The Frosty Limits of Love

So what would you do for love? Walk across the country? Swim the English Channel? Sit on a metal bench at Lambeau Field with 80,000 football zealots in -30 wind chill? For four hours while the sun went down and the wind kicked up and then, afterward, walk the 10 blocks back to your car and sit huddled and mute under blankets for the two hour drive home listening to Sports Talk Radio and looking forward to a stop at a gas station with bright lights and heat blasted from a huge blower mounted on the wall?

Not a question you usually need to answer? Good for you. You see, I’m married to this person. He regards Lambeau Field as a holy place. He doesn’t joke about this.

Howie in Lambeau

I’ve gone to a zero degree game at Lambeau Field. To keep warm, I carried in what we call the German Army sleeping bag which we bought years ago at an army surplus store in Wyoming. Anyway, the sleeping bag looks sort of normal except that it has two sleeves and a hood. Basically, once in the sleeping bag, you’re not going anywhere without hopping although you can still hold a beer or your head if sobbing about your fate.

The delight of seeing the Packers get into the play-offs after a long season of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers watching from the sidelines nursing his broken collarbone was swiftly replaced by my growing dread that we would end up going to the game. Each day, the weather predictions about Sunday’s game became more dire and the lure of cheap Packer tickets more electric.

“If it’s something you really want to do, I’ll do it.” I stood in the kitchen, Topper’s stylish ghosts, George and Marion, sitting on the counter next to me.

“Seriously?” Marion said, her arms folded, swinging her leg back and forth. “You are going to sit outside in insanely freezing weather in a German Army sleeping bag? Why would you do that?”

“Her husband loves football, Marion. It’s obvious. She loves him so she’s offering to go.” George tapped a cigarette on his lighter. “It’s a nice thing. Any man would appreciate it.”

“It’s absurd. Utterly and totally absurd and outrageous. My dear, you have to have been brainwashed. What has become of you?” Her disdain dripped on the counter and formed an awful puddle. This really stung coming from a female ghost from the fifties.

I slapped them both away. There’s no place for harsh judgments in my kitchen.

But really, what was I thinking? Going to Lambeau Field on Sunday to watch the Packers and 49’ers in the 2nd Ice Bowl was like the first episode of a new reality show – Extreme Good Sports – where I guarantee the stars would all be women doing crazy stuff to make somebody else happy. And usually when they weren’t even asked or begged. Just thinking that’s what a good sport would do.

Then this afternoon, the local school system announced they were closing on Monday because of the severe cold that was starting Sunday (Game Day as we call it here), life threatening they called it, and then this text arrived:

“I can get 2 tickets at the 50 yd. line”

“How much?”

“Face value. $125”

“Is this something you really want to do?”


No? Well, I would’ve done it.  Already had the German Army sleeping bag out of the attic, fumigated it, made sure no mice homesteaded, wouldn’t want them running amok at Lambeau and now, you say, it’s all for naught? We’ll just sit in the living room with pizza and beer and you’ll smoke a cigar? Which is fine with me, cigar smoke, love it, reminds me of Dad.

Besides, you know me. I’m a really good sport.

Republished for Howard on the last night of the 2019-2020 football season for fans of the Green Bay Packers. Next year!

Tell Me Your Story So I Can Make It Mine

If a person hears a story
from someone who, say, was just talking
and then tells that story to others
I’m wondering who owns the story

If the story is about being afraid, so afraid
that one sits terrified, looking out the window
for a car that might drive up in the dark,
does the fear become the teller’s in the telling

At lunch, the man tells me his story
his gone wife, their nameless children, all angry
mistakes, what his name used to be, grief
which I pack in a bag with a sandwich to take home

His words stick, thick rubber bands in a drawer,
wound around each other to be picked apart
and set on the table, the gist refigured, reconjured,
stitched together for my telling to you

Use the Big Ladle Friday Roundup

I took control of my hair this week. The realization that my hair was accelerating my fade into oblivion had me texting my hairdresser late Monday night. Short, very short, and color, and my brows, my brows are a mess. And when I got there on Wednesday, she looked at me like a therapist would for about five seconds and then she started mixing up the paint. I felt like you do when you take a beloved car to a good mechanic and he props open the hood and you sit behind the wheel and think, “Man, my car’s gonna be fine.

Punchy got a certificate. Which is pretty remarkable especially for an old dog. It was for bravery under anesthesia. Yes, Punchy has kind of lost his punch. But he didn’t need it anyway. That ship has sailed as they say in the mushing world. Maybe he already has descendants, I don’t know, Punchy Juniors who are also tough dogs but don’t know what they’re doing. I would love all of their little scrappy, confused selves. But, oh well.

My day started off with reading about how Trump called the Joint Chiefs of Staff “dopes and babies.” Great writing from Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker of the Washington Post about a meeting planned by Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson early in the administration, the goal being to tactfully fill some of the lacunae in Trump’s brain where knowledge about countries and history ought to be. Tillerson turns out to be a hero for standing up for everyone because, of course, military people can’t talk back to the Commander in Chief. So there it is, the most powerful generals in the country hung their heads and kept their mouths shut. Confidence inspiring.

I am writing two federal grant proposals at the same time. This is something I’ve not done before but it seems to be working out okay. There are both benefits and drawbacks to being an extremely linear thinker and I’m discovering all of them right now. This is what my desk looks like.

The most impressive thing I witnessed this week was this giant pan of scalloped potatoes and ham. I have kind of an unusual fascination with the preparation of big food, how to make food for a lot of people that tastes good and smells amazing. This was just one of five pans of scalloped potatoes and ham that were put together using canned potatoes and cheese donated by a food bank, ham left over from a banquet, and mushroom soup from God’s stash, all put together to make 140 meals for homeless people who are visited on Street Angels’ outreach. I was the scalloped potatoes and ham slinger, putting a huge helping into each Styrofoam container. It was the most useful thing I did all week.

Get Up, Stand Up


Red's Wrap

For years I told my stories.

Younger women friends indulged me. They were patient and careful with me. I’m an elder so I’m entitled to that tender care though I never asked. They listened to me like I was an old storyteller dressed in heavy robes, holding a carved walking stick, and looking out through rheumy blue eyes. They gathered around until a better attraction came along. Something that was post-feminism, more current, shinier, and certainly more relevant than my tales of old hurts and disadvantages. They wandered off after the magic of Lean In, bored with my stories of standing up. It is nothing to stand up, they thought. We are already standing up.

I clung to the past because it shaped me. I am this because of that. The history of the women’s movement is still hanging on clothes in my closet, it is that real to me…

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Bernie's Mistake

Bernie Sanders isn’t alone in wondering if a woman can be elected president of the United States. I’ve wondered the same thing. I’ve said the same thing: I don’t think a woman can be elected president.

I think Hillary Clinton’s loss had an enormous amount to do with her being a woman, with the sexism from the right and the left so thick sometimes it made my eyes water. Her defeat depressed me so much that it called into question what might be a fundamental truth about my fellow Americans – they can’t bring themselves to vote for a woman. Oh, they hide it pretty well. But those of us who grew up in the swamp of sexism can smell all the creatures who live there from 5,000 miles away.

So Elizabeth Warren says that Bernie expressed his view that a woman couldn’t be elected president. And then ensued a media happy dance about Bernie’s apparent sexism which I thought was nuts because I have thought the same thing. Such a statement can represent astute political judgment – like mine and Bernie’s – as much as sexist determinism.

So I was ready to let Bernie off the hook.

But then he said it never happened. He stood right next to Elizabeth Warren last night on the debate stage and he said he never said it. He didn’t say he was misunderstood. He didn’t apologize if anyone was offended. He flat out said it didn’t happen. He basically called Elizabeth Warren a liar or, more accurately, a hyper-sensitive, overly emotional girl who got herself riled up over an imaginary slight. Nothing she said was true. Only what he said was true.

It was a master class in marginalizing a woman. But in this case, the woman was his longstanding friend, a fellow United States Senator, a woman of substance and character. But it didn’t matter. He couldn’t apologize, couldn’t acknowledge, no. He had to be right.

Bernie Sanders reminded us that the sexism he denies having is just as robust as it ever was, it’s just hidden until he’s poked. And he got poked last night and the sexist bullshit came flowing out of him like pus from an abscess. No wonder she wouldn’t shake his hand.

The Joy of Showing Up

Every day there is a choice between going and not going. The going seems extra and uncomfortable and so that is what is often chosen. Not tonight. I chose to go. Two pairs of socks, Street Angels hoodie, my parka, and my sign. You can’t go to a demo without a sign. I have a great one – big, red, durable, and with a big statement. A joyful sign, I’d say.

It was grand to be with hundreds of people protesting Trump’s weird rally in our town and chanting until I was hoarse. Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Donald Trump has got to go! And even grander to walk through Milwaukee’s downtown and see the inflatable Trumpy with the gold hair waiting for us, our beautiful County Courthouse in the background. We also chanted: Whose Street? Our Street! when cops made us squeeze on to the sidewalk. It felt great to talk back.

Across from the arena where Trump was speaking, there was a thick row of Milwaukee police officers. I recognized one of them right away – Chad, the cop who is also a nurse, who trains people to do homeless outreach. “I forgot my jacket,” he said, laughing, “Now I know how our friends feel.” He was referring to our homeless friends, not everyone would know that, but I did. It made me feel like we were comrades. It was that kind of night.

So, if you are offered the choice of going or not going, of bringing your sign or leaving it in the closet, yelling chants or looking down at your boots, you know what to do. You won’t be sorry.