension that you've chosen the right gift for Captain Dontworryaboutme. My guess is that he's like me—an average middle-aged dude who needs nothing and wants nothing… unless it’s cool. And since you’ve still got a solid week-and-a-half to procure a gift that doesn’t suck for your finicky fellow, here are my top ten token tips this Gringletide season:

10) Hockey tickets—Even though your hometown may be absent an NHL team, that doesn’t mean good hockey isn’t played in your area. Here in the PNW, we’ve a couple of junior hockey teams, the Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds. Tickets range from $16 to $40 for the opportunity to watch highly-skilled teenagers sling each other around like spatulas of Crisco. Good times, seriously.

9) 1960s Animé cartoons—Before you judge, check out some of the old Speed Racer or Gigantor episodes. Fast moving and a smidge mistranslated, your beau will squeal like a pig as he hoists this out of his stocking ($23 for the first eleven episodes). 

8) Personal grooming devices—You and I both know that your chap could use a little Bastille Day for that old growth around the nose and ears. Nothing will capture his imagination like the sound of the nasal trimmer hitting paydirt. It may sound like a cross between a weed whacker and the Magic Bullet, but you’ll be able to eat tapioca out of those nostrils when he’s done ($33 at Nordstrom).

7) Lunchboxes—They’re back! Did they ever go away?

When I was in grade school, a lot of kids had this Charlie Brown model. Why not drop a subtle hint to see which pail your best bloke had as a schoolboy? He’ll love you for it, even though the price isn’t peanuts (Around $65 on eBay).

6) A pack of floats—I’ve done this a couple of times and it’s fantastic. Suspended in a light- and sound-controlled environment that reduces sensory stimulation, your guy will float in a super-saturated solution of epsom salt and water. The liquid is heated to skin temperature and after about fifteen minutes, he'll lose track of where the water ends and his body begins. 

Not suitable for the claustrophobic, it's amazingly relaxing and I’ve come out feeling better and for longer than after a conventional massage (Nearly always available on Groupon, around $40 per hour-long session). 

5) National Lampoon’s Vacation Boxset—All four original films are included on this DVD for only $30! Give him Chevy Chase at his comedy apex, bring back Clark, Audrey, Rusty and of course, Cousin Eddie. The shitter will runneth over, and so will your man’s cup.

4) Risk—Appeal to your guy’s inner nerd with the famous board game of world domination. For only $30, you’ll have a million rainy Saturdays-worth of fun while learning how your lifemate handles both megalomania and tactical impotence. Or maybe you already know.

3) A gift card to… nowhere. Seriously, don’t buy him a gift card, even to Hooters.

2) "Feel the Bern” products—Bernie Sanders, opting to forego super pac funding, still rivals Hillary Clinton in dollars raised thanks to small contributions from over 750,000 private donors. 

Why not dish out $15 for a coffee mug or $25 for a t-shirt to make your dude look a little smarter than he actually is!

1)  Any type of artwork, done by you—How often have I heard a friend say, “I’m not an artist. I can barely draw a stick figure.”? And my reply is, who says you have to draw a stick figure? Everyone’s an artist; I truly believe that. Sketch something out, paint a nice abstract scene, take a beautiful photograph—then frame that shit up because everything looks better in a frame. Trust me, he’ll love both it and you for putting yourself out there.

I know your man's been hard to buy for in the past, but keep in mind: he’s still a guy. While his interests may seem to vary immensely, when you really break things down he’s really only interested in four or five distinguishable topics and one of them is quite fleeting.

Good luck and happy shopping!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

It's Time to Get Real About Guns.

Time to play the familiar loop ...again:

A shooter unleashes his (and now her) demented angst upon a school, a shopping mall, a workplace.

We're not shocked; that emotion has been slowly phased out of the routine, vaporizing years ago, so we move on to horrified. From that point, our behaviors branch out a bit—some are sad, some are grateful that tragedy hasn't yet knocked on their own doors, and others, others are angry and ready to blame.

We blame the president or NRA, the liberals or conservatives, even the cultural demise of the American family. Rhetoric spins around in a sideways number eight, always moving but never veering off its predictable track.

You may agree with what I'm about to propose. Perhaps you'll dissent yet agree in principle. Or, maybe you'll think I'm just another bleeding heart progressive whose head's been in the sand so long it's formed a cement block around my senses. In fact, it's what I anticipate the reaction will be among my conservative friends and family members.

That's fine, I just wanted to get this down in words, because as macabre and dramatic as it sounds, tomorrow could be the day it happens—maybe at the grocery store, on the bus, at the office or during a high school band concert.

And as scary as the threat of terrorism is, of ideological thugs entering America with bad intentions, that's not my biggest fear. The lion's share of my trepidation is the home-grown variety. Since the Columbine killings ushered us into a new age of indigenously-sparked carnage, 388 Americans have died in mass shootings at the hands of fellow Americans.

I'm not including those paralyzed or disfigured, not those who were murdered in groups of two or even three. According to the New York Times, 388 is the tally of people whose last breaths were drawn in large-scale acts of violence committed overwhelmingly by US citizens with lawfully-owned weapons,

Although a few should not have been sold firearms despite failing background checks, a large proportion of wholesale killers hadn't broken a single law prior to visiting their collective slaughter upon our innocent brothers and sisters.

So what the hell can we do about this? I think most of us, liberal and conservative alike, believe that mental health screening is the key to keeping guns out of the hands of the psychopathic, but after that, our squads quickly diverge.

The Republican right, already consumed in a state of seething indignation over Obamacare and increased government "handouts," would hardly endorse further spending for a concept as abstract as preventative mental health care. Ronald Reagan, standard-bearer for all that is Right, enacted the Brady Bill while simultaneously slashing funding and casting millions of schizophrenic government dependents to lives of homelessness.

The cons may maintain that the private sector can handle this burden, that faith-based organizations can pick up the slack, but how's that been working out?

Those of the libertarian persuasion, already highly distrustful of an executive branch hell-bent on taking their guns, would just as soon allow the feds to pay a visit to a mentally ill family member as they would go to a concert where Jane Fonda opens for the Dixie Chicks.

In light of these belief systems, where does that leave us? Same place as usual—gun control. During Barack Obama's first term, 91% more background checks were performed than in George Bush's initial four years, and over 65 million Americans have purchased firearms during the Obama administration. I'd say we're pretty well stocked at this point, wouldn't you?

For those friends among us thinking that the Apocalypse may very well happen a week from Tuesday, I'm willing to bet they've got enough ammo to set them up until then and a thousand Tuesdays into the future.

So since you people already have yours and then some, how about we think outside the box a little? Why not impose a moratorium on gun sales, or at the very least on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines? Simultaneously, how about cracking down the illegal weapons trade while we're at it? Last I checked, it's not too easy to order yourself an RPG launcher, and there's a reason for that. It's time to treat guns like the weapons of mass destruction they really are.

Contrary to what you may believe after reading this, I'm not stupid. Guns are as American as cookie dough and Maxwell House, and we're a country built largely from the business end of a rifle. The Second Amendment secured the ability of a ragtag militia from rural Massachusetts to hide in the bushes and pick off all those redcoats dumb enough to march down the middle of the road. Later, the fastest and easiest way for a lawless West to be settled was through a lot of shooting and threatening to shoot.

But wake up. Times have changed, if you haven't noticed. How many freaking guns do you need, people? I guess in America, the answer is more.

Always more.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

How Well Do You Know Your Holiday Specials: A Quiz

Happy holidays! Although Yule season commercials have been on TV since a couple of days before Halloween (October 28, for Walmart—made a note of it), it hadn’t really felt a lot like Christmas until Sunday, when two things happened:

1. We put up our Christmas tree and all the trimmings around the house, and good news: this time, I didn’t sweat enough getting the tree into the stand to have to change my shirt.

2. The promo for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer aired on CBS. It’s on tonight (Tuesday) at 8.

A rush of Christmas emotion overtook me as I watched those little, jerky characters marching around. I knew then and there that Noel was officially on. 

But good Lord, Bumble the abominable snow monster, as low-tech as he is, still scares the gizzard up my gullet. As a kid, I always found it convenient to grab a HoHo and linger in the kitchen until he was finally subdued through unbridled tooth extraction.

In my opinion, Rudolph, produced in 1964 with its innovative stop-motion animation, and Chuck Jones’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, combining the genius of Warner Brothers and Dr. Seuss, are the Ali and Frazier of holiday TV specials.

But there are so many others. That’s why today, as we countdown to Rudolph’s 52nd network-television take-off, I’ve scrawled out little a quiz to see how well you know your boobtube Festivus fare. Best of luck in choosing the correct answer, because this one's no cakewalk.

Who claimed, “I want to be a dentist.”

a) Jeb Bush after looking at his latest poll numbers.
b) A four-year-old me, just before they put me under to get my tonsils out.
c) Hermey, the meek elf in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. That is, until he went all medieval on Bumble with those pliers.
d) All of the above.

Answer: b—Bush would never put his hands in people's mouths, and I wanted to play for the Packers.

Who said, “All I have in my pockets are a short-circuited wand and a few last morsels of magic feed corn that make reindeer fly”?

a) Greg Brady, when Carol finds smokes in his letterman’s jacket.
b) The Winter Warlock in Santa Claus is Coming to Town, as Mrs. Claus desperately attempts to spring him from the North Pole supermax.
c) Beaver Cleaver, after a tough Saturday frog hunting.
d) Ben Carson, maintaining that Jesus listed these among his carpentry tools.

Answer: b— Greg  also had weed in there, The Beav never came home without at least a few polliwogs, and JC didn’t need that shit to do a nice mudroom remodel.

Who wondered, “What if Christmas doesn't come from a store?”?

a) Jeff Bezos.
b) The Grinch, just before his heart grew three sizes.
c) Donald Trump (“F&ck no! I told you, not if that shit’s made in China!").
d) All of the above.

Answer: d

Who said, “I’m cuuuuuute!”?
a) Me, yelling out the window when I cruise Alki Beach.
b) Rudolph, when Clarice’s words made him spring briefly into the air for the first time. As we know, those things can happen to a young reindeer. Perfectly normal.
c) Most dogs who’ve just eaten a shoe.
d) All of the above.

Answer: b and c—I don’t need to shout it out, right?

I hope you’ve fared well on the Christmas special quiz; I know it wasn’t easy. Sorry for not including some of the other great shows, like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, A Christmas Story and so many more. Enjoy the season and watch a few of the old favorites!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Social Media: A Place We Can Be Everywhere Yet Nowhere.

Please bear with me; I'll try to be brief in venting my spleen.

I joined Facebook around, let's see, 2008. So therefore, I've spent 46/53 of my life not engaged in social media. Not yet Twittering or Tindring or Instagrammering... just yammering.

But now, now that I've owned an iPhone for six months, I'm a crumb concerned. I used to have to crank up the old desktop jalopy for my Facebook fix. Today, I'm a thumbprint ID away from another tasty orange Instagram kibble or a juicy red Zuckerbook nugget from a Friend.

Social media has served most of us pretty well, wouldn't you say? And for people hovering within twenty years either side of my age, those who could formerly only reconnect with old friends through high school reunions and chance encounters—"where are they now?" has been been replaced by "what are they physically doing at this very moment?" And do I like it enough to "like"it?

These days, we can snap a quick shot of the Applebee's French Dip we're about to scarf down, apply a yummy filter and post it for the viewing pleasure of those whose only food choices are currently downstairs in the earthquake kit.

Or perhaps it's the one-month anniversary of our cockapoo's tummy tuck and we want him to know how proud we are that he's kept the weight off. He's a few simple key punches from being snapped, tagged and posted. Sure, he's a dog. He'll never fathom the your pride in his accomplishment, any more than he can grasp why he wears designer denim.

That doesn't mean the rest of the world can't.

There's really no debating that social media has revolutionized the way we communicate with each other. It's fast, easy and effective. But for every advantage with which we've been bestowed over the past decade, certain off-color byproducts have emerged, and I feel compelled to share them with you. Please don't take these personally if these hit a little close to home. Just because I'm judging you doesn't mean I don't love you. Here are my top five worst mobile-device inspired human behaviors:

5) As I write this on my morning commuter bus, three of the five people surrounding me here in the back seat are glued to their phones. I understand that they could be reading an interesting article or even doing some sort of business... but I kind of doubt it unless they work for Candy Crush, Inc. Either way, these folks illicit feelings of dystopian human disconnection, and they tend to bug the shit out of me, especially on Mondays.

4) Unless openly challenged, my children operate in a constant, fragmented state. They're incessantly hovering between cyberspace and physical reality, similar to the Star Trek episodes where the transporter was on the fritz and the only thing able to beam onto the Enterprise are Kirk's toupee and man corset.

This applies to lots of people as well, many of whom aren't my offspring. I'll ask them a question, only to see them focused on their small screens. Inevitably, their answer begins with one word—"Ummm..."

And this bugs the shit out of me.

3) Memes are the bane of social media. I simply don't find it necessary to proclaim my feelings using online clip art and misplaced apostrophes, as in "I love my brother. Hes the only person who really get's where I'm coming from, which is our mom. Like and share if you or your brother's came from your mom."

Bugs the shit out of me.

2) Vacation pictures: Actually, I like seeing these, but I get jealous, and therefore they bug the shit out of me.

1) People who text and drive actually venture further up the aggravation scale than just bugging the shit out of me. They incite visceral emotion and fantasies of homicidal violence. Riding public transit as often as I do, I'm able to perform informal surveys while glancing down upon the gridlocked vehicles. Of the ten consecutive cars I chose to observe one morning, four contained drivers who sat gazing at their phones.

If they'd only looked up and to the side and absorbed just a smidgen of the wrath emanating from my orange pupils, I'm convinced they'd have sworn off texting and driving for as long as they lived.

Of course, how would that even be possible—they were busy looking at their freaking phones...

... which bugs the shit out of me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


We moved slowly and steadily past the Peace Arch and toward the line marking the division of the United States and Canada. Our dirty white Hyundai, only seconds prior brimming with boisterous conversation and chronic interrupting, quieted suddenly as we rolled up to the guard post.

I pulled the tiny lever and the window squeaked its tired displeasure at being summoned yet again. The guard post's window slid open.

"Hi," I said. "Hi" is okay, right? I thought. Shit, maybe not. He might think that I, a cocky Yank who thinks the rest of the world just needs a Coke and a smile, am not showing the proper respect for a border patrolman who must remain vigilant on a daily basis. For God's sake, this guy has to be on the lookout for everything, from tookus-tucked dirty bombs to a forgotten box of aplets and cotlets. Just be cool.

"Good afternoon."

Wow. The guy was short in stature, but his bicep and forearm were the size of a mollycoddled toddler. A patch reading Canadian Border Patrol strained as if the stitching could rupture at any moment from its taut sleeve.

He leaned down and glared at me. "What brings you folks to Canada?"

Folks? Okay, I can work with "folks." It's... you know... folksy. "Umm, we're just going up for the night and coming back tomorrow," I said more timidly than I would have predicted. I feared I was looking at his mustache rather than his eyes.

"How long will you be in Canada?"

Didn't I just answer that, short strong man? "Uh, until tomorrow."

"What are your plans?"

"Um, well, we picked our daughter up from college in Bellingham and thought it would be fun to spend the night in Vancouver. You know, just kind of get away a little bit."

I followed his eyes as they left mine and scanned the disheveled back seat of our Elantra. "Passports, please." He nimbly thumbed through our documents, stacked them and held them to his chest. "When's the last time you were in Canada?"

"Oh, um, let's see, Geez, I'd say around 2005."

"Why would you suddenly decide after ten years to come to Canada for one night?" He scowled as he again surveyed our car.

Look, Officer Friendly, we didn't "suddenly" decide. This has been in the works for a month, I thought, but the last thing I wanted was to be made into a spread-eagled Hyundai hood ornament in front of my wife, daughters and the van full of cub scouts behind us. "Um, well, this was the only night that would work for all of us, so that's just kind of what we decided to do."

I glanced up in rear view mirror. Both kids' faces looked as earnest and uncomfortable as a couple of kids being read a goat book by the president.

"Will you be leaving anything in Canada?" I watched his fist tighten around our passports.

What the hell would we leave in Canada besides our money and little half-full shampoo bottles? "Nope."

He took another step out of the booth. Is "nope" a bad word up here? Maybe the "Nopes" are French British Columbian separatists or something! Shit, who knew?

His meaty arm jutted through my open window and nearly compelled me to leave something in the United States, but as I looked into the watchman's face, his features softened languidly into a half-smile.

"Enjoy your stay."

My wife had to grab the passports from my lap, but at least the tires didn't squeal.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Next Month is Thanksgiving. But for Now...

Wow, mid-October already.

It's the Ides of October, which isn't really a thing, because I think only March has Ides, right? But here's what October does have:

It's the name of U2's second album:

October was released on October 12, 1981. This shot looks like three guys from Dublin and one from Auburn on the photo bomb.

Mr. October was Reggie Jackson. He claimed he was the "straw that stirs the drink," and I loved him with the A's and hated him with the Yankees.

The "October Surprise" occurred on October 26, 1972. 12 days prior to the general election between Richard Nixon and George McGovern, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger declared that peace was at hand in Vietnam. Nixon took every state but Massachusetts on November 7, and the real surprise was that the war would drag on another three years.

Rocktober: I've always liked this term, and it will forever remind me of KISW:

Holy shit! There's no apostrophe in "Seattles." I'm so ashamed of my teenage self who spent over three years with this on his bedroom window.

And lastly, in 1974 there was The Missiles of October. an ABC, I'll say Tuesday night, Movie of the Week. It starred William Devane as Jack Kennedy and a pre-Apocalypse Now Martin Sheen as Bobby, rattling the whole time in a panicked Boston accent that made you think he was far better suited for an SNL sketch.

The guy in the back looks very interested, either in our president's profound concern for the world's future, or his bottom.

October is my favorite month, period. Melancholy maples sing their golden and crimson swan songs. The mornings are bright and crisp, the sun looming lower in the sky with each shortening day.

Wow, sorry. I'm starting to sound like a Reagan commercial, there. But anyway, hanging out all cool and shit in October's caboose, not really talking to anyone, is that which makes October king of all months: Halloween.

Do you like it? Love it, even? I do.

Regrets? Mmm, hmm, I have a few. Remember Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who ran as a third-party candidate back in 1992 against Bill Clinton and Pappy Bush? Yeah, so I decided to be him that year for work Halloween and ended up imitating him way too much all day long. By the end of the day, many people hated me, as did I.

But really, I'm writing this to hear about you. Come on, friend, I know you've got a quirky All-Hallows story or two. It's the strangest night of the year and weird stuff happens.

What characters you've been? Just to grease the skids, here's who I've impersonated on All Saints Eve, both as a minor and an adultish:

A mouse
A devil
A skeleton
The Green Lantern
Ricky Bobby
A hippie (3 or 4 times)
A 1950s greaser
A slug
Mike Roy, Erica's boyfriend on All My Children, circa 1985.
The Hamburglar

That's enough. Seriously, please reply with pictures and anecdotes. Your anonymity will be... shall we say... concealed.

Friday, October 2, 2015

We Are the World. Okay, Not Really.

Finally, a few answers.

And big news! I'm a white guy!

I've suspected this for a long time. My lips are so thin I can curl them inward and floss my teeth with my mustache stubble. I'm working it up to a Sonicare-type pulse, but I must practice this alone.

Anyway, right, big surprise—I'm cauc-freaking-asian. Not hard to surmise, since I like Rush (the band, not the douchenozzle), and my veins still run slow and chunky with full-fat cream-of-mushroom soup from all those acres of potlucks.

And, like fifty-three-year-old guys of many cultures, I had no idea what to ask for for my birthday last summer. Socks maybe? A tasty canned ham and some Ritz Crackers? Enticing for sure, but let's put those in our back pocket for next time, because, one evening in July over drinks and Mexican food, a friend told us she'd had her DNA analyzed at For around a hundred bucks, she explained, you spit in a little test tube, mix it with a chemical, seal the tube and mail it in a prepaid package to a lab in, um, somewhere.

Our friend's genetic heritage was ninety-nine percent Scandinavian with some trace elements of African. Oh really? After hearing her describe the various regions and how each possessed unique genetic markers, I decided to request the ethnicity estimate for my birthday.

Oh, and hey, for those of you who may feel reticent, and without delving into any distasteful minutia, it was the most effortless DNA sample I've yet to commit to the bottom of a far.

Anyway, fast forward to Wednesday, when, as they say in a corporate setting, I was "pinged" with the results. My heart raced. From which primordial stew did I arise? Why do I tan but my brother looks like a blue-skinned Shumai dumpling in the August sun?

I started thinking, as currently-thriving human beings on the planet Earth, we've all got to have some fairly robust genes, wouldn't you agree? Let's face it, we can freak ourselves out considering the minuscule odds that were overcome to lead to our existence, so for God's sake, congrats to us all!

I clicked open the page that revealed my genetic makeup:

I'm 25% of Scandinavian descent—Not to brag, but if you compare my brother to me, I've got significantly more Viking in me. My eyes are blueish-grey and I've an aptitude for push-ups. He's got muddled, dilated brown eyes and a fourth nipple. He's also got these abnormally large earlobes that make him gain weight when he eats too much salt or cheese.

21% Great Britain—Makes sense. The Cliffs of Ben Dover were a convenient port for Leif Ericson  & Company to enjoy some much-anticipated bangers and mash on the way to Liverpool to pick up a crate of the new Herman's Hermits 45s.

20% Ireland—I'm not going to lie. I love being Irish. I'm so proud of my maternal grandfather, Patrick Joseph Conway, who made a life for himself and his family after leaving Westport, County Mayo, for New York in 1905.

15% Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, Andorra and France)—Okay, this made the whole thing worth it. I'm a Spaniard! Actually, if you are of Irish descent, chances are that you're also of northern Spanish origin. Throughout the middle ages, sea travel proved far more speedy than land exploration through Europe due to dense European forests.

That's when the Milesians from Basque Country in northern Spain made a quick nautical junket up to Ireland, ensconced themselves in the recently-widowed Celtic populace...and taught them to dance like never before.

The rest (13%) is western European. I suppose that's where I get my love of a good poop joke.

Kind of crazy to think that Vikings can swoop in from the north and Milesians can invade from the south, and somehow, despite all of those non-Biblical relations, some dude in Seattle ends up being around to write about it.

Done now. Must dance.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fear and Hatred: This Year's Running Mates.

Wow, that didn't take long. Already, things are heatin' up all good and hot.

With a year still to go until the election, the mud's been flying like spittle from a stuck razorback. It won't take long for all that aerial muck to form quicksand beneath most of the field, but right now, no fewer than fifteen Repub hopefuls currently contend for the silver medal next November.

Did you watch the debates last week? I missed the JV contest, but made it home in time for the main event, the one featuring the eleven highest pollers. Entertaining theater overall, the candidates sweltered under the kliegs for three hours, with Mike Huckabee joking afterwards that he'd sweat through both his women's underwear and his wool suit.

Without delving too far into each candidate's performance, only former Hewlitt-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina bolstered her position in the pecking order by smacking down that misogynist meathead, Donald Trump. The rest of the roster just looked flustered and a little desperate,. For a moment, former Florida governor Jeb Bush even looked like he wanted to punch the Jersey Ginger. Seriously, I haven't seen Jeb that pissed since Dubya puked in his little brother's Chihuly bong.

Dr. Ben Carson also hurt himself in the debate. The soft-crooning pediatric neurologist made only a half-baked attempt at dispelling Trump's baseless assertions regarding a link between childhood immunizations and autism. Appearing tentative at the thought of attracting the Wrath of Don, Dr. Carson meekly ended his evening with, "Real leadership is what I would hopefully bring to America."

Hopefully? That's about as presidential as tweeting on the toilet.

Following the debate, Fiorina rocketed to second place at 15% support in a national CNN/ORC poll, leapfrogging Carson's 14% and creeping toward Trump's 24% rating.

Sensing an irreversible fade, the brain surgeon went all in. On Sunday's Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked Carson, "Should a President’s faith matter?"

"Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is," Dr. Carson replied. "If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem."

Todd followed up with: "So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?"

"No, I don’t, I do not," Carson said. "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."

As you might expect, while the good doctor's approval rating flat-lined, his donations exploded that Sunday like a moist Twinkie in a hot car, securing a cool million dollars within the first 24 hours of his assertion.

Ignoring the public backlash after catching the savory whiff of greenbacks, Carson doubled down on Monday: “I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country,” he said in an interview with The Hill, referencing the Islamic law derived from the Koran and traditions of Islam. “Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.”

Granted, this man is a highly accomplished physician, but does he actually possess the acuity to know how someone feels? Well, that's definitely part of the problem, but what I'm trying to understand is this: Ben Carson is saying that those who are ruled by their religion, those who place God over all else, are ignoring the Constitution and are thus not fit to govern in America.

Alas, how can such hypocrisy spring from such a learned individual? What Carson conveniently forgets is that his main supporter base is Christian evangelicals.These and all other Americans are protected, he claims, by the First Amendment, guaranteeing the unencumbered free exercise of religion with zero governmental interference.


Throughout history, only a handful of folks have experienced the privilege of speaking with God personally. Let's see, there was Joseph Smith, but he needed quite a few props to pull it off, and Russell Wilson had that brief touch-base with the Big Guy on the sideline after the touchdown-that-wasn't last February.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. This also happened:

If you are a practicing evangelical, you believe that God reigns supreme over all worldly kings and his laws form the basis of each inalienable right we enjoy as Americans. But what if God had something additional to say—and it was to you?

You'd probably freak out quite a bit at first, but he'd patiently wait for you to calm the hell down because he's God and time's not an issue. As your knees slowly stopped knocking together, his words would boom slowly and kindly:

"I, God, hereby command you to commit an act of terrorism against the United States."

What would you do? Would you say, "Hey...umm...listen...I'm pretty sure you're not actually my God," then immediately punch up Yelp for other religions in your zip code? Or do you obey him faithfully because his law supersedes all other and thus screw the pooch of patriotism?

Smart as he is, I think Ben Carson might want to rethink his position on the rights of American Muslims. His comments hurt everyone, not the least of which are his most fervent supporters, and the bigotry and fear he garners only energize the most ignorant and dangerous among them.

Unfortunately, money seems to talk a lot louder than God these days.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Be Cool, Fool: It's the First Day of School

It's hard not to love fall here in the PNDub—the warm, murky rains, the crisp, bright mornings—the giddy optimism that jolts my spirits on the eve of another football season...

Wow, sorry, I just got a little physically excited there. Okay, I'm good. There's still another reason why autumn is my runaway winner of Most Valuable Season:

It's back-to-school time. I miss it, do you? It's alive and well in my house, where only two family members aren't returning to the piny confines of academia this fall: me and my toothless cat, Leo. Everyone else will be either fifth-grade teaching or high-school-sophomoring or college-junioring-and-moving-into-a-house-off-campus-with-three-friends-and-a-55-inch-TV.

Remember that night before that first day of school? I do. I always slept fitfully, waking often to gaze through the darkness at my opening day outfit draped over the chair, an ensemble assembled through painstaking, patience-trying trips to Sears, Penney's, the Bon Marché. Thank you, Mom.

Every summer, I'd reassure myself that I'd look totally cool but not enough to stand out. Each first day marked the only time I'd dress up for school, but I'd also be committed to that outfit for the duration of the church and Sunday school year.

In kindergarten, a gold turtleneck was my statement piece. Just to give you an idea, here's a sketch for a turtleneck pattern from 1968.

Okay, is it just me, or is that guy trending a little closer to the camel toe than the moose knuckle? Glad the pattern wasn't for those pants.

Throughout the elementary years, my first-day clothing choices varied between the more-dressed-up...

(I'm not kidding, my fifth grade garb was freakishly close to these guys standing here with their wife.) the utilitarian. Sears Toughskins were a staple. They came in a wide array of dimensions, a major asset for the fussy, tubby shopper.

After a growth spurt during junior high, my body stretched out, allowing for more appealing choices:

I looked up to all three of these guys. The one in the hat is Mr. Penny, my P.E. teacher. In the middle is Mr. Barnes, who taught social studies and coached the map club, and then the dude on the right was Mike, who said he did security at our school but I'm pretty sure he just sat around and looked at girls. I took this picture in the lunchroom right after this kid Lonnie spilled pork gravy on Mrs. Olson. Her mouth started twitching, and I seriously thought she was going to punch him.

Oh, and here's Charlie's Angels, just because:

Have a great autumn!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

If You Like Piña Coladas...

Please understand—I understand.

Sitting through a vacation slideshow can kind of suck.

Who doesn't remember those Saturday evenings at your Great Aunt Pedreen's house, bored out of your gourd and anxious to get home in time for Mary Tyler Moore, or at the very latest The Bob Newhart Show. You've already spent four hours trying not to stare at Great Uncle Odgar's unrepaired hernia flap and you're ready to purge their chipped-beef-smelling Davenport from your teenage memory bank.

Your aunt feverishly clears the dessert dishes, boosting your spirits with her apparent desire for an accelerated end to the evening's festivities. You arise, hopeful that but one final obstacle lies ahead: the inevitable bosomy grind and slushy smooch from Pedreen's frustrated spinster sister, Latreena.

But alas, even before the kitchen sponge's snail trail can evaporate into the musty air, Uncle Od enters the room and lowers the slide projector onto the dining room table—gingerly, lest his hernia distend his tender abdomen another belt hole. At the sight you lower yourself back into your chair, pissed and discouraged that you'll be lucky to get home for the last half of Carol Burnett.

I'll try to keep things brief since that memory is apparently a bit tarter than I had thought.

My family and I are back from two weeks in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Here's where the place is in the big picture:

And here's it is up close:

Located at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, Cabo is situated atop the Los Amnesias Aquifer, Earth's only known natural Tequila spring.

I don't expect you to feel sorry for us, but as KISS famously said in two chords or less, it was hotter than Hell. Seriously, I'm typing this post so obnoxiously sunbaked, I look like a blackened pot roast with glistening teeth and slowly-diminishing intestinal distress.

Our fifteen-day excursion to Los Cabos was divided into two segments: the first week with friends and the second with family. Here's the initial group:

Left to right, that's me, my wife Terri, Becky, Isabella, Pete, Lauryn, Zoe and her friend David.

We've known Becky and Pete since the days of Bartles, James and Glass Tiger. As soon as the four of us were convinced that Y2K wouldn't cause locust infestations and permanent Windows-based computing:

Izzy and Lauryn came along.

The first week we stayed at a place called Villa del Palmar. If you're familiar with these timeshare facilities, you understand that upon check-in, you're assaulted by the sales department. Okay, maybe "assault" is a little tough. Let's go with "violation."

We've lodged a few times at these types of places, but never agreed to attend one of their "seminars." This time, however, lured by the ambrosia of two hundred dollars in free adult beverages, a complimentary breakfast and fifteen percent off everything merely to sit through a ninety-minute tour and sales pitch, we capitulated. After all, how bad could it be?

Bad. How can I describe this? First of all, I was super hot from the get-go, just embarrassingly sweaty. My body irrigated itself with increasing gusto as the tour droned on, ultimately settling on a sultry hundred and three Fahrenheit. We toured all sizes of units from one-bedrooms to penthouse suites overlooking the Sea of Cortez.

Finally, like a Slurpee after hot yoga, our family was ushered into an air-conditioned room, packed with people sitting at tables and drinking alcohol in all imaginable forms. We settled into our own table with our own sales woman, a spritely imp half my age who used the word "awesome" like she owned freaking stock in it. Sporadically, the hollow "bolp" of a popping cork would fill the air, announcing another condominium purchase and two tickets to paradise for a lucky, albeit debt-saddled, couple.

Two-and-a-half hours and several offers later, our blond tormentor brushed back her bob, straightened her specs and looked at us.

"Okay, I understand you don't want to pay $52,000 for a unit here. That's awesome. Just tell me what you want."

My wife is a straight shooter. I am not, and that's one of the reasons I love and admire her so much. "What we want is for your presentation to be done," she said, looking Sally Jessie Raphael, Jr. dead in the eye. "The only reason we did it is to get the stuff and we told you that from the beginning. You told us this would be ninety minutes. It's now two and a half hours."

Silence engulfed the air around our table. Finally Barbie's little sister took a deep, uncertain breath."Okay," she said. "Awesome."

Phase Two was family week and here we are. At the edge of the infinity pool are my brother-in-law Andy, my sister Ann, niece Holly, Lauryn, Zoe, Terri and me. We spent week two at Hacienda Encantada, a few more miles down the coast from Cabo.

We quickly became acquainted with Pam, the woman in the floppy hat. Prior to knowing Pam's name, we called her Hurricane Sandy, since she told us within minutes of meeting her that she'd been though Cabo's Hurricane Odile last September. She was enjoying a free stay after enduring the Baja Peninsula's most destructive tropical cyclone in recorded history.

Here's how it looked coming in:

Not sure I've ever seen a storm with actual teeth before. Holy shit.

Okay, let's not wrap things up on a bad note, because Cabo San Lucas is a fantastic place. I've never known lamb to resurface so quickly after a major natural disaster, but like a beacon in the darkness...

On another note, Zoe was so thrilled that these guys knew the whole Neil Diamond catalog.

And I finally found the time to show the amazing fit of my new Speedo. 

Trust me, okay? 

Great to be back!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Seeing the Ocean for the Macaroni.

What's a good term for my situation?

Existential crisis? Nah, too dramatic.

It could be more of a midlife malaise, only that would imply I'll live to be 104, which would be fantastic. Problem is, if I'm currently peeing every morning in five languid installments, by the century mark I'll need a tasteful prostate pram to wheel around that leathery gland that partially popped free of my body in 2038.

No, I'll just assess this situation using a system to which we grew accustomed back in the Bush years—Irrelevance Alert Level Orange, or more formally defined as "a high risk of becoming paternally insignificant."

When I started keeping this journal six years ago, my children were ages fourteen and nine. I was fully immersed in nuclear family Americana, rarely poking my head through the surface in an ocean of macaroni, cheese and hot dog pennies.

Year after year, the fatherly importance threat level hovered at its lowest stage—Green—and only occasionally would it elevate to Level Blue, or "guarded." This slightly higher risk of irrelevance occurred only when one of my daughters did something unusually independent, like replacing toilet paper.

I coached soccer, I went on field trips; Costco wasn't a place to hit up real quick for a few odds and ends, it was a destination rivaling only the IKEA ball pit in kid curb appeal. Nearly every visit, after watching my grubby cherubs stuff their rosy cheeks with enough fro-yo to illicit unfettered shivering, I'd wrap them in their pink or purple jackets as we cruised the aisles looking for enough Gogurt and Goldfish to make it through another week.

My younger daughter was a bubbling aquifer of verbal treasures:

"I'm sorry. I just feel fragile today."

"When can I drink coffee? I want to try a crappuccino."

"You don't know how I feel! You're not inside my heart!"

Sure, life had its routines back when I started writing this weblog, but with kids in the house, the mundane could explode into the insane in the blink of a pink eye. Ever had someone vomit in your slipper...while it's still on your foot? Ever pulled a Barbie out of your coat pocket on the bus and wondered if you should try to explain it to the lady next to you?

Anyway, I think you get my point. I'm obviously still a dad who does a lot of dad stuff, but now I'm more the key grip than the director. During those days of high energy and overwhelming fatigue, I yearned for a future that allowed for a bit more breathing room. It happened. And with it came an abundance of time, and a heightened fear of irrelevance.

The Mayo Clinic defines empty nest syndrome as "parental feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home." I disagree, since it's still another three years until my younger daughter goes to college.

I'm feeling it now, maybe not as severely as I will, yet still I never could have imagined the meaty chunk of my personal identity that's permanently and irrevocably embedded in my dad self. And currently, while it does make me sad, this is not yet the time to step aside.

After all, while the nest may be half empty, it's also half full.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Creamsicles and Copperfield.

Hi! Holy Crocs-in-the-mud, it sure has been a while, eh?

For me, writing is one of those deals that, when things are rolling, when I've got lots of ideas, can be very, very, very, very fun. Yet for every muse that whispers fragrant gifts of inspiration, a lazy Lucifer lurks. He taunts me with Netflix series, reality shows and naps, and it is under this douchebag demon's spell I have been moldering these past thirty-eight days. This must stop.

So let's review—how much do you remember about what's gone down in the last month-and-a-half? Actually, don't worry about it, because I looked it up, and let's just say that fortunately it's closer to the Bellagio buffet than Roy's Chuckwagon. So, just to refresh your memory:

On June 6, two inmates at Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York David Copperfielded their way out of the maximum security facility and stayed on the lam for over three weeks. One of them ended up with a tap-tap to the temple while the other was shot twice in the torso, survived and was recently remanded to Supermax to spend 23 hours a day in a box for the remainder of his life.

Meanwhile, Andrew Cuomo's casting call/cocktail parties continued every Thursday evening in the governor's mansion. Whomever is going to play Cuomo in the ABC Monday Night Movie of the Week is still too close to call, but so far, Alan Thicke leads after killing it in his press conference monologue. Hasselhoff, desperate and trying to show his chops by summoning tears, blew it in Cuomo's stern eyes. You could tell the gov's frowny grin that The Hof had blown it.

Remember the Rachel Dolezal affair? Spokane's NAACP leader was outed (by her own parents!) as being whiter than my brother's calves. I'm not going to judge this woman. I don't doubt what she says is true—that the situation is complex. But inevitably my mind strayed. Every time they showed those split-screen before/after photos, delicious Creamsicles hijacked my consciousness.

On the political front since June 3, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and Donald Trump have lobbed their greazy top hats onto the rug of presidential candidacy, joining an already crowded field. I'll save the jokes for later posts—so many possibilities—but I did hear that Christie is still undecided. He actually showed up thinking he was in the line for maple bars.

Seriously, let's face it, good or bad, we can't have a president who wears his pants like Homer J. Simpson.

But shit got real on June 26. In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court proclaimed same-sex marriage legally enforceable in all fifty states and Florida. Amazing, isn't it? Especially for this fiftysomethinger who grew up in an era when the other F-word was tossed around with the frequency and ease of a Nerf football.

Oh, yeah, and chalk up another "W" for the good guys during June. In another 6-3 vote, the black-robed priests of the Temples of Syrinx upheld the Affordable Care Act, ensuring health insurance for ten million newly-insured Americans.

For all the messed up stuff that happens in this nation—the shootings, the religious and political polarization, it feels like together, we still seek a more enlightened society, which is heartening.

Next stop: fracking. Hopefully, we're able to become fully enlightened prior to becoming fully submerged.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Together at Heart.

What's your earliest memory? How far back can you go?

At a staff meeting in my accounting days, the managing partner (I'll call him Dave) sat at the head of the long conference table. That day's topic was choices.

"Some people believe," he said, his Otterpop-blue eyes drilling through bushy Scandinavian eyebrows, arched and challenging, "that we choose our parents in the womb."

I remember thinking, "Okay, what? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, and he's the head guy here?" And judging by the faces of my colleagues, I wasn't the only one thinking that. After a bloated silence, Jill, a tax attorney from Canada, propped her elbows up on the table.

"Dave," she said, "these people... are they friends of yours?"

It was one of those situations where one person laughed and it spread to three, then seven, then twenty-three, then forty employees in a small conference room, as Dave, ever the sporting chap, sat grinning and blushing.

Yet his question lingered. What is my earliest memory? After spending a little time ringing out the spongy, fifty-two-year-old grey matter, I've a vague recollection of propping myself up in a crib. It was a dark room in my grandma's house. I remember the fear of the dark in an unfamiliar place and the irritation at missing out on whatever was happening in Adultland: Place of Light and Stimulation.

But consider this: what if your first conscious memories emanate from the arid plains of the West? 
The winter wind stings your face and the sweltering July sun scorches your back. The images are blurred, but you remember looking down at your shoes in the dust, kicking rocks. It's home, and you are cherished. Everyone is within a few footsteps—cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents—your older brother. 

It's a good life.

This is the story of my friend Michel Kuwahara, whose first memories are as a toddler living at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Park County, Wyoming.

Here's Michel, in his own words:

The location of the former concentration camp at Heart Mountain is barely more than the piece of local topography shown on Google Maps. A few decrepit barracks and a chimney stack are the only physical remains. The physical changes wrought by the camp's having been there are more obvious: the fact that it is now verdant farmland, while in 1942, when we were deposited there, it was arid wasteland. Internees from the Yakima Valley, who knew about farming in such unfriendly country, built an irrigation system that still serves the needs of the farmers who took over the site after the War.

Michel, at left, sits with his cousin Chico (Alan Kumamoto).

In February, 1942, all Japanese and their descendants who were living on the West Coast, were taken into custody on short notice. Many people lost much, or even, most of what they owned, including farms, other property, houses and cars. Thanks to the fact that my parents had many non-Japanese friends principally through my father's work, friends rallied round and agreed to hold property and possessions belonging to my family.

When we learned that multiple families from one address would be housed in close proximity wherever they were taking us, our extended family gathered at my grandfather's house the night before. We were recorded as residents of that address when they came for us, then taken to Santa Anita Racetrack to live for the six months it took to build the camps.

Then, after a long train ride, we arrived at Heart Mountain. The Camp's living quarters were divided into twenty blocks, of which we lived in Block No. 24. It's probably some kind of military logic. Each block had twenty five barracks divided in two, each half with a unit of six and one unit of seven barracks. I assume that the odd barrack was for "bachelors". Single women, I suppose, were expected to stay with "family". Each unit shared a mess hall and a toilet, bathing, laundry facility. The barracks had no water supply. As a toddler, I was bathed at home and I realized when I learned of the lack of plumbing, that someone had to carry my bath water from the laundry room. The same must have been true for watering my grandmother's garden.

Yet with all the ingenuity and resilience shown by your family and the other internees during those three-and-a-half years spent in exile, the topic was rarely discussed during the ensuing 70?

Very rarely.

Why do you think that is?

Two reasons: the first is cultural. We don't discuss unpleasant things. The second is personal. For many people, it was the great humiliation of their lives.

Your brother Denis (at left) was eight at the time. Had the two of you ever talked about it?

As a small child, it was natural for me to talk about the Camp. My parents and brother would answer my questions, but I would never have thought to ask them about their feelings.

So after all this time, what happened? What changed?

The Interpretive Center opened.

In 2011, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation opened the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. Michel and Denis participated in the 2014 annual gathering known as The Pilgrimage. Those two nattily dressed folks in the middle are Michel and Denis' grandparents, two-dimensional museum greeters. 

In the cut-out, my grandmother, newly arrived from Japan, is wearing her first Western-style dress made by my grandfather, a talented and able man. He was a physician, delivering 240 babies while he was at the Camp.

My grandparents had a traditional, arranged marriage. My grandfather agreed to marry the sister of one of his friends before leaving for the US. The friend sent my grandmother across the ocean when she had reached the right age.

Talk about your father—was he born in Los Angeles as well?

My father emigrated with his family to the United States in 1910. This would not have been possible, because of the "gentlemen's agreement" between the Governments of Japan and the United States which severely restricted emigration from Japan, had his older brothers not arrived in this country prior to the "agreement". The family was only allowed to emigrate because they were family of already established immigrants.

His name was Shin Rokuro Kuwahara. When the man at Immigration heard Rokuro, he told my father that his name was Robert Kuwahara. Professionally, my father took the name Bob Kuwahara and, for some time after the War, the name became Bob Kay, so that readers of his syndicated comic strip would not recognize him as Japanese.

And your mother?

She was born in San Francisco in 1904. In 1906, the building in which she had been living with her younger sister and her parents, was destroyed by the earthquake. Their temporary home, immediately after the Quake was the city's Presidio, where the Government had set up a tent city for victims of the disaster. They eventually moved to the East First Avenue section of Los Angeles which, by that time, was known as Little Tokyo which, by the nineteen-teens, had the largest immigrant Japanese population in the country.

My parents were married in 1933. This photograph was taken on the grounds of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, then property of the Los Angeles Art Institute. Since my father was an artist for Walt Disney Studios, he was able to use the location.

Goes without saying that Disney was a considerably smaller operation in 1933, yes?

Yes, but growing. During the mid-1930s, my father became involved creating concepts and storyboards for the studio's first full length feature, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

I think I've heard of it. And Mr. Disney was a hands-on manager, from what I understand. 

He personally approved or rejected every idea.

Here's an example of a sketch created by Bob Kuwahara for a scene in the witch's lair. In this case, the finished product doesn't stray much at all from the original:

Mr. Kuwahara left Disney in 1937 and joined MGM Studios, remaining an employee until February of 1942, when the west coast of the United States was deemed a "military zone" by Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and subject to the immediate evacuation of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Nearly two-thirds of those interned were U. S. citizens. Here's Michel again:

Upon arriving at Heart Mountain, my parents and I were chosen to appear in propaganda films meant to show the "good" face of The Evacuation. Having lived in a Caucasian area of Los Angeles, it must have been apparent that my parents were well-assimilated. And as a cute baby in my mother's arms, I was the perfect finishing touch. My eight-year-old brother would have been a cumbersome extra body, so he was left out.

We were shown arriving at our new "home." A later scene showed my mother reading to me in a pleasantly set-up room. I suppose that these scenes were shot in simulations. The reality was a single room with unfinished walls, a pot-bellied stove and a single light fixture.

That had to have been devastating to your parents, helping to perpetuate a lie while also excluding your brother.

I'm sure it was, but as I said, it was never discussed.

Here you are again, second from the right.

This has always been one of my favorite photographs. Notice how the photographer has perfectly framed Heart Mountain inside the baby swing. It also gives you some idea of the barren terrain of the place.

On December 17, 1944, President Roosevelt announced the end of the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, thus allowing the return home of the internees. Did your family return to southern California?

No, we moved to Larchmont, a small town in Westchester County, New York. My parents had decided not to return to the racism of the West Coast. Although our new town was entirely Caucasian, they accepted my family for what we were and I did not experience prejudice in growing up there. Here I am at a birthday party. I'll let you guess which one is me.

That TV in the background is awesome, by the way.

Larchmont's ethnic mix was predominantly Anglo-American with healthy Irish, Italian and Jewish populations. There was a working-class section of town, predominantly Irish and Italian, but social division was based on economics rather than race. There were as many Irish and Italians living in the better sections of town as in the working class areas. 

Of African-Americans—"negroes," in the parlance of the day— there were none. It was the result of another "gentleman's agreement," whereby realtors simply agreed not to sell to blacks. When I learned, in my late teens, that a house across the street from our church was not sold to an African family—the father was an ambassador to the United Nations, no less—because of opposition particularly from the pastor of our church, it caused me to rethink my opinion of my adopted hometown and led me to leave the Church. 

My father's first post-War work was Miki, a comic strip based upon me as young child and my imaginary Uncle Harry:

Also occurring during that period, I discovered my aversion to authority in all its forms. I spent many ensuing years never looking into the photographer's camera. Here I am around age fifteen:

Apparently, teenagers aren't a heck of a lot different now than they were then. Did your father ever return to animation?

Yes. In 1950, he began writing and directing for Terrytoons Studio (Deputy Dawg, Hector Heathcote) For Hashimoto-san, he created the characters and directed 14 cartoons prior to his death in 1964.

What did your future hold?

I attended Fordham University and the School of Visual Art, both in New York City, followed by a year living in Paris. Here I am during that period.

I spent my most of my adult life living in New York City. I worked in the music management business, working primarily on publicity for classical artists. Later I became a freelance graphic artist, which I remained until retirement.

Which brings us back to Heart Mountain and August of 2014. How did you expect to feel returning home, so to speak?

I looked ahead to my visit to Heart Mountain with mixed feelings. I initially found the word "Pilgrimage" uncongenial because the word implies something spiritually profound and the meeting that was described sounded like an ordinary convention. I was wrong; it was a pilgrimage and I came away from it with profound feelings.

Reviewing the Camp through the eyes of the older detainees opened my own eyes to a view of the experience that was new to me. The things I had seen in films or read in books were at a remove. Being with fellow inmates, even though I had never met them before, enabled me to realize that, oblivious as I had been as a three-year-old, I had been surrounded by people, including my parents and brother, who were hurting badly from loss and that nothing that they could do would ever make this place the home for them that it had been for me.

Since his retirement, Michel has honed his skills as a talented gardener, musician, writer and poet. Here's a piece he recently created about the Pilgrimage, written in a Japanese poetry form known as Choka:

Returning to Heart Mountain
Took a courage now
That I am older and more
Susceptible to
The kinds of hurt that the young
Shrug off like rain drops

Could these green fields and meadows
Be the arid plains
That blew up gritty dust storms
And when it rained
Pooled up lakes of sticky mud
Sucking at your feet
My brother’s recollection
Horizontal snow
My father remembered his
Hair frozen solid
My mother refused to have
Memories at all

Returning to the Camp site
Took me beyond all
My family’s hurt and pain
I felt a kinship
With perfect strangers who had
Been inmates with me
What kind of feeling is it
When there is a bond
With those you have never met
But whose feet once stepped
Into the stream of that life
That only a few
Of us had ever shared and
Always remember

Ambiguous feelings wake
These mixed emotions
Returning to the place of
Why should it feel so like
Finally returning home

Thanks, Michel. Welcome home.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Lying Lord Silverbottom

It’s been three months now since my Seahawks forfeited governance of their bowels on the one-yard-line of Super Bowl XLIX.

And I have to admit, not one of those ninety-five days has passed devoid of a mental reunion with that sorry-ass finish. It’s like raking your elbow knob against metal. It’s a pain that stabs with intensity, then slowly ebbs, but not before muted oaths are spat about to whomever created my mouth in His image. 

My heretofore healing Hawk hematoma was infused yesterday with a fresh helpin’ of sour blood. Tedd Wells, an independent attorney hired by the National Football League, issued a 243-page report concluding that “it is more probable than not” that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady conspired with equipment personnel to under-inflate the Patriots’ game balls, thereby allowing Brady an easier grip and giving New England a competitive advantage.

Brady, when initially questioned in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, replied, “I didn’t alter the ball in any way. I have no knowledge of wrongdoing.”

Liar, liar, hair blow dryer. Yo, GQ, no one likes a lying patriot, because while you refused to cooperate with the investigation, the other parties to the caper rolled over like Kim Kardashian putting on a dress. 

According to Wells’ report, the following text exchange occurred between equipment handlers Jim McNally and John Jastremski, after Brady complained about the ball pressure following a game with the New York Jets:

McNally: Tom sucks… I’m going make that next ball a (expletive) balloon.

Jastremski: I have a big needle for u this week.

McNally: Better be surrounded by cash and new kicks… or it’s rugby Sunday. (Expletive) Tom.

From the looks of things, the entire report could have been condensed down to that three-line text trail. It’s apparent that Mr. McNally was counting on some quid pro quo from Brady in the form of money or shoes, lest he inflate the football to the size of its rotund cousin, the rugby ball.

It’s hard to blame the superstar quarterback for lying back in January. He had to, or else risk disqualification from the big game. But now, with last season a speck in the rearview mirror, we’ll see what the NFL does to punish Tommy Football for his “more probable than not” bullshit story. Perhaps nothing.

For those of you nice enough to have read all the way through to this point in my essay, I’ve got a little treat for your troubles. Don’t ask me how I got my hands on this; suffice it to say it involved combining the Patriot Act with a few loathsome yet invigorating favors. I’ve obtained a partial manuscript of a conversation between Tom Brady and his Brazilian supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, just after the allegations surfaced. 

Is it authentic? More probably than not. The following conversation allegedly took place during a helicopter ride between their three-car garage and five-car garage:

Gisele: Oh, Tom, I am so tired of all these ball jokes. Hmph. Americans. It is so hurtful to the person who actually has a relationship with your testicles… and that person is me, Tom.

Brady: Baby, Gronk sees mah balls all the time! Heh! No, really, ahm not ashamed of the old giggleberries. Ya’ll shouldn’t be either, Baby.

Gisele: I think you know what I mean, Tom. So it is now that I must ask you this. You are my husband and because of that we are married. I need you to be honest with me, Tom.

Brady: Of course, Baby.

Gisele: Are you sure, Tom?

Brady: Sure as shit, Baby.

Gisele: Good, my Tom, good. Because if a man cannot be truthful with his wife, their marriage is nothing more than a feeb.

Brady: Feeb? Oh, a fib! Yeah, Baby, yeah. You know ahm a straight shooter. Go ahead, ask me.

Gisele: Well, okay…here goes…

…My abs—do they look nice today?

Damn. Thought we were on to something.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

It's Not All Good.

The bus was already crowded when it stopped at 3rd and University. Passengers poured in and out, front and back, many eager to leave downtown after a long Monday. As I sat scribbling in my notebook, folks settled into their positions for the ride back to West Seattle. 

Without warning, a shrill noise bellowed from the speaker above my head, shooting through my torso and jolting my bottom into a pair of convulsing Bundt cakes. 

“Will the woman in the pink scarf sitting by the back door please come to the front and pay your fare?” It was so loud, the driver’s voice contorted like Motörhead in a Tuff Shed, somewhere between one-and-a-half and two chainsaws in volume.

"This isn’t the Rapid Ride! You must pay the fare to ride this coach,” the metallic shriek continued. "Please come to the front, pay your fare and it’s all good.”

My ears rang. All good? Really? I thought. Not for those of us just bludgeoned by your bountiful tweeters, and definitely not for the lady in the pink scarf. 

Sitting just a few feet away, the woman gathered her purse and stood, her head bowed. Fifty sets of eyes watched the shamed moocher as she weaved her way slowly toward the front, surely destined for one last admonishment from the captain.

Well that was bullshit, I thought. Come on. Sure, the lady didn’t pay her fare, but you, King County Metro driver, took it upon yourself to hijack your riders’ attention in the most invasive manner available, just so we’d all be present for the awarding of the scarlet letter. 

Moments later the woman returned to her seat, her face still pointed at the grainy floor. Passengers surrounded her but all ignored her, their eyes glued to their smartphones like Mrs. Butterworth to the Sunday sports section.

Most of us have encountered our share of bullies, especially growing up. But have you ever observed an oppressive adult and wondered the extreme: 

What if that bus driver was on the other side in 1940s Nazi Germany? What if she were given free reign to intimidate, to manipulate or worse?

Would she? Nah. Maybe.

Your brain may not perform these types of pointless exercises, but every so often I’ll run across a fellow American who makes me a little happier that the Americans came out on top in World War II. 

I’ve always liked the term, “It’s all good.” A friendly, positive phrase, it’s one used most effectively when diffusing an awkward situation. 

This time it created one.