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Bread and Roses

I found it at a thrift store: probably the most heavily prospected thrift store in the county. Collectors favor it; eBay resellers and flea market vendors do, too.

But if you go often enough, a treasure or two will drop into your hands.  It’s two blocks from my house. I go often.

Besides,“treasure” is a subjective sort of concept.  Treasure to my eyes is trash in the eyes of others.  And that makes me a lucky man.

I collect t-shirts with printed designs: not rock ’n roll tees, necessarily, or sports tees, or tees boasting a catchy phrase.  What I’m looking for is hard to explain; but I know it when I see it.

That day, what I found was a mint-condition Hanes Beefy-T, in red. It bore the image of a thorny rose and four heads of wheat; below that appear the words “Bread and Roses Festival of Music, October 7, 8, and 9. UC Berkeley.  Greek Theater.” That was it.

breadandrosest

“Bread and Roses:” the name struck a chord, old and rusty.  No year was given.  But to me it looked like a 40-year-old mint-condition concert shirt. Once you’ve pawed through 50 or 60,000 t-shirts, you can date some of them, roughly, by the maker’s tag inside the neck.  I’m fairly good with Beefy-Ts.

Age alone means little to a tee’s value.  But money value isn’t where I’m at.  The tee itself is just an excuse to go hunting on the Internet.  It’s a map, a signpost, the first line of a story — or the last. Here is what I found:

The story begins in 1912; the year before the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York City burned 150 women to death thanks to management villainy.

That year, the pioneering women’s labor organizer Rose Schneiderman made a speech to a group of well-to-do liberals. She spoke on behalf of all women laboring in dangerous conditions for little money.  And yet, she told the crowd, they wanted more than mere money.

“What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not a right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”

Bread and roses. Sustenance, but also dignity: a life worth living.  That phrase became a labor slogan, and soon gave rise to a poem:

As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient song of Bread;
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew —
Yes, it is bread we fight for — but we fight for Roses, too.

Decades later the folksinger Mimi Farina turned the poem into a song.  She later staged concerts in support of an organization she founded called — Bread and Roses.

The organization sends musicians and other performers to put on shows for inmates of prisons, hospitals, homes for the abused, homes for abandoned children — anyplace where the people are perhaps starved for beauty — and a few roses. It’s been 40 years now.

My tee came from the first big Bread and Roses benefit concert, in 1977. I confirmed this with an email to the Bread and Roses organization, which still exists.

The Bread and Roses Festival of Music was an all-acoustic music series, because Mimi Farina hated the music industry and had a grudge agains recording engineers who tried to make her sound like a lounge act.

The Bread and Roses people also sent me an image of the festival poster.  It boasted quite the lineup: there was Pete Seeger; Joan Baez, Farina’s sister; Ramblin’ Jack Elliot; Arlo Guthrie; Buffy St. Marie; Country Joe MacDonald (“Fish!”); Dave Van Ronk, who was all that Bob Dylan ever aspired to be; Hoyt Axton; Malvina Reynolds of the “little boxes” and much more; the Persuasions, the greatest a capella group you never heard of; and more. Robin Williams emceed.

I don’t have a set list, but articles about the concert said that Seeger, Baez, MacDonald, and Axton all “sang their classics,” which means that song of reform, songs against war, songs of the dispossessed and the land and of labor, all rang out across that stage.

And it’s an interesting stage: the Greek Theater at UC Berkeley is a replica Greek amphitheater of the classic era, built into a hillside. The Greek is all stone and sunlight and good sight lines to a stage that’s intimately close.

The Internet told me that the Greek  was built in 1903 by the newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst. Hearst, when all was said and done, was no friend of the working man.  Or truth, beauty, democracy, or anything good.

So I get a warm feeling when I envision this crowd of populist folkies and street performers prancing atop Hearst’s concrete Greek ego trip a mere 25 years after they slid Bill Hearst into the ground.  At a concert that cost five bucks: inflation aside, an amount that was pretty easy to come by even if you flipped burgers for money and lived with your mom.

A year or so later I went to the Greek to hear Randy Newman songs of society and its follies. I wonder what the ghost of Hearst thought about the words to “Political Science.”

The ‘60s and early ’70s were good times, at least on the West Coast.  If you were the right color and gender, there were plenty of roses to go around. Work was plentiful, school and houses were cheap. And there was hope that someday soon, color and gender wouldn’t matter so much. And everyone would have roses.

But that time was soon to end; it was beginning to end even the day of the concert.  A month or two earlier, housing prices had started to rise in Silicon Valley.  People couldn’t believe that a three-bedroom house in Silicon Valley could go for — $80K.

A co-worker and I talked about this era at lunch a few days after I bought the shirt.  He’s a grinning leprechaun of an old hippie in wire-rimmed glasses and a blue cotton work shirt rolled up to the elbows.  I asked him if he’d been to the ’77 Bread and Roses Concert; we’re not very far from Berkeley, after all.

“God,” he said, gazing off at yesterday.  “Who was there?” I named them; he couldn’t remember.  Too many concerts, too much music, too many yesterdays.  He might have been, or not.

He’d been a music promoter for awhile and hung with the greats.  We talked about that, but what we mainly talked about was the university we both work at.  It has a counterculture reputation, not these days so much deserved; but in the 70s, it was a quiet and magic place, newly built in the middle of a redwood forest.

“You could walk across the entire campus and not see anybody,” he told me.  ‘It was that peaceful.  And the town was just this sleepy little place.  But people were standing in the streets playing music.  A sleepy little town — but with music in the streets.”

“Times were better then,” I said, and he agreed. Old men always like then better than now.  But this time, we may be right.  Because life is harder for our students, and the the people in the town, than it has ever been.

We took our eye off the economic regulations that kept all the money from piling up in a few hands.  Soon the economy turned from a rose nursery to a series of self-assembling traps that stripped wealth and power off the common folk.

Want to go to college? Well, it costs more now, because government support was pulled. Because taxes were lowered. And there are few grants anymore; you could be indebted for life by private-industry loans with tricky and subtle penalties, that can ambush you like a blow to the back of the head.  It’s especially bad for women and minorities.

But you need a degree to get a good job, see, because the good non-degreed work was allowed to flee overseas.  Of course, compliant foreign tech workers can be imported cheaply to work here because of “shortages.” Yeah right.

Just take away restraints and regulations, and capitalism naturally makes traps. You can dance the same dance about healthcare, retirement, housing, consumer protection, antitrust laws…. in our once sleepy town, the university is jammed and students pay $800 to share a bedroom.  It’s a Silicon Valley bedroom town now, and a lifestyle playpen where the weathy have second- or third homes that stand empty 350 days a year.

Most service workers work two jobs just to survive. There is less music in the streets than ever before. Roses grow in small gardens with high admission prices.

The Bread and Roses organization still exists, as I said. Its core mission has never changed: It still brings light and music to the institutionalized These people will always need more roses in their lives.

But as the world outside becomes more rose-less, Bread and Roses looks only inward. It is a noncontroversial community-based cause, and nothing more.

And that’s fine.  But while the populist folksingers of the first festival danced on William Randolph Hearst’s marble stage back in ’77, Hearst had the last laugh after all. Because in a very strong sense he is now the president of the United States.

To learn about Donald Trump, read a even a simple biography of Hearst.  The telltales are the same: inherited wealth, grandiose ambition, boundless narcissism, underlying disrespect for democracy, and astoundingly bad judgment. I’m not the only one who thinks this, I was surprised to learn.

Now you understand what I’m looking for in a t-shirt: a story. A story that can be assembled from all the facts and circumstances and ideas that left behind a t-shirt to give testimony that once upon a time, something happened.

This is not a nice story: it’s a story of battles won, and lost again.  But it has a lesson: no battle against an unfair system is ever won forever.  It must be fought again and again, or the bad system will reassert itself, as it always has.

And there will always be apologists among the comfortable class who are sorry for the bad things that happen, but don’t really want fundamental change. They were the people that Rose Schneiderman talked to.

So we will fight again, and with luck we will win again.  And maybe this time, or next time, we will break the trap-making economic machine for good and all.   And bread and roses will be the base right of all people everywhere. Forever.  As the old poem reads:

As we come marching, marching, we bring the Greater Days —
The rising of the women means the rising of the race —
No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes —
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and Roses, Bread and Roses.

The Drug Addict at the Knitting Club

I had expected a quiet evening.  And yet somehow I found myself outside in the dark and wind, guiding a short convoy of emergency vehicles into the church parking lot. Beyond it lay a man who might need their help.

The farting klaxon of the paramedic engine, the warbling siren of the ambulance, the flashing red lights: they all lent urgency to the scene. Never mind that these screaming, flashing vehicles were crawling along at 10 miles an hour, trying not to overshoot the church’s driveway from the ill-lit boulevard That’s why the deputies sent me out there.

All this effort for a guy that nobody cared about until he looked to be dying. And so a call went out, and programmed caring kicked in.

Step back a moment: my wife’s knitting group meets each Thursday evening at St. Bob the Informal’s Presbymethertarian Church.  The knitting group is open to the community, and nothing much is discussed except yarn and the knitting of it. And there is tea and banana bread, and a knitting DVD on the church flatscreen.

I don’t knit. I stay around to mind the door and walk the knitters to their cars. The church neighborhood is industrial: dark and deserted at night.  Homeless campers come around when night falls, because almost no one is here to care.

Some sleep on the church grounds. That’s not so much an issue; except when they set up camp right in front of the main door.  Or try to come inside the church  uninvited.

The “main door” is actually in the back of the church, by the parking lot.  At first glance, a camper might judge the doorway to be a good flop: secluded, with a covered porch.  But it’s not, as campers find out when cars roll up for evening meetings.

You might say: you’re a church.  Why won’t you give them shelter?  Why won’t you give them help? And I’ve yielded to that very human impulse a few times over the years.

It has never worked out.  Never. The clear-headed ones just move on.  They want quiet, not trouble.   Do they really leave, or just move to some shadowy corner of the lot? We don’t care.

But the ones who refuse to move, or want to get inside, have too many demons for me to cope with.  Or for them, for that matter.  The last time I let someone stay camped in front of the door — it was going to rain that night — she eventually stormed inside screaming,  because she was sure that the voices in her head were the knitters, laughing at her.  And the law came to drive her off .  It did rain that night, and hard.

After that one, the pastor asked us to lock the door during meetings.  Seemed to help. But in a way, nothing does.

A couple of months later, the knitting group again did not lock the church door.  We couldn’t; a volunteer group had booked the big hall for a night of training, and some of them were making cell calls in the church parking lot. I kept one eye on the front door and the other on my laptop.   But I expected no issues.  Not with so many people around.

Heh.  I walked down the hall to the bathroom and found a guy sleeping on the floor.  He’d wrapped a blanket around himself and wedged himself against the wall between a bookshelf and a tub of preschool equipment.  You know how messy churches can be; I almost didn’t notice him.

He was sawing serious wood: a lean, battered guy in his 40s in a tee and jeans and reasonable shoes.  And now I remembered seeing his face as he walked in: tired, distressed.  But that’s in the normal range these days.

I sought his attention for a few minutes, but he wasn’t having it.  I thought about shaking him, but couldn’t bring myself to touch him.  And I had a problem: all the people would leave the church within the hour. There was no staff in the building to take over. Just me. I needed him out of here.

So I called the sheriff, and told them he wasn’t causing problems except by being there, and that he wouldn’t wake up.  They promised a response, and I gave the score to the knitters and the volunteer group and asked them not to freak. They didn’t. This happens.

But I resented him.  I resented that he disrupted my  orderly evening.  I resented having to see to him instead of relaxing.  I resented being bothered.

Two deputies showed up in reasonable time, and I led them in.  Both were linebacker-sized in clean brown uniforms, backs as broad as love seats.  One was older than the other, and led the festivities.  Neither was interested in my opinions on anything; so I just showed them the gentleman.

It became their turn to shout at him. They took turns screaming in his ear.  The man on the floor remained happily oblivious.

The older deputy sighed and slipped on a pair of blue nitrile exam gloves.  Then he leaned down started shaking him.  I felt a little better about not wanting to touch the guy.

“See the bruises down both arms?” the older deputy asked.  “These are typical of IV drug abusers.” He shook the man again and yelled in his ear again.  “Hello! Sir! Wake up!”  Then he noticed something.

“Look, he’s pissed himself. I’m going to call in a Code 3.” The deputies didn’t bother to explain anything to me; just asked me to go out to the street and guide in the emergency vehicles.

So there I was, waving the trucks into the parking lot.  Belatedly I realized that Code 3 meant “lights and sirens;” and that the deputy thought he might have an overdose on his hands.

The trucks rumbled toward the rear of the church. I trotted after them waving hand signals and, oddly, felt a little better.  Yes, the wandering man had upturned my evening.  But in his way he was just a man in bad shape looking for help on some visceral level: for warmth and light at least. Should he have overdosed out in the darkness, alone, where nobody could help him?  Maybe this was all happening as it was supposed to.

But in the end: not really.  I led the line of medics in the door to find the unconscious man surprising on his feet and answering questions.  The older deputy turned to me:  “Looks like I wasted the taxpayer’s money,” he called cheerfully.

The medics spread out around the man anyway and started doing business.  The deputies got the man’s name and point of origin out of him, and punched it all into handheld terminals.

“There’s a warrant out for him in Louisiana,” the older deputy said.  “But they don’t want him back.”

“What do you mean?” the younger deputy asked.

“They don’t want to send someone out here to get him.”

“Why not?”

“Money,” I said.

“That’s right,” the older deputy answered.  “It costs money to come get him, and it costs money to keep him, and Louisiana doesn’t want to spend it.”

The younger deputy looked bewildered. He must have been very new indeed.  But processing went on and soon the medics walked the confused man out the door to God know where, packed up their trucks, and left.  The two deputies thanked me for my assistance with mechanical smiles and handshakes of identical firmness.

And in a few days, most likely, the man no one wants will be out on the street again, a loose cannon rolling across an America that doesn’t care a thing about him — except that, wherever he is, he should be elsewhere.  And millions like him. More every day.

Don’t say that America doesn’t make things any more.  It makes men and women like him, out in those parts of the country where money is scarce these days.  Strip away the jobs, don’t fund the schools, bring the drugs to kill the boredom. Let them slip into degradation, become anti-social and unemployable to boot. Arrest them for something. Then drive them away with a warrant and make them somebody else’s problem.

Oh yeah: don’t forget to blame the victims.

No More Questions, No More Answers

I got up this morning and girded myself for battle as only a man of 60-odd must do.

I fed the cat.  I sat down at the rowing machine for 500 strokes, making sure to fully flex my lower back as I rowed.  I  stretched for 20 minutes.  I popped a couple of anti-inflammatory pills.  I ate a breakfast strong in protein and fiber.  And at last: I was ready to move heavy objects with some hope that my joints or spine would take no subsequent revenge.

Getting old is a process of constant negotiation with your own body.  When I was young, I could do what I wanted with it.  Now, my body has the whip hand. If I want to lift heavy objects, we have to talk.

Today’s heavy objects were store fixtures from a dying Radio Shack: big roll-around shelving units made from heavy-gauge steel.  They’re just what my wife Rhumba needs to build the crafting studio of her retirement dreams in our garage.  And they had to be out of the Shack by 5 pm, when it would close its doors forever.

Those suckers were huge, too. I had no idea how I’d load them into the pick-up I’d rented.  But  I drove over to the store and hoped for the best.  After all, things are never as bad as they seem they’ll be, unless they’re worse.

I backed the truck up against the entrance of the store and went in.  Locusts had stripped the place: nothing left but cables, batteries, and 90 PERCENT OFF banners.  It was going to be weird not having a Radio Shack around.  It’s that store you seldom go anymore but know that you’ll need at some point, for a cable or a coupler or even a resistor.  And now it’s gone.

I grew up with Radio Shack.  I never made friends with electricity, but I had my battery club card and bought my cassette tapes there. It was always the source of strange electrical gadgets and somewhat educational toys that made bleeping noises or just raced around in circles under remote control.  Whatever was electronic — components, TVs, music keyboards, test equipment, computers — they had.  It might be cheap and no-name, but they had it.

And sometimes, they had it first.  In the late 70s when personal computers were still expensive and mostly build-it-yourself, Radio Shack’s cheap TRS-80 computers were the first computers your average family could afford.

We called them Trash-80s, and they weren’t much.  But they got a generation of young people — and not so young — learning to code while Rupert Holmes crooned the Pina Colada song on the family stereo. A couple of years later Radio Shack rolled out the TRS-100, the very first portable computer worth a damn; some call it the very first laptop.  They sold like shaved iced in Hell.

And then the Shack went into IBM-compatibles and software, but still sold supplies and equipment for the home electrical dabbler,  plus light-up My Child’s First Circuit educational toys, and music systems and video and telephones and every damn thing.  A hole-in-the-wall Radio Shack might not count for much in the big city.  But in the nameless suburbs of America, it just might be the only game in town.

Radio Shack stores weren’t always wonderful; but if you looked hard enough, you could usually find somebody who knew what was what. They might be 18 and geeky, but who else would be genuinely interested in helping you pick the right video cable? At minimum wage? Some of those young people went on to manage data centers and networks, design chips, and write the code that America runs on.

Radio Shack rode the tech waves for decades, but they missed out on smartphones. Bad mistake. And of course e-commerce hit them hard. And now, seventeen years and two bankruptcies into the new millenium, the local Radio Shack was going down, and hundreds of others with it.  The only people in the store when I walked in today were there to strip it.

Like me.  The shelving units we’d picked out had been put aside for me. They were even larger and heavier-looking than I remembered.  “How are you going to load them?” the assistant manager asked.  He was a brisk young man, hairless but for a severely trimmed beard.

That was a good question. “I don’t know,” I said.  “Roll them out there, tip them up over the tailgate and hope for the best, I guess.’

“They do come apart,”  he said, and produced a screwdriver. And he spent the next five minutes showing me the basics.  I took over, but he came back to help several times between other duties.  It was honest-to-God classic Radio Shack service even as the ship went down.  The store manager wandered over to remind me that I could have ten removable shelves with each unit.  Then he wandered away, only to wander back again and tell me to take as many shelves as I wanted.

The assistant manager even helped me load the truck.  For my back’s sake it was good that we’d taken the display units apart, because even some of the pieces weighed 50 or 60 pounds.  Soon the pickup was full to the brim with miscellaneous metal crap, and my back remained happy.  Reassembling all those heavy components later would prove to be the real hell.  But I made it, and my back and body kept the deal we’d struck that morning.

It’s not that this town will actually suffer for Radio Shack’s absence.  We have a perfectly good electronics store a mile or so down the road.  It’s more on the serious side, but its employees will gladly tell newbies more than they’d ever want to know about anything electronic.  They’ll even build you a computer from scratch.

And the gigantic Best Buy next to the Home Depot will sell you any consumer electronics you want, from computers and peripherals to smart phones (and dumb ones) to music players to DVDs and even appliances and solar panels.  There are even geeks to help you with the stuff you bought — though you have to pay to see them.

But Radio Shack was an excellent starting point, where real electronics and cheap thrills overlapped. A lot of kids rich and poor made the transition from toys to tech at the Shack.  Now they’re left with e-commerce, which will sllt you anything you want, but can’t tell you why you should want it — or help you figure out what you bought.

To me, the real paradigm of retail is a pile of physical merchandise to handle, a counter, and a clerk who knows what they’re doing and what questions to ask.  The “best buy” is the one that gets you what you really need, with all the service included in the price.

And if that paradigm is simply outmoded, why is it still there for high-end stores and high-end products — but not for the rest of us?

The Patron Saint of Lost Things

A couple of days ago I helped some young man in Iowa to find his car keys over the Internet. Every day of the year the Internet make the improbable, probable.

I found him calling for help on a social media site. Somewhere between Saturday afternoon and returning home the previous night, his keys had gone missing. He had to go to work in a few hours, too. He needed his keys. Badly.

“I have no idea where they are.” he said. “I’ve looked in all of my usual spots. Can you suggest some spots I may not have thought of?

No. But I introduced him to St. Anthony of Padua.

“You think you’ve looked everywhere, but you haven’t,” I wrote. “Your keys are somewhere that you’ve assumed they couldn’t possibly be. But they are.

“Here’s a mind trick that may help you search. It is technically religious, but you needn’t believe a thing.

“There’s a prayer to St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost things, that goes simply, ‘Help me, St. Anthony, to find that which I have lost.’ Chant it over and over, and start searching again.

“The chant breaks your assumptions about where the keys could and couldn’t be. It keeps you from giving up until you search every single place, not just the places that you think are realistic. Because ‘St. Anthony’ is helping you.”

And I told him of a time and place where it had worked for me. Then I posted the comment and wandered off for a little bit.

When I returned to the laptop, a message was waiting:

“HOLY FUCKING SHIT, thank you dude and thank you Saint Anthony wherever you are! It was in the recliner which I checked about three times before!”

Score one for the big guy. St. Anthony comes through again. And I made a guy in Iowa chant the St. Anthony prayer while he ransacked his apartment. Double win!

I would be happy to believe that St. Anthony actually exists. I can see him in a cavern filled with silvery light, somewhere deep beneath Padua. He sits atop a colossal pile of all the lost car keys, cell phones, wallets, pocket knives, and styling combs of the world

He listens to the pleas of the faithful. He sends them strength and guidance to find that which they have lost. He idly flicks a solid gold Zippo lighter that somebody lost down a storm drain in Las Vegas. It’s pretty.

I would be happy to believe that, but I do not. As I told the young man, he was St. Anthony. The chant — or prayer, or spell — opened his mind and widened his vision to include all the places where his keys “couldn’t possibly be.” Until he found them.

And I know this because I’ve been where that young man has, only in even more despair. And yes, it was about keys.

This was nearly 30 years ago. I had driven eighty miles to San Francisco to visit friends: attend a party, stay overnight, and visit a friend’s newly-rented craft studio.

I parked near my friend’s apartment house and locked the car. Then I walked over to the studio, fifteen blocks away in a business district. Parking down that way was hopeless; and as a recent San Franciscan, fifteen blocks was nothing. It’s a walking town.

But instead of putting my key ring back in my pants, I stowed it in the breast pocket of my old leather jacket. The pocket was torn half open on one side. But secure enough, right? All seemed well.

The studio was in a converted flat above a storefront; San Francisco has thousands of such buildings. I knew about the building was: between 11th and 12th. But — was its number 1134 or 1143? Or something else? I couldn’t remember. I always forget addresses.

I tried the wrong building the first time and broke in on a family of gypsy fortune-tellers eating lunch on the second floor. I faded back down the stairs before they noticed me. The second building was correct. And I visited my friend in her new studio. “My friend,” was in fact my current wife Rhumba — still somebody else’s girlfriend, but already a good friend to me for many years.

And after I’d been there a few minutes, I realized: my keys were gone. Somewhere across fifteen blocks of San Francisco. And I freaked out. Eighty miles from home. Car on the street where the feral meter maids would fall upon it. No idea what to do. I think I was hyperventilating.

And Rhumba told me the St. Anthony prayer. “Just keep saying it, and keep looking. Retrace your tracks. It always works.”

And so I did. I searched Rhumba’s studio: every room that I’d been in. Then I retraced my steps across the entire Richmond District, peering in every gutter, under every vegetable cart in front of every produce store, in the doorway of every Chinese bakery, in every street planting and by every tree trunk, all the way back to my parked car. Chanting, “Help me, St. Anthony, to find that which I have lost.”

And I didn’t find my keys. I just about declared it hopeless. But I kept chanting. And so I retraced my steps all the way back to the craft studio again, back along every gutter, every trash bin, under every car and up the stairs again into the studio to search it one more time. Help me, St. Anthony, help me.

And still, nothing. I walked back downstairs to the street. “Help me, St. Anthony…” But I had looked everywhere.

And then I remembered that I had not. The gypsies’ flat: I’d run up the stairs thinking it was Rhumba’s studio. But I hadn’t dropped anything there. I couldn’t possibly have. And for reasons I couldn’t quite analyze, I was reluctant to return there.

“Help me, St. Anthony, to find that which I have lost.” Well, the big guy can’t help you if you don’t help yourself, so I finally tried the door. It was locked. But there was a doorbell. I pressed it; something squawked inside the building.

“What do you want?”

A 10-year-old girl with delicate features stared down through a second-floor window. She had  a bandanna tied over her head.

“I came up to your flat by mistake a little while ago. Now I can’t find my keys. Could you see if they’re anywhere on the stairs?”

She vanished. I waited, really too beaten down even to hope at this point. Then she reappeared in the window, grinning, with something in her hand.

MY KEYS. SHE HAD MY KEYS.

I raised my hand, and she tossed them down. I almost caught them; they hit the pavement. But they were old-school keys of solid metal: no electronics, and no harm done. The girl waved, and vanished back into the flat.

To this day, whenever somebody mentions anything about “a gift from the gods,” I think about a pretty little girl in a bandanna, smiling down from a window with my keys in her hand. And St. Anthony.

But really, it was all me: running halfway across the Richmond District and back because I wouldn’t see, couldn’t see, that the best place to look was right next door to where I started. Only Saint Anthony’s prayer kept me going long enough to figure it out.

You know that old joke about always finding something in the last place you look? Maybe that’s because, sometimes, the last place you look is the place you least want to look. Maybe for me it was a case of “Ooh, gypsies, scary?” I don’t know. Just a thought.

Anyway, seems these days that so many people have lost something, or are about to. A job, security, health care, an election they were sure they’d win, American democracy. And hope.

So where do you find those things again? How do you get them back? Maybe it’s time to say the St. Anthony prayer and start looking. What do you think?

Just keep going. Look everywhere. Look in places you wouldn’t think to look, ask people you wouldn’t normally ask, make alliances with people who aren’t like you. But are also looking.

“Help me, St. Anthony, to find that which I have lost:” but you are your own saint. Look not where you want to, but where you have to. Who knows what you might find?

If you don’t keep an open mind, though, even Saint Anthony can’t help.

Transformation Nation

She looked like a guy in a dress.  She actually was a guy in a dress.  But she thought of herself as a woman.  And so we treated her that way.

This was at one of those university staff pow-wos that fills a day with workshops and discussion groups, plus an hour in the middle for supermarket sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies.  And Connie was new to the university; she introduced herself and talked about her duties and her background.  She did not talk about her nasal tenor voice, her Adams apple, her stubble, her hipless figure, or her dress.

The phrase is “trans woman:” a “she, her, hers” person.  Those were Connie’s chosen pronouns. She is transitioning toward femininity; soon there would be hormones and someday, an operation.

Not all non-standard gender people are transitioning anywhere, though.  They’re happy where they are: in between, or outside, the standard sexes. They use different pronouns:  ve, ver, and vis.  Or xe, xem, and zir.  Or a dozen other sets. These days in the world of gender, it’s all about your pronouns-of-choice.  They’re putting them in their email footers, along with the phone numbers and street address.

Compared to all this, Connie’s M-to-F transition is dead simple.  But still had the damnedest time using Connie’s preferred pronouns.  She still sounded like a man, and looked like one.  In a dress.

So I was relieved when Connie started hormones.  I met with her again after her chest and hips began coming along. They helped me to see her differently.  So when I pick up up the phone and hear a man’s voice say, “Hi, this is Connie,” the image of Connie with tits keeps me straight.

Now that Trump’s in the White House, the great American march forward to gender-neutral restrooms is on hold.  But college campuses like mine will continue to move forward until everybody, of every gender, can lay claim to a restroom that they can be themselves in.

In the meantime, trans men and trans women have their own points of confusion.  Old habits can die hard even after the transition begins.

Rhumba was at the basin in a woman’s restroom recently when a more or less female figure burst from a stall and made for the exit — without washing hands.  Another woman entered the now-empty stall; a moment later, Rhumba heard a sharp snort of disgust, follow by a sharp CLACK .  The previous occupant had left the toilet seat up.

Okay trans women:  I’m learning not to see you as men in dresses.  But it’s up to you not to act like them.

The Big Dial

When I was about 12, my parents gave me a clock-radio for my bedroom: a navy blue GE with a backlit dial and glowing clock hands.  Plus AM and FM and a wake-to-music setting for the alarm. I had it all.

This was the late ‘60s. “Personal electronics” was an AM transistor radio in your pocket.  So an AM/FM table radio was no small thing for me.  I listened to rock and pop, but really I just liked a good DJ no matter what the music.  In the morning, in the evening, whenever I wanted: the DJs’ friendly voices poured out through the speakers.  And just to me, or so it seemed.

This was, and is, radio’s secret:  When done well, no other mass medium seems so personal. Even a good podcast lacks the impact: the feeling that someone is really there, talking and doing, for you.

I’d sit up in bed at night, searching for faraway AM stations with my clock radio.  Short-wave operators do something similar; it’s called DXing, and with their transceivers and antennas they could hear and speak past the curve of the earth.  Next to them, I was  less than nothing.

But sometimes I heard far, especially at 11 or 12 on a Sunday night, when most stations shut down their transmitters and the airwaves cleared.  And then Detroit or even Chicago might loom through the static. Chicago! Two thousand miles away!

These days I can stream music from Radio Swiss-Jazz across eight thousand miles while reading email.  And it’s nowhere near the fun of DXing all night with my little GE, its dial glowing softly in the comfortable darkness. Looking for stations that I didn’t even know existed.

Broadcast radio’s not what it was:  corporate-owned, automated, generic.  You know. There are a few good stations, but — I don’t even have a radio in the house anymore.  Do you? I’m reduced to listening in the car, perhaps 20 minutes a day.  I can stream stations through my laptop.

But you can’t twiddle the dial on a laptop to DX for new stations.  Laptops  don’t have dials. You can’t find a station unless you already know that it exists.

I love radio. And I barely listen anymore. The Internet took the radio out of our daily lives.  At least, mine.

But what the ’Net takes away, the ‘Net can return.  It is, after all, nothing less than the sum total of what everyone wants it to be. A couple of weeks ago somebody on a discussion board told me I should go to a site called radio.garden; radio dot garden.

Imagine a globe of the earth covered with thousands of glowing dots.  Tens of thousands.  You can spin the world like a top. And every one of those dots is a radio station that streams content to the Internet. There are no country name or city names, just the dots: clustered in mobs near the great seacoast cities, or isolated and alone in the  jungles or mountains or on remote islands.  What are they broadcasting in Northwestern Nevada, the Amazon outback, the Faroe Islands, Vanuatu? You can find out.  You can listen.

Swoop down from space like a god, and the stations develop locations, and names which you can click on.  And the broadcast begins.  Some are physical radio stations, others only stream on the ‘Net.  The URL is right there if you want to learn more, or bookmark it.

There’s KCAW, Raven Radio from Baranoff Island, Alaska.  Or JiveRadio, a brick-and-mortar station that gave up its frequency and now streams hip-but-not-pretentious country and folk to the High Sierras.  And some Quebeckers broadcasting trance music from a lonely island in the St. Lawrence Seaway.

And 70’s funk from Buenos Aires, and some folks in West Africa talking politics, And a studio full of guys at Durian Radio in Kuala Lumpur who swear that they’re discussing business news except that someone breaks out laughing at the end of every sentence.  And Radio Free Brooklyn. And on and on.

You may aske: “What’s new here? All these resources are already on the Internet.  You could already stream them.”

What’s new is that somebody gave the Internet a dial.  A radio dial. And with it, I can DX the world.  My inner twelve-year-old still can’t believe it.

I listen to radio every day now.  And I’d be open to covering my laptop’s glowing Apple logo with a GE decal.  Though nobody would understand but you and me.

Nightmare with Ranch

Imagine a fine dining restaurant: soft lighting, thick carpet, potted ferns, elegant tablecloths.  A waiter summarizes the order that a well-dressed couple has just placed.

Waiter:  Here is what I have: Sir will have the dungeness crab and avocado appetizer,  rack of lamb with cous cous and salsify, and seasonable vegetables?

Sir: That’s right.

Waiter: And Madam will have the Fuyu Persimmon Squash Soup, followed by duck breast with kale & chorizo-cornbread stuffing and sauteed greens?

Madam:  That’s correct.

Waiter:  Very good.  Ah, there is one final matter…

Sir: Yes?

Waiter:  Would you like fries with that?

Both: Of course!

You may laugh — I rather hope that you do — but once or twice a week, I eat in a restaurant where fries come with everything.

I work at a public university. We produce scholars, technocrats, well-rounded individuals.  Or that’s the theory.  But it’s plain fact that we also produce colossal amounts of food.

University’s massive food mills roar for all the day and half the night.  They must: scholarship withers on an empty stomach, and the academic pace is faster than it’s ever been.

The cavernous dining halls gape open from dawn to near midnight.  Come in, line up at the pizza bar, the omelette bar, the salad bar, the burger bar, the taqueria bar, the Cajun bar, the vegetarian bar.  Stir fry to your left. Spam fried rice and shoyu chicken to your right.

Add whipped cream and Nutella to anything you want.  And Sriracha. And ranch dressing: they practically serve it with fire hoses.

Your brain will not lack the protein it needs to ace that mid-term, or to hack out the last ten pages of a term paper before the sun rises.  And there’s way more variety than I was offered as a dormie, 40 years ago.

Dining hall food is still institutional food, for better or worse: only so much finesse can be blandished on tens of thousands of meals a day.  Much of the meat is prefab, and I’ll swear the pizza is made by ink-jet printers.

But you can also find fresh vegetable dishes, good salads, healthy ethnic casseroles, whole grains, stir-fry and “real” chicken. And sometimes pork pineapple curry, just for the hell of it.  I choose carefully.  Many students do, too.

But there is the matter of fries. They may be straight, or curly; they may be potato, or sweet potato.  But they are almost always available, in one “bar” or another.  And the students will eat them with absolutely anything.  I look at their plates and shudder.

Hey, pepperoni pizza — and fries! Lasagne bolognese — and fries!  Broccoli beef on white rice — and fries!  Pad Thai with shrimp — and fries! And ravioli and coleslaw and fries, vegetable lo mein and fries, spaghetti and fries, and my personal vision of hell: white rice, corn, and fries, with ranch dressing.

Perhaps it’s a phase and they’ll grow beyond it.  You can tell yourself that.

But did the boomer generation — my generation — outgrow the grotesque foods of its youth?  I need only step out of my office door to find all the snacks my co-workers have brought in to share:  giant marshmallow cookies; peppermint Oreos dipped in chocolate; industrial-grade chocolate chip cookies, guaranteed 80 percent sugar and 15 percent stabilizers; and of course Girl Scout cookies.

“Oh, I shouldn’t, my diabetes..” my co-worker moans. and then dives right in.  Greasy hamburgers are fashionable again; so are “gourmet” mashed potatoes.

We boomers never outgrew all the questionable food choices of our youth.  Will today’s generation, in their venerable years, gather with their descendants for a festive Thanksgiving dinner of roast turkey — with fries?

And ranch dressing, of course.

Being Relevant

I was usher last week at the 10:30 service.  Raoul was on the list, but he didn’t show.  So I picked up a pile of bulletins and planted myself in the narthex.  Nobody gets by me without a hearty “Good Morning” and a pamphlet with a lamb on the cover.

“Usher” is one of those problematic words.  Logically, it should come from the verb “to ush,” so that anybody who ushes is inevitably an usher. But no: the word descends from the Latin “ostiarius,” or door-keeper. Nobody ever ushed.  At best, they “ushered.”

That’s what the etymologists say.  And they are wrong.  I do not usher; I ush.  It’s a whole different game.

The parishioners dribbled in, and the service began; I stayed in the narthex.  It’s useless to sit down before the first reading: one or two families inevitably make a two-wheel turn at speed into the parking lot ten minutes into the service, smoke streaming from the tires of their Honda Odysseys.  Ten years ago it would have been Volvo wagons, but times change.

And in fact that happened.  Once the latecomers got settled and the first reading began, I stood in the back of the sanctuary and counted the house for the attendance records.

Thus proceeds another Sunday service at St. Bob the Informal’s Presbymethertarian Church.  Presbymethertarians are a hearty bunch, much given to good works, social reform, affordable housing, traditional worship, and pancakes. They’re nuts for pancakes, in all shapes and sizes.  Where else can you sit down to a church breakfast of spherical pancakes? Only Presbymethertarians have the technology.

In some ways, St. Bob’s does amazingly well.  Pastor Biff is known around town as a mover and shaker for social justice projects. Badly-needed housing for seniors is a-building at the back of the campus; forty-odd units of it, thanks to an alliance with a housing non-profit.  There’s a million in the bank from the land lease payments. We also help Habitat for Humanity

St. Bob’s compassionately-religious preschool runs at capacity. With another few churches, we fund high school scholarships and capital projects for three villages in El Salvador.  We hold frequent pupusa lunches to raise funds for this mission. The pupusa is a traditional Salvadorian dish, a sort of stuffed…. pancake.

And yet, as I counted the house last Sunday attendance was disappointing — as usual.  What heads I counted were mainly gray, white or balding, and filled fewer than half the seats.

Every year there are fewer and fewer of us. If you ask him, Pastor Biff will blame it on the housing market.  St. Bob’s is a sort of Frankenstein congregation, assembled by refugees from three failing churches fifteen years ago.  Back then, the pews were full of young families: what every church wants to have, people who’ll grow old with you, stay with you for decades.  But then housing prices surged wildly around here, and the young Presbymethertarian families couldn’t buy.  So they left town.

That’s part of it.  But I also think that what Presbymethertarians want to sell, not that many want to buy unless they’re already invested in the church traditions.

There Pastor Biff would disagree.  He thinks we have a great deal to offer. Last Sunday he preached to us to invite friends to St. Bob’s, to see what we have and perhaps decide that it’s what they want.

But I can’t think of a single acquaintance that I could sell that to, who isn’t already committed to a spiritual community.  Hundred-year-old hymns?  Elderly metaphors for forgiveness and hope from a civilization of shepherds and farmers? The Lamb of God? The Perfect Sacrifice? Forgiveness of sins? By whom?  And group hymn-sings and Saturday work parties and all sorts of unknown traditions that get in the way of getting the kids to soccer practice or, frankly, of the time you need to collapse and rest up for the week to come?  How does church help that? What do we actually offer that will benefit them?

And I’m not sure I have an answer.   There is community support; a few parishioners did come by the hospital when my wife was ill recently; that was good.  More came from the arts and crafts group that she leads, however.  And yet that group meets at the church, which gives its space freely.  So the issue is complicated, isn’t it?

And on top of all that — these days, St. Bob’s neighborhood is now heavily Latino.  Most of St. Bob’s parishioners have to come from five or ten miles away; they never lived nearby.  Presbymethertarians descend from lands of snow and axes and spherical pancakes; the neighbors do not.  The spiritual traditions are way different. Pastor Biff and the church council know that things have to change, and they’re casting around for ideas. But they’re not sure about how to move forward while staying who they are.  They’re not sure what to offer, or even what they can offer. Resources for change are slim — and manpower.  And not everybody wants change.  But they have to find a way to include more people — make them want to be included — or St. Bob’s will be an empty building one of these days.

I was thinking about this as my wife and I were driving back from doing some chores at St. Bobs this past Saturday.   As we got near home the traffic turned heavy. Very heavy.  My wife said: “I forgot, it’s the Women’s March! We[ll never get home!”

Yes, we had a Women’s March in our town, too; it’s a college town, well-educated and prosperous, and women (and men) were going to march in protest against the Trump administration.  And as we got closer to home the sidewalks grew crowded with marchers headed toward the rally point.  Like the town, they trended older; they trended well-educated and well-to-do.  They trended liberal.  Who I did not see there was the 20 percent of the town that is Latino.  Nor did I see signs of the old-school blue-collar townies whose families have been here since way before the local university brought the academic crowd.  Many of them voted for Trump.

The townies and the Latinos have a lot in common, though they wouldn’t think so and there’s much low-key racism around here.  Townies and Latinos are both pushed economically, many of them.  Talk to a Latino service worker for awhile and you’ll find yourself talking to somebody who hasn’t had a day off in two months, or works 12 hours a day. They have to, to survive in this expensive patch of paradise where there is at least reliable work.

Talk to a townie, and you’ll find somebody wondering why they’re struggling like hell to make it in the town they grew up in, or, if they’re older, why their kids couldn’t make it here and had to leave.  They don’t know who to blame, so they blame liberals.

I was glad to see the parade.  I’m not glad to see the mistakes of the election being repeated.  At least by people who identify Democrat or liberal.

Our town is a beautiful place.  The educated class, the liberal class, wants to preserve that beauty, and the rights of all to be themselves politically and sexually.  They are not as concerned about affordable housing; not when the rubber meets the road.  Certainly not in their neighborhoods, where their personal lives might be affected (or property values).  Some well-connected group always shows up with reasons not to build affordable housing or high density housing in a particular place.  Pollution; traffic; bobcats (once); something.  Meanwhile, the people who keep the town running try to get by with low pay and stunning rents.  Latinos and townies both.

I look at the videos of the demonstrations country-wide, and the vast majority of marchers are well-to-do and white.  Not always on stage; plenty of color and diversity up there for the TV cameras.  But in the crowds, it’s the old comfortable liberal crowd who thinks that the world will be oh-so-much-better when everybody’s like them.  And isn’t talking to people who aren’t like them.  Isn’t reaching out to them.

I’ve got news; they have to, here in town and nationwide.  They have to talk to the townies.  Talk to the workers.  Talk to the minorities.  Make their lives easier now, right now, top priority, or you will not have them with you.  And you will lose the heart of this country again and again and again.  It’s no longer enough to be the lesser of two evils. Your ideology is outdated, your traditions hearken back to solutions that no longer work for everyone, your prescriptions don’t address the problems of the people who abandoned you.  You are too comfortable.

The Presbymethertarians at St. Bob’s at least know that they have to change to succeed; empty pews are a great motivator.  What do you need to change, happy marchers?  Get uncomfortable with your own assumptions, or you will lose again, and the nation with you.

It’s early, though. I have faith in you.  You will learn.  Rally the faithful around yourself, as you have.  And then reach out to everyone else.

The Calm Before the Storm

It’s hundreds of miles offshore, but you can feel it coming.  The answer to all your prayers, writ large by the Devil himself.  The night-time streets are full of crazy traffic.  Nervous drivers dive two at a time for the same shopping center driveway. Bicyclists shoot out of inky alleys and down the wrong side of the street, nearly invisible.  It’s 8 pm on a Friday night, and people are busy.

Because there’s nothing scarier than a dream come true, if you dreamed too large.  And after five years of drought, five years of water rationing and brown lawns and dying fruit trees, after five years of squinting at brilliant, arid skies: Mother Nature is about to give us everything we asked for. At one time.

Atmospheric river, baby, 100 miles wide.  Gigatons of water scooped out of the tropics by a monster low pressure system, now barreling straight for central California. Tomorrow night and Sunday, the river’s going to flow across Sonoma on the north to Monterey on the south and the beating heart of it is going to pass right over the mountains north of this town, Santa Cruz.

We may get 12 inches in 24 hours.  Or if not us, the mountains.  It doesn’t matter; all the water will flow straight into town anyway.  Whole communities in the mountains will go wet and dark.  Fallen trees will break up the fragile web of roads.  It’s going to be interesting.  Thank God they fixed the river levees.

Hence the flying traffic:  batteries, water, groceries, get it and get it NOW.  Rhumba and I were among them. We bought a hundred bucks worth of stuff at the locals market and navigated carefully home.

But we’re not ready; this town’s not ready.   The storm drains clog when you look at them wrong, there are too many trees too close to roads and houses and power lines.  And we don’t actually have a power “grid:”  it’s more of a long, raveled string.  It’d be a joke to say that one car hitting a power pole could cut power to three towns at one time, except that it’s happened a couple of times.

I work at the university up above town, a woodsy campus on a hillside where classroom buildings loom above the trees like rock formations.  They had to send us home early a couple of days ago because a tree fell across the power line that feeds campus.  One power line. There wasn’t even a wind.

Before they sent us home I took a break and hiked through campus, empty except for a wandering staffer or two, silent save the roar of generators floated by on the mist.  There was no business; it was not usual.

Fortunately, the kids weren’t back from winter break yet.  But they will be, thousands of them.  Tomorrow.  Just in time for the atmospheric river. I wonder how long the power will stay on this time.

We’ve already had a pretty wet season; now, this.  And another storm right after it.  Honestly, if I were single I’d just leave town.  But I’ve got a woman and a cat and a job and a house with a new roof. Not going anywhere, and we’ll hope for the best. At any rate, the drought will be done, for now.  “For now” is the new happy ending.  Really, it always was.

Because after the storm passes, if there’s anything left, the university’s due for a one-day union strike.  A week later, demonstrations on Trump nomination day: a “general strike” called by the town’s budding leftists.  A week after that, who knows?  The depressive civil servant and poet A.E. Houseman once wrote:

And while the sun and moon endure
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure.

“Depressive civil servant and poet:” sound like anyone you know? Anyway, I’ll spare you any weather metaphors for the coming Trump presidency except this one:  sometimes when you wish for change, the universe laughs and give you change squared, change cubed, And it’s up to you, to us, to make something of it.  Certainly to be ready for it, and find advantage in it.  Fewer brown lawns this year, that’s for sure.

Some other famous guy said “Another word for crisis is opportunity.”  It was either an ancient Chinese philosopher, or a  Ferengi on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; but what the hell?

Will the Real Robert Robertson Please Take His Hand Out of My Pocket?

Have you ever made a difference in someone’s life?  I did, once. And I still laugh about it.

In high school I sat in the back of the class with this bad boy who stole, fenced, sold dope, copied assignments, everything. He was a gonna-be criminal with a serious work ethic.

Robert Robertson was his name, hustling was his game. It was just what he did: his way forward through life. He even scammed meals off the cafeteria by pretending to be a another Robert Robertson who was eligible for free school lunches but never bothered to eat them.

He cared about grades, too, or he wouldn’t have bothered to copy. I put together a literary magazine for the class we had together, and Robert Robertson contributed a pretty good piece. Months later I discovered that he’d ripped it off from The Reader’s Digest.

Here’s a typical Robert Robertson encounter: I’m standing in the quad on Bike to School Day — it was the ‘70s — and Robert comes swinging up on a ten-speed Schwinn. In a gold leather jacket and gold leather beret.

“I didn’t know you had a bike.”

“I don’t. Some people should remember to lock their locks.”

The ten-speed had a cargo carrier full of fat, new paperbacks with pastel covers: the kind they stocked for housewives at supermarkets.

“Hey, you like to read,” Robert said. “You interested in any of these? Make you a good price.”

“Uh, no thanks.”

“Cool. I’ll find somebody.” And off he went.

Robert Robertson was going places, no question. They all looked like prison to me, though I’m sure he had other plans.

But I liked Robert Robertson; I was shy and smart and awkward, and he was completely honest about his life and never pulled any attitude on me or anybody. That’s not so common in high school. We talked a lot as seatmates.

Despite his many extra-legal activities, Robert Robertson never got busted that I’m aware of. Sometimes his life went bad in other ways, though, and I’d brainstorm with him for solutions. For example: one day Robert Robertson was holding his face in his hands as I sat down.

“What’s wrong?”

“I got a girl pregnant. Oh MAAAN!”

“Does she have another boyfriend?”

“She doesn’t.”

“But are you sure you’re the father? She could be lying.”

(Hey, I was 18, too, I had no values as of yet.)

“Nah, It’s me. Oh MAAAN!”

“Could you say she led you on?”

“I could say it, but nobody’d believe it.”

“I’m not coming up with anything good, I guess.”

“No, it’s good, good ideas,” he said from behind his hands. “Keep ‘em coming, keep ‘em coming.”

And I advised him when he wrecked a car, and on a few other tight situations. I’m creative. I can always come up with crazy angles. Robert Robertson was always happy to hear them.

One day, Robert Robertson stopped me in the hallway during passing period.  He said he’d had a dream the night before. He wanted to tell me about it:

In the dream, he was bidding against me on a bale of marijuana; I was wearing a big purple pimp hat. And every time Robert Robertson bid on the marijuana, I’d turn to him and smile. And outbid him.

“What do you think it means?” he asked. I didn’t know. Not at the time.

Robert Robertson was no dummy.  He figured out what his dream was trying to tell him: that the best way to rob and steal and stay out of trouble is to think your way around the law, instead of just breaking it. I was a helpful metaphor.

And Robert Robertson worked his way through college, got a law degree, and is now the shadiest real estate lawyer you ever saw. I told you he had a work ethic.

I knew none of this until a couple of years back; we  went our separate ways after high school, and I left town. But one day I was surfing the Internet for stories about the old hometown, Petropolis; and I found one about the mayor there, a guy I used to know. He’d just been burned out of his law office: arson. Petropolis can be a lively place

And another lawyer was burned out of that office, too: Robert Robertson. The Robert Robertson.

I dug into the Petropolis newspaper discussion boards and archives and my, there was a lot said about him. Robert Robertson was a noted landlord; some said, slumlord. Robert Robertson taught popular classes on how to deal with the real estate crash — or “How to walk away from your expensive mortgage and buy another house for less money before your new lender finds out.”

Robert Robertson was quick to bill and slow to pay. Robert Robertson opened his own restaurant — which closed mysteriously one night, and never reopened. Robert Robertson’s employees claimed he made them sign legal documents that just weren’t true.

Robert Robertson ran for superior court judge; his campaign video boasted that he’d worked his way through high school. The nature of that work was not disclosed. And although he has ever and always gone by the first name “Robert,” his campaign billboards all read “Vote for Bob Robertson.” That is the name of a popular politician in a neighboring town.

Given all that, in my opinion it’s only 50-50 that the arsonist was after the mayor — not Robert Robertson.

It’s all just Robert being Robert as he ever was, of course. And he’s still never gone to jail.

Just one thing made me a little sad: Robert Robertson’s naysayers wrote that he likes to throw his weight around at Petropolis’ modest nite spots. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” he is said to have demanded of the staffs and the customers and the world at large.

Oh Robert, I do know. I’m just afraid that you may have forgotten.

But for better or for worse, with all my schemes and advice: I inspired Robert Robertson to become the successful crooked lawyer that he is today.

And he almost won for superior court judge.