The Last Righteous Man

Righteousness has entered an anachronistic phase. Duplicity seems all the rage at the moment.

I have been watching reruns of CSI Miami. The Jerry Bruckheimer-produced show, which had a successful 10-year run on network television, is now in syndication on WE tv every weekend. It’s been my summer guilty pleasure.

If you remember the series, or have watched more than a smattering of episodes, you’ll be familiar with the show’s protagonist, Lieutenant Horatio Caine. Caine, played by veteran actor, David Caruso, is the rare alpha male on television these days. During our season of conflict and ambivalence regarding wrong and right, there’s little doubt where Caine comes down on any issue during the series’ hour-long story line.

Give 'em an hour and the CSI Miami team will always get the bad guy.

Give ’em an hour and the CSI Miami team will always get the bad guy.

Caine doesn’t mollycoddle criminals and has little patience with ne’er-do-wells. He’s also loyal to the staff that serve under his command, and never shies away from standing up to the brass in support of his people and his crime unit. He’s someone that has no use for formalities, and he never demands anything more than he’s willing to lay on the line, himself. When’s the last time you worked for anyone with just one of those qualities?

You could dismiss Caine’s character as mere fiction, and you’d be accurate on that account. However, the show’s writers obviously understand—or at least have some remaining memory—of that time when there were real-life Horatio Caines walking among us. A time prior to post-modernism’s scourge of moral relativism.

It’s possible that when the show was in production, back in the early-2000s that there was still a flicker of binary morality’s flame, and crime-fighting figures like Caine were still capable of commanding prime time runs. CSI Miami was ratings-popular for much of its initial television life, from 2002 until its final season in 2012.

One last element that I’ll mention about Caine and his CSI colleagues is the absence of agendas and ideological axe-grinding. Perhaps I’ve found enjoyment and entertainment in the program partly due to the escape it affords me from the news headlines of our present time. And isn’t that one solace that fiction affords?

I’ve been reading George Monbiot’s latest book, How Did We Get Into This Mess? Politics, Equality, Nature. Monbiot, a longtime British journalist who writes mainly for The Guardian, is harshly critical of our current crop of leaders and the solutions being offered most of us not considered one-percenters. I’m enjoying his insights and am once again reminded of the economic damage wrought be neoliberalism’s nearly 40-year march across the globe.

Monbiot is an unabashed progressive who has real concerns with neoliberal politicians like Hillary Clinton. He’s certainly no fan of Donald Trump, either. We’re currently left in the lurch, with a political Hobson’s choice. Once more, we are forced to choose the “lesser of two evils”—between either neoliberalism or neofascism—not a choice at all.

We are surely in a mess of a magnitude that I’ve not seen in my lifetime, and I’m pretty sure we lack the means (and other requisite qualities) to extract ourselves from it. And unfortunately, there are no Horatio Caines coming to save the day, either.

Backseat Reminders

How did we function before “smart” technology smoothed over all of the rough edges of living? If you spend 5-10 minutes watching the opening segment of your local newscast, you are excused for believing that humans were once more intelligent than we are now, even possessing a modicum of common sense.

Apparently our cluttered lives have become so disorienting that we need the government (and car companies) to rescue us, and prevent us from leaving our kids in the backseat while we’re at work. Seriously, I guess dads everywhere are forgetting to leave junior off at the daycare, forcing him to fend for himself in the overheated car, while dad’s earning his daily bread working for Whitey the Man. Poor dad (and mom).

According to Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, 29 children have died in hot cars this year.

“These deaths are happening year round. Even in mild temperatures, children unknowingly left in cars can quickly be in danger of death or serious injury,” said Gillan. Continue reading

New Kid in Town

Living in the football-mad region of New England, Monday morning quarterbacking is legion. Of course, those Monday morning discussions soon turn into Tuesday and Wednesday discussions extending throughout the day on Boston radio stations, all revolving around the QB position. That’s because in New England, football talk centers on one of the best in the history of the game.

To top it all off, starting last season, with all the hoopla about ball inflation and the National Football League’s “gotcha’” approach towards that quarterback—and this year’s continuation—as Tom Brady begins the 2016 season serving a four-game suspension, there’s no backing off discussions about the quarterback. The wrinkle this year is that in addition to Brady, we’re now talking Garoppolo, too.

Run, Jimmy, run.

Run, Jimmy, run.

Across the NFL, you won’t get much of an argument from the 31 other places outside of New England that the Patriots are not well-liked—and articles like this one, and this one (and a host of others) intimate that the team is hated by just about everyone else save those of us who love the red, white, and blue. So be it. Continue reading

Too Many Things

Is it possible to reach a mark where you are trying to juggle more balls than your juggling talent allows?

People who study these types of things will tell you that multitasking is like a mirage—or better, the benefits of multitasking are all a myth–designed to extend us far beyond our functionality. Basically, the more that you have to do, and try to do in combination with something (or somethings) else, your effectiveness diminishes—often exponentially with each successive spinning plate that you add.

For the first time since God knows when, I felt overwhelmed this week. I just have too many damn tasks cluttering my to-do checklist. It’s possible that launching my volleyball officiating trial balloon while working four days in the financial services arena, being on-call at the funeral home 2-3 nights each week, and also driving a few shifts for the Uber have pushed me beyond my capabilities. And then, where the hell does writing fit into this patchwork quilt?

Do you ever feel like a juggling clown?

Do you ever feel like a juggling clown?

My long drive home from Standish after my first JV and varsity volleyball matches last night had me feeling wrung out and wondering, what’s next? Or better, thinking that maybe I could exercise some measure of control over my life, at least for one weekend. Continue reading

Read a Book

Did you know that today is National Read a Book Day? I happened to catch a segment on the morning news about it and that print books still outsell books downloaded to digital devices.

The key to reading for me has always been having a book worth reading. When you have “that special book,” time stands still and the cares of the world often seem further away.

Being Mortal-Gawande

I spent my Labor Day reading Atul Gawande’s marvelous book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. This was the book everyone was talking about in the senior/aging in place world I inhabited back in 2014. Thanks to Miss Mary (who had the book because of her book club), I started flipping through Gawande’s bestseller and before I knew it, I found the book nearly impossible to put down. Continue reading

Jamming About Traffic

I consider reading important—enough so that I’ve remained committed to reading three or four books a month for the past decade or so. It occurred to me recently that being smart and well-informed doesn’t really matter. That’s probably one reason why my reading has fallen off the cliff in August.

Discussions with other readers about books we like and how it sucks when a great book is nearing an end is also part of that reading drop-off—I just haven’t been able to find anything that resonates with how I’m feeling this summer. That was until I stumbled upon a book about traffic.

Since I wrote “traffic” with a “small t,” you’re sharp to recognize that the traffic I’m talking about isn’t the Traffic of “John Barleycorn Must Die,” or “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” although it’s mighty tempting to keep the music blogging going with ruminations about “Little” Stevie Winwood and a post about WBLM that takes me back to the halcyon days at Lisbon High—that’s for another time and another post.

The traffic I’m anxious to riff on today is the story of traffic courtesy of a writer that I sadly just found out about, Tom Vanderbilt, and his wonderful book, Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). Vanderbilt’s type of traffic is the kind we’re all intimately familiar with, whether we like it or not. Because save for a few of us, our lives intertwine with cars, Happy Motoring, and the carpet-like mass of vehicles crisscrossing America at any given time.

The joys of sitting in traffic on American roadways.

The joys of sitting in traffic on American roadways.

Continue reading

Throwing a (World) Party

In lieu of substantive blogging material, I’m planning to throw up random thoughts and ideas for awhile. That should suffice for fresh content until something big shows up at my doorstep. I’m actually fine with transitioning the JBE into a poor man’s Pitchfork if need be. I’ve never been shy about sharing my opinions on music (past and present).

Years ago, I read an article by some music journalist. He was speaking with Karl Wallinger (former member of the Waterboys) and at that time (in the 1990s), Wallinger fronted World Party. I don’t recall the publication. I do remember Wallinger being articulate about his music, however. He was talking about the Beatles, and their influence on his writing and song structure, as well as a host of other things that the British singer-songwriter was weighing-in on at that moment.

Like most things from my past, I boxed up Wallinger (and his music) and stuffed them back into the subconscious recesses of the soft tissue that is my brain’s roomy central archive.

Funny thing about music (at least for me), this material dating back half a century seeps out at unexpected times. With Wallinger and World Party, it was on Sunday, in the early afternoon. This followed my Sunday-morning-coming-down filled with trying to recall everything I’ve been studying from the NFHS Volleyball Rules Book. I had to pass their online exam in order to become certified, and become legit with the Maine Association of Volleyball Officials (MAVO). Continue reading

Writing Questions

I’ve been writing for a long time. Well, it seems like that to me, and for most people, 14 years isn’t anything to sneeze at. That’s a quarter of my life.

If you’ve been a reader of my various blogs, then you are somewhat familiar with my story. If you haven’t heard it before, here it is in a nutshell. At the age of 39, after dabbling with writing on-and-off for a couple of years, I got serious about my craft. Much of this newfound motivation was a result of reading Stephen King’s well-known book about writing, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I followed his advice in establishing a routine and adopting discipline. About a year later, I had an essay published. Three years later, my award-winning first book, When Towns Had Teams, came out. That was in 2005.

I continued on through two Moxie books, the period I called “the Moxie years,” and in 2012, decided it was time to move on to something more personal—a book of seven essays touching down on my life experiences, with several centered on my hometown of Lisbon Falls. That book was a failure from a sales standpoint, even though it contained my best writing to date.

During the last decade-and-a-half, I’ve also spent extended periods freelancing for local newspapers, regional magazines, alt-weeklies, and a few websites. I’ve gathered a file of clips, with my most recent ones posted here. Continue reading

What’s the Call?

I am a baseball umpire. I enjoy telling people that and I’m proud of my development over the past four years.

Baseball is a sport that I’d say is “in my blood,” one I’m intimately familiar with—I played it, then served as a coach and later—ran a summer college league (one of the oldest in the country) for five years. I can say with authority that I know the game of baseball. I think that’s played a role in helping me advance as an umpire. This spring and summer, I’ve done 65 games and save for a couple of miserable games in the rain, enjoyed every experience of being on the field and calling games.

Several weeks ago, I learned from one of my umpiring partners that volleyball is growing rapidly in Maine and that there is a need for new officials. He had begun attending rules classes, and he encouraged me to check it out.

I asked Joe if he had played the game and his answer was, “no.” That piqued my interest because like him, I have never played volleyball, save for the backyard-variety version of the sport that many of us have dabbled in at a party or family gathering. I’ve also been interested in picking up a “second sport” to officiate. Perhaps volleyball could be added to my repertoire? A secondary question could be added;  “Do I need to add yet another task to my already loaded list?”

I'll be calling a brand new sport this fall.

I’ll be calling a brand new sport this fall.

Continue reading

Travel Day

Last Thursday, I got on a plane headed to Omaha, Nebraska. On the way, we had to stop in Charlotte because the airline said it takes two planes to make it halfway across the country.

My travel companion was headed to Omaha to swim, bike, and run. This was for the 2016 USA Triathlon National Championships in her age group. She had qualified at last summer’s Challenge America Triathlon held in Old Orchard Beach.

Initially, I wasn’t bullish on going to Omaha, Nebraska. But a vacation is good once in awhile, even if I think they’re overrated. Plus, Warren Buffett lives in Omaha, and maybe he’d give me a pile of money if I saw him on the street.

Miss Mary (my travel companion and wife) swam in some water on Saturday morning. This was Carter Lake, and I think it was actually in Iowa, but I’m not sure. Iowa is really close to Omaha—it’s just across the river, truth be told.

After her swim, Mary biked. She did really well. Mark (our son, who met us in Omaha after coming down from Vancouver, headed to Providence, RI) and I cheered every time Mary went by us. We took lots of pictures, too. Continue reading