Dern ye, ya shoulda taken d’pie

When I was fifteen, I worked as a cook for The Viking Village Smorgasbord on Snelling Ave in St. Paul, MN. It’s not there anymore and someone long ago turned the building into a furniture store. A few decades have passed since I last clocked in, but a few stories stick vividly in my brain as if they happened only yesterday.

In “The Cities,” as we were wont to say, we prided ourselves on being urbane, but we were surrounded by the State of Minnesota that had its share of dirt farmers. On this particular weeknight, a farm couple wandered in for dinner. He was wearing his best overalls and she, her best go-to-church Sunday dress. Neither had very many teeth, their faces were ruddy with sun and wind and their hands gnarled from years of manual farm work. They held all the cash they were going to spend in The Cities in their hands. Maybe it was all they had left, maybe all they started out with or everything they planned on spending but you could tell it wasn’t much.

….

Happily ever after; why the dogs were humping in Mad Men

Humping dogs from Mad Men

Humping dogs from Mad Men

A while back, a friend of mine asked me what I thought was the purpose of life. “To ensure the survival of our species, nothing greater,” was my reply. To him, that sounded incredibly sad but for me, it is incredible pragmatic with a sense of ultimate clarity of purpose.

I still believe that and believe also that it can be expanded out to cover the whole condition of the human animal with this simple formula:

Step one; create.
Step two; develop and nurture.
Step three; release, let go.
Step four; repeat.

Whether we’re talking about raising kids, writing a book, building a bridge, mentoring a protégé, composing a song or any of the thousands of things human beings do, the formula remains the same. Create-nurture-release-repeat.

Where people get hung up (yeah, pun intended) is when they become scared of step four or hang too long onto step two and never pull the trigger on step three or never even start step one. Throughout season five of Mad Men, this has been the theme; the journey each character takes through each of these steps on the way to letting go and starting over, to sharing their creation with the rest of the species to ensure its survival. Some made it through the formula while others got caught up in the tentacles of one or more of the steps.

When Matt Weiner puts a two-second scene of two dogs humping out on the sidewalk, you bet we’re gonna notice. You bet we’re gonna write about it. While some have called the scene “completely unnecessary” and put in as a “cheap attempt at soliciting a reaction,” I disagree. Two seconds of airtime is just way too expensive to just “throw in a couple of dogs shagging each other” for the heck of it. I say the scene sums up the meaning of the season perfectly.

Hear me out.

It would be easy to say the humping dogs symbolizes that the old Don is back, but that is missing the mark. I think the dogs humping in the parking lot symbolizes nature’s way of forcing a species to start something that they will need to nurture (nurse), let go and repeat. Dogs do this in a care-free, almost matter-of-fact way. To a pair of dogs in a parking lot, the act of copulation is neutral; it has no moral value. Its only purpose is to ensure the survival of their species.

The activity will eventually result in a litter, which will be nursed along until the pups are ready to be nudged out on their own. The mother’s job will be over and they will go forth and be “successful” on their own without her. She will then repeat the process with another litter.

This is Don’s role. When he was younger, creating, nurturing, releasing and starting over was easy, especially when it was only him. But these days, the formula includes other people. As he is aging, he is also forming attachments that are harder and harder for him to let go. But in true Don Draper stoic style, he finds a way and when he does, he closes the door and moves on even as he cares deeply and honestly about everyone with whom he gets involved.

When Don watches Megan’s screen test, he is not going through the act of falling in love with her all over again or realizing she really is perfect for the part. What he is doing is realizing he has fallen in love with the two-dimension, celluloid version of Megan. The “real Megan” is far more complicated, far more damaged than stylized, acting Megan. In that moment of clarity, Don realized he had hung on to her too long. He realizes that for her to grow, he needed to let her go on without him. That light-headedness was not the smoke in the room, or the sadness in his heart, but relief. He does the right thing even if nobody will ever know he did, even if the right thing looked to the outside world like two dogs humping in a parking lot.

Real life has no happily ever after. It just has a never-ending cycle. But it is it’s purpose.

Celebrating National Donut Day

Friday, June 1st, 2012 was National Donut Day. We didn’t grub for free donuts at the Dunkin’ Donuts or KrispyKreme. Instead, we headed out to the quality shop at Ulbrich’s Bakery on Main in Englewood and paid full price. (no website!!)

And unlike many people who shoved their fried baked goods into their cake holes and plopped their wide butts into an office chair for eight hours, we went for a good run in the park following our indiscretion. We have to stay trim; there are ducks about to chase and we can’t afford to be slow! (Sorry, we have no pictures of the park run. Apparently when you break apart creme-filled donuts for three hungry dogs, there is a slight danger of getting all this gooey goodness smeared on the camera lens. Nice soft-glow effect, though.)

Did you celebrate National Donut Day? Tell us about it in the comments below.

This is us on our way to the donut place. Zoey is navigating.
This is the sign from God that translates "Turn Here. But only on donut day."
Donut evidence. I like the juxtaposition of the human foot and the dog foot. Besides, I have not used juxtaposition in a long while.
Zoey eating a donut
Charlie eating a donut. He is a shy eater. He'll get right up in your face to bark, though.
Sallie begging for more. She knows there is more. She's the smart one.

Don Draper and potted plants

When I worked at a major retailer many, many, many years ago we would get regular deliveries of potted plants in the spring. They would come in on trailers from some place south and everyone would gather at the dock and help unload them. They were always huge and green — large palms, ficus trees, dieffenbachias — planted in gallon pots and sold for $19.99 or some other low price. Having spent the previous five months buried in the snows of Minnesota, customers were eager for anything green.

The plants sold quickly. They also died quickly.

Apparently, the grower would force the leafy part of the plant to grow quickly and not care about the roots. He made money on quick turn of the product, not on the health of the plant. He knew the big, lush greenery would sell. He didn’t care how long they lasted.

“All of this for such a cheap price? Wow, that would look great in my apartment!”

As I watched “The Other Woman” episode of Mad Men this past Sunday, that lesson leapt into my head.

Taking short-cuts work for short-term results. Anyone who has ever worked in the online space has probably had constant battles with the “SEO v Quality Content” arguments, knowing full-well that a dedicated SEO effort with back links and “black hat” stuff will produce quick results. We know that we will have to defend the “quality content” argument against the seemingly successful SEO push as the client’s site hits page one of Google at a meteoric rise. But we know equally well that the page will drop like a stone once the effort is stopped.

We are rarely given the chance to defend the quality position as the client gets busy popping the champagne cork in celebration.

We know the plant will die because it does not have the root structure to sustain the leafy green top. That might be ok if the client were a white-label brand selling quick greenery to a cabin-fever-infected audience looking to buy cheap plants. But if the client was in the long-term relationship, quality results business such as selling very expensive cars to an exclusive demographic — where their brand is also on the line — that might prove to be a bit problematic.

This is what Don Draper knows. While many reviews out there focus on the morality of “whoring out Joan” or the role of women in the workplace, the real significance of the “deal” was not lost on Don. He now has to decide how to handle a situation where he is contractually tied to a group of people who are willing to game the system to produce leafy green plants with no root structure to sell to an audience who will buy from the nameless vendor willing to sell the leafiest greenery at the cheapest price. His future is tied to these people and he no longer gets a vote. He is feeling too old, powerless and out-of-touch to just leave.

This is what he is processing in the instant Joan and he exchange looks in Roger’s office. He is not judging Joan; he is assessing everyone else in the office. Joan has won 5% of a leafy green company and Don knows it. That is what is in Don’s eyes.

I’m not quite sure what is in Joan’s.

Visiting London on a Sunday morning

Gerry and London from The UnseenBean Coffee

Gerry and London from The UnseenBean Coffee

“Do you drink coffee?” he asked me eagerly as soon as we shook hands. With a broad smile and cheerful flourish, he was already digging into his bag, giving me a pound of coffee from The UnseenBean.

Gerry (Gerard) Leary was born in 1952 and named after the patron saint of expectant mothers, St. Gerard. He weighed three pounds when he was born and the oxygen used in the incubator during the first few weeks of his life took his sight. Despite his lack of sight, his parents were determined to raise Gerry to be self-sufficient and independent.

“The last ten years of my father’s life, we were like two peas in a pod,” Gerry boasts with a slight chuckle. “But when I was growing up, man….” as his voices drifts off and his face lights up with a broad smile that tells a colorful story full of fond memories of youthful hooliganism.

At 59, he is fearless. He interacts easily with everyone around him and marches forward with as much confidence and conviction as any sighted person.

Gerry grew up and became a mechanic, but about nine years ago, his interests started to wander. As he was having dinner at a San Francisco café, he heard what sounded like a rock tumbler. It was, in fact, a coffee bean roaster. Immediately intrigued, he asked the roastmaster if he could learn to roast beans by sound and smell. Without missing a beat, the roastmaster explained what the roast looked like as the beans turned color. Gerry pieced together the subtle changes in sound and smell to map out a roasting cycle.

Armed with his indomitable confidence he enrolled in the San Francisco Coffee Training Institute to learn the craft of roasting coffee beans, despite the skepticism of the roasting instructors. He couldn’t see the color of the beans as they roasted, but he could smell and hear the change. He outfitted a sample roaster with a talking thermostat made from parts found on the Internet and The Unseen Bean was born. Later as the business grew, he bought a full-sized roaster.

But this was Hamvention weekend and Gerry (WBGIVF) was in town for that. We were curious about his entrée into HAM radio. London, a four-year-old yellow lab and Gerry’s guide dog, was also patiently waiting for us to get to his story. We’ll get there, I promise.

When Gerry was nine years old, he came down with an ear infection which kept him home from school for several weeks. He was driving his dad crazy with boredom, so his dad’s Army buddy gave Gerry an old radio to listen to. It wasn’t long before Gerry’s natural curiosity took hold and he and his dad were taking HAM radio operator classes. By the time he was eleven, Gerry had his license and he could not only listen, but talk on the radio.

“Keep active in the HAM Radio operators’ community,” his dad advised. “You’ll always be in the company of educated, caring and compassionate people.” Each year, Gerry comes to Dayton, Ohio to meet up with his community in person. Each year, they greet him as they would an old friend.

“London is my third dog,” Gerry shared. “I had a setter at first — which didn’t work out — and a black lab named Midnight for nine years after that.” Midnight was diagnosed with cancer and Gerry was faced with the awful decision to put him down. The training facility had another dog — London — but he was three days away from being cycled out of the program. Gerry would have to move fast to get this dog.

Within hours, he had completed the application and London and a trainer were on their way to Gerry’s house. It usually takes three to six months to acclimate the guide dog to a new owner; it only took about thirty seconds for London to jump into Gerry’s lap and then settle at his feet, London’s side snuggled up against his leg.

I takes six months to a year to train a guide dog. Only 40 percent of all dogs who enter a program graduate and are placed. Despite his casual demeanor, London is a dog with exceptional skills.

For more on Gerry Leary, visit his website at http://www.theunseenbean.com, on twitter at @TheUnseenBean or come on down for the next Hamvention and meet him and London in person. You will be inspired by his effervescent personality and quirky sense of humor.

If you have a HAM radio, reach out to WBGIVF. Tell London his Dayton Pack is anxious to meet up with him next year. And the year after… and the year after…

Open letter to the teen who nearly died yesterday in Englewood

Dear teen driving the car on Walnut Street;

You nearly died yesterday because you were impatient and you thought you were owed the right-of-way making a left turn onto National Road.

From page 36 of the Ohio Digest of Motor Vehicle Laws on left hand turns;

Is required to yield the right-of-way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. Prior to engaging a left-hand turn, the driver must wait for oncoming traffic to clear the intersection. One may advance into the intersection as a prelude to turning, provided that no other traffic control devices prohibit this action.

I was the vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. I outweighed you by at least two tons. If I had hit you, one of us would have gone to the hospital and it would not have been me.

You did not have the right-of-way simply because you were waiting longer than I was at the 2-way stop. Yes, I have been where you were, trying to make a left-hand turn onto a busy road at 4:00pm. Yes, the lights in “downtown” Englewood are timed badly, if at all. Yes, it is maddening that others pull up in the opposite direction to make a right-hand turn just as the road looks like it is clearing up.

But your sense of what is fair does not give you the right to punch the gas and pull in front of me simply because you felt it was your turn to go. The traffic laws do not work that way. Life does not work that way. Your sense of fairness nearly cost you your life. Defending traffic laws are not worth dying over.

You are very lucky that I yielded my right-of-way to you, even though I really didn’t have to. I have seen other drivers in my situation who would have pushed their advantage. The look on your face clearly indicated that you thought I was the one in the wrong, so I suspect you learned nothing from our chance encounter. Perhaps by luck, you will read this open letter.

I understand you may not have received as much training as you needed from our local driving school. I know my two kids did not. I also know from experience that the “testing” given by the Ohio Department of Motor Vehicles is not all that hard to pass. A drunken monkey could pass that test. But that really is no excuse to not know some basic right-of-way laws.

Few interactions on the road determine whether you live or die behind the wheel than knowing who has the right-of-way and when. Please learn these laws. And when in doubt, yield the right-of-way and live to drive another day.

It’s not about fair. Ultimately, it’s about surviving other drivers. You should not also have to fight yourself.

Regards,

Rufus Dogg.

Awesome business videos

My BFF Chris Celek started up this really cool service for small businesses to get started using video for their web sites, social media presence, etc. So he calls me up and asks if I wanted to be a guinea pig to test out the cameras, instructions and his final edits.

What?!? A chance to play with toys? I’m all in!

Anyway, we shot some stuff, talked into a mic and sent the whole mess back to Chris, sort of like stuffing a big pile of dog poop into a bag and handing it off to someone else.

And out of that bag of sh….. well, he made this for us. He even gave my editor a cameo.

Awesome!

Incidentally, Awesome Business Videos is where Chris lives. Give him a call. Or a tweet.

Weeds

Dandelion

Dandelion

Take a good look at the photo to the right. What do you see?

Most of us see a dandelion, a vile weed that should be ripped up, poisoned and killed, stomped out and cursed at.

And I did too until just the other day when it occurred to me that I have been looking at dandelions all wrong for a very, very long time.

A dandelion is a fantastic example of nature that refuses to die gracefully, constantly adapting itself to insure its survival in spite of being poisoned with pesticides and maliciously hacked up. We pull the flower, we dig the root and still, year after year, dandelions find a way to reproduce and procreate quickly in abundance. When we dig, they burrow deeper; when we pluck, they seed discreetly. When we poison, they grow resistant.

And when they grow ripe for spreading, their yellow flowers form irresistible wispy orbs that entice children and adults alike to pluck the stem and blow the seeds back into the lawn where they take hold and produce more enduring plants. Before we realize what we have done, the seeds have scattered, destined to take root the next season without fail.

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about exploring the theme, Flowers. To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

I apologize, Governor Kasich

Northmont Kindergarten Sign

Dear Hon. John Kasich, Governor of Ohio;

I apologize for my sight-sightedness with respect to my opposition to your state education budget cuts and SB5, which sought to limit bargaining rights for teachers. Clearly these were bills designed to give smart-ass bloggers like me an endless supply of content for free.

Please forgive my lack of vision. I look forward to the endless bounty of your labors.

I remain your loyal subject,

Rufus Dogg

Northmont Kindergarten Sign

Grab your ankles

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled that it is legal for you to be strip-searched when arrested for any offense, however minor. Moreover, they did not limit the number of times you could be searched and apparently there is no need to even have just cause to conduct the search or searches.

Clearly, the justices have not read the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. For their benefit, I’ve included it below so they don’t have to page through a large law book.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

You may have noticed that “persons” is the first thing listed that we should feel secure about.

A strip search is not conducted to keep the officer safe. It is intended as a humiliation tactic, to make you feel entirely powerless in the company of armed, clothed officers with badges. It is to search what rape is to sex. It is about power — complete, utter, dominating power — over another human being.

I’m not sure why what are supposed to be the best legal minds in the United States can’t see this glaringly obvious fact. I do wonder, though, if people now can be strip-searched, how can we strip-seach a corporation? Where is the anal cavity of a corporation?

The logic appears to be at odds. I’m beginning to think they are making this up as they go.

I can’t imagine what could possibly go wrong.

The naked truth about health insurance

Supreme Court Building

Supreme Court Building

The Supreme Court of the United States of America just listened to three days of argument as to whether or not the recent Affordable Care Act (ACA) is Constitutional. Central to the twenty-six States’ argument is that the Federal government can not compel its citizen to purchase something they they do want to buy.

Like these opponents of the ACA, I have a big problem with the Federal government telling me what I should and should not be buying. But I have an even bigger problem with my fellow citizens who insist on sucking out only the benefits of citizenship without shouldering any of the responsibilities. In short, we should never be at a juncture where the government is forced to make us play nice with each other.

What affects you, affects me. The United States of America is our community and we should never cede control to a government because we can’t figure out how to take care of each other.

Solve that problem and you have a small government.

But I digress.

What we are calling health insurance is not really insurance. It is just a way to pay for health care. Mandating citizens buy health insurance is not at all like forcing them to buy car insurance. Not buying health insurance is an act of denial by some that their bodies will not get sick or injured.

If we want to stick with an automobile metaphor, it is more like being in denial about changing your car’s oil and expecting it to run simply because the oil is healthy today. Ignoring your health care by pretending you will always be healthy only acknowledges you are healthy today but ignores the fact that your body wears over time. Like oil, some bodies break down faster than others. Sometimes, the oil pan gets punctured even when the driver is careful.

In other words, illness and injury are a certitude with a human body. It’s just a matter of when. No business worth a damn capitalizes based on certain loss.

The current health insurance market is unsustainable and the industry knows it. What nobody is saying is that the health insurance companies were unsuccessful at selling insurance to young, healthy people, so they lobbied to get this group covered — and paid for — by their parents. That took care of that group while Medicare takes care of the older group they didn’t want to cover. Now, the only the group left are middle-aged people who are getting fired left and right by employers, thereby getting dropped from coverage.

Individual plans? These are gawd awful expensive for anyone over 45 so most just drop coverage and pray they don’t get cancer or a heart attack. If the ACA is struck down, in ten years there will be nobody left to buy health insurance.

Insurance companies know this.

The ACA gives them 20-30 years to transition their business model. Without it, they probably have fewer than ten years before they will all be frantically merging, trying to pool assets and mitigate losses. The argument against the individual mandate is being driven by the very wealthy, the very healthy and the already Medicare-serviced. Selfish pack of idiots.

You just need to be paying attention halfway with half a brain to figure this out. It just is not that hard. The morality of providing health care or the constitutionality of forcing us to pay for something does not even need to be part of the argument.

The business model is simply unsustainable.

Fannie and her big blue car

Windmill Cookie

Windmill Cookie

We had just moved into the big house on Van Buren Ave. in St. Paul in 1968. There were only four of us kids then, my two younger sisters were still babies. My mom didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood except Fannie, a rather plump, proper lady who lived straight across the alley from us facing Blair Ave. I’m not quite sure how they met, but I think it was at the laundromat that used to be on the corner of Blair and Dale, the one with the 5¢ Coke machine that dispensed glass bottles.

When Fannie walked, her girdle and underthings swished beneath her dress. She always wore a pastel-colored dress, even in the winter. She had white hair that was cut short and gold-framed glasses. I don’t remember her ever smiling, but her face was friendly and pleasant to look at. It was the face of a calming, comfortable grandma.

….

The agony and ecstasy of Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey

On Friday, This American Life retracted the story “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” because it contains fabrications. The press release is here.

I think This American Life should keep the episode available as part of its official history of the show. Without it, we will lose a critical piece of our own historical culture, much the same way we have when we redacted the n-word from works of literature or shelved films that show actors in blackface. Without the episode, we will know where we are, but will have forgotten the steps we took to get here. Without the episode to remind us, we are bound to repeat this error at some time in the future. Moreover — while deeply embarrassing for Ira Glass — it will remain a stark reminder of his duty to respect his “blink” moments.

It is too easy for the journalism community to condemn Mike Daisey as a liar and blame only him for perpetrating this fraud. “It is about trust and truth!” they pontificate. “Without trust, journalism is nothing.”

I don’t know if it is as dire as all that, but I think the issue is about more than just trust. I think what Mike Daisey was able to pull off speaks more about who we are as an American culture than it does about the nature of journalism, truth or trust.

By his own admission, Mike Daisey is a performance artist. The monologue and the story he crafted were always his performance, whether he was on stage in front of an audience, in front of Ira Glass or Ed Shultz. The fact that each of the latter chose to ignore the fact that Mike Daisey was in character and performing was their failing, not his. I’m sure he was just as delighted in duping them as they were delighted to be interviewing him.

The Canon is replete with works by artists and writers who borrow facts heavily to spin their stories. Many times the veracity of the story is never explained as that would ruin the mystery. However, there are hints in each work to suggest that the story — while plausible — is simply not a factual account.

In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce the reader is led to believe that Peyton Farquhar has somehow escaped his hanging. In the middle of his narrative, the more attentive reader will begin noticing some inconsistencies such as the trees lining up in the forest and the shift in point of view. The reader who becomes wedded to Farquhar’s success will miss the subtle cues.

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf does not even bother to hide the fact that she would be lying to the reader. “Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping.” Whether or not there were lies contained in her essay or where they were is up to the reader to decide.

In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne introduces us to the story by way of telling us he found “documents, in short, not official, but of a private nature…I could account for their being included in the heap of Custom-House lumber only by the fact that Mr. Pue’s death had happened suddenly…” and the cloth containing an embroidered scarlet letter. Anyone of the day would have known Hawthorne to be a custom house officer and this accounting plausible. It is only by prefacing the story with The Custom House that made it believable as a historical reckoning. It was, of course, entirely false as was the story of Hester Pryne.

In each of these performances, there were a few details that were just too perfect, just too pat. But the audiences really, really, really needed to believe and each fooled its audience in its time. The cues are what Ira Glass missed. Missing the cues is what is embarrassing him.

Mike Daisey’s performance on This American Life illustrates what he knows intimately about American Culture. Mike Daisey knows the power of story in a highly-charged, desperate culture in the middle of a crises of identity.

We are a culture that will desperately believe in a myth rather than the facts. We want to believe the Olive Garden is authentic Italian food or that what McDonalds puts out as food is actually a hamburger. We believe we are paying the full price of the cell phone service we receive or that books should be free. We believe reality TV is not edited and the indie band we just discovered is authentic and has not been marketed. We believe the music we stole from a locker is justifiably ours because the music industry has been ripping us off for years.

We believe FOX News is really news and not just entertainment wrapped around a set of facts. We believe we can somehow get skinny eating whatever we want without exercising.

We are a culture that believes in a man named Jesus who walked the Earth two thousand years ago and was born of a virgin mother and nailed to a Roman cross to save us from our sins. We believe this so passionately that we are willing to bend non-believers to our will with laws and public shame. We believe this so deeply that we are willing — actually require — the person with the ability to blow up the entire world twenty-seven times over to also believe.

We believe that iPads should cost under $1,000 and blithely turn our attention away from the human and environmental abuses that make that possible. This is what makes a story like Mike Daisey’s plausible, possible and probable. It is the juxtaposition of our deep unease with the reality that people are being exploited with our insatiable need to have cheap stuff that taps our conscience just a little and tells us that Mike Daisey’s story is true, even though it is factually inaccurate.

How could we not know? The truth is, we couldn’t not know. The signs of truth are too blatant.

And we also believe that This American Life is journalism and that journalism does not tell stories. Journalism reports the naked facts, unedited. In reality, Ira Glass is every bit as skilled a storyteller as Mike Daisey is.

For this one episode, Mike Daisey was better. He should never apologize for that.