Short Stack #12

If your father has a stick in the closet that he’s used in the past to beat you with, you have to wonder at someone who’d tell you “What are you getting all worked up about? He’s not beating you with it NOW.” Just so with organized religion and what it’s done throughout history. As an atheist, I would rather empty out that closet.


When a news story says someone “lost” a leg in an accident, I always hold out hope they’ll eventually find it again and be better for the brief separation.


Homeowner Gardening Tips: If you put nitroglycerin in your lawn mower tank, it will sharply decrease the time you spend grooming your lawn.


More post-death quandaries: Sometimes I hear jokes and instantly think “I should call up my Dad and tell him that one. He’d love it!”

A beautiful young woman comes home from the doctor and says “My gynecologist says I’m not to have sex for three weeks!” And the husband comes back with “But what does your dentist say?”

Dan would have laughed big at that one.


Damn. Just had a moment when I really, really wanted to call my Dad. And just talk, one more time, maybe ask his advice. All those years, he was my buffer. My guide, my mentor, the man who went in front and caught all the slings and arrows. That gentle, generous, genuine, damned-tough man, my teacher and guardian.

But suddenly … I’m all exposed.


I have this novel idea about dealing with fear: If you’re really afraid of something, say snakes or spiders, you can be free of that fear at last … if you pass it along to a child.

I’m hoping someone will allow me to try out my theory on their kids. I’m already collecting some spiders, and I have a couple of really cool experiments in mind.


To me, drugs are like the lottery. I don’t buy the tickets because I’m not interested in betting against myself in a game run by somebody I don’t even know.


I’m picturing Rush Limbaugh sitting alone in a room right now, holding his fat ugly head in his hands and facing the dawning realization that the billion-dollar joy ride is over. Can’t help it — I’m smiling.


Somewhere out there is a person who owns a beach house at Malibu, or a little bungalow in Florida, or possibly a mountain cabin in the Rockies. And they want to invite me to stay there for six months or so while I write a book … about writing books while staying in a beach house in Malibu, a little bungalow in Florida, or a mountain cabin in the Rockies.

I’m almost certain of it.


Lying here trying to go to sleep. I had this moment of worry about my future. My health, my career, etc. I was all tensed up. And then I thought of what my Dad would say: “You’re gonna be just fine. You know it? You’ll be fine.”

I suddenly relaxed. Afterwards, it seems like I passed through some sort of gateway. I feel more confident, like I can handle my life now.

This is his last gift to me.


When something REALLY catches on, we say it “went viral.” But we don’t say that about actual viruses. Hmm.


Somebody out there is having a Big Idea right now, something that will make them shitloads of money but change the world for the worse. In sheer self defense, some of us have to have ideas that are both Big and Good. We may not make a lot of money off them, but hey. It’s worth something — a lot, come to think of it — to live in a better world, and to know you’ve helped others come along for the ride.


In my mind “If you’re not doing anything wrong, what are you afraid of?” translates instantly to “If you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you be treated like the shitbags who are?”


Just making the bed, accidentally pulled a tag off the mattress. The date on the tag is 1990. Which means, not only is my bed old enough to have sex, or to vote, it’s old enough to DRINK.


Oh good. Just discovered you can get a DEGREE in “homeland security.” I wonder if they teach you how to humiliate 80-year-old grandmothers and 6-year-old girls?


Trivia: John Scott Harrison (October 4, 1804 – May 25, 1878) was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Ohio and the only man to be both the son and the father of U.S. Presidents.


Came across the word “swashbuckling” just now, and I wonder: How long do you have to do it before your swashes are fully buckled and you can stop?


I want a Reality TV show where Donald Trump’s head is transplanted onto the body of a 9-banded armadillo, and vice versa, without telling either of the families. Talk about your madcap hijinks.


Shirt makers: I love this butter-soft new shirt I just got. The scratchy tag that rubs on the outside of my leg, and the other one that scrapes the hair off the back of my neck, not so much. So, just curious but …



My friend Bill made maple syrup a few weeks back. Real maple syrup! And he GAVE me some. Man, how do you ever deserve friends like that?


If you see a flying saucer land, and they capture you and subject you to anal probing, yes, it might be space aliens. But it could also be Catholic priests. Homeland Security agents. Or even Republicans.


I love the way German Shepherds move, that beautiful airy trot.

But given a choice of my momentary enjoyment at images of a dog show, versus the knowledge that those dogs could be healthy instead — that all the pups who didn’t make the show could enjoy healthy conformation, not subject to a breeding effort that produces these sometimes-crippling hip configurations — I’d choose to never again enjoy the sight.


Memories of my Dad, the cowboy: He’s in a place sunny and brightly lit. Trail dust on everything. The sweet smell of Jeffrey pines and horses. Or we’re sitting in his den, watching TV and having a Whiskey Ditch, the dogs sprawled out on the floor by the fire.

In memory, every picture of him is sharp and bright. And so is the love.


Fried peas — a dish no one dares create. I mean, it’s not like the fixin’s haven’t been right there next to each other in Southern kitchens for generations. It’s culinary cowardice, is what it is.


Laundry day is a lot less fun when you have to walk down four flights of stairs, go out into the freezing cold, and then shove quarters into a washer and dryer. On the other hand, I’m not starving, facing roving death squads, or being forced to watch the Twilight movies with Sarah Palin sitting next to me and telling me her philosophy of life.


If you were a libertarian, but also a librarian, and your parents were from Liberia and Labrador …


Exploring alternate futures, scientist J. Grebby Dodson was dismayed to find one in which humans had accidentally killed off every creature on Earth except cats and humans. On the other hand, during his visit to that alternate world, he was amazed at the practical way in which the bodies of deceased humans were disposed of. And he became quite the fan of Catloaf Tuesday.


It has come to my attention that there are people on the Internet posing as Americans. Using good American English like they’re from here.

I demand you all stop at once, and use proper foreign languages so we can tell you apart. This includes you, you sneaky damned Brits. As for you Canadians and Australians, I’ve got my eye on you. Those phony accents aren’t fooling anybody.


If you live in a place where it rains fire, you carry an asbestos umbrella.

I’m pretty sure that should be a wise old saying, but I can’t figure out just how it applies to anything.


The thing about it is, the life lesson of death, is … here’s this one chance. And no more. So all the stuff you want to do, you’d better be doing it. Because the clock is ticking. Someday soon, that’s it –  no more time.


Time to go to bed. I’m almost certain I’m going to do something wonderful tomorrow. Probably I’ll save hundreds of people from a burning building, or cure cancer. Hey, it could happen!


It’s a fantastically dangerous universe we live in. The danger is not only out there, it’s in us. We are a danger to ourselves.

The solution to both kinds of dangers is just this: Intelligence and imagination, the flexibility and the willingness to admit that we’re wrong at times and to change course.

At the very least, religion is a failure of imagination. It’s the willingness to surrender to this silly pat explanation. And not just accept it, but draw it in as if it was everything, the meaning of life itself. Considering climate change, overpopulation, resource depletion, galloping extinctions … that is so desperate a mistake that it’s scary.

Here’s the thing we have to do: Admit we’re wrong. Change course. Now.

Because we’re in the midst – right now – of a shattering fall. A slow-motion disaster, picking up speed, smashing everything we hold dear.

That shiny normal future you have this hazy picture of your kids living, the one we’ve always been able to count on? Haha – good luck, kids. Mommy’s and daddy’s generation couldn’t be bothered with that bothersome “foresight” thing.

This picking up the pieces and changing things – getting rid of superstion and becoming aggressively sane – is not some crazy “out there” thing. It’s the only hope for the people you love.


Star Wars is the Wal-Mart of movies. “If I can sell you this, I can sell you anything.”

We watched it for the adventure, but at the same time we bought into Darth Vader getting into Jedi Heaven. Sure he helped murder of billions of innocent people, but hey, he saw the light at last and became good.

Yeah, because it was his own son involved. But the billions were still dead. No happy Jedi resurrection for them.

Sure it was simple entertainment. But it was also a lesson in psychological disconnects.


If I told you there was a place you could go where you would feel years younger, and all you had to do was take this three-week hike to get there … would you make that trip?

Well, hell yeah! But that’s exactly what we’re faced with, in the case of eating better, getting back into the gym and working out.

Do it for just three weeks, you’ll feel better.


Joking: You’ll know we’ve started getting saner the day we go in and carpet-bomb the Vatican. Hey, why not? Sure there will be some innocent bystanders, but we’ve said fuck it before.


Funny that with your career, the things you remember are the highlights, the big things. But with your family, the things that stick in your mind are the little things. The quiet things.  Just having dinner with the family. Driving somewhere. Standing on the deck with your Dad, having an apricot brandy and looking out over the meadow.


I want to be a tourguide taking kids through government offices. I’d say “Kids, behind these cubicle windows are people we call bureaucrats. Their job is to suck the joy out of your life.”


Religion has a history of deadly excess. It was crazy, deadly dangerous in the past. The reason it isn’t now is not because of religion, but because of people. Someone might say that it could never do such things now because people would never put up with it, and I’d say “Yes, exactly. PEOPLE are the ones who decide what’s moral or not. Not religion.”

Godders would say “Well, Stalin and Hitler killed millions. And they were atheists.”

My answer? “Even if that was true, look around you. You see Hitler, Stalin, or anybody like them? Nope. Why? BECAUSE WE GOT RID OF THOSE FUCKERS.”

And that’s what I want to happen to religion.

Race and Culture Again: Bessie and Lois
Beta Culture: Being Grownups on Planet Earth
Looking Past the Bright Sun of Crazy
  • Carlie

    Au contraire – have you ever had a samosa? Indians figured out how to fry peas. And it is delicious.

    • Desert Son, OM

      *doffs hat, waves cheerfully, proffers clenched tentacle salute*

      Still learning,


  • Desert Son, OM


    As an atheist, I would rather empty out that closet.

    So right.

    If you put nitroglycerin in your lawn mower tank, it will sharply decrease

    I see what you did there . . .

    How long do you have to do it before your swashes are fully buckled and you can stop?

    Pretty sure you can stop after a few witty remarks, cutting the still-burning wicks off of a candelabrum of at least 3 candles with the tip of your rapier, and one complete pendulum swing on a chandelier, rope, anchor chain, or similar suitable means. Feathered hat optional (but dashing).

    Man, how do you ever deserve friends like that?

    All I can figure is try to be one in return. My own efforts have been mixed successes, all the more reason to keep at it.

    I suddenly relaxed. Afterwards, it seems like I passed through some sort of gateway. I feel more confident, like I can handle my life now.

    This is his last gift to me.

    My maternal grandmother died in 2000 at age 95. She was born in New Mexico when it was still a territory. She always had a pot of frijoles pintos on whenever the family would go visit her in the little West Texas town where she had settled, and those beans were fantastic, stewed long over low heat with garlic and a big chunk of salt pork, liberally sprinkled with Gebhardt’s chili powder and paired with warm cornbread from an iron skillet that was as old as she was. She was a Christian Scientist, sadly (and she had knee problems that were, apparently, “gifts from god”), but she was also a deeply kind, generous, and loving person, and it was always a joy to see her.

    So when she was dying, I traveled 1300 miles to visit her in her last days, as you got to do with your dad. I sat up in the middle of the night in the nursing facility where she lay dying. I held her hand and got to tell her I love her, and I cried and cried for the loss I could see coming. Already in great decline, Nana had difficulty forming words, but at one point, noting my tears, she squeezed my hand and mumbled as best she could, “It’s alright, honey. I love you. It’s alright.”

    I realized that she was concerned about me. She was the one dying, but she was concerned about me, my turmoil, how I was faring.

    That’s one of the great gifts of those who precede us, and a model we can look to for our own behavior for those who succeed us. It sounds like that’s what your dad gave you. My Nana thought she was going to meet god, but I find the memory of that experience only lends weight to my own realization that our efforts count here in life, because life is all we get, no gods, no afterlife (he said thankfully), with the only moral accounting done among the human beings with whom we share space and time. I am nothing more – and nothing less – than a cognating, electro-chemical collection of matter and all I can do is right here, in this place, right now, so why wouldn’t I want to do, now and again, something that helps someone else out, and now and again, something nice for myself?

    Freethought Blogs and its many participants has been a great deal of help to me in many ways, from learning things I didn’t know, to encouraging self-examination of my own privileges and prejudices, to a forum for challenging conversation, to a community of increasing awareness and importance for many issues. You, your post, your reflections on your experiences with your dad are all part of that. My thanks to you and to the commentators and to the other bloggers.

    Certainly no demand, only a respectful request, but if you ever get the time and inclination, I’d love to hear the story of feeding a grizzly bear marshmallows by hand. I’ll probably read it after a second whisky, but I’d relish to read it just the same.

    Still learning,


  • chezjake

    “Fried peas” – You’re quite right.

    However, right over in Troy, at Bat Shea’s Pub, they serve peas braised in root beer. Honest!

    I also need to say that I thoroughly enjoy your “short stacks.”

    • troll

      That sounds really, really good. Where in Troy is that pub?

      • chezjake

        95 Ferry St. (parallel to Congress St, but 1 block south)

  • sqlrob

    You’ll know we’ve started getting saner the day we go in and carpet-bomb the Vatican. Hey, why not? Sure there will be some innocent bystanders, but we’ve said fuck it before.

    Too much art and history there. Prosecute them with crimes against humanity.

  • Randomfactor

    Love these short stacks–although I could swear one or two of this one were leftovers?

    • Hank Fox

      I’ll bet you’re right. I try not to duplicate any, but I put them up at such odd intervals, I don’t always remember what I’ve already used.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    Trivia: John Scott Harrison (October 4, 1804 – May 25, 1878) was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Ohio and the only man to be both the son and the father of U.S. Presidents.

    The first Harrison president, William Henry, gave an hour long inauguration speech in a cold rainstorm without wearing a hat or being protected by an umbrella. He came down with pneumonia and died a month after his inauguration.

    The second Harrison president, Benjamin, defeated incumbent Grover Cleveland in the 1888 election. Benjamin also gave his inauguration speech in the rain, but fortunately for him Cleveland held an umbrella over both of them. In the 1892 election Cleveland defeated Harrison, making Cleveland both the 22nd and 24th president. I cannot find any information about the weather during Cleveland’s second inauguration.

  • rapiddominance

    Lets look at this thing again:

    “The thing about it is, the life lesson of death, is … here’s this one chance. And no more. So all the stuff you want to do, you’d better be doing it. Because the clock is ticking. Someday soon, that’s it – no more time.”

    Here’s what the “life lesson of death” REALLY is: Once death comes, it is as if life never was.

    There’s another similar saying: Once you realize that everything you have will one day be lost–you’ll see that everything is lost already.”

    Perhaps Ivan Drago would put it like this: When the last man dies . . . he dies.

  • Sheila Crosby

    This is his last gift to me.

    I think there might be more to come. I still get bloody good advice and comfort from my Mum, and she died 12 years ago.

  • oldebabe

    Some nice stuff here.

    Not much is relevant to me, tho, i.e. death, anybody’s, including my own, has always been understood by me to be the end of life – a no-brainer, and I have no fond memories of anyone to mitigate. Or any guilt. Some missed opportunities, perhaps.

    I like the idea of making the best of what there is, and being skeptical, at the very least, about everything else.

  • Cuttlefish

    This is his last gift to me.

    Sheila’s right; not yet, it ain’t. Not even close.

  • Morrison

    Unfortuanately, my family is still trying to recover from what Organized Atheism did to them it the “old country”.

  • Hypatia’s Daughter

    As for you Canadians and Australians, I’ve got my eye on you. Those phony accents aren’t fooling anybody.

    Honey, if the USA ever declares English the official language of the country, this Canadian expatriate plans to teach Americans how to speak & spell it.

  • rikitiki

    For you, Hank…

    To Know Again

    Unexpectedly, at odd moments,
    The tides rise up,
    Flooding me with memories, dialogues,
    Shared times both good and bad—
    never to be again.
    I miss you and it hurts.
    Though that past remains with me,
    Now it has the tarnish of loss
    As well as the glow of remembrance.
    I’ve already stopped, breath in my throat,
    So many times—thinking to call you,
    Ask how you are, hear your voice,
    Just let you know I’m okay,
    Or maybe not so okay,
    But still here, still alive.
    Then I realize once more you’re not there,
    And this internal flood rises up,
    Overwhelming the dam of my reserve
    To wash me in sorrow.
    Yet happiness mingles with the hurt
    Because I know that my tears
    Are the best monument,
    And in my heart you’ll always be home.

    © Christopher G. Doyle

    • Hank Fox

      Damn, that was GOOD. Thank you!

      • rikitiki

        Thanks for all you do as well – love reading your stacks. I usually give the above poem to folks who’ve had a loss. And I still find myself chocking up if I try to read to others (or even just to me).

        • rikitiki

          excuse please: that shoulda been “choking” … I’m not gonna block my wheels and jack up the vehicle…

  • Markita Lynda—it’s Spring after the Winter that wasn’t

    Oh, Hank, that goes on for years: “Mom would be interested in that.” “Dad would like this.” I think that’s where the idea of their looking down on us from a cloud came from.

    I like your analogy religion.

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