Red, White, and Screwed?

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I’ve observed this fellow around town (pictured) over the past few years waving American flags in bitter snow storms, driving rain, and hot, muggy afternoons as cars streamed by causing his flags to flap as he sat smiling.  It was just this past week I finally found myself by his small selling station and took the opportunity to chat.

He was sitting outside my bank fanning himself with his hat as I made a withdrawal and spontaneously decided to walk over and buy a flag. I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty sure he’s a vet, and I think there might be a few additional challenges for him outside of working on the street. It was clear from the start he’s extremely patriotic and very proud to be paying all his daily living expenses in spite of being homeless. The hats he sells are negotiated at a lower rate from local thrift shops, and he orders the flags himself in three sizes to fit his mobile cart he rolls all over town. He’s happy to place a small paperback he’s written about his life into your hands for $12, which to date, has sold some 250 copies. He’s slyly negotiated spots near local cash registers and will give you his pitch right there if you’ll stay long enough to listen. He explained he’s been homeless for several years now, ever since rent increases shot up some 400-500% the last five years making a steady place almost impossible. He also avoids local shelters because meth heads have a knack for stealing while you sleep he explains, and also possess the unnerving habit of behaving erratically during waking hours.

So I asked myself, can we really write Allen off as some sort of loser just because he’s homeless and needs a hand every once in a while to make ends meet? What happened to that sense of human decency we were taught as kids as Congress prepares to cut Meals on Wheels and school lunch programs for tax cuts?

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Have an epic nice day.

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Funny thing. When I got my Northern Lights coffee at the coffee shop this morning, the barista had written, “Have an awesome day!” on the side with a smiley face. It made me think about the original “Have a nice day” yellow grinning t-shirt from the 1970’s and why we were satisfied to have just a nice day back then versus our need today for an awesome day. Has there been nice day inflation or are we determined to package our positive experiences more powerfully now we are surrounded as a culture by daily shootings, terrorist attacks, and other potential threats. Makes me wonder.

Thanks for the Tweets

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100 years ago America would have been entering World War 1 after what historians termed the “Quiet Time” as most of Theodore Roosevelt’s and Taft’s terms were without the chaos and conflict we’ve come to expect on our nightly news these days. While that century started out quietly as it climbed toward war, I’m still at a loss for what exactly this century is. We began with 9/11 and have only increased our fear and disillusionment as demagogues and oily politicians attempt to apply simple answers to complex questions.

One thing I do know, is there are many things in our culture we have come to accept as normal that are actually quite abnormal. My latest edition in this complex world of bullshit came over dinner two weeks ago. We needed to get out of the house for an hour, so my wife and I drove the mile or so to Mackenzie River Pizza, a place known for attracting families and a relaxed atmosphere. Nothing special about the food, but the booths are comfortable, and it’s located in a relatively quiet part of town. My wife has very specific food allergies, so we were pleased when the waiter announced a new “soy” cheese, gluton free pizza they were offering that week. To “die for” was his exact quote.

Ten minutes later, the pizza arrived and my wife sniffed at it suspiciously as she was well rehearsed on her food choices. “That’s regular cheese” she insisted, so we called the waiter back and requested a double check on the cheese before she’d even handle a slice. Turns out, a new cook started that day, and he had no idea what soy cheese was, much less where they kept it. From that moment on though, a little drama played itself out that was not only oddly excessive, but somewhat embarrassing.

The waiter wrung his hands, apologizing for five minutes before spilling out half off coupons and announcing the meal was “comped” on behalf of the owner. I could even take home the real cheese pizza in a box if I cared to have it. He suddenly disappeared as it became the manager’s turn to address us. He literally groveled on his knees at the edge of the table, “I’d like to give you two additional $10 off coupons,” he said, “good at any of our locations across the state.” A bit confused at this point, I looked him in the eye and asked, “this was a fumble for sure, but we’re not going to sue the establishment or anything, what exactly is going on?”

Turns out, most of the customers, not just ones with allergies, upon learning there is even an extra crouton on their salad have been known to have massive “rage outs” when something is prepared incorrectly. The manager had developed this routine delivering prizes and coupons as his way to placate fire breathing idiots fishing for goodies.

So I thought about a disturbing cultural trend I’ve seen developing since the beginning of this very unique century. Acting like a cutthroat asshole is rewarded by our system; no matter if you are President of the U.S. or someone who’s at a local deli. Businesses are so afraid of getting a bad Tweet on their services that they often rush to send coupons and goods with a smile. While that may be a good business model for social media in the short run (increased profits), it is killing us as a compassionate, caring culture. We are being trained like circus animals to overreact as quickly as possible to any small mistake we can hang on someone else. Kind of like that chicken that played a piano at the state fair for a food pellet. We need to start asking, “Is a $10 off coupon really worth the cost of losing our humanity and sense of community?”

 

Coupon Surprise

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I was at our small town Christmas Parade this past Friday when one of the young men in costume came by handing out what appeared to be $50 dollar bills (pictured). I’d been exposed to just about every clown back flipping form of giving away a coupon you could think of in college so I waved the guy off as I was taking photos. This didn’t stop the people around me from seeing the mock $50 dollar bill and flocking to grab one from the apparent bag of $50’s this guy was carrying around. So it begs the question, is it dishonest to disguise your business coupon as a $50 dollar bill, or is it a lesson in greed for all those who rush forward to take advantage of the mentally ill clown?

Pet Peeve Number 3

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Co-workers who bring crummy snacks: nothing turns a stomach like arriving to work only to find some amorphous blob pushing the definition of food sitting on the counter. If you are going to take the time to treat your colleagues please invest more time and money than a $1.50 on an item from the half off shelf at your local Texaco gas station. This may result in my producing a burnt walnut string bean surprise for the Christmas party.

Disempowered among us

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Many of us were shocked by the results of the 2016 Presidential election this November, but no one in the ranks of the working poor even blinked an eye. They have felt underappreciated and neglected by the country’s politicians for decades and feel abandoned by anyone else not stitching together a life in a rundown apartment holding three part time jobs. How did I recognize this even before the election? Little things, like this morning when I paid for my coffee at the supermarket deli and reached out my hand for the receipt the 60 year old attendant quickly set it on the counter instead. Visit a high school where kids feel disempowered and you will find trash strewn across campus after each lunch hour; even extending into nearby neighborhoods from those who went for fast food. Chances are you’ve also experienced the painfully slow walker in front of your car that never looks before entering the street, or slowly lumbers across the cross walk as if you and several other people waiting didn’t exist. All of these things are signs that we have a great deal of detachment from the people replacing our sewer lines, trimming our trees, and fixing our coffee. If the message of Trump getting elected means anything, it’s that we need to stop being so damn self-centered and think about quality of life for everyone. Give up the damn “get famous on YouTube quest” and start thinking like a community again.

Ledger Art Expresses Native Culture

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Every once in a while in life you get the opportunity to do something unexpected. For me that happened last evening when I attended a seminar led by Native American artist John Pepion teaching us his brand of traditional Native ledger art. According to John, after the “Indian Wars” the chiefs from the Plains Tribes were locked up in prison in St. Augustine Florida so as to isolate them from their people. The Chiefs got bored and began to produce art expressing their culture on the ledger paper given to them by their guards. Tourists who dropped by to get a look at the chiefs soon started purchasing their artworks and a new form of cultural expression was born. My running bison piece isn’t quite complete, but it was a pleasure getting to spend a couple of hours with John.

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