Monday, October 29, 2018

Is Laughter Truly the Best Medicine?

One of the best things in life is laughter. I am talking about those nearly hysterical, stomach aching, tears-in-your eyes bouts of laughter. If you are lucky, there are people in your life who enter into the hilarity easily and often with you. My daughter is one of my main constituents. It does not take much to set us off.

My friend and coworker Bernie and I often had one another in tears at work, which made it even better because we tried mightily to not let it get to that suffocating level - we were at work in the cube farm! We always failed. Bernie and I maintained a file of newspaper articles we collected of the weirdly absurd - stories we were certain would make the other laugh out loud. Over the years, as it turned out, all of the articles involved drunk people. (What are the odds?) Bernie was a quiet and good-natured man but his laughter was so infectious that once he started genuinely laughing, I was lost. Bernie passed away far too early in life. I miss my good friend. I wish he were here right now so we could laugh ourselves into stomach aches and tears.

Another colleague/good friend, Mr. Hamm and I have lived through a fair share of these snorting, suffering, catch-your-breath episodes, most often in a car... traveling 75 miles an hour. If we had crashed, we would have died laughing, literally!

The first time I remember laughing "hysterically", I was very young. We were at an amusement park in Wichita, Kansas known as Kiddie Land. My mother and father dotingly put me in a tiny train car that traveled on a miniature track in a series of circles. For some reason I found the entire experience so much fun that I began laughing and could not stop. I remember feeling a tinge of embarrassment. Perhaps it was a portent of things to come because, believe me, since then there have been dozens of times I needed to stop laughing but simply could not. Not to save my soul.

I still remember the President of our company division and his secretary carrying on two conversations at once that took a turn. This happened decades ago, before HR was much of a factor in the corporate world because the secretary had a new Playgirl magazine at her desk for some reason. She had just mentioned to him there was birthday cake in the break room, and almost simultaneously he had asked about the magazine. She pushed the closed magazine toward him as he asks "Anyone we know?" She retrieves the magazine to begin flipping the pages, solemnly saying "Gee, I don't know. Let me look." He says, "I mean is the birthday cake for anyone we know?" Those two began laughing and could not stop for at least 10 minutes. This could never happen in modern corporate times!

There was a time when I exercised every molecule of will power not to laugh, even biting my tongue. I was in the backseat of the work van, a coworker was driving, and our supervisor was riding shot gun. We had closed the hotel bar down the night before which may or may not have contributed to this fantastic chain of events. After a hearty breakfast we were driving toward the job site in what was essentially an old beater of a van (nothing too good for the survey crew!). We were bumping along over cobble stones, or old red bricks to be more precise. Riding in the van was like riding in a paint shaker anyway, then to add a lumpy, potholed road to the mix and we were vigorously bouncing in our seats. The supervisor was speaking when suddenly, without warning, he vomited all over the dash. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to laugh so desperately! But I was new in that job and it was the boss who just lost his breakfast. I was biting my tongue and hugging myself so I would not laugh.

The driver looks over, his shoulders rolling with laughter already. "I would have pulled over."

The supervisor, poor guy, feebly offers, "I thought that was just a burp."

That was it for me. No power in the universe could have prevented me from laughing at that point.

So many times the story simply does not translate to either the written or spoken word. You simply had to have been there, and I am thankful for every time I was there.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

An Emotional Hangover of Sorts

Well, the disappointment over our government seating a man such as Brett Kavanaugh to the country's highest court is rather acute this morning. We made our best logical arguments but in the end emotions won over everything. It feels as if common sense and decency lost to a mob mentality, or perhaps it was just a bunch of old white men in Washington flexing their power yet one more time, the rest of us be damned.

To me it seems that people can not stop feeling long enough to think, to carefully consider and understand the larger context but I could be wrong. Maybe Kavanaugh supporters see the big picture, too, but they just do not give a good goddamn. When the best arguments fail, all that is left is for people to find out for themselves.

I felt this way when Brownback was elected as Governor of Kansas, both times. All the arguments against his extreme agenda fell on deaf ears. I resigned myself to sit back and tick off all the things I knew would happen. Kansas lost its excellent credit rating. Our schools had to be funded by court order. Our economic growth fell below the rates of Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma. An enormous fiscal deficit formed that will take years of recovery. State services remain curtailed and are a true aggravation for even something as simple as needing a phone answered in a state office somewhere. It is not the State employees' fault. There are so few to serve so many. Most tragically, the most vulnerable people, the young, the ill, the elderly had their lives severely impacted by Mr. Brownback's run as Governor. Cuts to all manner of medical and social services were implemented, disqualifying families from critical services, placing others on long waiting lists, and most certainly making life even more difficult for the working poor. Supply side economics simply do not work but people forget that, time and time again. The point is everyone lives with the consequences of the majority rule. If "your side" does not win, it is at least a palatable loss if the majority rule was won fair and square.

State economics aside, through various underhanded shenanigans, the radical conservatives in Washington have been systematically chipping away at all the checks and balances that have made our form of government work pretty damned well - up to now. For twenty years or more this decline has been picking up speed. Now we have rampant gerrymandering, dark money, and 24 hour cycles of Fox News propaganda steering the national debate in whatever direction they require to accomplish whatever foul deed they are up to next. Some very powerful special interests have managed to wrest our democracy away from us while overseeing the largest transfer of wealth in human history - right in plain sight of every adult American citizen. At least half of us are okay with it. Ironically, it appears the half who are suffering the most are the same people who are okay with it.

Now we are well on the way to a truly radicalized Supreme Court. People have no idea what that is going to mean. They do not understand that their lives and the lives of their families will be changed in very real ways - sooner AND later. Who will stand for us, we the people, before the highest court in the land now that it has been bought and paid for by the greediest, most unprincipled pack of sharks to ever run the free world? No one. The Republicans in Washington wanted THAT man, that particular man, for a pre-determined reason, and we will find out soon enough what that reason is. It will be ugly.

As for the national discussion of the issues of sexual abusers and sexual abuse victims, the Republicans in our government literally got away with doing the most underhanded move of the last 50 years in American Government. Well, there are consequences for that, too. I just wish the half of us who are appalled by the blatant disregard for the Supreme Court, and for simple decency, did not have to suffer with those who think it is okay to subvert our government.

How long did Congress investigate Hillary Clinton? How much time and money? And what was the result? How many people are going to jail due to that investigation? But the same rabid people cannot take the time to genuinely and fairly investigate the very disturbing claims against Brett Kavanaugh - the very same man whose public behavior clearly and unequivocally demonstrated that he is temperamentally unfit to be a Supreme Court Justice? There should have been a full, genuine, apolitical investigation carried out in the best interest of our country. If innocent, Kavanaugh could have been exonerated. If Dr. Ford was lying, she could have been held accountable. (NO ONE wants to see an innocent man accused of crimes he did not commit.) Now we will never know and a there is a very real possibility that a wholly inappropriate man will be awarded a lifetime position on what should be the highest, most unimpeachable source of law interpretation for all Americans.

If you are okay with all of it - with the blatant whitewash and misuse of the FBI carried out by the Republicans in Washington this week, then I am sad to say you deserve everything coming your way. I will be sorrowfully ticking off the boxes as the ugliness arises, quite likely for the rest of my life.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Even If We Tried ...

Every day of my life since I moved to Wabaunsee County, despite whatever else is going on in my life, I have been graced with the awareness of the Kansas sky, nature's magnificent living art installation.

I have hundreds and hundreds of photos but so little space or time to share even a fraction of them. It does not matter because anyone on the planet can simply step outside to appreciate the view. Why bother with a camera?

Even if we used every ounce of our collective imagination we could never invent anything as mutable, ephemeral, heart-breakingly beautiful as the sky full of movement and drama and ever-changing light. Even if we tried.

Beautiful late summer skies over Joplin, Missouri
Sunset from Snokomo Road

Above Manhattan, Kansas. Mid August.
Leaving Kansas City, Missouri. Late May.

Feeding the horses at dawn.  January 9, 2018
Looking east from Vera Road at sunset, November, 2017

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Toto By Any Other Name

Wamego is an enchanting small town in Kansas that hosts a Wizard of Oz museum, a beautifully restored wild west opera house, several lovely parks and a variety of wonderful places to visit, things to do, and events that seem far too extravagant for such a small town.  

The most endearing project consists of fifteen small statues of the little dog Toto. I do not know the history of this community effort except that local students and artists submitted designs.  The results are whimsical.  These little fellows make everyone happy.  I always see people (of all ages) taking photos and otherwise admiring the statues.  One warm summer night I saw two young boys, 11 or so, riding their bicycles on the main street sidewalks. As he rolled past, one of the boys gently high-fived the statues outside the Wizard of Oz museum.  That small gesture certainly seemed like magic to me.  Imagine the memories he will have of warm summer nights spent riding bikes with his best friend in a hometown decorated with Totos.  

This is Community Toto.  He guards the southern approach to the city, a couple of blocks north of the Kansas River bridge.
A companion for Community Toto, bedecked in red slippers.
This Toto is in the city park where there is a collection of old west buildings.
Star spangled Toto faithfully bears witness to the formal Veterans memorial, which includes a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall.
"Toto-ally Gingham"  waits with all the children wanting to ride the small train around the park.
Letter jacket Toto stands in the center of the wonderful sports complex where soccer, baseball, softball and tennis are played - all at the same time if needed!
Covered in candy, this Toto is across from the city park and next to Friendship House. (Notice the yellow brick road?).
Outside one of the banks on Main Street.
Also outside the bank...
You might guess this Toto is before the Public Library
Toto beside his own yellow brick road.
Another Toto on Main Street.
One of the two statues guarding the Wizard of Oz museum.
Outside the Wizard of Oz Museum.  The perfect height for a gentle high-five... 
Sunflower Toto greeting visitors who arrive via Highway 24.