Columns

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

The days pass, and now and then one stands out

My father, John, would’ve been 106 years old on Columbus Day and though Columbus has been taken down a few notches, my dad is still on a pedestal. He left us at the age of 88. He’d been through some miserable medical procedures and said, “No more,” and went home to his eternal destination.

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Unexpectedly on a dark day, light shines through

I sleep with a woman who is worried about the fate of the planet and so is trying to avoid the purchase of plastic and if I dispose of a Post-it Note she fishes it out of the garbage and puts it in recycling, which I go along with because I don’t want to sleep alone. We lie in bed and I look over at her listening to the CBC and a long report on the melting glaciers, and I drift off to sleep. When I go out on the road, I miss her and so I am a slave to her every wish. If she tries to convert me to veganism and I have to sneak over to the dark side of town for a 16-oz. porterhouse and cover up my breath with Sen-Sen, so be it.

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Another fine week here in the republic

A new word leaped off the front page at me this week, “tranche,” which I’d never seen before. This is exciting when you’re 77, like being approached by a platypus on the street wearing a sign, “Look before you leap.” I’ve seen a platypus before but not a platitudinous one.

“Tranche” means a portion of something, and it’s used in finance, so that’s why I don’t know it. The New York Times said Congress had subpoenaed Secretary Pompeo, “demanding that he promptly produce a tranche of documents.” I imagine the Times said “tranche” rather than “portion” because it sounds more important: “portion,” to me, means two small potatoes, a cup of peas, and one slice of meatloaf.

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Sitting in a breakfast café with a small child

I quit TV around the time I stopped smoking, the two being psychologically linked, and also I was writing a novel at the time and working a day job and there simply wasn’t time for sitting and staring. So this golden age goes on without me.

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An elaboration on the sufficiency of the muffin

There was a cranky grandma in front of the supermarket on Friday, yelling at a baby in a stroller, “Don’t ask for another muffin when you have one in your hand! Eat that one before you ask for more!” and telling a little boy beside her, “Stop walking back and forth like that. Stand still, for God’s sake. And stop your whining.” The poor kid was a little restless and Grandma was at the end of her rope. He started to cry. “Shut up,” she said.

There is a limit to everything, even grandma love. Grandma has just so much saintliness in the tank and then she becomes an ordinary mortal, and I empathize, ma’am. My grandma Dora was so perfect in her black shirtwaist with white dots, her knitting, her scent of lavender, her gentle profanity (“Oh fudge” and “Oh drat”), that my girl cousins find it hard to rise to her standard. Grandma had been a railroad telegrapher and a country schoolteacher, had endured farm life during the Dirty Thirties, could slaughter a goose by wringing its neck, and was a woman of consummate dignity. She never had to say, “Shut up,” she only had to look at you. She had thirty grandkids and every year you got a card from her with a dollar in it.

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Hors d’oeuvres! Hors d’oeuvres in the House!

The beauty of Brexit for an American is that it gives us a glance at the debate in the House of Commons, an actual spirited debate, something unknown in our Congress, Conservative and Labor facing each other, two sword lengths apart, speaking in bursts of argument and rebuttal, no lengthy droning allowed, members free to jeer and laugh, the Honorable Speaker of the House John Bercow crying out, “Order!” which to an American sounds like he is referring to ordure or ordering hors d’oeuvres.Nancy Pelosi never shouts “Order” in our House because hardly anyone is present. They’re all in their offices, on the phone, raising money. As for the Senate, it is a hospice. And this is why journalists focus on White House twittering. If the Chief Twit tweets, “Boogers on you, dum-dum. Talk to the hand,” it will be front-page for at least half an hour, and we’ll learn that no president in history ever used the “boogers on you” insult. How interesting. This is the current state of our democracy.

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Listen to your uncle, for crying out loud

Each life is a work of art but these days I live a very small life, more an etching than a mural. My friends are thinking large thoughts about the EU and Hong Kong and the future of American democracy, and I am thinking about these organic blueberries I bought to put on my bran flakes— why am I putting them in a colander to wash them? They’re from Bayfield, Wisconsin. Why wash Bayfield off them with Minneapolis tap water? Once you start worrying about the cleanliness of Wisconsin blueberries, you’re on the way to distrusting the Pure Food and Drug Act and believing that liberals in the FDA are spraying blueberries with scopolamine to undermine free will, and soon you have purchased an assault rifle for when chaos sweeps the land, and your neighbors look uneasy when you step outdoors. So I don’t wash the blueberries. My big decision of the morning.

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Looking forward to my Reykjavík years

Here in Minneapolis we are dealing with the issue of slavery, long after everyone thought the Civil War answered the question. The city is changing the name of one of our beautiful lakes from Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, on the grounds that John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was a wretched man and owned slaves. Bde Maka Ska is the name the Dakotah called it until 1817 when Secretary of War Calhoun sent Army surveyors to look over the territory and, voilà, they named it for their boss.It’s a lovely name, Bde Maka Ska, and over time, as old people die off and young people grow up, it will come into common usage, but these things take time. The Triborough Bridge in New York was renamed the RFK bridge ten years ago but nobody calls it that. To Minneapolitans, Calhoun is a lake, not a man, and if you asked us about John C., we’d have to Google him.

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Soon September, and then sanity returns

A few more days and then summer is over and done, and good riddance, we can put away the humorous T-shirts and resume intelligent life on earth. I felt a hint of September in the air last Wednesday and it made me happy, like walking up the street and hearing the neighbor girl playing a Chopin étude instead of that dang Bach minuet. Finally, we’re getting somewhere.

Summer is nice for about a month and then it raises hopes of euphoria that cannot be met and it’s time to return to reality. Euphoria is available in pharmaceutical form but it’s nothing to base a life on. It tends to lead to stupidity.

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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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