White Christmas for Liberia

A starving man gives thanks for even a banana leaf.

The Pastor’s proverb

 

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The Pastor’s wife peered thought the plate glass windows of the storage facility office into the swirling snow outside. She was waiting for the help to arrive. The Pastor was away, and she was in charge. When the Pastor was away, the helpers from the church members were not reliable. She was anxious because the ship date for the overseas container that they were filling from their storage unit was a few days away.

She was anxious also because of many other factors. She was separated from the Pastor who was back in Liberia, a country ripped asunder by a horrible war twenty years long with no end in sight. Back in her home starvation reigned in the areas where their church worked. Though the container would be laden with vitally needed supplies, she would have liked to have more food to send.

Liberia a dusty equatorial country created as a colony for freed American slaves and ruled for many generations by their descendants had fallen into a degenerative state during a very long civil war.

The curious manager of the property engaged the Pastor’s wife in conversation about Liberia. This helped her to pass the time. She related her tale of fearful resourcefulness in a world almost beyond belief to him. She was matter of fact with no need to impress and with nothing to sell to the manager who had only a vague interest in the place and nothing better to do as the snow fell.

The Pastor, a nondescript churchman, had rented a couple of storage units for collected donations. He was a mild, soft-spoken person who had an unusual feature: when he smiled, because of gaps in his top and bottom front teeth, a cross was revealed. The work of charity can be awkward; payments for the space were not always made on time and the manager had many occasions to talk with the Pastor.

A country whose infrastructure before the war was rudimentary at best had lost all of it during the conflict. The rebels, basically, packs of wilding teenagers drunk on bloodlust and liquor, were recruited in this manner: “Would you like some work?” “Yes”. “You are now a rebel.”

The most extreme examples of this type of soldier were the troops of one, General Joshua Milton Blahyi, aka General Butt Naked. Butt Naked’s troops would liquor up, strip down to nothing and boots, don women’s hats and purses and then raid a village. Hacking deaths and multiple rapes ensued. They were reputed to have played soccer with severed heads. Their pay – whatever they could rob from the villagers.

Consequently, anything for this ravaged country was a godsend. The space and the containers were filled with clothing, house wares and bicycles. The bicycles, a motley selection of discards, were the most prized. To the manager the spaces appeared like garages filled with old stuff that needed a good burning.

The Liberians were assisted in this effort by a local suburban church that had sponsored many of the refugees. The elderly white-haired sedate volunteers of the church stood in stark contrast to the colorfully dressed and demonstrative exiles that came from the Pastor’s church. Together they would fill the units and pack the containers. These kindly old men would go about their charity business with an air of bemused forbearance.

The Pastor’s wife related her story as she waited for her workers whose numbers varied now that their leader was not around. On other days the manager had observed her with only a single helper and help from the suburbs was an infrequent occurrence. She looked often into the snowy driveway as she talked.

To get to America she had to make it to the seaport of Buchanan from her base in the interior. No small feat as this journey was on foot through hazardous and hostile territory. Many ethnic areas had to be traversed. The slave descendants who are clustered around the capital constitute only 5% of the population; fifteen other competing ethnicities make up the rest.

She found herself trapped in a town as rebel troops rampaged through. She hid in a room with some others and one corpse. By sheer luck her group was not discovered by the drunken troops who sacked the house. As she made her way, she encountered what could loosely be called checkpoints. They were roadblocks that were bypassed with one bribe or another. In one area she learned that by placing limes in her baggage she would be given a pass because that tribe considered limes to be a sign of evil and were afraid of them.

A couple of helpers arrived at the property and she sent them to the container. Beyond the windows as she looked for more of them the sky dimmed and the snow falling heavily in the shafts of bright streetlamps created an ethereal fog-like effect. She had stopped talking and the manager glanced up from his desk. Tears were streaming down her face. In the spectral light were 3 pickup trucks pulling flat trailers. The beds of the trucks and trailers were heaped high with twenty-five-pound bags of rice.

Rice. In America an oft-scorned side dish. But as welcome to a starving man as a banana leaf. Thousands of meals rolled in with those trucks that Christmas Eve 2004. The old dudes, with a fair showing of Liberians who straggled in, loaded the container. They shook hands around and got back on the road in the snow to their church and warm holiday gatherings in the suburbs.

In the next year or so things would lift in that war torn country. The first elected woman president in Africa, Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson took office. She has a large task ahead. Currently there are 15,000 UN troops in the country maintaining a tenuous order. Today in the capital, Monrovia, there is still no reliable electricity and running water.

President Sirleaf-Johnson forges forward and stresses that improvement will require many small steps. Small things such as: a banana leaf, a banged-up bike, a cup of rice, an evening of straining and snow driving, the organizing of a motley crew and the word of the Pastor that all of this matters.

(from Open Salon. 12/30/2009)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks, Donald: The Robber’s Tale

(Originally posted 11/25/09 on Open Salon)

In early 2003, a 20-year-old convenience store clerk named Eric Pearson was gunned down during a particularly senseless robbery. According to reports Eric was too slow in producing the cash from the register in the anxious mind of the gun-toting perpetrator. Maybe the dude needed a little coaching…

I clerked, managed and supervised in the convenience store industry for over twenty years. Early on in my career, March of 1981, I had the pleasure of getting robbed at gunpoint while pulling a graveyard shift. Shortly after the incident I met a character that, rather suspiciously, seemed to know a lot about my robbery. He offered counsel to me in his way and gave me some insight into the mindset of those who commit cheap robberies. His name was Donald.

Donald was a customer of the store. He befriended me shortly after the night I was robbed. He knew a lot about the situation because, as he put it, he had heard talk around the low-income high-rise where he lived.

He knew some guys that knew some things, he said in his whispery voice. The guys told him that a “Larry” had pulled my caper. They told him what Larry had said. He said it was like “taking candy from a baby”.

Donald had a way of just appearing at the front counter. I wouldn’t notice him pulling up in his car or walking into the store. He would just sort of materialize there. A short light-skinned freckled man in his early thirties, he walked with a decided limp; probably caused by a birth defect that left one leg shorter than the other. He favored surplus military clothes and wore an olive drab jungle hat; something like you’d see guys in ‘Nam wearing.

He spoke to me in hushed conspiratorial tones about my robbery and some others that the guys talked about. He talked MOs and strategy. He dissected technique. He was a student of the game. He seemed to like the drama of it all.

I thought he was enamored of these types of cops and robbers scenarios because he envied the players in the game because his own deformity did not allow him to participate. He sure knew the turf. He was like the Mel Kiper of convenience store robberies in the Twin Cities of the early 80s.

I was glad to have the company because after the robbery I became a little skittish about working in the neighborhood. I worked the overnight shift — alone, of course. The store was a grubby converted gas station that stayed busy because of its location. The owners and managers of the store were an equally grubby bunch who didn’t concern themselves with security for the hapless saps like me who worked for them.

Being new in town I had no idea that I had taken a job in a highly dangerous area. I moved to Minneapolis from Washington, DC after a 9-month foray into California. In DC bad neighborhoods were easily identifiable by their decrepit and crowded conditions. In Minneapolis the bad neighborhoods have wide tree-lined streets, large parks, lakes and houses in quiet leafy yards. There are, of course, the low-income high-rises and impoverished sections; these places just look a little nicer here.

In fact, the clerk job was the second of two jobs that I took on as a career in the resume writing field turned out not to be the lucrative prospect that brought me to the City of Lakes. That was why I was so tired when the robber popped into the store. It was about 4:00AM. Not wearing a mask or hood this guy casually walked to the back of the store and got a soda from the cooler.

He put the soda on the counter and I, thinking he was some guy on his way to work, drowsily rang the sale. “Give me the money”, he said tersely. Those were the words I feared and hearing them I snapped awake. A 38-caliber pistol was now on the counter next to the soda. Shocked, I complied.

Next the words that stopped time for me. Words I just knew I would hear if I were ever robbed — “Turn around and walk slowly to the back.”

Donald later told me this was part of Larry’s technique; making them walk to the back gave him enough time to make it to the getaway car before the police could be called. Maybe I had seen too many movies in which the clerk got plugged because he had seen the bad guy’s face, but I was petrified and could barely coax my body into that dreadful pirouette.

My back tightened and I shook in anticipation of the bullet that I thought would soon crash through me. I was convinced that it had all come to end in a filthy gas station. Is this all there is Peggy Lee? I studied Latin, said rosaries, and read the works of William Fucking Faulkner! Am I to be splayed on the dirty tile floor of this shitball gas station my innards and blood pooling around stacked cartons of Kools, Marlboros and Virginia Slims? I made my clutched-sphincter way to the back room as instructed. Thankfully Larry had a quick escape in mind and didn’t add murder to his rap sheet. This type of thinking seems to elude today’s low-grade brand of desperadoes who’ll shoot you for being too slow or for no reason at all.

I can imagine Donald commenting on the style of the primal morons that shot Eric Pearson that night. He’d probably think that they blew a sweet and easy thing. I can almost hear that quiet smoky voice. He could sure make things sound so dramatic.

Despite my suspicions I liked that little guy and was grateful for his company and counsel. Perhaps in the world that Donald knew, I with my naiveté and ignorance was the one with the deformity and he took pity on me.

He made me smarter. I got to the point where I could spot his car pulling into the lot and he couldn’t just pop up in front of the counter like he did when I first met him. I worked in convenience store industry for the next two decades in various capacities. I was never robbed again.

I last learned about Donald when his car was pictured on the front page of the newspaper a couple of months after my incident. His distinctive ride lay on its side at the end of a dirty alley near the miserable high-rise where he lived; this the aftermath of a fiery crash and shoot-out with the police at the end of a dramatic high-speed chase. This was just the kind of drama that Donald loved. Police had interrupted a robbery in progress at a convenience store in St. Paul and chased them into Minneapolis.

I didn’t know if Larry was in the car or not nor did I care. Donald was pronounced dead at the scene in his car. He went out in a twisted blaze of glory. He was in that group that he had told me about, a robber after all – the getaway driver.

I was chagrinned and saddened at the same time. If ever there was a crime that does not pay it is robbing a convenience store; believe me the people who run those places are not going to put any of their real money in jeopardy.

What pathetic motivation caused Donald to put himself in such a position? Could it just have been the thrill of the chase; playing cops and robbers? I wonder if that same type of thinking prompted the unnecessary murder of Eric Pearson.

Maybe it would help end these pathetic incidents if the potential players could hear from someone from inside the game; someone who knows the score. Someone who could let them know the pointlessness. Give them a few tips. Someone like the quirky guy in the odd hat who helped me.

 

Hard to understand
What a hell of a man
This cat of the slum
Had a mind, wasn’t dumb
But a weakness was shown
‘Cause his hustle was wrong
His mind was his own
But the man lived alone

Curtis Mayfield, Superfly

 

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Life in the Manor

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Suitland Manor is an aging apartment complex situated just outside of DC in the Maryland suburb for which it is named. Suitland is the site of the National Census Bureau. The apartments were constructed in the post-WWII housing boom primarily to accommodate government workers at the Bureau and to offset the growing need for housing at that time. The solidly constructed brick building did a noble job of just that until the mid 1970s when the workers had moved on and the triple scourge of drugs, crime and absentee landlordship arrived in the area.

Enter me and my friends – my dazed and confused friends. Perfect pioneers for the forces of this cultural decomposition. Most of us worked  low-paying jobs that left enough money after rent to maintain the party that was the 1970s. At various times there were up to six of us in the Manor with our own apartments. The lights were always on, the bowls were stoked, and at the local drive-through liquor store, business boomed.

My gig was caretaker/gardener at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, a traditional black cemetery. Being white, I thought that fact was  deliciously absurd. There wasn’t much difference in the party at work and the one at home – We put the fun in funeral. God Bless, Miller Ponies and pot. Stories you ain’t wantin’ to hear. I tried to make the job seem cool and interesting, but in reality it was a slacker job for a slacker guy (and this before slackers were cool).

My tenuous rationale for doing this and not attending college or applying for a better job, was that this life afforded me extra time for reflection. More time to pursue my imagined avocation – writing. My mind “swirled” with great lines. If only they could hear the music in my head. I actually recorded some of these ideas in a notebook that I’ve carried with me for over a generation. The proverbial; “Please burn these upon my demise”. (In this case; good advice.)

From these early tatterings grew a neighborhood that now is so bad they consider bussing kids two blocks to school. The hovels are so squalid that the County is buying them up and destroying them because doing that is cheaper than policing them. A proud legacy for those party warriors of days gone by.

So let’s go back there. There he is with a notebook of scrawls in hand and long hair flapping in the breeze. It’s 1974 and he entreats the world to listen to this:

The Believer

Determination leaving with steam

Rising from these hot apartments

Seen with regret by those who wish to die 

And Death and its grieving

An art and beauty so deceiving

To those who feel a need to cry

 

Rising from a scare of sirens

That springs the senses to winter’s chill

A spirit is believing in He

Who came to nothing in the sky

 

Windswept, whirling, worlds unfolding

She delights in games among the trash

Raising doubts from hateful loners

Raising smiles from those who know

She dances answers to their longings 

 

Smiling, smashing borders fracture

Melting in her air

Unwilling, milling, thrilling she,

Like a streetlit glistening pebble,

An agile beauty in despair

 

note: originally published 05/26/10 as Life in the Manor, 1974: The Believer on Open Salon

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5th Grader Book Report: Infinite Jest

Book Report: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

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Miss Kelley tells us to make a report about something you did over the summer. A vacation, camp, maybe a book you read. Something like that.

Oh yeah, school’s back.

Well, I spent my entire summer reading one book. It was really long. And sort of boring, but funny. When it was funny, it was really, really funny. Like when he writes that somebody made a movie so good that if you saw it you would watch it until you die, I thought I would die laughing about that. I’m so weird.

Friends would hit me. They’re like, we should chill. And I was like, my phone is in the corner and I’m trying to be different. So, there’s that.

I want to be alone in a new place where trash is shot through the sky into this like abandoned part of the country and not hurting small animals anymore. The writer wrote about a place where the trash was being hurled into. I think that is so cool!

The writer is David Foster Wallace (February 21, 1962 – September 12, 2008) was an American writer and university instructor in the disciplines of English and creative writing. His novel Infinite Jest (1996) was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005. His last novel, The Pale King (2011), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2012. He was very smart. He used like – like a lot! I like that.

In the story there were some killers chasing people. The killers were in wheelchairs, but they were very scary. And there’s this kid that sat behind me last year. He was in a wheelchair too. Sometimes I caught him watching me or looking out the window. One of the two. Now I’m a little scared when I think about that.

Gosh but the book is long. So many pages and there’s a bunch of pages in the back that you’re supposed to look at when you see little numbers by the words. It was like a whole other book.

So many funny parts. A president who swings a microphone over his head and says a lot of silly things. Like that would ever happen. And like giant babies and bugs who live where they throw the trash and buy houses. Some parts were icky, like when the big-headed guy was in the hospital. He got hurt saving people from these really bad guys from Canada. He wouldn’t even take drugs the doctors gave him. I thought he must be in the DARE program!

Well. That’s that. Big book, long summer. So happy to be back learning awesome new things!

 

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An Emily Post Post

Posting an Emily Post Post

Size up your annoyances. Is it worth it to make a fuss over something small, or is it a waste of your emotional time? Emily Post

Emily Post does not address the proper behavior one might evince in the aftermath of having your car rifled. I guess her advice on rudeness in others might suffice; though it could be posited that the rifling miscreant was not being rude, rather merely following the strictures of behavior in our 3rd World America wherein an unlocked whip is an invitation rather than a manifestation of one’s blind trust in fellow man or outright stupidity. The failure to press a button to secure the conveyance becomes a sign that an offering has been tendered like the hobo signs of years past that signified that the shards of Mildred Miniver’s world-famous peach cobbler could be found on a window sill in the cottage down the lane that bore the secret insignia upon the fence at the gateway to the alley off the well-trodden main street. On this latest occasion I struggle with the annoyance factor while conceding somewhat in the question of who the rude one was – the invader or the inviter?

I didn’t notice the latest intrusion right away. In the push button convenience, one can unlock without realizing that the thing was not locked – the reassuring headlight blink that tells you that while your day will be filled with minor inconveniences and perceived roadway affronts a dead battery will not be among them. I did think it odd that the glove box hung open – who uses that for anything other than the owner’s manual, an expired registration or three, the dull ice-scraper from last winter and the stray half empty pint of peach brandy? And the last use of it for gloves? – maybe Mildred M trundling off to the greengrocers for cobbler parts and the like. No biggie, mysterious things occur in a twenty-year-old hooptie. It was the two crumpled single dollar bills resting upon the passenger side floor mat that clued me that I had been violated. Sure enough, the contemptuously cast cash had emanated from the console curled amidst a sea of crusted tissues, mustard packets and unredeemed coupons. Some rude person had invaded my space! Or…

Was I the rude one? By not pressing the button to secure the door, an act of such ease that it would defy the imagination to arrive at a logical explanation for its lack of use, did I not de facto proffer an invitation to enter? And by leaving a measly $2, some loose change (must always have a quarter for the cart lock at Aldi’s!), and those used tissues did I not essentially insult the guest who might have had a reasonable expectation of reward? I can see Mildred’s who-farted-in-the-knave face – Deuteronomy 15:10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart, harrumph!

It’s not like life hadn’t handed me a lesson before. In the 70s my car was similarly violated – the venerable Dodge Aspen 2-door that admittedly took a little more effort to secure as remote key fobs were a decade or so away from the mewling underclass and one had to physically press the door lock buttons down while remember to remove the keys prior to shutting the door, an oversight made on occasion by me precipitating the need to call a locksmith or wiggle a clothes hanger through the a tight space at the top of the window if you were lucky enough to have not rolled the window up too tightly and wrangle the wire around the knob of the door lock and tug it up).The napoleon in rags who perpetrated this outrage added insult to injury by taking the time to pick through my shoe-box (bench seat, no console) of 8-tracks to select music to his liking – The Best of Bob Dylan Vol. II made the cut while he left behind the likes of Switched-On Bach and the 1812 Overture. And, yes, I squandered a ton of emotional time on that diss!

Set and setting they say. In these parts leaving one’s car unlocked is an invitation – one gladly accepted by a wayfaring stranger on a breezy 1:00 AM saunter exquisitely captured in full color and high def by the security cam a mere 20’ from the ride. A chill dude rocking some silky shorts with smooth matching tee and dope sandals – certainly not the attire of the hoboes from days gone by, but who am I to judge? The poor are always among us and all that. My duty as a polite person is not to wallow in thoughts of retribution for this perceived slight, but rather prepare a feast for the unexpected guest and to do this duty deuteronomously with an ungrudging heart. Leave a ten-spot or something.

Or, maybe…lock the damn door!

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The Waisting of Daniel

Teenage waistline. Right? That’s the dream. Like most teens, I didn’t much hardly care. Frenetic years busting the huge calorie meals and sloshing beers in the double-digits. We’re all wasted! And the old-timers laughed.

I first took notice of a burgeoning waistline while in San Francisco in 1980. I turned 30 and quit smoking; these were apparently signals to latent fat cells that it was okay to make their move. In my twenties I was the typical devil-may-care, where’s-the-party, care-free, hyphen-for-emphasis DC area dude who ate beefy, cheesy fare and swilled copious quantities of ice-cold beer – Miller Light, tasted great.

I did sort of ‘straighten up’ at the end of the 70s – got my haircut, got a government job, met a girl, became an ersatz dad, cut more hair, quit the government gig, worked a dozen jobs in one year, signed up for community college, lost the girl, blew the schooling, and clerked at 7-11. The girl told me I had potential, but “right now she was looking for a more complete man” – yeah, like that scientist you shagged behind my back on one of those conferences? That one? You know, the guy that took to his bed for a week when you spurned him because he was married. Me, after a blink or two (for the kid mostly), filled a couple of grocery sacks with my stuff, threw them in the worthless rig I drove, quit the clerking job and took off for California like they do in the movies. I was long and lean, but California is the land-o’-plenty.

My job had me trolling the peninsula for places to put the ‘take-one’ brochure boxes, doorsteps to the nascent world of computer dating. Send in $25 and ‘the computer’ would guarantee you three dates – maybe one a month, but three in total, woe betide them that was young females or elderly dudes for you could get up to eighteen connections a month for time immemorial, an early lesson in the metrics of romance (yeah, I dove in and got a changed phone number on my solitary run). Decided to quit smoking again, I hacked like a consumptive cowboy. Hours alone in a car hungrier’n hell and hitting fast food joints as part of my job, my pound a year ballooning commenced.

The first casualty was this corduroy sports jacket I bought in San Francisco. Before the web having an item bought in a hip town made you a little cool; at least, to yourself. I liked that coat and kept it with me for years with the intention of slimming down someday, hitting the gym, cutting back, etc.

Long about ’85 or so I’m at 185lbs or so, married, running a c-store thirty miles from our apartment. A 45-minute commute during which I sat in one position. Sitting this way does something to my lower back which I had wrenched pushing car from a parking spot back in Virginia during the great snowstorm of ’79. I’m in severe pain. Had to crawl to the bathroom in the morning and grab pipes and porcelain to get upright. On one of the drives home I couldn’t stand it anymore and hit the Emergency room off of Cty Rd 18. I was probably in St Louis Park. They tell me they’re too busy to see me and I whine. I insist on being seen. A young male doc comes in to the exam room. he is clearly annoyed and bristling. After a cursory look he informs me that I’m over weight and flips me a manual and exits saying he had patients to deal with real pain. Of course, I was offended – “How dare he!” and other fulminations ensued. But, you know, that cat was right and his words stayed with me even though It took a while to act on his brusque advice.

Minnesota is hotdish and Weber grill country – sprinkle a pea or two into the dish and ward off the health wardens.  Oh, and add some kids. Dads are always slurping the untouched yogurts and munching the other halves of the PBJs; not to mention the ice cream and pizzas. By the end of the millennia I was bordering on a deuce.

Indolent and inactive? Not really. Well, indolent, okay, but I walked, worked, mowed, built, carted munchkins hither and yon. I strode the hills of Northeast with my extra poundage. Just maintenance was all it was.

I huffed into the teens of the new century. Took this new job. They fly me out to CA. Nice, nice people, but boy, they love to eat! I had a per diem with free breakfast and endless free lunches. By the time I cared to look I found I had stepped ahead of the years and now topped 220.

Last January I watched Super Size Me on Netflix. The premise is well known, thirty straight days of nothing but Mickey D’s puts the subject in a bad way.  I damn near choked on my french fries laughing – the essence of comedy is seeing in it something of yourself. Later that week I had an annual with my doc, bloodwork and all the other stuff. I weighed in at a cool deuce and a quarter plus one. As I anticipated my test results mirrored those of the Super-Size guy, Morgan Spurlock. And guess what the doctor told me, guess what he told me – I was a pre-diabetic overweight hypertensive loser on the fast track to Reaperville. And I thought, “no way for the love of cheeseburgers and pie am I going to let these boys start hacking off parts of my body. I don’t want to be rascalling around a Wal-Mart looking for deals on Cheetos while snide high school dropouts fill my multiple pill bottles. Bad enough the other doc wants to run a robot up my ass.”

Fuck. That.

I go into the Atkin’s Diet, or my version of it –ain’t spending money on a plan, I know what I know. I know certain things – you can lose weight by eliminating carbs. All meat and veggies. I jumped in and lost ten pounds quickly. Where did I obtain this knowledge? From sports guys like Denny Green who recently rendezvoused with the Reaper, no word of his weight at TOD, but I have my suspicions. The sports guys slimmed downed and hawked the good doctor’s method. You see, I’m an average Joe; that’s why I know what I know. I followed this path religiously and maintained the ten-pound loss through the end of June.

Enter the vegan, the sometimes redheaded stepchild who stays with me. She moved in after my oldest daughter. She another multi-hued vegan. Well, vegan daughter the former emails me this video from Jeff Nelson of VegSource – I see you’re stalled on your weight loss quest, check this out. Jeff Nelson is a guy’s guy; no lily-livered, earth-crunchy, let’s save the squirrel pups about him. Dude piles his chow into one cooking bowl, microwaves it eats right from the dish. That’s a dog, bro.

Plant-based high-carb low-fat (HCLF) diet is the uppity name. But it works! Two to three pounds melt off each week. You’re eating food you always liked and you’re eating all you want (but not all you can). The diet is championed by practicing medical doctors; among them Dr McDougall, Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr Neil Barnard, et al. Additionally there is an online community with luminaries such as Chef AJ, HighCarbHanna, PotatoStrong, VegSource and more. Youtube any of them for advice, support and terrific recipes.

For a confirmed lover of cheeseburgers, the no animal products part is a little hard to swallow, but the cravings pass even with the enticing aromas that waft over from that great burger joint out back. Energy is up, BP down, no body aches, exercise, mostly walking, is effortless. But the main benefit is the increased odds of being able to forestall the Reaper and not feel his foul, hot breath in the interim.

The scale has hit 176. I can claim a 50-pound weight loss! I was clothed at the doc’s when I tipped in at the 226, but 50 sound cooler than 45. Life offers no guarantees as we all know, but I can tell myself I have an edge in the dance with the Darksider. Thanks for reading and I hope I wasn’t too preachy.

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Teach ‘Em to Fish

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Today I saw a news story about the alleged purloining of pain drugs intended for trauma vics by an EMT from an EMT vehicle. The devious evildoer cleverly replaced the pain drugs with saline solution presumably for his own use or aggrandizement. Who’s going to believe a howling Northside GSW vic – they’re always howling and they always want more drugs. Brilliant plan. Reminded me of coaching baseball somehow.

My baseball beginnings were quite auspicious. CYO tryouts. Little Danny cradling the bat; bringing to the team his wealth of baseball knowledge culled from hours on the dirt field next to the house. He swings at the coach’s pitch and sends a screaming line drive into the left center gap. He gallops home thinking his freckle-faced ass was Cooperstown bound. The ball skittered across the gravelly field and down the embankment to the asphalt play yard as the luckless outfielders gave futile chase.

That was the pinnacle. The rest of that half season I spent struggling with the basics, like every other kid. Absolutely bedeviled by the lefthander’s curve ball and totally confused as to where to stand and what to do, no future Mickey Mantle here.

The end came when I reported to the back of the school at the hour I thought I had been told, only to find no one there. I sulked away thinking ‘they’ had told me the wrong time on purpose. The deck was stacked and this act fit into the misfortunate world view that I had developed ever since being whisked away in city car, off to the orphanage and then the foster home – enough to make an Irish boy see the world with a paranoid tinge. I quit the team.

That field next to house was a blessing that I didn’t fully appreciate until my 30s in faraway Minnesota. I joined a rag tag work softball team and discovered that those hours of play had paid off. I did possess some skills; at least enough not to embarrass myself in a beer league.

That rekindling and also the swell of interest prompted by the Minnesota Twins ‘87 & ’91 championship runs gave rise to my volunteer coaching opportunity. The Twins were led by hometown hero Kent Hrbek and that paragon of concrete-playground-to-major-league-superstardom, Kirby Puckett. Around the Twin Towns ballfields were packed and kids were clamoring to keep playing. So the city extended the house leagues to 14 & 15 then 16 year olds – the dads of these lads long disavowed of their own my-son-the-next-Kent-Hrbek dreams fell off as volunteers and that left the coaching door open for me.

Not strong on fundamentals, but an excellent composer of batting line-ups I faked my way through three years of coaching. The second year I stumbled onto the best pitcher in the league, won the division only to lose the title game in which the opposition had figured out the pitcher – “Hard outside”, I think I heard. The tinge – only a tingle, this was a fun league – returned when I noticed that some of the players on the victorious 14 & 15 year old team drove off in their own cars.

And then there was the equipment guy.

The equipment guy was a dick and he had two teenage sons who were little dicks. Hockey players. Hockey dad. In Minnesota hockey players are the crème de la crème of sports participants and their proud arrogant parents will surely let you know it. (Some, not all, but you’ve seen the videos.) Many of the kids play baseball as well to hone those hand-to-eye skills they need on the ice. Bedraggled, overworked and usually late I would show up at their house where the equipment was stored. I got open disdain from Hockey Papa and lurid sneers from his punkass kids. The boys were usually smacking a tennis ball with their hockey sticks in the driveway reluctantly stepping aside as I pulled in my little Dodge Shadow next to their towering SUV to pick up or drop off into the garage. Usually Pops would loudly assert that something was missing; and set the young dicks to asnickerin’. I imagined that somehow the bucks had filched a catcher’s mask or whatever and that this was a family that enjoyed fucking with people – there’s that paranoia again.

So why write all this? That punk EMT who stole the painkillers intended for trauma victims and sneakily replaced it with saline solution, that punkass motherfucker who had to possess a certain decrepit mindset and well-practiced skills of deception in order to scheme this stunt and then the well-inbred brass balls to pull it off; why, that piece of shit bears the same distinctive name as that piece of shit equipment manager.

Could he be one of the hockey dicks in that long ago driveway? He’s the right age and lives in the general locality. Could be, but maybe I’m…

Paranoid.

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