The Kindness of Strangers

Missy often lives in a world without filters. Which can make life interesting for everyone else in the world.

If you haven’t met our disabled ward yet, don’t worry. When you do, it’ll be pretty unmistakable. For somebody who rarely says much, she has a way of making her presence known very quickly.

In a restaurant, she’s the one who bobs excitedly up and down in her chair when a favorite dish arrives, laughing loudly.

In the downtown, she’s the one who’ll come right up to someone interesting with a wave and a “Hi, you!”

At a concert, she’s not just the one who’s dancing and swaying with the music. She’s the one who’s immediately on arm-grasping terms with the person next to her and who has to tap the person in front of her to see if they’re as excited about all this as she is.

Heather and I try to mediate some of it. But until they master human cloning, there are only so many places we can be at once – and even then, Missy would probably be sidling up to the geneticist with a shy smile and an introductory “Hi …”She has simply never met a stranger.

Which is what makes it so wonderful that so many strangers have greeted her well.

I won’t say 100 percent. The world isn’t perfect and nobody’s patience is infinite. To those few for whom Missy’s presence has reached the point of fatigue in the past, I understand and I wish you well.

And to the many, many, many people who have returned her smile with kindness and her persistence with understanding – thank you.

Thank you to those of you with disabled relatives of your own. Or who have worked with the disabled. Or who simply have a deep reserve of empathy and an open heart.

Thank you for the impromptu conversations in stores and lobbies with someone who can’t wait to show off her new brush or her new shoelace or her cup of pop.

Thank you for the smiles from neighboring tables as she takes in her surroundings with curiosity.

Thank you for being the dance partner of the moment when the music gets loud and the rhythm gets strong. And for listening gravely and engagingly to excitement that almost becomes words, and words that almost become sentences, and sentences that emerge at the most unpredictable times.

I know all of you have your own lives to live. And I am sure it is not always easy to share the world with this unlikely neighbor.

But because you have, and because of how you have, you’ve given me a lot of hope for this world.

It’s been a pretty angry place lately, hasn’t it? So many of the people who catch our attention seem to want to divide, to make distinctions, to push apart in hate and suspicion. There isn’t time to welcome a stranger, not when you have to guard what’s yours. And gradually, life becomes about walls, not doors.

But when I travel with Missy, those walls are so rarely there.

Maybe she simply knows how to pick them. (I’ve known for a while now that she has a strong “jerk detector.”) Or maybe there’s something about her that reaches deep on a first meeting. Whatever it is, it’s a powerful reminder that there is something more. That people can still respond like the friends and family they are inside, that  decency and gentleness are not dead.

That whatever the headlines and politicians may scream, there is still good to be found, and a neighbor may be anywhere.

Thank you all. And if you happen to share a piece of audience with Missy and me at Oktoberfest, I apologize in advance for the distraction.

If you happen to see it as a celebration instead of a distraction – so much the better.

Many thanks, stranger.

Many thanks, neighbor.

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A Healthy Respect

When you think about it, we don’t ask for that much from our presidential candidates. Just the agelessness of Superman or Wonder Woman. The steel-clad sweat glands of the Terminator. And maybe the all-around athleticism of Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man.

Simple, really.

As you may have gathered from the most recent news cycles, though, we don’t exactly have the Clark Kent candidacy yet. On one side of the aisle, Hillary Clinton’s attempt to continue her campaign through a case of pneumonia drew alarmed coverage from journalists across the country. But there was plenty of criticism left for her opponent Donald Trump as he openly hesitated about releasing his own recent medical information, before eventually presenting the results of his latest physical on-air to Dr. Oz.

Now, on one level, I get it. The presidency is a highly stressful, demanding job. When you look at the before-and-after pictures, our typical Leader of the Free World looks like they’ve aged about 20 years overnight. And when both candidates are among the oldest to ever run for the position, it can be important to know whether they’re one good White House dinner away from saying “Your turn, Mr. Vice President.”

But I’m also not too surprised that a candidate would hold that information back. Or a president, for that matter. In a way, we all but demand it.

Simply put, we don’t do sickness very well.

The Christian writer Max Lucado once noted that if you ever want to stop a conversation cold, ask someone what they think about their impending death. We don’t want reminders. Not as a species. Not as a country. Entire industries are built on the premise that a person can always be young, beautiful, and healthy, a movie star on Main Street.

Illness? Worthy of sympathy, of course. But please, have the decency to get better soon so we can go back to our fantasy. As I’ve mentioned before, even the best-intentioned friend can begin to suffer “compassion fatigue” when continually exposed to the reality of a long-term physical condition.

So we build up an ideal. And to meet that ideal, our presidents lie.

It’s not a new thing, born of reality TV and the celebrity presidency. Franklin Roosevelt concealed the extent of his polio, attempting to “walk” with braces in public and never letting his wheelchair be photographed. Jack Kennedy publicly played rough-and-tumble football games with his brothers to hide his difficulties with back pain and Addison’s disease. Woodrow Wilson had a stroke that basically incapacitated him for the last year and a half of his presidency; the public was told he was suffering “nervous exhaustion.”

Never let ‘em see you suffer. Keep up the face at all costs.

Sometimes, of course, the face slips – and oh, boy, do we react. The elder George Bush famously tried to attend a state dinner despite an illness, and was roundly ridiculed when he threw up on the lap of the Japanese prime minister as a result. Even lesser reminders of physical imperfection become the stuff of late-night comedy – when Gerald Ford, a former college athlete, began suffering an extended attack of the clumsies, it pretty much launched the career of Chevy Chase.

And each moment with derision, we remind our presidential aspirants to build that wall a little higher.

I’m not saying presidential candidates should be dishonest. At this level, the information often needs to be out there. But some of the burden is on us, too. We need to be able to react without hysteria, without mockery, and with as much common sense and calm judgment as we can bring to the table. (A little sympathy might not hurt, either.)

Trying to pretend an illness isn’t there can make things worse. We all know that. But if we insist on the mask, we’ll get it.

And I guarantee, it won’t be hiding a superhero.

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Opening the Door

Hell froze over. Pigs are soaring over the Rockies. The Chicago Cubs can start printing World Series programs.

In other words, Donald Trump just let a banned reporter back in a campaign event.

Not just one outlet, either. According to recent reports, the Donald has shredded his entire blacklist, a do-not-invite wall of spite that extended from the Washington Post to Buzzfeed and maybe even the Daily Planet while he was at it. Anyone who had dared offend him with their coverage or their cheek (one online outlet put their coverage of him in the Entertainment section) had been summarily shown the door.

And then, a wall that had been rising for over a year suddenly came down.

Not with an apology, of course, or any acknowledgement that the candidate had done anything ill-advised. That would be expecting a bit much. If anything, his press ban was lowered with a bit of resignation, a sigh of “I figure they can’t treat me any worse.” But still, lower it he did.

Reality finally broke down the front door.

This is one of those things that remains true whether you love or hate Trump, or for that matter, whether you love or hate the press. If you are a politician – whether holding office or running for it – you cannot do without the press, any more than a modern-day NFL team can do without television coverage or a lounge lizard can do without tacky gold chains and a pickup line. As a would-be representative of a free society, this is your reality.

It’s a reality that our nation’s leaders have tried to dodge on occasion. President Nixon was the most notorious, maintaining an outright “enemies list,” but he was hardly the first or last president to have an antagonistic relationship with the Fourth Estate. Even Thomas Jefferson, who once said he preferred newspapers without a government to a government without newspapers, once wrote in exasperation that “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”

Nothing is more tempting than to build a wall – if thy press offend thee, cut it off! But it’s a little like Mom’s warning about picking at a wound. It may feel good at the time, but it doesn’t help things, and it’s almost certainly going to make them worse.

As almost any veteran politician could have told Trump, cutting a press outlet out of your events doesn’t end the conversation. It just ends your control of it. Campaign events are highly staged, positioned to put a candidate in the best possible light and give him or her an opportunity to address the issues of the day. Take that away and – heaven forbid – the reporters may just go off and find news about you on their own.

What a concept, huh?

Add in the fact that a press wall is really leaky – many high-profile events with limited space have pool coverage, where reporters have agreed to share information – and the surrender becomes even more inevitable.

It’s not a bad rule of thumb for any of us: engagement and interaction beats withdrawal and disdain. Granted, there are some toxic people and situations where the best move is to create as much distance as possible. But remember that your refusal to interact with a situation does not guarantee that you cannot still be shaped by it. Pick your spots carefully and with much thought.

Gee. Forethought. Maybe that’s a word that more of our national politicians need to learn.

But maybe they prefer the taste of flying bacon.

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Labor of Love

For some people, Labor Day means the end of summer. Or the start of fantasy football. Or maybe even, heaven forbid, a chance to think about labor unions.

For me, it means turning into a financial archaeologist. If Indiana Jones traded in his fedora and bullwhip for a stack of bank statements and credit card balances, he’d be having a typical Rochat September – not to mention a very strange weekend at the box office.

Of course, for Dr. Jones, all that’s at stake is something like the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail. You know, the little things. For “Colorado” Rochat and the Kingdom of the Fiscal Skill, it’s all about the treasure known as Missy.

Regular readers will remember Melissa “Missy” Hargett as a regular star of these columns. For the unfamiliar, Missy is my disabled aunt-in-law, who’s my age physically but often much younger in mind and spirit. My wife Heather and I have looked after her for five years, every day learning more about this woman of few words and much love: her passion for hearing the Harry Potter stories, her eagerness to hustle plates into and out of the dishwasher, her conviction that every stereo speaker in the world should be cranked up to “11.”

It’s been an adventure in a different sort of parenting, and a delightful one. But it also means we get to take an annual Missy Exam of sorts, a guardian’s report that each year goes into how Missy is doing and how her resources are being used.

Most of it is pretty straightforward, of course. But it does take time, especially the “archaeology” as we double-check, review and summarize the year’s expenses. Calling it tedious is like saying Peyton Manning was a little inaccurate last year.

And yet, every year, it’s oddly heartwarming as well.

Every year, the numbers start to become memories.

A restaurant receipt? There she is at Mike O’Shay’s on a Saturday, grinning her 100-watt smile as the staff welcomes her to “her” table.

A run to the grocery store for cold medicine? There we are on the couch together watching Star Wars, as Missy kicks her blanket-covered legs in excitement at the final scenes.

Colored pencils and craft supplies? A hundred art projects lie behind those entries, charged into with abandon and glue sticks.

Piece by piece, the mundane becomes magical.

That’s probably true for most of us, now that I think about it. Everything around us has the potential to evoke a memory. We touch a thousand things and more every day, and each touch leaves an impression.

Computer experts used those principles to build the World Wide Web, where each link and association draws you deeper in. But parents have known this longer than programmers. They know how much can be woken up with just an old report card and a stray stuffed animal, how many things can be released by a crayon-scratched paper in the bottom of a drawer.

And if we leave that many impressions in an object, how many more do we leave on people?

Lives touch lives, and change them piece by piece. We can teach patience or exasperation, kindness or frustration, with the smallest of gestures. It ripples, and feeds back, and reinforces. I know Missy has shaped both of us, with her careful pace and open appreciation (or undisguised disdain) for everything she’s experienced. I know we’ve shaped her, too, and that in both cases, the sculpting is still going on.

It’s an adventure. And it’s still an exciting one.

You might even say, in our own way, that we’re keeping up with the Joneses.

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Getting a Grip

Don’t look now, but the Olympics have been scandalized.

Forget green water in the swimming pool. Never mind the athletes robbed at gunpoint. Doping worries can wait until another day. We have bigger fish to fry. We have – gasp! – two athletes who held hands in a race.

I’ll pause while you recover from the shock.

For those who missed it, a pair of twin sisters from Germany finished the Olympic marathon side-by-side – literally. Finding themselves far out of contention for a medal and near each other as the race wound to a close, the two joined hands and crossed the finish line together.

To some, this might be heartwarming. To Germany, it was controversial, if not outrageous.

“It looked as though they completed a ‘fun run’ and not (an) Olympic (race),” German Athletics Federation director Thomas Kurschilgen told the press, accusing Anna and Lisa Hahner of hijacking the moment for their own glory. The two finished 15 minutes behind their best pace and 21 minutes behind the leader.

Because you know, if you want glory and universal acclaim, finishing in 81st and 82nd place is the way to do it.

I can understand some of the reservations. People train hard to get to the Olympics. It’s a huge investment in time, money, and personal strain. When you reach the Games, you’re in an international spotlight, committed to pushing for the best that you can be.

And yet, the Games have always been about more than the score.

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part,” the Olympic creed begins. And while there have been breathtaking performances in the Games, the gestures that burn in the memory are often ones that never go in the record book.

They may be inspiring moments like runners Abby D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin helping each other up after a collision and fall. Or shocking ones, like the Egyptian judoka who refused to shake hands with an Israeli competitor. They may bring attention to a cause, a personal struggle or triumph, or simply to their own shortcomings.

That too, at its greatest and its worst, is part of the Olympics.

How you take part matters.

Granted, that’s Kurschilgen’s point, too. And if he wanted to push them for not pushing harder, that has been every coach’s and athletic director’s prerogative since time began.

But let’s take a breath. The two didn’t try to sabotage their competition or chemically enhance their own bloodstream. They didn’t spout racial epithets or enter the final mile carrying a McDonald’s banner. They didn’t pull something stupid that would endanger other runners or themselves, or throw away a winning position.

Instead, whether by coincidence (as they insist) or design (as Kurschilgen maintains), they finished the race in a gesture of sisterhood and friendship.

And really, isn’t that what the Olympic Games are supposed to be about?

With some high-profile exceptions, our memories of Olympic athletes tend to fade when it’s all over. We remember the abbreviated ski jump of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, for instance, without knowing a thing about what happened to him later. The odds are good that four years from now, or eight, or 16, most people won’t remember the names of the Hahner sisters – they’ll just remember, maybe, “those sisters that held hands across the finish line.”

That’s pretty weak for a (possible) self-promotion.

But for an Olympic memory, it’s not a bad one to have at all.

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Turning the Page

Gee, I might just live forever.

No, I haven’t been listening to the theme from “Fame” again. (“I’m going to learn how to fly – high!”) But I have been getting some encouragement from Smithsonian lately. According to an article there by Erin Blakemore, reading books lengthens your life – and the more you read, the better it gets.

This is an exceptionally good thing for us for two reasons. Number one, our home is practically overflowing with evidence of immortality … which is a nice way of saying that there are books shelved, stacked and scattered in every single room, including the garage. And number two, both Heather and I possess a mighty tsundoku —  a useful Japanese word referring to the “reading pile” that has yet to be whittled down. At the rate we accumulate volumes, we might just need the extra lifespan to imbibe them all.

The details? The article cites a study from Social Science and Medicine that looked at 3,635 adults who were 50 or older. After controlling for other factors, those who read books lived almost two years longer on average than those who didn’t. Those who read more than 3.5 hours a week saw the best effects. And books produced better results than either newspapers (apologies to my former co-workers) or magazines.

It’s not solid proof. But it’s a good suggestion that, like so many other aspects of life, what we emphasize becomes powerful. Push your body and you strengthen your body, as we’ve seen in so many Olympic athletes this week. So why shouldn’t pushing your brain make it stronger, too?

Of course, there’s a corollary to all that, too. If a person builds what they focus on, then we need to be careful what we focus on.

We haven’t done such a great job of that lately.

We live in a social environment that has become increasingly toxic. One where people listen less and argue more – if “argue” is even the right word, as opposed to “overlapping shouting.” One that encourages people to look at differences instead of commonalities, to close out instead of bring in, to form up factions rather than attempt the hard work of compromise.

In a world that reasons by volume, the biggest bullies and shouters look like leaders. Not because they’re right, but because they refuse to let anyone else occupy the stage. And the more that people buy into it, focus on it, imitate it, the stronger they become.

And it doesn’t have to be that way.

Change the focus and you can change the reality.

Kindness and empathy haven’t died. Hope and consideration aren’t extinct. Courage hasn’t gone the way of the VCR and the floppy disc. They may not get the 6 o’clock news, but they’re still there. And if those “muscles” get exercised — if we refuse to be bound by fear, if we push back against hate, if we actively reach out to each other at every opportunity – then they, too, become strong.

Curiously enough, reading can be powerful there, too. After all, books are captured memory. They remind us that this is not the first time hate and fear have run rampant. And they remind us that those forces have been overcome before, and can be again. That the fight may be never-ending, but it’s far from hopeless.

And if we’ve been willing to touch a multitude of minds on the page, live a hundred lives that were never ours – then just maybe, it might train us to be aware of the minds and lives of others in the “real world,” too.

It’s all in where you put your time and attention.

The choice may well speak volumes.

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Faster, Higher, Weirder

At long last, it’s time for that display of peace, unity and brotherhood that arises every four years – namely, coming together to hunt down the creators of those presidential phone surveys and dropping them off a cliff.

No, I mean the Olympic Games, of course, brought to us this year by Rio de Janeiro and about a zillion mosquitoes. Athletes have been taking steps to protect themselves from the Zika virus ranging from long sleeves to tent-enclosed beds, though no one went further than Russia, who thoughtfully arranged to get their weightlifters disqualified in advance to ensure their maximum protection.

But despite all the controversy – and really, what’s a Games without controversy? – it’s still the Olympics. That glorious time when we sit on the couch with specially branded cans of Coke, cheer on the Parade of Nations, and then decipher the television schedule to find the five sports we’ve actually heard of.

Granted, the Summer Games are easier to follow than the Winter Games, which for most Americans could best be described as “Skating, gymnastics, hockey, and everything else. Oh … and skiing, right?” We know basketball and soccer. We recognize the track events from long-ago gym classes. In fact, most of the events are pretty straightforward, even if they’re things that, at any other time, the typical U.S sports fan would only happen on by accident while hunting for “Family Feud.”

And of course, there’s always the fun of discovering what’s been added. Every four years, the organizers experiment with something new, whether it’s tae kwon do, beach volleyball, or (this time) rugby.  This time out, though, I can’t help feeling the Brazilians missed a chance to garner some good press by making the Olympics relevant to today’s generation. Imagine the viewership and camaraderie if the organizers had also thought to include:

The Pokémon GO Obstacle Course – Cheer on the players of the world’s most popular virtual game as they attempt to walk across four lanes of traffic, through thick woods, and past strategically placed manholes for the gold medal. Gotta catch ‘em all!

The PotterChase: Held inside a bookstore, this track event requires passionate fantasy fans to climb over every obstacle in their path, including each other, to claim the last copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Bonus points for costumes, of course.

Wrestling with the Facts: Get ready to merge grappling with the fact-check generation, as the wrestlers come armed with speeches from today’s headline politicians. Victory requires pinning your opponent for a three-count and logically refuting at least two of their arguments. (This may be the only Olympic event that gets better with the sound off.)

The $5 Billion Dash: Runners race at top speed while being pursued by an Olympic torch bearer. The loser has to start saving up to put on the next Games.

These could add relevance. These could add ratings. These could add to the joy of discovery that we so often feel when watching the event of the moment, cheering on the best of the best and enjoying a bright moment of hope in the midst of the world’s usual drama.

Or as much of it, anyway, as we can see through the mosquito netting.

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Coming of Age

This year, as Heather likes to put it, our marriage is old enough to vote. Or to smoke. Or even to get married itself.

Yes, it’s been 18 years since Heather and I stood in a friend’s garden and said “I do.” Which, honestly, seems impossible. I mean, it was just last week that Heather and I were nervously watching rain clouds and wondering about the wisdom of an outdoor wedding, right? It couldn’t have been 18 years since my hair began popping loose in defiance of everything my sisters could spray on to hold it down?

Hmmm. Come to think of it, there’s not that much hair to spring loose anymore. Which means …

Wow.

Every year, a few more of my friends say “Congratulations!” Every year, a few still jokingly say “That’s it?” Either way, we’ve gone just a little further down the road that turns a good wedding into a great marriage, where, as I’ve often quoted Grandma Elsie, “If you make it through the first 30 years, the rest is easy.”

Easy. That it most certainly has not been. In that span, we’ve moved three and a half times. (Once was Heather coming to join me in Kansas.) We’ve endured floods, hailstorms and chronic illness. We’ve said goodbye to too many and hello to more than a few, while becoming “parents” in a way we never expected as we became guardians to her disabled aunt Missy. We’ve encountered the proverbial richer and poorer, better and worse, in sickness and … well, we’re still kind of getting that last part down.

And somehow, along the way, we laughed and loved and lived enough to send 18 years running by. True fact: 24 hours takes forever to pass, but 18 years goes by in a moment.

True, this isn’t one of the “name” anniversaries that gets commemorated, like the Gold Anniversary or the Silver Anniversary or the 35th Level Pokémon Master Anniversary. But as Heather joked, 18 is one of those numbers that tends to loom pretty large on its own. And the more I think about it, the more I realize how fitting a comparison it is.

When you turn 18, you’ve spent most of your life learning … and realize that you’ve only just started.

When you turn 18, you realize how much you’ve been gifted with … and, if you think about it, how much responsibility has been placed on you.

Eighteen is the age where you can do so much in your own name, from joining the Army to being charged as an adult. It’s a point that grew from “Wow, that’s old” as a little kid to “Wow, that’s tomorrow” as a high school senior.

It’s a point where you suddenly look back on fears and memories alike with a bit of wonder. And, if you’re lucky, with a bit of anticipation as well.

I consider us to be very lucky indeed.

True, nobody’s issuing us a cap and gown tomorrow. (I said we were lucky, right?) But in a real sense, every day has been a new graduation.

So Heather my love, thank you for 18 wonderful and unforgettable years. Our marriage is all grown up now, even if neither of us seems to be.

And if tomorrow, our marriage doesn’t run off and try to buy booze with a fake driver’s license, I think we’ll be doing OK.

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“Conventional” Wisdom

OK, who else is ready for the pep rallies to be over with?

If you’re an unabashed fan of the Republican or Democratic national conventions, my apologies to the three of you. (Anything will have someone who cheers for it – I give you the Oakland Raiders as Exhibit A.) But I suspect I’m not alone on this one. Like most former reporters, I’m something of a political junkie, but when it comes to getting to the end of convention season, my inner 6-year-old starts to wake up, kick the back of the driver’s seat and ask repeatedly “Are we there yet?”

If the conventions served an actual purpose, I could probably forgive some tedium. Life isn’t french fries and ice cream, after all; not everything that’s necessary is going to be fun as well. But I’m having a hard time seeing what the reason could be, other than to demonstrate how a political party can blow through $64 million in a week.

“To choose a presidential candidate?” That ship sailed a long time ago. Thanks to the modern system of primaries and caucuses, the conventions are little more than an expensive rubber stamp for a choice that voters made long ago.

“To introduce the candidate to the nation?” Once upon a time, yes. But we’ve had folks campaigning for over 15 months. If someone has been avoiding the major players for that long, are they really going to tune into two weeks of infomercials now? (The RNC’s mediocre television ratings suggest otherwise.)

“To get a ‘bounce’ for our candidate?” Traditionally, the saturation coverage of a political convention has caused a candidate to gain in the polls as they get promoted and their opponent vilified. But as the political website FiveThirtyEight.com has noted, that effect has gotten smaller over the years and tends to be canceled out quickly now that the parties hold their events right after each other. These days, a bowling ball has more bounce than most national conventions.

“Because we’ve always done it this way?” Pretty much. Never underestimate the power of inertia, especially when it puts on its best clothes and calls itself “tradition” instead.

I’ll grant you, this is $64 million apiece that isn’t being spent on more annoying political ads – or rather, is being spent on one big multi-day commercial that’s announced in advance and easier to avoid. And asking a campaign to not spend money is like asking my dogs to not eat crayons; it’s a good idea, but it’s just not going to happen.  So unless we come up with an alternative, canceling the conventions simply means stuffing our mailboxes with more fuel for the fireplace and our phones with more requests for “Just a moment of your time.”’

It’s time for something … well, unconventional. And I have an idea.

A few years back, when Colorado seemed ready to burn itself to the ground, I suggested that both campaigns cancel their conventions and put the money they saved into disaster relief instead. That got a flood of support from readers and about as much attention as you’d expect from the campaigns. But if we revise the plan and give ourselves enough lead time, maybe we can save our sanity in 2020.

Let’s have the campaigns put their money where their mouths are.

You want to see America’s space program revive? Take the time and cash you would have normally spent on a convention and put it into a few school STEM programs instead.

Do you want more attention for Americas’s working poor? Pour your convention budget and volunteers into an area’s local utility relief efforts, or their housing assistance program.

Take that platform and make it more than just words. SHOW us what’s important to you for a week by your actions.

Will it be for the cameras? Of course. Will it be self-serving? Probably. But it’ll get something done and leave a mark in a way that no overhyped balloon drop ever could.

Pep rallies are fun for a little while. But every sports fan knows it’s all about the game.

Let’s get the players on the field and see what they can do.

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Totally Floored

When in the course of home improvement events, it becomes necessary for one family to dissolve the fabric-covered bands which have connected one piece of flooring with another, a decent respect to the opinions of the Times-Call’s readership requires that they should declare that this was a heck of a way to spend a holiday weekend.

Yes, while the rest of Longmont was practicing its skill with legal and quasi-legal exploding objects, we were busy ripping up a lot of downstairs carpet. This was mostly due to the efforts of a few generations of house pets, all of which had important messages to leave in the former dining room, if you catch my drift. So when our own Duchess the Wonder Dog decided to leave her own updates and found the mailbox already full – in the form of a ruined padding – well, it was time to introduce some “postal reform.”

In the course of this expedition, we quickly found certain truths to be self-evident. They didn’t exactly involve life, liberty, and the pursuit of cheap Chinese incendiaries, but many of them will be familiar to home owners nonetheless:

1) When outfitted properly in goggles, breath mask, gloves and knee pads, you will vaguely resemble a junior Darth Vader on his way to umpire his first minor-league baseball game. Except that Darth Vader’s goggles never fogged up in the middle of the job.

2) It is amazing how much you can accomplish in one night when you don’t care how much sleep, sanity, or major vertebrae you lose.

3) There is a proper, simple way of removing carpet strip by strip for easy portability. Somewhere in the third hour, that way will be discarded in favor of attempting to fold half the room up like a piece of oversized origami. Again, you really didn’t need those vertebrae anyway.

4) Few things in life are more entertaining than ripping up the long strips of tacks and nails that held the carpet down.

5) Few things in life are more painful than rediscovering those same strips with your sock-clad feet.

6) There is always one more staple. Even if you scour the floor with a magnifying glass, a metal detector, and the great-grandson of Sherlock Holmes, once you paint your primer on the plywood, a dozen staples will magically appear like the next row of sweets in a Candy Crush game. You will become very familiar with your floor scraper  and a certain level of vocabulary.

7) It takes longer to disperse primer fumes than anyone would realize. Longer than a baseball All-Star game. Longer than an especially intransigent session of Congress. Possibly longer than a geological age of the Earth.

8) Speaking of ancient epochs, it will also be discovered that there is a certain fascination in home archaeology. Beneath that carpet will be an indelible record of every family that ever passed through the house, lacking only Egyptian hieroglyphics and Roman graffiti to be complete. You will quickly see how many dogs have lived there. You will quickly appreciate what nearly four decades of Christmas Eve dinners for the entire extended family looks like. You’ll even find the occasional artifact from the last poor souls to lay down a carpet here, which gives you an extra 3 cents to put toward the new flooring. Little did they know they were paying it forward.

Finally, with a new appreciation for your house (and a new resolve that liquid beverages will never be allowed in it again), you are ready for the loud BOOM – not from fireworks, but from your bank account abruptly disgorging the funds needed to recover your primer-painted plywood with something human beings can walk on. You will celebrate wearily but wholeheartedly. And if you’re like me, somewhere inside you’ll rejoice that you’ve mastered one more staple of an actual adult’s skill set.

Or maybe that should be “one more foundation brick” of it. Because you are never, ever going to mention staples again for as long as you live.

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