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.

des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, People

HOT SHEET: The joy of mother’s cooking when we can’t be together

Seconds, please.

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

ITEM ONLY: I ate my mother’s food on Thanksgiving Day.

This simple declarative sentence would be unimpressive in any other year.

But we know damn well this is not any other year.

This is the year of COVID, social distancing and lockdowns.

Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my parents died, delivered turkey with all the fixings to my apartment at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

I greeted them in my robe, slippers and, of course, a mask.

They wore masks, too.

Mom 2.0 gave instructions on reheating.

I took the box lid full of food in my arms.

My parents drove off to make similar deliveries to others in the family.

We didn’t hug.

We didn’t bump elbows.

That’s not really our family style.

The love was in the box.

Mom 2.0 called about a week before Thanksgiving. She discovered a frozen turkey in the basement deep freeze of their stately east Des Moines manor.

She decided she would cook a big dinner with all the fixings. She and Dad 2.0 would eat at home together and then go delivering meals to the family.

Thanksgiving is fellowship and family. COVID stole that from many of us this year.

Our family is old-fashioned. We like turkey on Thanksgiving and we listen to doctors when they tell us to social distance and wear masks in a pandemic.

I have not tasted my mother’s cooking in nearly a year. We gathered for Christmas. I got pneumonia in February. COVID and social distancing came in March.

My parents are healthy, but they are both 71. I am 45, obese with occasional asthma.

The desire to get together grew with each passing week of the pandemic. It just seemed like a bad idea.

I couldn’t live with the idea that I brought potentially life-threatening sickness to Parents 2.0, these beautiful souls who rescued me in my mid-teens when I was so vulnerable and alone.

In the strictest sense of the word, I was alone Thanksgiving Day.

But if I closed my eyes, I could see my mom as she streaked through the kitchen, checked the turkey, chopped the veggies for the salad, mixed the stuffing, stirred the gravy and yanked the scalloped corn out of the oven just as the top layer got crispy.

I could see my dad, too. There aren’t many roles for others in my mom’s kitchen. She is both maestro and orchestra.

But there are a thousand honey-dos. Set the table. Bring the cook a glass of water with ice. Run the beaters through the mashed potatoes to knock out the last of the lumps.

And, of course, cut the turkey with the fancy double-bladed electric knife. Dad 2.0 is a wiz on that thing.

I ignored my mom’s admonition to reheat. The food was still warm enough and my desire outpaced the time it would take to put it on a sturdier plate for the microwave.

The first bite of gravy-soaked dressing answered a prayer I did not know I had whispered.

I tried to pace myself, but I cleared the plate of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, scalloped corn, gravy and tossed salad in Italian dressing faster than I wanted.

I spent time with my slice of rhubarb pie.

The only thing I made myself was the cranberry jelly. All that took was a can opener and a spoon.

I texted my folks a picture of my empty plate with the caption, “Seconds?”

True to parental form, they answered, “You’d be sorry if you did.”

My belly full, I drifted asleep during the dull football games.

On Wednesday, I sat down at this computer to type an upbeat holiday column. I struggled. My life is rich and full in many ways, but I am greedy. I miss my family and friends.

So, I wrote a few Thanksgiving jokes and went on with the day.

But by the holiday’s end and after that lovely meal, I had no trouble counting the things I was thankful for.

Believe it or not, he’s walking on air. He never thought he could feel so free. Flyin’ away on a wing and a prayer, who could it be? Believe it or not, it’s Daniel P. Finney.

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, Faith and Values, Iowa, News

It may be July 4, but it’s not a real Fourth of July

Photo by Alex Jones via Unsplash

The calendar claims today is Independence Day.
I refuse to believe it.
This may be July 4, but it’s not a real Fourth of July.

If this were a real Fourth of July, my late Grandpa Rogers’ veteran flag would hang in the garage on the opposite wall from his old neighbor, Mr. Arpy. Both men served in World War II.

If this were a real Fourth of July, scores of flags on wooden stakes placed carefully among the rainbow of flowers in the yard of Parents 2.0’s east Des Moines estate would flutter in the whatever lame breeze the hot, humid day could muster.

If this were a real Fourth of July, Mom 2.0 would slice potatoes into the biggest bowl in the house and stir it in with yellow mustard, mayo, dill pickles, red onions and other delights to make the most wonderful potato salad anyone has ever tasted.

If this were a real Fourth of July, Dad 2.0 would set up all the lawn chairs and loungers on the driveway in front of the garage and fiddle with the CD player to get patriotic music playing through a pair of old school intercom speakers harvested from the ruins of a long-gone elementary school.

If this were a real Fourth of July, my Aunt Juli would walk up the driveway with a crockpot filled with a nacho bean dip with more cheese than is legally allowed.

If this were a real Fourth of July, my Grandma Newcomb, age 92, would dotter up the driveway with a jug of iced tea — made mostly for her and me to drink in the heat.

If this were a real Fourth of July, my best friend, Paul, would have flown up from Memphis. We would swill sangria made from a concoction of cheap wine, booze and fruits while we watched the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

If this were a real Fourth of July, deck chairs would surround the pool at my apartment complex. People young and old would cannonball into the deep end and drink beer in the hot sun and the water would be the warmest it had been all summer.

If this were a real Fourth of July, the Iowa Cubs would play a ballgame at Principal Park and fireworks would explode in the night sky after the game.

If this was a real Fourth of July, I might shower and turn on the police scanner to cover the night cop beat, which on most holidays would consist of a lot of fireworks noise complaints.

But this is not a real Fourth of July.

The coronavirus pandemic has us by the throat.

My parents cancelled their annual Fourth of July picnic for the first time in the 44 years they owned their home.

A lot of older people — including my parents — attend the event. No one wants COVID-19 to cut through their whole family like a forest fire.

They held the hot dog eating contest at Coney Island, but it was indoors, with fewer competitors and spectators wearing masks and face shields. It wasn’t the same. This is the era of everything being a little off.

My friend Paul is adrift in the economic woes of a business badly battered by the pandemic. His job has survived. Many others haven’t.

Instead of taking a trip to Des Moines to visit his old friend, he worked Saturday, as he does many weekends, trying to catch up on a backlog of projects caused by a continually diminishing workforce at his office.

I’m not getting ready for work because I lost my job in May, a causality of a corporate synergy and coronavirus economic woes.

Even if I were working the cop beat tonight, the scanner almost certainly would crackle with tales of a protest against racial injustice. Please God, let it be peaceful and let everyone go home alive.

There will be no Iowa Cubs game at Principal Park because the minor league season was cancelled, a casualty of coronavirus.

We will do better on minor league baseball in Des Moines, where there’s hope of baseball next season.

Our neighbors in Burlington, Clinton and the Quad Cities, whose teams are scheduled for elimination by the greedy hustlers who run Major League Baseball, won’t even get a final season.

There won’t be pro baseball of any kind this July 4 because those same greedy hustlers in Major League Baseball spent months arguing about money while a country endured a pandemic and painful reckoning with racism.

The pool is open, but there are no chairs and masks and social distancing are encouraged.

My grandma will spend the day in her assisted living center, as she has almost every day since early March. My mom will call her mother, but visits are still limited.

Yes, this is July 4 by the calendar, but it is not the Fourth of July so many of us love.

Things are not right and they don’t look to be right for a good long while.

After the holiday, the nation faces the punishing prospect of the upcoming presidential election — almost certainly to be ugly and devoid of even a thin veneer of decency.

No one knows when this terrible virus will be curtailed. And despite efforts to sugarcoat the economic story, tens of millions of Americans, yes, including me, remain unemployed without good prospects or a Congress with enough motivation and decency to pass a second stimulus.

If this were a real Fourth of July, I will feel fellowship with family and friends, the warmth of sun on my skin and fireworks reflecting in my eyes.

I might have a swell of pride for my country, a hint of optimism for the future.

Tonight, some of my neighbors will likely shoot off some legal fireworks. If this were a real Fourth of July, I might go out and watch.

But this is not a real Fourth of July. It’s just another day in the Land of Things That Are Not OK.

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.