There was a time

Back in the olden days, and I’m talking the distant past, like the ’60s and ’70s, there were these places, and they were everywhere, every street, every corner, in every town, city, and village, across this great land of ours, where people went when they needed something, anything really, and they’d go inside these places, find the thing they were looking for, hand real money to a real person, and take that thing home that very day!

I think they called them “stores.” There were specialty stores and then there were also department stores.

The specialty stores sold all sorts of merchandise, from music, to books, to musical instruments, to radios and stereos, and so on.

For example, at one time there were all sorts of stores that just sold musical instruments. One such store was called, “The Brass Bell,” and they had locations all over including within many of the malls (a mall was this giant complex filled with all manner of stores, honest).

If you were at the mall to buy a book, or a record, or a clothing item, and suddenly got a hankering for a trombone, well, there they were, all brassy and shiney, on display at the Brass Bell.

This was in a time before the Internet, before Amazon, or Wayfair, or Overstock, or eBay. Before you could order anything you wanted over your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

In fact, and here’s the really unique part, you could go into these stores and touch the items! Seriously. You could try it out IN PERSON before you bought it. Back then, when you walked out of the store with your purchase you knew it was exactly what you wanted, that it fit you exactly, that it worked exactly the way you expected, that it smelled or tasted exactly how it was supposed to.

You didn’t have to wait for your item to ship, it was in your hands already. And there were no surprises back then.

Sure, you often had to drive around town stopping at different stores until you found the item that you wanted, but you knew right then and there as you plunked your money down that that goddamned item was exactly what you wanted.

There were no hastles of trying to return imperfectly fitting garments, or items of the wrong color, or that were damaged, or anything like that because you had in your hand as you walked out that door the exact thing you had been searching for.

I know, right? Crazy.



Friday and the week in review

A Friday Haiku

Seventeen shot dead

In another school shooting

Thoughts, prayers, useless.

Another school shooting

You would think after Columbine, we’d have done something. Wasn’t that a horrific enough tragedy?

But no, nothing was done. And Sandy Hook, where innocent grade schoolers were killed. America was sick to it’s stomach by that one.

Still, nothing was done.

Now 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Members of Congress shed their crocodile tears, send their thoughts and prayers, but do nothing while cashing their bribes from the National Rifle Association.

How many more children need to die before the parents and survivors finally rise up enmasse to confront the spineless members of Congress and demand action?

What will it take to wake up our government to the gun epidemic in this country?

It only took one mass school shooting in 1996 for Australia to do something.

Trump sent his thoughts and prayers, then dared to blame the school, the families, students, and law enforcement for doing nothing, knowing the shooter was mentally unstable.

Actually, you orange turd, they did do something. They notified the FBI, but because you rescinded the Obama-era initiative aimed at helping keep the guns out of the hands of the mentally unfit, the FBI couldn’t do anything and the shooter was free to legally purchase the weapon used to commit this heinous crime.

Blood is on trump’s hands, as well as the hands of every congressperson the NRA has bought and paid for.

In fact, trump is also to blame because he is such an intolerate, hatefilled asshole, his attitude has has given the green light to every bigot, racist, mysoginist, homophobe and the like that their type of behavior is now not only tolerated but encouraged. They are out there openly spewing their hate and invoking trump’s name.

The shooter, as it turns out, was a member of a white supremacist group and was trained by them.

He was a homegrown, trump-approved domestic terrorist.

But rest assured, the outrage over this new tragedy will soon pass, nothing even resembling gun reform will be proposed, and the NRA will keep sending out it’s blood money.

Then we all get to pretend we care when the next mass shooting happens.

And gunnuts everywhere get to caress and fondle their handguns and rifles secure in the knowledge that no one is ever going to take their murder machines away.

Weigh-In Friday

I gained a pound, although my phone app for our scale didn’t record it, so we’ll pretend the gain didn’t happen.

If anyone is looking for a poster boy for yoyo dieting… right here.

You did What?

I pulled a shoulder muscle while sleeping. Don’t ask me how, but I woke up Sunday morning with pain shooting through my shoulder blade.

It still throbs today. I’ve been using rubs and taking pain meds (something I rarely do), yet I can’t get comfortable trying to fall asleep and the pain wakes me up when I finally do.

I haven’t done any arm exercises because of it and even when running, because you swing your arms, it hurts.

I don’t know what I did but I wish it would heal already. It’s making me cranky and I suspect because I’ve been sleeping poorly, it is responsible for the weight gain.

The Winter Olympics

I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw a shout-out to all those great athletes from every country joining together in the spirit of athletic competition.

I believe the Olympics should be free of political distractions, so it angers me when pence and his wife refused to stand when the Korean delegation entered. That just made America look petty. His stupidity reflects on all of us internationally.

I guess when he protests by not standing, that’s all right, that’s different when black athletes don’t stand.

I’d also like to point out to everyone who kept reposting a pic of the North Korean leader’s sister throwing eye daggers at pence as if they all approved of it because pence, the fact is, her hate isn’t directed at pence the way ours is. She probably doesn’t even know pence from Adam. She’s glaring at what he represents: the United States of America.

She’s glaring through a lens of hate that has been indoctrinated into all North Koreans since birth that America is evil, the Great Satan, out to destroy their lives, their country, and their very way of life.

She doesn’t know a thing about his hateful beliefs, his prejudices, his anti-gay stance, his belief in conversion therapy, not any of that.

She’s just an evil product of an evil totalitarian regime glaring at her country’s enemy.

In fact, if she knew pence like we know him and how he is part of a great fascist movement bent on destroying the America we all know and love, she’d probably be high-fiving him instead of glaring.

Consider that the next time you feel imclined to share her glare.

And finally, I should point out that Chloe Kim, who won Gold in the Women’s Halfpipe, is the daughter of immigrant parents.

Last word

Go have a great weekend. Monday is President’s Day. Go buy some furniture on sale or whatever it is we’re supposed to do on President’s Day.

I leave you, as always, with a song.


The simple truths found in fiction

I’m currently reading, Have Space Suit-Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein for the first time.

So far, it’s very entertaining and it makes me wonder why I haven’t read more Heinlein since I enjoyed Stranger in a Strange Land some decades ago.

The protagonist is a young man, Clifford “Kip” Russell, fresh out of high school, who wants to go to the moon. He works for the moment as a soda jerk in a pharmacy (the story was published in 1958 when pharmacies still had counters where customers could order fountain drinks and sometimes burgers and hot dogs, like a tiny diner).

He has a run-in with the town bully, Ace Quiggle, who verbally abuses Kip. Kip’s boss comes over and Ace leaves.

Heinlein writes:

The boss and I were alone shortly after. He said quietly, “Kip, a reverence for life does not require a man to respect Nature’s obvious mistakes.”


“You need not serve Quiggle again. I don’t want his trade.”

“Oh, I don’t mind. He’s harmless.”

“I wonder how harmless such people are? To what extent civilization is retarded by the laughing jackasses, the empty-minded belittlers? [Emphasis mine.] Go home, you’ll want to make an early start tomorrow.”

As I read that, I was struck by how relevant that thought is today, some 60 years after it was first written.

I believe today we are seeing to what extent civilization has been retarded by those laughing jackasses and the empty-minded belittlers.

Those laughing jackasses and empty-minded belittlers have managed to elect one of their own, the biggest laughing jackass, the most empty-minded of all belittlers: trump.

Heinlein predicted the rise of the deplorables!

This is why I love fiction. Hidden within the action, the adventure, the exotic situations, while the characters are weaving their way seductively through the plot, the author sometimes inserts some very provocative philosophical points of view.

Ofttimes the message is covert and you need to do some analysis to find it, but sometimes it is overt and waves it’s little hand at you saying, “Here I am. Underline me and spend a little time thinking about what I have to say.”

Or am I the only one who reads with a pencil at hand, ready to underline any line that strikes my fancy?


Yes America, there is a Santa Claus

In these dark times, with the constant assault upon our human dignity by the current fascist regime, as every day brings more bad news of them foisting their evil agenda upon us, when hope seems lost, I think now would be a good time for me to repost that most famous of all editorials, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” because we need to be reminded that this too shall pass and there is good in the world.

To me, this editorial speaks most eloquently about the magic of Santa and why we should believe, now, more than ever.

The following editorial was printed in the September 21, 1897 issue of the New York Sun. Though the editorial was unsigned, it is now accepted that it was written by Francis Pharcellus Church and is probably history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial.

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.” Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, VIRGINIA, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, VIRGINIA, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


Mightier than the sword

Have you ever heard of tactical pens?

I mean, were you even aware that tactical pens were a thing?

I only just became aware of it. As I’m becoming more interested in the burgeoning concept of Every Day Carry, which for most of us simply means we carry a wallet, a comb, a handkerchief, a pen, a notebook, and keys (and maybe two or three knives) while for others it means carrying personal defensive items, such as knives, heavy keychains for striking, tactical flashlights to blind or confuse an attacker, expandable batons, and the like.

Because of my interest in knives (mostly for utility use and the occassional curiosity piece), my Internet research has plunged me deep into the abyss that is survivalist paranoia, and that’s where I came upon the phrase “tactical pens,” and of course I was like, “What the fuck is that?”

After all, as a writer, I’m all about pens. The more, the merrier, in fact. One can never have too many pens. All my jacket pockets are full of pens — fountain pens, ball point pens, rollerball pens, pens with smartphone styluses, and even mechanical pencils — and of course notebooks upon which to apply said pens.

I have pens that twist to write, click to write, pull off the cap to write, move a ratchet on the side to write.

I have pens that were gifts, fancy pens, cheap pens, pens imprinted with business logos (given away as free advertising or which I just pocketed because that’s how I am).

But tactical pens? I didn’t even know what that meant.

So I Googled it and I learned that a tactical pen is basically a self-defense weapon. It can trace it’s roots back to the 1960s, when Sōke Takayuki Kubota, a Japanese-American who founded the Gosoku-ryu style of karate, invented the Kubotan, a keychain weapon about the size of a marker pen used to strike vulnerable areas of an attacker (for example, bony, fleshy and sensitive parts such as knuckles, forearms, the bridge of the nose, shins, temple, ribs, groin, neck, eyes, and so on).

The Kubotan is easy to conceal and when properly used, effective in warding off an attack.

The tactical pen, therefore, was influenced by the Kubotan. It is useful as a writing implement, but can be used as a weapon when a dangerous situation arises.

They are made of various materials, from hard durable plastic to metal, such as aluminium. Often the non-writing end comes to a hard point which can also double as a glass breaker if you are trapped in your car.

Let me state that in today’s society, you don’t have to be a paranoid survivalist to understand the need for situational awareness — to always be aware of your surroundings. But that doesn’t mean you have to live every moment in fear (like those gun-toting types), only that you are prepared for any eventuality. Crackpots are everywhere and even a quiet walk in the park can turn into a life-or-death struggle.

Your first response to any attack should be flight. Put as much distance between yourself and the attacker as possible.

Also make a lot of noise to attract anyone’s attention and possibly scare off the attacker.

Fighting shoukd be a last resort, but in the event you do need to fight, having a tactical pen handy could be the difference maker.

Sure, would a gun, knife, mace, or a collapsible baton, or even a sword be a better choice? Of course, except there are many places and situations which preclude carrying any of those items. (Not to mention many people don’t even like those things.)

Therefore, a pen might be all you have on you and, if that’s the case, wouldn’t you want to have a pen that won’t shatter or break when you need it the most?

Think about it. As writers, we always have a pen with us. Always. We jot down ideas, make notes, plot, and so on. Doesn’t it make sense to have a pen that can also kick ass?

Here’s a video demonstrating using a tactical pen:

And here is a woman’s self-defense video using a Kubotan, but a tactical pen will work just as well (I like this one because she beats the crap out of the instructor):

If you’d like more information on purchasing your own tactical pen, follow this link to a Guide to Tactical Pens courtesy of Blade HQ, to help you get started.

I saw that Schrade made a tactical fountain pen and I was all over that until I discovered it is unavailable, out of stock, and possibly never to be seen again. *sad face*

One thing I read is that the ballpoint pen ink cartridge used in the Smith and Wesson ballpoint pens (as well as Schrade) is less than desirable for writing, which sucks because a pen that can’t write is just a stick. AmIrite?

Many users it seems, however, found the ink cartridge for the Fisher Space Pen is a good replacement, which means you’d not only have a kick ass life-saving pen, but in a pinch you can write with it upside down in zero gravity while underwater!

How cool is that?

Just be careful taking one on a plane. Those anal bastards at TSA consider them weapons! How absurd.


I hope you enjoyed this little primer about tactical pens. I’m off to search eBay for a fountain pen.

kubaton strike areas

Don’t forget: These strike points work on Nazis as well


Shadows of downtown

I walked through the downtown Boston Store yesterday, to get some gift ideas, and I was shocked to realize they had cut it in half.

The street level store area used to extend from Wisconsin Avenue all the way back to Michigan Avenue and the second floor extended for the same length.

But now they’ve walled up the store halfway. I believe I read the other part will be office space and condos or something.

It makes me sad because the downtown Boston Store is all that remains of downtown’s glory days as the city’s primary shopping area and the place to go.

The Boston Store, as well as the former Gimbel’s, were the Taj Mahal’s of department stores and coexisted along side J.C. Penny, T.A. Chapman’s, and others throughout the 20th century.

Sure, all those stores had other locations at Capital Court mall, Mayfair mall, and other malls, but the downtown stores were special. They were a delight to visit. Mall stores were small in comparison, maybe two floors and at best 260,000 square feet for the Capital Court Gimbel’s.

But downtown? The Gimbel’s and the Boston Store occupied an entire city block and were 7 or 8 stories of shopping adventure.

Shopping at these stores was an event. You didn’t just run in, grab something, and run out. No. You spent the day there. Gimbel’s had a Tasty Town grill type restaurant, as well as a delicatessen, a bakery, candy shoppe, flowers and so on. And that was just the street level.

Each floor was like visiting a completely different store. The second floor had rainwear, coats, custom wigs, lingerie, and robes. The third level had men’s clothing, men’s hats, kid’s clothing, sporting goods, and toys.

The fourth floor had housewares, appliances, oriental rugs, small electrics. The fifth floor had furniture, bedding, televisions, stereos. The sixth had lamps, mirrors, china, glassware, a gift shop, import bazaar. The 7th floor was offices, but the eighth floor had a Forum Restaurant for fine dining.

And the Boston Store was very similar. Seven floors of anything and everything you could possibly need. These were the of their day. Whatever you could possibly need, or imagine, could be found at these downtown department stores.

But the short-sighted removal of the trollies, the growing number of malls and white flight to the suburbs slowly killed the glamour and adventure of going downtown and visiting the department stores.

Now, the downtown Boston Store, once a glorious seven story monument to shopping adventure, has been reduced to just a shadow of it’s former magnificence, an oddity in a world where people shop online or drive to a strip mall

If you never visited one of these shopping megaliths, it’s probably hard to imagine the hustle and bustle as crowds of people moved excitedly within to the roar of conversation. The elevators were always full as they moved up and down, floor to floor, while the elevator operator chimed, “Fourth Floor. Lamps. Paintings. Mirrors. Occasional furniture.”

Sadly, the only way for someone today to get a small idea of what downtown department stores were like is by watching old Christmas movies, like “Miracle on 34th Street” or “Holiday Affair.” Unfortunately, they’re in black and white, so they give no sense of how colorful and well-lit these stores were.

The buildings still stand, but they’re mere shadows harkening back to a past when downtown was the place to see and be seen.


Typical Random Friday Stuff

A Friday Haiku

I ran this morning

First morning run since July

Damned dog wanted out

(Damned is just one syllable, right?)

Don’t let failure define you

Face it, we all have setbacks. Just when we think we have this fitness thing figured out — we understand to lose weight we must expend more calories than we take in, we’ve made our exercise routine a daily habit, we’re reaching our goals — something happens and we find ourselves finding reasons why we can’t exercise today and a day becomes a week and that ice cream looks damned tasty and suddenly we’re 7 pounds heavier. (Wasn’t that sentence cringe-worthy?)

Well, my friends, there is no point in beating yourself up over it. Acknowledge it happened and get back on that horse that threw you and pick up where you left off.

(Speaking of horses, I’ve only actually ever been on a real horse once or twice in my life, not including pony rides as a kid. Do they even still have pony rides and are today’s kids as excited as our generation was to ride one or are they too busy SnapChatting?)

Anyway, I fell off that horse, um, the metaphorical one, not a real one, and my running schedule had become erratic of late.

Once it was an every day morning ritual in June, but as the days grew shorter and the mornings became darker, I stopped the morning runs and told myself I’d run after work. That worked for a short time, but other areas of life started intruding and my runs became less frequent and the pounds I was so proud of losing found their way back.

Now I could just mope around and eat another pound and a half bag of Mrs. Fisher’s potato chips (did you hear they will have to reformulate the recipe because of the ban on partially hydrogenated oils? Nooooooo!) or I could get back on that horse (the metaphorical one, of course. After all, it’s been 40 years since I rode that real one and it’s probably long dead by now) and pick up where I left off.

Thus, I ran this morning. As the Friday haiku says, first morning run since July. Granted, I didn’t get up on my own. I had sone unwanted help from a little dog who needed to go outside, yet despite that I still did it. I could have just as easily let him out and returned to bed, but instead I carried my gear down, changed, and jumped on the treadmill.

It’s a start. And that’s all we can do — start and hope it becomes a habit again.

Accept each setback as just another challenge to be overcome. Failure is a bully and it feeds on your disappointment. Don’t let failure win; kick it’s ass and then laugh in its face.


I forgot to congratulate my niece, who ran her first half-marathon, the Minnesota Monster Dash Half Marathon on October 28th. I didn’t even know she was a runner!

Way to go, Erin!

Weigh-In Friday

My results here are all screwed up. I haven’t officially recorded my weight since it started rising. And I was so proud I had finally dropped below 200.

As I hinted at above, I had gained a bit, but this week I lost. I’m down 4 pounds from the peak weight a few weeks ago.

I’ll start posting real numbers once I drop below 200 again. Until then, let’s just pretend this never happened. OK?

Cold weather detailing

Now that the temperatures are dropping, I haven’t been detailing my cars every day or so like I was in the summer.

Each morning, or evening, I took some detail spray and a microfiber cloth to each car until it was clean and shiney, free of all the everyday dust and gunk that accumulates on them as they sit outside all day exposed to the elements.

My wife’s Jetta always came home with these long, thin brown nodules (around 1-1/2 centimeters in length and about 1 or 2 millimeters wide) that I’d have to loosen gently with my thumb nail before the detail spray could clean the area. She said they were from the trees around her parking lot and can’t be avoided. (Maybe in the dark of night some time I’ll go cut them all down.)

At least the cold weather has eliminated the problem of tree sap, but it brings another: How to keep the paint shining when it’s too cold to use detail spray? Or even handwash?

This is my first winter since I’ve become detailing knowledgable and I seriously don’t know.

I did put in some Klasse High Gloss Sealant Glaze to help protect the finish, but that doesn’t solve the desire to have the cars shine.

Do I bite the bullet and run the cars through a machine wash once a week? Or do I live with road salt and slush spray until it becomes warm enough to handwash again?

We ran the Jetta through a car wash last week. I didn’t realize until we were in line with no turning back that it used brushes. Oy. I still cringe thinking about it and the paint swirls it might have introduced.

How do you keep your cars shining in winter?

That’s all folks!

And that wraps up another Friday blog. For the sake of my own blood pressure, I avoided politics. Not that there isn’t anything to say, I mean, that ignorant orange turd provides plenty of fodder for commentary; as well as the House GOP passing a tax bill that lines the pockets of giant corporations and millionaires, including the orange turd himself, at the expense of the poor and middle class; not to mention that Alabama voters are going to show the entire world just how fucked up their priorities are by voting in a child molester just because they don’t want a liberal; and of course, after years of warning the public about how bad the XL Pipeline would be, fighting to prevent it from being built, the damned thing proved us right by causing a 210,000 gallon spill in South Dakota!

But all that shit would require dozens of column inches to properly castigate and instead I think I’d rather wish everyone a pleasant weekend.

We’re expecting some snow, but with luck, not enough to prevent me from putting up my outside Christmas decorations.

And so, I’ll leave you with a song to get the weekend started. Not a Christmas song, Hell no, it’s too freaking early for that. Just a fun, enjoy the weekend kind of song.

Stay warm. Eat right. Exercise. And don’t forget to punch a Nazi.