des moines, life, News, People, politics, Unemployment

IRS refund delays put school plans at risk

The time: 12:39 a.m. The place: My cluttered 635 square-foot apartment a fart and armpit noise away from Drake University. I’m hunched over my elegantly aging laptop with Warren Zevon’s “Poor, Poor Pitful Me” blasting in my eardrums at top volume and my Oska Tigers ballcap screwed on my bald head.

My body shakes with anxiety. It’s been that kind of day. Or yesterday was that kind of day. These wee, small hours of the morning posts are tricky bastards when it comes to the timing of things.

I checked my credit union balance this afternoon. I needed to get some allergy pills.

I wanted to save back a few bills for when my buddy, Memphis Paul, hits town next week. We don’t close the bars anymore, but I was thinking of a nice trip to the Amana and the Ox Yoke Inn restaurant with a stop in Iowa City at Prairie Lights Books and Cafe.

To my surprise, my online tax preparer had deducted about $240 from my account, leaving me in the all-too familiar position of being flat-ass broke.

Bad balance juju

What fuckery was this?

I indeed used the company’s software to prepare and file my taxes. But they were to take the money out of my refund, not my bank account.

My refund was big enough to cover the prep fees and take care of a couple months’ worth of rent with change left over.

Said refund has yet to arrive in my account. Apparently, the previous president of the United States was not fond of the IRS, particularly their auditors, and gutted the staffing for the agency.

The pandemic forced federal employees out of their enclaves and taxes filed by paper form piled up for the 2019 tax year and the beginning of the 2020 filing season.

IRS hell

My refund has been tied up in IRS hell since my return was filed and accepted on April 15. Normally it takes 21 days to process. We are at 68 days and counting.

I’ve tried to get the IRS on the phone. This usually meant hours on hold with a recording bleating the woes of the understaffed agency. A few times I got to a point where even the recording gave up on the charade and said, “Call back tomorrow or send us an email.”

Only the federal government can stick its middle finger so squarely in your eye without fear of reprisal.

I tried to make my elected officials work for me, which on face value seems as foolhardy as chewing tinfoil to improve your car radio reception.

The futility of representative democracy

Calling your elected representative: The last refuge of the desperate.

I dialed up the offices of Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and Rep. Cindy Axne.

Ernst’s office didn’t return the call. Maybe she takes personally all those columns where I called her “Dollar Store Sarah Palin.” That’s fair. Ernst seems exactly the kind of person who is only interested in helping the people who scratch her back.

Grassley’s office called and sent me a privacy form to fill out. I did so. I’ve not yet heard back from his people.

Axne’s office emailed me the form. I sent it back the same way. The next day someone called back and said they would assign it to a caseworker who deals with IRS problems.

They warned me this is an ongoing problem and they’ve dealt with a lot of calls about it. I’m supposed to hear something back this Friday.

Companies inside of companies

So, back to the online tax preparer, whom I’ve done business with since 2001. I paid the company the extra dough for 24-7 support because if there was a year shit was going to go sideways on my taxes, it would be the year I lost two jobs and lived off unemployment.

I dialed the tax prep company up and got a man on the phone within minutes.

The reason they hit my bank account: It’s the fine print, the man said. In the fine print, I agreed to pay the online tax preparer even if my refund never shows up.

We did send you three emails, the man said.

I searched my mail. I found nothing.

He read my email address to me. It was an address I hadn’t used for years and it isn’t the one I log into the tax prep site with.

Ah, well there was the rub, the tax prep man said. I changed my email with that part of the company, but there’s this other company that handles the money transaction side of things.

That part of the company sent emails to an address I no longer use warning me of the pending transaction. If I had replied to one of those messages, they would have extended my grace period.

But I don’t check that email. So, I’m out that cash. It’s legit. But it still sucks.

Hopeless against the merciless

I don’t know what a citizen is supposed to do. You can’t fight the IRS. You can’t get them on the phone. The government works about as well as going uphill in roller skates in an ice storm.
I’m unemployed. I need that money, which the law says is my money and should be returned to me.

This wouldn’t hit so hard if Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds hadn’t cut off the pandemic assistance unemployment, which tacked an extra $300 to unemployment insurance.

Reynolds seems primarily concerned that restaurant servers get back to work for substandard wages and earn their tips rather than make a living wage.

I’ll remind you that the $300 unemployment booster came from federal money and didn’t take a cent from Reynold’s budget. And the money ended in September anyway.

If Disney keeps up with this “Cruella” franchise, they might consider Reynolds for the lead role.

Job market is great for servers

Some jerk already has their pity “Get a job!” response keyed up. Yeah. I’m trying.

Funny thing about that, though. I had a job for 23 years. I worked at different shops. But I did well until one day I made too much money for the greedy Wall Street hustlers and the put me on the bricks.

By then, I hated my job and what it had become so much, it was almost a relief to be cut loose from the toxic trade.

What I quickly learned is the skill set I have may have value to other careers, but I have zero skill in translating what I can do to what people need done. I’ve paid companies to help me with it.

The closest I got was a short engagement with a TV station that was an absolute disaster because I was totally out of my element.

Trying to be a better person

But what I’m really trying to do is get a new career. I’m studying to be a teacher, to give back to the institutions that gave so much to me and maybe pass along what I’ve learned.

I’m am trying to be a better person. I’m trying to grow out of this miserable experience. And, yeah, I wanted to go for a nice meal with my buddy whom I haven’t seen in three years.

The time is 1:43 a.m. Zevon’s “Mr. Bad Example” blasts. Boy, that man knew how to sling a savage lyric.

I get it. This is America. There are winners and losers. And if you’re a loser, it’s your fault. Nobody gives a shit about the runners-up let alone the last guy to cross the line. And if you don’t make it? Hey, you might as well not exist.

Reminds me of another Zevon tune: “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.”

Somehow, I got stuck between a rock and a hard place

And I’m down on my luck

I’m down on my luck.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
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baseball, des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, life, obesity, People, sports, Winterset

My two dads: Double blessings on #FathersDay

Willard and Bob

I suppose you could say I had three fathers. There was a man who donated his portion of the potion that makes a baby to my biological mother, who in turn gave me up for adoption at birth.

I have no idea who that man is. It’s a mystery I never tried to solve. I hold no animus against the man. These kinds of things happen all the time, but the man is no father to me.

Adoptive dad

G. Willard Finney was my real father. He and my mom, Kathryn, had four biological sons. Mom cared for more than 100 foster care babies. She kept two of them, my sister, and then me, some 19 years later.

They were 57 and 56 when I was born, too old to adopt an infant. But you get a good lawyer. A family member knows some people at the courthouse. Rules get bent.

Willard was born in 1918, about three months before the end of World War I. He grew up on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression. He drove a Ford Model-T. He served in the Navy during World War II, loading ships in Florida.

The salesman

He worked as a wholesale salesman at Luthie Hardware in Des Moines and eventually struck out for himself and became a manufacturer’s representative. He travelled across the Midwest and West on behalf of companies he represented from paper goods supplies to tool makers.

Willard was a talker; an affable man who shared stories over coffee and drinks. He was a manly man by his era’s standard. He loved to hunt with his sons and grandsons.

What a mystery I must have been to this man. I had no use for outdoor play, was so of afraid of swimming that I faked illness before every lesson, and showed no aptitude for sports, neither playing nor watching.

Generational differences

Once, on a fishing trip to Minnesota, my dad brought snacks out on our rented boat: Colby cheese, Braunschweiger sausage, sweet pickles, Ritz crackers, and sardines.

We fished with leeches that morning. Willard used his pocketknife to split the leeches in half and wrap around each of our hooks. When lunchtime arrived, he pulled out the vittles from the cooler. He made himself a mini-sandwich with the Braunschweiger spread on the cracker with a piece of cheese.

He offered me some. I asked for a knife to cut off some cheese. He offered his pocketknife; the same one he’d just used to cut leeches in half. I made a face and complained it was gross.

Willard rolled his eyes. He swished the blade around in the lake water and then handed it to me. That’s how men handled sanitation in Willard’s day.

From the Great Depression to ‘Doctor Who’

How I must have frustrated him. The report cards always said the same thing: I had the ability but didn’t try. I found school dull. Willard believed school was crucial. How is it I could remember the names of all the monsters in “Star Wars,” but struggled with my multiplication tables?

Sometimes I felt distance from this man from another age.

But I remember a hot day in July 1988. We drove from Winterset to the Johnston studios of Iowa Public Television. The station hosted a tour stop for a U.S. tour of “Doctor Who” actors and memorabilia.

For years, Willard had mixed me a glass of chocolate milk with Nestle’s Quik. I was allowed to have my milk and watch the episode of the British serial story of a time traveler and his friends fighting bullies and monsters across the universe.

Unconditional love, Part 1

Willard never watched an episode of the show with me that I recall. But he gladly drove me to Johnston to see the tour. He listened to the speaker, an actress from the show, talk about an episode that upset London police because it portrayed some bobbies as scary monsters.

Willard leaned over to me and said, “They take their police seriously over there.”

Over there was in England. I was over the moon. Who would imagine that my father, survivor of the Great Depression, World War II veteran, and outdoorsman would be sitting at a “Doctor Who” convention with his youngest son not only engaged but enjoying himself?

This was my first lesson in unconditional love.

Willard — Dad — died that December. Mom died about a year and a half later.

Enter Dad 2.0

Eventually, I landed with Parents 2.0, Bob and Joyce Rogers, a kindly east Des Moines couple.

To be fair, Joyce had a harder go of it. My relationship with my mom was complicated and often abusive. A child therapist once told Joyce: “You have the toughest job. You have to make him like a woman.”

She did. And I love her dearly. But I did not make that easy.

I took to Bob because I had a good relationship with my father. That made it easier to accept another male caregiver. But I was always touchy about using the words “father” or “dad.” For me that was Willard’s chair, and no one could sit in it ever again.

I was wrong. Bob filled the dad chair magnificently.

A quiet man

Bob embraced quiet. He did not always need the radio or TV on. He read a lot. He took long walks on his lunch break and went to the library to check out books on history or the works of James Fennimore Cooper.

Bob, too, was an outdoorsman. He was Boy Scout. He fished and camped. I went with them, sometimes joyfully and sometimes sourly. I was a teenager. Mood swings were common.

The first year we were a family, we took a camping trip to Lake Ahquabi near Indianola. Bob and I pulled enough crappie out of the lake that I spelled out “Dan and Bob” on the picnic table.

The photo is tucked into one of the scores of photo albums he and Joyce assembled of family activities through the decades. Bob was the family photographer, a talented one at that. He probably could have been a news photographer, but he made his way as a printer for one of the local banks.

Another ‘Doctor Who’ connection

I knew things were going to be OK between Bob and I because when I was moving in, he spotted one of the cardboard sculptures I made in Winterset art class. He asked me if that was K-9 from “Doctor Who.”

In the early days, especially that first lonely summer when I hadn’t made friends at school yet, Bob and I would stay up late on Fridays and Saturdays to watch the old Universal Monster Movies on the local UHF channel.

Bob liked the mummy movies. I liked the “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Bob talked about the shadows and lighting in the movie with the admiration of a fellow artist.

Good sports

Bob watched a lot of sports with me. We watched the 1991 NBA Finals, the first year Michael Jordan’s Bulls won the championship. I rooted for Magic Johnson and wanted another win for the Lakers. I remember rolling around the floor, cursing and shouting as the Bulls demolished the Lakers in five games.

Bob sat quietly on the couch and didn’t say much. I would look over my shoulder at him occasionally. I kept thinking, “When am I going to get into trouble for cursing or making all this noise?” I never did. I was testing how much of me, even unpleasant sides of me, would be allowed in the house. I was wholly accepted.

Bob and Joyce aren’t one for sports. They showed up at their nieces’ and nephews’ games through the years. But to go to pay money for a professional ballgame wasn’t their idea of a good time.

Now they’ve been veterans of dozens of baseball games. They have a favorite park, Wrigley Field. The went to every game because they knew I loved it.

‘Easy out’

Bob and Joyce took a two-week vacation on the last week of July and the first week of August each year. On the first year I lived in their house, Bob spread out the Sunday sports page. It contained the entire Major League Baseball schedule for the upcoming season — back when newspapers printed such things.

He had me sit with him on the floor. Bob talked about places they wanted to visit on vacation and asked me to help him find a couple of places where we could go to baseball games.

We picked Detroit and Chicago. The Yankees played the Tigers. The Cubs played the Mets. This was at old Tiger Stadium. We found parking near the park. Bob paid the guy extra for what the money taker called “an easy out.”

It indeed proved to be “an easy out.” After we watched nearly every car who attended the game leave, we easily pulled out of the lot. Time was of the essence. The campground locked the gates at midnight.

We didn’t make it. So, Bob, Joyce and I all had to climb an 10-foot fence and drop down the other side. We left the truck parked by the road, not knowing if it would be there in the morning.

The missed curfew was a bit of bad luck that was worrisome in the moment, but I’d seen Don Mattingly hit a home run, one of only nine he hit that year.

Bob had taken a photo of Tiger Stadium at dusk, a beautiful picture that I’ve lost my copy of in the many moves. I would love to have a framed, poster-size copy. I think it’s the best photo he’s ever taken. We could title it “Easy Out.”

Unconditional love, Part 2

We still laugh about that story today. Bob has been my father for 30 years, more than twice the time spent with Willard. I still love Willard, and I miss him. I would give just about anything to play checkers with him one night again. The man had heart disease and he died. So it goes.

But 30 years with Bob and Joyce in my life has brought a stability and steady stream of kindness that I never thought possible when I was just the child of Willard and Kathryn.

I think of all the ballgames Bob and Joyce attended either to cheer me on, or rather my friends because I sure didn’t play, and all the stories of mine they read, all the meals, all the moments, and again the math adds up to what I once thought was myth: unconditional love.

The tendency is, I think, to consider parenting as a job done by adults for children. That isn’t so. That’s just a starting point. I came into Bob and Joyce’s life when I was a sophomore in high school.

But they were there for me through the end of high school, college, my first job all the way up to today, when I’m a weak-kneed obese middle-aged man trying to remake his life after his career finally put him to the curb.

The steel of consistency

A few weeks I fell off the back steps at Bob and Joyce’s house. My right knee buckled, and I landed on my side. Right beside me in an instant was Bob, his arms gripped around mine like a vice.

In that moment, I didn’t just feel a boost to help me stand. I felt every time they’d picked up when I’d fallen, every time they showed up for me, cheered me, congratulated me, complimented me, and plainly loved me not for who they would want me to be, but just for who I am.

With Bob’s — Dad’s — arms around me I felt the steel in my spine that only comes from knowing I am loved and supported no matter how deep I struggle or low I feel.

On Father’s Day, which was Sunday, I count myself doubly blessed to know two great fathers who contributed to the man I am today.

There are few straight lines in the lives we lead, but when we find one — like the love of fathers for their children — follow it all the way to the end.

Here’s to Willard and Bob, my two dads.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
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des moines, humor, Iowa, life

Dear spider, Sorry I murdered you

Photo by Thomas Shahan. Creative Commons License, non-commercial site.

Dear spiders,
I’m sorry I murdered one of you Saturday night. I stomped the guts out of one of you with the sole of my slipper. I did so with malice of forethought.

Look, I respect spiders.

You eat insects. I like that. I don’t like bugs, so the enemy of my enemy is my frenemy.

The web thing is cool. The stick to wall thing is cool. Even the weird eyes are cool.

Heck, one of you bit Peter Parker, who became Spider-Man. Another one of you bit Miles Morales, who also became Spider-Man and was in “Into the Spider-Verse,” which is the best Spider-Man thing ever.

No nudity

But here’s the deal, spiders: I am a permissive fellow. Live. Let live, you know?

I have one rule: Do not bother me while I’m naked.

I see you on the wall across the room when I’m propped up in my big, brown chair? Keep chilling, spider. We got no beef.

But you skitter across my shower curtain and a murder is coming.

It’s not you, spider. It’s me. I don’t like to be seen naked, especially by creatures with as many eyes as you.

If I ever had a romantic relationship last more than 48 seconds, I might let my girlfriend see me naked, but only with the lights out. And even then, I’m not so sure.

Serial killer

So, I killed a spider today.

Today I did it with a slipper.

A couple days ago, I murdered with poison sprayed from a bottle.

I’m a serial spider killer. I’m a spree spider killer.

This makes me sad.

Because like I said, I like spiders.

Also, I hate millipedes

It’s not like you’re millipedes. I hate those fuckers. You know the ones that roll up into a little coil when you touch them? Ugh.

During one of the droughts that hit Iowa in the 1980s, these bastards infested our house in rural Winterset.

Everywhere you looked, there was one of those miserable little creeps crawling up a wall or slithering across the carpet. We once found them crawling inside the washing machine.

The horror. The horror.

They were such a frequent site in the house my dad turned the ShopVac on them.

This was one of the old school ShopVacs the color of pureed peas on four wheels. When you turned it on, it hit a pitch that made you wonder if God himself was inhaling.

Dad sucked up scores of those crawlers into the mighty ShopVac.

Man vs. nature. Victory: Man, with assist from man’s invention, the ShopVac.

Right?

Wrong.

Defeated ShopVac?

Those monsters didn’t have the courtesy to just admit defeat and die. They died all right, but they created a specific, stinky odor.

The ShopVac stunk of the cretins’ corpses. Each time Dad powered up the great vacuum, the odor filled the area. Millipedes’ revenge.

If my house became infected with those things again, I would burn it down and walk away as the gas main exploded like the hero shot for a garbage action movie.

So that’s hate, dear spiders.

I don’t hate you.

I just don’t want you anywhere near me while I’m naked. Or in bed. Or making a sandwich.

How about within 25 feet? Could we do something like that?

The killings will continue

Let’s be honest: This letter is just a courtesy.

If I see you, even if I’m not naked, I’m likely to kill.

And no court in the land would convict me.

Because you’re spiders.

Arachnids have no rights even if they are connected to Spider-Man.

So, keep your distance, or the bodies will continue to pile up.

And I’ve always wanted to get a proper ShopVac.

Sincerely,

Daniel P. Finney

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
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Movies, Pop Culture, reviews

Disney’s ‘Cruella’ wastes performances Stone, Thompson

Confession: I’ve never seen “101 Dalmatians” in any form — not novel, not cartoon, not live-action remakes. Maybe the cartoon never replayed on “Wonderful World of Disney” when I was kid.

The others I missed on purpose. I prefer my live-action cartoons to have action figures.

But Disney Corp. finds a way to repackage intellectual properties until they eventually appeal to everyone.

The two Emmas

Short of adding lightsabers and a claw-vs.-shield fight between Wolverine and Captain America, casting Emma Stone in the lead role is the best way to get my money.

The fact that my other beloved Emma, Emma Thompson, plays opposite Stone in “Cruella,” a film of dueling villains is homemade whip cream atop the bowl of fresh strawberries.

Those two actors bring enough dynamo to the screen that I’ll forgive a lot of mediocre storytelling.

That’s good, because there is plenty of mediocre storytelling to be forgiven.

Cruella begins

We meet Cruella (Stone) when she’s Estella, a mischievous girl whose free spirit is too creative for the school’s stiff-collared headmaster who expels Estella after too many blots on her record.

Estella’s mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham), decides to move to London and stops to ask Baroness von Hellman (Thompson) for money with assurances she’ll keep her mouth shut.

The Baroness sicks her three dalmatians on Estella’s mother, who falls to her death — the first of far too many tedious anthropomorphized CGI dog escapes in the film.

The moment is the film’s lowest point. Catherine’s death is dark and treats life too cheaply for what is otherwise a jocular outing filled with heists, punk rock, and cartoonish hijinks.

Estella flees to London, where she falls in with young thieves Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). The trio get by with small-time heists until Jasper finagles a job for Estella, a talented fashion designer, at the Baroness’ department store.

Thompson wasted

The Baroness rules like the Iron Lady. She is the HBIC and spews meanness the way machine guns burp out bullets in an 80s action movie. Thompson is a good enough actor to believably render casual cruelty, but it all gets to be too much.

Thompson doesn’t do anything wrong with the Baroness, but then there isn’t much for her to do. We learn much of Cruella’s motivations, but the Baroness is given no depth of character other than she’s a meaner, older, and less creative version of Cruella.

“Cruella” does with Thompson’s talent what I thought impossible: The film makes her character generic.

Estella adopts the secret identity of Cruella and stages a series of intricate flash mobs to embarrass the Baroness’ in the middle of seasonal shows, causing to lose her stranglehold on the London fashion scene.

Actor or mannequin

The set pieces are well done, and Stone and company pull them off with pinnace, but there’s too many of them.

After a while, it feels like Stone is less like an actor and more like a mannequin for oddball high fashion with a ripping soundtrack.

The confrontations of the Baroness and Cruella feels like a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

The Baroness finally discovers who Cruella really is, captures her, ties her to a chair, and tries to murder her in fire.

There’s are a few more twists. I won’t spoil them, but they’re wholly predictable if you’ve ever seen a movie before.

Familiar feeling

Overall, it feels like watching “The Devil Wears Prada” again with a Disney Co. skin overlaid on the product.

I admit I am a muggle when it comes to high fashion. I recognize it as art.

Like most art that’s not between the panels of a comic book, I don’t understand it and feel like asking questions about it will lead to people trying to make me feel stupid.

“Cruella” isn’t so high an art that I feel stupid for not understanding it, but I do feel a little stupid for not waiting until it was free on Disney+.

Three things I loved about “Cruella:”

  1. The two Emmas.
  2. The terrific classic rock and punk soundtrack.
  3. And the Oscar for best use of a garbage truck in a car chase goes to … .

Two things that could’ve been better:

  1. Too many scenes with CGI dogs doing cartoon things.
  2. The murder of Estella’s mother.
Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Pop Culture

Joy of profanity: A lot of words about old, dirty words

Beware: I curse. A college classmate once said of my language that when I go into the bar, the sailors leave. My language is so blue gangs of Oompa Loompa’s have tried to roll me down to the juicing room before I explode.

I note this because a reader emailed me to say she would never read anything I posted again because I used profanity in my recent column about tennis and the news media’s attempt to bully Naomi Osaka over her mental health issues.

The reader was polite. She believes the use of profanity is a trait of low intelligence.

That’s an old canard, spread by people who want to control what and how other people speak. That group includes a lot of people.

Science favors cussers

Studies show people who swear likely are to have a greater vocabulary than those who don’t.

Chronic cursers tend to be more honest, tolerate pain better, and are more creative.

I am profusely, pugnaciously, and proudly profane; I curse casually and intentionally for both humor and anger.

People evoke talk of a polite society.

We don’t have a polite society.

What we have is a bunch of people running around with ball bats ready to bludgeon anyone who dares disagree with them on even the finest point of language.

I know people who nearly come to blows in arguments over the Oxford comma.

My late Grandma Lois was not a fan. Neither are Parents 2.0.

But they’ve lived with me for a long time. They accept me foul-mouthed and all.

As for readers, well, I can’t hope to satisfy them.

Controlling other’s language is just another form of tyranny

People are very particular these days. We’ve lost the ability to shrug it off. If we see something we don’t like, then we must comment and maybe even try to stop it.

That’s great if a building is on fire; less needed when it comes to reading columns on the internet.

Society has problems. Profanity is the least of them.

Anyway, that’s what I think.

I went swimming Sunday. Some neighborhood kids snuck into the complex and were playing football in the pool.

The kids weren’t supposed to be there, but I’m not cop. They gave me enough room to hobble along in the deep end and do my exercises, so why bother with formalities?

The five boys played a game where one tossed a football up in the air and the others fought for a catch. Sometimes two guys got their arms on the ball; they battled for possession.

I watched the play and listened to their smack talk.

They swore.

A lot.

Made me feel like an amateur.

One of the smaller boys struggled to get catches between two of the tallest boys. His game might have been weak, but his smack talk was ready for the NFL.

He cursed out the passer. He cursed out his fellow players. He cursed the depth of the water.

I come from a proud tradition of swearers — humans

I suppose the nice lady who wrote me that she won’t be reading anymore, and thus will never see this, thinks I should have been horrified by such talk.

I wasn’t.

I was nostalgic.

I remember playing games at the pool or the park or friends’ yards.

We lobbed this kind of language, too.

Where did we learn to talk like that?

From adults.

Swearing honors linguistic history

Plus, the words are old.

Hell and damn, religious in the origin, have been with us since the beginning of recorded language.

The fuck and shit dates to the 14th century. That was the century of the Black Plague, so it figures they’d come up with some new words to describe the hell they lived through.

Anyway, who am I to turn my back on hundreds of years of expression just to appease a few tender-eyed readers.

Besides, we’ve loosened up on profane standards in recent years.

The late comedian George Carlin famously outlined the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.”

I think we’re down to about four these days, maybe three after 9 p.m.

And on premium cable? Forget it. We’re all in.

All I’m saying is that I’m going to say whatever I want.

I’m unemployed.

I don’t make money off these columns, though I wish I did.

Only the rich have true free speech

Soon, I will be employed.

Then I’ll probably stop writing this stuff.

Because if I’ve learned anything in my working life, it’s that your employer will go to great lengths to control what you say and how you say it.

If they could, I think some corporations would edit how you call your dog for food.

That’s how much of your soul you give to a corporation for a wage large enough for house, groceries, high-speed internet, and a couple of mugs of beer each week.

Free speech is only for the rich.

You need to have “fuck you” money to be able to say, “fuck you.”

I don’t have “fuck you” money.

I don’t have any money.

And that, at least for now, allows me to be free to say whatever I want with whichever words I choose.

I’m studying to be a teacher.

I obviously won’t be using those words in the classroom.

Once I get a contract to teach at a district full time, I probably won’t type them here, either.

In fact, I might not write any more columns at all.

Can you imagine the number of people who think they own every second of your time when you’re a teacher?

The administration. The students. The union. The parents. The legislature.

One stray curse word could make you breaking news on all three news channels and a push alert by the local paragraph factories.

But for now, just a lowly student on the outskirts of “polite society,” I’m free.

And with that freedom, I choose to curse.

In the words of the great Walter Sobchak, “Fuck it, Dude. Let’s go bowling.”

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
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Media, mental health, sports

Tennis, media embarrass themselves with ignorant responses to Osaka mental health issues

Confession: Before Naomi Osaka announced she wasn’t going to participate in post-match news conferences at the French Open, I didn’t know who she was.

I know. That makes me a terrible human being. I don’t follow tennis.

Osaka is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, and she was the highest paid female athlete in the world in 2020.

So, yeah, I suppose I should have known who she was.

Anyway, before the French Open she said she wasn’t doing post-match news conferences. It kicked up her anxiety and she felt like reporters aren’t respectful of mental health. She was prepared to pay a fine.

The media and tennis worlds collectively shit themselves.

Reporters, not all, but way too many, scoffed at the notion that news conferences are harsh, cruel and dehumanizing.

They acted as if reporters are tame as fainting goats barely braying during these gentle occasions.

And tennis?

Well, the French Open fined Osaka $15,000. And all the Grand Slam goons came out and said they would do the same if she pulled such a stunt at their event.

Tennis is their sport and they’ll be goddamned if some star tells them who will sit for a daily roasting that’s created for no other reason than to give more exposure to the sport and make a handful of really rich guys who profit off the backs of people like Osaka slightly richer.

Day 2: Osaka took her racket and went home.

She was kind enough about it in her public statement, but I hope she gave the middle finger to France as her plane took off.

Her statement went deeper into the mental health issues.

Tennis and the media immediately changed their tune. The once-scoffing media hoped she got the help she needed. Tennis made apologetic burping noises.

But, hey, let’s be clear here: Fuck both the media and tennis.

The news media have no credibility in the common person’s house. The news is just weak sapling hanging off the edge of the entertainment industry trying to gain eyeballs through trickery and pandering.

They pump so much anxiety into the air, they ought to be considered a threat to the environment.

I have no sympathy for that devil anymore.

If nothing else, can we at least admit there’s not a goddamn thing worth a damn that comes out of post-game news conferences?

Reporter: What were you thinking when you double-faulted and lost the match?

Athlete: I thought, “Shit, one of you assholes is going to bring this up later and ask me some dumb fucking question like that.”

My late friend Joe Pollack was a celebrated media figure in St. Louis for decades. He told wonderful stories from his time as the public relations man for the St. Louis Cardinals football team.

“Sports writing,” he used to say, “was ruined the day they started interviewing athletes.”

As for tennis, I hope the greedy hustlers in charge learned something about who really has the power in that relationship: Osaka.

She’s the one people are paying and tuning in to see.

Be mindful of that when you think you can put the smack down on her like she works for you. She doesn’t. You work for her.

As for Osaka, like I said, I didn’t know anything about her.

Now, I’m a huge fan.

We’re fellow travelers on the mental health journey. I don’t pretend to know her exact struggles but note this: She’s one of the best in the world at a pro sport, but she’s living with a health condition.

Nobody can tape it up or apply ice to it, but it can be treated. How she treats it is none of my business. It’s no one’s business.

But if you ever wonder why people talk about stigma and mental health, it’s this kind of bullshit. She asked for one accommodation, and there was an avalanche of jerks rushing to keyboards and mics to out-asshole one another to tell her to get in line and quit whining.

I’ve lived with anxiety and depression for a long time. I am a good writer. I was once a good journalist. I’m studying to be a teacher.

Sometimes, I will look and seem fine to even my closest friends, but inside my guts are churning broken glass and nails.

But here’s the thing I keep telling everybody: Mental health is just health.

Think about it this way: If Osaka had high blood pressure or a blood sugar problem, people would understand that. They might even think it was brave of her to play with those potentially life-threating ailments.

Mental health is also potentially life threatening but can be treated. People who live with those ailments can do anything they want with their lives. Osaka proves that.

So, media people, shut the fuck up. Nobody wants to hear from you about anything.

Tennis bosses? Get it together and treat your players like humans, not characters in a video game.

And Osaka? You do you. When you get back to the courts, you’ll have one more fan.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
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des moines, humor, Iowa, life, mental health, obesity

CANNONBALL! The weak-legged leap toward wellness begins with a big splash.

Thursday was the first day of the new pool season at my home. I hobbled from my apartment to our swimming pool in the courtyard. A little girl opened the gate for me, sparing me the indignity of fumbling for keys as my arthritic knees and back cried out for me to sit down.

I thanked my neighbor and slowly, unsteadily made my way toward the 5-foot end of the pool. A group of young girls played, splashed and screamed in the shallow end.

I smiled. Hardly anyone used the pool last year. I remember having the whole pool to myself on the Fourth of July. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, but we’re getting better. We are freer.

The pandemic’s forced shut down is part of the reason I was so desperate for pool season to open. I lost my job in the middle of it and spent nearly a year in isolation. Obese before the global crisis, I gained more weight and the absence of movement and poor eating choices combined with chronic arthritis made mobility a greater challenge than ever in my life.

The pool provided the perfect opportunity for free physical therapy. A previous trip through paid aquatic therapy left me with a laminated list of exercises. I owned the tools for the job: a pool noodle, some foam dumbbells, a stretch rubber tube tied in a circle and resistance bells for punching the water.

I jumped into the pool off the side. My knees didn’t bend much, but I sunk all the way to the bottom. The cold water took my breath away, but my body quickly acclimated. The sun hovered directly overhead. The 84-degree day lacked even a hint of humidity.

I usually listen to music when I exercise, but I forgot my portable speaker. The pair of earbuds I bought were billed as waterproof, but I could barely hear my beloved Taylor Swift. I tossed them in my gym bag. What can you expect for $20?

It didn’t matter. I enjoyed listening to the children play. This happened during the pandemic, I’m sure. But the city’s pools never opened in Des Moines. And our complex didn’t open our pool until late June. Pandemic restrictions meant no deck chairs for relaxing so only a few people were in the pool.

One of the women watching the kids called a friend on her smartphone.

“We outside,” she said. “At the pool. Come over here. Right now.”

There was something special about the way she said outside. A place that for so long had been forbidden and pochmarched with warnings in tall red print was now open.

Soon more people showed up and a beachball started to fly. I worked through my exercises and suppressed a small flash of jealousy at the kids’ unfettered dexterity climbing in and out of the pool, jumping, running and chasing.

The pandemic made us all kind of shut-ins. My personal purgatory left my body weak, potentially riddled with permanent pain and loss of movement.

But I am studying to be a teacher. Movement is part of the gig. I travelled the long road of weight loss once before and wrote about it for the local newspaper. The story was popular for a while, but people — or at least editors — lost interest.

The gross fiction of shows such as “The Biggest Loser” create the idea that there is a magic camp somewhere where you can lose hundreds of pounds and get fit.

You can if you have a chef preparing your meals and workout at an unhealthy and dangerous pace. And even then, you can’t sustain it. Studies have shown “The Biggest Loser” candidates regain their weight and damage their metabolism in the process.

I hold no hopes of being a beefcake. Even in the days when my body could tolerate scaled CrossFit workouts, something arthritis prevents for now, my goal was to maintain mobility. I dropped to do burpees because I wanted to be able to get books off the bottom shelf.

I can’t do that today. What I could do on Tuesday, though, was start a journey.

I’m going to get better — one splash at a time.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
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Movies

Finney’s 5: #MemorialDay weekend movie list

A low-grade depression clouds my thoughts. I don’t feel like digging deep for a meaningful column related to Memorial Day.

Anyway, it’s simple: Honor those who’ve sacrificed for our country. Honor those in your family who’ve died. Then go about your life as you see fit.

Also, don’t be the kind of fake patriot who spends time berating everyone who fails to social media about the sacrifices of our armed services.

Observe as you choose. Those who died in service of this country probably didn’t do it so we could be jerks to one another. Live. Let live.

That’s all I have to say about that.

I do have some suggestions of war movies that would be appropriate for the holiday weekend.

Here’s Finney’s Five best movies for Memorial Day.

“Hell is for Heroes,” (1962). Starring: Steve McQueen, Bobby Darin, Fess Parker, James Coburn, Bob Newhart and Nick Adams. Director: Don Siegel.

“Hell is for Heroes” may be my favorite war movie. The film successfully combines the drudgery of a soldier’s daily life with the intense action of an extended firefight. McQueen plays an unlikely hero and Bob Newhart makes his big screen debut doing one of his famous one-sided phone conversations to befuddle the enemy.

“The Best Years of Our Lives,” (1946). Starring: Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo and Harold Russell. Director: William Wyler

Released less than a year after World War II ended, “The Best Years of Our Lives” is the most insightful and accurate film to depict the human costs of war on those who lived. The film follows three vets who return home from service and the struggles they face returning to peacetime life. Though it feels sanitized by today’s war film standards, which seem fixated on recreating the most horrific and traumatizing events in history in acute detail, the story of Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), who lost both his arms in the war, learning to trust and love again will remind you just how much the sacrifice is.

“The Big Red One,” (1980). Starring: Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco, Kelly Ward, Siegfried Rauch and Stéphane Audran. Director: Samuel Fuller.

“The Big Red One” watches more like a hard-boiled film noir than a war film. Director Samuel Fuller isn’t trying to tell you some deep meaning about war. It’s a story about men in a dangerous time, daily death, and bizarre coincidences, such as a Frenchwoman giving birth in a tank. The primary tension in the film comes not from combat with Nazis but bringing along replacement troops, whose greenness threatens the lives of experienced veterans.

“The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” (1956). Starring: Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones, and Fredric March. Director: Nunnally Johnson.

Tom Rath (Gregory Peck) is another anonymous World War II veteran in a gray flannel suit trying to pretend that everything is normal after the things he saw and did in World War II. The churning anger inside Rath rattles his marriage and pushes his sanity. Such a raw look at the psychological consequences of war was almost non-existent in 1955 and is all too rare today. Plus, if you’re going to spend a couple of hours watching a movie, it might as well be with Gregory Peck.

“M*A*S*H,” (1970). Starring: Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, Roger Bowen, Rene Auberjonois, and David Arkin. Director: Robert Altman.

The movie only shares a name with the beloved TV series, but the film deserves a view. The behavior of the doctors toward the nurses, especially Sally Kellerman’s “Hot Lips,” is unacceptable and perhaps rage-inducing through today’s #metoo lenses, but it still manages to speak to a level of savagery required of men — even healers — at war. “M*A*S*H” also makes a statement about the level of savagery we tolerate in daily life with a culminating football match between rival posts.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
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Iowa, life, People

America strikes back! Parents 2.0’s Fourth of July party returns as pandemic fears fade

America is back. I declare that with full confidence based on a single fact: Parents 2.0 are hosting their annual July 4 celebration at their stately east Des Moines manor.

They canceled last year during the pandemic.

That made sense.

Many who attend are elderly. They were the highest risk.

I didn’t know if the show would ever go on again.

Parents 2.0 are both 72. Putting on the event is a strain. They pace themselves well, but it takes a toll in the heat of the summer.

But it’s back.

My folks fill the garage with picnic tables.

They spread out a quarter city block of food on the workbench.

Annual vittles include at least two meats — turkey, pork, brisket, or ham.

There’s always baked beans with bacon, scalloped corn and potatoes, potato salad, deviled eggs, relishes, salad, and a few snacks people bring.

The big red cooler is filled with pop. The smaller coolers on top with spigots hold water and iced tea.

There probably won’t be iced tea this year. Grandma Newcomb made the iced tea, which mostly she and I drank. She died last fall at age 92. So it goes.

Dad 2.0 puts on patriotic music on the CD player hooked up to some old speakers salvaged from a demolished elementary school.

Friends and family come.

The adults eat and talk. Everybody compliments the yard.

My parents take yardwork seriously. I once saw Dad 2.0 edge the front lawn with a butter knife. I’m not making that up.

My parents plant their flowers at a specific time each spring so that they’ll be in full bloom by July 4. It works every year. I’m not making that up, either.

The littles kids sit in a big wading pool set up in the driveway and squirt each other with water guns.

Sometimes there’s a water side in the grass or badminton.

There used to be basketball, but the kids who liked that game grew older and rounder and the ball stayed idle. Parents 2.0 took down the basket, backboard and pole a few years ago. No one noticed.

The party went on.

Don’t expect any fireworks or booze. People act foolish when they drink, which my parents have no patience for. Just as good a time can be had without libations, they’ll say.

They’re right.

My parents don’t care for fireworks. They’re noisy and they make a mess in people’s yards.

Noisiness is being a rude neighbor, which is anathema to my parents’ ethos. And I already told you how seriously these people take a well-maintained yard.

The whole house is decked out with every kind of American flag and streamer decoration you could imagine.

My friend Paul usually visits over the July 4 weekend. We get our picture taken on either side of the Iowa flag.

We have considered not having the photo taken, as it records the ravages of time on our bodies and hairlines better than we both would prefer.

Thus, my parents’ Fourth of July party marks the time.

I came to live with Parents 2.0 in 1991. I was slim with a thick head of brown hair. Now I’m obese and bald.

Nobody cares. Fill your plate. Grab a seat. Tell us what’s going on with yourself.

I’ve missed the party twice in 30 years as a family. I spent the summer of 1999 in Washington, D.C., working for USA Today. I watched the fireworks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

And, of course, there was no party last year because of the pandemic.

The party is on its third and fourth generation of nieces and nephews.

Many of the people who attended the first one, in 1977, are dead now. So it goes.

Others have grown up and moved away.

The day ends with homemade ice cream in two flavors: pineapple sherbet and vanilla. I’m a sherbet man. It tastes like heaven.

My friend Rebecca, long married and moved away to Wisconsin, says she thinks of that ice cream every Fourth of July no matter where she is.

I love sharing the party with my friends, especially the strays like me who never married or have lost a spouse.

I would invite all of you, dear readers, but Mom 2.0 says she has enough trouble coaxing RSVPs out of the people she invites.

Well, mother-o-mine, mark me down for at least one. Hopefully, I can coax Paul out of Memphis and the accounting paperwork he’s perpetually buried under.

I mean we gotta go, right? Who knows how many more of these parties there will be? Maybe one day my folks will decide enough is enough.

As long as the party goes on, I’m going.

My friend Yvonne, who was my guest a couple of times, said it was the most American thing she ever did.

My folks’ July 4 party is the picture I have in my head of what America is. Friends and family sharing food and drink and taking time to be together.

There are no political lines or religious lines. There are just lines for the buffet.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.
humor, life, mental health, Unemployment

Are emergency alert spam calls a harbinger of doom? What do they know that I don’t know?

The phone rang.

The number wasn’t in my contacts.

No good can come of this.

I answered.

Who knows? It could be a job offer.

It wasn’t.

The voice sounded like a pleasant young woman.

The voice told me one of my medical providers recommended me for an emergency alert system.

These are devices, such as necklaces and bracelets, you wear that call an ambulance if feel chest pains or fall and can’t get up.

Such devices became famous in the 1980s powered by a series of television commercials of an elderly woman pushing the button on her Life Alert device and shouting, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!”

The slogan became as popular as “Where’s the beef?” — spoken by an old lady on behalf of Wendy’s hamburgers — and “Just say ‘no.’” — for a federal government anti-drug campaign backed by Nancy Reagan, also an old lady.

The 1980s were a good era for old ladies making pitches on TV.

Mom 1.0 was an old lady in the 1980s. I wonder how her life would have been different if she had gotten to pitch a product on TV. Maybe that’s why she was so bitter. Well, she was bitter about something anyway. She’s dead now. So it goes.

In 2021, the pitch comes from a recorded voice. I couldn’t tell how old the voice was, but it sounded less like “Where’s my lidocaine?” and more like “Let’s get margaritas!”

If the voice was to be believed, and believe me I had suspicions, my doctor broke multiple medical privacy rules and gave my contact information to a company who used telemarketing to sell medical emergency alert devices.

I doubt my doctor would do this. She can’t even get me to eat vegetables. It’s hard to imagine her calling in the telemarketers.

Spam annoys me, as it does most.

First of all, why sully the good name of a quality canned meat product like Spam?

Mom 2.0 makes a wonderful campfire dish with Spam, onions, potatoes, carrots and green and red bell peppers rolled up in aluminum foil and held over the campfire with a special spatula on a stick.

“Spam” with an uppercase “S” is good; “spam” with a lowercase “s” is bad.

Lowercase spam has been around long enough I can be nostalgic about it.

I miss OG spam.

OG used to mean “original gangsta,” which comes from hip-hop.

I don’t listen to hip-hop. I am afraid if I start listening to hip-hop, I will be accused of cultural appropriation.

“OG’s” meaning has evolved to just mean an exceptional, authentic and incredible person such as Taylor Swift or Bill Atkins, the guy who invented the device that made possible chocolate and vanilla twist cones.

OG spam was the lame jokes people forwarded you in bunches via email back when email was relatively new.

These jokes were all in text, young people. There was not an endless supply of GIFs and JPEGs from popular culture to draw upon for a meme.

The jokes were rarely funny.

They were an early indicator that some of your friends and family had very different ideas about how the world should work.

They had done you a favor for years by not talking about these notions during holiday gatherings.

We’re way past that now. We have whole networks designed to pour spam into our eyeballs and ears at all times.

I wouldn’t be surprised if mad scientists at Nike are working on a fabric that subliminally encourages us to buy more shoes that look like electric highlighters.

Anyway, I’m trying not to take this spam call selling a medical emergency alert system too personally.

Granted, my body is in pretty poor shape right now.

My brain is riddled with depression and anxiety.

My arthritis is bad in my back and knees.

I have tendonitis in my right elbow and shoulder.

My left seems fine most of the time. That’s good. I need one limb to move the loofah in the shower.

I don’t believe in harbingers, but I am in a vulnerable spot right now that I believe relates directly to some junk mail I got in March.

The first piece of mail I received after my TV job ended was a solicitation from a cremation company.

I wasn’t cremated nor did I die, which when that time comes, I hope they get it in the right order.

However, I endured a series of calamities that included some scofflaw stealing my identity and fouling my unemployment benefits and the Iowa governor backing out of a federal pandemic assistance program because, you know, she’s whimsical.

I am a couple summer school classes and two semesters away from earning my master’s degree and teaching license.

The last thing I need is more haunted spam throwing things off.

I’m sorry medical emergency alert bracelet people, but I’ve already fallen.

I’m trying to get up.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
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