des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, life, People

An ode to Mom 2.0 on #MothersDay

Angry. I was so damn angry. Or at least that’s what I projected so I could hide just how scared I was.

I was 15 years old in late March 1991.

Things were going poorly.

Dad died in 1988 after a long, terrible battle with heart disease. I watched my father shift from an icon of manliness to a gray, withered and cold body with barely enough life left in him to keep his eyes open.

Worse than watching him die was knowing when he was gone, I would be left with Mom, who had lost herself to undiagnosed mental illness and opioid prescription drug addiction.

She died in 1990. She fell down stairs on the night before finals of my freshman year at Winterset High School. She lasted about two weeks in the hospital. That was it.

There was an effort to live with a family in Winterset after my folks died. It failed for reasons too complicated to get into here.

I needed a home.

I didn’t want one.

I wanted a room with a mini fridge and a TV. I would get through school. Slip a few bucks under the door once a month. I’ll make my way.

This was a little bit more than the law would allow.

Two choices presented themselves.

Choice one: Enter the foster care system from whence I came as an infant back in June 1975. I met a nice guy with a beautiful house on Hull Avenue. You could see all of downtown Des Moines from his back deck. We chatted. There was a hang-up. He traveled for business. I would stay at a group home during his trips.

Choice two: My late mother’s hairdresser and her husband, a printer, never had kids. They offered to take me in.

I didn’t care.

I was beat down flat inside. Nobody was ever going to have an emotional connection with me again. I was not going to hurt like that again. Ever. Not going to do it. Forget it. Don’t bring it up.

The hairdresser and the printer made their pitch, showed me the room I would have and talked about camping trips.

They sure seemed nice.

I didn’t trust it.

Everyone goes away in the end.

It all ends in hurt.

The hairdresser played her ace. She offered cake. I declined.

“Are you sure you don’t want a piece of cake?” she asked with a tone that said, Everybody wants a piece of cake, kid.

I acquiesced.

It was German chocolate cake. It was amazing. It tasted like home.

To this day, the hairdresser, known in these columns as Mom 2.0, does not believe she made German chocolate cake. She only made one in her life.

Well, that was the one.

I moved in. It wasn’t happily ever after. It took work from all of us to make a family.

You don’t see it happening at the time.

But now, 30 years later, I see myself relaxing a little bit with each passing day.

That first summer, when I really only knew one kid in the whole neighborhood, I was cold.

Mom 2.0 would come home from work and shout, “Hello.”

I would pretend to be asleep because I didn’t want to interact.

It was an asshole move.

But to this day there’s always a little bit of me who believes Mom 2.0 will react to me like Mom 1.0 did. I won’t go into detail here, but that’s a truly terrifying thing. The good news is it never happened.

Mom 2.0 and I had more quarrels than Dad 2.0 and I did. I went to my first therapist with my new family. The doctor told Mom 2.0 that she had the toughest job of all: She had to make me like a woman. That’s how twisted my thinking was after Mom 1.0.

The truth is Mom 2.0 and I are a lot alike. We communicate emotively. Dad 2.0 is the quiet, thoughtful one. Mom 2.0 and I tend to vent our frustrations at top volume.

The space between frustrations has increased over the years.

I became a man, with all the strengths and flaws that implies.

They became family, the line of people who will always be there to tell me that no matter what, I’m good enough and I’m OK.

I needed that lift a few weeks back. I visited for dinner. I fell off the back stoop. There they were, the two of them in their 70s, with their arms around each of mine, gripped like vises and helping me stand up again.

That’s family like I rarely saw it in the first 15 years and am so deeply thankful to have had the last 30 years.

So, it’s Mother’s Day.

This is a sad one. Mom 2.0 lost her mom, who was 92, last fall. Dad 2.0 lost his mom a few years back. They always made a Mother’s Day plant gift for each mom. This was the first year they didn’t have to do that. There were no moms left to deliver them to.

Well, Mom 2.0 is here for me. I wouldn’t dream of trying to pick out a plant that would fit into her perfectly manicured lawn and garden.

The only thing I think appropriate is to remind her that the seed she planted in me is still growing strong after all these years.

That seed, of course, is love.

That angry kid 30 years ago didn’t know much about love.

Thanks to Parents 2.0, I do.

I love you, Mom.

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, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, life

Rage and anguish in line for ice cream

I decided to stop by Snookies Malt Shop on my way home from errands Sunday evening. The line led out the store’s short driveway near Beaver Avenue and 41st Street all the way to Franklin Avenue, where the line bent around the corner.

Regular visitors to Snookies expect this sort of wait on a weekend with lovely weather. The night was a warm 75, with the humidity just between leaving the windows down and turning the air conditioner on.

Regular visitors also know that when the line backs up to the lights at Franklyn, cars should join the line on Franklyn rather than block the intersection with Beaver.

That’s what I did Sunday night with my windows down and Creedence Clearwater Revival playing on the car speakers.

The mood was mellow and despite the CCR lyrics, I truly felt like a fortunate son.

A horn blared in front of me. There was a guy with some other people in his little crossover SUV. He was ticked off that a guy in a larger SUV cut into the line by crossing at the light and pulling into the line ahead of the people who were wound around Franklyn.

This is rude by neighborhood standards, but it’s not a hanging offense.

Except this is the 21st century and everything is an excuse for outrage.

The man in the small SUV got out of his vehicle and cursed out the man in the big SUV.

The guy from the littler vehicle complained the guy in the bigger vehicle should go around the block and get behind the rest of us on Franklyn.

The people in the big SUV just looked confused and frightened. That tends to happen when somebody gets out of their car and starts yelling at you in your car.

In other cities, that’s how you get shot. In Des Moines, the guy taking the tongue lashing just rolled up his windows.

I thought about telling the yelling guy to relax and get back in his tiny SUV.

Then I remembered a lesson I too seldom forget: “You can never listen yourself into trouble.”

I wished I could have loaned the guy a copy of my Creedence CD. It’s hard to be in a bad mood listening to Creedence. I recommend it at almost any occasion.

This confrontation lasted only a minute or two, but it felt emblematic of how we behave toward one another these days.

Everyone seems to be looking to either become a victim about which they can complain about slights for all time, or they want to explode into rage so everyone else knows how important and righteous they are.

I don’t know what the fellow in the little SUV was so worried about. We were all in line for ice cream. That’s a treat.

You go to the ice cream store for fun. Maybe you had a crap day, and a sweet confection takes the edge off. Maybe you had a great day, and this is the capstone. Or maybe you just wanted something sweet.

There should be no anger at the ice cream shop.

It is not as if we were waiting for whole units of blood after our chopper went down behind enemy lines in ‘Nam. That’s a life-or-death situation. You triage that to see who needs treatment first.

We were waiting for soft-serve ice cream. If a guy cuts you in line, you’ll only have to wait a few more minutes to enjoy a delicious twist cone. No one will ever die having to wait a few more minutes for ice cream.

I think people in line for ice cream at 8 p.m. on a Sunday have some time on their hands. No one is at the bedside of a relative dying of cancer saying, “Hey, this could take a bit, let’s run and grab some ice cream and come back and see if grandpa is still here, OK?”

No one in line is an ambulance driver whose holding off responding to a heart attack so they can get a banana split.

These are people with a few dollars in their pockets and of the mindsets to have a cool treat on a spring night.

This should be all mellow.

The only time it’s acceptable to get upset at an ice cream shop is if you drop your cone on the ground before you get the first lick. That is a true tragedy.

I get the driver of the big SUV committed a neighborhood party foul.

So what?

Maybe the guy’s not from around here. I didn’t always know the accepted way to queue at Snookies.

Even if the guy did jump the line on purpose, I don’t think it’s something to let raise your blood pressure. Remember people, we’re getting ice cream here. This is supposed to be fun.

It took about a half hour for Snookies employees to clear out the line. By the time I got my ice cream, it was almost 9 p.m. The shop was closing.

The guy ahead of me got his treats. The guy who cut in ahead of him did, too.

I pulled over to the side of Snookies lot and turned up my Creedence as the wind blew through my open windows.

I let my trouble drift out on the lyrics of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”.

Figures those guys would have an answer for this silliness:

I want to know

Have you ever seen the rain …

Coming down a sunny day.

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, Faith and Values, humor, Media, News, Newspapers, Unemployment

Dear Jon from Alaska, F— off.

Jon from Alaska comments on one of my recent columns about my troubles with Iowa’s unemployment office:

“You could get a job. Just a thought.”

First, fuck off, Jon. I don’t know you. You don’t know me. Let’s keep it that way.

I can say things like that now. I don’t work for media companies and probably never will. I don’t have to pretend every troll’s eyeballs are sacred to my survival.

So, again, fuck off, Jon from Alaska.

But let’s consider Jon from Alaska’s suggestion that I get a job.

I apply for at least two jobs every week just to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

The problem is that between 1990 and 2020, half of all journalism jobs were eliminated by the greedy corporate hustlers and slimy hedge fund operators who systematically sacrificed news coverage in the name of the United States of America’s favorite deadly sin: Greed.

The skills I spent developing since I was 15 years old are no longer in demand.

There are job postings for writers, of course. But what they really want are webmasters with design skills who can turn every story viral and spell most of the words right. The craft I practiced is practically extinct.

There were pretty good signs this was going to happen when I was in college nearly 30 years ago.

The internet was a new and mesmerizing curiosity in 1995, when I was a junior at Drake University. Now even my 72-year-old parents have Facebook and email.

My dad used a computer for the last few years of his career as a printer. He sends texts with GIFs now.

That’s like being born in a well and later living on a space station.

There were signs journalism was doomed before AOL started giving away 500 free dialup hours on compact discs jammed in the mailbox each week.

The movie “Network” seemed like satire in 1976, with poor Howard Beal shouting, “I’m mad as HELL and I’m not going to take it ANYMORE.”

But Beal died for daring to speak too much truth.

If I showed that movie to my classroom, the kids would probably think it was a documentary.

So, Jon from Alaska, the best place for getting a job would be in journalism. That’s what I know. That’s what I’m good at.

But journalism is hardly practiced anymore by the remaining news outlets.

What you see in markets big and small is a kind of burglary passed off with a good cover story about being overwhelmed by changes in technology and babbling about social media.

I worked in St. Louis for a while. It didn’t go well. I was an asshole in a town where you could only be an asshole if you grew up there.

They had a saying about the old newspaper owner while I worked there.

Joe Pulitzer was a great newsman. Joe Pulitzer II was a great newsman. Joe Pulitzer III was a great art collector.

Pulitzer III’s widow sold off the paper to Lee Enterprises, an Iowa company.

This was a little bit like a guy who owned a few fishing boats buying a battleship. They both go on water and you can fall out and drown, but that’s where the similarities end.

Lots of people fell off the St. Louis paper and drown over the last 15 years. More will before it’s done.

Somewhere, a couple of bag men drop off a few more suitcases of $100s in unmarked, nonsensical bills at Lee executives’ houses.

The cases get lighter every year and so too does the payroll at the paper, which exists mostly to cover the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.

Eventually the suitcases will be reduced to some pocket change and whatever is left of the newspapers the corporations have wrecked, mostly used furniture, will be auctioned off.

Jon from Alaska is right. I should get a job. I’ve applied for a job at the local Gannett outlet store several times. They don’t bother to respond. That’s probably for the best.

After two layoffs in a dozen years, I’m beginning to think they’re serious about not wanting me around.

I wonder if they’ll even be around each other anymore. They’ve been out of the office since the pandemic started and they aren’t considering a return until fall.

This could be the moment Gannett says, “Do we really need an office?” They issue laptops and smartphones. They have instant messaging. Why bother paying rent for a combo fax machine and printer?

I digress.

I hate to disappoint Jon from Alaska. But I am trying to get a job.

I’m retraining in graduate school to become a teacher.

That’s right. I’m going from the beloved highly respected field of journalism to the carefree and lucrative field of public education.

When I write it down like that, I get that feeling the Coyote in Road Runner cartoons must get when he realizes there’s no ground beneath him, only a long fall to the desert bottom with a giant rock landing on his head.

So, sadly, Jon from Alaska, I’m going to need those state benefits for a minute.

Some folks would tell me not to bother with Jon from Alaska. He’s a troll. He’s beneath my contempt.

I disagree.

The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that the cruel things people — even strangers — say about us don’t hurt.

They do. They absolutely do.

We do a disservice to our emotional well-being to pretend we’re invulnerable to cruelties cast so casually at us by others.

Jon from Alaska’s snark did hurt my feelings. It made me mad enough to stack all these paragraphs.

But Jon from Alaska doesn’t define me.

I’m gonna fight for my benefits allowed.

I’m gonna fight for my career.

And, one more time, fuck off Jon from Alaska.

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, Faith and Values, mental health

When melancholy becomes malignant, say something nice about someone else to make yourself feel better

Let me make myself clear: I’m not suicidal. I am clinically depressed. I also live with generalized anxiety disorder. Prescription pills work most of the time, but this is an exceptionally stressful period.

I’m out of work. I’m trying to learn a new career at middle age. Arthritis squeezes my knees and tendonitis stings my Achilles.

My temper is short. My days vacillate between a general melancholy with a dash of sudden rage to a disengaged desire to interrupt sleep just long enough to turn over and take a nap.

I reached for a facial tissue in the bathroom and realized the box was empty. I went to the closet and it was bare. I realized I couldn’t afford Kleenex until my tax return arrives.

Forgive me if I’m skeptical of the federal government’s promise of May 5. I’m supposed to be getting paid unemployment benefits by the state of Iowa. But some rogue algorithm stole my identity and tied my account up at Iowa Workforce Development, where the bureaucrats can’t tell me when my benefits will resume.

I apologize to regular readers who’ve seen nothing but stacks of paragraphs about these problems for a month. But believe me when I say I am more tired of living this successive series of disconcerting events.

When the melancholy becomes malignant, I phone friends. I text random compliments to people I love.

JANE BURNS: You’re one of the best people I ever met, and I learned so damn much from you. I miss sitting beside you at Drake women’s basketball games. Seldom have I known a keener observer who could also translate those observations into readable copy. Thank you for being my friend.

TRACEY DOYLE GORRELL: Thank you for being my friend. You are one of the wisest peers I know. You made my life immensely better with your broad mind and big heart. You are one of my true Super Friends.

MEGAN GOGERTY: To be serious for a moment, I love you. I mean that in the friendliest way. Like everyone, I’m going through a lot of shit right now. Your skating videos, your writing and the light you project in the world helps me hang on. I know you’ve got your own woes, but it takes a special person to take a few minutes every day to write a joke or make a funny video. Thank you for sharing.

SARA SLEYSTER: Thanks for being my friend. Thanks for sharing your faith and hope with me. And especially thanks for editing the foul-ups out of my blog posts.

KEN QUINN: I remain honored and humbled to count a man of your astounding accomplishment, unmatched intelligence, insight and kindness as my friend.

Naturally, these messages disconcerted some of my friends. They were worried the expression of love was an indication I was suicidal.

That’s good insight on their part because that sort of thing can be an indicator. It just isn’t for me.

I feel better when I say nice things about people I love.

This is one of my depression repression techniques. Most of the time, there’s nothing I can do in the moment I’m feeling depressed or anxious to address the cause of my depression or anxiety.

What I try to do is solve what can be handled in the moment. I wish I could tell you I think positive thoughts about myself, but that’s rare.

But I do think all the time about the people I love and who’ve loved me.

You always hear people at funerals say that they wish they had told the dead person something deeply personal while they were alive.

So, I’m doing it. I’m texting. I’m sending letters.

I may not be able to fix my problems, but I can put a little positive energy out there.

Check your inbox.

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, Faith and Values, Iowa, life, Media, Newspapers, obesity, People, Unemployment

The story of falling down: ‘It’s just a lot of shit right now, Bob’

The Rogers-Finney clan about 24 years ago, from the left, Bob Rogers, Joyce Rogers, and their second-hand son, Daniel Finney.

My right knee buckled and I fell off the back stoop to the driveway. Arthritis plagues my knees and lower back. Weather changes exacerbate the already maddening condition. My obesity makes it even worse.

The fall came at the end of a visit to the home of Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my first set of parents died.

Parents 2.0 are vaccinated. I’m half vaccinated, with the second shot to come early next month. We decided we’re comfortable visiting.

We ate lasagna with garlic bread and fresh salad. Dessert was strawberry shortcake.

We chatted after dinner and we all took naps. Afternoon turned to early evening and I decided to go home. Mom 2.0 gave me a hug and plastic sack with a quart of homemade chili and a leftover piece of lasagna.

I stepped off the back step and something went wrong. I don’t know if I missed the step or seized up because of the pain in my right knee.

It felt as if I was falling down forever, caught between the moment I knew I was going to fall and the impact with the cold concrete driveway. The chili and lasagna took a flight. I landed on my left side.

My friend Megan Gogerty is trying to win a rolling skating contest by skating every day in 2021. She posts funny videos on Instagram about roller skating and reading “War and Peace.” Megan has diverse interests.

In a recent video, she mentioned that it’s better to fall on your side than your back or front. Maybe I had that in mind when I crashed, but I landed on my side. I don’t know if it hurt any less, but I walked away without any broken limbs. So, Megan, if you’re reading, thanks.

I rolled over on to my belly and then my right side. My right shoe had come off. This must be how turtles feel when they’re stuck on the back of their shell.

My parents came out to help me up. This embarrassed me. I’m 45 years old and weight more than a quarter ton. Here two 72-year-old people were trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

I rolled on to my belly, got one leg under me and kicked another one behind. My folks each wrapped their arms around arms.

They both have a pretty good grip, especially Dad 2.0. They raised me to my feet and quickly sat me down on the picnic table. Mom 2.0 collected the scattered leftovers sack and went inside to repackage them.

Dad 2.0 sat with me on the bench, his grip like a vice on my right arm.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

I knew he was asking about my physical condition. That’s not the question I answered.

The long virus year hurt us all in multiple ways. I lost my job. I lost two jobs. I was basically housebound for a year and my body suffered because of it. I was trying to get through school and become a teacher.

Some asshole stole my identity with algorithm and now I can’t get my unemployment check because the government leaders take six-figure salaries to make sure their offices make dealing with them as difficult as possible.

I’ve applied for rental assistance from the county. If things don’t work out soon with the unemployment office, I may be visiting food banks instead of Hy-Vee for groceries.

I could lash myself a billion times for every penny I wasted on comic books or treats instead of building up an emergency fund that everyone says you need and almost nobody does.

Nearly a year has passed since I was a practicing journalist. Most days I’m glad. I don’t want to go knocking on doors of the people who suffered tragedy to ask them to tell me their secrets anymore. I don’t want every paragraph I write to be subjected to the hideous system where my art is put on a spreadsheet and its value decided by how many people clicked on a goddamn link.

Yet, being away from the newsroom, as battered and empty as it was when they kicked me out, still burns. And that makes me angry.

I don’t want it to hurt that I got laid off by the one institution I ever wanted to work for, but it does. I know the place isn’t what it used to be, and it’s never been what I fantasized it would be.

But I always loved having my byline in the newspaper – even in the last few years, where I started to hate what our company had become.

They told us in college, way back in the early 1990s, that our generation would not work in one place. I was going to prove the exception and get a job at the local newspaper and worked there until I died.

It didn’t work out that way. The teachers were right. I was wrong. I don’t know why I’m still upset about it.

But in that moment, sitting on that bench with Dad 2.0 by my side, I felt more frightened and more vulnerable than I had at any point during these recent personal disasters.

I cried. Not much. But a tear in each eye that streaked down the cheek, hot on cool skin.

I know I have many blessings, Parents 2.0 chief among them. I have a handful of good friends who love me as I love them. I have shelter and TV and comic books and toys stacked floor to ceiling. I know I’m not the saddest case in the world. But that’s a fallacy of relative privation, the rhetorical concept that just because your problems aren’t the worst in the word does not mean they are not significant problems for you.

So, when my dad asked me if I was OK, I said: “It’s just a lot of shit, Bob.”

He still held my right arm. He looked at me through his bifocals and I could feel his sadness and worry.

“I know,” he said.

And we sat there together on the plank of the picnic bench, father and son, with the cold wind blowing across our faces on an early spring evening.

My mom joined us. I started to jabber about being a failure. She stopped me.

“It will work on,” my mom said. “It always has. It always will.”

I make a practice not to disagree with my mom. She’s right more than any of the teaches I ever had. They helped me stand and gathered my cane. They walked me out to my car and told me to be careful.

I thought again of my roller-skating friend, Megan. She recently wrote a lovely essay titled “A Reminder That This Is Impossible: And yet we’re doing it anyway.”

I find it best to avoid disagreements with Megan. She is right a lot, too.

My parents helped me to my feet. I leaned on my cane and waddled out to my car. I drove off to try and keep on keeping on in the age of impossible.

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, Faith and Values, life, Media, mental health, People

Losing friends in the 21st century: blocking phones, unfollowing social media accounts, mean-spirited mail — can’t we all just drift apart?

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

“You’re sorry, all right,” the familiar voice said. “Give me a call.”

The message came from a former friend. We made two solid goes at being close friends. Both efforts ended badly. I was not up for a third go.

I admired my former friend. He was an excellent journalist. He should have been writing for the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. His understanding of the economy, particularly labor and banking, were unparalleled by any journalist I’ve ever met.

He came from a hardscrabble upbringing in the Bronx. There were family issues. Those are his story to tell, not mine. But I think those hard knocks early in life gave my former friend a puncher’s mentality to daily life.

He decisively labeled hustlers, chumps and fakers on the job, often with great volume. Sometimes I was a chump in his view. Sometimes I wasn’t. I didn’t agree, but it didn’t matter. He decided. He was never wrong. Just ask him.

We met at the paragraph factory in Omaha. I learned a lot from him, more than most peers and elders in the trade. He inspired me to push boundaries both as a reporter and as an individual. I became less timid and more confident during the first tenure of friendship.

Things broke down. The story is old. The details are fuzzy. I felt betrayed. He felt betrayed. We went our separate ways. It was the early 2000s. There was no social media, so people drifted apart; friendships ended.

That’s probably the natural order of human relationships before technology upended things.

We got back into touch almost a decade ago. Eight years had passed since our initial falling out. I called him for help on a business story. I mentioned an opening at the local shop. He applied. I vouched for him. The bosses hired him.

It worked out for a while. We rode again. We ate dinner. We hung out. But the Midwest is probably too uptight a place for him. Eventually there were clashes with the bosses. Then he got sick with spiking high blood pressure.

His doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He blamed stress at work. That could be true. The shop was in the midst of a stressful period that started, by my estimation, in 1996 and continues to this day.

The shop started doing screwy things. They made everyone apply for their jobs. There was a catch: There were fewer jobs than there were people. I got a promotion. My former friend’s job was cut, as were those of several of the best people I ever worked with.

My former friend said he was happy for me. But he posted cruel things about me on social media. He accused me of brown nosing management and later alleging I copied a story. Both were untrue, but I never bothered to respond to him directly.

I have no doubt he believes the things he said about me to be true. I knew who I was and what I had and hadn’t done. I didn’t owe anyone an apology. I decided to walk away without confrontation. Consensus is elusive to even the most reasonable people. We were not reasonable people.

His recent call surprised me. I figured he’d had enough of me. I had had enough of him. I did not call back. I texted. I was not welcoming. He replied with similar snark. I thanked him for all the things he taught me. I wished him peace in his future. I heard he’d gotten remarried. I hoped they were happy, but I didn’t care to hear from him anymore. I blocked his number.

Cutting someone out of your life is harder than it used to be. Instead of just not talking to one another, you’ve got to block phone numbers, unfollow and block social media accounts. It’s almost as big a hassle as having people you don’t like in your life.

Can’t we just drift apart?

I was on the other end of this kind of issue earlier this month. A former colleague from the local shop visited in January 2020. She came out to cover the caucuses with a particular interest in Andrew Yang, the fellow who believed in giving $1,000 a month to every American.

She stayed a month. She made for a good roommate for a one-bedroom apartment. She kept to herself, made very little noise, came and went as she needed and cleaned up after herself (and me) far beyond necessary.

I should add that there was no romantic entanglement. There never had been and neither of us desired one. We were just friends. We watched a few movies and some TV. I can’t imagine an apartment with two people being quieter.

She went back to New York to address some family issues. Things ended poorly. She ended up living in an apartment with a sketchy maintenance guy. I was unemployed and we talked a lot late at night. I would text periodically to see how she was doing.

We kept in touch. She decided to move to Washington, D.C. That didn’t work out. Then she moved to Texas, I forget which city.

We chatted a few times. She was sad, as people are after sad events. I tried to be supportive. Mostly it was all pleasant. She’s a comedian, so sometimes we traded jokes.

One day I texted her that I thought of her every time I looked in my bathroom closet, where two bottles of hair product sat. “As a bald man, I suppress my seething rage.”

I meant it as a joke. She took it seriously — that I truly, deeply hated her because of a couple of bottles of hair product in my closet. We had a brief and unpleasant text exchange in which she accused me of gaslighting her.

I reject that. I’m not trying to convince her something didn’t happen. We both agree I said what I said. We disagree on the intent and meaning.

In the end, she texted, “I still love you.” To prove it, she blocked me on the phone and all other channels. I reciprocated. I didn’t give it much thought. When people want to go, I say let them go.

About a decade ago, I lost a really good friend over a joke I made on Facebook. I still miss him. I tried several times to revive that friendship, but there was no reply. I finally took the hint. I decided after losing that friend that you really can’t change people’s mind. A person has a right to their opinion, even if they hate you.

Last week I got a parcel from New York. It was from my most recent former friend. She sent back a “Late Night with David Letterman” sweatshirt I gave her after her visit in January 2020. It didn’t fit me. It never fit me. I thought about having the logo cut out and framed somehow. I loved that show so much.

She wrote on the envelope “Peace be with you and peace be with this sweatshirt.”

Humbug. You can’t block the U.S. mail. So it goes.

I tossed the whole parcel, sweatshirt and all, into the trash bin.

I went inside, poured a mug of tea and called one of the few friends who haven’t blocked me.

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. I’m freshly unemployed and have a big tax bill to pay. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. 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.

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.