TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — R.I.P. Ed Schultz

If he was gonna do it, Ed Schultz should have expired July 4. It would have fit his sense of theater. After all, he was a football All-America quarterback and in many ways reflected America itself — high achiever, pugilistic, self-centered, generous, mercurial, brilliant, reckless and fearless.

It was one of the few times Ed missed his mark. Then again, maybe he was just being his contrarian self. He didn’t need the Fourth of July. Ed was a walking fireworks display.

By now, there have been miles of copy written by former colleagues, competitors, friends and foes. Sometimes they could be one and the same. He was loved. He was reviled. You couldn’t be neutral on Ed Schultz. Switzerland didn’t exist in his world.

An introduction to Ed Schultz should have been delivered like a tornado warning. He burned more bridges than William Tecumseh Sherman. He never burned mine, although in his final few years, the bridge didn’t get used at all, mostly because I was disappointed when he went to work for R-T America, lending undeserved credibility to the state-funded Russian news operation. But then, so did Larry King. I didn’t call Ed because if the subject came up, I’d have to tell him what I thought.

There’s always been skepticism about Ed’s conversion from a capitalist conservative to capitalist progressive. I never doubted it, and if you’ve met Wendy, his wife, who opened his eyes on their first date at the homeless shelter where she volunteered, you’d get it. Wendy helped Ed discover his better angels. I’ve always thought she was one. Ed enjoyed the irony of being married to a psychiatric nurse.

I’m not sure there’s a definitive truth about Ed Schultz. There are only perspectives. One conversation stands out. Ed was talking quietly about the loss of his parents. “Sometimes I feel like an orphan,” he said.

We met nearly two decades ago when as the Chamber president, I invited him to speak at our annual banquet. During his introduction, I presented him with a muzzle and recounted a discussion with the chamber board about the gift. “Funny …” I said. “But who’s going to put it on him?”

Ed roared when I told the story. He and Wendy and I hit it off over beers afterward. Soon, I was guest hosting KFGO’s “News & Views” from a remote studio at the Ashley Tribune.

Shortly after he launched his national radio show, he called with literary agent Al Lowman on the line. There was a book deal in the works, but Ed didn’t want to work with some hot shot New York writer. He wanted me, and unless he got me, there would be no deal. They wanted a manuscript in six weeks. Six weeks! I balked, which drove Lowman crazy. What was it with these stubborn prairie dwellers? If I remember right, Wendy finally interceded and I signed on.

The way Ed told it was, “I said to Al, ‘You think the best radio talker in the country comes from North Dakota, right? Why can’t the best writer come from North Dakota?’” I’d like to believe this is one time Ed wasn’t exaggerating.

When I look back at “Straight Talk From the Heartland,” the first of two books we did together, Ed was prophetic about the direction of the country. He had remarkable political instincts. He’d tell me something I thought was outrageous and impossible, but it would come to pass. I started listening closer.

Suddenly the world is a whole lot less interesting.

Heart problems, they say. I don’t think so.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Big John

Jimmy Dean didn’t write that song about Big John Schlosser. But he should have. And they don’t erect many statues to folks in small towns. But they should. It would take a lot of bronze because John was big.

That’s the thing about small towns, they grow bigger-than-life characters like John. Maybe it’s the air, the soil, the sky … maybe it’s the elbow room that allows a man to stretch out without bumping into something. Maybe the easy pace has something to do with it. All I know is Big John will be remembered for as long as things are worth remembering.

I can see him now sitting on a bar stool at the Ponderosa Bar in Frederick, S.D., population, just enough. Not that John was a bar fly. He wasn’t. But the Ponderosa was like Frederick Day Care. I played pool there as a fourth-grader. For 50 cents, you could stuff the pockets with bar rags and play all day. The Ponderosa’s gone, too.

I remember him on that stool at the end of the bar right next to the jukebox. Maybe it was 20 years ago. Maybe 25. Why do I hold that particular vision to the fore? There are others to be sure, but I wonder if our eyes are wiser than we are, cataloging people and things we must remember. Things that we don’t realize at the time are fleeting.

Memories are a garden always in bloom.

He had a head the size of a watermelon, long hair, but not hippie hair. Just hair that was always in need of a haircut, and later on, thinning on the top. Maybe 6-3, but he looked taller, and thick with a chest barrels would envy. Imagine Jerry Garcia, only bigger, and with his fingers intact.

He had this way of looking at you over his glasses, which insisted on slipping down his nose like a kid on a playground slide. I thought about that look when I got the news today — the look of a mischievous professor with a beloved pupil. Not love, though. Jesus to God, no, we were men and men don’t love, they like. Like.

Anyway, as I sort through it now, I guess what it was, was that John made you feel welcome, that he was glad to see you. And he genuinely was. And if you were his friend, and lots of us were, you got that look.

He was smart. Read science magazines. Thought about things. A philosopher of sorts.

When I’d come back for a visit from more exotic places than Frederick, sometimes arriving in the wee hours of the morning, I’d stop at John’s place before I went home. I realize now it was because he was a touchstone. Things changed, people came and went, but John was the constant.

He was usually awake, and if he wasn’t, he’d stir, put on some music and light up a left-handed cigarette. Now, I know his brother, Gare Bare, is going to cringe at this part, but it was no secret. Anyway, it will be legal everywhere soon. John was just ahead of his time.

We gathered not quite a year and a half ago for John’s birthday, but mostly to say goodbye. As I greeted disparate but familiar faces from the past, I didn’t realize then that John was a hub connecting spokes that reached out into a wheel spinning like the Earth in his orbit. We were all connected to one good man.

So what made John worthy of songs and statues? He didn’t cure cancer. Didn’t write the great American novel. Didn’t climb Everest. Didn’t pull children from a burning building. But he would have. No, John was a great friend, and the farther you get down this trail, the more you understand how precious that is.

They don’t build statues in the public square to friends. But they should. It’s OK, we’ll craft monuments in our minds. Mine will be leaning toward me, twinkling eyes peering at me over his glasses, hair askew. And my statue speaks: “Bones!” As if my sobriquet were a celebration.

I loved Big John. Loved.

A while after I’d called my Mom to tell her the news, I walked out into the rain to roll up my car window in a downpour. I think the sky was crying.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — And The Winner Is …

There was an election last week and Democracy lost. Just 19.66 percent of eligible North Dakotans voted — 114,340. Meanwhile, the winner, Apathy, recorded 467,301 yawns. The only place with lower turnout was North Korea. Isn’t it obvious now that we need more undocumented immigrants to do the voting Americans just won’t do?

Even more disconcerting was the revelation that there are 54,105 perverts in the state, a.k.a., Republicans, who boldly voted for former GOP secretary of state candidate Will Gardner despite revelations of a past arrest for window peeping at North Dakota State University girls dorms.

On a hunch that Gardner may have carried the college girl demographic, incumbent Al Jaeger, who plans to run in November as an independent (along with many Democrats), immediately began considering ways to impress coeds, so he’s started wearing jorts, has opened a MySpace account and is thinking about a tattoo.

Democratic challenger Josh Boschee, with just 32,865 votes, has a steep hill to climb. For him and fellow Democrats, I have a suggestion — a name change. No, not a change from Democrat to Republican, although there are indications that is what Heidi Heitkamp is trying to do. She’s not running as a Democrat, she’s running as a blonde. It’s a Goldilocks campaign — she’s not too liberal, not too Republican, she’s juuuuuust the right amount of conservative for North Dakota.

Meanwhile, Kevin Cramer got an endorsement from Public Advocate of the United States, which perpetuates more LGBT conspiracy theories than Alex Jones on a three-day coke binge. Apparently, Cramer thought it was a good idea to complete a survey for the group, scoring a 100 percent, thereby winning their undying but strictly platonic heterosexual love.

But back to my name change strategy. All Democratic candidates should change their middle initials to R. Then, they should move the R to the end. For instance, Joshua Boschee R., because as Will Gardener has proven, 68 percent of North Dakotans will vote for anyone with an R behind their name. If a certain company had changed it’s name in North Dakota, Toys Us R would still be in business.

The low voter turnout wasn’t helped by reports of two Black Panthers intimidating people at polling places. Or maybe that was a Fox News rerun. Otherwise, how do we explain the abysmal turnout? It smacks of voter suppression. Almost nowhere was the vote suppressed like it was in Cass County, where all but 13.52 percent of eligible voters were locked up in cages and separated from their parents. Hold it! That’s something else we’re doing in the name of freedom.

Freedom is hard. They’ve set the bar too high. It might take half an hour to vote. On a Tuesday! I don’t know about you, but my Tuesdays are sacred. Don’t even try to make me vote on Hump Day.

Voting is oppression at its worst. First you have to do intense homework on policy issues by watching 30-second ads featuring Heitkamp overhauling a diesel engine with just a crescent wrench, and a nonplussed Cramer looking like he’ll have to eat quiche on Fear Factor. Then, you have to blacken all those little ovals and risk carpel tunnel syndrome. It’s brutal.

We need to modernize. We should run our elections through Facebook like the Russians do or use telepathy like the North Koreans. They know exactly how you want to vote. The way it is now, democracy is a big time-waster. How will we ever find the time to complain about government if we’re too busy exercising our constitutional duty to vote? We’ve got better things to do. Something’s gotta give.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Travels With Tony

Our first Uber driver was a former journalist, so the midnight conversation from Pittsburgh International Airport turned to the unprecedented attacks on the press by the president.

Wearied by weather delays, airport sprints and the uncertainty of our travels, India and I were content to let him deliver a treatise I knew by rote — the preposterous notion journalists intentionally get things wrong … the differences between the opinion page and the front page … the top secret cabal that keeps conservatives out of journalism school … the incurious nature of sheep and men …

We counted 11 Uber drivers, a microcosm of America, as part of our four-day trek around Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where India will attend West Virgina University in the fall.

There was beautiful Chinita with the splendid braids, who was recovering from a car accident and was driving because she could no longer handle physical labor … there were college students picking up money for tuition … and Russell, a West Virginia lifer whose Uber profile said he was a great conversationalist but wasn’t.

A former FBI agent from D.C. shared his insights into the bureau as he ferried us across Morgantown. Comey had botched things by skewing the trajectory of the election with the Hillary email announcement, he said. And the two fired agents who displayed unprofessional disdain for Trump? “They had it coming.”

I had one question. “Is Bob Mueller a straight shooter?” He looked over at me intensely as the light changed. “Absolutely. Incorruptible.”

My favorite was the retired ballerina, who had danced professionally for 21 years in the company of luminaries like Baryshnikov and Nureyev and now taught other dancers. She was tiny and lithe, blonde-gray hair in a ballerina’s bun, lively eyes, with a boisterous laugh I was delighted to coax out of her several times with prairie wisecracks.

Later, I wondered why she was driving. Boredom? Financial necessity? If so the latter, it wouldn’t surprise me. Art is so seldom justly rewarded — this wondrous thing that illuminates the very best in humanity, showing our species in full bloom, like tulips in the spring, providing hope, beauty, inspiration, perspective, truth and mystery. I wished I had seen her dance.

Jahm from Uzbekistan and I engaged in discourse about Russian history, from the Mongols to the Romanovs. A gold tooth flashed when he spoke from a bearded jaw. I mined the words from his rich accent like gemstones. That ride wasn’t long enough.

The longest ride, but not in miles, was with Thomas, a patriot driving a Nissan. Well dressed in a button down shirt and slacks, he was a former coal miner, failed restauranteur and air conditioning specialist who, at 58, couldn’t land another job.

Early in the ride, because we were from North Dakota, I assume, he floated a comment about the unfair treatment Trump was receiving in the press and said something disparaging about Hillary. “Well, I really wasn’t a fan of either candidate,” I said noncommittally, and that shut him down for a while.

But later, another entreaty about the media’s attacks on the president, and this time I took the bait. The president, I said, was acting on some conservative principles I could live with. “But I despair over what he’s doing to the office — the ugliness and divisiveness he encourages. His dishonesty. His intellectual laziness. The way he alienates our allies.”

And so it came, like a flood, the rebuttal. Thomas told me he listened to a lot of conservative talk radio and so seemed well-schooled on the Deep State. Along with his defense of the president, he opined that 9/11 was an inside job, Obama, the Manchurian Candidate, was a Muslim born in Kenya, and that climate change was a hoax.

I attempted to gently amend some of the more egregious misstatements. I cited facts about the death of coral reefs, rising sea levels, melting ice caps, the increased intensity of storms and the acceleration of CO2 in the atmosphere that coincided with the Industrial Revolution — the reality that the growing season in North Dakota had gotten longer in my lifetime.

“Most scientists agree climate change is happening,” I said.

“They’ve been bought off,” he countered.

“All of them? And to what end? Not everything is a conspiracy, Thomas. Read.”

He didn’t read newspapers. It’s all fake news, anyway, he said, repeating the president’s mantra, and then he went off on CNN.

“You’re killing me, Thomas,” I said, and that’s when I revealed my occupation.

“Why would you support attacks on the First Amendment, which is more critical to your freedom than any other part of the Constitution?” I asked.

“Journalists defend your freedom every day, just as soldiers do. You think six-shooters and the Second Amendment will save you from a corrupt government? You know what will? Truth. Facts. They’re out there. You just have to be willing to open your eyes.”

By then, we were at the motel. We pulled the bags out of the trunk and wished each other well. I slapped him on the back and said, “Keep an open mind, Thomas.”

He smiled and chuckled. I liked him. I really did. And I think he liked me.

“I’ll keep an open mind, too,” I added, as I turned away.

I tipped him well. But not as much as the ballerina.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — The Heidi-Kevin Show

OK, people, I’m warning you, I took Ambien, so anything could happen. Then again, I might simply nod off.

It would be much worse if you nodded off. Now would be a perfect time for that energy drink, or if you want something less stimulating, crack cocaine.

I now keep my energy drinks in a gun safe because of what is cryptically known as “The Incident,” which took place in 2003, during a birthday party for preschoolers at our house. The best way to describe what happened is to imagine a locked room filled with 19 cats, 14 laying hens, a Roomba and Gary Busey.

Technically, this column has nothing to do with energy drinks or Gary Busey. So why bring it up? A couple of reasons. One, Gary Busey needs the publicity, and two, I am contractually obligated to produce 750 words each week. The good news is, I get paid $100 a word. (This is how you make $800.)

It’s a very strict contract. I don’t really understand it all but according to my agent, it’s intertwined with international trade, geopolitics and veterinary science. All I know is once when I stopped at 500 words, the soybean market plummeted, Russia annexed Crimea and my neighbor’s cat choked on a mouse.

It may be the effects of the Ambien, but it feels like I woke up in Bizarro World today, where Superman is evil, Lex Luthor is the good guy and George Costanza works for the Red Sox.

Last week, we learned that the Koch Brothers, the Darth Vaders of conservative causes, donated to Heidi Heitkamp’s campaign. Yes, that Heidi Heitkamp — the one whose votes in support of Trump policies are insufficiently sincere, according to conservative radio talkers in North Dakota. The same Heidi Heitkamp who may have personally pulled Will Gardner’s pants down and pushed him in front of windows at an North Dakota State University girls dorm.

Why are we still talking about Will Gardner? Because Republicans won’t let it die! This issue is like a vampire. Or more appropriately in this case, Lazarus. It keeps rising from the dead.

On talk radio, we’ve learned that God can forgive anything — peeping, infidelity, lying, violations of the Emoluments Clause, Russian collusion, excessive golfing — anything except gayness and liberalism. We’ve also learned that college girls are seductresses — modern-day sirens shipwrecking otherwise devout Republicans on the rocks of desire. Only one man is immune. Mike Pence. He’s like college girl kryptonite.

Inexplicably, last week, Kevin Cramer joined the Apologist Choir of Holy Holiness, which has been suggesting Gardner was clutching his Catechism while the former GOP secretary of state candidate was leering at coeds, panting like a wiener dog on a hot day.

Personally, I was done talking about this, but now that they brought it up, what drives a man to voyeurism? Energy drinks? A bad Internet connection?

And what drove Cramer to shoot himself in the foot? Was he trying to impress the NRA? Did his left foot cause him to sin? At any rate, it prompted his campaign manager, Pat Finken, doing his best Sarah Huckabee Sanders impression, to issue a statement explaining what Cramer really meant, which was that he didn’t really mean what he said, thereby illustrating that he’s the perfect politician for these perilous times.

Meanwhile, Heidi’s campaign campaign strategy seems to be that she’s Donald Trump’s BFF and almost as good a Republican as Cramer, except she doesn’t support window peepers.

You might think that as a progressive pointing this out, I’ve lost my mind or failed to read the daily top-secret talking points sent to all liberals, but the reality is, in a state in which 11 out of 10 people are expected to vote Republican in November, Heidi is doing exactly what she needs to do, much to the chagrin of unrealistic, idealistic Democrats and insane conservative talk show hosts.

That whole last sentence was an exercise in redundancy. It also made me $6,900. If only Heidi had supported the tax cut.

Cramer, apparently rattled by Heitkamp’s recent photo-ops with Trump and the fact that they Snapchat daily, also further distanced himself from common sense by criticizing Trump’s legislative director. I’m not saying he’s come unglued, but he’s looking as grim as a man drinking unsweetened Kool-Aid. Someone should hide his shoelaces. On the bright side, he didn’t call Ivanka Trump any bad names.

Kevin Cramer is being out-Republican-ed by Heidi Heitkamp, and that ain’t easy.

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — What Makes America Great

In the interest of differing viewpoints, Bocephus M. Snodgrass is filling in for Tony J Bender this week.

 

 

Hey folks, Bocephus M. Snodgrass here. The M stands for ‘Murica, just like me.

You know what makes ‘Murica great? ‘Muricans. I’ll tell you one thing, my great-great-great grandpappy didn’t come here from halfway ’round the world just to have a bunch a immigrants ruin everything for the rest of us.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with that NYC lawyer who doesn’t want to be subjected to diversity.

And I suppose you heard what happened in Harvey, Mont.? How those two senoritas were talking Spanish or some other gobbledygook in the convenience store? Tell me, how convenient is it when you can’t understand what folks are sayin’? What if they were plotting to blow up the sheep barn? You know how them Muslins are.

Look, I’m not prejudiced. I like burritos as much as the next guy, but when in Rome, do like the Romans do. Speak American. And then don’t get all lippy with the Border Patrol just because you happened to be born in the U.S. of A. The Border Patrol’s got rights, too, you know.

Every Memorial Day, when I remember how those brave men and women (but mostly men) of the Border Patrol have sacrificed to keep ‘Murica great again, I get a little choked up. I love that 21-gun salute. Because it scares Mexicans. And it keeps the schoolkids on their toes.

Speaking of guns and kids, I’ve had it with all the whining about school shootings. If kids weren’t so busy staring at their cellphones, they’d see the shooters coming. Nobody teaches personal responsibility anymore. You know, had our soldiers been on their phones all the time, we’d have lost in Vietnam.

You know what the real problem is, don’t you? Libtards. They put transgenders in the bathrooms and took Jesus out of the classroom, and he had a pretty good G.P.A., too. I tell you what, you post Jesus or Chuck Norris at the door with an AR-15, and we’ll all feel better. Teachers should be packing heat, too ― the one’s who aren’t Commies, anyway, which come to think of it, would leave us outgunned. For sure, you can’t arm the Spanish teacher.

None of this would have happened if:

A. God didn’t get expelled.

B. Everybody homeschooled.

C. They stopped teaching revisionist history. For instance, the North didn’t win the Civil War. We just ain’t finished, yet.

D. Schools didn’t have so many doors.

E. Everyone would stop being such snowflakes.

F. They taught the Second Commandment in schools: “Thou shalt not take our guns.”

I don’t know what comes after F. I never got a grade lower than that.

People forget what this country was founded on: Guns … Jesus … and Freedom of Speech, except when you’re talking smack about Guns and Jesus. You should read the Consternation of the United States sometime. Maybe you’d learn something.

We have a long way to go, but at least The Precedent has made the NFL great again. He convinced the owners to stand up for America by forcing the players to do the same. Every time a player kneels, an angel weeps. Also when you punt on fourth down with just inches to go.

It all comes down to the principles we hold dear … the freedom to make your employees stand when you want them to, just like the good old days … the freedom to worship the military branch of your choosing … except maybe the Coast Guard. Seriously, Dunkirk had cooler boats.

This is about respecting people in uniform, who sacrificed everything for your right to conform. You know why fighter jets fly over the stadium before game time? Because freedom. Also to keep Colin Kaepernick out. And so Bill Belichick can get pictures of the other team’s game plan.

Players should stand to respect police officers, too, except for black guys who are already on the ground getting tazed because they’ve got a tail light out. Stop resisting.

None of this freedom could be enforced if we didn’t have a strong leader who isn’t afraid to crash your company’s stock price in 280 characters or less. There are two things keeping us free right now ― the NRA and Twitter.

When the president pulls out his Twitter, people wet the bed. That’s power. God Bless America.

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Potpourri

Laurel or Yanny?

Weird week. Everyone was weighing in on the Laurel or Yanny question. Some heard the robotic voice on the Internet say “Yanny”, others heard “Laurel.” Others thought their iPad was possessed by Stephen Hawking, Linda Blair or M. Night Shyamalan.

The president heard “covfefe”. As for me, I distinctly heard, “Paul is dead.” and I think, in the background, “I Dreamed a Dream,” from Les Miserables.

There was some speculation that the differences in what people heard were based on the recorded frequencies. There seemed to be greater discrepancies between what women heard — “Yanny” — and what men heard: “It’s second and three, and the Packers are driving …”

The Royal Wingding

Well, there was lots of excitement about the royal wedding last week. All kinds of celebrities were invited — George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, Elton John, Laurel and Yanny, Laurel and Hardy, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, which is appropriate, because I find the hubub somewhat of a mystery.

There’s obviously a gender gap at work here. Maybe for women it plays into a fairy tale Prince Charming fantasy. It’s unfamiliar territory to me. In any relationship I’ve ever been in, I’ve always been The Beast, and once, Quasimodo, which, until I did some research, I thought was a term of endearment.

People seemed captivated by the smallest details of the royal wedding. One woman’s Facebook post pondered the question: “Beard or no beard?”

I answered, “No show.”

Wow. Some people can’t take a joke.

For the record, beard, and it went splendidly with Camilla Parker-Bowles’ hat.

Peepin’ Will

Go figure this one. North Dakota Republicans endorsed for scretary of state, Will Gardner, who in 2006, as a 29-year-old married father of two, was caught with his zipper down outside the window of an North Dakota State University girl’s dorm. Prosecutors said he had peeped in numerous windows. I’d like to see the ink blot test on this guy.

I guess the North Dakota GOP didn’t know about the “The Weible Hall Incident” until last week. Apparently, Republicans were so eager to retire Al “The Ancient Mariner” Jaegar and his abacus-based software system, they didn’t do any vetting. Gardner looked good in a suit, and Jaeger had mustard on his tie, so they went with the new kid. Besides, his zipper was up and everything. Still, it should have raised suspicions when R. Kelly gave the nomination speech.

Now, Gardner is playing the victim card. I guess it was mostly just a misunderstanding, and the cops got it wrong. Another damned witch hunt. On Sunday, he decided to withdraw from the race.

Fundraising hadn’t gone too well for Gardner. It helps if you don’t start each call with, “I know what you did last night.” Still, it might have worked out. Depravity is pretty much a plank in the GOP platform these days. It all starts at the top. It’s one of those trickle-down deals. And we do mean trickle down. If elected, Gardner would probably have kept a very close eye on things.

What climate change?

We all know climate change is fake news, but the atmosphere averaged 410 parts per million of carbon dioxide last month, the highest ever — at least since the mid-Pliocene Period, which according to Al Jaeger, was really hot. It’s inarguable that sea levels were 66 feet higher 3.6 million years ago — unless you’re a fundamentalist science-denier who thinks the world is only 2018 years old and that Jesus rode into Jerusalem to visit the U.S. Embassy on a brontosaurus.

Meanwhile, the president has defunded the NASA carbon-monitoring program because what you don’t know can’t hurt you, which is pretty much the theme of this administration. EPA Director Scott Pruitt was so excited when he heard the news, he actually went back to mingle with the folks in business class.

Keep the graduation speeches short

I used to write a column filled with advice to graduates each year, but I’ve stopped. For one thing, I don’t know how to get this on Snapchat. And then I realized that when I was that age, I had everything figured out, and I’m guessing these kids do, too. Over time, though, things have a way of unfiguring themselves. It’s like there’s a cat in my head unwinding a ball of yarn.

I’m not a fan of graduation speeches. I think the only speech I’ve ever enjoyed was by a really drunk best man at a wedding. Until the fight broke out and the cops came.

I don’t go to baccalaureate, but I do pray before every graduation: “Dear Lord, please make the commencement speaker’s speech short.”

Carpe diem. (I think that means “Seize the Carp”.)

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — 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