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Tony J Bender

Tony J Bender is a writer from rural Venturia, N.D. He is the publisher of the Ashley (N.D.) Tribune and the Wishek (N.D.) Star. He has written a weekly column, That's Life, for 25 years, which is published by various papers. He has published two novels and three collections of his columns.

TONY J BENDER: The Verdict — Another Kerfuffle

I’d like to begin this week by saying, “That darn Heidi Heitkamp.”

I’m referring, of course, to last week’s column in The Forum in which Mike McFeely ever-so-gently, in his curmudgeonly way, suggested that fellow columnist Rob Port might try writing about someone other than Heidi Heitkamp.

Like maybe Joel Heitkamp. I mean, I ain’t exactly Sherlock Holmes, but if I were going after dirt, I’d start digging in his backyard. Someone once asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks. “Because that’s where the money is,” he said.

Joel has more skeletons in his closet than Jeffrey Dahmer. Far be it from me to cast aspersions, but I had lunch with him once, and he ordered fava beans and a nice Chianti, and for the record, that’s not even on the menu at Burger King.

It’s true that Rob Port has broken more than a few news stories over the years, but so far, all he has on Heidi is that she cheated at Parcheesi in fifth grade, has too many freckles and is bad at handshakes. Meanwhile, I know for a fact that Joel Heitkamp once robbed Willie Sutton. With an AR-16.

You could write for months just about prom night. There’s a version of the Steele Dossier on the bathroom walls at Hankinson (N.D.) High School. Joel’s senior year reads like “Fifty Shades of What the Hell!?”

But you know what they say — “You can lead a columnist to water, but he probably can’t swim.”

Personally, I refrain from talking about other columnists except for Tammy Swift, who has the cutest curly blonde hair ever. And while I’m at it, I’d like to thank Roxane Salonen for casting out my demons — I’m a Republican now — and I’m really sorry about the carpet. Roxane is my spirit animal, which, if you think about it, is really messed up.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, I believe one should “Speak no ill of a fellow columnist,” although these days in the White House I think it’s “Speak no ill of a fellow Communist.”

But I’m giving McFeely a pass on this one. This was more of an intervention. Not that I think Mike is the right guy for the job. If he showed up in my living room and gave me a hug, I think I’d start drinking more. They probably should have sent Roxane Salonen to Rob’s house. With a tarp.

This is getting worrisome. When Jake from State Farm called Rob and asked him what he was wearing, the answer was “Heidi Heitkamp’s pajamas.” That can’t be comfortable. Heidi is so folksy, she wears burlap, and according to the TV commercial I saw, Crocs.

If you dealt with as much chaffing as Rob Port, you’d lash out, too.

The problem with picking a fight with Rob is you’re going to need a thesaurus. (For you South Dakota State University grads, that’s not the dinosaur that ate the lawyer in Jurassic Park.) Rob has a propensity for using big words. Like propensity.

On this one, the smart money is on Port. McFeely knows just one big word. Kerfuffle. I don’t know what that is exactly, but it sounds like something you’d need a trained pig to sniff out in French forests. Or something you do after eating fava beans. Or a colorful nickname for an Austin Powers villain — Kerfuffle Carbuncle.

McFeely’s column went virus on the interwebs, but surprisingly, many liberals were critical of him. They weren’t exactly rushing to Port’s defense, but they felt that it was too little, too late. Apparently, McFeely should have attacked like a rabid dog (or Shawn Hannity) the instant Port showed his conservative leanings. Which was at birth. He only suckled from the right.

And the narrative is McFeely should have been even tougher on him.

Wow. Democrats have gotten so grumpy these days I can’t tell them from Republicans. Except in coffee shops and on the highway. At Starbucks, Democrats are the ones ordering soy caramel macchiatos, and Republicans are the ones making black people leave. Except for Kanye.

On the road, you can tell them apart because conservatives drive Cadillacs and liberals drive hybrids. Democrats will stop traffic to move a turtle. Republicans want to make it legal to drive over protesters or at least waterboard them.

One of my hobbies is cruising the Whole Foods parking lot with Make America Great Again bumper stickers. I put them on every Prius I see.

I slap PETA stickers on Suburbans parked at gun shops.

In my own small way, I feel I’m bringing us closer together.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — From Soup To Nuts

I had a pretty good week. My lawyer, Sly M. Ball didn’t get raided, and his paper shredder is working just fine. It’s powered by a V-8 Cummins, which gets terrible mileage, but thanks to the rollback of fuel efficiency standards, he won’t have to deal with a solar-powered model.

The problem there is twofold. First of all, most of the shredding takes place at night, and then there’s the issue of sun pollution. Solar panels attract way too much sun and are a major cause of global warming. If there is such a thing. And we know there isn’t because we’ve had a long winter in North Dakota. Case closed.

But I digress. This column is headed in more directions than a presidential tweet.

My point is, Sly is a great lawyer — the kind of guy who would reach into his pocket and pull out $130,000 or brass knuckles, whatever’s necessary, while performing the Art of the Deal. He’s a lot like a Boy Scout — always prepared, evolving on gay rights, and loves animals.

Take for instance the time I got a little behind on “insurance” payments. A lot of guys would have gotten rough, but you know what, Sly didn’t even bring it up. He just dropped off a fresh 5-pound carp wrapped in the fake New York Times and scratched Gus The Wonder Pug’s ears. “Nice pug you got here,” Sly said, “It would be a pity if something happened to him.”

Not many guys care that much. Anyway, the debt is settled. Mexico paid for it. And I’d like to say typing is not impossible without thumbs, butIdostrugglewiththespacebar.

Another big break I got last week was that I wasn’t mentioned in James Comey’s new book. He had a whole chapter on hand sizes, and I think I would have measured up if not for the absence of opposable thumbs.

Comey might be the next James Joyce, but because of his disloyalty to President Trump, he deserved to be fired. It’s like that time I got pulled over exhibition driving. “Where’s your sense of loyalty, officer?” I said. And then I fired him on the spot.

But there’s good economic news out of Washington, D.C. EPA Director Scott Pruitt is single-handedly driving down housing costs in the swamp by negotiating a condo rental from a lobbyist for less than the cost of a room at Motel 6. Motto: “We’ll leave the interrogation light on for you.”

Then, budget hawk Paul Ryan retired from Congress after the Congressional Budget Office calculated the nation could celebrate it’s first trillion dollar defecate in 2020, a celebration that could be bigger than the bicentennial. Instead of confetti, we’ll throw soybeans because we’ll have a lot of them. Said Ryan between squats, “My work here is done.”

Meanwhile in North Dakota, the Republican Deep State held an impromptu pillow party for Tom Campbell, who offended Gov. Burgum by trying to buy an election. He and Kevin Cramer were also upset about Campbell attempting to circumvent the sacred GOP convention process. I’m not saying things got swampy, but Campbell had to waterski home.

Campbell won’t be running, but there will be an ethics measure on the ballot, a concept so puzzling to Republicans not even Rob Port could come up with the definition. “It is a precipitous conundrum of the adjudication of the delineated hypotenuse of misanthropy,” he said. “And frankly, I am outraged, something … something … Heidi Heitkamp!”

Al Carlson was equally outraged when he heard about the measure. “And who’s gonna pay for that?” he demanded. Not Harold Hamm, that’s for sure.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — What’s The Matter With Kids Today?

I was just wrapping my head around this Tide pod trend when I learned that condom snorting might be a thing. Now, I’ll have to sit down and have a talk with India about this.

When we discussed the dangers of Tide pods, she assured me she had no intention of eating our laundry detergent because, and I quote, “You don’t even buy the good tasting ones.”

Although I vowed not to become one of those parents complaining about “kids today” who talks about how I had to run uphill both ways in a blizzard when I went streaking, which was what we did for kicks, I can’t help myself.

It’s not like teens are reading this, anyway. Unless we can figure out a way to get it on Snapchat. However, just in case, let me explain that streaking had nothing to do with hair coloring.

We were also big on mooning. Which had nothing to do with astronomy. All I know is, Bernie Witte had to explain to his parents on the way to church one Sunday why there were butt prints on the windows of their 1972 Impala.

Where will it all lead? With all the frothing at the mouth that comes from eating Tide pods, those kids may grow up to be Fox News analysts, Philadelphia Eagles fans or Old Yeller. As for condom snorters, I don’t know.

You know what we did with condoms when I was a teenager? We kept them in our billfolds until they wore rings into the leather like we were carrying miniature cans of Copenhagen. No one actually ever used one because sex hadn’t been invented, yet.

I guarantee you our forefathers didn’t snort condoms. (Not on my side of the family, anyway.) They did cool stuff like dissemble Volkswagens and reassemble them on the roof of the school over the weekend. Or sneak a 4-H milk cow up the stairs and leave her in study hall overnight, which was equally cool, and hey, no assembly required!

A public service announcement is in order. First of all, don’t do it. It’s completely unnecessary. Even during the height of the sexual revolution, not one nostril ever got pregnant.

Second, it could result in death, which is often fatal. Or worse, you’ll have to face your parents in the E.R. as the doctor extracts a Trojan from your nostril. The five buck bet you won is not going to cover the deductible. Another failing of Obamacare.

But if you choose to snort one anyway, go with the lubricated ones. Don’t use the studded ones or the French ticklers, unless you’re really stuffed up.

Buy a name brand. Avoid those 75-cent glow-in-the-dark condoms at truck stop bathrooms. If you need it to glow in the dark in order to find it, you’ve got enough problems. I can’t imagine how bigly small your hands must be. It will look like there’s a firefly in the room.

Then again, it is possible that there really is no such thing as glow-in-the dark condoms. Think about it. It’s the perfect scam. You insert 75 cent, but nothing comes out. Are you really going to complain to the clerk at Kum & Go that the glow-in-the-dark condom vending machine stole your money? I should think not.

Although Poison Control has reported only one case of intentional condom inhalation in five years, that’s no reason not to panic. We can’t assume this thing has petered out.

The important thing to remember is that today’s teenagers are a real problem. In conclusion, hey, you kids get off my lawn! (Shakes fist.)

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Current Events Quiz

AIR FORCE ONE ANNOUNCEMENT — “Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing some … uh … turbulence. As we continue our steep descent into anarchy, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position and that your seat belt is securely fastened. Before we crash, we’d like you all to fill out this brief questionnaire, the results of which will be shared with Cambridge Analytica.

1. Song President Trump often sings in the shower:
A. Hotline Bling.
B. My Ding-a-Ling.
C. 50 Ways to Fire Your Mueller.
D. It’s the End of the World (And I Feel Fine)

2. A better choice for national security adviser than John Bolton:
A. John Belushi.
B. Michael Bolton.
C. Edwin Starr.
D. Dr. Evil.

3. Things John Bolton wants to blow up:
A. North Korea.
B. East Korea.
C. West Korea.
D. North by Northwest Korea.

4. Things Donald Trump wants to blow up:
A. The soybean trade with China.
B. Apparently the stock market.
C. An inflatable love doll named Chesty.
D. The prenup.

5. Where is Mike Pence these days?
A. Undisclosed location in The Swamp.
B. Not dining alone with Stormy Daniels, that’s for sure.
C. The bullpen.
D. Cowering in a dark closet repeatedly mumbling to himself, “Out, damned spot …”

6. Solution to a vexing political problem:
A. Tweet firing.
B. Build a wall.
C. Woodchipper.
D. Russian Agents and poison.

7. Things to expect in a brawl between Trump and Joe Biden:
A. A folding chair will be involved.
B. Kicking and a’ gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer.
C. Each touches the other inappropriately.
D. A sleeper, which everyone knows is really an illegal choke hold.

8. Why so many women voted against Hillary:
A. Pressure from their Republican husbands.
B. Believed they were voting against Sir Edmund Hillary.
C. Thought Trump was the Lesser of Two Weasels.
D. Tom Campbell bought their votes.

9. Why did hundreds of thousands of kids march in the streets on Saturday?
A. Late for Trump’s inauguration.
B. I dunno, but it’s a slippery slope.
C. Fox News: If we didn’t report it, it didn’t happen.
D. Practicing for the invasion of Iran

10. What President Trump offered Putin last week:
A. Congratulations.
B. Aid and comfort.
C. Jared Kushner’s security clearance.
D. What’s behind Curtain No. 3.

Bonus: The president is banning them from military service:
A. Transgenders.
B. Transformers.
C. Transients.
D. The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Answers: 1. C; 2. C; 3. D; 4. C; 5. C; 6. D; 7. C; 8. C; 9. B; 10. B; Bonus: D.

Grading: 11-9: Fine, smarty-pants, but how’s your March Madness bracket looking? 6-8 correct: It’s like you’re psychic. Or a member of the Deep State or something. 3-5 correct: Well, you did better than Kushner. 0-2 correct: Yes, Mr. President, you are a genius. The most bigly smart genius in the world.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — In An Alternate Universe

SOMEWHERE IN AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE — White House Press Secretary Oprah Huckabee-Winfrey said today that President Barack Obama had won an arbitration case against porn star Stormy Daniels, who is suing the president to release her from a gag order.

Her attorney said a gag order wasn’t really necessary. “She gagged throughout the entire affair.” Daniels plans to return $130,000 she was paid to keep her mouth shut — a first in the industry — because the agreement with the president, under the pseudonym, Golden Schauer, was never signed. In a tweet, Obama denigrated Daniels for giving “lousy arbitration.”

Meanwhile, outraged Christian evangelicals across the country, led by Franklin Graham, staged a 17-minute walkout from churches across the country out of respect for the 16 women who have accused Obama of varying degrees of sexual misconduct, and another minute for Daniels, to represent the typical duration of her trysts with the president. Graham, a well-known cracker, said, “We want someone in the White House who represents our family values. Pretty much any white guy would do.”

Meanwhile, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has subpoenaed Obama’s business records to examine possible ties to Russia that might leave him vulnerable to blackmail. So far, Mueller has indicted 19 people, including four of Obama’s advisers.

Former national security advisor Michael Flynn and campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Former Obama campaign aide Rick Gates agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and false statements. The president’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was indicted on money laundering among other charges related to dealings in Ukraine. At the party convention, the campaign sought to soften an anti-Russian party platform, which called for arms shipments to Ukrainians to fight against pro-Russian separatist forces.

Obama staunchly rejects any connection to Russia and his campaign. “There is no collusion,” he said. “Fake news! And why aren’t we talking about Donald Trump’s e-mails?” He has not addressed his reluctance to enact tough sanctions against the guy sitting on his bed who weighs 400 pounds and is believed to have meddled in the 2016 elections.

Weeks ago, the partisan U.S. House Intelligence Committee closed its investigation without exhibiting any. They declared the president to be “a really good guy once you get to know him,” sparking outrage across the aisle.

Even members of the president’s own party were willing to speak up on the condition of anonymity. “Wasn’t there a time when Russia was the enemy and we were the party of fiscal responsibility?” asked a senator, speaking from the shadows in a parking garage. “We need to boldly stand up against this tyranny.”

Turnover in the White House has far exceed that of any previous administration, because, explained Huckabee-Winfrey, “The president is sick and tired of having to take advice from his advisers.”

Last week, the president fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by tweet, and then, because he was on a roll, he tweet-fired Parks and Recreation supervisor Amy Poehler.

Twenty six members of Obama’s administration have been fired, canned, let go, resigned, forced out or surreptitiously poisoned to death by Russian agents. In another tweet, the president called them all “loser sons of bitches.”

CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow has been hired as Obama’s top economic adviser to replace Gary Cohn, who, as a free trade advocate, opposed the president’s burgeoning trade war with every country except Russia. Because Kudlow is so consistently wrong in his predictions, it is believed the president’s strategy will be to listen to Kudlow and then do the exact opposite thing.

Despite the turmoil, Obama’s support among his base remains unshakable. “If you want to drain the swamp, you’ve got to break a few eggs,” said Odie McDonald, a North Dakota farmer, who remains solidly behind the president despite indications the president intends to slash farm subsidies for rugged individualists like himself who are staunchly against socialism.

McDonald said in spite of a looming trade war that could further decimate commodity prices and increase the cost of machinery, he would continue to vote the same way his daddy did. Like his father, McDonald drives a 1962 Buick and has a rotary dial phone.

Senior citizens who wanted a president who golfs less and supported Obama because “they wanted something different” also continue to pledge unwavering support to him despite rumblings about cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps and heating assistance programs, to pay for a tax cut that will add $1.5 trillion to the national debt.

“We all gotta die from something,” said Ina Notting, from Nottapottapissin, Mississippi. “It might as well be from lack of health care.”

“People should stop being such snowflakes,” she added, gasping for breath between words because of a persistent cough that is probably nothing. She plans to vote the same way she always has for as long as she lives.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Quotes From The Gun Debate

  • “Good morning, students. It’s time for announcements. The lunch menu today is hot dogs with macaroni and cheese. The vegetable is ketchup. Take that, Michelle Obama! Miss Swiffer from fourth grade will be walking point during recess. Also, I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” — The  Principal.
  • “Even if you took away all the guns, people would still die of things like old age.” — Guy Next to You at the Bar.
  • “Guns are not the problem.” — Lone Gunman Spraying Bullets From a Rooftop.
  • “Hold my beer and watch this.” — Good Guy With a Gun Who Accidentally Shot Off His Own Penis.
  • “The media should just stop giving kids ideas.”  — The Only Network Covering the Massacre Responsibly.
  • “Where’s my penis?” — Gunshot victim.
  • “I need to open-carry my AK-47 to make sure Chipotle gets my fajita just the way I like it.” — Quiet Loner Who Kept to Himself and Seemed Like a Nice Guy.
  • “Without bump stocks, teachers will be helpless to defend the classroom against all the guns we helped put on the streets.” — The NRA.
  • “Chicago has the toughest gun laws in the country and it still gets cold in the winter.” — Gun Enthusiast and Climate Change Denier.
  • “You never see this kind of violence in Antarctica.” — Flaming Liberal.
  • “Every American has the right to own an M-14. It’s the 2nd Commandment.” — Guy. Who. Just. Won’t. Stop. Talking.
  • “Save the children!” — Pro-Choice Democrats.
  • “Save the guns!” — Pro-Life Republicans.
  • “There is no silver bullet.” — Radio Talk Show Host.
  • “Yes there is.” — The Lone Ranger.
  • “I need a 100-round clip because there might be more than one coyote.” — Dude Who is a Bad Shot.
  • “I remember when everyone drove to school with a bazooka in the gun rack.” —Guy Who Thinks He’s Your Friend.
  • “I need a Bushmaster to defend myself against a tyrannical government. Go Trump!” — Man in Fatigues and a “Don’t Tread on Me” Shirt, Buying MRE’s at the Army Surplus Store, with a Bulldog on a Leash that has a Kerchief Around it’s Neck.
  • “When we were kids, we had to wear bread sacks on our feet every day on the way to the Killing Fields.” — Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D.
  • “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” — Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner.
  • “We need to bring Jesus back into the classroom. With an Uzi. — Satan.
  • “Thank God I was packing heat.” — Chris Kyle, Navy SEAL.
  • “If only my Secret Service Agents had been armed.” — Ronald Reagan.
  • “Murca!” — Bare Chested Guy on Facebook Holding an AR-15 Aloft Like Rambo.
  • “Why won’t anyone hunt with me?” — Dick Cheney.
  • “We’re selling a lot of Kevlar.” — Banana Republic CEO.
  • “We’re rethinking our logo.” — Target CEO.
  • “I shot Vince Foster. And Billy Graham.” — Hillary Clinton.
  • “If they can’t get guns, they’ll use butter knives and ladles” — Talk Show Caller.
  • “Sandy Hook never happened. Neither did the Holocaust. The moon landing was faked, and Elvis is alive.” — Alex Jones.
  • “No, I’m not,” — Elvis.
  • “Gun deaths are actually down.” — Man Consoling Grieving Family.
  • “A well-regulated militia.” — The Constitution.
  • “Thoughts and prayers.” — Every Politician.
  • “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” — 400 Ministers since Sandy Hook.
  • “I’m proud to be an American.” — Lee Greenwood.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Another Current Events Quiz

Because America leads the world in news, it is incumbent upon us to periodically review current events so that when an undocumented immigrant stops you on the street and asks, what the hell is going on, you’ll know.

This may also come in handy on your ACT, SAT or POS test.

1. According to former North Dakota GOP chairman and current Republican U.S. Senate candidate Gary Emineth, Barack Obama is a POS, which, as he explained, means:
A. Point of Sales.
B. Power of Satan.
C. Pinnacle of Success.
D. Pisces or Sagittarius.

2. Things you can get for $37,000 in North Dakota:
A. Eventually, an ounce of medical marijuana.
B. Forgiveness.
C. One-third of the Industrial Commission.
D. An ethics commission.

3. What the hell is going on with Wall Street?
A. The president is in bigly charge of your 401k.
B. Thanks, Obama.
C. Hillary’s emails.
D. Don’t worry, the billionaires will land on their feet.

4. Things in the Democrats’ Even More Secreter Memo than the Republicans’ Top Secret Memo that cannot be revealed:
A. Batman’s secret identity.
B. Valerie Plame’s secret identity.
C. The president’s secret tax returns.
D. KFC’s 11 secret herbs and spices.

5. Former President Bush said it is obvious that Russia:
A. Meddled in the election.
B. Is not to be trusted just because it starts with an “R.”
C. Makes good salad dressing.
D. Is laughing her ass off.

6. According to, Heidi Heitkamp wasn’t high-fiving Chuck Schumer after a Senate vote on reproductive rights, she was:
A. Giving him the secret Illuminati handshake.
B. Trying to bring America down with her out-of-touch liberal policies.
C. Casting out demons.
D. Hailing a cab.

7. Reasons a parade in Washington, D.C., is such a great idea:
A. Convenient access to lots of military hardware, just like at Pearl Harbor.
B. Beats Viagra.
C. Trying to bait Nancy Pelosi into standing in front of a tank.
D. We could march them there illegal immigrants right out of here.

8. Things you can eat in Philadelphia:
A. Cheesesteak.
B. Tide Pods.
C. Horse apples.
D. Tom Brady’s lunch.

9. Reasons not to get a flu shot:
A. Last time I got one, my third cousin twice removed got sick.
B. Advised against it by an accredited Playboy bunny.
C. According to Gloria Copeland, you’ve been inoculated by Jesus for everything. Except HIV.
D. Natural selection.

10. What the groundhog saw:
A. The shadow government.
B. A shadow of a doubt.
C. Russian cinematography.
D. Elvis.

BONUS: Things better organized than the Democrats:
A. Demolition derbies.
C. Recess.
D. Sheep.

OK That was a toughie. Shocked? Some of you look like you spent the night celebrating a Super Bowl win, or rioting on Wall Street. Let’s check your answers. 1. C; 2. D; 3. B; 4. A; 5. B; 6. B; 7. C; 8. D; 9. C; 10. C; Bonus: A.

Now for grading. 11-9 correct: How did you get your hands the Democrats’ memo? 6-8 correct: Very stable geniusing. 3-5 correct: I see you did this in crayon. 0-2 correct: Fret not, if you can cover tuition, you’ll still be able to get into Trump University.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — State Of The Union

Well, the groundhog saw his shadow, so six more months of Mueller.

The president might have basked for a while in the glow of his triumphant State of the Union address, of which a whopping 43 percent of Democrats and 109 percent of Republicans approved. Instead, he released The Memo, which instantly changed the tune from Kumbaya at a campfire to something from The Sex Pistols in a mosh pit.

Some had speculated the president would speak in Russian or maybe just plead The Fifth. But if you looked past the Mussolini jaw-jut and his clapping into the microphone, it was a strong “performance” that included numerous complete sentences.

He touted job growth — the most anemic in six years — but growth, nonetheless. He’d followed up on vows to cut regulations, harass immigrants, move the embassy to Jerusalem and restore Americans’ inalienable right to die uninsured.

He’d put someone to the right of Anthonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, with the appointment Mitch McConnell hijacked; the military has ISIS on the run, and the tax break fired up Wall Street. Pretty good stable geniusing.

Conversely, he was too busy golfing to enact sanctions on Russia. Other unfinished business includes firing everyone on the Russian probe.

Let’s go to the score card. So far, the FBI has recorded two guilty pleas, two indictments and a field goal. The president has sacked acting Attorney General Sally Yates, FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and threw incomplete trying to fire Robert Mueller.

The next time you get pulled over, tell the cop he’s fired. See how that works for you.

Meanwhile, the Democrats flunked Body Language 101. They sat and sulked through all the applause lines, thereby proving they hate God, America, cops, soldiers, capitalism, bootstraps, babies, puppies, kittens, sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, country music, assault rifles and Shirley Temple.

The sit-in was the most organized the Democrats have been all year, with the exception of the 15-minute holdout Chuck Schumer staged over the spending bill, which showed more fiscal discipline than we’ve seen in Washington since Andrew Jackson balanced the budget by selling land stolen from the Indians.

Schumer’s insolent slumping was absent only a black leather jacket and a smoldering Marlboro. Nancy Pelosi looked like a Holstein chewing a cud of lemons. Some Democrats even kneeled.

Even Melania threw shade, wearing a liberal white pantsuit and refusing to stand when the thrice-married kitty grabber talked about family values.

Almost as if she believes the fake news about her husband’s tryst with porn star Stormy Daniels, who has been googled more in recent weeks than Butterball at Thanksgiving.

“To put (white pantsuits) on a display like that at a joint session of Congress is undignified to say the least. It violates the common decency of the chamber,” Kevin Cramer said. Back when Democrats wore them.

It couldn’t have gone better for Republicans. Trump looked sane, Democrats like party-poopers. Sean Hannity was feeling so groovy, he loosened his tie at bedtime. Rush Limbaugh attempted a somersault that turned into a bizarre yoga move and a pulled hamstring.

The Democratic response came from either Conan O’Brien or Rep. Joseph Kennedy III. Apparently, Franklin Roosevelt IX was busy. It was a heartfelt speech from a millionaire in support of middle-class Americans, but too much Chapstick made it appear Kennedy was drooling. “Ask not what your country can drool for you, but what you can drool for your country,” someone tweeted.

Then, the president snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and released the Super Top Secret Memo intended to torpedo the FBI. It cited fake news magazine Mother Jones as one source. The theory is the FBI tried to get Hillary elected, a strategy that included announcing her newest email issues a week before the election.

Democrats claimed The Memo omitted contextual material. Republicans argued, “Hey, that’s how Fox News does it.”

Trump and Republicans, “must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows,” John McCain said. “If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”

Paul Ryan said this was about transparency. Thus inspired, Trump immediately released his tax returns. Kidding.

The Memo revealed the FBI was tracking Trump campaign associate and Russianista Carter Page for years. That didn’t exactly restore confidence in All The President’s Men.

The Memo was released Thursday. On Friday, the stock market fell 666 points. Rattled conservative investors checked their 401Ks to see how many rubles they’d lost. Liberals checked their 420Ks. Evangelicals studied Revelations.

If you wanted more proof the universe speaks in metaphors, you need only consider the news the same day The Memo was released.

There was a train wreck involving Republican politicians. The Republican train ran over a garbage truck, killing a blue-collar worker.

There’s a headline that writes itself.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Sometimes There Is No Spring

T. S. Elliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, but I’d argue that. It comes in the winter.

Winter is more than a metaphor for the twilight of a life, the final whirl of child’s windup toy as the coiled spring inside releases the last of its energy and it freezes in suspended animation, a monument to a life lived.

No, winter is a dying season. Impersonal statistics will bear that out. From December to March, more of us march to the grave than any other time and, if you had to pick one, January would be the cruelest month. It creates more tears than the rest — enough tears to grow tulips in the spring. Maybe that’s what T. S. Elliot was talking about — the memory of winter.

In small, rural newspaper offices in which I’ve spent too much time out of the sun, we don’t need statistics to know these things. It’s all too real. We must face the survivors.

I remember the first one, the trembling hand of a mother handing me an obituary of a teenage son thrown from his prized white pickup and crushed in a rollover. Interesting I should remember the color. In a kinder dimension, he’d be a father now and his children would be graduating from college. So much died with him that night. I still remember his face.

Little of the history we write in small-town newspapers will be broadly shared, but in these moments, we are reminded of its importance and again each summer, when pilgrims return to sift through old issues, searching for remnants of lives long at rest. History can be a grand analysis of broad cause and effect, changing geographies. But always, in the end, in the minutia of it all, it’s personal.

We try to be perfect when the type is set, but few publications are without error. The rule seems to be typos are never visible to the proofreader until there are thousands of copies memorialized forever in print. Gutenberg’s Curse.

But these memorials? We try especially hard to get it right. Long after our own ink has dried up and faded, searchers will come for the past, and they must trust that our work was true.

This week it was a thank-you, handwritten three times before it said as much as could be said, the dust of a husband’s fresh grave not yet settled.

A few weeks ago, it was another mother, an unexplainable cruel confluence of events and an unexpected funeral. This lost son had been born into challenges, one of those children God decides must forever remain a child, one of those rare creatures we love so much it hurts because they smile through adversity, not recognizing much of the time that it’s even there. Is that the lesson they bring to us — that if we don’t acknowledge hardship, it ceases to exist?

His picture was all teeth.

No one knows why he went for a walk on that bitter winter day, only that he didn’t come back.

“I thought of my brother Mike,” I told her.

“I did, too,” she said.

Lame “I’m sorry’s” leaked from my mouth. When she described how they had found him … alone … frozen … gone … that was it for me.

Sometimes we sweep the survivors up in a hug and our chests rattle and wheeze from the hurt, reminding us how impossible it is for these condolences, like the words in the obituaries, to ever say enough. But we have to try.

I’m not sure if pain is something that can be shared, a yoke harnessed to anything at all. Or if it is like a dark cloud billowing until it chooses to stop of its own malevolent whim. I only know it is in our willingness to share the pain that we are most human.

I was reminded of something I scribbled out a year ago after another such a moment:

He walked in slowly, stoically, with checkbook in hand to place a thank-you in the paper. I looked over the neat handwriting. He’d thanked all the people who had expressed sympathies, the pastor, the church ladies who had served the meal. The funeral home.

“$14.30,” I said.

“Is that all?” Because death comes at such a high cost.

He handed me the checkbook, and I filled in everything but the signature.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”


“How long were you married?”

“Sixty-six years.”

I stopped and looked up at him. He had pale, gray eyes.

“That’s a long time. I’ll bet it’s pretty quiet around the house.”

His lip trembled. His eyes glistened.

I passed him the checkbook. He signed, struggled a bit to tear the check out cleanly. Her name was still on the check, too. Just a memory now. He neatly wrote the amount in the register.

Silence. He looked so thin.

“I’m really sorry,” I said.

A nod. He croaked out something. A lament. If tears have a sound then that is what they sound like. And then he walked out.

So thin.


© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — The Breast Of Times

It’s been a couple of interesting weeks when it comes to what women can and can’t do in North Dakota.

In Wahpeton, there’s a communitywide debate about the Oasis Bar’s request to permit lap dancing. Meanwhile, at Chick-fil-A in Fargo, a woman was kicked out for breastfeeding her baby.

Let’s start there. This is a place that makes a living selling chicken breasts, some of which are not even discretely covered by buns. They sell chicken strips, too, which, frankly, is a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to chicken strippers. The next thing you know, they’ll be doing lap dances.

The point is at Chick-fil-A chickens have more rights than chicks. For the life of me, I can’t figure out if it’s liberalism or conservatism that has gone too far here.

The woman and her child (an accessory to the crime) argued breastfeeding in public is legal in North Dakota. The language of a 2009 statute reads, “If the woman acts in a discreet and modest manner, a woman may breastfeed her child in any location …” Well, that’s clear as mud. The restaurant owner apparently interpreted “discreet and modest” to mean you must use one of those portable ice shacks and maybe wear a burka.

One argument is Chick-fil-A, as a privately owned restaurant, has every right to refuse service for any reason. Kinda like Woolworth’s did back in 1960, when it banned topless black women. If this societal decay continues, eventually you’ll have to sell gay people cake.

In Wahpeton, it’s legal for women to display their breasts at the Oasis, but a lot of people think that’s a slippery slope, too. Exotic dancing is a well-known gateway drug to shagging porn stars. Presumably, lap dances fall somewhere in between.

I’ve never had a lap dance, but I’ve just added it to my bucket list. I’m willing to give it a go, unless it involves tap shoes or a River Dance. If that’s the case, I’d rather be smacked on the bottom with a copy of Forbes magazine.

I’ve long been a student of breastology. When I lived in Hettinger, N.D., we discussed the curious duality of breasts on the local radio station, KNDC. If you were a stripper, it was the Evil Breast. If you were feeding an infant, it was the Good Breast — at least until Chick-fil-A threw a wrench into that argument.

The show was called “BS in the AM,” for the triumvirate of Bender, Tom Secrest and Al McIntyre, the host and provocateur. Although that day, Ginger Arndorfer was the substitute host.

A neighboring town was in an uproar about a bar wanting to bring in strippers. I observed that you’d have to pay a cover charge to be offended. A flustered Ginger tried to change the subject, but Tom and I gleefully clung to the issue like a dog to a pork chop, or a baby to a nipple.

By the time the show was over, Ginger was red-faced and steaming and ratings were up. When we walked out of the studio, her husband was waiting for us in the lobby. He’d raced in chivalrously from the ranch, where he had been bench-pressing heifers, to defend her honor.

As Sir Arndorfer glowered down on me, Secrest stealthily put on his coat and hat and tip-toed out. Tom has never been noted for his feats of valor.

“You’re not going anywhere until you apologize to my wife,” the brave knight spake.

“Well, you’re going to be waiting a long time,” I said.

Because my mouth is tougher than the rest of me.

The next week, I was in “Apology Corner,” a long-running segment of the program, during which we were supposed to make amends for the things we’d said the week before. We had a sponsor and everything.

I said I was sorry women faced so much discrimination. A guy can walk around shirtless and a woman can’t? It doesn’t seem right. I mean, man-boobs are a thing.

For the record, the Chick-fil-A franchisee has apologized, too.

For an advanced country, we’re pretty uptight. And some North Dakotans are even uptighter. Cohabitation outside of marriage has only been legal here for 11 years and, even then, only as long as you keep your breasts in their holsters.

Maybe we should loosen up, like the Europeans. They’re naked all the time. Well, not the doughy, pasty-skinned British, but they should think about it. It would distract attention from their teeth.

© Tony Bender, 2018