Today we are rooted in place….

•April 27, 2015 • Leave a Comment

It’s like holding your breath. Sooner or later you have to let it go.

The high tension wire that was the city of Baltimore appears to have snapped. There’s been rioting and looting and injuries. All playing out in front of the cameras. The world watches. All pass judgement. None more so than those who do not call Baltimore home. And those who are white.

(of course, when young white people riot, we call it “disruptive behavior”….and it’s usually over hugely important things like their favorite hockey team losing….but never mind that for now…)

If allowed to fester long enough, fear can turn into anger. And a peaceful crowd can be turned into a lawless mob if leaders emerge….as they most always do.

Leaders can do good and bad things, of course. All leaders ain’t oratorical geniuses. Sometimes it’s just the guy willing to throw the first bottle that gets to be the head of the snake.

A man with goods looted from a store walks past burning vehicles during clashes in Baltimore, MarylandSo, once again, what was a story about possible police malfeasance is about to become un-done, hijacked by photographs of 16 year old kids in $150 sneakers laughing while they throw stones, stopping only long enough to allow looters balancing cases of Pampers on their heads to cross back into their lines. All of this brought on by a small minority of people who didn’t care about Freddy Gray when he was alive and don’t give a shit about him now that he’s dead. If you look like you’re having fun during a riot, you probably are. And this makes it difficult for outsiders to believe your heart is in it. If you get my drift.

The legitimate problems that led to the protests in Baltimore….namely….issues of race (and class…always class) that plague just about every decent sized city in the country….are lost in the smoldering flames of burning CVS stores and on-the-scene reporters trying to file their stories before being overwhelmed with tear gas…thereby becoming the story. The news is not always what’s on the news.

If your contention is that cops are oppressive, and that you can remedy this by throwing rocks at their heads, you probably need a plan B. If in your old age you want to sit with a grand-child on your knee and tell him or her what you did to further the cause of civil rights in your own neighborhood, here’s hoping you can brag about more than stealing a pair of sneakers from Thom McCan. If you are a Baltimore cop, I hope you’re not the one CNN caught on camera throwing a rock at protesters. Mobs don’t do heroes very well.

The anger is undoubtedly real. When white cops are stopping black males for broken tail-lights and, minutes later, shooting them in the back, multiple times, in full view of camera phones and their own dash-board cameras, something is fucked up. When a cop kills a black man and uses the excuse that he shot him by accident…confusing a service revolver with a taser…something is fucked up. And when a black male is arrested for unknown reasons, and is tossed into the back seat of the car healthy…….and comes 30 minutes mortally wounded…..something is fucked up.

But then again, something has always been fucked up. This isn’t a new thing. The fact that these incidents between black males and the police seem more prevalent these days of course doesn’t mean they are. In the age of smart phones and facebook and twitter, just about everything seems more prevalent. If you look closer, however, you’ll find that the only thing increasing is public awareness. The numbers have been a flat line for a long time.

Sooner or later….these things come out. Like life itself, they find a way.

(Or one can….you know….just look at the make-up of our nation’s prison population….if that’s your thing..)

We are loathe to admit it….but when history teaches us that violence doesn’t solve anything, history is a lying bitch. That doesn’t make it any less repugnant while it’s happening….but it is so.

Only the most deranged Fox-watcher can still pretend that justice is color-blind in this country. Something needs to be done. I have no idea what that something needs to be. There are layers upon layers that need to be peeled back and deciphered. Anything but business-as-usual is progress. To stand still is to sink.

A state of emergency has been declared. The National Guard has been called up. Smoke lingers. Sirens wail. We’ve seen this all before.

But surely we’re better than this. We’re better than back-seat beatings and riot shields and pilfered diapers and thug-mugging for the cameras. On the day that Freddie Gray was laid to rest, his memory was besmirched, largely by the very people who claim him as their own very own. But the true tragedy is that he appears to have died in vain.

Nothing is gained in all this. Absolutely nothing. To stand still is to sink? Today we are rooted in place.

I’m not sure how Freddie Gray feels about this, but I’ve a feeling his first few hours in his new locale have been every bit as painful as his last few hours in the old one.

In a bit..

— Tom Flannery

“we’ve come a long way, baby”…..

•April 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I caught parts of the Bruce Jenner interview on TV last night and I sat there thinking, “we’ve come a long way, baby”.

Granted, a nation that takes a Ted Cruz or a Scott Walker seriously is not exactly a bastion of civil rights, but last night a transgender was given 2 hours in prime time. During that time Jenner was treated with dignity and respect and allowed to tell his story. He was surrounded by his loving family. Interviewer Diane Sawer did not editorialize. There was no post-interview roundtable of talking heads thrown together to sop the bible belt. When it was over Facebook and Twitter lit up with praise. The normal haters did the normal hating, but it seemed so rote….so connect-the-dot like…..lines pulled out of some goober playbook. Irrelevant.

In short, when all was said and done, America said……”good on you Bruce. Be happy.” And then went to bed. My Mom watched, and she told me…..”I just wish he was prettier…” and that was that. The perfect response. My Mom is as cool as it gets.

(People seemed more surprised that he came out as a conservative Republican than they were hearing that he wanted to be a woman. The sound I heard, which I initially thought was thunder, was John Boehner’s head exploding when Jenner said he would gladly discuss his plight with the speaker of the house…..and expect forward movement on LGBT rights. Good luck there Brucie.)

In my lifetime, this nation has gone from Jim Crow, to an African American in the White House. From gays hiding themselves away behind locked doors, to gays proudly marching down the Avenue of the Americas. Even the hint of a gay character on TV was greeted by the bible police as a sign of the apocalypse. Now, we simply don’t give a shit.

In many cases, not giving a shit is a glorious sign of acceptance.

I don’t pretend to understand what it feels like to be born a man and want to be a woman. But that’s the trough we need to navigate. I can’t pretend to know what it feels like to be a black man in the inner city being flagged down by a cop car either. We can never know such things until we can walk in the shoes of others. And all to often, those shoes simply don’t fit.

So what then?

Well….we can listen.

How hard can that be? Well…..pretty damn hard if we fail to filter out all the noise first.

Judge not lest ye be judged. It’s astounding to me how many God-fearing folk forget this little nugget.

What Jenner did was incredibly brave. Any time you raise your head above the parapet you invite rocks to the head.

We should all be allowed to live our lives the way we want to live them… love who we want to love….without fear of repression. As long as in doing so we do no harm.

And really, why should I give a shit that Bruce Jenner wants to be a woman?

How is it in any way my business? Live and let live. Another nugget.

But is he a “hero”? We use that word a lot.

That depends on how high your bar is. If winning a gold medal is heroic, then surely so is this.

I don’t think running faster than somebody else makes you heroic, and I don’t think deciding to live your life the way you want to live it is heroic either. Men and women run fast every day. They push through their own lives with dignity every day. Nobody calls them heroes.

Fred Shuttlesworth was a hero. Martin Luther King Jr. Gandhi. Kids who fight cancer are heroes.

Bruce Jenner is simply a good man. A good father. By all accounts a good friend. He should be thought of as nothing more. And nothing less. I’m sure he’d agree.

Our nation has come so far…..and yet we still have incredible distances to travel. Sometimes I wish we would run as fast as Jenner did in 1976 in Montreal….but maybe just knowing that we keep putting one foot in front of the other is enough.

Good on you, Bruce. Thank you.

In a bit..

– Tom Flannery

We have returned….well….one of us has….but never fear….I’ll get him…

•April 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

This site has been in hibernation since 2012 but I’ve recently started badgering Stevens about taking it up again. He’s a bit grumpy so it may take me a while but I’ll get him back in here. Scout’s honor.

We even won a “best blogger” award from a local newspaper for what’s contained herein. What is contained herein anyway? Well, everything from a paean to old-fashioned wind-up wrist-watches to an obit for the great Levon Helm.

Guess which one was mine and which one was his?

He’s an old-schooler…..that Stevens. A show-and-teller on the back roads with a flip-top note pad and chewed up pencil in his shirt pocket….a pencil that he sharpens by whittling the nub with a pocket-knife. The way US Grant used to in 1864.

The man is a genuine throwback. A demon reporter who once told me that in over 50 years he might have editorialized once. In print that is. Or on TV, where he’s a bit of a local star (thanks to that voice….it drips like honey down the spine of a tree….the old ladies love him). When we meet in person he editorializes the hell out of just about everything I say or do….so it’s not like he doesn’t have opinions. It’s just that in his day newsmen reported the news. They didn’t interject themselves into it.

His idea of “working” is to get in his car and drive aimlessly, preferably on back-roads that lead to places he’s never heard of. Nothing excites him more than finding non-famous people doing things that non-famous people never get famous for doing. I’ve never met a man more repulsed by popular culture. This makes him either endlessly fascinating or an unbearable curmudgeon. I’ll let you decide. But I knew where I fall….even if the line is easy to straddle at times.

Oh, and he’s gotten paid for doing this sort of whistling and wandering in an “office” filled with blue lakes and green grass and exploding fall leaves. Since I was a little kid he’s gotten away with this dodge.

In short, he’s got the greatest job in the history of the world. A job that he’s been officially retired from, by the way, for at least 5 years. I’m not sure how or why he still works full time at the same job he retired from, but I hope I have the same problem when I’m his age. Which won’t be for a looooong time.

My father was a newsman cut from the same cloth as Stevens. They were professional friends. Respected the hell out of each other. When my Dad passed away in 2010 Stevens was the first person to call me. I’ll never forget that.

He knew I was some sort of writer. Plays. Songs. Stuff like that. He appreciated the lineage. He could see what I learned (and what I didn’t learn) from the old man. He coached me some. Imparted wisdom. I pretended not to listen. He pretended not to notice.

I learned that in searching for something you’ve already built up, fully formed, in your head, you’ll frequently miss the ever changing scenery along the way…..which very well might be the story worth telling.

In short, the smaller the story, the more interesting the people. If the story was “big”, it meant everybody else was covering it too. Stevens wanted no part of these.

I kept goading him to take positions in his pieces. Call out the bad guys. He didn’t just pretend not to listen. He really didn’t listen. Because he’s smarter than me, and just about everybody else around here who makes his or her living with words. And he never talks down to his audience. He says….”here it is”….and that’s that. On to the next story. He points his beat up used car with about 1 million miles on it down the next dirt road and searches for the next frighteningly ordinary folk he can find.

So yea, we’re friends even when we don’t agree on anything.

That’s friendship for you.

There is no writer I enjoy reading more.

So never fear. I’ll get him back in here.

He won’t be able to stay away.

He’ll read this and say….”boy….that’s not how you do it!”

And then he’ll show me.

And you.

In a bit…

–Tom Flannery

How can a parent separate the two?

•December 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I just want to get these feelings down….so I can remember them in the years to come. So many things fade with time.

What happened at Newtown was once unspeakable. But no more. Little children. That’s what changes the equation. That’s what drives all this soul-searching now. It’s twisted that it takes the riddled bodies of little children to get to where we’re at. Thirty-two grown bodies at Virginia Tech wasn’t enough 5 years ago.

So here we are.

I’ve only known a few politicians personally, and most of them are in jail. I wish I was kidding but I’m not.

The nature of a politician is, once seated, to stay there. Those who do little or nothing always have the least amount of people mad at them. Keeping a low profile is what gets you elected and re-elected. Speaking out on just about anything is going to piss off at least half your constituents. Better to mumble and equivocate and form “committees” to “look into the problem”. Then attend some fund-raisers.

Some issues are hotter than others, obviously. Like guns.

Pro-gun politicians will take NRA dollars and live happily ever after, but they don’t want to stand on the stump waving UZIs and ranting about the 2nd amendment (Well, unless they’re from Texas. But Texans are exempt from much of this conversation). They’d look crazy…like a half-demented Charlton Heston marching into Colorado in the wake of Columbine thundering “from my cold dead hands”…..even though he wasn’t the one who just got a bullet in the head. Anti-gun politicians are terrified that even suggesting an assault rifle might not be a good idea will get them tarred and feathered and accused of pissing all over those poor defenseless (and omnipotent) framers of our sacred constitution. NRA lobbyists will mobilize like killer-bees and suddenly some guy named Billy-Bob has a war-chest of millions of dollars and has announced he’s running for Congress because his opponent hates freedom.

Yes sir. Leave them guns alone. The fiscal cliff. Now there’s something we can all agree on eh?

What are “arms” anyway? If I can legally own a Bushmaster .223, why can’t I own a nuclear weapon? Or a tank? Surely they are “arms” too? If “arms” were meant to mean only guns, why wasn’t it written the “right to bear guns”?

We can agree (I haven’t checked with Texas) that “arms” don’t mean “nuclear weapons”. We agree because it’s so silly and obvious. Obviously the first congress of the United States did not have the foresight to consider the splitting of the atom. Nor, I would argue, did they have the foresight, in their day of muskets and minie balls, to imagine something as lethal as the Bushmaster .223….spraying dozens of high velocity rounds into the tiny bodies of 6 and 7 year olds.

When gun control is suggested, the Deliverance-like squealing commences. “They’re coming to take our guns.” Forgetting for a moment that if your mind wandered in that direction while 20 first-graders were still lying where they were slain, you’ve got some serious dents in your humanity….can anybody name the person who is suggesting a repeal of the 2nd amendment? No, you can’t, so you need to turn off Fox News for a while and join the rest of us.

You want to hunt? Go hunting. They make guns for that. Not the Bushmaster .223, but then that would sorta take the fun out of it wouldn’t it? Can you imagine DeNiro in “The Deer Hunter”…..”one clip….deer has to be taken with one clip….two is pussy”.

Some are suggesting that we need to start arming teachers. I’m a product of catholic schools. What the nuns might have done if they had access to automatic weapons is something I don’t wish to dwell on. A paddle in the office to spank a kid would prompt howls and lawsuits, but now we’ve got an assault rifle over by the pencil sharpener? Genius. This nation already has more than a quarter of a billion guns. To suggest that adding more to the mix would somehow decrease gun violence is like arguing that banning contraceptives would decrease population growth. People who suggest teachers should be armed are the type of people you should avoid at parties.

Oh, and “where was God?” You’ve heard that bit I’m sure. God was pissed that he wasn’t allowed in public schools so, just to be a bitch, he allowed this kid to mow down 26 people. Yea, that sure sounds like the kind of God I’m looking for.

I was always taught God was everywhere. Masturbate under the covers? He sees you. To hell you go. But he can’t get through the security system of an elementary school? Or, even worse, he’s so churlish that he chooses not to because the kids are learning science and math and not Adam and Eve? This is the type of argument that loonies make. This is the type of argument that should prompt an immediate background check.

Of course, if you’re one of the 40% of Americans who buy their guns legally at gun shows, a background check is not required. This is not a loophole in gun laws folks. This is political insanity. This is what makes other nations look at us, scratch their collective heads, and say, “wow……those people really are insane.”

On Sunday night my daughter said to me, “Daddy, I’m afraid to go to school tomorrow.”

I didn’t know what to say to her. I was afraid for her to go to school too.

This is what we’ve become. Twenty dead children. Each decimated by multiple high velocity bullets at close range.

The NRA has made no statement, not even the “we’re sorry kids are dead” variety. They’ve taken their facebook page down. Meet the Press invited all 31 pro-gun US Senators to appear on its show Sunday morning. All declined.


I keep seeing the faces of these kids when I close my eyes. And next to theirs I see the faces of my own children. How can a parent separate the two?

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.

Well….maybe that’s true.

But in Newtown it was a person with guns. Purchased legally. In a civilized nation. The kind of guns that are made for killing. The kind of guns that turned a first grade classroom into something that looked very much like a war.

If these guns weren’t available, how many of these children would still be alive this Christmas?

Can you answer that for me?

–Tom Flannery

This mess ain’t cleaned up. It’s just been swept under the rug for a few years.

•November 7, 2012 • 1 Comment

Well, the issue was never really in doubt even though the popular vote was a dead heat. Not sure that’s a good thing, but that’s the American electoral process for you. At one point after the race was called Romney actually had 300 more popular votes across the nation. With this type of system in place, only the most deluded among us can say that every vote “counts”. Every vote does not count. The very definition of a wasted vote is the guy pulling the Obama lever in, say, Utah or Arizona. That vote meant nothing to the big picture. Granted, it may have said to the world that Utah and Arizona are not completely filled with angry white people saying “screw all of you, I just want lower taxes and less brown people”…but still. We’re talking nuts and bolts here. Some votes simply do not matter.

Alas, this time at least sanity won out. Electing Mitt Romney and his pack of right-wing neanderthals could have set this nation back 50 years. In case you didn’t notice, it wasn’t just democrats in this country celebrating last night. It was the rest of the world. The way we conduct ourselves matters in lots of other places too.

I said before the election that there was no way a guy polling at 0% among blacks and 20% among Hispanics could possibly be elected president of a diverse nation. But what really put Obama over the top was the overwhelming support given to him by women. A huge 10 point margin (men, still the dumbest of creatures, went the other way….Romney 55-45). Romney himself never said anything about “legitimate rape” or “getting pregnant after being raped is god’s will”, but men in his party sure did. Over and over again. And Romney continued to support these men….silence seeming more and more like acquiescence as time went on. Or, at the very least, moral cowardice.

To put it bluntly, Romney never showed enough balls to take on the lunatic fringe of his party, and it cost him the election. A moderate republican who ran on the economy alone….and didn’t spend time jerking off about abortion or god’s views on rape (and didn’t choose a serial liar like Ryan as his co-chair)….would have won this election. Easily. If you can’t beat a sitting President when unemployment is near 10%, you are either a colossal dolt, or you’re being sidetracked by Limbaugh and his hate crusade. I don’t think Mitt Romney is a fool….even though he campaigned like one. I think he made a deal with the devil, and figured once he got in he could slowly talk the crazies down. As Governor of Massachusetts Romney took many sensible positions (on healthcare most notably), nearly all of which he disavowed when he started getting yelled at by Limbaugh and Hannity. Not exactly political courage. And if a guy gets all wobbly in the knees when talk show hosts screech at him, how the hell is he gonna act in a real crisis? He gonna call Roger Ailes and ask him to poll the Fox newsroom? Summon the angel Moroni for a sit-down? Does the guy have no stones at all?

Positions are so entrenched these days. It’s no longer enough to just throw red-meat to your own party. We already know that serious pro-life people are gonna vote republican and serious health-care advocates are gonna vote democratic. There needs to be some sort of meeting in the middle. So when Romney got nailed on tape writing off half the country as indolent moochers, some of his base get snared in that net. When some fool goes off half-cocked about “legitimate rape” and Romney just grins, a lot of women who were planning on voting for him say, “what the hell?” If the guy had just stood up there and said….”wow, 10% unemployment”….over and over again….he’d have won. But the noise machine got to him. So he pandered. God. Guns. War. Uteruses. Throw in some subtle racism, and an unwillingness to even entertain answering questions like “you’re gonna cut taxes and raise defense spending….while at the same time shrinking the deficit? Can we have…er….you know……some specifics?”….and what’s left is the Barry Goldwater of the 2010s. Romney and John Kerry can spend the rest of their days wind-surfing and horse-jumping. That’s how quick you die in politics.

And make no mistake. Republicans, after they realize Canada has universal healthcare, thus making it a morally unacceptable place to live, will stay put and blame Romney. Not for being too extreme. But for not being extreme enough. And waiting in the wings is Paul Ryan….a guy who makes Barry Goldwater look like George Clooney. So if democrats want to do a little gloating, I suggest they do it fast. And then remain vigilant. Because this mess ain’t cleaned up. It’s just been swept under the rug for a few years.

–Tom Flannery

Soon it will be over

•November 6, 2012 • 1 Comment

Just got back from voting. It’s one of them blue-sky days that makes you squint. And the leaves are hanging on for dear life, despite Sandy. The views are still pretty. The air is crisp and clean. It’s all good.

My polling location is smack in the middle of a low-income housing project, which made the incredibly cheerful Paul Ryan supporters stalking all the entrances seem all the more…..well….odd. Half of them were passing out stickers (“no thanks Ladies, I’m one of them anti-rape weirdos”) while the other half seemed to be acting as spotters, making sure the people who actually lived a few feet away didn’t interfere….the way poor folks are liable to do….especially in an election year.

I walked in….and I was the only voter there. I was confronted with what looked like the American Idol panel, although nowhere near as good-looking. If they were volunteering, they need to work on their collective body language. I tried to lighten the mood a bit (“jeez, where is everybody?”) but all I got in return was stone. My demeanor must scream “beware! socialist!” I grabbed my ballot, filled it out, and shoved it in the machine….all in about 20 seconds. I’ve never been in a gulag….but I now think I know what the people in gulag’s look like.

As I was walking out… of the Ryan supporters said “thanks for voting today” and instinctively I said “good luck”. I was damn near charmed to tell you the truth. I hope he didn’t take my reply to be smart-ass, ’cause I was being sincere. The guy was probably married to one of the women with the stickers, and for that alone I felt like offering to buy him a drink.

It all made me wonder if there are actually people out there so wishy-washy that they could be swayed by somebody thrusting a sticker or a button into their hands 10 feet from the voting booth. I already know the answer to this is yes. This is the frightening part of democracy.

We’re supposed to know who wins by tonight. But we probably won’t. Florida and Ohio have a way of making the rest of the country wait. The fact that the election itself is largely in the hands of a relatively small segment of Ohioans and Floridians makes me wonder if the way we choose our President doesn’t need a bit of tweaking. Not sure why we don’t do the “guy with the most votes” wins thing. Seems fairly….well….fair to me. But no….we’ve got this electoral college thing, which even members of the electoral college don’t understand. Large swaths of the country are simply written off as a result. Romney winning California is as likely as Obama winning Texas, and this is one of the reasons a current red-blue state map looks like something General Grant may have poured over in 1863. It’s also, I believe, one of the reasons that more Americans vote on Dancing With the Stars than for the President of the United States. An Obama supporter in Texas? Shit, I’d stay in bed too. My brother lives in Houston, where his Obama yard sign lasts about 2 hours before it’s set on-fire.

Pennsylvania is one of them so-called “swing states”. So we’re all important now. Pundits are predicting Obama will carry the day here….but any state that elects Rick Santorum to anything is powder-blue to say the least. Obama sent Clinton and Romney sent Rudy….just yesterday. So there are some frayed nerves for sure.

But I’m glad it’s just about over. One more attack ad and I might’ve done an Elvis to my TV set. All of them mention the word “war”. “War on Coal”. “War on Women”. “War on Religion”. Nobody talks about….you know….war itself. As in the one we’re still fighting in Afghanistan that Obama promised to get us out of, and the one that we’ll likely be fighting in Iran…the one Ronmey has promised to get us into.

Seems to me that fighting 2 wars with borrowed money is what got us into the economic mess to begin with. Republicans talking about “cutting spending” sound as deluded as Democrats who talk about “civil liberties”. If Obama is so anti-business, why are corporate profits up 8% on his watch? This is socialism? And if Republicans are the ones so willing to pee on the constitution, why is Obama the ones obliterating “enemies” with drones….in sorta secret? Without due process, obviously.

In truth, there’s not much difference between the two parties…except on social issues. And these “wedge” issues (abortion, homophobia, flag pins on the lapel, who loves god more etc..) mean about as much to most of us, day-to-day, as what color shoes the President decides to wear. I’m way more concerned with my job than the lesbians across the street.

Soon it will be over.

I hope we make the right choice. But even if we don’t, we’ll survive. A nation that overcomes Nixon is pretty resilient. In 1960 a non-white couldn’t get served at a Southern lunch counter, and a Catholic becoming President was un-thinkable. Now we’re bickering over the African-American and the Mormon for our highest national office. That’s some non-partisan progress, no?

–Tom Flannery

Sandy, this pier lights our carnival life forever

•November 2, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The storm brought me back here. Stevens has gone through more of them than I have. “Agnes” is forever a dirty word in this valley. Sandy could have been just as bad, but she spared us for the most part. Just as (again, with a few violent exceptions) our area was spared last year. Two bullets dodged in two years. I’m feeling uneasy. How long will our luck hold out?

And is it even fair to say we got “lucky” when other portions of the east were demolished? My Dad used to take us to Long Beach Island as kids. You could get a cottage a block away from the beach for $150 a week. Those were the days. I love LBI. Years later I brought my own family there. We could only stay three nights because a hotel room for one night was double what my Dad paid for a cottage for an entire week. Ah…the free markets and all that you know. But still, after they pried the credit card from my clenched fingers and swiped it, it was like stepping back in time. The hotel we were at was maybe a dozen blocks from Liberty Ave, where we used to stay. I walked down there. The houses are all houses now, not what used to be called “cottages”. And as such they looked a bit more….er….grand. No more outdoor shower stalls in the back. But still. The dunes. The uphill walk on the hot sand and then….the crashing waves. The kites in the air. The ice cream trucks with their ringing bells. The squeals of delighted kids. The whistles of the life guards. The relentless patrols of those Orwellian teens checking for beach badges. It was the same place. I was there the summer JAWS came out. I saw it in a movie theater near Bay Village. I vowed to never go back in the water. But like most, I did. But I don’t go out nearly as far.

On our recent trip back I spent a lot of time in the LBI museum (I had the place pretty much to myself. The only other name in the guestbook that day was a guy from….guess? Scranton). Much of it was taken up with pictures from a long ago storm that devastated the island. The pictures were ghastly. Much like the ones we’ve been seeing on the news the past few days. You couldn’t imagine the place could recover. But I was standing there. It had.

Can it do so again? The hotel I stayed in with my family? I saw a picture of it a few days ago. It looks like somebody drove through it with a bulldozer. It’s gone.

The way these things work is so tricky. Just a few days after the storm, and most of the cameras and reporters have packed up and left. Their job is important but limited. They can’t stand in front of the same wrecked houses and issue the same reports day after day. So they move on to the next story. When they leave, those of us not affected tend to forget those who are. We’re not being callous, but when I stop and think about it, to a resident of LBI who lost everything, and with no insurance, not much chance of getting any of it back again, we must seem a little frigid. At least. So I text a $10 donation to the Red Cross….maybe more to ease my own mind than anything else. The gesture seems so…small. So trivial. I don’t even have to get off the damn couch.

I read in a New Jersey paper that it’s going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars just to shovel the sand off the roads.

I wish we could all do more to help when help is needed. I wish the world moved at a pace that allowed for more reflection….and less immediate thoughtless reaction. Some days it seems a victory to simply close the garage door behind you. You can finally exhale. Or scream.

I want to go back to LBI. I want to take my kids. Or maybe it will be them taking me (picking up the tab too….can’t imagine what the free markets will have done with hotels by then). I want to see pictures on the museum wall of what Sandy did in 2012. And I want to stare again in wonder at the resiliency of the human spirit.

–Tom Flannery

Hell on Wheels (tf)

•May 15, 2012 • 2 Comments

Generally I carry on about weightier topics. But I’m feeling less pretentious today. And quite a bit aggravated by one of life’s little chores that can turn hellish with the pull of a rope. I’m speaking of course about cutting the grass…which seems a simple little task, and is actually if you have a device for cutting it that actually, you know…

Since the cutting grass season has started I’ve gone through the following…

1. Four year old mower. Died multiple times. Always paid a guy to “fix” it, which worked out better for him than me because the “fix” would only last about 2 weeks. So I decided, much like throwing money into an old car, that it wasn’t worth it anymore. Besides, I had a free alternative.

2. My Mom’s mower. Mom is 84 and a neighbor cuts her grass for her, so she had no need for her machine. I gladly took it off her hands. First time I used it I realized that even though it’s “self-propelled”, that bit doesn’t work anymore. It’s amazing how lazy we’ve gotten, reluctant to even push a thing that has wheels on it without substantial help. But still, I’ve got hills and stuff, and this was a huge pain in the ass. But at least it worked. So I sweated through it, happy at least it wasn’t costing me anything other than wet clothes and curses. Until it started to make really funny noises one day….and nearly caught on fire. Dead. The most dead lawnmower I’d ever seen. You didn’t even have to try to start it to know that it had taken its last breath. I rolled it to the curb and waited for some fool to drive by and pick it up. It took all of 30 minutes. I hope it didn’t end up killing the guy. But…not my problem anymore.

3. Lowes here I come. This is a bad match. Me and Lowes. There is nobody who knows less about the stuff in Lowes than I. I stand in the middle of the store and become paralyzed. It’s like being dumped in a strange land where nobody speaks English anymore. I’m not interesting in “fixing up” anything. I don’t want to “build” anything. My brain is simply not wired this way. Put a screwdriver in my hand and I need to ask which way to tighten. Every time. Eventually, I stumble on a wall of wildly priced lawnmowers. I do what I always do, which is buy the cheapest one that has a name I recognize. The name escapes me now. I get it home. I put it together. And it won’t start. The pull cord? Won’t let you pull it. Seems perverse to have such a thing….but if it’s gonna happen it’s gonna happen to me. So I load it back up and bring it back. Guy says “what’s wrong with it?” I say, “can’t pull the cord”. He says, “that’s ’cause you didn’t put it together right. See…”…he then proceeds to disassemble and reassemble the thing while I’m standing in line. Before he’s done showing off his manly skills, I’ve had enough. “I don’t care. I don’t want it anyway”. He’s genuinely taken aback. “You don’t want it?” “No, I don’t want it. If I’m too dumb to put it together, I sure as hell ain’t gonna be able to use it.” And so that’s that. Poor slob. He looked at me like I was an escapee from a mental ward. Show me up will you? Screw you, I’m heading to Home Depot. Which brings us to…

4. This one was $100 more….but said “no assembly required”. Worth it. Got it home. Started right up. Only problem? Blade wasn’t turning. I thought that was the point? Was near tears at this point. Looked at the directions for the first time. Turns out there were a few steps to take. I missed one of then. The one numbered “1”. Hooking up some wire or another. Live and learn I guess. So after about an hour I was sailing through the high grass like a hot knife through butter. But still, why did I feel the ever-present sword of Damocles over my head? Ah yes, now I know. The second time I used it, while halfway through my backyard….it stopped. Gas? Plenty. Oil? Yep. Pull cord? Well, you know the rest. I nearly ripped the arm out of my socket. Cord would not budge. I stop outside staring at it for a long time. Then it started to rain.

I went inside and googled the make and model and “pull cord won’t pull” and found about 5000 other saps with the same problem. The solution? Well, there was many things to try, and I tried them all, but in the end the one that kept getting the most play was “return it”. So I did. Guy said “what’s wrong with it?” I said, “can’t start it…cord is stuck”. Here it comes. But no, he just said “well that’s odd” (“not really” I wanted to say…based on my online research) and took it off my credit card. I said, “I want another one”. He says, “the same kind?” I say, “yea, I figure it can’t happen twice.”

Yes, number 5. Five.

So I look for help to get it off the shelf. Guy I find makes me go outside and find a wheelie cart, then when I do he tells me all about his bad back…so I end up lifting the thing and nearly killing myself while he stands there and supervises. I get it out to my car and ask the first guy I see who looks stronger than me (took about 2 seconds…a customer, not an employee mind you) to help get it in the back-seat. He says sure and I’m all set. Lawnmower number five. Got it home…remembered step one this time, and was all ready to go when the skies opened up and it started pissing down rain. That was yesterday. It’s been raining ever since, so I haven’t had a chance to break this one yet.

I’ll keep you posted.

–Tom Flannery

Doing the Right Thing (tf)

•May 7, 2012 • 1 Comment

Sometimes you need to just catch your breath. Life comes at you pretty fast….and we’re not all Ferris Bueller. I want to miss most of it if possible. Tell me when to duck. Tell me when it’s safe to be bored again. I adore being bored. There’s so much opportunity therein.

And doing the right thing is not always not easy, it’s a downright nuisance at times. Sometimes I’d prefer to have my own kind of fun. Watch a Phillies game with the sound on mute and a Band CD playing. Or read a book about a guy who decides to live in Juarez for a year, just because he heard it was the most dangerous place on earth. Or to just sleep in. All preferable to….you know….most stuff.

With age comes lots of things. Not many of them are any good. Responsibility for one. A dreadful thing when the seas start to get rough.

Not that I don’t at least try to measure up. It’s just that when I see the quiet grace with which others handle all sorts of bad things, I kinda hang my head. I might “handle” things….technically….but I’ll end up putting all sorts of dents and dings in the walls, like an underpaid, overworked, furniture mover. It can get kinda messy. Going through the brick wall, despite the mess… still quicker than going around you know.

I tell this to people and they look at me all funny like.

Age is supposed to be synonymous with wisdom. But I’ve met plenty of dumb old people so I don’t think that’s true. The one thing in common will all old dumb people is that they were all, without exception, young dumb people at one time. Age can mean wisdom if your IQ is sufficient to begin with. But saying that at 46 I’m twice as smart as I was at 23 is like saying that at 46 I’m twice as ugly as I was at 23. Truth is I looked kinda goofy at 23. Bad glasses and a Bono-mullet. I’ve aged somewhat gracefully since then.

But I digress. We were speaking of increased responsibility, no?

I think one of the reasons lots of guys my age act like adolescents is because it brings with it, at least until the booze or the chemicals wear off, a sense of irresponsibility that is, let’s be honest, somewhat irresistible. If I pretend to be forever 17, the drudgery of being 46 no longer exists. It’s quite a leap in logic but it can be achieved via the correct mix of substance abuse.

But it never lasts long enough, which is why I gave up on it some time ago. Now I just read lots of books and wait for the other shoe to drop.

Which is has been doing lately. With the regularity of a man pacing his own floor.

But still, the right thing beckons, as does the pesky conscience when the “right” thing can be avoided by so many little things that comes so naturally… not picking up the phone.

I’m not perfect. I’m actually embarrassingly far away from being even in the same zip code. I am, I feel, astoundingly average when it comes to these things, which makes me feel….well….sorta ambivalent about becoming reliant on others as I age even more. But still, the glass can be half full, or half empty.

At least it’s not dry.

–Tom Flannery

Monday Monday, Washday Washday (ms)

•April 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I like predictability in life, at least to some extent. There is always room for the excitement of a new find, a new way of doing something, an “Ah Ha” moment and they are all welcome provided they come at the right time. The “Ah Ha” moments that bounce me out of bed at night, I can do without those. Knowing that something is going to be where you expect it to be has its rewards; it’s comforting I think and much less stressful — it also helps to define life.

Somebody uploaded an image of a ringer washer to Face Book the other day and when I saw it my mind started to wander not that it takes much to get it moving. The old washer pictured in that photo made me remember washday, which always occurred on Monday. I don’t know why that was so beyond the fact that the rest of the week already had designated days for cleaning, baking and such and Monday was the only one open.

At any rate it was quite the project compared to these days. There is still ironing to do of course but the machines are essentially set and forget, they even signal you when they’re finished. The old ringer washer was nowhere near as convenient.

The system involved the washer and two tubs each with clean water. The machine washed a load, the ringer was brought around and the clean clothes put through it dropping into the first tub to be rinsed and pushed through the ringer again into the second tub. There was one more trip through the ringer into a clothes basket before they were ready to go out on the line.

The first load of clothes was always the white stuff for the water needed to be at its cleanest. See, the machine was not automatic and so to avoid emptying and refilling it a half dozen times the system called for progressively dirty clothing to go through. By the time the kitchen carpets were done the water was so dirty you could have planted a garden in it. In the beginning, though, were the whites, the brilliant flags that hung on the line signaling another washday.

The whites on the line were truly a sight to see especially if it was the day for sheets. The huge squares of white waving and flapping in the breeze were so bright that one had to squint when near them. The clothes that came out later were hung to the rear of the whites just because that’s how it worked out but I thought also that the lady of the house did not want to detract from the glory of the sheets. They would allow her family to rest in comfort surrounded by the fine scent of line-dried clothing and there is pride in knowing that important job has been done well. One could not bask in the glories for too long, however; Tuesday, as I recall, was the day to iron.

—Mike Stevens


•April 29, 2012 • 1 Comment

Despite my best efforts our home has not physically grown. Oh we’ve kept up with the inside just fine, done some work in the yard too but so far as the building itself, nothing much has changed. My wife is to blame for this of course for she is always quick to point out the modest income that streams into our bank and from there to various companies with their hands out waiting for the payment register to ring. Kaching. They’re happy; we’re still in the same house.

It isn’t all bad for a small home has its benefits: lower taxes, smaller heating bills, less to clean, difficult to get lost in, grandkids learn the place quickly and there are fewer places for them to hide. Still, there has always been a desire in me to knock out some walls and build an addition to our humble castle. This likely will never happen but I am content to go on imagining it will while living in the pleasant present.

In our home are pieces of furniture called heirlooms by antique dealers and in truth they are though the value outside our family is probably questionable; there is the dining room table for example.

Our house is not big enough for a formal dining room so we sit and eat in a room that is a dining room with a full view of the kitchen and otherwise serves in various ways the rest of the time. The table came to us a few years ago when my in-laws broke up their home. They owned it since the 1940’s so when it came to us it was already old but it was a comfortable old.

We gave the wood legs and sides a good cleaning and polishing but the top, now that was a different story. It’s metal, you see, and so if you are of a certain age you can guess what it looks like. The leaves pull out from underneath to double the space and there is room for four or five depending on the age and size.

I often imagine the stories it could tell if it could speak. How many Christmas Eve dinners had it held? How many late night talks had it listened to? How many long evenings supporting a youngster bent on learning to spell? Too many to imagine. My wife said she and her sister sat on one side, her brother opposite, her parents one to each end. The arrangement seldom varied and that is good for there is security in sameness, knowing that some things are predictable. No matter the time of year, the times of day, the good times or the bad times the table was there and folks just fit into their usual places.

We seldom eat at tables any longer. We eat standing up, watching television, between video games or texted conversations; the table is there as decoration or to hold the days mail or pile of schoolbooks, a purse or car keys. In a way, I guess, the table still speaks to the times.

—Mike Stevens

Sittin in the car car….(tf)

•April 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I’ve got young kids, so I spend a lot of time taking them to and fro. School. Practice . Games. The movies. Friend’s houses. Birthday parties. When picking up, there’s a lot of waiting time. Just sitting in the car…lingering until they appear. I’m known to have the patience of a wounded animal, but I never mind these times. Strange.

It’s quiet though…and you get to view the world from a safe place. I become fascinated by the actions of people around me. All have stories. I wonder what they are?

That lady in the next car. She’s on her cell phone. Very animated. Who’s she talking to? Is she mad? Or is hyperactivity normal for her? What’s her story? Is she missing something she thinks is more important? Anxious to get to the bar? I bet her husband or boyfriend has thick skin. Maybe she has both and she’s talking about one to the other. That would explain why she resembles a geyser in full bloom.

That guy in the pick-up across the street. Confederate flag sticker on his bumper. Best not to cut off a guy with a confederate flag sticker on his bumper. Mental note made in case we both leave at the same time. Guys in pick-up trucks never talk on cell phones, so I see him working the radio hard. He’s got a cap on. Can’t see exactly, but I’m assuming John Deere. Cliche maybe, but then he is in a pick-up truck with a confederate flag sticker on his bumper. I could go out on a limb and say he probably owns a few guns too. Perhaps of the republican persuasion? Hmm. Not sure why these guys always drive pick-ups. They never seem to be hauling anything. Still, you meet these guys and almost to a man they’re gentle souls. Maybe rough around the edges, but who said edges needed to be rounded off?

Someone just pulled up next to me. A mom for sure. Driving a mom car. I forget what they’re called, but when they pull up next to me they tower over my little red 4-door. I bet her car is spotless too. I’ve got soda cans and Dorito bags all over the floor. Oh look, here’s a spoon. Not plastic either. A real live spoon. I bet she doesn’t have a real live spoon on the floor of her car. I have no idea why a real live spoon is on the floor of my car, but that’s not the point. I’m not worried about it, which makes me suddenly feel like an excellent parent. Perspective and all that. Gotta have it.

Wow, look at that lady crossing the street. Way too many pizzas in her past. And then to top it off with stretch pants? Wrong on way so many levels. It’s not nice to judge people by their looks alone but when you’ve got time to kill and you’re sitting in your car, it’s normal. We’re all judge, jury, and executioner during such down times.

There goes a teen with the windows open, blasting hip-hop. I feel old when volume makes me cringe, mostly because I listen to music so loud that by now my ears largely exist only to balance my face. I like guitar-based rock and roll though. Never got into hip hop, and when cars literally bounce down the street from sampled bass lines, I get crotchety. Still, I’ll never complain. Except in here of course.

Cars whipping by. Driving so fast. Everybody in such a hurry to get…where exactly? All traffic slows to a crawl eventually. How many times have you been passed by some idiot going 100 miles per hour only to meet up with him again 10 minutes later….looking like he’s gonna have a baby?

When you’re parked and waiting….you really notice how lead footed people are. How impatient. Odd that the only time I’m not impatient is when I’m in a car. Moving or sitting still. Too many things to see. Too many images to conjure up. Too many stories.

Take me ridin in the car car….take me ridin in the car

Woody Guthrie sang that. He probably didn’t like to sit and look around as much as me, but he knew what a car was for. And it wasn’t to get all bothered about time.

Who doesn’t have time for a good story?

–Tom Flannery

RIP Levon Helm (tf)

•April 20, 2012 • 1 Comment

Ironic that The Band have always been considered the quintessential American group. Like nobody before them they merged gut-bucket rock and roll, country, rag-time, soul, bluegrass, folk, and the blues….into a stew that sounded both rustic and entirely new at the same time. Their best music was so shocking not because it covered unknown ground, but because it came as close as possible to perfecting what was already there.

I say ironic because, The Band were all Canadians. Except for Levon Helm. From Arkansas.

Levon was the band’s spiritual and musical leader. Armed with 2 astounding songwriters, Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel, Helm’s voice somehow encompassed something as huge as the American Civil War. To listen to him as Virgil Kane in “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is more than just pure musical bliss. It’s a master class. It explains, more than any weighty tome I know, what divides us and why. Then, and now. It’s both majestically triumphant, and unbearably sad. And it rocks like hell, as Levon also just happened to be one of the greatest drummers who ever lived. Not bad for a modest southern country boy.

If there is ever a musical Mount Rushmore, Helm deserves to have his face carved into it. Bearded preferably. He made me want to grow one. At 45 I’m still trying.

I’m just gutted right now. I want to cry but I can’t. I wish I could but there’s nothing there. Dry. So I listen to the music instead. There’s always the music. It will live forever.

There’s a great story about Levon that some may know. It’s worth re-telling.

The Band’s concert film “The Last Waltz”, directed by Martin Scorcese, is probably the best known concert film of all time. It featured a who’s who of mid 70s names….Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison…plus the titanic blues legend Muddy Waters. Quite a party really. So much so that when Neil Young took the stage he had a gob of cocaine hanging from his nose, a shot that Scorcese had to airbrush out of the film. Anyway….the sound was a bit ragged due to various backstage stimulants and what not…and every single performer was brought in after the fact to re-record his or her live vocals (Robertson’s vocal mic wasn’t even turned on)…which is one of the reasons ”The Last Waltz” sounds so glorious.

Levon refused to re-do anything. His performance was perfect because….well…..his performance was perfect. He was that good. And when the show was running a bit long….and there was talk of cutting Muddy Waters from the show, Levon Helm told Scorcese and Robbie Robertson to….essentially….f- off.

Muddy played. Levon backing him up on the drums with one of them smiles that says….”boys, it doesn’t get any better than this.”

It never would again. Robertson left the Band….and they carried on without him with dwindling returns. They went from Stadiums to hick bars. But where Robbie went to Hollywood for the glamour, Helm drove the van and unloaded his own gear at the back door of seemingly every dive club in the country. Not because he had to. But because he wanted to. He was a rock and roller.

These are such strange times. For a while Helm couldn’t afford to pay his own mounting medical bills (cancer has no pity). He nearly lost his house in Woodstock, New York. Only the frequent “midnight rambles” he hosted on his property, musical picnics featuring some huge names, kept him in the black. But through it all he never stopped playing. Even when the cancer and 28 chemo treatments ravaged his vocal cords, he kept at it, drafting his daughter into his band. Music came from Levon Helm the way sweat comes from the rest of us.

Just yesterday it was announced that the end was near for Levon Helm. Cancer had eaten him up and it was only a matter of hours. The announcement was all but obliterated in the press by the insane ramblings of Ted Nugent, which says more about the country we live in than I really care to get into. You take a look at the grace and dignity of a Levon Helm….and then a fool like Ted Nugent comes swinging into the picture on a vine….and it’s no wonder we’re still as fractured now as we were back in 1861.

Levon Helm never divided anyone. By force is personality and sheer talent he turned four Canadians into the most graceful of American rock and roll bands. He never compromised. He just played. And smiled. And when he smiled, at least I would always think…”boys, it doesn’t get any better than this.”

And it probably never will again.

I may be able to cry now. Finally.

But I’ll wait until this song is over….

–Tom Flannery

Tolerance (tf)

•April 11, 2012 • 5 Comments

Nobody seems to have tolerance for anything anymore.

If somebody is different, or just looks different, people pounce.

Agreeing to disagree is a quaint little saying. Folks don’t really agree to disagree anymore. They just clutch signs and take turns yelling at each other over rope-lines. Especially if there are cameras around. Everybody wants their 15 minutes of fame, so if to get it they feel the need to wave a sign bashing gay people or Planned Parenthood, well so be it. They can settle in a few hours later with their loved ones and watch the 6 O’clock news. So proud. “Look dear, there’s Mommy! See the foam coming out of her mouth?”

Civility? What’s that.

For the record….I should share my thoughts on the hot social issues of the day. I shall be succinct.

I am pro-choice. I don’t know when “life” begins. And as a man, it seems a bit cheeky to lecture a woman on what she wants to do with her own body. The day I become pregnant, maybe I’ll feel differently.

I have no issue with somebody who is “pro-life”, as long as they don’t pervert the meaning by being pro-war and pro-death penalty. You’re either all in, or you’re out. And when a child is born and you support every draconian measure to cut social services for that child…well….you lose a butt-load of credibility there too. You can’t love the fetus and then treat the actual child as a good for nothing future crack smoking lazy-ass drain on your taxes. Not sure that’s what Jesus would do.

If you are legitimately pro-life…in all its various permutations, then I salute you. You are surely a better person than I. But I haven’t met you yet. Show yourself.

If you’re gay….good for you. I hope you’ve found your life partner. Your sex life doesn’t concern me anymore than the sex lives of my heterosexual friends. That is, it doesn’t concern me at all. If there’s one thing we should all agree on it’s that what 2 consenting adults do in their bedroom is nobody else’s business. It really is as simple as that. Get married. Become parents. Sleep on the couch when your partner is pissed at you. Fight over the toilet seat. I see no reasons why heterosexuals should have all the fun.

I’m not sure why gay people threaten certain conservatives so much. More and more it seems that those who are the most vociferous in their condemnation are trolling airport men’s rooms… perplexed are they about their own sexuality. A bit of overcompensation to throw off the scent of the dogs. These folks are the holy grail of Psychiatry, and are the main reason why gay-bashers seem so cartoonish these days. Like book-burners without matches. Really fellas, it’s time to find a new boogeyman. The lesbians across the street are harmless.

Our national discourse has become positively poisonous. The upcoming Presidential election will surely divide us even more, if that’s possible. It’s no longer ideological differences, it’s red-in-the-face hatred. As a nation we so distrust each other that the majority seem willing to kill a national health-care mandate just so they can ensure that the less fortunate don’t get anything for “free”. They are helped along in this by a brazenly partisan Supreme Court, who recently ruled that it’s now completely legal for Police to do an anal probe on somebody stopped for a (perceived) traffic violation. We greet such news with a shrug, not because we approve of it, but because, considering the 5 conservative zealots on the bench, we’re not surprised by the ruling in the least.

We are at least tolerant, therefore, of the intolerance of others.

We seem incapable of living by the “golden rule”…..that catchy saying that kinda covers all the important and non-redundant stuff Moses found on that rock back in the bible days. The “do unto others” thing.

Seems to me that if we can’t do unto others, we can at least mind our own damn business. If you’re against abortion don’t have one. If you think birth control is a sin, cross your fingers and roll that dice. If you don’t like gays, stay away from them. If you don’t want government in the heath-care arena, go bleed in front of a private clinic. If you think Obama is the anti-christ, vote for the guy who believes in the angel Moroni.

But please do so quietly and respectfully. Nobody ever had their mind changed by getting screamed at by a guy with a sign.

–Tom Flannery

I don’t like hospitals (tf)

•April 4, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I don’t like hospitals. They’re necessary and all that, but I don’t like them. I don’t like visiting someone in a hospital. I don’t like driving by a hospital. I hate the way they’re always complaining about empty beds and no money and then push patients out the door before they’ve got a chance to get out of that stupid half-robe and those rubber socks. I don’t like how the older the patient is the less patience hospitals seem to have in dealing with them (it’s a creepy sort of un-stated social Darwinism in hospitals). I hate the parking garages and having to find somebody way too busy to deal with me so they can validate my ticket. I hate the way the elevators are so confusing. Why is there a “G” floor and a “1” floor? How many times have I been deposited into the bowels of the maintenance area when all I want to do is get back on the street to find my car un-vandalized. Any why is the “information desk” always empty when you need information?

Scranton is blessed, or cursed, depending on your point of view, with a multitude of hospitals. Three are within walking distance of each other. Nobody is quite sure how a person arrives at one instead of the other. I’m assuming it has something to do with who takes what insurance, but I’m not sure. I’ve had people I know say “their hospital” is the Mercy, and then unable to say why they’re stuck in a bed at the Moses Taylor.

You never hear anything good about hospitals. They all fall over each other to let you know that they’re losing gobs of money, and have had to cut back on services and staff, which seems an odd bit of public relations. Each of the 3 Scranton hospitals has been around since before I was born….and as far I can tell none of them has ever been profitable. There is always talks of mergers and closings and soulless corporations taking over. I think the latter has happened already, actually. I believe one of them is still tied to the catholic diocese ’cause they always stage a self-righteous press conference when a pro-life politician comes to town. I also believe that hospital stopped delivering babies ’cause it cost too much money. Oh irony of ironies eh?

Nobody who actually does the day-to-day work in a hospital makes enough money….and all of them labor under incredible stress. In a recent visit of mine an entire floor was staffed by one (1) nurse….a youngish woman who looked old and had the glassy-eyed stare of someone forced to carry a load of rocks on her back up a steep hill. It’s no wonder that many of the nurses aren’t exactly class A personalities (also a shame that the snarl of one Nurse Ratched can obliterate the kindnesses extended by 10 others. Not fair, but that’s the way it works). It’s normal to want good care for your loved one. And it’s normal to get a bit peeved if your loved one needs to pee and the nurse says she’ll be “right there” and an hour later the patient is still crunching her bladder. But drop even a spoonful of attitude on a nurse and you’re doomed. It’s like heckling a seasoned comic. The next time you show up the patient will be fossilized to the bed with cobwebs attached to their IVs.

Don’t piss off a nurse. Smart visitors take what they can get and leave boxes of candy on the window sill.

The only thing more rare in a hospital than a fully stocked nurses station is a doctor. I’m not sure where these guys spend their days but it sure ain’t at the hospital. At least the cable company is honest when they tell you a tech will show up sometime between 8am and 5pm. Sure they’re screwing you but they ain’t lying. In a hospital, if they tell you they’re “waiting on the doctor” you might as well pitch a tent and start collecting firewood. Leaves change colors before these guys decide to pop in.

And when a doctor finally does arrive….and you’re lucky enough to get one who can speak passable English, they’re always in such a hurry to be someplace else. If you don’t have your questions written on index cards and another member of the family barring the door…forget it. Stop to take a breath and they’re gone. They’re like a rabbit in your backyard. I treat a doctor in a hospital room like a waiter in a busy restaurant. As soon as the waiter comes over to “take your drink order”….order your meal. Otherwise, the waiter does a Houdini on you.

So yea….this is just a bitch session. But in reality we all get a little mad because we know that despite medical advances too numerous to mention,  the actual care hasn’t improved. How can it when the caregivers are paid less and forced to do more? So the sick, who are already suffering, get to suffer even more. And nothing is worse than watching a loved one suffer…..and then coming home to a pile of medical bills. Hospitals never seem to lag behind in the ol’ billing department.

–Tom Flannery

Friday Night is Pretty All Right (ms)

•March 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

It’s Friday night as I sit and write; it is in my view the very best night of the week. Now of course there are many who say Saturday night fits the bill for them and I can’t argue with that. More years ago than I want to count I wholeheartedly agreed that Saturday night was the crown jewel of any week in the year, but I moved on.

I’m not sure what happened, how it happened but Friday night became for me the night most looked forward to out of seven possibilities. I would mark it each week with a stop at the store for some snacks and things and bring them home. We would all sit around then and munch on food with the fat content of a dairy cow and the nutritional value of the greasy paper lining the bottom of a pizza box. Nobody cared, it was Friday. We would play some movie like Resurrection of the Swamp People and kick back and just enjoy it for its tacky foolishness. Oh the good times they did roll.

My thinking is that Friday is to the end of the week what Monday is to the beginning. The workweek is over, shut the door and say so long, two days of fun and frolic lie ahead and Friday night is like standing on the threshold waiting to take that first step. No matter what happens during the trip it is almost certain to be better than the week just past and could be counted on to make the one ahead at least a bit more palatable.  It’s the anticipation of it all, you see, the knowing but not knowing about the two coming days. Friday nights offered a break from the mind glazing routine offered by work and the weekend extended it. How could one not be happy?

Saturday of course would dawn and the weekend would roll on finishing up Sunday night with the dull realization that Monday was but a few hours away. Monday, as we all well know, brings another work week curiously similar to the one just passed and the one before that; no doubt it looks like the one that will occur a year from now. The week ahead is marked by Wednesday (Hump Day) and the return of that grand and glorious singular night of the week: Friday. Ah, just saying it in my mind makes me feel lighter, more relaxed, better able to face the trials and tribulations of the week knowing that my reward is straight ahead just past Thursday.

Friday night has made a spot for itself in my book of good things to be enjoyed in the here and now. When I finish this little literary effort I think I shall shut the lid on my laptop and wander off to the kitchen for a bowl of something cold and creamy perhaps flavored by peanut butter or chocolate covered pretzels. It is Friday night, is it not? What better excuse do I need than that!

—Mike Stevens

Emotions never get a second chance to make a first impression (tf)

•March 28, 2012 • 1 Comment

We like to judge. We like to pick and choose the evidence, and convict or acquit accordingly.

One day the evidence seems clear. Cut and dried.

The next day, new information comes out. Now things are a bit muddled. What really happened? Stories are flying around like weather balloons. The press is breathless about one story. Then they’re breathless about another story that contradicts the former.

Yea, it’s shoddy journalism. But we expect it. And we accept it.

We should back off maybe a little….temper our enthusiasm for a day or a week until we know exactly what happened. But we usually don’t. If the evidence supports our theory, we use it. If it doesn’t, its discarded…..its’ source discredited. Nobody likes to admit they’re wrong, especially when the political stakes are so high.

We argue. We march. We counter-march. Preachers and politicians enter the fray, anxious for air time and votes. Pundits pontificate. Op-Ed pages devour things like this. Like leeches sucking blood. Commerce kicks in. T-shirts. Hats. Bumper stickers. Always somebody willing to make a few dollars. The free market must be served, after all. It stops for no one.

As usual, the loudest voices are usually saying the dumbest things. There are rational people who don’t treat such events as partisan rally points…but reasonable people usually don’t shout or say outlandish things. So nobody hears them. Making sense doesn’t generate headlines in the world of talking heads….so it must be avoided. It’s boring. Getting the story is no longer enough. You’ve got to embed yourself in it as well.

It’s visceral. Things like this dig way down….into places that are uncomfortable. And suddenly anybody who ever experienced 15 minutes of fame is being asked what they think. Like it matters. It doesn’t. We know it doesn’t. But we pretend it does.

Emotion is the enemy of reason. And emotions never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Be wary when you start to think you know someone you don’t know. When you think you’ve got some sort of connection to a name in the paper or a picture on a sign. You think you know what goodness and evil lurks within. All based on what you’ve read in the papers and heard on TV. Imagine somebody you’ve never met crunching your life into 60 second soundbites and 800 word essays. They’re saying they know what it’s like to be you. They’re saying they understand why you walked down one road instead of another, or why you dress the way you do. They’re knocking on doors asking people you don’t know what you’re like. If you stop and consider this type of 24 hour news-cycle biography, you know it’s absurd. But it doesn’t stop you from forming an opinion. From taking sides. From saying…”he’s a bad guy” or “now he rests with the angels”. Saints and Sinners. Black and White. No grey. And Martyrs for all.

And so it goes. Soon something new will come along that takes over the front pages. Only some will remember that this happened at all. The names involved will be trivia questions/answers. Maybe a quickie book or a bad TV movie will limp things onward. And then….CNN oblivion. A dormant Wikipedia entry.

We can move on. That’s the convenient truth when the nation adopts a tragedy. We pack up our lights and cameras and remote controls and leave, leaving only loved ones behind to deal with something that won’t go away by changing the channel. The dead don’t bury the dead. The living do.

There’s nothing good here. There’s no heroes. If there’s a lesson to be learned I don’t know what it is. Shouldn’t we already know this shit by now?

Our nation will never be colorblind. It’s a noble goal but making distinctions based on color is part of this nation’s original sin. You can’t go down to the river and wash it away.

These sort of things will happen again. The same outrage will be generated. It’s not fake. It’s real. But, sadly, it’s temporary.

We’re scared. We’re all scared. Most of what we’re scared of is not real. But we’ve convinced ourselves….even if only for breathless moment or two, that it might be.

I don’t have the answer. I don’t pretend to have the answer.

I just wish some of the questions we’ve been asking were different.

And not so loud.

–Tom Flannery


A Golden Moment (ms)

•March 24, 2012 • 1 Comment

I’ve seen ‘em come and I’ve seen ‘em go, too many to mention. No, this isn’t the title of a song waiting for embellishment by friend Flannery rather this is an observation on life and what comes into favor only to drop out again under some unwritten rule.

The fountain pen I recall is one. Bankers and business executives always had one that they would gladly loan you to sign off on a bit of business. Magnificent things those pens; big shiny and expensive, the better to impress you with my dear. The fountain pens faded out when ballpoints came in and are now relegated to the few who still take pleasure in hand writing a note or card. Come to think of it ballpoints are fading too replaced by any number of computer like devices used to crank out whatever deadly prose the owner might want. Just as well. Did I not hear cursive was fading since no one wrote anything anymore? The computer age has brought change after change after change.

The next likely candidate for extinction, as I see it, is the wristwatch. I do some work on a college campus and have the chance to watch the students walk by with earphones blocking out the world or a phone held up for talking or texting. The phones, miniature computers brilliantly simple to operate and so convenient you wonder how you ever lived without one are doing in the wristwatch.

See, each one comes with a built in clock that can be configured to any imaginable desire. In a moment you can have the time in Tokyo, the hour of sunset on the Sahara, sunrise on the Serengeti; it will also tell you the time to the second right where you are standing. Convenient, eh? So, why wear a watch when you are already carrying one in your pocket and you don’t need to reset it twice a year either, does that by itself.

So, I don’t know for sure if the watch companies are noticing all this but I sense obsolescence on the horizon for the old standby wristwatch. Of course there will still be companies making those beautiful timepieces that cost thousands per copy and are meant to bedazzle your friends as well as keep time but the less expensive ones, I don’t know. I don’t see great numbers of students wearing wristwatches. Their watches are in their pockets or glued to their ears.

This does not bode well for the retiring individual who has spent years at his or her company making sure the ship stayed on the straight and narrow, or at least profitable. The guarantee was almost always a gold watch for the recipient to use whiling away the hours between meals on the front porch basking all the while in the glow of a well-earned retirement. The gold watch was something handed down generation to generation but maybe no more. The retiree will get a computer chip instead.

No matter, come to think of it. Nobody stays at a company long enough to earn retirement these days. The computer it seems has made it possible to lessen the need for a wristwatch as well as many employees.

—Mike Stevens

Having the time to listen to the answer (tf)

•March 21, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Sat on the back porch last night. Just me and the kids. Talking. Temperatures were in the mid 70s. It was kinda nice. Even when my neighbor a few yards away turned his radio on full blast (I didn’t know there was a station devoted to heavy metal, but apparently there is) the moment wasn’t ruined. I heard the distinct sound of a lawnmower too. And I could smell some burgers cooking on grills. It felt like a summer evening. Even better really ’cause the bugs and the sweats aren’t around yet.

Didn’t even have to pull out the porch furniture, ’cause last fall I realized that if I didn’t put it away, I’d be all set come spring (I use the same logic with the Christmas lights in my office). So I just bunched it together and tossed a tarp over it. My brain works hard so my body doesn’t have to. The snow blower that I didn’t have to use all winter is still in the garage, so that’s gonna need to be stuffed in the basement. But I’m thinking tarp, just in case we get nailed with a May nor’easter.

My dog was in the yard, acting like a condemned prisoner granted a pardon. She weighs 11 pounds, and is still convinced she can fit a soccer ball in her mouth. After being cooped up all winter, she’s got energy to burn. Pushes that ball with her face from one side of the yard to the other, yelping and barking like it stole something from her. Every few minutes she’ll come back on the porch and plop herself down like a rug, panting and looking at us like we’re forcing her to argue with a soccer ball. And then she’s off like a shot again for another round. A pretty uncomplicated life all around really. I wish I was my dog.

At serene back porch moments like these I always think of the Monkees song “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, even when it’s not a Sunday and the valley isn’t very pleasant. So I thought about it again last night and immediately got sad ’cause poor Davey Jones just died. So that kinda ruined the moment. Dead people do that. I need a new song to think of. Maybe “Lazy Sunday” from the Small Faces. That’s got a good sitting on the porch vibe to it, aside from the fact that Steve Marriot and Ronnie Lane are as dead as Davey. Maybe my neighbor’s heavy metal will suffice as a soundtrack. At least until I hook up the Ipod speakers and start competing at the volume game…..which I am pretty good at. Lots of good songs about leisure by guys who are still alive. I just can’t think of any right now.

What’s missing is the shades on the back porch. They should be up soon. I love sitting out there but feel weird when all my neighbors are out too and everybody is peering at everybody else. There’s not much else to do when you’re sitting on your back porch. You wave and say hi and then kinda stare at one another. I do the same thing. The shades cover my flanks at least, and make me feel less vulnerable.

I’m thinking it’s gonna be a long hot summer. We skipped winter and spring seems superfluous at this point. I can’t ever remember cutting my grass before the men’s NCAA basketball champion is crowned, but I’ve got a feeling it might come to that. Even though it’s not really green it’s growing and is starting to look like the kind of thicket that wildfires seek out.

Still, it’s nice to sit out on your own little piece of ground, and leave the troubles that reside outside the bubble. Things move so fast, sometimes we don’t feel comfortable when they slow down. It’s worth it to take deep breaths of real air and ask the kids “how was school today?” and actually have time to listen to the answer.

–Tom Flannery

The Sounds Abound (ms)

•March 20, 2012 • 1 Comment

Friend Flannery fell in love with the music of his generation. I, on the other hand, fell in love with one of the major purveyors of that music: WARM Radio.

Strange how these things happen. One day cruising along listening to any old thing and the next a friend says, “Give a listen to this”, and from then on I was one with my radio.

It wasn’t that the Mighty 590 had no competition. Those were the glory days of AM radio and music was blasting out of major cities like New York, Buffalo, Chicago; all of them powerhouse stations with fifty thousand watts and disc jockeys with voices that could make windows rattle fifty feet from the radio. WARM had five thousand watts, not much but it was our five thousand watts.

I listened to WARM every chance I had and so did an ever- increasing number of others. The key was a small electronic device called a transistor and it allowed radios to shrink down to about the size of a pack of cigarettes. So the Mighty 590 with its Five Towers of Power could fit into a shirt pocket allowing the greatest sounds around to play wherever and whenever you wanted. It was a revolution! We had our own station that played our own music and we could listen any time for WARM was on 24 hours a day. We were not just bonded to the station, we were Super Glued.

They brought big name acts in to perform at WARM Day in the old Rocky Glen park in Moosic. The event faded when the acts wanted to be paid for their work and not just show up to promote a record. George Gilbert, Ron Allen, Harry West and so many others became close friends of ours even though they wouldn’t know any of us from the guy who cleaned the windows. We thought they did and that was really what counted.

The station boomed on through the sixties and in the 1970’s, by random good luck otherwise known as being in the right place at the right time, I went to work at the studios in Avoca. I did news on a 3 to 11 shift five nights a week and a few hours on Sunday. I was the news guy for personalities like Bob Woody, Christopher Sky and Tim Karlson to mention but a few and it was an outrageous time in my life. I loved the work as much as I loved the station and the guys I did news for. If you can recall ever seeing WKRP in Cincinnati on television you have some idea of what went on. We maintained the integrity of the news but before and after anything might happen and often did.

Well, AM radio took a downturn, replaced largely by FM, which in turn fell to satellites, and the Internet. All of us moved on to other things or other markets and the Mighty 590, while still a presence, was not the dominant voice it once was.

I do think of it at times though, especially while porch sitting on a pleasant summer evening; always a perfect time for radio that was really my radio played by my own personal friends, the Sensational Seven.

–Mike Stevens

Turn it Up (tf)

•March 19, 2012 • 1 Comment

I’m trying to think of the exact moment I fell in love. I’ve got some scattered memories.

That Christmas morning I was sick with a high fever, shivering under blankets on the couch while gently caressing a present from Santa. My first Beatles record. It was the “red” double album of their early hits. Even in my severely compromised condition I knew this was a game changer. Not sure how old I was. Maybe 10. I didn’t so much play this record as devour it. I was told it was “old” music, but it sure didn’t sound like anything my parents were listening to. Those guitar riffs in “Day Tripper” and “Paperback Writer” and “Drive My Car”. That spooky priest in “Eleanor Rigby”. That harmonica on “Love Me Do”. I had a portable record player under my bed and my parents felt so bad for me they brought it downstairs and laid it right next to the puke bucket at the head of the couch. I’m pretty sure they regretted it when they realized, even back then, that I was a bit of a volume junkie. But nobody was gonna tell a kid with a temperature of 104 to turn anything down. Besides, the old folks kinda liked “Yesterday” and “Michelle” and “Yellow Submarine”.

And so it was that I eventually got over one fever, and have been ill ever since with another. And thankfully, there is no cure.

Cut ahead maybe 5 years. Out with friends. Somehow we found ourselves standing around a large bonfire with an older crew, who were also warming themselves with cold beer. I didn’t quite understand how that bit worked, but eventually it made perfect sense (more on that epiphany at another time). Anyway….it may have been after a Friday night football game. There was music coming from a portable tape deck. Dirty, distorted guitar. And an odd voice that always veered dangerously close to being out of tune. I sang this way once. In church. I had a one verse solo in the song “We Three Kings”, and butchered it like a hog. Somebody told me the guy’s name was Neil Young. He was singing “Cinnamon Girl”. I asked a guy next to me what record it was from and he mumbled something with the name “rust” in it. I was thrilled. My sister had this in her stacks at home! A total freebie. I couldn’t wait to get home. As I recall, it was so important to me that I ran all the way.

Into her room. She was out of course, being way more popular than I……and so I could rifle at my leisure. Here it was. Neil Young. “Rust Never Sleeps”. I scanned the tracks. Something was wrong. No “Cinnamon Girl”. That lying bastard. Too much Pabst Blue Ribbon and them funny cigarettes. Don’t ever trust anyone over 20.

It wasn’t until later that I found out the record I heard that night was called “Live Rust”, which alas my sister did not have. Neil had a thing about the word “rust” in album titles at the time, and it bit me on the ass. I had to somehow cage money out of my father….along with a ride downtown to Ralph’s Record City. No easy task in my mid-teens, being perpetually grounded as I was. But bless his heart. He never understood a single word on any of my records, but he never fought me on it. If I wanted to buy a record of a band called “Crazy Horse”, whose idea of playing in tune meant being in the same room together, well as long as I didn’t rattle the walls and did my homework, that was my business.

I adored guitars that sounded like marching armies at the time. I had a girlfriend when we were both in 8th grade, and Valentine’s Day was fast approaching. Easy call really. A cassette of AC/DC’s “Back in Black”. She loved me for at least a day. Romance didn’t last but the friendship did (Thank you Angus for never over-thinking your sound or your uniform. You’ve never failed me….which is more than I can say for subsequent girlfriends, who were poisoned by the big hair and synthesizers of the 80s, and forced me grit my teeth if I didn’t want to neuter myself. I still have nightmares about grown men and hair spray. A ghastly time it was).

So I picked up a guitar and realized I couldn’t play. Not a lick. It was very disconcerting. I took one lesson and quit.

But I never really put it down. I jammed my fingers on the strings until I yelped with pain….and by then I had discovered that with a single guitar and a harmonica taped to an imaginatively bent wire-hanger, I could pretend to be Bob Dylan. Nobody needed to know how bad I sounded until I wanted them to. Now this was a revelation.

Lucky for me I wasn’t a very popular teenager. Nobody seemed to miss me as I spent more and more weekends sequestered in my bedroom. It gave me plenty of time to re-raid my sister’s record collection, which had grown. I heard Bruce Springsteen singing “Racing in the Street” one night and kept moving the needle back to the beginning. This was something different. It was Dylanesque….but I could understand it. It meant one thing…not 19 things. Somebody was writing something that sounded like a six-minute movie….and it was only 3 chords. I remember thinking….what else is out there?

I discovered the teen angst of the Who when I was 13 and the band made the news for the worst possible reason imaginable. Eleven fans had been trampled to death at one of their shows in 1979. My brother and 2 sisters had tickets for a show a week after it happened. My mother didn’t want them to go. I’m not sure I did either, but this might have been because they weren’t taking me with them. Things seemed real serious all of a sudden. It wasn’t just fun and games anymore. Townshend was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with blood draining out of his mangled fingers. His large beak just made his deep-set blue eyes look even more haunted. It was a long way from “Love Me Do”.

I was a teenager. He was writing about me. As messed up as I felt, I never felt alone again. I found my voice, and since I was too afraid to open my mouth, it sure helped that it belonged to someone else. I didn’t have to explain what was wrong anymore. I could just point them to “Quadrophenia”. It didn’t make growing up any easier, but it gave me a place to hide when things got extra hard.

Through it all Townshend’s music has meant more to me than any other, I think because nobody has better encapsulated that portion of our life most filled with minefields. Adolescence. And he could do it in 120 seconds.

And so it goes. Rock and roll is the one gift that keeps on giving no matter how old you are. It’s the one love that may ebb and flow, but never dies. When you think it has exhausted itself….it picks up its own pieces….ads a few new ones….and reinvents itself for a whole new group of kids that need it every bit as much as I did. The guitars are still out there. When they wail in the woods and radio isn’t around to play them, they still make a sound. I know this for a fact. I spend a lot of time in the woods.

So to that long ago Christmas morning….and that long ago bon-fire….that long ago Valentine’s Day…..that long ago discovery of the ultimate car song…..that moment when I took myself seriously enough to buy a real harmonica rack and stop using bent coat hangers….that winter night when I heard what this music can ultimately cost. Too all my past and present brother’s in arms with blisters on their fingers….I say….in the immortal words of Ronnie Van Zant…

Turn it up.

–Tom Flannery

A Spot of Sweetness (ms)

•March 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

March is a roller coaster month, as bad as November in trying to figure out which way it’s going. High winds one day, clear and sunny the next, accumulating snow the day after that; if you don’t like the weather wait five minutes and it will change. Come to think of it, that’s probably the only weather guarantee this month can make: not hot, not cold, not rainy just, well, weather.

Given the twists and turns of the weather in March it is no surprise we can’t be convinced that spring is on the way, that it will arrive and that it is not just a date on the calendar. Most folks can’t be blamed really if they forget when spring is supposed to arrive so confusing is this month. I have just gotten word, however, that spring is in fact on the way, that it’s only a matter of time. The maple sap is running dear reader, not steadily just yet but close enough to nail down for certain the fact that we have not been forgotten, that spring is indeed coming.

Cold nights, warm days and the sap flows like water and that’s a good thing. I do not recall the amount for certain but the ratio of gallons of sap to gallons of syrup can lead you to believe that it’s a thankless task. It is surely a chancy thing. A producer can’t be certain from year to year what will happen and there are years when nothing much does. March strikes again.

When it all comes together, though, it’s a wonderful thing to watch. Originally sap flowed down spouts into buckets hanging from the trees. These in turn were emptied into a large tub by the producer, most often a farmer with a nice stand of trees, and then taken to the sugar shack. That system has largely been replaced by plastic tubing which is obviously labor saving.

In any event the sap eventually make its way to the pans where the moisture in it is boiled away. Huge clouds of steam roll up and hang against the underside of the roof while the cooking goes on. It isn’t easy work. If wood is your fuel you must cut it first then be prepared to feed it to the cooking fire 24/7 for once you start you can’t stop until the sap runs out. Now you can guess why homemade syrup is fairly expensive compared to the commercial brands.

I’ve spent some time at sugar shacks over the years and it’s a great way to pass and afternoon or evening. You get to talk a lot, to enjoy the company of people who often are bent on keeping the old ways at least for another generation.

You can’t hurry some things in this world, it will get done when it gets done and there’s no use trying to speed it up. Come to think of I doubt you would want to anyway. It’s done fine over the years just like it is and you don’t mess with something that isn’t broken.

–Mike Stevens

The fear of no words (tf)

•March 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

There’s nothing I fear more than growing old. No words.

I’m middle-aged now I guess. Slightly over the hill, but I’ve still got my hair and I can still see my shoes. I know where I’ve been and it hasn’t always been pleasant. But at least it’s over. I’ve had my heart broken and I’ve had my ego pummeled and I’ve gotten the tar beaten out of me and I’ve been thrown out of bars and I’ve done amazingly nice things that nobody was around to see and some pretty bad things in front of the world. I’ve lost good friends and made better ones. My eyes are bad and my hearing, thanks to 30 years of Pete Townshend and Keith Moon, is worse. But through it all, I think I’ve been more of an aid to mankind than a hindrance. I can sleep at night. Not always very well, but I can still sleep. After a pill. Or two.

It took me over 20 years to decide what I wanted to do with my life. Once the decision was made, it took me about 20 minutes to discover that I would never make any money at it. It happens. No sense fighting it.

Music and words. Words and music. Legal pads and pens and guitars and pianos. Stages, both being on them and writing for them. Creating. Pushing. Being satisfied and then changing my mind. And in between trying to make a living. A huge pain in the ass that bit, but important I suppose, especially when the bank owns your house and car.

I feel young some of the time. I think young. Some might call it being immature, but I prefer “childlike”. I still call people older than me “Mr” or “Mrs” and look behind me for someone else when friends of one of my kid’s call me the same.  I eat crappy junk food and wear battered jeans and t-shirts and Chuck Taylors and baseball caps (with a severely folded brim….I draw the line at that straight brim thing the kids are into these days). I don’t shave much and I leave stuff lying around everywhere and constantly put my feet up on stuff I’m not supposed to put my feet up on. On the weekends I can sleep until noon with very little prodding and then eat half a box of Fruit Loops for breakfast. Or lunch. I have Snoopy stickers on my guitar case.

I just don’t feel all that grown up.

Which scares me. I’m not sure I’m ready to get old. I don’t know enough.

I’m not sure I have the patience for aging.

Too many times now I’ve seen advancing years affect not only the body but the mind. Sedentary I can live with. But fear and confusion as a medical diagnosis? I don’t think so. Life has enough of that already. I watched what Alzheimer’s did to my Father. I watched him fight and fight against the dying of the light. And if he couldn’t beat it, nobody can.

It stole his ability to read and write….and he loved these things even more than I. What’s worse, he was aware of the slide. I’d see him punching his own head in frustration when comprehension came too slow, or, increasingly, didn’t come at all. I know it broke his heart as clearly as I know it broke mine.

To me he always seemed ageless.

And then one day, he was old.

And the words were gone.

It still scares me.

No words.

–Tom Flannery

In Praise of Introspection (tf)

•March 6, 2012 • 2 Comments

The world needs more introspection.

You know. Thought.

And then….silence.

Rational thought I might add. Most irrational people have big mouths, which is how we learn how irrational they are. If they’d just keep the goofy stuff buried in the larnyx, the world might be a better place.

Read a book instead of burning one. That sort of thing.

I know how I feel and what I think and what I like to do and what I don’t like to do and who I like and who I don’t like. I mostly don’t feel the urge to broadcast these things….at least vocally (I have lapses, however…especially in regards to republicans). Sure I’ll write ’em down ’cause that’s what writers do. As a musician I’ll even write and sing about them. But put me in a roomful of people and I’ll be in the corner closest to the door, just waiting for the chance to bolt without anybody noticing. One of the good things about clamming up in public is that people don’t notice when you leave….or that you may not have even been there in the first place. Sometimes I’ll say…”I was there….did you have a good time too?” and the person will say “oh yea, I saw you. Sorry we didn’t get to talk”.

I’m memorable that way.

Quiet people are only really introverted if they blend into the walls like a window. If you stick out in your silence, by wearing a purple sequin hat for instance, or doing yoga in the middle of a party, or drinking so much that you vomit on the host’s shoes, you are not really introverted. You are seeking attention in eccentric ways….like a Michael Jackson bemoaning the fact that he can’t go to the movies unrecognized like a “normal person”…..while insisting on wearing a single white glove, carrying a baby with a blanket over the kid’s head, and being surrounded by 10 huge, surly bodyguards wearing wrap-around shades. People still insist that Michael Jackson was “painfully shy”. But shy people don’t marry Elvis’s daughter or wear pajamas to court or do television interviews while sitting next to prepubescent boys and stroking their hair.

They just don’t.

Michael Jackson was a freakish narcissist who just happened to have a freakish ability to sing and dance. He was about as introverted as Baloo from The Jungle Book.

I don’t mean to pick on a dead guy…but he just came to my mind when I spell-checked the word “sequin”. Go figure. There are 100 other examples I could have used.

So I’ll say it again.

The world needs more introspection.

We need to think before we talk. We need to ponder before we bloviate. We need to consider the perspective of others before giving ours.

If we can answer a question with one word, we should not use two.

I’m not sure it’s possible to learn anything if we don’t have moments of introspection. It’s gotta be difficult to take something in if all we’re doing is spewing something forth.

I was gonna say “so let’s hear it for the introverted”, but that kinda destroys the message here.

So instead I’ll say “let us contemplate the possibility that the smartest among us may indeed say the least. And cheer. Silently.”

And from them, perhaps we can all learn.

–Tom Flannery

I try not to think about money (tf)

•February 29, 2012 • 1 Comment

I try not to think about money. I’m largely unfamiliar with it, for one thing. My wallet is perpetually empty, and when my kids ask me for money I do to them what my Dad did to me. I hand them my wallet and say, “whatever’s in there you can have.” They don’t like this answer now any more than I did then. Still they’ll go through my wallet (as I did my Dad’s)….checking for double secret locations….just in case. Empty. No cash. Just pictures of them, which I prefer but they can do without…especially the baby pics.

Like most people these days, I pay my bills and there ain’t much left. Some weeks the math doesn’t work out very well at all, and I’m left with a deficit. The more of a deficit I run, the more credit card offers I get in the mail. Thus, economics, 21st century style. I like to think I’m doing my bit to help my country.

I don’t require much really. A guitar, a pen and pad….a warm bed. I spend much of my non-working time reading, which is free. The greatest thing man has even come up with to further civilization is the library (and the 1 cent used book from While it’s true that everything I love to do I do to gargantuan excess, I largely keep my obsessions cheap. I’m too old and too lazy for vices that require serious cash flow.

In truth, I’m very fortunate. I have everything I need. I have food and clothes and shelter. I’ve got a house. The bank owns it but still….they let me live here as long as I behave. It’s quite sufficient.

Money makes people do things they wouldn’t normally do. It can turn perfectly normal people into buffoons, and turn a perfectly normal buffoon into a person who can influence others. When a sex-obsessed idiot stands on a street corner and rants about the evil of condoms and the pill, it’s not national news. When a sex-obsessed idiot who has millions of dollars does the same thing, it’s the headline on CNN….and actually drives the national discourse until a celebrity millionaire dies from excessive consumption and turns everyone’s attention to something else.

What would we talk about if not for rich people? The only way a poor schlub can make headlines these days is by pissing off the folks who own everything.

People who have money are more likely to leave crappy tips and cut you off in traffic. Money seems to bring with it a sense of entitlement…..even if the bundle was “earned” it by being born to the right set of donors. Rich people talk funny and have that stiff look….like they just got out of a dryer. Being around them always makes me nervous. They bunch up together like coats on the bed….and are always whispering and looking at what everybody else is wearing.

Of course there are nice rich people. We all know some of these. Nice rich people make the best neighbors. They put up big fences and have pools and are so concerned with being perceived as snotty because of their money that they’re always extremely down to earth and accommodating. They let your kids run through their yard and stuff.

I think the other sort of rich people are largely unpleasant because they’re constantly afraid somebody or something is going to take their money away.

The rest of us don’t have to worry about such things. You can pick my pocket all you want. All you’ll get is lint.

Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I suddenly become rich. I’d like to think I’d become an instant humanitarian. But maybe the wealth would turn me into selfish ogre and I’d start stocking up on cars and houses and oddly shaped swimming pools. Maybe I’d get bored with simple things like books and pens and paper and and warm beds and take to gloriously excessive excess.

It would be interesting to find out, but I’m not holding my breath. It all sounds rather unpleasant and a bit desperate. I mean….even if you can afford to see any doctor in the world….you still have to bend over and cough eventually.

I never worried too much about money. And I’ve never had any. The two things seem related somehow.

The last thing I want is something brand new to worry about.

I’ve a library to pick over.

–Tom Flannery

Where the words are (tf)

•February 23, 2012 • 1 Comment

Winter is almost over, and it still hasn’t arrived. Temps were in the 50s yesterday and next week shows more of the same. Not a nor’easter in sight. Or even weather that requires a coat. I can’t ever remember a winter like this. No snow days for the schools. Not even a jump-the-gun 2 hour delay. As a cold weather lover, this has all been ghastly to me. Spring and all its wretchedness will soon be upon us, and I won’t even have fond memories of snowplows to combat the incessant cheeriness of folks who get way too big a bang out of chirping birds and cutting grass.

And then….hell. Well, for me anyway. That would be summer. Three months of sweat and my glasses slipping down my nose and body odor and teenagers in cars with all the windows open so the world can experience the intricacies of their stereo systems. Three months of it never getting dark and being attacked by bugs and no college basketball or football of any kind. Three months of fat people not wearing enough clothes and my kids telling me they’re bored and watching my grass get infected with some sort of disease that turns it brown. Three months of being reminded that we don’t have a pool and that the air-conditioner in my car doesn’t work. Each day seems to last a month and a half. By July the fireworks and the carnivals and the beer tents have my nerves on edge….and by August, after putting a goofy expensive beach vacation on the credit card (and being made fun of for wanting to spend all my beach time in air-conditioned bookstores and museums) I’m ready to hit random people over the head with a 7 iron just to amuse myself.

I seem to have gone on a bit of a tangent. Such things are inevitable when faced with a blank page and time to kill. I’m just thankful Stevens allows me this space to spout off. He could choose to share it with somebody who adores sweating. Or even….I shudder at the thought…a fellow professional. Stevens actually makes his living by crafting words. Though his fame comes from his shameless mugging for the cameras and his retro-wardrobe, it’s his ability to simplify and at the same time uniquely poeticize the English language that allows him to live in such grand, gated opulence. Me? I regurgitate my musings for no remuneration at all. I’m forced to pay my bills through actual work, truly a desperate condition to be in. Writing is a daily holiday from the banality of real life. To do it for a living is the holy grail of careers.

In truth I am insanely jealous.

But it’s not like Stevens rubs it in more than 3 or 4 times a day. So I’ll get over it.

I would get over it quicker if I could go outside and slip on some ice or something.

Maybe there’s something to my love and dank and dreary weather. It conjures up all sorts of images in the noggin. The shortened days and the long nights and the cold winds open doors normally locked by the sunny expectations of others with whom you have absolutely nothing in common.

You know….the ones who feel like they have to be outside to enjoy the day. I sometimes wish I was more mainstream like them. Some might call it normal. I’d have a better tan if I spent more time on the beach and less time in museums and bookstores.

But that’s where the words are. The sun just gets in my eyes.


Lab rats don’t get much leisure time (tf)

•February 20, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I think we Americans love to get distracted. By anything. Dead celebrities. Unlikely sports heroes. Viral YouTube videos of some crazy lunatic emptying an automatic weapon clip into his daughter’s laptop. It doesn’t take much really. Once we get home at night and lock all the doors, it’s time to shut the real world out. The real world can really suck, especially when it doesn’t pay well and you have to spend the majority of your day with imbeciles who make more than you do.

This is one of the reasons that telemarketing phone calls at night can send us into a homicidal frenzy. It’s a rude, crude, sneaky way for the real world to slither into our bunkers after-hours. Like the Blob making its way into that diner. I’m as liberal as they come, but I’d still support the death penalty (or the rack) for anyone who calls me without my consent and tries to sell me something. Just how many times do I have to enter my phone # into that bogus government “do not call” list anyway? I swear the more I try to get them to stop calling me, the more they call me. I’ve told them I’m dead. I’ve told them I’m an illegal immigrant. I’ve told them I was a 7th Day Adventist and attempted to convert them. I’ve told them they were calling a working meth lab in danger of exploding. Nothing works. These people are like flies.

Time away from work should not be interrupted by anybody. Of course nothing interrupts our time away from work more than our jobs themselves, which thanks to wretched technology are never more than a few clicks away. There’s really no 9-5 with weekends off and 2 weeks vacation anymore. “Vacations” increasingly mean doing your job from an overpriced hotel room at night, or responding to insipid company emails while desperately trying to find your 10-year-old in the surf. We do these things because in the back of our minds we know that if we just shut down for 2 weeks, eventually somebody else will figure out what needs to be done and start doing it, thus reminding the company just how unimportant we really are. In other words, we’re extremely replaceable, and there really is a long line of people standing outside ready willing and able to take our job.

The worst situation to be in as an employee is to feel lucky to have your job.

If you feel that way….you’re like a lab rat.

Lab rats don’t get much leisure time.

But still, we do the best we can. Which is why we like to lose ourselves in somebody else’s triumph or tragedy. It takes our mind off of the serious stuff that’s gonna wear us down and kill us before our mortgages are paid off.

So follow that Whitney Houston funeral procession and speculate as to what drug/booze cocktail she concocted as they lower her into the ground. Root on Jeremy Lin as he finally gives NYC residents a reason not to boo the Knicks. Feel bad for Phil Mickelson that he didn’t win a golf tournament he commuted to for 4 days via his private plane. At least we don’t have it that bad eh? It all seems to matter so much……but only for the time we’re watching. When we turn away to actually live our lives, we forget, which is the same as saying we really don’t give a fiddler’s fart.

Which is as it should be.

Distractions are just that. But we need them. They both keep us grounded, and keep us thinking that maybe….just maybe…we too can be famous enough to drown in the bathtub and in the process wipe a Syrian civil war with potential vast domestic complications off the nation’s front pages…..or hit a 3 pointer at the buzzer with well over 1 billion countrymen cheering us on. Or even just get 15 minutes of YouTube fame.

When mundane distractions aren’t enough, that’s when the trouble starts. That’s when the drink and the pharmaceuticals and the dirty needles start. We want to be distracted all the time. At the expense of doing what needs to be done to earn those few hours on the couch that get interrupted by telemarketers.

Everything worthwhile must be earned. If it’s free, there’s a catch.

–Tom Flannery

the white racist homophobic christian ‘women should remain in the missionary position and have kids until it’s time for dinner’ neanderthal bloc (tf)

•February 14, 2012 • 1 Comment

Still not sure who the republican nominee is going to be. Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum are still fighting it out, bloodying each other with the ghost of the Gipper while Obama sits back with popcorn and watches the show…making most of the points he’ll need to make later this year…….by not saying anything and allowing these guys to make asses out of themselves. If the President had these 3 clowns on his staff he couldn’t be positioned any better.

My dog threw-up behind the couch in my office….on the tile. It dried into a small green patch that I can’t get out even with a chisel. Santorum is kinda like dog-puke on your floor. The mainstream press just anoints whoever wins the latest state primary as the nominee (oh how I remember pre-scream Howard Dean on the cover of Time magazine…such innocent days were they…), and shanks the rest into oblivion. Then one of the others wins a primary….and the former front-runner is thrown into the scrap-heap. It’s a very funny follow-the-leader type thing that leaves the masses scratching our heads in confusion. Last week Gingrich was the rage. Now, Santorum is back in fashion (apparently he has some money left, even though less than 2 weeks ago it was reported he was stone broke. And…eee gadz….it’s even being reported that Rick “Brokeback” Perry is weighing jumping back into the fray). I can’t help but think that people who write about this stuff for a living are just trying to keep themselves amused. Perhaps desperate to avoid having to write something relevant about Mitt Romney, a man with the charisma of a garden hose. Being on the Romney press plane must be like the kid being assigned to write a report on Millard Fillmore at school.

Santorum is really playing up his “base”….that is, the white racist homophobic christian ‘women should remain in the missionary position and have kids until it’s time for dinner’ Neanderthal bloc. His gibberish is music to their ears. These folks are convinced it’s cheaper to have a kid than it is to buy a pack of condoms, so it’s not like he’s dealing with the Intelligentsia. Still, it’s hard for anybody with a modicum of common sense to think that Santorum is not absolutely batshit crazy, which of course neatly defines what it is I’m so worried about. These people are out there. They breed like rabbits. They pray and watch Fox and if you get in their way they’ll beat you like you stole something. And they vote. And they don’t want you to….especially if you’re… know….off-white.

I wish this whole thing was over really. You get the feeling the rest of the world is laughing at us. I get this feeling because I have a few friends who live in different countries and they are always calling and emailing me….to laugh at me. Some are obscenely healthy Canadians who love the rub the universal healthcare bit in my face. They don’t seem to wait in lines as much as we think they do. A few are Europeans who don’t take old men in robes and miter’s nearly as serious as Americans seem to. It’s very strange actually. We’re obsessing over birth control….birth control!…..while we pay our bills and bailout corporate criminals by borrowing from the Chinese. I’m staring at the ceiling wide-awake in the middle of the night wondering how I’m going to put my kids through college amidst all this financial carnage….and all the news channels can titter on about is ortho tri-cyclen lo. Sometimes I feel like the only sane person left in the room.

Surely in a country of 313,018,378 people, we can do better than this, no? Obama will win re-election. But how soon before sheer buffoonery turns off the middle of the road moderates (sorry folks, but anybody who thinks the President leans towards “socialism”…or is even “liberal” by definition, needs a history class.) for good, leaving the 2 political parties to host nothing but extremists? For my chair, Obama is way too status-quo. But at least he’s not stupid or insane. I’m not embarrassed to have him represent me to the rest of the world.

Say it slowly. P r e s i d e n t S a n t o r u m.

You should be terrified. I know I am.

(I found that 313,018,378 number here by the way. The next time you think a decent job is on the horizon, pull up that page and hit the refresh button a couple of times. That should drive a pike into your chest. With every mouse-click your chance of ever earning money without being forced to wear a name-tag decreases.)

–Tom Flannery

Winter, You’re Busted (ms)

•February 13, 2012 • 1 Comment

I can tell how bland this winter is by the recent space filler about sleep Flannery posted. The culling of decent ideas from the nooks and crannies of his brain took far less time than one might have expected. I can only blame the predicament on the miserable winter we haven’t had.

Winter, in its usual form, gives us something to look forward to, perhaps something to dread but either way it stirs us, makes us move, breaks us from the lethargy we must endure during the bleak times of the year. That, of course, is all thrown beneath the salt spreader when winter becomes a vague show of itself as it has this year.

Temperatures in the fifties and sixties, wind out of the warm south, ground frozen only under trees and in the shadows of tall buildings; this is hardly winter. Basking in the glow of these amenities is not the way to get the blood moving. No wonder friend Flannery can only muster the strength to write about sleep. He never was what you might call a ball of fire and this winter has dashed whatever burning coals there might have been.

Of course there are good points to the situation. We needn’t fret about skidding to work in the morning, making it up the hill to home, worrying about chipped paint from chunks of salt on the road. There are no sidewalks to shovel, no driveways to clean, no mess in the front room. We are all enjoying lower heating bills and that is also a happy circumstance. Those are all positives to be put on the shelf labeled “Good Fortune” but there is also room, at the other end of that shelf, for the items one might go so far as to label, “Bad Stuff”.

Hours spent on a couch with only the barest movement of a finger changing channels on the television or, worse yet, lowering the volume so the sound doesn’t interfere with an afternoon snooze. The consumption of feel good foods in far greater amounts than at any other time of the year, that’s pretty bad too. The general blah feeling that allows us only the energy to go to work each day and barely make it home at days end, another sign of such a season as this. In moderation, of course, these are all just fine and I might even add a decent book on an evening as another but in huge amounts, those many of us are experiencing in this less than spectacular winter, it’s not so good.

We need to get up and get out, to enjoy the slap of cold air against our faces, the rush of it into our bodies while we breath deeply. The scraping of skates along the ice, the sound of skis on a steep trail, the joyous yells of children glad for the first downhill run aboard a trusty sled. This, folks, is what a decent winter ought to be and not the poor misnamed time of darkness and dampness we’re living through this year. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I am heading for a nap.

–Mike Stevens

Fix It? Forget it! (ms)

•February 9, 2012 • Leave a Comment

A long long time ago we bought our first house. For those who have never had such a pleasure it is a remarkable event in life second only to the birth of a child.

The process is fairly simple: you scrimp to save your down payment, spend endless hours visiting homes on the market, more hours negotiating the price and finally sign a stack of papers equal to a few trees. Oh, the thrill of it all!

We stood on the stoop of our new home and secretly I wondered, “What the heck did we just do?” What we did was put ourselves into debt for a large portion of our lives and opened me to projects the likes of which I’d never seen before. It quickly became obvious to me that when you own your own home you have only two choices when it comes to repairs or improvements: get someone to do it or do it yourself, perhaps with the help of well-meaning friends or relatives. Of course hiring someone is going to cost money so the only real answer, at that tender stage of things, is to do it yourself whether or not someone shows up to help and whether or not you really know what you’re doing.

One of the first things I did was to go out and buy some tools for I had nothing to speak of in that area. I bought stuff I knew I needed, thought I needed, imagined I needed. I bought stuff that looked like I might need it. Foolishly I never bought a book that told me how half the stuff was used.

In an equally foolish move I did not buy a book that told what I needed to do to fix something. The world is not kind to those who blunder into Fix It Land without a road map but I was late to learn just how cruel it could be.

By the time I came to a plumbing project I had done a few things and confidently figured it could not be that hard. Cut some pipe, solder some pipe; how tough could that be? Of course it can be tough which is why I learned early on that money spent on a competent plumber was money more than well spent. Way back in the First House Era though I was young and dumb and thought there was no challenge too big. Plumbing was too big, way too big.

I worked for hours one night measuring, cutting and soldering pieces of pipe together for a clothes washer hookup. I put it all together, turned the water on and in an instant I was standing in a monsoon. I think it took me just three more tries before I got the whole thing to work. I’ve had the name of a good plumber on my speed dial ever since. No need to tempt fate.

There are many things besides plumbing I no longer do. The enthusiasm seems to have worn off maybe because I’ve had to do so many things there is no longer a challenge to anything. Perhaps I’ll try some plumbing just to give me something to do. My plumber will be most happy to hear that; he has two kids coming of college age.

–Mike Stevens

The Joy of Sleep (tf)

•February 8, 2012 • 2 Comments

Sleep is a marvelous thing.

I don’t mean the actual sleeping part. We don’t know how that feels because we’re asleep, obviously. I mean that feeling of crashing on a couch or a bed….knowing that the most pressing thing in the world at that moment is to become unconscious.

That drifting feeling….the actual falling asleep part. It’s one of life’s pleasures that we take for granted. But it’s right up there with good loud music and barbecue potato chips. Not quite as good as sex, generally. But on some nights it’s why we abstain, so there may be room for argument.

What may be an even a better feeling? Waking up thinking it’s time to rise, only to glance at the clock and seeing that it says 3am. It’s the grown-up equivalent of a school snow-day. If we could all bottle that feeling and release it on demand, there’d be no more wars.

A personal aside. I drink at least 10 cans of diet soda a day. I don’t know how much caffeine that is but I’m guessing it’s a lot. I was having a hard time sleeping. Doctor suggested I stop inhaling caffeine. I don’t like to do things half-assed, so I quit cold-turkey. For a few days my head felt like it was in a permanent vice, but I got through it. Drank nothing but water and caffeine-free stuff for months. And guess what? I still could’t sleep. Went back to the doctor and said, “can’t you just give me a pill?”

I mean, isn’t that what we always say eventually?

Sure I’m interested in the nuts and bolts of why I can’t sleep. It’s probably a fascinating psychological jig-saw puzzle. But I’m not sure my paltry insurance plan would cover the treatments necessary to put the undoubtedly grizzly pieces together. Hence my moving in for the quick medical kill.


So the Doctor gave me a pill.

After all, he’s a busy man.

Some nights the pill doesn’t exactly work as advertised. But mostly, it works just fine. I wash it down with a few Diet Cokes and wait for oblivion.

Since the intake started, there’s only been one night I didn’t take a sleeping pill. It was on purpose. Just a wee test I thought. Maybe this was all in my head, and the pill was nothing more than a placebo. Perhaps the Doctor was using me like a laboratory mouse. He did seem kinda snarky that way. So I waited. And waited. Even at 3am I wasn’t too worried. I’d been this far before. But when my kids got up for school and saw me sitting on the couch after an all-nighter watching Monty-Python videos, even they looked alarmed. The rings around my eyes made me look like a tree that had been cut down….and my head felt like somebody was inside it with tools trying to bore their way out. Clearly, depending on your view of science, my experiment had either succeeded or failed. And so it was decided. I need a pill to sleep.

That does not hamper my enjoyment one bit.

Strange though. During the day when I’m working I feel like I can sleep for hours.

–Tom Flannery

The super Super Bowl (tf)

•February 6, 2012 • 1 Comment

I missed the lady giving everybody the finger at halftime. I guess I wasn’t paying that much attention. I’ve seen more imaginative choreography in country and western bars, and Madonna was wearing way too much clothing to distract me (Pete Townshend at least bared his midriff 2 years ago)…..and her lip syncing grew tedious after a time. Not that she’s not an expert at lip syncing. She’s had years of practice after all. But I like my music sung and played live. If this is the future, why not just show a video? It would certainly cut down on performers slipping the bird into their act.

One thing I did notice was Eli Manning’s wife handing off her kid to a Mexican nanny for the entire game. Alas, when the game was over and it was time for the adorable Manning family to mug for the cameras, the nanny was nowhere to be found. It was a pure 21st century pop culture moment….the kind that I notice and hardly anybody else does.

The game surely lived up to the hype. Eli Manning is a cold-blooded killer in the 4th quarter, and even though we all secretly want to either be Tom Brady or be with Tom Brady, it’s not all that unpleasant to see him lose once in a while (and to me, Brady wins if Welker doesn’t drop that ball late in the 4th. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Wes Welker drop a ball. It’s even money that Belichick sends him off to a Siberian gulag next year for some rehabilitation). Brady’s a bit of an arrogant twit….and guys who marry super-models with names nobody can pronounce are automatically unlikable to the majority of the 99%….especially when it’s debatable that of the two she’s the one with the better hair and the prettier face. She did show herself to be an excellent game analyst, however, as she was caught on a post game video going off on Brady’s receivers….saying that her man can’t ” f—— throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.” Hard to argue with her.

Still, Brady’s a great player….but still a great player who’s gotten his ass kicked twice in the Super Bowl by a guy named Eli….a guy with a face that makes Opie Taylor’s look tough. It’s like Richie Cunningham beating up the Fonz, and it’s hard not to root for it to happen. And since Eli plays in New York City….a place that goes berserk and tells him he sucks in about 467 different ways every time he loses a game, his remarkable poise amidst the cacophony is all the more extraordinary. A month ago, New Yorkers were burning coach Tom Couglin in effigy. Today, Bill Parcels is now the second greatest coach in Giant football history. Strange how things work, no?

But back to the halftime thing. I’m told Madonna had lots of famous people with her….today’s young stars. My problem is I don’t know who these people are, so I couldn’t tell if I was watching the changing of the guard, or just one of her back-up singers grabbing a mic to cover for their boss. But all in all, it seemed pretty tepid stuff for Madonna. No bed humping or cones on her breasts. I guess age catches up with everyone in time.

Even Tom Brady.

The worst part about a great super bowl? We gotta wait 7 months for football again.

–Tom Flannery

No Internet? Oh The Horror! (ms)

•February 6, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Have you ever thought about what might happen to us if the Internet went out? I don’t mean a wire down on the next street or half the town cut off; no I’m thinking bash it, trash it whack a million servers and just make all the stuff of the Internet go away kind of down. Now there’s a whole plateful of food for thought!

As I sit writing this my laptop is tied into the worldwide universe and so, for that matter, is my cell phone. I am but a moment away from the news of the world as it happens; so far as news is concerned I am good to go. As you well know, however, it does not stop there.

I can, with the tap of a few keys, access nearly any reasonable bit of information I may want. The secret formula for Coca Cola isn’t on there nor is the operating instructions for a nuclear submarine but I have enough to keep me busy while I wait.

Truth is we have gotten ourselves tied into one of the most wonderful inventions to come down the road since Rice Krispies. We can bank from home, order from home, pay bills from home. We can plan a trip, book a trip, get clothes for our trip and only leave the house when it’s time to go on the trip. The Internet has made life so much easier it is almost impossible to imagine the world without it but as a helicopter piloting friend of mine once said, “If someone made it then it can surely break.”

A while back the Facebook system went down and folks in some areas were unable to get their hourly Facebook fix. Did I say hourly? I’m sorry; I meant to say minute by minute for that’s how frequently most check in with the service. Before I go on, a disclosure: I am among them so I know whereof I speak. When the service went out it was virtual trauma for those who depend on it to communicate their latest breakup or a favorite in the next game of the season. It was an awful thing to read about. Fortunately I was not affected and so did not become distraught, pacing the floor while anxiety threatened to overwhelm me and reduce me to a blob of quivering flesh unable to forward a chicken soup recipe nor receive breaking news of developing hair styles in Paris. My heart went out to them. I thought of taking up a collection to help in counseling but that would have been a bit too much work. Facebook came back eventually and I don’t recall if I even ever knew what it was that brought it down; a server in Passaic perhaps?

Well, anyway, I hope someone in authority has done at least as much thinking on the matter as I have. Preparations must be made, contingencies considered, alternatives explored. The Internet must remain up for our use at all times for how are we to ever learn the comings and goings of those wild and crazy kids from the Jersey Shore reality show without it? The very thought numbs the mind.

–Mike Stevens

The Real Reality (ms)

•February 4, 2012 • Leave a Comment

As I sat watching the flat panel screen in the front room I was advised by a breathless voice fairly exploding with excitement that a new reality show would soon be available for my viewing pleasure. Mister Excitement said it would feature some star, along with cast and crew, in search of someone who did something or who wanted to be the next whatever. Well, I thought, there’s a spellbinding hour.

Reality shows are enough to send me in search of a station that shows old movies or stories that at least had some literary value. Somebody wrote those things then actors brought the words to life. I suppose the problem is all that costs money. Everybody had to be paid so before long you could be talking big bucks just to put an hour on the air. I don’t know for sure but I would imagine a reality show costs a whole lot less. No cast to speak of, not a big crew, once you build the set you needn’t replace it…acceptable economics.

Of course the good side is folks who might otherwise have their talents and abilities confined to a club in East Nowhere (just down the road from Where The Heck Are We Ville) get a chance to play to a national audience. If they have “it” (whatever that is) they can go on to major stardom. So, in that regard it works out because someone gets a free ticket to Make Believe Land, that place where stars are known to dwell.

I guess the fact that I don’t care a whole lot about the would-be stars that appear on the shows is my main hang up. Pawn shop owners, bounty hunters, alligator wrestlers might hold my attention for an hour but I don’t think I would be back. Maybe I’m just mad because they don’t have a reality show for the guy with the grayest hair or someone who can remember a tune from fifty years ago and recite most of the words. Better yet someone who can remember shows like Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights with acts like the guy spinning plates at the end of willowy sticks. Why, he might have had nearly two-dozen plates spinning by the time the curtain came down. In a way I guess that was the reality show of its day but its probably better thought of as escapism.

Pack up all your cares and woes here we go off to the land of spinning plates and knife throwing acts, of magic and comedy all neatly packaged in one-hour blocks. For that hour forget the bills, the home foreclosure, the cost of the kids braces, the oil leaking four-wheel junker parked in your drive. Watch those plates go, look at those knives, isn’t that something!

You know, truth be told I guess things haven’t really changed. The stage is different, they’ve put the plates away and replaced them with alligators but the name of the game, well, that’s still the same.

–Mike Stevens

I think folks are nicer in the winter (tf)

•February 3, 2012 • 1 Comment

Heard the wind last night. It sure sounded like winter….even though the temperature during the day has had a mind of its own lately. I keep waiting for the deep freeze to set in, but all I ever see are 7 day forecasts of 40+ degrees. I guess there are worse things to endure…..but I’ve always liked the cold weather, perhaps an overreaction to my hatred of all things summer….but still. To me it feels better getting warm after being cold than getting cooled off after being hot. You may need to read that sentence again but that’s okay.

My house isn’t that old but it sounds old. You can hear things creaking and rattling when the wind picks up, which spooks my kids but charms me. I like to sit in front of the fireplace and listen to it. Sometimes I’ll even pop my head outside to feel the snap….standing on the porch for as long as I can endure in a t-shirt. My retreat indoors makes the fire all the more inviting.

Upstairs takes the brunt of the elements. During really bad storms it can sound like you’re in a wind tunnel….or call to mind the soundtrack of a bad B movie about a haunted castle in the countryside. It’s hardly a castle and we live on a pretty busy street, but….well….imaginations run wild when the only thing you hear is the moaning of wind a foot away from your head. Maybe the kids have a point when they call it spooky.

Strange thing about sound though. One night some guy high on assorted pharmaceuticals drove his Porsche right into our backyard, obliterating a large tree, ripping off a rain gutter and large sections of siding, and taking out our fence at the same time. He missed the front downstairs bedroom by about 5 feet. It sounded like a bomb went off. Upstairs, my kids didn’t even stir, not even when the yard filled with cops…amazed that the driver had executed a perfect 3 point turn in our yard and exited the very way he entered.

But then again, I could be downstairs at 2am listening to the Who at what I consider to be a reasonable volume and they’ll yell at me from upstairs to turn it down. They can hear Keith Moon but not a car in the backyard? Selective ears I say (funny thing…..I’ve never listened to music with headphones because I’m paranoid I’ll miss something important….like a Porsche driving into the side of our house etc..).

It’s February. I think that last time we got significant snow was before Halloween. Things just don’t feel right. I’m not sure if it’s global warming or a liberal plot to piss off Fox News and save polar bears….but something is amiss.

Winter is my time. I love it how the light starts to fade at the end of a work day….and how the stars seem so shine a little brighter when the temps plummet. I love watching the snow fall and when it sticks how the cars have to drive real slow up the hill when they’re usually drag racing and making all kinds of noise. Winter forces people to slow down, and one of life’s irritants is having to deal with people in a hurry.

I think folks are nicer in the winter.

And I think when you’re lucky enough to have a home….it feels more like home when the wind is trying to get in but can’t and you’re sitting in front of a fire with no place else you’d rather be.

And those noises? Music to my ears.

–Tom Flannery

Same Story, Different Day (ms)

•February 2, 2012 • Leave a Comment

If anything the Republican primaries have taken us on a foray to Fantasyville, a mystical place where anything is possible provided you have enough money. It is in that place they speak of fixing whatever ails the good old U.S. of A. even though they’ve asked but a tiny fraction of the population about what seems to be ailing the nation. They’ve had one-way conversations with the rest through commercials and advertising. Actually, I can’t wait until the remaining candidate(s) in the race make it to Pennsylvania. With any kind of luck someone in the campaign will be handing out ink pens or those flat round rubber jar opener thingys.

Admittedly we have seen a battle of Republican stars and wannabes that was interesting the first few times. After that it boiled down to the lobbing of insults, the practiced smirk or smile, the well rehearsed battle plan for nation repair which appears to involve kicking regular folks under the bus while allowing a select few to ride in air conditioned comfort inside. We dare not scrape at the door and beg for a few tokens for it may disturb the job creators traveling to the next big project and heaven knows what will happen then. They just may refuse to do business here and take all their work to China or India and then what would we be left with?

As I sat at my desk pondering all this, friend Flannery urged me to get heavy handed in my writing, say it like I mean it. The trouble is this happens to be the American system and it’s pretty hard for me to slam it when I happen to think it’s a good one. What I find difficult is the notion I’ve acquired that the people who are running in this Republican primary tend to forget who it is they’re trying to eventually lead and they don’t seem inclined to want to find out.

I would be happy to offer any one of them the chance to accompany me on my travels. They would not be allowed to bring along the usual gaggle of photographers and reporters though for that would break up the aura of many of the places I visit. No one wants a herd of people coming into their diner or donut shop around coffee break or lunch to just gawk and ask foolish questions while buying nothing; that is hardly good for business. If a candidate for any office did this however he or she would find out fairly quickly what the problems are and there might be a few folks able to offer some pretty good ideas on how to clear things up. I don’t see that as likely to happen, of course, for there’s not enough money in that sort of campaign. You need to spend big, do all kinds of polls, run all kinds of ads to state your case, to stand out from the pack, to be the one who knows it all and occasionally shares it with the great unwashed masses if they are but quiet and don’t ask for or about anything in return. Lots of money spent when they could have had exactly what they and we needed for the price of a few cups of coffee.

–Mike Stevens

Things are a bit screwy? (tf)

•January 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I feel the urge to write a few words, especially since this is meant to be an active blog and apparently Stevens is on yet another of his self-imposed sabbaticals….complaining constantly about how busy he is in the midst of his full-time retirement, and flummoxed again by a case of writer’s block that at last count is well into its second calendar year. On the positive side, he does claim to be shedding a few pounds so he looks better for the camera’s. The man didn’t become a local celeb by not being able to mug at a moment’s notice. So just because he’s a writer and he’s not writing doesn’t mean he’s deep into sloth or anything. He’ll likely turn up at a coffee shop somewhere, Ipad in hand, desperate to make me look bad. And probably succeeding.

There has been plenty to keep us busy, actually.

The last few Republican candidates continue to debate each other every 15 minutes or so, trading barbs about wives and ex-wives and tax returns and truthiness and how brown people are a pain in the ass. Next up is the Florida primary….as if the perpetually tanned Romney (or Mrs. Gingrich the 3rd) needs more sun. Santorum is just about down and out, having spent all his money trying to convince the faithful that anybody who uses a condom is “with the terrorists”. Rick Perry’s unintentionally hilarious YouTube video that bashed gays while at the same time making him seem gay finished him some time ago….so thankfully he’s back to being a Texas problem. I think Ron Paul is still in the race but nobody seems to ask him any questions in the debates, probably because they’re terrified of what he might say in reply. Meanwhile, Obama is showing just how scared he is of the republican murderers row by literally singing at the podium. While they tear at each other like rabid dingos, the President is yucking it up and channeling his inner Al Green, apparently having the time of his life. Never has a man had to do so little to convince people that the opposition is batshit crazy. While vast swaths of the population are pissed-off and unemployed…and some are taking to the streets and being fire-hosed and truncheoned by cops channeling their inner Bull Connor for the TV cameras, Gingrich is proposing a colony on the moon….which makes Obama’s policy of not really doing anything at all seem like something out of LBJ’s Great Society. It’s not that Washington is out of touch. It’s more like they’re perpetually stoned on really good grass…and have turned into hoarders.

In truth you may have missed a lot of this because Joe Paterno died. When famous people die the US press seems to drive into a brick wall…..and it takes them at least a week to decide if they should climb over, dig under, or go around it. This is especially true if the famous person recently did something infamous. Or in this case, didn’t do anything at all, which ended up being the same thing.

So yea, there’s some things worth commenting on….at least in passing.

Oh….one more thing. When you get your W2, and for the 5th year in a row you’ve made less money than the year before, and yet you still feel like one of the fortunate ones….doesn’t that mean….you know….things are a bit screwy?

–Tom Flannery

Paterno did not die of a broken heart, but I’m sure he had one (tf)

•January 25, 2012 • 1 Comment

Joe Paterno’s death has dominated the headlines recently. Surely his legacy is tarnished, but if we’re going to remember the bad, we should remember the good as well. Paterno was a man with flaws (last I checked they don’t make any other kind), but he changed a lot of lives for the better (just ask Adam Taliaferro), and for that he deserves the accolades he’s been receiving. Some folks are going a bit far mind you…..calling to mind North Koreans and Kim Jong-il….posting pictures of a God-like figure peering down into Beaver Stadium, protecting the huddled masses. It’s a bit creepy really. Remember him sure, but granting him the status of a deity might be taking things too far.

But Pennsylvanian’s do love their football….and the PSU fans I know didn’t think it was strange at all that their beloved coach was turned into a statue when he was still very much alive. If they didn’t really consider him a god, they still didn’t mind having a place to kneel and pray and give thanks….just in case.

The man was a great football coach. A great teacher. From all accounts a wonderful family man. Did great things for his school and his community. A true humanitarian. One lapse in judgement doesn’t take any of that away. Surely he’ll have the dreaded asterisk next to his name in the history books, but I think that will fade in time…like pencil on yellow paper.

They don’t make ’em like Paterno anymore. The guy kept his pants rolled up to save on dry cleaning bills. His coke-bottle glasses remained defiantly un-stylish. And he never once wore a headset on the sideline. He was the last of the old school hard-asses, his players hating him until they graduated (and nearly all of them did), and then realizing that his teachings made them better players…and perhaps better men. Which is why even in the wake of the scandal, so many former players sounded so out-of-touch with the reality of the situation….refusing to even consider that their coach might have done something wrong by doing nothing. In the heat of the moment they came across as insensitive to the victims at best, an embarrassment to the University at worst. Ironically….it was this tone-deafness that had outsiders questioning just how successful Paterno had really been in molding his men.

But in retrospect, it seems less mean-spirited and more loyalty-driven. We all know people in our lives who we’d defend with our last breaths….to the point of irrationality. It’s likely we don’t have to do so with a microphone in our face though. I’ve gone to bat for friends with less than sterling reputations just because they were friends of mine. If they weren’t , I’d probably want them thrown in jail. Loyalty is one of those words that sounds so virtuous but so often isn’t. Yet still, it’s a trait we look for in others….and hope we have in ourselves. To be accused of disloyalty is one of the worst epithets one can endure.

So yea, Paterno should have done more. He admitted so himself in the final interview he gave. I’m not sure the PSU board had any other choice but to let him go when they did. This is a story about the heinous abuse of children, after all. That’s bigger than a football coach no matter how iconic he was. To hear it now, you’d swear that it was the board (or the media) who killed Paterno. “Died of a broken heart” I’ve read over and over again… if the cancer cells were pixie dust.

If anything, it’s my thought that Jerry Sandusky, who managed to remain stealth for years under Paterno’s watch…may have taken some of the Coach’s fight away at the end. When folks chanted “We are….Penn State!”…. Sandusky was in that mix too. Paterno must have been stunned that such a thing was possible. A monster had slipped through the cracks. In Joe Paterno’s world. Sandusky used his status with Paterno’s program to lure young boys into horrific situations. Again and again and again.

The day Paterno learned of this……the sheer magnitude of it….the domino effect of human suffering it caused….what might it have done to him on the inside? Only those closest to him know….but the rest of us can speculate.

Paterno did not die of a broken heart, but I’m sure he had one.

–Tom Flannery

Family Values (tf)

•January 20, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I don’t mind Republicans until they start talking. Then they get on my nerves. I hate these elections because we have to go through this “family values” nonsense all the time. We have to watch these people shamelessly play to the Goober Jesus vote by touting how squeaky clean they are, even though it’s well documented that just about all of them have the moral compass of the boll weevil.

The old adage is “you break it, you bought it”. So….if you’re gonna spout this gibberish, you gotta be prepared when your mistresses and page-boys start selling their stories to the rags. And let’s face it. What else is there to write about? Mitt Romney’s foreign policy? Rick Santorum’s proposed ban on rubbers?

American’s on the whole are pretty live-and-let-live sort of people. Aside from the Fox lunatic fringe (do not confuse volume with numbers), nobody really gives a fiddler’s fart what you do in your private life. But what irks is the sanctimonious blowharding from the pulpit, as if a detestable toad like Newt Gingrich has somehow earned the right to preach about the joys of husbands and wives and the missionary position….and the hellfire that awaits us if we don’t stop being perverts. This despite the fact that Newt is currently on wife number 3, having cheated on number 1 with number 2, and number 3 with number 2. He asked number 1 for a divorce while she was in the hospital with cancer…and then promptly married number 2….suggesting that their marriage remain “open”. This didn’t go over too well and led to number 3….who is apparently way more liberal….and 23 years younger than her man….which helps I suppose. She also has a disturbing look about her….a peroxided “blond” with bulging eyes that look like somebody is keeping them open with toothpicks. She totally creeps me out.

All of this concerns me not a whit. I’ve got more pressing things to worry about than the cornucopia of Newt’s squaws. However, I do recall that when Bill Clinton was President and made the mistake of being orally serviced by an ugly intern, it was Newt leading the charge to have the President impeached for not being “moral” enough for the oval office. Fair enough. Politics is hard ball and Clinton just grooved one right down the middle. If the roles were reversed things might have played out the same.

But there’s that glass house thing. And rocks. Politics is so distasteful mostly because politicians are so damn dumb. What Clinton did was stupid, but when Republicans reacted like the man invented the extra-marital blow-job, everybody’s eyes kinda rolled, and political assassins like James Carville gleefully sharpened their knives.

It wasn’t pretty. Soon prominent Republicans were being outed like clock-work….as Carville and his gang managed to paint them as the party of God-fearing sex maniacs. Eventually, Speaker of the House Newt was forced to resign. Nobody thought the guy had hubris enough to be seen anywhere near DC again.

For a while Newt busied himself writing un-intentionally hilarious “historical” novels about the Civil war, one of which contains a scene in which slaveholder Robert E. Lee is conveniently converted to the anti-slavery cause by a Baltimore rabbi. So there you go. It’s all peaches and cream really.

I guess it became clear that the legacy of Michael Shaara was safe…so Newt got back into politics, spewing his venom on Fox News, the only organization that could hire him and not have to worry about credibility. It kept Gingrich in the game at least, and he decided to pounce on a wounded Obama in 2012. Newt is lagging behind Romney now, although not because of any political differences. Both are to the right of Attila the Hun. But Newt keeps getting reminded of all them wives, and all that caterwauling in the 90s about Clinton’s lack of “values”. And he’s getting really pissed off…lately blaming CNN for having the unmitigated and unpatriotic gall to ask about any perception of hypocrisy in a recent debate.

And so it goes in the “family values” game. At least Romney doesn’t go on and on about it all the time, mostly I think because he doesn’t want to remind people that he’s a Mormon. He’s having a hard time convincing the Bubba’s that he’s not gonna send an army of teen missionaries down South to constantly interrupt supper. The last thing he wants to do is bring god into things. For Romney it’s all about reminding folks that because he’s way richer and better looking than we are, that means he’s way smarter too. And thus deserves to be President.

In this day and age, Romney’s clueless arrogance is almost praise-worthy.

–Tom Flannery

I have a “good” car now….although people never believe me when I tell them I can’t remember what kind it is..(tf)

•January 16, 2012 • 1 Comment

Stevens is fussing about his dastardly truck again. That thing spends more time jacked-up above the ground than it does with its wheels on the road. He could just write the thing off and get a new one, but then again he could get a new sport coat to replace the corduroy job with the patches on the elbows too. The man is old school, and needs to be slapped in the face with a wet fish before admitting that time would ever get the better of him.

So, he continues to careen around the back-roads of PA in a pick-up that looks like it came out of a Dukes of Hazzard casting call….apparently content to shell out significant chunks of his small fortune to keep the thing from failing inspection and thus ending up being visible from route 81, rusting in the sun on one of Uncle Louie’s junk-yard mountains. I’ve seen this truck and I swear it rattles more than a consumptive old man and is held together with massive amounts of duct-tape and gorilla glue. The thing is a modern marvel. A perfect metaphor for the man who drives it. A man who would not only turn back every clock he could get his hands on, but collect them for a bon-fire.

But he does bring up an interesting talking point regarding guys and mechanical things. Somehow we’re supposed to know what to look for under the hood. The fact that I can barely open the hood of a car doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve stared at all that stuff in there many times, thinking that something might suddenly pop out at me….like a large wire not plugged in or something. I still don’t know the positive/negative jumper-cable thing…..and since everybody says if you get it wrong the car will explode, I just call AAA and let them do it. I once put oil where my windshield-wiper fluid was supposed to go, which should tell you all you need to know about my mechanical prowess. The only time I ever “fixed” a car was when a lady came to me saying hers would not start and I noticed that she had it in neutral. For the rest of the day I felt 10 feet tall.

At least back in the days before computers took over, you had some idea of what might be wrong. Funny noises or funny smells or that dreaded “click only” sound when you turned the key. Now, all you get is a “service soon” light. Hmm. How soon? You drive around thinking the car could explode at any moment. Most of the time they just need to “re-set the computer”, which is mechanic-speak for “we have no idea what’s wrong with it”. You are completely at their mercy, which of course is just the way they want it.

I always thought folks who obsessed over their cars were missing a few genes. To me a car is just a thing with wheels meant to get one from point A to point B. I don’t care what color it is or what kind of engine it has. What makes a car “good” is not breaking down. My first car was a ghastly blue thing that died every few yards. One time on a set of railroad tracks, which is bad karma for sure. It was, by any definition, a “bad” car. My next one was nicknamed “the Red Death”, although it would shake uncontrollably when it reached 50 mph so I have no idea why. If it hit anything it’d just bounce off. But still, a “good” car. What finally killed it was rust. You could actually see through the doors.

I’ve never washed a car in my life except when I was a kid being punished for coming home drunk. I don’t understand why someone would wash a car. I actually know someone who washes the underside of her hood. Maybe once a year I’ll remove the McDonald’s bags and soda cans, but why in the world would you wash the outside of your car unless you planned on doing all your subsequent driving in a bubble? It makes no sense to me at all. It’s like washing a tree.

I have a “good” car now….although people never believe me when I tell them I can’t remember what kind it is. It’s red and sorta small. Has 4 doors. Moves when I press down on one petal and stops when I press down on the other. My favorite part is the place to hold the 2 soda cans. I bring it in for “service” when they tell me to, and finally learned that “an oil change” doesn’t mean driving until the oil light comes on and then pouring a few quarts in myself. I guess there’s more too it than that but don’t ask me what. I checked the trunk and I don’t have jumper cables, which is just as well since I still don’t know the positive/negative thing. I was temped to google it and put the results in the glove compartment, but decided against it when I realized I wouldn’t know how or where to hook them up even armed with this info.

What I can do is put air in a tire. I actually know people who can’t do this, so it gives me something to feel smug about.

Along with, of course, not being stuck with a pick-up made during the Nixon administration.

–Tom Flannery

Car, I Hardly Know You (ms)

•January 16, 2012 • Leave a Comment

As I write this I’m sitting in the service area of a car dealership. My pickup truck is in for routine service but I secretly wish I could come here just to hang out. The place has a donut shop inside, comfy chairs, televisions and Internet, all the comforts of home save for the donut shop. What a long winding road its been.

I pop the hood on my truck every so often just to see if I can still do it and to check the windshield washer’s cleaning fluid but beyond that engine maintenance, to me, is a lost cause. Ever looked at the engine of your vehicle? I can’t even find the starter on mine let alone repair it even if I knew it was ailing. Diagnostics on a modern engine are done by one computer talking to another, no humans need interfere. All this has pretty much eliminated the need for a breed of man known as a Shade Tree Mechanic.

I was among that select group. We fixed stuff on our vehicles and if I didn’t have the right nut or bolt, the wrench that fit or were short a quart of oil during a change, well, the guy next door would likely have it. We were a fraternity, so to speak, a loosely formed group of guys who found pleasure in doing an oil change or rotating tires or throwing on new brake shoes. Doing any of these things was a badge of accomplishment, a medal of achievement, a blue ribbon for enterprise. Besides, it saved money which was always scarce.

When we married my wife brought her car to the marriage along with numerous other things. Well, the starter went on that car and I knew it because the thing wouldn’t start and everything else was good. I disconnected the battery, squeezed under the car and ratcheted the two bolts that were holding it, took off two wires and I had the starter out. I ambled on down to the nearest parts store, bought a rebuilt starter and went on home. I guess by the time I finished I had about two hours into the project including time spent having coffee, shooting the breeze with a neighbor and discussing the state of world affairs with the guy at the parts store. I’m just guessing but I suspect I’d spend that much time finding the starter in a car today.

So, what we do is take our vehicles to places like the one I’m sitting in today. They hook their computer to the computer in the car or truck and one tells the other what it needs, the job is done and you’re on the way. Very efficient, very easy and while I pay for it I know that if something isn’t done right I can bring my truck back and they’ll do it over until it is. I know that to be the case because I checked and I would not be here if it weren’t so. Still, even with all that, I do miss that group of guys who kept their motors running one turn of the wrench at a time.

–Mike Stevens

I don’t care if Tebow wants to Tebow. I’m just mad that he beat my Steelers. (tf)

•January 11, 2012 • 4 Comments

I’m a psycho Pittsburgh Steeler fan (which means I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan), so I’m not in a very good mood right now. Steeler fans expect nothing less than a trip to the Super Bowl, but with Ben Roethlisberger playing on one leg….and a defense that has the attention span of a little league right fielder, things ended in a hurry this year.

Yea yea….that Tebow dude. An 80 yard laser on the first play of overtime and suddenly I’m not waving my terrible towel anymore. I’m using it to staunch tears. About 2 seconds after the score I’m getting text messages all over the place, mostly from Steeler haters and almost all of them mentioning the words “Jesus hates you”. I sat on my couch for about a half hour, too stunned to move. My 7-year-old kept saying…”Daddy, does this mean the Steelers won’t be in the Super Bowl?” And then, “why is that guy praying?”

Yep, there was Tebow, “Tebowing” near the end zone. I’m sure it’s genuine and all that, but at that very moment I was hoping James Harrison would take offense and deliver one of his patented helmet-to-helmet take-offs. All the more effective it would have been too since Tebow had taken his helmet off, making it easier for the faithful to notice the intensity of his God-likeness.

Now, would he be doing this if things had been reversed and the Steelers won? Er…no. Ergo, he’s thanking his man upstairs not only for the win, but for screwing my Steelers at the same time….which really irks me, and not only because his man obviously didn’t give a shit about my Steelers in the first place. If he did, he wouldn’t have pulled a Joe Theisman on Roethlisberger’s leg a few weeks back and bent the thing sideways. The truth is, a Supreme Being who involves himself in a football game is a Supreme Being who desperately needs some time management courses. Surely there’s enough hunger and disease and genocidal behavior and Republican primaries to keep the big guy busy on the weekends?

Sour grapes? Yea, maybe. Ok, definitely. ‘Cause I like Tim Tebow. I love what he was doing this season at the end of games. It did indeed seem miraculous, especially since for the first 55 minutes of a game he would usually throw the ball with the accuracy of a drunken blind woman with no thumb. But with the game on the line he suddenly turns into John Elway. It’s great for the NFL and I admit I was cheering the guy on with everybody else. And fans of Jesus love it too ’cause Tebow seems so modest and gives Jesus all the credit. Gee wiz…’s like getting beat by Beaver Cleaver. What’s not to like?

But this prayer thing. We are what Fox News tells us we are. A “Christian” nation. Don’t believe me? Imagine Tom Brady winning in overtime next week and running into the end zone and pulling out a prayer rug while pointing himself towards Mecca. Republicans might trigger a constitutional amendment to nuke New England.

What we all know but don’t say out loud of course is that American’s can be as outwardly religious as they wish, as long as we’re not outwardly espousing the wrong religion. “Wrong”, of course, being what Fox News says is wrong. Anything not Christian.

Personally, I don’t care what religion you are or aren’t as long as you don’t knock on my door and proselytize. I don’t barge in on you trying to get you to buy “Quadrophenia”, so why are you trying to sell me on the merits of the Angel Moroni?

And really, I don’t care if Tebow wants to Tebow. I find it kinda charming in a “look at me Ma” kind of way. I’m just mad that he beat my Steelers. At the end of next week’s game I hope he does a Tebow at the foot of Bill Belichick…..although I suspect Tebow won’t have much to give thanks for when Tom Brady goes all anti-christ on the Broncos and puts up 50 points. Brady is evil like that.

Say your prayers boys and girls.

–Tom Flannery

The Soup Is On (ms)

•January 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I love soup and so I will eat just about any kind made in virtually any diner or kitchen. I don’t have much ability when it comes to making soup and that is surprising, especially to me.

My folks made soup and a lot of it. If it grew, mooed, cackled or oinked it was safe to say some portion of it would eventually make its way into the soup pot at the house. Though I imagine they knew or at least guessed the benefits of a bowl of soup the overriding factor was money! We didn’t have a whole lot of it and soup was cheap to make.

You could get a good soup bone at the local butcher for a couple pennies; throw it into a pot of water along with some vegetables and a few spices, boil it all for a while and, there you go, dinner is served. Heck, today it would be considered a gourmet meal.

I regret not learning more about the fine art of soup making when I had the chance. My contribution was generally in the slicing of the carrots and potatoes but, really, when you’ve sliced one carrot you’ve sliced them all. Had I been smarter, a condition I never really outgrew to this day, I would have hung out in the kitchen and learned the secret of making a good pot of soup. My mother, all the ladies in the neighborhood, all cooked by eye: a handful of this, a pinch of that, boil it for as long as it takes to go have a chat with a neighbor; nothing was ever written down by them so recipes do not exist. It’s a pity I didn’t pay closer attention; more evidence, I suppose, that youth is wasted on the young.

I can still remember the smell of it though. Chicken soup was my favorite and my uncle on some Saturday afternoons would bring down a plump one freshly dispatched from the flock in his backyard. He would accept no money, his payment came in soup.

On Sunday, late in the morning, the work to make the soup began and little by little the ingredients were added to the big pot of water on the stove. My carefully chopped carrots and potatoes, onions, garlic some parsley, pepper and salt were all put in then it would simmer for a time undetermined by someone as lowly as me. It was magic how they knew when it was finished, the stars told them or maybe it was a secret formula handed down over the years, who knows? At any rate, about the time the steam from the pot had thrown enough moisture into the air to fog the windows in winter, word was put out that the soup was finished.

Some noodles in a bowl, soup and vegetables and chicken ladled in and you were good to go. Truthfully, it was hard to wait seven days to do it all again for there were no leftovers to carry into Monday, for supper when I think about it.

Perhaps its time to practice the craft of soup making and maybe learn the right way to do it. It would surely ease winter a bit in more ways than one.

–Mike Stevens

We Should March On (ms)

•January 5, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I like the idea of getting out for a walk but, like most folks, I do not walk enough. I have a shopping bag full of excuses: too cold, too hot, rain, snow, some place to go, something to do. I have worked at gathering these and honing them to a fine edge for a long time so I can have one set and ready to go at a moments notice.

The favored time of year for any of us to go on a health binge is the start of the year. Makes good sense. We look down one day in December and realize we haven’t been able to see our feet for the longest time or have bought nothing less than extra large since who knows when. For us second helpings are a way of life but, come the New Year, that is all behind us and we shall step forward onto a path paved with good living, one leading to a long, productive life. Generally speaking it does not happen (read again the excuses above) but we at least have good intentions. The manager of a health club told me once that if he had to accommodate all the customers who showed up in January for the rest of the year he would need a building three times as large. I might add he got membership fees up front. Walking is free save for maybe a decent pair of shoes.

There are two kinds of walkers: those in training to break the world walking speed record and the casual variety that moves along at a slow but steady pace. I have no opinion on either for no matter what you do in the way of exercise, it’s always better than nothing and you do what you can.

Me? Well, I think I fit somewhere in between: not very fast but not very slow. A steady pace rules my time on the road (there are very few sidewalks where I live) and gets me where I need to go which is around a few blocks and back home again.

My method probably won’t be listed as one would-be walkers should follow but I like it. I get the chance to see what’s going on around me, to say hello to a neighbor, pet his dog. During the Christmas season I get to take a long view of the decorations my neighbors have put up and to marvel at how the light from them bathes the lawn and spills over to the road helping to make my walk easier. On clear nights the stars shine down from a black winter sky and on one road, where there is no light to be found, they look like bright dots on a dark canvas stretched from here to infinity. The smell of wood smoke drifts from chimneys and the venture becomes a most pleasant journey. It is one I’m very glad to make and truthfully wish I could make more often. If it wasn’t for that bag of excuses I have, maybe I would.

–Mike Stevens

Two Words. Rick. Santorum. (tf)

•January 4, 2012 • 3 Comments

Two words.



I wake up this morning to find that a guy who thinks the world is 6000 years old is now the front-runner of the Republican Party. A man who does not believe we have a “right to privacy”, even within marriage. A man who equates homosexuality to incest, pedophilia, and bestiality. A man who wants to ban contraceptives. A man who blamed the Boston Diocese clergy sex abuse scandal on “liberalism”.

Gee, and I thought it was the old dude in the cassock buggering the little boy.

I can’t find the right word for all this creepiness in US vernacular, so I’ll hop over the pond and borrow one of theirs.

I am gobsmacked.

It’s not that Romney or Gingrich are any better mind you. To me all of these people seem like freeze-dried mutants from the planet Xenu. It’s just that Santorum seems the nuttiest of the bunch, and the fact that over 30,000 Iowans voted for him makes you wonder what’s in the water out there. Or maybe it’s not the water. Maybe 30,000 guys all got drunk or stoned at the same time and headed to the polls in a sort of flash-mob just to mess with the rest of us. I can only hope, because if this nation is tilting towards a vacant fear-mongering sieve like Santorum, we’re more doomed than I thought we were.

But I’ve got Stevens, the Christopher Robin of commentary, in my ear all the time telling me to be more positive….so I’m gonna try to look at the bright side to all of this.

So let’s see.

Well…banning condoms should help Catholic school enrollment. And priests will have a larger selection of….wait a minute, that’s not coming out right. Ok, let me back up and think more on this.

Ok…privacy. Who needs it eh? Let’s say you’re in the boudoir with a lady who just so happens to be your wife. You decide to get creative and just as you’re closing your eyes and thinking of Thurman Munson the SWAT team comes crashing through your window and arrests you for being a perverted deviant. And they take your dog too, just in case. Surely keeping the world safe from non-missionary un-procreative activity can’t be a bad thing?

I’m really working hard at this. I swear. So dinosaurs and global warming were both invented by Al Gore. Aren’t you glad you know this now? It’ll sure cut down on the homework in science class. It may even do away with the dreaded “science fair” entirely….unless Rick still gets a bang out the pencil that looks like it bends when you put it in water. That was my project every year. Always good for a solid B…..and you don’t have to explain how the world can be 6000 years old when man has been brewing beer longer than that.

See? It’s not all bad. Think of the fun we could have with a President who said…

“The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire.”

Bada Bing! You bet your ass there are consequences! Imagine how much less congested the world would be if Jonas Salk was slapped with leg irons for doing that polio cure thing. I’m getting sick and tired of this originality bullshit myself. Bring on Big Brother…and let’s all kick Winston in the balls and stick rats on his face! Who’s with me!

Er…sorry. Got a bit wound up there. Sorta Nurembergish. Was getting ready to bring out the long knives. See how easy it is?

But back to reality y’all. I don’t want to have to explain to my kids why Rick Santorum is President of the United States. At this point in time, I don’t think the rest of the country has as advanced a sense of humor as them wacky Iowans, so we’re safe from this sort of  demagoguery for at least another 4 more years. But the times do seem to be a changin’. We just got out of a 10 year war….and there’s already a drumbeat to get into another. Business is business after all.

My own state elected Santorum to the Senate multiple times after all, so it’s not like we’re not complicit in this thing. PA residents do drink and drug tons though….and many are perpetually armed, so I just assumed election-day psychosis and tried to move on. It’s one of the reasons Pennsylvanians have a hard time looking outsiders in the eye. We look at the ground a lot and mumble.

“[Gay marriage] threatens my marriage. It threatens all marriages.”

That’s another Rick quote. Not sure how strong his marriage is if Joe and Bob down the road can wreck it, but I suppose that’s between Santorum and the Misses. Sounds like he needs to spice things up a bit…but within the law and all that.

I think I’m doing a damn good job of looking for the good in all things so far in 2012. Can’t promise that it will last, but I can’t promise that Stevens won’t get all curmudgeonly on you either.

–Tom Flannery

Resolutions? No. (tf)

•January 3, 2012 • 3 Comments

So 2011 is finally in the rear-view mirror. Good riddance. Stevens wants me to be more positive in 2012 and I told him I’d do my best, but since I woke up this morning I’m not feeling much different. In fact, I can’t remember one year rolling over into another that has felt less….new year-ish. I haven’t met anybody who’s got any grand ideas for 2012, or expects 2012 to be enlightening in any kind of special way. The world still seems poised on the brink of….well….something. Nobody is quite sure what but it’s not good. Aside from the comic relief of watching Republicans debate each other, I’m hard pressed to find anything worth looking forward to in a worldly vein. Personally I’m hoping for the best, as usual. But who isn’t? In short, I expected some sort of cosmic smack to the head when the ball dropped. Instead, I felt bad for Dick Clark, then rolled over and fell asleep. I stayed in bed for the next 14 hours. When I finally did move, it was to the couch to gorge on college bowl games. I caught a nasty cold right before Christmas and it too rang in the new year with me. In place of the night-before streamers and beer-cans and ash-trays of years past were used tissues, Nyquil bottles, and the 4 remote controls it takes to operate my ridiculous TV that I’m still paying on. I think all of this means you’ve become boring and old. I’ll bet even Stevens, who was born when Coca-Cola had real cocaine in it, brought in the new year with more panache than I did.

For this I offer no apologies and have no real explanation other than I am boring and old, and this is the way things are going to be from now on, regardless of what the calendar says.

But still, the new year offers a fresh start for some. Gives them the chance to promise themselves that they’ll take on a pile of ridiculous tasks to make themselves better in the year ahead. Which is why the gym is always filled to the brim with newbies in January. By the middle of February the only ones left are the ones who have been there all along. I promised myself I would write a book in 2o11, but I never got past the title page….which is the literary equivalent of driving into the gym parking lot, then backing out and heading to the nearest McDonalds. I did write a play that was not staged and I can’t get anybody to read, which is pretty cool. I also released a CD that I gave away as a free download. Didn’t want to force myself into a higher tax bracket you see…

This year I’ve made no resolutions at all. I’ll continue (and fail sometimes…but still…) to live by the golden rule and to be a good father to my girls. Noble goals in any year. Certainly more reachable than losing 20 pounds or writing the great american novel. Oh….and I’m going to try to not become homeless. Can’t forget that one in this day and age. All of us are a few missed paychecks away from the backseat of the car….assuming the bank doesn’t repossess the car too.

It’s scary out there boys and girls. Folks are frightened….and lots aren’t really sure where the fear is coming from. It’s like something on that high shelf just out of reach. Fear makes us want to blame somebody, and we frequently choose the wrong person or persons. We’re a nation of divisions. We’re a nation of fences. We’re a nation that doesn’t want to make eye-contact with each other anymore. Great politicians in our history (Washington, Lincoln, FDR) worked to break down these barriers….to make everybody feel like when somebody fell, you helped them up. No more. Today, you can’t be elected dog-catcher without exploiting every crack and crevasse…..making folks feel like when somebody goes down, it’s time for the heel in the throat.

I was thinking this the other day. Whenever we lose something important…..we get mad. We search and search and it’s not where we think it should be. Without fail…what do we do next? We start yelling at everybody else. “You’re always moving my stuff! Where did you put it?! etc….” Of course, nobody moved it anywhere. In a day or two we find what we’re looking for just where we left it….but frequently keep the discovery to ourselves so we don’t have to admit that it was our fault to begin with.

A lot of this is our own mess. Putting up a new calendar doesn’t fix anything.

But still, here’s hoping you find what you’re looking for in 2012. And you don’t blame others when it isn’t sitting on the kitchen table. Right where you didn’t leave it.

–Tom Flannery

Regrets? Too Few To Mention (ms)

•January 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment

It isn’t often I am on the other side of the microphone, as it were, answering questions instead of asking them but such was the case the other day. A reporter for my local newspaper wanted to write a story about me and so we agreed to meet at the local coffee shop where I’ve taken to hanging out when I can.

I don’t do interviews very well when they are about me, I prefer to ask the questions for then I learn something. The curious thing about an interview is that you must come up with answers which are copied down or recorded and thus may be used in print so you want to come up with something that doesn’t make you sound like a total fool. Newspaper pieces can come back to haunt you just like the picture someone took when you were standing on your head with a sombrero on your feet spitting sunflower seeds.

Anyway, she was quite pleasant to talk to and that’s how things ended up going, like a conversation. A question here or there dealt with facts but otherwise we had quite a good little chat and I enjoyed it. There was one question that stuck with me, though, and it dealt with my time thus far. “Do you have any regrets about what you’ve done?” she asked, “Any thoughts that you should have done something else?” A good question and it gave me cause to think before I answered, “Not really. On a personal level probably a few but professionally, I don’t think so. I also don’t think I would have preferred another career over this one for I’ve had so many interesting things happen because of it.” We went on from there and finished our chat and said so long but the question has stayed with me and become important since we’re into a new year.

The New Year brings a time for both retrospect and the inevitable promises to do better at whatever in the year ahead. The resolutions we so earnestly make frequently are forgotten before the first few days are out but the times past, well, they stay with you forever. I’ve made my share of weak promises so I know this to be true.

Since that interview I’ve looked back some and decided that I’m still in agreement that over the years things weren’t so bad; could have been better in some places but then who can’t say that. Truth be told I’ve had a good run on all levels.

This is beginning to sound like my last will and testament which it surely is not, at least as far as I know. I guess what happened is that in the spirit of the season, the dawning of the New Year, the opening of a fresh ledger, getting a clean slate and all that I thought it time to take stock of where I’ve been and, more importantly, where I’m going. Never hurts to know that as it stands now the light at the end of the tunnel is not another freight train.

Happy New Year all!

–Mike Stevens

Bring on 2012 (tf)

•December 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Ok. A few words about writing. And writers. And the weird stuff we think and do.

Stevens is a writer, although I have to keep reminding him of this. When his adoring public sees him out and about, he’s got no choice but to think of himself as a TV star. Which he is as well of course, having been doing his “On the PA Road” bits since Milton Berle was around 40 years old. When I think of WNEP-TV, I think of the dialing for dollars 4pm movies, usually consisting of “Elvis Week”, followed by “Planet of the Apes Week”, and then “Elvis Week” again. This was classy TV, made more so by the live rodent races. I think of Uncle Ted’s Ghoul School, which kicked off with ‘ol Ted rising from his coffin amidst way too much dry ice to introduce some sort of late-night zombie movie. I think of “Hatchy Milatchy”, a bizarrely named kids show hosted by “Miss Judy”, a woman so perpetually cheerful that as I got older (and cynicism kicked in) I assumed had to be on something. Nobody could possibly be this ebullient this early in the morning without some of what Jagger called “Mother’s Little Helper”.

And of course, there was Stevens. Wearing the same clothes he wears now. On some back road somewhere, finding a village that nobody ever heard of way out in Sullivan County, and tracking down the local eccentric who builds functioning outhouses with nothing but beer cans and cereal boxes. In 2 minutes Stevens would wax poetic about his latest discovery, and it was all quite riveting. Just where did he find these people? In our house, the voice of Mike Stevens became as well-known as Uncle Walter’s. And my Dad knew the guy. Stevens I mean. Not Cronkite. Surely my father was an important man. He knew TV stars. He’d say….”see how Stevens nails it all down in just a few words? Now that’s writing son. No wasted words. Clean. Concise. Kids today……(grumble grumble)…..”

Writing? You mean this guy wrote this stuff himself? I figured TV stars had flunkies for such things.

But no. Turns out Stevens was a TV star and a control freak, and wouldn’t let anybody within 100 yards of his copy, which might be why his bits are still, all these years later, the jewel of WNEP’s newcasts. Of course, I’m not going to tell him this, least he lord his years over me. But still, he’s a pretty talented guy.

He’s a writer who whines incessantly about having nothing to write about. Which makes him pretty normal. We all live in mortal fear of the well going dry, and sometimes we can wake up, pick up a pen, and be barely able to sign our own names. It’s creepy really. It’s just…gone. Inspiration. Confidence. Brain cells. All gone. And so we contact other writers and sing the blues and to plot what we can possibly do now to be useful since we’ve turned into Jack Nicholson sitting in front of his typewriter at the Overlook Hotel.

Stevens does this to me all the time. “Oh woe is me….you horrible little person….forcing me to come up with 1000 words a week….I am a professional and you have roped me into blogging with all you amateur wretches….and for no remuneration? How did you get past my agent anyway….you cheeky little cur!”

You get the idea. Don’t be fooled by his “Father Knows Best” TV persona. The man can by a tyrant to work with. I’ve had to change my phone number 4 times, and when we meet I insist it’s in a public place.

Of course when he hits his stride he can do 1000 words with his eyes closed…..and people love to read his bucolic ramblings….even though I think he spends too much of his time in never-never land. To be fair, he thinks I am a misanthropic troglodyte who should take more walks. But still.

We’re a good match I think. Each convinced that the other is crazy. Or at least slightly cracked.

And so, bring on 2012. And 1000 words a week without acting like such a burden is like carrying a backpack of rocks while traipsing hilly terrain.

We are, after all, award winners. Ask Stevens. He took all the credit of course.

–Tom Flannery

The Notebook Did It (ms)

•December 29, 2011 • Leave a Comment

When Flannery and I began what I think of as The Blog Project our goals were lofty: a thousand words a week each so that at the end of one year we would have amassed roughly 104,000 words. This would allow us to create a decent size book even with all the verbosity culled from it. We would publish this tome and immediately become the toasts of the literary world with publishers clamoring for our next effort, editors fighting to work with us and the public entranced by our every word at seminars, speeches and book signings. Alas, Dear Reader, it is not to be. We have failed in our efforts, faltered in our steps, plunged from the pinnacle of promise to the depths of disappointment.

Now, Flannery is going to blame this on me because that’s the way he is. It’s my fault there aren’t enough words to go around, my fault the deadlines weren’t met, my fault the creative juices have ceased to flow and are instead dammed up behind a solid wall of incompetence and laziness (his term). My fault. Alway my fault. I’ll tell you where the fault lies — no notebooks.

Of course you scoff at that and who would not. For want of a horse a kingdom was lost, maybe, but for want of a notebook all those blogs were lost? How can that be? Well, I shall explain.

The notebooks I use are little guys that I think might fit inside a cigarette box for they slide quite nicely into my shirt pocket. The stub of a pencil I use to write in them goes in my pants pocket and I’m all set to go off searching for ideas to fill my needs. The main value is my system is less conspicuous than many others used by very talented and far better reporters. In my view it’s much better than tapping something into a telephone or an iPad and far less intimidating than the dreaded Reporters Notebook, the tablet that when brought out says quite unequivocally, “Okay, I’m quoting you now so you better not mess up your story.” Trouble is my brand of notebooks are hard to find.

I first discovered them at a bookstore Flannery and I frequented for high level discussions, a bookstore that is now gone. Before I could buy up a good supply the doors closed and I was left empty handed. No more notes could I take, no more examples of infinite wisdom could I store, no more quotes like, “I’m finer than frog hair” could I write down for later use. My despair was deep.

Fortunately I have come across a new supplier and this very day a new supply arrived by mail along with the promise of a good stock should I run out. Ah, the joy of the season has been added to immensely.

So now I shall again take up my task and renew my efforts to post a thousand words a week for I am again armed with the device that allows me to record what I wish and recall it later when it is time to face the blank screen of my laptop.

In short, let the good times roll.

–Mike Stevens

And to all a good night…..(tf)

•December 27, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Well, another Christmas is here and gone. When you’ve got kids you don’t really experience Christmas, you survive it. I have survived. Barely.

My girls are happy with their respective hauls, and are still too young to fully appreciate the financial carnage involved in procuring the booty, so that helps the mood around the house. We all spent quality time with extended family and ate like royalty. I got sick just in time but it’s the kind of sick that makes you feel not quite awful enough to stay in bed but pretty close….so I loaded up on drugs and tried not to sneeze and/or cough on anybody. It kinda gave me a built-in excuse to watch football and not be accused of being anti-social. So it worked out though my head still feels like it weighs 50 pounds and when I cough I’m making that lung-rattling sound that alerts all that I just pulled something nasty up. It’s a 3 tissue kind of cold. I need at least that many to blow my nose without creating an inelegant spectacle.

But enough about bronchial infections. Somehow we decided to cap off the Christmas thing by allowing our 8th grade daughter to host a sleep-over. With six other 8th grade girls. In retrospect, this seems like such a bad idea I can only speculate that I said yes to it when I wasn’t paying attention to the question. I’m told I did say yes, and events quickly overwhelmed me.

They arrived at 7pm last night. Packs of them. All wired on sugar and red-bull and weighted down with various electronics. I figured the basement was the best place for them. Less expensive things to break down there.

Time it took for them to break something in the basement? Ten minutes. They broke a chair. I’m still not sure how. I swear they used tools.

They also broke a chalk-board and called for a sweeper when a bowl of chips somehow ended up on the floor. A few of them had to change their shirts because they managed to spill soda on themselves. That or they managed to spit soda on each other. I’m not sure which is worse, but the end result is the same. At least they come prepared.

They decided they wanted to go for a walk around the neighborhood. Bad idea. Time it took for me to figure they were up to no good? Thirty seconds. They were found a few blocks away, lined-up across the road Tebowing and taking pictures of themselves to post online……all while making enough noise to alert the municipal authorities (Note to self. If you’re dumb enough to allow this many 8th grade girls in your house, don’t let them roam the streets). They were whisked away before the paddy-wagon arrived. And still, it’s only 9pm. They haven’t even started video-chatting with boys yet.

They ate everything. They don’t talk to each other like normal people. They scream. They don’t do things alone. They do them in packs. I sat on the couch watching the game and all of a sudden 5 girls would walk past to get a single cell phone from the bedroom. Even when they’re in the same room they endlessly text each other. And they don’t sleep. Ever. Later I tried to barricade myself in my room…..and could still hear them. Sounded like they were bowling. I went down to check. The room was dark except for a disco-ball, music was blaring, and they were dragging each other around the room by their feet and singing loudly and way out of tune. No musical prodigies among them. I doubt they even noticed me. The basement itself was unrecognizable. Large pieces of furniture that used to be on one side of the room were now on the other side of the room. I swear the walls were moved….but I’m chalking this up to shock and a low-grade fever. I’ll verify later if my nerves don’t fail me.

The last thing I remember was my daughter stealing the dog from the side of my bed at 7:30am. I had allowed her (the dog that is) to take refuge there.

It’s over now. The girls have gone home. My daughter is looking forward to going to sleep. All in all I suspect it was pretty routine stuff, all things considered.

Merry Christmas to all. And to all a good night without seven 8th grade girls in your house.

–Tom Flannery