A primary and an alternate crackpot theory to explain the Trump Presidency

The Primary Crackpot Theory

My primary crackpot theory to explain the Trump presidency goes like this. The Trump presidency makes sense if we accept that every human on earth is actually a character in a complex work of narrative art crafted by some genius distant alien dramatist. Our current American political moment is a climactic scene in this piece of narrative art, and the audience of astral beings who are watching are quite entertained by the hijinks of Trump and gang and moved by the sufferings of us, the underlings in the chorus. I can’t decide if this art is high tragedy, low farce, or theatre of the absurd. Perhaps it is all three. It’s hard to tell from here inside the action.

Furthermore, this crackpot theory posits, this master playwright must be quite familiar with dramatic conventions, themes, and characterizations from our earthling literature, including renaissance drama, Shakespeare, and the ancient Greeks. I know this about the master playwright due to the various allusions to classic literary works and themes that recur during each day’s news. I can’t watch coverage of Trump, his family, his staff, and his rivals without seeing references to King Lear, Hamlet, Oedipus, the Old Testament, Cervantes, early English novels. The play-within-a-play-within-a-play of the Julius Caesar semi-controversy was a particularly nice touch. Only a well-read playwright would have thought up that little bit of entertainment.

The names of the principal characters were the first clue that this all must be the work of a clever writer, albeit one whose penchant for puns is a bit overdone. Evidence: “Don” is a mafia head; “Trump” evokes fart, fool (think of the French tromper, to fool), dominance, and a blaring noise; a “Spicer” is one who changes or masks the true flavor; “Huckabee” is exactly what you would name a folksy festival of deception; “Conway” is a method for grift; “Bannon” is the one doing the bannin’; “Pence” is a pun on thinking and small change; “Putin” is the one who “put in” his preferred candidate; Republican stalwart “Priebus” is an anagram for “Is Repub!”; and don’t forget the perfectly named minor tough guy characters of Flynn, Kelly, McMaster, Rex, and Mad Dog. And of course the previous administration’s press guy was named Earnest, which means straightforward, honest, and true. Charles Dickens could not have come up with more appropriate names for the characters, and he was the genius who named characters like Peg Sliderskew, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Martin Chuzzlewit.

The recent addition of this character named Scaramucci to the cast only strengthens this theory. In Italian commedia del’arte, a comedic drama form of the Italian renaissance, Scaramouche or Scaramuccia is a buffoonish stock character who represents the unscrupulous servant of a gentleman or Don. You may know Scaramouche from the Queen lyric about doing the fandango. Scaramouche appears in countless theatrical works. He is a clever, pompous coward. And now the Trumpian drama has our own Scaramouche / Scaramucci. Clearly this is not arbitrary. Clearly this is the work of a writer quite familiar with renaissance literature.

So that’s my primary crackpot theory to explain the Trump presidency.

The Alternate Crackpot Theory

My alternate crackpot theory to explain the Trump presidency is that on or near Nov 8, 2016 someone traveled back in time and inadvertently mucked around with the space-time continuum, resulting in the Trump presidency, much like the plot of the 1952 Ray Bradbury short story “A Sound of Thunder.” If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s a quick read. If you don’t want to read it, basically, it’s a science fiction story about time travel featuring a party of big-game hunters who visit prehistoric time to hunt dinosaurs. The hunt is meticulously managed to ensure the hunters minimize disruptions to the stream of history. Indeed, they are only allowed to hunt quarry immediately before they were to die anyway. However, on this particular hunt, something goes awry, and one of the hunters panics and deviates from the path. Then the hunting party returns to their present to discover that things are slightly but ominously different, and a dictatorial authoritarian (described as “an anti everything man…a militarist, anti­-Christ, anti­-human, anti-intellectual”?—?sound familiar?) has now won the recent presidential election. The party then discovers that the panicking hunter had squished a butterfly in prehistoric times, which darkly altered the course of history.

So that’s my alternate crackpot theory. To prove or disprove this theory, I have been checking every boot I know for squished prehistoric butterflies. Finding no squished prehistoric butterflies thus far, I’m favoring the primary crackpot theory, the genius playwright idea. But I haven’t eliminated this Sound of Thunder crackpot theory.

Non-Crackpot Theories

No non-crackpot theories to explain the Trump presidency appear possible at this time.

People whom Donald Trump has praised using the exact words “[he or she] has done an amazing job”

amazingjob

Just a few of the people who have done an amazing job.

  1. 19th C. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
  2. Former Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.
  3. Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White.
  4. Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. and his father Jerry Falwell (simultaneously).
  5. German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
  6. Clay Aiken and Arsenio Hall (simultaneously).
  7. Former US President Barack Obama.
  8. Then US Senator Hillary Clinton.
  9. Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  10. Himself.

Sources:

  1. http://theconcourse.deadspin.com/a-full-transcript-of-donald-trumps-black-history-month-1791871370
  2. http://www.foxnews.com/story/2004/01/06/donald-trump-on-his-new-reality-series.html
  3. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/675692032380289025?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
  4. https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/250282366248030208?lang=en
  5. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-donald-trump-rahm-emanuel-isis-blagojevich-perspec-0630-20150629-story.html
  6. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/18/celebrity-apprentice-donlad-trump-regis-philbin_n_1525230.html
  7. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/money/donald-trump-bashes-president-bush-article-1.293069
  8. http://www.towleroad.com/2007/01/catholic_bishop/ 
  9. http://deadstate.org/video-emerges-of-trump-praising-putins-invasion-of-ukraine-hes-done-an-amazing-job/
  10. hhttp://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/06/16/im-really-rich-trump-declares-b-net-worth.html

Tool Sale

A few weeks (or was it months?)
ago
We heard the sirens, then the
news
Ted Johnson, that old guy, the next block over
Remember him?
With the dog?
White hair?
Yeah. I remember him.
I talked to him.
About his garden
My garden
His dog
My dog
Our wives both named Margie.

Collapsed in his yard.

Yesterday, a few weeks (or was it months?)
later
A handmade yellow sign on the corner: Tool Sale.
Overheard Margie (his not mine) telling other shoppers, 
mostly men, 
of his
work, tools, death, story.
Forty years an airline mechanic, you know
still fixed engines after he retired, you know

Collapsed in the yard.

Open garage and folding tables
Everything organized in rows like a garden
Or a graveyard
Wrenches, calipers, sawblades, grease, metal
Things like voltmeters, soldering guns
Stickered with prices in sharpie
Now all of it half off
Since the day is ending

Twenty-five bucks pressed into his Margie's
widowed hand
And I own Ted Johnson's
heavy as hell
(carried to the car in a wagon)
cast iron
belt-driven
(The belt in fine shape)
bench-mounted
modded a bit by Ted Himself
Drill press.

How to name a human

The United States Social Security Administration has just issued its most anticipated (more accurately: its only anticipated) annual announcement: the most popular names given to new American humans from the previous year.

I am a veteran human-namer, having named (more accurately: co-named; my wife was certainly involved, though I have heard of families where the naming of offspring is handled by just one parent, usually the mother, which is an arrangement I simply can’t understand) four lovely and, if I may say so myself, quite well-dubbed young humans. My own kids’ names: Lucy Beth (age 20), Martha Grace (17), Eliza Pearl (15), and Peter Everett (12). If you hate those names, you’ll hate my advice, so you might want to stop reading now.

Anyway, after seeing the SSA announcement, and realizing that my own human-naming days are behind me, I’ve decided, against all wisdom, to enter an area of great sensitivity, and to share my guidelines for properly naming a person. I know this is an intensely personal matter, and my guidelines will invariably seem a criticism of others’ taste, so please, please know that these are my own preferences, borne of my own Germanic protestant midwestern milieu and somewhat particular (more accurately: dorky) aesthetic values. Surely there are a variety of familial and cultural and personal factors that would cause anyone else to have other opinions.  

And so, forthwith (hey, that sounds like a name; “Forthwith! Stop pinching your sister!”), here are one American dad’s guidelines for naming human offspring.

1. Beware of The Vapor Name 

The Vapor Name is what I call any variant of a name with a specific and trendy combination of sounds, without historical heft, where faddish aesthetics are the only criterion dictating its choice. Though it takes many forms, I consider it a single, shapeshifting name.

For girls, the Vapor Name often features the letter K, often an L, often an M, often with a vowel ending, frequently with an intentional misspelling. Prime forms are Kalee, Kylee, Maley, McKenzie, Keanna, Kiera, Makenna, Kylie, Haley, Kayla. There are others. Many others. Listen at any playground and you will hear them. No, not them. Them is plural. You will hear it. The Vapor Name.

For boys: it’s a trochee (a poetry term; sorry. Basically: two syllables, the first one stressed), probably starting with a hard vowel, usually ending in n, often with a long vowel. As with the girls, the K or hard C is an over-represented consonant. Kayden, Colton, Logan, Keaton, Bracken, Cannon, Paxton. There are others. Many others.

The Vapor Name will be confused for other forms by teachers and grandparents (“Did you say the kids’ names were Klingon and Mylanta?”). It will be misspelled. It will not anchor the child. In a generation or two, it may well be a joke.

Some non-Vapor Names look like The Vapor Name. My nephew has what appears to be an archetypical Vapor Name: Cassen. But wait: that was actually the name of his great-great-great grandfather, chosen precisely for its historical heft.

I have noticed fewer uses of The Vapor Name in the SSA database over recent years. This is a good thing.

2. Resist medieval jobs

On the left is a Cooper, on the right are Fishmongers. Both are medieval jobs. Why is only one a familiar first name for a boy?

On the left is a Cooper, on the right are Fishmongers. Both are medieval jobs. Why is only one a familiar first name for a boy?

I know they’ve been wildly popular for decades, but I say no to the medieval jobs. Tucker, Cooper, Carter, Chandler, Taylor, Fletcher, Hunter, Sailor, etc.: all out. To me there’s little difference between naming a kid Taylor and naming him Fishmonger.

3. Celtic Clans are for Braveheart warriors, not baby girls

Betcha one of these guys is named Mackenzie

Betcha one of these guys is named Mackenzie

Also wildly popular, but I stay away from Celtic clans: Mackenzie, Finnegan, Kendall and the like. I meet little girls named Mackenzie and I imagine a caber-tossing bekilted ally of William Wallace.

I indirectly know of a family with daughters bearing Celtic clan names McKinley and Kennedy. Do they realize that they just need sons named Garfield and Lincoln to complete the set of children named after presidents who have been assassinated?

4. Skip the homemade spellings

If you invent the spelling of your child's name, you might want to give her this onesie.

If you invent the spelling of your child’s name, you might want to give her this onesie.

This is especially true with the jobs or the clans or The Vapor Name. Mackenzie is risky enough; Mackynzie is ridiculous. The aesthetic effect is exactly like Mötley Crüe or Def Leppard. Ripped denim and spandex are the fabric of Mackynzie. Is that what you want to burden your offspring with? And, really, have you done anything more than demonstrate that you understand the rudiments of phoenetics? “Madysyn” is to “Madison” as “ellyfunt” is to “elephant.” So you understand how to use the alphabet to misspell things. Congratulations.

(Hey, I just thought of a good example of The Vapor Name and a serious spandex name: Dokken. If you hate my advice, name your kid Dokken and wrap him in leopard print and a feather boa. That would actually be kind of cool.)

Also: if you insist upon a homemade spelling, you forfeit all rights to be bothered when it is misspelled or mispronounced. Which it will be.

5. Poetics matter

Pay attention to rhythm, assonance, alliteration, spondees, trochees. If you don’t know what these are, retake freshman English and pay attention this time. And by the way, a well-chosen meter is more “creative” than a phonetic spelling.

6. Seek inspiration in the right places

Names drawn from art, literature, music, culture are great, but make sure the reference will remain meaningful to you and the child. So look to longtime favorites, not the popular culture of the moment. One could thoughtfully name a subdivision worth of kids just by inspiration from Dickens characters (Oliver, Ebenezer, Nell). Or Beatles lyrics. (Julia; Desmond; Vera, Chuck, and Dave) But just because you cried at that one episode of Pretty Little Liars doesn’t mean you need to name your kid “Wren.”

7. History is a feature, not a bug

I’d probably never give a kid a name that didn’t even exist a century ago. Pro tip: go to an old graveyard. Find headstones from the 1800s. Read the names thereupon. Those are good names. Pro tip #2: imagine a letter written home from the Civil War by a young private to his sweetheart. He begins: “To my dearest <name>.” He concludes: “Till we meet again, I remain ever yours, <name>.” Fill in the blanks. Those are good names.

8. If it sounds expensive and classy, it usually isn’t

No to Tiffany, Amber, Champagne, Taffeta for girls; Chance, Mitt, Chase, Tad for boys. You’re striving.

9. Fight common the right way

Look: I understand the desire to give a child a name that won’t be too common on the playground or in the classroom. I stayed away from popular names, too. In fact, none of my kids’ first names were in the top 100 for their gender in the year they were born. To fight common-ness, you need to understand some things:

  • You don’t fight common with trendy. If a name is trendy, it is by definition not uncommon.
  • If you like a trendy name, be on the leading, not the trailing edge of the trend curve.
  • If you want uncommon, go with archaic + uncommon, not invented + uncommon. Yes to Ezra; no to Zera. Yes to Ferdinand; no to Fando.
  • Don’t confuse “that’s been around a long time” with “therefore it’s too common.” This is related to “History is a feature, not a bug.” There are far fewer little Marys and Janes and Peters and Thomases than you might think. These things can be easily researched. Peter (the name of my son) didn’t crack the top 100 boy names in the year of his birth (2004 — it was 124 for boys); however, Aiden, Jayden, Caden, Brayden, and Hayden each did (Do I sense the Vapor Name?). I hope the Jayden-namers that year didn’t choose the name because they thought it less common than James or Charles or Robert. Cuz it isn’t. This is a statistical fact.

10. Dig into your family tree

There’s good stuff back there. I’ve got Ralph and Martha and Cassen and Amalia and Everett and Walter and Julia and Norman and Ruth and Johann and both Fredericka Wilhelmina and Wilhelmina Fredericka (I am not kidding) all rolling around in my ancestry. Great names (well, maybe not the Fredericka & Wilhelmina duo). You have some too, I’m sure.

11. Play games with the name

You often hear to avoid names that could be turned into easy targets for teasing and cruel nicknames. (Last name Pants? Don’t name the kid Poopy.) But I say go one step further: mess around with puns and word games, because you will be playing with this name for years. If you think I haven’t made a little riddle that says “how do cavemen get their food? A: They Club it” (an anagram for Lucy Beth, my oldest) or drawn a picture of a ham shank hanging framed in a gallery (Ham Art = an anagram for “Martha,” my second), then you don’t know much about me.

12. Don’t relax on the middle name

A good middle name puts the finishing touches on a first name, taking a good name to a great name. I dig the name of my daughter Eliza; I really dig Eliza Pearl. In fact, I’ll pause for a moment to examine the case study of Eliza Pearl, my 15 year old daughter’s name. Its features:

  • Not a whiff of The Vapor Name.
  • Deep connections to history and literature. Think of Eliza Doolittle from Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, or Eliza Hamilton, Alexander’s wife, as recently featured in the eponymous Broadway musical. (note: betcha that show leads to a spike in popularity for “Eliza” and possibly “Martha,” which happen to be the names of two of my teenaged daughters).
  • Not common (she’s the only Eliza in her school of 3000+ kids), but not invented. A stylish variant of a common name, Elizabeth.
  • Neatly paired with Pearl, a jaunty, familiar-but-fresh middle name that connects her to family (My wife’s name, Marjorie, comes from the Greek for “pearl”), with a bonus allusion to a song from one of our favorite bands from way back before we got old and bitter and way too concerned about things like names.

You may not love this name, but you gotta respect the artistic process.

13. Fit to the surname, especially a difficult surname

I acknowledge that one reason I favor names that aren’t invented, that have historical or literary precedent, and that others can spell is because I have a hellaciously difficult last name. My son will have a thousand conversations like this throughout his life: “S-C-H-E-R-S-C-H – that’s right, another “sch” – L – I – what? After the “sch”? The first or the second one? The first? E – R, then another “SCH” – got it? OK – no, the OK aren’t part of the name! – Ready to continue? L – I – G <PAUSE> — and T. Not G-H-T. Just G-T. You wanna repeat what you entered, just so we have it right? Oh jeez. You are way off. Let’s start over.”

I figure just saying “First name Peter, as in Frampton” spares him a little something.

 

In a funk

Actual grief? For an over-exposed stranger? I’ll save mine for people I love, thank you very much.

That’s usually how I feel about the deaths of celebrities, even talents like David Bowie or Glen Frey or Robin Williams. Yes, reflection on the talent. Yes, consideration of the work. Yes, appreciation of the place in history. But all done at a distance, with the brain before the heart. The last celebrity death that actually shook me was probably David Foster Wallace’s suicide: I so loved his books and his mind, and his end was so bleak. But that was eight years ago. And he was not even really a celebrity.

Then around noon Thursday the news came through my twitter feed: a death at Paisley Park. Prince. Prince. I gasped audibly, felt a cold spike in my spine and a weight in my gut that still hasn’t really left. That afternoon, I drove home past First Avenue, my usual commute from downtown Minneapolis. As I crawled through the crowds starting to gather at the Prince star on the wall, a star I’d idly looked at a thousand times, I snapped a selfie, tinted it purple, posted it on Instagram. It was a teenage move, from the ghost of a teenage me. I received messages from friends, siblings. My brother and sister were headed to Paisley Park like church ladies dropping off a hotdish at the home of a grieving neighbor. This one was different.

Even as I’ve been thinking so much about Prince’s death, I’ve been thinking about why I’ve been thinking so much about his death.

Am I mourning the music? Maybe. Sure, of course I love his music. Of course. Who doesn’t? Prince was an astral-level pop music genius. Not liking Prince would be like not liking Shakespeare: it’s just not an opinion a reasonable person can hold. His art signifies something mysterious and wonderful about the nature of humans and the nature of quality. But his music, though transcendent, was not necessarily my native type, what I sing in the shower or add first to a new Pandora channel. The music I favor has a bit more bonfire to it: Neil Young or Ryan Adams.

Am I mourning the person? Maybe. After all, the man did something no scientist ever has: he proved the existence of the soul. But unlike every single other one of my fellow Twin Citians, I don’t have a great personal Prince story.  My Prince stories are second-hand. My brother mowed Prince’s lawn; my high school pals were extras in Sign o’ the Times – I was invited, couldn’t make it for some reason or another. But me? Never met the guy.

I think this funk is local. Like most people, Minnesotans think our place is the best place; unlike most people, we may be right. But one of our least redeeming qualities is our insularity. It’s probably something about our weather, our distance from other cultural centers, and the way coastal Americans tend to misunderstand or ignore us – it all makes us a little aloof, turns us maddeningly provincial, aggressively defensive. You laugh at our accents? You think our sweaters are overthick? OK then. Your loss then. We will go about our business leading great companies, producing smart and happy people, breaking the hearts of our sports fans, and making great music. And if we can’t or won’t convince you of our value ourselves, we’ll send out a representative on our behalf. He will be very much like us, and very much unlike us, or anyone. That was Prince. Our emissary, speaking for our cold edge of the nation as he speaks his unique voice to the world, and possibly even to other worlds.  Weirdly, losing Prince reminds me a bit of how I felt when the North Stars fled for Dallas: it damages my memory of the particular place and time, the Twin Cities in the 1980s, that formed me and so many of friends. And damage to formative memory, my friends, makes for a funk.

A couple months ago, I was at my daughter’s volleyball tournament in a town outside of Minneapolis. There was a gap between her matches, and I found myself killing time in an antique shop. On a Queen Anne table and next to a pretty awesome Hamm’s beer sign was a bin of old records. Amid the minor forgotten artists I came across a masterpiece: Purple Rain. I held the vinyl to the light, examined the sleeve and the cover. This would be worth owning, I thought. But it was like 11 bucks, and I had already picked out a few other small things: lesser records for a friend and my brother-in-law, a jigsaw puzzle for my dad, and a book for myself. And how much cash was in my wallet, and I don’t think this store even took plastic, and of course I need some cash to buy a snack at the volleyball concession stand. So I put it back. I would have other chances, I was sure. After all, this was Prince, and this was Minnesota: he was everywhere and for all time, right?

To which I now say: Uff da. Uff da 2U.

The Blair Wish project

The heartbreak train was right on schedule. Once every a decade or so, we Vikings fans can expect our hearts to receive a thorough stomping. If we’re feeling good about our team, if we are thinking, “Hey, maybe…,” well, that’s as clear a signal as a chug of smoke and a distant whistle on the prairie horizon. Vikes looking pretty good? Then the heartbreak train is coming. Right on schedule.


Blair Walsh has one of the strangest jobs in human history. His contribution to his economy, to his culture, is that on Sunday afternoons he kicks a weirdly shaped leather object between a pair of elevated yellow poles under high-pressure conditions. Because Blair Walsh has established the ability to perform this weirdly particular task under these demanding conditions exceedingly well, he is rewarded quite handsomely. Rough calculations say that he is one of the top .000001% of people in the world at this feat of feet. Remove a decimal place, so that he is only in the top .00001%, and his talent at kicking that leather object is valueless, a party trick.

Yesterday, Blair Walsh successfully performed this trick thrice (under almost comically miserable conditions), and failed to perform it once. That one failure meant his team was eliminated, and we fans added another chapter to our great Norse saga of sorrows.


As he lined up the kick, and I sat in my living room with my 11-year old son, I said “Blair has been on fire all game. I think we’re moving on!’  And then, just before, or maybe as, the ball was snapped, I thought: oh wait. He could actually miss this. A half second later, when he hooked it in exactly the manner I’m prone to hooking a five-iron, I wasn’t even surprised. It felt like the fulfillment of a dark prophecy. It felt foreordained. I should have seen it coming. It was right on schedule.


The dominant post-game narrative seems to be personal empathy for Walsh (by all accounts a stand-up guy) colored by the insistence that he failed to do that which he was required to do. In a nutshell: yeah, we feel bad for the guy, but he must make that kick. I saw this theme of requirement repeated in interviews and commentary: He must make it. He cannot miss it. Missing that kick is unacceptable. Even coach Zimmer said it: “he has to make it.”

I hear these requirements and wonder, what do we mean, has to make it? Clearly we aren’t saying it is physically impossible for him to miss it. Are we saying that if he misses it he is no longer qualified to be an NFL kicker?  Because there isn’t a kicker in the history of the league (well, other than those kicking for the Patriots) who never missed a clutch kick.

Walsh’s role, his value — in fact, the role and value of all athletes — is based on his effort against the looming spectre of failure. That’s why the rules don’t give the Vikes a victory for reaching field goal range. The fact that he CAN miss that kick is why he must try it. So yeah, of course he can miss that kick.

Or is it this: in our head, in our heart, he always makes that kick. By missing, he has failed to match our mythology.


I tell you, when that kick went wide my son wailed and shrieked like I have never heard. “NO! NO NO NO! DAD HOW DID THAT HAPPEN! NO! I HATE THIS! NO!” He was inconsolable for hours.

Welcome, my boy, to the club. Now, let me tell you about Gary Anderson and Nate Poole and Darrin Nelson and twelve men on the field and 41 donut and some super bowls in the 70s that form some of my earliest memories.


I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty uncomfortable with the idea of sitting in my living room eating crackers while it’s 6 below outside and decreeing which minor failures by other humans are not acceptable to me. Saying Walsh “must” make a kick is a stark example of the strange tyranny we fans impose upon our sporting heroes: we reverse the cause and effect relationship of talent to achievement. We declare our expectations based on an imagined ideal, not on a fellow human being’s effort, talent, capacity, and shortcomings. We think: because Blair Walsh is a well-paid NFL kicker, he must make a kick. But the truth is the reverse: because Blair Walsh is much more likely than almost anyone else in the world to make that kick, he has become a well-paid NFL kicker.

We repeat this pattern all the time. Our anger at Adrian Peterson for fumbling, at Teddy Bridgewater for his arm strength, at Joe Mauer for slapping grounders to the second baseman, is because we demand these people — these flesh and blood, flawed human people — match our mythology. Holding on to a football when it’s -6 degrees and a horde of giant aggressive humans are colliding into you and pawing at that ball is just really hard. In that situation nearly any of us would fumble. So how dare we declare, “AP just can’t put it on the ground in that situation, and, hey, grab me another beer.”

This kind of thinking has the counter-effect of devaluaing these athletes’ actual talent and hard work. It makes their talents an effect of their status, rather than the reason they’ve achieved the status.

One of the things I’ve heard often in the last 24 hours: “Even I could make that kick.” It’s a weird sentiment, which suggests the speaker doesn’t quite believe he and Walsh are the same species. I hear that and think: of course you could make that kick. You also could miss it. Just like Blair Walsh. He’s still the one I’d want trying it.

The hardest thing I’ve had to do so far

Last weekend my wife Margie and I drove our oldest daughter from our home in suburban Minneapolis to start college at DePaul University in Chicago. We spent two days with her, getting her settled and exploring that wonderful city. After our last afternoon in the Loop, we returned to campus, kissed her one last time, and watched her head into her dorm. Margie and I then splurged on fabulous meal (restaurant recommendation: Perennial Virant), reminisced about our girl, spent a sleepless night at our hotel, got up at 4:30 AM, stopped in the street in front of her dorm, looked at her window, and drove the 414 miles home.

It was a weirdly profound experience — one I hope I never forget, even as I hope the pain subsides. This is a condensed chronicle of my thoughts throughout.

This roadtrip to Chicago is the greatest drive we’ve ever taken. It’s going so fast!

Wait. I don’t want this drive to go fast. I want it to slow down.

Why do Margie and Lucy say we should get our breakfast to go? I don’t want to get it to go. I want to stay right here in this coffee shop in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I want more time.

Lucy keeps asking us to turn the radio to the Broadway Tunes channel. And when a show tune she loves comes on she yells “turn it up!” as if it’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” when really it’s some song from “A Chorus Line.” What a dork.

Wow. This is going to be tough.

Ah, the Chicago skyline.

Ah, the Chicago traffic.

So this is it. Her room. She needs more stuff. Let’s go to Target. Let’s go get her more stuff. This is something I can do for her. Stuff.

I should have been a farmer! Because farm kids don’t really leave home, right? They stick around, help with the family operation, eventually take over while the dad hangs around sipping coffee and acting patriarchal. Isn’t that how farm families work? No?

Get control of yourself, you big dope. This is something to be proud of. Your oldest daughter, a bright, creative, independent young woman, is enrolling at a fine university in a program that seems exactly right for her. Do not try to stop this.

I need to try and stop this.

I’ve heard people say it’s so nice to have your kids leave the house. Every one of those people is a lying bastard.

I feel sad, and that makes me angry. Is there something I can punch? What can I punch?

I have three other fantastic kids at home. None of them are leaving Minnesota. Ever. I can’t go through this again. As soon as I get home I’m moving us all into the woods.

Other animals don’t do this, right? They don’t take their kids 400 miles away and just leave them there. I think bears are really protective of their cubs, right? And I’m her papa bear! I should be defending her. Oh, if only I’d been born a bear! Bears are awesome.

Actually, I’m quite sure bear cubs don’t stay with their papa bears forever.

Actually, I think some bears might even kill their young. Or is it that the young kill the parents?

Actually, I know nothing about bears.

Speaking of bears, she better not become a Bears fan. I need to send her some Vikings gear.

What are we doing? This kid belongs in one place, and that place is our house in Minnesota. Going away to college is just stupid.

Hey, I have just discovered an unexplored flaw in our society: we send our kids away to college. Oh modern America, what is wrong with you! Your tradition of sending kids away to school probably contributes to all sorts of social ills. Fortunately, someone has finally recognized this, and that someone is me. I shall fix it! I shall start a movement!  There will be banners and parades! People will dump buckets of ice water on their heads to support my cause! First things first: a domain name. Is FullNest.com available? No wait: not dotcom: this is totally a dot org. This is a non-profit!  This is for society’s good! This will be my life’s work!

No. Not a non-profit. A business. For huge profits. Parents sending kids away to college are what savvy businessfolk call an underserved market.  There are all sorts of products and services for parents of young children — but what about for parents with an 18-year old daughter on a distant campus? Here’s the idea: a mobile app that sends reassuring text messages to parents on a college kid’s behalf.  We name it “Call Your Mother.” What parent wouldn’t pay for this? (ED. NOTE: Actually, this is a pretty good idea.)

Why am I in this hotel, staring at a picture of Abe Lincoln on the wall at 2:00 AM, while she is in that dorm room a mile away?  She’s our child. Shouldn’t we be together? Can I break into that dorm room? I wouldn’t even wake her up. I’d just look at her for a while. She doesn’t even need to know it.

I’ve always encouraged her independence. I would never consider myself a helicopter parent. Maybe I am.

I just don’t want her to graduate from DePaul, and then go to grad school in, I don’t know, Phoenix, and then end up meeting some dude from Arizona, and I spend the rest of my life seeing my grandkids and my lovely, lovely daughter at Christmas and for one weekend each summer. In Arizona, of all places. And she doesn’t like hot weather.

Look at her, sitting on the el train, one pink earbud in to listen to music, one out to stay attuned to what’s going on around her. She is so poised, so prepared. I’m going to sneak a photo of her while I pretend to check my phone. Ha. She doesn’t even know I took it.

You know what? She’s going to be cool to know as an adult.

Last time we were in Chicago I became a member of the Art Institute. That was so smart. Look at those tourists, waiting in the long line for tickets. We get to use the separate member entrance and just flash our membership card, like VIPs. It’s so quick.

Wait. Today I don’t want quick. Can we go back and get in the long line? Can I revoke my membership?

Some part of me physically hurts. Am I being stabbed? It’s sort of beneath my ribs. What is that? Is that my heart? My guts?

Not much longer now. It’s coming. The goodbye. I have maybe 10 more minutes with her.

This is the hardest thing I’ve had to do so far.

This is where we’re saying goodbye? Right here on this sidewalk? This isn’t what I planned. I had planned a momentous paternal speech, filled with wisdom and wry humor. What was I going to say to her again? I can’t say anything to her. I can’t even bear to look at her. If I do I’ll melt on this sidewalk.

I guess I just tell her I love her.

There she goes. My girl. Into her future.

Are these tears? Am I seriously starting to weep? I’m not a weeper. I haven’t wept in years. I’m a happy guy. It’s one of my features. Sad sucks. I don’t want to be sad.

Time is cruel.

Is this grief? Is it fear? What is it?

C’mon. She’ll be home at Thanksgiving. Real grief is felt by the parent who has lost a child. Real fear is felt by the parent of a soldier headed into harm’s way. Stop being such a baby.

But this hurts like grief. If this isn’t grief, what is it?

Maybe sorrow? Maybe lamentation? What do I call this?

Maybe call it being a wuss. Stop being such a baby.

If this the hardest thing I’ve done so far, I’ve had one blessed life.

But still. That stabbing. These wet cheeks.

I should call my mom and dad and scold them for not preparing me for this. No, and apologize if I did this same thing to them, 26 years ago. Why didn’t they tell me I was doing this to them?

Hey, what about Spain?!  Yeah, the country. Spain.  I think I’ve heard that in Spain kids don’t really leave home. They stay in their family’s home, and when they grow up I think they just move into an apartment upstairs or something.

Actually, I know less about Spain than I know about bears.

There sure are a lot of Dunkin Donuts in Chicago.

So I’m supposed to just aim this car away from her? Go back to Minnesota without her? This doesn’t seem possible. It’s like pulling a planet away from its star. This defies physics.

Sadness, pride, joy, and love all prove there is more to this existence than mere physics.

Jase, you keep saying this is the hardest thing you’ve done so far. That’s wrong. You’re not really doing anything. If anything, she’s doing it, and Time is doing it.  Watch your grammar. You are an object, not the subject.

There’s this: you do get to keep being her dad. You just have to do it in a new way. You have no other choice. You can’t become a farmer. You can’t become a bear. You can’t move to Spain. And even if it hurts like a ripping rib, you would never want her to be doing anything other than becoming herself.

Lucy_on_El_train

Fox Went Out on a Windy Night

My latest DVD purchase was Fantastic Mr. Fox, which I’d originally seen with my kids on a snowy night during last season’s Super Bowl. (Note: I refused to watch the last Super Bowl, for reasons that are fairly evident if you (1) know anything about my complex relationship with the Minnesota Vikings and (2) remember the dark events that occurred in New Orleans on Jan 24, 2010.  So we went to this movie instead. Best choice I could have made.)

“I see two terrific lawyers, a skilled pediatrician, a wonderful chef, a savvy real estate agent, an excellent tailor, a crack accountant, a gifted musician, a pretty good minnow fisherman, and possibly the best landscape painter working on the scene today. I also see a room full of wild animals. Wild animals with true natures and pure talents. Wild animals with scientific-sounding Latin names that mean something about our DNA.” – Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop-motion animation film from Wes Anderson that’s based on Roald Dahl’s novella of the same name (though expanded considerably).  It’s one of the most delightful films I’ve seen in years.  I mean that literally: this thing is full of delights.  You know how some corners of popular culture insist (even though it’s so lazy to do so) that intelligence must manifest itself creatively as world-weariness, as sneering cynicism? The next time someone suggests that intelligence and wit can’t live alongside sincerity, remember Fantastic Mr. Fox. This film is so very wise, and so very forthcoming.  Even its irony is presented honestly.

It’s the story of a Mr. Fox, voiced by George Clooney, who is perfect for the role.  (Picture Clooney as the urbane burglar Danny Ocean in the Ocean’s Eleven movies. Now picture that same character as a fox puppet. That’s basically the character).  At his wife’s insistence, Mr. Fox has given up a traditional but dangerous vulpine livelihood (stealing poultry from farms) to settle down in a safe job (a newspaper writer, which might be ironic – there are few jobs less “safe” than print journalism these days) and raise a family with his vixen (voiced by Meryl Streep.)  But Mr. Fox finds this bourgeois life stifling, so he decides to undertake — unbeknownst to Mrs. Fox — a final, elaborate, series of heists against the local farms.  This indulgence escalates into a turf war between the utterly nasty human farmers and the local wildlife, who literally go underground to escape the wrath of the humans.  But more interesting are the personal (can I used that word when I’m talking about animated critters?) relationships that are set against this conflict: the affections but frustrations between Mr. and Mrs. Fox, the rivalry between the Foxes’ son Ash and his golden boy cousin Kristofferson, the superhero and sidekick relationship between Mr. Fox and a dimwitted opossum (“I have completely different teeth than you! I’m an opossum!”).

These characters are rich and complex, none moreso than Mr. Fox. He is appealing and charismatic, but also deeply flawed: he’s a poor father, selfish and immature, and he’s something of a cad.  But then again, he’s a fox.  That’s what he does.  This is one of the film’s great themes: the noble, though possibly unwinnable, battle to become greater than how your nature defines you.  Mr. Fox may be a sharp dresser, but the fox in him needs to kill chickens.  How can he reconcile this?

The story is sprinkled with are clever running jokes and set pieces.  There’s a wonderfully unnecessary riff on the absurd sport of “whack bat,” a hilarious, continuous joke of swearing by using the word “cuss” (“what the cuss are you doing?” “are you cussing with me?”), and a great, late interaction between the woodland animals and a lone wolf.  This scene alone is loaded with more irony and beauty and complexity than a hundred episodes of Disney channel programming. Magnificent animals trying to escape from humans by driving down a country road spy a magnificent animal, and then act exactly like humans who have spied a magnificent animal while driving down a country road: how perfect.

I also much mention the soundtrack. When I heard the opening chords to The Rolling Stones’ “street-fighting man” as the war between the farmers and the animals escalated, I found myself consciously saying: there is no better musical choice to accompany this moment.  Once more: how perfect.

For me, though, the greatest theme of the movie is the power of invention. Like the best animated films, it continually reminds you that it is the product of the considerable talent and painstaking labor of its creators, while simultaneously removing you from the artifice and letting you enjoy the story.  This is unabashedly and completely a piece of art.  Every gesture, every prop, every stitch of scenery is carefully controlled, created.  The film starts with a poem, and I think that’s a great clue to the film.  Because, as in a poem, in Fantastic Mr. Fox there are no accidents.  There is nothing – not a frame –that is not the execution of a careful, artistic choice.   This means the film is self-conscious and artificial, but it is still honest and true. That’s a hard combination to pull off, but Wes Anderson and his team pull it off triumphantly. You can call Fantastic Mr. Fox a children’s movie or an adult movie, you can quibble about how much of it is an adaptation or an original, but I think you have no choice but to call it a remarkable piece of art.

Meet the new Moss, same as the old Moss

One of history’s great physicists: Randy Moss. Click for a gallery on the official VIkings site.

News that Randy Moss was on a longship headed back to Viking territory rang out across the northland like a gjallarhorn this week.  Moss has (possibly correctly) been described as petulant, cancerous, even abusive.  He has also (definitely correctly) been described as totally awesome at catching footballs, and one of the greatest Vikings ever.  Since his role in my world is almost entirely about the latter, my reaction, like most fans of the purple, was joy. My brother declared Wednesday one of the five greatest days of his life.  My wife immediately changed her facebook profile photo to a picture of afro’d Moss taken during his last victory as a Viking, the playoff moon game against the Packers.  (Her great quote, when reminded of Moss’s purported moral failings: he’s my wide receiver, not my pastor.)

I should admit: I had recently declared that I was beginning a lengthy rebuilding period of my Viking fandom. See, I overpaid for a ticket to their home opener against the Dolphins, and I spent those three hours in the upper deck of the Metrodome feeling miserable about the team. I left that game, a pathetic loss, determined to reset my priorities.   The next week, when they played (and beat) the Lions, I protested by staying away from the TV.  I mowed the lawn. I got my hair cut. I played with my kids. I enjoyed my little protest.

Then this week’s news broke. #84–hero of the ’98 glory-to-heartbreak season; the most thrilling Viking of all time– is back in Minnesota, where he belongs, and I’m declaring my fandom’s rebuilding period over prematurely. Moss is back; so is Jason.

During those seven years when Moss was here originally, he treated us to some of the most spectacular moments Minnesota sports fans have ever witnessed. He is one of very few athletes who adjusts the geometry of a playing field, whose talents are described by theoretical, not practical, physics, like he’s a quark, or Schrodinger’s cat.  Throw a ball in Moss’s direction, and straight lines are bent, rigid shapes flex, time slows down.  I recall a play against New Orleans late in Moss’s first stint here where Dante threw a deep ball that was clearly (1) way past his intended receiver, and (2) out the back of the end zone anyway.  But while that ball sailed harmlessly out of the playing area here in this universe, down on the field a different physics was at work.  Time both slowed and accelerated as #84 flattened himself across an event horizon, extended his long arms out and up while rapidly tapping his feet down and back at the same time as he propelled them up and forward. I tell you, a particle accelerator, the Hubble telescope, and some grad students with lab coats and unkempt beards could demonstrate that the back right corner of the end zone actually expanded in all dimensions —  laterally, vertically, temporally — for both an instant and an eternity, and then collapsed back to this reality when the ref raised his hands. Touchdown. Huh? Moss caught that? Show me that again. Wow. So that’s how the universe began.

Bottom from Midsummer Night's Dream

If Moss were a Shakespearean character. Source: http://www.zonkey.org/htmlwk8_midsummerfinal5.html

I know that Moss has been vilified for his petulant behavior.  I’ve always thought this was overblown.  My basic framework for following professional sports is to regard them as an ongoing compelling narrative, the way some people regard the Harry Potter books or Lost.  The coaches and athletes are the characters in these narratives.  In the narrative of pro football, Moss’s antics are not the work of a villain, like Shakespeare’s Iago. They are the work of a low character, like Shakespeare’s Bottom.  Mooning the crowd.  Bumping a traffic cop.  Squirting a ref.  Walking off the stage while the scene is still playing.  These are things circus clowns do, not archenemies.  But this circus clown also makes circus catches.

I don’t say this to justify him, but to say that Randy Moss is probably more complex than we realize, and perhaps less to blame for his teams’ failures than we make him out to be.  Moss walking off the field late in a game against Washington is widely regarded like it’s tantamount to murder, but no one ever points out the fact that Mike Tice managed the clock in that game like it was a sundial made from a stick and he was Survivorman: imprecisely.

And Moss’s infamous “I play when I want to play” quote demands some context and some reflection, doesn’t it?  Has anyone heard this quote, first hand?  I’ve only seen it in print or heard it repeated by pundits.  What was Moss’s tone?  What was the nature of the question he was answering?  How do we know exactly what he meant? The media always gives it a defiant, belligerent reading, as if it says “I am uncoachable; I don’t care about my team; no one can tell me what to do.”  But couldn’t a skilled actor read that line as Moss’s reflective description of his internal will?  Try this translation instead: “I play when I want to play” equals “my motivation to play comes from deep within me.”  What’s wrong with that?  Heck, read differently, “I play when I want to play” becomes a thoughtful riff on Ecclesiastes or the Byrds. There is a season for everything: a time to sow, a time to reap, a time for playing football.

I’m not naïve about professional athletes; he may very well be a jerk.  And I’m not saying that reacquiring Moss is without risk.  I actually fully expect this to end badly – after all, for the Vikes, it always does. But Randall Gene Moss (the man) playing the complicated and rich part of Randy Moss, 84, Superfreak, the Viking wide receiver, is like Brando playing Stanley Kowalski or Olivier playing Hamlet: the perfect man for a perfect role. I can’t wait to watch it again.

This little piggy went to chili

Note 1: This is the pork chili that won last weekend’s 2010 Magnolia Lane neighborhood chili cookoff. One of the requirements was that the winning cook share his or her recipe. Hence this post.

Note 2: I’m not even calling this a recipe, which is a document tells you what you should do to prepare a certain dish. Think of it more like technical documentation that explains what I did in the event that it needs to be reproduced.  My neighbors and I thought this was good prepared this way, but you could modify it in any of a thousand ways. I mean, this is chili. It’s about creativity, not exactitude.

Note 3: I made this dish with ingredients I happened to have on hand. If pork loin hadn’t been on sale at the grocery store earlier in the week, I would have made a different dish altogether.  Again I say: making chili is an act of creativity.

What you need

  • Bacon (6-8 strips)
  • A hunk of pork. I used probably one-and-a-half to two pounds of pork loin, but you could use some pork shoulder or something, too.  Cut it into nice chunky chunks.  Chubby one-inch cubes are nice.
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 jalepeno pepper, finely chopped.  (Wash your hands thoroughly after chopping hot peppers. And don’t rub your eyes. Really. I know this from experience.)
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small can of diced green chiles (I actually didn’t use these in the winning recipe,  but I would have if I had them, so I’ll pretend I did.)
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes.  I like diced tomatoes way better than stewed tomatoes (though my mom uses stewed tomatoes in chili, and her chili is tasty.)  When we were kids, my brother and I called the stewed tomatoes in my mom’s chili “chickens.”  I have no idea why.
  • Some sort of chipotle spice (I used Penzey’s chipotle spice)
  • Your favorite chili powder (I used Penzey’s chili powder)
  • Cumin (I don’t know what brand I used)
  • 6-8 cups of good chicken broth. (This was the thing I skimped on at the cook-off.  I didn’t have any broth on hand, so I just made some up with some cheap Swanson’s bullion, which I thought was way too salty, actually.  The chili would have been better with better broth.)
  • 2-3 cans of red beans, rinsed and drained. I think you should always rinse beans thoroughly in a colander before cooking with them. It’s fun to watch the gas bubbles appear as you do this. Sometimes it almost looks like a lather of soap. If you don’t rinse the beans well, these gasses all go in your belly. Cooks who don’t rinse beans are actually kind of mean.
  • A splash of lime juice
  • A pinch of sugar (I have big hands, and therefore big pinches)
  • A cup of coffee (Yes, I dumped the last of the morning’s coffee in the chili pot.)
  • Some vinegar
  • A dollop of molasses
  • Some chopped cilantro

What you do

(Or, rather, what I did.  You can do what you want.  Have I mentioned that making chili is an act of creativity?)

  1. Start with bacon.  This is rarely a bad way to start any dish, except maybe fruit smoothies. Everyone (OK, other than vegetarians or adherents to several major world religions) enjoys bacon. You know those people who say they don’t like bacon? Well, they actually do like bacon. I fried up about 6-8 strips of thick bacon in the bottom of a big heavy pot.  My favorite bacon is “No Name” brand bacon.  When you fry bacon, I think it’s best to keep the heat pretty low and don’t get it totally crunchy.  I prefer thick meaty bacon with a little “chew” to it to really crispy, dry baco-bit-style bacon. By the way, a lot of people like cooking soups and stews and such in crockpots, but I don’t.  I like using a heavy pot over heat that I can control. This way I can sear meat over high heat, then cook veggies in the fats from the meat, then lower the temperature to simmer everything together.  I have a Calphalon soup pot that is pretty much awesome.
  2. Once the bacon is done, take it out of the pot and put it aside.  After it cools a little, you’ll chop it into little quarter inch chunks.
  3. Drain some but not all of the bacon fat out of the pot.  Hang on to that drained bacon grease, in case you need it for any reason, like additional fat for the recipe or bear bait or hair gel.
  4. Fry  up the pork hunks in the bacon fat.  This takes patience.  Do not throw all of them in the pot at once.  Do not overstir them.  Do not be afraid to let them cook.  Just put a handful in the bottom of the pot, nicely spaced out, and let them cook over medium-high heat in the bacon grease so that they get a nice sear on them.  Treat them like children: care for them – deeply – but don’t be overprotective. Only after they’ve browned on one side should you disturb them by lifting them gently with some tongs and flipping them to another side, like you’d flip over your pillow in the middle of a hot night.  Then let them cook on that other side.  Repeat until you’ve got nicely seared pork hunks.  Then take them out, put them on a plate, and repeat with the next batch.  You might have to do this in 3-4 separate batches.  Also, keep the plate out of reach of the dog, who by this time will be wandering around looking for anything to drop.
  5. Once the pork hunks are cooked and set aside, put the chopped onion, garlic, and jalapeno in the pot.  Cook them over med-low heat in the yummy bacon and pork grease that has now accumulated on the bottom of your pot.  Add more grease or maybe butter or oil if you need to.  As this stuff softens, add the chili powder, chipotle spice, and cumin.  How much?  Up to you, man. As much as you like.
  6. Throw in a splash of wine.  If no one is looking, take a swig straight from the bottle. Throw in another splash.  Splash in some lime juice (maybe 2-3 tablespoons.)  Let this all soften.
  7. After about a minute, add the red bell pepper chunks.  I really like sweet red bell peppers in chili.  I didn’t discover this until a few years ago.  Stir them up a bit, let them cook a little for another minute or so, but don’t let the peppers get too soft. Mushy bell peppers make me gag, but crisp bell peppers are awesome. Maybe turn up the heat and fry the peppers a little in the oily grease directly on the bottom of the pot for 30 seconds or so, just to bring out their flavor.
  8. Dump in the can of diced tomatoes. Turn the heat down again to medium low.
  9. Add the pork chunks, which you’ve already seared.  Add the bacon, which you’ve already cooked and chopped.  Give it all a good stir and a shimmy.
  10. Check out what’s going on with your nose and your eyes and your taste buds. If the characters in your pot don’t seem to be getting along well, maybe sprinkle in a little more chili powder and chipotle spice as a conversation starter.  But if everyone in the pot is getting to know each other and the party is humming along nicely, then don’t be the crude host who decides to launch a game of charades even though the party is doing really well without it.  Just let it cook.
  11. Add some finely chopped cilantro.  Let this all cook on low for 10 minutes or so.
  12. About now is time to add some liquid and let it simmer.  So put in most of the chicken broth.  Turn the heat down to a simmer. Give everything one more nice gentle stir and a goodbye kiss.
  13. Now just walk away.
  14. Yes, I said walk away. Don’t even look back.
  15. Seriously, go do something else for a while.  Walk the dog.  Read a book.  Play with your kids.  This is kind of embarrassing, but I actually started to teach myself Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” on the guitar while this chili cooked. You think I’m kidding? I’m not. I’m a cowboy. On a steel horse I ride.
  16. I can’t believe I just admitted that Bon Jovi thing.  But the song had been in my head all day.
  17. OK, after about 45 minutes, put down the guitar and go back and check on the chili.  Taste it.  Think about what it needs.  Does it need more substance?  Then add something “dark.”  It was about this time that I poured in the last of the morning’s coffee, which was still in the pot on the counter.  I really think this helped.  Does it need more brightness?  Add some more lime juice.
  18. Oh, if you haven’t yet stirred in a pinch of sugar, do so. Recipes with tomatoes (tomato soups, chilis, tomato sauces) always need sugar, IMO.  Seriously: taste the recipe just before adding the sugar, and then again after adding the sugar.  I think you can almost immediately taste the improvement.  It doesn’t make it sweet, but it gives it what I would call a more “complete,” balanced flavor. I even added a little molasses.  I don’t know why this is, but I have found that using sugars in recipes like this keeps everything working together better.  I’m no chemist, though, and this may be a load of hoohaw.
  19. Also add a splash of vinegar, to cut any sweetness from the sugar.
  20. Let it simmer a while more.  Go out and mow the lawn.  Throw a football to your kid.  Wave at the neighbors, who don’t realize how much they are about to enjoy your tasty chili at the upcoming cook-off.
  21. Wander through the kitchen and make sure it’s all simmering nicely.  Add some more broth to keep your brew nice and liquid.
  22. Find the “Wanted Dead or Alive” video on YouTube. Chuckle at it. Man, the 80s were awesome.
  23. After another hour or so, add the beans.  Notice that I add the beans later in the process.  I like the beans to stay a little chewier, so I don’t cook them too early.  I just want them to heat and soak up flavor, not get mushy. Add any remaining broth.
  24. Stir in a big handful of coarsely chopped cilantro.  This gives it flavor and color.
  25. Wait: have I even mentioned Tabasco sauce?  No?  I love that stuff.  Throw in a few drops at various points along the way.
  26. Transfer it to a crockpot for keeping it warm at the chili cookoff.
  27. Serve in bowls.  Eat with spoons.  Enjoy with others.