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Revolution and Beer…of the week: Battle of the Great Lakes Monsters!

The Ojibwa called Superior Gitchee Gumee. They told of a terrible serpent called Mishi Ginabeg who lurked in the dark depths and submerged caverns. It was said that when the spirit of the south wind, Showondesi, came laughing Mishi Ginabeg awoke from slumber for vengeance against all who had not made sacrifice. The crew of the Fitzgerald had grown old hearing those tales, but paid them little mind. This was the Twentieth Century, and surely there were no monsters skulking beneath Superior. The laughing Showondesi had long been replaced by the measurable science of meteorology. On that cold November night impassionate science abandoned the good crew, and not a soul could completely dismiss those ancient legends…A terrible moan arose from the ship…the storm was now at a murderous tempo. A new wave slammed the ship sideways nearly tearing her in two. O’Brien felt the wheel go dead in his hands and knew they were at the mercy of the lake. He turned, just as the bow slid into a deep trough. For a moment the ship’s great rudders spun free in the air…a giant wave built over the bow. McCarthy saw it first and crossed himself as the bow plowed under…”Those with a bit of history about the Great Lakes will quickly recall the fate of the Edmund Fitzgerald, here retold in my first novel, Broken: One soldier’s unexpected journey home, W.C. Turck.

I left earlier this week on a trip to Michigan’s Lake Superior shore. On the way up from Chicago I stopped off for a good beer to enjoy on the beach that evening. Something interesting to ponder and decipher a bit, and take the edge off the long trip. When I spotted a couple 4 packs of Great Lakes brewing Company’s Lake Erie Monster, a seasonal offering by a consistently strong brewer my choices narrowed considerably.

This handcrafted Imperial Pale Ale pours to a summer sunset deep golden hue. The head is pale white. After a long day on the road, take the edge off the long trip, it melted it away. Half way through the bottle, the 9.1ABV didn’t hurt either. There were just the caramel malt, hint of citrus and a comfortable hoppy finish that, from the first taste, didn’t two questions remaining; what food would this work well with, and which of the Great Lakes monsters would win in a fight?

This one is a no-brainer. The sightings of the so-called Lake Erie Monster, though no doubt encouraged by copious amounts of some cheaper swill, leave much to be desired. One, eh-hem, witnessed described the “South-Bay-Bessie” as cigar-shaped. Yet another described it as having a “long neck and an eye was visible on the side of the head with a grin going up one side The creature appeared to be playing in the water…” Sorry, but Frolicking serpents don’t evoke awe, at least not to this reporter. The grainy videos and photos hardly prove more than sightings of a prize-winning sturgeon, a wayward beaver or the existence of the Ohio mafia. Mishi Ginabeg has never, nor would ever allow itself to be photographed, nor would it ever, ever, ever frolic. But then Mishi Ginabeg doesn’t have its own beer, at least for now.

I was staying with our old friends the Coopers for the week. Carole, who authored the Simply Healthy Gourmet had supper waiting- http://www.simplynaturalgourmet.com/. She’d prepared roasted Rosemary Chicken, with roasted potatoes and onions. The warm sweetness of the onions nicely complimented the hint of citrus in the beer. A few days later, meeting up with a buddy, the sculptor Ritch Branstrom for a Lake Erie Monster in his studio, I tricked things up with a sliced roast beef, a slice of fresh mango and some local melted medium cheddar on croissant with homemade cilantro mayonnaise for a perfect match with the beer.

So, I guess when it’s all said and done it’s a draw between the two great lakes monsters. And though I’m hardly convinced of the actual creature, I’m fully convinced of Great Lakes’ Lake Erie Monster. Thank you.

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With Chris and Wiggler on the picket line in Chicago

I stopped by a grade school this morning in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago to ask the pocket of energized red-shirted teachers to listen and call in to my radio show this Saturday at 10am on WCPT am820. I’m doing an Occupy anniversary show, but promised to give the teachers as much time as I could.

I snapped a couple of shots, engaged in a bit of good-natured back and forth when a guy pushed through the group and asked pointedly, “Do you support the Teachers?”

“Damn right!” I replied. “I grew up in a union home, and was union myself for the better part of a decade. Yeah, I support.”

He came out and met me at the curb, looking like a hip teach from a WB drama, with a neatly trimmed beard and long wavy blond hair. He introduced himself as Chris. Another, slightly more conservative fellow joined us there, calling himself, Wiggler. Not sure where the name came from. Seemed unimportant to ask. Not sure I needed to know, exactly.

I’d been listening to talk show hosts on the very Rightwing station WLS impune and attack the teachers, as if they were some sort of street scum, or deadbeats that needed to be taken to task. For the WLS talking heads it was all about the money, and of course their ultimate angle is to deride and denigrate anything union.

“It isn’t about the money,” Chris said. “It’s about the evaluation process and making it fair.”

WLS and their comrades over on WMAQ did in fact mention the review process, while conveniently omitting key parts of that argument. According to Chris and Wiggler, it isn’t simply about a review process, but about realities in inner city schools, particularly in challenged neighborhoods that at the very least complicates any review process to the point of damaging the records of otherwise gifted and excellent educators.

“It’s really common in CPS,” said Wiggler, who’d taught in some of the city’s toughest schools in the Engelwood neighborhood.

Both men pointed out that gifted students often migrate away from classes to better schools under various programs. The children that remain are often those with learning disabilities, or from homes and neighborhoods burdened with significant challenges from stifling poverty to physical abuse, malnutrition, gang violence and substance abuse. Wiggler pointed out that he’d  seen these sorts of migrations  suck away up to 60% of the best students from a classroom.

But this shouldn’t really even be about evaluations either. Both men, with the others in boisterous agreement lamented the attrition of supplies, resources and programs from schools, classrooms and students. More and more teachers are forced to buy supplies and media necessary to teach children as budgets are cut and programs like arts education, music, P.E. and more are cut. Students are crowded into classrooms with fewer and fewer teachers. And here’s why.

The tactic is a cynical and very purposeful one, fought carefully and incrementally over decades by the Right, and by complicit dupes on the Left as well. Starve the system until it becomes non-functional or marginally functional and then point to the disfunction as the cause of the problem, with the obvious solution being chater schools, vouchers, breaking up the teacher’s union, all of which only accelerate the first part of the strategy.

Education use to be about helping a person to gain critical thinking skills that could be applied to life and building a better tomorrow for themselves and their community. The attack on teacher’s unions, charter schools, home schooling, vouchers and dishonest review programs instead are intended to maintain a lower class beholden and enslaved to a wealthy and powerful 1%, unburdened by critical thought and trained rather than educated. They will be the perfect consumers of sugary crap not at all healthy or enlivening to their souls or bodies. and if there is one singularly critical battle line between what the Right wants and the freedom this nation supposedly promises for all, it may well be this fight.

Working out, P90X and Paul Ryan: Won’t someone think of the cannibals?

I awoke early this morning for work. The wife was asleep. She’d gone to bed after me last night, so, obviously I was now hunting throughout the house for possible places she might have left the remote control so I could check the day’s weather. I checked the usual places before expanding my search to the bathroom, the refrigerator and the dirty clothes hamper. Before finding it, I was stuck on an infommercial for some psychotic workout, called insane, or crazy or some such.

It was a rip-off of the P90X workout Paul Ryan cultists, particularly in the media, cannot help themselves from mentioning nearly every time they talk about the guy. They seem intent on mentioning with near psycho-sexual relish his 6% body fat, super tight abs, and great body, which would be fine from say FOX’s Megyn Kelley, but from Steve Doocy, it would get a bit creepy.

But as I was looking in the cat box, the microwave and the recycling bin for the remote, the infommercial had person after person with next to no body fat, I thought that this new proliferation with manic workouts seems, well, a bit inconsiderate.

I recalled, still hunting the remote in a flower vase, the washing machine and cupboard that I’d made pork chops the other day on the grill. These were nice, thick, juicy pork chops with a nice strip of tasty fat on the side. And let’s face it, that is the tastiest part of the chop. I would not want to eat a  pork chop from a half-starved pig.

Now I work out regularly, bike about 120 miles each week, hit the gym a couple of times a week. So I’m in good shape, just so I can enjoy a good meal and a beer or two, but I pride myself on a normal, healthy amount of body fat, and content myself with the knowledge that if ever captured by cannibals, at least I know they enjoyed the meal!

“Hon, seriously! Where is the remote?”

A lovely Garden

Young boys turn to young girls

To whittle away the time,

Young men turn towards war.

Comes a day when but a few young men remain.

In the bars and parks they congregate,

And polish their pain to badges of honor

With  stories so bold.

Comes a time when the stories all sound the same.

And then as old men,

Dog-eared stories put away

They turn towards god…

And perhaps a very lovely garden.


It was a week to the day…

…since I dropped her off. She wasn’t, well,  she just wasn’t herself. That much was certain. The signs were there a few days before. I ignored it until the symptoms were undeniable. I thought it would be a quick and simple procedure. I imagined she might be in overnight, so it came as quite a shock when overnight turned into a week. That excrutiating week seemed like forever.

I think the train ride into work and home each day was the hardest, at least for me, languishing in that long empty hour each way, every day. I missed my old feiend. Life wouldn’t be the same until she was home again. I’d trail off in thought, growing jittery, feeling the tension rise, along with the anticupation as our reunion neared. How I longed for her sleek athletic form, her speed and stamina,  and the longing realization that she was always there for me[ ready and willing.

I got the call late Friday. The procedure had gone as well as expected. Not that it was terribly serious.  It was quite routine. Tthe voice at the other end of the phone assured me that she had come through well enough. Neither of us would know she’d had any troubles at all. Recovery was complete.

She couldn’t be released until 9am. Have to say I was growing more anxious by the minute. It wasn’t far from the house, but the trip seemed endless. I waited outside, and then precisely at 9am, pushed through the door. The man behind the desk looked up smartly and gave a knowing smile.

“You’re here for…”

“I am!” I blurted, too excited, feeling a rush of warm blood into my cheeks. I was tingling and electric.

“Everything went fine,” he said, stepping from behind the desk. “I’ll go get her.”

“Um,” I interrupted him a moment, “can I ask, what was the…”

“Ten bucks,” he said simply.

“That’s it?” I replied, taken by surprise.

“Just a nut,” he nodded before disappearing the back.

It wasn’t a moment later when he led her out as beautiful as the day I’d first laid eyes on her. And with all the care wrought by years of this, he gently dropped her kickstand and tore the tag from her handlebars.

I  rushed to her, sweeping her into my  arms in the biggest hug ever, chuckling  as stuck into my side, smacking her seat playfully, and remarking, “You scamp!”

We were one all the way home. At the light I ran my fingers lovingly over her A-frame and promised her we’d never be apart again. My mountain bike. Oh, how I missed her so…

Full Circle: Romney VP choice is attack on the 99%

So we’ve come full, well…sort of. The Tea Party was begun to distract attention from the wholesale looting of the federal government, an effort only nominally  curtailed by resistance to so-called Social Security reform, and the Supreme Court’s upholding key provisions of the Healthcare Act. The Right, representing a menu of greedy banking, corporate and individual interests, the 1%, if you will have spent decades shrinking and narrowing the accessibility to unfiltered, non-politicized information and news, promoted a fiction that the federal government should be managed like a household checkbook. Folksy wisdom indeed. Reality it is not.

It was hardly out of some suddenly awakened national consciousness that the Bermuda shorts-Sandal and black socked and varicose veined Tea Party decried the burgeoning national debt. That might have made them believable, and even comprehensible. It might have deflected charges of partisan-ism, and even racism had they also risen against the unfunded debt-creating catastrophe of our trillion-dollar, trillion-dollar, the trillion dollar catastrophe of the Iraq debacle and Afghan War. Indeed, the cost of those wars  are estimated to be many times the price of the actual conflicts, as we now must care for tens of thousands of mentally and physically wounded veterans. The Veterans Administration and hospitals are taxpayer-funded.

But there was no such outcry from the Tea Party or the Right. Quite the opposite. Dissent against the wars, first on a moral basis and second, economically was assailed as partisan and unpatriotic. And so the creation of the Tea Party was a ruse. The creators spun innocent Americans against their own interests, and ultimately, against the interests of their nation.

The Occupy movement exposed the fakery of the Tea Party pretense. The true national argument wasn’t about the national debt. Most of that debt is owned by the government, and that debt can sink depending upon favorable trade conditions, which is what is happening now. No, the real issue was the economic devastation wrought by de-regulated banks and financial entities, a perversely bloated defense budget which primarily benefits industry and two unfunded wars. It wasn’t risky home loans going to “people who should never have gotten loans to begin with,” early 21st century code for Blacks. It was financial firms bundling those mortgages and selling their potential risk, then bundling the bundles of mortgages and selling that risk, then bundling the risk and selling the risk on the risk on the real…get the idea? And all of it ravaged the poor and middle class in this country. How did Romney put it at a press conference during the Republican primaries? “I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine.”

Within weeks the Occupy Movement fully discredited and overwhelmed the Tea Party fiction. Only the Right’s near absolute dominance-the status quo networks tacitly support the Right-in the media and their need to conceal continuing efforts to corrupt and loot the nation via populism has maintained that fraudulent message.

It isn’t about debt. It never was about debt or your children or grandchildren’s futures. The kids and grandkids of the wealthy and corrupt who use the Tea Party for cover already have the means to secure their future; to attend universities unsullied  by the poor and unwashed masses, to have exclusive healthcare access, to fast-track executive careers, homes and comfortable retirements to live their American dream. If there was truly an interest in solving the debt issue, there would be action towards encouraging trade reform, removing corporate incentives to play nations against each other for sub-standard wages and conditions to workers, and removing or limiting their organizational influence on government. Perhaps then we might allow the American people to decide what is in their best economic interest, and that if a company closes a factory here to set up sweatshops in Asia or Africa or Central America that they would be considered criminal enterprises and closed down.

And consumers, if they truly cared about reform, would be willing to pay a little higher for some goods. For example, it costs roughly 80 cents- that’s 80 cents for Nike to produce a $120 Dollar pair of shoes in the Vietnam factory. Call them. They’ll tell you. In April 2010 the monthly wage there was 4000 Dong, or 21 Dollars a month, a  severely sub-standard wage. By doubling, or tripling their pay, spread across the production quotas and output of that factory, that would have added another 80 cents to a doller sixty to that $120 dollar pair of shoes. The Right, of course would tell you that it would double or triple the retail value of the shoes, as they tried to argue with me on WLS radio some years back.

The point is, the Ryan choice  for VP is an effort to resurrect the Tea Party mantra, and make it the centerpiece of the Romney/Ryan campaign. They’ve said as much. This from men who accuse Obama of not having any business experience. But their plan, using their own folksy example about household debt and a balanced checkbook(apples and oranges really), would have them cutting out the kid’s schoolbooks, shutting off heat or  air conditioning in any room their not occupying and other austere cuts while they continue driving around in the gas guzzling limousine and taking fabulous 10 year-long vacations in faraway lands on their kid’s credit cards.

Full circle. Let’s see now if the American people will fall for it a second time. The answer comes this November.

The Ballad of Don and Dean, or how pork sausage saved the world: part two of three


The afternoon slips into memory. Summer fades and the skies turn cold and gray. The breeze that whispered among the cornrows is now an icy wind rustling among dry yellow stalks. The oblong leaves of the maple are stained a rusty red, falling in great heaps to cover the yard and the two empty chairs beside the barn. It rained earlier, clearing the air so that everything appears fresh and new, the colors as crisp and precise as if from a painting. A pickup crests the far hill, barreling along the gravel road past the farm. Stones crackle loudly against the undercarriage.

Don and Dean stand on the porch looking out at the yard and the white gravel driveway, out past the tractor and the rusting green Oldsmobile that hasn’t run in years. The fields are plowed, mostly. The diverging lines of harvest rows run away in the distance. Banks of autumn trees are colored brown and gold. A thick carpet of clouds softens the world above with only glimpses of blue sky. The air smells mineral-cold like snow and holds the gingery bite of burning leaves.

Dean is dressed in his best brown suit, with a borrowed gold tie and a clean white shirt. Black would have been more appropriate, if only he had another suit to wear. His hands are buried deep in his pockets. His shoulders are heavy with the accumulated weight of life’s burden and ultimate sadness. Don is beside him wearing the same black suit he wore when he retired from teaching. The pant’s legs are hemmed a little too short. Don’s white socks can be seen below the neatly pressed cuffs.

Dean is thinking of Mary Lou. He recalls their first meeting at the high school sock hop, their first kiss and how she looked the first time they made love. He remembers the pea-green Buick and the Chuck Berry song that was playing when he asked for her hand in marriage. He remembers the birth of each of their children. His mind is a confusion of thoughts and tattered emotions. They are debris swirling in the storm of his mind, whipped by a single regret; that there wasn’t enough time. Somehow Mary Lou still feels close. Strange that a body can feel so far away, even when making love, but the soul is always close.

Was a nice ceremony,” says Don, rocking on his heels.

Yep.” Emotion hangs heavy in Dean’s chest.

Mary Lou would have loved it.”

Naw,” Dean frowns, “would have hated folks fussing and weeping over her.”

There is a long silence. The wind rustles through the dry corn. A crow caws from the field. Dean’s voice wavers. “Sure am gonna miss her.”

In a better place than hangin’ around listening to a couple old coots like us.”

Guess I‘m just selfish.”

How’re the kids holding up?”

Mostly. Grandkids’ll miss her the most. The old gal never missed a birthday. Knew every single one, which is why I never had to.”

Same way with Joanne,” says Don. The comment unexpectedly enrages Dean. Though he knows what Don means, knows the comment was innocent enough, Dean wants to shout that it isn’t the same, and that he has no idea until his wife is gone too. The feeling scares the hell out of Dean.

Is that right?” Dean manages.


Woman thing.”

Keep us civilized.”

Sure,” Dean drags himself from the rage. “Sure, or we’d be hairy, unwashed barbarians; fat, smelly and thinkin’ we’re God’s gift.”

The rage leaves him, but in this barren land where grief and guilt are one in the same, it is a simple thing to stumble from one treacherous footfall to another. Dean is suddenly confronted with the endlessly cold abyss of forever. Don watches Dean’s brow collapse. Hopelessness and terror crystallize in Dean’s eyes. Don searches for a way to rescue his friend.

Paint quite a picture there, Dean.” Don gives Dean’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. Dean looks up and finds strength in caring and familiar eyes.

Just call every so often to make sure I bathe once in a while.”

It’s that hairy part that has me spooked,” Don smiles. “But we’ll take it a day at a time.”

Dean nods. “Well, that’s something then.”

Come by now and again, make sure ya get a good meal or two.”

Sure could use a bit of breakfast right now,” says Dean. “Ain’t had much to eat since yesterday.”

Cook ya up a couple of eggs?”

Strange thing to worry about with all this goin’ on?”

Gotta eat.”

Believe I could use a bit of breakfast.”

That’s a trooper.”

Somethin’ with a bit of noise. Up for a ride out to the Hog’s Breath?”

Believe I could use a cup of their coffee.”

Good coffee.”


Got a taste for their pork sausage.”

Got a good one, do they?” asks Don.

Hear they make it fresh.”

Is that right?”

That’s what I hear.”

Believe you just might be right.”

Autumn gives way to winter. It’s like an ending to some, a transition to others and to some a beginning. It depends on where they’re standing at that moment. The snow comes early, arriving sometime before the dawn. It lays quietly among the plowed fields, a white blanket torn by dark rows. The light is soft, accompanied by a silence broken only by the whisper of fluffy-white snowflakes. Out past the tractor, a quarter mile or so away, a pair of deer move among the fields. Their brown winter coats are full, snow collecting lightly upon their backs and shoulders.

Out on the porch the air is cold. It puts a sting to the cheeks and nose, but Don barely notices. The cold air is cleansing, giving a new perspective to difficult thoughts and concerns, like Dean’s slow and apparent wasting in the months since losing Mary Lou. The cold and quiet bring Don a clarity that he has sorely missed. He wonders where it will end. He recalls how his own father seemed to give up on life after his mother passed. The thought leads him to his own life. From the first day with Joanne the thought was there. Seemed like it would take him away from a love that needed to be loved in the present. In retrospect he is still undecided, and wonders if his father’s fate was inevitable, like a comet plunging to an unavoidable end in the sun. He wonders if there is some pressure that will nudge his own heart from that certain destruction.

The door is open behind him. A soft golden light from the lamp on the bureau falls through the dingy screen door. Coffee is brewing in the kitchen. The warm, bitter fragrance finds him. He feels like he is standing on the divide between two worlds. The scent of the coffee comes with the scent of a house that feels every bit as substantial and familiar as any member of the family. He glances back at Dean who is visiting for the weekend.

Dean looks frail and much older these days, his eyes like long abandoned wells. He is awake, sitting at the edge of the sofa bed with his back to the door. His toes are tucked into a pair of well-worn brown slippers. A black and orange blanket rests upon his shoulders. Don smiles at Dean’s tossled wispy white hair.

Dean is staring blankly at the cold fireplace. His eyes are fixed there, lost in some groggy half-thought. He feels a draft from the open door across his bare ankles and worries about his wife in that cold, cold ground.

The Ballad of Don and Dean, part one

The late afternoon air smells of yellow hay, the warm musk of manure, peppery fresh-cut grass, and chicken frying up nicely somewhere. A breeze is moving laundry hung from a tired line across the yard, and washing in waves over feathery tassels on tall August corn. Corn surrounds the shady yard on three sides, obscuring fields running endless beneath the perfect Iowa sky. The corn wraps around the farm like loving arms, like a lover’s intimate embrace. Fat red apples are ripe in the tree beside the house. They are falling to the soft, grassy earth in ever increasing numbers, as if understanding that only a select few will be chosen to fatten a pie, or a fresh-baked strudel.

The shade is comfortable against the afternoon heat. It is persistent and guaranteed by the crooked maple, the one scarred by that lightening strike last summer, the one beside the barn. A tractor tire, bleached dusty gray from years in the sun, hangs on a thick rope from the maple’s sturdiest limb. The tire isn’t used much anymore, not since the kids outgrew it long ago, even before going off to make their own lives. The grandkids are still too small to reach the tire. Sparrows flutter through the limbs to the barn’s awnings, chattering excitedly from their nests among the rafters and hay bails.

From where the two old-timers sit, half hidden in the midnight shadow of the barn, the tire neatly frames the concrete grain tower in Cylinder just visible above the corn. The afternoon sun shines upon the tower so that it appears as crisp and clean as polished gold. A flock of blackbirds falls upon the fields like handfuls of coal thrown from a great height.

The old-timers might have been there for an hour, all afternoon, or they might have been there forever. Time in these parts, save for those feverish moments of youth, the tentative misunderstandings of love awakened, or the chaotic trials of raising children, ebbs and flows as hypnotic as waves upon the smooth stones of some quiet beach. Doesn’t much matter how long they’ve been there, particularly not to them. They’d be content no matter what, especially if forever was as perfect an afternoon as this.

Don and Dean are sitting on a pair of small kitchen chairs. Same ones they’ve been on for years. So long that neither of them can rightly remember when the chairs were used for anything else. Don is sort of leaning back, which is a bit easier on his uncommonly long legs. He has the chair up on two legs, rocking up and back to a rhythm only he knows. Dean has his feet up and crossed on a stump.

Their wives are sisters, in a family in which if you are loved by one you are loved by all, with just enough judgment to keep you safe among the fold. It makes for a wild mix, one that Don is often heard to remark as being “darn good theater.” It’s a large clan, where bonds may become lost in the greater weave, except where they overlap most certainly.

Old Don retired from teaching some years ago. Still misses it, mostly, misses coaching the football team, watching his boys grow into men. He misses the pride swelling in his chest at every win, and the challenge in the losses. Sometimes the memories of those chilly autumn nights return full force; the moths and the June bugs swarming in the lights, the smell of sweat, fresh earth and hot cocoa. He hears the clacking of helmets and shoulder pads, and cheerleaders chiding the opposing team. Don was always a simple man, coached and taught that way. Never did see a need to raise his voice, never thought that life was all that difficult that it ever needed to be forced.

Dean? Well, he had counted the days to retirement for better than twenty years. Just sort of fell into truck driving. Wasn’t a calling or anything that he particularly loved. When he finally retired, Dean never missed driving across the country, the cold cups of bitter coffee, or the sense that he was always running to someplace unfamiliar and leaving the familiar behind. He laments all that he missed as the kids grew up, their lives more like snapshots than a continuum. The fact that they’ve grown into such good people, and the grandkids who shower him with affection are all that he needs to temper whatever guilt he still feels.

“Callin’ for rain tonight,” Dean says, not in a drawl, but with a lazy economy, a casual knowledge that human time is nothing if not to be squandered. Dean’s gaze is lost somewhere among the corn.

 Don eyes drift around the yard. “Believe it just might.”

“Better tonight than today. Don’t like it much when it rains on Sundays.”

“Good sermon this mornin’,” says Don. “Father sure can get ya thinkin’.”

“That he can,” Dean agrees.

“Darn good breakfast too.”

“Those ladies of the auxiliary sure can cook.”

“Betsy Pendergast’s coffee cake.”

“Believe ole Betsy’s eatin’ more than she’s bringin’ to church.” Dean smiles mischievously. Don joins him as surely as a private language the two old friends cultivate and keep among one another.

“Morris Drew’s pork sausage,” Don says.

“That’s some good sausage.”

“Good sausage,” Don agrees.

“Believe he makes it right here in town.”

“Is that right?” asks Don.

“Believe I heard that.”

A long silence follows, one touched only by the laughter of sparrows and the breeze through the corn. Dean looks at the sky and nods knowingly.

“Yep, believe it might rain tonight.”


“Back is actin’ up a bit.”

“What’s the doctor say?”

“Says that a body knows when the weather is changin’.”

Don notices a butterfly dancing among the bright yellow marigolds beside the house. He looks to the pristine blue sky leaking through the fluttering maple leaves.

“Think I’d ask for a second opinion,” says Don.

“Would, but I’m afraid they’d tell me my knees outta be hurtin’ too, and I just couldn’t stand that.” Dean cocks his head. “Know who’s got good breakfast sausage?”

“Who’s that?”

“Hog’s Breath Diner out by the interstate,” he replies matter-of-fact.

Don acts surprised, though they’ve had this same conversation, in one form or another, for twenty years.


“Got to be links,” says Dean, puffing his cheeks to hold back a bit of gas.

“Sure don’t like them patties. Think the Hog’s Breath has ‘bout the best.”

“Believe you might be right.”

“Yep. Problem with the world today,” Don observes.

“What’s that?”

“Not enough folks get a good breakfast,” Don yawns and stretches.

“Seems about right.”

“Stuff like that ought not happen.”

“Lots of folks over there of different religions,” offers Dean. “Lot of them folks don’t eat the same stuff.”

“Thought of that.”

“Whadya come to?”

“Figure everybody’s got a right to their own ideas on that stuff.”

“You’re a benevolent soul,” Dean grins.

“Just so long as a body gets a full belly every mornin’.”

“Could change the world.”


Reckon so.”

Dean chews his lip, studying the leaves. They have turned over, leading with their paler bottoms, a sure sign of rain. Dean takes a deep breath and thinks that his life is just about perfect. Well’ he muses to himself, he could be twenty years younger and a little richer, but then it wouldn’t be his life anymore. He’s content, and thinks maybe that this is the meaning of perfection, at least in this life anyway.

“Sure eat some pretty wild things in some of them countries,” he finally says.

“Reckon they’d say the same about us,” Don smiles. “Especially the way you and I eat.”

“Maybe we outta send some diners and truck stops. Figure that would be a better way to quiet folks down a notch, ‘stead of sendin’ the army over there, that is.”

“Just seems to rile things up more.”

“Outta be enough unemployed cooks and waitresses around.”

“You might think.”

“Could send ‘em the ladies auxiliary,” says Dean with a smoothly mischievous tone.

Don leans back a bit farther, hovering at the limit of his balance. He looks over at Dean. The smile is infectious. Don catches it right away.

“Know your lovely wife, Mary Lou, is in the auxiliary?” says Don.

Dean winks, the boyish smile deepening the lines of his round face. He adjusts the white John Deere cap teetering on his head. “That’d be my sacrifice to world peace.”

“You’re a good man.”

“We do what we must.”

“Where ‘bouts would you send her?”

Dean considers the question for a moment. “Ah, she’s a good hard workin’ woman. I figure someplace that needs a lot of help, say Siberia, Africa?”

“She’d set ‘em straight over there.”

“Set ‘em straight.”

“Sure can cook though,” says Don.

Dean nods. “Known your Joanne to cook up a good meal or two.”

“Send her too.”

“Cook them folks up a fine breakfast and maybe they’d settle down a bit.”

“Worked for us. We ain’t hardly been off these chairs all day.”

“Have to get up sooner or later. Smells like dinner’ll be ready soon.”

The scent of frying chicken and warm butter rolls fills the yard. The sun is setting, bringing a bit of an evening chill to the air. Don rubs his slight belly. “Think we’ll have to get up soon.”

Dean rubs his own belly. “Yep, feel things a rumblin’ in there.”

Turning 50? Gimme a break. It’s just a number!

900poundgorilla is turning fifty. Not the blog, but the monkey pounding the keys…no pun intended. Some would say that’s a milestone, others might wonder who’s to be held accountable for that? I think a couple of the later read the blog.

But god, if I hear another person ask me, ‘how’s it feel to turn the big five-oh,’ or ‘this is the big one,’ well then, Houston, we might have a problem. And I know it causes the wife a bit of heartache. Not because I’ve become any more insufferable than normal, but because she’s really excited about this birthday. I think she’s more excited by it than I am. Ana keeps asking what I would like to do for my ‘special day.’ The answer is, really nothing special.

Truth of it is, I’ve never really been preoccupied with numbers for birthdays. Eighteen came and went with little fanfare. Twenty-one, which in Illinois was the age to drink legally, was a yawn. I’d been drinking for a number of years, which my parents would acknowledge from a few notable moments during my high school years. Thirty? Thirty was an awakening, as I was off to Bosnia and Europe for the first time and studying sculpture under the late master, Milton Horn-while learning some truly salacious things about Horn’s long-time friend Frank Lloyd Wright. And fifty? Well, I’ll admit it’s something, but not what most might think.

Truly, is it a milestone that I managed to survive these 50 years, mostly despite myself? 2 wars, dozens of protests and social causes, bullet fragment in the shin, more car accidents than I care to relate here (most as a kid, and none in the last dozen years or so), breaking damn near every bone in my body, a harrowing drive home back in ’82 in which I was way too drunk to drive, but even drunker to walk, stitches, concussions, fights, frostbite, a near drowning, getting too close to a gang shooting and women. Women, I have to say, were probably the potentially deadliest of all those adventures. The odds were plainly against my surviving any one of those, or at the least ending up in jail at some point. But I did, by the grace of whatever, survive, and managed to keep out of jail to boot.

If anything, my parents deserve the lion’s share of credit. Whatever common sense, reason and powers of negotiation that allowed me to escape all manner of tragedies and alternate fates I got from them. They also, out of benevolent mercy, supreme patience, or a healthy respect for the law, failed to murder me when I was a smart-ass punk all those early years. So for that, I say all due credit goes to them.

Not that there isn’t merit to going out in some dramatic way. Secretly, I’ve always been a bit jealous of people who get eaten by, say, a bear, or that guy in California that got munched  a couple years ago by an escaped tiger. An escaped tiger! Can you hear it…?

“Say, what happened to Joe?”

“Oh, he wasted away slowly, bitter and angry at the end, feeling that life never quite realized all its full promise, his dreams crushed and broken. Too sad really.”

…as opposed to…

“So what happened to Joe?”

“Joe was eaten by a freakin’ lion!”


The other credit for my having survived this long, or at the very least not living on a park bench somewhere, goes to my wife-who also surprisingly has not murdered me yet. And just for the record, or a future jury, if she does, I had it coming. She should walk, and maybe get a reward.  A girl can just take so much! No doubt this whole deal with the birthday thing is stressing her out because she so wants it to be special, and I could really care less. Well, not exactly. There are a few things I would like for my fiftieth birthday?

I can tell you what I don’t want. I don’t want any of those #&$%$ing “over the Hill” shirts, hats, boxer shorts, depends, bumper stickers, cups, napkins, or cakes. Don’t send me any cards with old people, bikini clad grandma’s with quippy sayings. Don’t gift me any campy chattering false teeth, break in case of an emergency Viagra gags. I don’t wear slipper or robes, and I am not looking to settle down with that book I been meaning to read now that I have this time gifts. I am not itching for a fling, a sports car, wanting flashy jewelry to assert my station in life, darkening my hair or combing it over, clinging to guns or becoming more conservative.  Please don’t refer to me as an old man, or any of that. I still bench 250 pounds, cover an average of a hundred miles a week on the bike(a hard ride, not a wobbly middle-aged guy awkwardly guilt-ridden and concerned over his mushrooming blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and feel pretty damned healthy (this will be the line everyone quotes on the off chance I drop like a rock in the next couple months).

What I do want is what I have tried to champion the last 22 years. I would like to know that at the end of that, my contribution to a better world meant something. In my memoir of the Bosnian Genocide, “Everything for Love,” I illustrated that we are the agents of evil done to one another and to the planet by our own selfish nature, and that it is in rising to our communal nature that we begin to overcome that self-serving weakness. It was the reason I stood before thousands of Chinese students demonstrating for peace after Tiananmen, climbed an embattled mountain above besieged Sarajevo, organized relief to Rwanda, and stood arm in arm with Occupy. I stand for human dignity and against war as a relic of our primitive past, not the justifiable and inevitable evil promoted and pretended by the vindictive, the ignorant and greedy. War is only-only emotion co-opting intellect, or worse, parading at intellect.

In “Broken,” I tried to describe the intimate nature of Post Traumatic Stress, and the power each of us holds for redemption. Danny, the main character in the book, an Iraq War veteran, wants some accounting, some purpose for the trials that spun his life in a direction he had not planned; like each of us. And at the end of 50 years I can attest fully, and confess to each of you now that I did not in fact become an astronaut/alien slaying soldier/dinosaur hunter. But I did stand, and I did stand for something, even if I stood alone. Why I didn’t actually become that astronaut/dinosaur hunter, well, that’s just how life goes.

Nothing to do now but wait…in Wisconsin. there is nothing to do now but wait in the recall election of Scott Walker, but god help the democrats if he does lose, particularly the DNC, which did nothing to support the recall effort despite tens of millions pouring from outside Wisconsin to help Walker. Some say that Obama doesn’t want the stink on him should Barret, the opponent democratic lose, no surprise for a President who has accepted large losses for small gains in the face of historic Republican interference. And should Walker win, that significantly increases the chances of a Romney win, which will undo any of Obama’s gains, and turn a critical number of moderates against Obama. Because now it is about schoolyard bully politics, and one either stands up to bullies, or the whole playground will side with the bully. Any stink Obama and the DNC wished to avoid in the lead up will pale in comparison. That stink will make a skunk run and hide. Too late now. It is up to the Wisconsin voters tomorrow.

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