Friday, September 30, 2011


It has been nearly seven and a half years since we moved out to CA from Vermont. I was heartsick for a while. I missed it back there, but given enough time California will seduce anyone. I'm not sure I could leave now without enduring some nasty withdrawal symptoms. I understand "California Dreaming" by the Mamas and the Papas. Even so, occasionally something will trigger that internal compass that points to New England, and I will find myself pining for her all over again. Today is such a day. As I type, rain is running off the roof and thunder is rolling down off the mountains. That smell, that rainy day smell, is blowing in through the open door, and all I can think about is images from my days in New England. They come and go in my mind with that perfect economy that belongs to great poetry. I could describe them for you, but I'd likely miss the mark. The rain has conjured up my sleeping desire for Vermont, and I'm at a loss as to how to bed it back down again.Ah well.
Think I

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Pray for Youcef Nadarkhani and his family.


We have new neighbors. A rowdy encampment of the Califonia Conservation Corps has sprung up on the other side of the chain link fence that separates the Tate home from the San Jacinto State Park. We get new neighbors in the State Park just about every weekend, but never have they been so generous or so loud with their overheards. They seem to really enjoy the camaraderie of being part of the CCC and after work they kick back on the picnic tables and hoot and holler over card games. The evening meal is when they really let their hair down and the overheards start flying. Every day they offer up amazing overheards. After work I enjoy pulling a chair up to the fence and listening in on their banter. Frankly, if they were going to continue on as our neghbors I would rename my blog "Overheard" and devote my efforts exclusivley to documenting the cast-off fragments of conversation I am able to catch as they relax after a long day of trail maintenance.

"Man...they was running through the desert like three little wolves looking for cocaine, hookers and s--t!"

"You're scaring me, dawg!"

"Black dudes don't hacky-sack! Especially not with these boots!"

"Don't nobody know stew like I do. NOBODY!"

"Okay, did everybody wash their hands?"

"Where do I need to go to get some doughnuts up in here?"

"At first I was like, 'is that a skunk or some s--t?' but then I was like, nah man, that's you! You nasty, man. Seriously, you nasty. You need to see a doctor or something!"

"Give me a dollar."

"Get yo own dollar!"

"Yeah, they got some big a-s bears up in these mountains."
(This quote was in response to the question "Are there any bears up here?" For the record, we do not have any bears in the San Jacinto Mountains.)

"She works hard during the day, but she don't help around camp. Somebody needs to say something to her."

(Mostly what I hear though is laughter. They are almost always laughing. It makes me want to go sign up with the CCC.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


"The prologue to many a sin is “No one will ever know,” and its epilogue, “No one must ever know.” JBT


You can check out the previous BFZ Sex Talks by following the links below:

#1- A Preface to "The Talk"

#2- Good Fire, Bad Fire

#3- The Problem of Sin

Dear Kids,

Beware the hidden place! If Satan cannot get you to call sin by another name, and if you will not be induced to continue openly and unashamed in it, then his next strategy is predictable- he will try to get you to continue in it secretly. It is always the enemy’s modus operandi to get you alone with your sin. He grins at hypocrisy and encourages man to live a divided, compromised, double life.

The prologue to many a sin is “No one will ever know,” and its epilogue, “No one must ever know.”

Spiritually speaking, a hidden place is a venom to the system. God will not be mocked and as the gulf between who you claim to be and who you are in reality widens it will become increasingly more difficult to enjoy intimate fellowship with God. Maintaining a hidden place carries other price tags as well. You will suffer for maintaining a hidden place. (Read Joshua chapter 7, Psalm 32, & Psalm 51)

(Permit me an aside- Speaking as your Father, who loves you more than you know, let me just say that I will count my parenting efforts a roaring success if you simply care about the subject matter of this post. Never mind the sins which occasionally ensnare us all. I forgive you those, and more importantly Jesus stands ready to forgive them as well. But do you even care? That is what this Father's heart wants to know about his kids who might be reading this in the future. Do you care about living a life that is pleasing to the Lord? With all my heart I hope so. I will do my part, as best as I know how, to raise you to be the sort of people who care. I just prayed Colossians 1:9-14 with you four in mind.)

Back in 2009 I wrote out a few thoughts on the subject of accountability in a post entitled “Some Thoughts on Being Naked.” (Check it out HERE, unless you don't care, but as I stated above I'm hopeful that you do.) I think accountability is the anti-venom for the hidden-place-poison. What Satan wants you to hide away in a secret shameful place God want to see dragged out into the light of day. Satan wants you to struggle with your sins alone, but God wants you to share that struggle with others. Satan grins on hypocrisy. He enjoys the misery that inevitably accompanies a double life,  but God desires you to find joy and freedom in a life of integrity. In confessing sin, and inviting a godly brother or sister into the reality of your struggle, you will find the chains of the hidden place broken and enjoy a new freedom and a new intimacy with Christ.

I hope you care.


Your Loving Father

Sunday, September 25, 2011


With one of the Perry Ellis Shoes missing, and the Boat shoes and Mallards in the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list. I have made the controversial decision to start the Lost and Found shoes for my outing in the pulpit today. I wore them all day yesterday just to see if they could handle the workload, and they did fine.

I'll be watching them today to see how they do. It's a pretty big assignment.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I've been thinking about you guys and praying for you as well. Missing out on the wedding makes me hate portions of Arizona and Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri (or Missoura as I call it), Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky (I know it would be shorter to go through Indiana, but as a rule I avoid Indiana as much as possible), Ohio, and Pennsylvania because they stand between me and the site of your nupitals.

May God's blessing rest on this joyous day and the new home you two are forming together.


We are currently hosting a women's retreat here at Maranatha, which always makes me feel kinda funny because our staff is largely comprised of women, and when all the guests are women too I walk around camp feeling like I am the last man on planet earth. This weekend it's all women all the time, and last night as I came into the dining hall to welcome them on behlaf of the staff, I met a group of women who were seated near the door. They all greeted me, because most of them know me from previous retreats, and I said "You know...I just feel like I'm the ugliest lady at this retreat." Most of them laughed but some of them just looked at me with their heads cocked to one side like they either didn't get it or actually felt bad for me. I'm not sure what they thought of my joke. Sometimes humor just doesn't translate.

Friday, September 23, 2011


On my morning constitutionals I have encountered a homeless man on two of my last three outings. At least I assume he's homeless. Perhaps he's an eccentric millionaire who shuffles along the streets of Idyllwild in the predawn hours shouting at passersby and looking disheveled, dirty and slightly unhinged because those are just some of his eccentricities. Or perhaps he is one of those angels traveling incognito that we are told of in scripture. I really should be nicer to him just to cover my bases.

Anyway, on two of my last three outings as I struck out for my morning jog I have encountered this man. On the first occasion where our two paths intersected he called out to me with a very jolly laugh, "Oh-hoh! An Alaskan surfer I see!" I smiled politely, not having the slightest clue what he he could possibly mean by that comment, and continued on my way. Occasionally I would look over my shoulder to make sure he wasn't following me.

Then the next morning as I was pounding my way down Lower Pine Crest I noticed he was walking up the street on the opposite side. He saw me. I saw him. There was enough distance between us that we both had time to plan for the moment when we would pass each other. I am a firm believer in greeting fellow passersby so I waved hello, and called out "Top of the morning to you!" In response, he bellowed across the street, "YOUR FRIEND'S A FOOL! HE'S GOTTA DEATH WISH AND HE'S GONNA GET IT!" I nodded in receipt of his warning, and picked up the pace. Occasionally I would look over my shoulder to make sure he wasn't following me.

Of course, I don't know which friend of mine he was referring to. I am blessed to have so many, you see, that I can't be sure who he was talking about precisely. So, friends, consider yourselves forewarned. Perhaps one of you has a death wish, and you should know that you just might get what you wish for, which would be death of course.

Yesterday morning as I headed out for my run I was sharply disappointed that the man didn't make an appearance. I looked for him coming and going, but he failed to show. My disappointment is defnitely the most puzzling aspect of this whole story to me. Why would I be disappointed? Reason tells me I should feel relieved, but there it is, unmistakably disappointed. It was like opening a fortune cookie to find no fortune inside.

Poor fella.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


 I wrote about our sturdy plastic strainer a few years ago when I first introduced a new feature- OBJECTS THAT PREDATE THE MERGER. It is one of those few objects that date back to the dark ages of my bachelor existence. Tonight as Sarah was straining some pasta the handle suddenly broke.
 Nothing was found to be wrong with the strainer itself so it will live to strain pasta again, but it is wounded and damaged now. That shortened handle just might prove the death of this noble strainer. For now we will hesitate before pouring off hot pasta water for fear that the shortened handle will result ina burned hand. Aye, the writing is on the wall. You've had a good long run. Remember when we used to make Maccaroni and Cheese at 19A Lower Weldon Street? Good times. Good times. We'll see if the old girl can still cut it. We'll see...

Should I convert the handle into a Christmas ornament?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


This edition of OVERHEARD comes to us from our special BFZ correspondent in western New York, Steve Maxon.

"That's how you know the world is messed up-- when you have to pay $1.25 to park for an hour on Planet Earth. On free Planet Earth!"
Outside of a coffee shop, spoken to a heavyset, oft-pierced female Goth by a rail-thin, hippie-looking, stoner-type male employee.


And the next one too!

I have never preached on two Sundays in a row before, but I'm feeling excited about the opportunity. If you're in the neighborhood swing on by Idyllwild Bible Church. Service times at 9:00 am and 10:45 am.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


"The trouble with mankind is the desire to act like God, absent from a desire to be like God."

Saturday, September 17, 2011


It's time to resume my charm offensive on the nation's restaurant chains in the hope of getting free stuff in return. Just so we're clear I want to repeat my rules for project free lunch.

Rule #1- I only write to restaurants I like.
Rule #2- I only write things which are true. No flattery. No overblown hyperbole.

I must confess that my goals are not entirely altruistic. As the title of the post suggests I am out to get a free lunch, but not through deceit.

Sadly, the following restaurants have so far failed to respond to my missives- Red Robin, Subway, Joe's Crab Shack, CA Pizza Kitchen and Papa John's. Despite their refusal to acknowledge my praise with gifts of free/discounted food I am still in the black by $22.24 thanks to the generosity of Carl's Jr., McDonalds, Starbucks and PepsiCo.

My newest targets are Chik Fil-A and P.F. Chang's. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, September 16, 2011

CPO BOX 1666

This very morning I dispatched yet another piece of correspondence to CPO BOX 1666. This time I went back to an old stand by. You may remember I sent a similar letter to my college post office box back in 2006. Back then I covered the front of the envelope with one-cent stamps, leaving just enough room for an address, and inside I wrote "Hi" on a little slip of paper. That was all. I fugure it has been 5 years since then so it must now be safe to revisit this classic.
On the back of a piece of cardboard depicting a can of Mello Yello I drew a lovely winter scene.

You're welcome current boxholder.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Happy Day is almost upon us, and I am soooooo excited.

Monday Night Football, September 26th!!!

Redskins vs. Cowboys

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

MY "REGULARS" or, as they were also commonly known, "FREQUENT FLYERS"- Major Ronald Wright (USAF retired), PART 1 of 2

Major Ronald Wright once told me that he wanted to be drunk for the rest of his life, and as long as I knew him, which was just a little over a year, I never once knew him to be sober. I pointed out to him once that being drunk all the time would probably kill him and I remember he just shrugged and said, “That’s half the point I guess.”

I first met Wright on a sweltering summer day in the summer of 2002. He lived with his long-suffering daughter-in-law in a tidy little house on Lake Street. His son had died several years prior, of what I don’t know. On that day, Ronald’s daughter-in-law, who supported her family by running a daycare out of her home, called the police department where I worked to ask us to remove her Father-in-law from her house.

When I asked her why, she outlined the situation with a beautiful economy of words. It occurs to me now that she had undoubtedly been forced to explain her problem many times before, and in such rehearsals before friends, family and neighbors she had prepared well for our conversation. She was direct, matter-of-fact, and unemotional as she talked, which impressed me more than the hysterical sobbing and exaggeration that I routinely encountered during such phone calls.

Her problem was that her father-in-law was drunk more or less all of the time, and when he became drunk he became “a real problem.” Because she ran a daycare out of her home this was not only intolerable, but it also posed a threat to her very livelihood. Furthermore, she advised that Wright had a serious heart problem which was treated with medication that conflicted dangerously with alcohol. Although he had not yet technically committed a crime the laws of Vermont allowed me to take him into protective custody under such circumstances and transport him to a detox center where he would be held until such time as he could regain sobriety.

Over the daughter-in-law’s objections that I would stain the reputation of her daycare I brought my cruiser to a stop directly in front of the address on Lake Street. Citing concerns that “it would not look good” to have police showing up at her day care she had asked me to park on a side street and enter the residence through a rear door. I wasn’t interested in escorting a violent, belligerent drunk with a serious heart problem any further than was necessary, however, so I simply ignored her. Plus, I reasoned it would keep her from calling the police department frivolously in the future if she knew that the whole thing would play out in front of her nosy neighbors.

In through the front door, across the living room and up the stairs to the Major’s room- it was a route that would become all too familiar to me in the coming months. The room itself was the very picture of military order. The bed was always made up as tight as a drum with perfect forty-five degree hospital corners, and a pad of paper and a single pencil was all that sat atop the uncluttered surface of a table against the opposite wall. Besides the bed, table, and a dresser the only other piece of furniture in the room was a leather chair which had been pushed beneath the room’s only window. Every time I came for the Major I found him sitting in that chair.

The first time I ever entered the Major’s room he pulled himself up out of his chair, bellowed “What the f---! Like hell!” and took a swing at me. Obviously his daughter-in-law had not informed him that I would be stopping by. Luckily for me, he was three sheets to the wind and about forty years out of his prime so I had no difficulty getting him in handcuffs.

To be continued…

Monday, September 12, 2011


Come away with Me
Into that place

Into the hush
Of an empty hall to
Walk barefoot circles
Round and round
Among the empty chairs
And where your voice,
Can harmonize with Mine
To set the rafters humming
On a midnight walk
Through a quiet town
Where the melody
Of your heart joins the
Rhythm of your feet
And My voice comes and goes
Like passing headlights
Along the darkened streets

Come away with Me
Into that place

I will meet you there

Sunday, September 11, 2011


On this morning, ten years ago, I came home at 5:30 am after working the night shift at the police department and went to sleep. While I was sleeping, Sarah left our apartment at 19A Lower Weldon Street and went into work at Knights' Pharmacy. I woke up later in the morning (because I slept horribly on that schedule) and turned on the TV. The first tower had been struck, but not the second one. It was all over the wire. There was speculation at that time that this may have been a terrorist attack, but still there was the possibility that this was all just a horrible, freak accident. Then came the second plane.

The phone rang. It was Sarah. "Did you hear what's going on? Are you watching TV?"

That night as I donned my police uniform, strapped on my gun belt, and attached my radio I suddenly felt like crying. I'm still not sure why exactly. Emotions can be difficult to map. It came on suddenly and passed quickly. There was anger in it, to be sure, and sorrow at the enormity of the loss, but mostly it was the knowledge that other police officers had begun their shift that morning with the same rituals, and never came home.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


 I have no doubt whatsoever that many of you will find the very idea of taking a pair of shoes (of unknown origin and with unknown fungal issues) out of Lost and Found objectionable in the extreme, but if I may quote my son Bowden, "A daredevil gotta do what a daredevil gotta do!" One of the many hats I wear here at the camp is managing the Lost and found. Our policy is to dispose of any item that goes unclaimed for after thirty days. As I was going through the mountains of abandoned clothes, towels and such I found a handsome pair of Steve Madden shoes (see photo below). I made them my own and now I can truly say that I have walked a mile in another man's shoes. They are still shaped to their last owner's feet and feel wrong every time I wear them, but I intend to purchase a product which may remedy that. Are you gellin'?
Until they are made to be more comfortable I don't anticipate they'll get many starts, but the team has taken a lot of hits over the summer so they may be thrown into the mix full-time soon. 
Currently, the Perry Ellis shoes are still the Captain of the footwear although their soles have worn so thin that I can feel the heat of the pavement on my feet as I walk. The Ducks and The Boat Shoes, which both formerly ranked as Captain, but have since been demoted to part-time, bit players due to rips which formed (here and here) have only gotten worse. Their rips have widened, and I have made the difficult decision to try and convert the Boat shoes into a kind of homemade, funky pair of flip-flops. It's going to be a dangerous operation, but it may just represent the last, best chance to save the Boat Shoes from being tossed. I'm shipping the Ducks to the Lake House for future use as a pair of swimming shoes (The bottom of Lake Champlain is littered with freshwater mussel shells which makes wearing an old pair of crummy shoes advisable when you go swimming.). I'll keep you posted.

Friday, September 9, 2011

When I was eleven I found a spring
In the woods below the house.
It was ringed all around by mossy boulders,
And shaded by a grove of pines.
If you looked down into its clear, cold water
You could see little pebbles eddy and swirl
As the water found egress from cracks underneath.
The grove of pines as well as a neighboring field
Must have been part of a farm at one time
For a number of deeply rutted paths had been worn
By cows into the ground under the trees.
It was just such a path which first led me to the spring.
I remember how the wind would pick up
And the pines would sway ominously,
Groaning and rattling in the whistling wind.
I imagined I could feel their roots straining
Against the ground beneath my shoes
As they swayed back and forth,
And if you looked down into the water,
As clear as air and cold as March,
The little pebbles swirled and danced.


Although I took most of the summer off from blogging I didn't stop accumulating overheards. I stealthily captured nearly two dozen of them as I went about my business. I have narrowed that down to these ten, which represent the best of the catch. The rest I have released back into the ether.

"Do you have any idea why the media is here?"
Hospital security guard to a nurse. Kaiser's Emergency Room in Moreno Valley, CA

"He is soooo not into you. He's into Jasmine. I told you that!"
Teenage female speaking rather insensitively to a second female of like age who was sitting down in the dirt and crying. Camp Maranatha- Idyllwild, CA

"It's weird because, like, all night I had the most amazing dreams, and I was, like, just trying to tell this kid about one of the dreams in the morning and he didn't get it. Ya know? I couldn't really, like, find the words I guess. I don't know. Do you know what I mean?"
Male camp counselor in conversation with a female camp counselor on the deck of the Ice Cream Parlor. Camp Maranatha-Idyllwild, CA

"He shoots! He scores!"
Yelled from the open, passenger-side window of a late model Ford pickup truck by a shirtless middle-aged man who had seconds before tossed an empty gatorade bottle from the aforementioned window which landed nowhere in particular and went rolling and clattering toward the edge of the road. As the truck drove off the man gave me a toothy grin before turning toward the truck's driver and asking "Did you see that?"
Maranatha Dirve- Idyllwild, CA

"What are you talking about? I love the smell of pine sap. I just don't like sitting in it."
Thirty-something female in conversastion with a male of like age who I assumed was her husband as the mounted the stairs toward the Red Kettle Restaurant. Idyllwild, CA

"They should post a warning on the way up the mountain that you may not want to go back home again. Seriously, I could live here."
Middle-aged female waxing enthusiastic about her love for Idyllwild and the mountains. Outside Fairway Market- Idyllwild, CA

"Who? Her? No! She's not the one I was talking about."
Twenty something male in conversation about a woman who was walking into the Post Office with a second male of like age outside of Gary's Deli. Gary's Deli- Idyllwild, CA

"Did you see that coyote, kids?"
Excited man speaking through the open window of a car to some kids seated in the back seat. Shell Gas Station- Idyllwild, CA

"Shock-shock! Push-push!"
Male nurse explaining to a patient (who was technically in my care and can verify that this actually happened) that if he didn't urinate he might go into cardiac arrest "or worse." It was weird. Name and location of facility withheld.

"I said I didn't want chocolate! D--- it! I specifically said no chocolate this time!"
Angry thirty-something female to a second female of like age who had run into the store apparently to get her a snack. She went on to explain that what she really wanted were "some wheat thins." Huh. Parking lot outside of Fairway market- Idyllwild, CA.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

If you kill the outboard and let your boat drift into a silent glide that parallels the shore you can almost imagine the place as it may have appeared in antiquity. I imagine dugouts pulled up onto the bank and half-naked savages taking their leisure under the trees. Perhaps even wigwams, with hides and birch bark sheets lashed to stout frames, were clustered along the shoreline.  In my mind’s eye the scene may have closely resembled an exhibit I once saw in a natural history museum. In the exhibit a canoe filled with braves hailed the shore where squaws were busily occupied scraping hides and gathering fire wood while naked children ran along the bank or stood knee-deep in the water waiting for the canoe to land. In the village the aged members of the tribe sat Indian-style near the front door of their lodges while industrious looking hunters mended equipment, or strode through the village intent on mysterious errands.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


 It has been over a year since I first identified the men's room at fairway market as the most dark and depressing corner of my little town and vowed to do something about it. Some of you have no doubt been wondering why I failed to move on that vow. The truth is, and I'm not proud of it, it has taken me this long to get up enough courage to go back into the belly of the beast. Today I dug deep, gathered all of my courage, and struck my first blow in this great cause.
 You can be sure that this is just the opening volley. Bathrooms like this flourish wherever good men do nothing, and I won't stop until this bathroom is less depressing/unpleasant (or the store's management asks me to stop).
Do you smell that? It's like a freshening breeze blowing off of a sun-drenched, flower spangled plain into a dank, fetid dungeon.

That smell! That fresh lavendar smell! Do you smell it?

It smells'ry!


 It has been a while since I sent anything back to my old College Post Office Box, but you long-time followers of the BFZ know that I periodically send things back to the current boxholder of CPO BOX 1666 (Whoever you are!!!) just to let them know that I care and that they belong to the great fellowship of box 1666. (If that "1" weren't on the front of that box number it would be the creepiest box number ever.) In the past I have sent feathers, a dollar bill, pine needles, twinkies, a license plate, and, once, an empty know...stuff college students need.
 Recently I was cleaning one of the public restrooms here at good ol' Camp Maranatha when I found this piece of currency from Indonesia in the shower area. One look at the stearn, machete-hefting  visage of Kapitan Pattimura and I knew that the current boxholder of CPO BOX 1666 needed to have it.
 I have not yet done any research to learn how much money this bill represents, but such is my generous spirit that I sent it anyway. Consider it a scholarship, current boxholder.
You may also feel free to mail things to CPO BOX 1666.

The full address is:

Current Boxholder
CPO BOX 1666
Houghton College
Houghton, NY

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


 Does anyone know of any uses for "sippy cup cheese." I know of a great many products and foods that were invented by accident, and I wonder if the hidden potential of sippy cup cheese has yet to be discovered. I can see it now... "As the story goes, sippy cup cheese was invented by accident one afternoon by local resident, Josh Tate. As he was cleaning his kids' bedroom he found a sippy cup which had rolled under one of their beds. The sippy cup, which had previously contained milk, had been left there for a week and a half before being discovered. When Tate unscrewed the top of the cup he discovered that the milk had converted into a solid state, which he called 'sippy cup cheese.' He spread the cheese on a cracker and the rest is history!"  
 I know what to do with "sippy cup hooch," which forms when you leave juice in a sippy cup for too long. I sell that in mason jars behind Fairway market. I make the best sippy cup hooch this side of Hemet.

Monday, September 5, 2011

LATTE ART by my friend, Katie Bayer


Our friend Katie Bayer works at the local coffee shop. She is an artist who works in the medium of foam. I asked her if I could post some photos of her creations here at the BFZ for your enjoyment. I think they're amazing. Although the definition of beauty can be elusive and difficult to nail down the Japanese believe that temporary things are made all the more beautiful by their fleeting, transient nature. It is hard to think of anything more temporary than coffee foam. Beautiful work, Katie.


It’s a fact that causes me some discomfort and even some embarrassment that I am one of those leaches that conservative ideologues rail against when they wax indignant about the tax code. Not five minutes ago I heard Sean Hannity of FOX news say incredulously, “48% of Americans don’t pay any federal income tax at all!” I am one of those. When filing our federal tax return this past spring, Sarah and I took advantage of the earned income credit as well as the additional child tax credit. Although I am ideologically opposed to the very existence of these credits, rational self-interest requires me to take advantage of them. They amounted to a significant windfall for us. To decline these credits would have amounted to fiscal martyrdom. If I could vote it away I would, but as long as I’m offered free money I have to admit I’ll continue to take it. I’m ideologically compromised on this issue.

Like most Americans I am concerned about our nation’s financial situation, and as I flick back and forth between MSNBC and FOX news I have noticed the not so subtle differences between the ways that liberals and conservatives frame the debate surrounding the national debt. Liberals speak of taxes in terms of fairness. Their narrative is that the proverbial little guy is playing against a stacked deck and needs help, protection and succor from the gubment. This help either takes the form a direct cash infusion (like the one Sarah and I received last spring) or government funded programs designed to help the lowest strata of our society (like Medi-Cal which pays for our kids’ health care). We are such leaches! The flip side of their narrative is that the wealthiest members of our society need to pay their “fair” share. There they go with fairness again. Liberals often portray wealth as vaguely ill-gotten and greedily accumulated on the backs of the aforementioned “little guys.” To them taxes seem primarily designed to right societal wrongs.

Conservatives frame the debate in terms of freedom and opportunity. Taxes, especially taxes that fund social/welfare programs, are viewed as parasitical insofar as they threaten to kill the host by crowding out private enterprise and sapping the national vigor. Get these onerous and burdensome taxes off the backs of “America’s job creator’s,” they reason, and the economy would roar back to life. Perhaps on a more philosophical level conservatives also view such taxes which fund the expansion of government as an insidious threat to personal liberty.

You long-time readers of the BFZ will not be surprised to learn that my sympathies lie with the conservative perspective. I don’t pretend to be a dispassionate third party. No, I am a guy with an opinion, and I write as such. The refund we received (refund being a complete misnomer in this scenario) could only be described as a pornographic sum of money. I can’t blame you tax payers for finding that outrageous and appalling! (…but can I be blamed for taking it?)

The truth is I want to pay taxes, I really do, and here’s why- Conventional wisdom says that Americans express ownership of the political process through the act of voting. I think though that it is the act of paying taxes, not voting, that gives individuals a sense of ownership and concern in national affairs. When I hear the astounding figure that 48% of Americans pay no federal income taxes I am always struck with the idea that 48% of Americans have no skin in the game. The current tax code can only breed a sense of entitlement, and a shabby view of the individual’s obligation to the rest of society. It is my opinion that everyone who makes money in America should pay something in federal income tax.

Even the poor? Yes, even the poor. Liberals will scream about the injustice of taxing the poor (remember it’s all about fairness for them), but through paying taxes I believe every citizen would experience a greater interest in national affairs, and also a greater sense of self-worth. It’s honest and good to be a contributor. It rots the soul of a free man to be subsidized his whole life. Any amount would do! For the lower income brackets taxes would be more of a nominal contribution. Perhaps taxes could even be waived for the poorest Americans if they served on a jury, served in the military, or did some other kind of civic service over the course of the year. It’s the point of the thing really! We should all be contributors.

When I traveled to Quebec to study French at the University of Laval’s immersion program I was warned by a Mexican gentleman named Guillermo, who was in the same program, not to partner with Canadians on any projects. “Pourquoi?” I remember asking. He spoke no English and I spoke no Spanish so we had no choice but to converse in broken French. The gist of his counsel, as conveyed in broken French, was that because the Canadian government was paying their way through the program the Canadian students were famously indifferent to the coursework and should be avoided as partners. In other words they had no skin in the game and, with nothing on the line, they had consequently become horrible students. The well-intentioned government subsidies for Canadian students led predictably to a cavalier and lazy attitude toward the program’s demands. In my experience, Guillermo was right. Foreign students like my friend Guillermo had paid their own way to Laval with hard-earned pesos and so they took a greater interest in getting everything they could from the experience. They were good students. It was a valuable lesson in economics for me. My point is this- The American public, or at least 48% of it, is beginning to resemble a great mob of Canadian students. Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Although issues of fairness, freedom, and opportunity are important and worthy of discussion, for me, the issue of paying taxes should be focused primarily on ownership of the society in which we live and being a contributor. I have no doubt that paying taxes would make 48% of us better citizens. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. So true.


“I told him ‘go ahead,’ and he was like, ‘Did you just call me a doh-doh-head?’ and I was like ‘NO!’ Can you believe that? He actually thought I called him a doh-doh-head! So embarrassing!”

Giggly man to a second man who wore a bemused expression on his face as they exited Fairway Market- Idyllwild, CA.


I can’t recall the last time I purchased a pen and yet I have loads of them.  I am at a loss as to where they all came from. They’re crammed into a broken mug on my desk at work and heaped higglety-pigglety in drawers throughout the house. This one advertises a car dealership in San Diego, and this one tells me to do my banking with Bank of America. I have plastic pens, metal pens, cheap pens and expensive pens. I have pens with blue, black, red and even purple ink.
Where did they all come from? I didn’t buy any of them.
Nothing speaks as poignantly to me of the largesse of our society as these pens. We hold them so cheaply that no one really thinks to lay a firm claim of ownership on them. We take pens from work, and we leave them there too. We pick them up and lay them down wherever we have need of them. Few would think to return a pen they accidentally pocketed and even fewer would notice, much less care, if one of their pens went missing. Although nobody seems to buy pens nobody seems to want for them either. It is a great mystery to me. They come and go like the wind, exchanging hands, and drifting from owner to owner until one day they fail to complete a phone message or the signature on a credit card receipt. Then they are thrown away. It is strange though that even after throwing pens away we don’t seem to have less of them.
It is truly a mystery.


“When people flirt they make caricatures of themselves.
When they break up they make caricatures of their exes.”

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I have surrendered to the inevitable. I have joined the facebook. Hail Emperor Zuckerberg!


Washington, Redskins VS. San Diego, Chargers

And who will prevail in this contest? Why, the Redskins of course. Silly question.


If you follow the river upstream along its meandering course you will eventually come to a place where it tapers to a thin ribbon in the midst of an ancient hemlock forest. Along the south bank there’s a grove of old-growth trees whose lofty, layered boughs block out the sun. The perpetual shade caused by the hemlocks keeps the ground beneath free of undergrowth. The generous spacing of the massive trunks, uncluttered by brush in between, and the open, park-like feel of the place has invited passersby for untold generations to pull their boats out and pass the night. Even today, if you dig a boot heel into the duff at the base of the old pillars you will find the charcoal signature of the ancient ones. How many thousands of forgotten fires had been lit there? I have often wondered about all of the faces and stories which have been swept away by the unsentimental current of time. If only the trees could talk.

Nowadays the old hemlock grove is an abandoned, lonely sort of place. Only one thing evidences that modern man has not completely forgotten the spot. In a clearing beneath a particularly impressive hemlock specimen there stands an ornate metal bed frame with white marble balls at each of its four corners. The bed first arrived in the grove 65 years ago. Ron Dimple, the town barber, salvaged it from the Grand Western Hotel after it burned. The hotel’s owner, Tom Skerring, lost everything in the fire and shortly thereafter took his own life. So nobody was around to object when Ron dragged the bed free of the debris, disassembled it and loaded it into his truck. At first he intended to clean it up and bring it home as an anniversary gift for his wife, Izzy, but in a flash of inspiration he decided to take it up to the hemlock grove where he had asked her to marry him two years prior. On their first anniversary Ron surprised Izzy by bringing her to the grove where she found the bed set up on the very site where he had asked for her hand. Izzy was delighted by the grand romantic gesture, and for years and years thereafter it became their custom to celebrate their anniversary by sleeping in the hemlock grove. They followed the same cherished traditions every year. While Ron unloaded the box spring and mattress, gathered firewood, and threw a couple of fishing lines out into the river, Izzy set up the clearing. She would make the bed and hang strings of Japanese lanterns from the surrounding trees. Sometimes she would gather wild flowers and arrange them in an empty beer bottle. As night fell, the lanterns pushed back the darkness with a soft, yellow light, and lent an elegant, whimsical air to the clearing. Ron and Izzy would celebrate their union while the moths beat their dusty wings against the lanterns and the wind played its old tune through the hemlocks.

Ron Dimple passed away eight years ago and Izzy moved away to a retirement community outside of Seattle. Occasionally a hunter or hiker will happen upon the old bed and wonder about its origins, but otherwise the grove remains an abandoned, lonely sort of place.

But hanging above the bed in Izzy’s room are some old battered Japanese lanterns.


Pull up a chair. Make yourself comfortable. Big Josh wants to tell you a story.