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    Hope

    For a person to win the presidency, he or she must appeal to the hopes of the majority of the electorate.

    That obviously wasn't the case this time - no small technicality - because DJT did not win a majority of the popular vote overall. He did, however, win a majority of the popular vote in the states with a majority of the electoral votes.

    So he's in. Propelled by the hopes of the people who voted for him.

    Their hopes, it would seem, are encapsulated by the theme "Make America Great Again."

    Which means quite clearly that they believe that at some point in the recent past America stopped being great. (Side note: I'd like to know where they think that happened. I'm guessing January 20, 2009.)

    So what, pray, are those voters hoping DJT can do to redeem this promise? Based on the campaign rhetoric he used to promote the theme, and the records and statements of the band of billionaires and hard right operatives selected to work for him, it's fair to suggest the following.

    1. Certainly, rollback of laws and regulations requiring tolerance and fair treatment for anyone other than employed, physically able, white male Christians.

    2. Certainly, rollback of laws and regulations requiring protection of clean air, water, and land, where such laws inhibit (or are thought to inhibit) unfettered pursuit of corporate profits and growth. This quite naturally includes any agreement concerning climate change.

    3. Certainly, reduction of not downright removal of most forms of government support and protection for the disadvantaged, the ill, the exploited, and of course the poor.

    4. Certainly, roundup and expulsion of immigrants of other than those of DJT approved origin, religious faith, economic status, or skin hue, as well as prevention of such from entering the country.

    5. Certainly, a rapid coarsening of society as science, education, knowledge are denigrated, and a new permission structure comes into effect (as is already happening) to make acceptable all forms of open and unapologetic hostility toward those who don't look or act like "us."

    6. Certainly, three briskly nominated and approved Supreme Court justices who share Scalia's politics and worldview but not his intellect.

    7. Certainly, abandonment of alliances and common cause with other nations except, of course, Russia, whose personal, political, and financial ties with DJT and his paladins are as yet only dimly visible.

    8. Certainly, the use of the United States military to settle all difficulties, foreign and domestic. Leading quite naturally to:

    9. Wars. Renewal of old ones, triggering of new ones. The knee-jerk option for this crew of plutocrats, who will never have to worry their pretty little heads about their sons and daughters having to risk their own skins.

    If there is any real hope for those who did not and do not support DJT and his minions, it may (if only faintly) be that they will, in their exuberance and insistence that they have a "mandate," be unable to to resist the temptation to overreach. Which could in the fullness of time result in a backlash of monumental proportions. But how many will have to die first?

    Hosea 8:7 - For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.

    "They," and the rest of us with them.

    January 19, 2017


    Hotel hacks

    shiningtwins1 (41K)

    In my several decades of travel for business, I've stayed at who knows how many hotels.

    Originally a Courtyard guy, I shifted to Holiday Inn Express, and am now mainly a Hampton person. Whenever possible I choose Staybridge Suites because I believe them to be the best value for the dough. I'm also partial to Country Inn. I avoid regular Holiday Inns like the plague, and in Washington I always stay at a no-name place called the Americana in Crystal City. (Kitschy but fun.)

    Wherever I go, there are certain hacks I've adopted that tend to maximize the convenience (if not pleasure) of hotel life. In no particular order, here they are.

    You are welcome.

    Suitcase. This stays packed all the time. I have a complete and separate set of toothbrush, flosser, shaver, and all the necessary supplies, including extra shampoo in case the hotel falls short.

    Clothes. I carry five sets of underwear / teeshirts / socks in separate bags, one for each day. Just grab one from the suitcase and put in the bathroom for use in the morning.

    Room key. This stays in my pocket at all times in case I step out of the room for some reason. I hate having to go to the desk for a replacement.

    Exhaust fan. I test this upon arrival. If it is not switched separately from the bathroom light, and roars like a jet engine, I disable it.

    Shower. I always run the hot water well before showering for the first time. If the room hasn't been used in a while, it can sometimes take a long time for the water to warm up.

    Wash cloths. I hate the little tags that come on these. If I can't rip them off, I cut them off with the scissors I carry in my shaving kit.

    Blanket. Since I tend toward being too hot at night, I favor hotels that provide an extra blanket that is lighter than the brick-thick blanket that is all the rage now. Even with the temp turned down, I find this to be more comfortable. Hamptons and Country Inns tend to provide these routinely.

    Refrigerator. If it hums loudly or buzzes, I unplug it.

    Microwave. Essential. Hotel room coffee makers tend to be on the pathetic side. So before retiring I get a couple of cups from the lobby and heat them up in the morning.

    Room bill. I insist on express checkout, eliminating the need to go to the desk. And I favor hotels that can email these (rather than giving them to me in hard copy) as this makes it easier for me to invoice clients.

    Other things that matter. Cleanliness, lack of odor, lack of overpowering cleanser scent, reasonable ventilation, absence of elevator nearby.

    Things that don't matter. TV, room phone, hair dryer, safe, lobby happy hours, and bars (obviously).

    January 18, 2017


    Mickey Donovan

    mick1 (16K)

    Okay, all right, I know that's really Jon Voight in the pic. He plays Mickey Donovan in Ray Donovan, my latest favorite TV series ever. I just finished all four seasons of it (season 5 starts in July, I believe).

    Voight just lights the thing up. All the acting is great in it, but Voight is in a class of his own. He is so versatile and he really lives and breathes the character. Mickey is a bad man, a really bad man, but you can't help but like him a little, and root for him. He has a heart of sorts. He also provides comic relief. For me some of that comes from the exuberance with which he does bad things.

    He puts the "fun" in the dysfunctional Donovan family, that's for sure. Really a treat and highly recommended.

    Postscript: Of course I know about Voight's hard right politics, which are planets apart from mine. I don't even think about that when watching him. Anybody with Deliverance and Midnight Cowboy and Heat and of course Ray Donovan on his resume can't be all bad.

    January 17, 2017


    Pizza party (34K)

    My lucky family

    Yesterday we threw a family party at my dad's house in Toledo, a sort of welcome-reception for my son Robert and his wife Casey (married in NYC three months ago). The Michigan-Ohio family contingent had not met them before.

    We had a great time.

    But the best part of it was having it at Dad's house. It's our ancestral home. My mother's parents built it in 1953, when I was one year old. Tons of memories there.

    Until I was 13, we lived right behind it. So I had daily contact with my grandparents, which was a blessing. When they died in the early 1990s, my parents bought out my mom's sisters, did some major remodeling, and moved in to the house when Dad retired. Mother died in the house just two years ago; since then Dad has lived there alone.

    So it was a very special place to welcome Casey to the family.

    Dad intentionally left the Christmas decorations up so that the party guests could enjoy them. Most of the decorations were designed and made by my mother. They provided a large helping of post-Christmas cheer, to augment the laughter and comraderie of the 20 guests.

    I'm sure that somewhere my grandparents and my mother were smiling.

    January 15, 2017


    Rabbit hole

    commodore-160186_640 (53K)

    Being willing to help a friend can bring great satisfaction. It can also lead one into a seemingly endless and very dark rabbit hole.

    For me, it started with an earnest question from a friend: "You know something about computers, don't you?"

    Mistake #1: allowing that I did.

    But the friend in question is herself an extremely generous and giving person. The kind of kind person you want to repay in kind.

    So off I went to her office to help diagnose what seemed to me to be a fairly easy to deal with error message that had her stymied.

    Turned out that the problem was much larger than that. Moreover, my friend, bless her heart, lacked knowledge of even the basics of using a computer for even the most basic tasks.

    The anticipated 10 minute visit turned into an hour or more of difficulties that expanded like a snowball rolling down a hill (and carrying me with it).

    Somehow, some way, I left her with a game plan, and scooted.

    But not without asking a favor of her. "Please don't tell anyone I helped you with this."

    I do not want to become the go-to person for every member of our peculiar association with computer problems.

    As willing as I try to be to help others, there is (here's the lesson learned) a bridge too far.

    January 14, 2017


    Pain shopping

    adult-1850177_1280 (51K)

    I've kept journals off and on since I was a teenager. My latest continuous run started in 1998. I don't journal every single day but at least every other day.

    Most of it is just a recital of daily doings. Some of it is commentary. And, depending on what's going on, some of it is very detailed dialogue about difficult and painful events.

    I know that some therapists recommend journaling as a form of self care and catharsis. I think it functions that way for me. Getting it down in black and white is a form of venting, drawing boundaries around an event, an occurrence, a relationship, to make sense of it and put it in some form of context.

    That's the positive side.

    The negative side is that it traps the immediacy of the situation and the feelings associated with it in black and white for all time.

    In other words, you can go back and look at it and (at least for me) the feelings come back with all their sharpness and pain. The healing effects of the passage of time are stripped away and there I am, back in it again.

    This has happened during casual browsings of old journals. I have also, quite perversely, gone back to read entries about difficult situations. I don't know why I've done that. I've learned that the term for this is pain shopping, and I plead guilty.

    A couple of years ago, during a major move, I actually threw away about 20 years of hard copy journals from high school going forward to the mid 1990s. I didn't want to store them; I didn't want to revisit them; I wanted them gone.

    That felt healthy to me.

    What I have now (aside from a couple of random folders of high school stuff) is an extensive array of electronic journals. I suppose the next healthy step would be to blow those away too, especially from years (and there are many) that I would not care to revisit.

    Trouble is they do come in so damn handy sometimes. If someone asks when we went to this place, or when did we meet so and so, I can do a global search and come up with answers in a twinkling. It's like having a google of my everyday life.

    I just don't ever again want to trip over what I had to say about those tough and painful times. I do not want to go back to it. I do not regret the past or wish to shut the door on it, but I do not need to inflict upon myself the very vivid thoughts, feelings, and memories that those journal entries expose myself to.

    And I don't want descendants to have that stuff either.

    So they've got to go.

    January 13, 2017


    Easy peasy

    key (62K)

    BALTIMORE - As a (mostly business) traveler, I go back so far (41 years) that I remember when hotels gave you a metal key to unlock your door.

    The first one I received, in St. Louis, unlocked the door to reveal a room already occupied by a couple in bed.

    They were not amused.

    From that non-technology we went to the venerable key card. These were prone to "dying" for no reason, leaving me stranded at an unlockable door and forced to return to the desk, where it always turned out to be my fault for not guarding the card from proximity to credit cards, etc.

    I quit arguing that one pretty early. Things can just be my fault. De nada.

    This trip, to an Embassy Suites in Baltimore, I've advanced to the next level of room access. It's a "digital key," deployed via an app on my iPhone, which unlocks the room door electronically.

    I'd heard of these things, but had never used one before.

    It's worked pretty good. And no key to lose or to "die" on me. As long as I keep my phone charged up, haha.

    Along the same lines, Detroit Metro airport has advanced to iPad-like video screens for ordering and paying for food. Again, I've encountered that before (first time was LaGuardia) but now these have found their way to good old DTW.

    All with the aim, of course, of improving customer service.

    And cutting jobs.

    January 12, 2017


    Where do you draw the line?

    cash (326K)

    I'm striving to be more helpful and of service to others.

    But I recoil from the notion of being a chump.

    People around town have tapped me for small "loans." In one case, it was someone I knew well and trusted implicitly. It was a sizeable amount of money and, as I expected, he repaid me.

    In another case, it was someone I don't know very well. The amount was relatively small. Nine months later he has shown no signs of repaying.

    Yesterday another person whom I barely know at all asked for $5 "until Thursday." I struggled with the dilemma and finally decided $5 was not a large amount to find out if this individual has any character or not.

    So I gave it to him.

    I want to feel good about it but I don't.

    I feel like a chump.

    January 11, 2017


    Gruntle and amble

    preamble (107K)

    For me, words are a never ending fascination. I get easily (perhaps way too easily) caught up and distracted with word-play, puns, and questions about word origins.

    Just lately somebody posted the term "gruntled" as the opposite of "disgruntled." I fell instantly in love with that and wondered "gruntled" was legitimate, or coined. Turns out it was the latter. Disgruntled, according to Merriam-Webster, has been around since 1682. "Gruntled," however, was coined in 1926 by an (unnamed) humorist as the antonym of "disgruntled." Supposedly the term has caught on since then, but this is the first time I've encountered it.

    Separately (sort of), an organization I belong to has a "preamble" that is read before each meeting. My word-happy brain wandered around to the notion of: is there such a thing as a "postamble"? Turns out there is. Oxford defines it as "a piece of writing appended after the main text," adding that it originated in the late 1600s.

    So we know there is a preamble, and a postamble. What, then, is the "amble"? In this context the sources are silent. "Amble" is defined as a casual walk, which makes no sense in the context of preamble and postamble. Even Word Wide Words, the most authoritative source I know of for etymology, is silent on this.

    I'm sure I'll get over it.

    January 10, 2017


    No bottom in sight

    Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_-_Duelo_a_garrotazos (6275K)

    I've always been fairly introverted and confrontation-averse. Those are not necessarily advantages. Introversion can cause one to miss opportunities to know others. Being averse to confrontation can cause disputes to fester longer than they need to.

    Even so, that's how I yam.

    Which is why I find it increasingly hard to deal with the yelling, screaming, smackdown-eager world I find myself in.

    It started getting bad in the mid 90s, ramped up after 9/11, and, of course, hit dizzying new heights with the 2016 election (sic).

    I have increasingly become less interested in the news, especially broadcast news. What still call themselves "news" programs are, almost universally, platforms for speculation, the more outlandish and less informed the better.

    With the exception of NPR, virtually every broadcast outlet seems to program out of the same playbook. Set up a "panel" with extremists from the left, and extremists from the right, and let them slug it out for 10 or 15 or 20 minutes.

    "Great television."

    Not for me, though. Can't stand the yelling. I turn it off, or leave the room.

    The trend this is a key part of a much larger one: the ugly-down of society; the plummet to see how low we can go; the denigration (and resulting absence) of kindness, tolerance, courtesy, class; the new "permission structure" wherein no insult or accusation or attack is too low, base, or mean.

    Check out the comments section of just about any on-line article, and watch the trolls tear into each other, each seeking to out-ugly the others.

    You can, but I won't. I'm opting out. I refuse to walk around with fists clenched, armed to the teeth, alert to any offense, primed to attack. And I won't let people who ARE like that take the shine off my day.

    January 9, 2017


    Thermal underwear weather

    winter (67K)

    "When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen." That proverb, according to a quick internet search, goes back as far as 1639. I heard it from my grandfather, and it runs through my head each year at this time.

    Here in central Michigan temps have fallen to the low single digits at night. We've had "highs" as low as 8 already, and January has only barely begun.

    "How do you stand it?" friends and acquaintances from southward tsk-tsk. For me, it's pretty simple. A: It's what I'm used to, having lived in Michigan since 1972 (and in the 989 since 2000). B: I get (admittedly perverse) satisfaction out of being hardy enough to deal with this climate and all its challenges. C: Our communities are well equipped to remove snow, protect and restore essential utilities, and keep life moving. D: I'm well prepared with the proper clothing and vehicle. E: I enjoy the occasional times when life and schedules grind to a halt while we wait out a particularly tough Alberta clipper.

    (My partner in crime and I like nothing better than to watch a monster snow storm advance across the lake toward us.)

    But the main reason I deal with the cold with equanimity is this: it's the price I pay for not having to put up with hell's hinges heat all summer. Though I lived in Georgia for six years and have worked in some really horrendously hot climes (try Brownsville, Texas or Phoenix, Arizona in August), my tolerance for endless relentless heat is pretty much shot. Here in Michigan we get 90s (and sometimes even hotter) during the height of summer, but I can deal with that just fine in short stretches. What I cannot abide is day after day after day of monkey's armpit weather, as I heard it called in Cincinnati.

    And no matter how bad it gets, we have faith. Because each year, without fail, winter slowly releases its clutches, giving way to glorious spring and summer. People emerge from hibernation and get re-acquainted. Winter clothes go into storage, replaced by warm weather gear. The dock is reinstalled, the boat comes out of storage, the lawn gets puttered with, daylight extends to 8 and 9 and even 10:00.

    For me, living here, life is good no matter the season.

    January 8, 2017


    Coherence

    Years ago, I stepped out of the public fiction-writing arena. Only recently did I figure out why.

    tunnel.jpg (2397K)

    First: some background.

    As a child, I found that fiction writing served a useful purpose. It took me out of myself, gave me an emotional and mental place to escape to. If I'd only left it at that, all would have been well.

    But, in time, I allowed this simple therapeutic pleasure to be corrupted by one of my worst character defects: grandiosity.

    Grandiosity convinced me I had great talent. Was better than most, destined for big things.

    Grandiosity kept me heartened, in the face of almost continuous publisher rejection; surely my triumph was a matter of when, not if.

    Grandiosity prevented me from being deterred when AHMM took less than half my efforts, and few others took any at all. I was, I told myself, "on my way."

    And it was grandiosity that gave me pleasure at publication of my first novel, even though (after three years of rejections) it was just a paperback original. To me this ominous sign was a major step up–instead of the clearest evidence yet of where I really stood.

    Other signs abounded. Negative reviews from readers and reviewers. Compliments from friends that were, in fact, empty kindnesses. Bookstore appearances to which no one came. People who claimed to've read the books, when in fact they had not.

    But grandiosity led me to alibi these indicators, paper them over, dismiss them. Relentlessly I cheered myself on, distracted by cliches and slogans like "persistence is all." Mistaking frantic activity for progress and success, conflating negative reality into positive fantasy, I was for years an alchemist turning real world dreck into imaginary gold.

    I worked as hard as I could for as long as I was able, to get as good as I got: mediocre. Whatever it takes to be better than that, I lack.

    It now seems so obvious.

    Which finally prevailed. Inevitably. For Obvious is huge, dreadfully patient, and way stronger than I am. Obvious isn't interested in my opinion, and cares not how I feel. Obvious can be ignored for only so long. After 30 plus years, Obvious finally rode me down and toppled me off my horse. My high horse.

    I still write fiction, of course, every day; just because it isn't read doesn't mean I don't have to write. But now, circling back to where I started, it's strictly an escape route to the safest place I know: comfortably within myself. Anything beyond that "is vanity, a seeking after wind."

    Best of all, the death of this false premise has given me fresh appreciations. I have a decent job, good health, a home I love, a nice family–the list goes on.

    And I'm grateful.

    November 29, 2011


    Sunny's final finish line

    Sunday Moolah 1983-2010

    This week after eight years we'll say goodbye to Sunday Moolah. A few weeks ago, at age 27, Sunny badly injured her back. The vet, who came twice to examine her, said there is no hope. She's hurting and off-balance, struggling to walk. When winter's snow and ice comes she'll probably fall again and break bones. And then we'll have a real crisis on our hands, with poor Sunny in agony.

    And so it's time to put her down.

    Sunny is a registered thoroughbred who for years, we're told, was a race horse at Mt. Pleasant Meadows. She came to us by way of the late Tom Piper, our first farrier (who in fact also found us our other horse, Sammi Jo). Traditionally Sunny has been Deanna's horse – "the Cadillac," Deanna calls her, for her nice smooth ride.

    Chocolate brown with white socks on her hind feet, Sunny has a long white face and watchful brown eyes and a regal bearing. She stands about 16 hands. She is, I've always thought, smarter than the average bear. I always feel like she sees right through me. When I work around the pasture or barn, she always hangs around close by me. Once, she somehow disassembled the stable gate and got into the tack room. With Sammi, her partner in crime, she ate 50 pounds of grain stored there, leaving behind in return several steaming manure piles. Why do I believe that it was Sunny, not Sammi, who figured out the gate? Because when I was fixing the gate, I looked up to find Sunny standing right next to me, looking me straight in the eye, as if to say, "I did this. I'm the smarter one."

    Sammi Jo

    Sammi had been the alpha mare when Bo, our first horse, was with us. Sunny briskly seized that role. She and Sammi have had a very contentious relationship. During one discussion, part of the stable wall was shattered. We've also had fence boards splintered, and I've seen Sunny nip at Sammi and hurl an occasional hoof at her. Sammi mostly steers clear, but still does little things (I think deliberately) to piss Sunny off. Theirs is truly a love/hate relationship. Separate them even for a few minutes and they whinny and neigh for each other. Of course all earlier separations were brief; we've always known they'd be back together again. Until now.

    In a few minutes Sammi's new owners (who will turn out to be a wonderful family) will come trailer her off. Tomorrow our neighbor will dig the hole with his backhoe. The day after, the vet will be back to put Sunny down. I will be away on business, and Deanna and Winston will take a ride for a couple of hours. I desperately wish there was another way. But we've always acted in the best interests of our pets. We've striven always to keep them comfortable and safe and healthy. And the only kind and loving thing we can do for Sunny now is to end her pain as quickly and easily as we can. "If," always inherent in life with a pet, became "when," and has, with cruel implacability, transitioned from "soon" to "now."

    The three acres of fenced pasture, and the corral and the barn, will seem awfully empty without Sunny and Sammi. I'll miss their silhouettes in the morning mist. I'll miss Sammi's neigh when she sees me come down the hill to feed them. I'll miss them jockeying for position in their feeding areas, and the rough feel of their lips as they delicately snatch cookies from my hand. I'll miss the power of Sammi beneath me as she charges across the meadow, head high and tail swinging and hoofs thundering. I'll miss Sunny loping elegantly across the fields with Deanna aboard, reins in one hand, smiling that smile. I'll miss the nickering and whinnying in the stable as I work upstairs in the barn. I'll miss the metallic clattering of raindrops on the barn's tin roof as I stage their week's supply of hay. Each time I reach home, no matter how long it's been, I'll automatically check the pasture for my two girls. And I know my memories will paint them in place, bent down to nibble the grass shoots, with a glance up for me, every time I look.

    I don't know if there is any afterlife for horses in particular, or animals in general. On this I'm with Will Rogers: "If dogs don't go to heaven, I want to go where they go." If Sunny gets an afterlife, my hope for her is this: an endless pasture of deep green grasses with no fences, drenched with brilliant sunlight. A big grove of shade trees with low hanging apples, through which runs a stream of water that is always clean and cold. I wish for Sunny kindly companions, two footed as well as four, who love her. Though it's not possible for anyone to love Sunday "the Cadillac" Moolah more than I do–

    And always will.

    September 19, 2010


    Everybody, but everybody. . .

    . . .gets help. To the extent that I’ve made a dent in the world of fiction, it’s been due to a certain amount of persistence, an ability to type, and the active help, passive acquiescence, or tolerance of an awful lot of good people. In no particular order – importance, priority, chronological, or alphabetical – here’s just a few of them:

    help (310K)

    September 2002