Where It’s Due

I met a man in the store the other day, someone I hadn’t seen for a few years, although even then it was a pretty tenuous relationship. Still, he was a familiar face for a while and then not, so it was fun to catch up in a superficial, unexpected encounter way.

And as we were saying goodbye, he gave me a hard time. “I see you’ve kept that weight off you were bragging about in the paper,” and I tried to think of the right gesture, hands outstretched, asking for forgiveness? The always-reliable shoulder shrug? Decisions.

Instead, I stuttered, trying to explain, always a bad idea for me with a limited amount of time; I need five paragraphs at a minimum to figure out what I’m thinking.

My point was (would have been, should have been) that I’m not looking for credit here. I’m also uninterested in justifying or making excuses for what I write about; the best I can do is explain, and that mostly involves the idea that I write about whatever’s on my mind on a Monday morning and can get written with the least amount of energy. I hope for some entertainment value, is all.

But the weight? Like everything else I do, I just developed a habit. Bragging rights belong to the guy who gets a stern lecture from his doctor on dropping some serious weight or start measuring coffins, as fun as that sounds. That’s the kind of motivation that would inspire me to crawl under my bed and practice counting dust bunnies. It sounds counterintuitive but that’s the kind of change I admire, transformation under pressure. I tend to wilt in those situations, with maybe one or two exceptions.

I’m much more interested in figuring out how I’ve screwed up constantly throughout my life and trying not to do that again. I start with the assumption that everything is my fault and work from there; it’s really a lot easier, and it saves me the effort of manufacturing (mostly) resume points.

But I would like credit for one thing, and that’s keeping my mouth shut. Not credit from you, only the Imaginary Tote Board In The Sky, but that’s what I want.

It doesn’t come naturally, or professionally. The chatter about the Age of Oversharing bores me, the way a baseball fan for life might feel about a newbie who’s suddenly all excited about stats. I was way ahead of the crowd.

So I want credit for some discretion. It’s possible I’ve learned to slow down and think before I type. For example, my daughter was in town last week for a short visit. In the old days? All Beth, All The Time. Three blog posts a day and at least two columns. The truth is, it was a quick trip, too little time to spend ruminating about meanings or moments. We had a good time, I was sorry to see her go, glad she came, and my bedroom got painted, funny.

I’m thinking this is maybe emotional maturity, although I wouldn’t bet against entropy. My energy seems fine but not as fine as it was, maybe for good reason and maybe because I seem to be getting older. At any rate, the keyboard seems more intimidating than it used to, although I guess I’ll just go with the maturity thing. Not that I’m getting any credit for that.

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But Is The Sausage Good?

“Some of my libertarian friends balk at what looks like an individual mandate. But remember, someone has to pay for the health care that must, by law, be provided: Either the individual pays or the taxpayers pay. A free ride on government is not libertarian.” – Mitt Romney, April 11, 2006.

Harry Truman might have made a good blogger, although more of the LiveJournal type, I think. At least he would have understood the need to write, even for no readers (almost a definition of blogging), since he did a lot of it.

He was conflicted, sort of an existential conflict; he loved the idea of politics, the nature of it, the fun, the fellowship, and the idea that he could be a public servant and make a difference. And he saw it for what it was, a place where men (mostly) could lose their souls.

That he managed to hang onto his is a remarkable achievement. The estimate, probably conservative, is that he could have skimmed a million bucks, easy, when he was a county commissioner in Missouri. A million bucks in the early 1930s. Instead, he remained pretty much broke, even on a $10,000 salary as a U.S. Senator in 1934, where the game was played on a big scale. It’s ugly, making law, good or bad.

So he wrote, for himself mostly, but an awful lot of letters too. Good for him, leaving us a trail of honesty. He pondered on paper about whether looking the other way while a colleague essentially stole 10 grand so he could save the county 3-1/2 million made him practical or a crook. Sometimes you can only ask the question.

He’s been on my mind lately, watching this drama in Washington. For a civics geek, it’s been fun, but I feel for those who’ve come late to the party. You don’t really want to watch this sort of thing unless you have a passion for Robert’s Rules and a strong stomach.

And unfortunately a great opportunity for discussion gets lost in all the passion and anger. Discussion and humor; the Republicans are going to propose all sort of amendments to the Senate health care reconciliation bill. The Democrats have to vote them all down, or else the process gets all mucked up and delayed. So you’ll get the “deny Viagra to sex offenders!” stuff for a while. It’s fun, really. But again; don’t watch and eat spicy food, maybe.

Mostly, though, the great discussion we’re not going to have is about government. In four years, the individual mandate of this bill will kick in. You can’t restrict insurance companies from invoking their preexisting condition fun and games without making everyone buy health insurance, for obvious reasons (people would wait until they were sick to buy it), so in 2014 everyone has to have health insurance, although not everyone will. If you don’t, and you continue to don’t, the IRS will levy a fine. Not much of a fine, either; for the average American, it would be a few hundred dollars.

And so the question is: Can the government actually force you to buy something? It’s a GREAT question. I don’t know. The government can force you to buy car insurance or wear a motorcycle helmet or educate your kids, but you don’t have to drive, ride or procreate.

Proponents say yeah, it’s interstate commerce, or it’s actually a tax thing (fine=tax). Opponents say it violates the 10th amendment about restricted powers. Crazy people say it’s shredding the Constitution and communism, or witchcraft or something; had to get a handle on the crazy people.

But it’d be fun to have an intelligent public discussion, instead of calling Barney Frank a faggot. Barney will survive. We will survive, too. Not so sure about Mitt Romney.

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Healthy Choice, Ctd.

I’m not sure exactly why the term “despicable” comes to my mind so quickly when I think about John McCain. I mean, he’s a politician; he’s been one for a long time and he’s acting like one. Move along, nothing to see here.

Still. Maybe it’s some sort of psychic trauma from having worn those severely rose-colored glasses when viewing him for several years, when he seemed like a guy who had suffered horribly and survived to find principles waiting for him on the other side. Maybe it was just the shock, once the light got to shining on his rat-like features in the last election and his bio got a little fleshed out, and not in a good way, at finding myself fooled.

At any rate, hearing him the other day saying (like every other Republican), “Americans are angry,” I had to fly around an island for a long time to feel better.

It’s a funny part of this debate, and there haven’t been a lot of funny parts. Poll numbers, at least lately, have shown a small lead for “disapprove” over “approve” when it comes to public opinion about the health reform bill. Some Americans are certainly angry. These things are fluid and there are outliers, but let’s say 46 disapprove, 43 approve, 11 don’t know or care.

What we don’t hear about is the breakdown, which is that a lot of these polls show that of the “disapprove” crowd, somewhere around 12% of that 46% figure are people who don’t like it because it doesn’t go far enough. In other words, the Angry Left.

Or didn’t like it. The latest USA Today/Gallup poll shows 49% of Americans now saying the bill is a “good thing” and 40% a “bad thing” (let’s keep it simple, I guess). The usual suspects when it comes to party affiliation, and independents split down the middle.

I have a feeling this is going to go up big time, as more and more outlets (with at least one prominent exception) are now feeling duty-bound to explain, y’know. What’s actually in the bill.

No more refusing to sell you insurance because of preexisting conditions. No more maxing out your benefits. Your kids can stay on your policy into their late 20s if needed. Exchanges where self-employed people and others can join an insurance pool to get better rates.

I think it’s a good thing, too. But then I don’t watch cable news. Or John McCain. Usually.

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Healthy Choice

I got into a little online kerfuffle last night, very unusual for me these days. I’ve long since surrendered on this front; I have no interest in interrupting your paranoia. Good luck, have fun, I don’t need the stress, I have no intention of making a difference, nor do I see any hope of doing so.

And it’s funny — the reason I got pulled into this particular discussion was because I thought this guy’s comment about the End Of America was a joke, a jab at looney-tunes who watched a legislative process and saw Tyranny. Seriously, I thought he was poking fun. I don’t know him at all; just one of those Facebook connections, someone who went to high school with me, I guess, although younger. I stopped accepting those friend requests long ago but he slipped in before I realized I had enough friends, anyway.

And unfortunately he thought he could get away with just pasting from one of those emails that get circulated these days about healthcare reform — “I’m a lawyer! And I’ve read this bill! And here’s the scoop!” — an exercise in bullshit that is nothing new, but I’ve had the House bill sitting in a nice PDF on my desktop for a while now. Not that I’ve read the whole thing; it’s nearly 2000 pages of code and legalese, please. But I hear things, not just crazy things but debatable things, and it’s handy so I can look it up in, you know, the actual bill.

No big government boogyman is coming to kill your grandma, sorry to break up your rage like that.

Anyway, I mean, you’re on your own. If you won’t read the fucking bill I can’t help, and I can’t imagine why I’d want to, or you’d want me to. And while I’m a single-payer guy from way back – I want Canada’s healthcare, or Sweden’s or England’s, or I want to be able to buy into Medicare now, whatever, I have my own crazy dreams – and this is disappointing in so many ways — at least, assuming the Senate does its part, preexisting conditions are a thing of the past and kids can stay on their parents’ plan longer and 30 million or so of my neighbors will be able to get some sort of health insurance, and in theory it’s going to reduce the deficit by a trillion bucks over the next 20 years, but I’ll believe that when I see it. Still, it’s a start. And as flawed and missing the mark as it is, not what I hoped for, it’s pretty much what I expected. It’s what Candidate Obama said he wanted, back when he was running, and he said it over and over and over and over and over and over again. I’m just saying — he got 53% of the vote, and he got a majority of his party running the Congress by people voting, and they all pretty much ran on doing something about health insurance. There are surprises here?

But, again; I’m out of the fray, except for a brief loss of judgment last night. And I got up this morning and wrote a Column About Nothing, which is what I do these days, and what I want to. You guys do what you want.

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Please Come To Boston

For a little harmonic convergence.

Just doing my part. The bass has been nominated for two Grammys, you know. And both mezzos sing real pretty, although only one keeps cutting her hair. And Thann is really good too. So is Steve. I’m sure they all are. Mostly I just wanted to post the picture, because I can’t make it. I mean. If you’re in the area. Check it out.

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Fly Away

I made a Twitter joke yesterday, which doubled as a Facebook joke, which then, given the nature of human beings and humor and, I guess, some sort of cold diffusion theory, lost its jokiness. It happens.

There’s nothing like a little exegesis to take the fun out of jokes, but here it is: My son was looking over my shoulder as I logged on to my computer, remarked that I obviously had a long and complicated password, and I thought, huh. Most of us use passwords and PINs every day, but when I was a kid passwords were for secret agents. It would never have occurred to me that I’d grow up to live in a world of encryption, or that it would all be so mundane. No spies here.

This Future World is still cool, though. From where I sit, I can see and name a dozen impossible things, at least from the standpoint of a kid in, say, 1966. A wireless router. A DVR. A cell phone. A mouse. A remote control. Lots and lots of lights.

None of this is news to you, although sometimes I get interested in technology slopes. It’s said by people who study this sort of thing that facility with personal computing drops off drastically, generationally, at right about my age; not much older than 50, then, and bloggers, YouTube uploaders, amateur programmers, etc., start to decrease substantially. This makes sense given the explosion of technology; you were either riding the wave from the beginning, probably related to work, or else you spent the rest of the time just trying to catch up.

This is how I feel about video games. There are plenty of Atari-bred 40-somethings out there who caught the wave; I never did, and I gave up trying long ago.

I bought my daughter a GameBoy 20 years ago, for Christmas. Not long after, I brought home our first Nintendo system, and I was a big user. Those were long days, early business-owning days, and I relaxed for a while in the evenings by trying to save the princess.

It zoomed past, though, and I flapped my arms for a bit and then surrendered. Too complicated, too much. I became an observer only, catching bits and pieces as I walked through the room, trying not to become an epileptic. Yikes.

So it was weird yesterday to walk into a game store by myself, to buy something for myself. Beyond weird. Bordering on alarming, maybe.

But, y’know. Sometimes boys just want to have fun. Even old boys.

I began to back out of the room slowly with Nintendo 64, a huge technological leap in 1996, quadrupling the processor instead of the typical doubling. Even Mario 64, which had the princess and the plumber, was too much for me. Way too many buttons, views, worlds, moves. Go, young people, leave me and save yourselves. This is the way of the world.

Except. Except.

There was an N64 game called PilotWings. A pretty simple game. A flying game in a cartoon world, and I loved it. I didn’t have to jump on no bosses; I could just hang glide around an island, listen to music, and feel an imaginary EEG flatline out. It calmed me down.

I’ve grieved over PilotWings for years now, our N64 system long traded in for something fancier. And no matter how hard John tried to pique my game interest back up, no matter how many classic games he found for the Wii or the GameCube or the 360, I just wanted to fly. Not a 747. Not a Cessna. Just a little gyrocopter.

And now I have it again. I just downloaded an emulator and a ROM — these words are strange, they frighten me Mister – and I could glide around my island again. Although it was sort of awkward with a keyboard. So I went to the game store and bought a PC controller. Now I’m good.

Either you know, or you don’t.

I am serene now, always a good fit for me. There’s plenty to do around here, way more than I have time for, but I can spare a few minutes here and there for PilotWings, as strange as it feels, because it also feels…good.

And last night, Julie came in to show me something, a picture, an article, something interesting and relevant and topical and worthwhile, and then she stopped.

“Oh,” she said, understanding. “You’re flying,” and I was, too.

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My Reader

My column is up:

…here’s the part where I ask for some indulgence. Some tolerance of inside baseball. Some nuts-and-bolts of me that you really don’t need to know.

There are too many of you.

Even here, in my small corner of the world, there are theoretically thousands of you, every week, and I can’t pin you down. I hear from high school students and senior citizens and everyone in between, moms, dads, soldiers, business types, students. Nothing of the middle-age misadventures I put on these pages is worth more, mostly, than the five minutes you take to read it, but I realized at some point that I needed a face.

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Quote Of The Forever And Ever

The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. — David Foster Wallace

I’m oh so tempted to see in here the ruminating of someone who has stared dependency of some sort in the eye for a long time. And that works biographically for Mr. Wallace. He certainly stared at lots of stuff, until I guess he couldn’t stare anymore.

I’ll tell you something else — The Web feeds on aphorisms these days (including, incidentally, to a small degree, mine), enough to make me want to press a permanent power button and never look again. I appreciate wisdom as much as the next guy; I just have an unsettling feeling that, at least electronically, a lot of our interaction is starting to resemble a Hallmark card. Enough with the quoting, I say; tell me something about your day instead.

But here. We. Go. This is what I’ve been doing, what I do, what I try to do, what I think about doing, why I sometimes get this overwhelming sense of being freed by my efforts to focus on what’s going on, listen to my gut and my body and my family and just about everything.

It’s why I make notes of calories I’ve eaten and miles I’ve walked and things I really, really need to do. And maybe it comes from years of being oblivious, or maybe I’ve been taught how to do this, or maybe it’s just survival skills popping up in the mind of a middle-aged man who used to drink a lot and now doesn’t.

But, reading this, this morning, I thought yeah. This is what I meant the other day, talking about more bad news with Julie, when I told her my general sense of self these days I would describe as existential exuberance. I know where I am on the life cycle, I’m very much aware of random buses waiting for me to cross the street at the wrong time, I see consequences and results, and still when I wake up I want to get up.

And why, even though he should really being doing more of this for himself, when I make my son something to eat I get released just a little bit more. Here, eat, enjoy, I love you, and I’m now free to move around the country, thank you very much.

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The Unbearable Dumbness Of Being Me

So, something happened to me on Monday. Suddenly, abruptly, swiftly, something. I went from feeling sort of odd and looking sort of gray to violent chills, fever and unconsciousness.

And then I got better, but it took most of the week. Whatever this was, it was puny but life force-sucking. I spent Tuesday either driving John around or sleeping. Wednesday was mildly better.

Yesterday I was back to my old self, so I cleaned the garage. And today we have another issue, the direct result of hauling an old beanbag from the back of the garage into the back of my van. It was a really big beanbag. And obviously I haven’t been working lately on strengthening my core.


Sore back aside, I’ve decided to watch the Oscars this Sunday. It’s been years, and after thinking about it I think I know why. In the old days, when I really looked forward to Oscar night, I was really looking forward to snacks and beer. I don’t snack or drink beer these days, so it turned into four hours of “coming up next” and I passed.

Something made me set the DVR, though, not sure what. Usually I might manage to see two of the nominated films, but since this year they doubled the nominees to 10, I’ve seen two. Including the cartoon one. So that can’t be it.

I was going to be sarcastic and say, “The last time a movie changed my life was never” but then I realized that once a movie did actually change my life, or at least provided the final inspiration for me to do something that was sort of life changing. Although it’s a little embarrassing to talk about.

I have no dog in this race. Would it be nice if Sandra Bullock won an Oscar? For Sandra, sure. And I sort of like Sandra, although she makes some godawful movies sometimes (although not “Miss Congeniality”).

I’ve heard that James Cameron is a jerk, although he at least sounds articulate and intelligent, as compared to Quentin Tarentino, who sounds like an ill-informed minor Muppet character.

Is “The Hurt Locker” representative of some sort of reality in the Iraq war? Is “Avatar” the future of filmmaking? Is “Up In The Air” going to be the legacy movie, the one that we look back on as truly showing what it was like back in 2009 before we all got fired via Skype?

Seriously? I think they ought to give the Oscar to “Up” because it was cute. Avoid drama.

Anyway, coming from someone who doesn’t follow any of this I might as well watch the damn show, assuming I still have a bad back and can’t do any more garage detail for a while, and I might as well make predictions because people do that. Place your bets. I guarantee these are guesses.

Picture: The Hurt Locker

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Actor: Jeff Bridges

Actress: Gabourey Sidibe

Supporting Actor: Woody Harrelson

Supporting Actress: Anna Kendrick

Animated: Coraline


Remember: No snacks, no beer, no beanbags.

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