Sunday, December 19, 2010

AP Newsbreak: More Question Arise from Labor Dispute at North Pole

By Yukon Cornelius, Associated Press – 1 hr 37 mins ago

Reykjavik - A civil suit was filed on behalf of the North Pole Toymakers Union in Reykjavik on Friday, alleging unsafe work conditions, racial discrimination, and animal abuse and/or misuse.  Named in the suit is the sole executive of Christmas, Inc. (CI), President of Operations and Plant Director Mr. Santa (NMI) Claus.  The filing of the civil suit follows quickly on the heels of the opening of a criminal case by Interpol, which is investigating several alleged crimes committed by Mr. Claus, including slavery, animal neglect, prostitution, harassment, breaking and entering, intentional inflection of emotional distress, and trademark and copyright infringement. It is believed charges are pending and that an arrest is imminent.  The timing of these dual actions comes at a difficult time for Mr. Claus and CI, already struggling to keep up with a changing business climate and competition from cheap labor markets in Asia.

Mr. Claus, who Interpol states has gone by several aliases during his infamous career, including the ironic Saint Nicholas, Father "Who's Your Daddy" Christmas, Kris Kringle, or simply "Santa", had no comment about the impending civil or criminal actions.  Calls to the Public Relations Office at CI were not answered or returned.  According to court filings, no attorney has been appointed for Mr. Claus in the civil suit.

Others, however, have not been so tight lipped in addressing the allegations.  Mr. King Moonracer, a popular winged lion who acts as the nearby Island of Misfit Toys' (IMT) Chief Executive Officer, was quoted recently challenging Mr. Claus's distribution system; "I was the first to utilize available technology for flying around the world each night in search of unwanted toys. Kringle illegally copied our infrastructure, adapting it for his questionable service.  Regardless of his questionable use, the system is the product of IMT and we have not received compensation for the impermissible use of our internally developed system." Moonracer further states that Kringle intentionally violates the airspace of IMT and has filed multiple complaints with the FAA, citing unsafe vehicle operation, unlicensed pilots, noise disruption ("Those damned bells!" stated Mr. Moonracer), and illegal dumping. Apparently the flying reindeer have been indiscriminate in handling their waste.

It is not only Santa's neighbors who allege misdeeds.  Perhaps the most serious allegations relate to work conditions at Mr.Claus's factory.  "It isn't a factory; it's a sweatshop," alleges one Mr. Charles Springer, now known to former colleagues as Charlie-In-The-Box. "I was pressed-ganged into service, required to keep elves contained on the work floor, using coercion and even force.  I didn't want to, but I went along because I needed the job.  Times are tough, you know. When I spoke out, I was physically restrained and placed in solitary confinement in a cell the elves refer to as 'the box'. Eventually I spoke out so often, I was deprived of my freedom for weeks at a time, earning my unfortunate nickname." The emotional pain, according to Mr. Springer, has robbed him of the ability to earn a living.  He seeks redress from Mr. Claus. "I am speaking out on behalf of the elves.  Someone has to stand up."

Mr. Springer's story is substantiated by affidavits signed by Sam the Snowman and Hank, the so-called "Tall Elf".  Neither was available to speak with reporters, but through their lawyers issued a statement, which reads, "The North Pole has changed, and not for the better.  Mr. Claus has abused his power, and seems fixated on self-gratification and personal debauchery, often seen bright cheeked (signs of alcohol abuse) and ranting 'Hoes, hoes, hoes' merrily. The whereabouts of Mrs. Claus is unknown, but Mr. Claus clearly has been keeping company with some unsavory women in her absence."

Other instances of abuse of workers is evident in the narrative of one Mr. Hermey.  Mr Hermey was initially brought to the factory to work off "immigration fees" for himself and his immediate family. "I didn't want to make toys.  I was training to be a dentist.  But that dream was taken from me," Hermey testified at a recent hearing into the matters at hand.  "My immediate supervisor was a portly and ill-tempered lackey. He wore a goatee styled to resemble Josef Stalin. He was outraged at what he perceived as my intentional, persistent disruption of the assembly line. And the music! He used to imitate Lawrence Welk's  famous introduction, "Ah one, and ah two" and sing carols all year round. It was unbearable."

Mr. Hermey recounts the tale of escaping the confines of the plant in his soon-to-be released autobiography, titled Unsaintly Nick; The Dark Underbelly of Christmas.While in the woods outside of the plant, living off of melted snow and stale cookies, Mr. Hermey met a starved, skeletal reindeer, whom he called Rudolph. "The stories Rudy told me just broke my heart. You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen? But do you recall why they are famous? They were bullies, four-legged, jack-booted thugs.  Poor Rudolph, you see, was afflicted with a red-nose, a very shiny nose. He was terribly anxious and self-conscious about it. When Rudy would get nervous or anxious, you would even say it glows. All of these dominant reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games. Totally exclusionary behavior.  Typical playground bully crap. And Rudy's story wasn't unique. They domineered every other reindeer who aspired to elevate themselves out of poverty. They repressed any and all fair competition; they ran the whole show, with Claus's blessing. That's why they are famous and you have never heard of Rudy or the thousands of other reindeer trapped in an endless cycle of servitude and pain." More of Mr. Hermey's narrative, including his desperate escape from the frozen north, is contained in his book, available from on December 19th. He wouldn't comment on the fate of his friend Rudy, other than to remark that he no longer eats meat.

On the criminal side of the ledger, local police agencies have been given updated warnings from Interpol regarding Santa's potential illegal entrance into homes on Christmas Eve via the chimney. Extra police around the world will be on duty this Christmas Eve, given recent threats posted on Santa's Facebook.  In a rambling post dated last week, Mr. Claus stated, "Oh! You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town! I'm gonna get you and your (darned) cookies, bitch. I'm making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice. Oh yeah, mother (freaking) Santa Claus IS coming to town!" With a chilling coldness, Mr. Claus finishes his missive by darkly stating, "I sees you when you're sleeping, I knows when you're awake. I knows where you live."

The sun has set on the North Pole for the year.  Clearly, the dark times facing a once proud Santa Claus won't brighten with the arrival of spring.  Facing countless legal problems, Mr. Claus's erratic behavior and poor business practices caused one insider to warn, "Jump in bed, cover up your head, 'cause Santa Claus comes tonight. And the long arm of the law is waiting!"

Friday, December 3, 2010

Don't Ask, Grow Up

"It's important that we're clear about the military risks," said Gen. George Casey, the Army's top officer. "Repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' would be a major cultural and policy change in the middle of a war."

With all due respect to the Honorable John McCain (R-Arizona) and General John Casey, it is indeed time to repeal the military policy commonly known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." And to the hot-heads, pick 'n choose moralists, and pseudo-conservatives, save the "This is about special rights for gays" argument for somewhere else.

The reason why "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) has outlived its usefulness (presume it has a usefulness at some point, please) is that serving in the armed forces for the purpose of defending the US Constitution -- and the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic -- is a duty that anyone, regardless of religion, race, gender, or creed has a right to fulfill. If you can hold a rifle, fly a plane, maintain a vehicle, or do any of the myriad of tasks required by our modern military, your color, race, sexual preference, political beliefs, of anything else that makes you who you are is -- must be -- subordinate to fulfilling your duty while in the service of our great, special Nation.

Let's run this out to a logical conclusion. Consider these scenarios: Black soldiers won't fire on black enemies? A Christian won't fly a mission against a Christian opponent? A woman, in the execution of an order, won't fly a Predator (MQ-1) and launch a Hellfire missile against a Taliban target that might be female? Silly, really. Check your history. There is no evidence -- none -- that indicates gays or lesbians can't, haven't, or won't execute their assigned mission. In other words, if one can do the job, they should be allowed to do the job. I would honor - and you should, too - any veteran, whether they are like you or very different than you. In some way, honoring a veteran who is different than you might be even more important. I call you to remember the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, African-American aviators who served in World War II with great distinction, while at the same time being actively discriminated by their own Nation. You don't have to like "gayness", or for that matter anything else. But is morally wrong to disallow someone from serving their -- our -- Nation because you are uncomfortable with them.

I feel compelled to dismantle two points reported this week in the hearings on the matter of DADT. First, early this week, the Senator from Arizona "misspoke" when he questioned Robert Gates' service record, in a thinly veiled attempt to show that his own service record (and Mr. McCain, indeed has honorably served our Nation) makes him more expert to speak about DADT than Mr. Gates. Look up Gates' record if you want, but trust me when I say Mr. Gates has ample -- even extraordinary -- experience to discuss the impact of the repeal of DADT on the command structure of the modern US military. And Mr. Gates, after a long, serious, conservative study of the impact of gays serving openly in the military, has gone on the record saying repealing DADT won't negatively affect our ability to defend ourselves.

For a moment, allow that these honorable gentlemen's service records balance each other out; then deciding on the future of DADT comes down to what is right, not politically popular with one's base. Sadly, McCain is arguing against comments he has made in years past regarding DADT, and sullying his outstanding record in a drive to the right for short-term political gain. Don't go right, John. Be right. Apologize for the cheap shot against Mr. Gates' record, acknowledge your concern, bias, and phobia. And then, get on the right side of history.

General Casey's comments are far more insidious -- and more troubling -- than he perhaps he intended. First, while he was testifying under oath and in uniform -- and I trust speaking from the heart -- he approached speaking dishonorably by publicly challenging the command authority. His answers approached what will be interpreted by some, if not most, as insubordinate. He -- in fact and by law -- must support any change to (or preservation of) DADT without hesitation. He may have personal opinions -- even professional opinions -- but they are not valid in this domain. He may have done serious damage to not only his career, but worse, caused real harm to the command structure by indicating, passively or by implication, that following orders are a choice or preference. Following orders in the military are not subject to personal opinion. Ever.

What is his shield, his rally point? That the US can't change policy while at war. This statement is far scarier, far more fanatical, than his view point on DADT. Does he really believe we can't change course or policy while in a war? That, my loyal reader, is terrifying. First, we have been at war for nine years with no end in sight, although one might rationally debate whether an actual legal state of war exists. Can he really posit that we can't change any policy that affects the military while engaged in armed conflict? Well, we already have, multiple times. We have changed policy on stop-loss. We have changed command structures. We have changed policy that affects strategy in Afghanistan, just like we changed policy about how we executed the mission in Iraq, forgetting for a moment that we changed the goals and mission profoundly while in that ongoing conflict. To not change policy in the face of new tactical or strategic understanding, is preposterous on its face. We can expect to be at war -- or in a state of semi-active armed conflict -- for years to come. General Casey would have us deny Americans the right to serve until we are conflict-free? We would deny access to serve to our fellow citizens until it is convenient and easy to "give" those rights? No, sir. We must do the right thing, the American thing, most importantly when it isn't easy. We may not be at peace in our life time; the Constitution doesn't prescribe rights only when we are happy, safe, and prosperous. We must do what is right, even when we don't want to. In fact, we must do what is right when even considering change causes us great trepidation.

This issue is not about being gay, or accepting gay lifestyle. This is an issue of rights, of supporting the Constitution, of maintaining a military representative of all Americans. To those who say that there is something wrong about being gay, you may hold that opinion and I honor your right to believe it. I can - in turn - think you are wrong, but I must accept that your belief -- as unpleasant as I find it -- is your belief. But as a Nation, we must respect all citizens' rights and access to our institutions. We must allow anyone able to serve simply to serve. Mind your own business, and if you don't want to know if the veteran marching in the parade is gay, don't ask. But grow up, would you? If they are willing to sacrifice their safety, their health, even their life, to preserve your rights, do you really care if they are gay? America, it is time to grow up.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


"Poor Man's House" is playing on our television, which is hooked up to our Xbox 360, which in turn is connected to our family laptop. That's a lot hardware, a lot of gigs and IP addresses and 1's and 0's flying around, all so I can watch a slide show of my kids' summer fun. After all the horsin' around with the machines, I got THEM to do what I want. Now playing - "Let My Love Open the Door" by Pete Townsend. Ah... bliss. On the screen, Ms. Odds vamping with a good buddy. My heart swells, my eyes water, and I leave the present, traveling back to August and then even further back.

When Patty Griffin sang "Poor Man's House" to me for the first time, Mrs. Odd and I were driving a green Tercel around the hills and mountains of Vermont, without a penny or a care. Even while I sit on our couch on this fine October day, nursing yet another injury, watching hi-def pictures of the little Odds make tie-dye t-shirts and catch frogs scroll by, I feel the Vermont sun on my arm, as its rests on the window sill of the Tercel. I'm here today and there, too, almost sixteen years ago. We never called the Tercel by its name; it was the "tersil" and we thought that great humor. The "tersil" wasn't around a few years later when we first watched "Grosse Point Blank" and heard Pete Townsend sing his acoustic version of "Let My Love...", but I remember so clearly cranking the soundtrack in our little rented bungalow, just about the time we found out soon-to-be Ms. Odd was going to join us. Who says time travel is impossible? Hmmmm?

I'm now watching piles of stones, mounded up to serves as landmarks for hikers, also know as cairns. With the clear New Hampshire sky in the background, as blue as blue can be, the yellow lichen glows like gold, the granite dark and strong. The cairns aren't designed, per se, but each has a personality and uniqueness, a sculpture of sorts. Nature did the lion's share of the work, the many and anonymous hands of hikers merely arranging the stones, one a top another, for the sole purpose of helping the next hiker to his or her destination. Now playing - Jason Mraz's "Curbside Prophet" is lightly yammering and fibbidy-dibbidy-blibbidying along, throwing me back just seven or eight years back, driving to and fro outside Baltimore. Little Odd had joined up by now, and our foursome was gaining traction. Oh, and here comes James Blunt and "High", which steers me west, out to West Virginia. The picture in my mind's eye isn't available on the current slide show, but it is as bright in vivid in my memory as any on the screen - bright gold, red, and orange leaves and five beautiful kids, throwing leaves and laughing and eager to be. Just to be.

Crash Test Dummies singing "Superman's Song"... I loved the Dummies cause I can approximate the lead singer's deep, rough baritone. Seventeen year's ago, living with Ed and Mary, two goldfish Mrs. Odd and her friend Meg rescued from a coi pond before it froze. They would travel with us to Vermont, north from our little garage apartment, riding in a cooler in the front seat of a U-Haul moving truck I drove over the Middlebury Gap in a thunder storm. I remember looking up, perhaps an hour later, into the wide expanse of the dark night sky, watching a meteor streak from west to east. Our wedding was only weeks away, Mrs. Odd already setting up house in a barn. Yep, a barn. Ed and Mary weathered the trip just fine, out living half a dozen or more store-bought fish. They had quite nice little run, until we got sick of cleaning the filter, and let 'em loose in Lake Champlain. God, I hope they didn't breed.

Wrapping up this post with "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie. There are no pictures on the screen, and this brings up my oldest memory, gray and hazy. I'm walking from school to my part-time job vacuuming floors in a women's clothing store, with my Walkman on. I had no idea what lay ahead. Funny thing is, I still don't. I just hope the songs keep playing.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Head Movies

Sleep is so boring, and since I was little kid, I always felt I was going to miss something exciting while I snoozed away my life. I blame my parents - hey, who isn't blaming someone else for what ails 'em nowadays? - as they were the most fun, the most relaxed, the most full of love and laughter just after they put us three cherubs to bed. Go figure? What could that possibly mean?

The party always started around nine, after the kids were fed and had run circles around the house. Us, clad in our little one piece jammies with the slick covered feet and bright colored flammable polyester fabric, shuffled off to bed and the dark confines of our rooms. Then the stories and ribald jokes began to float of waves of louder and louder laughter, up the stairwell and through the just-cracked bedroom door. When it was an especially good gathering, the clinks of ice in glasses would compliment the laughs, like a bright ribbon wrapped around a present. The smell of cigarette smoke, when it evoked images of maturity and the mysteries of adulthood instead of cancer and emphysema, would begin to tickle my curious, wondering little mind as I lay wide-eyed and smiling under my covers. I fought sleep like the past-his-prime boxer, slowly succumbing to the relentless onslaught of an unbeatable opponent. Consciousness would leave me, as if I'd been clubbed, me unaware that I'd even left one world for another.

It isn't much different now, for me. True, I'm the now parent and it's my own kids I tuck into bed every night, kissing their brows and thanking a God I don't really believe in for their presence in my life. I love my kids every minute of everyday, often stilled in mid-thought by the miracle they are to me. But I know this best, remember it most poignantly, as I put them into bed. In this moment, between today and tomorrow, feeling the blessing of childhood and the unadulterated power of love a son and daughter has for a father. A father, who may or may not be an idiot, who stills feels like he's a child, who lives an adult life with more than a small measure of nostalgia for a simpler time.

When my kids are asleep - or in my daughter's case, often pretending to be asleep in order to attend to the adult mysteries she should but can't resist - I begin the slow approach to sleep myself. Even though I often go a million miles an hour, I'm usually anything but tired. Perhaps it the momentum of of trying to do twice the amount of thinking, twice the amount of living, twice the amount of remembering, that makes just stopping impossible for me. My body betrays me; my body almost never feels tired. My brain exhausts itself - becoming a racing but idle engine - but it clings to consciousness stubbornly. It wants to find the party, chase the action, watch the next episode, hear the next joke. It - me? - hates the idea that something is going on and I'm not there.

Enter the director. When my smarter self finally buts my dumber self into its place, puts down the book, shuts of the television, and hits the lights, the movies begin. I've trained myself - over decades - to give my brain a little treat, a bow to its base programming. I allow my creativity to ramp up and run a scene from the movie of the life I would live if I were not responsible for anyone or anything. I make myself the director, executive producer, and star of an action movie, where I play the hero, the good guy, the protagonist. To date, I've been the leading man in brain-movies with themes ranging from drug dealing to zombie apocalypses. I've been falsely imprisoned for murder - abandoned by my family - only to lead a daring escape from prison to pursue righteous justice. I've fought corrupt FBI agents, who frame innocent men for crimes they commit. I've landed jumbo jets full of desperate passengers, I've stolen Cessnas and flown to to safety. I've lived on desert islands, with an adoring, beautiful women (when I was younger and single...) and alone (now that I'm married). I've broken into bank vaults, into meth labs, into mansions of serial murders and robber-barrons. I've caught touchdown passes, thrown touchdown passes, run for touchdowns, intercepted and returned the ball for touchdowns. I've hit homeruns and caught game winning flyballs, too, although I can't recall ever casting myself in a soccer game.

As the scene unfolds and refolds, the director calls "Cut!" and "Action!" over and over, trying to get the scene just right. The angle, the lighting, the dialog, the plot - all must be perfect. It can take me weeks, even months, to get one scene just right, months and years to get the whole movie in my head. And just as it was when I was a young boy, no matter how I weave and dodge, sleep always drops the curtain, turns off the lights in my head, sends home the stars and crew. And when the director in my head has done his best work, the real me switches from today to tomorrow without awareness.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Riding the Edge

This summer has been a great one. The weather has been downright stunning, especially here in the Great White North; hot, dry, sunny. But isn't just the weather, it is the confluence of our kids' lives, our home life, our goals, our hopes. It is a little weird to know that, no matter how great the future might be, this simple time of beauty, growth, love, laughter, and peace in our family has set a new high water mark. Even when we didn't get along, it was civil and understandable. Pinch me, but the Odds family has been surfing the crest for months. Crap, I just jinxed it!

Years ago, I said pretty much the same thing to a friend of mine in Puerto Rico, how our life was bucolic, happy, even mundane. Then we were robbed, our dog died, Mrs. Odd's grandmother passed, and my mother and brother died. I spent a year or three wishing I said, "Naw, life sucks." Truly, for awhile I irrationally thought my big mouth had brought down the Big Hurt. I'm yankee enough to be hardwired that you don't get too up, and that being down is a normal, common part of life. I don't like being down, but I do like climbing back up. Having stated that, Mrs. Odd has taught me over the years that it is okay --maybe even normal -- to be happy with little things, to have simple distractions, and that there is no such thing as jinxes.

See, I can't help feeling that I've run this streak of happy luck all the way out. Yeah, even though I don't believe in jinxes, curses, fate, or design, I can't escape completely from my foundation, my inner self. I can't but feel that God or Death or the Three Sisters tapped me on the shoulder last weekend, as if to say, "Yeah, we see you. You seem a little too happy, brother boy." Tap, tap.

Why the worry? Why the glance over the shoulder? Let me set the stage. I took up road biking again, after years off. Mrs. O hooked me up with an entirely sweet (...expensive) bike, and I took to it like cheese to macaroni. Starting in late May, I started riding hard, often, and every day out, a little faster. I was good wearing my helmet, and maybe not so good cranking my i-pod with motivational tunes. A few weeks into my new pursuit, I set two goals; a thousand miles by end of the summer and break forty miles per hour. So all summer, ride-train-ride. June passed by, and I saw it happen from the road. July passed by, and I saw it from behind the bumper of tourists visiting my town. August arrived, and my miles count was edging past 800, but I was having trouble breaking thirty-eight miles per hour. And then we took a weekend in Vermont.

If you have not been to Vermont, imagine a world that is always tilted 5 - 10 degrees. I lived there for nine years, but didn't really notice. But the first day out on my bike, and it became the key feature I cared about. The state should change its name to plain old Mont. But with the hills and mountains came the extra boost I needed, and on that first ride I broke forty three times. Wahoo. Hair on fire. Indestructible. "I'm flying!"

And so it went. Gathered up the miles, built up the legs, and started thinking, "Can I break fifty?" It really never occurred to me to ask, "Should I break fifty?" So now it is last Saturday, and we are in Vermont again, way up the big hills. I get geared up, and ride uphill for awhile. Delayed gratification, you see. And then I aim the handle bars downhill, and "Whoooooosh." Thirty. Thirty-five. Forty. Forty-one. Forty-two. Curve. Shitfuckshitfuckshitfuckshitfuck...

Tap, tap. My sweet bike has breaks. I began to gently pump the breaks. Shitfuck. Tap, tap. Pump the breaks, stand on the pedals. Shitfuck. Wobble. In my head, I yelled, "What the fuck was that?" Tap, tap. Pump the breaks, stand on the pedals, lean back. Wobble, wobble. Shitfuckshitfuck. Wobble, wobble,wobble. SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE, WOBBLE, WOBBLE, WOBBLE. Aloud, with a resigned voice, "Oh, SHIT!"

The curve was coming for me. My bike was breaking apart. I was going forty miles an hour. And in a brief flash, I thought of Little Odds and Buttons, and wondered, "What didn't I teach them?" Pump the breaks, stand on the pedals, lean back, navigate the curve. Wobble, wobble, wobble. Pump. Wobble, wobble. Pump. Look for soft landing area. Pump. Wobble. Pump. Smoother. Smoother? Pump, smoother, pump, smooth. Pump, pump, stop. What happened to "Tap, tap" I wondered? I found myself in parking lot, standing astride my most excellent bike. I wasn't dead. I didn't wipe out. I was gonna go home in one piece. Huh, didn't see that coming.

So Sunday, Mrs. O and I spent the first part of the day at the pool. She picked me up from that very parking lot Saturday and I decided to take Sunday off. Sunning. Reading. Eating. Swimming. Checking my balls. Pinching myself. As the day went along, Mrs. O suggested we take a Alpine Slide ride. Sure, I said. What could go wrong? Tap, tap.

So up the hill we went. Tap, tap. And I sought out the fastest cart. Tap, tap. And I bragged that no one ever gets hurt on these things, those signs are for insurance purposes. Tap, tap. Brakes? Who needs brakes. Tap, Tap. Off we went, swoosh! Faster, faster, faster. Tap, tap. Faster, faster, faster, CURVE! Tap, fuckin' tap!

So how did it end? I stayed in the track. The cart didn't. Funny thing how skin reacts to friction on cement. Tap, tap. We got you, sucker! And strangely, as I ripped down the track and felt my skin flay, and saw stars as my jaw cracked on the track's edge, I thought to myself, "This isn't as bad as yesterday would have been. I really got away easy this time!" Tap, tap.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Summer Falling

Spring's eternal hope bursts upon the Earth with exuberance, energy, and boundless optimism. A seed breaks from its winter husk, and reaches for the sun, a new, slender sprout. It twists and turns, reaching higher and higher. Its company is other gentle flowers, only just beginning to grow, each beautiful, simple, fragile. The attentive Gardener gently weeds the soil, watering when the flower is thirsty, fertilizing to encourage growth and strong roots, The flower and her companions know no frost, for the the Gardener covers them when its cold. The flower and her companions know no blight, no pestilence, nothing more harmful than an occasional strong gust of wind. Around the flower buzzes life, heard in the joyful voices of the birds and crickets and bees. What for so long is seen as simple sprouts begin to show buds, each young flower similar but none the same. Awaiting their blooming, there is nothing but happiness in spring.

Soon spring gives way to summer. Almost overnight, the flowers' buds burst into the the air, bright colors and complex shapes. They shine nearly as bright as the sun, enlivening their surroundings, to the envy of the old oak and stone wall. The Gardener takes time to admire, knowing the flower did more work than he. The garden is so full, so dynamic, so alive, even a small patch such as this surpasses most works of man. But the garden is not one thing, but many, many hundreds. The Gardener focuses on the one lovely flower, and his heart swells with joy. He sets aside his trowel and rake, and rests from his labor.

And later, some time later, the Gardener is working a new patch of garden, coaxing more flowers to bloom. Upon his knees, he focuses on the young, immature stalks, knowing how fragile and exposed they are. A quick, unexpected gust of wind rocks the old oak, and a loud crack splits the air. The Gardener looks up, and at first everything seems in order. He stands and covers his eyes, shading his view from the strong summer glare. Almost instantly, his hands drop to his sides. He walks quickly to the flower bed, a gnarled branch from the oak driven into the soft soil.

For a moment, he naively thinks all is well. Most flowers' colors remain bright, as they sway gently in the breeze, reaching for the sun as ever. But alone on the ground lays a lone flower. While still beautiful, it is painfully, heartbreakingly clear the flower is broken, lifeless. The Gardener forgets for the moment the rest of the garden, and thinks only of the fallen. Surrounded by life, this loss feels so much more poignant. Some time later the Gardener returns to his toiling, but he thinks not of what is to come, but of what might have been. Soon his latest plantings will need his full attention, but for now the lone flower stands alone in his memory.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Along time ago, I put on a cloak that I thought I was supposed to wear. I was a young man of seventeen, so perhaps that excuses or explains things. Since then, my definition of manliness has changed an awful lot. The combined gifts of fatherhood, loss, love, marriage, friendship, and a bit of maturity all conspired to make it all but impossible for me to wear just one guise. It (manliness...) is, if I were to quantify it now, richer, gentler, less sure, complex. As a teenager, however, I thought differently. In my view, being a man was a role with a narrow sets of attributes; tough, simple, linear. Looking back, I was following a cliche, not modeled by any real man but constructed by movies, rock stars, and athletes. I was not philosophical about my persona; I just simply became a jock. At the time, my other choices were band dork, D & D geek, or nerd. Jock seemed, frankly, the best - safest? - choice. I wore my mantle proudly, figuratively and literally. So you can visualize it, imagine a lanky kid with growing muscles, wearing cut-off sweats (80's short) and my local football team's practice jersey. If that doesn't paint it clearly, how about Larry Bird, just shorter? A real man's man, no? Oh, yeah, add a puffy mullet haircut, too. I practiced flexing in the mirror, for crying out loud.

And then unexpectedly and against my wishes, I found myself on a dock by a lake, nestled in the deep woods of New Hampshire, looking up at a night sky peppered with millions and millions of stars. I was sitting next to another young man (maybe 20) who I had already pigeon-holed into a fifth unnamed category, quantified by traits like eccentric, feminine, artistic, intellectual, light-hearted. In other words, about as opposite from what I was trying to be as could be imagined. Steve was, in short, not a man's man, and thus I didn't want to have anything to do with him. But circumstances out of my control put the prototypical meat head in close proximity with ... with ... this random, odd, undefinable guy. I was quite sure this night, leading a bunch of little kids on camping trip, was going to be hell.

As the night wore on, I unexpectedly found myself dropping my judgements and preconceptions he told outrageously funny jokes and recounted summers past full of pranks and misadventures. He casually about talked about girls he had crushes on, love affairs and broken hearts, good sex and bad sex. He talked about being an A student while causing all sorts of mayhem in high school and college. He wasn't shy about the fact that he couldn't fix a car engine, never played sports, or that he didn't really give a shit about being popular. Without mocking me, he made it really clear that what he thought was cool was what he decided was cool.

As the night progressed, I began to realize this guy I'd decided was a total freak was post-cool; at the time I thought he had changed before my eyes. In hindsight, he didn't change at all. In the span of a few hours, my trajectory had changed just a degree or two. It was me who changed, or opened up, or grew up. Or at least started to be a real man. That is, a man who thought. I didn't change overnight and had lots of growing to do, but my path that night changed irrevocably. Frankly, the journey continues, but I started it that early summer night.

And I remember most clearly the moment I laid the cloak aside. As he talked about his life, I began to share a bit about the inner me. The inner me that was unsure, a boy who felt unimportant, a child who was scared by a big, big world. I'm not sure of my exact words, but Steve grew quiet for a minute or so. Then he directed my attention to the stars. He said that we, as humans, are staggeringly small in the universe's scheme of things. We all are, ultimately, tiny and insignificant in comparison to any one of the billions of stars. As he paused to think, I could feel a deep sense of cold dread seep into my soul; was he indeed saying I was as unimportant as I felt? But then Steve changed the direction of his observation, with this simple idea; what if you are kind to just one or two other people? What if that kindness lifts them up, so that they feel hopeful or happy or stronger, and they in turn pass that optimism onto two more people. Pretty soon, a lot of people - a really large group of people - may be a bit happier, kinder, gentler. What kind of power does that give you? How small are you, really?

In that one moment, under the veil of the night sky, the world I knew became infinitely more rich and exciting. This simple statement of hopeful goodness gave me a new, powerful philosophy to call my own. Either consciously or unconsciously, Steve had applied his own axiom to a young, scared boy, and in that small window of shared time and conversation, changed my life. And I still go back to the dock, traveling back through time, and hear the water lapping against the pilings, and smell the woodsmoke, and feel the warm summer breeze. And I see the stars, the infinite expanse of the universe splayed across the horizon, and I feel so, so small. Yet, strangely, I feel free.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hero vs. Celebrity

James Bradley wrote, in Flags of Our Fathers, that "Today the word 'hero' has been diminished, confused with 'celebrity.' ... Celebrities seek fame. They take action to get attention... Heroes are heroes because they have risked something to help others." I got to thinking about his words as I finished his book last night, having also recently watched an ABC Good Morning America clip showing U.S. servicemen and servicewomen reuniting with family and friends. Mr. Bradley puts it down well enough for me not to try to rewrite it in my own words.

My own truth is this; there are very few true heroes. And this is okay. There are more than few truly good, generous, caring, humble people out there. So, they are virtuous. And let me be clear, we need the virtuous as much as the heroic. Both categories deserve the most credit and honor, although those truly virtuous or truly heroic would most likely share whatever credit they are due, which is ironically evidence of virtue. And as bonus, probably true. In my experience, both heroes and the virtuous needed others' love or camaraderie to stay afloat. They encouraged others to serve, thus amplifying their own efforts. And often, they were materially supported by others as they, in turn, served those same folks and society at large.

As I mentioned, we need virtue. We can all seek to be virtuous and achieve it in some humble measure. We can all serve our fellow citizens. We don't all have great courage, nor do we -- if we are lucky -- find ourselves in situations where personal courage is required. If we do find ourselves in danger or moral crisis, we are best served by simply serving our pursuit of virtue.

While we all can seek virtue, seeking heroism is contradictory. Seeking heroism is reckless, although being heroic isn't. You just don't seek it, nor do you know if you have it. Simply put, seeking virtue thrusts some of us, unwittingly, into heroism. We should honor heroes for their courage, while perhaps highlighting their basic service and pursuit of virtue equally.

Mr. Bradley's father was virtuous by choice and action. He was, by his own admission, heroic by accident. He wanted to be remembered for the latter, and he didn't particularly care for or about the latter. We could do worse than to follow his ideal.

Fabric Rent Assunder

If we are lucky, we are helped by those around us in the pursuit of weaving a rich, colorful nurturing cloth which we can wrap around for comfort, peace, warmth, and rest. If we are wise, we hug it tight in the coldest weather, and we tend it when storm clouds are distant rumblings. We repair it frayed edges with careful, gentle stitches, adding patches, a new border, sewing small tears without too much worry about the small ridges or scars our handicraft leave behind.

When I started out, mine was a simple blanket, small, light, brightly colored. As I grew, so did my blanket, looking less singular and more like a quilt. Our mother took care of it for me, darning holes with unconditional love, sewing her spirit and love into our lives with each stitch. As I grew older, the tapestry became richer, more complex. Samples from other's blankets were added to mine, bound forever, irrevocably. Some were great fields of blue and gold, others tartan or fleece, denim and nylon. Others, small and nearly insignificant, dark with moody blacks and grays. They served as borders between greater colors, never more than humble accents. My quilt became less of just me, even as it became more indelibly mine. It became ours as it became mine, woven with shared pieces of friends and family. And it was strongly made.

Along the way, our mother taught me to thread a needle, to handle a box stitch. Nothing fancy for me, but enough to make my own repairs or to add a little patch of color that caught my eye. The gift of the blanket from my mother, and later her teachings and guidance, gave my more than just myself, infinitely more than I could have created with my own hands. With her love, I became part of my own tapestry, adding, mending, designing. Her gift remains beyond calculation.

The seamstress is gone now, her wise hands stilled, her own majestic tapestry folded and stored safely in the cedar chest. Her lessons, those she could share, have been taught and I can simply look to my own quilt if I need to remember. I run my hands over the cloth, feeling its varied textures. My eyes wander over its landscape, startled by the seemingly randomness of the squares of my quilt. I alone now care for my tapestry, doing my best to keep the fabric clean, adding new scraps here and there, never pulling out sheers to trim away a worn, tired corner. Although I have learned to snip a bit of mine away, giving it happily to others who sew their own now. And in return, they unknowingly give to me small new squares to add to my ever-changing quilt.

And look closely! You still can see my clumsy, incomplete stitching along the great rent she left upon departing. I can't quite pull the edges of the rip all the way closed, and that incompleteness seems to be right, or at least alright.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Little Odd is, by and large, a typical all-American kid. Of course, what all-American means has changed over the years. When my dad was eight, the Depression was still lingering, and World War II was almost four years in the future. When I was eight, Jimmy Carter was the President-elect, disco was dying, and cassette tapes were the rage. So Little Odd will have to look back and figure out what was what in his day. But in 1938, he would have fit in as a 'normal' boy, and the same can said if he'd been cruising my neighborhood on a green plastic skateboard.

L.O. likes baseball, and he loves football. He avoids vegetables without being too obvious. He doesn't shampoo his hair when he showers most nights, although he wets it down, mostly. He eats a lot of Popsicles during the summer, so much so that his lips take on an unnatural orange, purple, or red hue for entire days. He wears pajama bottoms but no pajama tops; the bottoms he favors this summer are starting to show his growth and its threadbare knees. He loves his sister, unless you ask him. He gets along with his sister, or at least until he doesn't. He wakes up early so he can watch extra t.v. and not fuss with anyone over the remote; after all, it's summer and we are pretty loose 'bout screen time if there is no bloodshed.

He got his first athletic cup today, and after figuring out which way is up, came out to the garage where I was working so he could show me how hard he could smack his fist into his crotch. He was wearing a t-shirt and some funky Underarmor boxer cup-holder pants, and he stood beaming in the driveway smacking his front goods. As he slapped and danced like a drunk monkey, he quipped, "Mom says I have a huge package!" I kept a straight face and made him promise to not tell his principal, who happens to be be Mrs. Odd's boss, that or any details about his cup.

He likes frogs, toads, dogs, tigers, and whales. He thinks the Patriots should sign T.O. He plays so hard some days, it is tiring just to look at him. He wants to have really long dude hair, because either some kid in his class does or because Tom Brady does. On this topic, I can't be sure who influences him more, and it could be both equally. His coif looks vaguely Leif Garrett/Shaggy/Joaquin Phoenix ... think Commodus in Gladiator. And he went through a phase when he was mad about creating origami. He is getting so big, I strain to carry him to bed when he falls asleep downstairs. I used to pretend to strain when I lifted him up, whereas now I pretend it doesn't hurt. Go figure.

Like I said, he is all boy. Willing hugs for mom, subtly less so with me. His is pure joy; happy, healthy, funny, strong, smart. His Achilles' heal turns out to be silverfish, these creepy, two inch long bugs that crawl out of our drains in the basement. I guess his imprinting moment came when he was in the family room in the basement, half watching t.v., half napping. Apparently he sort of felt something on his face, so he swiped it away, and lo and behold, a two inch furry, alien-looking critter was crawling across his head. It was hard to tell exactly what unfolded, as he stormed up the basement stairs screaming at the tops of his lungs, flailing like a marionette puppet on speed.

With all that he has going for him, I guess a little irrational bug fear is totally fine. And to be honest, silverfish are just a bit too freaky for me, too. I guess that makes me just like Little Odd.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Be bery, bery quiet...

You, dear reader, are aware that The Washington Post is publishing a series of articles on the expanding role of "security" in America, in response to the 9/11 attacks. The authors of the series have spent two years investigating the ever-expanding super-secret world of secret security secretly designed to keep secret America's secret security. They secretly put together all the secrets they learned on a secret website & blog called They describe our secret security and intelligence structure, which has secretly become so bloated and "so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, or whether it is making the United States safer." (AP) I kid you not, this is true.

Here's some of what they learned (...and don't tell anyone, as it is secret):

Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on Top Secret programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence at over 10,000 locations across the country. Um, that's like more than a hundred.

Over 850,000 Americans have Top Secret clearances. Where do I get me one?

In the Washington area alone, 33 building complexes for Top Secret work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. When you go out and count them yourself, please remember to do so discretely.

The (aforementioned) blog will anchor the Top Secret America site providing updates on Top Secret America coverage, original journalism and insight around related national security matters...including a searchable database illustrates information about government organizations that contract out top secret work, companies they contract to, the types of work they do, and the places where they do it. Okay, I pretty much stole most of that paragraph from the AP verbatim. But it makes it even funnier.

A map displays locations of all the clusters of Top Secret activity and some basic information about those areas. In case you get lost?!?

Each of nearly 2,000 companies and 45 government organizations has a profile page with basic information about its role in Top Secret America. Um, really? A profile page for all of the top secret work? How secret is this whole thing anyway? Come on, you can tell me.

... readers can filter searches by companies doing a specific kind of work, all companies mentioned in the story, or all companies with more than $750 million in revenue.

The Post estimates the number of contractors who work on Top Secret programs to be 265,000. Let's see... $40,000 (median salary that I made up...) times 265,000 equals $10,600,000,000. A year... What do you think they spend at Staples on office supplies?

The NSA plans to expand by two-thirds its current size over the next 15 years. Giggle. I thought the NSA was supposed to be ... well, secret.

Do you get the feeling that Elmer Fudd would do a better job of keeping a secret?

Thursday, July 15, 2010


No, Van Halen fans, I'm not talking about "Hot for Teacher," although ...heh, heh... I am always hot for teacher. Mrs. Odd is, of course, a teacher and a major distraction for boys above a certain age!

In this case, it is Mr. Orwell and his wee narrative I reference. I read it in 9th grade, which was like, um, forever ago. Or in other terms, 1984 (...the year, not the book) was still in the future. It was one of the few pieces of literature I read in school (as in involuntary, compulsory, 'cause They said so...) that I liked and sort of got the point. I remember distinctly feeling creeped out by the idea of a wall-sized t.v. that never turned off and constantly being monitored. Omnipresent screens, poli-business mega-entities, loss of individualism. It was, frankly, scary-assed fiction.

So I found myself on JetBlue flying to the New Orleans a week or so ago, and I got to thinking about the seat back in front of me. Now there is a phrase I never imagined I'd write. But I did truly find myself contemplating the seat back in front of me. If you have flown JetBlue or other carriers recently, you know what I'm talking about. There is an 8" screen embedded in the rear of the headrest, so you can watch whatever you want to watch during the flight. Or can you?

Okay, so it wasn't a huge wall-sized screen, but when it's only eighteen inches from your face, does the size really matter (Okay, size matters...snicker, snicker)? And you know what? You can't turn it off. Nope. You can dim it 'til it's dark, but "off" is "off" and "dim" is "on, just not bright." Okay, Mr. Orwell, nice call.

So what did I do? I took a picture of the screen, which shows a slightly plump woman staring back at me, hands open in what can only be described as a beseeching gesture. She's sitting on what looks to be comfortable living room furniture, and she is trying to make eye contact with me, I swear. Yeah, I took the picture with my iPhone, which I rarely use as a phone but use constantly to check e-mail, take pictures, watch YouTube videos, and plan my life. The irony of having a computer-camera-radio thingy in my hand, on an airplane, taking a picture of t.v. that doesn't really turn off struck me as very nicely Orwellian. Again, Mr. Orwell, well done. Oh, then I posted the picture to Facebook, so my friends can keep track of my very interesting life.

Let me be clear here, in case you were wondering. We were not going to New Orleans to do mission work. We were going to New Orleans because no one in New Orleans knows who we are, and we wanted to let off some steam. A little of this, a little of that. But a little of this or that without our neighbors leaning over our table or the chance encounter with a student. So, no cameras was the rule. Turns out we sort of ignored the fact that our phones are cameras, but we were pretty good about not taking pictures of every moment, snaring just a few snapshots to capture the crazy that is New Orleans. But I couldn't help notice how many cameras there were, stuck to the sides of buildings, light poles, in lobbies, outside clubs. Even in a city where being anonymous is a right, we still were being imaged an awful lot. How anonymous were we?

People talk about not wanting Big Brother in their lives, but I get the sneaking suspicion that is all talk. Maybe it's a post-9/11 thing, or an outgrowth of the technology boom, or that we are all a bit A.D.H.D., or that we are self-important and need to prove our worth to everyone else, or that we just like gadgets, but for for all the blather that we want privacy and no interference from outside forces, we do spend a lot of time and treasure guaranteeing the opposite is true. I find the irony of this so delicious, I think I'll share my thoughts with some complete strangers. Oh, wait...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Fuck" Gets a Bad Name

"Fuck" is entirely disrespected and unfairly maligned in today's lexicon. This might be a hard band wagon for some to climb aboard, but I'm here to help you climb on up and get behind "fuck" as the word to use when no other word will do.

First, it can be and often is any part of speech you need. A verb? "I was fucking around on my computer instead of working." An adjective? "I've got a fucking headache." A noun? "The fucker fucked me." Look! Twice in one sentence, as a noun and a fucking verb. An exclamation? "Fuck!" An adverb? "I lost my fucking dumb dog." "Fuck" is fucking versatile.

Secondly, it's like salt. Add just a little for flavor, or a whole bunch for guilty pleasure, even when you know you shouldn't. As an example, you can liven up a simple imperative sentence such as, "Sit down" by adding a little fucking dash of "fuck". Thus, you have, "Sit fucking down." Two shakes gets you "Fucking sit fucking down." You don't even need a fucking exclamation point.

Third, using "fuck" liberally allows you to speak Boston correctly. Anyone who followed the Sox in 2004 knows that Nomar was actually a last name, and that his full name was, in fact, Fuckin' Nomar. Sort of like Cher, Madonna, or Sting, except with a "fuck" thrown in. It works for the Celtics, Bruins, Pats, and Sox in general, too. Right now? It's the Celts, the fuckin' Bruins (lost 4-3 in the playoffs to Phucking Philly), the fuckin' Sox (who are in 4th behind the fucking Rays, the fucking Jays, and those fuckers from New Fucking York), and the fucking Pats and fucking Bill Belichick, who had an awful fucking draft. The Celts will be the fucking Celts if they don't win the NBA championship. No "fuck" means they are winning, and "fuck" means anything less than a championship. Clean and easy to interpret.

But the truly overlooked beauty of the word is this - it is democratic. "Fuck" offends everyone, regardless of race, sex, religion, or creed. "Fuck" is color-blind, deaf to gender, and unflinchingly neutral to all matters of faith. I'm sick of people using "retarded" to describe something or someone really stupid, as there is a real and painful meaning to the word "retarded". I'm equally sick and tired of folks throwing around "gay" for all things dumb or feminine, as one of my closest colleagues happens to be gay, but utterly unfeminine and smarter than 99.9% of the rest of us fucks. I would be happy to never hear "n****r" again, and anyone with an ounce of class should stand up against anyone fucking backward enough to use it. I'd be almost as happy to never hear "bitch", "c**t", "slut", or "whore" to describe any woman. All of those words hurt all women, and frankly usually aren't even accurately applied.

Thanks for fucking reading my fucking post. It is my sincere hope to hear a bit more "fucking" in my daily life, and a lot less of those other cruel, insensitive slurs. If I've offended you in any way, I'm fucking sorry. But at the same time, if you are all fucking worked up about it and took this seriously, you probably need a good hard ...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fear Sells

"So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

I'm a history geek, so I'm often curious about what our ancestors would think about modern American life. It is, in some ways, an idle curiosity, as there is no possibility FDR, my grandmother, or Chester Nimitz (please, insert your own favorite historical figure) are going to show up on my front porch and sit down for dinner, a glass of wine, and have a quick chat about the state of affairs. But it would be cool. Very cool.

So, we are left only with their words, writings, and perhaps our own cloudy memories of the actual lives they lived. If you stop for a minute, can you imagine what Martin Luther King did in the morning when he woke up? Wrote speeches about civil rights or checked on his kids? Made coffee? Checked the lawn for burnt crosses? Imagine what Eleanor Roosevelt did in between her moments of greatness. Shopped for comfortable shoes, maybe. Worried about what Franklin was doing, and perhaps who he was doing it with. Surely, they lead extraordinary lives and shaped extraordinary times, but they also had to live through some very ordinary events. I don't know what they were (shaving? eating breakfast? paying bills?), but I have every faith the giants of history weren't brilliant all the time. Amazing people, but people nonetheless.

So back to FDR's famous quote. The famous opening masks the more important phrase, that "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." I would love, as mentioned earlier, to ask him to share his opinion about how our generation is handling fear. There seems to be ample evidence that we not only seem paralyzed by our modern fears of international terrorism, unemployment, stock market fluctuations, cyber-bullying, or rampant gun violence -- to name but a few -- but that we are drawn to stories of macabre and horror with almost an addict's need.

You don't believe me? Okay. I'm not trying to convince you, but turn on CNN or Fox, or your local news. What are the stories about? Kidnapped kids, oil spills, massacres in Iraq, mine disasters, teen suicide, hordes of illegal immigrants, crooked politicians... Need I go on? Even many advertisements are now geared towards making you feel crappy about yourself or your life - your smile isn't straight enough, your credit rating is too low, your daughter is going to get kidnapped out of the mall if you don't have a tracking device on her cell phone. Try to watch the news or the ads impartially, and see if you want to argue.

But why? In my humble opinion is that fear sells. Not exactly a new idea, I understand. But think about it for a minute. 9-11, two wars, a typhoon, a mega-quake, Katrina, the BP spill, Abu Graib; the list of shitty things that have happened in the last ten years seems profound and unique, worse than at anytime in our history. Add to that the 24-7 news cycle, instant and near omnipresent access to news and media. Mr. Orwell, you were off by a mere 26 years - not bad, old salt. It's hard to not be exposed to all of these compelling, heart wrenching, oft-tragic stories.

Step back, though, from the brink. How idyllic do you think life was for a stock broker, say in late 1929? Or for a farmer in Oklahoma in 1933? Or a black man Birmingham in 1955? Or a woman looking for a corporate job in the early 1970's? I don't mean to imply that life is easy nowadays; quite the contrary, especially if you are out of work right now or your mortgage is "under water.' All I'm posing is that the crap we seem to be mired in is just that - crap. Shitty things have been happening to nice people since the first cavemen had his hunting club jacked by a rival tribesman. The difference, then, seems to me to be a matter of how we cope with adversity.

See, I think modern Americans think bad times are a new phenomenon, when in fact bad times have always been there, in between the good times. Even more probable, bad times have always run concurrently with good times. What is different, though, is that we too often think we have some right to be free of fear, pain, loss, or anger. But in truth, there is no such right. In fact, we should be afraid of the influence of social media on our teens, we should be angry when crimes are committed, we should be sad when a young child is taken from their family, we should be worried that an oil company puts profit ahead of safety or environmental concerns.

What we shouldn't do is to succumb to the idea that we are victims, or that we are powerless to deal with what we see as a bombardment of tragedy, or that what we going through in our personal lives or as a society is unique to our times. I recommend that we embrace that we are afraid, but reject that that fear should rule our every decision -- or non-decision. It is okay to be sad, but not at the expense of also recognizing small joys found in the smiles of children or in the kinds words from strangers. I say that while we recognize our losses, we take time to account for our gains. In short, the glass is always and has always been both half-full and half-empty. Only individuals can choose how they see it.

So, fear sells. But don't delude yourself - you can choose to buy it. Or you can choose not to. You are equipped with all of the gifts your ancestors possessed - and perhaps far more -- but you alone can exercise the one truly universal, undeniable American - human? - right; free will. You have every right to retreat, which may make every bit of sense. But you also can advance, even when that course of action may seem to be the irrational choice. But for me, irrationally advancing seems so much more appealing than being rationally in retreat.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Can you think of any other words that describe you?

Little Odd is is filling out his "Letter to My Camp Counselor" for his first overnight camp adventure. There is a list of adjectives that one can circle to describe oneself, including such terms as shy, outgoing, athletic, musical, sarcastic -- no, really -- and a whole bunch more. In his "yes" column are outgoing, athletic, friendly, smart, funny, and excited. In the "no" column are sarcastic (phew!), popular, quiet, shy, noisy, and non-athletic. At the end of the section, there is a blank space preceded by the direction, "Please write any other words that describe you." After some thought, he wrote, "Tall."

It made me wonder what words would I write to describe me. Perhaps philosophical. Definitely sarcastic. Quiet when I'm not noisy. Distracted, stressed, reflective, achy, stubborn, tough, thoughtful, reserved, cautious, polite, dark, optimistic, handy, erudite, and occasionally verbose. Oh, and "Tall." Plus, and I don't know the word for it, but one who possesses unusually large calves.

What word describes you best? Just one word. One word. One. Me? Fortunate.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shake the Money Tree

On the way to Little Odd's baseball practice tonight, I was able to catch a few minutes of NPR. My commute nowadays is measured in seconds, not minutes, so I have lost touch with NPR. I used to listen to Click & Clack, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me", and public radio news with near-religious fervor. When I traded in two hour commutes, the loss of quality radio time was small price to pay

Lately my news comes from CNN and the Boston Globe (, and while those source are informative, they are closer to junk food for the brain, served in small samples. Tonight I had a chance for a little brain salad, listening to a debate about US debt as it relates to GDP. I was relishing the chance to listen to a rational discourse from intellectuals regarding our economic future.

For awhile, I got what I hoped for. Detailed. Specific. Jargon-filled. Calm, thoughtful, well-presented. Deep. Slightly beyond me, a radio program that makes the listener stretch. It was good and good for me. And then it screeched to halt.

See, one of the guests went partisan. Up to that moment, I was unaware of party affiliation or political slant. Up to that very moment, the back-and-forth was the essence of thoughtful discourse and even exchange of ideas. And "BOOM!", it was as if I was listening to Fox News, news being just a word to put after Fox. What was the offending line?

The speaker, a Republican congressman, speaking about oft-dreamt of, rarely seen reduced spending in Washington, stated, "...My party isn't in control, but when they are, we will be able to seriously discuss reduced spending rather than increased taxes as way to balance debt loads as they related to GDP." Okay, I'm using quotes when I'm really just paraphrasing as best as I can recollect. But I'm close to getting what he said, so bear with me. Rant coming...

Who the HELL is he kidding? The Republicans had the White House and majority control of one or both houses of Congress for the better part of eight years, and just HOW did the Republicans control spending? Puh-lease. Cut taxes? For some. But reign in spending?!? If the Democrats now spend money like drunk sailors, the Republicans spent money like meth-addled lunatics throughout the decade. For the record, during the Clinton era, the Fed ran surpluses. Sure, things were trending down, so I don't blame the collapse of the market, the housing bubble burst, the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, and the whole fucking mess just on Bush. Alan Greeenspan missed a few things, now didn't he? But one thing is clear; nobody -- right, left, or unaffiliated -- has a record of reducing spending at this point.

What the HELL happened to my little radio Nirvana-moment? First, did Mr. Red-State forget that people who believe Republicans can control spending don't listen to NPR? Second, if you said NPR to someone who DOES believe Republicans are the party of fiscal restraint, they would scratch their heads and wonder what the "P" stands for in National Rifle Association. Third, did Mr. Oklahoma-Needs-a-Tea-Party-Militia actually think that the NPR audience, people who would sit still and hang on every word regarding currency policy with China, would miss his quip about the lamentable loss of fiscal sanity under the Republican controlled Congress? Dude... F.U.C.K. You and your weird Alice-in-Wonderland twist on the last ten years. The Distinguished Gentleman from Shang-ri La needs to stop smoking the pipe. And with no offense intended to morons, this guy went from Mr. Worth Listening To to "Oh, what-a-moron, I'm changing the channel to ESPN radio" in a split second.

So to sum up, NPR can't even host a sane, boring, fact-based discourse on US debt policy without some fool throwing out some blatant partisan, pop-culture crap. Yeah, NPR is a liberal haven, but at least it used to be clever liberalism. Tonight, even behind the sometimes-deep discussion, the us-versus-them thing showed up. Maybe I will run for Congress, on a platform of solving our debt problems by growing money trees. What's worse, I'm gonna' win.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Thanks for the Reminder

Dear God,

Thanks for the reminder. Last night, for some reason beyond my understanding, I stopped in my daughter's room. Initially, I suppose I went in to turn off her reading light. You know, to be green. But in the hushed darkness, I quickly found myself sitting on the rug, next to her bed. The rest of the world stopped spinning, and whatever worries I was carrying left me. I found myself sitting on the floor, listening to her soft breathing. She's a light sleeper, so she became aware of my presence shortly. In between sleep and wakefulness, she smiled. "I love you," she whispered. I kissed her on her forehead but didn't get up to leave. She quietly slipped back into full sleep, and I lingered for awhile soothed by her steady, peaceful breathing. For a few moments, I was the best version of myself, the father and man I hope to be. My daughter unwittingly gave me the best gift I've received in a long time. Maybe someday soon, when I can feel the world spinning around me too fast, or when I've made a mountain out of a mole hill, I'll recall her gift and be reminded of what I really am.



Saturday, February 27, 2010

Grief and Sadness

I am making myself write tonight. I don't want to, and I am not feeling it. What I want to do is play X-box 360 Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2. Escape. Be distracted. Disengage. Be less human, more machine. Feast on visual stimulation, glut on loud noises, simulated explosions, and on-line banter. To feel like I'm doing something, faster, bigger, stronger. All without moving. Or at least without moving more than my thumbs and the small muscles in my eyes. I want to be without being. Alive without living. But I'm gonna' write this bastard out.

A rut, you say? Four years. No, actually five. Sure it is winter and who doesn't have a cold, which makes one feel a little closer to blue than yellow. But for the better part of five years, I've been working on finding space for Grief and Sadness in my life's house. Suddenly five years ago, I met Grief, shook his cold hand, and stuffed him in an old foot locker. I took the trunk to the attic, and that was that. Life goes on, right? Right? I followed the only rules I knew. Tough it out. Suck it up.

Fucking Grief, he sneaks out of the box a few days later and pops up next to me in my car on the Baltimore Beltway. Back in the box, motherfucker. Back into the attic, thank you very much. Perhaps it was okay if Grief was treated like children in the Victorian era, seen but not heard. I could occasionally look stricken, but I didn't let Grief be heard. Occasionally, sure, Grief would pop off the lid and surprise me unexpectedly. In the shower. Raking leaves in the yard. Hugging my daughter. Fucking cretin, get your hands off my family. Back in the box. Get. In. The. BOX.

I had Grief pretty well figured out, six months in. Locked the box. Shoved it deep in the attic. Way away in the darkest corner. Piled it under life's flotsam and jetsam. Sure, when I was home alone, I sometimes heard Grief banging around. But as long as he didn't come downstairs, into the daylight, the sunny-warm light, I could handle a bit of banging around.

So what does Grief do? The bastard finds a friend in Sadness, and damned if the two of 'em don't bust that trunk wide and come rumbling down from the attic. Thunder on the stairs. You should have seen the look on their faces; wide smiles and a gleam in their eyes, as if saying, "Hey, we don't like the attic and it's nice day, so we are STAYING." Mischief makers they are. Like Loki, but not as Dungeons & Dragons.

Or maybe more aptly, like Thing One and Thing Two, just with black stripes on their unitards. Yeah, imagine trying to catch just one of those bastards and getting just one of 'em back into the box, the box laying broken and ruptured? Little manic-happy motherfuckers running all over the damn house, messing up things and getting spots on shit. Like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube, my brother. Like toothpaste.

But like I said, I fall back on what I know. Tough it out. So I chase Grief and Sadness all over the place. The fuckers don't sit still. They hide. They sneak. They run. And they never sleep. Oh sure, I'd grab one by the collar and wrap him up in duct tape, all the while trying to shove him into something I could hide away. Sometimes I get lucky and grab hold of Grief, but when I would, Sadness would hop on my back and pull my hair. So I shaved my head. He'd grab my ears. Frisky little rascals.

So I've given up on the attic. Hey, they don't want to be shut up all the time. Can you really blame them? But they can't have run of the house, either. Little monkeys. So I'm making up twin beds in a spare guest room. They can jump up and down on the beds and tack up their idols on the bedroom walls. But they gotta' follow house rules; early to bed, no whining, and have some manners. And I'm bringing in some new friends for them to play with. "Boys, meet Joy, Silly, Happy, Smiles, and Love. Girls, this is Grief and Sadness. Now, go play."

Okay, that was way better than X-box.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Days to Remember to Forget

Sanity apparently took the weekend off. In its stead? A poor substitute teacher, known as Surrealism. Today started like any other Sunday, but it went south quickly. Perhaps the gray, pallid clouds of a New England February chased our friend Sanity to Naples or Cocoa or St. Pete's in search of warmer weather?

The first sign things were upside down was there was no milk for the coffee. There was no milk because I had used it all cooking Saturday night's mac n' cheese, which in of itself was a hint that Surreality was coming to visit. I cooked dinner. On a Saturday night. The mac n' cheese was wicked freaking good, I'll have you know. But when Mrs. Odd woke up and brewed up a batch of coffee, there was no milk and no happy Mrs. Odd. A smart man would have jumped in his truck and run to the corner store for a gallon of 2%, but I'm not a smart man. I'm a man. So I sat on the couch, sipping my coffee black, and suggested that Mrs. Odd could swing by the bagel place on her way to grab the milk. Yeah, stupid and dumb.

So while Mrs. Odd trudged to the local bagelry and corner market, I got on our shared laptop to check on my dozens and dozens of Facebook friends. As the little machine booted up, I noticed that my son was already logged on. Odd, I thought to myself, as he was just getting out of bed when I rallied myself at 8 o'clock. Him in bed at eight was a sign I misread in the moment, but alas, hindsight is, well, twenty-twenty. I suppose in my case, hindsight could mean I can see an ass when I look in a mirror. Back to the laptop. What was weird about my son being logged onto the computer was that I was online at one a.m., checking Facebook for the dozens and dozens of friends who are not awake at 1 a.m., and he was distinctly not awake at that early hour. So how did he log on? Hmmmm? And when did he log on, if he was just getting up? Hmmmm? Sip coffee, check Facebook, wait for bagels, forget about son's use of laptop...

Fast forward to Mrs. Odd's announcement that there were bagels. Oh, goody! I meander out to the kitchen, get in line for the toaster, and make myself an 'everything' bagel with olive-pimento cream cheese. Good, good. Mrs. Odd joins me in the family room, and I casually remark, "Hey, why didn't you get onion bagels? They are my favorite. I don't really like 'everything' bagels." Yeah, hindsight. Stupid, dumb, selfish. "Man, meet caveman. Caveman, meet dead husband." So I eat my 'everything' bagel (it is not a metaphor, I swear, just a bagel) in in oddly uncomfortable silence that I didn't recognize until now, twelve hours later. Fucking cavemen are embarrassed for me, for Christ's sake. Mrs. Odd and I eventually head out to the kitchen around ten o'clock, and a bulb sort of flickers in my head, and I call my son up from the basement. He bangs up the stairs, and says, "Yeah, Dad?" And now the flickering bulbs lights off in my head, burning with a sudden incandescence rivaling a lightning strike, and before I can stop myself, I say to my son, "What were you looking up on the Internet this morning?" Mrs. Odd looks at me oddly. My son looks at me like a deer in the headlights. I start to feel Surreality tickling me under the armpits, an uncomfortable sensation that reminds me that I am an IDIOT. Tickle, tickle.

And my son sheepishly mutters, "Boobs." And because I'm a stupid, dumb, idiotic, caveman, I laugh. Mrs. Odd is trying to figure out how the hell I got to the point that I was asking our son about his Internet search predilections, and why in the world would I laugh out loud when he calmly announces that he got up at his usual 5:30 a.m. rising time, and spent two and half hours Googling "Tit Viedos". Yes, "Tit Viedos"; his spelling not mine. I checked the laptop's history, and that's how he spelled 'video'. He got 'tit' right, which is after all, phonetic. A C-V-C word, probably not on his weekly spelling list. Oh, did I mention my son is seven?!?

Yeah, today was surreal. That was what happened before lunch. The rest of the day pretty much followed suit. For the first time in a long, long time, Monday is looking pretty damn appealing.

Friday, February 5, 2010

What Are the Odds

Fate. The very word suggests -- if in a disorganized, non-linear fashion -- the existence of a higher power. If not a higher power, certainly a more powerful force than everyday Joe or Jane. With no evidence of one God, the likelihood of three angry sisters spinning and cutting threads of life seems no more -- or less -- likely. It is too hard to envision a cabal of disembodied decisions-makers spinning each and every life onto its course. Think of the planning. Think of the paperwork. What a huge margin for error.

Randomness seems too, well, random, in the context of an alternate theory to fate. Just that one might ask "Why?" cries for something greater than a lucky confluence of 1's and 0's lining up just so. Force your mind's eye down past dust particles, past motes, pass microscopic microbes, keep thinking smaller. Atoms? Protons? Go to the smallest thing known or imagined, so infinitesimally small that we have haven't imagined how small they are. How can even a googleplex of these nottalots leaning slightly to the... let's say the left, somehow actually make it so Romeo never meets Juliet? Or, as likely, make it so Shakespeare writes a play about Romeo and Felicity?

The mere fact you are reading this means two people in your life thought something akin to affection for at least -- ahem...-- a few minutes. Lust. Like. Love. Maybe a lifetime of all three, maybe some span of time between five good minutes and 50 years. Think of the odds that you are sitting in front of your computer, reading this. What are the odds that just you are reading just this. Destiny? Luck? Fate? Chance? Well, how the fuck do you explain just this one insignificant phenomenon? Even in the time it took for this sentence to be written, billions of billions of occurrences occurred. Explain the origins and import of just one, completely. I could throw my sock across the room a thousand times and it will never happen the same way. And throwing a sock is not really all that interesting.

So, how can you (...or anyone...) explain love? If a leaf can fall an infinite numbers of ways from the branch on which it grew, how can love be explained? Come on. Love is preposterous. The simple fact that two people actually meet, like each other enough to share another moment, and perhaps even one day fall in love is so unlikely, so foolish a notion, no reasonable man or woman would believe it possible. And it happens every second of everyday, and that is so tremendously, wildly improbable yet so utterly, so wonderfully sure, it staggers the mind.

Someone recently mentioned, affectionately, that my parents were an unlikely couple. Aren't they all.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Death of Common Sense

Have you noticed that the national political parties spend most of their time pointing out what the other party is doing wrong? The Republicans blame the Democrats for the ridiculous spending the Federal Government is doing. The Democrats blame the Republicans for delaying progress, offering no new ideas for righting what is wrong in the country. What a bunch of dumb-ass, self-delusional nonsense. It makes me wonder what Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, or John F. Kennedy would say. Probably that we are a nation of idiots. And I'm not talking about the fun loving Red Sox-Kevin Millar sort of idiots, but actual idiots. Like, stupid.

As an example, we are spending money hand over foot to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a reminder, we invaded Iraq, in part, to dismantle their weapons-of-mass destruction. We must have scared the shit of out of the Iraqis, as they uninvented any and all weapons-of-mass destruction before they actually made them. How many billions of dollars and thousands of lives have we wasted? Many of both. And for the record, the Republicans led the charge, the Democrats followed like cows, and the American public bitches and complains. Perhaps most vulgar, we watch CNN or Fox and let the news media scare the piss out of us, and keep throwing money at Iraq. Or Yemen, or Nigeria, or fill-in the failed state of your choice. But as the old saying goes, if you break it, you buy it. We broke Iraq, so I guess we own the mess. Ka-ching.

Afghanistan? Maybe worth the fight. Not to save the country. The Russians broke it, the Taliban buried the pieces, and we smashed whatever was left. Except the poppy fields. So we have cheap heroin, so we have that going for us. And we don't want to piss off Pakistan, even though 3/4 of what is left of Al Queda is in...Pakistan. With friends like that, who needs enemas? But I can see staying in Afghanistan to smash the little terrorist groups that get organized enough to buy some AK-47's, cell phones, and 155 millimeter artillery shells. But let's be honest, what would be a good outcome there? Democracy? Less violence? An end to narco-terrorism? Less US causalities? Oh yeah, we have major military commitments on the Korean peninsula and small ones all over the damn place, too.

How about here at home? Starting in the Reagan-era, the conservatives behind the conservatives have systemically emasculated the Federal government, except the industrial-military complex. Practically is every case, we shop out real jobs in poorly regulated bid processes, spending lots of tax revenue for private companies to make some bucks and do piss-poor quality work. We stopped really regulating private business (banks, insurance, communications, etc.) in the 80's. Sure, it was piecemeal and didn't happen overnight, but we allowed the Federal government to become what we actually fear most. Fat, stupid, open to partisan politics, impersonal. For every example of good government, anyone who reads a paper or watches the nightly news can list a half dozen examples of the Fed fucking up.

But the American public is complicit. I'm socially liberal, but can't quite get over the fact that lots of groups -- on the left and right -- want someone else to fix their problems, pay for the pet projects, or make them feel better about their shitty existence. Our older population want entitlements that outstrip our ability to pay for them. Wall Street and the banking community want protection from risk. The housing sector wants double digit sales of new and existing homes, and at the same time wanting home values to grow by 10% a year. Huh? Supply and demand dictates that as more homes are available, prices should flatten out, if not go down. And their seem to be a few houses for sale. We spend a bunch of money to bail out the banks and are surprised that that money didn't end up in our hands? Really? But who wanted the banks to fail? My money is in a bank. My home loan is owned by a bank. We do stupid things, we watch stupid things happen, we listen to stupid things from politicians from all stripes, and we get angry. We don't do anything much, but we do angry well, don't you think?

Jobs? Well, as long as we ship out simple jobs to India, China, or other rim nations, does anyone think we'll have real job growth? No one wants to drop $120,000 for college, then drive for UPS. Could we create new jobs without a stronger manufacturing base? Maybe our country can employ 180 million adults in the film industry and video game design. But I doubt it. We need to develop industries that we keep control over. We need less accountants, stock brokers, and lawyers, and way more nurses, teachers, doctors, scientists, and engineers.

Let's sum up. We spend too much, save too little, expect too much, don't deal with change well, and don't pay attention for long. What are we, teenagers? If we spend a lot to save some dirt farmer in Afghanistan, we should raise taxes. If we want better infrastructure, perhaps you might also consider spending less on shit like a Mars program, F-35's, or a big fucking wall that doesn't keep illegal immigrants out of the country. Less urban violence? More jobs, a bit of dignity, laced with a hope for a safe, reasonably healthy retirement. Cheaper oil? Drive a smaller car. Too fat? Eat less. Sick of the news? Turn off the television. $50,000 for a tennis courts in Montana? Sheesh.

Monday, January 18, 2010


It's winter in the northland and I've got a mild cold. Laggy, draggin' ass, headache, sinuses full of cement. Pretty much like the rest of the year. It's snowing out, but not in a Norman Rockwell sort of way. It's January and it gets dark early. Or it stays dark. So last night, needing uninterrupted sleep for 8 hours, I took a dose of Tylenol Cold. I put on a movie, climbed into my bed with my latest end-of-the-world novel in case the movie didn't take, and immediately zonked out. It was like 8:30, and I was in the slot for a good, deep night of Z's.

Deep into the r.e.m.'s, I had a most vivid and disturbing dream. I don't analyze my dreams, when I remember them, which is rare. But this dream literally knocked me awake, it was so strong and compelling. I was so shaken by its timber and tone, I has adrenaline fueled shakes when I awoke around midnight. I slid out out of bed and went downstairs, grabbed a glass of milk and four chocolate chip cookies, scarfed 'em down, and played Call of Duty 'til four. By that point I was tired again and managed three more hours of sleep before the day started in earnest.

The dream? What I remember is that my son came into my bedroom crying out of guilt. See, he had given a smaller, weaker friend a swirly. For those uninitiated, it means one stuffs another's head into the toilet and flushes it while their head is in the bowl. In reality, my son would not do such a thing, but dream-boy was crying out to dream-dad, devastated that he'd bullied his friend. As dream-dad, I wigged. I seized my dream-son and dragged him to the bathroom. I grabbed him around the midsection and inverted him over the toilet. I remember the toilet was filthy looking, although in real life our toilets are reasonably clean. In the dreamscape it was speckled with shit, although I distinctly remember in the dream it wasn't crap splatter but rather sprinkles of rich chocolate powder. As my dream son screamed and pleaded for mercy, I was pleased that the toilet was not filthy, but rather chocolaty. And then I gave my dream son a swirly, so he'd know what it felt like. Wow, what an asshole I was as a dream-dad.

So, before I went down for cookies and milk, before I made the world safe one digital killing at a time, I crept into my real son's bedroom. He was snuggled up in bed, either dream-free or having happy ones. I leaned closely to his ear and gave him a gentle kiss. It must have tickled, as he turned over and sat up a bit. He smiled sleepily at me and said, "Hi, Dad." I whispered, "I love you" and gave thanks I was not the father of my dreams.

Silly, huh?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Angry White Man

The next time you look in the mirror and see a fat, bloated, bitter man looking back at you, pinch yourself. At least you are not Rush Limbaugh. I expect to see horrors and tragedy coming out of Haiti, but I sort of thought it would come from people who are hungry, injured, desperate, and scared. Oddly, the most shocking and offensive I've seen or heard was from Jabba-the-Republican himself. In his infinite wisdom, he said the US should do nothing more for Haiti, as "our" dues have been paid through income taxes. Snuggled like a pig in blanket, in his climate controlled radio booth, snacking on pork-rinds or babies or whatever that fat-fuck guzzles. Wesson oil? Souls? Common sense?

He makes me think of the Captain from the movie Wall-E, except genetically crossed with a snake. I apologize to all snakes, as even snakes have mothers. Rush could be dropped on an island full of cannibals and make it out fine. Not 'cause he could save himself, as he's a push-up away from a coronary. No, instead, I can imagine the cannibals sitting around at dinner time, saying something like, "Yeah, I'm kinda' hungry but I AIN'T eating that SHIT." If Rush were drowning, I wouldn't throw him a line. My boat already has an anchor.

Rush is a loud-mouthed racist. A bigot. A chauvinist. He also has a Constitutionally guaranteed right to say anything he wants. What he seems to forget too often, and certainly this week, he also has a right to say nothing at all. Rush, shut up.