A New Press Secretary Gets Off to a Rough Start, and Beware the Monkey Pox (posted 5/27/22)

I was tempted to start this column by writing something like, “I leave town for a week and the whole country goes to hell in a handbasket.”

Then I remembered: Joey Gaffes is president.  So the country has been hell-bound and handbasket-adjacent for about 16 months now.  (Longest. 16. Months. Ever!)

But I’m not going to talk about the baby food shortage, or Scary Poppins getting canned before she could censor her first conservative outlet. 

Nor will I mention the Dem brain trust spending 6 months working on devising a scary phrase to move voters, and coming up with nothing better than the laughably stupid “Ultra Maga.”  (I mean, “Mega Maga” was lying right there, people!  And while still idiotic, at least it sounds a little cooler.)

And I’m not going to talk about the tragic school shooting in Texas, nor the predictably ghoulish, self-serving leftists trying to score political points over the still-cooling bodies of the victims.

(Though I was sad to see that in a crowd containing a lot of Texans, none of them put Beta O’Rourke in a headlock and hauled him out of the press conference where he pulled his self-aggrandizing stunt.  And then, when out of view of the cameras, gave him a much-deserved horse-whipping.)

Nope.  Today, I’m just going to talk about two stories that tell us a lot about the state of our political leadership.  

First, how ‘bout that new White House press secretary, huh? 

Just when you thought that nobody could be worse than Hacky Psaki, the Ginger Circle-Backer, along comes Karine Jean-Pierre, and says, “Hold my mug of racial grievance and unearned self-esteem, and watch this.”

On her first day on the job, she opened with a paean to her own historic history-making historicity, proudly checking her identity politics boxes:

She’s black.

She’s female.

She’s a lesbian.

She’s an immigrant.


Did you notice what was NOT mentioned in that list? 

Competence.  Unflappability.  Quickness on her feet.  Truthfulness.

Okay, that last one’s not fair, since a press secretary’s job is to spin and shade the truth for an administration.  And the job of doing that for Joey Gaffes has to be the toughest one ever, given how little she has to work with.

But holy Holstein, did she ever make a mess of things right out of the gate!

She struggled to produce clear answers.  She read – woodenly – from written talking points that only tangentially dealt with the questions being asked.  And when Peter Doocy asked her a question that was the least bit pointed?

It would be an insult to all the deer ever caught mid-way across a country road by a speeding car to say that she reacted like a deer in the headlights.

I’ve seen more convincing hostage videos. 

I can’t understand the attraction that identity politics has for some people.  How long will it be before a majority of our fellow citizens will recognize, admit and reject the utter folly of hiring people based on their skin color or who they are attracted to?  It’s galling to hear this brought up as if it’s a qualification for employment. 

So KJP finds women attractive.  So what?  So do I. Does that mean I should be the White House spokes-weasel?

Though wouldn’t that be sweet?  Sure, I’d last about 7 minutes, but they would be 7 glorious minutes, as I walked out without any notes and started winging it:

“Hello, I’m Martin, and I’m the new WH spokesman.  I’m a phallo-American, I’m 2 shades darker than Grandma Squanto (#wemustneverstopmockingher), I like chicks, and my parents were proud Appalachian-Americans on one side and Germans on the other.  

So you know that I’m going to know what I’m talking about.

Now let’s get started.  And before you can ask what the President meant in his unscripted remarks this morning, your guess is as good as ours.  But just to be safe, we are walking back whatever he thought that he meant.”   

This kind of racial and gender box-checking would be outrageous even if the job wasn’t high profile and important, like supreme court justice, vice president, or press secretary.  As in many other cases, average people’s common sense would keep them from making that kind of hiring decision, even when making a much less consequential one.

Would you choose an accountant because of her genitalia?  A mechanic based on his skin tone?  A plumber because of where his ancestors came from? 

Consider this scenario:  You get home from work and walk past an odd-looking character yanking fruitlessly on a mower’s pull cord in the front yard, and then find your wife in the living room, watching through the front window.

You: Who is that?

Wife: New landscaper.

You: How’d you find her?

Wife:  Don’t misgender!  Her pronouns are them/they.

You: Don’t you mean, their pronouns are them/they?  (You notice a hard look.)  How did you find them?

Wife: I heard about them on the local non-binary social media job board.

You: Do they have any experience?

Wife: Yes.  They transitioned at 20, had the top surgery but not the bottom yet.  They’re also visually challenged, gender fluid, and vegan.

You (suspecting you have made a terrible marital choice): Do they have any experience mowing?

Just then the mower fires up.  Within a minute, a bunch of chopped up peonies slaps against the front window.  Then a cat screeches.

You (noticing that your wife has crossed her arms over her chest, and won’t look at you):  It looks like they just mowed over the peonies, and one of the cats.

Wife: (icy silence)

A grinding noise comes from outside, and rose petals fall in front of the window.

You: I think they just took out your roses.  (A cat screeches.)  And another cat.

Wife: Fine.  Go fire her.

You: Do you mean fire them?

Wife (giving you a look like Darth Vader when he was strangling that underling with his mind): We’ve got one cat left – move!

You: I’ll take care of it. (You move to the front door)

Wife (softening): Oh, what will she do for work now?

You: Don’t you mean, what will THEY do—(You get a look that makes part of your anatomy withdraw into your abdominal cavity, and clear your throat.)  I mean, they’ll find something.  I hear there’s an opening for a non-binary lesbian immigrant to lie for the president.

And, scene.

Second, monkey pox is now stalking the land.

That sounds pretty scary.  When you mention a disease called “monkey pox,” you’ve got my attention.  But you had me at “monkey.”

Can there be any disease-related word to follow up “monkey” that would NOT be seriously disturbing?

“Monkey fever” sounds pretty grim.  I would not want to be diagnosed with “monkey-itis.” Or any condition that combines “simian” and “syndrome.”

And when you follow up “monkey” with the medieval frisson of “pox,” you’ve got yourself the makings of a public panic. 

Which is just what the Dems would love.  Their exploitative over-reaction to covid – and the perfect storm of mail-in voting, unsecured drop boxes and month-long voting periods they were able to shoe-horn in with it – helped them to elect a posthumous president and throw our country into its current dead man’s spin. 

Today, given the horrific polls for Brandon, Que Mala, Imhotep Pelosi, Grandma Squanto et al, what kind of electoral rabbit can they possibly pull out of a hat to forestall their pending electoral massacre in November?

There’s no rabbit for that. 

But there is a monkey… preferably one with pox! 

But — cue the sad trombone – it looks like monkey pox isn’t going to be the pandemic they desperately need.

First, it’s much less communicable than something like covid.  Second, the best way to contract it is to have sex with someone who has it.  Third, there is already a vaccine for it, so you won’t be able to lock down the public until way past the election with the promise of an eventual cure.

Like most Americans, I’m thinking this:  You’re telling me that if I can refrain from having sex with strangers – especially ones with visible sores — I’m not getting poxxed up? 

Done and done.

Compare that to the fears felt in the first days of covid:  Don’t go outside, or see people, or touch things.  Don’t go indoors, but being outdoors doesn’t help much either.  Also go easy on the inhaling and exhaling. 

And try to breathe through this cloth over your face — like waterboarding, only without the water.

And do everything Fauci tells you to, even as that advice changes every 17 minutes. Sorry Dems.  This isn’t the virus you were looking for.

Our Lap around the Lake Trip, Final Day (posted 5/23/22)

Monday was our last traveling day, and we had some great weather for it: sunny, but still cool.  We drove to the shoreline town of Saugatuck, to take advantage of one of God’s gifts to the locals. 

The prevailing winds around Lake Michigan usually blow from the northwest to the southeast, depositing large amounts of sand in the process.  Over many years, this sand has formed huge dunes at many places along the eastern shore of the lake.

Decades ago, some entrepreneurial types in Saugatuck got an idea: let’s cut the tops off of some trucks, replace most of the body with three benches, and put ropes into the benches to use as seatbelts.  Then we’ll get people to sign a liability waiver, load them onto those benches, and drive hell for leather all over the dunes like maniacs.

Because: America. 

We were really looking forward to doing some dune running on the last day of our trip.  Unfortunately for us, we arrived to find several school buses’ worth of kids and their parents.   It turns out that a popular end-of-school-year field trip is to take kids for a day at the dunes, when they should clearly be in school, learning how to be transgendered unisex bathroom users, or something.

The first open appointment for us to ride in the dunes wasn’t until 3:30, so we sadly missed out on that bit of fun.       

So we drove into town, parked, and took a long walk around.  The place is charming and picturesque, the way many of the lakeshore towns are.   Starting on Memorial Day, the place will be crawling with tourists, but now there were just enough people strolling the streets to keep it from seeming empty.

Several canals coming in off the lake were lined with boat slips and shops and restaurants, but when we walked one block inland, the neighborhoods became partly residential and partly small shops and bed and breakfasts.  The architecture was eclectic and pleasing to the eye: no cookie cutter housing developments here, other than the waterfront condos. (But the once again, houses built in the 1960s and 70s never fail to disappoint!) 

We had a good lunch at one of the little restaurants on a side-street.  They were serving inside, but also had a shaded patio out front, and we ate out there.  Being a couple of blocks off the lake knocked down all the wind, and with no clouds to speak of, it was a perfect temperature.  (I know that a week from now, back in Florida’s early summer heat, I’ll be nostalgic for that street-side lunch!)

Next we drove down to Grand Haven, and took another leisurely drive and stroll around yet another cute beach town.  More of the same: leafy streets, well-manicured lawns and landscaping, a varied assortment of building styles.  Then south on some roads that were almost a tunnel through the trees, though that didn’t make up for missing the actual Tunnel of Trees farther north in Michigan.

We ended up back on 31, eventually connecting to I-94 into Indiana.  We made it to the Indiana Dunes around 3:30, and climbed up Mount Baldy, which is a shoreside dune almost 300 feet high.  From that vantage point on such a clear day, we could make out the Chicago skyline, which was probably 45ish miles distant.

We made it back home in time for supper, meeting Bob’s mom and dad for a nice meal, before unpacking the Caddy and putting it back into its garage for some well-earned rest.   

As I look back on the trip, I realized that I enjoyed the whole ride, but there are always regrets on a 5-day trip that could have easily taken twice that long.  There are lots of places in Wisconsin that I’d like to see (Fond au Lac, for one), plus I’d like to make a longer return visit to Milwaukee, along with a little more time to visit some museums in Kenosha and Sheboygan. 

The same goes for Michigan.  Several readers mentioned Petovsky, the Tunnel of Trees and Leggs bar in northern Michigan, among other places, and of course I’d like to actually ride the dune runners in Saugatuck.  I’m hoping to make a return trip soon.

The people were really friendly on the whole trip, offering to take pics for us and providing good conversation and advice for where to site-see and eat all along the way.  I’m sure that many, many people on both coasts aren’t as rude as their reputation, but you generally can’t go wrong with the politeness of Midwesterners.   

As on our Route 66 trip last year, the old Cadillac performed like a champ.  Because of the cool temps up north, we only got to drive with the top down for the first day.  Darryll checked the oil each day, we used a Tomtom to give us our speeds, and as far as I’m concerned, having no gas gauge just keeps you on your toes. 

A lot of people gave Darryll compliments on the car – Bob was counting, and says the total number was 28.  A lot of people talked to us about it, saying that their dads, uncles or grandfathers had one when they were kids.  Darryll noticed a numerical oddity about that: around 14,000 1976 El Dorados were made, and between last year’s Route 66 trip and this one, we must have met half of those owners or their kids!

Conversely, around 671,000 AMC Gremlins were made, and other than 2 Cautious Optimism readers – Tom Dixon Jr. and Dennis MacMenacevelt (?) – I’ve never met anyone who would admit to ever owning one!

Other than taking a beating on the gas prices (Thanks, Brandon!), the driving was a lot of fun.   

Except for the heavy rain on Day 2, and the overcast skies that day and the next, the weather was great, and I appreciated the change from my usual north Florida heat and humidity.  Even that shockingly cold boat ride on Lake Superior would have been fine, if I’d dressed appropriately. 

And that experience taught me something.  You’ve all probably heard the old Mark Twain quote to the effect of, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”  Well I can say that one of the coldest January days I ever spent was a May 21st in Munising, Michigan!

Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back on Friday with a new column trying to catch up on the political events of the last 10 days.

Our Lap around the Lake Trip, Day 4 (posted 5/22/22)

We spent most of Sunday on Mackinac Island. 

From St. Ignace, we took a ferry over to the island.  It was another cold and overcast morning, and we all sat on the open, top deck of the boat for the first part of the ride, which went to and under the huge cable bridge called “the Mighty Mac.”  It looks a lot like the Golden Gate bridge, and is even bigger. 

The bridge was built in the late 1950s, and finished about 1% over budget, and one year ahead of schedule.  It’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when a huge government infrastructure project did that.

The bridge lived up to the hype, and sailing under it was a great way to see it.  But as soon as we turned away from the bridge and toward the island, we all went back downstairs to make the rest of the trip in the enclosed, main cabin.

The island has less than 600 year-round residents, but around 10,000 per day visit during the season, from early April to early November.   It feels like a step back in time, combined with a modern tourist town.

As you approach, the most prominent features are the Grand Hotel on some high ground on the left, Fort Mackinac at the same level to the right, and the main town laid out all across the shoreline. 

When we docked and walked out onto the main street, we saw a lot of horse-drawn carriages of various types.  No cars are allowed on the island, which is an appealing idea that produces some strange sights.

During our day on the island, we watched horses pulling wagons full of luggage up to the Grand Hotel, and wagons full of building supplies, and wagons full of tourists on rides around the island.  We even saw the Mackinac Island version of a carry-off dumpster: a wagon full of building debris, parked in front of a house and waiting for the garbage horses (I guess) to haul it away. 

There were also some tourists riding their own rented horses through the streets, and a small army of workers with containers and shovels on bikes, riding around to clean up the streets after the horses.  Which reminded me that all of the environmentalists who take car-hating too far are forgetting about the social costs imposed by the mountains of horse manure that were omnipresent in the good old days.  

In addition to horses, Mackinac also has a lot of grand old houses, some of them bed and breakfasts or inns, and some private residences. 

After walking through town, we took a horse-drawn tour of the island, during which we learned some interesting history.  In the 19th century a local accidentally shot himself in the stomach, after which a local doctor was able to save his life – a rare outcome in a time when gut wounds were rarely survivable. 

But the wounded man had a hole into his stomach that never closed, and the doctor did a series of experiments on human digestion, using the man he saved as a living test subject/laboratory.  I remember reading about that – and being grossed out and fascinated by it – when I was a kid.  And now I know that that strange story happened on Mackinac Island. 

After rolling through some historic neighborhoods in town, our horses pulled our wagon up into the hills, where we stopped at a small museum/gift shop.  The museum had a variety of cool old wagons, from one-horse power models to two- or four-horse, and including closed carriages and open ones, and also a hearse. 

The next leg of the tour carried us through the wooded parts of the island, with stops at some scenic overlooks.  By this time the sun was out, and the views and variations of color of the water where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet were really beautiful. 

At the end of the ride we walked to the gigantic Grand Hotel, which has a 650-foot covered porch on one side.  It reminded me of the Overlook Hotel in Estes Park, CO, a stately old 19th century behemoth from a bygone era.  We paid to tour the public spaces inside, which were well worth seeing.

From there we headed back down to the dock and took the next boat back to St. Ignace, and then to parts south.  We drove over the Mighty Mac bridge that we’d sailed under earlier, and after a little time on I-75, we got off on smaller roads.      

The countryside was green, with a mix of mostly forests, with occasional lakes, farms and very small towns, and was more hilly than I’d expected.  Under sunny and cool skies, the drive was really pleasant.  Unfortunately, we were a little behind time, and weren’t able to take more time to stop or take detours to places that looked intriguing on the map.

South of Boyne Falls we came across a sign identifying the 45th parallel, which Darryll tells me means that the mid-point between the north pole and the equator goes through a guy’s small yard somewhere in the middle of rural Michigan.

A little farther south, the town of Mancelona had a gigantic pole near the middle of town that read “Mancelona Snow Fall.”  The top of the pole indicated “20 feet,” and there was a big, wooden snowflake at the 9 and-a-half-foot mark.  After more than three decades in Florida, I love snow and try to see it at least once every winter.  But more than nine feet in a typical winter?

Which reminds me: when we got into Sheboygan, WI several days ago, I noticed what looked like a large metal antenna mounted to the side of the fire hydrants in town, with a red-painted tip about 8 feet off the ground.  When I asked what that was, Darryll and Bob looked at me like it was a trick question.

It’s there so that when the winter snows are piling up, snow plows and fire truck crews will be able to spot where the snow-buried hydrants are.  We came across the same thing while driving a lot of the roads through the Upper Peninsula’s forested roads, which featured tall poles on both sides of the road, so the plow drivers can see where the roads end.

When we entered the town of Kalkaska, we saw a gorgeous, 7-foot-tall statue of a trout in front of its old railroad depot, along with a few signs proudly identifying Kalkaska as, “Trout Town.”  So of course we had to stop there for supper.  And of course we ate at the Trout Town Tavern and Eatery.  The food was good, and the décor was homey and trout-centric.

From there we drove south again, ending up on 131, which was a divided highway that looked like what I picture the autobahn looks like: smooth pavement and long, sweeping curves moving through a gently rolling landscape.  I soon saw a speed limit sign saying “75” for the first time in my life.

The caddy was floating along like a dream, and Darryll pushed it to 75, just because it seems fundamentally wrong to drive less than the speed limit.

We made it another couple of hours, stopping for the last night of our trip at Ludington.  I already know that I’d like to make this trip again, and spend more time at some of the places we’ve seen, and go to many more places that we haven’t been able to get to.

Our Lap Around the Lake Trip, Day 3 (posted 5/21/22)

We got up early on Saturday the 21st, a partly cloudy day with temperatures around 40 degrees: a brisk late spring day in Munising, MI — and the depth of bone-chilling winter in north Florida! 

After breakfast at the hotel on the lake, we drove through Munising for a bit, before going to the Pictured Rocks boat tours shop, where we bought our tickets for a 10:00 a.m. cruise out of the bay and into Lake Superior to see the much-celebrated rock cliffs that line parts of the lake for around 20 miles or so.

That left us with about an hour to spare, so we drove to the nearby Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Visitor’s Center.  We took a short hike up to Munising Falls, which was the best waterfall we’ve seen so far.  A modest creek — flowing with water tinted by the tannins in the surrounding leaves to the color of weak coffee — spilled down around 75 feet into a small, rocky pool. 

After a little while spent communing with nature, we walked along the creek back out of the forest, and then drove back to town, and parked near the boat launch.

I had already realized I’d made a tactical error in terms of clothing.  After three decades in Florida, the concept that late May can be really cold in some places did not compute.  So I had packed a bunch of shorts and t-shirts, along with one pair of jeans, one fleece and one windbreaker.   (Both cousins, needless to say, were much more warmly dressed.  The jerks.)

As we stood on the beach waiting to get onto the boat, a steady, cold wind off the lake made the 40-degree temperature feel much colder.  Then the captain made an announcement that buoy data was indicating that the lake waves were at 2 to 4 feet; anyone susceptible to sea sickness could return to the gift shop and get a refund for their tickets. 

I looked at my cousins, and we all knew that the pact of juvenile males (despite their chronological age) was now in effect: anyone who vomited on the trip would be mercilessly mocked for the rest of our lives.

I was already freezing, but I knew that I couldn’t back out of the trip.  So I did the only thing I could have, given my iron will and lack of maturity: I resolved that if I had to vomit during the trip, I would do it on at least one (and preferably both) cousins.

Then the captain went over the refund policy: if the seas were too rough to make it to the first key point on the trip, everyone would get a full refund.  If we made it past that point but less than halfway through the trip, everyone would get 50% refunds and/or a rain check to take a future trip.

With that ominous bit of spirit-dampening, we all tramped aboard.  The boat had a top deck with rows of bench seats, and a glass-enclosed main deck, which everyone (wisely) chose.  We got underway, and for the initial part of the trip, the seas were pretty mild.  But that’s because a large island (4 times as large as Manhattan island, the captain said) called Grand Island mostly blocks and shelters the bay from the wind and conditions on the rest of the lake.

As soon as we got out beyond Grand Island, the waves started hitting, and some onboard took advantage of the offered plastic bags.   But, thankfully, none of the cousins suffered that indignity.  Though the boat got tossed around a little, and a lot of spray was dramatically and regularly launched against the windows we were sitting beside, the trip wasn’t bad.

Mid-way through, Bob got up and walked unsteadily to the stairs leading to the uncovered rooftop seating.  The boat was rocking enough that his movements were hampered, but he was undeterred, and made it up onto the roof deck, where he quickly got soaked, but took some very good pictures of the cliffs and lake waves. 

The rock cliffs really are striking; they’re streaked with colors from various minerals (iron, copper, manganese, calcium, etc.), and they’ve been dramatically eroded into a variety of oddly shaped outcroppings and passageways.  The skies were slate gray for most of the trip, so the cliffs weren’t as dramatically lit as they could have been on a sunny day, but I’d still recommend those views.   

We headed back to port and landed around noon, and the first thing I did was buy a “Pictured Rocks, Michigan” hoodied sweatshirt, which I put on immediately.  We stopped for lunch at a place called, “Eh Burger.”  Apparently the “eh” is a linguistic quirk of local dialect that doesn’t suggest what it looked like to me, which is a slight variation on, “Meh, a burger” and seems to suggest a mediocre burger at best.

We left Munising heading east, and soon stopped at Miner’s Falls, which was located a little more than a half mile into a forest of widely spaced trees that let through a lot of sunlight.  The temps were still in the low 40s, but felt about 30 degrees warmer than the 40 degrees on the lake that morning.  The path was wide, and every so often we could see Lake Superior in the distance to our left.

As the trail gradually descended, views of another small lake in a lower section of the woods, between us and Superior, began to pop in and out of view.  Soon we could hear the falls ahead of us.  This one was wide and loud, and featured around a 125-foot drop.  Two wooden platforms, one near the top of the waterfall and one halfway down, provided great views. 

Clearly, the progression of waterfalls during this trip has headed in a good direction: from the three-foot drop of Sheboygan falls, to the 25-foot Wagner Falls, to the 40-foot Munising Falls and finally the 125 foot drop of Miner’s Falls.

Leaving Miner’s Falls, we drove east again, and soon came to Miner’s Castle, which offered more scenic overlooks and trails on a high bluff above Lake Superior.  We had seen the Miner’s Castle rock formation from the boat this morning, but the view from overhead was equally impressive.  The water of the lake far below was a light turquoise near the shore, and a richer, deeper blue farther out.

From a wooden platform overlooking the water, we took a walking path along a nearby ridgeline.  The scene looked something like the views over the Pacific at Pebble Beach and Pinehurst golf courses, if you didn’t know how cool the temperature was.  But by this time, it was probably close to 50, and the earlier clouds and overcast were gone, replaced by blue skies that almost seemed to mirror the lake.

From there we got back in the car and headed farther east and north.  We made several brief stops along the lake, then drove through around 100 miles of very sparsely populated interior landscape.  Forests lined both side of the road, broken up once in a while by some swampy areas, and more rarely by a house or small cluster of houses. 

We made it to St. Ignace – just across the water from Mackinac Island — around 6:30.  We checked in to a hotel, had some Mexican food nearby, and made a lap around the town before calling it a day. 

We had walked around 8 miles today, and were looking forward to more of the same tomorrow, when we’ll take a ferry over to Mackinac Island. 

Our Lap around the Lake Trip, Day 2 (posted 5/20/22)

We started our second day with a good breakfast in Sheboygan.

Actually, my cousins started it earlier than I did, because they were up before 8, and I find that reprehensible.  They took an early morning walk down to a different area of the lake shore, where the remains of a ship that sank in the late 1800s – the Lotte Cooper — was on display. 

After breakfast, we drove back down there so I could see that ship.  While doing so, we learned another Sheboygan area shipwreck story that brought home the vicissitudes of fate. 

In 1847, a propeller steamer carrying around 300 Dutch immigrants, the Phoenix, sank about 7 miles north of Sheboygan harbor.  The boiler had overheated, setting the ship on fire, and while 41 people escaped on lifeboats and two crewmen clung to the boat until rescued, everyone else died.

One more tragic detail: the Dutch immigrants had first arrived in Buffalo, NY, and when they arranged to settle in Wisconsin, they chose to get there by boat rather than traveling by land because they believed that sailing would be less dangerous.

Stories like that certainly make one feel a little ridiculous for whining about gauges that don’t work in a car that’s a little old!

From Sheboygan we drove to nearby Sheboygan Falls, another small town with a quaint downtown.  The falls themselves weren’t especially impressive, but I love a small town with a river running through it. 

Our old hometown of Marseilles was similarly situated in the Illinois river valley: Main Street came in past a state park along the river, then over a bridge and past a gigantic Nabisco factory which used the river for power and transport.  Unfortunately, when the plant changed owners and eventually closed, the town never recovered, and is still struggling.   

Sheboygan Falls seems to embody a happier ending to that story. The town only has around 8000 residents, but the downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Coming into town, we passed a big old mill – now converted into apartments – called the Brickner Woolen Mill.  Extending from the river for several blocks is the downtown, with a lot of well-maintained and ornate business buildings, including several with turrets on the corners. When I was a kid, I always fantasized about living over a storefront in one of those kinds of buildings, and hanging out in a turret, reading a book and watching the townspeople going about their business on the street below.

Employees at a flower shop were putting out at least a full city block’s length of every kind of flower you can think of.  They looked gorgeous and smelled great, and customers were out in numbers, doing some very pleasant window shopping, minus the windows.   

On our way out of town, we passed a gigantic Kohler plant nearby.  I love businesses doing their manufacturing in America, and I’ve got Kohler faucets in several of the rentals, so good on them!  

We spent the next few hours driving north under increasingly dark skies, through several small towns.  We saw some cemeteries with a lot of German names, some modest houses and some impressive ones, some gently rolling green countryside, and frequent views of lakefront vistas.  

We took a quick tour of the town of Manitowoc.  After some generic strip mall stuff on our way into town, we arrived at a waterfront harbor with a gigantic ferry ship (the Badger), just pulling out for a trip across the lake, and more nice old houses than you’d expect in a town that size.

The next town we reached was small Two Rivers, where we found a nice bit of Americana, right beside the Civil War memorial and statue: a plaque showing some hometown pride, touting Two Rivers as the birthplace of the ice cream sundae. 

According to the plaque, in 1881 George Hallauer asked soda fountain owner Edward Berner to top a dish of ice cream with chocolate sauce, which to that time had only been used on ice cream soda.  After that innovation proved popular – duh! – it was initially sold only on Sundays, for some reason.

Soon, a 10-year-old girl asked for one on a weekday, saying that, “we could pretend that it’s Sunday.” And a boon to the world was born.

On the one hand, that doesn’t seem like a towering achievement to me.  I mean, ice cream tastes great, and chocolate also tastes great.  How hard was it to come up with the idea to put chocolate ON ice cream?

It would be like giving a MacArthur genius grant to the guy who invented the mini-skirt, just because he said, “I love looking at women. If only I could think of a way to see much more of–   Hold on!  What if I were to cut a normal skirt much, much shorter?  That’s just crazy enough to work!”

Regardless, I love an all-American story, and stories don’t get much more all-American than a small American business in dairy country coming up with a great-tasting treat, and then watching it take off  because of the sweet-tooth of a wholesome, Wisconsin girl!     

After leaving Two Rivers, the rain clouds that had been threatening all day let loose, and we drove through rain for the next 45 minutes or so, including around 20 minutes of a pretty good downpour. 

The good news: the Caddy’s windshield wipers worked. 

The bad news: the front of the convertible top is not completely waterproof.  Darryll was driving, so he had to keep toweling off the spot where the convertible top meets the top of the windshield. 

Crucially, the rear seat – where I was sitting – remained cozily dry.  So I enjoyed watching Darryll and Bob going through their character-building exercise in the intermittently drizzled-upon front seats. 

During a break in the rain, we reached Green Bay, and drove into the Lambeau Field and Title Town complex, where the Packers play football.  I love the idea that a modest town of 100,000 has a storied NFL franchise, and their stadium complex is pretty impressive. 

On the other hand, I’m a Bears fan from Illinois, so I can’t say anything too nice about the Packers.  Darryll and Bob discussed various ways to express themselves on the subject – sneaking in and relieving themselves on the 50 yard line was a particular favorite.  But we managed to rise above our baser nature, and leave Green Bay without scandal, or charges being filed.      

We made it to Oconto for a nice lunch, then Kewaunee, and then Marinette, on the Wisconsin border.  Then we crossed into the upper peninsula of Michigan at Menominee.

The driving through northern Wisconsin and up through Michigan took us through more and more lightly inhabited countryside.  At Escanaba we found another small town with a waterfront park area, and a short hill topped by some stately houses facing it.  

We stopped at the Sand Point lighthouse, which was built in 1867.  We got out to stretch our legs and read the story of the lighthouse, and we would likely have spent a little more time there.  But when I was walking about 40 feet away from Bob and Darryll, I saw both of them start to twitch and flail erratically. As I got closer, I saw that a small cloud of mosquitos had enveloped them both.

I’d heard about far-northern, lake-adjacent mosquitos, and I had a plan:  I hightailed it back to the car, abandoning them to their fate. 

I figured if they made it back, fine.  If not, Darryll had given me an extra set of car keys, and I know that he would have wanted me to have the Caddy, and to drive it in his honor.

But they got back to the car – itchier and more irritable than usual — and we hit the road one more time, for the last leg of the day’s travels.

We had decided that even though it was out of our way, we wanted to go farther north than we had to, to the city of Munising, on the edge of Lake Superior.  We’ve heard that Pictured Rocks is an especially beautiful sight, and that a tour boat that takes people on a lake trip to see them is well worth it.

So we left the traditional “Circle the Lake” route and drove sixty miles or so through the Hiawatha National Forest – stopping briefly at a small, scenic waterfall (Wagner Falls) — before arriving at Munising.  We got rooms in a small hotel on the edge of the lake, where the views were breathtaking. 

Because Munising is just into the Eastern time zone, the sun didn’t set until almost 10:00, after we’d eaten and walked the town for a bit. 

The plan for tomorrow is to take the boat ride on Lake Superior to see Pictured Rocks, and then to head south to re-join our regular route across the upper peninsula.

Day 1 of our Lake Michigan “Lap the Lake” trip (posted 5/19/22)

Today was the first day of what I expect to be a 5-day trip around Lake Michigan, starting in Chicago and going northwest through Wisconsin and Michigan, before rounding the top of the Lake and coming back down the east side through Indiana, returning to Chicago. 

One of my cousins – Darryll – bought a 1976 Cadillac El Dorado convertible last year, and he and my cousin Bob and I drove that car from Chicago to LA on Route 66 last May.  We had a such a good time that we decided to take another trip together this year. 

Yesterday (Thursday, 5/19) was the beginning of that trip, but things got off to a rough start. 

In the morning, Darryll noticed that a dashboard brake light was on.  He checked the brake fluid and found it a bit low, but after he topped it off and re-started the car, the brake pedal went almost to the floor before it gave much resistance.  He drove the car carefully around the block and returned it in one piece, and then wanted to see what I thought. 

So I drove it around the block, seeing how travel there was in the brake pedal, and trying to decide if it was a lot spongier than it had been during our trip last year.

The psychology problem we both had was similar to the sour milk conundrum: when someone asks you to smell milk to see if it’s sour, your mind plays tricks on you, and you think you might detect a sour undertone, whether it’s there or not.

We went through the same thing as we test drove the caddy.  Yes, the brake pedal has a LOT more give than the brakes in either of our newish cars.  But was it weaker than it had been before?  

I know that an old brake pedal generally has more travel than the one in a modern car. But the steering wheel does the same: you turn it a while before the land-yacht car starts to turn. 

So maybe you just have to press the brake for a while before… you know… the car stops.  Or even slows appreciably.

To add to our list of issues, the gas gauge also stopped working in the 24 hours before we were set to leave.  Those of you who followed our trip last year may remember that the speedometer and odometer already weren’t working.  Along with the a.c. 

If any of us had a wife with us, she might have said something crazy and irrational like, “Let me get this right:  You’re about to drive over a thousand miles in a car that may or may not stop when you need it to, and you won’t know how fast you’re going, or how far you’ve gone, or when it will run out of gas?  With your half-wit cousins, who must be as dumb as you are?”

But Bob’s wife and my wife were not there, and Darryll is single, so he gets to go through life blissfully unaware of all the things he’s constantly doing wrong. 

Hence we had to rely on our own fantastic judgment, and make a decision.  Sure, we could still make the trip in Bob’s newish, modern car.  We would drive in air-conditioned comfort, knowing how fast we were going, and how much gas we had in the tank, and that the car would stop when we pushed the brake.

But where’s the fun in that? 

More importantly, where is the kind of faulty risk-assessment and joie de vivre mixed with toxic masculinity that says, “Hold my beer and watch while I circumnavigate Lake Michigan in a rolling death-trap!” in that?

As you may have deduced by now, we are Ameri-CANs, not Ameri-CAN’Ts.  So we looked on the bright side, and tallied up what we had going for us:

1. Half a dozen cigarette lighters tucked into various corners of the Caddy’s interior.  Because it was made in 1976, when a proud America turned 200, and there were only two genders, and both of them smoked like a tire fire from morning ‘til night.

2. An atlas.  That’s right, I brought a collection of paper maps with us, similar to the ones carried by other intrepid explorers, like Vasco Da Gama and Magellan and Amerigo Vespucci, as far as I know.

3. A little something I call “grit.”

So we took off in the cool of the morning and headed toward Chicago.

Long story short: the brakes are holding up so far, and somewhere after Lake Shore Drive the gas gauge started working again.   HA!  Take that, common sense and good judgment!

Today’s trip took us around 220 miles – we can’t be sure exactly how far. 

Because: no gauges.

We received our first compliment on the car – out of 14 so far – in Joliet.  (Home of “Joliet Jake” of the Blues Brothers.) It came from two bikers who cruised by us on the interstate, looking the car over and nodding approvingly. 

We got to Lake Shore Drive and pulled over just before Soldier Field and put the top down.  Then we drove on, eventually winding through some leafy, north Chicago suburbs.  In Evanston, we took a short detour to drive by the house where Risky Business was filmed.

Both of my cousins wanted to do a running slide across the front porch in their shirt-tails and underpants with a Bob Seger song playing, but I managed to dissuade them.

You’re welcome, Evanston.

Before long, we crossed into Wisconsin, where our first stop was Kenosha. 

With a population of just less than 100,000, the parts of Kenosha we saw were impressive.  They’ve got a scenic waterfront district, two giant museums (one a Civil War Museum) that we saw, and their Columbus statue near the Lake has been un-toppled and un-defaced!  There were a lot of beautiful homes and some small, pretty parks along the lake front, too.   

We walked around several blocks near the water, and a nice couple took a picture of us in front of a charming, upbeat mural depicting an AMC Gremlin, a car that used to be made here. 

And that’s the only sentence you’ll ever read with the words “charming,” “upbeat,” and “AMC Gremlin” in it.

We didn’t have time to drive around looking for the area where Kyle Rittenhouse defended himself against a group of career criminal sex offenders, but I hope that the next time I go through Kenosha, I’ll see a statue of him near the statue of Columbus. 

And I hope that that statue’s base will bear the immortal words, “That iron get ya’ mind right!”

Further up the coast we drove through Racine, a much grittier town, but one that still has some lovely homes along the waterfront, along with a very cool lighthouse where we stopped and took some pics. 

Our next stop was Milwaukee, which once again impressed me.  With a population of around half a million, it’s a better-known city, but seemed much larger.  In just a brief drive through downtown we saw at least a dozen really beautiful buildings – churches, commercial buildings, city hall – built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

And there’s no better way to take a driving tour through a city like that than in a convertible.  Because he was driving, Darryll didn’t get to take in the visual feast as much as Bob and I did, but I definitely want to visit again, when I’ve got more time to spend.

Past downtown, we drove along the lake with a tall bluff to our left, on which sat several miles worth of beautiful old houses and other buildings.  We eventually doubled-back, driving up onto the bluff and stopping at a very cool old lighthouse, which led us to discover a series of walking bridges made of wrought-iron.  They spanned some walking trails in a ravine below, and connected a series of green parks that provided gorgeous views of the lake.

Back in the car, we circled an impressively tall stone water tower from 1873, and then drove through what seemed like miles and miles of really stunning homes built in a variety of styles. 

The only discordant notes were struck by occasional modern houses – still large, and on landscaped lots with great views, but built in the 1960s and 70s, with all the charm of a dentist’s office.

With the temperatures dropping and the daylight getting short, we drove another 45 miles or so north, to Sheboygan.

Despite sounding like an annoying noise made by a mugging Jerry Lewis in one of his Nutty Professor movies, this town was a great place to end today’s journey. 

We checked in to a small motel on a pretty park, and then had a great supper in an old-fashioned, supper-club-feeling steak place called Rupps. 

We took a late walk around town, and this place really punches above its weight, as Kenosha and Milwaukee do.  Though Sheboygan is home to only 50 thousand people, we walked through a charming, 12-block stretch of well-preserved and homey two-story brick buildings.  It looked the way a small-town downtown should look, only there was more of it.

We passed a very nice library that had a lot of art around – and it wasn’t abstract, or woke, or otherwise terrible!  One piece consisted of four tall, bronze panels depicting aspects of what libraries should contain.  One panel was dedicated to children’s lit (with characters from Where the Wild Things Are, Dr. Suess and others), one to culture, one to science, and one to history. 

One children’s museum had a huge mural of an ocean scene and a large whale near the surface.  Above the whale’s head was a huge sculpture of the stern of a sailing ship, sticking out from the building as if it were in the process of sailing into it.  As we rounded the structure we could see masts and the superstructure of the ship sticking up through the top of the building, and the bow of the ship coming out through the other side.    

There were a lot of bars and restaurants, and a much larger than expected waterfront lined with condos and boat slips.  

So far I really like what I’ve seen of Wisconsin, and I’m looking forward to seeing more tomorrow.

My Experience with Covid, & Two Lefties’ Unhinged Reaction to Alito’s Draft on Roe v. Wade (posted 5/16/22)

I want to begin by apologizing that I hadn’t responded to your comments on my Friday column.  (If you didn’t see that one, I talked about what it’s been like to split my time between academia and blue collar pursuits for the last several decades, until my retirement last week.  It’s up now at Martinsimpsonwriting.com, if you’re interested.)

I had hesitated about writing so much about myself, since that topic is not nearly as interesting as the darkly humorous cavalcade of imbecility that’s been going on in our nation’s capital. 

That’s not to say that I don’t find my own life absolutely riveting, of course!  But doesn’t everyone feel that way about his or her own life?  How else can you explain Dr. Jill Biden publishing an autobiography? 

(You know what’s much easier to explain?  Why it only sold 250 copies in a week, despite non-stop promotion all over the MSM!  HA!)

But when I got a chance to get on the CO site on Friday night, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people had responded, and shared stories of their own job experiences, and how they’ve negotiated their own paths between blue- and white-collar worlds. 

If the left hadn’t turned “diversity” into such a banal, cringe-inducing virtue signal, I’d say that I’m intrigued with the diverse backgrounds and life experiences of the fine members of CO nation.  Instead, I’ll just say that you all are an eclectic bunch, and getting to know you has been an ongoing pleasure. 

Speaking of class differences, my navigating between blue- and white-collar jobs during the last two years of covid has given me yet another reason to resent our overlords on the left. 

We’ve all seen the class-based malevolence of the “masks for thee but not for me” crowd of elitist hypocrites.  Mayor Beetlejuice in Chicago, Imhotep Pelosi (D-Valley of the Kings) and Gavin “Ken Doll” Newsom – and dozens of others – were caught repeatedly flaunting lockdowns and mask mandates they enforced on the little people. 

Obama’s birthday party and various Dem fundraisers routinely featured video of mask-less big shots being waited on by mask-bound serfs.

But I had a front-row seat to observe the wildly different effects of top-down covid restrictions on the elites vs blue collar workers. 

Lockdowns actually made my professor job much easier. I taught from home between March of 2020 through the end of the year, and was offered the chance to continuing to do so throughout 2021, and it was pretty much all upside to me. 

My commute became the walk from my bedroom to my home office, and I didn’t have to wear long pants or shoes for a year!  I just had to remember to put on a button-down shirt, and not to drink from my “Leftist Tears” tumbler on screen, lest one of my fragile students be triggered, and driven to a fainting couch.

I could have even pulled a Toobin, and taught entirely bottomless, if I were a degenerate leftist instead of the model of decorum and class you see before you. 

I never missed a paycheck, and never even had to worry about missing one.  I never had to wear a voice-muffling and glasses-befogging – and non-covid-preventing, as it turned out! — mask.   

But covid restrictions played hell with my blue-collar landlord job.

I was lucky that only one of my college student tenants backed out of his lease, but with so few college students attending in-person, almost half of the parking spots I rent out at my house near campus went empty. 

My third rental building is zoned residential and commercial, and was occupied by a small business with 10 employees.  The owners were set to re-sign for another two-year lease right before covid hit, but they could only get 3 employees to come in to work, so they didn’t re-sign, and the building went empty for the next 15 months. 

I lost around $57K in income, and it could have been worse!  Our class-warrior political leaders announced a rent moratorium, giving tenants the right to stiff their landlords, and squat in their buildings without paying rent.  So they didn’t have to pay their rent, but I still had to pay my mortgages. 

Thankfully, I live in a free state with a great governor, so the squatting tenant caucus never gathered the clout here that it had in states run by the likes of Squatting Bull Warren.  (#wemustneverstopmockingher)

Also, if my tenants would’ve ever announced that they wouldn’t be paying their rent anymore because Joe Biden said they didn’t have to, I’d like to think that the murder they’d see in my eyes would have dissuaded them.  

But enough about my riveting life.  Let’s talk for just a moment about two of the more unhinged lefties’ reactions to the leak of Alito’s Roe v Wade draft. 

First up is an alleged comedian that none of you has ever heard of named Laurie Kilmartin.  (And just for the record, I don’t care for that last name one bit!) 

She was on an MSNBC panel (which: kill me now) discussing the leak.  She said that if she knew who the leaker was, she would, “make sweet love to that person, because that person is a hero to me.”

I’m reminded of Nina Burleigh, a White House reporter for Time magazine who famously said that she’d be “happy to give Bill Clinton [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal.”

I’m no board-certified sexologist, but I would say that if you get aroused when thinking about the chance to abort your child, you are doing sex WRONG!   

But Kilmartin was not done putting the “punch” in punchline.  Because she followed up with her own take on Henny Youngman’s old line (“Take my child… please!”), by saying that if she later found out that the leaker was a conservative, she would then “joyfully abort our fetus, and let them know.”

Ugh.  Stay classy, MSNBC! 

The second ridiculous leftist comments came from NPR’s Nina Totenberg.

By the way, unless my German is shakier than I think, her last name translates loosely as “Death Town.”

So today’s two abortion enthusiasts are named Kilmartin and Death Town.  Coincidence?

I think not.  

Anyway, after general agreement that the leak was a breach of ethics, Totenberg showed the kind of good judgment you usually find on NPR, saying that “the most likely theory” and “the leading theory” is that a conservative clerk leaked the Alito draft.

Which makes perfect sense… if you just suffered blunt force trauma to the head. 

You can tell that it was NOT a liberal who leaked it, because if it had been, liberal meretrixes would be offering all sorts of sexual congress to the leaker, and leftist loons in Handmaid costumes would be marching around in public singing abortion carols, and chanting buffoons would be protesting at justices’ houses to try to galvanize public opinion and bully them to change their opin—

Oh, wait.  

Death Town had to admit that another theory exists, but she did it in the quickest, most rhetorical throat-clearing way possible, saying, “And then there’s another theory that it was an outraged liberal clerk,” before immediately returning to her “damn Occam’s Razor—full speed ahead!” fantasy: “But I think the only one that makes sense” is that a conservative did it. 

One thing is clear: the court should release that judgment immediately.  I’ve heard arguments that some justices may still be writing their own opinions and want more time, but a logical cost/benefit analysis would argue against that.  Alito’s opinion was written in February, and we’re halfway through May.  It’s time to paint or get off the ladder, slow-walkers of opinions!

Allowing this outrageous harassment of justices by the “peaceful protestors” is just one more indictment of the feckless and terrible Biden administration, and all of its creepy enablers. 

Especially since those idiots are clearly trying to intimidate and bully the conservative justices into changing their position, the best course is to release the opinion and make it official, and then sit back and enjoy the wailing, and gnashing of teeth!

I’ve got one more announcement: on Tuesday I’m heading up to Illinois, where two cousins and I are going to take a 5-day drive around Lake Michigan in a 1976 Cadillac El Dorado. 

You may remember those cousins and that car from the trip we took last May, driving Route 66 from Chicago to LA.  If you’re new to this site, you can find my daily travelogue about that trip on my website (Martinsimpsonwriting.com); just scroll down and look for it on the lower right.

I’ll be writing journal entries about this trip, too, and will post them starting late this week.

Avenatti/ Loose Laurie Kilmartin 2024!

At Retirement, Looking Back on a Career in Academia (posted on 5/13/22)

Today, on my last official day as a professor, I’d like to share a few reflections on work and career.

First, thanks for all of the good wishes on my retirement, which I wrote about on Monday.  As many of you guessed, given my politics and my snarky disposition, it has been a challenge to make through three decades as a prof in a university liberal arts department! 

I’ve been biting my tongue at work for a long, long time – which is why I am not exaggerating when I’ve talked about what a joy it has been to write for CO and this site.  It’s been cathartic, even as it’s carried with it more than a little uneasiness about the chance that some of my colleagues might find out about my columns here.  (My saving grace might have been that there’s an apparently impressive British guitarist named Martin Simpson, and if you google that name, he’s the one who’s going to pop up first.)

Having said that, I have loved my time with most of my co-workers.  They are a useful reminder to me that as much as the leftist elite in our country seem like reprehensible people with terrible politics, that’s not the case with everyone on the left by any means.  My department is full of friendly and generous people, and it has been a pleasure knowing them.

One quick example: in the fall term of 2014, when my dad was dying of cancer in TN, I was teaching a course in Writing in the Law.  During the last month of that course, the students in each class were put in teams, and they debated a specific case.  The best of those teams would then debate against the best teams from other sections of that course, with law school faculty judging the competition.

I got the news in late October that dad had just a couple of months to live.  I had been driving back and forth from FL to TN to spend time with him each week for most of that semester, but I decided then that I was going to TN to spend those last few months with him.  I went to my Director’s office prepared for a confrontation, and ready to quit my job if I had to.

But he was nothing but gracious.  One of my other colleagues stepped up to take over my class, and coach my students through the debate part of the course, while I was able to stay with mom and dad – Cassie the Wonder Dog went with me, of course, for moral support – and grade my papers from up there.  I don’t think many workplaces would make that kind of accommodation to a co-worker, and I’ll never forget it. 

So whenever I’m writing about some reprobate like Joey Gaffes or Que Mala or the Deerskin-Dress Demagogue Grandma Squanto (#wemustneverstopmockingher), and feel my heart hardening against all leftists and their ideology… I think of my kind, thoughtful, lefty colleagues.   They are a useful reminder that there is more to life than politics, and people of good will can get along despite political differences, if they’re willing.  (I know: that last part is key.) 

One other valuable aspect of my professional life has been the chance to experience both blue collar and white-collar life.

My mom was one of 4 kids and my dad one of 8, and none of them went to college; everybody had blue collar jobs.  I spent most of my 20s getting a BA, MA and PhD in English, a field in which job prospects weren’t great.  By my mid-30s, I had cobbled together some college teaching gigs, but without a pension or a very high salary, I realized that I needed to do something to prepare financially for retirement.

So I bought two rental houses in several years, and then two more a decade later.  They were all in rough shape and needed work, and dad happily came down to teach me all of the stuff I’d been uninterested in when I was a teenager with my head in a book all the time.  Now, 25 years later, we’ve got three old rental houses (including Rosewood, the burned Victorian that I’m hoping to be able to restore and keep), and I’ve spent decades with two distinct circles of friends: blue-collar family and tradesmen who have helped me with my rentals, and white-collar university faculty. 

I’m glad to have been both a professor and a landlord, for several reasons.  First, because mixing physical with intellectual work has felt like the best of both worlds.  I’ve always loved reading and writing, and it’s been a joy to teach great lit, to be able to communicate some of that greatness to those students who were receptive, and to help those who were ambitious to become better writers.  

On the other hand, academic politics have become more and more stultifying and intolerant, I’m allergic to meetings, and the results of the work can often feel like casting seed on rocky soil.  Spending three hours grading produces nothing tangible.  And in the last 10 years or so, political correctness and intolerant woke-ness have made it tougher to have the kind of lively, thought-provoking debates and discussions that were a significant perk of intellectual life.

By contrast, home renovation and repair can be very challenging and satisfying, not least because the results are tangible.  Doing demo is therapeutic, and there’s pride to be earned by learning skills from various trades.  Spending 3 hours hanging sheetrock or painting produces obvious, dramatic progress.

And renovation and property management engage the mind at least as much as teaching does.  Solving layout or repair problems takes creativity; evaluating various properties and estimating ROI on potential purchase or renovations involves risk, along with the possibility of gratifying rewards.

On the other hand, doing only dirty, physical work – full-time, 50 weeks a year for decades – would drive me crazy.  There’s nothing like getting clogged toilet calls or doing roof repairs in a steamy summer to make you appreciate reading great books in an air-conditioned office and having people call you “Dr. Simpson.”

And yet, there’s nothing like a semester trying to teach Shakespeare to kids who complain that he’s a dead, white male with a patriarchal, capitalist bias to make you want to put on some work clothes and a tool belt, and knock down some lathe and plaster with a small sledge and a crowbar.

Ultimately, working in such different environments has kept me from retreating into a bubble with other like-minded people, which is a strong temptation for those in high-status jobs in politics, business and academia.   It’s given me an appreciation and understanding of different kinds of work, and differing classes of people.  And while I really admire some of the very intelligent scholars I’ve met, doing focused, diligent work in their fields, I’m looking forward to retirement partly because I feel more at home working on houses with my blue-collar friends.

Now more than ever, I find myself agreeing with William F. Buckley’s famous quote that goes something like, “I’d rather be governed by 300 people drawn from the Boston telephone directory than by the faculty of Harvard University.”  

As much as I’ve enjoyed my time in academia, it’s felt less and less like a natural home to me.   I know that blue collar people can be too dismissive of “intellectuals,” believing that they have no common sense, and are too concerned with theories at the expense of reality.

But I think a lot more damage is done by intellectuals and other elites who look down on regular people.  And when you combine the perks of a high-status academic job with the utopian and quasi-totalitarian aspects of leftist politics – they generally believe they know better than the masses how those masses should live – what results is not often pretty.

That’s why it has been so gratifying to participate in the Cautious Optimism website: it feels like the best of both worlds.  Writing these columns involves engaging in discussions among some very smart people on some very high-falutin’ subjects… combined with the chance to mock some people and ideas that richly deserve it, often with some satisfyingly juvenile humor mixed in.

Now that my professor days are behind me, I’m looking forward to doing more writing here on the CO site — I’m hoping to start writing two columns per week, on Fridays and Mondays – and maybe even experimenting with some podcasting. 

Thank you all for reading, and I’ll be back on Monday with a look at some of the hysterical lefty commentary on the potential reversal of Roe v. Wade, along with whatever trouble Joey Gaffes manages to get himself into over the weekend.

A Career Change, + the Left Reacts to Roe (posted 5/9/22)

First, I didn’t get the chance to respond to the comments on my Friday column, so I’ll do so here: you people are great!  

When I go to the comment threads on most internet sites – which I try not to do very often — the results inevitably veer between laughable, depressing and horrifying, with lots of mouth-breathing ad hominem attacks, vulgarity and inanity.

But the community that CO has created here feels like an antidote to all of that.  On Friday, the comments ranged from long and thoughtful (from Ellisa Mitchell, Bill Willcox, Jamie Galioto, Damian Cullinane and others) to pithy and witty. 

Alan Paterson pointed out the irony of the bitter sourpusses from the View being named “Joy” and “Sunny,” and Lloyd Wilkinson summed up my main point better than I could: “We may not be perfect, but the other side is insane!”

People here consistently reveal glimpses of their eclectic backgrounds and differing opinions, but with an obvious undercurrent of good will and good cheer — though the latter is sometimes understandably dampened by current events.  And I cannot say often enough what a pleasure it is to read this site, and to write for you all, and to engage in enlightening, virtual conversations with so many good souls!

Having said that, I’m hoping to be writing here more often.  Because at the end of this week, I’m retiring from my day job! 

I’ve been an English professor for 30 years, but last week I turned in grades for the last time, and I’m looking to the next phase of my life with great anticipation.  I’ll be writing more about this soon, but for now I’ll just say that I feel lucky to have finished my career without receiving any professional blowback that I anticipated if any of my colleagues had discovered my politically incorrect ramblings at this site! 

On yet another personal note, I’m still waiting to hear back from my insurer and a contractor about our Victorian house (Rosewood) that partially burned last month.   I think I’ll hear this week — though I’d thought the same about last week! – and will share more when I know it.

In the meantime, I’ve posted another picture of Rosewood on my site, Martinsimpsonwriting.com.  This one is of the scorched underside of the roof, shot from beneath where the second-floor ceiling had been, before it was destroyed.  As you might guess, the roof is going to have to come off and be replaced, if we can keep the house!

But enough about heartbreaking, fiery destruction – let’s talk about the left’s weekend reaction Alito’s leaked Roe v Wade draft.

Um, let me re-phrase that: let’s talk about MORE heartbreaking, fiery destruction… of cherished American institutions, behavioral norms, and also a Madison, WI pro-life headquarters. 

Yes, our leftist friends have shown their usual restraint when things don’t go their way. 

By which I mean that they spent the weekend screaming at non-violent pro-lifers, vandalizing churches, and engaging in street theater that involved spittle, frightening hair, terrifying facial piercings, and doing unspeakable things to dolls that represented babies.

Oh, and they also tried to burn down a storefront pro-life HQ in Wisconsin.  Thankfully, they apparently couldn’t find anyone who could properly operate a Molotov cocktail.

Which is a bottle full of flammable liquid, with a cloth fuse stuck into it.     

That’s it.  If there were an instruction manual, it would have two steps:  1. Light the fuse.  2. Throw the bottle.

Illiterate Russian peasants used to successfully burn stuff with these all the time.  But you get a gaggle of Gender Studies majors together, and they are freaking stumped! 

I picture three of them huddled around a strip of cloth, trying to light it with a vape pen.  After 10 minutes, one of them finally tries it with a lighter; the cloth catches fire, and one of them throws it at the building, but it goes 8 inches, drops to the sidewalk, and goes out.

Pro-Abort (PA) 1:  “What went wrong?”         

PA 2: “I don’t know.”

PA 3: “The bottle!”

PA 1: “Oh yeah.”  He rears back and throws a bottle with gas in it at the building, where it shatters. 

They all look at the building, then at each other.

PA 1: “What went wrong?”

PA 2: “The fuse needs to be IN the bottle.”

PA 3: “Right!  Good idea!” 

Ten minutes later, they’ve finally managed to create a Molotov cocktail, and PA 3 lights the fuse while PA 1 holds the bottle.

PA 2 (holding up her cell phone): “Okay, make your speech and then throw it.”

PA 1: “What speech?”

PA 3: “The one we’re going to send to CNN.”

PA 1: “What should I say?”

PA 2: “We talked about this.  A woman should have control over her body—”

PA 3:  “Boo!”

PA 2 (confused): “What?”

PA 3: “Pronouns!  You said ‘her’ body.”

PA 2: “You know what I meant.”  (turning to PA 1) “Do the speech!”

PA 1 (holding the bottle with the lit fuse in front of her):  “We represent Rachel Sent Us, and we—”

PA 3:  “Ruth.”

PA 1: “What?”

PA 3:  “It’s ‘Ruth Sent Us.’”

PA 1: “What did I say?”

PA 3: “You said ‘Rachel’.”

PA 1: “I don’t think so.”  (Sees PA 2 making a frantic circling motion with her hand.)  “Um, okay.  We’re from Ruth, and our pronouns are—” (the bottle bursts into flame)  “AIEEE!”

And, scene.

That’s not necessarily how it actually happened, but a humble roving correspondent can dream. 

As infuriating as it was to watch the brainwashed loons losing it over the last week, I’m glad to see that the elite left is still completely clueless about how bad they look to normal people on this issue.

When the MSM and congressional Dems won’t even condemn the doxing and threatening of judges, they’re losing the mainstream of the nation.

And though I’m usually loathe to speak ill of the dead, Biden has reached new personal lows this week – which I wouldn’t have thought possible!

His angry slurs against “this MAGA crowd,” and his unhinged scare-mongering that the GOP will kick gay kids out of classrooms and forbid interracial marriages are really repulsive.

It’s enough to make me nostalgic for the good old days of a week ago, when Sleepy Joe was beclowning himself at the WH Correspondents’ dinner:  Laughing uproariously at jokes about the terrible inflation he’s unleashed on the nation.  Pawing at his bowtie – which you know a handler had fixed for him back stage, repeatedly slapping his hand away when Brandon kept picking at it – until it was cockeyed, and made him look even more off-kilter than usual.

And the way he mangled the most memorable quote of the last 50 years was pure Biden.  Trying to evoke Reagan’s great line, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” he came up with, “Tear this wall down!”

And then he mumbled a lame Disney joke that made regular voters everywhere remember how much they like Ron DeSantis. 

Keep it up, Joe.  Keep giving speeches.

Tell us how Lincoln said, “Four years ago, I scored!” and how Patrick Henry said, “Give me Liberty Mutual, or Death by Chocolate!” and how Obama said, “If you like your doctor, you can keep Joe Plumber!”

It’s been a long 4 years, and it’s only been 66 weeks.

Avenatti/ Literally Anybody Else, 2024!

The Left Loses it over the Leaked Alito Draft (posted 5/6/22)

As a happy warrior in our partisan political skirmishes, I’m very much aware of the moral dangers that come from extreme partisanship.  We all have a tendency to let our political (and other) allegiances cloud our judgment, and tempt us toward pride in our own correctness, and harsh condemnation of the other side’s error . 

So soon after Easter, I’m especially mindful of Uncle Jesus, and his teaching about the logs in our own eyes and the motes in others’ eyes. 

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I recognize the slippery moral slope of believing that we’re really the good guys, and our political opponents are the real bad guys.

On the other hand, the last several years – and especially the last week – has forced me to make this observation:  Deep down, I think that we’re really the good guys, and our leftist opponents are the real bad guys!

It’s not because of our own great virtue.  We’re all – individually — fallen, and made of the crooked timber of humanity, and all the rest.  And the national GOP is definitely no collective profile in courage or political fortitude, to say the least.

But Man o’ Manischewitz, has the left not lost its marbles and steered straight toward the twin poles of stupid and malicious?

Consider a quick spin through the howling voices on the left during the first 24 hours after the draft of the Roe ruling was leaked, first focusing on the stupid:  

An army of national Democrats and lefty celebrity immediately took to Twitter, making their usual, reasoned arguments:  lots of F-bombs, exclamation marks and all caps screaming that if Roe is overturned, abortion will be illegal in the US.  (In reality, the issue will go back to the states, and leftist states will immediately reinforce their current laws, enshrining the right to abort your kid until the band starts playing Pomp and Circumstance at her 8th grade graduation.)

MSM talking heads screeched that this will be THE END OF DEMOCRACY!  Because when 7 unelected men in robes dictated a new abortion policy for the nation, THAT was democratic.  But when the citizens in all 50 states are allowed to vote on abortion policy, THAT is UN-democratic.  Get it?

Peak Stupid may have been reached on Tuesday, May 3rd on the View, when the Dynamic Duo of Dumb — Joy Behar and Sunny Hostin – proposed the idea of a “sex strike,” which would involve women like them refusing males the benefit of their charms until abortions are ubiquitous as Starbucks.  

They really thought this strategy would work!

There might be a more effective method of birth control than simply contemplating – and I’m shuddering as I write this — having sex with Joy Behar. 

But I can’t think of what that might be.  And I hope to never find out.

Grandma Squanto also got in on the action, throwing several theatrical tantrums in the last several days.  When prompted by a sympathetic reporter, she wagged her finger and stomped her feet and expressed her outrage until she was red in the face.

Which was the first time her skin could ever be described with that particular adjective.   (#wemustneverstopmockingher)

My favorite moment came (you’ll pardon the expression) when CNN trotted out Jeffrey Toobin to pontificate on the issue of abortion.  I know: you’d think that with his PhD in Onanism, abortion would never be a concern of his.

But you’d be wrong.  Because a few years back – and I’m not making this up – the married Toobin (I’m as shocked as you are) had an affair with the much-younger daughter of his CNN colleague Jeff Greenfield.  When she became pregnant, he tried to bully and bribe her into aborting the child. When she had the baby, he denied being the father and had to be forced to take a paternity test, and then pay child support. 

So, yeah.  Let’s definitely wait for that creep to pull his pants up, get some make-up on, and put his earpiece in, so we can listen to his wisdom on abortion!

And of course we can’t forget the Big Guy himself, who went off-script for about 93 seconds, during which he un-did 50 years of leftist propaganda about abortion. 

In the midst of a short — and yet still rambling! – slurred word salad, he inadvertently told a core truth, when he referred to the right “to abort a child.” 

If you listened closely, you could almost hear a nationwide flurry of face-palming and spit-takes by thousands of Planned Parenthood ghouls, soul-less pollsters, MSM spinmeisters and White House spokesweasels.

I picture the entire elite left reacting with the kind of shock that jolted the newsroom in the movie Anchorman, when Will Ferrell unknowingly signed off with a hearty, “Go f*** yourself, San Diego!”

“Child?  Abort a CHILD?!”   

“It’s a ‘tissue mass,’ Joe!  Or a ‘non-viable entity.’  Or a ‘blastula’ or a ‘zygote.’  Or just ‘a woman’s body.’  ANYTHING but a CHILD!’”

But it wasn’t all just stupid; there was plenty of malice, too. 

As soon as the story leaked, leftist protestors started acting thuggishly, as is their perpetual wont.  They physically attacked some cops in L.A. (and went tragically un-shot and un-arrested).  They formed a mob outside the Supreme Court, forcing the capitol police to scramble to put up barriers to try to protect the building.

They threw gasoline on the smoldering fire by encouraging the mentally fragile among them to “take to the streets,” a la Maxine Melting-Face Waters’ infamous call to “get in their faces, and push back on them.”   They published the home addresses of the originalist SC judges, requiring frantic efforts to provide security for them and their families.

In my more charitable moods, I might say that this is a straw man argument, and that we shouldn’t lump all of them in with their lunatic fringe.  But what happens when that “fringe” looks to be a majority of their public figures? 

After all, it’s not like the “mainstream” or “establishment” of their party is condemning the loons among them. 

The White House can’t even bring itself to criticize the unprecedented ethical breach of leaking a draft decision, just as they didn’t condemn the sleazy activists who chased Dem Senator Sinema into a bathroom, or smeared Justice Kavanaugh with laughably false rape charges, or launched bigoted attacks on Justice Coney-Barrett’s Catholicism. 

I hate to say it, but they are acting like very bad people. 

And if, to paraphrase MLK, the arc of the mid-terms bends toward justice, this November will see Roe consigned to the dustbin of history, and the Dems are going to get their Durbins handed to them!   

Avenatti/ Jeffrey ”Hands-on-the-Table” Toobin, 2024!