I lived in Eagan for a couple years when I was in Kindergarten and first grade. I had two friends who were essentially the real world manifestations of that little angel and devil that appear on the shoulders of cartoon characters like Tom and Jerry. Mike was the angel. Tim was the devil. (He even had red hair.)
My friend Mike lived about a block away in a cul de sac within sight of my house. Mike’s parents let me come over for dinner a lot and they always had dessert. Mike’s Mom brought us snacks and treats while we were playing and asked us if we were okay or if we needed anything. Their house was clean and organized. These were good people and Mike was a reflection of them. Always smiling. Always polite. Being Mike’s friend was easy and stress free unless Tim was involved.
Tim lived across the street and one house to the left. I got invited to dinner there once. His Dad was mad about something and nobody spoke. It was awkward. Tim’s Dad spent countless hours working on this Chevelle and very few working on his family from my impressions. He would meticulously color in the white letters on the Chevelle’s tires with White Out which was the liquid used to blot out typos on paper. Tim’s Mom was friendly to me and in hindsight I believe she was a little concerned for me. Tim rarely listened to her, but he obeyed his Dad out of fear.
Young David fell somewhere on the spectrum between Mike and Tim and, honestly, my family life was somewhere between Mike’s and Tim’s too. My Dad had mental health issues and swung between violent rage and doting Dad. My Mom was always kind to everyone and did her best to take care of us.
It was 1978 and Elvis was dead. “Keep on Rockin’ me, Baby” by The Steve Miller Band was my favorite song. Tim and I rode our bikes all over the place and explored in every direction as far as we dared to ride. Mike wasn’t allowed to go beyond a few block radius of his house.
On one hot summer day, Tim asked me to ride with him to the Tom Thumb convenience store down the hill and about a half mile from our houses. He said he wanted a Bomb Pop which was a frozen treat like a really thick and patriotically colored Popsicle, so I rode along with him to get one. When we got there, he asked me if I wanted one too and I told him that I didn’t have any money. He said that he didn’t either. As I stood there confused and trying to figure things out, Tim looked through the window to make sure the employee wasn’t looking, shoved the door open, opened the chest freezer by the door, and came back out with two Bomb Pops. He handed me one, tore his open, and jumped on his bike. I jumped on my bike too, but a short time later I told him that I had forgotten something back at the store and I secretly put the Bomb Pop back because I didn’t want to go to jail. Every moment that Bomb Pop was in my hand was terrifying.
Tim walked over to my house one summer day eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He wanted to ride bikes and I told him that I did too and I’d wait for him to finish his sandwich. He got a big smile on his face and then he turned and whipped the mostly uneaten sandwich up onto the roof of my parents’ garage. I was horrified and I wondered what would happen. I don’t think Tim wondered about anything. When I got back, my Dad was up on a ladder getting the sandwich off the roof. He asked me if I knew how it got there and I said that I didn’t. I’m pretty sure he knew.
Tim and I threw apples from our tree into the neighbors yard and against their house and I got yelled at for it.
Tim ate all of the frosting off a leftover birthday cake at his house after his Mom told him to leave it alone. He puked about fifteen minutes later and said that I should probably go home.
Tim asked me to help him mix together all of the chemicals in the laundry room at his house and from under the kitchen sink also. We poured a little bit of each bottle into bowls and mixed them up into a disgusting looking paste. Once we were done and he was bored with it, Tim picked up the two bowls and threw them into his bedroom closet. He shut the door and I never heard how that little experiment turned out.
Tim asked me if I wanted a glass of pop at his house one day and I said that I wasn’t thirsty. He came out of the bathroom with a smirk on his face and a glass in his hand a few minutes later and handed it to me. He said that he had decided to get me some pop anyway and I should drink it. It was yellow and quite warm. I’d guess it was about 98.6 degrees and freshly made. I didn’t drink it.
Tim and I had a lot of fun throwing darts at the dart board in the spare bedroom at my house. We missed the board a few times and laughed guiltily as we pulled the darts out of the wall. Then we started throwing the darts at the wall on purpose. We threw them at every wall in the room for a few weeks until my parents realized it and put a stop to our game. There were probably more holes than wall by this point. It took my Dad a few weeks to mud, sand, and repaint the room and he made his feelings about my actions quite clear, let’s say.
Tim and I collected pop cans because beer can collecting was popular at that time, but we were seven and weren’t allowed to do that. Tim asked me if he could have a few of my cans and I told him no. Then he suggested that we wash our collections in his pool, so we did that. Those cans that he had asked for, along with a number of others, were not with my other cans when I got home.
Tim wanted to show me something in his back yard one day and it turned out to be a ladder leading to the roof of his garage. He goaded me to climb up there and we both ended up on the roof. He had put a paper grocery bag up there earlier and when we both got up there he reached into it and handed me a lighter and some fireworks. I was confused because it was early afternoon and not July 4th and we live in a suburb, so it didn’t seem like the time to light off fireworks to me. Tim explained that he had called another kid, Steve, from down the block and asked him to come over to play with us. When Steve got there, we were going to ambush him with fireworks. I didn’t think that was a great idea, but soon Steve was in the driveway and Tim was hurling firecrackers and shooting bottle rockets at him. Steve said that he was going to call the police and Tim laughed at him. I got off the roof and had just started to head home when the police car pulled up. Tim and I ran and I hid in the garden shed in the back yard. I was pretty sure that I was going to prison for the rest of my life. The door creaked open letting a slightly cooler breeze into the stifling shed and a man’s voice said “I don’t see him in here. I just hope that boy realizes how dangerous all of that was and how badly he and those other boys could have gotten hurt.” That was good policing. I stayed in the shed for a really long time before sneaking out and around the block and back to my house by a circuitous route. I thought I had gotten away with it until our phone rang and it was Tim’s Mom explaining what we had done to my Dad. I didn’t get to buy the Star Wars X-Wing fighter that I had been saving my allowance to buy that week.
When we moved to North Branch, Tim rode his bike over to say goodbye and I remember waving to him through the back window of our red Impala as we drove away. My Dad made a comment about how he’d never seen that boy look so sad or upset before. I’ve always wondered what happened to Tim. When I wondered that out loud a few times, my folks both said that he’s probably in prison or dead. I hope he turned things around and put his energy into something good. And, I hope his Dad learned to love him more than the Chevelle.
Years later, I organized the theft of the North Branch town sign on Highway 95 one summer with a group of friends. We trained for the heist like a NASCAR pit crew and we each had our roles to play. We’d done our reconnaissance and we knew what size nuts and bolts were holding it on. We knew how high the sign was and that the guys with the sockets on one side and the guys with the wrenches on the other side would have to be held up by other guys to complete their work. We also figured out where to stash the sign until another guy with a pickup could come and fetch it a short time later. We rolled up in a car, jumped out, and did our work quickly and efficiently. Once we had it down, we realized how huge and heavy it was and that it would never grace anyone’s dorm room or family room. I never saw the sign again and it took whoever is responsible for that sign a few years to replace it. I heard that it ended up in somebody’s barn in Almelund and was eventually cut up for scrap.
I also stole a beaker from the science lab in my high school and used it for a pen/pencil holder for about 15 years. Around that same time, I stole a metal sign from the ski resort I worked at in high school that read “Remove Pole Straps From Wrists”.
My daughter Abby asked me where I had gotten that sign one day when we were in the garage together doing a project. She was probably about the same age as I was when I put the Bomb Pop back in the freezer at Tom Thumb in Eagan. I have always been honest with my kids, so I told her the truth. After some discussion, we decided that the best course of action was to send the sign back to Wild Mountain with an apology letter. I told her about the beaker too and we ended up sending that back to the high school with a similar letter. The whole thing made for a good family discussion and hopefully a few good lessons for the kiddos. I’m sure it also confused and/or amused the people who opened the packages.
I thought that I was going to get arrested with my band mates at Mississippi Music Fest in St. Cloud in the summer of 1989. The bass player’s girlfriend had pretended to be our manager and lied to the promoter of this festival about our accomplishments and gotten us a slot to play five songs. When we rolled up in an old pickup and my Dad’s station wagon and started unloading our gear, the promoter had a change of heart and told us that, after all, there wasn’t a spot for us anymore. The singer and the girlfriend argued with him and he finally relented and said that we could play one song. I didn’t think that it was worth it to get all setup to play one song and the singer assured me that we were going to play our whole set. I got nervous.
After the first song, the announcer/promoter asked the crowd to give us a round of applause, but we just ignored him and launched into our next song. He protested loudly after that one, but we drowned his voice out with our amplifiers and drums and another song. After that one, he threatened to call the police and we just kept going. The singer told the crowd what was going on and the crowd booed the promoter which further enraged him. While we were playing the sixth song, the police showed up and started walking toward the stage. As they reached it, the singer said to the audience, while staring at the lead officer, “And for our LAST song, we’ll be playing Rock and Roll by Led Zeppelin.” The cops relaxed a little and let us finish. So we ended up playing seven songs instead of the original five which was way more than ONE. As we got off the stage, the officers and the promoter approached us and the promoter was shouting at us and the cops and telling them to arrest us. The singer and the girlfriend explained our view of the matter and showed the officers our contract. The lead officer said “It sounds like a personal problem to me. Have a good day.” Then they left with the promoter following and yelling at them. As we were just about to leave, the promoter came back and told us that we’d never play in St. Cloud again. He’d make sure of that. One of us said “Well, we’ve never played here before, so that works I guess.” He just walked away shaking his head. It was a good day and we had a lot of fun.
My life of crime has come to an end as of this writing and I’ve managed to raise four great kids who are also not criminals. I love them more than my guitars and amplifiers or anything else in the world (even Chevelles) and I think that makes the difference for most people. The singer is now a minister with a whole pack of kids and doing great things. Mike is probably the nicest guy all of his friends and family know. I hope that Tim isn’t dead or in prison and I hope he’s found the love he needed too. The rest of us have still not been prosecuted for stealing the North Branch sign and we’re still out here doing the best we can with the cards we’ve been dealt. Be well, my friends, and keep climbing.
Like most other children, I desperately wanted a dog when I was kid. I begged. I made promises. I vowed to take care of it, etc. I don’t think my older brother ever asked for a dog and my parents never owned dogs that I know of. This would be Thomas dog #1.
There was a dog that lived in my Dad’s tent while he was fighting off the Soviet backed North Korean Communists with the rest of the U.S. Army in Korea in the 50’s. I saw a black and white snapshot of it once when my Dad was looking through his pictures. The dog was more of a puppy and it looked like something in a Hallmark commercial. It was happy and cute and playful looking and I’m sure it was a nice distraction from the death and horror that those guys walked with every day. The dog kind of belonged to my Dad and his buddies because they fed it and looked after it. They named it, I kid you not, Fartface. (I’m going to leave that right there for you to ponder and be as confused about it as I’ve been for the last 30+ years since I heard about it.) My Dad didn’t know what happened to Fartface when he left Korea. All that he brought home was a disability or two and some pretty wicked nightmares that allowed him to relive the war for the rest of his life.
My pleading payed off eventually and I got a dog for my birthday when I was about seven. After looking at four or five other dogs that day, I found one that my parents and I could agree on. The tag on the kennel door at the Humane Society shelter said his name was Bozo and his breed was identified as a “Doxie mix”. He was a little chunkier and a little taller than a purebred dachshund due to whatever other breed(s) he was mixed with. He had a 99% wiener dog head, ears, color, and face and I think, based on his life, he was probably mixed with an Army Ranger or Chuck Norris because he was pretty hard to kill despite numerous attempts.
My Mom decided that she should probably hold onto him on the car ride home instead of letting him run wild in the back seat with me. Without car seats or seat belts in the back, we definitely did run wild in those days. A few miles down the road he put his nose under the flap of her coat and seemed to settle down. My Mom was commenting on how he was relaxing and she kept petting him and telling him that he was going to be okay as we talked about what we should change his name to. Bozo was a famous clown from that era and he was that peculiar combination of annoying and creepy that only clowns can pull off. The dog needed a better name. Shortly, it was decided that Prince was a far better name than Bozo. Once this decision was reached, Prince promptly puked inside my Mom’s new coat. I watched him do it and watched her recoil in disgust as I hung onto the front bench seat to keep an eye on the dog. I believe he was very lucky that she loved her son more than she hated the new dog at that moment. She hadn’t really wanted a dog in the house to begin with and here was the first disgusting evidence that this whole thing was a bad idea. My Mom always kept a clean house despite the other three of us doing our best to mess it up and now this dog had joined our ranks against her.
That evening, my parents went out somewhere and left me and my brother at home with the dog. I was excited to play with him despite the fact that he had bitten my lip that afternoon when I was trying to play with him on the floor. When my folks left, the dog barked at the slamming door. Then he turned around and started barking wildly and growling at me and my brother. I was seven, my brother was 15 or 16, and we had zero experience with dogs. The poor dog was probably terrified in his new surroundings and just wanted to be left alone. When we approached him, he would charge us and bark and growl. This was new. Prince eventually herded us both into the living room and onto the couch where he held us prisoner for three or four hours until my parents got home. If we made any attempt to move, he went crazy and we got even more scared.
My Mom and Dad got home hours later and they were wondering what was going on as they climbed the steps from the entryway to the living room and saw us cowering on the couch. The dog barked at them too, but my Dad just laughed and picked the dog up while he asked my brother and I what was going on. We told them our tale of imprisonment and they thought that it was pretty funny that we were held captive by a wiener dog with an attitude.
The following year, we moved from a suburb of Minneapolis to a rural area about five miles out of North Branch. Prince had many adventures chasing squirrels and meeting other dogs, cats, and strange neighbors. Since he was of German ancestry, the neighborhood men decided that he must like beer and they gave him his own bowl now and again at one of the many bonfires that my parents hosted. It turned out that Prince couldn’t hold his liquor, shocking I know, and the men enjoyed watching him stumble around as they themselves were also stumbling around. My Dad often recounted the story of one such evening where he claimed Prince ran into both door posts as he attempted to enter the house to retire for the evening.
After nearly being killed by my Mom’s disgusted looks after he hurled into her coat, Prince had many other brushes with death while we lived in North Branch. He liked to bark at the neighbor’s goats, for example. One day the neighbor, Melvin Hanson who was a semi-retired farmer with a thick Swedish accent, got tired of Prince harassing his goats and decided to shoot him with a 12 gauge shotgun. Prince evidently sensed Melvin’s evil intentions because he ended up with a lot of lead pellets in his rear end as he tried to make his escape. We arrived home to find him laying in the yard in tough shape. My Mom rushed the dog into town to the vet while my Dad controlled himself enough to talk to the neighbor without punching or throttling him. When asked why the hell he would shoot a ten pound wiener dog with a shotgun, Melvin insisted that the dog was going to kill one of his goats and that we needed to keep our “killer dog” away from them or this would happen again. My Dad made it quite clear to Melvin that he would share the dog’s fate if he ever did anything like that again. The dog lived and so did Melvin.
Fences were eventually mended and we ended up getting along just fine with Melvin and his bride Lila. Years later, Melvin actually beat me in a foot race. I was about 12 and he was 80. He came out one hot summer day to watch me and my friends play football in the field in between our houses. This was the same field where the wiener dog failed to outrun the shotgun pellets. Melvin was giving me a hard time about not being fast enough on one of the plays and I made a wise remark back to him about being old and slow. He didn’t take that well and started unloading his pockets onto the ground. Old guys have a lot of stuff in their pockets. Watches, wallets, pens, glasses, keys, knives, loose change, notebooks, coin purses, etc. I thought he was going to come and strangle me or put his fist in my big mouth, but he challenged me to a race. I couldn’t believe it, but I agreed and we marked the distance we’d run with some hats and the football. One of my friends said “Go!” and I tore off the line and headed toward the other end of the field to an easy victory, I thought. At one point, I looked over my shoulder and saw Melvin pumping his arms in his bib overalls and work boots and then he was past me and over the finish line. I got dusted by an 80 year old retired farmer. My friends were just about dead they were laughing so hard at seeing the way Melvin ran and also the fact that he demolished me in a foot race. Melvin, in between red faced wheezes and trying to catch his breath, talked some pretty good smack as he upbraided me for making fun of an old man. I’m glad my Dad didn’t kill him. He was a good guy. And fast. But, back to the hero of our story, the bullet-proof wiener dog…
Prince liked to chase squirrels and he also liked to chase cars on the dirt road in front of our house. On two occasions while doing this, he was hit by the car and thrown into the ditch. One was a sedan and the second was a pickup truck. The first time, he yelped all the way back to the house and was not quite himself for a few days, but he survived. The second time, he was knocked out as he flew into the ditch and we were sure that he was dead. My Dad saw it and ran down the yard to grab him, but Prince regained consciousness before my Dad got there and ambled his way back to the house. Again, he survived.
One summer, Prince surprised a dumb squirrel who got himself turned around and wasn’t quite fast enough to get away from the streaking wiener. After getting his face severely clawed and losing some blood, the dog survived and the squirrel lived to pillage our bird feeder another day.
The sound of the snow plow grinding down the frozen dirt road in front of our house in the winter enraged the dog also. He hated that sound. Wherever he was, he would run at top speed to confront the growling truck. Twice that we witnessed, he charged the plow head on and was swept into the ditch with the wave of snow like a twig in a tornado. I always wondered if the driver saw him and just laughed. The dog had guts. One of those times, my friends and I were playing and sledding in the ditch because we had a snow day off from school. We yelled at Prince to stop as he ran at full speed and barking toward the plow. We watched in horror as he was flung end over end into the snow pile in the ditch. Some of the guys lifted up their hands at the plow driver like they were saying “What the heck?!” Most of us ran to the spot where we thought the dog was buried. We dug frantically trying to find and, we thought, save him. He popped up about 15 feet from where we were digging, shook himself off, and trotted back to the house as though his work here was finished. The homestead had been successfully defended. He had survived.
My Dad wandered out to the kitchen each morning in his robe and started the coffee. One winter morning, he wandered with his bare foot into a pile of warm dog poop as well. (For years, he told people the detailed story and described how it felt to have warm dog poop squish up between his toes as he stepped down into it on the cold linoleum.) We didn’t need our alarm clocks that morning as we were awakened from blissful sleep by a raging torrent of foul curses and imprecations toward the dog. I got to the kitchen entrance as my Dad was finishing wiping the waste off his foot with a paper towel and grumbling. I was afraid to speak because I didn’t want to be murdered, but I was also afraid for my dog so I had come to this vantage point to see what was going to happen. Done wiping, my Dad walked over and grabbed the dog like a purse by the skin of his back and walked toward the door as the dog howled. I started crying and begging him to not hurt Prince. I don’t think he heard me in that state of mind. He flung the door open, kicked the storm door open, and walked out onto the frozen porch as he raised the dog into punting position. As he pulled his foot back for the dropkick, he slipped with the other foot, fell, and landed flat on his back on the frigid concrete steps. His grip on the dog was released and Prince landed on my Dad’s stomach. He quickly scampered out into the yard and completed his morning duty as my Dad groaned and managed to stand and hobble back into the house. Thankfully, the wiener dog was not punted that day and he survived yet again.
I came home from high school one day with my friend Karl and my parents met me at the door and said they needed to talk to me. They told me that they had learned from the vet that day that the reason Prince hadn’t been eating or acting like himself lately was that he had stomach cancer and needed to be put “to sleep” as some people say. I didn’t react as they expected because my friend was there and it wouldn’t have been cool to get upset over a dog, right? They asked me if it was okay to put him down so that he didn’t have to suffer anymore and I said that was fine. That evening and the next morning we said our goodbyes to Prince and when I came home from school the next day he was gone.
I’ve always thought that it was pretty unfair that having survived so many things in his life, Prince was taken out by cancer. My Dad, having survived many more horrendous things than Prince, was taken out by a fall in his garage. A friend of his died after stumbling while putting on his pants one morning. Life and death are strange and they seldom make sense, but I hope that you take the time to enjoy all of the squirrel chases and snow plow encounters in your life before cancer, heart disease, war, drugs, a car accident, or old age take you away from the ones that you love. Remember to not let the squirrel scratches and temporary snow burials distract you. Keep a smile on your face, be nice to people, and try to enjoy every minute of it like you’re a drunk wiener dog hitting both door posts on your way to bed.
Regardless of how skilled in the art of vertical urination the dude at the urinal next to me at the Excel Center was, I don’t appreciate him multitasking by simultaneously using his phone. What is the 21st century etiquette for expressing my displeasure? Do I have the right to be displeased? Imagine my conundrum as I wanted to extend him his personal space while also wanting to make sure he wasn’t capturing this moment between us for posterity. The world is a complicated place. My aggressive side wanted to tear the phone out of his hand, spike it into the tile floor, and then pee on the destroyed device with whatever volume I had left. But, my contemplative side won out because I had come to see the Wild game with my daughter and leaving in handcuffs wasn’t part of the plan for the evening. I returned to the game, drank a Big Ginger, and enjoyed my freedom to watch the Wild get killed by the Sharks with my beautiful daughter. God bless America and God help us as we navigate this ethical minefield called life.
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 to keep from freezing to death. 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 flopping 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′-5″ 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.
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:
- The coverage of the election. Both sides.
- The hyperbolic statements of the candidates. Both sides.
- The debates. Both sides.
- The ubiquitous campaign ads. Both sides.
- 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.
- The pandemic coverage.
- 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.
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.
The Drunken Wiener Dogs
Duct Taped Toilet Seat (DTTS)
Black Hole’s Matter (popular with science nerds)
What are your ideas?