Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I’m very, very involved with my whole extended family. Maybe too involved.

I’m the de facto leader. They call me “The Power”. Everyone looks to me for making key decisions and being a fair referee. It’s like I’m the government or something. Of my whole family, which is, you know. Weird.

And while it’s true I have a bit of a problem controlling my spending, every dollar I drop goes to pay for a good thing that’s really important (to me). I do like to be a key player in a lot of things all at once. When I see that my brother or sister is hungry, for example, I buy lunch. Is that so wrong?

When our whole family gets together it can get pretty intense.

There are cousins who really encourage me to keep stepping in and being generous and taking control whenever things look even a little bit bad – they see me as a “safety net” for everyone else. And there are the cousins who say I’m always “in the way” and if I would just step back, it would free them up to do all the things they want to do and be who they really want to be – J.C.

That means “Job Creators”.

But I don’t see what’s stopping them. I think they’re just using me as an excuse. They might have slight delusions of grandeur and could maybe be a little bit jealous. I don’t mind. I’ve got bigger problems.

I’m about to run out of money.

I can’t ask the family to chip in any more dollars to tide me over. The complaining gets so loud when I do that, and everybody is already irritated. The cousins who have the dough don’t want to hand over any more. The cousins who need stuff want to camp out on my front stoop until this is resolved. I’m afraid I’ll have to step over their starving bodies before long. Ish. And I did promise grandma I’d help pay for her teeth. Nobody wants to watch her gumming fried chicken at the next reunion picnic.

Dr. Babooner, we’re a family! I know we can agree with each other if we try! It’s just the money that poisons the atmosphere. Or is it the power?

Uncle S.

I told Uncle S., that the money/power combination is usually at the heart of most arguments, and they are seldom separated. Some say the key to happiness is to give up both, but I say hang on and buy some earplugs.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

happy birthday don, archy & mehitabel

Today is the birthday of Don Marquis (pronounced MAR-kwiss, I believe).
He was from Walnut, Illinois. Born there in 1878.

A newspaper man with an active imagination, Marquis wound up writing so much more than the usual police reports and obituaries. He was a playwright and a poet, and for a daily column he created some characters to carry the weight. Among them, a literary cockroach named Archy, who submitted his poems by hurling himself at the keys on Marquis’ typewriter, one letter at a time. Thus there are no capital letters, since it would require two simultaneous keystrokes, and a cockroach has only one body to sacrifice for his art.

In honor of Don Marquis on his birthday, (and for our leaders in Washington as they play a game of economic chicken), here’s archy on the irresistible lure of recklessness.

i was talking to a moth
the other evening
he was trying to break into
an electric light bulb
and fry himself on the wires

why do you fellows
pull this stunt i asked him
because it is the conventional
thing for moths or why
if that had been an uncovered
candle instead of an electric
light bulb you would
now be a small unsightly cinder
have you no sense

plenty of it he answered
but at times we get tired
of using it
we get bored with the routine
and crave beauty
and excitement
fire is beautiful
and we know that if we get
too close it will kill us
but what does that matter
it is better to be happy
for a moment
and be burned up with beauty
than to live a long time
and be bored all the while
so we wad all our life up
into one little roll
and then we shoot the roll
that is what life is for
it is better to be a part of beauty
for one instant and then cease to
exist than to exist forever
and never be a part of beauty
our attitude toward life
is come easy go easy
we are like human beings
used to be before they became
too civilized to enjoy themselves

and before i could argue him
out of his philosophy
he went and immolated himself
on a patent cigar lighter
i do not agree with him
myself i would rather have
half the happiness and twice
the longevity

but at the same time i wish
there was something i wanted
as badly as he wanted to fry himself


If you are a moth, what’s your candle?

Not So Long Ago …

… it was the most miserable, relentless winter, ever! Remember that?

Our memories are amazingly short and I suppose it’s a human survival strategy to focus so intently on the conditions that are right in front of us that we assume it has always been, and will always be so. At least it feels that way, and that’s why I am always ready to complain.

Summer 2011 is an endless sauna. I have had it with heat and humidity. Really, it’s exhausting.

Last February, snowstorms were lined up from here to Montana, each waiting for its chance to fill my driveway with another three feet of snow. Just like now – exhausting. I thought I would never feel warm again.

Alas, it all changes and you can be sure that six months from today I’ll use the arrival of yet another cold front to wistfully recall how gorgeous it is to go for a walk on a summer night. At dusk a day in July feels perfectly suited to human habitation. This is how we were meant to live – in shorts and sandals, our hands and heads uncovered, our feet and toes exposed to the fragrant air.

Except on THIS particular July night, I’m closed up inside my air conditioned box, not at all inclined to go out. Instead I’m thinking about how cozy it would feel to be decorating the Christmas tree while alarmist weather-folk warn us to stay off the roads. I’d sip a hot toddy and gaze out the window, safe and warm while a holly jolly snow decorates the yard.

I guess conditions are never quite ideal, except in some far-off, half-recalled, make-believe time.

Perpetual Summer or Endless Winter – which would you choose?

Mr. Convincible

The latest newsletter from my favorite Congressman.

Greetings Constituents!

Usually at this time of the year, we members of Congress are back in our districts thinking about the next election – touting our achievements, pressing the flesh and shaking the trees for more money. But this year is different! We’re stuck in Washington, thinking about the next election – defending our principles, stomping out of meetings, disparaging the inflexible opposition and shaking in our boots! We don’t want to wreck the economy but it might have to happen so we can be positioned with the best possible advantages for the Fall of 2012!

Yes, that’s really what it’s all about!

I know some of you are so mad you want to throw ALL the bums overboard, but I’m pretty sure that between now and then I can convince you that the other guys are much, much worse than I am.

I’m not the problem because I like compromise! I compromise all the time. I compromise with the opposition, with people in my own party, and I even compromise with myself!

Many mornings I wake up with this sure feeling that I know exactly what’s what and I will never yield an inch on the points that are most important to me.

Like yesterday, when I started out pretty certain that all this gay marriage that’s going on is just not right and we ought to make a clear statement that some things are simply not acceptable! C’mon! Who are our great couples? Adam and Eve! Tarzan and Jane! George and Gracie! Fundamental stuff, right?

I said something in our staff meeting about how we ought to make an issue out of this, and a couple of our summer interns looked disappointed in me, like I’d really bummed them out. That was too bad because I really like them! That’s the reason I have interns – to help me feel young and hip. It hurt to think that they thought I was even a little bit lame. But darn it, sometimes you have to be tough!

However, maintaining that steely resolve takes a lot of energy, and by early afternoon I was starting to think how great it is to be young and in love. Or even old and in love! Why would we want to ever get in the way of that? I mean, aren’t there enough real problems? Love is the least of our worries, regardless of who’s involved!

By evening I was so tired of hanging out at the Capitol just waiting for all these posturing yahoos in the leadership to get their acts together, I began thinking how nice it would be to make a festive weekend escape to New York City.

By midnight I was dreaming that a pair of my constituents would ask me to officiate their gay wedding at the top of the Empire State Building! What a hoot! Could I wear feathers?

See? That’s real compromise! Sometimes your mind changes of its own accord, and sometimes by the angle of the light! I’m so open to new ideas, I always agree with the last person I talked to – even if it was a radical version of me!

So if our ship of state goes crashing into the rocky shoreline of the Needlessly-Stubborn Islands just because the top people were wrestling for control the steering wheel, please remember that all the while I was on the promenade deck trying to organize a nice, happy party!

Your flexible Representative,

Loomis Beechly

How changeable is your mind?

Going Up?

We are blessed with a world full of interesting places to go, but lately I’ve been eyeing the sky because there is something terribly frightening and totally irresistible about the notion of space travel. Scoffers say that like South Dakota, outer space is impossibly empty and it has no taxes. Two great qualities! And space is a lot closer than Sioux Falls – only 62 miles away!

Atlantis Launch 2009, photo from

Unfortunately, now that the Space Shuttle program’s orbiters are being dressed for museum duty, there is no American-made vehicle that’s suitable for off-planet expeditions. This is a problem if, like me, you prefer a domestic model for all your extraterrestrial trips. Call me fussy – I just don’t care for the fit and finish of those Soyuz capsules. True, I’ve never been in one, but I’ve never been in an Apollo capsule either and yet I have taken thousands of imaginary NASA voyages. Soyuz? Zero. Besides, I’ve made some assumptions about the places where Russian craftsmanship and too much vodka might intersect – probably in the construction of the airtight bulkhead and where the electrical systems meet explosive gasses. Unfair, I know, but on such small prejudices is brand loyalty built.

Still, I am forced to accept the reality of the situation – I am a baby boomer and my pioneer time has expired. My government is not going to send me into space unless it’s with a limited air supply as part of a larger plan to reduce the cost of Medicare. Meanwhile, our decision makers have been flip-flopping on the goal of the next mission. Is it the Moon? Is it Mars? Or should we compromise and aim for an empty spot halfway between the two? It would be hard to get excited about reaching an empty, airless state of suspension with no gravity to pull you in any direction. Job seekers know you can achieve that kind of limbo today, without leaving home.

But there’s good news too! There is new energy behind the commercial space industry, and there are fabulously wealthy wanna-be astronauts who are looking for ways to have a unique experience. These Moon-eyed potential customers will lead us into the next era of space travel! They’ve already accomplished a great deal on planet Earth, and in the process have accumulated sufficient resources to pack a 10-story tall rocket booster full of $1,000 bills. Now it’s a simple matter of lighting a small fire to generate the needed lift. And several private companies are racing to strike that match.

The firm Space Adventures has already sent 7 well financed people on journeys to the International Space Station at a price of 20 to 35 million a head. Sensing a limit to the appeal of near-Earth travel, the company is also selling trips around the moon and back inside a three-seat capsule. It’s basically the same route taken by Apollo 13, but without the unplanned explosions and near-death experience. The ticket cost? 150 million. One spot has already been taken and one seat is needed for a pilot to fly the thing (go figure). That still leaves one space open for travel into open space. Late seat assignment note: you might not get the window.

For potential cosmic voyagers with a thinner wallet, Space Adventures offers some bargain astronaut/cosmonaut-like experiences, including solely terrestrial trips to watch a launch in central Asia. The real attraction here is an opportunity to pay almost $16 thousand dollars to spend a few hours in a Soyuz flight simulator, which according to the Space Adventures website, “has been in use since the 1960’s.” Enticing! And if that price is too steep, I can arrange a domestic excursion where, for half that amount you’ll get to spend the whole day sitting in a Chevy Corvair which has also been in use since the 1960’s. Extra bonus – when the session is done you can take it home!

Elon Musk’s commercial venture, SpaceX, isn’t flying passenger missions right now, but the company is trumpeting last Spring’s receipt of a contract from NASA to figure out a quick way to get the 7 passengers in its Dragon capsule safely back to the ground in the event of a sudden launch emergency. That’s an exciting scenario, but only if you have the pleasure of watching other people deal with it!

And then there’s Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. The company is already building a spaceport (Spaceport America!) in New Mexico, and claims to have a list of at least 400 people who have signed up to take a sub orbital flight in a vehicle called SpaceShipTwo (you know a vehicle is tight inside when there’s no room for spaces in its name). The plan is for the craft to be released at 50 thousand feet from a large, two-fuselage carrier plane called Virgin MotherShip Eve. A rocket then propels the 8 passenger SpaceShipTwo high enough to see inky galactic black above and a thin line of Earthy blue below, with five minutes of recreational weightless time before you have to strap in for your glide back to the ground. In this sense, Virgin Galactic is expanding on the proven success of the Disney World scenario – high entry price/long wait/short ride. Sorry for the delay – there will be no flights until at least 2013. But a 20 thousand dollar down payment is due immediately against your final cost of 200 thousand. It does guarantee you a spot in our airtight teacup, though. So go have a hot dog and watch the fireworks – a Cast Member will call you when it’s time to strap in.

Realistically, these space travel options could only appeal to adventurous people who combine extravagant wealth with exceedingly deep reserves of patience and a suppressed fear of death. It would also help to have a good imagination. How many people do you know who combine all these qualities? If anyone comes to mind, salute them with a glass of Tang and a package of space food sticks, because they represent the next frontier in human flight!

You’re weightless! Now what?

I’m (not) a Lumberjack!

All it took was a strong gust of wind on to split a tree that has stood on our property for about 20 years. It might have been up longer than that – the area was a freshly opened for development in 1993 and when we moved in, this tree was the only living thing standing on the site. It had somehow survived grading and construction, followed by years of utter neglect, which is the hallmark of my haphazard style of yard care.

Somewhere inside the trunk there was a fatal flaw that was finally exposed on Saturday morning.

I was sitting by a window when the storm kicked up. The first thing I noticed (after the wind and thunder) was a distinct change in the light. I glanced out the window and was struck by the thought that the tree seemed suddenly closer, somehow. But why would that be? It must be an optical illusion, I thought. The same thing probably occurred to Macbeth when he took a look at Burnham Wood. I went back to my work but ten minutes later the canopy of leaves was close. REALLY close. Monkey-on-an-airplane wing close! Shocking.

It turns out a portion of the damaged tree fell on a nearby birch, and the two tangled trunks were slowly settling in the direction of the house.

An expert will have to take a look at this – I suspect the rest of the tree is lost and will have to come down, along with its neighbor. But the immediate task was to clear the driveway so we could come and go. Being “trunked in” is an excuse that’s only good for a few hours, unless you have the misfortune of living in a tornado zone. And leaving this much wood oddly airborne in such a precarious fashion is not a good idea for homeowners, as any personal injury lawyer will tell you.

A guy with a chain saw could have handled this in about 30 minutes, but I’m not a guy with a chain saw and don’t want to become one. There are already too many tools in the garage that have been used only once. Besides, how hard could it be? I had a couple of handsaws and a lot of irrational exuberance about my lumberjacking abilities.

Trees look light and airy when you’re not chopping them up and dragging them around. Otherwise, beware! Wood is quite heavy and gravity was constantly on my mind while I walked under the angled branches. Each time I made a cut, I calculated what else that section of tree might be holding up and where it would fall. And because I was making these cuts by hand, I had a lot of time to imagine the gradual rise of sounds – the popping, ripping and tearing of the trunk followed by a loud crash, a shaking of leaves, and possibly the cries of a pinned-to-the-earth middle aged man, fortunate to have only a broken arm or leg.

In the end my imagination trumped reality and I escaped with nothing more than an entire upper body’s worth of sore muscles and a renewed appreciation for the dangers of working around wood that is poised to fall. If I’ve got to be a lumberjack, I’m probably not going to be OK. So it’s good that in my preferred line of work, falling out of my chair is the greatest possible physical hazard.

What is the riskiest part of your job?

july with a capital j

last month we spoke of june. it’s either a little late or a lot early to take up that discussion again but july ah july… it draws a picture immediately doesn’t it? And one of the best.

july is summer …

july in minnesota is vacations and fireworks and time at the lakes and camping and making sure you take time for you. you can do it any time I suppose but there is no time like minnesota in july. It still exists in november and i like that too but man july can’t be beat.

i think I have mentioned i used to have to go on my summer vacations with my kids almost the moment the school let out for the summer and we had june all to ourselves. The 4th of july marks the official beginning of summer for america, the campgrounds get full and the roads are full of travelers.

i hear this year things are down a bit because of the high gas prices and tough economy. all the better, let the nay sayers stay home and leave the back roads to those of us who need them for medicinal reasons. it dawned on me the other day that the 15th of july marks the halfway oint in the summer. the state fair is closer than the last day of school was and if you don’t have an x on your calander for yourself at this point you had better get busy. don’t miss the minnesota glory.

if you never leave the area around where you live and/or frequent, where would you recommend we go?
things like the concerts at the zoo, lake harriet bandshell and the recently past winnepeg folk festival are what i am thinking about. i feel like a point gets made to get to yelowstone but the boundary waters get overlooked. if you go off to florida you miss out on a beach in town. where are the special places that are local and easy access that we should all know about? this call goes out to our bloggers in north dakota south dakota canada and elsewhere too. what is so good you can tell us to be sure to do it with our remaining time this summer or our remaining time on the planet?

what does july make you think of , what are you doing about it and what do you recommend?