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.

Crime and Courts, des moines, Faith and Values, humor, mental health, News, People, Pop Culture, Taylor Swift

After the Capitol siege, I’ll believe anything

Well, we sure solved that one, didn’t we?

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

So, this is 2021.
One week of 52 in the books.
Do you really feel better off than you did eight days ago?
So far, 2021 feels like a tray of relishes and finger sandwiches left out in the office for a week. After what happened Wednesday in Washington, D.C., I’m open to the possibility that any news headline is real no matter how absurd.

DALLAS COUNTY, Iowa — A giant pit of fire opened near Adel on Thursday night. The gaping maw devoured land, buildings, humans, animals and vegetation as it drifted south-southwest, growing larger with each object consumed and leaving only a black void that witnesses said seemed to stare back.

Well, you know how unpredictable Iowa weather is.

MOUNT SAINT HELENS, Washington — Giant robots that transform into automobiles and aircraft are apparently doing battle around an offshore drilling facility here. The robot monstrosities seem impervious to their own weaponry, but the crossfire collapsed the drilling facility, pitching the human crew into the icy waters below. Despite an unprecedented hostile extraterrestrial incursion that destroyed millions in energy infrastructure, no local first responders, law enforcement nor state nor national law enforcement have as at yet to respond to the catastrophe.

This story is more than meets the eye.

TOKYO — A giant lizard similar to a muscular Tyrannosaurus Rex rose from the waters from the Sea of Japan and smashed its way through the streets as tens of thousands fled amid shrieks of terror. The beast’s breath appeared to be some sort of flame that leveled skyscrapers. Its footfalls rocked the city like an earthquake. A Japanese philosophy professor proffered the theory that the creature was Mother Nature’s revenge for humanity’s poor stewardship of the planet.

That was bound to happen.

WATCH HILL, Rhode Island — Top musical artists Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa and the Haley sisters merged into a single 50-foot woman at Swift’s mansion here. Their combined voice blasted a sonic cry so alluring and catchy it lured scores of ships to their doom on the rocky shoreline despite warnings from authorities of unsafe waters ahead.

Taylor Swift is always up to something.

NEW YORK, New York — A giant ape kidnapped a plumber’s girlfriend and climbed atop a construction site in downtown Manhattan on Friday. The plumber made multiple efforts to rescue his betrothed, scampering up ladders and using hammers to smash obstacles. However, the ape rolled flaming barrels down the inclined site structure that landed and crushed the skull of the plumber. The rescue attempt lasted less than a minute.

Those wild apes in New York have been a problem forever.

SOMEWHERE IN AMERICA — A broken-hearted man turned off the TV, picked up a novel and read until he fell asleep with his bedroom light on. A widowed woman watched the news late into the night, horrified by the country she’d known for 66 years and wondered if she ever really knew it all. A woman sat on a white couch and deleted videos of her estranged husband from her phone and tried to blunt the sadness of the world by preparing for an upcoming move. A woman left work early, walked her dog, ate a sensible salad and went to bed about 5 p.m. local time. She turned off her phone. An accountant traded jokes with his best friend about events too big for either of them to change. A man had the day off and went to the comic store to pick up his weekly books. A store manager asked him what he thought about all this as a newsman. The newsman paused. He said it was sad. He felt as if there wasn’t a single thing he could write or say or publish that would make anyone feel better. He said he was glad he had the day off. He paid for his books and went to the bar for a beer and cheeseburger.

Actually, that one surprises me.

Daniel P. Finney is just as sad and angry and depressed as many of you. He just doesn’t know what good it does to keep yelling at a wall of ignorance that shows no sign of buckling. So he’s not going to do it.

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.

Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, TV

To my family and friends on the occasion of Christmas, 2020

Episodes of Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” air on a special channel of PlutoTV.

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

The internet streaming service Pluto offers a channel that plays reruns of “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson,” minus the musical acts.

Watching Carson’s monologue would be an interesting way to study history. We tend to think things are the worst they’ve ever been.

If you judge by Carson’s jokes, we always have.

During a show from 1989, Carson told a joke about a TV movie about the last days of Richard Nixon as president.

“It reminded us of the terrifying days when Spiro Agnew was just a heartbeat away from the presidency,” Carson said. “Now, that doesn’t seem so bad.”

The audience laughed.

The president at the time Carson made the joke was George H.W. Bush, who was hailed as a hero of the World War II generation when he died in 2018.

Dan Quayle was vice president and the punchline of the joke.

People joked that Quayle was too young to be vice president. Editorials often depicted Quayle as a little boy. He once misspelled “potato” in front of a room full of schoolchildren.

Quayle was 42 years old when Carson made that joke in 1989.

I’m three years older than Quayle was then. I feel too old to be vice president. I’m not nearly a good enough speller.

People often talk about their past as simpler times. That’s not true.

Pluto plays Carson shows from the 1970s through the 1990s. A show from the 1970s makes jokes about inflation under Nixon.

Another episode talks about high gas prices during the energy crisis under Carter.

Carson dressed as George Washington in one gag and said fellow farmer Carter piled his manure higher.

Shows in the late 1980s poked fun at the rising Japanese investors buying up American icons such as Rockefeller Center in New York.

I doubt if you polled anyone in the audience of those Carson shows, they would have described their life as simple. Humans are complicated. Life around them is, too.

I think life was quieter then. Everybody yells these days. And technology has given a lot of people powerful tools to be louder than when they had to manually type their manifestos in cabins.

I wonder how many crazy people with truly terrible ideas just gave up because going to the post office was a hassle. They just had a beer and watched a ballgame.

2020 was a hard year both personally and for the whole world. I don’t feel like recounting all the ways why. That’s excessive and we are fully stocked on excessive.

Instead, I recall a story from my friend David Oman, former chief of staff to both Iowa Govs. Bob Ray and Terry Branstad.

The story started on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001. David picked up his son, Graham, from school.

Graham asked what was wrong. His mother usually picked him up from school. David tried to tell Graham, then-6, about the buildings attacked in New York and Washington, D.C.

“It’s a bad day,” David remembered saying.

Graham said, “I think it’s a good day.”

This shocked David. He asked his boy why he thought that.

“Well,” the child said, “today is the newest day. And somewhere somebody invented something.”

Only children can pull a thread of hope out of such grim moment. Maybe that’s the simplicity people remember. The simplicity of hope.

I hope you’re still surprised.

I hope you’re still awed.

I hope you smile often and laugh easily.

I hope you read.

I hope you imagine.

I hope you create.

I hope you have a moment in the flurry of wrapping paper, cacophony of joyful noises and bellyful of food that your mind slows down so that your thoughts fit between the ticks of a clock and you realize just how nice all of this really is.

I hope you all have a happy Christmas and a merry New Year.

With love and hope,

dpf

Daniel P. Finney is a five-time winner of the Long Winter’s Nap contest.
des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, People

HOT SHEET: The joy of mother’s cooking when we can’t be together

Seconds, please.

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, 24th Street bureau, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONLY: I ate my mother’s food on Thanksgiving Day.

This simple declarative sentence would be unimpressive in any other year.

But we know damn well this is not any other year.

This is the year of COVID, social distancing and lockdowns.

Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my parents died, delivered turkey with all the fixings to my apartment at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

I greeted them in my robe, slippers and, of course, a mask.

They wore masks, too.

Mom 2.0 gave instructions on reheating.

I took the box lid full of food in my arms.

My parents drove off to make similar deliveries to others in the family.

We didn’t hug.

We didn’t bump elbows.

That’s not really our family style.

The love was in the box.

Mom 2.0 called about a week before Thanksgiving. She discovered a frozen turkey in the basement deep freeze of their stately east Des Moines manor.

She decided she would cook a big dinner with all the fixings. She and Dad 2.0 would eat at home together and then go delivering meals to the family.

Thanksgiving is fellowship and family. COVID stole that from many of us this year.

Our family is old-fashioned. We like turkey on Thanksgiving and we listen to doctors when they tell us to social distance and wear masks in a pandemic.

I have not tasted my mother’s cooking in nearly a year. We gathered for Christmas. I got pneumonia in February. COVID and social distancing came in March.

My parents are healthy, but they are both 71. I am 45, obese with occasional asthma.

The desire to get together grew with each passing week of the pandemic. It just seemed like a bad idea.

I couldn’t live with the idea that I brought potentially life-threatening sickness to Parents 2.0, these beautiful souls who rescued me in my mid-teens when I was so vulnerable and alone.

In the strictest sense of the word, I was alone Thanksgiving Day.

But if I closed my eyes, I could see my mom as she streaked through the kitchen, checked the turkey, chopped the veggies for the salad, mixed the stuffing, stirred the gravy and yanked the scalloped corn out of the oven just as the top layer got crispy.

I could see my dad, too. There aren’t many roles for others in my mom’s kitchen. She is both maestro and orchestra.

But there are a thousand honey-dos. Set the table. Bring the cook a glass of water with ice. Run the beaters through the mashed potatoes to knock out the last of the lumps.

And, of course, cut the turkey with the fancy double-bladed electric knife. Dad 2.0 is a wiz on that thing.

I ignored my mom’s admonition to reheat. The food was still warm enough and my desire outpaced the time it would take to put it on a sturdier plate for the microwave.

The first bite of gravy-soaked dressing answered a prayer I did not know I had whispered.

I tried to pace myself, but I cleared the plate of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, scalloped corn, gravy and tossed salad in Italian dressing faster than I wanted.

I spent time with my slice of rhubarb pie.

The only thing I made myself was the cranberry jelly. All that took was a can opener and a spoon.

I texted my folks a picture of my empty plate with the caption, “Seconds?”

True to parental form, they answered, “You’d be sorry if you did.”

My belly full, I drifted asleep during the dull football games.

On Wednesday, I sat down at this computer to type an upbeat holiday column. I struggled. My life is rich and full in many ways, but I am greedy. I miss my family and friends.

So, I wrote a few Thanksgiving jokes and went on with the day.

But by the holiday’s end and after that lovely meal, I had no trouble counting the things I was thankful for.

Believe it or not, he’s walking on air. He never thought he could feel so free. Flyin’ away on a wing and a prayer, who could it be? Believe it or not, it’s Daniel P. Finney.

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. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

comics, des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, mental health, News, Pop Culture

HOT SHEET: Connery dead, mask misery, and Christmas cancelled

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Neighborhood Station, Des Moines, Iowa.

The torsion on this costume is said to have taken seven years off of Sean Connery’s life.

ITEM FIRST: Breaking news bummer: Sean Connery has died. The Scottish actor was best known for playing the Zed in science fiction masterpiece “Xardox,” which popularized underwear with suspenders.

Spider-Man knows his mask isn’t impeding his oxygen levels, but he sure feels that way.

ITEM TWO: After eight months in the pandemic, the typist still can’t get comfortable wearing a mask. He finally understands why Batman left his chin exposed.

ITEM THREE: The ol’ Paragraph Stacker understands wanting to steal the Lincoln head from Mount Rushmore while riding flying bicycles that shoot red lightening bolts. Really, who hasn’t dreamed of that? But the funny book raises another crime quandary — where would the crooks fence it?

The typist was in his late 30s before someone pointed out how gross this photo is.

ITEM FOUR: Rock band the Who offered sage advice in the lyrics of their 1971 hit “Behind Blue Eyes” that can easily be applied to the 2020:

When my fist clenches, crack it open
Before I use it and lose my cool
When I smile, tell me some bad news
Before I laugh and act like a fool.

Tom is the good guy in “Tom and Jerry” cartoons. You have a cat to kill the mice. These are the rules.

ITEM FIVE: It’s Saturday. Remember to take a nap.

Well, this sucks.

ITEM LAST: Mom 2.0 announced the official cancellation of family Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings due to COVID-19.

This is the right thing to do. Parents 2.0 are both 71. Family gatherings are large and crowded. We lost Grandma Lois this year. An uncle struggles with an unknown ailment. We don’t want to have a mini-spreader event.

But when the typist heard the words come out of Mom 2.0’s mouth, he was speechless. It wasn’t the loss of delicious meals or presents that made the ol’ Paragraph Stacker so sad.

No, it was that he know how much those celebrations mean to Parents 2.0. They love nothing more than to be surrounded by family and extended family.

And this goddamn virus robbed them of that. The typist thought this broke his heart. But then Mom 2.0 said: “There’s talk this might go on another year.”

And that was too much to contemplate.

Daniel P. Finney wants you to know he’s a mirrorball.

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. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, politics, Pop Culture, Unemployment

HOT SHEET: Apple buys Charlie Brown and drives another nail in network TV

Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Neighbored Station, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONE: The typist doesn’t like to brag, but when he called his insurance company the other day, he was specially selected to participate in a survey after his business was concluded. Things are looking up.

ITEM TWO: The holiday classics “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” will not be on ABC-TV this year. Instead, they will be on streaming service AppleTV+.

A couple of thoughts: First, fuck you, Apple. You greedy hustlers didn’t need to shake down parents and kids for $5 a month just so they can see holiday staples. Your company may make pretty things, but you’re still pretentious assholes.

Second, if network TV can’t afford the rights to cartoons that are both more than 40 years old, what the hell is left? There’s only so many rehashed game shows and garbage soft-core porn reality shows — we’re looking at you, “The Bachelor” — humans can take.

At this point, the networks are a football delivery service with a few sitcoms between games.

ITEM THREE: Mark Twain said: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

Millions of us lost our jobs in the pandemic. Our government failed us. They lied to us about compromise and they played us all as pawns in their political power game.

But if these assholes maintain control after the election, our country failed itself and gets the government it deserves.

ITEM FOUR: As a service to the Des Moines metro youths who will brave the COVID-19 wilds of Beggars’ Night, Item Four will publish four jokes for them to memorize and recite in order to receive candy:

Q: What did the egg say to the frying pan?

A: You crack me up.

Q: How do bulls write?

A: With a bullpen.

Q: How do you get an alien baby to sleep?

A: You rocket.

Q: What did the hurricane say to the island?

A: I’ve got my eye on you!

ITEM FIVE: No, it is not too much to ask children ages 5 to 13 to memorize and recite a silly joke like those above. We’re not asking for a tight 5 for the Funny Bone. Tell a riddle. Get some candy. It’s a nice, innocent tradition.

ITEM SIX: New comics Wednesday recommendations:

  • STRANGER THINGS HALLOWEEN SPECIAL — With the pandemic, it may be a while before we see the series again. Enjoy a spooky one-shot for the season that spawned a show with two great seasons and one “meh” outing.
  • SILVER SURFER: BLACK TPB — One of artist Jack Kirby’s trippiest heroes gets a fresh, poppy book that looks like it needs to be read under a blacklight.
  • ARCHIE AND KATY KEENE TPB — Archie Comics committed to fresh takes on their classic characters about the time the CW series “Riverdale” launched. Katy Keene isn’t the brand name that Archie, Jughead, Veronica and Betty are, but their revised predecessors were good enough to give this a look.

ITEM LAST: This week marked the first days of the reduced schedule at Jethro’s Drake. The restaurant is now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Monday was, of course, Monday Night Football. It would’ve been nice to have a beer and watch the game.

Tuesday was the first game of the World Series. Again, a nice barbecue pork sandwich and green beans would have been a fine accompaniment to the Fall Classic.

Alas, yet more dreams snuffed by the pandemic.

The typist is worried. Hot Sheet is told this move is temporary. But not all Jethro’s survive.

The company tried a pizza and Italian joint in Altoona. It crashed and burned. The first sign of trouble was closing on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The idea that replaced it, Bigfoot, similarly struggled and took Mondays and Tuesdays off before actually crashing and burning.

The biggest problem Jethro’s Drake faces is Drake University. COVID-19 put off fall sports at the school. Winter sports are undecided.

People come to Jethro’s Drake because of all the things at the Knapp Center, Harmon Fine Arts Center and so on.

The survival of Jethro’s Drake is symbiotically related to life at and around Drake. With the students going home for good at Thanksgiving, the near future is bleak.

Daniel P. Finney is a bad boy for breaking her heart. He’s free, free falling.

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. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

comics, des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Media, Movies, Music, Newspapers, People, politics, Pop Culture, TV

HOT SHEET: The strange occurrence on 24th Street

Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Neighborhood Station, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONE: A faint knock on the door shook the typist out of a nap inspired by the late afternoon football game.

ITEM TWO: The typist found a blue-eyed boy with tousled brown hair clad in faded blue jeans, high-top basketball shoes and a faded replica Walter Payton jersey with a set of headphones with orange foam covering the speakers and a portable cassette player hanging from his belt.

ITEM THREE: The typist recognized the boy immediately: It was his younger self at about age 10.

ITEM FOUR: The child had become unstuck in time.

ITEM FIVE: Author Kurt Vonnegut made up the phrase “unstuck in time” for his famous novel “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

ITEM SIX: Dan-10, as the typist would call him, had not yet read that book, nor had he known the loss of his parents by age 14, understood the true weight of his struggle to survive while they lived and the profound sadnesses of the many failures and regrets carried by the typist, Dan-45 as he would call himself.

ITEM SEVEN: Dan-45 invited his younger self in for milk and cookies, except he had no cookies to offer the boy as Dan-45 is diabetic and such things were bad for him.

ITEM EIGHT: Dan-10 settled for a can of Cherry Pepsi, which he declared almost as good as the fountain cherry Cokes at Montross Pharmacy on the Winterset square.

ITEM NINE: The boy sipped the pop and walked around Dan-45’s apartment; He marveled at the collection of pop culture ephemera.

ITEM TEN: Dan-10 peppered his older self with questions. Many exchanges went like this:

Dan-10: “Who’s the lady in the poster?”

Dan-45: “Taylor Swift. She’s a singer. I like her.”

Dan-10: “Is she like Madonna?”

Dan-45: “Yes and no. She’s her own artist.”

Dan-10: “I have a crush on Madonna.”

Dan-45: “So do I.”

ITEM NINE: Dan-10 noted Dan-45 had a lot of toys. The boy asked his older self if he still played with them. Dan-45 said he did, but not as much as he used to. Dan-10 retrieved a few Transformers from a box by Dan-45’s desk and they had an adventure on the coffee table. The good guys won.

ITEM TEN: Dan-10 was curious about Dan-45’s TV. The middle-aged man turned on the TV and tried to explain how streaming services worked.

Dan-10: “You mean you can watch anything you want any time you want?”

Dan-45: “Well, almost.”

Dan-10: “Can we watch ‘Doctor Who’ with Tom Baker? Iowa Public Television is showing the Colin Baker ones right now and I don’t like them as much.”

Dan-45: “You bet we can, buddy.”

And so we watched “City of Death.”

Dan-10: “I have a crush on Romana.”

Dan-45: “I do, too.”

ITEM ELEVEN: The two Dans spent some time reading comic books and eating lunch meat sandwiches with cheddar cheese and yellow mustard on a Hawaiian bun. The afternoon faded to evening and the sun set. The streetlights started to flicker on.

ITEM TWELVE: Dan-10 said he better be getting back home again. Dan-45 walked him to the door. The middle-aged man felt sad for the boy. He knew the next half-dozen years would be really hard on him and there would be many rough patches after that, like now. Dan-45 had told Dan-10 little of the future, but mentioned the virus and how people aren’t very nice to each other.

ITEM THIRTEEN: Dan-10 opened the door. Dan-45 felt like he should give his younger self some sort of wisdom, but the boy spoke first.

ITEM FOURTEEN: “You seem kind of sad, but you showed me your phone that can play video games, watch movies and TV and listen to any song you ever heard whenever you want,” Dan-10 said. “You said you wrote for a newspaper just like Clark Kent. You can drive a car, buy beer and vote. I bet nobody ever said ‘Adults need to be seen and not heard.’ You have friends that you can call long-distance for free. When I grow up, I hope I’m just like you.”

“You will be,” Dan-45 replied, “for better and worse.”

ITEM LAST: Dan-10 walked through the apartment door and seemed to fade in the bright hallway lights. He must have restuck in time. Dan-45 closed and locked the door, sat down in his big recliner and put on some more Tom Baker “Doctor Who.” Maybe the virus, the economy, politics and so many other things were just terrible. But through the eyes of his 10-year-old self, Dan-45 realized the simple pleasures of life were worth their weight in comfort.

Daniel P. Finney smells vaguely like a 1979 Strawberry Shortcake doll.

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. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, Faith and Values, Iowa, People

HOT SHEET: Six lessons from Grandma Lois, 1927 to 2020

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Neighborhood Station, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM ONE: Show up. That’s the first lesson of the life of my grandmother, Lois Newcomb. Her lawn chair planted in the grass beside bleachers at uncounted softball and baseball games of her grandchildren and she cheered from the stands during football and basketball seasons. She told you how good a job you did even if you struck out and dropped a ball in the outfield. Going to the games was fun for her, but it reassured her seven grandchildren and even more great-grandchildren that you mattered to her and she was always cheering for you.

ITEM TWO: Eat well. Grandma Lois loved to host holiday gatherings at her home, and later, at her apartment at Valley View Village. We all squeezed into her living room and ate turkey, mountains of mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and her special “burn and serve” dinner rolls that she never quite got out of the oven at the right time. Families sometimes fracture as children grow to adults and move away or hard feelings develop of misunderstandings and slights. But for three or four hours on a holiday, our bellies were full, the laughs came easy and often because we were welcome, warm and safe at Grandma’s house.

ITEM THREE: Love first and always. Grandma Lois lived 92 years. She grew up in Granger during the Great Depression in World War II. She lived before television to an age with supercomputers that fit into a pocket. Her husband died at 45 and she found herself a single working mother. Through her own family, she lived through what would have seemed unthinkable in the 1930s – divorce, teen pregnancies, mixed-race grandchildren and great grandchildren, LGBTQ+ grandchildren and so much more. She even learned about the struggles of a sad and angry teenage boy who came to live with her eldest daughter, Joyce Rogers, and her husband, Bob Rogers. All the changes in the world she saw through her family and she met them all same way – with love.

ITEM FOUR: Keep the faith. Grandma Lois loved church. She sang in the choir. She reveled in the fellowship. She worshipped at the now-defunct Calvary Baptist Church in Des Moines and later at the chapel at Valley View Village. She seldom missed a Sunday. She lived faith the way Jesus taught his followers. She was slow to anger. She forgave easily. She loved her neighbors like they were her own family. Her family came at faith from many different perspectives. She seldom evangelized, but she welcomed you by her side at church and quoted the Bible on occasion. She lived her faith with quiet dignity. She was not the kind of person who needed to tell you she was a Christian. One could tell by the way she lived her life. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

ITEM FIVE: Hugs. Grandma Lois never ended a visit without a hug and kiss from her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren — which often came with a whispered “I love you” in your ear. The typist regrets he often treated such affections as perfunctory when life’s other distractions tugged at his attention. For today, he would trade just about anything for one more hug and kiss from Grandma.

ITEM SIX: Lois Newcomb died shortly after 7 p.m., Monday, at Iowa Methodist Medical Center. She was 92 years old. God blessed her with her own mind and body until the final days. She went to the hospital Saturday. The day before she rode the exercise bike. Fluid built up in her tissues. Her heart failed. Her children surrounded her in the final moments. Had she been well enough, she would have given them all a hug and a kiss and whispered “I love you” in their ears.

ITEM LAST: Hot Sheet asks its loyal readers to remember your elders, many of whom are physically cut off from their family and loved ones due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions. Make a call, by phone or Zoom, or send an email or even a letter. Maybe you can’t be there in person but find a way to show up and express your love and accept the love your elders have for you. This is the true marrow of life. Mark those moments, because the reality of life is one day all you will have is memories.

Grandma Lois Newcomb and her grandson, Daniel P. Finney. The photo is blurry because it’s seen through tears.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, Faith and Values, humor, mental health, Movies, News, Podcasts, Pop Culture, sports, Unemployment

HOT SHEET: Bye, bye Kardashians; Hawkeyes and Cyclones sports broke; wireless society lies and why Bob Woodward is a shameless self-promoter

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Station.

ITEM ONE: Word reached Hot Sheet early Wednesday that the reality TV series “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” will end after 20 seasons in 2021. Oh, how one longs for the the halcyon days of yesteryear when all we cared about was the ridiculous bullshit spouted by rich dilettantes. The typist admits ignorance that the show remained on a broadcast schedule. That the series finally concludes — hopefully forever ridding our screens of this vapid and indulgent bunch of hedonists — means that there is yet another reason to look forward to 2021.

ITEM TWO: COVID-19 continues to leech the lifeblood from the Iowa and Iowa State athletics. The Big Ten’s decision to move football, the moneymaker for big college athletic departments, forced Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta to cut 40 job and order furloughs for non-contract employees in his department. This follows the ending of the men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis, and men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams to ease budget woes for the Hawkeyes. The virus similarly saddled the Cyclones, who cancelled plans to admit fans at football games due to the pandemic, with a $30-million budget shortfall that may close CY Stephens Auditorium, cause 10% pay cuts, and potentially cut sports. The typist knows the woes of unemployment in the pandemic and wishes speedy reemployment for all. Brave heart, fellow travelers.

ITEM THREE: When your typist was a young man, the futurists talked of a cashless society. They meant money would eventually be all digital transactions, no paper or coins. Though much has changed, you can still buy a hamburger and fries with a $10 bill and get paper and coin in return. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker notes this because the term “wireless” is recklessly thrown about in the present century. This sounds terrific until we look at the electrical outlets in our houses, cluttered in the extremis with adapters and cords for smartphones, tablets, computers, AirBuds and other essential gadgetry of the age. The cords strangle us as we desperately seek juice for our fading batteries. The desk submits “wireless” is false advertising. They should call it “temporarily un-pluggable.”

ITEM FOUR: The pandemic proceeds as the brutal bummer of the century. This constant state of concern and confusion may induce decidedly darker thoughts as days grow shorter. The desk reminds readers to monitor their depression levels on the DEPCON — that’s depression condition — scale. DEPCON 1 is no depression and DEPCON 5 is hospitalized for suicidal ideation. To combat serious DEPCON, the ol’ Paragraph Stacker has issued a list of movies to distract you based on level of depression.

  • DEPCON 5: “The Big Lebowski”
  • DEPCON 4: “Beavis and Butt-head Do America”
  • DEPCON 3: “Batman” (1966)
  • DEPCON 2: “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”
  • DEPCON 1: “Airplane”

ITEM FIVE: The desk received his fourth solicitation from the Center for Voter Information in his mailbox containing voter registration information. The Hot Sheet acknowledges the organization means well by encouraging voter registration in the age of COVID-19 and with a president who openly courts Russian interference in the democratic process. Still, the typist worries the multiple mailings might confuse people into requesting an absentee ballot more than once and potentially voting twice. Iowa law classifies this as election misconduct and it’s a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a maximum of a $7,500 fine. Hot Sheet supports all ways to vote — and would go as far as to make Election Day a national holiday and voting a legal requirement of all citizens. But let’s not gum up the works with duplicate paperwork.

ITEM LAST: Wednesday, Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward revealed a recorded interview from February in which President Donald Trump speaks directly to the deadliness of the oncoming coronavirus pandemic. About a month later, Trump downplayed the virus to the public. Social media exploded with the usual rage and anguish upon Woodward’s revelation. The typist is not surprised that the president is a liar. The typist, however, remains baffled that people are still surprised the president is a liar. Hot Sheet instead condemns Woodward for sitting on this definitive confirmation of the president’s betrayal of the American trust until it was time to release his latest book, “Rage.” This reduces Woodward to another shameless profiteer on the misery of his country. Perhaps if the public had heard Woodward’s tape of Trump earlier in the pandemic, they might have done a better job listening to public health officials and ignoring the ignorant hate machine in the Oval Office. Alas, given the state of political discourse and our collective confirmation bias, people trade more in fear and loathing than truth. This breaks the ol’ Paragraph Stacker’s heart that such is the state of the republic.

Daniel P. Finney just can’t even right now.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way poking fun at the passing parade.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, Media, News, Newspapers, sports

Thoughts on teaching journalistic writing

My friend Ken Fuson, the greatest writer in the history of the Des Moines Register, died in January. I wrote the news obituary about his death. My first paragraph: “Ken Fuson would have written this better.”

I feel the same way as I explore my thoughts about writing and teaching writing as I study at Drake University to earn my master’s degree and teacher certification.

I hope to teach writing and journalism. I hope to spark that creative flame in others the way Carol Liechty at Winterset Elementary and Middle schools and Chris Madison did for me at Winterset High School.

Bob Woodward, my mentor, teacher and friend at Drake when I was an undergraduate, shaped and directed my passion. It led to a 23-year career in journalism. I wrote Woodward’s obituary the same day I did Fuson’s.

I remember people often asked Fuson for writing advice. It seemed as if they wanted some poetry or a magic trick. He had neither.

I can do no better, except to offer some thoughts. This is how I prefer to write. These are the stories I prefer to read. There are many styles. There are many ways. There are many ideas.

These are mine.

Writing is work. It is damned hard work for which most of us who do this for a living are paid a pittance by people who’ve never composed a paragraph worth reading.

Just tell the story. Stay out of the way. Keep your judgements to yourself. Let the reader decide based on the volume of facts you provide.

Journalism is not advocacy. Your work should be easily distinguishable from advocacy. Just tell people what is going on.

Journalism is also not fiction. The late, longtime New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell is quoted as saying, “A newspaper can have no greater nuisance than a reporter trying to make literature.”

I agree. Report. Ask people what is going on. Follow the money. Check the documents. Let facts, stated simply and clearly, dominate your story. Leave artistic flourishes to middle school poets.   

Read. Read a lot. Read often. Keep a book by your favorite chair. Keep magazines or another book in your bathroom. Keep another one by your bed. Read things you admire. Read writers you hate.

Read about what you know, but especially read about what you don’t know.

Example: Don’t like sports? Read one sports story a week or a sports biography a year. We don’t stack paragraphs for ourselves.

We write for the masses. The masses like sports. They like sports better than politics. Learn about them. Learn about TV and other crap, too.

Remember: This is journalism. You can’t afford to be a dummy about anything.

Think while you read. Interview the text. Why did the writer choose this detail? How would I get these facts? How would I structure this sentence?

Teach the voice in your head to speak slowly and clearly, but don’t write like you talk. Write like you wished you spoke: with grace, elegance and clarity.

Your writing can only be as good as your reporting. Never say you’re a better writer than a reporter. There is an old story about baseball pitchers who can’t field their position. They are destined for mediocrity. A writer who can’t report won’t even be that good.

Avoid adjectives and adverbs. They make sentences longer and are seldom objective. They are never as telling as you think they are.

Avoid gerunds. If you don’t know what a gerund is, look it up. Then avoid it. A sentence can almost always be rewritten to avoid a gerund.

Favor verbs. To be or not to be may be the question. It is not the only verb. Verbs are the engines of language. Without verbs, your sentence is dead.

Use words everyone can understand.

This is not original to me: The reader does not need an excuse to stop reading.

Short sentences are better than long ones. The same is true of paragraphs.

Use bad assignments to practice things you’re not good at.

Keep quotes short. You’re probably a better writer than your source is a talker. Boil it down. Treat it like fractions in math: simplify.

Avoid “color.” Color is adding facts that don’t matter. Does it matter if the candidate ate vanilla or chocolate ice cream? Does it matter if he or she was eating at all?

Don’t write about the weather unless it’s a weather story or the weather is part of the story. It’s hot in July and August. It’s only interesting if the candidate dies of heat stroke or people pass out in the audience. Otherwise you’re just whining.

Stick to the point. Avoid clutter.

Ask: How did you come to know this? Never, ever write faux facts.  

If you say the truck roared down a road with a diesel rumble, you damned well better have heard it or seen it. If not, attribute it to the person who told you.

On second thought, does the diesel rumble matter? Remember, avoid clutter.

You might get away with flowery faux facts, but you’re making up stuff. You’re lying to the reader about what you know to manipulate them emotionally.

Knock it off. The readers are lied to and manipulated enough.

Ask: What does it mean to the reader? Don’t impress me. Don’t impress yourself. Don’t impress the boss. Just tell people what the hell is going on. Do that effectively and consistently. That will be impressive.

Admit it when you don’t know something. If you don’t, at best you’ll seem like a jerk. At worst, you’ll be a liar.

Work fast. Think faster. Favor facts. Keep it simple.

That’s all I have. Ask other people. They are probably better at this than me.

Daniel P. Finney searches for his brain inspection hatch at ParagraphStacker.com.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.