A Brand New 52

2020, so far, has played us. Not like fools, mind you. We weren’t taken advantage of by a year so deeply sinister that it planned months of masking, delirious days of distancing, and financial fiascos years ahead of time. No, this year, itself, was bluffed into believing it had a hand in our positivity as the ball dropped on January 1st, precisely at 12:00 a.m. in New York city. Ah, yes. “2020 vision” … as I’m sure not to be the only one using this obvious phrase to describe what we should have seen coming …

… or, should we? In hindsight, there were no warnings. No tells, as they say in the poker world. No way of knowing, in 2019, the following year had wild cards to play from a deck of 54 – when we thought the year ahead had only 52. Fifty-two weeks of more freedom, joy, family, and good health. Two extra inserted jokers disguised as a virus and an unprepared nation … Yep, a stacked, heaping pile of numbers that kept rising, no ace in the hole, and no unifying face of the nation to win the day as 2020 began to deal cards … over and over … until we no longer had hands big enough to hold them.

No. We didn’t see this. No way did any of us expect 2020 to unfold into the disaster it has become. Maybe, just maybe, we believed the Presidential election was going to test our political patience, but that’s about all. We weren’t suited to handle the problems that came beyond that. What came across the felt, we felt, seemed to trump, yes Trump, the ideology of half our nation’s views. The other half spent minutes Biden their time (pun stolen from social media) until the final card was counted on some date on, or after, November 3rd.

Now, at least, I think we have some resolution on this. After all the post-election shuffling by one wheeler-dealer, we should be swearing in a new President on January 20th, 2021.

That’s seven weeks from now. As it stands and we sit at the table, this virus is still here – and it’s quite the pro at knowing what cards we have without even peeking over our shoulders. It knows our houses are not full – of people or hope like we had. It knows we’re not thinking straight, sometimes, because we worry about our finances, jobs, elderly relatives, schools, and communities. It knows some pairs are not together anymore because the emotional stress from the last nine months was just too much. It knows some faces are flushed and are no longer alive and aglow with vim and vigor for life. These once fresh, snappy smiles are now in the struggle of their lives … learning how to breathe all over again, or, perhaps holding the hand of someone they love.

This is what 2020 dealt us. All of us, whether you are sitting at the table or not, are playing to stay alive. This may not suit or be the most convenient, but we have no choice to play the game of pandemic poker right now.

However, we do have 19th century words of advice speaking to us from the well-worn sagely deck shown. If you listen, you will hear. They’ve survived two card wars before our time and solitary moments as one upon thousands sat in convalescent facilities hoping a grandchild would visit, or a lost spouse’s hand could hold their loved one’s heart one more time.

And it is these words:

Forty-eight weeks into a year of really trying to understand ourselves. Four weeks to go … four colors in a deck representing the four seasons we have experienced 75% of in limited glory. Spring, summer and fall – the magnificence of rain, sun, and leaves all tainted by a virus … with pure white snow to come, surely palen ahead of schedule. Thirteen, so unlucky, … hopefully the moon will cycle around our Aces through Kings, our 1s through 13s, to lower our numbers and help us become at least average again. I’ll take a push … a bet with my money back against the dealer. To hope for anything better – a winning hand right now – is a fool’s folly.

The virus is still here at the table and has the deck. For now. It’s 2020 and we’re here. The poker room is hugely huge and fully full with people of all nationalities, sizes, shapes, beliefs, and haircuts. This is such a unique game of poker, though. There’s only one freakin’ deck. The standard rules don’t apply and the dealer cheats.

Oh, although I’m a recreational player, can’t say I know how to win. Even if I had true 2020 vision, the chances of my figuring a way around the poker table here? Zilch. Nada. Zero. All I can offer up are my hopes and dreams of a better 2021. That’s it. A “Brand new 52” is dealt to us then – as this flippin’ year comes to a close December 31st at 11:59:59 when the ball drops, silently I’m sure, in New York city.

Oh, what a big deal next year will be!

This is some Life, huh?

Eighty-four years ago, Margaret Bourke-White peered through her camera lens to allow us the privilege. A benefit, through a periodical time machine, to see the endeavoring of the largest earth dam – Fort Peck – being built during the Great Depression via the Public Works Administration. This was the cover of Life Magazine’s first issue. Ten cents, by the way. $1.87 +/- in today’s dollars according to inflation calculators I rely on to show me how little money I actually have. Compared to how much financial value I thought I’d accumulate by this time in my life, it’s a dismal decimal’s sum. Some life, huh?

Actually, life is good. We can’t all be wealthy, tech-saavy, sports fleet-of-foot, Ryan Gosling talented, or Anne Hathaway ‘perty. Tall, short, bald, hairy, and broke, … we’re all doing o.k., right? “O.K.” defined as lovable, breathing, and suitable for something. Whatever that something is in your life, you’re doing it! Some life, huh!

Counting today, we have 38 days to go. Thirty-eight more sunrises and sunsets until us older folks can R.I.P the 2020 paper calendar off our semi-glossed painted walls and you whatever-exers can side-swipe it from your smart phones in front of your glossed-over eyes. This has been the year of all years. No arguments from anyone except those disagreeing with one another over everything imaginable. Pick a random opinion – and there’s the opposite side raining down, in a nano-second’s time, somewhere among the social media cloud. Some life, huh?

There were a lot of issues in life this year – not just a few like there were on November 23rd, 1938. Dam them for having what seemed to be a simpler life. Twenty years removed from their pandemic of 1918, but in the throws of a depression, they kinda did have a simpler life. Lounging around radios after a casserole dinner followed by a few sing-a-longs as an adult, behind the ivories, accompanied grateful voices, they lived a life. Patched-clothed kids sat on the floor giggling, playing board games or made-up card games. Everyone did what they had to do. Simple. Some life, huh.

Ten cents to $1.87. A 1,770% increase in the value of a dime since those rug-around days. That growth … simple, but not so simple. Costs of goods and services mature, too. We know that inflationary pain in the economic side of the American story. It doesn’t take much interest to get our attention … on either side of the ledger. The Public Works Administration, although shut down in 1944, was a response to the depressed economy that needed an infusion of cash into schools, dams, bridges, and other public works projects. Part of FDR’s New Deal, this agency (not to be confused with the WPA) created a sense of pride and interest in America’s industrial core. Skilled workers went back to work building warships and airports … and the Fort Peck dam in Montana that employed 10,500 workers. Some life for them, huh.

I’m no historian. Jon Meacham, presidential historian of significance, would have me out-educated before I showered in preparation to meet him for a discussion as to who was better, Taft or Harrison. He’s an expert. I’m not. Rarely do I exercise my right to argue on social media because, “What’s the point, anyway?”. Almost everyone there is an expert in their own eyes and I see no point in debating someone who can’t be convinced against their will. Again, too many issues ping-ponging across the inter-net for me to keep up with … chief among them: the Covid-19 attitudes. Some life, huh?

So, I finish today leafing through my thoughts about what must have been an exciting day for Henry Luce, the publisher of what became Time-Life Publications from 1936-1972. What a day for him … seeing Margaret Bourke-White’s photo so majestically framed on the cover of Life magazine four-score and four years ago. Most assuredly and proudly leaning back in his office chair, puffing on a half-lit White Owl cigar, taking in the moment was he. Some LIFE he had in his lap at that moment, huh?

… and only a dime, too. Made perfect cents back then – when life was just a bit less complicated. Simple when seen through the lens of a periodical time machine, huh?

Not Just An Ordinary Joe

Today’s category for our local call-in radio show was “Famous Joes”. Intermixed among the possible nominees presented by callers were stumpers asked by the host, Dr. John. He puts a lid on political cantankerousness and pot-stirring to lighten the satirical stew on Thursdays. Stumpers are an every weekday event. Some easy, others classified as “Mona Lisa Stumpers”, intended to challenge the highly intelligent among us – myself not included; although, I do manage to answer most correctly given enough time to get my thoughts together.

This morning, I punched in the seven digit number with my nominees: Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, and Joey Bishop … bypassing the first stumper of the day. After a few minutes contemplation, I called back (asking permission to speak a second time not knowing if there is a rule prohibiting such). Dr. John, gracious host that he is, allowed the secondo with his premio.

I had to. This is in my nature. Unfinished mental issues are the hanging chads on the ballot that is my personality. As soon as the aggressive left thumb on my hand pushed that round button, … this happened:

Of course!! JOE camel … and he’s playing the piano – as I was in that picture, uhm, over 40 years ago. My submission was graciously listened to and formally rejected. In the time it took me to hang up the first time and redial, J.F. (a trivial rival) called in and nominated Sir. Camel during his first (and only, I might add) call of the day. I casually offered up a second nominee – a baby kangaroo, joey – as a runner-up. Lightly accepted and happily-hopped onto the list it was, so I felt better.

Ah, but the duet continued. Dr. John, seizing the moment, proffered a Mona Lisa stumper on the spot. I quickly answered Jackie Gleason only to realize, thirty seconds later, I left a massive hanging chad on another ballot with no third call available. Joseph Levitch was the answer. These moments bother me. It’s over two hours later, I’m in my concession trailer, should have my mind on delicious food, but nooooo.

“Famous Joes”, right? Ah, but the question was framed as a Mona Lisa Stumper which makes one think about the possibility of an overlap. One who should have been thinking – like me, perhaps – could have answered correctly. He asked the question quickly, in haste, hoping to catch me off guard … which he did quite nicely.

The call ended. My angst did not. I sit here with Jerry Lewis – the face behind both Ms. Lisa and Joe – casually by my side. He was the comedian Dr. John wanted as the answer … not Jackie Gleason. What was I thinking?

Of course!!, once again. It’s been a day of second guesses, I guess.

There’s some relief, however. When ballot ballyhoo and quick, unsure decision drops rain down from the why-sky, tinybuddha.com gives us some insight:

Like a friend of mine likes to say, “Life is a hard hat zone. We are always under construction.”

You are not who you were yesterday and you are not who you will be tomorrow. So, make peace with that. Life is full of second chances. We are always in a state of evolution.

In learning how to walk, you had to crawl first, and maybe you wobbled and skinned your knees a few times. But eventually, you found your bearings and trusted your stability. As tiny as you were, you were able to stand straight and put one foot in front of the other as you moved forward.

Not so far off from what it’s like as an adult.

Quite the words when I look at where I was years ago, staring into a keyboard with glasses and clothes fit for for the times.

I think it’s about second chances, not second guesses.

The overall Mona Lisa, or picture – as it is – in our lives, is not how many questions we answer correctly. It’s how many times we call in and try. We’re not going to ever answer all of life’s questions correctly or tear off all the chads cleanly, are we?

This isn’t an easy lesson for me to learn in my sixth decade of life. Just like those piano lesson early on, I will fight my stubbornness to the bitter end just as I, most assuredly, will enjoy the fruits of my hard work – pushing through the challenges of who I am.

… the person who will eventually forget the answer was Jerry Lewis, an extraordinary entertainer, philanthropist, and star.

We may not be all that but you and I are unique, special, and not the average Joe by any measure. If 2020 has a reason, it is to teach us life has other plans. Average, normal, and sameness aren’t hanging around much these days. I don’t need to repeat the big three, but I will. If Dr. John asked for them, you would be able to rattle off Masking, Distancing, and Hand-Washing, right? Through all of this, we’ve maintained our unique selves. Don’t think so? Just look at all the opinions scattered about on the windows of every computer screen.

2021 will be about chances … and I believe we may also be able to guess our decisions, too. Hopefully, the former overrides the latter. I purposely left out the obvious word because I want you to second the motion in your heart.

Remember, you’re not just an ordinary Joe, or Josephine, or JoEllen, or Jo. Be you – whoever you need to be.

For me, I’ll just be here honeymooning in my misery with Art, Audrey, and Joyce.

May I Bend Your Ear?

My van’s last gasp – when sputtering – is satisfied very few places. F’uel pardon the sensitivity, I believe my tow vehicle has feelings. It creaks and moans when distressed and, other times, hums beautiful monotones as we travel together down a lonely highway … maintaining a safe, legal speed, of course.

I know where to go during the low gasp times. I’ll go out of my way to drift into Sunoco riding the fumes of prior days’ negligence. Not just any Sunoco, of course. If this was the case, there would be no reason to write a blog today, right? But, there IS a reason!

The Sunoco at the corner of Allegheny Street and Penn (Rt. 36) in Hollidaysburg, Pa. If you read my post yesterday, this friendly, convenient station is a chess knight’s move northeast from Best Way Pizza. Two by one blocks will get you and yours to Raj and Nick’s Sunoco sitting peacefully across from our local Post Office. If you’re mood is sputtering – not just your mode of transport, stop by.

Today’s reason isn’t just because their business is nice, or the gas is cleaner and better for my sit-in friend. The machines pump one full of information. As well, they transport needed gas to the soon to be full metal and plastic alloy friends driven into the station.

There’s a little screen on the pump, about eye level for a 6′ guy like me, that has a few ads – of course – then up pops a “word of the day”. It’s such a nice, educational easement sitting among the barricades of busyness standing in our way every day. Ten seconds to stop and pay attention … not only to the ticking of $2.49 a gallon flowing out of my wallet, but also to one word and its definition: “ductile” – able to be deformed without losing toughness; capable of being stretched out without breaking, as it were. The best example I was able to find was gold possibly being formed into wire.

I have few reasons to believe vapors from the nozzle were effecting my thoughts as I considered what that word meant – truly meant. “Bend, but not break”, rushed through my mind as I watched the rubber hose twist in the pre-winter, 35-degree wind. How appropriately stamped is that phrase in the letters U.S.A. sent to us through generations past? Wars, depressions, once in a hundred years plague a century ago, terrorism, etc … all bent our collective consciousnesses but didn’t break us.

Enter 2020 and two deformed, socially punches to our gut: A hotly contested Presidential election and, of course, COVID-19. Hand-in-hand, the overlapping viral ideas and opinions continue to stress the strongest bonds among families, friends, and workplace associates.

We saw the former coming. I assume we did, anyway. It was four years of a radical turn away from what we knew as normal White House policy and procedures marginally voted in by a distressed, disgruntled populous wanting change. As the newest red hat society, far from ladies in their 50’s and above looking for a recess from day-to-day stressors, this cap wearing MAGA community rode their hero into town and stayed dutifully on the horse. To this day, the reigns are still tight, held by the faithful few. White knuckled are they … hoping for a ride into the sunset of defeat or victory on a stubborn horse refusing to whoa-fully admit it may be the end of the ride.

COVID-19 came out of nowhere. Yeah, ok … Wuhan. Sure, let’s go with that. Back it up a bit from there. Out of “know where” is better. We didn’t know what to do. March 13th, friday, was the day everything stopped in Pennsylvania. Governor Wolf, for all intents and purposes, shut us down. This was during the wave of shutdowns coming across the country and we knew this was inevitable. Colors of green, yellow, and red splashed across Facebook pages as friends posted Pa. maps coded county by county. Store shelves, wiped clean of toilet paper, sanitizer, and canned goods, sat empty testifying loudly to the world that my fellow Blair Countians were afraid of the future. Nobody knew the road ahead. Masking, social distancing, Dr. Fauci, and any hint of a vaccine were concepts, people, and hopes unknown to any of us.

The following nine months were gestationally brutal. March through this past November 13th – nearly 270 days – saw us have the most incredibly difficult time as a nation. And, it’s not over, is it?

This pregnancy is going into overtime.

Which gets me back to why my van sputtered at the pump this morning. I was almost out of gas. Almost.

As Americans, it seems we are almost out of gas. The election and COVID-19 has kicked the living crap out of us this year. Hand-in-hand, these two events, by themselves, would have been enough. Together, they’ve been brutal. The economic, social, medical, and emotional strain pulling at both ends of our family and friends’ relationships is heartbreaking. Just the masking opinions alone drive a wedge between people these days, regardless of the science.

I stopped for ten seconds in the cold to fill my tank at Sunoco and saw a single, simple word: ductile. This gives me hope and I wanted to share it with you. We can believe things happen for a reason, or not. I’m just a guy who sees wonderful words, pictures, or people and wants to pass them on to you.

This word, ductile, in itself is seven letters. What it means, however, is so much more to us. We bend, but don’t break. No more complicated than that.

2020 will be not be remembered as our best year, for sure. President Biden, presumably at this time (I guess 🤦🏻‍♂️), President Trump’s lame duck time remaining, the Senate (or anything in Washington for that matter), COVID-19 vaccines, stats and charts, etc… will all be in front of us for the remainder and into 2021. We can’t escape into some Wonka world and eat candy until things get all right with the universe. There will be smudges on the glass and everlasting gobstoppers to deal with for some time.

Until then, remember we’re resilient, ductile people who know diversity. We see ugly and make it pretty. We see sad and do our best to make it happy. We work our butts off go help those who don’t help themselves.

In ten seconds, I was reminded of this. Thankfully, there’s a friendly gas station in town. A place where a distressed van sat for a few minutes guzzling a gallon or two of premium fuel. Beside it, a guy very grateful to live in a country that never gives up. Never breaks.

That’s what makes America great in the first place. No red hat needed.

Yellow Lines

Truth outside my concession window right now: parallel yellow lines. A few less east/west than north/south. It’s raining, again. This is another fact easily seen from my vantage point. To cap off a very apparent trilogy, today is Sunday, I bought a dozen bourbon wings from the local grocery store on my way here, and our 8-0 Steelers play at 4:30 EST.

Most times, facts are facts. I didn’t do very well in science class where mixing certain chemicals, as instructed, led to predictable outcomes … every time. I did, however, succeed in knowing how dad would react to my behavioral misappropriation … every time. I stated my case, my claims, in support of said behavior – all for naught. Fact: rules were rules and I broke (some of) them.

He had his hands full, to use an overly used expression. I may add, parenthetically, that he was a great provider. We lacked nothing. Presents at the holidays, medical care, food, vacations, shelter, clothing, education access, … foundationally, a pretty good middle-class, single-income upbringing. Mom hung emotional necklaces around our every sad and happy moments while dad pushed us forward into economic opportunities that he felt we needed for our pre-income earning years – if that makes any sense.

Yep. Facts are facts. At least they are until one decides to post something on Facebook. During a pandemic. In 2020. While electing, deciding on, confirming, a SCOTUS nominee and President. East is no longer east and yellow may no longer be recognized as a basic color on any elementary art teacher’s wonderful wheel of fascination.

My parallel yellow opinion lines representing – under normal conditions – a fair middle-of-the-road opinion between extreme Covid responses elicited over the line swerves. Near misses of automatic triggers came in within hours and commentual arguments ensued. A one word reply, “bullshit”, came back to me – which has since been tamed (we worked it out).

Two friends argued over mask/oxygen saturation which I didn’t even know was a “thing”. Articles came in as tags supporting both sides. Sourcing debates. Who said what and experiences trump experts, I guess? Who are the experts and what makes them so …? Is Dr. Fauci more of an expert now that he is, possibly, out from under President Trump’s shadow? Where is Dr. Birx?

I did use the phrase, “ridiculously low” and shouldn’t have. It was an insensitive phrase in light of 245,000 deaths. The fact still remains. That number is .075% of our total population in America. ALSO, to be very, very clear … I care deeply about every one who has been – and continues to be affected by this horrible virus. This is why I mask and social distance everywhere I can inside and wherever possible.

The point of my post on Facebook yesterday was to say one person can be in the middle of the debate. He can say, “The fact is, a low % of Americans – compared to the overall population – have died, but there’s overwhelming evidence that we should be extremely careful going forward because we don’t know what we don’t know.”

Yes, the economic impact of this has been disastrous. In addition, and significantly more important, there are lingering consequences for families who’ve suffered loss of loved ones. Our healthcare workers are tired, sore, drained, overworked, stressed, and missing their families.

Our country is really, really, hurting. Some suggest taking a hard line east, west, north, or south is the answer. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think so.

We should all shut off our loud automobiles, meet in the middle of the road, and talk like adults. I’m standing here trying not to get run over. Two wrong turns don’t make anything right.

That’s a fact.

Categorically, The Best

Today, in the middle of a not so busy day, I happened to glance down at my phone. There wasn’t much else going on inside – or outside – my fanciful food trailer. For once, no election blather screaming for my attention from this little Samsung phone in which I type. No Facebook screams heard silently escaping from the Left and Right wing political airplanes that have flooded the airwaves these past months…

… Just the news that Alex Trebek died.

I had only a minute or two to gather my thoughts and post the above comment. Now, I’m home and have a few quiet moments to sit. I had quiet moments three hours ago when the news was posted, but silent moments can be interrupted when sitting behind a register … waiting … and waiting … and …. waiting.

A beautiful November day. Sunshine. A puzzler to me, however, my business is seasonal and event-centric which is why I don’t worry about slow sales days in the first week of the 11th month – an off season, non-event, no fuss trailer time-out. A customer here and there, nonetheless, does interrupt a stream of thought when attempting to write about such an iconic figure in American culture.

We watched his hair turn salty white over the years, didn’t we? We so much enjoyed the smart, intellectual banter between Alex and the probably smarter than us trio of folks who methodically pushed the plungers anticipating a daily double. We were rapt by Ken Jennings and his mastery of the board. as did the stoic, gentlemanly host of Jeopardy for 36 years since its reincarnation in 1984. Alex Trebek had that connection with players – those who lost and winners all.

None more fascinated and enthralled by the handsome Mr. Trebek than my grandmother who didn’t miss many shows in her retirement years. Grandma was already advanced in her graying head ahead of Alex when she quietly confirmed the answers already given by contestants. I don’t believe she missed many … all the while paying more attention to the crosswords or word searches already begun in the magazine on her lap. She was a pretty smart cookie and wonderfully honest, too. “Isn’t Alex just so handsome?”, she’d ask me with a not-so trivial twinkle in her eye. “Yes, Grandma, he is.”, was the only reply a grandson could give his sweet mom’s mom who, obviously, felt a deep admiration and connection toward a little man in the t.v. who was larger than life to her.

She was one of millions I have to assume. The connection with him doesn’t end with categories and players, either. When his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer nearly two years ago was announced, we saw thousands of Americans reach out with messages of support and kindness. Similarities of circumstances, “We’ve been there and are here for you” messages, and even “Stay Positives” from all over the world came flowing in like oceans of words on waves of kindness. He knew his fame was not trivial. He knew the thousands of handshakes at the end of each game and the dialogues with each player after the first commercial break meant something to us. He knew his once-in-a-while correction of a wrong answer to a right one made us appreciate his unique brilliance and humility. He knew we loved who he was – how he took us away for a 1/2 hour every day (or so) as we found time … or, every day for retired grandmothers.

I’m sure others have eulogized Mr. Trebek better or more fluently on this day of his passing. I’ve been beaten in trivia games by my dear mother relentlessly over the years, pounded in Pinochle by Grandma as well. They’re both gone … as is Alex on this day. Seems like a little bit of the magic in this world has left with all three no longer among us.

Nobody can replace them. Nobody. I guess all of us are irreplaceable and we are treasures in our own right. That’s the takeaway from today’s news. Only a few get to stand behind a podium for 36 years and be remarkable, iconic, deeply loved American gameshow host. Most of us sit quietly in a food trailer, behind a desk, in a tractor, nursing a patient, whatever our calling is … and enjoy our normal, non-trivial lives.

That’s the realization one comes to when glancing down at a phone for a few minutes – a small amount of time to think about the impact of one man’s 80-year life that was, categorically, the best for all of us.

Rest in peace, Alex Trebek. You will be missed.

Vote or Veto

“VOTE on/by Tuesday. If not, you’ve switched your constitutionally guaranteed vows…to a VETO of everything fought and died for over time.”

Something as simple as voting. It’s no more complicated as taking the E and L out of vowel to make another word sounding almost the same.

The process, however, could be a bit more involved, according to what I see on the news. You know. I know.

When I write “vote”, it means to pull a lever, fill in a bubble, or turn a knobby-thingy. The getting there is not included in my letters or words, nor is distancing, masking, ballot mailing, USPS rules, chads (is this a thing anymore?), drop boxes, signature matching, etc … I’m simply picturing you standing or sitting at a booth exercising your constitutionally guaranteed right. Period.

As of this date, November 1st, record-breaking numbers of Americans have pre-voted. I’m waiting until Tuesday because I like to do it in person, alone, in a booth. The ladies who greet me are pleasant and know me by name. I get free stuff (pamphlets) distanced safely – even before Covid – handed to me prior to entering the polling door. I like that. Humans taking a pro-active stance in the process. Sometimes there are mints on a table. I get to sign in. Most times I’ll see a neighbor, or two … or three.

I will not – ever – veto my vote. Especially now, when the vows are so easily switched.

You shouldn’t either. Do the best you can to vote. Please.

There Are Bones About It

This wonderful boney poker game is on display in a local neighbor’s yard. I’ve driven by at least ten times but haven’t been able to stop. Due to cars behind me occupied by drivers with impatience coursing through their veins, opportunities to take this picture have been rare – save one. Today was the day. I grabbed carpe diem by the ankles of its Latin legs and tackled it to the pavement.

What fascinates me the most here is a passerby – whether by car or foot – cannot, by any means, determine the gender or political leanings of either the four players or the dealer. Yes, THIS is my take-a-way from the hard work and imagination of a neighbor I don’t know. No player uncomfortably seated or unhappily handed has the slightest poker tell as to his/her liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, Independent, or Don’t Give a Sh*t agenda.

This isn’t a normal Halloween season. Every opinion, FB post, family meal, and/or spooky social commentary is sitting around a political or Covid table. Make no bones about it. Even I can’t drive by fabulous femurs without first figuring a way through this maze of viral thoughts and political posturings.

It’s where we are. It’s the hand we’ve, strangely enough, dealt to ourselves.

Today is October 31st and the t.v. in front of my 7 a.m. eyes is broadcasting prognosticating pretty polling predictions that may – or may not – come true next Tuesday. I’m weary from the deluge of information. Steve Kornacki, analyst usually seen on MSNBC, is quite fascinating. He presents state-by-state stats, digs into data, and creates charts I used to find artistic, colorful, and pleasing. Being Saturday morning, I don’t expect to see him until Monday … a few days into a new month, past this Halloween day, and in the midst of a barrage of election, bad-to-the-bone, 24-7 broadcasting.

This isn’t to fault them. I guess we need to be informed voters. But, how much is too much? If you don’t know Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden’s life and times by now, right? We need to know results over coffee on the 4th. That’s all we require at this point from our media. Who won … and who lost. Turning on my smart phone or the t.v. next Wednesday at, say, 7:12 a.m. – exactly 4 days from now – to see a President Trump or Biden – would be just fine by me.

… and it isn’t just the President-to-be.

It’s all in the cards we’ve been dealt and are holding – and, by extension, have allowed our representatives to play our hands. We voted in the senators who will lose, or retain, their seats, because of performance. The down-ballots are important, too. There are more than a handful of Republican senators who are in marginal to major danger of losing their seats because of their proximity to President Trump’s policies and personality. Thinking the ace-high flushes they held last year would be gold, they called a bet against the straight flushes held by their opponents …. and are in trouble. Jamie Harrison has a great chance against Lindsey Graham in S.C. He had a 17% chance in March and, now, is in a statistical tie with a guy who needs to go. According to Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that tracks election forecasts, ” … other Republican senators who could lose their seats to Democrats after Election Day are: Arizona’s Martha McSally, Colorado’s Cory Gardner, Georgia’s Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, Iowa’s Joni Ernst, Maine’s Susan Collins, Montana’s Steve Daines, and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis.”

These are scary times that surpass even the gallows of the eeriest of medieval Halloweens. A once-in-a-century health crisis with a national case record of 99,000 just yesterday. We are not carving our pandemic pumpkins properly. They’re ugly. Everything is a mess.

Apparently the mail is messed up with (R) judges changing the rules while ballots have already been sent under a previously agreed upon, publicly posted, set of guidelines. Some states are allowing ballots to be counted after Nov. 3rd, some aren’t. All this gleaned from the news I’m frustrated with, anyway.

Today we walk through the last day of the 10th month of 2020. Three years, two-hundred, eighty-four days into the Trump presidency and here we are – holding the hand we dealt to ourselves. This is either to our fault or merit. I’ll let that decision up to you. I have election-weary.

After I vote in person, I’ll be changing my party affiliation. Make no bones about it. I haven’t changed who I am at all. What’s changed is who I choose to represent me going forward. There are no perfect systems or people, but there are expectations that can be strived for and I want those I vote for to at least try to get there on my (and our collective) behalf instead of feeding their own self-interests.

When I do eventually leave this earth and sit my boney self around a poker table with my friends, I want to leave this place better than the way I left it. I can’t do this alone. Any national policy worth dreaming up requires help from a person in politics and the news to help circulate the message. Can’t coat this fact with any less sugar than that.

For today, Halloween 2020, masks are more important than ever. Sugared candy IS important for socially distanced kiddos if you can somehow swing it for them. Wash your hands frequently in person (and from the news the next few days) … the former is for the safety of your neighbors and the latter for your peace of mind.

If we play our cards well, all this can turn the tables around. There are bones sitting about that require a sane, but fun, game of who has what. We make our bets on the future and hope for the best based upon what we know now. That’s all we can do.

You’re doing good and I’m glad you’re sitting here with me. Flesh and all. Happy halloween.

The Fall of (a) Man

It almost happened this morning. Dew not try this at home, I say. The hustle of time combined with an early morning mist – atop the carpet of leaves covering my porch steps – was a slippery soul waiting for my arrival. Fortunately, a past experience grabbed a hurried back collar by the neck of time. I was lucky.

A few years back, not so much. I’m still creaking along with a dislocated/injured disc from flapping down on these same steps. A sunny, less wet day … yet in the same uncontrolled, fast-paced, inattentive manner I approached the descent … and missed. Thinking all was fine (male trait), I went on my way. A bit sore, but hoping the pain would subside – which it sort-of did after a few days, I lived my life quite contently believing a quasi-sore back was just age. Male being male, right?

Uhm, not so much. After months + years of this, I had tests done … and … well, I have the bad news, bad back, issues to this day. Still living with it and that is what saved me from sure slippery this morning. Alarm bells rang, mindful memories magnified, and I stopped momentarily to think through the situation. “Wet leaves + Steps + Doug in a hurry = Hospital” … An equation nobody needs to figure out right now.

All this to say that picture above is the pile at the bottom of the stairs. A pile I most likely would have landed in had a tumble occurred only a few short hours ago. Certainly a Genesis-ical chapter to define rest of my life had it happened. The fall of this man in a season of unsure events and unpredictable happenings … for possibly all of us as well as I think through the past 10 months of 2020.

Welcome to the near end of 2020 – an end we are looking forward to as a group of 325 million loving, caring, crying, compassionate people. We’ve tripped over societal problems, stomped on issues long since ignored, slid on slippery slopes of ignorance and bigotry, stood on patriotism and pride, walked happily in the steps of heroes, and tred lightly through a pandemic’s science and political maze of unknowns … all the while, we survived and, sadly, at the time of this writing, 225,212 Americans have not.

I am not taking any sides here. I am, however, looking forward to the end of a political fall season guaranteed not to end on November 3rd. It’s been a side-stepping, two-step dance of ridiculousness the past few months. Our feet are calloused and legs pretty sore from carrying both liberal and conservative crosses across party plank floors … over and over on idealistic shoulders. The most decisive thing about November 4th? … it will be the day after November 3rd. The fall of 2020.

I didn’t go down this morning so, hopefully, the ten weeks remaining will be upbeat and pleasant. I’ll vote … and wait. I’ll keep masking, social distancing, and washing my hands all the time as recommended by the CDC. You dew what you dew, ok?

Take steps to be the best you you can be – and don’t take the steps ahead that are dangerous. I need you to be here for all of us. It’s a challenging time to be alive. One life, like yours, is too valuable to leave to chance, so watch your step.

I did. Leaves (0) + Doug (1) = One happy day. Now, that’s math I can live with.

Letters and Emojis

As one who spends some of his time typing words into the internet space, I’m going to state an unpopular opinion: We’re spending too much time here.

Why do I say that? Just today I need to clear up an issue with a great friend … and can’t via text. As I write this very minute, the problem at hand is unresolved. It’s not a matter of life or death, rather, a personal uncomfortableness – an unease – I can’t resolve without personal connectivity … a phone call or something other than 1’s and 0’s over the w-w-web.

Secondarily, I expressed an opinion on Facebook two days ago. That should be an “enough said” sentence, but after 100 comments and counting, I must continue.

It concerned the vacancy left by RBG’s death and the political fallout since – specifically, ACB’s nomination to the aforementioned seat. You’d think I typed in the worst offensive words possible about everyone’s mothers based upon the comments dripping underneath my eloquently phrased opinion. Again, no real conversation – just texts back and forth with veiled insults and an occasional “fact” in quotes, questioning sources, attaching descriptive connectors to humans in public office, and scripting personal narratives to public internet spaces.

Beings being 2-dimensional. I’m not enjoying any of it right now. Resolutions are really difficult at the end of two solitary thumbs when one has to wait moments – possibly hours – for a response (with no guarantee of one even coming).

Where are we now? Trying to interpret 26 letters and a bunch of emojis now is like looking through a dimly lit lantern’s glow at a wall of hieroglyphics … symbols we can’t really get a handle on. It’s a cave of our own doing. That’s where we find ourselves. A simple 👋 now can’t mean “hi”, anymore, without questioning the motive … is it sarcastic? Does it require a 👋 in return? I don’t know anymore without, at a minimum, looking the waver in the eye. At best, seeing them in person.

Look, I know the technology wave carried us into this cave. It was unavoidable, I guess. So many good things have happened because blips and beeps carry information across thousands of miles in nanoseconds. Lives are saved everyday with medical advances. Kids are learning more – by fifth grade – than I knew when I slid across the stage picking up my diploma. Access to information is … un-freakin-google-believable.

Still, all that can’t replace a person on the other end of a breathable space. Someone to help resolve a rather minor issue we need when that problem pokes itself out from the normalness that is life. A normal we really can’t be, by the way, spending almost all our time face down in a text. This isn’t the way life was intended to be.

You and me. Eye to eye is the absolute best. If not, at least voice to voice. For personal relationships and problem resolutions, it’s a deaf echo chamber cave of emojis and letters. As a way of communicating a momentary frustration in a blog on a cold, rainy Friday in October? Absolutely!

As to problem #1, I’m sure this little hiccup in my life will begin to work itself out once the iron of time plugs in and begins to iron out the wrinkles. The 3-D books I’ve read and really smart people in my life I’ve listened to guarantee it.

The now is now, however, and for what it’s worth, I do feel a bit better venting – even if it’s just letters and emojis.

Concern #2: The whole Facebook thing will do what it does and life moves forward for everyone involved. That space made Mark Z. a bazillionaire – which is more money than I’ll ever see. His money and notoriety slip him in a envelope and send him off to destinations unknown to me.

And so it goes. My opinion remains the same. We spend too much time. Here. Call me sometime and we’ll talk it over. I’d love to hear your opinion.