Category: Ramblings

Thoughts about whatever is rattling around in my brain.

Trumpland: The Old Fierce Pull of the Blood

It happened. I don’t know if I can really explain it. I don’t want to place blame, at this point that won’t do anyone any good, but I do want to understand how someone as vile as Donald Trump could become the President Elect of the United States of America.

What I heard most was that people were sick of the direction the United States was heading…That confuses me. Direction? Like equal rights? Marriage Equality? Legal Pot? Healthcare coverage for everyone? That direction? Is that the direction we are talking about? Or was it really about safety? Are people so worried about terrorism, black lives mattering, brown people taking “our”jobs, big businesses taking manufacturing jobs overseas, and women having a say about their bodies, that they were willing to take a chance on a man who made promises like a sixth grade ASB election? “We’re gonna have a Coke machine and the teachers are going to pay for it.”

Let’s be honest, it’s easy to make a protest vote when you don’t have anything to lose.

For some reason Faulkner’s short story Barn Burning popped into my head yesterday as I was thinking about this election. Faulkner helps those of us who don’t live in the South understand the South. In the story Abner Snopes is a bit of a southern rascal. He moves from farm to farm doing as little work as possible and when someone in power pushes him into a corner he responds by burning a barn and running away or dragging his horse shit covered boot across an expensive white carpet in the main house. “Wood kin burn” is one of my favorite lines in the story, it foreshadows the final scene and it tells you everything you need to know about Abner…he gets his power from destruction. Let it burn! Why not? He’s got nothing to lose. It’s not his barn. That ain’t his carpet.

Abner’s son knows it wrong to burn the barns and tries to stop him, but he can’t. He feels the “old fierce pull of the blood” but he eventually runs into the darkness to escape the destructive actions of his father. That pull of the blood, the idea that the past holds a promise of greatness, the obedience to the blood of family gives people who are powerless the idea that power was something they had at one time, but it has been taken away from them and they are now victims of the great machine.

If there is one thing I know from experience it is power dynamics and how that works with groups of people, I deal with it every day. People need to feel they have power, the ability to determine their path, and when they feel powerless they will reach out to gain power through destruction. Why do bathrooms get vandalized in schools? It’s the perfect place to destroy something without getting caught. Why do students disrupt classes? Because it meets their power needs. It’s better to get sent to the office than have to analyze Barn Burning‘s connection to modern elections.

I guess I understand that aspect of voting for Trump, a protest vote, a Molotov Cocktail tossed into the White House. Let it burn, you’ve got nothing to lose. Look at the election polling and one thing is clear, my fellow white males are angry. The numbers are shocking and telling. Polls were wrong going into the election because white males couldn’t vote for “that woman” and were willing to vote for someone staggeringly unprepared for the job.  We put all our money on a lame horse with long odds because we had very little to lose.

So, it’s done. Now what to we do? I saw people protesting the results in major cities across the US last night. They are angry. They might be willing to burn some barns too, they have nothing to lose now that Trump is President. I don’t know what to say to them. I will make a promise. I will not stand by quietly and let the United States get pushed back to 1950. I will stand by them when things are difficult. I will be more vocal.

With that said, I also want to give the Donald his chance to be a President of ALL of the United States. I was furious when the republicans announced their goal was to make Obama a one term President and then spent eight years blocking anything that would have assisted the rust belt and built infrastructure. I don’t want to double down on stupid.

But…I hear “wood kin burn.”

 

It’s like eBay, but it smells like old.

Today in Blogging 101*, I’ll be discussing where good ideas originate. Blogging ideas surround us but not everyone is tuned into the blogosphere like me. (I run this priceless blog, which several years ago was valued somewhere between Donald Trump’s tax payments and the cost for Donald Trump to maintain his ducktail hairstyle.–This is what we in the blogging business call building Ethos, so now that you trust me, I can move on to the important stuff.)

Like I was saying before I interrupted myself with Ethos, blogging ideas are everywhere. Today we will be looking at blog ideas from an untapped reservoir called a thrift store. There are several types of thrift stores: Upscale stores that sell items that cost more than new items (merch is what I’ll call these items from here on out, which is like an expert way of saying items or stuff), clothing stores filled with merch people wanted to toss in the trash but took a tax write-off instead, and stores filled with merch that wouldn’t sell at a garage sale on a Sunday with a “Free” sign plopped in front of it.

img_4922Here’s our first example. To an ordinary person this looks like a baby doll, but to a blogger, this $25 baby has plenty of opportunities to make humorous comments. For example, I might say, “This is what happens when you put too much sunscreen on your face.”

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I turned the price tag on this velvet Pooh painting around because craftsmanship like this should not be crassly valued. I know what you’re thinking, “Is there a velvet Elvis painting nearby? Why haven’t velvet paintings caught on? Is there a museum of velvet paintings? Wouldn’t Eeyore serve as better subject matter for this medium?” See? This is a goldmine of ideas just waiting to be tapped.

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Signs like this make bloggers mad. Blogging is about breaking down the barriers that society has erected. The difference between a blogger and a regular person is that a blogger looks at this sign and says to his wife, “Get a picture of me riding this thing in just a second.” If you’re lucky, your wife will be a blogger too and she’ll be onboard with another gem of an idea. If you’re unlucky your wife will say, “No.” (This could be because your wife spent her trip to Europe taking pictures of you climbing on statues and has had enough of your stupid ideas.)

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Okay, I know that some people would be offended by an obviously racist symbol on a t-shirt, but not a blogger, a blogger would see this as an opportunity to make some social commentary like, “How can you spot an idiot from a distance?” Or, “Why did the South lose the Civil War? Because their iPods only played Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes so they killed themselves.” Or, “Why are the people who believe in White Supremacy always the greatest evidence that it doesn’t exist?” Or, “How many Lynyrd Skynyrd fans does it take to cut two eye holes in a white sheet? None, they get their sister-aunt-mommas to do it.”

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Before you get your wallet out, think about the value this merch has for a blogger. There are lots of directions you can take this. For me, I think about how much joy this would bring to someone in 1979 if you had a time-traveling machine. Or, you could buy this for a grandparent, load it with Rage Against the Machine’s Live at the Grand Olympic Auditorium, wrap it up, and your Christmas shopping is done. “Billy, I always wanted one of these. How does it work? Where do I put the earphones? Can you make the words on the screen bigger? I can’t read those little words. Oh, that’s loud. Should I take out my hearing aids?”img_4925

A used bed pan might not be something that you think you need, but you do. Toss this baby in the trunk and you’re ready for anything. Line at the portapotty? No worries. Long drive and no rest stations? You always win with this backup plan. For a traveling blogger, this merch fits in your suitcase and will probably get through security. If you take it on your next European ramble, you’ll be saving tons of money. (I’d wipe it down with antiseptic toilette before using it, unless it is dishwasher safe, then just run it through the pots and pans setting and you’ve got yourself a solution to most problems you’ll face on the road.

Building up a fan base for a blog can be difficult, but if you were known as the traveling bed pan blogger you’ll have to beat off the readers with a rusty ol’ bed pan.

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Every blogger needs awards and for $29 (really?) you can have this baby to advertise how awesome your blog is. You could call the award “The straight Shooter Award” or “Terminator 2 Blogger.” Take a couple of photos of this baby, then find a few other bloggers to nominate and the next thing you know your blog will go viral, at least that’s how I think it works.

If your blog doesn’t get any attention, it isn’t the end of the world, you’ll have this trophy to put in the window of the cardboard box you’re living in.

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Our final piece of merch is this photo. Any blogger worth his or her salt and pepper can take this simple picture and spin it into an entire series of blogs. Let’s start with an easy one: a comparison of The Mona Lisa and this photo. Mysterious smile: check, Unknown Subject: check, Typical Pyramidal Structure: check. The next blogging idea could be a comparison of resale values of The Mona Lisa and this photo. $47.50 is an odd sum to decide upon unless I’m missing something this photo should be valued at $5. The Mona Lisa will probably increase in value over the next few years. I’m not so sure about an old photo that’s sitting on the floor of a junk shop in Port Angeles, Washington.

I do wonder if the lady in the photo would be happy to know her portrait is plopped sideways on the floor. She looks like somebody who wouldn’t like that much. I believe a talented blogger could run with this idea. A novel? Maybe. A short story? certainly. A blog about photos found in thrift shops? Pure gold.

So, that’s it for Blogging 101 today. If you need a transcript send a check for $47.50 and a self-addressed envelope to my blog: South of the Strait, The Internet, c/o Jon Eekhoff. I’ll send the transcript with 3 credits from Trump University so you can complete your degree in a timely fashion.

*Disclaimer: Blogging 101, is an unaccredited subsidiary of the defunct Trump University. The information given here is not affiliated with Mr. Trump or Trump Steaks but if you place a print out of this in a crock pot  for three hours, with a yellow curry sauce, it will taste better than anything Mr. Trump sells. 

Ummm…Do you still have a blog?

I have a blog, in fact, if you are reading these words you have uncovered it. How you got here is your own problem, maybe your search history and cache made Google think that my blog would help you find out if Vienna’s drinking water is clean (one of my most popular blog pieces over the years for some unknown reason), or you searched “Can I take my 10-year-old to a rap concert” and suddenly found yourself confronted with a half-constructed blog with some not really good advice.

My regular readers (also known as the Magnificent 5) know that my blog is like a mistreated horse that I take out for a ride when the weather permits. I hear this type of blogattitude makes it difficult for blog success, but I’m not here for the success, I’m here to keep the old keyboard warm. When I’m not blogging I’m writing.

Today, I thought I’d just check in and give you a brief view behind the green curtain so you don’t think I’ve been kidnapped by Gypsies. So here’s an interview I did with myself as I thought of questions this morning:

So, you still have a blog?

Yes, I usually take a blogging break during the year.

Is that what you’re calling it? 

Yes.

Okay, whatever. What are you doing when you’re not blogging?

I’m in a couple writing groups, one that meets on Monday nights and is focused on short stories, and one that meets bi-weekly on Tuesdays that is focused on novels. I’m also a regular at the Fourth Friday Readings which is usually pretty fun if you are a total word nerd. It’s an open mic deal where you have five minutes to read something. I usually read a short story that takes about four months to finish.

So you’re telling the truth when you say you’re writing? 

Yes.

What is something you’re working on right now?

Well, I just finished a short story about a guy who wants his roommate’s record collection so much that he is willing to do just about anything. I’m also working on a number of short stories about the California Missions…kind of…the stories are connected to the missions but aren’t really about the missions, the stories are about broken, odd people. On the novel front, I just finished editing my baseball novel about the writers and artists in 1920s Paris for the 10,000 time. I made some major changes this time around.

So you’ll have more time to blog now?

Maybe, I’ve been thinking that I should blog on the weekends and do my other writing on the weekdays, but that’s like me thinking about working out. It sounds like something I should do, but chances are I’ll just sit on the couch and watch other people work out.

What’s something you like about blogging?

When I started blogging I thought it would be a good way to get an online presence (whatever that is), but what I really like about blogging is the community I am a part of. I don’t follow many blogs and don’t go for the whole blog “I’ll follow you if you follow me” blackmail deal but the blogs I do follow are all run (is run the right word?) by people who I genuinely like. They are spread out across the globe: Denmark, South Africa, Eastern Canada, somewhere in the US where hockey is watched and being a Steelers fan isn’t weird, the upper East Coast, and then there are a few folks near home in the mighty Pacific Northwest. It is odd to belong to a community of words, but it’s better than being part of a community of cute cat pictures, or Trump supporters.

Tell us your deepest, darkest secrets?

Okay…oh, it’s time to shower and get the day started.

 

 

From the Banks of the Muddy Wishkah

Bill Pearse has been hosting a 1990’s nostalgia blogfest this week over at The Pinklightsabre to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Nirvana’s album Nevermind. Today, I have the honor of ending the series with some of my memories from that time…and a few thoughts about Cobain’s hometown, Aberdeen, Washington.

If you haven’t been to Bill’s blog you’re missing out. Dude has some mad writin’ skillz, you should check him out.

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Picture stolen from Wikipedia.

Most people haven’t been to Aberdeen, Washington, and that is a good thing. There aren’t more depressing towns in North America, the overcast skies, the deteriorating downtown, the muddy tidal rivers, and the rain…the rain is the type of rain that most people think of when they think of Seattle, but Aberdeen has the real stuff: cold, blowing in sideways, and heavy. There aren’t many reasons to go to Aberdeen unless you are one of those people in search of Kurt Cobain’s hometown, or looking for a meth fix.

In 1990, I was living and finishing up my seventh year of college in Spokane. I worked evenings at Cavanaugh’s Inn at the Park as I tried to cobble together my multiple years of education into something someone else would recognize as valuable. I had a couple degrees but my friends all agreed, we didn’t know anyone from our college who had a real job and that was what I needed, a real job. I had been married for a little more than a year and my wife had started looking for teaching jobs around the state of Washington. The late nights of neon Chinese restaurants and Spokane summers were coming to an end and it wouldn’t be long before my friends and I were separated by the pull of adulthood and responsibilities.

Todd and Scott were the guys I spent most of my time with. Todd worked for an environmental agency in a small office in a dirty part of Spokane and Scott was the Guest Services Manager at Cavanaugh’s. We shared a love of basketball and music. Our empty hours were spent in the rougher areas of Spokane playing pick up games on courts where scores were kept by someone on the sidelines to reduce the fights and in record stores looking for something new.

Todd was the one who found Nirvana first. It was only right. He always had a nose for the new cool thing. He rode his bike to work before it was cool, he smoked cigars before they were cool, and he had an ear for music that introduced me to Teenage Fanclub and The Stone Roses…he was one of those guys. (The last I heard from him he was spending summers in a van down by the Columbia River to windsurf and winters skiing at Whistler before anyone knew Whistler existed.) So when Todd popped the new Nirvana album into Scott’s tape deck and the noise started to fill the car, I held an open mind for as long as I could. I didn’t like it. The lyrics were convoluted and ridiculous. The self-absorbed lead singer was far too dark for me, but I hadn’t been to Kurt Cobain’s hometown at that point in my life.

A few months later, when Nirvana could be heard in places other than Scott’s car, I was in one of the branches of the Spokane Public Library looking through the Yellow Pages for Grays Harbor County which included Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Elma, and Montesano (the four horsemen of depression) because my wife had been offered a job at a small school, Wishkah Valley, near Aberdeen and we were considering moving across the state to start our lives. I looked for restaurants, movie theaters, and other things that could make our stay in a tiny town worth the move. There were no WebPages, no Yelp to help me know anything about this place other than what those yellow pages offered.

A job I was qualified to fill opened in a beach town nearby and before August was over we had moved into a small moss covered house in Westport, Washington. My wife commuted to her tiny school 45 minutes each way. It was a long drive for her, but we decided living at the beach was better than in Aberdeen because we only had one car and, well, I wanted to live near the ocean because I was still a Californian deep in my heart and living near the ocean was a dream I could only fulfill in a place like Westport.

The sun never came out. Never. On days that Seattle had sun it rained in Grays Harbor. On days it rained in Seattle it poured buckets in Westport and Aberdeen. By the time we reached October I understood Kurt Cobain’s depression.

Grunge filled the airwaves and Seattle suddenly became the coolest city on the planet. It was a shocking shift from Day-Glo Miami Vice colors to plaid flannel. I wish I could say I took advantage of it, but I didn’t. I knew people who traveled the two hours to Seattle to see Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains at the Showbox, at the Paramount, or if they were really lucky at the Crocodile, but I never went.

I didn’t really get how big grunge was while I was standing right next to it. I was the age when you figure that life is like that, everything revolves around you and your presence bends the world. There was the MTV Real World in Seattle, the MTV New Year’s Party where Nirvana played a disturbingly sloppy set, and then there was Nirvana Unplugged. Unplugged was where I finally recognized the brilliance of Cobain but by that time he was spiraling into the black abyss. He looked fragile in that pale green Mr. Rogers cardigan as he strummed through the acoustic set in a performance that even I couldn’t deny was otherworldly.

I remember traveling to California over a Spring Break and walking through a mall, there were Nirvana shirts everywhere. Girls wore flannels, combat boots, and ripped jeans in 90-degree heat. It was California grunge. It looked like grunge from a distance, but it wasn’t the real thing, it was the cleaned up corporate version stamped out in t-shirt factories around the world and shipped back to places like Wichita so kids could be cool. They didn’t realize the darkness of Aberdeen, they didn’t get that Cobain’s angst wasn’t like Kiss’s devil worship kitsch. Jocks liked Nirvana, popular kids liked Nirvana, and the outcasts who liked Nirvana were mocked for wearing a Nirvana shirt when they should have known better. Cobain’s lyrics resonated with kids who were grounded from their BMWs over the weekend, kids who hadn’t seen the Wishkah River when the tide was out and the mud looked like black tar.

It happened in a hurry and then it was over.

It wasn’t until years after Cobain’s death that I bought my first Nirvana album. By then the internet and iTunes made the purchase much easier than committing to flipping through the record stacks, picking an album that everyone already owned, standing in line with that album, and spending money on a Nirvana album as opposed to something I couldn’t hear on the radio.

For me, it’s still hard to separate Nirvana from Aberdeen. I hate Aberdeen. There isn’t much to see other than closed businesses, empty sawmill lots, and a busy Wal-Mart filled with desperation. People who survive there are heartier than I am.

Cobain hated Aberdeen too. The town motto is “Come as you are” and I do wonder if Cobain ever missed his hometown: The gray skies, the rain, the grit and dirt that soaked into him and made the world bend to his music.

Blogging and Training a Puppy…the keys to no success

About a year ago, we decided to add a member to our family: Kam. Kam is a dog…kinda. He is half Northwest Farm Terrier, half black lab, and 100% devil animal.

Kam likes to bite. Kam likes to eat wood. Kam likes to eat rocks. Kam tips over his water bowl. Kam tries to sit on the couch. Kam sits on the couch. Kam can’t be trusted.

In his year with us, Kam has done some good things too. He killed a vole…he did try to eat it, but hey, as Shakespeare wrote, “Every dog will have his day.” Kam also has about 30 minutes of good behavior within a 24-hour period. When he first arrived there were no minutes of good behavior, so at this rate he might be well behaved right about the time I hit 120 years old.

Part of Kam’s difficulty is that he followed our dog, Steffi. Steffi was the sweetest, mild-mannered dog I have ever known. She didn’t need much training. Sure, she dug craters in the backyard when she was a pup, but after about five years of digging we had a nice dirt pond for the kids to swim in when it rained.

It was a very sad day when we had to put Steffi down. Dylan had just finished chemo and we probably waited a little longer than we should have because Steffi had always been his favorite family member. Dylan sat on the floor with Steffi as the vet pushed the syringe of chemicals into her system. I sat behind him, looking at his shiny, bald, head as he petted Steffi until she stopped breathing. The vet asked if we wanted to keep her ashes, which seemed like a weird thing to do to me, but I guess people do that or she wouldn’t have asked. We took her collar and leash and left.

Kam became a family member a few months later. What we really wanted was a dog who had been rejected and needed love. We visited several animal shelters to find a replacement for Steffi, but we never found a dog that fit our needs and when we did, we were the ones who were rejected because we didn’t have a fence, or there were horses nearby, or people running the animal shelters thought we were bad dog parents. (I thought people running dog shelters should wear something other than their pajamas to work, but who am I to judge?)

Eventually, we found Kam through a friend who also had a Northwest Farm Terrier. Someday I will get revenge.

Actually, Kam is as good as we can expect at this point in his life. He certainly calmed down after we had his berries removed and now that I built a fence for him things are looking up. (The fence is possibly the worst fence ever built. The backside of the fence looks like a frozen scene from Inception or Interstellar. If it survives the winter I’ll be happy.) During my morning writing sessions, Kam will sit next to my feet while I write…and then he will begin chewing on my desk, or eating a rough draft of a short story, or suddenly jab his nose into my groin like a jackhammer. You know, acting like Kam.

While Kam has been growing, my blog has been sitting here on one of the long lost tubes of the interwebs. Being away from blogging has been good and bad. I miss my blogging friends, but I also love the solitude of working on editing and rewriting. In the past year, I have joined a couple writing groups, had a couple short stories published in local presses, and done a good deal of writing.

Now that summer is here and I’m going to be taking another epic European vacation, I will be back to filling this long lost empty tube with words. The words will be like regular words, the ideas will be stupid, and I will get lost at least 15 times. So join me on my Irresponsible Adult Trip if you have nothing better to do and you want to learn from my innumerable mistakes.

My National Spelling Bee

“Dad, stop yelling at the tv,” my daughter said.

“It’s a sporting event, I’m allowed to yell at the tv during sports.” (Is spelling a sport? Well, it is on ESPN therefore it must be. They show car racing, golf, dog contests, and spelling bees, so who am I to argue. Everything is a sport these days and if it is a sport, I am allowed to yell at the contestants.)

“You don’t have to be so mean.”

Okay, she had a point. Siddharth had just misspelled a word I had never heard before. He couldn’t decide if it was an i or an o, he selected the wrong letter, the lady with the hand of death rang the little bell indicating that Siddharth’s day was over, and I enjoyed the moment, “Sit down, Siddharth,” I yelled at the tv. “Go see your momma on the couch.” Siddharth walked across the stage with his head down and met his family on the couch where ESPN provided cookies and a post-contest interview. (I’m not kidding. “So how does it feel to chose the wrong letter?”–“I was confused by the German root of the word and the Latin origin.”–“That’s okay, Siddharth, have a cookie as we all enjoy the schottenfreude of this moment.”)

Siddharth is a 12 year-old kid who had managed to make it all the way to the finals of the National Spelling Bee. He probably spent hundreds of hours studying the origins of words, the roots, and tried to understand why English is such a mess. (My theory on English is that it is the ultimate pirate language. It has raped and pillaged all the other weaker languages and now if a bit of a mess.) All of Siddharth’s hard work took him from some small southern town to the lights and pressure of the National Spelling Bee, it really is an impressive feat and the prototypical in American Dreaming: The kid with immigrant parents, works hard, overcomes everything placed in his way, and becomes the national spelling bee champion, or not.

After Siddharth got knocked out, I tried to tone it down a notch or two, but I couldn’t resist rooting against Gokul. Gokul was the kid who spelled fast, wore his high tops untied, and sat while the other kids spelled like he was made of butter and the chair was making him melt. (Last year, Gokul got knocked out because he couldn’t spell Keirkegaardian. Even my spell check knows that word doesn’t exist.) This year, he spelled each word with an attitude that said both, “My parents are making me do this” and “I’m so smart, I don’t have to study.” He spelled the words so well that he ended up tying for the victory. (Sports that end in a tie are not real sports in my opinion. That’s right, hockey and soccer, I’m talking to you.)

Maybe I’m bitter because every spelling contest I have ever been in ended in the first round. I’m one of those people who cannot see words in their heads. I know there are ways to visual words, but it has always been easier for me to write the word down and then say, “That isn’t right.” In spelling bees that isn’t allowed. In spelling bees it is called cheating. Call it whatever you want, it made me hate the one time each year my teacher would have us line up around the room and ask us to spell a word. I always seemed to know how to spell the rest of the words given to my classmates, but when it came time for me to spell, I choked and ended up walking back to my desk like a dog that just got caught eating a shoe.

These days the National Spelling Bee is dominated by students with difficult to pronounce names and lots of spare time to study. These kids must carry around a dictionary everywhere they go and then when they aren’t looking up English words they must work on memorizing Latin, Greek, German, French,and Fijian.  (Yes, there was a Fijian word, and the girl spelled it correctly. Which blew my tiny mind.) I doubt the National Spelling Bee kids know much about the Kardashians, but I’ll bet a dollar they can spell Kardashian without Googling it. (Unlike me.) Their days are probably filled with homework, school work, and studying. (Homework and studying are different things. You don’t always have homework, but you always have studying. I learned this lesson in my 5th year of college.) I used to get annoyed when the kids would ask all the questions about word origins, alternative pronunciations, and the rest of the technics which seemed like stalling to me. Now, I can see their minds working. They are really trying to figure out if the second syllable is Latin or German.

What really impressed me was that they all seemed to be good sports about everything. They honestly looked bummed when   a fellow contestant couldn’t spell “aflag” which isn’t pronounced anything like it is spelled. They clapped for the contestant’s progress when the bell of death was dinged and they performed valiantly under pressure. I wish I could say the same for my behavior, but we all need room to grow.

The Money End of Things (1,031 words that might kill your will to live)

Dylan’s treatment has lasted over 60 days now, I know this not because I have tracked all of this on a calendar, but because we have had our first phone call from someone wanting their money for services rendered. If you haven’t been through a hospital stay in the US, or live in a country where they assume medicine shouldn’t be a for profit institution, you might think that paying the bills is a matter of having the money to do so, but it isn’t just that. We have been very fortunate that people in our community have been very generous and we have a pocket of money we can use to begin paying bills, but the real confusion comes in the multitude of bills delivered to our house.

When my wife took Dylan to the local hospital emergency room after the Superbowl we entered a maze that is more confusing than the one Jack Nicolson ran into in The Shining. Most of us assume we know how to get out of this maze but it isn’t as easy as one might think. It is a complicated maze, a confusing maze, and a frustrating maze. (Get ready for the most boring post of all time, that is unless you are an accountant or sadomasochistic.)

American insurance companies negotiate prices with hospitals and doctors for services. If they all agree on the price structure then they become what is known as “in-network,” if the doctor or hospital don’t like the negotiated price and want more they become what is known as “out-of-network.” Generally,  doctors who work within a hospital agree to be covered by the agreements by the hospital and are therefore “in-network” but that isn’t always true.

Insurance companies will set up “out-of-pocket” maximums for both in network and out-of-network providers. For our insurance the “in-network” maximum we will have to pay is $5,500. Once we pay $5,500 to “in-network” providers the insurance company takes over and pays the rest of the bills. The out-of-pocket max for “out-of-network” is $11,000…small print “with no cap.” No cap means that the cost for out-of-network providers will be our responsibility at a 50% clip. So, in other words, the cap for out-of-network providers isn’t a cap at all, it is more of a sun-visor. These “out of network” providers are the real wild west of this whole thing, because as far as I can tell, they are charging whatever they like and their prices are like car prices: open for negotiation.

Confused yet? Okay, let me add one final bit to the madness. When you take a sick child to the hospital that is “in-network” one would assume they would know how your insurance works and who they should contact for “in-network” services. Nope, that would make sense, like when they give you drugs and check to see if you are allergic to the medicine before pumping it into your system, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, services are provided and then bills are created. Whether those bills become the responsibility of the person getting the care, or the insurance provider, depends on the “in-network/out-of-network” thing. The number of moving parts in a hospital make it difficult to keep track of your financial situation as well as your medical situation. This isn’t the doctors’ fault, it isn’t the nurses’ fault, it isn’t really even the hospitals’ fault, in fact, I don’t know who is to blame for the confusion, but I know that most bankruptcies in the United States are medically related.

Still reading? (They have drugs for your condition. I don’t know if your insurance will cover them or not.) Here is the part that makes me mad. One would think that since you went to one hospital and were then transported to a second hospital, you would get two sets of bills with a total amount owed. Ha ha ha ha, that would make sense.  After the dust has cleared and the bills are starting to age like blue cheese, it is now time to dig through the hundreds of bills and figure out how to pay for everything. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because it isn’t just the hospitals who are billing, it is also individual doctors and services. For example, an ambulance drove Dylan from Port Angeles to Swedish Hospital. I didn’t get to chose the ambulance. I didn’t request the transportation. The only thing I did was follow the ambulance to the hospital. It cost the ambulance $2,800 to travel 82 miles. It cost me about $40 including parking and ferry crossing. My insurance company will pay about half of that $2,800. (Again, this is not a plea for money, this is just to illustrate the insanity of the American medical system.) The bill says that it costs $77 per mile to drive an ambulance. That sounds excessive to me, especially since no medical aid was given to Dylan once he was in the ambulance. The hospital filled him up with drugs and packed him onboard. The ambulance drove Dylan to the hospital and did nothing else. Would I have been able to drive him to Swedish in our car? I don’t know because after I found out my kid had cancer I wasn’t thinking about how to save a couple bucks.

When I called the insurance company to talk about how all this works, they were very helpful but they continued to say something that I just don’t understand, “You should always check to see if the services provided are covered.” Really? I should do that every time? “Hey, guy about to poke a hole in Dylan’s stomach, are you in the First-Choice network? How about you technician standing next to Doctor Pokey? Is this MRI covered? Is this ambulance part of…” This line of thinking works when you are going in for breast augmentation, or having a knee replacement, but for emergency care it just doesn’t work.

I have always been a proponent of universal coverage. I know Americans believe that will lead to substandard care, waiting periods, higher taxes, and doctors who can only afford three BMWs, but I think anyone entering into a hospital for care agrees that something must change. I do.

Most Inspirational

At every high school awards dinner there is a moment set aside for the kid who never got in the game but stayed on the team waiting for their moment of greatness. Anyone who has been on a team knows these kids are the glue that hold the world together, they show up to every practice, give their best, and know that after the buzzer sounds they will not have to shower. The award these kids receive at the end of the year is: Most Inspirational. (I was the Most Inspirational player on the 1981, JV basketball team in Lemoore, CA. Not bad for someone who averaged .02 points a game.)

Blogging is a hobby set aside for weirdos, egomaniacs, and the Illuminati. Bloggers sit in a little room, or a Starbucks if they are an egomaniac, and type words onto a screen and then at some point they hit a button that publishes their ramblings into one of the internet tubes connected to their home. I have operated this blog for a couple of years now and it is not what would be called a wildly successful blog, but like all great things in life, my blog is an acquired taste.

Scott Nagele is a man of fine taste who operates a blog from a secret lair buried deep in a bunker somewhere in the upper midwestern part of the United States. How do I know Scott has fine taste? Well, he nominated my blog for the Very Inspiring Blogging Award. If you haven’t read Scott’s blog because you are hidden in a secret lair buried somewhere in the upper midwestern part of the United States, or you live in Kentucky where reading is considered a “special talent” then I suggest you check it out: http://snoozingonthesofa.com. Scott has three young boys, a very understanding wife, and a funny blog. Scott and I share a love of writing, reading, and walking faster than anyone else in our family.

Scott broke almost all the rules of the blog award and so I will continue this tradition of anarchy. According to the rules I should write seven things about myself and then nominate 15 different bloggers…is there anyone who reads 15 blogs? No, I mean really reads the blogs, not just hitting the like button like most bloggers do to maintain the illusion of following the blogger. (I refuse to play this game, so if I follow you, I really follow. Which is probably one of the reasons I run a highly unsuccessful blog.) Oh, I have also decided to write seven embarrassing facts about myself instead of seven facts about how awesome I am.

Seven Embarrassing Facts About Me:

  1. I once told some of my friends that The Fine Young Cannibals’ album The Raw and The Cooked was the greatest album of all time.
  2. I cry every time, EVERY TIME, I watch Life is Beautiful. The first time I saw the movie I was supposed to meet some friends at the theater, I bought my ticket, found a seat, and my friends never showed up, so I was in the theater by myself crying like a junior high girl at The Fault in Our Stars.
  3. I spent three years refusing to wear socks and never tying my shoes. This might have been okay if I was two, but I wasn’t.
  4. When I was about 13, I thought I had a pretty good singing voice. To test out my thinking I got a tape recorder, put on headphones, hit record on the poor tape recorder, and sang along with Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton as they belted out Islands in the Stream. What I discovered was that I did not have a pretty good singing voice.
  5. I tried to sneak into a thermal springs in Rotorua, New Zealand with a large group of Japanese tourists. Everyone at the hostel told me to just blend in with a group and walk through the gate.  I’m 6’6″. It didn’t work. The the big Māori guy at the gate was not impressed.
  6. For two years in high school I got my hair permed. I would go to the beauty parlor every two months and get my hair put in curlers. Then to up the stupidity I decided that I wasn’t going to comb or brush my hair any longer…my senior pictures are pretty special.
  7. I had a choice to take piano lessons or play little league baseball when I was 11, I took piano lessons. I still think it was the lesser of two evils.
If you can blog with one of these machines you are a inspiration.

If you can blog with one of these machines you are an inspiration.

My 15 Blog Nominations (Where I live the blog exchange rate is 4 to 1). 

Now, all four of these blogs are actually successful, and therefore free to ignore this nomination, but I thought my loyal reader might want to see what a real blog looks like. (These folks also have offered much kindness during my son’s illness so they were bumped up from good bloggers to good people.)

Up first is Andrea’s blog. Click here to be magically transported —> http://www.handandtheheart.com  Andrea has a way with words and has one of the most honest writing voices you will find. She is also pretty nice in real life.

Next is Bill’s blog. Click here to go there —-> http://pinklightsabre.com  Bill can write. He writes it all: poetry, short stories, opinion pieces, gut busting humor, and probably recipes too.

Ross runs a blog and lives in Canada (therefore, constitutionally required to be nice to Americans). Here is the linky-do ——> https://rossmurray1.wordpress.com Ross kills it. He is the funny, insightful, and one of the most supportive blogging friends a blogger could want.

Finally, is Dina’s blog. Dina is an American who lives in Denmark (in other words, my role model). —> http://wineandcheesedoodles.com  Aside from the fact that I want to run away and live in Denmark, she is another blogger who can really write.

That’s it kids. Thanks for dropping by and make sure you tip at least 15%.

A Beacon of Stupidity: A COLA Beard Grows

Since the beginning of October, I have been engaged in a self-created protest movement of 2.5 people. Movements of 2.5 people generally don’t get much attention but this movement has garnered a lot of interest because it has turned me into someone who looks like a cross between theUnabomber and Abolitionist John Brown. This look is not going to get me a modeling contract or put me on the cover of GQ, but it could land me on the cover of Guns and Ammo.

I don't own a buckskin jacket or gun, but the rest is pretty accurate.

I don’t own a buckskin jacket or gun, but the rest is pretty accurate.

The rules of this protest movement are simple: You cannot shave until the State of Washington restores the Cost of Living Adjustment passed by voters eight years ago. (That’s right, my day job is teaching. Don’t worry, I take my job very seriously and that is why I never write about it on my blog: A rule that I am currently breaking, so can I be trusted?) The past eight years have been frustrating because we have received the COLA one time in the eight years. (Our insurance company also knew when we got the COLA and raised their rates to eat all of it up.) This frustration as been simmering for a few years and in October I decided to start a moronic protest movement. Two of my colleagues joined me in this social experiment and most of us have followed the rules. (One of the protesters says he didn’t understand that not shaving meant not trimming the beard also. He is now the .5 member of the protest movement. He is also single and lives with a cat. His lack of commitment knows no bounds.)

The grey was added to make me look distinguished.

The grey was added to make me look distinguished.

I have fully committed and have grown a disgusting neck beard that can only be described as good place for Frodo Baggins to hide. The other full-time member of the movement has been ordered by his wife to shave his neck, but he can now curl his mustache like a WW1 German General which gives him a special look of crazy.

The movement has had its difficulties, like last night as I was trying to fall asleep my beard was making it tough for me to find a comfortable spot on the old pillow. I started wondering why the hair on the top of my head could go through life so unnoticed, while the hair on my chinnie-chin-chin does everything possible to remind me that I have ventured off the path of normalcy.

Eating has presented itself with a pile of problems that can only be solved by destroying four napkins at each meal. Even drinking coffee has its challenges, which lead me to my first rule change: It’s okay to trim the old mustache if it gets in the way of drinking coffee. Sometimes the Utilitarian approach to protest is best. Gandhi ate Swedish Fish during his self-imposed fast. (This is a lie.) Martin Luther King Jr. wore orthopedic inserts in his shoes while walking to Selma. (Not true, as far as I know.) Caesar Chavez hitched a ride some of the way on his walk to Sacramento. (Not really.)

Do I really think my beard is going to make a difference? No, but there is a part of me that wishes I had started growing this thing seven years ago so it would be a visual representation of how long it has been since the teachers in this state have been fairly compensated for their work. I won’t go on a rant and list all of the additional expectations the state has placed on teachers in those seven years, but let me just say that my wages have remained exactly the same for seven years while my job has become increasingly difficult. I know my co-workers appreciate my beard. It might be a beacon of stupidity, but it is a beacon.

I love my job. I do think it is my “calling” (at least it got me out of the family profession of Presbyterian minister), and good teachers know the job is not a paycheck. We know that there is no more precious resource than children. We know our jobs hold a special responsibility and we must be good close to 100% of the time. I also know that teaching high school English isn’t about getting all the commas in the right spot (shout out to Holden Caulfield); teaching is about relationships. Students learn best when they feel safe, loved, and valued.

Packing a classroom with 35 kids and one bearded crazy man may not be ideal, but if the crazy man thinks growing a beard can make legislators follow the law, imagine what he can get those 35 kids to believe about themselves.

Keep Hope Alive!

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