baseball, des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, life, obesity, People, sports, Winterset

My two dads: Double blessings on #FathersDay

Willard and Bob

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

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

Adoptive dad

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

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

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

The salesman

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

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

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

Generational differences

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

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

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

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

From the Great Depression to ‘Doctor Who’

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

Sometimes I felt distance from this man from another age.

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

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

Unconditional love, Part 1

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

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

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

This was my first lesson in unconditional love.

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

Enter Dad 2.0

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

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

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

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

I was wrong. Bob filled the dad chair magnificently.

A quiet man

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

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

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

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

Another ‘Doctor Who’ connection

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

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

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

Good sports

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

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

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

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

‘Easy out’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unconditional love, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

The steel of consistency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear spider, Sorry I murdered you

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

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

Look, I respect spiders.

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

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

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

No nudity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serial killer

So, I killed a spider today.

Today I did it with a slipper.

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

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

This makes me sad.

Because like I said, I like spiders.

Also, I hate millipedes

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

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

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

The horror. The horror.

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

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

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

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

Right?

Wrong.

Defeated ShopVac?

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

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

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

So that’s hate, dear spiders.

I don’t hate you.

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

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

The killings will continue

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

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

And no court in the land would convict me.

Because you’re spiders.

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Daniel P. Finney

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science favors cussers

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

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

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

People evoke talk of a polite society.

We don’t have a polite society.

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

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

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

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

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

Controlling other’s language is just another form of tyranny

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

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

Society has problems. Profanity is the least of them.

Anyway, that’s what I think.

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

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

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

I watched the play and listened to their smack talk.

They swore.

A lot.

Made me feel like an amateur.

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

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

I come from a proud tradition of swearers — humans

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

I wasn’t.

I was nostalgic.

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

We lobbed this kind of language, too.

Where did we learn to talk like that?

From adults.

Swearing honors linguistic history

Plus, the words are old.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m unemployed.

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

Only the rich have true free speech

Soon, I will be employed.

Then I’ll probably stop writing this stuff.

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

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

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

Free speech is only for the rich.

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

I don’t have “fuck you” money.

I don’t have any money.

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

I’m studying to be a teacher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And with that freedom, I choose to curse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The phone rang.

The number wasn’t in my contacts.

No good can come of this.

I answered.

Who knows? It could be a job offer.

It wasn’t.

The voice sounded like a pleasant young woman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spam annoys me, as it does most.

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

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

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

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

I miss OG spam.

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

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

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

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

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

The jokes were rarely funny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My brain is riddled with depression and anxiety.

My arthritis is bad in my back and knees.

I have tendonitis in my right elbow and shoulder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m trying to get up.

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

What’s the best revenge against someone who tries to steal your unemployment benefits? Hint: It involves Taylor Swift #fearlesstaylorsversion

I called Iowa Workforce Development late last week and by happy coincidence Anna the Angel answered the phone.

I called because I wanted to double-check that my benefits were on track to arrive on time.

This was more a triple or quadruple check. The first few times I called with questions on my benefits, I got into a verbal shouting match with a robot answering machine.

I followed that by a useless encounter with an unemployment office employee who seemed most interested in not answering calls from the public.

This series of frustration eventually landed me in the care of Anna, who seemed to give a damn whether or not I got my benefits.

She worked out some kinks in the paperwork and sure enough, benefits arrived. Another bureaucratic wrinkle meant I would wait two weeks to receive a check rather than the customary one.

That inspired me to call the unemployment office. You’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical of the agency’s ability to get things right.

Anna checked and to no one’s surprise, there was a problem. Apparently, somebody tried to file for unemployment benefits under my name.

Identity theft isn’t a new problem. I’ve lost track of the number of letters telling me my data has been compromised or text messages from my credit union telling me somebody tried to use a debit card in my name in a place I’ve never been.

I often joke that if someone is serious about stealing my identity, they’re welcome to it.

They can deal with the obesity, the mental health issues, the aches and pains, near-constant self-doubt, and the bird poop on the hood of my big black car.

Heck, if somebody stole my identity, my credit score would probably go up.

The upshot is that Anna the Angel of the unemployment office is on the case. She alerted the fraud department. The downside: I might not get paid on time. Again.

This adds stress to a stressful time. I’m 45 years old trying to learn a completely different career coming off a spectacular failure in my last job and getting my job cut at the one place I invested more of my heart and talent than anywhere else.

Restrictions on cash flow tighten the grip around the throat like Darth Vader force-choking an Imperial admiral.

But I chose to look at it another way.

Somewhere out there, there’s a fake me. They’re trying, at least for the benefit of a few hundred bucks, to pretend to be Daniel P. Finney.

I don’t know what Fake Finney was doing Sunday.

But OG Finney (that’s “original gangster” for my older readers) finished his linguistics homework. He fixed a few of his toys that needed glued. Finney finally retrieved one of the Millennium Falcon models and a Spider-Man figure that had fallen behind his bookshelves in the bedroom.

OG Finney picked up the new Taylor Swift CD, her remake of “Fearless.” Her voice flowed out of his car speakers like an enchantment as he drove about the metro with his windows down on a postcard-perfect day with periwinkle skies.

OG Finney ate a burger and fries from B-Bop’s in Clive. He sat on a bench by the trail with the sun on his arms and the breeze across his bald head.

He stopped by Snookies for a twist cone in a dish and played a few more songs off that Taylor Swift CD.

He got home and watched TV shows where things blow up and the good guys win.

He feel asleep reading a Conan the Barbarian comic book.

Whatever swindles Fake Finney was up to on Sunday and whatever hassles that may lead to for OG Finney, the real me, it’s all trivial in the end.

Sunday was a good 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.

baseball, des moines, humor, News, sports

Why they should move the MLB All-Star game to Des Moines

Major League Baseball decided to pull this year’s All-Star game out of Atlanta because of Georgia’s voter disenfranchisement laws.

That raises the important question: Where should the game be played?

The obvious answer is Des Moines.

Here’s nine reasons why:

  1. We could probably get Caitlin Clark to throw out the first pitch and Luka Garza to sing the national anthem.
  2. We have Froot Loops pizza.
  3. Imagine the social media boom when sluggers get their picture taken on the rocket ship slide and carousel at Union Park.
  4. Raygun will make a T-shirt.
  5. The local Gannett Outlet Store will do so many stories on it, you guys. So. Many. Stories.
  6. We gave hundreds of millions in tax breaks to Google, Facebook and Apple — some of the world’s richest companies — to put warehouses full of servers in farm fields. Our legislators are willing to peel the gold off the Capitol dome to associate themselves with greedy corporate hustlers who run MLB.
  7. We love competition. Example: Iowa hosts the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses, a contest in the presidential nomination process that is so important the winner is sometimes settled by a coin flip a week after everyone has moved on. Think what we could do to speed up a baseball game!
  8. When Iowa disenfranchises voters, we still allow beverages for those waiting in line, unlike those creeps in Georgia. Those beverages could be Major League Baseball’s officially sponsored sufferage drink
  9. Lots of old white men in this town — MLB’s target audience.
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: @newsmanon. PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.