What happens when beach reads get uppity

Blame it on Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Julia Keller. It was a steamy 2009 Chicago summer when she encouraged us to read a book over summer vacation. It should be something light on plot and a bit savory and it certainly shouldn’t sit as heavy as the lobster roll with fries you just ate. The “beach read” was born.

Beach reads offer a sweet lick of mystery and romance with a lot of froth. No one is fooling anyone here: in six months this summer’s crop will be at the library book sale. The formulaic characters are pretty much the same: a spunky heroine with long hair and no cellulite, a muscular male with wavy hair and a mysterious past, a cove, a beach, a summer house, a bed and breakfast, a creepy mansion on a hill overlooking a cove or a beach, money, and at least one car you will never be able to afford. Girl road trips are big this year, so are some version of family dysfunction or rediscovery around the campfire.

Chucking the coastal theme, there’s the “urban romp” sub-genre. Everyone is engaged in self-serving ennui while earning a six-figure income and dreaming of escape to a simpler life in a small town with at least one interesting reclusive local. Our protagonist will buy the local hardware store and run for town council while solving the unusual number of murders in town. No one will notice the murder rate sharply increased with this newcomer’s arrival.

What you’re not likely to see is anyone overweight, or living in a trailer park, or driving a beater box, or unemployed or disabled, except as a plot device to elicit laughs. Beach reads tend heavily toward vanilla-flavored white middle class self-serving schlock. If there was ever a case for keeping cheap paperbacks flowing, beach reads are it.

Let’s up our game. It was 1851 and after a year and a half of writing with a quill pen by candlelight, Harper & Brothers, London, published a story by 31-year-old Herman Melville chronicling the tale of a whaling expedition to the South Seas, an obsessed sea captain and a white whale. The story was narrated by a novice crew member, Ishmael. Based on the real-life white whale, Mocha Dick, and the sinking of the whaler, Essex, the 800 pages of Moby Dick remain the singular most compelling narrative of whaling and obsession in literature. The first and perhaps the best beach read.

It’s interesting this acknowledged Great American Novel can be had for as little as $3 while some transient bit of fluff will set you back $25, if you want a hardcover, or less if you want the e-reader edition. Does Moby Dick qualify as a beach read? If you consider the elements of a beach read are there: angst, friendship, the fine line between love and obsession, money, exotic locales, colorful characters, the sea, the beach, a couple of inns, a coastal town or two, and something menacing. It may not have long-legged blondes or hedge fund brokers but it does have tattooed harpooners and men of the sea.

If stories of the sea take you to a place of endless summers and danger, consider this: Peter Benchley’s Jaws did for sharks what Moby Dick did for whales. There are parallel plot devices in both novels. Jaws had an out-sized murderous shark, an obsessed shark fisherman looking for revenge, a great struggle at sea that resulted in the death of the shark fisherman and the shark, and the same level of anatomical detail that Melville used when he described the whale. If you saw the films, you watched Gregory Peck rage across the deck of the Pequot and Quint across the deck of the Orca. You knew these two would come to a sticky end.

There aren’t any rules about how long it should take to read a beach book, except maybe the self-imposed one that says, “I have to finish this thing before vacation is over.” Sorry not sorry, Moby Dick won’t be finished with you before you head back home. And maybe Jaws made you wonder if you wear the slinky black bathing suit that makes you look like a seal and go for a splash, will you catch the attention of a Great White migrating up the coast? Why mull over human angst when you can have terrifying sea life to worry about. Nothing beats sitting on a beach looking out over the water and wondering.

Reading should never be a slog. It should take us to places we will never see and to adventures we could never have. If we agree on that, open your beach bag and I’ll drop in a few of my favorite summer reads: Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Jaws by Peter Benchley, and In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Sebastian Junger, winner of the National Book Award in 2016. The Essex inspired Melville to write Moby Dick. The Perfect Storm, the true story of the loss at sea of the fishing vessel, Andrea Gail, and her crew, during the “no name storm” that raged along the eastern seaboard during the last week of October, 1991. And Typhoon, by Joseph Conrad, a tale of human folly steering a course into the face of a South Pacific typhoon.

We both know all of these were made into films; but, do this first: take these voyages waiting for you this summer in the pages of five near perfect books. Can you feel the salt spray? Did you check the horizon for a rim of clouds that signals a storm? Remember the old saying, “Books falls open, you fall in.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Martinez

Posted in Beach reads, Creatures of the Deep, Great reading, Nature, Stories, Tales of the Sea, Travel, Uppity reads, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Johnsonville Lights: Is the truth really out there?

June 6, 2017, 01:17, Johnsonville, NY, looking southwest toward the Johnsonville Dam on the Hoosic River in Rensselaer County. Reporter states he witnessed seven “or so” pulsing red-orange lights moving in formation over the spillway and proceeding downriver toward the Town of Schaghticoke. Residents interviewed in vicinity indicate this phenomena has been observed multiple times in the same area over the past two years. (Reported 6/7/17)
What’s going on here?

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any crazier, there’s now a way to check on a UFO sighting against similar sightings in an area. Just released is the blandly named U.F.O. Sightings Desk Reference: United States of America, 2001-2015. It’s not a page turner, unless you like statistics and graphs, but it does give a national county-by-county analysis of UFO sightings reported to the nation’s two largest UFO investigative agencies, the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC).


Don’t expect to read about lizard people or politicians or any other weirdness in America, this is a scientific analysis of all the data collected about UFO sightings across the country. Parsing the charts, graphs, and numbers, the authors, Cheryl Costa and Linda Miller Costa, let the data speak to a fourfold increase in UFO sightings around the country from 2001 to a high of nearly 125,000 in 2015. These are sightings documented in the MUFON and NUFORC databases.

It’s speculated that the majority of sightings are never reported. According to nuclear physicist Stanton T. Friedman, the original civilian investigator at Roswell, statistically only 1 in 10 sightings are ever reported. If this is correct, the number shifts to a million and a quarter sightings during the same period, 2001-2015, or over 85,000 sightings in the US annually.

The study’s authors, Cheryl Costa, a military veteran and aerospace analyst, and Linda Miller Costa, who served as a librarian with NASA, as well as the National Academy of Science, and the Environmental Protection Agency, believed it was about time to analyze what direction the “UFO Phenomena” had taken. Their exhaustive data analysis found the majority of sightings in New York State are over Long Island and Manhattan, the state’s most densely populated area. But sparsely populated rural America has also seen a significant number of UFOs. You might not want to count out upstate New York just yet. Every county in New York has reported UFO sightings, at least two as recent as June 5 in Clifton Park (Saratoga County) and the Johnsonville lights report of June 6.

Are we all-seeing things? Reports indicate the majority of sightings are people walking their dog, sitting on the porch, driving to or from work, or just looking up at the stars on a clear evening. What exactly do these observers believe they’re seeing? It seems to depend on where you live. In the Capital Region, fireballs and triangular craft seem to dominate. New York ranks #6 in reported fireball sightings.

Where’s the photographic proof of all this action up in the sky? It’s not a secret that objects in motion don’t photograph well on a smartphone or digital camera. Distortion, handheld movement and the speed of the object create unique challenges for anyone who wants to capture one of these objects in motion. NUFORC and MUFON receive hundreds of images and videos every month. Most don’t withstand scrutiny but 6-20% have left questions with no current answers.

If you live near water, a military base or a power plant you might see shapes flying around the vicinity or observe an aerial light show. Rural Rensselaer County is a case in point: the small power generating dams on the Hoosic River seem to elicit a high number of sightings of pulsing orange lights.

With the volume of reported sightings, why are some observers reluctant to report? The reasons range from feelings of fear to feeling foolish, concern about becoming the object of ridicule, second thoughts about what was actually seen and belief the military is testing a mysterious new prototype. The other question that vexes researchers is why the increase in sightings now? Sightings peak in the United States during July, the belly of summer, when the weather is warm and people are outside in the evening. Belief in visitors from other worlds is as old as humanity and documented in art, the Bible, and thousands of reports; but, the real reason for increased reporting now may be as simple as internet access and a smartphone.

There’s a chasm between seeing something in the sky you can’t identify and actually seeing an alien, believing you have been abducted, or seeing a UFO land. In our nightmares we see War of the Worlds not E.T. The U.F.O. Sightings Desk Reference doesn’t get into this other side of reporting.

Since the 1947 Roswell Incident there have been documented and creditable unexplained contact reports but the majority of reports remain unexplained aerial phenomena and a bit of foolishness: a pie plate on a string and a stick, a smeary photo of someone winging a trash can lid passed the camera lens, or someone thrashing around in the woods in a wrinkled alien suit. But there are Americans who claim a more sinister encounter. Science finds little to support the majority of these claims and sleep science suggests that close encounters are actually night terrors and sleep paralysis manifesting as a dark, sinister alien presence in someone’s house.

Is the truth out there? You be the judge. Do you want to believe? How about a visit to Johnsonville on a clear summer night.

Posted in Country weirdness, It's outta this world!, Stories to read when you're not alone, UFO, Weird stuff | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Once upon a time on the Allagash…

A few years ago a friend of mine, an avid backwash fly fisherman, got himself into a pile of trouble up in the Allagash wilderness. For those who don’t know where the Allagash is, it’s in the remote northern part of Maine that butts up against the triple border of the US, Quebec and New Brunswick. There’s a whole lot of nothing there for jobs but a whole lot of black flies in the spring.

On this particular wilderness fly fishing weekend for city slickers, led by guides who were far slicker at lifting several hundred dollars from their acolytes then the lads were at lifting fish from the Allagash, my friend made the acquaintance of a swarm of black flies.

Black flies have two things on their minds in spring:  a nice warm blood meal and making little black flies. Thankfully their lifespan is measured in days. You never see a black fly travelling alone. They like to swarm and bedevil anything with warm blood. That bottle of Skin So Soft some smartass back at the office told you would ward off Satan himself might as well stay in your backpack. This is Fly Dope country.

Pat, my friend, a red-haired Irish kid from Boston, came outfitted by Orvis and LL Bean but not with an ounce of sense. On Day Two of the great wilderness adventure, the black flies caught up with him. He recalled the first thing he heard was a humming and the second thing was being engulfed in a black cloud. Within a few minutes of screaming and swatting he was being dragged away by two guides wisely covered with Fly Dope and black fly netting and gloves. But it wasn’t over for Pat.

It took a bit for the symptoms to develop but he began to swell up like a party balloon. At this point the guides knew there was trouble and it was time to evacuate Pat to a hospital. But the nearest hospital was a 60 mile round trip on poor secondary roads and with their charge looking like he had come out on the wrong end of a prize fight and beginning to complain of burning and difficulty breathing, it was time to call the medivac helicopter way down near the other end of Maine and the New Hampshire border. Still, it was the best bet.

Pat was evacuated several hours later full of Benadryl and epinephrine the guides carried for this kind of emergency. After several days in the hospital during which he had what the doc called “Black Fly Madness, he swore off fishing, gave away his gear, and made some promises to friends he would later regret.

I’m telling you this because this is the time of year when we all have bug stories. Maybe not as dramatic as Pat’s but some beauts nonetheless. And we have black flies. The no-see-ums and mosquitoes come later. Maybe if you live in the center of a city or stay indoors with the shades down and the doors locked, you will not experience the torment that is black fly season.

For the rest of us, how about some black fly trivia? Did you know these things can survive underwater in 32 degree weather? Or a determined black fly will fly up to ten miles to get a good burger? And did you know there are about 40 species of black flies in the northeast out of the estimated 1500 species spreading their misery across the globe? And, yes, you can die from black fly bites, although it’s not likely unless you’re like my friend Pat who is allergic. On the plus side, if water is polluted, black flies will not pause and they’re an excellent source of nutrients for bats, fish, and a few other insects.

What’s a gardener, hiker, angler, or anyone interested in being outside in the summer to do? Wrap up. Wear netting over a hat, wear light colors and long sleeves and don’t give them a chance to chew on your ankles. For about $11 you can buy some summer mesh bug gaiters that go from ankle to knee.

Midday is a great time to get outside and avoid the black flies, especially if it’s sunny and hot; but, overcast, humid, still days ring the dinner bell and swarms go cruising for brunch. And you might want to stay away from the woods or great outdoors at the ends of the day when they’re especially active. Avoid perfumes, smelly shampoos and consuming lots of sugar. These change your body’s pH and set you up as an entree. And don’t forget to apply DEET insect repellent to your clothes.

 If you hike or camp, take Benadryl and calamine or witch hazel in your kit. If you get bitten, be alert for signs of an allergic reaction: swelling of your face and extremities and difficulty breathing or swallowing. An acute reaction is unlikely but be prepared. Wash the bite site with soap and water and liberally apply the calamine or witch hazel you brought with you. Remember, if you have any symptoms of a true allergic reaction, don’t wait to get to medical care.

Black fly season in the northeast extends from early May to early July. We still have a couple of weeks to go. The folks over in Maine know all about black flies and Downeast.com has a handy Black Fly Survival Guide, the one-stop guide to what they are, why they’re after you and how to thwart them.

It’s Summer. Don’t let the black flies, ticks and mosquitoes get you down.

Posted in Bugs, Flyfishing, Health, Nature, Travel, Wilderness | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Professional Porch Sitters Union, Local 518

Porches are as much a part of an all-American summer as barbecues, flip-flops and swimming. A lot happens on a porch: lovers spoon, a dog naps in the sun, iced tea and lemonade taste better, and reading a book just seems perfect on a warm summer day. A porch is a space where everyone is welcome and hospitality abides.

The front porch is as old as history but in America front porches appeared in Colonial times when getting out of the house in the stifling summer heat was not only a chance to socialize but a necessity to drop the body temperature a few degrees. Porches come in all shapes and sizes from long horizontal spaces, to wrap around Victorian porches, to just enough space to sneak a couple of chairs.

Over the centuries, porches have become the heart of the house in summer with neighbors competing for the snazziest porch furniture, flowers, rugs, and artwork. So important is the porch to homeowners that the trend to make the porch a “three season” affair has been in vogue since the Fifties. But, beware: the modern raised ranch and post-WWII utilitarian construction was nearly the end of this cherished American architectural tradition. What replaces it? The deck. An open-air wood creation of slats and railings elevated above the ground and sequestered behind the house where privacy rules. Despite attempts to glorify deck construction, decks lack the welcoming charm of the all-American front porch.

If you’ve spent anytime porch sitting you might have noticed that porch ceilings are sometimes painted blue. If you thought it was to give the feeling you were looking up at the summer sky, you might be wrong. Blue porch ceilings are a Southern tradition, and one originating in South Carolina, where fear of restless spirits, haints, impelled homeowners to paint their porch ceilings, and often their window frames, blue to ward off evil spirits from entering the house and stealing family members away.

In New England you’re likely to see blue ceilings but what’s underfoot comes in two flavors: battleship grey and stained wood. There was a rumor going around a few decades ago that floors were painted grey to resemble the decks of whaling ships or the decks of battleships during WWII. The truth is grey hides dirt better than any other color underfoot. Nowadays folks have traded wide plank floors for the likes of concrete and tiling in newer construction.

Decorating a porch is big business and Pinterest and Houzz have page after page of ideas ranging from the rustic to high-end urban to DIY to “let’s pay a designer to do it for us.” If you’re of the “a coupla fold up chairs and a cooler” school of decorating your going to be ridden over by the color- coordinated crowd that worries their front porch won’t have enough curb appeal. There’s a lot of worrying that goes on with porch decorating. For something that’s supposed to evoke a slower life and banishing stress for a few hours, the angst that goes with creating a picture perfect setting can get to be expensive.

If you gravitate to old houses, you can be pretty sure you’re going to get a porch with that homestead. In rural America the Vernacular Greek Revival farmhouse followed the Greek Revival style of the mid-nineteenth century but added simple touches: side porches, smaller pediments and side additions. But the porch remains in nearly every farmhouse you drive passed or in every faux farmhouse in every development in America.

When I was a kid we had a Victorian porch in a neighborhood of Victorian houses with porches. Every porch was occupied at some point of the day or night no matter the weather. If you came home late, you could bet someone would be standing on the porch waiting for an explanation. If someone was sick, neighbors would gather on the porch with best wishes and covered dishes. You stepped out on your porch on a Sunday morning and stepped off to church or to breakfast. The porch was part of the family.

Across America there’s a no dues, no rules, no regulations, no contracts, no scheduled meetings, no agenda loose knit network of porch sitters that call themselves the Professional Porch Sitters Union. The motto: “Sit down a spell. That can wait.” The PPSU claims member locals in fifty states. The only thing you really need to join is a porch and a few chairs or a desire to sit a spell and take a load off your body and mind.

As a nation we don’t seem to agree on much anymore, except maybe that we like to sit on a porch and forget there is anything but a book, a cold drink, the warm sun and maybe a breeze. Maybe there’s a little subdued conversation but the porch is a place to shed your stress, forget politics and religion, trade a few stories, share a laugh, and watch the weather go by in a world that gets crazier by the day.

How about a Capital Region chapter of the Professional Porch Sitters Union? All we have to do is give ourselves a Local number. How about Local 518? We might even organize a few spontaneous porch sitting events. According to the union’s founder, Claude Stephens over in Louisville, KY, PPSU Local 1339, some suggested topics to get the conversational ball rolling are: “You think we’re going to get any rain?” Does it take more energy to argue over who will get more lemonade than it does to just get up and get it?” and “Sure is hot.” I can live with that kind of conversation on a sweltering summer day. How about you?

Photo credit: Professional Porch Sitters Union of America, PPSU Local 7

Posted in Community, Family, Neighbors and Neighborhoods, Relationships, Unions | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Memorial Day means to one soldier’s little girl

Memorial Day never struck me as a mini-Black Friday, the day to run to the nearest holiday sales or tell anyone who will listen, “Thank God I’ve got Monday off!” Memorial Day is about remembering. A day to do what we should do everyday: remember our veterans. Those who died in combat or from the battles that rage in their minds long after they return.

I write about veterans because I respect what they have done. I may not respect the politics that put them in harm’s way but I respect their self-sacrifice, especially in a time when being self-satisfied seems to have become a mantra for America.

I’ve mentioned before that I come from a military family: father, husband and son have all served in different branches of the US military. I don’t believe any American does not know at least one person who served.

My adult life has been a search for my Dad, an Army veteran so broken in body and mind that he spent most of the year occupying a bed at the VA hospital in Vermont. I grew up there. I was the only kid I knew who ate dinner at the hospital commissary, a quonset hut left over from the war, or first tasted the wonders of a black and white ice cream sundae supplied by a sympathetic hospital cook. And I’m fairly certain that riding in the back of an ambulance with your Dad is not a normal childhood experience.

I mention this because I don’t want any of us to forget. Memorial Day isn’t a bunch of old men standing around a forgotten town memorial saluting the flag. There isn’t an American who hasn’t been touched by war; we’ve had too many of them. It’s hard for us to see the young soldier hiding in the wrinkles of a 90-year-old. And it’s a stretch to try to fathom the experiences of a generation of young men and women sent to places with names we struggle to pronounce. But we must do that for them and for us as a nation.

Memorial Day is the gateway to a red, white and blue summer. But we’ve lost the sense of what the day means. We don’t come to earth long enough to think about what this special day symbolizes and why we need to join those folks around the town memorial. We’ve moved the date from May 30 to one more convenient for a short holiday. We publish sale flyers weeks in advance and hope the weather holds to get in the tomato plants. What we lack in all the noise is a sense of generations and the legacy of having someone in the family come back from war. Or not.

Maybe what we need to remember in this country is that once upon a war we were all in it together. We don’t need another war to teach us that lesson. Or maybe as Andy Rooney told us: we don’t really need a Memorial Day to remember the dead so much as to remember all the young people who will die in future wars if we don’t make war disappear forever.

Memorial Day for me is a little girl pushing a wheelchair down the endless hallways of a hospital filled with sick, injured and dying veterans. We can do better than this.

Posted in Family, Government, Health, Politics, Relationships, Stories, War and Peace | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A front row seat at the Pearly Gates: 2018 is coming

Elizabeth Warren was right on when she said she hoped that Republicans would donate their bodies to science so that, when they were cut open, we could end the speculation about whether or not they have a heart. I don’t think we need to wait that long. We found out who has a cardiovascular system on May 4.

For the Republicans in the House who did not answer Paul Ryan’s siren call to screw millions of Americans out of healthcare or throw them into the arms of insurers, I salute you. There were only eight and two were from New York, John Katko, R-NY24 and Dan Donovan, R-NY11.

The rest of this smug Republican crowd voted to gut national healthcare. The smiling pictures of Paul Ryan and his toadies rubbing their hands and giggling over their actions is revolting. The Affordable Care Act was flawed but negotiation, collaboration, compassion and decency could have changed provisions of the Act that would have refined the existing law.

The lie is that a pre-existing condition will not disqualify anyone but what it will mean is potential premiums that will likely triple for elder Americans and range into the thousands for those who are ill. I defer to a higher Judge to settle this crowd when they arrive at the Pearly Gates.

And to those Republicans in Congress and the Senate who have compared those with pre-existing conditions to burned houses or who callously threw away those Americans and their families by telling them they can move away from their homes if they want insurance or boldly said that their lack of morals or some character flaw caused their illness, I condemn you. I’m not mincing words here: you are evil. You do not deserve the honor of elective office.

But this is what will happen: no one who voted for Trump and this madness will give a damn, will see this as the horror show it is until it knocks on their door and they have to deal with the illness of a loved one or themselves or until some illness from an earlier part of their life comes back to haunt them. It’s OK to not hold anyone in Washington accountable for what they do in another state but when it parks itself in your driveway, game on.

The United States is the only economic power that does not have national healthcare. All of our allies have it. All of them. By 1995 all of those countries had embraced a national healthcare system as the right of all their citizens. The United States also leads the world’s developed countries in infant mortality. There just might be a correlation.

When I listen to New York’s Republican Congressional delegation, with the exception of Mr. Katko and Mr. Donovan, yak on about how we just don’t understand how terrific this is and how they’re just trying to save us from ourselves, I think about how oily politicians can be in order to keep their place in the limelight. If you associate with your colleagues who call us names and dismiss us then you are no better than they are. You are known by the company you keep.

We can change that in 2018. It may seem far away but it isn’t. Every seat in the Senate and House of Representatives will be up for grabs. Every seat. There is a chance here to change business as usual. To bring humanity, courage and common sense back to elected office.

But you have to vote. Trust me, it won’t happen if you expect someone else to do it.

There are deaf ears in Washington where Republicans laugh at our anger and vote for legislation that destroys the fabric of our country. It’s a real party down there. But not for long.

2018 is coming…

Posted in Government, Health, Law, Lies, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Miss Manners, you’re our only hope

Before we start tossing around words like “bunker mentality,” let’s review some recent encounters with my fellow homo sapiens.

Last Thursday, crawling out of my rural farmhouse for supplies, I must have driven over a nest of pick up trucks, the kind with gun racks mounted over the back window and bumper stickers extolling the benefits of motor oil and large breasted women instead of peaceful co-existence and “eat more veggies.” These types of encounters, albeit infrequent, are part of life in the exoskeleton of the tri-city area. At some point someone is going to try to run my arse off the road because they’ve got dual exhausts and more chrome than Justin Bieber’s Fisker Karma and all I’ve got is this dinky peace symbol cling on my bumper and a bad attitude.

Or how about telling me to move when I’m in your way. And don’t say it just once, be sure you’re voice rises with the hot air you’re exhaling. Don’t ask, just tell. Have you noticed I’m not moving? Don’t make me tell your momma on you.

Or how about you slamming your cart into my cart because you’re in a hurry and I’m just malingering by the potatoes. Or you park in a disabled parking space even if you aren’t disabled because you’re “just running in to pick up a few things.” Or maybe you tailgate me so closely I can see your nose hairs.

Or maybe you get to jigging on one foot and then the other and sighing and muttering when I hesitate before ordering at the deli because I know you’re in a snit and a hurry and it’s all about you and my life is dedicated to this moment of making your life hell at the deli and “Hey, can’t you read English?” It depends on who’s asking and how politely.

Here are a few facts brought to you by a curmudgeon: (a) there are too many damned cars on the road being driven too fast by adults acting like kids at a bumper car fun fair; (b) speed limits seem to be posted more as a guideline than a legal requirement to obey and when you get a ticket everyone within earshot hears you whine about how the universe hates you; (c) there are too many loud diners in restaurants shouting across the table at roughly the decibel level of a B-52 headed down the runway; and, (d) it’s hard to tell the difference between a drunk driver and somebody texting because both dangerous fools are all over the road. There are more letters of the alphabet but that’s enough to get you started.

Let’s take a side trip to Canada. I was a grad student at McGill in Montreal. I lived there for over a year not so long ago. There are no dinosaurs roaming the earth in this retelling. During my time there, the Canadians were all “please’ and “excuse me” and “thank you.” I found myself sitting up straighter, smiling more, making nice to shop keepers, and listening to chamber music in the Montreal subway. It was magnifique.

When my time came to return to the US of A, I realized I had been spoiled by civility. If I said “excuse me” someone would look at me as if I had burped or broken wind; if I said “please” it was taken as a request for pity; and, if I said “thank you” there was suspicion that I was about to ask for something more. We’ve come a long way from a time when it was okay to hold a door for someone, to offer a seat to someone, and to keep a voice at a decent level for conversation. I don’t think that we’ve evolved. I’m more inclined to think we took a nose dive somewhere along the way.

What happened to us? When did we get to be the self-obsessed rabble we feared? I’m not saying we’re one big pitchfork mob but we sure act like we’re about to light the torches on Saturday night. I did a little social research and what I found surprised me/not surprised me. Most of the folks I spoke with were worn down and worn out with the noise and anger, the craziness and the chaos of it all. There’s too much incoming. But they also felt that it was okay to respond in kind. And they blamed the other guy for starting it. Anger for anger. Rage for rage. Cheap shot for cheap shot.

As a nation, we’ve forgotten how to be civil to each other when we don’t agree. We’ve forgotten the meaning of “collaborate,” “discuss,” and “negotiate.” We take no prisoners if they disagree with our entrenched views. I’m right and you’re not. In the coming year or so we’ll see the toll it takes on our national health, our mental health, and our burgeoning addictions. I’m not painting a happy picture because I believe we’re in deep trouble here.

Which brings me to Mark Twain and I. He’s often quoted as saying, “The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.” I have a dog. And, yes, the more I see of where we’ve come and where we’re going, the more I like my dog.

If you’re a writer you get to spend many jolly hours talking to your dog, yourself, the birdies, muttering to yourself or shouting out dialogue and generally making your family wonder if maybe you’re not really writing anything and the boat has drifted out to sea. Having a few stories on the go can get you out of social engagements, justify your battening the hatches and pulling up the moat on a world gone mad with itself.

I think Miss Manners might be our only hope. In the April 30 issue of The Washington Post she indicated that “because etiquette evolves Miss Manners has to act as the impartial judge of which are legitimate changes and which are not.”

I don’t know if those over-heated boys in their chromed out pick up trucks would agree, but I think Miss Manners has the steel to make America stand up straight and tuck in its shirt tails again.

Photo credit: the author wishes to thank Demotivation.us for the use of their photo of Mr. Twain and his excellent dog.

Posted in Dogs, Good manners, Government, Pitchfork mobs, Politics, Relationships, Walk like a Canadian | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment