Everyone seems normal until….

This writing is for the amazing Erin Q. Last week, she said “Why haven’t you written any blog posts lately? Get on that. Your fans need more.” I didn’t even realize that I had fans. (What a bunch of weirdos!) Thanks, Erin!

You’re normal, right?  Do all of the weirdos in the world think they’re normal or do they know they’re a little twisted?  I’m sure, like everything else, there is a spectrum of weirdness and I also think that the most interesting people are weirdos.  But, there are definitely times when you suddenly realize that you’ve crossed over your normal boundary into whatever you consider to be weird or just plain stupid.  Those times seem to happen in sets of two for me.  Am I a slow learner or hopelessly optimistic thinking that the outcome will be different the second time? Probably both.

In the early eighties, my parents bought a massive new RCA console television (WITH REMOTE!) and I somehow managed to talk them into letting me have our old TV in my room.  I used this large box with a fake woodgrain finish and giant telescoping rabbit ear antennas to watch countless sporting events, Wide World of Sports, The Superfriends, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and a number of other programs on the five channels that we received.  I remember jumping up to quickly close my door when Madonna premiered “Like a Virgin” on some Music Awards broadcast.  I thought that my parents would be pretty upset to hear her openly saying the word ‘virgin’ on television while rolling around on the stage in her white wedding dress.  Scandalous! I definitely would have been scolded for watching such a thing. I think I was 12.

For Christmas one year, I got a huge bag of red and green M&Ms.  As I sat in my room watching the Viking’s game one Sunday afternoon, I was slowly wiping out that bag.  I would eat one at a time.  Three at a time.  A small handful.  Etc.  At some point, I started putting a single M&M on the tip of my index finger and sucking them into my mouth.  I would start the vacuum effect and then bring my mouth over to the M&M or I would bring the M&M over to my mouth until it encountered the suction and got sucked in.  It was pretty amusing.  Or, I should clarify, it was quite amusing until I sucked one of the candies into my mouth and onward into my throat where it lodged in my windpipe and cutoff my ability to breathe.  You wouldn’t think that an M&M could choke a human to death as effectively as a deranged killer, but let me assure you that they’ve got a dark side.  (Side note:  I’m sure this homicidal M&M was one of the red ones because the green ones seem too innocent and positive to hurt anyone.  It would be like Meg Ryan garroting Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally”.  That may happen in the modern remake co-rewritten my Nicolas Sparks and Stephen King, but it would have been unthinkable in the original just like a world where green M&M’s are something other than innocent and pure.) 

Eventually, my gagging, panicking, and writhing along with my good luck caused the candy to turn slightly and I was able to move it upward to a place where I could painfully swallow it.  My red face normalized, I wiped my runny nose and eyes, and the air tasted pretty good.  After a minute or so, I went back to watching the game and a short time later I went back to eating the M&M’s.  One at a time, three at a time, a small handful, etc.  At some point, I decided to try the suction thing again and, within minutes, I was choking on another, undoubtedly red, M&M.  Really stupid.  Twice.

As I thought back on this incident where I choked in my bedroom while the Vikings no doubt choked on the football field right in front of me, I thought briefly about the M&M slogan “Melts in you mouth, not in your hands.”  That’s a filthy and dangerous lie. 

My Dad’s army buddy Jim lived in a crime ridden neighborhood in the inner city of Indianapolis. As I was growing up, Jim and his two boys visited us each summer or we visited them. My Dad credited Jim with saving his life during the Korean War. In reality, Jim “saved his life” by giving him a Snickers bar and a can of Coke on the troop ship that they both took from San Francisco to Japan. My Dad had been seasick along with most of the rest of the soldiers on the ship for over two weeks and hadn’t eaten much until that candy bar and pop hit the spot. His life was saved and a lifelong friendship was born.

There were guns hidden and lying out in the open all over Jim’s house.  He was a bit of a paranoid in addition to living in a tough neighborhood. There was a leather sling mounted under the kitchen table with a sawed off shotgun in it that I noticed as we were eating breakfast one morning.  There were several rifles lying on the floor under the bed in the guest bedroom where I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor.  Jim also had a Beretta pistol that he used to shoot two guys who were stealing his car stereo in his garage one night.  He had microphones setup in the garage and a speaker in the house as a homespun security system, so he heard the robbers breaking in.  One robber was taken to the hospital in an ambulance with several bullet wounds after being shot in the garage and the other was taken away in the back of a police cruiser because he only got winged as he was fleeing down the alley according to my Dad.  Jim was not charged with anything and his car stereo was saved.  Let’s just say it was an interesting neighborhood in an interesting state at an interesting period during the early 1980’s.

Jim also had two dogs.  One was a small Shih Tzu, I believe, whose name I can’t remember because the dog was old and tired and never wanted to play with me.  The other was a large Doberman whose name was Rodney.  Jim introduced me to the little dog then he pointed at the Doberman and said “That’s Rodney.  Stay away from him.  He’ll kill you.”  Rodney wasn’t a pet, he was a home security device and he was treated as such by Jim, but I thought he was the coolest dog I’d ever seen.

As my parents visited with Jim in the living room, I got bored and started wandering around the house.  I ended up sitting at the shotgun laden kitchen table playing a hand-held Mattel Electronics Football II game that I had brought with me.  Rodney walked into the kitchen and I could hear his nails clicking on the linoleum.  When he saw me, his stub of a cutoff tail wagged and he turned and ran out of the room only to return a few moments later with a big rubber banana dog toy that squeaked.  He bit up and down on it and it squeaked over and over again.  Then he came over and dropped it on the floor in front of me.  Rodney the killer dog wanted to play.  My parents weren’t around and he didn’t look like he wanted to hurt me.  I reached out for the toy and as I grabbed it so did Rodney.  He was exuberant and I hadn’t realized that he liked to play tug of war more than fetch.  Unfortunately, I had my index finger extended as I grabbed the banana and Rodney grabbed that along with the banana.  Ouch.  But, he didn’t notice the look of pain on my face and he started to play tug of war anyway.  Tug of war with a large Doberman is hard enough without your finger being the object being contested.  On top of that, I was doing my best to keep quiet so that my folks didn’t catch me playing with the forbidden dog.  It was a difficult game.  As he growled and snarled and shook his head and pulled and as I bit back the pain and tried pulling my finger out, I realized that I couldn’t win that way.  So, I pushed instead of pulling and when Rodney opened his mouth a bit to take a better bite of the banana I was able to jerk my finger out of his mouth.  I retreated to the chair at the table.  I had tears in my eyes from the pain but also from the intense effort to stay quiet.  I wiped those away and stopped the bleeding cut on my finger with a napkin from the table.  Rodney was oblivious to my personal drama and kept wagging his stub and dropping the banana in front of me.  When I just looked at him, he would pick it up and drop it again.  Occasionally, he whined too. Now, you would think that having your finger bitten, cut, and bruised by a large Doberman who was playing tug of war with it would teach you to leave the dog alone.  It didn’t.  He was so cute and so insistent and I was so bored that I eventually decided to make a grab for the banana again.  Of course I would be more careful and only grab the very end to avoid the teeth.  It would be different the second time, right?  No.  It wouldn’t. And, as Rodney bit down on the same finger a second time I fully realized how stupid my plan had been.  Instinctively, I tried to pull my finger out again and the game was back on.  I had to use the pushing trick several times to get my finger free the second time because Rodney was smart and had learned from the first round.  Each time I unsuccessfully pulled the finger out, he bit back down on it again.  In the end, I retreated to the chair at the table again and grabbed a napkin to help stop the bleeding AGAIN.  Really stupid.  Twice.  Decades later, you can actually still see the scar.

As I wrote about previously in The Poop Mound blog entry, I worked at Wild Mountain Ski Area when I was in High School. There were many long nights of sheer boredom sitting in lift shacks on the side of the “mountain” watching skiers get on or off the lift and stopping the lift now and then as one of them fell. One particularly boring night, I was operating the main chairlift right in front of the chalet with another guy named Wade. He and I took turns sitting in the shack or helping folks get on the lift by holding the chair briefly for them as they sat down. We switched about every half hour. As I was sitting in the shack I started looking at the large, industrial looking control panel for the lift and I noticed that there was a big red light bezel with the word ON underneath it. The light was not working even though the lift was obviously powered up, so I unscrewed the glass bezel after tapping it a few times and I found that the bulb was broken. I tried to tap it and I tried to unscrew it and it just spun because the glass part was broken off from the metal base of the bulb. I pulled the bulb glass out of the hole and looked inside. The metal part was still in the socket, so I reached into the hole with my thumb and index finger in an attempt to unscrew the metal base from the socket. I kept my fingers as close to the outside of the hole as I could so that I wouldn’t get shocked. As the electricity hit me, I jerked back in my chair and made a noise like I would imagine an extremely constipated 100 year old man makes trying to push out a particularly difficult and painful stool. I ripped my fingers out of the hole and held them with the other hand as I processed what had just happened. Wade ran over to the window of the shack and looked in at me, looked down at the open socket in the control panel, and then looked back at me holding my tingling fingers. He said “Did you stick you fingers in there?! What the hell are you doing?!!” I explained that I was trying to get the broken bulb out of the socket and he told me to just put it back together and leave it alone which I did.

Soon it was my turn to go outside and assist skiers. 30 minutes later, I was back in the shack staring at that socket again. I knew that if I just kept my fingers closer to the sides of the hole, I wouldn’t get shocked. Years later I realized that the socket and the bulb base were both metal and the base was electrified so there was no way to touch the base without being shocked, but that realization was far too late to save me from my second attempt. When the electricity hit me, I made my approximation of the noise an extremely constipated 100 year old man makes while trying to push out a particularly difficult and painful stool for the second time in the same day. Again, Wade ran over to the window and looked in at me and the control panel. This time, he summarized the situation perfectly by simply saying “You’re stupid!” So, here again, I was really stupid. Twice.

I had an alarmingly similar encounter with electricity while trying to fix an Alpine home air purifier about 15 years later, but all that needs to be said about that incident is that I was quite stupid. Twice. And, as a side note, it’s good to unplug electrical items BEFORE sticking your hand into them twice or even just once.

I’m not much of a meat eater other than some chicken and occasional fish, but everyone else in my family is somehow related to the Tyrannosaurus Rex so I end up grilling from time to time. The igniter on my grill wasn’t working on one of these occasions, so I got a book of matches and decided to drop one into the grill to light it. This didn’t work after several attempts, so I thought that maybe I would have better luck if the lid was closed. I tried sticking the match into openings at the bottom of the grill, but that didn’t work either, so I opened the lid about an inch and stuck a lit match in there. That worked. What I hadn’t considered, though, was that this whole time the gas had been building up inside the grill. There was a big WHUFF sound and as the lid blew back away from me, I was surrounded by a thin sheet of flame that shot out of the narrow opening I had made to stick the match in. I jumped back as the lid slammed down again and the flames dissipated. There was a really strange smell and some white stuff on my arms that I soon realized was the smell of burnt hair and the burnt arm hair itself which fell off as I rubbed my arms. My wife came running to the door after hearing the WHUFF and asked if I was okay. I said that I was, but that I had burned off about four inches of arm hair on both arms.

I turned off the gas because I had just been trying to see if the grill would start at all after sitting for a long time. We didn’t want to grill quite yet, but soon enough I was back outside to light it again. I must have just let the gas build up in there too long, right? If I lit it sooner while holding the lid slightly open, I wouldn’t have the same problem. Again, incorrect. And, again, I did something really stupid. Twice. More arm hair lost. More head shaking from my wife. More explaining to the children what had happened. Etc. Interestingly, the arm hair in those two spots grew back a lot thicker. It’s a regular reminder of the rule of two’s in my life.

The most painful incident in this category was when I dislocated my knee playing basketball in Montana. Twice. I was at a camp and I thought that I would show off to my girlfriend and dunk the ball. I twisted somehow as I was jumping and my knee popped out of the joint. It went back into place as I hit the ground with a thud. Everyone was laughing because they thought that I had just slipped on the court until they saw me grabbing the knee and writhing around like a South American footballer. A friend helped me stand up and I asked him to help me get back to my cabin as my knee swelled rapidly. He suggested that I get on his back and he would carry me up the hill to the cabin. I thought this was a terrible idea because I’m 6′-4″ tall and about 200 lbs. and he was much smaller, but he convinced me citing some things he had done in the military which seemed legitimate. About ten yards into the journey, he stumbled and lost his balance and I started to fall off his back, so I stuck out my leg to keep from falling and dislocated the same knee again. This time it stayed out of joint for probably two or three minutes and I almost passed out from the pain. I was seeing stars. A doctor who was also vacationing at the camp saw this debacle and ran over to help. As I rolled over to try to sit on my rear end, the knee went back into place with a thwack and the pain hit me like a falling piano. I said “ARG!” quite loudly and drew a bit of crowd. I was trying to remain conscious and trying not to puke. Thankfully, the doctor was literally a giant and he knelt down and picked me up like a child and carried me back to the bed in my cabin where I spent the rest of my vacation to Hungry Horse, Montana. The train trip home on the Amtrak was not pleasant as the train rocked from side to side and my knees kept bumping into each other until I managed to get a pillow to put in between them. In short, I was stupid twice and suffered for it yet again.

There are number of other incidents, of course. Dangerous situations in 1990’s New York City, juicing too much garlic to ward off a cold, taking too much of a natural health supplement for colon cleansing, falling off roofs while shingling, slipping on the same icy steps or sidewalks repeatedly, crashing my friend’s motorcycle, the list goes on.

As I’ve gotten older, the stupid things seem to be getting less terrible at least. I step in the same puddle of water and get a wet sock twice. I spill the same drink twice. I buy the same record or guitar pedal twice. I call people the wrong name twice. All of these types of things are annoying or embarrassing, but not as painful as burning or dislocating something.

I’m hoping that you’re smarter than me and that you only do something stupid once or not at all. I also hope that as a country we aren’t stupid enough to repeat the mistakes of history. Sadly, many of those have happened way more than twice. I hope that the pandemic is a one shot deal. (Obvious vaccine joke.) And, I hope that these blog posts continue to entertain you and that they continue to trend toward humor rather than rants about all of the craziness we’re all living through at the moment. Have a good year, people, and remember as you’re grilling this summer that propane is combustible.

Consistency: Our Pervert President, his blind followers, and their insidious link to professional wrestling. (A love story)

I was a huge professional wrestling fan for a few years when I was a kid. Think AWA, not WWF or WWE. The American Wrestling Association was a much smaller organization than the professional wrestling empire that is on television today. It was based in Minnesota and it featured tremendous mythical heroes like The Crusher, Buck “rock and roll” Zumhofe, The High Flyers, and Hulk Hogan among others. These defenders of of all that is good and righteous in the world defended our country and squared off in the wrestling ring against an army of pure evil featuring monsters such as Andre the Giant, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, The Road Warriors, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, The Iron Sheik, Mad Dog Vachon, Baron VonRashke “The Claw”, Big John Stud, and many more. Interestingly, many of these bad guys were foreign. Some were on the wrong side of the Cold War. All of them were capable of great villainy. They stood for everything that we fear or loathe while the heroes embodied all of the virtues that we aspire to. It was melodrama on a Shakespearean scale played out by a bunch of sweaty and obnoxious muscular dudes in Speedos. In the end, good always triumphed over evil and we loved it. Then, we grew up and realized it was fake.

Somewhat like professional wrestling, the battle lines are pretty clear in the super hero movies these days. The characters aren’t overly complicated either. The narrative is easy enough for even a child to understand. Nobody cheers for Thanos the Titan as he wipes out half of the population. Nobody cheers for The Joker as he terrorizes Gotham City. Everyone cheers for the Avengers. Everyone cheers for Batman. Thanos is evil, the Avengers (though somewhat more complicated than professional wrestlers) are good. Batman good. Joker evil. We want the good guys to win, to succeed in their goals, to save the world or the galaxy or Gotham City.

I was strongly reminded of super heroes, super villains, and professional wrestling when I watched the events unfold at the Capitol in Washington D.C. this month. Here are a few other things that also remind me of these simple melodramas:

  1. The coverage of the election. Both sides.
  2. The hyperbolic statements of the candidates. Both sides.
  3. The debates. Both sides.
  4. The ubiquitous campaign ads. Both sides.
  5. The endless political memes and snarky commentary by my friends and family and the pundits on Facebook ,Twitter, and virtually every other online outlet for opinions.
  6. The pandemic coverage.
  7. Our standard American debates over issues like immigration, health care, taxation, abortion, vaccinations, racial equity, science vs religion, gun rights vs gun control, etc.

What do all of these topics have in common that remind me of the farce of professional wrestling? THE SIMPLE NARRATIVE we make out of them.

We, the unwashed masses, are always served the simple narrative on a silver platter. It’s easy to choose a side on issues based on whatever your friends, family, preferred news source/media platform, or favorite celebrities believe. It’s easy to choose one simple series of arguments to believe and then be done.

What’s harder is to look at and respect the nuances that fill up all of the cracks and corners of the world. It’s harder to listen to opposing opinions and have some respect for the people who hold them. Hate and rage and vilification are easy. Discussion and understanding is harder. It’s easy to shoot someone. It’s harder to honestly discuss an issue with them. How many times in the last few years have you heard someone say something like “I just can’t understand how someone can believe that!” There are people that think the same thing about what you believe.

Let’s unpack this idea a little and talk politics for just a moment.

Am I a Republican or a Democrat? Talking politics in America, those are generally the two options you’re given. It may be stated as Conservative or Liberal, but it’s shorthand for the same ideas to most people. You’d probably want to know where I stand before we talk politics, wouldn’t you? The easy path is to say “David is a (fill in the blank with a political party), therefore he believes X, Y, and Z.” Then you can quickly pull up your stance on those issues, put me in my box, and you’re done, right? Easy.

The harder, and I would argue better, approach is to not only ask me what I believe but also WHY I believe it. What are your inputs? How did you get to this spot? Help me to understand where you’re coming from. We all have histories and experiences that shape us into who we are and it’s rarely simple. And guess what? Everyone else’s opinion is just as valid as yours. Same weight. They get the same number of votes as you. (But, of course, both sides in recent elections believe that the other side cheated. Their party is the good guy, the other is the bad guy. And, we’re back to wrestling.)

It’s no shock that you think your opinion is worth more than most others. You understand all of your inputs and experiences and you can see the path that you took to arrive at this opinion. The other person’s path is hidden from you unless you engage them. Yours is hidden from them too. But, it’s easier to respond to their post with a cutting meme than to discuss the issue with them. Easy. Done. You showed them, right?

Leave your knee-jerk reactions at the door and think about the following ideas:

Were all of the German soldiers and citizens during WWII Nazis who wanted to exterminate Jews and take over the world? Of course not. Most of them were like most of us. They were told a simple narrative about the enemy and they did what they were told to do. The Japanese were the same. The British and Russians and Italians were the same. We were the same. Most people just want peace and prosperity. They don’t want to take part in genocide or war. But, we are all born into our circumstances and formed and controlled by them to some extent. Nazis were heroes in Germany and every institution in their society backed up the idea that they were engaged in the righteous cause. Our soldiers and citizens had the same experience here. If you had been a young man or woman born into that world, you would have fought alongside the others. Again, it’s easy to go along with the masses. It’s harder to be an individual and arrive at your own conclusions and especially when you’re surrounded with propaganda. They were surrounded then and we’re surrounded now.

Next topic: Truth or bias?

Let’s discuss our perverted President. You may be thinking of Donald Trump when you read that, but I could also be talking about Bill Clinton, couldn’t I? What is the truth about Donald Trump and Bill Clinton? They are virtually the same guy. Bill and Donald are both perverts. They both presided over booming economies that ended as they left office during a storm of crisis. Both had impeachment trials. The facts are that they are both adulterers, they are both guilty of sexual harassment, and they are both neck deep in shady business dealings. Many people love and hate them. One is a Democrat and one a Republican. I would argue that there is very little real difference. I have friends who would defend one of them and murder the other one if they could get away with it because of their party allegiance without ever thinking that they’ve been manipulated into holding conflicting beliefs. My friends, this is professional wrestling. We cheer the person that we see as the good guy and we boo the villain. That’s the simple narrative that we’ve all fallen for at one time or another.

The events that occurred after the George Floyd incident in 2020 and the events that occurred at the Capitol the week before the inauguration of 2021 are either riots or protests depending on your view. Conservatives made fun of the media as they reported on “mostly peaceful protests” while American cities burned, people’s lives were destroyed or ended, and the divides in our nation grew. Liberals did the same as the events at the Capitol unfolded. They went on to be called a coup and an insurrection. In both cases, the situation was WAY more complicated than those simple narratives. There were real issues being protested in both cases. There were politicians on both sides inciting violence. There were hundreds of thousands of good people standing up for their beliefs in both cases. Buildings were attacked and damaged. There were bad actors in both cases that did terrible things. Your bias informs your commentary on them. Your bias simplifies it and makes all of the participants either good or bad. Your bias scapegoats one organization, one candidate, one race, one occupation, or one party. Your bias is the path that leads to the simple narrative you’ve fallen for, but you can step back and look at the facts. You can be consistent regardless of the party or person. You can grow up and stop believing that our professional wrestling masquerading as political discussion is real. It’s not. We tend to get bogged down in simplistic arguments and beliefs that only add to the problems that make life worse for everyone. Rioters are rioters regardless of their motivation. Protesters are protesters regardless of their cause. Rioting is not protesting. Protesting is not rioting. In both instances, rioting and protesting happened, there were good and bad law enforcement actors involved, and both sides saw their actions as justified and the other’s actions as criminal. This is not consistent. There are facts and truths and problems that should be acknowledged by both sides.

Side note: Watch the excellent documentary “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix if you haven’t already. The social media algorithms use our biases and tendencies for their profit and as a side effect they fuel the hatred, misunderstanding, and divide. They must be stopped. You must stop them. That starts in your mind.

As I’ve written before, I love the idea of America. I love freedom and our constitution-based representative republic that the founders gave us. But, in truth we’ve become an oligarchy and the power brokers and wealthy people in our country are the ones that have a seat at the table and the rest of us are given the crumbs of the simple narrative as our standard of living and values continue to decline year after year and as we fight with, dehumanize, and belittle each other.

I believe one of the ways out of this mess is consistency. If we could all generally agree on a set of standards, as our ancestors generally agreed on Christian/Biblical standards, and then hold our leaders and institutions to those standards, things would change. Right now, we tend to hold our opponents to a set of standards, but our allies get a pass. That’s inconsistent and intellectually dishonest. If Donald Trump is pervert, so is Bill Clinton. If Barrack Obama is praised when he’s nominated for a Nobel Prize, Donald Trump should be too. If Brett Kavanaugh, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, or anyone else is accused of a crime like sexual assault, they should be investigated. If The Fighting Sioux mascot for the University of North Dakota is offensive, then so is The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame or the Minnesota Vikings for that matter. If it’s wrong for one, it’s wrong for all regardless of political affiliation, race, income, or any other factor. If your team cheats to win the game, it should outrage you as much as the other team cheating to beat your team. Let’s be consistent and reintroduce a little sanity to these issues.

Learn to disagree and be respectful. If you can’t, at least be quiet. Work for the causes you believe in, but not at the cost of vilifying those who oppose you. You do your thing and let them do theirs. If you can’t treat them with respect, at least you can keep your mouth shut. This includes your social media mouth. Be a good person, regardless of your circumstances. Be consistent. Love the idea of America. And, for God’s sake, stop believing that professional wrestling is real.

The American Formula: Use it or lose it.

I buy, trade, collect, restore, and sell vintage guitars, amplifiers, and other audio equipment like radios and stereos. I’ve been doing it off and on since I was 15, so I’ve had a lot of gear pass through my life and I’ve met a lot of interesting people and made some great friends too.

On a recent trip to Northeast Minneapolis to buy a tube radio, I met an older couple who triggered this writing. Northeast or “Nordeast” as some call it is an interesting neighborhood of mid-century and older homes and buildings. I love a lot about the area as I love a lot of things from that era. The couple’s home was a post-war rambler with a two car garage and an addition. This same home configuration can be found from coast to coast. This one was meticulously maintained from the lawn, flower beds, and garden to the paint and roof. It was obvious that the people who own it pride themselves on keeping it nice and clean and orderly. It wasn’t maintained in a sterile way by others like a wealthier person’s estate might be. The older couple did it and did it well and took obvious pride in it. The personal touches made that clear. It was a home rather than a house or simply property.

We scheduled a time to meet and when I arrived the radio that I wanted to buy was sitting on a table next to a nice arrangement of outdoor furniture that was probably from the 1960’s or 70’s judging by the construction and decoration of it. It, like the house, was clean and well maintained. The wife was waiting for me and came out to meet me when I got out of the car. She greeted me with a wave and smile before putting on her mask and reminding me to do the same. She told me all about the radio and we had a nice conversation about old radios and the neighborhood that lasted for about fifteen minutes with her husband also joining in at the end. They were baby boomers and stereotypical Nordeasters from my experience of living in, working near, and visiting the neighborhood over the years. They invited me into the back yard to see their garden and I ended up buying two radios from them. They were friendly, polite, kind, and decent people and spending just a few minutes with them brought me back to the 70’s and 80’s and reminded me of how different people and life are now.

Often times, when I go to look at something off Craigslist or some other platform, the people want to meet in a public place rather than at their house. The last person I met with wanted to meet at a police station for safety reasons. Sometimes the people don’t show up. Sometimes the items are misrepresented. Often, the people seem nervous or suspicious. The older couple were none of these things, for good or bad, but meeting them made me miss the past. Of course things weren’t perfect in the past as they’ve never been perfect anywhere or ever. But, in my experience, it was generally better in most ways. Of course there were aspects of our past that were terrible or simply unfair or annoying, but again I would say that it was generally better than the current state.

The Problems with America:

Why? Why do most things seem to get worse rather than better for the average person? I believe I have a good answer for that and I believe that we all shoulder part of the blame for it too. Yes, you and I are part of the problem, my fellow Americans. Health care costs along with taxes continually go up while wages and consumer buying power goes down. Your fault. Discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion, or a variety of other distinctions persists. Again, you. Violence and suicide are still major problems. You and me, bud. Should we add immigration issues, pandemics, education struggles, or the ever rising cost of living to the list? What about child abuse and human trafficking? Drug and alcohol abuse? You and I have helped to cause all of this and here is the best part: Without the intervention of aliens or a higher power, you and I are the only ones who can fix it.

The problems are obviously plentiful and the solutions are few in modern America. Even fewer are the people who are willing to get involved to solve said problems. I’m not going waste your time listing or discussing our problems any further because it leads to the blame game and the childish sport of finger pointing.

I am going to ask you to make a short list for yourself of what you see as the biggest problems in America today and I’m going to challenge you to argue that the answer to these problems that I’m going to propose wouldn’t take a large step toward fixing them. Read that again if you’re not clear on what I’m asking. Test your top problems with America against the plan that I’m going to propose and see what you think. I don’t think you’re going to like it and I also think that you’ll probably forget it soon after reading about it if you haven’t stopped reading already, but I also think that, like eating your broccoli, you’re going to need to swallow it to be healthy. Uncle Sam and lady Liberty need a big serving of broccoli at this point and regardless of how tough it is to swallow, I believe it is the only way for America to be healthy again and make the fabled American Dream attainable for all.

The Solution to our common woes:

I believe that America is a formula that works. It took less than 200 years for America to become the most powerful and prosperous nation the world has ever seen. How did our ancestors do it?

(Many folks today get upset and sidetracked at this point by talking about the mistakes and terrible injustices of our ancestors without remembering their accomplishments or realizing that things like slavery, genocide, and the subjugation of women still persist all over the world. In fact, some of our “allies” are the biggest offenders and human rights violators. In America, those problems are mostly relics of the past. Is it productive to flog America for the sins of the past? I believe it is not. Correct it as much as possible and move forward.)

The idea of America, or the formula that works, is a combination of freedom, personal responsibility, and a common set of values. Our nation was founded for the purpose of granting religious and economic freedom to its citizens and the common values held by the colonists and early Americans are what bound them to and made the whole idea of America work. Those values were Christian values in the beginning of America and they worked well as the glue to hold our union together.

Note: This isn’t a sermon or plea for you to accept Jesus, by the way. I am a Christian by my own definition, but I have a lot of thoughts about the state of Christianity today and they’re not much different than the way I view our state and federal governments. It’s broken, in short, and it makes me want to puke as much or more than our political situation. As much as I personally believe in God, I don’t think you have to believe in a higher power or be a devoted Christian to have integrity, be a good person, or share the type of common values that make you a good citizen and benefit the nation. Please keep that in mind.

Government in its simplest form just means control or regulation. You govern your own life to one degree of success or another. A family is another type of government. A town, county, state, or nation is the same on a larger scale. And, no unit of government can exist without common values. A marriage has common values called vows and when those shared values or agreements are breached the marriage is usually destroyed. Any relationship, business, rock band, club, circus, or any other organization that can’t agree on a core set of values cannot stay together, function, or prosper. Common values are the answer to unity and give any organization direction. This is why companies have mission statements.

My proposal is that the majority of Americans do not hold a rational set of common values at this point and that is why our country is dissolving and our situation as common Americans continues to erode. I believe the simple answer to this problem is to return to the values of the past. The golden rule. Common decency. Common sense. Hard work. Honesty. Integrity.

In embracing these common values, societal and generational thinking needs to replace selfish individualism. Why would you plant a tree that you will not live long enough to see grow to maturity? Someone in a previous generation planted the mature trees that you enjoy and breathe oxygen from today. You attend schools that someone sacrificed to build. You read books that someone labored to write. Your mother gave birth to you at great cost to herself. We enjoy the freedom that men and women died to give us from the revolution against King George by the colonists through the Civil War that ended slavery, two World Wars, and countless conflicts since. Why would all of those people have sacrificed their time, their dreams and desires, some of the best years of their lives, their health, and their very lives to plant those trees, build those schools, have those children, and even die for the idea of America? America is a great idea and it was and is worth the sacrifice. Those common values gave it to us and the loss of those values is taking it away from us. The resurgence of those values in you and me along with us passing them along to the following generations is what will renew it.

Babies, naturally and for obvious reasons, only think of themselves, but the natural order of things is for a person to grow up and by a combination of training and nurturing to outgrow that selfishness and become a physically and emotionally mature adult. We need to grow up and stop being selfish, self-centered babies who need to be taken care of by the government or anyone else. It’s called personal responsibility and freedom. Stop thinking of only yourself and start thinking of how to sustain the good things that our ancestors made and help the next generation to keep that momentum going. We are standing on the shoulders of the men and women who came before us and we need to teach the next generation to keep climbing rather than making it acceptable for them to crawl back into the crib. They need to become mature adults rather than just “adulting” now and then only when they absolutely have to.

As a nation, we’ve allowed this slide to happen. Nixon resigned for crimes far smaller than the many following Presidents have committed. Why? The nation would not have tolerated his crimes. He would have been impeached. I think of some of Bill Clinton’s actions as president which disgusted me and I think of some of Trump’s actions which also disgust me. Many of them are the same, but it has become acceptable to many people as long as the offender represents your party or position. It was Bill Clinton’s private life, the Democrats shouted when the Republicans wanted to hang him. Now those same Democrats want to hang Trump for similar offenses, deny one of his Supreme Court nominees for similar accusations, and endorse Biden to be the next President as he’s being accused of similar offenses. They scream about Trump’s pardons while remaining silent about Obama’s record number of pardons. The Republicans are no better and the majority of both parties are unfit for office in my opinion. Why? They lack integrity. Integrity would say that wrong is wrong regardless of who the offender is. Partisan Washington does not believe wrong is wrong because they lack integrity on the whole. They lack the common values that created and sustained America into the last century. Why are we offered leaders who are set up to fail and harm us collectively because they can’t even govern themselves let alone a company or nation? We must demand better and we must be better.

Today I was flicked off in traffic. A woman was going well under the speed limit and I pulled over to pass her. She sped up after I passed her and honked and flicked me off as I pulled over in front of her. There was plenty of room until she sped up to cut me off. This type of behavior confuses me. Also, I usually drive 5-7 miles over the speed limit and in the last decade I’ve gone from being one of the faster cars to being one of the slower. I get tailgated, flicked off, and have high beams flashed at me for not speeding enough. This also confuses me, but I believe it also illustrates the change in attitudes we’re experiencing. I’m suddenly wrong or bad for not doing what the other driver wants me to do, in these cases. Years ago, the lawbreaker was the problem and now the law follower has become the problem to many. You’re slowing me down! You’re in my way! Just like social media, the car is enough insulation for the shouting, flicking off, and other rage to safely come out without any real consequences for the baby who is throwing the tantrum. But, what’s going on with the guy in the other car? Did he just come from the hospital where his wife or child died? Did she get fired or diagnosed with cancer today? Is there something wrong with their car? Or, do you just call them an idiot and fly past? If we shared some common values and gave even the slightest thought for the other person, maybe we could grow up a little and get away from some of the childish temper tantrums and playground behavior that we see all around us.

A larger and sadder example played out for us in Minneapolis as the righteous protests for the killing of George Floyd became riots and anarchy. Looting. Burning. Murder. Destruction. Another temper tantrum. More rage. Another lost opportunity to grow up and make a lasting change for the better. And now, as in the past, the tragic situation is being used by unethical people to push changes on society that will continue to victimize the very people who called for the change. Tear the monuments down, forget your history, and in your immaturity you’ll become the very thing that you’re supposedly protesting against. The names and groups change, but racism and injustice and violence continue.

My son and his girlfriend got overcharged at Applebee’s a while back. His friend got undercharged by the same server. My son questioned the bill and the server apologized and recalculated it wrong the second time also. This time, it was too low. He tried to get her to fix it again and paid something close to the correct amount. His friend paid his bill and left. They came over to my place afterwards and we were talking about it. I pointed out that his friend had stolen from the restaurant and it made him mad. He said that the restaurant had made the mistake and that was their problem and, anyway, they were a big corporation that screwed everyone over and they deserved to get screwed once in a while too. I argued that he had ordered the food for a certain cost which he knew upfront and agreed to pay for it by ordering it. The ethical thing would have been to point out the error and pay for it. This same logic applies to your taxes, a payroll error at work, or seeing a bag of money fall out of an armored car at the bank. Do you steal or do you follow your agreement as a citizen or employee? What are the consequences of taking the money that doesn’t belong to you? It’s stealing, for sure, but it also has to come from someone else. Your gain is someone’s loss and there are consequences for them. If you complain about politicians and large corporations ripping people off, you’re against stealing and fraud and abuse too. If you do the same thing on a smaller scale, you’re no different.

We ridicule and blame churches, politicians, corporations, celebrities, lawyers, educators, and others for the problems in our country, but all of those institutions are made up of individuals like us that are choosing to act with integrity or not. They’re all just little governments run by people like us. Our families, churches, corporations, and governments will change when we start making the right choices in all of our roles in these organizations.

No person or party is going to save America or fix our problems. You are. We the People are the answer and we are the only ones that can fix and preserve the idea of America. It starts with going back to the common values that we started with. This doesn’t mean following a religion, it means having integrity and maturity and taking responsibility for yourself and thinking of future generations as well. The formula works if we’ll do it. We must do it. The America that we are all honored to live in cannot survive without it.

Alexis de Tocqueville said “America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” He was a famous 19th century French statesman, historian, and social philosopher. He traveled to America in the 1830’s to discover the reasons for the incredible success of this new nation. He published his observations in his two-volume work, Democracy in America. I couldn’t agree more with his observation and I hope you can also see that it’s true.

Which of America’s problems would not be helped or ended if the majority of the individuals in this nation had good integrity and tried to do the right thing? None of them. It would transform America. Nothing is perfect and there will always be problems, but having and following these common values will go a long way toward making America a country that we can all feel safe and happy to live in.

Regardless of your political or religious affiliation or lack thereof, I hope you can agree with me that the way forward in America is to unite under the common values that made America the most powerful and influential nation on Earth. If we adopt the failed practices of other nations or revert to our own failures and the mistakes of the past, we are truly ignorant since we have so many examples of the outcomes. The American formula works if we will follow it.

New Band Names:

The Drunken Wiener Dogs

Duct Taped Toilet Seat (DTTS)

Black Hole’s Matter (popular with science nerds)

What are your ideas?

Consider this:

Not one human on Earth 100% agrees with any other human. Accept that. Disagreement is natural unless you’re in a cult or dictatorship. It’s how we handle disagreements and conflict that shows our maturity and character.

It’s you and me.

How much of the “news” you’re reading on social media is designed to manipulate you? How much is even true? It’s a maelstrom of dueling agendas out there and it’s impossible to know if ANY of it is true unless you were there. Have you noticed how every side is claiming that they’re being persecuted and everyone seems to be trying to one up someone else from the President down to your friends? If you agree or disagree or have an opinion at all, you get labeled or shamed or “educated” by someone. This whole process leads nowhere. The pendulum just swings back and forth. The nuances, simple logic, and TRUTH are being trampled in our rush to prove we’re right. Do you want change? The world will change when the truth is told and accepted and real, honest solutions to the major problems with all of us, regardless of your agenda or race, are faced. Be quiet now and fix yourself. If we all do that, the rest will follow.

The Walk

I went for a walk yesterday. At the beginning, I stopped to stretch on a granite bench next to a monument to a little girl who had died in an accident. She was a student at Dassel Elementary School at the time of her death. I think she was nine. There is a beautiful stone with her name and a thoughtful verse carved into it along with the bench and some nice landscaping in a small courtyard on the east side of the school near a side entrance. There is a giant oak tree that overhangs the courtyard too. It’s really nice. I live across the street from it and I can see the bench and stone from my bedroom window where I have my home office during the Covid-19 pandemic.

As I stretched I looked up and saw another entrance farther down the block that brings you into the old gymnasium that doubles as a stage and theater like many older schools had. It’s a lot like the former middle school gymnasium and Orwall Auditorium in North Branch where I grew up. I like the old schools with their humble facilities a lot more than the richer campuses that our tax dollars and levies build these days that produce far poorer results for everyone except the administrators and unions in my opinion. Why are the teachers and students the ones who seem to suffer? Aren’t they the reason for the school being there in the first place? I think we’ve lost focus on what we should be prioritizing and spending our time and money trying to accomplish. This isn’t my overall point and I apologize for the side track. I’ll get the wagon back in the ruts now.

Two of my daughters played basketball in that gym when they were little. It was really fun and really hard to watch at the same time. I so much wanted them to do well, but I also wanted them to have fun and be okay with whatever the outcome was. It was hard to listen to the other parents whose children weren’t living up to their expectations. It was worse when they yelled at them or coached them from the stands. It was also hard to listen to the parents who didn’t pay attention at all or the ones who displayed their lack of care by playing with their phones the whole time. There were also the parents that criticized other people’s kids and talked about how much better their kid was.

I sat behind a lady who criticized and made fun of my daughter one afternoon. Four of her kids had worked for me at my restaurant at one time and I had a good relationship with three of them. I fired the fourth one for stealing and generally being lazy, among other undesirable habits, after giving him many chances to redeem himself and this is why the lady hates me and my kids. I’m sure she knew I was there and she took the opportunity to take her petty revenge. It was really hard, but I kept my mouth shut and let her do her thing. I still struggle and go back and forth between despising her or feeling sorry for her and her family. Few things make me happier than seeing good parents who pay attention to their kids and really care about them and few things upset me more than bad parents who don’t realize how much they’re damaging their kids. We all do it in one way or another, but some of us are trying really hard to avoid causing damage while others only see themselves.

I thought about all of these things as I walked past the playground that was barricaded to enforce social distancing recommendations, the people at the park and a nearby house who were having a party or family gathering of some type in spite of the social distancing recommendations, and the people who I met on my walk who, like me, aren’t completely sure what to do when they encounter another person in public at this point. It’s complicated. I walked past people walking, running, biking, and driving with and without masks on. Should I have one on? The answer depends on who you listen to or who you believe or trust.

Things like grocery shopping and putting gas in your car have gotten complicated also. What is the etiquette? Nobody really knows. Each person, store, and situation is different and has different expectations and beliefs. The CDC and WHO and different politicians and doctors all have their recommendations which seem to change weekly or even daily. There is a lot of judgement, complaining, and criticizing going on also and plenty of social media platforms to do it with. This goes for opinions and advice too. Again, it’s very confusing and a little stressful even for someone who does’t get overly anxious about things. I can only imagine what the poor folks with actual anxiety issues or hypochondria are going through right now.

I feel fortunate, blessed, lucky, or happy (however you want to say it) to be healthy and to still have a job that I can go to even if it is in the makeshift home office that I hastily put together a few weeks ago. Many people do not have their health or a job to be thankful for. I have two old computer monitors sitting on a Nike shoe box and a Quaker oatmeal box hooked up to my laptop and I’m okay with that. My back and hands hurt a little from the bad chair and desk along with my bad posture habits, but I’m okay with that too. An old herbalist that I listened to years ago said that we should be thankful for pain because it reminds us that we’re alive and trying to heal.

I thought about all of these things on my walk and as I finished the loop and walked back to my house past the elementary school I thought about the little girl on the stone again. Mileka the third grader. I never met her or even heard of her until she died. I didn’t know she existed until I read her obituary in the local paper. I had another Ecclesiastes-like moment as I thought about the vanity of life and how arbitrary it seems at times.

Why did their girl die while my girls got to play basketball in her school? My oldest daughter is about to get her doctorate, my son is about to get his bachelor’s degree, and my two younger girls are working hard and advancing in school too. Why did I get to watch them play basketball, stack rocks on the shore of Lake Superior with them, listen to their fears about what the Corona virus outbreak means for their futures, drink coffee and eat pancakes with them, make homemade pizzas with them, play badminton and go for walks with them, argue about differing opinions with them, clean up after them, get annoyed by them, and show them love every day, and her Dad doesn’t get to do any of that with her?

Why is anyone alive or dead? I don’t know. You don’t either. It’s unknowable. My kids’ degrees and careers and schooling are being disrupted and delayed which is causing some pain and upset, but the pain means they’re alive and struggling. I’m thankful that with all of the chaos and uncertainty across the globe presently, I am alive and struggling. I’m thankful that you are alive and hopefully struggling to some extent too. Whatever pain and anxiety your are experiencing right now proves that you are alive and that you care and those are good things. Be grateful for the struggle, my friends.

And, on this Easter Sunday of 2020, be thankful, also, for the one historical figure who beat death like a rented mule. He’s the guy who our calendar is still numbered for 20 centuries later. He’s the guy who, as C.S. Lewis said, is either a liar, lunatic, or Lord because He claimed to be God. He didn’t just claim to be a generic god, either, He claimed to be God with a capital G. He claimed to be YHVH, YHWH, Yehweh, Jehovah, the great I AM who talked to Moses and the Prophets, or however you want to represent it. Jesus claimed to be the God of the Old Testament, the Creator, in the flesh, so either He was lying, He was insane, or He really was. There are a lot of opinions about this topic too, but this one is worth your time to objectively and honestly look into for yourself. Memes and jokes and one liners aren’t the best way to form your views of this topic. It’s quite a bit more important than who “wins” The Bachelor or the Superbowl. This is another great opportunity that you have because you are alive, so take advantage of that and struggle with it like I do.

Freak Upgrades to What, Mr. Monk?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about being a freak, being a freak magnet, and also the word Freak itself and I think that it probably has too negative of a connotation for my purposes of passing along stories of eccentric individuals who have crossed my path. So, I’ve decided to attempt to upgrade my description of these people to another word. Any suggestions?

I think “eccentric individuals” is probably the best description of the interesting people that I attract and write about, but “Eccentric Individual Magnet” doesn’t flow, does it?

Unusual is too banal and is just not enough of a word to encompass my beloved companions in these narratives.. Anomaly is too scientific sounding. “I’m an anomaly magnet” makes me sound like I may draw black holes, alien armadas, or pulsars toward Earth to kill us all. Aberration is also slightly negative as if the plan was going one way and then YOU showed up, you aberration. Rogue is taken by one of the X-Men who I’ve always felt sorry for. Rarity should probably be taken to The Antiques Roadshow to have its value and provenance established.

Quirk sounds like quark which, as someone who appreciates Physics, bothers me, but it also reminds me of people like Mr. Monk who was one of my middle school teachers and quite the quirky fellow. Mr. Monk would also fall into the dark side of the freak category if the truth were told. For example, he was extremely proud of his perfect attendance record. I believe you could safely say that he was fanatical about it. The proof that I offer to back up this strong assertion is an incident that happened when I was in seventh grade and Mr. Monk came down with influenza. He was as pale as an Irish shut-in and as shaky and sweaty as any hardcore junkie trying to kick his heroin habit cold turkey. His breathing was labored. His eyes were red, glassy, and watery. And, he leaned against his desk or the built-in cabinets for support. But, he was present and his perfect attendance record was intact. I’m sure he infected numerous students and faculty members and ruined THEIR perfect attendance records, but that’s another matter entirely. Attendance was like survival of the fittest for this man and he was naturally selecting the heck out of himself. Some people have terrible diarrhea when they get the flu, but Mr. Monk was firmly in the vomiting camp. He obviously knew this fact before making the arduous journey to North Branch Middle School because he had prepared for this eventuality by bringing a number of empty half gallon paper milk containers with him. This was 1983 or 1984 and the life of a North Branch adolescent was quite a bit different from today in many ways. One way is that we were allowed to play violent games at lunchtime like Trench, which most folks refer to as Dodge Ball, and work out our pubescent angst by blasting each other in the face with a small rubber ball. Another way is that 12 year old David had to sit quietly in class working on his worksheet with a #2 pencil as his teacher, Mr. Monk, loudly puked into a re-purposed milk jug. This, of course, would not happen today. We all felt sick right along with the tormented Mr. Monk and a few students put their heads down on their desks and a few others just got up and left the room. At one point, it seemed like Mr. Monk briefly regained his strength for a moment as he launched into some point that he was passionate about. This second wind did not last long. With his finger still up in the air from his oration, his eyes suddenly grew wide and he turned and rushed back to the nearest milk jug for another horrific expulsion. It got to the point in that extremely long hour that I was wondering if the jugs he had supplied would be sufficient for his needs. Thankfully, they were and we didn’t have to endure something even worse. So, whether he was quirky or a freak I will leave to your good judgement, my patient reader. There were many other things that made Mr. Monk quirky like his 1970’s wardrobe, his habit of throwing his chalk blindly at the wall as he glared at us when he was upset, or the way the he would take a little run and slide up to your desk on his wingtip shoes when you asked him for help. But, I believe I have made my point and also demonstrated why the word quirky is definitely out of the running in this discussion.

Oddity should only be used to refer to items in archaic freak shows or cabinets of curiosities from the olden days. It could also bring to mind David Bowie’s song Space Oddity which is amazing, but the word simply doesn’t work in this context, Major Tom. Peculiar is stuffy and judgmental sounding and has no place here either. Hazard may be true of some of these people, but most are not inherently dangerous. They are definitely not monsters, malformations, mutants (like the X-Men, again), or cranks either. Lunatic is too crazy for most and it makes me think of the moon and nefarious nighttime shenanigans. The word queer has been pretty much taken over by the homosexuals and lost its traditional definition. There are many other words like misfit, oddball, maverick, fiend, nut, maniac, geek, and dweeb that all bring to mind specific character types that don’t really adequately explain my meaning. The Misfits are a famous punk band that my nephew Doug performed with once, oddball is a word that oddballs use to describe other oddballs, maverick reminds me of a horse or Tom Cruise in Top Gun, and fiend, nut, and maniac live in the horror genre for me and have no place in this discussion. Geek describes a medieval circus or court performer like a jester who would bite of the head off a live chicken and dweeb, along with geek, are strongly associated with the 1980’s in my mind and don’t have enough historical breadth to be considered worthy of replacing freak. Neither does weirdo, crackpot, pill, flake, screwball, or strange bird. I’d like to know more crackpots and strange birds, personally, but I’m reminded of the Unabomber (Theodore Kaczynski) or maybe a mad genius in some corny old movie when I hear the term crackpot.

What does that leave? Well, honestly, it brings me back to Freak. If most people are the same and mostly ordinary or even boring, then these people are freaks in the best way. If your whole nation is filled with cannibals and you’re a vegetarian, you’re a freak and the fact that you’re not “normal” is a very good thing, right? (Did you hear what one cannibal said to the other one while they were eating a clown? “Does this taste funny to you?”) And, Freak Magnet sounds pretty good to me too. My friend Jesse aptly described me as a freak magnet many years ago and it stuck in my head because it was so true. Let’s go with that and if you have a word that I should upgrade to, let me know you rapscallion.

Addendum:  After posting this, a classmate contacted me with some further stories about Mr. Monk and also some wonderful updates.  He is doing well and hasn’t missed saying happy birthday to her every year since we were kids.  This includes the pre-social media days of mail and corded telephones where a little more effort and a little more organization, or at least a sharp memory, were required.  I thought that was very impressive and kind.  I also wanted to point out that I meant no disrespect toward him in relating my story.  I believe he is a good and eccentric man who I’m happy to have had as a teacher.  Teaching is often a thankless profession and when someone does it well, they should be remembered and applauded.  Thanks for the comments, Jenny!

Emergency Room -vs- David

I’ve made MANY references to being a freak magnet, but I also have several other magnetic abilities. One involves my eyes and another possibly involves my aura or soul or personality or demeanor or maybe my pheromones. What do you attract and why? It’s interesting to think about. Why do you attract certain types of people sexually, in relationships, on teams, as friend, or in other ways? Have you noticed patterns in your life as far as who you end up with in these ways? I’d be willing to bet that there are patterns whether you’ve thought about them or not.

Side note:  I use the term ‘freak’ in the kindest possible sense.  Weirdness and freakiness can be a good thing and the use of these words in my writing is always  a term of endearment rather than an insult.  If I write about you or allude to you, it most likely means that I love you.  Those that I dislike, I will not waste my time or your time with.   So, there, that has been said.  I’ve been meaning to say that for a while, but there never seemed like a good time.  This, also, is a bad time, but it needed to be said. 

My eyes are magnets for debris of all sorts. I seem to get stuff in them constantly. To add to the annoyance, they’re extremely sensitive and I have a hard time getting anywhere near them. I’ve had friends that can just look in a mirror and wipe their eyeball off with their finger. That’s not going to happen for me while I’m conscious without extensive professional training and/or Soviet brainwashing in a gulag somewhere in Siberia.

In the early 1990’s, I was working construction for a guy that did kitchen and bath remodels and we were redoing a bathroom in a town-home in the Twin Cities. My job that day was to etch the old ceramic tile shower surround so that we could spray it with a new coating to change the color. I had a bottle of muriatic acid that I was about to sponge onto the tile to etch it so that the coating would stick to it. Like I had done before, I shook the bottle to make sure that it was all mixed up. I shook it up and down a few times and then I started rotating it back and forth as the top popped open and shot a line of liquid acid across the room. Unfortunately, my face and, more specifically, my right eye were in its path as well. A line of liquid ran from my jawline, up my cheek, through my eye, and onto my forehead and hair. As you can imagine, it didn’t require FBI profiler-level observational skills to notice that the status of my eye had just changed dramatically.  In short, ouch.

I ran to the sink to get some water, but the water had been turned off for the renovations. So, I ran to the neighbor’s house and knocked on the door. I said something like “Hi, I have…” and then the ladies eyes widened as she gasped and said “Come in! The bathroom is right there! Let me get you towel.” It seems that the bright red streak of raised skin above and below my eye had alerted her that there was an issue. My blood red zombie-style eye white probably helped convey the message also. I rinsed and wiped and splashed as much as I could tolerate and made quite a mess of her bathroom, but still the eyeball burned so I decided to head for the ER. Driving myself was probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but a leisurely stroll, a Forest Gump-like sprint, or calling a cab hadn’t crossed my mind possibly due to the fire on my face that was slowly burning away every other thought.

Folks were staring as I walked in. They were giving me that “I wonder what the heck happened to that dude” look. As I walked briskly up to the reception desk, I politely but urgently said “Hi, I have acid in my eye.” The receptionist, without looking up, slid a clipboard across the desk to me and said “I’m going to need you to fill out this form and take a seat and we’ll have someone talk to you as soon as we can.” I had not expected this and my normal politeness slapped my inner pro-wrestler on the back and handed him the microphone. I said, much louder, “Maybe you didn’t hear me. I HAVE ACID IN MY EYE AND I NEED TO SEE SOMEBODY RIGHT NOW BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO LOSE MY EYE!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!!” Instantly, a doctor and a few nurses peeked around the corner to check me out and I was on a table in the back in about ten seconds. Amazingly, the receptionist followed us and tried to make it clear to the staff that she needed me to fill that form out. A nurse put her hand on the lady’s arm and said “Later” in a tone that left zero room for opposition.

The doctor touched a paper pH strip to my eye to test the acidity and concluded that I was going to lose my eye if they didn’t get it flushed in the very near future. She then turned and walked over to a drawer and pulled out a long, clear, coiled-up tube that was very thin. I was getting pretty nervous at this point, but the real terror set in when she got the hose uncurled and I saw that there was an eyeball-shaped pad or cup at the end of the hose. The doctor walked over to the sink and attached one end of the hose to a special faucet and then came toward me with the suction cup, eyeball shaped, torture instrument of certain death. I was panicking pretty hardcore and I asked something really stupid like “Are you going to put that on my eyeball?” The doctor said that she was and that if I wanted to keep my eye and have it continue to function, I needed to go along with this plan. I told her that she was probably going to need help putting the suction cup on my eyeball because my eyes were VERY sensitive. She said “Oh, I think you’ll be fine” as she made her first attempt. She was unsuccessful as I clawed at her arm and twisted and groaned involuntarily. She said “Just hold still! You don’t want to lose your eye, do you?” I said “NO! But I can’t help it.” She sighed heavily and said that she’d be right back. A very short time later she reentered the room with two rather large male nurses whose looks were somewhere between disappointment and wanting to beat the crap out of me. I think the ER was pretty busy and they probably didn’t have time to hold down a ninny like me.  They grabbed my arms and leaned against my legs while the doctor pulled my eyelid up and shoved the hellish cup literally onto my squirming eyeball.

I grunted and said “AH! AH! AH!” over and over again. The nurses continued to hold me and the doctor disgustedly said “Calm down! I haven’t even turned the water on yet!” The pain of the burning acid multiplied by the weird sensation of having a piece of plastic stuck to my flaming eyeball had me making involuntary animal-like noises already. But, somehow the doctor’s words made it even worse because just by the way she said that phrase I knew the water was really going to hurt. I heard her turn it on and a few moments later I felt the hose that was coiled on my chest stretching out as the water moved through it. Then the water hit my eyeball and I felt like an ice cold fork had stabbed me right in the eye. More noises, more squirming, and a little hyperventilation for good measure must have made the other ER customers feel a little better about themselves and their conditions. I’ve always wondered what was going through their minds in the waiting room as they sat there in uncomfortable and outdated chairs and couches reading articles in wrinkled magazines that they probably didn’t really care about anyway. My grunts and groans and shrieks and guttural utterances must have been unsettling. Any poor hypochondriacs within hearing range were probably thinking that Ebola had struck and I was sloughing my gut through my anus.

Well, to end the suspense, I didn’t lose my eye or slough my gut, but it took a few weeks for the skin on my face to settle down and act normal again.  Also, I never did fill out the form. A nurse asked me most of the questions and recorded the answers for me. Nurses are amazing people.  I hope one of them gave that receptionist a lesson in compassion and situational awareness.

About five years later, my magnetic eyeball powers surfaced again and I pulled a chunk of metal into my eye as I was building my own house in Dassel. After about an hour of trying to get it out, I agreed to let the plumber drive me to the ER in Hutchinson. I went to the desk and the receptionist asked me to sign in. I asked her to hold the clipboard and through my tearing eyes I gave it my best shot and then took a seat. As I sat down, I misjudged the location of the chair a bit and I ended up sitting down kind of hard and the impact jarred my whole body. I involuntarily blinked my eye with the metal chunk in it a few times and there was a sudden and slight pressure and then the metal chunk popped out. I actually saw it shoot out of my eye.  Most of the pain went away almost instantly and I reached down and picked up the little chunk. The plumber had looked over at me and he said “Is that it?” I said that it was and I said I was fine and that we should go.

I went up to tell the receptionist that everything was good and that I was heading out and she told me that I couldn’t leave. I said that I was fine and that I was leaving and she said that she’d have to call security if I tried to leave because I had signed in and now I had to be seen “by law”. I wasn’t sure about this law or the hocus pocus of being instantly transformed into a criminal by walking out of the hospital, so I told her that was ridiculous and that she should have a good day and I started walking out. She called security and came out from behind her desk to call for me to come back. It was a bit of a scene.  As I was just about to the door, a doctor ran up and grabbed my arm. Her name was Heather according to her name badge and she was stunningly beautiful. Calmly, as though she had heard the whole exchange with the desk lady, she said “I know you feel fine, but it’s an insurance and liability thing that we have to at least look at you. Please just come and sit in my room for a few minutes and let me look at the eye. It won’t take long.” I looked over at the plumber and said “OK”. We walked back to her room as the plumber reclaimed his seat and she scoped the eye and said that it had a nasty scratch and that I would need antibiotics, but other than the risk of infection I should be fine. “I’ll write you a prescription for the antibiotic drops”, stunning Heather said.

This is where I made the first of my three mistakes that day. I said “Thanks for checking it out, but you don’t have to write the prescription. I won’t use it anyway.” This was the wrong thing to say. Dr. Heather was not pleased and began to lecture me on the dangers of eye infections, the risk of blindness, her education and expertise, the safety of the drops, the many myths surrounding drugs and modern medicine, etc. When my hair stopped blowing back, I said “OK, I’ll take the drops. I apologize for offending you.” This was number two. SDH was triggered by my suggestion that I had personally offended her and, I believe, she became personally offended and made it clear that this was her job and not personal. She made it VERY clear. Again, I apologized. She turned away and wrote the prescription while telling me that the pharmacy was directly across the lobby from the door at the end of the hallway. As she turned back and handed it to me, I thanked her for her time and headed off down the hallway to the lobby and the plumber. This was where I made my third mistake involving the fetching Dr. Heather. I had no intention of filling the prescription, but I took it from her to stop the lecture. I should have just folded it up and put it in my pocket, but as I was walking toward the lobby door I saw a trash can near a water fountain mounted on the wall ahead of me. I crumpled up the prescription and tossed it into the can. Either the crumpling noise or sheer bad luck brought the comely physician out of her room just as I tossed the paper.

She yelled at me down the hallway “Did you throw that prescription away?!” I turned to see her rushing toward me and I knew that I was doomed. I just stood there looking guilty as she strode up and reached into the can, in a very unsanitary gesture I might add, to withdraw the paper while glaring at me. “Why would you do that?”, she said forcefully. I maybe shouldn’t have said anything or faked a stroke or heart episode, but I foolishly said “I told you that I didn’t want the prescription.” SDH just stared at me like she was trying to think of something to say to that would percolate through the thick sludge inside my skull. I think she concluded that the time for words was over and the time for actions had arrived. She simply said “Come with me” in a voice that made it clear that she meant “Come with me if you want to live!” and started walking toward the lobby with the prescription. She energetically strode across the lobby and to the pharmacy while leaving a number of visually stimulated men with neck injuries in her wake. She handed the prescription to the pharmacist and said, while looking directly at me, “He needs this prescription filled right away.” Then she stepped aside, folded her arms, and waited. After retrieving the drops and reviewing my insurance card, the pharmacist charged me $15 and sent me on my way with my unwanted drug drops in a crisp white paper bag.

Doctor Heather had done all that she could for me and said “Take care of that eye” as she walked away from me. I said “Thank you” to her back as I turned and saw the plumber who was out of his seat and confused. She didn’t turn around. On the drive home, I bought a bulb of garlic which is my favorite antibiotic and threw the drops in the trash can at the grocery store. To end the suspense, again, I didn’t get an eye infection or lose my eye that time either.

I know a guy who got shot in the eye with an arrow as a boy.  He’s one of the best ministers and public speakers as well as one of the best men that I’ve ever known.  I know another guy who lifted up his visor in the middle of a snowmobile race and got hit in the eye with a rock.  He got knocked off the snowmobile and ended up being blind for a few weeks, but thankfully he eventually got his vision back. My eye issues are minor compared to what those guys suffered and I’m thankful that mine turned out as well as they did. 

My Dad, who had a saying for pretty much every situation (“This steak is so tender I don’t know how the cow ever walked.”), probably would have said, as he sometimes did, “From the day you’re born ’til you ride in a hearse, things are never so bad that they couldn’t get worse.”  In other words, be thankful for what you have because there is always someone who is worse off than you.  Be thankful for what you have, my friends.