Most of you remember that last Halloween I posted a Blog about my good friend Edna. Several dissidents were dissatisfied that I did not not acknowledge Halloween in any way. So this year I am examining the 1785 poem “Halloween” by Robert Burns. The Scottish vernacular makes the full 28 stanzas incomprehensible to me but I get the gist of the penultimate one. Uncle John is desiring wedlock’s joys in the coming year, so he participates in the blindfolded ritual where he dips his hand in one of three dishes. If he gets the one with clean water, he will marry a maid. If he dips in the one with foul water, he will wed a widow. The empty dish signifies no marriage. After three times finding the empty vessel, “Auld uncle John…heav’d them on the fire in wrath that night.” That was the trick in Burns’ Halloween poem. The Halloween supper was “sowens” (aka “sowans”), a sour Scottish porridge normally made of oat-husk starch and water or milk. But for Halloween, butter is added as the big treat. In the last 232 years, we have vastly improved the idea of Halloween treats and our costume rituals are certainly more fun than water dish games. But the divorce rate was so low back in the 18th century that the Scots did not even have a broken dish to predict marriage to a divorced woman.
I was struck by a story of someone who left the keys in a working car and abandoned it in an airport parking lot when relocating. It reminded me of an old Volvo my brother gave my kids in the 1990’s. His son drove it on the way home from an East Coast college and dropped it off in Wichita where we lived in the 1990’s. It was well over 15 years old and my boys beat it up until it was almost 20. I knew we could never drive it back to Seattle when we relocated, so I told my brother I was going to dump it. I was spending $700 to turn it into a $300 car every time something broke down. So my brother sent me several hundred dollars to keep it running! The albatross finally broke down during a terrible snowstorm. I was unavailable and my wife took control and sold it for $100 to someone who would tow it away. I felt guilty but I knew it eventually would have ended up abandoned somewhere like an airport parking lot. My middle son once left his broken down auto in a fast food parking lot in the Boston area on the way home from buying it. So I wondered how many cars are disposed of this way. After consulting with Mr. Google, I discovered the amazing short answer for you: Tons of them. You can find incredible pictures and stories from all over the world on the internet. And not just abandoned clunklers. Photos from times of over production show lots with 57,000 vehicles or more. The next time I abandon a car I am going to fill it with other junk from around the house and kill the proverbial two birds with one dump and run.
Today I finished all my Christmas shopping at a Dollar Store in Renton. They have something for everyone. Unfortunately some of the products actually cost more than a dollar. But I like to be generous. That is why I now patronize the Dollar Store instead of continuing to shop for items to re-gift from my own household. I always sign up for the extended warranty on Dollar Store purchases because it only costs a dollar and generally lasts until yesterday. Some criticize me for getting started on Christmas so early. Others are jealous that my shopping is already done. Unfortunately theses reactions are misplaced because I am actually just completing my 2016 Christmas shopping. The advantage of this tardiness is that I am able to scratch some people off the 2016 list for offending me in 2017. One of my friends recently said I had blinders on and did not realize how rude I was. This is an insult because I am actually well aware of my rudeness. I am giving that friend a box of apology cards for Christmas 2016.
My friend Mick wrote a piece that introduced me to Joseph Nye Welch, who famously challenged Senator Joseph McCarthy during a hearing at the time of McCarthy’s witch hunt for Communists. Nye was an all too rare exception of good people who stand up to a bully. I know power corrupts but it also corrupts people around power. People who worked for Richard Nixon were intoxicated with the power of the Presidency and slipped easily into a variety of crimes and unethical practices. Colin Powell was compromised by President Bush Cheney when he promoted weapons of mass destruction without enough evidence. The same phenomenon can be found in infamous incidents involving Union leaders, Corporate CEO’s, celebrities, and others with great power. Enablers are easily seduced by a blind willingness to serve the power. Surprisingly, more people do not confront the abuses. Some resisters even become immediate heroes. But if the initial reaction punishes the whistle blower, the legacy shines bright for those who stand on the correct side of the line. And the potential short term penalties are not always so devastating. If someone in Congress, regardless of Party affiliation, stands up against something downright wrong, he or she might not get re-elected. But even if that were the penalty, people like Paul Ryan are never going to be unemployed or under employed. He was a Vice Presidential candidate on the Republican ticket and is Speaker of the House. Who is he afraid of? Even John Erlichman and John Dean, convicted felons under Nixon, made livings in the public eye. Maybe notoriety pays a little better. But you get to choose to be a hero. That is something worthwhile to take to the grave when you leave behind your money and power.
The New York Times reported that Bill O’Reilly paid $32 million to settle a sex harassment claim. Competition must now be on for biggest settlements. Cost of jewelry has always been a status symbol. Richard Burton made me look like a cheapskate when he was buying Liz Taylor jewelry. My wife’s wedding ring cost $300, so actually everybody made me look like a tightwad. I bought a second Pinto for my wife when the first one did not work so well, so I looked both cheap and stupid. I paid a decent amount for our current house but then I moved a family of five downstairs so I lost much of the credit. Thirty two million sounds like a class action but apparently settled just one claim. It sounds like showing off. I have a hard time visualizing the negotiations. Was $30 million rejected on principle before a two million dollar sweetener clinched the deal? I have been slapped twice that I remember. Once by Karen Kimble when I was ten or eleven years old and once by my future wife at her 18th birthday party. And I think the Karen incident was for a double cross in a snowball fight. My wife might have a better case but my defense is that she could not take a joke. I was wrong. Eventually she took and married one. Bottom line: my sex harassment is so weak that I feel a few women may actually owe me money. Thankfully, I am way too timid to ask for it.
I have always had little sympathy for football players who engage in criminal activities and domestic violence. They seem crazy to risk so much for so little return. I have moral outrage over acts of violence against women and children. If I were famous enough to have every comment I ever made thrown back in my face, you could probably find me criticizing teams for drafting and playing some of these bad eggs. But this past Sunday, I realized I drafted and have been playing Ezekiel Elliott on my Fantasy Football team while he appeals his six game suspension for alleged domestic violence against a former girlfriend. He scored 39 points for me last weekend as I won big to go 5-2. And I have been rooting for him to win his appeals and beat the rap and help me win our family Super Bowl. So are the ethics different for Fantasy players? I hope so because I like to avoid being exposed as a hypocrite. I can live with being one more than I can handle being identified as one. And what about related Sport ethics? Do I need to stand for the National Anthem when I am at home in my den watching the Seahawks on television? Apparently Thomas Jefferson did not stand when he was listening to games on the radio at Monticello. However, Aaron Burr, the Vice President of the United States, shot and killed the Beatle George Hamilton in a duel, apparently over this same issue. Vice President Mike Pence merely left a game in protest when players would not stand. Much confusion has existed for centuries. I think the answers should be spelled out once and for all but in such a way that does not offend advertisers and network officials.
I have never been a very good driver. I have made my share of bonehead moves in traffic, some of them literally accidental and others on purpose. The urgency of my life, like being late for Church, is all the justification I need to cut some corners or waive a “No U-Turn” rule. This approach is nothing unusual. The odd part is that when someone else takes the same liberties or makes a mistake behind the wheel, I am incensed. I only honk if I think I am going to be hit and I would never engage in road rage escalation. But I often wish ill upon the offender. I will yell to myself, “Where is a cop when you need one?” I do not have a generic wish for people to get caught and will even blink my lights at cars heading into a speed trap. But if a driver swerves around me dangerously and I later see him pulled over for speeding, I take some satisfaction in justice being served. Although I cannot bring myself to criticize others with the same instinct, I do not consider this a particularly admirable trait of mine. So I keep my vengeful side somewhat hidden in conversation. But I seem to be blogging about it as if no one is reading this stuff. I guess the pressure of coming up with a daily posting prompts me to admit to anything if I can squeeze a few hundred words out of the topic. I am even thinking about implicating myself in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa or D.B. Cooper if the statute of limitations cooperates. Actually it will have to be Hoffa; me jumping out of a functioning airplane is not believable.
When I was in school, students had the opportunity to rate professors. This was a wonderfully anonymous way to get even with those oppressive dictators ruling the classrooms. I once kept track of how many times a speaker said the word “typically,” so I could criticize him for that distracting redundancy. When the Universe turned and installed me as a part-time Instructor of Business Law at Seattle University, a much clearer perspective emerged of the mean and petty mentality of students. I taught a few quarters of the Uniform Commercial Code, probably because no one else in the Department would wade into that bog of boredom. Reading my daily Blog takes less than two minutes. So imagine me reading 25 of my postings to the Class every weekday for months and then getting rated on the experience. Occasionally a good review would pop up. Maybe a savvy student distrusted the promise of anonymity. Or perhaps the students got together and designated someone to input a positive comment or two so that anonymity was not destroyed by unanimous negativity. I wish I had saved some of the rating forms. Excerpts could be used to craft a very funny Blog. But I destroyed the evidence. Except I made copies of the few good comments for my children, grandchildren, anyone who attends my Wake. The experience did teach me to be kinder as an employee when I would later be rating bosses and peers in 360 reviews. You can always find at least one good thing to say. Sometimes I was too busy to search for that one thing but philosophically I believed I should be looking for it. The same way people believe they should quit smoking, eat healthy, and exercise. Easier to believe than to execute.
I have always tried to identify sources and name people I quote. The funny part is I would never expect Time Magazine or some philosopher to complain if I did not properly credit them because the chances of legitimate experts examining my Blog are more remote than Donald Trump apologizing to Rosie O’Donnell. But my posting last August 15th (Operation Declutter) attracted a comment a few days ago from a specialist in solving hoarding problems. I had seen her on television and read about her in the paper and quoted her while mocking my own hoarding instinct as incurable. She is obviously very good at finding needles of valuable possessions in hoarder haystacks because she found my Blog against all odds. When my oldest son, an intellectual property lawyer, advised me not to use Alex Rodriguez’s name in my book Suicide Squeeze, I ignored the suggestion on the grounds that a cease and desist order from Alex would be the best publicity ever for my novel. And that is probably why A-Rod has steadfastly refused to comment on my book to this very day. I am thinking of sending a copy to Jennifer Lopez with the inscription: “J.Lo, A-Rod wants you to read this, G.Dog.”
In Breaking Bad, a Chemistry teacher with lung cancer is the subject of a wildly successful internet fund raising campaign to pay for his treatment. His family is very excited and monitors the paypal account on a minute to minute basis, unaware that the bulk of the cash being donated is part of a secret money laundering scheme. It reminds me of an old movie where the Walter Mattheu character toyed with his neighbor who was charting gas mileage and constantly bragging about the results. Matthau secretly began adding gas to the neighbor’s tank and perversely enjoyed the neighbor’s reports of mileage soaring into phenomenal ranges. Then Matthau started slowly siphoning gas so the later calculations emulated a stock market crash. I should be the Blog reader and not the writer because then I could be the one to create mischief. As I glance at my Blog’s anonymous record of daily site visitors and views, I thought of ways I could flood a Blog site with hits from different sources. Some in my extended family with multiple internet identities and skills at computer manipulation could help me create artificial hits on a website. When I was younger, I would have no second thoughts about a prank that would have a blogger thinking his site was starting to go viral only to eventually watch the numbers go steadily down as the phony hits evaporate. But I started to wonder if the Matthau neighbor was enough of a jerk to justify the prank? Another ailment of aging is the creeping maturation and sensitivity that squeezes the obliviousness out of the brain. Darn the empathy disease. But if someone who never reads my Blog starts one, all bets are off!