Category Archives: Doc

No, OJ, No…

I remember exactly where I was on Oct. 3, 1995 when the jury found O.J. Simpson not guilty of the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. A bunch of J-majors were stuffed into the broadcast lab, which was the only place that had a TV with cable in those pre-real-Internet days of news. Back then, we all wanted to know, RIGHT NOW, what was going to happen with this guy. The verdict was stunning but, for us, not in the way you saw portrayed in retro shows where people were screaming and fighting and whatever. I know it mattered in a lot of ways to a lot of people, and it must still matter to me, as I remember where I was back then.

Thursday’s similarly breathless coverage of Simpson’s parole hearing felt for me like one of those “one-hit wonder” bands you catch on a side stage at Summerfest: You recognized one or two of the people, one or two of the songs, but it really wasn’t much to write home about. I seemed to be in a minority on that point, as Tweets were flying, networks broke in to show the hearing live, video clips played on an almost constant loop and it seemed like every website on earth had a different angle on this. TV morning shows found the Goldman family and brought them out for a “hot take” on this 70-year-old parolee. Netflix was plugging its original film on “Kardashian: The Man Who Saved O.J. Simpson” in the wake of the hearing. My friend even sent me, a die-hard Cleveland fan, a snarky article on how the Browns had just signed The Juice to a 2-year, $14 million contract to anchor their backfield.

O.J. Simpson was about “the moment” for so long. The 1968 Rose Bowl, where he scored twice and rushed for 128 yards. The snowy night at Shea Stadium in 1973 where he piled up 200 yards to break the seemingly unbreakable barrier of 2000 yards in a season. The Thanksgiving Day in Detroit where he ran for 273 yards as the team’s only weapon.

In later years, he was also about “the moment” in life: The famous low-speed Freeway Chase that had every Ford executive wondering why AC couldn’t have grabbed the keys to a Bentley or something. The moment he put on that glove with all the exuberance of a man cleaning out a septic tank with his own toothbrush. The look on his face when the jury acquitted him. The years of random “pop up” moments like his book, “If I Did It…”

CNN noted that we need more “OJ moments” for a variety of reasons.

I’m more with Crash Davis on this one:

The moment’s over.

“I had to eat.”

Three elderly men sat at an 8-foot plastic table outside the ballroom of the Red Carpet bowling center in Milwaukee. Among them, they possessed five NFL championships, three NBA titles, one World Series ring and the most famous home run ever hit in the annals of baseball.

It was the summer of 1987, still the height of the nation’s sports card craze. The card show was packed with people just inside the door behind this makeshift shrine to sports immortality. As was the case during that era, older athletes who lived near these shows would gladly pocket a few hundred bucks from the promoters to show up, sign autographs and tell stories.

The bald, gregarious man on the left was once the most feared man to ever remove his teeth and don a helmet. Ray Nitschke anchored the Lombardi defenses of the 1960s, prowling about his linebacker position like an animal waiting for the opportunity to ravenously pounce upon a fearful prey.

The dour-faced man on the right kept to himself, writing his name upon photos of himself in penmanship that bordered on artistic calligraphy. His claim to fame as a Milwaukee Brave was that he broke his ankle early in the 1954 season, forcing the team to call up a minor-league prospect by the name of Hank Aaron. Three years earlier, on Oct. 3 in the Polo Grounds, Bobby Thomson hit “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to earn the New York Giants the pennant. At the time he signed a personalized picture for me, I knew none of that and only years later, after I had sanctified that homer, did I realize I had met Thomson. It was a sad disappointment in retrospect, in which the man had already undermined the legend.

The round-faced fellow in the middle was Gene Conley, a pitcher for the 1957 World Series championship team, who died this week at the age of 86.

Nitschke took off his Super Bowl ring and let me try it on. The golden circle heavily dangled from my 12-year-old finger, looking something like an expensive game of ring toss. Thomson wouldn’t say a word to anyone and refused to interact with the other men. My father tried to engage him and was cut down with a glare for his trouble.

Yet it was Conley, a man I never knew about before that day, who made the biggest impression on me.

As “Big Gene” signed a photo for me and a card for Dad, my father informed me that this gentle giant had not only won a World Series title, but also had three NBA championships to boot. It was around this time that Bo Jackson was playing for the Royals and considering a “hobby” as a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders.

“I don’t know why they’re giving Bo Jackson such a hard time for playing two sports,” Dad began. “This man played for the Braves AND the Celtics!”

Conley stopped in mid-signature. A blip in his penmanship remains a reminder in Sharpie of the moment I’ll never forget.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Conley said in a contradictory tone, punctuated with a laugh. “Don’t be comparing me to Bo Jackson! I had to EAT!”

The 6-foot-8 Conley earned $10,000 as a rookie in 1954, with $20,000 being the most he’d ever earn in as a pitcher. Like most players of his era, the off season meant it was time to find a Joe Job to hold the fort until the next season came in.

Yogi Berra sold hardware and worked as a restaurant greeter.

Phil Rizzuto sold suits at a store in Newark, New Jersey.

Jim Bunning and Rogers Hornsby were just two of hundreds who sold insurance.

Willie Mays and Willie McCovey sold vehicles of all kinds.

Jackie Robinson had a traveling vaudeville routine.

Conley’s height and basketball experience at Washington State College made him appealing to Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics.

He earned about $4,500 a season playing basketball, a much better deal than having to hawk clothes or cars.

Baseball players weren’t alone in this need for off-season employment. The minimum wage for an NFL player in 1977 was $14,500, or about $60,000 in today’s dollars. As Herm Edwards said in the documentary “Broke,” players he coached in the 1990s and 2000s would ask him what he and his teammates did in the off season as a player.

“Guys WORKED!” he shouted.

Conley lived long enough to see men in his profession have enough money to never need an off-season insurance gig or even a deal selling autographs at a card show. Less than a week before Conley passed, Steph Curry signed a five-year, $201-million contract, the richest ever for an athlete. Seventeen years earlier, Alex Rodriguez became the first “quarter-billion-dollar man,” signing a 10-year, $252-million deal with the Texas Rangers.

Even in his comedic rebuke of my father, I never sensed that Conley begrudged the players of today for their fortunate timing of birth. I also never got the sense that he wished he could have spent his off seasons lounging around at one of his half-dozen McMansions. In 1960, the Phillies offered Conley $20,000 to NOT play for the Celtics. Conley refused and was shipped to the Red Sox in midseason.

He liked both games and enjoyed playing them. He also knew his deteriorating rotator cuff made it more likely that he could stick with basketball longer than baseball.

Plus, a man has to eat…

It’s Blog, It’s Blog! Help me not to suck…

I’m asking for help from the hivemind, given the wide array of experience you have in writing for blogs, reading blogs and probably eviscerating shitty blogs.

I was on the phone with my publisher the other day when she made an obvious statement that had previously had no answer other than, “No shit.”

“The problem most of your reviewers had was that by the time the book comes out, the examples you list for the students are dated,” she noted. “That’s a problem with this book that we need to address…”

My answer was the more professional version of “No shit” but even as I said it, I could feel Admiral Ackbar wheeling around in his chair…

“That’s a problem with any media textbook, though,” I argued. “Given the time from writing to press, there’s no real way around it…”

It was a trap.

The idea that marketing had (screaming red flag) was that to address this problem and distinguish us from the rest of the books in the area was to have me run a blog that would update features, engage readers and talk about stuff that was important in the field.

I was hesitant, give that a) I don’t know how to build a blog. I got lucky enough to join this traveling circus after A had already established a tone, built an audience and got people interested… and b) See point a.

So I had two basic rules going for me going into this agreement:

  • It’s got to be about the readers’ needs, not my desire to tell people stuff.
  • It’s got to have useful tools on it, not just shit for the sake of having shit.

Their response was that I couldn’t cuss, so I’m a bit limited there.

So, here’s where I’m begging like The Fly:

  • Tell me one of a few things about your best and worst blogging experiences as writers and readers.
  • What options should or shouldn’t be on there?
  • What tools are helpful for sharing and engaging people and what are just bells and whistles for the sake of bells and whistles?
  • How do you gather readers and how do you keep them?
  • What is the best bit of advice you can offer?

I know not all blogs are for the same purpose, but I figure if you can tell me what you like and don’t, I can fake the rest of it.

Thanks and have a great weekend.

Doc

A Deaf Frog

One of the best jokes about jumping to the wrong conclusion is that of the scientist and the frog. The scientist tells the frog to jump and the frog does so. The scientist then cuts off one of the frog’s legs and repeats the command. The frog continues to jump until the scientist has removed all four legs, at which point, the frog remains still.

The scientist then makes this entry in his notes: “After removing all four legs, frog goes deaf.”

An equally disgusting and yet not nearly as funny series of answers emerged this week in regard to how public figures dealt with problematic situations.

Bill Cosby, who has apparently told more people to “relax” than Frankie Goes to Hollywood, had his fate delayed when a Pennsylvania jury deadlocked 10-2 in his sexual-assault case. Cosby has been accused of scores of women (and that’s literally accurate, sadly) of drugging and raping them over the past several decades. In this singular case, involving an administrator in the Temple University athletic program, Cosby was said to have used Quaaludes to knock her unconscious before having sex with her against her will in 2004. Cosby remains free on bond while the state considers its next move, which will likely be a retrial.

What will Cosby be doing with all this free time, now that a Cosby Show reunion show is likely out of the question? He’s planned a series of town-hall meetings in which he will “educate” young men and married men how to avoid accusations of sexual assault in this litigious society:

 

Ebonee M. Benson, who works with Mr. Wyatt and joined him on the program, said the need for awareness had grown because the statutes of limitations on sexual assault have been extended in several states. In some cases the legislative efforts were aided by women who have accused Mr. Cosby of molesting them.

“People need to be educated on a brush against the shoulder,” she said. “Anything at this point can be considered sexual assault.”

 

Or, y’know, the lecture could just be, “Don’t drug and fuck people against their will. And pull up your damned pants.” However, as Cosby sees it, the problem isn’t the fucking, but rather needing to find ways to make sure it doesn’t come back to haunt you.

Speaking of things that can come back to haunt you, the White House has figured out that people will actually recall the official and unofficial comments people make and hold you to them. Everything from the evening news to late-night comedy shows use the clip montage on an almost daily basis to showcase what an official is saying now compared to the exact opposite thing that person said over the past six months. Trump, Spicer, Conway, Sessions and more all have fallen victim to the “Here’s a statement they made today that is directly contradicted by the nine times they said the exact opposite thing.”

The answer was clear earlier this week: Stop the taping. The White House has set up a series of bizarre rules that limit live presentation of the press briefing, no cameras and limitations on audio. In an even dumber decision, it issued an edict to the media (whose job it is to tell the public stuff) not to tell the public the instructions the news outlets received on how this off-the-camera approach was supposed to work. So, in short, we’re doing something shitty to you and we want to tell you what that shitty thing is, but don’t you dare report that we told you about this shitty thing we’re going to do to you.

Speaking of shitty things that are being done to the public, the Senate has drafted its version of the “Repeal and Replace Obamacare with Something Great” bill. The Republicans have known for quite some time that debating health care is a long, tiring and dicey process. The Affordable Care Act hearings went on for an interminable amount of time, with all sorts of maneuvering in hopes of derailing it. Although the ACA isn’t perfect, thanks in large part to these speed bumps and road blocks put up by opponents of the bill at the time, it is providing insurance to more than 23 million more people than the House version of Trumpcare would.

The senate realizes two things:

  1. Cutting people off of health coverage, including Medicaid and any other Medi-help, is likely to result in people losing their shit.
  2. Since they are essentially doing exactly that, people are likely to lose their shit.

The solution is simple: Don’t show people what you’re working on. Much like a 4-year-old who is covering up his homework so mom can’t see how shitty his penmanship is, Mitch McConnell and his crew of unnamed bill-makers have sat in secret for the past couple weeks, crafting whatever it is they are crafting. The reveal on Thursday showed that it was essentially the same shit as the House bill, only potentially worse. McConnell upped his game by pushing for a vote within a week and refusing to say he’d allow for at least 10 hours of debate and discussion on it.

It makes little sense to attempt to apply common sense to these kinds of solutions, as none really applies. At best, the solutions are Machiavellian maneuvers and at worst they are like people who put pennies in the fuse box to get the power back on.

It also does little good to call people out on this kind of bullshit, given that most of the people who display this level of chutzpah lack the inherent ability to be ashamed of themselves. All they see in front of them is what their myopic vision of self-assuredness allows them to see.

A deaf frog.

A Golden Anniversary Explained

Fifty years ago tomorrow, two scared 20-somethings gathered with family and friends in a cathedral-esque church on the south side of Milwaukee to pledge their lives to one another. Her father thought the man wasn’t good enough for his daughter. His father thought the woman was far too strident and interested in a career to be a good wife.

Nobody, least of all these two kids, knew if they’d make it, if they’d be OK.

Still, there they were in front of a three story slab of pink and white marble with a giant crucifix, saying they would live together in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death shall they part. When they emerged onto a set of concrete stairs that led to East Plankinton Avenue and slipped into a borrowed 1965 Plymouth Roadrunner, they were on the way to the rest of their lives.

Husband and wife.

Mr. and Mrs.

A married couple.

The fact that my mom and dad remain married and relatively happy often amazes me, given that almost everyone I knew as a kid had divorced or miserable parental units. When they fought or yelled, I never once thought, “Wow, this is the end.” Things would calm down, peace with honor would emerge and life would move on.

When I considered marriage, I asked them how they made it work. “What keeps you together, even when things are bad or when you are really pissed?” I would ask. Neither of them could really put a finger on it, so I kind of “observed a lot by watching,” to quote the late Yogi Berra.

Here’s what I figure makes them tick:

See the problem, fix the problem: My parents had a very “work the problem” approach to life when it came to the day-in, day-out stuff that confronts married people. When they realized they were often broke early in their marriage, the looked at where the money went. Granted, there wasn’t a lot to go around, but they were able to find a couple things that ate into their budget. On Sundays, they’d get the newspaper, look through the circulars and go to the store to buy “a bargain.” Turned out, they tended to not need the stuff they bought and it cut into other things they did need, so they stopped going to the store. The same thing was true for groceries, linens and other things. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it just because you think you should.

 

Commit to it: Promises and commitments ran deep in our household. Dad loves to tell the story about how he and Mom would make envelopes for all the monthly expenses and put their pay into those envelopes. Whatever was left over was for fun, and usually that wasn’t much. Still, they found a process that worked for keeping the lights on and the rent paid, so they committed to it.

They also stuck to the commitments regardless of if they were positive or negative. When they said, “We’re doing X,” I knew we were doing it. That’s how I ended up getting to see my first Brewers game, even though it was on a Friday night, in the heat of a pennant race and on bat day. It was the worst game to attend for traffic, crowds and generally everything else my dad hated. Still, he committed to it. Same was true with punishments. When I got caught for speeding, he and Mom agreed I lost car privileges for a month. That meant he had to drive me to and from after-school commitments and I had to take the bus to school, which cut into other plans. It sucked as much for them as it did for me (or at least sort of), but they stuck with it because they said so.

 

Have a united front: Agreement wasn’t always the first word that came to mind when it came to my parents. They argue about half of everything, from what we should do for dinner to who was the lady who ran the corner store on Packard Avenue in the 1950s. However, when they had to make a decision about something important, they never threw one another under the bus. This made life difficult for me as a child, since you couldn’t play Mom off of Dad. Whenever I screwed up badly enough that life and limb became a potential punishment, they would send me to my room and talk things over. When they figured out what they were going to do to me, they both came and told me. Together. At the same time. No bullshit.

 

No grudges: Even with the arguments, I never saw them hold a grudge. Whatever arguments happened before bed were settled before the kiss goodnight. In the morning, life moved on. I imagine that over 50 years of marriage, there could be plenty of the “Y’know in 1978, that thing you did REALLY pissed me off” conversations that could emerge on any given day. They never did. It was, “OK, what’s next?”

 

Laugh: Humor, even some truly crude stuff, always flowed through the house. If Dad wasn’t telling a bad joke, he was telling a weird story. Mom always found humor in the dumb things her students did that day and loved to share with the family. I spent my allowance on joke books, trying to find the one joke that neither of them had heard before but would still make them laugh.

In some of our darkest hours, humor became the thing that kept us going. I remember when Dad’s mom died, something that hit us out of the blue. We never saw it coming. It was the first time I ever saw my father really cry. I wondered if he would ever snap back from this or if his whole sense of being would merely crumble away. The funeral home was a hatchet-job of a place that charged him in advance for everything, going so far as to interrupt the visitation to tell my dad his credit card wasn’t going through. They charged him time and a half for everything done on Saturday as well. We drove in silence from the funeral home to the cemetery, passing by the very spot along the road where my grandmother would be interred. Dad looked over past me, out my window and took a deep breath. I was waiting for him to come up with some deep, dark sense of mortality and love. Instead, he muttered, “They better’ve dug that fucking hole already if they’re charging me time and a half for it.”

After that, I knew he’d be OK.

Saturday marks 50 years of marriage for two of the most incredible people I know. They always knew to talk and to listen to one another, even if they didn’t fully understand or agree. However, when it came to a vow renewal, they both saw this as something to behold.

Thus, they will once again be in that church, standing in front of that giant slab of marble, pledging their love to one another. They will be surrounded by the family and friends who remain, telling each other and anyone who will listen that they will stay together, through good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death do they part.

One thing that is different now, however, is they already know they’re going to be just fine.

Rummage sales are life. The rest is just details.

The reason this post is late is because I spent the last hour and a half looking up everything I could find on Carry-Lite Duck Decoys manufactured in Milwaukee.

Am I a hunter? No.

Do I care about becoming a hunter? No.

What the hell is wrong with me? A lot, it turns out.

I picked up six of these decoys at a rummage sale today, so duck decoys have become my obsession of the moment. A friend in California is a hunter and mentioned how to locate interesting and valuable decoys at one point. A friend here noted that a neighbor of his sold some for a pretty high price once.

A woman about my grandmother’s age had dumped a dusty box full of these things at the end of her driveway just as I drove up. She said she had no idea what they were, but her husband used them a long time ago. A price of six for $20, made of paper mache with a “Patent 1941” stamp on the bottom seemed like too good a bargain to pass up.

I scoured the Internet looking for various types of duck decoys and places to find them. I have yet to find one stamped like mine, so I either have a rare find or a box of shit. Eventually, I found myself going crazy so I stopped to write this post (Side note: I’ve stopped writing this a few times to go back to Google with the hope that maybe THIS set of search terms would yield an answer about who made these and when.).

It was at this point that a realization hit me: Rummage sale season is officially upon us.

This is a sacred time of year in Wisconsin, due in large part (I suspect) to the fact we spend nine months of the year housebound by snow and ice, so anything that gets us outside in sunny weather is worth doing. Neighborhoods get together to host 30, 40 and 50-family sales, in hopes of drawing massive amounts of traffic to their neck of the woods. Subdivisions are packed with trucks, vans and SUVs creeping along the winding roads in search of the next sale on the map someone at the last sale handed out.

Certain cities and towns are “known” for having certain citywide sales during certain weekends. Winneconne was two weeks ago, Omro was last weekend… I still have yet to attend the infamous “Irish Road Rummage” which is a cross between an insane asylum and an endurance test.

Rummaging was pretty much tattooed onto my DNA as a child, long before the “American Pickers” crowd made it trendy. Each summer, Mom would have off from teaching and I’d have off from school, so off we’d go every day we could find a sale. Estate sales, rummage sales, moving sales… It didn’t matter. If we were looking for bargains, at least she wasn’t making me scrape and paint the storms and screens around the house.

I still remember one find she made in the basement of a house that smelled like mold and cat pee: A 1950s-style grocery cart with two detachable wire baskets. The asking price was something like $12, so she had me haul that thing out of the cobwebs and somehow stuff it into the backseat of our 1979 Ford Thunderbird.

When we got it home, my father saw it and bitched up a storm: “The hell do you need that for? What the hell did you pay for that? Where the hell do you think you’re going to put that?”

Mom had an answer: She was going to have me spray paint it a couple bright colors and she was going to use it to shuttle stuff around her classroom. I think I was 16 at the time we bought the cart and I was more than 40 when she finally retired. The grocery cart was an integral part of her classroom for the quarter century in between.

To be fair, Dad wasn’t anti-garage sale. He just had his own way of valuing things that came from the sales. If you want to watch a 73-year-old man outrun Usain Bolt, just put some sports shit at a rummage sale and mark it “FREE!” I can’t tell you how many times we bought something on a Saturday and sold it for a profit on a Sunday at the card show.

My first and favorite big score was when I was 11. I rode my bike to a sale a couple miles from our house. I found a really cool flag I wanted and when I picked it up, I noticed a bunch of paper placemats under it with the box scores from Milwaukee Braves games. I asked the lady how much for each placemat.

“Take them all for $2.” So I did.

I had no idea what they were worth, but it was something I could show my Dad, so I tucked them carefully into a sack and rode home. He’d never seen one, so he went to one of “his guys” who happened to run a sports card place on Lincoln Avenue.

“They’re not worth much,” Leroy told my dad. “Maybe $5-6 bucks each…”

The next show, we put four of them in the auction. I watched as two guys went after these things until they finally sold for $26. The next month, we did it again. Same result.

I was thrilled to be getting $26 a month, but Dad had a better angle. He found the guy who lost the auction and asked if he wanted to buy some. We took him out to the car where we had the rest of them and Dad negotiated a price. I walked away with another $185 and a hyper-inflated lust for rummaging.

Over the years, we’d found a few things like that: Dad would see something of value, he’d ask what it would cost for all of the stuff there and then we’d resell the stuff at a profit. Still, nothing will ever top the Saga of the Beer Cans.

It was the weekend of my wife’s baby shower and we had come up from Indiana to Milwaukee so all of our family could attend. My mother took my wife for a spa day, leaving Dad and I to our own devices.

We decided to “take a walk” which usually led to us walking past rummage sales. At one in particular, we started poking around when a woman asked, “Hey, do you guys wanna buy a beer can collection?”

To this day, neither Dad nor I can figure what it was about us that said, “Hey, ask us about your beer can collection,” but there we were, looking at hundreds of cans stacked up in a row.

As if we knew the difference, the woman tossed in this pot sweetener, “I’ve even got some cone tops in there.”

Neither Dad nor I would have known a cone top from a Conehead, but for some reason, Dad asked, “How much?”

“Fifty bucks.”

“Nah.”

We started walking back home when I noticed we were both really quiet.

“Dad, I know you’re thinking about those cans,” I told him. “I can hear that gerbil on the treadmill in your head.”

“That’s only because I know you’re thinking about them too,” he told me.

We went home, looked up what the hell a “cone top” was and then decided to drive back. Just as we pulled up, a collector was there talking to the lady.

“No, no,” she said to the guy, as she pointed at us. “I promised these guys first.”

So, we essentially bought a beer can collection at that point, having no idea what we were going to do or how to sell it. Still, it seemed like we could make the money back even if we just scrapped the damned things, so we had that going for us. We had the entire SUV filled with several cases resting near Dad’s feet, when the lady said, “Don’t forget the ones on the side of the house.”

When we looked down the side of the house, we saw cardboard beer cases stacked four high as deep as the entire length of the house. It took us three trips to get all that stuff back to my parents’ house and it filled the whole garage stall.

Cutting to the end of the story, it took two trips with two SUVs to get all the stuff down to Indiana and we made more than $1,500 together from it.

Also, it was a miracle my wife didn’t murder me, even after I said, “I hope you get a lot of gift cards so we can take some of these cans home with us right away.”

Sorry, honey, but there are no “sacred cows” when it comes to rummaging.

I was once running late for church when I spotted a guy closing up a rummage sale. He had a lawn mower and a beer sign for sale, so I pulled a bootlegger turn in front of his house. He asked $3 for the beer sign and said the mower didn’t work. “Take the damned thing,” he pleaded. “Just get it out of here before my wife comes home.”

This led to me wrestling a push mower into the back of my SUV and spending an hour-long mass smelling like gasoline.

Mom and I will often be late for something but spot a sale and have to pull over. On Thursday, we were taking some furniture to a friend of hers when we noticed a sale. We almost tossed the stuff out of the truck on the lady’s lawn so we could get back there and look at the sale. I ended up with a liquor cabinet, a bench and a cuckoo clock. I also grabbed this gorgeous antique table that was about the size of dinner plate. It had an oval top with pressed flowers under a broken glass top. The top also flipped up so you could just display the art. I bought it for $12 and was thinking about how I could redo it and display it at our antique booth. As I was loading it into the car, Mom noted, “I want that. Can you refinish it for me?”

Again, no sacred cows. I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up pulling out of a funeral procession at some point because Dad spotted some bobble heads for sale.

Still, it’s not all about making money when it comes to garage sales. I can’t tell you how many times I ended up with a piece of furniture or something else because Dad found it at a yard sale and proclaimed, “I couldn’t buy the WOOD to make it for that cost!” My Mom loves to pick up cross-stitched pillowcases because nobody does that stuff anymore and she loves the details. Dad finds golf stuff and other stuff he already has three of but just “couldn’t pass it up at that price.” Eventually, when he stockpiles enough of the “had to have it” bargains, we do our own sales.

Each year, we have two sales: One up at my house and one down by my folks. I usually have tons of refinished furniture, sports memorabilia and rebuilt lawnmowers for sale, most of which came to me in damaged format from other rummage sales. It’s a good gig if you get a nice weekend, as people tend to flock to us in droves when it’s sunny out. Rainy weekends kill you and make you wish you’d never thought about doing one of these things.

This weekend is what we call a “half and half” sale: Friday is gorgeous without a cloud in the sky, but Saturday is supposed to bring torrential downpours. This leads to a great amount of self-deceiving justification on the part of people like me. I was headed to work at around 8:30 when I saw a sign for a “60-house rummage” in a subdivision. I was planning to do some writing for a book I’m finishing, submit my annual report information to my department chairperson and write this post.

Yeah, but… See… Rummage!

Obviously, the best stuff is available earliest on the first day and it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so it’s clear I can’t go out tomorrow and it’s a beautiful day… Besides, I can do that shit later…

Thus, I spent the next four hours wandering through a subdivision, buying tons of stuff I might or might not need. A Blackhawks hoodie for my wife, a dresser to refinish for $10, a set of chairs for my buddy who has a buyer for a table we own if we could find chairs, a 1973 Bucky Badger Boxing decanter (sans booze), a couple tools and, of course, the ducks.

I had to have the furniture people hold the furniture for me after I paid them because I was driving Betsy and there was no way I’d get any of that stuff into her trunk. I was having an existential argument about buying a second dresser when someone else bought it first, so that ended up going that way.

Still, I eventually got the truck, got the furniture, got to work and got everything done, including this post, so no harm, no foul.

Speaking of fowl, time to figure out these ducks…

 

P.S. — Just for darrelplant

I want to meet Mick Mulvaney…

I want to meet Mick Mulvaney, this man of billions who has the audacity to call people like my mother-in-law thieves.

She sat in a hospital recliner this week with a giant blackening scar running down her leg as a stream of people she barely knew entered and exited at a rapid pace, spewing information into her stroke-impaired mind. She looked like a child who had lost her mother at the grocery store as doctors changed orders and nurses took readings, her eyes darting from one to the other as they spoke over her in multi-syllabic jargon.

She had put off a knee replacement until she cleared 65 so that her Medicare would help cover the bills. Each day, she rose on two dysfunctional joints that had worn ligaments, cartilage and bone. Her entire left side remained frozen in a tense and contracted state, the result of a massive stroke several years back.

The doctor decided to do her “good” leg first, so it could heal and provide the most support. When my wife protested, the doctor noted it was the only way to move forward with this. He also promised she’d be “good as new” after her two-night stay in the hospital and ready to go home.

My wife knew better.

Her mother couldn’t go but short distances without pain or exhaustion and that was when the “good” leg was working. Her bladder failed her often, as she tried desperately to make it to the bathroom before suffering the indignity of asking for a fresh nightgown. She rarely left the house and her movement was mostly confined to a wheelchair.

She needed a lot of rehab and she would need a nursing home to do it, my wife argued. The doctor didn’t think so at the time, but he eventually came around to it. However, the rule of Medicare is a three-midnight stay, or no nursing home.

My mother-in-law spent most of her two days in a drug-induced haze of opiates and numbing agents as we kept trying to figure out with these people how all this would work. By the time they had us convinced if we were there 24/7, we could keep her at home, they changed their mind and set up a nursing home bed.

The cost was more than $350 per day, not counting therapy and meds. Mom subsists on about $800 of social security and a $200 pension, the result of decades in the Catholic school system.

She cashed in her state pension, earned through years of working at northwoods schools near the UP of Michigan, a total of $8,000, but the nursing home needed two weeks up front.

As these numbers and costs and such flew around her head, I saw her bright blue eyes and I almost broke.

If the eyes are truly the windows to the soul, her eyes showed terror; they had the look of a child witnessing an unspeakable act. They told of loss, panic and fear rolled into one.

This is why I want to meet Mick Mulvaney.

I want him to see those eyes and tell her how this budget he proposed can be anything but a decimating blow to people like her who have no hope but the mercy of the government.

I want him to drive out to this rural town of 3,300, many of whom voted for his boss, and call my mother-in-law a thief. This woman, who once was horrified that her father taught her child to grab a grape from the grocery store and try it before buying it, is a thief?

I want him to stand there and explain how she’s not a taxpayer who put up with so much in her life to support a family of five and worked until she was physically unable to any more.

I want him, with that “Leprechaun-meets-Jack-Torrance” look on his face, to say to her, “I’m sorry you’re hurting, but that’s not my problem. This nation has bills to pay.”

If this country is worth anything, it’s because of people like my mother-in-law. She spent her life teaching Sunday school to poor children and working with the autistic kids whom society discarded. She kept food on the table and her family in line for nighttime meals and homework sessions. She pushed herself out of pure American grit: The idea that you don’t take from others, but you work so you can give back.

When people like her break down, it’s not out of greed or laziness or a sense that they are owed something. It’s because something happened beyond their control and they need the rest of us to say, “Relax. We got this.”

Tax cuts don’t do that. Medicine does.

GDP growth charts don’t do that. Safety nets do.

This is something the Mick Mulvaneys of the world will never get: Money isn’t everything. It’s what we do with the money that defines our humanity.

If “Blazing Saddles” were a Bizarro-land, post-apocalyptic horror film…

ClarkeTrump
(IMDB’s description of “Blazing Saddles” begins with “A corrupt politician hires a black sheriff…” which is all that film and this situation have in common.)

News broke Wednesday that Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke was taking a position in the Homeland Security Department, leaving me to recall a line George Carlin once uttered about Ross Perot’s challenge for the presidency in 1992:
“Just what a nation of idiots needs: A short, loud idiot.”

Coming up with a descriptor for Clarke is like trying to catch a fart and paint it green. It’s also as pleasurable. Many news organizations relied on the tried-and-true adjectives like “controversial” and “polarizing,” while NY Mag reached for “actual fascist.” A vulgar part of me would have gone with “fucktard” while a more journalistic aspect of me would actually settle on “Trumpian.”

And maybe that’s the best indication that this story is true, in spite of a non-denial denial by the office itself that Clarke hasn’t been given a position at Homeland Security.

This guy is 100 percent Trump with a better haircut a worse choice of clothing.

For people lucky enough to not know who he is, David Clarke has “served” (quotes intentional) Milwaukee County for the past 15 years as its sheriff. He was appointed by Gov. Scott McCallum in 2002 to finish a retiring sheriff’s term and then kept on rolling. Clarke has done and said a ridiculous number of incredibly stupid things. Trying to pick and choose some of them is like trying to put together a Rolling Stones Greatest Hits Album: No matter what you pick, there’s another incredible contender that gets left off. Consider a few of these beauties:

 

It’s not just the bombast, the rapid-fire threats and the general lack of decorum that makes the “Trumpian” moniker fit this man. It’s the way in which he has manipulated reality to improve his personal lot in life. While alleged Billionaire Trump paints himself as a champion of the blue-collar working folk, Clarke masquerades as a Democrat. He registers as a member of the Blue Team primarily because Milwaukee is a deep blue sea among the outlying red rural areas of the state.

Clarke has also followed Trump’s lead on issues of safety and security, painting pictures of illegals running roughshod over the citizens of the country. Meanwhile, neither can see the crises he causes in his own proximate area (Trump’s chaotic White House, Clarke’s dungeon-esque jail).

Like Trump, Clarke is nothing like what he portends to be. Everything about him is a blustering con, including his bedazzled, flair-filled uniform, which Army vet Charles Clymer took to task in a series of hysterical tweets.

Perhaps the hardest thing to discuss regarding Clarke, given that this is the third rail of society, is the issue of race. Clarke himself has played both sides of the race card, in one case swapping racial slurs with Mark Lamont Hill of CNN, going as far as to call him a “jigaboo” on Twitter. The Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP has frequently criticized Clarke, with the group’s president noting, “If there was a white sheriff making those statements, they would have demanded his resignation by now.”

This is true: Clarke is essentially part Bull Connor, part bullshit. He’d be the first one to tell a black kid to pull up his pants and that protestors are a bunch of snowflakes and the conservative white folk just eat that shit up.

Or to pull a line from the great movie, “Lean on Me” : “I know why you like Clark. He’s a guard dog. Does your dirty work. Keeps the black folk in line.”

I have never managed to understand how Clarke kept getting reelected as sheriff in my hometown area. After the first term, it was pretty clear he wasn’t a Democrat. After the second term, it was clear he was a bully. Now, it’s clear the man is fucking crazy, so he naturally had to find someone similarly screwed up to hire him.

And as much as I want him out of here, I can’t imagine we’ll be in any better shape with him sharing asshole tips with The Donald.

Time for Mom

Last week, I wrote about a 10-year-old girl named Grace who overheard her mother discussing the horrific treatment of the student media outlet the mom advised. Grace decided to make T-shirts, blending her love of journalism and her love of “Star Wars” to raise about $150 for the Student Press Law Center, an organization that was helping to defend her mom. To make that amount, Grace needed to sell 10 shirts.

In less than a week, the shirt order form was closed and Grace had raised more than $1,200 for SPLC.

I have a no idea how many shirts that is, but it’s a hell of a lot more than 10.

I thought about Grace not just because it’s a good idea for journalists to update stories and bring them some sort of closure, but because she did it for her mom.

This weekend is Mother’s Day and I’m planning on running around like a guy with my hair on fire to make sure that I get time in with my mom, my wife’s mom and my wife, all of whom seem to be moving in opposite directions. The running isn’t unusual as we’ve been doing this for more than a decade now, but this year I don’t mind as much.

I know I have a lot more of these events in the past than I do in the future, so I’m trying to find a way to savor every one.

My uncle, not a sentimental guy of any kind, brought that home for me this year when he told us about his plans for the weekend. My aunt’s mother died a month or two back, so he plotted a course to Las Vegas for the both of them.

“Neither of us have a mother to celebrate with, so we figured let’s get out of here,” he told me.

It was perfectly pragmatic and yet amazingly sad.

I know not everyone still has a mom around and kicking. I also know that many people who are “moms” aren’t always the best exemplars of that term. That’s why I my heart goes out to everyone who doesn’t feel the draw of this Hallmark Holiday and why I treasure it so much.

Mom isn’t perfect but she was perfectly geared to whatever I needed at the time. She managed to know when I needed a hug or a swift kick in the ass. She knew when she needed to provide a strong front with my father in regard to a punishment and when she needed to step in front of the speeding train of rage that was my father. She knew when to hold tight and when to let go. It wasn’t always easy and there were often a lot of tears, but she did the right thing as often as possible and more often than I had the right to expect.

We have long had a tradition in which my parents would take all the moms in our family out to a really fancy restaurant. The biggest gathering was the Mother’s Day just before our wedding. It was both of my grandmothers, both of my wife’s grandmothers, my mom, her mom and the husbands who were still alive. We took over a small private room at a wonderful restaurant and enjoyed getting to know each other in advance of our big day.

The next year was smaller, as both my grandmothers had died. My wife’s mother and grandmother had moved up to the woods. Her other one couldn’t make it.

Each year, the number fluctuated, even growing by a mom once we had The Midget with us. My wife laughingly recalls many of those early Mother’s Day meals where she’d eat with one hand as she balanced a sleeping, drooling child on her other shoulder.

This year, it’s just my side of the family, as travel for my mother-in-law has become too difficult. We’ll do a cookout when we get back home later that day and tell stories like we always do. As my wife and I watch our mothers wistfully yearn for the days of having mothers of their own, we both know we will some day feel that ache. We also know a day will soon come when our bundle of joy will have “things to do” and might not be around for those events we so treasure now.

It’s part of the life cycle. We get it.

On days like Sunday, we just put it off a little bit and enjoy the idea that it hasn’t happened yet.

Amazing Grace

At this time of year, most of us educators give up all hope on humanity. Between the students who are “just starting” the final projects they had six weeks to finish and the constant stream of “So, I was looking at my grade and…” pandering bullshit, it’s impossible to not want to just run away screaming.

That’s why the email I got yesterday was one of those little flecks of light in the darkest of rooms.

A fellow media adviser is in the shit at her institution. It has a lot to do with overreaching administration, bullying assholes and a general sense that the student publication should be 95 percent fluffy PR and 5 percent Sudoku. Instead, it’s a quality publication that asks questions about shady stuff and speaks truth to power.

Therefore, obviously, the problem is the adviser, who is now under fire.

The adviser’s daughter, Grace, is 10 years old. She overheard her parents talking about all this darkness and it really bothered her. She wants to be a journalist and what she heard “hurt her feelings because writers should always be able to write.”

At the age of 10, I also loved to write, but I had no idea what a journalist was. My writing was mostly confined to banging out short stories on my mom’s old manual typewriter that she’d set up for me in the dining room. The stories were my escape and my adventure and the thought that they might be taken away never occurred to me. I can’t imagine what was going through this kid’s head when she heard terms like “prior review” and “legal issues.”

Grace loves Star Wars and she loves journalism so she sat down at the computer and built a shirt to explain that journalism matters:

560

Her goal was to sell 10 shirts with about $150 in profits going directly to the Student Press Law Center, which was working on her mom’s situation. When I found myself getting killed last year, it was Frank LoMonte and his SPLC crew who waved the biggest red flags and really helped bring some clarity to the situation. If nothing else, he did scare the shit out of the student government twerps who wondered why this “organization in Virginia,” as one of them called it, was suddenly setting up camp in their rectal tract.

I bought one and immediately pimped it out to at least a dozen other people. Apparently others did the same because by the time Grace got home from school, she had sold almost 90 shirts. Her mother had to write the thank you to our group because Grace was so overwhelmed, seeing how her little idea had resonated with so many other people.

For every bad story we get, and there are a lot of them out there thanks to our governmental mandate to fuck over anyone with a pulse who doesn’t have a 850 credit score and a Black Card, we get an occasional reminder of what is good out there.

I have friends on Facebook who are terrified by the Trumpcare bill and what it will mean for their kids who have pre-existing conditions, like diabetes, cancer and crohn’s disease. I have family members who are slowly giving way to the constant march of time. I have what I can only imagine will be the worst day of my year coming up in two hours.

A T-shirt won’t solve those problems.

However, just thinking about Grace makes me smile a little bit more and telling her story gives me hope.

Because maybe if we get enough kids like Grace and we show them that society can reward them for doing the right thing, maybe we will have fewer problems later and a brighter day in the future.

(Her link is open through the weekend. If you want a cool shirt to support a great kid, feel free to click here.)

You can’t spell “PENIS” without “E-S-P-N”

ESPN experienced the journalistic version of a mob hit on Wednesday, when 100 staffers (or about 10 percent of the “front-facing” staff) found out they no longer had jobs. According to published reports, the staffers got called in early in the morning, were placed around speaker phones and had prepared statements read to them to let them know their services would no longer be needed.

The firings weren’t culling deadwood analysts or former jocks who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with a searchlight and a posse. The firings included people with nearly 20 years of experience, such as college basketball expert Andy Katz, NFL insider Ed Werder and investigative reporter Steve Delsohn.

Network President John Skipper dug deep into his “The Pointy-Haired Boss’ page-a-day buzzword calendar” to explain the firings:

“Our content strategy — primarily illustrated in recent months by melding distinct, personality-driven SportsCenter TV editions and digital-only efforts with our biggest sub-brand — still needs to go further, faster … and as always, must be efficient and nimble. Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent — anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play — necessary to meet those demands.

Wait… Where have I heard something like this before?

Today we underwent and completed a reduction in personnel in our news division in several of our Tennessee markets, as part of a transformative strategy for the USA TODAY NETWORK–Tennessee.   We recognize that this has been a tough day, and we respect and appreciate the work of all our colleagues, especially those who have been impacted by these actions — through no fault of their own.

We’ve previously spoken about the new ways we will be able to better serve readers, communities and customers as we fully form the statewide network.   Today was the first step as we re-secure and level-set our economic vitality to support our journalism.

Right, but I thought I heard that somewhere else…

Gannett president and CEO Bob Dickey explained in a memo to employees announcing the cuts: “These moves are central to our transformation into a leading, next-generation media company. The positive impact of these efforts will take time, which in the near-term requires us to assertively manage our costs.

Looking ahead, Dickey wrote: “Over the next 18 months, we will continue to build our scale and invest in important digital capabilities and experiences — such as critical e-commerce infrastructure and significant upgrades to our digital content platforms.”

Maybe, but I remember some other bullshit phrasing…

“In essence, we are resetting the legacy side of our business so we can continue to publish a high-quality newspaper delivered to loyal subscribers’ homes seven days a week,” Silvestri wrote in an email to employees on Monday. “At the same time, we also push ahead on adding to our growing digital audiences and developing new revenue segments such as premium magazines, e-commerce, paid RTD events, sponsored content, and archive products and services.”

Reeeeallly close but…

The story, which can be accessed through this link, details the formation of NOLA Media Group, a digitally focused company that will launch this fall and that will develop new and innovative ways to deliver news and information to the company’s online and mobile readers. NOLA Media Group will be led by Ricky Mathews. Also this fall, The Times-Picayune will begin publishing a more robust newspaper on a reduced schedule of Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays only … Many current employees of The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com will have the opportunity to grow with the new organizations, but the need to reallocate resources to accelerate the digital growth of NOLA Media Group will necessitate a reduction in the size of the workforce.

THAT WAS THE ONE!

Trying to make sense of this is like trying to fuck a porcupine: It’s not worth it and even if you pull it off, it still hurts. ESPN decided that it wanted to save money and it’s always easier to cut people than it is to improve anything else. In doing so, it looked like the company just started throwing darts at an employee list and made the cuts accordingly. Anyone with a brain has already made the obvious realization that a) this won’t save ESPN money in any meaningful way and b) won’t improve the product.

If anything, we are supposed to learn from the fuckups of others. When newspapers were fucking over subscribers, cutting content and wasting money on “re-envisioning content-based engagement” with readers, most intelligent observers saw this as nothing more than a profit grab: Save money in the short term, kill the publication in the long term. As that continues to come to fruition, ESPN (which had always been a cut above when it came to seeing where things are going and getting there first) decided to follow the same shitty path as their ink-stained counterparts.

In some cases, we won’t notice the missing people, just like you don’t notice when your team cuts some fourth-round draft pick during training camp. However, overall, as the team begins to atrophy and the overall quality of play sags, you start wondering what happened to all those guys (and in ESPN’s case, gals) who used to be able to help win games.

It is fair to say that it is unclear what will happen next at ESPN, but it is also realistic to say it’s obvious it won’t be positive.

Remember the 32

I was working the newsroom this week, when my wife sent me a photo with the caption, “Who are these people?” It turned out to be a “Save the Date” card from two of my former students who found love while finishing off their degrees here.

The editor in chief of the paper poked her head over my shoulder and asked what was up.

“I just got a Save the Date card from Ashley and Isaac,” I explained.

She had a blank stare on her face.

“You were here when Isaac was the managing editor, weren’t you?”

Again, a total blank stare. It was at that point it dawned on me that although the kid I was speaking with was 22 and ready to graduate, even she wasn’t old enough to remember a kid who was practically running the newsroom two years earlier.

I often joke that I have “grad-nesia,” an illness that blurs the lines among generations of students to the point where I swear someone just graduated last year while they’ve actually been out of school for half a decade. The truth, however, is a bit more complicated, in that the institutional memory of college institutions is tiny at best. “Back in the day,” for most of my staff was about 18 months ago. “A long time ago,” was two years.

Something that happened 10 years ago? It has the same social relevance of the Tea Pot Dome Scandal or the Bull Moose Party. Even if that event shook the entire nation to its core.

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. Student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty on campus while wounding another 17 over a three-hour time period before ending his own life. Even in that time of nascent social media, the pure insanity of the event exploded through digital channels and traditional media in a way that kept everyone in the country linked into the devastation.

I had a personal interest in that shooting, as I was pretty close with the general manager of the student newspaper out there. I also knew the editorial adviser. Our student media listserv was flying with questions and concerns for those folks. Both of them were named “Kelly” (one guy, one gal) which led to some “which one?” questions as we all tried to reach them. I finally got a hold of female Kelly and she told me she was safe, things were crazy and her staff was working, so she was probably going to be off the grid for quite some time. At that point, I was able to breathe again.

As my staff watched from safety 1,000 miles away, none of us knew what to do. Our EIC suggested we send pizza, so we did. It was a typical college-kid move, but we weren’t the only ones to think, “Hey, maybe they’re hungry.” Professional and collegiate news staffs from all over the country did similar things to the point where the staff of the Collegian had to ask, “Hey, guys, we appreciate this, but could you stop now?”

The student paper did some incredible work over that amount of time, including obituaries for each of the 32 victims of the shootings. I remember watching male Kelly give a speech on this less than a year later at a journalism convention. He explained that most of his staff was comprised of cub reporters and non-journalism folk. The university didn’t have a journalism feeder program, so this was truly an extra-curricular endeavor for most of them. If the newsroom he had was anything like some of the ones I’ve worked with, you had a handful of kids who had a passion for journalism, a group of folks who were told at one point they were good writers so they showed up to write and a bunch of students who came for the access to sporting events and concerts and to write columns about what they thought was important.

None of them was ready for this. Nor should they have been.

The thing that I remember most about Kelly’s speech was that he talked about gathering his staff and explaining how the newspaper was going to handle the situation on obituaries. The first question a kid raised is the most obvious one: “Nobody is going to want to talk to us. How are we supposed to do this?”

Kelly’s answer is one I use to this day: You might be right. People might not want to talk to you, but you don’t have the right to take that choice away from them. You approach them respectfully and you offer them the chance to speak. If they decline, you express gratitude and you leave. But don’t take away their chance because you’re afraid.

In the end, those obituaries were stocked with sources and stories that captured the essence of 32 people who never made it past April 16, 2007 and propelled the paper to a Pacemaker Award and national prominence.

I have to admit that 10 years have put this story to the back of my mind as well. The year after the Virginia Tech shooting, the Northern Illinois Shooting happened and that one struck a little closer to home. I had interviewed there for a job at one point and many years before, my grandfather had been in the police department in DeKalb, the city surrounding the university. After that, we seemed to be stockpiling shootings and disasters to the point that “Virginia Tech” became less of a euphemism than it once had been.

I also have to admit, it’s easy for things on a university campus to wash away quickly. My first year in Indiana, we had a student get shot and killed by a cop. The name of Michael McKinney was everywhere for more than a year. We covered that story from the shooting through the civil suit and there wasn’t a student alive on that campus who didn’t know that story.

Fast forward to the fifth-year anniversary of the shooting and I told my editor we needed to do the anniversary story on the McKinney shooting.

I got the same blank look my EIC gave me just this week: “Who?”

As far as most schools are concerned, the short-attention-span theater is a blessing in disguise. When horrific things happen in some cities and towns, family members still live there and those moments of pain become imbued in the fabric of the society. Events of agony live on from generation to generation. In the case of colleges, four years can wash away pretty much everyone in the student base who knew what happened. The memories fade to rumor and history.

In the case of the Virginia Tech Shooting, the students there are refusing to let the memory of those 32 people go unnoticed this year. Several cadets are asking that the new residence hall be named for Matthew LaPorte, a sophomore ROTC member who gave is own life to save countless others when the shooter broke through LaPorte’s classroom barricade. The staff of the newspaper published a special edition titled “We Remember 32,” which is complete with a set of 32 stories of the 32 people who died that day. An online version is available here as well.

It’s hard to remember and easy to forget.

But some things need, even if painful, need to be commemorated.

UW Budget Cuts: There’s always a reason…

Every two years, Wisconsin Republicans come home and see that the UW burned the roast.

Or left a mess in the kitchen…

Or didn’t buy more beer…

Or forgot to pick up the dry cleaning…

There’s always a reason that when the budget comes along, and the UW System leaders ask for money, Republicans decide instead to smack it around and then cut higher ed in the state.

Four years ago, it was the allegation that the UW had stockpiled more than $1 billion in its coffers without telling anyone.

(Of course, that wasn’t true, but it was more than enough to create fake outrage and cut nearly a quarter of a billion from the System.)

Two years ago, it was the idea of an “autonomy for cuts” trade: We cut you to the tune of 13 percent and we then let you get away from us and live your lives.

(Of course, that was never going to happen. After making the cuts, the Republicans came up with the “what’s the point of giving you freedom if you won’t do what we want you to do with it?” argument that still makes my head spin.)

This time, I honestly thought it was going to be a Canadian hip-hop artist/UW-Madison professor who would be our sacrificial lamb. Damon Sajnani wrote a course called “The Problem of Whiteness” and Republican Dave Murphy lost his mind over it and threatened the U with budget cuts if this shit wasn’t stopped. Never mind Murphy is basically Exhibits A and B for what’s wrong with Whiteness…

In the end, Scott Fitzgerald realized he couldn’t fuck over the system of his alma mater just because of one class, so he needed a better reason.

And of course he found it.

Thanks in large part to some financial shell games at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, in which a former chancellor co-mingled state money and private foundation money to burnish his legacy and make his cock swell, all of the universities in the system are now being investigated.

Never let it be said Fitzgerald missed an opportunity to do his best Scrooge impression:

 

Fitzgerald stopped short of saying the university foundations issue would affect state funding for the UW System in the next budget. “When it comes to the state budget, members and finance committee members in particular, have a straight-forward process. How much is being set aside, how much is available.”

That said, “it’s human nature when you hear about something like this… ” Fitzgerald added.

 

Actually, Scott, it’s not. It’s sub-human nature to find flaws with everything in hopes of being able to make something suffer for your own pleasure. It’s the same approach kids take when they get a magnifying glass and discover they can use it to immolate ants. It’s power and dominion over those who lack the means and the recourse to fight back.

The state contributes 17 percent of the funding the UW System gets each year and yet you get to write all the rules. Every two years, you and your ilk get all fake outraged over some perceived slight, some perceived error in judgment or some stupid issue that allows you to whip people into a frenzy before you slash education.

The reason this works is because A) the universities suck at explaining anything to people who aren’t academics (and I say this as being an academic who watches the overly academic people fall all over themselves fucking this up every single time) and B) it’s so much easier to channel rage and anger than it is to marshal common sense.

I’m quite certain the cuts will come and the U will bleed and more quality faculty will flee this state like rats of the Titanic. We will then see a period of normalization until it comes time again for Ray “Oliver Twist” Cross to approach you with his bowl in hand and meekly request:

“Please, sir… more.”

Trump and the unfortunate addiction to spectacle

If you want to look for a “life imitating art” moment for today’s healthcare vote, it has to be this one from the movie “Black Mass.”

James “Whitey” Bulger tells his associate exactly what Trump told Republicans by calling for this vote: “You wanna take your shot? Take your shot. But make it your fuckin’ best because if I get up, I’ll eat you.”

This whole thing is horrifying: The potential repeal of the healthcare law, the CBO’s estimate of 24 million people losing coverage, the way in which our government can’t seem to run for three hours without falling all over itself… Say what you want to about the eight years of W., but compared to this, well… at least his stupid was just stupid. It wasn’t vindictive, blind-sighted and angry.

The one thing that makes it just so fascinating is the same thing that makes people slow down at a massive freeway wreck, despite pissing and moaning about the gaper’s block: It’s the rarity of spectacle.

This is how Donald Trump has made his money and gained his fame: He kept people guessing and he always delivered a cliffhanger.

He sued the NFL. Who does that?

He bragged to Billy Bush about sexual assault. Who does that?

He kept Omarosa on Season 1, week after week. Who does that?

The answer is Trump, because he knows what few people are willing to admit: Humans don’t like the safe play and we want to see if there’s going to be a car wreck.

Name the last time a president went to congress without knowing if he had the votes to get something done, especially something this big and this early in his term.

Name the last time regular citizens (or people like me who are abnormal but still don’t pay attention to politics) were aware that a big vote was coming and waiting to see it like “must-see TV.”

This is Gary Cooper in “High Noon” or John Wayne in “Rio Bravo” or Brett Favre throwing another fucking rocketball into triple coverage.

The spectacle works on TV because it has no real impact. You knew Cooper and The Duke would be fine. As for Favre, well, at least if you weren’t in Vegas, his errors wouldn’t cost you anything.

The same couldn’t be said for Trump to this point, given his actions cost this world the USFL and Billy Bush his job. The Omarosa thing still remains baffling, but minor issue. And perhaps that’s the best way to look at his jackassery to this point: It hurt people but not a lot of people most of us know or give a shit about. Meanwhile, the spectacle jacked a lot of people up through the roof.

But now, he’s playing with live ammo. He’s the paintballer with some serious weekend warrior skills joining the Marines. Lives are actually at risk here and yet he seems to think we’re still playing paintball.

In that case, he’s taking his best shot.

Let’s see if someone gets up and eats him.

Hierarchy of Needs: Asshole Edition

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is something every high school student or college undergrad runs into at some point in a sociology or psychology class. The concept is simple: You have a set of psychological and physiological needs that work in ascending order from most basic to most enlightened.

In short, you need to make sure you are fed, rested and healthy first and then you can worry about safety and security. After that, you start getting into things like friendships, family, belonging, self-esteem and reaching your potential as a human.

Given both the broad applicability of this theory and the longevity of it within the field, it always amazes me that we give people who are jerking themselves off for those self-esteem needs control over people who can’t make it off of first base.

Even more, I’m always disgusted when those people who probably will never reach self-actualization (but feel they have) are using their power to fuck over people who just want food, water and shelter.

Mick Mulvaney, who has a net worth of more than $2.6 million dollars, took time out of his very busy schedule Thursday to lecture reporters about how Community Development Block Grants are shitty things and that programs attached to them often “don’t work.”

One of those programs? Meals on Wheels, which provides food to thousands of elderly, house-bound and impoverished people each year. To wit:

Meals on wheels sounds great. That’s a state decision to fund that particular portion, to take the federal money and give it to the states and say, look, we to want give you money for programs that don’t work. I can’t defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore. I can’t defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore. We’re $20 trillion in debt.

First, you CAN defend it. You CHOOSE not to do so. There’s a difference there. (e.g. I can’t strangle myself. It’s physically impossible to do so. I could use a box cutter to lop off my wiener. I just choose not to.) Let’s not conflate the two ideas in the way that Mulvaney does so that he’s able to say, “We’d LOVE to do this but it simply can’t be done.”

Second, hasn’t every Republican since the party made a big Right turn made the case that the federal government should give money to the states for things and let the states decide how to run shit? I seem to recall there being people talking about a block-grant-based program that is supposedly great that needs to happen right now…

Third, and perhaps most importantly, can Mulvaney update the press today after he gets visited by Marley’s ghost?

Look, I get it that defending a lot of shit Trump is saying and doing is a lot like justifying the actions of a meth-addled toddler with a machine gun: No matter what you say or do, this isn’t going to work out for you. This is how we got terms like “alternative facts” and an explanation regarding on how wire tapping is actually about cameras in microwaves. If this keeps up, Trump will basically knock Bill Clinton’s explanation of not having “sexual relations with that woman” out of the top ten most incredible verbal gymnastics in politics.

However, we’re talking about fucking food here. Everyone should be able to easily grasp the concept of what it’s like to be hungry and how shitty it is when you can’t get to eat. Hell, the kids in my classes have stomachs that grumble when they don’t eat breakfast and then have to tolerate me for two hours. Now multiply that by 1,000 desperation points, add in other shitty aspects associated with poverty, weave in being too old or sick to find a way to make/grow/get your own food and then have some dick hole who’s about your kid’s age tell you, “Hey, y’know, fuck you and your hunger.”

Trump pulled his voters heavily from senior citizens (53/45 over Hillary Clinton) and from those without higher education (those without a degree went 52/44 for Trump). These are the people who are most likely to need programs like this because they don’t have cushy pensions, stock options or whatever the hell Mulvaney keeps in his Scrooge McDuck vault at home.

And if you look back at Maslow’s pyramid, you find that it’s hard to think or understand things when you don’t have your hunger sated, so these kinds of folks are likely to remain in a spiral of voting for the rich folks who continue to fuck over the poor folks.

Uncle Tack

His given name was Thedrick Emerson Wright, but nobody ever called him that.

To anyone who worked with him, played softball for him or just spent time with him, he was just “Tack.”

Or if you were a kid like me, he was “Uncle Tack.”

It was never clear to me, or my dad who befriended Uncle Tack through his work at Ladish, where that name came from. Ted, Thed, TE or even “Big Man” would have made more sense that “Tack.” What was clear was that he was an integral part of my life growing up and loving man-child who always made us laugh, even as he fell apart.

Depending on who was around or how much beer had begun to flow, the stories about Uncle Tack were as legendary as they were outlandish. His supposed height was somewhere between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-8, depending on the length of his Afro and who was telling the story.

When you are 5 years old, the truth of the matter tends to matter very little, as he was simply a giant to me.

His weight fluctuated from a lean and powerful 270 to what he often called “a biscuit,” as in “I’m just a biscuit off of 300” or “a biscuit off of 320” in his later years. Dad used to tell me that Uncle Tack was short-waisted, so when they sat down together, my 5-foot-9 father and Uncle Tack looked to be about the same size. Only when he rose did he unfurl the towering figure he truly was.

I remembered how he would wear those 1970s outfits, including short shorts and long athletic tube socks in the summer. His legs reminded me of a frog’s: long and muscular with a sense that he could leap over anything. I also never forgot his hands: he would envelop my tiny paw with his giant ebony mitt, wrapping his narrow fingers all the way around it as he would say, “How you doin’ there, Little Man?”

Growing up where I did and when I did, I had little concept of the issue of race or how divisive of a topic it truly was. We moved into my parents’ new home when I was 4 and Uncle Tack came to visit. I remember yelling, “Uncle Tack! Uncle Tack!” and rushing up to hug him. Neighbors looked over at us quizzically and asked my parents in an almost “hope against hope” tone, “Uh… UNCLE Tack?”

My parents explained that it was a term of respect for family friends to be designated as “aunt” or “uncle” as opposed to “mister” or “missus.” That part never trickled down to me at that age. He was just as much of a family member as anyone else with that familiar moniker. It’s probably why when I was 7 or so, I asked my parents quite loudly at a McDonald’s, “What color will I be when I grow up?”

Uncle Tack, however, dealt with a lot of the racism of the day, even though he never seemed to let it impact him when he was near us.

One time, Mom and Dad went to Las Vegas with Uncle Tack and wandered around the strip in those halcyon days of the early 1970s. Dad and Uncle Tack went to the bar to order a drink. The bartender served Dad, but skipped Uncle Tack. Dad called the guy back and ordered a drink for Mom, giving the guy another shot to do the right thing.

He skipped Uncle Tack again.

“Hey,” Dad barked at the guy. “Aren’t you going to get my buddy’s drink?”

“Oh,” the barkeep replied. “Sorry, sir. I didn’t see him standing there.”

It could have been an honest mistake, although I somehow doubt it was easy to miss a 6-foot-5 black man standing at an empty bar sporting a fire-engine red three-piece suit.

Other stories came home of people at the factory tossing around what we would now call “casual racism,” but back then they called it “teasing” or “pranking.” One such case happened after Uncle Tack shaved his head. Some guy put five Milk Duds in a row on his desk with a sign that read, “Tack’s family.” Instead of filing a complaint or blowing up in a rage, Uncle Tack simply ate the Milk Duds. Why let them go to waste?

He always was that “gentle giant” in the most clichéd terms possible, but there were also legendary stories of him dispensing justice, or at least putting people on notice that he would.

In one such case, he was attending a Kool and the Gang concert at some local venue when a guy behind him kept kneeing him in the back. Uncle Tack asked the guy to stop, and the man kind of mumbled something in return. A few minutes later, the guy was back at it. Uncle Tack became slightly more firm in his request as the guy gave him kind of a look like, “Hey buddy, I paid for this seat.” A third time, the kneeing returned, so Uncle Tack rose from his seat, turned to face the man and in an even voice declared:

“If you knee me in the back one more time, I’m kicking the shit out of your whole row.”

The man quickly stopped.

Even when he was older, he had no compunction about evening the odds when he felt his family or friends were in a rough spot. My freshman year of college, I had a roommate who was making my life hell with drug use and other shitty behavior. Repeated requests to the hall association to try to fix this fell on deaf ears. When Dad shared the news with Uncle Tack, my protector replied, “So when are we driving up to Madison to take care of this kid?” Uncle Tack had to be in his 50s at that point, but he still was ready to go.

Above all else, I remember laughter surrounding Uncle Tack. He would sit in our kitchen and tell stories and Mom and Dad would howl with laughter. He would even tell stories about things they had all experience, but he did so in such a way that made you think, “Man, I wish I had been there…”

There was the time he came over to meet with my folks around dinnertime: He had just polished off two Big Macs, fries and a Coke, but my folks were eating supper, so he sat down and joined them. He ended up eating almost two-thirds of a full pot roast that was supposed to be sandwich meat for the week.

Nobody minded. It was Uncle Tack.

Each spring, he’d come to the house and coax my mother into joining his softball team. He was a hell of a recruiter and a great motivator, but my mother was getting on in years and each season he asked, it took a little more to get her to bundle up for those frigid March games and play for him.

She had to be in her 40s near the end of his coaching career and he had tons of younger players from which to choose. Still, he always told Mom he needed her left-handed bat and her speed to make the team complete.

I remember hunkering down on those freezing cold bleachers at Beulah Britton Park and watching my mom play each season. I still remember the other players on the team: Sharon, the giant guard from the factor who could crush a homer on to the tennis courts. Joyce (also known as Ice), a sharp short-stop with a quick first step, a wicked bat and a glare in her eyes that would just cut you in half. Steady Betty was there in left, catching everything hit to her and hugging Uncle Tack each time she came in from the field. Carol, the pitcher who was the only one about my mom’s age, who we still see from time to time around Cudahy.

The hard part for me is understanding now that Uncle Tack wasn’t the saint I always remembered. Laughter often covered pain. The “dapper” outfits often hid financial problems. Other positives painted a thin coat of cover on top of the negatives.

He was divorced from his wife, which rumor had it, was because he had been fooling around with some of the younger softball players on his team. He had trouble at work, as he often missed a day or two with no real reason for doing so. His kids were at odds with him and somewhat wandered aimlessly, based on the chatter I overheard.

The biggest problem, though, was his inability or unwillingness to take care of his diabetes. When he retired from Ladish, he headed back to Tennessee to be near family. By then, he was a massive man who loved sweets more than anything. A few years after he left, his health really began to fail. Recently, he had both legs amputated at the knee. Always the joker, Uncle Tack explained in a phone call to my father how he looked:

“I’m the same but now you’re as tall as me.”

That was the last thing Dad heard from him and that was several years back.

When I called home last night, Dad was talking about the weekend card show and other such things, when Mom shouted something from the living room to him. He then told me that he’d just heard from a friend of his that Uncle Tack died earlier this week. He was about 68, Dad said, although that was as much of a mystery as everything else surrounding the man.

It’s hard to write this, not just because it’s so hard to capture the essence of who Uncle Tack was and what he meant to me, but also because I’ve learned that writing like this is often seen as an affront to “more important discussions” of race and human interaction. That makes me worry people will overlook the man I know for the broader picture I have no intention of painting.

Uncle Tack wasn’t the “magical Negro” in my life, to borrow a term from Spike Lee. He wasn’t the “black friend” that got rolled out to counter claims of racism. Even though I hadn’t seen him in quite some time and I’m in my 40s, he will always my Uncle Tack.

He hugged me as a kid. He stood up for me as a young man. He danced with my wife at my wedding (albeit under the watchful gaze of his new protective girlfriend). He made me laugh all the time.

He was family and I’ll miss him something awful.

Seeds of Hope

The young woman sitting next to me scrunched up her face as she looked at a resume I would have killed for at her age. She had three internships, including one at a major media outlet and a second at a center for investigative journalism. She was the editor of her paper and had earned honors and awards along the way. Still, she had that look.

“I just hope I get a job,” she said. “It’s rough out there…”

I half smiled as I shook my head and told her, “You’re going to be fine. You have a ton of great experience. We just need to rearrange a few things to put the emphasis on the best stuff first…”

I suggested moving a few things around, emphasizing professional experience and pushing her college work down. We talked about her social media presence and if it would be something that would showcase her journalism or if it fit the “I ate a hot dog today. It was good.” motif. I told her I knew her boss and that he didn’t hire crappy people, so that should help her feel better about herself and that she should ask if he would be a reference for her.

In the end, she seemed to feel better and thanked me for my time.

“You’ll be fine,” I told her again, emphasizing each word. “You’ll be just fine.”

I’ve spent the last two weekends working with student journalist at a variety of conventions, which is one of the best things I do in life. Last week, it was Minnesota’s best of the Midwest convention while this week, we convened for a pro/college hybrid for the best journalism the state has to offer.

Being around people “like me” is usually a comfort to most humans, in that we enjoy social gatherings that emphasize shared, learned behavior. Even more, we tend to understand each other better when we have chewed some of the same dirt. As Eddie Murphy once remarked about marriage, “Find the perfect person for you. I’m not saying they’re perfect. Find someone just as fucked up as you are in the same way and settle down.”

Still, this convention was one I had dreaded for a number of reasons. First, I’m running the board of the college group, which means I need to show up, dress sharp and schmooze with people, all things that don’t really thrill me. Second, it’s like Bill Buckner walking back into Shea Stadium for me in many ways.

The people I know there knew the much younger version of me: The one who fucked up a lot. The one who bordered on arrogance and then swung to a complete lack of self-esteem. The one who was probably the annoying kid they wished would learn to calm down a little more and not be so excited over every police scanner call. It’s painful thinking back about that “me” and it’s even more difficult realizing how long ago that was.

The kid I helped work through her resume was someone I probably would have never dealt with back then. She worked at the Badger Herald. I’m from the Daily Cardinal. Capulet and Montague don’t have shit on that turf war. However, as I talked with her a bit, it dawned on me she wasn’t even born when I was a college journalist. The dislike I have for her institution remains, but for some reason, it wasn’t as hard as I would have once thought it to be when I helped her plan out Life 2.0.

Later that day, I walked through the exhibit hall, and I ran across a guy I worked with back when I was a night-desk reporter. Andy now runs that center for investigative journalism at which this kid was interning. When he noticed me, he stopped what he was doing to say hi and prepared to introduce me to the folks gathered around him.

One of the people who turned around was another former newspaper staff who remembered me and gave me a huge hug. It turns out Pat had retired from the paper during one of the rounds of “downsizing” efforts and was now teaching at a small, private college and advising the paper. I told her, “We need to get you onto our board…” before explaining what it is I was doing and what our college group was all about.

She had this look on her face, and I couldn’t really figure it out. It was half amazement and half pride.

“Yeah,” Andy chimed in. “He’s all grown up now…”

I laughed. He just smiled.

He remembered how excited I was the time he offered to buy me a six-pack of beer if I’d take some mundane assignment he’d been given. Andy was happy he could go on his vacation without worry. I was thrilled: You mean I’ll get some extra hours, mileage money, a story in the paper AND BEER? Holy shit!

I didn’t know if Pat remembered the time she and I were working on a Sunday together and two stories had rolled in: Racist literature was found in a news rack at a grocery store and major vandalism had hit the area Walgreens. She was coming in later and I had half of each story and I hoped she’d let me keep one. When she arrived, she told me, “Take them both. I’m working on something else.” It was like a day of free ice cream. I can still remember thinking to myself, “Wow. I’ve got TWO STORIES in the paper today. This is unbelievable.”

Back then, moments like those were the world to me. For them, it was just another day of work.

After I left Andy’s booth, I wandered over to the walls of poster board that contained the award-winning work of journalists throughout the state. Not more than a minute of browsing went by before something grabbed me: A column with a familiar face staring back at me. The hair was more professionally cut, the cheeks a bit fuller but I knew the half-grimace that stared back at me.

One of my former students: First place for local sports column.

I backed up and started from the very first board, carefully examining each byline.

Second Place: Environmental writing

Third Place: Business coverage

First Place: Local education coverage

Third Place: Feature Writing

More and more of the names came back to me. Scared kids, wondering if they’d ever get an internship. Wondering if they’d get a job. Wondering if they’d be any good.

Professional journalists, all. Award-winners to boot.

My eyes settled on the last panel where the college winners were and found one bittersweet moment:

First place, News/news features.

The kid who wrote it was my editor during last year’s run of crushing misery. She stuck with me through thick and thin, knowing her life would be so much easier if she just asked me to quit. Instead, she hunkered down and dealt with the pounding, just like I had. In the end, though, she couldn’t take it anymore.

She dropped out of school, refusing to return for her senior year. She moved on to the tech school last semester, where she hopes to earn a degree that will let her work as a nursing assistant. She never wants to be in journalism again.

She wrote a personal experience feature story on Project Semicolon, a movement that started in 2013 after founder Amy Bleuel lost her father to suicide. Bleuel also struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, so she looked for a way to communicate that struggle to others in hopes of shedding light on these mental illness issues. The non-profit organization uses the semi-colon as a symbol of how you are the author of your life and authors choose how to end a sentence. The semi-colon says, “I’m pausing here, but I will choose to continue.” Many people who back the movement get a tattoo of a semi-colon as a way of reinforcing this belief.

Katie’s piece wove her own struggles into the broader story of Project Semi-Colon, which was started only about an hour’s drive from here. The narrative thread was her decision to get the tattoo and to share that moment with her mother.

I could feel the tears welling up as I started to read the story, so I just moved on and took a breath.

A great moment. A great kid. The one I couldn’t save.

My career choice often leaves me with mixed emotions. I think back to the most stinging comment people make about educators: “Those who can’t do, teach.” There are days I think maybe they’re right. Could I have stuck with journalism for 22 years and done more and better things than I did? Maybe I’m that tragic tale of wasted youth, the human vessel of lost potential I now try to drag out of other people as some sort of penance for my own transgressions…

Then there are days like yesterday, where I see how the kids who once pondered their own inadequacies are tearing it up at various publications in places they want to be. I see it in every “noun-verb” attribution they use and how I pounded that into them. I see it in their commitment to fairness and accuracy. I see it when they email me to ask, “Hey, I don’t know if you remember me, but I was a student of yours and you really helped me out a ton… I’m looking for an intern and I was hoping you had one of your kids to help me fill the slot…”

Those days, I see myself as a good farmer: I take those little seeds and put them in the best soil I have, tend them the best I can and then watch them grow to fruition. I help make sure the seedlings get what they need to survive. I realize how important this is now more than ever, in a field littered with cutbacks, high stress and public malice toward the profession.

Maybe that’s a good way to look at this.

I sow some of these seeds of hope for journalism.

And sometimes, it’s important to step back and enjoy the garden.

Journalism: A shitty job in a nuclear winter

One of my former students became a science reporter a few years out of school and once found himself on a trip to Chernobyl. A group of researchers were collecting stool samples from people who lived adjacent to the old Russian nuclear reactor, trying to see if they were suffering from any radioactive poisoning nearly three decades after the meltdown.

He sent me a post card from the area with a final line I still love:

“Journalism. It’s a shitty job but somebody has to do it.”

I thought about him and that trip today when I was trying to read anything in my social media feed that wasn’t about Trump’s press conference. When all I was left with was if Steve Kerr was going to play Russell Westbrook alongside his four Warriors in the All-Star Game and Draymond Green clarifying his “slave-owner mentality” statements, I gave up.

Trump’s hour-plus screed was a brick of uncut alternative facts, packaged in a wrapper of vulgar abuse and denigration. The word “rambling” might be overused at this point and I don’t think it goes far enough. It was like he took every topic of interest or a point of pride he has, wrote them on bingo balls and then had the machine spit them out to determine the order of his talking points.

The biggest problem came when he started taking questions from the press, one of his favorite targets of abuse. A reporter from Ami Magazine, a conservative orthodox Jewish publication, offered Trump the olive branch he was desperately seeking, a pass on personal anti-Semitism. However, as Jake Turx tried to ask Trump to explain how he planned to fight this problem, Trump just stepped all over himself, assuming Turx was calling him anti-Semitic and then told him to sit down and shut up.

When a reporter refuted Trump’s claim that his 306 (actually 304) electoral votes was the most since Ronald Reagan, he dodged with “I meant Republican victory.” He then was told Bush 41 had way more, which led Trump to blame his staff for the information.

Perhaps the worst moment is the one most people are noting: Trump’s clash with April Ryan, a long-time member of the White House press corps. Ryan, who is African-American, asked about Trump’s plans to improve urban areas that he often referred to as terrible hell holes and wondered if he’d reach out to the CBC and Hispanic caucus in congress. Trump seemed unaware of what CBC stood for, but upon learning it stood for Congressional Black Caucus, asked Ryan if she’d set up the meeting for him.

“Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?” Trump asked her in what could only be described as a confrontational tone.

At this point, I had two thoughts:

  • Based on his “you all know each other, right?” approach, I was amazed Trump didn’t start off with, “Hey, I loved you in ‘Hidden Figures!’ What’s your question?”
  • If you believe that Sean Spicer isn’t getting fired, buy stock in Orbitz. This guy is going to put a dent in our national supply by Saturday.

This press conference, naturally, scared the living shit out of me as a citizen, but my one saving grace is that I can turn off the TV or ignore the news. The journalists who have to work in this environment are like the people at Chernobyl in 1986, going shirtless and using some Windex to clean up the mess.

Journalism has always been a shitty job and it takes a weird breed of person to do it. If you don’t believe me, you should have been in our student newspaper’s newsroom this week. Conversations regarding a dead squirrel, double entendres about a professor “coming” and whether Meatloaf’s “I would do anything for love (but I won’t do that)” was about anal were among the most acceptable for public consumption.

The kids do this for almost no money, which will get them ready for a career in a field where cutting positions and salaries is an annual ritual. They talk to people who don’t want to talk to them about things everyone wants to know but no one who knows is willing to disclose. (A student told me an administrator offered him about a three-minute “No Comment” on a topic we had been covering. My first response, “Did you record it so we can use it as a quote?” The answer, of course, was “yes.”)

Abuse in this field is common. I’ve been called scum, an asshole, a weasel, a vulture and worse. One lady told me my mother didn’t raise me right. I’m sure there are worse ones that I’ve just blacked out of my memory. It got so bad that I used to have a recorder attached to my phone so I could record the abuse. That way, when the person on the other end became sweet as pie to my boss and accused me of random shit, I could just play him the tape.

The thing that amazes me about all of this is that we keep having more and more kids entering this field with the idea that each one of them probably has (at the very least) one Cousin Carl who believes everything not on Breitbart is fake news. Many of the kids I teach come from the Rural Red areas of the state where family members at Thanksgiving ask things like why they aren’t earning an “honest living” like “Gene the Retard” down the way who sells dachshunds out of his trailer.

One kid who recently changed majors to journalism sat with me after I mentioned that a long time ago, when I was changing from pre-law to something or other, Dad told me I needed to find a field where I could get a job.

“As long as you aren’t majoring in English or something else stupid like that, I don’t care,” he said. “You just need to be able to get a job.” (Incidentally, English was going to be my major right up to that moment…)

The kid’s dad had said something similar when he made the change to journalism and he wondered what was out there for him. I explained about the various ways the skills he picked up in journalism would make him a fine hire for a ton of great jobs. He relaxed and then asked, “Can you tell my dad that? He runs his own business and he thinks this is a stupid move.”

Of course it’s a stupid move, if you enjoy low-stress jobs with good benefits and career security. It’s also a stupid move if you enjoy being liked and you don’t want your illusion shattered when it comes to thinking the best of people. It’s a really stupid move for 1,001 other reasons that undercut sanity and longevity. Still, the kid felt like he found the right major, so like a moth to a flame, he decided to stick with it.

I was glad for that and I’m looking for more just like him because we need those guys and gals to fill in the ranks of reporters, editors and other journalists who push back every day against the tide of bullshit. Talking to kids who want to be the next reporter to be told, “Sit down! You’re fake news” really energizes me and makes me want to get them ready to go in the corner and fight for the puck. That’s why this weekend finds me at a journalism convention in Minnesota where kids from a lot of small-college Midwestern schools will show up and learn how to write, report, dig, challenge and fight better.

Best of all? The person running the convention told me the number of attendees this year is higher than it has been for the past several mid-winter conferences.

And, like any other decent journalist, I’ll make sure to check it out before I believe it.

Dear CMU Republicans, Hitler was never fucking funny.

Oh for fuck’s sake:

A Central Michigan University registered student organization apologized via social media late Wednesday night after an anti-Semitic Valentine’s Day card apparently handed out by a member of the group sparked anger among students and community members.
The Valentine features a photo of Adolph Hitler on the front and the words, “My love 4 u burns like 6,000 Jews,” and is signed “XOXO, Courtney.”

I’m waiting for Sean Duffy to find the “good things” that came out of this whole Holocaust deal, now that it’s clear we can always find a silver lining in whatever stupid shit people on your team do.

A rally against hate came out after this hit the fan at CMU, and it’s good that people get loud enough to let assholes know that this kind of behavior isn’t acceptable. That said, who the fuck thought this was a good idea in the first place? Someone actively went about building this stupid valentine and made sure to place multiple copies into the bags of students who were getting them. And of course, I’m sure, they thought it was hysterical because, hey, nobody THEY know ever got shoved in an oven or gassed in a shower. I mean, can’t we all get past this?

When I was in fifth grade, we had a Holocaust speaker and I will never forget some of the stories he told us about death and hopelessness. I can still see his gnarled, age-spotted hands in my mind’s eye as he pointed to the ceiling during a story of how he watched a man hang himself from the rafters with a belt and did nothing to stop him. It was survival, he explained, and we didn’t have the luxury of worrying about people we knew but for whom we had no direct responsibility.

He came back and spoke to us one more time a few years later. During that time, there were many people who still could speak but chose not to. People who hid their tattoos and spoke about such things only in hushed tones or drunken despair. As the years went by, however, there were fewer and fewer people who could speak from a first-person perspective on what had happened.

When I wrote for the local paper, I met a woman who escaped from Germany before the Holocaust. She married a man later who survived Bergen-Belsen and she told me the horrors he experienced. Until the day he died, he slept motionless, with his arms crossed, because that’s how he was forced to sleep in the camps.

At each institution I taught, whenever a speaker on this topic visited, I actively encouraged my students to attend. I explained that it would be horrifying and painful, but that it was something that they MUST experience in life if they are to understand basic human decency and dignity. To understand how those places existed and took so much from so many for such a stupid fucking reason was to understand the dark side of humankind.

I have to admit, I’m sure I said and did a lot of shit stupid things when I was that age. I’m sure I didn’t sidestep every gay joke or correct every negative stereotype associated with race or gender. I’m positive that I am fortunate as hell that social media didn’t exist back then, or else, God alone knows what might have come rolling out today about me. However, stupid though I was, I knew there were very clearly some things that were way the fuck out of bounds.

Hitler is NOT a meme or the ace in the hole you drop when you want to win an argument. He was the central gear in a movement that showed us how deep the rabbit hole really is and how dark night can be. He is not a colloquialism.

Neither is rape, as in “That math test totally raped me.”

Neither is gay,  as in “He’s so gay over his new truck.”

Neither are a dozen other terms that take life-altering events and turns them into euphemisms for casual conversation.

The thing that makes it easier for us to course-correct some of these fuckups is to have actual, live examples of those things that show up in everyone’s faces and say, “Really? The math test slipped something in your drink, took you to an apartment and told you to relax as it ripped off your clothes and forced itself into you repeatedly as you were too incapacitated to move, scream or fight, leaving you with a lifetime of physical, mental and emotional scars? It did all that?”

Unfortunately, we keep losing those people who can explain what life was like living six inches from death for years at a time because of the whims of a madman. And because time erodes direct contact and immediate understanding, we get the Hitler Valentine and someone who thinks it’s fucking funny.

“Keep it”

I was 12 years old when my great-grandfather died and my experiences with him were limited to Christmas events, birthday parties and the occasional times we watched a parade from his porch. Most of what I know comes from family legends and stories others told. Two things sat at the core of each tale:

  • He worked hard all his life.
  • He was an immigrant.

I thought about him this week with the immigrant ban, the Muslim ban or whatever the hell “anti-terrorist” spin the alt-White House is putting on this. His life spanned exactly 100 years and there was a lot of life in those years.

He came from a country that no longer exists: the “Kingdom of Bohemia” which later became squished into Czechoslovakia. Bias was pretty clear in that area of the woods as the Czechs and Slovaks didn’t have a lot of love for one another. The Bohemians were kind of the Stu Sutcliff of that area, but after World War I, they got stuffed into this new set of boundaries and that was that.

Great-grandpa was long gone by then, setting off for America on ship of some kind. How he got the ticket or how much money he had on him never made it into the family story, but he came from a family of farmers in the Old Country, so the answers were probably “No clue” and “Not much.” What did make it into the mix was that he met my great-grandmother when he got here, another Bohemian refugee. They were in the early 20s when they got married, or “spinsters” in the language of the time. Nobody thought it would last or that any future generations would spring forth.

They stayed married 72 years, until great-grandma died at 96, and produced four children (“Joe, Doc, Pa and Aggie,” my father would say.) So much for conventional wisdom.

They landed in a small Wisconsin town abutting Milwaukee, where my grandfather found work at the local factory, like most immigrants. He was a carpenter by trade, however, so each summer he would quit the factory job and build houses in the area to earn a better living. When his own family had reached a critical mass, he built one for them, finishing it up right around the time my grandfather was born. He lived there, raised four kids in that tiny building, outlived all of them and died in his own bed a month after he turned 100.

The backyard was the size of a two-car garage, but it sported a plum tree that produced enough fruit to eat, can and squeeze into a liquor-based form. When he sensed the plum tree was coming to the end of its useful life, he’d plant a half dozen seeded saplings and wait for one to assert dominance. He’d then destroy the others and chop down the old tree. The plum wood served to heat the house and cure meat.

He had a postage-stamp sized garden that was crammed to the hilt. Every time he picked something, he planted a new item to squeeze more food out of his patch of land. He also went to church every morning with a small paper bag, a useful item to collect the mushrooms he found along the way. By noon, great-grandma turned his find into a soup. That would be lunch.

Of all the stories I remember, this one always stuck with me:

Somewhere around between the World Wars, he got an official letter from a government agency in the old country. It explained that his father had died and that as the oldest son, he had inherited the family farm. It was a reasonably decent enterprise and during that era (the Great Depression), the farm would provide him a nice financial boost. The letter said he had to go back to fill out some papers and it was his. He could even sell it right then and there if he wanted.

My great-grandmother, who never really bothered to learn much English, wanted to go back. She missed her homeland and she also wanted to show off how well the family was doing. My great-grandfather, a practical man who knew how tenuous life could be in unstable times, scrawled a word in Bohemian on the letter and sent it back.

The mystery of that letter and the farm and the family remained part of frequent discussions around the family. We never really knew what happened or why until somewhere around his 90th or 95th birthday, where my father and his siblings managed to get great-grandpa to sit down at the kitchen table and tell stories. He eventually got around to the story about the farm and revealed what he had  written:

“Keep it.”

My great-grandfather saw himself as living the American dream. He came here with very little, found love, started a family and set down roots from which future generations could grow. He knew that if he went elsewhere, he might not get back or might not get let out. The whims of others would dictate his situation if he decided to reconfigure his life. So, he stayed put, built a life and never stopped working to improve things around him. (Another legendary family story was when my father stopped by to wish him a happy 97th birthday, only to find him on a rotten wood ladder climbing onto the roof. “Grandpa, what are you doing?” my dad shouted. “I cleaning rain gutters,” he said in his broken English. “But Johnny (a 30something cousin of mine) just cleaned those last week!” Great-grandpa shook his head. “You kids… You never do good enough job.”)

For generations, people who ARE here have always come up with reasons that THEY are OK being here, but THOSE GUYS shouldn’t be. It’s a continual series of, “Go back where you came from!” We can make weak arguments about potential terrorism, but that’s all they are: weak arguments by irrational people hoping to keep others from taking something they believe is essentially theirs. It’s less of a “Give me your tired” crowd and more of a “Go back where you came from!” contingency that makes the noise.

Great-grandpa never mentioned outright bias or hatred. He wore it on his face: A grim, tight-lipped determinism seemed to be his resting pulse. Dad heard stories second and third hand about how if it weren’t for a particular supervisor who liked great-grandpa, he’d have been out on his ass several times, simply because he wasn’t “one of us.”

What Trump and his supporters tend to forget is that every point in time, all of us used to be “one of them.”