Saturday, December 30, 2006

ATO Founder's Day 2006

This has probably been a long-time coming (oh, since about April), but I finally got the pictures from Founder's Day/Weekend developed.

You can head to my Flickr account to see all of them, but here's some highlights for ATOs who are interested.

We played the usual wiffle ball game in the backyard, but this year is was all us Old Balls versus the current guys.

Thankfully we had our star picture (and my big bro) John Neff.

We also started up an impromptu poker tournament. Is that Neff looking at my ass?

Driver was so excited about the tournament he...well, he fell asleep. It was probably more because of a bunch of older 20-somethings trying to stay up late like rock stars. This is the result.

Gobble gobble. I don't know why me, Neff and Driver were doing the Wild Turkey salute. That was...Jesus...about seven years ago, and I'm surprised Driver would volunteer to relive such a painful reminder.

Rockin' the Freestyle, it's Gugin, Cowboy and Keith (with Driver hidden in the back) in Neff's very suburban, very domestic Ford SUV. Where were we going? Probably a late breakfast, to moan about our aches and pains from the night before.

Ugly as this is, it's before everything got really nasty. "Piano Man," Alpha Mu style. I was unprepared - I didn't wear my orange boxers, but they'll do. I think this is the first time I've seen Gugin's ass from this angle.

This is the last morning, just before Driver took off for Parts Unknown. He was the big traveler of the weekend, flying up from the southern lands to be with us.

The obligatory "In front of the crest" shot, with all the alumni who made it (except for Jim, Brent, and Nemo).

ATOs - feel free to steal the pics off my Flickr account. I know Gugin and I were always the big picture-takers in the fraternity, and I don't mind playing historian.

Hope all of you have a safe and happy New Year.

Love and respect.

Monday, December 18, 2006

On writing life down

Last night I decided to pick up a much-neglected habit, one that I've been putting off for the better part of a year: journal writing.

If you've ever tried to keep a regular journal or diary, you probably know how hard it can be - how long stretches of time can pass when you don't comment on anything, and much of what you do write is catch-up material.

I've always heard that the best writers keep a journal to put down their thoughts and experiences, a catalog of sorts for a life lived, day-by-day. They could then mine the journal for material. I've also heard that writing can help you to put down thoughts to ease the rambling in your head, and it's for this reason that I took up the practice.

I kept little notebooks - mostly the simple, ruled, spiral-bound kind - through high school, forgot about them through college, and picked up the practice again when I graduated. In fact, the one I found has the first entry marked "7-20-03," the summer after I left Adrian. Sometimes I would write often, sometimes I would go for months without putting anything down, but I dug it out last night just to see what I was thinking - Jesus! - three and a half years ago.

It's remarkable what changes in three years. I notice broad patterns of discussion, subjects that appear, then disappear, only to reappear months down the road. I write about Dayna a lot, because we were dating at the time. And I write about my then-new job (here's one, marked "8-3-03": "At least I have a steady, decent-paying job. My luck may have turned around. For once, things are going okay. A few goals left to achieve, and life will be good.") I write about issues I still struggle with today (at "8-19-03," I rant about my lack of self-discipline: "Usually writing things down helps me. Developing a habit helps even more...speaking of discipline, I need to exercise!").

A journal is kind of like a history for yourself, a written-down reminder of all the events and adventures you've been through. On "9-15-03," I write about first moving in with Don into Granada Apartments: "After having gone to 15 different schools until high school, the prospect of moving again, despite its inherent benefits, didn't seem fun...but I think I'm better now." I document grandma giving me her car, concerts Don and I went to (like coming back from KMFDM on "11-8-04": "On the way home, Don and I saw the Northern Lights. Beautiful! Subtle greens and pinks, and it looked like a quiet daylight at was perfect, a once-in-a-lifetime event!"), the 2004 election ("Bush won, Kerry lost. 'Nuff said."), Dayna and I splitting up (8-23-04, a single line before the split: "Wet eyes red no more.") - it all seems so long ago, but by reading through it last night it reminded me of a lot of things I haven't thought about.

Quite a bit reads like foreshadowing; me glimpsing into the future, or setting a path for myself that I've followed pretty well. On "10-4-04," after the split, I wonder what the heck I'm going to do with my new-found singleness: "Now I'm single again - for the first time in over three years. I must spend more time developing myself, really growing up and seeing what the world has to offer. It seems now is the time to take advantage of my youth, and do the things I've been wanting to do." Little did I know that following spring I would venture off to Chicago by myself, and the spring after that travel cross-country down a mythic highway. "Life's too short," I wrote. "Time to start enjoying it!"

I spot symptoms of behavior that I still feel today. On "12-28-04," I write: "My trip to Ann Arbor last weekend was a symptom of the deep wanderlust I have when life is in upheaval. My dad does it - guess I have some of that bug, too." Some things never change.

Life wasn't any simpler back then, either, such as on "1-27-05": "Between writing for the magazine, cleaning, reading, playing my new acoustic guitar, or other hobbies, I have a steady, always-filled 'to-do' list available." Hey, that sounds like a typical day today.

That summer brought a flurry of thoughts, emotions, reconnections and activities, until the fall when I found all the previous concerns I had written about "are no longer relavent," especially after "winding down a year of exploration."

Then it ends. A year and two months ago, "10-23-05" being my last entry.

After reading through three years of note-taking, I decided to start the practice up again. I struggled this spring and summer to kick-start the habit again (but kicked myself when I couldn't remember the password on the encrypted file on my iMac), but will now stick to pen and paper, and try to see what else I can accomplish in three year's time.

And maybe, years from now, I can look back and remember what life was like for a twenty-something Dave - a Dave probably still struggling with the same issues I face every year.

Maybe I've found life doesn't change all that much, just some of the characters, and some of the places.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The road to self-improvement

Home sick today, after having my top two wisdom teeth pulled out. The experience wasn't a fun one (I nearly ripped the dentist chair's arms off during the procedure), but it had to be done. So this morning I woke up to a bloody pillow, a sour feeling in my stomach, and two less teeth. Joy.

But I did manage to attend my final Financial Peace University Class last night with Suzanne, ending a 13-week long session of self-discovery and budgeting education.

Suzanne's boss paid for her to take the class, and since you're supposed to take it with a spouse - and she didn't have one - she invited me to attend with her. I was pretty skeptical at first. I was thinking it was another one of those get-rich-quick schemes; you know, buying or selling crap, real estate scams, etc.

Now, however, I'm so glad Suzanne invited me. The class has been one of those experiences where you wonder how you ever got along with out it.

Not that I've ever had big problems financially. I've always been pretty responsible, especially since leaving school. Except when it comes to debt, in which case I thought everyone gets in debt while they're at school. Right? Who doesn't have a student loan or a credit card these days?

"The borrower is slave to the lender," Dave Ramsey says, a quote he took from the Bible. Ramsey is the one who instructs the class (via a DVD series we watched at a local breakfast place, every Tuesday night). If you haven't heard of Dave Ramsey (he's got a pretty popular radio show), I suggest you check him out. At times he can be arrogant and tough, but he knows what he's talking about.

His motive is simple: get out of debt so you can use the money you're currently paying to credit card companies to build actual wealth.

And use financial methods our grandparents used. Not so much a can filled with cash on top of the refrigerator (or in the freezer, as my grandpa used to do), but building an emergency fund for those sure-to-come events in life, or buying things with cash and bargaining when the situation fits.

The plan involves baby steps and debt snowballs and all kind of neat (but truly legitimate) tricks to get yourself out of debt. Just the other week I paid off a credit card I've had since college. I even over-paid, so they have to send me a check for the remaining balance. And I'm going to frame that check to document the first time a debt-causing business has ever owed me money. It's a pretty good feeling.

Next will come a few other credit cards I've had, then paying off my vehicle early, then my student loans, and so on. I like the thought of not owing anyone any money, and I really like the thought of the house I could buy with all those saved payments. Imagine what you could do if you didn't have any student loan or credit card payments. I've already started imagining.

The whole thing has been a blast. I've started selling a lot of my crap on eBay, and I'm doing pretty well. With the money I've raised, I can hammer away at my debts. The program also includes budgeting, which I've always strangely enjoyed, and I'm finding that I'm spending less and saving more. That may mean I'm the designated driver a few more nights a month, but I have plenty of fun with the money I have.

Last night we had a nice potluck and handed out "graduation" certificates, but the over-arching theme of the night was people breathing a collective sigh of relief. This stuff should be taught at the high school level, before the credit card companies get to you, but we were all glad we learned it now. Better late than never.

I've also met a few new friends, and found out that just about everyone has money problems of some sort. The trick is, as Dave says, to manage your money - not let it manage you.

So off I go. Ready to pay off another credit card probably by the new year, and then another, and then I can use all the money I was making payment with to make bigger payments on the stuff that's left. It's brilliant. And I can't wait to be debt-free.

Dave Ramsey encourages the class to take the knowledge and spread it to others (free of charge!). I think that I'll save up and buy my dad a spot in the next class, because I know he's never been great with money.

It's probably the best gift I could give him.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

On diabetic vampirism

I think I have a good idea of what vampires feel like, when they're starving.

It's a thought that went through my head today at grandma's, after dinner, when I finished three bowls of turkey noodle soup and a left-over slice of pumpkin pie. I had this overwhelming sense of calm and contentment - and I wondered, "Is this what Ann Rice was writing about?"

On the way to grandma's today, I noticed I was a bit...on edge. I was anticipating a fight that never even happened, and when I finally got there I was so cranky and argumentative I felt like I had to shut up to keep myself from saying something stupid.

What was it all about? The soup.

Grandma: What are you doing with all that turkey?

Me: I'm going to make soup for dinner.

Grandma: What do you mean you're going to make soup for dinner?

Me: What do you mean, what do I mean? Is there another way to say it?

Grandma: I just don't understand...

...and I walked away in a huff, grabbed the stuff I brought, and started to make soup. What she didn't understand was how I could make a pot so fast (hers took all day), but to me she was being annoying.

I check my bloodsugar before we ate, and it was 50. Normal is 80-120. And it didn't occur to me until later that the reason I was upset and flustered was because my bloodsugar was so low.

That calm and ease I felt after the pie? That was me returning to my senses. I really felt like the happiest clam on earth, realizing I could die right then and be perfectly happy. Over a piece of pie.

I'm a sugar vampire. Sometimes.

I've had scarier experiences than that - sometimes waking up in the hospital, not realizing what the heck happened. Ask Don or Neff about Easter weekend of freshman year at Adrian.

My dad has found me stumbling around outside, blabbering like I was drunk. That's one symptom of low bloodsugar - or hypoglycemia - a condition that occurs either when I have too much insulin or not enough glucose (or sugar) in my system.

Deprived of energy-giving sugar, my body starts to shut down, organ by organ. My brain is usually the first to go (symptoms like apparent drunkenness, dizziness, sleepiness, or irritability), then my eyes (blurred vision, inability to focus), and sometimes even my extremities - all a result of my body keeping the sugar I do have in my system flowing to the necessary organs like my heart and lungs. Though, if you've heard of someone going into a diabetic coma, those things will stop, too.

Pretty scary. The scariest incident, though, was at Emily's, the night before we left for a weekend in Traverse City. I remember feeling super sleepy on the way to her place, and when I got there I felt the uncontrollable urge to just fall asleep. Poor Emily didn't think much of it (I am known to take naps and fall asleep at random times) until I started having seizures.

It was the weirdest thing: I actually felt my arm come alive. I could feel a center point, right in the crook on the opposite side of my elbow, and I could sense my veins and arteries waking up - ribbons of blue in what was otherwise total darkness. Soon my whole arm woke up, and then I did. To two paramedics standing over Em's bed. And Emily's family looking on in horror.

My brain had shut off, and what I felt was an IV in my arm shooting glucose back into my system. My cells were literally switching back on, blood vessel by blood vessel, until my brain finally received enough nutrition to switch on, too.

Thankfully, after a scary incident my senior year in college, I have my diabetes well under control. My doctor's visit today proved it. I have an A1c (an average bloodsugar count of the last three months) of 6.1%, and it's good for diabetics to be under 7.0%. My feet are in great condition, and I've lost six pounds over the last year.

But still, events like today at grandma's remind me that it doesn't take much to push me over some catatonic deep end. I ate a whole bunch today, and still my sugar dropped without me even noticing until...well, until the pie.

I remember, when Dayna and I would be lazy on weekends, I would feel that sleepiness come on me - and the last thing I felt like doing was fighting it off. Surrendering felt like a much better option, until usually my brain said, "Dave, I'm starving." Then I would ask for help.

Often, though, someone will find me jabbering away in the yard, or falling asleep on some fraternity house couch - and they can't wake me back up - and I'll have no idea how I got there.

Usually I do feel the hypoglycemia, and I'm so starved out of my mind that I get shaky and sweaty and I can't focus my thoughts. Then I'm so hungry I can't think about anything other than getting a soda or juice or piece of candy to bring me back to my senses - and in that way I kind of feel like some glucose Dracula, ready to pounce on some poor, innocent Hershey's bar.

That's why I try to carry candy on me at all times - just in case the hunger strikes again.

My diabetes, it's something that follows me wherever I go. No matter how much I try to let it drift into my life's background, it rears its fanged head often enough to remind me it's still there.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Tattoo 'Pepsi' on my behind.

I think sitting through movie theater commercials is a situation where everyone is absolutely outraged, but no one does anything about it.

Why pay to see a commercial? It's silly. But no one exactly gets up out of the theater in protest.

I've noticed a similar trend with product placements in movies and TV. From what I've read, everyone is shrugging it off - "Well, it'll cut down on the cost of production" - when really the integrity of art and culture is suffering.

Last night's episode of "The Office" had a glaring example, where one of the characters uses a new shredding machine - with a "Staples" label clearly slapped on the front - and brags about its ability to shred CDs and credit cards (and lettuce for a salad). The commercial that came right after the scene was, of course, one for Staple's new, sleek shredder.


Later, I caught a bit of "30 Rock" where the writing crew is drinking Snapple, making fun of product placements in TV shows, but then cut to - you guessed it - a Snapple ad.

The worst for me, however, was during the "Talledegha Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" dinner scene, where they all gorge on Pizza Hut, Pepsi, and Doritos, and then praise them to tiny, infant baby Jesus. It was a giant commercial for Pepsi - even worse than the stock cars that carry the logos on the hood.

Carrying a sponsor's logo on a vehicle - or a badge, or a uniform, or whatever - somehow doesn't upset me. No big deal. But these placements in movies, where it's so obvious not even Wayne and Garth ("Little, yellow, different") can satirize them enough.

Do we just throw up our hands and say, "oh well?"

I guess one recourse is to boycott the shows and movies that do this kind of thing. Except now just about everyone is doing it. And that would mean, in the case of "The Office" especially, that we'd be giving up great art for ideals that won't survive in a market-driven economy (and hey, Pam makes it all kind of worth it).

Even video games are getting into the act. I noticed it while swinging through New York in "Spider-Man 2," but the game developers didn't give Spidey the ability to take a crap on a billboard. Dang.

Maybe I'll keep a count going, and whoever annoys me the most - that's the show I'll stop watching.

But soon I'll run out of things to watch, and I'll have only books as a getaway plan.

Unless Pepsi pays for a billboard in the next Neil Gaiman novel...

Friday, November 10, 2006

My Apple-junkie anniversary

It's SuperBowl 2006 - a bit late this year, but with all the networks copying Fox's Terry, Howie, and the gang-style coverage (Chris Matthews as Jim Brown, the pundits as cocky, witty sportscasters) it's hard to avoid the comparison.

After all, we're voting for teams here. Blue, red, mascots in donkey and elephant form, balloons and confetti, 3,000 soldiers dying by halftime.

The replay comes in every ten minutes or so, with the Dems picking up more and more points as the night goes on. You think your hometeam's quarterback getting booed is bad, imagine facing an electorate that's suspicious instead of cynical.

It's, perhaps, a statement against a Head Coach that governs to only 49% of his team, offense and defense - kind of like being on the wrong side of an oncoming blitz. When your pre-game speech ignites "Uniter, not Divider" statements, and the team finds out you lied through your silver-spoon teeth, well, don't be surprised when the nation finds blood - not Gatorade - on your Starter jacket.

Balance is a good goal to have. The Framers knew this - in fact, most of the source of the tea-party rage was England's all-encompassing power. Rubber stamps are bad, protection of rights against a government that's bound to fail you is good, and we've got a big boot ready if you don't agree. One governing party is like Bill Parcels running the front office, marketing, concessions in the stadium, and still getting off his old, fat, angry ass to coach a team. It's too much of a bad thing.

But not the ball is in the Democrats court, and the game plan doesn't look promising. A dispatch just reported that they've officially taken the House, and with Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania (good bye, asshole Santorum), and Rhode Island falling into the Blue Column, the American people have placed an immense amount of maybe-misplaced trust in a party who hasn't had a great idea since LBJ. Good ideas, sure, but not planet-shaking.

We're still waiting for our Immaculate Concession.

Locally, our own Dems Stabenow in the senate and our Governor Granholm keep their seats (Granholm got lucky on that one, mostly because DeVos couldn't outline a plan of any detail or nuance) - and the states around us, those Big Ten burrowing-mammal states, head farther left.

Republicans tried an experiment with more African American candidates, but it's kind of like Terry Bradshaw calling a soccer game - it just doesn't look (or sound) right. The experiment has failed.

The idea of total control has failed too, but I wonder if anyone is listening. The swing back and forth - liberal and conservative, Dem and GOP - wears thin if all you can do is "get out the base," a bunch of loonies I don't trust at all. Call them out of their holes with issues like gay marriage and flag burning, and then hide them away while you give away the treasury to your corporate backers. It's bullshit, and I wish someone had the guts to actually Get Something Done around here. My grandma still doesn't have a job, my city's manufacturing base is crumbling, the media is joining forces into Alliances of Evil (I'll copywrite that one), but some out West still feel like keeping gays from suffering from a lifetime of each other is still issue number one.

Everything is moving Right, it would seem, with candidates like Harold Ford, Jr. in Tennessee appearing as a conservative dressed as a Democrat. Lieberman holds on, Republicans go Neo as it leaves its historical supporters, and no one is looking back at liberals, fearing they'll turn into a pillar of unelectable salt. Christians are all of the sudden caring about the poor and environment, Democrats are touting state's rights, and everyone is trying to bash NAFTA and CAFTA harder than everyone else. Nixon would have loved it, had he not been so fucked up in his paranoid skull, but Bush only has two more years to reap a movement he isn't smart enough to study and understand.

Who knows who to vote for anymore? And who knows who Montana will offer?

I just hope good, responsible governing - not revenge - is in store for the next two years, until we start this whole Hairspray-and-Handshakes Hairball rolling again, but for bigger stakes.

Will we have the gall to fill in the bubble in another presidential election? Jesus, I'm losing sleep over this one - what will I do two years from tonight?

Lose more sleep, and a bit more of my soul, and this gridiron doozie drools on.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

On Divine Discontent

It's SuperBowl 2006 - a bit late this year, but with all the networks copying Fox's Terry, Howie, and the gang-style coverage (Chris Matthews as Jim Brown, the pundits as cocky, witty sportscasters) it's hard to avoid the comparison.

After all, we're voting for teams here. Blue, red, mascots in donkey and elephant form, balloons and confetti, 3,000 soldiers dying by halftime.

The replay comes in every ten minutes or so, with the Dems picking up more and more points as the night goes on. You think your hometeam's quarterback getting booed is bad, imagine facing an electorate that's suspicious instead of cynical.

It's, perhaps, a statement against a Head Coach that governs to only 49% of his team, offense and defense - kind of like being on the wrong side of an oncoming blitz. When your pre-game speech ignites "Uniter, not Divider" statements, and the team finds out you lied through your silver-spoon teeth, well, don't be surprised when the nation finds blood - not Gatorade - on your Starter jacket.

Balance is a good goal to have. The Framers knew this - in fact, most of the source of the tea-party rage was England's all-encompassing power. Rubber stamps are bad, protection of rights against a government that's bound to fail you is good, and we've got a big boot ready if you don't agree. One governing party is like Bill Parcels running the front office, marketing, concessions in the stadium, and still getting off his old, fat, angry ass to coach a team. It's too much of a bad thing.

But not the ball is in the Democrats court, and the game plan doesn't look promising. A dispatch just reported that they've officially taken the House, and with Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania (good bye, asshole Santorum), and Rhode Island falling into the Blue Column, the American people have placed an immense amount of maybe-misplaced trust in a party who hasn't had a great idea since LBJ. Good ideas, sure, but not planet-shaking.

We're still waiting for our Immaculate Concession.

Locally, our own Dems Stabenow in the senate and our Governor Granholm keep their seats (Granholm got lucky on that one, mostly because DeVos couldn't outline a plan of any detail or nuance) - and the states around us, those Big Ten burrowing-mammal states, head farther left.

Republicans tried an experiment with more African American candidates, but it's kind of like Terry Bradshaw calling a soccer game - it just doesn't look (or sound) right. The experiment has failed.

The idea of total control has failed too, but I wonder if anyone is listening. The swing back and forth - liberal and conservative, Dem and GOP - wears thin if all you can do is "get out the base," a bunch of loonies I don't trust at all. Call them out of their holes with issues like gay marriage and flag burning, and then hide them away while you give away the treasury to your corporate backers. It's bullshit, and I wish someone had the guts to actually Get Something Done around here. My grandma still doesn't have a job, my city's manufacturing base is crumbling, the media is joining forces into Alliances of Evil (I'll copywrite that one), but some out West still feel like keeping gays from suffering from a lifetime of each other is still issue number one.

Everything is moving Right, it would seem, with candidates like Harold Ford, Jr. in Tennessee appearing as a conservative dressed as a Democrat. Lieberman holds on, Republicans go Neo as it leaves its historical supporters, and no one is looking back at liberals, fearing they'll turn into a pillar of unelectable salt. Christians are all of the sudden caring about the poor and environment, Democrats are touting state's rights, and everyone is trying to bash NAFTA and CAFTA harder than everyone else. Nixon would have loved it, had he not been so fucked up in his paranoid skull, but Bush only has two more years to reap a movement he isn't smart enough to study and understand.

Who knows who to vote for anymore? And who knows who Montana will offer?

I just hope good, responsible governing - not revenge - is in store for the next two years, until we start this whole Hairspray-and-Handshakes Hairball rolling again, but for bigger stakes.

Will we have the gall to fill in the bubble in another presidential election? Jesus, I'm losing sleep over this one - what will I do two years from tonight?

Lose more sleep, and a bit more of my soul, and this gridiron doozie drools on.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

The fall of Fall

We've skipped right to winter, and it's only the second day of November. The weather report this morning is calling for snow, and I wonder why we bother with autumn in the first place.

Cold brings a project-oriented mindset, since you're mostly stuck inside and unable to take walks in the park - unless you're insane, in which case, have at it.

My project has been selling my knick-nacks on eBay - a site whose popularity has dwindled, judging by the bid counts on the items I want to sell. Who knew, five years ago, that the Simpsons collectible action figures would be a bad investment? Who knew that a tin Spider-Man lunchbox would fail to impress even the smallest niche of hobbyists? eBay is a good stopping place if you're looking to find a bargain on a CD or DVD: most go for only a few bucks, with shipping, which beats even the discount used movies I pick up from Blockbuster.

The project is a result of the doldrums, true, but also of the financial class Suzanne and I are taking with guru Dave Ramsey - a smart guy from Tennessee with an accent and little patience with debt. I'm weary of the get-rich-quick classes that so many around here are taking these days (probably because of the piss-poor job market and economy), so much so that I'll ignore polite offers. And this one I was skeptical of, too, but I'm glad Suzanne invited me. Ramsey is a crock-pot, not a microwave, in his philosophy, in that getting out of debt and building wealth take time. One of his recommendations is to sell the crap you don't need.

So selling the crap I don't need, or that's taking up too much space, or that I haven't seen in years. Except this opens up a whole world I'm not familiar with, what with all the bubble wrap and packaging tape and feedback points.

The cold also means dark, and while the sun shines in the morning - as it should - it disappears right about the time I wake up from a nap. And that's horse-pucky. My winter blahs don't need to start any earlier than they have to.

The blahs help, though, when watching my new favorite show - "The Office" - and "My Name is Earl" when I can catch it. I hear that iTunes saved the show, which I don't doubt, but I think it's humor and wit will see it through.

No more baseball games with Cowboy and Keith, sadly, but I may still have some travel left in my bones. And when I don't, I have another Office - Veach's bar - to look forward to with Mel, Jenny, Don and the crew. It's usually too loud to conversate, but never too loud to play drunken card games.

Winters are more bearable when you're buzzed, but my new budgeting superpowers make buzzed harder and harder to achieve.

What I do hope to achieve is a haircut of some sort, some financial peace, and a steady income from online auctions.

And maybe a sense of accomplishment, when crypto-Nazis like Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum burn in their own hellfire and brimstone. But with the unreliable voting machines - like the ones Randi and I saw in "Man of the Year" - it's hard to say who has the power anymore.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fear and voting in Jackson County.

It's crunch time: a week and a half until election day.

And what a weird one it's going to be.

Suzanne invited me to a political shin-dig, put on by the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce, at Bella Notte last night. I felt nervous about going - all the big-wigs would be there - but then I remembered I have at least three fellow Rotarians who are running for county commissioner spots (including one running for the spot I thought about). I would definitely have folks to talk about.

When we showed up, it had the air of a convention. There were poles with plastic signs on top, each with a candidates name, and under the pole and sign stood the candidate, shaking hands, wearing buttons, pressing the flesh.

Tons of people there, most buying booze, more snacking on meatballs and cheese with crackers. "Jesus," I thought, "what a metaphor." These pols were getting soused, and it was the least I could do to talk to them while they're at their most vulnerable.

You could tell who were the popular candidates in the room, judging from the crowd surrounding them, and they were all Republicans. Lots of white people, but I smiled when I saw one of my Rotarians say he was voting "yes" on Proposal 2 (the anti-affirmative action one) to the African American lady he was shaking hands with. To say he was embarrassed is an understatement. But he was brave.

The news all over town (and the country) is that the Democrats are going to sweep the House and Senate in an orgy of voter dissatisfaction and scandal, even though they don't have a unifying plan to get the country Back on Track.

Locally, however, there were no such feelings - at least at this event. These folks knew who they were voting for, and it wasn't for anyone with a "D" next to their name. This was Jackson, the birthplace of the Republican party, friend to Ronald Reagan, and example of white-bread America.

The rookies in the process were easy to spot. They stood alone, maybe with their wife, just waiting for someone to come up, shake their hand, and start a superficial conversation. The pros were ready, beer in-hand, working over the crowd like a Naval tattoo parlor on a Saturday night.

Me? I was there for the free grub, for the Rotary support, and to see some of these yahoos up close and personal. Dick DeVos, candidate for governor, showed up for a spell, but I wasn't interested in him. It was his daughter I was on the lookout for. I figured if Dicky-boy wanted my vote, he's set me up on a date with his blonde, gorgeous progeny (who maybe looks a little too much like her dad for comfort - but think of the cathartic glee of dating some Nazi's daughter out of spite).

I've really been in a sour mood, ever since the 2004 election, and I've been waiting to pounce on any politician who's idea of running the country is to idolize the Current Occupant.

But in this room, on this night, the numbers were against me. Except for the poor bastard representing Governor Granholm, and maybe the white farmer from Oregon who benefitted from affirmative action, I was the only one in a "kick the bums out" mood. Everyone else smelled like status quo.

Ah, but what can I do? I'm only one vote.

I just hope there are more people out there who are as angry as I am.

Heaven is a place on earth.

If you believe you're going to heaven, what do you think it will look like?

As a kid, I remember thinking that heaven was on top of the clouds - that a walk down a street in heaven was like walking on a soft bed, and that the buildings and structure of heaven didn't vary much from where the Care Bears lived.

Maybe it's not a place at all. Some Christians believe that heaven is a state of mind, earned when you are truly saved and redeemed by Jesus Christ.

But what if it's none of the above? What if heaven is, as Belinda Carlisle sang, a place on Earth?

If so, we've sure made a fine mess of it.

- - - - -

Have you ever seen that "Footprint" poem - the one where the narrator sees two sets of footprints (feetprints?) on a beach, and then only one, and it's because God was carrying the narrator at the end? Maybe it looked like this:

You see that nice beach scene the poem is placed over? You get a sense for the poem's meaning because the visual - two sets of feet along a sandy waterfront - is so immediate. Anyone who's been on a beach has seen something similar.

I got thinking about the "Footprints" poem because, recently, I've been reading about Christians embracing environmentalism as a way to display their faith in God and to show their commitment to His creation.

If God made the world, and us in his own image, what would he think about us tearing up his place?

There are some Christians who seem to think that environmentalism is some conspiracy job dreamed up by liberals, lefties, and - worse - the French. But there are even die-hards - like my favorite nutjob Pat Robertson - who are starting to come around.

On Bill Moyer's recent "On America" series, he ran a story called "Is God Green?" where he finds out what kind of Christian becomes concerned with the environment, and why other Christians think those Christians are nuts. His story takes us to West Virginia, where coal mining companies are actually leveling entire mountains to get at the black gold inside, and how that makes the water undrinkable and the citizens sicker than hell.

What would Jesus do? Would he poison the streams just to earn a buck or two?

- - - - -

There's an entire market of Christian quotes and Bible verses that are printed on majestic scenes. Perhaps you've seen one:

They're on calendars, mugs, greeting cards - you name it. The word of God is paired with a glowing scene of beauty and splendor. And why not? His words are supposed to be uplifting and what says "you're saved" like a mountain-and-stream scene?

But if you're a Christian, and you think helping the environment is for hippies, these two messages don't jive. You wouldn't pair, say, a passage from the Psalms with a Wal*Mart parking lot scene, would you? They don't fit.

So what kind of case can a Christian make for spoiling the very creation that we're supposed to enjoy, raise our kids in, and marvel at the beauty of?

I remember Dr. Renner, in our Environmental Journalism class, saying that - when he went to church in Iowa - his preacher would say that everyone was just passing through "this mudball Earth" on the way to the true home up in heaven.

"Just passing through," Renner would joke.

And if you truly believe that, then maybe using the Earth's resources until they're all dried up makes sense. If this home is only temporary, what's wrong with a few extra parking lots?

Well, for one, Christians don't know how long they'll be hanging around for. Jesus himself said that Christians won't know the hour or the day he'll return. Whenever he feels like coming back, pretty much, like a thief in the night. It could be a million years from now. Who would want to suffer through a polluted, global-warming-raged Earth for that long?

Second, he might not come back at all. That is a possibility for some folks.

Third, what if Earth is really all we have? What if heaven IS a state of mind, one that - once we're dead - disappears like sand in a windstorm?

In that case, get used to scenes like this on your Christian calanders:

And can you imagine getting a greeting card with this on it:

Now that's compassion and mercy for God's creatures.

Sorry, what was that about dominion over all living things?

I made these graphics half in jest, but more to get people to think about the policies they support.

It seems to me that if you truly care about God's creation, and our place in it, then you would be careful when you value the Almighty Dollar over Him. Because that's what it comes down to - using the creation as a means to an end (wealth) is downright sinful.

Luckily there are more and more Christians converting to the side of good stewardship of the Earth.

- - - - -

That first picture I posted, way up at the top, speaks to me more than those initial images I had in my youth of a city in the sky as the rightful place of heaven.

I agree with Erik Reece, who - in his "Jesus Without the Miracles: Thomas Jefferson's Bible and the Gospel of Thomas" (originally printed in the Dec. 2005 Harper's - go here to read it, it's great) - says that a vision of of the Earth as merely a log in the stove of industry is a shameful way to behave:

"As the world all around us sickens and dies from the poi-son discharges of Hamiltonian industry, these twin gospels suggest that it is time we inverted Pascal's famous wager to say not that we should believe in heaven because we have nothing to lose but rather that we should believe first in this world, because in losing it we may lose everything. And if we can somehow live justly, modestly, with generosity and compassion, we have everything to gain."

Reece's idea that pulling heaven out of the sky and placing here on Earth fits nicely with Thomas Jefferson's dream of an agrarian, utopian America - "where farmers intuit the will" of the Creator from the laws of nature.

"Perhaps we won't have to wait for the kingdom of God," Reece writes.

But what will happen to it in the meantime?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hail to the victors

Life continues to be full of surprises.

One of our VPs at work Friday announced she had tickets to the Michigan/Iowa game - and I was one of three employees to win a pair.

It was my first game, which is a shame considering how big of a fan I am. But I finally got my chance.

I took Don, of course, and met up with Jeanna and Stacy from work. The weather folks called for rain, but it turned out to be a perfect afternoon for football.

The game was close up until the second half, when Iowa's defense finally gave way and Michigan's offense got up to full steam. Two rushing touchdowns, a hot dog and chips, and a memorable experience that I'll never forget.

There's nothing like pounding your fist in the air during "Hail to the Victors." In high school, Don and I got to play with the U of M marching band. I managed to smuggle a copy of the fight song out of Ann Arbor - so Don and I could learn it back home. That was as close as I've ever come to a true Wolverines experience.

But now I can say I went, and had fun.

And they won, 20-6, and remain the second-placed team in the country.

Hail to the leaders and the best.

[check out photos here]

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I'm never going back to my old school

Ah, Homecoming.

It was always my favorite time of year as an active. Getting all the old guys to come back and visit - especially the ones who seldom kept in touch - for one whole weekend of drinking and football and hijinx...well, it just couldn't be beat.

As the years went on, that pretty much stayed true. Except lately, Keith and I (with help from a few others) had to organize the monster, so the dynamic changed a bit. But still - it's the one time of year where guys come from Arizona and Northern Michigan and God Knows Where Else to celebrate being us. ATOs. Adrian alumni.

This year, though, was different. I was still looking forward to it, but I wasn't nearly as excited as in past years. I'm tired, I'm busy, I'm stressed, and lately I've been feeling a bit burnt out by the whole Adrian College thing.

New chapter, new president, big changes on campus - it's hardly the Adrian I knew from a few years ago. That Adrian only exists in the stories we tell and the memories we share. The campus belongs to someone else now.

But with the arrival of Neff and Gugin and Dan and everyone else, a lot of that hesitation went away. We went to dinner Friday night (twice!), had our big brew-ha-ha about a new (old?) house, and saw a few surprise members return. Things were looking up - especially now that Keith has so graciously taken over the BOT as president.

Saturday was the tent by Cornelius, and then the game, and seeing Andrea and Shanita and tons of long-lost friends from school at the new stadium. There were kids doing jello shots in the endzone. I drank a few beers in the student section. Adrian's football team was winning. This was definitely a new school.

Saturday night we headed to the ATO banquet at the Elks for drinks and dinner and singing and lots of picture taking. A mix of old and new, Docking and actives, Elardo dancing and pledges finding out what it means to be a part of something that doesn't end with graduation. After dinner we found ourselves with little to do - nothing but roaming around campus, watching beer pong, and sitting in the new student center, wondering where the hell Adrian is taking this group of kids. It's the Great Mystery: Will mentioned how the changes are coming so fast the students can barely keep up.

Imagine what it's like to be an alumni, returning after X amount of years...

And so I'm taking a step back, watching from the visitors section - where I've probably belonged for all these years. Knowing me, I'll be back. I can't not participate in the place I love so much, a square mile that has given me so much, and to a school I've given so much of myself.

I'm never going back to my old school, because it no longer exists in a physical place.

It's only in the memories I share with my brothers and my friends. And that's where it will stay, forever and ever.

(to see photos from the weekend, go here)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Where the wild things are

Off the grid, and on to Adrian, for the weekend - Homecoming 2006.

Just arrived on campus, and looking forward to seeing the guys and everyone else again.

First one to meet me at the house: Mr. Dan Hedgcock (aka, Hedgpoop).

Met up with Mr. Karl Epps in Ridge.

Staying at Motel ATO - in my old room, Room 4, the one with the Gore/Lieberman stickers all over the door, an effort to frustrate one of the few Republican brothers we've had.

The day will only get better, of course, once we get Down to Business, ATO-style.

"Wherever you may travel, a brother you will know" our creed says, but you don't really know a brother like you do on your home turf.

This will be the last hurrah - a swan song of sorts - because this is my last year as the board of trustees president. And it comes at a good time, because Adrian is changing, the fraternity is changing, and I suppose I'm changing, too.

Can't wait to see everyone.


Sunday, October 8, 2006

From the gutter to the top

Ah Detroit - you never disappoint me when it comes to adventure.

Had the KMFDM show Friday night at Harpo's - in the swell part of town.

Show was great. They played everything I wanted to hear, and I was sweaty and I jumped around, and Don got drunk, and I met up with an old friend from junior high. Just a great time.

And then we headed home.

About two miles down I-94, Don and I noticed a weird noise coming from the Aerio's back end.

"I think your tire's flat," Don says.

Well shit. So we pull off on Gratiot, my tire obviously flat, and head to this run-down gas station.

In the ghetto.

We get out of the car, and Don heads in to buy some fix-a-flat (at this noisy homeless lady's suggestion), but I saw the back of the tire leaking the stuff. So that was useless.

Don and I grab the jack out of the back, only to notice that it's missing the jacking bar. Things keep getting better.

So I troll the parking lot, asking for anyone with a jack, and I get ignored in the lot, in the store, everywhere. White boy, ghetto - you'd think I'd get all kinds of attention. But I stop this giant black Escalade, with one guy getting out to pump his gas, and I ask them for a jack.

"What, you broke down?"

No, I'm taking a survey.

The guy makes me pay $5 for his gas before he'll help me, but I figure it's worth it. We jack the car up (our conversation going from Detroit winning that night to how black people get misrepresented), change the tire, and finally head home - lots of hand-shakes and "thank yous" all around.

And besides Don making me stop along the highway to pee, we made it home alive.

Good show, bad drive home, and when we DID get home - I found someone had actually slashed my tires.

A nice big, square hole in the back of my tire. That's what I get for going to enjoy a rock show.

Late night, lots of wisdom.

So how was YOUR weekend?

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Denial ain't a river in America

It sure is, and it's only going to get easier.

I read an article in Wired this month, "The Thin Pill," that documents how drug companies - and some doctors - have established a "disease" called "metabolic syndrome." What is metabolic syndrome?

Well, put simply, it means you're fat.

Obesity, high blood pressure, high blood glucose levels. These are the hallmarks of metabolic syndrome. Or what we used to call being overweight.

But by labeling the "syndrome" a disease, the article explained, it makes it easier for drug companies to treat the symptoms with a drug.

A new thin pill. It's on its way.

The idea is to take a condition that may be conquered with a lifestyle change (namely, diet and more exercise) and to recondition it as something that can only be cured by medication. The profits to be reaped are extraordinary, of course, because more and more Americans suffer from this supposed syndrome.

What boggles my mind is that more and more of these "syndromes" keep popping up, and - lo and behold - drug companies are there to provide the only recourse.

ADD, anyone?

So the new recipe for business success in America is:

1. Find a problem
2. Invent a disease
3. Market a drug to cure the disease

Voila! Instant millions.

Sadly, what's happening is drug companies are giving Americans a reason to deny responsibility for their own actions and behavior. Ritalin is the cure for being a six year old, we're told, but maybe kids should be allowed to be crazy and annoying and full of piss and vinegar.

And if Americans can simply take a pill to lose weight, is there any reason to get off the couch, turn off the TV, and go outside to walk your dog? It seems too easy.

It's turning into a denial syndrome, where we can deny the fact that our lifestyle is affecting our health, for good or ill.

What confuses me is how a society seemingly obsessed with sports and athletes and "Just Do It" can find any excuse not to get up and move. If we're so enamored with the fit, physical human form, why don't we do more to make our body-machine into a well-oiled fitness example?

Why leave all the work to athletes?

I think because it's easier to deny we have a problem, take a pill, and sit back and not change anything. That's the lazy route.

Maybe I'm off base here. Maybe finding enjoyment in going outside for a walk, tasting the fall air, and preventing an oncoming coronary is the kind of thing reserved for lunatics. I see what happened with my grandma and her small stroke, however, and I know that it can be avoided.

Not everything can be prevented: I could get creamed on the highway going 85 mph.

Wait. Make that "I probably will get creamed..."

But why leave it to chance?

Or, even better, why leave it to some pill that features side effects worse than the "syndrome" it's treating?

The same idea applies to fossil fuels: as long as gas prices are down, no one cares that our entire economic system is built on the shaky (and profit-rich) foundation of big oil that poisons us as we speak.

Or terrorism. Leave it to the government to keep us safe, so we can continue to live our lifestyle uninterrupted. Torture, start wars, do whatever - as long as I can listen to my iPod in peace. Nevermind they can't seem to do anything right these days.

I read about all this somewhere, sometime. "Brave New...something something."

Who's up for a Soma tablet?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

On the road again - with a new vehicle

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Yesterday, I took the plunge and bought a new vehicle.

I shopped around our used vehicle sale this weekend while working - I usually shop around and find vehicles that I like, but then get cold feet and refuse to purchase one. I can't tell you how many Focus hatch-backs I've found that I've liked but either couldn't afford or chickened out on.

Friday I found the Suzuki Aerio above, and it was really the only vehicle that caught my eye at the sale. The Car Company was asking $8,333, which was a bit beyond my price range. So I walked away, and didn't think much of it.

Then I showed up Saturday and decided to give the little bugger a test drive. It's a manual, so getting used to a stick was a bit tricky. But it didn't take long, and I zoomed over to grandma's to show her and ask her opinion. I told her I was going to try to wittle the price down to around $6,000.

"You'll never get that price," she said. "They won't go that low."

When I returned from my test drive, the dealer asked if I wanted it.

"Yeah, for $6,000," I said.

He gave me a look of dumb horror. "Are you kidding?" he asked. "We can't go that low. We have to make some money on this vehicle." He scampered off and asked his dad, who owns the dealership, and returned with a price of $7,333 - $1,000 lower than the asking price.

"No, I can't afford that," I said. "I'll take it for $6,000 - and I'll let you guys think about it." And I walked away.

Later, the owner came up to me and asked if I was going to buy the car. I told him yes, at my price. "Well if I sell it to you at $6,800, I'll be making about $200 on it," the dealer said. I said I understood, but $6,800 was a bit too much.

Work sent me home - it was a slow day - and I woke up from a nap with my boss on the phone: "The guys from the Car Company want to talk to you."

I couldn't help but smile. This negotiation stuff was new to me. I'm usually a no-haggle guy - why bother? - but a few guys from work were talking earlier about our credit union CEO being a ruthless negotiator, and how it was kind of fun to watch him wheel and deal. So by dropping the price by over $2,000, and giving the dealers an afternoon to think about it, I was trying to be Mr. Tough Guy. Would it work?

I got up, drove back to the sale, and sauntered over to the car.

"Are you going to buy it?" the dealer asked me.

"Yeah, if you reduce the price," I said.

"Is $6,800 still too much?" he asked.

"Yup. I can afford right around $6,000."

My friend Ginny came over and we chatted about the car, and the sale, and just talked for a bit, the three of us.

Then the dealer turned to me. "Would you take it for $6,500?"


So now I have a new car.

It's a great machine. I've always been a fan of the compact hatchback models - the Chevy Aveo I took out west, the Ford Focus, etc. - and anything that gets great gas mileage is a plus for me, especially as much as I travel.

It's black, even though I prefer a silver or blue car, and it's a stick, even though I'm not that experienced with a manual, but I got it at a great deal, and it's a slick-looking machine. It's grandma- and best-friend-approved, which helps.

Today I took it for a real spin, down 127 to my dad's and through the backroads on the way home, and it's a lot of fun to drive. I still have to get used to the parking break, and I'll have to get comfy with all the esoteric dials and switches, but I really love how spacious it is, and the hatchback (which will be great when I go grocery shopping), and even little touches like the digital speedometer and RPM gauge.

I gave the Dynasty back to grandma, since she's been vehicle-less for months now, and it will be sorely missed. She put 50,000 miles on it in 12 years, and I doubled that in three years. It's been everywhere, and it's been a great companion.

But now I have a new chariot to get me where I need to go.

Who wants a ride?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Size is the enemy of freedom

Two important anniversaries are coming up - as if you haven't heard about them, right?

Every news outlet has begun the "One year later" trip down Katrina-memory lane, while the media "celebrate" the fifth year since September 11. Both ask important questions: what have we learned? How has our government's response changed? Are we safer?

The answers to most of those questions, however, are not optimistic.

Both anniversaries have had me thinking about the ineptitude and impotence of our government. It reminds me now of a giant corporation - pick one, anyone with a call center and an option menu. Bloated, sloth-slow, unable to grasp the changes in the world around it, the government is forever keeping us on hold, reminding the people that a vote "is important to us," meanwhile the whole world goes to shit outside our window.

Size can be a burden, even by those who say they wish to jump on that diet plan and, in this case, shrink the size of the federal government. Less taxes (if you're rich), less government-funded programs (unless you're the military), more compassion in the conservative cookie mix (unless you're poor, out of work, or a foreign citizen).

But like most diet plans, a rebound is inevitable. You'll get fat again. Programs are added, each one promising to correct the mistakes of the one before, and nothing in the way of progress is ever seen. Do you think we're safer five years after 9/11? Do you think the Gulf Coast is any more ready to face a category five storm one year later?

Do you trust your government?

With size comes comfort. Just look at our domestic automakers. Swelled and spoon-fed by the "buy American" public, the Big Three sought to change only when the hunger for bigger SUVs surfaced. When gas prices hit, or foreign automakers made better their offerings, or employees required larger health care and pension budgets (as they deserved), GM and Ford and Chrysler were paralyzed by their girth, and now suffer. Same with the airlines. Everyone looks for a hand-out, and usually get it - unless your single and pregnant.

And so our government thought that having all the bases covered would make for good governance. Dip your hands into every facet of American life. Proclaim a slimmer and efficient government, even when you grit your teeth to supress the smirk when you say it. Cut taxes to improve the economy. Run the deficit higher and higher. Advocate personal responsibility except when the people call your bluff.

Ben Franklin, when Alexander Hamilton (pre-duel, of course) worried that presidents shouldn't return to regular public life because it would degrade the former-president, said "In free governments the rulers are the servants and people their superiors and sovereigns."

Franklin, in all his Forefather Wisdow, seems almost naive now. How can a citizen govern that which he or she cannot understand?

And who would want to rule this power-crazy bunch? The same folks that use our military are mercenaries for their oil cronies, help their friends and themselves get fat at the table of suffering, and use the American Government as a tool to preach the Gospel of Free Enterprise and No Gays In Our Backyard. Who wants anything to do with them?

When the American people can be flim-flammed by PR men, touting economic recovery where none exist, educational reform as an unfunded mandate, and turn-the-corner war mongering into freedom throughout the Mideast, Ben Franklin's words lose their value and poetry. We are no longer the rulers. The servants have taken back what they've always seen as theirs.

War is Peace. Freedom, Slavery. You get the idea.

I've tried to take heart in the words of Thomas Jefferson, who preferred the morning paper to any government. At least a newspaper a common man can make sense of. Today's government requires the mind of Einstein and the heart of Rocky Balboa to slog through. And even they didn't have the guts, or the mindlessness, to take That Trip.

But now that the paper is merely a tool in the Fat-Man's utility belt - "Send that press release, Bob, and call anyone who disagrees a liberal, terrorist, or Tom Cruise!" - well, Mr. Jefferson, there's always MySpace.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Give 'em hell, Harry

"I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it is hell!" - Harry S. Truman

- - - - -

It's in today's chaotic geo- and domestic political and social climate that I wish we had a guy like Harry Truman around.

No-nonsense. Intelligent. Steeped in American and world history. A salt-of-the-earth kind of guy.

We need someone to give 'em hell. And Truman would've been just the guy.

My admiration of Harry Truman began pretty early, as a sophomore in high school. I entered my first political race, running against Jenny Franks - the prettiest and most popular girl in school - for junior class treasurer. I had just learned about Truman's remarkable "Miracle in '48" victory during the presidential election - how no one thought he could win.

Well, no one but him anyway.

Seeing how Truman beat the odds and came out victorious inspired me, and helped me believe that I could get elected over a two-year incumbent.

And, just like with Truman, I pulled it off.

Of course, as a Democrat, I also look back on Truman's administration as a source of some of the most sparkling progressive ideas of the 20th century. The Fair Deal, civil rights, and - as a senator - his Truman Committee saving the American taxpayer billions of dollars by making sure our money was being spent properly.

Where is today's Truman Committee?

The more I learn, the more I value Truman's insight and wisdom. I'm finishing up Merle Miller's excellent oral biography of Truman, "Plain Speaking." In it, Miller interviews Truman for a television series that never happened, but used the word-by-word transcript as the basis for a book. In it, we hear Truman as he talked, and though he was always succinct, he had a lot to say.

What really struck me was his thought on history - "There is nothing new in the world except the history you don't know." What he meant was, human nature doesn't change. If something unexpected pops up, well, that just means you haven't read your history enough.

He's right, of course. It's amazing how well Truman could peg someone's character and personality. Take Nixon. Truman had him as a crook and liar in the early 1950s, before Nixon ever became Vice President. It didn't help that Nixon called Truman a "communist" and "traitor"

One of Truman's only regrets was that he never had a chance to run against Nixon and "lick him good." I'm sorry that he never had a chance, too, because maybe we could have saved our nation a great big headache.

Truman's foresight on issues like civil rights (he was pro-civil rights even when he knew he would lose all the Dixiecrat support in the South), integration of the armed forces, minimum wage and Social Security issues (he was an adamant supporter of Roosevelt's policies), and the toxic influence of money and the military in politics was ahead of his time.

Truman's belief that the Presidency was an office to be "used for a while," a "tool" that each man used to progress the idea of democracy, floored me.

"When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honrs, the twenty-one-gun salutes, all those things, you have to remember it isn't for you," Truman said. "It's for the Presidency, and you've got to keep yourself separate from that in your mind. If you can't keep the two separate, yourself and Presidency, you're in all kinds of trouble."

Got it?

Now compare those thoughts with the ideas Nixon and the current Bush have about the office. It's a difference that's seen when you compare the Man from Missouri - a farmer and failed businessman - from a silver-spoon rich guy who pretends he's a hick.

There are all the popular characterizations of Truman - "The Buck Stops Here" and the "Give 'em Hell, Harry" shouts during the 1948 campaign, but it's the principles and the knowledge of how American history shapes the politics of today that I admire.

He was a stubborn cuss, of course, and he spoke his mind readily, for good or ill.

But who was in office during the most impactful events of the 20th century, and guided it with more wisdom and principle?

No one, I would argue. Kennedy was in office too short a time, and an argument could be made for Roosevelt - he certainly was in office long enough.

But my political hero will always be Harry Truman, mostly because I wish there were still politicians like him hanging around Washington.

I don't trust people that don't read. If you don't even occasionally have a book in your hand, learning about the wide world that lives beyond your own damn skull, then we won't have a lot to talk about.

I think it would have been fun to talk to Harry Truman.

And I think he would have had a lot to say about today's American political climate.

But, as he said, all we need to do is look at history. It's all right there, every bit of it.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Kick the bum out

Everything, all of it belongs to the people. I was just privileged to use it for a while. - Harry S. Truman

- - - - -

Did you vote yesterday?

I hope so - it was primary day, a quasi-election where the cream (hopefully) rises to the top, sprouts legs, and heads to the general November election.

Let's say four Republicans are running for your state's U.S. Sentate seat. American politics says four GOP guys can't face each other in the November election - there can only be one. So the primary lets you vote for the person you want to vote for in November. Whoever wins the GOP primary will go on to face the Democratic candidate in the fall.

It's like a political tournament.

Yesterday was one of the bigger primaries I can remember, particularly because of our own 7th Congressional District race between incumbent Republican Joe Schwarz and local nutcase Tim Walberg.

For those playing at home, incumbents (those that already hold the office) rarely lose. The Congress has something like a 90% retention rate every election. If you're elected to Congress, print all the stationary you want, because you can bet you'll be there a while.

Well Schwarz lost.

Joe was a moderate, McCain-like Republican (he's very good friends with Senator McCain, ever since - as a CIA agent - he tried to rescue McCain from a POW camp in Vietnam). He was supported by all the heavy hitters in state and national GOP circles. But Walberg - an arch-conservative - labelled Schwarz a "liberal" (pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage), and the rest took care of itself.

You can't be a liberal and win in Jackson County. It just can't happen.

I received no less that six pieces of mail - one per day - lambasting Joe Schwarz as a "friend to Ted Kennedy" and "Pro-Immigration Amnesty." It's no wonder Joe lost. He tried to run a clean, "experienced" campaign, and you just can't reason with far-right loonies like Walberg.

The other big story was Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman losing his seat in the Connecticut primary to a virtual nobody, Ned Lamont. By 10,000 votes.

The issue? The Iraq war.

So in Michigan, and in Jackson, you have a guy kicked out of office because he wasn't conservative enough, while on the East Coast you have a long-term Senator (and former Vice Presidential candidate in 2004) getting the boot because he wasn't liberal enough.

What the heck is going on?

Even Doug McIntyre, host of L.A.s KABC morning show, weighed in on the Schwartz/Walberg primary. According to McIntyre, many states are swinging to the extremes in either direction left in Connecticut, right in our own 7th District.

McIntyre also pointed out one of my favorite parts of primaries where voters will switch sides to vote for the other partys candidates.

And thats true of me. During primaries, I never vote for Democrats, especially local ones. Its much more fun to vote for Republicans and pick the candidates I either like or want to lose.

I either think Which Republican can I stand? and/or Whos the dope that could get trounced by my favorite Dem?

Fill in the bubble. Turn in the ballot. Democracy rules.

But what I'm sensing from yesterday's results is a shift away from incumbent-friendly habits and a more kick-the-bum-out mentality. And how can you blame Americans? This Congress has done less and been away from Washington more than the legendary "Do-Nothing Congress" of 1948.

This is how a democracy is supposed to work. If your representative doesn't represent you, you throw the bum out. When issues like flag burning and gay marriage are all that's being talked about, the bums deserve whatever they get.

Schwarz losing was a bum deal. I liked the guy, certainly more than the born-again Walberg, who doesn't even speak the same language as me. Much as I like McCain, Schwarz represents a sort of Republican-lite (or just sensible policy making) that I can get along with. He's a smart, hard-working guy.

But I'm clearly in the minority. So now we have some goofball running for Congress, and apparently that's what the local counties wanted to represent them in the halls of the U.S. Congress.

What should be more fun, though, is the November election. Democrat, Republican, I don't care - I want to see a dramatic, national kick-to-the-curb movement, where all the bums currently in office are tossed out on their ass.

They've earned it.

Friday, August 4, 2006

The dying squawk of the Thunderbird

[If you haven't heard that the Thunderbird Coffee House is closing, read about it here.]

Its sad, whats happening to Jon Hart and his Thunderbird Coffee House. Unfortunately, I think its a sign of the times.

In an age where less than half of Americans vote in a national election, people seem to prefer voting with their dollars. They vote for giant Ultra-Marts and Starbucks, chain stores you can find in increasingly every town in
America. How can local businesses compete?

What bothers me is that a smart, resourceful business owner like Hart a man who cares about Jackson and provides a venue for the youth of the city to get together and have fun is forced to close his doors. While the Citizen Patriot's story was short on details, I get the impression that business owners who try to survive downtown are having a rough time of it, especially considering all the recent closings. And that just shouldnt be.

So I guess Ill vote with my money, too.

For instance, you wont catch me in a Starbucks. They dont need my money, not when local businesses are hurting. It's a philosophy of mine to support the locals first, and worry about price, convenience, etc. second. On my Route trip, it was a great pleasure to actually see America, not visit the franchise version.

But Im afraid someday Ill have no choice a time when the whole country is shopping at Wal-Mart, drinking coffee from Starbucks, and eating dinner under the Golden Arches. We may become like Soviet Russia, where citizens had few choices when shopping for their needs.

Welcome to the U.S.S.A.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

He's not a crook, he's a bastard

A recent report from says that Sen. Arlen Specter is attempting to pass a law that would remove judicial oversight from any wiretapping that the Bush or future administrations seeks to enforce.

No oversight. No judicial process. No checks and balances. Nixon would've been proud.

The headline says "Echoes of the Nixon era," and it fit nicely with some of what I've been thinking about since my Route 66 trip.

Namely: Bush and Nixon were equal in the "bastard" rankings.

After reading "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72" (a very non-objective - hell, not even fair - account of that election, with McGovern getting thrashed by an incumbent Nixon), I couldn't help but notice the similarities.

Maybe we should start with the differences. Bush has found Jesus, while Nixon worshipped Satan the Dark Lord. Bush faces terrorism during his term, while Nixon fought hippies. Nixon actually signed some pro-environment laws, while Bush burns them to keep his cold dead heart warm in the winter. Bush got us into a heckuva mess in Iraq, while Nixon had to airlift us out of the mess in Vietnam. Bush lies through his teeth, helps cronies, takes away the very freedoms he swore to protect, and feels a god-like elitism to stay above the law.

Oh wait. Nixon did all that too.

"It's not illegal if the president does it," Nixon was reported saying, and I'm pretty sure, when he's cramped on the shitter his lies built, Bush whispers the same thing to himself.

Nixon saw nothing wrong with abusing presidential privileges to achieve his own ends - namely, to destroy the poor saps on his "enemies list," and to intimidate anyone who thought the president was just a mortal Protestant. Law and order, man. That was the order of the day.

Bush feels the same, but masks the naked power-grabs as means to "defend freedom."

Right. Defend freedom by taking it away. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery.

The Nixon Administration imploded when, drunk with power and lurching in the alleyway with the tycoons looking and cheering him on, Nixon's stupidity and ego rose to the surface like toilet paper in a porta-potty.

And with each new round of the news cycle, some new report comes out about how Bush and company are taking phone lists, supressing "you-think-you're-so-smart" scientist and science, handing out no-bid blowjobs to corporate golf buddies, and watching - stupidly - as Iraq burns itself to glass.

It makes me want to puke.

I've often used "Nixon" as an insult, as in "that bastard would have agreed with Nixon's law-and-order philosophy," or "Jesus, you're as ugly as that goon Nixon!" Maybe I should start saying "You voted for Bush, didn't you, you hairlip prick?"

It's really the only recourse left. We sure as hell can't subpeona our government - they're too busy debating flag burning, gay marriage, they talk about anything else?

The Greeks knew what happens to bastards like this. Pride, in the Grecco-Roman world, was the worst thing a man could subscribe to.

So to the next jerk that putters along in the passing lane, I'll yell, "You're about as prideful as that horse's ass Bush!"

What else can I do?

Monday, July 24, 2006

One hat to rule them all

My hat - the one pictured - has been through a lot.

Two presidents, two or three girlfriends, six or seven living arrangements, a Bachelor's degree, two wars, and upteen trips to upteen states. I may have even worn it on September 11.

The summer before sophomore year, my step-mom Becky took us school shopping. We went to Lansing, and it was the first time I'd been to an Old Navy. Exploring the store, they had a set of hats on sale - most of them khaki-colored, and simple designs - and I needed a new one. I had been wearing the same 49ers hat since I was a junior in high school, so I was due for an upgrade.

Shopping through the hats, I found one that fit perfectly. No other one came close. It was like we were bound by destiny to find each other.

Which is why I still have it, six years later (almost exactly).

It's still khaki, but more of a I've-seen-the-world-and-lived-to-tell-about-it khaki. An Indiana Jones khaki.

After a few runs through the washer, the edges of the bill are starting to fray. Sweat and soaked through to the front side. The buckle in the back no longer works.

But Jesus, I love that hat.

I've never found one that's even come close to its perfection. I've owned a few hats since buying the "Old Navy 2000" one - Dayna bought me a great one: green, with "Brooklyn NYC" on it (I thought it was cool just to have "Brooklyn" on a hat), and I wear it once in a while. I also have one for work events, and a few goofy hats here and there. But my Old Navy hat goes with everything, and it's usually my first pick.

Wait, stop. What am I talking about? "Usually?" It's always my first pick.

Lately, though, I've been getting comments like, "You're still wearing that?" And there's usually a little disgust (but I think a little jealousy) in the tone of voice.

But I say, to hell with everyone. That hat has carried me through the greatest years of my life. It's seen everything and everyone I've seen. And dammit all, it still fits like a charm.

This weekend at Dayna'sI met Deb, and she loved my hat too. I'm always a little self-conscious about my hair...

....wait. Stop. "A little?" Jesus, who am I kidding? I'm downright anal.

But anyway, she took off my hat and wore it while we played flippy-cup. I was okay with it being gone for a while, but then I got antsy (even as drunk as I was). I needed that hat on my head.

And so, much like Frodo's ring, it has become a part of me. It's my precious.

I'm wearing the thing until no amount of duct tape and sacrificial lamb's blood can save it.

If you're lucky, I'll let you wear it too.

- - - - -

This weekend was like an ex-girlfriend roundup, Rob Gordon-style. Leah at IKEA, Dayna at her going-away party, and (perhaps?) Katie on the drive home, all I was missing was a few key people on the in-between.

It was nice to be accepted back into Daynas circle: her friends, her family, and even her new boyfriend. At times it was like I never left.

The most touching, though, was when Days dad Mike put his hand on my shoulder, shook my hand, and told me I was welcome at his house anytime I was in the neighborhood.

I meant what I said, he said before he left.

Later, when I was plastered-drunk, and climbing the stairs to the guest room to sleep, I could hear him sleeping, and I thought about all the times before I heard the same thing. About all the time we picked on each other, over breakfast or out on the deck. About how he welcomed me into his home all the times before, for almost two years, and about how much all that meant to me (and about how much that's all been fucked up recently).

I miss it. All of it. But I dont regret how things have turned out since then, and how life has changed so much.

But maybe what this weekend taught me was, sometimes life doesnt change as much as we think.

My visit with Leah while she was at work was a little awkward. Usually, we find all kinds of things to talk about. We catch up, we goof around, just like we always do. This time, though, was different. I asked her about her job, and how it was going, and it started to feel like an question/answer session.

I feel like Im interviewing you, I said.

Her life has changed a lot more than mine - a fiance, a kid, and a new life in a new part of the state will do that. Despite all the time, however, we can still be friends and enjoy each others company, however briefly.

Just the way it should be, I guess. And I wouldn't have been surprised if I would've seen that mysterious, disappearing ex. But it was not to be.

Maybe that's a good thing.

- - - - -

And finally, here's to summer.

Here's to walleye fish-fries, and eating dinner out on the deck, and sweating on the way home from work in my shirt and tie and slacks.

Here's to visiting friends, and heading to the lake to swim, and sun burns that make your entire body peel.

Here's to meeting exciting new people, and revisiting friends, and to staying home most nights and doing my own thing. In shorts and sandals.

Here's to summer. May it never end.

Monday, July 17, 2006

On Superman

[It was while watching "Superman Returns" that some ideas and feelings I've had about Superman - particularly, my disgust - gelled, and became the following. Far from scholarly or even well-researched, I guess this is just some thoughts I've been thinking about since the "Doomsday" series back in the early '90s, when Superman "died." I've always had a big beef with the anti-underdog, especially in comics, but I do respect Superman because it was him who Started it All in the 1930s. All heroes, in some form or another, can trace their roots back to Kal-El - or at least to Kal-El's roots.

But still, I just can't root for the guy. Here's why...]


The idea for a Superman came long before Seigel and Schusters Depression-era funny book incarnation. Humans have lived with the super probably since we first learned to think and talk. Gods, demi-gods, angels, and aliens are all manifestation of our need for something more-than-human. A super human ideal has given us something to strive for and something to believe in.

So its no surprise that our modern Superman follows much the same pattern as previous super-folk did: a traveler from a distant planet, who experiences a life alien to his own, develops powers beyond the scope of mortal men and uses them to affect benevolent change. Despite much overhaul over Supermans 70-year history, his story is still iconic: like Moses, he was whisked away to safety as a child, growing up and learning about his true responsibilities. His father, like Jesuss own, ordained him as a savior-of-sorts for humankind (this borrowing also hints at the Golem of Jewish lore). Our Superman uses a disguise to mask his extraordinary gifts, and develops a life outside of his otherwordly persona, so that he can life a normal life while still doing deeds of derring-do, much as the Greek gods would transform into mere mortals to have sex or enact revenge on the humans below Olympus.

The Greeks developed a soap-opera pantheon of gods because they could reflect upon their own passions and realize that even the beings that shape the world (like politicians and celebrities today) have faults, and they make for outstanding stories. In this, Superman acts as Clark Kent to experience the hum-drum daily life of an ordinary American who works a regular job and falls in love with a spunky co-worker. Much like the Greek gods, this charade isnt necessary: he has the power to forego any disguise and merely take what he wants through brute force (as the Olympians often did). What makes him a superhero, however, is that he doesnt use his superhuman powers to bully his way into happiness. This, weve learned, is because he was raised by a hard-working pair of Kansas farmers, the Kents, who taught him to value truth, justice, and the American way.

Its this ideal that leads Superman into Earth-saving adventures as a kind of protector of the planet. Batman and the Flash (in the DC Comics universe) can help the downtrodden or the robbed business owner, but it is Superman - and usually Superman alone - who can stop earthquakes and asteroids from raining certain doom on the Earth. Superman is nothing more than a colorful (and even-tempered) Jupiter, a paternal protector who sees his powers as a responsibility to help those that - far down, on the planet below - cant help themselves.

How, then, can we identify with Superman? What is it about him that endears us - for more than 75 years now - and places him on the pedestal in the American mythology?

It certainly cant be his abilities, although any Futurist with a lust for power or an awkward teen who wishes for stability in an awkward time can desire the fantastic ability to fly at will, or to level whole mountain ranges with a well-placed punch. Superman is indeed super - so super that his powers are unmatched in the super hero world. He lacks only the power to manipulate reality itself to become truly godlike. Flight, invulnerability, super strength, heat vision, cold breath - the Platonic four elements of nature brought to life. Supermans only weakness is Kryptonite, the radioactive remains of his homeworld, which so far have not proved sufficient in defeating him. The reach of his powers stretches so far, in fact, that in the 1980s (with the help of John Byrne), DC dampened his powers in a revolutionary retelling of the Superman story (see the Man of Steel series). Prior to the mid 80s, Superman could run near or past the speed of light, leaving him at odds with the laws of the known universe (and therefore truly godlike, since reality would seemingly not apply to him). It may be only Batman, whos superior intellect and vast cunning, could undo and sidestep Supermans might by exploiting any known weaknesses. All this power makes Superman an ideal, since no mortal - even aided by todays or the near futures technology - could come close to replicating Kal-Els abilities.

Supermans altruistic philosophy is also the stuff of legend, and therefore leaves him unworthy of our sympathy. If Supermans job is to protect his adopted people, what are we to think of all the crimes and terrors that he cant save us from? He cant be everywhere at once, of course. So do we accept that Superman can only help out when and where he can? And do we leave it up to him which duties to take on? Frank Miller, in the amazing Dark Knight Returns series, saw this potential for exploition by making Superman a tool of the Reagan administration to wreck havoc on the Soviets and furthur extend Americas military capabilities. Who, after all, can stand up to a nation that has Superman on its side?

But why America? Why not Britain, say, or India? One could argue that it is Supermans adopted home of Kansas that leads him to fondness for the U.S.A., but would an alien being - with no real ties to this planet - really pick a small square of Midwestern land to identify with? Is this why we identify with Superman, because he calls the geographical and (some might say) emotional center of the country?

Supermans secret identity, Clark Kent, is an extension of Kal-Els attempts at fitting in on Earth. While Kal-El himself has often argued that Clark is the real personality, while Superman is merely an extension of Kal-Els awesome abilities, its hard not to think that Clark is merely Kal-El pretending to be human. While his roots in the Kents are strong, he still acts as mild-mannered Clark Kent, a bumbling, shy, introverted reporter. The fear of being found out as Superman is nil (even Lex Luthor said that no mere mortal, everyday human could be as powerful as Superman, and no one think to look for Supermans identity in the average Joe, making - as Batman even said - Supermans disguise a perfect one), but he still hides his Kansas- and Krypton-born identities behind glasses and a reporters notebook. Perhaps its his lack of any measurable personal life that makes the personna of Clark Kent ring hollow - as opposed to Peter Parker, Spider-Man, who spends most of his days not as the superhero but as a married schoolteacher. Peter Parker is a human given extraordinary powers, while Kal-El is an alien with powers who acts human.

Part of the act is to protect Earth and its citizens from harm. But why? Supermans adopted responsibility is purely benevolent. Unlike, say, Batman - who watched his parents die before his eyes - or Spider-Man - who was responsible for his uncles death - Superman has witnessed no trauma or life-altering circumstances to shape his altruistic attitude. In Byrnes retelling, Kal-El saves the Earth from a crash-landing spaceship. Is that enough to make a hero? Or, more importantly, is the story instilled with enough sense of drama to make it believable? And how much drama can be infused in a story about a character who can survive a nuclear blast?

His incredible abilities, as mentioned before, also make Superman a less-than-identifiable hero. In some cases (Batman, Spider-Man) the sense of underdog gives us a reason to root for the hero. Batman has no superpowers - none at all - but defeats his ever-legendary rogues gallery through superior intellect and fear. Spider-Man is the constant underdog. Rarely do things even in his normal life go his way, and often he is found in circumstances (often on an intergalactic level) that are far beyond his scope. But with Superman, everything is within reason. Theres nothing really to root for because, even in death, we know Superman can never be defeated. He ages slowly, he may not need to eat (gaining his strength from our yellow sun, photosynthesis-like), hes invulnerable - its hard to cheer for a hero who has everything going his way.

In recent comics, in fact, writers have steadily increased his powers. Superman is - or has the potential to be - a god. Rare is the character that can match him, and often - when such a character is created - they become even more unbelievable powered than Kal-El.

Despite his rural roots, Superman continues to exist outside the sphere of human understanding. While mortal, his powers are so great that to define his as mortal is to stretch the words meaning. Perhaps capable of death, however unlikely is more appropriate. But still Superman remains in the lore and stories of 20th- and 21st-century America. Indeed, he is among the pantheon of the modern gods, existing in that murky realm between science fiction and the Ubermensch, a way to help us make sense of and be hopeful of the universe around us. Sent to Earth to save humans from whatever ills befall them, Superman is our protector - and like religious protectors, his very being lies just outside our comprehension. Could such a being exist and, if so, would he be as benevolent as he is in the comic books and movies he appears in?

The stories continue, and we are always left with our imagination.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Just like riding a bike

"With my belly full I intended to get something done." - The Tragically Hip, 'The Bear'

- - - - -

It was right about the time a giant mutant woodchuck went scrambling through the brush that I thought, "Jesus, maybe I'm in over my head."

My iPod shuffled through weirdly pastoral songs - "In Dreams" by Roy Orbison, "The Bear" by the Tragically Hip, "Once Upon a Time" by Smashing Pumpkins - and had long ago abandoned any sort of rational playlist for a sort of jived-up LSD trip through the backwoods of mid-Michigan.

I was riding like a werewolf down the Falling Water Trail, a semi-complete bike and walking path that goes west from Jackson to Concord. Only days before I had broken out the bike, filled the tire with air at the local gas station, and re-learned how to ride the damn thing on a sweaty Saturday.

It's been years since I've ridden my bike. Since at least junior year at AC, it had been sitting in the ATO basement, neglected and moldy, until I rescued it and took it in to the local bike shop for repairs after this year's graduation. I abandoned the beast when it blew a tire on my way to get popcorn at the Adrian Wesco the summer I lived on campus. I never thought about it after that, especially when I inherited "Das Boot": my grandpa's tank of a Mercury Grand Marquis. It was my only real transportation that summer of excess after sophomore year. It was a shame to put it down so harshly.

But since I've moved to Alpine Lake, I've caught the bike-riding bug. I take walks at Cascades Park and envy the bastard bikers speeding by.

It used to be that, as a kid, a bike circumnavigated your entire known world. Remember that? Remember when the bounderies of reality were bordered by how far you could pedal? Training wheels to look-Ma-no-hands, your freedom depended on how well you could handle your wheels and chain.

I remember going from the corner of 23rd and Michigan Ave, back in junior high, to downtown Jackson every week to stop into Nostalgia Ink for the latest comics. It had to have been a two- or three-mile trek, but I looked forward to that weekly ride. I'd stop and grab a Slushee at the now-closed drug store downtown, whiz by the monstrous mansions down West Washington, and throw the bike in the front yard (kick stand be damned!) to read the latest adventures of the Amazing Spider-Man.

That was my whole world in sixth and seventh grade.

Now I've traveled to the West Coast and back by myself, and I head to Detroit at least once or twice a month, in a car. But still, nothing compares to the freedom you felt as a kid when you kicked that kickstand and pedalled off, chores undone.

Not that I want to recreate that feeling now, but I fixed my bike to get some exercise, enjoy the summer air, and explore my neighborhood. Saturday, after I filled the front tire with air, it took a little getting used to, but - as they say - it was just like riding a you-know-what. I traveled around the apartment parking lot at first to get my bearings and to see if the tire would hold air. It did, so I went a little farther, into Ella Sharp Park next door, and tried the trails that criss-cross the park. The bike was fine. So I hit the Falling Water Trail to West Ave., pedalled up to the gas station, grabbed a Gatorade, and went a few more miles through Cascades and on back home. This is what I missed.

Today, after dinner, I hit the Falling Water again, just to see how far I could go. I went through the paved section, passing walkers, bunnies and rasberry bushes, onto the unpaved section. No skid-outs, no crashes (although a minor freak-out when I saw something brown with legs around my right ear), no problems at all until I hit a sand patch near a construction site. I slid, stopped, and decided that was as far as I was willing to go.

By now I had worked up a good sweat. I turned around and went back to West Ave, up the hill where all the beautiful Republican houses are, and took Fourth Street home. A beautiful day, and a wonderful ride.

Just like when I was a kid, I'm exploring places you just can't get to in a car. I'm even thinking about riding to work on Fridays, our dress-down days, just to see a different neighborhood each time I go.

When I'm alone, I find myself exploring.

But I'll really feel like an 11-year-old Dave when I can stand on the cross bar flying down a hill.

Who's with me?