The Deep Shadow

1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
Book of Ecclesiastes – Chapter 3

2017 was the year of the deep shadow. It feels as if the entire world is on the edge of dusk; as if God’s great hand were partially obscuring the sunlight that warms us. Maybe that’s my way of saying that it feels like we’re living in the Twilight Zone.

In some ways, it does. If you had told me six months ago that I would be living in Omaha, Nebraska, I’d tell you that you needed a good, strong psychotropic drug. Yet, here I am, sitting in my apartment near 90th and Dodge while the gas heater fights off the draft coming in from my sliding glass balcony door wrought by a -20 wind-chill. Welcome to Nebraska winter.

It’s more than just my situation at hand. Everything around me feels as if it has a bluish hue to it. Strange that a blind guy would be using a visual reference, but then, we live in strange times. Maybe psychologists would call it projection. Perhaps I’m seeing the world through a tinted lens of sadness. I wonder…

Take one of my closest friends, Alicia. She just lost her husband to cancer after a two-and-a-half year battle. He went home to be with his lord and savior the Sunday before Thanksgiving. At one point, they thought they were winning the struggle, but their hopes were short-lived. I remember the rhythmic beeping of the life support apparatus in the background when she told me of his failing health the night before he died. I remember the high, keening noise she made when I spoke to her three hours after he passed. It is a haunting sound that I will never forget.

Rest in peace, Mark. I hope it’s Texas warm where you are, brother.

Then, there’s Marty. She continues to battle her M.S. She hasn’t had a flair-up in quite some time, but the reality of her health always lurks like a grizzly just outside the light of the campfire. Worse than that, Monty’s health is failing. It is only a matter of time before she is forced to send him over the rainbow bridge. She knows it. In his own doggy way, I think he knows it. She will be devastated when that fateful moment arrives and all I will be able to do is hold the telephone and tell her how sorry I am. Just words.

Talking about Marty makes me realize that I went through, not one, but two breakups in 2017. Most women think that guys have it easier when you break up with a woman. This is categorically false. You sit in a room across from each other, or on the telephone, and you say the words that transform your relationship from an active bond of energy into a sad, hollow place inside of yourself. If you pay attention, you can feel the air around you die as the relationship dies. It’s like feeling the coming of a snowstorm in late autumn. Things around you still live, but the air turns colder and you suddenly find yourself carrying the knowledge that something is dying. And somewhere in the night, you wake up and realize that yet again, it is a part of your own soul.

One of the two breakups to which I refer was an Irish girl who is a tactile artist. We ended it in her living room. She said, “Can you please leave?” So, I did. I left Colorado.

The reasons for taking this new job seemed right and proper at the time. More money. More responsibilities. Live on-air breaks. Granted, it wasn’t AM talk radio, or even FM radio, but it was as close to a dream come true as I ever could have hoped. Yet, if I boil down my motivations, I see in retrospect that I was propelled by greed and vanity. I had a fine life in Denver with a job that, while a source of irritation at times, was comfortable and afforded me a decent living. Why did I take an unnecessary risk and shuck the status quo like an old raincoat?

This isn’t to say that I hate, or even dislike my job. Quite the contrary. My job is, by far, the best part of living here in Omaha. My boss is the best boss for whom I’ve ever worked. She is honest, fair, personable and perspicacious. She is firm when she needs to be, but she belies the stereotype of the harsh, frosty female authority figure. My two other coworkers are both professional, but casual and friendly. I have very large footprints to fill in the wake of my predecessor and I think many of the volunteers doubt my abilities, but everyone has been encouraging and compassionate toward the new guy.

I’ll tell you a story about my boss that will illustrate my point. About a month ago, a sour old dowager (who has been reading for us for decades) came into the control room and used a tone with me that I will describe as, tart. I felt the hot anger rippling through me as she waggled her acidic tongue, but I suppressed it behind the veil of professionalism. My boss overheard a portion of her tirade and, later that afternoon, she called the cranky old spinster and said, “I don’t like the way you talked to Ryan. I won’t have it.”

This is significant because, in our industry, the first rule of order is that you never, ever piss off the volunteers. I don’t begrudge this reality. There are sound reasons for this. Next to the listeners themselves, volunteer readers are the life blood of a radio reading service for the blind. Without them, we simply couldn’t function. We can’t have them becoming angry because they might leave, and while they’re at it, they might trash talk us to other people, thereby poisoning the well of benevolence from the public. Too much of this would send a non-profit organization into its death throws. Yet, my boss had my back, thereby guaranteeing my loyalty to her.

No, the job is fine. The city feels wrong. You know that episode of Columbo where his wife gives him a brand new raincoat and he tries to wear it so as not to hurt her feelings, but he can’t get his murder-solving mojo to full strength until he chucks the new one and goes back to the old, rumpled one? Five minutes after he dawns the ragged old coat, he busts Jack Cassidy. That’s how Omaha seems to me. Something here feels wrong.

Denver was like my comfortable old winter coat; the one that’s missing the front zipper. It’s black and yellow. I call it my bumblebee coat. It’s not in the best shape, but it fits my ample torso nicely and it’s warm and comfy. It is part of me, just as Denver was part of my identity. I’m Ryan. I’m from Denver.

This may be a period of adjustment. As I grow older, it might be that change is more difficult for me to accommodate. Am I seeing my situation through a melancholy fog; a fog that might clear with the passage of time? It’s too early to tell. Yet, something deep inside of me doesn’t think so.

Denver was very easy for me to live and thrive in as a blind person. The buses all had automated stop announcements, so there was no question as to where my stop was located. They ran nearly 24/7 and covered the vast majority of the Denver metropolitan area. I know this isn’t cool for a conservative to say, but the light rail was a marvel to behold when you were on it. If I needed a gallon of milk, a checkup for Mags, a deposit at the bank or a patty melt with a slice of pie, it was all within walking distance. If I couldn’t walk there, I could take a bus or train to my destination. If the bus or train wouldn’t go, Lyft or Uber was available in spades.

Here in Omaha, I feel disconnected and isolated, like Woodrow Call in his tent set apart from his wranglers after Gus died. I do enjoy a measure of solitude, but I don’t like feeling like a compulsory hermit. There are no sidewalks near my apartment, so I am forced to walk in the street. The afore-mentioned bank, grocery store or vet are most convenient by Uber, which costs money. I have a friend who is willing to drive me around, but I hate imposing on his time. He works at night and sleeps during the day and I feel guilty intruding upon his rest so he can run errands for me.

My apartment is spacious, but it’s old. It smells old. The floor boards creek. The neighbors smell like pot. I wanted to get away from that when I left Colorado! The laundry machines in the basement are touch panel, which is rough for a fellow who relies on push-button appliances. My thermostat is inaccessible. The kitchen is big, but there is little counter space and not many cupboards. Right above my sink where cupboards should be, there is just a blank wall. Where are the cupboards!? Maybe they’re in the deep shadow. The few close friends I have nearby live in Lincoln, or in Iowa.

The other day, I took the bus home and the temperature was 1 degree. I got on the bus. The driver said, “How ya doin’?” “Cold, “ I mumbled through my scarf. “Well, it ain’t any better on here,” he said unapologetically.

The heater was, indeed, in disrepair. This marks the fourth time that an Omaha bus has either broken down or has been in some measure of disrepair since I took up residence here almost three months ago. When I complain to customer service, they seem apathetic. The drivers seem to reflect the same apathy, which is a result of low ridership and general community disinterest. Public transit is a service furnished by the city government through the financial generosity of the citizenry. As Thomas Jefferson observed, the people get the government they deserve.

I did my fair share of complaining about RTD, but they never would allow a bus to serve as a means of conveyance if the heater were broken in single-digit weather. They would view it as a health hazard, which it is.

Speaking of the government, one of the things I was excited about in moving back to Omaha was better rehab services. I helped fight for a separate commission for the blind in the late ‘90’s and celebrated with my Federation cohorts when we finally got it in 2000. It was doing very well when I left the state 10 years ago. I came back with the full expectation of receiving a major improvement in services. Colorado Vocational Rehab is substandard, to put it mildly.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas. The Nebraska Commission for the Blind lost a major source of federal funding due to the reallocation of dollars for hurricane relief after Harvey, Irma and Maria all made their wrath known. This loss of funding, coupled with a federal law known as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, means that the Commission must now place more emphasis on clients who are either going to college, or who are seeking employment. Since I am already employed and only needed supplemental equipment and services helping me acclimate to the area, I am very low on the priority list.

I don’t blame anyone for this. I don’t even blame Mother Nature. This comes under the ‘shit happens’ heading. But the timing is lousy. I have a deep and abiding affection for the Commission. They, along with my parents, helped formed the solid bedrock of my positive philosophy about blindness. Yes, the NFB deserves a lot of credit, but it was the Nebraska agency that helped me connect with the NFB. It makes me sad that they are now struggling and that clients will now feel the result.

Meanwhile, rumors are swirling that Outlook Nebraska is seeking federal funding to provide tech and rehab training for blind people. I invite all two of you who read this to stop and ponder that prospect. A toilet paper factory that is one step removed from a sheltered workshop for the blind being paid by the government to train other blind people how to use their iPhones. This from the same facility that refuses to fire a blind married couple who blatantly flaunt the rules and go to the bathroom together, all in the name of, “enriching their lives.”

There was a time when I would’ve dismissed such a prospect as mere folderol. But then, I never thought that human beings with male genitalia would be permitted in the restrooms of the opposite gender, and that those who questioned such wisdom would be excoriated as transphobic bigots. This is the age of the deep shadow.

My closest in-person companion at this point is Mags. I am terribly worried about her. She’s been losing weight for the past 10 months or so. My vet in Denver (who knew both Mags and I by our first names) told me that she is in the early stages of renal disease. There is no cure for this. She could have surgery, but it really wouldn’t solve the problem. The move from Denver to Omaha was a tremendous strain on her. We were both miserable for the two weeks we spent in the hotel before my apartment was ready. I wonder if she recovered. She doesn’t eat as much as she should and sometimes, she aggressively bites me. This is a far cry from the sweet, affectionate kitty who first came to live with me Memorial Day weekend of 2016. All she wanted to do was cuddle and nuzzle me. She’s still that way most of the time, but she is growing thinner.

I took Mags to a new vet this weekend and she said that all we can hope to do is, “Support her kidneys as best we can.” Hard to do when she turns her nose up at any diet food I offer her. She’s stubborn. After all, she’s a cat.

I fear that, like Marty, I will be forced to make a fateful decision about her in the next year or so. The mere contemplation of this causes me to fight tears. Mags is a part of my heart that I never knew existed. She is mine. I take care of her and, in her own way, she takes care of me. When I drift off to sleep or wake up, I always feel her warm, furry body somewhere near my feet or shoulder. Despite the assertions of Walt Disney, animals are not human. Yet, in our interactions with them, we become more human. I am sure that Alicia contemplates this truth as she prepares to give up her own cat due to financial hardship in the wake of Mark’s death.

I spoke of my identity earlier. This brings me to the sad but necessary decision that I made a few weeks ago on Pearl Harbor Day when I chose to leave the Republican Party after 24 years of membership. You can read about my thought processes in a previous entry. I take no solace from this decision. I was proud to be among the ranks of the GOP. I am heartbroken at the steps they have taken (or not taken) collectively that have lead us to where we are now. I believe that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are both good men who are doing a thankless job and are saddled with a president whom they did not want, but that doesn’t mean they can’t show stronger leadership.

Other friends have suffered losses. A former coworker just lost his father over the Christmas season. My former mentor at AINC is pulling back from his volunteer duties because his wife’s health is deteriorating. He could be an exasperating old curmudgeon at times, but he was and is sharp as a razor and he taught me a lot while I worked there. My friends in Minneapolis have spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital this past year as their daughter is suffering from chronic health problems. Special thanks to Steve, without whom I could not maintain this blog. Another buddy of mine was going to move to Australia to be with his lady, until he discovered that her mental fruit basket contains only bananas. Dana isn’t as vivacious as she once was. I asked her, “Are you folding in on yourself?” She responded, “Like Goddamn Taco Bell.”

… She didn’t actually say that. But she would have four years ago.

A shock hit the Nebraska NFB affiliate in April when our spiritual leader lost her son to suicide. He had always been a troubled kid who grew into a troubled man and our hearts collectively broke for her. She is a rare individual of integrity, honor and kindness for whom virtually no one has a negative word to say. She did not deserve the shattering blow that she received. As a non-parent, I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose a child, particularly by their own hand.

Rest in peace, John Walker. I hope you are reunited with your father and that you now have the answers that eluded you in life. Your mother, whom you left behind, will be a long time seeking those same answers. I pray for peace, strength and resolution for her as she soldiers onward.

6 For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a person may be weighed down by misery.
7 Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?
8 As no one has power over the wind to contain it, so
no one has power over the time of their death. As no one is discharged in time of war, so wickedness will not release those who practice it.
Book of Ecclesiastes – Chapter 8

I still miss Art. Nobody can listen quite like he can. I miss Katy and Marty. I miss my oasis of happiness at the Littleton Cafe. Happy New Year Becky, Oscar, Sam, Bonnie, Katrina, Dorothy, Ryan, Ariana and all the rest of you.

I even miss that wild crew over at the CCB. I realize that the Colorado Center For the Blind has its problems, but as I study Outlook Nebraska, I realize how important it is for blind people to take total control of their own destiny. The CCB can be a seething cauldron of chaos at times, but I feel toward it like some of those guys feel who become addicted to war and find that they miss Afghanistan when they get home. It could very well kill you, but while you were there, you never felt more alive.

So here’s to you Brent, Dan, Chip, Jenn, Dishon, Steve, Vicki, Martin, Carina, Maureen and all the rest of you. I hope the Christmas party was as good without my adult eggnog this year. Live the life you want. For tomorrow, you could be murdered by a nutjob with a pipe on the 16th Street Mall.

Sidebar: Lorinda, no offense, but I don’t miss you. You’re as ornery as that old acid-tongued dowager here in Omaha.

The news of my friends isn’t all bad. Martin and Carina have just become engaged. Congratulations, guys. Soon, you won’t have to fight and feel guilty about it. My pal Joe is in a relationship with a new lady and he seems to finally be content in Phoenix. I just had dinner with my friend Amy and she is mostly happy with her life in Baltimore. Katy was a beneficiary of my decision to leave as she took over my old job in Boulder. The results are mixed. She is glad to have a paycheck and she has learned how to use Windows to interface with their Linux systems, but she hates the four-hour round trip daily commute that I adjusted to in time. My buddy Wes relocated from Lincoln to Des Moines. Is he happy? I can never be sure. Is my friend Beth happy in Minnesota? I can never be sure.

I should give a mention to the only two friends I can claim here in Omaha, Amy and Kevin. They have gone out of their way to make me feel truly welcome since I arrived three months ago. Thank you for everything, guys. I should also mention that my dad came and picked me up last weekend so I could spend Christmas with the family. It was a wonderful feeling to be able to jump in the car with him instead of a bus driver, then debark two hours later at their front door.

Things are also mixed (as usual) on the socio-political front. Republicans control all three chambers of Government in D.C., but they have accomplished sadly little. They just passed a needed tax reform bill, but they have thus far lost the battle to repeal and replace Obamacare. Trump did seat a justice on the Supreme Court in the Scalia mold in the person of Neal Gorsuch, but for every battle he wins, he sabotages himself. If you doubt this, just look at Anthony Scaramucci, Mike Flynn and Steve Bannon. Trump’s iron-jawed announcement that the U.S. will officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is offset by his abysmal handling of the crisis in Charlottesville. I don’t even want to talk about his diarrhea of the fingers on Twitter. Did anyone ever decrypt “covfefe?”

I believe that Donald Trump may be winning the short-term battle, but given his volatile nature, he will cause Republicans to lose the long-term war. Those of you who enthusiastically support Trump can and will argue with me. I’ve learned that debate with those who subscribe to a cult of personality is an exercise in futility. The only further point I will make is simply that, if Trump had shown more sagacity in his firing of Comey, he would not now have a Mueller probe to worry about. I don’t think self-awareness is his strong suit. Aside from that, I’ve given up on my bad habit of political forecasting. Let’s just see how the 2018 midterms turn out.

Then, we have pop culture.

In 2015, they killed Han Solo. Now, they’ve killed Luke Skywalker. The character of Princess Leia still lives, but we won’t be seeing her in the third installment, unless J. J. Abrams can commune with the ghost of Carrie Fisher. This means that the great triumvirate of my childhood is dead. Maybe Lando will make a return in the next movie, but I won’t hold my breath. When William Shatner, Patrick Stewart and Optimus Prime go, I may just hurl myself in front of a truck full of Omaha steaks.

The third season of Fargo was pretty weak in contrast to the first two. Katy and I got into a cop show called Bosch, but the books bored me and the show, while interesting, doesn’t give me a TV nerd chub. I do like The Man in the High Castle and would recommend it to those who like alternative history fiction. I also think Stranger Things has improved with the second season. I still refuse to watch The Walking Dead as I think it outlived its creative value around season…two.? Still won’t watch Game of Thrones. Fantasy’s not my bag.

I didn’t really read any book series this year that grabbed me as the novels of C. J. Box did in 2016. Much to Katy’s delight, I finally broke down and read the Harry Potter series. I applaud Ms. Rowling’s journey from welfare mother to best-selling author. The books are good, not great in my opinion, but reading them was time well spent.

As noted in a previous entry, I do highly recommend The Force, by Don Winslow. His drug epics, Power of the Dog and The Cartel are also good, though not as good as The Force. I have also introduced myself to the Cork O’Connor series by William Kent Krueger, as well as the Quinn Colson series by Ace Atkins. Both solid series worth the read, but again, they didn’t seize my attention and shake it as did Joe Pickett and company.

I consider my brief meeting with Mr. Box in March to be a definite high-light and you can also read about it elsewhere within these hallowed pages.

We had the usual parade of celebrity deaths over the past year. The ones I found notable included Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle), Tom Petty, Glen Campbell, Malcolm Young and Sue Grafton. Remember Higgins from Magnum, P.I.? He died. Remember Phil Leotardo from The Sopranos and Billy Batts from Goodfellas? He died. Special shout-out to the memory of Adam West, who went up to that great batcave in the sky last June. He was the only actor with sense enough to realize that Batman is a character who is best not taken seriously. Another piece of my childhood goes, “Pow!” Sometimes I think that being an adult is merely standing a deathwatch while the parallel mythology and reality of your childhood implodes before your eyes.

HOLY CRACKERS!!! I didn’t know that Della Street died! Rest in peace, Barbara Hale. I don’t know how I missed this one or I would’ve given her a proper Facebook send-off. The Perry Mason TV show and novels were more a part of my college years than my childhood. As a character, Della had very little to do but sit around and validate Raymond Burr. Still, she deserves a special mention here.

I find it more than a little pathetic that America is now outraged about sexual harassment and assault, yet many of the same people who are shaking their fists at the objectification and mistreatment of women loudly and proudly mourned the passing of Hugh Hefner. I think that goes under the heading of, paradox. It’s like the people who squawk about America’s violation of human rights while they simultaneously wept at the death of Fidel Castro.

A lot of people will never come out of the deep shadow. Victims of Hurricane Harvey. Victims of Hurricane Maria. Victims of Hurricane Irma. Victims of the California fires; even though I often wonder if California deserves any sympathy. Victims of evil in Sutherland Springs, TX, New York City, Fort Lauderdale, Portland and many other locations. I couldn’t fully enjoy my first day of work because it was overshadowed by the horrible blood bath in Las Vegas the night before.

Many careers died over the past year. Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Mark Halperin, Roy Moore, John Conyers and others. As you can see by this blog, I am wholeheartedly supportive of the changing culture with respect to sexual harassment. Yet, I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. The left always overplays its hand. Soon, the lines between a dirty joke in the workplace and unwanted groping will be blurred to the point where many men will be afraid to go near women. This won’t breed enlightenment or tolerance, but rather, latent hostility. I’m also waiting for some unscrupulous woman to falsely accuse a man of something and for the media to be complicit in his takedown.

Other careers have taken a hit. Mike Riley, though he’s merely been demoted to assistant coach. On the bright side, may the Frost be with you. Go Big Red! The former coach of the Giants; I don’t have the inclination to Google his name. Never screw with the Manning brothers. Vance Joseph should probably lose his career after this season of Broncos football. I haven’t seen a pattern of systematic abuse this bad since Joe dated Hope. Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler are both done in Denver after tonight. The jury is still out on Paxton Linch.

Hey, is Kirk Cousins related to Christopher Cousins, the guy who played Ted Beneke in Breaking Bad? I sure hope the former knows how to take a fall better than the latter.

Judging by the ratings, the entire NFL is in a death spiral. The kneeling controversy is merely the latest (if not the most prominent) public relations crisis. I nearly spat out my coffee in the control room the other day as I listened to one of our volunteers read an article in Sports Illustrated awarding Colin Kaepernick the Muhammad Ali profile in courage. This from the guy who is a mediocre player and who, paradoxically, is doing far more harm to the careers of many of his fellow African-American athletes by causing financial havoc. Does Kaepernick, a guy who wore socks with pigs on them to symbolize police brutality, really think that players taking a knee during the national anthem will change anyone’s views on racism and poverty in America? People who are middle aged like my dad will simply turn off the TV. The younger generation, represented by my college age nephew, are already losing interest in the NFL in favor of the UFC. How does Colin think this is going to end?

Did you know that Colin, who is outraged by oppression, is a big fan of Fidel Castro? Like Trump, I don’t think he is long on self-awareness.

Speaking of careers, I have no idea how anyone at United Airlines is able to keep their job. Same goes for Uber, who is hemorrhaging money due to lawsuits over sexual misconduct and bad business practices. I celebrated recently when I learned that Uber has finally come to my hometown of Kearney. If they last long enough, I’ll pay my parents a surprise visit next summer. I can’t believe Chipotle is still around. I haven’t tried their new queso yet, though I hear it’s about as appealing as toe cheese. I will say that one of the best things about being back in Nebraska is the proximity of Runza restaurants.

This entry is about as long as the list of charges against Harvey Weinstein. Let me wrap it up with an ironic story.

I was busting my hump writing this early in the week because I thought I was going to have some guests for the New Year’s weekend and I wanted to complete it early so I wouldn’t be distracted. Then, everyone canceled due to the brutal weather, and because all of our financial situations are about as dire as Roy Moore’s chances for a successful recount. Well… All except Wes, but he’s sick. Again.

As of now, Marty and I just listened to the Broncos wrap up their season with a squeaker of a loss to the Chiefs. I have a vision of Vance Joseph tossing in his sleep, mumbling, “5-11… 5-11… 5-11…” Marty and I will ring in the New Year telephonically, listening to the police scanner, thanking God we’re not the cops or Uber drivers. I can’t remember the last time I spent a New Year’s Eve alone. Some have been more raucous than others, but I’ve always had companionship. It’s a very fitting end to the year of the deep shadow.

God, please take your hand away from the sun. Please let the light back in. I know it is still out there. I am not lost in the eternity of night. But where is it? Where is the warmth of the sun?

-16 for a low on New Year’s Eve. -2 for the high on New Year’s Day. The wind just rattled my balcony door. Mags is meowing mournfully from somewhere in the apartment. Hours before this is published, five cops shot in Douglas County, CO. One killed. A family gets to forge the waters of 2018 without a husband and father.

Winter’s not coming… It’s here, with no end in sight.

Happy New Year. May 2018 deliver me from the deep shadow.

8 There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am
I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless— a miserable business!
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Book of Ecclesiastes – Chapter 4

“His Brain is Gone!”

I’ve been in a Star Trek TOS phase lately and was researching it on Wikipedia when I ran across some top 10 lists compiled by Entertainment Weekly and I decided to see how their lists stacked up with mine.

Here are my top 10 favorite eps from the series that started it all.

10. “Where No Man Has Gone Before”:

The Enterprise travels to the edge of the galaxy and hits an energy field that turns Captain Kirk’s best friend into an evil God. Kirk eventually has to kill him in order to save the ship. This was the second pilot that sold the series to NBC and it laid the groundwork nicely. Less cerebral than its predecessor, but with more emotional impact and compelling characters.

9. “The Enterprise Incident”:

Kirk and Spock conduct an elaborate spy mission to steal a cloaking device from the Romulans. In the process, Spock commits subterfuge with the female Romulan commander. The third season sucked, but this is one of two episodes that made my list to help redeem it a bit.

8. “Journey to Babel”:

Spock’s estranged parents are on board as part of a diplomatic mission, but things go south when an assassin frames Sarek for murder. This episode has it all; political intrigue, suspense and family drama.

7. “A Private Little War”:

Kirk discovers that the Klingons are interfering in the evolution of a planet by supplying flintlock muskets to one side in a war. This story was a direct allegory of the Vietnam War and is probably the darkest episode of the series.

6. “The Trouble With Tribbles”:

This is probably the most light-hearted episode of the series. It involves Klingons, a space station and fuzzy little creatures that like to be fruitful and multiply. I don’t know how to give a better synopsis.

5. “Space Seed”:

The crew discovers an ancient ship adrift in space containing genetically enhanced super humans from Earth’s past. Kirk makes the mistake of waking them up and spends the next 15 years paying for it. This episode was good on its own, but it stands the test of time because of the sequel movie, The Wrath of Khan.

4. “Mirror, Mirror”:

Kirk and a landing party are accidentally beamed into a parallel universe during a storm and encounter a duplicate Enterprise and evil doubles of the crew. It sounds corny on paper, but the episode is a classic and the mirror universe was re-used time and again on Deep Space 9.

3. “The Tholian Web”:

Kirk is lost through a temporal rip in space and Spock and McCoy are left to run the ship while the crew goes insane. This is another third season ep I like because it high-lights the love-hate relationship between Spock and McCoy by placing Kirk in the background.

2. “Amok Time”:

Spock is usually a very logical being, so Kirk can’t figure out why he’s acting like a crazy guy. Turns out Spock is just hornie and needs to go back to his home planet to work it out with his wife. Turns out his wife is a bitch, so Spock takes it out on Kirk in a fight to the death.

1. “City on the Edge of Forever”:

This is pretty much a no-brainer in Trek fandom and I don’t disagree. Time travel is a concept that has been done to death in the Trek franchise, but this one is still the best example. Kirk and Spock chase McCoy through a time portal to Earth’s past after McCoy goes insane. Once there, Kirk falls in love with a woman, so of course, she has to die.

Honorable mentions:

“Balance of Terror,” “The Doomsday Machine,” “The Naked Time,” “A Wolf in the Fold,” “Devil in the Dark,” “Arena,” “The Galileo Seven.”

And now, the top five worst episodes of Star Trek TOS:

5. “Spock’s Brain”:

A strange woman appears on the bridge of the Enterprise and knocks out the entire crew. When they revive, they discover Spock on life support with no brain. It’s an unintentional projection for this entire episode, which makes no damn sense and is full of gender stereotypes. I can’t believe I just wrote that.

4. “Errand of Mercy”:

I used to love this episode, but every time I watch it, I like it less. It’s the first episode to feature the Klingons as they officially go to war with the Federation. Long story short, the war never happens, because an omniscient race of beings known as the Organians refuse to let the two powers fight.

It’s a giant cop-out, written in a time when pacifism was popular in the face of an unpopular war. It’s also worth noting that the Organians are never seen again after this episode in any Trek incarnation and are referenced only once in passing. Yet, the Klingons became the most popular antagonists in the original series, and later, they were steadfast allies to the Federation.

3. “The Way to Eden”:

Another sad episode that marks the time in which it aired. A group of space hippies under the control of a Jim Jones-like leader hijack the Enterprise in search of paradise.

2. “Plato’s Stepchildren”:

Another episode in which a group of beings with superior powers use the crew as sport for their amusement. It’s a story with no real meat to it. It is noteworthy only for containing the first interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura. Of course, if you’ve read Shatner’s book on the series, you know that the kiss never really happened.

1. “Turnabout Intruder”:

The finale that took the series out with not a whimper, but a belly laugh. Decades before gender identity became a thing, Kirk is forceably transferred into a woman’s body so that she can take command of the Enterprise.

This episode is unintentionally ridiculous on many levels. The notion that women could not serve as the captain of a starship in the 22nd century was ludicrous when women were already emerging in positions of power in the 20th century. Also, Shatner was always a ham, but in this one, he is a scenery-chewing, double-fisted ham who outdoes even himself. This episode is so bad, it’s actually good.

Honorable mentions:

Most third season fare, plus “The Omega Glory,” “The Alternative Factor,” and “I, Mudd.”

The Country of the Sighted

“In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”
H. G. Wells

The following Email exchange occurred six years ago on the NFB-Talk discussion listserve. Said exchange resulted in the list administrator placing me on “moderated” status. This made me so angry that I unsubscribed from the list in a huff. Later, I reconsidered joining after I had cooled off, but realized that I didn’t miss the list that much, so I didn’t bother.

I will paste the correspondence below, then unpack it for you all. This shouldn’t be necessary, but given the ultra-reactionary times in which we live, I guess it’s necessary.

Here is the exchange:

December 17, 2011

Hi there,

Here’s a question that I guess could also be somewhat philosophical in that it will make us think about how we deal with and interact with sighted people.

As blind folks, do you think we have a responsibility to not only make our homes comfortable and accessible for us and the folks with whom we live, but also to sighted folks?

I’ve heard comments in the past that basically say that since it’s a blind person’s home, then the only thing that should be of concern is that things are comfortable and accessible for the blind person.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this over a long period of time. I have some friends that come over, and one in particular who stays in my guest room when he’s in town, and when all of that happens, I’m the only blind person around. All of a sudden, I begin to think about lights and the amount of light in a room. I begin thinking of making sure that appliances that are labeled in Braille are done using clear tape so that they can also use them.
I even began thinking of the layout of my living room and how one of my friends finally said that it was uncomfortable to do things like watch TV or watch movies, because of how my furniture and TV are placed. People have to face sideways to be able to watch TV. And, my TV is so old that it doesn’t support or have HD capabilities.

I began wondering about the importance of a blind person having an aesthetically or visually appealing house, not only for himself but also for the sighted friends and family that come to visit. Are we being selfish by not considering these things, or should sighted company learn to live with how we have things and deal with them?

I’m beginning to think that if I care about my friends and family, then I should do something to make them feel comfortable in a place where they spend quite a bit of time. But then, where does one draw the line?

Anyway, hope you don’t mind the question. Just curious what other blind folks (especially those who are totally blind) think.



My response:


Next time your friends come over and bitch about the lack of light, say something like this:

“You know what,” (insert name) “…You know what? Every freakin’ day, I get up and move around in a sighted world. I work on a finite schedule with the aid of public transit because I can’t drive. If the bus or train is late…so am I. If inclement weather strikes, I don’t get in my car and turn on the windshield wipers. I freeze my nuts off in the rain or snow until I can get on a bus.

When I go shopping, I pray to God that I can land a shopper’s assistant who is, at the very least, literate. If they speak English, it makes my day. If they speak English fluently…Jesus, I’ve been known to weep with joy. If I shop on line, I’ll be lucky if capcha, internet graphics and flash don’t give me a migraine that could floor Robin Williams on a coke binge!

Sorry if I seem a little grumpy. I just came from a job for which I’m vastly over-qualified. I have a freakin’ master’s degree in mathematics, or genetics, or whatever, but every institution/company at which I apply is run by sighted pricks who have figured out a way not to hire me. God bless the ADA and the well-intentioned, ignorant bastards who sleep better at night for having passed it. And God bless social security, who is still haunting my ass four years later because I forgot to report the
income I made running a cash register so that I could put bread on the table in between college semesters.

It makes a guy wonder if Walter White didn’t have a point. Screw it! Can blind people be meth cookers? You ever see Breaking Bad? You know…it’s that super good crime show on AMC that doesn’t air with description because Hollywood is too God damn cheap to give us description with all of their content, even though they can well afford to do so with minimal effort.

You want friggin’ light bulbs? Drive to the store and grab a few boxes. I’d take you myself, but I haven’t won the Power Ball yet and can’t afford a self-driving car. But let me give you directions. Siri! Work! C’mon, damn it! What’s the nearest Wal-Mart?

Flashlight? Who are you kidding? What friggin’ flashlight? Just use my cigar lighter to light your way to the door. Pick me up a new can of butane on the way back. Yes, I smoke cigars. No, I’m not amazing. Dealing with your ignorant ass makes me wanna smoke one right now. No, I don’t need help lighting it. Get your damn hands off me before Mr. Fist meets Mr. Sack!

It’s your world and you’re the king. Every day, I get up and I don’t just live. I thrive, brother. Grow the hell up!”

Then, out loud you can say:

“Umm, sure thing, man. Sorry for my insensitivity to your situation. Can you drive me to the nearest Safeway to grab a few bulbs? And hey…can we swing through for a Big Mac on the way home?”

Now Juan, I’ve been assuming that the people in question are men. If they are women, just say:

“Lights? Honey, for what we’re gonna be doin’, we don’t need no freakin’ lights.”

Sexist and boorish, but oh so true.



That was the little chat that caused Dave, the NFB list admin, to write me and accuse me of exhibiting, “Bigotry toward the sighted.” Once again, let me state that it makes me sad to have to explain myself, but here goes.

Any clear-thinking individual would not interpret my previous message as being bigoted toward the sighted in any way. It was a mixture of sarcasm and satire. It is factual. Every day, we as blind people get up and operate within a sighted world. Although social morays seem to be changing, we must still adhere to the pragmatic view that the world defers to those who can see. This is not a question of philosophy; it is fact.

It is really a matter of numbers. The number of sighted people so drastically outweighs the number of blind people that it would not make any kind of sense not to set up the constructs of the world to favor the sighted.

That said, I find it darkly ironic that anyone would worry about the feelings of the sighted when they still reign victorious in every arena that matters. It is a reality that I accept, but please permit me to feel a burst of anger about it from time to time. This doesn’t mean that I am angry about my blindness, or in denial, or maladjusted. It simply means that, when I go outside my apartment and walk to the bus stop and have to travel in the street because there are no sidewalks to be found anywhere in my neighborhood, I might get a bit cranky, particularly when the first big snow of the season hits.

Am I a bad host? I try not to be. When my sighted pals Kevin or Christina come over, I make sure to accommodate them. If a lightbulb is burned out, I will replace it. I don’t own a TV, but if I did, I’d make sure to place it in such a position that my sighted guests would be comfortable while watching it. If I dated or married a sighted or partially sighted woman, and she wanted to hang pictures on the walls, or decorate our home in a fashion which she found visually pleasing, I would be all for it.

Incidentally, the last time my friend Christina visited, she helped me mark my microwave and my laundry machines, which are both touch panel. My thermostat is a bit more tricky as it is a push-button device with a visual display. I usually just call the good folks at Be My Eyes if I want to change the temperature, while I save up to buy a talking unit.

The philosophical money shot of Juan’s message (his real name is Jim, by the way), is this:

“Are we being selfish by not considering these things, or should sighted company learn to live with how we have things and deal with them?

I have never been a homeowner, but I have lived in my share of apartments. However, my parents owned the home in which I grew up. I have friends and family who own homes. Their domiciles are places that reflect their personalities. My pal Steve adorned the walls of his apartments with all manner of sports memorabilia. My father is an avid hunter, so it’s natural that he would have a few animal heads stuffed and mounted on his wall. Should my parents then go to great lengths to take down all evidence of Dad’s carnivorous tendencies if an ardent animal lover visits them at their house? No. Should my folks think about not entertaining said guest in the area where the animal heads are visible? That would go under the heading of good manners, in my opinion.

So yes, I think we should reasonably accommodate our sighted friends and family as a matter of courtesy and consideration. But don’t call me a bigot because I find a lot of dark irony in Juan’s questions. We used to call him Jaime, by the way.

As I said, this message was written six years ago. Certain things are dated in it. I referenced Robin Williams, who is no longer with us. Breaking Bad was still on the air. To this day, I’ve never found a described version that I can pirate from the Blind Mice Mall. Come on, Brits! Get with it! Also, it was written before Uber and Lyft became mainstream.

Yes… Uber and Lyft. Ride-sharing services have made it easier for us as blind people in many respects. Meanwhile, I went to order a Christmas gift for a friend the other night, but was not able to do so because the website was inaccessible. The owners of the company wrote me and said, “We appreciate your feedback. We hope to make changes to our site sometime next year and will do our best to incorporate the needs of our visually impaired customer base.”

Glad to hear it, guys. So should I just hold off till next Christmas? They don’t have a telephone option, but if they did, they would probably charge me an additional fee for ordering a product with a live representative. I’m reminded of the Springsteen song, “One step forward, two steps back.”

Now, if you want to accuse me of sexism or misogyny based on the “Honey, we won’t need no freakin’ lights,” comment, you could probably make a compelling case. That was written long before the #MeToo movement gained traction. However, I will take solace in the knowledge that I would never actually treat a woman in such a manner. I will humbly admit that I added that comment in an attempt to push buttons. It sure worked.

I will close with the words of Boyd Crowder from the TV series, Justified. After all, if we can open with Wells, we should close with Elmore Leonard, in the vain hope of trying to leaven this blog with a little culture, right?

“Whole world’s a tree, Raylan. I’m just a squirrel tryin’ to get a nut.”

Farewell, GOP

I am writing this with a heavy heart. I have been a proud Republican since 1993, when I registered to vote at age 18. I cast my first presidential vote in 2000, and was proud to cast a second vote for George W. Bush four years later. Backing John McCain was a tougher proposition, but I ultimately did it with the knowledge that the alternative of Barack Obama was far grimmer. It was much easier for me to support Mitt Romney in 2012. I felt (and still feel) that he was a man of impeccable character and a rare politician who lives by the virtues of which he speaks.

I attended my first Republican caucus in March of 2014. I met a lot of nice people and am proud to have known them. In April of 2016, I attended the Republican state convention in Colorado Springs. It was an experience I will always treasure.

When it came to the election of 2016, for the first time in my life, I did not vote for the Republican candidate. Donald Trump was a bridge too far for me. Though I respected the binary view many of my friends and family took when they justified their support by saying, “Hillary’s worse!” I could not share it. After Trump’s upset victory, I considered leaving the Republican Party, but thought I would give them four more years to see how they behaved.

The jury is in. As of this writing, Pearl Harbor Day of 2017, I am relinquishing my membership in the Grand Old Party.

When allegations began to surface against Roy Moore in Alabama’s special election, I was incredulous. Democrats are not above manufacturing charges to sink a candidate. But when I saw the weak-tea defense mounted by Moore, his wife and his surrogates, characterized by an innocuous story, dubious vagaries and half-truths, I came to believe his accusers. Any parent with a modicum of critical thinking skills would ground their kid for a week if he/she told lies of such a poor quality. The charges of, “fake news,” and “Media hit jobs,” against the Washington Post do not hold up. I am well aware of the leftward bias of the Post, but their investigative reporting on Moore’s past was exemplary.

I took heart when Mitch McConnell, Cory Gardner, Ted Cruz and a chorus of other Republican voices called for Moore to step down. I was not a bit surprised when President Trump floundered, then ultimately endorsed Moore. Sadly, I was past surprised when I learned that the Republican National Committee was sending funds to Moore’s campaign in Alabama. It is one thing to support a man who has openly bragged about sexually assaulting women on video tape because he is the president. I respect pragmatism. And it is one thing to pull back from a candidate credibly accused of assaulting under-aged girls and to say, “Let the people decide.” It is quite another to actively financially abet said candidate. Couple the RNC’s opportunistic course correction with the bare fact that the GOP has no legislative accomplishments to speak of since they assumed power in 2017, and the picture is clear.

Enough! I will no longer be a member of a political organization who appears to have surrendered its soul in the name of a win-at-all-cost mentality. History is replete with political figures and movements who have subscribed to this way of thinking and nearly all of them lead to totalitarianism and doom.

I have removed myself from the several GOP Email lists of which I was a member. I will not attend any GOP events, or make any donations to the RNC on the national, state or local level in any future election cycle. I will now judge a candidate specifically on his or her own merits without the influence of a larger political umbrella. When it comes time for me to renew my official ID card in Nebraska, I will register as a conservative, for I still believe in many principles that used to hold sway in the GOP. How tragic that I no longer view the party of Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan as the most effective or tenable apparatus to advance those ideals.

“There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.”
Alexis de Tocqueville


Roy Moore lost. Was it worth it?