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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

 Count your blessings.

One of many I have at the Hermitage is I don't have television.

So I didn't have to watch the disgusting show that pretended to be a presidential debate.

I would never get that time back -- an important measurement as I get older.

But I need to say, or write, that a failure to to condemn white supremacy is the grossest thing I've ever seen a U.S. president do.

I've ready plenty of U.S. history and there are many grotesque moments, from the Federalists to the Democrat Republicans to the Whigs to the No-Nothings to Republicans to Democrats.

But giving support to the nascent Proud Boys makes me want to vomit all over America.

Like all racists, they hide. I've written before about how the KKK hid behind white masks and modern racists hide behind fake names on social media. In the case of the Proud Boys, they hide behind dog whistle language, winks and nods.

Were they truly proud, they would come out and say what they are: white supremacists.

And the president has shown his colors once again.

Peace and equality unto all of my brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Push through, said one of my friends.

He's an early blogger and wrote code for some of the early audio sharing.

It's been good advice for this blog -- particularly today on the 100th post -- and in life in general.

One must move forward, despite it all. I've exchanged messages with former interns who struggle to find jobs in today's market. Don't take it personally, I say. This is the worst job market in 90 years. Every opening can have dozens or hundreds of applicants. I know in my case, I've competed for editor jobs with friends of decades. In many of the cases, when I've not earned the job, I can say objectively that the publisher had made a wise decision on the other person.

That's part of what another friend has said and that is staying humble.

So as I search for waiter jobs or fast-food manager jobs to help get me through the winter, I stay humble. I told one publisher -- who told me I was over experienced for the job at hand -- one my my favorite stories of the Buddha. He was washing his rice pot before teaching some students but he had burned some rice in the pot and it was taking a while to clean it. His assistant said, let me wash the pot for you so you can go teach them. "What can I possibly teach if I don't know how to wash a rice pot?" the Buddha responded.

My biggest lesson in 100 posts is the graciousness of so many people out there -- many complete strangers.

Whether I become a newspaper editor again, another kind of journalist, a waiter or a second-shift manager at Burger King, I promise to return the kindness offered me in these last months.

Peace and graciousness unto you my brothers and sisters.

Monday, September 28, 2020

 I woke up Sunday morning to get ready for what's become a regular Sunday meeting with my beer-drinking buddies.

But before doing my daily cleaning, I decided to take some time and be mindful.

I had a chaos dream just that morning, where I had control over nothing and every time I said that to people, I was given more tasks. That's similar to being a newspaper editor but in conscious life, I have more control than in subconscious dreams.

My heart was pounding.

Fall was in the air as the green of summer begins to die and decompose.

On the front deck of the Hermitage, I watched the yellow leaves from the canopy that surrounds the property fall like rain. My colleague Laura Lane once planted some herbs in a window box at the place but they never grew because of the tree coverage.

Now that the humidity has broken, the breeze off the lake can be felt through the trees -- the air carrying the scent of the leaves and the critters among them.

I've been watching this lazy squirrel over the last couple of weeks. He grabs nuts that fall on to the front deck with a "WHACK" sound and then uses the back deck to get into his tree without crawling up the trunk. Lazy bastard.

Last week I saw a new snake, a baby with yellow circles around him down his body. Baby snake implies mama snake so I increased my pace as much as I could.

When I drove down the remote, gravel rode to go see my friends, I felt as though I were driving into an ancient chapel but instead of a ceiling of murals, the canopy was was of intense oranges and reds, yellows, greens and browns.

I love fall when the cornfields turn to a golden rod color and when the soybean tops turn yellow. That's going to be some good eating for someone soon.

Then I walked into my Sunday watering hole, friends with smiles on their faces, genuinely happy to see me.

Oh, and the beer was pretty good.

Homeless editor?


Lucky man?

Goddamn straight.

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

Friday, September 25, 2020

Dear kid,

Happy 20th birthday.

As I noted in our phone call today, it amazes me that you made it this far because, frankly, I'm a putz. I never left you on top of the car and took off. I never threw you off a pier and walked away. I never encouraged you to climb a tree and then had to take an important call -- or grab a cold one.

That you're alive says everything my fathering.

What you've become, though, says everything about you.

And what you've become is simply the best person I know.

You are utterly brilliant, incredibly on top of current events but vested in history. Your empathy is high, although I understand how that causes pain. You have a deep moral compass that sends you in the right direction always. And, of course, you're funny as hell. Actually, you're funnier than hell. Hell pretty much sucks. I've heard from friends.

Here's a secret: I study current events before I call you. Even as a newspaper editor, I can't keep up with your knowledge. I love that your knowledge extends beyond our borders, a rarity in these United States today. I remember when you at age 15 won the contest that took you to the mock UN at The Hague and you planned to represent Recep Erdogan. "Why did you pick the biggest douchebag in Europe?" I asked. "The challenge, dad," you said. "The challenge."

We've talked about how empathy in difficult times can be horrifying. This year has seen has been the worst in my lifetime -- pandemic, recession, racial strife, RBG's death. And, oh yeah, your dear old dad is laid off and technically homeless. But imagine the world without empathy. Your empathy. The Earth would be worse without it.

I love that your morality leads to outrage. It ought to. In fraught times, living in the gray, we need more people like you who see right for what it is and wrong for what it is. When I turned 50 -- and you were 15 -- I talked to you about how I might switch to a communications career that pays more than being an editor. You said, Father (you always call me that when  you're serious) you always taught me to fight the good fight and you're the best fighter I know.

Damnit, I have to live up to my own words?

On this birthday where I'm supposed to give you something, thank you for giving me everything.



Peace and love unto all of you my brothers and sisters,

Thursday, September 24, 2020

I showered and shaved today and put on a shirt -- with a collar. 

I haven't looked this clean since my First Communion ceremony in 1973.

Today was meant to hump for server jobs around Bloomington.

Arriving early at what I thought was an open call for server jobs I found on Craigslist, I straightened my shirt and approached the restaurant.

I then promptly tripped and did a fast plant on the sidewalk.

Construction workers across the street laughed. I dig, I thought. Fatty Arbuckle made that a classic move 100 years ago.

Quickly, I righted myself, checked for long-term injury and then knocked on the door.

"Hi," I said. "I'm here a little early for the open interviews."

I'm sorry, the nice lady said. That was last Thursday.

The story is a perfect metaphor for my struggles to find a job.

In the meantime, I'm sure she told staff that Massive Head Wound Harry applied for a server job.

At other places I stopped, I was told to apply online. But how will people notice my wonderful goddamn personality? And how will the dumb bastards get to know my excellent people skills?

An old friend sent me a note this morning, telling me to stay humble and flexible.

The latter is a little harder at my age. The former? It's easy to be humble when you're lying on the sidewalk with a chorus of laughter.

Peace and safety unto you my brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

 Here's a report from the front lines of a job search for an aging man in the middle of a pandemic and the worst job market in 90 years:

Phew, it stinks.

I mean a literal stink. 

Have you ever accidentally spill limburger cheese on your car manifold and then driven 600 miles?

That's the stench.

(As an aside, you'd be surprised how often this happens in Wisconsin.)

I continue to apply to jobs that would suit my skill set but I've also turned to looking for food service jobs. I can bartend. I can wait tables. But it turns out those are a young person's game, I'm told. Plus my bartending service 30 years ago was in joints where the name of the drink was in the order: Whiskey coke, Seagram's and Seven, gin and tonic, tap beer, a shot of whatever cures what ails you.

I've thought about turning to a sales job but the old advice is that a salesman is essentially selling himself. Ain't know one buying that.

Hell, I wouldn't buy me.

I will keep you updated my friends. If any of you know of a business that needs an older, larger man, who specializes in being a smart aleck, please alert me.

Peace and dad jokes unto you my brothers and sisters.

Monday, September 21, 2020

I haven't  read any of the coverage directly related to the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

I don't have the energy to break down crying in public.

So these thoughts are fully mine without input from others.

The loss of RBG is the loss of someone who fought on behalf of individual people and their rights. She wasn't fulfilling an ideological role -- as much as equality is an ideology.

She didn't take on battles about political differences and political platforms. What RBG wanted was for individuals in U.S. society to be treated the same and have the same rights as others.

For most of her career, that concentration focused on women's rights in the work place and society. She stood on the shoulders of women in the United States going back to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. But for all those giants and the following Suffragettes, I would argue RBG was the most successful because she fought in the trenches of the men -- the U.S. judicial system.

And she won.

She continued her fights all the way up to the most male of bastions -- the U.S. Supreme Court.

I love she was physically diminutive because it belied her massive intellect, her unwillingness to back down. Ruth Bader Ginsburg took on all comers and didn't brook bullshit.

I remember reading a story about a new Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch pompously announcing from the bench during a case about how perhaps the justice had forgotten about the Constitution and began a rant about the case in front of them. A frail and seemingly disengaged Ginsburg said directly into her microphone, "Where did one person, one vote from?"

Gorsuch shut up.

What I fear the most is we shall not see her like again.


Friday, September 18, 2020

 When out in public, I keep my head down.

I don't make eye contact.

I mind my own business.

For no other reason, I assume I won't run into people I know in a city where I have lived for just a year.

That's despite meeting at least a thousand people since I arrived in Bloomington. The Herald-Times gifted me 1,000 cards when I arrived in June 2019 and when I was laid off May 1, 2020, I had about 30 cards left.

I met many people.

Yet it comes as a perpetual surprise that complete strangers stop me in public and ask me how I'm doing. They ask about job prospects, if I'm OK, if I need anything.

For anyone who assumes the darkness of the human soul, they don't see what I see.

A complete stranger approached me Thursday to ask about my state of life. 

This simple act is of such graciousness and I find it astounding. I suspect she recognized me from column mugshots. Regardless of how she knew me, her questions of well-being filled my heart and reminded me of the good in this city, this county, this state, this country and this world.

Imagine if we all could treat strangers as friends and what that would mean for our society.

To use an old Oprah phrase: Random Acts of Kindness.

Enjoy your weekend, my dearest friends, far and near.

Peace and kindness unto you my brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

 Stanley Crouch has died.

He was a teacher to me, through his books and columns. And like all teachers, he taught me great ideas in his thoughts and he taught bad examples through his actions.

Here's his New York Times obituary:

I read his first book, "Notes of a Hanging Judge" in 1990 after seeing him on some obscure PBS show in northern Wisconsin. Please understand the Nort'woods are rural and homogeneous and attempting to be woke as a 25-year-old would take some time.

Also, there was no such thing as "woke" at the time.

But I'd seen this incredibly erudite guy on the TV interview and bought the book. In it, I found he thought for himself. He did not accept narratives and ideology as I had done.

Crouch sought truth from his own internal intellect -- sometimes he was wrong.

He was almost always right about jazz and how the freedom and advancement of the music was a perfect example of democracy. Those making the music paid little attention to criticism and attacks. They played the music in them. And if that was Louis Armstrong helping create jazz and later scat singing as a verbal personification of free jazz or moving to Be-Bop or Thelonious Monk or Chick Corea. Hell, "Bitches Brew," which is a hard listen for me, is the existential freedom of jazz.

Crouch wrote against the predetermination of black skin and poverty, which I don't think holds up as well. Statistics and history are pretty clear. But this was his narrative and not the accepted one.

And then he'd be in a fistfight with a fellow reporter.

Worse, he was homophobic to a gross degree. It's only my hope that he lost this later in life. Imagine someone who understands racism and how it degrades an entire people but fails to see the same for people born LGTBQ.

Crouch taught me. Whether I wanted to be or not.

Think for yourselves, my friends.

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

 Play some Ice Cube -- today was a good day.

I found enticing and interesting jobs to which I applied, all of them outside my preferred field of journalism. But all of would allow me to continue being a storyteller.

A nice couple stopped me at Culver's and told me they missed my columns. I asked them to follow me here and they expressed mild shock at the title but promised they would

I spent time on a Zoom conference call with old friends and colleagues who seek to start an all-local website in a former city. One friend said I had great wisdom. (That's not a phrase I hear often given my proclivity for dad jokes.)

I continue to revel in the Green Bay Packers win Sunday where they seemed -- for at least one game -- ready to make another run at a Super Bowl. Remember I grew up in the 1970s and '80s, when there was a question if the only non-profit professional sports team in the country could survive.

Small victories.

Huge blessings.

Peace and blessings unto you my brothers and sisters.

Monday, September 14, 2020

 My friends and I gather at a watering hole every Sunday, something that's become the highlight of my week since bars re-opened.

The pandemic has proven to me the basic human need of conviviality. 

The crew, a not-hard-drinking lot, gathers not so much to discuss issues of the day but to share time with each other. We ask Dennis about his truck. Pete about his cats. Brian about the house he's building in Ohio. Mike and his wife Nancy about their gardening adventures. I'm asked about my job search.

There are other passersby, remnants from the Horseshoe group at Upland. A weird mix of working folks and people with doctorates, all of them brilliant in their own way. For some reason, they accepted me as a newbie when I came to Bloomington. I'm told by Doctor Dan that my sense of humor is messed up --just enough.

Now the diminished group drinks at another spot for various reasons. But the need to gather with familiar faces is not diminished.

I've always considered myself monastic to a sense, perhaps the reason for just a seven-year marriage. I need my reading and writing time. Hell, I need time to sit in a chair and do nothing but think. My time at the Hermitage on Lake Lemon has thus been a blessing and a boon.

It turns out I need people as well.

And some beer helps.

Peace and friendship and beer unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Friday, September 11, 2020

One of my Bloomington beer-drinking buddies (I have similar friends in another 10 cities) wrote early codes for blogs and podcasts 20 years ago.

And he was one of the early bloggers although I cannot use the name here. It's a family blog.

So he told me Sunday while we enjoyed some beers together to press on as the initial excitement over seems to have abated.

Rebrand, morph, change, he said. That's life. If the blog is to reflect reality, it needs to remain honest.

I understand that as I applied for a job this week and wrote to describe the blog that has grown into a personal diary of  a layoff, transitional homelessness, the pandemic, recession and racial strife.

Another piece of advice from my friend: push through.

But of course, that's what writers do. You write when happy or sad, sober or drunk, satisfied or scared to death of what's to come. You just write.

So here I am and will be.

Peace and thoughts unto you my brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Now don't get me wrong from yesterday's post. I loved my first car: a 1978 Pontiac Ventura.

I bought it with 145,000 miles on it, which today is nothing but back in 1984 that was something. They were highway miles, I was told. Turns out all miles are the same.

Yet it was mine and came with a couple of amenities I had never seen in my parents' cars, like a cruise control and -- this is more significant -- an AM/FM cassette deck.

My dad helped me buy the car so I could get back and forth to work at McDonald's on the other side of town. That was Chippewa Falls, meaning my commute would go from a 15-minute bike ride to a five-minute drive. 

Within a couple of months, my dad died of a massive heart attack. I even used the car to drive from McDonald's to the schools of my brothers to pick them up at the behest of the hospital chaplain.

Wandering around the world in shock for the next couple of years, the only constants were my job at McDonald's, my car and copious amounts of Leinenkugel's beer. "Copious" is the wrong word. I drank a Gitche Gummi amount of beer.

I didn't trick out the car as I am either an ascetic or just plain lazy. Then some bastard stole the radio, which ended my career as a car-singing diva. I piled on the miles and broke down on occasion. And I went on dates, a big step for someone who only recently had considered the monastery. (That's another post entirely.)

Here I will write something controversial: Whoever invented the bucket seat killed more budding romances than any Baptist preacher.

The bench seat was beautiful for getting to know someone in a closer sense. Sure, on occasion you'd have to turn the car on and heat it up again, sometimes interrupting well-laid plans. But I think the bench seat is attributable to more marriages than anything else.

Speaking of cold, one day during a minus-40 degree cold spell, I sat down in the car at 4:45 a.m. -- I worked breakfast shifts -- and the left rear coil snapped in the cold. Suddenly, I was sitting about 6 inches lower than normal.

But the car still moved even though every meagre pothole would rattle my kidneys.

Sure enough during the next deadly cold snap, the other rear coil snapped -- and I looked like I was driving around town in a permanent lower rider.

The upside? I once had to work a McDonald's shift where we received 24 inches of snow. And because the entire rear weight of the car was ride on the axle, I made home -- up on the West Hill -- safely.

That car went on to have two more owners, the last of whom took a buzz saw to the roof because he always wanted a convertible. Cool idea, until he realized he delivered pizza in the ice and snow of Northern Wisconsin. No matter how tightly he jury-rigged the blue tarpaulin, it collapsed on him.

Please share your first car story in the comments section.

Peace and great car stories on to you my brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

 An old foe visited me last week: car anxiety.

I suffered from it as a young man when I bought older cars with a ton of miles, most of my money going to make the monthly payments. There wasn't much money left for savings just in case something bad should happen to the car.

And it always did.

Mind you this was in the era of no cell phones so it wasn't unusual for a break down to happen in the middle of no where -- a.k.a. the entire Wisconsin Nort'woods. Once my car just shut down on Highway 53 as I travelled nort' to see my friend Tim who was then the Rice Lake correspondent for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. I walked for a couple miles along the godforsaken highway until a nice elderly couple picked me up and brought into the bustling town of Cameron where I could make some calls.

I slowly lost the anxiety as I was able to buy better cars, my salary continued to improve and I bought cell phones. If the car broke down, I had money to fix it. I could call for a tow. Everything would be OK. I lost car anxiety.

Now it's back.

The "check engine" light came on last week as did the break system light and a flashing cruise control light. A mechanic told me a couple years ago that car companies make the cruise control light flash because no one pays attention to the check engine light.

Now I don't have the money to fix anything but I still need a car. Forget the cell phone. The lack of money is the cause for the anxiety.

Experts in poverty and homelessness will tell you the biggest health factor affecting those groups is the stress. What can you accomplish when you don't know what the hell is coming next?

I eased into a Jiffy Lube, hoping an oil change was the simple answer. And yes, I was overdue and the oil reading read "no measurement" and for a short time the light was off.

Today, it's back on.

For those who like to believe that the life of the distressed is easy, I beg you to try it.

On second thought, don't.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

 Looting is not defensible.

Lighting fires to buildings and ruining another person's livelihood is not peaceable assembly.

Shooting people who disagree with you is not patriotic.

My fellow Americans, we are not each other's enemies unto death.

Anyone who says otherwise merely seeks more power and control over you -- so long as you believe them.

None of you will gain a damn thing from these shit shows. Nothing.

Consider peace and forgiveness and dialogue over violence. The latter only begets more of itself.

Seek peace and understanding.

Stop all violence. 

You'll actually gain strength in the process.

I'm going to take an extended weekend off from blogging as I concentrate on some specific job searches.

Peace and more peace unto you my brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Four months to the day my job ended and I'm still looking hard.

I've had a couple of job interviews that ended with the newspapers hiring other candidates and there are a couple of new openings in newspapers and teaching journalism I'll pursue this week.

Also this week, I'll concentrate on looking at service jobs which are the few that seem to be hiring. That would keep me in Bloomington and goodness knows I love me some food.

Trying to serve as a mentor to unemployed friends, I've reminded them that they they are looking for jobs in about the worst time since the Great Depression. A bad economy and a pandemic lead to a buyer's market. And the number of available jobs has decreased online, I read in a recent news report.

No one should beat themselves up about their employability particularly in this strange time. (Yet of course I do that. It's only natural.)

I still consider myself the luckiest man on the face of Earth -- who is receiving unemployment.

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