Thursday, August 21, 2014


“Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt”
-          The Roman satirist Juvenal (circa 100 a.d.)

The primaries are finally history. Thank God! No more shameless political pandering for a while. Sadly, though, we’ve only got about a one month reprieve before it all starts up again.

If you’re anything like Nancy and me your days and nights have been interrupted incessantly by politicians violating the sanctity of your homes. One minute it was “Vote the old carpetbagger out.” The next it was, “Have you seen those Facebook photos?”

If I’d gotten one more robo-call I’d have ripped the telephone off the wall. That was about the only way I could stop them. I find it odd that I can keep telemarketers from pestering me, but not politicians. Like so much they do, they carve out exemptions for themselves when they pass laws. Somehow I cling to the hope that justice will someday prevail. Every once in a while I channel my inner Dante and I see politicians stoking the blast furnaces and walking on hot coals in the deepest bowels of hell for all eternity.

About a week before the primary, Pat Roberts sauntered into town, pandering for all he was worth. He hadn’t been in town very long at all when Milton Wolf set up shop not far from him, itching for a chance to have it out, rhetorically speaking. I was hoping for some fireworks, maybe even a Lincoln-Douglas style debate on the street, but the good senator nixed the idea. “Milton, Milton,” he scolded. “This is not the time.”  The surrogates started to circle around one another and I thought we might get treated to a confrontation.  Visions of future dime novels and legends danced in my head. Twenty-second century Emporians might get to see classic westerns like “The Dustup at Dynamic Discs” or “Gunfight at the Granada.” There might even be room for film noir. How does “Catastrophe on Commercial” sound?

But it wasn’t to be. The two camps parted ways and set off for other campaign stops. Apparently, we weren’t the only Kansas town in need of bread and circuses.

Looking back at it now, I think it would have been fun to see a slobber knocker of a debate. If I’d been Pat Roberts, I would have told my surrogates to grab a couple of stools and then instructed the media king-makers to grab their microphones and notepads and pay attention. If I’d been Milton Wolf, I’d have done the debate a la Clint Eastwood.

When I started this essay I cited the Roman satirist Juvenal’s famous words about bread and circuses. I’m sure that when he wrote them he had men like Nero and Domitian in mind. But, Juvenal was apparently a man for all ages, as evidenced by the spectacle of Kansas politics we got to see played out on Commercial Street. It was all very cheap and very tawdry, but I guess that’s the nature of politics in Kansas and everywhere else nowadays. As Libertarian author P.J. O’Rourke once put it, “Politics violates not only the first commandment about who’s God, but it violates the other nine as well. Politics could hardly function without bearing false witness. Likewise, without taking the Lord’s name in vain.”

After all the political posturing and robo-calls, I actually did vote, in part because Nancy insisted and, in part to placate my buddy Tom Haskett, who is forever telling me that if I don’t vote I don’t have the right to complain. Well, Tom, if you happen to read this, I did vote and I am complaining. It’s a right I’ve really earned this year.

About a week after the primary I had a brief conversation with Don Hill, who ran unopposed in the primary and will almost certainly win in the general election. I like Don. Unlike most politicians, he’s not thin-skinned. He’s an all-around nice guy. He makes his constituents feel comfortable and safe. I think if you put a trench coat on him, he’d be a dead ringer for McGruff, the Crime Dog.  I issued a mock threat to chase him around town when the next primary comes around. I think he knew it was an empty threat, because he chuckled a bit in response. Don will keep on running unopposed as long as he wants, and he’ll keep on winning. I’m almost sure it’s got something to do with the Divine right of legislators.

So, the primary season is over and I’ve got about a month to get my mind back on the Celestial City, the place where there are no robo-calls, no pandering, no soliciting bribes on the side, and no bread and circuses. There’s not even a need to wonder who’s running for President up there because the job’s already taken.

After participating in so many earthly spectacles for so many years, I can hardly wait to pass through those pearly gates!  

Saturday, August 09, 2014


Life for Nancy and me right now is a series of great and small events that sometimes challenge our ability to make sense of life.

The most important of these events is Nancy’s responsibility as caregiver for her mother, who is nearing the end of her earthly journey. She’s 95. She’s suffering from congestive heart failure. The bones in her back have been shattered. She has difficulty breathing. Everything is slowly shutting down. Pain is her constant companion. It’s often excruciating. The episodes of dizziness and nausea are becoming more and more frequent.

It could be even worse if it weren’t for the care of the good people from the Jones Health Center and Hand in Hand Hospice. We’re very grateful for that.

But, that doesn’t make this once in a lifetime event any less painful to watch. A couple of days ago, Nancy and I visited her mother on a particularly trying day. At one point it appeared that she was succumbing to the inevitable, but by some force of will she snapped herself back into the land of the living. We’ve seen this before. Nancy’s theory is that her mother is a child of the depression era. She clawed her way through the Great Depression and World War II. Heaven is just a whisper away, wooing her, but she’s so used to fighting and clinging to this life she can’t seem to let go.

On the way home I found myself begging God to not let my life end like that. I uttered a silent prayer, half in rage. “I’d like my last sensation in this life to be the rush of adrenalin that comes with living dangerously, Lord. I’ll do anything. I’ll take up bungee jumping from the Royal Gorge Bridge. I’ll swallow flaming swords.”

Years ago, cardiologists told Nancy’s father that the sausages he loved for breakfast would probably cut his life short, but he kept eating them. He died at 81, a happy man. I think she’s decided that a hearty breakfast of sausage would also be a fitting exit for her.

While we’re trying to make sense of what’s going on with her mother, the smaller events seem to be confirming the futility of clinging to the wheels and gears this life.

This series of mini-confirmations began when we tried to make arrangements with AT&T to have a landline connected in Nancy’s mother’s room. After three weeks of exasperating phone calls and pleas, the line was installed. Unfortunately, it was installed in the home or room of someone named Phyllis, who was every bit as stunned as us. The easiest part of the process was cancelling all the orders. It only took a couple of minutes.

While the phone saga was unfolding, a couple of college students were painting our house. They were doing a great job, but had a few delays, particularly one caused by a really irritating visit from a state “operative” who told my wife stop sweeping the front porch and ordered the students pick up every paint chip on the property. Everyone complied, fearing that if they didn’t they’d wind up in the hoosegow. I’m sure he was sent by some state agency named “Department of Agents Who Protect the Public from Paint Chips by Hassling College Students Trying to Make a Buck.” They probably sit in dreary grey cubicles and suffer from an exceptionally virulent strain of cranial-rectal inversion syndrome.

The piece de resistance in this chain of events came last week when the Postal Service taught me the meaning of service. I tendered a couple of time-sensitive packages on Tuesday and was told to expect delivery on Thursday. When that didn’t happen, they told me they’d changed their minds and to expect delivery on Friday. When that didn’t happen they told me to expect a Saturday delivery. It’s what the Post Office calls their “never late” or “always on time” service.

The more things unfolded, the more I felt like a character in a Kafka short story.

It’s a good thing I didn’t have time to pay attention to the news. If I had, my head would have exploded.

The more I try to make sense of this world, the more I find myself asking why we cling so desperately to it. Do we really believe that government operatives protecting us from paint chips can add a nanosecond to our lives? Can AT&T or the Postal Service open heaven’s gates for us?

Bungee jumping or sword swallowing aren’t really practical, but I think it would be quite fitting for Nancy and me to spend our last moments in a Dublin pub, with the strains of Paddy Maloney and the Chieftans playing in the background.  We’d order bangers and mash, a side of sausage and paint chips, along with one last pint of Guinness to wash it down.

Now, that’s living dangerously. And, that would be a fitting exit!