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 for 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 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.

Aliens, God, and all of us hypocrites.

Are you a believer? The answer is yes. You are. Everyone believes in something. Atheists have faith in their belief that there is no God just like Christians have faith that there is. They don’t call it faith, but it is. If you’re a humanist, you have faith in people or science. It’s our faith that shapes who we are and what kind of life we lead. It highly influences our family and friends too. Ultimately, we each make our own choice about what to have faith in, but we’re all believers and everyone pushes their religion and beliefs.

I wrote in another post about Victor, the Satanic organic gardener who I worked with at one time. He claimed to be a Devil worshiper and I was thinking about that at work one day when I said “I think it’s cool that you have so much faith in the Bible.” He was confused and asked me what I was talking about. I said “You worship Satan, right?” He said that he did, so I said “If it wasn’t for the Bible, you wouldn’t know anything about Satan, so if you’re a strong believer in Satan you have to have a lot of faith in the Bible.” Victor was not pleased and I was called a few names during the mini-rant that followed.

I’ve always been fascinated and amused by the many similarities between churches and bars. People go to them for mostly the same reasons. They both have rituals and they both are places for fellowship. There is courtship and dating. There are usually games for younger people to participate in, food, drinks, friends, and often acceptance. Guidance and advice are dispensed. Connections are made. There are videos shown and music is played. Both places fill needs that humans have and there is nothing inherently wrong with either place. The people who go to them determine what type of place they are. Some bars are judgmental just like some churches. Some churches feel like a family gathering just like some bars. Some are dangerous and can lead you down a bad path. Some are supportive and helpful to keep you going in the right direction.

When I became a Christian, I went and talked to my Dad about it and he said that he wasn’t interested. I felt like I was selling something crappy that he didn’t want to buy. He said that he believed in God and that a person could believe in God without going to a church or getting “all religious”. The more I talked to him about it, the more angry he got and he ended up telling me to keep my “F#$!%ng Bible” out of his house. He also said that churches were full of hypocrites and he wasn’t interested in being around those types of people. I always seem to say that one extra sentence or word that I should have kept to myself, so I said “Well, you go to the bar with hypocrites, why wouldn’t you go to church with them?” As you can imagine, this logic was not appreciated.

I’ve always been fascinated by the similarities between people who believe in aliens and people who believe in God too. There is a whole spectrum of believers that starts on the factual and scientific side and ends on the emotional and feelings-based side. Christians have heaven and alien believers have Area 51. Alien believers have faith in beings they’ve never seen as Christians do. There are mountains of books written about both belief systems. There is compelling evidence and there are testimonies. There are TV shows and movies. And, there are critics on both sides who seek to prove or disprove their stances or their opponent’s stances as well. Interestingly, God would be an alien by definition also, right? He doesn’t originate from Earth. Maybe we should have church at the bar too and really confuse some people.

Christians sometimes judge people who go to bars. Bar patrons, like my Dad, sometimes judge churchgoers. In truth, they’re all hypocrites and imperfect just like the rest of us. Some bar patrons are churchgoers and some churchgoers also believe in aliens and science too. It’s an interesting world out there.

My Dad occasionally said “There’s no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole.” The insinuation there is that when a person’s life is hanging in the balance, they instinctively believe in God or at least pray with the hope that He is listening.

You could say that I come from a military family on the Thomas side. My Grandpa Thomas was in the army during WWI. My Dad was in the army twice and served in the Korean war, one of my uncles was in the Korean war also, another served with General Patton’s group during WWII, another was in the navy, my brother served during the Cold War, and my nephew was an army combat medic in Afghanistan. Numerous cousins were in the service as well.

My Dad was a military man in more than one way. He loved the military. Being in the army was his dream. You could say that it was his religion. He went to the VFW when he was younger like some people go to church. Sometimes he talked about how jealous he was of his cousins that “got to be in WWII”. He enlisted as soon as he was old enough and did one hitch in the Army. He decided to leave for a number of reasons, but when the Korean War started he enlisted again and went to Korea because he wanted to be involved in the war. He and his brother Ray were both damaged by the war and they were both disabled because of the war. His time in the military had a huge effect on his life and our family.

When I was a teenager, my Dad asked me if I had ever considered enlisting. “No.” The thought hadn’t crossed my mind since I was about five when I wanted to be just like my Dad like nearly every other boy in the world. I don’t think he liked my answer. I didn’t follow his religion. When I was college aged, I would tell him about my classes and things I was learning and I think he was upset by my exuberance for education. He occasionally answered my questions with phrases like “Why don’t you ask those professors that you think so much of?” He did that when I was in High School too, but not as angrily. Years later, I asked him if he was upset that I hadn’t joined the military. After a pause, he said “No, you’re not the type.” I knew it wasn’t a compliment, even though I secretly took it as one, and what he was really saying was “You and I are very different.” One time, I referred back to the “…not the type.” comment and asked him what he meant by that. He told me that when you’re in the military you’re trained to do what you’re told. “When they tell you to jump, you say ‘how high?’. If they told YOU to jump, you would say ‘Why?’. That doesn’t work. It would just get you or other people killed.” I always felt bad that my Dad didn’t think well of me in this way. He saw my extreme individualism and non-conformity as a weakness or a deviance. Everyone wants their parents’ approval whether they admit it, or even know it, or not. Many times he told me that I was more like my Mom and he and my brother were more alike. He was right in most respects, but it always made me feel bad that he didn’t seem proud of the things that I chose to do and that we never really connected on any deep level.

I spent a lot of years hating him and avoiding him, but I’m happy that I was able to reconcile with him before he died. I prayed for him. I gave him a haircut. We talked comfortably and it was nice. I got to sit with him as he died too. I didn’t think that he would ever stop breathing, but he eventually did. He was a good man and a strong man in many ways while being troubled in many ways too. In that way, I’m like him and like most other men too, I think.

Whether you believe in aliens, climate change, the big bang, America, the Illuminati, nothing at all, or if you believe in YHVH God who is my favorite alien, I hope that you’re honest in your faith and that you put some effort into figuring out what is truth and what is garbage. Your faith in whatever you believe in sets the course of your life and pushes the people you love. It’s worth some effort to figure it out for yourself. Don’t base your beliefs on sound bites and memes. Put some effort into it. If you know more about Star Wars than you do about the Bible or science, you’re missing out on some amazing truths. We’re drowning in a sea of information at this point in history, but truths seem to be scarce and some misguided folks don’t even believe in the concept of truth anymore. Please embrace logic, truth, and reality and let’s get this train back on the tracks.

Flow Like a River by I.P. Frealey (A classic, indeed.) + Three years with Chris.

There are things that you do in your life that make you wonder about yourself as you reflect on them. Sometimes they’re shocking in the moment, but often it takes the patina of time to put the right finish on them. As I’ve stated ad nauseam in these posts, I’ve met and known a lot of weird people, seen a lot of odd things, and been directly involved in a few of them myself. I’ve been told that I attract them. But, since I’ve started writing some of them down, I think my mind has started subconsciously organizing them for me and I’ve made some connections that hadn’t occurred to me before. One of them is that I have a bunch of stories that revolve around peeing and also about a guy named Chris. Most are separate. One is together.

My high school friend Chris was from Rush City. It seems that every rural town has other towns within driving distance around it that are kind of like the neighborhood of towns. And, one of those towns is usually nearly completely filled with insane, scary, and just plain weird people. Rush City was ours when I was growing up and Chris was right in the middle of that vibe. Details were disclosed, stories were told, decisions were made, or things were observed in Chris and his family’s life that made us stop and say “What?!” or “Wait…” or “You’re serious?!” He was serious.

For example, Chris and his brother along with their Dad went deer hunting together and they set their deer stands up in trees fairly close to each other. At some point, an extremely unfortunate deer decided to sprint past their positions. Being “gun enthusiasts” let’s say, each man was armed with a semi-automatic rifle with a high capacity magazine and as the doomed creature was seen by each man in turn, they opened up on it as though they were in combat. Not surprisingly, the animal shortly thereafter perished. Upon inspection, the carcass was found to have 18, count them, 18 bullet holes in it. Six bullets from each man. Let’s hope, if the Russians ever invade America as they did in the movie Red Dawn, they choose Rush City for their target. Problem solved. The rest of us can watch it on the news.

I also remember meeting Chris’ parents for the first time. They were super nice and friendly people who treated me like family from day one. I’m not sure if that family part was a good thing, however. As we sat at their table eating supper that night, the conversation drifted to some wild things that Chris had gotten in trouble for and his parents told a few stories to embarrass him as any good parent should on occasion. Then, Chris’ Dad said “Have you told Dave about your one day “relationship” with the neighbor?” Chris looked a little nervous and he suggested to his Dad that I didn’t need to know about that particular story. But, his Dad was fired up and went on to tell us about how Chris had been flirting with the neighbor lady one day and she had invited him into her trailer. Well, their “relationship” progressed quickly from that point on and they were getting to know each other very well in the deep recesses of the trailer when the third actor in this drama entered the scene. The woman’s husband. Chris’ parents heard shouting and screaming through the open windows of their trailer and they looked out to see the back door of the neighbor’s trailer fly open and their mostly naked son leap out of it with one hand holding his pants around his waist and the other holding the rest of his clothes. In the future, Chris would get a football scholarship to the University of Minnesota, but at that point he was using his natural athletic ability to avoid being murdered in a mobile home park. Chris’ Dad laughed until he was almost in tears as he described the scene and how quickly Chris made it from the neighbor’s home to his own. The friendly neighbor lady’s husband soon followed and was not laughing or friendly. Chris’ Dad met him outside and somehow managed to save everyone from being killed and the irate husband skulked back to his trailer and adulterous wife. Chris just shook his head as his Mom and Dad talked and laughed and reminisced about this cherished family story. I said things like “What?!” and “Wait…” and “You’re serious?!” a bunch of times. They were serious. It was Rush City.

Chris was arrested at a young age for being involved in something like a small riot at a club called The Gay 90’s in Minneapolis. He was on probation when I met him for the first time at the grocery store in our town where we both worked. Apparently, he had been drunk in a van with a bunch of guys who thought it would be fun to drive the 60 miles to Minneapolis to harass some gay guys. So, they did it and when the ensuing fight spilled into the street, Chris saw one of his friends get hit with a beer bottle and he decided it was time to get off the bench. He punched the guy with the broken bottle and grabbed his buddy to help him to the van. The other Rush City boys had gotten to the van already and started to leave, but when they saw Chris and the beer bottle battered boy (nice!) running after them they swung the back doors of the van open and the driver slammed on the brakes just as Chris and the BBBB were getting there. Consequently, they both ran into the end of the van doors and got knocked out cold. And, like the morons they were, the guys in the van decided that the best course of action was to drive away and head back to Rush City. So, Chris and his two time battered friend were out cold on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, 60 miles from home, drunk, probably 14 or 15 years old, and being chased by a hostile homosexual horde. (Nice!) Imagine getting that phone call as a parent. Again, “What?!” and “Wait…” and “You’re serious?!”

Chris’ violent streak was impressive to me at the time and I still admire his passion and willingness to fight for things. I think that has been mostly lost these days in most people. I don’t condone beating up people for stupid reasons, of course, but there is a time for war as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes. I admire people who defend themselves and others who need it and I admire good police officers and soldiers who fight for each of us every day. Chris fought now and then. He was a peaceful guy, generally, but if he was pushed he would give a few warnings and if they weren’t heeded he would fight instead of running. I admired that. Also, there was more fighting in those days and less shooting. I think people were allowed to vent a little and get it out of their systems before the rage turned into homicide. But, that’s just a rough hypothesis. Obviously, there are a lot of variables in that equation.

Chris and I were roommates our freshman year of college too. That year, we worked at Kohl’s in Northtown Mall and Chris dated a girl named Natalie who also worked there. Like the deer who ran past the family deer stands, there was a guy who worked with all of us who decided to put the moves on Natalie. I don’t remember his name, but he wore tie dyed shirts and sandals and was tall and awkward and had poofy and curly brown hair. He was also a pretty bad worker, from what I remember of picking up his slack. Anyway, after repeated warnings to leave Natalie alone, Chris took action. I drove us to work that night and as we were leaving Chris saw the guy and he asked me to stop the car for a second. I didn’t realize what was going on, I just stopped the car because he asked me to stop. Chris jumped out and put up his hand in a friendly gesture and called the guy’s name. “Hey, Mike!” Something like that. The guy was talking with a few others and he peeled off to walk toward Chris. Chris started jogging over to meet him and as he got close he punched “Mike” really hard in the face and Mike went down. Chris stood there for a moment and said “Stay away from my girlfriend!” and then walked back to the car and climbed in. He was as calm as could be. He turned to me and smiled and said “Let’s go.” Mike was getting up off the ground and as we drove by Chris waved to Mike, his girlfriend Natalie, and the rest of our coworkers.

Well, despite his time on the Kohl’s parking lot pavement, Mike persisted in his efforts to woo Natalie a few weeks later and Chris found out. I was studying at our apartment and Chris came in looking crazy and sweaty like he might be having a heart attack. He said “Where are the golf clubs?” I said “Whoa, buddy. What’s up?” He explained Mike’s efforts and his plan to head to Mike’s house with a golf club and “take care of it”. I suggested that might not be the best plan considering his probationary status and for a number of other reasons, but over my reasoning and the protests of our other roommate who owned the golf clubs Chris left with the promise “I’ll replace it” as he held the club out to the guy.

He came back without the club a while later and he had that same calmness as when he’d gotten back into the car after Chris -vs- Mike 1. I asked a few questions and didn’t get a lot of answers other than “Don’t worry about it.” Eventually, Chris said “The police might be showing up at some point, so just tell them I’m not here.” Me: “What?!” and “Wait…” and “You’re serious?!” Chris: “Don’t worry about it. I didn’t kill him or anything. The pussy wouldn’t even come out of his house.” I explained that I thought that was a pretty good plan if an enraged athlete showed up at my house with a golf club and demanded that I come outside. Chris explained that he had basically done that earlier and that Mike hadn’t made an appearance other than to yell at him through the screen door along with his parents and to threaten to call the police. So, as anyone would do in his position, Chris walked to the end of their driveway and beat their mailbox off the post with the club and then threw it at their house as hard as he could. “So, you just left the golf club there with your fingerprints on it?” I asked. I watched too many crime shows. “I had no choice,” he said. “Why?” “It went through their picture window.” Me, as usual, “What?!” and “Wait…” and “You’re serious?!”

Not shockingly, the police showed up about twenty minutes later and knocked on the door. Chris calmly walked into the living room, grabbed a book, sat on the couch, and started to read. “Tell them I’m not here,” he said. I experienced a great deal of stress during the next few moments. The knocking continued along with “Police. Open the door.” I opened the door wide and just stood there looking like I had wielded the golf club. “Does Chris (lastname) live here?” Yes. “Is he here now?” Yes. “Can we speak with him, please?” Yes, just a moment. I walked around the corner and Chris gave me a disgusted look like I was such an amateur. He wasn’t angry and he didn’t feel betrayed or anything like that. He was disappointed. That’s what the look said. I said “The police are here and they’d like to talk to you?” He said “Why?” I said nothing and he gave me the look again. Amateur. As he came around the corner, he turned to look at the officers and a handsome smile lit up his face. But, there was a hint of confusion there too. “Hi, I’m Chris. What’s going on?” He was concerned. Calm, handsome, happy, concerned Chris. The police asked him if he knew Mike and Chris said that he did and that they worked together at Kohl’s. Had he been at Mike’s house about an hour ago? “No…” Confused. “We’re not friends, we just work together.” “So, where were you an hour ago?” “I was here, studying.” Here it comes, I thought. “Right, Dave?” Then, there was a different look. I said “He has been here studying.” Chris’ eyes looked at me and said “Good! You’re learning!” with a little smirk. I felt like I was about to go to prison for life without the possibility of parole for misleading the police. And, being a natural criminal, I also thought that I might puke or pass out or both at any moment. While I technically hadn’t lied, I didn’t tell the clear truth either. Innocent, calm, concerned Chris turned back to the officers and explained how he and Mike had a disagreement about Chris’ girlfriend Natalie recently and that Mike had argued with him in the parking lot the other night. “Mike said you hit him,” one of the officers said. “What?! That’s crazy. I didn’t hit him!” misunderstood and persecuted Chris said. “I don’t know what his problem is, but I wish that he would just stay away from me and Natalie. He’s harassing both of us!” The officers exchanged a look and asked a few more simple questions before leaving with the warning “You should stay away from Mike and his family. We’ll get this sorted out and we may be back to ask you more questions.” Chris said “Okay, believe me, I don’t want anything to do with that guy.” The officers gave us one more long look and left. Chris closed the door and turned to me with his finger over his lips. He knew me and the flood of words that was coming.

In the end, we had a falling out with our other roommate and we moved home near the end of the school year. Chris had come home early from school and found our roommate having sex with another guy right there in front of him when he opened the apartment door. He had promptly shut the door and come to find me and tell me about it. We decided to talk to the guy about it and figure out how to handle it afterwards. When we got back to the apartment late that evening, the locks had been changed. We knocked, but the door never opened. We stayed with my parents that night. The next day while the guy was at work, I gave Chris a boost to the second floor apartment’s deck and he climbed up to the third floor deck to our apartment and went in through the patio door. He let me in the hallway door and we moved most of our stuff out and left. The roommate had stolen a lot of our things and it was really annoying, but we decided just to cut our losses and be done with it. I was really upset that he stole my Led Zeppelin “Houses of the Holy” CD. Jerk!

Chris never replaced the golf club and the police never came looking for him. I will never understand how he got away with that rampage. There were no repercussions from the punch or the clubbing except for the fact that Natalie broke up with Chris for being so violent and started dating Mike. I did not see that one coming. Karma?

(How long is this going to go on? He hasn’t even gotten to the peeing parts yet! Who cares about your stupid Zeppelin CD!!)

I did a lot of sleep walking and talking until my early twenties. My family and roommates, including Chris, gave me reports of my nocturnal activities. Sometimes I would wake up in a different room from where I went to sleep. This was disorienting. Usually, when I was little, I would just walk into my parents’ room and ask them for orange juice or stuff by pillows and blankets behind their door and start crushing them over and over again until they put me back to bed. One night, while crushing my bedclothes, my Mom asked me what I was doing. She said that I turned to her and said “I’m putting my blankets behind the door.” in a voice and with a look that suggested she was a complete moron for asking because it was so obvious. She thought that was pretty funny when she told me about it years later. In one incident, while my parents were having a party with some of their friends, 2nd or 3rd grade David walked out into the middle of the kitchen and peed in the trash can in front of all of them. My parents did not find this to be nearly as amusing. Another time, while my Dad was watching the Twins game, ten or twelve year old David walked out of his room and down the hallway toward the living room. As my Dad looked up, he said that I opened the door to the basement, undid my pants, and peed down the basement steps. After finishing, I put everything back in its place, closed the door, and went back to bed. Of course, my Dad did nothing to stop me and eventually went and got my Mom to clean it up. She was not pleased with me or him. After they told me about it the next morning, my Mom was still disgusted and asked my Dad “Why didn’t you stop him?!” “I was watching the game,” he said. I always found out about these incidents the next morning or even years later. It was like there was another me that was operating behind my back and using my body without asking permission. It was disconcerting.

Around that same time, my best friend Nick dared me to pee on the neighbor’s electric fence. I think he offered me five bucks, even, so I pretty much had to do it. I started peeing and nothing happened. Nick was laughing and he decided to join me and we were both peeing on the fence for a moment until the charge came around. Maybe the farmer saw us and quickly ran and turned up the power. Mr. Melvin Hanson would have done that for sure and gotten a good laugh out of it. This is the same man that shot my “killer dog” that was “trying to kill his goats”. It was a wiener dog. He had used a shotgun. The dog had survived despite the vet saying there was nothing he could do for him and sending us home with a “Good luck.” My Dad was angry about that for years and made a comment to Mr. Hanson about it whenever he had the opportunity. Anyway, when the electrical charge came around, both Nick and I were knocked to the ground and I think that I lost consciousness for a moment. I remember our shoulders bumping as we were peeing and laughing and then I was on the ground and wondering what had happened. What I’m saying is that I’m pretty sure I got knocked out with an electric charge that came through my penis. That sounds even worse now that I’m typing it out here. Regardless, no harm, no foul, Mr. Hanson. Let’s move on.

My Dad and I picked up my Uncle John one time and we were bringing him over for supper. He needed to pee and he asked my Dad to stop, so he swung into a filling station and parked by the door. Looking back, I think it was just a repair shop because they were closed when they should have been open and my Uncle was disgusted because you needed a key for the bathroom door and we couldn’t get it. He looked down at me and said “Come on…” as he gestured toward the back of the station with his thumb. When I got around the corner, he was already pulling his equipment out and starting his business while he grumbled about the place being closed. He told me to do the same, so I did. Then he turned and started peeing on a car that was parked there and he told me to do the same, so I did. He said “We need to teach them a lesson.” I don’t think they learned anything from this urine assault, but it sure made John feel better. Again, I felt like a criminal and that the police would be coming at any moment to put us in jail for our wild urination. They didn’t, but as we walked back to the car my uncle tapped me on the shoulder and he gave me a wink and a smile as he looked down at me. I smiled back and I felt like we had a funny secret after that.

After sleeping in the NBC building in Manhattan one night because we couldn’t afford a room, I really had to pee. One of my companions who was from another borough of the city, said “Just pee.” I was confused, so he explained “Just find a place and pee. People do it all the time. There’s nowhere to pee in this fucking place.” So, taking his advice, I sneaked behind a large planter at 2020 Rockefeller Plaza right by the golden statue of Prometheus and started peeing a long, strong, and satisfying morning pee. As soon as the first drop hit the ground, the guy started pointing at me and yelling “Hey! What are you doing?!! HEY! There’s a guy pissing over here!! He’s just pissing everywhere!! HEY!!!!” His shouting went on as long as the peeing did. I started laughing out of embarrassment because dozens of people were now looking at me and also just because it was really funny which made it harder to finish. I felt like I peed for about five minutes rather than the 30 seconds it probably lasted. Again, I was not arrested and the only thing my buddy got was the satisfaction of pulling a really good prank and a hard punch in the arm.

Most are separate. One is together.

One night in High School, Chris and I were driving around in his yellow Mustang and bored. This was often the case and we would just drive around and look at stuff while listening to music on cassette tapes and talking. Suddenly, Chris had an idea and he headed north out of town toward Rush City. He eventually made a series of turns and we ended up at the end of a bridge that crossed over Highway 35. We’re talking about US Interstate 35 that runs from Duluth, MN to Texas. This bridge was out in the country and had no on or off ramps attached to it. It had a dirt road on either side of the freeway and the bridge deck was also covered in gravel. It was probably only used by farmers whose land had been divided by the freeway construction. Chris jumped out and started walking up the bridge. “Where are you going?” “Come on!” he said. As we got to the other side of the bridge, I realized where we were and then I saw Chris unbuttoning his pants. “What are you doing?” “I’m going to pee on some cars,” he said. So, we did. We undid our pants, climbed up onto the wall of the bridge, and peed down onto the southbound lanes of I-35 as cars streamed past. We were both laughing really hard and it’s surprising that we didn’t fall onto the freeway and get run over with our pants around our ankles. The honking horns and perturbed stares of the people looking up at us with their necks cranked to peer out of their windshields made us laugh even harder. It was amazing to watch our 20 foot long urine streams arcing to the pavement as the cars and trucks and boats plowed through them. It was 1988 and there were no digital cameras or mobile phones to capture our shameless urine attack. I pity the boy that tries this today. His parents and the police along with Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and probably his disappointed Grandmother would know before he got home. But, Chris and I got away with this dastardly deed.

After our freshman years, Chris and I went to different schools and we drifted apart. I think I only saw him once or twice after that and it was a little awkward because we didn’t really know each other anymore. And, even in the social media age, we have somehow managed to not find each other again. I hope he is still fighting, but I also hope he’s fighting for better things and using his tremendous strength for the good. I’m also pleased to report that Nick and I have both fathered children which is reassuring in light of our shocking past. But, Uncle John, my Dad, my wiener dog, Mr. Hanson, and his goats have all passed on. It has been a really long time since I’ve walked in my sleep, but I continue to talk and I’m happy to report that I’ve passed sleep walking and talking on to the next generation. I still haven’t replaced that dang Zeppelin CD. But, I’m sure that Grandpa David will be watching the Twins some fine Minnesota summer evening in the future while one of his grandsons is peeing God knows where and with whom. “A man reaps what he sows.” as the Apostle Paul wrote.

The Satanic Organic Gardener – More Evidence for the Freak Magnet Hypothesis

I want to start this writing by saying that there will be some swearing along with some crude language and possibly disturbing details included. I’m not sure if this will attract or repel you, but I thought you should know. Also, I wish I could share this man’s name with you, but I shouldn’t. I haven’t talked to him in many years and I have no idea where he is and what he’s doing with his life or if he’s even still alive, but I know that he probably wouldn’t like me writing about him or at least he wouldn’t like some of the personal items and observations/opinions that I intend to share about him. That said, I also want to be clear that I like him. We probably couldn’t be more different in most ways, but there is a connection that we developed over the time we knew each other and a mutual respect that developed between us that I’m proud of cultivating. His name is part of what makes him an interesting character, but you’ll have to ask me privately if you really want to know it. I’ll call him Victor.

I started working at a printing company in one of the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities toward the end of the last century. That’s where I met Victor. I was a Pressroom Helper and he was hired for the same position a short time later. At the time, I was dabbling in starting my own construction company and I was flipping houses poorly and learning hard and expensive lessons in Scott County. I took a job at a small printing company for the health insurance for my wife and I and our toddling daughter and I was working three 12 hour shifts/week and doing carpentry work on the other days. Victor started shortly after I did and we worked together for almost eight years. We learned a lot about each other and a lot about ourselves during that time. It was a good place for us to be even though neither one of us realized it. I learned how to work harder and be more responsible as I worked alongside people with great integrity and drive like Paul, Eric, Robert, and Rob. Victor softened and healed a lot too both from his upbringing and from his failed marriage. I would never have thought that possible when I first met him, but it gives me hope for all of the damaged people that I’ve come across and for myself.

I was walking across the print shop floor on an errand and Victor was sweeping. I made eye contact with him and he almost instantly said “You got some kind of problem, man?” I smiled and said no as I kept walking. “What’s so funny?” I stopped and looked at him and said “I just smiled and I don’t have a problem.” He seemed a little uncertain for a moment and then went back into the standard tough guy routine that most of us have encountered many times by saying “I didn’t think so” with a sideways glance. Most of these types of encounters happened in Middle School and some continued on into High School, but we were beyond those ages in this case. Just like a physical injury or trauma, sometimes a person has some major trauma or series of traumas in their life and their emotional development stops right there or it gets stunted. That’s what psychologists tell us, anyway. And, I think Victor had more traumas than most people and he was still carrying a lot of them on his back when I met him. They were heavy ones. Consequently, he had built a wall, a considerable fortress actually, to keep people from getting close. He had let someone get close and he was hurt badly and now he was protecting himself from getting hurt again.

Victor scared people. He was big, angry, and severe looking and he projected a threat of violence with the way he looked at you and the way he moved. His eyes and hair were dark and sharp and wild and made him look dangerous and unpredictable. When he looked at people, they looked away. When he walked toward people, they altered their course. Victor was originally from at tough area of Detroit and after his marriage failed he moved to Minnesota. His ex-wife and her family were Christians and now all Christians and Christianity in general had become his enemy/scapegoat. His brother, interestingly, had become a minister. This all makes his choice of employment curious to me since the printing company where we both worked presented itself as a Christian company complete with the fish symbol on its ads and business cards.

Victor’s tattoos also scared people. He said that he was a Satanist and he had a 666 on one bicep and a swastika on the other. He had barbed wire inked like bracelets around both wrists. One of his forearms held the words “Cop Killer” on the bottom. When he shaved his head one time, another tattoo of a zipper was revealed. I asked him about that and he told me that his original intention was to have the zipper partially unzipped with some brains popping out but that “…it just hurt too God damned bad, so I told the guy to just finish the zipper.” The four digits of his fingers closest to both palms each held a letter to spell out the word HATE. The battlements around his fortress were strong and worked well.

Over the years, Victor and I had many strange encounters and we got to know each other in the way that only longtime coworkers can. And, as he started to relax a little, his interactions with all of us became less hostile and more bizarre or entertaining depending on how you took them. For example, one day, out of nowhere, he started calling me Big Bird like the Sesame Street character. I didn’t acknowledge the change, but he mostly stopped calling me Thomas and switched exclusively to Big Bird for the rest of the time we worked together. I don’t ever remember him calling me David or Dave although he may have. After many months of this, I asked him why he called me Big Bird and he said “Because you fucking look like Big Bird, why do you think?”

A few years into this nickname, I came across a Big Bird Christmas ornament and I wrapped it up in a nice decorative box and gave it to Victor for a joke around Christmas time. Satanists obviously do not get many Christmas gifts and he was surprised when I set the box down in front of him. Victor said “What the fuck is this?” when I gave him the box. “Open it.” I said. He looked disgusted and ripped the paper off the box and pulled the top off. When he pulled the ornament out of the tissue paper, he laughed hard and long at his new Big Bird. I had written “Big Bird says REPENT!” on his little yellow chest in bold black letters. He thanked me for it and told me it was awesome. The ornament hung by his desk for a few years until he came back to work after one weekend to find it missing. The scary Victor came back for a while that day and he marched around the shop asking people where his Big Bird was and letting everyone clearly know what would happen if he found out who took it. Sadly, little Big Bird was never seen again.

We had another coworker who was fairly overweight at the time. (He’s another success story from that crew who has gotten an education and built a successful family, career, and life along with losing the weight.) Victor’s nickname for him was a sarcastic “Slim Shady” after Eminem’s nickname. So much creativity coming out of Detroit.

I loaned Victor $20 once and he said he’d repay me after we got paid the following week. That Friday, he told me to follow him to the liquor store after work and he’d get my money out of the ATM there. I did so, and a few minutes later he came out with a $20 bill in one hand a bottle of blackberry schnapps in the other. He unscrewed the top, pitched it into the bushes next to the store, and took a big swig of the liquor. Victor walked up to my car and handed me the $20 through the window as he was taking another swig. He thanked me for the loan and said “Have a good weekend, Big Bird.” as he walked away, took another swig, and got into his car. I watched him lifting the bottle again as he drove away.

Victor regularly made his hatred for what he viewed as Christianity apparent by randomly shouting out offensive statements over the din of the shop floor. “God, I wish the Pope was here so I could RAPE HIM!!” is one of the most memorable. He said this as he walked past a group of us washing the ink off our hands one afternoon. One of the other guys said “What is wrong with that guy?” Another time, we were getting ready to head out for a long holiday weekend and as Victor walked up to wash his hands at the big sink with us, one of the guys asked him what he was going to do to celebrate President’s Day. Without missing a beat he said “I’ll probably just stay home and jack off on a picture of George Bush.” When I got to be a supervisor, I called him at home one time to ask him to come in, but I only got his answering service. There was a lengthy social and political commentary on his greeting which included the fact that “You Americans think you’re free? You only have one more choice for President than Iraq.” It was an election year.

I was heavily into natural health and cleansing during those years and I had recently told some of my coworkers about colon cleansing and how well it had worked for me. Victor heard about it through the grapevine and he asked me, loudly, as he came into the break room with his headphones on and abrasive heavy metal blaring out of them “Thomas, how do I get some of those butt pills?” Ten or fifteen people looked at him and then at me. Nice. He ended up buying a colon cleanse kit from me and about a week later he said that it didn’t work and that he wanted his money back. It was a 14 day cleanse, so I told him to finish it and bring me the empty box and bottles and that I’d refund him. A few weeks later, he came back from vacation and, again in the break room and quite loudly and in front of way too many people, he told me that the cleanse had worked and he didn’t need his money back anymore. “I normally drive straight through Wisconsin when I go back to my Dad’s place”, he said “…but I HAD to stop this time. I HAD TO.” “I was trying to hold it, but I needed to shit like RIGHT NOW, so I pulled into a McDonald’s somewhere in the middle of Wisconsin. I feel sorry for the poor bastard that had to clean that fuckin’ toilet because I filled that thing. I mean it was plum full with all different colors and textures and shit. It looked like three or four fuckin’ people shit in that thing.” He went on to clarify “I just left it. I had to. The poor bastard that cleans that thing, he ain’t never seen anything like that before, so I left it for him.” I was crying and the rest of the folks on break were staring at him wide eyed. And, as Victor grabbed his food from the refrigerator and went back to his press, he turned and smiled at me. As the years went by, I think he enjoyed making me laugh as much as he liked shocking or scaring other people.

I went from Pressroom Assistant to Press Operator to Shift Supervisor to Production Supervisor at that company and despite the fact that Victor had started about the same time as me and worked as hard as me, he was still working as a Press Operator. He was a great employee regardless of how scary people found him. He was always on time and did more than his share of the work. He didn’t complain about the work much regardless of his other complaints and he was smart. So, when a new and expensive piece of equipment came in, I made sure that Victor got promoted to work on it. The new job came with a significant pay increase also and I got to tell him about both. He was shocked. He never thought that “those Christian assholes” would allow him to be promoted. He was also thankful. From then on, if anyone had anything bad to say about me and Victor was around, he would set them straight and often threaten them and tell them what a good guy I was and what I had done for him. I became “the only Christian I know that isn’t a complete fucking asshole.” If that isn’t a compliment, I don’t know what is.

It was a while after the promotion that I learned something shocking about Victor. He loved gardening. He walked into the break room as I was eating lunch and we were alone. He looked around and said “Hey, Big Bird. You have a garden?” I said that I did and he asked me if I had tomatoes and how they were doing this year. I told him that they were pretty bad because I really didn’t know what I was doing. He went on to tell me what I needed to do to get better results and that his “fucking tomatoes are the best mother fucking tomatoes you’ll ever eat.” Later, I learned about his “God damned cucumbers”, “fucking lettuce” and a wide variety of other veggies that he grew and that he was pretty proud of. “And, they’re all organic” he said. “I don’t need any mother fucking chemicals to grow my shit.”

Like the quote at the beginning of this post says, that’s intimacy. We were/are both weird and we were both okay with each other anyway regardless of our vastly different beliefs. I’m happy to have known Victor and to see him change and, most of all, to have connected with him. He let Big Bird into the garden behind the wall of the fortress and it was nice there.

A few years after I left that place to start my restaurant, he called me and invited me to breakfast in a neighboring town to where I had moved. He had purchased some land with cash from all of his hard work and had put a small house on it and he wanted to talk about business and how to start one and organize one. He was thinking of starting a nursery, but he didn’t have a name yet. I suggested “Satanic Organics” or “The Satanic/Organic Gardner”. He got a good laugh out of that. Victor bought me breakfast and after a good discussion and a hearty handshake we parted and I haven’t seen him since. I should check my phone for his number and see if he’d like to have breakfast again sometime. I’d love to hear how his “fucking tomatoes” are doing this year. Maybe he just grows normal tomatoes now. Regardless, I still probably look like Big Bird.