Category Archives: challenge

What Me Worry?

Don’t worry, be happy.
-Bobby McFerrin

Keep Calm and Carry On
-Ministry of Information, British Government
June, 1939

No worries
—Australian/British/New Zealand expression (also Canadian)

What me worry?guy by Tom Cassidy
—Alfred E, Neuman (Mad Magazine)

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
—Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer (Alcoholics Anonymous)

I don’t know if I am a born worrier or if years of practice has helped me to perfect my craft. I am unable to refrain from fretting, speculating, and fixating on what might happen. My current conundrum is the coming election. Like many, I feel that Donald Trump may not represent the best interests of those of us who live on land. His poor showing in the recent polls would suggest that victory is unlikely and the billions of dollars in advertising and the thousands of pundit hours are unnecessary.

Yet potential voters will still be harangued by fresh faced canvassers, robocalls, TV ads, and glossy mailers. People other than me will accost their neighbors outside supermarkets, stuff envelopes, and hold bake sales, car washes, and fancy fund raisers. My job during elections is to read everything I can find, bother my few remaining friends, and worry.

I fear that if a chambermaid short-sheets Trump’s bed at a Best Western in Jacksonville, he may spend the entirety of a presidential debate complaining about it. (With most candidates “handlers” is just an expression.) Then I began to worry. What if Trump quits? Does he have the character and fortitude to stick it out and face a landslide, or is he more a “take his ball and go home” kind of guy?

What if RNC chair Wisconsinite Reince Priebus cooks up a deal with fellow Badger House Speaker Paul Ryan to run? Many differ with Ryan’s policies but most agree that he is not insane. Talk about a lowered bar. Trump is polling slightly ahead of Kim Jong-un among women 18-54. Do I need the frat boy bully to remain engaged, and just successful enough to make it to November? How exactly do you go about rooting for that?

I was in full worry mode when I happened to re-watch Bridge of Spies, a Cold War drama directed by Steven Spielberg. Set in 1961 at the height of the Red scare, it is the true story of the trial of Russian spy Rudolf Abel. Tom Hanks is attorney James Donovan, tasked with defending Abel. Mark Rylance received an Academy Award for his nuanced portrayal of Abel as more than a borsht slurping villain in heavy overshoes and a cheap suit. Donovan and Abel form a lawyer/client relationship of necessity that develops into respect and friendship. Early on Donovan informs Abel that he faces charges of espionage and that the death penalty is “on the table.” Abel responds drolly, ”That wouldn’t be my first choice.” Donovan appears more anxious than his client as the case unfolds. The lawyer envies his client’s composure. After a crucial ruling goes against them Donovan turns to Abel and asks, “Aren’t you alarmed?” Abel answers, “Would it help?”

This is my lesson!

Donovan escorts Abel to the exchange point where he is to be swapped for Powers. Now friends, the lawyer is fearful of returning Abel to the Soviets. With drawn machine guns everywhere, Donovan asks Abel what he is going to do when he gets back. Abel replies “Have a vodka.” Donovan tries again, “Are you worried they will kill you?” Abel responds, “Would it help?”

Am I worried the republic will crumble and we will be ruled by a madman and a party of spineless sycophants? Would it help?

Tom H. Cook ran a precinct for George McGovern in 1972.

Writing an Advice Column

I am living with my husband and ex-husband and their girl friends.  These women sneak their red underwear in with my whites in the laundry and now we all have pink clothing!  I try to talk to them but they gang up on me.  Don’t suggest I leave; it is my house! 

(signed) Pinky

One of the many ways I irritate those closest to me is by occasionally speaking with a heavy Scandinavian accent, though it is not my heritage.  I do it only as an homage to the original movie Fargo.  Think Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), trying to impress his wheeler dealer father-in-law with his business acumen:  “I tell you, Wade, this is really sweet deal.”

While I was dining out with friends recently, the server offered us the Happy Hour Special (two for one hors d’oeuvres) despite it being 9:00 pm, three hours after the happiness was to have ended.  To the embarrassment and chagrin of all I replied in full accent, “That would be a really sweet deal.”

fixit

I have always thought writing a nationally syndicated advice column would be a really sweet deal.  I’d call it Talk to Tom, with an accompanying picture of me caring about others (it would need to be Photoshopped).  To get started, I planned to solicit or make up a few letters from troubled souls.  I’d have one a bit spicy (PG-13), such as an inquiry from a newlywed whose husband insists on bringing a pet goat into their bedroom.

Some letters would not even need much of a response.  Take “Marilyn of Widows Peak, Georgia.”  She enclosed a powerful poem she found tucked in a Gideon Bible at a truck stop motel where she was about to throw away her sacred vows and, as she put it, have “carnival relations” with a dried fruit vendor from Cincinnati.  I only need thank Marilyn, extol her bravery and reprint the poem in its entirety.  Boom, another whole column. (Ka-ching $$$)

I was getting excited about helping the downtrodden, lonely, and misunderstood. The rewards of syndication barely crossed my mind. A fancy degree is not required to give advice to the lovelorn, just a little common sense, which admittedly is not my strong suit.  Mostly you need to be kind, caring and genuine, which I can fake

Another helpful ingredient is a collection of wise but vague sayings and parables.   Don’t sugar coat the truth but wrap it in a pithy, humorous but knowing manner.  To close, suggest the writer seek out a therapist/counselor/clergy person.  That is the “playbook.”  The referral is the safe, middle of the fairway, don’t get sued response.

Before I could begin my venture I was disheartened to learn Dear Abby, Dr. Laura, Miss Manners, Dr. Ruth, Ask Amy, Dear Ann and the rest have large staffs working tirelessly to help lost souls. They have offices, copy machines, consultants, accountants, lawyers and a staff handling thousands of requests.  My bubble was burst.  Suddenly it was looking like a real job.  I opted to take a nap and remain a fan of the genre.

I enjoy my guilty pleasure, and freely admit to reading the Dear Abby letters in the newspaper on a daily basis.  To clarify, I call all the advice mavens Abby as Minneapolis’ Abigail Van Buren (Pauline Phillips) was the gold standard.  JoAnne and I attempt to guess “Abby’s” response and verbally craft a better one.  It is not one of my stellar traits but I feel a tinge of smugness comparing my problems to those who write in to the paper.  I do on occasion wonder where all of the concupiscent young women with poor judgement and raging libidos were when I was much younger.  They certainly didn’t live in Pennsauken, New Jersey in the 1960s and frequent the Cherry Hill Mall, or the Nassau Diner.  Unless my friends and I were not as cool…Nah.

When the upper crust mother of the bride thinks the new in-laws may be stealing her silver and it is a month before the wedding, I have to chortle.  One woman wrote that her boyfriend played around so much she did not know if the child she was expecting was his.  My favorite was a young man who rationalized that because he had delayed choosing a career; at 28 he worried that he was too old to start medical school and face ten years of training.  Expecting sympathy he concluded, “After all, I’d be 38 when I finished, isn’t that a little ridiculous?”  Dear Abby responded, “If you don’t go, how old will you be in ten years?”

I find myself muttering incredulously at the unfathomable and exasperating situations out there.  “No seventh chances!”  “Leave the lying weasel immediately.”  “Run!  As far and as fast as possible!”  I cannot believe some of the “writers” are in the same phylum as the rest of us.  It does however help explain the ascension of Donald Trump.

Tom H. Cook feels like he is playing “Whack A Mole” with the medical profession.  No sooner does he complete an appointment than another arises.  

Aging Perceptions

belanko by Tom CassidyDon’t worry; it gets worse.
—Barbara Amram (on aging)

Young women get changed in front of me.
—Jay Leno (on being old and invisible)

Why do seniors get a discount? They’ve had more time to make the money.
—anonymous (possibly Homer)

* * * * * * * *
“Are you comfortable?”
“I make a good living”

My very young dental hygienist (fresh from a small town in Idaho and trying to catch on in the glam world of L.A. dentistry) directed me into her chair and asked me the question. Granted, it’s funnier with a Yiddish accent, but it helps to be of a certain age to really sell the line. My response made her giggle and then laugh hard. There is a new audience, a whole generation that has never heard the classics. It is small recompense for getting liver spots, but too much is written about the downside of the whole aging process.

What is under-reported is the perks. I am no longer asked to help people move, (“We’re gonna have pizza and beer, its just a few things, it’ll be fun…”) I used to feel ethically challenged by party invitations. I was clumsy and awkward declining or accepting as I would almost always prefer to spend a quiet evening with dogs. Marginally interesting activities would torment me. I could go and be miserable, or stay home and feel guilty because I was not really too busy. Now I get far fewer social invitations and it is much easier to reject them. I politely but firmly say I am not coming, it is too far, too late, or I don’t want to.

Another advantage of aging is perspective. I was too often impulsive and short sighted throughout much of my life. I gnashed my teeth and lost sleep over roads not taken, mistakes I have made, hunches I did or did not follow, and decisions that, in hindsight, would have been better left to a ouija board. I am no Leo Buscaglia (how is that for a name from the past?) but I stress less and am more accepting. I did not get rich, but I never had to do hard time. The good news is that at a certain age it doesn’t much matter. My habits are set and more money would not appreciably improve my life. It is delightful to not be looking for a job, or answering to anyone.

People would rather be naked in front of each other than discuss their finances and I will not do either here, but the question that drives us most of our lives is “Why is there no parking at Trader Joe’s?” Oops I meant “How much money do I need to be able to live out my days warm and indoors?” I had always hoped that one of my splinter skills (writing, public speaking, stand up comedy) would thrust me into the public eye. I was never discovered but it’s nice not having to spend all that time in the harbor waiting for my ship to come in.

It is interesting to watch a coach who has prepared and practiced maniacally, forsaking friends, family, food, and sleep for a supreme effort in the big game. A close contest is more exciting but there is a melancholy bittersweet relief in a lopsided blowout. Up or down by thirty points in the waning moments, the contest is decided. It is time to be magnanimous: play the scrubs, avoid injury, don’t argue calls, congratulate your opponents, and let your players know how proud you are of them. My wins and losses have not been as dramatic. I never caught the brass ring, found the pot of gold, made it to Easy Street or [insert your favorite cliche here]. I hope to have many years left but I feel myself letting go of needing to keep score or watch the clock.

Tom H. Cook will likely have a third grandchild by the time you read this. He listens regularly to The Tony Kornheiser Show podcasts and is a “loyal little.”

Good Old Cooper

May God endow you with pain.              Baba Farid, Sufi poet

JoAnne (wife/editor)  “What are you writing about this month?”
Me “I thought I’d write about Cooper.”
JoAnne  “You have already written at least three columns about him…”
Me “Do you know how many entire books have been written about Winston Churchill, Stephen Foster, and Sacajawea?”

JoAnne (a bit exasperated and recognizing she has again fallen into an exchange where logic is useless.  Nevertheless she continues gamely) “They were famous people. Cooper is a dog.”

Me (exchanging a conspiratorial wink with the behemoth at my feet) “That,” I say, pausing for emphasis, “Is what he wants you to believe.”

*                    *                *               *                 *                  *                  *                    *

Cooper was a wedding present my daughter Rachael and son-in-law Daniel gave to each other almost eleven years ago.  Cooper is an over-sized yellow Lab who comes across as an oafish, hale fellow well met, ready to ask about “the missus” and your golf game.  A tail thumping Rotarian glad hander, who will grab your clothing and pull you to the ground to rub his belly.  At dinner parties he settles down after the meet and greet and plays the perfect guest.  Careful not to take the host’s favorite chair, he avoids politics and religion and does more listening than talking.  He seems to blend into the woodwork.  It is not until dessert is about to be served that the host realizes that an entire pumpkin pie that was on a high counter is missing.

Cooper is a trickster, perhaps in the coyote or Sufi tradition.  He has been pulling stunts like this for more than a decade.  Traveling with Daniel, he adjusts seamlessly to months of fast-paced downtown living in a Toronto high-rise.  Charming the doorman, he is off, walking without a leash through the financial district.  He could be just another securities trader concerned about the downturn in the China market.  What gives him away is not that he is a dog, but that he is not on a cell phone.  He knows that a cold wet nose to the back of a knee can redirect a chatting, oblivious business person and keep things moving.

Daniel and I believe Cooper is a prankster, far smarter than he appears.  In repose he is a Zen-like cipher, a Rorschach test.  We love to speculate on his past.  He often acts the part of a tweedy, befuddled, long tenured classics professor oblivious to the toilet paper stuck to his foot.  We are convinced this is just his cover.  Was he C.I.A.?  I am not sure where that rumor started.  Did he prep at Hotchkiss and get recruited to be a helper dog before washing out?  Was he once a companion to an elderly man who was finally unable to care for him?  He gets very excited when he sees very senior citizens.  He still pees like a racehorse in one spot as if he used to receive very few walks and had to make the most of every outing.

“Coopie” was already an old soul when Rachael and Daniel found him in a shelter in the San Fernando Valley.  This would lend credence to him having been in The Company and then discarded.  While all the other dogs barked and pleaded to be noticed, Cooper slept undisturbed as if he knew the kids were coming for him.  He ambled off just hours before facing “the green mile.”  He has been family ever since.

That is what is making his present condition so gut wrenching.  Cooper is probably about fourteen and has led a full if circumspect life.  His eyes are clear, and his appetite legendary.  His back legs are now too weak to support him.  After a few steps he likely tumbles over.  He remains good natured and nonplussed by his worsening condition.

After fall his tail thumps loudly, signalling that poltergeists have again tripped him up.  He rises with aid, his dignity and sense of humor intact.  Doctors have ruled out hip dysplasia and arthritis.  He baffled the neurologist; his X-rays, CAT scan, and MRI were unremarkable.  He has received laser treatments, acupuncture, and is on more drugs than Michael Jackson.  Cooper has a rear harness that allows us to take some of the weight off of his back end.

The veterinarians say he does not seem to be in pain.   Still, it is like watching the once graceful Willie Mays attempt to play centerfield for the Mets at forty-two.  No one wanted to cut the future Hall of Famer.  If you squinted just right for a play, he was still the “Say Hey Kid.”  Fans cheered mostly from relief every time he made it back to the bench alive.  “Coopie” still takes great joy in eating and a good nap.  He is “still in there” and we cannot let go.

When informed an injured athlete is “day to day,” Keith Olbermann will add, “Listen, we’re all day to day.”

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer.  This was an incredibly difficult story to share.  For happier Cooper columns and others visit sanduponthewaters.net. 

Sand Upon the Waters is on the Web

I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work…I want to achieve immortality through not dying                                   —Woody Allen

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.                     —Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Walking with a much younger friend the other day, I shared the news that I am developing a web presence.  My sister Nanci, a web designer visiting from British Columbia, was organizing my HLP columns and composing a website.  “I never thought of you as narcissistic” was my friend’s response.  It gave me pause.  

Granted, I subject old friends and former neighbors to my struggles and missteps on a monthly basis, but my portrayals rarely cast me in a positive light.  Of the seven deadly sins I mostly exhibit sloth, impulsivity, and a tenuous relationship between cause and effect.  I do not crave attention, but rather serve as a cautionary tale. I hope for, if not universality, at least  a faint recognition. My goal is to write about the important issues of the day, like garage sales, the conspiracy of objects, and what happens if you have nine dogs over for Christmas dinner.  Heady stuff.

Do my columns merely serve as a buffer between real estate ads in a community newspaper, or are they, as one reader suggested, a desperate cry for help?  The real question is Are they worth preserving?  I am not talking Smithsonian, but JoAnne is tired of the boxes of newspapers that I seem incapable of discarding or organizing.  (An aside: the word fire hazard is tossed around entirely too blithely in contemporary culture.) 

I have written more than three hundred columns since 1980 and a compromise seems to be storing them in “The Cloud,” not in the basement, which we don’t have.  Nanci to the rescue.  She has searched for themes, added photos, and put together through wizardry and hard work a web site.  Might a book publisher or Hollywood literary type decide that my collected columns would make a best seller and a vehicle for Ben Stiller? I am more likely to attract a bored actuary from Dayton. 

As to the original charge of self absorption, I fear my motives are even more grandiose.  I do not paint, sculpt, or create in any meaningful way.  My website may be more like a futile grasp for immortality.  I get no money for clicks or visitors, but humor me and check it out at sanduponthewaters.net.

Tom H. Cook is grateful to The Hill and Lake Press for untold patience and friendship.

 

 

My Collections Are Under Attack!

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar            —Sigmund Freud

My collections are under attack by those closest to me. I suspect my editor (JoAnne) is behind the plot. She has been encouraging me to ask friends and family members how they really feel about my stuff.  This is a touchy subject.  I have always taken their feigned indifference for petty jealousy.  Now everywhere I search for an ally I hear the same thing:  A clear differentiation between their feelings for me (lukewarm), and their impression of my “hobby” (stifling, excessive).  I am warned to not take their pointed criticism personally, which is difficult as they are my CDs, books, and old radios.

These inquisitions/interventions give me pause.  Could I possibly be this shallow?  Have I no soul? Didn’t I understand Citizen Kane? Why do I need a non-operational Grundig Majestic radio looming over the family room?   When is the last time I listened to a Tijuana Brass boxed set?  Am I likely to watch Hill Street Blues DVDs, or re-read Jimmy Breslin’s account of Watergate? My friends intones words such as public library, Internet, Netflix, Kindle, and Pandora, all rational solutions.

For decades I have enjoyed collecting media and odd bits of Americana like an autographed picture of Miss Rheingold 1951.  The hunting has been fun, but I have also unknowingly been constructing a two-way Rorschach test.  My insecurities fairly screamed, “Look at all the cool stuff I’ve got… won’t you like me?” If my sparkling wit did not make me friends, perhaps my Hot Tuna album, or my Lone Ranger board game would.  It cuts both ways.  If someone were too unhip to get the joke of a prominently displayed autographed photo of Henry Kissinger, perhaps we were not meant to be friends.

I have reached the age and stage when I do not feel the need to attract new friends.  The message that I am getting from those closest to me is that they care for me despite, not because of my Frankie Avalon albums, and Hopalong Cassidy lunchbox.  They say my stuff is weighing on me and wouldn’t a much smaller collection be more practical and easier to appreciate?  They warn that I am drowning in stuff.

I may be ankle deep but I am certainly not drowning.   All the constructive criticism begins to blur and soon I am in a buzz of friends all nude, they are led by my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Reese.  Chanting and dancing, they implore me, “Break free!”  “Throw away your crutches!”  “Break free!” (Repeat incessantly).  I have to admit it is catchy and with the drums and the bonfire I find myself caught up in the frenzy.

Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer and garage sale habitué.  A current home renovation project is calling into question all that he holds dear.       

Shirt Collection

Electronic Devices

 “A mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child.”

Whether the origin is an old Russian proverb or a Hint from Heloise, the poignancy of the unending love and concern for a child even after the kid retires and moves to Boca Raton is heartwarming.  To my knowledge I am the first to be so materialistic, self-absorbed, and gadget obsessed to apply it to a relationship with electronic devices.  I have real children, now adults, but they do not need me the way my iPod, iPad, and Kindle do.  A crackling in my earphone or a slow podcast download is as unnerving as a CROUPY COUGH low battery signal.

The little scamps frequently need downloads, uploads, updates, operating system upgrades, and a new app, not to mention battery charging and screen windexing.  It takes considerable work, but the rewards!   I can walk down the street to “Saturday Night Fever”, play Words With Friends, or watch a short video of a duck mother and a baby kitten, all while waiting to have my teeth cleaned. I have no idea how I stumbled through life without these necessities.

A toaster makes toast (or in my case melts plastic bread bags left in its path) but it is (no offense) an appliance.  My little Kindle and Apple friends grow and learn.  Whether it is a stimulating new podcast, or a bug fix for a favorite app, it is as if they go off to school in a Wi-Fi cloud and come home bursting with new information, just like human children.

What, no iPhone?  As crazy as it sounds, I gathered my little electronic family and we discussed having podcasts, music, Internet, e-mail, photos, and video on a telephone.  My trusty iPod was strangely silent. Intimidated? Jealous?  We, I mean I, am so used to my iPod and earbuds that a new device would jeopardize our bond.

My usually reliable iPad II froze when I attempted to download articles about the new iPad Air.  In my defense I never used the phrase “relatively clunky;” that was a reviewer.  I admit I was curious about the retinal display, impressed by the weight, and momentarily seduced by the pixels.  As I said to Mona, I mean my iPad II, hadn’t I stood in line for five hours in the bitter cold the first week she/it was available?  She said we met in Manhattan Beach, it was 60 degrees and the wait was more like four hours.  I replied that I am loyal and never even considered the iPad mini.  Still, my downloads were slow for a week.

There were no objections to the Kindle joining our family.  It is interesting to browse Kindle Buffet for free e-books, although most are categorized as Bulgarian Women/ Christian Fiction/Romance/Adventure/Amish/Coming of Age.  The Kindle is lightweight and backlit, making it possible to read even heavy books in bed with the light off.  I have borrowed some e-books from local libraries and I may even buy a few to help support the fledgling company Amazon.

My editor (JoAnne) is often in Atlanta with our granddaughter Charlotte (HLP 10/13).   A great night for me is not networking at Chateau Marmont with industry types or doing shots with my bros in Hermosa Beach, but early bed with dogs for warmth and my Kindle and Apple buddies for entertainment.  In The Usual Suspects, the phantom world of Keyser Soze, the devil’s greatest feat is convincing people that he doesn’t exist.  My electronic friends have us believing they are not real.

Tom H. Cook a former local has moved far west of Hennepin Avenue.  He has come a long way from his acerbic suggestion that computers make the unnecessary possible.       

 

 

I Cannot Write Straight

I cannot write straight.  Even a simple task like a three sentence letter to a mortgage lender confirming the residency of friends gets complicated.  I envision a wily, cigar chomping bank examiner (Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity) pouring over my submission.  I feel the need to establish motive.  Why would these people live with us rent free for months while they are waiting for their house purchase to close?

Although I was not the subject, I felt the need to establish context.  I began with JoAnne and me leaving Florida and moving to Minneapolis.  I barely touched on the difference between Naples and Calhoun/Isles.  From there I segued (quite cleverly, I thought) into how this wonderful couple had, much like Native people long ago, adopted JoAnne and me.  We were not Pilgrims, but we were unprepared for the winter of 1977, which was the coldest ever until 1978.

Admittedly, mention of our friends’ steadfastness and loyalty was not what the bank was seeking.  I thought our friends’ presence at the births and (much later) marriages of both of our children would help me wrap up the letter, which was heading north of six pages.  I was about to “bring it on home,” which I thought a mortgage broker, if steeped in the blues of Lightnin Hopkins, would appreciate.

JoAnne interceded.  Grabbing the computer, she dashed off a couple of quick sentences listing our names and address, and stating that our friends were living with us rent free from one date to another.  There was no arc, no character development, no plot points!  I felt badly for her.  Our friends must have also as they chose to present her version to the bank, to not hurt her feelings.

This highlights a major philosophical difference between us.  JoAnne contends that office workers forced to engage me by phone, e-mail or in person do not want a long, circuitous, “clever” response.  She claims I am not as funny as I believe myself to be and, that workers, like Jack Webb on Dragnet, just want the facts!  “These people have quotas to reach.  They do not have time for your foolishness.”

Whereas I believe that the more bureaucratized and routine the job, the more people enjoy and even need a little humor to break it up. (S)he who laughs, lasts.  Long ago, as a baby boomer with ho hum credentials searching for my first job, I needed a way to make my resume memorable.  I printed it on brown steak paper.  It not only stuck out in a sea of white, but the paper was so slippery, no pile could contain it.  I cannot say it got me a job, but on a number of occasions when I went for an interview the secretary referred to me as “the guy with the resume” and called her colleagues in to see me.

Nowadays a form asking — for the third time — for my relationship to a next of kin deserves the response “Frosty.”  Someone who reviews records and loan applications in a Kafkaesque cubical may look favorably upon someone who makes him smile.  When I hear “This call may be monitored for quality control purposes” I want the supervisor of this poor frightened bureaucrat to know what kind of wing nuts their representative has to put up with!  When I am prompted to pay attention “as the options have changed,” after I get a live person, I inquire when the options changed.  How are people enjoying the new options?  Did you get to vote? Do you foresee the options changing again?

When I call to dispute a claim or request service I hope to be connected to someone not totally beaten down by the faceless, gut wrenching, soul stealing system that engulfs us all.  A fellow traveler able to at least momentarily step back and view the existential absurdity, and glimpse the chasm between their envisioned future at six or seven as a cowboy or ballerina and the reality of grown-up life as a gate keeping, no-saying, customer service hotline representative. None of us aspired to long shifts with hovering supervisors and enforced cheerfulness in a windowless cubicle.  I offer humor, sympathy, and a brief respite from a day mired in a loop of co-pays, eligibility, and exclusions, or widgets, waivers, and warranties.

Tom H. Cook is happy to be out of the rat race, although he wishes he had gotten more cheese.  

Tom at the loom

Weaving

This would have been a great column twenty years ago.  Much like my breathless exhortation on the world of podcasting (HLP May 2011), I am late to the dance with this revelation (to me only) of the puzzle-solving power of Internet communities.  Other than bemusement at Lindsay Lohan’s multiple escapes from justice, I do not follow any topic closely enough to grasp the full force of the axiom that everyone is smarter than any one.  That changed when JoAnne was stumped by a weaving problem.

I have watched her chase the two sirens Curiosity and Creativity for four decades.  As a serious artist and president-elect of the Southern California Hand Weavers Guild, and even with decades of experience, she continually seeks challenges.   Being temporarily over her head attempting to refine the weave structure on a project is a normal state of  affairs.  The goal is creation not extension.  Following a pattern is merely replication.  The art and anxiety comes from bringing together your own vision with the wisdom of other artists.  Being a “fiddler on the roof” at times is the price of originality.

When she is off in her own world, a bobbing, riffing, weaving John Coltrane, I usually grab a good book and the nearest dog and retreat.  But, her latest caper intrigued me.  She had a copy of the not totally obscure 1926 text How To Weave Linens by Edward F. Worst.  Using Worst’s instructions, charts, and black and white photos, JoAnne used her weaving software to digitally represent one of the cloth designs. Her computer program revealed the same weave structure except it came out sideways.  Analyzing 17 other weave drafts in that chapter, she discovered all were inexplicably a quarter turn off.

Rather than just rotate the patterns 90 degrees, JoAnne wanted to know what had gone wrong.  She needed to understand Edward Francis Worst (1869-1949), unfortunate name and all.  Worst was a manual arts teacher, a leader in the Arts and Crafts movement, and the author of four books on weaving.  By 1926 Edward Worst was America’s foremost authority on hand weaving. Surely the man knew what he was doing. JoAnne, after blaming her own reading of the instructions, the software, and briefly me for hovering, turned to WeaveTech, an international 2,000 member Yahoo group, for answers.

A WeaveTech member from Sweden solved the mystery.  The photos in Worst’s chapter were lifted directly from Nina Engestrom’s book Prastik Vavbok, published in Sweden in 1896.  Nina or a careless typesetter had turned the fabric photos 90 degrees in her book, and Worst had included them (unattributed and still sideways) along with instructions in How To Weave Linens.

I was ready to write an expose on “Fast Eddie’s” grab for the gold when I began to read other posts and articles.  Worst, a Chicago, Illinois native, looked like Daniel Day Lewis looking like Lincoln.  Rather than a quick-buck plagiarist, he was more of a saint, committed to reversing the divorce between the hand and the brain.  He was a school principal and early advocate for nascent programs in occupational and physical therapy.  He taught weaving and other arts that emphasized the therapeutic value of handcraft to staff at state mental institutions.  He pioneered handweaving as a resource for low income people suffering the effects of The Great Depression.

Worst was so taken by the early efforts to establish a weaving cooperative in North Carolina that a feel-good made for television movie could be made from what happened next.

Worst, the Yankee school principal, traveled to the Blue Ridge Mountains town of Penland, North Carolina to teach weaving in the summer of 1928.  His classes were so popular the community committed to building a studio.  A visionary local woman, Lucy Morgan, “borrowed all the money they would let me have” and led grass roots efforts to finance and construct the log “mansion in the sky.”  In May 1935 the locals came  together like an Amish barn raising (but with liquor).  They cut logs and used their mules to drag them into place.  The women cooked the noon meals, which became a community event.  In August of 1935 the last nail went into the roof of the four-story 50 X 80 foot Edward F. Worst Craft House the day before Worst’s arrival.

If this is a movie, the locals will be lining the streets of Penland as a deeply moved Edward Worst (Tommy Lee Jones if Mr. Lewis is unavailable), and his wife Evangeline (Holly Hunter?) slowly motor into town.  Prominent in the crowd would be Lucy Morgan (Meryl Streep?), the driving force behind the school.  The closing credits reveal The Penland School of Craft has become internationally recognized, and the Edward F. Worst Craft House and particularly the Chicago Room is a cornerstone of the campus.  The next to last visual would state “Edward Worst began teaching summers in North Carolina in 1927, and returned every year until his death in 1949.”  Then the last screen: “During his more than twenty years of teaching at Penland, he never accepted compensation.”  There will not be a dry eye in the house, and I am misting up as I write this.  It is amazing what you can learn on the Internet.

 Tom H. Cook is an adept blogger and the host of four sites dedicated to Philadelphia Athletics left fielder Gus Zernial.    

 JoAnne adds: You can read more about  Penland, Lucy Morgan and Edward Worst at http://www.wcu.edu/library/DigitalCollections/CraftRevival/people/edwardworst.html     

By the way, my handwoven linens came out beautifully.  Still sideways, but lovely.  

    

 

 

My Big Idea

I would like to issue a manifesto!  Alas, producing such a powerful document seems to require not only a bedrock commitment to a cause, but a will of steel, piercing black eyes, and huge ham-like hands with hairy knuckles.  Let me instead respectfully point out that our electoral process is deeply flawed to the point of embarrassment. Years ago, the erudite wit and social commentator Dick Cavett was asked by an interviewer whether he planned to vote in the coming election. Cavett responded in mock horror, “Heavens no, it just encourages them.”  The recent Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited campaign contributions has only made the election spectacle worse.

The New Yorker magazine suggests that the two Presidential candidates will together spend over one billion dollars in television advertising alone before November 6.   A close election is a windfall for television and radio station owners.  Instead of coquettish commercials for male enhancement, or gold merchants trolling for suckers, stations can charge a Super PAC top dollar to run attack ads implying a wrong voter choice will likely mean the end of the republic.  

To those who say it is private money or, in Latin no harmus, no foulus, I disagree.  One fat cat may invest $10 million to save $50 million in taxes, and another may contribute in hopes of having a pillow fight in the Lincoln bedroom.  Either way, you and I will pay.  Media advertising may be powerful but it is less satisfying than if we were to invest our national 401K on Silly String and a giant fireworks display.

Imagine you are an overworked or out of work rust belt resident. Because you live in a swing state, candidates are continually popping in.  They travel with their own entourage, but create traffic jams, false expectations, and a hefty bill for local police overtime.  Your mailbox and front porch are buried in campaign literature on a daily basis.  Answering the phone subjects you to robocalls or live pollsters.  When the doorbell rings you hope it is Jehovah Witnesses, rather than another freshly scrubbed volunteer.  

When you go to the grocery store, at least one news affiliate is sure to interview you on how it feels to be downtrodden.  Even when watching television, the last affordable respite, you are inundated with thirty-second spots of a candidate standing in front of a boarded up factory proclaiming a need for new clean, green, high paying, wacky fun jobs!

Campaign funds come from Super PACs, fat cats, corporations, billionaires, foreign investors, movie stars, unions, and you and me.  The money goes primarily to advertising agencies, media moguls, consultants, and seemingly everyone except “the plucky widow I met in Hattiesburg, Mississippi who has three sons in Iraq, recently had her spleen repossessed by an insurance company, and needs new batteries for her iron lung.”

Here is my big idea, and I admit it is fraught with peril and possible abuse, but look where we are now.  Currently we spend a billion dollars and only serve to annoy the target audience.  There are people with heartbreaking stories and documented needs.  They are hungry and we are giving them four color glossy pictures of food!  

What if political parties were encouraged to “one up” each other by using their bulging coffers to champion good works?   Candidates would receive public recognition for aiding hard hit states and municipalities. They may get naming rights like corporations and individual donors do on sports venues and university buildings. I know this sounds like buying votes, which is as unethical as attempting to disenfranchise our citizenry.  I admit the idea needs tweaking — but here are two examples.

 Candidate #1  “I could release a series of venomous TV attack ads aimed at my narcissistic, bat-sucking, cretinous opponent.  Looking into the hearts of people of this great state, I have instead decided to direct those funds to be used to keep every public library in the state open on Saturdays!  Furthermore, for young people and families, I have authorized my campaign to make a contribution that will ensure that every recreation center and community swimming pool will have extended hours!”

Candidate #2  “My staff was ready to place four hundred likenesses of me on billboards all over the greater metropolitan area.  I said, ‘People already know what I look like and we do not want to scare the children.  Let’s do something else with the money.’  Because I believe in scratching where it itches, I asked, ‘What do the people want?’  Turns out y’all would like a continuation of the bike paths begun the last time my party was in office.  We are gonna pay to extend the path from Fox Hollow Creek, all the way to downtown! And that’s good jobs for the local economy!”

Tom H. Cook is a writer and former HLP resident.  We have no idea where he gets the audacity to continue to submit his ideas to this publication.  There is a chance that he is really three women.