Perilous Presidential Precedence

When the world feels a little crazy, I tend to look to the past.  If an event has occurred before, then we can get past it again.  The world survived the Spanish Flu, so there must be a way past Covid-19.  After the past few weeks, I found myself looking up previous Presidential problems.

In 1876, the race for President was as close as it has ever been in this country.  Many had assumed that Ulysses S. Grant would run for a third term (back when that was still an option).  When he did not, the nation was caught up in deciding for Samuel J. Tilden of the Democratic Party, or Rutherford B. Hayes of the Republican Party.

The results were close.  Extremely close.  In the end, Hayes was named the nineteenth President by a difference of one electoral vote.  One can only imagine the outburst if Twitter and the internet existed back then. 

Just like today, there were cries of scams.  (It was later found that both parties had engaged in fraudulent activities.)  It was not until just before his inauguration that Hayes received word that the Democrats would honor his appointment.

Hayes had two inaugurations.  His public one was held two days after his first one.  The initial and official swearing in was done in private.  There were fears that his election would cause a massive run on the ceremony.  More than one hundred and forty years later, we see a motivated crowd rushing to challenge proceedings.

Yet the country survived.  In 1878 the Democratic-led House of Representatives started an investigation and talked of removing Hayes from office.  Hayes refused to exit, stating that he would remain until he was impeached. 

“I should defend my office and the independence of the Executive against any intruder.”

Eventually, the Democrats accepted his Presidency and the country moved on.

Here we are.  Finding ourselves talking of possible fraud, crowds with guns, and attempting impeachment.  At some point the country will move on and the world will keep turning. 

People are passionate about their country and their government.  That is a good thing. 

We should care.  We should have a government that represents us and our hopes.  At the same time, we need to care for and respect each other.  We need to support the nation, not only the figurehead. 

After four years, Hayes was more than ready to leave office.  His wife agreed.  “I wish it was at an end”, she stated.  The country had made it through the rough patch and the conflict was rarely mentioned again.

“Coming in, I was denounced as a fraud by all the extreme men of the opposing party, and as an ingrate and a traitor by the same class of men in my own party.  Going out, I have the good will, blessings, and approval of the best people of all parties and sections.”

Wounds heal.  Grudges are forgotten.  Life goes on.

The variables may change.  The timeline advances.  But the experiment that is Democracy keeps being worked on.  We do not have all the solutions.  It is all very much in progress.  While we may turn to the past for guidance, we should not allow ourselves to take backwards steps. 

Excelsior.  Onward.  Let us keep striving for better. 

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Loss of Wonder (Woman 84)

I do not like to spoil endings or plotlines for folks.  I give it time.  If eighteen days is not enough for you to catch up on Wonder Woman 84, then perhaps you should stop reading.  Even with that caveat, I will give the obligatory heads up with a

SPOILER WARNING

Let us begin with the previous slate of DCEU movies.  For me, very little since the Nolan Batman films have landed well.  In Man of Steel, they went out of their way to portray Superman as a murderer.  In Justice League and Aquaman, they portrayed Aquaman as a motorcycle tough guy.  Batman has no qualms about using bullets.  And Lex Luthor is a mess.

Most of these characters have been around for eighty-plus years.  Some reinvention is necessary.  The same plots with the same characters and the same results cannot be reproduced over and over.  Most of the DC characters have endured for this long because they can survive different interpretations.  40’s Superman spanked Lois.  40’s Wonder Woman got tied up in every issue.  30’s Batman wore purple gloves and carried a gun.  Different times, different personality traits.  Let us take them one by one.

Yes, Superman has killed before.  He even killed a Kryptonian before.  (Three of them.)  However, there was not a build up to this act.  It was one his first acts right out of the gate.  Couple it with his not saving his father?  C’mon.  Justice League almost makes it worse.  It makes the audience think that the DC Universe cannot possibly survive without Superman.  That by sacrificing his life to save the world, he left it without any great heroes at all.  Superman inspires hope in others.  Yes, the world is a better place with him in it, but the sun will still shine without him.

Lex… poor Lex.  Lex Luthor is the most confident man in any room.  He scares presidents, bullies businessmen, and charms supermodels.  He stares Superman in the face and does not blink.  BvS was ridiculous.  Lex should have spoken calmly and threateningly.  Lex should control any room that he is in.  This was possibly the worst portrayal of a DC character (up until WW84; but we will get there.)

If you want a tough, angry, violence-is-fun, let-us-use-chains-to-beat-up-thugs -character?  Pick Lobo.  Draw upon the Green Lantern Corps and use Guy Gardner.  If you really, really, stretch it, you can play up the rebel aspect of Green Arrow.  But Aquaman?  No. 

Aquaman is royalty.  If he is in the mood to socialize with land walkers, he is standing off to the sides, rarely talking, and possibly responding with a smirk.  If it is angry Aquaman, then he is spouting off about how his dominion is being polluted, how he has greater matters to attend to, and how anything less than an invasion is beneath him.  Dude-Bro Aquaman?  Frat-Boy Aquaman?  Medieval Aquaman?  Those do not exist.  I roll my eyes at him, even if I appreciate that they pulled off the orange armor.

Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered by a gun.  His goal is to make sure that no one else loses their parents.  Injuring criminals, putting them in jail; those are his methods.  Creating more orphans is not what he is after.  He is capable of using guns and knows them well, but he should not be using the Batmobile as a weapon of bullet-dispensing death.

Two movies stood out for me as fun in the last eight years.  I liked Shazam!  It embraced the history of the character while utilizing the most recent additions to the canon.  There was a scary threat, but there were plenty of heroics as well.  It knew not to take itself too seriously.

Then there was Wonder Woman.  She was capable, driven, and out to make the world a better place.  No Man’s Land was a terrific scene.  The back and forth scenes between her and Steve Trevor were fantastic.  The end battle was a bit much, but the movie as a whole was quite enjoyable.  There are some that feel Diana being the child of Ares is a betrayal to her roots, but her sensibilities and persona are the same in either version.

Along came WW84 and the train wreck began.

Maxwell Lord gains control of an artifact that grants wishes.  At the same time, Diana has been missing her deceased ex for over sixty years (and I thought I pined the longest).  She wishes for his return.  And the way they bring him back is horrific.  They find a random guy, take Steve’s soul, and join the two.

The body is still the guy’s.  (We will call him Marty for simplicity sake.)  Marty’s reflection is seen in the mirror.  The clothes from Marty’s closet fit Steve because Steve is inhabiting Marty’s body.  When the movie wraps up, Marty is walking around like nothing happened.  The problem is that Steve and Diana have sex.  While Steve is in Marty’s body.

One friend tried to talk me out of that.  “Well, what if they were just cuddling?  You don’t see anything.”  That excuse is what fourteen-year-old me would have bought.  In Wonder Woman they clearly had sex.  And Diana has been missing Steve and thinking about him for all those years.  When they cut back to the bedroom, Diana is wearing different clothes.  We get it; they had sex.

“Rape:  unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against a person’s will or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness, or deception.”  –Merriam Webster

You can choose which of the highlighted sections you wish to focus on.  The point is, Marty was not capable of declining.  If Diana became pregnant, it would have been Marty’s DNA and Marty’s kid.  Marty had no say in what his body was doing.  What if Marty was a priest who had taken a vow of celibacy?  What if Marty was in a committed relationship with someone else?  If given the choice to have sex with a beautiful woman, many men would say yes.  Yet Marty had no choice at all It was forced upon him.

There were plenty of other methods that could have gotten Steve and Diana back together.  My personal favorite is that Ares, while fighting Diana, steals Steve from the plane as it is crashing and imprisons him to use against Diana later.  Nothing motivates a hero like a good hostage.  There was no reason why Marty was chosen to host Steve.  None. 

They could have chosen to implant his soul into a body that had recently deceased.  Or, simplest of all, they could have brought back Steve’s body out of thin air.  They were dealing with wishes, not science.  Bringing a body back is no more ridiculous than bringing the soul back.  Putting Steve in Marty makes no sense. 

When Marty makes his mandatory appearance at the end, it becomes quite clear that his soul is still capable of expressing interest and preferences.  His soul was in tact the whole time.  (Hopefully he remembers none of it.  That sort of helplessness is best left unexplored for the poor guy.)

There are many other problems with the film.  Maxwell Lord is a charming speaker with a magic rock.  Yet to defeat him, Diana needs her Kingdom Come golden armor?  Recall that Ares, the god that defeated all other gods, was beaten by just Diana and her sword.  A guy with a spiffy trinket apparently requires pulling out all the resources.  But with six less decades of experience, Diana was able to kill the mightiest of all gods.  That makes no sense.

Also, Diana can apparently make any plane invisible.  Sigh.  No, Diana’s plane is supposed to be created from her homeland’s technology.  She cannot turn things invisible by touch anymore than Superman can make people forget things by kissing.  (Okay, yes. It did happen once in comics. But it was the ’60’s. A lot of silly things happened in those days.)

Let us throw them a rope (lasso?) and say Diana needs a new power.  Fine.  Diana can turn things invisible by touch even though that has never happened before.  Great.  Why not use it against the two villains she fights at the end?  If I could turn invisible and I was fighting a cheetah-person, I would use that advantage.  She has the power or she does not; make a choice.

I believe that Diana could convince a group of people to renounce their wishes.  I do not buy that she could convince five billion people.  Not all at once.  You ask too much.  And she does not renounce her wish out of a desire to do better.  If she could, she would keep walking around with Steve in Marty’s body.  She does it to beat the villain.  At no point does she acknowledge that it was wrong to be raping Marty simply for her own emotional and physical satisfaction.

Diana is better than that.  Diana fights for women and men.  She is tired of women suffering.  She is not going to do the same to men.  She should not want anyone to be raped, abused, or made into a sexual object.  As the sometimes god of truth, she should not be perpetuating the lie to herself that what she is doing is okay. 

Diana’s choice, and her complete lack of regret regarding it, made the rest of the movie a chore.  I waited out the clock, anxious for it to end.  There was no attempt at redeeming the awful choice.  It was one more in a series of disappointments from the DCEU.

Happily, I still have Shazam!  I can watch Wonder Woman to my heart’s content.  But Wonder Woman 84 was an infuriating movie.  Anytime that an inspirational figure becomes a deplorable one, I am disappointed.  Heroes, and movies, should make us find the best in ourselves.  WW84 did the opposite.

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A Ballot Ballad

Your Turn

The time is upon us to choose our selection

As we all make our voice heard in this election.

You now get to determine if each candidate

Holds hope for the future, or is simply a nut.

It is simple.  Research.  Then fill in a bubble.

(Are we all still wary of any chad-trouble?)

Speak up; let each of your choices be revealed.

Or like your ballot, your lips could just be sealed.

It’s understandable some are undecided.

Folks try to break us up; make us fall divided.

But too many soldiers fought on a battlefield.

Senators have worked, asking each other to yield.

Those who have come before clearly knew what they meant

When they called this nation a grand experiment.

History is not over, there’s still much do to.

Right now that responsibility falls on you.

What price for freedom? Need an estimate or quote?

It is our civic duty to show up and vote.

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Taking Sides

My first impressions of people are not worth much.  I try to take in a person’s full measure with a few pieces of information. I fail miserably.

There is a manager who works in a nearby grocery store.  He looks surly.  He has a demeanor of cranky boss-man.  A scowl appears to have a long-term lease on his face.  This is not a man I would look to for mirth and delight. 

Then he rang up my groceries one day.  He smiled, was quick to laugh, and could not have been nicer.  That was the reality of him, which was much greater what I had assumed.

Due to my lack of skill, I have developed three responses to the, “What do ya think?” question.

“They seem cute.”

“They seem nice.”

“They seem competent.”

Those responses cover all my bases.  Babies, coworkers, bosses; I rattle off three words and go about my day.  I know it takes me at least six months to get an inkling of a person’s measure.  I do not see all sides without more information.

My parking spot at the complex where I live is a tight one.  I am surrounded on two sides by concrete walls.  I used to be able to make a left turn, adjust the positioning, and park with relative ease. 

Then the Lexus showed up.  This Lexus, this SUV, this gold-tinged behemoth, was a cause of some frustration.  It parked in the spot behind mine.  It was a large car.  The vehicle jutted out more than a foot from its spot.  There was this vast empty space, a parcel of prime real estate that was not utilized.  It frustrated me enough to ask my landlord to get them to scoot their car-butt back into their space.

The landlord was happy to help.  The neighbor was not.  The car still juts out, taking up more room that I feel it should. 

I have learned that you cannot change another person.  You can only change how you respond to them.  I started looking for options.  Once I tried, I soon found an alternative.  If I backed my car into the garage, drove past the Lexus, and maneuvered my car differently, the problem was solved.  All I needed to do was approach matters from a different angle.

My twenty-third great-grandfather was King John I.  I am related to one of the worst kings in history.  Yay?  (At least my presidential pedigree remains.)  He was forced by twenty-five barons to sign the Magna Carta.  One of those barons was my twenty-third great-grandfather, William Malet.  For one side of my family, it was a victory.  For another side, it was a loss.

The theme carries to the Civil War.  Brothers fought brothers.  Fathers fought sons.  Part of a family could win at the same time that part of a family lost.

Black Panther was right.  We are all members of the same tribe.  If we go back far enough, we are all related.  We might as well be nice to our brothers and sisters.  If we look to the future, we will find ourselves meeting up again.  We might as well be nice to our children.

I cannot remember a time when I did not read The Bible.  It has always been on a shelf somewhere.  This is a book that demands to be visited a second time.  And a third.  And a twelfth.  And so on.

I struggle to find new infromation in it.  I have read different translations.  I have plowed through from Genesis to Revelations.  I get bored.  Sometimes I use a comic book version to change it up. 

Currently, I am trying to imagine different perspectives of the characters.  Paul is often portrayed as this great man who was persecuted and jailed for his efforts.  The last time I came across his writings, I was struck by his past.  Every time he talked to his Christian family, he had to face the fact that he murdered many of them.  Whether we like it or not, we all have a past that we are trying to get over.  That part of Paul, the part that wishes we could have a do-over; that is a new side I am learning from.

Then there is Lot.  When he was fleeing from Sodom and Gomorrah, he was told not to look back.  I had always interpreted that as not clinging to the past.  Looking back was pining for the life that was being left behind.  (See also: Israelites fleeing Egypt and finding out there was not as much food as they had hoped.) 

This time, I took in the story as, “Hey, there is a massive disaster happening uncomfortably close to our backsides.  Perhaps we should make sure that we are far enough away?  I don’t want to alarm anybody, but there is a lot of noise going on back there.  It wouldn’t be the worst idea to check our starting point, right?  Ensure that we’re running away fast enough?”

If I approach it from that angle, it becomes a story of trust.  Lot and his family could have faith in God to rescue them.  Or they could let their fear and worries take over.  Anyone can say that God protects us.  Yet how often do we look over our shoulders to be double-check?

Last week there was a character on the bus.  I had my opinions.  Her skin was leathery.  She had a worn appearance about her.  She was smoking.  I know that God loves everyone, but I was quite content to have her sit in another section. 

She did not cause any trouble.  She did not get off in the lower-income part of town that I had assumed she would.  She made some phone calls to her boyfriend with colorful language.  Well, ex-boyfriend.  Apparently he was kicking her out of his place.  There was much discussion as to whether or not he was going to let her in to collect her things.  He had a friend over.  He did not want her around.  She wanted her things. 

The first impression I had had of her was not going to help anyone.  When I finally put myself in her shoes, I felt compassion for her.  We all need a place to hang our hat.  We want to have people that love us.  To lose both of those essential things in one day is devastating.  She did not need me judging her.  She needed compassion.

I am still learning from those that came before me.  I try to take in events around me with an open mind.  As politics become more heated, I reject the idea that we are out to defeat this side or that group.  I am not out to beat my opponent or prove my side is infinitely wiser.  I try to understand those that are different from me.  There is no reason why the first impressions I have of a person or issue have to be my last impressions.

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Crossing the Line

I have no problem sharing my own stories.  However I like to surround myself with interesting people that have great stories of their own.  Stories of near misses, hope, and a dash of drama. 

This is the tale as it was once told to me.  I changed the person’s name to Ricardo.  Ricardo has since married and become a legal citizen.  He is quite the delightful fellow.  But once upon a time, Ricardo ventured from Mexico to America.  Repeatedly.  Any statute of limitations in the area has long passed.  So with his permission, I get to tell you how it all could have gone horribly awry.

———-

“Move to America, or you probably will not see us again.  If you do not come now, we will not help you.”

That is what Ricardo’s family told him.  His parents, his siblings; all of his family already lived in the United States.  Mexico had always felt like home to Ricardo.  He had no strong desire to cross the border.  Yet, as often happens, family wins out.

Arrangements were made.  Ricardo flew from his home to Tijuana.  There he met up with a coyote.  The coyote, or a person who specializes in getting people across the border, had been paid two thousand dollars by Ricardo’s family.  He gave Ricardo instructions. 

“You are going to run up to the wall.  When I tell you, climb the wall and you will be in the parking lot of that store.  As soon as you land, run across the lot and hide under the parked cars.  Wait under those until you do not see anybody.  No matter what, do not talk to anyone.  No one.  If they call after you, keep walking.  You are going to head for the street.  Follow that road to…”

Ricardo had plenty to think about.  He was not just leaving a country behind, he was leaving a sweater. 

“You can’t take that with you.  Nobody’s going to be wearing a sweater!”   

The sweater had been a gift from his sister.  He liked that sweater.  However it became one more thing he had to leave behind.  Ricardo still thinks of that sweater to this day.

Ricardo was not an experienced adventurer.  He was a teenager.  As a student, he had taken two years of English.  His retention of the language was lacking.  Under pressure, how many people can ask, “Excuse me, where might I go to update my passport information to ensure that I am not promptly arrested by your burly border patrol agents?” in a different language?

Unsure of the plan, Ricardo did what he was told.  Mostly.

He scaled the wall.  He landed on the ground.  He ran under a car.  Everything was going according to plan.  That is, until he got out from under the vehicle.

Walking away, Ricardo heard two men call after him.  He stopped and turned.  They asked him questions in English.  He did not understand.  Soon he was asked what he was doing.  Ricardo claimed that he lived there.  The two men asked for papers; identification.  Ricardo stated that he had forgotten them.  Ricardo was soon taken into custody.

The two men led Ricardo to a van.  They told him to wait.  He was joined by others.  One was a pregnant woman that Ricardo had seen on the other side of the wall.  They were transported back to Mexico.

Ricardo returned to the coyote and tried to figure out the next steps.  The coyote was displeased.

“I told you!  I told you not to talk to anyone!  What were you doing?”

In Mexicali, Ricardo was deciding out how to proceed.  He still was not completely sold on the idea of uprooting his life.  He wanted to get to his family.  But would it not be easier to simply give up and stay in Mexico? 

Searching for options, Ricardo went to the building on the border and asked what sort of documentation it would take to cross the border.  He was given a booklet.  Ricardo recalls dozens of proofs being required.  College transcripts, bills, certificates; the list went on and on.  Ricardo threw the booklet in the garbage and looked around.

There were three security guards watching over the crowd.  One or two men checked IDs while another patrolled farther away.  A woman in front of Ricardo was getting her documents inspected when all of a sudden an alarm in the luggage area went off.

Two of the security staff rushed over to the source of the alarm.  That left only the person in front of Ricardo.  The agent who was busy helping the woman.  Following that age old phrase, Ricardo walked like he knew where he was going.  He walked past the woman and the guard.  He walked down the hallway.  And he walked out the doors.

Panicking, Ricardo went to a nearby hotel.  He asked the staff if there was a phone he could use.  With calling card in hand, he entered the phone booth and called his mother.

“I crossed”, he told her. 

“What?”

“I’m here.  I’m on the other side.”

Arrangements were quickly made.  A family member contacted the hotel and acquired a room for Ricardo.  The woman who had pointed him towards the phone checked him in. 

“Your room is all set and ready for you”, she offered.  “Is there anything else I can get you?  Are you hungry?”

Ricardo was.  He listened in awe as the woman described the list of choices.  Italian, a sandwich, pizza…  Ricardo talks now about how overwhelmed he had been.  He had not been used to anything like it.  Growing up, there had only been poor people’s food and rich people’s food.  Cuisine from another country had not been an option before. 

“Pizza.”

“Okay, what would you like on your pizza?”

“Bacon and pineapples.”

“Okay, so a Hawaiian pizza.  We’ll have it sent to your room.”

Perhaps it was the doughy crust.  Maybe the hot cheese won him over.  It dripped and dangled gooey strands.  That was paired with juice gushing from the pineapples.  Twenty minutes after Ricardo got to his room, he had a meal from Pizza Hut that resulted in a loyalty that continues to this day.  He inhaled the pizza, scarfing down two or three pieces in a matter of minutes.

A loud knocking interrupted him.  Ricardo nervously opened the door as a forbidding stranger asked, “Are you Ricardo?”

Ricardo assumed the man had caught him.  Ricardo had given a false name when captured, though clearly they had found him.  The man came into the room, mentioned Ricardo’s family, and detailed the plan.  With all the manners of a coyote, he helped himself to last of Ricardo’s dinner.

Ricardo was ready to go back.  He was done with the whole ordeal.  Ricardo was put onto a bus and his anxiety was rising to the surface. 

“Do not let him off”, the coyote told the driver. 

Off they went to Arizona.  From there, Ricardo was put on a plane and flown back to California.  It was there, days later, that he was reunited with his family.

Ricardo watched as his family paid the coyote seven hundred dollars for the feat. 

“Don’t pay him!”  Ricardo protested the coyote’s role.  “He didn’t do anything!  I got over here!  All he did was get me on a bus?  I could have done that!”  Ricardo’s family hushed him, handed over the money, and took him home.

Ricardo did not love the U.S. as much as his family did.  Ricardo considered himself Mexican.  Whatever the reason, some years later, Ricardo went back. 

In Mexico, he soon learned the truth that many discover.  Home is not what we remember it to be.  Mexico had changed.  Ricardo’s perception of his country no longer matched his plans. 

Two years after embracing Mexico, Ricardo wanted to return to his family.

He called up a friend.  They met in Tijuana.  Ricardo was given new apparel.  What sort of shirt and shoes say, “I belong in the U.S. of A.?”  Would officials accept the image created by beige overalls?

Ricardo and his friend got into the car.  The friend started to drive.  As they approached the inspection point, the guard waved them through.

“That’s it?  We don’t have to stop?  That’s all it takes to get into this country?”

Ricardo’s friend angrily and hurriedly shushed him.  After they had traveled down the road, it was explained that there were microphones all the along that stretch.  Officials would listen to conversations and go after those that were suspected of violating citizenship laws.

It worked.  Ricardo was back in the U.S. 

He took on jobs as he needed.  Eventually he made his way to a state where it was easier to get a license.  He paid two thousand dollars for a new apartment.  The rental agreement and water bill were enough to obtain his ID.  He used those to get other jobs. 

Ricardo did what most of us do.  He worked many jobs to afford the American Lifestyle.  He fell in love.  He embraced downtown life and learned the joy of a roommate’s pets.  He fell out of love. He drank, laughed, cried, and visited his family. 

At some point, Ricardo found himself at home.

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It Runs in the Family

When it comes to families, I was dealt a pretty solid hand.  I feel like my roots are rather terrific.

To begin with a quirk, there are suggestions that we might have been related to Catherine Howard.  I have no great desire to follow in those footsteps.  The collars alone… Plus, the thought of spending too much time around Henry the VIII concerns me.  And I dislike the idea of being beheaded.  However as far as, “have I got a family story to tell”, it holds up over time.

What I know for certain is that our ancestors came over in the same group of ships that brought over William Penn.  (I am not sure that Quakers can have a flotilla or a fleet.  Perhaps it was a gathering?) 

If you ever ask about my Christian background, I will quickly tell you that I am ninth generation Quaker.  I am a “Birthright Quaker”, if that term appeals to you.  I love that aspect of my family.  (The part where every single one of us know we will have to wear glasses one day balances it out somewhat.)  I have tried other churches.  Quakerism works best for me.  I just happened to be born into it.  One of my kin was among the first to start singing in church (rebel!).

The only downside to this is that the line may stop here.  Of my immediate family, only my mom and I call ourselves Quaker.  The Mennonites and the Methodists pulled in the others.  And that is fine. 

Part of me really wants there to be a tenth generation; keep the line going!  However, being childless at the moment, that hardly seems like a great reason to bring a kid into this world.  “Look, get good grades, be polite, but most importantly, get us to that lofty double-digit status, would ya?”  No, I think nine generations will suffice.

There is a new family revelation which is my current favorite.  Something I never expected but immediately became fascinated with.  It makes me laugh that I read several books on this person before I knew we had any shared history.  I already knew about this guy.  Now I am eager to keep learning more. 

Abraham Lincoln is my second cousin.

There are many caveats to this.  First off, he is my second cousin six times removed.  If we go back, his great-grandmother was ours.  Second off, I had absolutely nothing to do with this.  It helps keep me humble.  One cannot really brag about being related to someone when you cannot control who sired who over the centuries.  (Also, it gives me pause.  Two family members were leaders… and they were both murdered?  Well, that settles it.  No career in politics for me.)

It still makes me feel special.  During the stressful times at work, when I see people lashing out at each other, I have a new phrase that runs through my brain.  “You know what?  It is okay.  You are related to Lincoln.”

I understand that “God loves you” is a better phrase to have playing on a loop.  However I have heard that for decades and the Lincoln bit is new.  I am still relishing the fresh trivia.  And no, I do not think that Abraham Lincoln was perfect.  I do think that if you are looking for great people who tried to do good, he stands tall amongst many others.  I will probably always think of John Quincy Adams as the finest president.  Lincoln though, he is family, darn it.  We can have a tie.

Plus we have things in common.  We are tall.  We love to tell yarns.  And we both greatly benefit from facial hair.   

Then the temptation comes to rest on my laurels.  When civil unrest occurs and people start being jerks, I get a little worked up.  I want to yell, “Look, I am related to the Great Emancipator, my family helped give women a voice, and we gave up on slavery before it was popular.  What more do you want from me?”

In return, all someone would have to ask would be, “Okay, but what have you done to help others?”

I get stuck at that part.  Using royal blood might get you into high society.  Yet family connections will only get you so far when it comes to morality.  Eventually you have to stand on your own feet.

Some areas I have set myself apart from my family.  My grandparents did not let my parents watch movies.  They thought paying for one would support all the bad ones.  (I believe they made an exception for Gone with the Wind.)  I spent many years being paid to be a film projectionist.  I think they made their peace with it because I mostly showed documentaries.  I saw no need to tell them that I also screened six Harry Potter movies. 

No one else in my family needs a cat.  They all have three kids.  If the kids want pets, then they talk it out.  Me, I have no need for kids, but I cannot go more than two weeks without a cat. 

No one else in my family runs.  My grandparents would spend hours around the dinner table talking to God, reading from scripture, and bringing the family together to worship God.  I take myself outside.  Nature is where I see God the clearest.  Exercise is what calms me.  When I run in the quiet mornings, I feel God resetting me for the week ahead.  Then I go to church afterwards, once all the crap is out of my system.

I had an amazing foundation given to me.  I am not allergic to anything.  My grandparents all lived to be eighty-seven to ninety years old.  No matter what health I was born into, I cannot sit on the couch all day and eat nothing but potato chips.  I have to decide what to do with what I am given.

My family tree has always consisted of three trades.  Farmer, pastor, teacher; they all worked some combination of those three jobs.   I have done none of those.  My focus has always been on stories.  Barista, projectionist, comic shop guy; find me a job that revolves around stories and that is what I want to do.  Get people to tell me about their lives and let me collect engrossing tales.

I have no control over what my family passes down to me.  (Certainly not in the middle name department.  Ardella?  Loren?  Lissie?  Evalyn?  What were you doing?)  However I can take all the fine elements that they have contributed to me and try to follow along in my own way.  My specific branch of the family tree might stop here.  I can still try to be sturdy and keep growing as long as possible.     

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No Goose-Stepping Around It

I found a new side of myself this week.  Fair warning:  it is not a part of me that I like.  If you have an interest in seeing me as a good person, this might be an entry you should skip.

download (1)When it comes to animals, I take things on a species by species basis.

If I am walking down a path, I do my best not to trample on worms or slugs.  They are in their world and I leave them be.

Spiders are allowed outside my apartment.  If they venture indoors, I may try to save them, but I am just as likely to squish them.  Ants get exterminated.  In the summer I slaughter countless flies.

Dogs are not my favorite animal, but I respect that many people I care about have an emotional attachment to them.

I felt bad when I accidentally ran over a squirrel.  The little guy darted out in front of my car.  They are woodland creatures and I have no beef with them.

I do not fish.  I would rather go for a hike than sit in the same spot with a pole.

I do not hunt.  I do not like guns.  The loud noise, the recoil, the violence of it all; hunting is not for me.

I often wonder what goes through a driver’s mind when they hit a deer.  They are quiet and majestic creatures.  They also need to learn that they should not run towards two bright lights.

Then there are birds.  Did you know birds have no bladder control?  The urine and stool are mixed together, they do not have a choice in how they dispose of it, and that is how those pestilent globs end up everywhere.

Ducks tend to stick to water.  Ravens, crows, pigeons; they all get a little greedy in city locations.  But at least they are smart enough to hop out of the way when a car comes towards them.

downloadThen there are geese.  I hate geese.  They clutter up my paths, they honk, and they hiss.  They attacked my brother when he was a child.  Their poop is disgusting.  I regard geese as pests.

Driving home from my run Sunday, I approached a group of geese in the road.  I had little regard for them.  I thought to myself, “stupid geese”.  I kept driving towards them.

There is a scene from an 80’s Superman comic where a media mogul sees a raccoon in the road.  In a panel or two that is described as pure evil, the man swerves and goes out of his way to run over the raccoon.  Many letters were written about this heinous act.

I did not swerve to hit the geese.  I did not try to avoid the geese.  At a speed of about 25 mph, I kept my vehicle going straight.  Straight into the path of the geese.

I had time to slam on the brakes.  The logical side of my brain had time to think, “Well, if they don’t move, they’re going to get hit.”  This was not a sudden encounter.  I could have stopped.

tire-tread-close-up-rubber-treads-82948628Instead I kept going.  I continued driving as they honked at me.  I kept driving as I felt two, perhaps three, bumps underneath my tires.

I had no emotional response.  I was not giggling in delight and twirling my mustache.  I was not overcome with guilt and remorse.  I factored those animals as a non-entity as I killed or injured them.

I eat plenty of birds.  Scrambled eggs, chickens; these are parts of my diet.  But I did not cook up these birds after they died.  My family has no problem shooting at birds.  I told myself that was not for me.

Logical, cold, unfeeling side of me sees no value in geese and reasons that they die because they are stupid.  When a large predator comes straight towards you, you should turn away.  You should not keep approaching the oncoming car and waddling to it like it is not a threat.

Nobody saw what I did.  There were no other joggers were around.  There were no cars on the side roads at 6:30 on a Sunday morning.  (I did see a rather large raccoon a few minutes prior to the act.  I am sure it got a nice meal out of my action.  Could I claim that I was helping the food chain?)

I cannot help but picture things from the sidewalk.  As an onlooker, the thought of watching a car purposely driving into a flock of animals without changing course gives me discomfort.  If I were a passerby, I might be horrified to see such a cruel driver.

As the driver, I had no objection.  As a witness walking by, I start to wonder if I am becoming a comic book villain.

My parents were farmers.  I have a great friend who lived in a house that ate the rabbits and chickens that they raised.  These people accepted that snapping a creature’s neck was part of the dinner table.

I was not getting any food out of my act.  I was saving time by not yielding to what I deemed an annoyance.

mylarbw1tmpI have a complicated history with cats.  In college I had a cat that was perfect for me.  In a moment of frustration, I was too rough.  I can still see the look in her eyes.  I still remember how her body seized up.  I was horrified.  An hour later, she seemed to forgive me.  For the next sixteen years I had her, she never brought it up.  But that one act has stuck with me ever since.  I got a glimpse of what I was capable of, hated it, and have learned never to do it again.

Earlier this year I came across a rabbit on the trail.  Its head was cocked off at an odd angle and one of its feet was not moving well.  It looked very much like it had been hit by a car.  I spent five minutes trying to make it feel better.  I do not like watching animals suffer.  Why does it matter to me if it is a rabbit or a bird?

I think humans get to outrank animals.  But I still buy cage-free eggs because I do not want animals to suffer needlessly on my behalf.  I will eat poultry, but I do not to be a jerk about it.  However those rules appear to be flexible.

It bothers me that I am capable of violence without emotion.  I care that if others saw me, they would have called me a monster.  Much of this revolves around what animals we value and why.  If someone saw me empty a mouse trap or swat flies, it is unlikely that they would care.  Maybe it is because these geese were bigger than a bug.  If something causes your tires to react than perhaps you should feel guilt.

Every morning on my way to work I try to get myself into a public mind frame.  I tell myself over and over, “Be kind, be gentle, be patient.”  Yesterday, I was none of those.  I was not kind to the birds, I certainly was not gentle, and I was not patient enough to let them move.  0 for 3.  John Woolman was a Quaker who went out of his way to treat animals humanely.  I feel like I did the opposite.  I was not seeking to injure an animal.  Yet I was hardly working to make the world a more peaceful place.

The fact that I am capable of violence disturbs me.  That I felt nothing disturbs me more.  If presented with the same scenario again, I am worried that I could once again go through with it and feel nothing.  And what does that say about me?

“So, tell me about this new guy you’re seeing!”  “Well, he’s tall, skinny, and I really like the way he murders fowls.”

“Johnson, why do you think we should hire this guy?”  “He’s never late, he does the job, but mostly, he kills without pause or remorse.  And I respect that.”

“Have you met our new neighbor?  He drives over animals and leaves their battered corpses on the road for all to enjoy.  The kids think he’s great.  I was going to take him over a nice pie.”

15163815781524750930world-kindness-day-clipart.medIt has been said that you can know a person for twenty years, but try to push him into a volcano and you will see who he really is.  It has also been said that if we could really look at ourselves in a mirror, it would make us want to vomit.  Those feel true in a way I do not like.  The people I love and admire; they would not do those sorts of things.

However, there is also a line from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  I have referenced it many times before.  It contains a pearl that I come back to.

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside of us.  What matters is the part we choose to act on.  That’s who we really are.”

I do not like this side of me.  Thankfully there are other sides of me that I do like.  Just like everyone else in the flock.

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Finding the Unseen

“No trap doors, no secret passages, not even a hidden compartment.  What kind of enchanted talisman is this?”  –Tangled: The Series

Much like Rapunzel, I like to be surprised by quirks and hidden traits.  The time I identified with Iron Man most was in Avengers: Age of Ultron when Tony goes around a castle hoping to find secret doors and exclaims with glee when he finds one.

EN7IfAdWAAAfetPThe more history I take in, the more I hear about cool secrets.  Scottish architects would create a Laird’s Lug, or a “Lord’s Ear”; an alcove above dining rooms where the master of the house could eavesdrop on the conversation before entering the room.

Due to superstition, many buildings do not have a thirteenth floor.  Or if they do, it is used for maintenance or storage; spaces that residents would not normally access.  Superstition dictates that a tiny floor be created between the twelfth and fourteenth floors to contain the bad luck.  Personally, I want to see those non-floors.  (Some areas are making laws against having a floor missing.  It makes it confusing when firefighters need to get to a floor and they have to deal with subjective numbering.)

Disney World may be all well and good for the family.  But if Brad Meltzer is to be believed, the real fun takes place in the tunnels beneath and around the parks.  He wrote about his characters running through the area in The Millionaires and according to him, his research was all kinds of fun.  I would much rather run through miles of tunnels than ride a log through water.

New York’s underground is a whole other world.  Subway lines closed off.  Buildings with basements linked for blocks.  Even the Nazis wanted in.  What sort of odd planning designs and sequestered sections could I see?  (Less secretive, but in the same vein; one wonders what the storage facilities for the Vatican and the Smithsonian look like.  Oh the treasures.)

IMG_2166Thankfully, Seattle has one or two surprises to keep me happy.  The first and most publicly touted one is the Seattle Underground.  You can take the tour and everything.  There was a fire around a hundred years ago and instead of cleaning up all the buildings over dozens of blocks, Seattle simply took it up a level.  Many things were left as they were and the city started over on top of what remained.  I am grateful that I can see pieces of the past to this day.

Less publicly, and my personal favorite, is Seattle Center.  Right next to the Space Needle is the Center House.  (They changed the name a few years ago to The Armory for reasons you will soon understand.)  The Center House is a food court.  They have performances there, several theaters are located within, and plenty of coffee and sandwich options are available.  Even before the World’s Fair of ‘60’s, the grounds were being used.

As it was explained to me, The Center House was created as the Washington State National Guard Armory.  It is about a half mile from Lake Washington.  It was used for storage, certainly, but it had many other facets.  For one, there was a shooting range.  There are still notes scribbled on walls regarding the kind of ammunition allowed to be fired.  There are marks where the bullets hit the metal backdrops.

Then there was the story that I honestly thought was an urban legend or a high school rumor taken out of context.  But no.  Underneath the grounds there is a swimming pool.  A frickin’, unfinished, large as you could need swimming pool.  Well, the intent for one at least.

IMG_1149 (590x800)The prevailing theory as it was explained to me was that the armed forces were offered the space.  Better to have your methods down and worked out in a contained environment.   But they ran out of money and interest as World War II took precedence.  Thus it has sat there for eight decades, invisible to most and unfinished.  Seattle Police Department utilizes some space including a holding cell there.

I love the idea of that gigantic pool sitting there behind locked doors.  Millions of people walk over and around it every year.  It is under the shadow of the Space Needle, but few realize it when they are walking over it.

With the way things have been going this year, I thought of something that might kick the Center House pool down to number two of my favorite secrets.  I pondered, “What if my family had been part of the Underground Railroad?”

I was not blindly hoping on this point.  My family has a long line of Quakers in this country.  We had relatives living in Ohio during the 1800’s.  It was within the scope of reality to imagine my family had housed refugees trying to escape to freedom.

However, that was not the case.  The closest I can claim is that my great grandfather owned a house that was once used for that purpose (but not by him).  The floor boards were built higher in an area next to a wall.  Imagine lifting the floor like it was a treasure chest.  Slaves crawled a short distance and then stood up in a narrow space between the walls.  They were sandwiched in the architecture like human insulation when the houses were searched.

417786_520930027965443_1309891733_nIn prodding a bit deeper, I found another secret house of a kind that my parents did have a part in.  Back in the 60’s, carrying a child out of wedlock was a much bigger scandal, especially in Ohio.  In response, some Quakers in the area set up Friends Rescue Home.  It was a large house.  Inside were those that could not return home.  The Quakers wanted to help those that needed a roof over their head.

In a dorm like setting, women would live out their pregnancies.  Some women had nowhere else to turn.  Some were afraid of what others would think.  Apparently the common lie was that the girls was, “visiting her aunt” for a stretch.  The children were often given up for adoption and the girls went home with whatever story they created.

We could discuss former attitudes of society for days.  What I want to focus on here is my mom.  She was a nurse who worked in the house with the girls.  She would go with them to medical appointments.  She would be assigned different shifts to be sure that there was a nurse on duty at all times.  Those that society deemed unworthy had an ally in my mom.

famchrst0001When I was a kid, the main reason why I wanted a house was so that I could build secret rooms.  (It did not hurt that our house had a tiny crawl space under our stairway that I took over.  I had my own secret door all to myself!)  I wanted a bookshelf to hide a door that went to my clandestine reading room where no one could disturb me.  Every house that I built out of LEGOs had a secret door somewhere.  Sometimes it was a two-story plan and I had a secret trap door with a hidden ladder.  I have long been fascinated by disguised spaces.

The reasons for the secrets are as varied as the spaces.  We choose to close off old areas to make way for the new.  We do not look too closely at a place that might contain objectionable sights.  We go out of our way to build rooms to keep people or objects safe.

I still find myself peeking whenever a door is left even a tiny bit ajar.  I keep reading history books hoping for another secret to be discovered.  (Ideally attached to a story about helping others.)  I hope that all of the hiding places and concealed spots have not yet been revealed.  I could use a few more fun surprises in life.

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It is not All Uphill

Things are a bit stressful.   One job closed, one job eliminated, one job still having me come in.  Working in the city, newspaper reports and podcasts being far too serious, bills keep showing up…

It is safe to say that I need to take a hike every now and then.

imagesYou would think that my hike earlier in the month would have been enough to scare me away.  Things like encountering black bears often nudge people towards safety.  That would be the logical response.  Apparently I am shirking responsible behavior.  Oh well.

In all fairness, I am pretty sure the bear was just a cub.  It seemed like it only had about fifty pounds on me as opposed to several hundred.  I stood there by the creek, taking in this critter form twenty-five feet away, when the bear ran away from me.  I thought about taking a picture but that is how one ends up in the hospital.   We parted peacefully and without souvenirs (such as photos or claw marks).

I was healthy, I had free time, yet my apartment tempted me.  Laziness is a powerful non-motivator.  I knew my knees would hurt because the hike I had planned was the hardest route one can take without climbing gear.  In roughly two miles you go up about four thousand feet.  By the time one scrambles up the scary rocks at top, they wonder who the designed this hike.  (Madmen, that is who.)

IMG_1562 (498x800)The trail features mountain flowers that one must respect.  Yes, you walked all the way up.  However these plants live there.  They thrive in rocky terrain.  They give all the flies and bees a reason to mingle.  It would be wrong to pick them.  (Though I will pic them.)

At the very top is a curiosity.  Sure, it is called Mailbox Peak.  I understand that.  But since when have there been two mailboxes up there?  It raises questions that I can only answer with theories.

Why the Sam Hill Mailbox Peak Needs Two Mailboxes:

-The ladder and fire hydrant moved out so there was some acreage left over.

-Portland had gotten too comfy in its weirdness label and we wanted to challenge them for the title.

-The Starbucks model of crowding the market was too powerful to resist.

-One is for express mail.  Bald eagles are on the USPS logo, now we are putting them to work in the mountains.

-That line to take photos on Everest?  We did not want that to happen here.  So we created a second mailbox to cut down on customer wait times.

-We listed and relisted and relisted it on Craig’s List and the darn thing would not sell.  We finally offered it for free.  Nobody took it.  It was a perfectly good mailbox.  The next logical move was to install it on the top of a mountain.  Why do you ask?

-The first mailbox was full.

-“We are instituting a new loyalty program for our most valued customers.  Now, get all the perks you have been yearning for in this new, especially reserved mailbox, not available to others.  Act today!”

IMG_1554 (800x611)-They received too many complaints that the black mailbox clashed with peoples’ jackets when taking photos for their online profiles.  The second mailbox, painted white, was added to satisfy selfie demands.

-Why?  Chicken thigh.  And you know what?  Chicken butt.

-Now, the next time the guy takes his friend hiking, and the friend gets all whiny about how hard the trek is, the main hiker can reply, “Hey, at least this time I’m not making you lug a mailbox up a mile and a half tall mountain!”  Then the second hiker will grumble, roll his eyes, and take a swig of water instead of yelling at his hiking friend.  (When invited to go hiking a third time, the hiking friend will find an excuse not to.  “Gotta paint the bedroom that day”, he’ll blatantly fib.  Nobody likes hiking with a crazy person.)

-First there was Twin Peaks.  Then there was X-Files.  After that was LOST.  Coming the summer of 2020:  Mountain of Mailboxes.

-Look, you have all been making comments while getting your bums up this mountain that you are like Frodo and Sam, right?  How you are struggling over fields of boulders to finish your epic quest, right?  Well there were two towers.  Not one.  Two.  We gave you a second mailbox.  You should be thanking us.  Nerds.  And hey, they did all that in bare feet.  Suck it up!

-In these highly charged political times, we believe that the public should have access to as many choices and options as possible.

-People have a lot of free time these days.  Antics ensue.  Whatchya gonna do?

—–

A lot of exercise.  A mighty struggle.  An outdoor fix.  And yes, a dash of the absurd.  Not a terrible way to spend a day off.

Let us leave with a formal acknowledgement of Mount Rainier.  There is no more acceptable use of the word, “awesome” than Rainier surrounded by blue sky.  Views like this are why I take a hike.

IMG_1543

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The Kindest Cut of All

I get bored in the bathroom.  Toilet, bathtub, linoleum; there is not a lot of variety in there.

Yesterday I took the scissors and started grabbing tufts of hair atop my noggin.

IMG_1527 (800x672)I snipped here, I chopped there.  There was no reason to it.  No strategy was used.

When this happens in movies, it all works out marvelously.  The heart-broken twenty-something ends up with a rocker hairdo.  Thanks to her haste and aggression, she is ready to face the world again.  (The moody music that plays in the background probably helps with that.)

The spy that needs to alter their appearance winds up with a dyed and unrecognizable cut.  They are still being hunted down, but at least they are stylish.

IMG_1540 (722x800)Me?  My hair winds up looking like this.  Mostly because I just do not care about my hair.  The less work involved, the happier I am.  I would sooner hack off a curl than spend every day grooming it.  And product?  No.

I have no roommate to evenly cut my hair.  I have no partner to talk me out of things.

I said, “good enough” and went for my morning jog like this.

The sun had not risen yet.   I saw two other joggers and six bicycles.  I hardly doubt that they noticed and or cared.

After I had gotten my outdoor fix, I came home and finished the job.  I shaved it all off.  Nothing left on top of my freshly spherical dome.  Take that, comb!

I care if my cat is hacking up a hairball.  I try to notice when my loved ones get a haircut.  When it comes to my hair, I try not to give even the smallest crap.

My bathroom is still boring.  Now I can spend even less time in there.

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