A boy named Sue

I have a problem. Maybe you have the same problem.

The very first step for recovering alcoholics in the AA program is to admit that you are powerless over alcohol — that your life has become unmanageable.

Only by the grace of God, I am not an alcoholic, but I am an addict. And while not yet unmanageable, my addiction is interfering in the quality of my life . . .

What am I talking about? Cocaine? Opiates? Ben & Jerry’s ice cream? No, no and  . . . well, maybe.

I’m talking about social media. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I reach for my phone to see if anyone has commented on one of my posts; or commented on one of my responses on someone else’s post. Several times during the day, even while working, I find myself scrolling through Facebook updates.

I am a political junkie. I always have been for as long as I can remember. I blame my parents. They got me hooked on watching the news. One time, my father pulled me out of school so that I could see Jimmy Carter during a campaign stop in Biddeford.

They made me stay up late on school nights and watch “Roots,” a televised production of the Alex Hailey novel. We participated in the “Fresh Air” program, hosting minority, inner-city kids from New York during the summer.

I remember seeing George Wallace get shot on the news. I was glued to the television when Nixon announced his resignation. By the time I hit sixth-grade, I was writing essays about G. Gordon Liddy and Charles (Chuck) Colson. I dreamed about becoming the next Carl Bernstein.

My mother is and was always a progressive Democrat. When my parents divorced, she became relentless with Helen Reddy music. To this day, if I hear: “I am woman, hear me roar . . .” I begin to twitch and drool. Mom wore that album out on the old Zenith turntable.

Meanwhile, my Dad became a volunteer on Ted Kennedy’s failed presidential campaign in 1980. Before then, they were always talking at the dinner table about Vietnam and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and other boring stuff.

I was hooked. I became a political animal. It was once a badge of honor, but has since become a curse.

I can’t help myself. For some reason I cannot just scroll by political posts on Facebook, even the bat-shit crazy memes created by extremists on the polar ends of both political parties. I LOVE to argue. I piss off friends on the left and then I piss off friends on the right.

I am sarcastic and stubborn, a fly in the ointment, always challenging the so-called iron-clad pronouncements of the self-righteous, never quite realizing that I’m just being an asshole. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Somewhere along the line, even though I once worked for the Maine People’s Alliance, I started becoming a bit conservative in my political outlook. It makes my mother cry and my father roll in his grave.

As some of you may already know, I used to get paid to offer my opinions as the editor of a local newspaper. That led to hosting a live political talk show on public access television. Politics led to meeting my wife for the first time on Election Day 2001. She was running for a seat on the Old Orchard Beach School Board. I did not endorse her in my local endorsements. She was pissed. Really pissed, sending me e-mail after e-mail after e-mail because of a tiny mistake. She does the same shit today.

Anyway, so often I find myself engaged, actually consumed, in heated arguments on social media. My blood pressure spikes. I lose track of time. Before you know it, hours have passed.

That’s precious time that could have been allocated toward more meaningful and productive endeavors; like re-arranging my sock drawer or working on my collection of Canadian placemats.

Even while vacationing with my wife just a few kilometers south of Cancun, I was still arguing with people on Facebook. There I was, in paradise with the love of my life. Beautiful scenery, the green Caribbean and white sands, palm trees and I’m arguing about Donald Trump, Joe Biden and the cost of gasoline . . . WTF?

In all seriousness, it’s just silly. No one out there is trying to engage you and help you see their perspective. Instead, it seems they just want to scream about the other side being wrong. You really have to work at it in order to find consensus . . . and it’s damn rare.

I don’t care what your political outlook is, I can be friends with you . . . well, at least on Facebook. Look, we are ALL much more alike than we may want to admit.

We all love puppies and pictures of newborns.

We all have fears and concerns that we don’t share publicly.

We all have parents, and some of us have children. Everyone I know would take a bullet to save their child or their parents.

We all love sunny days and the smell of fresh-cut grass, the gentle pelting of a late afternoon rain shower.

We have all made silly mistakes.

I am worried about the world and where we are heading, but I can’t afford to let that consume me. I find solace in music (and 200mg of Clozapine every night). I have posted this video clip before, but I think it needs to be repeated.

A friend turned me onto this band earlier this year. These four young Asian women are amazing, and this song, in particular, gives me hope for the future: the idea that everything is going to be okay.

Also, the drummer is 12. Not a typo. She is 12. Give it a listen and tell me that you don’t feel just a little bit better about the world. I need more music and fewer political conversations in my life. Cheers!

Send lawyers, guns and money

The world is going to Hell in a handbasket.

Well, at least according to a friend of mine, who was recently lamenting the concept of Critical Race Theory, discussion of gender identity in public schools and the “whole gay marriage thing.”

Maybe you’re thinking, why are you friends with someone like that? Well, to be honest, I have several friends who feel the same way. They are not racists or bigots. They are decent, hard-working, kind and generous people. For the most part, they ascribe to a “live and let live attitude,” but many of them also cite their own religious beliefs and convictions as the foundation and the basis of their concerns.

On the other side of the coin, I have some friends who are somewhat trigger-happy with the “politically correct” gun. In their view, racism and bigotry can be found around almost every corner. They seem to be perpetually “offended,” and generally have a dim view of religion, NASCAR and the Second Amendment.

However, the vast and overwhelming majority of my friends can be found somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. It’s also where I find myself . . . at least most of the time.

Regular readers of this blog and those who follow me on social media already know that I am a political centrist, and that I ping back and forth between conservative and liberal thought as easily as a blade of grass is bent by the breeze. According to some people, I have no convictions or moral compass. I have also been accused of being a kiss-ass and guilty of “virtue signaling.”

Let’s pause here for a moment and think about that last sentence. Virtue signaling? Apparently, from what I have been able to gather, this is a term used by conservatives to describe someone who publicly discusses racism or liberal attitudes. People who use this phrase, apparently, don’t like people talking about virtues. Is it bad to have virtues? I don’t know, let’s move on.

Man of the year

Several weeks ago, I apparently made a comment in the public square about the issue of gender identity. I can’t seem to find it now, but I think that I basically wondered why gender identity was all of a sudden a thing. In my view, it was the just the latest in a trend to continually prove that we are each special and unique and need new ways to pronounce our self-absorbed identity to the rest of the world.

That post/comment prompted a call from a friend I have known for nearly 30 years. He said, “We need to get together for a beer and talk.” I drove into Portland a few days later to meet him for lunch. He told me that he had recently come to understand that he was a member of the LGBTQ community, specifically that he is transgendered.

I was knocked back on my heels. Look, I consider myself to be an open-minded and tolerant guy. I have several very close friends who are either gay or lesbian. In fact, one of my most dear friends (a man I lived with for several years) is openly gay. But I never before had a friend who is transgendered.

I had a ton of questions. Of all the people I know, this particular friend was the last person I would imagine to be transgendered. He is a successful professional, happily married to a beautiful woman with a gorgeous daughter, a beautiful home . . . you know, the whole nine yards of normalcy.

So, over the course of an hour or so, I peppered my friend with questions. Does his wife know? How did she handle the news? What about his daughter? His family?

When did you choose to be a man, he asked me.

I didn’t choose. I was born that way, I replied.

Exactly, he responded. When it comes to gender identity, none of us choose. It’s not like a hobby or joining the Elks Club. It’s who you are.

Yeah, I responded but you’re born with certain genitalia, which determines if you’re male or female.

“Gender identity is about a lot more than genitalia and it’s not about sexual preference,” he said. “As far back as I can remember, I was always more comfortable playing with girls. By the time I hit middle school, I was constantly bullied because I wasn’t like most of the other boys in my class. Society drills into you what is expected if you are a boy or if you a girl. Those expectations are relentless.”

Our conversation went all over the place. I questioned him about natural law and defiance of God’s will.

“What if I don’t believe in God?” he responded. “Do you really think the world is going to come of its axis if some people choose to identify with a gender that is different from the one to which they were assigned? Trans people have been around since the beginning of time. How does it impact you or anyone you know if I choose to identify as a woman? Who is being harmed?”

I have been thinking about that conversation for almost a month, and here’s what I have come to believe. [Pause here. Disclosure: I do not have any advanced degrees, including psychology, religion or political science. I’m just a bald, overweight, underachiever from Biddeford, Maine. My opinion, plus $4.25, will get you a small coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. So, relax. This is just my opinion and it carries no more weight than your opinion]

I think my friend is mostly right. Some hardline conservatives tend to get all worked up about individual rights when it comes to things like wearing a mask in public during a global pandemic, but they are quick to judge individual choices and preferences. They want you to subscribe to their values.

Furthermore, I don’t want to live in a government that is controlled or motivated by certain religious beliefs. Those guys who flew airliners into the World Trade Center were convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were doing God’s work.

Now, I can almost hear what some of you are thinking. What about professional/collegiate or even high school sports/competitions? What about boys who want to use the girls’ bathroom?

I confess. I don’t have the answers to all those questions. But I am convinced that a nation that figured out how to put a man on the moon can figure out some common-sense solutions to these questions or dilemmas. For example, we could have a third restroom that could be used by anyone. It’s not rocket science. Hell, we have only had the Americans with Disabilities Act for a little more than 30 years (1990).

Today, just about anywhere you go, you can find accommodations for people with physical disabilities. We figured it out. Despite some protests about the cost impacts to Joe and Jane Taxpayer, businesses and institutions were able to adapt. I happen to think that the world is a better place if people with physical disabilities can get on the bus, do their own grocery shopping or attend a sporting event.

Hey, teacher! Leave them kids alone

Now here’s where I part company with some of my friends on the left side of the political aisle.

There is absolutely no need to develop curriculum for kids in grades K-3 to foster classroom conversations about gender identity, sexual preference or gay marriage.

For Pete’s sake, we’re talking about kids aged 5-8 years old. At this age, kids will gladly eat paste, crayons or their own snot. In most cases, they don’t yet have the intellectual or emotional capacity to determine which socks they should wear. They should be allowed to be fun-loving kids without concern for adult subject matters. You only get a 3-4 year window of just being a kid, why muck it up for them?

I mean really. There is a reason we don’t let kids vote until they are 18 or drive until they are 16. There are appropriate age barriers for childhood development stages. Here in the state of Maine, the age of consent is 16 years old, which means a child under the age of 16 cannot consent to sexual acts. I don’t know about you, but that makes sense to me.

I remember one particular day when I was in the fifth grade and all the girls in our class got to go to a special assembly and the boys were left behind in the classroom. I remember asking our teacher, Mr. Flaherty, what was going on. He replied curtly, “nothing you need to worry about.” Boom. End of conversation. I went back to whatever I was doing to pass the time. The girls returned to the classroom about an hour later and they all had gift bags.

What a rip-off, I thought. It just wasn’t fair, I reasoned.

The next year, in health class, the mystery was cleared up for all of us. Some of us giggled, others let their minds drift someplace else and others just accepted what we were being taught. It was really no big deal. I don’t recall any pending legislation or parent protests. We were 12-year-old public school students and we learned about sexual intercourse, pregnancy and menstruation. Upon learning these things, we didn’t run out and start fornicating like jack rabbits. (Well maybe the other kids did, but it would be another 35 years before I experienced sexual intercourse.)

If a seven-year-old asks his teacher “why does Johnny have two daddies,” an appropriate response is: because Johnny’s parents are different than your parents. Boom. End of conversation. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that kid will simply shrug his shoulders and move on to the very next thing that catches his attention, like wondering how much money the tooth fairy is going to leave under his pillow.

And for those of you who are worried that the gay/transgender lobby is out to recruit your kid. Relax. Your kid already knows if he/she is gay or straight. Again, it’s not something you just randomly choose. Hey wait, I think I’ll try being gay for a while. No, it doesn’t work like that.

As for corrective/trans-gender surgery options, I believe you should be at least 16 years old before you can make that decision. Even then, I think it’s dicey because you’re talking about a medical procedure that is pretty much permanent.

If your son is gay, it’s not because of something he learned in school. Are you going to still love him after he tells you that he is gay? Are you gonna try to have him fixed? If your daughter tells you that she is attracted to other women, what’s your response? Frankly, I don’t think kids should be having sex until they are 18, but it happens. Once, they are grown and out of the house, however, the less I know about their sex lives, the better.

I know I promised to also discuss gay marriage and Critical Race Theory in this post, but we are pretty much out of room for today. I will tackle those lightweight subjects in the near future. In the meantime, focus on being a nice person and stop being offended about every little thing.

We’re all different, but we are also all the same. Let’s spend more time focusing on what unites us rather than worrying so much about what divides us.

Peace!

Beat on the brat

Before we proceed any further, please allow me to be perfectly clear. Just like millions of other people all over the world, I am outraged and saddened by the events now happening in Ukraine.

But, as this conflict goes on I am also struck by my own hypocrisy, and I’m wondering why so many of us (especially in the United States) are so angry about Russia’s invasion and so sympathetic to the people of Ukraine; yet we are basically silent about similar conflicts that are now raging in several African countries (and other places around the world).

Yes, it’s true. The people of Ukraine are suffering horrible circumstances. Towns and villages are being wiped out. Hundreds of people are dying every day. Refugees have been forced out of their homeland. Innocent people have lost their homes and basically all their possessions.

But here’s the thing. The same exact thing is happening right now in Ethiopia, Central African Republic (CAR), Sudan and many other places, where ongoing civil wars and other conflicts have been raging for years. Children are being killed by warlords. Territories are being occupied by those with military might.

Why are we not getting nightly news updates about those conflicts? Where is CNN’s round-the-clock coverage? Why aren’t people updating their Facebook profile pictures with the flag of Cameroon?

(Photo credit; DW.com)

I have some theories about why we seem to care more about Ukraine than many other nations.

  1. Americans have been indoctrinated for more than 60 years now about the evils of Russia and its threat to the free world. From drills that involve hiding under school desks to free-flowing rhetoric about the evils of communism, we have a long and well-documented history of loathing and fearing Russia.
  • Unlike many of the aforementioned African nations, Ukraine is rich in natural resources that are very important to the United States and other western nations, including recoverable reserves of uranium ores, titanium ore reserves, shale gas reserves, food resources (wheat, corn, etc.) and on and on.
  • We tend to have short attention spans. Although profoundly sad on many levels, news about an actor slapping a comedian temporarily overshadowed the media’s news priority over Ukraine and lots of other things, including how millions of Americans are struggling with record-breaking inflation.
  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came as a flashpoint in Eastern European geo-political theater. Meanwhile, war and civil unrest seems to be par for the course in several African nations. It’s been going on for centuries and shows no sign of ending any time in the foreseeable future.
  • It should be noted that Ukraine’s location is a high strategic resource for the western world; hence why Putin is so bugged about Ukraine becoming part of NATO.
  • Finally, the majority of Ukrainian people are white. Just like us. It’s easier to sympathize when the people and the landscape look familiar. We see towering steel and concrete apartment buildings that have been destroyed by Russian rockets. It’s much harder to envision war-torn regions in many African nations before they were involved in war.

As I wrote at the beginning of this post: what is happening in Ukraine today is horrific and gut-wrenchingly sad. Vladimir Putin should be tried and convicted of war crimes. The people of Ukraine did nothing to provoke Russia. They are innocent. It is more than understandable why the free world is outraged by what is happening.

It is good and laudable to send humanitarian resources to Ukraine. It is good to place economic and other sanctions upon Russia.

But let’s not forget that a whole lot of other people are also suffering the same exact nightmare in places you won’t read about on the front page of the Washington Post or other daily papers. Let’s make what is happening in Ukraine awaken the rest of us from our slumber.

For every dollar of relief we donate to Ukraine, let’s match that gift with an equal donation to the people of Ethiopia or any other war-torn shithole around the globe.

Let’s not beat our chests of moral indignation and sympathy only when it’s convenient to do so.

Lie to me

Earlier this week, Chris Wallace – son of legendary journalist Mike Wallace – appeared on the Stephen Colbert Show and said, among other things, that his father and the legendary television news show 60 Minutes were partly to blame for today’s public distrust of the media.

Wallace, a former FOX Network news anchor who this week began his own show on CNN Plus, said he understands why many Americans have a dim view of the media and how it presents news.

When asked what, if anything, could be done to restore public trust in the media, Wallace told Colbert that before the advent of 60 Minutes, the major networks – CBS, NBC and ABC – considered the broadcast of news to be a “public service.”

Wallace said he believes that “[today’s] desire to chase ratings and make money is what needs to change if the news and the public’s faith in it are to be restored,” according to an MSN story about the interview.

“It used to be in the old days, and I can remember growing up with my father in the ’70s, that news didn’t make money. It was a public service, and the networks viewed it as a public service,” Wallace said. “And then 60 Minutes came along and showed you could make phenomenal amounts of money with the news business.”

60 Minutes first aired in 1968 and was originally hosted by Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner. The show has often been praised by journalists and other media programs for its integrity and “fearless” pursuit of the news. It has enjoyed steadfast popularity in television ratings for more than five decades.

Today, however, a growing number of Americans say that the media can’t be trusted. Many people claim that today’s media is politically biased. Another often heard complaint is that today’s news is more “editorial than objective news.”

It’s easy to understand why many people feel that the news is no longer objective and fact-based. Today, more than ever before, Americans – and people all over the world – have an increasingly wide range of news options, many of which that have popped up during the past 20 to 30 years on cable television, satellite radio and, of course, the internet.

It’s hard to know who or what to trust, and it’s easier than ever before to blame the media for everything from today’s political climate to the rising cost of gasoline. Millions of people, it seems, are convinced that big media is orchestrating a vicious web of lies intended to keep “regular people in the dark.”

So how can we put the genie back in the bottle? How do we — or can we — restore the concept that news is a public service? Can we really stop the networks from “chasing ratings?”

I seriously doubt it.

If the news delivery business is to truly be a public service than we have to remove the profit factor. Please don’t blather on about NPR (National Public Radio). Even their “listener-supporter” broadcasts include corporate messaging and receive government funding.

Do we really want the government funding the news? Yeah, right. Surely, we can trust the government to fairly and accurately report news and information about the government. I don’t think so.

Getting money out of the news business is problematic on many levels. How do we pay journalists or recruit top journalistic talent? How do we pay for the delivery of the news (the producers, clerks, editors, technicians, camera operators, etc. etc.)?

So, what’s the solution? How do we keep the news business honest?

From my perspective, the more news outlets we have, the better. But more news outlets also requires more viewer/reader/listener discretion. It’s easy to gravitate toward news that aligns with our own pre-disposed political beliefs and philosophies. It’s much harder to seek out information that might make us uncomfortable.

In the end, there are no easy answers. As long as we need a scapegoat to explain things we don’t like or trust, the media will always be a convenient target.

In the words of legendary journalist Walter Cronkite: And, that’s the way it is.

Johnny, we hardly knew ye

For me, it’s hard to know what to think or feel about the recent news regarding former Maine gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler.

According to several news reports, police allegedly discovered several computer files of child pornography in Cutler’s home this week.

Before we go any further, make no mistake about it. Crimes against children are especially heinous and repugnant. I think we can all agree on that point.

While the civil libertarian in me wants to say we are all innocent until proven guilty, there is a much more well-defined part of me that wants to forgo all the hassles of a trial and simply drag Cutler into a darkened alley and beat him to death with a 36-inch aluminum baseball bat.

Even amongst hardened criminals, child sex offenders are the lowest of the low. If convicted and sent to prison, Cutler will likely need to be placed into protective custody. Another slap to the people of Maine.

In my opinion, there is no forgiveness for this kind of crime. There is no redemption. It is one of the darkest corners of humanity, a place that is impossible for most of us to imagine.

One more disclaimer before we proceed any further. I voted for Cutler. Twice.

In case you don’t recall, Cutler twice ran for governor as an “independent” candidate. He angered Democrats who said he split their party’s vote and allowed Republican Paul LePage to win with 38 percent of the vote.

He also pissed off Republicans who said he was nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing: a Democrat who might be able to peel away some of their party’s centrist votes by talking about fiscal responsibility.

Today, in the wake of this horrific news, both Democrats and Republicans are saying: “See? I told you so.”

Do a quick Google search and you will find that nearly a dozen Maine men have all been arrested for possession of child pornography within the past year. We don’t hear much about those men, despite the fact that their crimes were just as heinous as Cutler’s.

Cutler is leading the six o’clock news because he willingly stepped into it. Unlike those other men who have been arrested for possession of child pornography, Cutler sought the media’s attention and favor. He portrayed himself as a man who would make responsible decisions; as a man of good character.

In the end, it has become abundantly clear during the last 48 hours that Cutler is neither of those things.

Yes, Cutler is innocent until proven guilty, but the evidence against him is pretty damning. The men and women of Maine’s State Police take their jobs seriously. They don’t get search warrants on a whim.

Like you, I don’t have all the facts. Like you, I am disgusted by the story.

But what I do know is this: These crimes were not political. Child sex offenders do not fit into such convenient categories.

It is disheartening to witness Cutler’s fall from grace. It is disturbing to think about or even contemplate this type of crime.

But it is also sad – at least for me – to watch pundits, party stalwarts and others beat their proverbial chests and try to use this awful news to further their own political agendas.

It’s a shitty story, all the way around.

Losing my religion

Warning: This post is about politics, God, a dear friend of mine and a chance encounter with my sixth-grade Social Studies teacher.

I enjoy talking politics with my friends, even with those friends who adamantly disagree with me or have an entirely different perspective than mine.

There are consequences, however. Openly discussing your political beliefs (made so much easier today with social media) can cost you some very special friendships; it can also put a strain on your relationships with family members; it can even cost you your job or social status.

Politics, very much like religion, is not for the faint of heart.  Both topics are generally dominated by people with an absolute and an unquestionable belief that their position is the correct one.

I envy those people. I really do.

A few years ago, a friend gave me a copy of book titled: “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.”  I never read the book, and now I can’t even find the copy she gave me. Basically, the book explores the contrasting worlds of atheism and Christianity, tackling subjects such as “does God really exist; and if so how is God defined and what are the consequences for the world.”

It is not light reading, which pretty much explains why I didn’t read it.

From my perspective, it is decidedly much more convenient to reject the notion of God, the idea of sin and the premise that there is something much greater than human construct. It’s much more palatable for me to be a “spiritual” being; a small part of a great universe in which we are all connected, open to definition, without judgment or much consequence for any of our actions.

I feel warm and fuzzy just thinking about it.

I was raised as a Catholic. I didn’t learn much about God or Jesus Christ during my weekly catechism classes, but I aced the lessons in standing, sitting and kneeling on command. I also learned about the Pope, the hazards of a nun with a ruler and the seven sacraments.

The coolest of the seven sacraments, in my opinion, is the Holy Sacrament of Confession. For you non-Catholics out there (repent now before being cast into Hell), the weekly act of confession involves going into a telephone booth sized room and telling a priest about your sins. The priest then absolves you of all your sins and as a consequence instructs you to say five (maybe 10) Hail Mary prayers.

It was like a license to sin. Steal a pack of chewing gum from Zayre’s? Say five Hail Marys. Get into your father’s collection of Playboy magazines? Say five Hail Marys. Kill the neighbor’s cat (on purpose)? Say five Hail Marys.

There is a reason that the concept of “Hail Mary” is synonymous with the idea of a long-shot. Just ask Fredo Corelone about that.

Anyway, growing up Catholic is relatively painless. You don’t have to handle snakes, you just have to digest a small, thin wafer of cardboard every week and believe that it has been transformed into the body of Jesus Christ.

I tried being a good Catholic. I was an altar boy and even toyed with the idea of becoming a priest, but in the end I felt a huge void. There was something missing.

Busload of faith

I make no secrets about my mental illness and my daily battles with depression, paranoia and schizophrenia. I take medications. I see a psychiatrist. I undergo ECT treatments, and I see a therapist. My therapist recently retired and I was assigned to a new one.

He is a man from India. He is funny, smart and friendly. During our very first meeting, he asked me something I never expected: How is your faith?

My head tilted. My body stiffened. My mind raced: huh? What? Does my insurance cover this?

Bottom line? I am very uncomfortable talking about things like faith, religion or God. But there it was and there it now remains. This gnawing feeling that I don’t have faith. That my world view is missing a very big component. My idea of right versus wrong could be completely off mark. Maybe everything I learned while growing up was a lie. Maybe I need to be open to some new ideas, some new beliefs.

Last week, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a very close and longtime friend that I have not seen in a long time. Up until that point, I was doing a pretty good job of feeling sorry for myself: I have been dealing with some dental issues and corresponding levels of pain that impact everything from eating to sleeping. I am anxious about rising fuel costs and wondering how I will heat my home next year. On and on and on.

Then, I took a breath and asked him how things were going in his life. Without going into all the awful details, his life is severely screwed up right now: his health, his finances, the strains on his marriage and so much more. I could not (and still cannot) imagine going through what he is going through. I asked him. ‘How are you getting through this?” He smiled patiently. “I have faith,” he replied.

I was polite and kept my thoughts to myself. “Dude, it doesn’t sound like faith is working out for you.”

But the more I listened, the more I was struck by his calm in a sea of calamity; of his confidence in a world chock full of doubt. We talked about a lot of things. About the difference between wrong and right, about what is happening in the world today and yes, we talked about God.

Back to politics for a moment. In many ways, I was a lucky kid in my formative years. My political leanings came from being raised by my very liberal mother, whose political identity is slightly left of Noam Chomsky; and by my late uncle who would be found politically right of Ronald Reagan.

Today, I happily engage in political discussions with friends and soon to be ex-friends. Sometimes, I argue simply for the sheer joy of arguing. I seek out controversy and then piss gasoline onto its flames.

But you have to be careful. The most common causes of war? Politics and religion. Choose your battles wisely. Keep your options open. Stand for something or fall for anything. Be brave, but be smart.

Finally, I stopped by one of my favorite watering holes after work yesterday. Also seated at the bar were two older men who were heavily engaged in a discussion about politics, the damn media and their opinions about the crisis in Ukraine.

They seemed clueless that anyone was listening to them talk. I kept to myself, nursing a beer and trying to mind my own damn business. And then someone said something about Saco Middle School and then one of the men said something about Thornton Academy.

I couldn’t help myself. “I graduated from Thornton,” I piped up. The men paused and turned to face me. One of them said, “Did you go to Saco Middle School? Suddenly, a light bulb went off. One of those men was Mr. Boothby, ironically my sixth-grade Social Studies teacher. We both laughed. He then recognized me. I asked about his wife, my beloved second-grade teacher. He hung his head just a bit. She passed three years ago, he told me. She had bravely fought a battle with Alzheimer’s. The grief in his voice was palpable.

I don’t know how I would survive if I lost Laura. I don’t know if I could ever forgive God for taking her from me. I don’t know how I could rise and face each new day. I bet it would take more than a bottle of pills, some talk therapy and electronically induced seizures. I can only imagine that it would take a busload of faith.

The Dangerous Type

Four years ago this week, (the third week of February) I was discharged from Spring Harbor, a psychiatric hospital in Westbrook, Maine.

It was my most recent hospitalization. I have been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for more than 40 years, sometimes on a voluntary basis; other times as an involuntary patient. I have been hospitalized in Arizona, Tennessee, Oregon and Maine. So, I consider myself a little bit of an expert on this subject.

Trust me on this: being a patient on a psychiatric ward sucks. In all fairness, being a patient in any kind of hospital for any reason is no picnic for anyone. Hospitals are typically places we go to when we are ill or injured. Other than child birth, most people do their very best to avoid hospitals.

It is the same for psychiatric patients. I have heard people say or joke that they could use a “vacation” on a psych unit or that “mental people use hospitals to avoid their responsibilities.” These are actual quotations.

I have been on vacations. I have been a patient on a psychiatric unit. Believe me. There is nothing similar between these two things. Nothing.

For more than four decades now I have been taking a wide variety of psychiatric medications. Today, I take five different medications to treat everything from life-sucking depression to anxiety and yes, the consequences of a schizo-affective disorder.

Imagine your spouse telling you that they had to stay in the basement in order to get away from the government? Or imagine what it would be like if your sibling called you, crying and confused because they had gotten lost on the way home from work?

Imagine not being able to remember anything that happened last week or being unable to read more than two pages a day? This is my life off medications. And yup, this is also my life on medications. The meds just make the consequences less frequent and less severe.

Why do I say all this? Am I just looking for sympathy? Shouldn’t I keep this stuff private?

Take me to the river

I have been publicly open about my mental illness for several years now. That, and my pitiful attempts at trying to be a father, are the two things I want to be remembered for. They are the two things in my life, other than Laura, that matter most to me. They are my only real contributions to society, to the world around me.

It doesn’t get any better than this

Of course, like most people, I am generally selective about what I share on social media. I try to portray myself as witty, as some kind of half-assed satirist, a fun-loving guy, someone you would want to be friends with; a hard-working and responsible member of society; a successful husband and father.

Maybe I am those things. Maybe not.

But it seems that publicly sharing my personal struggles with mental illness gives others permission to reach out to me in search of a friendly ear, advice about a family member or their own struggle with some kind of psychiatric illness.

That is so gratifying to me. Beyond words.

I want to break down and destroy the myths and stereotypes that accompany mental illness. Imagine a friend telling you that they have been diagnosed with brain cancer. What would you say? What would you do?

I’m almost positive you would not say something like “stop feeling sorry for yourself,” or “it’s all in your head,” which, ironically is sort of true about brain cancer. Why is mental illness different? Why is it still okay for Hollywood to refer to psychiatrists as “shrinks?”

Those battling cancer are described as brave and courageous. We wear ribbons to show our support. We are quick to offer our empathy, our support, our understanding.

Tell someone that you are hearing voices and the reaction is a lot different. Trust me. Way different.

Honestly, what do you think of when you think about someone with a psychiatric illness? Do you think about someone like the character “Multiple Miggs” in the movie Silence of the Lambs; or do you think of them as your neighbor, co-worker or someone walking their dog past your home?

At the start of this piece, I stated that I have been in and out of psychiatric units for more than four decades. That is true. What is also true is that during the same time period, I have purchased a home, paid taxes, worked hard and was promoted in the private sector, raised two kids, held together a marriage for more than 19 years (and counting). Today I still mow my lawn, pay my bills and spend time with friends and family.

The scary thing? I’m a lot like you and other people you know and trust. The idea of being diagnosed with cancer is terrifying and for good reason. I have lost close friends to that horrible disease. Unfortunately, I have also lost some very good and close friends to mental illness.

So that’s why I’m open about my struggles. That’s why I try to remember to take my meds, even though they sometimes adversely impact my libido, my energy, my sleep and appetite.

Later this week, I am scheduled to have another ECT treatment (Electro-Convulsive Therapy). ECT treatments terrify me. I am afraid that I will not wake up from the anesthesia. Basically, ECT involves having enough electricity beamed into your brain to induce a seizure. So why do I go through with it?

Because, for me and many, many others, it works. It allows me to live. Once a month, I participate in an ECT support ZOOM meeting with other patients. It is so gratifying to see the progress that many of these people have made. To see them smile, laugh and be able to hold a conversation. To hear them say they were reluctant to get ECT until they heard me and others share our own experiences.

That’s what matters. That’s what is important to me.

If you ever want to reach out; if you ever need a friendly ear, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you don’t know me or have my contact info, you can ALWAYS reach out 24/7 365 days a year toll free at 1.888.568.1112 if you are concerned about yourself or somebody else.

Thank you,

Sick of Myself

Rights without obligations set the stage for anarchy. Obligations without rights set the stage for tyranny.

The older I get, the more I wonder about the world, humanity and whether we are making progress or simply marching off a cliff while chanting about our rights, about our individual uniqueness and about being offended.

What do we have in common if we are all so goddamn unique? What value do we place on our neighbors and upon all the other people who inhabit our planet? What is the basis for our morality?

Last week, I criticized Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant and the city council for dreaming up the idea that we need to create a “diversity” committee in the city. Despite my criticisms, they went right ahead and approved the idea to create the committee. Good for them. I still, however, think that it’s a lot of sound and fury about nothing other than political pandering.

But this week, I find myself applauding Casavant and his decision to issue a proclamation that asks residents and visitors to wear a mask when visiting local businesses and public buildings.

It is NOT a mask mandate such as those issued by the mayors and city councils of other Maine communities, including Portland, South Portland and Brunswick.

Casavant’s proclamation also urges all community members to be “patient and understanding of the challenges that are posed by the pandemic.” Casavant then did something really stupid. He posted his proclamation on the city’s Facebook page.

The knee-jerk reaction was swift and unforgiving. While most people indicated that they supported the mayor’s proclamation, there were plenty of other comments criticizing the decision. One commenter wrote “and the hits keep coming from the Democrats” while others said the pandemic is nothing more than a hoax orchestrated by the pharmaceutical industry and Joe Biden’s dog, Major.

If you think wearing a mask while in public places is government tyranny then maybe you should go back to your bunkers, stock up on Hot Pockets and order more ammo from Amazon.

Behold, I send you out as a sheep among the wolves

Last year, one of my Facebook friends called me a “sheep” because I thought getting vaccinated and wearing a mask made a lot of sense during a global pandemic.

My doctor, a board-certified internist, said my decision made good sense. And that’s saying something because that bastard is always on my ass about something: smoking, not exercising, poor diet, excessive sleep, recreational drugs and being overweight.

Last week, an American Airlines plane traveling from Miami to London had to turn back because a passenger in first class refused to wear a face mask. The flight was cancelled and the other passengers had to re-book their flights. 128 people had to go through an unnecessary bout of extreme aggravation because one person refused to wear a mask.

If I had been one of those other passengers, I would have used my face mask to strangle the man or woman who refused to comply with the airline’s requirement about face masks.

For those of you who say that your “rights” are being violated because you’re being asked to wear a mask in public places, let me make something perfectly clear: you don’t have the right to fly on American Airlines. You don’t have the right to shop at Walmart or any other retail store. These are private businesses. They get to set their own rules.

Furthermore, you cannot send your kid to school without a shirt or shoes even on a really hot day. You do have Constitutional rights but you also have a moral obligation to be a decent human being, to be considerate of others  . . . to care about the world outside your own front door.

I have not been to church in a very long time, but I consider myself to be a Christian man. From what I have read and been taught, Jesus extolled the virtues of kindness, generosity and forgiveness. He asked us to consider the needs of our fellow man.

Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? I honestly don’t know.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for all of us to step back and consider not only our rights, but also our obligations. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Originally published in Saco Bay News

Exile in Guyville

A little more than 35 years ago, I found myself working as a volunteer on the Cheyenne River Indian River Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota.

Life was good. I had a full head of hair, a smoking hot girlfriend and I was doing my part to make the world a better place by promoting social justice, peace and everything else that is super important when you’re 23 and someone else is paying your bills.

One day, on a particularly hot and arid August afternoon, I found myself in a local tavern (imagine that) and I attempted to engage one of the local residents in conversation.

“It must be really hard to be a Native American on the reservation,” I said with all due sincerity and earnestness.

He put down his drink and turned to face me with a quizzical (if not supper annoyed) expression upon his face. “What?” he asked.

So, against my better judgment, I repeated myself. He did not take it well.

He sighed heavily and said, “Please don’t call me that. I am an Indian.” He could see immediately that I was surprised by his response.

“The last thing I need is to have some self-serving white punk attempt to pat himself on the back by patronizing me,” he continued.

His tone told me that this would be an especially short conversation.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you,” I stammered, eyeing the exit.

“That’s my point,” he said. “You somehow think that a bunch of politically correct words are going to make up for the fact that your people stole our land, murdered our children and raped our women.”

 He sighed and returned to his drink. “Look, I know you’re probably a nice kid, and I really do appreciate what you’re trying to do to help my community but I’ve had my fill of white apologies.”

Me and some of my favorite kids on the reservation

And that was that. There were not a whole lot of people living on the reservation, but strangely I never saw that man again after that day. He did, however, teach me an invaluable lesson: more often than not, words are nothing more than just words.

Life During Wartime

My grandfather, whom some of you may recall as an eccentric English teacher at Biddeford High School in the 1960s, tried to teach me the values of developing critical thinking skills and avoiding populism. I was 12. The world was all about being popular and not thinking too hard about anything.

And so it is that I find myself, more than 40 years later, on this bitterly cold morning — an overweight, bald, middle-aged, underachieving white guy — briefly contemplating whether I should continue this column because I know deep in my bones that it is going to piss some people off. (Look, Grampa! I just ended a sentence with a preposition! Ha!)

Tomorrow, our nation will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Day in honor of one of history’s most prolific and courageous leaders who inspired all people to be better versions of themselves while promoting peace, justice and equality by his stunning examples of how to find common-ground with our fellow man.

Ironically, on this same day — here in my hometown of Biddeford, Maine – the city council will be holding a special meeting to decide whether we should create two committees that aim to study and foster the development of goals, policies and practices that are intended to foster the principles of “diversity, inclusion and equality.”

No, I did not stutter. The city is not creating a committee to study these issues. They will be discussing the formation of TWO committees to basically do the same thing. Why do one when you can have two for the same price? (A popular mantra in the world of government).

Here, hold my beer.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I am as a big a fan of diversity, inclusion and equality as the next guy, but really? This is something that warrants the need to create two committees in the city?

For starters, who on Earth, will serve on these committees? It’s not like we have a mass of people beating down the doors of City Hall to serve as volunteers on various city committees. For Christ’ sake, more than half of the city council seats were unopposed in the last election.

Begging my pardon. But this seems to be a classic example of a solution desperately in search of a problem.

If the city council is really concerned about “diversity” and “inclusion” why are they so blind to the plight of downtown residents who do not live in such pretty hip, cool neighborhoods when it comes to snow ban parking rules designed to support a privately operated parking garage?

Is Mayor Casavant going to stand outside of 3D’s Variety on Main Street and ask customers who just purchased a carton of generic cigarettes whether they feel included and well represented by their local government?

What about working-families that are struggling to get by and hoping – against all odds – to be able to someday buy their own, affordable home and then listen to Councilors Marc Lessard and Amy Clearwater bad-mouth and dismiss the notion of a housing development with modular homes? “I think the majority of residents would much prefer to see the creation of stick-built homes.” Lessard reportedly said during a recent meeting about a proposed housing development.

Hmmm, the good people of Cathedral Oaks Drive and Thacher Brook Lane aren’t too crazy about new neighbors with modular homes, huh? How inclusive! How diverse! It’s just that some animals are more equal than other animals, I suppose. Diversity, my ass!

Okay, I think I have made my point. Now, I’m going to head down to Mulligan’s for a beer. If I run into Casavant, Lessard or Clearwater there, I will drop dead on the spot. After all, the place isn’t especially known for its diversity. Strangely, however, the regular patrons are really nice people who are always more than happy to welcome a new face to the crowd. And that, my friends, is the definition of inclusion.

Peace.

Originally published in Saco Bay News

Werewolves of London

It is a well-known fact that participation in the world of politics – whether it is national, statewide or local — is often a rough and tumble affair.

But here in my hometown of Biddeford, politics is a blood sport and its machinations are not for the faint of heart, those with thin skin or fragile egos. You better put on your big-boy pants if you want to play in this arena.

This was a strange election year in our city. Several city council seats were uncontested and the mayoral campaign between incumbent Alan Casavant and his challenger Victoria Foley was relatively quiet — right up until the last few days of the campaign.

So, what happened? Why did just a small handful of Foley’s supporters all of a sudden go rogue on social media and get their knickers in a knot?

Me and the mayor in 2011

Well, it was a couple of things, including a direct mail piece that the Casavant team sent out just a few days before Election Day. The reaction to that mailer from a few renegade Foley supporters was swift and scorching. Heads exploded, small children went missing and locusts began to ravage the city.

Relax. I’m joking.

(Disclosure, I was a member of Casavant’s campaign team.)

Foley, and an overwhelming majority of her supporters, ran a clean, positive and civil campaign. But some new terminology was introduced into the broader spectrum of campaign rhetoric this year: ageism and nativism.

What? Do I now have to feel guilty about being an old native of Biddeford?

The unhinged objection from a small group of Foley’s supporters on Facebook was likely sparked by Casavant’s use of a direct quote that Foley gave to a newspaper reporter several weeks ago. “My opponent says Biddeford is on a great trajectory,” Casavant wrote. “I appreciate her kind words.”

Another objection was the mention of Foley’s age on the Casavant mail piece. Again, that was from a newspaper profile of the candidates. I very much doubt that any member of Foley’s team wanted to storm the Biddeford-Saco Courier’s office because they had the temerity to list her age (38).  For the record, Casavant is 69.

Throughout the campaign, there were many subtle comments made about the need for a more “energetic” candidate in the mayor’s office. I will not reveal the names of those thin-skinned Foley supporters, but I will quote some of their social media comments, which, by the way, were taken down very quickly once the Casavant team replied.

No worries. I have the various screen shots.

PR 101: Nothing is ever truly “erased” once it has been published on a public site.

A Foley supporter, who I will dub as Jane Doe, wrote a screed on Facebook attacking the mayor for invoking his experience and for the fact that he is a lifelong Biddeford native who bleeds black and orange.

“When I saw the first post on the socials for Alan’s re-election campaign weeks ago, I was repulsed by the nativism dog-whistle language, that only someone “from” Biddeford, who has deep roots here, is capable of being Mayor of Biddeford,” Jane Doe wrote. “. . . (and) mentioning Victoria’s age is a clear attempt to label her as “too young” to do the job.”

And John Doe wrote this:  “There is a young, progressive female Democratic (sic) running for mayor of Biddeford, Maine. The current mayor is an old, entrenched, multi-term good ol’ boy Democrat.”

John Doe continues: “As with everything the current mayor does, there’s plenty of wolf-whistle nativism on the (Casavant direct mail piece.). The whole production looks and reads like an Onion joke about old, straight white guys desperately clinging to their fiefdoms…but unable to do more than make fun of the competent women around them.”

What John Doe conveniently forgets is that Alan Casavant appointed Victoria Foley to the city council. Casavant also appointed Councilor Amy Clearwater to the council. I could keep going, but you get the point:  Casavant obviously recognizes the competency of female candidates.

The Casavant team created a campaign website, which included video endorsements from several “natives” but it also included profiles of newer residents who like the way our mayor is leading the city. Maybe that stung. Who knows? But I also know several lifelong residents of Biddeford who supported Foley’s attempt to capture the mayor’s seat.

Biddeford has a long and storied history of welcoming and embracing “immigrants” who flocked here to work in the textile and shoe mills more than 100 years ago. These people, and all the others who followed in their footsteps (Including Victoria Foley) contribute so much to the fabric of a truly diverse community.

In summary, we should all thank Ms. Foley for offering an alternative checkbox on the ballot. She has a lot to offer this community and she has a bright future ahead if she chooses to continue in the city’s political landscape.

Now it’s time for this old white guy to take a nap.