Friday, July 31, 2009

The Real Huffington Post

Yowza. I coaxed my aging legs to give me five miles on the bicycle.

Five miles? I’m celebrating five miles? Yep. And I’ll be happy if I make it to ten miles by the end of summer. Too much surgery for long hauls.

Five miles doesn’t qualify me to ride as a domestique for Lance Armstrong anywhere except in my fantasy. But I hurt just as though it did. My legs burned. My pacemaker hummed. Twice, I had to find a park bench in the shade. Thumpa, thumpa. Strangers fretted. Lassie ran for help.

Worth it? Damned straight. I need that bike.

The payback is immediate and lasts all day. Even into the night. Immediately, my head is cleared. All that blood rushing to my brain. Admittedly, my legs are jello at first. But gradually, I notice more spring in my step. The energy refreshes my aging frame. Even my knees don’t pop so loud. I sleep better at night.

The doctors are right about exercise. Do some.

Always, carry your cell phone and memorize the number for 911.

PS: Watch for me on a road near you -- and get the hell outta the way.
I'm still wobbly.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Want to write a book?

And now for something different. Read the following paragraph and I’ll explain:

When he shouted, “Broccoli tonight? You know I hate it!” and pushed away his place, she realized he could no longer be trusted. In none of their brief conversations during a twenty-five-year marriage had broccoli ever been mentioned. From now on, she knew he might say anything.

That short piece is from a wonderful little book in a series called A Magazine of Paragraphs Summer of 1989. (Click here.) Only 32 pages long. Only 3” by 4” in size. A book of mere paragraphs, unrelated paragraphs. Strangely captivating, the paragraphs are about anything. Everything. Some are funny, some are not. Some are poignant, some are not. You get the picture. Each is written by a different author.

That gives me an idea. (and that's usually where the trouble begins...)

Let’s try something. Let’s write a book of single paragraphs – on aging. Any aspect of aging: retirement, grandchildren, health, love, shoe laces, regularity, pill boxes, sports, money. Anything. Even oblique references. Mood pieces. Make us think, help us feel. Any length.

Why aging? For one thing, if we are lucky, everybody ages. But everybody does it differently. What works for you scares hell outta me. Yet, there are some constants.

Plus, aging is a growth market. All those newbies (boomers) will buy the book. They will welcome the training wheels.

Send me your paragraph. If enough of you want to play, maybe we can write a book together. Seriously.

Hurry. We don’t have that much time left.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cash for guns, sex and clunkers

If you qualify for the Cash for Clunkers program, knock $4,500 off the price you pay for a new vehicle. Hmmm. That just about covers the depreciation that occurs the minute you drive the new car off the lot.

There are tender signs that the economy is rebounding. The stock market it up. Housing sales are up. But appraisal rules are tougher and loans are harder to get. This week, earnings reports come in. And unemployment still lags. Don’t get happy yet.

This will be my first winter in Minnesota. Firewood is already on sale. It’s still July and already I’m getting hints about how to walk on ice and snow. From the mail man. And advice about what kind of snow shovel to buy. Everybody says size matters.

For a guy who preened all over TV talk shows recently, Dick Cheney has fallen strangely quiet. Some men have trouble with retirement. Like a lot of old guys his age, Cheney was just trying to prove he is still sponge-worthy.

A Remington .41 caliber Double Derringer that once belonged to John Dillinger sold at auction for $95,000. Isn’t that a little twisted? To bestow such wealth on a gangster’s weapon? Rather than a cop’s? Gun nuts.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


The recession caused lots of construction-site dumpsters to sit around, unloved and unused. But leave it to New Yorkers to come up with a novel use for the empties. Turn them into swimming pools and rent ‘em out. Start with a relatively clean dumpster, grind away any rough edges, put sand in the bottom, line with sheets of plastic, fill with water, build a deck and you’re in the swim. Gives a whole new dimension to dumpster diving.

Every second of every hour, some 60,000 plastic bags are dispensed in the U.S. They never rot in the landfills.

Amazon stats show only 10% of their customers who buy jazz CDs also buy classical music. Apparently not many of us go both ways. Oh, stop it.

In the mists of history, our early gods were quirky gods. A thunder god, for example, would get his/her panties in a wad if the people combed their hair during a storm. Book tout: read “The Evolution of God.” It is provocative and controversial without yelling at you. Were I forced to choose, I would pick polytheism over monotheism. Better odds at hitting a winner.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Race relations -- why so hot?

Race relations. Now we’re talking.

The policeman, the professor and the president are each playing to type. Each is playing his role in the American narrative.

I think the president reacted to his own past experiences with the humiliation of profiling. The professor certainly reacted to the historical sting. The cop responded to his experiences with black crime in the streets.

Was the confrontation inevitable?

Control. That’s part of the police DNA. Get control of the situation. That’s what the Cambridge cop was trying to do. Subdue the subject if necessary.

It didn’t help that the professor has a mouth on him. Loud, high-toned, angry—all markers for uppity. But it is not against the law to be angry with a policeman. Nor is it against the law to be loud in your own living room.

But the professor forgot “the code” that comes into play when black men deal with white cops: be deferential, speak with a soft voice, say “sir” a lot, don’t look the policeman in the eye. Black men have been taught this since they were children. Have little white boys? I wasn’t.

Most people say the president should have danced around the issue. At least, he should not have used “stupid” to describe the police.

Certainly, President Obama could have been political and ducked – but I like him better when he is human.

OK. As it has been for hundreds of years, race relations are back on the table. Complicated stuff but, please, let’s not retreat into fearful defenses.

Are we smart enough to find solutions? Or are we too stupid?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Race relations slow to change

Two years ago, I touched on police and race relations. The stuff is still going on:

My friend, Bob Lee, was giving me a tour of Houston's Fifth Ward one evening after feeding me home-cooked Creole gumbo. It was late, nearly midnight. Few cars were on the street.

"My brother, El Franco (a county commissioner for more than 20 years) got that community center built." Bobby said. "And he was instrumental in that project across the street." All through night, his pride in the neighborhood was showing. It was an eye-opening drive for me, even in the dead of night.

All of a sudden, Bobby was on full alert. "Cops," he said, looking down a side street.

"Now, George, if that cop pulls us over you be real careful to do everything he says. Don't look him in the eye. If he says lay down on the hood of the car, you lay down on the hood of the car. Don't mention Texas Weekly. Don't mention El Franco. Don't say nothing unless he asks you."

It wasn't fear talking. This had the ring of solid advice.

"But Bobby, why would a policeman stop us? We haven't done anything wrong," I said.

"Look at us, man. White guy, black guy driving around the Fifth Ward at midnight. To the cops, we look like drug dealers," he said. "Be cool or they will beat the s**t out of us."

This was coming from a man who is well-known in his community as a social worker and political organizer. Bob is "Da Mayor of Da Fifth Ward."

Fortunately, the police were not interested in us that night. But I will never forget it. Now I understand what's behind the phrase: driving while black. Profiling.

White people don't live wary of the police because they aren't routinely curbed and searched. Black people should not have to live worried about cops.

Most white people don't know this stuff goes on in the streets. It does. Every day. Ask Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who was arrested in his own living room.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Aging -- one, two, three

Sitting on the porch this morning, I began to ponder the wonders of aging.

For example, I wondered, how long has it been since I had a beer for breakfast?

Were those wild days really real? Or just a ffffft in my memory synapse? Is my mind playing make-believe with itself? Do I embellish stories because I used to be in politics? Detractors would say it’s because I used to be a reporter. Ignore them.

(Insert segue here.) I did remember that any weekday morning is better grocery shopping than the weekend. Nobody’s there. Well, a few. There are always about a dozen old Buicks playing bumper cars as we jockey for the few handicap-parking slots available.

You can always tell the temperature by watching Social Security recipients step outside. If it’s below 70 degrees, we wear a stylish windbreaker. Some of us, however, always sport heavier outerwear for expeditions to the frozen food section.

(Segue Two.) This week, I got back on my bicycle. Took longer to recover from winter surgery than I wanted. And, I got soft. I always brush my teeth before riding in Minneapolis. You never know – it might be Mary Tyler Moore giving you CPR.

This confuses the Mystery Woman. She thinks pulling the plug has something to do with jerking the power cord from my laptop so I will carry out the trash.

(Segue Three.) I drink a lot of water, too. Keeps my veins plumped up.

Not nearly as much fun as I think I remember the beer was.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sure. Blame the media

Although right wingers slobber and continue to pound the media, they won’t know what they are missing until after we are gone.

Herewith is a recent sampling from the newspapers:

“Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25”

“Get 50% off or half price, whichever is less”

“One-armed man applauds the kindness of strangers”

“A deputy responded to a report of a vehicle stopping at mailboxes. It was the mailman.”

“An Australian army vehicle worth $74,000 has gone missing after being painted with camouflage.”

“A woman in the 1900 block of 129th Lane Northeast reported that someone must have stolen her mail because she did not receive birthday cards from some of her friends.”

“Fish need water, Feds say”

“Alton attorney accidentally sues himself”

“County to pay $250,000 to advertise lack of funds”

“Caskets found as workers demolish mausoleum”

“Utah poison control center reminds everyone not to take poison”

“Federal agents raid gun shop, find weapons"

“Police: crack found in man’s buttocks”

“1:14 a.m.—caller reports hitting intruder in the head with an ax. Notes that intruder was in the mirror.”

“A caller reported that at 7:15 p.m. someone was yelling “help” on a porch from a residence on Bank Street. Officers responded and learned the person was calling for a cat named “Help”

“The Learning Center on Hansen Street reports that a man across the way stands at his window for hours watching the center, making the parents nervous. Police ID the subject as a cardboard cutout of Arnold Schwarzenneger.”

“An Edgewood man reported recently that this wife had gone missing some18 months ago.”
“For sale” human skull, used once”

“Tombstone. Standard gray. Good deal for someone named Grady.”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Native American pow wow

DATELINE: Prairie Island Indian Community, Minnesota

My first pow wow. What an incredible experience. Uniquely Native American. The grace. Exquisite and powerful at the same time. The diversity of their outfits was striking. A day later, I am absolutely awash with feelings.

They dance to honor life, their culture, community, family, the Earth, the Creator – and their warriors. Traditions run deep. The Indians are fiercely patriotic. There was a special dance to honor their veterans complete with flags for the fallen. A Native American lifted an American Eagle around the grassy arena. The underlying theme is respect.

It took 27 minutes for the 700 dancers to make the Grand Entry. Dancers came from as far away as Florida, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Saskatchewan. Eagle dancers, grass dancers, children dancers. Teenager dancers have adopted vibrant neon colors. Beautiful faces. Beautiful spirits. Many tribes.

European Americans have difficulty hearing the subtle tones within the songs and drums, but they are there. Native Americans, naturally, hear the differences. Perhaps it was sly humor, but we overheard Indians in the bleachers perk up at some new music: “That’s a good song. Let’s dance.”

You can dial up radio pow wow here.

(NOTE: tonight, we are walking down the Minnehaha Falls Park to take in Norway Day. The American melting pot is brim full right outside our front door.)

God bless Native America

Friday, July 10, 2009

Get in the truck, buddy

Who would have thought that trying to catch a cab would turn into a sweet little adventure. But things like this are always happening to me.

I was alone and confused near downtown Minneapolis. I kept calling the cab company, but the taxi driver simply could not find me amidst the road construction where I was waiting. My accent might have elevated the degree of difficulty.

A middle-aged woman had been observing my dilemma. “Where are you trying to go?” she asked.

“South Minneapolis.”

“My husband is picking me up. That’s where we are going. Want a ride?” She pointed to a pickup that had seen better days twenty years ago. There were shovels in the back.

My first thought was: “they’re going to take me to the woods and kill me.”

Instead of running away, I heard myself saying, “Many thanks” and crawling into the front seat, which was filled with clutter. Once shut, the passenger door would not re-open.

I couldn’t snap the seat belt so the husband leaned over and snugged it up tight. Yep, I thought, they are going to kill me.” The shovels in back took on ominous potential.

Casually, wanting to be in control, I described how to get to our house. “No,” the husband smiled, “that’s not the way we are going to go.” Now I was certain they were going to kill me.

I began to study their features so I could identify them in a police line-up, should I survive.

To my great relief, I was still alive when we meandered back streets and got to my block. But I still couldn’t get the door to open. The husband had to come around to the side to help. “So, this is how they will do it,” I thought. “Krav maga don’t fail me now.”

My mistake. They were Minnesota Nice personified. During the ride home, we made small talk where I learned she was a physical therapist but her real passion was singing. Once, she had appeared on Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion.” The ride duration was too short to learn the husband’s story.

They were just being nice. Seeing a stranger in distress. Offering to help. I don’t know if they were Lutherans or not. Never even got their name. But I did offer them a safe-conduct pass should they ever come to Texas. They can pick it up anytime; they know where I live.

They were just being nice.

Pass it on.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sara Palin -- acappella

Question: when she becomes a former governor, do we call her "her former honor?"

Sarah Palin – unplugged. No longer fettered by the weight of office, she can be free to speak her mind. Take notes because this is going to be a fun trip.

Friday she said: “it’s best for Alaska." By Sunday, she shifted to: “it’s about country.”

You've heard her twisted logic all weekend. Sarah Palin makes no sense, but she stirs up excellent political marinade. Cable news shows absolutely bathe in it.

The initial reaction on cable news shows was priceless as talking heads scratched for traction. CNN’s resident buffoon, Rich Sanchez, wondered if the governor might be pregnant.

On MSNBC, veteran Andrea Mitchell talked with people close to Palin and reported within the hour that the governor was serious about hanging up her political cleats. Getting out of politics. A word of caution: what may be true with Palin on Friday may not be true by Monday. At best, Palin has a fluid relationship with the truth.

Yes, Sarah has not yet left the building, but a national spokesperson? Who are we kidding? OK, like Gen. Edwin Walker maybe. Or J. Evetts Haley. Eventually, the heft of her own words will cause her to self-destruct.

But she will live forever as titular head of the ignorati.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day, great performance

Smokey Robinson sings the National Anthem

Game 5, World Series

Mets/Red Sox

Fenway Park

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The joy of winter

OK. Now I’m getting worried. Today is the First of July and I’m wearing sweats. It’s chilly in Minnesota this time of year, ya, you bet’cha. This is serious soup weather. Fifteen degrees below normal. Oatmeal anyone?

Two Minnesota men are damned bad writers – and proud of it. They both placed in the annual contest that celebrates putrid prose, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Book tout. Read Healing Spaces by Esther M.Sternberg, M.D. Something good clicks in your brain when you are immersed in soaring view, mountains, empty beaches, clouds. Got the picture? Disney did. Now hospitals and nursing homes are trying to follow suit with nicer surroundings. Makes the trip to the colonoscopy more pleasant.

Yesterday, in Phase One, U.S. troops began to pull out of the cities in Iraq (a move of only five to ten miles). Guess who made it political and fussed the loudest? Not the libs. It was Dick Cheney. Has he forgotten that the date for withdrawal was set under the Bush/Cheney administration?

Speaking of the crazy right wing, Rush Limbaugh claims President Obama has plans for a third term. How? He’s not even a U.S. citizen. Hell, Obama is probably an alien.

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