baseball, des moines, humor, Iowa, life, sports

It’s #OpeningDay for MLB … so why am I feeling so ho-hum?

The Major League Baseball season began Thursday. ESPN was already busy ruining the fun of the game as my beloved New York Yankees warmed up for their game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

New York’s starting pitcher is Gerrit Cole; the network commentator immediately calls Cole the “Yankees’ $300 million man.”

Cole makes a lot of money because he is an excellent pitcher. I don’t begrudge him his money.

But baseball commentary — as does so much of sports talk — quickly trends to economics.

NFL and NBA shows talk about salary cap room. Baseball shows talk about labor disputes.

This is not what I want to talk about on opening day. I can tolerate it in the dead of winter if only because I prefer baseball talk to bracketology.

Like the players, managers and umpires, fans take a while to get into midseason form. Thursday, for example, I was too slow to hit the mute button on my remote before the camera switched to Aaron Judge, the power-hitting Yankees outfielder. The first comment is potential drama over Judge’s contract.

Sweet relish on a hot dog! The man hasn’t taken a swing in a game yet this season and we’re already talking about his future financial situation. Am I watching ESPN or CNBC?

This is a long-term irritation. People say baseball doesn’t translate well to TV. I say TV is bad at broadcasting baseball games.

Fox Sports broadcasts rely on the extreme close-up on pitchers and managers as if they were shooting a soap opera rather than a sporting event. Fox national baseball broadcasts often include Joe Buck as the lead play-by-play man.

I like Buck. He has a sense of humor about himself. He takes the hate directed at him in stride. I don’t want to add to that, but the fact remains that I would rather chew a full roll of aluminum foil than listen him patter for a game.

ESPN focuses on where their commentators sit. Sometimes they’re next to the dugout. Sometimes they’re sitting out in the outfield like everyday fans. Gosh, aren’t those ESPN baseball commentators fun? It almost makes you forget the baseball game they’re supposed to be covering.

I have said this before, but it needs repeating: I would pay extra for a network that played the games with five or six camera angles and only the sounds of the game and the ambient noise inside the stadium.

ESPN redeems itself only through Tim Kurkjian, the nebbishy, squeaky-voiced talker who can discuss pitching mechanics as easily as he spins anecdotes of current players and connects the game to the stories of its rich history.

I have a soft spot for Kurkjian. He’s an old newspaper guy. He started his career at the defunct Washington Star, the same newspaper where my journalism mentor, Robert D. Woodward, worked. Woodward was the greatest teacher I ever had. He died last year, and I miss him

Kurkjian is still a reporter, which most commentators are not and never have been.

Maybe that’s the heart of my gripe about TV coverage and baseball. There aren’t many reporters left and there are even fewer writers.

I regularly watch “Pardon the Interruption,” which stars former Washington Post columnists Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon.

Their daily arguments remind me of the ones that regularly broke out in newsrooms at the beginning of my career, before greedy corporate hustlers turned newsrooms into “information centers” and drained the color and flavor from newsrooms to the point they could have been insurance companies.

On a recent episode, Wilbon quoted a line from one of Kornheiser’s old columns.

“I was a good writer,” Kornheiser said. “So were you. But that’s not what we do anymore.”

Writing hasn’t gone away from baseball. My friend Derrick Goold covers the St. Louis Cardinals with a team of brilliant writers at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Post-Dispatch is a newspaper and people who work at newspapers are an endangered species that is still actively hunted.

Baseball is and has always been a numbers game. Those numbers lose meaning without words to give them perspective.

When I was a boy, I learned who won the previous day’s baseball games from that morning’s box scores. I excitedly studied. I read the long stories about the Midwestern teams and the shorts about teams farther away.

I subscribed to Sports Illustrated to get longer stories about all kinds of baseball people. I subscribed to Baseball Weekly, a USA Today product, for the same reason.

Sports Illustrated is terrible now and Baseball Weekly is dead.

The fan has more access to information and numbers, even the dreaded economics, on their smartphones than I ever did with the newspapers and magazines I read.

Yet something is missing. Baseball needs storytellers.

Baseball is more than numbers. Baseball collects the lore of yesteryear with the ongoing narrative of today. That’s what brings generations together.

But when we start talking contracts and salaries on Opening Day, it makes me feel distant and far away from the game I used to love so much.

Baseball gets good TV ratings in the markets where teams are popular. But the World Series ratings are seemingly worse every fall. Baseball officials worry about how to connect the game of old white men to a diverse new generation.

That’s a legitimate worry. They should also worry about middle-aged fans like me, who’ve lost their Opening Day enthusiasm. If baseball isn’t getting new fans and the old ones are losing interest, what do you have?

Baseball’s story is fading.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for, 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: Venmo: @newsmanon.
des moines, humor, Iowa, Unemployment

Update on Anna, the angel of the unemployment office

My phone rang this morning at the unholy hour of 10:30 a.m. Unemployment has few advantages, but unquestionably one is sleeping in.

I answered groggily and managed to choke out a greeting.

“Mr. Finney, this is Anna from Iowa Workforce Development,” the caller said.

I perked up. Anna, regular readers will recall, rescued me from the endless loop of robot answering machines and suicide-inducing hold music at Iowa Workforce Development, the fancy government name for the unemployment office.

I had run afoul of the unemployment bureaucracy due to a paperwork error. To the bureaucrat, a paperwork error is a mortal sin and those who commit one must be cast into the lake of fire.

The bottom line was I was looking at four weeks without a benefit being paid. Each time I called the office and wound my way through the Byzantine process to reach a person, I got a different answer.

Finally on Tuesday, I reached Anna, who fixed my problems and put me track to get paid. I would have offered my hand in marriage, but I think Anna’s smart enough to see an unemployed middle-aged journalist as a high-risk, low-reward investment.

Today, Anna called me to say that she didn’t want me to worry about the benefits statement on the unemployment website.

I hadn’t checked it yet, but Anna had. It showed that only one of the payments I’m due had been authorized.

Anna, apparently out of a sense of near-extinct concept of due diligence, checked on my case when she got to work Wednesday. She saw a small error, had it corrected and then called me to let me know it would be resolved within a day.

I told Anna she was a superhero. If I knew her last name (and had been paid my unemployment), I’d send her flowers.

We hung up and I rushed to the window. The sun was in the clear blue sky. A chilly March wind blew.

But there was no sign of the apocalypse.

Anna is quite clearly the real deal: a public servant who believes in helping the people who need her.

Until Tuesday, I would have assumed such a person was as rare as the fearsome snipe or the elusive jackalope.

Now I know governmental customer service is no longer a myth, like the leprechaun, but rare, like the four-leaf clover.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for, 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: Venmo: @newsmanon. PayPal:
des moines, humor, Unemployment

A month without unemployment benefits? How robot customer service answering systems made being unemployed worse

I’m unemployed. That happens. Jobs don’t work out. Sometimes it’s no one’s fault. Most of the time it’s the fault of greedy Wall Street hustlers whose lone way to goose profit margins for the past 30 years is cutting jobs.

This was the case at the end of my newspaper job. It wasn’t at the end of my TV job. That one was on me: I was bad at the job.

Regardless, this is why we have unemployment. We decided as a society that it was better to give people a cushion when these changes happened than to increase the homeless population and give foreclosure departments and repo outfits more work.

I’ve used unemployment a few times in my life. The teachers warned us as freshmen at Drake that we wouldn’t spend our whole lives in one job. I tried anyway. I failed often.

Most of the time, applying for unemployment is a breeze.

This recent attempt was a disaster.

I made a mistake, which fouled up the works from the start.

Government bureaucracy is less forgiving of paperwork errors than retired English teachers are of typos.

The suggested means of dealing with problems on the Iowa Workforce Development webpage, which is the fancy name for the unemployment office, is to email. You’ll get a response in a business day, they say.

That seems simple. But bureaucrats have very rigid interpretations of that sort of thing. Does the day start the moment the email lands in the inbox, or does it start the moment someone opens the message, or does it start on alternating days following a new moon? It’s impossible to tell, but there is likely a webpage filled with rules longer than most religious texts with less sex and violence.

I’m old-fashioned. I like to talk to a person on the phone. The unemployment office recommends against this. They have a very high call volume, they say. This makes me feel better. I’m not the only person who wants to talk to someone on the phone.

So, I called with my question. My question was: “Why am I not being paid unemployment benefits?”

It turns out the mistake I made was applying too late in the week after my final paycheck from the previous employer. I should have filed on the Sunday or Monday after that, but I filed on Friday.

The problem is there would be a 10-day waiting period to evaluate the claim, check with former employers and so on before I could be paid. That seemed reasonable.

Ten days came and went. I checked the status of my claim and it was still in review status.

I called again.

I should mention that each time one calls the unemployment office, you must navigate one of those robot answering machines that requires you to press buttons and sometimes talk to a machine that cannot understand spoken language.

Here is a partial transcript of my recent call to the unemployment office:

Robot: I know you want to speak to agent. Please tell me what problem you are having so I can route your call to the appropriate person.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

Me: I’m not getting paid.

Robot: I’m sorry I could not be of assistance. Goodbye.

Now that’s a mean trick. The robot said “goodbye,” but there’s a pause. Then it says, “Please stay on the line for the next available agent.”

I’m not making up the repetition. I counted it. It took five times for the robot to admit it was useless and route me to a person, which is all I ever wanted in the first place.

If McDonald’s sold burgers and fries this way, they would be out of business by the end of the week.

I was placed in queue. Music played.

I don’t know what section of the music store businesses and governments select music from, but I am fairly certain they either send someone who is legally deaf or whose misanthropic attitudes toward their fellow humans is so great they want to exact whatever suffering necessary to make the process of seeking customer service so painful people just won’t bother.

The music played for a few minutes until another robot came on the line. Employment opportunities abound for robots.

This robot offered me the opportunity to have the unemployment office call me back when it was my turn in queue. I took them up on that offer and dug into my schoolwork.

A man called back about an hour later. I forget his name. I am going to call him George.

I asked George why I wasn’t getting paid.

George said my claim was still under review.

I asked George why that was.

George said it could be lots of reasons.

I asked George if he could pick one just for fun.

George looked at my claim. It seems that I filed late and the 10-day waiting period for the claim had not passed.

I told George the 10-day waiting period passed Friday.

George said sometimes it takes longer than 10 business days.

I asked George why the unemployment office says it takes 10 business days if it’s more of a willy-nilly-whenever-the-spirit-moves-us kind of deal.

George was unamused. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling very amused either.

George said the earliest I could expect to receive benefits was the middle of April. 

I reminded George previous agents had said it should be sometime this week.

George said the problem was my claim came at the end of a benefit year. (I applied for unemployment in March 2020 during a furlough.) I needed to open a new claim for a new benefit year.

I got the sense George was not engaged in customer service but instead choosing from a set of flash cards designed to end the call as quickly as possible.

I told George I had already applied for a new claim, but that should be irrelevant to the previous claim for which I have not been paid.

George said the unemployment office would want to contact my employers for both claims and would prefer to do this all at once rather than two separate times.

I found this difficult to believe. These inquiries are done by form letter. The employer has 10 days to contest a claim. If they do not contest the claim, the benefits are paid. None of my former employers were going to contest the claim.

Further, when has a government agency ever balked at sending computer-generated form letters?

I said goodbye to George.

The line between a worried mind and a mind overrun by anxiety is thin for those of us who live with certain brain chemical disorders. I panicked at the prospect of going a full month or more without income.

I called my friend Randy. He suggested I call the unemployment office back and talk to someone else. Randy gives good advice. He’s also good for gab at lunch. If you get a chance to have lunch with Randy, do it.

I called back. I went through the five times of the robot not understanding me and the other robot offering to have an agent call me.

The woman who called me back was named Anna. Anna was an angel.

Anna found a glitch in my paperwork. She corrected it and went to talk to someone to make sure the review could be taken off.

Great, I said to Anna.

She asked if she could place me on a brief hold.

Sure, I said. Then the line was disconnected.

Oh goddamint, I thought. I found the one person who was actually going to help me and my cell phone service decides to drop the call.

Defeated, I dialed the number for the unemployment office again, but before I could finish, Anna called me back. She told me she had fixed the problem and I should see the review status change in the next day or so.

I still wouldn’t get paid on Friday, but I would likely see benefits – including back pay – early next week.

I thanked Anna. She was the first person at the agency that made me feel like I was a person rather than an annoyance.

I am sure lots of people are upset and cruel when they deal with customer service people at the unemployment office. I understand this. The prospect of going nearly a month without benefits you’re entitled to can be vexing in the extreme. I’ve certainly gnashed a few of my teeth in this ongoing process.

But a person like Anna can actually help.

I hope that for every George, there’s three Annas, but I think the math is more like for every George and Anna, there are three robot answering machines, some terrible hold music and one or two more reasons for people to give up due to overwhelming irritation.

I am glad I worked with Anna. I repeat: She was an angel.

Angel is the appropriate word, because getting answers out of the bureaucracy takes nothing short of divine intervention.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for, 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: Venmo: @newsmanon.
des moines, humor, Iowa, life

Bojangles vs. the Bear

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

There should be a rule for national sports broadcasts that you can’t air commercials for restaurants that aren’t in your market.

I watched Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest on ESPN on a recent evening. One commercial showed a delicious chicken meal. It looked so good I wanted to make note of the restaurant to try it in the future.

The restaurant was Bojangles’ Famous Chicken n’ Biscuits. The closet location to Des Moines is Marion, Illinois, about 7.5 hours southeast.

I won’t be trying that anytime soon unless somebody in my family gets sent to the federal prison there. Even then, it’s a push.

The best fried chicken I ever had in a restaurant was at the Bear in Ankeny. They managed the impossible: a perfectly crisp, flaky skin with the juiciest meat underneath.

I ate at the Bear a lot with my dad when I was young. My mom was sick and spent time in the hospital. My dad would visit my older brothers who lived in Ankeny. They would talk adult things while I devoured the salad.

The side salad impressed me: croutons, purple cabbage, half of a hard-boiled egg and one of those wrinkled, juicy hot peppers. I always gave that to my dad in exchange for his egg.

The fried chicken came in a kids’ portion, but I wanted no part of that. I got a full leg and thigh with a wing and breast.

My mouth waters at the thought of that delicious white meat. It came out so hot you could watch the steam against the dim candlelight on the table.

The fried chicken came with your choice of side. I got steak fries. I think I’m the last person in America who prefers steak fries. More people probably like sweet potato fries than steak fries. But I loved them, slathered in Heinz ketchup that took two years to come out of the bottle.

The Bear was so popular in Ankeny they opened a second one. They called it Bear II. I never went there. It eventually closed, though me not going there was probably not the cause.

The original Bear stayed opened until a few years ago. After I moved back to Des Moines in 2005, I hung out with a group of guys. We called ourselves the Royal Order of Big and Tall Men, Local 47.

We had nicknames. There was the Kid, the youngest; the Slake, the eldest; and Joy Without Pleasure, younger than me, older than the Kid. His nickname was an inside joke. Most of our talk was.

The Slake didn’t eat chicken, but he loved the cavatelli. I think I got the Kid to try the chicken. I don’t remember what J.W.O.P. ate. He was an independent fellow. But it was a grand time, the kind you remember years later even if you can’t recall a thing said.

I have this picture in my mind of the Kid laughing so hard he almost choked on his drink. At least I think it was there. That happened a lot to the Kid in those days.

The Bear closed abruptly a few years back. There were rumors as to why, but nothing lasts forever. I never had that delicious fried chicken again.

And I won’t have this damn Bojangles chicken either, because just like the Bear, it isn’t here. Even if it was, it wouldn’t be as good as the Bear.

But I can at least thank their out-of-market ad for this fond memory.

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

des moines, humor, obesity

The perils of cremation company advertising

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

I’m trying not to take it as an omen that the first piece of mail after the end of my job at the local TV station was from a cremation company.

The brochure boasts over 20,000 Iowans have placed their trust in the company. I’m not sure how to take that statistic. Read another way, it could say: We’ve burned the bodies of a lot of dead Iowans – and you could be next!

A cremation company is a tough thing for to advertise. If cremation were laundry detergent, they would add a different color to the powder and call it “new” and “improved.”

But it might be bad for a crematorium to boast about it’s “extra strength” 1,800-degree furnace.

I joke here, but I plan to be cremated. I would do a traditional funeral, but I’m an obese man and I don’t know six guys strong enough to carry me.

I want my ashes mixed with buckshot and I want my buddies to have a spread with buffalo wings, Tasty Tacos and steak fries with all the Diet Mountain Dew and Coors you can drink. Whatever’s left in the Folgers can can be mixed in with some fireworks, you know, for the kids.

I want my buddies to take turns blasting my mortal remains into the sky while having a good time and listening to some boot-stomping music with their shit-kickers on.

Please don’t think me maudlin. I am of sound mind and body, although body is a bit rickety.

I’m just amused to be getting the cremation solicitations. The brochure especially impressed me with its “48-state Travel Protection.” You drop dead in the lower 48, these fellows will come get you and burn your corpse.

That’s dedication.

Not only will they cremate your remains, they’ll do it with “Iowa Values.”

That’s good. I don’t want some sumbitch with Tennessee values disposing of my remains. For all we know those bastards use the metric system down there. By God, my husk will be burned by people high on ethanol fumes and high fructose corn syrup the way my ancestors always imagined.

I mentioned the cremation brochure was thoughtful. There’s a small disclaimer at the bottom of the page: If this advertisement has come to you at a time of illness or sorrow, please accept our apologies.

I see where the company is going with this, but I think they’re missing their mark. These fliers ought to be going out to the hospices and ICUs. This is where your potential customer base is.

I’m 45. I’ve got a few dents in the side and the engine burns oil, but I’m still on the road for another few thousand miles. Hell, I don’t have a job, but I’m not ready for the cremation negotiation.

But I’m going to fill out this note cart asking for “FREE” information about cremation if for no other reason that it’ll give me a reason to walk out to the mailbox each day looking for new angles on this cremation situation.

Daniel P. Finney is journalist in transition. What that really means is he needs a job. is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. I’m freshly unemployed and have a big tax bill to pay. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This adventure has ended.

A new one awaits.

Daniel P. Finney once tried to work in TV. It went badly. is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. I’m freshly unemployed and have a big tax bill to pay. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit

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

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

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

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

A computer answered.

We are already off to a bad start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I declined the offer.

I always do.

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

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

This offends me.

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

I would also consider deep discounts.

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

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

Cut and paste as needed.

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

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

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

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

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

So why bother?

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

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

I blocked their email address.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press “1” if you agree.

And if you disagree, just stop reading.

Daniel P. Finney saw a werewolf at Trader Joe’s. His hair was in a bun and he smelled of beard oil. is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. And I got a nasty tax bill for daring to have health insurance while I was unemployed. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit

des moines, humor, Iowa, life

Alas, poor snow days, we knew ye well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s all but over now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel P. Finney is offering a 25% discount on all navy blue towels and bedding at is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. And I got a nasty tax bill for daring to have health insurance while I was unemployed. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit

des moines, humor, Iowa, life, obesity

One day at Brown Shoe Fit Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What can I get you?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel P. Finney feels better about using a cane to walk by thinking of it as his “whacking stick.” is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester is underway. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit

humor, Iowa, life, sports

Stuff my dad texts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel P. Finney knows he hasn’t written in a while. He’s trying to figure out a new job and go to school and manage his mental health and an arthritic knee in the middle of a goddamn pandemic. Things are stressful and sometimes, as much as he wants to, he just doesn’t have the energy for paragraphs. But like all things in life, it’s a work in progress. is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester is underway. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit