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HOG Reflections on Groundhog Day - 2/2/15

 I respect Groundhog Day. Sure, there’s no barrage of holiday advertising, presents or fireworks that go with February 2nd, and it gets little respect, but I value it as a wonderfully simple day. Some bitter souls might say, a simple day for simple folks. I say ... what the hay. But don’t mistake a lack of over-commercialization, for a day not worth celebrating. The beauty of Groundhog Day (GHD) is you can make what you want of it, because other than the obligatory news story – showing a sedated, fat furry animal pulled out of a fake burrow and then held high by someone in a top hat wearing protective gloves, proclaiming whether the poor, confused animal saw his shadow or not – there’s little else to mark the day.

Personally I choose to see GHD similar to the ancient pagan day (Imbolc or Imbolg or Brigid's Day, a Gaelic festival that marked the beginning of spring, about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox) and I always try to just make a connection with the natural world, to observe what’s changing (or not) in the season. I think we need GHD, because it comes at a time of the year when most of people’s time is isolated within warm, cozy buildings and we’re busy focused on all manner of electronics ... and we barely known if it’s warm cold wet or dry outside.

How accurately a mammal living in a hole in the ground can forecast the next six weeks of weather (StormFax Weather Almanac measures Phil at 39% correct since 1887), is neither here nor there in my mind. Hell, I even tried a few years in Vermont to watch suspected groundhog burrows for shaded or exposed peeping fur, but I failed any sightings. Oh, and then there are the years when fresh snow obliterated everything, making it near impossible to spot any exposed groundhog. GHD is more art than science.

So what’s it all about? When we had our bookstore, I spread the GHD “spirit” by holding special GHD sales, and creating and selling many a HAPPY GROUNDHOG DAY button ... people laughed. I advise you take the simple route, feel yourself lucky to register the weather, know what’s going on in the world outside, and wish the people you greet a “Happy Groundhog Day.” Now, these people may think you simple, they may ask you if Phil saw his shadow (would you know?), but they just might smile ... and that will be something pleasant you helped create in your world.

Happy Groundhog Day folks!   

hidingthe vote

I’m now just able to come out into the sunshine again.

For my own sanity, I’ve been secluded in a dark and depressing box since that November 4th Ebola-like red tide of election results. Results that killed off most of the sanity this country had left. We all really knew this voting cycle wasn’t going to be pretty, but electing more teabag/Republican candidates—just a better groomed and coached brand of wing nuts—is one frighteningly ugly sight to sane people. Before we only had to deal with the Orange Man leading the House, but now Turtle Man will be heading up the Senate ... Jesus!

The corruption of massive amounts of dark money thrown at state and national elections across the blue/red/purple countryside has created something quickly mutating further and further from any sort of a democratic system. In some places, more dark money (from mysterious and nameless donors), was spent on races than money from the candidate and the party shown on the ballot.

Hell, let’s give up on any form of electoral government entirely, and just sell the seats to the highest bidder. Oh, we’ve pretty much already done that.  

We should all practice saying the word PLUTOCRACY. You would hear that word often if you listened to my man, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a fellow Socialist and independent representing my birthplace of Vermont. He cuts through the bullshit of what masquerades as political discussion in this country. He may run for president in 2016. After having listened to him for several decades, I’m sure he could, at the very least, help intelligently shape the debate on the Democratic side. During my dark period in that post-election box, thoughts of a Sanders/Warren ticket kept me going. Even if that ticket didn’t win the primaries, their influence on the issues would be a breath of fresh air in a very stale system, a system that sees another Clinton as some kind of deliverance. Oh it’s just sickening to think how excited some people in this country are at the prospect of another Clinton/Bush contest. Come on people—let us not keep looking to the past for the people to lead us into the future.      

If only the Democrats had been able to grow—or at least transplant some balls—but I dream. The airwaves were saturated with talking heads explaining the Republicans’ great campaign secret—they ran with no ideas of their own and just preached hate for the black man in the white house. That was to be expected, but then you had the Democrats play into their hands by running away from Obama’s successes, Democrat policies, and even their own damn party. Stand up for what you’ve done, campaign on what you want to do for the Americans who need help the most. Winning could have been an option, or, they could have still lost, but they could have retained some dignity.

Americans seem to have the attention span of a gnat and about the same level of loyalty and intelligence. The operating procedure for voting shouldn’t be, if a voter perceives that all things are not perfect, they simply vote the ruling bastards out. Voters can’t forget about giving some thought to the bastards they would be voting into office. The brain and a person’s analytical powers should be involved—something beyond simplistic knee-jerk reactions to bumper sticker phrases. Thinking about voting should at least take as much time as the average family takes pondering which reality shows to record and watch on their DVR.  

It’s time to buck up. We all need to work towards getting the massive amounts of money out of our political system, and you damn sure could vote for candidates you really believe in, people who inspire you, and who show they have more principles than polling experts.

If not much changes, we all could find ourselves hiding out in dark and depressing boxes.

grand loungereading - 12/11/14

These last few days have reminded me why reading is one of the greatest pleasures I known.

Over the course of a few days, I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for the first time. A number of the hours spent reading Tolstoy were in the spectacular Great Lounge of Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel, a room that I wish everyone could experience at least once in their life. Curled up on a large, comfy couch with a good book, in front of a roaring fire in a fireplace six feet tall and big enough to easily hold a compact car – is an amazingly comfortable experience. With the cold of the surrounding forest, and the visual beauty of the Yosemite Valley, just outside the room’s huge banks of windows, reading within the warmth of a huge wood fire makes for one incredibly great vibe.

But my tale here is not just about reading one book, in one of the most beautiful spaces on the planet. Because all books come to an end, another pleasure of reading is knowing there is always another book in the wings, waiting for a reader’s attention. In my case, it was Murakami’s The Strange Library, something as different from Anna Karenina, as hitting the perfect top-spin backhand past your tennis opponent, and drinking an ice-cold beer on a sizzling hot Central Valley summer day, both things pure pleasure, but oh so different. The Strange Library is a design treat from the bizarrely-creative mind of book designer extraordinaire Chip Kidd, combined with the always inventive writing of Haruki Murakami. It is art project meets playful literary stylings, and is beyond bizarre and playful on both counts.

Yet, my story doesn’t end there. Next up out of my book bag was Ted Kooser’s Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison, and it dealt with a fine poet recovering his health while taking pre-dawn hikes on the country roads around his Nebraska home. These walks lead him back from his raging depression—because of his tough fight with cancer and its treatments—to his life’s work of writing fine poetry. Each day his short poem was copied onto a postcard and mailed off to his friend, the great American author, Jim Harrison. Those daily walks brought Kooser back his spirit, and the scenery caused a growing desire within him to share his connection to the natural world with an old friend. The collection is very special to me and brings my appreciation for the natural world into even more focus through his simple, elegant words.

The contrast in styles between these three books is most considerable in scope and the second and third books are both very compact and brief when compared to the immenseness of
Anna Karenina. In an attempt to even out these imbalances in size and style, as well as to up my pleasure, I simply read the last two books twice. It’s all to the good and variety is much of what my reading practice is about.

What a pleasure.

da plane
da plane - 9.18.14 (revised piece from 3.18.14)

Months ago I came up with my own possibilities about what happen to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and now I will share them with you. But first, I would like to ask if you think we can really trust the CIA, NSA, and the other thugs that control all those spy satellites? It makes their “information” about the missing plane pretty suspect when they won’t tell the public the details about what they know—because they say that that would tip off the “evildoers” to our capabilities. Only the secret people will know what happened, and they’re not telling us. Oh, and they’re sure to be thinking, “thanks to you ignorant American taxpayers for buying us all these neat electronic toys”. As to my ponderings, it’s not too late for them to be useful, since the plane appears to still be missing.

So, what are the OTHER POSSIBILITIES for what happen to Flight 370?
TERROR IN THE SKY! Terrorists quickly took over the plane, turned off the transponders and...and...and?

An untracked tornado sucked up the airliner, and the wreckage fell to earth in Kansas. Kansas has got to be of some
use, and they’re already famous for tornadoes dropping things...like houses. Why not a plane?

The pilots just wanted to see if they could get away with it—they could.

The plane never existed. Has anyone really checked into this? Could it have just been a misprint on a schedule?

This was a very clever use of a black hole, maybe by an odd leader wearing cool shades in North Korea.

A transporter beam sucked it all the way to China.

The plane backed up and landed at the same airport that it flew out of...and nobody noticed.

Somewhere, on a small island, a short man in the know, is chanting “Da Plane!” “Da Plane!”

It’s time to look carefully into those huge swirling islands of sea garbage.

And, my last three possibilities:




silly talksilly walks & talks
- 9.18.14

I walked into the house.
      Did it hurt?
No. It was double-insulated.
      Was I home?
No. You’re the car.
      Not just a car, I must be a fine driving machine.
No. You’re an Olds.
      My grandfather’s Oldsmobile?
No. A rusty old Olds from Flint.
      Couldn’t I be a shiny new Jag from the Hamptons?
Face facts, you’re an old car. You really can’t be asking all these questions.
It’s already Hump Day somewhere.
      What? Oh, I get it; it’s always about sex with you.
Fuck you.
No, I mean, are you up for it?
      Yeah, if I can be a shiny Jag.

Where is he?
      I haven’t seen him.
He’s invisible, right?
      Only to the naked eye.
Are eyeglasses and contacts considered clothes for the eyes?
      Only bifocals.
That’s narrow minded.
      Not those Coke bottle kind of glasses.
Are you trying to be obtuse?
      You see right through me.
Honey, the entire world sees right through you.
      Here’s looking at you.

What if you were born as a toaster waffle?

You were sure to become stressed when you realized that you’re packaged in a plastic bag, within a cardboard box, and stored within a freezer. Oh, and it’s damn cold in there. If this chilled phase of your life continued, staving off freezer burn would become a major issue. Dryness and freshness are absent in a freezer. Your outer box can become wet, then limp, then frozen, then warped and gross, all this happening while those clumsy humans are constantly opening and closing the freezer compartment door. Their pudgy little faces wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t just stand there with those utterly confused and clueless expressions on their faces.

“What’s to eat?”
“No. Not that.”
“Does that still look good?”
“What to eat?”
The question is what is life like to a frozen breakfast food? Will you be treated with respect, heated correctly, spread with a generous amount of real butter, delicious peanut butter, and 100% Vermont maple syrup? Or, will some slob bury you under a thick coating of some artificial, butter-like spread, hideous/imitation syrup, and NO PEANUT BUTTER! Will my human devourer take the time to responsibly fill every one of your little waffle square with Vermont’s finest, until it runs down the sides and half fills the plate.

I’m now too hungry.
I must stop before I go on and start discussing flavors...chocolate, red berry, blueberry, buttermilk, bran, seven grain cousins.
Gotta go, my freezer is calling.

I want to sell shoes when I grow up.
      You do remember that you’re already 92?
Does that seem grown UP to you?
      Only if you’re not buried deep in the ground.
Do you need those shoes?
      We all need shoes; otherwise our feet would constantly grow.
That would be cool.
      You’re really thinking huge, ever-expanding feet would be COOL?
If one had poor circulation or stood in the snow.
      Hey, why not go for gangrene while you’re at it.
Now you’re just being CRUEL.
      Like that book by Steve Martin, Cruel Shoes?
It only makes sense, tight shoes epitomize cruelty.
      Your priorities are screwed up.
You’re so critical; I suppose you agree with all your own opinions too?
      Now that you’ve brought up my superior manner of thinking...why yes...I do.
How do you fit your ego inside your pinhead?
      You’re getting cruel.
We’re all really cruel shoes—in one way or another.



I was just wondering to myself—do we ever wonder to anyone else?—why does the world seem so devoid of hope at the present time?
Have we overdrawn the planet’s goodwill account?
Are we all in a mass collective funk?
Can we get out of this massive downer?
Or, are we simply—over?

I’m still here...does that mean there’s still hope? Is hope something more than one person’s thoughts, a singular experience that can expand to a community of like-minded folks, and then even larger populations? As long one person has hope, it is possible that it could spread to more...many more. (Don’t think anything about the Ebola virus here.)

Is there a positive aspect to: the deadlocked U.S. Congress, too many books and not enough time, escalating warfare in the Middle East, freeways full of oversized SUVs, income inequality, extra-sticky price tags on books that leave dirt-attracting goo when removed, global warming, beer that’s sickeningly sweet instead of brewed with “a hint of autumn spices”, and that overpowering feeling of hollowness that haunts me so often? Is there a higher purpose to these times that try our souls? Will they make us stronger? Is all this hopelessness serving as an inoculation to something fatal that coming down the road?

Just asking.

Does this smell?
      Few things don’t.
But, really, does this smell?
      Christ, that could knock a buzzard off a shit wagon!
Is that another colorful phrase from your childhood?
      Why, doesn’t it smell right?
Could it smell LEFT?
      Now, I’m just confused.
And Febreze© takes over the world.

What did the fish say?
      What could it?
Not much.
      Depends on his motivation.
What motivates a fish?
      Worms, bugs, weeds, and little tiny fish.
Can’t imagine that.
      You need to work on your fishiness.
       Good work.

simply - 9.5.14

It was during a bad time in my life, that I had this very special and odd dream. It was the high point for the whole period.  If I could manage to make this dream reoccur on a regular basis, I'd be a happy clam. I first wrote this years ago, and have revised it many times, but it has always made me smile whenever I thought about it, and now I share. It was something like this:

Like many of my dreams, this one seemed to have started without me. I joined it in process, and then I had to get up to speed.
In the beginning, I was holding this soft and extremely light piece of foam. It was about a foot in diameter, three or four feet long, and was a flat black in colorlessness. It was truly an example of the absence of any color, it seemed to have the ability to trap all light, and yet still seemed like a perfectly non-threatening version of a benign black hole. It was nothing exciting to hold, and I thought nothing more of it.
Yet, when Vicky and I had to go somewhere, without a thought, I simply took that foam and stuck my hands down into one end, as Vicky did the same on the other end. We could easily move our hands around while pushing them deep down into the pleasing feel of the foam. The foam easily stretched out longer, and longer. We created a long hollow tube, and then made a large opening in the top.
What could you do with a big, soft foam tube? That’s easy...we simply climbed inside and sat down. There we were, sitting side by side in our safe foam cocoon, with openings on both sides. It made me think of sitting in a giant warm hand. I promise you, this is not in any way an endorsement of Allstate car insurance.
What happened next was no surprise to either of us. The openings grew on their own, as we got more headroom and legroom. Eventually we ended up sitting in something the size of a small (think geeky, nerdy toy electric meter maid/Smart type) car. Then some of the black turned transparent for windows, and we were sitting on some wonderfully squishy black foam seats—with plenty of bounce, and, of course, cupholders. At the time, once again without giving it a thought, I simply pushed my foot into the floor in front of me, and we started to silently move. How and what moved us, I didn’t have a clue.  

There was a fabulously comforting aspect to this small foam car (like a very tiny, mini, Mini Cooper or an alternative-fuel on-campus mail golf cart made out of Jell-O) as we traveled down the street. It had such a pleasing and amusing jiggling-bouncing motion. There was no fear of losing control (high speed wasn't an issue or a possibility), or of falling out (though the sides were completely open without any doors), it was a safe place to be.  It was somewhat like riding with the rhythm of a horse, or, I should say pig, but that would be an entirely different story from my youth in Vermont. We were bopping down the road.
At some point we came to extremely busy freeway entrance ramp, one that also appeared to be an exit ramp, all in the one narrow lane. But owing to the safe and dreamlike feel of this actual dream, and the foam cars soothing bopping movement, we simply pulled on to the ramp without any concern. Facing large conventional metal cars roaring towards us, we simply moved towards the edge of the narrow lane, everyone slowed, and we all carefully passed by each other. It was like a friendly, old-fashioned gesture—from an older and more mannered time on some back woods dirt road—and this was happening on a modern freeway!

No recollection of where, or why, we were out car bopping comes to mind now. I do remember that at some point, I had to move my I-cannot-bare-to-throw-these-away collection of scraps of hardwood boards. Easy, peasy...I simply used the foam car. After forming a car out of that fantastic, fun foam, it was simple enough to walk behind the soft car and simply take hold of the back corners, and pull, and stretch, until we had ourselves a mini-foam pickup. Then, instead of the sound of metal ringing out, as each board hit the bed of the foam pickup, there was only a soft sound. It only made as much noise as it would have to load up one's couch with lumber. There was another amusing difference, as each piece was thrown into the truck bed, the whole truck would drop, flatten out, and then bounce back into a happy truck shape. It seemed to be giggling and laughing. It was happy to help out.
I do remember some handles and mirrors and the like eventually evolving out of the foam, but it was always more of an organic blob, than anything mechanical and wheeled. The spirit moved it and it was a place of peace and possibility. It felt like you could make most anything out of this foam. Boat, plane, doghouse, or dinner, this foam could just be the answer to so many of our modern problems. The whole question of fuel or power source seemed like such an antiquated concern. There were rumors that the next version of the foam would move completely beyond the one color of flat black. It was felt it would all have seem too playful if they had started with something like pink foam. I don’t recall much of anything else.

Oh, one more thing, you could simply squeeze it into a small blob and put it in your pocket for next time.


dirt & death
- 8.14.14

"This dirt feels great,” the old man muttered to himself. The former farmer was alone in his daughter’s garden, with both his hands sunk deep into the rich, dark dirt. This was the same trucked-in topsoil from which his daughter Clara’s flowers now leapt towards the sky. He had no special skills, but he loved to spend the time needed on the plant life, to bring her yard into bloom.

After he lost the family farm to the calculators at the bank, and his wife to the ocean, Fred had drifted in life for some time. Then, there was his short tenure as a Walmart greeter. Working alone on his farm for decades hadn’t given him a anything approaching what people called people skills.

It was after his first greetings (*) were coldly ignored by fifteen passing assholes, smug assholes positively possessed by their cell phones, that Fred snapped. Store management didn’t deem to offer him any second chances, his “inappropriate and unprofessional” treatment of the sixteenth cell phone user ended this senior citizen’s Walmart career.


Fred felt bad, but he realized that deep down at his core, he just might not be a true people person.

Losing his Walmart job meant less than nothing, compared to his feelings about his wife Mary’s death. The two of them had been together for so long that they felt truly related, weathered, and bonded. Mary’s cancer would have been a brutal and agonizing journey towards death, if she hadn’t taken a shortcut. Her choice shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone who had been close to her, as she had discussed it for years. California’s Highway One had so many glorious, high curves above the blue Pacific waters. It was the section north of Jenner, with those breath-taking high bends in particular, that had always beckoned to Mary as a way out…if she ever needed one. All it had taken was picking the right spot, hitting the gas, and steering through a lethal opening in the guardrails. Gravity, blunt-force trauma, and drowning had done the hard work for her that day. 

Clara was divorced and living alone in a sweet little bungalow, when she got the call from the police. Her dad had been found wandering the streets of a small town several counties over from where his depressing little apartment sat.

Clara’s relationship with her dad had always counted on the buffering of her mother’s presence.  Before Mary’s death, Clara and Fred rarely ever spoken directly with each other. Without distracting facts and events to deal with, actual conversations quickly became painful between them.

Nowadays, she worked long hours for a local real estate office, and Fred spent his time bringing her long-neglected yard to life. All the great intentions and bright landscaping futures that the previous homeowners had envisioned for the place had faded and wilted, while Clara lived there alone. After her bitter divorce, she had always been too busy and too occupied (distracted) for anything to do with a home live.

Fred made household repairs, painted here, made improvements there, but it was the yard work that really did it for him. Sun, seeds, pruning, and watering became his focus, his joy.

Fred and Clara’s current life together made it abundantly clear how vital Mary had been to make these three separate people a family. Now, dinnertime conversation only concerned what had been accomplished that day, and what potential improvements were to come. Talking about actual feelings didn’t happen. They had long ago agreed that discussing emotional issues was best left to other people, people in other families. Instead, while they seemed happy enough on the outside, they were profoundly hollow.

Fred had recently lost his driver’s license; his eyesight was dimming, and knew he would no longer be able to find the suicide openings in the Highway One guardrails. But, as emotionally stunted as he had become, he still didn’t think it right for a father to ask his own daughter to take him on this last ride. Yet, that terminal ride would certainly promise to be an intensely emotional time together…before they hit the blue Pacific waters.

So Fred gardened, and thought about how to frame his final request, and Clara continued to work more than she had to.       

(*) These greetings were something he struggled with to make sound sincere and friendly. Practicing these greetings in front of a mirror had destroyed a little more of his own self-respect each time he tried. Watching for shoplifters was the aspect of the job that seemed almost fun in comparison, it was almost police work. But it was the $9 an hour, and serving as a greeter, a door clown, that was so numbingly depressing about the whole situation.

gray freeway

fear - 2.20.14 

A morning’s events set me up to see my own fear. All it took was a wet and windy day, something sharp in my lane of the freeway, and an AAA road service policy.

We were just starting to drop down into the Central Valley, near Fairfield, California. My semi-foggy windshield gave me a limited view of a rainy, foggy day, one reduced to the world’s of gray, gray, and more gray. There were five lanes of people driving “too fast for the conditions”, but I was the one who hit whatever. My eyes were taking a quick look into the rearview mirror, to see what might be coming up from behind, when a loud bang on the underside of the car was felt as much as heard. Quickly the car started to wander, and I knew—I had a flat. I got over to the narrow shoulder and pulled the car up tight to the right side guardrail. 

Looking out my window into the grayness, I saw the three feet to the thin white line that served as the inconsequential border between our car and the 70-mile-an-hour world of freeway intimidation. I picked my time, and got out to check the spare, while my wife called AAA on her cell. Hell, this was why we had the policy, why we had our cells. Drive a car with over 220,000 miles on it and road service should be your friend. This was all to get some worker on a tow truck to save me from knelling in front of my flat, with my back to the constant stream of semi-trucks flying by inches behind me.

Yeah, I could have done it, I’ve changed many a tire over the years, but I didn’t want to be that cold, that wet, working with a lame jack, and worried about some truck taking the curve wide, coming over that tiny barrier of paint, into my area—into me.
Within ten minutes, a CHP officer drove up in a bright mass of flashing lights. He asked me if we were alright. I told him that we had a flat and a tow truck was on its way. He asked me if we “felt safe” on the roadside, I joked, “Sure, other than the traffic.” He told me that we should stay in the car with our seatbelts on at all times. I got a creepy feeling. I have an imagination that loves to take any odd situation and run with it. Now, my mind thought of all the potential disasters that might arise. In my mind’s eye, I easily pictured the two of spinning off down the freeway being hit by truck after car, pin-balling along.
After half an hour, another set of flashing lights pulled up behind us. The AAA guy quickly changed the flat, but I saw his eyes constantly sweep back into oncoming traffic. Even the experienced professional was wary of every large hunk of metal that loudly thundered by in its own cloud of rain, wind, and gray.
Revelation, you can buy people’s services to take your fear away. We had paid him to take a little of my fear into his life. What a good deal…for me.


my Visconti fountain pen

This is my favorite fountain pen. I use it to write the first drafts of many of the the reviews and other creations of mine that you find all over the website. It's my
red Rembrandt by Visconti. — John

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