Saturday, November 27, 2004

Wingding Explained

For reasons that defy explanation, Argotnaut's sister (the good Doctor Lizardo) has asked that I explain "Wingding*," an activity my siblings and I enjoyed when I was a kid. Well, who am I to resist the charms of a beautiful woman? I'm only human.

First, some background. I am one of five kids. We average about two years apart in age. I'm the second youngest. If you haven't met us Heckmans, it will be difficult for you to image the tumult of five Heckman kids, all between the ages of five and 15, gathered in one place. The noise level was akin to a thousand gas-powered leaf blowers blasting up the asses of a thousand ornery mastodons. (The carnage level was also roughly equivalent).

Anyway, the first floor of the house in which we grew up had a layout similar to a square...there was a sort of central core that contained the stairs to the second floor, as well as closets and the door to the basement. This created a natural racing circuit roughly 20 feet on a side; if one was so inclined, one could run around the central core over and over.

Thus, "Wingding" was born. All five kids would run this circuit one after the other. Understand, this was no game in the usual sense. There was no "winner" as such, as Wingding was not a race, but rather a cruel test of one's survival instincts and reflexes. The object, such as it was, was to sabotage the path of the person running behind you. Just about any obstacle was in play. For example, you might toss a throw rug or towel behind you so that your pursuer would wipe out on the hardwood floors like a drunken Mario Andretti taking a header at Le Mans. Dropping objects in the path -- magazines, toys, the occasional handful of jacks -- was par for the course. The coup de grace, however, was to fling open the door to a closet or to the basement so that the person flying blind around the corner would slam into it face first: FWAM! It was even better if the pursuers plowed into the face-planter as he or she stood stunned and immobilized, staring dazedly at the door as it vibrated from the impact.

Thus, we created own version of the chariot race in Ben Hur, with a nearly equivalent amount of sweat, bloodshed, flying bodies and scar tissue.

It goes without saying that Wingding was played only when our parents were away. It ended only when the final runner stopped running, either for reasons of exhaustion or through attrition. Finally we would hurriedly pick up the discarded tripping hazards, glue or otherwise camouflage broken furniture or decorative items, affix any necessary bandages and tell our parents when they got home that any broken crockery or knick-knacks "just, I don't know, fell off the shelf or something, I guess." I doubt if they were fooled.

Some of my siblings read this blog and I welcome their recollections of any particularly violent and/or hilarious episodes.

* Webster's Dictionary indicates that "wingding" is one word, although in this case, I think "Wing-Ding!!" with two or three exclamation points would be the appropriate spelling.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Red state/blue state

Well, it's been a week since the election and the United States hasn't slid into the sea (seas?) However, there's been much yappin' by pundits that the U.S. in actuality looks a little something like this:

It's easy to focus on the whole "moral values" issue that exit polls indicated was so important. It's fun, too, because everyone can make pronouncements about Bud-swillin' NASCAR dads and right-wing survivalist nut jobs and bible-thumpin'"Babtists," (as Joe-Bob Briggs likes to pronounce it.)

Personally, I think the reason Kerry lost was the reason that Gore "lost." He's a stiff! The zombies in "Shaun of the Dead" had more personality! Neither candidate had the charisma to sell a used car, much less convince voters of their qualifications for running the country. And let's face it, that's what the President is: a salesman. He (or perhaps she in 2008) can set policy, but the administration has no legislative power. All the President can do is make a sales pitch and hope Congress goes along. Or, barring that, gain favor with the populace, which controls Congress.

So the presidential election always comes down to a popularity contest. And in times of uncertainty, people stick with the devil they know, or at least the devil with whom they're most comfortable. Thus, the most likeable candidate usually wins it in a walk (see Reagan vs Carter, Reagan vs Mondale, Bush I vs Dukakis, Clinton vs Bush I, Clinton vs Dole, etc.). Likeability usually trumps other factors. Thus, Clinton was re-elected in a landslide despite his questionable ethics because 1) people liked him, and 2) Dole was a big stiff. It's hard to imagine a person who comes across as a bigger stiff than Bush I (although I respect the man), but damned if the Democrats didn't manage to field Mr. Excitement, Michael Dukakis.

I think the only reason W had trouble in his election the first time around is because people didn't know what to expect from him. Based on ability, Al Gore should have cleaned his clock. But Gore came across as a golem, particularly in the debates. To paraphrase Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, voters couldn't shake the feeling that if you poked Gore with your finger, nothing would come out but a little dirt and some straw.

Same with Kerry. I think the only reason the election was close was that Bush had made such an enormous mess in Iraq. But the masses were willing to overlook that because, gosh-darn it, they just liked Bush more, despite the fact that W is (arguably) the most reckless, irresponsible president the U.S. has suffered in the last 100 years. Yes, yes, the presidential election should be about who is the more capable candidate. But it hasn't been decided on that since the advent of television. And probably before that.

So the Democratic Party can talk all they want about unity and finding common ground. But what they really need is a candidate who doesn't remind voters of the robotic bears at Chuck E Cheese. Let's just hope Bush & Company don't completely mortgage the future of the country in the meantime with deficit-exploding mix of military spending, deferred-payment health care and tax reduction.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


My mood has improved a bit since the deep election day gloom. It didn't start out well today with the headline in the paper saying "Bush calls for unity." Well, yeah. He said that four years ago, and he then created the most polarized electorate I can remember.

The subhead was "President reaches out to those who voted for Kerry," and I thought, "Sure, you seek to unite as long as those people a) aren't women who want the right to choose, b) aren't gays or lesbians who have the temerity to seek equal protection under the law, c) aren't middle and lower class Americans who want health insurance, d) aren't parents who fear that trillion dollar deficits will saddle their children with a debt that they'll never get out from under. Unfortunately, that leaves out everybody except your wealthiest one percent pals, so good luck with that unification thing, Dubya.

Perhaps now that he doesn't have to worry about being reelected, Dubya can be a bit more conciliatory. But there's no reason, really, is there? The GOP gained in Congress, so the politics of fear and divisiveness are working, right? Pick a fight with some towel-heads and all the NASCAR dads and cranky old uncles will be on your side.

So what's left for us? In the immortal words of Joe Strummer from The Clash on Know Your Rights: "You have the right to free speech as long as you're not dumb enough to actually try it!" Steve Duin, a columnist in "The Oregonian" who basically serves as the paper's conscience, said essentially the same thing in this morning's column. Don't shut up...Karl Rove & Co. don't win unless we roll over.

I'm not going to roll over. Are you?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Bush & Co.

I don't have the time or, really, the inclination to do a big post about election results, even though I'm sure I'm the ONLY blogger who will do so.

Instead, here's an e-mail I sent to a friend of mine this morning which pretty much sums up our mood here.

"Yes, there's been much snorfling by the missus this morning. She's really upset. It ain't over yet, but it looks like another four years of the smirking chimp and his weapons of domestic destruction. However, this too shall pass. What's more discouraging to me is that most states that had the measure on the ballot approved bans of same-sex marriages, effectively approving the writing discrimination into state constitutions, based on religious reasons no less. That even happened here in Oregon, which was a shock. Lisa and I will take a couple of days to process what it all means, but I wouldn't be very surprised if we became Europeans in the next six months or so. Portland State University (where Lisa is attending class) has agreements with many foreign schools that would allow her to continue her studies uninterrupted and still get low-interest loans. Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Scotland (Edinburgh) and even New Zealand are under consideration at the moment.

I don't blame Bush for the debacle this time...I blame the 51 million Americans who voted for him despite his track record. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on the electorate. It really makes me feel that I have nothing in common with my fellow Americans, but it's important to keep in mind that nearly half of the country feels the same way we do. I just can't fathom why anyone in good conscience could vote for a president who has lost a million jobs, rung up the biggest deficit in the nation's history and gotten thousands of service men and women killed in a war that we didn't need to fight. "

Maybe more later. Maybe not.