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Friday, April 30, 2021

Tomorrow marks one year since I finished my last day at the Bloomington Herald-Times and had to move out of the apartment where I stayed since moving there nine months earlier.

That's the day I became the homeless editor.

It didn't occur to me until late today because I'm busy -- I have a job and a place to stay once more.

I've been through some shit in my life, more than some, less than others, but this last year was my oddest -- and best.

Through my troubles -- a phrase I use to describe the year -- I've been more blessed than anytime in my life and, trust me, I have been blessed.

Working hard to be mindful, I've stored every memory of acts of decency and kindness and then tonight I read some of the early blog entries. I had forgotten two beers from my friend Greg. I failed to remember some extraordinarily good barbecue brought to my Motel 6 room by a stranger. I couldn't recall all the many times someone slipped me a gift card or a $20 or bought me a couple beers.

Some dude let me live in his cabin for five months for free. Thank you, dude.

I ate often from the chefs at the free Community Kitchen who offered restaurant meals free without a question but many smiles -- and sometimes candy treats.

As much as these acts helped me financially, they more positively buoyed my spirits in difficult times.

I was a 54- and then 55-year-old man looking for a job in the midst of a pandemic coupled with a recession.

And yet here I sit in Hayward, not farm from home, with wonderful colleagues, copious amounts of beer and bratwurst and -- get this -- a permanent address.

I learned so many lessons on how to conduct myself based on the kindness showered on me. I envision a book out of it, tentatively tilted "Lessons from my life when I was a piece of shit."

I'll tell you I dealt with trolls and skepticism and accusations I was simply trying to make people sorry for me.

Early on, I wrote that my daughter -- on reading the trolls from around the country after The New York Times wrote about me -- wanted to respond. I told her the first negative letter to the editor against me was printed almost 40 years ago in my high school newspaper.

One needs a thick hide.

But one also needs the mindfulness to be aware of the kindness, friendship and beauty around us.

The other day I watched as a bald eagle sat in a tree high above Lake Hayward and then dived down to catch an unsuspecting fish.

I'm in a good place, not just zip code, but mentally, spiritually and consciously.

Peace and thanks unto all of you my brothers and sisters for joining me on this long, strange mystery tour.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021


I take great pleasure in sharing space on our opinion page with two Wisconsin journalism icons.

For the record, I shall never achieve icon status. "I can't" status, yes. Icon status, no.

I first started seeing cartoonist Joe Heller's work in 1990 when I interned with the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. In the pre-internet era, newspapers mailed copies to each other and I was amazed at a newspaper as small as the Green Bay Press-Gazette having such a great editorial cartoonist.

Since then, as I've moved around (just a bit) and I would hire Joe as a syndicated cartoonist and thus foisted his Wisconsin opinions in four other states. For the record, I've been looking at his cartoons for 30 years and I couldn't tell you his political leanings. That's a great cartoonist.

I didn't meet Dave Zweifel until about 1995 when I joined the state board of Associated Press Managing Editors and he became a mentor. Dave has fought tirelessly for decades for access to public records and meetings but along the way he became a friend.

At an APME meeting in 1999 in New Glarus, his birthplace, I made mention of the Wisconsin old-timer editors. "I think you're one of them now, Rich," he said. One of the greatest compliments of my lifetime.

I moved to Lansing, Michigan, the next year.

There has been good and bad to my travels as I look back.

But I'm so happy to be home and see that the old dogs have not given up on the good fight.

Peace and great journalism unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Monday, April 26, 2021

 Winter in the Northwoods does not leave quietly.

She fights.

We've had snow four days in the last week, temperatures below zero and many frozen tears. And May is a week away.

In addition to the snow, we've had ice-cold rain and I'm pretty sure some frozen boogers from the sky. The other morning my driveway looked like a huge sheet of apple crisp.

Yeah, gross joke. We've had an outpouring of those as well and when I write "we" I should change it to "me."

You see winter in northern Wisconsin is the bully of the seasons. Spring is the happy, naive kid promising all is well with the world. Summer is the salesman, saying "this is what I told you about." Fall, is the wise elderly couple, basking in warm days and cools nights.

Then comes winter.

"Are you looking at me? I heard you was talkin' smack about me. You got somethin' to say? How about this? Ten inches a snow -- tomorrow. With wind. It's gonna start with some ice so you ain't going anywhere. Call me in two days and then tell me what you got on me." (Winter sounds like Al De Niro.)

Then when you're looking forward to May 1, May Day, the Wisconsin governor's fishing opener here in Hayward, winter is like, "What, did you call me? Did you talk to me? Do you think you can't involve me? Oh, we got a little problem here."

Right now the temperature for the fishing opening is expected to be in the 60s but my knees disagree. You see, I can once again forecast the weather with my most-aching joints and they are telling me, "There's a guy in the weather alley who says he knows you and he wants to talk to you."

Peace and warmth -- sometime soon -- unto you my brothers and sisters.

Friday, April 23, 2021

"What's wrong with my car?" I asked my new mechanic.

Everything, was his response in short.

As he listed the problems with my vehicle, a Subaru Impreza with 181,000 miles on it, I could see the movie-style montage in the background with the hour hand on a clock running in circles until it turned into dates and months being ripped from a calendar.

And I had no idea what he was talking about because my knowledge of automobile is strictly limited to "if car go, good; if car not go, bad." 

A bad water pump, leaking coolant from a coolant thing, the sway car (or bars) were bad, my lower ball joints needed replacement and then there were some rusty caterpillars. The latter turned out to be rusty calipers, which I found out when I repeated my list to a colleague. "Do you mean calipers?" he asked. "Well, yes, of course," I said. "That makes more sense," after which I retreated to my office to hide my ignorance.

At least until the next time I open my mouth.

I left the auto shop with a road-worthy vehicle that's half new minus $1,400 that was well worth it.

The car's movement is tight and responsive. And it no longer feels like my front end is going to fall off. I mean the car's front end. My front end fell off years ago.

Now I can visit the office of my other newspaper in Spooner. I can travel to Cable, starting point of the historic Birkebeiner cross country ski race. I'll spend some time out at Herman's Landing, the bar at a resort that has seen monster muskies for decades.

Of no little significance is friends and family in Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire. Plus the hot beef at the West Hill Bar, where I bartended 30 years ago.

It will be nice to get around. Even without a front end.

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

Monday, April 19, 2021

Just a day after finding out the kid was coming for a June visit, I had to check out local history.

The kid long ago became accustomed to stopping at every museum or historical marker on our drives around the eastern and northern states.

So Saturday, I went to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame a few blocks from my house to scope it out and serve as docent in a couple of weeks.

Full transparency here: I am not a fisherman. I've tried dozens of times but never took to it. (Please note I did not say I didn't get hooked. Just please note.)

But I found it fascinating, with some commercial Lake Superior reels dating back 150 years. I loved the history of the Rapala lures, the ancient first motors made for trolling and the myriad of trophy fish adorning the walls.

I also saw the the Corona portable on which Cal Johnson wrote so many musky and other fishing stories. (I won't get into the Johnson-Spray-Lawson controversy over the biggest musky -- this time.) For those who don't know me, I used to collect antique typewriters and will stop on a dime to peak at them. Sadly, I even dream about them.

And yes, I walked up the steps inside the biggest fiberglass musky in the world, all 146 feet of it. Even though my knees winced at every step.

It served as quite a view of Hayward and as a reminder of what Jonah went through. This fish did not spit me out, although it clearly disliked the taste of Bengay I brought with me. I'm sure the fish sought out the world's biggest shot of Jaegermeister to get the taste out of its mouth and if Jaeger tastes better than me, well that's saying something.

If you visit Hayward, make sure to stop. The fishing world -- particularly muskies here -- is a world unto its own and worth learning about.

Peace and trophy fish unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Friday, April 16, 2021

BREAKING: Kid is coming to visit in June.

As much as possible for and older man in Northern Wisconsin, I'm excited.

I love my kid more than bratwurst itself. Honestly, I never knew that feeling of love until I held that tiny human in my arms -- in one hand even. 

Over the past 20 years, she's grown into the best human being I know. For all of you who know me, I'm not given to hyperbole. When I worked at a newspaper in the south, my colleagues shared they were surprised by direct nature.

No, she's the shit.

I love my mother as well as the Green Bay Packers. If I must choose between the Lord and bratwurst, it depends on whether he's buying the bratwurst with appropriate amounts of sauerkraut and Silver Spring Beer and Brat Mustard.

See, there is a hierarchy.

Now as I begin to prepare for the kid's visit, I must temper myself and not overdo it. I will create a nice, safe nest for her, with the softest leaves for bedding. I will pre-chew food for her and freeze so it can be microwaved.

No -- wait -- that's a momma bird. At least one with a freezer and a microwave.

I used to over plan for visits earlier but I know now I don't have to. All we have to do is spend time with each other and it will be a celebration.

But I will have to make her my secret chili recipe -- she won't eat other chilis -- and copious mounts of my egg salad sandwich recipe. Once, we had the latter for lunch and she asked me for a tutorial on how to make it, which required making more sandwiches. She took her version to her bedroom on the Pennsylvania hillside apartment where we lived and watched television. In retrospect, she once confessed, "I thought I was going to puke."

We've never had a bad visit and I can't wait to show off the Wisconsin Northwoods to her and introduce her to all its people.

I love her so much.

Have a beautiful weekend, friends, and be happy for southern climes because it's going to snow Monday, April 19, when it will be 22 degrees here.

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

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Today I tried to get credit for a couch and chair and was denied.

Later, I received my paycheck where I noticed the address was from North Carolina.

I remembered an expert early on in my reporting on homeless issues telling me re-entry into society is more difficult then becoming homeless.

And I'm one of the lucky ones.

My credit, already mediocre, took a battering while I was out of work for the better part of the last year. So when I went to a furniture store with a nice deal on a couch and matching chair, I warned the saleswoman that my credit was poor. It turned out so bad that each of the two credit agencies she tried turn me down in seconds.

I tried not to slink out of the store but I'm pretty sure I did slink. Or past-tense slunk. (I've always tried to hold my head high but it's pretty big -- lotta work. My head is so big that every time I lay down, I hear a radio announcer shout out, "Oh, the humanity." Too soon for a Hindenburg joke?)

Later, I received a copy of my check and noticed the old address. I recalled when I filled out my paperwork that I hadn't really had an address in a couple of years, other than that of the Bloomington Herald-Times. I suppose I failed to note the problem because I was so happy to have a steady paycheck.

Here I am with an education, a knowledge of systems and a 30-year career and yet I struggle.

Imagine what it's like for those who've battled homelessness for years, or the homeless who have struggled with substance abuse. (I have not -- unless you count tubed and processed meats. Then I have an issue.)

I remain a lucky man re-establishing myself into what some consider respectable society.

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

Monday, April 12, 2021

 "What's it feel like to get thrown in over your head?" someone asked me a couple weeks ago.

"Normal," I said.

This is my 12th newspaper and 12th city, making me a critter of change over 30 years.

So much so I often feel uncomfortable with comfort and anxious about a lack of anxiety.

Yet normalcy creeps in.

I've long said the average learning curve in a newsroom is at least one year. I've sometimes extended that to five years in top jobs in bigger operations.

After just two months, though, I find myself offering advice to seasoned professionals. I can help figure out the copy machine. Today, I tracked down our fax number. (Note: Who the hell faxes anything anymore?)

I know where to go for the least expensive gas, the best fresh produce, the most inclusive relish tray.

The streets and their turns are more familiar. Folks stop me in parking lots and thank me for taking the job and keeping the newspaper joint open and thriving.

I've spent the better part of a decade occasionally waking up and wondering where the hell I was. I still do that but given this will be my retirement city, I hope it happens less.

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

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

I know I'm starting to settle because I went shopping today for seeds.

It's been years since I've been able to have a garden, something that's always reminded me of permanency.

Certainly I'll put in tomato plants as my dad did yearly until he died in 1984.

I've had to ask when planting can begin because I've been gone so long from the Wisconsin Northwoods. Friends in the south -- get this: Memorial Day is the start of veggie planting here. When I lived in North Carolina, I used to say that strawberry season there last three weeks. Here, it's about an hour and a half.

I looked at seeds tonight for a variety of radishes. Yes, I have a radish problem. If anyone wants to make something of it, you know where I live.

I bought some traditional radish seeds, the little red, peppery variety that adorns relish trays in the area. But I also bought seeds for French breakfast radishes, which are neither French nor for breakfast. They are oblong and a little more mild than the regular radish but make me feel like a fancy pants. I also bought seeds for white icicle radishes, which I've never had.

One the radish crop comes to fruition, I plan to deal them out of area hotel rooms.

That's how I live.

I also plan to plant some herbs in pots that were left at the house, mostly basil, rosemary and chive -- a song I wrote for Simon and Garfunkel who then changed the lyrics.

If anyone else has ideas for easy growing veg in the beds around my house, please let me know.

Peace and seeds unto you my brothers and sisters.

Monday, April 5, 2021

 My new home city and I share something: We've both had to make a transition.

Hayward started in about 1878 when Eau Claire businessman Anthony Hayward made his way through snow and ice to look for a place to start a new lumber mill.

He found this area, with the Namekagon River and numerous lakes which could transport the lumber he wanted to cut.

For 40 years, hundreds of thousands of feet of lumber were cut from the region but then the mill he built burned down. And there was no reason to rebuild -- all the trees had been cut down.

So the region struggled for decades as there was little industry.

But an effort of local leaders saw a trickle of visitors coming from Chicago, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities to fish in the pristine water, especially for the largest prize -- the muskie. As a side note, among the most prominent visitors were mob guys from Chicago. Not only could they could escape the stench of Chicago summer before air-conditioning, they could unwind while fishing without cops looking for them and then have a decent steak at night.

It worked.

Hayward is now a destination spot for those who enjoy nature. Now it's not just big fish but hunting in the fall, cross country skiing, hiking, snowmobiles and ATVs. If you want to be outside, this is the place to be.

It is home to the  National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and the famous six-story tall fiber glass muskie, which you can walk into and pretend you're Jonah.

Be careful, though, on whose side you take on the world's largest muskie. It's been known to cause bar fights. Louie Spray, Cal Johnson, Art Lawton. (Me? I'm a Spray guy with a 1949 catch that came in at 69 pounds, 11 ounces.)

Hayward is also home to the Lumberjack World Championship. I remember watching one of the early iterations on "Wide, Wide World of Sports" decades ago, proud my home state garnered the attention.

About 53 percent of the housing is second homes so in the summer, the local population will triple.

COVID even helped because city folks could work virtually and there's no better place to do that in a quiet city where social distancing is natural. In 2021, Sawyer County set a record for sales tax revenue -- exceeding the previous record by 10 percent.

The people are sincere, the food is wonderful and today -- with temperatures past 70 degrees -- I opened the windows in my office to catch the breeze.

Life is good.

Peace and a northwoods breeze unto all of you my brothers and sisters.

Friday, April 2, 2021

 I am making friends 

Don't laugh. It's true.

I'm developing regular haunts, places to eat, a few place places to drink. (Let's be honest, it's the Wisconsin Northwoods -- there are more than a few places to drink.)

At one restaurant, the server knows when I walk in at noon Wednesday that I'm having a bowl of the homemade chicken dumpling soup. It's the kind of dumpling soup where the dumplings are flat, my preference. One bowl, with a fistful of crackers, along with a drink, comes to $4.85. (Oh, the dollar goes a long way here, my friends.)

At one place, the bartender can see me coming through a window so she has a Jack Daniels Manhattan with extra bitters sitting at my favorite spot.

Clerks at a nearby grocery store recognize me as the sandwich, lemonade guy. That's my lunch right now before I get my cooking stuff here.

And some folks are comfortable enough with me to talk smack. At another bar, my Sunday afternoon stop, a regular noted my mask and said, "I see you're wearing a diaper on your face." Without hesitation, I said, "That's because I was talking shit about you."

Laughs all around as well as a customary -- and sometimes competitive -- round of drinks.

Let's face it. Home isn't just about an address.

It's about a friends and familiarity, help and support, listening and reacting. A litany of why humans need other humans.

Peace and friendship and a beautiful weekend unto you my brothers and sisters.

Thursday, April 1, 2021


The Hogwarts of aging has tracked me down.

AARP somehow found me after nearly a year of not having a real address.

In addition to the technical homelessness and not having an address, I've struggled with re-entry because of the United States Post Office. Not knowing it was a mistake, I had my mail redirected to my work address. Then I was laid off and asked to leave.

I tired to get a PO box but was told that I had to have an address to sign up for a PO box, which didn't sense to me. (A friend later noted I applied for a PO Box at the post office next to a homeless encampment in Bloomington. Maybe that was it.)

The upside? And I always look for one.

I didn't get a bill for nine months.

The downside?

 It turns out the USPS won't redirect mail from a business to a private home. It would cause too many problems, I was told. The nice post office lady told me that I needed to contact those who send me mail to alert them to the change. 

"Who?" I asked.

"Everybody," she said.

I've started to contact some of the magazine companies after re-subscribing and the Dollar Shave Club.

But I sure as hell didn't contact AARP, which has used an entire forest of paper products to recruit me since I turned 50 years old.

Perhaps I need to finally give in, much like Uncle Vernon in "Harry Potter."

Sitting in a pile AARP mails, sobbing, I'll scream out, "Aaaaaaarrrrrrrrrppppp!"