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.

Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, TV

To my family and friends on the occasion of Christmas, 2020

Episodes of Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” air on a special channel of PlutoTV.

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

The internet streaming service Pluto offers a channel that plays reruns of “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson,” minus the musical acts.

Watching Carson’s monologue would be an interesting way to study history. We tend to think things are the worst they’ve ever been.

If you judge by Carson’s jokes, we always have.

During a show from 1989, Carson told a joke about a TV movie about the last days of Richard Nixon as president.

“It reminded us of the terrifying days when Spiro Agnew was just a heartbeat away from the presidency,” Carson said. “Now, that doesn’t seem so bad.”

The audience laughed.

The president at the time Carson made the joke was George H.W. Bush, who was hailed as a hero of the World War II generation when he died in 2018.

Dan Quayle was vice president and the punchline of the joke.

People joked that Quayle was too young to be vice president. Editorials often depicted Quayle as a little boy. He once misspelled “potato” in front of a room full of schoolchildren.

Quayle was 42 years old when Carson made that joke in 1989.

I’m three years older than Quayle was then. I feel too old to be vice president. I’m not nearly a good enough speller.

People often talk about their past as simpler times. That’s not true.

Pluto plays Carson shows from the 1970s through the 1990s. A show from the 1970s makes jokes about inflation under Nixon.

Another episode talks about high gas prices during the energy crisis under Carter.

Carson dressed as George Washington in one gag and said fellow farmer Carter piled his manure higher.

Shows in the late 1980s poked fun at the rising Japanese investors buying up American icons such as Rockefeller Center in New York.

I doubt if you polled anyone in the audience of those Carson shows, they would have described their life as simple. Humans are complicated. Life around them is, too.

I think life was quieter then. Everybody yells these days. And technology has given a lot of people powerful tools to be louder than when they had to manually type their manifestos in cabins.

I wonder how many crazy people with truly terrible ideas just gave up because going to the post office was a hassle. They just had a beer and watched a ballgame.

2020 was a hard year both personally and for the whole world. I don’t feel like recounting all the ways why. That’s excessive and we are fully stocked on excessive.

Instead, I recall a story from my friend David Oman, former chief of staff to both Iowa Govs. Bob Ray and Terry Branstad.

The story started on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001. David picked up his son, Graham, from school.

Graham asked what was wrong. His mother usually picked him up from school. David tried to tell Graham, then-6, about the buildings attacked in New York and Washington, D.C.

“It’s a bad day,” David remembered saying.

Graham said, “I think it’s a good day.”

This shocked David. He asked his boy why he thought that.

“Well,” the child said, “today is the newest day. And somewhere somebody invented something.”

Only children can pull a thread of hope out of such grim moment. Maybe that’s the simplicity people remember. The simplicity of hope.

I hope you’re still surprised.

I hope you’re still awed.

I hope you smile often and laugh easily.

I hope you read.

I hope you imagine.

I hope you create.

I hope you have a moment in the flurry of wrapping paper, cacophony of joyful noises and bellyful of food that your mind slows down so that your thoughts fit between the ticks of a clock and you realize just how nice all of this really is.

I hope you all have a happy Christmas and a merry New Year.

With love and hope,

dpf

Daniel P. Finney is a five-time winner of the Long Winter’s Nap contest.
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.

humor, People, sports

Moments: What we can all learn about 2020 from the last day of the 1951 baseball season

Today is the last day of the Major League Baseball season.

Well, maybe.

It depends on how the St. Louis Cardinals do. They might have to play as many as two more games after today because of byzantine complications brought about by a COVID-19-shortened season that proved acute in the Cardinals’ clubhouse.

The Cardinals play for a playoff berth, a customary position for the team that trails only the New York Yankees in World Series titles won.

Another St. Louis team played for another kind of glory some 69 years ago — one that I think provides a lesson for this rugged year.

The current Baltimore Orioles once played in St. Louis as the St. Louis Browns.

They shared Sportsman’s Park with the Cardinals, but they seldom matched the success of their roommates.

Writers described St. Louis, once an industrial titan in footwear and, of course, Budweiser beer: “First in booze, first in shoes, last in the American League.”

That certainly held true in 1951. The Browns won 52 games against 102 losses and finished the year 46 games behind the New York Yankees.

But on Sunday, Sept. 30, Pitcher Ned Garver took the mound in pursuit of his 20th win.

Garver held the curious distinction of being the best player on the worst team in the league. He pitched 24 complete games in 30 starts and won 19 games with 12 losses.

Garver had won nearly 40 percent of the team’s games that year.

He possessed athleticism so great that when pitched, manager Zach Taylor batted Garver sixth. Garver hit .305 that season, an average the beat all the Browns’ regular position players.

The season had been a joke in which Browns owner Bill Veeck made the team its own punchline. Veeck signed 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to a one-game contract. Gaedel came to bat as a first-inning pinch-hitter in the second game of a doubleheader against Detroit.

Detroit pitcher Bob Cain tried to squeeze a ball into Gaedel’s strike zone, estimated at being less than 2 inches tall. Gaedel walked on four pitches and was replaced by a pinch-runner.

Garver, though, was a serious star for the Browns. Boston Red Sox hitting savant Ted Williams once said of Garver: “He could throw anything up there and get me out.”

(The Splendid Splitter was being generous. He batted .419 against Garver.)

The Chicago White Sox were in St. Louis for the final series of the year. The White Sox played to a more respectable fourth in the American League that season but were well out of the hunt that Sunday at Sportsman’s Park.

Garver retired the side in order in the first. He allowed a single to Ray Coleman in the second and walked Bud Stewart, before getting out of trouble with a strikeout and a groundout.

The Browns scored twice in the bottom of the first, including an RBI single by Garver to centerfield.

Staked to a 2-0 lead, however, Garver faltered in third and surrendered a two-run single to Ray Coleman with two outs in the frame.

St. Louis’ Earl Rapp singled in two more runs for the Browns in the third to put them up 4-2.

Again, Garver struggled with a lead. Chicago’s Joe DeMaestri hit a two-run home run to tie the game.

Garver made up for his own struggles by hitting a home run in the bottom of the fourth off Chicago’s Randy Gumpert. The Browns again led 5-4.

Garver settled and allowed just one more run on a fielder’s choice in the top of the eighth inning.

The Browns scored four more times, including a two-run home run by Fred Marsh in the fifth.

The Browns won 9-5 and Garver, the kid from the village of Ney, Ohio, pop. 350, won his 20th game.

Garver became just the second pitcher in Major League Baseball history to win 20 games for a team with 100 or more losses — and the only one to do so with a winning record.

(Irv Young went 20-21 for the Boston Braves in 1905.)

The lesson of Garver’s 20-win season should be obvious for our age. The year 2020 has been one of loss and derision from the pandemic to politics.

At times, we’ve made ourselves the punchline to the world.

But in 1951, once every four or five days, Ned Garver took the mound for the Browns and they were as good or better than any team in the American League.

We should all seek our inner Ned Garver. We should seek to be our very best even when those around us and circumstances produce the very worst.

Garver did not win those 20 games alone. He was one of nine in the lineup each game he pitched.

Those men who otherwise struggled to produce wins raised their level of play because the man on the mound knew how to win in way that they otherwise did not.

Garver could have easily thrown away the 1951 season. He could have been a joke, like Eddie Gaedel.

He chose, instead, to be outstanding.

Though the baseball season (maybe) ends today, the year 2020 is far from finished.

Remember Ned Garver and go out each day with intent to succeed.

We can still rise to be our very best amidst this parade of horrible.

Daniel P. Finney is too legit, too legit to quit.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, sports

Dear MLB players and owners: 2020 stinks and you’re making it worse

Photo: Ben Hershey via Unsplash

Dear Major League Baseball,
This year is awful enough and you’re making it worse.
Play ball already.

I get it. The coronavirus pandemic is a brutal bummer that’s fouled up just about everything in this country.

Whatever you do, someone is going to complain about it. That’s the nature of American discourse at this point.

That’s also the nature of baseball. We are fans who worry about the kind of chalk used to mark the first- and third-base lines. We don’t take well to new things.

But the thing we take to even less well is no baseball.

Remember 1994? 

Surely it takes more than 26 years for you to forget the strike that cancelled the World Series and bred a year’s worth of some of the most visceral anger ever seen outside of an MMA cage.

You screwed over the Montreal Expos’ one great chance to make the World Series. 

You may have ripped Don Mattingly’s best chance of winning the pennant out of the hands of the longtime New York Yankees first baseman. 

Both teams had the best records in their leagues when the strike wrecked the summer.

That was pain you brought on yourselves. No true fan really cares how much the owners and players make. They care about the game. 

They want to root, root, root for the home team, eat popcorn and ice cream, maybe throw 41 mph on the pitching machine under the stands.

They want to teach their kids how to keep score and why the outfielders and infielders move around when the big sluggers come up to bat.

They want to smell fresh-cut grass and stale domestic beer.

So in the pandemic, the fans can’t go to the parks. That stinks, but you better believe we would watch on TV.

Hell, we’ve been watching Korean baseball at 4 a.m.

Yesterday, we caught ourselves watching a video game competition on the internet.

Please, please, please play some games.

Nobody really cares how many games: 82, 114, 76 or 89.

Just play.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Derrick Gould, who covers the Cardinals, tweeted this: “There are more reasons for there to be baseball than reasons for there not to be. I see more ways for MLB to return and play than ways it does not happen.”

That sounds positive. Derrick is a smart guy, even-handed, not the kind of guy who goes around throwing his opinions about like a lunatic. That’s what I do.

I started to feel a little swell in my chest that things were going to finally be OK.

But the old journalistic maxim is: “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.” (This kind of talk is probably why most of America hates us.)

Against my better judgement, I texted Michael Gartner, owner of the Iowa Cubs. I asked if he thought they would get any games in at Principal Park this season.

“I don’t know,” he wrote back. “I don’t think anyone knows.”

Damnit.

Look, baseball is entertainment. Of the problems this country faces right now from the pandemic to confronting racism, baseball should be low on the list.

That said, everybody — even the most ardent protester, even the most socially distanced first responder, even the most unemployed independent newsman — needs a break.

And baseball is the break we need.

No, I don’t want owners to go broke for short-term good tidings. 

And, yes, I want players to be compensated for the risks they take playing in the middle of a pandemic.

I don’t know what the right number is for either of those problems.

What both players and owners should aim for is a July 4 start. It’s a Saturday. It’s the middle of summer. Fireworks at every stadium. 

Everybody understands 2020 is screwed. It won’t be like other summers, especially if there’s only a few or no fans at the park.

Noted and accepted.

Now, play ball.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.