Friday, January 30, 2015

Death of the Muse

This Dave in the Shack blog has always been a first person narrative. The person is me. It’s my voice that comes through, and I’ve worked to make it as genuine and consistent as possible. It’s creative non-fiction. Some of my posts are diary like, some essays, but all of them are an account of something that I’ve done, something that has happened to me, or something I’ve been thinking. I unabashedly use the pronoun “I” all the time, like I’m doing now. I change things for story purposes sometimes, but for the most part what I write is life as I see it shared with you. You all know that right? I don’t have a tape recorder and a movie camera out there. I make things up when it suits the story better, but it’s by and large true.

Today I’m giving you something different. It’s the kind of writing I do on the side, the kind that would most likely result in a book. The main character in this story start is based on me but it’s not me, the setting is like my home but different, the other characters are made up but composites of people I’ve known in real life. The wife is not my wife, although she has some of her characteristics. And Bob? I think you all know Bob. Sure it’s based on what I’ve experienced, everyone’s writing is, but this is third person. I don’t plan to switch to this style, but I’d like to see what you think. In case you need reassurance, this didn’t come to me magically, and I don’t think I’m going off the deep end. But my new found character does.

Death of the Muse

The writer, for no apparent reason, and with no memory of it being otherwise, believed the ideas for his stories came to him via e mail, texts, or Face Book messages. He would read the digital communiqué in the middle of the night, or at first light, on his smart phone or computer, and within seconds, less maybe, possessed the kernel, the spark, for stories which would later come easily. He believed the stories flowed from his brain to his fingers on the keyboard and became words on the screen due to those short insightful messages. He did not know the source. He didn’t care. And so it followed that when he could not write, when he would sit for hours in front of a blank Word file, he knew without a doubt it was because the messages had stopped.

He didn’t know, had never known who sent them. The sources, sometimes names of individuals, sometimes organizations, were unfamiliar and changed constantly, like spam. None of them could be found in his address book or his list of friends. He Googled them at first and the searches produced nothing. They came from multiple sources, for all he knew sources never repeated, each new, unknown, a mystery. He believed it likely they were being smuggled out, stolen, passed along secretly to him and him only. After a time his curiosity waned. What did it matter? He had only to keep up with the writing. That was his part of the process. He was producing work at a furious pace.

The messages spoke to him, reached a place deep inside. When he read the message it was if the idea of the story was imprinted in his head and all that was required of him was to write for the record what was already there, transcribe it, edit it perhaps, but mostly to simply write it down. The stories, unseen but perfectly formed, were alive and whole when they came to him. It happened in seconds of him reading the message. When he began writing it was like clicking a link and receiving a download. The idea of the story, the truth within it, the joy, the sadness, the irony was shadowy and unformed in the message, but his writing it down made it coherent, understandable, fully explained. He had learned to convey it perfectly. That is why, he thought, they continued to come to him. The stories were already real and complete, and only he was chosen to make them tangible.

He deleted the messages immediately after reading them so no one else would see them, find them, steal them. If the messages were discovered his readers, and the world, would know that the stories were not his own. He did not save them, did not move them to a folder, did not print them and save them in a drawer. He deleted them. He had no use for them anyway, their content was burned into him such that it fairly glowed within him within seconds of seeing the message. After he had seen the message, perhaps only a few words, sometimes merely a picture, he had only to expand it into essays, chapters, stories, blog posts. One day he trusted a whole novel would be born that way. He laughed because it was so easy, flowed so smoothly, took shape so effortlessly. When one piece of writing was done he received another message that sent him off in a new direction. It was like clockwork, it never failed. Until it stopped altogether.

His wife, who ventured to his office in the attic only rarely, to bring him food, or simply to see him, sometimes heard him behind the door laughing when she approached. Not wanting to interrupt him she would turn away, the sound of his laughter fading as she traced her steps quietly down the stairs.

His readers responded enthusiastically with digital feedback. They would read the story, understand it perfectly, and tell him how much they enjoyed it, how the story, the words and the emotion conveyed by the words, touched them. The inspiration that started with the e mail, text or message, a tiny germ of thought, became real, part of his life and his readers’ lives. The writing became a living breathing thing. The stories changed both him and his readers. He was convinced of it.

But now the messages, which he believed enabled him to write, had stopped. He had to do something, not only for himself but for his readers. He had to receive the messages again, find a way to make them start up once more. The stories were too important. They had to be read, and he had to write them. Something was terribly wrong. And something terrible would happen if the stories did not continue. He knew it. It was urgent. He had to act, but how?

His wife knew something was wrong.

“You’re not going to your office this morning?” She had gotten up mid morning, the sun high in the sky outside the kitchen window, and found him sitting silently at the counter with a cup of coffee. A yellow pencil and that morning’s crossword puzzle, finished, were beside him. He appeared to be doing nothing but staring at the appliances and glancing at his phone.

“I was up there earlier.”

He didn’t want to tell her that he had wildly rushed to his computer as soon as he awoke. He quickly went online and checked his computer’s e mail, then his smart phone for texts or Face Book messages. Nothing from his source(s). The messages didn’t come. He had never told anyone, not a soul, about the messages. Not only was he at a loss to explain it, he felt that trying to explain would be telling, would break some kind of trust, expose something sacred. It was complicated. He didn’t understand it all. With whom or what he would be breaking trust didn’t know. But he felt compelled to keep it to himself, a secret.

“If you’re not going to work can go to the store for me?”

“No. I have to stay close.”

“Close to what?”

He shouldn’t have said that. He didn’t know how to answer. If he didn’t stay close to his computer, keep his smart phone charged and with him, always ready to receive the message, the sender(s?) would know. If he didn’t open it immediately they (he, she?) might pass him by. What if it was a text and he was driving? Maybe that is why they stopped. Had he ignored a message? Were they angry with him, Impatient because a message went unopened? It felt completely logical to him, but he knew his wife wouldn’t understand. And if he started explaining, she would only ask more questions.

“Never mind.”

“I don’t get you sometimes,” she said.

For a week he made his way to his office each morning before sunrise to check his e mail. Failing to see the magic message there he checked his smart phone for texts and Face Book for a message. He took to scouring his friends’ Face Book posts, even the ads, thinking perhaps the messages were buried there somehow. Nothing. He checked every folder, every nook and cranny he could imagine on his hard drive and his phone for a misdirected communication. Through the window in his office he watched the sky brighten. By the time the sun crested the horizon he had checked all those same sources ten times for the message. Finding nothing he retreated to the kitchen, read the paper, did the crossword puzzle, and tried to think his way out of this hell in which he found himself.

“I’m going to the phone store,” he told his wife the next morning.

“I have a grocery list. Stop please?”

“OK.”

“You having trouble with your phone?”

“Yeah, I’m not getting my e mails right, texts either.”

“Well I’m sure those kids can help you.”

The writer and his wife loved the kids at the phone store. Since their own kids moved away they looked on them as whizzes with new technology. They sometimes solved their problems within a minute. It was almost miraculous.

Last fall the writer brought his phone in because it had strangely stopped ringing. He had a ring tone assigned, the volume was set appropriately, yet it would not ring. Neither would it alert him to texts or e mails. It was suddenly mute.

“Let me see that phone for a minute sir.” The young man took it into one hand, turned it sideways, and clicked a button the writer didn’t know was there.

“I think you’ll find its OK now. You had somehow, probably by accident, manually turned all the sounds off. Settings don’t matter when you do that. Think of it as an override. When you see red, actually sort of an orange, by that switch the sounds are turned off. To turn it on again simply push it the opposite way. It’s handy in movies, concerts, stuff like that.”

The writer looked at the young man as if he was a prophet, a savant.

“Thank you,” the writer said. “I feel a little foolish.”

“Think nothing of it,” the young man said. “Happens all the time. I’m glad I could help.”

The writer hoped to get the same young man that morning. When he entered the store he scanned the room, walls and fixtures bright white, a very large space, filled with the tiniest of products. He did not see the young man. A young woman with blue eyes came up to him smiling.

“What can I do for you today sir?” Her voice was bright and cheery. So smart, the writer thought, all these kids.

“I seem to be having a problem with my I Phone and messages. I’m no longer receiving a number of important messages.”

“What kind of messages? Voice mail? Text?”

“Text. And e mail. And Face Book messages.”

“I can’t do much about Face Book, but perhaps I can help with the texts and e mails. Are you using the e mail that comes with your phone or are your e mail messages being forwarded to your phone by another service?”

“I get the same messages on my computer as on my phone. It’s a G mail account. “

“Then you messages are simply being forwarded to your phone from Google through Google mail.”

“Yeah.”

“So just to be clear, there is no difference between what you receive on your phone and what you receive on your computer when it comes to e mail. Right?”

“Yes. I mean no. Never has been.”

“So what is the e mail problem again?”

“I’ve stopped getting important messages.”

“E mail messages on both your phone and your computer? From a particular source? Perhaps you’ve blocked a sender. Have you checked your junk folder? “

“No I don’t believe it’s that. I check my junk folder all the time. They are not there. I do not block anyone. Especially this sender. These senders that is.”

“Who is the sender?”

“I never really know. The sender varies. There are lots of them. I know by the content of the message.”

“I see. How long has this been going on?”

“Almost a week.”

“And what is it about the content that makes them similar? If the sender varies what do these messages have in common?”

“It’s personal.”

“Of course. I understand. Sorry. None of my business anyway.”

“That’s OK.” The writer was becoming uncomfortable. He was on the very edge of territory he didn’t want to explore, things he didn’t want to divulge, couldn’t reveal.

“OK let’s move on to the texts. That’s a different type of communication, and more in line with phones. Are you getting texts?”

“Yes.”

“But not the ones you want.”

“That’s right. I know this sounds obscure, and I don’t mean to be, but these are important messages and they’ve suddenly stopped.”

“And nothing has changed? Your phone number? The way you view them?”

“No. Everything is the same. They just stopped.”

“May I have your phone for a second please?”

“Yes.”

“OK, first put in your password please, and take me to the text screen.”

He did, and handed it to her.

“OK. You are clearly receiving text messages. Here’s one from just a few minutes ago.” She handed the phone back. The writer studied it eagerly. He raised his eyes from the screen to look at the young woman. She looked at him quizzically, her blue eyes full of hope.

“That text is from my wife. We need paper towels. She knows I’m going to the store when I leave here” The young woman’s eyes narrowed. “It’s not what I’m looking for.”

“But the text function is clearly working. Your wife, who knows your number, was able to pull you up in her phone and send a message to you which you received promptly. Very quickly in fact. I have to think that the text message function is working as it should.”

“But what about this sudden stop of messages from my important sources?”

“I really don’t know what to say. Could they have been reported as spam somehow? Blocked?”

“I would never do that. Would anyone else? Could I have been hacked?”

I really don’t think, on this level of personal messages, that would be the case. I don’t want to ask too much, but are these communications dealing with financial matters?”

“No, not at all. On the contrary, they are very descriptive. Deeply emotional.” The writer could feel his cheeks redden. He was beginning to say too much. He wanted to leave, even if his problem was unresolved.

“I’m sorry I can’t help you more sir. I can only suggest you contact these parties in another way, perhaps through a web page or by a voice call, and inquire directly to them why their communications with you have ended. Perhaps you can resubscribe.”

“But I haven’t unsubscribed. I would never do that. I didn’t subscribe either. I need to receive those messages, and I don’t know how to contact them. They have always contacted me. They have been regular as clockwork for a long time and they’re terribly important. And they’ve stopped.”

The girl’s eyes had grown large. He sensed he was scaring her.

“I’m sorry sir but I afraid I can’t help you. If you could give me a few more specifics I might be able to try something else but without violating your privacy I think we’ve exhausted our options here.”

“Of course. Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.” He knew he appeared foolish. He sounded crazy even to himself. How could he not know who the messages were from? He only wanted out.

He rushed to his car, shut the door and started the engine. He felt safer inside alone. He checked his phone again: Face Book, texts, e mail. Nothing. He felt a tightness in his stomach. He drove to the grocery store.

It was as if he was on automatic pilot: he got out of his car, walked through the doors sliding apart in front of him, got a cart, and headed toward the produce. He tried to think only of the list: paper towels, spinach, garlic, eggs, fabric softener sheets, cough drops. He put the list in front of him in the cart and looked at it. He had deliberately left his phone in the car. He had to get a grip on this thing.

“Hey, there’s the writer, how you doin’ friend?” It was Bob from his old workplace. Oh God not Bob.

“How’s retirement? You lucky bastard. I won’t bore you with what’s going on at the agency, but I sure wish I were in your shoes right now. Really, how is retirement?” He was a little too close, his cart right next to the writer’s, by the organic bell peppers, blocking his way.

“It’s great Bob. You’re going to love it.”

“Well I’ve been diggin’ the blog posts. Really liked the one about the dog. Don’t know where you get this stuff.”

“Funny you should say that…”

“But hey, did I miss one? I don’t think I saw a post this past week.”

“I’m having some trouble with my computer. A glitch of some kind. I’m hoping it will be out soon.”

“Well a lot of people enjoy them, I know that, and would hate to see them end. We’re still reading them at work I know. Good seeing you. Don’t work too hard.”

Bob laughed too loud, moved his cart slightly, enough for the writer to quickly roll past him down the aisle, smiling only until he made it past the vegetables. He would circle back and get the spinach later.

‘Those god damn messages have got to start coming,’ the writer thought to himself, ‘or I’ll go nuts.’

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Long Distance Dad

Driven by opportunity and a powerful desire to see my kids I spent Thursday and Thursday night in Chicago, where both my children live. I both miss being an everyday parent and enjoy not being one at the same time. Is that possible? I saw them both at Christmas. I used a Chicago annual meeting of an outfit I’m still part of to ask for an invitation to spend the night with my son. After I accomplished that, I arranged to buy dinner for he and my daughter, along with her boyfriend. Never hard to do.

My kids have taught me much about the city. They’ve lived all over it seems, changing apartments, neighborhoods, roommates, jobs, and interests. I’ve followed every change, learning everything I could about each as if that would be their last, and in the process discovered more than I ever imagined of what Chicago truly represents, and how life looks to young people these days. I did, after all, grow on a dairy farm outside a town of (then) 800, and go to college 15 miles away in a town named Normal. Both my kids and I have travelled the world, and I feel fortunate we’ve ended up relatively close. Their lives now are refreshingly different from mine.

It is special I think, the love we give and get from our kids, and the love they have for each other. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It gives me purpose and hope even though my kids need little from their Mom and I any longer.

At the meeting, just off Michigan Avenue overlooking the river and Navy Pier, glitzy and upscale, I encountered a Dave in the Shack reader who liked my story of the cows killed on the road. I was just talking to a writer the other day who said “you can’t assume because you hear little from your readers that they don’t appreciate what you convey to them.” I hear not a peep from her on the internet. She lives a city life, has for a long time perhaps, and yet she was able to identify with my boyhood tale about death, grief, and the connection between fathers and sons. It made me feel good. I’m glad she told me.

The organization she and I have been a part of for so long, she as a staff member and me as a volunteer, has grown to be large and very much changed. I feel it’s growing past me somehow; new staff, new initiatives, new models of doing business. I hope they are able to convey to new staff the sense of mission that has made the place so valuable and special for my old friend and I. She does too. You travel a long distance, have a five minute conversation with a colleague you respect and admire, and somehow it all feels worth it.

I parked my car as I have for years with the doorman at the Sheraton who keeps it out of the parking garage and off the rates, putting the money in his pocket I think. It works well for both of us. It felt a little like Groundhog’s day-same time of day, same doorman in the same hat, the same Buick, the walk to the building where the meeting was held last year. The wind off the river, cold like last year on this same week in January, and me wearing the same brown trench coat. Turns out that was the only thing that stayed the same.

I’d come early to have breakfast with my son. He’s between jobs and free during the day. My daughter is working nights and was sleeping. He lives between Pilsen and Little Village in a neighborhood I never knew existed called “Heart of Chicago.” Chicago neighborhoods-do they change names, are they kept secret? Years ago when he was at UIC he started in Pilsen, went to Wicker Park, then Humboldt Park, finished school in Europe, returned to Chicago to live in Palmer Square, which was new to me. Now Heart of Chicago. He thinks he’ll stay on the South Side. I hope so. I think it suits him.

My daughter lived in Logan Square, then Avondale, then Pilsen, and in an odd twist of fate found herself with the opportunity to occupy the same apartment my son had once leased in Humboldt Park and promptly took it. A McClure has leased that old place, charming and cheap, for close to six years. The twists and turns of life fascinate me.

Back to breakfast. I arrived about 8:00 after encountering amazingly little traffic on 55. After a pot of coffee and inspection of the food and goodies his Mom sent, we began to deliberate on the first meal of the day. My son eats more than his share of Mexican food and wanted something different. With the Waffle House experience still resonating in my memory as well as my taste buds I was leaning towards the Steak and Egger on Cermak on the way from Pilsen to Chinatown.

“Dad,” my son said shaking his head. “It’s a twenty four hour place. People only go there when it’s really late. I’ve only been there between midnight and four a.m.. I don’t think I want to see it in the day light. It’s not nearly as good as a Waffle House, trust me.”

“OK, how about something entirely different? “

“We could do Dim Sum. The coffee won’t be good.”

“Dim Sum it is. We’ve had plenty of coffee. We’ll switch to tea.” I could already see the little plates, the steamed dumplings in bamboo baskets, containing rare delicacies that make up the Chinese version of Tapas, Spanish small plates.

We hadn’t been to Chinatown in a long time. My wife and I would take the kids there after a day in Chicago, before we got back on 55 for the drive back to Ottawa, parking in the lot off Archer and walking South of Cermak under the arch into the heart of one of the tightest communities in Chicago.

“There’s a good place,” my son went on, “in the little plaza they built North of Cermak.”

“Not the old part?” I said, hankering to repeat our steps, him now in his late twenties, which we’d walked, hand in hand, when he was less than ten.

“No.” My kids are not as sentimental as I. That helps me grow.

We went to Cai, an upstairs place at 2200 S. Archer. It’s big inside, lots of windows, good light. They have the big round tables with giant lazy Susans to handle all the dishes. We wished we’d brought six or so friends. They put us at a little four chair table near the back. Because we were early it wasn’t crowded.

Dim Sum menus have pictures that sometimes help but often don’t. My son leans towards vegetables so we stuck with meatless dishes except those we couldn’t resist. We ordered a seaweed salad, bean curd dishes, curried cuttlefish dumplings, bok choi wrapped in nearly transparent rice noodles with something else very tasty. Something with scallops. My son did most of the ordering. I eat, and enjoy, almost anything. Well, actually anything. Everything he ordered was delicious, as it always seems to me to be.

When it all arrived, filling the table, it seemed impossible we would eat it all. But we did. We ate slow, talked much, and drank plenty of tea. We had a lot to discuss: the importance of feeling a connection to your work, respect for your employer, how much salary actually matters, the amount of trade off between principle and reimbursement that can be accepted, should be tolerated, can be tolerated. Pride came up, as did integrity, along with equally important subjects such as rent, groceries, utilities, school loans, and unemployment benefits. It was a working breakfast geared to the future. We’re good for each other, my son and I, at least I think so. We make each other laugh, think differently, and see things in new light. I love being with my kids.

As we were ready to leave the place was filling up. Because my son has no car, relying solely on a bicycle, we made use of the Buick to go to Hyde Park where we both had always wanted to visit the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago. The U of C was jammed with cars, and it was hellishly hard to find a parking place. As a result we were given the chance to walk through the campus having parked far away. It’s a beautiful old place. When we entered the distinguished stone building that houses a collection of some of the most ancient man made things on earth a sort of hush fell over us. As we walked further into the wood paneled rooms we went back in time, way before Christ, when people came out of Africa to inhabit Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers, in what is now Iraq, and took to building cities, creating art, unknowingly leaving traces of their lives for others to find, piece together, and ponder all these many years later.


We saw this impressive bit of sculpture taking up most of a giant room. It is a Lamassu, a human headed winged bull, which must have been pretty important in its day. It is believed to have occupied the throne room of one King Sargon III, ruler of Assyria in 745-715 B.C. in the town of Khorasbad, the remains of which are now in Northern Iraq. Of course it’s all gone now: King Sargon, Assyria, Khorasbad, the significance of the Lamassu, the whole deal. We looked at it for quite a while. It’s hard to know how to take a giant human headed winged bull weighing 400 tons from so long ago. We hardly knew what to say.

“So what was going on before this do you think?” my son asked. “Before ancient people were sculpting giant larger than life figures for filthy rich kings?”

“Well, for a long time people didn’t build towns. They were nomadic, living in tents and following animals around. First wild animals they hunted, then the sheep and goats they owned.” It’s an extremely shortened farm kid interpretation of the evolution of man and civilization, but it’s mine.

“It must have been a bitch, being nomadic.”

“Yeah, you had to carry all your shit with you.” We paused.

“I’d guess sculptures done by the nomadic folks was a lot smaller.”

“Yeah, quite a bit,” he answered. “Pocket sized most likely.”

We started to giggle. The giggles turned into laughs. We had to walk away from one another. The woman hired to keep order in the museum looked at us and smiled.

We saw tools and ivory figurines uncovered in Nubia, now Sudan. We saw giant marble horse heads from the hundred 100 column palace in Persia, now Iran. We saw sarcophagi taken out of Egypt, still Egypt. Such a currently troubled region with such a glorious past. We never stop to think of their past, do we? We focus only on how they now threaten us. I hope they remember their past. And I hope both of us can somehow keep everything in perspective.

I dropped my son off back in at his place. That evening he would ride his bike to a not for profit agency in Pilsen where he would serve as a volunteer tax preparer helping low income folks gain money though the filing process. He has a degree in Economics and speaks fluent Spanish, and wants to put both to constructive use. I headed North in the Buick.

After my meeting I went back South, meandering through Bridgeport. We had dinner reservations for four at 7:30 and I needed to kill some time. I find it hard to go to Chicago and not have a hot dog. I picked a little take out shack, sitting diagonally at the corner of Archer and Lock called Hamburger Heaven. There was a single row of stools inside the screen door, a window, a grill, and that was the extent of Hamburger Heaven. Mostly it was takeout and delivery. Rib eye sandwiches, hamburgers, gyros, cheeseburgers, hand cut French fries, and of course Chicago hot dogs. I had one as a sort of an early appetizer. I was disappointed. It didn’t come in a poppy seed bun, they skipped the celery salt I believe, and there were none of the little green sport peppers. Maybe it was the Bridgeport version.

I ate my dog at a leisurely pace inside the stand where I found and read copies of the Sun Times and the Chicago Reader, both shadows of their former selves, evolving I suppose as everything does. It was the Fiction Edition of the Reader, but very short fiction and fairly unremarkable. A Sun Times columnist covered recent statements by Rickey Hendon, former South Side state representative who is it appears not going to be indicted after all by the feds in relation to having his hand in the shady awards of state youth service grants. In this article Rickey was talking about the need to defeat both Rahm Emmanuel and black Chicago alderman who supported him in the CPS building closures and other actions he sees as slights to the black community. I’ve always been fascinated by guys like Rickey for their ability to get elected or stay around and involved even when not in one office or another. Rickey knows how to get attention with his statements. His zinger for this article? “Chicago’s black community needs an enema!” Chicago politicians are way different than downstate. “Go ahead, flush the toilet!” Rickey advises his community.

After getting directions from the Hamburger Heaven delivery guy I made it to the Duck Inn, a new place in Bridgeport on the river at the corner of Eleanor and Loomis, 2701 S. Eleanor to be exact. Eleanor is a short street, that doesn’t intersect with Archer or 31st. To get there concentrate on Loomis. “If you’re coming from the south and go over the river you’ve gone too far,” I was told. Delivery guys know their neighborhood.

The Duck Inn, as the story goes and the old pictures in the place confirm, was a family owned place called the Gem Bar that goes back to 1937. It’s now being run by the Rockit Ranch people, who own a small stable of restaurants in Chicago. It was reviewed in the Chicago Reader edition I was reading. A Bridgeport chef named Kevin Hickey manages it.

The call it a gastro pub. I arrived at 7:00 and had a seat at the bar. It was too dark to read, so I ordered a whiskey. Yeah, you’re right, I would have had a whiskey if the light was blindingly bright. They didn’t have a list, being open for just a month, and it was too dark to read the labels on the back bar so I had a conversation with the bartender. I find these places have the nicest help you can imagine. This young man, tattoos and small white plugs in his ear lobes, really wanted me to have a nice experience. I believe that sincerely. Remembers when the help was surly or simply indifferent? That’s over, especially at the Duck Inn.

“Do you have Bushmills?”

“No we don’t. I’m sorry. We should. I hear good things about Bushmills.”

“What do you have?”

“Well we’re continuing to build our selection. Right now we have all the Wild Turkey products. And we have a really good Yamazaki single malt Scotch.”

“Japanese Scotch?” I’d had it. A good friend gave me a bottle for my retirement. It is good. I went on.

“You know, it may taste like Scotch. But technically, if it’s not made in Scotland, you would have to just call it Japanese.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I know that but I keep saying it because people tell me it tastes like Scotch. Nobody knows what Japanese tastes like.”

“What’s Wild Turkey making that’s good these days?”

“The one I sell the most of is 101. It has some rye in it and while it’s hot it finishes pretty smooth. People seem to really like. It’s kind of peppery and a little sweet. I don’t drink a lot of whiskey myself but the people I’m pouring it for say very good things about it.”

“I’ll try it.”

“Neat or on the rocks?”

“On the rocks.”

“Want a chaser? A water back?”

“I’ll have a water.”
He brought me a big pour in a rocks glass with a single huge square ice cube. He was right about the whiskey. So far the Duck Inn was very enjoyable. The place was filling up and people were ordering food at the bar. They serve a beef and duck hot dog made on the premises and tamales with duck confit and foie gras that I didn’t try. I should have passed on the dog at Hamburger Heaven. The bar food looked wonderful, and the looks on the faces of those eating them confirmed my suspicion that they were.

My son arrived first, complete with the good gloves and balaclava he wears on his bike. He rides all winter. He claims he gets around faster than people in cars. When you see him zipping down the street, little red light blinking at night, you believe it. He’s a picture of health. I ordered him a whiskey like mine.

“How was the volunteering?”

“Great. I helped a single mother, four kids, clerk at Target, get the earned income tax credit. Made a huge difference for her and her family.“

“Did you use your Spanish?”

“Yeah. She was much more comfortable speaking Spanish. She asked a lot of questions. I felt good about it. Although it’s busy in there they let us spend enough time with the tax filers to really understand their situation and get the best result for them. I like it a lot.”

I’m proud of him for doing it. I think he may be headed in a new direction.

My daughter and her boyfriend arrived right on time and we took our table. My daughter has a food science degree from University of Illinois and was hired early on at the newly opened Lagunitas Brewery on the south side. She works in quality control and is learning a lot about brewing. She just went over to the third shift and is trying to adjust to the hours. Even though she had just woken up she looked so nice. She and her brother had a lot to talk about. I sat back and just enjoyed the interaction. I love to watch them with each other. The have wonderful smiles. We ordered the foie gras appetizer, which came with little English muffins. It was delicious.

These places sell, and young kids these days buy, exotic beers and ales-some as much as $10 a glass. I imagine in Mayor Daley’s day, Richard J. not Richie, they drank shots of Kessler’s and Old Style, maybe Old Thompson and Schlitz, for less than a buck at the Gem Bar. They’d go crazy seeing these prices. But that’s what you get at a gastro pub, whatever that is. I can’t even tell you what beer I had with my meal there are so many choices. Scores, hundreds of craft beers, so many they are running out of names. I haven’t found a bad one yet.

Three of us had the brisket, served with a ribbon of pasta stuffed with a horseradish ricotta filling. Beside those were dark green stalks of steamed rapini. Puddled on the plate was a light sauce flavored with a hint of red wine. Brisket is hard to cook well. This was outstanding.

My daughter’s boyfriend had pressed seared chicken with thick chicken heart gravy, pickled Brussels sprouts, and creamed butternut squash. We ate pretty well, then ordered desserts and coffees. One dessert was a bourbon apple brown betty with parsnip ice cream. Who in the hell would even think of making ice cream with parsnips? It was out of this world as was the toffee pudding with rum cream sauce. Thank god for Master Card.

The server, with bright yellow plugs in his earlobes a little bigger than the bartender’s, and even more tattoos, practically begged for us to fill out the feedback card. There was nothing bad to say about anything. They kept the water glasses filled, gave us extra English muffins for the appetizer, and answered all our questions. One of the best things about eating at these new joints, in addition to wonderful creative food and drinks, is the great service. How do you not tip these kids big?

We all went back to my son’s apartment and talked more. He beat both cars back on his bike and had coffee on the stove when we walked in. It’s amazing. We talked more and then my daughter had to get to work. It was a great night. I knew when I told my wife about it she would be jealous. I was right.

The next morning I took my son grocery shopping, sort of a parental ritual I insist on doing. We went to Trader Joe’s so I could scout out the reasonably priced coffee not available in Ottawa and he could stock up on the staples he buys there. As a bonus I found a Paso Robles Zinfandel wine for less than $10. It’s a hike on a bike to Trader Joe’s from the South Side, and harder yet to pack it all home. So again we made good use of the Buick.

I got back to Ottawa mid day and took an immediate nap in the recliner. It’s good to get out of the routine and great to be with my kids. I miss them again already, but its good knowing firsthand they are good without me. I hope to get back again soon.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Cheese, Guns, and Death. C'est la vie.

At times readers ask me to write follow up articles on a given topic and at times I get such good feedback on a particular blog post I’m tempted to do that. Usually I don’t. I’m like a band that doesn’t take requests. My wife has known this for some time. Ask me to do something and I usually won’t. This one shot and done, this jumping from topic to topic might explain my difficulty in writing a full length book but hey, that's my problem not yours.

I cannot resist however writing about gun safety again, even though I’m sure it rankles some of my readers, perhaps you. I got comments on last week’s post such as “it is useful to say that the Idaho culture is rather unlike the Midwest. Trying to evaluate from a distance can be misleading.” Another said “In the expansion of the west, people died from drowning and accidental shootings. We do not learn from history.” More than one reader responded “My thoughts exactly.” I got more feedback than usual. I have thoughtful readers. I take their comments to heart.

Those comments and further research into this phenomenon of Americans accidentally killed by guns brought to mind a story a friend once told me about cheese. Mark is a research scientist who works primarily in the area of food safety. He spent a year working in and enjoying France, which gave him the opportunity to observe how differently the two countries approach risk and consumer protection. Take cheese, he explained. (Bear with me here.)

In America all cheese is pasteurized, which means it is dead. Legally and scientifically dead, its live bacteria and cultures are deliberately killed by a heat process. In America we don't want cheese that is alive. Some cheese is presented so safely each slice is wrapped up in plastic, which equates to a body bag. You put it in the fridge, like you put a dead body in a morgue. That is the way you market cheese in America.

In France the cheese is alive, evolving and living, which means that you can buy it young, mature or old. That's why you have to read the age of the cheese when you go to buy the cheese. If you need cheese for today, you buy a mature cheese. If you want cheese for next week, you buy a young cheese. And when you buy young cheese for next week, you never put the cheese in the refrigerator, because you don't put your cat in the refrigerator. It's the same; the cheese and the cat are both alive. Americans are very afraid of getting sick from bad cheese. In France, they take the risk. Many more French people get sick and die eating cheese than Americans. French cheese made from raw unpasteurized milk can contain Salmonella, L. monocytogenes, pathogenic E. coli, S. aureus, and listeriosis. But the French take that chance. Their priority is different; the logic of emotion is different. The French value taste before safety. Americans put safety before taste. “In effect,” my friend Mark told me laughing, “the French say what’s a few dead Frenchmen compared to the wonderful taste of live natural cheese?”

It’s a matter of priorities right? In looking further at American priorities in regard to guns, I found the most in depth reporting on gun safety and kids in a feature article in the September 28, 2013 New York Times Children and Guns-The Hidden Toll and Slate.com’s June 17, 2014 on line edition. I’ve used both sources extensively to create this post.

Slate reports that in terms of accidental fatalities, American children younger than 15 are nine times more likely to die by a gun accident than those in the rest of the developed world. Children living in states with higher levels of firearm availability also suffer from significantly higher rates of unintentional gun deaths. Studies indicate the vast majority of these shootings involve either family or friends. These statistics indicate that parents’ ownership of a weapon is a significant risk not only to their own children but also to their children’s friends.

Sadly, like climate change we can’t agree upon the data and groups argue the numbers. Some of this, and I’m familiar with this problem firsthand from similar experiences in child welfare work, is bad data. As it turns out national crime and incident reporting is not anything close to uniform. One jurisdiction’s accidental gun related death is another’s homicide. The New York Times revealed accidental killings are significantly under reported in the official data, often being classified as homicides or suicides rather than accidents. In several states there were twice as many accidental gun deaths than the official record indicated.

To get more accurate information about firearm deaths, researchers have pushed for the expansion of the National Violent Death Reporting System. The effort first started in the 1990s at the Center for Disease Control but was shut down shortly afterward when Congress, at the urging of the National Rifle Association, blocked firearms-related research at the centers. The project was revived in 2002 after researchers decided to expand its scope beyond guns, but it is up and running in only 18 states.
Bob Anderson, the chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, explained that the federal data on firearm deaths are “only as good as the information that comes in. I try to tell people when they look at the accidental data, particularly for children, you have to recognize it’s an underestimate,” he said.

This leads to wrangling among advocacy groups. The number play is almost a sport. Gun Owners of America says on its Web site that children are “130 percent more likely to die from choking on their dinner” than from accidental shootings. Under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures, in fact, gun accidents were the ninth-leading cause of unintentional deaths among children ages 1 to 14 in 2010. (The agency reported 62 such killings that year.) If the actual numbers are, in fact, roughly double, however, gun accidents would rise into the top five or six.

Do you want to hear one of the stories? There are plenty of them. Here’s one.

On Dec. 1, 2006, Beth Dwyer was getting her two boys, ages 5 and 8, ready for school. Her husband, Daron, the minister of music at the family’s church in Gastonia, N.C., was not home because he had enrolled in a seminary several hours away. The night before, Ms. Dwyer had taken the family’s .25-caliber handgun from the top drawer of a dresser and placed it next to her on the bed. In the morning, she forgot to put it away.

Her 8-year-old found the gun. He initially tried to cock it and pulled the trigger, pointing the gun at the bathroom floor, but nothing happened, according to the medical examiner’s report. Evidently thinking the gun was empty, he tried again, pointing the gun at his brother, Matthew, who was crouched on the bathroom counter, having just finished brushing his teeth. This time, with a live round in the chamber, the gun went off, and Matthew toppled to the floor, shot through the forehead.

Attempts to impact this problem, to reduce the number of accidental shooting deaths and injuries through common sense laws and available technology, meet with resistance.

Safe storage laws require guns, in some proposed legislation only guns in households with young children, be kept in a locked cabinet. That seems reasonable to me. How about you?

A safe-storage bill was introduced in the Ohio legislature in February, prompted by a shooting that killed three students at a high school in suburban Cleveland. But the measure, which would prohibit storing a firearm in a residence in a place readily accessible to a child, has encountered skepticism from the Republicans who control the legislature.

“The tenor was, somebody breaks in, do I have time enough to get to my gun?” said State Representative Bill Patmon, a Democrat who introduced the bill. It later failed.

In February 2012, the National Rifle Association issued a member alert about a proposed safe-storage law in Washington State, arguing that shootings are “at the bottom of the list of causes of accidental harm to children.” The group accused State Senator Adam Kline, who introduced the measure, of being interested only in “making life miserable for law-abiding gun owners.” The legislation never made it out of committee. A similar measure introduced in Louisiana this year (2013) also went nowhere.

It’s not my intent to do a review of legislation, both successful and unsuccessful, that tries to keep children safe from handguns. What I want to do is understand why it is needed. Why do we want loaded handguns so readily available to us that we will risk our children finding them and killing themselves with them? Thank God you can’t put bullets in cell phones. We’d all be dead by now. I understand why we want our phones near us. What motivates us to keep loaded guns designed for killing close?

Let’s go back to the Dwyer family in North Carolina, the husband Daron enrolled in seminary, the wife who leaves their loaded family pistol on the dresser. Here’s how Daron Dwyer felts eight years later, as told to a New York Times reporter and reprinted verbatim here.

Daron Dwyer took his 14-year-old son shooting for the first time, six years after he accidentally killed his brother with the gun he found in his parents’ North Carolina bedroom. Mr. Dwyer had removed all the guns from the house, sending them to his father. But about a year ago, his son started asking if he could learn to shoot. Mr. Dwyer said he would think about it.

It was a question that Mr. Dwyer, who now works as a fitness director at a Y.M.C.A., knew would come. Relatives would often go shooting together during family gatherings. His son was fascinated by all things military. Guns were simply a part of life where they were from. “In my context, there’s a part of a young man’s growing-up experience that includes exposure to firearms,” Mr. Dwyer said. “That’s one of the responsibilities, like learning how to drive a car.”

Mr. Dwyer also saw an opportunity for forgiveness. “It’s kind of a tangible expression of the reality of ‘I do not hold this against you,’ ” he said.

So, alone in the Tennessee woods with his son this past spring, Mr. Dwyer watched him fire a .22 rifle a few times, and a 12-gauge shotgun. In the shattering of the stillness of the forest clearing, both sensed the import of the moment.

“I’m a quietly emotional person usually,” Mr. Dwyer said. “And so I didn’t burst into tears or anything, but inside that’s exactly what it was, mostly in the sense of me wanting him to realize this whole thing of forgiveness, to really feel the impact of the weight lifted, which I think he did.”

Mr. Dwyer’s feelings on guns today are complicated. He still firmly believes in “the right for people to defend themselves.” At the same time, he said: “It is also right to protect children from danger. Those are things you have to hold in tension.”

Under North Carolina law, his wife could have been charged for failing to keep the gun that killed their younger son stored safely. But she was not. Mr. Dwyer described her mistake as a momentary mental lapse, not blatant negligence. And he said that while he agreed with the law in principle, he also had sympathy for the objections to it.

“For defense at night,” he said, “I don’t think you should have to have a lock on it (your gun) because you’re going to have to access it quickly.”

For defense at night? A man whose son was killed by his brother, who both lost a child to gun violence and has had to help his surviving son through the trauma of killing his brother does not believe in locking up firearms in the unlikely event that a loaded handgun at arm’s length is needed to kill who? An intruder? A thief? Really? For defense at night you risk endangering your family? Yes, apparently so.

The French like their cheese natural and alive so much that they lose a few Frenchmen each year to food poisoning. It can’t be helped. Americans like their guns readily accessible, in their homes, near them, unlocked and loaded and as a result many more American kids than any other developed country shoot and kill themselves and each other. We lose children in America because we like guns so much. C’est la vie.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Gun, in a Purse, by a Baby

Sometimes I don’t know what to say. I want to ignore events outside the shack, outside my neighborhood, outside my community -but I can‘t. They intrude on my thoughts, change the way I feel, nag my emotions. A mix of sadness and anger fills me up and makes me tired. Imagining the grief experienced by others wears me out.

I hesitate to write about guns and the violence caused by them because we are so polarized on the topic as Americans, but I was fascinated by the reaction to the story of the two year old in Idaho who shot and killed his mother in an Idaho Wal-Mart with her own handgun. I can’t stop myself from imagining the scene. Perhaps the mother saw the horrible sight of her baby boy, her only child, with her gun in his hands. It could have been the last image she saw on this earth. She might have been thankful the baby did not have the gun pointed at himself, or one of his older cousins who were with him and her on the shopping trip.

The shot could have gone harmlessly through insulation and steel roof of the Wal-Mart. It could have buried itself in the concrete floor, or ricocheted off it burying itself into the TV’s, or the laptops, or the other gizmos in the electronics section where the cart was parked. But it didn’t. I imagine him with the gun in his hands, startled by the noise of it going off, and seeing his Mom crumple to the ground, blood coming from her head, maybe spreading onto the floor. And then screams, probably from his cousins, or other shoppers, and the confused look of the baby, a two year old, trying to take in what was happening around him. That could be the most tragic moment in his life. I hope it is. I hope his life is long and he has excellent people surrounding him throughout his life who explain that moment and forgive him and help him forgive himself for as long as it takes. I hope it remains a private part of his personal history and he goes through life as a boy and a man without that moment haunting him through others who know his identity and remind him of it. I pray for him.

And I pray for his cousins who were with him and experienced the trauma, and his father, and everyone in both their families. No one should have to go through this. It’s an awful thing. But the truth is no one has to go through this. What occurred in that Wal-Mart need not happen.

The victim’s father in law went public with remarks to the effect that he was angered that the incident was being used by gun control advocates as an example of why stricter controls on firearms are needed. He also objected to his daughter in law being portrayed as either ignorant or irresponsible.

I never assumed either characteristic of her. Turns out she was a high school valedictorian who went on to get a degree in chemistry. She was an employee of the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, Idaho, where she was a nuclear scientist. Gun owners and gun enthusiasts are part of every demographic category of Americans. Veronica Rutledge was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, and both trained and experienced in the use of guns. In Idaho 7% of the state’s citizens have applied for concealed carry permits. But this could have happened to any gun carrying citizen in any state and to their children as well.

The grandfather went on to defend his daughter in law saying that she knew guns, lived around guns all her life, knew how to handle them, enjoyed shooting at ranges and hunting with her husband. As it turns out she often carried her gun next to her in her car and elsewhere and because of that, her husband had bought her a special purse for Christmas that featured a zippered compartment designed to hold a gun so she could more easily carry it with her. The 9 mm pistol was in that zippered compartment in her purse next to the baby when he found it.

I am personally not a gun owner and while I am against the widespread ownership and use of guns not radically so. Like her I also lived and grew up around guns. On the farm we had an unlocked gun cabinet upstairs, made by one of my brothers as a high school wood shop project I think, and stained a deep red. In it were .12 gauge shotguns, various twenty two rifles, and a .410 gauge shotgun for kids starting out. Dad kept the shells in a cabinet downstairs, also unlocked. We hunted pheasants and rabbits on the farm, in season, and occasionally but rarely found a use for guns to kill some varmint on the farm. A skunk in henhouse, stray dogs after the sheep. We were fairly blasé about the guns. They were more like tools.

Guns had a use which was to kill animals. We weren’t denied access to the guns as kids. Dad taught us how to clean them after they were used. He gave us the general guidelines. Don’t point them at anything you don’t want to kill. Never load them in the house. We didn’t put shells in them till we were out in the field ready to hunt. In fact, I hunted from time to time with a guy who came out from town with hunting dogs. He carried a double barreled shotgun and kept it broken open, taking shells out of his pocket, sliding them in the chambers, and cocking the gun only when his dog was on point. Guns could be and were handled very safely.

Each gun on the farm had a different kind of safety mechanism which Dad taught us how to use. The safety prevented the gun from being discharged accidentally. If the gun was loaded the safety was always to be on, taken off only immediately before firing, and switched back on after shooting stopped. It was all pretty simple and straightforward. I never was part of a hunting accident, and only heard of a few. And so as crazy as it seems, I thought guns were pretty safe things.

As for handguns, until my brother brought a fancy revolver home from his stint in the army, along with a nice hand tooled leather holster, we neither had one nor saw the point of one. If we were going to shoot something we used a long gun, which was more accurate anyway. As tools go, they seemed useless, effective only at close range. We all knew handguns were for killing people.
I don’t own a gun now because I have lost the desire to shoot anything. I shot my share of pheasants, rabbits, and some, not many, quail because they’re hard to hit. I stopped hunting in my twenties. Just lost interest I guess. We always ate what we shot, learned how to clean game. Cleaning rabbits is deceptively easy by the way. Their skin and fur peels off them like a glove turned inside out. I shot and killed my first pheasant while hunting with my Dad. We were walking a fence row by our farm’s western most field. Dad carried the old Remington 97 .12 gauge (with a hammer) and I carried the little bolt action .410. A pheasant flew up very close to me and my Dad yelled “Hen!” which is was what one yells to indicate it was a protected bird and could not be shot at according to Illinois Hunting regulations.

It’s an adrenaline rush when game birds flush in the field. They make a bunch of noise. The whole thing can scare the hell out of you. It is amazing really that in the span of a few seconds amidst all that commotion hunters can coolly aim, take the safety off, squeeze the trigger, sometimes leading the bird (shooting ahead of it, especially when it is passing laterally in front of you) so it flies into a pattern of buckshot, and knock birds out of the air. It’s truly sporting. There are lots of instances when the bird wins and lives, flying away unharmed. On that particular day either I didn’t hear my Dad or wasn’t thinking. I found the barrel of my gun pointed right at the bird flying straight away from me. I clicked the safety off and simply pulled the trigger. The poor pheasant dropped out of the sky like a stone. Dad walked while I ran over to it lying still there between rows of cornstalks. The pheasant’s brown head lolled to one side when I picked it up. Hen pheasants lack the brilliant colored feathers of the cock pheasant and the white ring around the neck. She looked so dead. Dad came up beside me.

“You shot a hen David.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You got excited didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Well it’s against the rules. But we’re going to take her home and eat her. No sense us taking her life for nothing.”

He stuffed the bird into a big pocket built into the back of his stiff brown canvas jacket, a jacket we only wore when for hunting. He turned around and asked me if tail feathers were visible, hanging outside the coat. I don’t think he wanted to be seen, as remote as that possibility might have been, possessing a freshly killed hen pheasant. When we got back to the house we cleaned the bird in the basement, the way Mom and I cleaned chickens. Mom cooked her up for dinner that Sunday. I chewed on that pheasant wishing I could have been happier about the whole thing.

I didn’t get this story done on Friday, opting instead to stay in a warm house rather than coming back to a cold shack after supper. This morning as I was in the shack building a fire in the stove three deer walked up out of the ravine and past the shack, into Bill and Helen’s yard. The largest of the three, a doe, stopped and looked at me through the glass patio door. She swished her tail and sniffed. Maybe she smelled the wood smoke. It was only a moment. Then they went on, walking slowly and serenely through the half light and the cold, quietly. I am sure I couldn’t shoot one of those pretty deer.

Like other Western states, gun rights are a big issue in Idaho. State lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year allowing concealed weapons on the state's public college and university campuses. Despite facing opposition from all eight of the state's university college presidents, lawmakers sided with gun-rights advocates who said the law would better uphold the Second Amendment.
I’m not writing this to suggest blame go to gun advocates for this little boy’s death, or the National Rifle Association, or especially that bright young mother. That family will suffer enough without others pointing out fault and blame. Blame is always after the fact and in itself accomplishes little.

I’m writing this because of something the father in law said in defense of his daughter in law, whom he clearly loved. The interview he gave was valuable and provided more information than any other piece I read on the incident. He said that Veronica Rutledge, 29, did not carry a gun out of fear. That would mean she went in to Wal-Mart with a loaded pistol, instead of leaving it in the car, for some other reason than because she was afraid.

She wasn’t afraid? I thought the motivation for carrying a gun was to defend yourself or those around you. I imagined that she and others who carry guns into stores and public places envisioned a scenario whereby she would direct the kids to get behind her on the floor while she pulled her pistol from its compartment in her purse, took an upright stance, both hands holding the gun, legs spread, like she had done on the range so many times, and plugged a bad guy barreling out of men’s clothing, down her aisle, brandishing an ugly weapon, say an assault rifle with a big banana clip, clearly intent on doing her and her family harm.

She didn’t carry a loaded concealed weapon out of fear? If not that fear or something like it, why in the world would you carry a loaded gun into a store? If it wasn’t because you believed you may desperately need it quickly why would a loving mother leave a gun with a live round loaded into its chamber in a purse beside her two year old baby boy? What in God’s name could possibly be the reason?

I pride myself on having a good imagination. I can’t imagine why she did this or why I would do this. I can’t imagine why anyone would do this. And yet if we are to believe the media in Idaho and places like it millions of Americans do the same thing. I’m not playing dumb. This is not rhetorical ignorance. I don’t get it. I need help here.

When I’m stumped for logic I search my own life and its circumstances for clues. I have lived totally without guns since I left the farm at age eighteen. In 45 years I’ve wanted a gun exactly twice, both times to kill animals in or around my house. That’s two other stories.

This may be caused by a Pollyanna attitude towards my fellow man. Excuse me for that, but I don’t want to shoot and kill anyone. Hell, I don’t even want to hit anyone. And although it happens from time to time, more than I’d like, I prefer not to speak unkind words that make others feel bad. Call me naïve or deluded, but the stores I frequent: Kroger, Handy Foods, Farm and Fleet, Home Hardware, Herman’s Liquors, and Walgreens (in order of frequency, except maybe Herman’s) do not seem dangerous to me. Not in the least. I believe the odds of someone shooting and killing me, there or anywhere, are infinitely small. I would take no comfort in having a loaded gun near me. Just the opposite. I don’t want guns around me, especially hand guns.

Why are so many Americans carrying concealed weapons? I don’t know. I assume its fear. Can there be another reason? But whatever drives this trend it appears we have to deal with that reality. Here’s an idea, instead of the NRA spending millions lobbying Congress to preserve our right to own assault rifles with lots of rounds of ammunition loaded into them, why not take their extensive membership base and financial resources and launch a world class, research based, practical gun safety initiative that produces real results? Commercials on TV. Ads all over on the internet. Given the second amendment and how our courts continue to interpret it, I’d guess guns will be plentiful in American life for a long time. How about a drive to reduce gun violence akin to the highway safety campaign that has been so effective? How about applying new technology to the problem? My smart phone now unlocks when I put my right thumb on a little round pad at the bottom. It reads my thumbprint. Why not put one of those on the handle of a gun so it can only fire when the registered owner is holding it?

I used to dig in my Mom’s purse all the time because she kept candy in there. Her purse was not off limits to me. What if my Mom had a gun her purse? No family should have to go through the kind of personal hell that surely was created as a result of the accident in Idaho. We can do better. It starts by figuring out what we’re doing. And I can’t for the life of me figure that out. I could use some help here.