Going Postal


Sometimes life sneaks up on you and blindsides you in little frustrating and absurd ways that test your patience and civility. Recently, I almost went postal over the Post Office.

It started simply enough at a yard sale where I bought an artsy looking piece of glass, covered in dust, for fifty cents. I took it home, cleaned it up, looked it up and found it was made in Poland and was worth about fifty times what I paid for it. So I put it on ebay and sold it. So far, so good.  A few more bucks in paypal.

A piece of art glass is fragile, and I didn’t want it to get broken in transit, so I packed it with lots of padding in a box that had held a case of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. No, I didn’t drink the rum.

So I’m in line at the post office in Rogers, Arkansas. The post office is one of the places where you still have to stand in line and wait because the clerks are still filling our forms by hand, just like they did in the 1800s,  and some transactions  take about as long as a home mortgage.

But finally, I crawl to the front of the line and heft the package onto the counter in front of the middle-aged woman clerk. She stares at the package for a while, with the same face she’d make if I’d have heaved a live poisonous snake in front of her.

She tapped her nails on the counter and says. “I’m very sorry, sir, but we can’t accept this package because it’s packed in a liquor box.”

Rules. Especially stupid rules. Why did the post office care if I used a box I’d gotten at the liquor store?  I quickly assured the clerk that I wasn’t actually shipping  liquor, just art glass.

“We can’t accept packages that have liquor logos. Sorry.” She shoved the package toward me. I walked back to the car irritated. What the hell?  Was the post office worried I was going to corrupt their  sober employees? It just seemed ridiculous, officious and prudish.

But I still had to get the damn thing shipped somehow, so I went home and took  typing paper and pasted it over every liquor reference on the box. I sanitized it, de-boozled it, abolitioned it.

So after another  fun wait in line, I’m back face-to-face  with the very same woman clerk at the post office in Rogers, Arkansas. I proudly display my handiwork, my extensive pasting of white paper on every side of that box.

“You did a good job,” said the clerk. “But I can still tell it’s a liquor box. I still can’t take it. Sorry.”  The first time, I was irritated. Now I’m getting a little pissed. I felt like saying, of course you can tell it’s a liquor box, because you know it’s a liquor box from my first visit. Then I repeated to myself all the reasons this whole thing was so stupid. I felt like going and getting a bottle of rum and drinking until I passed out. But I didn’t, because when it comes to duels with unreasonable idiots, the only thing that matters is that you find a way to outwit them.

But I still had to get the damn thing shipped. It was obvious to me that the faintest hint or whiff of the devil’s brew would just get me sent home again with my tail between my legs. So I took a big old piece of brown butcher paper  and wrapped up the whole box. I didn’t go back to the clerk in Rogers, Arkansas, because I could just imagine her saying she could tell it was a liquor box because of its shape or because she had X-ray vision, or that she suspected I was a serial pervert shipper.

No, I took the wrapped package to the post office in Farmington, Arkansas, where a woman who could have been the sister of the woman in Rogers actually accepted the package for shipment. I paid her, trying hard not to smirk.  Apparently she lacked the psychic ability of her sister. I walked out to the car with the same kind of pride and swagger George Bush must have had when he landed that plane on the aircraft carrier and declared mission accomplished.

But the post office wasn’t quite done  with me yet. I received an email from the buyer a few days later. The package had arrived postage due, and he’d had to pay the post office to get it, even though he’d paid me in advance for shipping. He asked for a refund. I sent it to him, but I went back to the post office to try to find out what the hell had happened.

A third woman clerk, younger but still a Stepford clerk, told me it shouldn’t have happened. I knew that. Can you pull up the transaction and see why it happened, I asked. No way to do that, she said, and I don’t know much about computers. Yes, she actually said that. You see, the post office is like the Special Olympics. They don’t have a clue, but they always win,  every time.

After four trips to the post office, I was ready to spontaneously  combust over the absurdity of human existence. But I didn’t. I drove to the liquor store, bought a big bottle of rum and tried to forget the whole thing. Yo, ho, ho.


Living (and dying) on Tulsa time



The Black  section of Tulsa burning during the race riot  of 1921.


Maybe Colin Kaepernick is right. Maybe it’s finally time to admit that there are so many racist cops killing black men, it can’t be ignored anymore.

I grew up in Tulsa. I was saddened by but not surprised when a Tulsa police officer shot and killed an unarmed Black man named Terance Crutcher. Tulsa police say they are investigating, but it’s apparent from the chilling video of Crutcher being shot while he held his hands in the air that it was yet another senseless murder of a Black man by a cop who will probably get away with  it.

Like many big cities, Tulsa is a dangerous place to live if you’re Black. Tulsa, and Oklahoma in general, have a dark history of racial killing, from KKK lynchings to the 1921 Tulsas race riot, when thousands of whites stormed into the Black section of Tulsa, killed 300 people and burned the black neighborhood to the ground. It was a massive attack on the Black  population, including aerial assault from airplanes dropping incendiary devices on roofs. Many of the victims were buried  in a mass grave. It was hushed up, swept under the rug, and mostly forgotten.

Growing up in a white Tulsa neighborhood in the 1960s, I had no idea it had even happened. I had no idea that being Black in Tulsa was life threatening. But then, I don’t remember any Black students at my high school. I do remember one afternoon when a Black man knocked on our door and my mother took me into the  bathroom where we hid until he went away.

I didn’t  know just how bad it really was until the early 1980s when I went to work as a writer at the Muskogee paper. Reporters who had been covering the cops for years whispered about the cops targeting and killing young Black men on the street routinely. They knew how to get away with it. If people at the newspaper knew about it, why didn’t they try to expose it?

It was a different time in the 1980s. Things were really corrupt. The editor of the newspaper and the police chief were buddies. The chief supplied our office parties with confiscated liquor. Part of the narrative that went around was that the cops carried an extra gun, a “drop gun” to plant on the dead victim. The fix was in solid. Blacks were hunted in some towns for sport by the cops. Being on the street a night was all it took to get you killed.

It was many years later before I understood how much this must have upset me. When I started writing short stories, one of  the first I  wrote was about racist cops running wild and killing Black men on the street. I was using writing as therapy, to try to get it out of my head.

But it seems it just won’t go away. This  latest killing in Tulsa is just the most recent in a never ending string of killings, and it won’t be the last, not by a long shot (pardon the pun). If you don’t understand why Black people in America are in the street with signs, why pro athletes are kneeling during the national  anthem, and why cops are more trigger happy than ever, it’s time to wake up and smell the bigotry and injustice.

No, not all cops are bad. But the good cops still cover for the bad ones, the ones that are committing  cold blooded murder. Is it going to take another big deadly race riot, like  the one in Tulsa in 1921 before we wise up?

A New Low


I don’t think I could forgive myself if I didn’t  speak up about this nasty presidential election that is unlike any I’ve seen. And I’ve seen a few. Harry Truman had just become president when I was born. Yeah, I’m old. The first time I voted for president was in 1968,  the year of the riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. It was Hubert Humphrey vs. Richard Nixon. I voted for Humphrey, and for the past half century, I’ve voted in every presidential election.

But I’ve never seen a campaign like this. I’ve liked and disliked different presidential contenders, but  until this election I’ve never feared that someone would be elected. But please God, I pray, if you exist, don’t let Donald Trump become the leader of the most powerful nation on the planet.

Donald Trump is a racist, a liar, an egomaniac. He’s a pompous boor, a con man, a vanity queen. I’m not sure he can tell the difference between reality and his own bullshit. He’s unfit to be a dogcatcher. He’s filled with hate, derision and bigotry for everything about America that isn’t white.

Here’s what’s even worse, that racism is still widespread enough in our country to propel him to the nomination of a major party. No, not all his supporters are racists, but they are a big bloc and without the support of racists, he wouldn’t be in this race. I mean, less than eight years ago when Americans elected the first African-American president, we had cause to believe that we had progressed against the forces of racism. Guess not.

The big ugly truth of this election is that racism is alive and well in America. When Trump started putting out his racist clarion calls directed  against Latinos, African-Americans, Women, Gays and even the handicapped, the racists came running. They’d been seething and fomenting for eight years over the indignity of having a Black president. They’re locked, loaded and white. Trump’s base is lily  white. None of America’s minorities support him.

Just hating Hillary is not a good enough excuse to vote for this monster Trump. You  have to be a full-on  bigot to back this blowhard.  I know Hillary isn’t the most appealing person to seek high office. Frankly, I wish the first woman president  (please, God, please)  wouldn’t have gained name recognition by being the wife of a president. But she’s smart, experienced and qualified. Three things that can’t be said for Trump. If Hillary lapsed into a coma tomorrow, I’d still vote for her, because the very idea of Trump being president is unthinkable. I’d vote for slime mold before I’d vote for Trump. His being a candidate is embarrassing. A Trump presidency would be disaster.

I’m truly disappointed we’re at this point in America. The rest of the world thinks Trump is a ridiculous clown. Sure, Putin and the Russians would love to see an idiot in the Oval Office. So would the Chinese, the North Koreans, and the Iranians. All our country’s enemies are hoping Trump gets elected. But that doesn’t bother his base, which is fueled by hate and conspiracy theories.

I think this is a crossroads in American history. We are now a multi-cultural society but a large portion of white people cannot accept the fact that they’re no longer in charge of everything. They want to take America back, like a hundred years back. In this election, we will either move forward by electing our first woman president, or we will return to the dark days of white supremacy by putting a racist in the White House.


Free at last- almost



I’ve blogged once before about how much I dislike cable tv packages. Basically, you don’t get to choose which channels you receive. You’re sold a package, which includes your local channels and a bunch of cable channels, many of which you never watch. It’s like going to the grocery store to buy some apples and grapes and being forced to buy liverwurst and anchovies also, even though you know you won’t eat them. As a consumer, that makes no sense at all. What would make sense is a cafeteria system that allows you to buy  just the channels you want. But the cable companies are never going to do that. Why should they when they get your money for a mixed bag of goods?

So for years now, I’ve been plotting to escape my cable company. As my bill kept rising, almost month by month it seemed, I became even more determined to dump Cox Communication. But how?

Here’s how I did it. First of all, I’m proud to say that several weeks ago, I called Cox and canceled all my cable tv from them. It felt pretty good. And yes, my tv options have changed, but, on balance, I couldn’t be happier with the new way we’re watching tv.

I now stream my cable channels from Sling. It’s $20 a month for 25 channels. It’s yet another package deal, but most of the Sling channels are the ones we watch anyway, like CNN, ESPN, History, TNT, TBS, HGTV, and A and E. With Sling, changing channel takes a little longer, but the price is way less than I was paying before for most of the same channels. Of course, you have to have the ability to stream to do Sling. If you don’t have a smart tv, you can get something like an Amazon Fire Stick  and plug it into the HDMI slot on your tv and presto, your tv now comes in on your wifi.

For local channels, I bought and installed an outdoor digital amplified antenna. Getting it up was a trip. The antenna cost less than $20 on ebay, but it came unassembled. I spent most of a day putting it together, puzzling over the enigmatic instructions obviously written by someone with a limited knowledge of English. Yes, it was made in China.

Once I had it together and up, I connected it to my tv and it picked up 34 channels with a sharp picture, including my local ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, FOX and CW stations along  with a bunch of other channels, mostly broadcasting anciently old stuff like Andy Griffith, Gilligan’s Island and Newlywed Game. But it was all free tv, coming in on the airwaves, just like in the 1950s. It was like I’d come full circle.

To replace our premium channels, we’ve subscribed to Amazon Prime and Netflix. They are well worth what we pay for them, less than $20 a month. They offer a vast selection of movies, tv and  music.

We now spend about $40 a month on TV, about one-third what we were paying before. And we have better viewing options than before.

I’d like to say we’re free of Cox at last, but we still buy internet service from them. But by early next year, we hope to change providers and be completely free of the cable company. That will be a good day.

The truth is, cable tv is rapidly become old technology, and will soon be relegated to the same place as cassette music tapes, VHS video and buggy whips. The  cable companies  should be moving toward streaming, but they continue to flog their service, which has remained basically the same for 50 years. Cable tv is a dinosaur, about to become extinct. If you want to save money and have a better entertainment experience, streaming is your bright new future.

Never, Never, Ever Give Up


1919 – Walt Disney is fired from his newspaper job for lacking imagination.


1926 – Lucille Ball is told by her acting  coach that she’s wasting “her time and ours.”


1936 – John F. Kennedy runs for president of the Harvard freshman class,  and loses.


1960s – Steven Spielberg is rejected by the film school at USC.

beatles early days

1962 – The Beatles are rejected by Decca Records.


1973 – Hillary Clinton fails the District of Columbia bar exam.

Oprah Winfrey
1977 – Oprah  Winfrey is fired from her news job for being too emotionally involved.

1985 – Steve Jobs is fired from the Macintosh division of Apple.th73JMV7IZ

1996 – J.K. Rowling is turned down 12 times for her Harry Potter manuscript.

Never, never, ever give up.



The New Commandments

As we approach the new year, it’s time  to think about resolutions, ways we can be better. I don’t know why, but recently I’ve been thinking about how to live a good life. After some reflection, I’ve come up with 10 new commandments which, if followed, would make anyone into a good person.

The Old Commandments

I know many Christians revere the 10 commandments brought down from the mountain by Moses, but I’ve always thought that those rules of life are outdated for the way we live our lives now. I think it’s time to update the commandments for our times. So here are my new 10 commandments.

  1. Be kind to others. Sounds simple, but it’s not so easy. Life is filled with frustration, which leads to irritation, anger and bad behavior toward the source of the problem. Controlling yourself and being nice can be a challenge.
  2. Respect and preserve nature. We’re destroying the planet, our only home and safe haven. We’re killing the plants and animals at a record rate. We’re polluting the air and water. We’re changing the climate. Unless we become better stewards of nature, our time as a species is coming to an end. We have to learn to share the planet with and nurture all living things as well as the planet itself.
  3. Share some of what you have. If you’re fortunate enough to have more than you need to sustain yourself, give some of what you have to those who are hungry, cold, homeless or sick. Wealth is a curse, not a blessing.
  4. Love somebody. A life without love is a barren life. Find somebody who can put up with you and share your life with them.
  5. Be passionate. Find something you care about deeply and pursue that passion with all your energy.
  6. Accept yourself, accept others. We’re all different, but we’re more alike really. Find a way to overcome hatred, both self-loathing and intolerance for those who are not like you.
  7. Be happy. Happiness comes from within you, not from outside sources. Focus on the good things in your life. Endure the bad things with dignity and grace.
  8. Work hard. Make a good effort, push yourself and see what you can achieve. There is satisfaction in daily toil and struggle.
  9. Explore the planet. Don’t spend your whole life in one place. Revel in the beauty of what’s out there, whether it’s a walk in your neighborhood or a sojourn to distant wonders.
  10. Forgive. People do bad things to other people. That’s a reality we all have to deal with. You can either cling to your anger for the injustices heaped upon you, or you can let it go and be free of it.

Who am I to offer this lofty advice? I’m nobody, an old man who has often failed  to live by my own beliefs. These new commandments are not easy to live by. I’d say they’re far more difficult than the Mosaic commandments. Graven images? No problem. Don’t kill?  I’m perfect on that one so far. But I struggle mightily with most of the things I’ve listed as my formula for living a good life. But the fact that I struggle shows that I’m trying to do better, to grow and become a better person. And I think  that’s what life should really be about.untitled

Is Life Random?


For years now, when the first weekend in August rolls around, we make the 50 mile drive to Eureka Springs, Arkansas for a city wide yard sale. Never mind that’s it’s usually about a zillion degrees that weekend, or that in recent years there seem to be fewer and fewer sales, Eureka is a such a charming artistic town, we’re willing to melt into our shoes for a few hours while prowling through other people’s junk.

So my wife Ann, daughter Samantha and I happily drove around for hours in the heat in a car with no AC, and I ended up buying only one thing, a book by Donald Miller titled A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. I bought it at a yard sale at a place called the Village Writing School. I’m not sure why I bought it. Sometimes, you do things for reasons that aren’t clear. I’d never heard of the book or the author, even though he’s a NYT bestselling writer. Mostly I picked it out of the many books there because I had an intuitive moment, and intuitive moments don’t happen to me that often, so when one pops up, I try to be receptive.

No, intuition isn’t my thing. I leave that to women, mothers, psychics, mediums, and all those attuned to the cosmic message. Actually, intuition kind of goes against my core beliefs. I’ve always thought that life is random, that we’re like dust motes floating on the breeze.

Intuition is evidence that our existence isn’t random, that there is some kind of order in the universe, that things happen for a reason. Lots of people believe that’s the way it is but I’ve never been one of them.

Occasionally, though, something happens that is so serendipitous, that it makes me question the randomness of everything. And when that happens, it always catches me by surprise and gets my brain sparking.

So I took the book home and as often happens, I let it lay around for a while. I do that a lot and I’m not sure why. It’s not like books are like wine or cheese and will get better with age. Maybe it’s because I’m a picky reader, and I reject most of the books I start reading. And even though I’d had a small intuitive moment when I found the book, I really don’t have much faith in my intuitive ability. Intuition, or the lack of it, has often failed me. For example, when VCRs first came out, there were two formats, VHS and Beta. I, of course, bought a Betamax. I had a 50-50 chance of getting that one right and I blew it, despite pretty good odds of getting it right, even without any help from my atrophied intuition. Failures like that have made me skeptical that intuition works, at least for me.

Finally, though, I picked up the book and started reading it and it spoke to me directly in a way that made my mind race and even do a few cartwheels. Donald Miller is a fine writer, funny, insightful, touching, and thought provoking. But best of all, this was a book about how to be a good storyteller, and that’s been an almost obsessive drive for me nearly all my life.

I’m about halfway through the book now, and I’m reading it in sips, savoring the words, stretching it out as long as I can. The book has made me stop and think about some big things. Like what are the chances of finding something that opens some portals for you at a yard sale 50 miles from home, a random purchase based on a hunch that you had little faith in?

I know it doesn’t sound like much. I found a book that turns me on. Big deal. But new insights are a big deal.. As our opinions get hardened by time, finding something that challenges your ideas and gets you thinking is a kind of epiphany. Most people seek out information that supports what they already think, and no new ground is broken when you keep plowing the same old patch of dirt.

And I know it’s a small thing, but having this book fall into my hands seems like the exact opposite of a random event. It seems like it was meant to happen, like the book was lying there waiting for me to come find it, that it was custom written for me, that Donald Miller wrote the damn thing with me in mind. Of course, I know that’s not true but that’s how it feels, and that feeling doesn’t come along very often.

Maybe, just maybe, it all isn’t totally just hit or miss. I still think life is mostly random, that we’re just bouncing around like pinballs, lighting up lights and ringing bells without a clue how we did it. But it’s nice to know that occasionally, there’s magic mixed with the mayhem.