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.

des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa

#OldManStudent: Lessons from the first week of class in the pandemic

The first week of graduate school is in the bag. It went well. I worry I’m on track to being one of those irritating non-traditional students who talks too much in class.

Those people burned me up as an undergraduate. They always did the reading and they were so damn enthusiastic about it.

Maybe they were more acutely aware of how much they were paying per credit hour than undergraduates. I know that’s my motivation for being a blabbermouth.

I really feel sorry for the 2020 undergraduate in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. They lost their rites of spring. At Drake University, that means the Drake Relays and sundry parties and events surrounding that.

Now they’re back on campus (sort of) slathered in Purell and muffled by masks. There’s no fall sports at many schools, including Drake. No cheerleaders. No marching bands. No guy in the Spike the Bulldog costume.

It doesn’t look too good for basketball, which is a damn shame because with my student ID, I could go see my beloved Drake women’s basketball team for free on most home games.

There are probably other things going on across campus, but I’m too old to rush a frat or join a social club. The only club I ever joined at Drake when I was an undergraduate was the Times-Delphic, the student newspaper.

I suppose I could get a beat over there, but I feel like student newspapers are for the up-and-coming journalists who need to get their reps in. I’ve had my 10,000 hours of practice.

And since much of my career was marked by heartbreak and sadness, especially in the end, I feel like I would spend most of my time encouraging the T-D staffers to consider seeing a therapist to discover why they hate themselves enough to enter the trade.

Some, like me, take all their courses online. There goes all the fun of walking across campus with classmates or hanging out in the residence halls having bull sessions over the topics of the day.

The best part of college is the fellowship. I learned a lot in the classroom, but I learned far more from the people I met.

My best friend, Memphis Paul, taught me about the mentality of Southerners. My roommate Anthony, who grew up in Milwaukee, taught me about growing up Black in America.

Another buddy, Brent, included me in scores of events with his family from Hamburg, a quirky small town in southwest Iowa.

I fell in love a few times. Nothing came of it. I’m difficult to get along with, but many of my classmates met their spouses in college.

I felt a profound sense of sadness that today’s college student is robbed of the true college experience.

The week many students arrived on college campuses in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds closed bars and nightclubs because of increased coronavirus cases.

Think of all those poor undergraduate students who won’t get to test out their fake IDs.

I imagine it won’t be long until schools go all online. I already opted for that. I’m not looking to make friends as much this time around as I am focused on learning a new profession.

That said, I don’t mind online classes, but it has some weird quirks. Some professors require you to have your camera on throughout the class period. Others don’t.

A professor in one of my classes described being on camera for hours at a time “exhausting.”

I see her point, but we are learning to be teachers. Assuming the pandemic eventually ends, we are learning jobs that will require us to be in front of students, fellow teachers, parents and administrators every day.

If I were teaching, I don’t know if I would trust my middle school or high school students with their cameras off.

But that’s life in the pandemic, isn’t it?

We’re all asked to trust each other and act in accordance to our consciences.

The only option left us is to make the best of a shitty situation.

And pick up a six pack at the store, because we’ll not be meeting at Peggy’s on Thursday night for a while.

Daniel P. Finney does not have this much hair anymore.

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, Iowa, Media, mental health, News, Newspapers, People, sports

On a divided America: We’re doing everything we can to make our time the worst it can be

I used to ask retired Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy if the times we’re living in were as divided and troubled as when he was a young man.

McCarthy served as a Marine in Vietnam. He came up as a Des Moines police officer in a time when the city had as many as 30 homicides a year.

He was chief of detectives when a man shot and killed two managers at the Drake Diner in cold blood the day after Thanksgiving in 1992 and led the manhunt to bring the killer to justice.

McCarthy eventually served as police chief and was later elected sheriff. The man saw a lot of the worst of the world and Des Moines.

McCarthy retired to Florida with his wife two years ago. I didn’t have the heart to call him again to ask the same question I’ve asked over the years: Is this the worst it’s ever been?

McCarthy’s answer was always no.

He believed Americans were at each other’s throats more in the 1960s and 70s than today.

But Friday, Des Moines schools sued the Iowa Department of Education over start times during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I hope that school districts have the best interest of their students at heart, just as I hope the state’s education department has the best interests of schools at heart.

But this feels like another battle between blues and reds for the soul of America, though the school district is allegedly non-partisan.

I don’t know who is right in that situation, but for sure it’s going to cost taxpayers a lot of money.

Parents of University of Iowa football players planned to protest the Big Ten’s decision not to play football this fall because of pandemic concerns.

It’s hard to decide which conclusion is worse: Football is that important or that parents are that disconnected from what is important. (Hint: It’s not your son making the NFL.)

I talked about the football issue with my friends at KXNO’s Sports Fanatics on Thursday afternoon.

I said a lot of the Big Ten schools had medical schools. One hopes they consulted their own experts. You’ve got to respect the advice of doctors who are skilled enough to teach other doctors, I suggested.

Host Chris Williams countered he thought if you lined up eight different doctors you would get eight different stories.

I don’t know if that’s specifically correct, but I understand what he means.

It seems as if nobody has definitive facts anymore. I attribute some of this confusion to the “he said, she said” style of journalism that gives equal weight to inequal ideas.

“Two plus two equals four,” said mathematician Fred Calculator.

“Well, I say two plus two equals five and Fred Calculator is a communist,” replied Jane Armpit, an area woman who drinks potato water.

There are more news outlets than when I was a boy, though they are staffed by people I trust far less.

Stories are chosen not based on their importance to the reader or viewer but based on how likely it is someone will click on the link or watch a few seconds longer.

This means little things like school boards, city councils and county government are regularly and consistently ignored.

You can’t fault news outlets there. People don’t care about the local government and schools.

They say they do, but the news outlets have the hard data. They care about college sports and salacious crime. They’ll fall for the occasional emotionally manipulative story, but when it comes to doing the work of democracy, Americans don’t give a damn.

When something like a pandemic comes along, people just pick the narrative that best fits their preconceived ideas. It’s called confirmation bias. America is drunk on it.

In fact, if objective truth and confirmation bias were blood and alcohol, America would be in a coma hovering close to death.

Everything is a cage match in an underground prison fighting league. No one is paying attention. They’re busy debating who is a better basketball player: LeBron James or Michael Jordan.

  1. Who cares?
  2. It’s Jordan.

It feels like the nation is in the middle of the O.J. Simpson trial. A scientist presents DNA evidence for the prosecution. The defense calls a witness to say DNA evidence is bunk. The jury decides to ignore reams of evidence and decides based on race.

Race, or rather racism, remains a central problem for our nation. I would talk more about that, but I’m afraid anything I say will lead to me being labeled a white nationalist.

McCarthy always told me that things were more violent in his time. That’s true. There are fewer homicides in the capital to be sure.

He was a Marine in the Vietnam War.

At least there’s not a war on now.

Oh, wait. There is a war on now. Two, actually. We’ve been at war in Afghanistan for 19 years this fall. We’ve been at war in Iraq since 2003.

I heard an NPR story about Iraq wanting the rest of U.S. troops out of their country. That’s more than 17 years after then-President George W. Bush declared the mission accomplished.

They call the Korean War the “forgotten war.” There’s some truth to that, too. But we’ve forgotten two wars while they’re still ongoing.

I digress.

The truth is it doesn’t really matter if things were better or worse in 1968. The reality is we can only live now.

And our now is a strange and mean time. I don’t know if it’s the worst ever, but it’s sure as hell the worst now I can imagine.

Daniel P. Finney covers farts and armpit noises for 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.

Faith and Values, Iowa, mental health, Movies, People, Pop Culture

Yo Joe! This real American hero is neighborly helper, friend

Lewis S. Jordan of Winterset is my friend.
We were born nine days apart.
We were in Cub Scouts together.
His dad was den leader. My dad was assistant.

We made pinewood derby cars. We made rubber band guns. We put on a skit for the VFW.

I spent uncounted afternoons at the Jordans’ house watching cartoons and playing with toys belonging to Lewis and his younger brother, Grant.

I wanted to be as funny as Lewis, as smart as Lewis and as cool as Lewis.

I wasn’t. I’m not sure it’s possible.

My childhood was … complicated. I felt the usual uneasiness of growing up more acutely because of instability at home.

I never felt quite comfortable in my own skin. I could be weird. I was sometimes mean and dishonest.

I tried to be cool and with it. I wasn’t.

Lewis was cool, at least I thought so. He always had the best jokes.

Lewis never judged me. More astoundingly, he never made fun of me. We just hung out. We laughed a lot. We watched reruns of the old 1960s “Batman” TV series.

I introduced Lewis and Grant to comic books.

He was my best friend.

I left Winterset after my parents died but before I graduated high school with my classmates.

I finished school at East High School in Des Moines. I lost touch with Lewis.

That sort of thing happened in the days before email, social media and texts.

I ran into Lewis one day in the late 1990s. I was in my second year at the paragraph factory. Lewis was an intern with the U.S. Marshals.

We shook hands and chatted for a moment, but we were headed in different directions. We exchanged a few emails over the years.

Lewis joined the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“There was going to be a war and I was going to be in it,” he told me in an email.

And he was.

He served in the military police and eventually in the Criminal Investigation Command, sort of like the Army’s FBI.

Lewis got married to his college sweetheart, Candy. They have three beautiful, smart and fun children.

Lewis is a builder, like his father and brother. He built a pirate ship for his children in the backyard of his former Urbandale home.

He moved back to an acreage south of Winterset. He turned the basement lounge into a mine cave. Mine cave. Man cave. Get it?

Anyway, there’s a big TV, a comfortable couch and a bar with a lazy river in it.

The lights are old gas lamps on dimmer switches. Sometimes they flicker. He pointed that out to me. I asked him how he got them to do that.

“I don’t know,” he said, “but it looks cool so I didn’t fix it.”

Lewis has a map of the world in the front room of his home. He marks all the places he visited as a soldier with pins. I think the only continent he missed was Antarctica.

Lewis is a great father. He hosted Halloween haunts in his Urbandale backyard with homemade monsters that rivaled a theme park. He continued the tradition in Winterset.

I look at his kids and am warmed by the notion of the fond memories they will have of growing up with this creative man who showed as much enthusiasm for finding a new G.I. Joe or Transformer action figure as the kid did.

I took shelter in the Jordan house last week after the derecho knocked out power to my apartment complex for most of four days.

I don’t venture out much in the age of COVID-19. My asthma and obesity make the virus especially tricky.

I don’t go out much, also, because I don’t like myself very much. That’s not said out of self-pity. It’s recognition of the scourge of depression.

I am obese and I can’t stand to see myself in the mirror.

I am unemployed and feel the sting of rejection from every job I don’t get.

I lost a career I gave 23 years of my working life to. They tell you it isn’t personal.

But it is.

The company is telling you that either your skills aren’t good enough to keep making them money or, after decades of microscopic (and often no) raises, you now make too much money to be of value to the company.

That’s personal.

The pandemic, of course, has made everything more frustrating.

I keep my distance from Parents 2.0. They’re both 71. They’re healthy, but vulnerable.

I see few friends.

I am often alone with my thoughts. My thoughts are usually variations on the theme “I hate myself.”

The derecho brought darkness. Depression’s bastard brother anxiety crept in.

The power outage was another damn thing on top of all the other damn things.

I cracked.

I called my therapist. He brought me back from the edge.

But my apartment got hotter and hotter and hotter. The sweat dripped. The self-loathing raged.

I picked up my phone. I scrolled through my contacts. I fell on Lewis’ name.

I texted and asked if he lost power. He hadn’t. I replied I was in the dark and not doing well.

“Come on down,” he said.

I cried.

I had forgotten. I forgot I was a person who mattered to other people. Blame the heat or the depression and anxiety.

But Lewis’ three-word sentence restored my humanity.

I showered and packed a bag.

I spent three days and two nights at the Jordan house. I hung out with his kids.

One night, Lew fixed us a pair of White Russians. We watched a few episodes of the “G.I. Joe” cartoon from our youth.

We talked about our favorite episodes, comic books and toys. It felt like old times, well, except for the booze.

Thursday, the lights came on at my house by midday, but I stayed in Winterset for dinner with Lewis and his family.

I drove home. The next day, Lewis and his sons were going to Cedar Rapids to help clear debris for old and infirm residents.

“I’m feeling that Army thing,” Lewis said. “If you can help, you should.”

That’s my friend, Lewis. He’s all heart and always helping.

I should know. He’s helped me in more ways than he could know.

Lewis probably didn’t know how close I was to the edge in the heat and dark. He just knew his buddy was without AC on a hot day. He welcomed me into his home. That’s his way.

He personifies the lesson of Mr. Rogers, the late children’s television host, who urged us all to “Look for the helpers.”

We should all take a lesson from Lewis. He’s every bit of a real American hero that those guys in the old “G.I. Joe” cartoon were.

Daniel P. Finney, calmer than you are

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, Iowa, News

It may be July 4, but it’s not a real Fourth of July

Photo by Alex Jones via Unsplash

The calendar claims today is Independence Day.
I refuse to believe it.
This may be July 4, but it’s not a real Fourth of July.

If this were a real Fourth of July, my late Grandpa Rogers’ veteran flag would hang in the garage on the opposite wall from his old neighbor, Mr. Arpy. Both men served in World War II.

If this were a real Fourth of July, scores of flags on wooden stakes placed carefully among the rainbow of flowers in the yard of Parents 2.0’s east Des Moines estate would flutter in the whatever lame breeze the hot, humid day could muster.

If this were a real Fourth of July, Mom 2.0 would slice potatoes into the biggest bowl in the house and stir it in with yellow mustard, mayo, dill pickles, red onions and other delights to make the most wonderful potato salad anyone has ever tasted.

If this were a real Fourth of July, Dad 2.0 would set up all the lawn chairs and loungers on the driveway in front of the garage and fiddle with the CD player to get patriotic music playing through a pair of old school intercom speakers harvested from the ruins of a long-gone elementary school.

If this were a real Fourth of July, my Aunt Juli would walk up the driveway with a crockpot filled with a nacho bean dip with more cheese than is legally allowed.

If this were a real Fourth of July, my Grandma Newcomb, age 92, would dotter up the driveway with a jug of iced tea — made mostly for her and me to drink in the heat.

If this were a real Fourth of July, my best friend, Paul, would have flown up from Memphis. We would swill sangria made from a concoction of cheap wine, booze and fruits while we watched the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

If this were a real Fourth of July, deck chairs would surround the pool at my apartment complex. People young and old would cannonball into the deep end and drink beer in the hot sun and the water would be the warmest it had been all summer.

If this were a real Fourth of July, the Iowa Cubs would play a ballgame at Principal Park and fireworks would explode in the night sky after the game.

If this was a real Fourth of July, I might shower and turn on the police scanner to cover the night cop beat, which on most holidays would consist of a lot of fireworks noise complaints.

But this is not a real Fourth of July.

The coronavirus pandemic has us by the throat.

My parents cancelled their annual Fourth of July picnic for the first time in the 44 years they owned their home.

A lot of older people — including my parents — attend the event. No one wants COVID-19 to cut through their whole family like a forest fire.

They held the hot dog eating contest at Coney Island, but it was indoors, with fewer competitors and spectators wearing masks and face shields. It wasn’t the same. This is the era of everything being a little off.

My friend Paul is adrift in the economic woes of a business badly battered by the pandemic. His job has survived. Many others haven’t.

Instead of taking a trip to Des Moines to visit his old friend, he worked Saturday, as he does many weekends, trying to catch up on a backlog of projects caused by a continually diminishing workforce at his office.

I’m not getting ready for work because I lost my job in May, a causality of a corporate synergy and coronavirus economic woes.

Even if I were working the cop beat tonight, the scanner almost certainly would crackle with tales of a protest against racial injustice. Please God, let it be peaceful and let everyone go home alive.

There will be no Iowa Cubs game at Principal Park because the minor league season was cancelled, a casualty of coronavirus.

We will do better on minor league baseball in Des Moines, where there’s hope of baseball next season.

Our neighbors in Burlington, Clinton and the Quad Cities, whose teams are scheduled for elimination by the greedy hustlers who run Major League Baseball, won’t even get a final season.

There won’t be pro baseball of any kind this July 4 because those same greedy hustlers in Major League Baseball spent months arguing about money while a country endured a pandemic and painful reckoning with racism.

The pool is open, but there are no chairs and masks and social distancing are encouraged.

My grandma will spend the day in her assisted living center, as she has almost every day since early March. My mom will call her mother, but visits are still limited.

Yes, this is July 4 by the calendar, but it is not the Fourth of July so many of us love.

Things are not right and they don’t look to be right for a good long while.

After the holiday, the nation faces the punishing prospect of the upcoming presidential election — almost certainly to be ugly and devoid of even a thin veneer of decency.

No one knows when this terrible virus will be curtailed. And despite efforts to sugarcoat the economic story, tens of millions of Americans, yes, including me, remain unemployed without good prospects or a Congress with enough motivation and decency to pass a second stimulus.

If this were a real Fourth of July, I will feel fellowship with family and friends, the warmth of sun on my skin and fireworks reflecting in my eyes.

I might have a swell of pride for my country, a hint of optimism for the future.

Tonight, some of my neighbors will likely shoot off some legal fireworks. If this were a real Fourth of July, I might go out and watch.

But this is not a real Fourth of July. It’s just another day in the Land of Things That Are Not OK.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

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.