humor, Media, mental health, News, Newspapers, TV, Unemployment

How to lose a career in TV in three months: A story of failure and survival

From the desk of friendly neighborhood Paragraph Stacker Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines, Iowa.

My brief career as a TV journalist ended shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday, March 4, 2021.

Failure is a hard thing to admit, but I failed and failed badly in the role of assignment editor at Local 5 Iowa. Maybe that’s not the sort of thing a freshly unemployed person is supposed to admit, but it’s the truth.

The news director hired me because when he worked at a different station, he’d had a good experience with an old newspaper guy in an assignment editor’s role. I hoped to repeat that model for him at WOI-DT, but I fell flat the first week and never caught up.

They tried to teach me. I tried to learn. But in the end, I couldn’t keep up.

So many feeds of information swirled around through so many different mediums of communication that I always felt in the wrong place at the wrong time and constantly in fear that I had forgotten something.

I think the biggest problem was this was primarily a scheduling job. I thought I could handle that. I was wrong.

The work was more than keeping the book straight on where and when reporters and photographers are supposed to be. The job included finding sources and booking interview times, generating ideas at a frenetic pace and helping people decide how and when their stories should air.

I sometimes updated the website, tried to lead meetings – which was a fumbling mess – and make sense of the screeches from a dozen or more police scanners while I monitored social media feeds and text messages.

I had no idea what I was doing, and I was doing it all – or more accurately failing to do it all – at a dead sprint.

My bosses tried their best with weekly coaching sessions, but we all grew frustrated. They needed more out of me and deep down I knew I didn’t have what they wanted.

In the end, the problem was I’m a writer, and assignment editor at a TV station isn’t a writer’s job. The skill that I spent nearly three decades developing from high school sports stories to a city columnist just didn’t translate the way the station needed.

I felt like a relic of a different time, a Neanderthal banging at the keyboard with jawbone of an ass.

I leave with no bitterness. I met some excellent journalists. I made one or two friends. I learned a lot.

The biggest thing I learned was what a dummy I had been about TV news my whole life.

The creation of a single TV story takes a tremendous amount of technical acumen and rigor. WOI produced six news shows a day filled with stories created by a small, hard-working staff.

I used to describe TV reporters as “the hairspray mafia” when I worked for the local newspaper. Only my ignorance surpassed my arrogance.

I meant it as a friendly jibe against the competition; but it was more than that. I worked for a newspaper and felt superior. I thought print news possessed a more direct and intellectual connection to its audience.

Maybe that was true once, about 25 years or more before I was born. But TV ruled the house all 45 years I’ve lived. I know from my own mother’s talk about various anchors that she feels closer to local TV journalists than any writer in the newspaper, hopefully excluding me.

TV and print both face the same fade in audience today, as people choose news and information delivered through social media and darker recesses of the internet.

The most important thing about internet news seems to be that it’s free. The second most important thing is that it tells you want you already believe even if it ignores the truth.

Nobody likes a job to end, not really. Jobs mean regular pay, benefits and a certain kind of security.

But this job taught me not only to respect the trades I don’t know but that sometimes even money and insurance are not enough to make a job worth it.

My primary feeling throughout my more than three months at WOI was anxiety. I worried I was failing, that I was letting people down and that I was making a fool out of myself.

To what degree each of those things was true versus the degree to which my own never-ending struggle with mental health exacerbated probably is impossible to measure.

What I know is I had a job at a TV station. I was really bad at it. And when it ended, it felt as if a steel girder had been lifted off my chest.

I don’t know what happens next. I guess that’s what it’s like when your show is canceled.

I’m still in graduate school at Drake University. I plan to earn my teaching certificate and be licensed to teach middle school and high school. I might even teach college when I earn that master’s degree.

If any angel investors want to put me on “scholarship,” I’m not too proud to accept the help. (Seriously, your gifts and donations help not only with this website, but with a struggling newsman trying to make his way in the universe.)

I’ll be blogging more. I may delve into more controversial topics.

This adventure has ended.

A new one awaits.

Daniel P. Finney once tried to work in TV. It went badly.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. I’m freshly unemployed and have a big tax bill to pay. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

life, mental health

Bad days and worse days

From the desk of friendly neighborhood Paragraph Stacker Daniel P. Finney.

A chemical imbalance that manifests as depression and anxiety. They tag team on my thoughts. They sap the joy from my favorite things. They turn fun into fear. They sap my energy, snuff my humor and turn anger and hate inward. Depression wipes out all positive thought.

It feels like a weighted blanket on my chest, but instead of warmth and comfort it holds me down so heavily that I can barely breathe. Sometimes it almost feels safe under the blanket. I can’t feel anything. My emotions go blank. My concentration falters. My brain slows so much that it becomes hard to find basic words. All I want to do is sleep, because when you’re asleep at least you don’t feel the sadness and fear.

I overeat and spend money when I’m depressed. I work on the problems with my behavioral therapist, but over the years I’ve spent myself into bankruptcy and eaten myself into morbid obesity.

The depression and anxiety resurged earlier this month. There are lots of reasons, but I choose.

The anxiety condition means I suffer from panic attacks. When it acts up, I feel fear. Sometimes the fear is response to stimulus: a mistake made at work, a social faux pas or an overindulgence.

Sometimes there is no reason for the panic. It just settles in like a thunderstorm inside my skull. My doctor gives me little yellow pills. They usually work within about 15 or 30 minutes.

Once in a while, though, the panic gets past the pills. That happened earlier this month. The panic set in about 8:30 a.m. and just sat on my chest until around 3:30 p.m.

I tried to nap. The panic usually subsides when I sleep. It didn’t work. I dozed, but I could feel the tightness in my chest, the restlessness and uneasiness. It was still there when I woke up.

The worst panic attacks feel as if my skin is itching on the inside out. This was not one of those. This was a lesser variety, but still exhausting.

I struggled to concentrate on the TV show I had recorded. I tried to mindlessly watch sports highlights. But everything seemed irritating and unsettled.

I dimmed the lights and turned on the fans. I tried to imagine myself pitching a baseball. I thought about dragging my cleat along the rubber atop the mound. I thought about the feel of the baseball on my fingertips. I could almost smell the dirt on my hands.

I imagined the fan blowing the hair on my arms was actually a gentle breeze on a calm, cool day at the park. I could hear the gentle rustling of the crowd chatting.

I never got around to throwing the ball. I never do. It’s just a technique I use to try and calm myself down. It was only partially successful.

The worst part of panic attacks are the thoughts. Every thought is carried out to its most gruesome conclusion.

For example: I ate pasta for dinner. That’s bad for my blood sugar. I’m diabetic. I’m going to have to have my feet amputated. I will die broke and alone in a wheelchair at a county hospital.

Sometimes I think about killing myself. I think about jumping off a parking garage. This is all in my head, mind you. No actions are taken.

Usually, I am able to brush those thoughts off without much trouble. I want to feel relief, I remind myself. A dead man cannot feel relief.

If the thoughts get too noisy, I call my therapist. He’s an excellent therapist. He is a former U.S. Army Ranger. He is direct, thoughtful and quick. A few minutes with him on the phone are enough to get me back into acceptable condition.

I have a few friends I can call in this situation, but I make those contacts sparse. My friends, the closest of them, understand the reality of depression and anxiety. But even some I’ve known for years still believe these mood disorders can be adjusted like car stereo dials.

One of the worst parts of living with these disorders is fear that people don’t believe they’re real or that they’ll hit me with the old cliches. Think positive thoughts. Cheer up. Other people have things a lot worse than you do.

Society treats mental health differently from other health conditions. We probably wouldn’t advise someone having a heart attack to say, “Just think you’re not having a heart attack.” We likely would call 911 if we knew a diabetic was going into insulin shock. But with depression we ask them to pretend, because we don’t believe them.

Things have changed in recent years. More public discussion improved understanding and attitudes, but not so much that even people I am close to wonder if the medication I take is the problem and not the treatment for the problem.

Once I had a panic attack where I got a song stuck in my head. It was summer 1999. I kept hearing the song over and over again, each replay getting louder and shriller. I thought I was going to have to stick an ice pick in my brain just to end the torment.

That was a bad night. I didn’t know what panic attacks were then. I wouldn’t be diagnosed for another two years.

I write about this not to terrify my friends and family who might read it. Sometimes that happens. They get sad because I am not always happy. But most people are not always happy. They might pretend to be, but they’re not.

To them, I say that I am OK. I manage this problem. I’m not going to die from it. Nothing bad is going to happen. I take pretty good care of myself in this regard.

It’s no different than high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Mental health problems are just like other medical problems. They can all be fatal if not treated, but most days, for most people, they don’t amount to much more than taking your medication on time.

I don’t write about my mental health problems as a plea for sympathy, either. I am who I am. These problems are a part of me, but they are not all of me. Yes, I struggle. But most people do with some kind of problem or another.

But I write about this because most of the dialog about mental health is about very extreme cases: people who are severely disabled and unable to function or people who have committed crimes.

That’s understandable. The dire end of the spectrum needs our help the most. But most of us live in the great, wide middle. I am able to work most of the time, but sometimes I have sleepless nights like this one. Sometimes I’m edgy and rude. But, generally, I live a full life with family, friends and adventures that interest me.

I write about this because I know there are other people like me out there, who have bad days in their brain. I write this as a message to my fellow mental health travelers: It’s OK. You are not alone.

Daniel P. Finney is soft spring rain scented with improved oxidants.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. And I got a nasty tax bill for daring to have health insurance while I was unemployed. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

humor, life, Media, Movies, People, Pop Culture, reviews

The sham of asking for feedback on customer service and why companies should know no news is good news

From the desk of friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines, Iowa.

I called the cable company about a problem with my internet service.

A computer answered.

We are already off to a bad start.

The computer asked me to press numbers on my phone to direct me to the proper human who could help with the problem.

I used my smartphone, which really means I touched glass where a number appeared.

I found myself nostalgic for the old push-button phones from Northwestern Bell. Those phones couldn’t take a photo or play games, but they were well-built and heavy enough to be used as the murder weapon in a blunt-force trauma homicide.

Somehow the ability to push that button really hard made me feel better about these phone tree answering services.

The computer routed me to what it believed to be the appropriate place. I waited for a human to come on the line.

The computer asked a final question: “Would you consider taking a brief two-question survey after your call about your customer service experience? Press ‘1’ for ‘yes’ and ‘2’ for ‘no.’”

This is an odd time to ask this question. I hadn’t had a customer service experience yet and I was already being asked to rate it.

I declined the offer.

I always do.

Don’t put the responsibility of reviewing your employees’ performance off on me. I just want to get my Disney+ streaming the latest episode of “WandaVision” in HD.

I buy a lot of products from a large online retailer. They often send me emails asking me to review a product such as a book or toy.

This offends me.

I make my living as a writer. If you want me to sling sentences for your $1.7-trillion online retailer, pay me. I charge $1 per word.

I would also consider deep discounts.

I’m realistic. They aren’t going to pay me. I’ll be a good sport.

Here’s a review of every product I ever bought from them: “[Insert product name here] was probably fine or I returned it for a refund.”

Cut and paste as needed.

This obsession with rating and ranking knows no bounds. I watch a movie on Netflix, they want me to give it a thumbs up or thumbs down.

Roger Ebert should sue. Of course, he’s dead. This probably keeps his litigation to a minimum.

EBay wants me to rate every transaction. The feedback system supposedly kept scofflaw sellers from ripping people off.

But everybody gets ripped off by somebody at some point on eBay. I’ve always gotten my money back.

Even if you want to give negative feedback, eBay makes you go through extra hoops to do it.

So why bother?

My feedback is I didn’t ask for a refund.

A favorite restaurant of mine offers discounts to frequent customers. They sent me an email asking me to rate my experience every time I used the card.

I blocked their email address.

I still eat at the place. That’s my feedback. I’m a repeat customer.

I understand that consumers want to have a say in how they are treated by the businesses with which they deal – especially the massive, monolithic and borderline oligarchic corporations that dominate modern consumer life.

But I believe most of the ways they gather feedback amounts to a wooden suggestions box on the breakroom wall with a slot for comment cards that fall right into a trash bin.

I struggle to believe that if I rate my customer service experience at the internet service provider poorly that this will lead to any meaningful change.

I don’t believe they record calls for quality and training purposes. I believe they record calls for evidentiary purposes in case of a lawsuit.

What ticks me off about the whole thing is I’m being asked for my opinion when I know damn well they don’t care and they’re going to keep doing what they’re doing.

My recourse is either to change where I buy things or accept a certain level of cruddy service.

Press “1” if you agree.

And if you disagree, just stop reading.

Daniel P. Finney saw a werewolf at Trader Joe’s. His hair was in a bun and he smelled of beard oil.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. And I got a nasty tax bill for daring to have health insurance while I was unemployed. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, life

Alas, poor snow days, we knew ye well

From the desk of friendly neighborhood Paragraph Stacker Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines, Iowa.

The digital invades our daily lives in uncounted ways, but the war on snow days may prove the cruelest cut.

I watched the school closing scroll across my TV Sunday night. Many closed, but others moved classes to an all-virtual model — the innovation that kept school going during this tragic, tedious pandemic.

The snow day – or the cold day – isn’t quite dead, but the end is near. Soon nobody will ever get an unscheduled day off. They’ll just open their laptops and carry on.

I suppose it’s a small loss, but once again the culture of “always on” pays an unwanted dividend.

Children once pressed their noses against window glass with anticipation only matched in events with birthday cake or Christmas presents.

They pestered their teachers the moment the first snowflake fell: “Do you think they’ll let us go home early? Do you think they’ll cancel school tomorrow?”

The teachers did their best to restore order, but the dreams of snowball fights, snowman building and the raw thrill of being out of school when you were supposed to be in school swallowed up any chance to teach and learn.

Most of the time the anticipation proved much ado about nothing. But there were those days, those delightful days when the snow piled too high or the wind blew the cold too hard so that even the most stalwart superintendent surrendered and called off school.

Oh, what magical days. We slept late. If we could go outside, we built snow forts, sought out the biggest hill in town and sledded as we let loose shrieks of joy.

If we couldn’t go outside, we played video games or read comic books. We quarreled with our siblings, ate too much sugar and stayed up too late.

That’s all but over now.

Maybe today’s kids would just as soon slog through school in so-called virtual days. The students must be used to them by now after enduring them so long.

I’ve no interest in debating the pedagogical merits of virtual versus in-person instruction. That’s left for parents, students, educators and, unfortunately, politicians.

But I will say this much: You may squeeze a couple droplets of learning into a virtual school day, but there will never be a virtual snow day.

The simple pleasures are the ones we miss when we prize efficiency and convenience above all else.

We wonder why our lives are so overburdened and crammed, why everything seems so relentless and extreme.

Maybe when things get so intense, we should remember snow days – a day when Mother Nature told us to take a break in the middle of the obscenity that is February in the Midwest and go play.

Daniel P. Finney is offering a 25% discount on all navy blue towels and bedding at ParagraphStacker.com.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. And I got a nasty tax bill for daring to have health insurance while I was unemployed. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Iowa, life, obesity

One day at Brown Shoe Fit Company

From the desk of Paragraph Stacker Daniel P. Finney from Des Moines, Iowa.

I needed new shoes. I usually buy New Balance. Those are appropriate sneakers for middle-aged men. I’ve long outgrown shoes for style. My shoes are all function. And that’s what New Balance makes.

I usually buy my shoes at one of the sporting goods stores at the big mall in West Des Moines or one of the discount shops that sells last year’s model.

But I’ve got degenerative arthritis in my knees. There’s inflammation in my meniscus from a slip on the ice and tendinitis plagues my Achilles tendons.

My stimulus check arrived and I decided to treat myself to a higher-end model of New Balance to help me negotiate the treacherous winter.

The last time I went to the sporting goods store, the kid who helped me wasn’t even sure if they sold shoelaces. I’m not making that up. So I called Brown Shoe Fit Co. in West Des Moines.

I liked the name. I liked the idea that what they do there is sell shoes and shoe-related things like shoelaces and some socks. There wasn’t a hunting section or a sports jersey department.

There’s nothing wrong the big sporting goods company. I was just raised by people who “had a guy for that.” My parents had a plumber, an electrician, a baker and so on.

When I was a boy, there were scores of independent craftsmen who survived on the loyalty of people who were satisfied with the service and preferred dealing with the same person rather than obsessively seeking a bargain.

That reads more critical than I intend. Things change. I buy most things from Amazon except comic books. I try to support favorite businesses when I can.

This time I needed a shoe guy. I had a shoe guy when I was very young. His name was Pete. He worked at a shoe store in Park Fair Mall. I’m old enough to remember when Park Fair Mall was still a shopping hub on the northeast side.

Pete knew I only wanted one thing when I came into the store with my parents: Keds Tail Lights. They were navy blue canvas with a yellow diagonal stripe on the side and a bright red-orange circular reflector on the heel — just like the tail lights on a car.

I remember the day my parents took me to finalize the adoption. They made me dress up and wear a pair of saddle shoes. Chuck Offenburger would have been proud.

I was unimpressed. The saddle shoes were too tight and I kept complaining they hurt my feet. My parents urged me to keep quiet about my discomfort lest the Polk County judge think they were bad parents who failed to provide proper shoes.

I don’t remember how old I was, but I didn’t want to mess up the deal. I kept quiet. The judge signed off and my life as a Finney began in full.

To celebrate, we drove straight to Pete’s store and I got a new pair of Tail Lights. I don’t remember when I became too old to wear Tail Lights, but that must have been a sad day.

Since Pete, I haven’t had a regular shoe guy. I just went wherever. Sometimes I bought bargain. Sometimes I bought mid-range.

I now needed something higher end. I went to Brown Shoe Co. A man introduced himself just when I walked into the store. I worried this was going to be a hard sell.

“What can I get you?” he asked.

I told him I needed some better shoes and explained my ails. He motioned for me to come to the back of the store. The guy took off like a rabbit.

I’m an obese man living in a world designed for average sizes. I looked at the chairs, all of which had arms and narrow seats. I was in trouble, I thought. There’s no my big butt would fit in these chairs.

The salesman disappeared into the backroom. He came out with a wide bench in his arms. He set it down between a couple chairs and offered me the seat.

At that point, the guy could have sold me a pair of red stilettos with taps and bells on them. That is a smart salesman. He anticipated a customer’s need before the customer had to vocalize it. I would vote for this guy for president.

The thing is, it’s not unusual for an obese person to be noticed. But it’s exceptionally rare for an obese person to be treated humanely, with kindness and gentility. This guy did it unprompted.

He brought out several pair of more expensive New Balance, but he hit a home run on the first pair. He explained all the features to me. I tried to pay attention, but in the end, all I cared about was they were comfortable.

The salesman laced them up for me, put my old pair in a box and walked me up to the registers. I paid. I thanked him for bringing that bench out. It made my day.

I took his card. I immediately lost it, of course. But I have a new shoe guy. And I know where to find him next time.

Daniel P. Finney feels better about using a cane to walk by thinking of it as his “whacking stick.”

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester is underway. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

humor, Iowa, life, sports

Stuff my dad texts

From the desk of friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines, Iowa.

Super Bowl celebration in my house as a boy usually involved my dad and me stretched out on the basement furniture with bowls of popcorn on our bellies and a fizzy Pepsi on ice on coasters atop the end table.

Time passed and things change, as they do, and many years have passed since Dad and I watched the championship game together. The pandemic prevented us from gathering this year.

I work most Sundays. I called home to ask who my dad picked to root for on my lunch break. We pick opposite teams during most championships unless one of our favorite teams is playing.

My dad picked the Kansas City Chiefs. I rooted for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We promised to text during the game.

My dad defines soft-spoken. His quiet belies his thoughtfulness — he can drop a wisdom bomb like few I’ve known — but his absence of gregariousness hides a wicked sense of humor.

The following is a partial transcript of texts during the big game.

On a missed touchdown that slid through a receiver’s hands and hit him in the helmet:
DAD: Almost a touchdown be he couldn’t catch it with his face.

On breaks in the action:
ME: I didn’t understand any of the last three commercials.
DAD: That’s probably a good thing.

On CBS Sports self-promotion:
DAD: I cannot wait for the halftime reporting.

On the Coors Light “shortage” commercial:
DAD: Nothing like watching a good truck wreck.

On a Tom Brady touchdown pass:
DAD: Nice throw by twinkle toes.

On a shoe commercial about 2020 and soft soles:
ME: Hey, did you hear last year sucked? I’m glad these commercials are here to remind me.
DAD: With the right shoes, this year will be like walking on clouds.

On a call against the Chiefs:
DAD: The fix is in.

On a commercial about working out with paint cans, broomsticks and rubber bands:
DAD: I had weights like that as a kid.

On Kansas City’s anemic offense and bright yellow shoes:
DAD: They would score more without bananas on their feet.

On hearing about Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ toe injury one too many times:
DAD: Take a time out and get a replacement toe.

On a commercial for a new melon-flavored Mountain Dew in a pink hue:
DAD: Pepto-flavored Mountain Dew?

As the game becomes out of reach for the Chiefs:
DAD: (Mahomes) has never lost by double digits? Is that another toe reference?

On a commercial that references the center of the 48 contiguous United States:
DAD: We went to see the center of the country. Lebanon, Kansas. 2018 (He texts three pictures he took of the site on one of their trips.)

I slept through big portions of the ballgame. I remember Tom Brady and Tampa Bay won.

But I mostly remember texts from my dad — and the thought that the jokes would’ve been much funnier in person.

Daniel P. Finney knows he hasn’t written in a while. He’s trying to figure out a new job and go to school and manage his mental health and an arthritic knee in the middle of a goddamn pandemic. Things are stressful and sometimes, as much as he wants to, he just doesn’t have the energy for paragraphs. But like all things in life, it’s a work in progress.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester is underway. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, Faith and Values, obesity, People

Meet the guardian angel of my parking lot

From the desk of friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney, Des Moines, Iowa.

The acrid smell of hot tires filled the air, accompanied by the futile roar of my car’s engine and the squeal.

Once-white snow sullied by exhaust fumes and tire rubber sprayed the vehicles behind me in my apartment parking lot.

I rocked my body in the driver’s seat and the car joined my rhythms, but still the rear wheels failed to climb the pile of plowed snow that entombed my car in the space.

Nine inches of snow fell on the city overnight. I knew this trouble well. I bought my car, a 2012 Dodge Charger, because it looks cool.

And it does.

But it handles poorly on snow and ice, especially in the apartment parking lot where the plows clear the main paths but leave small mountains of snow behind the occupied spaces.

I was stuck.

I would be late to my new job that I still struggled to learn. Panic bubbled in my gut.

Then a young woman knocked on my door. She offered to push while I pounded the gas.

She appeared fit, but even the strongest of CrossFit athletes would be at a disadvantage pushing my two-ton car with my girth in the driver’s side.

I suggested she drive while I push. I leaned into the car with my hip, one of the few times my obesity helped. We freed the car in about three hard tries.

I thanked her.

“No problem,” she said.

I went on to work.

The snow melted and refroze over the next few days. A light snow fell one Sunday morning as I made mincing steps to my car.

A voice behind me said, “Did we need more of this?”

I didn’t look up, but grumbled, “No, definitely not.”

I biffed it on a patch of ice hidden by the light snow cover and crashed hard on my right side.

I stayed down for a minute. I wanted to assess if I had broken anything. I had not.

The ground was very slippery in a wide swath around me.

I managed to twist myself around to sit on my butt, but efforts to stand might have reminded observers of a Donald Duck cartoon.

Except one onlooker. I heard a familiar voice in my ear. It was the person who had walked out ahead of me toward the parking lot.

“Are you all right?” she said.

I looked up. It was the same young woman who helped get my car out of the snow a few days before.

She’s apparently been appointed my guardian angel.

“I’ve been better,” I said.

She offered a hand. I worried that my girth would pull her down. I slid over to my car.

I took her hand and used the car to steady myself. I was upright. I thanked her again.

“No problem,” she said.

“I never asked your name,” I said.

“Maddie,” she said.

Maddie, it turns out, is Maddie Smith, a rower on the Drake University Women’s Crew team.

I don’t know how many people would stop to help an obese man who fell on the ice or to push someone out of snow.

But Maddie Smith was there for me twice.

She is from Des Moines and a graduate of Dowling Catholic High School. She is a credit to her faith, family and herself.

We talk a lot about how terrible everything is in the world. This story doesn’t make those things any less true.

But this story does contain one of the few proven remedies for things to improve: unselfish kindness.

Daniel P. Finney apologizes to neighbors for any tremors caused by his recent fall.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester starts soon. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

comics, Pop Culture, TV

If you didn’t understand the first two episodes of ‘WandaVision,’ it’s OK. Those characters never make sense. Here’s why.

From the mind of friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines, Iowa.

Let’s be honest: The first two episodes of “WandaVision” make no damn sense.

The new Marvel TV series on Disney+ begins in black and white like an old episode of “Bewitched” with our heroes Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) apparently living a zany early 1960s sitcom lifestyle — complete with laugh track.

Vision supposedly died in “Avengers: Infinity War.” He died twice, actually. Wanda killed him once to save the universe. Thanos hit reset on the game and killed Vision to take the stone from his skull and snap half the universe out of existence.

The next time we saw Wanda, she used her powers of deus ex machina to put the smackdown on Thanos.

Thanos rolls his 1D20 and has his spaceship blow stuff up for a few minutes. After that, Wanda shares sniffles by a pond with Hawkeye over the dead, which included Vision.

Vision is back looking like a red-faced baboon in a green hoodie. Wanda is performing witchy tricks that would make Elizabeth Montgomery jealous in an effort to hide their collective weirdness from the nosy neighbor, oppressive boss and a collection of TV tropes so old you’d think you fell asleep during a MeTV marathon.

How did we get here? TBD.

Maybe there’s a clue in the title: “WandaVision,” like television.

There seems to be people trying to reach Wanda from the outside world. It blew up a radio at the neighborhood bully’s house.

The whole thing could be in Wanda’s head. That’s happened in the comics.

If it feels as if I’m not making things any clearer, that’s exactly right.

Wanda, known as the Scarlet Witch in comics, and Vision have some of the most complicated backstories in Marvel Comics history.

I tried to explain their comics’ origins to a non-comics friend and less than halfway through she said, “I’m to the point where all I can hear is angry bees buzzing in my head.”

The movie universe summed up Wanda and her dead brother, Pietro, as “He’s fast and she’s weird.”

Her powers are making red gooey things and doing whatever the writer needs in that scene.

The writer of “WandaVision” needed her to contour whole objects out of the air, teleport people into magic boxes and make lobster thermidor with copious amounts of levitation.

Vision can alter his density to make himself intangible or diamond-hard. He can shoot lasers out of the gem in his head. And he’s an android.

He’s technically a synthetic human, but let’s not get those Isaac Asimov “I, Robot” people into this.

The point is, Wanda and Vision have never made sense. Not in comics. Not in film. Not in this streaming show.

So just go with it. Right now, they’re doing schtick and it’s at least as amusing as an actual episode of “Bewitched.”

And Elizabeth Montgomery never looked as good as Elizabeth Olsen in a magician’s assistant costume.

Yeah, I know. I’m not supposed to say that.

Don’t tell me how to enjoy things.

And don’t try to figure out “WandaVision.”

Just watch. See what happens. But don’t expect it to ever make sense.

Daniel P. Finney followed his dream. Look where that got him.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester starts soon. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

humor, sports

If nobody recognizes you but you are you really you? The ironies of online identity

From the mind of friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines, Iowa.

I recently went online to buy a pair of pants.
The store wanted me to log in. I’m a valued customer, they tell me. I’ll want to collect all my reward points.

Reward? That sounds nice. I’ll log in.

Except I have no idea what my password is. I buy about three pair of pants a year. I don’t remember the last time I bought a pair.

I admit defeat to the pants peddlers. They send me an email with a temporary password. I punch that in. Then they want me to pick a new password.

I do.

I failed to use the correct combination of numbers, letters and symbols.

Try again.

Oops. You can’t use a previous password.

OK. I finally got one to work.

The website takes me out to the storefront.

I find the pair of pants I want. I pick out a nice T-shirt, too.

I go to check out.

They want me to sign in again.

No problem. I just set the password.

And … I forgot it.

I buy the pants anonymously. Damn the reward points.

I like online shopping. I’m not one for gatherings or crowds. I like to pick out the thing I want, buy it and have it delivered without contact with another human.

I know lots of people who prefer original-recipe shopping. I understand that. That’s how I buy comic books and shoes. Superhero stories and footwear are products that must be gathered in person.

But most other things I prefer to buy online, even groceries.

The biggest drawback to online shopping is the tracking. I buy a toy at one website and then go read the Wall Street Journal. There, the ads offer to sell me other toys of the same vintage. Sometimes the ads go as far as to suggest toys that I recently looked at online.

I was trying to read Jason Gay’s sports columns. I’m all done buying toys for today, thank you.

I was lucky to be able to get into the Wall Street Journal website.

I have no idea what my password is for that site. The Journal seems to remember me wherever I go or whatever device I’m using.

This is rare for an online newspaper website. I have a few subscriptions. I log in and click a box that says it will keep me logged in on the device I’m using.

At best, this works for two or three days. Then it’s back to hunting for a password.

This seems nice. This is how old-school shopping worked. You walked in and the shopkeeper greeted you. They knew your favorites and made recommendations.

I suppose that’s like what those ads I complained about do, but when a computer does it, it feels creepy.

When James from the comic store does it, I’m fine with it. When an algorithm does it, it annoys me.

Anyway, facial recognition seems nice except during a pandemic. I look at my phone most often during the workday – when I’m wearing a mask. The phone doesn’t know me. Then I enter a password. This one I have memorized.

I’m tired of logging into things. This is probably why I watch so much football.

Football never asks me to log in. It only asks me to endure the inanities of Joe Buck and Cris Collinsworth.  

I wouldn’t mind a username and password that let me log into a special broadcast of a football game that had no commentators.

I guess these are small problems.

But I think it is part of the overall exhaustion of modern American life that people are constantly forced to prove who they are.

It’s ironic. All this technology is supposed to bring us together, but hackers and hustlers endlessly attempt to steal from us, especially our data. So, we must prove who we are and maybe, after a while, we wonder who we really are if nobody can remember but us.

But this is no time for philosophy.

I’m going to read a comic book where things blow up and the good guys win.

No login required.

Daniel P. Finney wields a semicolon like a samurai sword.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester starts soon. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

humor

You think you’ve got it bad during the pandemic? Imagine being a bank teller

If you don’t enjoy a root beer Dum Dum lollipop, I’m not sure we can be friends.

Typed by friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney in Des Moines, Iowa.

Do you know who must be especially freaked out these days?
I mean besides everyone.
Bank tellers.
Bank tellers have to be on edge unlike anyone else in the middle of the pandemic.

You spend your whole career thinking that if someone comes into the bank wearing a mask, there’s probably going to be trouble.

Hit the alarm.

Call the cops.

Get the ink bomb ready for the getaway bag.

But in the pandemic?

Somebody comes into the bank without a mask and that’s trouble.

You’ve got to ask them to put a mask on.

Then you’ve got to tell them to put a mask on.

Pretty soon you’re yelling at them to put a mask on.

Sir? Sir! Masks are required in the bank!

And you know what?

Getting a guy to put a mask on could go either way.

It’s not like a bank robbery.

Most bank robberies are boring.

Guy walks up to the teller, hands them a note and they run out with as much cash as they can get from a drawer.

The other customers don’t even know what happened.

But today, a guy not wearing a mask could go either way.

The sensible people, of which there are precious few, will be like, “Oh, of course. My bad. I took it off in the car to eat a delicious burger and fries from that new place downtown. I’ll just slide the mask right on up. Sorry.”

But there seems to be an equal chance, perhaps greater than equal, that the teller asks a guy to wear a mask and they start screaming like William Wallace in “Braveheart.”

COVID-19 may take our lives, but they’ll never take our FREEDOM!”

As an aside, when you think of it, what a stupid thing to say.

Once they’ve taken your life, you have no freedom.

You’re dead.

Dead people have no rights.

They can’t even move.

They’re just decomposing in a box, crypt or urn somewhere.

They can’t vote.

They can’t engage in policy discussion.

They can’t even tweet.

Anyway, the anti-mask guy at the back of the bank starts shouting about FREEDOM and TYRANNY and HOAX.

And the clerk is like, “Look, I’ve got asthma, all right? COVID-19 would hit me pretty hard. Could you just wear a mask, sir?”

And this guy starts going off about he’s got a medical condition that prevents him from breathing with a mask on.

He can’t name the condition.

He has no medical documentation.

It can’t be anything with the lungs, because he can yell like a snowplow mom after her kid gets an A- in art.

Anyway, there’s cries of freedom.

Cops get involved.

There’s a lot of drama.

People record it on their mobile phones for their TikTok and Instagram.

And the teller probably has to fill out more paperwork.

They thought this would be a good job.

Count out money for customers.

Take deposits.

Traveler’s checks, back in the day.

Give a Dum Dum lollipop to kids who come in with their parents.

You saw a guy with a mask, you hit the silent alarm.

Now, you see a guy with a mask, you end up in a political debate.

Everything’s a big damn hassle.

It’s why four out of five bank tellers use the ATM.

Daniel P. Finney believes his country must come to a compromise. There has to be room for both the “Tastes Great” and “Less Filling” factions.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester starts soon. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.