des moines, Faith and Values, mental health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check your inbox.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
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des moines, Faith and Values, life, Media, mental health, People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t we just drift apart?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

life, mental health

Bad days and worse days

From the desk of friendly neighborhood Paragraph Stacker Daniel P. Finney.

A chemical imbalance that manifests as depression and anxiety. They tag team on my thoughts. They sap the joy from my favorite things. They turn fun into fear. They sap my energy, snuff my humor and turn anger and hate inward. Depression wipes out all positive thought.

It feels like a weighted blanket on my chest, but instead of warmth and comfort it holds me down so heavily that I can barely breathe. Sometimes it almost feels safe under the blanket. I can’t feel anything. My emotions go blank. My concentration falters. My brain slows so much that it becomes hard to find basic words. All I want to do is sleep, because when you’re asleep at least you don’t feel the sadness and fear.

I overeat and spend money when I’m depressed. I work on the problems with my behavioral therapist, but over the years I’ve spent myself into bankruptcy and eaten myself into morbid obesity.

The depression and anxiety resurged earlier this month. There are lots of reasons, but I choose.

The anxiety condition means I suffer from panic attacks. When it acts up, I feel fear. Sometimes the fear is response to stimulus: a mistake made at work, a social faux pas or an overindulgence.

Sometimes there is no reason for the panic. It just settles in like a thunderstorm inside my skull. My doctor gives me little yellow pills. They usually work within about 15 or 30 minutes.

Once in a while, though, the panic gets past the pills. That happened earlier this month. The panic set in about 8:30 a.m. and just sat on my chest until around 3:30 p.m.

I tried to nap. The panic usually subsides when I sleep. It didn’t work. I dozed, but I could feel the tightness in my chest, the restlessness and uneasiness. It was still there when I woke up.

The worst panic attacks feel as if my skin is itching on the inside out. This was not one of those. This was a lesser variety, but still exhausting.

I struggled to concentrate on the TV show I had recorded. I tried to mindlessly watch sports highlights. But everything seemed irritating and unsettled.

I dimmed the lights and turned on the fans. I tried to imagine myself pitching a baseball. I thought about dragging my cleat along the rubber atop the mound. I thought about the feel of the baseball on my fingertips. I could almost smell the dirt on my hands.

I imagined the fan blowing the hair on my arms was actually a gentle breeze on a calm, cool day at the park. I could hear the gentle rustling of the crowd chatting.

I never got around to throwing the ball. I never do. It’s just a technique I use to try and calm myself down. It was only partially successful.

The worst part of panic attacks are the thoughts. Every thought is carried out to its most gruesome conclusion.

For example: I ate pasta for dinner. That’s bad for my blood sugar. I’m diabetic. I’m going to have to have my feet amputated. I will die broke and alone in a wheelchair at a county hospital.

Sometimes I think about killing myself. I think about jumping off a parking garage. This is all in my head, mind you. No actions are taken.

Usually, I am able to brush those thoughts off without much trouble. I want to feel relief, I remind myself. A dead man cannot feel relief.

If the thoughts get too noisy, I call my therapist. He’s an excellent therapist. He is a former U.S. Army Ranger. He is direct, thoughtful and quick. A few minutes with him on the phone are enough to get me back into acceptable condition.

I have a few friends I can call in this situation, but I make those contacts sparse. My friends, the closest of them, understand the reality of depression and anxiety. But even some I’ve known for years still believe these mood disorders can be adjusted like car stereo dials.

One of the worst parts of living with these disorders is fear that people don’t believe they’re real or that they’ll hit me with the old cliches. Think positive thoughts. Cheer up. Other people have things a lot worse than you do.

Society treats mental health differently from other health conditions. We probably wouldn’t advise someone having a heart attack to say, “Just think you’re not having a heart attack.” We likely would call 911 if we knew a diabetic was going into insulin shock. But with depression we ask them to pretend, because we don’t believe them.

Things have changed in recent years. More public discussion improved understanding and attitudes, but not so much that even people I am close to wonder if the medication I take is the problem and not the treatment for the problem.

Once I had a panic attack where I got a song stuck in my head. It was summer 1999. I kept hearing the song over and over again, each replay getting louder and shriller. I thought I was going to have to stick an ice pick in my brain just to end the torment.

That was a bad night. I didn’t know what panic attacks were then. I wouldn’t be diagnosed for another two years.

I write about this not to terrify my friends and family who might read it. Sometimes that happens. They get sad because I am not always happy. But most people are not always happy. They might pretend to be, but they’re not.

To them, I say that I am OK. I manage this problem. I’m not going to die from it. Nothing bad is going to happen. I take pretty good care of myself in this regard.

It’s no different than high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Mental health problems are just like other medical problems. They can all be fatal if not treated, but most days, for most people, they don’t amount to much more than taking your medication on time.

I don’t write about my mental health problems as a plea for sympathy, either. I am who I am. These problems are a part of me, but they are not all of me. Yes, I struggle. But most people do with some kind of problem or another.

But I write about this because most of the dialog about mental health is about very extreme cases: people who are severely disabled and unable to function or people who have committed crimes.

That’s understandable. The dire end of the spectrum needs our help the most. But most of us live in the great, wide middle. I am able to work most of the time, but sometimes I have sleepless nights like this one. Sometimes I’m edgy and rude. But, generally, I live a full life with family, friends and adventures that interest me.

I write about this because I know there are other people like me out there, who have bad days in their brain. I write this as a message to my fellow mental health travelers: It’s OK. You are not alone.

Daniel P. Finney is soft spring rain scented with improved oxidants.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 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 paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Crime and Courts, des moines, Faith and Values, humor, mental health, News, People, Pop Culture, Taylor Swift

After the Capitol siege, I’ll believe anything

Well, we sure solved that one, didn’t we?

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

So, this is 2021.
One week of 52 in the books.
Do you really feel better off than you did eight days ago?
So far, 2021 feels like a tray of relishes and finger sandwiches left out in the office for a week. After what happened Wednesday in Washington, D.C., I’m open to the possibility that any news headline is real no matter how absurd.

DALLAS COUNTY, Iowa — A giant pit of fire opened near Adel on Thursday night. The gaping maw devoured land, buildings, humans, animals and vegetation as it drifted south-southwest, growing larger with each object consumed and leaving only a black void that witnesses said seemed to stare back.

Well, you know how unpredictable Iowa weather is.

MOUNT SAINT HELENS, Washington — Giant robots that transform into automobiles and aircraft are apparently doing battle around an offshore drilling facility here. The robot monstrosities seem impervious to their own weaponry, but the crossfire collapsed the drilling facility, pitching the human crew into the icy waters below. Despite an unprecedented hostile extraterrestrial incursion that destroyed millions in energy infrastructure, no local first responders, law enforcement nor state nor national law enforcement have as at yet to respond to the catastrophe.

This story is more than meets the eye.

TOKYO — A giant lizard similar to a muscular Tyrannosaurus Rex rose from the waters from the Sea of Japan and smashed its way through the streets as tens of thousands fled amid shrieks of terror. The beast’s breath appeared to be some sort of flame that leveled skyscrapers. Its footfalls rocked the city like an earthquake. A Japanese philosophy professor proffered the theory that the creature was Mother Nature’s revenge for humanity’s poor stewardship of the planet.

That was bound to happen.

WATCH HILL, Rhode Island — Top musical artists Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa and the Haley sisters merged into a single 50-foot woman at Swift’s mansion here. Their combined voice blasted a sonic cry so alluring and catchy it lured scores of ships to their doom on the rocky shoreline despite warnings from authorities of unsafe waters ahead.

Taylor Swift is always up to something.

NEW YORK, New York — A giant ape kidnapped a plumber’s girlfriend and climbed atop a construction site in downtown Manhattan on Friday. The plumber made multiple efforts to rescue his betrothed, scampering up ladders and using hammers to smash obstacles. However, the ape rolled flaming barrels down the inclined site structure that landed and crushed the skull of the plumber. The rescue attempt lasted less than a minute.

Those wild apes in New York have been a problem forever.

SOMEWHERE IN AMERICA — A broken-hearted man turned off the TV, picked up a novel and read until he fell asleep with his bedroom light on. A widowed woman watched the news late into the night, horrified by the country she’d known for 66 years and wondered if she ever really knew it all. A woman sat on a white couch and deleted videos of her estranged husband from her phone and tried to blunt the sadness of the world by preparing for an upcoming move. A woman left work early, walked her dog, ate a sensible salad and went to bed about 5 p.m. local time. She turned off her phone. An accountant traded jokes with his best friend about events too big for either of them to change. A man had the day off and went to the comic store to pick up his weekly books. A store manager asked him what he thought about all this as a newsman. The newsman paused. He said it was sad. He felt as if there wasn’t a single thing he could write or say or publish that would make anyone feel better. He said he was glad he had the day off. He paid for his books and went to the bar for a beer and cheeseburger.

Actually, that one surprises me.

Daniel P. Finney is just as sad and angry and depressed as many of you. He just doesn’t know what good it does to keep yelling at a wall of ignorance that shows no sign of buckling. So he’s not going to do it.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester starts soon. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

life, mental health, People, Unemployment

2020: The year of the grunt

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

I’ve developed a nervous tic: I grunt.

I mean to hum, but it comes out a grunt. It’s anxiety, I think.

I don’t know how long I’ve been doing it. I’ve hum lyrics to songs. I’ve whistled movie themes.

These days I grunt.

Why? I can’t say.

I’ll blame 2020.

There’s 15 minutes left to the year, so it’s just another thing to attribute to the calendar.

It seems fair. I think I took to grunting during the pandemic while I was unemployed for seven months.

I worried a lot. I perfected my already strong self-loathing skills.

But I also endured.

I persevered.

I demonstrated resilience.

That’s what my therapist says.

2020 was the year of resilience, I think.

A lot of terrible things happened this year: the pandemic, the presidential election and social unrest.

The sadness stacked upon misery and grief.

2020 was a lot.

Getting through every day took more effort than usual.

I used to go to a gym when my mind and body were healthier. I may go again when the pandemic passes.

My trainer, Nate Yoho, used to encourage grunts — even shouts — when exerting energy to accomplish a cardio challenge or set a personal record in weightlifting.

I did not set many personal records in 2020.

But I maintained. I held the line.

I almost cracked.

But I was blessed. Friends and family propped me up. They would not let me fall even when I was ready to collapse.

I won’t try to name them all here. I’ll just say that without all of them, I wouldn’t have made it. They showed faith in me when mine was gone.

I survived pneumonia, unemployment, depression, going back to school and starting a new career. I didn’t do it alone.

It was hard. Damn hard.

Hard enough that I needed to grunt sometimes.

I grunt because my arthritic knees and back hurt.

I grunt as a nervous habit. (I’m trying to stop that so as not to become a greater annoyance to my new coworkers.)

I started grunting in 2020. It was a hard year and it required exertion.

I’ll probably grunt plenty in 2021.

Life is work. Damn hard work.

It requires a little grunting.

Daniel P. Finney once watched “The Big Lebowski” 136 days in a row.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, humor, Media, mental health, Pop Culture, TV

HOT SHEET: The joys of Carson repeats, pining for Letterman and the reruns that numb the age of COVID

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, hot seat editor, 24th Street bureau, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM FIRST: PlutoTV has added a channel with classic episodes of “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.” Carson also airs at 9 p.m. weeknights on the over-the-air digital-plus network Antenna TV, which is channel 13.3 in Des Moines. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker lived in a house without strict bedtimes, so he watched a lot of late-night TV as a boy. The typist is happy to see the late Corning, Iowa, native on TV and streaming again.

ITEM TWO: The typist enjoyed Carson, but always felt he was a warm-up for “Late Night with David Letterman.” Watching Letterman, especially in his “Late Night” years, felt like you were really getting away with something. He was the guy throwing pencils out the window and invisible glass. He was harassing NBC’s new owners, General Electric. In the early days, he wore jeans and wrestling shoes. The sketches were rickety and bizarre, almost as if they were designed to fail and that failure generated all the fun. Letterman was always there as the too-cool-for-school guy who flippantly thumbed his nose at convention, mocked TV tropes even as he created them and even dared to make both the guests, the audience and certainly himself uncomfortable.

ITEM THREE: The Hot Sheet notes all of this because our burning desire is to relive those memories again. In the early 2000s, NBCUniversal slated “Late Night with David Letterman” episodes on the short-lived cable network Trio. Since then, we’ve been left to grainy VHS clips posted on YouTube. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if NBCUniversal dusted off those masters and started spinning them on one of the digital plus or streaming services again? The ol’ Paragraph Stacker’s eyeballs would be glued there several hours a day.

ITEM FOUR: The Hot Sheet ran this idea by his buddy and podcast partner Memphis Paul. His response: “We are spoiled for choice these days.”

ITEM FIVE: The typist found the reply someone deflating, but still valued the perspective. Seeing Carson on PlutoTV is like learning someone brought home the best ice cream in town and then complaining that you don’t have hot fudge topping with whipped cream and a cherry.

ITEM SIX: So, in the spirit of enjoying what is rather than wishing for more, the Stacker notes PlutoTV has apparently added a few new stories to its “Doctor Who” channel including at least two Dalek stories. This could be to pump up Dalek excitement for the upcoming “festive season” episode of the revived “Doctor Who” series titled “Revolution of the Daleks.” Streaming Dalek stories is often troubled by rights issues with estate of Terry Nation, the writer who created the creatures. Britain has different copyright laws that give creators much greater ownership than in the United States, where everything a person creates for a company is owned by the company that pays them. Nation’s estate has sometimes been prickly about allowing certain stories, such as the masterpiece, “Genesis of the Daleks,” from streaming. Twitch managed to get rights sorted out when it did a multi-week marathon of every remaining classic “Who” story a few years ago. PlutoTV’s offering has been light on Dalek stories, so it’s a boon to see the tin-plated pepper pots menacing the universe on a free streaming service.

ITEM SEVEN: If this edition seems a bit less newsy than previous Hot Sheets, well, that’s part circumstance and part design. The circumstance is COVID cases are spiking. The typist wants no part of COVID. He survived pneumonia in February and has asthma. So, that means he’s spending a lot of time at home with the TV on. He chooses comforting old series, such as “M*A*S*H,” “Doctor Who” and Carson or live sports rather than news-heavy programing. Besides, do you really need another voice complaining about how divided our politics are, canceled Thanksgivings and other sad-sack stuff of the era? The typist thinks not. The other reason there isn’t a lot of news commentary in these stacks relates to that big announcement that the typist regrets to inform you is still pending. Be patient. He’s anxious to tell you the news nugget, but only when things are final.

ITEM LAST: As a reminder, this blog will be made private sometime in the next few weeks. That means you’ll have to request access to it. To avoid the hassle, go over to http://paragraphstacker.com and find the big “FOLLOW” button. On a desktop, it will be to the right near the top. On a mobile device, such as smartphone or tablet, it will be at the bottom of the page. Enter your email. Respond to confirm and every post lands in your inbox.

Try this for a deep, dark secret: the great detective, Daniel P. Finney? He doesn’t exist. I invented him. Follow. I always loved excitement, so I studied, and apprenticed, and put my name on an office. But absolutely nobody knocked down my door. A female private investigator seemed so… feminine. So I invented a superior. A decidedly MASCULINE superior. Suddenly there were cases around the block. It was working like a charm… until the day HE walked in, with his blue eyes and mysterious past. And before I knew it, he assumed Daniel P. Finney’s identity. Now I do the work, and he takes the bows. It’s a dangerous way to live, but as long as people buy it, I can get the job done. We never mix business with pleasure. Well, almost never. I don’t even know his real name!

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, mental health, Music, News, People, Pop Culture, sports

HOT SHEET: Hawkeyes, Cyclones win, pierce the gloom of the coming winter of COVID-19

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, hot seat editor, 24th Street bureau, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM FIRST: Most Iowans interested in football found happiness Saturday. The Iowa State Cyclones bludgeoned Kansas State. The Iowa Hawkeyes mauled Penn State. All was right with the world for a few hours on a late autumn afternoon.

ITEM TWO: Sunday promises to be another excellent day for this pro football fan. His favorite team, the Chicago Bears, will not play, but he fears the Bears are so bad they may find a way to lose without taking the field.

ITEM THREE: The Age of COVID-19 feels like a woolen sweater too tight in all the wrong places. It itches and stifles and never seems to let us breathe no matter how hard we tug and pull. The naturally shortened days of autumn get even shorter when the restaurants lock their doors at 10 p.m. Efforts to curb the virus’ potentially deadly spread curb our abilities to gather in fellowship whether it be to root for a favorite football team, celebrate a holiday or worship our gods. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker called one of his best friends Saturday. She was overwhelmed by the emptiness of it all and despite his silly jokes and empathy, he could not shake even a giggle loose. The miles between us seemed doubled or tripled despite the intimacy of a phone call. He felt the depression from his end of the phone. He had no choice but to let go and hoped her planned passivity would bring what Pink Floyd called comfortable numbness. The typist fared no better on his Saturday. He could have done laundry, but a psychological immobility paralyzed him whenever he gave leaving the house a serious thought. He attempted to watch football games, but the he fell into fitful sleep early in the games. Most of his friends hunkered with their family and the weight of a lifetime of bad choices and failures to grow left the Paragraph Stacker alone in a little apartment surrounded by nothing but entertainment but overwhelmed by the urge to have a beer with a buddy in public. So, he slept, for this is the season of hibernation. And he slept some more because he knew more of this malaise was to come. As the poet songwriter Bob Dylan once sang, “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”

ITEM FOUR: This blog will become private in a few weeks, which means you’ll have to request access to read the posts. It’ll still be free, but there will be an extra step to reading posts. The easiest way to avoid all that is go to https://paragraphstacker.com/ now and look for the follow button on the left side of the page. Enter your email address and confirm it. You’ll get every post delivered to your inbox.

ITEM LAST: The ol’ Paragraph Stacker makes no secret of his love for classic “Doctor Who.” He relaxes to the infinite stream of 200 episodes on the free streaming service Pluto TV. Saturday evening found him watching the very first “Doctor Who” story he ever watched many moons ago on Iowa PBS: “The Armageddon Factor.” He found a gem of an exchange between the Doctor, as played by Tom Baker, and his companions, Romana, played by Mary Tamm, and his robot dog, K-9, as voiced by John Leeson. It’s as true today as it was in 1979.
THE DOCTOR: Where’s your joy in life? Where’s your optimism?
ROMANA: It opted out.
K-9: Optimism: belief that everything will work out well. Irrational, bordering on insane.
Perhaps that’s a little too dark to end a Hot Sheet. So if it’s insane to be optimistic, perhaps the typist shall lean on a quote from another favorite childhood classic, the 1989 “Batman” film.
BRUCE WAYNE: You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts!

Theorizing that one could time-travel within his own lifetime, Daniel P. Finney stepped into the quantum accelerator and vanished. He awoke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time who appears in the form of a hologram that only Daniel can see and hear. And so Daniel finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.
comics, des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, mental health, News, Pop Culture

HOT SHEET: Connery dead, mask misery, and Christmas cancelled

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Neighborhood Station, Des Moines, Iowa.

The torsion on this costume is said to have taken seven years off of Sean Connery’s life.

ITEM FIRST: Breaking news bummer: Sean Connery has died. The Scottish actor was best known for playing the Zed in science fiction masterpiece “Xardox,” which popularized underwear with suspenders.

Spider-Man knows his mask isn’t impeding his oxygen levels, but he sure feels that way.

ITEM TWO: After eight months in the pandemic, the typist still can’t get comfortable wearing a mask. He finally understands why Batman left his chin exposed.

ITEM THREE: The ol’ Paragraph Stacker understands wanting to steal the Lincoln head from Mount Rushmore while riding flying bicycles that shoot red lightening bolts. Really, who hasn’t dreamed of that? But the funny book raises another crime quandary — where would the crooks fence it?

The typist was in his late 30s before someone pointed out how gross this photo is.

ITEM FOUR: Rock band the Who offered sage advice in the lyrics of their 1971 hit “Behind Blue Eyes” that can easily be applied to the 2020:

When my fist clenches, crack it open
Before I use it and lose my cool
When I smile, tell me some bad news
Before I laugh and act like a fool.

Tom is the good guy in “Tom and Jerry” cartoons. You have a cat to kill the mice. These are the rules.

ITEM FIVE: It’s Saturday. Remember to take a nap.

Well, this sucks.

ITEM LAST: Mom 2.0 announced the official cancellation of family Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings due to COVID-19.

This is the right thing to do. Parents 2.0 are both 71. Family gatherings are large and crowded. We lost Grandma Lois this year. An uncle struggles with an unknown ailment. We don’t want to have a mini-spreader event.

But when the typist heard the words come out of Mom 2.0’s mouth, he was speechless. It wasn’t the loss of delicious meals or presents that made the ol’ Paragraph Stacker so sad.

No, it was that he know how much those celebrations mean to Parents 2.0. They love nothing more than to be surrounded by family and extended family.

And this goddamn virus robbed them of that. The typist thought this broke his heart. But then Mom 2.0 said: “There’s talk this might go on another year.”

And that was too much to contemplate.

Daniel P. Finney wants you to know he’s a mirrorball.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.