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, 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. 
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Iowa, life, People

America strikes back! Parents 2.0’s Fourth of July party returns as pandemic fears fade

America is back. I declare that with full confidence based on a single fact: Parents 2.0 are hosting their annual July 4 celebration at their stately east Des Moines manor.

They canceled last year during the pandemic.

That made sense.

Many who attend are elderly. They were the highest risk.

I didn’t know if the show would ever go on again.

Parents 2.0 are both 72. Putting on the event is a strain. They pace themselves well, but it takes a toll in the heat of the summer.

But it’s back.

My folks fill the garage with picnic tables.

They spread out a quarter city block of food on the workbench.

Annual vittles include at least two meats — turkey, pork, brisket, or ham.

There’s always baked beans with bacon, scalloped corn and potatoes, potato salad, deviled eggs, relishes, salad, and a few snacks people bring.

The big red cooler is filled with pop. The smaller coolers on top with spigots hold water and iced tea.

There probably won’t be iced tea this year. Grandma Newcomb made the iced tea, which mostly she and I drank. She died last fall at age 92. So it goes.

Dad 2.0 puts on patriotic music on the CD player hooked up to some old speakers salvaged from a demolished elementary school.

Friends and family come.

The adults eat and talk. Everybody compliments the yard.

My parents take yardwork seriously. I once saw Dad 2.0 edge the front lawn with a butter knife. I’m not making that up.

My parents plant their flowers at a specific time each spring so that they’ll be in full bloom by July 4. It works every year. I’m not making that up, either.

The littles kids sit in a big wading pool set up in the driveway and squirt each other with water guns.

Sometimes there’s a water side in the grass or badminton.

There used to be basketball, but the kids who liked that game grew older and rounder and the ball stayed idle. Parents 2.0 took down the basket, backboard and pole a few years ago. No one noticed.

The party went on.

Don’t expect any fireworks or booze. People act foolish when they drink, which my parents have no patience for. Just as good a time can be had without libations, they’ll say.

They’re right.

My parents don’t care for fireworks. They’re noisy and they make a mess in people’s yards.

Noisiness is being a rude neighbor, which is anathema to my parents’ ethos. And I already told you how seriously these people take a well-maintained yard.

The whole house is decked out with every kind of American flag and streamer decoration you could imagine.

My friend Paul usually visits over the July 4 weekend. We get our picture taken on either side of the Iowa flag.

We have considered not having the photo taken, as it records the ravages of time on our bodies and hairlines better than we both would prefer.

Thus, my parents’ Fourth of July party marks the time.

I came to live with Parents 2.0 in 1991. I was slim with a thick head of brown hair. Now I’m obese and bald.

Nobody cares. Fill your plate. Grab a seat. Tell us what’s going on with yourself.

I’ve missed the party twice in 30 years as a family. I spent the summer of 1999 in Washington, D.C., working for USA Today. I watched the fireworks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

And, of course, there was no party last year because of the pandemic.

The party is on its third and fourth generation of nieces and nephews.

Many of the people who attended the first one, in 1977, are dead now. So it goes.

Others have grown up and moved away.

The day ends with homemade ice cream in two flavors: pineapple sherbet and vanilla. I’m a sherbet man. It tastes like heaven.

My friend Rebecca, long married and moved away to Wisconsin, says she thinks of that ice cream every Fourth of July no matter where she is.

I love sharing the party with my friends, especially the strays like me who never married or have lost a spouse.

I would invite all of you, dear readers, but Mom 2.0 says she has enough trouble coaxing RSVPs out of the people she invites.

Well, mother-o-mine, mark me down for at least one. Hopefully, I can coax Paul out of Memphis and the accounting paperwork he’s perpetually buried under.

I mean we gotta go, right? Who knows how many more of these parties there will be? Maybe one day my folks will decide enough is enough.

As long as the party goes on, I’m going.

My friend Yvonne, who was my guest a couple of times, said it was the most American thing she ever did.

My folks’ July 4 party is the picture I have in my head of what America is. Friends and family sharing food and drink and taking time to be together.

There are no political lines or religious lines. There are just lines for the buffet.

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, 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. 
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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.
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des moines, Iowa, life, People, Unemployment

I am having an series of unfortunate events that are draining the life out of me

Sunday.

Woke up at 7:30. Filed for unemployment.

Well, I tried to file for unemployment.

I forgot my pin.

The stress of fighting identity theft for the past few weeks jarred four numbers from my head.

I tried too many combinations. The system locked me out.

This is going to be trouble.

The only way I can unlock my account is to call the unemployment office Monday morning and reset the password.

I guarantee this won’t work. It won’t because every time I’ve called the unemployment office in the last month, they’ve told me a dreadful story about identity theft and how my benefits were tied up by some fucking algorithm.

The result being I won’t get paid until the anemic fraud investigators at Iowa Workforce Development stumble across my case at the bottom of the paperwork avalanche.

To recap, I’m not getting my unemployment benefits because someone else committed a crime.

The unemployment office people told me to keep filing. I have.

But Sunday I forgot a code.

Now I’m condemned to the hell of calling the unemployment office, a mixture of talking to a robot that will keep me on hold no less than 5 minutes. Then the robot will ask if I want a call back.

Sure.

When that person finally calls back, they’re going to ask for my birthdate, Social Security number and other data.

And then the unemployment office caller will tell me that my birthdates don’t match.

I will again point out that we’ve known this for some time.

But here’s the nasty trick.

I bet a hard nickel this failure to remember this damn four-digit code on Sunday morning will result it yet another hassle in filing for benefits — likely resulting in me getting shorted a week whenever this mess is finally sorted.

Honestly, I hate to keep bitching about this.

I would rather talk about the five best food stands at this year’s Iowa State Fair or five things we learned at the Cyclones/Hawkeyes spring game.

And regular readers know I’d rather scrub my face with a carrot peeler than talk about those topics.

Here’s the thing.

This foul-up with the pin code was caused because the unemployment office made me change the code.

Of course I forgot. I have something like 700 passwords. Every time I change one, I forget it by the next time I lose it.

The loss of the pin wouldn’t be such a hassle if it weren’t tied to this giant clusterfuck with unemployment office.

That hangs over my head all week except for Sunday. That’s the day when I put in my data and then slack off to watch film noir, read a comic book or take naps.

I botch this thing first off and it revs up the anxiety meter.

There’s a problem. I can’t fix it right now. And it contributes to another problem.

And pretty soon it’s 9 p.m. and the only thing I’ve done all day is worry about a thing I can’t fix until Monday — if at all.

Dear readers, I promise to get off this endless, whiny diatribe soon.

It’s been all consuming.

Maybe I’ll have a list of something or some goofy food product to write about to breakup the monotony.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iowa Workforce Development bigwigs hide when reporters come asking question about fraud, data breach

Scott Carpenter, a reporter for KCCI-TV, called me Monday. He was working on a story about Iowa Workforce Development, the fancy name our state government gives the unemployment office.

Carpenter asked me if I was willing to be interviewed. I declined. I’ve got nothing against Carpenter. I don’t work for the news media anymore. I like the idea that I can say no after nearly 30 years of almost always having to say yes.

Still, I talked to Carpenter about my situation for a few minutes. I told him he could use my name in his story if he wanted. He didn’t. That’s OK.

Carpenter asked me if I’d heard anything about a data breech at the unemployment office. I hadn’t. They told me my identity had been stolen and that attempted fraud may delay payments indefinitely, which I’ve written about on this blog.

I watched Carpenter’s story on KCCI’s website Monday evening. He got an interview with a disabled vet who went three weeks without an unemployment check. Carpenter asked for a Zoom interview with someone from the unemployment office to clarify the fraud problem.

He received a message from Ryan Ward, Iowa Workforce Development deputy director. Ward’s message read, “Iowa Workforce Development does not have the availability to do a Zoom interview and Iowa Workforce Development has not suffered a data breach.”

Ward made more than $153,000 in the last fiscal year for a job titled “public service executive.” I don’t know what that job title entails nor do I begrudge a man his salary, but I fail to see much public service in Ward’s email to Carpenter.

There seem to be some legitimate questions about the security of data at the unemployment office. And there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered. We need those “public service executives” to step up and tell us what’s going on even on days things aren’t going so hot.

I don’t know Ward, so I’m going to take him at his word despite my skeptical nature. Maybe he was busy Monday. Maybe all the people who could answer a few questions were busy.

But what I find odd is that later in the day someone at the unemployment office dusted off a laptop and put out a news release that “reports an increase in recent fraudulent activity related to unemployment insurance.” They talked about criminals using sophisticated algorithms to steal data and attempt fraudulent claims for people’s unemployment benefits.

Fucking algorithms, man.

Algorithms have ruined society. Facebook algorithms pushed racist and fake news. Some hackers used algorithms to jack up the prices of stores that were otherwise on the brink of extinction. Russian hackers used algorithms to interfere with the 2016 election. Sports teams use algorithms to make games in all sports duller and more predictable.

If only there was an algorithm to get an obese paragraph stacker through graduate school so he could teach kids how to sling sentences.

I digress.

The news release denied a data breach again and then churned up a bunch of boilerplate language about keeping your data safe.

The news release, as such things often do, left more questions unanswered than answered.

For example, the release says the fraud uptick occurred “recently.” Be specific. Was it the last month, the last six months, Tuesday, how long? And if you can’t – or don’t want to say the time frame – tell us why you don’t want to tell us.

The release says this is a national issue and they’re working with national partners on the issue. How? What are you doing? How are you doing it? Is it yielding any positive results? Have you involved federal agencies?

The disabled veteran KCCI’s Carpenter interviewed says he’s been without a check for three weeks. I haven’t missed any checks yet, but they told me last week I likely would start missing checks because of the fraud investigation.

But I sent Iowa Workforce Development copies of my driver’s license and my Social Security card.

If they want, I’ll come down to the office and somebody can look at me leaning on my cane from six feet away through binoculars.

Or Google me. There are pictures of me on the web from various jobs in the news industry. I have not lived a quiet online life.

What I’m saying is I’ve proven my identity. I’ll bet that veteran has, too. If you know who we are, pay us our benefits and don’t pay the fraudulently set up accounts.

How did “don’t pay anybody” become an option? What is Iowa Workforce Development going to do about that?

The told me I would get back pay. I’m OK for now. My big bills are paid. I’m stocked with groceries. I’ve got my graduate studies to work on, but the longer this goes on, the tighter things will get.

What about those families who can’t go a week, let alone a month or more without their unemployment benefits?

The snide answer is we should all get jobs.

Well, I’m trying. It just so happens that thing I’m very good at, writing newspaper stories, is not a thing valued by greedy corporate hustlers and slimy hedge fund managers.

So, I’m learning to be a teacher.

Until then, I’m going to need that benefit, like thousands of other Iowans.

And it would be nice if Ryan Ward, deputy director of Iowa Workforce Development, would earn some of his $153,000 annually by answering a few questions and letting us know when they’re going to fix the problem.

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, Iowa, life, Media, sports

Drake says ‘bye, bye’ to Coach Jennie; departure reminds Des Moines it’s a stop, not a destination

Former (sigh) Drake women’s basketball coach Jennie Baranczyk.

Congratulations to Jennie Baranczyk on being named coach of the Oklahoma Sooners women’s basketball team.

I mean that.

But it hurts to say it.

Last week, Baranczyk was the Urbandale kid who starred at Dowling Catholic High School and then the University of Iowa before eventually taking over her hometown Drake women’s basketball team. She was, in my mind, one of Des Moines’ brightest lights.

Now she’s the big boss for the Sooner women’s team.

Good for Jennie.

Brutal bummer for Drake and Des Moines.

I covered the Drake women’s team early in my career when they had another superstar coach, Lisa Bluder. Covering teams was the highlight of my career, which is sad since it happened before I was a full-time journalist.

Bluder left for Iowa 20 years ago. I loved — and still love — Bluder, her assistants Jan Jensen and Jenny Fitzgerald, a pair of Drake alums.

But it still hurts a little that they coach the Hawkeyes.

I understood it.

Iowa is in the Big Ten, a so-called Power Five conference. They’re the biggest and best schools when it comes to sports. Plus, Bluder was from nearby Lin-Marr. She was moving up and going home.

Baranczyk gave Drake nine magnificent seasons, including six 20-win seasons, three NCAA Tournament bids and two consecutive seasons where her Bulldogs posted undefeated conference records.

Now she’s off to ply her skills for the Sooners, another Power Five school.

I’m happy for Baranczyk. I’ve only interacted with her a few times, but each one was terrific. I felt uplifted every time. She’s fun and driven. She made my beloved Drake women’s team winners.

What more could I ask of her?

Well, maybe I could beg her to stay.

But I’m a realist.

That Baranczyk left Drake for Oklahoma is a fact of life, one that Bulldog fans are well used to by now.

Remember when Keno Davis, the great Tom Davis’ son, took Drake men’s team to the NCAA Tournament back in 2008? The younger Davis got $1 million to go coach Providence.

Drake couldn’t come up with the cash. Well, there were rumors that some boosters cobbled together a competing offer, but the administration didn’t want the basketball coach to be paid more than the university president.

Regardless, Keno went to Providence and the men’s program endured a series of mediocre coaches until Drake hired Darian DeVries, who got the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament this year.

Drake rewarded him with an eight-year extension. We’ll have to wait for a couple years of federal 990 form filings to find out how much cash is involved, but I’d put a nickel down that DeVries makes more than the university president now.

That said, if DeVries took the Bulldogs to the tournament a second year in a row, nothing in that extended contract would prevent another Power Five school from scooping him up.

This is the sad song of mid-major basketball schools. It’s all about the coaches, but once you get good ones you can’t hang on to them.

I’m a Des Moines native. This is my hometown. I moved away for a few years. I didn’t like it. I came home. This is my place.

Over the years, I’ve learned to stop taking it personally when bright lights such as Baranczyk leave for more money and bigger stakes in other places. Everybody has the right to pursue their highest levels.

But the losses still squeeze the heart.

The reality is for so many high achievers, Des Moines is a stop on the journey, not a destination.

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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