Can You *See* What I’m Saying?

It is not my intention to turn this into another blog by a blind guy. That is to say, I don’t want my disability to become the central focus of my life and, by reflection, these writings. A lot of blind bloggers do that. Their posts, their social media expressions, their lives, are all wrapped up in their daily existence as a blind person. They write about technology, Braille, guide dogs, dating, accessibility, canes, politics…all from the perspective of someone who is disabled.

I don’t want to do that. My blindness represents only one facet of myself. We can debate how significant a facet (sometimes I vacillate on the question), but it’s only one part of a much greater whole.

That being said, I don’t want to ignore the issue altogether. I seriously considered it when I first created this blog. I thought about focusing solely on politics, entertainment and occasionally, my personal feelings, all the while ignoring the fact that I am blind. The omission of the discussion, a discussion that is central in the lives of other blind people, would, in and of itself, be a statement.

My friend Art changed my mind. Art has, to my knowledge, never met a blind person. Art has many questions and there are many things he doesn’t know. Why should I deny him the chance to become enlightened? Moreover, why am I above explaining my situation to another person who is willing to learn? Yes, I sometimes grow weary of being saddled with the role of a reluctant educator. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t want it. But I’ve got it.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

I was having a conversation with an intern at work yesterday and she claimed that we have an anti sighted bias here in the office. She said this because my boss, the founder of our company, is also blind. She was trying to explain a point about technology to him during a meeting and he didn’t seem to get it. Then I came in and, according to the intern, I explained the very same point to him and he agreed with it. In her mind, this constitutes an anti sighted bias.

Anyone reading this who is blind will scoff aloud. Any sighted person reading this may very well scratch their head and go, “Hmmm. I never thought about it.” And why should they? Blind people are such a statistically insignificant number in society compared to other “minorities,” that we don’t come up on the collective radar of the sighted. We as blind people get so comfortable living in our own skins and our own culture that we forget this very obvious fact. In the grand scheme of things, we are an infinitesimal number.

Let us talk then of biases.

The point my boss was asking about concerned technology. As the operations manager, my workspace is located in the control room; an area populated by computers, Behringer Boxes, speakers, KVM switches, a sound board, routers, a Perkins Braillewriter, breakout boxes, a tabletop microphone, telephones, an ATA Box, my Darth Vader’s head coffee mug, more computers and two cabinets full of dusty equipment circa 1990. We are a radio reading service for the blind who’s founder has a progressive view of the employment of blind people. To that end, our broadcast systems are all geared to be accessible with screen-reading software. Our websites are set up in a visually simplified format so as to be compatible with the same kinds of text-to-speech software. Blind people are well aware of programs such as JAWS, Voice-Over, the KNFB Reader, The Seeing Eye, Zoomtext and other programs that make the printed word accessible.

Every day, we try to discover ways to make our services more available to our audience, thus increasing listenership and bringing in new members. The easier we make it for blind people to listen, the more successful we are in our mission. There is no reason for a sighted intern who, up until she came to work here, probably never got to know a blind person in depth, should be aware of things like Speakup and Double Talk. David, my boss, is well aware of it, because he lives the life of a blind person every day. He is also well aware that I am blind and I therefore have an inherent knowledge of the products and methodology that can best be applied to the situation.

When the intern voiced her concerns to me, I told her that, in the realm of technology, the boss may very well have a bias toward my opinion as a blind person. But this is not born of contempt or dismissal of her merely because she has sight. It’s a matter of being knowledgeable on a particular issue that is gleaned from life experiences.

Though my boss does defer to my blind volunteer coworker and myself for advice on tech, we’re not the only ones. John is another volunteer who works in the tech area, but he is sighted. I don’t consider him to be smarter or dumber than the rest of us. He merely looks at a problem from a different angle. Moreover, the vast majority of the staff here at my workplace are fully sighted. The boss defers to their judgment when it is appropriate. He doesn’t ask for my opinion about grant writing or Spanish outreach any more than he would ask Bethany, our listener coordinator, about repairing a breeched firewall.

My coworker Curtis (nicknamed, The Evil Genius), takes a different view. He says, “Sighted people have been demonstrating a bias toward the blind for hundreds of thousands of years. We ought to have it the other way around.” You can probably surmise that Curtis is blind. He comes from a different generation when discrimination against the blind was more overt and political correctness was as fanciful as a Ray Bradbury novel.

It is sorely tempting to think this way. I’ve heard other minorities express this view. They did it to us, so let’s turn around and stick it to them. By that logic, women would castrate men, blacks would enslave whites, fat people would beat up skinny people and gay people would illegalize every straight marriage in America.

What do we want to accomplish by the ‘payback’s a bitch’ defense? The stark reality is that we live in a sighted world. If we adopted Curtis’s view and instituted an overt bias against sighted people here at work, what would it gain us? The answer is…nothing!!! I could go out tomorrow, find a random sighted person and gouge out his eyes with an ice pick. After he recovered from the physical trauma, he would have a lot more empathy for my situation. Aside from that, all I would achieve at the end of said venture is a jail term and a regular rectal dilation courtesy of my cellmate.

As angry as I get at the random sighted person who thinks it’s acceptable to put his hands on me without my permission; as frustrated as I get at sighted people who talk around me like I’m not there, or who condescend to me as if I’m a child or a pet; as tired as I get of being told that I can’t be accommodated because of a lack of proper equipment, I still believe that an informative dialogue with sighted people is the best means of striving toward equality. I wish more “minorities,” would take this view and relinquish the grievance game for a more good-willed, substantive approach to relations.

If you are able to read between the lines, you’ve probably already figured some things out about the intern. She is…eccentric. But then, I’m a Republican. I’m sure she feels the same way about me. The difference is that I am paid staff and she’s just a lowly intern. John, if you’re reading this, go tell her that for me, would ya?

Party in the Shawshank Sewers

One of my favorite radio talk show hosts here in Denver, Mike Rosen, just retired from his daily program last month. I will miss him terribly. Rush used to be my favorite, but he’s fallen off in recent years and his thinly-veiled support for Donald Trump has cemented him in my disfavor.

Mike was a bit of a grumpy old curmudgeon at times. He did not suffer fools lightly. When liberals or ignorant right-wingers would call in and try to challenge him, he would often raise his voice and employ, “Mr. Hold Button.” On the other hand, he did not screen their calls and filter them to the bottom of the queue. Nor did he hang up on them when the disagreement sharpened. Although he quickly became impatient with those whom he regarded as ignorant, I believe that he had an inherent respect for his audience that is lacking in many of his contemporaries.

One of Mike’s maxims is, “Party trumps person.” When I first began listening to him, I did not believe in this bromide. That was before Barack Obama became president, the Tea Party gained prominence and Donald Trump became an unfortunate factor in politics. Mike wrote a column several years ago outlining why he believes in this political principle. Rather than simply copying it here, I will try in my own meager way to illustrate his point through current events. Stick with me, all two of you who read this blog, as the conservative blind guy springs into action.

President Obama has certainly presented a series of challenges to the GOP over the past seven years. Immigration, gun control, the budget, the idea of American exceptionalism, terrorism, gay marriage, racism…all of these political hot potatoes have grown in stature and controversy under Obama’s shadow. But no issue has carried with it the division and derision than the juggernaut that came into being almost five years ago. Democrats call it, The Affordable Care Act. Republicans call it, Obamacare. Simply put, it is Obama’s attempt (with the help of a Democrat-controlled congress) to revamp our healthcare system.

Obamacare became a reality in March of 2010. Since then, we’ve had three national elections. Twice, Republicans made gains, first taking control of the House of Representatives in 2011, then holding the House and gaining a majority in the Senate in 2015. Unfortunately, we lost the 2012 presidential election, thereby allowing the Democrats to maintain control of the most powerful of the three arms of political governance in Washington D.C.

Since Obamacare was enacted, Congressional Republicans have voted more than 60 times to either repeal, reduce or substantially alter it. Most of these votes came from the House where Tea Party candidates held more influence. Yet, Obamacare proved to be the werewolf howling outside the door, and the GOP had no silver bullets. Maybe we could blame the NRA for that one. Yes, every vote proved to be symbolic. Why? Merely because this is what those ever-loving founding fathers intended.

And now, a sidebar as I render unto you, my two readers, a crash course in how the legislative process functions in government.

In order for a bill to become black-letter law, it must be passed in one legislative chamber, it must then be sent to the other legislative chamber, where it must also be passed. Then it is sent to the executive office, otherwise known as the president’s desk. If he gives the bill his signature of approval, it becomes the law of the land. If he vetoes it, it can be sent back to Congress for another vote, but a 2/3 majority in both chambers must choose to override the president’s veto. If a 2/3 majority cannot be mustered, the bill is as dead as Lincoln, Nebraska on a Sunday morning.

Yesterday, on January 6, 2015, the GOP-controlled Congress gave my mother a wonderful birthday gift. They passed a bill that fully repealed Obamacare. It passed in both chambers. Is this a good thing? Yup. Will it make any difference? Nope. It won’t have any more impact than a feather on an elephant’s ass. Why? Because Barack Obama is still our president and he’s a Democrat. Hell hath no fury like a Democrat with a veto pen.

If John McCain had been elected president in 2008, we would not have Obamacare today, even with Congress in Democrat hands. If Mitt Romney had been elected in 2012, and if the senate had still gone to the GOP in 2014, Obamacare would be history tomorrow. But reality is what it is. The Constitution mandates this legislative process and deliberately makes it difficult so that we could not pass laws without the clear consent of the majority of Americans. I don’t think Obama got the memo, because he sure loves his executive orders.

This is why Mike Rosen is right. Party trumps person. It’s not just about legislation in Washington. In Congress, the party in control determines which bills come to the floor for a vote and which get buried with no hope of passage. The party in power controls the various committees such as Ways and Means, Homeland Security, Transportation, etc. These committees not only recommend legislation, but they also create, oversee and dismantle various federal agencies. In other words, the party in power sets the congressional agenda until such time as the balance of power changes hands through the electoral process.

Then, there’s the president. In addition to his or her veto power, the president sets the public agenda through a liaison with the media. The sheer gravitas of his position insures that he will command attention, thereby leading on any issue that presents itself.

The president nominates Supreme Court and federal judges, which has an enormous impact on public policy in this country. Think I’m wrong? Examine how gay marriage came to be the law of the land in America. If John McCain had been elected to office, neither Sonia Sotomayor nor Elena Kagan would currently be seated on the high court. They would not have been around to uphold Obamacare as a valid law.

The president hand-picks his cabinet. Everyone from the Secretary of State to the Secretary of Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Education and all of the rest must carry the stamp approval of the president. Yes, the Senate must confirm each nominee, but the president is the one who ultimately activates the process.

And then, there’s that whole Commander in Chief deal. The president cannot wage war with complete autonomy, but he has the final say in the assignment of generals, the strategic placement of bases and other military facilities, the decisions on the use of drone strikes and bombings, the agenda at the Pentagon, and of course, the military budget.

OH yeah…money. Every year, the president submits a budget to Congress. They can either pass or reject it, but he still dictates the overall priorities of the purse strings. How much money goes to the military? How much to entitlement programs? How much to infrastructure? The president is no small voice in all of those decisions.

This political reality is why I voted for John McCain seven years ago. You know the movie, The Shawshank Redemption? Remember how Andy Dufresne had to swim through 400 yards of raw sewage to escape from the prison? That’s about how I felt when I pulled the lever for McCain. I applauded his military service, but was not a fan of his moderate voting record. Yet, I think I’ve illustrated in the above comments why he would have been a preferable alternative to our current president. I liked Mitt Romney better than McCain, but still felt he was too tepid in his overall approach to the campaign. But he too would have been far more palatable than Obama’s second term has proven to be.

Republicans did not invent this system of government. They merely work within it’s confines, just as the Democrats do. Yet, a growing number of conservatives are choosing to disregard the sage advice of Mike Rosen. They blame what they term, “The Republican Establishment,” for the failure of Congress to do anything substantive since they gained power in the House in 2010. If I haven’t already made it clear, the GOP cannot enact any meaningful, transformative reforms in this country until they control the three arms of government; the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Oval Office.

Another sidebar: I am always skeptical of this so-called Republican Establishment. Are we talking about the establishment that is supporting Marco Rubio? What about the big money behind Jeb Bush, who has about as much traction in the polls as a skittish dog on a sheet of ice. What about the establishment that is backing Chris Christie, or John Kasich? Is Paul Ryan, a guy who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the job of Speaker, part of an establishment? Who comprises this supposed establishment? And how many more times can I say establishment” before you two readers turn it into a drinking game?

It is not my intention to mount a blind defense of the Republican Party. They are guilty of their share of failures. They are a group of imperfect people operating within an imperfect political construct. I was not a particular fan of John Boehner during his tenure as Speaker of the House. I heard too many stories of petty vendettas against conservative malcontents. I appreciate the fact that he tried to compromise with Obama, but he would have been able to draw a harder line if he’d served as more of a unifier within his own party. I realize that a Texas Republican looks somewhat different from a New Jersey Republican, but commonalities must be found and an effective leader should be able to do just that. Boehner failed in this basic mission. But for conservatives to attack Paul Ryan as not conservative enough!? Please!

So, conservatives are mad. They feel underserved, underappreciated and unheard. And their answer is…Donald freakin’ Trump!?

I will save my anti Trump rant for another post. Sufficed to say that, if you appreciate my Shawshank analogy, forget the sewer pipe. Donald Trump is Bogs. If he should win the nomination, he’s the guy who will creep up behind you when you have your pants down, tap you on the shoulder and whisper, “Shhh…honey.”

There are two other lies I want to examine in connection with the Trump phenomenon and the general anger toward the GOP. They are:

1. “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties.”

2. “A third party is the only solution to our broken two-party system.”

But I’m growing weary and just tacked up a larger poster of Carly Fiorina on the control room wall, so I need to get back to work. I’ll save those analyses for another day.

So friends, consider my words carefully as the primaries get rolling next month. If you care about our country, learn to understand the intricacies of our political system. Mike Rosen is correct; party does, in deed, trump (small t) person. Yes, sometimes you have to swallow a mouth full of shit, but at the end of your journey, you get to breathe the pure, sweet air of freedom.

Hey, maybe if The Donald wins the White House this November, he can build a wall and force the good folks of Zihuatanejo to pay for it.

Suicide Is Painless

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Wayne Rogers on the final day of 2015. He died at the ripe old age of 82. One or two readers might know him from his many years as a contributor on the Fox Business Network, but the vast majority of you will remember him as Trapper John McIntyre, MD from the long-running TV dramedy, M*A*S*H.

Rogers is the fourth regular cast member from the TV series to have passed away. He was preceded by McLean Stevenson (Colonel Henry Blake) in 1996, Larry Linville (Frank Burns) in 2000 and Harry Morgan (Colonel Potter) in 2011.

For those of you under 35, here’s a brief synopsis of the series, which ran from 1972 through 1983 on CBS.

It takes place during the Korean conflict, though it is really a thinly-veiled commentary on the more-recent and unpopular Vietnam War. A group of doctors, most of whom are drafted, are serving in a mobile medical facility near the front lines. The show chronicles their lives as they receive one batch of wounded soldiers after another during the fighting. In order to calm their frazzled civilian nerves, the doctors go a little nuts in their off hours, particularly the lead protagonist, Benjamin Franklin ‘Hawkeye’ Pierce, played by Alan Alda in the TV version. Pierce is a gifted surgeon, but he’s also a skirt-chasing, booze-swilling cuckoo bird who loses his marbles more than once over the course of the 11 seasons.

Pierce never met a nurse he didn’t bed, a general whom he didn’t defy, a martini that he didn’t vanquish and a scalpel that he didn’t make sing. His talent was the only reason why he didn’t end up on permanent KP duty over some of his antics. I’m not kidding. Hawkeye had a libido that made Bill Clinton’s look like a kitchen match next to a flamethrower by comparison. The difference was that Bill’s excuse was Hillary, while Hawkeye’s excuse was the hard-to-argue fact that war is hell. I understand. I do battle with my coworkers every day and I get crazy by day and hornie by night.

Hawkeye was also validated by the fact that his compatriots were all either as crazy as he, incompetent or too in awe of him to care. They included his sidekick, the afore-mentioned Trapper John, as well as a bumbling company commander, a walking set of military stereotypes, a sexually frustrated female major, a naive company clerk, a chaplain who never mentioned God and a cross-dressing corporal bucking for a psycho discharge.

The head writer for the first four seasons was Larry Gelbart. In an interview, he once claimed that M*A*S*H was not anti-military, but rather, anti-war. I think this is a distinction without a difference, but more to the point, Gelbart is being disingenuous. There are numerous examples of the show poking fun at the command structure and the actions of the military. Exhibit A was Frank Burns, a character who was written as a collection of negative military clichés and who served no other purpose than to be a weekly antagonist to Hawkeye and Trapper. In fact, the only part of the military the writers treated with respect was the infantry soldiers who were wounded and arrived in the operating room at the 4077. This was characterized by the absence of the standard television sitcom laugh track during scenes in the operating room.

On the surface, you wouldn’t think that I would enjoy a show like M*A*S*H. I find the anti-war mentality of the left to be willfully ignorant of world history and human nature. As a kid, it never came up on my radar (no pun intended.) I didn’t do sitcoms. I stumbled across it in college only because it came on just before Star Trek: The Next Generation every weeknight on KPTM Fox 42. I sat down one night and watched an episode called, “Life Time,” in which the doctors only have 20 minutes to save the life of a boy who will die if he doesn’t get the aorta of another patient who is barely hanging on. It was the constant ticking of the alarm clock used to heighten dramatic tension that really got me. It was unintentional foreshadowing of the spy series, 24.

From that moment, I was hooked. Part of the reason was due to the fact that I flirted with liberalism in college. Yes, you read that right. I was nearly seduced by the dark side of the force, if you’ll pardon my metaphor mixing here. I wasn’t as sensitive to Hollywood’s liberal bias as I became in subsequent years. But even after I returned to my conservative roots post college, I still held a soft spot for Hawkeye and company. Once I pealed away the preachy, anti-war rhetoric, I could relate to the idea of an on-edge guy who was trapped in an extreme situation that he despised. If you’ve ever been to a residential school for the blind, you can relate to the 4077. Moreover, I found the humor of the Gelbart era to be genuinely clever and witty, unlike many other sitcoms of the time; Three’s Company, anyone?

In late 1998, I blundered into a massive black depression. Coincidentally, the F-X cable network acquired the rights to M*A*S*H and began running it eight times a day. I would wake up, eat hamburger helper for breakfast while watching M*A*S*H, get dressed, go work my five-hour shift at Gallup, come home, strip naked, crawl under a blanket and watch more M*A*S*H. I think I devoured the entire series in about three months. This is what I learned.

The first three seasons are faithful to the original motion picture, which is itself based on the novel written by Richard Hooker. Though there are dramatic underpinnings, the tone is that of a black comedy. This changes when Colonel Blake is killed off in the third season finale, “Abysinia, Henry.”

In the fourth season, Hawkeye’s partner in crime Trapper John goes home off screen and is replaced by the more straight-laced B. J. Hunnicut. Colonel Blake is replaced by Colonel Sherman Potter, who is *gasp* regular Army, but who enables Hawkeye’s antics because he recognizes his surgical skills. The show still leans toward comedy, though more dramatic stories are introduced. The most notable of these is, “The Interview,” in which the members of the 4077 are interviewed by a news crew about their war experiences.

At the end of the fifth season, Hotlips gets married and is henceforth known as Margaret, causing Frank Burns to go crazy and to be sent home. He is replaced by the more surgically adept and pompous Charles Emerson Winchester, who serves as a more intelligent foil for Hawkeye. The series continues to angle more toward overt drama. Hawkeye’s chronic drinking is addressed in the episode, “Fallen Idol,” in which Radar is injured during R&R and Hawkeye is too drunk to operate on him.

At the beginning of the eight season, Radar is sent home on a medical hardship discharge. Klinger gets out of his dress and replaces Radar as company clerk. B. J. gets depressed and beats up Hawkeye and Potter amps up his cowboy clichés to an annoying level. For it’s final four seasons, the show becomes a much more overt drama. The laugh track disappears, as do the musical stings that transition between scenes. The jokes become stale, paling in comparison to the days of Trapper and Blake and Hawkeye’s still is replaced by a weekly soapbox.

Honestly, the entire unit probably should’ve been sent home along with Radar. By this time, it was fashionable for television series of the ‘70’s to dispense a heavy dose of moralizing along with their storytelling. This is best illustrated by shows such as All in the Family, Lou Grant, Quincy, M.E. and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. M*A*S*H was no exception. In the wake of Larry Gelbart’s departure, Alan Alda became an executive producer. You can always look for a show to jump the shark when a lead actor tries to take over creative control. Carroll O’Connor is exhibit A for this phenomenon. It didn’t matter that the stories imposed the morality of the 1970’s into a 1950’s setting. War is hell, damnit! What else matters?

To that end, Margaret goes into full feminist mode, demonstrating time and again that, by God, she doesn’t need a man. B. J. cheats on his wife, but has the decency to feel guilty about it. Winchester softens up his snobbish, blue blooded conservative views. But most important of all, Hawkeye learns to respect women by not tapping every nurse’s ass that he comes across. Oh God, the humanity of it all!

The series wrapped up in February of 1983 with a two-and-a-half hour finale entitled, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” Hawkeye chokes a chicken that’s not really a chicken. B. J. does the ultimate boomerang act. Margaret is still shrill and still in the Army. Father Mulcahy goes deaf. Klinger gets married and stays in Korea. Colonel Potter rides off on his horse. Winchester rides out on a garbage truck and everyone has a good cry before flooding the New York City sewer systems with a massive toilet flush after the final credits. Goodbye, farewell and pass the Charmin.

After these many years, I still like to pull out the DVD’s of M*A*S*H and watch them on occasion. When I first got turned on to the show, I didn’t care for the early episodes. Now, I prefer the antics of Hawkeye, Trapper and Colonel Blake when the show didn’t take itself so seriously and the social commentary was far more subtle. I think that Hawkeye, the gifted surgeon, consummate womanizer and raging alcoholic was probably a more accurate depiction of a civilian trapped in a war setting than was the kinder, gentler, more preachy Hawkeye of the later seasons.

So, R.I.P, Wayne Rogers. Say hi to Pernell Roberts if you see him. If anyone gets that reference without using Google, I’ll send you a gallon of martinis, fresh from my homemade still right here in the control room. Don’t cheat or the ghost of Harry Morgan will gitchu!

My Dog

The following entry is the only surviving offering from the old Blurty blog. It was written on February 1, 2009. It is dedicated to family pets everywhere. They make us more human.


Sunday, February 1, 2009


My Dog

I come from a family of animal lovers. It is no surprise that we had an abundance of household pets during my childhood. We had everything from hunting dogs to fish to gerbils to horses. When I was a kid, I was very fond of a grey cat we had named Tequila. Some nights, particularly during the winter months, she would come up on to my bed and lie with me as I went to sleep. She purred and licked my hand with her rough tongue. Eventually, she would jump off the bed and I would drift off to sleep.

My father always insisted on a big hunting dog, but my mother wanted a dog of her own. She finally insisted on a small white mix-breed poodle and named her Dolly. Dad called her, “the little white rat.” He didn’t have much use for an animal that couldn’t carry a dead bird in it’s mouth. I was also very partial to Dolly and Dolly liked me a lot. She would often come jump on my bed at night, but wouldn’t stay very long. Sometimes she would lie on my lap and nudge my hand if she wanted me to pet her. But Dolly was my mom’s dog and if Mom was in the room, Dolly followed her around like a small, white shadow. Mom had to put her to sleep in 1989 because she was losing control of her bodily functions and was always making messes in the house. I was sad, but my grief didn’t last too long.

My younger brother Nate was the biggest animal lover of the three of us. He had everything from hamsters to boring fish in a tank to pet rats to a horse. I never thought he’d get the horse, but Dad gave in one year and imported a horse named Conrad from a ranch out in western Nebraska. Nate had a pet rabbit whom he loved, but who met an untimely end in the jaws of Dad’s chocolate lab, Waylon.

Waylon was the third chocolate lab I remember Dad owning. The first was Benjy, but Benjy was around when I was very young and I only have vague recollections of him towering over me as I tried to feed him cookies from an empty margarine container. The next dog was Samson, who we owned when I was in the second grade. Samson wasn’t with us for long. When he was still a puppy, Dad took him to exercise outside of town one day. Dad got in his pick-up to move it and Samson decided to run along side the truck. Dad lost sight of him for only a second, then felt the truck run over something. He realized too late that Samson had run under one of the pick-up wheels. Samson was badly injured and Dad knew that he was a goner, so he got his pistol from the truck and put him down.

Jared was angry with Dad for not taking Samson to a vet, but Dad knew animals and knew the vet could do nothing for Samson. I didn’t learn about Samson’s death for three days. No one bothered to tell me. I learned about it from an off-hand remark by a babysitter. I cried in my pillow that night, but the tears didn’t last. Samson had only been with us for a short time and he was certainly Dad’s dog.

Waylon came to us in the fifth grade. We got off to a bad start because Waylon didn’t understand that I was a blind kid who couldn’t tell where he was. In his puppy days, he would often lay somewhere and wouldn’t notice me coming until I stepped on him. I wouldn’t have a clue that anything was wrong till I heard a squeal and felt something under my foot. Luckily, I never injured Waylon when I stepped on him, but he never really liked me because of the accidents, so we were never close. Waylon wasn’t really impressed the night I took his tail and put it in the end of the vacuum cleaner, hose then turned it on. It was the only time I heard him give off an angry growl. He would sometimes get very friendly with me, but that usually coincided with the moments in which I had food in my hand. He was Dad’s dog for sure, but I think he also liked Jared a lot.

Waylon was very laid back in his temperament and only had one bad habit. When he was put outside, he’d stand at the door and whine and wale until someone let him in. Mom and Dad tried everything from harsh scolding to a rolled-up newspaper to cold water. Nothing worked. One day I found a strange collar around Waylon’s neck. It had a battery device of some kind on it. I asked Dad what it was and he told me it was a shock collar. I was not happy. Dad promised that it would only deliver very mild shocks to Waylon if he barked too loud. Dad is a very gentle-hearted guy and I know he would never be cruel to his dog. Waylon was more spoiled than most dogs had a right to be. He just wanted to make Waylon quit barking when he was put outside. Still, I hated the idea of the shock collar. One day, for some unknown reason, Waylon’s shock collar disappeared. Dad suspected me of stealing it. I’m not sure why. Dad never bought another collar like that. He probably knew it would be pointless as the damn thing would just disappear again. He and Mom just tolerated the barking until Waylon passed away in 1999.

In 1994, Dad took Waylon to hook up with a bitch so he could get her knocked up. I was told later that Waylon was the proud father of 12 tiny lab puppies. Waylon was kind of a deadbeat and didn’t give his bitch much emotional or financial support. This may have been why Dad brought home another chocolate lab puppy in the late summer of 1995. Waylon had no choice but to acknowledge his son when he was forced to share the back yard with him. Mom and Dad named him Yogi.

When I came home in August of ’95, I went out on the back patio to meet Yogi. Yogi ran up to me, jumped up on my chest and started licking my face. Dad told me to make him get down, but I didn’t care. I let Yogi love me up and I scratched and petted him all over. Then I went over and sat down on the back deck steps. I expected that Yogi would run off and play. To my surprise, he came over to me and jumped up on me again. I knew right then that this dog was something special to me.

The summer of ’95 had been a difficult time for me. The Heidi affair had come to its disastrous end and I went through those hot months swinging wildly from one volatile emotion to another. The only time I could feel some semblance of inner peace was when I would go over and hang with Shane and the ’95 WAGES kids. They were a rowdy bunch, but they gave me something to focus on other than my misery. But the WAGES group eventually went home and I entered September of that year feeling depressed, angry, guilty and aimless. I went home one weekend to visit my parents and headed outside to say hit o Yogi and Waylon shortly after I dropped my bags in my room. Yogi ran up to me and gave me his customary slobbery greeting. I hugged him and scratched his ears, then went to sit in a lawn chair. Yogi came over and started head-butting my hand and arm with his cold nose. I pet and scratched him some more, then Dad came out on the patio to light up the grill. Yogi ran over to him and I prepared to turn on my Walkman so I could read more of my book. Not two minutes went by before I felt Yogi’s cold nose again on my arm. I started scratching him and he kept licking my hand. Any time I stopped petting him, he’d go back to nudging me with his nose again till I gave him some more attention. Dad was still out there firing up the grill, but Yogi stayed by my side. When Dad went back into the house, Yogi laid his head in my lap for a while and I just pet him non-stop. For the first time in three months, I’d felt an inner peace with myself that had not been there. I think I’m only projecting, but it almost seemed as if Yogi knew I needed a kind of unconditional love that only a dog can give.

Anyone who knows me understands why the break-up with Heidi hurt me so deeply. Anyone who knows can understand why a lot of guilt went with the parting. Yogi reminded me that animals can love humans no matter what sin they have committed. It was a lesson I never forgot and I was always grateful to Yogi for imparting it to me. But more than that, Yogi came back to me and loved me up even though Dad was nearby. He did this many times after that. He was certainly Dad’s dog for sure, but for the first time, it felt as if he was my dog too. I came to find out later that Mom loved him deeply as well. For the first time in my life, it felt as if we had a real family dog that belonged to everyone, including me.

Yogi perfected a technique that Waylon had started to learn. Somehow, Yogi figured out early that I couldn’t see where he was, so whenever I came into the family room and he was lying on the floor, he would thump his tail so I could locate him. He did not pick up his dad’s habit of constantly barking and waling when he was put outside. He would bark now and then to get our attention, letting us know that he wanted to come in, but it wasn’t a constant noise. His temperament was more hyper than Waylon’s. He was the stereotypical Labrador, always demonstrating enthusiastic glee whenever he was happy. Mom and Dad made him stay outside in the garage or back yard at the old house, but once they moved across town into the new place, they began letting him sleep on a pillow in their bedroom. All three of us boys had moved out and the grandkids only came home on occasion. I think they were so used to other family members sleeping under the same roof that Yogi was a good substitute.

Over the next decade, I’d come home for various reasons and Yogi would often run through the kitchen and attack me with his nose until I gave him a proper hello. It didn’t matter if my hands were full or not. He wouldn’t leave me alone until I paid him some attention. I would be sitting on the couch watching TV and his cold nose would eventually bump my arm, asking for some affection. Yet, he somehow surpassed his dad in the manners department. I don’t remember him often sitting at the table and begging for scraps of food. Maybe that’s why he always got extra steak, ham or chicken from the leftovers. Mom hated it when Yogi got up on the furniture. He learned to mind her and stay on the floor, but sometimes I would secretly sneak him on to my bed when no one was around. Mom found out, of course. Dark dog hair is pretty hard to hide, but I didn’t care.

One Thanksgiving, I brought Alicia home and we hid out in the basement. We were lying there listening to the radio when we heard the telltale “click, click, click” of Yogi’s toenails on the wooden stairs. He came bounding into the room and over to the bed, shoving his head at us demanding attention. I rolled to the other side of the bed and called him up, allowing him to lie between Alicia and I. We both stroked and petted him for a long while until he jumped off.

The years went on like that. Yogi was as much a part of our family as any human. It seems that pets have a way of creeping into your heart and staying there. Hunter, Josi and Jackson came into the world and they all loved Yogi as much as he loved them. My Grandpa G. also took a liking to Yogi once he moved to our home town to live in a retirement home. He was mostly a serious man, but had a great affinity for animals and always loved Yogi a lot.

I don’t remember exactly when I first noticed the small lumps on Yogi’s body. I think it may have been sometime in early 2007. I was lying on the floor petting him one day and found a lump on his chest. I asked Dad what it was. Dad told me that Yogi had some tumors, both inside him and on his body. They had taken him for two operations, but the vet told him that the tumors would multiply too quickly. Better to let him go when the time came. They estimated that he had only about a year left. Yet, a year later, Yogi was still feisty as ever. The tumors were still there, but there were no signs of him getting sick. He grew tired more easily, but he was about 13 years old at that point and it was to be expected. Mom told me his dark whiskers and the hair around his muzzle had turned white. His coat was still dark, but was lighter than it had been in his younger days.

Even though Yogi seemed to be relatively healthy, I kept waiting for a phone call or Email that broke the bad news that the tumors had gotten the better of Yogi. But the message never came. I went home this past Thanksgiving and Christmas and spent a lot of time with Yogi. I didn’t know how many more times I would see him. He had developed a bad habit of frequently farting and the smell was hideous, but none of us ever kicked him out into the garage. Mom would just grab the matches, strike a few and hope that would clear the air. I think we all knew that we didn’t have a lot of time left.

Several weeks ago, I went home for my grandpa’s funeral. As usual, Yogi was there to greet me and hang out as I watched TV and talked to Mom and Dad. He seemed more attentive than was normal. Whenever I got up and moved around, his tail would thump more rapidly than usual and he would often follow me from place to place, waiting for more loving. He hadn’t done that before. It was customary for him to wait until I was stationary before he clamored for attention. Still, I was happy to oblige him and spent extra time with him. I didn’t know anything at the time, but I wonder if dogs can sense when their time is close.

Two weeks and one day after my grandpa’s funeral, I got a text from my brother while I was eating lunch at work. It said simply, “Better call Mom and Dad. Yogi got hit by a car last night and they had to put him to sleep this morning.” I felt an instant wave of sorrow come over me. I wanted to cry right there on the spot, but I fought it down and spent the rest of the day feeling numb. I figured the grief would hit me when I went to bed that night, but I drifted off as usual. The next day, I continued to feel detached all day. When I got home that night, the following Email was waiting for me from Mom:

Guys: Last night about 9 Dr. Mason hit Yogi in the middle of the street. Nate and your Dad took him to the Vet on call @ Riverside. There he was in “Comfort Care” all night, (which means that gave him a shot to keep him comfortable) and would be evaluated this morning. Because of Trauma to his head he wasn’t able to move a front or back leg ~~therefore, we had to send him on his ”way”. So……. needless to say last night and this morning have been a rough go for us. Your Dad is taking this event hard as Yogi was the best dog WE had in the last 40 years. January continues to be an emotional month. Maybe my Dad needed his company. That’s how I have to think, you know !! Love your way, Mom~o

Dr. Mason is a neighbor who lived nearby. My reply was short and to the point: Gonna kick the shit out of that prick doctor next time I’m home. Mom answered my message about 20 minutes later:

Well…….. it was going to be “sooner” or “later” with the Yogi dog. It’s just that timing was hard and your poor Dad had to witness the trauma of it all. Life is Life…. and Yogi has gone on to take care of my Dad. …. and it’s ”OK”. You know how much my Dad loved that old chocolate dog, too. It’s crazy how people get so attached to their animals…. because they are so UNCONDITIONAL and trust us to honor and take care of their well being. Yogi was a very loved and adored dog in this household. I am crushed that he would meet his end in a brutal way, but he was pushing it the last year…. sick in the night, going on long walkabouts and not minding his orders to come home. The last days of his life Yogi was able to go very free about the neighborhood and mark his territory. So.. in that respect I think all is well with his great soul, disposition, and forever I will be happy that your Dad and I finally had a dog that we both loved equally. Yogi was a dream dog, a loyal and faithful joy to your Dad and me. He was my bodyguard when your dad was gone for days, and he had the most loving and gentle eyes. Labradors are a gift to humans. Thank goodness I softened your dad along the way and convinced him that great water dogs can still be “house pets”. It was Yogi’s good fortune that I loved him……. spoiled dog. He was worth it. Love you, Ryan O and Peace Be With You. MOM ~O

I waited for the tears to come, but still they would not. I crawled into bed and fell off to sleep. Sometime in the early morning, I dreamt that I was standing in the street in front of the house waiting for Yogi to come back from a romp. A car came along and hit him. I heard his scream as the car went right on past. I ran over to him, knelt down and felt his blood-soaked coat. I stroked his head and he turned his nose into my palm, then gently licked my hand one more time before his head went limp. It is one of the most vivid dreams I’ve ever had. I woke up and cried for a half-hour straight. Then I had to force myself to rise, get into the shower and head off to work.

As it is with the passing of my grandparents, going home will never be the same again. I won’t come through the front door anymore to the sound of those quick clicking toenails on the tile. I won’t get to feel that insistent cold nose on my arm, or Yogi’s tongue kissing my hands. But Yogi was loved and his memory and spirit will live on in my heart and memory. He was part of our family and he will always hold a special place in my heart for the love he gave me when I needed it most. Unlike my grandparents, I never got to give Yogi a proper funeral. This is the only memorial I can give him and I hope it serves. I have no idea what becomes of a dog’s spirit when it passes from this world, but I hope he knows how much I love him and will miss his company.

Several years ago, I wrote a scathing letter about the practices of guide dog use by the blind in the U.S. Naturally, this angered hundreds of guide dog users who felt compelled to write me and tell me of their displeasure. The most common charge I faced was, “Boy, you really must hate dogs.” Most of the charges they fired at me were ludicrous, but none more so than this. I believe that dogs, as well as other domesticated animals, are a symbol of worldly innocence and love. They serve as a reflection of those emotions that they feel from their owners. They stand as a responsibility for us when we take them in as pets, requiring our constant care and attention when they are sick and when they are vital. They return this joyous burden by giving us unconditional love and happiness in all seasons. There is no greater reward that one could ask for than that. Dogs are harder to house when you are a bachelor living in an apartment, but I know that, if I ever own a home, the first thing I’ll bring into it is a dark Labrador. He won’t be Yogi. I’m sure every dog is different. He will be the first animal who is solely in my care, but thanks to Yogi, my future companion will be the second animal whom I refer to as, “My dog.”

Goodbye, Yogi. Thank you for the 13 years you gave me and our family. I love you and miss you.

Current mood: sad

The Best Listener

This blog is dedicated to my pal Art; the ultimate listener.

This shiny new blog is a sequel. The old one lasted for about 12 years before it disappeared. One of my favorite entries from that blog was titled, “The Top 10 Lies People Tell.” Lie number two was, “I don’t judge.”

I call bullshit. Everyone judges. As human beings, we are wired to judge. If we truly didn’t judge each other, our world would be a sea of anarchy. Judging one another isn’t the point; it’s what we do with those judgments that counts.

Art judges me whenever I talk to him. That’s fine. That’s why I lean on him. I need his judgments. But Art is one of the most gentle souls I’ve ever encountered. Thus, his judgments are informed by his gentleness. That doesn’t mean that he’s a pushover. It only means that he chooses to use his kindness as a dominant color in the lens of his life experience.

The url of this webpage belies the true nature of the content. Yes, I will write about politics here. Politics is important to me. But I hope to discuss many more things that make up the human experience; relationships, sex, entertainment, philosophy, music and whatever else winds my clock. I hope you like what you read here. If you do, I hope you will share it.


Ryan O – The Conservative Blind Guy

P.S.: Art may look like a big, fuzzy guy, but he doubles as the bouncer. That wasn’t a paper airplane that just whizzed past your head. It was Jack Squat being ejected. Don’t follow his example. Stay a while. And remember…the fine print is in braille.