For the past two decades, I’ve subscribed to the “reverse raisin” theory of fighting old age. It’s a blue-collar home remedy I created that’s many times cheaper than traditional ways of cheating Father Time, such as Botox, liposuction, or plastic surgery. The basic anti-aging theory goes like this: If grapes wrinkle into raisins when they shrink, raisins should look like wrinkle-free grapes if they expand. Very scientific, I know.
Essentially, my working null hypothesis was to prevent wrinkles by putting on five pounds for every five years after age 40. Like any serious science project, I set up my test instruments: bathroom scale, check; mirror, check; TV remote, check; ice cream, check; pizza, check; beer, check.
My science teacher at Shuksan Middle School was wrong. Mr. Bjornson, the laws of nature are not neutral. Gravity is evil. In other words, the experiment was an utter failure. In fact, 20 pounds later, I abruptly terminated the study group of one (me). While working at my laptop at home, I inadvertently hit a button and my puffy, wrinkled face appeared on screen at point-blank range—pre-shower, pre-shave. I couldn’t left-click fast enough. The bubble had burst, taking with it my false sense of scientific smugness. For the first time, I understood my wife’s disappointment that not all body parts get larger with the “reverse raisin” theory. Sorry, sweetheart.
I went instantly into triage mode by committing to cycle with my law school roommate up Haleakala volcano—36 miles and a 10,000 foot elevation gain. To train, I scheduled an orientation at the local gym. Testosterone is not pretty, what can I say. My gosh, if women could know how hard it is to be a decent human being with that stuff coursing through our veins. But I digress, as usual. The executor of my estate will report back in August. Did I mention that gravity is evil?
My gym orientation was an eye-opening experience. It had been quite a while since I’d been to a gym, and a lot had changed. For example: something called Lycra. OMG, is there any doubt that Lycra was invented by a male? I don’t even have to check; some things just don’t need to be Googled. Strangely, my neck was sore the next day, and I couldn’t remember much of what was said. But I was motivated to return. That’s the point, right?
The last time I regularly went to the gym, I lived in the Seattle area, where I was almost censored for my humor. I remember one time, my lifting buddy was resting in the weight room after a workout, shirtless. This is a “no-no” no matter how proud he was of his fitness level—he was just asking for a verbal jab to his male ego. Besides, I am not one to pull a punch(line).
As he flirted with a couple of WILs (women in Lycra), he pretended not to flex and pose just like the WILs pretended that they weren’t wearing Lycra. I remember thinking: “What’s the most ego-deflating thing that I could say right now?” Of course, it came to me. I quickly interrupted the surreal “Emperor’s New Clothes” moment with the lowest of low blows: “Ladies, you’ll need to excuse Mike in a few moments. He’s just about to have his ‘before’ picture taken.”
Yes, gravity and I have much in common.
I promise any gym that I burden with my presence in the coming months: I am rehabilitated. I probably won’t formally join until after the next Groundhog Day, anyway. I have a new null hypothesis to test. If I can’t see my feet on February 2, there will be six more weeks of winter because I have more weight to lose. So, stay in your hole, Phil. I got this. I am “Punxsutawney Ken” until further notice.
Oh, and did I mention that my new fitness trainer is a member of the Raisinettes? She has me on a “glutton free” diet. What are the odds of success? I say “fat chance.”
For more Ken Karlberg, check out our Final Word section.
For me, Mother’s Day is a celebration of women’s capacity to love, generally, and mothers especially. Is there a more fundamental social building block in life? A mother’s love is fierce, yet tender, protective but honest, and simultaneously demanding and forgiving. Mothers teach what fathers often cannot, or do not—and for that, mothers deserve to be honored each and every day, not just on Mother’s Day. It doesn’t necessarily take a village to raise a child; it only takes a mother.
I first learned to love from my mother. No single person has had a greater impact on my life. Because of my love for her, I have always seen the world through the eyes of women. As we shared dinner recently on Mother’s Day, we talked of the past, reminiscing and comparing memories from our childhoods. We talked about the present, her health issues and the challenges of maintaining an old house at age 83. And we talked about the future, and life without her husband of 30 plus years. You would think from listening to her that she has lived a charmed life—not a negative word was said.
But I know better.
My mom is a simple woman. She wakes up each and every day with joyful enthusiasm. Years ago, I dubbed her spirit as the “happy gene.” She finds positives in almost everything and everybody. The smallest of things bring her joy, things most do not even see. I tease her that she would be just as entertained talking to herself, a friend, a stranger, a dog or cat, or even a fencepost. And while she is neither college educated nor particularly scholarly, she is wise. She understands feelings and emotions like few others. Her emotional IQ is her strength.
My mom is a simple woman. She knows how to suffer. Her needs are few. She wastes nothing. When faced with adversity, she can do more with less than anyone that I know. If I was setting out in a wagon train from Independence, Missouri in the 1800s, I would insist on my mom being in the lead wagon. Her resourcefulness is legendary within our family. Between her vegetable gardens, fruit trees, and “old school” ingenuity and frugality, we wanted for nothing as kids. We did not even know to want. No matter how severe the challenge, if you are with her, you know you will survive and feel like the world is wonderful place. She literally pulled us forward as kids through the difficult times by the sheer force of her resiliency and optimism, never once complaining.
My mom is a simple woman. Her concept of what it means to live has made her a pioneer, an outlier, and an inspiration. She ran foot races in the early 1970s when she may be one of only two women in the race. Twice, she summited Mt. Baker and the North Twin Sister. An avid kayaker and hiker, she has kayaked for weeks with whales in the desolate Queen Charlotte Islands and hiked for weeks with bears and the flora and fauna in the tundra above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. Over the course of her lifetime, she has led countless women’s backpacking groups into the Grand Canyon, and probably has spent a total of 6 months or more camping and hiking at the Grand Canyon’s floor. For her kids, and her seven granddaughters, she simultaneously sets an example of inner strength and the gold standard for womanhood.
My mom is a simple woman. The people in her life matter more than the things she owns. As the executive assistant to every Dean of Fairhaven College from the late 1960s until she retired, she was the face of Fairhaven College for decades of students. She was “Mother Fairhaven.” For over 20 years, she has been part of the same neighborhood work party that donates their skills and time to maintain and/or repair each other’s homes on a monthly basis. She may never have made more than $30,000 per year, but her life is rich with a cross-generational social hub of family, friends, former students and professors, and neighbors in the Fairhaven district, all of whom know her now as simply Pat, the relentlessly cheerful giver of massive hugs.
My mom is a simple woman. Frugal and grateful to a fault, she walked the Fairhaven district for years with my stepfather, picking up coins in the streets, on the sidewalks, and in phone booths. To her, a penny on the ground was wasteful. Their near daily walks not only became a fun, highly competitive marital contest, but because of their “waste not, want not” mentality, the Pat Karlberg Scholarship now awards an annual scholarship to Fairhaven College students who have demonstrated interest in the healing arts and alternative medicine. The scholarship fund is fully funded from coins on the streets of Fairhaven.
My mom is simply beautiful.
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His name was Paul. A more beautiful, loving soul there was not. Paul died recently, ironically on the Ides of March, the day tax debts were settled during Roman times. He was 97 years old, and he had no debts to pay. Others owed him for the many acts of kindness that defined his life. I am one of them. I don’t recall exactly when in our relationship that Paul adopted me. But he did.
Elders are treasures. We would sit for hours and discuss every topic imaginable. There seemed to be no end to his knowledge or curiosity. He was living history, a window to the past and present through a unique prism. More than anyone, Paul pushed me to write for a living. He used to tease, “Forget humor. Write about what you know best—life. If you do, the practice of law won’t miss you.” And then he would chuckle, “but don’t expect me to pay your mortgage.”
Born in 1921, his birth certificate listed his race as “[n]egro.” The designation was white society’s way of branding him like a head of cattle. But Paul wore his blackness with equal parts pride and indifferent acceptance. As a youth, he understood the injustice of life’s prejudices of the times. “It was what it was,” as Paul would say. He assumed that he may ultimately become a train porter or postal worker. However, one of Paul’s most endearing qualities was his ability to be stubbornly oblivious, defiant, or at least resistant, to the status quo. In his mind, the unwritten rules and expectations of white society didn’t apply to him. He was special, and he knew it. He dared to believe that by the sheer force of his intelligence, his charisma, and his work ethic, the color of his skin may not matter.
Paul was right—he went on to become a pioneer. As a decorated World War II veteran, Paul returned from the war to New York, where he drove a taxi to supplement his GI Bill benefits while he earned a degree in physics from the City College of New York. The circumstances of his first post-graduate job proved to be a microcosm of his effect on others in life. By happenstance, one of his taxi fares was so impressed with him that she said, “You should go to college.” When Paul replied that he had just received a degree in physics, she asked for his contact information, and shortly thereafter, Paul received an unsolicited call from the head of the New York office of Union Carbide to interview for a job. He never looked back. On his first day of work, his supervisor announced to Paul’s co-workers: “We just hired our first black man. If you have a problem with that, you can leave now.”
That serendipitous experience was quintessential Paul. He had a way about him that parted, and simultaneously calmed, racial waters. Paul didn’t just break color barriers, he made those around him question them. With his unique balance of wisdom, humor, and self-confidence, he had an aura of regalness about him. He was a real-life embodiment of characters played by Sidney Poitier in “Lilies of the Field,” “To Sir with Love,” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” three groundbreaking movies from the 1960s that had the courage to portray a black man in a positive light. Wherever Paul went, whoever he met, he changed his environment and those around him for the better. He was the ninth planet in the solar system, with his own gravitational pull—an undeniable invisible force that drew friends, colleagues, and acquaintances to him from all parts of the world and all walks of life.
Paul’s distinguished career included an extended stint at pioneering TRW, the aerospace and automotive industry giant, where Paul became one of the first black physicists to help design, test, and put satellites into space. When he retired from the Rand Corporation years later, he held the nation’s highest security clearance. Imagine the waste of talent if Paul has resigned himself to being a train porter or postal worker. There’s a lesson for all of us in the accomplishments of Paul’s life.
Paul would often smile and say, “I’ve lived a charmed life,” as if his success were by chance. Hardly. He refused to compromise his dignity, even while staring at the first rung of a “colored” person’s likely ladder of life. Paul rejected the first position offered by Union Carbide and forced the company to offer instead a position befitting his training and education. He never again had to demand respect. Paul earned respect wherever he went.
Professional success aside, Paul’s greatest gift in life wash is gratefulness, especially for the women in his life, starting with his mother, who affectionately called him “Buddy,” and his aunts, who, collectively, raised him in the streets of Harlem in the 1930s. Paul often recounted that he was surrounded by love as a child. He knew that he mattered. Their love launched him into life with an irrepressible sense of self-worth.
But he adored no one more than Patti, his devoted wife of nearly 50 years. As a career librarian at TRW, Patti allowed Paul—ever the curious critical thinker and mentor—to be Paul. She was his loving curator. She shared him with the world. Without Patti, Paul often said that he was incapable of being. Together, however, they inspired everyone. A romantic renaissance man and an equally gifted woman for the ages, they were an interracial couple when too few had the audacity to be color blind. She lived for him, and he lived for her. I can only imagine her loss.
I will forever miss Buddy. Patti, be strong. Let me help carry your burden. I promised Paul—you are my buddy now.
Few things on earth last forever. America may be the most powerful country on earth today, but our elevated status as “the new kid on the world’s block” is but a nano-second in the history of mankind. What about the next 100 years and beyond? Will America continue to be the most powerful? Who or what will emerge as our greatest existential threat? And heaven forbid, if we are attacked on home soil, could we defend ourselves without help?
For most Americans, these thoughts are not particularly unsettling. They should be, but they aren’t. Our pride, our patriotism, and our self-proclaimed “excellence” create a comforting, yet overconfident sense of security. Whether we are willfully blind, or naïve — or worse still, arrogant — does not matter. For our policy-makers and business leaders, the unthinkable must be thinkable. If we are to continue to flourish, we need to be brutally realistic and self-deprecating. Now is not the time to blow air up our own backsides, domestically or in international circles.
Humility is a dish best served to ourselves, by ourselves, and not by others. America’s future may be bright, but our future is not predetermined. Unless America proves herself to be unique — history’s first and singular outlier — our preeminent power status on the world’s stage won’t be ours forever. Things constantly change and evolve. Our future is neither certain, nor secure. We need only look in the rear-view mirror at the plight of the Romans, the Persians, the British, and other so-called “empires” in human history. Each took their turn as the most powerful, and no doubt that each believed their respective empires would reign supreme forever. And yet, each failed. Why? And what makes America different, if it is?
The answer to both questions is the same. Empires come in all forms, not simply those based on economic or military power. Our uncommon pursuit of human dignity, equality, free will, and the rule of law is what makes us an outlier — a leader of aspirational values and principles, neither of which depend upon the strength of our economy or military. The power to dominate is fleeting. Others before us were just as dominant, perhaps more so, and each ultimately collapsed because at some broad over-arching level, most historical empires were held together only by raw power, subjugation, and fear. Their pursuit of equality, justice, or even simple benevolence became secondary, if at all.
We would be prudent to ponder the significance of these historical signposts for America’s future. When Rome began to crumble, for instance, no one came to her defense. There was a reason. Rome, like most of the empires before and after her, was hated by many for the manner in which she became powerful, and perhaps even more by the manner in which she exercised her power. History may move slowly, but it can teach us if we are willing to learn. No empires were America’s equivalent in terms of their founding aspirational principles.
This much is undeniable. Our turn in history’s “empire” barrel is coming, perhaps in 100 years or more, or just maybe in our lifetime. Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and North Korea (and others) are now aligning as never before, each knowing that America, by itself, is not as powerful as their combined resources. The existential threat is real. China’s regional and worldwide reach expands almost daily. Russia’s influence is on the rise again, as it seeks to regain its former glory under the Soviet Union. Even if only China and Russia were to join forces, they may well be our power equal.
Which begs several additional questions. If world events are not always within our control, what is? And what or who is most likely to protect us when we are no longer the most powerful single country on earth? Eventually, when our economic and military power advantage diminishes — and it will — we will be vulnerable. We will need help to survive.
Again, the answers are found in the power of the invisible empire of our founding ideas and ideals, which will exist in perpetuity if we honor them. The aspirational DNA imbedded in our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and rule of law is the common sinew that binds Americans, and all nations of good will, together. As a country, we can at least control the controllables and honor our democratic institutions and our nation’s values. They are what make us powerful; they are why we are envied by many in the free world.
And if we don’t, we are no better than the Romans. Their plight will be ours. Good doesn’t, by right, defeat evil. Good prevails only if the world is willing to fight for what is right and just. The lessons of World War II were painful. Could we be the next Poland or Czechoslovakia, which were overrun by Germany as the world watched? Who will come to our defense and shed blood for us? Isn’t it better to be humble, to know our place in history now and in the future, than to risk being humbled?
The day will come when Americans will need our allies and the power of the invisible empire more than ever. Let’s act like it.
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Men—when will they learn? They are such simple creatures. Flash some cleavage, cook a few meals, authorize a round of golf or two, and they are ours. Women, not men, are masters of the universe. If you don’t believe me, men, there’s bar soap in the shower. Knock yourselves out.
The battle for gender dominance often starts with the turf war over space in the master bedroom closet. What men don’t realize is the entire closet is ours. All closets, for that matter. It’s a female birthright. You get penises. We get closets. I am not going to apologize for women. We got the better end of the deal, OK? Deal with it!
We may grant you a temporary license to use a portion, perhaps a 3′ × 3′ cubby in the corner. Don’t confuse our grant, however, with philanthropy or ownership. At best, you have a “for the life of the marriage” leasehold interest. And don’t get too comfy with the idea—your cubby is revocable at will when we run out of space for shoes. Be grateful while it lasts and re-read the gender “Bill of Rights” fine print: “What’s ours is ours, what’s yours is ours,” proof yet again that God is female.
Negotiations for man caves may appear more promising. Don’t be deceived. I would recommend that you carefully study the gender point system, but you can’t study what isn’t in print. Just capitulate to the higher power, the female “deep state,” and put your “boys” in the hands of the women who stilled the waters. During our secret society meetings, we refer to this specific negotiation as “man-milking.” For maximum leverage, the negotiations start simply enough by removing the bar soap from the shower, and from there we transform into faux NIMBYs. The milking process has officially begun.
Men, here’s some unsolicited advice—never want a man cave so badly that you negotiate from your knees. We understand weakness. There’s a reason why there’s no such expression as “Are you happy to see me or is that a closet in your pocket?” Banana equals female power. In fact, women have a term for this phase of negotiations, too, ironically called a man cave, but as in “did your man cave?” Angels, we are not. We play for keeps.
We may roll our eyes, grit our teeth, and say a man cave is a blight on the family home. But we are lying, manipulative closet owners. We actually want you to have your scratch-and-spit space. Just when you think you have us by the closets, however, be most careful. If we help you decorate and Bullwinkle finds his way onto one of your man cave walls, you need to ask yourself “Why?”
The answer—control. You’ve just been out-negotiated; the rest of the house is now ours, forever. If we want a padded toilet seat, we own you. We own the house. Let that be a painful lesson for you men. Penises have consequences. The “tail wagging the dog” analogy comes immediately to mind. And done right, man-milking is worth more than just the house. It is worth thousands of women points for future use, or as the female “deep state” calls it, “man math.”
Thankfully, “man math” was poorly understood by men—until now. Let me explain. For example, lease payments for the cubby and man cave are to be paid in “man points” originally awarded, again at our discretion, for doing “man things” around the house, or sometimes simply for our humor and your embarrassment. For example, if we ask you to “bark like a dog, monkey woman,” that’s worth one “man point,” but only if you sell it like Bill Murray in “Caddyshack.” Or if we send you to Haggen for feminine hygiene products, that’s worth three “man points.” (BTW, the six-pack of beer that you buy doesn’t fool anyone. Everyone knows you were sent for feminine hygiene products.)
I suggest that you spend them quickly and wisely, men, because unlike woman points, which never expire, man points expire after thirty minutes. And don’t expect one man point to equal one woman point. It doesn’t. “Woman points” are like the U.S. dollar; “man points” are like the Canadian loonie. There’s a conversion rate that floats to our advantage, and you guessed it—at our discretion. And there’s an inflation rate, too, similar to the male predilection for over-stating the size of their manhood. The inflation rate is typically 2 to 1 on Friday evenings, and upon full disclosure, 4 to 1 on weekends.
All of which brings me to my Valentine’s Day present from my new man friend. It’s a “she shed” for the backyard, where I can keep my gardening tools. How did that happen, you ask? Because I played the “man card.” “Man caves are sexist and discriminatory,” I said, while breaking all cleavage etiquette protocols. “Why don’t women get women caves?”
Ah, the female “deep state” is alive and well.
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Hate is such a strong word. I usually reserve the emotion for things with no redeeming value, such as beets, liver, oysters, or green bean casserole. But after two gin-and-tonics, my literary inhibitions are weak. My “give a sh*t” is broken. Waterboard me, I don’t care. I am officially adding moles to my list.
I hate moles, or at least the mole in my front lawn. To paraphrase the recent insult of President Trump by the freshman representative from Michigan, I would “kill the mother (you-know-what)” if I could catch him. But I can’t.
And lest you think that I am exaggerating, I have 58 mole hills in my smallish front yard. Quite literally, I could make a mountain out of the mole hills. The bastard must be on drugs. I have tried every home remedy, wives’ tale, and even professional advice — and none work. I used to take pride in my lawn. Now, it’s an embarrassment.
I had renewed hope, briefly, when I pulled up an on-line article entitled, “How to get rid of moles,” and I read that moles can be eradicated by applying baking soda, castor oil, or apple cider vinegar directly to the mole for four hours. Holy cow, I thought, naively — Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and now a fail-safe remedy for moles. Life is good. How did I miss this in my earlier Google search?
But then I thought, “Why would I do that?” If I could catch the son-of-a-bitch to apply any of these caustic substances, why wouldn’t I just slap the bastard silly and say “Read my lips: No new hills”? Curiosity caused me to read further: “Moles occur when cells in the skin grow in a cluster instead of being spread throughout the skin.” Damn. I just knew it was too good to be true!
So, I am officially an emotionally crushed, beaten man, and I am farming out the challenge to all comers. Is there a bored or retired whack-a-mole champion out there who wants off the couch? Where is Steve McQueen or Dog, the ultimate bounty hunters, when I need them?
All applicants are welcome. Name your price. The keys to my kingdom are yours. But hurry. Mating season occurs between February and April. The only thing worse than one mole is two moles. (And green bean casserole, of course, which is visually too close to cow’s cud for my brain to handle. But I digress as usual.)
Back to my mole, the one in my lawn — I don’t know what kind of mole he is. Just catch him before he has sex again and sets up a permanent home for his new family. As it is, he was taking deliveries from UPS over the holidays and there were empty Domino’s Pizza boxes and Yeager’s Sporting Goods’ worm containers everywhere. The man can eat.
Plus, I swear that he is stealing the signal from my Dish Network and he sits down there — resting between mole hill duties — in his Lazy Mole recliner while watching re-runs of “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” It’s like mole porn to him. You just know that when he is done watching, he is ready for Mrs. Mole, or in need of mole skin. Even the vibration device that I stuck in the ground to deter him is probably counterproductive, the pervert.
If I sound desperate, I am. These thoughts drive me crazy. It’s either me or him. One of us needs to go — and since I pay the mortgage, only my vote counts. Bribe him, if you need to, with promises of headlamps, manicures for life, and free dental work (front two upper teeth only). He must have a weak spot. Find it, and bring him to me!
And for the purist animal lovers out there, I promise to spare his life despite the unused apple cider vinegar in my pantry. My plan to build a very small, mole-sized swimming pool with a “Moles Welcome” sign was just a joke. That would be cruel. I know moles can’t swim and I am not yet on my third gin-and-tonic. Besides, death by drowning in vinegar would be a waste of an opportunity for revenge.
No, I have something more sinister planned. A few months back, Loretta was garbage shamed by a deeply disturbed, obsessive-compulsive neighbor, if you recall Loretta’s tongue-in-cheek column. My mole will need a new home and a proper name. I know just the yard and the proper name. Paybacks aren’t always a bitch, Patti. Sometimes paybacks can be a bastard mole affectionately named after your amazingly understanding husband, Mike.
Geico and your camel, step aside, please. Mike, Mike, Mike, what day is it? Well, let me tell you. It’s mole hill day at the Lulus!!
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If not for Bellingham’s PeaceHealth, my stepdaughter would be one of the faceless mortality statistics of the opioid crisis. Unemployed, financially unstable, and with only public medical insurance through Medicaid, she sought treatment recently at an emergency walk-in health clinic in Yakima for a large, unexplained lump on her collarbone. The lump was hard, and painful, and seemingly manifested itself without explanation.
The clinic knew that she was a struggling opioid addict. It was not her first time at the clinic. She had sought addiction-related withdrawal treatment there before, where treatment is expensive and, like my stepdaughter, few have private medical insurance that may pay the full cost of quality care. This time, however, instead of compassion, instead of bringing honor to the Hippocratic Oath, the clinic passed judgment about her and responded with the medical equivalent of a stiff-arm — do the minimum, take an X-ray, and send her off like human trash with a cover-your-ass diagnosis (“You must have fallen or something and can’t remember”) that simply defied medical logic.
The clinic knew better. However, her care, and the cost of that care, was someone else’s problem.
Instinctively, my stepdaughter knew that she had been medically shunned because of her addiction. But now desperate, and sensing her health was in danger, she swallowed what remained of her pride, picked up the phone and called my wife. “Mom, I need to come home,” she said, crying. “I have a lump and the lump is getting worse.” When she got off the bus two days later from Yakima, her face told many stories without the need for words, but the only story that mattered was the physical pain on her face. Any reservations that we had about the risks to her, and us, of bringing her home, quickly became irrelevant. We would return to deal with the elephant in the room later.
The emergency clinic at PeaceHealth quickly diagnosed her with a potentially deadly bone infection, likely from IV drug use. If the condition had been left untreated, in another two or three weeks she would have died from septic shock. Unlike the Yakima clinic, her insurance status didn’t matter to PeaceHealth — they treated her with dignity, and demanded that she check herself into the hospital immediately. No one knew that she was Lisa’s daughter or my stepdaughter. To the hospital staff, she was simply a human being in a health crisis, not a statistic or a financial drain.
Within two days, PeaceHealth’s top cardiac surgeon and his team performed a two-hour surgery that not only saved her life, but saved her potential as a person who, we hope, will break the crushing grip of opioids eventually. There is always room for hope. As her parents, we have no choice but to hope. The parental bond of love is an unbreakable, primal instinct no matter the circumstances, no matter the exhausting emotional toll. We always suffer with her. While she recovers in the hospital for the next six weeks, my stepdaughter will receive in-hospital addiction treatment called MAT (medically assisted therapy) care as a precursor to a 90-day in-patient program upon her discharge. Perhaps this time she will turn the corner.
If not for PeaceHealth, however, she wouldn’t even have had the chance.
The disease of opioid addiction is complicated, perhaps more so than most other addictions (see Bellingham Alive’s January 2018 issue, “Opioid Addiction: Why is just saying ‘no’ so hard?”). The drivers — or triggers, as they are called — of opioid addiction are even more complicated. Multiple relapses are common even with treatment. But try we must. For the first time in decades, the life expectancy of U.S. citizens has decreased, according to the U.S. Center of Disease Control and Prevention, in large part due to the increase of opioid overdoses and opioid-related suicides. This statistic alone should make the opioid epidemic a national emergency.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t yet. The response at the federal, state and local governmental levels has been painfully slow (much the same as the AIDS epidemic). And as if the death toll was not impetus enough, the amount of creative, productive talent that is sidelined from fully contributing to society due to opioid addiction is perhaps an equal travesty. And so unnecessary. Why does it take years to make opioid addiction a societal priority, and even longer to fund the necessary research and treatment programs?
Opioid addiction doesn’t discriminate. People from all walks of life — young, old, professionals, tradesmen, rich, and poor — are impacted, and the world is lesser for it. If calm, rational pleading for help hasn’t worked, it is time to raise our collective voices several decibel levels and demand action. Yell, if we must. Time is critical. Even in the time it took to write this piece, someone has died of an opioid overdose. That one life is one life too many, isn’t it?
For me, I worry each day that the one life will be my stepdaughter.
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Life confuses me sometimes. As a young boy growing up in rural Whatcom County, I was taught right from wrong, to hold myself accountable, to work hard, and to judge others and myself not necessarily by our achievements, but rather by whether we push ourselves to extract the most from our genetic gifts. Those who worked hard to be the best version of themselves that they could be, even if they were not especially gifted, were to be admired and respected. Those who did not, were not.
These teachings became the moral and ethical backbone of my life — well before I was exposed to big city life, racism, bigotry, religious schisms, and today’s toxic political environment. I was fortunate, I suppose. I believed what I was told, in part because my value system was intact before it was tested in earnest by the chaos of the world. This is what makes Whatcom County such a special place to raise children even today. It is a bubble of sorts.
Today, the bubble in Whatcom County is closer to reflecting a true cross-section of life. By contrast, when I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, there were no blacks, or Asians, or other racial minorities in my schools except for handful of Lummis, many of whom were my friends. I did not even know that synagogues, mosques, or the Quran existed. And homosexuality, it was nameless and invisible. In an odd way, this lack of diversity was a blessing — I didn’t know to discriminate. I had no negative experiences that darkened my heart. I was taught to love all human beings, to give everyone their dignity, and I did. I was surrounded as a child and teenager by a goodness that I only later learned was not universal.
The 60s and 70s were a different time, of course. With no internet and no cell phones, my world was small, and in retrospect, naive. But I believed what I believed, and I never questioned my childhood value system. When I left Whatcom County after high school to test myself, I left home wrapped in the protective cloak of morals and ethics taught to me by this community and my parents — and I never looked back. I drew upon these lessons often; they were my protective armor against conflicting forces that I never imagined as a youth.
And while I understand the challenges and harshness of life better now, I still believe in the power of goodness as a shield against the poisons in life. I don’t understand, and have never understood, prejudice, discrimination, and hate. I don’t understand the recent attack on the Jewish temple in Pittsburgh and the hatred of Jews by some. I never understood racism, misogyny, and any form of religious persecution, much of which is driven by fear of the unknown, or a misguided need to feel superior, or a perceived existential threat. Whatever the explanation, this wonderful community taught me to fight these primal fears, to be better than the worst of my emotions, and to love my neighbors as extended family — black, white, brown, orange or green, gay, lesbian, transgender, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist or agnostic, rich or poor.
As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” In all of my travels throughout the world on business, I was always struck by the universality of each culture’s common bonds. At the most base of levels, we are all the same — we worry about our children, we worry about our health and safety and the health and safety of our loved ones, we worry about finances, and we worry about whether our lives have mattered. These worries bind us all together. If we focus on the sameness, our differences become so much less consequential.
For the holidays, let’s all practice what every generation of parents has preached to generations of kids. Be ambassadors for kindness, for goodness sake. If you are out shopping and see someone, especially someone who may be different than you, don’t just pass silently by, or wait for the other person to speak or interact. Be proactive. Engage them, spontaneously, and watch their faces brighten with surprise. Step into another’s shoes and think, “What could I do to make this person feel appreciated and worthy?” and then do it. The response is likely to warm your heart.
We each have a responsibility to be part of the solution. There is nothing that ails our world that can’t be improved one person at a time by random acts of kindness.
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Like many, I watched the painful political circus surrounding Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. I paid closer attention than most perhaps because the outcome was highly personal. As a trial attorney, I appreciated that the integrity of our nation’s legal system was at stake, the very justice system to which I proudly dedicated 30-plus years of my life. I was appalled by what I witnessed. I expected more, and certainly America deserved better.
Before assuming that I may favor Judge Kavanaugh’s accusers, or vice versa, let me explain. My starting point is different than most. I am an institutionalist. Most attorneys are. As officers of the court, we take a solemn oath “to maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers.” This oath requires all attorneys to conduct themselves truthfully and with honor, so as to protect the integrity of all courts, but especially our U.S. Supreme Court, the ultimate authority on federal laws and the U.S. Constitution. This was my threshold test against which I initially evaluated Judge Kavanaugh. And sadly, he failed. The recent U.S. Senate confirmation process was so flawed and partisan that Judge Kavanaugh had to appreciate that his confirmation, rightly or wrongly, would never be substantially accepted or respected by the public, and that as a result, the integrity of the Supreme Court would be compromised. To institutionalists, like me, this is unacceptable. Even the public’s perception of his character must be above reproach.
This is where my profession failed America. I expect lawyers to protect the integrity of the process and the institution. Judge Kavanaugh should have threatened to withdraw his nomination unless a full and complete FBI investigation was conducted into the alleged sexual assaults and all potential issues of perjury, even if President Trump, and Senators Charles Grassley, Orin Hatch, and Mitch McConnell, said “No.” He should have insisted on submitting to a polygraph to prove his innocence, even as unbecoming as it may be to a sitting federal judge. He should have listened on a real-time basis to Ms. Ford’s testimony to show respect for her, her pain, and for the legal process, again, even if he is innocent.
Instead, Judge Kavanaugh hid behind the Republican controlled Executive Branch and Senate Judiciary Committee. That’s not what worthy Supreme Court nominees do, or any judge for that matter. At our best, lawyers lead. At their best, judges set examples. Judges are role models for fairness, especially when fairness may come at their own expense. If he had shown this courage, this ethical and moral leadership, and led by example out of respect for our judicial system, he would have brought honor upon himself, and my profession. But he didn’t. Why? Because he was selfish; he put himself above the institution. Worse yet, his personal ambition has already left a stain on the Supreme Court that will never be removed.
Bottom line, a worthy candidate would have sacrificed himself for the greater good. Even if one totally discounts the sexual assault and perjury allegations — all of which have a measure of legitimacy that cannot be fairly discarded entirely regardless of one’s party affiliation — Judge Kavanaugh proved himself unworthy. He made it about him. The lawyers in the Senate made it about him. The media made it about him. Being appointed to the Supreme Court is the rough equivalent of the Pope’s status for Catholics. There can be no cloud; our faith in the institution is more important than the ambition of one man, or one party.
As harsh and unfair as it may seem to Judge Kavanaugh, even unproven allegations can be disqualifying, and should be disqualifying if the allegations have a measure of legitimacy. When seeking to be appointed to the Supreme Court, you are not presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The “tie” doesn’t go to the runner. You are only worthy of the appointment if you have the intellect (which Judge Kavanaugh did) and the unassailable integrity and demeanor befitting the exalted position. Judge Kavanaugh’s failure to lead, and his partisan, conspiratorial screech, proved that he is not.
And for what? Why destroy the integrity of an institution when many other qualified conservative judges don’t have his “baggage”? I strongly suspect most trial attorneys — or at least a significant percentage — believe that Judge Kavanaugh potentially lied under oath, such that the cloud over Judge Kavanaugh remains, and always will. This is the litmus test for me. Fair or unfair, if the cloud over his integrity remained, he should have withdrawn his name from consideration. Then, and only then, would he have proved to me that he respected my profession and our Supreme Court, as I do.
Whether Judge Kavanaugh assaulted Ms. Ford or other women, or drank excessively, or lied to Congress, matters to me. I wanted more information. But I don’t need to know the answers with certainty to take the side of the Supreme Court as its protector-in-chief. Put simply, Judge Kavanaugh failed to fulfill his professional oath, leaving us with a permanent Scarlet K on our Supreme Court. For that, I apologize. Lawyers should be better than this. The most worthy of us are.
For more content like this, read some of our past Final Words here.
Adults can be boring. Oops, did I say that? But it’s true—the heavy burdens of financial responsibility, parenthood, our professional lives, and whatever else take their toll. Mark Twain had it right: “The problem with adults is adults.” Okay, he didn’t say that, but he should have. Where does life’s instruction manual say “Must not be playful after age 30?”
I didn’t play often as a child, at least while I was incarcerated. I now practice law, a profession that demands discipline and focus. If you polled our significant others, most would probably confirm that attorneys can be no fun. Why? Because the truth is something is wrong with our brains. Well, mine anyway. But take note, engineers. I once deposed a woman who was on her fourth marriage; the first three husbands were engineers, the current one was an attorney. So, get off your high horse.
It takes confidence to be playful in professional settings. But I found my inner child early nonetheless. As a summer law intern in Atlanta—when I was yet to even be offered a job after graduation—I switched all of the firm name placards while working late one night. Secretaries became named partners, and named partners became secretaries. I came into the office the next morning to a buzz. Apparently, someone had threatened the social pecking order.
I didn’t understand. In my mind, I just used humor to turn “peckers” into “peckees,” and vice versa. Everyone deserves to be a “pecker” for a day, don’t they? It would seem so, there are so many in life. OMG, I may as well have written an anonymous op-ed to the N.Y. Times. The powers-that-be quickly identified the likely treasonous traitor. And they still hired me! Such poor judgment is seldom seen—by the firm, not me. But I made my social point with humor. Attorneys would be nobody without their staff.
Two years later, I was engaged in a “tit for tat” prank battle with a colleague in an adjoining office. He thought that he was funny. He wasn’t. He was young, and hardly worth my time and imagination. Even the King of the Jungle, however, has to prove his superiority from time to time. So I relented. Besides, he needed to learn a lesson after he turned all of my office furniture upside down one early morning. It required a response. I warned him earlier: “Don’t poke the bear, John.”
Proper, Southern humor is no match for pure native Pacific Northwest evil. I bided my time, and then struck with cold vengeance. His office, like most lawyers’ offices, was decorated with a collage of family photos. I waited for several weeks until he proudly announced that his very first client, a family friend, was coming to the office. I watched, and when he went to the lobby to greet his client, I pounced. Clients love family photos, especially family friends. So, I had arranged with one of our paralegals to switch out her family photos with his. Working quickly, we made the substitutions and then waited.
I listened to the introductory pleasantries next door for a minute or so, and then that sweet sound of total prank victory was heard: “Karlberg, you ass!” On his wall were beautiful photos of a wonderful black family. I felt like MacGyver—a little this, a little that, and then comedic magic. Hakuna matata! He never again “punked” me.
Throughout my legal career, I frequently put my professional life at risk for the sake of humor. I once quoted Bullwinkle in a brief to the federal court, and won. But my finest “inner child” hour was as a father to my two daughters, Katie and Jessie. Kids make the best toys. At an early age, we played wherever we went. Sometimes, the humor was simple, subtle, and silly, like when I taught them to go to the cake aisle of the grocery store and turn the boxes of pineapple upside cake upside down. They would run afterward like they stole something.
My fondest memories, however, are of playing hide-and-seek at Fred Meyer. We would play for hours with my daughters’ soccer teammates between tournament games. Once Katie was caught by store management, as she lowered herself into a large plastic garbage can on an end cap display and then put the lid over herself. But in a moment of extreme fatherly pride, her ability to improvise saved her. Without missing a beat, Katie promptly stepped out of the garbage can and declared, “Yes, that’s just the right size. I’ll take one.” My humor training was complete that day—mission accomplished. Her inner toy was alive and well.
I wish for all my readers to take time each day to play and be playful. No one will think worse of you. Make your last breath in life be the breath that you can’t take because you are laughing too hard with someone you love.
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Forget condoms. Throw away birth control. I discovered the ultimate family planning protection—the bicycle,and its 1970s mood ring equivalent, the bicycle seat. Color me black and blue, please. And sore. After 10 miles on my bike, “no” means “hell, no.” Padded or not, the modern bicycle seat is simply not conducive to a healthy sex life.
My family planning discovery started innocently enough. Now that I am single again, my girlfriends are determined to end my post-divorce life of self-imposed chastity. I don’t know why. I don’t need their help. With a squirt or two of WD-40, the mental keys to my marital chastity belt will work just fine. Besides, they can’t walk the walk in their own relationships. Apparently, “relationship climate change” is real, and to hear them complain, man-made. Only instead of getting hotter, the temperature ranges from “Better luck next month” to “Let’s wait until your birthday; it’ll be here before you know it.” But I must be a challenge nonetheless because they recently organized a Friday night pub crawl, or as they teased, a “fly-fishing” event, starting in Bellingham and then theoretically ending in pick-up paradise, my hometown of Lynden. WTF, right? I wasn’t amused. I can bait my own hook, thank you very much.
Sadly, I eventually relented to their peer pressure, in part because I know that the can of WD-40 in my purse is not infallible. Few things are worse than a broken-off key when you are in a hurry. And as my mother used to say: “Just because something fits, doesn’t mean that it should.” I have no clue to this day what she meant, but I finally took her advice to heart by implementing a back-up plan in case the WD-40 worked.
My answer to the unwanted compulsory ladies’ night out was to show up on my bicycle as the designated “cyclist.” I mean, even if I should have a moment of weakness, I was fully protected in the Hobby Lobby sense. What guy is going to say “yes” to the litmus test question: “Is there any room in the back of your car for my bike?” Instantly, any male, drunk or not, will know that he’d better be in the big chain ring or there’s no chance that he can catch me. Only disc brakes can stop a male on the prowl faster than the “bike in the back” conundrum. The confusion on their face is priceless. Plus, my privates were already killing me from the Mother of All Butt Wedges. They made me sign a limited power of attorney before entering the pub, giving them unconditional veto power over all below the waist discretionary physical activities.
So, there I stood in pain at our first pub stop, watching the alcohol-induced dating ritual while sober, and looking stunningly sexy in my padded “fly swatter” bike shorts. Men, here’s some unsolicited advice: When a woman has to stand in a bar for over 30 minutes, offer her your bar stool as a courtesy. The best pick-up line may just be kindness. And bar owners, I have a suggestion. If you want to increase profitability, replace your bar stools with bike seats. Your turnover rate will quadruple. But I digress.
Within an hour, the guys’ shirt sleeves were rolled up, and shirt buttons went on strike. Testosterone was everywhere. About every half hour, small packs of women would go, en masse, to the restroom to reapply lipstick and perfume to all body parts, including their cleavage. I’m sorry. My boobs don’t smell bad, and I don’t need perfume to enhance their attractiveness. They may sag a bit after two kids and forty years of gravity, but they are just curious. They want to see where they are going. Here’s a rhetorical question: What guy has ever complained about smelly boobs? I can count them on one middle finger.
As I watched with amusement, three younger men sit-ting at the bar started a conversation with my group of mostly moms. One of the three saved what he thought was his absolute best pick-up line just for me: “What’s a MILF like you doing here?” Huh? After a quick Google search, I deflected the youthful, but misplaced attempt at flattery and shut him down quickly: “Looking for a baby-sitter for my two preschool kids. You don’t babysit, do you?” At this point, the conversation turned to awkward silence, his big chain ring went to a little chain ring, and his derailleur completely stopped working. He was badly in need of a mechanic. Sometimes the opposite sex simply needs to recognize when there’s a 12 percent uphill grade ahead with more switch-backs than Galbraith Mountain or L’Alpe d’Huez.
Really, guys? Who needs bicycle seats with pickup lines like that?
For more content like this, read some of our past Final Words here.
The topic of suicide is complicated. Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and Robin Williams are the latest celebrities to take their own lives. But their deaths are simply the most high-profile cases. Nearly 50,000 Americans commit suicide each year, making suicide the 10th highest cause of death in the U.S. What do these tragedies have in common? Very little, actually, except for general suicide risk factors: Age, gender, race, ethnicity, marital status, sexual orientation, financial status, substance abuse, and history of mental health issues. One or more combine in a moment of weakness or feeling of helplessness to cause someone to take his or her life.
In the U.S., teenage suicides often grab the most gut-wrenching headlines, perhaps because of their youthful vulnerability and tender age. All suicides are tragic, but especially so for teenagers, who have their whole lives ahead of them. Sadly, the severe emotional consequences of bullying and romantic rejection are too often only self-evident after the fact. Without the benefit of fully developed coping mechanisms, suicide suddenly becomes an option, or in the case of some, the compulsion toward mass shootings as a means of revenge. The emotional line that separates suicide from mass shootings can be narrow. They are frequently opposite sides to the same mental health coin.
Statistically, the trends are obvious, even if they are not fully understood. Men, generally, commit suicide at a rate more than triple that of women. Middle-aged males in the U.S., particularly white males, are most likely to commit suicide (more than double than black males). The second- and third-highest rates of suicide are the elderly, age 85 and older, and age 75 to 84. The lowest rate is among teenagers, which, although increasing faster in the past 30 years than ever before, remains low in comparison, for instance, to middle-aged (age 45–54) white males. Heterosexuals are less likely to commit suicide than gays and lesbians, and it is estimated that heterosexual and lesbian women actually attempt suicide more frequently than men. Overall, suicides in the U.S. increased by nearly 25 percent between 1999 and 2014, the largest rate of increase being the category of middle-aged women.
What is society to conclude from these spikes across all ages and genders? Researchers know, statistically, the most vulnerable are those with mental health issues, or those who are recently retired, unemployed, or divorced, or those who are childless, empty-nesters, or who otherwise feel isolated. All of these factors potentially affect the will to live. But none are conclusive. Everyone acts and reacts differently to stressors in life. At best, they are potential red flags to watch for in our spouses, family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
What we do know for certain is that suicide candidates don’t often ask for help. They can’t. Their need to protect their standing in the eyes of others is frequently stronger than their willingness to reach out for help. They withdraw and go dark socially, or they mask their depression and early suicidal thoughts until it is too late. Many of us have actually had these fleeting thoughts and hid them even from those who love us unconditionally. Many more have been touched by someone in our lives who has committed suicide. In retrospect, the signs were often obvious.
This primal compulsion to avoid asking for help is unlikely to significantly change, even as the social stigma of admitting to emotional struggles lessens. The solution, therefore, is not to expect someone who may be suicidal to “cure” themselves or to ask for help. It is not their burden to carry; their emotional state is already too fragile. The burden rests with the rest of us. We need to get out of our self-made, self-focused bubbles and look for opportunities to help without being asked. If we see something, we need to say something, even at the risk of treading where we don’t belong. If done for the right reasons—out of love, compassion, and/or concern—the mistaken intrusion into someone’s privacy who is not suicidal will be forgiven. And for those who are at risk, the extended hand will be welcomed by all but perhaps a few.
Suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility. Be proactive. It is not enough in life to care; you have to take the time to show you care. Look for the telltale signs. Find someone who is struggling and go to their world, especially teenagers, who don’t yet even have the life experience to know what to hope for. As adults, we do. We know the deep satisfaction of sharing the journey of life with a partner, with raising children, and with achieving life goals that bring meaning to our lives. And when you ask “How are you?” mean it. Stop, listen and talk, not once, but be there in the moment for as many moments as it takes. Be the love that gives the hope.
For more content like this, read the story about Opiod Addiction from our February issue here.