A Case of Green Lung

Here we are in the heart of August with heat and humidity at amazingly high levels. It has been a wet, lush summer in the Twin Cities and it’s hard to imagine better conditions for promoting the rampant growth of just about any plant. Every time I walk out the door it seems that some new green thing has leapt out of the soil and is tall and vigorous enough to look me in the eye. A lot of these show-offs are common weeds, but I don’t say anything about it. No sense getting the encounter off to a bad start with name calling.

In the middle of a hot day there’s nothing like a piece of fresh watermelon to provide some relief. I enjoy watermelon today but as a child I was tormented by the pit disposal question – do you spit them out or swallow? Spitting was more fun, of course. But if you are hanging out with a group of 8 year olds, once the projectile launching starts escalation happens quickly and in warfare there is no turning back. Better perhaps to unilaterally disarm by gulping down the watermelon seeds, although that had its hazards too. I had my mother’s assurance that a melon wouldn’t sprout in my stomach, but friends, uncles and my brother all told different stories. Parasites were a favorite topic when the guys got together and the descriptions were vivid.

And now comes this story about the 75 year old guy who had a plant growing in his lung. Ron Sveden went to the hospital over Memorial Day weekend because he had lost his appetite and was experiencing bad coughing spells. The x-ray showed an ominous dark spot on his lung, and Sveden and the doctor expected to find a tumor.

Instead, it was a sprouting pea.

What a gift for an older fellow with health issues. No tumor, AND a chance to talk to a national audience about your emphysema and how you feel lethargic and dehydrated. Not to mention the great potential for giving self-gardening tips to people who may not be interested in growing lung peas but may have an interest in esophageal strawberries or abdominal potatoes. Imagine the State Fair horticulture competitions once this idea catches on!

How is your garden growing this summer?

Folk Zero

News accounts of the sudden departure of flight attendant Steven Slater from his JetBlue plane on the tarmac in New York City portray him as a besieged worker fed up with the thoughtless treatment he was receiving from passengers. Reports about the reckless endangerment charges facing Mr. Slater usually hint that he has achieved folk hero status among service workers who also feel exasperation at the behavior of the people they are serving.

Personally, I find it hard to laud Mr. Slater. What I’ve heard about his reaction to a boorish passenger (cursing on the intercom, grabbing a beer, hitting the emergency escape chute and sliding to the ground) sounds like a case of a grown man having a childish tantrum. Still, a tantrum will draw attention, and in some cases, fans.

It is not unprecedented in the annals of transportation for irresponsible renegades to win accolades for their foolish mistakes. Casey Jones comes to mind. He’d be unknown today if he hadn’t been driving the train too fast just to get it into the station in time. What was the rush? Back then it was easier to get an ode or a ballad written about you if you had the throttle and died using it.

These days you don’t have to be in charge, you just need to make a Big Gesture.
And it doesn’t hurt to do it in the most news-starved part of summer. Carping about “the public” passes for a type of heroism today. In a different era, Steven Slater’s antics might have led to the creation of a timeless ballad.

Something like this.

Tall tales are told of the trains of old
And their legendary crews.
How they pushed for time is extolled in rhyme
And musicians play their blues.

But there is no doubt that one man stands out.
The conductor, William Lyle.
How one day at work he went quite berserk
When they would not clear the aisle.

Old 98 was four hours late
And the passengers were tense.
They’d been slow to start, but with speed and heart,
They’d arrive an hour hence.

The brave engineer was immune to fear
As his engine gulped for air.
But the brakeman knew, and the fireman too
That these riders didn’t care.

For they filled each bench with the meanest stench.
They were dressed in prison stripes.
And each one was fated – Incarcerated!
For crimes of the foulest types.

These bleak disapproved were all being moved
for the public. To assure
that these reprobates would serve out their dates
In a prison more secure.

And among them strode on this steel rail road
The conductor, William Lyle.
He was not a fool. He had one firm rule
That they must not crowd the aisle.

When the engine died outside Telluride
There was very deep concern.
That these souls in pain would, as one, de-train.
And then never would return.

They were common robbers. Big bank jobbers.
Murderers and thieves.
Shooters. Stranglers. And grammar manglers.
Who all might take their leaves.

Several of them stood. There was no one good
And most couldn’t have been worse.
Going for their duffels, they broke out in scuffles.
They were not afraid to curse.

There was just one force keeping peace, of course.
The conductor William Lyle.
Who said on the spot, “You’re a nasty lot,”
“But you must not crowd the aisle.”

Did they just not hear? In their rage and fear
They became an angry hoard.
The conductor brave, his own life to save
Chose at that point to un-board.

He kicked out the door and dove out before
He could suffer more from fools
Even though his act was a first. In fact,
he broke just as many rules.

He flew out of sight to inky night
Mr. Lyle was heard to rave,
“You’re a lawless bunch but I had no hunch
That you all could not behave!”

When is it right to exit in a huff?

Sound the Alarm!

I yield today to former mainstream media reporter Bud Buck, who continues his quest to re-establish himself in this new digital environment by any means necessary, including the time-honored technique of breathless conclusion-jumping and its close companion, baseless fear mongering. He sent the following commentary:

Citizens, it is time to wake up!

I look with increasing alarm upon photos and videos traded back and forth on the Internet under the guise of “memes” or “jokes”, and the callous way people laugh at them without a thought to what is REALLY GOING ON!

The latest one surfaced on You Tube just within the last week, and it is horrible. I hesitate to show it to you here, but I fear I must as a way of jolting a sleeping populace into action. The plain fact is that formerly docile beasts are finding the courage to contest our authority. Prepare yourself for a glimpse of the next monumental challenge to our civilization – an animal-led Armageddon!

What is so funny about this?
An unidentified reindeer (probably Prancer or Blitzen) just ran off with that man’s wife! Apparently this is good for a laugh for many unthinking Americans who are unable to put themselves in the shoes of that unfortunate woman or her powerless, strangely ambivalent husband.
I, for one, am shocked and appalled!

Animals who in the past were content to show their disdain for us by swishing us with their tails, nudging us with their noses and bumping us with their flanks have how taken the next horrible step and are abducting people with increasing regularity! How rapidly is it increasing? Up until yesterday, I had never seen anything like this before. That’s a 100% hike in just the past 24 hours!

And then there’s the ransom note:

Tird of wearng thse dam bells.
Think change time is now.
I hav her in place wher U don’t find.
Meet by glashur to trade wife for food, freedum.
Com alone. No game warduns or Santa.

That note is no less chilling for my having just made it up. I’m sure it will surface just as soon as Dancer learns to hold a Sharpie with his hoof and Rudolph lights the scene so this outrageous demand can be scrawled and sent.

The cheek of these beasts!

No doubt they will point to “global warming” as a justification for their uprising and they will lay it at our feet just as they litter our path with steaming dung, accusing us of carelessness for our hydrocarbon rich lifestyles while ignoring their own wanton methane production.

I know this has just started, but where will it end? I fear a monumental contest has begun and I know we are not prepared. Please, until further notice, don’t turn your back on the animals!

This is Bud Buck!

I told Bud I would run his “commentary” because I had absolutely no other ideas for a blog entry today, and in an ironic twist I would use his “warning” as a caution for all of us to be skeptical of those who would use alarmist techniques to bull rush us into irrational action.

Why is this dog smiling?

Animal uprising indeed! Stop the nonsense!

After I sent that message to Bud, I turned to my faithful pet and saw this troubling sight. Those startlingly pink lips and razor-sharp buck teeth stood in stark contrast to the sad determination in those dark brown eyes. I suddenly realized I sleep each night with these potentially vicious fangs just a few short feet away.

Her eerie smile will keep me awake, I guarantee it.

Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad? Discuss.

Department of NO

Here’s the flip side of yesterday’s discussion about saying lovely things that people want to hear.

That Guy In The Hat revealed the following bit of information about his role at work:

I am “The Department of No.” I’m the guy that has said to co-workers, “Reality is over here waving ‘hello’ to you. Come join us for a while and then you can go back to where you live.” I’m not a terribly popular person.

Just as it is exceedingly pleasant to deliver the good news that parking is FREE, it can be demoralizing to be forced to play the Messenger of No. I avoid doing it whenever possible, and I know I’m not alone. At the Fringe Festival, venue managers have to stand firm as they enforce the festival’s No Late Seating rule. Rumor has it that harsh words have been exchanged and tears have been shed over this simple regulation.

And yet sometimes “No” is a very useful thing to hear because it can focus your attention. When I was a high school freshman, I wrote a homecoming skit to represent our class at a pep rally competition, but after watching one rehearsal the faculty advisor refused to let us perform it. There was something about the tone and approach that was so wrong he said he would rather that we offer no skit at all than present the one we had prepared. It would hardly matter, he noted, since the juniors or seniors were bound to take first prize anyway. As writer/director, that ticked me off. I had one night to re-write and one morning to rehearse the cast and get approval before we performed our bit for the whole school.

We won, of course.

I doubt that would have happened without a necessary kick in the pants from the Department of No.

When has the word “no” been a blessing in disguise?

My Brief Political Career

I’ve been volunteering at the Fringe Festival the past few days and on Sunday I got the best possible assignment – standing at the entrance of a University Parking Garage to tell people the parking was FREE.

There was no joke or gimmick involved, and no sandwich sign to wear. It was simply an opportunity to make that one – to – one personal connection that means so much.

People would drive up to the ramp with a confused look in their eyes – a look that turned to suspicion when they saw me standing by the ticket machine, and then turned to resignation when they realized I wanted them to roll down their window.

They brightened right up when they heard the message. Parking is FREE!

It’s Sunday!
Why is the mechanical arm blocking my way?
The garage’s computer thinks the ramp is full, but it’s NOT full!
How do I get in?
You have to go in through the exit! No penalty. Parking is FREE.
OK then. Awesome.

Later, out of fatigue or frustration, the stubborn mechanical arm that was blocking the entrance lifted. Now the people had open access to the FREE parking. I could have walked away at that point but why leave? There might be some lingering confusion or doubt, and I could dispel it with a wave of my hand. So I did. I directed people through the entrance, calling out FREE PARKING as they sailed happily by.

Of course I missed the more intimate human contact of the earlier confused/suspicious/resigned/relieved sequence, but if anything the drivers seemed MORE pleased at receiving this great boon without having to talk to me.

There was no difference in the way people responded to my message. All demographic groups whether sorted by age, sex, skin color, religion, IQ or zip code were delighted to hear that parking was FREE, and I was delighted to tell them. What a lovely afternoon.

I made a promise to myself then and there. I will hesitate to criticize politicians for “telling people only what they want to hear.” I discovered just how much fun it is.

When have you enjoyed the pleasure of bringing good news to strangers?

More Junk Mail

I’ve had a lot of cards in the mail from politicians lately. Something must be going on! Here’s one that came from Loomis Beechly, representing Minnesota’s liquid 9th district.

Greetings, Constituents!

It’s a beautiful time to be in Minnesota’s 9th, which includes AND is limited to all the water surface area in the state. I agree that it’s an unusual way to draw the lines that divide congressional districts, and if you looked at a map of the 9th it would appear to be a spray of freckles across the face of a perplexed state. But it does make sense on a number of levels.

1 – It brings together many, many sparsely populated areas. There are quite a few Minnesotans who live on the edges of lakes, but their homes are not in my district. The 9th is water surface only, so I represent a lot of houseboat residents and people who list jet skis, pleasure craft and ice-fishing structures as their primary residences.

2- These are often places of relaxation. Beer is the district’s number one beverage all day long, and its effects are cumulative. This makes the 9th a relatively conservative district early in the day, and wildly liberal the closer you get to sundown. After dark, 9th districters rarely say no to anything. It is truly a “swing” district, and the two sides of our personality tend to create a balance.

3 – The boundaries of my district are clear to the naked eye. You can tell exactly where the 9th begins and ends – something that’s not true with other congressional districts in general, even if there are stark political differences on either side of the line. In a logical world, you would be able to tell where Betty McCollum Territory ends and Michele Bachmann Land begins, but you can’t, just by looking at it.

I’m proud to represent Minnesota’s 9th congressional district, and I encourage all residents to get out and vote on Tuesday, August 10th in the state primary.

As an independent, I’m running unopposed this time. But with so few registered voters, even a loosely organized write-in campaign could unseat me. Everybody says incumbents need to look over their shoulders. I am trying to look over both my shoulders at the same time. If you want to know whether I favor the left one or the right one, let’s talk. I can tilt pretty much whichever way you want. That’s public service!

And if you’re visiting the 9th district for summer recreation, have a wonderful time. You should have voted “absentee” in your home district. If you didn’t, please don’t try to vote in our primary unless you’re voting for me, and you think you can get away with it.

Of course I disavow any knowledge of your actions.

Thanks for your kind attention!

Congressman Loomis Beechly.

Are you planning to vote in tomorrow’s primary?

If Not Here, Where?

In response to a string of comments from yesterday, here’s an anniversary song for Clyde and the Mrs.

Alongside great art like Paul Robeson singing Shenandoah, the internet is full of strange, inexplicable things that exist only to make you pay attention for a few moments before you share it with your friends. They pay attention for a few moments and send it to THEIR friends, and before long a huge pool of human attention has been collected so it can be sold to advertisers. This is the world we live in.

I’m not making things any better by sharing this with you, but how could I resist?

If this sounds familiar to you, here’s why.

Have a wonderful summer weekend!
Name a song that makes absolutely no sense.

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