Fight Fire With Firing

I don’t usually get political in this space. But I’m hoping you won’t mind this time. Not when the aim is getting rid of politicians.

Yeah, I thought that might get your attention.

These days, politics in this country has gotten pretty tiring at the national level. Republicans and Democrats have drawn the battle lines and never the twain shall meet, lest one of our nation’s leaders be tainted with the sin of compromise. It’s quite possible that birthday greetings to a sixth-grade class would require 17 appearances on Fox and MSNBC, three filibusters, and a 19-day government shutdown until a majority could be found to agree on the “birthday” part. (“Happy” is clearly tied to either Obamacare or Wall Street and will have to be set aside until the next federal budget.)

Most of us are tired of it. And we all possess the ultimate term limit for a tiresome politician: vote for the other guy. But it takes so much effort to make even the smallest dent, like firing BBs at a tank.

Enter the Fire ‘Em All movement.

Now, I’m not a lawyer. I know this sort of thing probably isn’t doable without major rewrites to the Constitution, the U.S. code and the Boy Scout Law. But even just contemplating it can feel pretty good, and stranger things have happened – after all, (opposition president of your choice) made it into the White House, didn’t he?

It goes like this:

1) On every ballot for national office – the House, the Senate or the Presidency – there shall be an option called “Fire ‘Em All.” (“You’re Fired” has already been claimed by certain representatives of the National Alliance of Tangled Toupees.)

2) At the end of an election cycle, all votes cast in all federal races shall be totaled up by party: how many Republicans, Democrats, independents, Greens and so on. “Fire ‘Em All” shall be counted as its own party.

3) If at any time, “Fire ‘Em All” is among the top two choices nationally, the terms of all elective federal officeholders – again, House, Senate or Presidency – shall end on the next Jan. 20, regardless of how much time they would have normally had left to serve.

4) Replacement officeholders shall be nominated and voted on in the time between the announced results and Jan. 20. (Yes, this gives a little over two months to elect everybody. Whatever shall we do without a year and a half of campaign ads?)

5) Those chosen will serve the remainder of the term they are replacing, unless ousted by another “Fire ‘Em All” vote before then.

6) Individuals who have been ousted due to a “Fire ‘Em All” shall be ineligible to run for federal office for at least three election cycles.

7) Sports Authority Field shall immediately change its name back to Mile High Stadium. Just because.

Yeah, it’s a nuclear option. It clears out the good, the bad and the indifferent alike. But the sheer appeal of the idea should send a warning to Washington that it’s time to learn seventh-grade civics – or at least fifth-grade etiquette.

With or without a Fire ‘Em All button, we hold the power. And when we choose to exercise it, no amount of money or influence can stop us. This just makes it more efficient – and satisfying.

You really want to start from scratch? Go for it. Set down the disgust and resignation, and build the change you want to see.

It’s time to get fired up.

Who else gets fired is up to you.

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Sing it Out

Singing waiters, rejoice. Your time of birthday deliverance is at hand.

If you’ve ever been out to eat, you know that there are three certainties in modern casual dining: that a tip is 20 percent, that the TV with the game you’re interested in isn’t visible from your table, and that if it’s your birthday, you will be humiliated by a team of waiters singing anything but “Happy Birthday.” You may hear the William Tell Overture. (“Merry day of birth to you, have some cake and candles too!”) You may get painfully rewritten lyrics set to “Stand by Me” or “Kill the Wabbit” … uh, I mean “Flight of the Valkyries.” But you will not get the classic off-key grade-school anthem that has shattered eardrums since time immemorial.

Until now.

A federal court recently ruled that “Happy Birthday’s” copyright is dead. More than dead. According to the judge, the song should have been out of copyright 80 years ago, making its rights the musical equivalent of a George Romero zombie movie. (“Caaaaaaaaaake.”)

Silly argument? Not for the owner and not for anyone wanting to belt out the birthday ballad in public. In fact, “Happy Birthday” has been big business, generating about $2 million a year in royalties from movie producers, restaurants and anyone else who wanted the song and didn’t want a visit from the Warner-Chappell attorneys.

I’ll write that again. Two million dollars a year. For a song that pre-dates World War I.

OK, that does seem silly.

Mind you, this isn’t a diatribe against having copyright at all, or patents, or trademarks, or all the other wonderful things that encourage ideas and ensure a creator gets something of what’s coming to them. (Mark Twain famously said that a country without patent laws was like a crab, only able to travel sideways or backwards.) But it is possible to stay at the party too long. And when “fair compensation” starts to turn into “I’m holding you up because I can,” that’s when people start to object.

We saw a more serious version of this recently in the medical world. The media – both mass and social – exploded after the new owner of a common AIDS drug, Daraprim, announced that its price would go up from $13.50 to $750 a dose. By most estimates, the drug costs about $1 a dose to make.

The word “outrage” doesn’t really go far enough. Twitter went nuclear. Everyone from patients to politicians added their denunciations. And within a day or two of the online fire and brimstone, a white flag went up – Daraprim’s price would go down again. (By how much has not yet been said as I write this.)

Call it supply and demand in vivid action. An owner can charge what he likes for a product. But if no one wants to pay it – if people are actively offended by paying it – it’s time to find another price or another product.

At the bottom of all this is a much-derided word: fair. “Life’s not fair,” we’re told over and over again. But one of our more admirable qualities as a species is a rock-bottom belief that it should be. Granted, sometimes we go too far – anything can go too far – but for the most part, it’s a guide to common decency, empathy, and all the qualities encapsulated in “liberty and justice for all.”
Fairness means we look out for each other, because one day it might be ourselves. It means we think about what we do and why. It means we don’t take unjust advantage of a situation.

We’re not perfect about it. We’re not going to be. But the fact that we still care about trying says something good about us.

Maybe it’s like anything else – if we keep trying, it gets easier. It might even become a piece of cake.

And when it does, we’re all set to sing.

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Walking in the Dark

The distance falls away softly, a yard at a time in the still of a Longmont night.

Step. Step. And step again.

Even just a few blocks from Main Street, sounds are muted and far between. The metallic chime of a sprinkler hitting a fence. The odd car. The ripple of the Oligarchy Ditch, making its own muffled and effortless journey.

It’s a short trip that would take five minutes in a car. On foot, it’s closer to 20, with light and activity only gaining a more normal level as the destination grows nearer.

Step. Step. Another step still.

There are worse ways to pick up your groceries.

I’ve always been fond of the late nights and the early mornings, when even a smaller city seems to be a world transformed. And I’ve always been fond of walking, a habit I probably inherited from my English granddad even if I didn’t inherit his love of doing it at the hottest part of the day. (“Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,” as they say.)

So when the opportunity came to merge the two, making regular forays into the dark for a few supplies and a little quiet, I seized the moment. And night upon night, it’s oddly regenerating – maybe even a bit familiar.

After all, Heather and I have been doing a lot of walking in the dark lately.

Things have progressed slowly since my wife was diagnosed with MS last spring. Days get measured not in hours, but in careful rations of energy – how much can be done today? How far will a window of relief open? How much rest is needed now to turn tomorrow’s plans from theory into action?

Sometimes the calculations go badly awry. We’ve already ridden out one flare, a week stolen by pain and dizziness where traveling to the bathroom requires the timing and partnership of a carefully measured waltz.

Step. Step. And step again.

It’s a longer journey than 20 minutes. Streetlights are few and far between. Once again, it seems to carry us through the world while keeping us somehow apart from it.

And yet. Somehow, slowly, progress does seem to come.

It comes in pieces, the resumption of the ordinary that we had once taken for granted. A few hours of peaceful sleep. A chore as simple as cleaning the bird cage. A realization that she’s feeling tired at the end of a Saturday – not the all-consuming fatigue of illness and pain, but a more ordinary exhaustion from having two young nieces come over to play.

Those are the moments of hope, when the pavement draws near to something at last.

I know how fortunate I am in my actual walks into the night, to be in a place and situation where I can travel peacefully. I’m only beginning to realize how fortunate we are in this larger walk. This is a rockier road, with more than its share of broken pavement, but hope does come. Hope can come. No matter how far away it may seem.

Step. Step. And step again.

Thinking back, the solitude of the night was always more illusion than reality. When walking, it’s a blessed insulation, a chance to put the trials of the day at arms’ length. On the bigger path, it can feel more like isolation, feeling like nothing can touch this topsy-turvy world you’ve come to inhabit. In both cases, friends and neighbors are closer than they seem.

That, too, is regenerating.

Another night. Another walk. Another journey. But every journey leads somewhere eventually, if you just keep walking.

Let’s see what the next step will bring.

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A Clear-Cut Situation

The face in the mirror keeps catching me by surprise.

“Hey, Scott! You … ” a co-worker called in the parking lot, patting his own chin.

“Yeah, I did.”

It’s the bare-faced truth: for the first time since early 2013, the beard is completely gone. Deforested. Clear-cut. Shaven.

The facial fur left for the same reason it came – to secure a part. When I first transformed into my more hirsute self (joking that I had hit my mid-life crisis), it was to play an Arthurian knight in “Camelot.” This time, an internal city spot was being created that needed a Sherlock Holmes type, and while Sherlock is known for his abundance of brains, there’s rarely been an abundance of hair to go with it. So, out came the razor.

The stage is funny that way. In a similar situation, to play the spear-bald agent Swifty Lazar, a friend erased a beard that had been in place for better than 40 years. We had performers in the cast that were younger than the exorcised adornment was.

It was a peculiar transformation then. It feels equally strange now.

I’m not entirely sure why, to be honest. After all, these last few years have held a lifetime’s worth of changes. Four years ago, my wife Heather and I began to take care of Missy, her physically and mentally disabled aunt. One year ago, I left newspapers (aside from this column) to do PR and pursue some writing of my own. Five months ago, Heather was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, prompting still more changes in response.

Compared to all that, what does a scraped face matter? Sure, it feels a bit cooler, maybe looks a bit younger. But set against everything else, is the re-summoning of a bygone visage so much?

Then again, maybe that’s it. With so much having changed, it seems … peculiar to look like I did before it all happened. It’s almost like turning back the clock, stepping back to an earlier time.

Silly, of course. You can’t undo change with a razor.

And yet … maybe it’s not a bad thing to have a symbolic reset.

Anyone who’s ever been a caregiver of any kind knows this: fatigue is real and rarely acknowledged. When you put much of your energy into keeping another person going for one more day, the last thing you want to do is worry anyone by revealing how low your own tank is. Sure, you know the caregiver has to be cared for, too, but that’s an intellectual knowledge rather than a visceral one, sort of like how one might have read about bears in the mountains without having any idea what to do when Smoky visits your campsite and rips open your car trunk.

And so, a level of background tired sets in. A level of tunnel vision, too, where you focus on taking care of what needs doing now, with the rest stored in a mental attic for later, if it isn’t just left behind as discarded baggage.

It’s easy to fall into cycles. Habits. Patterns.

Breaking that pattern, even in a small way, helps.

Suddenly, the world looks a little different. You have to come up for air, to pay attention, to see what else might have changed when you weren’t looking. It can be re-energizing, snapping you to attention like a glass of cold water to the face.

Come to think of it, that’s one reason I do theatre in the first place. The chance to step outside myself for a while, to be someone new and, in doing so, get a second wind for who I already am.

The stark state may not last. I do like the beard. So do Heather and Missy. (Actually, Heather likes any state that isn’t the in-between stubble.) But for now, with a few swipes of a Gillette, Mr. Holmes may have solved yet another situation.
Even if it does mean taking it on the chin.

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Mountains and Molehills

When I was a kid, my folks once got into an argument over whether or not peanuts were a fruit. It was silly. It was inconsequential. And it was hard to stop once it got started.

On our first Christmas together, Heather discovered my family had always done stockings last, after presents. I discovered that her family did them wrong … er, I mean, first. The resulting “holy war” has had more than its share of laughter but never entirely died down, either.

And somewhere in Alaska, a mountain got a new federal name this week. You might just have heard about it.

I’m not sure how many of the people on social media have actually been to Denali, the peak that many of us learned in grade school as Mount McKinley. But when President Obama announced that the feds would recognize the name Alaska had been using officially since 1975 – well, the Internet reacted with the passion usually reserved for a minor Kardashian sister or the cancellation of “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Mind you, the mountain itself doesn’t especially care what it’s called. (Imagine THOSE headlines!) That’s left to us and in particular to:

1) The people and leaders of Ohio, who argue that President McKinley was an important man whose reputation and legacy should be remembered, even if you’ve never actually given him two thoughts since your freshman year in college.

2) The people and leaders of Alaska, who argue that “Um, it’s our mountain, dudes.”

An alien watching from orbit would probably decide we were all nuts. (Mind you, he’d probably reach the same conclusion after watching a typical football game.) Not necessarily for endorsing one side or the other, but for putting so much energy into it.

But that’s what happens. The less significant a debate is, the more importance it actually assumes.

A professor, Wallace Stanley Sayre, once observed that academic politics were so intense “because the stakes are so small.” But it’s not just academia. At any level, a small scope can engender big feelings. A county government might spend minutes discussing a multi-million bond issue … or hours on a $2,500 budget item. A family that navigates the big issues with ease can spend all day on … well, presents and peanuts.

Why do we this to ourselves? I suspect it’s partly survival, partly relief.

There are a lot of big, complicated issues out there. We get drowned in them every day, issues of war and terrorism, politics and civil rights, straining economies and questioning minds. It’s a lot to take in, and we’re never really given a quiet space in which to do it.

“Every man whose business it is to think knows that he must for part of the day create about himself a pool of silence,” Walter Lippmann once wrote. “But in that helter-skelter which we flatter by the name of civilization, the citizen performs the perilous business of government under the worst possible conditions.”

In that situation, a trivial issue can seem heaven-sent. Simple in scope, easy to understand, no challenge at all to form an opinion on. And because it’s so easy, we can’t see how anyone could possibly reach a different conclusion.

But of course, they do. And it’s off to the races!

Fundamentally, those sorts of debates are more or less harmless. They may even be a good way to vent for a while. But they take time. They can generate hard feelings if they go on too long. And sometimes they even seduce us into thinking all issues should be this easy – that any major subject of debate can be quickly simplified into memes, quotes and a cute animation.

That’s when it’s time to step back. To breathe. To take some time and gain some perspective.

Because I promise, the mountain doesn’t care.

Energy and passion are good things. We just need to figure out where to aim them, and how to weld them to some kind of understanding.

Because the last thing we want to do is peak too soon.



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All About That Face

Missy twisted and turned, her hands in the air, her face brilliant with delight. Her knees bent to the rhythm, then straightened, then bent again.

“Yeah!!” she called out, laughing and bouncing as the energized voices of the Face Vocal Band – Colorado’s own a cappella rock band – powered their way to a close. Stopping was unthinkable, sitting down impossible.

“All right, Miss!”

Regular readers of this column know that our disabled ward Missy – eight months younger than me physically, but younger still in mind and spirit – will dance at any excuse or none. She’s the original crank-it-to-11 fan, capable of blowing the speakers off a car stereo with just one cut from a John Denver CD. She’s rocked it to the Bee Gees, to Michael Jackson, to a department store recording of the Hallelujah Chorus.

But since we first moved in with her four years ago, a cappella seems to have zoomed to the top of her list. Face holds down the top spot, whether it’s live in concert at the fairgrounds or over and over again on a DVD never made for ritual abuse. But there’s room for more, discovered on old recordings and through the magic of YouTube. The Nylons. Pentatonix. Straight No Chaser. If it’s got all voices, no instruments and a beat that can’t be stopped, Missy is all in.

I can’t say I blame her. After all, this is fuel for my own personal Wayback Machine.

Back in high school – never mind when – I sang in the Longmont High School men’s chorus. The crew met at the what-time-is-this-class hour of 7 o’clock in the morning, an hour at which basses rumble and tenors gasp. (If you’ve never heard a teenage tenor trying to get his voice started at 7 a.m., I encourage you to watch … but don’t try to swallow any carbonated liquids while you do, please.)

We sang whatever the fertile mind of Mr. Harrison could come up with, from show tunes to cowboy songs. But the best ones, for my money anyway, were the a cappella bits. Mind you, I sang bass, so that usually meant my vocal line was something like “Doo doo, da doo doo, da doo doo, whoa, whoa, whoooa” or some similarly deathless lyric. But it didn’t matter.

This was magic. This was music. This was creating something fun and spectacular with nothing more than what you had inside.

There’s no rush to match it.

You don’t have to be a singer to get it. Any talent, loosed into the world without restraint, will hit a similar vein. One man’s sculpture is another woman’s martial arts is another person’s passion for old cars. No brakes but your own enthusiasm, no limits but your own perseverance.

It’s exciting. Addictive, even.

And maybe that’s some of what speaks to Missy.

Her world is often a silent one, even a little mysterious to someone who doesn’t know her well. But rev up her enthusiasms – for dancing, for bowling, for art or a good story – and she’s a woman transformed. How much more so when her transformation is ignited by someone else’s?

It’s more than imitation. To this day, Missy’s musical tastes don’t perfectly match with mine or Heather’s. It’s something that reaches the core, some alchemy of voices unchained meeting a spirit unrestrained.

How can you beat that? Why would you even try?

So tune the tenors. Strike up the bass. Get that vocal percussion going. Missy’s revved and ready to rock.

Trust me. You’ll never have a more Face-ful fan.

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Making Magic

Heather’s youngest sister hurried up to me as the rehearsal dinner wound to an end.

“Mom’s outside with Heather,” she said. “She’s sick.”

My turn to hustle. Sure enough, my wife Heather was doubled over on a bench outside the restaurant. It had been a warm night and heat is no friend to an MS patient; as she’d stepped outside the crowded dining room to get some air, she’d suddenly had to sit down before she fainted, threw up or both.

“I need the car,” she whispered as her stepmom watched over her. Of course. I hurried off and pulled around, slamming the air-conditioning from Spring Day to Christmas in the Arctic. Her family helped bundle her into the back seat, some asking if they needed to follow us home.

No need. After a few brief minutes in the frigid air, Heather was upright and coherent, talking easily and reassuring everyone. It was like magic.

Appropriate enough. After all, dealing with any chronic condition is something akin to stage magic.

We’ve dealt with a lot of things for a lot of years. Crohn’s disease. Ankylosing spondylitis. Now multiple sclerosis. Each time, we’ve had to meet it with the dedication and training of a David Copperfield, not to vanish the Statue of Liberty, but to make something close to a real life reappear.

It can be done. But like a Copperfield or a Houdini, it takes hours of advance preparation to make things seem natural, even effortless to an audience. The wedding of Heather’s sister Jaimee the next day was typical, where a full morning’s rest, a constantly-present water bottle and periodic micro-breaks outside the reception helped Heather survive a ceremony on the hottest day of the year.

Magic indeed. But you never really get to let the curtain go down.

Chronic illness ebbs and flows, but the need to manage it never really goes away, much like the need to exercise. It’s a constant. For someone who hates losing control of their life, it can even be something of an irony – now you have to take control of your life whether you want to or not, even those things that would normally be automatic for most people.

You measure how much you can do before the fatigue catches up. You inventory what you need for even a short excursion. You balance, compromise, postpone so that the essentials can keep going. Maybe you even learn for the first time what the essentials truly are.

Somehow, you keep things going. Sometimes surprisingly well. Well enough that friends or relatives can be astonished when a breakdown occurs, because they’ve never seen you that sick.

It’s a triumph. But it’s a tiring one. After all, the show must go on … and on, and on, and on.

I’m not saying any of this to fish for pity. If anything, what I feel is closer to wonder. I am married to a strong person in a compromised body, and even on the days when she’s feeling weakest, the power of what she’s already done shouts to me in a voice I can’t ignore.

This is more than magical. This is miraculous. Maybe not the kind of miracle where a lame man is suddenly pole-vaulting down the street, but miraculous nonetheless.

There will be better days. There always are, eventually. But until that intermission hits, the Magically Medical Rochat Family will continue the conjuration. We can’t let the audience down, after all.

And if it means some long highway trips in sub-frigid air, then so be it.

After all, I already knew she was the coolest lady around.

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Walking on Dreams

“Look a’ that!”

When I hear those words and that tone, I know what I’m likely to find. I glance to where Missy’s finger is stabbing the magazine page and I’m not disappointed.

“Whoa,” I say appreciatively. “Cool shoes, Miss!”

Anyone who knows our disabled ward knows she has an eye for footwear, the brighter the better. Her sneakers are usually a shade of hot pink most often seen on Barbie dolls, cotton candy and pre-teen birthday cakes with extra frosting. Her current pair literally glow in the dark, not that they need to – even in broad daylight, every eye in the room is pulled to them like Superman to a bank robbery.

“I want a pair like those!” is the common refrain, with a smile and a laugh. My wife Heather even went beyond words to action; she and Missy now have matching Day-Glo footwear. Strategically placed, they may even save us money on nightlights, so there are all kinds of side benefits to be had.

But Missy’s dreams race far ahead of her feet.

Go through a magazine with her, even for a short while, and you will discover every wild, elaborate or fancy pair of shoes to be had. High heels with elaborate fastenings. Pumps with sequins. Shoes straight off the runway, with no practical application at all – ah, but this isn’t about practicality, is it? This is about imagination.

“Look a’ ma shoes.”

Missy’s cerebral palsy rules out nearly every single pair, of course. Her balance is carefully maintained at each step, even in sneakers with good soles and great support; put her in even a low heel and the fun would quickly become dangerous. Were she ever to spend more time in a wheelchair, Heather and I agree, one of the few consolations would be the amount of footwear that would be opened up to her.

And so, she dreams. It’s fun, even harmless, so long as she doesn’t actually step into anything that can’t hold her up.

At this point in the election calendar, Missy may have a lot of company.

Anyone who’s been giving even a glance to the political news – and I can’t really blame you if that isn’t you – has been seeing constant reports of “surges,” presidential candidates catching fire who are sure to be the Next Big Thing. The spotlight may be on Ben Carson, or Bernie Sanders, or the Trump card himself, but the message is always the same: look over here, a star is about to be born!

“Look at that!”

It can be fun to see the enthusiasm (or maybe frightening, depending on the candidate and your side of the aisle) and speculate on the possibilities. But like the shoes in Missy’s catalogs, there’s not a lot of support there.

This is the preseason. Maybe even training camp.

This is the stretch of time that once spurred talk about Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. This is when Howard Dean was a superstar and Bill Bradley a hopeful.

This is six months before the primaries get started. A lot can happen in six months. And usually does.

In short, it’s dream season.

And it’s worth remembering.

By all means, get fired up for someone. It’s good to care, great to be involved. But this early in the game, take each report of a surge with a few shakers of salt. Meteoric rises are common at this stage. So are equally-meteoric falls.

Maybe your guy or gal really is The One. If that’s your leaning, great. Work to make it so. But don’t be seduced into thinking it’s all over but the laurel wreaths. As the SEALs like to say, the only easy day was yesterday. The long work is still ahead.

Dreams are fun, even necessary. But the support has to be there.

If it comes in glow-in-the-dark pink, that’s a bonus.

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An Open Letter to Kermit the Frog

Dear Kermit,

Well, it finally happened. If the mainstream entertainment press can be trusted, you and Miss Piggy are officially kaput. Mind you, I’m still a little skeptical – when it comes to celebrities, the pen can be a dirty business, never mind the pigpen. But so far, you and she have backed this one up.

I wish I could say I was surprised.

I’m sorry if that sounds a little harsh. My sisters and I grew up on you, after all. We watched “The Muppet Show” religiously during its original run, objecting loudly when Mom wanted us to miss an episode for some silly reason like taking Dad to the emergency room. OK, granted, he had just fallen on the ice and needed several stitches in his forehead, but still – Muppets!

The show had it all. Good music. Intelligent humor. Projectile fish. To this day, I can quote several of the sketches by heart, and know that if I ever call out “Mahna Mahna,” someone in the room will respond with “Doot doo, do doo doo.” Classics do that to you.

But even then, I think we could all see the tension between you two.

Oh, the movies made a lot of the “meant to be” romance; Hollywood does that. But on the original show, it was pretty obvious what was going on. Half the time, Miss Piggy would chase you harder than Batman pursuing a villain of the week. The other half, she’d flirt non-stop with any cute guest star that caught her eye. (John Denver seemed to be a particular object of porcine passion – I suppose there’s something to be said for country ham.(

You? You were usually caught up in the latest drama of the moment, oblivious to – or even mocking of – any attempts at romance that were less subtle than a karate chop to the gut. Which you caught, more than once.

I hate to imagine the medical bills.

This isn’t a formula for long-term romance. Two people – or whatevers – who aren’t truly engaged with each other aren’t a couple, even if they share the same room most of the time. It takes attention and commitment, even when times are chaotic. Maybe especially then.

But we all wanted to believe. And for a long time, you seemed to make it work. No relationship is perfect and there’s something to be said for trying and trying and trying again. As I’ve said before, weddings are easy and marriages hard, even without storylines that regularly blow up your supporting cast.

But when the two of you were headed back to television, with its daily pressures – well, a storyline like this was kind of inevitable.

Did that sound skeptical? I’m sorry. Maybe it’s because it fits the general pattern of life in the old “Muppet Show,” where things always just barely came together in the nick of time, night after night. Jim Henson used to say that if the show were a basketball game, the final score at the end of each episode would be Frog 99, Chaos 98.

So having this tension coming in at the start of a new Muppet series is kind of dramatically convenient. You can’t start a story on a happy ending, after all. There has to be some sort of conflict, some challenge that takes a struggle to overcome. If it involves the leads, so much the better.

Funny enough, if it is just one big plotline, you’ll make a lot of people very happy. They’ll get to watch their favorite pair strike sparks again in their natural environment: utter insanity. Hey, it worked before.

And if it’s not – well, you’re professionals. You can work together even if it isn’t exactly hog heaven, right?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d better let you hop. There’s a karate chop out there with my name on it, and I’d really hate to be here when it arrives. There’s got to be less painful ways to bring home the bacon.

Always a fan,


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Furnishing a Marriage

The stage contains a balcony and literature’s most famous lovers. They seem considerably older than we remember them.

“Romeo, oh, Romeo; wherefore art thou Romeo?”

“Call me but love, Juliet, and I shall be new-baptized. But take this gift of my heart and I never will be Romeo.”

“Oh, Romeo! Dost thou bring me flowers? Diamonds? Silver or gold?”

“Nay, Juliet.”

“Then, what?”

“Behold, I bring thee a 5-piece dinette set with matching hutch. Canst thou give me a hand with the pickup?”

And thus did the happy dagger and the apothecary’s drugs give way to the latest special from Verona’s Furniture Warehouse.

No, I haven’t been taking cold medicine. But thinking too much about anniversaries can certainly make you feel that way.

Heather and I celebrate 17 years of marriage on July 25. It’s been an adventure with a lot of ups and downs – some of them literal, like our 1999 trip to climb the Great Sand Dunes together. We’ve survived Kansas summers, Colorado winters and even life in the newspaper industry.

We’ve also shared a love of trivia. And so one night, I got curious about what sort of anniversary this was. Everyone knows that 25 years is silver, for example, while 50 years is the golden one. But what the heck is seventeen?

I looked it up. Then looked it up again. Then a third time, to be sure.


Yes, really.

No, the list was not prepared by Jake Jabs.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Not that we couldn’t use a new mattress and an additional bookcase, of course. But … furniture? It didn’t quite seem to be the stuff of romantic epics. It was so, well, mature. Mundane. Practical.

Where’s the fun in that?

Then I heard myself and chuckled. Sure, maybe it was tagged at random to fill out a list or because the author had a couch to replace. But In a way, there couldn’t be a more evocative way to demonstrate the difference between a wedding and a marriage.

it’s a difference that sometimes gets glossed over, especially in a country where weddings are a multi-billion dollar industry. Many of us expect our weddings to be an event: fine clothes, a beautiful setting, a band or DJ that knows more than just “Louie, Louie.”

It’s a special day and rightfully so. We try to make it a fun, meaningful celebration, something that will grace photographs and memories with a bit of enchantment.

But even the best events come to an end. The next morning, you wake to find the wedding is over – and that the long road of the marriage is still in front of you.

A good marriage is work. Not the frantic work of trying to assemble details for a moment that will come and go. This is the long haul, where the partnership has to renew itself every day and navigate sometimes difficult waters.

This is about dealing with the daily trials: vomiting dogs, leaking ceilings, mice in the living room, family in the hospital. Sometimes it’s about raising children (or caring for a ward, in our case) and seeing the odder pieces of yourself reflected right back at you. And it’s about not losing sight of each other in the middle of it, even when you’d rather just grab a nap.

There’s still room for romance, even joy. But there’s a practicality mixed with it, one that knows this is still important, even when it isn’t always fun or flashy.

One that has room for furniture as well as diamonds.

Maybe seventeen years is a good time to remember that.

Heather my love, thank you for the love and the fun and the silliness. Thank you for the times we struggled, because we struggled together. Thank you for being with me in the times of frustration and confusion and sheer exhaustion.

Somehow, we’ve done all the grown-up stuff and still love each other. I guess that means we’re doing it right.

Happy anniversary, honey.

Now, tell me again about that table you wanted.

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