Columns

From the New York Times, Time magazine, and the complete Chicago Tribune syndicated columns

Ignore the noise, sing for the ones in back

Moral choices face us every day. Standing in Whole Foods at the array of olive oils, I pass over the French and Italian for political reasons and choose the Portuguese because I met olive growers in Portugal last summer, village people, and liked them, and I assume California olives come from groves owned by Silicon Valley tycoons as a tax write-off and may contain silicon and the Spanish may come from old Franco sympathizers, and then I choose a raw, unfiltered, organic kosher vinegar — how can you argue with organic kosher? — and then on to the butter. I buy the local small-town creamery butter over the major corporate: I seem to recall a hefty political donation by Big Butter in exchange for relaxed regulation. And this is why shopping takes me longer than it otherwise might. Righteousness.

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Someday you’ll understand what I’m telling you

My birthday is this week, which I mention by way of saying, “Please. No gifts.” My love and I went through major downsizing in January and we are pretty much done with Things now, even a picture of a wilderness lake taken by you or an inspirational book that could change our lives. My life is good enough. Every day is incredibly precious. When you reach 77, you’ll feel the same way. It’s a shame that a con man is in the White House as the Arctic is melting and white nationalists are shooting up our cities, but we’ll be okay, we just need a Trexit vote next year.

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What you learn from losing a ballgame

I sat up high over third base watching my pitcher get pounded by the New York Yankees a few nights ago, looking out on what used to be the printing and warehouse district of Minneapolis, which is now the condo/espresso/IT district. Where ink-stained gents used to trundle giant rolls of paper into the big presses, now you find highly caffeinated people staring at screens and conceptualizing. I know few people who work with their hands, just their fingers.

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Can’t get across the river but we’ll try again

We’ve had monster thunderstorms in Minnesota this summer, which gave me the chance to be manly and reassuring and tell my wife not to worry as we drove through the dark of midday, bolts of lightning like bombs bursting in air. And indeed, we arrived safely at our destination, a luncheon honoring an old pal of mine whom I’ve known since we were in first grade together.

About thunderstorms I know less than the average medieval peasant. I majored in English and stayed away from the sciences lest I appear to be stupid, as a result of which I became stupider. As a would-be poet in college, I wrote poems in which weather was a device to indicate the poet’s own mood — weather as narcissism! — so there were gloomy moonless nights and sometimes rain but never thunderstorms — too dramatic for a Minnesotan.

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The pleasure of running into Stan on Sunday

I stopped in a cafe on Sunday after church to get awakened from a feeling of blessedness and who should I run into but my Anoka High School gym teacher Stan Nelson, who is 99 years old and still talking and making sense. He looked at me and said, “Are you still having trouble with chin-ups and the rope climb?” I was 17 at the time and now I’m 76, and I told him that I’ve managed to stay out of situations that might require me to climb a rope or lift myself up by a horizontal bar, so the answer is, No, it’s no trouble at all.

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When I consider how my time is spent

A mockingbird couple has set up housekeeping in a tree in our backyard and the male goes crazy whenever we set foot in his territory, which I guess means that their children have hatched and are at that perilous point in life when you’re about to fly. When we slip out back for supper, he shrieks at us from the corner of the yard, far from the nest, and flies from branch to branch to fence, cursing us, threatening to peck our eyes out. He’s a good father. The mother stays on the nest and he exercises his toxic mockingbird masculinity and yells bloody murder.

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Life, liberty, dancing, feasting, hugging, and collecting stuff

I have returned from a week in Portugal and a little village where we attended our nephew’s wedding and enjoyed lavish feasting and shameless dancing and people hugging each other left and right. There was liquor involved but mostly it sprang from lack of self-consciousness. Everybody knew each other except for us Americanos; there was nothing to hide. After the wedding, I saw men hugging other men, if you can believe such a thing. The father of the bride hugged the groom and squeezed him hard.

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A June wedding in a faraway village

We came to Portugal knowing only the words for apology (desculpe) and gratitude (obrigado) and were stunned by the beauty on every hand, the seaside city of Porto on the river Douro, the narrow twisty streets and red tile roofs over skinny passageways into stone-paved courtyards, the crowd on the stone wharf at night, the girl swinging flaming torches and an old man singing to his guitar about his many heroic disappointments.

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In the Fatherland for Father’s Day

I’ve landed in London where there are no elevators, only lifts, and where the signs say “Offices To Let,” which at first looked like “Office Toilet” to me, and where you see “Look Left” or “Look Right” painted on the pavement at every pedestrian crossing — and I wonder, How many of my countrymen looked the wrong way and were crushed by a lorry before the Brits painted the warnings? Nebraska wheat farmers, New York stockbrokers, confident successful men who brushed off their wives’ warning to look both ways. “I know how to cross a street, dang it,” they said and stepped in front of a double-decker bus and were erased from the face of the earth and their dust flown home for the memorial service.

They spoke of the kindly delight
In family, how he fought the good fight,
And nobody said
As they spoke of the dead,
“Why didn’t he look to the right?”

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Trying hard to relax and have fun

I’ve been a grind for many years, chained to my oars, and I am in serious need of frivolity, so last Friday my wife and daughter and I boarded the Queen Mary 2 in New York and sailed out of the harbor and under the Verrazano Bridge bound for England with a dance band on board, a casino, deck chairs where one can lounge and doze and do nothing meaningful whatsoever. A big band plays nightly in the enormous ballroom and there is a multitude of serious dancers on the floor who know the jitterbug, the foxtrot, the tango — really know them, don’t just stand and sway rhythmically — and a handsome Irishman belts out “Night and Day” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” There are impenetrable Brit accents everywhere and elaborately polite service — waiters who say “Thank you” at every opportunity. The bottle of English ginger ale says, “Upend before pouring” — when was the last time you saw “upend”? The sign in the toilet says that the plumbing does not operate on a “cistern system” but a pressure system so do not flush while seated. There is the sunny aft deck where I can lie and not read a book. So what do I do? I think about work.

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