des moines, humor, Iowa, Movies, News, Pop Culture, sports, TV

HOT SHEET: This David Letterman may actually need an introduction; more silly jokes to learn and say; and the Big Ten is back

Friday, Oct. 23, 2020

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

ITEM ONE: Netflix released the third season of “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman” earlier this week — and goodness, it is good to see Dave again, even if this series is the most serious to date.

Letterman post-“Letterman” provides a remarkable view of a man confronting the meaning of his life and pushing himself to be more than a retired late night talk show host. This is not to denigrate the unassailable accomplishments of Letterman as a broadcaster, comedian and host. It does, however, suggest that Letterman has seen more to life than the next zippy one-liner for the Top Ten.

He essentially apologized to former President Barack Obama for his ignorance of racial justice issues in the first season of the series in 2018. He travelled to India to illuminate the potential for renewable energy and the challenge faced by the scattershot power grid for a 2016 National Geographic series “Years of Living Dangerously.”

Now, Letterman meets with Kim Kardashian West, where the retired host says he underestimated her intelligence and talents — the kind of thing a man might do as he wrestled with issues of sexism and gender inequity in society. He discusses comedian David Chappell’s raw, powerful special after the death of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police and delves into the history of the small Ohio town where Chappell lives.

Perhaps Letterman is an avatar for America at the end of another long, punishing election cycle. We’ve been forced to confront a lot of terrible and sad things about our nation’s history and present while the pandemic disrupted nearly every aspect of daily life.

One hopes Letterman represents a generation of Americans who find their country needful of thoughtful consideration and meaningful conversation instead of more rage, anguish and bad craziness in the age of outrage.

Whether that metaphor holds is a matter to be determined, but at any rate, the series is first rate and worth the investment of eyeball time.

ITEM TWO: The New York Times published a thoughtful look into Iowa’s economic struggles in the pandemic despite the lack of a lockdown seen in states with liberal governors. The typist expressed his fears about his beloved neighborhood Jethro’s in previous columns. The pandemic crushed small-concert venue Vaudeville Mews, even though it is allowed open with social distancing protocols.

Hot Sheets belabors the point that an impotent Congress and incompetent White House’s failure to pass a stimulus harms not just the typist and his fellow unemployed Americans, but the economy as a whole. America’s economy is 70% consumption — buying stuff. The pandemic has put a squeeze on discretionary money and with the biggest buying season of the year — Christmas — already underway, a mild or poor holiday shopping season could multiple the business closures exponentially.

Remember this as you vote, friends. Your government failed you. But, in the end, we the people are the government. With the power fo the vote, we can make sure our country does not fail.

ITEM THREE: Purists will always argue the best James Bond was the original, Sean Connery. The typist concedes Connery’s Bond defined the character, but the typist favors Pierce Brosnan’s “Goldeneye” as the best movie in the series if for no other reason than Brosnan’s Bond chased rogue Russian villains with a tank through Red Square.

However, perhaps the most Bond, James Bond film of them all is “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” with the highly criticized George Lazenby in the lead. But the villain’s lair in the Swiss Alps combined with the fantastic ski chase and the tragic death of Diana Rigg’s Contessa make it the typist’s No. 2 despite Lazenby being only slightly off as Bond.

These are the kind things a man considers watching round-the-clock Bond movies on Pluto TV.

ITEM FOUR: Four more silly jokes to learn and say for Beggars’ Night in Des Moines:

Q: Why don’t lobsters share?

A: Because they are shellfish.

Q: What did the horse say when he tripped?

A: Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t giddy-up.

Q: What prize do you get for putting your phone on vibrate?

A: The no bell prize.

Q: Who took the frog’s car?

A: It was toad.

ITEM FIVE: The National Weather Service predicts snow Sunday into Sunday evening with totals up to 6 inches in some areas. One to two inches of snow are expected in the metro. Or, as it will be reported on local television, “THOUSANDS FLEE AS WHITE DEATH FALLS FROM SKY!”

ITEM LAST: The Big Ten makes its return to football competition this weekend. They planned to play in the spring because of the pandemic. Then the schools realized their entire athletic budgets depended on football. So they decided to play a shortened season and at least get some money. The Pac-12, which also cancelled its own cancellation, returns next week.

The typist would just like to point out that of the five power conference involved in the college football playoff system, three of them have numbers in their name: The Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12. Of those, only one of those conferences accurately infers the number of teams in the conference. The Big Ten has 14 teams. The Big 12 has 10 teams. Only the Pac-12 actually has 12 teams, though one of them is Colorado and no one is sure if that counts.

It’s a sad state of affairs in American when so many associations of institutions of higher learning can’t fucking count.

Daniel P. Finney was a roadie for Metallica on the Speed of Sound Tour. Buncha assholes.

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, Newspapers, People, politics, Pop Culture

HOT SHEET: If you can figure out what this Hot Sheet is about, you could work for the CIA

Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020

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

ITEM ONE: Remember when everyone thought COVID-19 could be defeated by hoarding toilet paper? The typist just cracked the plastic on the first roll of TP he bought in the hoarding phase in March. 

ITEM TWO: Vice President Mike Pence and challenger Kamala Harris will be separated by plexiglass for their debate Wednesday. This is the only way Pence is comfortable being in the same room with a woman who’s not his wife

ITEM THREE: The typist recently ate a breakfast sandwich from Starbucks. It made him rethink his maxim that the worst meal he ever had was wonderful. 

ITEM 4: Has been suspended for 81 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. He was found curled up in tech support with a former Mets clubhouse boy and a Hy-Vee sack of Adderall. 

ITEM FIVE: The typist is amused when local radio stations proudly state they are “terrestrial” stations as opposed to those bastards in satellite radio. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker wants true extra-terrestrial radio. He, for one, wants to receive messages from the Vogons when they show up to destroy Earth to make way for another hyperspace throughway. 

ITEM SIX: The previous joke included a reference to Douglas Adams’ sci-fi comedy masterpiece “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” If you have not read it, stop reading the Hot Sheet, acquire a copy of the book and read it at once. The typist takes no responsibility if you laugh so much you pee your pants.

ITEM SEVEN: Two trains leave stations 60 miles apart at the same time heading toward one another on parallel tracks. Train A is traveling 30 miles per hour, while Train B is going 50 miles per hour. When do they pass each other?

ITEM EIGHT: The Hot Sheet has joked. The Hot Sheet has scolded. The Hot Sheet has begged. Now the typist is on the verge of giving in to despair. Congress and the White House have failed to act on a stimulus bill to help America’s unemployed and struggling, numbering at about 21 million nationwide. That number includes me, the ol’ Paragraph Stacker. He has faithfully searched for employment as he started graduate school to become a high school teacher, hoping that our political leaders could put aside their pettiness for the good of the American people and produce a package that enhanced unemployment benefits and gave a stimulus check. The latest news from CNBC quotes Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, as saying both sides remain far apart. The typist foolishly held to the notion that political leaders would act in the best interest of people, if not with everyday legislation, at least in crisis. The typist was wrong. The typist now firmly believes both Democrats and Republicans would rather let this matter fall apart, make Americans suffer and go home to their voters and say, “See, it’s those other jerks who are screwing this up. Vote in more people from my tribe.” Americans don’t trust their government and have grown weary of its impotence. This failure to negotiate in good faith and to reach compromise is a betrayal of the people our Congress serves at a core level. Our government does not have our backs. The typist doesn’t wish to encourage cynicism in advance of an election, but forgive the ol’ Paragraph Stacker if he feels like it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference who occupies those high offices, because in the end, we’re all screwed.

ITEM LAST: The typist is profoundly humbled by the many cards and letters he’s received by postal mail in support of this site and those who have donated money to support it. That money supports not only fees to keep this website independent, but also helps a middle-aged graduate student turn his life around and become a teacher. It embarrasses the typist to solicit money — and he would remind everyone that he thinks no less of those who can’t or choose not to — but if you wish to contribute, the information on how to send money can be found at this link: https://paragraphstacker.com/donations/. In addition, Daniel P. Finney can be found on Venmo and Zelle. The typist thanks all of you for your eyeballs and your kindness. When he lost his job at the local corporate news outlet store, he thought the time of people reading his words were over. You have given the typist new life. He remains humbled and honored.

Daniel P. Finney sleeps ion bedsheets with a pattern of buck-toothed red and blue sharks.

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.

Iowa, People, sports

MLB is telling rural Iowa it doesn’t matter

Photo by Jon Eckert via Unsplash

Major League Baseball keeps making me angrier.
The players and owners continue to squabble about money while Americans suffer through a necessary-but-excruciatingly painful national confrontation with racism, the coronavirus pandemic and unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Baseball ceases being fun when sports writers become labor negotiation writers. No one cares about this. They just want to watch some games.

MLB was already on my turd list even before the pandemic. They plan to gut the minor leagues, a move that would destroy 42 teams — including three Iowa clubs.

The Burlington Bees, Clinton LumberKings and Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, all Class A affiliates, die under the plan and it looks like nothing can save them. The Cedar Rapids Kernels are exempted from extermination as are the Class AAA Iowa Cubs in Des Moines.

Some teams, like the urban Staten Island Yankees, a short-season club owned by the New York Yankees, might be saved by their MLB partners.

But good luck to clubs in communities like Burlington, Clinton and Davenport. Burlington and Clinton are cities of about 26,000 each, midsized by Iowa standards but small compared to the big cities MLB clubs make their home.

Davenport, with a population nearly 100,000, is Iowa’s third-largest city. Davenport is one of five cities in the Quad Cities that combine for a population of about 385,000. One would think MLB could squeeze a few bucks out of baseball fans in these communities, but it’s chump change compared to the big cities.

Make no mistake, because the message is clear, MLB doesn’t give a good goddamn about fans outside the big TV market cities. This is a poke in the eye to every lover of baseball in rural America or in a city less than 1 or 2 million people.

Actually, it’s far more than a poke — it’s a stab right in the heart of the identities of these communities.

“The implied message, intended or not, is you’re not viable, you’re not important,” said Paul Lasley, Iowa State University professor of sociology who focuses on rural American life. “They’ve crunched the numbers and said the return on investment is not paying off and they’re willing to lose fan loyalty and community support to get rid of it.”

Rural Iowa has faced consolidation in a slow march to extinction for almost 100 years. Schools close and consolidate. All but a handful of the state’s 99 counties continue to shrink each year. Post offices close. Iowans feel their identity, their way of life fading away.

Now big corporate America, the billionaires who own MLB teams, are coming for minor league clubs.

No sport trades on its history as much as baseball. MLB doesn’t care. If they did, they wouldn’t be in such a hurry to wipe out the Quad Cities River Bandits. In 1858, the first baseball game west of the Mississippi was played in Davenport, home of the River Bandits who are in a very real way a descendant of baseball’s early expeditions into the Midwest and beyond.

Each of those doomed clubs boasts great players who’ve travelled through their ranks: Matt Williams, Orel Hershiser, Mike Scoscia, Dave Stewart, Grady Sizemore, Denny McClain and Steve Sax all played ball — and that’s just the Burlington Bees.

MLB’s argument is they want to streamline the minors to improve the development of players. That’s a worthy goal. There has to be a way to do that without trashing rural America.

MLB doesn’t seem to care that at every one of those soon-to-be-expunged minor league games, somebody sees a baseball game for the first time.

A kid gets a ball autographed by a bonus baby on his way to stardom. 

They buy a hat and a soft-serve ice cream in an upside-down helmet. Parents teach their kids to keep score.

Someone falls in love with this beautiful, complicated, wonderful game for the first time.

Bonds are made. Stories are told. Memories minted.

But this kind of thing isn’t worth much to MLB. They’re a money machine. Their job is to make a handful of rich, white people fractionally richer. I guess that’s almost everybody’s job in post-middle class America.

Iowa, MLB is telling you that you don’t matter.

Don’t buy it. Even if they take your teams, remember this: These people are so greedy they can’t figure out how to play baseball in one of the worst periods in American history.

Maybe it’s Major League Baseball that doesn’t matter.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

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, mental health, People, Unemployment

Dispatches from the dystopia, Vol. 1

Photo by Tamin Arafat via Upsplash

The time is 12:34 a.m. Memorial Day. A much too chipper song by David Bowie plays in my eardrums. A mugginess hangs in the apartment despite the air conditioner set at 62 degrees and me down to my skivvies hunched over this elegant laptop.

So, we’re opening up. It may not make good medicine, but it’s good business. And if our healthcare system teaches us anything, business and medicine mix a poor potion that may be profitable but hardly the tonic for wellness.

The doctors and scientists seem wary. The pandemic continues. They urge caution. The politicians and businesses say let’s get back to normal. People need to get back to work. The economy must restart or there will be more suffering than even the pandemic promises.

I see both sides of it. I really do. I don’t want anybody to get infected or die for the sake of profit. But I’m also unemployed. I need the economy to restart so people will start hiring again.

Otherwise, in a couple months I’ll be shaking a ceramic mug somewhere along an Interstate 235 offramp with a sign saying “Homeless journalist. Will tell stories for food.”

Grim? Yes. But consider unemployment in the pandemic feels like Wes Craven’s version of “Groundhog Day.” Instead of reliving the same day and becoming a slightly better person who woos Andie MacDowell, I relive the same day of sadness, anxiety, terror and boredom.

The sadness is grief from the loss of my job. The confusion of self-worth and employment is an ugly side-effect on psychology in capitalism. We are what we do.

We aren’t, of course. We’re much more than that. But it sure feels like if you’re not making money, you’re a bum gumming up the works for the pull-themselves-up-by-the-bootstraps crowd.

I live with general anxiety disorder. That means I’m scared, sometimes terrified, even when there is no reason to be edgy. But, oh buddy, you give me a reason to be edgy — and unemployment is absolutely that — look out.

I turn negative self-talk in to an art form. Give me 5 minutes in front of a mirror and I slice myself to pieces with self-loathing. Those nagging whispers that tell me how rotten I am — You’re not good enough. You were never good enough. — become almost screams in the silence of a weekday when it feels like all your friends are at work in a Microsoft Teams meeting and you’re left refreshing Indeed.com every 2 seconds.

That’s when the terror grabs hold of my throat. What if I don’t find a job? What if I get evicted? What if I have to move all this shit? A comic book collection is wicked cool when you don’t have to haul scores of volumes out to a rented truck. My Funko Pops bring me all kinds of joy until I have to wrap them individually and haul them away to charity.

A friend asked me if I could move back into my parents’ house. This was three days into my unemployment. I nearly threw up. I’m almost 45 years old. There is no going home at 45. I’ve got to figure this out. I’ve got to make it work.

And the voice whispers: What if you don’t?

Finally, boredom. The intensity of unemployment is matched only by how much it tries my patience. I can only look for a job for so many hours a day. I can only call contacts so long. And, as mean as this sounds, I can only accept so many “you got this” aphorisms.

My poor friend Yvonne endures a Facetime call from me most days. When I rant about this abominable cluster of rage and anguish, she’s taken to just staring at me sadly and saying nothing. She’s not being cruel. She just realizes there’s nothing to be said.

This sucks. And the only thing you can do is endure and attempt to overcome.

Time both stops and sprints in the same moment. It stops as I plow through month-old job listings hoping to trip the automated human resources software with the right bullshit buzzwords to earn a chance to talk to a real human being about what I can do for them.

Early evening and night are the worst in the pandemic. The city starts to shut down around 7 p.m. The window for me to talk to friends with jobs closes quickly after 8 p.m. By 9 p.m., my skin crawls anxious to do something, but know there is nothing to do and no one to talk to.

As midnight approaches, I think about taking my medication and going to sleep, yet I hesitate, because when I open my eyes, it will be yet another goddamn day I am unemployed, cut off from the news business and no direction forward.

The clock sprints when day turns to night and no progress is made. The severance checks dwindle. The deadline for the CARES Act expanded unemployment approaches.

The House talks more stimulus. The Senate tells them it won’t fly. They smash into one another like drunken rams on a mountaintop while people’s lives — including mine — tumble down the mountainside like gravel.

I cut a deal with all my friends and family. I promised them I would tell them if I got a job — hell, if I got an interview — I would tell them if, in return, they would do me the kindness of not asking me how the job search is going. The answer remains the same: shitty.

I should temper my complaint. People have overwhelmed me with well wishes and good tidings. They’ve generously supported this fledgling website’s effort to continue my newspaper column in the virtual space paid for by donations. (Thanks to everyone and keep them coming. Desperation sinks in quickly.)

Anyway, we’re opening up.

I’ve tried it.

Last Wednesday, I went to the comic store for the first time since mid-March. They handed me a heavy stack of books. I walked the aisles. I started to sweat immediately. My back ached. I leaned on a glass counter and sweat. I flipped through my stack.

The pain came from two sources. First, I suffered through pneumonia in February and March, right before the pandemic. The treatment, particularly the steroids, left my legs weak. And, of course, I ate poorly during quarantine. Sometimes pasta, breads and sweets feel like the only thing in the world that can make me feel human.

Of course that leads to weight gain and makes puts my blood sugar on a rocket to Mars. And the immobility only adds to the anxiety and sadness. I’ve convinced myself I’m dying no less than 731 times in the last month.

People say, “Take walks.” I can barely walk 100 paces before my legs feel as if I’ve run a mile. The weight is a part of it, maybe the biggest part. The truth is I’m afraid to walk too far away from my apartment or car for fear I won’t be able to get back.

Pathetic? You bet. My opinion of myself hovers somewhere slightly above whale dung. This immobility is crushing what remains of my self-esteem like a cigarette in an ashtray.

I was supposed to go to aquatic therapy in March to help rehab my legs. I’ve done it once before and it was transformative. I got strong enough to go back to the gym. But then the pandemic came. The pool closed. And I endured.

The second reason for the sweats: I couldn’t afford the books in my stack. Oh, I could have bought them and I would have still made rent. But I’m unemployed. The idea that I spent any money on comic books is ridiculous.

I felt terrible. Comic stores are small businesses that operate on narrow margins. Being closed forced a lot of people I love out of work. And they remain out of work until the economy restarts.

I wanted to support my friends, but I had to think about my own survival. I damn near cried right there in the store. I wish I had, but I just don’t cry anymore. I get six to eight tears and then I just dry up. The well of sadness drills much deeper, but my physical ability to let it go is limited.

I profusely apologized to the owner. He understood. He assured me the customers had been loyal and generous. I wished I could join them, but now is not the time.

Even with my personal discomfort, the store was off somehow. The owners wore masks. Everyone stood 6 feet apart. It was open, but only just and it felt like looking through a cracked mirror.

The same was true at the barbeque joint I frequent in the neighborhood. I grabbed a seat at the bar, one of about six. My favorite spot — over to the right of the cash register by the takeout lane — isn’t a spot right now. Bar seats, and the tables, are spaced out 6 feet. Some servers wore masks. Some didn’t. Parties were limited to six people.

The food tasted the same — delicious. But instead of using a squeezable mustard dispenser, pandemic practice calls for individual servings. So I spent a part of my meal trying to tear open those miserable little packets of mustard to put on my ham sandwich.

I drank diet pop without a straw. I could request one, but to hell with it. It’s just another damn thing. I sipped too big a gulp and coughed. A woman who waited in line for take out snapped her head around to look at me.

Do I have it? Am I going to infect her? Is this the beginning of the zombie apocalypse?

I empathize. A guy talked the the bartender about his bill. He coughed a few times while he waited. I know him to be a smoker, but that niggling worry. Am I risking too much just for a taste of freedom?

It seems like the whole world is just an uncomfortable mess right now. I suppose it isn’t as apocalyptic as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yet, nothing feels quite the way it’s supposed to.

It feels like an old transistor radio can’t get the local station despite even the gentlest of fingers on the tuner. There’s a rasp that throws off the treble of every tune. It’s better than no music, but only just.

Look, I don’t have any words of wisdom here. The only thing I know how to do is keep twisting that dial until something comes in tune. But I’m an impatient man who suffers from a severely disquieted soul.

I’d like to hear a good song any time now.

Daniel P. Finney, Independent journalist

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 in the places we live.

ParagraphStacker.com is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at paypal.me/paragraphstacker.