Monday, March 23, 2020


When we visit Vallarta, we like to ride the bus from Villa del Palmar to the very beginning of the malecon.  It's a pleasant walk along the sea past Sergio Bustamante sculptures, acrobats twirling down and around impossibly tall poles while dressed in Mayan regalia, sand-covered chess players masquerading as statues, sculptors making sand castles on the beach, and vendors hawking shrimp on a stick and Mexican corn.

It is especially cool when the wind comes up and the tide starts lapping up the side of the concrete wall.  On many afternoons, only the malecon is keeping local institutions like Señor Frog's and The Cheeky Monkey from ankle high water on their patios with the ocean views.

The fate of Señor Frog notwithstanding, the malecon is a seawall that protects downtown Vallarta and its hordes of tourists from periodic flooding.

What the world needs right now are more seawalls.

Those Scandinavian coastal countries have faced reality and used public money to erect seawalls to protect against the frequent buffeting they receive from sea.  Makes sense, but to the American ear such forethought smacks of socialism (insert gasp).

When Atlantic City, along with much of the Eastern Seaboard got inundated by a hurricane a few years ago, I wrote a post in here speculating that the chances of the Eastern Seaboard getting inundated again were probably pretty good, so maybe we should start thinking Scandinavianly (great word) and erect a few seawalls.  I noticed that actual pundits in actual newspapers said the same thing.

A Side Story:  You can build seawalls to mitigate against other things than just, you know, the sea.  In the men's locker room at the Y (I hope I will see it again some day.), the drinking fountain is hanging on to the wall by a thread.  There must be just one bolt holding the thing on and I don't want to be standing in front of it when it blows.  I told the folks at the desk.  I even told one of the maintenance guys.  No luck.  The kind of foresight that would fix the fountain before it actually blows--let me call it "seawalling"--costs money.

Let's talk about seawalling vis a vis the Coronavirus in particular and pandemics in general.  We weren't prepared for this.  No one, with the possible exception of South Korea and Singapore, was.  It is of course a temptation to point a finger at Trump for his ham-handed way with messaging and his tendency to hide his head in the sand while pointing his finger backward at his predecessors, but let us be honest, any president--Franklin Delano fucking Roosevelt for Christ's sake--would have been overwhelmed by the events of the last few weeks.  Any stock market would have reacted the same way.  The fact remains.  We were not prepared and things would be better if we had been.

I don't want to be a prophet of doom, but I have a feeling that pandemics are going to be a lot like the periodic pounding of the Atlantic on the Eastern Seaboard.  We need to build seawalls!  We need to have masks and ventilators in reserve.  We need to have the infrastructure in place to get all those supplies to where they are needed.  We need to have an economic plan that will get us through time and again until the most recent hurricane, the most recent pandemic, fades away.  And someone, somewhere needs to develop a defense and an efficient way of delivering it.  Finally, we need to believe in science, get vaccinated, and do what the experts advise.

I wish I was in Vallarta right now, hanging out on the seawall, maybe even getting a drink and some nachos at Señor Frog's.  I wish we all were.  Maybe next year.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Caldwell's America

A Conservative Pundit Who Can Actually Write

Here is my big objection to Christopher Caldwell ("The Age of Enlightenment:  America since the 60's").  He does a masterful job of describing how awful the world is, but seems to take a couple things for granted that in my opinion are just conservative bullshit.  First, since his readership is primarily conservative, he can just assume as a given that all the crap inflicting our world right now is a result of the liberal direction our politics has taken since the civil rights legislation of the 60's.  Second, he takes it as a given that all of this bad stuff could have been avoided, that it was not inevitable.

His major thesis seems to be (N.B. please remember that I am new to this guy's stuff and so I'm basing everything I say on my reading of one review and one long op ed about France in City-Journal.) that our country is polarized because, thanks to the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, we have two constitutions.  There is the original one written by the framers and then there is the de facto one created in 1964 which "curtailed freedom of association and property rights."  He goes on to lament the fact that civil rights activism in the 60's created "a newly emerging idea of fairness against all traditions."  In other words, the fairness we were trying to achieve back then ran counter to the intent of the framers.  I guess, according to Caldwell, the framers were not much interested in fairness.

So, Caldwell is an Originalist, just like Antonin Scalia, who believes that "the only way back to the free country of [Republican] ideals is through the repeal of civil rights laws."

This dual constitution situation has created all sorts of conflict within the body politic.  There is a clash of "civilizations" at work here.  On one side (this is Caldwell speaking and he sneers a lot) we find the high-minded elites (you could probably insert the word coastal here); on the other side we have a loose band of dissidents, patriots, cranks, and gadflies.  It is pretty clear which side Caldwell and most Republicans prefer.  They don't like all those coastal elites telling the rest of us what to do and, worse yet, making us feel guilty if we don't do it.

After all, Caldwell's, and by extension, all conservatives' principal concern is with cultural preservation and continuity.  Introducing new fangled laws championing the rights of people of color and the rights of women damages that continuity.  After all, the framers certainly were not interested in granting rights to people of color or women and what was good for the framers must be good for us.

And so we become a country of victims and oppressors and the victims' views are the ones that become the adopted views of our country.  All the changes of the past 50 years have been a war on the country and the civilization conservatives used to know and love.

In Caldwell's article about the situation in France, he presents a pretty convincing case against globalization.  The unintended consequences have torn France and America in two with those who benefit from globalization firmly entrenched in big cities and the rest of us relegated to the dead end poverty of the rest of the country.  The urban real estate market, he asserts, is a pitiless sorting machine.

He says, for example that at the turn of the century, London was 58% white.  Today it is 45% white.  The reader is supposed to GASP at that.  He lists lots of scary statistics like that and just assumes we, like him, look on the situation with horror.  He clearly implies that liberals' misguided belief in the good of diversity is making this whole situation untenable.  He also implies that none of the problems with immigration plaguing Europe and America would have happened if we had just employed some conservative common sense.

Liberals misunderstand the relationship between diversity and inequality, he asserts.  The fact is, as diversity grows, so does inequality.  Therefore, all the arguments we have are either sensible or superstitious, good or evil, depending on if you base your argument on the grounds of economics or identity.  Separating parents from children at the border makes sense to conservatives like Caldwell.  It is an economic necessity.  Those liberals freaking out about the policy simply misunderstand the economics of the situation; they are all hung up on personal identity, superstition, and political correctness.

Do you remember a couple of days ago when Treasury Secretary Munchin sneered that he would listen to Greta on the environment when she gets her degree in economics.  That explains the two sides of the argument in a nutshell.

I'm going to read more by this guy.  Marxist historian Perry Anderson said that his "columns in the FINANCIAL TIMES make much liberal opinion look the dreary mainstream pabulum it too often is."  That's what William Buckley's writing was like when I was an undergraduate.  I hated what he said, but I loved the way he said it.

See, I can be fair and balanced too.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Rolling Coal

When I first read about Trump rambling on about plumbing and appliances and lightbulbs and god knows what else, I just marked it off to Trump being an inarticulate buffoon, but it is more than that.  His ravings actually make a lot of sense.

I can say this because I can now hear people at the Y.  I always marveled at how two men could stand belly to belly and talk animatedly with each other for the time it takes me to go through a complete workout.  Before I had my hearing aids, I had no idea what they were talking about.  I just assumed it was political banter that I wanted no part of.  But now when I'm walking behind a couple of old white guys on the track, I can just make out what they're talking about.

They're talking about plumbing and appliances and lightbulbs and all the stupid liberal regulations that systematically take away their freedoms.

Plumbing is a good place to start.  Remember back in the fifties when men were men?  Back then no one had heard of low capacity toilets.  The thought of wasting water, except to coastal elites like Rachel Carson, was just silly.  I mean, just look at how much of it we had back then.  When you flushed a toilet back then, you knew you accomplished something.  If you got to close to the bowl, there was a good chance you might get sucked down the pipes.  But now!  Forget it.  Evidently Trump produces too much crap for the low capacity toilets at the White House (I'll bet Obama had them installed.) to handle with one flush.  So what happens to poor Donald, who in any other situation would be environmentally aware?  He has to keep flushing the toilet over and over, thus negating any water saving the toilet was designed to create.  The guys I'm walking behind at the Y have the same problem with the crap they produce.

What about light bulbs?  Again, back in the fifties when you flipped the switch on your wall, the light bulbs would instantly reach peak illumination and that peak illumination was clear and bright.  No more.  Coastal elites who think they know what is good for everyone else, started fiddling with incandescent bulbs.  So now, in the name of environmental awareness,  everyone is supposed to use fluorescent bulbs.  But the fluorescent bulbs don't immediately brighten up and when they finally do, it is still nothing like the light you could expect from an old fashioned bulb.

Hey, and don't even mention water saving washing machines!

And I'm just talking about hardware.  What about all the social changes?  In the fifties, we could make fun of gay people, or immigrants, or women, or anything.  Not anymore.  Now we have to use initials like LGBTQ, or hash tags like #MeToo, or shed a tear or two over immigrant families getting separated.  The world just isn't the same for white guys and it is driving a lot of them crazy.

It seems to me that movement conservatism has reacted to the seismic changes befalling our country by finding ways to piss off, to stick it to, the coastal elites they find as the cause of all the upheaval.

How do they do that?  Easy.  First of all, replace all the water saving appliances in your house (the ones that got planted on you) with their old fashioned alternatives.  Watch your water bill explode and you will know that you are showing those liberal elites that they can't tell you what to do.

Get rid of the fluorescent bulbs and buy some incandescent ones before they are no longer on the market.  Watch your electric bill rise and feel the satisfaction.

Arm yourself with guns and parade around in public while shouting threateningly at all the snowflake liberals cowering in the wings.

Make sure you don't vaccinate your kids.  That's the kind of courageous statement that will make people sit up and take notice.

Better yet, and this works best for young white males who look a lot like they belong to the Hitler Youth, rig up your F-150 to belch out black smoke at all intersections, especially at intersections where there might be some liberals riding their bikes to work.  Just think of the satisfaction you'll get seeing all those environmentally aware types eat your smoke.

That's the attitude that informs all of this isn't it.  A young white male with confederate flags waving from the truck, rolling coal and showing everyone how he's not going to let any government tell him how to run his life.  In other words, an idiot tailor made for Donald Trump's America.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Getting Visceral

I was at the Y yesterday when the Silver Sneakers class started up.  There were three rows of chairs lined up on the basketball court with about 30 folks in my age range sitting there ready to go through their paces.  I couldn't help but notice their first exercise involved sitting in chairs with fists clenched and held in front of their bodies.  The instructor led them through a series of punching exercises to warm them up.  Some of the participants led with their left, others with their right.  One lady in the front row wasn't really able to lead with either hand.  Just the effort expended holding her hands up was enough to do her in.  At least she is trying to keep moving.  Give her credit for that.

But I am haunted by the boxing warm-up.  On the track above the basketball court, there is an alcove holding a punching bag and a body bag for anyone who would like to use them.  The only folks I have ever seen at the bags have been old men in ill fitting baseball hats busily punching out imaginary foes.  I'm sure a lot of the men at the bags are imagining they are beating the shit out of Muslims, or Democrats.

My mother bought me a punching bag when I was eleven years old in Estes Park.  My brother in law mounted it in the basement for me.  I was never quite sure why she gave me the bag.  I didn't ask for it.  I guess she thought that since I had no masculine influence in the house, a punching bag would help train me how to defend myself if the need ever arrived.

To this day, that need has yet to arrive.

When the bag first went up and I was presented with a brand new pair of boxing gloves, I went downstairs and gave a few tentative swings at the thing.  It was pretty easy and the bag did in fact bounce off the rim and make the kind of staccato pulse that pugilists in sweaty gyms would create, but after that there wasn't much else to recommend it.  The punching bag remained idle in my basement through my high school years.

And the thing is that I feel a little guilty about that.  I didn't do the manly thing and rise to the occasion with my punching bag.  And by extension, I have to believe there have been plenty other occasions where I haven't risen to the "man challenge."

Do you remember the Andy Griffith episode where Opie has entered all of the events at Field Day, to take place the end of the school year?  He can't sleep the night before, dreaming of all the first place ribbons he was going to win.  Of course, Field Day arrived and Opie doesn't  win a single ribbon, not even third place.  He is devastated and goes home to pout in his room.

Andy goes up to talk to him and lets him know that Opie's poor sportsmanship won't fly in the Taylor household.  "I'm disappointed in you," Andy says as he walks out of the room.

But it all turns out okay, because Opie shows up at the jail and lets Andy know that he has learned his lesson.  Andy gives him a huge hug as the show breaks for commercial.

I've never had a "man lesson" like that, at least not one from a real live man.  I've never been on the  son side of a father/son relationship.  If I went fishing, it was with my grandmother.  If I learned to shoot, it was . . .well, I never learned to shoot.  If I learned to own my behavior, it was from my mother, or aunt, or sisters, or grandmother.

I never learned to place a value on being tough.  That's why all the commotion over the drone attack on the Iranian general is so hard for me to take.

Should I be like a FoxNews sycophant and glory in my visceral reaction to a murder.  Should I get orgasmic over the prospect of destroying cultural sites in Iran?

Should I be proud that my country is getting Medieval on countries we don't like?

In a recent ATLANTIC the cover story was lamenting the state of American boys.  What kinds of things are we teaching them?  What kind of values are we inculcating?  The answers are not pretty.

I'm glad, I think, that I don't salivate over the prospect of beating up on another country.  I'm glad I weep when I read about what is happening at our border.

But I still feel inadequate when confronted by a bunch of guys my age at the Y who stand around belly to belly getting visceral rushes at the thought of taking someone out!  I'm supposed to pump my fist and be happy about some, by all accounts, incompetent general getting splattered all  over the tarmac of some distant airport.  Or shake my head knowing it serves them right, when I hear about another child's death at the border, when I hear about  a child screaming and hyperventilating when he gets pulled out of his mother's arms.

Sorry.  I just can't do that.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Happy, Happy, Happy

Willa used to chant that whenever she was feeling good.

I'm thinking it is time for a happy list.  I like making lists.  I like assigning lists.  It is an easy way to write, kind of like doing improv.  You don't have to organize by anything other than instinct.  You think of something; you slap it down.  The order isn't important.  It is Christmas Eve morning, Willa's eighth birthday.  Katherine is here in the office printing cards.  And I'm at the keyboard, a familiar scene.

Here are the things that make me happy in no particular order.

-As long as I already mentioned it, Katherine printing cards in the office, a familiar scene.

-The thought of Willa being eight years old.

-Watching Sammi lead the chorus onto the stage at Havern during the Christmas Program.

-Being able to pick out Sammi's voice whenever the choir sang.

-Watching Brooklyn dance in HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS.

-Knowing that Chris has made that show happen for going on a decade.

-Being able to see Brooklyn dance on my iPhone.

-Jaydee getting out of the car in her Grinch outfit, the one that Anna Cash made for her.

-The fact that Jaydee is going to do an overnight at Autumn's.

-Willa's absolute thirst for knowledge and her retention of information.

-The way Willa shivers with anticipation.

-Being proud that Chris donated the profits from HFTH to a cast member whose little boy has cancer.

-Being even prouder that Brooklyn organized the elves in HFTH to donate a portion of their pay.

I do have three non-family items making me happy.

-Governor Polis, his decisiveness, and seeming ubiquitousness.

-The thought that Cory Gardner might lose this next election.

-The idea of President Trump studying wind.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Restaurant Chains

It seems like all the important events, all the important periods, of our lives have been somehow associated with restaurants.

I'm pretty sure Katherine and I discovered we were in love over beef combinations at That Mexican Place in Copper Mountain.  And of course there was The Riviera from about the same time period.

We went to see JAWS at a matinee at Century 21.  Afterwards, we had a early dinner at The Riv.  Any long time resident of Denver knows The Riviera.  They had cable reel tables on the patio and margaritas that went down like Seven-Up.  I always ordered the beef combo and it came out smothered in green chili.  The chile was great, but I never could precisely identify its particular shade of green.  After JAWS, we sat inside at a table near one of the aquariums filling the place and kept checking out the water inside to make sure we would be alright.

In the early days of our marriage, we were devotees of three places.  Barry's in Arvada for breakfast.  Whenever we drove down Wadsworth to get to the place (usually on Sunday mornings) we made the boys promise to act just like the Brady kids.  Nate and Chris, always ready to jump at a chance to perform, were perfect replicas of Greg and Bobby.

The Lakewood Bar and Grill was another killer breakfast joint and since breakfast could be had there for under two bucks, we went there a lot.  The Italian sausage sandwiches at lunch were also terrific.

The other joint in our three restaurant rotation was The Monterrey House close to Jefferson High School.  Franny was just a toddler at this time and she was famous at the place for wolfing down their enchiladas smothered in green chili.  The green chili at The Monterrey House was incendiary with big chunks of pork floating in the middle of the sauce as it was ladled over most of the dishes at the place.  I don't think it is too much of an exaggeration to say that nearly every Friday night we were either in a corner booth at the place, or eating take out at home.

In the spirit of accuracy, we also liked the take home pizza dough from Vinnola's.  If we didn't have Monterrey House on Fridays, we were making pizzas at home to eat around the television set and the Friday night line up.

In a few years, we left our pretty little house in Wheat Ridge and moved closer to school.  We were also making a little more money; therefore, our restaurant rotation improved.  Now, we went to The Morrison Inn for Mexican.  Not nearly as good as The Monterrey House, but it didn't take 45 minutes to drive there.

We would drive down Alameda to Federal for wonderful Vietnamese food at The T-Wa Inn.  The soft shelled crab there is something I'll never forget.  Franny loved the food there.  We all did.

When we wanted to get upscale, there was no better choice than the 240 Union.  They had a fried liver and onion entree that I looked forward to for days before going there.  I think the 240 was the first restaurant in our lives where the waitstaff recognized us and treated us like old friends.  Great place.

Since the 240 was acclimating us to haute cuisine, we next ventured down to Cherry Creek and Mel's.  There was a jazz combo playing there on weekends and the food--Frank Bonanno was the chef--was the best I had ever tasted including my sister's cabbage rolls which are better than anything.

We also added Tante Louise to our rotation.  Corky Douglas continues to be the best host I have ever encountered and the food was almost as good as Mel's.  We liked taking Kathie's folks to Tante Louise because, to Ruth Ellen's way of thinking, it fulfilled every idealistic criteria of what a great restaurant should be .

Mizuna, the restaurant Frank Bonanno opened after he left Mel's, was the next step up on our restaurant odyssey.  We had dinner there with Franny the night we saw THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES and it was a magical evening.  Franny had the lobster mac and cheese and her life was changed.  For a long time we went to Mizuna at least once a month.  Every time we walked in the door it was like a family reunion.  I haven't been there in a while and I miss it, a situation I can easily rectify.

But we couldn't eat all our meals out at upscale places, so we found some great choices closer to home.  T-Bone Night at The North Woods Inn was a frequent date for our whole family.  The night Kathie learned she had breast cancer, we met Chris at the Inn and had a long and memorable dinner.  Chris, as always, rose to the occasion and was entertaining enough to help us forget, for a moment, the reason for our get together.

Romano's in Littleton was almost a weekly destination when it was just Kathie and I and Franny, the boys gone off to work at Disneyworld.  That was another place where it was a family reunion whenever we walked in.

Nowadays, our favorite thing to do is tour the DAM and then have lunch at French 75, Frank's awesome take on a French bistro.  After that, we like to walk down to The Milk Market, another Bonanno venue, and get the best fried chicken in town at his new version of Lou's.

If breakfast is in order, it is usually because we are coming back from some early morning doctor's appointment at Kaiser and so we like to stop at The Original Pancake House on University close to Southglenn.  The last time I was there, I discovered their green chili.  It was a revelation.  No more corn beef hash and eggs for me.  From now on, I'm getting green chili on everything.

We don't go out so much anymore and if we do go out to eat, it is usually for lunch rather than dinner.  It is just easier to get places at lunch time than dinner; besides, dinner ends up being way past my bedtime.

I've also noticed that most of the places I've mentioned no longer exist.  Oh well, as my Aunt Annie said repeatedly, "It is hell getting old."

Bon Apetit.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Ruptured Floors and Name Drawings

For the second time in as many years, our kitchen floor has been water damaged and needs replacing. This time the culprit was our dishwasher which suddenly started overflowing and soaking the first few rows of hickory in front of the sink area.  We tried to ignore it as long as possible by putting a runner over the damaged area.  No use.  The damage kept getting more profound and impossible to ignore.  I pointed out the problem to my kids during Thanksgiving.  They were sorry.  Chris, being Chris, immediately offered us the use of his contractor and even offered to help us pay for it if necessary.  Hey!  It just might be.

We called up the same mitigation company (Kinetic) that helped us through the first catastrophe.  Nate, the project manager, showed up the next morning, laid out a plan, and scheduled the first in a steady stream of technicians.  Jamie was the first.  I guess you could call him a tearing-out-the-warped-wood-technician.  A plumbing technician, actually a master plumber named Gercon, was the next to arrive.  Someone checking for mold (a little) and asbestos (none) were next.

The first thing Nate did when he showed up was to install a dehumidifier that has been droning away day and night for the past week.  Thank god, Nate took the thing away yesterday.  It will be another week before he is able to round up the matching wood and schedule the floor job.

In the meantime, our kitchen floor has been violated for the second time.  The droning is gone, but the hole in the floor is still there and the place is just not as comfortable as it usually is.  Furthermore, I am terrified to use the dishwasher.  What if it all happens again?  I have forced myself to use it.  So far, so good.

But the droning was there for the annual name drawing party we host for the family.  And the dishwasher was not yet functional.  And the stove was impossible to get to.  We ended up going to Jason's Deli on Green Mountain and ordered three hundred bucks worth of finger sandwiches (decidedly mediocre), fruit and cheese trays, and cookies.  I went out and bought a bunch of beer and wine and pop, filled up some coolers with ice, and we were ready to go.

The older people at the party, the people of my generation, gathered out in the kitchen just like they always do.  They didn't care about the drone or the hole in the floor.  In fact, they provided a nice conversation starter. The younger crowd hung out on the side porch smoking and guzzling beer.

Jaydee proudly helped Kathie put serving plates on the big table.  I think she has a future in food service.  Willa couldn't be bothered.  She was much too busy with one of her painting by sticker books.

Jaydee and Willa both helped with the name drawing itself.  Everybody who wanted to participate got a slip of paper with a name and a gift suggestion.  I won't reveal my name on the off chance someone in the family is actually reading this.  Kathie drew my name.  I fully expect a large gift certificate to Mizuna.

The holidays, floor or no floor, are here.  We somehow got our tree up in between visits from mitigation teams.  Of course, I somehow managed to bump it while adjusting the blinds and it fell over!  That's never happened before.  It doesn't seem like a good omen.

Kathie and I have already started making arrangements for our grandchildren's presents.  Chris and Franny are collaborating on hosting Christmas Day.  We'll all go over to Barb's on Christmas Eve.  A couple days before that, the family will meet at Sharon's for the gift opening.  And on Christmas Day Kathie and I can just hang and glory in our children and grandchildren.

I also think we will have a new floor by then.