Commentary Journal

Relay For A Cure

2014-2015 YPSL Western Champs

So, hey–I’ve been doing this for the past day or so: Relay For Life, one of those community events where you harass the hell out of your friends, and get a t-shirt in return of staying up all night and walking around a course filled with activities and contests and all other manner of distractions.  My kids’ awesome swimming team, where we’ve been investing a lot of our energy over the last decade, participated as an organization this year–athletes, parents, and even a few of the coaches. I felt a sudden and convincing impulse to join, even though I hate doing fund raising and, you know, doing good.

image0In 2010 my best friend since childhood was diagnosed with a recurrence of a cancerous tumor in his abdomen. Six weeks later he was dead–we were baptized together as babies (that’s right, I was baptized, and not in goat’s blood, either)–we went to school together, spent a couple of years as college housemates, traveled together, worked together in Wyoming (where I lured him to the mountains from an office job) and lived about 15 minutes apart in Oregon. We were about as close to being brothers as I can imagine–the guy could drive me crazy like nobody else, and I loved him.

About 15 months later, my brother-in-law was taken from our family, leaving my sister and four daughters, the oldest just 14 at the time. I don’t suppose I need to try and define how messed up that is? Givng a day of my life is the very least I can do if it means some day down the road some other guy’s kids and wife aren’t going to have to live through a similar, life-defining tragedy.

035So, yesterday afternoon we started walking.  You don’t walk the entire 24 hours–although I put in about 10 miles through the evening and night–it’s a relay, so a minimum of 3 members of each team must be walking at any time.  At the same time, every team has a booth that sells things (food, crafts, etc) or has contests, like basket contests and games of skill, as well as cancer awareness information.  Every hour of the walk has a theme–and teams get “spirit points” for participating in things like “Patriotic Hour” and so forth.

We kind of rocked it–I rounded up several hundred dollars by mercilessly bludgeoning my closest friends and known associates via facebook, and our team in it’s first year generated around $8000 in donations. Additionally, we raised a boatload of money at our booth, and spent not a little on concessions and games at other booths.  017In the end, our team won the “spirit points” title for the entire event–a measure of participation and pride that included my buddy Marty and I taking third place in a corn-hole tournament–despite it being my first time ever playing, and our wildly popular laps during “Dude Looks Like A Lady” themed hour. That’s my hulking frame in gold–still can’t believe they make matronly dresses to fit men’s chest size 56 long–but here’s the proof.  Poor Marty got chastized from excessive twerking.  I was much  more demure, despite a LOT of catcalls and one vaguely inappropriate proposition.

The most inspiring part of the event was the Survivor’s Brunch–a defiant march from the the relay area to an adjacent sports complex, where survivors, proudly wearing their bright purple shirts, were treated to a catered breakfast.  Some people immediately stood up and clapped as they walked by, and I’m generally not that kind of joiner, but looking at all those people–old, young, slim, fat, debilitated, seemingly fit and healthy, tall, short–it’s hard not to get that warm feeling behind your eyes, the one that makes you glad for sunglasses.  In the end, I was clapping as loudly as anyone.

I did sleep, a full hour beneath a fleece blanket in my Coleman folding chair from around five to six, when my kids went into the relay on “twin hour”.  Purportedly an event for pairs of folks to dress alike, they hiked it up a notch by actually looking alike.

When I finally got home, I crashed in an arm chair for close to 4 hours–I slept through a loud thunderstorm and only woke up with Marty called to try and cajole Mrs. Junk and I to hit the drive-in theater (we’ve got one in our town, and it’s awesome) to see the new Avengers film.  I said something like “dude, really?”  I’d been so hard asleep that when the phone finally drove me out of my dreams, I stared at the thing for at least two rings trying to remember how to answer it.  And I stink.

On the other hand, I got a nice tan, had a blast with my family and friends both new and old, got a lot of sun–I’m literally golden–and played a part in and event that raised tens of thousands of dollars.  And oh, yeah–I earned a free a t-shirt.

What did you do today?  (not a lot of days I can ask that and feel cocky about it).


Photo I Like summer photos

2015 Summer Wonder #14: It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane…


Commentary Funny and/or Strange

Soccer (football with a “small f”) Corruption

Wars, disease, famine, earthquakes, a really big case hitting the U.S. Supreme Court tomororow, and a movie about California breaking in half before The Rock fixes it with a helicopter–and STILL the top story in the news for a second day in a row is that some guys in suits related to some international soccer organization or another are corrupt. Woooooooo, I’m shocked.

What’s next? Hurling? (That’s not fair, hurling is kind of cool). Okay then: curling?

A guy named Sepp Blatter is somehow involved. I think he might have deflated some soccer balls, not to give anyone an advantage or anything, but out of vengeance for that name. Sepp Blatter sounds like an ineptly villainous Monty Python character–i’m thinking German guy, maybe with a lisp.  Or maybe it’s German for “Tom Brady?”

My news aggregator is full of these soccer stories. What the hell?  I could read them to find out what the deal is but, you know, it’s soccer.  Maybe if it was croquette?  Or Marbles?  Marbles would make it a story.

But maybe this Sepp Blatter fellow is bad. It’s possible, I guess. I know Putin is all pissed off about it.  But I’m wondering, what’s ISIL up to today?  How about those Chinese naval hijinks?  Floods in Texas?  Lost shipments of Anthrax–that’s a real page 6 whoopsie, eh?

But maybe they did cover all that stuff adequately?  It’s possible I missed it amidst all the coverage over news that McDonalds is going to make its buns a little crispier.  And speaking of buns, have you seen what’s going down on The Bachelor?  Oh, man–that Tammy Lee Sapinsky is up to no damn good, but she got a rose.  What’s the world coming to?


The Circumcision Shuffle

I’ll say this about the circumcision issue: man, I’m glad I had daughters.  Where my kids were born there  was a lot of pressure not to circumcise, but where and when I was born it was almost univeral.  I saw one kid, in a career scholastic and club athletics, and the group showers that went with it, who generated a “holy shit what’s going on with that?” discussion.  (And yep, you strangely modest millennial types, all us muscular guys in the 1980s stood in a big open shower room and washed up together EVERY DAY).

As my wife’s pregnancy progressed, the decision weighed on me something fierce, and I must admit part of realizing the bloody, beautiful thing the nurse handed me was a girl included a subtle sigh of relief.  I was spared, and I want to make it clear that I have no standing to say which choice is better, if any.

12805207-General-or-Civil-War-Soldier-Cartoon-Vector-Mascot-Holding-a-Sword-Stock-VectorWith that in mind, the few times the mind-boggling case of Heather Hironimous, the Florida mother who went to court rather than consent to the father of her child’s demands that the boy be circumcised.  The drama seems to have come to an end this weekend as Ms. Hironimous, who had been jailed for contempt of court after a judge ruled against her, tearfully relented and agreed to allow the procedure to take place.  I didn’t follow the details of the trial, I don’t know the story in full, though apparently there was some sort of agreement between Hironimous and the father of the child, who are no longer involved, obviously, that the operation would take place–and then she changed her mind.

What blows my mind is somewhere down in Florida the father, a guy named Dennis Nebus, is dancing a little jig of joy that a judge has given him “temporary authority for medical care” in order to permit him to contract a surgeon to lop off the top of his now-4-year-old son’s winky.  His explanation for his tenacious fight against the foreskin: “it’s the normal thing to do.”

Commentary video

Tunesday: Cake–Comfort Eagle

I don’t have a big, personally significant story that goes with this song–it’s just a freaking fantastic tune by a super cool band that too few people know about.  If I needed to claim a personal theme song it might very well be this one.  Just imagine me walking through the scene, maybe wearing boots and a cool jacket, looking grim and cocky.  It fits. Cake rocks. This isn’t the last Tunesday appearance for them.

And yes, if you noticed, this week’s Tunesday post is actually posting on WP Wednesday, which where I live is still Tuesday by four hours. Why post late?  Becuase I’m busy, and because I liked the Memorial Day post a lot and wanted it to stay up at the top of my blog stream longer, so more folks would notice it.


What Did You Do on Memorial Day?

I woke up, did some chores, went to the home improvement store to buy some gardening supplies, visited a friend to drop off a box of onion starts I’d grown from seed, ran by the grocery store, went to the feed & supply store to buy some tomato seedlings to replace the few that got frosted the other night, went to my in-laws’ house for burgers and corn on the grill, came home and planted tomatoes with my wife, then chased her around the house a few laps when the kids went off with their friends, then sat down at the computer and thought about Memorial Day a little bit.  Invariably, my pondering turned to what might very well be the most memorable and definitive photographic image to emerge from our ongoing, unending 24-year-old middle east war.


If you haven’t seen this picture before, and you live in the USA, then I’m wondering where the heck you’ve been?  It certainly haunts me–now more than ever, as the very forces we originally sought to defeat have reared their heads once more in the form of the baathist, Saddamite front known as ISIS or ISIL or Daesh or whatever the hell it is called today, claws at all that the most optimistic among us hoped to build. It begs the question: how fucked up is this war?

We should never have gone. We should never have left.

civil-war-garWhen I visit the cemeteries of my ancestors around Westsylvania, I am invariably proud beyond all reason of the “G.A.R.” starts on the graves of men of a certain generation. Likewise the veterans of the war to end all wars,” and the ensuing “war to end all wars.” Both my grandfathers from the verdant Appalachian hills of Bedford and Somerset counties to the seeming wastelands of Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya–one as a heavy maintenance mechanic whose service from 1942 through 1946 would take him from northern Africa to Italy, France, Belgium, and ultimately to Berlin. The other was crewman on a B-25 bomber beginning in the second battle El Alamein through the invasion of Italy. Before the war, he was a farm kid who had never been near an airplane–but within months after volunteering for service he was flying over Egypt dropping bombs on Nazis. How strange is that?

My father and uncles went to Viet Nam–three tours for dad, a navy man who for the rest of his life didn’t like to sit with his back to Asian people in restaurants.  He voted republican against the long, pro-union legacy of his family until the infamous “swift boating” of former Presidential candidate John Kerry.  It was the only time I ever saw him worked up about politics–“Those boys in the Swifts,” he seethed to me one night, “riding plywood in the rivers and deltas, they were sitting ducks. I knew a lot of ’em, and most didn’t make it home.”

I felt no compulsion to join the volunteer army of the mid-1980s, at a time when the only wars we were fighting were with small pond bullies and narco-despots who, after imageswe put them in power, refused to be our puppets.  Despite what you’ll hear from Reaganites, the 80’s weren’t a great time for patriotism–the only other bully on the block was the Soviet Union, and we all knew if we got into it with them it would be “please place your tray in the locked, upright position, put your head between your legs, and kiss your ass goodbye.”  We watched movies like “The Day After,” and took strange comfort in the encompassing fatalism of the time. If you’re going to go, go big. Right?

It was about that time that I ask my grandfather, a fiercely republican businessman, if it bothered him that I had no plans to serve, and he told me that under no circumstances was I to even consider volunteering. His exact words, if I recall correctly, were “Unless something bad enough to need fighting comes along you stay the heck away from that monkey actors’s dog and pony show. (an unusual rhetoric flourish I recall with great emotion, as it reflects my own mature writing style with eerie accuracy).  I didn’t spend four years of my life fighting a real evil to have my grandson used as cannon fodder in a bunch of penny ante conflicts our idiot-in-chief  is using to distract the voters from the worst economic policies since Herbert Hoover.”

My grandfathers’ generation was deified, and rightly so, and my father’s was largely ignored (he said neither he nor any veteran he knew every experienced anger or derogatory treatment from civilians, contrary to the stereotypes of so many Viet Nam Era-themed movies, and he considered himself lucky to be unrecognized–he didn’t want a parade or medals, just to get on with his life–a process that would require roughly 30 years and a lot of unhappiness for all of us).

Today, we do a better job of treating our returning soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines with the respect and recognition they deserve, but I fear that we let that respect for the men bleed over into the politicians from both parties who have misused these brave and determined young men and women and shortchanged so many of them.

There is a lot for our leaders to answer for–and I’d start with the sneaky policy of drawing down the regular military under the guise of tax reductions, then shunting our endless war onto the shoulders of the men and women of the National Guard.  Add to that the despicably low compensation our military receives, and the porous post-service health and wellness care that leaves so many of them broken and lost.

Even as I say this, I know that there are some who would call me unpatriotic, especially on this of all days, but I stand by that–especially on this day.  We can think what we want about wars–from the craziest right wing ‘burn down the world” proponent of expressing American Exceptionalism through carpet bombing to the hippiest dippiest sandal-soled anti-war bunny-hugger–but we need to get on the same page, the SPARE NO EXPENSE page, when it comes to taking care of these kids and young people (the use of the National Guard as a sustained combat force has led to a much higher than ideal number of older veterans serving for longer periods and leaving larger  families behind) who have left parts of their bodies or, in the case of our epidemic of PTSD casualities, parts of their souls, in the sand and on mountainsides on the other side of the world.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863



A fantastic article on the huge leap for freedom and equality Ireland just made–and the great example they’ve set for the rest of us. Better than anything I could have said.


Monday/Memeday: Tom

Tom is the man. In a world of sheep, Tom is the llama.


Funny and/or Strange Photo I Like Short/Micro/Flash Fiction

Sarah In The Morning

20731_1351607707108_4432096_nIt was a cold, October morning at the Super 8 just off exit 337 and things were about to go, well, the way things tend to go.

The detritus of a night gone wonderfully wrong lay about us: A crumpled bag of NASCAR-themed barb-e-cue Fritos, a spent bottle of Yukon Jack, a crumpled patriot-blue camisole and a pair of Jimmy Chou pumps that cost more than my vintage Impala–one under the chair in the corner, the other dangling from the lampshade beside the TV.

I lay on the bed, pulling deep off a wrinkled Gauloise, absently tracing my hands over the swollen bite marks on my thighs and abdomen,  when the bathroom door clicked and swung halfway open, releasing a cloud of steam.  I grinned, rolled off the bed, stepped on a beer cap and almost knocked over an open, half-eaten styrofoam take- home box of ribs and gravy-soaked fries from Applebees, limping to the door to watch as she did her lips, the heavy coat of eyeliner.  Her bright red dress hung from a hanger on the towel rack–an open bottle of Smirnoff on the sink, hair of the dog.

She looked so beautiful, in the steam; I raised my phone to snap a picture.  She tried to block me, but too late.  There were enough pictures of her in the word, she’d said once before. Modest, to a fault.

“You can’t.” She shook her head. “I can’t. Not the picture. Not us. Never again.”

“You said that the last time.”

“There’s too much at stake.  I’m not getting any younger, and the money won’t always be like it is now,” she sighed.  “My family. America. They need me more than you do.”

“Leave it all.”

“It’s too late. I’ve already called them.”

I looked up towards the door even as the shape of a large, black vehicle skidded to a stop beyond the worn, gauzy draperies.  A second later, the door burst open and two large, glowering men burst through, the first with a blackjack in his gloved hands.

I whipped around for one last look. Her moist eyes were sad, but not sorry: determined, resolute.

So that’s how it was.

“You broke my heart,” I said, thumbing the SEND button on my phone.

“You betcha,” she smiled.  The blackjack swung down on the back of my neck, stars exploding in my skull, like the fourth of July, like the stars I’d touched in her aching, desperate embrace.


Westsylvania Jazz & Blues Festival


Some of my Junk Friends have organized a killer music festival here in Junkland—otherwise known as Indiana, PA, home of Edward ‘Cactus Ed” Abbey and Jimmy

“Zuzu Petals” Stewart.  I don’t know jack shiite about Jazz but it sounds pretty good, and there is going to be a lot of it today–by some pretty heavy talents.  So, if you’re in western PA, northern WVa, or Eastern Ohio, I’ve just got this to say:


As an added bonus, if you come, and you can figure out who I am, and you approach me and say, “Are you the Junk Man?” I’ll buy you a beer–or a shot of whiskey.

Lots of great restaurants, pretty trees, old buildings, and a historic main street in our friendly little university town (and the kids are on break, so nobody will vomit on your shoes.).