birthdays, Clinton, life, Politics

The memories I wear

October 7, 2021

Back in the 90s, I spent some time truckin’ around the country reporting on presidential politics for the Voice of America, trying to make sense of our quadrennial circus for a radio, TV, and eventually online audience all over the world. The gig could be fun but was far from cushy and was often demanding (try explaining the Electoral College to people overseas who don’t learn about it in school like we do).

Along with a few extra pounds and the ability to function on zero sleep, I picked up a ton of memorabilia: buttons, press badges, coffee mugs, and t-shirts. The shirts acquired holes, shrank, and languished in a drawer – until my wonderful wife turned them into the best birthday present I’ve received in all my years.*

She scanned the graphics from half a dozen of these relics and combined them into the extremely cool new garment I’m wearing above. It’s a visual diary of the times, spanning Republican and Democratic campaigns, nominating conventions, and debates. Most of the shirts were made by the parties, though the one with the Bill Clinton caricacture was done by an NBC crew under the title “Camp Pain,” which was a running joke among the press for several election cycles.

Those days were so hectic that the who, what, when, where, and why are mostly a blur. However, this gift brings back memories, especially of all the great VOA journalists who helped me along the way, even the editor who kept me up half the night rewriting a debate story that didn’t meet our standards. He’s gone now, but is probably looking down and hoping I’ll get this one right. (I’m working on it, Jack.)

Between the pandemic and the reminder that I’m getting older, I’d been feeling a bit blue about my birthday. No more. Next time I’ll tell you about the workday on the campaign trail that began in a mob of screaming kids and ended 23 hours later amid the fragrance of a paper mill. Take care and be safe.


*A classified number. Let’s just say I’m too old for Paul to serenade me with, “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

Shirt back with slogan Journalism Maintains Democracy.
You better believe it!
Covid 19 pandemic, life, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: Useful terms

September 9, 2021

Limbo. The word originated with the Latin limbus, meaning boundary or border. In Catholic theology it’s the place between heaven and hell, for those who die in original sin but aren’t among the damned in the underworld. It has nothing to do with the dance shown below, though it feels like the pandemic has forced me into similar contortions.

Hell. According to Jean-Paul Sartre, it’s other people. It’s also the realm whose hottest, most painful spot should be reserved for WHOEVER INVENTED THE BLOODY LEAF BLOWER THAT’S BLASTING OUTSIDE MY WINDOW. But I digress.

If J. P. had to navigate this country right now, he’d amend his definition to “unvaccinated, unmasked other people and the shitheads who lead them on.” (That’s connards for all you French purists.)

Smart. What jam-packed football stadiums are not. Kudos to LSU and the other schools that require proof of vaccination or a negative test.

Mandate. Formerly a bureaucratic buzzword; now radioactive. Not to be confused with mansplaining. However, the rabid anti-mandaters are often overbearing, bad-tempered men, while the nurses who hold their hands in their last moments are almost always women.

The Fish Cheer. If you’re too young to remember Woodstock (or got so stoned that you forgot you were there): This was when Country Joe McDonald of Country Joe & the Fish yelled, “Gimme an F! Gimme a U!” etc., from the stage and the crowd yelled the letters and the word back at him.

In those times, f*** never appeared in print or on the three TV networks we had. Today’s culture has freed us to use all its variations and forms: “Oh My Fucking God, Get the Fucking Vaccine Already, You Fucking Fucks.” Imagine 100,000 people screaming that. Maybe at an LSU game!

Take care and be safe. I’ll be saying this for a while longer, but not forever. I mean it, too. Gimme a T!

Fiction, football, hometown, life

New season, new story

Dead mule with legs in the air.
Southern fiction needs one of these!

Just in time for the season, my latest short story is a parable about football. “Bobby Dean Goes Viral” appears in the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, which published another piece of mine last year.

In the South, the game is inextricable from faith and life. Of course, there are fiercely devoted fans in other places too, including the Midwest, where I grew up and went to college. You have to be dedicated if not mildly insane to sit in the stands for three or four hours when the mercury plunges below freezing and snow is swirling in your face.

Even so, football here in Georgia, Alabama, and the surrounding states is often part of one’s self, one’s sense of home. That’s why people like Bobby Dean get carried away and…no spoilers! I hope you enjoy my story and wherever you are, have a safe season. PS: Go Blue.

coronavirus, life, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: At the crossroads

August 10, 2021

I have some big choices to make: Compassion or fury? Hatred or empathy? Resilience or hopelessness? Depression or mere frustration?

If you haven’t guessed, these are the emotions and impulses rolling around my brain like surfers on a big wave, in light of the ghastly upsurge in Covid cases, hospitalizations, and now deaths. Most of the time I’m mad as hell at the willfully stupid unvaxxed. Not those who are uneasy because the vaccines are so new or the working people who can’t take time off for side effects or the Black people who remember Tuskegee. I mean the ones who put lives in danger for purely political reasons and the legion of cretins who cheer them on.

The impact of these people’s selfishness ripples far beyond their own families and friends. Right now a lot of Atlanta hospitals are so overrun with Covid cases that they’re being forced to divert emergency patients elsewhere.

Chart showing covid patients overwhelming hospitals and emergency rooms.

If I have a heart attack or get hit by a car, I might not get treated quickly enough to save my life. Because people won’t take a vaccine. Just like the ones that wiped out smallpox and polio and still save millions of kids from measles, mumps, and rubella.

Meanwhile in Florida, where I used to make my home, the governor wants to cut off the salaries of school administrators who mandate masks for children, most of whom have no vaccine available. Let that sink in.

It’s no wonder I’m PO’d. However, as John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) once said, “Anger is an energy.” It helps me write, which in turn keeps my head level, and allows me to cope with disappointments and burnout.

I’m determined not to fall into the pit of hatred and bile. I take no pleasure in seeing anyone sick and dying, not even anti-vaxxers. However, it made my day when one of the most loathsome was suspended from Twitter. Take care, mask up, and be safe.

Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.

John Lewis, Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America

Covid 19 pandemic, Florida, life, Politics

A pandemic diary: Small, slow steps

Man offering hand to shake.

May 11, 2021

First actual handshake in fourteen months? Check, and it felt great. Unmasked conversations with other vaccinated people? Check. Go face-naked outdoors? Check. Feel a lot less paranoid about doorknobs, mail, packages, keypads, and waiting-room furniture? Double-check!

Toss the hand sanitizer altogether? Nuh-uh, not for me, not just yet. This also goes for indoor dining, theaters, and live music, even with distancing and reduced capacity. Though I’m vaxxed and local cases are down, the risk is still there, largely because Georgia is crawling with anti-jabbers who’ll likely stop us from ever reaching herd immunity.

I wish I could stop saying this, but after surviving the last year, I’m not risking my life for a meal or a movie. Not even Gulf shrimp, my favorite food in the world, or an IMAX double feature of “Bull Durham” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” could tempt me into an unsafe space. Speaking of which: a couple of malignant cretins recently staged a rally where a thousand people were jammed into a room designed for 400 to create the image of an overflow crowd. That’s the oldest trick in the political campaign book. Many in the over-55 audience are probably vaccinated. It’s still brutally irresponsible.

Grocery shopping in-store with a cart? Probably never again. Online ordering and curbside pickup save time, and more importantly, spare my aging feet from trudging over concrete floors. I don’t need to stand there pondering fifteen varieties of arugula, especially since I don’t even eat the stuff. (Tastes like grass clippings.)

Go back to the office? I’m retired, but if I had a full-time gig I’d want to WFH as much as possible. My last position was essentially virtual, with colleagues from Seattle to Denver to DC, and we always got the job done. (However, online chat can be more annoying and less productive than the water-cooler kind). Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, life

A pandemic diary: Deuce

March 8, 2021

Emory Healthcare button with igottheshot hasgtag.

My second dose went in just fine. I didn’t feel anxious about being in a crowd at the clinic, like the first time. Best of all, I dodged the onerous side effects that sometimes come with round 2: no chills, fatigue, fever, or muscle aches. My arm itches a little but isn’t sore. I feel very blessed to belong to what’s still an exclusive club.

What does this mean for my everyday life? Not much. The new CDC guidance says certain small indoor gatherings are okay for vaccinated people, which means I could visit my grandchildren if I had any. Long-distance travel, however, is still dicey, so my wife and I will have to scrub our Florida trip again.

Even after I reach full immunity in two weeks, my calendar won’t include restaurant dinners, movies at reopened theaters, haircuts, gym memberships, massage therapy, or live music. The highest protection level the drugs offer is 95% – not 100% – and they may be less effective against variants of the virus, which are everywhere. Cases have plateaued at what the doctors call a very high level. Our Republican governor, who opened the floodgates for last summer’s surge, hasn’t gone full Texas yet but it may be just a matter of time.

Most important, it’s not clear whether vaccinated people can spread the virus to others. I’m not about to risk the life of someone I love – or a stranger – for a cheeseburger. If I meet you on the street, I’ll be behind my N95 and will keep a distance, but for reading my ramblings you already have a raincheck for a handshake and a hug. Take care and be safe.

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, life

A pandemic diary: One down

February 17, 2021

Doctor holding needle with vaccine.
Photo by RF._.studio on Pexels.com

As of last week, I’m among the ranks of the half-protected, a lot luckier than many of us because I didn’t have to scramble for vaccine. My regular medical provider emailed me to ask if I needed it, confirmed I was eligible ten days later, and two weeks after that, they offered me an appointment.

Elated and slightly anxious, I drove through the rain to the vaccination site, a former department store in one of Atlanta’s countless malls. My nerves hit the roof when I walked inside and for the first time in nearly a year found myself in a big indoor space with a crowd of people(!). Everyone wore a mask and the staff kept us distanced, but it still felt strange. My social skills will need a serious reset when this is over.

Fortunately, everything moved smoothly: from consent form to check-in line to injection and waiting time afterward (to be sure there were no serious effects). Though the scientists say both vaccines work equally well, I was glad to get Pfizer because it’s made in my hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, which hasn’t had much to cheer about since the last recession.

After less than an hour, I was done and had an appointment for my second shot, which some people are finding tough to arrange due to uncertain supplies. The injection spot was a little sore and itchy for a day or two, but I’ve had worse from routine jabs in the past. I’ve heard the side effects of round two are often worse; I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it (and it can’t come soon enough).

For now, life hasn’t changed, and I doubt that it will even after I’m fully immunized. The Atlanta and Georgia case and death numbers are down from the hideous levels of last month but anything resembling normal is still much, much too risky. While we still don’t know how bad the variants are, the latest news about the British one isn’t good. The scariest story I’ve read recently is about a covid long-hauler in what should be the prime of her life, suffering for nearly a year with no end in sight. Take care and be safe.

Covid 19 pandemic, depression, life, new old age

State of the (re)union

Though we’ve just plunged into 2021, I’m already musing about an unwelcome milestone coming in 22: my fiftieth high school class reunion. I have no intention of going, yet it’s looming on my mental horizon like a lake freighter with a cargo of memories, most of which I’d just as soon forget.

That period wasn’t terrible, because I learned a lot and went on to a great university. It wasn’t “Happy Days” or “The Wonder Years” either. My father died during my last semester of junior high (the 1960s-70s version of middle school), and I began high school depressed and shaken, always waiting for the next catastrophe to strike. Those emotions must have been written on my face because some wiseass in gym started calling me “Smiley.” All this was on top of adjusting to a new place and starting to think seriously about college. (I know I’m dating myself: today they probably hand out Harvard brochures with the apple juice in preschool.)

Eventually the black dog left my side, but I was still light years from being a cool kid or BMOC. Naturally shy, bookish, and hopeless at sports, I would’ve been a nerd or a geek if those words had been invented yet. I was even in the chess club (second from right, with more hair than I’ve had since).

Dave watching chess match with club members and faculty advisor.
Any future grandmasters here?

Instead of a Hollywood fairy tale where the ugly ducklings soar, high school was a slog, like a visit to the DMV or a stomach virus. Once I got to college, though, the bad vibes faded fast. At freshman orientation I partied, played Frisbee on the football field, and began to find my new self. I kept in touch with a couple of old friends for a while, but we soon went separate ways. I never made it to the tenth, twentieth, or any other reunions.

So why am I preoccupied by this one? I’m on the far side of 65, when we tend to think about the past and our mortality, especially now. I’m also reminded of those I’ve lost, including three classmates who died long ago, one from HIV, two by suicide. I realize that this reunion is my last chance to be with those who are left. I also know that some of them would look at my name tag and still see only the geek. I’m not going halfway across the country for that.

The best thing I took from high school was “Our Town,” and its message about life: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?” and, “Once in a thousand times, it’s interesting.” I won’t waste a minute reliving a past I never wanted anyway. I wish everyone a happy time; I just won’t be there. Take care and be safe.

2020 election, Covid 19 pandemic, humor, life, music

A pandemic diary: Letter to younger self

October 16, 2020

Message in a bottle.

You’ve probably heard of and maybe indulged in the exercise of writing a letter to your younger self. The idea is to take stock, reflect, set down the big lessons of the past, and promise to live by them in the future.

That’s all well and good, but I’ve already made a reverse bucket list of the dumb things I did and great things I didn’t at various stops on life’s elevator. (“First floor: Childhood. Watch out for measles, bullies, and sixth-grade math. Second floor: Adolescence. Eh, just forget it.”) My 20, 30, and 40-year-old selves were so hopeless that I don’t even want them in my head. Besides, all I could offer would be cliches: “Check your tires. Buy Microsoft stock (not Netscape).”

The only previous-edition Dave who could actually use my advice is the 65-year-old geezer who emerged last fall, and like all of us had no idea he was about to tumble into the slop. He’d wish he’d known these things, but maybe y’all can still appreciate some of them.

  • Rent a warehouse and fill it to the rafters with toilet paper. You’ll thank me in March.
  • Forget the wardrobe upgrade. Those sweatpants from the last millennium, the ones with the barbecue sauce and motor oil stains, will be just fine!
  • If you live with a spouse or partner, make a rule that only one of you is allowed to go bonkers at a time. (This comes from my brother-in-law, who learned it while cooped up on a bus with his band.)
  • You’ll hear a lot from a man named Fauci. Trust him.
  • When watching football, please don’t scream at the top of your lungs to make up for all the fans who aren’t in the stands.
  • FFS don’t shell out 70 bucks so your school will put your face on a piece of cardboard in a seat. You’ll be deeply, seriously embarrassed about that one when this is over. Give the money to a food bank instead.
  • Try not to get riled every time you see some nincompoop in public without a mask. It’ll happen a lot more often than you think. Just keep wearing yours.
  • There will be ways to vote and make your voice heard safely.

Last but not least, music will help you through the rough days and make the better ones feel right. Since I’m writing to my younger self, I’ll close with these words: “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” Makes sense to me. Take care and be safe.

humor, life

Tea for two (and for dummies)

Could you make me some tea? Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to show up at my door with a “cuppa,” as the British would say, or a glass of the sweet variety preferred here in the South. I’m just inquiring, most politely, if this task falls within y’all’s life experience and the scope of your brainpower.

I’m asking because it seems we’ve become so witless, so clueless, so lamebrained, so doltish, dopey, daft, and distracted that we need careful instructions for every last little thing. One of our leading producers of sweetener puts this step list on the package in the apparent belief that “iced” and “tea” form an unknown, dangerous construct.

Iced tea recipe.

They probably have to say, “from scratch” for people who think it comes, “from Starbucks.” Actually, we’re all so addled by the times that the list doesn’t go far enough. In the spirit of public service and safety, I’ve provided an expanded, annotated version below. I won’t even ask SPLENDA© for compensation (and I truly do love their product and I’m nowhere near rich enough to sue).

INGREDIENTS

2 cups boiling water (The cups themselves are not to be boiled, just the water. See below.)
6 tea bags (That’s the number between 5 and 7.)
2 cups SPLENDA© No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated (This has nothing to do with your grandmother.)
6 cups cold water (Yes, you need both cold and heated water. Keep reading, willya?)
1 lemon slice for garnish (Take note of the word “garnish.” You’ll soon understand why.)

DIRECTIONS

Get off couch. Walk into kitchen. Find teakettle. (This may involve yelling, “Where did you hide my teakettle this time, mush-for-brains?” at your partner.)
Fill teakettle with water and place on “burner” on stove. (The name refers to the fact that the device will burn you if you happen to touch it. To verify this, ask your cat.)
Turn on heat. When water starts bubbling and steaming but BEFORE it escapes and spews all over the place, it is “boiling.”
In a heatproof pitcher, add boiling water and tea bags. Cover and steep* for 20 minutes. (See definition below. It has no connection to the actress named Meryl.)
Remove tea bags and squeeze into brew before discarding. (The bags, not the brew.)
Stir in SPLENDA© sweetener and cold water. Serve at room temperature over ice (Iced tea is, generally, most of the time, served over ice) and garnish with the lemon slice. We already told you to find one lemon slice for garnish. Now, just in case you FORGOT OR COULDN’T COMPREHEND WHAT ALL THAT WAS FOR, we’re telling you again: garnish with the lemon slice! Isn’t this a great country?
Keep refrigerated. (Good idea. I know I need to cool down.)


* Verb (used with object); to soak in water or other liquid, as to soften, cleanse, or extract some constituent: to steep tea in boiling-hot water; to steep reeds for basket weaving. Be sure you don’t mix up the tea and the reeds.