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. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
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Media, mental health, sports

Tennis, media embarrass themselves with ignorant responses to Osaka mental health issues

Confession: Before Naomi Osaka announced she wasn’t going to participate in post-match news conferences at the French Open, I didn’t know who she was.

I know. That makes me a terrible human being. I don’t follow tennis.

Osaka is currently ranked No. 2 in the world, and she was the highest paid female athlete in the world in 2020.

So, yeah, I suppose I should have known who she was.

Anyway, before the French Open she said she wasn’t doing post-match news conferences. It kicked up her anxiety and she felt like reporters aren’t respectful of mental health. She was prepared to pay a fine.

The media and tennis worlds collectively shit themselves.

Reporters, not all, but way too many, scoffed at the notion that news conferences are harsh, cruel and dehumanizing.

They acted as if reporters are tame as fainting goats barely braying during these gentle occasions.

And tennis?

Well, the French Open fined Osaka $15,000. And all the Grand Slam goons came out and said they would do the same if she pulled such a stunt at their event.

Tennis is their sport and they’ll be goddamned if some star tells them who will sit for a daily roasting that’s created for no other reason than to give more exposure to the sport and make a handful of really rich guys who profit off the backs of people like Osaka slightly richer.

Day 2: Osaka took her racket and went home.

She was kind enough about it in her public statement, but I hope she gave the middle finger to France as her plane took off.

Her statement went deeper into the mental health issues.

Tennis and the media immediately changed their tune. The once-scoffing media hoped she got the help she needed. Tennis made apologetic burping noises.

But, hey, let’s be clear here: Fuck both the media and tennis.

The news media have no credibility in the common person’s house. The news is just weak sapling hanging off the edge of the entertainment industry trying to gain eyeballs through trickery and pandering.

They pump so much anxiety into the air, they ought to be considered a threat to the environment.

I have no sympathy for that devil anymore.

If nothing else, can we at least admit there’s not a goddamn thing worth a damn that comes out of post-game news conferences?

Reporter: What were you thinking when you double-faulted and lost the match?

Athlete: I thought, “Shit, one of you assholes is going to bring this up later and ask me some dumb fucking question like that.”

My late friend Joe Pollack was a celebrated media figure in St. Louis for decades. He told wonderful stories from his time as the public relations man for the St. Louis Cardinals football team.

“Sports writing,” he used to say, “was ruined the day they started interviewing athletes.”

As for tennis, I hope the greedy hustlers in charge learned something about who really has the power in that relationship: Osaka.

She’s the one people are paying and tuning in to see.

Be mindful of that when you think you can put the smack down on her like she works for you. She doesn’t. You work for her.

As for Osaka, like I said, I didn’t know anything about her.

Now, I’m a huge fan.

We’re fellow travelers on the mental health journey. I don’t pretend to know her exact struggles but note this: She’s one of the best in the world at a pro sport, but she’s living with a health condition.

Nobody can tape it up or apply ice to it, but it can be treated. How she treats it is none of my business. It’s no one’s business.

But if you ever wonder why people talk about stigma and mental health, it’s this kind of bullshit. She asked for one accommodation, and there was an avalanche of jerks rushing to keyboards and mics to out-asshole one another to tell her to get in line and quit whining.

I’ve lived with anxiety and depression for a long time. I am a good writer. I was once a good journalist. I’m studying to be a teacher.

Sometimes, I will look and seem fine to even my closest friends, but inside my guts are churning broken glass and nails.

But here’s the thing I keep telling everybody: Mental health is just health.

Think about it this way: If Osaka had high blood pressure or a blood sugar problem, people would understand that. They might even think it was brave of her to play with those potentially life-threating ailments.

Mental health is also potentially life threatening but can be treated. People who live with those ailments can do anything they want with their lives. Osaka proves that.

So, media people, shut the fuck up. Nobody wants to hear from you about anything.

Tennis bosses? Get it together and treat your players like humans, not characters in a video game.

And Osaka? You do you. When you get back to the courts, you’ll have one more fan.

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

des moines, 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. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.
baseball, des moines, humor, News, sports

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

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

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

The obvious answer is Des Moines.

Here’s nine reasons why:

  1. We could probably get Caitlin Clark to throw out the first pitch and Luka Garza to sing the national anthem.
  2. We have Froot Loops pizza.
  3. Imagine the social media boom when sluggers get their picture taken on the rocket ship slide and carousel at Union Park.
  4. Raygun will make a T-shirt.
  5. The local Gannett Outlet Store will do so many stories on it, you guys. So. Many. Stories.
  6. We gave hundreds of millions in tax breaks to Google, Facebook and Apple — some of the world’s richest companies — to put warehouses full of servers in farm fields. Our legislators are willing to peel the gold off the Capitol dome to associate themselves with greedy corporate hustlers who run MLB.
  7. We love competition. Example: Iowa hosts the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses, a contest in the presidential nomination process that is so important the winner is sometimes settled by a coin flip a week after everyone has moved on. Think what we could do to speed up a baseball game!
  8. When Iowa disenfranchises voters, we still allow beverages for those waiting in line, unlike those creeps in Georgia. Those beverages could be Major League Baseball’s officially sponsored sufferage drink
  9. Lots of old white men in this town — MLB’s target audience.
Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. Venmo: @newsmanon. PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.
baseball, des moines, humor, Iowa, life, sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sports Illustrated is terrible now and Baseball Weekly is dead.

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

Yet something is missing. Baseball needs storytellers.

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

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

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

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

Baseball’s story is fading.

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

Stuff my dad texts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel P. Finney knows he hasn’t written in a while. He’s trying to figure out a new job and go to school and manage his mental health and an arthritic knee in the middle of a goddamn pandemic. Things are stressful and sometimes, as much as he wants to, he just doesn’t have the energy for paragraphs. But like all things in life, it’s a work in progress.

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 is underway. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

humor, sports

If nobody recognizes you but you are you really you? The ironies of online identity

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

I recently went online to buy a pair of pants.
The store wanted me to log in. I’m a valued customer, they tell me. I’ll want to collect all my reward points.

Reward? That sounds nice. I’ll log in.

Except I have no idea what my password is. I buy about three pair of pants a year. I don’t remember the last time I bought a pair.

I admit defeat to the pants peddlers. They send me an email with a temporary password. I punch that in. Then they want me to pick a new password.

I do.

I failed to use the correct combination of numbers, letters and symbols.

Try again.

Oops. You can’t use a previous password.

OK. I finally got one to work.

The website takes me out to the storefront.

I find the pair of pants I want. I pick out a nice T-shirt, too.

I go to check out.

They want me to sign in again.

No problem. I just set the password.

And … I forgot it.

I buy the pants anonymously. Damn the reward points.

I like online shopping. I’m not one for gatherings or crowds. I like to pick out the thing I want, buy it and have it delivered without contact with another human.

I know lots of people who prefer original-recipe shopping. I understand that. That’s how I buy comic books and shoes. Superhero stories and footwear are products that must be gathered in person.

But most other things I prefer to buy online, even groceries.

The biggest drawback to online shopping is the tracking. I buy a toy at one website and then go read the Wall Street Journal. There, the ads offer to sell me other toys of the same vintage. Sometimes the ads go as far as to suggest toys that I recently looked at online.

I was trying to read Jason Gay’s sports columns. I’m all done buying toys for today, thank you.

I was lucky to be able to get into the Wall Street Journal website.

I have no idea what my password is for that site. The Journal seems to remember me wherever I go or whatever device I’m using.

This is rare for an online newspaper website. I have a few subscriptions. I log in and click a box that says it will keep me logged in on the device I’m using.

At best, this works for two or three days. Then it’s back to hunting for a password.

This seems nice. This is how old-school shopping worked. You walked in and the shopkeeper greeted you. They knew your favorites and made recommendations.

I suppose that’s like what those ads I complained about do, but when a computer does it, it feels creepy.

When James from the comic store does it, I’m fine with it. When an algorithm does it, it annoys me.

Anyway, facial recognition seems nice except during a pandemic. I look at my phone most often during the workday – when I’m wearing a mask. The phone doesn’t know me. Then I enter a password. This one I have memorized.

I’m tired of logging into things. This is probably why I watch so much football.

Football never asks me to log in. It only asks me to endure the inanities of Joe Buck and Cris Collinsworth.  

I wouldn’t mind a username and password that let me log into a special broadcast of a football game that had no commentators.

I guess these are small problems.

But I think it is part of the overall exhaustion of modern American life that people are constantly forced to prove who they are.

It’s ironic. All this technology is supposed to bring us together, but hackers and hustlers endlessly attempt to steal from us, especially our data. So, we must prove who we are and maybe, after a while, we wonder who we really are if nobody can remember but us.

But this is no time for philosophy.

I’m going to read a comic book where things blow up and the good guys win.

No login required.

Daniel P. Finney wields a semicolon like a samurai sword.

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.

comics, des moines, humor, Iowa, News, People, politics, Pop Culture, sports

HOT SHEET: How I’m getting ready to start my career in local television news

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, Paragraph Stacker, 24th Street bureau, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM FIRST: I start my new job as an assignment editor for WOI-DT on Monday. The only thing I know about television is how to watch one. I decided to turn to the best possible source to prepare myself for joining broadcast media: movies. Here are five flicks I’m watching to get ready for my new TV job:

  1. “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”
  2. “Network”
  3. “Broadcast News”
  4. “The China Syndrome”
  5. “Good Night and Good Luck”

ITEM TWO: Today is new comics Wednesday. Let’s talk shop:

  1. Darth Vader: The Heart of the Sith Vol. 1— The story picks up in the hours after Vader cuts off Luke Skywalker’s hand and lets the young Jedi know who his daddy is. Vader vows revenge on the Rebellion and the people who made Luke such a wimp, but first he has some questions of his own he wants answered. First, how did Padme survive the force choke fallen Jedi Anakin Skywalker put on her, and who delivered baby Luke into this world? To find the answer, Vader traces Padme’s final days and crosses paths with Padme’s old pals from Naboo. Again, Marvel proves it knows how to handle “Star Wars” characters better than the people who make the movies. This is Vader as we all dreamed of seeing him: pissed off, cutting people in half with lightsabers and just too much of a force to be reckoned with — even for giant sea monsters. The first trade paperback of the latest Vader series is on sale now.
  • Star Wars: Bounty Hunters Vol. 1 — What Vader gives to “Star Wars” comics, Bounty Hunters takes away. That’s not quite fair. The story centers on a comics character resurrected from the original Marvel comics of the 1970s and 80s, which were often mediocre to terrible. There’s Boba Fett, the most overrated character in “Star Wars” lore, and Bossk, a reptilian bounty hunter who makes for a better action figure than character in a story. The story deals with a protection job gone wrong, some mafia clans and other jibber jabber that just doesn’t entice more reading. The art isn’t for me. I’m always hesitant to criticize art because even the worst comic book creators make things more beautiful than I could ever create. Still, this artwork feels like posed shots that belong in pin-up galleries or sold as paintings at conventions rather than pages of a comic. It lacks action and sense of motion. But I know Boba Fett and bounty hunters as a concept sell, so a lot of “Star Wars” fans might want to give this trade paperback a look.
  • Green Lantern Season Two Vol. 1 — Writer Grant Morrison and artist Liam Sharp team for some of the best Green Lantern stories in decades. Morrison is one of modern comics’ geniuses. His stories are trippy, fun and balance badassery with a hint of Silver Age fun. Sharp’s artwork is so tremendous one might be convinced this is why God invented pencils.
  • Batwoman/Catwoman No. 1 — Writer Tom King shaped the love story between Batman and Catwoman like no other creator before him. That story propelled through his entire 85-issue run on “Batman.” This issue begins a special year-long story about Batman and Catwoman set after the events of “City of Bane,” during which Catwoman nursed a broken Batman back to health in order to defeat Bane and an alternate version of his father, Thomas Wayne. I’m looking forward to this comic more than any other on the schedule. I usually wait for trade paperbacks for stories, but I’m buying this in single issues.

ITEM THREE: A recent study found that when people preface a statement with the phrase “with all due respect” the thing that followed was in no way respectful in 100% of cases.

ITEM FOUR: A joke from a Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” from the 1970s: “A new record is out that teaches people how to have better sex. It encourages couples to play the record in the act. There’s already been a tragedy. One couple put the record on at 78 instead of 33. Services are this week.”

ITEM FIVE: This is the best #2020 thing ever and of course it comes from a collaboration between Taylor Swift and Ryan Reynolds:

ITEM SIX: One of the few things I know about English soccer leagues is the concept of relegation. The poorest performing teams are sent down to a lower league and the better performing teams are brought up to play at the highest level. Such a thing would have been a mercy to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who posted 20 consecutive losing seasons from 1993 to 2012. It similarly would be a mercy to Chicago Bears fans to see the Bears sent down to the Big 12 or the Pac-12 for a couple of seasons. Let Ohio State or Alabama have a go at the pros. Their college programs are damn near that good anyway. Anything to ease the suffering of Bears fans who have to watch a team without an offense, a quarterback, a competent coach and general manager play pro football games against bonafide NFL winners such as the Green Bay Packers.

ITEM LAST: I was overwhelmed with the kind notes, messages and well-wishes after the announcement of my new job. I plan to continue to write for this blog. There will be no more politics talk and the profanity will be scaled back to PG-13 levels. As for what I’m going to be doing at WOI, well, I don’t know yet. I do know I won’t be on camera and that’s a blessing to everyone including me. I will be working with our team of reporters, anchors and producers. And I’ll be doing some reporting and writing for the WeAreIowa.com website. Frankly, it’s good to have something to look forward to each day besides more worry. Unemployment is a crushing mishmash of depression and anxiety. You’re depressed because your old shop sent you packing and even though they tell you it’s not personal, it sure as hell feels that way. It’s anxious because the money goes fast and when you start to wonder if you’re going to be living at the YMCA by this time next month, your guts churn. So at the risk of one more political comment, having been through what I’ve been through and knowing millions of Americans are still going through, I hope Congress and the new president figure out a stimulus bill as soon as possible to help everyone who wasn’t as lucky as I was to find a job in the middle of a pandemic.

Daniel P. Finney is getting down to this sick beat.

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, Iowa, Media, News, sports, TV

HOT SHEET THANKSGIVING: Where I can say any damn thing I want because I know no one is reading

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

ITEM FIRST: Today is Thanksgiving, which is the American festival of its two most sacred traditions: gluttony and football.

ITEM TWO: Friday is Black Friday, which is the celebrates Americas’ other sacred tradition: spending money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need in the name of Jesus, who, as the Bible tells us, loved a good deal.

ITEM THREE: The ol’ Paragraph Stacker spent Thanksgiving morning watching Johnny Carson reruns on PlutoTV. The episode was from the early 1970s during the Energy Crisis. Carson mention gas prices were up to 62 cents. There’s nothing like an old TV show to remind that things can always get worse.

ITEM FOUR: Idea for new late night talk show: “Sitting At Home Waiting for Death.”

ITEM FIVE: COVID-19 is like we’re all living in a hospice — except without the morphine drip.

ITEM SIX: [Insert cliché, perfunctory list of people and things the typist is thankful for here.]

ITEM SEVEN: A turkey is the de facto mascot of Thanksgiving, which seems fine until you consider that it’s the only major holiday to have a mascot that gets eaten as a part of the celebration. That’s dark, America. Very dark.

ITEM EIGHT: BREAKING NEWS … sister station WKRP-AM in Cincinnati reports the Pinedale Shopping Mall has been “bombed with live turkeys.” We will update as more news becomes available.

ITEM NINE: Are you falling asleep during the football game because of the tryptophan in the turkey or because the football game is a turkey? The world may never know.

ITEM TEN: Folks, a lot of us will be traveling this season after enjoying a little or a lot of holiday cheer. So, please, PLEASE, be mindful of your blood-gravy levels.

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.