Page count in the age of Obamacare

Some years ago, I prepared a computer programming book for a demanding IT manager. The manager insisted that the book must not exceed 500 pages. For an entire weekend I toiled over the electronic copy, squeezing, tweaking, compressing, rearranging – using every trick that I knew of to get that book cut down to a size that my client would accept. When I left the office late on Sunday afternoon, I was frustrated and exhausted, but I had managed to hammer the animal into what I had hoped would be an acceptable 502 pages. On Monday, the manager came to work early and had already performed his review before I arrived. I found the draft manuscript on my desk with a yellow sticky note attached: “This is looking great! Cut 3 more pages and ship.” That is how much of a stickler he was about page count.

As a technical writer I think a lot about page count, usually in the context of “are there too many”. Overly written technical documentation is often as useless to an end user as inadequate or erroneous documentation. Over explain a topic and valuable information may be lost in text. Under explain a topic and the product user may not be able to perform his or her task. In either case, poorly written documentation will always result in the inaccurate depiction of a product, a product that might in all other ways be perfectly wonderful. In extreme cases, erroneous technical documentation has contributed to the injury, or even death of a user (a technical writer’s absolute worst nightmare).

Unfortunately, clear, concise, tightly written, documentation is not the province of legal and legislative documents, which tend to suppose an audience comprised primarily of ivory tower law professors, and the occasional political science PhD. Perhaps used as a tool to control the masses by the educated few, legislative documents are always a chore to read – especially by we laypeople to whom the phrase, ‘passing the bar’, means missing the entrance to O’Grady’s Pub.

All of which brings me to the subject of the Affordable Care Act, or if you prefer, Obamacare. The number of pages in this famed document has been bantered about for the past two years, by the network talking heads, radio talk show hosts (and their callers), in the halls of Congress, and on the Presidential campaign trail. Once purported to exceed 20,000 pages, or a stack of paper 7 feet tall, the document today is nowhere close to that size, but it is still a hefty piece of work. And why not. It covers a lot of ground.

But the frantic hand wringing over the size of the Affordable Care Act document is, I believe, somewhat exaggerated. The point of such hand wringing being:

A.  The document is so long that it is probably filled with all kinds of legal double-speak that is designed to bamboozle us into thinking that it is something that it isn’t, and…

B. Who the  hell could ever slosh through that many pages, and…

C. Short and simple always trumps long and complex. When it comes down to what is good for the common man or woman on the street, Dr. Seuss is always better than Marcel Proust…right? Or so it seems.

Curious as to the size of the Affordable Healthcare Act document, I went looking for it, and I found it quickly. A quick Google search followed by two mouse clicks was all that was required to call up this important piece of legislation that is impacting us all. For your convenience, I shall post a link to the document here.

Officially known as Public Law 111-148, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is available to anyone with a computer, and I urge everyone (well, at least those of us here in the U.S. where the crap is really hitting the fan right now), to bookmark the document and peruse parts of it at your leisure.

Should you be endowed with an endless supply of printer ink, paper, and time, the printed version of the Affordable Care Act will run a printer-over-heating, 906 pages. A big document to be sure, but far short of a 2000 page document that one hears mentioned on TV and radio all the time, and not even close to the 20,000 page behemoth it was touted to be a year and a half ago.

Over the past several days, I have made several visits to the online version of the Affordable Healthcare Act document. No, I have not read it all, not even close. But I do have two initial impressions that I will pass on here.

First, it would not be impossible to read this thing in its entirety, and I assure you that it has been read by many. The legalese language makes for a difficult slosh, but it could be done. Comprehension of the material it contains is another matter, but I feel I might have a better chance with this document than perhaps the U.S. tax code document which I understand exceeds 13,000 pages.

Second, understanding the contents of this document is not as exceedingly difficult as we have been led to believe, and some parts are downright interesting.

So, if your copy of Infinite Jest, or Atlas Shrugged is waiting for you on your nightstand, and you are planning on starting one of these doorstop tomes this evening so as to be able to remove them from your extreme-reading list, I urge you to lay such copies aside for a few days so that you may focus on the Affordable Healthcare Act document. There is no time like now.

In so doing you will not only become a more informed consumer (and voter), but you will come away with a feeling of great accomplishment.

In any case, think of how you will feel at the next cocktail party, or backyard Bar-B-Q when that loudmouth from Purchasing denounces the Obamacare legislation as being overly complex, and put together at the behest of a far-left, Nazi, Communist, Moslem, President who cannot prove beyond a shadow of doubt that he is a U.S. citizen…yes that President. You will want to say something, but don’t…not yet…wait for it. Wait until he gets to the part where he asks with that smug look on his face, “well…have YOU read it?”

At which time you may step boldly forth, perhaps quoting from section  6114, titled: “National demonstration projects on culture change and use of information technology in nursing homes.”

Then you may watch his jaw drop…

Tight lines…

–Ed

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Boots on the ground

A cranky old friend of mine told me the other day, that the older he became, the more certain phrases annoyed him. He told me that one expression that he was tired of, was the overused expression, “back in the day”.

“That expression really rankles me,” he said.

“That expression rankles you?” I said fumbling through my mental dictionary for a definition of ‘rankles’.

“Yeah,” he went on, “like back in WHAT day. Why can’t people just say something like, you know, in 1967 we didn’t have any frigging internet so we had to get all of our news from Walter Cronkite on the black and white Philco at 7PM sharp! There…saying something like that should make you sound old, and curmudgeonly enough, without saying, back in the day all we had was Walter f___ing Cronkite to tell us what was going on in the world!”

This somewhat bizarre exchange occurred in the break room at the office where I work, and I took a quick step backward as my crotchety coworker brushed past me to thrust his dry Florida Panther’s mug beneath the water cooler spigot. Never get between a hard-core hockey fan and a water cooler.

I walked away shaking my head, hoping that a cool mug of Zephyrhills would return my friend’s blood pressure to at least the high side of normal, and planning a blog-post about the small annoyances that we humans choose to clutter up our lives. Such annoyances cause us to waste precious time on this planet, which could be better spent on more productive pursuits. I was planning on kind of a Zen blog about how we are all killing ourselves by focusing on the minutiae – the trivial. Then I heard President Obama (a President that I have voted for twice by the way), say the following, right there on my old Philco (okay, my 42 inch flat screen), regarding proposed and almost certainly upcoming military action in Syria:

“We’re not considering any open commitment. We’re not considering a boots on the ground approach.”

And there it was: “boots on the ground”. I was suddenly rankled. Since rankled is not a word that one uses, or even sees every day, I shall post the definition here:

to continue to cause keen irritation or bitter resentment within the mind; fester; be painful.

That describes my feeling toward “boots on the ground”, a catch phrase which, of course, refers to launching a real, full-fledged, military operation on foreign soil by sending in soldiers (who usually wear boots), and usually indicates that we, as a Nation, are ready to make a long-term commitment to a country or region, based upon real, though often fabricated evidence. Evidence that is more times than not spoon fed through the media to the general public. In order to keep the boots off of the ground we often instead, launch an air strike.  An airborne attack has the advantage of inflicting massive damage  (shock and awe), while making certain that NO boots touch the ground – supposedly.

Boots on WHAT ground, I always want to say when I hear that tired expression circa. 2002. We have boots on the ground in the desert outside of Las Vegas launching drone attacks in Afghanistan, while we have had boots on the ground for the past decade in the desert in Iraq – fighting in a war that was started on some very shaky, if not downright underhanded pretenses.

So don’t get my meaning wrong  here. I am not saying that there is never a time for “boots on the ground”, and I certainly mean no disrespect to those wearing the boots (anyone who reads my work knows that I am committed to the cause of better treatment for our veterans), but I fear that this Syrian mess is not one of those times, or so it seems to me, and unless I have been inhaling too much Florida swamp gas, it will soon prove itself to be just that.

bootsThis is a debacle in sheep’s clothing and I hope that we discover that before the first boots hit the ground.

Mahalo,

–Ed

All in the family

This summer, the Emmy Award winning daytime drama (soap opera) General Hospital has been airing a subplot in which young Michael Corinthos Jr. (played by Chad Duell),  the son of local mob boss Sonny Corinthos, falls in love with his half-brother’s girlfriend, Kiki Jerome (played by Kristen Alderson). In typical soap fashion, happiness and joy will not last long for these two young lovers. Michael and Kiki’s romance soon sours when it is discovered that they are, in fact, first cousins.

Since I seem to recall that real life mob-boss, Carlo Gambino, was married to his first cousin, I wondered why in fictitious Port Charles, New York, such a taboo existed. If such a relationship didn’t stop the Boss of Bosses from achieving matrimonial bliss with a not-too-distant relative, then why should it short circuit young Michael and Kiki’s plans? I mean, there are lots of other notable first cousin unions, notably Edgar Allan Poe who married his first cousin, Virginia Clemm, H.G. Wells who married cousin Isabelle, and Jesse James (the frontier outlaw, not the biker-reality-tv-star), who married first cousin Zerelda Mimms.

The list of cousin couplings goes on and on, and includes none other than Albert Einstein who married first cousin Elsa and of course, Jerry Lee Lewis who married first cousin, once removed, Myra Gayle Brown. Perhaps the most fascinating union, to me anyway, is the that of Charles Darwin who married first cousin Emma Wedgewood. Darwin it seems, was not too keen on the idea of marriage to anyone, and apparently weighed his options carefully before finally taking a walk down the aisle back in 1839. The Darwins went on to have ten children, three of which died in infancy. His other children went on to live out perfectly normal lives with three being knighted by Queen Victoria.

With a little further research into the topic of first cousin marriage, I was able to unearth the fact that while first cousin unions are allowed in 26 of our 50 U.S. states (some with restrictions), such marriages are legal in all European nations, Canada and Mexico. Here in the U.S., about 1 in every 1000 marriages is a first cousin marriage, while in Japan the ration is about 4 in every 1000.

These figures become more shocking when one considers that by some estimates, 80 percent of all marriages throughout history have been cousin marriages! And more shocking yet when one considers that all of us on planet earth are no more distantly related than 50th cousins.

So that’s it. We are just one big, largely dysfunctional family, here on this rock riding around the sun. I will remember that the next time someone – a stranger – cuts me off, rips me off, or in some other way pisses me off. I shall do my best to remember that he/she is just a wayward relative behaving badly, like Cousin Jake who has a way of offending nearly everyone at the Thanksgiving Day dinner table, but gets invited back year after year because – he’s family.

I am thinking of family now, as I hear the war drums pounding, way off in the distance. Members of this human family are at it again, killing other family members in very inhumane ways in a country halfway around the world. Here in the U.S. political leaders seem to be trying their best to rally support for an attack – an attack on something, or someone. Support for an attack is slow to gather among the populace. A poll in today’s Washington Post indicates that six in ten Americans want no part of another military action in the Middle East – probably because we have been lied to about the reasons for past military interventions.

We can  hope that this one isn’t another in a long line.

 

Mahalo,

-Ed

Remembering the Draft

Sometime back, during the Vietnam-war-torn year of 1969, a young California man named Dwight Stone went to his mailbox and opened a letter (much like this one) from the United States Selective Service. The letter began:

“Greetings:

You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States…”

Similar letters were received by more than 1.7 million other young men during the Vietnam War era of  1965 – 1973. Needless to say, such letters were met with varying reactions, ranging from quiet submission to fleeing the country for life in Canada, or Sweden. If you were a U.S. citizen, and a young man between the ages of 18 and 25 you had a draft card (unless you burned it as a few did in protest to the war), you were well acquainted with your local draft board, and you had plans to either volunteer for service, or to postpone service by obtaining a draft deferment. In any case, the thought of being swept off to fight in what was fast becoming a very unpopular conflict was a real possibility.

Mr. Stone, being little different than many young men his age, was less than enthusiastic about military service. As a man of little means, Mr. Stone lacked the funds to leave the country. In the words of Mr. Stone himself:

“I [sic] ain’t no Rockefeller.”

In the African-American, inner city community in which Mr. Stone lived, the war, by his own account, was not popular. As a poor man of little influence, he felt that his odds of ending up on the front lines, and returning to the States in a body bag was great indeed. Much greater than those whose families could afford to send their sons to college, thus gaining them an educational deferment, or to buy them a ticket out of the country.

So he did what he could. For three years, he attempted to avoid induction at all costs, including a failed attempt at a student exemption. When that didn’t work,  Mr. Stone went into hiding. Finally, with the U.S. Government nipping at his heels, an exhausted and frustrated Mr. Stone called his local draft board and turned himself in.

On June 30, 1973, Mr. Stone was inducted into the U.S. Army, thus earning him the distinction of being the last man drafted into the U.S. Military. This Sunday, we ‘celebrate’ the fortieth anniversary of Mr. Stone’s induction. Perhaps all for the best, no young man has been ordered to report since. One has to wonder if it were not for the unpopular Vietnam War, if we would not be calling young men (and perhaps young women) up today for service.

While young men have been drafted since the Civil War, the draft that spanned the Vietnam War period had actually been in place since 1940. Throughout the peacetime years of the late 1950s, men continued to be called for service, including perhaps America’s most famous draftee, Elvis Presley. Elvis reported for duty on March 24, 1958, after receiving his “Greetings” letter sometime around Christmas of 1957, while celebrating the holidays at Graceland. Of course there were few bullets flying in those days. The Cold War was in full swing though, and with the threat of global nuclear annihilation looming over us all, The King packed off to basic training. After basic, he shipped out to Friedberg, Germany where he served honorably in the 3rd Armor Corps’ 32n’d Tank Battalion, Company D.

By the time Elvis mustered out of service on March 2, 1960, to return to the recording career that had been kept alive by Col. Tom Parker, he had achieved the rank of sergeant, met a young girl named Priscilla Beaulieu, who he would eventually marry, and become a role model for countless young men who would come to view military service as a patriotic obligation.

In the years since, much has been made of Elvis’ off-base life style, where he lived with family, and entertained in comparative luxury compared to his fellow soldiers. While this is true, I still find it difficult to imagine any of today’s recording artists (think Justin Bieber), reporting for duty and shipping out for Iraq, or Afghanistan (no disrespect to ‘The Biebs’ intended). Times have changed far too much, and while we rightly rush to thank our servicemen and servicewomen for their service, a draft that would conscript a young person of Justin Bieber’s celebrity would be almost unthinkable.

So I am thinking about the draft today. Actually, I have thought about it on other days too, especially during the early days of the Iraq war. For a time, as it became increasingly evident that the rationale for this conflict was being framed using some very shaky facts, I wondered if the public would be more questioning of our involvement, if the draft were still in place. I remembered a saying I once heard that describes my feeling succinctly: “Let’s fight. Here, I’ll hold your coat”.

Oh yes, getting back to Mr. Stone. It seems he actually came to enjoy military life. He did his basic training at Ft. Polk in Louisiana, and after further training went on to become an electronics repairman at Ft. Richie, Maryland. Mr. Stone served honorably, and was discharged after serving 17 months. Today Dwight Stone works with disadvantaged youth in Sacramento, California. In a 1993 interview with the Seattle Times, Mr. Stone said:

“Serving your country is not a bad idea, as long as you include everybody,”

I have nothing more to add to that statement.

Mahalo,

-Ed

Thoughts on the Camel’s nose…gun control…and a proposed dog ban in Broward County

Awhile back, I came across an old Arab proverb. I didn’t know what to do with it at the time, but I liked it, so I wrote it down in my blog-notebook for future reference. I filed it under the heading “Camel’s nose proverb”. It goes like this:

“If the camel gets his nose in your tent, his body will soon follow.”

The gist of this quote, of course, being the old saying,”give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile.” Gun control opponents are quite familiar with this chain of thought. It goes like this: “If they outlaw my AR-15 with its 55 round clip, then next they’ll come for my AK-47 with its 30 round clip, then they’ll want my Remington 12 gauge goose gun, and then they’ll want the .22 single shot, and after that Granddad’s antique muzzle loader…soon we’ll be left with a slingshot and a sharpened spoon to defend ourselves against the marauding gangs that will be roaming the streets in the wake of the inevitable upcoming  economic collapse…, and since marauding gangs will be armed to the teeth with illegally hoarded guns, the shit will have truly hit the proverbial fan…”

This is the oh-so-familiar ‘slippery slope’ argument. Once you begin to slide, there is no turning back. You have to tumble all the way to the bottom.

Personally, I have never (until recently) bought into the slippery slope line, at least when it comes to gun control. I have always thought that certain types of firearms, especially those that can be fired very rapidly and without reloading are too dangerous for the general public. Maybe we don’t really need armor piercing ammunition either – at least not in the hands of anyone with a wad of cash or a few bucks of credit left on their MasterCard. I have always held that the law and the legitimate ownership of guns could coexist. I mean…can’t we all just get along?

Obama’s proposed ban on ammunition clips in excess of 10 rounds sounds sensible to me, but who the  hell am I? I’m not a really big gun guy. But should this become law, and somewhere down the line you could ask the eleventh potential victim in a crazed maniac’s line of fire what they think of such a law, he or she will probably say that it was a very good law indeed. But now we are going down the road of why a crazed maniac has access to any weapon, and that is not where I want to go here.

What I want to say is this. I was perfectly comfortable with my opposition to slippery slope arguments, then that camel pushed its nose into my home turf, Broward County, Florida.

We have a big problem down here with dogs. Not just any dogs, but specifically the pit-bull breed. In the past 2 years, there have been 225 pit-bull attacks in Broward County. That is a lot of dog attacks. Couple that with the 269 calls to the county authorities (over the same 2 year period), to report pit-bulls roaming ‘at large’, then you can see why some people around here are upset. That’s why today, February 26, a hearing is being conducted at County Hall in Ft. Lauderdale to consider a ban on the pit-bull breed in Broward County. Don’t think folks are taking this lying down. Nothing gets the public more politically engaged that issues related to animals. Emotions are running high on both sides of this proposed pit-bull ban. A Facebook page has been set up to help save the breed, and a crowd of people on both sides of the pit-bull issue are expected to descend upon County Hall to make themselves heard in the democratic process — as they should.

So I was discussing this pit-bull issue yesterday, with my friend Patrick who works at the same place I do, the place where I go to write stuff and get paid for it. Patrick knows that I am a huge dog lover, and dog owner. He also knows that I am not the biggest fan of the pit-bull breed. He cornered me at the water cooler yesterday.

“Where do you come down on this pit-bull ban,” he asked. Then before I could answer, he went on to say, “it’s high time if you’d ask me.”

“Well,” I said after thinking a bit. “I’m opposed to it. It makes absolutely no sense to ban a breed of dog, just because some owners are irresponsible. I mean, people who are going to abuse animals and teach them to fight aren’t going to be deterred by the law. What we need are laws to hit irresponsible dog owners where it hurts – in the wallet. If we ban pit-bulls, then next it’s going to be Rottweilers, then German Shepards, and maybe Labrador Retrievers – who knows where it could end. Wait until they ban your Yorkie, Patrick.”

“I see,” said Patrick. “It’s kind of like the slippery slope argument. Once you ban one breed, then it becomes easier to ban another breed.”

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s sort of like that.”

“It sounds a bit hypocritical,” he said, “especially after you said that the slippery-slope argument made no sense when it came to gun control, remember?”

I did remember saying that…I confess to some hypocrisy. But nobody is perfect. I still believe that guns can be effectively regulated with well thought out legislation, and I still believe that pit-bulls should not be banned in Broward County, Florida.

If you believe that the President’s gun control proposal is sound policy, then contact your Congressional representative and make your voice heard. If you believe pit-bulls should not be banned in Broward County, then make your way down to County Hall at 11:30 AM today and join the fray

Living in the age of deception

*hood-winked

To take in by deceptive means; deceive. See synonyms at deceive.

hood’wink’er n.

*  *  *

Many years ago, at New York’s famed Feast of San Gennaro, I was relieved of $20 by a fast talking street vendor in a shell game. I left the Feast a bit wiser, and years later when I confessed my ignorance of New York street games to a friend, he laughed and remarked that I had clearly been ‘hoodwinked’.

I liked that word. Much more playful sounding than its cousin ‘deceived’, and much less threatening than its drunken uncle counterpart, ‘ripped off’, hoodwinked seemed to fit nicely into the picture of what happened to me that day. Lately, I am starting to feel like we are living in an age of deception, where hoodwinkers of all types are ‘taking us all in’ just a little bit.

First came Lance Armstrong, the Tours de France super star. Since bicycle racing does not attract the huge following here in the U.S. as it does in Europe, it takes some doing for a cycler to gain national name recognition. Ask anyone here in the States to name a famous cycler, and nearly everyone will name Lance Armstrong. Ask them to name a second and your question will likely be met with a blank stare. Lance seemed to have it all. A stellar athlete, Lance was from the get-go, clearly on a path to celebrity, and if his athletic prowess were not enough to seal the deal, his inspirational triumph over cancer would be. Since most of us feel that we are probably just one diagnosis away from this dread disease, Lance’s high profile cancer beat-down left us all knowing that not only was there life after cancer, but athletic top-of-your-game, celebrity status life.

Of course doping charges followed Lance’s success and those who dared to cast a shadow of doubt upon his squeaky clean image were, by many accounts, castigated and intimidated into silence. So, for many years we turned a blind eye to the super-star cyclist, preferring to see him as he wanted us to see him. Not until his recent, and now famed coming out appearance on Oprah, were we forced to confront the fact, that Lance the man, was simply another athlete with sins long hidden from view. First he said he didn’t – now he says he did…I am majorly hoodwinked.

Next came Beyonce. Her now controversial appearance at last week’s Presidential inauguration is under fire, her performance marred by allegations of lip-syncing The Star Spangled Banner (in fairness to Beyonce, if there was ever a song to lip-sync it’s that one). For some reason this inaugural “mini-scandal” seems to linger, perhaps even eclipsing Michelle Obama’s eye-rolling at the luncheon incident.

To those who say Beyonce has hoodwinked us, I cry foul. Well, maybe a mini-teeny-weeny hoodwinking went on, but who could blame her. If she had been lip-syncing to say – Barbara Streisand, well then…MAJOR hoodwinking …but she didn’t do that.  Beyonce chose, apparently (or perhaps she was advised by her handlers), to sing what is arguably one of the most difficult (and often massacred) songs ever written, by lip syncing to her own voice. So what is really wrong with that? Let’s face it. That is a damn difficult venue that Inauguration. You’re on like never before with the world watching – the Prez himself is sitting right there, and baby it’s cold outside. Who would want to take a chance on failure…

…Apparently James Taylor, that’s who. Like J.T. or hate him, you have to give the guy credit, he’s got guts. Taylor went on bald, cold, and nervous, but he played the game straight up. After his performance he gave an interview in which he admitted that Inaugurals aren’t the best gigs in the world for singing guitar players:

“It’s always hard for a guitar player to play when it’s cold because your hands sort of stiffen up and you know nerves tend to do that to you anyway. So I was, you know, very relieved to have gotten to it without any major train wrecks.”

And so he did. J.T. made it through without any ‘trainwrecks’. But it leaves me wondering if an occasional trainwreck, or maybe just a slight derailing, would not have been better for the career of Lance Armstrong. Maybe the loss of a race or two would have simply humanized him…or maybe not, but it would have kept him off of Oprah’s show confessing to the masses that he was a liar and a cheat.

And as for Beyonce, while I don’t feel that she is in the same league of hoodwinkers as Lance, I am thinking that maybe an imperfection in her performance would not have sent her career down in flames either. After all – politicians certainly don’t concern themselves with embarrassment on the national stage, so why should we expect a performer to  be perfect?

That’s it for now…back to writing about ‘writing’  topics really soon…I mean it…

–Trop

*Definition courtesy of The Free Dictionary, by Farlex.

I sell the gun…and have some misgivings…

Note to my readers: This is part 4, the last part of a ‘serial-blog’.  A serial-blog is something I wanted to try, but might not attempt again. But you never know. Without reading the first three parts, it probably won’t make too much sense, so if you are new here (or just showing up late), please scroll down to Part 1 and read the blog posts in order. In a nutshell, this is a short story that is intended as a personal commentary on gun control. The experience is true, or as best I remember it. All names and some inconsequential details have been changed, so if a character sounds like you my friend, there is a good chance it is.

PART 4

…I continue…

Dean White had it made. Or so I thought back then. If there was ever a guy who was truly his own man it was Dean.

About fifty years old at the time, he looked older. He had a long salt and pepper beard almost to mid-chest, and long grey hair almost to mid-back. His hair was always pulled back in a pony tail, held in place with one of those turquoise Navaho hair clasps. He also wore a turquoise ring on his little finger and always wore a turquoise bedecked belt buckle on a hand tooled belt. Dean hadn’t an ounce of Native American blood in his veins but he apparently liked the jewelry.

Dean made his living with a small printing business that he ran out of the basement of his house. He printed labels for catalogs and fliers and usually worked all night. This left him free all day to hunt and fish. Dean was married to a girl named Suzie, who was at least twenty years his junior. Suzy had platinum blonde hair and had worked as a stripper at a club in Kansas City before she left that world behind to marry Dean (or so I heard).

In addition to his printing business, Dean also was an accomplished gunsmith. He was known to buy and sell guns too, so he wasn’t surprised when I showed up at his house one morning with the .22 High Standard, wrapped in cheese cloth, and stowed in a shoe box. Someone had told me that as long as a pistol was contained in a box, any box, that it wasn’t considered a concealed weapon and you could carry it on the car seat beside you (sounds like hooey to me now that I think about it).

Dean was coming off of an ‘all nighter’, having just finished a big print run for an Omaha department store, and he still had 250 bulletins for the First Presbyterian church to run off before services next day, so he was a little grumpy. Suzy was pleasant though and brought us both steaming mugs of hot coffee.

Dean unwrapped the pistol, and inspected it like he knew what he was doing. While he was looking at it I gave him the condensed version of how Lenny and I had tried the gun out on a firing range, conveniently leaving out the fact that the range was on Earl Hackelman’s farm, and not only had we trespassed, but we’d almost been run down (or gunned down) by Hackelman himself. I told Dean that the gun shot right and high.

Dean laughed at me. “This ain’t no target pistol, son,” he said. “Now if it’s targets you want to shoot…” He got up and went into another room. He came back with a long oak box with a fancy inscription carved into the lid above a carving of an eagle with outstretched wings. He sat the box in front of me.

I opened the box. Inside was a true .22 caliber target pistol. I handled it carefully. It was perfectly balanced and the difference between it and the gun I had purchased from Harry was as pronounced as the difference between my 1969 Plymouth and a racing Ferrari.

“How much?” I asked Dean, momentarily seeing myself entering professional shooting competitions.

“Three seventy five,” said Dean, “but I could allow you fifty for your gun, so make it three twenty five and it’s yours.”

“Kinda out of my price range,” I said, as I laid the target pistol back in its ornate cradle. “What can you give me outside of trade.”

“Thirty bucks,” he said without hesitation.

“Thirty bucks,” I said, “wow, I paid fifty.”

“You got screwed,” said Dean.

“How about forty then?”

Dean smiled and pulled a turquoise money clip from the front pocket of his jeans. He counted out thirty five dollars. “Take it or leave it,” he said.

I took it.

*

A few days after I sold the pistol to Dean, I ran into Lenny’s brother Rick at the County Line Tap. I hadn’t spoken to Lenny since the day he approached me with the offer to buy the gun. Lenny had left town for California without saying goodbye to anyone.

I walked over and asked Rick if there was any word from Lenny.

“Didn’t you hear,” he said.

“Hear what?”

“Lenny got robbed, that’s what.”

“Where…when?” I asked.

“Modesto, California,” he said. Then he told me that Lenny had stopped at a burger joint to get a bite to eat, and when he came out his car was gone.

“They stole everything he had,” said Rick.

“Everything?”

“Yeah, everything. All he had left were the clothes on his back. They found the car the next day stripped and burned.”

Careless Lenny…I thought of the gun that I almost sold to him.  Would I have put a weapon into the hands of a criminal, had I sold the gun to Lenny? Could the gun – my gun – have been used to rob, intimidate, or even kill?!?!. The answer was an unequivocal yes.

I was haunted by my ‘almost sale’ for some time afterward, and in my mind’s eye, I could  see the look on the face of  the happy car thief, after finding the loaded .22 pistol carelessly left in the glove compartment of Lenny’s unlocked vehicle. I could see the evil glee in the man’s eyes as he slid the piece into the waistband of his jeans. Later I could see the look of terror on the face of the liquor store clerk as the gun brandishing robber demanded the cash drawer. Maybe she would resist, or perhaps a feigned gesture would be misinterpreted as resistance. Maybe the thief would panic, pressing the trigger just a bit too hard…this target would be much closer than the one in Hackleman’s cow pasture. At two or three feet it wouldn’t matter if the gun shot right, or high. I would hear the sharp crack of the .22, and then I’d see blood on the face of the store clerk, and on the thief, and then on myself…after that I would awake covered in sweat.

THE END

What’s up with me since the election

“Your online presence is beginning to fade.” Those were the first words out of Tulip’s mouth when she called me yesterday morning from the largest big-box store in southern California.

“It’s good to hear from you too,” I shot back at her, and then I said, “what about my online presence?”

“You haven’t posted a word since The Election…you know the one you were so worried about just a couple of weeks ago. What happened to you…the Prez got reelected, no problem, and you dropped off the blogosphere like there was nothing left to discuss in the whole big United States…there’s a big ole’ fiscal cliff out there in case you haven’t been paying attention and wars bustin’ out all over and…?”

I cut her off. “I was busy with a paying gig. Blogs don’t pay too well, and I have people who actually pay me to write stuff. I guess I was just too wrapped up in keeping the lights on down here in the 954. Jeez Tulip, my cable bill alone is almost a fiscal cliff, cut me some slack.”

I mean, I really wanted to blog. I wanted to take time out to describe what a mess yet another election became, and still is, here in the Sunshine State, but the folks that put cash into my checking account twice a month once again won over my dedication to a timely blog.

So here, directly out of my blog notebook, are my handwritten notes, transcribed verbatim, regarding all of the blog topics that did not get written this month:

  1. Wed. 11/7 — Have we Floridians really managed to botch another election? Was it really necessary for us to be saddled with a ten page ballot that (apparently) took forever to scan?
  2. Thurs. 11/8 — Address Republican voter fraud paranoia. Include fact that of 22 million votes cast in Florida in the past 12 years, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has received only 175 complaints of voter fraud…complaints that have led to a whopping 11 convictions.
  3. Fri. 11/9 – Nation still does not know which candidate won Florida. Few probably care at this point. Might blog about why the (Republican) Florida legislature, overturned the long-standing law that allowed voters who had changed their home address to vote after they swear under oath that their new address is correct. Such voters were allowed to cast only ‘provisional ballots’ that could not be counted until after the voter’s eligibility was proven.
  4. Sun. 11/11 Why did the 2011 Florida Legislature prioritize changes to the election laws that made voting more difficult for students and minorities.
  5. Sat. 11/16 — Blog about Mayan End Age on December 21st. Emphasize that both Mayan and Hopi Indians consider the End Age to be a time of transition, not of global cataclysm. According to noted Mayan shaman, Miguel Angel Vergara, “the cosmos is talking to us – we need to listen.”

“So you can look for some blogs coming your way soon,” I told Tulip. “Now that things have settled down a bit.” It was then that I noticed the time. “Hey,” I said. “It’s only 5:15AM on the west coast. What are you doing up?”

“It’s Black Friday, sweetie,” said Tulip. I could hear tension in her voice. “I been in line since 11:30 last night.”

“Black Friday,” I said. “I didn’t think you went in for all that blatant consumerism.”

“I don’t,” she replied. “But I ain’t nuts. How else am I gonna buy a 60 inch flat screen  TV set for 69 bucks.”

That’s Tulip. And this is me…

Mahalo

Trop

My final post before Election Day 2012; Rita texts me from Thief River Falls

I am promising myself that this will be my final blog regarding the U.S. Presidential election of 2012. My words here will serve little purpose, beyond being an outlet for my own frustration and confusion.  As I listen to the pundits, and the poll takers, and the lovely television anchor ladies, and to all of the great talkers of our day, describe an election as “too close to predict”, I can only shake my head in disbelief. Can it be, I say to myself almost daily, that this many people are going to get it wrong – and if they do, I fear the surprise that may await them.

I have noted the date of August 14, 2012 as the day that my misunderstanding of Presidential politics became apparent, leaving me only with dogged misgivings and doubts about our future as a nation – these feelings too would wane, leaving me with a state of mind I can only call: Chronic Confusion (or, in current text messaging parlance, “wtf”). For it was on this day that I witnessed (via television), U.S. Republican candidate Mitt Romney, standing shoulder to shoulder with a lineup of worshipping Ohio coal miners. My first reaction was that it must be a comedy skit, staged by some clever Obama operative out to show the world just how out of touch the Republican candidate is with the working man.

After all, didn’t the mine owners of years past fight tooth and toenail against any federal regulations that would impose health and safety regulations (and thus cut profits) on their mines? Certainly these miners must know that CEOs like Mr. Romney, a man whose own taste for corporate profits leaves little to the imagination, could have any empathy or understanding of workers who toil beneath the surface of Ohio, drilling and blasting and shoveling and bringing to the surface great heaps of carbonized carbon. It is not work for the faint of heart.

How could it be then, I asked myself on August 14, 2012, that this group of miners could take the stage with such a man – they, dressed for work in a mine, and Mr. Romney in shirtsleeves with the same slick-CEO look in his eyes that I’ve seen in the eyes of other slick CEOs as they’ve taken to other stages to distribute awards and commendations to unwitting employees, while at the same time, office space was being readied in India and China for their replacements.

“The Federal Government has sold you a bill of goods with those expensive gas monitors,” I could almost hear Mr. Romeny say. “Your grandfathers’ used canaries. And they were hardworking men who didn’t need some slack-jawed Beltway bureaucrat coming out here to Ohio to tell you guys how to run a mine. The money saved on those expensive gadgets can go right into your pockets.”

Or something like that.

My friend Rita, who is at this moment living up in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, poised to make a run for the Canadian border with her husband and unborn child feels that a Romney/Ryan victory would be eclipsed only by a polar shift, or asteroid strike in terms of creating global disaster. I am not so sure about that. But I do hear the drumbeats of war. Not since the late GWB have I felt so uneasy about a presidency leading us into another conflict – this time, perhaps Iran?

Rita sent me a text the other night, from the Thief River Falls Wal Mart where she was busy stocking up on disposable diapers for the trip North:

“j L sas Rmny vic in the bag now”

Rita has trouble texting, but I know it meant that her husband J.L. thinks that Romney has it locked up.

“would n’t B 2 sure” I replied.

We shall all see on Tuesday.

On Poe; Hurricane Sandy; and the US Election

When I left you last, dear readers, I included a link in my blog to a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. As I mentioned, Poe is one of my favorite writers of the short story, perhaps one of the true and great masters. The link that I attached was to one of my favorites, Manuscript Found in a Bottle. The story was first published on October 19, 1833, by the The Baltimore Saturday Visiter (Visitor), when Poe was 34 years of age and in his writing prime. If you should think otherwise – that this story was written by a drunkard, or a writer of status of any less than genius, consider only the opening two lines:

“Of my country and of my family I have little to say. Ill usage and length of years have driven me from the one, and estranged me from the other.”

–Edgar Allan Poe

The writing style is not contemporary.  But the story resonates with voice that is seldom heard these days. Poe’s led a short and tragic life.  A marriage to a 13 year old cousin, who died suddenly of tuberculosis in January of 1842, sent the writer on a drinking binge that would continue until his eventual, untimely and tragic death in 1849.

Remarkably, Poe’s poem ‘The Raven’, first published in 1845, would earn him only nine dollars, but would emblazon his name into the hearts and minds of horror genre fans for the next century and a half.

So read some Poe this season.

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It appears, that the recent weather events in the Northeastern U.S., in the wake of Hurricane Sandy has left all of our friends and family safe and well, and for that we are thankful. The damage, however, looks frightful.

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When I blog again, o’ readers, it will be to beckon all to the polls as the grim night of the United States Presidential election bears down upon all good souls and we cast our votes for whomever we deem most worthy – the one who will lead us to the light in the face of darkness – the one who will remain vigilant as we sleep – perhaps the one who will rebuff the neocons who would lead us into another devastating war in the mid-east.

To that end, I shall leave all with one of my favorite quotes – and no, it is not from Poe. I cannot take credit for it either;  in fact I can’t seem to find its author, but make of it what you will as we near the final days before the U.S. Presidential Election:

“Confidence is the feeling that you have before you completely understand the situation.”