Thursday, November 9, 2017

Record or Assist

It was cold and rainy on election day Tuesday but at least I had the opportunity of working inside all day, although I walked outside several times to introduce myself to every observer, volunteer and candidate out there doing hard duty handing out sample ballots, blue for democrats and green for republicans, to voters as they walked up to enter the local high school to vote. All were unfailingly polite.  

Inside, there was a stark difference in what I perceived my duty to be as an inside poll observer and what my republican counterpart's assigned duty was. All day I stood or sat near the check-in table and watched for problems voters encountered in being enabled to cast their ballots--wrong precinct, no longer living in the district, their name spelled wrong in the voter rolls, their sister voted previously in their name because the staffer couldn't decipher the Asian name properly, the voter couldn't understand English and required assistance but couldn't write either and thus couldn't sign her requires-assistance form--and followed them discretely to the chief's table to stand by and listen to the problem's resolution. Almost always there the situation was resolved in favor of the person being entitled to vote, sometimes after a call being placed to the registrar. Three provisional ballots were cast (the aforementioned sister/brother mix-up, for instance), often the voter was sent to one of the other two precincts to vote and rarely the voter was turned away, usually after being registered on the spot to entitle them to vote in the next election. I never felt the need to intercede with the election officials in support of a voter and only made one or two suggestions to them all day, and asked them questions about situations or procedures several times. I often spoke conversationally with the officials to varying degrees during slow moments, having introduced myself to each of them and made a point of remembering their names. It was an efficient organization with heart there.

The other poll observer had a different reason, obviously, for being there. Aside from getting up occasionally to go outside to make a call on his cellphone I assumed or use the facilities or stand in order to stretch his legs, he sat in a chair within 3 feet directly behind central check-in person and furiously thumbed his I-phone all day, doing his best mark on his "app" (I presumed it was a registered voter list or perhaps a list of persons that party had contacted during the campaign) the appearance of every voter who checked in as they announced their name and the name was repeated back to them by the staff member. Never did I see him wander around the voting room by the officials' tables except to plug in his back-up battery, nor did I see him converse with the staff except in the course of a situation arising out of him placing his chair initially so close behind the check-in person's chair that that officer complained that the observer was in such proximity with him that he was uncomfortable and felt interfered with in the performance of his duties. He literally couldn't get up from the table without the observer moving his chair back. (He also conversed with staff in the course of graciously being offered a donut or two during the long day.) The chair incident produced the day's only "drama" as my friend across the aisle, Joe, termed it. 

The staffer who felt Joe was too close to allow him to do his duty properly requested him to move back permanently and the observer refused, saying he couldn't hear the names as they were announced otherwise and to do his "job" he needed to be right there behind the staff member. Thus the right of the observer to be able to see and hear everything being done and said at the check-in table clashed with the right of the staffer to be free of interference or influence in the performance of his duty, and this stand-off at the fulcrum point of the free and transparent operation of our basic voting rights pulled in the Board of Elections Directer and Mr. Dan Dodds, who I presumed was the roving Republican operative assigned to that district.

In my opinion, Mr. Dodds was a pissant, and I watched from my perch five or six feet behind the check-in table where they had set up a table for the observers as in the back, the twenty-something tall gaunt man argued down in an angry voice, with much finger jabbing interspersed with backhanded slaps across the sheaf of important papers he was clutching for awe-inspiring emphasis, with the diminutive fifty-something Director who was standing her ground even as, at one point, the rover had a metal chair slung menacingly over his shoulder as he gesticulated. In a word he was, in my opinion, nasty.

Order was restored to the process with a compromise as the two came out and together moved Joe's chair to a spot about 32 inches behind the staffer's chair and declared that that was the redline, for both of us. Joe tried his dictated location and claimed that he still couldn't hear but Mr. Dodds spoke to him like one would rebuke a dog, telling him to do his "job," to get busy with his "app," and that that spot was "final." Then Mr. Dodds stalked out, obviously an important personage with more places to be on that day.

The rest of the day was long and uneventful for us. Joe liked history, and had brought two books to read, and we talked history and books sometimes. I tried to time our quiet discussions for when a crowd of voters came in and he tried to time them for when a voter was spending an inordinate time at the table, indicating a problem. I offered him a cracker smeared with spicy tuna from a small tin I had for lunch, which he declined, and he had a bag of nuts in his pocket which he would occasionally go into the hallway to nibble from, of which he offered me none. We got along famously, and I even told him that I had observed that the voting machines were set at zero that morning before the polls were opened at 6 a.m., something he hadn't observed in person, as that apparently was on both our checklists.

During the long day I had the opportunity to reflect upon which course of inside poll observation action was better--to record on your hand-sized computer every voter who comes in so that at HQ they can selectively utilize their phone banks to get out their voters, or to look out for problems as they develop inside the voting area and follow them through to their resolution, thus allowing as many voters presenting themselves to vote as possible. Since the permissible number of inside observers is limited, doing both is well-nigh impossible. I'm not surprised at the very different choices each party made in this election, and I wonder what it augurs for the future of voting and inside observing.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

America's Coming Back

Against my better judgment and against all my wishes, I signed up to work in the gubernatorial race in Virginia for democratic candidate Dr. Ralph Northam, who is a fine man and a moderate in the recent trend of winning democrats in turning-blue Virginia.  I was gun-shy because I have worked intensively in two campaigns in my life, Hillary Clinton in 2016 and George McGovern in 1972, thinking they were transcendent times, and the result each time was a devastating defeat resulting in utter disaster (an effing moron winning and a president resigning in disgrace).  (5 a.m. somewhere in Virginia yesterday.)
But I volunteered to register voters and make phone calls last month, I sent out e-mails and undertook training to be an inside poll observer this month and yesterday I put in a 16-hour day working at Precinct 1 in Manassas Park.  When I got home from my exhausting day I was astounded and gratified to learn that already Northam had been declared winner and the democrats had won the other two top state spots of lieutenant governor and attorney general.  Maybe the country has awoken from its self-induced stupor.  (Taking training at the George Mason School of Law, trying to quell my gag-reflex.)
The day was interesting watching rough looking voters in not-quite-Northern-Virginia not-really-Tidewater-either file through all day.  One man angrily asked if we were "letting all them illegal aliens vote" and another angrily objected to the check-in election worker call out his name out loud, as is required, due to "privacy" concerns, and the local roving Republican operative showed up to angrily berate the local Board of Elections chief in strident terms over some supposed infraction of the rules or the law with much finger jabbing towards her face and hand slaps on the important papers he was holding, obvious anger and disdain infusing his body and soul, a tall twenty-something man towering over a diminutive fifty-something woman as he gesticulated for show, in his mind's eye a projection of power.  Dan Dodds, you're a querulous a**.  (Just like your hero, who is a train wreck.)

When the long day was done it was Northam 669, Trump surrogate Gillespie 295, with similar showings for the rest of the top of the ticket.  Make America great again.  (Campaigning a year ago, before the fall.)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

New York Strong

New York Strong.  New Yorkers aren't afraid.

My heart goes out to the five killed Argentinians, Belgian and two others, and the injured.  The New Yorkers' response on the scene, protecting school children and assisting the injured, and later, conducting the nearby Halloween Parade shortly afterwards, was strong.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pay Attention

It took over two years after I received a substandard performance appraisal (now corrected) at the at the hands of a cadre of managers all a generation younger and in my opinion interested in maintaining their own positions rather than in advancing the interests of the agency, which I complained about, and I was forced by the hostile work environment there to precipitously and prematurely retire less than a year after that, I agreed to a Settlement Agreement which mandates in part in Section VIII d that "...the FTC will ensure that all current FTC employees, who are or were managers within the Division of Financial Practices between August 2015 and the present, will complete EEO and diversity training, including training addressing age discrimination." That training is today, and I hope that my former managers are attentive, take notes, pay heed and act accordingly.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Worst to First

DC has plenty of free expansive memorials like the Washington Monument, dedicated walkways like the Tidal Basin and museums like the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery.  It has a permanent presidential portrait gallery with one or more painted picture of every past president except Obama (it's coming), so to get an image of the current and worst president by far already, you have to go to the Smithsonian gift shop and buy a postcard.

But on the west end of the third floor of the old converted Patent Office building, you can see plenty of images of the best president, Lincoln, including busts, a life mask and a cast of his hands.  In contrast to the current era of divisiveness fostered by the current White House occupant, Lincoln kept our nation together, ended the intractable problem of slavery, reinvented American liberty with his Gettysburg Address and showed a way to the future with his astonishing 2d Inaugural Address.

You can find a portrait of the worst president, until Trump, Dubya; his "W" moniker stood for Worst.  He had all the worst impulses of a miscreant schoolboy, flippant ("Bring 'em on!"), irreverent (Doin' a heckuva job, Brownie"), intellectually lazy (he depended on Cheney's viewpoint of the world) and totally unprepared, in his own way, for the demands of the office ("Mission accomplished!"), his unfunded tax cuts and endless wars has impoverished the country but in contrast to the abysmal "presidential" performance we've seen this year, Bush the Second now seems positively presidential in comparison.

But then you can pause in the marble hallways to linger over several likenesses of the Father of our Country.  Washington won a guerrilla war against the greatest power on Earth, gave up the mantle of military power voluntarily, took on the country's first presidency under its new constitution and established many important protocols for the office and then retired after two terms, setting yet another lasting standard for the peaceful transfer of power.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Make War No More

I went for a walk through the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden on the Mall recently, reflecting on the increasingly bombastic war of words between our president and the dear leader of North Korea, two fat little men with delusions of grandeur and total lack of consciences.  I labeled this artwork Attempt at Decapitation.

Could words alone lead to devastating consequences?  This piece I named War with North Korea.

It happens in schoolyards, and these cunning megalomaniacs demonstrate the guile and silly word escalations of schoolchildren.  I called this statue The Battle.

The faux deity who has killed his half brother with a chemical agent and executed his uncle by shooting him with an antiaircraft gun, and the lazy grifter who has assaulted women, lambasted gold star families, disparaged war heroes, praised neo-Nazis, assailed the free press and displayed shocking ignorance and startling narcissism are two scorpions in a bottle with everyone in the world watching anxiously.  Meet The Victor.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Columbus day

it was a tranquil Columbus Day in Westover.  The weather was 80 degrees and sticky by noontime, when I had a Polynesian Pizza at the Lost Dog Cafe.

The Lost Dog was crowded and I watched many more people stream in for lunch.  It's at the west end of the Westover market area, but there's a new anchor point at the east end of the strip, the Italian Store.

It was packed with people ordering pizza or gourmet deli sandwiches, shopping for pasta or canned sauces or sitting at the multiple eating perches or tables to enjoy the store's fare.  It was like an Arlington happening inside this former 7-11 store.

This block-long commercial venue has its old standby mid block, Ayers Hardware Store, but has new aspirants for most successful venture such as the aforementioned Lost Dog and Italian Store, plus the Westover Beer Garden and Market with its local bands and the Sunday Farmer's market with its fresh produce and products.  It's a gem of a tiny commercial center, with a school, library, post office, drug store, hamburger place and an ice cream shop right there too.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Columbus Days

It's Columbus Day tomorrow.  My neighbors are citizens from South America originally, and there is no mistaking their loathing for the Christopher Columbus holiday, for introducing dominant Europeans to the "New World."

I remember the Columbus Day holiday, during the first few months of my divorce in 2001, when I took my boys to Columbus, Ohio, to visit my sister.  When I came back, and returned the boys within my allotted time, the most vulnerable boy, our youngest, was coaxed by his manipulating covert narcissistic (in my opinion) mother into complaining that he came back "tired" and couldn't do his homework.

She called the court-appointed "meditator" that night and this charlatan psychologist, Victor Ellon of Fairfax, who billed a four-hour session with her (!) on the day I took my kids off for my summer month with them, issued a late-night letter to the court suspending my visitation until a hearing two months later.  This forever ruined my relationship with my three children, the prevalent Mother Knows Best attitude of courts effectively ending my fatherhood.

Danny, you totally manipulated young man, now married, I hope you are well and that your achieving wife keeps you.  Hello Johnny, the young man whom my ex-wife said was the most like me, and I remember when you came over to cull my military book collection, and I practically never heard from you again after you took those books home.  And Jimmy, living nearby, loathing me and skating personally, maybe I'll see you tomorrow at noon.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Sputnik is overhead.

Sixty years ago today, I came home from kindergarten and my mother was at the stove in the kitchen of our house, making my lunch. I don't have a lot of memories from this period of my life but this image is locked in.

My mom told me that the Russians had put a sputnik into space and it was flying overhead even at that moment.  I had no idea what a sputnik was, or what the import of what she said was or even what it meant, but her tone, reflecting concern and momentousness, and the unusualness of her talking world events with me, a kindergartener, made this brief interaction forever frozen in time in my memory bank.

This started in lockstep the space race, because we were behind, for awhile, the Russkies, the supposed missile gap, the specter of hordes of Russian tanks sweeping over Western Europe and the Cold War, which we might still be in, after a brief pause for detente. This was the paranoid fifties, when we huddled under our schoolhouse desks with our arms covering our heads during nuclear attack drills.

In this period of mass murders and massive hurricanes, it seems like it was a quaint era back then.  My classroom five years later was on the 3d floor of a schoolhouse five miles from what would have been ground zero for a hydrogen bomb airburst over Manhattan; my wooden desk and flesh forearms would have saved my life in such an event for sure.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

More summer doin's

Twice I went to the ballpark this past summer--once to see the Nets lose 11-2, not much of a game but I did run into a law school small section classmate and we compared notes, as I have left the legal profession after a bout of age discrimination at my agency and he is still steadily rising through the ranks of power in the government.  The other time was to watch the Democrats beat the Republicans at their annual intra-party charity game, an event both marred by the shooting earlier of representative Steve Scalise by a crazy man and elevated by the public outpouring of support for Congress as a result and recognition of the heroic actions of the Capitol police officers who prevented a massacre.  (Play ball!)

I answered a 6 am phone call to discover that a friend and neighbor who was sick had suddenly and unexpectedly died.  He was laid to rest in a peaceful cemetery in bustling 7-corners after a beautiful ceremony at the Catholic church.  Two people at work passed suddenly earlier this year as well and workmates gathered to pay their respect and celebrate the lives of Dave and Dana.  (...and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.)

I went to several museums which I had always formerly just run by, like the subterranean African Museum which has its entrance in Katies Garden, the Museum of Natural History, the Air and Space Museum, the National Gardens and the National Art Museum.  (The Wind Sail outside the African Museum.)

What I didn't do was run a single mile, as my Achilles strain slowly, very slowly healed, or perhaps just got better to a degree.  What I did do was take a tour of the Capitol which I hadn't done since the visitors center was constructed, or perhaps ever.  Although I kept up with my tour group (required), more or less, I wandered around its edges seeking out the 13 or so endangered CSA statues reputed to be on display inside (each state gets to present two statutes), spotting for sure at least five of these odes to slavery and secession.  (Bobby Lee.)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Summer's Gone

Well, summer's done now and my injuries are getting better to the point where I can start thinking about when, or if, I'll get back to running.  Meanwhile, it was a summer that seemed to pass me by with plenty of business that I was engrossed in but no trips, except to visit a vineyard out by Leesburg with a friend.  (A Rose.)

I did manage to visit some museums in the District which I hadn't been inside of in years.  I had some lunches, and walks, or both, with friends.  (My running buddy friend from my former workplace.)
I did my annual Billy Goat Trail hike with a friend, and saw some movies, the best of which was Dunkirk, a noisy but emotion-laden film which underscored the cost, horror and travail of war.  I clomped around in a boot trying to heal my achilles strain, and saw a couple of ballgames, one at which I saw an old law school classmate unexpectedly.  (The Museum of Natural History.)
Now that I'm looking ahead to fall, when my sore back gets better maybe I'll take my long-promised car trip or sign up for more volunteering in the Virginia governor's race or read more than a book every other month.  Or maybe I'll do nothing at all except go to DC occasionally.  (The cool atmosphere inside the National Gardens.)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Summer's Almost Gone

The summer is over, and I haven't been running since May, although I have gotten into the District a bit and seen some places and friends.  Here is the bright summer sky reflected off the tranquil waters of the Haines Point channel across from the DC waterfront.

I recently went in for lunch with a couple of my former running buddies and we took a walk instead and went to the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum.  We've all fallen off the running wagon due to injuries but at least Katie, on the left, hikes miles and miles on national park trails out west where she now lives and Leah, on the right, plays ice hockey twice a week.

I went to Great Falls with a friend, and we hiked its trails and enjoyed views of the rugged falls on the upper Potomac River.  It's not the District but it is a nearby national park.

I enjoyed lunch of all the fixin's from a nearby BBQ shack with my former colleague Leah at a new waterfront park in DC near the Marina.  A running group came through and stopped to do calisthenics in the park before running off, which made us feel guilty as we ate our chicken and beans.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

More books

The year is slipping away! A blue funk, since November 9th last year.  Way back in May I posted that last year I read 14 books, two of which were entirely inconsequential (light reading by the same historian on the history of World War One and World War Two using the same minimal outline for both), and listed the six most significant (to me) works in ascending order (Oswald's Tale, Silas Mariner, Death of a Salesman, Jane Eyre, True Grit, Agnes Grey).

I've been trying to get away in the last couple of years from reading recent history almost exclusively and get back into literature.  So now that I have listed the six most impressive (to me) books I read last year, here are the next half dozen:

Case Closed-Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK by Gerald Posner (1993).  Yep, Lee Harvey Oswald did it.  I've visited the sniper's perch on the 6th floor of the Texas Book Depository and that street below where the presidential motorcade was crawling away below the sniper-scoped viewpoint of the assassin is a killing zone.  Couldn't miss.  That, of course, doesn't explain how the perfect storm of events came together that led this derelict of history at that moment to be there ready to kill this historical figure.  I'll note that his Russian wife Marina was probably a KGB operative, and Kruschev was humiliated by Kennedy in the Cuba showdown that threatened to eradicate all human life on the planet.  I read this tome while recovering from double hernia surgery.

Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era 1910-1917 by Arthur Link (1954).  Woodrow Wilson was a near near-great American president, who accomplished many things, many of which were good.  He was also a racist.  I have learned not to comment on the Internet about presidents who owned slaves or were clearly racists.  So...Zip the Lip.

Yoni: Hero of Entebbe by Max Hastings (1979).  Don't know what Entebbe was?  Look it up.  Yoni was the revered older brother of the current Israeli prime minister, and he died at Entebbe and his nation mourned.

The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede (2002).  A heart-tugging book about how the inbound travelers to the USA from overseas had to scramble on September 11, 2001 and in the week that followed, when US airspace was closed on that tragic day.  The eastern-most international airport in North America, in Canada, which had been relegated to backwater status after the Cold War (the US basically built it so its forces could quickly deploy to Europe) and the town reverted to about 2,000 close-knit residents who mostly maintained this world-class airport.  About 120 jumbo jets landed there on September 11th and 12,000 refugees overran the isolated town's resources immediately.  You think the Canadians didn't cope, take care of and welcome these confused, fearful travelers?  Think again.  O Canada!

Dieppe by Harold Palin (1978).  Don't know what Dieppe was?  Oh, never mind.  This is an account of the armed incursion that presaged Operation Overlord two years later.  It was a disaster but O Canada!

The Interloper-Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union by Peter Savodnik (2013).  A portrait of newly-weds, and Russian agents in the apartments next door and the recordings that came out of their planted bugs.  Did they capture the full breadth of the first days of these two "lovebirds" (one was abusive, the other was an agent), because the Minsk agents knocked off at 12PM.  Two years later Lee Harvey Oswald slew the president of Russia's greatest adversary, and his wife knew nothing about it!  Yeah.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The final dental visit

The third and final trip to the dentist this year, to get the new permanent crown put in, came two weeks after the temporary crown was put in.  Again, it capped a tooth which had had a root canal done so I declined the offer of novocaine before the dentist went to the drill to clean off the stump, remove the temporary cement from the site and clear out or enlarge the pinhole the post in the crown was going to fit into.

The dentist remarked that the crown with a short wire rod jutting out below it, much like the old crown which had been unusable, was a thing of the past and he hadn't even trained in dental school last decade on its use.  Cements were so much better now, he indicated.

But he dropped it in, worked on tamping it down into the hole (I suggested at one point that he just use a rubber mallet) and got it seated perfectly.  Two months later I haven't had a hint of a problem with it.

I was pleased that the 40 minutes or so had not produced the dreaded jolt.  The bill for the three hours of work came to over $2,000, my insurance costing about $40 a month paid about $40 of it, and the good dentist charged off most of it as a courtesy.  I paid the rest.  I'll see my new dentist again when I have my next dental emergency, hopefully not for years.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Dental, day two

The second day of dental work after a crown come out on July 4th was uneventful although protracted.  The first attempt at a permanent mold wasn't successful because I couldn't keep my jaw bite still enough for the entire five minute setting period, so evidently it got some bubbles in it.  Another five minute period was ordered up, which evidently was satisfactory this time around.

I remember a lot of drooling, due to all the stuff I had in my mouth for minutes at a time.  I wondered where the tiny swing-away porcelain sink was which my former dentist had.  Nowadays they do a lot of vacuuming up of saliva, give you tissues to wipe your chin with and if necessary to get grit out of your mouth, a dixie cup half full of water with which you can drink, swish and swirl, spit back into and give back to the tech.

Then I sat through a couple of sittings for settings for the temporary crown (I must have moved my jaw again and introduced bubbles on the first time), it was cemented in and I was done for two weeks while the mold was sent away to the lab so a permanent crown could be made.  There was no drilling this time, except for some rasping and buzzing with a dull bit to remove the excess cement or clay or play-dough or whatever they used in the oral cavity.

I once used a temporary crown for fourteen months while I gathered enough money to come in to sit for a mold for a permanent crown.  There isn't any dental insurance in this country that is worthwhile so dental work tends to be on a pay-as-you go basis, if you do it at all.  My last dentist told me just before she retired that she knew me as an emergency-basis-only client, a challenge overtime I walked through the door.  She was the best, but I was liking Nick already because of his dedication, care and solicitous nature.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

More dental, day one.

The twenty-six year old crown with a post that had been wrenched out by chewing on a cold snickers bar was formerly over a ground-down tooth that had my first root canal in it.  Back in the eighties, that procedure turned into a gruesome two-week process for me.  I think it was that dentist's first root canal and several times as I was deep in the chair hearing the electric whine of the drill and smelling the smoke of pulverizing bone, I drew back as an electric shock raced through my jaw.

This always annoyed that dentist and after the obligatory, "Did you feel that?" he'd jab some more novocaine into the back of my mouth.  If the jolt happened again during that session, he'd always dismiss me for a day or two and have me come back later.  This went on for two weeks before the root canal was finished, a time I'll always remember, and I had so many novocaine shots in my mouth that my mouth hurt like, well, the living pincushion it was.

Back in the present, the dental tech lightly placed the old crown into place, saw that it fit, took it out and went to get the dentist.  He repeated that process, saw that it fit perfectly and tightly, and tried to get it back out.  That turned into a struggle that ended with the porcelain bullet finally popping out of the confined space and the suddenness of its release caused him to drop it by accident into my mouth with my face facing upwards and my jaws stretched wide open.

I have always feared something dropping down my throat during a dental procedure but I deftly swept the crown into my cheek with my tongue, where the dentist fished it out.  After the vacant place was filled with cement, there followed a long series of unsuccessful attempts to get the crown back  into place so that it seated correctly.  The fit was too tight and eventually the dentist told me that we would have to create a new crown.  He then ground the tooth stump down a little to clean it off, after asking me if I wanted novocaine although assuring me that I shouldn't feel anything because of the root canal.  I declined the shot and waited nervously as he worked with the drill in my mouth but he was right and I didn't feel any jolts.

So that was the end of day one and I was scheduled to come in to create a mould the next day, as my visit had already consumed 90 minutes.  The doctor asked me if I wanted a prescription for valium to allay my discomfort and anxiety but I turned that down by joking that a staff shot of bourbon would do just fine.  He laughed and said, "Well, we shouldn't be celebrating just yet because we still have work to do."

Friday, September 8, 2017


"Do you have your Safeway card?"
"Yeah, sure. Here it is."
"What's this? It's a library card."
"Oh, I brought the wrong card in from the car."

"Well, enter your phone number, that'll work."
"Okay. This probably means that my Safeway card wouldn't work at the library."
"That's what I'm thinking too. Here's your receipt."

"Thanks, and would you do me a favor?"
"What's that?"
"Please don't tell anyone that I read books. It could ruin my reputation."

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Labor Day 2017

Labor Day 2017 was a beautiful day, heralding the end of summer.  The weather was nice, but the news was and has been disastrous.

Are we going to nuclear war in Korea?  According to our leading luminary, "We'll see."

A noontime meal of pizza took my mind off the endless cycle of news we've had since January 20th.  There's the latest news cycle featuring the current weather devastation stories that Harvey has struck and Irma is coming, but fortunately climate change is merely a Chinese hoax, and the news today about the Dreamer's program ending, negatively impacting immigration, so I wonder where the labor is going to come from that's going to restore Houston and surrounding coastal communities to habitability.

On November 8th last year, I spent an 18-hour day down in Newport News poll-watching to facilitate and ensure a fair election.  I didn't figure, however, on a laser-focused and successful Russian interference in our electoral process and now as our late summer ends with ominous clouds on our horizon, I remember waking up at 3 a.m. on November 9th to a blaring TV with the announcer intoning that Donald Trump is our new president, and I can now recognize that my immediate and incredulous foreboding at that moment was justified, because I believe now that from that moment forward nothing is ever going to be the same again.

Monday, September 4, 2017

See ya, or be ya

September 5, 2016.

Labor Day 2015.

Labor Day 2014.

The 1990s.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Back to the dentist, day one

The dental technician was familiar to me from all the trips to the dentist I took in the fall of 2015 when I had over $6,000 worth of dental work done, and she got me seated in the chair and presently the new dentist came in to say hello and assess the situation.  He had read my health condition update and asked about my running, which I said was on hold for the foreseeable future while I healed from an achilles strain.

I noted from reading the plaques on his wall that he had graduated in 2011 from SUNY Buffalo dental school and I told him that I'd traveled to Buffalo several times during my last two years at work for cases and I thought it was a grand old city, although it tended to be a little cold (all my trips seemed to occur in the winter).  I also noted that he'd done his dental internship at a hospital in Syracuse and asked if he'd commuted to there from Buffalo or moved there, because it seemed to me that it was hours away.  He said he had moved there for his internship and it sounded like pretty interesting stuff--being on call at the emergency room and being brought in to treat smashed teeth from fights or teeth driven into the jaw or cheekbone from a car wreck.

That was an education, he told me, and he got a faraway, nostalgic look on his face as he thought about (not so) old times dealing with true emergencies.  I didn't know dentists did internships in hospitals because I never imagined hospitals dealt with acute dental problems but if you think about it, they must see terrible dental mishaps lots of times that they're not equipped to handle.  The ER doctors might save your life, but not your teeth.

And now the good doctor was ready to deal with reinserting an old but intact crown and that didn't seem like it was going to be interesting, challenging or hard for him, not like in the olden days when he saw teeth displaced by force and driven into strange places.  The good news was that we were already on a first name basis, Nick and Pete, but the bad news was that about four hours of being in the chair spread out over three days in the next fortnight was only getting started.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

In the dentist chair again

On July 4th, a hot, sultry day, I thought it'd be a grand idea to cool off by having a chilled Snicker's bar, purchased from the cooler at the drugstore across the street from where I had a holiday lunch.  By my second bite into the hard, cloying mass, I was thinking it might not be a good idea to keep eating it because lesser things have pulled crowns out of my mouth before.

One more bite, a totally ill-advised one obviously, a tentative bite spurred on mostly by the thought that I'd just spent $2 on this confection, and a crown that was installed over a root-canaled tooth in 1988 was now in my hand, metal post at its base and all.  But it was intact, and maybe it could simply be cemented back in.

I didn't know it, but I was destined to be in the dentist's chair three times over the next fortnight on this emergency dental condition.  But now I had dental insurance, so I'd get to discover how effective it would prove to be because having a crown come out, or having a new, necessary crown put in, was surely a procedure that dental insurance would cover.

Two days later, I was in the chair with a new dentist, because my former dentist retired after 20 years of inspired dentistry in service of me, and forty years of service to the underserved public.  The new dentist was recommended by her, about 8 years from dental school, very personable, apparently concerned about me and very knowledgeable about mouth matters, and I was going to get the opportunity in the coming two weeks to get to know him much better.

Saturday, August 5, 2017


I've had dental work done lately. Check out my 2015 posts, late in the year, for my recounting of having thousands of dollars of dental work done, based upon emergency conditions.

The fact that then I paid for it entirely out of my pocket (and didn't ever go to the dentist except when something bad happened) reflects upon the American health insurance for-profit industry, which is genuflecting at the altar of profiting obscenely from people's misfortune.  Dental insurance is known to be practically useless, which matters because the condition of your mouth can presage your body's general overall condition or imminent decline, as any dentist of reputable status knows.

This most recent time I had dental insurance, from GEHA, and it paid $77 in amelioration of over $2K worth of dental work.  Dental insurance did I say?  I pay about $39 per month for this, ahem, insurance.

My dentist retired in 2015, and then, before she left her practice, we took on the condition of my mouth and fixed all those cracked teeth which were apparently ready to shatter.  I had for years been going to her (on an emergency basis) because she was good and she was also was one of the few dentists in my life who had never hurt me.

That is, until my last last 2 visits, when she minimized my pain to, I suppose, an acceptable level as she fit the last last crown on an uncooperative tooth resisting the influence of novocain as it was being shaved to accommodate the fitting.  (Brzzz!)  I admired Dr. Rye because she was only thinking of my welfare and didn't run up the score and do unneccessary procedures or charge me excessively.  We also sometimes talked about our kids, who played soccer together way back when.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Rough 'em Up

The Acting Administrator of the DEA, Chuck Rosenberg, released a memo earlier this week instructing his employees to disregard the president's recent admonition to police officers to not be "nice" to suspects any more and instead rough 'em up a bit.  Director Rosenberg directed DEA personnel to always adhere to the "Rule of Law, Respect and Compassion, Service, Devotion, Integrity, [and] Accountability" in their interactions with the public, whether they be an arrestee, suspect, witness or victim.

I couldn't agree more with Mr. Rosenberg.  I was a police officer for nine years before I went to law school, two years as a sheriff's deputy at a county jail as transportation officer and director of the medium security unit, and seven years as a State Trooper, working nights on solitary patrol in remote parts where back-up often was 20 or 30 minutes away.

Mr. Rosenberg's pithily-stated directive is a much more efficient, productive and humane model for police work than the crassly stated screed of our president at the Suffolk County Police Academy graduation ceremony last week, with its the throwback appeal to bygone times.  Its successful application, as a first and foremost approach, acts to calm situations rather than escalate them, and I ought to know, that's how I conducted myself, to the best of my ability, those several years when I was a peace officer on patrol, tamping down heightened situations during scores of DUI and warrant arrests and several high speed chases and one gun discharge situation, and I never had a fight nor fired my weapon, except once to dispatch a grievously injured deer when no animal control officer was on duty.

I know Mr. Rosenberg personally and he is is no partisan advocate on one side of the political spectrum or the other.  He was in my small section at law school and I had many long conversations with him there, and I ran into him earlier this year and spoke lengthily with him then, and he is a devoted, apolitical public servant imbued with principles, who swears fealty to no man, loyal only to institutions and the truth.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


The current issue of The Atlantic has an interesting article about nuclear brinkmanship by Mark Bowden, Can North Korea Be Stopped?  Bowden is the author of the best battle book I've ever read, Blackhawk Down about the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.

During the current president's term, the rogue nation North Korea is likely to obtain nuclear missiles it can deliver to the US mainland.  I live in Washington DC, so it's less of a concern for me as the residents of Los Angeles.  It's about 7800 miles from North Korea to DCA, and "only" about 5800 miles to LAX, probably a reachable distance for North Korean nuclear-tipped missile in a few years, or maybe months.  North Korean leader, the semi-god dictator for life Kim Jong-Un, has assured America that he will create a "sea of fire" here, or in Japan, South Korea or elsewhere for transgressions against the sovereignty of North Korea that his fevered mind perceives or conjures up. Apparently it's personal, because the Young One wants to stay in power for life and he intends to do this with a nuclear arsenal and a fevered populace whipped into a frenzy of rhapsodic xenophobia by fiery state-controlled rhetoric.

People of Los Angeles, do you want your personal safety to rest in the palm of President Trump's hand?  Unless you're related to him, do you think he has your best interests in mind?  But it is him who will act upon this threat, or not act. And the issue will be resolved by 2020, I am sure, one way or another.  The likely outcomes to me seem to line up along three main possibilities: a bombastic nuclear North Korea to be dealt with (acquiescence), a nuclear, chemical or biological desert somewhere (the light military option, turning the screws a little more tightly, with unpredictable results), or a vassal state in North Korea controlled by America, South Korea or China, with millions of Asians and thousands of Americans dead with possibly still an ongoing war or world war (the heavy military option).

Bowden lays out four options for the US, based upon the certainty that North Korea, in its current state, will never give up its nuclear program or ambitions because the Young One views this as essential to its, or his, survival.  None of the realistic options are good, as Bowden points out.

Prevention envisions a massive military strike suddenly launched by the US either with or without South Korea that a) would be a surprise to the Hermit Kingdom of the north; b) hopes China would idly stand by; c) involves Seoul, 40 miles south of the DMZ, being subjected to hours or days of massive artillery bombardment with horrendous casualties (not to mention Tokyo being subjected to a missile, or nuclear, attack by the north only about 800 miles away) and d) imagines everything going like clockwork (no fog of war) and that the North Korean army doesn't escape to Manchuria or the mountains of North Korea (or South Korea) to form a formidable guerrilla army.  It is unimaginable that this option would go well, even if the US could sneak a million soldiers into South Korea along with several air fleets and many naval units offshore and the South Koreans would cooperate, even if that meant merely standing by (their people would suffer the most).

Turning the Screws is the military option lite.  It imagines limited but aggressive military responses to provocations like bombing nuclear production sites whenever a test missile is fired or a nuclear device is detonated (tested).  An attempt at altering the north's state of mind and behavior with a firm cause/effect infliction of force.  It's hardly likely that this approach would work and either North Korean behavior probably wouldn't change one whit except to become even more determined or insidious, and it could easily and quickly slide into the scenario outlined above, only without the surprise start.

Decapitation is a third alternative being considered.  Take out the Young One with a pinpoint strike of some sort and hope that a more reasonable leader would assume power who could be pressured or bought off or reasoned with to abandon nukes.  This seems highly unlikely because it's not like we could send a drone over to drop a bomb on the North Korean leader (it would be shot down) and the US doesn't send suicide squads out (this would be more complicated than the ill-fated mission to rescue the Teheran hostages under President Carter, which doomed his presidency).  If such an attempt was made and it failed, the response from North Korea would probably be entirely unpredictable and disproportionate.  This is the stuff of a spy novel thriller, not the real world.  Bowden implies that a better option than trying to kill the Young One is to wait and hope he'll die in the meantime from being so obese so young and the fact that he comes from a family with a history of heart afflictions and strokes.

Acceptance is the last option, and the most likely to occur, if by nothing else, with the passage of time.  It's the inevitable or immutable occurrence, dealing with an armed and bristling North Korea like we deal with a hostile Russia and an inscrutable China, through the time-tested resort to MAD (mutually assured destruction) because we could annihilate North Korea with a nuclear strike and for the foreseeable future, even if the reclusive nation could hurt us, it can't destroy us.  North Korea is a real problem, and could conceivably be the source of ending life as we know it, but Bowden's choice, and I guess mine, seems to be to just deal with it.  Unless we are ready to have millions die due to an action we undertook.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Happy Birthday!

It was a Friday evening, and I was there on the sidewalk outside her (our) house, adhering to the sidewalk rule (if you go onto the porch and knock on the door, the police are likely to come sirening down the street 2 minutes later in response to a specious 9-11 call that you're enraged and breaking down the door), awaiting any action to my call to voicemail announcing that I was here to pick up my children for visitation pursuant to a longstanding court order.  Out of the gloam, their mother, Sharon, came down the cement stairs from the house to the sidewalk, with her date trailing behind, as is customary with her menfolk.

"What are you doing here?"  "I'm here to pick up my children for weekend visitation, because this is my time to be with them pursuant to the court order governing this, and I expect them to be here ready to go with me."

"Well, I made them ready to go with you but they refused to come out so you can leave."  In my opinion, she lied (again) because the house behind her was totally dark.

"Come on," she ordered to the man hanging back behind her, "let's go."  He came down the stairs upon her command and got into the driver's seat of the vehicle at the curb as she climbed into the passenger side while I retreated (in order to not present a "menacing" appearance; if you get divorced, this crap will become standard fare soon enough if the woman plays the female victim card as Sharon fallaciously did, and for long while she got the advance to go card) to the asphalt fifteen feet behind this vehicle.

I practically always carry a camera.  It was out, and charged, ready to snap a picture.

The vehicle came to life; it had twelve or more feet in front of it to put it out into the traffic lane going forward, unobstructed.  I was a State Trooper for seven years and I pay attention to these sort of details.

The back-up lights came on the vehicle and it roared backwards.  I was transfixed in place with fear as the 2-ton metal monster closed the distance to me rapidly.

 Well, the man killing machine didn't back over me, and the frightfully close steel behemoth was thrust back into drive at the last moment and driven away.  Hey birthday boy, what happened in the cab at that moment, if that was you dating this covert narcissist (in my opinion) that night, did you actually choose your own course finally at the last split-second, or did you just chicken out in your (perhaps commanded) aggression?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A boot and a crown

So the Dog Days of Summer arrived.  I'm in a boot now, because of an achilles strain I incurred while running (the doctor said, "If the boot doesn't work, I'll refer you to the surgeon.") so I'm just sitting around getting fat.

I went in to the District once to have lunch with my past and hopefully future running buddy, since I'm currently incapacitated and haven't run in months.  The Fourth of July arrived, and at noon I went to the Lost Dog Cafe for lunch.

Nobody I recognized came in.  But how would I know what my children would look like anyway, since I have never laid eyes on any of them even once when they were of majority age.

After lunch with the empty chair, I strolled around outside while I called a sibling, and a friend.  Then since I was hot, I purchased a refrigerated Snicker's Bar from the drugstore and while chewing on that semi-hard nougat mass, I pulled out a crown, one put in just two years ago.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Dad's Day 2017

On the day following the recovery of one of my middle son's little black plastic toy soldiers from the yard, where Johnny had left him behind two decades earlier at the conclusion of some see-saw backyard battle between armies (probably darkness interposed), it was Father's Day so as usual on special days when I am around, I went for lunch at noon at the Lost Dog Cafe in the eternal hope that one of those bad boys of mine would show up so we could get on with the rest of our lives in some form of association with each other, starting that day. You know, reinstate the paternal relationship that was torn away extrajudicially by their mother and her coterie of "professionals," in my opinion, a decade and a half ago during the lengthy divorce when they were vulnerable minors through the imposition of parental alienation syndrome, a form of brainwashing through clever, lengthy and insidious manipulation.

I know this is a broken record, or in today's lingo, a stuck DVD.  But the pain, though lessened after a decade of radio silence from all three, doesn't go away.

In my opinion, my pain would be a delight to their mother and she succeeded in destroying their three childhoods in her enlistment of those vulnerable children in her visceral and beyond-the-bounds-of-decency unrelenting campaign to destroy me.  Divorce in the west!

I was sad that no child of mine showed up to wish me a happy Father's Day, again.  Maybe next time!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Frogman

It returned to my world on the day before Father's Day.  A fighting frogman, a black plastic warrior long buried in the mossy gravel of the driveway, hidden away for almost two decades.

My middle son, Johnny, whom I haven't spoken with nor heard from since 2004, used to play with plastic army men in the yard when he was little.  His mother used to say he was the most like me of my 3 sons; I used to play interminably with green (and tan) little plastic army men when I was little.

I ran into his mother, my ex, on a public sidewalk a couple of years ago and asked her if Johnny was alive, well, married, had children, and where he lived, because I don't know the answer to any of those 5 questions.  She stonily refused to answer even a single word, and I walked away having confirmed, in my mind, that she was the destructive covert narcissist I had come to discover her to be, in my opinion.

It's ironic that this soldier returned to the fold on the eve of Father's Day, to be placed on the shelf in Johnny's bedroom with 4 or 5 other toy soldiers who have come home in a similar fashion over the years.  Perhaps someday the prodigal son, his will having been overborne by his mother and her coterie of accomplices during the lengthy divorce when he was a vulnerable minor, in my opinion, will return to the fold also.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Day In The Life Of A Trooper

A friend recently sent me a Red Skelton sketch where he joked about two state patrolmen stopping a very careful driver for a good driver award, only to find out that he was driving so carefully because he was totally inebriated and didn't want to draw attention to himself.  That skit reminded me of one of the most memorable DUI arrests I made when I was a state trooper three decades ago, an arrest that I call my hi-tech bust. 

One night just east of Boulder on the Denver-Boulder Turnpike, Highway 36, I topped the long incline leading out of Boulder and saw the long sweep of congested traffic below me on the long decline flowing towards Broomfield.  Since there was no possibility of catching an opposing speeder because of the median wall separating the two sides, I flipped off my radar unit. Half a mile away on the long decline I saw brake lights go off. 

Intrigued, I flipped the radar unit back on and the brake lights went on again and stayed on.  I flipped the unit off, and the taillights returned to normal. 

I increased my speed and weaved through traffic until I caught up with the car whose driver I had observed driving strangely, dragging his brakes whenever my radar unit was on, and I flipped on the unit again.  The brake lights came on and stayed on, in conformity with my radar unit's operation. 

The driver was hemmed in by the vehicular volume and driving along with the slower flow of traffic.  Since his lengthily dragging his brakes indicated erratic driving, I pulled him over.

I asked for his driver's license and registration and asked if he had a radar detector in his vehicle.  He confirmed that he did.  

Detecting the odor of alcohol on his breath and noting his slurred speech and bloodshot eyes, I asked him to step out into the space between our cars and administered a roadside sobriety exam.  He failed them entirely and I arrested him.

 As I transported him back to the Boulder jail, he demanded to know why I'd stopped him.   I was so proud of my "hi-tech" probable cause stop that I told the 10-55 how it was that i noticed him.

I explained that I had noticed that whenever I energized my radar unit, obviously his radar detector sounded its alarm and he apparently automatically put his foot on his brakes as a reflex action and kept it there until his detector stopped sounding off, at which point he obviously took his foot off his brakes and stopped dragging them.  Never try to explain anything that's even slightly complicated to a drunk, because for the rest of the ride to jail he kept screaming that I'd arrested him for having a radar detector and didn't I know that they were legal in Colorado! 

I did know that radar detectors were perfectly legal in Colorado and I tried to patiently explain that he was under arrest for DUI, not possession of a radar detector.  My attempts at ameliorating his agitation were unsuccessful and I was sorry that I'd broken my usual rule of deflection and answered his question honestly.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Memorial Day

I heard the rumble of thunder as thousands of motorcycles approached the capital on Saturday and I knew that it was Memorial Day weekend.  Rolling Thunder was rolling into town from all points west.

Early on Sunday morning I went to an overlook and viewed hundreds of motorcyclists rolling into the District from their overnight perches nearby, preparatory to rolling up and down Pennsylvania Avenue all day in honor of the KIAs in our endless wars and in hope of reclaiming our hundreds of MIAs.  It rolls by the Vietnam Wall which embodies the true cost of our nearly incessant conflicts.

There are members of my family who sacrificed for all of us in some of the wars, my father (the Pacific War), uncle Harry (Pacific War), Uncle Bill (Pacific War), Uncle Bob (Mediterranean War), Grandfather (North Atlantic in WWI) and brother (Beirut).  Fortunately they all returned intact, at least physically.

On Memorial Day at noon I went for lunch at my usual spot.  The food was good, the beer was delicious, and the company was nonexistent.

Maybe Father's Day.  ;-)