Tuesday, February 14, 2017


Like a lot of people, I don't get Valentines Day.  Who is this for?  What does it mean? This was a depressing and stressful day back in elementary school --when we had to give cheap little cardboard valentines to every person in the class,and invariably someone didn't get or give a valentine, and you can imagine the hurt feelings that created  -- and it didn't get much better over the years.  I have botched or forgotten this holiday any number of times; fortunately, my wife doesn't seem to care.  Chocolates are nice, but when aren't they?  For good or bad, we don't limit them to February 14.

The other day I noticed that there are still television commercials for this strange holiday, and they amaze me for their sheer sexist idiocy.  My favorite has an announcer intone, "Guys, what are you going to get your significant other on Valentines Day?" Then we see a slim beauty in satin tap pants and camisole answer the door to a hand offering flowers -- "flowers just get old in a matter of days" -- followed by chocolates -- "and chocolates are good for the first few but then she says" -- and now we see the beauty look sick from eating chocolates, asking (and I'm not making this up), "Do you think I look fat?"   I imagine you're wondering what the ultimate Valentine gift could be.  I sure was.   Don't worry, the answer is upon us.   You got it.  It's a four foot tall teddy bear! You may be skeptical, but I'm telling you, our slim beauty's eyes light up and she pounces on that teddy bear and cuddles it in delight with a simpering, "Ohhh!" The announcer goes on to tell us that this is the only possible gift for the lovely lady in our life, and who's to doubt him?

Unfortunately, if this vacuous moron were my lovely lady, I'd probably drink drain cleaner, but that's not my point.   This commercial seems wonderfully out of step with the times, but it's not really that far removed from bridal magazines and those hideous Harlequin or Hallmark TV movies that extoll the joys of real love, complete with montage sequence and gauzily lensed shots of quasi-sex.  It's romance porn, and it's not real love. It's a lie.

It's as big a lie as the perpetuation of the idea of the big wedding and the bride having "her day", or the ad images of happy folks at resorts walking hand in hand on the beach and drinking wine from big goblets (a sure sign of love if ever there was one, provided there's no alcholic gene in the family), or even the Viagra ads portraying middle aged couples in matching bathtubs holding hands, presumably after a terrific drug-induced romp.  I always wonder where in the hell they get those matching bathtubs and who exactly lugs them out on the back porch.

I guarantee you, young guys and gals, if you think this is love, you're headed for a life of unbelievable disappointment, with probably a side trip to divorce court.   Don't get me wrong: your big wedding will look lovely, and couples really do walk on the beach, and I guess if you can wrangle those bathtubs out on the porch, you'll be right on top of the world, but ...

But heartless bastard that I am, this kind of adventure really don't mean anything to me.  Perhaps I wouldn't be melted by someone giving me a four foot teddy bear, either.

Here's my Valentines lesson for everyone younger than me: love, believe it or not, is about losing your house.

I'm not kidding. It's about having your world crash in because sometime around 2008, a bunch of robber barons cleaned out the till.  Your wife looks at you and you look at her.  She hasn't worked since the kids were born.

You could both yell.  You could both fall apart.  I suspect the folks who had the big wedding they're still paying for might do exactly that.  But you don't do that. Nope.  This is where the rubber hits the road.  No TV commercial teddy bears are going to fix this one.

The wife goes back to work, doing part-time clerical for a neighbor across the street.  You pick up what jobs you can to keep the rent going, and basically beg borrow and steal what else you need.  A lot of humility is learned, just as you educate yourself on the value of clipping coupons and what days to buy 50% off at the grocery store.  Then your wife has the stupidest idea you've ever heard of.  "I want to go back to school and study medicine.  I want to help people."  Help people?  How about helping us, baby! 

But this is real love -- not Harlequin or Hallmark love, but the real thing -- so you go with it and she drives the little car to night classes at community college for two years catching up on courses she didn't complete in high school.   You keep doing what you can.  (Note for Betsy Devos: God bless community colleges for their cheap fees and their first rate education).

While you try to put your own career back on track, she keeps chugging along, full of doubt and anger and determination. Amazingly, she gets into one of the top medical programs in the country. Graduates with a Masters Degree in nursing. As for the actual job part, you find out she passed her certification tests while the two of you are sitting in a Carls Jr. burger place having a nervous "lunch", waiting for the news.  The message pops up on her phone.  She winds up working in a cardiac unit at one of the top hospitals in the country.  The woman managed all this when she was 52. 

Notice something?  There are no teddy bears here. There are no gauzy shots of couples clinking goblets of white wine while the surf rolls in in the distance.  There is, instead, this image: my wife cleaning up your husband in his hospital room, making sure your mother dies with dignity, and caring for your teenaged son like one of her own.  It's her working 7pm to 7 am four times a week when she's not also doing hospice care.  She's going to see you through the fear, the apprehension, the operation, and the recovery, and she's going to sit with your wife through the night and watch her vitals like a hawk.  She takes care of them, she advocates for them, and when they pass away she makes sure they do it with dignity.

Love is about a lot of things.  It's about laughter, it's about conversation, it's about what you get through together, and, yes, I guess it's also about beaches and goblets of wine, but that is so narrow a lens it's almost hard to find the true image. The true image, in the end, is about respect and admiration.   
Happy Valentines to my wife, to yours, to your husband, and to the truth.

Thursday, February 9, 2017


As each day dawns and we're given another forehead-smacking political bombshell, it's becoming clearer just how badly America has humiliated itself.  Some days this infuriates me.   Some days I'm more rational.

Countries often humiliate themselves.  Look at France. France has humiliated itself a lot and yet it remains a great nation, a great culture, and a great people.  Take a look at Greece.  Greece humiliates itself so much it's become the long-lost brother who shows up at the wedding only to borrow money.  Greece, however, is also the cradle of democracy, and gave us theatre and philosophy.  Beat that.

The United States, of course, is exceptional, so it has to do stupid things exceptionally stupider than anyone else. The pedal goes to the metal, as it were, because this isn't Albania or Luxembourg.  So we've humiliated ourselves on a gargantuan scale -- think Superbowl half-time show, lights, lasers, smoke, gyrating pelvises.   Unfortunately, in our humiliation we've also threatened the rest of the world, causing all sorts of innocent people untold grief while putting our very history and name to shame.  

Yep, our election of the Big Orange Baby has made us an object of fear and hatred as well as a laughingstock.  How our institutions are handling the situation has made things even worse; under the leadership of Paul Ryan -- now sadly revealed not as the 'last rational man in Washington' but a craven little boy -- and Mitch McConnell -- not a tough political operator but a blowhard and scraping pol -- and the Democrats posturing as if they hadn't botched things on an epic level, we have revealed the U.S. Congress to have all the moral leadership of  a political Steppn Fetchit.  So if people truly hate the United States, who can blame them? The place is being run by the Keystone Kops, minus the charm. 

This isn't okay.  Nor, however, is it fatal.  There are some good things in all this.

For one, we are being given a unique opportunity to really run this thing around the track; to find out if the country (and all it thought it stood for) is truly great or truly full of crap.

Even more amazing, we know exactly how long that part of the process will take.   Four years!  Maybe sooner, but no longer.  Four years!  I've been delaying getting crowns done for longer than four years.

Think of it:  by the time four years is up we'll know for sure if we should rip up Gettysburg and turn it into an RV park, or keep it as a monument to the notion of government "of the people and by the people"; we'll find out if there should be a monument to Washington at all or instead put in a much needed ring-road to alleviate traffic in D.C.; or if the U.S.S. Arizona should be hauled up and sold for scrap or kept underwater for eons of little kids to gawk at.

It's a gift.  Like being told exactly how much candy you're going to have at the end of Halloween, or exactly what time your parents are going to wake up on Christmas morning.  

Four years, and all we have to do to just a little recasting. That means stop thinking of ourselves as the yo-yo's who foisted this great injustice on the world, or the hacks who fill our houses of Congress, and start picturing ourselves in far better starring roles: settlers struggling across the west, say, or the guys fighting in Guadalcanal.  How about the women of 1919 demanding the vote or John Lewis at Selma? Sacagawea leading Lewis and Clark to find the Pacific Ocean, or firefighters on 9/11?  Sully landing the plane. 

This isn't dead history stuff, unobtainable and as pertinent as the fables of Camelot, this is the real McCoy -- actual living DNA.

I have a framed picture on my wall that I look at every morning. Most people know this picture.  It's Orville Wright taking off in his airplane at Kitty Hawk, with his brother Wilbur off to the right, pausing after, I believe, having run with the plane until the moment when it should take off.   There is no artifice about this picture.  It's the real thing.  That's Orville in the plane and that's Wilbur on the ground, and they're sure too busy to have posed for this.

Some people look at the plane.  I look at Wilbur's bent left leg. There's something about that leg.  It's tentative.  It's worried.   Is this going to work?  Is it not?  It's the leg of Wilbur watching Orville take off, but it's also me trying to get my kid to get his grades up to even a "C", or trying to get my daughter to book her own plane ticket for the first time in her life, or get a loan application to go through so we can fight another day.  I am Wilbur Wright.  We are all Wilbur Wright. We are trying to get the plane in the air, despite all the failures that have come before.

This is the most inspirational picture I know of.  

This is what's going to get us through the next four years, and it's also what's going to make sure we come out better than before.  All we have to to do is master our craft and work at it, like Orville and Wilbur.  Each day.  We got out of the habit and now we're paying the price.  Now we just have to set things right.

The craft is running a democracy.  The work is paying attention.   The guys running the bicycle shop are you and me.


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