Words of Wisdom

Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” — Voltaire

“To sin by silence when we should protest, makes cowards out of men.” — Ella Wheeler Wilcox

“If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…and we will deserve it.” — Lindsey Graham

I got nothin’ else.

Just My Luck

I never really considered myself a lucky person. It was always someone else who won the door prize or was the one-hundredth caller for the concert tickets or got the parking spot right in front of the restaurant. To ‘nutshell’ the whole thing, there was this friend a long time ago. We were cheaping out one year and spent a dollar to buy him a lottery scratch ticket for his birthday and it won him a hundred bucks.

For additional context, I was recently canned (again), just another perk of the ongoing pandemic. This time from the latest in a string of low-skill jobs that have been my lot in life since reaching a certain age. Concurrently, a trip in the RV revealed yet another mechanical issue requiring expensive intervention, and last week, in a matter of minutes, I ran over a sprinkler head with the lawn mower and then took a branch in the eye while trying to cut the grass under the low hanging limbs of the pine tree in the front yard. This is what I’m saying.

So we rented a place in Estes Park a few days ago as a way of staying quarantined but still getting away – the family could hang out, maybe go to nearby Rocky Mountain National Park (which is restricting the number of people who get in every day), have a socially distanced change of scenery. And a stroll down the gravel driveway at this place turned up the craziest thing. As I was coming back up the hill, looking down at my feet (an old habit from my hiking days), not thinking of much at all, I spotted something strange. There appeared to be a coin on the ground. An old one.

It’s one of those things your brain doesn’t really register for a moment because it seems so improbable. What the hell? That can’t be real. Still thinking it was just a fake something or other, I reached down and plucked it out of the dirt. It had heft – definitely not plastic. And my brother had collected coins back in the day. This looked authentic. It was adorned with the profile of Lady Liberty and the words “In God We Trust” arching across the top. No, seriously…what the hell? I rubbed the sand from the backside and flipped it over – an eagle, wings spread, clutching arrows and a branch in its talons, and the denomination spelled out at the bottom. Half Dollar.

I turned it over again and noticed the date this time – 1908. A one hundred twelve year old ‘Barber’ silver half dollar. What. The. Hell?!? How long this fifty cent piece had been lying in the gravel, getting scrunched under the wheels of passing cars, was anybody’s guess. Or how it came to be here, for that matter. I took a quick look around to make sure whoever dropped it wasn’t coming back to claim it before slipping it in my pocket.

Upon returning to the house, I showed my treasure around, to everyone’s amazement. “That’s your lucky half dollar now,” someone commented.

And I got to thinking. Like George Bailey coming to realize that he had a wonderful life, I had to admit to myself that I’ve actually been pretty lucky. I have never grappled with any ailment worse than the flu, or had to fear for my existence because of the color of my skin. I’ve always had a roof over my head (when I chose to) and food in the fridge. My body still allows me to do the things I want, and neither of my children ever felt compelled to take a chainsaw to me in my sleep. I’ve managed to avoid incarceration (unless you count that time a cop in Nebraska let me cool my heels in his jail overnight for the high crime of hitch-hiking when I was seventeen), and pot is legal here.

As talismans go, this centenarian coin has already granted me the wisdom to see that I have all the luck I could possibly need. But there’s a better chance my find is nothing more than fifty cents, albeit in extremely cool retro packaging. Either way, I’m still going to pick up a few lottery tickets, just in case…

Lame of Thrones

Can a dragon jump a shark?

When in Free Roam...

HBO’s Game of Thrones may well be the biggest success television has ever seen. It has reigned supreme as a pinnacle of storytelling and a wonderful subversion of well-defined tropes and cliches, and has served as a shining example of how to construct a powerful narrative with meaningful characters…

And then the last three seasons happened. This is where I’ll give fair warning: I will be discussing events from the most recent episode of Game of Thrones (the season 7 finale), so continue at your own risk, for the night is dark, and full of spoilers.

Jon SnowPhoto courtesy of  thesun.co.uk

Let me set the record straight before you sharpen your pitchforks and come for my head: I still very much enjoy HBO’s epic fantasy, but with their deviation from their rock solid source material, the show’s cracks have become more and more apparent as the seasons go on. From…

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A Slow Burn in the Wild West

I’d like to think I passed the writing gene along, but he’s so much better at it than me…

When in Free Roam...

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is far from what you might expect out of a western. I’d argue the only thing “western” about the film is the setting, as the story itself plays more akin to a Shakespearean drama. What writer/director Andrew Dominik has crafted for us is an intimate and harshly melancholy character study of the twilight years of the mythological Jesse James. While you might think that Brad Pitt’s Jesse James would be the centerpiece of this escapade, you’d be mistaken. This is as much Casey Affleck’s show as it is Brad’s. The film refrains from simply giving us a “Greatest Hits” highlight reel of Jesse James, and prefers to focus on the somewhat mystifying relationship between Jesse and his infamous assailant Robert Ford.

assassination-of-jesse-james-by-the-coward-robert-ford(Photo courtesy of alchetron.com)

It’s difficult to put into words all the things that the film gets right. What’s…

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A Barista’s Life for Me

I’m having trouble finding work
In case you haven’t heard,
But now I start a new career,
A barista – spread the word.

With apron tied and hat secure
I’m ready to become
Lord of Lattes, Mocha Man
And prove I’m not a bum.

The training goes without a hitch
And all are filled with bliss,
I’m steaming milk and pouring shots
Like I was born for this.

But training runs and real-world chops
Are two quite different things,
As I find out, to my chagrin
When lo the rush doth bring

A flood of thirsty customers
All babbling foreign crap,
“A half-caf brewed” “A dirty chai”
“Make mine a mocha frap.”

Little squares on all the cups
Get marked with letters bold,
A complex form of shorthand that
Is quickly learned, I’m told.

But now the cups are stacking up
And more are on the way,
While I am left to stare quite lost,
My mind gone blank this day.

I grab a cup whose “syrup” box
Has “C” inside of it,
For “Cinnamon” or “Chocolate”
Or “Coconut Gumbo” – shit!

With eyes aglaze I reach for milk
And cue espresso shots.
“How many pumps?” “Where’s hazelnut?”
“Is this one ‘extra hot’?”

To stem the tide of backlogged drinks
And grumblings from the mob,
I’m put on frappuccino post,
An equally hectic job.

Three squirts of this, a dose of milk,
Then ice and squirts of that,
Blend, pour and add whipped cream on top
Don’t forget the drizzle – stat!

But getting lids onto the cups
Requires some secret touch,
Where others snap them on with ease
For this guy, not so much.

At first I try to gently coax
The plastic dome to fit,
But soon I’m muttering epithets
And pushing like a twit.

Then finally the lid snaps down,
The contents squirting free,
I hand the cup out dripping goo
‘Cause ten more wait for me.

From Mistos to Espressos
Whether Grande, Short or Tall,
Of 87-thousand drinks
I mastered none at all.

Oh, somewhere in this caffeined land
The sun is coming up,
The coffee’s brewing somewhere
To be poured into a cup.

And somewhere men are laughing,
And somewhere children shout
But there is no joy at Starbucks,
This barista has washed out.

Image compliments of pega.com

No Country for Old Men

It’s day three of my new job, helping a contractor with a house remodel. In that time the work has become progressively more difficult, while the weather has become progressively warmer. Today we’re trying to finish up some heavy demolition, tearing out a two-story fireplace – lots of brick and cinder block to break apart, throw into a wheelbarrow and trundle up a hill to a waiting trailer. This after busting up a six-inch slab of concrete, which met the same fate. The work isn’t easy. Nor is it my chosen profession – let’s just say I doubt I’ll be adding it to my LinkedIn profile.

We moved to Colorado, specifically Fort Collins, about five years ago, escaping the Rust Belt at the bottom of the real estate meltdown. My wife had an opportunity to make the move with her firm and we jumped at it. I worked in television at the time, as the Executive Producer of a morning news show in Grand Rapids. And radio (and marketing) before that. I’d never had trouble finding work in the past, so we didn’t give it a second thought.

But now that I’m 50-something, it appears they’ve changed the hiring rules. Either that or word is out that I’m carrying the Ebola virus. After several years of looking but not finding anything, followed by a brief stint stocking grocery store shelves overnight (another job that won’t grace my LinkedIn page), I was hooked up with ‘Bob the builder’ by one of my wife’s co-workers. He was in desperate need of a warm body and I, like Mayo in An Officer and a Gentleman, had nowhere else to go.

The last two days were cloudy and cool, but today the sun came out and shone from that perfect blue sky that is so prevalent around here. And while I always considered myself to be in decent shape, such a notion was dispelled some time ago. Now the Gods are simply driving home that point. By ten o’clock I am wilting in the heat – the deodorant I slathered on with such hope earlier this morning has long since forsaken me. By noon I am completely out of gas.

My nemesis this day is the 18-inch wide plank that serves as a ramp into the trailer where I’m to dump all the fireplace rubble. Having already muscled the wheelbarrow up out of the backyard, I’m winded and unsteady, and negotiating this incline becomes more treacherous with every load. As I was shown, the preferred method is to get a bit of a running start and just glide up the ramp with a few confident strides. But confidence is supplanted by exhaustion as my legs turn to rubber, leaving me wobbling like a drunk on a balance beam.

Eventually, inevitably, I lose control and spill a couple of loads onto the driveway. After that I simply avoid the ramp, push my wheelbarrow to the edge of the trailer and toss the broken stone and bricks in by hand. Bob is not amused but accepts the fact – grudgingly – that the extra 30 or so seconds it takes me to empty the wheelbarrow this way is still quicker than collecting scattered chunks of broken masonry up off the pavement. And it gives my legs ever so slight a respite.

Lunch, finally, and the chance to sit. How I’ll make it through the afternoon is anyone’s guess. Bob’s not much of a talker, so I polish off my sandwich and apple in silence, while a line from an old Simon and Garfunkel song plays over and over in my head…I’d rather be a hammer than a nail. Irony? Sarcasm? I’m too tired to give a shit. A quick check of my phone provides mute testament to my ongoing persona non grata status in the current job-market – no voice messages, emails or texts despite perhaps half a dozen outstanding applications. As it has been for almost five years.

So I dust off my hat and head back to my Sisyphean task, pushing another load of brick and concrete up the hill under that indifferent, perfect blue Colorado sky.

Image courtesy of blog.cachinko.com