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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

I haven't always counted on the kindness of strangers.

Also, unlike Blanche DuBois, I'm not dainty, patrician, crazy or a floozy. (My autobiography is tentatively titled "Too Ugly to be Loose." Danny DeVito is the likely person to play me in the subsequent film. Disney's Quasimodo dropped out of the project due to another commitment.)

I spent far too much of my life trying to be fully self-sufficient, proud of what I did on my own. My peripatetic life made it easy as I moved around too much and was often alone.

Then while meditating at the beginning of 2020, when clearing my mind and just breathing, it occurred to me I needed to ask for help. I worked too much at the time, usually seven days a week. In three years, I had taken only one week off to see my kid graduate.

Of course 2020 became my annus horribilis, being laid off and losing a permanent address for a while.

I needed help.

People I've never met offered me letters of support, kind emails and pick-me-ups. Strangers contributed money. People brought me food -- and beer -- to my Motel 6 room. The kind folks at the front desk made almost a daily trip to my room to drop off something.

Then some dude I never met let me stay in his guest cabin for six months -- on a hilltop overlooking Lake Lemon outside of Bloomington, Indiana.

I write this today because a new friend in my life texted me if I wanted some lasagna she was making today. We met at her work where she presented me with two pounds of  lasagna and some bread sticks.

Too often I think I don't deserve these things. Coincidentally, this morning's quote on my Buddha app -- yes, there's such a thing -- was: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them.” That's not Buddha but the Dalai Lama. So I have that going for me.

Somehow, I suspect tonight's lasagna will be the best-tasting I've ever had, solely because of the kindness.

Peace and help unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Friday, September 10, 2021

 It won't be too long until I return to Indiana with a moving truck to pick up my stuff.

And I want to vomit.

Sure, I miss my stuff. And I miss having a "home" to live in -- many steps above the two lawn chairs sitting in my living room. Or the mattresses on the floor. (If you want to make some money on YouTube, get a video of me getting my fat ass out bed in the morning.)

I look forward to cooking for friends, having a dinner party or something 1950s like that. Grilling out -- in the middle of winter when your drink stays extra cold -- while friends peruse my library. And oh, that library. One of my favorite pastimes is picking up an old favorite book, opening to any page and be re-engaged. "Trout Fishing in America" -- I'm talking to you.

My pots and pans and knives -- they are the mistresses I miss most. I used to be a big fan of kitchen gadgets until a trip to the Smithsonian in the mid-1990s. They had taken apart and reassembled Julie Child's kitchen, which was not filled with pasta machines or Keurigs. Just good pots and pans and hefty sharp knives. OK, I will admit to one luxury -- a risotto maker I bought from Williams Sonoma. (Please don't tell Julia.)

I miss the Catholic Encyclopedia I took from my dad's law office after his sudden death. He had the 1911 edition from his uncle, Father Robert Agnew, who was given the rare books by his congregation at St. Olaf's in Eau Claire, where he was the founding priest. Catholic or agnostic, readers would be shocked by the erudition.

Yet I'm filled with dread.

As I grow older, I find tasks that break from my everyday routine frighten and confuse me -- not unlike Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.

Ancient, doddering me, will drive a moving truck two days down to Bloomington, Indiana. Me will hire help to load up said truck and return the same two-day trek and hire locals to unload me. 

Now that I write about some of my beloved stuff and layout simply what confronts me, perhaps it won't be so bad -- along with a great reward. Often, my the kid and I confronted difficult circumstances, I would announce to her it was another Jackson family adventure.

When this happens in about a month, I shall report from the road.

Thanks readers for helping me work this out.

Peace and clarity unto all of you my dear brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021


When I wake up in the morning, I'm amazed at what little I know, planning to learn at least one thing during the day.

I've written this many times, almost becoming my mantra.

Well, Saturday morning I woke up dumb as a bowling ball. After finishing my beauty work -- this magic doesn't happen on its own -- I sat down to read The New York Times online.

Perusing the light stuff, I came across an article on the retrospective on the painter Joan Mitchell.

Her paintings blew me away.

And I had never heard of her.

Actually, I had mis-read the headline as referring to the singer Joni Mitchell. She paints? I thought to myself.

I read the article with embarrassment at my lack of knowledge and no little amount of sexism. Most of the abstract expressionists I know and admire. I have a Mark Rothko print as well as my own crappy attempts at painting. (I made those mostly to fill wall space without spending money.)

Why do I read?

To fill that empty noggin of mine.

Peace and knowledge unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Friday, September 3, 2021

I apologize for being incommunicado for the past week.

I've been working hard.

And I've been a little down.

No one ever said the road ahead would always be straight and downhill. I also have a life-long tendency toward clinical depression. I take great meds for it. Studies of Buddhism have helped.

But I still get visits from my old friend depression.

And I know I'll be fine. I've been here before and made it through worse.

I talked with a colleague today about facing challenges and we agreed. In difficult times, keep breathing, keep moving forward -- even if it's an inch at a time.

All week long, I debated about what I should write and how much I should share. But I promised on this blog from the beginning I would be truthful. (That was an easier promise when I thought no one would read it.)

When in times like this, I deflate my world to the point I only worry about what I can touch, the things I can affect. I concentrate on self-care and attempt to eschew the maelstrom of world news.

Also, I apparently pick up a thesaurus -- my favorite of the verbal dinosaurs.

Forever I remain thankful for the Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, who famously says, "Love others, start with yourselves."

And then my blessings.

I have a job. There's a paycheck every two weeks. I have have a house - still devoid of my stuff. Even then, last night I had a dinner of sweet corn and tomato sandwiches (sorry, southern friends, we have no Duke's Mayo).

My mom is doing well and my kid is doing standup at open mic nights in Boston.

Even in down times, my life rewards.

Peace and rewards unto you my brothers and sisters.

Friday, August 27, 2021

 I realized today that my homeless struggle was as much about lack of a newsroom as well as an address.

That's because I'm on to a story.

I wrote earlier on in this blog I felt like General Patton, who bemoaned losing his Army during the greatest battle in history.

I am no George Patton but this battle against COVID is our greatest public health battle since the Spanish flu in 1918 which killed in the range of 25-50 million. The pandemic was driven by a lack of good medical information, bad hygiene, close quarter near the end of World War I.

What I missed was that story I always worked on, regardless of newspaper, where I could dig deeply and uncover something hitherto kept quiet. And I allow myself only one use per year of "hitherto" so enjoy, dear reader.

I've written a news story and a column about the story.

After hundreds of unmarked graves were found on the grounds of assimilation schools for the indigenous people in Canada, my mind wandered to the Hayward Indian School in my new -- and last -- city.

The Hayward Indiana School operated from 1901 to 1934 and according to records from the Office of Indian Affairs -- later the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The school generally rated as one of the worst in the vast system of assimilation schools. Children were taught how to grow healthy vegetables and raise dairy cattle as job training but the results were sold to the community. Children were fed moldy bread. Most of the runaways from the school were simply out of hunger.

Worse, if an Indian boy attempted to speak his language or honor his elders with a dance, he would be sent to a jail cell in the basement of the boys dormitory.  After once incident, young girls had to wear a sign that read, "I will not squaw dance."

The term "squaw" has been considered for generations to be racist and misogynistic -- well known at the time of the boarding school.

Thus far, my search has been difficult, even with help from folks on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation just miles from my house and office.

I suspect that if there is an unmarked cemetery on the grounds of the old school -- a 640-acre plot now inhabited by Hayward Memorial Hospital -- there are no records to document it.

I have found reams of documentation about the failure of Northern States Power Co, when it flooded the old Indian cemetery, to move graves. In my research, I've found graves -- open to the elements now -- remain on an island on the Chippewa Flowage.

Today I received an email from the National Archives office in Chicago. An archival technician digitized a bunch of letters and records for me.

For friends who know me, this is like Christmas.

And if you know me, you'll know how I intend to spend my weekend.

Yep, I'm home -- in a newsroom.

Peace and a mission unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Monday, August 23, 2021

 You cant go home again.

I write the cliché because I returned to my hometown last weekend to take one of my brothers out for his birthday.

We had a great lunch, hot beefs at the place where I used to bartend. The recipe hasnt changed in 70 years. As we sat there waiting for lunch, I told the bartender that about 30 years ago on a slow afternoon, an older guy walked in and bought a beer. He asked if we still served hot beefs, like the kind we did in the 1950s. I served him a sandwich – on me – and asked what he thought. Same hot beef, he said, with a mouthful of tender meat. I responded, Yeah, probably the same cow.

Now I was that older guy.

We drove around a little bit – its the first time, though, in recent visits where I didnt get lost on the new highways around town.

My brother asked if I wanted to drive by the old family home.

I couldnt do that.

But we drove down the main street, which has changed and stayed the same. I looked up to see the windows of my dads old law office.

We stopped at the Leinie Lodge where I dont get points off even though Im an inaugural member.

We drove through Irvine Park, our beautiful little reminder of the Northwoods before it was timbered (thats a word up here).

The visit was beautiful and Ill see my brother again soon. Thankfully, hes patient with my humor.

For some reason, though, nostalgia makes me sad – and it shouldnt.

I had a great life in my hometown and so many friends I cant count. In fact we ran into an old friend at the bar. That only makes sense in that city.

I cant be sad for what was once.

Only rejoice in those memories.

Because I returned home to Hayward, my newest and last city of residence, happy to be home.

Which is where I am.

Friday, August 20, 2021

 Thank you all.

In the last 24 hours, passed 200,000 pageviews -- something unthinkable when I started this trip May 1, 2020.

I knew when I received a call that I would get a visit from the regional editor the next day at noon, I would be laid off as part of the GateHouse-Gannett merger. News articles said the new company would find $300 million in synergies and for the first time in my life, I became a synergy.

I surmised I would lose my apartment at the newspaper and the likelihood of a jobless man finding an apartment with little savings would be impossible in a major university town.

So that night, I poured a stiff drink and purchased url for all of $10.

I needed something to do after a job in which I worked everyday and figured I ought to keep my writing skills sharp. (Said skills remain as sharp as one of those second-grader scissors that couldn't cut the cheese -- I'm not allowed to skip that joe now I'm back in Wisconsin.)

I had no grand dreams. My last blog garnered all of 55 pageviews -- 45 of them were mine I'm pretty sure. So I didn't set up online ads or accompanying social media.

My friends, who were more adept online, shared the first few posts via Twitter and within four days, I had 20,000 pageviews -- and The New York Times calling for an interview.

During the nearly 250 posts, I've attempted to be as honest as possible even if I appear a horse's ass on occasion.

And there were times -- particularly when I moved into a rental house in Hayward, Wisconsin, my new home -- I contemplated ending the blog. But then invariably, I see something, experience joy or have to rid my mind of stupid jokes, I realize I have something to write.

The process has been exhilarating and exhausting, freeing and embarrassing.

Rather like life.

And now I now I can't give it up, at least for now. You'll get to follow me as I return to Indiana to get my stuff, any trouble I might get into and a Christmas visit from my kid. 

Thank you, dear readers, for taking this trip with me.

Peace and posts unto all of you my brothers and sisters.